Chapter 22: Demons of the Mind
Onin was vaguely aware of the warehouse door opening and shutting behind him.
“What’s going on?” Amaryllis asked.
Onin pointed up. The dragon circled around, descending slowly. Even high up in the sky, its shadow blocked the sunlight for the surrounding area.
“Wow, that’s big.” Saija skidded to a stop behind Onin and shielded her eyes with her hands. She craned her neck to see the dragon. “Who knew they were real?”
“The monks told stories about the dragons.” Kasai shuddered and took a step behind Onin. “Didn’t think they’d be so big, though. How can we fight something so massive?”
“Well—” Onin suppressed a shudder and, squared his shoulders. “Let’s take on the Natas together and then worry about the dragon.”
Suit-man laughed. “That’s a good plan. Except for one detail.” He waved and the dragon landed with a thud in front of the Natas.
Tannin leaned to the left. “Uh, is he running away?”
“The Natas have what they want from your world. I will ensure that you vermin don’t bother them further.” The dragon snorted and a bit of green flame shot from its nose.
Onin took a step backward. Kasai gripped his arm and pressed up against his back. The dragon’s voice thundered and reverberated through his body. The thing was easily the size of the factory warehouse. The earth shook each time the dragon stepped forward. How could they fight something that large?
Amaryllis took a step forward. “I suspect the Natas is attempting to make it to the gate. We need to work together to defeat the dragon before that happens.”
Thunder rolled across the plain. Onin jumped. It wasn’t thunder. It was the dragon laughing.
“We can do it if we all work together.” Amaryllis turned and stepped in front of Tannin. “May I copy your gift?”
“You don’t have any questions?” Amaryllis flicked an ear.
“Not when a building-sized dragon is right in front of me.” Tannin rubbed his eyes. “Nope, it’s still there. Go right ahead.”
Tannin grabbed Amaryllis’ staff. After a moment, he yawned. Onin pulled an energy bar from his pocket and tossed it to Tannin, who waved his thanks and scarfed it down.
“Saija?” Amaryllis held out her staff.
“Gladly.” Saija pulled Amaryllis into a hug. “Please don’t die.”
Onin generated two more servitors. “You know more about dragons than we do. What should each of us do?”
“My knowledge of dragons comes second-hand from Ryogin-sama.” Amaryllis frowned and flattened her ears to the back of her head. “Our best chance is for me to attack head on. Onin, support me with servitors. Cerina, see if you can find the resonance frequency for whatever kind of crystal he’s made of.”
Amaryllis took both of Kasai’s hands in hers. “I can’t tell you to do this. But I would like to ask you to take that pill Ryogin-sama and I made for you. To defeat the dragon, we’re going to need you to be able to access the full power of your dragon genes.”
Kasai pulled Amaryllis and Onin into a hug. “I’m scared.”
Onin pulled her tight. From what Ryogin had said, no one knew what would happen, and Kasai hadn’t fully resolved her relationship with Onryo.
“I know.” Amaryllis looked up at Onin, then back down to Kasai. “I have no right to ask, but we all need your full strength.”
Kasai looked up at Onin.
“I can’t make a decision for you.” Onin pressed his forehead to Kasai’s. “The more power we have for this fight, the better, but I’ll respect your decision either way.”
A dissonant twang on the guitar sounded. Onin looked over his shoulder.
Cerina stuck out her tongue. “Could you three save it for later? Am I the only one wondering why the dragon hasn’t eaten us yet?”
The dragon laughed. “Why would I eat such as you? As to why I haven’t attacked—” The spines along his back rippled. “The Natas have no honor. They would attack first. There is yet honor among the dragons. Though you are but pests, destined to be extinguished, you are still the defending party and have the right to the first attack. You should be glad. Not many among my kind would grant you this recognition.”
Tannin leaned closer to Onin. “Are all our enemies crazy? Even the script-writers for a day-time drama would throw out that line.”
“On the other hand, if you insult my gesture of goodwill—” The dragon drew back his head and opened his mouth.
A green-white ball of light formed in the back of the dragon’s throat and grew in size.
“Uh-oh.” Amaryllis held her staff in front of her. “Don’t insult dragons. Multi-class: Shield-wall.”
A wall of blue flame formed in front of Amaryllis. A blast of glowing, green fire erupted from the dragon and splashed across Amaryllis’ shield. She grunted when it impacted. The shield flickered but held.
“All right!” Tannin pumped his fist. “Score one for us.”
Amaryllis took a deep breath. “I barely blocked that. That was full-force dragonfire. There’s no way a normal shield would hold up against that. We’ve got to split up, provide multiple targets, and avoid another direct hit.”
“I’m gonna do it.” Kasai shoved her hand into her pocket and pulled Ryogin’s pill.
“Are you sure?” Onin put a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to.”
Kasai looked at the dragon and sighed. “One way or another, yes I do.” She tilted the pill into her mouth and swallowed. “Huh, they said it might make me tired, but I feel—”
Kasai swooned. Onin caught her and eased her to the ground.
“Cerina, Saija!” Onin waved to beckon them over.
“Yo.” Saija popped up from a portal on the other side of Kasai.
“You two keep her safe.” Onin transferred Kasai over onto Saija’s shoulder. “Amaryllis, Tannin, and I will try to distract the dragon until she wakes up.”
Kasai blinked. She stood in an empty white void. She couldn’t smell or feel anything. A distant rhythmic thumping surrounded her on all sides. This had to be a dream.
No one answered, and her voice didn’t echo. She took a few steps forward. The scenery, or lack thereof, didn’t change. It was difficult to tell if she’d even moved.
“Is anyone there?”
Still no answer.
“I’m not sure what the point of this is.” Kasai squatted and poked at the floor. There was nothing there. “So, am I floating?” She sighed. “Great, now I’m talking to myself.”
The distant thumping increased in tempo. There was a flash, and a baby was in front of her. The baby was being held by a pair of arms, but the rest of the person holding the baby dissolved into the mist.
“Hush, Kasai. Mama has you.” The voice was a woman’s, and it echoed from the mist.
“Wait, is that me? Mom?” Kasai took a few steps forward but got no closer to the baby.
A light flashed, and Kasai found herself standing in a small wood cabin. A red-haired woman held a small child.
“Wait—” Kasai turned around. This cabin was familiar. The evergreen tree on the quilt, the blonde-haired doll. “That’s me…”
Kasai took a few steps. She could move around, but it was like she was moving in slow motion. Her mom and the younger version of herself didn’t seem to notice her.
A tall man with red eyes burst through the door. He said something indistinct. Young Kasai hid in her mother’s skirt and trembled.
“Why can’t I hear anything?” Kasai stepped between the man and the younger version of herself.
The man stepped right through her. Kasai whirled around. “How—”
He continued talking. Kasai still couldn’t make out any words, but he was getting louder. He reached out and grabbed young Kasai by the shoulder. Her mother pulled her away and stepped in front of her. The man punched her mother in the head, and she collapsed onto the floor. Blood pooled around her head.
Kasai gasped and put a hand to her mouth. She took a step forward and paused. Young Kasai stared at her mother and went rigid. A tail and wings grew from her back.
“Onryo?” Kasai reached out. Her hand trembled.
“Yup. This is when I first showed up.”
A girl who looked exactly like her, only with red hair, wings, and a tail stood beside her. Onryo.
Amaryllis flew up into the air. “Dragonfire!” A blast of red fire lanced out and splashed against the dragon’s side.
“What was that supposed to be?” The dragon snorted.
Amaryllis frowned. This wasn’t going to be easy.
She held out her staff. “Multi-class: fire elemental.”
A drop of orange-red fire formed at the end of her staff and fell to the ground. Sprouts of flame grew into arms and legs, and the elemental increased to double the size of a human. Amaryllis smiled.
Afraid it wasn’t going to work? Ryogin-sama asked.
Well, it was the first time I’ve used that. Amaryllis directed the elemental to attack the dragon while she flew over it.
“Tannin, I need an opening.”
Tannin saluted her and drew his swords as he ran toward the dragon. Amaryllis aimed the tip of her staff at the dragon’s eyes. Ice probably wouldn’t hurt it, but if she could distract it…
“Multi-class: ice-lighting.” An arc of ice-lighting zipped out of Amaryllis’ staff toward the dragon.
It exploded into a cloud of steam upon impact. Amaryllis dove at the dragon’s flank. Tannin was in position. He plunged both swords into the dragon’s hide. Well, hide wasn’t exactly the right word, as it was made of overlapping ruby plates. A ringing screech echoed from the dragon’s ruby scales as Tannin’s onicranium blades sliced through.
The racket pounded inside her head. Amaryllis flattened her ears against her skull. The horrible noise continued. She pressed her hands over her ears. That helped a little.
Chunks of rubies the size of her hands flew everywhere as Tannin sliced at the dragon’s scales. This wasn’t going to be enough. There was a hole about six inches deep in the scale now, but Tannin hadn’t made it through yet.
“Stand back, I’m going to try now,” Amaryllis said.
Tannin took a step backward. The dragon swung a paw, and sent Tannin arcing through the air.
“I can see my house from here!” Tannin yelled as he shot up past Amaryllis.
She blinked. Something’s wrong with that boy.
He’ll be fine. The armor we made for him, and his gift, will keep him safe.
Amaryllis glared at her staff and flicked an ear. That’s not what I meant.
If you’re going to attack, you should do it now.
“Hmpf!” Amaryllis flicked an ear at her staff. Ryogin-sama could be so literal at times.
She spun her staff to point it at the hole in the dragon’s scale.
“Multi-class: Armor piercing!”
Amaryllis felt the surge of combined dragonfire, ice, and lighting swell within her. She channeled each of them into her staff, and it emitted a combined blast that shoved her backwards.
Kasai circled around Onryo. “If you’re me, how can you be here?”
“I don’t know.” Onryo shrugged. “This is your dream. You tell me.”
Kasai looked back at the dream—or was it a memory? Young Onryo flung fireballs at the man and set fire to the cabin. The man wasn’t burning. He had to be a Natas.
Light flashed and the scene changed. Young Kasai was alone on a dirt road that ran through a forest.
“I remember this.” Kasai stepped back to stand next to Onryo. “No one would help me, though.”
“You don’t remember all of it.” Onryo pointed. “Keep watching.”
A band of drunks came around a bend in the road. Young Kasai asked for food, and the drunks started to shove her. One of them tore her shirt and grabbed at her pants. She transformed again and chased them away, flinging fire after them.
“So that’s how the rumors started.” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger. “But why don’t I remember any of this? Do you remember this?”
“Yeah, I remember it.” Onryo stepped in front of Kasai. “Why don’t you?”
“I don’t know.” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger.
“Our therapist says I’m a defense mechanism. Ryogin says your DNA is out of whack.” Onryo shrugged. “I don’t know. That stuff is your problem. I just fight.”
Kasai reached out and placed a hand on Onryo’s arm. “Don’t you hate me for keeping you around to only fight my battles?”
Onryo bit her lip. “I dunno. I should, maybe. But I don’t. I like fighting, and I guess I care about what happens to you.” She raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be thinking of me as more of a facet of you instead of another person?”
“Hmm.” Kasai tuned away. More memories of black-cloaked figures chasing her, and Onryo fighting them off flashed in front of her. “Dreams are weird.”
“Pay attention.” Onryo jerked her head at the dream version of younger Kasai. “Important one coming up.”
Onin frowned. On the one hand, they weren’t dead. On the other, they weren’t even so much as irritating the dragon. He was clearly toying with them. Why else would he stand still and let Tannin hack at him?
The dragon flicked a talon, and Tannin flew through the air. Onin sent a servitor to catch him. Amaryllis fired a large blast at the dragon—and nothing happened.
“Cerina—” Onin turned around. “Any luck finding the resonance frequency of that crystal?”
“It’s ruby.” Cerina frowned and pointed at some of the shards that Tannin had hacked off the dragon’s scales. “Regular, plain old ruby gemstones. The hunks that Tannin hacked off shatter when I hit the right frequency. The rest of the dragon—nothing. It has to have abilities or something that make it different.”
“Hmm.” Onin frowned. “There has to be something…”
A stack of servitors zapped the dragon with lightning. Just like the last few times, the lighting reflected off its scales. The dragon swung its neck around, opened its mouth, and swallowed the servitors.
Onin felt his mouth fall open.
“What?” Saija leapt to her feet and shook Onin’s arm. “What was that? Did he just EAT lighting?”
“Is Cerina still ensuring that we can hear each other?” Amaryllis asked.
“Yes.” Onin shaded his eyes with his hand and looked around. Amaryllis was on the far side of the dragon. “I can hear you. Can you hear me?”
“I can.” There was a pause while Amaryllis shot another blast of ice at the dragon. “Dragons are based on silicon, unlike life on Gesara that’s carbon-based. They have an internal fusion reaction that gives them energy. It’s likely that he did indeed eat your servitor.”
“Um, shouldn’t we be more fight-y and less lecture-y?” Cerina plucked a low note and glared at Amaryllis.
The dragon flicked his tail and caught Amaryllis on the calf. The blow knocked her out of the air, and she landed in a heap in front of Onin and Cerina. Onin waved to a servitor, and it floated over and ran a healing beam over Amaryllis.
“Ugh.” Amaryllis struggled to her feet. “You have a good point.” She turned to Onin. “Is that servitor almost back with Tannin?”
Onin glanced off to the side and reached out with his mind for the servitor. “Should only be another minute.”
“Excellent.” Amaryllis cracked her neck. “When he gets back, we should launch a combined attack.”
Cerina snorted. “What good would that do? Our attacks don’t seem to do much good against it.”
“Yeah.” Saija yawned. “I’ve been trying to portal it away, or open a portal inside it, and the portal won’t open. I have no idea why.”
“The goal isn’t to win.” Amaryllis put a hand on Saija’s shoulder. “We just have to occupy the dragon long enough for Kasai to wake up.”
Onin turned and knelt by Kasai. How long would she sleep? Would she wake up in time? And how much more could she help?
Kasai turned around. They were in a playground in a park now. The playground was surrounded by oak trees. A line of swing sets and teeter-totters was off to the right, and a large grassy field was to her left.
“Wait, this is where I met Cerina, isn’t it?”
“I think so.” Onryo sat in a swing and pushed off the ground. “We didn’t find out it was her until later though, right?”
“Yeah.” Kasai wrapped her arms around her chest. “Her sister died. Could I have saved her if I hadn’t hidden from all of this?”
Onryo shrugged. “Beats me. I think the point of all this is to learn from the past though, right?”
“Yeah.” Kasai sat in the swing next to Onryo and watched as young Kasai took a step towards Cerina, then stopped and stared at her feet. “Learn from the past, make a better future.”
“Sure.” Onryo watched the memory play out in front of them for a moment, then turned back to Kasai. “So, whatcha learning from all this?”
“Mostly it’s just bringing back old feelings.” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger. “Being alone, wondering why nobody wanted me. The whole half-dragon thing kinda fills in some of that. It’s good to fill in gaps in memory, just hard to relive it, you know?”
Onryo shrugged again. “You know you’re talking to yourself, right?”
Kasai jerked her head up and stared at Onryo. “Oh. I guess that’s true.”
She sighed and turned to watch the memories play out.
Onin generated another servitor and sent it around to the far side of the dragon. The dragon whipped his head around and snapped at it.
“Um, why’d you make another one if it’s just gonna eat it?” Cerina asked.
“To buy us some time.” Onin pulled an energy bar out of his pocket and ate it in two bites. “Tannin’s almost back, and Amaryllis should bandage that cut on her leg.”
“I’m fine.” Amaryllis reached down and placed her palm over the cut on her calf muscle. “Restore: twenty percent.”
Blue mist formed around the wound. When it dispersed the bleeding had stopped.
“There, all patched up.” Amaryllis prodded at the scar with a finger. “Wasn’t that deep. Better armor up, though.”
“Armor? Why didn’t you… oh never mind.” Cerina rolled her eyes and changed the melody she was playing.
Amaryllis let go of her staff and raised her arms above her head. “Artifice: Full up-link, battle armor.”
Twin white circles of light formed around Amaryllis’ waist. They counter-rotated, and one spun up toward her head, the other down to her feet, leaving silver-white body armor in their wake.
Onin looked up at the sound of Tannin’s voice. He floated a few feet off the ground, suspended underneath a servitor. The servitor lowered him to the ground, then released him before it zipped off to shoot lightning at the dragon. Just in time, too, as it had just swallowed the other servitor.
“Hmm.” Tannin circled around Amaryllis. His eyes squinted as he looked her up and down. “What’s with the uni-boob?”
Cerina stopped playing long enough to join Saija in smacking the back of Tannin’s head.
“Idiot.” Cerina rolled her eyes and huffed. “This isn’t a fantasy game.”
“Yeah. Body-fitting armor would just direct damage—” Saija jabbed Tannin in the middle of the chest. “—here.”
“Oh.” Tannin’s eyebrows rose. “That makes sense.” He frowned. “Still looks weird, though.”
“I know I’m asking a lot—” Onin placed a hand on Tannin’s shoulder. “—but can you concentrate for half a second.”
Tannin’s mouth pulled to one side, and he cocked his head, apparently in thought.
Onin sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’. Anyway, we need to launch a coordinated attack on that dragon. I’ve got an idea…”