Styx: 002

Xavier initially didn't understand what he was seeing, hearing, and smelling. He'd been little more than a pair of legs and an unending sense of discomfort for so long that upon finding himself in the middle of a fight he simply froze in place, his fight or flight response gone haywire.

It didn't help that the participants in the fight put paid to the thought that this might be anything but an isekai.

On one side was a literal monster. It looked almost like a spider, but instead of eight legs it had six. It was also oddly mammalian; where a spider would have exoskeleton, this thing was all knotted muscle and course, short hair. Where Xavier would have expected its eyes, there was nothing but a flat expanse of skin above a too-wide mouth full of rows of jagged teeth, like some shark gone horribly awry.

And it was huge. Xavier could likely have walked upright underneath its body without brushing its stomach. Despite its size, the thing moved in quick bursts, scuttling and attacking in unexpected directions. It currently wasn't facing directly toward him, but had its face angled off to his left.

Arrayed against the spider-monkey-shark monster was a small group of—well, they were animal people. If Xavier hadn't known he was in a manga already, that would have been a damn big clue. Stalking around the monster's side to Xavier's right was an honest-to-goodness cat boy who looked about Xavier's own age, complete with perky ears jutting out of his hair and a tail emerging from his lower back. He was dressed in some sort of flowing white material with a short tunic around his legs and was carrying spear. Beyond the cat boy, almost entirely behind the monster, was an older man who appeared to be part bear. Unlike the cat person, his ursine features dominated, and Xavier could swear that as he watched that the man's chest muscles rippled and expanded.

In the split second Xavier had taken to observe the cat boy and bear man, the monster threw itself in a circle, one of its front-most limbs lashing out and sending the bear man flying back into the dunes. The monster snarled, several of its limbs sending bursts of sand skyward as they pounded into the ground in preparation to giving chase, but the cat boy sprang toward it and with a flying leap rammed his spear into its abdomen.

The thing screeched and whirled again, flinging the cat boy from the haft of his spear and forcing him to dodge between its flailing legs to escape. The spear in turn slid free shortly after the cat boy landed and flew into the sand a few yards away in a spray of dark blood or ichor.

As the cat boy desperately tried to escape from underneath the thing, the other animal people attacked in force. They were a motley band, with a broad range of ages, species, and balance between human and animal features. Xavier spotted two men and a woman with pointed ears like a wolf or dog—the men with swords and woman with a small axe—who were prowling around the monster. Although they were silent, they seemed to be moving in concert: one would dart forward only to fall back if the monster swung a limb their way while the other two attacked from its flanks. There was also a woman with feathers instead of hair and what looked like talons instead of feet. She was having difficulty connecting as the monster preternaturally dodged whenever she leaped at it. Two people hung back; one a man who had curled goat horns sprouting from his forehead and was holding an absurdly large hammer, and the other a woman who had shorter straight horns and was holding some sort of oversized spear or axe.

With a roar, the bear man—looking far more bear than man compared to moments ago—came barreling out of the sand and slammed against one of the things legs, scratching and biting.

For a moment, Xavier thought the animal people were going to bring the monster down, but after it paused in apparent surprise at having its middle limb mauled by a bear, the thing exploded in a flurry of movement.

The bear man was thrust back, stumbling from a blow to the head. One of the wolf or dog men flew off opposite Xavier with a yelp from a blow he hadn't seen. The bird woman was swatted from the air and landed with an explosion of sand, while the cat boy was forced to scramble away once again as the battle trended toward where he had been frantically digging around for his spear.

The bear growled as he rolled to his feet, and the whole party—including the goat people who had been hanging back—clustered together near where the bird woman and wolf man had fallen on the opposite side of the monster from Xavier. The monster snapped at the wolf woman as she passed, but danced back out of range when she and one of the goat people took swings at it with their respective sword and hammer.

Unfortunately, moving away from the animal people meant it was moving toward Xavier.

As who-knew-how-many pounds of impossible monster loomed toward him, Xavier finally broke through his shock and gut-level disbelief and panicked. A quick glance around revealed a large rock to his right; Xavier dove for it and hunkered down, hoping that the seemingly blind monstrosity wouldn't notice him there.

Though he couldn't see with his head tucked down behind the rock, from the sounds of it the group of animal people had resumed their assault, but the dull thumps and varying exclamations of pain told him that the creature was landing more blows in this second sortie than the animal people.

As the initial burst of panicked adrenaline faded slightly, he realized that this was a classic isekai initial scenario. Admittedly, most isekai would have had him encounter a single cat girl in desperate straights, rather than this odd mish-mash of animal people, but regardless it was the perfect incentive to unlock the hidden potential within himself, save the day, and in a single stroke of bad-assery claim a place in this obviously hostile world.

Rather than feeling any hidden potential rising up within him, though, Xavier simply felt jittery, out of breath, and deathly afraid. It was one thing to read about a heroic Japanese high schooler facing off against some monstrosity in a small black and white panel. It was something entirely different when the monster itself was looming above him and hurling animal people through the air mere yards away. The thing moved and sounded and smelled completely wrong. It set his hackles on end, and unlike some of the company he'd found himself in he didn't actually have hackles.

As he crouched behind his rock, paralyzed with indecision, the pounding sound of the monster's limbs impacting the sand grew suddenly nearer. Xavier looked up in a second abrupt panic just in time to see one of the monster's back limbs crash into the ground mere feet away.

With a yelp, he scrambled backward and slammed straight into another of the monster's limbs. His head bounced off the corded muscle and his right hand landed square on the blunt foot that terminated the limb.

The thing and Xavier both froze, and Xavier felt something truly bizarre. The monster's skin was uncomfortably warm, its hair course and almost sharp. However, what locked him in place wasn't the unpleasant sensations his sense of touch were communicating to him, but rather an alien sensation that he could make no sense of. It was like—a drink of brackish water at the end of a hot day; the ebb of pain after being hooked up to an I.V. drip; walking into a room and turning on the lights, only to find that it wasn't the room he'd expected. He wasn't sure what, but something small but noticeable had changed when he'd come into contact with the monster's foot.

Evidently something changed for the monster, as well, because it screamed even louder than when the cat boy had stabbed it and Xavier found himself flying into the rock he'd been trying to hide behind, tumbling painfully over top of it, and landing on the far side.

For a moment he just gasped and choked against the sand, trying to regain his breath. When he finally forced himself painfully to his knees, the monster had moved several yards away and was being beset by the animal people from all sides.

Moments ago, the thing's inhuman coordination had fought its antagonists to an impasse, but now the monster was stumbling, one of its back limbs buckling underneath it and throwing off its balance just enough that two wolf people were able to lope underneath it and bury a sword and an axe deep into the joints of two more of its legs before rolling clear.

At least one of the blows seemed to have hamstrung the monster—or severed whatever congruent muscle it had in place of hamstrings—as the leg with the axe still buried in it promptly collapsed under the thing's weight, almost pinning the second wolf man under its body. As it went to several of its knees, the goat people, bear man, and cat boy—who evidently had finally dug his spear back up—descended on it en masse.

What followed was ugly. The goat man methodically began crushing every joint he could reach with his absurdly large hammer. The cat boy stabbed repeatedly into the monster's forelimbs as it tried to swat its attackers off. The goat woman sprang nimbly up the monster's side, and began to try to chop through the smooth skin above its mouth from atop its back, and the bear man simply shredded any part of it he could reach with his claws and teeth, spraying blood and skin every which way.

The monster struggled, but was unable to regain its feet. It managed to get one of the bear man's legs into its mouth and for a moment red blood joined the ichor in the air, but then the goat woman apparently penetrated to something vital and buried her weapon in the monster's head. With a final keening cry, it shuddered and dropped fully onto the sand, the only remaining sign of life feeble twitches that shuddered through its body and limbs at intervals.

As soon as the fight went out of the thing, the wolf people were at the bear's side, helping him extricate his leg from the monster's mouth. The bear growled something Xavier couldn't make out to one of them, whose head instantly came up. Yellow eyes locked onto Xavier's and Xavier momentarily forgot to breathe.

He was shocked out of his moment of feeling like prey when the bird woman landed next to him in a surprisingly light puff of sand. She waved an oddly articulated arm toward the wolf person and turned her gaze on Xavier, head shifting back and forth in a manner reminiscent of a bird, despite having eyes on the font of her face like a human.

«A human? Where did you come from? Are you alright?»

Wait, what language was that? It sounded vaguely familiar, but Xavier didn't understand anything the bird lady said.

She reached out one of her hands to him. «It's alright, we've put down the youkai.»

Still unsure what she was saying, Xavier grabbed her hand and she helped pull him to his feet.

As he stood, her expression shifted quickly from concern, to confusion, to anger and fear as her hand in his subtly changed. He felt her claws retract with a slight scratch, and was just opening his mouth to ask—in what was likely a futile effort—what was going on when her bare taloned foot shot up and she planted a solid kick straight to his stomach.

Xavier flew back and landed painfully in the sand, the breath completely knocked out of him a second time in so many minutes. He painfully sat up and immediately froze. The wolf people had abandoned the bear man as he struggled to regain his ability to breathe and were surrounding him with weapons out while the bird lady looked on from several feet away where she had evidently jumped after kicking him.

«Tobi! What happened?» growled the wolf man standing behind Xavier's right shoulder.

«I was helping him, and he siphoned my Vigor!»

«Who are you, human?» said the wolf woman, sheathing her axe in a small hoop at her waist and dropping into a squat in front of him. Her fellow's swords stayed pointed at his neck.

"I'm really sorry," said Xavier. "I don't understand a word you're saying."

All four animal people froze. «Rokuro,» said the wolf woman. «You recognize that language? Tobi?» The bird woman crossed her arms in an X shape, and then began massaging the forearm of the hand she had offered to Xavier. «Well,» continued the wolf woman. «You're a puzzle.»

«Leave him? Kill him?» said the wolf man to Xavier's left.

The animal people kept talking, but Xavier tuned them out as realization dawned. He'd actually caught that. The wolf man said something about killing.

All of them were speaking Japanese.

Of course they were. People in other worlds in manga almost always spoke Japanese.

Two semesters of high school introductory Japanese hadn't remotely prepared him for this.