“…remember your instructions?”
“Yeah, get new green branches, make tight bundles. Give the clippers here already. This isn’t exactly rocket science, and it’s late. I’d like to get moving.” The speaker was the guy who’d noticed Jessie earlier.
“Fine,” a man at the back of the van answered him. The same one who’d asked the question Jessie had only half heard earlier. He was older and paunchier than the college student looking guy he was talking to. Jessie sort of assumed that meant he was in charge. “But it’s sap. Just keep that in mind, and we’re going to have to press it out of the wood so the greener and thinner the shoot you can get the better. Small trees.” He handed a set of pruning shears to the college guy. Then he drew out another three to hand out to the other people. One of them was a girl that looked like a match for the college guy. Another was a tall hard faced man with a buzz cut, and the final one wore a hood that obscured most of their features. It didn’t matter, these were definitely the sorcerers.
Jessie reached into a pouch on her garment and pulled out a small needle with a wooden handle and a magical battery. She charged several of the needles with the battery and poked them through the fabric of her sleeve for easier access. The glowing Chinese characters set into the wood looked positively cheery there.
It hadn’t taken long. The sorcerers had only just finished sorting themselves out below. The van was shut off and its music had been silenced. Now everyone was equipped with a flashlight, a set of pruning shears, and a walky talky. They were also all playing with their phones.
“Check,” answered College Guy.
“Check,” answered Sorority Girl.
“Check,” answered Hoodie.
“Alright, don’t go too far, and call me with your coordinates every 15 minutes. Remember, we’re wandering around a long way from civilization in the dark, and I really don’t want to explain why to Search and Rescue if one of you falls down a hill and breaks your leg.”
There were various nods at that.
“Alright, do good work guys. Remember what this means.”
With that, the sorcerers started to split up, each moving on their own into the dark forest. Jessie decided that was enough watching, and picked a target: College Guy. He had been alert enough to notice her earlier, and he seemed fit, so he was probably the biggest threat in the small crew. Of course, that wasn’t saying much, but her instincts told her to take him out first. He had also made the mistake of walking under her tree.
She stepped off the branch she’d been perched on and fell like a stone to the ground her hair once again streaming out behind her and her shozoku cracking in the wind. Time seemed to slow letting her observe that College Guy was just alert enough to start to turn his head upward before she reached him.
It didn’t help him.
She didn’t land directly on the young man; she didn’t want to kill him by shattering his skull or breaking his spine. Instead, she extended one foot and sort of tapped him on the shoulder right before landing next to him. Of course, it was a stunningly powerful “tap” and it drove him to the ground on his face, knocking the wind out of him in a sharp, “Wuuufff!”
It probably would have taken him a couple of minutes to recover. She didn’t give him that chance. Instead she whipped a charged Acupuncture needle free from her sleeve and poked it through his clothes and into his Du Mai at the Mingmen – or “gate of life.” The characters on the needle’s handle flared as its magic discharged. The man slumped forward on the forest floor.
Jessie knew he’d be out for about 30 minutes. When he woke he’d feel great, probably better than he had in a long time. His chi would be flowing freely and any impurities in his personal energy would have been washed away. At least that was the understanding that had constructed the spell. In more scientific terms, he was probably in a medical coma of some sort as the spell, cleared inflammation, killed infection, and stimulated metabolism.
Either way, he wasn’t a threat. The entire process had taken 10 seconds.
She grinned, then reached out and flipped off College Guy’s dropped flashlight. Without the light, none of the other sorcerers should notice their fallen companion until he was late checking in. It had been quiet enough that she figured she should be able to jump back into the trees, cross through the canopy, and repeat her performance with a second member of the team somewhere else in the forrest.
At least she thought that until she looked up and found Leader Dude looking right at her. “Brody,” he asked. There was a slight tremor in his voice.
Brody? Really? If College Guy was still awake she would have had to change his nickname to Frat Guy. It also seemed she was on plan B: attack from the front and punch people in the face. Just as well, the magic coursing through her liked plan B way better than plan A.
“We’re made! Some sort of ninja just took out Brody! Use the sap!” Leader guy was apparently following his own advice because he reached into a pocket, pulled out a vial, and drank it. He was clearly trying to move fast, but to Jessie it felt like he’d taken forever. She could easily have crossed the distance between them and force cleaned his chi.
Instead she crouched slightly, cocked her head to one side and gave him time to do his business with the vial then yet more to summon magic. Some part of her recognized that was nuts, but she was pretty deep in her spell by that point. He summoned the magic with commendable skill and speed. It also felt like it took forever, but it was probably faster than Kyle had ever managed before his recent training. Not a patch on an Archmage, of course, but if she thought he had that kind of skill she’d have been running the opposite direction as fast as possible.
Still, she felt it was worth the wait when he got it all together and burst into flame.