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MATURE: Dawn of Courage (Chapter 52 Up)

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence, sexual suggestions)

Knight of Thunder


It had been a few days since the party had encountered Dominic again and saved Nova from the unexpected curse he got inflicted with. They were back on the road, heading to their next destination. Sir Reginald was in the lead, going over the map as they traveled.

“Okay, if we’re where I think we are, and if Kettu’s notes are right, our next fight against Muu’s forces will be General Zombiestein,” he said. “We also should be approaching one of our larger allied forces that are fighting against Muu, as their base and training grounds are not far from where General Zombiestein has set up shop.”

“So we might actually have an entire army’s help this time, Sir Reginald?” Nova asked.

“Yes. And a good thing, too, as General Zombiestein has one of the larger platoons in Muu’s army. Even with Elora and Thundervolt we’d be heavily outgunned and outnumbered. He is one of Muu’s best Generals, so expect a tough fight.”

Zeeker nodded, “Yeah, he’s up in Muu’s Top Five Generals if I’m not mistaken, ranked either fourth of fifth. So he’ll be a tough nut to crack, no doubt about it.”

Kettu added, “Indeed. However, he does possess two weaknesses that we can exploit. One is, obviously, an elemental weakness. He can’t stand Earth magic. Secondly, he’s got a very strange weakness to, and you’re not going to believe this, attractive women. Nina might need to use her feminine wiles to give us an advantage.”

Nina looked shocked, “You… You’re kidding me, right? This Undead General has a weakness for women!? And you expect ME to use that to our advantage!?”

Kettu turned to her, “Strange as it is, yes. For some reason he can’t fight against an attractive female. And you’re the only bombshell babe we’ve got, so, yeah, you’re gonna have to keep him ‘occupied’ while the rest of us destroy him.”

The winged woman gained a look of dread, “Damn… I never thought something like this could happen… And it feels especially cruel now since I’m in a relationship with Nova… Do I really have to use my sex appeal to charm an Undead General?”

Sir Reginald gave her a weak smile, “Sadly, you will, Lady Nina. We need to take advantage of any weakness in Muu’s forces as possible. Even if it’s rather demeaning like needing to seduce them. And you’re the only female we can count on for this task. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to use your prowess as a beautiful woman to our advantage.”

Nina looked like she just died a bit inside, her face going pale, her eyes becoming dull, and gaining an expression of misery and disgust.

Nova placed a hand on her shoulder, saying, “I understand how you feel, Nina. I’d rather you not do it, either, but if it keeps our enemy at bay so we can find a way to destroy him then it has to be done. I promise I won’t judge you or see you any differently after this. You’ll still be my woman. I won’t hold anything against you for needing to resort to such a tactic in order for our side to get the advantage.” He then gained an idea, “I know what might motivate you to do this task.”

He then whispered something in her ear, confusing the rest of the group. Nina’s eyes lit up as Nova told her his idea.

“Would you really do that, Nova?” she asked.

“If it motivates you to perform this tactic then yes, I will,” he replied.

She took a deep breath before saying, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’m not gonna like it, but considering you hate every minute of these battles with Muu I suppose I could take one for the team if it helps us win this 3,000+ year war. Okay, okay, but I expect you to keep your end of the bargain, Nova.”

He nodded, “Don’t worry, I will. Even if it hurts me I’m a man of my word.”

“Okay, I’m glad to hear that. Fine, I’ll use my feminine wiles to distract this Undead General so we can score another win against Muu. I won’t like it, but I’ll do it.”

Angelo asked, “Nova, what did you offer to Nina in exchange for her complying to this task?”

Nova replied, “That’s between her and me. But let’s just say it’ll make her very happy. And before you all even think of it, no, it’s not sex. Neither of us are ready for such a step. We’ve only been a couple for not even a month yet, after all. Plus this is neither the time nor place for such stuff, as the mood and setting need to be perfect for such an event. But it will be something that’ll make her very happy. That’s all I’ll say.”

Nina fluttered her wings a bit, smiling, “You sound like bit of a romantic, Nova. Wanting the mood and setting to be perfect for us when the time comes for us to express our love to each other? Quite romantic. But enough of this, let’s see if we can find the army that’ll help us overcome General Zombiestein.”

The party continued on their way. However, once they crossed over a hill they were greeted with quite the sight. There was a large camp of soldiers, all of whom looked like they had their courage and confidence sucked out of them. There were also nurses going around, tending to them.

“What happened here?” Kettu asked.

Sir Reginald narrowed his eyes, “I dunno. But let’s find out, as these are the people who are going to help us.”

The party approached the demoralized army while the various nurses tried their hardest to not only heal them but motivate them. The soldiers looked up to see the party approach them.

“I hope you’re the ones who will defeat General Zombiestein…” one said.

“What happened here?” Angelo asked.

Another soldier, who looked like a higher ranked one, stepped up, “We tried to take down General Zombiestein. Our platoon was led by General Kain. However, he was killed by General Zombiestein, demoralizing our army and forcing us to flee. As you can see we’re still licking our wounds after that fight and our moral hasn’t returned yet. In fact, I think at least half of our army doesn’t want to get back into the fight at all even though they know they have to. I don’t suppose you could help us, can you?”

Sir Reginald’s eyes narrowed, stating, “I have every intention of getting this army back up to speed. It may not be a Galvatar Kingdom platoon but I WILL find a way to bring back this army’s moral and get them back in the fight. It would be what General Kain would want. I knew General Kain, back during our academy days, he was a good man, sharp as a knife, and a good friend. I won’t stand to see his army fall apart because of his untimely death. Leave this to me. Nova, help boost moral with one of your good meals. A good General knows when to feed their troops. Beef and potato stew should be a good start. The rest of you help the nurses. Leave the planning and strategizing to me.”

Everyone nodded and went to work. Using ingredients that the army already had Nova started to whip up a very large pot of beef and potato stew, much to the army’s eagerness, while Sir Reginald gathered up the higher ranked soldiers and started to strategize for the next battle with General Zombiestein. The rest of the party went around to tend to the wounded and help raise their spirits. As they did Zeeker’s eyes widened as he saw a familiar face.

“Kathy!” he called out.

A figured turned to him, revealing herself to be a leopard Beastman wearing medic clothes. She smiled as she saw Zeeker.

“Hey, Zeeker!” she said cheerfully. “It’s good to see you again. I’m glad to see you well… especially after all that chaos a while back. How have you been?”

Zeeker replied, “Doing better, thanks. I’m now part of the Demon King’s champion party in hopes of stopping Muu once and for all. But I’m glad I finally found you, as we’ve been trying to find you. Do you have any new dirt on Muu? Stan said you might.”

She replied, “I do but it’ll have to wait, as we have troops to tend. I’ll give you the notes that I have regarding Muu later. Hopefully your party can revitalize the spirits of these soldiers.”

They all then heard a bell, turning to see Nova ringing it.

“Okay, gather up!” he stated. “Piping hot stew, ready to eat!”

The various soldiers quickly got in line, holding bowls and ready for a good meal. Nova served them generous helpings of stew one-by-one. The soldiers graciously ate their food, clearly feeling better as they did, while the party and medics continued to help boost their spirits further. After a while Sir Reginald stepped up in front of all the soldiers.

“Men, we have ironed out a battleplan that’ll allow us to take down General Zombiestein and his Undead Army!” he stated strongly. “I know I’m no replacement for your beloved General Kain but I intend to avenge him and stop Muu once and for all. Thus I need you to comply to my orders. Our plan is very straightforward but speed is key. First off, dealing with the bread and butter Undead Soldiers will be easy enough, as they don’t pack a significant punch. They might have a numbers advantage but we’ve got an extra special piece of backup on our side. Belzebuth’s champion, Nova, possesses a rare and very powerful familiar: a Gorgon Viper, which, as you all know, is an Undead hunter. She will be able to give us extra firepower, pun intended, in dealing with Muu’s generic soldiers. Lady Nina has volunteered to use her feminine charms to woo General Zombiestein so his contribution to the fight will be more limited, as thanks to Kettu’s information on him, he is very vulnerable to attractive women. That’ll allow us to deal with his troops and at least deal some damage to Zombiestein before he finally realizes the truth. With this combination of familiars, female charms, and all of you, we will be able to avenge General Kain and bring down another Undead Army platoon and its base. We will begin our attack in one hour, so eat your stew and steel your nerves for battle! We will fight and we WILL win!”

The troops cheered, clearly feeling more confident from Sir Reginald’s words. They quickly ate their food, knowing they had a big battle ahead of them.

Nova said silently, “Sir Reginald was able to restore hope to these soldiers even after they lost their beloved leader. They may not be troops from his kingdom but he’s able to motivate them like they were his own. It takes a really good leader to do something like that. No wonder he’s got such a reputation, as he completely revitalized these soldiers’ hope and confidence even after such a devastating loss. Gotta give him props for it, as he knows his way around a battlefield. And around the hearts of soldiers.”

After a short time the troops were ready for battle. Sir Reginald looked everyone over, ensuring that they were all present and accounted for. He then bit his thumb, causing it to bleed.

“Thundervolt, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by flashes of lightning, and soon Thundervolt was standing beside Sir Reginald. He jumped onto the back of his Thunderclap Stallion familiar, drew his sword, and held it high.

“Soldiers and allies, prepare for battle!” he stated strongly. “Today we will ensure that General Kain’s death will not be in vain! We will take down those Undead Soldiers and their leader! And soon Muu himself will fall! Together we will stand and fight! And we will win! Move out!”

The soldiers all cheered and followed Sir Reginald as he rode Thundervolt. It wasn’t long before the army arrived at the Undead Base. It was a larger Undead Base compared to most of them and was more heavily guarded. Sir Reginald stopped everyone just a bit shy of it.

“Thundervolt, if you would be so kind?” he asked his familiar.

Thundervolt neighed and summoned a thundercloud. The cloud boomed with thunder before a massive lightning bolt struck the base, damaging it. This caused the front gates to open and reveal several Undead Soldiers. They saw the army standing before them, drew their weapons, and charged out to fight.

“Nova, now!”

Nova nodded and placed a Summoning Sticker on the back of his right hand.

“Elora, come forth!” he stated strongly.

The Summoning Sticker glowed, followed by a summoning circle appearing, then a burst of smoke and fire and before long Elora was standing alongside Nova. Her sudden arrival caused the Undead Soldiers to come to a screeching halt, clearly surprised to see a Gorgon Viper. Elora gave a hiss, ignited her tail, and began spewing hellfire at the Undead Soldiers, burning several to ashes. Just then something large emerged from the Undead Base.

“That’s him!” a soldier said. “That’s General Zombiestein!”

General Zombiestein was much larger than past Undead Captains and Generals. He looked like a patchwork Undead monster, composed of various different body parts, with glowing yellow eyes, and was wearing evil-looking armor with a tattered cloak. He took a moment to observe the situation before giving a gesture, commanding the Undead Soldiers to attack, which they did.

“Lady Nina!” Sir Reginald stated. “Your turn!”

Nina gave a resigned sigh before flying over toward General Zombiestein. The massive Undead General’s eyes lit up as he saw Nina approach. While still hovering in the air Nina struck a sexy pose.

“Hey, big boy?” she said in a seductive tone. “Like what you see? Keep watching this birdie and I’ll give you quite the show.”

She continued to strike various sexy poses, making sure to use her large breasts to great effect. This strategy completely mesmerized General Zombiestein, who was too busy paying attention to the winged woman to even notice his troops getting decimated by the party and other soldiers. It also caused some of the soldiers on the heroes’ side to stop and gawk at her. It wasn’t long before the last Undead Soldier had been slain.

Sir Reginald stated to channel energy, “It’s time we finished the big guy off! Earth Power!”

He released the energy, causing an eruption of Earth energy to blast General Zombiestein from below. However, despite the direct hit he was still too busy gawking at Nina.

Nova turned to Elora, “Elora, use Gorgon Glare to petrify his lower body!”

Elora nodded and turned to the massive Undead General. Her eyes glowed and within seconds the Undead General’s lower body from the waist down was turned to stone. This attack got his attention, and he became enraged as his lower body become stone,
completely snapping him out of his trance. He tried to lash out at Nina but she had already retreated to a safer distance, landing next to Nova.

Sir Reginald stated, “Good work, Lady Nina! Now, any and all Earth magic users attack while he’s immobilized!” He started to channel energy again, “Earth Power!”

He fired his spell, causing another eruption of Earth energy to blast the Undead General from underneath, making him roar in a fury.

“Rock Blast!” some soldiers stated.

General Zombiestein was struck by several small earthquakes that caused him to topple over. He was now completely enraged as he tried to strike anyone who got within range of his arms.

Sir Reginald turned to Nova, “Nova, strike my sword with Wind Cutter Arrow when I summon Flame Slash! That way we can finish him off with a combo skill!”

Nova nodded and primed an arrow.

“Ifrit Mode!” he stated.

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set to Ifrit Mode.

“Flame Slash!” Sir Reginald stated.

“Wind Cutter Arrow!” Nova shouted.

Sir Reginald’s sword became coated in flames. Nova fired the Wind-enhanced arrow at the flaming sword, striking it. This caused the flames to become a massive blazing tornado.

“Combo skill: Firestorm Slash!” he stated.

Sir Reginald had Thundervolt charge toward the Undead General. He stood on top of Thundervolt’s back, got into a crouching position, and jumped off the familiar. He raised his sword up high before coming down, bisecting the Undead General with the combo’s might, killing General Zombiestein, ending the battle. The soldiers were stunned at both the combo skill and the fact that they had defeated General Zombiestein. After a minute of processing this they all erupted into cheers.

“Sir Reginald! Sir Reginald!” they chanted happily.

Elora then noticed something and slithered partway into the base before coming back out with something in her mouth.

“What do you have there, Elora?” Nova asked.

She presented it to him, revealing it to be a crystal with something swirling inside of it.

One of the higher ranked soldiers gasped, “That’s the crystal that Zombiestein put General Kain’s soul in!”

Sir Reginald picked up the crystal, observing, “So, it appears that Zombiestein didn’t have enough time to deliver General Kain’s soul to Muu. This is fortunate, as we can free his soul and allow him to rest in peace instead of becoming a guinea pig for Muu. Nova, Van, destroy this crystal with Meteor Strike, as it seems pretty durable.”

Nova and Van nodded, priming their weapons. Sir Reginald then threw the crystal into the air.

“Dragon Strike!” Nova stated.

“Meteor Throw!” Van said strongly.

They launched their respective skills, causing them to combine into one.

“Combo skill: Meteor Strike!” both said in unison.

The combo skill slammed into the crystal, exploding, causing the crystal to shatter like glass, releasing a glowing orb. The orb floated down to the ground, where it took shape into a handsome knight.

Sir Reginald gave a polite bow, “General Kain, it’s good to see you again, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.”

General Kain smiled, “It’s good to see you, too, Sir Reginald. You look well. Thank you for saving my soul before it could be delivered to Muu’s claws. I can see you led my men to victory over the foe who defeated me. You have my deepest thanks. Hopefully now with General Zombiestein dead my men can regroup and find a new leader to guide them. I wish it would be you but you obviously have a more important task to tend to, Sir Reginald. I wish you the best of luck and thank you once again for saving my soul.”

He turned into a sphere of light and began ascending to the heavens. Everyone stood and saluted as a final farewell to the fallen soldier. When his soul vanished from sight everyone lowered their hands.

Sir Reginald said, “We’re not quite done yet, troops. First we need to see if there is anything valuable within the Undead Base. Stay sharp, as it could have booby traps.” He turned to Thundervolt, “Thank you for your help once again, old friend. To the Spirit Plane!”

Thundervolt gave a neigh before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

Nova turn to Elora, “Thank you as well, Elora. You proved to be invaluable once again. You deserve a rest. To the Spirit Plane!”

Elora gave a happy hiss before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles. Nova then took the Summoning Sticker off his hand and put it into his Digi-Pack.

“Okay, let’s see what we can find inside the base,” Sir Reginald said. “Anything that might be valuable or too dangerous to leave in the hands of Muu’s army we will take. But beware of items that are cursed.”

Everyone nodded and entered the base to see if there was anything worth salvaging. They took extra caution while being in the base in case there was security in place. After a quick scan of the main section they came to the storage room. Van pried open one of the crates and looked inside.

“Here are some standard weapons,” he said. “But I sense they are cursed so they’ll have to remain here.”

Nova said, “I found some bows and arrows over here. The bows are cursed but the arrows aren’t, so we can take the arrows and their quivers. Since there are a handful of archers in this army I suggest you take them.”

The few archers in the army nodded and helped themselves to all but one quiver of arrows, which they gave to Nova instead. Van removed another crate lid, revealing new items.

“We’ve got rare crafting materials here,” he said. “Stuff like Dark Matter, Zu Ore, Platinum Ore, various Elemental Crystals, and other stuff.”

“Should we take it or give it to the soldiers?” Nina asked.

One of the head soldiers said, “You should take it. We cannot make use of any of that stuff so it would be better in your hands over ours.”

Nova nodded and stored the items into his Digi-Pack. After a few more minutes they came to the core of the base.

“Okay, I’ll overload the Magna Crystal by using the control panel,” Nova said. “The rest of you go back outside and get behind Sir Reginald so he can erect a barrier to protect you from the resulting explosion.”

“But what about you?” a soldier asked.

Nina said, “I’ll stay with him and use Teleport to get us out of the base before it can blow up. I’ve managed to master it so we’ll be fine. We’ll give you five minutes to get out of the base and to a safe range. Starting now!”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, let’s move!”

Everyone except Nova and Nina quickly fled, heading back outside to safety. After five minutes Nova started to type away at the control panel. The Magna Crystal started to shake and hum as the machines it was connected to started to overload it.

“Teleport!” Nina stated.

Both she and Nova vanished. They reappeared outside, just in front of Sir Reginald’s barrier. He adjusted it slightly to open a hole for them, allowing them to enter into its safety before closing the hole up. No more than a minute later the base exploded, taking everything inside of it with it, sending debris everywhere. When the dust had settled all that was left of the Undead Base was a smoldering crater and various chunks of debris. Sir Reginald lowered his barrier now that it was safe to do so.

“Okay, that’s another Undead Base and its occupants destroyed,” he said. “And we avenged General Kain’s death and helped him move on peacefully. We all did good today.”

One of the head knights said, “Only because you took the reins and helped get our troops back on our feet after General Kain’s death, Sir Reginald. You may not be a knight from our kingdom but you know how to properly motivate troops. We were honored to follow you into battle. Thank you for everything. Hopefully we can find someone to fill General Kain’s shoes soon so we’re not running around like headless chickens. Please, return with us to our base since the next town is a half-day hike from here and there’s no magical campsite between here and there. Plus it’s getting late. We have room for all of you so we’d be honored to house you for a night.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “We’ll take you up on that. And hopefully Kathy has found the notes she was looking for that Zeeker requested by now. Let us return to your base and call it a day.”

Nina then whispered to Nova, “I guess my ‘reward’ for using my feminine charms on an Undead General will have to wait until the next town, right, Nova?”

He replied in a hushed tone, “Yes, sorry, it will have to wait until then. But I promise I’ll grant you the reward I said I’d give you then. Just hang on until then.”

She nodded in agreement. The party then followed the soldiers back to their base to have a celebration for their victory and to rest.

Next Chapter: Crafting Bonds

That's all for today. I wonder what Nova promised Nina in exchange for her using her feminine wiles in battle today? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains male nudity, sexual suggestions)

Crafting Bonds


It was the following day after the heroic party and their allies defeated General Zombiestein and his platoon. They were heading toward the next town. They were in good spirits at the time.

“Ahh, another beautiful day!” Angelo said cheerfully. “It’s almost as if the sun itself is happy.”

Kettu replied, “I wouldn’t go that far, Angelo. But it is a nice day, especially after a major victory against Muu yesterday. With Zombiestein defeated Muu just lost one of his top Generals. But that also means we should be careful, as that battle could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and Muu will finally go all-out on us.”

“You’ve got a point there, Kettu,” Zeeker nodded. “That’s exactly what happened to my buddies. So we’d best be on guard and not get too complacent. With us having dealt a serious blow to Muu in that last battle he won’t take kindly to that. We especially need to worry about General Vertebreak, as Muu is the type who won’t hesitate to send out his most powerful General after a threat if said threat is getting too strong. It’s only a matter of time now, as we’ve really dealt Muu’s side a heavy blow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vertebreak appears at our front door to end our meddling.”

“Let’s hope not,” Nina said. “But that is a very valid point. We cannot let our victories go to our heads, as that’s an excellent way for Muu to knock us down a peg or two. So while we can revel a bit in our triumphs we cannot let our confidence blind us in the process. Pride before a fall, after all.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, I concur. Muu will take us more seriously now thanks to our victory over Zombiestein. It’s only a matter of time before he decides to send in the big guns.”

“And I’m not looking forward to that,” Nova said bitterly.

Nina giggled, “Don’t worry, Nova, you’ve been doing great so far. While I’m not overestimating our strength I will say that we’ve managed to get out of every scrape we’ve had with Muu, even dealing with unknown elements like Undead Captains powered by fallen souls. We’ll find a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Try to have a little faith, Nova.”

“I’ll try but don’t expect any miracles. After all, it’s hard to have faith when you were once targeted by the universe to have as much misery and misfortune dumped upon you as possible. And it appears there may still be some cosmic forces out to get me if that past incident with Dominic is anything to go by. So while I’ll try to have faith don’t expect any miracles in that department.”

Kettu turned to Zeeker, “By the way, Zeeker. What did Kathy have to say about any dirt she may have gotten on Muu?”

Zeeker took out some notes, “She gave me these notes she took while traveling. She said they have some tidbits of information on Muu and his followers that might come in handy. Which is good timing as, according to you, General Zombiestein was the last member of Muu’s forces you had notes on, Kettu. Which means from here on we’re gonna have to wing it and improvise when necessary, as we no longer have information on the rest of Muu’s army.”

The Werefox nodded sadly, “Yeah, that’s true. I’m all out of notes and information on Muu’s army, so from here on out we’re gonna have to rely on our wits and adjust our strategies on the fly.”

Sir Reginald said, “True, but we’ll manage. We’ve gotten this far, even against unknown threats like Skelesare and Killgore. Those notes were useful, especially early on, but we can figure out a way to come up with new strategies and tactics when dealing with the remaining members of Muu’s army. And we’ve proven good at improvising when needed so we’ll manage. After all, not all battleplans are built around prior known information. Sometimes strategies need to be adjusted on the fly when an unknown element occurs. And like Van said not all best laid plans go accordingly. We’ll do fine.”

Nina flew up into the air a bit and smiled, “Gang, we’re near the next town. It’s just beyond that bridge. Let’s hurry so we can take a load off at the inn.”

Everyone nodded and made their way across the old wooden bridge and into the next town. It was a fair-sized village, filled with people working and children playing. There were plenty of shops and a nice-sized inn just up ahead. The party made their way to the inn, paid for their rooms and sat down in the dining area of the inn.

“I propose we take a day or two to rest here,” Van said. “It’s a good-sized town and we could use the rest. Plus we don’t want Nova overworking himself again, since he’s still adjusting to this new… ‘lifestyle’, you could say.”

Sir Reginald turned to Nova, “Do you think that’s a good idea, Nova?”

Nova replied, “Yeah, I do. While I’m not pushing myself like I did before I am getting a bit worn down. After all the fighting we’ve done lately a chance to give my systems a rest would be nice.”

“Very well, then. We’ll spend a couple of days here to rest and regroup. Plus maybe we can find out more regarding Muu’s forces while we’re here, as this town is in the center of a three-way intersection between main roads. So we might hear some news or gossip that might come in handy. And we can go over the notes that Kathy gave us and see what we can learn from them.”

Zeeker stretched his arms, “I’m game for that. We could use a chance to rest for a bit, especially after defeating General Zombiestein. A little downtime to catch up on our rest wouldn’t hurt. Shame there’s no Sacred Hot Spring nearby but it’s not mandatory or anything, so we’ll manage.”

Nina smiled, “Yeah, a chance to give ourselves a break after a lot of fighting. Plus we should do it while we can as we don’t know when Muu will strike next.”

“Then it’s settled, we’ll stay for a few days to rest up,” Sir Reginald said.

Nova then stood up, “Okay then. I’m gonna keep working on my accessory crafting, especially since I got new materials. Nina, would you like to help me?”

The winged woman smiled, “Sure, Nova.”

Kettu asked, “Think you can leave us with that deck of cards for a bit, Nova?”

Nova took the deck of cards out of the Digi-Pak, “Here you go. Come, Nina, let’s get crafting.”

Nina smiled and followed Nova up to one of their inn rooms. The other males took out the deck of cards and decided to play a few rounds while they waited. Inside their inn room Nova and Nina were sitting at the small table. Nova had taken out the crafting tools and several pieces of materials, along with what looked like a small chest. Nina smiled as Nova worked on some accessories.

“The guys will love what you’ve been making for them, Nova,” she said warmly. “That’ll be a good way to show you appreciate them.”

He gave a weak smile, “I hope so. My magical accessories may not be professional grade but I hope they’re more original than most other accessories.”

Nina gently touched her bracelet, smiling, “Don’t worry about that, Nova. Everyone has their own style and flare when it comes to magical accessories. I know the guys will appreciate what you’re doing for them. I know I do, as I’m still loving this magical bracelet you made for me. And with some more practice you’ll be as good as any magical accessory craftsman out there. That’ll be a good way to make some extra money for our trip, too. But I know the gang will appreciate the fact that your first batch of magical accessories will be for them. Just like I appreciate that your first magical accessory ever crafted was a gift for me. Now, let’s get back to work.”

The duo resumed working on the magical accessories. After several hours they finally stopped for to rest.

Nina smiled, “You did good, Nova. The guys will love these.”

Just then a knock could be heard at their door, followed by a woman’s voice.

“Dinner will be served soon,” the voice said.

“Thank you, we’ll be there,” Nova called back. He started gathering up the materials and tools, “Come on, Nina, let’s pack it up and rejoin the others. Hopefully they’ll like what I made for them.”

The winged woman smiled, “Oh, I know it. They appreciate everything you do, Nova, and this will be no different. Now, let’s hurry and rejoin the rest of the guys before dinner is served.”

They packed up the tools and materials before making their way down back into the dining area. The rest of the party was waiting for them.

“Hey, how’d it go?” Zeeker asked.

“Nova did a good job. He’s getting better and better each day. And he’s got something to share with you guys.”

Nova gained a sheepish expression before placing various magical accessories in front of the rest of the party.

“Here,” he said in a meek tone. “I made these for you guys. I hope you’ll like them.”

The rest of the party went wide eyed as they saw the different magical accessories that Nova worked on. There were things like rings, earrings, and bracelets. Nova started to hand them out.

“Here, Angelo, this Mana Bracelet is for you. It’ll increase your mana pool by 30% and increase your mana regeneration by 25%.”

Angelo smiled as he took the Mana Bracelet, “Thank you, Nova, that’s very kind of you. This’ll help me greatly, as we Hopper Clan members aren’t the most magically inclined folk. Thank you.”

Nova then gave a ring to Sir Reginald, saying, “Here, Sir Reginald, this Barrier Ring is for you. It’ll cut down the needed mana to produce and maintain your barriers by 35% while also increasing their durability by 30%.”

Sir Reginald gained a warm expression as he took the Barrier Ring, “Thank you, Nova. This is very generous of you. It’s very hard to find any sort of accessory that reduces the needed mana for producing and maintaining my barriers, as they eat up a lot of it. This’ll be a big help, especially in later battles.”

Nova then gave an earring to Kettu, saying, “Here, Kettu, take this Stealth Earring. When worn it’ll cloak you in a shadowy coating that’ll dampen your footsteps and make it harder for the enemy to spot you. Since you tend to infiltrate enemy bases to get the general feel for what we’re up against I figured this might come in handy for you.”

Kettu gained a smile, “Wow, Nova, that’s really cool. I’ll make good use of it. Thank you.”

Nova then pushed another ring to Zeeker, saying, “Here, Zeeker, take this Fire Ring. It’ll increase the power of all Fire-based skills and spells by 45% and cut their mana requirements by 20%. Since you know a lot of Fire-based magic and skills I figured this would be helpful to you.”

Zeeker smiled, “Thanks, buddy, I love it. Yeah, this’ll definitely come in handy, as my mana pool isn’t the best. Thus having the ability to use my Fire-based abilities more easily and without fear of running out of mana quickly will be a huge asset. Thanks.”

Nova then gave Van what looked like a brace, “Here, Van, take this Strength Band. It’ll increase your physical power and stamina by 33% as well as increase your agility by 20%. You can strap it onto one of your legs.”

Van graciously took the accessory, smiling, “Thank you very much, Nova. This is a very generous gift you’ve given me. I’ll make good use of it.”

Everyone equipped their various accessories onto them, taking a moment to admire them.

“You did good here, Nova,” Sir Reginald said. “You’re definitely perfecting your craft. These accessories will be very helpful to us. Thank you for your willingness to make us these nice gifts.”

Nova replied sheepishly, “Well, you guys are my friends, and I wanted to show you that I appreciate you putting up with me. They’re not much but I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me so far. I know I still have some issues to iron out but the fact that you’re willing to let me go at my own pace means a lot to me. Thus I felt the need to give you a little token of my appreciation. I hope you’ll enjoy them.”

Angelo smiled, “Oh, don’t you worry about that, Nova. We’ll enjoy these for sure. So thank you as well for working hard on making us these nice gifts.”

The rest of the party nodded, giving Nova warm smiles. The pink-haired man returned the smile before sitting down at the table, Nina sitting next to him. They received menus from one of the staff, selected what they wanted, and waited for their meal, which came shortly afterward. After filling their bellies with good food they returned to their respective inn rooms to rest.

Nina locked both locks on the door to their inn room before turning to Nova, a seductive smirk on her face.

“Okay, Nova, time for you to deliver on your promise to me when I had to ‘volunteer’ to use my female powers on Zombiestein,” she said.

Nova gained a weak smile, “I know, Nina, I know. And I’m a man of my word, even if it doesn’t do me any favors. Give me a minute to get ready.”

Nina sat down on one of the beds, awaiting Nova, a seductive smile on her face. After mentally preparing himself Nova took off his Digi-Pack with his equipment and kicked off his Hoverboots. He then started to take off his shirt only for Nina to stop him.

“No, Nova,” she purred. “Slowly, so I can enjoy it.”

Nova gained a blush but complied, slowly disrobing, much to Nina’s delight. After a few minutes of strip teasing her he was completely naked, a bright stain on his face and not covering up. Nina quivered her wings in pleasure as she eyed her lover in the buff.

“You are going to make me one happy woman when the time comes, Nova,” she purred. “Now, for the final part of your promise.”

She pulled back the covers of the bed she was sitting on and gently patted it, gesturing the embarrassed young man to do as she said. Nova reluctantly complied, sitting down on the bed, still not covering up. Nina smiled, kicked off her boots, and gently pushed Nova down onto the bed with her on top of him. With a bit of struggling they managed to pull the covers over themselves, looking at each other with loving eyes.

“You’re a good man, Nova. Not many would be willing to do this.”

Nova replied sheepishly, “Yeah, well, we did owe you for using your feminine wiles on Zombiestein, and I know me doing this would be the only fair compensation for it. So if it makes you happy it’s worth it.”

Nina fluttered her wings a bit, smiling, “There’s more to it than that, Nova. As you know, women in the Phoenix Clan are lower leveled than men. When it comes to lovers sleeping together, along with the act of love making, females like myself are not allowed on top of their male counterparts. The fact that I get to enjoy being on top of my lover in bed, even if it’s just this once, is something that I would normally never be allowed to have if I were to remain in my kingdom. So this means even more to me than just the fact I got a good strip tease show from my beloved. Once again, Nova, you prove to be the best thing to ever happen to me. No one in my clan would allow me to have this ‘privilege’ but you will let me have it. That means so much to me. Plus this is the first time we’ve slept together in the same bed, which makes it even more enjoyable. Thank you, Nova, you truly are the best.”

Nova gently held Nina by her waist, smiling, “You’re welcome, Nina. You deserve a good lover who would be willing to bend over backwards for you. I’m just glad you’re willing to settle for me, as I’m not exactly a Grade A beefcake like you deserve.”

Nina placed a finger over his lips, shushing him, replying, “You’re a better man than you realize, Nova. I wish you could see that. But it’s obvious that you’ve been through the mill which resulted in your current personality. One day I will prove to you that you’re a wonderful man who deserves so much more than how people treat you. One day, I will find a way to ensure you get exactly what you deserve. But enough talk, it’s time for bed. I know I’m going to enjoy this night. All because of you, Nova. You blessed my life with your love and kindness. You have your faults, I won’t deny that, but your good qualities outweigh them significantly. Goodnight, beloved.”

“Goodnight, Nina. Sleep tight.”

Nina blew out the candle that was lighting the room, blanketing them in darkness. She made herself comfortable on top of her human lover before drifting off to sleep. Nova gently cradled her, still feeling a bit embarrassed at his situation, but soon fell asleep, holding her like a priceless treasure.

Next Chapter: The Phoenix Burns the Darkness

That's all for today. Good to see the party bonding, right? Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

The Phoenix Burns the Darkness


Inside a heavily protected fortress Muu was fuming at the recent events. He was watching Nova’s party vanquish his various Undead Captains and General on a large crystal ball. He grabbed the crystal ball in a fury before shattering it, shards flying everywhere.

“That little pest of a champion and his party have caused me so many headaches!” he roared. “They must be stopped before they do anymore damage to my army. And I know just how to do it. While Belzebuth’s champion isn’t the leader he’s still the most vital component. Removing him will cause the rest of the party to fall apart, allowing my Captains and Generals to retake the areas they’ve liberated. Come forth, my assassin!”

A robed lich appeared, going into a bow, saying, “You summoned me, Master Muu?”

“I want you to get rid of that pink-haired brat who has been ruining my plans. Take this.” He removed some energy from his shadowy body, “Inject him with this splinter of myself. I will use it as a means to destroy that boy from the inside, where he comrades cannot help him. Before I tried using it with the Mirror Dimension but that didn’t work. This time I’m going to use it directly on him. When the splinter of my malice and evil destroys him the party will fall soon afterward. And I intend to make the process slow and painful for him, as he’s becoming a major thorn in my side.”

The robed lich took the splinter of his master’s evil, saying, “I hear and obey, Master Muu. I’ll make sure that pink-haired boy faces his final hours.”

The robed lich then vanished, leaving Muu alone.

“It’s like the old saying, ‘if you want something done right you have to do it yourself’,” Muu growled. “This champion of Belzebuth’s has proven to be a curious one. But I intend to get rid of him for good this time. Say goodbye to your life, Nova, as my assassin is coming for you.”

At the time the party was doing their shopping in the same town where they stopped to take a break. They were bartering with the merchants for better prices on items and on the monster parts they were selling. After a while they stopped to take a rest near the center of the town.

“Okay, I think we’ve gotten everything,” Sir Reginald said. “Now we just need to know where our next destination is.”

A voice then cackled, “Your next destination is easy: your graves!”

The heroic party and everyone else present looked around before seeing Muu’s assassin standing on a rooftop. The party got into a battle-ready pose.

“You’re one of Muu’s assassins!” Kettu growled.

“Indeed I am, Werefox,” the assassin sneered.

“You won’t be taking us down!” Van stated, giving his spear a twirl.

“Oh, you will fall, but not right now. I’ve been given a specific assignment. Only one of you will die today. The rest of you will die later. Say goodbye to your life… Nova.”

Nova took careful aim at the assassin, growling, “I won’t go down without a fight. And for that matter I won’t go down at all! Ifrit Mode!”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set to Ifrit Mode.

“Time to put a new skill I learned to work! Celestial Shot!”

He fired the arrow, now overflowing with Holy energies. The assassin quickly threw something at Nova the exact same second the young man fired his arrow. Before Nova could move out of the way the splinter struck him, but in return the assassin was instantly destroyed by the Celestial Shot. Nova collapsed onto the ground; his eyes closed and was coated in dark energies.

“Nova!” Nina cried out.

Van did a quick magical scan before saying, “This is bad. That assassin infused a splinter of Muu’s own energies into Nova. It’s obvious what he intends to do: destroy Nova from the inside, where we can’t help him.”

“There’s gotta be something we can do!” Nina said franticly.

A voice then said, “There is one way, young one, but it’ll require quite a bit of effort.”

Everyone turned to see an older woman wearing a shawl approach them.

“Who are you?” Kettu asked.

“My name is Valerie, and I am a member of the Shaman Clan. I am a practitioner of the rare and unique branch called Shaman magic. I can also see if certain individuals can harness the power of Shaman magic. Now, you’re wondering how that’ll help your friend? Using the Shaman magic known as Soul Unison I can send one of you into his body so you can purge Muu’s evil essence from him directly at the source. Normally I’d use special equipment but this time I’ll have to use the impromptu version. First things first, take him to the inn so we can perform the needed ritual in a more… comfortable setting. Now, let’s hurry before Muu’s evil energy can destroy him.”

Everyone nodded, Van scooped up Nova, and the party and the older woman returned to the inn to perform the needed ritual. When they got into one of the inn rooms Van lay Nova down on the bed. Valerie then took out what looked like a Summoning Sticker and placed it on the ground, causing it to expand into a much larger version.

“Okay, that part is complete. Now, one of you needs to volunteer to enter him.”

Nina stepped up, “I’ll go. Nova’s my boyfriend and I’ll do anything to help him. He’s always been willing to bend over backwards for me, even if it could get him into serious trouble, so it’s about time I do the same. Send me in, please.”

Valerie looked Nina over, scratching her chin, “Curious. You’ve got some interesting potential, young lady. But time for that later. If you want to go in then I will send you into his mind. Stand in the center of the magical circle.”

Nina nodded and stood in the center of the newly formed magical circle. The older woman started to channel magical energy, which caused the circle to glow. It then released a pillar of light, turning Nina into a sphere of energy that flew into Nova, causing his body to glow briefly.

Nina slowly opened her eyes and looked around. She appeared to be in some sort of corridor. She looked ahead to see a metal door in front of her.

“Is this the inside of Nova’s mind?” she mused. “Or is it just the gateway to his mind?”

A crisp voice startled her out of her thoughts, saying, “Young one, have you entered his mind?”

“I’m in some sort of corridor,” she responded. “I’m guessing the door in front of me leads to Nova’s mind. Shall I proceed?”

“Yes, young lady, enter that door and you will find the inner workings of your boyfriend’s mind. You must find where Muu has taken refuge there in his attempt to destroy your comrade from the inside. And do it quickly, as time may not be on your side.”

Nina nodded, walked up to the door, and opened it. When she took a look inside her jaw dropped.

“Y-You’ve got to be kidding me!?” she sputtered.

The interior was an endless labyrinth of stairs and doors going in all sorts of directions. She gingerly walked into the main room of Nova’s mind: eyes wide as saucers.

“This may take a while…” she said in a small voice. “Is Nova’s mind really this warped? Or is this Muu’s doing?” She shook her head, “Regardless, I need to find where Muu is and get rid of him before he destroys my beloved. I just hope it doesn’t take too much time to find him. Well, I gotta start somewhere.”

She gave a heavy sigh before she started her journey into Nova’s mind. She stopped at the first door she came to.

“Let’s hope this is it.”

She opened the door, revealing a room with what looked like a screen in it. There she saw a memory of Nova’s past. He was sitting alone in a room full of decorations, a nice tree with ornaments and lights, and was sitting by a fire. His left leg was in a cast and he was holding a cup of brown liquid. It was clear he was trying to put on a brave face but his loneliness was very apparent.

“Merry Christmas…” he said in a weak tone.

Nina gently closed the door to the room, giving a depressed sigh.

“Nova… you’ve been alone for so long…” she whimpered. “Hopefully now, with me by your side, something like that memory won’t happen again. Now… I gotta keep looking.”

She continued her search through the twisted labyrinth that was Nova’s mind. She stopped at another door.

“Well, let’s see if my luck holds up this time.”

She opened the door, revealing another memory room. This time, however, what she saw horrified her to her core. She was first frozen in fear as she saw the memory play out before she regained her senses and slammed the door shut, putting her back to it.

“Okay… now I know what that incident was when Nova was in 8th grade…” she panted. “And that damn teacher only rubbing salt on the wound. No wonder Nova is the way he his, especially after something as horrible as THAT!”

She took a moment to calm herself down before moving onward, though the memory she just saw still haunted her own mind. She came across another door.

“Hopefully third time’s the charm.”

She opened it up, revealing another memory room. However, this one was decorated nicely, full of colorful balloons, ribbons, and a banner that read, “Best Moment of My Life!”. She looked at the memory and felt her heart become warmer, a tear forming in her eye.

“Nova…” she said lovingly. “You consider the day we first became a couple the best moment of your life? That’s both wonderful and… kinda depressing. Wonderful because you truly treasure our relationship and how strong our love is. But also a bit depressing because if you consider this to be the best moment of your life… it doesn’t paint a very pleasant picture of the rest of your life. Especially since that day was pure chaos. But I’m glad you feel so strongly about the love we share.”

She reluctantly closed the door, feeling her heart become warmer at the thought of what she just saw. She shook her head and continued onward. She came to another door. This one had the label “Hopes and Dreams” on it.

“Is this the room where Nova’s hopes and dreams reside?” she wondered. “If so I wonder what’s inside? Maybe it’ll have some good things in it like that last memory room.”

She opened the door to take a look. However, to her surprise, the room was in ruins, with what looked like shattered glass all over the floor. Her eyes widened in horror as the realization sunk in, causing her to quickly slam the door shut. She placed her forehead on the door, tears threatening to leak out of her eyes.

“Nova… all you’re hopes and dreams… shattered? Was this because of that incident in 8th grade? Or did it happen sometime afterward? Do you really have no hope for your future?” She clenched her fists, “That’ll change, I promise you. Now that we’re together I’ll do everything in my power to give you new hopes and dreams. You gave me hopes and dreams, now it’s my turn to do the same. I just… need to find you.” She then yelled, “Nova! If you can hear me! Please, tell me where to go so I can save you from Muu!?”

At first there was no response. Then, suddenly, what looked like a will-o-wisp appeared before her. It flittered about, as if trying to get her to follow it. She complied, chasing after the will-o-wisp, where it guided her to another corridor hidden behind another room. This corridor looked like rotting flesh, and it was pulsating. The will-o-wisp gestured she go down it.

“Okay, I get it. I don’t know what horrors I will be facing but I have to do it. For Nova, and for our futures.”

She raced down the fleshy corridor. It was clear this was not a normal part of Nova’s mind. Nina could feel evil energy just up ahead. She came to another door, this one made more of rotting flesh. She steeled her nerves and kicked it open.

“Nova!” she cried out.

She saw a massive shadowy creature clutching Nova in its decaying claws, squeezing the life out of him, making him scream in pain. Her cry caused both the shadowy creature and Nova to turn to her.

“Nina…” Nova struggled to say. “H-Help me…”

Nina’s eyes narrowed at the evil monster, growling, “Let him go, Muu! Otherwise you’ll find out that a protective girlfriend is a force to be feared!”

The shadowy creature replied, “I’m impressed you found a way inside here, little birdie. But it will be in vain. And this way I can take you out along with your precious lover.”

Nina started to channel magical energy, “You wish! Mind Swords!”

She summoned the magical swords. She gave the gesture and they rocketed toward the shadowy creature. They struck it but, to her shock, did no damage. The shadowy creature chuckle darkly.

“Foolish girl, your magic is useless in here,” he laughed. “In here I am king and you are my prey. So just give it up.”

“Nina…” Nova said in a strained voice. “He’s wrong… This room… it’s like a dream world… anything is possible…”

The shadowy creature started to crush Nova in his claw, growling, “You shut up, whelp!”

Nina quickly pieced the situation together, gaining a smirk, “Is that so? Then in this room I can be anything!”

She concealed herself with her wings, which started to produce heat. Before long her body was engulfed in flames, startling the dark monster. The fireball became larger and larger until it towered over the shadowy creature. When it reached a certain size it started to take shape. When the flames exploded standing before them was a new creature.

“Impossible!” the monster roared.

Standing before them was a phoenix. It was massive, easily twice the size of the monster, with beautiful red and gold feathers in a very regal-like pattern, large wings, six long plumes, and a wide fanned-out tail. It had large talons, two in the front and one in the back, gold in color with silver nails, with a purple crest and deep cerulean eyes, topped off with a golden beak.

Nova smiled weakly, “Yes… I knew you’d figure it out…”

The phoenix gave a mighty screech before speaking in Nina’s voice via telepathy, “I will burn you to cinders, Muu! Face my flaming fury! You will regret the day you tried to kill MY lover!”

She then tackled the shadowy creature and enveloped it in her wings, causing it to drop Nova. She then started to produce intense heat until both of their bodies were engulfed in a ranging inferno of red and gold fire. The shadowy monster roared in agony as Nina’s mighty flames consumed its body. It tried to escape but Nina held on tightly, refusing to let it go until she had burned it to ashes. She increased the intensity of the flames, making the monster scream as the vengeful fires burned its body away to nothingness, leaving no trace of it behind. Nina then stopped her assault, as she knew it was over. She took a moment to look herself over before noticing Nova on the ground.

“Nova!” she cried via telepathy.

She enveloped herself with her wings, becoming another fireball, which started to become smaller and smaller. When the fireball subsided she was back to normal. She quickly ran over to her lover’s side.

“Nova! Please, speak to me, beloved!”

She gently cradled him, hoping for a response. To her delight Nova weakly opened his eyes and smiled at her.

“I’m okay now, Nina, thanks to you…” he said weakly. “But you need to leave at once. This room is becoming unstable and will collapse now that Muu’s evil is gone.”

“But what about you?” she asked.

Nova then suddenly vanished in a burst of light, but his voice said, “Hurry!”

Nina took the hint and started to run down the fleshy corridor as fast as she could. She could see it collapsing all around her but she successfully made it to the rest of Nova’s mind before it fell apart and vanished. She took a moment to catch her breath.

“Young one!” a sharp voice cut through the air, frightening her to the point she fell down. “What happened!? We saw this huge amount of evil energy erupt from the young man’s body! What’s going on in there?!”

Nina yelled back, “Don’t yell at me like that! You nearly gave me a heart attack! I got rid of Muu’s evil energies so Nova should be safe now. It wasn’t easy but I did it.”

Valerie’s voice replied in a gentler tone, “Good work, young one. With the task complete I can bring you back into the real world. Good timing, too, as I’m running low on mana and I’m not as young as I once was. If you are ready to leave say so.”

“Yes, I’m ready to leave. Please return me to my friends… and my beloved.”

There was silence after this statement. Suddenly, Nina’s body turned into a sphere of energy and shot through the labyrinth of Nova’s mind, out the door and soon emerged from his body. The sphere returned to the magical circle and took form, returning Nina to normal, although it did drop her at the last second.

“Ow!” she protested. “You could’ve put me down a bit gentler! I don’t have a lot of padding down there.” She then shook her head, “Never mind that, is Nova okay?”

Everyone heard Nova grunt, redirecting their attention to him. He weakly opened his eyes, revealing them to be rather dull, but a weak smile formed on his face.

“Thank you, Nina…” he said in a strained voice. “You saved me from Muu.”

Nina replied in a coy tone, “Well, I know you would do the same for me if the situation was reversed. You’re always bending over backwards for me so it was about time I returned the favor. How do you feel?”

“Weak… but I’ll live… I just need to rest and recover…”

Valerie stated, “You went through quite the haul, young man. Surviving Muu’s evil being directly installed into you is no small feat. I don’t think even past champions could’ve held on as long as you did. You’re tougher than you look, even if you have zero potential with Shaman magic. Your lady friend, however, seems to have quite a bit of potential in the rare art of Shaman magic. In fact all your comrades seem to have a knack for it. Curious, quite curious. It’s rare to see so many individuals in one place with the potential to use the rare and tricky Shaman magic. But in any case, you should be safe now, though I suggest you get some rest, as you went through the mill with Muu’s evil.”

Sir Reginald replied, “We were planning on staying here for a few days anyway to rest after several hard battles so it works out. But do you really think we have potential to use the rare and extremely coveted Shaman magic?”

The old woman nodded, “I do, pretty boy knight. Like I said it’s rare to see such a number of compatible users in one place. Normally we’d be lucky to find one or two here and there, much less six in one group. If you want to know more I suggest you come to the Shaman Clan’s village. It’s to the north of here, nestled in Tanglebloom Forest. It might help you in the long run, especially if you’re in the business of fighting Muu. Now, I expect payment for using my magic to assist you in this task.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Of course, madam. Let’s talk outside so Nova can rest. Thank you for your help, madam, as we couldn’t have done this without your timely arrival.”

The two of them stepped outside to talk things over while the rest of the party stayed in the room. Nina sat down on the bed with Nova, gently clutching his hand, a warm smile on her face.

“Nova… I’m so glad you’re okay…” she said. “I was so worried about you. Can I get you anything? Are you cold? Are you in pain? Do you need a drink?”

Nova chuckled, “You’re going into mother hen mode, Nina. I’ll be fine, I just need to rest for a bit. …Nina… I’m aware of what you saw inside my mind. What memories you witnessed. Please, don’t think too much about it. What’s in the past is done. You can’t change it so you have to move on. Those memories you saw… I know how horrible some of them were, but don’t worry about it. Now that I have you by my side I can finally start picking up the pieces of my life and rebuild it with your help. So don’t think too much about what you saw, as that’s all in the past. Hopefully we can build a future together, where those bad memories will remain just that.”

She nodded, “I know, but I must admit… they were rather horrid. No wonder you are the way you are. But I’m glad you feel that the day we became a couple to be the best moment of your life. And I intend to give you more of those. It’s a shame I was only able to use the Power of the Phoenix while in that dream realm-like room Muu had set up. Be a real nice boon to have that power under my belt.”

“Did it ever occur to you that you could still do it even in this world, Nina?”

She looked confused, “What?”

Nova replied, “What makes you think that you were only able to access that power inside that dream realm-like state? I have a gut feeling that you’ve always had that power but this event helped awaken it. It’s worth a try, Nina.”

The winged woman looked both confused and curious, saying, “Y-You really think I can become a phoenix again? Even in the mortal realm? You really feel it was not a one-time wonder? What makes you so sure, Nova?”

“Call it a hunch. Why don’t you try it? Not in here, obviously, but outside.”

“I-I don’t know about that…”

Nova gently cradled her face, saying, “Nina, aren’t you always the one telling me to have faith in my abilities and accomplishments? Now it’s my turn to do the same for you. Please, give it a try outside. I’ll be okay for a few minutes by myself. You never know until you try. Please, Nina, I have faith in you, just like you always have faith in me.”

Van said, “It’s worth a shot, Nina. Nova believes in you so you should, too.”

Nina took a deep breath before saying, “Alright, I’ll try it. We’ll step outside and give it a whirl. I harbor doubts but you do bring up a good point. Fine, let’s give it a shot.”

Everyone except Nova left the room and went outside. Nina took several deep breaths before steeling her nerves.

“As Nova would say, ‘Here goes something’.”

She enveloped herself in her wings and started to focus. Her wings started to produce intense heat before bursting into flames, engulfing her body. Everyone watching went slack jawed as the fireball got larger and larger. When it reached a certain size it started to take shape, and when the flames burst away, standing before them was a mighty phoenix. The phoenix opened its eyes, revealing them to be cerulean, blinked a few times, and looked itself over.

“By the Goddess!” it said in Nina’s voice via telepathy. “It worked?! I-I have the Power of the Phoenix?! So I have both powers my people lost ages ago due to our clan’s greed?! I’m… I’m completely shocked! I didn’t think this was possible!”

Zeeker smiled, “Nice, Nina! Now we can travel further faster with you flying us around.”

“Don’t get too excited, Zeeker, as I have yet to break in this new form. While most of the information regarding this power was lost to the sea of time, what I do know is that it takes quite a bit of practice to use and maintain this form while carrying passengers. I can’t do it overnight, not without some training. Let me see if I can return to normal.”

She covered herself in her wings, which started to produce heat before igniting into flames, engulfing her body. The fireball got smaller and smaller and before long she was back to normal. She looked herself over before turning to the group.

“I’m in a state of shock,” Nina said. “I never thought in a million years that I would obtain both powers that my clan had lost centuries ago. Did I always have this power and this event simply awoke it? Or was it born today because of what happened in Nova’s mind? I-I don’t know what to think.”

Angelo smiled, “Either way, Nina, you have given us a great gift today. While you will need practice, with this new power you can help us soar to new heights, figuratively and literally. This has been a real banner day for you, Nina. You must be so happy.”

The winged woman looked at her hands, saying, “I’m still at a loss. But you’re right. I can use both my clan’s powers to work in saving this world. I wish I could rub it in my people’s faces. Not only do I have the coveted Magic Fire Feathers but I also regained the Power of the Phoenix, both of which were lost to my kind for centuries. I can’t believe it. And it’s all because Nova came into my life and gave me hope. Remind me to smother him with affection when I get back inside. But wow… I never thought that I’d get both powers my clan lost ages ago. The Magic Fire Feathers were one thing, but the Power of the Phoenix to boot? Talk about hitting the jackpot.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “You should be really proud of yourself, Lady Nina. You achieved something great today. You are a true example of what the Phoenix Clan could be if they’d stop living in greed. Now, come, let’s go back inside and check on Nova. He’ll want to hear this.”

The party entered the inn to tell Nova the good news. Nina tackled him and smothered him with affection, clearly happy at what transpired today. Nova merely smiled before falling asleep, with Nina by his side.

Next Chapter: Fusion Force

That's all for today. Wonder what the party's Shaman powers will look like? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter in Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, sexual suggestions, girls running around in less clothes than Nina)

Fusion Force


It had been a few days since Muu’s assassin attacked Nova. The party was on their way to Tanglebloom Forest, home of the Shaman Clan. They had stopped for a rest near a river. They saw a shadow flying overhead and looked up, smiling. Soaring above them was a large phoenix, clearly learning how to fly in this state. Nova was on the phoenix’s back, helping keep it calm and steady.

“You’re doing great, Nina,” Nova said. “Now try to use your tailfeathers to stabilize yourself more.”

Nina nodded and fanned out her tailfeathers more. It did the trick as she was now flying more steadily.

“Good, very good, Nina. Now, to conserve energy ride the wind by gliding on updrafts. That’ll make it easier on you to keep yourself airborne without exhausting yourself as quickly if you were constantly flapping your wings.”

Nina nodded and made sure her wings were open wide to accept the airflow around her. Doing so allowed her to gently soar through the sky, reaching higher altitudes.

“Nova,” she said via telepathy. “I appreciate you giving me flying lessons in this state even though you can’t fly yourself. How do you know so much about how birds fly?”

“Well, as you know, I have a pet ringneck parrot back home, so watching him fly gives me a good idea, along with having a pet parakeet back when I was a kid before she died. And I know a lot about birds of prey and how they fly, especially since red-tailed hawks and barn owls often nest in the woods near my home. And I have a fascination with birds. It runs in the family, as mom is the same way, as was grandma before she died. So the knowledge of birds and how they fly is kinda part of my blood. I’m just glad I can be of some help to you, as something like this should be easy for a member of your clan.”

“Should is the correct word to use, Nova, as the knowledge about the Power of the Phoenix was lost to us when we lost the power itself. So while I know how to fly in my base form flying in the form of a phoenix is a whole other story, as my body structure is different in this state. But, again, I appreciate what you’re doing for me. You’re always willing to bend over backwards for my sake. Not many men would do that for me. Is it any wonder I fell in love with you. Now, how about we land? I’m getting a bit tuckered out, as I haven’t gained enough stamina to maintain this form for long.”

Nova nodded, “Yes, we should before you literally crash. Now, head downward at a steady slope. Don’t accelerate too much or you might crash. I suggest you descend while circling, that way you can get a better feel of how to land.”

Nina nodded and started her descent, slowly circling around the area where the rest of the party way. They watched her with interest, smiling as they did. Eventually Nina was close enough to the ground.

“Now, extend your talons and use your wings like a parachute to slow yourself down until your feet hit the ground.”

Nina obeyed and extended her talons while using her wings to slow her momentum down. She managed to place both talons on the ground but accidentally stumbled, taking a few steps forward and flailing her wings a bit to keep herself from toppling over. The party quickly scattered to avoid accidentally getting stepped on as Nina came to a stop. She gave a sigh of relief while Nova slid off her back and onto the ground.

“Not bad, Nina. You need to slow your momentum down a bit more when landing so you don’t stumble again. But overall that was a good bit of flying practice.”

Nina nodded, enveloped herself in her wings, and soon became a flaming orb. The fireball shrank down until the flames dissipated and Nina was back to her normal self. She then fell to one knee, panting, drenched in sweat. Nova dashed over to her side while the rest of the party approached them.

“Good job, Nina, that was your best attempt yet,” Van said.

Angelo nodded, “I’ll say. You’re quickly getting the hang of this. That’ll serve you well in the future.”

Nova handed Nina a canteen, which she eagerly took and guzzled the contents down. After draining the canteen dry Nova escorted her to a large rock for her to sit down on. She slumped over a bit, resting, her wings drooping a bit.

“Thank you… all of you…” she panted. “This is… still not easy… to master… Especially since… we kinda… have a… time limit… We don’t have… a lot of… time to master… this form… I just… hope I can get… a good grip on it… before it becomes… necessary for our mission…”

Sir Reginald smiled, “That’s true, Lady Nina, but you’ve been making good progress so far. It’s a bit of a crash course, I admit, but you’ve been doing a good job in learning the ins and outs of the Power of the Phoenix during the timeframe you have. That’ll serve you, and us, well in the future. Although I am surprised at Nova’s knowledge on bird anatomy and how to teach essentially a giant bird how to fly. You’ve clearly been the biggest help to her in mastering her new power, Nova.”

Nova shrugged, “What can I say? Knowledge and birdkeeping is part of my family blood, at least on my mom’s side. Plus I own a pet ringneck parrot back home so I know a fair bit about birds. Nina’s been doing good. It’s still a work in progress but like the Blitz family says, ‘Progress is progress, no matter how small’, which holds true. With some more flying lessons, and building up her stamina, will eventually yield a great advantage for us. But, for now, let her rest. How much further do we have until we reach Tanglebloom Forest?”

Sir Reginald looked at the map before saying, “If we get going in the next hour we should be able to reach it by lunchtime, maybe a bit afterward, depending on monster attacks.”

Zeeker said, “That’ll be fine. It’ll give Nina the chance she needs to catch her breath, as it’s clear she’s got a lot of work to do building up her stamina to maintain her new phoenix form. Hopefully she can master this form soon so we can have a much-needed advantage over our enemies. But we can’t rush her, either, as this power is as much of an unknown to her as it is to us. But it must be so cool to ride on the back of a phoenix.”

Nina gave a light chuckle, “It’ll be a while before I can transport everyone at once. I’ll have to work up to that. Maybe as time goes on I’ll allow each of you to join Nova on my back, one-by-one, so I can get used to carrying all of you bit by bit. Van will probably be the biggest challenge due to his larger size. He is half horse, after all. But with some more practice I should be able to eventually carry all of you on my back safely. I just really appreciate what Nova’s doing for me. You really will go the extra mile for someone you care about, Nova. That’s a good quality for someone to have. Shows just how much you care. Thank you… I never would’ve experienced any of this if it wasn’t for you smuggling me out of Phoenixwing Kingdom. You released this caged bird and allowed me to fly freely for the first time in my life. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to love you. Thank you.”

Nova blushed, “You’ve been a huge help to me, too, you know. It was you who helped teach me how to become braver and more confident. I still have a ways to go but it was you who gave me the needed kick in the can to stop living like a loser and become something more. So I’m just returning the favor. Now, would you like another drink, Nina?”

She nodded, smiling at her lover. Nova handed over his canteen again, freshly filled with water, which she graciously took and began chugging it down again. After she polished it off again Nova refilled it once more in the nearby river before putting it away. Nina took a few calming breaths before standing up.

“Come on, boys, let’s get going,” she said. “Until we get some leads on Muu’s forces let’s spend the time gathering up more power. So let’s go to the Shaman Clan and see what we can gain from them.”

The party nodded and continued to make their way north to Tanglebloom Forest. After roughly an hour of hiking they arrived at the entrance to the large forest. Tanglebloom Forest was massive, nearly as large as Deadwood Haunt Forest, but it was filled with healthy trees, lots of vines, and plenty of flowers. The party ventured into the forest, keeping an eye out for monsters. It wasn’t long before they arrived at their destination. The Shaman Clan village was nestled in the center of the forest. It was filled with log cabins and other cozy touches. There seemed to be more women than men in the village, most of whom were young, around Nova’s age, wearing very little clothing, almost to the point of being microkinis, coming in nine different colors, along with being barefoot and having pointed ears like Nina.

“I wonder why the young women of this clan are running around practically naked?” Nova pondered.

Nina growled, “Just don’t forget who your girlfriend is, Nova. So keep your eyeballs in your head.”

“Easy, easy, Nina, no need to get jealous or anything. I’ll remain loyal to you, don’t you worry. Besides, you outstrip them completely anyway, so why should I settle for someone else when I’ve already got the best your Goddess can offer? Besides, they can probably tell I’m not compatible with their magic so they’ll probably ignore me.”

Nina smiled, “That’s more like it. And I appreciate it. Now, let’s see if we can find that Valerie woman and see what we can learn about us and Shaman magic. I’ve heard a bit about it from my studies. Mostly stuff like only certain people are compatible with it and how there are two methods of using Shaman magic, but that’s about it, as it’s a rather rare branch of magic, thus it’s not well documented. The only other thing I know is that Shaman magic can be a game-changer in the face of an enemy due to the bevy of new powers, skills, and abilities one gets with it. So if we can harness the power of Shaman magic it could help us tip the scales further in our favor against Muu, as we need all the power we can get if we’re to take down the big bone daddy himself.”

It wasn’t long before the young women of the clan noticed the party and started to check them out. Despite the fact they could tell he wasn’t compatible with their magic some of the young women still flirted with Nova, though he politely turned them down, much to Nina’s relief. Eventually Valerie walked up to them.

“So, you decided to come after all,” she said. “Good, as, thanks to that incident, I know you’re fighting Muu. You’ve got guts to be going up against the ruler of all Undead. And I know that’s why you came here: to learn about Shaman magic so you can fight your enemies more effectively. You’re certainly better than that Dominic goon who showed up here.”

Nova gave a heavy sigh, “I knew he survived our last encounter. That man is virtually unkillable.”

One of the young Shaman women said, “Oh? You don’t like that muscle-headed lecherous womanizer either? Good, as he came here demanding us to not only teach him Shaman magic but spent a good amount of time feeling us Elemental Shamans up. Needless to say we kicked him out and cast a spell on the forest to prevent him from returning.”

“How would casting a spell on the forest help keep him out?” Angelo asked.

Another young Shaman woman replied, “The plants will attack him. Mostly the vines but if he somehow got past those the giant flowers and trees will eat him. Needless to say it seemed to work as we haven’t seen him since. Hopefully he was eaten by a plant, as it would be doing the world a favor.”

Nina huffed, “No joke. We despise him for all the trouble he’s caused us, among other reasons. It’s no surprise he got banished from Phoenixwing Kingdom, Galvatar Kingdom, and more recently Aquatica Kingdom, all because of his heinous actions. Yet he blames Nova for exposing his crimes to the world. He’s become karma’s punching bag, and we like it that way. Though credit where it’s due, he doesn’t give up easily, especially if it’ll one-up Nova.”

A third Shaman woman replied, “So he was kicked out of three kingdoms for his heinous crimes? Serves him right. It was a good thing that he wasn’t compatible with Shaman magic. The thought of us Elemental Shamans fusing with that goon? Brrrr! The thought alone makes our blood run cold. We’d rather fuse with a cutie like you, pink boy. Sadly, we can see you’re not compatible with our magic, which is a shame, really, as you look like a good man.”

Valerie said, “Now, now, no flirting, girls. Besides you’re wasting your breath on the pink-headed one, though at least he’s a decent person, unlike that Dominic grunt. Now, please follow me, as I’m going to give you lot a lecture on the two different types of Shaman magic.”

Another Shaman girl protested, “Granny, do you always have to be so harsh to those who can’t use Shaman magic? It’s almost like racism. I know you take great pride in our craft, so to speak, and the power of Shaman magic is one that could change lives, but you can’t be constantly treating people who can’t use it like they’re specks of dirt. That Dominic guy is one thing, as he was a jerk, creep, and pervert. This man is obviously not like him. This pink-haired cutie may not be able to use our branch of magic but that doesn’t mean you can be almost cruel to him.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “She’s right, you know. And Nova does have an excuse for why he can’t use Shaman magic, or really any magic, as he’s not a native to this world. He was summoned by Belzebuth from Earth to become his newest champion. Nova not having access to magic outside of what the Demon King Ring possesses is not something he should be criticized for. After all, he’s been working hard for our sakes. So do you think you could at least ease up on the attitude toward him? It would be in your best interest, you know, as you don’t want to make an enemy out of us.”

Another Shaman girl nodded, “Yeah, granny. If he’s not a native to this world then you shouldn’t be so critical of him about not being able to use Shaman magic. Besides, for all you know he could gain the ability to use Shaman magic, as it has happened before.”

Nova turned to the young Shaman women, “Wait. It’s possible to gain the ability to use Shaman magic? How?”

Valerie gave a heavy sigh, “It’s a very rare trait. There isn’t much known about it but once in a triple blue moon someone who isn’t compatible with Shaman magic can gain compatibility. The only bit of information we know about it is that said person’s body needs to go through a process of evolution by being continuously exposed to certain energies. What those energies are we don’t know. But it is possible to gain compatibility if your body were to be exposed to a certain type of energy for an extended period of time, triggering a subtle but significant evolution. While I harbor great doubts you’d be exposed to such an energy that would trigger a bodily evolution it has happened before. Very rarely but it has happened.”

Nina pondered for a moment before saying, “Would something like Demon magic be one of those energies? Because one needs to remember that Nova is wearing the Demon King Ring. The Ring is giving off Demon magic energy all the time, which can protect him from certain effects like instant-death magic, so he’s constantly exposed to that energy. Is it possible that Demon magic could trigger such an evolution?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, young one. Knowledge on Demon magic is extremely limited. Belzebuth and the Goddess seem to want to keep that information close to them so not to cause problems. It could be one such energy that would trigger a type of evolution, as any information on it is scarce at best, but I don’t know. But enough of this. If you want to learn about Shaman magic follow me to my cabin. Girls, stop fawning over the men and get back to your training.”

The various young Shaman women sighed, “Yes, granny. Just stop giving the pink-haired cutie grief because of his lack of compatibility with our magic, as he is fighting Muu on our behalf. That alone should be enough to warrant respect, especially if he’s managed to defeat several Undead Captains and such. After all, you’re not on the frontlines, defending our world from Muu, so you shouldn’t be so critical of this cutie because he can’t use our magic.”

The various Shaman women left to return to their training, leaving the party with Valerie.

“Come you lot, it’s time for a Shaman magic lesson,” Valerie said.

She led them to her cabin, which was one of the larger ones. They entered the building and saw that the center room had three magical circles on the floor.

Valerie turned to the party, “Time for a lecture. As you may know there are two types of Shaman magic: Soul Union and Elemental Energy Fusion. Both have their pros and cons. Soul Union is considered the more powerful version due to the fact that the forms one takes are semi-permanent, only fading if stated upon command or the user takes enough damage to knock themselves out of it. However, it is also the most restricted and least practical, as the combinations are limited to just two different Elemental Shamans at a time, and it requires special equipment to properly fuse souls together. When I used the impromptu method back when your pink-haired friend had Muu inside of him that version took a lot more mana out of me. Using a more proper method by using special fusion rituals will bring out the full power of Soul Unison.”

Zeeker said, “So… it’s safe to assume you’ll be teaching us the Elemental Energy Fusion method, correct?”

“That’s correct, Beastman. While the Elemental Energy Fusion method is weaker than Soul Unison, as the form only lasts a certain amount of time, it does have the advantage of being able to create more combos and can be accessed at any time, any place. With Soul Unison any more than three souls in one body will cause it to overload and self-destruct, taking all the souls with it. With Elemental Energy Fusion you can fuse up to five elements safely without fear of self-destructing, which grants it more flexibility and easier to mix-and-match elements without any real drawback. It also has the added bonus of making any elemental combo work, as with Soul Unison only compatible Elemental Shamans can fuse with someone. So, for example, if your Hopper Clan ally used a combo with the Fire element in Elemental Energy Fusion it would result in a form change. Its strength will be affected, as the elemental compatibility isn’t great, but it will still work regardless. While if he were to try to fuse with a Fire Elemental Shaman the fusion wouldn’t work and thus would fail to even get off the ground. So both methods have their pros and cons. Soul Unison is more powerful while Elemental Energy Fusion is more practical.”

Nina scratched her chin, “I see. So one’s own natural elemental affinity can make a form stronger or weaker. What about combining incompatible elements?”

“Simply put, the resulting combo would be heavily flawed at best and outright dangerous to the user at worse,” Valerie replied. “If you were to combine the Fire and Water element, for example, it would result in a very chaotic and potentially extremely unstable form. Some examples include Fire and Water, Wood and Ice, Earth and Wind, and so on. Light and Dark are the exceptions, as they’re not only compatible despite being opposites, but any fusion form involving at least one of them will be extremely powerful. I should also mention that, depending on the combo can grant the user elemental weaknesses. This is another drawback of the Elemental Energy Fusion method. For example, if you were to fuse Earth with Dark the user would have a weakness to Ice and Wind, meaning damage from those elements would be greater. If the attack is strong enough it could knock the user out of their fusion form. And those weaknesses stack. Another example is Fire and Lightning. While Fire would remove Lightning’s weakness to Wood and Lightning will remove Fire’s weakness to Water, both share a weakness to Earth, thus the user will take even greater damage from that element. Even only a Level Two Earth spell would be enough to cancel the form. So one needs to keep their elemental strengths and weaknesses in mind.”

“What about being hit by an element that matches your fusion form?” Angelo asked.

“An excellent question. If you are struck with a spell, skill, or ability that is the same as one of the elements you used for your fusion, you will not only be immune to it but you will absorb that energy and turn it into a temporary power boost. It can also heal you if you’re injured while in your fusion form. This is one of the strengths of Elemental Energy Fusion, as Soul Unison lacks that trait. The fusion form can also grant other useful traits to the user.”

“Can you elaborate?” Kettu asked.

“Yes. For example, a Phoenix Clan member is weak to Genox Gas, right?”

Nina nodded, “Yes. It’s my clan’s biggest weakness.”

“Well, in a fusion form you will become immune to Genox Gas, allowing you to fight at full strength even when being exposed to it. Another example would be the Hopper Clan’s weakness to salt water. In a fusion form the Hopper Clan member would become immune to that weakness, allowing them to easily fight in the ocean without fear. This also applies to Soul Unison, so regardless of what method you use, when in a fusion form you become immune to your race’s weaknesses. Now, that should be enough of an explanation on the powers of Shaman magic. It’s time to give you the method for you to obtain your own Shaman forms.” She walked over to a chest and opened it, revealing several bracelets, “These are Shaman Magic Bracelets. They each contain one Elemental Gem of each element. However, I can’t just give these out like candy, especially to so many people. You’ll have to pay 2,000 gold for six of them.”

Nova replied, “Would a Gargathox tusk be considered a fair trade, as they’re worth 2,000 gold?”

Valerie turned to him, “You have Gargathox parts? Does that include vertebrae?”

Nova nodded, “Yes, I’ve got a fair collection of Gargathox parts.”

“Tell you what. If you give me a Gargathox tusk and one large vertebrae I’ll give all of you, including you, a Shaman Magic Bracelet. While you, yourself can’t use it, I’ll let you hold onto one in case one of the other bracelets break or, if by some sheer chance, you do gain the ability to use Shaman magic. While the bracelets are nigh-indestructible, if they do break they have an auto-repair function, so they’ll restore themselves over time. But having a spare never hurts. Do we have a deal?”

Everyone nodded, “Deal.”

Nova took out a Gargathox tusk and the largest vertebrae he could find from his Digi-Pack, presenting them to the older woman.

“Just put them over there, to your right, by the crate. I’ll have my apprentices take care of that later. We have uses for Gargathox parts, as they’re very valuable to our craft. As promised, you can all take one Shaman Magic Bracelet.”

Nova placed the Gargathox tusk and vertebrae where he was told to put them. Everyone then helped themselves to one Shaman Magic Bracelet. It was a large, gold manacle-like band with nine gems shaped into different elemental forms. Everyone strapped them onto one of their wrists, with the exception of Nova who put it in his Digi-Pack. They all took a moment to admire the bracelets.

Nina observed, “I think I get how these work. You push the Elemental Gems to activate it, then once you’ve gotten the combo you want it’ll transform you into your new form. Is that right?”

“You’re pretty sharp, Phoenix girl. That’s the general gist of it, although you do need to say, ‘Elemental Energy Fusion activate’ upon making your selection. Now, for some last piece of information: how many elements you fuse together will determine the timeframe you can maintain the form. It can range from one hour to roughly two, depending on the combo. You can deactivate the form earlier than the time limit if needed by stating ‘Cancel Fusion’. Also, after a fusion the bracelets need to recharge, which will take roughly the same time you used when fused, give or take five minutes. From what I’ve experienced the best combos tend to be three elements, as that’ll give you a very generous timeframe to work with and are often very powerful forms. Remember elemental compatibility, though, as that’s important. Now, as one last thing, I will tell you your elemental affinities so you can use that information to further deduce what combos work best for you. Step up one-by-one, please.”

Everyone got into a line and awaited Valerie’s verdict. She scanned the, starting with Nina, before stopping at Nova.

“Hmm… interesting. Nina has affinities for Fire, Wind, Light, and Lightning. Sir Reginald has affinities for Earth, Light, and Dark. Kettu has affinities for Wind, Wood, and Dark. Van has affinities for Wood, Earth, and Water. Zeeker has affinities for Fire, Wood, and Wind. Angelo has affinities for Water, Ice, and Light. And, strangely, Nova also has affinities, in his case Light and Dark. However, I suspect that it’s the Demon King Ring’s doing, so I’m not sure if that’s Nova’s own affinity or the Demon King Ring’s. Considering you can’t take it off it’s not possible to know for sure. While I doubt you have a real affinity for any element you might as well keep that information tucked in the back of your head in case something does come of it. Now, for the final step one of you should execute a combo as a test.”

Sir Reginald stepped up, “I’ll be the test. I am the leader of the party so I might as well use myself as an example. Let’s see…” He took a moment to think before saying, “Well, since I use Earth magic I’ll select Earth. And maybe Dark to go with it, especially since you said that anything paired with Light or Dark will be very strong.” He pressed the corresponding Elemental Gems on the bracelet, causing it to glow before saying, “Okay, here we go. Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

The bracelet lit up and engulfed him in an energy sphere. Everyone watched with intense eyes, wondering what the form would be. When the energy sphere burst off of his body, Sir Reginald’s new form appeared. He resembled a knight clad in black armor, with stone knight glaives and gauntlets, his hair was now mud brown, his eyes were now gold, with twin claymores made of stone on his back, stones orbiting him like an asteroid belt, and wearing a knight helmet made of crystal. He was also taller and more muscular.

“Woah!” Nina said in awe. “That’s so cool!”

Sir Reginald looked himself over, saying, “Shaman magic does a body good. I feel like I’m overflowing with power.”

Valerie nodded, “Yes, that’s the beauty of Shaman magic. It’s not easy to find those who are compatible; but those who are benefit the most from it. According to what my magical scan says about you, in this form you’re the Terra Dark Knight. Your special skills are: Stone Barrage, Seismic Shock Slash, and Dark Meteor Crash. You are now immune to the Earth and Dark elements along with being immune to poisons and curses. Your barrier making skills are also enhanced to the point it would take nothing short of one of our moons crashing into you to break them, while also reducing the needed mana to maintain them. However, you have a weakness to Ice and Wind, thus you need to be careful of those elements when fighting enemies. Especially Wind, as that’s a very common elemental attack. But that’s the general gist of this branch of Shaman magic. I suggest you cancel the fusion to conserve energy. But you now know how it works.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Right. Cancel Fusion!”

His body was engulfed in another energy sphere which soon vanished, returning him to normal. The Shaman Magic Bracelet went dark, indicating it was recharging.

“And that’s all there is to it. You’ll have to figure out yourself what combos work and what the forms, but that’s your crash course in Shaman magic.”

Sir Reginald bowed, “Thank you for teaching us this. Hopefully this’ll give us an edge over Muu’s forces. Now, let’s go and eat something, as we haven’t had lunch yet.”

Valerie replied, “There are several food stands in this village, so take your pick and enjoy our cuisine. Now, please leave this old woman alone, as I’m getting tired. I’m not as young as I once was anymore so I tire out more easily these days. I’ll leave the rest to you. If you can use this power to stop Muu it’ll make our clan very proud.”

Everyone nodded and left Valerie’s cabin. They then split up to check out the various food vendors in the village. Nova and Nina decided on a kabob vendor. After ordering their food they sat down on a bench in front of the building, awaiting their meal.

Nina examined her Shaman Magic Bracelet, saying, “Man, I can’t wait to test this thing out. I wonder what combo I should try first? And I wonder what happens if you only use one element? I guess we should’ve asked that.”

The man running the food vendor replied, “I can answer that for you. Under normal circumstances fusing with only one element, be it an Elemental Shaman or Elemental Gem, will result in your body remaining the same but you and your clothes will change color. You will gain the benefits of whatever element you fused with but you’ll look largely the same. There are a few exceptions to that, but they’re rather rare.”

Nova replied, “So basically the user will become a palate swap of themselves? Interesting. Thanks for telling us.”

“No problem. Now, let me get back to making your kabobs.”

Nina turned to Nova, “Nova, I know you’re jealous over the fact that we can use Shaman magic and you can’t. At least not now, anyway, as we learned it is possible to gain the ability to use it sometime later. I know it would make your job so much easier if you could use Shaman magic right now. But I have faith that you’ll gain the ability to use this rare branch of magic, as you’re constantly being exposed to Demon magic, which is the most unknown of unknown variables out there. So don’t feel jealous, okay?”

Nova sighed, “I know, I know, but I can’t help but feel like the weakest link in the party, especially now that you all got nice upgrades while I’m still the same old me. I wish for once I could be able to have at least a little something special so I can be more useful to the party and not feel like dead weight. Would be really nice to be able to do at least something special for the group in our fight against Muu.”

Nina gave a small smile, “I know, Nova. You hate feeling like dead weight to us. I know you’ll gain the ability to use Shaman magic, just give it time. And when that time comes I bet your forms will be magnificent.”

Nova gave a weak smile, “Hopefully, as I really want to ensure that I don’t fall too far behind the rest of you and start slowing us down. But I appreciate what you’re saying.”

Just then the cook placed a large plate of beef and vegetable kabobs in between them. Nova paid him for the food and the duo started eating. Around them the various Shaman women went about their business, briefly stopping
every few minutes to flirt with Nova, much to Nina’s annoyance. But the two ate their food together, wondering what Shaman forms the party could take and how it’ll help them in their fight against Muu.

Next Chapter: Making a Splash Against Evil

That's all for today. How will this Shaman magic help our heroes? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter in Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, violence)

Making a Splash Against Evil


It had been a few days since the party had traveled to the Shaman Clan’s village and acquired the Shaman Magic Bracelets. They were on their way to the next village. They had been discussing possible combinations they could use with their new Shaman Magic Bracelets, much to Nova’s jealousy.

“It’s annoying that we still don’t have any leads on where to go next…” Kettu grumbled.

Zeeker nodded, “Yeah. Even with notes that Kathy gave us it’s mostly about what Muu wants to do with the captured souls and what he wants with the Goddess’ powers. We don’t know where the next Undead Base is or who we’re going to be fighting next?”

Sir Reginald gave a sigh, “Yes, we are somewhat wandering around until we get a lead. Hopefully the next village will have some information, even if it’s just gossip it might be helpful.”

“At least we got some nice new trinkets from the Shaman Clan to aid us in our mission,” Angelo said cheerfully.

Nina nodded, “True, and I hope that we can use them effectively, as we’ve only scratched the surface of what Shaman magic can do for us. No telling what powers and abilities our new Shaman forms can offer. I just hope we can make the right combos that we need to give us the edge over Muu. We’ve done good so far but it’ll only get harder from here.”

Nova sulked, “At least you all got something worthwhile out of that trip to the Shaman Clan. Sure, I have a Shaman Magic Bracelet but it’s useless in my hands. I guess I should consider it a fair trade, as the Demon King Ring gives me a cheat of sorts when it comes to magic and skills, so I do have that edge over you all. Doesn’t make the sting of being dead weight any less painful.”

Sir Reginald gave a sad smile, “Don’t worry about it, Nova. You’re not dead weight to us. You’re the glue that’s holding us together right now, so you serve a big purpose in the party. Plus without you we would probably starve. So don’t dwell on it too much, as you’re not dead weight to the party.”

Nina nuzzled up next to Nova, saying, “He’s right, Nova. And I have faith that you’ll eventually gain the ability to use Shaman magic thanks to the Demon King Ring. After all, Demon magic is the most unknown of unknown variables, and the Ring is constantly emitting it. I believe that it’ll trigger the ‘evolution’ you need in order to gain the ability to use Shaman magic. Just try to have a bit of faith, okay, beloved?”

Nova gave a weak smile, “I’ll try, as you do bring up a valid point about Demon magic, especially if Belzebuth and the Goddess want to keep knowledge on it close to them so it can’t be used or abused by others. I guess only time will tell. Doesn’t make my envy any less prominent nor my fears of soon becoming dead weight to the party any less concerning. But at the same time I’m happy for all of you, as you’ve gained a rare power that not many can tap into, much less use. I’m still jealous due to my fears of slowing the party down but I do admit that if anyone deserved to wield such special powers it’s you all. Hopefully these new powers can give us the extra bit of bite we need to topple Muu’s forces, as like Nina said it’ll only get tougher from here on out.”

Van smiled, “That’s more like it, Nova. And I’m certain you’ll find a way to gain access to Shaman magic, or even something more. But time for that later, I see the next village up ahead.”

Nina’s eyes narrowed as she looked ahead, “Wait a second, guys. Something’s not right. I can see some sort of commotion going on. I wonder if Muu did something here?”

Sir Reginald growled, “Let’s find out.”

The party made their way to the crowd of people that had gathered near the front of the village. They seemed to be preparing a sacrifice or something, as a young woman was dressed in almost slave clothes and being put into a carriage.

“What’s going on here?” Kettu asked as they approached.

The leader of the village turned to them, “Warriors? …Wait a minute. This could work. You lot are warriors, right?”

Sir Reginald nodded, “That we are. To be specific, we’re the Demon King’s champion party. Tell us, why are you putting that young woman into such demeaning clothes and looking like you’re about to sacrifice her?”

“Um… because that’s what we were going to do. Until you came along, that is. You see, our village is being threatened by an evil Water Demigod. He demands that we offer him young, attractive women in exchange not flooding our village. We don’t know when this goon showed up or why but he has us at his complete mercy. Please, if you could deal with him it would be a huge relief to our village.”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, “Water Demigod? So there are other lesser deities in this world outside of the Goddess?”

Nina turned to him, “Every so often you stumble across such an entity. Though most of them are just monsters who came into contact with a strong power source that ‘evolved’ them into more powerful and intelligent beings with delusions of grandeur. This Water Demigod could very well be one such being, as the few genuine Demigods that do exist tend to be subjects to the Goddess, thus they’re on our side. Considering this so-called Water Demigod is asking for sacrifices in exchange for not wiping out the village it’s pretty clear it’s an evolved monster that gained more sentience due to coming into contact with a power source.”

“Power can go to one’s head, after all,” Van said. “Former King Fredric is one such example. But Nina has a point, as none of the Demigods under the Goddess’ command would ask for sacrifices in exchange for not destroying an entire civilization. No, this is definitely a monster that came into contact with power it shouldn’t have.”

Sir Reginald stated, “Allow us to deal with this threat. It is our duty to protect the people of this world. And as a knight I cannot stand by and let such a monster cause problems for an innocent village.”

The villagers looked relieved and elated to hear these words.

The leader of the village smiled, “Then you have our deepest gratitude. Please, deal with this threat before he washes away our beloved village.”

Nova shrugged, “Well, at least we’re not dealing with Muu’s forces for a change. I’ve seen enough Undead to last me an eternity of nightmares. Dealing with an enhanced monster feels a bit better than having to fight another Undead Soldier for the umpteenth time. But I wonder what kind of power source this monster came into contact with that turned it into a self-proclaimed Demigod?”

“I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Kettu said.

Angelo smiled, “You villagers can relax knowing that we’re on the case. We will smite that evil so-called Demigod on your behalf. That we promise.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. And you in particular will be helpful in this case, Angelo, as our enemy is a Water element, thus your own affinity for Water will help us greatly in evening the playing field. So where does this so-called Demigod reside?”

The leader of the village replied, “In the large lake just to the west of here. We thank you for your willingness to fight this threat on our behalf, noble warriors. We await your report and good news.”

The woman who was going to be sacrificed asked, “Can I get back into my normal clothes, now? I feel really exposed like this. Plus I’m not very confident with my body… unlike that Phoenix girl, who clearly is very confident with her well-developed figure.”

Nina struck a pose, “Hey, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, you are free to discard those deplorable clothes and return to your normal garb. I promise you we’ll return with good results. Team, let’s head for the lake and deal with this aquatic enemy before he decides to attack the village.”

The party nodded and made their way toward the west. It wasn’t long before they saw the lake. It was large and round, with crystal clear water and various rock formations scattered about. The party started to look around for their evil deity.

“Stay frosty, team, as our unknown ‘friend’ could be hiding anywhere,” the knight said.

Suddenly, the center of the lake started to produce bubbles, alerting the party. They got into a battle-ready pose and awaited their enemy. Out emerged a large creature. It looked like a naga crossed with a blue cobra, with a scaly body, a reptilian head, sharp claws, a large hood with a water pattern on the back, and prominent fangs in its mouth.

“That’s a Torrent Cobra, only it’s clearly evolved into a more human-like state,” Nina observed.

The Torrent Cobra hissed, “Where isss my ssssacrifice?” He then noticed the party, his eyes narrowing, “Sssso the village sssent warriorssss to deal with me? Big misssstake! Although that Phoenix girl will make for a nice meal. Once I’m done with you I’ll flood the village in retaliation for sssending warriorssss after me!” He raised up his arms, stating, “Geyssser!”

The ground around the party started to shake, prompting them to quickly scatter before a powerful geyser burst where they were just standing. Nina started to channel energy.

“I won’t be a meal for you!” she stated. “I’ll turn you into a pair of boots! Thunderbolt!”

She launched her spell, causing a massive thunderbolt to strike the enhanced Torrent Cobra, making him scream and twist in pain. When the attack waned his eyes flared hatefully.

“That hurt!” he spat. “You’ll pay for that… by being my afternoon ssssnack! Tidal Wave!”

He summoned a tidal wave that charged toward the party.

Sir Reginald instructed, “Everyone, get behind me!”

The party obeyed and quickly got behind the knight. He then started to release pulses from his hands, erecting a barrier around them. The tidal wave crashed into the barrier but it did no harm. Nova took this opportunity to take aim with his bow.

“Time to fry you, extra-crispy style!” he stated. “And no one threatens to make a meal out of my lover! Hunter Shot!”

He fired the now glowing arrow at the Torrent Cobra. Before the enhanced monster could react it was struck through the stomach of his more human body before releasing painful energy, making the large reptile scream in pain.

“How can one arrow hurt ssso much!?” he screeched.

Nova smirked, “That’s because Hunter Arrow is extra potent on Beast- and Reptile-type monsters. And even though you’re an enhanced Torrent Cobra you’re still a Reptile monster, thus the skill is even more effective on you!”

Angelo started to channel energy into his rapier, stating, “Now it’s time I got a lick in! Lightning Slash!”

To everyone’s surprise he was able to fire the skill as a projectile attack instead of needing to get close to the enemy. The electrified slash rocketed toward the enhanced Torrent Cobra before striking him, zapping him with powerful Lightning energies, making him twist and writhe in pain. Angelo then gained an idea.

“My friends, allow me to handle the rest,” he said. “It’s time to test out my own Shaman Magic Bracelet. Now… Water… Light…” He pressed the two Elemental Gems of the corresponding elements before raising his arm up, “Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in a sphere of gold and aqua blue energy. The sphere became larger before dissipating in a burst, revealing Angelo’s new form.

He resembled a leaner, more muscular versions of himself, now with aqua skin, blue eyes, a green mohawk on the top of his head, and stronger arms and legs. He was wearing shining armor that seemed to be made of solid water in some places, such as the shoulders and kneecaps, and had a two-handed halberd strapped to his back. The party was in awe at this new form.

Angelo stated in a confident voice, “I have become the Tsunami Knight! Leave this overgrown reptile to me, my friends! I’ll cut him down where he stands!”

He drew his halberd and stepped up to the lake. To everyone’s surprise he was able to walk over the water’s surface like it was land. He prepared his halberd, gaining a confident smirk.

“Time to sleep with the fishes! Maelstrom!”

He gave his halberd a swing, which caused a maelstrom to form in the lake. The enhanced Torrent Cobra was swept up in the rapids, screaming as the vicious attack began tearing his body apart. He was dragged underwater in the center of the maelstrom before a blast erupted from it, sending the monster flying. As he started his descent Angelo got into a crouching position.

“Time to end this! Sea Splitting Slash!”

He rocketed toward his target at speeds no one had ever seen him move before. He was almost gliding or skating over the water, racing toward his target. The enhanced Torrent Cobra could only watch in horror as Angelo’s halberd glowed. In a flash Angelo had come to a stop behind the mutated monster which seemed to be hovering in the air. He placed his halberd back on his back, which seemed to cue the body of the monster to be ripped to shreds, ending the fight. The party was dumbstruck as they saw this impressive display of power and speed. Sir Reginald lowered his barrier as the threat was over. Angelo smiled and gently skated over the water back to his party.

“Wow, Angelo, that was amazing!” Nina said happily.

“You did good, Angelo,” Sir Reginald nodded. “That was one impressive battle you performed. And you clearly picked the right elemental combo, as this form showed off what the power of the Shaman Magic Bracelets is like.”

Angelo gave a polite bow, “Your praise means a lot to me, my friends. I’m just glad I got to give this newfound power of ours a test run. And it certainly delivered.”

Suddenly they all heard cheers. The party turned to see the villagers cheering and clapping, clearly happy.

“How long have you been there?!” Van sputtered.

The leader of the village replied, “Long enough. That display was incredible! You warriors have power to spare. Now we don’t have to worry about that overgrown monster causing us trouble. And we don’t have to sacrifice our women to avoid losing our homes and lives. We thank you.”

Nina pondered, “But what enhanced that Torrent Cobra into its new form?”

Angelo smiled, “I can answer that, my lady. Observe.”

He turned to face the lake, held out his hand, and concentrated. An object emerged from under the water and flew toward the enhanced Hopper Clan prince’s hand, landing in his palm. He presented it to the party. It was a golden crystal shaped like a star with swirling energy inside it.

“That’s a Comet Core!” Kettu said, surprised.

Nina nodded, “Now I get it. That Torrent Cobra came into contact with this Comet Core, causing it to evolve into that new form, gaining greater intelligence and power. Considering that Comet Cores are said to possess a fragment of the Goddess’ power then it all makes sense how that Torrent Cobra became such a threat. We should hold onto this Comet Core so it doesn’t enhance any other monster into a Demigod-level threat. At least it didn’t swallow it, otherwise Angelo ran the risk of being destroyed by accident when he sliced that brute up, as these items are dangerous when damaged.”

Van said, “Then it should be safe in Nova’s Digi-Pack as anything that goes into it becomes an energy form and is perfectly preserved. That’ll keep it from potentially getting damaged.”

Nova nodded, taking the Comet Core from Angelo gingerly before placing it in his Digi-Pack. Several women then surrounded the still transformed Angelo, singing his praises and thanking him for saving them. Angelo was enjoying the praise but was acting modest about it, much to the amusement of the party.

Nina looked at her Shaman Magic Bracelet, saying, “Well, at least we know that these Shaman Magic Bracelets are this effective. If Angelo could shred a Demigod-level threat like that enhanced Torrent Cobra with such ease then we know these will serve us well in our upcoming fights against Muu.”

Nova was silently seething with jealousy as he looked at Angelo’s new form.

Angelo smiled, “I believe it’s time to deactivate my new Shaman form and return to my good old self. Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in an energy sphere that shrank a bit before vanishing, returning him to normal. The Shaman Magic Bracelet went dark, indicating it was recharging now. The villagers all seemed interested in the bracelets.

“From what you said, these are Shaman Magic Bracelets,” the village leader observed. “That means you met with the Shaman Clan, right? So… all of you are able to use Shaman magic? That’s a rare sight.”

“Not all of us,” Nova said bitterly. “I’m incompatible because I’m not a native to this world, thus I have no natural mana and such. Which makes me very worried that I’ll slow everyone down, as I’m already the weakest link due to my inexperience on the battlefield. And the fact I’ve been dragged into this fight with Muu, forced to fight the very thing I’m afraid of only makes it worse. I have a Shaman Magic Bracelet but it’s just acting as a spare in case someone else’s bracelet gets damaged, which is unlikely. So don’t be thinking I’ll be pulling off any spectacular Shaman transformations any time soon, especially considering how unimpressive I am to begin with.”

“Nova!” Nina scolded. “We really need to work on your self-esteem. And I’ve said it a few times now and I’ll say it again: I have faith you’ll find a way to use Shaman magic. And you’re not the weakest link in the party, either. You’ve done a great job fighting Muu so far and I know you’ll lead us to victory against the big bone daddy himself. So please try to have some faith in yourself, Nova. Okay?”

The village leader said, “Either way, you all have our deepest thanks. Please, come back to our village and rest. We’d be honored to have you.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “We’ll take you up on that. Thank you.”

The villagers escorted the party back to the village, in joyous celebration that their enemy was gone thanks to the brave heroes.

Next Chapter: Burning Beast

That's it for today. Got to see some Shaman powers in action. What will the other forms look like? Tune in to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, violence)

Burning Beast


It had been a few days since the battle with the evolved Torrent Cobra. The party was making their way toward their next destination.

Sir Reginald said, “It was good that we stopped by that village where the Torrent Cobra was causing problems, as we learned where the next Undead Base is.”

Nina nodded, “Yes, which helps us get back on track in our mission to stop Muu. However, we don’t know which Undead Captain or General is running it, just the location and how big the Undead Base is. From what we learned it’s a standard-size base, so we can probably expect an average amount of Undead Soldiers, unlike ones such as Zombiestein’s base. That shouldn’t be too tough. But since we don’t know which Undead Captain or General is running that show we can’t get complacent.”

“True, and since we don’t know if our enemy is a weakling or someone strong like Juggerrot we can’t map out an effective plan,” Angelo said.

“Well, when we find the base I’ll scope it out,” Kettu said. “That way we can at least identify which Undead Captain or General we’re dealing with and get an idea of what to expect.”

“That’ll put the Stealth Earring I gave you to the test, Kettu,” Nova said. “While the Demon King Ring, which actually has a function that analyzes anything I hold in that hand, told me it works, this’ll be the true field test. While I have faith in it this’ll be the real test for it.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Nova. Although I didn’t know the Demon King Ring had that function. Might prove to be very useful later down the road. Now, stay alert, as according to the previous village informed us that the Undead Base is around this area.”

“How about I get airborne and take a look around from the sky?” Nina suggested. “That way the Undead Base won’t get the drop on us.”

Everyone nodded in agreement so Nina opened her wings and took flight. She hovered around high in the air, looking around, trying to find the Undead Base. She then spotted something.

“Gang! I see it! It’s just ahead and off to the right about a half mile from here!”

Nova called up, “Good work. Now get back down here before you’re spotted.”

Nina complied and flew back down to the party.

Sir Reginald suggested, “Kettu, you go ahead and scout things out. We’ll wait here. That way it’ll be harder for the enemy to get the drop on us.”

Kettu nodded, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, Reggie. Be back shortly.”

He transformed into his black fox form before scurrying off, heading in the direction Nina said the base was. The party waited for Kettu to return safely. After about 30 minutes Kettu scampered back to the party, transforming back to normal.

“Nova, that Stealth Earring proved its worth, as I was practically invisible to those Undead goons,” he said. “Now, onto the nitty-gritty. The base is led by Captain Grimlock and we’re dealing with an average-sized Undead Army platoon. Grimlock isn’t very tough, fortunately, as he mostly acts as a clean-up committee for other, higher ranked members of Muu’s army. I guess given the fact that Muu is starting to have a shortage of Undead Captains and Generals, courtesy of us, he decided to give Grimlock his own platoon to help pick up the slack. I just wish I had some more dirt on Grimlock.”

Zeeker growled, “Grimlock, huh? I’ve got a bit of info on him. Other than usually working as General Vertebreak’s janitor he’s got a weakness to Fire and Wind. Beware of his scythe: just like the ‘grim’ part of his name he is very much a reaper, killing people to collect their souls. While his scythe can’t kill instantly it can cause severe damage, which can lead to the follow-up attack that will kill instantly. Fitting of a reaper-like being, he also has the Death spell under his belt, so we have to ensure he can’t fire that off otherwise it could be game over. Nova, since you can cast any spell with the Demon King Ring make sure to cast Guts on someone who is about to be struck by either Grimlock’s scythe or Death spell, okay? Guts will keep the target from being struck by a fatal attack and grant a short time of auto-recovery.”

Sir Reginald quirked an eyebrow, “Zeeker… how do you know so much about Grimlock?”

“…I know friends who had a run-in with him. Remember that battle I told you about? The one where the Beastman Resistance got attacked by Vertebreak? He sent Grimlock after the survivors. I don’t know how many survived and how many Grimlock managed to get but I know of Grimlock’s abilities because of that. This means I now have a chance to avenge my fallen friends if he succeeded in killing any of them when they fled that bloodbath of a battle.”

“I see,” the knight said. “That’s still useful information. Now we know what to expect from Grimlock. With this information we can start mapping out our plan. Let’s get to work.”

The party began discussing their strategy, taking careful note of what Grimlock could possibly do during the fight. After about an hour they settled on a plan.

“Okay, I think we’ve got ourselves a good plan. We need to take Grimlock out fast before he can have a chance to use any of his reaper-like abilities. Fortunately, having a weakness to both Fire and Wind does give us some good options against him. And like Zeeker suggested Nova casting Guts on anyone Grimlock targets will protect them from his Death spell and other related abilities. Let’s get going and prepare for our assault against another Undead Captain.”

Everyone nodded and started to make their way toward the Undead Base. They soon found it. It was a standard-sized Undead Base with the usual equipment. Nova loaded up an arrow and pointed it at the base’s gates.

“Ifrit Mode,” he said.

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set to Ifrit Mode.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the archery skill directly at the gates of the base. The electrified dragon exploded upon impact with the base, destroying the gates and revealing the Undead Army. Their leader stood up and glared at the party. Captain Grimlock was a lich wearing armored robes, with glowing red eyes, and was wielding a scythe.

“The Demon King’s puppet and his party?” he growled. “I wasn’t expecting you. You know it’s very rude to blow up front doors. I guess I’ll have to teach you a lesson. Hmm?” He then noticed Zeeker, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the one that got away. How very kind of you to return to face your fate, beast boy. Undead Soldiers… ATTACK!”

The Undead Army charged in; weapons held high. The party retaliated with a vengeance. Zeeker then gained an idea.

“Time to put my newest toy to work!” he snarled. “Fire! Wind!” He pressed the respective Elemental Gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in a vortex of red and grey energy, stopping everyone in their tracks. The orb grew and soon burst, revealing Zeeker’s new form.

He was a more beastly creature who seemed to be on fire, with reddish orange fur, a massive, muscular torso partly covered in armor, broad shoulders that seemed to be giving off embers, strong arms ending in massive claws that looked like they could crush a person’s head like a grape. His lower body from the hips down was replaced by a flaming tornado, and his head was more feral-looking, with beastly green eyes, a large muzzle with saber teeth, big ears that seemed to be producing embers from the tufts inside them, and wild fur.

Zeeker roared, “Face me as the Burning Beast, Grimlock! I’ll make sure to avenge my fallen friends at your skeletal hands! When I’m done with you I will make sure you never hurt another person again! Firestorm Wrath!”

His flaming tornado lower body became larger until it engulfed him. He then started to swirl around, swallowing up the various Undead Soldiers, which seemed to make the fire tornado even bigger. The rest of the party looked stunned as Zeeker was single-handedly ripping the opposing force to pieces. When the flaming twister returned to normal, there wasn’t a single Undead Soldier left, leaving only Grimlock.

The reaper-like Undead Captain said, “Impressive, Beastman. But let’s see how it fares against this… Death!”

Nova quickly sprang into action, stating, “Guts!”

The Demon King Ring launched its spell first, coating Zeeker in a protective shield. When Grimlock’s Death spell struck Zeeker it didn’t cause any harm to him due to Nova’s spell, making the lich snarl angrily. Zeeker gained a dark, toothy grin.

“Now it’s your turn, Grimlock!” he snarled. “Flaming Berserker!”

He rocketed over to Grimlock and started to mercilessly hack and slash away the Undead Captain.

“This is for Conner! This is for Judith! This is for Richie! This is for Joey! This is for Luke! This is for Juno! This is for Beth! This is for Lenny! This is for Whip! And this is for ME!!!”

He viciously tore the Undead Captain to pieces, ending his threat. He started panting not out of exhaustion but trying to come down from his rage high. After a few minutes Nova approached the still panting Beastman.

“Zeeker… something tells us that you have a history with Muu,” he said gently. “Please, tell us.”

Zeeker turned to Nova before replying, “Yes, I do. Remember what I said about those battles the Beastman Resistance fought… I was part of them… as one of the army’s captains.”

“So you were a resistance soldier?” Sir Reginald asked.

“That’s right. I helped map out our plans of attack against Muu’s forces alongside several of my fellow captain buddies. We did a lot of damage. But those victories went to our heads, allowing Vertebreak to knock us off our high horse and slaughter several of my friends. I was one of the survivors of that fight and like the rest of the survivors I fled. Grimlock was sent out after the survivors, including me, but I managed to shake him. I laid low for a while, but I didn’t have the courage to take up the fight again. I was too crushed by the deaths of several of my friends yet cursed myself for running with my tail in between my legs, allowing me to survive. I was being overwhelmed by my survivor’s guilt and left the fight like a coward, unable to bring myself to face that horror once again.”

“Then… why did you join up with us?” Van asked.

“It’s because of Nova. He’s forced to fight the very thing he’s afraid of yet he’s willing to do it, even if reluctantly. He’s willing to fight a war he has no business in on our behalf, even if it means dealing with his plasmophobia on a routine basis. That was inspiring to me. He was afraid yet he was still willing to fight. I took a shine to that, as it made me realize that by running away and not taking the fight back up I was proving to be more of a coward that Nova claimed to be. I was also dishonoring all my friends who died in that hellish fight. You all, and especially Nova, gave me my spark back, allowing me to face this horror once again. Now I know what I must do: continue fighting this war until Muu is no more, no matter what it takes. I just wish I had this Shaman magic back then… would it have made a difference back in that battle with Vertebreak? Could I have used this power to save more of my buddies from him? I wish I knew…”

Nova replied, “It hurts to become stronger, Zeeker. Sometimes the most painful part is wishing that you were this strong back when you needed it most... but weren't. How many lives could one have saved if you had just started sooner? What difference could have been made? It’s a painful feeling, I know. But some things are just simply out of one’s control. And even though it was a horrible experience you learned from it and are making sure to not repeat that mistake. And you’re making amends for your failure by helping us now. We will find a way to win. We will save your fallen friends’ souls. And we will make things right for everyone. For the lives of those who live here. And of those who are still to come. I hate every minute of this fight but I know what needs to be done. And so do you, Zeeker, which is why you took up the fight again even after such a crushing loss and equally crushing survivor’s guilt. That makes you strong. I’m certain your friends can forgive you, especially now that you’re doing everything you can to make up for underestimating your enemy and overestimating your abilities.”

A tear leaked out of the transformed Zeeker’s eye before he grabbed Nova in a tight hug. The party smiled warmly as the Beastman expressed his gratitude. After releasing Nova from the hug the Beastman nodded.

“Thank you, Nova, for saying what you said just now,” he smiled. “I feel better about myself now that I’ve met you and again taken up the fight against Muu. I won’t let my friends down again. I’ve learned from that costly mistake and I intend to do things right this time. So… thank you for helping me find my spark again. I guess it’s time to cancel this fusion so we can destroy the Undead Base. Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in a swirling red and grey energy before it dispersed, returning him to normal. The party stepped back a bit so Sir Reginald could erect a barrier. Nova then took aim at the exposed Magna Crystal.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow at the Magna Crystal. The electrified dragon struck the crystal, causing it to hum and shake before exploding, taking the base with it, leaving nothing but a crater behind. Satisfied, the party started to move onward, heading toward the next town, knowing they had a job to complete. Zeeker looked back at the destroyed base, smiling.

“I promise, my fallen friends, I will avenge you,” he said silently. “Thanks to Nova and my new friends I’ve regained my spark. And I intend to take this fight to Muu’s front door. So hold on until then.”

Next Chapter: Werecat Woes

That's all for today. Another day, another Shaman form, another Undead Base destroyed. Tune in next time to see what happens.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

Werecat Woes


It had been a few days since the defeat of Captain Grimlock and his Undead Army platoon. The heroic party were taking a rest by a river. Nova was cooking lunch while the party waited eagerly for their food. After a bit Nova sampled the food to see if it was ready.

“Hmm… yeah, I’d say we’re good to go,” he said. “The chicken fried rice is ready. Gather up.”

Everyone held out their plates, eager for the food. Nova gave them generous portions of it before serving himself, allowing the party to sit back and start eating.

“Mmm!” Nina purred. “Your cooking is always the best, Nova! Earth has such interesting cuisines, especially compared to Edyn. So many different combinations of foods and drinks. I can’t wait to try them all when I go back to Earth with you.”

Nova chuckled lightly, “I’m glad you say that. And it’ll allow you to taste my signature cheesecakes while you’re at it, especially since you say cherry cheesecake is your favorite. Now eat up, as there’s plenty to go around.”

Zeeker grinned, “We may take you up on that offer, Nova.”

The party resumed eating, enjoying the quality of the food. After another serving the food was gone, allowing Nova and Nina to wash the dishes in the river. After ensuring they had everything the party continued onward to their next destination.

Sir Reginald looked at the map, saying, “Okay, we should soon be crossing into Gloria Kingdom’s territory. Similar to Galvatar, we need to cross a checkpoint. Fortunately my special passport will get us across easily without needing to head back to King Falkner’s domain and request a passport from him.”

Nina crossed her arms, “I’m still a bit miffed at that whole ordeal. Nothing against King Falkner, as he was just as much of a victim as we were, but the fact that Fredric wanted to exploit me and my Magic Fire Feathers really rubs me the wrong way. After all, that’s exactly why I left Phoenixwing Kingdom in the first place. I don’t want to do a repeat of that scenario. The only really good thing about that whole fiasco was Nova and me coming to terms with our feelings and becoming lovers. And I guess Fredric getting kicked off the throne and replaced by his much more competent son, as he was leading his kingdom to self-destruction. Hopefully the next kingdom will offer us some more support and maybe give us some info on Muu’s forces, like Undead Base locations and other intelligence network-acquired details.”

“Let’s hope, as we’ve been flying blind for the past few events with Undead Bases,” Kettu said. “Any help would be great; we must be getting close to removing all of Muu’s bases on this continent since the only other kingdom left here besides Gloria Kingdom is Emerald Coast Kingdom. Would be really helpful to know how many enemy forces are left on this continent at the very least.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Kettu. Though I wouldn’t put it past Muu to attack places that have been liberated from his grip as a means of attempting to regain his grip on the world. We should be prepared for that possibility. But we have made progress in pushing his forces back, thus limiting his options.”

Van’s ears twitched as he heard something. He turned around and focused on the road behind them.

“Speaking of pushing back forces… we’ve got company,” the Centaur said. “Familiar yet unwelcome company. This won’t be a good day for Nina, as a certain feline is on his way.”

Nina placed her face in her palm, groaning, “Damn that stupid Werecat. Does he always have to get in our way?”

“I could simply cast Banish on him again and get rid of him,” Nova suggested. “Should I do that?”

“I’m very tempted to say yes, beloved. The thing holding me back is that he’ll just chase after us more, like he’s proving now. The only way we’d be rid of him is if we were to cross the ocean, but that’s not possible right now. Plus I’m getting tired of needing to waste the Demon King Ring’s magic on him when we have more important targets to deal with.”

Everyone sighed defeatedly and waited for the Werecat to show up. They could see the small whirlwind approaching them from afar. It wasn’t long before Eoleo came into range of their vision, with Ian and Hunter chasing after him, lagging behind as always due to their leader’s superior speed. Eoleo spotted Nina and made a beeline for her, increasing his speed in an attempt to reach her. Nova attempted to kick the Werecat’s legs again but Eoleo jumped over it. However, this diversion resulted in Nina giving the Werecat a kick in the stomach while in midair, causing him to crumple to the ground. Ian and Hunter finally caught up to their leader and groaned as they saw Eoleo doubled over on the ground.

“Idiot…” both grumbled.

“I heard that!” Eoleo spat, still clutching his stomach in pain.

“What do you want now, Eoleo?” Zeeker groaned.

“Hmph, that’s obvious,” Kettu huffed. “He wants Nina. Why else would he go this whole distance? He’s about as stubborn as Dominic when it comes to pursuing Nina.”

Eoleo growled, “Don’t compare me to that slimeball! I’ve heard all about him and I’m WAY better than he is! He cannot be allowed to be anywhere near Nina! It should be a law! But there is no way in hell you can compare him to the vastly superior me!”

Nova sighed, “Amazingly, I can agree with that part about Dominic should not be allowed anywhere near Nina. That’s something we can both agree on. But you’re no better than him in most regards. Even if it wasn’t for her instincts she doesn’t like you anyway. You embody all the things she hates about men, just like Dominic. While I’m no paragon of male purity I at least treat her the way she wants and deserves to be treated. So why don’t you make like a heart and beat it, as we don’t need a lovelorn Werecat stalking us. Besides, how did you ever find us? We’ve been all over the place, so how did you track us down again?”

Eoleo stood up, “I have superior tracking abilities, something that a human like you couldn’t possibly understand.”

Ian said dryly, “Not quite. You harassed the Shaman Clan enough for them to not only kick us out of their forest but point you in the direction you wanted. Especially since you were pretty sore to learn you can’t use Shaman magic. Hmm?” He then noticed everyone except Nova wearing Shaman Magic Bracelets, “By the Goddess! You all can use Shaman magic!? That’s insane! And insanely lucky, too, as I’ve heard that those who can use Shaman magic are far and few between. Considering the fact all of you are wearing Shaman Magic Bracelets means you can tap into that rare branch of magic!”

Eoleo huffed, “Everyone except the pink-haired loser human.”

Nina slapped Eoleo across the face, growling, “Don’t you DARE call Nova a loser in front of me. That’s a good way to get on my bad side, as he is not a loser! Unlike you! Nova has an excuse: he’s not a native to this world. But I believe that he’ll gain the ability to use Shaman magic, as he’s constantly being exposed to Demon magic via the Demon King Ring. And since Demon magic the most unknown of unknown variables it’s very possible that it’ll trigger an evolution of sorts to make him more compatible to Shaman magic. He does have a Shaman Magic Bracelet, you know, he just doesn’t wear it all the time, keeping it safe in his Digi-Pack. But I know he’ll gain the ability to use Shaman magic, and when he does his forms will be the most spectacular of them all, easily leaving you in the dust! Not that he doesn’t already leave you in the dust. But when he gains the ability to use Shaman magic he’ll stomp you into your place with its magnificence.”

Nova smiled warmly, “Nina… thank you. I wish I had as much faith in myself as you do in me. But it means a lot that you’d have any faith in me, much less the amount you currently have. Thank you.”

She turned to him, smiling, “Of course, Nova. You’ve done many great things not just for me but for everyone. You’re fighting a war you have no business in, facing the very thing you’re afraid of, for the sake of billions of people. That’s pretty noble. And you’ve always been willing to bend over backwards for me, going the extra mile just to help me. Is it any wonder I fell in love with you. Unlike a certain Werecat we know you are willing to do the right thing even if it hurts you. That’s a trait more men need. I’m honored to be your girlfriend, as you’ve done so much for me since the day we met. And nothing, be it woman, Undead, or Werecat, will get in my way of being your devoted lover. So you should have more faith in yourself, as you’ve done many great things for countless people, including those who don’t deserve it. So you should hold your head up high for once at all the good you’ve done for Edyn by fighting Muu and his forces. You’re a true hero.”

“No he’s not!” Eoleo protested.

Nina gained a hateful expression. She held out one of her hands, flattened her palm, and fired an energy ball directly at the Werecat’s face, knocking him back and flat on the ground, dazed. Ian and Hunter both groaned defeatedly.

“He never learns…” Ian sighed.

Kettu turned to the other two Werecats, “Why do you follow this moron anyway? Don’t you have more important things to do, like taking care of your pack?”

Hunter replied gloomily, “We’re starting to wonder why ourselves. And yes, that is true, but Eoleo is too bullheaded to give up on an obsession until he gets it. And since he’s the type to recklessly charge into battle without any contingency plan… or a plan at all, for that matter, someone needs to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t get himself killed. Though I think our pack is starting to feel that might not be such a bad thing anymore.”

Eoleo regained his senses, jumped back onto his feet, and punched both Ian and Hunter on their heads.

“You two be quiet!” he spat. “I am the greatest leader of all Werecats! I don’t need a plan when my fighting style is perfect! And unlike humans I don’t run away with my tail in between my legs! So keep your false commentary to yourselves!” He then turned to the party, “They are right about one thing: I don’t give up. That’s what makes me strong. So I won’t give up on proving that Nina deserves a better man than a worthless human, be it you or Dominic, pink boy.”

Zeeker sighed, “And that’s why you’re not fit for both leadership and Nina’s heart. Nova has proven time and time again that Nina can count on him for anything. Nova may not be the bravest of men, but he’s still a respectable one, especially since he’s risking life and limb in a war he has no business in for people he doesn’t know. And for the record retreating isn’t a coward’s tactic. As a former resistance captain I know the value of a retreat when used correctly. As Nova once said, ‘retreat doesn’t mean defeat’. It’s what you do with the retreat that determines if it was strategic or a loss. I admit I retreated from Muu’s forces and didn’t have the heart to take up the fight again due to the survivor’s guilt I was feeling. But Nova helped light the fire in me again, and I’m willing to use what military knowledge I have for the greater good, especially to atone for my failure. But even I know that charging head-long into battle with no plan other than ‘beat the enemy until they stop moving’ is suicide. I should know… that was one of my bigger failures when the Beastman Resistance got stonewalled by General Vertebreak. I learned that lesson the hard way so I hope this lecture will teach you not to do something so monumentally stupid like I did when the army I was part of let our victories over Muu go to our heads.”

Ian looked surprised, “You were part of the famous Beastman Resistance? And as one of their captains to boot? Then you’d know all about strategy just like Sir Reginald. Wow, we didn’t know that about you, Zeeker. That’s rather amazing. And the fact that the same lesson you learned the hard way that you’re trying to teach Eoleo now is commendable.”

Eoleo huffed, “Yeah, well, those idiot Beastmen wouldn’t have died if they weren’t so weak.”

Zeeker’s eyes became bloodshot in rage, baring his fierce fangs and clenching his fists. He then tapped two of the Elemental Gems on the Shaman Magic Bracelet, eyes focused on Eoleo.

“Elemental Energy Fusion activate!” he roared.

He was engulfed in the swirling energy and before long he had become the Burning Beast. The party, Ian, and Hunter quickly scattered to give the raging Beastman room, as it was clear he was out for blood. Zeeker then started to mercilessly pummel Eoleo with flaming punches, much to the Werecat’s surprise, with each punch seemingly getting stronger as the Beastman’s rage grew. After a few tense minutes Eoleo was beaten to a pulp, twitching in pain and being unable to move.

“Don’t you DARE disrespect the dead!” Zeeker roared. “Especially if they gave their lives fighting Muu! You have NO RIGHT to be critical of them when they fought long and hard before meeting a very gruesome end at Vertebreak’s claws! After all, YOU’RE not helping in the fight against Muu, as a cock fight is more important to you than countless lives being lost to that ancient evil being’s undead claws! So you cannot utter a single word about the sacrifices people have made in this 3,000+ year war with Muu, as you’ve clearly never sacrificed anything for anyone! I lost so many friends that day! They were all good people, sharper than fresh knives and with steadfast hearts of gold! They were willing to die for ungrateful people such as yourself! And you have the gall to insult their sacrifice? You should be ashamed of yourself, Eoleo! This is just another reason why you’re inferior to Nova, as he would NEVER disrespect the dead! Especially if they gave their lives protecting people from the forces of evil! You have NO RIGHT to insult their sacrifice when you’ve clearly done nothing of worth for anyone except yourself! People like you make me sick!”

Nova approached Zeeker, saying calmly, “Easy, easy, Zeeker. He’s not worth getting upset over. I totally agree with you, as not only is disrespecting the dead horrible on its own but doing it to brave soldiers who gave their lives for people who didn’t deserve their noble sacrifice is beyond redemption.
As someone who has witnessed a long, bloody war back on Earth with terrorists I know that those brave men and women should be forever honored for their sacrifice in the name of freedom and justice. And the fact that you’ve taken up the fight again, using what you learned from your past failure to ensure it doesn’t happen again is what makes you a strong, noble person. So while I’m all for you beating the tar out of Eoleo for such blatant disrespect for those who have fallen in battle, he’s not worth wasting your time or Shaman powers on.”

“Nova…” Zeeker said gently.

“It just goes to show that Eoleo is nothing more than a weak-minded, immature, and heartless pussycat with no regard for the lives of others except his own. Even though I’m a coward, and I hate every minute of this endeavor, I am still willing to fight this war for those who live here and those who are still to come. Muu must be stopped before many more good people are lost to his insane ambition. So just ignore this mangy alley cat and don’t let what he said bother you. You’re better than that, Zeeker. After all, losers like him don’t deserve to be saved yet we’re still willing to fight for their futures. What he said was terrible, I won’t deny it, but you’re better using your strength and prowess against a foe who really deserves to be punished. Namely Muu. So cancel the fusion and let’s move on, as we’ve wasted enough time and oxygen on this filthy feline.”

Zeeker closed his eyes, smiling, “Thank you, Nova, I truly appreciate that. Yeah, you’re right. Eoleo isn’t deserving of our time and energy. A selfish scumbag like him isn’t worth getting worked up over. He’s no better than Dominic, that’s for sure. But thank you for helping bring me back to my senses. Hopefully this mangy furball learns not to disrespect the lives who were lost at Muu’s hands.”

“As I said before, considering his skull is denser than depleted uranium, that might be a lost cause. But hopefully after this thrashing he’ll pick his words more carefully next time, lest he wants to be on the receiving end of another brutal beatdown. Not that he wouldn’t deserve it, mind, but it would be a total waste of time, energy, and Shaman magic. Let’s just toss this cat to the curb and move on, as we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

“Right. Thank you, buddy, for what you just said. I feel better. Cancel Fusion!”

Zeeker was engulfed in the swirling energy, which shrank him down before it dispersed, returning him to normal. He then gave Nova a playful noogie before rejoining the group. Nina tackled Nova, giving him a big kiss, before the party left the trio of Werecats alone.

Ian said, “Gotta say, those guys really have their priorities straight. And what Nova said was pretty noble. He’s really fighting the very thing he fears for our sakes. Yet some people can’t appreciate what he’s doing.”

Both he and Hunter glared at the thoroughly beaten Eoleo, who merely grunted in pain in response.

“Come on, Hunter, let’s get Eoleo patched up. But hopefully after this encounter our ‘fearless leader’ won’t be so quick to make stupid remarks.”

Hunter nodded and the two Werecats went to work on healing Eoleo. Both of them had gained a lot of respect for the party, while Eoleo was seething mad at another failure at Nova’s hands.

“I’ll show you noble, coward…” he growled silently. “If it’s the last thing I do I’ll prove why I’m better than you!”

Next Chapter: The Goddess of Phoenixes

That's all for today. Doesn't that Werecat ever learn? Probably not. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

The Goddess of Phoenixes


It was the following day after the heroic party had a run-in with Eoleo the Werecat. They were continuing their way down the road, heading for the next village. Sir Reginald was in the lead, checking the map while observing the surroundings.

“Okay, according to the map, the next village will be our last stop here in Luvar Kingdom--just beyond it will be the checkpoint to Gloria Kingdom,” he said.

“So soon we’ll be in the next kingdom…” Nova pondered. “Hopefully we won’t have a run-in with a power-hungry king like we did back when we encountered the newly crowned King Falkner.”

Nina nodded, “We should be okay. Gloria Kingdom is known for being a very hospitable kingdom. And their ruler, King Jasper, is a very benevolent man, unlike Fredric. King Jasper is tough but he’s also fair, as he follows a ‘firm but fair’ philosophy, and he’s always put his peoples’ needs first. So we should be okay with him, unlike when we dealt with Fredric.”

Angelo added, “I can further confirm that, as my father has had many good encounters with King Jasper, so we should be in good hands when we get to his kingdom. He’s also one of the bigger supporters to the Demon King, as it was Belzebuth who saved his kingdom from annihilation back during the Great War. As a result you’ll be a very welcoming sight to his people, as they almost worship Belzebuth in the same vein as the Goddess.”

“Well, that’s an interesting tidbit of information,” Nova said. “So his kingdom is big on Belzebuth and his champions due to the Great War? While that does bode well for us I hope it doesn’t cause fanatics to sprout out of the woodwork, either. Last thing I want are rabid fans, especially given my social anxiety issues.”

Kettu chuckled, “That’s a distinct possibility, Nova, so be ready for it. Anyway, we should be nearing the village soon.”

Nina looked ahead, narrowing her eyes, “Hold it, boys, I think we’ve got problems. I can see the village just up ahead… and it doesn’t look good.”

The party exchanged looks before quickly moving ahead. They came to the village, which was sporting a lot of damage, and there were several injured people tending to their wounds.

Sir Reginald ran up to one of the civilians, asking, “What happened?”

The man replied, “We were attacked by Muu’s forces. Some Undead Captain named Maulrauder and his troops attacked our village. Our priestess, Emily, was able to block the worst of the damage but we still got sent through the wringer. It also totally drained her of her strength and energy, as repelling that huge assault was more than she ever had to block before. While she managed to send the Undead Army packing, we know they’ll be back, as they know we’re still licking our wounds from this struggle. And Muu’s forces are not one to pass up an opportunity to kick someone while they’re down.”

Sir Reginald turned to the party, “Van, Angelo, time to get to work on healing the people. We need to get ready for this new Undead Captain and help further limit the damage he and his army can do. And we must do it quickly, as they could return at any time.”

Van and Angelo nodded and went to work on healing the injured civilians. Nina hovered a bit in the air to see if she could spot Captain Maulrauder and his army before they could get into range of the village. The rest of the party went around and did their best to help patch up the wounded and weary villagers. After about an hour they had managed to get the villagers into a better position, although Van and Angelo were pretty tuckered out after using a lot of their mana.

Van wiped his brow, “Whew, that should do the trick. At least for now. There are still some injuries but they’re minor compared to what they were when we got here. But it’s only a matter of time before this Maulrauder appears and potentially starts the cycle over again. So we need to deal with him before anyone else gets hurt.”

Kettu scratched his chin, “Still… who is this Maulrauder? I’ve never heard of him.”

Nova gained a grim expression, “I’ve got an idea who he is. He’s an Undead Soldier powered by a fallen soul, which is why the priestess of this village, Emily, is so exhausted, as we’ve come to know that Undead Soldiers powered by fallen souls are much, much tougher. At least that’s my theory.”

Zeeker nodded, “You’re probably right, Nova. If he can cause this much damage even with a powerful priestess repelling his forces then I’d be willing to bet money that he’s being powered by a fallen soul. Especially since, by now, Muu must be getting desperate to reclaim territories he’s lost to us. The more we liberate the world from him the more likely he’ll want to reclaim those lands. And since we know that using fallen souls as power sources has become his main method of attempting to recapture lost ground means that this Maulrauder could be one of those types of Undead Captains.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, it makes sense. Good thinking, Nova. Our enemy could very well be an Undead Soldier powered by a fallen soul.”

The priestess Emily, who was a young, attractive woman, asked, “Wait… Muu can infuse an Undead Soldier with a fallen soul to become a more powerful Undead Captain? Where do the souls come from?”

Zeeker turned to her, “Anytime an Undead Captain or General kills a person they harvest their souls and present them to Muu. Almost like giving him a trophy of their success. He keeps these souls in a special crystal for later use. Because of our group liberating several areas from him he’s resorted to using Undead Soldiers fused with any captured souls as a means to creating a more powerful Captain to retake the areas he’s lost. He also has other plans for the captured souls which ties into wanting to steal the Goddess’ power for himself, but that’s another topic. The point is that he’ll use captured fallen souls as new fuel sources to create stronger Undead Captains. We’ve faced a few already. They’re a lot tougher than your run-of-the-mill Undead Captains, easily on par with Undead Generals at the least, and possessing no weakness that we can exploit. But destroying the bodies will free the souls and allow them to ascend peacefully. So it becomes a priority to destroy the soul-empowered Undead Captains so the captured soul can be released and move on peacefully.”

Nina then called down, “Gang! I can see the Undead Army approaching the village! They’re coming from the west!”

Sir Reginald drew his sword, stating, “Then it’s time for battle! Lady Nina, get down here before you’re spotted and so we can get ready to fight!”

Nina quickly flew back down to ground level, rejoining the group. The party then got in front of the village, defending it, and awaited their enemies. It wasn’t long before the Undead Army approached, with Captain Maulrauder in the lead. He looked like a dullahan clad in strong armor, holding his head in his hand and wielding a large morningstar while riding a skeleton horse. There seemed to be a glowing light from within him, as it was leaking out of his neck where his head would normally be attached to. The villagers became fearful as their foes approached them while the party got into a battle-ready pose.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” Captain Maulrauder said. “The Demon King’s puppet and his party? Well, this must be my lucky day. Master Muu created me specifically to squash you out, along with harvesting any other souls I can get. Thank you for sparing me the trouble of hunting you down. Time to face your final hour. Soldiers… attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in: weapons held high, ready to strike down the party. Sir Reginald quickly erected a barrier, shielding the front of the village from harm, while the rest of the party began their counterattack. However, Van and Angelo were still fairly tired from healing so many people, causing them to not be able to fight at their usual level.

Nina said silently, “Van and Angelo are low on energy and Sir Reginald needs to protect the village from any more harm. There’s gotta be a way to even the odds in our favor.” She then gained an idea, smirking, “Of course. Why didn’t I think of it before?” She then tapped three Elemental Gems on her Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Wind, Fire, and Light! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

She was engulfed in swirling energy, causing everyone to stop what they were doing and watch. The energy became brighter before it burst, revealing Nina’s new form. She resembles a flaming goddess with two pairs of wings and six plumes, her hair was now blonde with fire burning from the top and tips, and her eyes now sapphire blue. She was wearing a very regal Cleopatra-like gown studded with gems and gold, wearing high-heeled gold boots, a red and blue crystal crown on her head, had three orbiting rings consisting of Fire, Wind, and Light energy, and seemed to be constantly floating without needing any input from her wings.

Nina took a moment to look herself over, smiling, “Shaman magic does a body good. Now let’s see if you boneheads can face the Goddess of Phoenixes!”

Captain Maulrauder did a double take before growling, “Pretty fancy trick there, Phoenix girl. But can it hold up to my might? Soldiers, turn that chick into chicken dinner!”

The Undead Soldiers turned to face Nina, who merely smirked.

“Don’t count on it, you laughable lackies!” she said. “And I can prove it!” She held out her arm in a dynamic pose, “Flames of Judgment!”

Suddenly a sea of golden flames erupted in front of her, engulfing the Undead Soldiers. They screamed in agony as the holy fire burned them away to nothing, much to the shock of everyone watching. She then floated in front of the party and faced Captain Maulrauder, narrowing her eyes.

“H-How did you do that?!” Captain Maulrauder sputtered.

“My Flames of Judgment ability is not only very strong, but it’s even more potent on Undead, able to wipe them out instantly. While you Undead Captains and Generals are more durable and resist abilities that instantly destroy Undead like Angel, that doesn’t mean you’ll get out of my divine fires unharmed. Observe. Flames of Judgment!”

She launched another sea of golden flames at Captain Maulrauder, engulfing his body in their intensity. He screamed, twisted, and writhed in pain, trying to escape the holy flames. His skeleton horse was instantly destroyed, leaving him alone. When the flames subsided Captain Maulrauder was severely injured, his body smoking and burnt, but still functioning enough to point his weapon at Nina.

“You little wench!” he spat. “You’ll pay for this!”

He started to charge in, weapon held high, ready to pound Nina’s skull in. However, Nina merely placed a hand on her hip, smirking.

“Not happening!” she said. She held out her hand again, “Phoenix Finish!”

She summoned a flaming energy phoenix that rocketed toward Captain Maulrauder before striking him, engulfing him in more flames. The Undead Captain screamed in agony as the powerful energies burned his already severely charred body. It ended up being too much as his body was burned away to ashes, leaving only the glowing sphere that was the soul powering him. Everyone got into a more relaxed position, knowing the battle was over.

“There, it’s done. Another Undead Captain cooked to well done and another captured soul freed.”

The soul then took shape, becoming a rabbit-like Beastman. Zeeker’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I-It can’t be!” he sputtered. “Whip? Is that you?”

The rabbit Beastman smiled, “Hello Zeeker, it’s good to see you again. Especially after that horrible day. You’re looking well, old friend.”

Zeeker walked up to his fellow Beastman, saying tearfully, “Whip… I’m so sorry for that day. I let our victories go to our heads, allowing Vertebreak to knock us off our high horses. It was an extremely costly mistake. And then I became a coward and ran away, leaving the souls of our friends to be collected for Muu’s diabolical purposes. Please… can you forgive me for making such a stupid and costly mistake?”

Whip nodded, “Yes, Captain Zeeker, I can. We all made that same mistake, not just you, so we kinda deserved that. I don’t blame you for what happened that day. And I can see that you’ve still have it in you to take up the fight against Muu again. That proves you are willing to make amends for our egos getting the better of us on that horrible, bloody day. I can’t hold what happened against you, nor can our fellow Beastmen, as we all made that mistake. I’m just grateful that you survived that day.”

Zeeker was on the verge of tears, saying, “Thank you, Whip. I still blame myself for letting all our success against Muu go to our heads, as I was one of the heads of our resistance. But it means a lot to me knowing that you don’t hold it against me for making such a costly mistake. I admit I wasn’t able to take up the fight again, as my survivor’s guilt was too overpowering. But this wonderful group of friends gave me a chance to make things right. They relit the fire inside of me and gave me the strength to push forward so I could make amends for my failure and for abandoning the fight for a time. I swear I will find the rest of our fallen comrades and free them from Muu’s grip. It’s the least I can do for them for my critical failure. So… thank you for forgiving me, Whip.”

“Zeeker…” Nova said gently, seemingly on the verge of tears himself.

Whip smiled, “Hey, I’m just grateful I could see you one last time, Captain. And now my soul is free from Muu’s clutches. But there are still plenty of souls in his decaying grip. You must free them before they are subjected to the same torture that I was, as I was screaming for help while being used as a power source for that Undead Captain. But thanks to you and your friends I’m free. You must save the others and stop Muu’s evil before it’s too late, Captain Zeeker. And seeing this strangely assembled yet noble group of warriors gives me hope for a better future. I know you’ll do us proud, Captain. Thank you once again for freeing my soul. Now… it’s time to say goodbye. I wish you all the best of luck. Please, destroy Muu once and for all so we can be freed from this eternal nightmare.”

He soul became a sphere of light and started to ascend into the sky. Zeeker stood straight and gave a salute, the party doing the same as they watched Whip’s soul fly into the sky. After the soul vanished into the sky Nina gently floated over to Zeeker and patted his shoulder.

“You should be proud of yourself, Zeeker,” she said soothingly. “You just helped free one of your fallen friends from Muu’s grip. And the fact that Whip doesn’t hold that horrific day against you shows just how much he respects you. You made a mistake and you’re taking the needed steps to rectify it. After all, everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do after you’ve made one that can make all the difference. You may have run away for a time but you took up the fight again when your spark was restored. Not many would’ve been able to rebound the way you did after such a devastating incident. And Whip can clearly see that, hence why he can’t use that crushing defeat against you. So be happy that you’re not only doing what you can to make amends for your failure but you freed one of your fallen friends’ souls in the process. And we’ll be sure to do the same with all the captured souls Muu has amassed. If we keep going Muu will fall and all the lives he’s ruined will be avenged.”

Zeeker nodded, “Yes. Thank you, Nina, for your kind words. I feel better knowing that I helped free at least one soul of my fallen friends. Muu must be stopped at all costs, and I intend to see this fight through to the end.”

Nova nodded, “That’s the spirit, Zeeker. Now, we still have some work to do here, as this mess hasn’t been fully cleaned up yet. Especially since some people are still injured.”

Nina smiled, “Leave that to me, beloved. Observe.” She floated a bit more into the air, holding her arms above her head, “Goddess Blessing!”

The entire village and party were bathed in healing light, restoring them and revitalizing their energy. After the light subsided everyone felt refreshed and were cleaned from any and all injuries. Nina gently floated back down, though she still hovered off the ground a bit.

“Very impressive, Lady Nina,” Sir Reginald said. “You certainly took to your new Shaman magic form like a bird takes to flying. Now everyone feels refreshed and revitalized. And your form is quite magnificent.”

Nina struck a pose, smiling, “But of course. When you’ve got it you’ve got it. Now, with everything and everyone back to full I can end this form so my Shaman Magic Bracelet can recharge. Cancel Fusion!”

She was engulfed in swirling energy. When the energy dispersed Nina was back to her normal self. She gracefully landed on the ground, flashed her party a warm smile, and walked over to Nova, nuzzling up against him.

“You did really good today, Nina,” he said gently. “You were our MVP. That form was magnificent. And you have no idea how jealous I am right now. But thanks to you and your new Shaman powers we were able to win the day and free another soul.”

Nina looked at him lovingly, “I still feel you’ll gain the ability to use Shaman magic one day, Nova. And I know your forms will be even more amazing.”

“If that happens it’ll be a definite improvement, although that’s not difficult to achieve, considering how bland and unimpressive I am. But enough of this. Let’s go and rest, as we’ve done a lot today.”

Nina puffed her cheeks in annoyance at Nova’s remark but the party entered the village, where the grateful villagers were singing their praises. They knew they had a long way to go, but they were making progress.

Next Chapter: Return to Phoenixwing Kingdom

Another day, another Shaman form, another victory against Muu. The party is on a roll. But what does the next chapter title suggest? Tune in to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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We now return to your regularly scheduled content. (Warning: contains violence, mild language)

Return to Phoenixwing Kingdom


As dawn crept over the horizon a lone figure was flying toward a certain destination. It flapped its wings tiredly, trying desperately to stay airborne, searching for something. It was revealed to be a male Phoenix Clan member, but his once noble-looking clothes were tattered, his body looking ravaged by hunger and fatigue, and his eyes were dull and lifeless.

“Please, body, hold out a bit longer…” he wheezed. “Until I can find her…”

He then noticed a magical campsite and what looked like a tent in it. He could see several different types of people, but one caught his eyes the most.

“Yes! I finally found her! Just a little further…”

At the magical campsite Nova was making breakfast, his party eagerly awaiting the meal. It looked like he was making French toast, with a separate set of pots warming up butter and syrup, much to the interest of the party. After a few more moments he smiled.

“Okay, the French toast is ready,” he said. “And so is the melted butter and maple syrup. Time to eat.”

However, just as the party was about to take their share a voice wheezed, “N-Nina! Sis!”

Nina’s eyes widened in horror, “No… You can’t be serious!”

They all turned to see the weary Phoenix Clan male weakly glide to the ground near them. When he landed he stumbled before falling flat, panting heavily.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! Theo?!”

The weary Phoenix Clan male replied, “I… I finally found you… sis… Please… you have… to help us…”

Nina approached him before stepping back, clutching her nose and waving her hand in front of her face.

“Blegh!” she said. “You reek of Genox Gas, Theo. What the hell are you doing out here anyway?”

Nova asked, “Nina… is this one of your brothers?”

She sighed, “Yeah. This is Theo, one of my younger brothers. One of my vile brothers who would spend his time bullying and tormenting me, knowing I couldn’t fight back because of our clan’s laws forbidding me from retaliating.” She then turned to Theo, “Why the hell are you out here? I left you and the rest of our scummy clan back in Phoenixwing Kingdom. And why do you stink of Genox Gas?”

Theo replied weakly, “Nina… you have to… help us… Our city… was captured… by Muu’s forces… I managed to… escape so I… could track you… down… as we heard… you had joined forces… with the Demon King’s… champion… Please… you have to… save us…”

Sir Reginald looked surprised, “Phoenixwing Kingdom’s capital has been captured by Muu’s forces?! Which member of Muu’s forces did the deed?”

“General Cranidon…” Theo panted. “He used our clan’s… weakness to Genox Gas… to completely disable us… We were powerless… to fight back…”

“And what about the King, Queen, and your brother?” Van asked.

“Captured… there haven’t been… any casualties… at least last I checked… but General Cranidon… plans to let the… Genox Gas weaken us… until we’re willing to… surrender our souls… to Muu… Please, Nina… save us…”

Nina looked enraged, “You have some nerve, Theo. After everything you’ve put me through. After everything our clan has put me through. You have the gall to come crawling back to me and beg for my help? I have half a mind to leave you here to die and not lift a finger for our despicable clan after all the atrocities I’ve had to endure at their hands. I’m perfectly willing to leave our people to their fate after all the abuse, neglect, and misery you inflicted on me. Did it ever occur to you that your actions against me would have consequences, little brother? Because I’m about to give you a small taste of those consequences.”

Nova stated, “Nina, you can beat him up after we eat. We’re gonna need the energy, as we’ve got a big job on our hands.”

She turned to him, “You can’t be serious, Nova! We’re actually going to help my traitorous clan!?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Remember, it’s our mission to destroy every single member of Muu’s army, be it bread and butter Undead Soldiers to Undead Generals. So, sadly, we’re going to have to head back to Phoenixwing Kingdom and save your people from General Cranidon. And, even more unfortunately, Phoenixwing Kingdom is part of the alliance fighting against Muu, so we have to help them, as it’s in our best interest. But I suggest we eat first so we’ll have the energy to fight. And it’ll give Theo a chance to rest. Although I suggest dunking him in the nearby river to wash off that Genox Gas smell. It may only affect Phoenix Clan members but it still stinks like burning tires.”

Nina then gained a devious look, “Okay then. I’ll make sure to give him a bird bath.”

Theo became nervous, “I don’t like that look you’re giving me, sis.”

To Theo’s surprise Nina enveloped herself with her wings before becoming engulfed in flames. Her body transformed and before long a phoenix was standing before him. Theo’s eyes were as wide as saucers as he gazed upon his sister’s power.

“N-No way! How do you have the Power of the Phoenix, Nina?!”

Nina replied through telepathy, “Because I wasn’t corrupted by our clan’s sins. And because of Nova. Now, let’s take care of you little brother.”

She took flight and snatched Theo with her talons. She then hovered over the nearby river. If she could smirk she would as she dunked Theo repeatedly in the river. The rest of the party watched with bemused expressions as Nina enacted some well-deserved revenge on her brother. After a few minutes of this she stopped, glided back over to the rest of the party, and roughly dropped Theo on the ground, sopping wet. She then enveloped herself in flames again and before long was back to normal. She then walked over to the party so she could start eating her French toast.

“You could’ve been a bit nicer about that, sis!” Theo protested, spitting out water.

She replied coldly, “You should’ve thought of that before you and Zak mercilessly tormented and bullied me for all those years. That was just the appetizer of what I plan to do to you in revenge for what you’ve done to me. But first comes food. And don’t think father, mother, and Zak are going to get off easy, either. If I have to go back to Phoenixwing Kingdom to deal with General Cranidon I’m gonna make it very clear to our clan that I’m done with them and that I have every intention of putting you all in your place. When I’m done with you, Zak, mother, and especially father, you will never, EVER think about crossing me again. Now, time to eat. I’m very curious about this French toast since it’s another Earth-related food. Seems similar to pancakes, which I’ve also come to love thanks to Nova introducing it to me, so I’m eager to try this.”

After pouring some melted butter and maple syrup on it she cut off a piece and ate it, gaining a dreamy expression. The party tucked into the French toast, making Theo sulk.

Nova gave a small sigh before saying, “Theo, there is one last slice left. You could probably use the nutrition, especially after flying all the way here. So you might as well take that last slice.”

Theo’s eyes lit up as he heard this statement. He moved over to where the party was sitting as Nova served him up the last slice of French toast. He eagerly poured what was left of the melted butter and maple syrup on it and began eating vigorously, clearly proving how hungry he was. Nina merely ignored him as she at her meal, still dreading what was going to happen very shortly. After everyone had finished eating Nova and Nina washed the dishes. Nina then loomed over Theo, eyes flaring hatefully, making the younger Phoenix Clan member look like he was about to soil himself.

“Now, Theo, time to make good on my promise,” she growled threateningly. “After I’m done with you I’ll make sure you never give me grief again. And that goes for Zak, mother, and father as well. If I’m going to have to go back to Phoenixwing Kingdom again to save you ungrateful rears I might as well make it worth it by repaying you all for the years of physical and mental abuse, neglect, and torment you put me through.”

Theo gulped, “C-Can I have a rain check, sis? Y-You wouldn’t really beat up your wonderful younger brother, right?”

Nina’s expression changed to pure hatred, terrifying Theo. She then pounced and began beating the tar out of her younger brother, much to his wails of mercy and pain. The rest of the party merely started packing up for their trip to Phoenixwing Kingdom, as they knew they had to allow this event to take place. After a few brutal minutes Theo was beaten to a pulp, with Nina feeling very satisfied.

“Van, would you be so kind to heal Theo?” she asked casually. “He needs to be in good, or at least decent, shape to see how much more powerful his older sister is when we whup General Cranidon in front of my entire clan.”

Van nodded and trotted over to Theo. He then started to channel energy.

“Recover!” he stated.

He released the healing energy that bathed Theo in its gentle touch. After the light subsided Theo was fully healed, allowing him to stand up, although it was clear he was now terrified of Nina.

Nina brushed some hair out of her face, saying, “I guess it’s time to move out. I can use Teleport to take us to the checkpoint between Galvatar and Phoenixwing, but I can’t go any further beyond that because of the Sentry Orbs stationed there. Once we get past those I’ll carry us the rest of the way using the Power of the Phoenix. After all the practice I’ve had, thanks to Nova, I feel confident enough to be able to transport all of us on my back the rest of the way. Plus it’ll give me a chance to rub it in to the rest of the clan. Van, you do have an Energy Potion ready, right?”

Van nodded, “Yes, as I got some good herbs from the last village, allowing me to make several Energy Potions.”

“Good, as I’ll probably need it once we get there, as I haven’t maximized my stamina in my phoenix form yet. I can get us to the capital easily enough, as it’s not far from the checkpoint, but carrying seven people will take a lot out of me. Now, if we’re all ready let’s get this over with.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

Nina gave a heavy sigh, “This is gonna suck. Teleport.”

The party and Theo vanished from the magical campsite. They soon reappeared just outside of the checkpoint between Phoenixwing Kingdom and Galvatar Kingdom. They could see the barrier and gates that separated the two kingdoms had been broken through, though the Sentry Orbs were still present.

“Feels strange being back here,” Nova said. “The last time we were here it was just Nina and me. And I had to use the Demon King Ring to cast Transform on her to turn her into a half-elf and smuggle her across the border. And she also decked one of the knights here when he made fun of me.”

Nina smiled, “To this day I’m forever grateful for everything you did to help me, Nova. You were willing to bend over backwards and potentially get yourself in hot water with my family just to help me. You showed me that not all men are like my clan members… like a certain brother I know.” She glared at Theo, making him recoil, before saying, “Nevertheless, I’m forever grateful for just how far you were willing to go for me, Nova. Is it any wonder I fell in love with you. But this is no time to get nostalgic. Time for the next step. I am soooooo not looking forward to what we have to do but it is part of our mission. Okay, give me a bit of space so I can transform into my phoenix form again.”

Everyone complied and moved back to give Nina some room. She enveloped herself in her wing before igniting them, becoming a fireball. The fireball grew and when it dispersed she was a phoenix again. She lowered herself down to allow the party to climb onto her back. However, when Theo tried to climb on she swatted him with her wing.

“Hey!” Theo protested.

“Not you, Theo,” Nina hissed via telepathy. “My friends are flying First Class. You’ll be flying Coach.”

“And what does that mean?”

Nina started to hover off the ground, her party members clinging onto her. She then lashed out one of her talons and snatched Theo before taking flight, much to his protests. She flew toward the northwest, carrying everyone toward their destination.

“You’re doing great,” Nova said. “All that practice is really paying off.”

She replied, “And it’s thanks to you, Nova. Considering your surprisingly high knowledge on birds allowed me to fill in the gaps on how to use and strengthen this form that was lost to my kind for ages. I still haven’t fully mastered this form but thanks to your guidance I made a lot of progress in a short period of time. Now, we’re almost there. I can see the Genox Gas covering the capital from here.”

Everyone looked ahead to see a pinkish gas seemingly being trapped by some sort of magic over a large city. Nina cautiously flew around it, keeping her distance while monitoring the situation. She then decided on a place to land, slowly descending downward until she was hovering off the ground. She roughly dropped Theo so she could use both of her legs. Before he could complain Nina landed on top of him, flattening him into the ground.

“You did that on purpose!” Theo whined.

“And if I did, so what?” she replied coldly. “Consider it the last bit of payback for what you did to me for years. Now stay put while I let my friends off my back.”

She lowered herself so the rest of the party could jump off her back and onto solid ground. When the last party member was safely on the ground Nina stepped back a bit, enveloped herself in a fireball, and soon returned to normal.

Angelo asked, “Well, we’re here. But what will Nina do? She can’t fight in Genox Gas.”

Nova took something out of his Digi-Pack. It looked like a rather futuristic helmet, almost like something a sci-fi space pilot would wear.

“She can wear this,” he said. “This is my O2 Mask. Like my Hoverboots and Digi-Pack, I designed this but my dad built it. Anyway, the O2 Mask recycles oxygen, granting the wearer unlimited oxygen and preventing any outside substances from getting in the way such as gas. It can allow the user to swim in the depths of the ocean and, theoretically, breathe in space without any other equipment needed. If Nina wears this she’ll be safe from the Genox Gas, as it’ll prevent her from breathing it in.”

Nina smiled, taking the O2 Mask, “Once again, Nova, you prove to be reliable. I would expect nothing less yet you still somehow always surprise me. I can also use my Shaman Magic Bracelet, as my Shaman forms grant me an immunity to Genox Gas, but I’ll use the O2 Mask first, as I want to save the energy in my Shaman Magic Bracelet for when we face General Cranidon, since I’ll probably need the extra kick then.”

Kettu nodded, “That’s good thinking, Nina. Plus General Cranidon is one of Muu’s Top Five Generals like Zombiestein and Vertebreak, so we’ll need the extra firepower dealing with him, as he’s no pushover, that’s for sure.”

Nina nodded and put the O2 Mask on her head, causing the bottom to seal up, completely encasing her head, although her long hair still protruded out from the bottom.

Theo started to slink away, saying, “Well, I’ll leave the rest to you. Good luck and—” but Nina grabbed the back of his tattered shirt collar.

“Not so fast, Theo,” she growled. “You’re coming with us so you can witness what our party is about to do. Plus that way you can see Zak, mother, and especially father suffer the same punishment you did. At least you’ll be in good company. After this is all over you, and the rest of our kind, won’t ever cross me again. So you might as well have a front row seat to all the action.”

“Please, sis, don’t drag me back into that Genox Gas!” Theo pleaded. “I finally no longer stink of it and you’re gonna throw me back into it!? Don’t be mean, sis!”

She glared at him, “You should’ve thought of that before you were mean to me for years, little brother! Now quit your whining and come on!”

The party started to make their way to the captured Phoenixwing Kingdom capital, dragging Theo with them, who was begging for mercy. They then saw two Undead Soldiers guarding the front gates.

Nova said, “Leave them to me. Ifrit Mode.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set to Ifrit Mode. He loaded up two arrows onto his bow and took aim.

“Double Petrify Shot!”

He fired both arrows which were now glowing with energy. They struck the Undead Soldiers, much to their surprise, before quickly turning them to stone. Van then walked up and casually kicked them, shattering them to rubble. He then turned around and gave the front gates a massive kick, smashing them open. The various Undead Soldiers and several civilians turned to see the party.

“O-Our saviors!” one man cried hopefully.

Nina roughly tossed Theo into the city, exposing him to the Genox Gas, making him cough as he inhaled the fumes.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said bitterly. “We’ll deal with these boneheads. Then we’ll come back for you, as I’ve got a bone to pick with you and the royal family.”

A woman’s eyes widened, “I-It’s Princess Nina?! So the rumors are true! She IS part of the Demon King’s champion party! We’re saved!”

A knight said, “The Magic Fire Feathers have returned to us!”

Nova gained an annoyed look, saying, “Boy, you weren’t kidding about these goons, Nina. I can see why you didn’t want to come back here, as they clearly only see you for your Magic Fire Feathers and nothing more.”

“Sad but true,” she replied bitterly.

Sir Reginald stated, “Time for that later, as the Undead Soldiers are charging at us!”

The Undead Soldiers raced to stop the heroic party from succeeding in their mission. The party retaliated, effortlessly hacking and tearing through the undead horde. The civilians cheered as the party ripped through their oppressors like wet paper, making their way through the city and toward the castle. It didn’t take long before the party reached the throne room. There they could see the King, Queen, and another male who looked like Theo’s twin lying on the ground, clearly weakened by the Genox Gas but still alive. Sitting before them was a large Undead General. His heavily armored body concealing the large bones that he was made of, with only his massive skull visible, glowing purple eyes, with a large double-ended spear sitting next to him, and he was twirling the Royal Family’s crowns on his finger like they were toys. His eyes flickered as he saw the party.

“Master Muu knew you’d come,” he said tauntingly. “He knew if we were to attack the little princess’ kingdom she’d come running to rescue them.”

King Blazer weakly but hopefully turned to Nina, “Nina… you’ve come to save us…”

Nina replied coldly, “Sorry to rain on both of your parades but that’s not why we’re here. We didn’t come to save this clan from Muu. We only came to deal with you, Cranidon, as it’s our mission to destroy every single member of Muu’s army, himself included. You were the only reason why we came here. Saving this ungrateful clan is just part of the package.”

“…She’s still mad…” the Queen wheezed.

General Cranidon stood up, picking up his spear and tossing the crowns aside, saying, “Interesting motivation. You only came back to your home kingdom not to save it but to fight me and my platoon? Not very heroic of you, princess.”

“Say what you want, as it means nothing coming from one of Muu’s goons,” Nina huffed. “I would’ve left this kingdom to its fate after everything it did to me if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s our job to deal with Muu’s forces. And considering that the other kingdoms sided with me when it came to this kingdom’s pettiness and stupidity I’m not alone in feeling that way.”

“…Yeah, she’s still mad…” King Blazar sighed.

She glared at her family, “I’ll be dealing with you three later, so don’t die just yet, as I have unfinished business with you. But, for now, it’s time to go to work.” She tapped three Elemental Gems on her Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Fire, Wind, Light! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

She was engulfed in swirling energy and before long she had transformed into her Goddess of Phoenixes Shaman form, much to her family’s surprise and shock. She then took the O2 Mask off to test if she was immune to Genox Gas now. She inhaled deeply but felt no negative effects, making her smirk.

“Looks like it’s true, then, as my Shaman form does make me immune to Genox Gas. So I can fight at full-force without worrying about any problems caused by the Genox Gas. Let’s go, boys!”

Sir Reginald tapped two Elemental Gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Allow me to join you, Lady Nina. Earth, Dark! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and before long he was in his Terra Dark Knight Shaman form.

Angelo tapped two Elemental Gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Don’t leave me out of the party! Water, Light! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and soon he was in his Tsunami Knight Shaman form.

Sir Reginald then drew both claymores and pointed them at General Cranidon, “Time to send you back to the grave, Cranidon!”

Although surprised, General Cranidon replied, “Interesting. You can use Shaman magic? This’ll make things more entertaining. But nevertheless, you will die today!”

He started to spin his spear before throwing it at the party. Sir Reginald erected a barrier that effortlessly blocked the attack.

“Van!” he instructed. “Get the Royal Family out of the way!”

Van nodded and with surprising speed for his size quickly scooped up the three downed royals and tucked them into a corner out of the way. He then rejoined his allies to fight the powerful Undead General. King Blazar and his family watched with wide eyes as the battle between the two factions began.

“I never knew Nina could use Shaman magic…” the Queen said, amazed.

“I guess sis is just full of surprises…” Zak wheezed.

“But it’s clear she still hates us…” King Blazar said. “And I doubt we’re out of the woods just yet… even after that Undead General falls…”

Nina took a dynamic pose, stating, “While this can’t kill you instantly like it can your underlings, I can still do some impressive damage with it! Flames of Judgment!”

She released a sea of golden fire at the Undead General, engulfing him in its intensity. He screamed and roared in pain as the holy flames burned his body. When the flames subsided he was thoroughly charred.

Sir Reginald said, “My turn.” He raised both claymores into the air before saying, “Seismic Shock Slash!”

He slammed them into the ground, releasing twin shockwaves that raced toward the dazed Undead General. They struck him hard, knocking him back, but he used his spear to steady himself and get back into a fighting position.

“Not bad,” he said. “Shaman magic has made you even more of a problem for Master Muu. But I intend to erase you from the equation so that my master can proceed uninhibited. Starting with this! Decompose!”

He fired the shadowy energy toward Nina. Nova quickly got in between her and the attack, getting struck in the process. However, to his surprise, he wasn’t affected by it, as he remained perfectly normal.

“Um… why am I not turning into an Undead?” he asked, puzzled.

Nina’s eyes widened, “Of course, I forgot all about that! It’s because of Elora! You see, when a person bonds with a familiar said familiar will often grant special bonuses and effects on their masters. In Elora’s case, since she’s a Gorgon Viper, she makes you immune to things like Decompose, as she’s immune to the same thing. In other words, thanks to having a familiar you gain certain properties that often reflect the familiar’s own properties. So you cannot be harmed by Decompose because Elora makes you immune to it.”

Nova’s eyes widened before gaining a smile, “It’s amazing what one act of kindness toward a wild Gorgon Viper has done for me. Remind me to thank Elora later, as she’s proven to be invaluable once again.”

General Cranidon looked alarmed, “You have a Gorgon Viper as your familiar!? Master Muu HATES Gorgon Vipers! Now I know you need to be killed here and now! And I’ll do just that!”

He raised his spear and charged toward Nova. However, before he could land his attack Sir Reginald got in between them and locked his two claymores with Cranidon’s spear, causing a stalemate.

Angelo readied his sword, saying, “Time for me to get a lick in. Sea Splitting Slash!”

He rocketed toward Cranidon, who was struggling to overpower Sir Reginald. Before the Undead General knew what had happened Angelo had sliced off his left arm. This action caused Cranidon to momentarily stop his assault, allowing Sir Reginald to push back and throw the Undead General into the thrones, smashing them to bits but also hurting the evil general.

Zeeker ran up to the dazed Undead General, saying, “My turn! Time to tear him a new one! Can Opener!”

He slashed his glowing King Cobra Claws at General Cranidon, which, to the Undead General’s surprise, was able to effortlessly tear his armor apart, exposing what looked like a glowing core inside of him. Zeeker quickly retreated back to avoid a retaliation.

Kettu stated, “That’s his core! Striking it will end the fight!” He took out one of his throwing daggers, stating, “While I doubt I’ll be able to hit that mark I do have a way to make it easier for our resident sharp shooter to nail the spot. Thorn Stab!”

He threw the dagger at Cranidon, stabbing him in the right shoulder. Thorny vines then sprouted from the area and entangled the Undead General, preventing him from moving.

“Nova, it’s all you!”

Nova nodded, took aim, and smirked, “Time to turn you into a bad memory. Give my regards to the inferno! Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which had become an electrified dragon, and struck General Cranidon’s core. He screamed as his core was destroyed, causing his body to explode, its remains crumbling to dust, ending the fight. Everyone got into a more relaxed position while Kettu retrieved the throwing dagger. Nina then turned her attention to her family, who flinched at her hateful glare.

“Time to take care of some unfinished business,” she growled. “Van, drag my so-called ‘family’ out into the center of the city. I’m about to give them a taste of their own medicine so I want the whole clan to see what I’m about to do.”

Van nodded, trotted over to the now cowering Royal Family, grabbed them by the backs of their collars, and followed the party outside. There the people of the capital were surprised to see the Royal Family being dragged out into the streets like trash bags but were even more surprised to see the party’s Shaman forms. When they got to a certain point Van put the three royals down, allowing Nina to float over to them, her eyes showing hatred.

“N-N-Now, now, Nina…” King Blazar gulped. “W-We can talk about this like civilized people… D-Don’t do anything you might regret…”

Nina snarled, “The only thing I regret is not putting you in your place sooner, ‘father’! Now how does it feel? How does it feel to be at the mercy of someone else? To know that you have no power to fight back against a stronger entity. Because that’s how powerless I felt against you and the rest of this backstabbing clan! But not anymore. I now have more power in my little finger than you do in your whole body. And don’t think your stupid laws will prevent me from taking my revenge on you, as I don’t care about them anymore. They may have held me back when you were mistreating me but that’s no longer the case. I no longer bow to the selfish whims of anyone. And I’m about to give you some much-deserved revenge for all the hell you put me through!”

She grabbed the front of King Blazar’s tunic, pulled him close to her, and began beating him senseless. She blasted him with magic, punched him, and slapped him, showing him her rage and anger at the years of abuse she endured. The civilians could only watch in horror as Nina enacted her long-awaited revenge on her family. A knight managed to stand and pointed his spear at her.

“U-Unhand the King, y-you traitor!” he tried to say strongly.

She glared at him, causing the knight’s bravado to immediately vanish.

“Stay out of this!” she spat. She held out her hand, “Phoenix Finish!”

She fired the flaming energy phoenix at the knight, making him go wide eyed in horror before it blew up upon impact, sending him flying and crashing in a heap, burned and badly hurt. She then glared at the other knights, who looked like they had just soiled themselves.

“Anyone else want to try being a hero?” she snarled threateningly.

The remaining knights became paralyzed with fear, not moving an inch. Satisfied, Nina continued her assault on her father, much indifferent to his pleas of mercy.

Angelo asked, “Hey, Nova, is it really okay to allow Nina to do this?”

Nova sighed, “She needs to get it out of her system. She’s had these emotions bottled up inside of her for a long time now. If venting those pent-up emotions means enacting revenge for her mistreatment on her family then it’s best to just let her do what she wants. And to be honest, if I was her, I’d want to beat up my oppressors for bullying me. I already want to give my boss back on Earth what for now that I’m not a spineless coward anymore so I know how she feels. The sooner she gets all these negative emotions out of her the better. Just let it run its course, as it would be in all our best interests if she got all those pent-up feelings out of her.”

After a few more tense minutes Nina had finished beating her father to a bloody pulp. She roughly tossed him aside and floated over to her mother, who was now terrified.

“N-Nina, please…” she pleaded. “W-We can talk about this… T-There’s no need to attack your own flesh and blood…”

Nina grabbed the front of her mother’s gown, growling, “You should’ve thought of that sooner when you were calling me an embarrassment to the Royal Family because I was the first born. Now it’s your turn.”

Everyone could only watch in horror as Nina started to repeat the same beating on her mother. The rest of the party knew to just let her do what she wanted, as interfering could backfire. After a few minutes the Queen was thoroughly mauled. Nina tossed her aside and floated over to Zak, who was trying to crawl away. She grabbed him by the back of his shirt collar and pulled him to her.

“You’re not going anywhere, little brother,” she growled.

“P-Please sis…” Zak begged. “Don’t do this… W-We’re family, after all… Family forgives family… right?”

She replied coldly, “You should’ve thought of that before you spend years bullying me and hiding behind the clan’s laws so I couldn’t retaliate. It’s time you got a taste of what I had to endure at your hands, Zak. So time to take your medicine.”

She then proceeded to beat up Zak, much to the horror of the clan. They all now came to see that Nina’s wrath was one to fear and that she was getting payback for years of abuse and mistreatment. After a few minutes Nina roughly tossed Zak away, leaving him broken and bloody. She cracked her neck, rotated her shoulders, and gave her four wings a ruffle.

“That felt good…” she sighed happily. “And I feel so much better now that I’ve gotten all those pent-up emotions out of me. Feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” She turned to her party, “So, team, shall we get going?”

King Blazar, although still badly injured, said, “W-Wait! You’re not going to stay and help us rebuild?”

She gave him a cold look, “That should be obvious. Especially since I know what this clan’s definition of ‘rebuild’ means. You want my Magic Fire Feathers so you can make more money and you don’t have to suffer a loss in the treasury in fixing the damage Muu’s army did here. I want no part of that because that’s exactly why I rebelled and ran away. I’m no one’s golden goose. I’m my own woman. My own person. I won’t be bogged down by the sexism and greed this clan revels in. You no longer control me. There is only one person who I will allow to talk down to me and that isn’t you. And the best part of that is the one man who I will allow to talk down to me never does--out of the love and respect he has for me. So, that’s a ‘no’. I’m not sticking around, as I have bigger fish to fry. You’re gonna have to pay for the damages from the clan’s already fat purse yourself. My Magic Fire Feathers will never be used for profit ever again. I only intend to use them for their original purpose: to save lives. Tough luck but you’re on your own.”

Sir Reginald stepped up, saying, “She does have a point, you know. You have more than enough gold to pay for these damages. And with Cranidon, who was the source of the Genox Gas, gone, the wind will blow it away, allowing you people to recover from its effects. But you really should change for the better. Your greed is the reason why your people lost your powers ages ago. It corrupted your clan, causing you to be punished by losing both the Power of the Phoenix and the Magic Fire Feathers. The fact that Nina possesses both powers is a testament of why she’s better than you.”

King Blazar’s eyes went wide, “W-Wait a minute. Nina… has the Power of the Phoenix as well? The Magic Fire Feathers, yes, we knew about those, but she also has our clan’s other lost power.”

Nina replied nonchalantly, “Yep. It came as quite a surprise to me, too, but I can become a phoenix and transport people on my back. It took some practice but thanks to Nova I can now fly like our ancestors could. And it’s all because I was not corrupted by our clan’s greed. In fact, because I was a victim of our clan’s greed I was rewarded, or compensated, depending on your view, with both of our clan’s lost powers. So the fact that I’m the first, and currently only member of our clan with either, much less both, of our ancient ancestors’ powers proves that greed was the culprit. I was never corrupted by our clan’s greedy ways, unlike you all. Greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, after all, and there’s a reason for it. And I won’t be using either power for your benefit unless you count using them against Muu. So you’re on your own in rebuilding the damage caused by Cranidon and his Undead Army. And you’ll have to use your own funds to do it, as I’m not going to let you use my Magic Fire Feathers for profit ever again.”

Nova stepped up, saying, “There is still a chance to turn your lives around, you know. If you don’t you’ll be continuously trapped in an endless cycle of torment. I have a few suggestions that I strongly feel you should consider… as it would be for your own benefit if you catch my drift.”

The various Phoenix Clan members started to tremble, realizing what Nova meant. They then went wide eyed as Nina embraced him and kissed him.

“Ooh, Nova,” she purred. “The thought of what you’re suggesting is making my spine tingle.”

King Blazar sputtered, “W-Wait a minute! Are you… dating my daughter!?”

She glared at him, “Got a problem with that, ‘father’? Then too bad because that’s your problem. Don’t make it mine or you’ll get another thrashing. Yes, I’m in love with a human. Nova is the only man who can ever talk down to me. Yet he never does due to the mutual bond of love and respect we have for each other. And don’t you even start the whole ‘purity of blood’ or ‘preserving our powers’ argument, as I’ve got a simple answer for both of them: I don’t care. I’d rather marry a man from another race and dilute my bloodline if it means I can have a loving, loyal, and kind husband. And Nova fits all those criteria and more. It’s because of him that I’m free. It’s because of him I’m as strong as I am now. And it’s because of him that I learned that not all men are like the men of this clan. Nova was the light that shined on my darkened existence, giving me hope, love, and happiness. All of which are emotions I never knew existed thanks to you. I love Nova, simple as that, and I will follow him, through hell and high water, until my dying breath. And I would proudly bear his children. So whether you like it or not doesn’t matter. I plan to marry Nova and spend the rest of my life with him. Deal with it.”

This declaration of loyalty stunned the Phoenix Clan members, leaving them at a loss for words.

Nova, taking advantage of the situation, said, “Since we have your undivided attention now, here are my proposals that I highly suggest you take up. End your sexism in your laws; that will only breed problems. After all, men and women are equals and thus should be treated as such. You will also stop being excessively greedy; that will continue to corrupt your race until you have nothing left. And I highly suggest you drop this whole stupid ‘purity of blood’ stuff; you’re going to cause problems for your kind. If you keep that up it could result in inbreeding, sterilization, and the eventual slow extinction of your people. And you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves. You dug your own graves already. So I suggest you start changing your ways for the better if you don’t want to end up in said graves because of your own undoing. If not… we can always have a chat with the higher-ups and have them… oh… cut you off from the rest of the alliance and the world, perhaps. And I don’t think I need to tell you what will happen to your kingdom if that were to happen, right?”

King Blazar gulped, “Y-You wouldn’t, would you? T-That would ruin us forever.”

Kettu huffed, “You already ruined yourself with your own actions. The other nations don’t have a high opinion of you, you know. There is very little stopping them from cutting you off if you don’t change your ways. After all, karma will come collecting its dues from those who deserve it, and you have quite the outstanding bill. So it is in your best interest to take up Nova’s suggestions and emerge from this as better people. After all, we won’t always be around to bail you out of a jam. I suggest you do as Nova says and not dig your graves any deeper than you already have, as the other nations aren’t happy with you in the slightest. Considering the time we’re in, it would be in everyone’s best interest if you’d clean up your act and became proper people to Edyn. It’s up to you but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the best course of action is.”

King Blazar clenched his fists before saying, “Okay… you win. We’ll do as you say. We cannot risk Galvatar and the rest of the nations cutting us off, not during this critical time when Muu is causing so many problems. If you really believe that us changing our ways will actually make a difference and prevent the other nations from turning their backs to us then so be it. It won’t be easy but if it’ll prevent a repeat of this episode then it’ll be in our best interest.”

Sir Reginald replied, “We’ll hold you to that. If you don’t then we won’t hesitate to rat you out to the other nations and watch as your entire kingdom crumbles to dust because of your own actions. We expect change from you and your people, even if I have to ask King Hendrik to send men here to ensure you do as we say. Lady Nina is living proof of what happens when you don’t let things like greed and sexism rule you. It’s for your own good to follow her example and eventually become better, or at least more tolerable, people.” He turned to the party, “It’s time we head on back to our mission, as we have a lot of ground to cover. With General Cranidon dead this’ll be a huge blow to Muu. But that also means General Vertebreak may be on the horizon, so we’d best be careful.”

Nova nodded, “Right. We’re finished here. We did what we had come here for and now we can return to our mission, as much as I hate saying that. Nina, think you can teleport us back to the checkpoint?”

She smiled, “Gladly, beloved. And besides I think our Shaman forms are nearly out of time and power so we’d best leave before they run out. If we’re ready I’ll take us back to the checkpoint.”

King Blazar said, “Wait, Nina… will you please forgive us? We know we did you wrong and your wrath and hatred is a clear sign of that. But can you find it in your heart to forgive us?”

She took a deep breath before saying, “I’ll forgive you if you keep your promise to reform this kingdom and clan into a better one. One that won’t cause people like me to suffer anymore. But I’ll make something very clear. I WON’T forget what you put me through. I’ll forgive you if you change your ways but I will never forget the pain, suffering, and trauma you inflicted upon me. It was because of Nova that I started to heal from all those wounds, which only made my feelings for him grow. He’s a proper man. He has his flaws, I won’t deny that, some of which do drive me crazy, but I still love him because all his good qualities outweigh his bad ones by a huge margin. So if you want my forgiveness then you’d better change for the better, otherwise I’ll be more than happy to let this kingdom crumble away because of your actions. Now, enough of this, let’s get going, gang. If we’re ready then let’s hit the road.”

Everyone nodded, ready to leave.

“Teleport.”

The party vanished, leaving the Phoenixwing Kingdom capital and its people behind. King Blazar gave a heavy sigh as he struggled to stand, still weak from the Genox Gas and still injured from the beating he had received.

The Queen asked, “Honey… do you think it’s possible for us to change? We’ve been like this for centuries. And if our greed is what ruined our race, can we really just go cold turkey and start anew?”

King Blazar replied, “We have to, Amber. It won’t be easy nor will it happen overnight, but if we want to ensure that we can continue getting support from our allies, including the Demon King’s champion and his party, then we need to change. It’s a hard pill for us to swallow, and the lecture was as brutal as Nina’s wrath. But if there is any hope for us we need to make amends. It basically means we need to tear our clan’s very foundation apart and start from scratch. But it’s in our best interest, especially now that we know the other nations don’t think highly of us and will more readily take Nina’s side over ours. It’ll be a long, slow process but we have to do it. For our futures. Come on, everyone, time to get to work. The wind is blowing the Genox Gas away, so we’ll be soon freed from its grip, but we have work to do.”

The other Phoenix Clan members begrudgingly complied: they knew it was for the best. They weren’t looking forward to basically tearing their clan’s very foundation to bits but they knew if they didn’t it would lead to worse consequences.

“We have to change…” King Blazar said silently. “It’ll be a thorny path but it has to be done. Nina… thank you, my daughter, for teaching us this. I hope Nova continues to make you happy. You deserve it.”

Next Chapter: Of Skitter Mice and Men

That's all for today. Hopefully this means things will change with the Phoenix Clan. Tune in next time for some fascinating familiars.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for some familiar fun with Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, female nudity (sorta))

Of Skitter Mice and Men


It was the following day after the heroic party had liberated Phoenixwing Kingdom’s capital from General Cranidon. The party had since crossed the border from Luvar Kingdom to Gloria Kingdom. They had arrived at the first village in this new territory for them. The party was doing the necessary shopping for the road ahead before taking a break.

“We’ve pretty much gotten everything,” Van said.

Zeeker nodded, “Yes, so we should be okay until the next town or city. Hopefully we can get a lead soon on how many Undead Bases are left on this continent before we move onto the next land.”

Nina was very quiet. She seemed to be lost in her own head. Concerned, Nova gently touched her shoulder, startling her out of her thoughts.

“Nina?” he asked soothingly. “Are you okay? You’re being awfully quiet today. Something on your mind?”

She turned to him, “Sorry, Nova, I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m still thinking about yesterday… when we had to rescue my clan from Muu’s forces. I’m unsure my clan will really abide by our demands to change for the better. They’ve been that way for centuries so I’m worried that they’ll slip back into old habits. Or even outright ignore what we said and continue their disgusting ways. I just don’t know if they can be trusted to change for the better.”

Sir Reginald gave a small smile, “I understand how you feel, Lady Nina. Your clan has been living a certain way for centuries. It won’t be like flipping a switch for them to change. But I have confidence they will change, though it’ll take time, as they basically have to destroy their clan’s very foundation and start over to do it. But with the lingering threat of being cut off from the alliance along with the possibility of an economic collapse should be enough to motivate them to change. Try to have some faith, Lady Nina, as I feel they stand a good chance at turning things around.”

Nina replied, “I wish I could be so sure. I mean, you are right, as the threat of losing support from the alliance and the sheer thought of an economic collapse would be a good kick in the can to get them to change… but I’m still uncertain they’ll actually follow up on their promise. I want to believe they will but after centuries of deep-rooted greed and other sins I’m not sure if they will change for the better or not.”

Nova placed a hand on her should, “We’re just gonna have to have a bit of faith. It’ll be a hard thing for them to do, especially after centuries of reveling in it, but they know it’s the best course of action to take if they want to keep getting support from their allies. Going cold turkey isn’t easy but I feel your people will be able to achieve it. It’s gonna be a long process but over time they’ll change for the better.”

Nina gently nuzzled up to him, saying, “I hope you’re right, Nova. I really want them to change as it’ll benefit everyone, even though I still hate my clan. If they can somehow turn things around then I will be very impressed.”

Just then a young man who looked like an archer walked by with a strange creature on his shoulder. It looked like a large yet somehow adorable spider, with a black, fuzzy body, eight green eyes with two eyes being particularly large, tiny fangs, a yellow pattern shaped like an archer’s bow on its thorax, and two spikes near its rear.

“What’s that?” Nova asked.

Van replied, “It’s a Sniper Spider, a type of Insect familiar. They’re not strong but they are very useful, especially for archers, assassins, and traveling merchants due to some of the bonuses they grant their masters. Specifically they increase their master’s eyesight and accuracy, while also being able to use their spider silk to trap enemies. Traveling merchants love that last bit.”

Suddenly, another warrior, this time a mage, passed them by with what looked like another familiar on her shoulder. This one looked like a leopard gecko but it was larger, with green, red, and white patterned skin, large chocolate brown pupilless eyes, feet that looked like they could stick to anything, and a thick tail.

“And what about that?” Nova asked.

“That’s an Edan Gecko familiar, a type of Reptile familiar,” Sir Reginald explained. “They’re great for potion makers and alchemists, as they increase their master’s ability to create more powerful potions and other alchemy-related items.”

Suddenly, a third person, this time a swordsman, passed them, with yet another familiar on his shoulder. This one looked like a naked female pixie with wings made from leaves, peach skin, small antenna made from pollen stems, blue pupilless eyes, and vines for hair.

“And I take it that’s another familiar?” Nova asked.

Nina nodded, “Yep. That’s a Leaf Pixie, a type of Spirit familiar. They not only increase the user’s Wood magical properties but also increase their levels of good luck. But I wonder where all these familiars are coming from?”

The man with the Leaf Pixie turned to them, saying, “There’s an old woman a few blocks toward the rear of the village who is offering familiar summoning rituals for one gold per person. According to her, due to the increased threat of Muu she wants to help people become stronger in case they have to deal with any of Muu’s baddies. And since owning familiars grant special properties they can be a real game-changer if one capitalizes on it. I suggest you check it out, since you look like warriors.”

He then moved on, leaving the party alone.

“Maybe we should check it out?” Angelo suggested. “Might be an interesting idea.”

“Couldn’t hurt,” Nova said. “While I’m perfectly fine with Elora I am curious to know what other types of familiars there are in this world. Who knows? Maybe some of us will pick up a new partner at that little summoning ritual.”

Nodding in agreement the party started to make their way toward the back of the village where the familiar summoning ritual was taking place. Little did they know that a pair of sinister eyes was watching them, gaining a devious idea.

The party soon arrived at the location. A firokoko-drawn carriage was parked next to a large summoning circle with what looked like a magical candle in the middle of it. An older woman was seated next to the summoning circle with what looked like another familiar with her. This one looked like a cairn terrier whose body was made of tree roots, with grass-like fur, large cherry red pupilless eyes, ears made from leaves, a tail made from vines, and wooden paws.

“And what’s that familiar?” Nova asked.

“That’s a Wood Dog familiar, a type of Beast familiar” Kettu explained. “They are good guard dogs. They also increase their master’s sense of hearing and smell along with increasing one’s Wood magical powers. They’re also rivals to both Devil Cats and Mimic Monkeys.”

The older woman said, “Hello, are you here to summon a familiar? I’m offering a special service right now. During this trying time we need all the help we can get. And obtaining a familiar is a good way to do it. Hmm?” She then looked at Nova and Sir Reginald, saying, “I can sense you two already have familiars. Very strong ones, in fact, especially you, young man, though I can’t tell what type of familiars you have.”

Nova replied, “I’ve got a Gorgon Viper as a familiar while Sir Reginald has a Thunderclap Stallion.”

The older woman’s eyes widened, “You have a Gorgon Viper? One of the most powerful and dangerous familiars in existence? You are a brave man to have such a powerful and dangerous familiar.”

Nova gained a sheepish expression, “Actually, Elora is pretty tame. Yes, she’s powerful, no doubt about that, but unlike other Gorgon Vipers she’s very friendly and calm. She’ll also follow my instructions to the letter. From what I’ve been told, Gorgon Vipers tend to be willful and will only obey their masters if they have respect for them. And, for an added twist, she was originally a wild familiar that I nursed back to health and ultimately bonded with.”

The older woman looked surprised, “My word, young man. You mean to tell me that your Gorgon Viper is pretty much the opposite of what Gorgon Vipers tend to be like? This I gotta see. Please summon it so I can see for myself.”

“Okay. I hate summoning Elora for trivial things but if it’ll prove my words to be true then so be it.” He took out a Summoning Sticker, placed it on the back of his right hand, and took a dynamic pose, “Elora, come forth!”

The Summoning Sticker glowed, then a summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke and fire, and soon Elora was standing next to Nova. Everyone present except the party looked on with eyes wide with awe at the magnificent familiar. Elora gently nuzzled against Nova, making him smile and stroked her under the chin.

“By the Goddess, you weren’t kidding,” the older woman said. “I can see just how tame and friendly she is. While I’ve never seen a Gorgon Viper before due to their rarity I have heard all about them. After all, I’m in the business of familiar summoning, so I have to know my stuff. But I never thought I’d see a Gorgon Viper so gentle and tame, especially since most people consider them dreaded due to their nasty temperaments and willfulness. You clearly hit the jackpot with her, as my experienced eyes can see she’s completely devoted to you.”

Elora gave a happy hiss, clearly pleased at the praise.

Nina stepped up, “Madam, I would like to have a familiar.”

The older woman nodded, “Certainly, dear. That’ll be one gold.”

Nina paid the woman one gold. The woman then took out a piece of parchment paper with a seal on it.

“Okay, you need to draw a circle of blood on this parchment, then hold it over the candle and the smoke will bring forth your familiar.”

Nina nodded. She bit her thumb to make it bleed, drew a circle of blood on the parchment paper, stepped into the magical circle, and held the parchment over the candle. The parchment started to burn and smoke began rising. The seal on the parchment glowed, the magical circle started to light up, and soon a shadow started to form within the smoke. The parchment vanished and something fast shot out of the smoke, doing a few aerial laps before hovering in front of Nina.

“A Stealth Falcon!” Nina said.

The Stealth Falcon was a large bird of prey, covered in black and silver feathers, large gold legs ending in silver talons, a wide fan of tailfeathers, impressive wings, a noble head with purple pupilless eyes, a silver beak, and a silver crest. Nina held out her arm allowing the Stealth Falcon to land on it. Despite its size it seemed very light and Nina expressed no discomfort when it perched on her arm. She smiled and gently stroked its breast.

“How cool,” she said. “While I was half expecting a Demi Phoenix, given the fact that I’m a Phoenix Clan member, and I’m not complaining in the slightest. Besides, a Stealth Falcon is rather rare and it can be very helpful in our line of work.”

The older woman smiled, “I’m glad you’re happy, young lady. And judging by the crest your Stealth Falcon is male. I suggest you give him a name.”

Nina nodded, “Okay.” She took a moment to think before saying, “How does Phantom sound?”

The Stealth Falcon gave a screech of joy, liking the name.

“Okay, Phantom it is. Welcome to the team.”

The newly named Phantom took a moment to observe the party before locking onto Elora. He took off and landed on one of her horns. Elora seemed perfectly fine with this, as she looked up at Phantom and gave a smile.

“Looks like your Gorgon Viper and Stealth Falcon like each other,” the older woman observed. “They’re immediately hitting it off with each other. That’s a good sign, as some familiar tend to not like others, even if they don’t have rivalries like Wood Dogs and Devil Cats. Now, does anyone else want to have a familiar?”

Kettu stepped up, “I would. I must admit I’m very interested in this.”

“Very well. That’ll be one gold.”

Kettu paid the woman one gold. She then gave him a piece of parchment paper, which he took, bit his thumb to produce blood, drew a circle of blood on the parchment, and walked into the magical circle. He held the parchment over the candle and smoke started to form. The seal on the parchment started to glow and then as the smoke got larger a burst of cold air could be felt from the summoning circle. Something swift darted out of the smoke and zipped around before coming to a stop in front of Kettu.

“It’s a Frostbite Fox!” Sir Reginald said.

The Frostbite Fox was a large fox with bluish white fur, ice blue pupilless eyes, soft paws, a large, brushy tail that seemed to be made of ice, large ears with tufts of fur in them, and a muzzle full of sharp teeth. It nuzzled up to Kettu, who gently stroked it.

“Should we be surprised that a Werefox would get a fox familiar?” Angelo chuckled.

Nina giggled, “No, but considering that I, a Phoenix Clan member, got a Stealth Falcon instead of a Demi Phoenix means that not every familiar will be an exact match to their master’s race.”

“Fair point,” Van chuckled.

The older woman smiled, “Your Frostbite Fox is a male, so think of a good name for him.”

Kettu nodded and took a moment to think before, “How does Snowstalker sound to you?”

The Frostbite Fox jumped up and down eagerly, clearly liking the name.

“Okay, Snowstalker it is.”

The older woman nodded, “A good name. Now, does anyone else want a familiar?”

A voice them boomed, “I do! And I know it’ll be the most magnificent familiar of them all!”

The party groaned, knowing who that voice belonged to. They all turned to see Dominic approach them.

“I’m getting really sick of seeing his mug…” Nova grumbled.

“Zip it, pink brat,” Dominic spat. “I have a major bone to pick with you. But first I’m gonna prove my superiority by obtaining the mightiest of all familiars to match my own mightiness.” He held out a gold coin, “Here’s my payment, now give me the parchment.”

The older woman sighed, “Ever heard of saying ‘please’, oh bombastic one? But fine.” She took the gold coin and gave him a piece of parchment, “I don’t think I need to explain how this works to you, so please proceed.”

Dominic bit his thumb, causing it to bleed, before drawing a circle of blood on the parchment, stepped into the summoning circle, and held the parchment over the candle. The parchment began to produce smoke, the seal glowed, then there was a surprisingly small burst of white smoke and soon a new familiar was standing before them. To Dominic’s horror it was a small white mouse with green pupilless eyes, a thin tail, pink paws, and what looked like a pair of tiny devil wings on its back, allowing it to hover.

Nina started to laugh, “Yeah, some ‘magnificent’ familiar, Dominic! You got a Skitter Mouse, the weakest and most cowardly of all familiars! Not only is it the only familiar that’s ranked Level Zero, meaning it’s extremely weak, but it grants no bonuses or special effects to its master! And how fitting that you’d get the weakest and most cowardly of all familiars since YOU’RE so weak and cowardly!”

Everyone else present started to laugh, much to Dominic’s frustration, while Elora, Phantom, and Snowstalker seemed to be eyeing the Skitter Mouse with interest.

“I demand a do-over!” Dominic yelled at the old lady. “This injustice will not stand!”

The old woman replied calmly, “Unfortunately, oh bombastic one, what you get is what you get. This Skitter Mouse is your familiar and you can’t change that. Familiars often reflect their owners and are almost predetermined by their master’s nature. And to further twist the knife, even if you could perform a redo of the familiar summoning it would end up the same. So, unfortunately for you, that Skitter Mouse is your familiar and nothing can change that. And you need to realize one thing: due to the blood contract you’ve forged if your familiar dies so do you and vice versa.”

“W-Wait… if my familiar dies so do I?” Dominic gulped.

“That’s the power of the blood pact you’ve made. Familiars can be considered a double-edged sword, so one does need to exercise caution.
And I suggest you take that Skitter Mouse and run, as Stealth Falcons and Frostbite Foxes are the natural predators to Skitter Mice, and I can see that those two familiars, along with the Gorgon Viper, seem to be interested in eating it.”

Dominic’s face went pale as he turned to face the other familiars present. Indeed Elora, Phantom, and Snowstalker were eyeing the Skitter Mouse with hungry expressions. Phantom started to open his wings while Snowstalker got into a pouncing position. Dominic screamed, grabbed his Skitter Mouse, and ran away as fast as he could, much to the disappointment of the three other familiars.

“Oh, that was rich,” Nina giggled. “Dominic’s ego got knocked down another peg or two again. For all his bravado he certainly can’t deliver.”

Nova chuckled, “It’s like I said, he’s all mouth and no moxie. Or if you prefer his tongue outstrips his technique. Both work if you ask me.” He turned to the old woman, “Thank you for letting us use your service. I’ve got a feeling that these new familiars will be a huge asset to us.”

The old woman smiled, “I thank you for your gratitude. And I also thank you for allowing me to see your Gorgon Viper, as I’ve never seen one before. Just remember that a familiar contract is a double-edged sword, so you need to protect your familiars as much as they protect you.”

Kettu nodded, “We know, and you can count on that.”

Sir Reginald said, “Now with all that excitement over with let’s go get some lunch.”

Nina nodded, “Right. Phantom, to the Spirit Plane.”

Kettu said, “Snowstalker, to the Spirit Plane.”

Nova stated, “Elora, to the Spirit Plane.”

All three familiars vanished, allowing the party to go get some lunch. They were happy at their newest additions to their ranks, feeling proud.

Next Chapter: Fox Fyre

That's all for today. Hopefully these new familiars will help the party. Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains violence, mild language)

Fox Fyre


It was the following day after Nina and Kettu gained familiars. They were back on the road, heading toward their next destination. Sir Reginald was in the lead, taking a look at the map while guiding the party forward.

“Okay, thanks to what we learned from that last village we now know where another Undead Base is,” he said. “We should be approaching it soon so we’d best keep our guard up.”

Zeeker nodded, “Yeah, although we don’t know which big baddie is running it. When we do find it we’d better have Kettu scope it out.”

Nina said, “Don’t forget my new Stealth Falcon, Phantom. Stealth Falcons can become invisible and intangible, making them great for espionage and stealth missions. Plus they can record what they see and project it to their masters.”

“So a Stealth Falcon is like a spy camera, huh?” Nova observed. “That’s a pretty handy ability to have, especially in our line of work. Looks like you really got a good familiar out of that special service, Nina. Though Kettu’s stealth abilities are still top-notch, too. We now have two options to work with when it comes to scouting the enemy. That’s a good thing, as it gives us more methods to utilize depending on the situation.”

Kettu nodded, “Indeed. Never hurts to have some extra options when one is dealing with Muu’s forces.”

Van turned to Nina, “Hey, Nina, speaking of Phantom, why don’t you summon him so he can get a bird’s eye view of where the Undead Base might be, as we should be getting close.”

Nina nodded, bit her thumb to make it bleed, and stated in a strong voice, “Phantom, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a gust of wind, and Phantom appeared, perching on Nina’s arm.

“Phantom, I have a mission for you. Please scout the area to see if an Undead Base is nearby. They often look like forts built with rather dark materials. If there is one, use your abilities to turn invisible and record what you see so we can get an idea of who we’re up against.”

Phantom gave a nod and took flight, scouting the area. After a minute he spotted the Undead Base, turned invisible, and flew down to check it out. He perched on a flagpole and his eyes started gleaming, seemingly recording what he was seeing. After a couple of minutes he took off and returned to the party, becoming visible again. Nina held out her arm allowing him to perch on it.

“Did you have any luck, Phantom?” she asked.

Phantom gave a screech before projecting a recording from his eyes. He showed the inside of the Undead Base, revealing about an average amount of Undead Soldiers and their leader. Their leader was a vampire-like being, with large wings for arms, sharp talons, a rather fancy set of armor, glowing green eyes, and a fang-filled mouth. When Kettu saw this member of Muu’s army his fists tightened.

“Okay, we seem to be dealing with the usual amount of Undead Soldiers,” Sir Reginald observed. “But who is that Undead Captain or General.”

“He’s General Bloodgore,” Kettu growled. “He’s one of the few vampiric members of Muu’s army. He’s fast and strong but not very durable, though me makes up for it by being able to restore his strength by draining the energy from his victims and enemies. He’s also in Muu’s Top Ten Generals, ranked seventh if my memory serves me correctly.”

Everyone turned to Kettu, surprised.

“Kettu, how do you know this?” Angelo asked.

The Werefox clutched his fists before saying, “I had a run-in with him a while back. It’s because of him that I took up this fight against Muu. Because of him I started to infiltrate Undead Bases to gather intel so I could use it against Muu and his army. And it’s because of him… that I lost something very dear to me.”

Nova immediately figured it out, “He killed a family member, didn’t he? And collected said family member’s soul to give to Muu. Am I right?”

Kettu nodded, “Yes… he claimed my brother’s life. I tried to stop him but even my Werebeast form wasn’t strong enough to rip that bat-faced freak away from my brother. My brother, Felix, was drained of his lifeforce by that flying freak, his soul collected, and then the empty husk that was his body left behind. I consider what happened that day my greatest failure. I failed to protect my younger brother, who always looked up at me. We were thick as thieves—literally, but we were as close as could be. And thanks to Bloodgore I lost him forever. I didn’t jump back into the fray right away. I instead drowned my sorrows for a while until my girlfriend, Julia, convinced me to stop, as Felix wouldn’t want that. So, that’s why I started my mission. I knew I’d cross paths with Bloodgore again sooner or later and I have every intention of getting my revenge for what he did to my brother.”

The party exchanged nods before Sir Reginald said, “Then we’ll leave Bloodgore to you, Kettu. At least we now know why you’re fighting against Muu. And why you went to such lengths to dig up as much dirt as possible on his army. While I don’t approve of using revenge as motivation I can understand why you’d feel that way. As an older brother myself I know how it feels to want to protect your sibling from those who want to hurt them. We’ll devise a plan to deal with the bread and butter Undead Soldiers while you go for Bloodgore. We’ll jump in if needed but we know this is your battle.”

Kettu gained a warm smile, “Thank you. At least now I have a new trick that Bloodgore won’t be able to stop as easily as my Werebeast form: my Shaman Magic Bracelet, especially since Muu doesn’t know about our new Shaman powers yet. But I appreciate you letting me take on Bloodgore myself. If I need help you can jump in but I want to take him down myself. For my brother’s sake. While I know killing Bloodgore won’t bring Felix back I can at least take some solace knowing that I avenged his death. I just hope Muu doesn’t use his soul to create another Undead Captain. He’s already suffered enough.”

Nova said, “Actually, Kettu, it might be in both yours and Felix’s best interest if Muu used his soul for a new Undead Captain. Because if we destroy that Undead Captain we can free him from Muu’s grip forever, allowing him to rest in peace.”

Kettu’s eyes widened before saying, “You know… you bring up a good point, Nova. As much as I don’t want Felix to suffer anymore if Muu were to use him to power a new Undead Captain then I’d have a chance to save him sooner. I’d hate to fight him but if it frees his soul from Muu’s decaying claws then it’ll be worth it. Yeah, that’s actually something to consider. Good thinking.”

Nina turned to Phantom, saying, “Thank you for your help, Phantom. You’ve given us exactly what we needed to start mapping out a plan. I’ve only had you for a day and already you’ve proven to be very valuable. You’re a fine familiar. To the Spirit Plane.”

Phantom held his head up high, clearly enjoying the praise, before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

Sir Reginald nodded. “Okay, let’s get to work on mapping out a plan. Especially since we need to ensure that Kettu gets a clear shot at Bloodgore. Kettu, do you have an idea of what elements you’re going to use?”

The Werefox nodded, “Yes. Fire and Dark. Bloodgore is weak to Fire, so I want to capitalize on that. While using the Dark element will give me a stronger form to use. Plus it’ll help block some of Bloodgore’s nastier Dark techniques, as he uses a lot of them, since we gain an immunity and a power boost to the elements we fuse with. Now, enough talk. Let’s get to work.”

The party started to map out their battleplan, keeping an eye out for any possible threats while they were at it. After about an hour they had settled on a strategy.

“Okay, this should do the trick,” Sir Reginald said. “Our plan is very straightforward but speed is key. We need to get all the Undead Soldiers away from Bloodgore so Kettu can have a clean shot at taking him out. If he gets into a bind we’ll jump in but this is his fight. Plus the power of the Shaman magic does give us a huge edge over our foes, something that we’re very grateful for. So, with the planning phase done it’s time for putting it into motion.”

The party nodded and started to make their way to the Undead Base. It wasn’t long before they found it. After ensuring they had everything ready Sir Reginald turned to Nova.

“Nova, if you’d be so kind?”

Nova nodded, “Right. Ifrit Mode.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now on Ifrit Mode. Nova then loaded up an arrow onto his bow.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which had transformed into a lightning dragon. It rocketed toward the Undead Base before exploding upon impact with the gates, blowing them off their hinges, revealing the Undead Army platoon.

Captain Bloodgore said calmly, “Well, well, if it isn’t the Demon King’s puppet and friends. So nice of you to come. You’ve saved me the trouble of hunting you down. Master Muu is very displeased with you lot and has you on his blacklist. You’ve proven to be a nasty thorn in his side. But I’ll make him happy by eliminating you. Minions, attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in. The party got into a battle-ready pose.

“Kettu, like we planned!” Sir Reginald said. “We’ll handle these boneheads! You take on the big baddie!”

Kettu nodded and quickly wove his way through the Undead Soldiers, making a beeline for Bloodgore. Some of the Undead Soldiers tried to turn around and stop him but were blocked by Van and Zeeker.

“You’re not going anywhere!” Van stated.

“Indeed!” Zeeker smirked. “In fact, I think it’s time to shred some heads.”

The party quickly tore through the Undead horde while Kettu confronted Bloodgore. The Undead General gained an odd look on his face.

“I feel like I know you from somewhere, fox boy,” he said. “But considering how many victims I’ve claimed it’s hard to know.”

Kettu growled, “Yeah? Well I remember you very well. You claimed my brother’s life and soul! Now I’m here to collect your dues for what you did to him!”

Bloodgore quirked an eyebrow before grinning, “Ah, now I remember where I’ve seen you before. That’s right, I took your precious brother, Felix, from you. He was one of my tastier prey. His soul now belongs to Master Muu, and he has plans for him. I wonder if you taste as good as your brother did? Let’s find out!”

Kettu tapped two Elemental Gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, saying, “I was not strong enough to stop you then, but this time I intend to avenge my brother’s death at your hands! Fire, Dark! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

Kettu was engulfed in swirling energy, much to Bloodgore’s surprise. When the energy dispersed Kettu’s new form had appeared. He looked like a fox demon covered in black and red fur, his tail had split into nine and were now larger and brushier with ghostly flames burning at the tips, his paws and claws were coated with fire, his eyes were blood red with beastly pupils, his ears seemed to be giving off embers from the tufts in them, small flames leaked from his beast-like muzzle, and what looked ghostly will-o-wisps floating around him.

“You may have been stronger than my Werebeast form… but can you handle my new Shaman form: Fox Fyre!?” Kettu snarled.

Bloodgore looked surprised, “Well, this is a new twist on the formula. But nevertheless I will prevail and claim your soul as well! Darkness!”

Kettu was struck with a blast of Dark energy but to Bloodgore’s surprise he was unharmed. In fact, the ghostly flames on his body seemed to get larger and brighter, making the Werefox smirk.

“That won’t work this time, fang face,” Kettu said mockingly. “This form renders your Dark attacks useless, and I know you possess a lot of them. Now, my turn! Will-O-Wisp!”

He fired one of the will-o-wisps that were floating around him at Bloodgore. The Undead General tried to swat it away but in doing so it fused with his body. He suddenly fell to one knee as he could feel the effects of the ability take hold, with the will-o-wisp forming above his head.

“W-What have you done to me!?” Bloodgore sputtered.

Kettu grinned, “Put you on a timer. As long as that will-o-wisp is with you it’ll rapidly drain your lifeforce until death claims you. And only I can remove the curse that is that will-o-wisp, something that I have no intention of doing! And just to speed up the process: Illusion Flames!”

He summoned a wall of black fire that engulfed Bloodgore. He screamed in agony as the flames not only burned him but seemed to affect his mind. When the flames dispersed Bloodgore looked crazed and enraged.

“You little weasel!” he snarled. “I should’ve killed you when I killed your brother! Take this! Death!”

He fired the deadly energy at Kettu. However, to his shock, the spell did absolutely nothing to the transformed Werefox, making him smirk.

“Tisk, tisk, tisk,” Kettu said, wagging a finger. “That won’t work, either. Not only does this form make me immune to all Dark element attacks, but I’m also immune to curses and instant-death attacks. So this form effectively neuters all your spells and abilities in one sweet package.”

Bloodgore roared, “THEN I’LL JUST TEAR YOU LIMB FROM LIMB!”

He opened his wings, took to the air, and tried to divebomb Kettu, ready to rip him apart. However, before he could, the will-o-wisp hanging over his head became brighter, causing him to stop in midair and clutch himself. He could feel his body and lifeforce rotting away. Cracks started to form in his body, where ghostly flames began to leak out of. He screamed in agony as his body began to crumble away.

“Who needs garlic when my Will-O-Wisp does a much better job?” Kettu grinned sadistically. “Time for you to say goodbye, Bloodgore! This is for Felix! Illusion Flames!”

He launched one more attack at the defenseless Bloodgore, summoning more black flames that engulfed the Undead General. Bloodgore roared in pain, flailing his body around before the combination of the ghostly energy eating him from the inside and the black flames destroyed him, leaving no trace of him behind. Kettu took a more relaxed position, inhaling and exhaling to calm himself, before gaining a satisfied smile.

“Felix… I destroyed your murderer. While I know your soul is still trapped in Muu’s grip I will find you. And I will save you, no matter what. So please, wait for me, my brother, as I will make amends for my failure and allow you to rest in peace.”

He turned to see the rest of the party unharmed with nary a trace of Undead Soldiers in sight. He gave them a warm smile before walking over to them.

“I thank you for leaving Bloodgore to me,” he said sincerely. “I feel better knowing that I avenged my brother’s death at his hands. While I know the job is only half done, as I actually need to find Felix’s soul and save it from Muu, I feel a great sense of comfort knowing that I was able to mitigate my failure that day. My soul feels calmer knowing that I destroyed Felix’s murderer. But we’re not done yet. No, we need to go the whole distance and ensure that Muu is destroyed once and for all so no more innocent lives will be lost to his insane ambition.”

Zeeker nodded, “Oh, don’t worry, Kettu. We have every intention of doing so.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Now, let’s finish the job for today. I’ll erect a barrier so Nova can safely snipe the Magna Crystal powering the Undead Base.”

Everyone nodded and got behind Sir Reginald. He released pulses from his hands that caused a barrier to form. Nova then took aim at the Magna Crystal.

“Dragon Strike!” he stated.

He fired the archery skill at the Magna Crystal, striking it. The crystal started to shake and hum before exploding, taking the base with it. When the dust had settled all that was left of the base was a charred patch of earth. Sir Reginald lowered his barrier now that it was safe.

“Good work, everyone,” he said. “We took down another Undead General. We’ve been doing a great job so far. But we cannot let these victories go to our heads, as the loss of another Undead General will most definitely enrage Muu, if he isn’t already. We’d best be on guard for any possible retaliations from him, especially from someone like General Vertebreak.”

Zeeker nodded, “Aye, I can speak with confidence that your statement is correct. As you know I speak from experience, as that’s exactly how the Beastman Resistance failed. It’s only a matter of time, now, before Muu goes all-out on us, as by now he must be ready to go ape on us. We’d best be ready for that.”

Nova replied, “Very true words, Zeeker. We can’t get complacent as that’ll be an ideal setting for Muu to knock us down with. Hopefully we can spend a bit more time building up our strength for when that day comes, though I doubt we’ll have that luxury. Not if Muu has anything to say about it.”

“Sad but true,” Angelo nodded. “But we’ve done well so far so we do deserve a pat on the back. But like you said we need to stay alert.”

Kettu gave a sigh, “Yes. Now, time to return to normal. Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and before long he had returned to normal.

“Shame I didn’t have this little trinket back when my brother was killed but like Nova said to Zeeker that’s the cost of getting stronger. But at least I know I can use this Shaman Magic Bracelet to make up for past mistakes.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Now, let us move on, as our job has only just begun.”

The party nodded and continued on their mission, with Kettu feeling a sense of relief knowing he ended his brother’s murderer.

Next Chapter: Egotistical Eoleo

That's all for today. At least we now know Kettu's motivation. And the next chapter suggests more headaches for Nova and Nina. Tune in to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language)

Egotistical Eoleo


It had been a couple of days since the party defeated General Bloodgore. They were on their way to the next village. Sir Reginald was in the lead, as usual, checking their location on their map.

“Okay, if everything goes accordingly, we should reach the next village by lunchtime,” he said.

“That’s good to hear,” Nova said. “But that’s assuming we don’t have any unwanted events happening before then, correct?”

“Yes, that’s true. Mostly depends on how many monster attacks we encounter. Especially since we’ve seen a fair few today already.”

Zeeker smiled, “True, but we got some nice monster parts to sell. Stuff like Condor Seed wings, Cure Harpy talons, Blue Salamander tails, and even Tin Hawk talons and feathers. Those will fetch good prices, especially the Tin Hawk parts. Plus we still have a bunch of Gargathox parts tucked away in Nova’s Digi-Pack from quite a ways back, so we have plenty to work with.”

Kettu huffed, “Don’t start getting greedy, Zeeker. You know that doesn’t go over well with Nina and me.”

The Beastman countered, “I know that! But every coin counts on the road, so we need to get what we can when we can. After all, equipment, medicine, and food aren’t cheap. Hopefully the next town is large enough that we can sell a Gargathox horn, or at least a vertebrae, to go along with our other monster parts for some decent pocket change.”

Sir Reginald said, “Zeeker does have a point. Equipment, medicine, and food aren’t getting any cheaper so we do need to have plenty of coins ready when we need them. Plus it never hurts to have some stashed away for a rainy day. While I do agree we cannot get greedy, we also can’t deny that, unfortunately, money does solve most problems.”

Nova placed his hands behind his head, “Sad but true. It is the root of all evil, and unfortunately it’s something of a necessary evil. Especially in our line of work, as we’re not mercenaries or anything who do guild jobs or whatnot for money. So, sadly, we do need to get as much as we can when we can. Considering I’m used to working with a tight budget I know how important it is to squeeze every penny. Or copper in this case.”

Suddenly, Van’s ears twitched. He turned around and listened. Kettu and Zeeker’s ears also started to twitch and they looked in the same direction. The party could see a small, fast-moving whirlwind approaching.

“Oh, merciful Goddess, no…” Nina groaned. “Not him again…”

“Just what we need: a visit from the ever-persistent Werecat,” Kettu sighed.

Nova took a moment to look around before gaining a grin.

“I have an idea for a bit of fun,” he said. “And to show that Werecat he’s got rocks in his head.”

A few minutes later Eoleo came into view. Nina was standing just slightly off to the side, using her wings to hide something behind her. Eoleo spotted her and increased his speed, racing toward her. He then launched himself like a missile at her, arms extended, ready to grab her. Nina gained a devious smirk and quickly sidestepped, revealing a large boulder behind her. Before Eoleo could react he ran face first into the boulder, causing cracks to form upon impact.

“And that’s a facial disgracial!” Nova snickered.

Nina giggled at Nova’s remark. Eoleo flopped to the ground, dazed, allowing Nina to quickly retreat back to Nova. Ian and Hunter finally caught up and saw the sad sight, giving depressed sighs. The boulder suddenly gained more cracks before crumbling away to pebbles, much to the party’s surprise.

“How’d he do that with just his face?” Angelo asked.

Nova replied dryly, “I always said his head was as dense as depleted uranium and this just proves it.”

A few moments later Eoleo managed to stand up, his face looking a bit squashed. He staggered for a moment before regaining his bearings, turning his attention to the party. His eyes locked onto Nova, who had a smug expression.

“This was your doing, wasn’t it, human?” he snarled.

“And if it was, what are you going to do about it?” Nova replied tauntingly.

Eoleo ran over to punch Nova--only for the archer to merely sidestep out of the way, causing the Werecat to punch a tree instead. After a long pause Eoleo pulled his hand back, clutching it with his other, giving a cry of pain, his tail stiffening. The tree remained unharmed.

“Looks like your knuckle buckled,” Nova sneered.

Nina giggled again at Nova’s remark, only making Eoleo madder. He turned around and stormed up to Nova, eyes flaring dangerously.

“You watch your mouth, human, or I’ll rip out your tongue and feed it to the dogs!” he spat.

“I’ve heard better and more original threats from a cartoon show,” the pink-haired man snarked in response. “Maybe I should just cast Banish on you again and send you back to your den.”

Ian and Hunter got on their knees, begging desperately, “Please, don’t, Nova! We can’t run this whole distance again! Please, we beg of you, don’t use Banish on us again! Please!!!”

“Stop your groveling, you two!” Eoleo snapped. “And you should be ashamed of yourselves, begging a human for mercy!”

Ian shot back, “Unlike you, Eoleo, we’re not racist towards humans. So, if we have to we’re willing to beg Nova to not use Banish on us again. And it’s not like you can do much to threaten him, Eoleo, as he’s clearly got the edge over you. Just give up chasing Nina and let’s go home already.”

“Not until she becomes my pack queen!”

Nina slapped him, stating, “I have told you several times now I want nothing to do with you, Eoleo! How many times do I have to drill it into your head?! Even if it wasn’t for the whole Phoenix Clan/Werecat issue I’d still never consider you worthy of me! Nova has proven time and time again to be reliable, competent, strong, intelligent, and kind. In other words: everything you’re not! So just back off and leave me alone!”

Sir Reginald sighed, “Eoleo, we respect the fact that you don’t give up. But you’re not the type of man Lady Nina needs. Nova has proven time and time again to be exactly what she need. She has been mistreated at the hands of men like you for years. Nova was the first one to show her even a shred of kindness and decency. You honestly didn’t stand a chance, as Nova had won Nina’s heart a long time ago. Long before you even came into the equation. So we suggest that you stop chasing after her and just leave her alone. We’ve got more important things to attend to than dealing with you, like taking on Muu and his army.”

Eoleo stated, “Yeah, well I’m fighting Muu now, too! And I’ll be the one who will defeat him! And when I do Nina will see that I’m superior to that pink-haired human!”

Zeeker growled, “I hope you realize the gravity of your statement, Eoleo. Taking up the fight against Muu is not something to take lightly. After all, I speak from experience. And unless you want me to pound you into the dirt again with my Shaman form you won’t utter a word about the lives lost that day when the Beastman Resistance faced General Vertebreak. This isn’t a competition, you know. It’s about saving Edyn from a terrible tyrant who has been harassing our people for centuries. If you’re going to fight Muu’s forces then you need to take it seriously and not let your ego get the better of you. The Beastman Resistance learned that lesson the hard way. This is serious business, Eoleo, not something you can use to make yourself look big to impress someone. Unless you want to die I highly suggest you back out now.”

“What do you know, beast boy?” Eoleo huffed.

Ian said, “Uh, Eoleo, did you not learn from last time? Zeeker was a captain of the Beastman Resistance. So he knows all about dealing with Muu’s army and what’s at stake here. And besides, unlike Nova’s group, who are fighting against Muu for our world’s sake, you only want to fight Muu to impress Nina. So while Nova’s group has noble intentions you’re using selfish desires as motivation for fighting Muu.”

Eoleo smacked Ian on the head, clearly angry at his fellow Werecat’s statement.

“Thought as much,” Nova said. “So your true motivation in fighting Muu is to impress a woman who wants nothing to do with you? That’s pretty bad. While I may also have a selfish reason to fight, which is to survive, I understand the gravity of the situation and thus I’m willing to battle for the lives of those who live here. I hate every minute of it but I’m willing to do it. Especially since, thanks to this mission, I’ve made new friends, so I want to protect their world for their sake as well. So while I don’t want to I will fight because it is the right thing to do. And on top of that, what’s stopping Muu from taking over just this world? If he were to succeed in conquering Edyn he could very easily move onto other worlds. He needs to be stopped before any more lives are lost to him and his army. This war has dragged on for more than 3,000 years and Edyn really wants to be free from Muu’s oppressing presence. This isn’t a game or a competition, Eoleo, this is war. War needs to be taken seriously, not treated like a means to show off. So your motivation for fighting Muu is extremely petty, selfish, and childish, which prevents you from seeing the big picture. I suggest you back out now while you still have your life and leave the fighting to those who are actually prepared to do it.”

Hunter said, “He’s got a point, Eoleo. You’re just charging head first into a 3,000+ year war without any sort of plan. If ending this war was as simple as that it would’ve been done by now. No, Nova’s right, as jumping into a war like that is suicide. At least Nova is doing his best in a war that he really has no business in other than being the Demon King’s champion. He’s fighting our battles to save us, while your only motivation to fight is to impress a girl who wants nothing to do with you.”

Eoleo smacked Hunter on the head in a fury, clearly upset at his statement.

“Whose side are you two on!?” he spat at his lackies. “I’m the leader of this pack so you need to respect me!”

Kettu huffed, “You know there’s no law stopping them from at least criticizing your leadership, Eoleo. And from what we’ve seen… you’re a terrible leader. It’s even more clear that your childish ego can’t take criticism, be it constrictive or otherwise. That’s a poor trait to have when you have a pack to take care of. Even Reggie here, who is a world-renowned knight, knows how to handle criticism and use it to improve himself.”

Sir Reginald retorted, “My name is NOT ‘Reggie’, Kettu!” He then said in a calmer tone, “But he is right. A leader needs to be able to accept criticism, especially if it’ll help improve them in the long run. You call yourself a leader yet you expect no one to utter a single complaint against you because of that title? That’s very childish and immature.”

Nina nodded, “Indeed. I want a man who’s mature, not one who is an egotistical child. Nova has clearly proven to be mature, especially compared to you and Dominic, which is something I love about him. In fact, you’re really no better than Dominic, Eoleo. We may agree that Dominic is a slimeball but in reality you’re not much better. Especially in how you treat me and Nova. You treat me as a prize to be won and something to satisfy your lust, exactly how Dominic treats me. Well I’m neither of those. I’m a woman who demands respect and not be treated like an inferior being. I’ve had to endure too much of that back when I was living with my fellow Phoenix Clan member. Nova was the first man to ever treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity, allowing me to see that not all men were like my fellow clan members. He is willing to bend over backwards and potentially get into hot water for my sake: something that no other man has done for me before. I love him and I will spend the rest of my life with him. So I suggest you go back to your den before you hurt yourself with your stupidity and selfishness.”

Nova sighed, “This is getting us nowhere. Let’s just go, team. Eoleo clearly can’t learn a lesson to save his life, so we’re wasting oxygen on him. It’s like trying to discipline a spoiled child who blows a temper tantrum in return. It’s just not worth trying to lecture someone who refuses to listen to reason. We’d have better luck asking Muu to surrender than getting Eoleo to obey our requests. Let’s just leave this spoiled kitten and get on with our mission.”

Everyone nodded and started to walk away, much to Eoleo’s fury.

“Hey!” he spat. “Don’t you dare turn your backs to me! I demand it! I won’t allow you to treat me this way!”

The party ignored him and continue to walk away, much to the Werecat’s fury. He started kicking up a fuss but, much to Ian’s and Hunter’s embarrassment, the party kept going.

Angelo sighed, “It’s like Nova said, he’s a spoiled child who’s throwing a temper tantrum when not getting his way. And here I thought some royals could be rather spoiled. He’s even worse.”

“True,” Nina sighed. “Even my brothers acted better, and they got spoiled due to my clan’s social structure. Hopefully a beating from their older sister and the clan’s social structure getting ripped apart and rebuilt from scratch will shove some humble pie down their throats. Hopefully. If we were to shove some humble pie down Eoleo’s throat he’d definitely choke on it. But let’s get on with our mission and leave the childish Werecat to his temper tantrum.”

As the party moved on, leaving Eoleo and his two lackies behind, the Werecat was fuming mad.

“I’ll prove to those losers that I’ll defeat Muu!” Eoleo snarled. “And then Nina will see that Nova is not worth her time and marry me. Just you wait, pink boy, as I’m gonna dethrone you good.”

Next Chapter: Proving Grounds

That's all for today. Boy, what a little spoiled cat Eoleo is. Will he become a useful "ally"? Probably not. Tune in next time to find out.
 
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