Chapter 2: A Dragon, Oyako, And Immortality

1

Lyco awakens to the sound of rain pounding on the window like machinegun fire. As she enters the dining hall, she can hear the low whistling of the wind as it slips through the cracks in the walls, almost as though some massive creature were sleeping beneath the floor. She can even feel the slight trembling of the building through her feet as it sways.

Uka is in the middle of making breakfast when the door leading out to the hallway opens, and Lyco appears. Her hair is as messy as though she had tried to fight the storm head-on.

“Ugh, dammit… My head’s pounding like crazy… Mornin’.”

“Good morning, miss hangover. It’s no surprise you have a headache after all you drank last night.”

Lyco slumps lifelessly over the counter before Uka can even finish getting her a glass of water. Uka knew this would happen since the evening before. Every once in a while, the customers get wrapped up in an especially celebratory mood, and Lyco has a remarkable soft spot for booze, even if she is incredibly strict on recreational drugs. It started with a bottle of pre-war bourbon one of the guests brought in to share, and one glass led to two or more. Uka wouldn’t have stopped Lyco even is she had a reasonable chance of doing so, however; more drinking means more eating. She was so busy she hardly could leave the kitchen, and as always she wound up nursing Lyco’s hangover the following morning.

Lyco half-drinks and half-spills the glass of water before rubbing her temples and moaning.

“I shot myself with an anti-alcohol enzyme last night and everything… two, actually. If I’m still feelin’ this bad, something iffy must’ve been mixed in my drink…”

“Well, obviously. That’s what you get for drinking industrial alcohol.”

“Industrial what?”

“That means not for human consumption. You should be glad you only have a headache. Not only that, but you also drank some two-hundred-year-old wine yesterday, didn’t you?”

“Huh?”

“I remember hearing that yellow wine was found in a hidden cellar in the old HIBIYA tunnels. 2108, wasn’t it? That type goes bad after only a year.”

“I don’t remember any of that.”

“It was right when everyone started drinking. I remember you sat and chugged the whole bottle.”

“…”

“It was so quiet that I thought for a moment someone had died.”

The customer who brought the wine likely died on the inside at that moment. Most of the time when a customer brings in alcohol, it’s a regular who wants to make Uka happy, and who only wants to hear an earnest compliment from her. Anyone would feel like crawling into a hole after having the waitress, of all people, guzzle it down before its mark. Worse, even if they should want revenge, they can’t lift a finger with Uka just in the other room.

“Honestly, Lyco-chan, you’re going to get stabbed in the back one of these days.”

“I actually get stabbed pretty often, y’know.”

“…”

“I thought they were just pissed at me over some old grudge from my merc work… I guess some people are different, huh.”

Lyco accepts it so calmly that Uka unconsciously recoils a step. She had long known Lyco was dense, but she hadn’t expected her to be quite so bad. Lyco must be just that strong, then; she can only afford to be so dense because there’s hardly anyone in Arakawa who could hurt her if they tried.

As Lyco continues to rub her temples, Uka sets out miso soup, rice, and a yellow fluffy something bigger than the plate it’s on that gives off light wisps of steam. Lyco stares speechlessly at it for a long moment.

“That’s… is that an omelet?”

“Eh? Can’t you tell?”

“It’s really friggin’ huge! It’s like a pillow! A big fat yellow pillow!”

“Well, even one egg was pretty big, and I had to expand it a little after adding the dashi or else it would’ve tasted too strong.”

“What kind of egg is this, even…?”

“I don’t know.”

“Huh!?”

“The merchant didn’t tell me. He just said ‘Hey, missy! Want something that tastes reeeeal good?’ and I bought it.”

“Jeez, you’re an easy customer!”

“I’m sure it’s just a flying lizard egg… or wait, it’s just about their mating season, isn’t it?”

“N-Nah… I’m sure that’s not it…”

“But if it’s not a migrant drake’s egg, then what else could it be?”

Migrant drakes fall into a subspecies of dinosaur. All manner of massive reptiles and other long-dead terrors of the natural world experienced something of a renaissance in the 24th century. It’s not uncommon to see pterodactyls or wyverns circling above, and while they don’t breathe fire they certainly eat enough people to make one think of medieval fantasy tales.

Lyco, as their resident hunter, has had more than a few run-ins with wyverns. The memories aren’t unpleasant so much as they’re incredibly painful.

“Seriously, some people don’t give a shit about their own lives… Drakes in this season are like ticking time bombs.”

“Come to think of it, you’ve never hunted one before, have you?”

“Hell no. I stay well away from those things. My grandpa was a dinosaur hunter, and his professional advice was somethin’ along the lines of ‘stay the hell away from ‘em.’”

“Hmm…”

“…”

Lyco takes a bite of the omelet, trying desperately to ignore Uka’s stare. She glances up to find her housemate’s crystal-clear eyes right there, an angelic smile on her face. Lyco’s chopsticks stop dead. That smile no doubt has a far darker meaning held within it.

“…W-What’s with that look?”

“I’ve got one itty-bitty little favour to ask you, Lyco-chan…”

“No! I don’t wanna hear it!”

“Can you get me a drake?”

“Nope! Nuh-uh! No way!” Lyco throws herself backwards, as if magnetically repelled, shaking her head vehemently. “Didn’t you hear me!? Those things are friggin’ lethal! Just getting near their nest is suicide! How many people d’you think have gotten eaten alive this month alone!?”

“But you’re strong, I know you’ll be fine!”

“How many lives do you think I have? Those things are crafty, cunning, and cruel! One bite and I’d get eaten whole! It wouldn’t even need to chew!”

“Hmm…?”

“Listen to me! I ain’t gonna do it!”

“Oh, I am listening. It’s just… don’t you think there are some things that are worth the risk? Just imagine how a big, juicy, nutrient-filled dragon would taste. I’ve heard they’re plenty fatty, so even just a quick sauté means a fountain of juicy gravy…!”

“Oi. Wipe your mouth, at least.”

Uka dabs away her drool moments too late, then clears her throat with a firm little cough and fixes Lyco with meek, upturned eyes.

“…You really don’t want to hunt just a little dragon? Not even for me?”

“No way! I ain’t puttin’ my life on the line for food!”

“Oh, okay… So I guess you’re fine with getting yelled at, then…”

“Yelled at? By who? Look, I don’t care what you say, there’s no way–”

“Cactus-san.”

“…Eh?”

“Don’t you remember? Cactus-san asked you last night to hunt a drake for him.”

“Ehh…?”

“You don’t remember? It’s a formal request and everything, so you’ll get paid, too.”

“Wait… so I can’t say no?”

“Oh, I’m not saying you absolutely can’t refuse or anything. I do remember a certain someone promising to get me fried dragon, but I must’ve been hearing things. If you really don’t want to hunt it, and you’d rather lie to your housemate and betray the trust of the man who raised you, then I suppose–”

“Fine, I give! You win! I’ll go hunt it for you!”

Lyco raises her hands in a gesture of defeat, and Uka begins hopping in place and clapping her hands with glee. Lyco’s headache seems to take on a new sharpness, but it’s nothing she didn’t deserve, and arguing is too much work. She decides to refocus on her breakfast instead.

After the omelet has been chipped away at somewhat and the miso soup and rice have both run out, Uka suddenly seems to remember something.

“Ah, yes! Would you like me to make you a bento?”

“Nah, I’m sure Cactus’ll treat me to something like always, and I’ll be back in time for dinner. If I’m not back by dawn, you should go ahead and start digging a grave for me.”

“Even though your body will be inside the dragon?”

“I was joking… you could at least tell me to not die or somethin’…”

“There’s no way you’d die so easily, Lyco-chan.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

Lyco lets out a heavy sigh. Uka then springs up from her seat, and circling around the table she takes the seat behind Lyco, just as always. She begins to run a comb through Lyco’s tangled black hair as peace and tranquility overcome the dining hall, only punctuated by the pattering of rain against the windows.

Then.

“Hey, Lyco-chan… You didn’t go to bed without showering last night, did you?”

Uka’s voice is barely above a whisper, but the peaceful atmosphere is instantly filled with tension.

“How should I remember something like that?”

“Is that why your hair still smells like fermented grapes?”

“W-What’s wrong with it? It’s kinda like perfume, isn’t it?”

“…”

The silent rage building withing Uka is so palpable it gives Lyco goosebumps. She’s a great lover of cleanliness, far more so than the average person.

“…How about you go take a shower right now, Lyco-chan? You still have time before work.”

There’s a dark, inexplicable weight to her words. Lyco stands up and whips around in a panic.

“N-Nah, I’m good! I’ll probably get all mucked up during the hunt anyways… H-Hey! Lemme go!”

She tries to flee, but Uka nimbly threads both her arms under Lyco’s armpits from behind, interlacing her fingers behind Lyco’s head.

“Shower… aaall clean… nice and shiny…”

Lyco frantically taps-out, unable to listen to her housemate’s eerie chanting another second. Uka lets go of her, but then grabs Lyco by the hand and walks her towards the bathroom.

“That hold just now is called a ‘full nelson’, by the way. If I’d leaned back into a bridge, I would’ve cracked your skull into the floor and you’d be finished. In this old art called ‘pro wrestling’ from before the war, they called that move the ‘Dragon Suplex.’”

“I really didn’t need to know… and wait a sec, if you can do stuff like that, then why don’t you go ‘finish’ that dragon!?”

“I’m way too delicate. You wouldn’t want me getting hurt, would you?”

“Seriously…!”

Lyco no longer has the energy to resist, however. She manages to muster together enough for one last complaint, but seeing Uka’s shining smile beside her, she swallows it back down. After that they have another short argument – Lyco insists that she can wash herself just fine, while Uka asserts it would be faster if they washed each other – but nothing out of the ordinary. The inside of Garandou is just as noisy as the outside.

2

Arakawa’s central marketplace is totally protected by an overhead network of steel girders. While it serves its main purpose of protecting people from wyverns and other natural threats, it remains utterly useless against the rain and wind. Pools of water form and spill downwards in small waterfalls, and the street is all but invisible beneath the lake that forms there. Passersby stick to the outcroppings of stalls as they go about their business.

Lyco alone trudges through the middle of the muddy street, shoulders slumped as if to shrug off the falling water. Not only her CNT battle suit, but even her skin is sopping wet. Her listless expression alone would attract plenty of gazes, though nobody who valued their life would stare at her. Her every feature crackles with irritation, leaving no doubt that any who would dare touch her would get shocked. Her boots splash dirty water as she strides forward.

Normally, not even she would be quite so fierce, but today the circumstances are a little different.

“Shit! Why’d it have to be the friggin’ vanilla soap…!?”

By the time she had caught whiff of her housemate’s sweet and creamy homemade shampoo filling the shower room, it was already too late. Every single bottle of shampoo, every bar of soap was vanilla-scented. If she were to run from the shower, however, there’d be a Dragon Suplex awaiting her. Vanilla before her, a dragon behind her. She had no choice but to use the soap and try hard not to gag.

As she enters the central square, she feels a little better. All around her is a sea of stalls. Empty stomachs flow in, congest as they mill about aimlessly, and disappear into the marketplace as soon as they’re filled. The mixed smells of something sweet and unwashed bodies fill her nostrils, and the scent of vanilla is fortunately submerged.

As she struts through the crowd, a giant octopus… no, a spider appears before her. At any rate, a huge man with a bulbous body and eight mechanical tentacles for legs stalks forwards, accompanied by the loud whirring of dozens of rotors. According to Uka, they called his kind RIKISHI in the distant past.

As soon as the cyborg spots her, he calls out and waves, approaching her with a chorus of thudding steps and a greasy smile.

“What, ya going’ out fer a date after this, Lyco? Yer smellin’ sweeter’n I ever saw ya act. Why, yer pretty much askin’ ta be gobbled up by some–”

Before he can even finish his sentence, Lyco draws her sword and a severed tentacle goes flying. As she raises her arm for a second swing, Cactus hastily scuttles backwards.

“Hey, quit it! How much d’ya think these puppies cost, huh!?”

“Shut up! Like I care!”

Lyco’s eyes are still fixed on the second tentacle, but at that moment a man in a black suit and sunglasses cuts in between them. He draws a handgun from his jacket and sticks it in her face.

“Whaddya think you’re doing to the boss, huh!?”

“Wha…!? That fatso’s the one who started it!”

Lyco and the suited man glare daggers at each other for a long moment. He caves first, however, accidentally pulling a tad too hard on the trigger.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Gunshots ring out through the marketplace. Only one bullet came close to its mark, slicing through the top layers of Lyco’s skin and leaving a bloody gash that drips down to her jawline.

Without so much as batting an eye, Lyco grabs the gun and crushes it with her raw grip strength. The man lets out a shrill scream, and Cactus behind him rolls his eyes with a tired sigh. A tentacle thrusts out to grab him by the back of the neck and hoist him into the air.

“No, whaddya think yer doin’, huh? Think I got QSZs lyin’ around everywhere, huh? Think yerself important enough ta go wreckin’ SEED property like that?”

“N-No, s-s-she broke it–”

“An’ that’s yer fault fer not realizin’ what’d happen if ya went threatenin’ her like that, dumbass! Take a good look at ‘er face again an’ remember it this time, ya squid!”

With that, the man’s head is thrust up through the metal network above and left hanging there. Only the faint twitching in his legs would suggest that he’s still alive.

Lyco likewise feels much better, having destroyed the gun. She tosses the twisted piece of scrapmetal at Cactus.

“Who was that prick? New guy?”

Cactus snatches the former gun out of the air with a tentacle and stashes it in a small drawer in his metal lower half. He shakes his head sadly.

“A new grad. Guess this job was a bit tough fer a newbie.”

“It sucks to be in management, huh.”

“Least he doesn’t break my junk every five minutes like ya did in yer old days.”

Cactus, also known as the Kraken of Arakawa, is the head of the northern branch of the Asian yakuza group SEED and Lyco’s former superior. She’s known him since she first tumbled into the organization when she was seven, and they’ve known each other since day one. She owes him enough that even though she’s a free mercenary now, she can’t turn down a job from him in good conscience.

“So? What’s the job? I’m supposed to go hunt a dragon, right? I better not have to deal with more newbies like sunglasses there.”

“Why the rush? How ‘bout we talk over food? I’m so hungry I can barely think right.”

“It’s only ten. Can’t we wait until after?”

“Ten’s the perfect time fer a bit of a snack. After smellin’ that wonderful shampoo of yers, I’m hankerin’ fer sweets somethin’ fierce.”

He clanks away from her through the marketplace, finally stopping at a taller stall that he can eat at with ease. He dips his head under the short curtain there. “Four honeyed ones,” he says as Lyco scrambles up a long-legged chair beside him. “Just tea for me,” she chimes in. Cactus gives her an incredulous look.

“Make it five honeyed ones, four fer me an’ one fer ‘er.”

The old man behind the counter blinks at them with big, swimmy eyes before croaking “One for each of you is fine!” with a shake of his head. Cactus glares at him, and after shouting back “Four fer me!” he slams five orders’ worth of coins onto the counter. The old man blinks indignantly, but gives up a moment later and begins to prepare.

He doesn’t have much to prepare in the first place, however. The stall Cactus chose sells oil bars, which is incidentally the reason for his porky stature. The ‘food’ mainly consists of nutrient powder and fat, pressurized into a block shape. Some stalls sell variations with a few seasonings mixed in, or dips such as the ‘honey’ at the stall in front of them. It’s all the same to Lyco, however, and she finds herself lamenting over such a pitiful last supper. She’d be better off dying on an empty stomach.

“Eugh…”

In moments, the honeyed oil bar is placed on the counter before her. Any hunger she had instantly fades away. She had watched the handgun-magazine-sized block of fat be fried mere moments before, and the ultra-sticky brown sugar syrup is as thick as mucus about it. She nears her nose to it and finds a sweetness that is unmistakably not that of honey.

“Star anise and… cinnamon, huh? This is a pretty busy hunk of fat.”

“Dig in ‘fore it gets cold. This place’s got a real talent fer makin’ oil bars. If they didn’t they’d have crumbled ta all the competitors ‘round by now.”

Lyco snares the oil bar between her chopsticks. After hesitating for a long moment, she takes a bite to find it feels unexpectedly pleasant in her mouth. If nothing else, it lacks the crumbly texture of most other oil bars.

“They use sesame oil here, y’see. Guess ya could call it a Chinese-style oil bar,” Cactus explains as he gulps down his second. Surprisingly, the syrupy sweetness of the coating sets off the flavour of the spices inside well.

“Shit… I hate that this tastes pretty good…”

“Don’t it, though? Makes ya wish ya ordered a few more, don’t it?”

“Uh, no. No, it doesn’t.”

Regardless of the flavour, it’s still far too oily, to the point where she’ll probably be wrestling with the slick aftertaste for a month. She can already feel a layer of oil begin to form by her sinuses.

“What’s the point of frying these things, anyway? The nutrient powder’s oil-soluble, so wouldn’t that just make these things less healthy? It’s not even a perfect nutrient food at this point…”

“Who cares? The shit tastes good. Lemme show ya a place that does a great cheese dip next time. Nothin’ hits the spot like fat, after all… come ta think of it, we got some time. Why don’t I take ya there now?”

“No way.”

Only a modern RIKISHI could have such an appetite. Once again, Lyco finds herself wondering if he got his nickname of ‘Kraken’ from his robotic tentacles or from his eating habits.

He finishes all four oil bars in no time and gulps down the complimentary green tea in a single swig. Their entire meal, from ordering to the very end, took only five minutes. In a sense, the perfect fast food, she muses as two more customers from the line outside take their place.

They cut through the crowd to the edge of the marketplace. The chaos of odours and body heat is behind them, and finally Lyco can fill her lungs with damp, chilly air. Lyco walks by Cactus’ side, and as soon as they’ve passed to a section of street free from prying eyes, they get right down to business.

“So, what’s the plan for today? I’ve never hunted a dragon before in my life, so there’s more to this job than that, right?”

Cactus doesn’t reply. Instead, he reaches into another one of his drawers, pulls out a syringe filled with purple fluid, and holds it out to her.

“Ya better take this first.”

Lyco’s brows instantly furrow, and she shoots Cactus a incredulous look.

“It’s bad enough to need new PAC, huh?”

“Just a little insurance fer a dragon-huntin’ newbie like you. If ya don’t wanna die, ya better shoot up… though I guess I don’t gotta worry that much, huh.”

“Hm?”

“That cut on yer cheek’s already healed up, ain’t it?”

“Ah, that? Last week’s shot must’ve had a little left.”

Just as Cactus said, the cut on her cheek from the newbie’s bullet has already closed up completely, leaving not so much as a scar. It’s as if time itself rewound. It isn’t a miracle or magic, however – it’s science.

Pluripotent Anucleate Cells, better known as PAC, once single-handedly opened the door to a new age of biotechnology. In short, it’s an all-purpose regenerative drug born from matrix mechanics and proteasome manipulation. It took three global-scale pandemics and decades of bioweapon research to arrive at the miracle drug, but its history doesn’t matter. It works miracles. With PAC, even death can be overcome with ease, and any injury can be healed in no time.

[Usable by all, with NO adverse effects! Humanity no longer has to fear death! Bye-Bye Die! ***Effects may differ from individual to individual. Consult your doctor before use] – or so the first marketing slogans went.

PAC proved to be far from perfect, however. There are indeed some ‘individual differences,’ the first being how effectively its regenerative abilities are. Some can glean immense boons from even a tiny dose, whereas it hardly affects others. Lyco happens to be the former, and Cactus the latter.

Lyco’s ability to absorb, retain, and utilize PAC are all truly exceptional, and she can benefit from its regenerative properties for days without renewal. If Cactus is giving her the newest model, however, that only goes to prove how much trouble this assignment will be.

She breaks the syringe out of its vinyl bag and sticks it into a vein on her left arm with practiced motions. A split second later she can feel her heart jump. Old and dying cells throughout her body are instantly wiped out and replaced. She breaks out in a cold sweat. Somewhere far off she can feel someone saying “See, I told you you should take a shower!” but it must be only her imagination.

“This stuff is nuts…”

“It’s pure, from an old government facility. It ain’t some washed-out party PAC.”

“Wow, this must cost a fortune… what could you want so bad to give me something this good?”

“Well, truth is, this job was gonna be ‘bout exposin’ the facility that’s churnin’ out this stuff illegally, but a migrant drake went an’ holed up in the factory an’ won’t budge.”

“A PAC factory…? Why’re you calling me out for something fishy like that? If we’re talking about a whole facility, you’re better off swamping the place with your thugs.”

“Yeah, but it ain’t that easy.”

“Why not?”

“Usin’ a gun or somethin’ would ruin the meat, wouldn’t it?”

“…Huh?”

“Can’t just go callin’ a contractor ta go huntin’, ‘course, an’ there ain’t nobody in SEED who can even spell ‘dragon hunt’, let alone do it. Ya got a bit of experience an’ I can trust ya ta keep it on the down-low, an’ ya don’t even use guns ta boot.”

“…”

“Yer the best there is if we got any intention of eatin’ it after this’s all over. Ain’t you the one who said that, just last night?”

“…I guess I might’ve…”

“Great! I’m countin’ on ya, Lyco of Garandou!”

A tentacle gives her an enthusiastic thump on the back. She can feel her headache coming back, and with every passing second she hates her past self more. Worse, the rain has finally soaked through her clothes, chilling her to the bone.

3

A sleek metal chassis cuts between buildings as it heads to the northernmost reaches of Arakawa. It used to be a military-owned LAV before it was abandoned and subsequently modified to the extreme. Cactus affectionately refers to it as the ‘Octopot.’ The outer armor is emblazoned with SEED’s peach insignia and countless bullet marks. All of the controls and seating on the inside have been stripped away, making a direct nervous connection via tentacle the only means of driving it. Given the sheer amount of room Cactus himself occupies, Lyco is huddled in one of the corners.

Before long, the massive ruin on the banks of the Arakawa River comes into sight. It apparently used to be a school of some sort, but now it serves an altogether different purpose.

“I’m impressed you even found this place. It’s pretty dangerous this close to the jungle, and SEED didn’t have any hideouts around here last I checked…”

“Eh, I just kinda stumbled on it. Truth is, there’s been some unauthorized access to the Net ‘round Arakawa lately. They went an’ broke through all our firewalls, even. We ain’t about to just sit back an’ watch some bozos go oversteppin’ their bounds like that. There’s a Net tower right ‘round here, so when I did a little lookin’, I found a buncha machines, incubator vats, the whole shebang.”

“The Net? So you were at Garandou to get Uka’s help?”

“Yep. Thing is, though, an illegal PAC factory’s gotta have a pretty big name behind it. I was just lookin’ into their backer when that asshole dragon went an’ made things complicated.”

“I don’t even know if that’s good news or bad…”

“Whelp, can’t be helped. Illegal oil bars an’ illegal PAC are like two peas in a pod. Scaly bastard must’ve been drawn by the smell of all the fat.”

“So the dragon was just hungry or something? And what’s this about oil bars?”

“Business, ‘course. Illegal PAC’s got drugs or poison or somethin’ mixed in at the best of times, so if they sell oil bars with somethin’ to suppress the symptoms, they got themselves a whole market. They end up with twice the profit. Sellin’ poison in the antidote.”

Cactus’ tone is light as they bounce along the road. Glancing at his face from the side, Lyco realizes he’s got a grin plastered across his face.

“Ah, I think I get it now!”

“W-What?”

“You’re planning on taking over the factory, aren’t you?”

“…”

“Now it makes sense. No wonder you want to keep guns and explosives out of the picture. I knew you weren’t stupid enough to risk lives just for the meat. You called me cause you want the building itself in one piece, right? Wanna get in on the market, do you?”

Cactus’ fat face twists into a frown, and his face turns as red as a boiled octopus. Lyco smirks and gives him a tap on the cheek with the flat of her sword.

“Sorry, but I ain’t getting involved in a turf war or anything stupid like that. No way I’m going so far for SEED on amnesty alone.”

“…”

“…”

“…Shit! Fine, what’s yer price!?”

“That’s more like it!”

Lyco grins like a devil and holds up three fingers.

“You’ve got three more syringes of that quality PAC kicking around, don’t you?”

“What!? I didn’t even want ta part with one, an’ now ya want three more!? Fuck that!”

“Don’t be like that, you’ll have a whole factory’s worth soon enough… I only accept payment up-front, though.”

“Heh, like I’d really have somethin’ so valuable–”

Lyco noisily bangs her sword against the drawer in which Cactus had stowed the gun she’d broken.

“C’mon, I ain’t got all day. You want that dragon dead or not?”

Without such merciless ‘negotiation’ skills, Lyco wouldn’t be able to make it as a free mercenary. Cactus’ brow furrows like a mountain range, his face still bright red. Any of his coworkers at SEED would no doubt be floored by such an expression, but Lyco is already completely used to it. Besides, the factory should be worth far more to him than three measly doses, and his mind runs on risk and gain. Just like an octopus, he won’t give up his prey once it’s in sight.

“…Dammit!”

Still muttering curses to himself, he reaches into the drawer Lyco had indicated moments before, draws out three syringes, and passes them to her. As she stows them in a compartment in the hilt of her sword, they pull up beside the factory. Even up close, it betrays no sign of being anything but another ruin, remarkable only in its huge, boxy size. Vines criss-cross the building’s outer walls, laden with leafy spring growth.

“I’ll give ya yer orders via earpiece from here in the car. Call me if there’s trouble.”

“Why should I? It’s not like you have anyone waiting to back me up.”

Lyco pushes her micro-sized earpiece into place and immediately heads into the ruin. Cactus laughs behind her.

“Guess yer right! I’ll at least check an’ make sure yer dead if it comes to that. Can’t imagine you’d get good reception from inside a dragon’s belly.”

“Why is everyone talking about me getting eaten…?”

As she remembers her conversation with Uka that morning, she gets an ominous feeling. One look in the front door is enough to tell her why.

“Seriously…?”

Countless bodies, most only barely recognizable as humans, lie scattered across the corridor. Not only have they begun to rot, but most of them are also missing large pieces, and they’ve begun attracting swarms of insects. She doesn’t place any stock in anything as ambiguous as a ‘sixth sense’, though she trusts her nose – and the entire building reeks of rot death.

“Guess I should take another shot before going in…”

She draws a red syringe from her sword hilt that is unmistakably different from PAC and sticks the needle into her thigh. The proalgesiac, or ‘pain drug’ as it’s often referred to, temporarily increases her sensory receptors and increases the production of cytokines in her body. As a result, all of her senses, including her sense of pain, are sharpened to the extreme. Most people who use the drug are masochists looking for an extra little kick, but Lyco uses it for work.

In seconds, the smell of rot becomes several times stronger, causing her head to spin for a moment – but before long she catches the scent of something decidedly not human. If she’s not willing to enter the tiger’s den, she’ll never get her hands on the cub; with that resolve she begins to track the dragon’s scent into the ruin’s depths.

She stops after climbing a staircase to the second floor. Crouching in wait some hundred meters before her is the drake. It must have sensed her presence well before her arrival.

“Holy shit, that thing’s big…”

The creature’s massive frame is covered in spikelike scales, and its massive talons easily bite through the floor. Its gaze seems to pierce clean through her, and judging from its lowered stance, it could leap at her at any moment. Seeing that, Lyco realizes that her first assumption was off its mark.

She had assumed that she would have some advantage inside the building, and that a creature used to hunting in the air would struggle in such a confined space. Against a normal dragon, she might be right. Most dragons, especially wyverns, have evolved from flying lizards or flying snakes, and are specialized for flight. Yet there exists a second descendant of the dinosaurs turned draconic – birds. Dragons evolved from birds of prey have had their feathers harden into impenetrable scales. They may be far rarer than the strictly reptilian dragons, but they also happen to be far stronger, ruling the skies natural world in the truest sense. One look at the creature’s blood-soaked raptorlike beak explains the mountain of corpses at the entrance.

Lyco’s body trembles, though not even she knows if from fear of the apex predator or excitement at the prospect of fighting it. Tightening her grip on her beloved wooden blade, she rushes forwards toward it.

The dragon, however, remains motionless. No true predator would rush to kill a tasty morsel that is too foolish to flee. The moment before they enter striking range, however—

BANG!

Light suddenly fills the room as Lyco’s flashbang detonates right before the dragon’s eyes. If she can’t win in terms of raw strength, she’ll just have to use any and every trick at her disposal. As the dragon rears its head back in confusion, she runs beneath it and drives her sword into the root of its leg and rends it clean off. The next moment, a second leg falls. Her wooden sword is more than just a stick; plants experienced the same explosive evolutionary growth animals did, and her guaiacwood blade is hard and sharp as steel.

The dragon lets out a bone-chilling cry. Lyco’s eardrums feel like bursting, particularly under the influence of the pain drug, and her head spins from the overstimulation.

Her mission is a success nonetheless, however. She connects to Cactus on her earpiece.

“That was quick. Don’t tell me ya got cold feet already?”

“Yeah, right. I’m done is all.”

“Really? Haha, I knew I could trust ya! Yer the best.”

“It’s not dead yet, just legless and in pain. I can trust you to take the meat back to Garandou, right?”

“’Course ya can. I’ll come an’ get it right away. Ah, Uka said to bleed it but leave the organs in.”

“Jeez, she’s always so picky when it comes to food…”

Lyco smiles to herself. The important thing is that the ordeal is over, and more quickly than she’d expected to boot. All’s well that ends—

“—Cactus.”

“What, don’t go rushin’ me. I said I’m comin’!”

“No, stay away.”

“—Huh?”

“It looks like round two’s just about to start!”

She cuts off her connection to Cactus and readies her sword again. The dragon, which had been flailing on the ground only a moment before, is now slowly attempting to stand again on its new legs. As she watches, flesh and scale alike regenerate at a breathtaking pace, shining faintly under a layer of mucus.

“Why’d you have to go and eat PAC!?”

The natural world didn’t make a sudden comeback for no reason at all. PAC itself is why dinosaurs roam the earth once more and plants grow as strong as steel. The miracle drug was designed to give humanity a chance to recover after centuries of war and destruction, but it proved to be a tad too omnipotent. Widespread trials were undergone in so-called ‘experimental cities’ all over the globe to confirm if the drug truly did bestow immortality. The clinical trials were a bit too widespread, however, and the researchers didn’t even consider the possibility that tics and mosquitos might absorb the PAC in humans’ blood and gain its benefits themselves.

Before long, entire countries of immortal mosquitos formed, which eventually expanded into global empires of parasites. The parasites, ever-hungry for more PAC, filled their hosts with a hunger for more, prompting wild animals to begin attacking humans in droves. Natural selection took over, where only the creatures best-suited to the use of PAC could survive – and homo sapiens were far from the best, in part restrained by their desire to remain ‘human.’ All manner of plants and animals began to evolve rapidly under PAC’s influence, each more adept at its use than the last. There are myriad theories as to why it caused such hyper-accelerated evolution – some say the original parasites merged with their hosts, others claim it was a form of coevolution. The only certain thing is the results.

Those best adapted to storing and using PAC survive, and the rest die out. During the ensuing struggle with humanity, there existed some organisms that went so far as to developed organs that could absorb and store PAC at frightening rates, enabling them to use it whenever the need arose. It goes without saying which animals began to rule the world.

The migrant drake, in other words, must have eaten far more than simply illegal oil bars. There’s no telling how much PAC it absorbed. In other words, her opponent is immortal.

“There’s still no way I’m gonna get eaten!”

Lyco screams as if to intimidate the creature as it sizes her up. Its primeval roar echoes throughout the ruin.

4

Lyco will need to move quickly, before her opponent composes itself. Since it evolved from a bird, she has a decent idea of where its heart must be. She lunges forward and thrusts her sword deep into its chest, then twists her blade and rips it out. The drake howls as a fountain of hot blood sprays out at her, but it doesn’t fall again.

“The hell…!? You’re a monster!”

She stands awestruck for a moment before remembering something Uka had told her while cleaning a flying lizard once.

“Listen carefully, Lyco-chan. After you kill any sort of flying dinosaur, you need to make sure to drain the blood from both the neck and the back. They have two hearts, after all – one in their chest like normal for most of their body, and one in their back for their wings alone. If you only drain the blood from the neck, all the blood will gather in the back and it won’t taste as good. That’s why next time–”

“…Make sure to drain the blood, huh?”

The drake in front of her is several dozen times bigger than a flying lizard. It would make sense for it to have two, even three hearts. Just crushing one won’t do much good.

Lyco jumps back to put some distance between herself and the drake, but too late. It swipes at her with a razor-sharp wing, the hardened scales cutting through her soft human flesh with ease.

“Kh…!”

She raises one of her arms to cover her neck and loses the arm at the shoulder in the process. Pain shoots through her body like lightning as it falls wetly to the floor. Most people would pass out on the spot, especially under the influence of the pain drug, but she’s the Hellhound, servant of death and bringer of misfortune. Her name comes not from her talent as a killer, but rather her ability to survive what can and at times has killed most of her peers.

“Shit!”

She rolls away, stopping only briefly to scoop up her severed arm before sprinting down the corridor and away from the drake. She ducks into a small room after passing out of sight. She calms her breathing, then presses the arm against her shoulder stump.

The PAC lying dormant inside her blood begins to react. Almost instantly, bone begins to re-knit itself, blood vessels reconnect, her flesh reattaches, and finally her skin remolds into an unbroken canvas as before. Normally it would take her several weeks to regrow it, but like this it only takes a few seconds.

There is, however, a cost for such a miracle. Regeneration requires a huge amount of energy, and as she doesn’t have abundant fat reserves like Cactus, she constantly has to fight her growing appetite. For perhaps the first time in her life, she regrets not eating another oil bar.

All she has on hand now are her wooden sword, three syringes of PAC, a few more doses of pain drug, and a bit of tetrodotoxin. The latter has a decent chance of killing the drake, but they couldn’t eat it afterwards if she did that. The poison will be her last resort.

From outside the room, she catches the sound of heavy footsteps and holds her breath. She closes her eyes to focus on her hearing. It sounds as though the drake is some twenty-five meters away, just around the corner to her right. She can clearly hear the excited snorting of its breath and the anticipatory clacking of its beak. There’s no indication of it even limping, despite losing a heart. On top of that, however, is a scuttling, scraping sound – countless metallic scales clacking and scraping against each other. She can feel the goosebumps rise on the back of her neck.

As soon as the drake passes out of earshot, she finally begins to breathe again. Just then, her earpiece chimes and she can hear Cactus’ voice through it.

“Hey, you okay? Sounds like yer havin’ a hard time.”

She can hear him eating something incredibly crunchy between words. Despite knowing she needs to be quiet, she can’t help but raise her voice.

“I’m risking my life out here and you’re snacking!?

“Hey, can’t help it if I’m hungry. You almost done?”

“You’re the worst.”

“You were the one who went an’ made it seem like ya won already.”

“…I might’ve underestimated it a little. I’ve never fought a drake before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think it’d be so hard to kill.”

“’Course a dragon’s tough. Whaddya expect?”

“Don’t go talking like you’re some pro! I bet you’ve never even caught a lizard before in your life!” Realizing that she’s practically shouting now, she takes a few deep breaths before continuing. “So? Got a plan or what?”

“Plan?”

“Why’re you calling me if you don’t have something to tell me? You think I’m wearing this earpiece just so we can chat?”

“Well, yeah. If ya tell me what’s goin’ on, I’m not so bored–”

She hangs up and considers stomping it into oblivion, but decides against it. Just then, she receives another call. She lets out an irritated sigh, but answers it nonetheless.

“What is it this time? I swear, if you’re just going to spout more shit at me…”

From the other end of the earpiece, however, she hears a girl’s soprano voice instead of a deep-throated man’s munching.

“Oh, so scary!”

“Eh?”

“I didn’t even say anything yet! I feel so hurt…”

“Wait, Uka? Is that you?”

“…You don’t recognize your own housemate’s voice?”

“That’s not… How are you even calling me?”

“Well, I accessed the central computer of Cactus’ car, and from there I linked your signal to a satellite and–”

“Sorry I asked! Just tell me why you’re calling already!”

“Well, I heard about the job from Cactus-san, and I thought that if you told me what was going on I might not get so bored waiting for you to get back.”

“…”

“That was a joke.”

“Good. I was seriously about to smash this stupid earpiece.”

“Sorry. I was eavesdropping on you and Cactus-san. You’re stuck, right?”

“Yeah. Got any ideas?”

“Did you try bleeding it out?”

“Yep. I took out one of its hearts, but it’s still full of beans.”

“Wait, you did? But what if the meat gets all bloody and gross!?”

“Too late… and tell me stuff like that sooner next time.”

“Hmm… I might have to change the menu if the meat smells too strongly… boiling it with the blood might also be good…”

“Oi, Uka, you hear me!?”

“Hm? What?”

“Advice! Got any advice!? If I don’t do something, there won’t even be any dragon for you to cook!”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you. If you’re really in trouble, you can use the Dragon Suplex–”

Lyco immediately hangs up and lets out a deep, deep sigh.

“Why can’t anyone ever talk to me seriously…?”

She still has one ear strained in the direction the drake had left in, unease steadily rising in her chest. Why does this always happen to me, she grumbles. For a third time, her earpiece rings. After a moment’s hesitation, she answers to find Uka’s carefree voice on the other end.

“Sorry, sorry. I was just joking. Don’t get so angry~.”

“There’s a time and a place for jokes, and this ain’t it. My friggin’ life’s on the line here.”

“Yeah, okay. But come to think of it…”

Is she even taking this seriously? Lyco wonders as she supresses a sigh.

“I heard this from a dragon slayer a little while ago, but migratory drakes’ bones are supposedly just as hard as their scales. You can’t cut through them, and even a sledgehammer can’t break through its skull.”

“So no going for the brain either, huh?”

“Nope. Its only real weak point is the neck.”

“Neck? I thought you just said I can’t cut it?”

“You can’t normally, but the scales supposedly spread out to help it cool down if its body temperature gets too high. You remember those venetian blinds we have, right? Like that.”

“Body temperature… wait, so that means…”

“Yep. PAC.”

The immense amount of energy consumed by PAC in the process of regeneration accordingly creates a massive amount of heat. In other words, Lyco would have to keep cutting at it until it eventually overheats, though a migrant drake must have a high degree of tolerance.

“Just how many times will I hafta kill that thing…?”

“Until it dies?”

“Of course,” Lyco sighs. The heavy thudding of gigantic footsteps grows steadily louder. It’s do or die now. No matter how she might complain, the ‘Hellhound’ has never failed a job, and she’s not about to start now. That sense of stubborn pride is perhaps the most valuable lesson Cactus ever taught her.

“Get ready, Uka. There’s gonna be a lot of meat heading your way soon!”

“You can do it, Lyco-chan! I’m rooting for you!”

With that, Lyco hangs up and heads out into the hallway.

Two hours later.

“Why won’t this friggin’ dragon just lay down and die!?”

Lyco’s yell echoes through the ruin even more loudly than the drake’s howl. Frustration bordering on despair is mixed into her tone. She just had to use the second of the three syringes of PAC Cactus had given her, and she hardly has the energy to lift her sword. She’d been eating whatever stray weeds and grasses she could find, but soon she’ll reach her limit. She can even hear a faint ringing in her ears.

“What the hell… I’m so hungry…”

The only thing remotely edible she can find is the chunks of bloody drake meat lying scattered throughout the hallway.

“…”

Hey, it’s all freshly regenerated, so isn’t it the cleanest stuff in the world? Her instincts urge her towards it, but she can practically hear Uka saying you can’t eat animal meat raw, ever! She stays her hand.

Come to think of it, there are supposed to be oil bars somewhere in the facility. She could probably sniff them out if she tried, but according to Cactus they might be poisoned or worse. You can’t eat anything that dangerous!, her inner Uka shouts. No way am I eating oil bars twice in one day!, her instincts scream. It looks as though she has a consensus.

Lyco bites her lip and ignores her gut’s mourning wails. Instead, she simply strengthens her grip on her sword.

“Round Three, here I come!”

Two more hours later.

“…”

She doesn’t even have the energy to pretend now. The sheer duration of the fight, punctuated by her stuffing her face with anything that resembled food whenever she had the chance, has pushed her to her limit. Her temperature must be over forty degrees now, and the air around her has begun to warp visibly as heat rises off her in waves.

Luckily, the drake also seems to be on its last legs. Its movements have begun to slow, and the speed of its regeneration is half of what it was at first. As she watches, it stretches its head upwards, and its scales stick out like petals of a flower in bloom around its thick trunk of a neck.

“…!”

She can’t afford to miss such an opening. She leaps towards it, evading a sweep of its wing and clinging onto its neck. Then she drives her sword in through the gap in its scales.

“Shit! It won’t cut…!”

She is completely out of energy. The only reason why she was cutting through it so easily before was because of her arm strength, but now that she’s lost that, she can’t hope to strike a lethal blow. Her sword sinks about halfway into its neck, then refuses to budge.

GWEEEEEEEERGH!

It begins to screech and flail in pain. Lyco is powerless to do anything but cling onto it for dear life. The pointed scales cut deep into her flesh, but if she lets go now, she’ll die for certain. She racks her brains for answers. She can’t use her weapon, and the last syringe of PAC would only draw out her death a little longer. Aside from that…

The pain drug.

A drake’s nervous system shouldn’t be too different from a human’s, so it should work just fine. Its movements might slow somewhat if it were in more pain.

“This is it, all or nothing!”

She wraps her legs around its neck, letting the scales bite in. Opening the hilt-compartment of her sword, she pulls out the red syringe and plunges it into the back of the dragon’s neck.

The drake suddenly freezes. For a moment she worries that she had accidentally injected it with the poison instead, or maybe the drug is toxic to dragons. Before she has time to think on it any further, however, the drake begins to raise its head into the air, as if awkwardly attempting to look behind it.

Lyco reacts without even thinking, delivering a swift kick to its spine to prevent it from acting. Its bones creak as it continues arching its head back, reaching a nearly vertical stance. She turns around so as to face away from it and grabs onto its neck, continuing to drag its head backwards. Then she delivers another full-body kick to its spine, nearly flipping forwards in the process.

The drake, having completely lost its balance, bends over backwards into a reverse bridge and cracks its skull into the floor. It doesn’t move again.

For the first time in history, a human pulled off a successful Dragon Suplex on a dragon.

“Ahh, that was a close one…”

After avoiding being pinned by the dragon’s falling body by a hair, Lyco lets out a sigh of relief. The drake is completely unconscious, its tongue hanging loosely out of its mouth. Though she doubts its skull broke, the shock was evidently enough to cause some real damage. Now she just needs to finish it off.

She pulls out her sword and raises it to deal the killing blow when suddenly, she hears a strange sound.

Kwee! Kwee!

A shrill chirping… no, a cry echoes throughout the ruin. Lyco turns around, and suddenly she understands why the drake had tried to turn around. It must have heard the crying of its child.

A baby drake peeks its head out from behind a corner and chirps again. Its feathers are still soft and downy, not spikelike as its mother’s. It’s about the size of an adult hawk, but the way its huge, dewy eyes gawk around at everything give it a decidedly juvenile impression.

Lyco finally puts it all together. Migrant drakes only travel to Arakawa to breed, in which case it’s entirely possible it would already have a baby. This ruin must be its nest.

“I guess that all makes sense, but…”

The chick bobs closer to Lyco, curiosity filling its eyes. It clearly doesn’t recognize her as a threat. It then turns to its mother, cocks its head to the side, and chirps again.

Just then, a transmission from Cactus comes in.

“So? Ya done yet?”

“Yeah… it’s over.”

“The thing’s good an’ dead now, right? I’m tired of waitin’.”

“…”

Lyco’s gaze shifts from her sword to the drake and back again. The baby dragon looks up at her, further whittling away her resolve.

“You wanna eat dragon too, right, Cactus?”

“’Course I do. Ain’t often ya get such an opportunity… ya ain’t plannin’ on hoggin’ it all to yerself, are ya? How ‘bout we call that yer birthday present to me?”

“Sure…”

Cactus not only used to be her boss, but he also effectively raised her. That same man is urging her to kill the baby’s parent. Besides, the world now operates on the law of the jungle. PAC shows its favour only to the victors. If their roles were reversed now, the parent wouldn’t hesitate to feed Lyco to her baby.

Uka’s also looking forward to eating this thing…

Letting out a faint sigh, Lyco turns the baby and smiles softly.

“Sorry, little guy. I’ve gotta live, too.”

The silence of the ruin is broken by a dragon’s cry once more.

5

The storm has long passed, and the full moon playfully pokes its face out from the forest of skyscrapers as it makes its way across the sky. By now it’s not so much late night as early morning, and Garandou has already closed up. The dining hall is spotless as always, but the evening’s dining was almost sombre, its celebrations subdued. Now, a blond-haired angel sits alone in the vast hall.

Why isn’t she back yet?

Cactus had brought the dragon meat several hours ago, and according to him Lyco was alive. The last thing he’d heard from Lyco was that she would head back later on her own. He seemed to believe she was just irritated at the job being so much trouble and she needed some time to cool off, but there’s no reason she should be so late. She must be awfully angry… but no, that can’t be it. She’s never not come back home before. In the past she’d always come back first thing, with complaints on her lips. Lyco may be short-tempered, violent, and willful, but she’s far too honest for such dramatics. That only makes Uka more worried. Lyco could’ve gotten caught in some accident on the way back, or worse. There’s no shortage of people out there with a grudge against her, and few of them would hesitate to backstab her on the way home.

Just as Uka stands up to send another transmission to Cactus, the restaurant door opens. Standing there is Lyco, covered in blood but alive.

“Lyco-chan!!”

Without even thinking about how dirty she’d get, she runs into Lyco’s arms. The unease and discomfort disappear from both their faces in an instant.

“I’m home, Uka. You didn’t actually start digging a grave for me, did you?”

“I could never do that! I waited and waited but you still didn’t come home, and I felt just so…”

She chokes back her tears, then quickly seperates from Lyco to get a look at her wounds. Luckily, she can’t spot a single one; they must have all closed already thanks to her PAC.

“Where were you all this time? If you were beaten up this badly, you should’ve come home with Cactus-san.”

“Well, uh… this isn’t from the dragon-slaying. I ended up taking on a second job.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just had to help a family move is all.”

According to Lyco, a baby dragon had appeared just after she’d knocked out the adult. She couldn’t bring herself to kill the parent, and so she decided to take them well away from the ruin. She gave the adult her last syringe of PAC, slung the baby over her back, and fled. Fortunately, they were only a stone’s throw away from the Arakawa River and the prey-rich jungle on the far side. The parent was all-too-eager to follow her baby, and after that all Lyco had to do was run for her life. She ended getting even more beat-up in the process, but the family seemed happy enough when they reunited in the jungle.

“I see… That’s why Cactus-san didn’t bring back the head or any internal organs, only legs and wings. I thought he saved those parts for himself.”

“Nah. He’d deep fry the whole thing and eat it just like that if he could.”

“…I think I can see that.”

She’s seen the ‘Kraken’ feed before, after all. He was eager for a bite back when he’d visited earlier, and he was indignant when she insisted the meat marinate first.

“But what will you do if they try to nest in the factory again?”

Lyco frowns in consternation for only a moment before breaking out in a smile.

“I don’t think they’d be that stupid, but if it comes to that, I’ll just solve the problem again somehow. No big deal.”

“I sometimes wonder why you keep making work for yourself like that…”

Uka can’t keep herself from smiling. The ‘Hellhound’ might seem terrifying to most, but she knows Lyco is a softie at heart. She might dirty her hands for work, but she’s no sadist.

“What’s with that look? You asked me to kill that dragon, too. Or what, were you seriously worried when I was just a little late?”

“N-No, I…”

“Ah, I get it. You wanted me to come home to you all safe and sound, is that it?”

Lyco sniggers, and Uka turns away in defiance.

“Oh, honestly!”

Even as she puffs out her cheeks, however, she knows that deep down she’s relieved that Lyco is safe.

“…I guess I am glad to see you’re not too hurt, though.”

“Thanks. It got a little hairy there, but I’m glad you stayed up to wait for me like this.”

“Um… You’re welcome.”

“Alright, then! I’m starving. Do you have anything left over from dinner?”

“Of course. Just take a seat and I’ll get it ready right away.”

Uka heads into the kitchen and grabs the dragon karaage she’d made as a test. She had cut dragon thigh meat into blocks and marinated it with salt, pepper, and Shaoxing rice wine. Then she coated it generously in five-spice powder and potato starch before frying it in oil. The result was a pleasantly crunchy shell over the tender dragon flesh. Enough time has passed that the karaage has cooled already, but she knows just how to fix that. She adds oil to a wok, then briefly fries cayenne peppers, garlic, and ginger together. Once they’ve begun to give off their respective aromas, she adds the karaage, then pours in soy sauce, mirin sweet cooking sake, and tianmianjiang sweet bean paste, briefly sautéing them together. Then, she moves it to a plate and adds white sesame seeds and sesame oil.

“Okay, the Chinese-style migrant drake sweet-and-spicy stir fry is done!”

Lyco pulls a bottle of NEO Bluebird beer out of the fridge and takes a hearty swig, sending a refreshing chill through her aching body. Then, she puts a juicy piece of dragon meat in her mouth with a cheerful “Itadakimasu!

“~~~~~!”

An indescribable burst of umami surges through her mouth. All fears of getting burned are gone from her mind as she gives in to her hunger, shoving piece after piece into her mouth. The distinct juicy qualities of the meat emerge even through the powerful flavours of the garlic and ginger, lending to a thick and rich flavour with an aromatic nutty quality. The sweetness of the dragon fat adds yet another layer to the flavour, similar to but distinct from a fatty cut of beef.

“Ohh…! This is just too good!”

It goes perfectly with beer, too, though such quality meat deserves better than such cheap booze. She takes another sip, basking in her guilty pleasure.

After watching Lyco eat for a moment, Uka starts on the next dish. The preparations have already been made; the meat that was too bloody to eat as karaage sits nicely minced in a bowl. She adds the ground meat and crescent-sliced onions to a wok and sautés them, adding the last of the two-hundred-year-old yellow wine in the process. In a separate pot, she adds butter and cow milk, mixing until the it has just begun to boil and an irresistible aroma fills the room and then adding peeled asparagus. Even though modern asparagus grows tough and tall as bamboo, the spring sprouts are soft and delectable. Finally, she adds a few pieces of dragon fat, and once it has melted nicely, she adds the ground meat to a plate and pours the white sauce over it.

“Next, an asparagus-and-drake vin jaune sauce on meat.”

“Vin what?”

“It’s the wine you were drinking last night. It’s originally from the Sixth Experimental Continent of Lutum from before the war, a place called ‘Europe.’ It was specially made for use in cooking, you know.”

Lyco starts by taking a lick of the sauce alone.

“Ngoh…!”

Her ears twitch visibly as she lets out a stifled sigh. Her expression is sweeter than any would have expected from a mercenary of her caliber. The cream sauce is surprisingly thick, but mellow enough that she can hardly believe the karaage was made from the same base ingredients. When eaten with the asparagus, the fresh vegetable flavour is nicely enveloped and enhanced without being overpowered. The knockout-level punch of the drake was the star of the past dish, yet that same meaty profile now serves as a perfect compliment, bringing everything together in harmony.

“I feel like I’m drowning in deliciousness…”

“Ahaha, I hope that’s a good thing. The sauce hasn’t had quite enough time to absorb all the flavours, but thanks to that it should go down nice and easily.”

“Yeah, I think I could keep eating this forever.”

“Unfortunately, the next dish will be the last of the drake meat, but let me know if you’re still hungry after that. I can prepare you anything from our regular menu in no time.”

“Got it.”

To eat while the stomach’s empty is another one of Garandou’s rules.

Uka reaches for a bowl of steamed meat, which she’d seasoned with salt and sake. It had far too much tendon before, but the gelatin had all melted off in the steaming process. She adds some more salt and sake to a small saucepan, adding the cubed meat after it comes to a boil. After thoroughly mixing some leftover drake egg, she slowly pours it into the mixture and covers it for thirty seconds. She heaps white rice into a bowl, then pours the contents of the saucepan over top. The half-cooked yellow yolk of the jiggles delectably as she places the rice bowl in front of Lyco.

“Last up is a salt-seasoned drake oyakodon!”

“…As in, a ‘parent-and-child’ bowl? After I just saved a mother and baby drake?”

“You can’t save everyone, Lyco-chan, and you may as well eat those you can’t save.”

“Maybe, but…”

“According to Cactus-san, the drake ate quite a few people back at the factory. Eating that drake now would mean that you’ve been eating hu–”

“Don’t say it! Jeez, I was trying so hard to not think of it that way!”

“All living things need to eat other living things to live. People used to have their pick of what kinds of lives they ate, but we don’t have that luxury now. More people get eaten every day. In a way, you could say we’ve re-entered the food chain, like nature intended.”

“I guess you’ve got a point, but…”

“Dig in before it gets cold, now.”

Lyco’s love of food and her respect for life, especially given her own near-immortality thanks to PAC, means she forgets about death all too easily, but Uka is always there with a reminder. To be an ‘angel’ means to watch over the living, but also to live with the dead. Precisely because the threat of death is always with them in one form or another, food has meaning beyond simple nutrition.

She scoops up a bit of steamy rice, meat, and egg, putting them into her mouth all together.

“Hot!”

The steam is still rising thickly off the rice, but the smell is irresistible. The flavour is simple, and the result is simply delicious. Perhaps because of the combination of different ingredients, the meat gives of a fresh, almost herbal smell and flavour despite the near-total lack of spices in the dish. She keeps shoveling more and more into her mouth, pausing periodically only to let her mouth cool down.

“I don’t think I could stop if I tried…!”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

Uka watches her housemate eat the three different drake dishes with a smile. Suddenly, a sound like distant thunder reaches her ears, but she can’t spot so much as a single cloud out the window. The only thing she sees is a large, birdlike shape flit between a pair of buildings.

“No, it can’t be…”

No matter how she strains her ears afterwards, not another cry is to be heard.

Uka and Lyco’s Ingredient Log #2 – Dinosaurs

Uka: Apparently, dinosaurs also ruled the Earth in the distant past.

Lyco: Wait, really?

Uka: Reptiles and birds evolved from the first dinosaurs, and after PAC appeared, they ended up evolving into creatures that look very similar to their ancestors. To be a bit more precise, though, the smaller dinosaurs became reptiles and the big ones became birds, and even now they’re still very different structurally.

Lyco: They taste pretty similar, though.

Uka: Well, they do have common ancestors, after all. The smaller dinosaurs these days are similar to reptiles to the point where some scientists even classify them as proper reptiles still. Birds were a big change, though, what with their sharp scale-feathers and all.

Lyco: Yeah, that thing was crazy. Every time one of those things comes in for a landing, all the plants in the area just get totally cut down. I remember seeing where two migrant drakes fought once, and they’d ended up pretty much clear-cutting the whole forest.

Uka: Really!? You’re so lucky! You didn’t see them in action?

Lyco: Even if I could’ve, no way I would’ve! They could’ve killed me without even realizing I was there!

Uka: Oh… what a shame.

Lyco: What, are you saying it’s a shame I’m alive?

Uka: …Anyhow, it’s pretty much a given that big dinosaurs like that fight to the death on sight, so migrant drakes make it a point to stay well away from each other and keep moving outside of breeding season. They’re called ‘migrants’ because they end up traveling massive distances every year. Given how rare they are and how they’re practically a living symbol of strength and majesty, they fetch ridiculous prices on the market. Garandou wouldn’t be able to afford even one.

Lyco: And that’s why I got roped into hunting one myself, right?

Uka: I’m still really impressed you were able to do it. Apparently, all the professional dragon slayers hunt in big groups.

Lyco: I was lucky is all. It’ll never happen again.

Uka: Aww…

Lyco: …’Aww’?

Uka: Well, I’ve heard that migratory drakes have two main ‘seasons,’ spring and autumn. The former has a fresh, herbal taste, whereas the latter has a rich, fruity-mushroomy smell. However, some people have said that in the winter, the drakes eat vine and bark and the like, and that they taste best of all then. I think there’s plenty of room for experimentation, don’t you?

Lyco: …

Uka: Don’t give up, Lyco-chan! I’m rooting for you!

Lyco: ……

[to be continued]

One thought on “Chapter 2: A Dragon, Oyako, And Immortality

  1. The deep-fried/cheese dip nutrient block thing is a really nice touch of showing how we always find a way to spice up even the blandest of food, health be-damned. Came for the yuri, stayed for the worldbuilding details.

    Thanks for the chapter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *