Chapter 16 – ‘This duck,’

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                With a bang, from both her hand and the fact she actually yelled out ‘bang’, a thin bright light emanated from her index finger, blasting one of the creatures who was glaring right at her. A continuous beam of light that only disappeared the second it pierced the creature’s head. It didn’t explode into a pool of blood and guts like Lilly expected, that expectation probably stemming from one too many of Megumi’s horror novels, but instead it ballooned up, popping after a second. It left behind a trace of dust, the same effect as the apple from earlier. It only scattered away when creatures nearby sprang into action, leaping right towards Ayase.

                In an impossible feat of strength, Lilly watched as Ayase jumped forward, straight into the air. While soaring she took a few more shots at some of the creatures who just descended upon her previous position, and those who jumped to intercept her course. She flew through dust as she took them out.

                In two seconds she’s landed on top of an office building overlooking the street. She’s leaped two stories.

                Who in the world is this! ran through Lilly’s head as she got into the position Ayase specified.

                Ayase crouched at the edge of the roof, shooting more that try to come up to her. The creatures’ shape betrayed their leaping prowess, jumping as high as she did. Ayase proved her good aim, hitting the mark and destroying them with only one shot. However, they seem to explode no matter where they got hit. Face, hands, feet, one shot anywhere was enough. Numbers started becoming a problem when more of the creatures began climbing up the building, like a swarm of a white, child-sized spiders. Ayase stood, and bent her legs a little.

                “Hah!” she breathed as she jumped before they could get to her. Like before, she shot midair at ones that still climbed up the side of the building and the ones that were now soaring towards her. She crossed paths with a creature who had gotten too close, and twisted her body to kick. It popped, and Ayase fired off some more shots before landing on another building that was across from the one she just leapt from.

                It all looked like a fireworks demonstration, Ayase’s laser beams zipping in different directions, briefly illuminating the gloomy air, and from where Lilly was standing, the creatures exploding sounded like popping bubble wrap. It was all very surreal.

                Lilly was at a loss of what to do, not that there was anything she could do. So she silently cheered on Ayase, who seemed to be under complete control of the situation. She wondered if it actually helped any.

                As Ayase landed on the fence of a hotel roof, her balance impeccable, she removed the hand she used to support her finger gun and extended both arms out in front of her. She stretched out her fingers, all ten pointing towards the creatures that congregated on the roof of the building across from her, and were starting to head in her direction.

                Every tip of her fingers glowed briefly before a beam of light shot out of each of them. They hit their mark, terminating multiple of these things at once. One particular beam grazed past one of the creature’s head, Ayase seemingly misjudging her aim due to their hazy outline. She tilted her head to the right, and the beam spun back around and penetrated its head from the back. As it burst into dust, she tilted her head again, and the beam continued to shoot through five in a row, including two that just got airborne, outlining a jagged path.

                As they closed in again Ayase sprang up, flipping and flying over the swarm of monsters that were now scaled every building and leaped across the whole block. Her movements rivaled those of Olympic gymnasts and acrobats. She waved her arms and twisted her fingers to direct all ten beams of light to hit their various targets. The lights zigged and zagged at every angle, turning tight corners and spiraling around to get a hit.

                Falling downwards back to the middle of the street, she found herself in the center of the swarm. She started tucking in her legs to start somersaulting. Strategically spinning her arms as she does so, the beams flew through the air and struck every one of the creatures, creating a large yarn ball-like visual. After one last front flip does she finally land on the street in a three-point stance.

                A cloud of dust shrouded her, making the already dimly-lit Ayase that much harder to see. She breathed in slowly. Strands of brown hair stuck to her face.

                But she wasn’t done. Not even close.

                There was at least fifty of them when she started, and after that recent aerial attack she took out at least that many. But now she was surrounded by about a hundred more. Although she thought she was observant, Lilly failed to notice that they had been multiplying, or that they were smaller than before.

                The creatures wasted no time, tackling after her like a pride of lions on a weakened zebra. But Ayase still had a lot of fight in her left.

                She threw out her hands, and the beams came back. Whipping them in every direction, she slashed at everything daring enough to test her. One by one, the creatures dropped like flies. As their numbers increased, Ayase began dodging their attacks. She spun and contorted her body with tremendous flexibility, and managed to counter-attack at the same time. None stood a chance to touch her.

                Under her breath, Lilly was thankful that no one else was around to see this. Ayase, you’re jumping around too recklessly! Your skirt is… um! She reexamined the monsters up ahead. She is right though, none of these things notice me. Her knuckles go white as she gripped the traffic light, enthralled at the spectacle of Ayase’s fight. Maybe it was from their piercing gaze, but she couldn’t shake off the feeling of being watched.

                Soon, hundreds became thousands, and the mass of bodies began homing in on Ayase. She kept up her dodging, but it’s no longer sufficient, and they start cornering her. Her expression dropped a bit.

                One got a good hold of her leg, and that was enough for them to pile on. So many of them, in fact, that she became lost in a mountain of creatures. The top of the hill rivaled the buildings around them.

                “Ayase!” Lilly yelled.

                A hush fell onto the street, only the growls of monsters could be heard. For an agonizing minute, Lilly watched with horror as Ayase is nowhere to seen.

                Then, from the base of the pile, a light seeped through small gaps between the monsters. It grew in intensity until Lilly is forced to squint, and a large beam fired straight into the sky. An intense column of light, taking up most of the block. It light up the entire horizon for a short instant before dissipating. A loud boom is heard simultaneously as thousands of creatures are decimated all at once. Lilly turned away as the light gets too hard to face directly, her hands covering her head.

                And then nothing, like time was stopped.

                Lilly had to will herself to look back at the scene.  No creatures, no cloud of dust. The city was back to being empty as a wasteland. All that stood on that dark street was Ayase’s silhouette. She dusted herself off, patting her sleeves and adjusting her skirt. She hardly looked tired. Seeing Lilly, she smiled and waved.

                Lilly exhaled. I’m glad you’re safe. “Good job, Urameshi Yusuke!” she shouted out.

                Suddenly, Ayase flinched, and yelled. “Watch out!”

                At the same time, Lilly’s buzzing surfaced. It was somewhere to her left. Not exactly a human sound, but more warped and harsh. Lilly wheeled around to see one of the creatures charging right at her. By now it was half of its original size, and yet judging by its speed, no less dangerous.

                A fight-or-flight moment.

                Lilly shut her eyes. Balancing herself with a school bag in each arm, she swung her leg forward.

                She felt her leg stop for a bit, hitting something, and then continuing its momentum following the now too-familiar popping sound.

                Lilly actually fended off a monster.

                “Great job, Miss Akiyama! I almost missed that one,” Ayase said as she jogged to Lilly.

                Would it kill you to be more careful then?

                “My apologies, I got caught off guard and didn’t see it coming for you,” Ayase explained. “Although…” Ayase brought a hand to her chin. She didn’t say any more.

                Looking for a distraction, Ayase pointed behind Lilly. “Down that way, there he is.”

                Lilly indeed saw him. The missing boyfriend. The whole reason why they broke the laws of physics to visit a dimension in between time. He was lying unconscious on his back, arms and legs sprawled out on the street.

                Ayase walked up to him and checked his pulse. “Still alive,” she dropped his wrist, resting it on his stomach.

                Lilly got closer to see him. He looks like a delinquent. She saw his uniform, and grimaced a little. High school? Lilly’s opinion of this particular teenager was rapidly turning sour. He’s at least a second year, what a creep. She shook her head. Maybe I shouldn’t judge.

                Ayase dragged the boy to the sidewalk, and propped him up on her back, his arm swung over her shoulder. With their difference in age and body size, Ayase was diminutive by comparison. Lilly followed Ayase to a good spot off the street.

                “His data composition was deteriorating to match this area. Those monsters were the result of that phenomenon,” Ayase answered the question Lilly was about to ask. “Yūrei, or at least, he was about to be one. If we were too late, they would have multiplied and gotten smaller until there were trillions of them and nanoscopic. After that, he’d have disappeared completely. Taking them all out before that happens can reset his data, so that’s why he’s here now.”

                “You saved his life?” Lilly summarized.

                “You helped, Miss Akiyama, don’t sell yourself short,” Ayase shifted to better hold the boy. “Goodness he’s heavy.”

                “Now what?” Lilly questioned.

                “Now we hurry and make our exit. If we spend too much time in here, we’ll end up suffering the same fate. I know I don’t have a concerned girlfriend who would go to the ends of the earth to find me.”

                Lilly strained her eyes rolling them. But a new fear seeped in. “Then… we have to leave now! I still feel like they’re looking at me. So yeah, let’s go.”

                “Absolutely. Hold my hand?” Ayase repeated the same gesture from before.

                Lilly grabbed on to her shoulder. Using her free hand, Ayase snapped her fingers, the sound echoing throughout the blank city.

                Unlike how they arrived, which was swift and easy, the trip back was another experience entirely. Her vision was the first to go. Then her hearing. Lilly felt her body being pushed through a barrier. It had the texture of gelatin, her body pressing along this substance. Soon it broke, giving way for her to be absorbed in deeper. All senses went dull.

                Eventually, Lilly could hear again. It was faint, but she heard the sounds of cars and people passing by. Soon after, she was able to make out the shapes of those cars and people. The image of a city full of life began to appear, but very blurry. Like an old computer trying to load a high-res picture, it took what felt like an eternity for everything to come back.

                The sound slid from muffled to clear, and the image went from blurry to perfect. A warmth enveloped her body. Lilly blinked, and saw that she’s standing in front of a convenience store in the middle of downtown. More specifically, in an old phone booth in front of a convenience store. She tried to move her legs with no success. Did something go wrong? I can’t move, I can’t breathe, someone please help!

                “Miss Akiyama, the handle is right there, could you get that? It’s cramped,” Ayase’s voice was subdued in the booth. Fitting three people into such a small space is no small feat. Lilly thought up a retort. I’d prefer a police box next time.

                They managed getting out, and Lilly handed Ayase back her bag before adjusting her own.

                “So, we’ve encountered a time rip between the past and the present, and we literally just got back from being in between time. Is actual time travel possible?” Lilly asked. By this point, there was no point in being not curious.

                “Absolutely. But I’m not authorized to do that yet,” Ayase replied, “Limits.”

                “Good to know,” Lilly said. She prayed that was something she wouldn’t have to worry about.

                Ayase grunted when she spoke, still carrying the boy on one shoulder, her bag on the other.

                “I’ll handle returning him. You can head home now, Miss Akiyama. In the meantime, I’ll have to figure out who was behind all this.” Ayase racked her brain in thought, her face scrunching up.

                For no real reason or any sort of concrete evidence, Lilly thought of the video-rental-store girl. No, I’m being ridiculous.

                “Actually, I’ll be-“ Lilly checked the sky above her. The sunset had almost passed, with night time close at hand. The moon peeked out from behind some buildings. Lilly grabbed for her phone again. “7:30?! But how?!”

                “It’s like how I said before, the rest of the world kept going while we were stuck back in time. All I can do is send us forward to the present.”

                Lilly’s chest fell. I was supposed to get snacks with Rea two hours ago. She’ll kill me!

                “Well, I’ll see you next week, Miss Akiyama. Thank you for accompanying me today. I think I got a lot more data to report on now. That’s always exciting.” Ayase nudged forward a little. It was best bow she could pull off. “Also, for obvious reasons, I don’t think we need to drum up a club summary for this one, what do you think?” She winked.

                “Yeah…” Lilly huffed. Time travel, disturbing monsters, and girls who play with fundamentals of physics like a ragdoll. Lilly has had more than a full day. She offered to help in carrying the boy. Either way, she’d missed her date with Rea, and would be late home anyways. Ayase accepted.

                I’ll have to make it up to Rea somehow. I know! I’ll get her favorite flavor of… what was it again?

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