Chapter 44

“Lost Humanity”

Etsuko rushed over the buildings so fast that the world blurred all around her. She only had eyes for her enemy, her vision tunnelled as she accelerated, focusing all her power as Nereida Bengalia on moving forward. Once she made the final step before pouncing at Tikaae, everything slowed down, and she relished the surprise in his eyes when she threw her first punch.

The impact of her bagh nakh clashing with Tikaae’s wrist blades was deafening, creating a blast that was heard even by the soldiers running through the streets beneath them. He finally got enough leverage to push the much lighter girl back, and when he did she let herself be pushed to gain extra momentum. She did a back flip with the push he had given her, and kicked up with her feet as she did. She caught Tikaae square on the jaw, sending him tumbling back near the edge of the building.

They both regained their footing at almost the same time. Tikaae stood on the opposite end of the rooftop, looking at her.

“You again,” Tikaae said, his voice dripping with anger.

“Oh yeah, me, me, and me. Who were you expecting?”

Tikaae furrowed his brow and didn’t say anything. He started walking sideways while keeping his guard up, waiting for the right moment to attack. Etsuko did the same, walking with the same rotation, and slowly they started approaching each other. Tikaae was the first to rush ahead, but Etsuko was the fastest of the two. Her jab was reached its target first. Tikaae jumped to one side to avoid her punch as if he had been expecting her, and extended his left arm, bringing his blade neck high as Etsuko passed by.

It was a very close dodge for Etsuko, leaning back as her momentum carried her past him, and she avoided losing her footing by digging on the concrete with her right bagh nakh. As soon as she slowed down enough, she pivoted and changed directions towards Tikaae. He brought his left wristblade down with a backwards slash, deflecting Etsuko’s attack, and forcing her to deflect his subsequent attack with her other claw, making a mess of the roof as both their weapons dug through the concrete on their paths like it was just sand.

Again, the extremely fast exchange brought them face to face a few meters apart.

“You seem to be quite the lucky one, little female,” Tikaae said, baring his sharp teeth with an elfin grin, “how long do you think you can keep it up?”

“Aaaah, lucky, huh?” Etsuko replied, smirking. “We’ll see about that. Hows the chest?”

“How is yours?” Tikaae retorted, raising his arms and crossing his wristblades in front of himself.

“Hah! That was barely a scratch, you’re gonna have to do a lot better.”

“Worry not, I will.”

Etsuko saw him charge, so slow in her hyperactive mind she thought he was just standing still. She flexed her legs and waited him out, timing her punch with his steps. However, when she finally attacked, he dodged by suddenly stopping and jumping up high in the air, several meters up. Etsuko turned to see him holding something that looked like a gun and pointing down at her, grinning like a the proverbial cat who got the proverbial canary in his paws.

The shot didn’t come. While Etsuko was still turning and trying to figure out how to get out of dodge, an energy blast blazed past Tikaae, narrowly missing him as he twisted in the air to avoid the worst of it. He landed awkwardly and rolled out of the way, to stand up again in the blink of an eye.

“Dammit, more of them!” he muttered.

Etsuko wanted to look and see who was it that had covered for her, but she didn’t have the time to spare. Tikaae finally shot his gun, forcing Etsuko to dodge, and while she did, he used the resulting explosion as cover to run away from her.

“You coward!” Etsuko shouted. To her surprise Tikaae looked back and grinned at her, increasing his pace.

Without second thought, Etsuko took off after him, while someone whose voice she didn’t manage to recognize shouted for her to stop.

I’m not letting him get away!

She was faster than him, and even with his headstart she was sure she’d be able to catch him before he got out of the dome. She was barely five steps from him when he dropped something and, more by instinct than rational thought, she stopped and jumped to a side. Thanks to her quick decision, she managed to avoid the ensuing explosion. When the smoke had cleared, Tikaae had pulled far ahead again.

“Dammit, get back here!” Etsuko shouted, retaking the chase.

She saw him leave through a crack on the dome, and without even worrying about the fact that there was a new breach on the structure, she rushed forward, coming out to the outside world for the first time since she arrived at Dome City seven years ago. She had very few memories of the outside world, but she didn’t bother stopping to see if anything had changed from what little she remembered.

The rocky cliff side the city was nested against offered a very irregular terrain for a chase, covered in short grassy plants and moss, and Etsuko lost the advantage of her speed by having to look for places to land in between jumps. The distance between them stayed the same, and they kept the high speed chase until they were several kilometres away from Dome City.

Like he had done before, when Etsuko was finally close to catching up with him, he dropped a bomb and forced Etsuko to change directions. The explosion made a significant chunk of rock fall from the cliffside, but even so, she had dodged much more sharply than before, and was ready to continue the chase as soon as she landed.

To her surprise, there was no chase to resume. Tikaae was standing on an outcropping, looking at her and grinning. She thought he was grinning, he couldn’t be sure because of how oddly sharp that alien’s features were.

“Finally given up?” she asked.

“Given up?” he repeated in a mocking voice that Etsuko found both worrying and irritating at the same time. “What a coincidence, I was about to ask the same of you.”

Etsuko raised an eyebrow at Tikaae, and a moment later she caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. She jumped out of the way when something crashed at the spot where she had been standing. Two steps later she realized she was fighting another alien. He was clad in a black armor not too dissimilar to Tikaae’s, with a red underlying mesh of solid material. The pieces on his chest and lower arms seemed to flare into sharp blades at their back ends, and it looked very strong and heavy. But what caught her eye was the alien’s hair, a thick crop of light blue hair in a mohawk and long enough to reach down to his waist. He was built much more heavily than Tikaae, but shared the sharp, elfin features.

That was all she could see. She dodged two more attacks, so fast that she couldn’t quite make what weapon he was using, and on the third she pushed her speed to the limit to dive under his wide sweep. She aimed a counter at his lower half, and forced him to jump out of the way. They landed opposite to each other.

“I have to admit, the speed which I am witnessing certainly lives up to expectations, considering the lively description we were given,” a feminine voice intruded.

Etsuko looked to a side to see a third alien standing on a narrow ledge. She was short, much shorter than the other two, built in a thin, wiry frame, with dark blue skin, bushy and dark hair, thin eyebrows, and a face that was disturbingly slender, ending in a very pointy chin. Her grin and teeth were as sharp as the others’. She was holding a large gun, and Etsuko saw the one he had been fighting was holding a metallic mace, or something like it, as thick as her own waist thorough.

Tikaae jumped to her other side, so that she was completely surrounded.

“And so, do you give up?” Tikaae said, mockingly.

“Aaaah, underestimating me again?” Etsuko retorted.

“Overestimating yourself, I say. You won’t be so lucky this time.”

“Again with the luck. Hah!” She laughed once, assuming a ready stance. “Let’s see if you three are enough to break my lucky streak then.”

“Us three? Oh we’ll just leave you to her instead.”

“Her?”

Etsuko only managed to dodge the attack that came from above by a hairsbreadth, and even then it cut through one of the pearl rosaries on her hair, spilling the small rose-coloured jewels together with a bunch of her hair in all directions.

In that still moment, she saw a girl in front of her, falling down slowly and holding a large nanigata with a red tassel at the end of the blade. She had thrust the weapon in front of her, and had made a charging attack right from above. Etsuko guessed she was about as tall as she was. She saw a slender but slightly curvy body covered in a simple skin tight blue jumpsuit, with a wide metallic belt clasped with a wide red jewel at the buckle, and long white hair held in a ponytail. Some of the hair had spilled out of the ponytail, giving her a slightly wild look.

Etsuko skidded to a stop and raised her guard. Her immediate thought was that she was pretty. Pale skinned, with a slender face with flat cheekbones, a small mouth, a sharp nose and wide eyes, so dark they looked as if there were no irises, only a pair of huge black pupils. But her expression sent a chill up Etsuko’s spine, her eyes and face looked completely dead, as if there was no feeling or emotion behind them. Even in the middle of an attack like that, she had looked as if she wasn’t even there. Now she had turned those big dark eyes and emotionless face towards her, pointing ahead with the nanigata.

After the initial surprise, a sudden realization made her gasp.

She’s human!

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