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Chapter 2 (Not leaving without it)
On the sixth floor of the Prime Minister’s house, Rio pressed her back against her brother’s and glanced at the guards surrounding them. “What are we going to do?”
“Flare,” Leo said.
“But our spirits have already reached the decay point.” She loosened her daggers in their sheaths.
“We wouldn’t need the full five seconds anyway.”
“But. But. But —”
“Calm down, Rio.”
Swallowing, she took a deep breath and drew her power-forged daggers.
The half-meter of black-steel glinted in the fluorescent lights beaming from the ceiling, and the ring of guards took a step back. They began muttering to one another, but none looked as if they wanted to be the first to attack.
Good. She didn’t want to kill anyone. It was an awful thing to do, and once she did it, she could no longer come back from the pit it would stuff her in. She would be lost. Lost to the darkness. Lost to Zack.
“Ready?” The muscles in Leo’s back tensed.
“I hope so.” With her mind, she touched her fifth socket, and it began to glow. Hot. Hotter. A blazing inferno in her middle. Tears rimmed her eyes, and the pain of too much pleasure spiderwebbed out from her pelvis. It hurt … so good.
The spirit of the cat disintegrated.
Her muscles relaxed.
A purple haze filled the air around her, and the cat spirit reformed, filling the room. Massive. Compared to her brother’s flared spirit, hers was at least four times larger. Its head protruded through the ceiling, and its wagging tail swept through the three doors in the back of the room.
Ecstasy. Pure ecstasy filled her veins as power flowed from her fifth socket and engulfed the muscles of her legs. Unlike socketing, flaring didn’t bulge the muscles. It just settled into place. Increased the power output twenty-fold. In her case at least.
Her senses adjusted to the added power, every Untalented guard in the room moving in slow motion.
A timer appeared in her head. Two.
She had two seconds before the cat spirit’s energy vanished. Had she already used the spirit long enough for the decay to warrant only a two-second flare? She dashed forward in a blur and slashed trough a club before burying her elbow in that guard’s face.
He yelped as his body shot backwards and crashed into his two nearby companions. The pieces of his shredded club clanked to the ground where he had stood.
She twisted, slapping a pair of guards with the flats of her blades and sending them face first into the floor. Like an AKB dance move, her hips moved left and right. Her arms shot up and down in an ‘X’ pattern, propelled by the motion of her enhanced legs.
Four more guards dropped.
Leo slammed his left foot into a man who had turned to face her. “Hurry.”
“I know.” Rio took a deep breath and strode closer to the staircase.
Leaping through the door that led to the staircase, she kneed a guard in the face then bounced off the wall and planted both feet into another’s face. Her heart danced to an erratic techno song as she sprinted down the stairs, Leo in tow.
A light hissing noise clawed at her thoughts as the cat spirit dispersed, energy gone.
Her body slowed. She was moving through a thick pudding. So slow. Her sense joined her body, and her frantic run down the hall no longer blurred the pictures, paintings and wall-hangings that covered the walls.
“Slow down.” Panting, Leo scrambled around the corner she had long since passed.
She skidded to a stop and sucked in air through her nose. We need to get out of here.
“Block all the exits,” someone shouted from further ahead.
Roaring voices bounded down the hallway from behind Leo.
Twirling to face Leo, she placed a finger to her lips and moved towards him, opening a door halfway down the hallway and motioning for him to follow. She ducked inside.
In the far corner of the room, a massive four-post bed hugged both walls while a dresser sat across from it. Between them, an open window showed the park they had been in earlier. A closet with its doors open was a few paces to her left.
Leo stepped into the room and eased the door closed. “Good thinking,” he said in a hushed voice. “If we let their patrols die down a bit —”
“No.” Rio moved to the window and slid it open. “We need to get out of here. There’s no way we can get back to the sixth floor now.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“What do you mean so?”
Leo crossed the room and placed his hand on her shoulder, his platted-gauntlet cold even through her T-shirt. “Listen. This job is worth too much to quit on it now.”
Shrugging him off, she pointed to the dresser and vanity desk. “We can just take some of the clothes and jewelry in this room. That should get us enough to pay off the premium of our debt this month.”
Heavy footfalls passed the room.
“You don’t understand,” Leo said.
“What’s there to understand? This place is crawling with guards looking for us and just because those guards didn’t have any guns, doesn’t mean there aren’t any with guns here.”
“We can always craft armor.”
“And how many of our spirits would that waste?” Her voice came out as a shout, and she covered her mouth. “We didn’t bring any animals that craft well into armor.”
Leo crossed his arms and spun away from her. His shoulders trembled.
Her heart sank. Seeing her brother — her foundation of a human pyramid — on the verge of tears crushed her resistance. But she needed to be firm. She needed him to listen. It was too dangerous to stick it out here, no matter how much the mission was worth. She strode over to the closet and grabbed a backpack sitting on the floor.
Shouts from outside echoed down the hallway outside the room, but the voices seemed to be moving further away.
The leather strap of the backpack caressed her skin. Smooth, seamless edges and two pockets aside from the main part of the bag. Each pocket had a zip close that sealed it. This was one of the new waterproof bags. And a backpack at that.
Breath catching, she stifled a gasp. I’ve wanted one of these for so long, but never had the fifty-thousand yen to buy it. She turned from the closet with a huge grin on her face and waggled the bag in front of her brother as she passed by him on the way to the dresser. “Do you know what this is?”
Leo harrumphed. “A measly prize compared to what we could earn for this job.”
“It’s one of the new waterproof bags. We could sell this and pay off our monthly premium.” She began stuffing fancy looking clothes into the bag before moving over to the vanity desk. “With these clothes and —” She opened the top drawer.
Gold. Silver. Diamonds.
Swallowing, she pointed towards the jewelry and began mumbling. Words wouldn’t form in her mouth.
“What?” He moved across the room and stared at the jewelry then licked his lips. “Wow. With that, we could get our own apartment.”
“Or we could pay off a good chunk of our debt.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. This job will pay enough to erase our debt completely.”
The backpack fell free from Rio’s grasp, and she picked at her ear. “I think I misheard you.”
More guards ran past the room.
Were they just searching the hallway? Or guarding the exits?
I have an idea. Rio brushed her fingers across her orbed necklace for luck, automatically inventorying each spirit as she touched each of the seven orbs.
Empty. Four alley cats. A crow. An ant.
A shiver rolled down her skin. She hated the way insects felt when her mind touched their spirits. Unlike most animals with longer lifespans, the insect’s entire spirit was absorbed during the gathering process. Sure, killing the animal made the made the power of the spirit stronger, but it was so cruel.
“Are you listening to me?” Leo asked.
Rio blinked. “Huh?”
Slapping himself in the forehead, Leo groaned. “Why do you always zone out like that when I’m telling you something important?”
“Because your voice dances the same steps over and over again?”
“Anyway, I was thinking we wait till the next patrol passes and make our way down the hallway to the other staircase.”
“No.” Rio gestured to the window.
“Rio. We have to finish this job. It’s worth too much.”
“I know. That’s why we will socket cats into the third and forth sockets then craft claws to climb up the side of the wall.”
“Shall we?” Mentally reaching out to two of the orbs holding alley cats, Rio inhaled and socketed the two spirits into each of her arms.
Power coursed through the muscles as two fat toy poodle-sized alley cats materialized around each of her shoulders.
Her mouth watered as the power settled down, and she focused on the sockets in her shoulders. Rather than lighting them on fire like she did with flaring, she froze the sockets. Ice raced through her veins, and her breath misted. Goose bumps rose across her flesh as the cat spirits disintegrated into balls of purple energy. Imagining massive cat claws, the balls of energy clung to her hands and formed into a pair of gloves. Long purple claws extended from each finger. She retracted and extended them several times before opening the window and climbing outside.