Chapter 4:

Taming the Great Dragon

Echoes of the Sanguine

“You better show some respect to the Great Dragon.”

The delinquent presses his broken bottle into my neck. Blood starts trickling down my neck and staining my hoodie.

Despite that, I stand my ground. I meet the thug's gaze with one of my own, masking my fear with calm defiance and hiding my shaking hands behind my back.

Nanami diffuses the intense standoff. “You’re Ishigami?”

She presents the large sake bottle as a peace offering. “I’m so sorry didn’t notice. I can’t serve any more alcohol, but you can take this with you.” She does her best to feign sincerity.

Ryuta clicks his tongue and snatches the bottle from her. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Only during business hours, please.”

As the troublemakers filter out, Nanami sighs in relief. “Ken-chan, are you okay?” She hands me a wet towel. I take it and dab the cut on my neck. “Please don’t do that again.”

“I’m fine. Tsukino-san. Do you know them?”

“First time, but you learn how to deal with those types. You know this area is a little rough, so…”

“No. I understand. You did what you had to do to do, right?”

Once I’m patched up, Tsukino whips out a glass and pours herself a drink. “Ah, this sucks. When are you turning 20, Ken-chan?”

“Next year.”

“You’re having your first drink with me.” she winks and takes a sip of her glass. “By the way, where’s your friend?”

I glance towards the balcony, realizing Eliana is no longer there. Rushing outside, I scan the immediate surroundings and the distant rooftops. She’s gone.

As I head to the ground floor and exit the nondescript entrance with a bandage on my neck, I immediately am greeted by Ryuta and five of his cohorts.

“So you think you’re a hero, huh? Tryna get into her pants?”

“Did you ask a 12-year-old for your stupid nickname?” I snap back.

Some of Ryuta’s friends release a snicker before quickly stifling it. Ryuta’s face turns red with frustration. “It’s not stupid!” Ryuta snaps his fingers.

On his cue, his thugs form a ring around me, trapping me.

Great, just my luck.

One of them starts with a punch, and I duck, sending his fist straight into the face of an ally. Another one tries to tackle me, but I roll to the side, causing him to collide into a stack of milk crates, spilling its contents everywhere.

I retaliate with a couple swings of my own, but they never connect. I try to give another one a shove into the wall, but I’m gifted a couple punches into my gut instead. My parkour skills make me good at dodging, but not attacking.

It’s times like this when I wish I knew some martial art.

Regaining my footing, I continue to dodge their flurry of haymakers, eventually being able to roll myself out of their encirclement so I can deal with them one-by-one.

The goon who got hit in the face earlier, flicks his switchblade open and lunges at me with more venom. I do my best to dodge his hasty swings, but he manages to land a couple cuts on my jacket. I return a spartan kick to his stomach, reeling him backward.

Even being outnumbered, I think I can beat these losers!

Then I get pistol-whipped in the back of the head.

I quickly regain consciousness and find myself restrained by two of Ryuta’s thugs, while another lands punches in my abdomen.

“Feeling like a hero now?” he taunts, taking a swig of the sake bottle.

He draws his Czech CZ-75 pistol from his waistband, pressing the barrel at my face. “I could shoot you for insulting me, but I’m feeling generous tonight. I’ll just have my friends break your limbs instead.”

The thug that was punching me sneers and slips on brass knuckles.

Suddenly Eliana returns out of nowhere, dropping from above onto a lackey, instantly taking him down, then swiftly incapacitates another. The two initially restraining me release their grip, now focused on her. Eliana catches her descending coat and quickly tosses it at them, obscuring their vision, then delivers two concussive blows. Just like that, the fight is over.

Ryuta, now trembling, aims his gun at Eliana. “You will pay for mocking the Great Dragon!”

Staring down the barrel, Eliana smirks coolly. “Then shoot me.”

But he doesn't.

“I’m disappointed.” She kicks the gun out of his hands, the gun flying into the air and out of sight.

“Take your friends and never come back.”

Helping up one of his friends, Ryuta and his wounded group hobble out of dodge with beaten bodies and egos.

With her coat off, Eliana reveals her super slim yet curvy profile accentuated by her tight-fitting black sleeveless shirt. She picks up her trench coat and dusts it off.

“I totally had them.” I half-jokingly protest.

“Sure you did.”

“How did you know he wasn’t gonna shoot you?”

“Soft men who borrow muscle never get their own hands dirty. Also helps he didn’t have a bullet in the chamber.” She lends me her hand and I get back on my feet.

“You’re a really good fighter. I owe you one,” I complement.

She responds with a fleeting smile. “It’s time I leave. I’ve been here for too long.” She slings her coat around her shoulder.

“Running from the mysterious boogeyman?”

She gives a somber nod and heads down the alley.

Wait. I didn’t get her number. “Hey, Eliana!” I call after her. She glances back at me, but switches her attention to the end of the alleyway.

WHOOSH! An arrow, gleaming with silver, narrowly misses Eliana and embeds itself into the wall behind us. Eliana winces, clutching her grazed shoulder.

“Eliana!” I rush to her side and check on her. Her wound is a superficial cut, but its sizzling violently.

I’ve never seen any wound do that before.

Then three figures emerge from the fog at the alley’s entrance. They’re covered in black armor with orange accents and visored combat masks. They’re wielding tactical crossbows with red-dot sights and folding skeleton stock. If it were not for the bow and string, they’d look like modern submachine guns.

The shooter reloads his crossbow with a quick lever action, drawing the string and loading another arrow in one motion.

One masked figure addresses a figure still shrouded in fog. “Boss Cruz, we’ve spotted the anomaly: It’s a sanguine, like you said.”

“So now our hunt finally comes to a close,” declares a voice from the shadows.