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Racing through the forest, Axel felt the rumbling of Tobi's footfalls uncomfortably close behind him. He leapt over a fallen log, rolling out of the way of Tobi's jaws, and charged electricity into his hand. "Lightning Dragon's-!" Tobi slid bye him in the mud, stopping just as Axel pushed the palm of his hand into his side. "Bolt!"
A flash of lightning exploded against Tobi's leathery skin, but it apparently had little effect on his tough hide. In response, Tobi slapped Axel aside with one of his tails, knocking him into the bushes.
"Dammit..." He crooned, having come to rest against a tree. "Worst retrieval job ever." He pushed off the tree to his feet, readying as Tobi charged at him again. Axel rolled to the side as its jaws shot opened, effortlessly ripping through the tree behind him. As Tobi slid to a halt, Axel spun to face him and took in a deep breath. "Lightning Dragon's Roar!"
A bright flash emanated from the man's mouth, and Tobi was enveloped in a massive column of electricity. The force pushed the monster through the mud, toppling trees and foliage in its path, until Tobi disappeared from sight and a large splash of water rose up to replace it. Axel broke off his attack and gave chase, following the path of destruction he had created.
The land dropped off suddenly, leading down into a partly flooded muddy basin with Tobi resting in the center with most of his lower half submerged. It watched as Axel slid down the embankment, stopping just short of the murky water with a grin. "What's the matter?!" He shouted. "Too afraid to-?"
A sudden burst of water knocked Axel on his back, stopping his challenge mid-sentence. He sat up, still trying to figure out what had happened, when Tobi spit another torrent at him. Axel was less prepared for this one than he was the last, and took a breath just as water washed over him.
The receding flow of water pulled Axel into the mud, hacking and coughing to catch his breath, where Tobi was waiting. Using his two tails to push himself through the mud, Tobi moved much faster than he did on land, drawing up to Axel at an incredible pace with his jaws wide opened. Axel dove for safety again, moving just in time for Tobi to sail past. He landed on his feet, now standing almost waist deep in murky water, as Tobi spun around for another pass.
Coughing the last of the water from his lungs, Axel spun around just as Tobi bore down on him again, still moving at a surprisingly fast pace compared to how he moved on dry land. It was a closer call this time, as Axel could smell the beast's breath as its jaws snapped closed only inches away.
Though he avoided in instant death from it's massive jaws, Tobi caught Axel with his foreleg as he passed, plunging the mage under the water with the force of his incredible bulk. Axel sank into the mud below, inadvertently saving him from being crushed, however he was still left without breath by the sudden assault.
Axel attempted to lift Tobi's foot from his chest, but either the monsters mass or its incredible strength made the task impossible. He tried to roll over, but that only seemed to make him sink further into the mud below. He roared out under the surface, his lungs burning for air, unleashing electricity from his entire body.
The basin lit up with a bright blue flash, and lightning jumped high into the sky. Tobi stumbled aside, stunned from the assault, and lifted his foot from Axel's chest just long enough for him to push free. He burst through the water, gasping for air, as Tobi wobbled away. Axel beard his teeth, growing sick of the drawn out conflict, and slapped his hands together. "Lightning Dragon's Spear!" He shot his hands towards Tobi, and a barrage of lightning arrows launched off of his arms and back.
Tobi roared as Axel's attack crashed over him, disappearing in a swath of bright flashes and spraying water. Eventually Axel's attack ceased, allowing himself a moment to check on his opponent. Tobi lay still, all but the crest of his back hidden under the water.
Axel breathed a deep sigh of relief, then quickly began heading for the shore. He moved slowly, having to wade through the water and thick mud, despite being only meters from shore. Just as he was only knee deep, a sudden thrashing sound drew his attention and he spun around to see Tobi rushing at him one last time. Axel acted quickly, reaching out to one of the trees that had fallen in Tobi's path and called. "Lightning Dragon's Chain!" A string of electricity leapt from his hand, attaching itself to the tree and drawing it back towards Axel. He caught it just in time to use it as a brace to hold back Tobi's jaws, if only just. Wood splintered and flew in all directions, but Tobi's jaws stopped just short of Axel's shoulders. "You're a stubborn one, ain't ya?" He said with a laugh, taking hold of a tooth from each side of Tobi's maw. "Eat this, monster!"
Looking to end the fight, Axel unleashed a torrent of electricity into Tobi's open mouth. There was no sound, save for the sparking of electricity through the basin, and Tobi collapsed after a moment. Axel stepped out of range of the monster's jaws, not wanting to make the same mistake twice, however after a moment it became clear that the fight was over. Tobi's eyes had rolled back in his head, and the water rippled with every shallow breath it took.
Axel took a moment to catch his breath, contemplating finishing the monster off, when a scream echoed through the trees. Axel spun away from his fallen opponent, recognising the voice as one of his companions. "Shelly?!" He called out, trying to decipher if they were close or not. "Where are you?!" There was no answer, even after Axel had climbed out of the basin. "Guys?! Anyone out there?!" Still no response, and Axel broke into a run through the forest. "Dammit."
Shelly dodged around every obstacle that she came across, trying her hardest to get away from the spider Nina had summoned. Eventually her lungs began to ach, and her run slowly devolved into a slow trudge. She stopped to rest against one of the bigger trees, resting her hands on her knees to catch her breath. "You guys ok?" She asked, looking over her shoulder.
Much to her surprise however, nobody was there. "Oh-no... Amber? Geno?" She called again, hearing nothing but rustling leaves as a response. She'd assumed that the others had followed her, as facing that giant spider just seemed incomprehensible to her. But when she thought about it, Amber seemed fearless, and staying to fight sounded exactly like something Geno would do.
She couldn't help but chuckle to herself. This whole thing was her idea, and she was now the most useless member of the group because of her phobia. "Stupid spiders..." Shelly moaned, standing upright to look for the others.
Just as she set off, a nearby bush rustled, sending her on the defensive. Shelly quickly pulled her sketchbook and a pencil from her bag, and stood at the ready for whatever was coming. Moments ticked bye and nothing happened, causing a nervous sweat to break out over her forehead when she remembered what Geno had said about this island being a spider nest.
A grey blur burst from the leaves, latching itself Shelly's face before she could react. Whatever it was, it was small and furry, and enough to cause Shelly to lose all composure. She dropped everything and grabbed at whatever it was, screaming. "Get off, get off! Let go!" She thrashed to and fro, but was final able to pull whatever it was from her head.
She was about to throw it against the nearest tree, when she felt a familiar hold on her hand and a small voice called out. "Shelly!" She stopped immediately, giving whatever it was enough time to jump from her hand and cling to her chest. "I thought you got eaten."
Shelly breathed a huge sigh of relief, sinking to her knees and wrapping her arms around her feline companion. "Oh, Zeke. You're ok." She wiped her eyes before Zeke could look up at her, trying her best to look strong. "What happened to you?"
"I tried following you after we met the monster lady." Zeke explained, still holding himself tight against Shelly's chest. "But you ran so fast I couldn't keep up. Amber came to, but she got lost somewhere."
Shelly smiled. "Amber's ok. She was with me until a minute ago. But that Nina person took control of a giant spider and..." She blushed slightly. "You know..."
Despite the dire situation, Zeke snickered. “Scaredy cat.”
Shelly quickly stood up, pushing Zeke away. "I am not! Spiders are gross." Zeke still laughed, even as Shelly dropped him to retrieve her sketchbook. She couldn't help but smile as well, and was about to pack her stuff away when another bush rustled. "Guys?" Shelly called, squinting to see through the leaves. "Amber? Is that you?"
Slowly, the bushes moved aside, and the black tiger Azmos stepped through. Shelly tensed up, taking half a step back as Azmos stopped. "Shelly?" Zeke asked, clinging to her leg. "What do we do?"
"G-good kitty..." Shelly mumbled, trying to look as unthreatening as she could. "Stay there." Azmos just stared at them, somewhat bewildered as to why Shelly had called her a kitty.
Shelly began drawing something, moving slow enough as to not prompt an attack. Suddenly, a grey blur shot through the bush behind Azmos, flying at Shelly with blinding speed. She held up her sketchbook as a defence, deflecting what she realised was Nina's pet, Riba. She stumbled back as the bird flew off, but in that instant Azmos pounced. "Look out!" Zeke called, using his wings to pull her to safety in the nick of time.
Azmos bounded off a tree as the pair of them rolled to a stop, and Shelly held out her sketchbook to counterattack. "Pict Magic: Bears!" A trio of small teddy bears jumped off the paper, battering Azmos to the ground in a flurry of tiny swinging fists.
Just as she began sketching something again, Riba flew bye with another pass, leaving a shallow gash on the back of her arm with his claws. Shelly winced back, dropping her sketchbook in the process, just as Azmos tore through her bear creations like paper. She backed up again as Azmos stepped on her sketchbook, readying to pounce.
Shelly prepared herself, not wanting to be caught off guard again. Azmos growled at her, but did nothing else. "Something’s wrong." She thought to herself. "It's like it's waiting for-." Just as she thought it, Riba shot through the bush again with his talons extended. Shelly jumped back, feeling the feathers of Riba's wing brush by her face, and rolled out of the way as Azmos leapt at her.
Both of them slid to a stop, having achieved nothing but switching their positions, and Riba circled around for another pass. Shelly didn't dare take her eyes off Azmos, fearing she would pounce the second she looked away, but heard the sound of Riba's wings brush against the leaves as he dove at her again.
Just as it was close enough to grab, Zeke popped up between it and Shelly with a large stick in hand. "Batter up!" He called, cracking his makeshift weapon against Riba's head. The blow seemed to do its job, but not before Riba swatted Zeke away with a flick of his wing. Dazed, the bird flew sidewise through the trees, before eventually crashing into one and dropping into the bushes.
Shelly didn't have time to watch however, as Azmos had pounced the second Zeke appeared. This time though, she anticipated the attack and was prepared. She stepped to the side and called out. "Solid Script: Flames!" Leaving a burning effigy of the word in the place she had just been standing. Azmos was too late to alter her course, and flew through the flames and into the bush.
Howling cries echoed out as Azmos rolled in the dirt to extinguish her now burning fur, while Shelly stood back in case she lashed out again. It didn't take long to quell the flames, and Shelly pointed above Azmos' head the second she rolled over. "Solid Script: Anvil!" Metal letters appeared in the air from nothing, rained down on Azmos' head and knocking her out almost instantly.
Shelly backed away slowly, then fully turned around upon hearing Azmos moan and rushed to Zeke's side. "Zeke? Are you ok?" She cradled him in her arms, shaking him gently to rouse some sort of reaction. "Come on, say something!"
Zeke slowly reached up to rub a large bump on his head, wincing the moment he touched it. "I hate that bird..."
Shelly giggled a little, placing Zeke on her shoulder and retrieving her sketchbook. A number of the pages had been ripped by Azmos’ claws, but it still looked usable. She tucked it into the waistband of her skirt and reached up to scratch Zeke’s ears. "Come on, let's find the others."
"Yeah!" Zeke cheered as the par of them set off.
A massive arachnid crashed through a tree, breaking it under its weight, and scampered upright. Geno leapt after it with a large grin on his face, his feet barely touching the ground. The spider spun suddenly, lunging back at him with a par of massive mandibles. Geno jumped upwards and allowed the spider to pass under him, coming to land atop its head.
The spider danced about as he took hold, trying to throw him from its back. "Ya' having fun?" He called, almost laughing. He drove his fist into the top of the spider's head, instantly knocking it to the ground. Before it could recuperate, Geno had leapt off it's back, grabbed hold of its abdomen, and swung the monster like a ragdoll to knock down anything in its path.
Geno suddenly became aware of a pain in his hands as he watched the creature roll away, looking down to find a number of thorn like barbs stuck into his arms. He chuckled to himself however, slowly pulling them out one by one as his opponent turned back to face him. "Got a few tricks, do ya?"
The spider hissed at him and began rubbing its forelegs together, ether as a challenge or like it was anticipating another clash. Geno thought for a moment, then began wiping away the blood drawn from the spiders barbs and rubbing it between his fingers. Once he had enough he drew a circle on his left hip. Just as he was about to add something else, the spider flicked its forelegs forward and sent out a barrage of more thorny hairs.
Geno abandoned what he was doing and picked up a large branch by his feet, swatting aside most of the barbs with one swing. The spider was on him in that instant, bearing down on him with its massive fangs. He thrust his branch into the insect's mouth to keep himself at a distance, however found himself being pushed back as it continued its charge. Eventually Geno felt his back hit a tree, pinning him between it and the monster before him.
The spider pushed on, vigorously gnawing at the branch in its mandibles, while Geno pushed back with all his might. Strong as he was, the spider's sheer mass made it difficult to effectively fight back, which became all the more problematic as the branch began to show signs of breaking.
"Damn monster." Geno complained through gritted teeth. A crack shot through the branch, and Geno reached down to draw a line through the circle of blood he had started moments ago. Instantly the blood began to glow, bubbling to life and taking the shape of a sword hilt jutting out of his hip. "Scox!" He roared, one of his eyes flashing red, taking hold of the weapon and pulled it forth. The blade sliced across the spider’s face, causing it to squeal and back away instantly.
A blood red eye shot opened on the weapon’s hilt, and an eerie growl echoed in Geno's head. "Behave yourself, Scox." Geno mumbled, watching the spider thrash about. "I got'a end this quick, so enjoy the fresh air while ya can." The growl in his head turned into a low chuckle, and Geno went on the offensive. He began with a running start, then thrust his sword at the spider after just a few steps. "Stinger Tail!" The blade instantly shot forwards on a chain, segmenting into pieces as it got longer.
The Blade's tip began to dip towards the ground, but suddenly shot upwards through the spider's torso and exploded out the top. As the beast thrashed about, the tip of Geno's blade whip abruptly turned downwards and severed two of its legs. A loud hiss sung from the spider's jaws as the tip of Geno's weapon shot through a nearby tree, bringing it down on top of the large arachnid.
There was only a sickening crunch, and all that was left of the spider was a trio of legs sticking out from under the fallen log. Geno's blade whip slithered out from underneath and pieced itself back together with a sharp, Ki-Ki-Ki sound, as if it was laughing. Geno flicked the blood away, then looked into the weapon's eye as the chuckling in his head slowly evolved into a dull laugh. "Alright, you've had your fun. Back into your hole with ya." Scox's eye began to close, and the weapon melted back into a mass of blood that jumped from Geno's hand to his hip where it first emerged.
The red light in Geno's eye faded as well, and he stretched his arms over his head. "Well, fun while it lasted." He seemed to nod at his fallen opponent, then turned away to go search for the others. The path his fight had cut through the jungle made it fairly easy to pick up the trail, and he said to himself. "I'll be back in no time."
Having briefly traded blows with their pursuer, Amber had broken off the fight and was now searching for the boat again. After running around so many obstacles however, she didn't even know how far she had gone, let alone what direction she had traveled in. She quickly looked around, trying to pick up any sign of the others, but saw nothing but foliage in every direction. With a heavy sigh, she turned away and continued down the path she was heading, hoping that it would lead somewhere at one point.
Suddenly the bush next to her shook, and Amber had just enough time to bring up her weapons to ward off Nina's bear like claws. Amber slid back as the woman's cold eyes bore into her. "I told you to leave." She spat, pushing Amber away and disappearing behind another tree.
Amber shook off the blow fairly quick, and tossed her blade rings after her a second later. "Red Chaser!" Her weapons zoomed through the trees, leaving a trail of red light behind them, but Nina was nowhere to be found. Amber heard something else approaching from beside her as her weapon's returned, jumping away and readying for another clash.
The bushes shook suddenly, and Amber prepared for the worst. Just as she was about to throw her blade rings again, a figure stumbled out of the bush and onto the ground at her feet. "Axel?" Amber said in disbelief, drawing away from him. He quickly jumped to his feet, then lunged at her the second there eyes met. "Hey, what-?"
His arms wrapped around her stomach, pushing her out of the way just as Nina crashed down on the place she had just been standing. The pair of them hit the ground with a thud, and Axel spun back with his hand held out to counterattack, but Nina had already disappeared. "Dammit. She doesn't fight fair!" Axel looked down after a second to find that he was kneeling over Amber, whose face had flushed red. "What happened to you?"
"N-nothing..." She said slowly, pushing him away. "Get off!" He rolled back into a sitting position, while Amber shuffled back against the nearest tree. She glared at him, which he returned with a look of confusion, before asking. "How did you know where I was?"
Axel shrugged, forgoing his confused look. "I followed your smell."
Amber did a double take. "My what?"
"You know, your smell." He said pointing to his nose. "I got a nose like a dog." Amber didn't know what to think. Did she smell bad? Was that what he meant? Axel looked away for a moment, and Amber used the chance to sniff under her arm.
It was an earthy smell, no surprise seeing as they were all pretty much covered in dirt, but nothing that really stood out. She gave up trying to figure out what he meant, getting up just in time to see Nina drop down behind Axel. "Look out!" One of her bladed disks flew from her hand, which both Axel and Nina ducked under to avoid.
As Amber's weapon stuck into a tree, Axel spun around and took a deep breath. "Lightning Dragon's Roar!" A burst of lightning flowed from his mouth, destroying everything in its path. Except for Nina that is, who cartwheeled out of the way and spun back to deliver a spin kick to Axel's stomach that pushed him back a few steps.
He caught himself on the tree Amber had been resting on; and it was only now that Amber noticed what she was doing, having sunk to the ground and holding her hands over her ears. Axel dropped down to her level, thinking she was in pain. "Hey, what's wrong?" Amber didn't respond, and Axel's eyes shot back to Nina as she approached. "What'd you do?"
She didn't respond, and electricity began to spark all over Axel's body. He broke into a run, drawing back his fist to throw a wide punch. Nina took hold of Axel's shoulder as he passed, using his own momentum to throw him into the brush.
Next she spun at Amber, swatting her remaining blade ring away with a single well placed kick as she tried to defend herself. She grabbed Amber's arm as she recoiled back, pinning it against her back. "Let g- Ahh!" Amber couldn't finish her sentence, as Nina painfully twisted her arm upwards before she got the chance. She gritted her teeth, standing on her toes to try and relieve the pain.
Axel rolled to his feet, shaking off the blow and spinning at Nina again. "Freeze!" She ordered, pulling Amber between the two of them as a shield. "Don't take another step, or I break your friends arm."
Axel stopped immediately, and electricity flared up and down his arms, however he soon broke his fighting stance and his magic died down. "Ok, I'm staying here." Amber was surprised that he listened, though couldn't think about it before the grip on her arm was tightened.
Nina watched him for a second, then moved her other hand up to take hold of the back of Amber's head. "Go get the scruffy one and the girl the purple hair, then go back from where you came from."
"Hell no!" Axel said, taking a defiant step forward. Amber gasped as Nina twisted her arm even higher, reminding Axel of the stakes. "I'm not leaving her behind." He barked back. Again, Amber found it suppressing that Axel did what he was told; though more so that he said what he did. She would have found it touching where it not for the exploding pain in her elbow.
"I'll send her back to Treetop by tomorrow. Until then, she is my hostage to make sure you do what I say." Amber bent over slightly, finding that doing so relieved an ever so small amount of pain on her arm. As she did, she saw one of her blade rings laying behind a bush, and quickly formed a plan. She thought of Armeria, telepathically telling her exactly what she wanted her familiar to do. Before she could act however, Nina increased the pressure on her arm, causing her to lose focus. "I'm not asking again!" She barked.
Amber looked back to see Axel standing in exactly the same place, still looking for any way to help. He seemed to have a plan himself, but Amber couldn't take any more. "Armeria, now!" She called, hoping her familiar could respond in time.
Both Nina and Axel seemed surprised, but suddenly one of Amber's blade rings tore out of the bushes like a buzz saw and flew at Nina. She quickly pulled Amber aside to use as a shield, however Armeria was faster still. She rolled over in the air to slip past Amber and leave a deep gash under the arm Nina was using to hold her.
Nina let go instantly, and Amber fell away with a sudden deep breath as her arm untwisted itself. She hit the ground hard, looking over her shoulder to see Nina swing her claws down at her. Axel suddenly appeared in her field of vision to intercept her, lightning trailing off his fingertips. "Lightning Dragon's Claw!" He swiped his hand down at Nina, leaving a trail of electricity that looked strangely like the path of a blade swing. Nina jumped just out of his reach, however suddenly a cluster of the nearest trees all split in half, and a thin spray of blood shot from Nina's stomach.
Cradling her still aching elbow, Amber watched as Axel stood between her and Nina. Nina herself clutched at the gash under her arm, taking a number of deep breaths as she stared back at Axel. "This isn't going to end well for you." She growled, wiping the shallow cut on her stomach free of blood. "There are always-."
"Pict Magic: Cannon!" A loud bang rang out, and suddenly a bright ball of magic hit Nina in the chest, sending her flying into the bushes and out of sight. They heard a splash, and looked back to see Shelly crouched behind a large cannon hidden in the trees. "There you guys are!"
She hopped over her gun to join them, and Zeke flew out of the tree above her. "Axel! You're alive!"
Axel caught the tiny feline on his shoulder, reaching up to scratch his chin. "Hey Zeke."
Shelly however, moved past the both of them to Amber, who had curled up into a ball on the ground where Nina had dropped her. "Amber? What's-?" Shelly stopped herself and looked back at her cannon, remembering Amber's fear of loud noises. "Oh, Sorry..."
"I-It's fine." Amber tried to brush the incident off. "I'm ok. Really." She pushed herself to her feet, still clutching her arm. "Armeria, where are you?" Something rustled in the trees, and after a moment pieces of her familiar jumped from the foliage and formed a belt again. She was relieved to feel Armeria's familiar hug on her tummy, then shifted her attention to Shelly. "How'd you find us?"
"I followed the shore." She explained. "The boat was beached in an inlet, so I figured if I walked far enough I'd come across it again." She lowered her head, seemingly trying to apologise. "I didn't know you guys were in trouble until a minuet ago."
"That explains this then." Axel called, looking over the place where Nina had flown. Amber and Shelly moved in for a closer look, finding that the spot they had just been fighting was only a few meters from a thirty foot ledge that dropped off into the water below. "I can't see the monster lady, and there's no way she could have climbed back up here without us noticing."
They all peered over the edge, seeing nothing but the swamps green murky water swell below them. "I think we did it." Shelly said after a moment. "I think we won."
Next chapter – Precious Cargo