Those not chosen by the fairy Part 5
Chapter 21, The Moonlight forest
“Lise, wake up.”
She yawned and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.
“What…?” she mumbled.
“Ah well… the Father of the Winged Ones says she is girl.”
Lise’s eyes flew open and she blinked up at Kevin. He pointed at the same entrance of the alley that the harpies had chosen not to enter through last night. Blinking again, the princess sat up only dressed in her usual long tunic.
A big, furry and most of all beautiful creature looked back at her with warm curiosity.
It’s fur was purely white without any kind of stain, wings and the big happily twitching ears lined with a deeply green color. And on its head was a tumbleweed of fiery hair, from which two briskly clear-blue eyes peeked out behind.
From the beak alike mouth a soft chirping came as Lise stood up and walked closer, in her fascination forgetting about her bare feet on the cold ground. Very carefully the princess reached out, and the dragon-creature happily chirped and fondly rubbed against the hand that stroke her face.
“You’re beautiful,” Lise warmly mumbled, speaking out the thought without caring about considering it.
“She likes you too,” Kevin said, moving up to the two with a soft look in his eyes.
Lise caught up with what he had said and tilted her head, still stroking the furry creature’s cheek.
“Can you understand her?” she asked, not exactly just a little bit surprised.
“Gah, a little. And smells and hear in sound she makes…”
He trailed off, failing to explain his world. After a moment Lise nodded.
“You keep surprising me,” she commented with a friendly chuckle, “have you talked to her about our situation?”
“Yes,” the half blood reported, “she’ll take us.”
The beautiful creature nodded and even winked with one eye, to Lise’s further surprise. The princess smiled again.
“Just give us a moment to pack, alright?” she said, receiving another happy chirp.
Lise backed a few steps before turning around and walking back into the alley.
Her older and newer friend watched her go. Kevin smiled at first, but when he turned to the dragon creature his glad expression fell aside.
With a sigh he reached out and placed a hand on the big girl’s cheek.
“But know…” he muttered, more or less only to himself, “still no like going there, gah… dangerous…”
‘No… rt Lise…’
He blinked and stared at the ground without really looking at it. Now what had that been? That chanting again? But…?
‘Don’t be sad.’
The “Father” kindly pushed at his hand.
“Not sad, worried,” Kevin mumbled back.
“Not really but…”
He managed to smile a bit.
“Ah, I’ll try not to, then.”
The bigger of the two purred and gave him a push towards the alley with her soft beak.
‘You better go to her now.’
He tried to get a grip of himself and walked towards the natural corridor where his traveling partner still was fastening the laces of her armor.
It didn’t take long to get everything packed again since they weren’t heavily equipped and also were becoming experts on taking care of what they had.
When the two warriors exited the alley, the friendly guardian of Rolante laid down on the ground to make it easier for them to mount.
The soft, thick fur tickled Lise’s legs as she sat down behind Kevin.
“Says hold on, will not hurt her,” the half blood translated.
Still Lise was very careful when she buried her hands in the pure hair, and she noted that Kevin was quite cautious as well. To hurt the innocent dragon in any way seemed like an unforgivable sin.
With another swirling chirp the guardian rose up on her paws and flapped with her wings. The next thing Lise knew was that the wind was sending her hair flapping like a cape behind her, and the high spires of the world’s tallest mountains were zooming away far below. But that was only for the first few seconds, then the dragon turned her stomach towards the ground and claimed a calmer pace of the journey.
A bouquet of fiery mane tickled her face and caused her to snort with a smile. Kevin looked around and let go of the fur with one hand to hold back his hair with a sheepish look all over his face.
Lise just shook her head and smiled at the shyness that she had grown so fond of.
The memory of him draping the blanket around her last night fluttered in her mind. She would never had thought that he’d dare to do something like that.
Come to think of it she had never thought that anyone would do something like that for her. And it wasn’t that much, come to think of it… so why did it feel important, still causing her to feel warm despite the rather chilly air?
No… how dumb, even for a beginning of a thought.
She forcefully pushed it aside, instantly wondering why Kevin didn’t ask if something was wrong.
Oh, the wind wasn’t on his side, he couldn’t smell her… whatever it was.
Begone, stupid thought!
“How do you suggest we continue once we get to the forest?” she asked, forcefully keeping her voice neutral.
He didn’t seem to notice any sort of trouble within her. Phew…
“Better not land close to castle,” he said, “and only other open area in forest by the Moonreading tower. Gah, be seen there, not safe. Land by Mintos.”
“Very well,” Lise nodded.
He was the expert on the area they were heading too, and it sounded as if he had given it some thought.
“By the way, is it true that it’s always night in the forest?” she asked.
“Yeah. Luna’s work…”
Kevin sighed a bit.
“Sad…” he said in a low voice, “I had never seen sun before leaving forest. Karl never got to see…”
It was long ago that she had heard him talk about his dead friend, and had hoped that the pain had eased a bit. But by his words Lise understood that so wasn’t the case; every letter was still filled with bitterness.
It pained her to see her friend’s agony.
Carefully she edged closer and put a hand on his shoulder. This time he didn’t look quite as surprised about her touch as earlier, there was more careful gratefulness in his eyes than anything else.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said in a smoothing voice, “don’t be sad.”
There was an agreeing chirp from the big head in the front.
Kevin closed his eyes and turned away for a moment.
“I was afraid…” he muttered.
“Hmm?” Lise said, kindly.
He turned back, but his eyes were tightly shut.
“Afraid yesterday…” he whispered, “thinking of Rakadra cast spell on me… and going to Moonlight forest, where I…”
He took in a deep breath, and there was a shiver in it. He didn’t try to hide it either.
“… I killed my first best friend. Afraid to…”
Still he didn’t open his eyes, just pressed them even tighter together as he clenched his jaw.
A cold hand grabbed Lise’s throat as she realized what he meant. Not of fear, though.
She couldn’t see a threat in Kevin, they were far too good friends for that… they had come so far together.
But he went through such mental torture, and she was the one that had gotten him worried about it.
She squeezed his shoulder, trying to bring him out of the locked pain.
“Listen, Kevin. You don’t scare me at all, I could never be afraid of you.”
He opened his eyes, the sadness in them stronger than ever before. Lise shook her head.
“I trust you, whether you’re afraid of yourself or not. I’d never believe you’d try to harm me.”
“Lise, I… I promised to protect Karl and I…”
His voice trailed off.
“You were fooled. I’m sure he knows that,” Lise said in a low voice.
Very slowly Kevin’s hand rose up and his fingers hesitantly touched hers as lightly as a breath before carefully lying down on top of her hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t be sad, my friend,” she mumbled again, kindly.
He managed a smile, his fingers tentatively moving on hers.
It didn’t take much longer before the dragon swept down towards a small beach between one sea of water and one of trees. She was faster than the beastmen’s birds. And much more comfortable to use for transportation.
Kevin and Lise slid off the dragon, and she purred when the half blood stroke her cheek again.
“Thank you,” he softly said.
‘No problem at all.’
“Wait a moment…” Lise muttered, digging around in her backpack.
After a moment she took out a large piece of bread, which she offered the dragon. The big creature very carefully caught the gift in her mouth and chewed while purring even more.
“She like,” Kevin commented.
“Yeah, I see that,” Lise warmly responded and caressed the pure fur.
The guardian of Rolante softly nudged her friends with her big head before purring one last time and leave the ground.
Lise and Kevin waved after her until she was out of sight. Then they turned and began walking towards the forest, up a small path leading away from the beach.
It seemed to be very dark between the trunks, darker than the shadows normally should be able to be in the still rising sun. And there were distant lights, as if from candles, deeper inside.
It was like walking from a lit up room to a dark one. Lise stopped dead of surprise when the morning turned into night just as she passed the first tree.
“Whoa…” escaped her before she could stop it.
“Yeah,” Kevin agreed, “I know. Be careful not to fa…!”
Lise instinctively reached out and found his waving arm just in time to stop him from falling, despite the dusk getting a grip. She was about to loose her own balance because of his weight before he regained control.
“Thanks,” he sheepishly muttered, “be careful of roots and stones.”
“I will, don’t worry.”
She picked her tone of voice carefully, to not make it sound as if she was amused.
On the other hand, if she had been amused at his broken warning he would have smelled it anyway…
She smiled a little to herself, without really knowing why.
It became easier to see after a while, as their eyes got used to the darkness. Which didn’t really matter when they came closer to the distant lights.
“Mintos,” Kevin said, and Lise nodded.
Those weren’t candles, they were lanterns. Placed here and there, in trees, hanging from roofs… quite natural considering the inhabitants’ circumstances.
Everything seemed peaceful, not at all what you’d expect from a village so close to the feared Beast Kingdom. The few people moving about seemed perfectly calm, save that every grown-up seemed to carry a belt with a dagger in.
“Are they expecting trouble?” Lise asked in a low voice.
“Not from beastmen, gah.”
Kevin shook his head, even though there was more light in the village she couldn’t see his face well enough to read an expression.
“But there are monsters in the forest. True werewolves, ghosts and mad wolves.”
“Aren’t beastmen the werewolves?” Lise asked, puzzled.
The ghost remark didn’t startle her. Unlike the people of Byzen and other humans not too familiar with the monster encyclopedia the amazons knew about undead beasts. The point of Lise’s spear and of all her warriors’ weapons had a small amount of silver for those cretins. In Rolante there were just zombies and chibidevils, but the princess had heard about other sorts too.
“No, beastmen only like that in battle,” Kevin explained, “ah, there are werewolves who can’t change.”
“Hey, look! Even more strangers!” a small boy’s voice suddenly called.
“Sam!” an older sister or friend of the child snapped.
Kevin and Lise looked at each other’s shadowed faces.
“Excuse me, have there been other people passing through into the forest?” the princess asked the two youngsters.
The girl elbowed Sam to make him shut up before she replied:
“Yeah, there were some women in strange clothes coming through just a few hours ago. Emanuel said that they were from Altena. But they just went through without bothering anyone.”
“And those three weirdoes!” Sam chimed in.
The girl sighed but nodded.
“Yes, there was a young woman with a staff, a swordsman of some kind and a really squeaky kid wearing a pointy hat with bells.”
“Thanks,” she said and smiled a bit before she started to walk off.
Kevin went up beside her again, she let him lead her through the village while they talked.
“Remember those three warriors I told you about, who helped freeing Rolante?” she asked.
“Yeah. Them?” Kevin wondered.
“Definitely. Then they must be here for Luna. But how in Jinn’s name did they get here?”
“It’s strange,” he agreed and growled, “and Altena? Aren’t they after Mana stones?”
“What a mess…” Lise grunted, “but if needed Duran will surely be able to protect the stone here.”
“It’s in Moonreading tower. There.”
Kevin pointed. When Lise followed the direction of his finger with her eyes she faintly saw a distant, high structure against the lowest moon.
“Been sealed for long,” the half blood told her.
“Then the stone’s hopefully out of danger,” Lise summed up with relief.
They passed the last house of the village and walked over a small bridge over a dancing, dark stream. There was a path on the other side, but not for more than a few yards. Then it was merely a tunnel between the tree trunks.
Even though the moonlight seemed brighter than Lise ever had believed possible it was still not much, being forced to work its way through the net of leaves and branches to reach the ground. Yet it was beautiful. The rays were visible, thin poles of transparent silver reaching down from the broken roof above. A delicate mist hung in the air and the weak wind was rather chilly, but not really unpleasant.
She heard Kevin sigh and turned to him. Now as her dark sight had drawn back due to the lanterns’ light she could only see him as a black silhouette.
Come to think of it, he had more or less fled this place, his home… it must be much like she had felt about returning to Rolante…
“Are you alright?” she softly asked, “being back like this?”
He took in a deep breath before he replied.
“Yeah, I guess…”
She heard another sigh after her low, warm comment, but this one was much softer. Kevin slowly nodded.
“Think so too.”
He made a stretching movement with his arms, obviously trying to get back to the here and now.
“I transform now, then we better wait for eyes to get used to dark.”
Lise nodded in agreement, raising her hand to save her eyes from the intense light of his transformation.
It was long ago that he had learnt to master his transformations, he didn’t have to see an enemy anymore to trigger it. The howl tore the silent night into pieces and echoed through the forest, shaking the bushes more than the calm wind could do.
Standing on top of the castle, Beast King looked up. And a smile almost touched his lips.
Karl of course started jumping up and down, yapping like crazy.
The king didn’t bother about the little drama of the moment being ripped apart by a wolf pup. He turned his heel, scooped the happy puppy into a safe grip and walked towards the stair leading down into the throne room.
Chapter 22, Battle in the moonlight
Well, at least it wasn’t as impossible to walk through the forest as Lise had feared it to be. After her eyes had gotten used to extracting all light there was she could see most things pretty well. Except colors. The strange illumination turned everything into lighter or darker silver and nothing else.
Still, the shifting, the values of the night made the whole forest a dream of nature’s beauty. Delicate, pale flowers swayed in the wind, feeding on moons and not sun. The trees and bushes surrounded the two wanderers without creating fear, but protecting.
Kevin’s feet hardly made any sound at all as he walked, even his calm, deep breath was easier to hear. Peaceful…
‘I wish this could last…’ Lise thought, swiftly wondering if it was just a dream since everything seemed almost too crisply wondrous.
But it was truly real…
The peace even lasted for a few minutes longer, which both the princess and prince enjoyed to the fullest.
That in turn made the two werewolves and the drooling wolf in their company twice as hated.
“Careful…!” Kevin grunted in a frustrated voice just a couple of seconds before the foes leaped out of the bushes.
The wind hadn’t been on the travelers’ side; the little that there was had been a bit stronger for a moment, coming from their left and bringing the monster’s scent away from Kevin’s sharp nose.
Three sets of eyes hungrily ogled the two wanderers, measuring their strength. The monsters knew the werewolf there wasn’t a pure one, even more a reason not to let him have that fine human meat for himself…
‘No hurt… touch…!’
With a spine-crushing roar Kevin lunged forward, tackling the left werewolf straight on and almost tearing the other one to the ground within the same move. He stumbled over the fallen one and spun around to meet the two snarling enemies. They hadn’t believed that he’d be so fast.
“Hang on Kevin, I’m coming!” Lise called, furiously swinging her spear at the wolf that blocked her path.
The beast growled, seemed to smirk as it wouldn’t allow her passage to her friend’s aid.
“Out of my way, poodle!” she growled, glaring dangerously.
‘Sounded like something Hawk would say…’ she grimly thought with the tiniest spark of humor possible.
It leaped straight at her instead of stepping aside -not much of a surprise to Lise-, but she managed to catch and stop its mouth with the stick of her spear just before the attack brought her backwards and down in the chilly grass.
Flurry drool fell down on her neck and face as she violently twisted the spear with both hands, sending the wolf tumbling aside. She rolled away and got up, with a disgusted grimace running a hand over her face to get rid of the stinking, hot slime. Through the thundering blood in her veins she heard the snarls and hard thumps from Kevin’s battle, but before she could look around the wolf was leaping at her again. Lise stumbled out of the way, hardly saving her hip from the bypassing, hungry claws.
Just as the wolf landed on the ground Lise swung her spear in an almost desperate move and a raging howl of pain came from the beast as blood ran down over the right back leg. It spun around, its red eyes flaring. Blinded by anger it leaped again, but this time the amazon was ready for the attack. She danced aside, sending out her arm like a whip and hit the wolf’s neck with the weapon’s trustworthy stick. It was brought completely off balance and crashed on the ground. Before it had time to recover from the dizziness Lise sent her spear downwards in full force, shutting her eyes tightly.
There was a desperate yelp of agony and the stick she held in both hands twisted disgustingly as the wolf tried to wriggle loose from its death. But she had aimed carefully before looking away. The beast died quickly.
As the spear stopped twisting in her hands and the dying groans subsided Lise tore her weapon free and spun at the other battle. Kevin…
One werewolf was unconscious on the ground, two others were caught in a deadly wrestling match. Since the battle still was on, one of the awake combatants had to be her friend.
But in the silvery dusk Lise couldn’t make out either one.
“Kevin?” she called, hesitating.
“Yeah?” one of the werewolves grunted, but she didn’t see which one and they were moving so fast…
They spun past a fallen tree trunk, growling and snarling as they both tried to hit and defend at the same time.
Two furry hands got a grip of a hairy head, the holder tore both himself and the enemy upwards and slammed the head into the tree. Maybe not dead, but the one receiving the strike slumped down in the grass with a fading growl.
And the victorious stood up, turned to Lise and slowly took a step forwards. She raised her spear, not knowing if it was a friend or foe that approached her in the night.
She lowered the weapon with a relieved sigh as the confused voice spoke.
“It’s you…” she mumbled and shook her head, “sorry, I couldn’t tell in this darkness.”
“I see. Problem…”
Kevin (very carefully) scratched his head.
“How tell if meet more werewolves?” he concernedly wondered, “surely will…”
The princess eyed him for a moment, her gaze stopping by his long ears. By that she faintly smiled.
“I’ve got an idea,” she said, “sit down for a moment.”
He obeyed as she walked closer, releasing the green ribbon that kept her hair under control. Carefully she tied the long piece of cloth around his left ear with a simple, secure knot. There she would be able to see it clearly, and it wouldn’t be torn off as easily as it might have been if tied around his arm.
“How cute!” she said with a chuckle, kindly teasing.
Kevin let out a short laugh himself, rising to his feet with a grin.
They began walking yet again, continuing into the night. The path they walked wouldn’t be a peaceful one, but both the warriors had resigned to that fact long, long ago.
Chapter 23, Growing emotions in the moonlight
Lise slumped down in the grass with a grimace, with a few tired pulls managing to get her spear free from the latest body. She had a few bruises, but could still go on. If it was luck, skill, blessings of the goddess or everything combined that had saved her and Kevin from worse damage so far, she didn’t know. But the ribbon had really helped a lot quite a few times. How many battles had there been now… the amazon didn’t even want to know.
“Are you alright?” she asked, rubbing her forehead as she tried to get to her feet again.
Kevin was stretching his arms, grunting of exhaust and the stitches of all his bruises which the fur hid. He had a few light cuts on his arms and the tunic had been cut up over his stomach. However, he was determined not to let those small wounds stop him, he could easily endure them. Some of the first scratches had already begun to heal anyway, thanks to his genes. The healing process seemed to only become more effective when he was transformed, just like the rest of him.
“Fine. And you?”
“Nothing worse than another bruise,” Lise said and shook her head.
Kevin stopped stretching after another two seconds and looked around. It seemed like he frowned, but it was hard to tell in the darkness. Very slowly he walked over to one of the trees, to the princess not different from any of the others. But it seemed like Kevin recognized it as he reached out and put his hand on it for a moment. He straightened up and nodded slightly to himself.
“Can… can rest soon,” he said in a low voice without looking around, “know safe place, not far.”
Lise’s throat thickened as she heard the suppressed sadness in his voice. It wasn’t hard to come to a conclusion.
But she didn’t say anything. Instead she silently nodded and followed her friend as he walked on, following an almost invisible path between the trees and bushes.
By some kind of blessing they weren’t attacked during this short journey.
After about fifteen minutes Kevin turned and showed the way through an opening in the lush greenery. He stopped by the entrance to the clearing, his breathing almost, almost completely steady. Lise’s eyes slowly took in every part of the place.
A statue of the Mana goddess stood in the center of the small open field, the moonlight lending it a glistening that made the princess believe that the sculpture was made of gold, or at least covered by a thin layer of the valuable metal. It was the most used image of the heavenly lady, with long, flowing hair, angel wings and a thin branch in her hand. The stick to remind all of her embodiment as the Mana tree.
Behind the winged piece of art a thin river peacefully played by, the sound whispering its duet with the peaceful wind in the trees and blooming bushes. The world’s breath played with the flowers among the grass, made their petals sway back and forth to the night’s music.
And below the goddess’ feet was a small heap of earth. Long dead flowers helplessly laid on it, and a simple cross was pinned into the ground beside the grave.
The amazon’s throat thickened even more. She tried to say something, but she didn’t know what and her lips refused to obey her in any case.
Letting out a deep breath Kevin walked closer and sat down on one knee by the grave, his clawed fingers trembling almost unrecognizably as he picked up the faded flowers and put them aside.
“Karl… I’m… I’m back.”
The words were whispered, in such a low voice that Lise hardly heard them.
Kevin let his heavy head fall and balled his hands into fists.
Very carefully and with all respect the princess put her spear on the ground and walked over to Kevin, sitting down beside him. Rather awkwardly she reached out and picked a few fresh flowers from the ground, then offered him them without looking at his furry face. Unwilling to rob him of any privacy he wanted. But she had to do something for him.
Without a word Kevin took the small bouquet, his claws drawn in as much as possible.
Lise silently watched his big hand lower over the earth and release the flowers, then fall to his side as he sighed. She wanted to hug him in that moment, wrap her arms tightly around him and whisper to him that everything was alright. Do anything, say anything to ease his pain even the tiniest bit.
But she… she couldn’t do that. They were close friends, had saved each other’s lives more times than she could keep track on and her heart bled for him… but she couldn’t reach out for him. He wanted to be strong and independent, just like her. And he probably wanted to pull through this ordeal by himself as well.
He sighed again, clenching his jaw with closed eyes. Lise found herself watching him closely, anxiously searching for any sign of tears or more grief than he could handle. Before she knew it her hand crawled up on his shoulder, and Kevin’s eyes opened. He glanced at her, somewhat helpless…?
She couldn’t get anything else past her lips.
He tried to smile a little, but failed badly. And looked back at the grave.
Lise bent her neck a little and turned her face at him.
“It wasn’t your fault. I’m sure Karl knows that…”
She could hardly hear herself speak.
Slowly Kevin nodded, letting out a deep breath. Somewhere within the sigh there was a tired “yeah…”. After a moment he straightened up and glanced at her.
“For what?” she replied, bittersweetly remembering how he hadn’t found anything wrong with her outburst after Rakadra’s attack.
The joyless twitch of his long lips showed that he probably remembered that occasion as well. With care he moved a few feet away from the grave before sitting down in the grass. Lise followed him, taking her hand from his shoulder as he seemed better again. But she felt reluctance at backing off like that.
“The statue keep monsters away,” Kevin said in a low voice, almost whispering, “can rest here.”
It was said that the statues that could be found all over the world had been created by the goddess herself, at least the sort that was so very common. And it was proven that monsters didn’t like to come too close to the sculptures, thus creating the belief that the holy guardian had placed sparks of her power in the art pieces. In any case the clearing was safe. And Karl’s grave would be left in peace.
Lise wondered if Kevin understood how his decision to visit his dead friend proved his true strength. But she chose not to bring it up. She just nodded, pushed her backpack aside and then leaned back until she laid down, resting her head on her arms.
The stars twinkled down at her, the moons just peeking up behind the thriving treetops. Even though the grass was rather cold she didn’t find it unpleasant.
But she was surprised when Kevin also laid down, mimicking her pose. His right elbow almost touched her arm. And for some reason there was a strange tickling in her chest as the silken fur brushed by.
The stars silently shed their light, helped by the more powerful moons. And the wind whispered in the night.
“Used to lie here, with Karl…” the half blood finally mumbled after a while.
Lise closed her eyes.
‘Oh dear… am I intruding…?’
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, not knowing what else to say.
“Feel sad,” Kevin whispered as if he hadn’t heard her, “but… not alone now. Glad for that…”
The amazon’s breath almost got stuck in her throat, not of shock but surprise. And the warm nectar of the feeling called honest care. She turned her head to Kevin and found him shyly looking at her.
Her words were cut off by a sudden screech somewhere behind them. The eerie sound was so violently intruding in their peace that both Lise and Kevin froze.
Just a bird… she began to relax again when her friend spun to his feet, glaring towards the exit of the clearing. The wind played with his fur as he sniffed the air.
“What?” Lise hissed, raising up on her arms.
“Lugar…!” Kevin growled, “and not alone!”
He bent down and grabbed her shoulders, dashing to the other side of the open field. Lise stumbled with him, dazzled.
“Better be careful,” the half blood whispered and sat down on one knee again while intensively watching the entrance, “believe I can handle Lugar, but not if he have help.”
“Alright,” Lise gravely nodded.
The world was silent apart from their breathing and the wind in the leaves. But Kevin’s suspicious sniffs told Lise that the danger still was there.
“Somebody with him,” the prince whispered, growling, “but wind make it hard to tell…”
A minute slipped by, another crawled. Finally Kevin straightened up and let go of Lise’s shoulders. She had even forgot he still held on to her shoulder panzer in the tension.
“Gone?” she said in a low voice.
Kevin growled, his fingers twitching.
“Find their trace, something’s wrong.”
The princess gravely nodded, trusting his senses.
“Who is Lugar?” she asked while they hurriedly passed the clearing and collected their backpacks.
“Commander of the army, was in Jad. He told the troops to kill me, remember?”
Lugar said to get you, traitor!
Now that he mentioned it she remembered.
Lise grimly nodded and picked up her spear. She followed Kevin past the trees and further over the thin path.
Even as he was crouching to touch the grass with his furry paw hand a growl was beginning to rise in his throat. He darted up again, forcefully muffling his roar of rage to a loud hiss. Lise almost recoiled as she saw the fire of hatred in his eyes.
“Deathjester!” he snarled, “come!”
Narrowing her eyes Lise rushed after Kevin, forgetting the remaining aching of all the bruises. It was hard for her to keep up with the werewolf, but even though he was in rage he realized that fact after a while and threw a glance over his shoulder. Seeing that Lise was doing all she could to stay close he slowed down a little.
“Are they going to the tower?” she growled, glancing at the impressive shape that seemed to shine in the moonlight.
“Gah, think so.”
Kevin stopped dead and spun around, meeting Lise’s wide eyes.
“Altena! The Mana stone!”
They spoke simultaneously and started running again with almost double speed.
As the two warriors disappeared between the bushes a bat swooped down to the ground where they had been standing. In a dark flash it took an almost human form.
“Hey, wasn’t that…?” a rasping female voice said.
Another bat lowered and transformed.
“Indeed I think so,” it said with a hungry smirk.
The first one looked around with a sigh.
“Now were are all the boys when you need them?”
“I think all those that were around here are sleeping or got knocked out earlier,” the second said and rolled her eyes, “they should really start moving in bigger groups. Never mind the noise! It’s far more sufficient, for the high demon’s sake!”
“Well, no time to find anyone else. Let’s just grab what we can.”
The tower hovered above them, just about twenty yards away. Lise and Kevin were moving slower now, recovering from their run and trying not to let their enemies hear them. This time the weak wind was blowing against them, thereby helping. Lugar wouldn’t feel any scents that could warn him.
“Others here,” Kevin growled with tension in his voice, “women… the Altenan soldiers.”
Lise was about to ask what he believed about the intruder’s chances against the beastman commander, however Kevin didn’t have to answer that. There was a flash of light ahead, shining above the trees almost desperately. And several women’s voices screamed. Suddenly cut.
The two warriors hissed and dashed forward.
Another goddess statue stood by an opening between the thick bushes, a screeching chuckle was heard from ahead. Kevin’s eyes flared and he growled, his claws exploding from his fingers…
Suddenly he yelped in surprise and stumbled. Lise didn’t have time to react and ran into him. They fell into the bushes and ended up in a cave of leaves, a closed room inside of the forest’s walls.
Kevin tried to get up but a transparent tail violently hit his forehead and his head crashed down… into a rock.
Normally his transformations went back and forth with an intense blaze, but as he lost his consciousness he more melted back into his humanoid form. The little light he emitted during that process was just a small sparkle.
With a furious growl Lise swung her spear at the small ghost that had harmed her friend. Whether the stories of ghosts were exaggerated or if it was the silver in her weapon that did the trick she didn’t know, neither cared. The important thing was that the monster disappeared with an insulted tweet. With a snort the amazon turned to the spirit that had caught Kevin’s ankle and thereby had caused him to stumble. It met her glare, blinked and quickly removed its tail, edging away through the branches.
Lise let out a relieved sigh that the encounter hadn’t been anything worse and reached out for Kevin to try shaking him back to life. He was breathing, so it wasn’t worse than a knock out. But just as she touched his shoulders she heard heavy steps and quickly looked around.
A muscled beastman in a red jacket walked past on the other side of the branches. All beastmen the princess ever had seen had been strong looking, but this one emitted more strength than normal. Much more. She froze, trying not to make a single sound.
Him, she knew, she would never be able to handle alone. Kevin was unconscious, they wouldn’t stand a chance if that beast heard or smelled them…
In the moonlight Lise saw the blood on his hands as he walked by, he had killed the Altenan women already. Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure Lugar would hear it.
No, he passed…
Lise’s breath got stuck in her throat, but this time it was everything but pleasant.
Lugar’s sniffs tore through the dusk like thunderclaps.
‘Dear goddess, don’t let him find us, I can’t fight him and he’ll kill Kevin…!’
The commander stood still for an eternity, thoughtfully sniffing the air. The wind twirled in the trees, hardly touching the low bushes.
And Lugar snorted. He began walking again.
Very slowly Lise let out a silent sigh of relief.
‘Thank you, goddess…’
Kevin blinked as Lise’s hand shot down and covered his mouth. She pressed her unoccupied pointing finger against her lips. He might be awake, but right then she didn’t feel like taking any chances. Especially since he still must be rather dizzy.
“Lugar,” she breathed, “wait.”
He grimly nodded and she released his face, absentmindedly reaching down in the moss to pick up her ribbon from the ground. When Kevin’s ears changed shape the piece of cloth had fallen off.
Slowly he sat up, rubbing the back of his head. It was a rather impressive sight since the movement affected the whole mane.
“He alone?” the prince grunted.
“Yes,” Lise grimly replied.
Kevin straightened up, swayed a little but stood.
“Are you sure about this?” Lise grimly asked, taking her spear in both hands.
“Just catch breath a little, be fine when transform.”
The princess nodded and they stepped out of the bushes.
“… And his spell. He doesn’t have to know.”
The harsh, cold voice came from ahead, through the opening leading to the tower’s foundation. Kevin’s soul twitched. With a snarl he dashed through the opening and stood before the tower.
And Deathjester just devoured a lifeless body in a swirling, damp light. What once had been a living human faded into nothingness and was gone. At the sight of the man alike creature Kevin forgot everything else in his rage and he stormed forward with a roar. Deathjester turned around, smirking.
“Ah, the lost son of the Beast King has returned!” he sneered.
Chapter 24, Fooled by hatred, caged by evil
Kevin’s yellow eyes glowed with hatred as he took an attack stance, his fingers bent like claws.
“You say Karl live, you lie!” he snarled, in his hate only able to focus on the last untruth.
“And you, my boy, is an imbecile to believe it.”
The dark magician tilted his head with another cruel smirk.
“But I’ll tell you this,” he said, “Karl’s soul was rather tasty, for a wolf’s…”
Upon hearing that Kevin exploded. With a piercing roar he lunged forward, but Deathjester leaped aside in the last split second. Even as he was in the air and the half blood was spinning around to attack again the magician pointed both hands at his foe.
All Kevin heard was a screeching chuckle, all he saw was a painful yellow light, all he felt was his muscles turning into icicles…
“C-can’t… move… gah… Li… se…”
He fell to the ground, the last fragmented word only a half whispering from his numbing lips. It was so weak that he hardly heard it himself.
Deathjester calmly walked up to him, hovering over the prince like a vulture. His eyes were two glowing needles of evil light.
“Looks like I’ll have dessert after all,” the evil one said with a cruel laugh, “my dear boy, you’ll see Karl sooner than you think!”
A cold hand shot down on Kevin’s throat, the nails cutting into his skin and squeezing his breathing channel shut…
“Stop!” a powerful, determined voice of a young man boomed.
Kevin tried to blink the blue stars away as Deathjester let go of him and straightened up. His throat was burning, as if it wasn’t enough that the rest of his body was so cold it felt full of needles.
A young warrior with a sword, light armor and completely mad hair rushed into the open area, followed by a young woman holding a staff. She didn’t look very comfortable, probably felt rather cold since her clothing wasn’t the warmest.
“My, my,” Deathjester ironically said and waved with a pointing finger, “isn’t it rather rude to disturb somebody when they’re eating?”
A small body emerged from behind the two strangers. A child with a pointy hat. And two bells jingled happily as she moved, cutting against the situation and the desperate anger in her squeaky voice.
“You’re the weirdo who kidnapped my Heath!” she yelled, “give him back! Give him back!”
She threw herself at Deathjester, raising a twin morningstar… but her enemy kicked her backwards with an irritated snort.
“Who the devil…” Deathjester snapped.
Where was Lise?
The girl got up and glared furiously at the magician. The irritated expression in the evil one’s face disappeared and he smirked again.
“Ah, it’s all coming back to me,” he chuckled, “you’re that kid, the priest of Light’s granddaughter.”
She had been just behind… where had Lise gone?!
“Yeah, so?!” the girl snapped.
“Heath has accepted the supervision of my master, the Masked Mage,” he smirked, “he’s the number two man, and I’m number one.”
All of the three warriors stared at the magician.
‘Lise?!’ Kevin thought, trying to move his head to see past the warriors that could only be that Duran, Angela and Carlie.
“N-no!” the latter stuttered in wild disbelief, desperate denial, “NO!”
“Noisy little thing, aren’t you?”
Deathjester coldly chuckled, sounding like a mad hen.
“I’ll kill you along with Kevin,” he stated and began raising his hands.
“Wait! Allow me.”
Oh no… not that…
‘Lugar… Lise?! No!’
The commander came through the small opening, glancing at Kevin with a contempt, cold sneer. The half blood’s nails weakly scratched the chilly grass.
“I saw Kevin in the forest and followed him back here,” Lugar said, looking at Deathjester, “I’ll finish him myself.”
He turned to Duran, who sternly met his measuring eyes.
“But first you, it’ll be a nice warm up,” the beastman said.
“A-as you wish!”
Deathjester turned and hurried into the tower. But now Kevin understood that he wasn’t taking orders, nor afraid. Just lazy. But it didn’t matter anymore.
‘No, Lugar can’t have…!?’
He couldn’t even finish the thought.
With a roar that shook the trees Lugar transformed and dashed straight at the swordsman. Duran stumbled aside but was sent flying across the field after a hit in the chest.
“Duran!” Angela screeched.
He crashed and stumbled to his feet, swearing.
“Just you wait!” the more grown lady harshly snarled and closed her eyes, “Carlie, heal him! Wisp, spirit of Light! Send your power!”
She threw her hand towards the charging Lugar and he stumbled back as a circle of dancing, glowing white orbs left Angela’s hand and hit him. They turned into a ray of light and forced him to the ground. He got up almost immediately, but by then Duran was on his way for revenge. The swordsman cursed a lot when he fought…
“You okay, weird person thing?” Carlie concernedly asked, bending at Kevin while making a cute, worried face.
“Fine… seen… Lise?” the prince more or less croaked.
“Lishe?” the child lisped in surprise, “not since Rolante…”
“Carlie! Help Angela!” Duran shouted.
The child hurried away.
Lise hadn’t been out there when Carlie and her friends passed?! Kevin desperately clutched the grass, his head flaring from inside as he tried to move.
Where was she?!
“Take this you blasted… overgrown pet!” Duran snarled and swung his sword at Lugar, who snarled and tackled the swordsman even though it meant a nasty cut in his own side.
“Salamando! Raging flames! And Duran, your insults are just getting worse!” Angela shouted.
Have to get up, have to find…
Lugar yelped in surprised agony as the flames clawed at his open wound. Before he had recovered Carlie smashed her twin stars into his back and the swordsman slammed the side of his weapon into the furry head.
The beastman heavily fell to the ground, melting into his half human, half beast shape. The warriors halted their attack, hesitating about whether they had won or not.
“Oh!” Deathjester’s distant, irritated voice screeched from somewhere above, “just you wait!”
And Kevin could move. He stumbled up and more crawled than walked over to his fallen tribesman.
Lise, have you seen her… oh, by the goddess, Lugar!
He looked so… weak. Haggard and tired. Not only from this battle, even though it was the cause of his life pouring into the grass in vast, killing streams.
“L-Lugar…” Kevin stuttered, utterly shocked by the sight.
It just wasn’t possible…
The fallen beastman opened one of his eyes, slowly. Blood ran past above it through his thick hair. Like some sort of disgusting war paint.
His lips twitched in a tiny, bitter smile.
“Kevin…” he whispered, “heir to the throne… learning the arts from Beast King himself.”
He coughed, even though it was clear that he tried to hold back.
“Words could not describe my jealousy…”
A cold, dark stream ran through Kevin’s heart and clawed through his whole body. Realization…
“But for me, a mere soldier without a drop of royal blood…”
“… It was an unattainable dream.”
“But you let it all go to waste, Kevin…”
“… All your pacifist nonsense…”
“… So I trained as hard as I could…”
“… So that one day I would defeat you.”
… Never wanted.
“… This is the result.”
Lugar coughed again. There wasn’t much time left.
Kevin desperately looked at Carlie, but she looked back with a helpless shake of her head. It was too much, she couldn’t do anything…
The prince looked back at his dying tribesman. There was so much that shouldn’t have… happened… Lugar.
‘The one you call my father was the first king, we never decided to do as humans do about heirs! You could have been the next king, Lugar, the one who was stronger and wanted to take the leadership always ruled us when we were just small tribes which were scattered through the forest and only tried to survive against the hunters… what is this about royal blood?! Nonsense!’
There was so much he wanted to say, that his tongue couldn’t handle.
“Lugar, you strong enough… strong enough to be heir.”
The full blood beastman opened his other eye and looked up at Kevin. The king’s son looked back with a sadness he had hoped that he never would have to feel again. Lugar was dying. Karl had died. Because of… of nothing at all.
Lugar even smiled a little, exhausted.
“One day, perhaps…” he whispered, “until then, continue training. Don’t let yourself become weak… gh…”
The eyes closed and he fell back, limbless.
“L-Lugar!” Kevin called, desperate.
A strong light suddenly blinded him, he heard the others yelp in surprise. But the most painful glow faded after a moment, and left was the shine of the most intense full moon.
Above the lake by the tower a small figure floated, carried by in compare to the rest of her big wings. Her whole body was encircled by an aura; the source of the light. Or was the aureole a part of her?
It was impossible to tell.
A small fairy floated out of Duran’s head, seemingly untouched by the humans’ surprise.
“Luna?” the sprite said in a lazy, sad voice, “the Moon spirit?”
“Why yes,” the figure soothingly replied, “I was waiting for you.”
Her voice was somehow singing, sounding like some kind of musical instrument.
Kevin didn’t care about what she said and how she said it.
The spirit of the Moons was the guardian of the forest, of the beastmen…
“Luna!” the prince pleaded, “please, save Lugar!”
For a moment she seemed to hesitate. Then she peacefully waved with her wings and floated over to the fallen warrior.
“Alright,” she said in a soft voice, “let’s see…”
Her light became unbearable again, but it wasn’t really painful. Just very strong.
And as it faded, Lugar was gone. Instead there was a small beastman puppy sitting on the ground, curiously looking around. For a moment Kevin was stunned.
“That… Lugar?” he finally managed.
“Right,” Luna said with a smile, “in order to save him I had to revive him as a child.”
Kevin looked up and to his surprise the spirit winked at him.
“One day he might even become heir to the Beast King’s throne,” she softly added.
The half blood turned back to the baby, who gravely looked back.
“Alright Lugar…” the now older one said in a low voice, “I’ll wait for that day.”
The small one yipped and happily crawled towards the exit of the field, the entrance to the wilderness.
“Uh, is he going to be alright?” Angela said in disbelief, “a baby all alone in this forest?”
Kevin looked at the heroes and tried to smile a little.
“Ah, animals… pick him up and raise him,” he explained, “normal for us.”
It was an old tradition, from ancient times when beastmen were more beasts than men. Lugar would be fine.
Duran reached up and scratched his visor, perplexed.
“Incredible…” he muttered, not even noticing that he wasn’t touching his head.
“Luna,” the fairy suddenly said, “where is the Mana stone of the Moon?”
“Oh, it’s safe in the tower’s first floor…”
The spirit fell silent.
“The weirdo went in!” Carlie shouted.
‘How could I forget!?’ Kevin’s mind roared.
“Go, go, hurry! I keep guard!” he snarled and ran towards the exit, momentarily turning around to wave goodbye.
Maybe the stone was having its power released, maybe Duran and the others would kill Deathjester. It didn’t matter anymore.
He dashed out on the small path, nearly trampling on Lugar.
“Yip!” the baby said, holding something in his small hands.
The ribbon… Lise’s ribbon that she had tied around his ear. She had taken it after he woke up… and now it was lying on the road…?!
Kevin bent down and took the green piece of cloth, violently sniffing the air. He transformed, hardly noticing it as he turned his head to one side and the other, wildly searching for a trace.
Everything was still, silent… there!
He hissed, baring his teeth.
It was a foul stench, he had never felt anything worse in his entire life.
An odor of sudden, cut shock.
Something had happened to her!
But no signs of battle, no fear… it must have happened quickly and silently since he hadn’t noticed it as he attacked.
No, it wasn’t just speed… he had been blinded by hate.
There… he caught her smell properly and held on to it, searching… it was floating in the air somehow, not bound to the ground. Had something that could fly carried her off?
Oh no. No, it couldn’t!
His rage panicked for a moment until his mind caught up with the nose’s information.
You’d know Rakadra’s smell, wouldn’t you?
See, there’s evil here, that throbbing stench. But not Rakadra.
Oh, that feels much better…
But at least it was a small comfort.
He had felt that smell before somewhere… never mind! Are you still standing there?!
Kevin furiously growled at himself and began to run while Lugar crawled in under a bush.
“Let me help you!” a musical voice suddenly called.
A familiar figure with an aureole zoomed up beside the rushing half blood, but he didn’t even slow down.
“Luna?” he just grunted, hardly using any other sense than his one of smell while he dashed through the forest.
“Listen,” she grimly said, not at all like she had been back by the tower, “I fear that you’ll face more than you can handle in that state. But don’t worry. Dear brother, Wisp, send me your blessing…”
A warm stream of stars showered over Kevin and filled him with new strength. His old bruises and cuts healed completely and his speed increased.
“Thanks,” he grunted, still not even thinking of slowing down.
Luna had no problems keeping up with him, though.
“There’s more I can do,” she said as they bolted on, “me and all the others that Duran and his friends have met.”
“Do you know, where Lise?!” Kevin asked.
“No, I’m sorry. There are places in my own forest that have been blocked to me for a while. However, it’s time to fight back, we are united once again, through the fairy.”
“Haven’t you noticed that the wind has stopped?”
Luna’s smile was grave.
“Jinn is here, through me,” she grimly said, “he can’t really do much on this distance but with this he can help you save his princess and your friend by freezing the wind.”
Kevin blinked. Yes, the wind was gone. If it still had been there then the weak track that he followed had been blown into pieces long ago. He even managed to smile a little of the flame of gratefulness.
“Thank you,” he honestly grunted.
“Nothing to talk about. Now listen, I have to teach you something that you’ll probably need soon…”
Luna pursed her mouth.
Chapter 25, Demon and beast
Lise heavily rolled/fell over on her back, without any strength pressing both hands against her pulsating head. Ow…
The floor she laid on felt hard and cold, like stone.
It took a moment before the pain eased enough to let her become confused.
‘Where… am I?’
She managed to get up on her knees, blinking at the complete darkness around her. Her jaw clenched by itself and she automatically reached for her spear.
It wasn’t there. And neither was her armor, she only wore the long tunic.
She forced the panic back, desperately trying to think.
‘Where am I? And Kevin? What had happened?’
The last thing she could remember was that screeching voice coming through the bushes, which had made Kevin dash forward in blind rage. Then… something had…
She lifted her hand to her cheek, feeling the thin scratch icily sting. Something had cut her, doubtlessly with some kind of poison. Most certainly magical poison since it had worked within a second.
Lise struggled to keep her head safe from the rising fear. That just wouldn’t help one bit.
‘Why shouldn’t I be scared?!’ the already panicking part of her screamed in protest, ‘I don’t know where I am, I can’t see, I have no equipment, I’m obviously trapped by something and Kevin is gone!’
She tried to take in a deep breath. Which came straight out as a shriek when an ice cold finger touched her cheek, its claw cutting into her already cut skin. Lise threw herself backwards deeper into the darkness, hit a wall and slumped to the floor, dizzily groaning.
“As noisy as ever, aren’t we?” a slightly hoarse, cold voice sneered.
Lise managed to almost muffle a second shriek of horror and fumbled over the wall as she fought to get up.
A sudden dirty light cut straight through her eyes and blinded her for a moment. She violently blinked and tried to shadow her face with one hand.
Against the light a silhouette was standing. A tall silhouette with wings.
Lise’s teeth screeched against each other.
Faster than she could react to the shadow shot forward and grabbed her upper arms, ripping her from the ground. The light almost blinded her again even though the warden’s head was before hers.
“Let me go!” she hissed and desperately kicked at his stomach.
It was like hitting a rock, yet he dropped her with a snort. The landing wasn’t very soft, but the amazon suppressed the pain and threw herself further away.
“Now, now. What kind of worshipping of hospitality is that?” the harsh voice sneered, “stand still, you little rat.”
Lise crashed on the floor, her right leg burning from the inside. Felt as if the bone itself was on fire and the flesh was made of ice…
She could hardly move, paralyzed by the agony.
So this was… what Kevin went through…? So many times…?
“There, much better.”
The footsteps closed in, but she couldn’t move away. The clawing pain crippled her, long enough for the silhouette to grab her wrists and tear her up in a sitting position against the wall. Lise shivered in agony, fighting another scream.
“Let go, Rakadra…!” she hissed, trying not to give him the pleasure of clearly seeing her pain.
“If you insist.”
To her surprise his cold hands fell away from her, but the surprise died as she found her arms locked against the stone behind her. Even though she couldn’t look around very well Lise knew that there would be black ropes.
The painful light subsided a little, only to let her see Rakadra properly. She cringed as he grabbed her chin in an iron grip. The only thing coming from her violent struggle was that her leg started flaming again and she thumped back against the wall with a pathetic moan of pain.
“Be careful, you might hurt yourself,” the half demon smirked.
“Leave me alone…” Lise groaned, “where’s Kevin…?”
“Oh, you think I’ve got him too?”
“Sadly, not at this point, I’m afraid. But there are a couple of demons on their way from Navarre to bring you to my master Jagan, and once that’s taken care of I’ll tend to your so called friend.”
“He’ll break every damn bone in your body, do you hear me?!” Lise spat out, trying to get her chin free.
The princess cringed as the demon’s icy hands snaked up on both sides of her face, completely locking her head so that she couldn’t turn away even the slightest. Her mouth went completely dry.
Oh yeah, I’m afraid now…
She tried to swallow, to cure her drained throat. But every muscle in her body was frozen in horror as the sharp, unholy eyes stared down into hers and laid icy chains around her soul.
“Do you really think he’ll come to save you?” Rakadra smirked.
The mere obscurity in that accuse lit such an anger in Lise that the fear fled back to the depths of her mind, at least for a moment.
“Why wouldn’t I know?!” she growled.
Rakadra cruelly chuckled.
“Oh dear… the pretty little princess prays for her brave prince to come and save her,” he gleefully smirked, “and I thought you were a warrior. Shame on you.”
“Kevin will come because he is my friend!” Lise snarled, in rage over the demon’s mockery.
“Oh really? You don’t know beastmen that well, do you?”
The demon watched her flaming eyes with amusement.
“Those muscle freaks are cold thinkers,” he said as a matter of factly, “haven’t you realized that yet?”
Memories of Kevin’s coldest, most ruthless sayings invaded the princess’ mind.
“Not good, living enemy… won’t be weak next time… avenge…”
Oh no you don’t!
“Stay out of my head!” Lise snarled, “those things prove nothing!”
“Just trying to break your illusions, they aren’t good for you,” Rakadra sneered, “now that he had his chance against that one you call Deathjester, don’t you think he’s done with your help?”
“Where is he?!” Lise harshly asked.
“Probably resting somewhere in the forest. Accept facts.”
“If you think I’m going to believe you then you’re not evil, just an idiot!” the princess snarled.
Rakadra tilted his head, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m hurt,” he claimed, the sneer speaking against his words.
“Just stop it! Leave me alone!” Lise growled.
She fought back a yelp as his grip of her head tightened.
“Now let’s not be rude,” Rakadra hissed, soft as silk, “do remember where you are, princess. I find these mind games amusing, but they bore me in the long run.”
She more heard than felt his claws zip further out from his fingers, since they only brushed by the fine hair on her neck. The sharp sound was deafening.
Rakadra’s hands moved down to her shoulders, his claws cutting into the fabric of her tunic. The razor-sharp tips icily teased her skin and caused snakes of terror to crawl into Lise’s chest.
Her dry tongue and lips could hardly produce the whisper.
Rakadra sneered, hungrily. Lise desperately struggled against her chains, only getting more torture for her leg.
“You see, my master wants you alive, for him to kill in order to release the Mana stone of Light,” the demon whispered in her ear, his breath like icicles, “and alive is my only restrain.”
‘Dear goddess, no, PLEASE!’
His hands clenched, the claws about to rip the tunic into pieces…
“Lord Rakadra!” a hoarse, female voice screeched.
He spun up and around with an angered hiss of being bothered in his delight. Lise slumped back against the floor and wall as her muscles lost all violent tension. She couldn’t stop something that sounded like a sob of relief.
“I said that I wouldn’t be disturbed!” the half demon snarled.
What looked like an extremely pale woman in a crimson cape bowed nervously, floating about a feet above the ground. The light changed again, revealing that she floated in an opening carved out from the stone wall.
“Yes my lord,” she stuttered, “but the son of the accursed Beast King has found the entrance and is wreaking havoc…”
“Told you…” Lise whispered in an unsteady voice.
“Hmm. I stand corrected. But it doesn’t matter.”
Lise groaned in surprised pain as the ropes on her wrists shot upwards on the wall, tearing her into standing. The right leg screamed and she let all weight off it, leaning on her left.
A blessed familiar roar shook the underground room and the undead woman dashed inwards, fleeing the source of the sound.
Kevin busted in, halting just inside of the room momentarily only to take in the scene in order to get a vague idea about how he could attack.
Lise’s whole being was a mix between indescribable relief and darkest horror.
‘He’s here, he really came… oh goddess, what if Rakadra is too strong for him!?’
‘Do you really fear that?’ some deep part of her asked with soft sarcasm.
For she had never, ever believed that Kevin could seem that powerful. He had always been strong, much stronger than anyone else she had known. But now it was something almost eerie over-worldly about him. Like a pure explosion of strength.
His whole transformed body moved by his heavy intakes of breaths, as he stood there with his burning eyes locked on Rakadra he was crouching slightly. But not as he used to crouch when he walked, nor in exhaust. It was as if he was holding back, building up for the attack.
There was dark blood on his hands, on his torn tunic, in his fur, everywhere. His teeth were bared in a murderous growl. And his fingers twitched, pieces of bloodied cloth still hanging in the claws.
Slowly he straightened up and began walking. Like an embodiment of Death.
“Say before…” he growled, his voice unsteady and indistinct with ultimate rage, “no hurt Lise!”
The undead woman tried to attack him, but he waved her off like a fly. With a shriek she crashed into one of the walls and became still.
“You’re late,” Rakadra smirked and left the ground, “I already have.”
Kevin’s breath halted for a second and his eyes flared up with at least double hatred.
“I’m alright, Kevin…” Lise tried to counter, but her voice wouldn’t obey her and it became just another whisper.
“She’s good at screaming, your princess,” the demon cruelly said, sneering.
The beastman rushed forward and jumped. Rakadra dashed aside, but Kevin was ready for that. In the same second that he touched the floor he shot upwards again and spun around in the air, this time managing to plant a heavy blow straight into the demon’s stomach.
Rakadra harshly snarled, almost loosing control of his wings along with his breath. But he managed to stay up, backing away from the growling warrior on the ground.
“That wasn’t very smart, boy…!” the demon snarled and threw out his hand with a storm of black lightning bolts.
Kevin leaped aside and around to avoid the blasts, ending up just before Lise. She stared up into his flaring eyes for the second that he stood still, as she was crouching in pain and he had transformed he was hovering over her. Protecting when she didn’t have any chance to defend herself…
Just before he spun around to face Rakadra again his warm breath brushed by her pale, freezing cheek.
“Let’s see you handle this one…” the demon sneered and unclenched his right fist.
A lightning erupted from his hand, shattered and turned into a swarm of black needles. All floating in the air, pointing at the prisoner and the werewolf.
Rakadra straightened out his pointing finger.
“Move!” Lise croaked.
Kevin didn’t reply.
Rakadra bent his wrist and the claw on his finger pointed straight at the two foes of his.
The prince of the Beast Kingdom moved his feet into a secure position as he threw up his arms to cover his face, staying where he was in order to protect the one who couldn’t duck.
And the needles shot down.
“No!” Lise screeched, but even before she had finished the short word Kevin harshly yelped and staggered.
The needles disappeared, but left hundreds of tiny wounds.
“How typically you…” Rakadra said, coldly smirking.
With a weak, hateful growl the beastman turned a little without taking his burning eyes off the demon. But the warrior of the Moonlight forest had to reach out an arm and lean against the wall to keep standing.
Lise tried to call, but like before her voice didn’t obey. Lame with despair just as the rest of her felt. There was nothing she could do to help him, now he was doomed too only because of her being captured…
“Just like your mother once did to save your father,” Rakadra sneered.
Kevin swayed again, Lise couldn’t see his face. She didn’t care about what the demon said, far too drained of all feelings except the darkest ones. There was no confusion to use.
“Speaking of which, allow me to kill that hope as well,” the demon cruelly went on, “this time the great Beast King can’t send his mind down to save you either. Not down here.”
He was well aware of his victory, but still stayed by the roof. Not stupid enough to risk the mistake that had brought him down on the ship.
And he snapped his fingers, a black circle appearing in his hand.
“Please Kevin, run!” Lise whispered, her eyes dashing between her crouching friend and the collar Rakadra held.
His voice was shockingly calm. Was he… smiling?
Rakadra drew back his hand with a smirk, about to send the collar through the air.
“Luna, I call upon your brother Wisp!” Kevin shouted, startling both his friend and his enemy with the sudden power.
A rain of stars fell from thin air and showered over Kevin, enveloping the beastman in a pure, warm light. Lise had to turn her eyes away, but she thought that she saw a transparent, white flame with two bright eyes flash by Kevin’s shoulder for a second.
“Son of a…!”
With a screech Rakadra dropped the collar, in raw disgust and pain turning away from the holy power being displayed all too close to him.
Big, big mistake.
Kevin straightened up, not all but many of his wounds healed by the sacred elemental’s magic. With a roar he leaped, grabbed Rakadra’s waist with both hands and tore his enemy out of the air. The demon screeched in rage and horror as he fell with the beastman’s claws cutting through his tunic. The son of Beast King drew back and smashed both arms downwards just before the impact, doubling Rakadra’s crash.
And Kevin had time to get his shoulder and knees into a tactical position during the last tenth of a second.
Lise turned her eyes away, but it was impossible to escape the disgusting sound of crushed bones and guts. The demon’s last, short screech pierced the air, unearthly and fading as if Rakadra had been falling out of reach for the ear. Filled with anguish, hatred and most of all offended dishonor.
The dark ropes disappeared and the princess heavily fell to the floor, letting her unhurt leg take all the impact.
Kevin stumbled away from the repulsive corpse and more fell than sat down as Lise reached up to give him support. She found her arms around his neck, pressing herself against him as his furry warmth closed the relieved embrace. That he was a bloody mess didn’t matter the slightest to her.
The beastman’s whole body buzzed softly as he exhaustedly turned back into his human form. The only difference was that all the blood and remaining wounds became properly exposed on his skin, unhidden by fur. And his usual clothes were torn like the tunic; his shirt hanging helplessly only on one shoulder. He didn’t care.
“I was so worried…” he whispered, sighing of relief from the knowledge that she was safe.
The soft, warm smell of her tired joy stroke his nostrils and pushed the throbbing pain away from his body.
“Thank you so much…” Lise mumbled back with her cheek on his shoulder.
She straightened up and fell into the golden crystals of his eyes, which now only burned with relief just like hers. Her right hand moved up to Kevin’s face and stroke away a few drops of almost black blood that had splashed onto his skin.
“You came in time,” she whispered, calming, “he didn’t have time to do anything worse than hurt my leg.”
For a moment his arms squeezed her even tighter before relaxing a little again.
“Sorry, bring you here,” he bitterly grunted.
Lise’s hand stopped, on his cheek.
For some reason it made her want to cry.
“Kevin, you’re the one who got really hurt, you didn’t even want to bring me to the forest!” she said in a choked voice, tender and bitter at the same time, “it was all my fault!”
He shook his head, his eyes falling away for a moment.
“Should have been more careful,” he gravely said, “rushed off, didn’t see you get caught. I was so worried…”
Lise watched his face, feeling his pulse against her chest and in his arms that held her so defensively. His eyes were still turned away, it felt as if it had been eternity since she lost his precious gaze.
Slowly she bent her neck the little bit needed and pressed her lips against his.
Kevin froze and drew back, staring at her. Lise’s soul turned to ice in new horror, afraid to have made a terrible mistake.
What if she’d been wrong, it was stupid, he probably only saw her as a friend, well she had thought so too just a couple of seconds ago… maybe he wasn’t… didn’t…
Carefully he leaned forward and his lips tentatively caressed hers. Completely new to the concept, but Lise had no experience either so it didn’t matter… why would such a detail ever matter…
“This… love?” Kevin mumbled, almost whispering as his breath ran over her cheeks like a warm river.
“I th-think so…” Lise replied, battling tears of the overwhelming mix of relief and tenderness.
They straightened up a little and looked into each other’s eyes, tentatively somehow.
Lise’s hand moved by itself as she watched the warmly yellow irises. The pointing finger reached out and lightly touched the tip of Kevin’s nose, causing both of them to smile.
“What does it smell like?” she asked in a low voice.
Kevin tilted his head for a moment before bending forward to lean his forehead against her so that his mane swayed on to almost create a small room for their faces.
“Smells like Lise,” he said.
She warmly smiled and hugged him tightly at that. Not sure what she had believed he would reply but knowing that whatever she could have thought of it couldn’t have been sweeter wording.
‘But I’d say it smells like you, Kevin.’
‘So that’s what the sad happiness is…’ Kevin tenderly thought while his strong arms drew Lise even closer, with only a tenth -if even that- of his true strength not to harm her.
The joyful sadness was so powerful that he felt dizzy. But it wasn’t painful or bothering, only asking of him to be right there and finally hold her close to him. It was nice to at last understand.
And heaven to be there in her embrace.
She felt so incredibly soft and warm, yet her grip of his neck was a strong one. Kevin tenderly smiled back at her, the warrior princess who could love a stuttering half blood beast like him.
Their loving peace was torn to pieces by a sudden screech of rage and they both spun around.
Not again, not now!
Five more floating, pale women were examining Rakadra’s dead body, their black eyes flashing with rage and hatred. They turned to the two warriors with “revenge!” written all over their faces.
“Worse time possible…” Kevin growled and tried to get up, but stumbled with a groan.
His whole body screamed of the pain he had forced away.
“Call upon Wisp, hurry!” Lise harshly said, with bitter anger trying to stand up as well.
Never ever a moment’s rest and happiness, something always have to ruin it…
She had no weapon, no armor, but she was angry and she wouldn’t allow herself nor Kevin to get hurt. Especially not now!
“Luna, I call…” Kevin began with harsh frustration, obviously sharing Lise’s bitterness.
But he never got further. Neither did the vampire ladies. The only thing they had time to realize was that the two insects that had killed their master suddenly turned completely paralyzed with slightly wider eyes, staring at something behind…
The howl was as powerful as Kevin’s raging roar earlier, shaking the entire cave.
With one single sweep of his thick arm the enormous werewolf slammed the whole group of demon servants out of the way and into the wall, where they crashed on about the same spot that their friend had fallen on after the prince’s hit a few minutes ago. They turned to gray smoke and disappeared as they hit the floor.
“I think that’s quite enough,” the werewolf added, much, much calmer.
He disappeared in a strong light and turned out being an older beastman. His long, body dominant hair had begun to turn grayish, showing that he was a bit above middle age. Wearing a fine shirt and a blood-red cloak, he was obviously not a regular beast.
And he was even bigger than Lugar.
Lise heard Kevin’s growl while she still was staring at the sudden appearance, easily coming to a conclusion she wasn’t sure she liked.
Beast King calmly watched his hateful son.