He glared at her, caught a bit off guard.
“I…I uh. Is that an answer to why you helped me?”
“You talk too much,” she complained to the side.
“I just don’t get what that’s supposed to me—”
“Ssh!” She did a quick run to the building’s broken window and looked around, finding no sign of the beast. She heard it land somewhere far enough away, that relaxed her.
Ayane gestured for him to come, looking out at the exterior to watch the perimeter. She was forced to look back after ten seconds of the guy not showing up.
“Hey!” She spat back in a strong whisper, the guy popped his head out in response.
“I said come!”
“Oh sorry, I didn’t hear.” He jogged in a crouch to join her while she exasperated inwardly.
“I didn’t exactly say–”
“So where to?” He interrupted her.
She stared at him in response.
“What? What is it?”
“How are you called?”
“Hm? My name, you mean? Nestor.”
“Well pay attention, Nestor. We should not be talking, it creates undue noise. Pay attention to my gestures.”
“Oh, right.” He nodded while still looking overwhelmed in that very particular way that makes others feel a great lack of confidence. She rolled her eyes in an as belittling way as possible before she remembered he couldn’t see it.
“Do not get us killed, Nestor.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he nodded again and this time she sighed, so that he could tell. They climbed out of the window. He put the arm on his mouth, but that wouldn’t help much. She guided them back to another pillar.
“Stay hidden and do not make any noise.”
She grabbed some debris off the ground and jumped onto the thing. She beat the crystal for a minute, gave up, started scraping, holding the pouch to catch whatever scraped off, but not even that was successful. Not a speck would budge.
Damnation! Can I get a break?
She brought her head nearer to take a closer look. She wanted to find at least an inch of anything loose on where the gem was fitted into the wall of the pillar.
She could see nothing.
Okay, you know what? She jumped down to the ground and hit it with the rock. The ground was normal, the ground gave way.
She was there for what felt like an eternity, digging one side of the pillar. Her hands were hurting before soon. Bleeding before long.
“Hey, is this gonna take much longer?”
She flared him a look in impatience. Somehow, without actually seeing it, he still knew what it was.
“I’m just saying, shouldn’t we be getting out of here? You can always come back.”
Why would I ever want to come back!!
They both looked in the direction of the yell.
“Dig!” She tossed the piece of debris at him.
She ran while yelling in whispers, “dig or I leave you behind! Bring that pillar down!”
Ayane didn’t wait for a reply, she just ran. The second rescue went much like the first one had, an unexpected flash-bomb gave her enough time to interfere. Again, without much thought, she was ran next to the would-be victim to try and help. It was a senior woman, a lean dwarf with a big head who, fortunately, she could carry on her back.
“Hurry, get on!”
“I can run just fi–”
“Two seconds and we put that to the test,” she shot back, crouched with arms ready to grab the woman’s legs, the beast itself taking a second to recover. Thankfully, the woman laid flat against her back, legs coming into place and arms closing around her upper chest.
The Shadow leaped aside and hopped through a window they could both fit through. She left another smoke bomb behind, simply dropping it, as she exited through a busted down door.
The beast crashed through the wall after them, but the bomb made it hard for him to know where to leap at next.
They made their escape a bit more easily because of that. Throwing a bit of caution to the window, she headed back to the pillar before thoroughly making sure the beast had given up on her.
“That was quick thinking, ninja girl,” the old woman commented.
“Cannot say the same for you,” the Shadow complained.
She responded while patting Ayane in the head.
“Yes yes…forgive an old woman her ego, it took a lifetime to build, okay?”
She rolled her eyes. Couldn’t someone normal survive and need her help?
The Shadow landed eyes on Nestor hugging the pillar, trying to pull with his whole body.
“What are you doing?!” She yelled in a whisper, leaping and kicking him in the side to get him out of there.
“Oww, ouf! What was that for?” He grabbed his sides, crouched in pain.
“What would you do if you succeeded, you oaf?! It would land on you!”
He opened his eyes in realization and looked back at the pillar.
“Ugh!” She crouched and opened her arms so the old woman could step down from her back. “Just stay quiet, you two!”
“I didn’t say anything,” the old woman pointed out defensively.
Ayane approached the pillar and had to admit, it seemed loose enough. She went around it to the strong side and gained some steps.
She lunged and flung her whole body in a straight thrust kick. The pillar budged with a noise too loud for comfort, but it didn’t fall.
The idea was already stupid to start with, and the fact it was turning out so hard to pull off only frustrated her further. She stepped back again.
That time, she spun her body around for a bit more momentum to the strike. Her foot complained on contact but the thing vibrated and bent.
“You’re doing it!”
Ayane shook her head, snorting her rebellious thoughts. This was feeling better than she cared to admit.
She kicked it again. It definitely felt good.
“Soon as it falls, I need you to help me!”
“Whatever you need, dear. Is it too bothersome to ask what’s going on, however?”
“Yes,” she stood in a fighting stance. “Yah!”
The dirt rumbled silently as the pillar creaked and fell. Fortunately, it wasn’t that tall, and it didn’t fall that quickly or make that much noise. But maybe that was in comparison with the kicks? There was no pretending she wasn’t nervous.
“Wasn’t that a bit too loud?” Of course, why would Nestor be any help?
She retrieved the magical pouch that was flat against her thigh and opened it. It was enough to handle the pillar’s width. She marched around and to its end.
“Help me put it inside,” she asked them gravely, opening the pouch in front of the tip that had the gem in it.
“It’ll never fit, dear.”
“Yeah, maybe just the ti—”
“It is magic, just do it, please! Old woman, hold this.”
“My name’s Yana, little girl.” She complained, but she did it anyways.
The Shadow felt like at any moment, a beast would land on her head. There was no way they’d get out of that one, but if at least she could send the crystal back…
If she couldn’t get the crystal, she would just get the whole thing! It was ridiculous, it was dumb, but sometimes, that’s how it worked.
She imagined the sight of them, herself and Nestor crouched and sternly carrying a big pillar into a small pouch that was being held by Yana. It would look ridiculous.
They scraped the thing across the floor, grunting in the effort.
“This is… insane, lady…”
“Well I’ll be,” Yana commented, looking down at the disappearing effect the pouch was making on the pillar, “this is pretty magical, I’ll give you that.”
A crashing sound emerged nearby. One of the beasts.
“Oh crap, we gotta go,” Nestor whispered.
“We…got to…finish this.”
“Lady, please, we’ll die.”
“You will die without me,” she complained through gritted teeth, pushing with all her strength “and I will… die for this.”
Ayane didn’t know if it was true but it seemed like the thing to say. Another crashing sound as the beast landed, even closer. She noticed the two traded a glance.
“Puuushhhh…” she encouraged, and Nestor did, he didn’t let go and run, he knew better. He knew she was right, he was dead without her.
“Ufff,” with a few final pushes and a big stress release, they shoved the base of the pillar inside. She had considered trying to just pull the pouch away, maybe it would cut it off? But she didn’t want to risk it, it might have some kind of fail-safe that would destroy the pouch instead, and its contents. She didn’t know, magic was weird, better to play by its rules was her opinion.
“Alright,” she whispered, as tired as she was relieved but no less nervous. Ayane was already scampering to retrieve the pouch. “Come, Yana, climb on.”
“My dear, you are in no condition to–”
“By the ancestors, you two!” The beast landed even closer, it would be right around the house building to their right, she could tell. One more jump and they would be spotted. If they couldn’t be heard already. The Shadow snatched the pouch and shoved it inside her garments. “Stop arguing and just hurry!”
Yana grudgingly accepted the piggyback after which the Shadow was quick to jog out of the street and into a house, Nestor following closely. She ducked out of view a couple of seconds before another crashing was heard.
Then something different happened, the beast, which she knew was mere feet away from them, emitted a sound.
It was loud and lasted only a second, but it was deafening and alarming.
The pillar! It knows the pillar it is gone. She looked around noticing there were some stairs leading to a first floor. She tapped Nestor in the shoulder and sneaked her way to them.
They climbed and, on the first floor, she found a window leading to a street opposite to the one the beast was on.
Oh luck. Usually, it would make no difference, but with people in tow, she was very diminished when it came to mobility. With little hesitation, The Shadow stepped over the window sill.
“What are you–” Yana complained but not in time, she jumped down.
“Ugf!” Ayane landed with effort and immediately set Yana down and looked up at Nestor who was looking down.
“Jump,” she whispered up. He looked doubtful but, at last, he offered no rebuttal. He simply trusted her a bit blindly and did it. She caught him well enough to prevent too much noise on the landing and then crouched again so Yana could get on her back.
“You’re pretty strong.”
Anyone would be, training as I have. She looked around, making full use of her Shadow lenses. It had been days since she had first donned them and it still surprised her, the crisp, clear visual perception of her surroundings. She could not only see in the dark, but she could see the dark, and the mist, that her vision could also pierce through. She saw in layers, each vivid but discernible, split by light.
The Shadow lived and breathed in those lenses, a fact that had always intimidated her. As she grew up, she felt lucky that he…had lost them. That she wouldn’t have to wear them forever, but with each passing moment of use, she grew more and more accustomed to them.
She stopped, looking around in confusion.
“What?” Nestor whispered.
“Shh, I think I heard something.”
“Hey!” Even Nestor heard it. They gazed together to the side, both catching sight of a girl. She was wearing a fur coat that was too big to actually belong to her. Her curly blonde hair escaped the collar that she was holding above her head with her hands. Her legs popped out below, naked down to her bare feet. She was ragged and dirty and, from the looks of it, it wasn’t necessarily because of the invasion.
“Can ya help me?” She asked, tearfully. “Are ya gettin’ out?”
“Yes,” Ayane told her, turning to continue jogging. “Nestor, grab her.”
Ayane leaned in since she couldn’t give him a look. He got the point. The little girl skipped her feet towards them, almost slipping on the cold, wet floor.
“I can walk, I can wa-whoah…”
“Don’t worry, I got you.” Nestor grabbed her and tried to lift her in his arms, but then thought better of it. “Actually, piggyback, like the nice lady there.”
“Uhm…okay,” she timidly agreed. He crouched, she climbed on, they all got moving.
They jogged along in the quiet of a dead city, a killed city, a beaten bloody city. The Shadow breathed in and out, holding tiredness at bay, willing her muscles to stay obedient and cooperative. Nestor was having a harder time of it but the girl was very light, she was sure of it, he would handle it.
He had to.
“What’s your name, kid?” He whispered back.
“Uhm…shouldn’t we be quiet?” A question that seemed far too clever to fit her innocently curious tone.
“Don’t worry, the Shadow will tell us if we’re noisy.”
Ayane looked back and caught a glimpse of interest from the girl, a very momentary glimpse, it was gone as fast as she blinked. She shook suspicion out of her head; the girl seemed exhausted, too tired, she was just asking random questions.
“Nergui,” she replied.
“That’s a weird name,” he commented without hesitation.
“Uhm…sorry?” She almost cried, the poor girl.
“Do not listen to him, Nergui. And do not fear, we are approaching the edge of the city. Once we leave, we will be safer.”
“Just safer, huh? Not safe?”
She away from them. Ahead.
“One is never truly safe, Nestor.”