Chapter 35: Here a Natas, There a Natas
Ailah sprinted down the street. Footsteps and shouting behind her urged Ailah on. She glanced over at the sword. It was broken in half. Probably from cutting that giant steel door in half. Weird how it had just shown up out of nowhere. A plasma beam shooting over her head shook her out of her reverie. Worry about the sword later. Escape now.
Ailah tossed the sword over her shoulder. It landed with a heavy thud, and her speed almost doubled. Strange, it hadn’t felt that heavy. Another plasma beam streaked past her left shoulder. They were probably trying to steer her somewhere. Well, if they wanted her to go right…
Ailah skidded around the next corner to the left. The buildings seemed to be mostly industrial, and either abandoned or it was past quitting time for the day. Ailah frowned as she ran down the side street. She wasn’t even sure what city she was in. There hadn’t been any signs or recognizable buildings yet. The Natas had knocked her out. She could be halfway around the planet.
A man carrying a big gun and wearing a dark trench coat stepped out into the street in front of Ailah. She skidded to a stop. Another man with an even bigger gun stepped into the street behind her. Ailah swallowed and looked around. No other side streets. No windows. Wait. Above her. There was an old-fashioned fire escape on the side of the building to her left. She stared at it and bit her lip. She might make it. She looked over her shoulder at the guy with the bigger gun. The fire escape was starting to look pretty good. Better than taking her chances with the local neighborhood watch. Yeah, they probably weren’t there to help her.
Ailah took a deep breath and took a running leap toward the fire escape. She yelped in surprise as she flew up to the top of the building.
“What the!” She drew in a shaky breath. “I couldn’t jump all the way up here, that’s impossible!”
The two goons on the street below yelled, and the whine of a hovercar engine off in the distance grew louder.
“More stuff to worry about later.” Ailah took off running across the rooftop. “At this rate, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown.”
Ailah was rapidly approaching the edge of the roof. She gritted her teeth, and pumped her legs faster. “Hope that first jump wasn’t a fluke.”
Amaryllis winced. Kasai had stopped struggling against the servitors, and the ice boulder was about to flatten her.
“Come on, Kasai, you can do it!”
The boulder blocked Amaryllis’ view of Kasai now. It was only seconds from impact.
A scream split the air. The ice boulder shattered into powder, and an immense gray-white metallic dragon surged straight up into the sky towards Amaryllis.
“Yes!” Amaryllis pumped her fist. “I knew you could do it! Go Kasai!”
Wait. Kasai wasn’t slowing down. Her mouth was open. Also, a glowing green fireball started to form between her jaws.
“Oh, shii—” Amaryllis twirled her staff down to point at her friend. “Wait! Uh, multi-class: titan shield!”
A fireball the size of the entire Imperial Hotel erupted out of Kasai’s mouth. A purple energy shield rippled and formed around Amaryllis just before the fireball impacted. The impact sent Amaryllis flying backward. The shield rippled, but held. Just as the fire dissipated, the shield flickered and disappeared.
Amaryllis took a shaky breath. “Whew, that was close.”
Are you sure this was the best idea? Ryogin’s mental voice sounded worried.
“Eh, I got this. I’m going toe-to-toe with an Onicranium dragon!”
Ryogin sighed. You haven’t fully tested this gift yet. Just be careful, love.
A white claw the size of her head slashed in front of Amaryllis before she could fully catch her breath.
“Yikes!” Amaryllis backed up. “Servitor armor, to the sixth!”
Glowing yellow spheres of light formed around Amaryllis, and coalesced to form a skin-tight barrier around her. Amaryllis looked around. Kasai banked around for another pass at her.
“All right, let’s see what this new gift can really do.” Amaryllis pointed her staff at Kasai. “Ice-wave, to the tenth!”
Ice exploded from the end of Amaryllis’ staff with a thunderous boom. A tsunami of ice rippled out and slammed into the white dragon, throwing her backward.
Kasai roared and a blinding surge of white light exploded out from her mouth. Amaryllis threw her hands up in front of her head. In seconds, both the ice and light were gone. A dense fog surrounded Amaryllis. She spun around slowly. Kasai was out there somewhere. There! The sound of wings flapping came from off to the left, and slightly above her.
Amaryllis frowned. The fog made it hard to pinpoint Kasai’s exact location.
Amaryllis pointed her staff in the general direction. “Multi-class: full-auto, to the fifth!”
Bus-sized yellow energy bolts flew out from the end of her staff. Amaryllis waved her staff back and forth in the general direction where she thought Kasai was.
The fog was starting to clear. Still no sign of Kasai.
A white claw reached out of the fog behind Amaryllis and wrapped around her. The servitor armor held, but it was starting to flicker where Kasai’s claw was in direct contact with it. Amaryllis swung her staff—still spewing energy bolts—around to pepper Kasai. The bolts just seemed to sink into her skin.
“Well, then. No energy attacks against an Onicranium dragon.” Amaryllis glanced down at her staff, and the energy blasts stopped. “Strength, Reinforce: to the twentieth.”
Amaryllis shoved out against the claw that was wrapped around her waist. It loosened slightly. Amaryllis braced her feet against Kasai’s palm, her hands against the tip of the claw and shoved. She groaned with effort, and the claw slowly opened.
“Yes!” Amaryllis darted out and flew up above Kasai. “Ice wave, to the thirtieth!”
Energy was sucked from Amaryllis as the immense wave of ice formed. Amaryllis gasped for breath. Her legs started to shake, and the servitor armor faded away.
“Guess that was too much.” Amaryllis sucked in another breath.
She drifted downward. There wasn’t enough energy left to fly.
Are you all right? What happened?
“I’m fine. That last one used more calories than I had left, though. Even with dragonfire powering it.”
Amaryllis yawned as she drifted downward. Her eyelids felt heavy. She struggled to keep her eyes open.
“Too tired. Just need a nap.”
Air rushed past Amaryllis. She felt strangely weightless. She yawned again and darkness overtook her.
Ailah sprinted across the rooftops. She’d managed to lose the two goons. She giggled to herself. They looked like comic book villains. It was as if the Natas weren’t even trying when they hired their henchmen. Or did they possess them?
A whine of a hovercar off to her left interrupted her thoughts. The dang thing was back again. She’d managed to lose it briefly a few times, but it always seemed to find her again. Ailah giggled. Not like it was exactly hard to find a girl running along the rooftops in nothing but her underwear. She shivered and added, ‘find clothes’ to her mental list of things to do. The first was to get away from that hovercar.
The car was covered in police markings, but from the way it opened fire on her whenever it got close, it had to be the Natas. They wanted her back almost as much as Ailah wanted to get away from them.
The car zipped in close again. Ailah swung her right fist in a desperate attempt to punch at it. She giggled again at the thought of punching a car. Oh well, not like she had many other options.
Her hand closed around something solid.
“Huh?” Ailah looked back over her shoulder.
Her hand was wrapped around the handle of a giant sword—that was pulled halfway out of a glowing blue disk of light surrounded by numbers and geometric symbols.
“What the?” Ailah rubbed at her eyes with her left hand.
The glow-y circle thing was still there. The hovercar opened fire. Ailah squeaked, yanked the sword of… whatever that was… and swung it with all her strength. It went through the hovercar like butter, splitting it cleanly in two.
Half of the car fell down at Ailah. She screamed and punched at the half a car. It bounced off her fist and arched over the top of the next building over.
Ailah stared at her fist and blinked. “Am I dreaming?”
Another guy in a black trench coat climbed up and over the side of the building onto the same roof Ailah was on. She groaned and took off running again.
Amaryllis blinked. The last thing she remembered was falling. She jerked around and opened her eyes.
“Woah, easy there! I’ve got you.” Onin said.
Amaryllis blushed. Onin held her. She looked around. A servitor was above them. Tendrils of energy trailed down from it and wrapped around Onin and her.
“Um, thanks for catching me.” Amaryllis looked away. “I think I can fly on my own now.”
“Yeah. I had the servitor transfer some energy to you.” Onin let her go. The servitor still supported her with a few tendrils of energy.
“Here.” Onin dug around in his pocket and pulled out a granola bar. “You need to eat something.”
“Thanks.” Amaryllis accepted the bar and took a big bite out of it. “When’d you get here?”
“The rest of us followed you and Kasai as soon as you took off, but most of us can’t withstand unprotected supersonic flight, so we just got here.”
“Ah. Thanks for catching me.” Amaryllis shaded her eyes with her hand and looked around. “Where’s Kasai?”
Onin pointed off to the north. “Over there. That last blast you let out sent her flying.”
“Um…” Amaryllis scratched an ear. “Could you talk to her? I got her to transform, but I might have overdone it. And, uh, I’m out of energy now…”
“Sure.” Onin grinned. “Practice time is over for now, anyway. Purona got a call from her boss when we were halfway here—”
A gust of wind interrupted Onin. Kasai back-winged to stop and hover right in front of them.
“Wait!” Onin zipped out to intersperse himself between Kasai and Amaryllis. He held his arms out wide. “Kasai, it’s me, Onin!”
Kasai lowered her head to nuzzle Onin. “She tried to kill me!”
“No!” Amaryllis shook her head. “I was only trying to get you to transform!”
“Well, could you have chosen a more dangerous method?”
“The Natas are here and we need—”
“Ladies!” Onin glared at both of them. “Clearly you two need to have a talk, but now isn’t the time for more fighting. Purona got a call. There’s been a possible Natas sighting in the Hadala kinset to the northeast of here. They want us to check on it.”
“A possible sighting?” Kasai cocked her head to the side. “Was there, or wasn’t there?”
Onin shrugged. “They weren’t confirmed to be Natas, but multiple sources saw a woman carrying a giant sword wearing nothing but her underwear running along rooftops.”
“Hmm.” Amaryllis pursed her lips. “That does sound like a Natas.”
Onin grinned. “Yeah, that’s what Tannin said. So, let’s go check it out. Purona called a car for us.”
“Yeah.” Kasai snorted. “That’s all well and good, but I can’t fit in a car in this form.”
“Got it covered.” Onin pulled off his backpack and waved it around. “Saija nabbed some spare clothes for you.”
Kasai growled. “Still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know how to get OUT of this form!”
“Um…” Onin blushed and scratched the back of his head. “I was thinking we could try what worked last time?”
“Okay.” Amaryllis turned and drifted down towards the ground. “I’m going to leave you kids alone.”
“Hey, don’t make it sound dirty!” Kasai looked away. “And we’re both older than you.”
Kasai hunched down low in her jacket and leaned up against the car door. Onin sat next to her, doing something on his phone. Amaryllis was asleep in the seat next to him. Saija, Tannin, and Cerina sat in the seat in front of them. Purona and Aiden were up front with the driver.
Onin put his phone down. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Kasai scrunched down further in her seat and played with her hair. “I’m just frustrated that I can’t control my transformation.”
“Yeah.” Onin put a hand on her shoulder.
Kasai snuggled up against him and relaxed. He was warm and smelled fresh from the shower soap.
“Want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know.” Kasai sighed again. “I probably should.”
“You know she was trying to help, right?”
“Yeah.” Kasai crossed her arms. “It’s just the method. I know, I know, that’s probably what I need to bring it on. It’s just…”
“Reminds you of when you were a kid?”
Onin laid his arm across her shoulders. “Well, I can’t speak for the others, but I won’t leave you.”
“I know.” Kasai leaned into Onin’s shoulder. “All of you remind me of the monks, especially Brother Terrence, in that way. It’s just, sometimes, I still feel like no one loves me. I know you all do, but…”
Onin nodded and squeezed her shoulders.
Ailah dropped through an open window and landed inside a cavernous room full of crates. She froze for a moment. Silence. She shrugged. Either she’d temporarily lost her pursuers, or the warehouse walls were really well insulated.
Ailah wandered to a smaller room at the front of the warehouse. A few of the crates here were opened. A rolling rack ran through the middle of this area. Racks of folded boxes hung from the ceiling above the rolling rack. A plethora of various sizes of clothing was in the open crates. Some of it was folded up and stacked next to a scale on a bench along the back wall of this room.
“Woo!” Ailah darted forward and dug through the crates in search of something in her size.
On the one hand, she didn’t want to steal clothing. On the other, she couldn’t really wander around the city half-naked. After a few minutes search she found a forest green knee-length skirt, and a medium blue t-shirt in her size.
Ailah shrugged. “Pants would be better, but…” She glanced around and frowned. “No shoes, though.
She sat in a chair and examined the bottom of her feet. They were predictably filthy, but surprisingly blister free.
“Hmm, I wonder…” Ailah grabbed her sword and placed it on the scale. “What! It can’t weigh fifty pounds!”
Ailah frowned at the scale. Perhaps it was broken. Then again, it was metal, taller than she was, and the blade was a half a foot wide. She picked it up and twirled it around one-handed. It didn’t feel heavy.
“What did the Natas do to me?”
The room was silent. Just as well. She’d have lost it entirely if the clothes started talking back to her. She shook her head. Worry about that later, too.
“Oh yeah, I was looking for shoes.”
Ailah searched the rest of the room, but didn’t find any shoes. There was a small entryway that jutted out of the front of the warehouse. The entryway had large windows on three sides. Ailah frowned, ducked down, and crept out into the entryway.
No one shot at her. So far, so good. Benches lined the entryway. Each bench had a row of small lockers under it. Ailah bit her lip and stared at them. She glanced at her bare feet, huffed out a breath, and opened the first locker. Empty.
The other lockers each had a pair of work boots under them. Ailah wrinkled her nose and rummaged through until she found a pair that fit.
“Okay. Dressed. Now, to find out why it’s so suspiciously quiet.”
Ailah crept back into the warehouse and scurried up the access ladder that led to the roof. She couldn’t be lucky enough to evade the Natas. They’d been hot on her tail the entire day. This had to be a trap. At least she had clothes on now.
Onin jerked upright as the car pulled to a stop in front of a medium sized warehouse.
Purona turned in her seat to look back at everyone. “Okay, we’re here. We’ve received reports that the Natas has been chased into this warehouse.”
Tannin leaned up against the car window. “Sign says, ‘Crazy Josh’s Discount Clothing Warehouse: If we don’t have what you want, you’ll just have to go naked.’”
“What?” Cerina pushed past him. “It doesn’t either say that!” Her shoulders fell. “Holy crap, it DOES say that!”
Saija snorted in laughter.
“Well, it’s not the weirdest thing we’ve seen.” Onin cracked the car door open. “Come on, let’s go catch a Natas.”
Everyone else piled out behind him. Onin shaded his eyes and examined the building. It was rectangular, with a small entryway jutting out from the front.
Onin held out his hand, palm up, and generated a servitor. When the glowing ball of light grew to about the size of a basketball, it shimmered and turned invisible.
“I’m going to send a servitor around to check out the building first.”
“Good idea.” Tannin pulled two rubber chickens from his pockets. “I’m ready for whatever they find.”
Cerina rolled her eyes. “Seriously, how many of those did you steal?”
“Eh, leave him alone.” Saija rested her elbow on Tannin’s shoulder and leaned on him. “It’s creative, it’s less-than-lethal, and we can use the humor.”
The servitor re-appeared in front of Onin. It sent him a blurry mental picture of a girl on the roof. Onin nodded to it, and it switched back to infrared mode.
“She’s up on the roof.” Onin pointed to the top of the building. “Kasai, myself, Saija, and Tannin will head up there. The rest of you please spread out around the building in case she tries to escape.”
Everyone nodded at him. Amaryllis, Aiden, and Cerina spread out around the building. Saija dropped into a portal.
Tannin stuck out his thumb. “Ride, please.”
Kasai giggled. Onin snorted and waved his hand. A servitor de-cloaked and wrapped an energy tendril around Tannin.
“Let’s go.” Onin jumped into the air, and the servitors around his hands and feet switched from infrared mode to visible, and lifted him off the ground.
Ailah spun around to face the low humming noise that came from behind her. A pair of large glowing yellow energy balls rose into view. Each of them trailed flickering energy tendrils with a man supported in them. Ailah swung her sword around to point the tip at them. Both of them were tailless, and had funny round ears on the sides of their heads. The new type of Natas host. This was a trap, all right.
Ailah crouched down and shoved off the ground with all her strength. She flew through the air and swung her sword at the neck of the nearest Natas. The Natas’ eyes widened. He pulled his hands up and blocked Ailah’s sword with some kind of yellow… thing. Ailah did a double-take. It looked like the Natas held a rubber chicken in each hand. How could a rubber chicken block a sword?
The Natas counter-attacked immediately. He swung the chicken in his left hand up to continue shoving Ailah’s sword away from him, and swung the right chicken at Ailah’s ribs.
They’re only chickens, right? Ailah turned her swing into a spin, released her right hand from the hilt of her sword, and spun around into a roundhouse punch. Her fist connected with the rubber chicken’s head, which was much harder than Ailah had expected a rubber chicken to be.
The Natas skidded several feet backward. His eyes widened, and he looked from the chicken to Ailah and back again.
He looked over his shoulder at the other Natas. “Look out, Onin, this one’s got super-strength!”
Ailah aimed the point of her sword at him and leapt at him again. The Natas spun to the side and slammed both of his chickens down onto the top of Ailah’s sword. That redirected Ailah’s momentum enough to throw her down to the rooftop. Ailah dropped into a roll and swung her sword at the Natas.
A blast of wind from behind distracted Ailah. She glanced over her shoulder, and just about fell over. A half-dragon girl landed on the rooftop. Ailah had heard the speculation on the news that the Natas were working with the dragons, but… Ailah rubbed her eyes. Yup. She was still there.
Ailah swung her head around. The other two were still behind her. Ailah whipped around at a loud pop. A purple distortion of some sort opened a hole, and another Natas girl stepped out of it. Ailah swallowed and fought back the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. Four against one. Not good odds.
Ailah drew in a shaky breath. She adjusted her stance so she could keep an eye on each set of opponents. She could use another sword. What had she done the first time it came out? Oh, yeah!
Ailah held her sword in her left hand and swung a desperate punch at the dragon girl. Her hand closed around another sword handle. Ailah grinned.
Onin took a step back when the Natas girl’s ginormous sword hit Tannin’s “swords” hard enough to send him flying backward.
“Look out, Onin, this one’s got super-strength!” Tannin yelled.
“Yeah, I got that,” Onin muttered under his breath.
Onin looked over his shoulder, and the servitor that had carried Tannin up to the roof floated over and dropped below the roof-line.
There. Plan B is ready in case anyone’s flung off the roof.
Onin turned back to the battle. Tannin seemed to have the fight well in hand for the moment. Sure, Onin could send a servitor in to fight or capture the Natas, but since most Natas seemed to have more than one gift, it might be a good idea to get some more data on this one first.
Kasai and Saija landed on the roof. The Natas girl’s eyes bugged out of her head, and her chest heaved. Fear? That was a first. Most of the Natas they’d fought had been cocky to a fault.
The Natas drew a few breaths, spun around and pulled another huge sword out of a small artifice portal. Each sword was just a bit taller than she was.
Okay, super-strength and Artifice gifts. What else?
Onin generated servitors to form servitor armor. Better be ready if swords or whatever else were going to be flying around.
The Natas girl launched herself into the air in an arc towards Kasai. “Die, Natas!”
“Wait, what?” Tannin pointed a chicken at the Natas girl. “Did the Natas just call us a Natas?”
The Natas girl’s sword came down on the top edge of Kasai’s right wing. The sound of rending metal filled the air. The Natas girl blinked and took a step back. She dropped the handle of the half a sword she now held.
Kasai appeared to be uninjured. Onin let out a breath.
“Wait!” Kasai held up a hand, palm out, to the Natas girl. “Why did you call me a Natas?”
The girl’s eyes narrowed. “You are, aren’t you? Super powers, funny looking ears, like to torture Nekotians?”
Kasai shook her head. “No. Not at all. We’re on Nekotia to stop the Natas that stole Gesaran bodies.”
The girl blinked. “What?”
Saija rolled her eyes. “Sheesh, Kasai. When you put it that way, it sounds like a bad anime plot. You’ve been hanging out with Tannin too much.”
Onin held up his hands. “We’re not Natas. Really. We’re working with the Deka kinset. We got a report of Natas activity in the area.”
“Yeah, they’ve been chasing me all day.” The girl pointed her non-damaged sword at Onin. “This has got to be some kind of trick. You’re really working with Nasal-head, Suit-man, and that psycho woman, aren’t you?”
“See!” Tannin waved a chicken. “I told you that was his name!”
Onin smacked Tannin on the shoulder. “I think there’s been a few mistakes here.”
“Possibly.” The girl still clenched her sword. “How do I know you’re not lying?”
Onin turned to Saija. “Hey, could you bring Purona up here, please?”
“Sure.” Saija waved, and a purple portal swirled open.
“Aiee!” Purona dropped out of the portal and landed on her butt. She blinked and looked around. “Uh, what’s going on?”
“We might have a slight mix-up.” Onin pointed to the girl with the sword.
“Whoa!” Purona stood up and waved her hands. “This is super not my fault! Rala texted me the location and everything!”
Onin held his index finger up to Purona. “Not that. This girl says she’s not a Natas, and thinks we are.”
Purona blinked and one ear dropped. “What? That’s super-crazy! These guys are totes not Natas!”
Sword-girl frowned. “They say they’re working with the Deka kinset. Do you have any proof of that?”
“Totally!” Purona fumbled around in her jacket pocket and pulled out her wallet. “I’ve got my government I.D. right here!”
Sword-girl took a hesitant step toward Purona, and studied the I.D. card for a moment. “Okay.” She lowered her sword. “So, I think I can see how a random person could mistake me for a Natas. That explains why you’re here. But what about the Natas that captured me?”
“Why don’t you tell us about that?” Onin smiled at her. “First, we should introduce ourselves. I’m Onin, that’s Tannin, Kasai, Saija, and Purona.”
Onin turned to her. “What, is something wrong?”
Purona nodded. “That’d make her the daughter of the former Claal. They were in the news last night. Apparently their house was attacked. According to the news, both daughters were killed in a Natas attack, and the Lady was missing. Alayis said they found her among the zombies you guys saved. Oh!” Purona’s ears stood straight up. “That reminds me! They’re also working on a cure! Trial results look super good so far!”
“Mom?” Ailah sank to her knees. “She’s alive?”
Kasai and Purona rushed over and pulled Ailah into a hug. A hover car engine whined off in the distance.
Ailah looked up. “We should continue this conversation elsewhere. The Natas have been chasing me all day.”
“Good idea.” Onin nodded at Saija. “Could you get us to our hotel room, please?”
“Sure.” Saija waved her hand and a purple portal swirled open.
Ailah’s eyes widened, and her ears flattened to the back of her head, but she followed the others into the portal.
Onin sighed. This was going to be a long day.