Chapter 24 (Gathering the necessary ingredients)
John stepped out of the stairwell and into the lobby. Now … where is Hyuga?
The thick layer of burned potatoes floating in the air made it hard to breath. Three lines of Chefs stood in front of the elevators and stairwells like a human barricade. The front row held feathers, and the back two linked to various types of elemental bells. Beyond the lines of guards — a chaos-strewn tangle of bodies undulated while it traded blow after blow and blast after blast in a stalemate.
While gritting his teeth, John snarled. Without knowing who any of my men are, I won’t be able to help without also hurting my men … and my chances of getting the drop on Hyuga. He placed a hand on the shoulder of Mariko — the other surviving member of Haru’s scout team — and leaned in close. “Try not to kill our own Chefs.”
Mariko shivered. “We are going out there?”
“Not the fighting type, huh?”
After shaking her head, Mariko sighed. “I’m a stealth specialist with a moderately weak link.”
“Use your strengths to surprise enemies and practice switching your link quickly.”
“I’ll do my best, my king.”
“That’s all I ask.” John squeezed her shoulder.
Mariko straightened her back.
John released his grip and urged his makeshift bodyguards forward. How should I search for Hyuga? I thought he’d be more vocal than this.
A man with a link as strong as John’s slammed his fist into a weaker Chef’s face. The weaker Chef’s head snapped around while her feet lifted off of the ground. Her body tumbled through the air and hit the lines of guards like a bowling ball. Once the lines opened, several Chefs — each wearing a red pin that looked like an old-school, World War two fighter-plane.
They must be Hyuga’s men. With a poke, John urged his makeshift bodyguards out into the chaos. “Our only goal is to kill Hyuga,” he said just loud enough to be heard by his guards amid the clatter of battle.
Before pushing through the collapsing lines, his makeshift bodyguards nodded. They all burned and linked to an infused item — six to feathers, one to a red-stringed bell and Mariko to a dog collar.
Fuck! I forgot to give them a detailed description of Hyuga’s face. While they moved forward, John edged closer to Mariko as to avoid shouting.
“I —” Mariko’s head jerked back and forth. “No, I think I found him.”
John growled. “Where?”
Mariko started. “He … he’s just —”
“I see that whoever replaced that traitor, Moe, has decided to show up.” Hyuga’s voice boomed from the left side of the lobby. It once again bounded off of the walls as if he were using a megaphone.
Mariko’s hand froze in mid motion. It looked as if she were about to point in the direction that the voice came from.
Found you. John grinned.
“Since I know you can hear me,” Hyuga said, “I’ll give you to the count of three to surrender John into my custody.”
Like I’d ever surrender myself to him. “I have an idea.” After touching each of his makeshift bodyguards on the shoulder, John stepped outside of the diamond formation.
John crept across the room without making a sound. Then, he placed his back to a pillar and knelt as low as he could get.
Once John peeked around the pillar, he had to cover his mouth when the curse came unbidden. Fucking shit!
Hyuga had five guards standing around him. Each had links almost as powerful as John’s, but the only seemed to have one link apiece. Of the five, one held a dog collar and constantly scanned the area.
Well … there goes my plan to surprise him as well as the one to use numbers against mind control. John bit into his lower-lip.
The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth.
John spat into his hand and rubbed the blood across the pillar.
“One!” Hyuga had three of his links active — one to a ballpoint pen, one to a crystal vial and one to a white-gray-stringed bell. The element swirled in front of his mouth and extended outwards in a cone-like manner. “Time’s up!”
So, now he joins the fight? Despite the trickle of blood dripping into his mouth, John swallowed. I — He gagged while the blood rolled down his throat.
Hyuga looked in John’s direction and pointed.
With squinted eyes, the Chef attached to a dog collar glanced around the pillar.
John ducked back behind the pillar. Even if he only has one link, he could be a specialist.
Someone from Hyuga’s group clicked their tongue.
Hyuga’s group moved towards John.
Fuck. John held his breath. Please … please, don’t see me.
Without checking behind the pillar, Hyuga and his group strode past John. The two in front slid forward in a blur and moved their links to a red-stringed bell — each creating a thin-bladed fire-katana. Before their feather-enhanced strength could flee, they cleaved a pair of Chefs down the middle.
John licked his lips, and when his tongue passed over the gash, stifled a yelp. Damn … they’re good.
The fire-katana’s vanished, and the two Chefs returned to their places around Hyuga while their links returned to feathers. As a group, they moved forward.
Eyeballs — the Chef connected to a dog collar — continued scanning the room. Left and right. Left again then behind. Once again to the right before facing forward. He occasionally checked the floor.
First thing is first. John clambered to his feet and edged around Hyuga’s group. He ducked, spun and juked his way passed the Chefs entangled in battle with one another. Where are you keeping that pickled brain?
Hyuga occasionally dissipated an incoming elemental blast, but he refrained from directly engaging John’s men.
Is he saving his strength for something? John eased closer.
Hyuga’s center pocket where the pickled brain had been during their last fight bulged. It curved in the same shape like before.
Hyuga couldn’t be that stupid, could he? He had to have known that John had felt it.
Or was Hyuga a creature of habit?
John shook his head. No. He’s too clever to do something like that. With narrowed eyes, he continued to search Hyuga’s pockets.
The rest of the pockets on the front of Hyuga’s shirt didn’t jut outwards. Most likely, they contained his collection of infused items designed for battle.
Fuck, I should have checked his back pockets first. While he worked his way behind Hyuga, John kept an eye on Eyeballs.
Eyeballs glanced all around like a kid with ADHD after scarfing down an entire bag of Sweet Tarts.
John grinned. Does he never look up? His grin spread.
Hyuga whirled about and faced John.
John’s heart leaped into his throat.
Hyuga turned back towards the elevators.
John started to sigh then clenched his jaw shut.
Eyeballs peered in John’s direction.
John froze in place. You fool!
A long moment passed.
After shaking his head, Eyeballs began his search of the area again.
No more mistakes. John tiptoed closer to Hyuga’s group.
The few, cushioned, back pockets of Hyuga’s shirt and pants matched most of the ones in the front. Save for one, nothing bulged in them, and the one that did carried the shape of the comically large prayer-beads that Hyuga had used on John before.
Trembling, John stumbled backwards. Then it has to be in that front —
Hyuga’s right hand shot forward, and fire sprang from his fingertips, to melt the skin from a pair of female Chefs.
Roasted chicken intermixed with the acrid stink of incinerated hair and danced across the room. It overpowered the unnerving — yet refreshing — scent of a hundred burned potatoes.
John’s stomach lurched, but he stopped himself from vomiting.
In a pocket under Hyuga’s arm and near his armpit, something almost round bulged out.
There it is! John stopped breathing through his nose and stared at Eyeballs. A few moments later, he bolted off towards the stairwell.
After hanging up her smartphone, Haru plugged a USB stick into her computer and tilted the screen up. Why couldn’t Moe just switch to laptops like I asked her to?
On the other side of the reception room, Yuuna combed through the file cabinet. She randomly cursed and tossed a file across the room.
Discarded papers covered the carpeted floor. The heavy scent of burned potatoes still filled the building, though a hint of blood now floated atop the countless strands of power.
Haru’s lips curled into a snarl. They had better not hurt John. She opened the document’s file and copied the registry of Chefs onto the USB stick. She also added the contact information for each of the affiliated Chefs as well as the current mission data. “I’m sorry that we weren’t better organized.”
Yuuna grunted before tossing another stack of files across the room. “Not a problem if — found it!”
“You did?” Haru looked up from the computer. “Perfect.”
Once Yuuna pulled the four large files from the file-cabinet, she strolled across the room. “At least I think I did.”
The top file read, ‘Insurance policies.’
From top to bottom, the others read, ‘Finances,’ ‘Bank accounts’ and ‘Architectural building plans.’
Haru flipped open the files and scanned the first few pages of each. “Yep, these are the ones we need.” She picked up her Louis Vuitton limited addition bag with the branding flowers and shoved the files into them.
“What else do we need to get?” Yuuna glanced at the computer screen.
“Once this file finishes copying, we can —”
An explosion opened the door, and a burly man stepped into the reception room. His link was as thick as John’s.
Not now! I just needed a little bit longer to get all of this and get out. Haru burned. “We have to stall him until the files finish copying.”
Yuuna smiled at the man and hesitated before burning.
The man nodded as if he knew that Haru and Yuuna were no match for him.
Yuuna swallowed. “Why don’t we just crush him?”
Haru started. I thought she was the scouting type. “If it’s possible, then yes. If not, we have to make sure he doesn’t damage the computer or USB stick.”
“Fine.” Yuuna glanced between Haru and the man. “I’ll attack from the left, you come from the right.”
Sounds good enough … . “We have to be careful.”
The hulking man laughed. “What are the two of you chattering about?” His high-pitched voice squeaked like a mouse. “Are you ready to surrender already?”
“As if.” Haru linked to a feather.
Yuuna did the same. “Besides … John isn’t here.”
Haru narrowed her eyes. Why did she use his name?
“We’re not important enough to bother with.” Yuuna moved forward. “Just leave.”
The man cracked his neck. “It’s unfortunate that John isn’t here, but I’m not actually after him.”
Haru arched an eyebrow. “But isn’t that the only reason your master came here.”
“Not the only reason.” The man chuckled. “Besides, Hyuga already knows where he is.”
“What?” Haru blinked, tears formed in her eyes. My love … . “Then —”
“He will be in Hyuga’s custody soon.” The man wrapped his link around a feather and charged forward. “And once I have that database, he will reward me with a place in his council!”
Yuuna crashed into the man, and they crashed into the floor. They rolled across the carpet towards the door.
The paper under them rustled.
Their mouths worked, probably insulting one another.
The files are finished copying. Haru looked to the pair and then back at the computer. “Hold on for just a little bit longer, Yuuna!”
The man rolled atop her and pinned her to the ground. “I don’t think she’s going to make it, little lady!”
Haru moved her link to a light-blue-stringed bell and threw a wave of ice across the room.
The man flipped off of Yuuna and flattened his body beside hers.
The ice zipped over their heads.
Haru dashed behind her desk and ejected the USB stick. She jerked it out of the computer. I hope it’s not damaged. She tossed the USB stick into her bag and made ice-spikes rain from the ceiling.
The burly man scrambled across the floor and towards the file-cabinet.
Focusing, Haru turned the spikes of ice into a thick mist. Please, don’t be hurt. She flipped her link back to the feather and sprinted to Yuuna. “Let’s go.”
Yuuna took Haru’s outstretched hand.
Haru dragged Yuuna to her feet and out the door.
Three Chefs stood in front of the elevator. Each wore a red, fighter-plane pin on their collars.
Fuck. After glancing to the left, Haru squeezed Yuuna’s hand tight. “This way!” She bolted to the right. If I can make it to that latter … .
While the two women in front of him turned into ash, Hyuga released the red-stringed bell to conserve his potatoes. Why hasn’t the new leader or John showed themselves yet? He lowered his right hand back to his side.
His New Officers clashed against the organizations’ Chefs, and the roar of elements cracked off of the walls. Claps of feather-enhanced fists meeting flesh echoed across the floor.
Hyuga grunted when the doors to the lobby opened, and a large force of Chefs crashed into his men’s backs. “From behind!”
The New Officers in the center of the lobby turned to face the new group of traitors.
I must be prepared to touch gold or another ballpoint pen, but … . Hyuga used his two remaining links to grab onto a blue-stringed bell and a purple-stringed one. “Jump!”
The New Officers obeyed.
Hyuga released a wave of electrified water across the lobby.
A few traitors dropped, but the waves were dispersed before they could do too much damage.
How can such skilled Chefs throw away their country and their freedom so easily? Hyuga growled and raised both hands in the air. “All traitors deserve to die!”
“Master?” Erin — one of his five guards — asked in a raspy voice. “I think you should be careful.”
“Don’t worry so much, Erin.” Hyuga threw a blast of water and a bolt of lightning before moving his links to a red-stringed bell and a light-blue one. “With my five Imperial Commanders watching my back, even if the Chef who can hide from Meriku appears —” He slung a fireball with a spike of ice as a core. He moved his links to a brown-stringed bell and a gray one. “— I’m sure that the lot of you can handle him.”
Despite three of four blasts being dispersed, Hyuga continued to swap elements and rain down destruction upon the traitors. “Meriku will just have to focus on his hearing more often.”
Meriku saluted. “Yes, Master.”
I really wish they would have stuck to calling me Captain-Commander. Hyuga swapped to a pair of red-stringed bells and destroyed two large waves of fire from the left and right. “Just make sure no one who doesn’t have the pin even gets close to me.”
All five Imperial Commanders saluted before crouching into an offensive stance Hyuga had designed for Chefs back in the war.
After taking a deep breath, Hyuga ceased his onslaught and watched for incoming elements to counter. That should give my New Officers enough of an advantage for now. He pulled out a piece of potato bread and shoved it into his mouth. He only chewed once before swallowing each mouthful. The real issue is, why haven’t any of the men I sent upstairs returned with John’s —
A woman ran from the stairwell and slid to a stop in front of a snarling Erin. She peeked around him and met Hyuga’s gaze. “I’m sorry to report this, Master, but none of our men sent upstairs have seen any sign of him.”
“Where the fuck are they hiding him?” Hyuga screamed. “I don’t know who this new leader is, but when I find them, I’m going to —”
A shadowed figure fell right beside Hyuga. A massive purple claw flew down from its left hand.
Hyuga lifted his right arm to block, moving a second link to the ballpoint pen. Not going to make it!
The lightning claw bit into his flesh while the form shimmered, slowly becoming visible.
Something snagged at Hyuga’s shirt before he could leap backwards.
The Imperial Guards spun and gasped.
Once his arm had healed, Hyuga blinked. “John? Is that you?”
Next: New PAINTING first scene