“Sister, are you sure you can do this?” I asked, my hand raising up to her face, cupping her chin.
Hannah blushed, rubbing her face against my hand affectionately. A moment later, there were a couple of girls clearing their throats. We glanced around to notice we were being looked at strangely by several of the Freshman nearby. I was just touching my sister affectionately, was that so weird? I had to remind myself that this was a world where affection between men and women was a rarity. Most sex involved contracts and slices, so perhaps this was a sight these women wouldn’t be able to see often.
“My brother never touched me like that…” I heard a light voice say, which I wouldn’t have noticed if the underground hallways didn’t project voices so well.
I frowned, glancing back, but I didn’t see who said that. Meanwhile, Hannah’s blush grew, but she refused to stop nuzzling me. With a sigh I leaned forward and kissed her, finally pulling away while she was too flustered to react. Hannah shook her head after a dumbfounded look, and then broke into a mischievous grin, seeming to quickly recover from my attack.
“Hahaha, Brother, you don’t need to worry about me. This kind of hostile takeover I am more than capable of handling.” Hannah gave a thumbs up, but then her eyes gave a concerned look. “I’m worried about you going topside though.”
“You’re going to need a boy if you want to hope to get the males to open up their dorm. Even if that wasn’t the case, I can’t sit back and do nothing. I’m the reason this all happened anyway.”
“You’re not…” Hannah shook her head. “But I know I can’t convince you to stand down, so please just be careful.”
“You be careful. Shut down the safety net, don’t knock out the thrusters that keep this island floating.”
“I’ll figure it out.” Hannah shrugged, but then handed me a device she had in her hand. “We’ll contact you when I succeed. Once everyone else is saved off the island, I’ll join you.”
I nodded, but I still had a frown on my face. Putting my sister in jeopardy was already something I was squeamish with. However, remembering the two girls I had killed, I wanted to keep Hannah away from as much of that as I could. Eyeing the communication device she had handed me, I let out a sigh. My mind still flickered unstably as if I might collapse at any moment. Mounting rescuing operations and fighting students to the death was far beyond what I could handle mentally at the moment. Yet, I had to move forward anyway.
Looking at the “team” of girls Hannah had selected for me, there wasn’t a single one I recognized other than Brooke. I wasn’t completely certain if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Both Syph and Brianna were staying behind, their injuries being too severe for either of them to fight. I had assumed that would be the case, but I was surprised with both of them wanted to go with me. In the end, it took Hannah to get the pair of them to step down. I felt my heart warm a bit to know that they had taken to their duties as bodyguards so absolutely. However, when I remembered that the reason they were in the shape they were in was because of them being my bodyguard, a lot of my humor left.
With the communicator in hand, I said my last goodbye to Hannah and then headed back to the staircase which led to the surface. My heart was racing quickly. Soon, we’d be out there among the roving bands of seniors just looking to bring my head to Diba for a reward. Damn, this was all kinds of fucked up! I checked my bag to make sure that I had several balloons filled and ready to throw. Although some of the girls were suspicious, I was finally able to get them to accept the idea when one of the few magic users was able to confirm that when the glove got wet, it became incredibly difficult to cast magic.
These spells were already being cast all over the island, where the temperature and location were constantly changing. Thus, even the more practiced senior girls required a great deal of Chakra in order to induce an invocation. Adding water to the equation was enough to drive the gloves into being inoperable. Perhaps if the girls had some kind of ice spell, water wouldn’t make a big difference, but when you were talking about adding moisture to a fire or lightning invocation, where dryness was a key factor, it was enough to render the runes useless.
As far as ice spells, despite what video games suggested, it was very difficult to make cold combative. You might be able to freeze someone given enough time, but chucking blocks of ice at them would require a rune to condense larger quantities of humidity, lowering the temperature until it froze, and then pushing the ice with enough force to hurt someone already required at least three runes. It’d be easier to just throw a rock with a force push. For seniors, igniting some oxygen to shoot out a wave of fire, or pushing some electrons was a considerably easier invocation.
Even with simple invocations, these gloves weren’t so fancy that they would make those kinds of adjustments on the fly. As to some kind of wrist computer that could instantly read and account for all physical changes and then instantly generate invocations on the go, it wasn’t like this world hadn’t thought of such things. However, it was a bit like the jetpack in my previous world. Technically, the technology seemed possible, but in practice, it was large, clunky, and impractical. Something like an ironman suit may show up in books and media, but who knew when a legitimate device would be created. It was the same with super computers, which might show up in a spy or action movie, but remained a fantasy in practice.
“I feel like rubber boots or something might be best…” I mumbled as I went through the supplies one last time.
Brooke gave me a blank look, and I could only smile wryly. Balloons were really a last-minute concoction. If you could simply wear heat resistance clothing or a rubber suit, there would be absolutely nothing to fear from these spellcasters. However, it wasn’t like this school had tons of that stuff. I could only take a breath and head up the stairway, gesturing for everyone to follow me. What happened next depended on a bit of luck and chance. I wasn’t some action hero, after all.
The guards watching the front door apparently had barricaded it once I arrived. They were removing the barricade now on Hannah’s order. Once the stuff they had piled in the way was moved, I exited back into the cold sunlight. I had two layers on now, and I was healed up, so it didn’t feel nearly as threatening as it had before. Still, there was a bit of a creepy feeling. The island was too quiet. As soon as everyone was out, I could hear the door shutting and the stuff being moved back into the barricade. This would not be a direction we could escape if things went badly.
Some of the girls broke off to head in other directions. My team was heading to the dorms. Others were heading to get the zipline equipment or various locations to try to find friends. Hannah was going to take the mainframe that held the island. Once that happened, we could finally contact the city and find out why there was no one coming. I had some worries that perhaps the city did know what was happening up here, and chose not to respond to see how things turned out. If I was the figurehead of the male protection movement, then my death would certainly throw a wrench in their whole operation.
Although it was light out, we did our best to remain hidden. I had even managed to get a hold of a wig which I wore to make me look like a girl at a distance, even if it was without makeup and easily noticeable up close. Brooke took the lead, although she frequently frowned when she looked back at the four other girls that were with us. These were all just children, yet they were now being asked to risk their lives to protect others. These were, of course, all volunteers who had the most steady temperaments. These were girls Hannah had selected, so they were likely tough and street smart.
“The male dorm is up ahead,” Brooke announced, even though we were all familiar with campus and knew the location of the dorm.
Hiding behind a small hill, we all laid down to keep out of sight. Brooke pulled out a pair of binoculars she must have gotten from HQ and then spent a few minutes surveying the situation. She finally sat back down and glanced at the five of us with a frown on her face.
“They haven’t broken into the boy’s dorm just yet.” She explained. “There are about eight girls. They seem to be trying to invoke a large bonfire rune. It’ll take some time, but they plan to burn through the protective Runes. Once the place catches on fire, the boys will have no choice but to flee into their hands.
“They’re distracted right now. Only one lookout. They’re the aggressors, so they probably aren’t even thinking about being attacked or overwhelmed. I don’t like moving when the odds are not in our favor.” She looked out one more time and then winced. “Shit, three more just showed up. It’s including that bitch that tried to rape me.”
“Remi?” I asked, the name returning to me all of sudden.
“Clyburn…” Brooke’s eyes turn serious as she looked at me. “It’s Ashton.”
My eyes widened as I took the binoculars from her and looked myself. As sure as she suggested, Ash was being led to the male dorm. Her hands were tied. It was clear Ash was their prisoner. Did they know that she was a woman? Why would they bring her to the male dorm? Perhaps it was for the same reason as I was here. They wanted to get the men to open up the dorm rooms. As I watched, the group shoved Ash forward.
“Guys!” Ash yelled out. “Hey, guys…”
There was a brief moment of silence, then the woman named Remi stepped forward and kicked Ashton’s knee. Ashton made a cry as she tumbled down. Pulling a knife out, Remi held it to Ash’s throat.
“You said you could get the guys out!” The woman snarled. “Do it! Or we’ll hang you like we hung the others.”
“Hanged?” I mouthed the words, to Brooke, who could only shrug.
“Y-yes…” Ash bit her lip, nodding, her expression unsure. “Guy’s it’s okay. They wo-won’t…”
Ash closed her eyes, seeming to struggle with the lie. Even though she was actually a woman and didn’t really owe these guys anything, the lie stuck in her throat.
“Say it!” The woman hissed, looking like she’d cut the hesitatant Ash’s throat at any moment.
“Guys… we need to go now!” I stood up, moving forward without another moment of hesitation.
“Clybur- shit!” Brooke gave a curse, and then followed behind me.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than Ash at that particular moment. I didn’t know if any of the girls followed behind me. My eyes were completely locked on her. The movement must have caught her eyes because Ash looked over at me. At the same moment, the guard finally noticed and opened their mouth to cry out.
Ash took the distraction and slapped the woman’s arm away, sparing her neck. “Keep the door locked! A guy will let you know when it’s safe!”
In a single motion, she slammed into Remi. Even though Remi was taken by complete surprise, her large girth prevented her from taking more than a few steps back. Meanwhile, Ash started to run towards me. A woman lifted up her glove, the sign of an invocation started. Without missing a step, I tossed a balloon out. She let out a cry of surprise when it hit her, spraying her body with water. A second later, she was unable to cast her spell.
Remi didn’t look to be wearing a glove at all. Perhaps she was too stupid to be able to cast invocations. All she could do was glare as Ash put distance from them. The other girls who had gloves started to raise their hands too, but moments later there was a spattering of balloons striking the other women. The girls behind me were bombarding the seniors with water. A few realized they could cast spells immediately, and began running, while a few kept staring in wonder as their invocations kept failing to trigger.
“Clyburn!” Ash cried out, tears starting to stream down her eyes. “I was so scared when the explosion came. I thought you died.”
“Clyburn…” Remi’s eyes darkened as she took a look at me.
We flew into each other’s embrace. The sudden intimacy might have caught some of the girls who didn’t know Ash’s true sex off guard. Perhaps one or two girls even looked on interestingly at the sight of two men together. Even in this world, there were a certain few women who fantasized about two men together.
With the four women on my side holding bats and various other weapons, as soon as the others realized they couldn’t cast spells, they either fled or put up their hands. We’d need to move fast, as the ones who fled might be coming back with reinforcements otherwise. Within moments, all of the girls had given up. They were just high school girls anyway, and more than half of them had been coerced into doing this. They feared death and pain just as much as anyone. Like the girl I met in the fire, they weren’t fighting for something they strongly believed in.
There was one exception, and that was Remi, who still had a grip on her knife, and had taken several steps away from the rest. She was still shooting us glares even as the girls cautiously tied up the other women. It was Brooke who started approaching her. With Ash in one arm, I offered her the sword, but Brooke shook her head.
“I know plenty of hand-to-hand disarming techniques. If I used a sword, I can’t promise I wouldn’t cripple her.” Brooke explained as she approached the woman. “It’s best if you just give up now. One way or another, we’re leaving with the boys.”
“You traitorous whore…” Remi snarled, backing away. “You think you’ve won? Your precious males will all one day be nothing but dispensers. Don’t you get it? Men aren’t needed. They are destroying this world. Giving them the ability to decide who gets pregnant and who doesn’t? All seed should be collected and distributed to any who needs it!”
Brooke frowned, keeping her hands up in a cautious position. “It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying. I agree with you a bit, even. But this is not the way to do it. Come on girl. Put down the knife. No one needs to get hurt.”
“No one?” Remi sneered. “Or do you just mean your man?”
“Remi…” Brooke sighed, putting out her hand. “Just hand it-“
“Die!” Remi pulled her knife back in a throwing motion.
I instinctively took a step forward. “Brooke, watch out.”
Remi threw the knife forward, and Brook dodged instinctively. It was only in the middle of the dodge that she realized that the target Remi was throwing it at wasn’t her, but someone ten steps behind her. She could only watch helplessly as a triumphant expression appeared on Remi’s face. After all, the knife was heading straight for my chest. I stopped short but was still heading forward reaching out for Brooke. Meanwhile, Brooke was falling to the side, desperately reaching out for the knife. My momentum kept me from dodging the knife.
Then, I felt a pull on my arm. I looked on in horror as my body spun, and Ash spun the pair us around. Instead of being behind me, Ash was now in front. A second later, I could hear the thump as the knife struck her in the back. With a single jolt, she looked up at me tearfully. My mouth was open, and all I could do was stare in her eyes. A moment later, Brooke had recovered, and with Remi unarmed, quickly tackled her to the ground.
Remi showed no signs of struggle as Brooke got her arms behind her and tussled her like an oversized pig. I barely noticed as I was looking directly in Ash’s eyes. Blood fell from the corner of her mouth.
“No!” I shouted, the voice sounding hollow in my ears.
It was far too big of a blow immediately after losing Mia. Ashton fell to the side. I barely managed to catch her, gently guiding her down so the knife didn’t move the knife seemed to have hit somewhere dead center. It had to have gone through her spine, and possibly her lungs. Did I need to pull it out? Leave it in? I couldn’t think.
“Ashley… no… no… no…” I grabbed her face, as more blood leaked out, her body shaking. “ I love you, Ashley.”
“C-cly-“ She smiled, her lips blood. “I -I-“
“Shh…shh… shh… It’ll be okay… It’ll be okay…” I said, my voice coming out high and in a panic. “Brooke!”
Through the watery vision of my eyes, I looked up at Brooke desperately. She had her knee in Remi’s back. She looked up at me and shook her head, not sure what to say.”
“C-clyburn…” Ash spoke, her hand tightening on my wrist and causing me to look down.
“Ash…” I wiped the blood away, kissing her lips quickly. “You’ll make it. Please… you’ll make it.”
Ash smiled, “T-this is why women love you when you l-look at them this way.”
Ash grimaced in pain, but I refused to move. I didn’t care if reinforcements were coming or anything. I had Ash in my arms, and that was all that mattered.
“Ash, please…” I begged.
Ash said, her hands tightening on my shirt. “I w-was scared before.”
“There is nothing to be scared about. I’ve got you. Ash, please, I’ve got you.”
Ashley smiled again. “Call… me… Ashley… just once.”
“Ashley, I love you…”
Ashley coughed, blood coming out, but I ignored it as I held her tighter. When she finished coughing, she looked even paler than before.
“No… Ashley, please… stay with me. Stay with me.”
“I’m sorry…” Ashley said.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, absolutely nothing.”
“I should have told you earlier…” Ashley’s hands started to weaken on my shirt. “I-I’m… p-p…”
Ashley’s face went slack, her grip on me slowly loosened. A few seconds later, any light in her eyes dimmed. Her eyes glossed over, and she was no longer staring at me, but nothing at all. I broke into tears, wailing out as I held her. My body laid in the freezing mud, with Ashton in my arms. Why did this have to happen? Why? Ashton was my friend and my lover, and this world chose to take her from me.
“Hehehehehe…” The snickering sounds grew until they echoed in my mind like a massive drum.
I slowly broke away from Ashley, closing her eyes with my hand. Then I looked up. Remi was lying on the ground. Brooke had her in a complete hold, but she had her head up, as she was watching the whole thing unfold before she started chuckling to herself. Brooke shoved her head to the ground, but that only caused her to laugh harder.
“Hehehehe, at least… I got to kill one man.” Remi’s eyes held nothing but humor over the loss of life.
I already knew her to be an unpleasant woman who raped drunk women and hated men. However, I had always seen her as just an impressionable kid. At that moment though, I started to feel hatred. I stood up, my eyes narrowing on her. My hand stroked the hilt of my sword.
“Clyburn… stand down… we need to get going.” Brooke responded helplessly.
“You have something to say?” I said through gritted teeth, staring at Remi.
“Hmm?” Remi looked up, a crazed smile on her face. “That I killed your little boyfriend.”
“She was a woman, you cow!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
The volume of my voice was enough that everyone jumped. In fact, the voice probably carried halfway across campus. Remi seemed taken aback, but after a moment, her eyes narrowed.
“A woman, who dresses as a man, I guess? A traitor either way… you’re all traitors!” She called out, shooting the freshman girls looks.
The Freshman girls looked uncertain. It wasn’t that they were doubting they were doing the right thing. It was more that this woman who seemed to have no qualms about killing came off as completely crazy. I didn’t hesitate another moment to pull out my sword. Brook through up her hand.
“I’ve killed seniors before… they clearly don’t care about murder. Why should I?”
As I spoke, I also looked down at the eight tied up women who hadn’t run. Their eyes shot open and several of them started struggling against the bonds. One of them even peed herself. The only girl who didn’t look afraid was Remi.
“See? This is men.” Remi sniffed. “Monic told me all about their type. They have anger problems and only know how to solve their problems with their fists.”
It was clear to me that she couldn’t even hear the hypocrisy of her words. She was absolutely convinced she was in the right here.
“Clyburn… these women are tied up and defenseless. The difference is that you’re not a monster.”
“All men are!” Remi laughed. “Come on! Kill me! Kill us all. Prove that you’re all just a bunch of animals!”
The other girls gave muffled shouts, shaking their heads as if they wanted to separate themselves from her. I shot them a look, causing them to freeze. It was a look that said that they chose to follow this crazy woman and her teacher. Whatever happened to them, they had earned it. The girls began to shake in fear.
I took several steps forward, narrowing the distance between me and Remi. Brooke shook her head.
“Clyburn, don’t do this.” Brooke looked up at me pleadingly.
Looking into her pleading eyes, I could only close my own. I lifted up the sword and slammed it down, hilt first, into the back of Remi’s head. Her giggling was silenced with a single hit. Brooke let out a long breath, finally getting off of Remi and tying her up in three times the amount of rope that was used to tie up any of the other girls. I stood there, trembling, while I looked at nothing.
After a moment, a noise coming from the front of the dorm caused me to turn to them. A guy had been looking through one of the blinds, and then left, causing it to shake back and forth. In fact, the boys had been watching this entire scene play out from the safety of their dorm. I turned to the dorm and then raised my sword.
“Boys! I am Clyburn Bonholdt. Get your asses out here! Or I’m going to come in!”
Ever so slowly, the door opened and a boy stuck his head out. After glancing around a few times and noticing all the senior women tied up, he finally came out. More heads poked out as he walked down towards us, looking as nervous as a mouse. I realized I recognized the boy. He was one of the Freshman. It looked like the rest of the older boys had kicked him out to test the waters.
“I-is it safe?” the boy named Mortimer asked. “Is it over?”
He was once a proud and somewhat arrogant guy if I remembered correctly. He used to speak with his chin in the air. Now, his eyes were lowered. He had a haggard and gaunt expression. All of that pride seemed to have been scoured away by fear and stress.
“It’s not.” Lowering my sword, I looked down at him as he frowned. “But I’m going to finish it!”