Juni Taisen: Zodiac War
Rampage. Weep. Kill. Every 12 years, the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac take the form of warriors and engage in the ultimate battle royal. They face one another in battles to the death, using all the powers of their star signs, and the sole survivor is granted the ultimate prize—a wish. Any wish.
Here's an excerpt from the new novel, out now.
Inōnoshishi, the Fighter of the Boar, entered the abandoned high-rise near the center of the ghost town and thought, My, for a derelict, this place is pristine. It was unusual, yes, but not unexpected. Until a very short time ago, the building hadn’t been abandoned, and the city hadn’t been a ghost town. For the mere purpose of holding the Twelfth Zodiac War, and for no other reason, the battle organizers had wiped out an entire city. Boar thought, somewhat ruefully, Not even my esteemed family wields the power to easily eliminate an entire metropolitan region of five hundred thousand in a single night.
Such were Boar’s thoughts as she strode through the building with grace—always with grace, and with elegance. The time written on the invitation had long since passed, but that was no reason for her to hurry. Rather, she held a deep conviction that the duty of the high class was to make others wait for them. Besides, she thought, isn’t it tradition for the Boar to appear last? The previous Boar’s victory makes me in essence the defending champion, and I mustn’t behave in an unbecoming manner.
She tightened her fingers around the grips of the machine guns she held in either hand. She was determined and ready to kill. Boar had been taught to leave her hands free and ready to move in case of any contingency, but she adapted that lesson in her own way. If she was to be prepared for any contingency, wasn’t it better to have a gun in each hand?
She wasn’t now carrying these two massive machine guns only for this occasion. Aishū and Inochigoi—Lost Love and No Mercy—were always with her. She had even been granted legal dispensation to carry them at all times. Should anyone report her to the police, that person would be arrested, not her. Such was her stature as heiress to the great Inō family.
Not that any of the warriors gathering here today will be so easily intimidated, she thought. Or will they?
In essence, Boar was on the inside exactly who she appeared to be—haughty and domineering, generally unpleasant and ill-natured. But she wasn’t a fool, nor was she reckless. She wasn’t about to shut herself into the confined space of an elevator for an entire half-minute or longer. She took the stairs instead, and as she ascended the 150 flights, she never stopped refining her battle plans. That she needed to win was a given; what mattered was achieving that victory with elegance. A victory won through sweat was the same as losing. Her thoughts were solely occupied with how to kill her eleven formidable adversaries with the utmost refinement, in accordance with her venerable lineage.
The top floor opened onto a large space seemingly designed to offer a view of the nightscape far below. Entering this indoor observation deck, Boar announced, “Good evening, everyone. I trust your wait has been pleasant. I am Boar.”
The view might have been something a few days ago, but the ghost town distant beneath them now offered only total darkness. While Boar certainly knew how to appreciate looking down from on high, the shadowy void wasn’t even worth sparing a single glance. Besides, of far more pressing importance was sizing up the eleven fighters—already present— with whom she was about to engage in mortal combat. None rose to meet her, and no response met her greeting. Rather, the fighters had dispersed throughout the room to keep themselves as far apart from one another as possible. A table located in the center of the space offered an extravagant buffet, as if this were some fancy dinner party, but no one was eating, and no one was conversing. The atmosphere was so potently oppressive that an average person might buckle under the pressure of just being there. But to Boar, the sensation was a thing to be savored, and she lightly licked her lips as if to taste it.
More familiar faces here than I expected, she thought. As she examined her adversaries, her expression remained blank, save for the faint smirk she maintained in duty to her status. Ox… and Sheep. Chicken, and Dog. Ah, and this one—I’ve never seen her in person before, but she must be Tiger. And there’s Monkey. Well, I suppose that unpleasant woman was bound to be here. Now, that kid sleeping against the wall…him, I don’t know.
Then she noticed the severed head, the stump of the neck dark red; it must have been cut free with a very sharp blade. Not letting the surprise reach her expression, she moved only her eyes and searched for the matching body and immediately found it, as it too had been casually discarded on the floor. There was no art to be found in the sight, just a severed head and a toppled corpse. Boar had thought the room’s mood seemed heavy, even considering the killings that would soon commence, and this, it appeared, was the cause.
Looks like one fighter was so careless, he got himself killed before we even started. Apparently, something had gone down before she arrived. She glanced at the decidedly odd-looking man standing closest to the corpse.
“Hmm?” the man said, tilting his head as if Boar’s arrival had only now reached his attention. “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me. Don’t go accusing anyone when you don’t have any proof.”
He pointed at her with a large, blood-soaked blade, the gesture too casual to be intended as a threat. It was as if he meant to point a finger at her, and his hand just happened to be holding a sword. To this man, pointing a finger and pointing a sword were the same thing. Since Boar considered her machine guns to be just another part of her body, the two warriors shared this common understanding, if little else. Another unsettling convergence came from the second sword he held in his other hand. Something akin to two long-bladed hatchets, the twin weapons possessed a matching size, design, and menace. Two swords, meet two machine guns.
Not that this should suggest the two fighters shared any affinity. His second sword was still pristine, but she sensed that if he got any closer to her, he wouldn’t hesitate to paint that shiny metal red to match.
Proof? Boar thought. I’m pretty sure that blood-drenched blade is proof enough. Before she could decide if the man was attempting to provoke her or if he was just plain crazy, a voice spoke.
A silk-hatted old man was standing at a window with the blotted-out skyline at his back. No sound had betrayed his arrival. No opening door, no footstep—it was as if he had been there the entire time. All eyes turned to him, save for those of the sleeping youth, who showed no sign of awakening.
“Now that everyone has arrived,” the old man continued, “we shall commence the Twelfth Zodiac War. Everybody, clap your hands!”
He applauded vigorously. To what was surely no one’s surprise, none of the combatants joined in.
Unperturbed by the chilly reception, the man went on. “I am Duodecuple, and I’ve been given the honor of being your referee for this great battle. Pleased to make your acquaintances.”
The picture of humility and respect, Duodecuple offered a deep bow.
Well, I don’t see myself ever pronouncing that name right, Boar thought, otherwise mostly uninterested in the man’s arrival. He had interrupted—and spoiled—the tense moment between her and the sword-wielding man, who now seemed to have forgotten about her and was instead staring at Duodecuple with a strange gleam in his eyes. Some others might have taken the swordsman’s demeanor as that of rapt attention, but Boar knew better—he was trying to decide whether or not he could kill the old man on the spot.
So, Boar thought, he determines friend and foe according to whom he can and cannot kill. Surprise, surprise. I thought I’d be the only one here who worked that way.
She wondered if the old man detected the menace hidden in the swordsman’s stare.
Duodecuple said, “Without any further ado, let’s go over the rules, shall we? If you please, direct your attention to the central table.”
Somehow, the table had been cleared and the food replaced with twelve murky-black, jewel-like orbs. Murky, but beautiful. Each jewel was identical in size, color, and otherwise, but the significance of their number—twelve—was not lost on Boar.
“Everyone,” the judge said, “please take one apiece.”
Keeping their eyes on each other, the twelve fighters approached the table to collect their orbs.
Although, not all twelve—remaining motionless were the dead one, obviously, and the sleeping one too.
If that kid doesn’t wake up, Boar thought, he’ll just lose via forfeit.
But to her surprise, one combatant shook him awake on the way back from claiming an orb.
I see you’re still refusing to mind your own business, Monkey.
Monkey and Boar hadn’t shared the same battlefield in quite some time, but apparently the woman’s meddlesome streak hadn’t changed. After their last encounter, Boar figured that the next time the two met, one of them would die, and present circumstances called for no revision to that sentiment.
The jewel’s murky black appeared darker up close. Rolling her jewel in her fingers, Boar thought, What surprises me is that, with all these fighters and all their apparent peculiarities, especially this dangerous one—she glanced at the sword-wielding man—they’re each following to the letter the instructions of this so-called judge, a man we’ve never seen or heard before. I guess that just goes to show how major an event this Zodiac War is. I mean, I knew that going in, but one can’t really comprehend it until one’s here.
Without a token word of thanks to Monkey, the awakened boy sleepily claimed his orb. Now only one remained unclaimed.
“Hey, Mr. Judge guy,” one fighter said, raising his hand. “Since my brother’s orb is left over, I don’t see there’s any problem in my taking it, is there?”
When Boar turned her attention to the face of the man who was so brazenly attempting to gain a leg-up on his competition, what she saw startled her. His face was a nearly identical match to the one on the severed head, which by now was drawing no particular notice. There were differences in expression, of course—one was animated and the other frozen in an anguished death grimace—but once seen, the similarities were unmistakable.
Were they twins? Boar wondered. Both had similar-looking tanks strapped onto their backs—perhaps some kind of weapon. Twin fighters… Could they be those criminals, the Tatsumi Brothers?
Though some might have been offended by the man caring more about the worth of the jewels than the death of his twin brother, Duodecuple’s response was placid. “Please, go ahead. I don’t mind. Take it.”
The twin scooped up the orb intended for his brother with a victorious laugh. “How about that? Score!”
“However,” Duodecuple continued. “I’m going to have to ask you to swallow only one.”
“Wait, what? Swallow? This thing?”
“Yes. And that goes for all of you. Please swallow your jewels— without biting them, mind you. Water has been provided should you need it.”
Boar hesitated, not because she desired her jewel for its value—she had never wanted for money—but the size of the thing held her back for a moment. But when the swordsman swallowed his, followed by the sleeping youth, and then Monkey, Boar sensed this was no time for indecision. This battle might have just been starting, but it had started.
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