Chapter 201:

Harlan as Backup

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

The green Zenotote scientist hobbled as best she could through the hospital hallways while following the path her Needaimus laid out in her vision. Despite the pain that burned from her leg and the nub that used to be her tail, she pressed forward.

I still don’t think this is a good idea. The orange Needaimus, Mirror, chimed in.

“Your help is appreciated. We can’t leave the others alone against these foes, especially since Gwyn was not fully there.”

With all due respect, I know a Nonpareil can be useful for your father’s plans, but I don’t think he is this much trouble.

Harlan shook her head but didn’t respond. She told herself it was simply because Gwyn might make a good pawn. If she won his favor, he might support the Zenotote Absolutism; that was why Mixolydian, her father, had sent her on the mission. It was all a political game to them; the fight wasn’t supposed to get as brutal as it had. All she had to do was passively win his favor.

She told herself all that repeatedly; she reminded herself of her mission, her duty as an officer for the Zenototes. It was by her father’s good graces that she could even have her position, ordinarily one as ugly as she would get shipped away, especially considering that her father wasn’t married to her mother. But, as hard as an exterior as the red Zenotote leader showed, he was really soft as a kitten inside. He couldn’t bear to part with Harlan once he saw her for the first time. She was his only child. Harlan rolled her eyes at the thoughts of her father. What would he say when he saw her injured as she was? She shook her head and reminded herself of the mission as she hobbled through the abandoned and damaged corridors.

Her attempts to remind herself of the mission failed. She wasn’t sure she tried hard enough to keep them at the forefront of her attention as something new presented itself. The thought started in the back of her mind and slowly increased—like it was a speaker on an out-of-control vehakul that drove straight at her—she couldn’t stop the words from forming.

I’m worried about Gwyn.

Not just him, but Fiona, and Odell, and Hal, and even Rheba. And it wasn’t just for their potential use for her country's political gains. She was concerned about their wellbeing, whether they would make it out of the battle, and in what condition she would see them again. She had not thought she was capable of caring for another besides her father and the animal subjects in her lab. Especially considering she only traveled with them. Was she the kind of weak person who felt affection only from being close to another? She hadn’t thought emotion was so easy to sway, but she couldn’t deny that she cared about everyone making it through the battle.

She shuddered and thought of an excuse, some small moment to reduce the relation down to. Once found, she could snuff out the moment in her mind, breaking the connection she felt. Such feelings, especially for those in other countries, were risky if she wished to serve the absolutism.

Harlan focused on her first meeting with Gwyn. She had approached him after the regicide while they locked him in his room. Her father wanted information on the Nonpareil, and she was curious about collecting potential samples from the other worlder. That was the problem, she thought. I approached Gwyn as a subject, like one of my animals. Crenussal help me.

The Zenotote scientist shook her head. She was always soft on the lab subjects and talked to them endlessly in private. She had not considered how that habit would make her feel so attached to someone, but she was now aware and focused on pushing the feelings away. Everything was downstream of that moment; once she was free of the emotion, she could continue working with the others calmly and with the true aim in mind.

Harlan approached the oval-shaped hole in the dead end as she worked to correct her thoughts and emotions. Just beyond, she saw a similar shape carved into the window. She knew immediately that it was Gwyn’s ability and ran forward to the edge of the hospital.

I sense 4 outside. Gwyn, the mayor and his subordinate, and… well, you’ll see in a moment, Mirror relayed in Harlan’s mind.

The Zenotote scientist stopped at the window and looked in horror out below. Gwyn slowly backed away from a giant Needaimus while the mayor kneeled—unable to do anything. She felt a surge of concern for the Nonpareil well up inside her, despite all the work she had just done to snuff out such feelings. Taking a deep breath, Harlan did her best to look at everything with a calmer outlook. Emotion wouldn’t do any good against the foe.

In the distance, a large force of the Nun army was crossing the bridge. They were marching to the hospital but did not know where their mayor was, and even if they did would have to jump off the bridge and run through a decent section of the brightly lit city to get there. Still, it was better than nothing.

“Mirror, are there any mortals in that crowd?” she asked, pointing to the army.

You wouldn’t believe how many Needaimus they brought. Nun can be serious now and then, I suppose.

“Send a message to all of them. If we stall long enough, we should be able to get more backup.”

A good plan, but what do we do in the meantime?

Harlan looked up to the sky and, to her delight, saw a tobi, or the Resh equivalent to a bird, flying overhead—the specific species being thought of the same way pigeons were on earth. She made a small smile, hardly noticeable to anyone but her, and pulled off an orange section of her Needaimus. It formed into the shape of a gun, and she aimed it at the airborne creature. A burst of energy shot out and struck the tobi, transforming it.

Given the metal opponent, the Zenotote scientist didn’t have many options for what to evolve. She emphasized the claws and the beak, making them as hard as the potential allowed. The tobi grew three times as large and let out an angry caw before flying to Harlan. She jumped out and landed on the ground as her new aid rested on her shoulder.

“Aim for the eyes,” Harlan told the tobi, and it made a chirp to confirm it understood before flying at the Needaimus. The Zenotote scientist likewise charged in as well.

Nighthawk suddenly stumbled back as the modified tobi clawed furiously at its face. Gwyn looked in shock as Harlan ran to his side. She immediately noticed the hard rock-like growths on his arm but said nothing as Nighthawk got the tobi away by swinging its metal arm.

The creature flew above Harlan and Gwyn as Nighthawk shook its metal head. Harlan was shocked to see that the metal exterior covered even the face. He was to be a formidable opponent.

Gwyn backed up slowly but stopped as Harlan asked him, "Does he have any weak points?” He sighed and answered.

“None. He’s unstoppable.”

Harlan shuddered at Gwyn’s weak tone more than her opponent. Gwyn looked down at first to avoid looking at his ally or foe but quickly focused on something else.

“Harlan… your tail….”

“It will grow back.”

They had no time to talk as Nighthawk charged forward and swung a fist at Gwyn. Both jumped out of the way and got on either side of the metal opponents.

“Another pest,” Nighthawk grunted. The Needaimus could tell time was running out before the opportunity to kill the mayor closed. Taking out Harlan and Gwyn would have to be done quickly and efficiently. Nighthawk took a stance as the duo considered what the next attack would need to be.