Etherno

Chapter 19: Where Is It?

Onin frowned at the sunlight streaming through the window of the enclosed porch. He’d been staring out into the city for about a half an hour now and still had no clue where the Natas might be building the gate. Not that he expected to see a giant banner or anything, but it’d be convenient if some sort of clue would present itself.

The door opened. Onin turned around to see Kasai waving at him. He smiled at the sight of her.

“Mind if I join you?” Kasai paused halfway through the doorway. “I can leave if I’m bothering you, though.”

“No, you never bother me.” Onin felt his face grow warmer. “I, uh. I was looking for signs of the Natas.”

Kasai came over to stand next to him. “Find any?”

“No.” Onin scratched the back of his neck. “I was thinking about sending a servitor or two out to look, but I don’t know where to start.”

They stood in silence staring out the windows. Onin took a half-step closer to Kasai. She stood up a little straighter and looked away, but she didn’t move.

“Oh, I forgot why I was looking for you.” Kasai turned to face him. “Um, Amaryllis said Ryogin wanted to see me. Something about checking my DNA.” She glanced down at her feet. “I, uh, think I’d feel more comfortable if you came with me.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks!” Kasai took his hand and pulled him out the door. “Oh, I called Professor Jekao to check how things are going at ABG.”

Onin stopped mid-stride and his eyes widened. “I forgot all about school. We haven’t been kicked out for skipping, have we?”

“No.” Kasai cocked her head to the side. “ABG is still shutdown due to the funding issues, remember?”

“Oh.” Onin let out a large breath. “I forgot about that. Did he say if that’s cleared up?”

“Well, the Professor let on that things are moving forward. He says that we should have at least few more weeks before anything certain is decided. Oh—” Kasai pulled out her phone and tapped at it. “He also sent us some homework. I just sent it to you.”

“Don’t tell Tannin.” Onin chuckled. Tannin would probably rant at just the suggestion of doing work outside the classroom. Onin made a mental note to check it later. The first priority was finding the Natas, but he wanted to ensure he was ready when classes did start back up.

Ryogin and Amaryllis were waiting for them in Ryogin’s office. A gray metal platform a meter in diameter stood in the middle of the room. A steel arm about seven feet high was attached to the back of the platform. A metal hoop with an inner diameter the same as the platform hung parallel to the floor from the top of the arm.

Kasai glanced at it, hugged herself, and took a step closer to Onin. He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Amaryllis glanced over at her and flicked her right ear.

“It’s just a genetic scanner.” She walked over and took Kasai’s other hand. “It doesn’t hurt. It just lights up. You won’t feel a thing.”

“You’ve been through it?” Onin pointed at the scanner.

“Yup.” Amaryllis smiled. “Just after Ryogin-sama rescued me. Back then I was rather clumsy, and constantly getting sick. Ryogin-sama suspected there might be issues with my genome, what with being a hybrid and all. So, he worked with several other departments here at the University of Caradan to come up with plans for this. He created it with his artificer gift and they were able to come up with an RNA strand to re-sequence the defective parts.”

Amaryllis leaned out and looked over at Ryogin. “Did I get that right, Ryogin-sama?”

“Close enough.”

Onin started to laugh then covered his mouth with his hand and turned it into a cough.

Amaryllis smiled, turned to Kasai, and gestured to the platform.

“Uh, okay.” Kasai squeezed Onin’s hand and stepped up onto it. “So, do I just stand here?”

“Yup.” Ryogin typed a sequence into the computer on his desk. “Just stand still. That metal ring is going to glow blue, then lower down to the floor, then we’ll be done.”

Onin walked over to stand behind Ryogin. The computer screen was black with a single green word, “Ready:”. Ryogin typed in “scan” followed by a series of letters and numbers, then he pressed the enter key.

Onin turned around. The inside of the metal ring lit up with a soft blue glow, and it started to descend. Kasai looked up at then glanced over at Onin. He gave her a thumbs up. Kasai took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and stared straight ahead. The ring lowered at a steady pace until it rested at the bottom of the platform. Then it stopped and the light turned off.

“All done.” Ryogin swiveled in his chair. “It’ll take about a day to analyze the results. I’ll let you know what we find.”

Onin offered Kasai a hand. She took it and stepped off the platform. He felt his face heat when she didn’t release his grasp.

“Uh—” Onin cleared his throat. “Do you still have that map of possible Natas sites?”

“Yes.” Ryogin frowned. “I don’t have a medical degree, but shouldn’t you take it easy with that leg for another day or so?”

“It’s doing better.” Onin lifted his left leg and wiggled it. There was still a bit of a sore feeling, but it wasn’t throbbing anymore. “But I was thinking about sending servitors out to scout first.”

“Ah, good decision.” Ryogin rummaged around in the pile of papers, gizmos, and doohickeys that littered the top of his desk. “Here we are.”

Ryogin handed Onin a rolled up piece of paper. Onin unrolled the sheet, Kasai and Amaryllis crowding him to look over either shoulder. The map had one or two more dots added to it since Onin had seen it the other day. Each dot also had a short description next to it. Most of them weren’t terribly helpful, listing a number of Natas or prisoners spotted, or the type of building.

“Not much to go on here.” Onin handed the map back.

“No.” Ryogin shook his head. “Most of this we got from interviewing the freed prisoners, and they had other things to worry about than investigating the Natas.”

“Yeah.” Onin shuddered. Those people must have gone through a lot. “I’ll send a few infrared servitors out to scout these locations. Maybe they’ll find something.”

He turned to leave, and Amaryllis coughed.

“Oh, that’s right.” Ryogin stood and bowed to Onin and Kasai. “Could I ask you a personal favor?”

Onin looked over at Kasai. She blinked a few times, but didn’t say anything. “Well, you can ask…”

“Thank you. I would greatly appreciate it if the two of you would accompany Amaryllis and I to dinner tonight. I’ve been promising her for a while, but it’d be more proper if the two of us had some company.”

Onin turned his head to face Kasai. She blushed and looked down at her feet, but she didn’t let go of his hand.

“I’m not going to force you to do anything, but I’d like to go if you would,” Onin whispered.

She nodded.

“Excellent.” Ryogin bowed to them. “I’ll see you at dinner, then.”

dragon

Onin tied his tie for the third time and frowned at the mirror. Ryogin had sent over formal attire for him to wear, and the sizing was perfect. Except the darn tie kept coming out too short or too long. He sighed and undid it yet again.

A knock sounded at the door.

“Come in!” Onin yelled over his shoulder.

The door opened and Kasai stepped into the room.

“Oh.” She paused and took a half-step backward. “I didn’t realize you weren’t done changing. I’ll come back.”

“No, come on in.” Onin lined the smaller end of his tie up with the top of his belt. “I’m ready, except for this tie.”

Onin frowned at the tie. It still didn’t look quite right.

“I’ll be just a moment—” Onin turned around and forgot what he was going to say. Kasai wore a green off-the-shoulder dress that hugged her curves and fell to ankle length. Her auburn hair looked closer to red in the sunlight coming from the windows, and it cascaded down over her right shoulder.

“Wow.” Onin cleared his throat and ducked his head. “I mean, you look beautiful.”

“Thanks, I—”

“Hey, are you dressed yet?” Tannin, along with Saija, squeezed past Kasai and into the room.

Onin sighed. Tannin had the worst timing. Hopefully he wouldn’t decide tonight sounded like a party and try to tag along.

“Hey!” Tannin stopped in the middle of the room and pointed at Onin. “When I left ten minutes ago you were still wrestling with that thing. Gimme.” Tannin grabbed Onin’s tie and started to fidget with it.

“So why are you two here?” Onin asked.

“We don’t have social lives of our own.” Saija shrugged, then dropped into a chair. “So we’re living vicariously through you two.”

“Yeah, my little Onin, all grown up and going on a date, who would’ve thought?” Tannin yanked at Onin’s tie.

“Knock it off.” Onin smacked the back of Tannin’s head. “You’re just bored cause you don’t have a party to go to.”

Onin looked in the mirror. The tie was perfect. He shot a sideways glance at Tannin, who held a hand up to his chest.

“That hurts; it really does.” Tannin fell over backwards onto his bed. “I’ll just die here now.”

“Whatever.” Onin rolled his eyes. “I’ll revive you when we get back.”

He offered his elbow to Kasai and left.

dragon

Onin stepped out of the hover limo and gave Kasai a hand. Amaryllis and Ryogin climbed out after him. Onin stared up at the restaurant and tried to remember not to gawk. The place was three stories tall and covered with real marble. Marble columns lined the outside. Onin did a double-take. A red carpet covered the sidewalk that led into the restaurant.

“Wow.” Kasai looked around and took a step closer to Onin. “Everybody’s wearing suits and ties. I was worried I’d be overdressed.”

“Yeah.” Onin nodded. “From where I stand, I can’t believe my eyes. I think this might be a little out of my price range.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s my treat,” Ryogin said.

Onin looked at the building, then back to Ryogin. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Ryogin took Amaryllis’ hand. “I’ve been promising Amaryllis a proper date for a while now.”

Amaryllis leaned closer to Onin and Kasai. “My eighteenth birthday isn’t until next week, and Ryogin-sama is very proper and respectful toward me.” She flattened her left ear against her head. She lowered her voice. “Maybe a little too proper. He says we can’t go on a date alone until my birthday.”

Kasai smiled and took Amaryllis’ right hand in her left. Onin smiled at her. Kasai squeezed his hand, and they walked together into the restaurant.

Ryogin gave his name to the maitre d’, who led them to their table. It wasn’t the nicest table, right next to the kitchen, but still better than Onin could afford on his own.

“I’m sorry about the seating.” Ryogin rubbed the back of his neck and pulled a chair out for Amaryllis. “It was the best I could get on fairly short notice.”

Onin watched Ryogin and jumped forward to get Kasai’s chair.

“No, this is great.” Kasai smiled up at Onin as she sat. “We can watch them cook from here.”

“And what really matters is the company.” Amaryllis turned and beamed at Ryogin, who blushed and nodded.

Onin browsed the menu. Most of the stuff on it he’d never heard of. He looked across the table to Ryogin. “Is there anything you’d recommend?”

“Hmm. Everything’s good here.” Ryogin flipped through the menu. “I’m particularly fond of the pan-fried fish.”

“I’m getting saganaki as an appetizer.” Amaryllis turned her menu around and pointed to an item. “It’s basically fried cheese and seasoning, it’s delicious!”

“That looks good.” Kasai tucked her hair behind her ear.

The light reflected the red in her hair, and Onin forgot about the menu.

The waiter came and took their order. Everyone decided to get the fish and share a few orders of saganaki.

“So, how did you two meet?” Amaryllis folded her hands and leaned in closer to Kasai.

“At college.” Kasai blushed and looked down at her lap.

“Ah, that’s right.” Ryogin unfolded his napkin and laid it across his lap. “You both attend ABG, right?”

“Yup.” Onin looked over to Kasai, then back to Ryogin. “We both have a minor in criminal justice. So, how did you meet Ryogin?”

“He rescued me from the Natas.” Amaryllis placed her hand on Ryogin’s arm and gazed up at him. “I’ve told Kasai and the other girls the whole story.”

Onin glanced over at Kasai as Amaryllis recounted how Ryogin rescued her. Kasai’s eyes met his. Her lips parted in a slow smile. She blinked and looked down at her appetizer. Onin wished he could stare into those deep green eyes forever.

Onin cleared his throat and took another bite of his appetizer.

“So, how did you start working for Ryogin after he rescued you?” Onin asked.

“Well, I didn’t have anywhere to stay.” Amaryllis took a bite of her appetizer and swallowed before she continued. “So Ryogin-sama arranged a room for me in the dorms. He already needed a lab assistant, and I found the work fascinating. So between that and my gift, I was a decent help.”

“Ha!” Ryogin snorted. “Best assistant I’ve ever had.”

“Aw.” Amaryllis batted her eyes at Ryogin and waved her hand. “I try, and I love the job. I’ve screwed up a few times, though. Anyway, we got along well, and…” She blushed and looked down at the floor.

“Um, I have to go to the bathroom.” Kasai looked back and forth between Ryogin and Amaryllis.

“Oh! Me, too!” Amaryllis jumped up. “It’s this way.”

Onin watched the girls walk past the kitchen and around the corner. He glanced up at Ryogin, then concentrated on his saganaki.

“Good food.” Ryogin said.

“Yeah.” Onin wasn’t sure what else to say. Amaryllis had been carrying most of the conversation so far, and Onin usually let Tannin do most of the talking when he met new people.

Come to think of it, they hadn’t really known Amaryllis or Ryogin for very long. Onin looked around the restaurant. Nothing to really converse about. A bunch of people eating. He could see into the kitchen, but no one was doing anything particularly interesting.

There was a vid screen setup in the kitchen that was turned to IDNN. The current story was about high waters somewhere. Wait. Onin jerked his head back to the screen when the image changed to a picture of a comet. The text scroll mentioned Caradan.

“Hey, did you see that?” Onin pointed at the screen.

“Hmm?” Ryogin craned his head around to see the screen. His face paled.

“Do you think it’s going to hit?” Onin asked.

“Yes.” Ryogin pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped at it. “But that’s not the real issue. I hope I’m wrong, but that doesn’t look like an ordinary comet.”

Onin looked back at the screen, but the story had changed again. Something moved in the corner of his eye, and Onin looked over his shoulder. Kasai and Amaryllis walked over to them.

“What’s not an ordinary comet?” Amaryllis asked.

“Sorry. I didn’t want to ruin our date, but…” Ryogin’s voice trailed off and he handed his phone to Amaryllis.

Her eyes widened and her ears flattened to the back of her head. “Oh no,” she whispered.

Amaryllis wordlessly handed the phone over to Kasai. Onin jumped up and looked over her shoulder. The screen showed a live telescope feed of the comet. It wasn’t a rock. Well, not exactly. It was a crystalline dragon, curled into a ball. If Onin was reading the numbers on the screen correctly, it was as big as a small house. And it was headed pretty much straight at them.

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