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Dawnfire. If they knew Relia's name, they'd clearly been watching her closely. Unless they'd interrogated her master. Either way, she'd underestimated them.

Sirens flashed on the Martial vans, and the helicopters spun their blades, sending flurries of snow all over the courtyard. Akari's instincts told her to run, but she had to see this. She had to see how powerful Relia truly was.

The girl stood perfectly still amid her enemies. The only movement was her jacket and red hair, which both thrashed in the wind. She kept her face passive as she surveyed the scene. Akari could almost feel her cycling her mana as she prepared to fight.

At least, she better be cycling. It wasn't like she had many options when they pointed three dozen guns and Missile rods in her direction.

"I don't want to hurt you," Relia said, projecting her voice all throughout the clearing. "I don't want to hurt anyone."

"That's good." Frostblade nodded as if they'd just made a deal. "Neither do we. Come with us, and we'll talk."

"My master trusted you," she shot back. "We came here to help you. He lowered his guard to prove it, and you lured him into a gas chamber."

"I don't know who you're talking about," Frostblade responded. "But we—"

"Then send someone who does. My master won't hold a grudge. Let him go, and we'll leave in peace. No one else needs to—"

"Enough," The Martial bellowed. "We'll talk later. After you've surrendered."

The others adjusted their aim, making his words a silent threat.

Like all law enforcement, Frostblade clearly loved the sound of his own voice. He couldn't listen if his life depended on it, which it probably did. Then again, hadn't Relia said she'd never killed another human before?

First time for everything.

Relia lowered her eyes in defeat, but a faint blue glow colored the skin of her hands. Akari couldn't hear her next words, but they sounded like, "Angels forgive me."

The Martials attacked a heartbeat later. Their Missiles tore through the clearing, and the sight was brighter than ten strikes of lightning. Assault rifles fired in rapid succession, and the sound shook her to her bones.

A Construct formed around Relia—a perfect dome of transparent blue mana. It rippled like the ocean as a hundred bullets and Missiles struck its surface. She thrust out her arms, and pieces of the shield flickered out as she launched her own attacks in every direction

One man took a Missile in the chest that hurled him back into the nearest van. Windows shattered, and clouds of dust erupted into the air as the others slammed into the brick wall.

Several more injuries followed–all too fast for Akari's eyes to see. Relia herself moved in a blur of motion. No sooner had she launched her first few volleys than she raised another Construct to absorb her enemies' attacks.

"Come on." Kalden grabbed Akari's arm and pulled her away from the wall's parapet. He let go before she could protest, and she followed him to hide behind a cluster of evergreen trees. The view here wasn't as good, but at least they wouldn't get hit by a stray bullet or Missile.

The chaos continued, and it was impossible to say who had the advantage. Most of the Martials had taken cover behind their vehicles, still attacking with guns and rods.

"They're wearing her down," Kalden said. His words sounded distant in Akari's ringing ears.

Talek, he was right. Even Emberlyn's father hadn't used a single technique, and he was supposed to be the Martials' best fighter. He would still lose to Relia in a straight fight, but that wouldn't matter if her mana ran dry.

Barely thirty seconds had passed, and Relia had disarmed more than a quarter of the enemy ranks without taking a scratch herself. Unfortunately, she was no closer to escaping. The helicopters still loomed above, bombarding her with constant machine-gun fire. The vans surrounded her on all sides, and the Golds still waited in reserve.

How can she hold that shield? Akari didn't know much about Constructs, but they obviously drained your mana faster than Missiles. Her memory flashed back to the tunnels beneath Elegan, and how fast the arkions had drained their portable barriers.

Relia must have noticed the same problem because her legs glowed blue and she launched herself at the vans opposite Frostblade.

The Golds joined the fight, raising barriers of ice between Relia and the Silvers. Relia didn't lose her momentum. Instead, her body glowed even brighter as she charged. The Construct shattered like a sheet of glass, but more Martials stepped forward, adding their own layers to the first.

Every time she broke through a sheet, two more formed in its place. All the while, the others kept up their bombardment, and she couldn't attack and defend herself at the same time.

More mana gathered in Relia's legs, and she shot several Missiles into the dirt beneath her feet, launching herself a dozen feet upward.

A helicopter shifted forward, and another ice Construct formed around its base.

Relia twisted her body in midair, kicking off the newly formed shield, landing back in the circle. Several bullets struck her, but they ricocheted off her skin like titanium.

The Martials seized their advantage, closing on all sides. This time, Frostblade himself joined the fight. His Missiles weren't like the others. Most law enforcement techniques aimed only to ensnare, but his were like harpoons of solid ice.

This forced Relia to abandon her offensive techniques in favor of a full dome. The Martials doubled down on their own assault, and her barrier flickered like a dying flame.

Just then Akari caught a blur of movement behind Relia—inside her shield.

"Shadow Artist," Akari said, feeling a sudden chill.

The black-clad figure materialized out of thin air, and he raised his blade for the kill. Akari could only watch it happen. Even if she shouted her warning, the sounds of battle would have washed it away.

The man plunged his blade straight through Relia's back, and half of it emerged from the center of her chest. Relia spun in a blur, and the assassin's body dropped to the ground. Her knees buckled a second later, and she collapsed in the snow.

Somehow, despite everything, she kept her left hand skyward, feeding more mana into her shield. Meanwhile, her blood pooled around her, staining the snow a dark crimson.

She's too soft, Akari thought. For all her power and skill, Relia saw these Martials as too far beneath her. She'd blunted her Missiles as a result, aiming to injure rather than kill. She also held back her life mana which was probably her best offensive tool.

Several heartbeats passed, then Relia forced herself to sit up inside her shield. She brought both hands to the flat sides of the blade and pushed the weapon back through her chest. The sounds of gunfire drowned out her screams, but she kept pushing until the blade was free. It dropped out the other side, and her chest glowed with golden-green mana as she sealed the hole.

Three more Shadow Artists appeared around her shield, shattering the Construct with swipes of their blades.

Talek. Those must be strengthened by Metal Artists somehow.

She re-formed her shield, but they'd already made it through, blades angled for the kill.

Relia leapt toward the nearest one, gathering mana in her palm. Akari expected her to throw the man back against the shield like she'd done with the others. Instead, her Missile pierced through his visor, and he fell limp like a rag doll.

Relia snatched his blade as he fell—just in time to parry the next assassin's strike. She shot a Missile at his knee, and he lost his balance. Then she swiped the blade across his neck, severing his head from his shoulders. She followed through on the swing, dodging left as the next assassin's blade missed her by mere inches. Another blur of motion and mana, and she slashed the blade across his belly.

Akari averted her eyes when more blood stained the snow. Even from thirty yards away, she swore she could taste it in her own mouth. She turned away from Kalden, ready to empty her breakfast in the snow. But after taking a few breaths of the winter air, her nausea subsided.

In that moment, Akari didn't regret her decision. She'd wanted real training, but this was a literal blood bath. Before, Relia's techniques had been graceful and precise— more like a dancer than a warrior. Now, she moved with a desperate brutality, destroying everything in her path.

When Akari finally looked back at the battle, half a dozen more Martial corpses littered the surrounding snow. Frostblade and the Golds stepped forward, boxing her in with sheets of solid ice. The helicopter lowered another Construct beneath its landing gear, trapping her in a massive box of ice.

Several more members of the Silver SWAT team stepped forward, carrying what looked like gas and explosive grenades.

Relia slammed her body into the barriers, but they held firm. Her limbs weren't glowing as brightly as they had before. Did that mean she'd finally run out of mana?

When her fists and Missiles failed to break their barriers, she scurried to pick up a fallen blade.

Too late. Frostblade moved his barrier aside, and the SWAT team threw a dozen grenades into the open gap.

Akari held her breath as the enclosed space filled with a brown-colored vapor. The edges must have been air-tight because nothing escaped.

The courtyard sat silent for several heartbeats, and the survivors seemed to hold their breath in anticipation. Three full seconds passed, and the gas spread to every corner of the space.

Then the ice walls shattered, sending bursts of vapor mana in every direction. Clouds of gas followed as they rushed to consume the surviving Martials. Frostblade and his fellow Golds ran for cover as Relia hurled the grenades outward, each one encased within a sphere of pure mana.

Several explosions followed as the grenades hit the vans, and Akari felt the heat of the flames on her face. By now, the other Hunters had retreated, and she and Kalden stood to follow, heading for the train station.

When Akari glanced back over her shoulder, Relia was already gone.

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A note from David Musk

Thanks for reading, everyone! And if you feel like testing out RR's new voting system, feel free to click the link below! (Don't worry, I won't ask this every chapter. I'm mostly in favor of letting stories speak for themselves, but it's still nice to get new readers.)


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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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