Rappelz: The Contrary Heartby
Rappelz is © nFlavor
Jyun T'Kel strolled through the dusty streets of Katan, his adopted home, with something akin to parental pride. He was a typical son of Creation. His hair was sun bleached, and his eyes were as pale as ice. His complexion was fair with a slight golden highlight, and he strode with an almost regal gait. Even though he considered himself a local resident, Jyun continued to wear the traditional garb of a Deva national; a hunter green cotton jerkin trimmed in pale leather at the shoulders. He wore matching pants and pale leather boots.
"Well, well, well," called a deep yet feminine voice dripping with sarcasm. "If it isn't our resident glow worm."
Jyun sighed. It had started out to be such a nice day, too. Well, as nice as days get living in a volcanically active area. Clouds of ash often obscured the sunlight to a misty haze of evenly distributed light. Jyun didn't understand why he moved to the Asura capital. What he did know was that he felt at home here.
"Salutations, mage," said Jyun coolly to the woman callously leaning against a statue. "And what brings you out so early in the morning?"
The woman shrugged. "It was a slow night." Raven was a typical Asura native. She had straight, pitch black hair that ran to her shoulders. A long forelock tended to cover her right eye. She never bothered to brush it back. Her complexion was the usual pale, bloodless look of the Asura, as if she were some kind of undead creature. Despite this chilling appearance, she also radiated a stark and dangerous beauty.
Jyun didn't so much dislike the Dark Magician as found her rather irksome. She had a way of getting under his skin without really trying. She had an acerbic personality that grated upon his nerves. Most of the people in Katan had accepted Jyun's decision to live there. After a time, many welcomed him as both neighbor and friend. Raven was the only person that he had a problem with. Though more precisely, it seemed that she had a problem with him. Indeed, he had gone out of his way to be gracious toward her, even when she made attempts to embarrass him in public. Many of Jyun's Asura friends would merely shrug and smile when he complained about her. So, he learned to take her pranks in stride.
Raven wore the typical clothing of an Asura adventurer. The first time Jyun saw the outfit, his initial dismay was apparent. The outfit could only be described as licentious. Jyun had never seen a woman wearing clothes that revealed so much skin. It was a culture shock that many of his neighbors tease him about to this day. Naturally, the first person with which he came into contact when he exhibited his adverse reaction was Raven Dark. Ever since, she always took the opportunity wear her most revealing clothes in his presence. Her usual weapons of choice were a leather bustier and legless pants. She also wore leather chaps on her thighs which were held up by heavy garters. What she didn't expect was for him to become desensitized to her teasing rather quickly. After all, most of the women in Katan dressed the same way, so it was only natural from him to begin to ignore it. After that, Raven took great pleasure in trying to find new ways to aggravate the Devan Holy Warrior.
"So, where are you off to," inquired the mage coyly.
"If you must know, I'm going to see Firia."
Raven's brow furrowed. "The Ornitho hostler? Whatever for? You hate riding them."
Jyun chuckled. He remembered the first time Raven had tried to teach him how to ride the two legged reptilian mounts that were common across the continent. He had fallen off of the beast five times before simply giving up. "Com'on, Jyun," said Raven, "fall down five times, mount up six." Jyun stood and dusted himself off saying, "I believe the god of Creation has given me my own pair of legs for a reason." Since that incident, Jyun has walked everywhere he went.
"I'm not renting a mount," said Jyun coming back to the present. "She has made a request of me."
"Oh," said Raven with some disdain. "She would. Jyun, she's supposed to go through the Quest Client Office for that. You should be seeing Ingmar, not Firia."
"She lives not far from me," said Jyun matter-of-factly. "I'm just helping out a neighbor."
"Uh-huh," grunted Raven.
It was a short walk to Firia's stall on the western side of the city central courtyard. At the heart of the courtyard was the city's memorial statue. Jyun considered it an engineering marvel that rivaled the floating city of Laksy, the city of his birth. A statue of a naked woman bound in metal straps and restrained by massive chains knelt beneath a large platform. Her arms, raised above her head as if to ward off an attack, held the platform aloft. At its center, a continuous spray of molten rock spouted forth and dripped back down to the fountain's base. The base of the statue rested at the center of a large pool of lava. Every time Jyun passed by the fountain, he couldn't help but wonder at the time and materials it took to create such a splendid work of art. Raven herself was not unaffected by the statue's majesty. The two adventurers took a brief moment to stop and admire it. It was considered a contest of daring to stand close to the pool's edge. The lava constantly spat forth plumes of flame and heated gases. Many a foolhardy soul found themselves visiting a healer to have second and third degree burns treated. Jyun eventually began walking toward his destination once more with Raven close in tow.
"Raven, why are you following me?"
"I'm not following you," said Raven casually. "It just so happens that I'm walking in the same general direction."
"My, what a coincidence," said Jyun with a sigh.
He looked up and managed to catch Firia waving to him from her stall. Jyun smiled and waved back. Firia's stall was surprisingly small for someone who stabled mounts to carry armor laden adventurers across the landscape. Yet, she always managed to have enough mounts for every adventurer who entered her stall. The secret to her maintaining such a business on such small real estate was the use of magic imbued cards. All adventurers were taught during their early training period how to use capture cards to tame wild creatures and make them into fighting companions. The capture cards placed the animals into a magical stasis where they required no sleep and no food. The Association of Adventure Guides took advantage of this arrangement and used the cards to store Ornithos and Lydians, the most common of riding mounts. An additional magic spell was added to the cards which allowed adventure guides everywhere to control how long an adventurer could rent a mount. Once the restriction component of the spell faded, a secondary teleportation component kicked in and teleported the card back to the adventurer's stall. It was a very neat arrangement, though many adventurers have complained that too often they are left stranded in the middle of the wilderness when they suddenly discovered that their mount had disappeared from their pockets. Firia's response to these complaints had always been that adventurers needed to learn better time management.
"Jyun," called Firia cheerfully, "I'm glad you could come. Who's your friend?"
Jyun looked surprised. "I assumed you two knew one another."
Raven shook her head. "It's a big city, numbskull. Only an idiot would assume that every Asura would know every other Asura."
"Okay," added Firia hesitantly, "maybe she's not a friend."
"I sometimes wonder myself," said Jyun to Firia, though he was pointedly looking at Raven. "What is it that you require of me?"
"Oh, you are such a dear to help me out with this," commented Firia. Raven snorted with derision at her statement.
"Behave, mage," cautioned Jyun sternly. He turned back to Firia. "I am more than happy to assist you, however, I must know why you did not apply at the Quest Client Office?"
Firia blew out an exasperated breath. "I did, but they sent out the most unprofessional adventurers to complete the task, which they didn't. I'm out a large number of rupees, and I still don't have my eggs."
Jyun quirked an eyebrow. "Eggs?"
Firia nodded. "Finnedman eggs, to be precise. The contents can be used for a number of medicines for Ornithos, and powdered casings work wonders for hoof rot."
"I see, so this is vital to maintaining your business," mused Jyun. "Very well. I may not be overly fond of Ornithos, but I'm not one to allow another creature to suffer. How many eggs do you need."
"Oh dear," fretted Firia, "that's hard to say. Perhaps ten?"
Jyun nodded. "Very well."
"Now, about your fee," began Firia.
"Not necessary," assured Jyun. Raven gasped, and Firia turned paler than usual. "Uhm...did I say something wrong?"
"Shades, Jyun, you've lived in this town for, what, five years now, and you still haven't learned anything," growled Raven. "She has to pay you. It's the law. If it got out that you did a job for her for nothing, she would be imprisoned."
Jyun looked askance at Raven. "That's insane. I'm a Holy Warrior! A good deed is its own reward!"
"You're a Holy Warrior in Asura territory," snapped Raven. "You have to abide by our rules. You are a citizen here, after all."
Jyun heaved a weary sigh. "As you wish, but I'll not accept Rupees. If I recall correctly, I can name anything as my price, including usable items?"
"Yes, of course," said Firia.
"Very well," responded Jyun. "Then. my price is twenty second level force chips."
Firia blinked uncertainly. "That's all? Please, allow me to throw in ten second level healing potions."
Jyun looked as if he were about to protest, but he paused for a moment in thought. After a time, he agreed. "I suppose they could come in handy."
Raven shook her head. "You and your chivalrous nonsense."
* * *
The city of Katan rested in a natural cul de sac that was once the cone of a volcano. Erosion had worn down the sides to the south east and west, and completely obliterated the north side. As a result, the three gates of Katan required a bit of a climb to reach them. The shallowest slope was to the north. A simple straight road to the North Gate. To the East Gate was a steeper more jagged path, yet still a short climb. Jyun's destination lay to the west, which brought him to the longest, steepest and most twisted gate road in Katan. The road to the West Gate.
Jyun was well prepared for the journey. He wore scale mail with various plate additions, including a breastplate, codpiece, gauntlets, and grieves. His helm was strapped to his yak skin travel bag, and he wore a woven wool cloak to keep the road dust off his armor. Jyun had made it halfway up the road when he thought he heard his name being called. Turning around, he saw an Ornitho quickly bounding its way up the steep jagged rocks, making a direct approach and bypassing most of the road's hairpin turns. Jyun was not the least surprised to see Raven astride the creature's back, guiding it with the reigns. She was dressed in the traditional leather and bone armour of the Asura mage and also wore a woven wool cloak. Strapped to the side of her mount was the focus which directed her power, her magician's staff.
"What is it now, mage," grumbled Jyun as Raven approached. "I am in no mood for your mischief, today."
"Aww," pouted Raven, "somebody's being a cranky pants." She smiled down at the warrior and added, "The Sinking Swamp is a long way away from here, Jyun T'Kel. I figured I'd offer you a lift."
"I thank you for your offer," replied Jyun, "but I must decline. I shall reach the Sinking Swamp in my own way and in my own time."
"There's that stubborn pride again," retorted Raven with heavy sarcasm. "Really, it's just so cute. Now, get up here."
Jyun stared at Raven for quite a while. Finally, he asked, "What is it that you want from me?"
"What makes you think I want anything from you?" asked Raven smirking.
"For a long time now, you have been following me around town, pestering me, tearing me down, making a fool out of me in front of my friends. What have I ever done to you to deserve such ire?"
"Ire? I'll have you know that I harbor no ill will towards you, Jyun T'Kel."
"You have a strange way of showing it."
"Are you going to mount up or not?"
Jyun stared hard at Raven Dark, but he could see no hint of what her intentions might be. And indeed, it was a very long walk. "Very well."
"You know, you say that a lot," commented Raven as she directed her Ornitho into a crouch.
"Say what a lot?"
Jyun blinked. "I do?"
"Several times a day at least," admitted Raven.
Jyun shrugged and pulled himself up into the saddle, settling himself behind the magician.
"Hold on to me tightly, warrior," teased Raven. "We wouldn't want you to fall off."
Jyun didn't know why, but for a moment he hesitated to put his arms around Raven's waist. He chastised himself for being foolish and reached around, clasping his left wrist in his right hand.
"Ooh, that's quite a grip you've got there, Jyun," said Raven.
"Enough of your games, mage," grumbled Jyun. "There is a job to be done." Raven smiled and spurred the Ornitho into a full gallop toward the West Gate. A well worn path of packed earth and ash had been formed outside the gate from the regular traffic of travelers. Although now, with the plague of undead roaming nearby, there were very few who traveled who weren't adventurers or part of wealthy merchant caravans. The trees that lined either side of the road looked dry and dead, but in truth had learned to adapt to the volcanic conditions of the region. Instead of wasting energy producing leaves, the trees had learned to survive on the little moisture that reached them and the rich nutrients found in the volcanic gases in the air.
As the landscape whipped past them, Jyun caught sight of movement flanking them on the left beneath the trees. He wondered whether he should mention it to Raven. He didn't want to distract her or alarm the Ornitho.
"We have company," said Raven in a low voice.
So, thought Jyun, she saw it, too.
"When I give the word, I want you to jump down from the Ornitho."
"Are you mad?" hissed Jyun. "That's what I've been trying to prevent up 'til now."
"Look, the Ornitho can't outrun it with the both of us on," snapped Raven. "We must dismount quickly and fight."
Jyun paused for a moment. "Might I make a suggestion?"
"Make it fast."
"Return the Ornitho to the card."
"Now who's mad?"
"Reign it in just a bit. Then, we can use the forward momentum to propel our attack," insisted Jyun.
Raven lifted an eyebrow. "Hmm, I think I may have to reevaluate my estimation of you, warrior."
With a nod, Raven spoke the cantrip which sent the Ornitho back into stasis. It was a disorienting experience for Jyun. One moment he was sitting in the saddle of an Ornitho mount, the next he was floating in mid air. Jyun tensed his body and oriented himself so that he would land on his feet facing sideways. As he hit the ground, he leaned back from the forward slide so as to not take a tumble. His soles dug deep furrows into the hard packed dirt. As his momentum slowed, Jyun drew both his swords in one smooth motion. There was no time to don his helmet which had plummeted to the side of the road. Raven had exited the vanishing mount with more elegance. Instead of trying to prevent a tumble, she took advantage of her momentum, executing several somersaults including an inverted flip which allowed her to land facing the way she came. She drew out her staff and stood prepared for their enemy.
The two adventurers scanned the tree lined roadside. The air was still, and not a sound could be heard save one another's breathing and their own heartbeats. It was still early morning, so the sun wasn't strong enough yet to fully break through the ashen sky. It looked like twilight, or the oncoming of an impending storm. The snap of a twig from behind brought them about. Jyun tensed, ready to spring, and Raven raised her staff, ready to cast. More broken branches were heard as a large shadowy figure loomed toward the road. What came free of the trees was not what they had anticipated. It was a large, dull-witted beast, with four cloven hooves and a shaggy coat. It stood almost as tall as an Ornitho, and it's massive antlers made it seem even taller. It was constantly chewing the cud that it had in its mouth, and it sniffed the air looking for danger. The creature looked at the warrior and the mage with apparent surprise. No doubt it hadn't expected to find anyone on the road. Then, seeing that they hadn't moved for several moments, it lumbered on its way across the road.
After the creature had disappeared into the open plain, Jyun heard the most bizarre sound. One he had least expected to hear out in the wilderness. Raven was laughing.
"I can't believe," she said between peals of mirth, "that we went through all that over a stupid Megaloceros."
"It could have been worse," said Jyun.
"How," asked Raven wiping tears from her eyes.
"It could have been a Moonrabbit."
Raven completely lost control at that point. Jyun stood in disbelief as he watched a Dark Magician, a follower of Shade, worshiper of the God of Destruction, and master of dark magic, sit in the dirt, hugging her staff and kicking her feet in unrepentant laughter. Jyun had never seen an Asura laugh before. Asura humor tended to run toward sarcasm and dry wit. They did not do silly or frivolous things. It was oddly pleasant to hear Raven laugh. With the tension gone, Jyun found himself joining in the laughter with a genteel chuckle. He happened to glance down at his feet when he noticed the shadow creeping up beside his. Raven's laughter cut off immediately. Jyun's swords were still in his hands, and he quickly whipped around and came face to face with a giant skeletal warrior. It still wore the helmet and breast plate that it had worn in its former life, bearing the colors of a long forgotten civilization. In its bony fingers, it still clutched the immense sword which marked its profession. Deep within the empty eye sockets of the undead creature's skull shone the power of its spirit, which animated the skeletal warrior, in a ghostly blue light.
"Jyun! Get away from it!" yelled Raven.
Jyun was in no position to argue as the skeleton raised its sword to strike with a swiftness that was rather uncharacteristic of the undead. Jyun could hear the creaking strains of the dry tendons and managed to dodge its first strike attempt. Beating a hasty retreat, Jyun quickly scooped up his helmet and travel bag. Sheathing one sword into its scabbard, Jyun managed to unbuckled the strap which held his helmet fast to the bag.
"Stop fiddling with that stupid bag and come on!" called Raven. "We need to put some distance between us and it!"
"I very much would like to keep my head intact, if you don't mind," countered Jyun as he caught up with Raven. Sheathing his other sword, Jyun was able to toss the travel bag over his shoulder and placed his helmet upon his head, securing the chin strap. Then, he drew out his swords once more. As he was mentally preparing himself for confrontation, he happened to catch Raven staring at him sidelong. "What?"
It was a few moments before she replied. "I've never seen you in a helmet before," admitted Raven. "You look...formidable."
"Let's hope he thinks so, too," said Jyun gesturing behind him.
Jyun and Raven climbed a small hillock to give them a height advantage over their pursuer.
"I doubt it," said Raven. "These kinds of creatures have no intellect. They're driven by pure rage."
Jyun looked back and was dismayed at the speed at which the skeletal warrior could travel. It was starting to gain ground. "What is it, exactly?"
"The Presbytery call it a Paradise Lost," said Raven.
"How poetic," muttered Jyun.
"It was probably some wealthy noble who was the general of his militia," explained Raven. "They say that when such a person dies, he feels that he was cheated of the best of his life. His spirit cannot find peace and lashes out at the living because they have what he no longer can."
"I thought you said they have no intellect," commented Jyun.
"They don't," responded Raven. "Just blind emotion and instinct."
The two adventurers had reached the top of the hillock as the Paradise Lost began to climb. "Well," said Jyun as he turned and stood firm to face this undead threat, "I think it's time we gave Mr. Emotional Instinct a reason to start thinking about leaving us alone. Cover your eyes."
Raven stared at Jyun. "Whatever for?"
"Do it!" snapped Jyun.
Raven was taken aback. This wasn't the polite and gentle man she liked to tease back at Katan. This was a warrior prepared to fight. She placed a gloved hand over her eyes, but allowed a small slit to form between her fingers. She was nothing if not curious. Jyun raised his right hand sword upwards, pointing it toward the sky.
"God of Creation, grant me your strength. DIVINE FLARE!"
Jyun's voice reverberated with power. Raven could feel it within her bones. Her skin tingled with it. It wasn't magic, but something else more ancient, more primal. A column of blinding light broke through the clouds above the Paradise Lost and enveloped it. Though it couldn't make a sound, Raven could see between her fingers as the skeletal creature seemed to writhe in agony, it's jaw open in a silent howl of pain. The light spell was short lived and faded quickly, but Raven could see burn marks on the bones and smoke still emanated from places along the Paradise Lost's frame.
"Shades, what was that?" whispered Raven.
"Divine Flare," grunted Jyun. "It does little damage, but it does blind and disorient your opponent." He knelt to the ground breathing heavily. "And it does take a bit out of me."
Raven nodded. "Then, it's my turn."
She closed her eyes in concentration, raised her staff and performed a graceful motion with her arms and torso. To Jyun, it seemed almost like dance. Suddenly, a circle of power formed beneath Raven's feet. It glowed a brilliant violet, but was not quite as bright as Jyun's spell had been. As she brought her right hand up in front of her, a ball of purple light coalesced in Raven's palm. Jyun could make out that Raven's lips were moving, though he couldn't hear the words she was speaking.
Without warning, Raven's eyes snapped open. "DARKNESS ARROW!"
The purple ball of light shot forward at amazing speed, but not before fragmenting into several smaller, yet brighter, balls of energy. Each ball impacted its target with pinpoint accuracy. One managed to unseat the undead creature's helmet, while another crashed its way through the monster's rib cage taking half of its breast plate with it. Though it was obviously damaged, the Paradise Lost still managed to make forward progress.
"That was...most impressive," said Jyun clearly awed. He had apparently recovered from his previous exertions as he was now standing and prepared to engage the enemy directly.
"Don't congratulate me yet," remarked Raven dryly. "I barely even slowed him down, and he's almost upon us."
"Then, perhaps it is time to take the fight to him," offered Jyun.
"Wait," cautioned Raven. She raised her staff and began to chant another spell under her breath. Another circle of light, colored a sickly blue gray, appeared at Raven's feet, rotating as the power grew. Finally, she looked directly at the Paradise Lost and called out, "WEAKNESS SKIN!"
This time Jyun almost missed what had happened. He was expecting another ball of energy, but instead the circle at Raven's feet disappeared and reappeared beneath the Paradise Lost. Immediately after, the circle surged upward, covering the skeleton in its energy.
Raven turned to Jyun. "That will lower its defense for a bit, but it only lasts a few moments."
Jyun nodded his understanding and charged the creature. The Paradise Lost had anticipated the attack and raised its sword in readiness. With snake like quickness, Jyun hacked at the skeletal warrior with both swords. The Paradise Lost returned the attack with it's sword, forcing Jyun to defend. Raven bit her lip as she watched. She had never seen Jyun in battle before, and so was unfamiliar with his level of skill. However, he seemed to be holding his own. The Paradise Lost began to execute more complex maneuvers than the initial straightforward hacking it had started with.
"I see," said Jyun to his opponent, though he knew the creature couldn't understand him. "Whoever you were in life, you were a skilled warrior, and those types of instincts die very hard indeed."
"Jyun," called out Raven, "stop complimenting him and kill him!"
"He..." Jyun struck two more quick blows aimed at the lower spine. "...is already..." Jyun dodged a low sweep from the Paradise Lost. "...dead!"
"Don't argue semantics with me!" snapped Raven. She began to cast another spell.
Jyun was feeling as though he was getting the upper hand when an unexpected feint from the skeleton caused him to misjudge its next move. A heavy dull pain followed by a loud ringing in his ears informed Jyun that the Paradise Lost had landed a blow to the head. Jyun staggered back to gain some distance and recovery time, but the monster pressed its advantage, each swing becoming more well executed and more lethal than the last. Jyun tried to aim for the knee joints, but the Paradise Lost was too swift. Another blow to the head managed to knock Jyun's helmet free, and while the danger to him was increased, it did improve his peripheral vision. Jyun made a rolling dive to the side, catching the Paradise Lost unawares. He snagged a nearby stone and flung it at the skeletal warrior's face.
Jyun launched into a head on attack with the creature. As he did so, both his swords began to glow with white light. Jyun struck the creature across the breast bone with one sword, removing the remaining part of its breast plate, and then hacked through its left arm with the other. The arm fell to the ground with leaden thud.
"Jyun!" yelled Raven from behind. "Duck! FIREBALL!"
Jyun T'Kel did as he was instructed and dropped flat on the ground. No sooner had he done this than a ball of flame streaked overhead and crashed into the Paradise Lost. The monster clutched at the flames that were charring its bones as if it were trying to grab them and strip them off. Jyun took advantage of the distraction and scrambled back to where Raven stood.
"It would seem," he panted, "that it isn't impervious to fire."
Raven nodded. "Those power infused strikes you gave it did a fair sight of damage as well."
Jyun shook his head. "I can't keep that up." He was clearly out of breath. The strength it took to block the skeleton's blows was wearing him down.
Raven reached into a pouch. "Here take this." She handed to Jyun a small phial with a blood red colored liquid inside. The glass bottle generated the soft glow of minor magic.
Jyun took the phial and pulled out the cork stopper. "Thank you," he managed before swallowing the entire contents of the phial. He could feel the magic do its work as heavy aches were dulled and small ones disappeared. His breathing eased, and his heartbeat quieted. He returned the phial to Raven and looked back toward the battlefield. The Paradise Lost had managed to quell the burning, but not before several bones were charred coal black. "If we could take out the head, spine or knees, we'd have it down in no time."
"Can you cast another spell?" asked Raven. "A really strong one?"
"After drinking your healing potion, I think I can cast two," said Jyun. "One defensive and one offensive. How about you?"
Raven bit her lower lip. "I...have another fire spell, but..." She seemed as if she didn't want to go on.
"But?" prompted Jyun.
"I've never used it before," confessed Raven. "Judging by the wording of the spell, it's a very powerful one. I don't know what will happen."
"Well, now's as good a time as any to try it out," suggested Jyun. "Our friend is on the advance again."
Raven looked up, and sure enough, the Paradise Lost was quickly making it's way toward the two adventurers.
"It's time to finish this," said Jyun. His face was resigned, and his eyes burned with certainty.
Raven took heart from this silent assurance and nodded in agreement. She began to prepare her spell.
"I will attack first like before," said Jyun. "You warn me when you cast your fire spell." He performed a simple gesture with both arms, then put his swords together.
Both of the Holy Warrior's swords glowed with an unearthly light. He turned toward the Dark Magician and smiled. Raven took in an involuntary breath. Jyun then proceeded to meet the Paradise Lost in battle once more. Jyun gave his enemy no quarter, and no chance to react. He lit into the skeletal warrior with all his might, each swing taking bites out of the skeleton's frame. Eventually, the enemy began to go on the offensive. Even so, with Jyun's mastery of dual sword fighting, he was able to inflict more damage. The glow on Jyun's sword seemed to flare each time steel connected with bone.
Raven knew that she was to wait for Jyun to cast his offensive attack before initiating her chant, but she was beginning to feel anxious. When exactly was he going to do it? The potion she had given him didn't fully heal him, and the counter blows he was receiving were going to wear him down quicker than before when he began the fight at full strength. Then, she heard him call out his attack.
A bright light flared up from the ground around Jyun, and his swords glowed even brighter than before. Jyun raised both swords up and hacked straight down shattering more of the Paradise Lost's ribs. He then crossed his arms and drew both swords across the skeleton's chest like a giant pair of shears. The swords left a lingering trail of light in the air as they passed forming a cross shape. The Paradise Lost staggered back for a moment but managed to rally itself. Jyun was showing clear signs of exhaustion. The skeletal warrior aimed another blow for Jyun's head. The Holy Warrior saw it coming and tried to dodge the strike as best he could. The sword struck Jyun on the side of his head and sent him sprawling.
"Jyun!" screamed Raven when she saw him tumble down the hillock back toward the road. The Paradise Lost started to follow down the hill, sword raised to deliver the final blow. Raven chanted as quickly as she could without making a mistake. She raised her staff and pointed it at the Paradise Lost. Sensing the impending danger, the Paradise Lost looked up at the lone Dark Magician and turned toward her instead. He was shortening the distance between them very quickly, sword still prepared to strike. Raven's panic gave way to fury. Her eyes, brimming with tears, burned with anger.
"FLAME BURN!" screamed Raven.
In an instant, a cone of intense, spiraling flame consumed the Paradise Lost. It stopped its advance as, very slowly, it began to crumble to ash. Raven stared at the bonfire before her until there was no trace of the skeleton left. Quickly, she half ran, half slid down the hillock until she reached the inert form of Jyun T'Kel. Raven threw her staff to the ground and pulled Jyun's body over until he lay face up in her lap. The hair on the right side of his head was matted with blood.
"Jyun," whisped Raven. "Oh Shades." She turned her face skyward. "God of Creation, I know I am not one of your children, but please, give this one strength." Raven's prayer was answered with a pained groan from the man lying before her. "Jyun, you're alive!"
"Ooh," moaned the Holy Warrior, "I must be. A dead man shouldn't feel this bad." Raven couldn't help but laugh. "Stand me up, please," requested Jyun.
Raven shook her head. "You should lie still, you've been badly hurt. I have a restoration scroll in my pack."
Jyun was about to shake his head, but thought better of it when his vision began to swim. "I have one more spell to cast. Please, Raven."
Raven very carefully helped Jyun get to his feet, vehemently protesting the sense of the action the whole time. Jyun began to chuckle. "It's not funny," argued Raven hotly.
"Sorry," said Jyun still smiling. "I may be a bit delirious."
"Then, why stand?" asked Raven.
Jyun leaned his weight against Raven. She was only a scant few inches shorter than he, but to Jyun, she felt equally as strong. Jyun raised an unsteady arm upwards in supplication.
"MINOR HEALING," he announced quietly.
Despite the softness of his words, Raven could still feel the power of Jyun's spell. Green tendrils of light snaked their way up from the ground like fast growing vines. The tendrils reached over Jyun's head and formed a halo which rained down particles of light upon Jyun. Eventually, the halo disappeared, and Raven could feel Jyun easing off his weight and standing on his own, albeit a tad unsteadily.
"That's quite the flashy god you worship," said Raven with a smirk.
Jyun looked up at the bonfire that was only now beginning to dissipate. Where the spell had touch the ground remained globulous sheets of glass. Jyun turned to Raven with a grin. "You're one to talk."
Raven didn't know why she felt so giddy. Perhaps it was the relief of the danger having passed, and they both had survived. She felt she needed to concentrate on something mundane and collect her thoughts. "Well, if you're feeling up to it, we should move on," suggested Raven. "Who knows how many more of those skeletal warriors are out there. Thankfully, there aren't many as powerful as the Paradise Lost, but the weaker ones run in packs."
"More like companies or platoons," mused Jyun. "I suppose, even in death, a soldier is a soldier."
"And people wonder why I became a mage," quipped Raven. As Jyun gathered his scattered belongings, she pulled out the Ornitho card and summoned the mount forth.
"Well," said Jyun upon approaching Raven, "at some point I'm going to have to hammer this out with a stone until I can get to a decent smith." He held up his helmet for Raven's inspection. Raven let out a low whistle when she saw the indentation.
"That's a nasty dent, there."
Jyun nodded. "It's no wonder my head was ringing through most of the battle. I don't think I want to tangle with one of those again for a good long while."
Raven pulled herself into the Ornitho's saddle. "Time to mount, warrior."
Jyun looked up at Raven. There was something different in the way she called him warrior. Before, it had sounded almost like an accusation or a slur. Now, it had a new tone to it. A tone of respect. Jyun smiled and managed to pull himself up into the saddle without incident or complaint. Once Jyun was settled, Raven nudged the Ornitho forward. The road began to meander northward toward a small collection of steep, rocky hills.
"Keep alert," recommended Raven, "this area is nearly overrun with undead creatures. Fortunately, many of them aren't as aggressive as the Paradise Lost."
"What causes these undead creatures to arise?" asked Jyun.
"No one knows for sure," said Raven. "I believe that the vast amounts of magic used during the Witch War has corrupted the land and infected the graves of those who died in that war. The area around Katan wasn't always a wasteland. Others think that its the god of Destruction's way of testing our faith."
"How long have you studied magic?" inquired Jyun.
"Since I was a beginner on Trainee Island," said Raven. She thought a moment longer. "No, the truth is I've always had an interest in magic from when I was very little. There was a Dark Magician who would entertain the children on my street. He showed me a few things. Of course, I couldn't let my parents know of my interest in magic."
"Well, for one thing," said Raven, "my father was an Assassin, so he wanted me to become a Strider and follow in his footsteps. And while my mother was familiar with magic, she was a Battle Summoner. She wanted me to become a Sorcerer."
"Ah," commented Jyun, "it is always difficult to try and please one's parents."
"And what would you know about it, Holy Warrior?" asked Raven. Jyun thought he heard a bit of irritation in her voice.
"Both my parents were Priests," said Jyun.
"So?" said Raven. "What has that got to do with..." She stopped. "Oh."
"Indeed," admitted Jyun. "They were none too happy that I was seeking a profession that inflicts wounds rather than healing them."
Raven seemed lost in thought. The road took another turn into a canyon. Up ahead, standing on the side of the road was a skeleton wearing flimsy armor and holding a short sword. Jyun was the first to notice it.
"I think we may have a problem ahead."
Raven looked up at the skeletal warrior and grinned. "No need to worry. That's what we call a Bone Guard. They don't do anything except stand there. Oh, sure they'll attack you if you hack at one with a weapon, but you can practically walk up to one and touch it, and it won't do a thing. We used to run up and touch the ones near the West Gate as a dare."
"You seem to be able to identify the various creatures around Katan rather well," said Jyun.
"If you're going to live around here, you really need to know which ones are the really dangerous ones," chided Raven. "Those dares we did stopped after one boy touched a Bone Warrior. They attack as soon as they see you. We managed to outrun it, but it followed us into Katan, and the city guard had to deal with it."
Jyun chuckled. "That must have been a sight. Well, perhaps when you're not too busy, you can show me how to recognize the different creatures out here."
Raven's breath caught for a moment. She couldn't understand why she was so pleased that Jyun had ask her to teach him. Her unexpected emotional reactions to the Holy Warrior were beginning to trouble her. "Er...sure," she uttered quietly.
"Is everything alright," queried Jyun.
"Oh, yes," stammered Raven. "We'll be heading into Goblin Skeleton territory soon."
"Undead goblins? Are they particularly dangerous?"
"Well," said Raven with a smirk, "you've fought the Rat Goblins that loiter around the East Gate, right? You tell me."
"Well, unless you're fresh off Trainee Island," replied Jyun, "they're more a nuisance than a threat."
"Right," said Raven cheerfully. "Goblin Skeletons are pretty much the same, even though they are stronger than Rat Goblins. I mean, we've just gone toe to bony toe with a Paradise Lost. I think we can handle these guys. Of course, we may not need to. Most of them aren't aggressive. They primarily attack travelers to steal food."
Jyun's brow furrowed in confusion. "But, they have no stomachs, right? By the Light, most of them have no entrails to speak of whatsoever!"
"It's like the Paradise Lost and his fighting skills," said Raven with a shrug. "Old habits die hard."
The road had changed from ash and dust to hard packed clay and began a steep incline. As it rose, the sides of the canyon lowered to meet them. Raven could just make out the opening the the canyon ahead. The powerful legs of the Ornitho made quick work of the steep rise to the canyon's end. Just before entering open space, the road made a sharp S curve. A smattering of volcano adapted trees grew inside each turn.
Raven pulled hard on the reins bringing the Ornitho to a stop. She pointed to an opening between two rocky hills at the top of a distant rise. "Sinking Swamp is just over that rise and through that opening."
Jyun leaned around Raven and shaded his eyes to get a better look. "Do I see leaves on those trees?"
Raven nodded. "It's a swamp. That means an abundance of water. The trees there can afford the energy required to produce leaves." Raven caught an odd look on Jyun's face. "You okay?" she inquired.
"It's just that it's been a while since I've seen leaves," explained Jyun. "I guess I've missed it more than I thought."
"Hmm," pondered Raven, "perhaps I shall have to pay Deva lands a visit if their people get excited over plant life."
Jyun looked at Raven with some chagrin. "Let us be off, O Mage of Mirth."
Raven laughed and spurred the Ornitho forward. After coming around a bend in the road, the canyon wall to their right made a sharp turn east leaving a wide open space to the right of the road. On the left, the canyon wall pulled further back from the road, but still remained within close view. Among the rocks and boulders off the left side of the road, the two adventurers could see movement. Several creatures with rodent-like face and long pointed ears were shambling aimlessly about. Their skin was the putrid greenish gray of decaying flesh. They all wore dirt stained, makeshift loin cloths and carried crude, hand made spears. As Jyun had remarked earlier, their abdominals were in various stages of advanced decay. For many, the only thing connecting their upper bodies to their lower extremities was the spinal column. Jyun could make out the lower ribs and pelvic bones on a few.
"They don't seem to notice us," observed Jyun.
"They not close enough to the road," said Raven. "Their eyesight isn't that great."
Jyun decided to chance a glance to their right and hissed. "By the Light! What in all of Creation is that?"
Raven looked in the direction that Jyun was indicating and saw what had caught the Holy Warrior by surprise. "That is an Anathema."
"I should say so," remarked Jyun with disgust.
Raven laughed. "No, I meant that is what it's called. Don't you remember? We had to hunt one before we could graduate from Trainee Island, or didn't you get that quest?"
Jyun blinked at Raven. "It's been a while since Trainee Island, but now that you mention it..."
The two looked at the bizarre creature that skulked in the open plain. It stood crouched over on legs like a giant bird. It's feet were large claws designed to rend an opponent with a swift kick. Its flesh looked as if it was sewn together from parts of different animal skins, and its face was one massive maw filled with razor sharp teeth dripping with saliva. The one overwhelming characteristic about the Anathema that consistently drew the eye was its hands, or rather its lack of them. Rather then claws or digits, the Anathema's arms ended in thirty inch long carbon steel blades. It didn't need to carry weapons. It was one.
"There is no way the god of Creation made that thing," remarked Jyun.
"I should hope not," said Raven. "No, that was created by necromancy. They were probably created by some madman for use as security guards or a private army. I'd be willing to bet that they got loose after killing their creator. Things like that often do. Somehow, they learned how to breed."
"I am afraid my mind cannot grasp that possibility," said Jyun shaking his head.
"I imagine it's a lethal proposition," commented Raven. "Yet, somehow, some of them are able to pull it off."
"There are some things the mind is not meant to know, mage," grumped Jyun.
Raven chuckled. "Very well Prudish Warrior. You'll get your chance to battle them with your dual sword skills, however. Finnedman territory is full of them. The ones down in the swamp are called Furious Bloods. Fortunately, only the really large ones are aggressive."
"Wonderful," sighed Jyun.
The Ornitho reached the bottom of the rise and swiftly climbed it. At the top of the rise, the road was lined on one side by a stand of trees. The leaves were a dark green color that almost looked black. The smell of sulfurous gases wafted through the light breeze.
Jyun made a disgusted noise. "I think your Ornitho made have eaten something along the way that disagreed with him," he said while waving a gloved hand in front of his nose.
"Better get used to it, warrior," said Raven with a grin. "That is the smell of your destination. The odor comes from decaying vegetation." She pulled the Ornitho to a halt beneath the trees at the top of the rise. "We'd better dismount here and continue on foot."
After Raven directed the mount into a crouch, Jyun was able to make a rather smooth dismount. "Perhaps you should wait here," he suggested. "This is my quest, after all."
Raven stepped down from the Ornitho and retrieved her staff. "I'm just here to keep the monsters in line." She pulled out the Ornitho card and recalled the mount back into stasis.
Jyun sighed. "As you wish, but I do have a battle partner for this mission."
"Oh?" said Raven.
In response to her query, Jyun reached into his travel bag and pulled out a creature taming card. He raised the card above his head and spoke a short cantrip. In a bloom of orange light, a creature began to coalesce on the road next to them. When the energy dissipated, there stood a giant bird with bright red and orange plumage. The creature cocked its head at Raven before walking over to Jyun and affectionately nudging him with its beak.
"Huh," huffed Raven, arms akimbo, "a Bloody Poultry. I would have figure you for a Tortus owner."
"Oh, I have one of those, too," remarked Jyun, "but he isn't strong enough for this job." He absentmindedly scratched the crimson bird on the underside of its neck.
"I don't think I could get close to one of those birds," said Raven.
"Why not?" asked Jyun.
"Well, they aren't exactly cuddly, are they?"
Jyun chuckled. "Only the foolish judge a creature by its looks."
"Foolish, am I?" responded Raven in mock snobbery. She pulled a creature card from her pouch and held it aloft. Amidst another bloom of energy, a large feline appeared on the road. The creature was heavily built, and powerful muscles rippled beneath its tan colored hide. Its most prominent feature was the impressively large canine teeth that extended past its lower jaw.
"I see," said Jyun. "A Pantera. You consider that cuddly?"
Raven knelt down beside her pet and wrapped her arms around its neck. "His name is LuKia," she said and planted a kiss on the top of his head. The feline purred in response.
"Well, just be sure your LuKia understands that my EvoRoa is not a snack," said Jyun eying the big cat suspiciously.
Raven pouted dramatically. "My LuKia wouldn't ruffle a feather on your bird."
Jyun managed a smile. He didn't know the cause, but Raven seemed to be relating to him differently since the journey had begun. She was less antagonistic and more prone to genial conversation. "Very well." He stopped with some surprise. "You're right. I do say that a lot."
Raven went into a fit of giggles. LuKia was slightly bewildered at his owner's unusual behavior, but took it in stride.
"Which way do we go?" asked Jyun.
Raven stood and pointed north, just off the road. "Up that slope."
"Right," nodded Jyun. "EvoRoa, come." He strode forth drawing both his swords, the Bloody Poultry close in tow. After ducking beneath a few low hanging branches, Jyun pulled up short as he found himself face to maw with a Furious Blood. The creature snorted in surprise upon seeing Jyun.
"Oh," said Jyun uncertainly. "Hello there."
The Furious Blood began to snarl revealing even more of its teeth. Thinking quickly, Jyun took a stance that made him resemble, at least in posture, a Furious Blood. The creature spotted the swords in his hands, snorted and moved off to a more private location.
Jyun breathed out in relief. "I can't believe that worked."
"I don't think it did," said Raven grinning. "That was a Crude Furious Blood. They're generally cowardly."
Jyun looked back at the Dark Magician. "Ah. Well, lucky for him."
Raven pointed up the slope toward a thick grove of trees with low hanging branches and leaves shaped like streamers. "There's a Finnedman."
Jyun looked in the direction Raven was pointing. Beneath the trees was a humanoid looking creature with green scaly skin and webbed hands and feet. On its head were large fins where ears would normally be. At the base of its spine was a long tail with scutae down the back. It scuttled about on all fours, sniffing about and foraging for food.
"A-ha," remarked Jyun, "an amphibious creature. So, the eggs will most likely require moisture. We'd best look along the waterline."
Raven nodded. "On the other side of this rise is a steep slope down to the swamp proper. Most of it is thick mud, but there are areas where water pools. Just remember that once we get near a nest, things are going to turn ugly."
"Right," said Jyun resignedly. The two adventurers climbed the upward slope to its crest. On the other side, the earth sloped toward a rocky cliff edge. Several small Finnedmans were gathered around the rocks sunning themselves. Further to the west along the cliff, a path had been cut through the rocks by means of water erosion. The grade of the path looked shallow enough to traverse without incident.
"That looks like a likely place to get to the waterline," commented Jyun as he pointed toward the path.
"Let's just hope that Furious Blood Warrior doesn't mind us tramping through his territory," said Raven.
Jyun looked back at the path through the cliff rock. Sure enough, the mottled flesh and flashing blades of a Furious Blood could be seen ambling back and forth just further down the path. Jyun sighed. "And we were doing so well up to now. Why can it never be simple."
"Where's the fun in that?" chuckled Raven. She studied her companion for a moment while scratching her Pantera behind its ear. The big feline purred appreciatively. "You sure you're up to this. That Paradise Lost really took it out of you."
"There is a saying that my father once taught me," explained Jyun. "That which does not kill me will make me stronger."
"Really?" said Raven. "My father taught me that saying too, but it's a little different."
"Oh?" asked Jyun. "In what way?"
"That which does not kill me will soon wish it had," quoted Raven.
Jyun blinked his eyes in surprise.
"Well," shrugged Raven, "he is an assassin, after all."
Jyun nodded to Raven. "I assure you, I am fully recovered from our ordeal. Let's get those eggs, shall we?" Jyun observed the movements of the Furious Blood Warrior for a few moments. "I think the pattern of spells we used on the Paradise Lost should work here. Plus, we'll have the aid of our pets."
Raven nodded in agreement and began preparing her first spell.
Jyun stepped closer to the Furious Blood Warrior and, with a wave of both swords in a circular pattern, cast his Divine Flare spell. The Furious Blood Warrior was taken completely by surprise by the spell and staggered about momentary blinded. Jyun turned and nodded to Raven who then cast her first spell.
The familiar, sickly blue mage circle appeared beneath the Furious Blood Warrior and surged upward, lowering the creature's defense.
"That's our cue, EvoRoa," remarked Jyun to his pet. "DIVINE CLUSTER!"
With both swords glowing with power, Jyun charged the Furious Blood Warrior and began hacking into the creature's arms and neck. It's momentary blindness gone, the monster snarled in rage and began to retaliate with it's bladed appendages. First, it hacked across with each arm. Then, it stepped back, crossed both arms,then push forward executing the crossways scissors cut. Jyun was certainly glad that his armor was holding up to the punishment
"EvoRoa! Get behind it and execute a Peck attack!"
The large Bloody Poutry leaped to the creature's blind side and quickly flanked it. A sudden glow appeared around the avian fighter as it charged the Furious Blood Warrior from the rear. Using three powerful, successive pecks, EvoRoa managed to cause quite a bit of damage to the creature's shoulders. The Furious Blood Warrior howled in rage and tried to swing an arm back to cut down this new attacker. However, EvoRoa was much too quick to be taken by surprise, and continued to make quick pecks into the Furious Blood Warrior's flesh. In the meantime, Jyun kept up his forward advance.
Jyun sidestepped one of the monster's attacks in order to allow Raven's spell to reach its intended target. Out the corner of his eye, Jyun saw five balls of dark energy whip past and envelop the Furious Blood Warrior. The creature writhed in agony before finally collapsing into heap. Maintaining his caution, Jyun carefully stepped up to the Furious Blood Warrior and nudged it with a sword. The monster remained motionless. EvoRoa also stepped around the creature cautiously, giving it a sniff here and there. Satisfied, it returned to its owner's side.
"Well," said Jyun letting out a sigh of relief, "that went quicker than I expected."
Raven chuckled. "You're still comparing your battles with that Paradise Lost. Not everything is as resistant as they are."
"Well, if that's the worst we'll run into, then this quest should be over quickly," said Jyun. He had found a patch of hardy grasses and was cleaning off the ichor that stained his swords.
"Don't get cocky, Holy Warrior," sniped Raven. "In the field, anything can happen."
"True enough," agreed Jyun.
Carefully, they traversed the downward path toward the swamp. With each step, the boulders and rocks of the cliff rose high and higher above them. The bottom of the path split into two directions. The main path veered left and continued on amongst a small group of steep hills. A smaller path continued forward down an embankment and onto an open marshy plain. Several Finnedmen and Furious Bloods were roaming about, snapping at one another when one creature invaded another's territory. To the immediate right of the marsh was bog. Many of the Finnedmen splashed about in its waters, but it was apparent to the adventurers that the water was only knee deep.
"This is going to be tricky," commented Jyun. "How are we going to steal Finnedman eggs when this area is full of them? There's no way we can take on all of them if they get their hackles up."
"It shouldn't be a problem," assured Raven. "These creatures are extremely territorial, and they aren't very social. One creature won't care if another is attacked or in trouble. It will mean less competition for it."
"How charming," commented Jyun. "So, we only have to deal with the egg layer."
Raven nodded. "First, we have to find a nest." With a slightly disgusted look on her face, Raven took the first step into the murky water. She could feel the mud squelching beneath her boot. "Ugh," she groaned, "the things we adventurers have to put up with."
Jyun T'Kel stepped into the water with more aplomb. "I remind you, once again, that you didn't have to come."
"And miss seeing the mighty Holy Warrior Jyun T'Kel in action?" asked Raven with a smirk. "Ha! I think not."
EvoRoa sniffed at the water and complained about the stench with a few squawks of dismay, but eventually, he followed his master into the bog. LuKia stood on the shore and simply stared at the water. "It's okay, LuKia," soothed Raven. "You stay there until we get back, and stay away from the creatures here." LuKia growled a response that sounded like it was in pain, then it simply lay down in a grassy spot on the shore and waited.
Jyun and Raven waded further into the water, but kept to the shoreline. Each scanned the banks for likely Finnedman nesting spots.
"Tell me, Raven," began Jyun, "as our resident creature expert, what would a Finnedman nest look like?"
"They create a mound using mud and water plants," replied Raven. "They make an indentation in the center of the mound and lay their eggs within that. They keep it close to the waterline so the eggs will stay moist."
Jyun nodded as he focused on looking for the nests based on Raven's description. They hadn't traveled far when Jyun noticed that among the trees that grew along the shore, there were very large, strange looking mushrooms. They weren't widespread, but appeared to grow on slightly higher elevations. "Raven, have you noticed those mushrooms?"
"We're looking for eggs, Jyun, not mushrooms," quipped Raven.
"Yes, I know that," said Jyun with some irritation, "but have you noticed that they only grow on those small rises in the ground?"
Raven joined Jyun to see what he was looking at. "That's very nice, Jyun, but we're not here to study fungi."
Jyun favored Raven with a look of consternation. "Raven Dark, tell me what Finnedman nests look like."
Raven blew out an exasperated breath. "What? Are you dense? I told you already! They make a mound out of mud and water plants and..." Raven stopped herself mid-sentence as an expression of shock appeared on her face. She looked once more at the ground out of which the mushrooms were growing. Then, much to Jyun's surprise, she proceeded to smack herself in the forehead with her free hand. "...And the plant matter makes perfect mushroom fertilizer when it rots! D'uh!"
"I believe that perhaps picking mushrooms might be to our advantage," commented Jyun with a triumphant grin.
Raven placed her hands on her hips and looked at Jyun with a grimace. "Alright, O Wise Warrior, so you got lucky." She looked about. "I don't see any Finnedmen nearby."
"Then, this is a golden opportunity for us," said Jyun as he quickly advanced toward the mushroom mound.
Putting away his swords, Jyun began the dig into the mound. To assist, EvoRoa started to scratch at the packed mud with his claws.
Raven shook her head. "Boys love to play in the dirt."
"Are you going to help us, or not," grumbled Jyun.
Raven stifled a giggle. "As you wish." Raven stepped forward and also began clearing away the topmost layer of dirt from the nest. Eventually, Jyun managed to locate the hidden opening. A layer of wet leaves lay beneath the mud. Raven cleared the rotting vegetation away revealing several gray-green orbs with light gray spots. The eggs' leathery looking shells glistened with moisture. "Well, will you look at that," said Raven with smug satisfaction. "And two extra for good measure." Sure enough, an even dozen of the Finnedman eggs rested in the plundered nest.
"Well, lets pack them for travel and leave before the Finnedman that laid these gets back," suggested Jyun.
Raven collected broad leaves from a nearby bush and carefully wrapped each egg, placing them into Jyun's Yak skin travel bag. Just as she placed the last egg into the bag, a terrifying scream startled the two adventurers. From the branches above, a lone Finnedman leaped down upon the Dark Magician, pinning her to the ground. Jyun quickly slung his bag over his shoulder and tried to pull the creature off of his companion. The beast struck out at Jyun with a powerful kick, knocking him back into the murky water of the bog. The heavy weight of Jyun's armor forced him to sink into the mud, bringing his head below the water.
"Jyun!" cried Raven when she saw her partner fall into the bog. She knew that if he wasn't pulled up soon, he would drown. However, Raven had her hands full with trying to prevent the Finnedman from clawing and biting her. The creature was strong. Raven knew that she couldn't last much longer again it. Suddenly, a screeching cry rang out of the marsh and was immediately followed by a streak of tan fur hurtling through the air. LuKia rammed its body into the monster that was attacking its mistress. The powerful force of the blow sent the creature flying onto its back. Taking the initiative, Raven scrabbled for staff. The Finnedman was upon her in an instant, but Raven was able to successfully keep the creature at bay.
"EvoRoa," called Raven, "you've got to help Jyun before he runs out of air!"
The Bloody Poultry rushed over to where Jyun had fallen into the water. Carefully, it levered its beak beneath Jyun's back into the muck. Then, using its powerful legs, EvoRoa pushed forward, lifting Jyun slowly off the bottom of the bog. When it lifted as far as it could go, the great bird repositioned its beak and pushed again, repeating this action until Jyun's face was above water. Jyun spat out muddy water and took in a healthy gulp of air. "Thank you, my friend," gasped Jyun. "That is probably the only time when the smell of rot and decay actually comes as a relief."
Once Jyun's torso was braced upright, he reached an arm around the base of EvoRoa's neck and pulled himself into a standing position.
"I could use some assistance here, Holy Warrior!"
Raven was still able to keep the Finnedman busy, however she had many freely bleeding scratches and lacerations on her arms and legs and a bruise on her face. Her leather and bone armor was not designed for lengthy close combat. Quickly, Jyun drew his swords and cast an offensive spell.
The searing bright heavenly light caught the creature unawares. It screamed in fury as it attempted to shield it's eyes. While it was blinded, Raven took the opportunity to put distance between herself and the Finnedman. Once the light had cleared, the creature shook itself and looked around for the things that had stolen its eggs. It sighted Raven and began to pursue her.
"Oh no," growled Raven. "Not this time. FLAME BURN!"
A cone of fire spiraled upwards from the marsh. The intense heat caused water to evaporate until the entire area was filled with steam. The Finnedman writhed in agony as it was enveloped by the magical fire, but it wasn't quite dead. After the cone of fire had dissipated, the seared and scarred Finnedman made a determined effort to continue its pursuit, limping along feebly in the mud. A snarl rattled weakly from its throat as the hot air generated by the flame spell had severely damaged its lungs.
"How do you like that?" challenged Raven. She had a fierce look in her eyes that made Jyun shiver.
Jyun T'Kel shook his head in sadness. "That's just cruel, mage. Put the poor thing out of its misery."
Raven turned to Jyun as if to argue the issue, but a look into his eyes caused her to feel a pang of guilt. "As you wish, Jyun T'Kel. I shall be merciful...this time." She turned back to the struggling, rasping amphibian. "DARKNESS ARROW!" Once more, several balls of dark energy shot forth from Raven's upraised hand. By the time the last energy ball had reached the Finnedman, the creature was dead.
"You're hurt pretty badly," said Jyun with some concern. "We should get back on the Ornitho and ride back to Katan."
"Don't worry about me, warrior," said Raven. She walked up to the Finnedman corpse and hesitated. "You...might not want to watch me cast this."
"What are you going to do?"
"Heal myself," said Raven.
"Then, do it quickly before those wounds become infected," urged Jyun.
Raven nodded, then raised her staff over the dead Finnedman. "CORPSE DRAIN!"
A bright blast of dark energy rose like claws growing out of the earth beneath the dead creature. As the power wrapped itself around the corpse, it quickly disintegrated into ash and melted into the ground. A ball of yellow light rose up from where the corpse used to lay and moved toward the Dark Magician. As the light fused itself with Raven's body, slowly the tears and scratches in her flesh closed up and disappeared leaving only minor weals behind. The bruise on her cheek faded until there was nothing left but flawless skin.
Jyun blinked in astonishment at what he had just witnessed. "That was...disturbing."
Raven turned toward the Holy Warrior and leveled a piercing gaze at him. "I am a Dark Magician, Jyun T'Kel. A follower of Shade and servant of the God of Destruction. I make no apologies for who and what I am."
"I never said that you should," assured Jyun. "The spell merely...caught me off guard. How did you do that?"
"The thing that most people don't know," explained Raven, "is that even a freshly killed monster still has some life energy in it. That energy disperses rapidly, but if captured soon enough, it can be used to heal the spellcaster."
"Amazing," commented Jyun clearly impressed.
"Are the eggs okay?"
Jyun looked at Raven confused until he recalled his stint in the water. Quickly he opened his Yak skin bag and inspected its cargo. "All are accounted for and in excellent condition."
"Great!" enthused Raven. "Now, we can head back home. I don't know about you, but I could go for a hot bath...," she paused and sniffed her armor, "...or twelve."
Jyun sighed. "Time to spend more hours astride an Ornitho."
"Not necessarily so," chided Raven wagging a finger at him. She reached into her pouch and pulled out a scroll. "I have a Return Scroll." Jyun brightened immeasurably. "Raven Dark, I could kiss you." Raven's cheeks burned bright red. "We...uh...we'll have to put our pets away before I can cast this."
"Right," agreed Jyun. The two adventurers pulled out their pet cards and cast the return spells for their pets. LuKia, who was still grumbling about having gotten wet, and EvoRoa, who was still a bit muddy, both disappeared into the cards. Jyun walked over to where Raven stood holding open the scroll. She carefully read the incantation written on the parchment. As she did so, a circle of magic appeared beneath their feet as white light. The spell had a time delay, so there would be a few moments before the teleportation effect activated. Raven decided to take a risk.
"Oh, Jyun, there's one more thing I wanted to do before we left for home."
Jyun raised both eyebrows in puzzlement. "Oh? What's that?"
Quickly, Raven grabbed Jyun by the breast plate and pulled him closer. She immediately planted her lips upon those of the Holy Warrior. In the following instant, both adventurers disappeared from the marsh. A large Finnedman came sniffing about the spot where the Holy Warrior and the Dark Magician had stood only seconds before. It snorted in bewilderment and continued on with its task of defending its territory from all invaders.
T H E E N D
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