Chapter 20 - Once in a lifetime
The Xia’s short staffs glowed in the night’s sky like a strong luminescent beacon, making it clear to everyone what was going to happen in the next few seconds.
Too bad they disagreed on how to react to it. While Arata’s group expected the enemies to immediately flee before patrols came to find them, Shinyaki quickly put that expectation to death.
For the first time since they had met him, his face frowned and twisted. In Anger.
“Safeties off!” He sliced at the air, “they die now!”
Shinyaki thrust through the air with but a step, spinning his body with his scythes leading the way. Sanpu gripped his sword.
“Take him head on!”
Upon contact, the violence and unpredictability of the clash sent both their swords flying off like toys, even if they had defended them from that one thrust. Shinyaki’s feet gripped at the ground, stopping inches in front of them. He opened his arms, wind and dust clearing out with their swords still flinging across the air, all to give him a clear view of his foes.
His clothes whistled as his scythes swiped close.
Sanpu whimpered childishly and Fuun’na opened up her eyes, startled and shocked. She quickly moved to stand in front of her brother, her hands stretching to her hind legs as fast as she could. She reached for her spiked rings, at each side of her waist.
Placing them side by side, she grabbed the middle to keep them joined and steady as the scythes shut on them. She winced, closing her eyes in an all-or-nothing gesture.
Together, her ring’s width was longer than her and her brother’s body, so the scythes clashed against them scraping in a moment of force that threatened to bypass her last attempt at defense.
She managed to keep them steady, though, and soon felt the force rebounding. She opened her eyes at that to notice they were already bearing down on her side and top. Simultaneously.
“No!” Sanpu jumped and tackled her from behind, making them both dodge the side-scythe, but hence being in place for the one falling on them like a hammer.
At the same time, Agathon waved his arms, whispering some grunted words, and then shot out a fireball the size of a cannonball, and just as fast. Kazuki would have easily dodged it but it had been shot at Jomiko.
“Tch.” He dashed, as fast as he could.
He didn’t even know why he cared or even if he did care. Whatever the motivation behind his drive, it was clearly there, because he had moved. Outrunning falling sweat, he dove towards Jomiko, right into the ball’s path. He felt the heat burning a patch of his clothes and skin as he rolled her out of the way.
Breathing out a slight of pain, he turned and used his other hand against the back of the blade, to defend against Agathon’s leaping lunge. He had heard it coming but he had been too late to see his fist was on fire.
The clash blew hot hair against his face, steaming hot wind that was very close to burning his skin. His palm hurt and dripped blood against the back of the blade as he felt his back sliding off Jomiko and hitting the floor. All of that happened at the moment of contact, speed and sense together just gave him a slower account of things.
His breath was knocked out of him by the blow to his back, as well as due to the dense hot air around him. Winded, he could do little else other than feel his heart skip a beat as he watched Agathon in the air – he had jumped – with an open left palm, the wrist wrest tightly by his right hand. He was focusing power to blow both him and Jomiko sky high.
Or rather, ground low.
Arata knew better than to take his eyes off of the Sen, which turned out to be a good choice because, in the blink of an eye, she dissipated.
His heart beat faster as he hopped back, glancing around in a desperate attempt to spot her. He did not want to die, not one bit. Behind him, he heard Sanpu and Fuun’na’s yells and the flaming crash that disabled Kazuki, but despite being worried sick, he couldn’t spare them any attention.
Damn it damn it damnitdamnitdamnit…
He felt a tingle in his instincts just before he was surrounded by a big light. A big spotlight just flashed all around him, revealing the Sen on his left side.
Startled, she was quick to thrust her dagger. Arata’s mind went blank, incapable of seeing any way to avoid it.
So he didn’t.
“RAHH!” Arata quickly rammed into her, catching her dagger with his shoulder. Shoving her, he viciously and mercilessly lashed out, punching her with his right hand while taking advantage of the movement to throw the chain around her neck. Then he turned and pulled, choking her into flipping over his back, and crashing onto the ground. Along the way, she let go of the dagger.
While being flipped, her tail lashed out again in the air, cutting him somewhere, but he didn’t worry about it.
Once he heard her body crash, he opened his eyes and looked at her to head-butt her hard, “guh,” to keep her still for the added second he’d need to cleave her head off.
He rose his, having her pinned in-between his legs in a flinching reaction at the headbutt. He stood about to throw his swords to cross over the chain and at her neck. In that moment, Arata saw the Sen’s life flashing through her eyes.
Meanwhile, Kazuki saw a great beam of light clashing against Agathon. It was the size of half his torso but strong enough to push him out of his trajectory, and concentration. The power harnessed exploded in his hands half a second later, sending him flying back out of the resulting cloud of arcane smoke.
Kazuki was stunned for a moment but quickly turned around and coughed hard, to force his lungs and throat to function again. Move!
“COUGH COUGH! HRHGHRGAARR!” He massaged his throat. Looking up and to the side, he saw Pixa, firing more lasers at Agathon.
Agathon rose his hand to cover his face while pulling off the scorched and smoking robe with his other. He took the other beams to the body like they simply stung him, if even that. Still, the blows had some kinetic punch that kept hitting his body, if only like mild strikes.
Nevertheless, he snorted and stepped to attack Kazuki again. Kazuki grasped his sword and got up, ready for another round. As he did so, two others ran to interrupt them.
They just dashed in front of him, backs turned as if to protect him. They faced Agathon.
“The bull’s with the thief! Gettim’!” They charged.
Kazuki was left wondering what was happening. He looked back to see what was going on.
Sanpu and Fuun’na were just opening their eyes, surprised at the fact they had not been impaled yet. A quick look explained why.
A big burly horse Lan had stopped Shinyaki. He had a big chin and a straight face, a horse’s tail and hooves plus the normal three-fingered hands. His fur was brown, except for a streak of white that crossed over his left eye like a scar. His legs and arms were muscular and he yielded a weapon worthy of a Marauder: a great ax. He was also in heavy white armor.
He had knocked Shinyaki’s attack away with a swing, which explained the hard and loud clash Sanpu and Fuun’na had heard before opening her eyes.
Meanwhile, Arata’s swords closed with a singular purpose but when fear crossed the Sen’s eyes to the backdrop of her life coursing through them, he couldn’t but hesitate.
“CATCH THE THIEF!”
The scream disturbed him, making him glance after the voice. That gave her the window to punch his gut, wiggle free of the chains and back-roll into a stand.
Lacking as much strength as resolve, Arata just groaned and keeled forward, trying to cope with all the new pains he was now feeling. He looked up at the Sen who looked back at in a second of deep consideration.
She seemed confused. But more importantly, she seemed relieved. It was the minor of facial lines but it was there. Relief.
An arrow flew over Arata’s head but hit only the smoky shadows into which she dissolved.
The last thing Arata saw was a spit of blood that he coughed at the ground. Then, he felt hands upon him and heard a multitude of military voices yelling out as all his senses left him. Along with his conscience.
Kazuki saw the two soldiers being blown away by Agathon’s wind just before he saw Agathon turn tail and flee, leaving the customary small crate on his first step.
Shinyaki, however, faced the horse lan.
“This isn’t your business, Captain! These adventurers attacked us, let us deal with them”.
“You think there’s many Sen going around? I know you’re the ones who stole the Aella stone!” The horse Lan yelled at Shinyaki. “Surrender it or die.”
“Humpf. Learn from this, petite Juns,” Shinyaki said, looking at the Blood twins patronizingly. “And don’t follow us again.”
Shinyaki dashed to the side.
The Horse Lan chased after him as he charged two guards. In the blink of an eye, he shoved the scythes into them and threw them back at the horse Lan who had to stop to catch them.
“Healers!” He looked up at Shinyaki but he was already ways away.
“Damn it!” He snorted, as Agathon usually did, and ran off after him.
“We almost died…” Fuun’na said, hugging Sanpu.
“Yeah…” He agreed, hugging her back.
They then looked into each other’s eyes, deeply surprised, astonished even.
They bowed and bumped foreheads lightly, followed by a shiver of their bodies…followed by a smile. And then they laughed.
“Holy crap, we almost died hahahahaah!”
“That was sooooo close, brother.”
“We’ll get them next time, little sis,” Sanpu assured her, tapping her on the shoulder. “We’ll get them next time.”
Near there, Pixa was running towards Kazuki. He was just standing tall and proudly, even if a bit shaken up. He was allowing all manner of Aellea military to run around him unperturbed.
“Kazuki, are you ok?”
“No.” His statement was so harsh it stopped her in her tracks. He looked at Jomiko and added: “this is suicide.”
“We were lucky,” Kazuki told her, looking at Arata, “the kind of luck that only comes around once in a lifetime. If that Xia hadn’t come around…”
Pixa looked in the direction Kazuki was looking, spotting the Xia healing Arata.
“Who is he?”
“I think the real question,” said the voice of Leaf, coming from behind them, “is who they are.”
He was limping, arms around Ringo and Miyabi. He was visibly tired and not yet fully healed. Still, Leaf looked more scared than hurt. And Ringo was still shivering… terrified.
“And what exactly they intend to do.”