Etherno

Chapter 21: Incoming…

Onin ducked. The ice and fire splashed off an invisible wall a few yards in front of him. Kasai held her palm up in front of her, facing them. The Natas each took a step back and bumped into an invisible wall. The Natas pounded against invisible barriers on either side of them.

“I’ve got them contained for now.” Kasai glanced over her shoulder. “Saija, can you make sure they don’t portal out?”

Saija nodded.

“Thanks.” Kasai turned to Onin. “But now what do we do with them?”

“If I may?” Amaryllis stepped forward and inclined her head toward the Natas.

“Sure, be my guest.” Onin said.

He didn’t have any idea how to contain the Natas without killing them. If Amaryllis did, that would save them all a nasty moral dilemma.

She walked over next to one of the men. “Kasai, can you open a fist-sized hole in your telekinetic field, please?”

Kasai nodded, and Amaryllis punched the man in the neck, just below his right ear. The Natas crumpled to the ground.

“What!” Onin took a step forward. “What was that?”

“I hit him in the carotid artery.” Amaryllis bent down and peered at his face. “He should be fine other than a splitting headache when he wakes up. Saija, can you portal him back to Ryogin-sama?”

“Uh, sure.” Saija glanced over to the unconscious Natas, and a purple portal opened underneath him. “Thought it’d be harder than this.”

Something popped. Kasai cried out and stumbled backward. Onin reached out and caught her.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Kasai brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “But they did something to, I don’t know, deflect my telekinesis.”

The male Natas grinned and took a step forward. The female Natas hung back and held her hands up in front of her.

“That’s not good.” Onin generated a servitor as he looked up.

He sent a mental command to two of the servitors that were in infrared mode, and they shifted to normal. The newly-made servitor zipped over and they lined up into triangle formation.

“Hang on.” Amaryllis swung her shakujo and pointed the tip at the Natas. “I want to try something.”

Before Amaryllis had a chance to do anything, the two remaining Natas blurred, then ran to the door of the closest building, leaving a blurred image behind.

Tannin raised his hand and pointed where the Natas had just been. “Did I—”

“If you say anything about mushrooms, I swear—” Cerina glared at him and lifted her palm.

Tannin scrunched his eyebrows and stuck out his tongue at her.

Onin sighed. “Come on, let’s go after them.” He turned and looked at Saija. “And yes, I know it’s a trap. But we don’t have much of a choice.”

The building was dark inside. Onin waved his servitors in but dimmed them. He didn’t want to stumble over anything, but he didn’t want to give away his position, either. The building was a warehouse. Old wooden crates stacked four high were lined up in rows throughout the building. Only a few modern plastic crates were stacked near the door.

“What do you suppose is in these crates?” Tannin rapped on the side of one.

“Knock it off.” Cerina poked him in the ribs. “We’re not here to play Pillagers of the Lost Coffer.”

“Ha! You really do partake in entertainment on occasion!” Tannin grinned at Cerina.

“Whatever.” Cerina rolled her eyes turned down the nearest isle of crates. “We’re here to stop the Natas.”

“And the dragon.” Kasai’s voice was low.

Onin turned to face her. “It’ll all work out. Somehow.”

She smiled and took his hand.

They worked their way down the row of crates without seeing any signs of the Natas.

“Where do you think they went?” Tannin tapped on one of the crates again.

“Probably through the giant door at this end of the warehouse.” Cerina waved the neck of her guitar in that direction.

Onin took a breath and pushed the door open. The other side of the door opened onto a hallway that looked as though it led to an administrative area. Onin sent a servitor on ahead.

“Looks like there’s one person up ahead three doors down.” Onin said.

“Oh?” Saija peered around him. “Natas?”

“Nope, it’s not us!” Tannin grinned in response when everyone turned to stare at him. “We’re right here!”

Cerina and Saija smacked the back of Tannin’s head in unison.

“Hey, that was a good one!” Tannin rubbed the back of his neck.

“Really?” That was a bad pun even for Tannin. They were in a dangerous situation, and… Onin closed his eyes and counted to five. “I don’t think it’s a Natas. He’s just sitting in an office, eating chips. One way to find out for sure.”

Onin tiptoed down the hall. He squatted down next to the door frame and peered into the office. A fat, middle-aged, balding man sat in a swivel chair with his back to the wall. He hummed off-key and occasionally shoved a handful of off-brand potato chips into his mouth. Onin stood, stepped into the room, and cleared his throat.

The chair turned around, and the man stood up. There was a name patch on the breast of his dirty bib overalls that read ‘Chet.’

“Hey now, not again. You fellas can’t be here.” Chet made shooing motions with his hands. “I already told them other fellas that this here is private property. You can’t—”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” Saija stepped into the room and put her hands on her hips. “Listen, there’s dangerous people here, and you need to leave.” She looked him up and down. “And something tells me you’re trespassing here, too.”

“Golly.” Chet wiped his hands on his pants and stared at Saija, his gaze a bit south of her face. “You sure are purdy.”

“Hey, Tannin.” Saija looked over her shoulder.

“Yo!” Tannin leaned into the office. “What’d I do now?”

“I thought I should apologize.” Saija jerked her head back at Chet. “You’re weird, but you never stare at my boobs like bumpkin-boy, here.”

“Wait, he’s—” Tannin looked over to Chet, then back to Saija. “Yeah, I’m getting out of blast range before I get tiny bits of hillbilly all over me.”

“Wise choice.” Saija took a step toward Chet.

A blinding light burst through the wall. Onin threw his arm over his eyes. When the light faded, there was a hole in both walls and a trench in floor, with Onin and Saija on one side, and Chet on the other.

“Now, what in tarnation was that?” Chet looked down at the trench.

“Do shut up, please.” Suit-man stepped through the hole in the wall to Onin’s right. “You’re not worth my time.”

Chet took a step back and grabbed something off the desk.

“Hey.” Tannin tapped Onin on the shoulder. “Is that a plush lamb?”

Saija leaned over his other shoulder. “And is it wearing a dress?”

Tannin leaned in closer. “I do believe it is.”

“Guys—” Onin swatted at both of them. “I think we have bigger problems.”

“You’d better leave.” Chet pointed a finger at Suit-man. “I’m gonna tell management about this, and they ain’t gonna be happy!”

Suit-man flicked a ball of fire in Chet’s general direction. It hit the lamb, which burst into flame and incinerated.

Tears welled up in Chet’s eyes. “You killed Mary-Lou! How could you?” He started crying and ran out though the hole in the wall.

Onin stared after him. “Uh, did that just happen?”

Suit-man glanced down the hole then turned back to Onin and shrugged. “Distractions aside, I assume you’re here to stop us from using the gate?”

Onin just nodded.

“Very well, let’s get this over with.” Suit-man snapped his fingers and the two Natas they’d met outside the factory, as well as two more Onin had never seen before stepped through the right hole in the office wall.

One of the newcomers to the right of Suit-man ran at Onin. He flicked his wrist, and glowing purple whips came out of his fingers. Onin ducked and the whips ripped through the door frame.

“Fall back!” Onin motioned a servitor forward to intercept the whips as he backed down the hall. “Head back to the warehouse where we’ll have more room.”

Onin generated another servitor and instructed it to blast lighting at the Natas. He turned and fled back down the hallway with the others. Tannin was just ahead of him. Onin followed him and Kasai into the warehouse and off to the left. Amaryllis, Saija, and Cerina veered off to the right.

“Okay, we should be able to—” An energy whip tore through the crate Onin was standing next to, and dozens of yellow things rained down over him.

Onin ducked and backed up while generating a servitor.

Squee, squee, squee!

“What the?” Onin looked down. No, it couldn’t be. This was just too weird.

“It’s a rubber chicken factory!” Tannin held up two of them, and he had the dopiest grin on his face.

“What?” Onin blinked a few times. “Rubber chickens?”

He looked down. Rubber chickens covered the floor, and more hung halfway out of the broken crate. Even the Natas stared at the floor and poked a chicken with the toe of his boot.

“This is awesome!” Tannin held the chickens in front of him like swords and charged at the Natas. “Whaaaaa!”

The Natas stood still and blinked a few times. He was probably questioning either his or Tannin’s sanity. Onin would be as well, but he knew about Tannin’s reinforcement ability. Wait. Charging at someone with a rubber chicken as a weapon— Onin smacked his forehead with his palm and shook his head.

dragon

Saija followed Cerina into the warehouse, Amaryllis hot on her heels, and at least one of the Natas not far behind. Saija spun around, dropped to the floor, and skidded backward. The Natas was within an armspan of Amaryllis. Saija flung her arm out.

A portal opened beneath the Natas’ right foot. The other end opened at about knee height at a slight angle. The Natas face-planted into the concrete and kicked himself in the head at the same time. Saija chuckled and opened another portal in the Natas’ stomach. The Natas looked up at Saija. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped open.

Saija squeezed her eyes shut and snapped both portals closed.

“Did you really need to resort to such violence?” Amaryllis’ voice trembled.

“I did what I had to.” Saija stood, turned to face Amaryllis, and then opened her eyes. “I was lucky to take one out that quick. There’s still five more of them out there and all of them have multiple powers. They’re not going to show us any mercy.”

“I know.” Amaryllis turned to walk at Saija’s side. Her shoulders slumped. “Still, I’d rather not have to resort to that. For both the host’s sake and yours.”

“What?” Saija paused mid-stride. “My sake?”

Before Amaryllis could reply, a portal opened in the side of a crate and a Natas jumped out at them.

dragon

Onin rubbed his eyes. Yes, Tannin had just knocked over a Natas with a rubber chicken. The Natas got back up and screamed. A metal sword sprang out from his hand and he swung at Tannin.

Tannin blocked with a reinforced chicken then slapped the Natas in the face with a non-reinforced chicken. Onin blinked. Yes. That had just happened.

It must have confused the Natas as well. He shook his head, looked at his sword, then over to the chicken in Tannin’s hand, and back to his sword. He started to circle around Tannin, careful not to step on any of the numerous chickens scattered over the floor. The Natas flicked his sword out, testing Tannin’s defenses.

Tannin circled too, not as careful about stepping on the rubber chickens. Each time Tannin parried one of the Natas’ strikes, the enemy looked at the chicken, then back at his own sword. The chicken apparently hadn’t taken any damage.

The squeaking was starting to get annoying. Could Tannin manage to step on any more chickens? Wait. There was a rhythm to the squeaking.

“Is that the theme to Warfare 3-D?” Onin took a step back as Tannin and the Natas circled back to him.

“Nope.” Tannin stomped on two more rubber chickens and slapped the Natas again. “It’s the Warfare 14: Warring Moons theme.”

Kasai giggled. Onin rolled his eyes and waved a servitor forward.

“Time to quit playing.” Onin waved his index finger and a bolt of lightning shot out of the servitor. It impacted the Natas’ sword and sent him flying across the room.

“Aw, I was almost at the chorus.” Tannin’s mouth pulled down into a pout, and the chickens he held went limp.

“There’s more of them out there.” Onin jabbed Tannin in the ribs with his elbow. “We have to take this seriously.”

“Um, is it just me, or are they playing with us?” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger and looked back and forth between Onin and Tannin.

Onin glanced over at Tannin and raised an eyebrow.

“Well—” Tannin scratched the back of his neck with a rubber chicken. “That was the easiest sword fight I’ve ever had.”

“It’s almost like they’re stall—” Another Natas jumped down from the top of the crates. Onin ducked and sent the servitor at it.

“Stalling?” Tannin slashed at the Natas with a chicken. “What makes you say that?”

The Natas grinned and took a step forward. He lashed out with a purple energy whip. Tannin moved to block the strike, but the whip sliced the rubber chicken in half.

“Wow.” Tannin stared down at the half a chicken he held. “That was reinforced, too. Oh well. Time to get serious, I suppose.” Tannin tossed the half chicken over his shoulder and drew one of the swords Amaryllis had given him.

“Don’t bother.” The Natas flicked his hand, and the energy whip swung back toward Tannin. “I’ll just slice that in two as well.”

Tannin grinned and swung his sword. The onicranium blade cut through the whip, and soaked up the energy, leaving only a thin thread of light hanging from the Natas’ hand.

“What? How?” The Natas stared down at his hand. “That shouldn’t be possible.”

“Not performing well?” Tannin twirled his sword and advanced on the Natas. “Don’t worry, happens to everyone.”

Onin glanced over to Kasai and jerked his chin at the Natas’ feet. She winked. Tannin swung at the Natas. The Natas generated another whip, took a step forward, and tripped over an invisible barrier.

“Good work, Kasai.” Onin sent a command to his servitor, and it zipped down and attached itself to the top of the Natas’ head.

“Is he dead?” Tannin poked at the Natas with a rubber chicken.

“No, asleep.” Onin pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. “I thought so.”

“What?” Kasai held Onin’s elbow and peered over to look at his phone. “Oh.”

“What?” Tannin thwacked Onin’s phone with his rubber chicken, which let out a squeak. “What’s ‘oh’?”

“It’s almost noon.” Kasai said.

“Which means that dragon is going to be landing soon.” Onin frowned and drummed his fingers on his hips. “So, are the Natas keeping us in here so the dragon can wreak havoc, or wearing us out before we can fight him, or something else?”

Tannin shrugged and picked up a few more rubber chickens. Onin rubbed his temples. If even half the legends were true, there was no way a rubber chicken could do anything to a dragon. There was also no way to convince Tannin of this.

“We’d better catch up with the others,” he said.

“Yeah.” Kasai held onto Onin’s arm with both hands. “And then get outside as fast as possible.”

dragon

Saija snapped open a portal in front of the Natas before she finished emerging from her own portal. The Natas fell into Saija’s portal. The Natas’ portal snapped shut. Saija moved the other end of her portal a few inches from the entrance portal.

“There.” Saija took a breath and leaned in to inspect the portals. “That should hold her for a while.”

“Perhaps.” Amaryllis inclined her staff toward the portals. “But if she can manipulate portals as well, she might be able to find a way out of the loop.”

“Hmm.” Saija bit her bottom lip. Amaryllis had a good point. “Um, anything either of you can do to her before that happens?”

“Sure.” Cerina strummed the strings of her guitar. “I’ve been playing low-frequency sound waves that should disorient her.”

Amaryllis turned to face her staff. “Is it too late for the Natas?”

Saija clamped her jaw shut. Kasai sure did attract some weird friends. Sure, Amaryllis claimed to be talking to Ryogin—but she didn’t need to face the staff for that, did she? Saija tilted her head to the side. On the other hand, being eccentric was more forgivable than trying to kill someone. Kasai was so hard to figure out, but in a good way.

Amaryllis approached the portals. Saija shook her head. Time to focus on the here and now.

“I’m sorry.” Amaryllis jabbed the point of her staff between the portals. A blinding flash of red/white light flared.

Saija threw her hand over her eyes. When she lowered it, the portals and the Natas were gone.

“Come.” Amaryllis turned and continued down the line of crates. “The dragon approaches. We must hurry.”

Saija glanced over to the smoking crater on the floor, then back to Amaryllis. Yeah, people were a lot harder to figure out than she had thought.

dragon

Onin ran down the hallway, generated a servitor, and burst through the door into the sunshine. Suit-man and another Natas were already waiting for him.

The servitor sent out a blast of lightning. Suit-man held up his hand and absorbed it somehow.

“What?” Onin gawked. “How is that possible?”

“Oh, please.” Suit-man smirked and waved a hand. “You’re not the only ones who can train to increase their capabilities in combat. Besides, an inferior life-form like you couldn’t hope to best me.”

“Is that why you need our bodies? Kasai asked.

Suit-man glanced down at his hand and shrugged. “A mere tool to more effectively interface with this environment.” He stared at Kasai. “One that can be disposed of if it proves to be defective.”

Tannin took a step forward. “We’re not gonna—”

“Save it.” Suit-man pointed up. “Your doom is already sealed.”

A dark shadow blocked out the sun. Onin looked up. A large red crystal island in the shape of a dragon filled the sky. The dragon’s wings flapped. Onin blinked and rubbed his eyes.

“It’s not your imagination,” Suit-man said. “Nor illusion. That is a dragon, and it has come to destroy your world.”

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