Chapter 09 – V
“So Viola.” Nat climbs up onto the front seat and turns around at me, who is sitting at the back seat of the car. “That hair color of yours. You mean to tell me it’s natural?”
“How many more times are you going to ask me that question?” I removed one of my earphones and raised my eyebrow in annoyance. “I said it’s natural. I didn’t dye it.”
That was the sixth time both of them asked me this question since I woke up in the morning.
“Man. That’s hard to swallow.” Nat cheekily smiled at me. “What I mean to say is that it’s really cool. Vanny’s and my hair’s colors are dyed in case you don’t know.”
“It’s not like I asked for this color, but I’m proud of my hair color being unique,” I replied confidently.
“It’s an attention attractor,” Van teased without looking at me since she is looking at the roads.
“Oh you’re just jealous, Vanny,” Nat teased her sister and laughed.
Both of them seem like a happy sibling. Even though they are being chased around by the world’s biggest and most powerful corporation, they still have the mood to tease and play around with each other. Maybe I should learn a few things from them and take it easy some times.
Right now, I am sitting inside Van’s car, heading straight for Grand Central. The three of us agreed that we should prioritize on opening the [Reunion Project] data file in my MP3 player before anything else. Originally, I thought I would open the files at Cancer City since it was right next to the laboratory. However, Nat and Van were against it. They claimed that the bastard and maybe other Nebula Corp lackeys could possibly be lurking by the area. So they suggested that we open the files somewhere else. We came up with three cities closest to our current location and we all agreed that Grand Central is the best alternative.
Cancer City was out of the question for the reasons discussed earlier. The cops are looking for me in Andoria, so that city is out as well. That leaves Grand Central as our only choice since it is only about a few hundred kilometers away. Any other cities could take weeks for us to get there. Although I should be avoiding big cities, there is really no other choice for us right now.
As the car drives along the lonely highway in the middle of nowhere, I recall my four days trek on the road. It was a pretty lonely and tiring trek. My legs keep moving forward time and time, stopping only when necessary. The cars on the road all drove by, ignoring me like I didn’t exist. But now I am in a car looking out at the roads. This is the first time on this journey that I’m enjoying the scenery. The grassy plain was laid across the land, lining against the mountains running parallel to the road. Throughout the whole trek, I was so absorbed in getting to the laboratory that I never really looked around at all. It’s nice to finally be sitting in a private car after walking for so long. Thinking back, I’m kind of surprised I actually managed to go through all of that.
“Well, this place should do.” Van spoke up and pulled over the car under a big lone oak tree standing near the road.
“Why are we stopping here?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Oh yeah. We haven’t told you this yet, haven’t we?” Nat turned back to me again. “Vanny and I were discussing last night when you went to sleep, and we’ve decided that we’re gonna have a little training session with you.”
“……Training? What do you mean training?” I remove my earphones and pause the music on the player.
“Well you see, Viola. We kinda saw you fighting against that man before we butted in yesterday. And frankly speaking, you sucked,” said Nat, frankly.
“Wait. So you girls were watching my fight the entire time and never bothered to help until he kissed me!?” I raised my eyebrow yet again.
“Well, considering how you were spamming your attacks times and times again like that, we’d risk the chance of getting hit if we just butt in,” Van explained, “Besides, judging from your scream, you’d probably just yell at us for butting into your fight anyway, wouldn’t you?”
I was a little mad that they just stood by, but then again maybe they are right. I was really angry back there that I just throw my attacks around, hoping it would hit for once. I might really have yelled at them if they came in earlier.
“In any case, let’s have a friendly spar, Viola! It’ll be fun!” Nat suggested, “And I’ll show you my Zodiac Beast too!”
Honestly speaking, deep inside I also want to know what kind of other powers I have as a ‘Zodiac Angel’. Now that I think about it, I never had any experience in real battle before the laboratory incident at all. The only things I know about my powers are the unnaturally agile reflex and the ability to unleash some kind of energy wave from the lance.
“Sure. Why not? I want to see what my powers are capable of too anyway,” I replied.
“Well then! Let’s get it on!” Nat cheered.
The three of us then get down from the car and walk further into the grassy plain under the cloudy sky. Despite the cloud looming, they don’t look like a thunderstorm cloud. This makes the weather cool and comfortable for a sparing fight. The grass blades are only about three centimeters tall, so they don’t obstruct our movements. The area is an open field stretching towards the horizon. It is perfect for testing my powers without having to worry about hitting something.
Nat is standing about 10 meters away, looking at me confidently, while Van is just observing us from afar.
“You ready?” the red haired girl shouted.
“You sure about this? Don’t you have any weapons?” I asked in curiosity since I’m using a lance but she is going against me bare hands.
“Ha. These are my weapons.” Nat raises her fists at me. “Worry about yourself, darling!”
“Fine then. Ready whenever you are!” I replied, stretching my lance back into its full length.
“Okay then! Scorch! I summon you! HAMAL!!!!”
Crimson fiery flame engulfs Nat’s right arm as her zodiac mark shines brilliantly like the sun. The air around her becomes hotter and all of the sudden, a huge fiery pillar bursts up from behind her. A shadowy figure gradually materializes from within and steps out from the pillar. The monstrosity stands on two legs with ram hooves. Its body is about two and a half meters tall, covered in thick crimson wool. The curly horns on its head look intimidating and its crimson eyes glare right at me as its two hands clutches into a fist, readying for battle.
“Now Viola! Call out your beast,” said Nat as the flame pillar behind her gradually dies out, “Don’t worry. I won’t start until you’ve summoned yours!”
Well, now it’s my turn to show off too. I’m pretty sure a cry for the beast’s name is enough to summon it.
A brilliant light shines through my dress on the spot where my zodiac mark was engraved. The iron giant slowly materializes from behind me just like how it does the first time we met. He finally answers my call again.
So he was really sealed back then?
Now that I think about, that bastard pressed his hand onto the area where my mark was once. Maybe that was when Zubenes was sealed.
But the question is how did he even do that?
How did he have access to a technique that, according to Nat, only Zodiac Angels know?
“Wow. Your beast looks really cool,” Nat complimented, “That armor looks so hard and tough. I’ll have fun putting a dent on it!”
“You are free to try,” I taunted while tightly gripping my lance.
“Here I come!!!!! GO HAMAL!!!!” the red haired girl announced as she rushes towards me along with the crimson ram. She is extremely fast, but I would say her speed is just about the same as me. The reason I thought so was because I don’t see her movement as a slow motion like when those men fire their bullets.
In any case, the battle has officially started. My two hands slam the lance forward, creating an energy wave like the one back at the laboratory. I feel like I have a little more control over this attack. When it was released for the first time, I thought it was just some weird mysterious energy being launched out. But upon a more thorough observation, the attack felt more like a sound wave. The closest description is probably the wave you can feel when standing next to a giant speaker in dance clubs, except this wave is a lot more powerful.
Nat and her beast easily step to the side, dodging the linear wave. Once she gets in range, Nat throws a flurry of jabs and kicks at me. While they are extremely fast and deft, I am able to parry most of it. Even though she punched onto my lance several times, her assault does not seem like it will be stopped so easily. In the end, she managed to get a few punches on me before I forced her to jump away with a horizontal swiping slash. But all of the sudden, I feel my stomach feeling numb as if it was jabbed.
“What the!?” I fell to my knees, holding my stomach right away.
When did she manage to get a punch there?
The only ones that hit me are on the shoulders and arms. So why am I feeling numb on my stomach?
While I was wondering about it, Nat points towards Zubenes, who has been directly jabbed into his stomach by Hamal and falls to his knees as well.
“A Zodiac Angel and her Zodiac Beast are connected to each other through their minds and bodies. A hit on her beast also results in a direct damage to the angel, and vice versa,” Nat explained, “So keep this in mind and do not think that your beast can always pull you out of a tight spot.”
“Damn, why didn’t you tell me this first?” I stand up once the pain starts to subside.
“Experience is the best teacher, dontcha know?” Nat smiled cheekily at me. “Okay then! Here I go again!!!!”
The red haired girl rushes at me once more. This time, I bend away from the first punch and strike onto her stomach with the lance’s shaft. That hit was aimed to flinch and force her to back off. However, she just simply continues attacking like she was never hit before! I was too astonished by her durability that I could not pull any counter against her. After a while of dodging her attacks, my cheeks suddenly become numb as if they are being punched.
Hamal was hammering at Zubenes’s face.
The numbness continues and I finally lost my focus, falling for a straight direct jab into the stomach by Nat. As I fell to the floor, I heard a loud thud. Zubenes has also fallen down to the ground as well. She is strong. And so is her Zodiac Beast. I don’t stand a chance against her at all, even though she is fighting me with bare hands.
“You have lots of potential, Viola. Don’t be discouraged though! It’s only because I have more experience in using my powers than you,” Nat cheered, “Now come on! Let’s go for another round!”
Damn. Doesn’t she get tired at all?
I stand back up again. After taking a deep breath, I slam my lance forward, launching the energy wave again. Nat bends off then head straight at me once more.
“Let me tell you one thing, Viola!” Nat said as she begins another flurry of punches, forcing me to keep blocking her attack. “Remember how I said a Zodiac Angel and her Zodiac Beast has a connection on their minds and bodies? Well, this means that you can also control your beast like a part of your own body as well!”
All of the sudden, I feel more numbness spreading from my left shoulder. Apparently, Zubenes was hit again.
“The key to victory for a Zodiac Angel is to fight along her beast as if they are one and a single person! Now watch me!”
I don’t like the sound of that.
The giant ram howls and its crimson wools instantly burst into flames. I could almost feel the heat released by the beast, even though it is standing quite a distance from me. The ram leaps straight at Zubenes for a full head on tackle. Luckily, the iron giant managed to parry the tackle with his shields, but it caused him to flinch back a step. After that, Hamal swings his right arm and pushes Zubenes away before heading straight at me along with his angel.
“Wait. You’re serious!?” I was not expecting both of them to come after me at the same time.
Nat throws a straight jab, which was easily dodged in a single step. But then, Hamal takes this chance to punish my dodge as I was trying to regain my balance. Luckily, I was able to set my lance against Hamal’s punch, so it was not fatal. Even so, it was so powerful that my body went flying across the field. Of course I could not land properly and had to roll on the ground. Both of them leap at me again with the same speed without rest. Their attacks have the same rhythm. It was as if both of them knew what their partners are about to do and they simply act accordingly.
I take a deep breath before handling another assault from both of them. I dodged Nat’s punch then swiftly hit onto her stomach. Like last time, she did not flinch and just continue attacking. The moment I dodged her fist, Hamal rushes in for a punch while I was still recovering my balance again. That last block was just a fluke and there is no way this one can be properly blocked.
At first I thought I was going to get hurt again. But then Nat’s words echoed inside my mind:
Remember how I said a Zodiac Angel and her Zodiac Beast has a connection on their minds and bodies? Well, this means that you can also control your beast like a part of your own body as well! The key to victory for a Zodiac Angel is to fight along her beast as if they are one and a single person!
I am still not sure what she meant when she said ‘control your beast like a part of your own body’, and I have no idea how that would even work. But if that is really true, then maybe I can make Zubenes act according to my thoughts just by thinking. With that thought in mind, my brain began imagining myself as the iron giant, throwing the iron shield at the giant ram’s arm to stop its punch.
Surprisingly, an iron flying saucer rammed right into Hamal’s arm, effectively halting his attacks.
“Woah geez!!” Nat jumped back in surprise, caressing her right arm, which has suddenly become swollen. “Now that stings!”
The impact from that saucer was probably redirected from Hamal’s arm back to his angel as well. The iron disk was dragged back to the giant by the iron chain attached to it. Zubenes quickly approaches me getting ready for another assault.
That can’t be a coincidence. But the iron giant looks at me and gives a slight nod, as if replying to me. So apparently, all I have to do is issue a command to him mentally and he will execute it accordingly.
Now that’s interesting and convenient.
“Well then! Ready for another one!?” I taunted her.
My body is not really in its best form, but the excitement of being able to slightly connect my thoughts to Zubenes made me forget about all the hits I took earlier.
“Haha. That’s the spirit! Here I come!” Nat leaps at me once again with the same speed along with her beast.
After three or four assaults, I think I’ve finally see through her strategy. Nat’s main tactic involves closing in for a continuous close quarter combat and commanding Hamal to punish her opponent whenever they are regaining balance from a dodge. This strategy not only makes it difficult for her opponent to counter, but it also covers up her opening after a whiffed attack as well. However, this means that Hamal has to always be ready to punish Nat’s enemy, and as a result, it will not attack unless I dodge Nat’s punch.
Okay Zubenes. Let’s do this!
I parry Nat’s flurry of punches and kicks by lifting up my lance as a guard like before. She relentlessly attacks and, as expected, Hamal is really standing nearby, doing nothing. A proper counter strategy to her tactics lies in crippling Hamal’s ability to punish my dodge. As Nat raises her right fist for another jab, I swiftly move to the side, dodging her punch. My eyes quickly switch its focus to Hamal, who is now heading straight for me as anticipated.
Now Zubenes. It’s your turn!
The iron giant immediately tackles the gigantic ram, halting his charge on spot.
“What the!?” Nat was surprised to see her beast’s charge intercepted. She has been standing on an extremely firm stance, making it next to impossible to destroy her balance. But now that there is no one to cover her whiffed attack, the red haired girl is helplessly wide open. I sweep the lance’s shaft against her shin and immediately strike her neck, wiping her against the ground.
“…Woah. You’re pretty good. I wasn’t expecting you to intercept Hamal’s charge like that.” Nat laughed amusingly while lying on the ground, puffing in exhaustion.
“That has always been your weakness, Nat,” Van teased as she came in to help her sister up, “You always used the same strategy again and again until you became predictable.”
“Hey, it won’t matter if my opponent falls in a hit, okay!?” Nat pouted while taking her sister’s hand, “Plus, I was really going easy on Viola too!”
“Well, thanks a lot, Nat. I learned a lot from you today.”
I fold my lance back into three.
“Nah, you’re welcome!” Nat laughs. “You’re pretty tough yourself! Still standing even though you took several punches from me!”
“Well, let’s call it a day, girls. There’s a traveler’s lodge a few kilometers away from here. We’ll rest there for today,” said Van.
Hence, the three of us get back on to the car as our Zodiac Beasts slowly faded away.
Today I felt like I have a better grasp of battle as well as my capability. But since the sparring match has really worn me out, I guess I’m going to a nap on the car until we reach the traveler’s lodge.