Half a dozen on one are terrible odds. That was true even for someone as talented as Master Hanq.
I’d never been able to pry much of his background out him. As an anima caster, he was more talented than anyone I’d ever met, but for some reason he rarely used those abilities. I’d seen him spend hours working on magical techniques while I was drilling basic combat forms, but the few times I’d seen him in serious fights, he’d stuck to purely mundane means of dispatching his opponents.
Of course what I considered a serious fight wasn’t much more than a light workout for him. Most of them ended less than ten seconds after they started. One on one fights were even quicker than that. It wasn’t that Master Hanq was blindingly fast. He never seemed to move that quick, just a little quicker than the other guys.
“Fights aren’t about magic.” he’d said one day when he was trying to cheer me up about my abysmal anima scores. “They’re about power, and there are a lot of ways to be more powerful than the other guy when you get into a fight.”
Given that he stood somewhere close to seven feet tall and weighed enough that scales just said “ouch” when he got on them, I could see where he’d have the power to fight without magic. I’d always been a bit dubious of how well that advice applied to me though. Being on the tall side for a girl and having a fair amount of wiry muscle was fine if I was fighting someone in my own weight class. If I had to fight a guy like him Master Hanq though I had no illusions as to how I’d do. If I was lucky I’d get one hit in before he turned me to paste.
One on one, the soldier would have been in the same boat as me. Which was why they acted as a group and carried extremely deadly weapons. In this particular case they weren’t deadly enough though.
Between the time that Master Hanq put a spear of light through the squad leader and the time the ex-soldier’s corpse hit the ground the rest of the squad had their weapons sighted on him, charged and were firing. It was an impressive display of tactical coordination. I’m not an expert on military strike teams, but if these guys weren’t an elite unit I had no idea who would be.
Master Hanq had apparently expected as much though. He crossed his arms in a warding gesture and the soldiers’ anima bolts were absorbed into the motes of blue fire that danced around him. The motes surged in brightness and, with another gesture, he cast them down to the ground.
The soldiers scattered, diving for cover. The boy in the robes who was in command of them didn’t budge. Instead he raised a shield of crackling light around himself.
My teacher hadn’t been aiming at any of them however. Instead, the blue motes slammed into the ground near the captives. There was an explosion of dust and smoke that followed which completely obscured the front of the dormitory and everyone that was gathered near it.
I watched as Master Hanq leapt from the roof of the dormitory. He eclipsed the sun for a moment, his dark skin a perfect silhouette against the sky and then he fell into the magically thick smoke and dust, trailing blue fire in his wake.
“Form on me, and kill the wizard.” the commander boy shouted to his troops. There were calls of assent from cloud but then I heard a strangled cry that cut off in an instant. It was hard to tell but I was pretty sure a grown man had made the noise and it didn’t sound like Master Hanq.
“Two down.” I whispered to myself.
I couldn’t see the action anymore, but it occurred to me that I was still plainly visible to anyone who walked out of the cloud of dust. I’d rushed out from cover when it looked like Laz was going to be shot and had frozen when Master Hanq made his appearance. Playing “statue” however wasn’t going to lead anyone to mistake me for one. I looked around for the closest cover or concealment while my mind spun over what options I had.
Going to ground seemed like the smart move. The last thing Master Hanq needed was for me to become a hostage or a distraction. He was going to have a tough enough fight with the soldiers and once the commander boy joined in things would turn ugly quick.
I started to scramble over to one of the nearby apartment buildings to duck into its entrance. It wasn’t the best hiding spot but it would have been enough to keep me out of sight. I didn’t even make it halfway there though before two soldiers stumbled out of the dust cloud.
Cold swept over me as they looked up. We were no more than twenty feet apart and their bolt casters were already pointing in my direction and charged. I considered leaping at them but the fact that I was thinking about it meant I wasn’t doing it. My legs wouldn’t move in that direction. Fear had nailed my feet to the ground.
The nearest soldier shook his head and grabbed his partner by the shoulder. They exchanged silent hand signs, and headed back into the cloud in the direction the commander boy had called from.
There was no way they hadn’t seen me and yet they’d paid no attention to me. I looked at my hands again and found the same dark smoke curling around them that I’d seen when I ran into the sewer cat.
“I’m invisible.” I didn’t even speak the words. I let them form soundlessly on my lips, trying to grasp the reality that was before me.
I could hide.
I could hide perfectly. If I wanted to, I could be safe forever. Some deep, old longing in me rejoiced at that notion. The number of times I’d wanted to crawl away and disappear from the world were too many to count. Some days, it felt like they didn’t make numbers that went that high.
Running away and being free of this whole situation was tempting, but I felt something deeper moving in me too. I remembered the ghosts. I remembered the man and his daughter who had left Taisen’s clinic when I was waiting there. There was no way they’d gotten out of the radius of the spell bomb that I’d lived through.
Concealed within the dark smoke, I felt a confidence I’d rarely known. The soldiers couldn’t see me, so they couldn’t hurt me. That chased the fear away and into its place stepped anger. They couldn’t hurt me, but they’d hurt a whole of others. If I was the noble sort, I’d say that I thought about how I could balance those scales. The truth was I just thought about hurting them worse than they’d hurt us, and the idea seemed delightful.
I stepped into the cloud and I felt my vision shift. I knew the smoke and dust were there but it didn’t block my vision. I could see the people who were obscured by it in a weird sort of half light.
The Sisters were using the distraction that Master Hanq had provided to usher the children back into the dormitory. I doubted they’d stay there, but putting a building between themselves and the soldiers seemed like a solid plan to me.
Master Hanq was in close combat with one of the soldiers. He had the man almost entirely disabled and was using him as a moving shield against another soldier.
The two soldiers who’d preceded me into the cloud were moving in unison towards their commander, covering the possible fields of fire as best they could. Their commander was not making things easy for them however. He’d left the place he’d been standing and was moving cautiously towards the area where Master Hanq was fighting.
I waited until the two soldiers had wandered a little way past where the commander boy had been standing. Their steps slowed and their body language screamed confusion at not finding him where he’d ordered them to meet him. That’s when I struck.
I’d been hoping that my blows would have the same effect on these soldiers as the one I’d fought earlier. Things didn’t quite work out that way though.
I hit the first soldier with a spinning hammer fist to the base of his neck, followed by a sidekick to the back of his knee. I put every bit of force I had into the blows and was rewarded with brilliant flash of light at each of the impact points. The soldier gasped and went down, but not like a ragdoll as I’d been hoping. Instead, he fell into the kind of evasive tumble that I’d only seen well trained people pull off.
My vision flickered in the wake of the attack and everything got harder to see. Whatever special effect being invisible gave me, it had worn off. The other soldier turned and raised his caster at me, which told me the invisibility was gone too.
Practiced reflexes took over from there. As the soldier brought the caster up, I slid forward and grabbed the barrel of the weapon. He triggered a shot but it was too late, I’d already deflected the barrel away from myself. The snapshot left him off balance which I capitalized on without thinking about it. Jerking on the barrel, I pulled him to stumble towards me and met his chin with an elbow strike that had all of my weight behind it.
There was a brief flash of light again, but this soldier didn’t stumble to the ground. He flew off into the air at the force of the blow and was lost in the cloud before he landed.
I heard and felt the movement behind me as the other soldier caught his balance. In one motion I turned to look at him and stomped downward to pin his caster to the ground. He didn’t fight me for the weapon. Instead he swept my legs out from under me with a low spinning kick and came up with a glowing ruby knife.
Anima weapons tend to use focusing crystals to help the wielder manipulate magical forces. In the case of a bolt caster, there’s a crystal in the weapon that converts the user’s physical anima into kinetic force, augments it and projects it at whoever the user wants dead. In the case of a melee weapon like a knife, the magical force doesn’t have to be projected, so it can be concentrated and honed to a much more potent level.
In a sense it was a compliment that the soldier had drawn an anima knife on me. It’s the kind of thing that high powered casters will do when they need to kill someone who’s on their level or higher. I didn’t feel thrilled by that compliment though.
Seeing my imminent demise in the soldier’s hands, I rolled away from him and kicked up to my feet to buy myself time to think. He was good enough not to give me any of that though. I’d barely stood up when I had to drop and fall away from his next attacks. He didn’t let up either. This wasn’t like a sparring match where we paused for breath after a good exchange. He was coming as fast as he could with each blow meant to kill.
I moved without thinking, the long hours of training and drilling with Master Hanq being the only thing that kept me alive. The thing with dodging though is that you can’t dodge everything. Especially not when you’re fighting someone who’s just as fast as you.
I felt the first slash that I didn’t get out of the way of on my arm. From the damage I took, I know the second one landed on inner thigh. I didn’t feel it but that one slowed me down. The next three I felt as rapid pokes to the chest.
Knives don’t poke you of course. I just hadn’t felt the pain as it pierced my vital organs. In less than a second, I’d taken two serious cuts and three fatal wounds. As it turned out, that was really unfortunate for him.