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Kina didn't know why she was afraid. It was like something had reached into her very depths, found the vault behind which all her fears lay, and thrown the door open.

Tremors shook her body, but it resisted movement in any other form. Still, Kina forced her head to raise.

The woman stood at the wall, lips twisted into a smirk. She had one arm wrapped around the girl, the other outstretched toward Kina. The string of lux was invisible now, but a faint pink glow encased the woman's hand. This was her technique then. It had to be.

"Noko." The woman—Aimi, if the name lifting through the frenzied fog was right—tilted her head to look around Kina. "It's time you got up.

There was a groan behind her. "It took you long enough." His movements sounded slow and he kept grunting.

Kina wanted to shoot him a satisfied smile, remind them that even though they'd managed to take her by surprise with something, she'd done a lot of damage. But she couldn't. The spell hung over her, consuming, and worst of it, it dragged out memories she'd buried long ago.

Death. Blood. It surrounded her. Saturated the air until it was the very thing she breathed.

"Maybe I would have been faster if I wasn't watching you get your tail handed to you by a random child. Now, help me search this—"

Kina raced through the hellish landscape. The once beautiful village burned and bled, nobody there strong enough to stop the assailants. Their only hopes were Mama, Papa, and Kohiro.

"Get your hands off me!"

Two familiar lumps lay on the ground, swords, daggers, and even shards of elemental attacks sticking from their unmoving bodies. Kohiro stood over them, surrounded by seven others, all watching and waiting for the best moment to make their move. Kohiro's arm hung limply at his side. He held his good arm up, a blade in hand. Fire engulfed his skin and turned his hair into a wavering yellow light.

"Run, Kina! I'll hold them off."

"Oof! Aimi, do you not have this one under the spell any longer?"

Coward. She was a coward. Her brother stood alone, left to face a horrible enemy, and she'd run. It didn't matter that he'd told her to. It didn't matter that she couldn't have done anything. She had run, too afraid to help the last of her family.

Coward.

"I can't exactly hold two under very easily," Aimi snapped. "That pesky girl's lux is stronger, so it took more effort. Excuse me that you couldn't take her out so we didn't have to do it this way."

"Would you have preferred fighting her?" Noko growled back. "Ow, will you stop—Iwao, Keiichi, get up!"

Noko's order was answered by groans.

The alley stunk of rotten trash, but Kina had learned to ignore it. Just as she had learned to ignore the too-soft flesh of the half-rat-eaten fruit she found in the garbage. She devoured the fruit, hoping if she ate fast enough, her body would focus only on getting food, not what that food was.

Despite her efforts, she gagged around the fruit, tears stinging her eyes. She attempted another bite, but before she could take it, she crushed the fruit in her hands. Dark red gunk oozed from between her fingers.

She hated this. She missed Mother. She missed Father. She missed Kohiro, even as her guilty conscience told her she didn't deserve to miss the one she'd run from. Stronger than the ache from their absence and her guilt, though, was a burning rage below it all.

She would kill them.

"Hello, child."

"Help!"

Kina couldn't tell which shook her out of it—Ichiro's calm, gentle voice reaching through her memories, or the girl's scream for help. The fear was still there, constricting her lungs, but she managed to push the memories back. Her present settled around her again.

One of the two thugs had started to rise, the other still fighting to regain consciousness. Noko held the girl in a choke hold, but she fought as well as she could, scratching at Aimi to keep her from approaching.

The girl's frantic red eyes fell on Kina, and her expression lit with hope. "Please, fight it! I need help."

Easier said than done. Lux was tied strongly to emotions. This could make it a very powerful tool, but also a dangerous enemy, depending if the emotions at the given time worked for or against one's current motives. Kina's fear pushed her lux to thrash and burn uncontrollably, not in a way that would prove anywhere near helpful in a fight.

Unless... Falling stars, she was going to be in so much trouble if Ichiro heard about this.

"She's no use to you, now be quiet." Aimi produced a dagger from her belt. "If you won't tell us where your relic is, we'll search every inch of you. If you yell again, I may not be so careful with my cut."

Kina mentally pleaded with the girl to scream. These kinds of scum would kill them both regardless, and she had asked the innkeeper to alert the local Astrals to activity. Her voice could draw them close. But her lip trembled, and although she continued to struggle, it was quietly.

Plan Go Against Ichiro's Recommendations it was then.

The terror was easy to focus on. It stoked her lux, bringing it into a storm that didn't want to control. But if she couldn't control it, she would direct it.

And direct it she did—at everything.

"What are you doing?" Noko's eyes had moved to her, wide with shock. "Aimi, did you lose her?"

Aimi spun around. She and everything else had been painted with a rainbow tint as Kina's lux surrounded her. That tint shifted to earthy colors as the rock lux reigned over the others.

"She shouldn't be able to focus on anything," Aimi said. "Hold the girl. We won't have to worry about this other one if she's dead."

Aimi rushed, but she drew up short when the brown-grey lux around Kina flashed before vanishing. Aimi hesitated, still prepared to continue her charge, but likely confused by the sudden lack of any lux output or reaction from Kina.

Although Aimi saw nothing, Kina saw everything. Well, no, not quite saw. It was a sense. An awareness of everything that touched the ground around her. Her lux had seeped into it, combining with the earth's own natural lux.

"Form Radiance," she whispered. She could feel the vibrations of every syllable she spoke bouncing off the ground and buildings. "Complete Earth Form."

The stone-and-wood buildings around her had residents within them, but none quite on the sides forming the allies. Good. The Astral Damage Control Committee would hopefully be able to make up for what was about to happen.

A small voice reminded her she wasn't an Astral yet.

The sound of Aimi's feet pounding on the earth was louder, the girl's struggles louder still. This battle came first.

Aimi slashed, her dagger flying through the air. Kina's instincts were to lift her arm and block, but her body wouldn't move.

Instead, the earth did. A wall of earth shot up beside her, stopping the dagger from getting any closer.

She stared blankly at Aimi, who perhaps now realizing their situation, because her eyes wide eyes filled with fear. Kina sent a single order out: fall.

There was a loud creak, followed by a resounding crack. The ground trembled, at first only giving off the appearance the buildings were falling. Then, the walls caved.

Kina willed walls around her, the Ganji girl, and her servants. This attack wouldn't kill anyone, but they didn't deserve the damage about to befall the thugs. Darkness encased her physically, but a strong pain shot through her head as stone crashed against ground. The vibrations resonated through her, as powerful as if someone was beating a rock against her head, but she held on to her spell. If she released it, more of the building than she commanded may cave in, or her protection over the others would fall.

It took less than a minute, but when everything ceased, Kina felt like she'd been holding everything for hours. She released the technique, whether she meant to or not, and crumpled to the ground. Sweat poured off her face, and her limbs trembled as they tried to keep her up.

She could already imagine the earful Ichiro would have given her for such reckless technique usage. She supposed it was a good thing he wasn't there.

"What," a hard voice said from behind her, "in the gods' names happened here?"

Kina was too tired to groan, but she managed to flip around so she lay on her back, an elbow propping her up. This gave her a full view of the now much wider alley opening. The occasional stone or wood fragment fell off from the buildings now missing their side walls. Jagged wooden teeth stuck out, as if an open maw voicing its rage over the destruction. Large pieces of stone lay around her, some slipping forward to break the clear circle that had been her safety area.

Standing in the street were half a dozen Astrals, staring open mouthed.

And standing in the middle of them was none other than Hirota Atsushi. Great. Just great. She'd attracted the attention of a Celestial, and not just any Celestial.

It was the Celestial who had almost killed her three years ago.

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About the author

Cross-Warrior

Bio: A dragon disguised as a 25-year-old human. Fantasy fanatic. Jesus Freak. Procrastination Master. Writer primarily on Wattpad under Cross-Warrior but trying out other sites as well. Pfp is fanart by a friend.

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