Etherno

Chapter 17: He Does Exist?

Onin groaned and stretched out his hand. Still nothing. He reached for his pocket. He had a small energy drink in there. Maybe he could regain enough energy to generate a small servitor before Amaryllis bled out. He glanced over at the sound of her voice.

“Re-restore from a-archive point.” A blue mist swirled out and flowed down over Amaryllis’ body.

“What the…” The man in the suit took a step back and raised his arm, palm outward. “Whatever you’re up to won’t work.”

“NO!” Kasai’s voice echoed across the field. She stood up and took two lurching steps forward, one hand still clutched to her head. “Haven’t you done enough? Just leave me and my friends alone!”

“And what are you going to do about it?” The man in the suit smirked. “You can barely stand, and I’ve yet to even attack you.”

Kasai lifted her right hand and made a grasping motion. The man in the suit’s throat convulsed and made a gurgling noise. He shifted his hand over in Kasai’s direction and let out an energy blast about a foot in diameter.

No! Not Kasai! He had to help. Onin jerked the energy drink from his pocket and shoved it toward his mouth. His arm trembled so much he spilled a lot of it.

Kasai dropped her hand, pulled in closer, and shoved her palm out away from her body. The energy blast bounced off an invisible wall and ricocheted off into the sky.

The man in the suit’s mouth pulled down into a frown. He raised his hand and another glowing disc started to form, this time red flame circled around it.

Something moved off to Onin’s right. He looked over. The blue mist around Amaryllis started to swirl and expand outward. It swelled out a few feet then dispersed into a thousand pinpricks of light.

“Ah, that’s better.” Amaryllis stretched her arms over her head.

Onin did a double-take. She didn’t look hurt at all. Her arm was back and she wasn’t bleeding anymore. There wasn’t a wound on her or even a scar. Her dress was still in tatters, but other than that it looked like she’d just arrived from the spa, not mostly dead.

“What…” Onin blinked. Nope, not a hallucination.

Amaryllis pointed her staff at the man in the suit. “Now, where were we?”

“About to carve him up.” Saija stepped forward and squeezed Kasai’s shoulder. “You can do this. Let’s hit him together.”

A small black portal opened in the middle of the man’s stomach. He looked down at it and his eyes widened. The disc in front of his palm faded away, and he grabbed the portal and pulled it out of his midsection, leaving a bleeding hole. He flung the portal away and reached out behind him. A larger portal opened, and he dove through.

Onin flopped back over onto his back and concentrated on breathing. His left leg throbbed like it’d been stabbed, and his right arm felt as though it’d been slammed in a door. He heard footsteps, and Kasai leaned over him.

“Are you okay? Is anything broken?” She sniffed and brushed her hair behind her ear.

“I’m fine. I think.” Onin flexed the fingers on his right hand. It was stiff, but everything moved. “Arm’ll be okay. How’s my left leg? Feels like I got stabbed or something.”

Kasai glanced down at his leg and her face paled.

“That bad, huh?” Onin concentrated power into his hand and was able to generate a servitor that was about an inch in diameter. “Well, that won’t do.”

The servitor bobbed and zipped up into the sky.

Kasai watched it speed off. “Where’s it going?”

“Looking for an energy source. It’s inefficient, but they can re-charge via high-output electricity, such as lightning or a sub-station. I’m hoping it’ll be able to heal me enough to make it to a hospital or something.”

“Ordinarily, I could help with that.” Amaryllis stood where Onin had last seen her. With one hand she held what was left of her dress up. With the other, she held onto her staff. “At the moment, though, I’m completely out of energy.”

“I’d love to go get help.” Saija came over and sat cross-legged next to Onin. “Or get us out of here or something, but I’m exhausted, too.”

“Don’t look at me.” Cerina didn’t move from where she’d stood during the whole battle. She kept her back to Onin and the others. “I’m empty, too, and can’t do anything helpful for broken legs anyway.”

“Hmm.” Amaryllis cocked her head to the side. “I think I remember reading somewhere that a certain frequency of sound waves can help promote healing.”

Cerina merely snorted in reply.

“So what do we do now? Wait for your servitor—wait, what’s that?” Kasai jumped to her feet and shaded her eyes with her hands.

“What’s what?” Onin rolled halfway onto his side and propped himself up with his good arm.

“I thought I heard something,” Kasai said.

Onin couldn’t see anything. Then again, it was hard to see over the grass when he couldn’t stand up. After a moment or two he could see a person shaped blob on the horizon.

“I hope that’s not that Natas,” Saija said.

“I believe it’s Tannin.” Amaryllis shaded her eyes, stood on tiptoe and leaned forward, tail out for balance. “Yup, it’s him.”

Cerina waved her arm off in that general direction. “How can you tell at this distance?”

Amaryllis pointed at her eyes. “I’m half Nekotian. My ears and tail aren’t the only things that are different.”

It took about twenty minutes for Tannin to make his way over to them. In contrast to Amaryllis, he looked like he’d been hit by a giant energy blast. A tattered collar was all that was left of his shirt, and his pants and shoes were gone. Fortunately, his boxers were still intact, just frayed and dirty. His swords though, still looked brand new.

“What’s with the get-up?” Cerina her hand in front of her face and peered over it. “You looking for an indecent exposure charge?”

Tannin glanced down at himself. “What? I’m covered.”

“Barely.” Cerina snorted and turned around.

“Eh, ignore her.” Saija held her hands out, thumbs up, and clicked her tongue. “Looking good, there, stud.”

“Would you two knock it off?” Onin rolled his eyes. “Goof off later. Tannin, set my leg.”

Kasai placed a hand on Onin’s shoulder. “Um, does he know how to do that?”

“Sure, I do.” Tannin sat down at Onin’s feet and rolled up his pants leg. “Once you get about so high, my kenjutsu dojo makes us take an advanced first aid course. Even a wooden sword can break a bone.

Tannin frowned. “Uh, you have a servitor to heal this after I set it, or should we look for sticks or something?”

“I’ve got one out gathering energy. It’s on its way back. Hurry up before I change my mind.” Onin took a deep breath.

“Okay.” Tannin tilted his head from side to side and gently pressed along Onin’s leg. “Let’s see, no bone sticking out, minimal swelling. Your leg’s not at weird angle or anything, just a little cockeyed. Doesn’t look like a bad break. I’m gonna pull it back into position. One, and two—” Tannin pulled and pain shot through Onin’s leg.

“There, done.” Tannin sat down, but kept a hand on Onin’s ankle. “I’ll reinforce it to keep everything in line until that servitor gets back.”

The servitor was getting closer. It was about five minutes out, but it felt like an hour. The servitor was now about the size of Onin’s head. Not as large as Onin would’ve liked, but large enough for the task at hand.

The shining energy orb floated over and hovered above Onin’s left leg. A healing beam arced out. Onin sighed as the throbbing in his leg subsided. The servitor shrank slowly as it expended its energy in the healing process. The beam faded away. The servitor was now about the size of Onin’s thumb. He stretched out his hand and re-absorbed the servitor.

“That’s better.” Onin rolled over and rose to his feet.

Kasai grabbed his shoulder. Worry filled her face. “Is it okay to walk on it already?”

“I don’t know.” Onin shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt, anyway.”

“It is good that you can walk.” Amaryllis trudged over to them, leaning heavily on her staff with each step. “We should leave before that Natas returns.”

“Shouldn’t we stay, then?” Kasai twisted her hair around her finger. “I know we’re all tired, but someone needs to stop him.”

“If we stay here, and he comes back, we all die.” Saija stepped closer and rested her hand on Kasai’s shoulder. “I’ve rested enough now I’ve got about one portal left in me. Onin can’t fight. Tannin’s out of armor, Amaryllis can barely stand, and Cerina is too tired to say anything snarky.”

Kasai’s shoulders slumped.

“Don’t worry.” Onin squeezed her hand. “The Natas is injured, too. We’ll heal and rest up, then we’ll be ready to face him. The question is where do we go?”

“The Library of Caradan.” Amaryllis pointed to the half-melted ring on her staff. “I need to get this fixed, and Ryogin-sama will want to see you.”

“So, how long of a walk is it?” Cerina asked.

“Saija, come place your hand on my staff.” Amaryllis said.

Saija let out a giggle-snort but didn’t say anything as she grabbed Amaryllis staff.

Amaryllis ears lowered. “The Natas corrupt everything they touch. I will show you how Ard intended your gift to be. Relax, and open a portal. Allow me to guide you.”

“Uh, okay.” Saija closed her eyes, and a blue glow shot down the staff into the dirt. A blue portal opened in the ground beneath all of them and swirled upward.

dragon

Onin blinked as the blue from the portal rose above his head and faded out of existence. They now stood in a large room with a stone floor. The ceiling towered overhead and stone buttresses flowed down to the main floor. Stone columns lined the main hall, and rows of bookshelves were behind each column.

Saija stared at her open palm. “Wow.”

“Are you okay?” Onin took a step closer to her.

Kasai did, as well, and rested a hand on Saija’s elbow.

“Yeah.” Saija flexed her fingers and blinked a few times. “Yeah, I’m fine. That was just… different. Normally when I open a portal it feels kinda like I’m stretching myself through an oily, slimy mass and making a tunnel to the other side. This time was more like, I don’t know, relaxing in a warm bath.”

“As I said, the Natas corrupt.” Amaryllis turned and headed toward the far end of the hall. “This way, please.”

Onin gawked at the stone walls and arched ceilings. “Where are we, anyway?”

Amaryllis looked over her shoulder. “Ryogin-sama is a professor at the University of Caradan, and has worked with ABG on a few projects. We’re in the main library now. Ryogin-sama’s office is in the back.”

She led them down the hall and turned right at the last isle of bookshelves. A small door was set in the wall. Amaryllis pushed it open and led the way inside.

There was a small table with snacks and juice against the right wall.

“Please help yourself.” Amaryllis gestured to the table and grabbed an apple for herself.

Onin chose a granola bar and munched on it as he continued looking around the room. The other two walls were lined with overstuffed chairs and a sofa. A desk was against the far wall. The chair swiveled away from the desk and a young man stood up. His hair was black, and he looked a few years older than Onin and about the same height. He had black eyes and a friendly smile.

“Ryogin-sama!” Amaryllis ran across the room, jumped up, and wrapped her arms around him.

Ryogin returned the hug briefly, then took a step backward.

Tannin leaned in close to Onin. “Holy crap! He does exist!”

Onin elbowed Tannin in the ribs.

“Welcome.” Ryogin bowed. “I’m sure Amaryllis has told you all about me.”

Amaryllis flicked an ear. “Not everything.”

Ryogin smiled. “Well, all in good time. First, you’ll be happy to know that the people you rescued are being returned to their families, and we’ve got a few more leads on other possible Natas encampments.”

“One moment, please.” Onin held up a hand. “We have a few questions that need to be answered first.”

“Of course.” Ryogin inclined his head. “I’ll do my best to answer them.”

“First off, we were told that everyone only has one gift.” Onin furrowed his brow. “Then the Natas start fighting us with multiple powers, and apparently Amaryllis can do that, too. Is there any connection between the two?”

Kasai took a step forward to stand right behind Onin. Tannin twirled a sword around in his hand.

Amaryllis glanced over to Ryogin and side-stepped to stand in front of him. “There is a connection, but it’s not what you think. My power is called vassal.”

Ryogin cleared his throat.

One of Amaryllis’ ears flicked backward. “Well, that’s what I call it. Hmm. How to best put this? With a few limitations, I can essentially copy a giftling’s powers.”

“Wait a minute.” Saija held up a finger. “You steal powers like the Natas?”

“No.” Amaryllis shook her head. “Quite the opposite, in fact. My gift requires full cooperation between parties. I can’t copy someone’s gift without their permission, and my copy is only a fraction of the original’s power.

“From our fight with the Natas in the suit, I would guess that they’ve found another person with a similar power to mine, and they corrupted that gift to steal multiple powers.”

“Or using an artifact or a combination of the two to transfer or copy gifts,” Ryogin said.

Saija shuddered. “So, how can we stop them?”

“Gotta find ‘em first,” Tannin said.

“Hmm.” Onin frowned and looked around the room. “You wouldn’t happen to have any ideas on where to look, would you?”

“Well, yes and no.” Ryogin walked over to his desk and spread out a map of the continent. “I’ve interviewed the slaves that you freed and have a few nebulous leads.” He pointed to several locations spread out across the map. “They might be in any of these locations.”

“The Matari mentioned a gate.” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger and bit her lower lip. “We need to find it before the Natas complete it. Have you heard anything about that?”

“A gate?” Ryogin’s eyes widened. He sat down in the desk chair and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I’ve heard rumors of rumors. I had hoped they weren’t true. I had thought this planet didn’t have the technology for a gate.”

“The portal users,” Amaryllis said.

Ryogin wrung his hands. “Yes, if it didn’t kill them, that would work. If that’s the case, we may already be too late.” He pulled out his phone and fiddled with it.

“I can send servitors to search all those sites.” Onin lifted his hand and pushed out energy.

A wave of nausea swept over him, and the floor tilted up at his head. Kasai caught him and wrapped an arm around his waist. Onin took a shaky breath and laid an arm across Kasai’s shoulders and tried not to fall over.

Ryogin handed Onin a cup of a dark liquid. “Here, drink this, it will help.”

Onin stared at it then sniffed it. It smelled like ginger and another herb that he couldn’t identify.

“Go ahead, it’s just spiced coffee made with vitamin water,” Ryogin said.

“It will make you feel better.” Amaryllis scrunched up her nose. “Well, except for your taste buds. They’ll take a while to recover. Works excellently for giftling exhaustion. Ryogin-sama first developed that concoction for me.”

Onin took a breath and swallowed the cup-full of liquid in one gulp. It tasted like one of Tannin’s food experiments: a whole cupboard full of spices that didn’t go together.

“Did that help?” Kasai peered into his eyes.

“I think I’m going to be tasting that for a week.” Onin coughed. “On the other hand, the floor has stopped trying to attack me.”

Ryogin turned to face Amaryllis. “Could you show our guests to their rooms? It doesn’t look like any of you are in any condition to fight. I’ll keep going over the information we got from the rescued slaves while you recover.”

Amaryllis smiled and brushed the back of his hand with her fingers as she turned to leave. She opened the door and swept her arm out to the hall. “This way, please.”

“Amaryllis?” Ryogin held out his hand. “You want me to fix your staff, don’t you?”

Amaryllis blushed and handed her staff back to Ryogin without a word.

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