Etherno

Chapter 3: Clean up in Aisle One!

Onin slumped in his chair. Great. Detention would look wonderful on his record. Or whatever the college equivalent was. Dean Nimishi and Professor Jekao sat behind the dean’s desk across from Onin. Tannin was on his left, and Kasai was seated to his right. Cerina was seated in a chair on the other side of the room.

“So, Kasai hit Cerina first, right?” the dean said.

“She was provoked, sir,” Onin said.

Dean Nimishi rubbed his temples. “That’s not what I asked.”

“Sorry, sir.” Onin squirmed in his seat. “Yes, Kasai struck first, but only after Cerina grabbed her shoulder.”

“And why didn’t you stop them?”

The first thing to come to Onin’s mind was to say that it wasn’t his job, and Cerina needed to be taught a lesson after pushing someone around. That wouldn’t help his current predicament, though.

“I was about to, sir, but it was over before I could decide how to break it up safely,” Onin said.

“Fine. You will write an essay on how to handle these types of incidents in the future. It’s due next week. Do a good job on this. It’ll go out to all the S-class students on campus.”

Onin suppressed a groan. How’d he get mixed up in this? He didn’t do anything wrong. He looked over at Tannin, who’d been uncharacteristically silent for the whole meeting, except when the Dean asked him to give his statement about what had happened. The corner of Tannin’s mouth pulled down, and he lifted his eyebrows as he glanced over at Onin.

The dean turned to Kasai. “You’re an S-class. You shouldn’t ever need to get into a fight.” He swiveled in his chair to face Cerina and continued in a harsher tone. “As for you, you can leave your attitudes about social classes back in the forest. Provoking a fight is just as bad as throwing the first punch.”

His gaze swept over all of them now.

“So, for punishment, you’re going to have to learn to work together. You’ll start by cleaning up the cafeteria, then you’ll be working with local law enforcement to track down last night’s trespassers. Meet with Professor Jekao in his office to discuss that assignment in more detail after you’re done with the cafeteria. Dismissed.”

Tannin practically bolted for the door. Cerina shoved past him and stomped off down the hallway.

“Hey, wait, isn’t she supposed to come with us and help clean?” Tannin said.

Onin shrugged. “Go tell her that, then.”

Tannin made a face. “I’ll pass, thanks.”

“I’m sorry I got you into this.” Kasai’s shoulders slumped. “Trouble follows me everywhere.”

“It’s not your fault,” Onin said.

“Yeah, we could have run off like everyone else.” Tannin shrugged. “I just can’t see that crazy b—uh, psycho—um, well, I can’t just sit there and let people stomp up to someone and start screaming.”

“It was our choice to get involved.” Onin shoved Tannin in front of him and fell back to keep pace with Kasai. “So, we’ll help clean. Let’s get it over with.”

dragon

The janitor stood in the doorway to the cafeteria. He handed each of them a broom and dustpan.

“The dean says you have to use these and nothing but muscle power to clean up the veranda. No gifts.”

A groan escaped Onin’s lips. This sucked, and it wasn’t even his fault!

The janitor waved a hand at the outer doors. “Trashcans are outside, put all the debris in there.”

He passed out the cleaning implements and left them alone.

“Well, we might as well get to it,” Onin said.

Three hours later the veranda was clean. Onin leaned against the wall and slid down to a sitting position.

“Well, that was fun.” Onin rubbed the back of his forearms.

“If you think that was fun, I’ve really got to drag you to more parties.” Tannin slumped against the wall and sat next to Onin.

“We should get to Professor Jekao’s office.” Kasai sighed. Her face had a blank, neutral expression. She scooped up her dustpan, turned around, and left.

Onin groaned as he struggled to his feet and followed her.

“I’m serious about the parties.” Tannin called after him.

“Whatever. Shut up and come on.”

dragon

Cerina was waiting for them outside Jekao’s office. She smirked at them before she turned the doorknob and entered. Onin was tempted to barge in after her and let the professor know she hadn’t helped them with the cleaning. He stopped mid-stride. This wasn’t grade school. He could only control his own actions. It’d be better in the long run to let Cerina deal with the fall-out from hers on her own.

“Ah, good, you’re all here,” Professor Jekao said.

Onin followed the others inside the professor’s office. He plopped into a chair by the door. The office looked almost exactly like the dean’s office. Same white walls, same plastic desk that was patterned to look like wood, and the same green curtains on the window. A few maps on the walls and a bookshelf full of worn volumes gave the professor’s office a touch of personality. Onin wasn’t sure if the cookie-cutter offices indicated that ABG wasn’t well-off financially, or if it meant they understood that fancy offices weren’t what was really important.

“So, why are we here,” Tannin asked.

“If you’ll shut the door, please,” Professor Jekao replied.

Kasai flicked a finger and the door clicked shut.

The professor leveled at stare at each of them before he spoke.

“You all know about the attack on Onin and Kasai last night, right?”

Cerina snorted.

Jekao cleared his throat. “I’ll deal with you later. You still owe ABG some cleanup work.”

Cerina jerked her head up and clenched the armrests of her chair. “Pardon?”

Jakao smiled. “You do know there’s cameras out there, right?”

Cerina’s face paled.

Onin smiled. She’d probably get a lot worse punishment now. Served her right for not helping. Especially since it was her fault to begin with.

“Anyway,” Jekao turned to face Onin. “Local law enforcement has asked for our help in tracking down the perpetrators. Stuff like this may happen out in the country, but in most large cities it’s safe to be a giftling. Especially here in Dabreth. So, the four of you are to report to police station C-47 to be briefed.”

Tannin jumped to his feet. “Uh, you can’t make us do that, can you, sir?”

He looked around at the rest of them. Onin waved at him to sit down. Tannin frowned and flopped down in his chair.

“Ordinarily not.” Jekao stared at each of them in turn. “However, due to some mitigating circumstances, we have a discipline problem on our hands. I don’t care who’s at fault. I don’t care if you were even in the fight. You’re all adults here, and I’m not your nanny. You have to learn how to handle these kinds of things on your own. Also, ABG has a reputation to maintain. In-fighting among our students is not the image we want to portray. So, you will learn to work as a team.”

He turned to face Cerina, stood, and leaned over his desk toward her. Her eyes widened.

“Or you will all be kicked out. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Cerina’s voice was hardly more than a squeak.

“Good.” Jekao sat down again. “Off you go, then. You’re expected to report to the police station immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” all of them said in unison.

Onin rose and held the door open. The others filed out of professor’s office. Onin, as the last one out, closed the door behind him.

“Well, this sucks.” Cerina flared her nose and stuck her chin up in the air. “Now I’m stuck with you losers.”

“Ha! Like we need your lovely personality around,” Tannin said.

Onin took a deep breath. “Not now, okay? Do any of us want to get kicked out of ABG?”

Silence answered him.

“That’s what I thought. Now, I believe we were told to get to police station C-47 immediately, right?”

“Yup,” Tannin said.

Onin raised his palm and generated a medium-sized servitor, about double the size of his head.

“Anyone else need a ride?”

“Ooo, me!” Tannin raised his hand and jumped up and down.

“Quit acting like a child.” Cerina turned up her nose and spun away from him. “I don’t like depending on others. But fine, if you’re going that way.”

“Kasai?”

She smiled. “I’m good.”

Onin shrugged and generated two more servitors. They rose into the air and took positions above Onin, Tannin, and Cerina. Energy tendrils reached down and wrapped around each of them, gripping them by the shoulders, waist, and legs like a harness. The servitors rose into the air, suspending them underneath, and took off for the police station.

Onin looked over his shoulder. Kasai jumped up into the air and shot up past him. She spread her arms out and maneuvered her body into a horizontal position. Then she zipped forward and angled in next to Onin.

Onin looked over at her and raised his eyebrows. “You can fly?”

“Not really.” Kasai ducked her head and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Most kinetics can only levitate things, but I think that’s due to a lack of imagination. I ‘imagine’ kinetic glider wings and push off from things. I’ve been working on an engine of some sort, but it’s problematic.”

“Cool!”

Kasai was beautiful and clever. Onin grinned and felt his face flush. He looked away and concentrated on the rooftops they were flying over.

ABG was located out near the south edge of the city near the suburbs. The buildings beneath them now were getting taller as they headed north toward the police station.

Onin’s servitor started to descend, and the others followed him.

“There’s the station.” Onin pointed to it, and the servitors set them down on the steps outside the front door. Onin held out his hand and the servitors floated over toward Onin. He touched the closest one and it slowly shrank as he re-absorbed it. He re-absorbed the others and turned to admire the station.

The police building was one of the oldest in the city. It was constructed from brick with actual wood frames around the windows.

“Quit gawking at the ruin of a building and let’s get this over with.” Cerina shuddered and straightened her top.

Tannin leaned in to whisper in Onin’s ear. “You think she’s this charming all the time, or is it that time of the month?”

“Tannin!” Onin leaned away. “That’s not—You don’t’—You’d so better hope she didn’t hear you!”

He shook his head and led the way up the steps and into the station. The inside of the building looked modern. White walls, a bunch of chairs, a few potted plants, and a counter that divided the room in half. A woman in a police uniform was behind the counter. Onin walked up to it and addressed her.

“Hello, Onin, Tannin, Kasai, and Cerina from Applied Bio-Gifting College. I believe we have an appointment?”

She looked up at him, frowned behind her glasses, and punched a few buttons on her computer terminal.

She nodded. “Room I-3, down the hall, and to your left.”

“Thanks.”

A door behind and to the right of the counter swung open and they walked down a blank white hallway.

“Right here.” Tannin pointed a sign above the door. “I-3, according to the sign.”

Onin opened the door, and they stepped in. The walls were bare cement brick. There was a table in the center of the room. One wooden chair was on one side of the table, four on the other side. The room had gray concrete walls, and only one small window set high on the far wall.

“This can’t be right…” Tannin’s voice trailed off.

A click sounded. Tannin spun around and pulled on the handle.

“It’s locked! I think I can Reinforce a chair and use it to break a door down,” he said.

“Is that your gift?” Kasai asked.

“Yup!” Tannin grabbed one of the chairs by the leg, spun around and slammed it into the wall. It bounced off, unharmed. “I can make things stronger.”

“Waste of gift,” Cerina muttered.

“It can be handy!” Tannin slammed his head into the concrete wall, leaving a crushed indent. “See?”

Onin sighed. He pulled out a chair and sat. “How about we all sit down and wait and see how this plays out?”

Kasai sat next to him, cross-legged on her chair and closed her eyes.

“What’s she doing?” Tannin asked.

“How should I know?” Onin shrugged. “Might be meditating or something.”

“Oh, yeah. Monks.” Tannin spun a chair around and sat, resting his arms across the back of the chair.

Cerina sighed as loudly as the reverse jets on a hover truck and pulled a chair over to the other end of the room.

Half an hour later, according to Onin’s phone, the door opened, and Professor Jekao entered.

Onin blinked a few times. What was the professor doing here? Kasai grabbed his arm. Tannin’s mouth fell open. Cerina jerked upright in her chair. The professor walked over and sat in the chair at the opposite side of the table. He wore a black police uniform, with a captain’s rank insignia on the collar, and a reserve force patch above his name on the left breast pocket.

“What in the name of the matari are you doing here?” Cerina asked.

He gave her a stern look. “The lieutenant got involved in another case, so they called me in, since I was already briefed. I apologize for the wait.”

“Oh, for…” Cerina didn’t finish her sentence.

“Anyway, let’s get on with the briefing.” The professor pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and unfolded it. “We have reason to believe that the attackers will try to hit the college again tonight. As Cerina alluded to earlier, they sound like they may be giftling hunters from the Northlands. If they are, they’ll keep coming back until they’ve caught that flame giftling, or Kasai, or whatever else they may be after.”

“So, what do we do, stand around like sitting ducks until they show up?” Cerina picked at her fingernails.

“More or less. We want to detain them and learn who hired them. Your task is to work together to capture them. Once you’ve got them, call in to the police for pickup with the radios you’ll be issued. Any questions?”

“Yes.” Cerina looked up. “Why have us do it instead of the police? They have a special squad for this sort of thing, don’t they?”

Jekao rubbed his forehead. “Yes…” He let the word draw out. “We’ve been over the why in my office back at ABG. In addition to that, all four of you have criminal justice as a minor. If you want to go into that field, this field work would help your grades and your resumes.”

“You mean this is extra credit?” Tannin asked.

“Yes.”

Tannin let out a loud whoop. “Sweet, I might not flunk out!”

Onin rolled his eyes. “You’re an idiot.”

“Thus, the need for extra credit.”

Every one of them, including the professor, smacked their foreheads with the palm of their hands.

“What?” Tannin looked around at them. “It’s true.”

dragon

Onin peered down into the crater.

“You’d think they’d fill this in already,” he said.

Kasai shrugged. She still wasn’t wearing a jacket. Onin wrapped his arms around himself. It was colder out today than it had been yesterday. The weather needed to make up its mind. He rubbed his arms. Hopefully those thugs would show up soon.

“Well,” Onin looked up and down the empty street. “Do you want to pace up and down this block some more, or wander around?”

“We should probably wander.” Kasai glanced over her shoulder. “This feels like we’re waiting for them. If we made it look like we gave up, they might try to ambush us then.”

“Yeah.” He snorted a second later. “As long as Tannin doesn’t fall asleep, and Cerina doesn’t leave.”

Kasai smiled. “I don’t think they’d do that. Neither one of them wants to get kicked out.”

“Yeah.”

They crossed two blocks without a sign of anyone. Maybe the bandits weren’t going to show up tonight.

“Hey,” Onin said.

“Mmm?”

“What if they’re after that fire giftling, Onryo, and they’re hoping we lead them to her?”

Kasai snorted. “Then they’re in for a long wait. Neither of us knows anything about her.”

“True.” Onin wandered over to a park bench and sat down. “Maybe if they’ll attack, she’ll show up.”

He had hardly finished speaking when something whistled past his ear and exploded. Onin dove for the ground. “Me and my big mouth…”

He looked around for Kasai. She stood next to him. The shimmer of a kinetic force-field surrounded her. Shadows resolved into men, the same ones who had attacked them last night. Well, it was either them or someone with the same fashion sense, since these guys were dressed all in black.

The men spread out in a circle to surround Onin and Kasai. They drew guns and crouched around what cover there was along the street.

One of them leveled a gun at Onin. “Don’t move.”

The rest aimed their weapons at Kasai. They fired simultaneously, and red beams splashed against Kasai’s shield. Sweltering heat radiated from the beams in waves.

“Show yourself, fire giftling.” One of the thugs behind Kasai took a step forward. His voice was deep and gravely. “Or the girl gets baked alive!”

No one moved for several minutes. Kasai wasn’t even sweating. Had she thought up a way to deflect heat with her shield, or was her latent fire gift keeping her safe? Or Onryo might be close by after all.

“She’s here,” the first man pulled a slide lever on the barrel of his gun “She’s shielding her somehow. Have it your way.”

He pressed a button on the side of his gun and a large fireball leapt from the barrel and exploded. Kasai, still shielded, was thrown over the park bench and into the bushes.

A loud high-pitched squeal echoed down the street, and the thugs winced. Onin looked around. Was that from Cerina?

Adrenaline pulsed through Onin. He had to act now while the thugs were distracted. He jumped to his feet and generated two servitors. They raced around the thugs and arced lighting at them. Nothing happened. Grounded suits?

The thugs dropped their guns and pulled short sticks from their packs. With a flick of the wrist the sticks extended, and they jabbed the sticks into the servitors. The servitor’s light grew dimmer. The weapons must be draining the energy from them. Onin generated two more and sent them into the fray.

Suddenly a light pole crashed into two of the thugs and shattered the park bench. A second later Tannin rolled past Onin and scoped up two slats from the remains of the bench. He held them by the ends and swung them a few times.

“Wow, these guys are pros, huh?” Tannin said.

The sky brightened, and a flare landed in the midst of the thugs. The light dimmed to reveal Onryo. Her red hair was loose and waved in the light breeze. Her white wings were half extended, and she had one hand on the curve of her hip. The other was raised, fingers loosely spread, pointed at the nearest thug.

“I’ve had just about enough of you.” She spread her fingers out wide and white hot flame poured out of her hand and washed over one of the thugs.

“Wait!” Onin yelled and waved at her. “We’re supposed to capture them!”

“Sorry cutie—” Onryo winked at him. “—nobody told me I had to.”

“Well you can’t just kill them!”

“Eh,” Onryo waved her hand and sent a burst of flame at another thug. “They’ve got fireproof suits. It’ll take a lot more than this to kill them.”

She jumped up and over one of the thugs that crashed through the empty space that she had just exited. Onin generated another servitor and launched it at him. The servitor expanded and engulfed the guy, then floated up and out of the way, with the prisoner trapped inside the transparent shell.

“Well, that works,” Tannin gawked up at the servitor. “I didn’t know they could do that.”

“Me either.” Onin gawked up at the servitor and its prisoner.

“Wha—” Tannin almost dropped his makeshift swords. “But you control them!”

“They’re semi-independent.” Onin shrugged. “Subconscious idea?”

Tannin shook his head, then ducked as an energy beam passed over him. He rolled away and attacked two of the thugs.

Onin spun around. More of them had to have been waiting in the shadows. Tannin was fighting one, Onryo had three cornered and backed them toward two servitors, and there was the one he’d captured earlier. Definitely more thugs than there had been at first. He looked up in time to see three more men headed toward Onryo.

“Let’s see how much voltage those suits can handle.” Onin raised both hands above his head and generated three extra-large servitors. The three rose up in the air. A sustained arc leapt from one servitor to the next, from the second to the third, and back to the first. The trio flew off in a triangle formation to hover over one of the thugs. The thug looked up, thrust one end of his metal stick into the ground, and steadied the other end over his head.

The servitor cluster started to rotate. A pea-sized white speck formed in the empty space between the three linked servitors. The speck grew to the size of a melon. A blast of lightning arced down from the white spot and impacted with the stick. The bolt swelled to twice its diameter, and a loud crackling hum filled the air. The hum grew louder, and Onin had to shield his eyes from the glare the lightning was throwing off.

The sky went dark. Onin lowered his hand. The thug was spread-eagle on the ground. The stick was nowhere in sight. Only a blackened crater remained. One of the single servitors flew over and arced a healing beam out to the thug, then engulfed him.

Onryo had apparently forced two more of the thugs into servitors. Only three more left. Onin popped out another servitor, and then generated two more. The last two took forever to form. His stomach growled. He must be running low on energy. He searched his pockets. Drat, empty. He’d have to remember to keep a candy bar on him or something. Onin snorted. He wouldn’t be able to help Tannin and the others now. He backed away to put some distance between himself and the fight.

Two of the thugs were using their sticks like swords as they attacked Tannin. One of them aimed a blow at Tannin’s ribs. A loud clang rang out as the thug’s stick bounced off Tannin’s shirt. Onin grinned. It didn’t matter what Tannin wore, he could turn it into armor.

He jumped when Onryo landed next to him.

“I like that lightning bolt. It was powerful.” She rubbed her ample chest up against his arm.

Onin felt light headed as she kept pressing her soft breast against him.

“I like powerful men.” Onryo cocked her head to the side. “So does Kasai. You should show off for her sometime. She’d like that.” She frowned. “Well, she wouldn’t admit it, or show it, but still…”

Onin swallowed and took a step backward. This was all too weird. “How do you know Kasai?”

Onryo grinned. “I’m not going to tell you. Well, not yet anyway. It’s better for her that way. Maybe I will later.”

“But—”

“Incoming.” Onryo smiled, raised a hand, and pointed upward. A large metal net fell down at them. Onryo flattened her palm and fire shot out of it. The blast of fire expanded and engulfed the net. It turned from orange, to white, to blue. Onin took a few more steps, sweat still poured off him from the heat that rolled off from the flame blast.

The flame ceased, and the net was nowhere to be seen. A servitor blinked and rose up to join the others.

“I, uh, think that’s the last one,” Onin said.

“What’s that?” Onryo pointed to a shadow next to where the park bench used to be.

“A shadow?” Onin peered at the ground. It looked like a shadow, but there was nothing around that could cast a shadow.

“Looks like a shadow to me.” Tannin clapped Onin on the shoulder. “Why? Is it trouble?”

“Onryo seems to think so.”

Onryo stepped closer to the shadow and ignited both of her hands.

A girl about their age stepped out of the shadow, and it disappeared. Onin stared at her. She had black hair that was tied together at the top of her head, then cascaded down below her waist. Her eyes were bright red. And she wasn’t wearing much. At all. A thin blue strip of cloth looped around her neck and down to barely cover her breasts, and her underwear made the mannequins in the lingerie store at the mall look fully covered in comparison.

“Wow,” Tannin said.

Onin nudged him. “Shut up. She’s probably here to kill us.”

“At least she’s hot.”

Onin reached over and smacked the back of Tannin’s head.

“Ow! Well she is! What was—”

“Shut up, she’s talking to Onryo.”

The new girl looked around and sneered at the fallen thugs. “Well, can’t get good help these days. It’s been a lot of trouble tracking you, half-breed.”

“Ah, there was a master behind all those minions.” Onryo narrowed her eyes.

“Well, a few layers, actually. I’m Saija. You won’t learn my master’s name. I was supposed to bring you to him, but he’s recently decided you’re not worth the trouble.”

“Let’s get this over with, then,” Onryo took a step forward, eyes flashing. “My master has things she wants to do to, and I’ve had enough of you ruining our life.”

Flames swirled around Onryo’s body. Saija yawned. A jet of blue flame shot toward Saija—and disappeared into a shadow that sprouted from in front of her.

“Is that all you’ve got?” Saija snorted. “I’m surprised you managed to defeat my minions.”

Onin looked up the servitors. All of them contained prisoners suspended inside of them, and he didn’t have the energy to make more. Could they fight and hold people at the same time? Safely?

The servitors started to descend.

Saija looked up, then back down at Onryo, who continued to shoot flame at her.

“Found some new lackey’s yourself, Onryo? Or did Kasai dredge them up?” She leaned over to peer around Onryo and studied Onin. “That one’s powerful. Well, I guess I’ll have to kill them too.”

Onin shivered under Saija’s gaze.

Saija clenched her left hand into a fist, held it up, and flung open her fingers. The servitors popped and dispersed into pinpricks of light, dropping the prisoners.

Onin reached up, but nothing happened. His breath caught. This wasn’t good.

“Looks like it’s my turn.” Tannin twirled his bench slats and stepped forward.

Onryo jumped backward and kicked out with her foot. Saija caught her by the ankle and grinned.

“What was that? Did you think you could hit me?”

Onryo grinned and ignited her foot with blue flame. Saija shrieked and dropped it. Ice formed around her hand, and she swung at Onryo.

Onryo grinned and a wave of flame washed outward from her, melting the ice around Saija’s hand. “An ice user, huh? This will be fun.”

“Not quite,” Saija thrust her hands down and launched herself into the air with twin jets of flame from her palms. “You see, I’m cheating.”

Onryo snarled and flung a whip of fire out at Saija. Saija flicked her fingers, and the flames from her hands trickled to a stop, and she fell to the ground, dodging the flame whip. Tannin jumped up and aimed his slats at the falling figure. Saija winked and waved to him. Then a shadow formed below her. She fell into it and out of sight.

“Where’d she go?” Tannin yelled.

“Don’t know. Keep an eye out for her,” Onryo said.

A shadow formed behind her.

“There, behind you!” Onin yelled.

Onryo whipped around and sent a wall of flame toward the shadow. A crystal of ice the size of a small house shot out of the shadow and impacted with the flame. Steam filled the air and obscured everything.

The steam turned to snow. Saija stepped out from the shadow, and the snow started to swirl in a vortex around her and Onryo. Onryo roared and burst into flame. The flame expanded outward and shot up into the night sky. A blast of air rushed past Onin and sucked all the snow up and away. The pillar of fire exploded, and a blast of hot air knocked Onin into someone.

“Ow, watch it!” Cerina snapped.

Onin shoved himself to his feet and turned around. “Cerina? Where have you been?”

“Here.” Cerina thrust a candy bar and a bottled energy drink at him. “I went and got these for you when I saw your bubbles pop. I’ve been hiding around the corner and throwing sonics at Miss Bimbo when I had the chance.”

“Servitors, and thanks.”

“Whatever.” Cerina looked off to her side. “So, do you have a plan yet?”

“Me?”

“Yeah. You, uh, might be good at that kind of thing. When the fight first started you were directing everyone. I figured you had a plan or something.”

Onin turned around. Onryo and Saija were still exchanging ice and fire blasts. Tannin was nowhere to be seen.

Onin frowned and opened the candy bar. “I don’t know… If Onryo can occupy her enough, the three of us might be able to sneak an attack in. You haven’t seen Kasai anywhere, have you?”

“Nope. I haven’t seen her since she got knocked into the woods, and I’ve been too busy to look. She probably ran off, the coward.”

Onin glared at her. “Or, she’s hurt and needs us.”

“Whatever.” Cerina tossed her hair. “We should defeat that whore first.”

Onin nodded. Where was Tannin? Onin looked around. Wait, there, crouched behind Saija. Onryo shoved another blast of flame at Saija. When she ducked, Tannin thrust his makeshift knife at her back. The blade disappeared into another of those shadows. Tannin rolled away, but Saija spun around and slammed her foot into him. Tannin skidded across the ground and came to a stop in front of Onin and Cerina.

“Hey, you two. Enjoying the evening?” Tannin flashed them a weary grin.

“Idiot.” Cerina shook her head.

“Are you okay?” Onin asked.

“Yeah, fine.”

“Good. I’ve got a plan. Is it just me, or does she seem to favor using her feet?”

“If you’re asking if she kicks a lot, the answer is yes.” He winced. “Tore a hole in my shirt, even while I had it reinforced.”

“Cerina, can you focus a sonic wave directly at her, and not at us?” Onin asked

She nodded. “Easy.”

“Good. We’ll wait for Onryo to give us an opening, then Tannin and I will attack the same spot on her leg that Onryo is either attacking or defending against. At the same time, Cerina, I want you to hit her with the resonance frequency of the brain. Let’s see if that can keep her from soaking it up with one of those shadows.”

The others nodded. Onin turned to watch the battle. He generated a servitor and kept it low to the ground.

Onryo and Saija were still sending bursts of flames at each other. It seemed that she tended to use the shadows more than the flames and ice. He shook his head that was a lot of gifts for one person. She had said she was cheating. Could she be borrowing or have stolen another giftlings powers somehow? If that was the case, the shadow could be her main power, as she tended to use them most often.

Onryo had backed off and was building the fire around her hands up into a hot blue flame. Saija started to run at her.

“Here it comes!” Onin pointed at Saija. “I’m guessing she’s going to jump up into a kick attack.”

“Which leg?” Tannin asked.

“Don’t know, play it by ear. Go!”

Tannin broke cover and took off running. Onin thrust out his right hand and the servitor shot forward. Saija jumped up, and her right leg spun around as Onryo threw a punch at her chest. Onryo smiled and shifted her hand. She’d seen the opening in Saija’s defense, too. Her shoulder slammed into Saija, and her flame flared as she made contact with Saija’s ankle. Tannin and the servitor struck at that moment. Tannin buried his makeshift sword into her leg, and the servitor let loose a bolt of lightning.

Saija’s face contorted in pain, and every muscle in her body spasmed. She slammed into the concrete sidewalk. Onryo rolled and came up with her fist raised. She paused. Black smoke poured out of the wound on Saija’s leg.

“Nice friends you have.” Saija gasped and clutched at her leg. “When they learn the truth, they’ll leave you, just like all the rest. And you’ll lose to my master.”

A shadow formed below her, and she sank into the concrete. The shadow flickered, then faded away.

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