American Wuxia

Summary: A martial artist and his gunsmith roommate battle mythic monsters and ruthless villains using fists and guns.

A Birthday to Remember

I walked out of my guan as the sun began to set. Behind me, Sifu waved, and I prepared to head home. Working as a part time instructor here was barely enough to support the lifestyle of Will Wesson, but I was grateful for any job. I had enough money for essentials, some to save, and just enough for leisure.

Outside of the school was the parking lot, with a row of apartments and a suburban development behind it. I prepared to head home when I saw some I had hoped not to see again. An obese man-child waddled into the parking lot in front of the gym, clad in a faded superhero shirt and medallion of a cartoon rodent. His plump, balding head followed me across the parking lot.

"You! Go away, ninja boy!" Ned Haven leveled his eyes at me.

"Ned, please," I raised my hand. Ned glared at me like a bull seeing red. "If you're going to make fun of martial arts, why not try them first?" I used the kindest words I could think of.

"Shut up," he muttered, blocking me with his hand.

I shrugged and continued walking home. His presence was always nauseating. Chances are, he'd stay there until someone called the cops on him again. I wasn't the only one he picked on in the parking lot. I heard my cellphone buzz, and checked it out. My friend Gao had texted, wishing me a happy birthday. I thanked him as I returned to the crowded brick apartment I occupied. I walked inside, showing my keycard to the doorman and noticing a package jammed into my mailbox, my birthday gift to myself.

My apartment was as messy and disorganized as I left it, with crates of poorly dubbed kung-fu movies, spaghetti westerns, campy science fiction, and videogames. Martial arts weapons hung from my walls, most of them being crappy reproductions. My roommate Gao was still out, so I'd just have to celebrate my birthday alone. I was just a pale, lanky martial artist, but I had a few presents for myself. I turned on my computer and opened up a word processor. I ripped open the box, and found the scroll within. I hung it from a waiting nail on the wall, and the stream of ancient Chinese characters unfurled. I could barely understand a couple of the pictographs, but it looked awesome. The room was a little stuffy, so I opened the window a crack, giving me a view of the woods behind it. I turned back to my laptop, preparing to write a martial arts screenplay.

I was in the middle of writing a fight scene when a cold sensation brushed against the back of my neck. It was colder than an ice-cube being dragged across my skin, but passed like a quick breeze. I turned around slowly, wishing I had one of Gao's guns. Like a moronic babysitter in a slasher movie, I stood up.

"Hello?" I asked, reaching for a weapon of any kind. I technically was a weapon due to my martial arts background, but I'd rather be armed with something than nothing. I grabbed a nearby pen, and glanced across my room. I had to fight the tension in my muscles, exhaling as my heart pounded like a jackhammer. I felt my skin crawl when I looked at the scroll hanging from the wall. It swung back and forth, as if trying to force itself off the tack.

I backed away slowly, preparing to run at any instant, but I continued to stare at it like a moron. My body refused to budge, despite my mind and instincts shouting for me to run like hell. The strange scroll then came forwards, blasting itself at my face. It wrapped itself around my head, and then everything went black.

I woke up an unknown amount of time later, and found myself standing in a barren wasteland where the sunless sky itself shifted ceaselessly. I walked forward, still clad only in my "Crane Wushu" tee shirt, warm up jacket, sweat pants, and sneakers. I wiped my glasses with my shirt and tried to make sense of where I was. Something told me that logic would help me here about as much as a screwdriver would help in cooking. An unseen breeze blew dust and ash around me, whistling silently in the distance.

A storm of dust rose above the horizon, followed by the pounding of a thousand unseen feet. A mob of surreal creatures barreled onto the wasteland, a chimeric mass of abominations. The monsters surrounded me, hissing and growling in feral languages and unspoken gestures. The asymmetric demons seethed around me, forming a circle before they attacked. Jaws, claws, blades, and other deadly appendages aimed at my vitals. It took me a second to realize why all of them had not attacked at once. The predators were playing with their food before they ate it.

With nowhere else to turn, I stepped into my fighting stance. Whatever these things were, I felt it was my mission to beat the crap out of them. I was not about to lay down and die, even if this was just some weird dream. I had years of martial arts training, and I was about to see if my investment paid off. Confidence surged through me as the beasts hesitated. It was my fight now.

My foot punted a two-headed snake-creature into the air above the misshapen army. The reptile hadn't even hit the ground by the time I was unleashing a barrage of blows onto an ox-headed demon. Dodging its nasty head butt, I sprung back and hammered a kick to a leaping wolf monster. I heard bones cracking with each of my blows, and I knew it wasn't me getting injured. The beasts whined and hissed as I broke any that dared approach me.

The fight descended into a mad melee, and a storm of furious strikes engulfed me. I grabbed whatever limbs I could get a solid grip on, and broke and twisted them in directions nature never intended. Ligaments tore and tendons ruptured, and the monsters shrieked as they cradled their broken limbs. Small cuts and blows barely registered on my senses as I unleashed my fury on anything I saw.

All of that ended when a pain arced through my chest, despite my adrenaline rush. Looking down at the curved horn impaling my torso, I could see why. A crimson flower bloomed on my chest, and my blood soaked my shirt. As I fought to stay conscious, a deep voice spoke directly into my mind.

"You lasted far longer against them than I had anticipated," the voice said. "They even hide within the mortal realms, alongside the depraved and deluded."

"Who's there?" I shouted. "What is this place?"

But there was no response, and everything went black again.

I woke up soaked with in on my apartment floor. The creepy scroll covered my face, and I tossed it away, not caring if I hit anything. I recovered from the strange dream and looked over my body for any scars. While I knew I didn't have any, whatever had happened left me second guessing reality for a few minutes. I feared there might have been some hallucinogenic material on the scroll, and picked it up with loves. I rolled it back up, and tossed it in a messy corner.

I sat quietly at my computer for a few minutes, until I summoned up enough composure to turn on the TV. A newscaster was talking about another local house fire when I turned on my DVD player. Two poorly dubbed martial artists occupied the screen, and I sat back and relaxed. Exhaling, I decided to just to pretend like it was all just some bad daydream.

I stood up to get a snack from the kitchen when I thought I heard something in my room.

"Gao?" I asked. "Is that you?"

There was no response, because something in my gut knew otherwise. I heard the crackling of flames over the TV, but I did not smell smoke. Against my better judgment, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and headed back to my room. I peeked into the doorway, and I saw something stranger than my dream earlier.

There was something rummaging through my belongings, and it wasn't any animal I was familiar with. It was a bipedal figure roughly a meter tall, and looked like a vaguely humanoid figure with a rat head. Its orange and black fir was covered in smokeless fire, which smoldered as it tossed my possessions aside. Its triangular skull and bugling eyes looked vaguely familiar. The demons from my daydream were bad enough, but this thing was more disturbing because it looked like it could have stepped right out of some nightmarish cartoon. The rat-thing seemed to ignore me, but focused on the scroll, which was now lying on a pile of old comics. The thing picked up the scroll in its white-gloved hands, and stared at it for several long minutes.

It was then the horrible creature turned to face me, setting the scroll down gingerly. It pulled its arm back like a pitcher, forming some type of fireball in its hand.

"Hold still, and this will be quick," the thing grinned at me, taunting me with the promise of a quick end.

Against my better judgment, I plunged my steak knife into its face, and kicked it in the chest. My sneaker looked like it was about to melt, and the hot blade burned my hand. I fell back, and the cartoon tossed its fireball. The incendiary projectile singed my shoulder before dissipating into the air, creating a column of steam around it. It was a good thing my track suit was flame retardant. I was amazed the fire alarm wasn't going off.

As I held my shoulder, the rodent man prepared another fireball. This one was white-hot, and I could feel sweat form on my face as it bounced the deadly projectile up and down in its hand. I turned towards the doorway, but I knew I would not make it out before it chucked the fireball at me. The real life furry monster was about to end my life when a gunshot rang out.

The cartoonish demon clutched its forehead, its projectile dissipating into the air. The rodent creature fell back, and another shot rang out. The renegade animation vanished into a glowing orange ball, and vanished out of my open window. As it fled, I had a strange urge telling me to follow it. However, my body was too fatigued for that. I saw it leave a trail of singed brush behind it as it vanished into the forest.

I looked up to see my roommate holding a pair of smoking pistols. A bulky, hirsute Chinese-American man, my ambidextrous roommate Gao Yang worked as a gunsmith for everyone from hunters to police to secret government agencies. Saving me was one birthday gift I would have never thought he'd give me.

"I'm curious as to what that thing was," he holstered his dual automatics. Each pistol had the engraved Chinese characters for "Honor" and "Righteousness," according to him. "It would be rather awkward to explain to the police that I had to save you from at a giant rat monster. Whatever it was, at least it was vulnerable to bullets."

Oh, boy, where to start. "Either we're both going crazy, or something strange is going on." I explained what had happened, starting with the scroll and ending with him saving my sorry ass from a psychotic cartoon character. Saying that with a straight face was the hardest part. "I think it's the latter."

"So, the rat thing seemed to be looking for this, right?" he picked up the scroll. "I loathe jumping to conclusions, but we need to look at the evidence."

After what happened, I would not want to touch that thing again, even with gloves. Before I could stop him, Gao had unfurled the scroll. I recall that the characters seemed different than the last time I put them up there.

"Interesting," he said. "This says the scroll is a fragment of the Bai Ze Tu."

"The what?" I asked. I had read several Chinese classics, but I didn't recall reading anything about that.

"It's a book from Chinese mythology, made to assist monster hunters. It lists different supernatural creature and their powers," his eyes moved up and down the scroll. "Where did you get this?"

"Bought it online," I replied. "I thought it would be a cool decoration."

"Haven't I told you to be careful of what you buy online?" Gao rolled his eyes. "You're lucky this wasn't your last birthday."

"Yeah, thanks for saving me," I replied. "I'm just hope I can survive until my next one."

"Oh, I just remembered," Gao nodded to himself. "I have a present for you, and the timing works out appropriately."

"What?" I asked. "Hopefully something that keeps that monster away."

Gao vanished for a moment before returning to my room with a small metal box in his hands. He smiled proudly, brandishing a custom work of his before me.

"I knew you liked spaghetti westerns, so I made this for you," Gao opened the box, a look of pride on his face. This was likely another of his pet projects.

Inside was a large, archaic revolver peeking out of a holster. Underneath the barrel was a larger secondary barrel. I picked it up and looked it over. I noticed a Chinese character engraved on the grip. I had seen this pistol in a number of westerns and Civil War movies, but I wasn't familiar with the name.

"Like it?" he asked. "It's my updated LeMat revolver. It can hold custom rounds in the cylinder, and one shotgun shell in the bottom barrel. I named it, "Xia," just for you."

I picked up the hand cannon, and looked over it for a few minutes before sliding it into my jacket. Gao's passion for these weapons was infectious.

"I'd offer to take you to the gun range to celebrate with your new toy," Gao said. "But perhaps it is best if we be more careful."

"So, you're saying I should ditch the scroll?" I asked. My roommate had just gotten me a gift that was even better than some ancient mystical text, since a gun wouldn't draw in bloodthirsty demons. "Is it cursed or something?"

"No, the opposite, in fact," Gao replied. "The Bai Ze Tu was supposed to help monster hunters and exorcists. It would be logical, then, for a monster to try to seize or destroy any copies of it. If that is what truly happened."

"How do you know all this stuff, anyway?" I held up the scroll. "This thing could be cursed, for all we know."

"Having my superstitious grandma drill this stuff into me helps," Gao continued. "I loathe to admit that if it is cursed, then we have no way of knowing definitively."

"Maybe she was onto something," I looked at the scroll. The calligraphy on the scroll began to glow, and ink flooded across the parchment like tides on a beach. Images formed out of blotches and lines, coming to life as the old text dissolved and reformed. Gao simply stared at it, mesmerized by the undulating flow of the inks and dyes. He looked like he was stuck somewhere between fear and disbelief, roughly where I was not so long ago. By contrast, I stared at the scroll almost nonchalantly, as if my brain was now familiar and entirely comfortable with the scroll. Thinking about my non-reaction t for a moment gave me the creeps before I looked over the new information.

There was an almost photographic image of the rat-monster from before, alongside text in Chinese. Under it was a far more hideous beast, a putrid and mangy giant rat with an exposed skull for a head. "Huoshu," Gao read off the shifting page. "The fire rat often tricks and tempts unwary mortals into acts of malice, and may be bound with a talisman. Huoshu may take a form the mortal master decides upon. Malicious acts of destruction using fire empower both the often-deluded user and the creature. Pictured is the true form of the monster, and the form it is present in."

I looked at the cartoonish figure and the monstrous rat, and figured the former for the form it was bound in, and the latter for its true visage.

"Gee, charming," I mused. "If that's all true, could someone be controlling that thing?"

"There is that possibility, and more disturbing ones," Gao said.

"It's supposed to grow more powerful with pointless destruction, right?" I considered. "Could it be involved in those strange arson cases we keep having around town?"

"It may, but we have no way of knowing for sure," Gao answered. "When dealing with supernatural entities, we cannot afford to take anything for granted."

"True, but look at this," I walked over to the window and pointed out the trail of singed bushes and leaves leading into the woods. "There's a way to follow it."

"If it leaves a trail like that, it could easily start fires elsewhere," Gao mused.

"And if it was looking for the scroll, then that's why it didn't just burn down the apartment," I tossed my own theory, wanting to see if Gao would shoot it down. "I think we should follow that trail, and see where it goes."

Gao stopped to think for a moment. "As interesting as it sounds, I'd prefer to be prepared to be equipped for the encounter."

"You spend too much free time on those guns," I added. "Besides, if Huoshu is burning buildings, it's a threat to more than just us. If we just let it keep burning things down, it'll just get more powerful, and people could die."

"A good reason," Gao nodded. "But it would be prudent like to ensure we kill it this time, and not just drive it off."

"So, I'll load up my gun, and I'll be heading out," I began loading rounds into my sidearm.

"I have some special hardware I need to prepare," Gao continued. "I'll join you once it's ready."

"If something happens to me, find the monster and avenge me," I said as melodramatically as I could. "I must slay this beast for honor and righteousness."

"As any youxia should," Gao replied. "Now, don't get yourself killed, Wheelgun Will."

"What?" I asked, before realizing the reference to my new revolver. I felt stupid for a few minutes before I slinked out the door. I headed out back, and headed into the woods behind the apartment.

I heard the jingle of brass casings as I stepped over the makeshift firing range Gao set up out back. Hopefully, the neighbors would just write off the gunshots as Gao doing more target practice. I saw a fine trail of ashes and cinders passing through the trees and shrubs. As I approached the woods, a strange feeling came over me. I could feel some cool, refreshing sensations coming over me. If when I first encountered the scroll was being dunked headfirst into ice water, this was a warm shower.

A breeze caused the trees around me to sway, waving the leaves and branches in the canopy. As I moved deeper into the forest, the branches opened upwards as if forming an arboreal cathedral. It was like I could feel energy flowing around me, through me, and past me. In some ways, it was like entering a world of lakes and rivers. I could feel the energy of life flowing and pooling. If this was qi I was feeling, I was feeling it more intense than any point in my life before, and I was truly entering a realm of jianghu.

There was a feeling that made uneasy as I waded into the trees. The trail of ashes and burnt branches made me feel off-kilter. My unease was less butterflies in the stomach and more something fundamentally wrong in the cosmic order. It was like feeling a disgusting parasite, and then having the urge to smash the filthy thing. The feeling only intensified as I followed the trail deeper into the forest.

It came to an end near an overgrown backyard. There was a fire pit and gas can ending near where a backyard began. Gardens that had not been tended in months (at least) were full of dead brown plants. Even the weeds were shriveled and wilted. An empty, rotten wooden doghouse hinted there might have been a canine inhabitant some years before. Paint on the house itself was flecked and faded. Two rusted cars were parked out back, one on cinderblocks and the other looking like it would fall apart at any second. The only thing growing here was entropy. It was as if the earth itself was sickly and ill, with the qi of this place being off. I could not see into any windows, since boxes and garbage bags were placed in front of each one.

A man barreled out of the back door, nearly pulling the door off its rusted hinges. In one of his hands was a cheap replica rapier with the blade wrapped in rags. I hid behind a tree as I examined him. By his side was Huoshu, the flaming rat demon. It still resembled a walking cartoon character, but I noticed the man was Ned Haven. He still had his medallion on, which resembled a splinting image of Huoshu's head.

"Do we have to burn more homes, Pyro-Rat?" Ned hoisted the cheap sword over his fire pit. The rat monster tossed a fireball at the blade, igniting the rags in fire. "I know you want that scroll, but we don't gain anything from it."

"They're full of people who would make fun of you," the cartoon character consoled its master. "I'm going to get the jerks that shot me!"

"Then they deserve it," Ned grinned.

As he walked towards the fire pit, I felt increasingly sick. My revulsion with Ned wasn't just from his lack of hygiene or creepy mannerisms. Whatever stink was coming Ned wasn't just from not showering. The strange fluttering in my stomach from before also grew more intense. The closer Ned and his supernatural associate came, the more uneasy I became. It was like a war being waged in my gut. Eventually, I couldn't take any more, and dry heaved onto the ground.

I looked up and realized my hiding place was now compromised. Ned looked down at me with pure hatred, holding his flaming sword above his head.

"What are you doing here, ninja boy?" he shouted in his shrill voice.

He hoisted the sword as I stumbled backwards. The burning sword came down like an executioner's axe, narrowly missing me. I felt the heat of the blade slash by my head, nearly burning my skin. I slammed my heel back into Ned's shin, forcing the man-child back. I returned to my feet and saw Huoshu (or Pyro-Rat, or whatever the thing's name was) preparing another fireball.

"Isn't this the one who insulted you?" the demon replied. "Let him taste the powers I gave you!"

I reached into my jacket and pulled out Xia. It was time to end this. I twirled the gun from its holster and emptied several shots at Huoshu, putting holes in its head and torso. I then wailed on the rodent, striking it with punches, elbow strikes, and pistol whipping. The rat demon crumpled onto a bruised heap on the ground.

I turned to face my next foe, as the immediate threat was down. Ned slashed at me, and steel rang as I parried with my pistol. He spun like a hurricane, randomly slashing about like a madman. While he was untrained, I feared the amateurs, for they could be truly unpredictable. A lucky strike across my arm seared with pain, and I leapt back.

"Stop, or I'll shot!" I warned. I'd rather not shoot another human, but I would defend myself if I had to. Especially someone working with a pyromaniac hellspawn.

"Die, ninja boy!" he charged with the blade over his head. I hesitated for a long moment, and my shot went wild.

"Ha! You missed!" Ned mocked.

Suddenly, the body of the rat monster changed into a strange red aura, glowing malevolently and speeding through the air. It enveloped Ned and his burning blade, and the eyes of his medallion turned crimson red. A sinister smile crossed his face, the air sizzled around him like a gas grill, and his charge resumed. This time, he had the force of a freight train behind him. I emptied several shots at him, only to see him catch and slice each bullet.

Seeing as my gun wasn't working, I tried another strategy. I charged at him and slid under his slash, the flaming sword passing millimeters above my hair. I was in too close for his sword, and made the most of it. I nailed him in the knee, and erupted upwards with an uppercut. He returned a kick into my chest with the force of a pile driver, and slashed at me. His strike drew a bloody line across my arm, somehow being sharper than I expected a cheap sword to be. The pain made me fumble with the revolver, and I rolled under a junked car to dodge his blade. Another strike sliced off part of my sneaker as I pulled my body underneath.

I laid under the car for a few seconds, my heart pounding like a jackhammer and panting like a dog. As I exhaled and started to relax, Ned's blade slashed through the car like a hot knife through butter, and almost cut me in half. It was stuck in the ground, and Ned cursed to himself as he yanked it out. I took the time to come out the other side, and was greeted with the flash of fire. A concussion left my ears ringing and vision dancing. A large hammy fist backhanded me, knocking me back into the wrecked car, and I felt the taste of blood in my mouth. I looked up to see Ned, with his face twisted into a mask of pure hatred.

He held my neck against the car with one hand, and raised his sword with the other. I writhed and struck at the psychotic creep, but he was unfazed by any attack of mine. My punches, kicks, and joint locks did nothing to break the iron vice that was now closing off my airways. A sadistic smile crossed his face as my consciousness faded. He savored every bit of my suffering, lapping it up like a kitten drinking milk.

As my vision faded, a gunshot sounded like thunder.

"Let him go, or the next one's between your eyes," came a voice. We both turned to see Gao holding one of his pistols in the air. He wore a trenchcoat bugling with weapons, enough hardware to outgun most armies. I took advantage of the opening to open twist Ned's arm away and leap out. Instead of wasting my time with more futile blows, I ran like hell for Gao, catching my breath as I stood behind my foolhardy friend.

"Last chance," he leveled both pistols. "Leave him alone, or I will put you down like a rabid dog."

"Bullets can't harm me," Ned grinned. "Nor can ninja boy's sissy punches."

Ned hefted his sword, and charged Gao as his automatics unleashed a torrent of molten lead. Ned continued onwards, barely noticing the bullet barrage. Ned was bridging the gap too fast and prepared to chop down on my friend, so I tried to distract him. I tried to fire my revolver, but the cylinder was empty. It was then I remembered I had one last surprise. The maniac hefted his blade high over his head, telegraphing his finishing blow.

"Over here!" I shouted at Ned. He stopped the instant before he brought his blade down on Gao, and instead charged at me like a runaway freight train.

I looked around, and saw one way to escape. I charged up a massive tree with as much force as I could muster, trying to go somewhere Ned couldn't follow. My feet moved rapidly, carrying me up vertically over the mad swordsman. I kicked off of the tree and looked down to see Ned's face flush with anger. I blasted the shotgun shell I had left at his head, hoping that would have some effect. I saw his medallion flash read as some of the buckshot grazed it. The strange red mist hissed as it leaked out of it, like some demonic gas leak.

I saw Ned hesitate for a moment, and then I landed right in front of him. I kicked him square in the chest, and ripped the sword from his hands. The qi flowed strongly through me, and I delivered follow-up strikes that sent Ned crashing to the ground. Ned looked up, and shouted as loud as he could. Fury overcame him, and he gathered energy, forming a fireball in his hands. I began to sweat from the heat of Ned's growing projectile. It was then gears in my head clicked.

"Hey, Gao!" I shouted. "Shoot the medallion! That's how Huoshu's bound to him!"

Gao unleashed his remaining rounds at the medallion, blasting it into plastic shards. Ned's fireball went wild, blasting the nearby wrecked car into scrap. Ned fell down, knocked out like a light. The strange red mist poured out of the ruined medallion and into the form of Huoshu. The rat demon appeared, wreathed in flames.

"You fools!" he cursed. "You shall suffer for this!"

He leapt into the air, and formed a fireball in each hand. I heard Gao's pistols run dry, and him curse under his breath.

"Damn. All out," he holstered his pistols.

"Really?" my heart sank. If Gao was out of ammo, we were as good as dead. "No other guns?"

"Just that special project," he grinned wickedly as he pulled something out of his long coat. It was a Gatling gun, fed by an ammo belt and driven by hand-crank. The name "Ultima Ratio" was painted on the side. I could see the rat demon was looking scared, and where Gao's nickname came from.

Before Huoshu could toss its fireballs, it turned to flee. However, it was not fast enough to outrun Gao's bullets. As bullets impacted it, it transformed into its true form, a deformed rodent with an exposed skull. The flaming rat was literally ripped apart as it fled, disintegrating into the red mist I had seen before. Even the mist seemed to dissipate into nothingness, the monster finally vanquished and utterly vaporized. Without its host, it was far easier to destroy. The feeling within, the nausea generated by evil forces, had gone. Eventually, all that was left was Gao, me, and an unconscious Ned.

"The madman is out cold," Gao replied. "I imagine the police will have some questions for him, and perhaps us."

"Like they're going to believe this," I muttered. "I just wish I brought a camera."

"I have a few contacts who can ensure they will," Gao said. "Although would be prudent to make ourselves scarce for now."

"Say, is Ned alright?" I asked, looking at the downed man-child. "Given he's been shot several times and had the crap beaten out of him, he might need medical attention."

"There's no markings from your blows or bullets, since the monster likely shielded him," Gao noted, kneeling over Ned. "Say, what is that?"

I looked at Gao looking at something sticking out of Ned's pocket. I knelt down and examined it. It was a crudely drawn paper, detailing various occult symbols in a ring. "Demon summoning circle," a childish scrawl labeled it.

"It is highly unlikely he came upon that information on his own," Gao noted. "But I shall ask my contacts if anything odd turns up in the arson investigation."

"Ned seems like an easy scapegoat for the demon, Gao," I asked. "Wouldn't the police just lock him up for that?"

"He will likely be sent to a local asylum, where he can receive the help he requires," Gao turned away. "I find it strange you care so greatly about the welfare of someone who tried to kill you just minutes ago."

I turned away to follow him. "He's a victim in all of this," I continued on. "A jerk, yeah, but just some guy manipulated by an inhuman creature."

"Hell of a lot's happened today," I looked around Ned's trashed backyard. Shell casings, wreckage, and ash made it resemble a battlefield more than a backyard. Despite that, a wave of relief came over me as I felt the spiritual cancer had been removed. Internally, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, a spiritually fulfilling birthday present. "If I ever find monsters like this again, I'm going to kick their asses."

"I would like to join you," Gao grinned. "I do have too much free time, and my weapons don't test themselves."

With that, we headed back to our apartment. Gatling Gao and Wheelgun Will seems like a nice, cheesy title, eh? I think I know what my next screenplay is going to be called.