Chapter 67

“A Kindred Spirit”

Objects in free fall can look like they are moving at a snail’s pace from a distance, but from up close it is easy to see how Earth’s gravity pulls them along at a very brisk pace. For Ayame, it had felt like an eternity had passed as she watched the building on the near side of the park collapse, helplessly rooted on the spot. She hadn’t moved one muscle, and it wasn’t until the crumbling debris was obscured by a cloud of dust that she found her voice again.

“ONEE-SAMA! NAOTO!” she shouted, putting both hands on her cheeks in a terrified grimace.

Debris from the dome kept falling, increasing the destruction. Terrified people shouted and tried to get out of them. Panic erupted all around, as all the citizens tried to run away as fast as they could in a confused human stampede.

Something stepped out of the cloud of dust and debris, but neither Ran nor Ayame recognized what it was. It looked like a very large humanoid robot, very different from the ones Ran had fought before. As before, it looked like it was missing its head, with a wide chest that served as a cabin. It was covered in very thick armor plates, dark blue with a white underlay between them. The forearms were specially thick, giving it an almost simian aspect.

There was a another one coming into view, but Ayame didn’t wait one second longer. She didn’t care if someone could see her, she reached for her hairbands and, pulling hard, spillked the green beads all around herself, with only one thought in her mind.

I will never forgive them!

Ran hadn’t seen the others transform very often, and she found the sensation of no time having past at all and having seen Ayame’s complete transformation in an instant extremely confusing. It had been fiery, brutal, she looked like she had been engulfed in flames and her old self had burned away to leave Nereida Pacifica behind. Ran had not simply seen it, she had felt Ayame’s thoughts when she had transformed.

“By the power of Gaia, I will never retreat, I will never surrender, I am Nereida Pacifica!” she shouted.

Ran didn’t have time to say anything. Ayame threw one of her maces at the nearest mecha with all her strength, and she rushed forward while calling for Ran’s help.

“Take care of them!” she shouted again, and plunged ahead as the mace crashed on the robotic bipedal, with an earth-shaking boom.

She didn’t have to ask who Ayame had been referring to. Cursing lin a low voice for having left her magical branch at home, Ran made a wide arc away from the combat, running towards the disaster area. She silently, and earnestly, prayed for Momoe and Naoto to still be alive. She was distracted for a moment by another blast coming from the direction of the battle; a shower of dirt and gravel marked the impact point of a shot, coming from the weapon the second mecha was holding. Ayame was meters above it, moving after having deftly jumped out of the way. Ran forced herself to look away.

She’s fine, she’s fine! Find her siblings!

The pile of debris where the remains of the dome had dropped and that of the damaged buildigs looked very unstable, and there was still a bit too much dust to be able to see clearly, but Ran ventured into it without second thought. As she walked, she called for Naoto and Momoe as loud as she could. After a few minutes, she thought she heard something.

“Waaaaah! Onee-samaaaaaaa!”

“That’s… Naoto-kun!” she shouted, heading in the direction of the voice, “Naoto! Where are you?!”

“Heeeeeelp!” he cried again.

“Keep shouting! I can’t find you!”

After a few agonizingly long seconds, Ran finally found where the voice was coming from. At the corner of one of the buildings, under a large beam from the dome, and under a pile of other assorted debris on top.

“Naoto-kun!”

“Waaaaah!” he cried, “Ran-saaaaan!”

“Naoto, I need you to be brave now! Is your sister okay?”

“I-I don’t know… Onee-sama doesn’t talk…”

“Put your hand on her chest, is she breathing? Does it move up and down?”

“N… Yes.”

“Good! Be a good boy now and wait there with your sister, I’ll get you out. I’ll be back to get you out! Don’t worry!”

Ran had said that as loud as she could yell, but in reality she didn’t have a clue how she was going to accomplish that. Maybe if she had her branch she could do it when transformed. Maybe.

A new blast from the battle distracted her for a second, and she yelled for Nereida Pacifica when she saw a big explosion in the middle of the park with Ayame nowhere to be seen. Then she looked up, and what she saw made her jaw drop in surprise.

“Ayame-chan… That’s awesome,” she said.

A voice interrupted her, and brought her attention down to the ground.

“Ayame you say, I believed her name was Nereida Pacifica. Are you one of her allies?” the calm, feminine voice called.

Ran looked down again and saw a girl standing not far from where she was. Tall, slender, in a simple jumpsuit with a belt around her waist, long white hair and pale skin. There was something odd about her very dark eyes, something she couldn’t quite tell from the distance she was at. And she was holding a long nanigata with one hand, blade pointing down and the shaft almost vertical behind her back, with a red tassel at the end of the blade.

In the meantime, Ayame had been quite busy with the battle. She had rushed ahead almost blindly, only taking a moment to ask Ran for help. Her first attack had caught the giant robot by surprise square on the chest, but before she could repeat the same with her second mace, she was forced to dodge out of the way when an energy blast shot at her from the cloud of debris of the fall. She moved to the side and lined the two robots before attacking again, and as the first one jumped out of the way, she heard with satisfaction the metallic hollow sound of her attack smashing on the second opponent.

She pulled back as the blue robot fell towards her on its jump, and as she did, she mentally called for her weapons, retrieving them after they zipped through the air towards her.

They aren’t hitting hard enough!

Before her next attack, she put the ends of her maces against each other and spun them, and as she did they morphed into a single spade shaped kini-kini club.

“Well, well. At last someone I know,” Tikaae’s voice, masked and dull from the external loudspeakers, called from the blue robot, “you-”

Ayame didn’t give him time to continue, she didn’t much care for anything they had to say; she rushed forward, dove under the machinegun-like fire of his wrist-mounted gun, and sliced at the robot’s leg as she passed, with half a spin and using her whole body as leverage. She managed to make a noticeable dent on the armoured leg, but there wasn’t enough damage to impede the robot’s movements.

She took a moment to skid to a stop and look at the effect of her attack.

I’m going for the joint next time!

While she planned, she felt, more than saw, something coming at her from behind. Once again she was forced to give it everything she had to dodge the shot from the second attacker. It had now moved fully into view, and Ayame saw it looked a lot like the blue one. It was a mustard yellow, with a darker tone in the underlay of the armor, The arms were longer, or the legs shorter, or perhaps both, but it, too, looked more like an ape than a human. Also headless, and was holding a very sizeable weapon with both hands.

“I do believe we have found ourselves a less than talkative one,” Daal commented from inside her robot, aiming at Ayame again, “a real shame, it would have been interesting to know whether there are others we are so far unaware of, or-”

“Shut the hell up!” Ayame shouted, raising her kini-kini.

She didn’t even move an inch from her spot; instead, she brought down her weapon with all the strength she could muster, and the end tore through the air with such fierceness it created a crescent-shaped vacuum that shot through the air at blistering speed towards the yellow mecha. It seemed as if Daal had had no time to react, as the attack sliced through the robot’s right shoulder with a bang and a shower of sparks. Dark smoke rose from the damaged joint.

Tikaae charged at her from behind, with a loud crash as his robot landed on the spot Ayame had been standing on. She was forced to jump out of the way, and when she was on the air, a third robot appeared over her head, hovering on the air and pointing a giant rifle at her. With no leverage she couldn’t move out of the way, or dodge, all she could do is watch her enemy take aim at her as her prodigious jump took her soaring through the air.

Everything seemed to slow down in her mind. She felt as if she was floating, and looking at the end of the gun’s barrel slowly lighting up as the trigger was pulled. She had to move, she had to get away.

If only…

The shot created a considerable blast when it hit the ground. So much so that it caught everyone’s attention from quite a distance away. Even Ran, who could hardly believe her eyes.

Ayame took a moment to get her bearings, She was high above ground, safely out of reach of the explosion. She felt like someone was holding her by her back, and a pair of giant bird wings flapped vigorously to keep her airborne. They looked almost ethereal, glowing faintly in a white light. She looked up and saw the chest and head of an eagle perched above her, holding her with its ethereal claws deeply buried inside her back.

“Namu,” Ayame murmured, as the name came to her mind. The bird tilted his head, for an instant, their gazes met, and she felt a keen reassuring connection with the spirit.

Let’s do this!

Namu responded to that thought, and with a renewed effort he soared up, away from the incoming enemy attack. He flew high and, flapping a final push, propelled both of them down, folding his wings as they rushed in a powerful dive. Ayame pointed forward with her kini kini, and they fell like a meteor on top of Daal’s mecha, crushing its armour and reducing its right arm and leg to bleeding biomechanical scrap, while sending everything flying out with the massive impact of their landing.

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