Chapter 20: Let’s Rock!
Onin drummed his fingers on the restaurant table. He looked over his left shoulder. “I’ve redirected my servitors that are already out searching for the Natas to look in the vicinity of the dragon’s landing zone.”
“Shouldn’t we go?” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger and looked back and forth between Onin and Ryogin.
“No.” Ryogin took a deep breath, sighed, and sat back down in his chair. “It’ll be a few days before it lands, and we’ll need our strength. Might as well finish our dinner.”
Amaryllis nodded but pulled out her phone and tapped away at it furiously.
Ryogin glanced over at her and raised an eyebrow.
“Sorry.” Amaryllis put her phone back in her pocket. “Messaging some old friends who owe me a few favors.”
The rest of dinner was rather rushed. The fish was delectable, but Onin kept looking out the window. Ryogin had said they had a few days but…
After they’d finished eating Onin followed Ryogin and Amaryllis out of the restaurant. Kasai reached out and took his hand. Onin’s skin tingled at her touch. He squeezed her hand and smiled.
Amaryllis stopped a dozen yards away from the restaurant and raise her right hand straight up into the air.
Kasai looked over at Onin and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged.
“Um, are you hailing a taxi?”
Amaryllis covered her mouth with her left hand and giggled. “In a manner of speaking.”
Something flew over Onin’s head. He ducked and whirled around. Amaryllis grabbed her staff out of the air, twirled it around, and hopped up to sit on it.
“I’m off to collect on a few favors.” Amaryllis adjusted her position. “I’ll be back—”
“Wait!” Kasai darted forward and grabbed her hand. “Would it help if I shared my gift with you?”
Amaryllis slid off her staff and spun it upright. “It would.” She looked Kasai in the eyes and cocked an ear halfway back. “Are you sure you really want to?”
“Yes.” Kasai took a deep breath and stepped closer to Amaryllis. “You said there really isn’t a downside, and if it would help us fight the Natas and all stay alive—”
Kasai wiped a tear from her eyes. Onin took a step forward and rested a hand on her shoulder.
“My entire life, I’ve been alone, except for the monks, until I came to ABG.” Kasai took Onin’s hand and smiled at him. “Now I have friends that care about me, and that I care about. I don’t want to lose any of you, and I haven’t contributed much so far, so yes, I do want to share my gift to help you.”
Amaryllis pulled Kasai into a hug. After a moment, she stepped back and held her staff between them. “Very well. Place your hand on my staff.”
Kasai grasped Amaryllis’ staff. “Okay, now what?”
“Just say that you willingly share your gift with me.” Amaryllis cocked an ear to the side. “Technically you don’t have to say anything, but I’ve found that saying it aloud helps most people actually think and feel it.”
“I willingly share the gifts Ard gave me with Amaryllis,” Kasai said.
Half a second later she swayed and released the staff.
Onin jumped forward and caught her. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Kasai yawned and leaned back against Onin. “Just tired, like I’ve been working out.”
Onin looked over at Amaryllis. She took several deep breaths, and her chest heaved.
“Wow.” She looked over at Kasai. “Such power. I think I’ll only be able to use about one to five percent of that.”
“Sorry.” Kasai hung her head.
“Oh, don’t be sorry.” Amaryllis gave her a quick side-hug. “One percent of your power is more than enough. Ryogin-sama is an S-class, and his power is like a vast ocean. Yours is like an entire star. I couldn’t possibly hope to tap into all of it.”
“So—” Onin dug his heel in the dirt. “Do you borrow power from her?”
“No. I make a copy of a person’s gift, and they have to willingly allow me to do so.” Amaryllis said.
“Oh.” Onin looked down at Kasai. She yawned, closed her eyes, and rested her head on his shoulder. What would happen to her if the Natas got ahold of her? He looked up at Amaryllis and squared his shoulders. “I don’t really understand, and I haven’t known you for that long, but if Kasai trusts you, so do I.”
“Are you sure?” Amaryllis cocked her head to the side. “You don’t have to.”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
“Very well.” Amaryllis held out her staff.
Onin glanced down at Kasai, took a deep breath, and grasped Amaryllis staff below her hand. “I willingly share my gift.”
Onin felt a surge of energy flow up through him, sort of like when he was preparing to generate a large servitor, and out into the staff.
Amaryllis shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. “Mmm! Much like Ryogin-sama’s power.” She hopped back up on her staff and looked Onin in the eyes. “I promise I’ll use this power to help protect Kasai.”
She turned and flew up into the night sky.
The next morning Onin joined the others in Ryogin’s office. Amaryllis was absent.
“Hey—” Onin leaned in toward Kasai. “Amaryllis isn’t back yet?”
Kasai shook her head. Hopefully Amaryllis was okay.
Onin straightened up as Ryogin stood and cleared his throat.
“This—” Ryogin pointed to a dot on the map that was south-east of their current location. “Is an abandoned rubber factory just outside of the small town of Ainz, about 200 miles away. The dragon is expected to land there tomorrow around noon. My guess is that the Natas are working with the dragon, so we expect resistance from them as well. Onin, have your servitors found anything?”
“Wait.” Tannin raised his hand. “A rubber factory? What kind of rubb—”
“Nothing yet.” Onin stepped in front of Tannin. “The factory is there, and there’s signs of it being recently occupied, such as crates all over the place, trash cans full of empty wrappers, recent heat signatures, and such. My servitors haven’t spotted any people yet, but they just got to the location an hour ago.”
“Well, that gives us some time.” Ryogin picked up a few papers and handed them to Saija. “This is the layout of the factory, and the surrounding area. There’s one for each of you. If we’re familiar with the area and the layout, that might give us an advantage, or at least neutralize theirs.”
Saija took a sheet and passed the papers to Cerina, who handed them to Tannin. Onin grabbed a sheet from Tannin. Kasai leaned in to look at the map, and her shoulder pressed into Onin’s chest. Even her shoulder was soft— Onin blinked and focused on the map.
The factory was only about a half a mile south of the town —more like village— of Ainz. Onin flipped the sheet over. A map of the factory was on the back. There was one large building, and about a dozen outbuildings. The main building was laid out like a maze; office space, warehousing, and production floor. If the factory equipment was still there, it’d give the enemy dozens of places to hole up in.
“Aw, sweet!” Tannin waved his map in Onin’s face. “They’ve got a Sandwich Masters!”
Cerina smacked the back of his head. “Really, that’s what your focusing on?”
“We gotta eat, don’t we?” Tannin looked over to Saija.
“Hey, leave me outta this!” She held up both hands. “I’m eating before we go.”
“Anyway—” Ryogin turned back to the map.
The door to the office opened. Amaryllis stumbled in and collapsed into one of the chairs. Ryogin’s eyebrows shot up as he looked at her. He jumped to his feet and retrieved a glass of dark liquid from the fridge. Ryogin handed the glass to Amaryllis, and put his arm around her shoulders. Onin’s stomach twisted at the bitter herbal smell. Amaryllis held her nose with one hand and downed the contents.
“Yuck.” Amaryllis stood up and handed the glass back to Ryogin. “Thanks, I needed that.” She made a face. “Didn’t want it but needed it.”
“I take it your mission was successful?” Ryogin set the glass on top of the fridge.
“Yes.” Amaryllis covered a yawn with her hand. “Everyone saw the urgency of the situation and was willing to assist. As expected, one particular mentor put me through some rather grueling training.”
Ryogin cursed under his breath.
“Don’t be too hard on him.” Amaryllis placed her palm on Ryogin’s arm. “It might just keep us alive.” She turned to Kasai. “And thank you, as well.”
Kasai blushed and twirled her hair with her finger. “I didn’t do much.”
“But you did.” Amaryllis pulled her into a quick side-hug. “I ran out of energy hours ago. Without your generosity, I’d be unconscious right now.”
“Is that safe?” Ryogin leaned over and looked Amaryllis in the eyes.
“I think so.” Amaryllis shrugged. “I can only access about one percent of her gift, and even that feels like a limitless supply of energy.” She yawned again. “If you’d like my assistance, I’d suggest we do that now so I can catch a quick nap.”
“Ah, of course.” Ryogin took a step back. “Tannin, Cerina, and Kasai, we have some small items for you that might help you fight the Natas.”
“Figures he’d get more crap,” Cerina whispered.
Onin looked over his left shoulder at Cerina. Tannin and Saija were on the other side of Ryogin. No one else had heard her. He sighed. Probably best to just let it go.
Amaryllis held her staff in front of her. Ryogin placed one hand on her shoulder, and the other on the staff. Amaryllis gripped her staff with both hands, and braced herself. “Multi-class: Artifice, full uplink; Dragonfire.”
A white crackling disc swirled out from the staff with a bang, and shoved her back up against Ryogin.
Tannin pointed to the disc. “Wasn’t that smaller last time?”
“It was.” Amaryllis adjusted her grip on the staff. “This time I’m using dragonfire to power Artifice, instead of my own energy. Also, Ryogin-sama is helping.”
Ryogin stepped forward and placed both of his palms flat against the white disc. When he pulled them away a bundle of black fabric emerged.
“Here.” Ryogin handled the bundle to Tannin. “It’s a shirt and pants made from a cotton and carbon nanotube blend. It should be stronger than armor after you reinforce it.”
He reached out to portal again, and something wooden started to emerge. Ryogin pulled an electric guitar from the portal.
“Hey.” Tannin leaned in close to Onin and lowered his voice. “I did have a mushroom omelet for breakfast. Did he just pull out a guitar when we’re getting ready for battle?”
Onin shrugged. It was a guitar, and it was an odd choice.
“Here.” Ryogin handed the guitar to Cerina. “You do know how to play, right?”
Cerina stared at him, mouth agape, as she took the guitar. She looked down at it, then back up to Ryogin.
“Um, do you know how to play this?” Ryogin took a half-step forward.
“Yessss.” Cerina raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side. “Um, is now the best time, though?”
“It has a sound-wave generator built-in.” Ryogin pointed to the body of the guitar. “You can use it to generate various tones, including infra- and ultra-sonic notes.”
“Hmm.” Cerina stared at him with a neutral expression on her face.
“Here.” Ryogin reached behind him and pulled a book out of the portal. “Read this. It’ll give you all sorts of ideas on how to use it in combat.”
“Ha!” Tannin pointed at her. “You got homework!”
Cerina narrowed her eyes, slung the strap of the guitar around her neck, and struck a low note.
Onin winced. The sound buzzed through him and he saw double for half a second.
“Ow!” Tannin took a step backward and clutched at his head.
“Oh yeah.” Cerina ran her left hand down the neck of the guitar. “This will do nicely.”
“Yeesh!” Saija dug at her ear with her pinky finger. “Warn a person next time, will ya?”
“Moving on—” Ryogin rubbed at the base of his neck. “As I said, it looks like the dragon should arrive around noon tomorrow, so you should all study the factory layout, and get plenty of food and sleep.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, I almost forgot, Kasai, I have something for you as well.”
Ryogin reached for the portal and pulled out a small vial. As soon as it cleared the swirling white mist, the portal snapped shut.
“If you’ll excuse me…” Amaryllis yawned, then curtsied and left the room.
Ryogin handed the vial to Kasai. Onin leaned in for a closer look. The vial contained a small white-ish gray pill suspended in a milky liquid.
“What is it?” Kasai asked.
Tannin leaned over her other shoulder. “Looks like an antacid.”
Onin rolled his eyes and looked over to Ryogin.
“It’s a nano re-sequencer programmed with an RNA strand that will—” Ryogin looked around at everyone. “Okay, from the blank faces, you didn’t get any of that. It’s a magic pill that will balance out what’s messed up in your DNA.”
“Okay.” Kasai turned the vial over in her fingers. “But what will it do?”
“Well—” Ryogin scratched the back of his neck. “It should let you use your dragon abilities more easily. I and several other departments here at the university, along with ABG, have studied your genetic scan and the theory is that a few imperfections are mostly responsible for your difficulties transforming. We’ve been working on this since we scanned your DNA a few days ago.”
“Wait—” Kasai took Onin’s hand and stepped closer to him. “You mean my, uh, issues with Onryo aren’t the only problem?”
“That’s the theory. That pill should correct the genetic issues. The rest is up to you.”
Kasai stared down at the vial, the corner of her mouth pulled to one side. “Are there any side effects?”
“It’s hard to say with blended species. There really isn’t a standard. Especially when the species are as different as Gesaran and dragon. It also doesn’t help that we know practically nothing about dragon biology.” He paused.
“I’d expect a few differences though. In Amaryllis’ case, her ears and tail grew larger and more pronounced. Oh, it might knock you out for a few hours as well.”
“Oh.” Kasai’s eyes widened. “Perhaps later, then.” She slipped the vial into her pocket. “Well, let’s study that map.”
“Right.” Onin led the way out of Ryogin’s office, still holding her hand.
Onin stepped out of the bathroom after his shower and almost dropped his towel. Tannin was sitting on the edge of the bed sipping at a cup of coffee.
“’Morning.” Tannin waved a finger at him and took another sip.
“What are you doing up?”
“Getting ready for a big fight.” Tannin drained the last of his coffee, tossed the cup into the trash can, and headed for the shower.
Onin starred after him. Since when did Tannin get up in the morning? Onin shrugged and got dressed.
The girls were waiting for them outside. Onin waved to Kasai and walked over to stand next to her.
“What’s the plan, boss?” Cerina asked.
“We fly in and try to take them by surprise.” Onin pulled out his copy of the factory map. “So far, it looks like my servitors haven’t been noticed. Suit-guy is here—” Onin pointed to the center of the map. “—and there are three more Natas patrolling the area. The servitors haven’t observed them using any gifts—”
“But they’re Natas, so it’s a safe bet they’re cheating,” Saija said.
“Yup.” Onin nodded. “So we’re gonna play it safe and see if we can isolate them and fight them one at a time.”
Tannin raised his hand. “Question. How are they cheating, anyway?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” Saija pulled her mouth to the side. “When I was possessed, it kinda felt like the ice and fire and stuff was coming from somewhere else.”
Amaryllis stepped forward. “Ryogin-sama’s theory is that they’ve found another giftling like me who can copy or transfer powers, and they’re corrupting it somehow to enable them to use multiple gifts instead of being limited to the host’s gift.”
“But that’s not important now.” Onin generated servitors for his hands and feet and rose off the ground. “Long term, that information might be useful to stop the Natas, but for now we’ve all got to stay on our toes and expect surprises. Is everyone ready?”
Everyone nodded. Onin generated servitors for Tannin, Saija, and Cerina, and they all lifted off into the sky. Amaryllis and Kasai were right behind them. It should take about an hour and a half to get to the factory. The flight was uneventful. Boring, almost. Onin looked around. The sky was free of clouds, and the only birds were off on the horizon. It’d be a nice day if they weren’t on their way to battle people possessed by evil aliens.
Onin saw a white speck on the horizon. That should be the abandoned rubber factory. He dove down until he was at about tree level, and when the factory came into sight again, he landed in the middle of a dirt road that wound through the forest. Kasai touched down to his right, and Amaryllis landed on the other side of him. Everyone else landed behind him, and they all clustered around and looked at him.
Rather unnerving, that. He still didn’t feel like he should be in charge. Oh well. Someone had to be.
“Uh, okay, um…” Onin took a deep breath. “So, the servitors report one guard on this side of the factory. We’ll sneak in and try to take him out fast.”
Saija raised her hand. “Um, when you say, ‘take him out’…”
“Preferably unconscious.” Onin held up a hand when Saija opened her mouth, presumably to protest. “I know, I know. You’ve warned us they’re all but impossible to save, but they’re still people. I’d like to at least try. That said, if it’s you or them…”
Tannin nodded. “Right.”
“Try to make it quick.” Saija wrapped her arms around her chest. “It’s agony to be the host. If not physical pain, then emotional. They can’t help what the Natas does, and…” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Well, it’s not pleasant. If we do have to kill them, do the host a favor and make it quick. Also, the Natas won’t be able to escape if it’s fast enough.”
Kasai stepped over and pulled Saija into a hug.
“Thanks.” Saija patted Kasai on the back and looked over to Onin.
He wasn’t a telepath, but he could practically hear Saija asking him what to do. She’d been through so much at the hands of the Natas. Kasai too, had suffered for her entire childhood, and she still had compassion for the enemy. Onin was lucky to have friends like this. He walked over and hugged both of them.
“Group hug!” Tannin ran over and almost pushed Onin over as he jumped in to hug everyone.
“Ugh.” Cerina rolled her eyes. “Again with the mushy-mushy. Let’s go beat up some bad guys.”
“Right.” Tannin let go and ran down the lane. “Time to save the world!”
A mile down the road the forest thinned out and they stepped into a wide grassland. A lone, white farmhouse stood a ways off the road. As they approached, an old man wearing nothing but bib overalls ran out of the house and toward a pickup truck so old it still had tires.
“It’s more of them demons!” The old man dove into the truck and turned over the engine.
He pulled around to the front of the house and honked the horn. An old woman with white hair wearing a paisley dress ran out of the house.
“DON’T LOOK, ETHYL!” the man yelled.
Ethyl shrieked and covered her eyes with one hand as she ran to the truck. She jumped in, and the old man floored it. The truck coughed and lurched forward, coughed again, and sputtered down the road. Onin was pretty sure he could out-run it on foot.
Tannin blinked and pointed to the truck as it disappeared around the bend into the forest. “What the shroom was that?”
Cerina blinked a few times. “I’m not even gonna smack you for that. I have no idea what just happened.”
Onin shrugged. “Neither do I. Uh, let’s just keep walking.”
About twenty minutes later Onin stopped at the factory gate. It was open.
“Do I have to say it?” Cerina pointed to the open gate.
“Yeah, they might as well add a sign that says, ‘It’s a trap!’,” Saija said.
“Might as well get this over with.” Onin reached over and took Kasai’s hand.
She looked over to him, smiled, and squeezed it. Together they stepped through the gate. Two men and a young woman, all in overalls and checkered shirts, stepped out of the nearest building. They raised their hands and sent blasts of fire and ice straight at Onin.
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