Faith is what keeps me going. It’s all I have, really.
At first, it was faith in my father. Despite my mother’s disapproval, he would always tell me stories about our ancestors, about how our family protected the Tokugawa from all comers. I went to sleep dreaming of ancient warriors—most of whom were probably fictional.
When he died, I clung to the honor he had taught me like it was a lifeline. I cried myself to sleep every night, wishing for the world to right itself.
After four years, there wasn’t much faith left in me. Getting ridiculed for your beliefs by everyone—including your own mother—will do that to you. On the first day of middle school, some of my ‘friends’ cornered me and decided to start beating my honor with a baseball bat.
I came out of that stronger than before. My faith became stronger than steel, and I started truly embracing my family’s legacy, rather than just paying lip service. I got a sword—well, one was given to me—and started training. At first, I just did kendo, but after Derek’s debacle with the wrestling team, he suddenly had a lot more free time on his hands.
So we started doing missions.
A sword isn’t much use against a gun-wielding opponent smart enough to use range to his advantage, but we were slaying monsters, not people. Against a dumpster dog or an alley crawler, a sword is actually more effective than most firearms.
I trust my training. I trust my sword, I trust my skills, and now I trust my powers. I trust Laura and her tactics; she’s proven herself an able commander. I even trust Ling, although half the time it seems like I have to bail her out of trouble.
But most of all I trust Derek.
He has never led me wrong, not once. Oh, in the short term he makes mistakes, same as anyone else. He’s too trusting for his own good, which has led us into trouble before, and he’s not forgiving enough when someone tries to double-cross us. But I have never thought he was trying anything less than his best.
That’s what kept me going now, huddled in a small artificial cave under the street, waiting for our reservoirs to replenish.
“This isn’t going to work forever,” Ling warned. “I’m screwing with the ground too much. It will give soon.”
“When?” Derek asked, taking deep breaths to recover his energy.
The little delinquent shrugged. “Hard to tell. I don’t really have enough experience. Call it three more times, up and down.”
Derek nodded. “Then we’ll have to make do with that. Akane, any luck getting a signal?”
I shook my head. Ling had created a small tunnel, only a couple inches wide, directly above me in hopes of getting some cell reception. It wasn’t working, but then phones are rarely designed to work underground. Even the super phone Lori had given me for my birthday wasn’t up for the task.
He clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Fine. We’ll do this the hard way. Ling, take us up whenever you’re ready.”
She muttered something mutinous, but fell into horse stance and moved her arms up in a lifting motion, as if she was physically pushing us to the surface. There was a loud grinding sound, slightly undercut by a noise similar to mud flowing, as we slid upwards. The second light began to peek out from the top of the dome, Derek reactivated his shield, bathing us all in soft blue mist.
The screamers noticed us immediately as we rose from the ground, and started peppering the shield with lasers. The attacks were weak, but there were lots of them. Derek wouldn’t be able to hold the shield for more than a few minutes.
As we had already done a few times, I activated my speed just as Derek released his barrier for a moment. I ran out in that split second—more than long enough for me to get out—and started attacking the screamers with my sheathed sword. I used my speed sparingly, reserving it for when Derek flickered his shield again.
Fighting screamers, even ones with such a dangerous power, was actually almost ridiculously easy. They didn’t learn from their mistakes, didn’t seem to have any plan other than ‘attack.’ There were the defensive ones like Kat to worry about, which seemed to retain some measure of intelligence, but those were very rare. Not to mention that if you so much as look at a ‘defensive’ screamer wrong, it switches to ‘aggressive’ and stupid, and never switches back.
After two minutes, the shield flickered again, and I ran back inside. Before Ling had a chance to lower us underground again, every light went dead, all at once, like some massive switch was flipped.
I didn’t know the cause, but I know an opportunity when I see one. I tapped Derek on the shoulder and he let his shield fall completely. In the darkness it would only make us a target.
“Prioritize the singers,” he ordered. “Ling and I will handle the screamers.”
I nodded and headed off in the direction the singers had been last. I still couldn’t see very well, but my eyes were slowly adjusting, and I was still better off than the infected angels.
They tried to swarm me, but I was able to keep them at bay with wide two-handed slashes. I was tempted to unsheathe my blade and carve my way through the horde, but Derek wouldn’t like it, and I still didn’t know what had killed the lights again. They could come back at any moment.
So the moment I saw a clear path through, I activated my speed and took it.
I killed the first two singers on a single pass, but the next cluster was too far away to reach before my reservoir ran out. So I let my speed fade and rushed them normally. The first one, a glowling girl maybe a couple years younger than me, punched at me clumsily. I dodged without any real effort, and quickly skewered her through the heart, then spun away, taking my blade with me.
The second singer, a thin young man with gray skin and a shaved head, glared at me, still singing that unearthly tune, and tried to grab me. He had much better aim than the others; I couldn’t tell in the darkness, but he might have had normal eyes, which would explain it.
I wasn’t able to get my sword around in time, but long experience had taught me the solution to that problem. I flicked one of my knives at his eye, eliciting a scream of pain, and stepped forward to take off his head.
But singers are smarter than screamers, if only barely. This one managed to summon the intelligence to drop to the asphalt, dodging my strike by a hair’s breadth.
I cursed and jumped back a few steps, instinctively putting distance between us. That was a mistake. I could have finished him right then and there, but I was sloppy.
To my surprise, his next move wasn’t to charge me.
It was to rip the knife out of his eye.
He gripped it tightly in his hand, ready to use it against me. It was one of the double-bladed ones Maria had gotten me for my birthday, so it was cutting his hand pretty badly, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just advanced on me still singing, his remaining eye cunning and alert.
A knife might not sound like much against a sword, but it all depends on how you use it. A sword has obvious advantages in reach, but at the same time is harder to manipulate. An experienced knife-wielder is sometimes more dangerous than a swordsman, especially if they know where the important arteries are.
Not that it really mattered. Super speed would more than even the field. At full power, it would seem as though he was standing still, and I’d be able to slice his head as easily as pulling a dandelion.
I rushed forward at full speed, sword ready. We hadn’t measured my speed in a while, but I was moving at least twenty times normal, with a mind to match. Nothing and no one could hope to compete.
And yet he did.
A foot away from the singer, a field of light sprung up before me, just a soft glow, and I felt the sharp, tingling and burning sensation I recognized from my mission to North Island a few months ago. It felt like diving into a fire, and the more I pushed forward, the more it hurt. I veered off, let my speed die, and eyed the singer warily.
I knew that feeling. It was the very distinct pain of weaponized radiation—in this case, light, used as a sort of defensive wall.
I had grown sloppy. There wasn’t enough light for the screamers to utilize, but there was light, and apparently the singers were more powerful. But still, he shouldn’t have been smart enough to use his powers like that.
This wasn’t a singer. At least, not like the others. This one seemed to have retained all his intelligence. A ‘defensive’ singer. Laura had thought there might be some, but we hadn’t seen any until now.
Where had this one come from? He wasn’t like the others; even the defensive zombies had never been smart enough to directly counter my abilities before. This was someone well-trained and experienced in using his powers. Did that mean—
My brain was forced back to the matter at hand when the singer rushed forward, brandishing my knife.
I readied myself, falling into a defensive stance.
I had faith.
Behind the Scenes (scene 99)
A little bit more characterization for Akane. And next scene is the last of the light screamers (blinders? Lasers?), promise.