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Chapter 5 (Hunted)
With pain and exhaustion burning through her shoulders, Rio landed on a sidewalk less than six blocks away from the prime minister’s house. From her brother’s burial site. The wings dispersed three steps after touching ground.
Had flying always been so taxing on her body? Or was she already this tired?
She sucked air in through her gaping mouth and ignored the sour gunk sticking to her tongue. Each wobbling step forward beat against her ribs. Even with a cat socketed in her fifth slot, she moved like a drunk teacher after a nomikai.
Screeching tires. Vrooming engines. Screaming voices.
Had they caught up to her already?
Rio turned on her heels and hobbled into an alley. Pressing her back against a wall, she slid to the ground and slowed her breathing.
In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Find peace. Relax the muscles. Gain a second wind.
A group of men in black suits with black ties strode past the mouth of the alley. Each held their right hand inside their coat pocket as if gripping something.
She needed to move. Needed to find a place to hide. After two more patrols passed and her body felt only half dead, she pushed herself to her feet. Aided by the cat’s grace, she strolled from the alley and crossed the street in a rush.
“Hey,” a cracking voice said from behind. “What you think you doing?”
A fool. Probably homeless. Just pretend he didn’t say anything.
Don’t look back. She took one even step after another and worked her way further away from the prime minister’s house.
Shuffling feet approached from behind. More than one person.
Her gut tensed.
“You hear me?” the homeless speaker asked.
Turning at the next corner, she moved further away from him.
He grabbed her by the wrist.
She spun, slapping his hand away and punching him in the chest.
Clean shaven. A black suit. He was one of the prime minister’s men.
Two-stepping forward, Rio elbowed him in the nose then spun to kick him in the gut. Falling into a run, she bolted down the road.
“It’s her!” the homeless sounding man in a suit shouted.
Four large men leaped from an alley ahead of her while three more came from behind.
“Out of my way.” Rio drew her power-forged daggers, black-steel glinting in the lamplight. No matter what promise I made … . “I’d rather not kill you.”
“Ha,” the homeless sounding man said as he approached. “You may have some fancy tricks, but just because you prepared a zip-line to escape earlier doesn’t mean you can beat us.”
She groaned. “Untalented people are so frustrating. If your mind didn’t do mental gymnastics to justify the acts of the Talented, you would know to be scared.” Though, my kind would probably be hunted down as monsters. “Regardless, with only eight of you, I won’t even break a sweat.” But in my condition, I’ll have to kill them to achieve those results.
“Shoot her,” the homeless sounding man said as he drew a gun.
“But the captain said he wanted her to be brought back alive,” the hulk of a man in front of her said.
“Then shoot her in the legs.”
“And the police?”
“They won’t —”
Rio sprang backwards, twirling in her best impression of a ballerina. One of her daggers rent the homeless sounding man’s gun in two, and her other removed his fingers from his hand.
Did she really have to do that? No. She needed to be hard. To be strong.
Planting her feet, she drove her dagger towards his heart. “I —”
No! She couldn’t do it. Even if she had lost control earlier, her actions were reprehensible. She was a monster, but killing these men in a clear state of mind would snap her heart in half. She couldn’t force herself to face Zack even after she got out of debt.
She wanted to see him so bad. If she made it through this — No. When she made it through this, she would go to her old school and speak to him. Tell him how she feels.
The three suited men shook off the stupor of their mind rationalizing her speed and drew their guns. The homeless sounding man shook his head, but he didn’t move.
Rio glanced to her left hand near his chest.
Her dagger caressed his chest and moved forward millimeter by millimeter.
Jerking her blade away, she backfisted him with the square hammer-like pommel of the dagger in her right hand, dropping him to the ground. I need to pay attention if I want to avoid killing these men.
Footsteps from behind.
She twisted her hips and dropped into a breakdancing pose, slashing ankles from feet and breaking shins in half with cat-enhanced kicks.
Six men dropped. One left.
She rolled into a ball and shot back to her feet.
The last of the prime minister’s men in this group looked to be the same age as her. He took a step back and shook his head. “I. I. I don’t want to die. I —”
Striding forward, she nodded. “I won’t kill you.”
“Really.” She rose to her tip toes and whipped her right leg into the air before bringing her heel down onto the crown of his head.
His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and his back stiffened. As if posing for a camera, he fell backwards and crashed into the ground. Thud. Blood pooled out around his head, covering the sidewalk where he had landed.
Nothing she could do now. She was not an Artist or Chef. Didn’t want to be, either. This wasn’t her fault. They came after here. She had warned them. She had — Must be hard.
She swallowed then backed away from the eight unconscious — please say they were only unconscious — men. A block separated from the incident, she sheathed her daggers and felt the power in her fifth socket waning. She fell into an all out sprint. She had to keep her mind off Leo. Think of anything else. Think of nothing. Lose herself in the run to avoid the grief waiting in the shadows of her heart.
Two blocks. Turn left. A block. Turn right. A block then left. Right. Left. A long stretch of going straight led her to a massive intersection.
Which way should she go? Where was she in the first place?
She should go to Zack’s house, but she didn’t know where he lived.
His hard face, strong jaw and beautiful hazel eyes appeared in her mind. His soft looking lips called her name, and the mint of his breath filled her memories.
What would kissing him be like. What did he taste like? It was probably better than a kangaroo spirit.
She needed to find him. After glancing left then right, she decided to cross the street. If she could find a train station, she would work her way back to Saitama and towards Zack’s place. She’d find him. Tell him how awful his girlfriend, Sena, was. Convince him to come away with her. And they would get married and life happily ever after. It had to be so.
But Zack. Was. Untalented. Marrying her would only put him in danger. Her presence would get him killed once the debt collectors found her. Or the prime minister’s men.
The prime minister’s men … .
Her eyes bulged, and she stopped herself just short of jumping into the air for joy. Once she finished this mission, she would be out of debt. She would no longer have the flash drive. Thus, the prime minister’s men would no longer chase after here, and she would be free to live her life with Zack. A bounce returned to her step, and she felt brand new.
Halfway across the street, a pair of black SUVs cut her off. One skidded to a stop behind her, and two more boxed her in. The heavy stink of exhaust and burning rubber polluted the area while a flickering streetlamp made it feel like icky caterpillars were crawling across her skin.
Reaching out with her mind, she touched one of the cat spirits in Leo’s — no, her orbed necklace. If I socket my last two cat spirits into my legs rather than one in the lower-half of my body, I should be able to outrun their guns. She edged closer to the small gap on her left. But then I’d be left helpless.
The doors flung open, and men poured out into the street around them.
Rio squared her feet. All she had to do was swallow a cat spirit and leap over the SUV ahead of her. “I —”
Vroom-vroom-vroom! Three motorcycles flew over the SUV ahead of her and landed a meter away, skidding to a halt. The three riders removed their helmets and stood.
All three wore Legal Enforcer badges. They were the Talented’s version of police.
Swallowing, she began edging backwards.
“That is far enough,” the shortest of the three said. His crystal-brown eyes bore into her as his mustache began to glow a blinding yellow as a white tiger spirit the size of a Chihuahua — half the side of her spirits — danced around his forehead, socketed into his first slot. The power residue capped his bald head and made his bold nose cast a V-shaped shadow onto his forehead.
A Gundam? Like that anime? No. She knew who he was. The great Kappa, Guriko. A brutal Legal Enforcer who would as soon kill a criminal as capture them. It was said he tortures children for fun. Fingernail by fingernail.
Rio swallowed and took another step backwards.
This was the worst possible outcome. Well, second worse. The Foreign Emperor could have shown up.
Trembling, she began shaking her head. “I don’t want to be tortured. I. I. I.”
He held his bulky arms into the air. “Who keeps spreading these rumors?” He locked eyes with Rio and sniffed before glancing to the woman who stood maybe a centimeter taller than him. “Marie?”
Her short, red-dyed hair swayed back and forth as she shook her head. “Not me.” The crimson eyeshadow made her brown eyes look almost black. A smile dimpled her cheeks. Such a cute feature.
Rio wished she had dimples like that.
Guriko’s gaze shifted to the other woman. “Yura?”
Taller than even Rio, who already stood a head taller than Guriko, Yara’s long, purple-dyed hair bounced across her chest as she burst into laughter.
Rio found herself touching her own breasts. “Unnatural,” she said, words slipping from her mouth.
Yura shut her mouth.
Marie doubled over and pounded her fist against her knee. “You. Can. Say. That again.”
“Ha!” Yura crossed her arms under her breasts, drawing them up higher. “The two of you are just jealous.” Even with a scowl marring her face, she was an idol next to a band nerd.
How could one person be so beautiful?
Almost round, light-brown eyes. A cute nose that flared at the bottom. Purple lipstick to highlight her full lips. All things Rio wished he had. Maybe —
Rio shook her head and glanced over her shoulder.
Half a block away, a shadowed alley offered her a chance to escape.
“You can’t think I’d let you escape,” Yura said as a hawk the side of a hamster appeared around her left leg, “after you insulted me like that, can you?” The purple dye in her hair made her pink power residue mystifying.
A Chihuahua sized bear spirit strolled around Marie’s second socket as the red of her hair intensified, glowing a deep maroon. “That’s not why we’re going to take you in, young Handler. But you will be coming with us.”
“I. I. I.” Rio locked eyes with Guriko. “I have too much to do to let you torture me.” She swallowed a cat-spirit into her fifth slot and sprang over the SUV behind her.
All three Legal Enforcers gasped then mouthed the words, “So powerful.”
Like a ballerina, Rio twirled on her tip toes before sprinting into the alley.
The vroom of motorcycles behind her said the Legal Enforcers wouldn’t give up.
She scrambled over a pile of crates and burst onto the sidewalk on the other side of the alley. Everything blurred together as she ran as fast as her cat-enhanced legs would take her.
Through a pair of alleys. Left down a sidewalk. Right through a back road. Up a large set of steps. Down a hill. Through a long, narrow alley.
The smell of salt filled the air. The vroom of motorcycles behind her.
How could they still follow her so well? They — Her scent! Guriko must be using the white tiger spirit to enhances his sense of smell.
She needed something to cover her scent. Something that wouldn’t be too distinct, yet it would have enough of an odor to disperse around her. Skidding to a stop atop a small bridge, she stared at the five-meter drop into the water below.
Was the water deep enough?
She swallowed then shook her head. She wasn’t a good swimmer.
To her right, the sound of motorcycles grew louder. To her left, the docks. Countless warehouses lined the coast and carried the smell of fish to her nose. Even from this distance.
That’s it. Rio bit into her lower-lip. No matter how disgusting it is, I need to cover myself in fish to get the Legal Enforcers off my tail.
Across the bridge. Nearly falling down a steep hill. Hard concrete underfoot.
A faint meow in her head preceded her speed and reflexes slowing as the cat spirit dispersed.
The motorcycles grew closer still.
Hoping the warehouse door was open, Rio pushed her way deeper into the sea of massive buildings and forced her way into the one that radiated the stink of fish. This close, it was all she could do not to throw-up on her sneakers.
Four barrels lined the far wall, one with the top off and overflowing with fish. A large window let in moonlight from the top left half of the building. It was open. No wonder the stink of fish radiated from this building. Crates and boxes lay scattered around the open floor, and a large bin hung from the right half of the ceiling.
She scurried to the back of the warehouse and began stuffing her pockets with fish.
She rubbed the fish across her arms and in her hair. Down her legs. After touching one to her face, she threw-up into the barrel.
Guriko, Marie and Yura strode in through the entrance. Both women grinned while Guriko continued to applaud.
“Great idea,” he said. “But we have you trapped now.”
Her heart leaped into her throat, and the world spun. Her back slammed against the wall, knocking two of the barrels over.
The three Legal Enforcers moved forward.