((DISCLAIMER: I don't own Ushio, Tora, or any of the other wonderful characters of the Ushio & Tora universe--they all belong to Kazuhiro Fujito himself. Original characters created here do belong to me, so please don't take them without permission!))

Secret of the Beast Spear
by Becky Tailweaver

Chapter 3: Encounter

Tora stared at the grizzled gray face for a long time, taken aback. He honestly had not expected five centuries to have changed the old bakemono so much--but they had, washing more color from the thinning coat, robbing the once-bright eyes of their shimmering gleam, blunting fangs and claws that had still wielded Death easily long ago... The ancient beast had still seemed so strong five hundred years ago, but the passage of that time had added elderly frailness to a once-sturdy frame, bowing a tough, resilient old warrior into the thin, feeble-looking, half-blind creature that stood before him.

The old bakemono's smile turned into a wry, weary grin. "Why so shocked, young thunder-brother? Have I really changed so much in five hundred years?"

Still staring, Tora couldn't think of much to say in reply to that. Yes! shouted his mind, shocked at how Time could ravage even such ageless creatures as they. But the ancient gray monster held such an honored place in his life that he could not speak so bitter a truth so bluntly. "You...you look well, Arashikumo."

Arashikumo, the Stormcloud. Named so for his dark thundercloud color--now faded to pale misty gray. In his day, he was more revered and feared than Nagatobimaru--as mighty and fearsome as a thunderstorm, greater than any of their clan, famous the lands over. Tora could still remember the way he had been a thousand years ago, when Nagatobimaru was only a stripling cub--and Arashikumo had stood proud and strong, undefeated, invincible. Never becoming a Lord Holder or taking a vast territory despite his power, he had moved a lot--following the wind, he used to say--only claiming this particular cave as his home. He came and went, but when he was here, he was always watching the human villages in the valley below.

Watching, he'd admitted once, because the wind that he followed often blew across that valley...

Arashikumo snorted amusedly, a low heavy sound. "Do not lie, Nagatobimaru--it doesn't suit you. I look like a toothless, mangy old lion. I wander down to the creek pool for a drink fairly often, young one--the water is quite reflective."

Abashed, Tora quickly closed his mouth. His last meeting with Arashikumo centuries ago had not gone well; he had flung all of Nagatobimaru's insolence and arrogance into the face of the older bakemono, not heeding his warnings and scoffing at his wisdom.

It had cost him five centuries of imprisonment.

"Come then, cub--che, not so much a cub now..." Arashikumo strode across the sand, limping only slightly on one hind leg. "Come inside and bed down for a while. You have questions."

The elder stated it as if he knew it was fact, though Tora had said but a single sentence during their entire encounter. Still amazed, the orange bakemono followed the gray into the tunnel again, then to the den inside, where comfortable beds of dried leaves waited. The two stretched out comfortably in the homey darkness, Arashikumo lowering himself with aching dignity. For a while longer there was silence between them.

"After all this time, you come to me at last," Arashikumo rasped, breaking the stillness. "Free after five hundred years under the Shrine, you do not think to see me until you desire something of me."

Feeling rather chastened--an uncomfortable sensation for him--Tora glanced down. "We did not part on the best of terms, but I mean you no disrespect now."

Arashikumo leaned back against the cave wall. "You were a fool," he stated bluntly. "I told you you could never overcome the Spearbearer. You are lucky to be alive to face me now."

Silent, Tora remained still. The old gray monster had indeed cautioned him then--had told him to flee the territory for a couple of decades until the fuss died down and the human Spearbearer forgot about him. But Nagatobimaru was arrogant and prideful, confident that no human could ever defeat him. He had refused to turn tail and abandon the vast territory he had fought and won, nor cease his self-indulgent consumption of human flesh. His meals had made him strong--perhaps stronger than Arashikumo then, he'd thought, because the ancient bakemono had not challenged him.

He had only been given a pitying glance as the gray monster turned and strode away into the night. That was the last time he'd seen anyone besides that cursed Samurai for five hundred years.

He had been a fool.

Young Nagatobimaru had spent the first century of his life idolizing the mighty gray bakemono. Arashikumo had settled in the valley once again before he was born, and stayed there for some time--becoming the hero of a young orange cub whose stripes had not yet even grown in. The ancient monster seemed to know everything, seemed so invincible, seemed to have lived forever...and then, to Nagatobimaru's disappointment, the gray bakemono had left again, following the wind--as he had many times before, according to the elders of the clan. The latter half of Nagatobimaru's second century had been spent trying to be as powerful as the Stormcloud, wandering from his clan, fighting and exploring his way across Japan and even parts of China.

He had reached his full size and was still growing in strength when he returned from his travels and wrested control of a sizeable territory from its previous Holder, continuously expanding his borders until his lands spread further than he cared to fly in a day. His clan, living further to the north of the great valley, had been mostly ignored then--and he had begun to revel in his power, in the taste of flesh as he enjoyed the priveleges of dining on his many human "cattle" across his vast territory. For decades--centuries--he rode the clouds wreathed in thunder, becoming a horrific nightmare in human legends.

And then, five hundred years ago, Arashikumo had suddenly returned to his cave on the mountain above the valley, and that very night--looking wearier and weaker than Nagatobimaru remembered--confronted him with the fact that a mighty human warrior wielding the legendary Beast Spear had come that day to slay him.

Powerful, arrogant, and scornful, Nagatobimaru had sneered at the elder's advice and faced the Spearbearer without hesitation on the next dawn--only to find himself fought to a standstill by a human that wasn't human, challenged by a weapon he could not overcome, and after five exhausting days pinioned to a stone like an insignificant butterfly pinned to paper. And then the humans had shut him away like a bug in a box, like a corpse in a grave...though he was still alive and screaming in defiance, then desperation, for days and days and days, abandoned and ignored in that cold, infernal darkness...

Until he was freed at last by a wide-eyed, scared/angry man-child who carried the blood of his would-be executioner from long ago...a boy who hit him, fought with him, ate with him, hunted with him, ran with him...

When he looked up again, Tora saw that Arashikumo's eyes were full of memory as well, watching him. He knew that, when he was an eager, innocent young cub, the old bakemono had regarded him fondly--and the remembered disappointment in his elder's gaze that night five centuries ago stung far more now than it had then. What made things so different?

"You have paid for your error in judgement," Arashikumo stated at length, voice low. "Your mistakes were made five hundred years ago, a long time even for us...I bear you no ill will for your defiance, young one--your life is your own, and you make your own choices."

"I should have heeded you," Tora admitted by way of apology, though he always hated to acknowledge his own mistakes.

"Perhaps," the old one rumbled. "Would you be the same bakemono you are now if you had taken my advice? Who knows? Things might have gone very differently in the flow of time..."

Tora paused for a moment, relieved at the bestowal of forgiveness, before he hazarded to speak again. "I've come to you now for information."

Arashikumo's gaze sharpened abruptly, his eyes flicking back to Tora's, his voice suddenly grim. "The Hungry Shadow is in your city--you've seen it. So you come to ask me--"

"Who is it?" Tora blurted. "What is it? I've not seen its like in all my life. It's..."

"It is a dark thing," the old beast rumbled quietly. "A very evil thing. Not so very old, mind you...I have watched him come and go for a time...but his kind are few, and most are dead or sleeping now. So long ago the last one came...even I was young then."

Tora growled softly. "How do I kill it?"

"Kill it?" Arashikumo snorted. "That is a hard thing. The Shadow is a youkai--mortal, so I know he can die, but I cannot say exactly how. He is amorphous, shapeless--he moves like water over the ground when he wishes. Yet he has many shapes, and can choose from any that he takes. He is vile and devouring--a soul-taker, a render of lives."

"'Soul-taker?'" Tora leaned forward, intent, a sudden sense of foreboding filling him.

"Different from an eater of souls," Arashikumo told him, eyes narrowing. "Beware, young one, for perhaps this Shadow is worse than such. 'Tis one thing to be slain, with your soul gone beyond--'tis another to be stricken by a soul-eater, and become nothing but a memory. But to become the prey of the Shadow is to become enslaved in eternal torment--always dying, but never dead; always being consumed, but never gone."

Tora's eyes went wide in sudden dread. Those things he'd seen/felt within the Shadow...!

"You begin to understand," the old one went on, nodding slightly. "The Shadow devours other monsters, and their souls become his power, their forms his strength. Humans are useless to him--meat for his belly, nothing more. He cannot trap their souls--they are too bright for his darkness. It is our lives which feed him, our shadowed souls that sustain him. But his hunger is all-consuming--it drives him mad, for he is never satisfied. He devours more and more, forever craving."

"I came very close today..." the orange bakemono rumbled, barely audible.

"I was watching him," Arashikumo said, shifting position on the leaves. "Were it not for the power of your thunderbolt taking him by surprise, and the brightness of the sun weakening his shadow-strength, you would be his now. And he would use you for his own ends, turning you against the little hunter you watch over."

"This thing has that power?"

Arashikumo let out a coughing, thrumming growl. "An evil, evil power--few creatures have ever had such. There are two ways he can take you; he might posess your shadow and make you his puppet for a time, while you watch through your own eyes as your own claws rend and destroy your allies--a temporary control, but effective. But if you are devoured, your body and soul become his forever; you hate him and love him, loathe him and adore him--your own mind becomes twisted to his dark desires, and obeying his every command becomes your passion, goaded by the promise of relief from your suffering." The ancient bakemono's eyes grew distant, painful. "In the passage of time, when you can no longer remember freedom...after you have suffered beyond hope in agonizing darkness...he becomes your god."

The orange bakemono gaped in something like horror; he had never in his life heard of such a demon--something so hideously, utterly evil. In his own existence he had devoured countless humans and even slain other bakemono, but never, never had he considered such malevolent acts as this. "How do I defeat such a thing?" he asked at length, a mere whisper.

Arashikumo's eyes narrowed to slits. "I do not know that you can, Nagatobimaru. Perhaps the little hunter is the only one..."

"The Brat?" Tora's eyes narrowed as well, a predatory smile spreading across his features. "Yes!" he hissed. "That damned Spear can rip and ruin that Shadow bastard--"


Tora's head jerked up. "'Perhaps?'"

"The Shadow has been stalking the little hunter--last night, today, this evening. I have been watching." Arashikumo leaned foward with a grunt, his gaze grim. "I cannot fathom what he seeks, for little Yin-Liao is a human child. The Shadow fears the Spear, but still he follows..."

The orange bakemono growled. "So he was after the Brat? What the hell--?

"I do not know. A human soul is useless to him..." Arashikumo took a breath, hesitating. "Perhaps--only perhaps, mind you--the Beast Spear has darkened the little hunter's soul enough that the Shadow believes he can claim it--"

Tora's snarl split the still air of the cave.

Arashikumo merely regarded him, unmoved. "You may not understand, Nagatobimaru...but there is great darkness in the Spear. Great darkness..."

"Impossible!" Tora spat in disbelief, so incredulous that he babbled carelessly. "Nothing can defeat that shit of a Spear--nothing! Not that Shadow bastard--not even me! Not even you--!"

Arashikumo actually smiled regretfully. "Fifteen hundred years ago--perhaps even a thousand--I could have defeated the Spearbearer," he broke in, drawing a shocked gape from Tora. "Make no mistake, young one--though I would have died for the effort, I could have slain the Spearbearer...though his offspring would quickly have taken his place."

Unbelieving, Tora stared at him. "Destroy...the Spear...?"

Arashikumo shook his head. "No...the Beast Spear itself can never be destroyed, but it is not the weapon which must be defeated--it is the human who wields it. With its seal, the Beast Spear can only grant its Bearer so much power--and it can only change him that much. Beyond that..." The old bakemono sighed, a mournful sound. "...the little hunter is helpless."

Tora's jaws worked in disbelief, trying to form words--for so long, he'd thought the Beast Spear's Bearer to be almost completely invincible...

"Do not forget," Arashikumo concluded, stern and direct. "There is immense power within the Beast Spear, and may the Heavens help us all if it is released..." The old one trailed off, shaking his head as if to clear it. "It must be wielded by those meant to hold it; it must be used for the right cause--and it must never leave the hands of those whose bloodline that little hunter carries."

"Why? What...?" Tora's gaze sharpened. "How do you know--?"

"I was there when the Beast Spear was made. I fought in that battle two thousand years ago. I saw what is sealed within it." Arashikumo's voice was suddenly strong, suddenly as it had been centuries ago, deep and forceful--and haunted by an ancient, terrible memory. "I was face to face with something I never want to confront again."

Tora's eyes widened in apprehension, wary at the thought of something that even Arashikumo seemed to fear so much. "What is--?"

"Take my word for it, young one," Arashikumo stated, his words suddenly old and weary again. "Just leave it be. Let the Spear and all its horrors rest in peace. Its legends are all but forgotten now, and no one needs be troubled by it, save that it does its work now as it always has, sealing and protecting--"

Abruptly, the old bakemono's eyes went distant, his head coming up sharply as he seemed to be listening to something very far away. "No! Not alone--!"

"What is it?" Tora demanded, alarmed, instantly on his feet. "Arashikumo!"

Jolted, the half-blind eyes focused on him again, distressed by what they had "seen" beyond sight. "The cub--the little hunter--the Shadow is upon him...he is hunting it alone, and he cannot see it--!"

"Shit!" Tora dashed down the tunnel as Arashikumo labored to his feet behind him. "That stupid little Brat of a human--!"


The bark of command made him skid to a halt in the sand, glancing back at the ancient bakemono in the cave mouth. He saw the grimness in the elder's eyes and paused, listening intently.

"The Shadow is too weak...to defeat the Spearbearer now," Arashikumo told him, panting from the sudden rush. "The little hunter can kill the Shadow...if he is not caught unawares. If he can find the way...the Shadow can be slain. Beware yourself...but you must tell him--you must warn him...!"

Tora nodded quickly, then leaped into the air without another look back. He burst through the canopy of trees, scattering limbs and leaves, hurtling toward the city. He had to find the idiot Brat before he got himself killed--or worse, devoured--before Tora had a chance to eat him. His hidden fear of the Hungry Shadow's clutches seemed to dim in the face of the Brat's peril, and somehow the thought of Ushio wrapped in that tarry black embrace spurred him to speeds he'd seldom ever reached before.

* * * * *

There was just something exhilarating about leaping from rooftop to rooftop across the suburbs, the night wind flowing through his long hair and the moonlight painting everything in shades of silver and black. Sometimes, on nights like this, Ushio could almost forget that he was out hunting something dangerous; it was so beautiful--just the roofs and the stars, and he alone bounded between them. And there was the buzz that always accompanied his change to the Spearbearer form--that heady thrill that came with being superhuman.

Being able to do things like this, that no other human could do--his every almost-flying leap powered by his own charged muscles, his eyes able to see through the brilliant silver moonlight as clearly as a sunny afternoon--it was breathtaking. Terrifying and invigorating at the same time. Nothing else, in his opinion, could ever come close to this--except perhaps being able to fly on his own.

Though it might cost him a tiny bit of humanity every time, he didn't think he could give this up.

He was approaching that particular alley now, and his brief minutes of amusement were over--now it was time to work. He took one last running leap, easily clearing the street below, and landed on the roof-edge above the alleyway.

Wary, Ushio peered down into the dimness, searching for movement. Unlike before, he could see into the darkness of the furthest corners--no longer completely human, his catlike eyes saw through shadows as though they were nothing. The moon was bright high above as well, throwing everything into sharp-edged black-and-silver relief, casting pooled shadows everywhere.

However, there was nothing here. Whatever had been here was long since gone--the Beast Spear didn't even tremble.

Another angry thought was sent his father's way, but instead of a muttered curse his only sound was a brief, sharp-toothed growl of disgust. He didn't have Tora around to follow the scent of the thing, either--and though he knew his transformed state granted him heightened senses, he hadn't the first clue how to track a monster that way.

He would have to patrol and hope he ran across the whatever-it-was--and hope he got the right whatever-it-was.

With a grunt, he rose to his feet again, leaning on the Spear and glancing out over the rooftops. This area was mostly small shops, homes, and low-rise apartments--a lot of humans in one place, a thought that made his lip curl into a snarl unconsciously as he contemplated the presence of something sneaky and evil prowling in the dark outside some kid's bedroom window. Especially something that put Tora on-edge like that.

His standing leap across the alley was so quick he was almost a blur, hitting the next rooftop and angling back across the street. He carried the Spear close alongside him as he moved, low and cat-quick, topping the incline of a house to bound to the next ridgepole, soundlessly light. Another house, then the top of a van parked in the street, then a considerable leap upwards to a three-story building ahead. He skirted along its roof-edge at a rapid jog--always searching, always alert--then dropped off again, this time to the top of a lamp-post, then a fence, then back to a house roof.

He moved in a gradual circle around the original alley, waiting for a sign--as well as secretly enjoying the self-made rollercoaster ride across the suburbs. Alert and wary, but confident--he was the Bearer of the Beast Spear, strong and unbeatable. He could deal with this as he had dealt with every other foe that had crossed his path.

His loop eventually brought him away from the houses and back toward the small businesses--back to the land of tall little buildings and deep, dark alleys. At least here there were fewer people, but that also meant that a hungry bakemono was less likely to be skulking around. There was nothing much to eat here--perhaps a janitor or a night watchman...and Ushio half-snarled at the thought again as he topped a telephone pole to jump to the edge of a department store's roof.

The Spear thrummed.

But this time, Ushio was ready for it--he had been getting a feeling as well. Something that had little to do with the Spear or its powers--or he thought so, anyway--and more to do with that hackle-prickling, spine-tingling sensation of being watched. He stopped on the store's roof, waiting, violet eyes flicking back and forth. His head turned slowly as he scanned his entire surroundings, keeping still and silent; as his gaze found the building next door to the one he rested on, something seemed to whisper, That way.

Eyes narrowing, he was at that edge of the roof in a hearbeat, crouched and ready. Below him was yet another alley, full of large dumpsters--and exceptionally dark, flanked by tall buildings and blocked by walls. It was dark enough that even he could not see into its deepest recesses.

He studied each shadow briefly but thoroughly, alert for any single hint of movement. The Spear was thrumming faintly--and his own instincts were tingling as well--but there was nothing there. Nothing stirred, nothing made a sound.

Sound. An abrupt realization--it was just as eerily silent as it had been earlier that night.

Something was there. But...was it in the alley, or merely waiting around a corner nearby? Was he looking in the wrong place?

A sudden notion made him take a glance over his shoulder, just to be sure it wasn't bearing down on him from behind; seeing nothing, he relaxed infinitesmally, breathing a sigh as he turned back--then looking down as his eyes caught movement--

--something dark and large and chitinous and hairy boiling straight up the wall at him, jaws gaping and drooling as it came out of the blackness--


--on instinct alone, he was throwing himself over backwards; the Spear was in control, Ushio couldn't think fast enough to react--it swung out as he came back up, strikng out hard and glancing off the thing's mandible-jaw just hard enough to deflect it--

--and somehow, while the Spear got him out of the creature's first attack, Ushio realized that the bakemono-thing was completely silent, didn't utter a sound--

--and the body followed the averted head, a freight-train of too many legs and an awful stench that whipped right past him with enough force to tumble him over again, but he was back on his feet in an instant, ready; Ushio and the Spear were completely one now, no hesitation, no distraction, and everything seemed to slow down--the monster included, even as it plowed to a halt across the roof, looped around itself, and rushed back at him like a deranged tractor-trailer rig.

Ushio gripped the Spear tight and bared his fangs, charging ahead to face his enemy at last.

Yet still, the beast was silent.

It was some sort of bizarre, supersized insect, all limbs and bug-hair and gleaming carapace. If someone managed to breed a giant tarantula to a poisonous centipede, they might get something like it--only without the many glowing red eyes, four pincer-like forelimbs, and razor-sharp mandibles. Almost forty feet long, it curled across the rooftop as it turned at him, bearing down on him like a runaway train. Its jaws were gaping, flinging gobbets of greenish slaver across the rooftop; its four pincered front legs snapped like those of a hopping mad crab, reaching for him.

But it didn't utter a sound.

He met it head-on in its rush, dodging aside of madly swinging pincers and darting in to bite deep with the Spear's blade. He severed one of too many legs and drew a gush of dark-green ichor that spattered across his clothes; the thing curled around its wound and tried to crush him, coiling and thrashing like a headless snake.

Ushio leaped clear, backflipping out of the way of a flung tail-section, his mind awhirl. The bakemono-bug was still noiseless, save for the clattering, rushing, clicking of its movements. If it simply couldn't utter sound--but no, he hadn't fought a monster yet that didn't scream or growl or hiss or gurgle or something at him as he killed it.

This was just weird.

But it was uncoiled, and coming at him again--no more time to think, only to fight; body, mind, and weapon were one, and all he could see/think/do was the battle. Leaping, dodging, ducking, striking--green tarry fluid splattering with every slash, every stab. His own blood, red and bright even in the moonlight, if the beast got lucky and clipped him as he moved; he was too fast, but it was so long--too many legs, too many eyes.

The thing dove at him as it came around again, but was quickly less one eye--and still, it did not scream. It was bleeding from dozens of wounds--some of them quite major, given the amount of green liquid pooling on the rooftop--but it did not slow nor stall, as if it felt no pain. He'd lost count of the legs he'd taken off, but it still had plenty to spare--and his own legs were starting to get a bit tired.

It was coming again, rising up like a cobra, casting its shadow over him as he stood ready, Spear raised and waiting for more blood. It seemed to blot out the moon, its shadow dark and bottomless--and then its eyes flashed and it came for him once more.

With a yell, he attacked again, taking its head-on assault as an opportunity to put the Spear through its head and end the whole fiasco at last. Two-handed he brought his weapon around as he leaped, aiming for that spot between its two largest eyes--

With a flat clang! the bakemono snatched the Beast Spear in its pincers, gripping just behind the blade as if trying to wrench the weapon into two pieces. The serrated edges of its claws sparked and grated on the metal--or was that the metal sparking in response to its grasp? Ushio paid it little mind, keeping a tight hold on the Spear's haft and flipping up to lay his feet against the hard-shelled pincer, trying to yank it free. The bakemono-bug reared back, shaking its prize; snapping mandibles came too close to his legs for comfort, so he swung up to wrap more of his body close around the Spear, trying to stay clear of its jaws.

He had one moment of clarity, as he hung suspended some fifteen feet in the air being swung about like a rattle. His thoughts crystallized for a second as he stared down at the gaping mandibles below him, the beast's long body beyond, and the rooftop that seemed so far away for a second--especially if he lost his grip on his weapon.

Well, shit, what do I do now?

No time to think long on that quandary--doom was rushing at him faster than there were moments to worry about planning ahead. The bakemono swung around again, and as his body was jarred loose by inertia the jaws opened to snap him in half. In another moment he was going to say goodbye to his legs...

It wasn't really Ushio who moved then--he was still staring at those gaping jaws in stiffened horror while his body jerked into motion. Violet cat-eyes flashed with feral will to survive, bringing a snarl to his face; his body bunched and twisted, pushing his muscles to their utmost even in this durable form as he coiled and kicked out, his shoes striking the bony mandible hard and launching him away from it. He kicked off, using its force to fling him over his own weapon, dragging Spear and claw with him. The power of the move twisted the Spear in the bakemono's claw, giving him the chance to get his feet under him and set his own strength against it.

He growled then, low and inhuman; a twist, and the claw's carapace cracked--a wrench, and the Spear's blade bit deep into the limb. He followed through as green ichor spattered--the claw fell lifeless to the rooftop as he forced the blade through the creature's flesh, slicing deep into its thorax just behind the head, bringing forth a dark river of olive fluid as he ripped the Spear free and leaped clear.

Ushio landed in a deep crouch, gathering himself to rise as his snarl turned to a predatory grin of victory--until a rush of air made him leap aside, dodging a swung claw by a hair's breadth.

He turned and gaped at the insect-monster then--actually dropped his fanged jaw and stared at it. There it was, gushing blood all over the roof, missing countless limbs and half-beheaded--and it was still fighting. It was gathering itself into a coil again, wobblier this time but still coming at him as doggedly as before.

And all he could do was stare.

How the hell do I kill this thing?

It got in a good solid hit before he could pull his wits together again, knocking him into the concrete side of the building's roof access door and drawing a line of blood from his ribs to his collarbone with the saw-toothed razor edge of its pincer. The Spearbearer shape kept him from breaking any bones...but damn, he was going to feel that tomorrow. Gritting his teeth, Ushio pulled himself up again, angry--and just a bit worried now, too--that the thing refused to lay down and die. He was getting tired of this.

He was getting just plain tired, too--he didn't know how long it had been since the battle had started, but even the Spearbearer's resilient muscles felt as though he'd run a few miles in his normal form. All this jumping and dodging to avoid the large monster's heavy body...he was breathless, brushing sweaty long hair out of his eyes and flinging himself aside as the monster's tail section whipped out at him again.

If it was in this state and still not dead, he could be at this all night. Heck with school tomorrow...

Why the hell was he worried about that at a time like this?

He gathered his strength and charged again--the Spear scored again as well, but still there was not a sound from the monster, and still it did not fall. Stumped as to how else he could possibly kill it, he retreated slowly, trying to think. There wasn't much else he could do--there wasn't anywhere he hadn't hit it, and it was still alive.

Panting, and feeling the beginnings of dread creeping into the corners of his mind that hadn't been claimed by the Spear, he gritted his teeth, gripped his weapon, and prepared to fight again. It was still coming, unmoved and inexorable.

Then a familiar snarl echoed over the rooftops, and his muscles went shaky in relief--he spotted the orange shape swooping down in an instant. "Tora!" he cried out in near-joy, glad to have assistance at last.

The bug-monster charged in his instant of distraction, plowing straight at him, its front section lifting off the ground so that the pincers were free to snatch him up and grind him to bits. He turned back to face it as Tora roared out a command over the deafening clatter of the giant creature's feet.

"Sever the shadow, Brat! The shadow!"


For a moment, it didn't make sense--the thing was rushing at him and he itched to leap at it, to fight it and kill it. What Tora suggested was foolishness--a shadow was nothing, and if he ignored the monster's charge thus he would be killed.

Tora was so close now, coming in behind the monster-bug, crackling with electricity and his toothy jaws wide in a thunderous bellow. "Sever it, Brat--now!"

Jolted by the note of urgency, of need--perhaps even the hint of desperation in Tora's voice, Ushio reacted. He drew the Spear back--far back, until his shoulders strained--willing forth that deepmost power to cut, to rip, to split more than mere flesh. He felt the pull deep in the Spear and deep in him, full and sharp and ready--now--and with a snarl he swung, a vicious horizontal slash.

With a shrill, low peal, power lanced out, visible and invisible at the same time--and to Ushio's surprise, it struck something.

The charging insect-monster seemed almost to trip over the invisible blade of intangible steel--and something severed, cut loose with a crack! that echoed through the night as the bakemono fell separated from its own shadow...or something separated from the shadow. Half of the monster's remaining legs and part of its body were detached by the force of that etherial blade--

--and for the first time in the entire encounter, the bakemono screamed.

The sound was so abrupt, so sharp that he jumped, caught for a moment by the agony in the cry. The creature's torn body dropped like a string-cut puppet, crashing to the roof, its considerable inertia plowing it heavily across the tiles. Ushio had to leap aside as the massive form slid to a stop where he had been standing, a pathetic end to its fierce and frightening charge.

Now it simply lay there, mortally wounded; the violent glow was gone from its eyes and it only moaned softly in pain.

Ushio had to duck aside again as Tora's lightning seared across the roof. "Hey! Watch it!" he snarled, diving out of the way of the murderous blue-white flash. The big orange bakemono blew past him over the fallen foe, hissing like a steam engine and lunging low over the tiles--

--lunging with brilliant lightning roiling about him, in pursuit of an indistinct black shape that fled from the body, hunched and skittering, across the roof toward the dark alleyway.

To be continued...