Act III: Adulthood
Party: Ryu, Luna, Trinil
Ryu woke suddenly this time. Something was wrong.
Confirming his suspicions, Luna hopped lightly from where she had been laying and had her twin knives out and her bow within easy reach. Trinil sat up bewildered. Ryu slowly and quietly collected his sword from the end of his bed. There were sounds from downstairs, like a brawl had broken out.
Ryu still felt a little groggy, but he trusted his voice to remain low with his adrenaline giving him the control. "Thoughts?"
"Get out of here," Luna said immediately. Probably with a hint more volume than intended.
Trinil only nodded, though he had reached his own staff, and had it ready.
"How quickly can you cast it, and where should we go?"
Luna thought for a moment. "Spring. Then we can take another caravan out, and go all the way north."
The sounds were getting louder. "Start casting. Do we need to remain still?" Ryu asked.
"As still as possible; the more still you are, the easier on me. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be able to fight at the time," Luna said.
"Do it," Trinil said, but before Luna even had a chance to open her mouth to reply or start the spell, the door burst open, and a man that Ryu had definitely seen before was framed in the open doorway.
"You!" he said. He was staring at Ryu. "I've definitely seen you before."
Ryu was still not quite sure where he had seen the man before, but he trusted his gut that it wasn't in a good situation. He brought his sword up.
Then the man smiled, pointing his rapier at the young Dragon. "I don't care if you're not who we were looking for, Agent. I have a score to settle with you, after all." He contracted into himself slightly, and then there was a white explosion of light and pressure, sending the Ascents to the ground outside of both the inn and the fort. Ryu rolled across the grass for several feet before he was able to recover his feet and turn to face the... no longer a man.
He was a monster. He had a tail that looked like it belonged on a canine, back legs like a wildcat, a torso of indeterminate nature, wings that looked like they were on fire, front legs like tree stumps, a feathered neck and...
A scaled clearly dragon head.
Ryu glanced to both sides, confirming that both of his companions rose in fighting condition, then twirled his sword around into an offensive stance.
You're with another Ascent this time! he heard in his head. He realized that the man had to be talking about Trinil, but hadn't realized that both Luna and he were Ascents. He filed that piece of information away for the moment.
"You've seen this ugly thing before, Ryu?" Luna asked, sheathing her knives and pulling her quiver from a pack that had landed next to her.
"Yes. I was protecting Nina at the time," Ryu confirmed.
Enough talk. From the monster's head, a beam of razor thing bright light shot out and sliced through Luna's chest. She blinked, then tilted her head to one side, confused.
"Luna!" Ryu said, his adrenaline rising further.
"I'm fine," Luna said. "But don't get hit by that attack, okay? Let me."
Trinil had backed up and in the telltale flash of white light transformed into a tiger before charging the monster in front of them.
Hmph. So you have strength. The monster's front paws grabbed Trinil's leg. So do I. Spinning once, he threw Trinil over both of his companions. Trinil landed hard on his back.
"Rejuvenate!" Ryu called as Luna fired a few arrows into the monster's neck. It didn't seem to phase him at all, so she began charging up her magic.
Ryu turned and had to block claws at his face with his sword and then dive to the ground when the front legs attempted to trample him. He scrambled to his feet just as Trinil slammed into the monster again from the side. The monster swatted at him to get him to disconnect, and only succeeded when he ended up rolling him off. Only to walk right into Luna's prepared spell.
The star-rock smashed on the enemy's head, but broke apart, and while it seemed to have affected the monster, he seemed more angry than hurt. His legs stomped around a bit.
"Not working; going physical!" Luna shouted before disappearing in a flash of white light.
Another one! It was clear that this was a way that the monster had found to communicate while he didn't have the equipment to speak like he was used to. I knew you were complete bad news! Tainted completely, without chance of redemption.
Luna had charged and sank teeth into the monster's haunches. He shook her off, seeming to not be hurt too much by the assault, and then had to deal with Trinil's next pounce, which he also threw off only to nearly have to deal with Luna's teeth once again.
A powerful movement of the earth below threw Ryu from his feet and when he landed on his back, he watched both of his companions fly over him by a few feet to land behind him. He struggled to rise before the monster could press his advantage.
"Vitalize!" he called, prepping himself and his friends for the coming assault. He barely got his sword up in time to take the heavy portion of the blow. It threw him a ways back, far enough that he ended up next to his companions.
I grow tired of this. The voice still seemed annoyed. Were they not doing enough damage to him to make him work hard? Trinil had reverted form, and jumped clear of the Earth elemental blow that struck Ryu and Luna head on. Both were sent sprawling, but both were able to rise since Trinil distracted the monster from delivering the decisive blow.
Damn it, stay still! The monster was having trouble striking Trinil with more than a glancing blow, since Trinil had sacrificed power for speed. A Vitalize later and all three of the Ascents were sticking with their speed to attempt to get the upper hand on the monster that attacked them. Where are my soldiers? Shouldn't they be out here by now?
"Were they still alive, sure." Someone jumped from the hole in the outer wall of the fort to the grass below and took out a pair of axes. "They ran into my axe face-first, though, so I'm not sure how much help they would have been, anyway."
The monster whirled and lunged at the newcomer, who dodged the blow and brought both axes down on the enemy, but it didn't take more than a glancing blow. "Tch. You're not much better."
The monster let out a roar, forcing Ryu to cover his ears even as his mind still tried to identify the familiar figure who had just appeared. Luna returned to her normal form and spat. "Have you ever seen that guy before, Ryu? You're looking at him like you either know him or have a crush."
About to tell his friend where she could stick her comment, he realized who it was. "That's Apiche! The one who helped me when we were escaping from Tuntar!"
Alright, Grassman, deal with some fire!
Apiche had to retreat away from the monster after getting hit full on in the face with a fire spell. Trinil took the attention with a well-placed smack on the underside of the monster's torso. He couldn't dodge all of the counter attack, but evaded enough of it that he didn't look too worse for wear.
"Restore!" Apiche healed himself with a stronger healing spell than Ryu knew. Ryu charged to fill the gap and Luna fired a few arrows into the monster's haunches, finally causing a pain reaction. Ryu's head filled with curses, but he paid it no mind as he attempt to gut it. The monster was too fast, though, jumping out of the way of Ryu's thrust. Ryu followed up with Shine to make sure his assault did damage, and was rewarded with a scream from the fake-dragon's mouth.
"Shield!" Apiche called, and Ryu felt the power of magical protection settle in around him. Then Apiche disappeared in a flash of white light to become a large tree. Ryu blocked an attempted strike on the tree and countered with another Shine. The missile of Light buried itself in the monster's flesh, sending it flying away from the tree. Ryu then felt the regenerative effect take hold.
"Luna! Trinil! To me!" Ryu called. The two of them came quickly, but not before Ryu had to blast the monster again to keep it on its toes.
"You've found something that works," Luna said with a nod. "Keep at it. Inspire!"
"You take point, Ryu," Trinil told him. "You seem to be able to get through that hide. We'll support you. Speed!"
The monster roared in pain. That's it! I'm done with you maggots! Fire whipped through the four of them, burning off sections of Apiche's bark, then the earth beneath them dropped away, crushing the party between them before they could scramble back up. Before they could counter a spell of darkness enveloped all of them, and Ryu screamed with the pain of it. That's right! Fall under the might of the Advocacy!
Ryu lost all sensation for a moment, then aching rushed back into his awareness and he opened his eyes as a whelp. Luna was next to him, leaning heavily on Apiche, who had reverted form. Trinil had been knocked out, and Ryu tried to move so that he could restore him to fighting condition, but he spotted the monster and froze.
Ryu got the distinct impression that the man inside the monster was grinning to himself. There. Ascents and those tainted by them under my foot. All that is necessary is to press down and squash them! Tainted one, I've been looking forward to this for three years. Goodbye.
"Flame Pillar!" The monster erupted in flames. Ryu blinked.
"Cyclone!" The flames were whipped around by the sudden winds...
"Simoon!" ...and then exploded. The monster's scream was unearthly, but it gave Ryu enough time to move.
"Vitalize!" That allowed Luna, Apiche and Ryu to rise, but didn't do anything for the fallen Trinil.
More taint, I sense.
Ryu couldn't move quickly, but he could move. He and Luna dragged each other and Trinil's prone form over to a small rise so that they could hide while they recovered. Luna dug in her pocket and handed him two seeds. She munched on a pair herself as Ryu popped them into his mouth and chewed, waiting for it to help his fatigued mind. He heard the sounds of the battle continuing behind him. Both of them abruptly stopped chewing and stared at each other.
Both Luna's and Ryu's eyes widened. Then Luna cursed fluently. "I refuse to hide while that scarlet woman fights!" And she hopped over the ridge and started running toward the melee before Ryu could even utter a syllable in reply.
Ryu felt like he had enough energy now. "Raise Dead!" Trinil coughed on the ground and rolled over, bringing a hand to cover his mouth for the next cough. "Rejuvenate!"
"Thanks," Trinil said between coughs. "I'll stay here; I'll be fine." Ryu nodded at him before topping the rise himself to rejoin the battle.
He saw that four people had joined the fray, and Apiche and Luna had rejoined as well. It was hard to miss Nina; the pure white wings were easy to spot particularly when he was looking for them. Another was a Manillo - Was that Rigen? Ryu couldn't tell - And the other two could be human.
Other than the blue hair.
Ryu tried to squint to see the young woman's features, but couldn't make out much from the distance. He took a deep breath. Figure out who she is after making sure neither she nor he were in danger any more. Right. "Luna! Combine!"
Several heads whipped toward Ryu when he called that out, including that of the opposition. The monster growled as it swiped the Manillo off of his feet. "Lumine!"
The starlight hybrid engulfed the monster and it screamed in pain. The red-headed woman and Nina followed up with another Simoon to press the advantage, pushing the monster back towards the city.
How dare you! The voice inside Ryu's head was agonizingly loud now. How dare you do this to me!
"No one hurts my friends and gets away with it!" Nina shouted in response. She then had to jump to avoid a projectile attack from the monster's mouth.
I am Ephraim! Advocate Deva! Die! The monster began to glow a ruddy hue, causing the Ascents to back up in response.
"What's he charging?" the red-headed woman asked.
"Can't tell," Nina replied. "It's not magic I've seen before."
Ryu hadn't seen it before, either, and figured that it would be far easier to survive Ascended, whatever it was. "Ascend! It's going to be big!" He followed his own advice a second later, and his vision was covered in white as the rest of the Ascents followed suit. Apiche was in the back as a tall tree that gave Ryu energy as he stood under it as Bahamut. Nina had become a person-sized white bird that Ryu could not name. The red-headed woman had become a phoenix (which Ryu thought he probably should have realized). The Manillo had become a large frog. Luna had returned to wolf form. And the blue-haired girl had become a black dragon.
Well, that answered that question.
All of them fired the best ranged attacks they had, then hunkered down as the glow solidified and then a powerful magical beam swept across them. Apiche, the Manillo and Nina were knocked out of their Ascended forms instantly, while the rest were able to hold. Luna led the charge of those who remained and the black dragon completed the finishing blow with her jaws in the monster's neck.
No! I... I shall not be... She threw him to the ground, where another Simoon set him on fire. He twitched twice, an unearthly scream sounding in the Ascents' heads, but moved no more after a handful of seconds. A flash of black light and it was a human body that was burning. There was a breath where nobody moved, and the only sound was the crackling of the fire. Then Ryu and the rest who had remained Ascended reverted forms. Ryu turned to look at the other reverted dragon, and his eyes widened. "S-... Sarah?" Then, naturally, he fainted from exhaustion.
Jenny was staring at the blue-haired boy as he collapsed onto the ground. Then she screamed. She grabbed her head, fell to her knees, and screamed with her head tilted toward the heavens.
Emily took a step forward, but stopped. What could she do? Was what was happening a bad thing, or a good thing that hurt? She felt a soft pressure on her back.
Emily turned to find Nina behind her with an amazed look on her face. "Sarah..."
"Sarah...?" Emily said slowly. "Does that name... mean anything to you?" The other Ascents were gathering closer, and she was still screaming. Emily was tearing up. A helpless feeling washed over her.
"Yes. We can talk about it in a minute. There's no hurry." Nina pulled Emily along toward the screaming young woman, who abruptly stopped and fell over, giving Emily a clear action to take.
Emily ran. She ran and scooped her friend up into her arms. She could feel breath on her ear. "Are you okay?" she asked, as quietly and calmly as she could muster her voice. It was neither.
"I'll... manage," was the response.
The two women separated enough to look into each others' faces and gave each other teary smiles. Nina was looking down at them with a smile. "May I be the first to refer to you by what I think is your real name?"
Emily and her friend looked at her with wide eyes. Taking this as affirmation, Nina continued. "It's nice to meet you, Sarah Gensu."
Tears fell from both of Sarah's eyes, and she couldn't completely smother the sob that bubbled up from her depths. She lurched up and away from Emily and stumbled over to the other dragon had fallen. She picked him up and hugged him to her. "Oh, my little brother..." she said, just loud enough for Emily to hear her. Brother?
"Can... can you explain now?" Emily asked, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice.
"Let's get out of sight of the fort and set up camp," Nina said. "I'll tell you everything I know about Sarah and Ryu then. And we can let them rest. They've both had a hard time of it."
"I don't think we slept enough after that Temple," the Lycanthrope girl said with a yawn. "And then we had to fight that thing..." This seemed to remind her of something, and she rounded on the Grassman among them. "What the hell?! Apiche? Is that your name?"
"Yes, I am he," he replied.
"What was he, and why did he suddenly break into our room?!"
Apiche sort of shrugged one shoulder. "He's one of them, and he was looking for me. I didn't mean to drag you all into it. Even if it probably saved my life that you were here and distracted him while I took care of his minions."
The Lycanthrope girl opened her mouth to impart what Emily was sure would be a scathing reply given the fierce look on her face, but Nina got her to think better of it. "Let's get Ryu and Sarah into a better sleeping position before we talk about what just happened. It looks like we have a lot of things to clear up."
"Like why you're here at all?" The Moon girl said with a quirked eyebrow.
"Yes," Nina said blandly. "Like that. So lets get to work."
It didn't take that long, as Sarah insisted on walking and also insisted on carrying Ryu... her brother, Emily thought now. And apparently the Woren that had been completely flattened by one of the strange creature's attacks had already started making camp a couple rises over. He waved to them.
The Lycanthrope girl was not pleased. "Wimp. Leaving while the fight was still going on."
"Well, Ryu had to revive me," the Woren said, and it was at that point hat Emily realized that it was the Woren from the Castle. "I don't think I would have been too much help after that, what with being exhausted, disoriented, and unable to Ascend."
"Still a wimp," she said. But she helped him set up the rest of the camp.
Once all of them were settled around the fire, the Woren and the Lycanthrope both settled down to sleep in the tent along with the two dragons. The Grassman, Rigen, Emily and Nina remained around the fire. "You want to tell me now?" Emily asked.
"Sure, but only because I'm sure Ryu will want to be the one to fill in any gaps in his sister's memory himself."
"So they are brother and sister," Rigen said in awe. "Never thought that would happen."
"Ryu told a story when he first arrived in Wyndia," Nina said. "About being away on his first - and shortest - pilgrimage when he was twelve with his sister. When the hidden Dragon town was attacked by unknown invaders. He and his sister were attacked by one of them far away from the town, but long after it had begun to burn in the distance. Ryu was thrown from the fight and lost consciousness while his sister was still fighting. He never saw her again."
"And you think our Jenny is Sarah because of..." Rigen trailed off. "Well, actually, after what he did and what she did, I believe that too."
Emily found herself nodding along. It did make sense. Between his reaction to seeing her face clearly for the first time, and the way she reacted to the name... that was the most logical conclusion. And Agni help her, but she hoped desperately that it was true. That her friend and confidant could find even family still alive after the tragedy that the dragons had to deal with. She was almost jealous.
But she couldn't be. Not of her Jenny. Or Sarah, as she probably would have to get used to calling her and even get used to referring to her by that name in her head as well. Emily's friend had been the one to lose her memory and her own past. Emily's past wasn't the most pleasant of things, but it was for the best that she remembered it. So that she had something to... something to come from.
Her place to be, though... that was another question. And the guilt she felt... She was jealous. Jen-... Sarah had a place to be. And that place didn't necessarily include Emily.
She looked up to notice that Nina was watching her. "Are you alright, Emily?"
Emily summoned her best smile. "I'm fine, Nina. Thank you." But she wasn't. However...
There was no need to do anything about it right then. Right then, she would stand watch for those who needed her. She could determine what else she needed to do later. Preferably after a good long night's sleep. Focus. Talk to her later. Don't be hasty. She heard her father's voice in her mind, calming her.
Everything might be all right. For now, live in the moment. Keep watch.
Dusk fell over the camp.