Wrench joined Oriana and Zane, peering at the shaking ledger.
"What?" Oriana said again, anger completely overcome by bafflement.
"Run now. Get to the gate. Frederick will recognize you. I'm going to draw them to me."
Oriana was stunned into stillness, but Wrench seemed to sense the importance of the situation and gently tugged on her shoulder, bringing the two of them away from Zane.
They were nearly around the corner when they heard him whistle, a sound much louder than they thought would be possible from such a slight boy. Oriana was stumbling forward in a befuddled daze, Wrench alternating between guiding her forward and watching behind them.
It took Oriana a moment to realize when Wrench's hands left her shoulders, and that they had stopped moving. She turned around to find Wrench still right behind her, but staring at the rooftops. Oriana followed her gaze but saw nothing but roof tiles and chimneys.
Wrench pointed at one roof in particular, its chimney belching sooty black smoke. Smoke so heavy it was falling to the roof instead of floating away. Smoke that seemed to glitter in the light. It was like no smoke she'd seen before, but a lot of things in Genethan were new to her.
They weren't new to Wrench, though, and she seemed entranced by it.
"Dat's da buildin' Zane was beside," Wrench explained, but Oriana didn't feel particularly enlightened.
"Is it on fire?" As Oriana watched, the smoke poured down the side of the building and disappeared from view.
"Not any fire I ever saw," Wrench said, starting back in the direction they had come from.
"Wait!" Oriana said, grabbing her arm. But a pained yell from the direction of Zane interrupted her, and both girls dropped their packs and ran toward its source.
"He can't breathe," said a voice from around the corner as they drew near. It was replied to by another, both of them calm and quiet and unfamiliar.
"He can't scream again."
"He can't direct us."
They came around the corner just as a blonde woman removed her hand from Zane's throat. He was pressed against the wall, his feet dangling off of the ground. Her other hand still held him in the air, though by lower on his collar, allowing him to speak.
"Where is she?" asked another blond, this one a man. He looked just like his partner—average height, light build, plain white linen clothing. Other than the rare hair colour, they might have looked normal, were it not for them both having two eyes.
"Hey–!" Oriana managed, before Wrench's hand clapped sloppily over her mouth, hitting her with enough force to make her eyes water.
But that was all it took to make all three heads in front of them turn in their direction.
"That's fortunate," said the man. Oriana didn't like the way he smiled.
"Step away from da Zane," Wrench demanded of the woman.
"No." The woman's instead raised her other hand back to Zane's throat.
"No, run! They're not human! You can't hurt them," Zane managed, before his breathing was cut off once more.
"Good," Wrench growled, and she charged at the woman with her wrench raised like a club. The woman didn't even try to stop her, and Wrench swung at the arm that was choking Zane unimpeded.
Her weapon stopped flat as it struck her arm, as though it had struck a sturdy oak.
The woman turned her head to Wrench and gave her the same smile that was plastered on the face of the man, who was standing still nearby as if nothing was going on.
"Is that all?" she cajoled.
"Not even close."
Wrench wound up again and swung at the woman's ribs like she was cutting down a tree. Oriana watched in amazement as the woman was lifted completely off of her feet and sent flying. Zane, still momentarily in her grip, fell a few paces away, but the woman continued into the wall across the alley and nearly went right through it.
Wrench looked even more surprised than Oriana at this development.
"Uh... is she alright?" Wrench asked no one in particular. Her eyes went toward the woman's companion, an almost apologetic look on her face. "Didn't mean ta... Didn't know I could."
"Dhuma will be fine," the man said, his off-putting expression unchanging.
"Are ya sure? Cause I t'ink dere's a hole right t'rough dat wall."
In answer, 'Dhuma' rose to her feet, stray pieces of pulverized brick rolling from on top of her. She looked untouched. Even her clothing was pristine.
"I told you," Zane choked, stumbling to his feet. "You can't hurt them. You shouldn't have come back."
Wrench was examining her arms, stretching and flexing them beneath the fabric of her shirt. She had a pleased smile on her face, but she still looked taken aback.
"Well, I can send dem flyin' at least."
Zane looked at the ruined wall, the worst of it a head-sized hole through to the other side. A frightened eye inside the building darted away as an occupant of the building investigated the disturbance and subsequently decided they wanted nothing to do with it.
Dhuma strode toward Wrench as she wound up for another hit, but as the woman came into range she raised her arm and caught the head of Wrench's weapon before it could hit her. The force of the blow still pushed her back, but she braced her legs and held fast, the hard packed dirt at her feet forming craters under the weight.
"The girl, Kuro," she drawled, even as Wrench moved her other hand to the head of her Wrench and pushed down on it. They seemed to be at a stalemate.
Her companion turned toward Oriana. "Of course."
Oriana didn't want to think about how strong someone must be to hold Wrench off like that—especially a Wrench suddenly able to send people flying through walls. She couldn't imagine Kuro would be any less formidable. What was she supposed to do?
Apprehension glued her feet to the ground. Kuro was ambling toward her like he had all the time in the world, but he might as well have been sprinting. The end result would be the same; she would either be captured or killed and her friends would probably die.
But before the man could reach her, Zane staggered forward, between her and her assailant.
"Run, Oriana. You've got to get out of here. You can't stop them."
Oriana's anger snapped her out of her daze. "What, and you can? What are you going to do, force them to sign a contract? You don't even have a weapon."
Kuro's eyebrows raised slightly as Zane pulled something from a pouch on his belt, but then he scoffed, and Oriana saw it was an ornate gold letter opener, no longer than her hand.
"Seriously? Get out of my way," Oriana ordered, pulling her bow and an arrow from her back. She nocked it and pointed it past Zane's shoulder at Kuro. But when she drew back the arrow, she hesitated.
"Oriana, you've never fired on anything other than wild game and targets," Zane hissed. "And I doubt that will have any effect regardless. Just run. I'll at least slow them."
Oriana resented that he was right. She could tell Kuro wasn't human, but he still looked like one and it didn't feel right. She'd been told all her life not to point her bow at anything she didn't intend to kill. She wasn't sure she could do this.
A loud crash as her friend's wrench was forced sideways and into the ground made up her mind. Her friend needed her. She pivoted her aim across Zane's other shoulder, loosed an arrow at Dhuma's fist as it swung at an off-balance Wrench, and turned back to Kuro as she nocked another arrow.
The man seemed shocked for a split second before Oriana's second arrow buried its head in his chest.
Dhuma, whose hand had been knocked back and was now stuck in a fist because of the arrow right through it, was caught off guard and shoved over by Wrench. Wrench retrieved her weapon and swung again at her downed opponent, sending her flying down the alleyway. This time she came to a skidding halt forty paces away instead of in a wall.
"Embarrassing," Kuro said.
Distracted by the spectacle of a grown woman being sent flying like a thrown ball, Oriana hadn't noticed Kuro pulling the arrow from his chest. But now she saw him discard it and turn from his previous path to approach Wrench instead, without even a hole in his shirt.
"Wrench!" Oriana warned, firing another arrow into his back with no effect.
Wrench turned to face this new threat, raising her weapon above her head. But when she swung at him, instead of blocking the hit he deflected her wrench sideways and grabbed her arm.
"Annoying for a human," he said, squeezing her arm so tightly it elicited a gasp of pain.
Wrench scowled and swung a punch at his face with her free hand, but it had no result other than to cause Kuro to grab her other arm as well. She gritted her teeth as her captor continued to squeeze.
Oriana fired a second arrow into Kuro's back out of frustration, knowing it was little more than an annoyance. Down the alleyway, she could see Dhuma getting to her feet again. If they were going to run, they needed to do it now, before Dhuma was back in the fight. But how could she run when he had Wrench?
Zane, for all his cluelessness, seemed to understand this dilemma without Oriana needing to say anything. He charged at Kuro and slashed at his back with the letter opener.
For his efforts, he was afforded a backhanded hit from Kuro that took him clean off his feet. The letter opener didn't find purchase in anything other than the hem of Kuro's shirt before Zane was knocked back, but Wrench took advantage of Kuro letting go of one of her arms to jam two fingers into his eyes with all her might.
Kuro flinched and let go of Wrench's other arm. While he stumbled for a moment, his eyes squeezed shut and a low growl of frustration emanating from him, Wrench grabbed her weapon and raised it high in the air, bringing it down on the crown of Kuro's head. The man collapsed to the ground, but Wrench wasn't done yet.
"Don't ya ever! touch! me!"
Every word was punctuated with a punishing blow, but Oriana could still see little effect other than to force Kuro's still-whole body slightly into the packed dirt. He would undoubtedly recover again quickly, and while Dhuma was taking her time getting there, she would be back in a matter of seconds as well.
Oriana looked to Zane, who was groaning and not doing much moving. They couldn't keep this up.
"We have to run," she told Wrench.
"Yeah, I'd say," Wrench said, rubbing her arms where Kuro had tried to crush them.
"Are you okay to carry Zane?" Oriana gestured at the boy, who was still out of sorts. She didn't figure he'd be doing any running any time soon, but she wasn't going to leave him behind.
"Zane?" Wrench scoffed, with a grin. "Could carry a dozen of him!"
She picked the boy up under her arm like a parcel, her Wrench in her other hand, and nodded to Oriana.
"Let's go," Oriana said. "We don't have much of a head start, and I don't know how fast they are."
They ran off down the alley and quickly disappeared between the buildings.
× × ×
Dhuma pulled the arrow from her first and approached Kuro, who was just now getting to his feet. The unsettling grin had finally left his face, replaced by a grimace.
"Problems?" Dhuma teased.
"Not alone there," Kuro grumbled, glaring at the destroyed wall.
"No?" She surveyed his eyes—pink with irritation from Wrench's attack—and the cut at the bottom of his shirt. The latter seemed to be of particular interest to Kuro, whose eyes followed hers and then narrowed.
"They know?" she hazarded, but Kuro shook his head.
"Then let's go."
Their forms dissipated into smoke that caught the light like charcoal and slid up the side of the building.