Chapter 4

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The quake hurled Tano from his bed. He landed right on his nose, sending a sickening crack through his skull. The boy moaned as he held a hand up to his nostrils. Blood ran through his fingers, moistening his lips with a metallic tasting slime. Outside, he could see orange-yellow glows of fire. His mother sprinted into the cramped bedroom, covered in blood and dirt.

"Quickly! Your sister's already packed what you need. Go with her now!" Her voice was so shrill Tano knew better than to argue. She grabbed him by the hand, nearly yanking his arm off in the process. More explosions sent ripples through the ground.

It was like every nightmarish story his mother had ever told him. Half the buildings in the village were on fire, and what buildings remained were riddled with cracks. Past the glaring flames from the town itself, Tano could see the perpetrators: a half dozen swordswomen. Hakana was waiting for him, weighed down with a backpack as bulky as her whole body. The fifteen year old girl was quite slender, and Tano wondered just how his sister planned on running with so much weight and so little muscle to support her.

"What about you?!" He turned back to his mother. Rifle in hand, a crooked smile came over her shadowy face. The boy had seen his mother make that expression a thousand times. It was supposed to be one of bravery. But it was clear from her trembling hands that she wasn't feeling brave at all.

"I'll come. I promise. Go to the caves like we practiced," she replied. He would have argued, but his sister pulled him forward by the hand. It surprised him how much strength she had, even while hefting the backpack.

They had scarcely made it more than a hundred steps when the next shockwave sent Tano and his sister tumbling. He looked back to the epicenter and froze in horror.

An Angleyan Knight stood in the center of his burning home. Nothing could have prepared Tano for the horror he felt when looking at the monster before him. His mother had often regaled her children with tales of Knights able to harden patches of their skin, on rare occasions an entire limb, into crystals so hard no weapon could even scratch them. The beast Tano was staring at was covered head to toe in a scaly armored suit of prismatic crystal. Orange and yellow light from the surrounding fires turned it into a shimmering beacon. It turned its gaze right where his mother lay.

She scrambled to her feet with finesse only an experienced warrior could have mustered. Still, by the time she had recollected herself to take aim at the creature, it had already sprang into a sprint. With each step, it skated forward dozens of feet. Even from far away, Tano could see his mother trembling head to toe in fear. She squeezed her trigger finger, emptying an entire clip's worth of high powered rifle bullets at the charging abomination. Every single round bounced off its crystals without leaving a single visible scratch.

The abomination swung its sword down on Tano's mother. Her body burst open in a flash of white and yellow. Droplets of blood created dark splotches against the blinding backdrop. The light dissipated almost immediately after the strike, leaving only the dark shadow of the woman's head and shredded torso rolling on the ground.

"Let's go!" Hakana, who had clenched her eyes shut, grabbed her brother and tried dragging him up the mountain to safety. He pushed her away and hurled himself directly toward the monster that had butchered his mother. His throat burned, as did his eyes. With clenched fists and a chest rumbling with rage, Tano flailed his arms out at the source of his pain. A quiet voice in the back of his head- the small part of him that was still rational- urged him to flee with his sister. It was drowned out in the boy's fury.

The glowing ball of flaming energy erupted from his hands toward the marauders. It was so blinding Tano himself had to squeeze his eyes shut and duck to avoid being burned by his own spell. When the light faded, the boy opened his eyes. The crystalline monster was gone. So was everyone else.

His sister's sudden cries of pain snapped Tano out of his reverie. He looked back to see a masked swordswoman pinning the girl down under her boot. The sharp tip of her blade was resting on Hakana's throat. The girl was so still for a moment Tano thought it was just a stone statue of his sister. Then he saw her blink as a cold blade tapped the side of his own throat.

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