Setting the Stage
The sun was just beginning to tough the ocean late one summer day, dyeing the sky in a vibrant orange hue. On one of the many small islands in the country of Bantia, a small horse drawn cart made its way down a narrow forest path. An elderly man in a long cloak and shaggy hair held the rains while a small boy in shorts, a muscle shirt, and a white cap much too large for his head sat next to him. A small cat like creature lay resting on the boy's head, wearing a tiny pair of shorts and a scarf. While the old man guided the cart, the boy looked around in all directions throughout the forest, spotting all manner of creature hiding in the brush. "Dad..." He complained after growing tired of the silence. "Where are we going?"
"Into a city Axel." He responded with a smile. "It'll be good for you to be around your own kind. Learn how things work in a human society."
The small cat on Axel's head sat upright, trying to mimic the old man. "Saucy, saucy!"
"That sounds boring." Axel complained again, taking the cat off his head and holding it on his lap. "Me and Zeke want to play." The old man laughed, pushing his glasses up on his face. "Come on dad... I don't want to meet others. I have you, and Zeke... Who else is there to know?"
Axel's father laughed again. "Don't want to meet anybody huh?" Axel nodded, and the old man began scratching at his beard. "Alright then, we're going to get something to eat. How's that sound?" He grinned, fully knowing what Axel would say.
True enough, Axel immediately forgot about going back and began nodding excitedly. "Yeah. Let's eat!"
"Let's eat, let's eat!" Zeke mimicked again, making the others laugh together. They continued down the dirt road ahead of them for almost an hour, Axel incessantly talking about food and Zeke repeating every other thing he said.
Eventually, the path led closer to the ocean, and the forest cut away on one side into a small beach. Just ahead a stone bridge came into view crossing over a river that led into the ocean, and a strange sensation fell over them. Axel was too busy playing with Zeke to really pay it any mind, however it set his father an alert as the horses hooves clocked against the stone. Half way across, the horse froze in place, bringing the cart to an abrupt stop. Axel caught himself from falling out, while small wings sprouted from Zeke’s back and he hovered next to the boy's head. The horse pawed at the stone bridge as Axel looked up again to see someone leaning against the guard rail at the other side. He wore what looked like a long robe and his face was obscured by a large rice hat. They didn't move an inch as they stared at him, making Axel think it was a statue instead of a person. The old man hopped off the cart, and Axel immediately forgot about the other person. "Hey dad, what are you doing?"
"Trust your old man Jelonghoul." He said confidently. "I'll be along in a moment." Axel thought he could see something flash in his dad's yellow eyes, but didn't have a chance to think on it when Jelonghoul handed him the reins. "Go take care of your brother, wait for me near the edge of the town."
Axel nodded without a word and flicked the reigns, but the horse didn't move. "Come on, go." Axel urged, though the horse remained still. "Listen already!" The horse still didn't obey, and actually began backing up down the bridge.
Jelonghoul growled, and the horse stopped again. "Go on, get!" He slapped the animals rear end, prompting it to finally start down the bridge again. It progressed slowly despite Axel's continued bucking at the reigns, seemingly almost frozen in fear. It reached the end of the bridge after what felt like ages, and Axel caught a glimpse of the stranger again. Whoever it was didn't seem that dangerous to him, they had hardly moved since the three of them arrived at the bridge, but there was still something off-putting about the stranger.
Axel caught a whiff of something as he passed by, something he couldn't exactly put his finger on, but something he couldn't just dismiss ether. The horse suddenly broke into a gallop, pulling Axel away before he could think on it. "Hey, wait up!"
"Wait up, wait up!" Zeke repeated, gliding after the cart and disappearing into the forest a moment later.
The galloping of the horse faded into the distance, leaving the two standing on the bridge alone in silence. After a moment, the stranger stepped away from the banister and into the center of the path, walking towards the center of the bridge. "Well, he looks like a nice boy." A male voice echoed from inside the cloak, though it came out much lighter than one would expect from a figure such as this. "Raising a child is such a wonderful feeling, wouldn't you agree?"
Not up for playing games, Jelonghoul kept his eye focused on the cloaked man, wary for any sort of movement. "What is your purpose here?" He demanded, sniffing the air for any hint as to his intentions. "What is it you want?"
"My apologies, that was rude." He quipped, seemingly unaware of the threat the old man before him posed. "My name is Vax Culhorn. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He came to a stop only ten feet from Jelonghoul, his face still entirely hidden behind a rice hat. "And I've actually come for you, old dragon."
Jelonghoul's eyebrow twitched behind his glasses, but he could still sense Axel in the distance and decided against a confrontation. "I don't know what you're talking about. Dragons are a thing of myth." Jelonghoul continued down the bridge, hoping he had deterred the stranger. "But I have a son to catch up to, so if you'll excuse me..."
Just as he passed Vax by, Jelonghoul heard a sharp buzz, and Vax appeared in a flash before him at the end of the bridge again. "Whether you believe they exist or not matter's little to me. I only require your magic." Vax looked up, revealing a square shaped, featureless mask under his rice hat. "Now please, hold still a moment." A sword appeared in Vax's hand, pointing at the elder before him. "Blast." A flood of blinding blue magic suddenly burned through the air toward Jelonghoul, emanating from the end of Vax's sword.
Apparently unimpressed, Jelonghoul stopped the attack with a single arm, dispersing it with the closing of his fist. Vax shot through the light, sword poised for a kill, only for Jelonghoul to catch the sword in his hand. The blade slid along his palm of the old man's hand but failed to cut into the skin, sending a handful of sparks up into the air. Electricity arced around his other hand, and Vax was blasted away with a bolt of lightning not a second later.
Vax dug his sword into the ground to stop himself as he slid backwards and readied for attack, the center of his cloak still smoldering from the blast, but Jelonghoul was able to act faster. Jelonghoul shattered the bridge on with a mighty stomp of his foot, launching bits of stone into the air and shaking leaves lose from the trees.
Vax was sent skywards as well, losing hold of his sword and being battered by fragments of stone and wood. Seeing the world spin around him, Vax touched his two thumbs and pointer fingers together over his chest to create an infinity symbol and called. "Pause!" The world around him instantly slowed to a halt; rocks hung in mid-air, the splashing waves of the river below stopped, and Vax hovered in the air above it all. He righted himself, clasping his hands behind his back, and studied his now still opponent for a moment. "I truly wonder what you are, old man." He glanced up, finding his sword discarded amongst the fragments of the bridge above him. "But I guess I'll never know now..." Vax teleported again, taking hold of his sword and dove through the ait at Jelonghoul. "Goodbye, old man."
Just as Vax was close enough to bring down his sword on the old man, Jelonghoul shot back to life and caught the tip between two of his fingers. The world around them returned to normal, and the elderly man's eyes flashed with a yellow glow. "Goodbye yourself, evil child." Still suspended in the air, Vax was blown away by a massive burst of electricity that flowed from Jelonghoul's mouth. Stone from the bridge was blown away, and the leaves that had fallen from the trees instantly caught fire.
The far side of the river was set ablaze, but Jelonghoul could tell it wasn't over yet. A blue orb of magic soon became visible through the flames, protecting Vax from the intense fires that burned around him. His cloak and rice hat where gone, having been burned away by Jelonghoul's breath attack, and he was now revealed to be wearing a plain purple muscle shirt and brown cargo pants. He had one hand outstretched, apparently keeping his barrier up, while the other clasped over his mask where his mouth would have been. Over the sound of burning brush and the hum of Vax’s magic shield, Jelonghoul could hear the man laughing. "You're it, you're definitely it." Vax looked up at the old man again, still laughing like a maniac. "Your magic will surely be what I need!"
Jelonghoul didn't seem deterred by Vax's outburst, but still wasn't sure what to make of him. "You are one strange human..." Vax rose into the air again, looking down at the old man on the bridge. "But I can smell the evil on you, and I've had enough of your antics." Lightning arced from the old man’s hands, "Someone should end you, and I'm willing to oblige." Jelonghoul suddenly shot skywards, kicking off the air to launch himself straight at Vax.
The Vax disappeared in a bright flash, and Jelonghoul blocked a small orb of magic fired at him from out over the ocean. He turned again and shot out over the water, swiping his electrified hand at Vax only for him to disappear again. Another attack from behind, which Jelonghoul dispersed with a swipe if his hand. Vax continued to teleport around him, ensuring that he could not get close enough to make any sort of counterattack. Jelonghoul growled, blocking attacks, and watching the masked man teleport from place to place.
Vax appeared closer to him again, sword in hand, and spun at Jelomghoul like a buzz saw. Jelomghoul readied to intercept him, but felt magic begin to build up behind his back again as Vax drew closer. Only a few feet from Vax now, Jelonghoul spun away from his opponent and began a wide sweeping kick in the other direction.
He guessed right; Vax teleported behind him just in time to catch the old man's heel in the side just below the ribs. A gut wrenching crunch rang out as Jelonghoul's foot tore into Vax's stomach, rippling through the air amongst a spray of blood, and Vax teleported again before being ripped completely in half. Jelonghoul finished the swing of his kick, sending out a shockwave that parted the water below, and then spun again to intercept the next attack.
There was none, much to his surprise. Jelonghoul spun in the air to look for his opponent, but he had gone; literally vanished into thin air. "Huh. Well, guess he's learned his-." Jelonghoul felt something in the distance out over the ocean, something that made him stop mid-sentence. He looked out to the open water, then back at the forest where Axel and Zeke had disappeared into. He thought about chasing after his son, but every thought he had of Axel was accompanied by one of Vax, and the damage one like him could do should he have survived. "Ugh, I'm getting way too old for this..." He complained, shooting out towards the open ocean a moment later.
Far out over the ocean, a trio of small islands jutted out of the water. One flat, save for a single mountain, an covered in trees, another nothing but a sandbar only inches above the waterline, and the last a mess of rocky outcroppings that stood almost a hundred feet into the air. It was here, atop the tallest plateau, that a short buzz rang out over the area. A man appeared just a foot above the ground, though he fell on his back the second the magic faired, laying still and watching the sky. Small gears, now exposed through the hole in his stomach, clicked away as blood ran over the rock. Vax coughed slightly, but began laughing again as the sun had now half set. "Thought he was going to kill me."
His sword disappeared from his hand, replaced now by what could only be described as a fist sized mechanical spider. Another appeared in his other hand, followed by another, then another. They swarmed over the missing portion of his torso, yanking damaged machinery away and using parts of themselves as replacements. Blood continued to run over everything, even as Vax sat up to survey the surroundings. "Guess I'll need to come at him harder next time..." He tried to stand, but was only able to reach a kneeling position before a shearing pine in his back stopped him. He began summoning more of his insects to speed the process, but stopped and looked out over the water when he felt something approaching in the distance. "Ah. Guess he's coming for me. How lucky."
Seconds later, a black speck appeared over the horizon. It drew closer and closer, bringing with it an overwhelming magical aura, until Vax could make out the leering face of the old man from the bridge. Jelonghoul crashed onto the outcropping a moment later, causing the entire structure to moan for the impact. "So this is where you scampered off to." He began, but quickly stopped to take in the scene before him.
His kick had certainly done what he had intended; much of Vax's torso was missing between the ribs, spine, and pelvis, yet there was little to no gore to speak of. Instead, a strange swarm of insects flooded over what looked like smashed bits of clockwork inside his body, and what little blood had been drawn had already dried into a dark red crust. One of the insects emitted a blue glow from what might have been its head, and the bleeding stopped entirely. Vax stared in Jelonghoul"s direction, his mask hiding all emotion save for the giddiness in his voice. "Hello old dragon. Bare with me, I'll be on my feet in a moment."
Half amazed and half disgusted by what he was seeing, Jelonghoul could only raise an eyebrow. "What on earth are you?"
"Human..." Vax said flatly. "Well I was human, I suppose, at one point. Though what I really am is whatever you think I am. You called me an evil child, so I guess that's what I am to you." He began laughing again, and Jelonghoul narrowed his yellow eyes at him. "Guess I am more of a monster now aren't I?" Jelonghoul clenched his fists, growing impatient with the man's insane rambling. "That's something we have in common, you and me. I started as a human and now I'm a monster, while you started as a monster and now you're human. Don't you think that amusing, old dragon?"
Jelonghoul took in a long breath, feeling the danger posed by this man growing with each word, and unleashed a massive stream of electricity from his mouth with a mighty roar. Still chuckling, Vax extended an arm and a massive blue wall of magic stopped Jelonghoul's attack cold. Seconds ticked on as twos' magic clashed, the rock face beginning to crumble around them, until Jelonghoul began running short on breath.
He held out as long as he could but the burning in his longs soon overcame him, and Jelonghoul broke off the attack to catch his breath. Vax hadn't moved an inch, though the palm of his hand had new been burned away, revealing more machinery in the absence of flesh underneath a rubbery skin. Vax continued to giggle as a trio of black boxes appeared around him in a flash, each standing upright and containing a human body within.
They were each in a different stage of decomposition, and gave off the sickly smell of rotting flesh. Jelonghoul jumped back, not knowing what to expect as Vax's mechanical insects began crawling over them. Vax stopped laughing for a moment, and looked between his three summonses. "Requip is quite useful, wouldn't you agree?" Blue light poured forth from the machines and into the body's Vax had summoned, their insect like forms falling to the ground motionless after just a second. "Wonder how you'll like this, old dragon."
As the last of his mechanical insects tumbled away, the body in the case to Vax's left fell from its perch. Just when it was supposed to hit the ground; the body, a man in baggy pants, a long cape and wide brimmed sun hat, caught itself; much to the surprise of the old man. The corps creaked as it righted itself, then he reached into a back pocket and retrieved a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. "So... You are one unlucky old man, aren't ya?"
Another body lurched from its box, this one a woman in a long dress and blue news cap, and began giggling evilly just as Vax had been a second ago. "Don't talk Keel. Let's just kill him already." She grinned, flashing her jagged teeth at Jelonghoul, and her fingers twitched at the prospect of drawing blood.
The last corps stepped away, a decrepit man in a long robe with a sword at his hip, and the boxes they had arrived in disappeared in another flash. Vax slowly rotated his head to each of his summoned minions, starting with the swordsman. "Gamind..." Then the woman. "Rolla..." And lastly the other man, who had just finished lighting a cigarette. "Keel... Bring me the old man's head."
Through all this, Jelonghoul stood amazed by what he was seeing. There was no mistaking the smell of death on them all, yet they all moved as if they were alive. "Necromancy..." He said, finally able to regain his composer. "In all my long years, I've never witnessed anything like it. Not like this at least." Vax began laughing again, and Jelonghoul wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Vax Culhorn... You truly are an evil human."
In an instant, Gamind had drawn his sword and dove at Jelonghoul with lightning fast speed. The blade slid across the old man’s chest, cutting the fabric of his shirt and cloak but failing to split flesh. Jelonghoul jumped back to avoid another swing, only to see Rolla launch a blue fireball from her outstretched hand. "Die!" It land at his feet with a violent explosion, and he sailed over the side of the outcropping, unharmed but trailing smoke behind him.
Keel ran down the rock face after him, thin ribbons of blood from his wrists gathering the debris from the explosion. He kicked off the wall, and swung a mass of stone held together in a bloody net at Jelonghoul. Snarling an anger, Jelonghoul blasted the mass with a bolt of lightning; sending tiny bits of rock in all directions once again.
The combatants landed hard on the ground below, and immediately jumped back into the fray again. Gamind rushed in first, rapidly swiping at Jelonghoul with the sword skills of a master. Narrowly evading each strike, Jelonghoul brushed aside Gamind's sword and shot a bolt of lightning at the rotted samurai's stomach.
Instead of knocking his opponent back as intended, Jelonghoul's lightning simply passed through Gamind's torso, taking bits of cloth and rotted flesh with it. Not slowing at all, Gamind's sword slid along Jelonghoul's cheek, drawing only the tiniest amount of blood.
"Don't hog him all to yourself!" Jelonghoul looked up to see Rolla bearing down on them both, firing an array of her fireballs upon them. "He's mine to kill!" The explosions forced Jelonghoul and Gamind apart, and Rolla took the opportunity to charge. She thrust another fireball whirling in the palm of her hand, but Jelonghoul caught her attack and crushed it in his fist. The fireball detonated, and Jelonghoul jumped clear of the smoke again.
He took a moment to catch his breath and then looked back at his opponents. "Undead solders..." He complained again, watching the three corpses line up again. It was still strange; Gamind had a fist sized hole clear through his lower torso and Rolla was now missing her arm below the elbow, yet neither of them seemed to even be aware of their injuries. "Has that man really robbed you of everything?"
"Not exactly." Keel took a long drag on his cigar, then looked at his companions. "Well, not most us."
"No talking!" Rolla ordered, summoning another fireball in her remaining hand. "Just die old man!" Her fireball rocketed through the air at Jelonghoul, which he dispersed with a swift wave of his hand. Keel acted next, shooting scarlet spines of blood though the air to impale the old man. Rolla joined in too, interworking her fireballs with Keels bloody needles.
Jelonghoul broke into a run, spears of blood and explosions going off all around him. Gamind once again closed in, running alongside Jelonghoul and slashing at him with every opportunity. The old man growled once again, ducking under an attack at his neck and retaliating with a slash from his electrified fingertips.
The samurai sailed backwards without a word, but more explosions around him stopped Jelonghoul from following up to finish off the warrior. He jumped high into the air to avoid damage, however felt Keels bloody tendrils wrap around his ankle. Jelonghoul was slammed back to earth, unable to catch himself in time, and rolled over just in time to see a massive rock flung at him in one of Keel's blood nets.
A dull thud echoed over the islands as the stone landed on the old man, rippling across the water died orange by the setting sun. Blood flowed back into Keel’s wrists as the three solders looked on for any sign of movement.
Magic began to hum in the air, and the rock Jelonghoul had been crushed under exploded in a flurry of lightning. "Enough!" The old man roared, his yellow eyes burning with anger. "You three have already gone from this would, so I'll return you to the afterlife myself." Gamind charged again, not waiting for Jelonghoul to finish talking. Just as he made his attack, the old man shot out his hand and caught the blade tip in his palm, lightning trailing off his fingers. Gamind's sword shattered instantly, and most of his sword arm followed not long after with the swipe of Jelonghoul's hand.
If Gamind was surprised, his rotted face failed to show it, even as Jelonghoul's other hand closed around his boney neck. With a primal roar, Jelonghoul lifted the samurai into the air, griped at the hole in his stomach, and ripped the warrior in half. Jelonghoul slammed Gamind’s upper half into the rock and finished him off with a missive stomp that shattered the ground below, ending the undead warier without a word.
"Wow..." Keel backed up a step. "Old man's still got some fight left." Before ether he or Rolla could act again, Jelonghoul shot through the air at lightning speed and buried his hand deep into Keel's stomach. Keel's cigarette dropped from his mouth as electricity sparked from the old man's arm, unleashing a bolt of lightning that sent Keel's smoldering body skipping across the ocean and out of sight.
"Didn't need them anyway." Jelonghoul turned back to see Rolla perched on one of the higher rocks. "Now die for me, old ma-!" Rolla had no time to finish her sentence; for in that brief moment Jelonghoul had flown up to her perch and unleashed a massive breath attack with a mighty roar. Rolla instinctively raised her arm in defence but it was quickly burned away by the old man's lightning, followed by her muscles and then her bones; leaving no trace that she ever existed in the first place.
Now free of immediate enemies, Jelonghoul stopped to catch his breath; beginning to hate his lack of stamina. He sniffed the air, and looked up at the tallest outcropping to see Vax looking down at him. His metal insects began falling away from his body, apparently having been drained of magic. "Guess three solders weren't nearly enough. Perhaps I should prepare more next time." He began rubbing the chin of his mask and looked away from Jelonghoul, seemingly losing himself in thought. "Then again, it takes quite a lot of magic to make them."
"You won't have a next time!" Jelonghoul shot through the air at Vax, cracking the ground he had been standing on. Just barely up the rock face, Vax looked back at him and a swarm of his mechanical insects flowed over the edge of the cliff. Jelonghoul kicked off the rocks, to change direction, but the insects followed him, buzzing through the air on a set of glowing blue wings.
Jelonghoull fired off a bold of lightning from his palm that carved through the swarm, though it did little to slow their advance. He swept low into the forest of the larger island, using the trees to gain some distance between himself and his pursuers, then suddenly cut through the canopy and into the air. Blue lights flickered through the leaves below as Jelonghoul took in a deep breath, unleashing another massive blast of electricity into the trees.
Still observing from the outcropping, Vax watched as a bright blue stream of magic cut a swath of destruction through the forest and out over the ocean, lighting the trees ablaze and blowing his machines to pieces. "Very impressive." He murmured as the old man flew back and landed vertically on the wall of rocks. "You’re quite the catch old man." He raised his arms and lifted himself into the air. Detonate!" Jelonghoul took in another breath, but suddenly looked down to see more of Vax's machines crawling over his legs from cracks in the rock.
Each shone with a blue light then exploded in a flash of magic, blowing the outcropping to smithereens. Vax watched pieces of rock disappear into the ocean, searching through the smoke for the old man he had been targeting. Jelonghoul suddenly shot through the smoke, discarding his smoldering cloak and staring at Vax with anger burning on his eyes. "Glad you survived." Vax quipped, looking back down at the rocks that use to stand high in the air. "I think I went a little overboard with that one. Sorry about that."
"Spare me." Jelonghoul snapped. "Tell me what you're after."
"Oh? Haven't I already told you?" As he spoke, a number of Vax's mechanical insects clamored over his back, pulsing with magic and growing bigger by the second. "I'm after your magic old dragon, or old human, or whatever you claim to be." He held out his arms, and a pair of massive hammers composed of magic formed in his hands. "Form." Magic began flowing through the holes in Vax’s mask and a bubble of magic formed around himself. "Now hold still. Can't have you wasting all that power by struggling now can I?"
"This is the end, Vax Culhorn." Jelonghoul growled. He suddenly shot through the air towards Vax, drawing his fist back to strike. He struck hard against Vax's shield, however it did little but bow under the old man's incredible strength. His fist bounced back and Vax disappeared again, reappearing behind Jelonghoul to swat him away with his magic crafted hammers.
He flew into the side of the mountain, sending fissures shooting across its face. Jelonghoul bounced out, ready to fight, but was smacked down into the forest below when Vax teleported again. Trees blew out words from the place where the Jelonghoul landed, but he popped up immediately again.
Jelonghoul threw another punch, then another, then another. Each one bounced back as the first had, leaving no trace of violence. Vax teleported behind him and knocked the old man out over the water, then again to blast down him into the rocky remains of the outcropping.
Vax continued to hover over the area, watching for the old man to pop back into action again, but there was nothing. A sudden beastly roar echoed over the trio of islands, followed by a massive column of electricity shooting into the sky. Vax instinctively retreated, covering his face to protect himself from the blinding light, but it became apparent that it wasn't meant as an attack.
When Vax looked back, he was met by the sight of a massive dragon hovering only meters away. It possessed blue skin and a split tail like that of a whale's, however there was something strikingly familiar about it. Under a crown of horns on its head, the dragon's yellow eyes burned fear into Vax like nothing he had ever felt before. "You should have been more careful about what you wish for!" Jelpnghoul roared, rippling the water below. "Now you face a true dragon's wrath!"
Despite the inherent danger, Vax began laughing again. "I knew it. I knew it!" He dodged back as Jelongoul swiped one of his massive claws at him. "I knew you were a dragon!" He rolled around another breath attack, then teleported again as Jelonghoul dove at him with his claws. "Your magic will definitely be enough to fuel my plan."
The dragon spun in the air, each flap of its wings rippling through the air as Vax flew at him with his magic hammers raised. Jelonghoul blocked both with his massive scaly forearm, then retaliated with another swipe with his claws.
Vax’s shield shattered and he was sent tumbling backwards into the side of the mountain. Another of Jelonghoul's breath attacks flashed through the air after him; however Vax was able to teleport out of the way just as lightning tore across the mountainside.
He reappeared closer to the water, looking up to see Jelonghoul bearing down on him again. Thinking quickly, Vax spun away and flew off along the ocean. Lightning shot into the water at his heels, indicating that the dragon was not far behind. Hearing another breath attack coming, Vax banked hard to the right, avoiding the attack and getting out of Jelonghoul's path.
Jelonghoul wasn't able to turn as sharply, and had to fly around the mountain to line up another attack. Vax realised this, reforming his hammers into a pair of massive orbs of magic in each hand. As Jelonghoul flew straight at him, Vax held the orbs out in front of himself and began to laugh again. "Take this, old dragon. Blast!"
A blue stream of magic shot from Vax's hands, hitting the dragon square on the head. Two of the horns above the Jelonghoul's left eye snapped off, and that same eye was reduced to a bloody pulp in an instant. Roaring in pain and falling more than flying, the dragon swatted at Vax with its wing on the way by, knocking the madman out of the air and his machines off his back.
Vax stopped himself only inches from falling into the water, while Jelonghoul crashed through the waves farther out to sea. Vax pulled on the skin at his elbow, damaged in the dragon's assault, tearing it away to reveal a mechanical arm all the way up to his shoulder. "What a ruffian..." He murmured, noticing more blood running from the point where his mechanical arm attached.
Before Vax could do anything more, Jelonghoul's head immerged from the ocean below, snapping his jaws closed around him. The dragon's wings immerged from the water next, flapping a couple times to pull free of the ocean. Vax attempted a teleportation inside the beast's mouth, but it failed. He looked back to find one of the dragons teeth imbedded through his leg, also revealed to be mechanical. "Oh no. I can't teleport something this big." A light built from the dragon's throat, and Vax was thrown free of his hold by an intense burst of lightning a moment later.
Vax landed on the sandbar, electricity arcing over him from his metallic limbs. Jelonghoul landed next to him, blood dripping from his missing eye and anger pouring from the other. "This is the end for you, Vax Culhorn."
Vax tried a teleportation again, but the electricity flowing over him interrupted the flow of his magic, leaving him stranded. He backed up slightly, portraying fear for the first time he could remember. "No..." Jelonghoul's raised his head over Vax and roared, appearing as if he was going to bite down on him again. Instead of teeth however, a bright light shown from the dragon's mouth, enveloping Vax in a massive stream of lightning. Sand turned to glass, then shattered into pieces as Jelonghoul's roar blasted a crater into the ground. Water flowed in from the ocean, erasing any evidence that there had been a sandbar in the first place.
The sun had just set on the water, leaving the only remaining island of the trio illuminated by starlight. Jelonghoul immerged from the water and landed one of the rocks that once made up the stone outcropping. He had returned to being human now, and began rubbing his forehead above his now missing left eye. "Bloody hell..." He took off his glasses and wiped the blood from his cheek. "Axel's going to want a story for this one too."
A sudden rumbling drew his attention to the mountain, damaged beyond recognition by the fighting. Rocks began tumbling down the side and into the forest below, eventually building into an avalanche that encompassed half the mountain. In its place stood another strange machine; a bulb shaped thing held aloft by a set of four multi-jointed legs. Blue lights flashed across its surface as the entire thing came to life, lurching forward through the remains of the mountain.
Jelonghoul stood amazed, not sure what to think, when he suddenly felt something wrap around his torso. He spun around to see Keel standing on one of the other rocks, held together at the waist by nothing but a spine and a few lose bits of muscle. "Should've finished me off dragon man."
Before Jelonghoul could fight back, he heard the water splash, and spun back to see Vax had emerged from the water and close a hand around his forehead. "Shock!" Jelonghoul felt magic flow into his head at an excruciating rate, numbing most of his senses immediately. He stood frozen by Vax's attack, unable to fight back thanks to the ribbons of blood binding his arms to his sides.
The attack carried on until Jelonghoul gritted his teeth, unleashing lightning in every direction. The outburst freed his arms, as well as knocked Vax away, however the numbness stayed with him even after Vax broke his hold. Jelonghoul took a few deep breaths, noticing small bits of machinery poking through the skin all over Vax's body. "Guess we'll continue then."
Jelonghoul raised an arm and charged in for a punch and Vax responded by making an infinity symbol with his thumbs and pointer fingers. "Pause!" Jelonghoul's fist stopped an inch from Vax's head, and Vax began to chuckle again. "Sorry old dragon, I've got you right where I need you." Vax created another bubble of magic around Jelonghoul, and magic began flowing from it into a dynamo on the front the massive machine from the mountain. "My Eon" Vax explained. "Bit bulky, but it's perfect for draining things with large amounts of magic. Such as yourself."
Magic continued to pore from the machine from the old man, still frozen in time with the rest of the island. Suddenly, the would crashed back to normal speed, and Jelonghoul's hand closed around Vax's neck. Vax ceased up, but Jelonghoul did nothing but chuckle a little as water splashed against the rock he stood on. "You really done a number on me, Vax Culhorn. Guess you'll get your magic, even if it's from my corps won't you?" A bright light began to shine from the old man's stomach and his skin appeared to crack, electricity filling the air around him as Vax fought to get out of his grip. "Wonder what you'll do if there's no body left to poach?"
Light continued to build in the area, and Vax violently kicked out to get free. "No, you can't. You wouldn't!" Jelonghoul's grip loosened slightly and Vax was able to slip free. Instead of running however, he turned back at the old man. "Not my magic!"
Jelonghoul's skin shone with a blinding light, and he grinned up at the sky. "Sorry Axel. Looks like you and Zeke'll be on your own now." Lightning carved high into the sky and Vax turned away, only now realised the danger he was in. "Now then, see you in hell! Vax Culhorn!" Another bolt of lightning shot into the sky, and Jelonghoul's light grew to envelop the island. Vax tried to protect himself, but was blown away by the explosion of magic that ripped the islands to pieces.
Back on the mainland, Axel stood amidst the smoldering grass and shattered remains of the bridge, watching a bolt of lightning illuminate the ocean in the distant night sky. Looking left and right for any sign of the old man, he caught Zeke in his arms and held him against his chest. "He was here. Where’d he go?"
Another man stepped up behind them, short, old, and stocky, looking over the destruction around him. "Come child, there's nothing here." He slowly pulled his gaze away from the destruction around him and looked back at Axel. "We should go."
Axel looked back and shook his head. "No. He said he'd be here."
"Here, here." Zeke seemed to say in agreement.
"If your father was here, I'm sure he'll be back. Come, my name is Jon. Let's get you a hotel room for the night." Axel was hesitant to follow, but didn't know what else he could do without Jelonghoul around. Letting Zeke take to the air again, they followed their new acquaintance back into town.
10 Years Later
"So this is it Jon?" Axel asked, standing before a large gate just outside of a city. A sign above the door red Blazing Soul, a mage guild Jon had talked about recently. But from what he had said, Axel felt a bit underwhelmed. "It's sort of tiny."
"So was your Uncle Wraith at one time." Jon said, pointing back down the road at a larger man resting by the side of the road.
"Yeah, before he got all big and fat." Zeke hovered over them all, laughing at his own comment.
The other man down the road perked up and glared at Zeke. "I can still here you fur ball." Zeke froze in the air as an evil grin creped across the man's face. "Better watch yourself, I never tried cat meat before."
"Ahhh! Axel help, he's going to eat me!" Zeke screamed, diving behind Axel's back for protection.
"Alright, alright. Don't tease the boy Elligr." Jon patted Axel on the back, slowly pushing him towards the guild's door. "And don't judge it just yet Axel, you may learn to like the place." Zeke crawled up to Axel's shoulder, but Axel still seemed apprehensive. Sensing this, Jon pushed a little harder. "Come come, we don't have all day."
Through the double doors of the gate Axel could see a pair of buildings, both two storeys tall and possessing a red tiled roof. Stone paths led to the entrance of each through the grass, and Axel caught a glimpse of a third building behind them. Through it all however, Axel remained unimpressed. "It still looks small..."
"Quit complaining lad." Elligr roughly slapped Axel on the shoulder, apparently having recovered a bit of stamina from their long walk here. "It'll be what you make it. So why not give it a chance, huh?"
"If you say so..." Axel didn't seem convinced, but continued along the path with the others towards what he assumed to be the main building. The doors pushed open to reveal a mostly empty room, a small number of tables dotted the floor and a bar lined the back wall. The four of them looked around a bit when something donned on Axel. "Hey Jon... This place kind of looks like your restaurant."
"Good thing too." Jon quipped. "I've been talking with the guild master here. They renovated the place to include a kitchen for us." Axel and Elligr sat down at one of the closer tables, while Jon walked toward one of the back doors. "Speaking of which, I should go tell him we're here. You three won't cause trouble will you?"
"No." They all said in unison as Jon departed. Moment's ticked by as the three of them admired the inside of the guild. A balcony lining every wall made up the upper level, and a cork board hung on the wall opposite what they assumed to be the kitchen.
After sitting himself on the table, Zeke gazed uninterestedly around the room. Nothing really interested him much, until he felt someone's hands close under his arms and pick him up off the table. "Wow, look at you!"
"Hey, what's happening?" Zeke asked franticly, kicking out in every direction to get free. Axel and Elligr looked in his direction to see him being coddled by a shorter girl with short purple hair, who they guessed to be in her mid-teens. "Who are you?" Zeke asked.
"Aww... He talks too!" She began nuzzling him against her cheek. "You're just the cutest thing ever." She held him out in his arms again, holding him above her head with stares in her eyes. "What's your name little guy?"
"Axel! help me!" Zeke called, finding his squirming useless.
"Put my brother down." Axel stood up abruptly, knocking his chair over in the process, and pulled Zeke from the girl's hands. "He's not a toy you know. He's my family."
"Oh, sorry. Ignoring the annoyed tone in his voice, she looked around Axel to Zeke hiding behind his back. "So... What are your names?" Axel didn't say anything, but backed away slightly. A little disheartened, the girl decided to go first. "Well, my name is-."
"Shelly?" They all turned to see a short blue haired boy standing in the doorway Jon had left through. "What are you doing?" He took a few steps into the room, eyeing Elligr and Axel. "Who are you guys?"
"Axel." He said flatly, glaring at the new arrival. "Who are you?"
The boy looked over at Elligr for a second, then back at Axel as he stepped between him and the girl called Shelly. "Why are you bugging my sister?"
"Because she was bugging my brother." Axel shot back, both of them seemingly growing more annoyed with every word. "Come on Uncle, let's go." Axel turned away from the others and scooped up Zeke. "This place sucks, let's go home."
"Now now lad..." Elligr grabbed Axel by the scruff of the neck and lifted him off the ground, stopping him from leaving. "Guess that old dragon your always on about never taught you any people skills, did he?"
Elligr and Shelly laughed, while Axel's face grew flush. The back door opened after a moment and a muscular man with tattoos on his arms walked through. "Leo?" He said, looking at the smaller boy. "Everything alright? We heard shouting."
Jon strolled in after the first man, taking a moment to figure out what was going on. "I'm gone for two minutes, and you've started a fight already?" He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose over his glasses. "Whatever will I do with you Axel?"
"They started it!" Axel yelled, pointing at Leo and Shelly. Zeke flew out of his arms and back on the table, and Shelly took a seat next to him just to watch him sit there.
"Did not!" Leo rebutted.
"Alright guys, don't fight." The larger man urged. Leo backed up a little as the larger man approached Elligr, who let Axel down to offer a handshake. "Names Davin Vamiro. You must be Elligr, right?"
"Aye. That I am." He said, standing up to talk. "Guess you already heard about these two. The hothead's Axel Dawngrave and the furball's name is Zeke." He looked back at Axel and Leo, still glaring at each other, then over to Jon still standing by the back door. "Guess you already know Jon."
"Yep, he's all signed up too. Got his guild mark and everything." Axel spun to look at Jon in disbelief, and Jon flipped down the collar on his jacket to reveal a mark resembling a burning skull on the back of his neck. "So what do you guys say? Want to be a part of Blazing Soul?" Davin asked, producing a small stamp like object from his back pocket.
"Sure, what the hell right?" Elligr placed his hand palm down on the table, and Davin pressed the stamp on the back of his hand. After a small flash, the stamp was removed to reveal a skull mark like the one Jon had on the back of Elligr's hand. "Cool." Elligr quipped, flexing his fingers into a fist a few times and admiring his new mark. "Alright Axel, you're up next."
Axel didn't move. He only stared at the mark on the back of Elligr's hand, and the one on Jon's neck. Sensing his apprehension, Davin placed the stamp on the table and sat down. "Come on son. You'll have a great time here, and we'd be happy to have you. Right Leo?"
Leo didn't answer immediately, looking back and forth at the two elderly men who brought Axel here. "I don't know..."
"Oh, don't be like that Leo." Shelly picked up Zeke again and held him out for her brother to see. "Look, isn't he a cutie?"
Zeke and Leo stared at each other for a moment, and then Zeke sniffed. "You smell funny."
A vain popped in Leo's head as the adults laughed, then another flash came from behind Zeke's back. "There we go.” Shelly said, holding the stamp in one hand. "All done."
"What?" Zeke asked in surprise, straining his head to see what she had done. "What did you do? What was that light?" Zeke caught a reflection of himself in the mirror behind the bar and saw a green version of the guild mark on his back. "What?! No! I don't want to join a guild!"
Davin, Jon, and Elligr laughed again, though Axel seemed to find the entire scenario far less humours. He stepped up to take Zeke away again, but felt Elligr's hand on his shoulder before he got a chance. "Uh-oh. What'll ya' do now Axel? Only guild members are allowed to stay at a guild."
Davin opened his mouth to correct him, but soon caught onto what Elligr's plan as Jon spoke up. "Guess if you don't want to join, Zeke can stay here with us." Both Zeke and Axel's jaws dropped, and Shelly began laughing as well. "Sorry Axel, them's the rules."
"What?!" Zeke cried, flying from Shelly's arms and burying his face in Axel's chest. "No! Don't leave Axel." Axel caught the small cat in his arms, watching him grip at the collar of his shirt. "Join the guild Axel! Please?"
Axel watched Zeke's pleading eyes looking up at him, then again at the others around him. He didn't want to leave Zeke behind, even if he would be with Jon and Elligr. But he didn't want to join up with anybody ether. He went over the options in his head and then thought back to his other father, Jelonghoul. One of the last things he remembered him saying was to take care of Zeke, no matter what. With a long sigh, he said. "Uhg, fine. I'll join your guild."
"You will!?" both Zeke and Shelly shouted excitedly.
"Yeah, I will." Axel moaned as Zeke clung to his chest again, catching him in his arms. "I'm not leaving my brother behind, so I guess I'm in." Shelly cheered as Axel rolled up the sleeve of his shirt, letting Davin place the guild mark of Blazing Soul on his shoulder.
Axel looked at the mark on his shoulder for a moment, beginning to second guess himself, when he felt Shelly take his hand and pull him and Leo towards one of the other doors to the guild. "Come on, you should meet Isa. She's really strong, and nice, and-."
Shelly's voice trailed off as the door shut, leaving Davin, Elligr, and Jon standing on the guild hall alone. "Are uh, are you sure forcing him to join like that was good for him?" Davin asked the others, who had both began to chuckle. "I mean, if he doesn't want too, he's still aloud be here."
"Aw, forget him." Elligr said, waving his hand. "He's just being stubborn."
"He'll be over it in a few days." Jon added, taking a seat at the table with Elligr. "After that, it'll be like he never wants to leave." Davin laughed a little and joined the other men at the table. "Besides, making some friends should be good for him. Builds character."
After entering what looked like a library, Shelly let go of Axel's hand and ran off, looking between each bookshelf as she passed. Leo leaned against the wall near the door and sighed, and Zeke flew up to rest on top of Axel's head. Axel himself glanced back down at the guild mark on his shoulder, thinking over everything both Jon and Jelonghoul had taught him. "Guess this won't be so bad..." He muttered under his breath.
"What'd you say?" Zeke asked.
"Nothing." Axel responded, seeing Shelly re-emerge from between one of the bookshelves pulling a sleepy red eyed woman behind her. They stopped in front of them, and Shelly took a second to catch her breath, gesturing for her companion to introduce herself.
The other woman giggled slightly, then leaned down to Axel. "Hi, my name's Isa. What's yours?"
"Axel." He said, still thinking back on everything his two fathers had shown him. "Axel Dawngrave."