Sora followed Eric’s instructions and charmed several different guards to get to the door he said Jin and Eyia were behind. Wendy, Mary, the two humans, and Aiden walked beside her as they made their way through an unfamiliar hall. Why does he have to be so cryptic? He says something is about to start and then tells me he doesn’t know … what’s his deal now? The Herald seems to have fed him the bare minimum amount of information…
She felt nervous about the planned route Eric had given her. Turning to Aiden, she asked, “I know we’ve already started on the plan, but is there no way forward without tripping the alarm?”
Breathing out a long puff of air, Aiden shrugged, “I don’t know. Eric seems to know all the answers; it’s actually disconcerting. He’s not the Eric I’ve known all my life.”
Scratching at her left fox ear with irritation, she tucked her lip under her teeth as the last doors came into view. “Most the cameras are supposedly down on this floor, and so far no one’s set off the alarm. All the guards were in the spots Eric said and were simple enough to manipulate. In fact, we haven’t come across anyone along this hallway, and look how big it is compared to the rest! Why haven’t we come across a single guard?”
Again shaking his head, Aiden said, “No idea.”
Wendy hummed beside her, Sora still strengthening the human’s spiritual networks. “We’re going to a big room, right? That’s what Eric said. Could it be a large holding area?”
Mary shook her head. “I don’t see them putting anything hazardous together. There must be a different reason.”
Cracking his neck, Aiden nodded. “I agree.”
Puffing out her cheeks in irritation, Sora huffed. “He could have told us what we’re walking into.” Turning to the man and woman she’d saved, she studied them. Their emotions were stable with her aura, but she could tell they’d freak out if she released her aura. “I haven’t asked your names yet.”
The woman took a very long breath. “My name’s Ashley.”
“Nathan,” the man said.
“I know this has all been a rush. I know how you feel, literally—hmm, not trying to be creepy or anything.” She added, reading their emotions. “I would really like to get you back to Miami, and return to your normal lives.”
The woman smiled. “Thanks … my husband and kids must think I abandoned them—I’m sure, if you weren’t somehow keeping me calm, I’d be pretty hysterical right now.”
The man nodded. “I agree. I was a police officer. I remember seeing the video of you getting bullied.” He said with a frown. “I was told to make it go away, by Eric…”
Sora frowned as he spoke, feeling the guilt. “You don’t have to feel guilty. It was all Eric’s fault. I don’t forgive him … he has a sad story, but he’s ruined too many lives.”
They fell silent as they came to the door, and Sora looked up into the guard box. She’d apparently compelled the guard that was supposed to take his place and had just changed shifts, according to Eric’s plan.
She smelled and heard Eric in a branching doorway. Before she could ask the guard to open the door, her attention was diverted to Eric as he casually walked out, still holding his passive expression. “That’s it. Beyond this door are your friends, but I’m warning you, it may not be pretty.”
Ears lying flat against her head, she shifted nervously while her stomach knotted. “What, your almighty knowledge is lacking?”
In his even tone, Eric said, “I may learn more when inside, but my information comes in spurts and pieces. You’ve been spotted on the cameras here, so the alarm will sound soon.”
Taking a deep breath and not wanting to waste any more time, she told the guard to open the door. As the door locks began moving, she heard a siren go off. Head tilting slightly, her eyes narrowed, “Fantastic.”
Her focus was totally diverted as the door opened to reveal a troll lying motionless, then Jian with Jin’s hair in his hands. He wiped her around and threw her at a pillar. “What—no, Jin!” Sora yelled as she dashed forward.
She made it halfway to her before Eric caught up and blocked her way. He was transformed fully into his werewolf form, but all she could see was Jian rushing toward Jin. He was moving so fast; she could barely follow his movements, she wouldn’t be quick enough.
Sidestepping Eric as he yelled, “Stop!”
She skidded to a standstill, but not for Eric. All the hair on her body shot on-end, and her lungs froze as her body screamed there was danger ahead. Her mouth filled with saliva as she watched Jian’s fist strike her face. A burst of air blasted out, sending dust billowing around them, but Jin’s head had only slightly shifted to the side. Her countenance had changed radically and time stretched as her spirit seemed to expand. Sora could feel the pressure ebb out of her at a slow, but consistent wave.
Jin’s pure black hair was a gleaming crimson, and her irises matched its color. Her vision was centered on Jian with what seemed a pulsating hatred.
Jian leaped back twenty feet and closed his fist to stop it from shaking. Sora entire body started to quiver as Jin’s spiritual pressure seeped over her, it was crushing. The humans behind her trembling as Jin’s spiritual influence overpowered Sora’s aura. That was when she realized Kari a few feet away; she hadn’t even sensed her presence. She had been running at her brother but wasn’t transformed; even she was paralyzed as she stared at the red tendrils of energy that leaked off Jin’s body.
Head slowly righting itself, Jin breathed a slow breath and released it in a cloud of steam. The dark red light began to shimmer, and scales excrete from her skin, small lines of blood flowed down her body. Every ward across her body broke into radiant light and disintegrated, not a single one remained.
Sora couldn’t stop trembling. Is this the fear induction Fen said dragons could suppress, how could she suppress this strong of a force? I know it’s a speck in an ocean compared to what I felt in the Spiritual Plane, but way more potent without Inari’s power sustaining me. Vision locking on the trickles of blood that ran down her legs and arms, Sora began to understand Eric’s first statement to her. Jin hurts herself when using her powers; she literally has to release her dragon blood, changing her body every time.
Eyes widening, Sora watched Jin’s countenance change again to horror as she dropped to her knees, bending over and grasping at her chest. “No—no—control—control!” She muttered desperately. Shocked, she felt Jin’s spiritual pressure receding, being pulled back into her body.
Sora’s eyes darted around the room as Diane’s voice said, “I would not retreat now, face down the beast!” Fen’s pained scream sounded clearly around the area, and Sora finally understood the situation.
Jian’s usually emotionless face looked under stress as sweat beat down his brow. Taking a deep breath, he let a bellowing roar shoot from his mouth, sending jets of wind flurrying around the area and sending her hair whipping around. He leaped forward, and his entire body exploded in brilliant light as he took on the form of an eight-foot-tall white tiger.
Sora could barely follow his blurred movement as he dashed for Jin’s fallen body. His paw struck out at her, which sent her flying across the floor and smashing into the wall, breaking into it with a loud crack resonating around the area. Dust shot around her as she struck, obscuring their vision. Jian took a single step to jump after but halted as Jin’s crushing spiritual energy returned in sharp waves. Again time seemed to stretch for Sora as the energy passed over them.
Diane’s voice broke over the following silence unhindered by their mental perception of time. “Sora, get out of the arena!”
Eric looked somewhat pale as he looked over at his sister. “Kari, this isn’t the right time. Diane’s achieved her goal. Jin has entered the Dragon Rage state, friend, foe; it doesn’t matter.”
Her body told her to run, but she couldn’t move. The first recognizable thing behind the haze of dust was shining red irises, before Jin’s body came into view. Covered in skin-tight red scales that produced a translucent crimson light around her body, she looked like she was in a trance. It only lasted a second before her face screwed up in rage and in taking a deep breath. She let it go in a roar that deafened Sora’s ears, leaving her dizzy and a burst of pressurized air shot through the room, even more powerful than Jian’s, sending the humans tumbling across the floor. The glass above them shattered and it felt like she was going to be blown off her feet.
She only closed her eyes for a split second, but when she opened them, she found Jian in the center of the room, Jin before him. His massive paw came out to strike her, but Jin’s clawed hand stopped it in mid-swing. Tightening her grip on his paw, she whipped him into a sharp circle breaking his front right leg in the process.
Letting him go, he smashed through an entire pillar, before striking concrete halfway up the wall. Jin vanished from Sora’s vision, and Jian smashed through the five-meter thick wall as she appeared, claws penetrating his gut; at the same time, her knee struck his punctured stomach, blood leaving his mouth from the impact. Jian and Jin disappeared through the crater, and Sora felt the earth tremble under her as dust billowed through the cavity.
Sora jolted back to reality as Kari launched at Eric. He easily dodged and threw her several yards away. “Kari, this isn’t,” he cut off as the wall five feet beside Kari exploded, sending her flying a few feet to her right and Jian tumbled across the ground in a mangled heap.
Sora was too scared to move; all she could do was shift her eyes as she watched Jin walked through the dust. Her vision centered on Jian, he somehow seemed alive, but barely. Jin’s eyes didn’t alter in the least as Fen’s pained sobs echoed down from above and she leaped down from the broken windows.
Sora’s paralyzed state broke as Fen appeared in the corner of her eyes. Halfway down she curdled into a ball and cried out in pain; she could see a light glow at her stomach. Mind flipping into overdrive, Sora reacted, racing to catch Fen. This isn’t right! Jian was blackmailed into fighting Jin and if she keeps this up … Wendy, Mary … human bodies can’t handle this kind of pressure! If I can cut that link … but even then, Jin won’t listen to me, Eric said, she’s in a rage. Although … she was trying to suppress it; maybe there’s a chance!
Reaching Fen in time, Sora caught her and laid her on the ground as she writhed in pain. Gritting her teeth, Sora closed her eyes. Inari said its rudimentary basics, but basics for her are impossible for most! Focus!
Putting her left hand on Fen’s stomach, Sora tried feeling her own spiritual force and found it respond. Condensing it into her two fingers, she reached down and peeled the ward right through her dress, tossing it aside. Fen’s eyes shot open in shock as the pain left her body.
Sora shielded her face as Jian was thrown against the wall ten feet from them, concrete shards pelting their bodies. Her breath caught as she watched the concrete strike the humans, lying motionless several feet away, cuts scaring their bodies. Jian had large gashes across his blood-soaked fur, and most of his limbs were in tatters. Jin was walking toward them, steam escaping her lips as droplets of blood flowed down her limbs.
Fen shot up and ran to Jian’s side, throwing herself between the two legends. Sora rushed to face Jin and threw her arms out. “Jin, you can stop. It’s alright.” Sora’s mind went frantic as Jin didn’t bat an eyelash. Maybe it was a stupid plan…
Her ears picked up Diane muttering, and a silver sheen of mist appeared around Jin, but she walked through it without hesitation, breaking the spell. That’s right … dragons are immune to most magic…
Kari flew overhead and hit the wall beside Jian. She was breathing hard and glaring at Eric, in Fenris Form, as he ran to Sora, but she knew he wouldn’t make it. Sora closed her eyes and shielded herself as Jin closed in, clawed hand raised to strike. I can’t die here; Eric didn’t say anything about this! What about dad?
A familiar frost-coated wind blew her into Fen as she heard the sound of cutting air, a cold shiver running down her spine. Opening her eyes, she could feel her heart burst with joy as Eyia stood between them; clad in her brilliant armor, mist billowing around her as she held a circular blue crystal shield in her right hand. Ice began moving down Jin’s hand as she touched the shell. Eyia shoved Jin back with the shield, a sharp gust of wind sent her flying several feet. Sora watched in amazement as the shield began to glow a faint blue and shimmering azure lights appeared around them in a giant dome, materializing into an icy shell.
Eric hummed lowly. “First Gungnir and now Svalinn. You are full of surprises, Eyia. What else might you have in your arsenal?”
Eyia glared at him. “What is the situation, sister?”
Realizing she was talking to her, Sora felt her chest burn with gratitude. “Jin’s in a rage; Eric called it Dragon Rage.”
Kari tried to get up, but collapsed again, breathing hard as ice coated her body, and Eric stared down at her with a deep frown. “Sister … this isn’t the time, and those threads drained almost all of your energy, you cannot hope to fight me. You can’t even revert to your original form in this state.”
Kari just glared at him, without words as she tried to get up again. Sighing, Eric walked over to her. Restraining her struggles, he slammed the side of his hand against a point in her neck. Her eyes rolled back, and she fell unconscious. Eyes returning to Sora, he said, “I still expect you to keep your word.” Sora nodded grimly.
Eyia’s eyes shot to Jin as she attacked their domed defense. Sora couldn’t even hear her roars past the icy shell. Her glowing irises moved to the group with trouble. “I do not understand the change in relationship, but I will comply for now.”
Turning back to Jin’s increasing efforts, she said, “I cannot keep her out for much longer. This shell is linked to my own energy, and I must conserve strength for the offensive, as I am unsure of our enemies.” Thinking for a moment, she said, “I will try to calm Jin. She once mentioned this as a possibility in combat.”
Sora nodded and glanced at Fen, who was crying on Jian’s broken body. He was alive, but not for much longer. Wendy, Mary, Ashley, and Nathan were unconscious; Sora could feel their spiritual networks stabilizing with Eyia’s shield protecting them. She quickly reapplied her aura, preventing Jin’s spiritual force from smothering them. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to Fen. “Fen, I can try to heal him, but I don’t know how much effect it will have, and I need to save my own energy…”
Fen lifted her tear-stained face, a light appearing in her eyes. “Can you really help him?”
Positioning her tails over Jian’s stomach, they began glowing with blue light. Closed her eyes and taking a deep breath, she fed her energy into him. It felt like an endless gap to fill, but she kept pouring her energy in and soon, she found the gap closing as his own energy picked up the slack.
She felt a chunk of her energy leave, but it was returning in strides. Opening her eyes as she stopped, she watched Fen hugging Jian’s neck as he stirred. All of his severe wounds were healed.
“Thank you,” Fen sobbed.
Even more curious about their bond, but recognizing it wasn’t the right time; she was about to do the same to Wendy and the others but realized Aiden was already healing them as she felt warm energy washing into their spiritual network. “Thanks, Aiden,” she sighed with relief as they began to stir.
They rose to their feet, looking around in confusion. “You guys need to stay beside Jian,” Sora ordered, pointing in his direction. When they nodded and started running to his side, she turned to Eyia. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Eyia nodded. “I will not kill her, but stave off her attacks long enough for her rage to fade.” A mist began to fill the area, and a large two-handed crystal bladed sword appeared in Eyia’s empty hand. Sora could feel a frenzies charge from the blade that made her want to move away.
Eric breathed darkly. “What blade is that? I can feel its bloodthirst.”
Speaking softly, Eyia said, “The blade’s name is Skofnung.”
“Impossible,” Eric stated. “Skofnung cannot be seen nor welded by women.”
Eyia didn’t explain, and Sora took a step back as twelve figures appeared around them. It took a second to discern they were all women. Each had dark-skinned fur as clothing and magnificent bastard swords in hand.
Eric looked stunned. “King Hrólf Kraki’s twelve berserkers were women?”
“Women invoke Skofnug’s true potential,” Eyia said as her shield vanished and she held the blade with both hands. Cracks spiderwebbed down the icy shell, and it shattered into tiny shards. Six of the women stayed beside them as Eyia, and the remaining six rushed forward.
Eyia’s blade cut through the air leaving a long white trail of light. Jin leaped to the side; claws slashed out with a red light that left long gashes in the floor, Eyia gracefully deflecting it. The berserkers moving to cut her off. A line of ice shot across the ground where Eyia swung, leaving walls of mist. The battle became hazed and soon disappeared completely from Sora’s vision as the clouds thicken. Even with Sora’s enhanced hearing, she couldn’t make out what Diane was saying; all she heard was the sounds of Jin furious roars that made the mist swirl violently.
After a few minutes of blind action, the entire area exploded with a vicious wind that smashed against Sora’s spirit like a truck, forcing her to throw her energy in Mary and the others to shield them; she had to fold down her ears as Jin’s bellowing howl reached new heights. The current sent all the fog flowing to the walls and pushed them up into the ceiling, giving the watchers their first view of the fight.
The troll that was lying by one of the pillars had vanished, the berserkers dissipating into a trail of mist as the fog lifted. It didn’t take long for her to understand the clouds were necessary for their stay in this world.
As it dispersed, Sora watched Eyia stab her large blade through Jin’s heart and come out the other side. Stunned, Sora couldn’t say a word but then saw there was no blood. Soon after it pierced her chest, Jin’s body was overtaken by shards of ice that crawled over her body at an accelerated pace. She had enough time to grip Skofnug’s blade in her hands before the ice completely overtook her body in a jagged block three feet thick.
The blade slipped back through the ice without a mark. Eyia slid away; blade shimmered to be replaced by her spear. She didn’t drop her guard. A few seconds later, the ice around Jin began to crack and then shattered. Shards of hail were propelled at high enough speeds to stick into the floor. Sora swiftly inhaled and breathed a long jet of fire to defend against the storm.
When it ended, Jin dropped to her knees, breathing hard and clutching at her chest as the scales began to recede into her skin. The pain was evident on her face as she reverted, her red hair returned to its original color.
“Are you in control, friend?” Eyia asked, ready to counter.
Falling to her back with a tired sigh, Jin huffed. “Did you have to condense the ice so much? My ears are ringing.”