Chapter 16: Plans? We Don’t Need No Stinking Plans!
Onin pushed more power to the servitors on his feet to catch up with Amaryllis. “Wait up!”
Amaryllis slowed and veered over to him. “Yes?”
“Could you please slow down a little? The others are falling behind.”
Amaryllis nodded and reduced her speed. Kasai and the rest of the team soon caught up and clustered around them.
“Do we have a plan?” Cerina said.
“The camp is about an hour away, right?” Onin asked.
“Correct.” Amaryllis pointed to the horizon. “It’s that way. Ryogin-sama says the Natas should be holding their slaves in an abandoned resort near an old lake bed.”
“Okay. I’m going to send a servitor on ahead.” Onin generated an infrared servitor, which zipped ahead of them. “There. We can land out of sight and get some intel before we get there.”
“Excellent!” Amaryllis clapped her hands together. She wobbled a bit on her seat, then grabbed her staff again.
“Okay, we’re about a mile from the camp.” Onin re-absorbed the servitors, squatted down, and drew a circle in the dirt with his finger. “The camp is roughly circular, and about forty acres in size. It’s surrounded by a hedge—”
“Ooo! Not a hedge!” Tannin held the back of his hand to his head and fell over backward. “Whatever will we do? We’ll never get past the security hedge!”
“Will you knock it off?” Onin punched Tannin’s knee. “Anyway, as I was saying, the servitor spotted guards along the perimeter, but we should be able to sneak in.”
“And then what, oh fearless leader?” Cerina snorted and rolled her eyes. “You gonna just walk all those people out of there?”
“Cerina! Don’t you want to save them?”
Cerina jumped to her feet. “Of course, I do! I don’t want anyone to have the same fate as my sis—” She took a deep breath and sat back down. “I’m just saying we should have a plan first. Things tend to go much better for us when we have a plan. Not to mention, teamwork is kinda our weak point, and adding Miss Talks-to-sticks over there is probably going to screw that over royal.”
“Sorry about her.” Kasai jerked a thumb at Cerina.
“It takes time to trust new people.” Amaryllis’ tone was cheerful, but her ears drooped slightly.
Onin glared at Cerina out of the corner of his eye. Every time she started to show progress… He smiled at Amaryllis. “Hopefully, we can get in, free the slaves, and get out easily, and we can get to know each other better.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Cerina snorted and picked at her fingernails. “Do we actually have a plan of some sort?”
Onin turned to face Saija. “Can you portal them out?”
“I’m not sure.” Saija bit her lower lip and looked off into the distance. “I think so. How many people are we talking?”
Everyone turned to stare at Amaryllis.
“I’m not sure. Ryogin-sama got his information from traders who saw the slaves, but they didn’t get an exact count. I’d guess around fifty, but it could be more or less than that number.”
Saija frowned. “I might be able to manage that.”
Cerina snorted. “Might? Don’t know? I’d like more—”
“Well, let’s not debate all day.” Tannin stood up and stretched. “We could yap all day and not change anything. Might as well work with what we’ve got. I don’t know about you, but if I was stuck in that camp, I’d take any help I could get.”
Onin looked around. Everyone else nodded and rose to their feet.
“All right, let’s do this.” Onin led the way to the Natas camp.
They reached the hedge after about fifteen minutes.
“Oh, look. An impenetrable hedge.” Tannin yawned. “Might as well turn back.”
Cerina smacked the back of his head.
“Allow me.” Kasai stepped forward and the hedge parted in two, as if two giant invisible hands had parted it.
“Ooo, very nice!” Amaryllis stepped forward and bent down to look at roots of the hedge plants. “You even moved the dirt so as not to kill the plants. You have an amazing gift.”
Kasai blushed and took a step behind Onin.
“Yeah, I’m sure no one will notice the gaping hole in the hedge. We’d better hurry,” Cerina said.
Onin shook his head. Leave it to Cerina to find the worst in a situation.
“According to the servitor, there’s a large heat signature in one of the main buildings. We should check there first,” Onin said.
The main building was about two hundred feet long, and about eighty feet wide. It had plain white vinyl siding and a metal roof. The windows were boarded over, and half a sign that read: ‘ountry Club’ hung askew over the main door. They hadn’t encountered any guards on the walk to the building.
“What now? Do we just knock?” Cerina asked.
“I was hoping there’d be windows.” Saija pulled at one of the boards that covered the closest window. It didn’t budge. “I was hoping to portal into a dark corner or something.”
“We could just barge in.” Tannin walked around front and poked a finger at the door. “I could break this down, or Kasai could.”
“Oh, that’s a brilliant plan.” Cerina rolled her eyes. “What if there’s guards or a Natas inside?”
Onin looked over his right shoulder. “Uh, guys, I hate to break this up, but there’s a guard approaching. Come on.”
Onin lead the way around to the back of the building.
Kasai leaned in close to whisper in his ear. “Could you send an infrared servitor in with the guard, assuming he goes inside?”
“That’s a great idea.” Onin held out his hand and generated an invisible servitor.
“That’s pretty,” Amaryllis said.
“Wait, you can see it too?” Kasai turned to look at Amaryllis.
“Well, just a shimmery outline. I’m half Nekotian—” Amaryllis pointed to her ears. “—so my vision and sense of smell are a little better than average, too.”
“Half…” Kasai’s voice trailed off, and she twirled her hair with her index finger.
Onin put his arm around her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Saija took a step closer and took Kasai’s hand. “We can leave if you need to.”
“I’ll be okay.” Kasai smiled at Onin and gave Saija a quick hug. “Thanks. I can do this.”
“All right.” Onin gave Kasai’s shoulder a squeeze then let go. “That guard did pop the door open long enough to check on the prisoners, and my servitor was able to sneak in. There aren’t any guards in the building. It looks like everyone is sleeping or doing light chores.”
Cerina tilted her head. “Is it just me, or does this scream ‘trap’ to anyone else?”
“There’s Natas involved.” Saija shrugged. “There’s always a trap or trick of some sort. But this situation isn’t unusual. The Natas actually treat the prisoners relatively decent. Work them just hard enough that they’re tired, but not so bad that they want to revolt. Also, they don’t want to wear out or mark up a potential host body.” Saija shuddered, and Kasai took her hand.
“It looks like this may be our best opportunity,” Amaryllis said.
Onin nodded and led the way back around front.
“Kasai, can you smash the door open?” Onin asked.
Amaryllis held up a hand and walked forward. She bent down and examined the door knob. She straightened up and turned back to the others. “No need. I can open it.”
Amaryllis spun her staff sideways and placed her palm against the symbol of Ard. “Artifice.”
A white and blue sparking circle formed under her hand. She pulled it slowly away, and a metal key emerged. The circle dissipated with small pop. Amaryllis grabbed the key, inserted it into the lock, and bowed as she swung the door open.
“Is that your power, to make stuff?” Saija asked.
“Kinda.” Amaryllis stepped inside and beckoned to everyone to follow. “Let’s get these people out of here before that guard comes back.”
Onin blinked in the dimmer indoor light. Small wood partitions divided the interior of the building into different areas. Beds lined one section. A large space in the middle was setup for eating with a long table and chairs. A workshop occupied the rear of the building. Several small groups of people were scattered throughout the building. Most of them were asleep, but several were sweeping, mending clothing, or washing dishes. All work stopped and the people looked at Onin and the others wide-eyed. Several of them backed away slowly. Kasai had already approached one of the groups and was talking to them in low tones.
“Saija.” Amaryllis waved Saija over to the wall. “Can you make a portal here?”
“Yeah, sure. Where should it lead?”
“The street outside the building where we had breakfast, please. Ryogin-sama will ensure their safety from there.”
“Onin!” Cerina’s voice was low and urgent.
“Yeah?” Onin turned to face Cerina.
The door to the building was cracked open. Cerina stood behind the door and leaned around it, looking out.
“Get over here. Someone’s coming.”
Onin jogged over to the door and peered out. The person was too far away to identify but looked female. She was alone and had a cocky strut to her walk.
Onin turned to Cerina. “Don’t tell me that’s who I think it is.”
“Can’t tell for sure at this distance, but yeah, I think it might be Shanay.”
Onin whipped around. Saija had a portal open in the center of the room. Onin cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled. “Everybody through the portal. We’ll get you back to your old life, but you’ve got to hurry.”
Everyone looked up and ran to the portal. Kasai and Amaryllis were lining them up single file and ensuring that the entrance to the portal wasn’t jammed. About a half-dozen had already evacuated.
“Sheesh, you don’t need to yell.” Cerina dug at her ear with her pinky finger. “I amplified that for you so everyone could hear.”
Onin generated four large servitors and sent them up to float near the ceiling on either side of the room. He stole a quick glance out the door. Yeah, it was definitely Shanay, and she’d probably get here before they got everyone out.
“Saija, can you make another portal?” he asked.
Saija shook her head, and her shoulders sagged. “Not enough energy, sorry.”
“Tannin!” Onin waved, and Tannin jogged over.
“Shanay’s incoming. Looks like she’ll get here before we can get everybody out. We’ll need to distract her—”
“He means we get to go play meat wall and hope we can buy enough time,” Cerina said.
“I knew I should’ve brought a sword,” Tannin muttered.
“Excuse me.” Amaryllis stood just behind Tannin. “Do you really know how to use a sword?”
“Oh yeah!” Tannin grinned. “I’ve been studying since I was about eight.”
“What type of sword do you favor?”
“I prefer twin wakizashi, but I’ll take whatever you’ve got in a pinch.”
Amaryllis smiled, and turned to her staff. “May I?”
The staff chimed. Amaryllis lowered it and placed her palm against the top.
“Artifice. Full up-link,” she said.
The sparking circle formed, and two handles emerged when she pulled her hand away. Amaryllis was sweating by the time the both swords had fully emerged.
“Here.” She handed the swords to Tannin and wiped her forehead. “Please don’t lose these. They’re made of a very rare metal called onicranium. They should work very well against a Natas.”
Tannin swung the blades in a complex pattern. “Wow, they’re light. Might have to reinforce them for battle.”
Amaryllis laughed. “If you reinforce them, there isn’t a known power in the universe that can so much as scratch them.”
Tannin raised his eyebrows and gave a light test swing at the doorway—and had to catch his balance as they sliced clean through.
“Wow.” Tannin held the swords out in front of him. “Like a hot knife through butter!”
“For best results, make sure to store them in sunlight, not in a case or sheath,” Amaryllis said.
Tannin raised an eyebrow. “They’re solar-powered?”
“I’m serious. I don’t have time to get into details now, but the metal absorbs any kind of energy.”
“Okay, let’s go buy some time,” Onin said.
They ran out of the building and down the path for about a minute, then stopped and waited for Shanay. She stopped about a dozen yards away. Today she wore a skimpy bikini that just barely covered her essentials.
“I’m glad you could make it.” Shanay narrowed her eyes and smiled.
“I knew it was a trap,” Cerina muttered.
“Of course, it’s a trap.” Shanay rolled her eyes. “I will give you credit, though, you found it sooner than expected. And, due to that, we’re down a few hosts, so I’ll give you one last chance to volunteer.”
“What, are you crazy?” Tannin smacked his forehead. “Wait, that was a retretical… retori…”
“Rhetorical,” Onin said.
“Yes, that! It was one of those kinds of questions. You don’t have to answer,” Tannin said.
Shanay’s mouth fell open. “The others seriously want this brain-dead meat bag for a host?”
“Heh.” Cerina chuckled. “This one’s evil, but she’s got good taste.”
Onin jabbed an elbow in her ribs.
“Oh well, time to die now.” Shanay whipped her hand up and loosed an enormous blast of yellow energy.
Before Onin could react, Amaryllis swung her staff in front of the beam. The staff seemed to suck up the energy.
“Hmm.” Amaryllis looked down at her staff. “Ryogin-sama gave the impression this would be a difficult foe.”
“You want difficult? You’ve got it!” Shanay loosed half a dozen blasts, all larger than the first.
Amaryllis spun her staff and absorbed each one. Shanay screamed in rage. Yellow and purple lightning arched around her. She screamed again and flung a wall of ice that crackled with yellow energy out at Amaryllis.
“No… they can’t have found another one…” Amaryllis’ eyes grew wide. She spun her staff and pointed it at the rapidly approaching ice wall. “Multi-class. Ice-lightning.”
Blue lightning shot out from the tip of Amaryllis’ staff, leaving a zig-zag trail of ice behind. The lightning slammed into the ice wall and exploded, sending ice and snow in every direction.
Onin felt his jaw drop open. This herald girl was using multiple powers, too. How? A small chuck of ice hit his left arm. Onin shook his head. Hopefully, there’d be a later to worry about all that. He generated a servitor and sent it over to take pot-shots at Shanay.
“Did she just call out the name of her attack?” Cerina said.
“Um. Yes. Yes, she did.” Onin scratched the back of his head.
“Oh good!” Tannin blew out a large breath. “’Cause, you know, sometimes I narrate these things in my head, and I thought I lost it for a moment there.”
Onin smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand, and Cerina rolled her eyes.
“Time to be serious.” Tannin held out his arms in front of Onin. “Mitten me!”
Onin smacked his forehead again. “Mitten, really? You couldn’t have gone with something like gloves, or gauntlets?”
Tannin shrugged. Onin sighed and generated two servitors, which floated over and attached themselves to Tannin’s hands.
“What’s the plan, boss?” Tannin asked.
“Well, it looks like Shanay is concentrating most of her rage at Amaryllis, so you try and work around behind her and cut her in half or something. Cerina, you try to scramble her brain with sound, and I’ll alternate between using servitors to shoot at her and healing who needs it.”
Amaryllis blocked another blast with her staff. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tannin dart around behind Shanay. He had some of Onin’s servitors on his hands. That was clever—
Pay attention, Amaryllis. The Natas is still firing on you.
Amaryllis shot a quick look at her staff at the sound of her master’s voice in her head. I know, I know.
And you don’t have to look at the staff every time you talk to me.
She blocked a few more energy beams. It helps me concentrate.
Ryogin-sama was silent. Amaryllis fired off another lightning strike, which the Natas blocked with an energy blast.
She seems to be favoring them. Could it be her main power?
Quite possibly. Ryogin-sama sounded puzzled. I’m sure we would have heard of another transfer giftling. How did we miss one?
Amaryllis ignored the question. It wasn’t meant for her, anyway. Tannin was almost behind the Natas now. Amaryllis alternated between firing ice and lightning.
Onin gasped and took a step backward. If Amaryllis’ power was making artifacts, how was she now using ice and lightning? Was she actually working for the Natas? Another servitor popped and jerked Onin’s attention back to the battle. For now, Amaryllis was shooting at the bad guys, not him. He’d get answers later.
Onin generated another servitor. Shanay was popping them almost as fast as he could make them. Tannin was almost in position behind her. Onin looked over at Amaryllis, who nodded. Onin directed the closest servitor to send a blast of lightning at Shanay. Amaryllis blasted her at the same time, and Tannin ran in and swung his swords at Shanay’s mid-section.
A black portal opened in front of Shanay and swallowed up the twin lightning blasts.
“What?” Onin whirled around to stare at the building, but Saija wasn’t there.
“It wasn’t Saija!” Amaryllis yelled. “I’ll explain later!”
A loud clang echoed through the air. Onin turned in time to see Tannin fly through the air away from Shanay and crash into the ground.
Kasai and Saija ran up behind him.
“The last of the captives are out. What’s the situation here?” Kasai said.
“We’re holding our own, but we’re not making any progress. Saija, can you portal some of this lighting and stuff to her.”
“Sure.” Saija took a few deep breaths. “I can try.”
“Wait.” Kasai put a hand on Saija’s shoulder. “I don’t think that’s a good idea now, you used a lot of energy holding that portal open for so long.”
“If I don’t, we might all be dead.”
“Here.” Onin pulled an energy bar from his pocket and tossed it over his shoulder. “Eat that first. Kasai, can you put a kinetic field around Shanay to limit her movements?”
“On it.” Kasai took a step forward, and Shanay’s arms snapped down to her sides.
“Now!” Onin yelled.
Three servitors moved into a triangle formation and sent a gigantic arc out at Shanay.
“Multi-class. Ice-lightning,” Amaryllis said.
A spike of crackling ice shot out and wrapped around Shanay. Another arc from the servitors hit the ice and exploded in a white flash. Onin threw his arm over his eyes.
Kasai cried out. Onin turned to see her fly through the air and land a few feet away on the ground.
Onin ran over to her. “Are you okay?”
Kasai moaned, rolled over and pulled herself into a hunched over sitting position. Her hair flashed to red, then back to brown.
“No!” Kasai bent over further and grabbed the sides of her head with her hands. “No, I want to stay me! I want to remember and not run away anymore!”
“It’s okay.” Onin laid a hand on her shoulder. “You can do this, we’re right here with you and—”
An energy blast interrupted what he was going to say next. He spun around and generated a servitor just in time to intercept the next blast. Onin rolled to the side and directed the servitor to return fire.
Amaryllis held her left shoulder. That last blast must have nicked her.
She looked down at the wound. “Restore: twenty percent.”
A blue mist formed around the wound, then faded away leaving a bright pink scar. Amaryllis smiled, spun her staff, and let loose another stream of lightning.
Tannin was running straight at Shanay. Onin ducked and ran around to the side. If they came at her from three different directions…
The servitor in front of him continued to fire random shots at Shanay. This wasn’t terribly effective. Onin looked over Tannin. The servitors were still attached to his hands, and he was using them, in combination with the swords, to deflect the blasts Shanay sent at him.
Onin looked down at his own hands. He couldn’t reinforce them like Tannin could, but several servitors would provide more effective protection than trying to duck behind a servitor.
Onin reached into his pocket and pulled out an energy bar. He wasn’t out of energy now but best to be prepared. He ate the bar and stuffed the wrapper into his other pocket, then generated a dozen small servitors which then wrapped themselves around his arms, legs, chest, and head.
“Okay, good to go.” Onin floated up into the air. “Saija, please stay with Kasai, and see if you can portal anything we throw at Shanay closer to her.”
Saija put her left arm around Kasai, and saluted Onin with her right. Onin shot up a dozen yards or so and started pumping energy blasts at Shanay via the servitors on his hands. Tannin snuck around behind Shanay again, and slashed at her between blasts. Amaryllis fired off lightning blasts from where she still stood between Shanay and Kasai.
Onin flew over and landed next to Cerina.
“Can you make it so when we talk we can hear each other but Shanay can’t?”
“Sure.” Cerina stepped behind Onin to avoid an incoming energy blast. “Are we going to try a coordinated attack?”
“Yup. Worked with Saija.” Onin took off into the sky again. “Can everyone hear me?”
Cerina gave him a thumbs up sign.
“Yup,” Tannin said.
“Oh! Yes, I can hear your voice,” Amaryllis said.
“Same plan as when you took me out?” Saija asked.
“Basically.” Onin positioned himself directly over Shanay. “The plan is to either wait for or make an opening, then all of us hit her at once.”
“Shanay doesn’t seem to favor her legs as much—sorry Saija,” Tannin said.
“It’s fine.” Saija’s voice sounded a little flat.
“Her fighting form is pretty solid.” Amaryllis paused while she blocked an energy blast. “But it looks like she prefers to keep her distance, and there’s about a half a second to a second delay between energy blasts.”
“Hmm.” Onin studied Shanay for a moment. She was currently alternating between blasting energy at Tannin and Amaryllis, with the occasional pot shot at him, Cerina, or Saija. “How about this: We wait until she fires, Saija sends it back at her face via portal, and we all rush in and target the same body part.”
“Can do.” Saija said.
“What body part?” Tannin asked.
“Wait for her to target Saija.” Amaryllis dodged one blast and blocked another with her staff. “She usually uses her right arm for that, and there should be as good an opening as we’re going to get on her right thigh.”
Onin generated another servitor and sent it around to shoot at Shanay from behind. A moment later, and Shanay sent a small-ish blast at Saija.
“That’s it, go!” Onin punched with his right fist and pushed all the energy he had into the servitor that covered his hand, generating a lightning blast at Shanay’s right leg.
At the same time, Amaryllis sent an ice-lighting strike, and Tannin swung his left sword at her head and his right at her leg. Shanay’s eyes flicked down to her leg, and she started to move, but not in time.
There was an explosion of energy, ice and lightning. Onin sent out a servitor to suck it up. When the dust and mist cleared, Shanay was still standing. She limped back toward them, blood running down her right leg.
“Okay, now I’m mad. You’re gonna—” Shanay stepped sideways as a portal opened and a black-haired man in a dark suit stepped out.
Onin rose up and backward a few yards. It was the same man who had been with Shanay outside the cave when she was first recruited, possessed… He wasn’t sure which word to use.
The man looked around and sighed. “Really now, you’ve had enough time with that body, and we’ve gone to all the trouble to add those other abilities. You shouldn’t have had any issues with them.”
He had a strange clipped accent that Onin couldn’t quite place.
“Stay out of this. This is my fight.” Shanay took a step forward. “They got one hit in, big deal. I can still finish this.”
The man held out his hand in front of Shanay. “Possibly, but the synod requires your presence to deal with the Kagoshi. You should be more than a match for them. I’ll finish up here.”
Shanay snarled something that Onin didn’t quite catch. Apparently, the man in the suit didn’t hear her either.
“What was that?” he asked.
Shanay glared at him. “I said, ‘Good luck.’”
The man raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything else. Shanay narrowed her eyes further, then snorted and stomped through the portal, which then snapped shut.
“Now, to business.” The man swiveled on his heel as he took in the battlefield. “What, only seven of you?”
Amaryllis stepped forward. “And who might you be, sir?”
“You creatures are always so obsessed with names. I’m not in the habit of giving my name to the insignificant vermin of the universe. Besides, you’re not going to be around long enough for it to do you much good.”
The man widened his stance and lifted his arms, one slightly higher than the other. A ring of fire swirled into existence around him, and a second ring of ice and snow formed outside of that. The ice and snow swirled higher, then flew outward in a shock wave.
Onin held up a servitor-covered arm in front of his face. The armor absorbed the ice and fire perfectly. He looked around. Amaryllis held her staff in front of her, apparently unaffected. Tannin lowered his swords, they must have kept him safe. Saija stood in front of Cerina and Kasai, her hand held up in front of her. Onin looked back over to the man in the suit in time to see a flood of fire dump on him from an open portal above his head.
The man’s eye twitched. “Apparently this won’t be that easy. Very well, time to run a few tests.”
He lifted his right hand, palm outward, and an orange disk formed a few inches in front of it. The disk buzzed as it grew in circumference to the size of a person, then a gigantic energy blast poured out if it and slammed into Tannin. The beam stretched out to the horizon, then finally dissipated. When it cleared, there was nothing but a giant trench. Tannin was nowhere in sight.
“Tannin…” Onin swallowed hard. His stomach twisted. Tannin had to be all right. Amaryllis had said the swords were indestructible, and Tannin had to be reinforcing them. Tannin had to be fine. Onin took a deep breath. Or at least that was the best thing to keep thinking until the battle was over.
The man held up his palm again, this time facing Onin.
Onin held his arms out in front of him, and the servitors on his hands merged into one. He dumped all the power he had left into it, and the servitor fired at the man’s left arm. Amaryllis sent another ice lightning blast at the same arm. The man didn’t even try to block it. He took half a step back when the combined lightning blasts hit and vaporized the sleeve of his jacket and shirt. His left arm now hung limply at his side, but the energy disk in front of his right palm continued to grow.
The beam shot out at Onin. He tried to put more energy to the servitors. Nothing. Out of energy now? Onin closed his eyes and tensed up.
A freight train of light, heat, and pressure impacted the servitors that surrounded him. Onin could feel them being stripped of energy and shredded away. The ground rushed up at him. Onin twisted into a ball as he hit and rolled a dozen times. Everything hurt.
Onin opened his eyes and blinked. The sky was blue above him. Still alive, then. He rolled over and tried to shove himself upright. Pain lanced through his arm and he fell face first into the dirt. There was a buzzing noise. Onin opened his eyes. The man in the suit had his palm aimed at Amaryllis.
She closed her eyes and held her staff in front of her. The beam of energy surrounded her. Onin tried for a servitor again. Still nothing. Helpless, he watched as the beam dissipated.
Somehow Amaryllis was still mostly there. Most of the flesh from her left leg was charred. Her right arm was missing, her hair was burned, and half her face looked as though it had boiled off. She was covered in bleeding welts. One of the smaller rings on her staff was half-melted.
“This was too easy.” The man in the suit limped forward. “Only clean-up left.”
Amaryllis smiled wide and opened her mouth.