Chapter 196:

Ripple’s Counterattack

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

Harlan and Rheba chased after the orange Zenotote as best as they could through the hospital corridors. Most staff and patients had fled or barricaded themselves in a room, but every now and then, a straggler would scream as the opponents ran past.

Ripple did his best to keep his pace steady for the other two. He smiled a grin of sharp teeth. With Rheba’s stomach aching and Harlan’s leg burning, they could hardly keep up with the orange Zenotote, and he had picked up as much. He was a fan of taking out weak opponents and found pleasure in the feeling of dominance. While he charged through the halls, he was almost salivating at the idea of defeating the injured opponents.

As the chase carried on, Ripple kept a lookout for any spot where he could take the duo out with ease. Two doors down a hall were open like outstretched arms; they welcomed him with the perfect location beyond.

The room was open but had a low enough ceiling to prevent Rheba from jumping. Laid out in even rows were sets of hospital beds and equipment, each covered in plastic, on a pallet, or placed in a box. They had stumbled across a storage room for the spare items in the building, and there was enough stuff lying around for Ripple to get to work.

He charged into the room with a sword appearing in each of his clawed hands. A chain grew from each pommel and snapped together in front of his stomach as he looked for the heaviest box. When one seemed suitable enough, he threw one sword while holding the other close to his chest. The chain extended until the thrown sword pierced a stack of boxes with spare equipment.

As the chain between his swords retracted, Ripple was pulled forward to the box. The connected swords in his hands and piercing his anchor vanished, and a new set materialized. He threw a blade up and pulled himself closer to the ceiling and over the original box. With another maneuver, he changed direction in midair.

As Ripple repeated his technique, he made a u-turn in the room and flew back to the duo who had pursued through the open doors. Harlan and Rheba ducked away as Ripple slashed over where their necks were moments prior. He flew past them and quickly began to turn again, not letting himself slow down for a moment.

Rheba grunted as she picked up a smaller box and threw it at Ripple, but he sliced through it midair—foam packing exploding out like a burst of dust—and continued forward without worry.

He focused in on the giant warrior as he sat his blades across each other like a pair of scissors. He aimed for her arm, but Rheba leaned to the side so that only the clothes and fur were shaved off from the attack. Ripple skidded on the ground as he made his first landing since starting his midair technique.

Without wasting a single moment, the Bentalousian warrior began to punch and kick intensely. Ripple dodged the first couple, but a jab to his shoulder caused him to let out a cry. He slashed at Rheba with his blades, and she dodged as best as her aching body would allow.

Gashes and slashes appeared across Rheba’s fur and clothes as she began to take more and more of Ripple's attacks. She took a step back and looked at Harlan.

The Zenotote scientist had begun to look for an animal or bug which made a home in the storage area. Her sudden focus on the ground made Ripple ignore her potential threat, leaving Rheba to fight alone. Harlan sighed. It was a scary thought, but she almost wished to use her ability on the giant warrior, making a super Bentalousian. Had she not needed Rheba’s approval for the ability to work, she might have done it, which frightened Harlan more than the sword-wielding opponent.

The hospitals in Nun quickly proved to be much cleaner than the ones in her home, and Harlan settled on grabbing the best weapon from the storage instead. Her search led to a cabinet with various expired medicines tucked inside. Someone had been hiding them; to what end, Harlan could not tell. She might have smiled as she began to examine the contents. Enough variety was available to give her options.

Seeing Harlan begin to focus on the chemical cabinet, Rheba decided to trust that the green Zenotote knew what she was doing. With a sudden lunge forward, Ripple’s arm was grasped in a hold. Before he could pull back, she twisted in with a sudden jerk. It might have been enough to break his arm, but his struggling weakened her attack enough to spare it.

Ripple let out a hiss and used his sword technique to quickly pull away from Rheba’s grip. She charged after him as he tried to shake the pain out of his arm.

Harlan quickly finished a blend that should paralyze him neck down if her hasty preparations were done right—not that she doubted her ability. She poured the chemical mix into a vial and gripped it tightly.

Rheba tried to punch Ripple in his chest, but a quick motion of his swords pulled him to her side instead. He slashed at her side, where her pain was already present, and she let out a yelp while falling to one knee. The orange Zenotote held one scaly arm high in the air with the sword ready to fall down on her neck and smiled.

“You were pretty tough, might have even been a challenge for Thorir with a little more experience,” he gloated.

Before he could bring his sword down, Harlan’s green fist smacked into the side of Ripple’s face. He took a step back in shock at how the blow had hardly done any damage. The green scientist didn’t waste time thinking about how weak she was and instead tried to punch him in the face once again. He groaned and slapped Harlan off her feet; her weak showing made Ripple feel even a tiny amount of pity. He figured he would kill her quickly once finishing with Rheba.

As the orange Zenotote turned back to Rheba, a blow to the chine suddenly thrust him into multiple stacked pallets. The Bentalousian warrior had recovered enough to push herself to her feet—shaky as it was.

“Rheba,” Harlan said softly before throwing the vial. Her words were barely picked up by Rheba’s much superior hearing, but she managed to catch the concoction all the same. Harlan pointed to Ripple as he rubbed his chin from the blow, and Rheba nodded to show she understood.

Harlan charged at Ripple once again, and he rolled his slitted eyes.

“If you want to die, very well,” he muttered. He held both swords ready and prepared to strike. One eye was trained on Harlan, and the other was on Rheba. He wouldn’t make the same mistake again so easily.

As the scaly scientist ran to Ripple, she slid low to the ground to dodge his slash. With a quick change of position, she attempted to strike at his legs with her tail. Ripple expected as much from a fellow Zenotote and cut the green appendage off before it could hit him. Harlan’s eyes grew wide, but her face remained neutral as her tail slid across the floor.

Rheba didn’t waste any more time. She gritted her teeth and charged in as soon as Harlan was cut. Crushing the vial in her fist, she punched a surprised Ripple in the face. He was unprepared as the concoction covered the side of his face and got into his mouth.

“Are you okay?” Rheba said to Harlan as she offered a hand. Harlan didn’t accept and stood up on her own.

“It’s fine; it will grow back,” she said softly. Despite her claim, the wound burned with more pain than she would have liked to admit. They turned to Ripple, who coughed and wiped the mix off his face with his arm. “I would have liked you to have administered that more gracefully,” Harlan added softly.

“Nice try,” Ripple said as he took a step closer to them, “but some mix of junk isn’t going to do much right now.” The orange Zenotote threw a sword between them and lodged into the back wall. The shrinking chain pulled him close, but he didn’t get far. His grip weakened, and he fell facefirst to the ground.

“That took too long to activate,” Rheba grunted. Harlan ignored her snide tone.

Rheba fell to one knee as the pain overwhelmed her. She motioned for Harlan to check on Ripple as hands pressed to her gashed side. Harlan shook her head and tried to limp over to the fallen enemy. He was heavier than she expected, and she struggled to turn him over.

Ripple sighed as his whole body felt numb.

“I suppose you’ve won this one, but the threatening one seems out of commission,” he spat.

“What do you hope to gain by killing King Whitlock and then trying to assassinate the mayor?” Harlan asked.

“You’re not much of a threatening interrogator with a voice that soft!” Ripple laughed.

“What do you hope to gain by killing King Whitlock and then trying to assassinate the mayor?” Harlan repeated in as forceful of a voice as she could muster. It still was too weak to threaten her enemy.

Ripple kept silent as a message was relayed to him through his Needaimus.

This is Nighthawk. I’ve targeted the mayor. His protection is weak; his killing will come shortly.

“Well, that mayor of yours will not be in this world much longer. I suppose I can offer you one piece of information, for my own amusement, of course. You see, this is only an early phase in our plans. Our organization has infiltrated some high places, and the mayor’s death will end the first phase.”

“And if the mayor stays alive?”

“Ha! I can’t tell if you’re being confident or quizzical. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anymore; I just thought I’d blab one last time.”

“One last time?”

“Failure isn’t rewarded. Best to go out when you can still smile.”

Ripple’s tongue moved in his mouth, and a small snap was heard as he bit down. Harlan could tell at once what happened but was powerless to stop it. The orange Zenotote’s eyes closed, and he made the widest grin as his life ended. His Needaimus popped off his tail and rolled off to the side.

“We made a mistake, Rheba; they aren’t willing to be captured.”

Harlan turned to the tall warrior, but she had finally passed out from her wounds. The green scientist sighed and sat down to get pressure on her cut tail and injured leg. “Try calling Gwyn.” After a moment of silence, the Zenotote scientist spoke to her Needaimus.

Call refused; it seems they are in combat. Mirror replied within her mind.

Harlan nodded and stood up.

“Track their location.”

With all due respect, you are too injured.

Harlan shook her head and picked up Ripple’s Needaimus. It had gone dormant from being attached when he died but could wake up at any moment. She set the metal creature by Rheba, and the giant warrior's purple Needaimus popped off and stood by its fellow creature. Rheba’s Needaimus nodded to indicate it would not let the captured one escape, and Harlan left the room in the direction of the others.