Etherno

Chapter 24: Rise of the Dragongirl

Onin’s eyes widened and he held his arms up in front of him. He didn’t have enough energy left to generate another servitor, and just one wasn’t going to stop that column of dragonfire.

Movement caught Onin’s attention. He lowered his arms a fraction. Kasai stood in front of them and extended her wings.

“No!” Onin reached out for Kasai just as the dragonfire slammed into her.

Tears streamed down Onin’s face as the green fire seemed to stretch Kasai’s body out in front of him. Wait a moment. Her body actually was stretching out and growing larger. The green light from the dragonfire faded, and a silver-white dragon about three-quarters the size of the red dragon now stood above Onin.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Kasai?”

The white dragon roared a challenge and lunged for the red dragon’s throat. The red dragon blinked a took a few steps backward.

Maniacal laughter distracted Onin. Amaryllis was rolling on the ground laughing.

“What are you laughing about?” Onin grabbed Amaryllis’ arm and shook her. “We’ve only been able to scratch that thing. It’s gonna kill her!”

Amaryllis sat up and faced Onin. “What’s the most powerful thing in the universe?”

“Ooo! I know!” Tannin raised his hand in the air and waved it around. “Ard is!”

Onin and the other all turned and looked at him.

“Somebody pinch me.” Cerina looked around, shrugged, and pinched herself on the arm. “Well, I think I’m awake, but I don’t believe it. Tannin got a correct answer.”

Amaryllis blinked. “Yes. Well. Uh, what’s the second most powerful thing?”

“Uh—” Tannin scratched the back of his head.

“Careful, it’ll start smoking if you think too hard,” Cerina said.

Tannin stuck his tongue out at her. “I’m guessing a dragon?”

Amaryllis nodded. “Correct. Specifically an onicranium dragon, which is exponentially more powerful than other dragon types.”

“So, what’s an onicranium dragon?” Onin asked.

Amaryllis pointed to Kasai and smiled. Onin turned to watch.

Kasai tore into the red dragon. Red crystal shards were flying everywhere as Kasai bit and clawed at the ruby beast. It jumped up into the air and beat its wings a few times. Kasai blurred and appeared above the red dragon. She spun in mid-air and slammed her tail across the red dragon’s face.

A crack echoed off the factory buildings as more ruby scales shattered from the impact. The red dragon slammed into the ground, shook its head, and opened its jaw. Another blast of green dragonfire erupted from its mouth and washed over Kasai.

Amaryllis chuckled. “That won’t work. Not on her.”

“What do you mean?” Saija asked.

Amaryllis turned to Tannin. “Tannin, what happens when you block an energy blast with your swords?”

“Uh, they get sharper and stuff?”

Amaryllis cocked and ear halfway back. “Close enough. Onicranium absorbs and re-emits energy. And her scales are made from it.”

“Wait.” Onin held up a hand. “How’d she get onicranium?”

“The Matari and Ryogin-sama gave it to her.”

“What!” Onin jumped to his feet. “You mean that bitter drink she was complaining about? What if had killed her?”

“She’s half dragon.” Amaryllis shrugged. “It’s good for dragons.”

Onin rubbed his temples and turned to watch the battle. Kasai still had the upper-hand, but she was slowing down. Her scales that had seemed closer to white were now a dull grey.

“She’s probably hungry.” Amaryllis held up her staff and pulled herself to her feet. “Moving that much mass takes a lot of energy, and the red dragon has stopped providing a source.” She turned to address her staff. “Are you ready?”

The staff chimed. Amaryllis nodded and held the staff out in front of her. A white portal opened in the sky above the two dragons.

“Cerina. Could you make it so Kasai can hear me, but the red dragon can’t?” Amaryllis asked.

Cerina shrugged. “Sure.”

“Kasai, eat this.”

A rock fell out of the portal. Kasai flew up and snapped her jaws shut around the rock.

Amaryllis stumbled and Onin reached out to steady her.

“What was in that rock?”

Amaryllis lowered herself slowly to the ground. “Uranium.”

“Uranium!” Onin took a step backward. “Are you trying to kill her?”

“Watch.” Amaryllis pointed to Kasai.

Her scales grew whiter and almost seemed to glow. She attacked the red dragon with renewed vigor.

“People are carbon based.” Amaryllis pointed to her own arm. “We take in carbon arranged in different proteins and process it for energy. Dragons are silicon-based. They are powered by an internal fusion reaction.

“I’m assuming that Kasai’s reactor never started. It probably wasn’t working properly until Ryogin-sama corrected her DNA. That should power her up enough to win the fight.”

Onin frowned. “And what about after the fight?”

Amaryllis smiled. “The onicranium will store the unused energy while she’s resting. In her next fight she’ll be scary-strong.”

An explosion ripped through the air and Onin jumped. One of the red dragon’s wings lay shattered on the ground a few yards away. Kasai was on top of the red dragon, her jaws clamped around its neck. She tore at its back with her claws. Ruby shards flew everywhere.

The red dragon twisted around and raked its claws over Kasai’s belly. Sparks flew and a high-pitched screeching sound filled the air. Onin clamped his hands over his ears. The red dragon’s claws were ground down, and there wasn’t so much as a scratch on Kasai’s scales.

The advantage in armor went to Kasai, but the red dragon was larger and more graceful. Onin clenched his jaw. Kasai had only been a dragon for what, a few minutes? The red dragon had learned to fight in that form.

Onin turned to the others. “Is there anything we can do to help her?”

“I’m a little immobile over here.” Saija held up a piece of her broken leg and waved it in the air.

“Sorry.” Amaryllis’ ears drooped to the side. “I’m just about completely out of energy.”

Onin dug in his pocket and pulled out the half of an energy bar. “Here.”

dragon

Kasai bit the red dragon’s throat again. He twisted and reared up, flinging her off. Kasai spun through the air and landed hard on her back. She took a shaky breath. Before she could exhale the red dragon was on her again, biting at her neck.

Her armored scales protected her from any puncture wounds from his teeth, but it felt like her throat was being crushed. The red dragon bit down harder, his jaws crushed her own scales into her throat.

Kasai flailed her legs, trying to dig into the ground. Anything to throw the beast off from her. The red dragon held her down, using his greater mass to keep her from rolling over. She started to panic, then froze as a thought hit her.

Wait a minute. I’m a telekinetic, not just a dragon.

Kasai lifted a paw and leaned into her gift. The red dragon rose into the air, his teeth screeching as he was pulled off from Kasai. He flailed his head around in every direction, presumably in an attempt to find what had grabbed him. Kasai held him aloft while she rolled over onto her feet. She coughed a few times, then used her gift to slam the red dragon into the ground as hard as she could.

The red dragon rose to his feet. A clear fluid leaked from his back and neck and dripped to the ground. He gathered his feet underneath himself, took a breath, and shoved up to stand on wobbling feet.

“Why do you defend them, child?” The dragon took a step forward and stumbled slightly to the side. “These pitiful creatures hate and fear you. Come with me, join the dragons, and you’ll never be looked down on again.”

Kasai heard a bark of laughter from behind her. She looked over her shoulder.

Tannin rolled on the ground, laughing. “Oh, please! ‘Come, join me, even though I’ve been trying to kill you.’ That’s a line right out of a bad movie. Kasai’s not dumb enough to fall for that!”

Kasai snorted. Tannin’s impression of the dragon’s pompous tone was pretty good. And he was right. She had no desire to run off with someone just because he looked like she did at the moment. She just wanted to be normal.

A scuffling noise interrupted her introspection. She whipped her head around to face the red dragon. He had taken a few more steps to the side and opened his mouth. Green dragonfire formed in the back of his throat. Every muscle in Kasai’s body tensed. He wasn’t aiming at her.

The red dragon loosed the blast. Kasai leapt with all her strength. The edge of her outstretched wing caught most of the blast and sucked it in. If any of that had made it past her…

Rage clouded her thinking. Her whole body shook, and she roared. A tsunami of blue fire erupted from her mouth and washed over the red dragon. The fire eventually stopped. There was nothing but a black streak left of the red dragon. Kasai took several ragged breaths.

“Yeah! Go Kasai!”

Kasai turned around. Tannin jumped up and down and whooped. A chunk of ruby striated with cracks fell to the ground with a dull thud next to Tannin.

“Eeep!” Tannin jumped behind Saija and peeked out from behind her. “Is it safe?”

Saija looked over her shoulder. Her mouth was pulled into a half-smile, and her left eyebrow was raised. Kasai wasn’t sure if she was irritated or amused.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Cerina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “Stop being such an idiot. That thing would’ve just bounced off you.”

Saija was definitely smiling now. She pulled Tannin around, hugged him and pet his head. “Poor baby, are you okay?”

Tannin nuzzled into her shoulder and nodded “Uh-huh.”

Cerina stuck out her tongue. “Ugh. I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Saija and Tannin burst into giggles.

Kasai smiled. She swung her head around to face Amaryllis. “Do you have any idea on how I can get back to normal?”

“Hmm.” Amaryllis pursed her lips and looked over to her staff. “I’m not sure.”

Amaryllis swung her staff down and hopped up to sit side-saddle on it. She rose up to eye-level with Kasai and flew a slow circle around her, looking her up and down.

“I’m not sure.” Amaryllis repeated. She landed by Kasai’s left side and waved her staff along the scales on her leg. “Ryogin-sama says you still have Gesaran DNA.” She drummed her fingers on the handle of her staff. “You first shifted into dragon form when we were all attacked. It could be a stress response. Try taking deep breaths and thinking of something relaxing?”

Kasai frowned. “That doesn’t sound very scientific.”

“Pshaw.” Tannin waved a hand and blew out a breath. “If you stop to think about it, nothing that’s happened to us over the past few days seems very scientific.”

“He’s got a point.” Onin staggered over to Kasai, rested a hand on her forepaw, and looked up at her. “And some relaxation techniques might work. Stress seemed to be a contributing factor in your transformation to Onryo.”

Kasai sat back on her hind legs and wrapped her tail around herself. That was a good point. She did black out during the transformation to and from Onryo, but perhaps that was due to the genetic abnormalities.

A peaceful memory? Those were in short supply. Kasai closed her eyes and thought of Brother Terrence sneaking her extra portions of bread and fruit. Studying with Onin. The way Tannin acted stupid just to get a laugh whenever he saw pain on a friend’s face. Getting to know Amaryllis. Saija, who had started as an enemy, and now was a dear friend. Even Cerina, who despite her sour personality, still tried to do the right thing.

Kasai smiled. The most relaxing thought of all was that even when the Natas tried to kill her, Ard loved her, and sent all these friends into her life. She sighed, and it felt like a weight was lifted from her. She opened her eyes. Onin was at eye level. Wait. Why was he covering his eyes and looking away. Kasai bit her lip and glanced around. Saija grinned at her—and held her hand over Tannin’s eyes. Amaryllis blushed and pointed down. Kasai lowered her head to look at herself. She was stark naked.

“Eeep!” Kasai wrapped her wings around herself and felt her face heat. “Wait…”

She still had wings. That wasn’t right. She looked over her shoulder. The tail was still there, too.

“This isn’t how it was supposed to work!” Kasai stomped toward Amaryllis. “That RNA pill was supposed to fix me, not permanently turn me into some sort of freak!”

Amaryllis held up her hands, palms out. “All Ryogin-sama said was that it would stabilize your DNA. The Natas didn’t exactly tell us what you were supposed to look like.”

“Supposed to look like?” A shiver rippled through Kasai’s body. “You mean I might stay like this?”

Amaryllis didn’t respond and wouldn’t look her in the eyes.

If she had to stay this way no one would want to have anything to do with her. All the horrified faces from her memories flashed through her mind again. And Onin—Kasai’s knees wobbled—Onin wouldn’t be able to stand her like this.

“No…” Kasai whispered. She glanced at everyone in rapid succession. Who would turn on her first? She struggled to suck in enough air. Her heartbeat sounded inside her head. “No, I can’t stay like this! I can’t!”

Amaryllis took a half step forward and stretched out her hand. “You have to, I—”

“No! I can’t! This is all your fault—” Kasai trembled all over now. She stretched out her palm and swung at Amaryllis. “You said…”

Kasai’s voice trailed off. Her hand ignited with orange fire the moment her palm made contact with Amaryllis’ cheek. Kasai’s vision grew dark around the edges as she stared at her flame-covered hand.

“No… it can’t… I didn’t…” Kasai sniffed and blinked away the tears that streamed down her face. This was what she had been afraid of all along. There was no way they could forgive her now. She choked back a sob, jerked around, and leapt into the air.

dragon

Onin ran after Kasai. “Kasai, wait!”

She was already too high to hear him. Onin held out his hand and tried to generate a servitor. Still too tired. He sighed and turned around. Amaryllis’ face looked like it had lost an argument with a flame-thrower.

“Uh, does anyone have a first-aid kit?” Onin asked.

Tannin shook his head. Saija blinked rapidly and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She murmured a negative.

“First aid?” Cerina snorted. “Gonna need more than a bandage to cover that.”

Amaryllis held her staff in front of her. “Restore from archive point.”

Her voice was tight, and she ground out the words. Onin glanced up at her and his stomach knotted. He had to look away. It probably hurt a lot to talk with that bad of a burn. A blue mist covered Amaryllis as soon as she quit speaking.

Onin breathed out. “Oh good, she’s got enough energy left to heal. Now, does anyone have any food? I’ve got to go after Kasai.”

“Sorry, man.” Tannin clapped a hand on Onin’s shoulder. “I’m out of energy, too.”

“I think I’ve got enough energy left for one more portal,” Saija said.

Onin looked over at Saija. She was lying on her back, spread out on the grass. Her bad leg was crossed up over her good leg. The occasional spark still spat out from the severed wires.

“Are you sure?” Onin frowned and gestured at her leg. “You don’t want to injure that any further.”

“Bah.” Saija waved a hand as if to dismiss Onin’s argument, but she didn’t move. “It’s just the artificial part that’s broken. I’m fine. What should I portal, and to where?”

“Well, if you’re sure…” Onin yawned and looked at Saija.

Saija rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m sure. Now make up your mind. Kasai’s getting further away, and she—” Saija wiped her eyes. “She needs some re-assurance.”

Tannin jumped up. “Hey, doesn’t Ryogin usually have a tray of snacks and stuff in his office?”

Cerina narrowed her eyes at him. “I think we have more important things to worry about right now.”

“No, he’s right—” Onin started to say.

“—For a change.” Saija winked and tossed a clump of grass at Tannin.

Onin glared at both of them. “As I was trying to say, food is a good idea. We’re all out of energy, and Suit-man got away. We still have to find him.”

Saija waved and a purple portal opened on the ground. She waved her hand. The portal swirled upward, leaving the tray of food behind.

Onin grabbed an apple, two energy bars, and a can of juice. He stuffed one of the energy bars into his pocket and scarfed the rest of the food he’d taken. He raised his arm and held out his hand. No, it’d be better to wait. He sighed and counted to sixty.

The servitor slowly grew as Onin sent power out through his hand to it. He grunted with effort. It was taking longer than it usually did. He was panting by the time the servitor was the size of his head.

Onin waved a finger and the servitor rose above his head. It extended tendrils of energy down to cradle him and he slowly rose into the air.

“Wait!” Tannin waved at him, then threw another apple up to him. “Bring Kasai back!”

Onin saluted Tannin, then sent a mental command to the servitor to follow Kasai.

Onin frowned. He should have caught up to Kasai by now, even with her head start. Wait—something light flashed among the trees to his right. Onin directed the servitor in that direction and had it set him down.

He stalked through the trees in the direction where he’d seen the light. The sound of sobbing filtered through the forest. Onin quickened his pace.

Onin rounded a large oak. Kasai sat curled up at the base of another tree, crying. Her wings were wrapped around her, and she faced away from him.

“Kasai?”

Her head jerked up, then she wrapped her wings more tightly around herself, covering her bare skin. “Go away. I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“Come on, Kasai. Everyone’s waiting for us.” Onin took a half step forward.

Kasai’s wings stiffened. “Please go. I can’t bear it to see all of you turn on me. Just let me leave.”

“I’m not going to abandon you.” Onin took another step forward. “Neither is anyone else. Please, come back.”

“That’s what they’ve all said.” Kasai sniffed. “Then I burn down a village, and everyone is afraid of me. I don’t want to remember the fear in your eyes. Just leave me alone.”

“First of all, it wasn’t you who burned those villages. It was the Natas. Second, I’ve known you were half-dragon for a long time.” Onin knelt beside her and laid a hand on the back of Kasai’s wing. She tensed under his touch. “And it’s never bothered me.”

Kasai lifted her head and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, not much.” Onin shrugged. “Kasai, it’s not your body I’m attracted to. It’s your soul, who you are as a person that I—I love.”

“Love?” Kasai’s voice was barely above a whisper. She shifted a little closer to him. “No… you couldn’t—”

Onin leaned in, wrapped his arms around Kasai, and silenced her with a kiss. Her whole body stiffened, then slowly relaxed into his arms. She was warm and soft as he held her against his chest. Every nerve in his body felt alive with a pleasant tingle as Onin brushed his lips against Kasai’s.

She pulled back after a moment and rested her head on his shoulder. “It is different, isn’t it?”

“Hmm?” Onin looked down and brushed Kasai’s hair back behind her ear.

“I—I didn’t think you could possibly love me if I looked like this.”

“I told you, it’s you I love, not…” Something rustled in the woods. Onin looked over his shoulder. “Did you hear that?”

“No, I—”

“Ah, there you are!” Amaryllis emerged from between two trees. “I was look—” She paused mid-step. “Uh, am I interrupting something?”

“No.” Kasai struggled to her feet, keeping her wings wrapped tightly around her the entire time. “Onin was just, um—”

Amaryllis cocked an ear to the side. “I understand.” She grinned and her tail twitched. “Onin, if you could turn around, I brought clothes for Kasai.”

Onin blushed and pivoted on his heel to contemplate the forest for a while. Better not to think about Kasai naked… He shook himself and stopped that line of thought. He hadn’t lied to her. He really did love Kasai for who she was. Though, those wings weren’t entirely unattractive…

“Okay, you can turn back around now,” Amaryllis said.

Onin turned to face Kasai. Her wings were now folded to her back. She wore a green halter-top dress that really made her red hair shine.

Onin smiled. “You look great.”

“Thanks.” Kasai smiled and stared into Onin’s eyes as she took a step closer to him.

“Um, we should get back.” Amaryllis looked back and forth at Onin and Kasai. “Ryogin-sama is waiting for us. I think we can still capture Suit-man.”

Kasai giggled. “How on gesara did we all start using Tannin’s ridiculous name for that Natas?”

Onin smiled and took her hand. “Because it makes us laugh and not get overrun with all the bad things happening to us. Also, if he didn’t want a stupid nickname from Tannin, Suit-man should’ve told us his name!”

Kasai giggled. She looked down at his hand and blushed a deeper shade of red, but didn’t say anything.

“Well, we should go.” Amaryllis hopped up onto her staff. “Anyone need a ride?”

“Nope.” Onin waved a finger and his servitor floated down into the clearing.

Kasai squeezed his hand and then let go. She floated up above the tree line, spread her wings, and glided forward.

Onin directed his servitor to bring him alongside Kasai. It would be more dignified, not to mention easier to control, to cover his hands and feet with servitors and fly alongside the girls, instead of dangle underneath the servitor, but he still hadn’t recovered enough energy.

It only took a few minutes to fly over the trees back to where the others waited outside the factory. Ryogin squatted next to Saija examining her broken leg. Amaryllis landed next to him and rested a hand on his shoulder.

“Can you fix it?” she asked.

Ryogin stood and cracked his neck. “Yes. I’ve downloaded the specs to my phone, but we’ll have to study them before we can create a replacement.”

“Okay.” Amaryllis held her staff in front of her. “Artifice.”

A white circle appeared just over the staff. Amaryllis reached over and pulled out a pair of crutches.

Ryogin took them from her and handed them to Saija. “These will have to do for now.”

Saija accepted the crutches and pulled herself up to a standing position. “All right, then. Let’s go catch a Natas.”

“Uh, I hate to put a damper on things, and that Natas really does need to be caught, but all of us are still out of energy.” Onin looked around at everyone, raised an eyebrow, and cocked his head. “Right?”

“I’m fine.” Kasai took Onin’s hand and stepped behind him.

Onin looked over his shoulder at Kasai. Strange time for her to be hiding behind him. Was she still worried that the others wouldn’t accept her?

“Eh, we’re all fine now, thanks.” Tannin grinned at Onin. “Ryogin, hit him.”

Ryogin tossed a metal object at Onin who barely managed to catch it. It was a canned energy drink.

Onin held the can out in front of him and read the label, written in a flowery script. “Caution! Ryogin-sama’s restorative blend.”

Tannin pantomimed drinking.

“Ugh.” Onin shuddered. “Do I have to?”

“It’ll make you feel better,” Amaryllis said.

Cerina snorted. “That’s a lie.”

Amaryllis frowned, sidled up to Ryogin, and wrapped both her arms around his right bicep. “It only tastes like death. It does do a great job at restoring your energy.”

Ryogin looked down at Amaryllis. “Thanks. I think…”

Onin covered his mouth with his hand and turned a laugh into a cough. Cerina showed no such courtesy and slapped her thigh while she laughed out loud.

Onin made a face and chugged the energy drink. “Yuck. Tastes worse than I remember.”

He shuddered again and tossed the can to Ryogin, who opened a white artifice circle and tossed the can inside.

“Okay, where’s the Natas?” Onin asked.

“I was monitoring the satellite feed during your battle.” Ryogin pulled his phone out of his pocket and flipped through a few images. “He portaled from here to another of the Natas complexes that we’ve had under surveillance. Once he got there, he and a few other Natas performed some sort of ritual. That took a while. After it was done, two of the Natas were surrounded by some sort of dark blob, and they entered one of the buildings. That was just a few minutes ago.”

Ryogin handed his phone to Amaryllis. “Can you portal us to that location?”

Amaryllis bent over the phone, both ears facing forward. “Sure. It’ll be easier if you can help, Saija.”

Saija hobbled over and wrapped her left hand around Amaryllis’ staff. A blue portal opened on the ground underneath everyone and slowly turned as it raised up into the air.

The portal dissipated and Onin found himself standing in a dirt courtyard surrounded by low-roofed red buildings. It was eerily quiet.

“That one.” Ryogin pointed to one of the larger buildings off to the right.

He led the way, and Amaryllis placed her hand on his arm.

“I’ll enter first, Ryogin-sama.”

Ryogin nodded to Amaryllis and followed her into the building. Onin waited for the others to enter before following them. Kasai looked over her shoulder and fell back to walk beside him.

Onin took her hand. “Are you ready for this?”

“Yeah. I think so. As long as all of you are with me.”

Onin stepped up into the building hand-in-hand with Kasai. And almost bumped into Tannin.

The inside of the building was empty of furniture or decorations. It was not, however, unoccupied.

Two naked women floated in the back of the room. They faced each other across from a black portal that hung in the air between them. An inky darkness covered most of the women’s bodies and flowed out from their navels into the portal.

Someone swallowed audibly. It might have been Onin.

“That’s—” Saija’s voice broke. She cleared her throat. “That’s a long-distance portal. Since it’s sucking the life out of two people, it probably leads off-planet.”

“We can’t let that horror loose on the galaxy. Not with a gifted gesaran host.” Ryogin’s voice was low, and Onin had to strain to hear him.

“What about those girls?” Amaryllis pressed up against Ryogin’s side and looked up at him.

Ryogin shuddered. “Professor Jekao is gathering a team from ABG to secure the compound. He’ll see if anything can be done for them.”

“It’s already too late.” Saija’s voice was just above a whisper. “That’s a fatal ritual. If we’re going to go after the Natas, we have to go now.”

Ryogin turned to face everyone. “I can’t let that Natas loose. I have to go after it. I can’t ask any of you to go with me…”

Amaryllis clung even more tightly to his arm. “I’ll never leave you, Ryogin-sama.”

“Yeah.” Cerina blew out a breath. “That thing’s evil. Gotta stop it.”

Kasai turned to Onin. “If he’s going to gather more dragon allies, I have to go.” She tried to pull her hand free of Onin’s.

Onin grabbed her hand in both of his. “Nope. I meant what I said earlier. If you’re going, I’m coming with you. And Ryogin and Cerina are right. That Natas has got to be stopped. If it’s in my power to stop it, and I don’t—well, then I’m just as guilty as that Natas.”

“Portal’s getting smaller.” Saija pointed to the portal. It had shrunk a half-inch since they’d entered the room. “We’ve gotta go now.”

Ryogin and Amaryllis turned and stepped through the portal side by side. Cerina sighed and followed them. Saija wasn’t far behind her.

“I’ve got to get a different travel agent.” Tannin made a face and jumped through the portal.

Onin turned to Kasai. “Are you ready?”

“I still don’t think you should—”

Onin pressed a finger to her lips. “I can’t stay. I’d worry about you, and I’d be eaten up with guilt that I didn’t do anything to stop that Natas.” He smiled. “Amaryllis took the good lines, but I know you’ve got some abandonment issues. I don’t want to add to that. I’ll stay by your side as long as you’ll have me.”

Kasai smiled and leaned against Onin’s side.

“Shall we?” Onin gestured to the portal.

“Yes.” Kasai looked up at him. “Together.”

Onin put his arm around Kasai’s waist, and they stepped through the portal in sync.

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