Those not chosen by the fairy Part 8
Chapter 35, Demons, take 2
(I could have added a very tender morning scene here, but I felt they deserved that much privacy too. And the cute rate was getting dangerous.)
Lise sat on the edge of the bed, slowly, distractedly brushing her hair.
“You okay?” a very characteristic voice asked.
She looked up, a little surprised.
“I can show up at will sometimes,” Wisp kindly explained and floated lower, “so? How are you?”
The princess looked at her brush, a little embarrassed.
“I wasn’t watching you know,” the spirit hurriedly promised.
“Then how can you know?” Lise mildly said.
“Dear, I see straight through you. And Salamando said that both of you were close to a breakdown of any sort.”
She fiddled a little with the brush, smiling absentmindedly.
“Salamando was right about that we were about to fly off the handle about each other…”
“Told you,” Wisp kindly said, without being neither mocking nor a wiseacre.
“I’m glad,” Lise admitted with a soft smile, “very glad even. And relived beyond belief that it didn’t hurt the first time, I have no idea how Kevin would have reacted to that.”
“Lucky,” Wisp agreed, nodding gravely, “I’ve noted that it’s not common knowledge among humans that it doesn’t have to hurt for everyone. And if Kevin, oh dear…”
Lise looked up and perked an eyebrow jokingly.
“Am I having girl-talk with a white flame?” she commented.
Wisp smiled warmly. She was finally feeling better psychologically too again. Confronting her and Kevin’s love on that plane had eased a lot of tension for both of them.
“Seems so,” he chuckled, “but don’t worry. Luna’s having a man to man talk with Kevin right about now.”
“You mean that’s why Karl started barking all of a sudden?” Lise suspiciously asked.
“All of a sudden, what? It’s almost midday,” Wisp mildly said and winked with one eye, “we just wanted to make sure you were alright. We’re your guardians you know.”
Lise chuckled a little.
“Speaking of which,” she suddenly said, “has Duran gotten the gate to the Holyland open yet?”
“Well, about that…” he slowly said, “we had some troubles. The gate rose up in the sky, so they’ll have to find your Father of the Winged ones to get in.”
“Oh dear… will they make it in time?” the princess asked, frowning.
“Oh, surely. Some of our enemies broke in too, but they’re too busy fighting each other to make it through the labyrinth of the Holyland.”
Wisp fell silent, looking concerned.
“Though…” he said, “among those enemies there was an airship coming from Navarre, but we have no real idea who was on it. It’s hard for us to see exactly what is going on. But don’t worry about that, you concentrate on Elliot, alright?”
“But…” Lise worriedly began.
“No buts, lady. It’s not your job. And… hmm…”
Lise followed Wisp with her eyes as he slowly swept around, thoughtfully gazing at her.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
“No, not really…”
There was a hint of new concern in his voice, however.
“… It’s just that your body still seems vary, maybe you should have rested longer back at my place. Well, not much too do about it now, this oven isn’t the best place to recover in. But be careful on the journey, alright?”
“I feel fine, Wisp,” Lise tried to calm both him and herself.
“Yes, I know. But… have you felt tired?” he asked.
“Well… a little, but only period.”
The elemental nodded.
“You’re not falling to pieces,” he said, “but try to stay as calm as you can in the closest future. Try to avoid battling as much as possible, and definitely long, intense ones.”
“But we’re probably going up against demons tonight again,” Lise pointed out.
“I know,” Wisp said with a sigh, “and that can’t be helped. And I know you’re not going to consider it, but it would probably be best if you let Kevin and Hawk look for Elliot without you.”
Lise looked down and resolutely shook her head.
“I can’t, I’m sorry.”
“Well, call me if you need me,” he softly said and dematerialized.
Three, two, one…
The door opened and Lise turned around with a faint smile that grew bigger as Karl leaped onto the bed, set on a petting. The vanadis put her brush aside and moved up fully on the mattress as she couldn’t resist the puppy eyes.
“Why were you making such a hassle, eh?” she asked in a low voice while scratching him behind the ears.
“Luna’s order,” Kevin mildly said, sitting down and absentmindedly stroking the soft fur.
“Wisp mentioned she was talking to you,” Lise nodded.
He smiled a bit, dryly.
“They worry too.”
Lise just smiled then, silently.
‘Just a bit tired…’
“Ugly fellows, I take it. Don’t really wanna see one on close-up,” Hawk muttered in a low voice, peeking up behind the boulder the three warriors were crouching behind.
Large, winged and horned shadows gracelessly moved on top of the high walls of Navarre. There were three of them, but there could very well be more inside.
“We should be able to handle those,” Lise muttered in a low voice, “but it would be safer if we could get them away from the castle so that they won’t be able to call for help.”
“How would we manage that?” Hawk whispered, “living bait?”
He meant the last thing more as a joke and was horrified as Kevin nodded.
“Alright,” the half blood said.
“Are you crazy?!” the ninja hissed.
“They slower than me, you go back a bit and I’ll lead them there.”
Hawk and Lise exchanged glances.
Finally the princess nodded, giving Kevin a quick hug.
“Be careful,” she mumbled.
“I will,” he whispered back, briefly stroking her cheek with a furry hand.
“Count to one hundred, we’ll go in a straight line back towards Deen,” Lise instructed before she began moving backwards.
“You’re nuts…” Hawk sighed and followed the vanadis.
“Probably,” she muttered, more to herself than to her friend.
Even though she meant for Hawk to hear it, she wasn’t sure if he heard. She wasn’t even sure where he was.
While she rushed away from the castle in a crouching manner, ducking behind dry cliffs and boulders, Hawk was diving between the shadows born from the moonlight. His silhouette bolted in and out of sight; Lise only managed to see him from the corner of her eye sometimes.
“… Thirty-three, thirty-four…” she mumbled through clenched teeth.
Maybe they should have let Hawk lure the demons instead… no, who knew if the ninja could use his sneaking abilities to hide from those beasts. And he wasn’t strong enough to handle three at once. Well, neither was Kevin, but he had greater chances to hold up long enough for help to come.
“… Forty-six, forty-seven…”
Rushing onwards, alone as Hawk kept out of sight.
The cold night air crawled over her bare skin, but she was moving quickly and got warmed up from the inside by her own flowing blood.
“… Sixty, Sixty-one…”
Would Kevin even be able to keep ahead of the demons for that long? What if he got caught out of reach for her and Hawk…
Clenching her teeth she kept running without hesitating, though the fear almost gripped her.
‘He knows what he’s doing, otherwise he wouldn’t have volunteered.’
“… Eighty-nine, ninety…”
Any second now…
She dove in behind another boulder, trying to catch her breath. Hawk entered from nowhere just beside her.
“Really think he’ll make it?” the ninja grimly asked.
“He better,” Lise muttered, trying to force her worry away.
She peeked up above the rock, and not seeing anything she sat down on one knee again.
“Wisp, I call upon you. Blessed weapons, quickly!” she hissed.
“Coming right up!” the summoned elemental whispered.
He was almost invisible, trying to keep his powers hidden as they still were dangerously close to the demon’s lair. One spark too strong could alarm a more skilled dark arts user.
A careful glow covered the spear point and the blades of Hawk’s daggers.
“Good luck,” Wisp whispered and disappeared again.
Seconds snailed past.
Then a distant sound made the two warriors peek up above the rock, tense with worry. It was hard to tell what the sound was, but it came closer.
A figure came dashing out in the moonlight, rushing over the cold sand. Heavy flapping and growling laughter followed him; devilish silhouettes against the starlit sky.
As Kevin only could focus on running and the track showing him towards his friends he couldn’t concentrate much on the hunters, and one of the demons swooped down at him, brandishing its claws for the unprotected back.
With a halfway muffled warcry Lise flew up on the rock, sending her spear flying through the night. The demon stopped in midair of the surprise, which led to a full hit on its throat. It fell to the ground, leaving Kevin unharmed. And Lise unarmed.
“Me and unguarded back!” the werewolf snarled as he skidded to a halt before the rock.
“It’s alright, I’ll get it soon enough,” the vanadis hissed and jumped down on the ground beside him.
“Careful, no claws.”
“Hey, it’s lord Jagan’s dinner,” one of the still mobile demons sneered, and both the spawns of evil cruelly laughed.
Strangely, or maybe not, they didn’t seem too touched by the death of their comrade.
Lise instinctively cringed and her hand flew to her throat in a defensive move by the memory. Then her vision was covered by a dangerously growling werewolf.
‘You shouldn’t have to protect me, Kevin, I’m a warrior!’ she thought, bitter as she felt her own weakness apparent.
No weapon, no self-control… being shielded!
‘I am not a frail little princess! I’m…’
“Ready to get spear, me and Hawk distract them,” Kevin whispered from the corner of his wide mouth.
“Alright,” Lise whispered, trying to force herself not to smile of relief.
It had maybe not been meant as such, but the simple plan hit as acknowledgement when she really had needed some of that.
“Ready when you are,” Hawk’s voice came from a shadow.
“Now!” Kevin hissed.
“Messenger from heaven coming down!”
One of the demons fell with a surprised grunt due to a smirking ninja planting his feet between its wings. How Hawk had come up there remained a mystery. Kevin tackled the falling beast before it hit the ground; the Navarre warrior jumped off half a heartbeat before the second impact.
The still untouched demon snarled and dived at the werewolf, slamming Hawk’s dagger aside. But the desert boot hit its mark in the greenish stomach, even if the slam almost sprained the ninja’s ankle. So it was hard to tell who got hit the worst.
Kevin was wrestling his own demon but Lise came to Hawk’s aid with her spear in both hands, trusting her hairy friend to hold his ground for a moment. The ninja had some troubles though. His foot ached and it made him slow, somehow robbing his ability to hide in the darkness. He did his best but his daggers weren’t meant for killing demons even in a blessed state. Lise however had something meant for major stabbing.
It was an almost disappointingly short battle.
“I had awaited a little more,” Hawk commented, watching the final body dissolve.
“These not as strong as Jagan’s…” Kevin nodded, thoughtfully.
“Can they have sent their strongest warriors somewhere else?” Lise suggested, “Wisp said that an airship left for the Holyland…”
“I don’t really like the idea of demons going there,” Hawk grimaced with a shudder.
His two friends gravely nodded.
They began walking towards the castle of the sand ocean.
‘What the heck was that anyway?’ Lise grimly thought while walking beside Kevin, ‘I’ve never gotten dispirited like that before. Sure I’ve lost hope sometimes, but that was like falling into depression.’
She tried to push the thoughts aside.
‘No use worrying. Wisp just got me jittery, that’s all. Now focus on what we’re doing.’
The silhouette of the great fortress loomed before the three. Lise looked up at the walls and felt another almost paralyzing cut of hopelessness.
‘Dear goddess, please let Elliot be here…’
Almost simultaneously Kevin’s warm, soft paw brushed against her arm and Hawk spoke:
“You okay, Lise?”
“Hmm? Yeah, why?” she mumbled, a bit absentmindedly though.
“You sighed so that my heart almost broke,” the ninja gently said.
The vanadis looked around, only seeing concerned eyes glistening in the moonlight.
“I just hope Elliot’s in here,” she said, somewhat calmingly.
Kevin touched her hand carefully, nothing more.
“Let’s find out, then,” he said in a low murmur.
Lise nodded and they turned back to the castle; hopefully the end of the long journey.
Chapter 36, Darkness despairing
It was silent.
That was the first thing they noted when sneaking in through one of the many doors found in the inner side of the walls, Hawk in the lead.
“Think they have deserted it since they needed to focus on the attack against the Holyland?” Lise whispered, frowning as she and her friends silently moved down a dark corridor.
“No,” Kevin whispered, “I feel scent of demon here, too new for leaving for Holyland. Luna say they left last night.”
Hawk thought Kevin’s voice sounded a little strange when saying “last night”, but it was so faint he brushed it off.
“Have they just passed through here or are they close by?” he whispered.
“Not here now, I think,” the werewolf replied, “and strange.”
Kevin shook his head in confusion.
“Many a little older smells, so hard to tell…” he said, “but think only one fresh demon scent.”
The ninja stopped and made his companions do the same.
“You know… I can move quicker alone and I know this place,” he said, “how about I check around a little on my own? It’s just too quiet and what you said about smells makes it even stranger.”
“You might get attacked,” Lise protested, “we can’t be sure…”
“I’ll be careful, don’t worry. I just think that would be faster and safer in the long run.”
Lise and Kevin exchanged glances.
“Fine, but not too far,” the werewolf finally said.
“Don’t worry about it. Wait here.”
And with that Hawk became one with the shadows.
Lise glanced down the long corridor, trying to see him move. But he was too good at the shadow diving thing.
“Think he’s just showing off?” she said with a faint smile.
“A bit,” Kevin nodded with a low chuckle.
She leaned at him a little, the soft fur on his arm gently tickled her cheek without being unpleasant.
“But he can have it, I see him being anxious about his home…”
‘I think I can fall asleep right here…’ she thought and blinked, ‘really now, get a grip of yourself!’
Quickly she straightened up and rubbed her neck with a determined frown.
“My day rhythm is completely broken,” she grunted as an explanation to both herself and Kevin.
“Same here,” he agreed and stretched his arms a little.
‘That’s nice to know, then I’m not the only one…’ Lise thought with an inner sigh of relief.
She didn’t want to think that Wisp could be right about her starting to be worn out.
‘Not now, I’ve gone so far already! I haven’t broken yet so I won’t now either.’
As she was caught in thought she almost jumped out of her skin when Hawk shot up beside her and hissed:
“I found some inhabitants, let’s spy together!”
“Alright…” Lise said and pressed her hand against the left side of her armor’s chest more or less jocular, “just don’t scare me like that!”
Hawk smirked a little at her dominating joking way and then led the way again, down the corridor.
“Sounded to me like they’re having trooouble,” the ninja whispered over his shoulder, maliciously.
“That good,” Kevin said with a faint but still uncharacteristic smirk.
And Lise couldn’t exactly say anything against it either. Whatever was bad news for the likes of Jagan and his pack was most probably good news for the rest of the world.
Hawk stopped outside a door slightly bigger than the ones that were common sight the castle. Low sounds could be faintly heard, and they sounded quite exasperated. As the ninja ever so carefully poked the door slightly open the discussion could be clearly heard.
“… Astrophe!” a cold, hissing voice groaned, “we will not be able to rise again from this for at least a millennia!”
“Is it really as bad as they claim?” a more growling voice demanded.
“It’s worse!” a hollow whisper cried.
‘A vampire, a demon and a ghost?’ Lise mused, listening closely as it got even more interesting.
“I just received word that master Jagan was killed!” the ghost howled.
Three eavesdropping intruders stiffened in surprise.
“What?!” the vampire shouted, “who? How!?”
“When lady Bigeau realized that all was lost she apparently went mad,” the ghost snarled, “she killed both master Jagan and herself!”
“This is just too good to be true…” Hawk whispered over his shoulder, doubtfully.
Kevin slowly nodded, but he didn’t really doubt it. The despair of the evil creatures stung his nostrils and made him convinced that it was true.
Though his more violent side gladly would have even enjoyed seeing Jagan die by his own claws, his death was nonetheless a relief and quite contenting anyway.
“Are we loosing the Dark Palace?” the demon snarled, though he was almost roaring seeming like the calmest of the three.
“The Dragon Emperor’s troops were bigger than we expected,” the ghost bitterly reported, “the reinforcements were too late to be of any help, and we lost them too. The palace was severely damaged and those lizards looted all the powers they could suck out from the walls.”
“What about the higher floors?” the demon asked.
“The magic fire protecting that lasted just long enough to make them give up finding the way around it, as they obviously had other matters to attend to.”
“Then there’s still something left,” the demon concluded, “we need to assemble all the survivors and get back what we can.”
“Some already went to the glass desert to kill off as many weaker dragons as they could find,” the vampire reported with a sigh just as symbolic as Wisp’s coughs.
“Fools!” the demon roared so that the walls almost shook.
“He seems different from those we’ve fought,” Lise whispered, frowning.
“Stronger, smarter,” Kevin grimly muttered.
“We’ve lost too much already!” the beast raged on, “what are they thinking!?”
“I doubt they’re thinking at all,” the vampire snarled.
The demon snarled something incomprehensive for a few seconds. Then:
“Get a hold of as many as possible, I don’t care how you do it. I’ll go cut up the last prisoners in the meantime, less I’ll have to kill off some of our idiots when they get here!”
“Save some meat for us, will you?” the vampire said.
“Fine, I will. But you better hurry up for it!”
“Of course, my lord.”
“The dungeons!” Hawk hissed and pointed ahead.
As fast as they dared without making a sound the three rushed past the door and onwards. The evil servants kept discussing the topic at hand, but it was probably only a matter of minutes before the demon would teleport to the prisoners.
Silently praying that Hawk was right about the placement of the captives the warriors hurried through the castle and down stairs. After what felt like a never ending labyrinth they stumbled into a surprisingly well lit corridor. The left wall had several bar doors.
“Anybody home?” Hawk said aloud, too unsure about safety to call.
At first there was no reply. But after a couple of seconds an old, raspy voice was heard from the closest cell.
“It can’t be… Hawk, is that you?”
The ninja hurried over to the door and looked inside.
“Omes!” he smiled, “you alright?”
“Just a bit shaky and hungry,” the old man’s voice replied, “why are you here?”
“To get you all out of course! Hey granny, Sandra!”
Two voices replied with relief. Others began to call out from cells further down.
“Calm down a little folks, we’re not home safe yet,” Hawk warned, “there’s a hungry demon on his way, but me and my friends here will fight him for you.”
He quickly looked around and back again.
“I know this is a bit offhand, but is there a blond little boy here somewhere? We’re looking for my friend Lise’s brother who was kidnapped.”
“Oh, you mean Elliot?” Omes said.
Lise could hardly hold back a squeal, but her hope crashed in the mud a second later.
“He was here for a while, but they took him away somewhere the other day.”
“Yes, I’m sure I heard one of those creeps say something about a prince in some black palace or something like that,” a younger woman’s voice said from within the cell.
Lise heavily thumped against the nearest wall, covering her eyes with a hand. But she hardly had time to fall back properly before Kevin’s heartbeat gently whispered against her heavy cheek and he helped her stay up.
“For what, do you know that?” Hawk almost harshly demanded.
“Something about that prince wanting the kid for something once he regained his power,” the woman, Sandra, helplessly said.
“Hey, wasn’t it him that the beasts guarding us groaned about just before they rushed off?” another woman’s voice called from a cell further down, “something about their prince being dead?”
“Yeah, I remember that too!” some older man from the same cell agreed.
“So Elliot might still be alive…” Lise said, almost in a broken whisper.
She hardly dared to hope anymore. That just seemed too much to survive after what she’d heard from the ghost, demon and vampire.
“Providing he’s at those higher levels…” Hawk carefully agreed.
“He alive,” Kevin resolutely said, calmingly putting his big hand against the back of Lise’s head.
Lise tried to fight a heavy sigh.
She didn’t have to though, it became drown in a roar.
“What in the high demon’s name!?”
“No time for that now guys!” Hawk gulped, reaching for his daggers.
Kevin and Lise broke apart, eying the demon that had appeared in the middle of the corridor. Horrified shuffles were heard from the cells.
It was bigger than the demons they had fought before, and while those had had somewhat greenish skin this one was darkly red. And those claws weren’t pretty.
“Who are you?” he demanded, showing off the knives on his hands.
Hawk wasn’t complaining much but silently questioning his friend’s sanity as Kevin grabbed the ninja’s arm and threw him up behind the hairy back together with Lise.
“Distracting maneuver again?” the princess whispered.
The only reply was a swift wave of Kevin’s fingers.
“I asked you a question,” the demon dangerously growled.
“Kevin, son of Beast King,” the werewolf said, moving into a defensive stance and brandishing his claws.
The roar could have awakened dead. If there were more monsters in the castle the intruders would soon know it.
“Quite the popular one, isn’t he?” Hawk mumbled from the corner of his lips as Kevin ducked under the claws and tried to kick the demon’s legs to bring him off balance.
The great beast flapped with his wings and remained standing however, his right hand shooting down at the werewolf trying to slide away over a way too uneven floor.
“Wisp, I call upon you!” Lise shouted while leaping forwards, hoping that the elemental would have power enough to make it down to them.
With all the evil forces that had taken over and the fact that Salamando couldn’t even make it inside, in his own territory, it wasn’t exactly guaranteed help.
So she wasn’t surprised when nothing happened and her non-holified spear almost broke when hitting the massive hand. Not to mention her wrists and fingers.
But Kevin got away with a scratch in his leg.
“Why you little…” the demon began.
With a snarl Hawk exploded up behind him, stabbing his daggers into the sides of the demon’s neck. Trying to avoid spasms of pain the ninja somersaulted backwards.
He, Lise, Kevin and the prisoners that could see what was going on were all quite shocked with the fact that the demon laughed.
“That tickled,” he said with amusement, pulling one of the daggers out and letting it fall to the floor.
He didn’t even bleed.
“This isn’t good,” Lise concluded, nervously changing stance to a ready-to-duck one.
She exchanged glances with Kevin who now had gotten to his feet. Stretching out her pointing finger from the spear she moved it in a quick circle. He blinked, not quite following at first. Then he nodded.
“Try,” he whispered.
Still with one dagger stuck in his neck the demon looked around.
“Interesting…” he said with a smirk showing off several rows of fangs.
“What is?” Lise cautiously asked while edging away from Kevin, hoping to stalk a little.
“All these spirited youngsters, of course.”
Only instincts made the vanadis leap backwards in time; she never saw the claws coming for her.
Kevin was thrown down half the corridor in one more careful, clawless sweep, he was too slow as he was trying to focus.
“Stand still, little amazon,” the demon mocked, forcing her further backwards.
There was no room in the corridor to move in any other direction than back. Lise clenched her teeth, for the moment having no other option than to be led to where the demon wanted her.
Hawk suddenly dashed forwards, slamming a shoulder into the beast’s back. Or more precisely, one of his wings.
It took a lot of force but something went cra-ack and the demon snarled in pain.
“You’ll pay dearly for that, human,” he growled and spun at Hawk, catching him by the throat with one hand.
Even though he was a ninja, the great beast moved too quickly for the young warrior. If his enemy hadn’t held him with his long fingers instead of the claws Hawk would already been dead. The situation wasn’t exactly good in any case.
Between Hawk’s desperately kicking legs and the foe’s arm Lise saw Kevin’s arms twitch as if he was trying to hold back something.
He couldn’t get a clear shot with Hawk in the way!
“Hey you!” the vanadis shouted, with all her might slamming her spear against the exposed bones on the broken wing, “weren’t you dancing with me?!”
The demon snarled in pain but smirked as he spun around. Lightly numb after the forceful slam Lise hadn’t time to move away and her feet also left the ground.
Fighting to breathe she dropped her spear and fumbled for the thick red wrist.
“Let go!” the half blood roared almost before she had finished the silent plea.
“You wait for your… argh!”
The demon roared in pain and dropped the two warriors as a massive ball of light hit his back. It went straight through him but missed Lise and Hawk as they were on the floor gasping for air. The power orb continued to the stair where it burnt the steps badly but dissolved.
Lise’s breath almost got stuck in her throat again as the demon grunted and began to fall towards her and Hawk. She scrambled out of the way, grabbing the ninjas arm and barely managing to get both him and herself out of danger.
Their foe dissolved into eerie smoke which quickly disappeared.
There was a moment of silence before the prisoners began cheering, all realizing what had happened.
“You okay, Hawk?” Lise gasped, still out of breath.
“Yeah, but that was creepy!” he said, getting up into a sitting position against the wall.
“Creepy?” the princess repeated, a little amused by the understatement.
Kevin almost crashed before her, lightly gasping after the use of the energy ball.
“Alright?” he asked, looking at the two humans before him.
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Hawk replied with a small smile, “what the heck was that, anyway?”
“Power of God hand,” Kevin said, shaking his head, “works, but takes power.”
Hawk stood and walked over to the nearest cell, revealing a small dirk from some hidden pocket.
“Now let’s get you guys out of here,” he said.
“I’m amazed the place isn’t swarming with guards already…” Lise said with a frown, getting to her feet.
“That was the first one of them I saw since yesterday,” Sandra reported, “in the middle of the night there was a great commotion above and then quiet.”
“Palace under attack,” Kevin slowly concluded, “send troops to help, leave scouts to wait for Jagan to return.”
“Then where is this… Dark Palace?” Lise wondered, rubbing her forehead.
Would there ever be an end… but now she was almost fearful about it. If Elliot was in a castle that had been under heavy siege…
She bit her tongue, trying not to think about it.
“I think I’ve heard stories about it,” the old lady Hawk had called granny thoughtfully said, “far to the north, it would go faster to head south from here.”
“To the Dark Palace then, guys?” Hawk said, focusing on the lock.
“Yes, we’re going there then,” Lise said, forcing herself to straighten up.
Kevin watched her, worriedly frowning. It wasn’t hard to tell that this last disappointment and new wave of fear had hit her hard, but he knew she wouldn’t admit it. Even though he worried that she’d move away he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. Lise looked up and pressed forth a smile that almost cut his eyes.
‘… You can’t go on like this, you need to let go. Please be reasonable, let me and Hawk go without you. I’m afraid of that you could break down if we don’t find him this time either. You’re weakening, can’t you see?! I don’t demand of you to go on, no one does! I’m tired too, but you’re in a much worse condition! You’re not weak, Lise! But you’ve been inhumanly worried and fighting at the same time for too long…’
But seeing a flicker of panic in her eyes and knowing she feared that he’d say just something like that, he couldn’t.
“… it… will be alright.”
She slowly nodded, almost managing to smile a little more natural.
Chapter 37, Pressing on and interlude
After a lot of happy reunions in Deen, the whole population teamed up to remember the location of the Dark Palace from the tales.
Lise’s self control was almost used up by then, she was growing from anxious to leave and get it over with to something almost desperate. Kevin’s constant presence was all she could mentally hook on to keep up. Though she tried to be happy with all the people being relieved and rejoicing in their freedom, her own worries kept her heart cold.
Her frustration stung Kevin’s nostrils but he couldn’t do much against it. What would that be? Roar at the lot to shut up and help instead?
Finally the desert people had greeted and hugged each other enough and somebody produced a map. As there were no house big enough for everyone the meeting took place outside in the middle of the town.
“I think it must be here,” somebody quickly concluded, pointing at a large island east of the fabled Forest of Wonder.
“Yes, it can’t hardly be in the elf land,” somebody else said.
“You believe in elves?”
“So that’s it then?”
“Yeah, it must be it.”
“So, what do you know about this place?” Hawk asked.
“Well, it’s said that to get to it, you have to pass through a cave that is so dark that you can’t see an inch before you,” the Flame Kahn grimly said, “and light is magically banned in there.”
“Doesn’t sound so pretty…”
“How fast can the birds get you there?” Nikita asked.
Kevin watched the map for a moment, measuring distances between places he recognized and the trip that laid before him and his friends.
“Few hours, I think,” he said, vaguely, “depends on winds. Not sure.”
Everybody looked up, some in surprise, some in worry.
“Right away?” Hawk carefully asked.
“If Elliot is still alive, we have to hurry,” Lise nodded, looking at the ninja and Kevin with stubborn determination.
The two exchanged quick glances.
“I’ll get our packing,” the amazon said and turned to walk to the inn, not even waiting for a response.
Kevin shook his head, staring at the ground and clenching and unclenching his hands helplessly.
“Not good…” he muttered aloud before he could stop himself.
But it seemed that only Hawk heard, and he just silently nodded.
‘Uh, Kevin?’ Wisp’s voice said within the half blood’s head.
‘Yes, what is it?’ Kevin thought back, a little more forceful than he had planned.
The elemental’s voice was too worried to ease what he felt himself. On the contrary.
‘What happened inside Navarre?’
‘Elliot was taken away to the Dark Palace, we’re going there soon. Seems it got attacked, and we have no idea if Elliot is alive.’
‘Yes, three evil factions have been struggling all the while,’ Wisp quickly explained, ‘the one that seems to be led by a magician named Koren from Altena and a dark knight got the upper hand during the struggle in the Holyland and wiped out the other two. Duran is handling those psychos, so you don’t have to worry about that. It’s irrelevant here…’
Wisp violently shook, psychologically.
‘Listen Kevin, Lise was just a bit weary this morning, and I thought that she’d be able to hold up for a few more weeks at least. But now I don’t know what she is. That realization that Elliot might be lost just almost within her reach gave her hope a hard kick, but she won’t realize it herself.’
Kevin swallowed to get rid of the foul feeling in his throat and chest. It didn’t work well.
‘What can I do?’ he asked, almost pleading.
‘Keep an eye on her more than ever, tell Hawk to do it too. She’s not fully aware of how hard she’s pushing herself now, she’s strong but this is becoming too much for her to bear.’
‘I’m sorry Kevin, there’s nothing I can do here. She needs to end this journey but we both know she won’t leave until it’s over.’
‘Yes, I know…’
‘And one important thing, this is not your fault. What happened between the two of you last night probably gave her psychological strength to hold up in Navarre, considering how tense both of you were before it happened.’
In the dusk nobody could see the light blush, but the flow of extra color carried edges of relief.
‘None of us can reach into the Dark Palace,’ the elemental quickly said to cover things up, ‘otherwise I’d be able to tell you if Elliot is alive or not.’
‘What do you think?’ Kevin worriedly asked.
Wisp was silent for a moment.
‘I don’t know, Kevin,’ he finally sadly said, ‘I really don’t know.’
The half blood sighed. As he looked up he met Hawk’s glance in the shadow of the torches’ light. The taller of the two motioned at an empty spot some yards away between a couple of houses. The ninja nodded and they went over to talk alone.
“Lise not well,” Kevin grunted, straightforward, “Wisp confirm it when talking to my mind.”
“Don’t need your nose or an elemental guardian to see that,” Hawk said and shook his head, “is there anything I can do to help you with her?”
“Need to watch her carefully. Not much else to do.”
“I see. Don’t know if I’ll be any good at helping you keep her afloat if this fails too, but I’ll do my best, I promise, Kev.”
They were silent for a moment, in their own thoughts.
“I better get birds,” Beast King’s son tiredly said and went towards the inn’s stables.
“Alright…” Hawk mumbled, crossing his arms and shaking his head of own worries.
Kevin entered the small house and was greeted by friendly chirps from the three birds. He just waved his hand as a greeting.
To his surprise Karl was sleeping under the wing of one of the flyers. All the commotion outside should naturally have perked his interest… but maybe he had exhausted himself in the heat during day and his exploring.
Carefully Kevin touched his head to wake him up. The pup got up with a wide yawn.
‘Going for a hunt,’ the half blood said.
‘Flying again?’ Karl nervously asked.
‘Yes. But I don’t want you to come this time, anyway. You don’t have to.’
‘You leaving me here?’ the pup whimpered.
Kevin shook his head.
‘No, no. We’ll be back in a few days. But I know you hate flying and where we’re going is no place you’ll like.’
‘I be fine here, people nice. Be careful?’
‘Of course I will, don’t worry.’
Karl stood and shook off some of the hay stuck in his fur.
‘You sad?’ he asked.
‘Worried about Lise. She hurt, still want to hunt.’
‘Yes. But I can’t stop her.’
‘Not good. Careful.’
‘I do my best.’
“Are you ready to go?” Lise’s voice came from the entrance, her voice a bit tense.
‘Karl, try something,’ Kevin muttered in animal communication as he turned and nodded.
Lise handed him his backpack, silently. But she looked down as Karl strutted over to her and wagged his tail.
“Oh, it’s you…” she said with a faint smile and sat down on one knee to scratch the pup’s ears.
Karl’s tail played hurricane and he suddenly leaped. Taken by surprise Lise thumped down on the ground with a wolf kid in her lap. She smiled a bit.
“You’re crazy, you know that, Karl?”
‘Thanks,’ Kevin gratefully thought.
Kevin sat down beside Lise and put his hand on Karl’s back.
“You seem a bit tense,” he carefully said.
“I do?” Lise said, looking up.
She shook her head a little.
“Yes, maybe I do,” she admitted after a moment, “it’s just that I really hoped this time…”
Her voice faded and she shook her head again.
“I know,” Kevin gently said, wrapping his arms around her despite the armor she wore, “I did too.”
Lise allowed herself to lean at him, though her mind still tried to be eager about leaving. But the tenderness she felt clouded her stress, even if it only was for a short while.
“I don’t want to worry you, I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“Worry more when you don’t say if you feel bad,” Kevin pointed out.
Lise lightly kissed his cheek.
“I’ll be alright, Kevin. Really.”
He wanted to protest, but all he could do was mumble something in agreement. Knowing there was no use in arguing.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Lise said, pulling herself free and standing up.
Kevin held back a sigh, looking up at her. In defeat, he nodded.
“Okay, Angela! You know this place, lead the way!” Duran growled as the three heroes of Mana dashed through the gates of castle Altena.
“Alright! But where could they be waiting?” the delvar shouted, holding her staff ready for Koren and the Darkshine knight’s guards.
It was pretty predictable that their enemies wouldn’t make it easy for them, even if they were eagerly awaited.
Dead or alive, in either case the Mana sword would be within their enemies’ grasp.
Duran’s thoughts on possible waiting places went haywire over the memory of the chain of events and he cursed under his breath.
“Duran say bad words!” Carlie protested.
“Sorry, I’m just so angry!” he grunted.
“You and we all!” Angela snarled.
Victory within reach, and then their foes manage to kidnap the fairy of all bad things! Now they had to save her… but would that mean giving up the Mana sword?!
Duran cursed some more, knowing that Koren wouldn’t give him any choice. And he couldn’t allow any harm to befall the fairy, she had helped him and his friends too much, become a better friend herself to be just sacrificed.
But it could mean the enslavement of humanity…
He was glad to see a short metallical golem lurch up from the shadow of a pillar and charge towards the expected intruders.
Some release of pent up frustration later there was scrapped metal all over the hall.
“Carlie think Duran should calm down,” a voice said from the floor.
The knight looked around and found an enchantress stretched out on the ground in order to avoid the sharp objects that had been flying around just a moment ago. He also noted a princess trying to pull out a piece of metal that had stuck in the wall, her face a mask of fascination.
No matter how Angela tried, she couldn’t get it out.
“You know, these walls are supposed to be impossible to penetrate,” she said, glancing at Duran.
Again, he found himself under that gaze that he couldn’t really figure out, and rubbed his helmet.
“Well, uh,” he said, a bit taken off guard, “it might be because of the magic declining…”
Angela was silent for a moment, turning to the spike pointing at her chest from the wall.
“I suppose,” she finally mumbled, to no one in particular.
Feeling a bit embarrassed for his outburst Duran helped Carlie get to her feet. For that he got a smile that could have lit up the darkest night. Despite that she had chosen the dark path in their classchanging… she hadn’t changed much, personality wise.
For better or worse.
“Well, anyway,” Duran said, getting back to the present, “we have to find those bastards!”
“Bad wooords!” Carlie pouted.
“Aren’t you used to it by now?” the knight sighed, “I swear all the time and you keep complaining.”
“Grandpa schays that bad words are bad, I would get…”
“Yes, spanked, I know.”
Duran tiredly nodded.
“Alright, alright,” he said, “matter at hand. We have to find those evil gentlemen and…”
“Spank them!” Carlie cheered.
Angela couldn’t help but giggle at the whole discussion.
Chapter 38, Into the darkness… sorta
Strong wings calmly flapped, riding the winds they were born for.
Despite his name Hawk did his best not to look down. But at their height that was about all he could do. Nothing much to see except down either, except for a thin black line on the horizon.
His arms had begun to turn numb quite a while ago, but there were nowhere to land.
“How are you guys holding up?” he asked, just to get something else to think about for a while.
“Numb,” Kevin grimaced.
“Same here,” Lise agreed with a grunt, “but I think that’s it over there.”
She stretched her right leg a little to point at the distant line of land.
“Let’s hope so,” Hawk said.
His bird chirped a little.
“Wonders if you can feel your hands,” Kevin translated.
“No, not anymore…” the ninja begun.
He fell silent in astonishment as the claw feet holding his wrists began to move gently, massaging life back into his fingers.
“Hey, thanks,” he said with a grin.
The chirp sounded like a chuckle.
“Beastmen use these birds for a long time,” the half blood commented with a smile.
“Neat,” Hawk commented.
Then they were silent for a while, focusing on the growing line. Soon enough it became apparent that there was a mountain of some sort on it. Which wasn’t much of a surprise of course, since they had learnt that their goal was to be found through a cave.
It came suddenly, and all six of them let out a sound of surprise. A gust of wind sent them dashing forwards several yards, but somehow it didn’t even give the birds a chance to loose their balance.
“Eh, hi guys!” a familiar voice said in a rather high-pitched manner.
“Jinn?” Lise called as he with what seemed to be a small exhale sent them racing onwards again, “what’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you in a second! Ride the wind, birdies!” he called before forming his mouth to a tiny o and blowing again.
The three birds squeaked in confusion but spread their wings to make the best of his help.
“What are you so worked up about?” Hawk shouted.
“Look over there!” the elemental shouted and pointed towards the northwest.
Against the soft, thin clouds a dark form could be seen, darkening the sun’s rays. It was like an infected wound on the horizon. Even on this distance the travelers could see lightning bolts crawl like snakes around it.
“What is that?” Kevin called.
“It’s the Mana stone of Wood!” Jinn shouted and blew, “it’s breaking! And mine is too, we have to get you to the island before Dangaard goes active and decides he likes human with roasted bird for breakfast!”
The sounds that the three carriers made resembled a lot to the humans’ shouting, though it was in another language.
“It’s the Dragon Emperor!” Jinn shouted over his own winds, “he’s alive and he’s releasing the god-beasts!”
“Are you saying this is the end of the world?!” Hawk shouted.
“Would I work this hard to save you if it was? Yes, probably, but we’re not giving up yet in any case! Duran and the women will try to defeat them, you lie low like everyone else! And get Elliot!”
The mountain rose before them and as they now were pretty close they could see the black castle on top of it, even though it wore ominous clouds like a veil. Not even those clouds could beat the one on the horizon, however, there was something even more sinister about that one. This dark mist had lost its power in compare to the awakening beast.
But there were still rather nasty looking lightning bolts living even here.
“The evil has been drained,” Jinn said, calmer as they closed in, “you should be able to land on the mountain… there should be a gate here somewhere. There, follow me!”
His long ears turned slick against the sides of his head as he dove, and the birds followed in a slightly slower manner. They found the elemental waiting for them, floating just above a natural platform on the mountain. There was a rectangular hole in the cliff and two doors in a dark metal – obviously once a gate into the cave – laid on the ground. They were both bent and partly molten.
Lise’s bird lowered first and let her off on the ledge, followed by Hawk and Kevin. As there was no room to land safely the three animals stayed in the air, waiting for instructions with nervously flapping wings.
“What were you saying?” the vanadis harshly asked, trying to shake life into her heavy arms, “I thought the Dragon Emperor was killed by king Richard years ago!”
“So we thought too,” Jinn sadly said, “but we were just now proven wrong. His servants have managed to release the god-beasts. But…”
And that was avery sharp “but”.
“… It’ll take them a couple of days to regain their powers, and as it is now they’re still vulnerable. The fairy knows this and she’s already set our Mana warriors onto the hunt. They’re searching for Fiegmund, the ice beast, as we speak.”
“Can they make it?” Hawk doubtfully said.
“If they hurry,” Jinn nodded, “and for every beast they kill those demons’ combined power will decrease.”
He shook his head.
“I have to go. Me and the crew are making sure all creatures in our areas stay away from the beasts to prevent them from feeding. It’s about all we can do right now. You three concentrate on finding your way through here. Good luck.”
“Good luck,” Kevin nodded after a moment of trying to digest the shock.
“Thanks,” the elemental grimly said and turned to the birds, “come on you three, I’ll show you to some safe spot nearby.”
He began to float down the mountain when Lise called out.
“Jinn! Do you know if Elliot is alive?!”
The spirit looked around and sadly shook his head.
“I’m sorry princess, I cannot look into this castle very well even though its aura has weakened. But there is nothing on the lower floors, if he’s in there and alive he has to be on a higher level. Don’t give up, Lise.”
And he flew downwards without looking back. The birds followed him.
The warriors turned to the cave. It didn’t look as dark as the people in Deen had predicted…
Lise clenched her fists and entered, hearing the two young men’s step catch on a moment later.
It only took a few steps inside to reach a conclusion.
“Not that dark…” Hawk said.
The walls had a faint, eerie glow. Not exactly bright, but the title Cave of Darkness definitely seemed overdone.
“Think invaders activated magic,” Kevin said, kneeling by a rock and examining a rather large, reddish stain on it.
The blood was dry, but he could still feel the smell of death everywhere. No corpses to be seen, though. He didn’t recognize the specific scent of the blood, but guessed that it was a dragon’s since they seemed blamable.
“Well, at least we’ll be able to find our way easier…” Hawk said.
He stretched with a grunt.
“But not to sound cold people, we seriously need a break.”
Kevin held back a wince at the suggestion, and he saw Lise tense a little.
He knew fully well that it was the only reasonable thing to do. They had been up all night, sneaking, fighting, flying. And now it was past the normal lunch hours. His stomach mourned at the thought, even though they had prepared themselves with a steady breakfast before leaving Deen.
But the goal seemed so close. He had been on the road for months, with and without his current companions, and he wanted to finish it now.
Yet reason had an upper hand since he couldn’t really shake off the weariness and ache after the night and long flight.
“I suppose so,” he grunted, hoping Lise would understand.
He and Hawk both watched the vanadis, waiting for her decision. She looked between them and the creepy tunnel ahead a couple of times before finally nodding. Not too happy though.
“Alright, you have a point,” she said with a sigh, “but can we at least find a less bloodier place?”
“Gladly,” the ninja nodded with a grimace.
If her decision was a wish to at least continue a little bit combined with the wish to not rest in a battlefield wasn’t really important. She did realize that there was need for rest and that was a good sign.
They walked deeper within for a while, after some searching finding a smaller cave that had been spared from the battling.
“But only for a little while, alright?” Lise mumbled as she shook off her backpack.
She sounded almost ashamed as she said it.
Kevin sighed inwardly. So much for that hope. She tried, but she was still stressed.
While Lise sat down and leaned against the cave wall the two males in the troop exchanged tired glances. “A little while” wouldn’t do any of them good, they all knew. But it was obvious that their lady wouldn’t be able to relax even if she was tired too.
Helplessly shrugging a bit Kevin went over to sit beside her. After a few seconds they ended up leaning against each other, both fighting the weariness.
“Don’t let me fall asleep,” Lise mumbled, pinching her own hand.
“I’ll try,” the half blood replied, rubbing his cheek.
“Here, this might help.”
Hawk offered Kevin a small flask in bulette hide.
“It’s cacti fruit juice,” the ninja said with a smile, “it’s a bit reenergizing, I think we all need it.”
“Thanks,” Kevin gratefully said and took the flask.
But just before he took a clunk he saw Hawk wink with one eye.
Confused but mentally shrugging he just pretended to drink a little, then handed the flask to Lise. She stopped pinching herself and accepted the bottle, taking in a grateful mouthful of the sweet liquid.
“Thanks Hawk,” she said and reached up to give him the flask.
He gently caught both that and her arm as both fell. Lise’s head thumped against Kevin’s shoulder, her eyes closed. Calm, deep breaths whispered their way through her nose.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” Hawk said and put the cork back into the flask, “figured she’d try to stay awake when we took a break even if it meant stabbing herself with her spear, so I got this while you got the birds in Deen.”
“Sleeping potion?” Kevin mildly said, trying to unhook Lise’s spear from her back.
“Yeah. She’ll wake up in four, five hours. And feel reenergized.”
“It feels awful to say this, but if her brother still is alive he should be able to survive a little while longer.”
“No excuse,” Kevin said and shook his head, “I know. We run into monsters like this, we die.”
Hawk looked at the flask.
“Huh, maybe we should drink this stuff too, then at least we’ll be able to wake up at the time she does and we’ll definitely feel better. But maybe somebody should stay guard…”
The ninja looked around as Kevin pointed. A few feet from the uneven opening leading back to the main caves was a big rock, not big enough to fully cover the entrance but at least a big part of it.
“Good idea,” Hawk said.
Kevin stretched Lise over the ground in a position he deemed comfortable and the two men went over to the rock. In their state it was quite an ordeal to move it, but with combined strength they managed.
Hawk brought out the flask and waved a little with it as he sat down, jokingly.
“A toast, pal,” he said and took a clunk.
He quickly laid down with his backpack as a pillow before swallowing and slept a few seconds later. Kevin took the bottle and laid down beside Lise, placing her head on his shoulder and himself following Hawk’s version of a pillow.
So the god-beasts were about to roam the world… he didn’t have the nerve to care right then.
‘Hang on, Elliot…’
He took a clunk. The taste was quite pleasant…
Slumber enveloped him in blessed rest.
Several hours later an argument could be heard in the eerie, magical light of the caves, accompanied by quick pacing.
“I told you it was refreshing, don’t you feel better?” Hawk mildly said.
“But you fooled me!” Lise scolded, sighing.
“Yes, but it was for your own sake. We’re all harder to defeat now, aren’t we?”
She glared at him for a moment, then sighed again.
“Yes, I see your point… still…”
“Kill me later, this seems interesting…”
The ninja pointed forwards. That cliff looked strange… almost like it had been formed into a smooth wall. And there was another rectangular, smashed opening.
Warily the warriors approached. There were still no bodies to be seen, but the dried dark stains of blood seemed to have increased. The battle had been much more intense here.
None of them could hinder themselves from taking in a sharp breath at the sight that awaited them.
The hall the three had entered was dark. And smooth. Everything was made in some sort of glassy black material, they could even see their reflections standing in a dark void inside the walls and in the floor. Great statues of the Reaper loomed over the room, looking almost alive. Their dark hoods were turned towards the floor, and still they seemed to watch the intruders’ every step.
“Creepy to say the least,” Hawk said with a shudder.
“Can you feel any smell of Elliot, Kevin?” Lise asked, not too eager to stand still as the atmosphere was hovering over them even more than the statues.
He shook his head.
“Too many smells, battle,” he said and pinched his nose lightly with a grimace, “evil. Let’s find way up.”
“There’s a stair,” Hawk said and pointed to the left.
They hurried over to it, weapons ready for about anything. At least they could hope they were ready, the whole castle easily made them all very nervous.
The next floor wasn’t much better.
“Oh man,” Hawk groaned in disgust, “this decorator should be hanged, drawn and quartered!”
It was exactly the same, Reaper statues and reflecting floor.
“If it all looks like this we’ll need to be careful not to get lost,” Lise grimly concluded.
“I can trace our smell,” Kevin said, concerned, “but a lot of dominating smells in here, be easier when night.”
“You better take the lead in any case, I guess,” Hawk nodded, and Lise agreed.
Kevin looked around and headed for the nearest door.
A couple of hours later they were still wandering about, and Kevin’s nose was their only mean of knowing where they hadn’t been already. Or rather, he knew. Faintly. Lise and Hawk were more sort of just following him and hoping he had some vague idea.
Well, Kevin did have a rather good idea. They had gotten higher and higher up albeit slowly. But the battles had been held on the lower levels and up here only the wavering evil power stained his nostrils. His eyes had lost track, but he could trust his nose to know new places.
More corridors, stairs… statues…
His mind had definitely lost track of time. And his hope was faltering due to the whole castle’s confusing and most importantly heavy depressing value.
‘Why are we here again… right, Elliot… urgh, I feel awful…’
He stopped and tiredly rubbed his forehead.
“Are you lost?” Hawk worriedly said.
“No, just tired…”
He dared to glance at his companions. Lise held her spear in a tired grip, Hawk had hid his daggers again. The castle had so far been completely deserted, and he didn’t have the ghoul to hang on to his weapons as tightly anymore.
Yeah, they looked pretty much like Kevin felt right then.
‘We have to get out of here…’
But they couldn’t leave yet… Elliot could still be here.
‘He has to be here!’ Kevin thought in sudden frustration, rage over that he couldn’t bring the search to an end.
He must be here!
Kevin clenched his fists, grunting with gratefulness as raw strength seeped into his heavy arms, spreading a flowing heat as it swept through his entire body. He threw his head backwards and howled, the intense light from his transformation for a moment overpowering the dying torches and filling the room with light.
Hawk managed a tiny smile.
“It’s night,” he lazily summed up.
Lise said nothing, just nodded a little.
The refreshing feeling Kevin for a short moment had savored faltered as his now sharper nose caught up with exactly how tired his friends were.
‘Oh no… this isn’t good.’
It amazed him that he himself had managed to stay up, looking back at how he had felt. In his werewolf form he was stronger, even if this body too was very tired.
“Come on, just a little longer,” he said, trying to strengthen them.
“Alright,” Hawk said.
To rest here, watched by the god of Death and surrounded by complete darkness wasn’t to think of. There wouldn’t be any sort of true relaxing.
Lise just followed, her last will used for not falling behind as they went up another stair, through another corridor, another door… she had lost track long ago, often having to stop herself from dropping to her knees in both physical and mental exhaust.
Was there any use to hope… she could hardly remember how it felt to do so any longer. There was only death in this deserted castle, nothing else. If Elliot ever had been alive here he couldn’t possibly…
She forced herself to look up at Kevin’s back.
No, don’t give up… be strong, girl.
Clenching her teeth she forced herself to take another step, and another.
Her lunges suddenly took in fresh air and not the damp crypt smell of the castle. She even blinked and looked around.
They had to be on top of the castle, everything else was below them. What looked like a plateau hovered above them, the stair onto it must be somewhere along the bridge they stood on. There seemed to be some sort of tower ahead.
‘So… this is it, then?’
Kevin suddenly stopped, looking around. Maybe he was sniffing, Lise’s world seemed to be filled with syrup and she couldn’t analyze his movements. Her head felt so heavy and pounding… but she forced herself to stay up.
‘No, don’t loose it, Lise, don’t worry them or yourself…’ she tried to mentally slap herself, ‘it’s alright…’
“Stay here,” Kevin suddenly said, “I go ahead and look.”
“Uh, alright?” Hawk said, a bit puzzled through the fatigue.
Lise managed to nod a bit, hoping she looked better than she felt. In her private haze she didn’t notice the desperate flinch in Kevin’s eyes.
He turned without a word and disappeared around the corner of the high plateau.
A thunderclap tore through the dark sky above the two lonely warriors, the sound echoing and slamming around in Lise’s burning head. She found herself leaning against the wall which towered up beside her, and she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there.
The spear fell out of her grip, the clanking of metal and wood against stone seeming as loud as the thunder to her.
‘It’s no use, it’s no use… he’s dead, I failed… it’s no use… Kevin, why did you go now… I can’t be strong anymore… I can’t… forgive me… I can’t…’
“Lise…” Hawk said in a little hoarse voice.
She turned to him, trying to shake her head. Trying to explain why she felt so weak, so worthless.
But the movement burned the last of her will and her knees and palms hit the cold stone floor, the pain searing through her bones.
Tears splattered against the stone and onto her skin, burning it even more than the hit.
‘I’m crying… I can’t be… this… weak… I must… be…’
What was that word again… strong? What did it mean?
Hawk’s long, slender fingers gently grabbed her shoulders and helped her to straighten up a little, pulling her into his tired warmth. It offered a little comfort, but not enough to help her to stop the tears.
“Don’t fight it, Lise,” Hawk whispered, carefully rubbing the back of her head, “let it out…”
She clutched his neck, at the same time as she sought something to hold onto in her falling world feeling a burning shame for her behavior. But it wasn’t strong enough either.
“I’m s-so… so-sorry…” she croaked through the sobs, unable to control her voice.
“It’s okay,” Hawk mumbled, soothingly, “it’s okay…”
Through her own violent shivers and her friend’s voice she heard Kevin’s steps approach again. Hawk heard it too, somehow managing to gather enough strength to stand and help Lise get to her feet. She staggered, but in raw desperation she flung herself forward just as the werewolf prince came around the corner, clutching onto him like a drowning sailor to a lifeline.
His warm arms enveloped her and without a word he lifted her into his arms as had she been a child. Lise didn’t care anymore who saw her in the shameful state, she buried her face against Kevin’s soft tunic and her tears fell into his clothes and fur.
He didn’t say a word, but she could feel him walking. Then there was a strange movement and the groaning of an opening door. Maybe he pushed a door properly open with his shoulder, she couldn’t care anymore…
The hoarse voice of a small boy cleaved her grief and she more or less jumped in the half blood’s arms. Kevin almost lost his balance.
Lise stumbled as she touched the floor, more falling forwards than walking. Her brother stared at her through a wall of thick iron bars, his face only showing horror.
“What… what’s wrong?” she remembered how to say, trying to reach his hand.
His two much smaller hands grabbed hers, desperately.
“They got you too…?” he whispered, tears of despair forming in his green eyes, already red with older weeping.
Lise looked around in confusion. There were only Kevin and Hawk…
A werewolf and a Navarre ninja.
“Oh no!” she hurriedly said, a smile breaking through her remaining but fading mourn, “they’re my friends, don’t be scared…”
She almost fiercely pulled the boy up against the bars and hugged him, but he didn’t complain.
“I had given up, Elliot,” she whispered, “I thought I had failed you…”
He was pale as a ghost and dirty, a bit thinner than she knew him… but he was alive.
“I was scared,” Elliot mumbled, “but I knew you would save me, sis!”
She felt a strong hand on her shoulder and looked around, trying to dry the tears with her fingers.
“Sorry I left,” Kevin gently said, “I felt his smell, didn’t know if live. Didn’t dare risk you seeing him dead without warning.”
“You found him Kevin,” Lise said and sobbed again, unable to hold it back.
She didn’t know what to say, her mind was in turmoil. Trying to smile again resulted in something wavering. Unable to speak out her gratefulness she reached out and became pulled close to him more by his strength than her own once again.
“Cry now,” Kevin mumbled, “let it be.”
“I’m happy,” she weakly protested.
“I know,” he said, his soft, furry fingertips massaging her neck, “but you need it. Cry now. I want you to.”
I want you to…
She buried her face against his shoulder and let the locked up tears for all the failings and frustrations, pent up fears and pain rage their way out.
“I love you, Kevin,” she whispered through her rasped breathing.
His muzzle caressed her cheek, calmingly mumbling the same back with tender movements.
“Alma always said you built that up,” Elliot commented from his cage, reaching out to take Lise’s hand as she fumbled for the cage without looking away from the warm fur.
“Do they call this a lock?” Hawk scoffed, working his dirk.
He looked around and warmly smiled.
“One sec, then the family will be complete!”
“Hawk!” Lise and Kevin said, more or less smiling and steady.
“What?” Elliot said, a bit baffled through all the intense feelings.
“That’s Kevin of the Beast kingdom,” Hawk said with a chuckle, “soon to be king of Rolante.”
Elliot blinked a couple of times.
“Sis, are you gonna marry a werewolf?” he asked.
“I was hoping he’d be human on the wedding,” Lise said, her brother’s intrigued tone bringing her a short chuckle, even.
Smiling Kevin transformed back to his normal form, without letting go of the princess. Elliot blinked some more.
“Cool!” he finally exclaimed, managing to cause more laughs.
Hawk pulled the cage door open and gave the prince a hand out. He turned out being a little shaky.
“Hungry?” Kevin kindly asked, with one hand reaching for his backpack.
“The guards just ran off some time ago,” Elliot nodded, “I had just gotten food but it didn’t last long…”
Lise let go of Kevin for a while and hugged her brother properly while her fiancé sought through his backpack for something to eat.
“But don’t drink anything Hawk gives you,” Lise lectured as Elliot hungrily bit into a piece of bread,
“Now really!” the ninja protested.
He fell silent and just smiled as he too found himself in a hug. Then Kevin took Lise back from their friend, gently though.
“And thanks to you too, Hawk,” she warmly smiled.
“Yes, thanks,” Kevin agreed.
“No prob. Just as long as you invite me to the wedding.”
“This is great!” Elliot grinned, almost spitting bread over half the room in his delight.
Nobody cared how he behaved right then.
And not too far away, in the forest of Wonder, Duran stabbed his fiery sword into a giant pumpkin while Carlie healed Angela’s wounds and the princess stubbornly chanted a fire spell.
The forest would soon be a safer place, and not too far into the future the festive colored wings of Dangaard would rain down over Rolante, to tell the people that one more fear was gone from the world.