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Chapter 3

Wooden Embrace

The sun's rays beamed off the two blondes as they continued their walk through a forest, each holding a poster within their hands. "It won't be much longer now," Excel explained, looking back towards Monique with a smile.

She smiled back, and unrolled the poster to take another look at their assignment. A large sum would be awarded to whomever was able to save a village from a threat of magical monsters. Other than that, the poster provided very little information as a whole, and did not go into any further detail. There was no image portrayal of the incident either, which Monique found to be quite odd. When asked about it, Excel had theorized that the village had had very little time to call for any help properly, due to the nature of the crisis.

A noticeable gap in the trees allowed more sunlight to pour down into the grass, much like a spotlight. It was here that Excel suddenly halted to a stop. "Something doesn't seem right. Be on your guard, Monique." Monique nodded, as she too began to sense the magical power that was headed their way, the signature of which was strangely familiar.

Turning her back to Excel, she grew appalled at the arrival of the mystery man, who immediately tugged down his hood to reveal his shaggy brown hair. "You seem a bit surprised," Remno said with a smirk, his fist curled around his trademark rubber ball. "What? Are you not happy to see me?"

"There's something different about your power," Monique admitted. "I wasn't able to identify you due to how strong you've become all of a sudden." Monique shook her head. "Never mind that; why are you here now?"

Her eyes widened. Suddenly, she felt a surge of magical power from behind her, and within the next instant, Monique was encased within a sphere of black water, which forced her to hold in her breath. She looked in front of her first, as Remno's grin widened; then, she turned around, at the man in the long collared jacket holding a trident in his hand.

"He's here for your funeral," Excel declared, rather calmly at that. He closed his eyes, stomping the pommel of his trident against the ground. "Or rather, the ceremony to celebrate your sacrifice." He opened his eyes to Monique, who, judging off the expression across her face, was puzzled beyond belief. "Yes, this was all but a ploy designed to lead up to this very moment. There was never any endangered village to begin with. I merely needed a good enough reason for two seeds of Fable to be able to cooperate with one another."

Chuckling sadistically, Remno approached the water prison. "She can't move out of this, can she?" The ball leapt out of his hands as he exerted some magical energy, and soared through the air and into the sphere, where it started to assault Monique. "So then, you really got her! She's defenseless!"

With each blow, Monique tried her very best to keep her mouth sealed, for that would undoubtedly bring about her end, as long as she was under water. She moved her hand to cup the bottom portion of her face and clenched her eyes, grimacing in pain as the ball proceeded into harming her thighs, elbows and stomach.

"Bahaha! You've got to be joking, the 4th seed caught this easily?! How pathetic!" The rubber ball returned to Remno's hand, as he himself stood before the sphere of water. He put an entire arm in next, and yanked at the hair that was flowing behind Monique.

"You're a real worthless whore, you know that?" Remno pulled his arm away and tightened it into a fist. "I never really understood what all the fuss about you was, anyway. What makes you so special?"

More of the same, magnified energy escaped his being, only this time, it was heavily concentrated into his arm, more particularly the fist he had recently established. A grayish-white hue masked each and every one of his fingers, and the intensity could be felt simply by observing it. The force from such a blow was about to make the ball from before seem like nothing more than a bad joke. True pain was headed in Monique's direction.

A whistle sounded as Remno cocked his arm backward, and the entire fist began to tremble as he held it there, charging it further. "Seem like a pretty ordinary wench to me!" Heaving it forward, he cut through the wind with tremendous force on his way towards Monique's face. However, at the very last second, onyx black flames appeared between the two entities, hurling Remno back a great distance.

"Sorry I'm late, partner!" Long, black hair came into focus next, as a tall figure landed inches ahead of Monique, flames of the same color shielding his arm. Her eyes widened in disbelief. He glanced back swiftly, offering her a cheeky smile.

Remno stood up to his feet after a few seconds of lying in a heap of branches. He dusted off his trousers and wiped blood off from his face using the fist he had charged earlier. "You… Zanaris, was it? What are you doing here? More importantly, how did you find us?"

"You're so filthy I could smell you all the way from the guild," Zanaris joked. "Have you ever heard of a shower?" He looked back again, this time past the water sphere and over towards the man who had cast it. "You; you use water magic, right? Why don't you help a brother out and prepare a bath for this guy?"

Excel looked towards Zanaris with his usual calm demeanor. "Interesting. I wasn't aware the guild had acquired another God Slayer. Such a shame, really, that you chose to follow us here. You could have become of great use. Though now, I cannot allow you to escape here with your life."

"Is that right?" Zanaris straightened up, loosening his shoulders. "I'd love to see you try."

"Excel-sama, this runt isn't worthy of dying by your hand. Please leave him to me; I've a personal vendetta against this one."

"Very well. I will begin with the preparations for the ceremony, then. Do come to join us when you finish here, Remno-kun." Guiding his trident, he carried the black sphere behind him through the use of what appeared to be telekinesis. He made off afterwards, soaring into the skies by riding along a thin blanket of magical energy.

"Oi, are you really running off like that?!" Zanaris cried from the ground level. Excel offered a mere glance in response, though kept consistent with his foreclosed pace. Zanaris looked over towards Remno, who was now concentrating magical power into both his fists. "I don't have time for this," Zanaris said. "I've got to chase after them…"

"You got in a pretty lucky shot there earlier." Remno chuckled as the pressure around them intensified. "But, that's all in the past. You won't stand up against my Gravity Magic for long."

Zanaris was forced suddenly down to a single knee. He clenched his teeth, struggling to pick himself back up. "What the hell is going on all of a sudden?" His body betrayed him, and every ounce of his being began to tremble as a result of the pressure. "I can't move for shit…!"

In the next instant, Zanaris fell forward, and his chest was buried into the grass. A crater formed all around him as the pressure intensified, and blood escaped his mouth. The very sight made Remno laugh out loud. "Looks like you are all talk after all! What happened to that confidence from before?!"

"Gah!" Zanaris' body dug further into the ground. Breathing at this point had become a challenge. Then, out of nowhere, his black flames returned to his side, coming to his aid. They appeared from beneath him, and quickly shot up around him. "I don't have time for this…" he repeated under his breath. His voice grew louder, "I don't have time for this!"

More and more of the same black flames were born, slowly helping him to his feet. He began to defy the logic behind Remno's magic —until Remno exerted more energy. Again, Zanaris fell to the ground, his eyes widening. "Sorry, but that sort of senseless willpower won't work around here," Remno explained. "Or, anywhere, for that matter."

"D-dammit, this is bad…! Just what kind of bullshit is this?!" Zanaris pounded his fist against the ground. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!" His fist met the ground with each passing syllable, plunging a deep hole. Flames dug through their next, and upon traveling through the ground, shot up from beneath Remno like a volcano, rocketing him into the air.

As he flew backward, Remno ran through several branches, collecting damage onto his being. Meanwhile, Zanaris had risen to his feet, and was currently tending to his neck. "That magic is pretty cheap," he coaxed. "Even so, if I'm able to stand, then I'll just find a way around it." As he heard a loud, crashing sound, Zanaris turned around to leave. "Anyway, I'm in a hurry. You know that already."

When he made to step forward, the pressure from before returned, stopping him in his tracks. He was barely able to move his head over his shoulder to look behind him. "I'll admit, that was pretty darn clever of you," Remno growled, standing against the stem of a tree for support. "Who knew you had a brain in that head of yours? Unfortunately, it won't work twice. And even despite the shape I'm in, I have the advantage here. My magic works best from a distance. I won't allow you to hit me this time."

"If the same thing won't work against you twice, then what makes you think… that the same thing will work against me twice?" Without the aid of his flames this time, Zanaris straightened out his body, adjusting to the gravitational pressure. Remno looked on in horror.

"Impossible! You haven't seen it more than once… there's no way you should be able to sustain it so effortlessly!" Thick veins bulged out from Remno's forehead. He clapped his hands together, releasing more magical power. "I'll send you straight to Hell!"

As Remno applied greater effort into his magic, Zanaris' body started to lower itself again in response. However, within a span of seconds, he regained his composure, and walked around casually. "Sorry buddy, but I've already been there before." He parted his feet shoulder width from one another, and his stomach expanded as he threw his head back. "Kagutsuchi's Bellow!"

Intense flames were unleashed from Zanaris' mouth, ripping through the ground like butter, forming craters on their way to Remno, who was left defenseless as they scorched through his magic next. His eyes widened, and his body looked as though it were made from a sheet of paper as it took the blast full on. It jolted backward, collecting entire trees until it had leveled half of the forest, transforming the once plentiful jungle into a barren wasteland. Through the ensuing smoke, Zanaris watched as a helpless hand fainted from beneath a series of logs, diving into the pool of blood that lay beneath.

Without another second to waste, Zanaris darted through the second half of the forest, following behind a gargantuan magical energy.

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