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MATURE: Dawn of Courage (Chapter 78 Up)

CynthiaLover

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It's time for the debut of my new series: Dawn of Courage. Hope you'll all enjoy it. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

Undead Rising


The world of Edyn. A magical world filled with monsters and possibilities. Here an ancient battle continues to wage on. The dark shadow that is the Undead King is rising to power once again. His arch-nemesis, the Demon King, knows it’s time to summon a new champion in order to face this threat. Past champions have come and gone but none have been successful in stopping the Undead King and his Undead Army permanently. Will the newest champion succeed where all others have failed? Or will the Undead King return and turn Edyn into a world of decay and discord?

On Earth a young man was stirring from his slumber as dawn broke over the horizon, smacking his beeping alarm clock in annoyance to silence it. As he slowly came out of his sleepy state of mind he yawned and stretched. His eyes were a sparkling emerald green while his coral pink hair was messy from his slumber. He slowly emerged from his bed and stood up. His appearance could be best described as “unremarkably average”, as his structure and height were that of most other men his age, with a smooth, kind face. He made his way to the bathroom to begin his morning grooming routine.

“Finally, Friday,” he said in a rather cheerful tone. “One of my days off from work. Although I have to do some grocery shopping today, as I’m getting low on everything. And I think I should be expecting some packages of goodies today so that’s something to look forward to. Hopefully they come before I get back from grocery shopping so I can put everything away all at once. Now, enough talk, time for breakfast for both me and my fine feathered friend.”

He first made his way into the living room and removed a blanket from a cage, revealing a light blue ringneck parrot. The parrot got excited when it saw its master.

“Good morning, Zeke. Did you sleep well?”

Zeke, the parrot, starting chattering, saying various phrases like, “Morning”, “I love you”, “Peekaboo”, and others, making the young man chuckle. He took out the parrot’s food dish, dumped the old contents out, and filled it up with fresh food, along with a branch of millet. He then made his way to the kitchen. After debating on what to have with what he had left he made himself a breakfast sandwich with some orange juice. After polishing off his meal he returned to his room to change into more comfortable clothes consisting of a loose-fitting red t-shirt and cargo pants. He ventured down into the living room to start making his list.

After a few minutes he said, “Okay, that looks like a good shopping list. I can’t go just yet as the grocery story I frequent isn’t open yet so I might as well play a game or two until then.”

Nodding, he walked into another room that was decorated with various game consoles and a cabinet of games and DVDs. After selecting a game he popped it in one of the consoles and began playing for a while, a smile forming on his face. After enough time had passed he turned off the game console and made his way back down to the living room.

“Yeah, that was fun,” he said. “But now it’s time to go shopping. Let me gather everything up and head on out.” After a few minutes of collecting his stuff he said, “Okay, I got my Digi-Pack, my Hoverboots, my tote shopping bags, my house keys, my shopping list, and my wallet. Normally I’d drive to the store but I had to loan my car to my parents for the day, as mom has a doctor’s appointment while dad works today, so I’ll be giving the Hoverboots some exercise today. Now, time to shopping.”

After double-checking to see if he had everything he opened the front door, walked outside, closed and locked the door, and activated the Hoverboots, allowing him to hover off the ground before rocketing himself down toward the nearby town.

About 90 minutes later the young man was heading back home. In his Digi-Pack were bags of groceries, yet it wasn’t the slightest bit heavier.

He smiled, “Okay, I got almost everything. They were out of my favorite lemonade but I got everything else. Now, let’s hope that my other packages arrived while I was out.”

He rocketed into his driveway and smiled, seeing three fair-sized packages sitting on his front doorstep.

“Ah, excellent! They did arrive while I was gone. Not that I’m too surprised, as deliveries tend to come early around here.”

When he got to his front stairs he deactivated the Hoverboots before taking a look at the packages. However, something caught his eye. Sitting on top of the boxes was a golden ring. It was a fair size, consisting of two separate yet connected segments. On the top half were six different symbols that were alien to him while the bottom half seemed to have a small arrow pointing to the symbols, and finally a small gem nestled in the middle.

He quirked an eyebrow, “Hmm? What’s this strange ring? Did the UPS driver drop it? I don’t recall ordering a ring like that. And what are those symbols on it? They look almost like some kind of meter with different settings. I dunno what this ring is, though it might make for some fun cosplay jewelry.”

As soon as he touched it the gem on the ring glowed brightly, blinding him. Suddenly, without warning, he, the ring, and the packages vanished without a trace in a burst of light. He then reappeared in an unknown location, crashing in a heap on the ground, his packages landing next to him.

“Ow! What the hell was that!?” He then noticed the ring was now resting on his right pointer finger, “Eh? When did this get there?” He tried to pull it off but to no avail, “What the? It’s stuck! It almost feels like it’s been glued on or something, as I can’t get it off.”

Suddenly, the gem glowed again, making the young man panic, only for a shadowy figure to appear in a projected image from the gem.

“Do not be alarmed, Nova Blitz, I am not your enemy,” the shadowy figure stated.

“W-W-What?!” Nova sputtered. “How do you know my name!?”

“Oh, I know more than you realize, young one. But that is a subject for another time. Right now, we need to have a quick but important talk. For starters, I am the Demon King:
Belzebuth. You have been selected to be my champion against my most hated foe: the Undead King named Muu. You have been summoned to the world called Edyn to fight against this ancient evil. You are to use my treasured weapon: the Demon King Ring, which now rests on your finger, to fight him and his Undead Army.”

Nova gained a horrified expression, “Y-You’ve gotta be kidding me! You isekai'd me and expect ME to fight an army of zombies and their leader?! I’m terrified of undead and ghosts! Why would you choose me of all people!? Surely there are better options out there than a worthless, cowardly loser like me!”

Belzebuth replied, “Perhaps, but I selected you to be my champion. You have something that I need in order to defeat the Muu once and for all. And I’m aware of your plasmophobia, I’ve done my research. However, you possess a trait that could finally end this 3,000-year nightmare once and for all. And before you say anything, I know I could do the deed myself but Muu expects that. He’s a filthy coward who refuses to fight me, staying hidden and using decoys to keep me distracted, so I have to use champions in order to lure him into a false sense of security and finally destroy him. As a result, you are my newest champion, and I have complete confidence you’ll succeed in the task, as there is more to you than even you know.”

“But how am I going to fight him with a ring!?”

“The Demon King Ring contains a finite amount of magic. Using the ring will allow you to use magic and any other task that requires mana. You’ll have to study up on the subject yourself, but the ring gives you an effective cheat, as you only need to know the spell’s name in order to cast it. Moving on, the ring has several different modes that increase the magical output: Lesser Devil, Devil, Demon, Ifrit, Lucifer, and Armageddon Mode. Lesser Devil is the weakest while Armageddon is the strongest. And don’t worry about using up the ring’s magic, as it’ll continuously recharge when it has less than a full tank. The rest you’ll have to learn on your own. I have complete confidence that you’ll succeed. Now, head for the nearest village in order to gain your bearings and move on from there. Good luck!” and the shadowy figure vanished from view.

“W-W-Wait!” Nova choked. “You can’t leave me hanging like this! Hey!” After getting no response he gave a heavy sigh, “If this world is going to rely on me to end this Muu guy and his army then they’ve just bet on the wrong horse. If I may quote a certain Cybertronian rat, ‘We’re all gonna die’, because that’s exactly what’ll happen if this isekai world is relying on me to save it.” He gave another heavy sigh, “But it looks like I’m stuck with this job until I either complete it or die, the latter of which seems the most likely. Well, let me just put these packages into my Digi-Pack and see if I can find this village before something tries to eat me, because I doubt undead are the only enemies around here.”

With great reluctance Nova put the unopened boxes into his Digi-Pack and started to look around for a settlement. A few minutes later he spotted a small, cozy farm village with what looked like a watchtower off to the side just a short distance from where he was dropped off so he made a beeline for it. There were some villagers working on the crops when he approached. They all looked at Nova funny when he became level with them.

“Whattya want, kid?” an older man huffed.

Nova replied sheepishly, “I was wondering if you or someone here could help me. This is rather hard to believe but this… Demon King… isekai’d me into this world to be his newest champion, but I’m definitely in over my head. So I kinda need some help.”

A younger man huffed, “Yeah, like we’re gonna believe a loser like you is the Demon King’s newest champion.”

Suddenly, an older woman walked up, saying, “I believe him. I saw the light of his arrival from the village. And if you want further proof, look at his right pointer finger. Show them.”

Nova reluctantly showed his right hand, revealing the Demon King Ring. This reveal caused all the people working on the farms to stop and become wide-eyed.

“H-He really is the Demon King’s newest champion!” a man sputtered.

The older man looked Nova over before saying, “He’s not quite what I’d expect from the Demon King’s newest champion. His appearance is rather… unremarkable. And doesn’t seem too sturdy or strong, either. I harbor doubts that this young one is up to the task.”

Nova replied sadly, “I’m not, especially due to having one crippling flaw that severely complicates matters for me… I’m afraid of undead. I have plasmophobia: fear of ghosts and undead, and yet the Demon King, who knew this, still selected me to be his champion against Muu and his Undead Army. Plus… I’m not the bravest of sorts, either. But I’m stuck here until I either do what I’ve been assigned to or die, though the latter seems more likely. I’m not up for this task yet I’m stuck with it, so I don’t blame you for thinking I’m not good enough. But in order to get back home I need to at least try, but I need help getting off the ground. Do you think any of you can at least point me in the right direction on what I should do?”

The older woman replied, “I suggest you go to Galvatar Kingdom. It’s not only the most powerful kingdom in the world, but they have the best intelligence network. They can, at the very least, give you some support and possibly allies. Unfortunately, you’re in Phoenixwing Kingdom, a neighboring kingdom, so you’ll have to make the dangerous trek to the border in order to cross into Galvatar Kingdom. And, before I forget, you’ll need a passport from the Phoenixwing Kingdom’s king: King Blazar, so that’ll take even more time. But you can’t cross the border without a passport so you’re gonna have to head to the capital and meet with King Blazar in order to get the passport. And that’s not mentioning the various monsters that roam the land. You’ve got a long trip ahead of you, young one. At least for tonight you can stay here so you can brace yourself for your dangerous mission tomorrow.”

Nova nodded sadly, “Yeah, I figured it wouldn’t be simple. But I thank you sincerely for at least giving me a chance as I know that my story sounds pretty farfetched. Any help you can give me is very much appreciated, as I’m completely in over my head. I’m not qualified for this job but I have to at least try, right?”

The older woman nodded and guided Nova to the village. However, just as they entered a man came running in.

“An Undead Platoon is approaching us!” he said in a panic.

The older woman replied grimly, “I’d be willing to bet they figured out where the current Demon King champion is and want to eliminate him before he becomes a threat to Muu. Well, young one, looks like it’s time to test if you have the ability to fight back, as your life depends on it.”

“Yay…” Nova said, completely deadpan. He quickly looked around, trying to figure out any possible strategy before asking, “That watchtower, does it have an oil lamp or two?”

A man nodded, “Yes, it does. Why?”

“Okay, that’s helpful. And tell me what the most basic Fire spell is?”

“Fireball,” a woman replied. “But why do you…”

It then dawned upon them, making them smile.

“I see where you’re going with this,” the older woman replied. “That’s a smart strategy. It’ll sacrifice the watchtower but better it than us. At least the watchtower can be rebuilt, unlike a person. Get to work.”

Nova gave a heavy sigh before running out of the village. He saw what looked like a small army of skeleton soldiers lead by a more impressive one. He could instantly feel his fear grip him as he saw the very thing he was terrified of. He managed to swallow it down and gained a determined look on his face, although it was clear he was still frightened.

“Hey, you boneheads!” he called out. “If you’re looking for the Demon King’s newest champion, then let’s see if you can keep up with me!”

The head of the skeleton army chuckled, “Not a very bright idea. But at least you’ll make this easy for us. Especially since you look to be the most pathetic Demon King champion to date. Undead Soldiers… ATTACK!!!”

The various Undead Soldiers roared and charged toward Nova.

“Here goes something,” the pink-haired man gulped. “Hoverboots, on! Maximum Burn!”

The soles of the Hoverboots became alight with strong energy before said energy increased in potency significantly. He then rocketed toward the watchtower, the Undead Soldiers chasing after him, completely ignoring the village and the villagers. Nova used a wagon as a ramp to launch himself into the air before grabbing the ladder on the watchtower, having gotten over 2/3rds up the watchtower. He quickly deactivated his Hoverboots and scrambled up the watchtower, the Undead Soldiers hot on his heels.

He jumped into the hub of the tower and saw two oil lamps. Suddenly, he felt the tower shake. He looked down to see the Undead Soldiers climbing up it from all sides. Clearly frightened but nevertheless determined Nova unscrewed the two oil lamps. He dumped the contents of one lamp all around the top of the watchtower followed by using the second one to pour it over the sides, splashing some of the Undead Soldiers, much to their confusion. After confirming that every Undead Soldier was clinging to the watchtower Nova looked at the ring on his finger.

“Here goes something. Umm… Devil Mode.”

The ring automatically adjusted itself, now on the second symbol. Just then the leader of the Undead Soldiers had reached the top.

“End of the line, Demon King puppet!” he snarled.

Nova replied shakily yet strongly, “I agree. Goodbye, bone breath! Fireball!”

He summoned a fireball in his hands before launching it at the lamp oil. He then quickly jumped off the watchtower as the fireball struck the oil, causing the entire watchtower to go up in flames. The fire quickly engulfed the Undead Soldiers, making them scream in agony as the flames devoured them. Nova had activated his Hoverboots again to slow his descent to ground level while also gliding to a certain degree. When he landed he quickly put some distance between himself and the watchtower. After he felt he had gotten far enough away he and the villagers watched as the watchtower collapsed on top of the Undead Soldiers, crushing them and burning them to ashes. What looked like wisps of ghostly energy emerged from the burning remains of the watchtower before vanishing into nothingness, indicating the Undead Soldiers had been slain.

“He actually did it!” a villager cheered.

“He took out the Undead Soldiers!” another said happily.

A younger woman cried happily, “It cost us our watchtower but who cares? We’re saved!”

Nova’s legs suddenly gave out underneath him, causing him to fall onto his backside, his eyes wide, drenched in a cold sweat, panting.

The older woman walked up to him, “Well done, young one. While you definitely need to work on your courage you still saved us all from the Undead Army. More will follow, especially now that you’ve escaped this platoon’s clutches, but you have earned your first victory over Muu and the Undead Army. Looks like there’s more to you that any of us thought, including yourself. You have our thanks. Allow us to reward you with food and rest. After all, tomorrow, you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”

Nova replied, deadpan, “Yeah, I can’t wait… but thank you. Just… give me a minute to recover…”

After a minute or two Nova managed to get back up and was escorted into the village, the villagers singing his praises, much to his embarrassment. They graciously treated him to a filling meal and a soft bed to rest on. As the three moons glowed in the night sky Nova was dreading what was to come.

Meanwhile, in a hidden location, what looked like an undead imp scurried over to a massive shadowy figure.

“My Lord Muu,” it said. “I’ve got bad news. The Undead Army that was tasked to kill the Demon King’s newest champion… has failed.”

Muu, who was concealed by shadows except his sunken, glowing eyes, growled, “It would appear that the current champion is a bit more resourceful than Captain Boneregard anticipated. But he was one of my lowest ranked Captains so I’m willing to cut my losses. At least it proved one thing: this new ‘champion’ is afraid of our kind. This’ll make eliminating him easier, as fear is a powerful weapon. The Demon King certainly bet on the wrong horse this time. Not his usual standards, I must say. But keep a close eye on this new ‘champion’ and terminate him with extreme prejudice when the perfect opportunity arises. Let’s show that fool, Belzebuth, what happens when he chooses a completely inferior being as his champion.”

Next Chapter: On a Firewing and a Prayer

That's it for today. Tune in next time to see what Nova has to face in this new isekai adventure that he didn't want.
 

CynthiaLover

Geek of the Games
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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, female nudity)

On a Firewing and a Prayer


It was the following day after Nova first arrived on Edyn. He was on the road, heading toward Phoenixwing Kingdom’s capital in order to secure a passport. The villagers had given him several items, such as cookware, a map, and a compass, to aid him in his unwanted mission. He was moving at a steady clip by using his Hoverboots, hoping to avoid any monsters, knowing he wasn’t remotely prepared for them, much less the Undead Army that was now aware of his presence.

He looked at the map the villagers gave him, saying, “Okay, I’ve got a fair distance to go before I reach Phoenixwing Kingdom’s capital. I just hope I don’t get lost. I’m the type of person who can get lost even WITH a map. I’m fine in places I’m at least somewhat familiar with but new places are a roll of the dice at best. Getting lost here would most likely result in death, so I have to at least try to stay on track.”

He continued onward, trying his best to follow the map and compass he was given. After a little while he stopped to take a short break. He sat down on a large boulder to regain his bearings.

“Well, so far I haven’t run into a single monster, which I’m quite grateful about. But I know my luck won’t hold out forever and I’ll have to fight at least one monster before all this is over. Assuming I survive, that is. Hmm?” He heard something coming from behind him, “What’s that sound? Is it… singing?”

Curiosity got the better of him and he ventured into the wooded area behind him. He followed the melodious singing, trying to wonder what could be making such beautiful music. He eventually came to a small clearing and his eyes widened in surprise.

It was a large pond, and standing inside it was a winged woman, bathing in the clean water. She was probably the most beautiful woman Nova had ever seen. She had a near-perfect top hourglass frame, with a very ample bust, narrow waist, perfect width hips, long, shapely legs with thick thighs, and fair skin. Her long purple hair reached her knees, with short elf-like ears, a gorgeous face, large red and gold feathered wings that seemed to complement her perfectly capped off with large reddish plume-like feathers trailing down to her ankles from just underneath where her wings connected to her back. She was singing while she was bathing, with her golden voice almost being hypnotic to Nova.

“She’s… beautiful…” Nova said softly in awe.

However, he accidentally stepped on a twig while trying to get a better look, causing it to snap, making the winged woman stop singing instantly and directing her attention toward him, revealing her to have cerulean eyes. Nova gulped as she locked eyes with him, expecting her to be angry and possibly attack him. To his surprise her expression relaxed and didn’t seem the slightest bit angry.

“Oh, it’s just a traveler,” she said. “Guess I gotta watch where I sing. Well, at least it only attracted a traveler and not my knights. Well, if you’re here you might as well enjoy the show.”

Nova was stunned, saying, “That was a remarkably blasé response to someone spying on you bathing. Though I do apologize, as I heard your singing and… curiosity got the better of me.”

The winged woman resumed her bath unperturbed, replying, “That’s fine. Better you than one of my knights.” Something then dawned upon her, “Hold on, you could help me with something. You came from the main road, yes?”

Nova nodded, “Yes, I did. Why?”

“Could you go back to the main road and keep an eye out for my knights? They’ll be men of my species, so they’ll be easy to spot. I need you to send them off my trail. This clearing has just enough covering to hide me from the air, but since my knights know my singing I worry they might track me down, even though I can’t help but sing at times. If you see any knights of my species send them off on some wild goose chase or something. I’ll explain why when I’m done bathing, as I’ve only been in here for a few minutes before you showed up. Can I trust you to do that?”

“I’ll try. I don’t know if they’ll find me convincing enough but I’ll try.”

Nova then reluctantly left the beautiful nude woman to return to the main road. He sat back down on the same boulder he was on previously, still thinking about her gorgeous body and face.

“What a woman,” he said silently. “And she didn’t even care that I was getting quite the eyeful of her. Almost like she was enjoying the attention. Damn, though, she’s got a body that could slay a dragon with just a shake of her hips. She’d be any man’s dream girl, me included. No! I gotta keep my perverted thoughts to myself. I can’t think of stuff like that when I just met someone. Even someone as gorgeous and sexy as her who was willing to show off her body to me without hesitation.”

Suddenly he heard something. Looking around, then up, he saw two armored knights with red and gold wings and large plume-like feathers flying overhead. They noticed him and quickly flew down to him, landing gracefully.

The older one, who looked like a rather rough customer, grabbed Nova’s shirt and pulled him close and demanded, “You! Pink boy! Have you seen an attractive woman around here?”

Nova replied, deadpan, “You gotta be more specific than that.”

“An attractive woman with 36 I-cup breasts!” the knight growled.

“That doesn’t quite narrow it down much either,” the pink-haired man replied, still deadpan.

The second knight said, “Captain, you have to be more specific than that.” He turned to Nova, “We’re looking for a woman of our species. She has long purple hair, short elf-like ears, cerulean blue eyes, very ample breasts, a near-perfect top hourglass body, long, shapely legs with thick thighs, and large red and gold wings with reddish plume-like feathers like ours.”

“Okay, that’s a better description,” Nova replied. “Unfortunately, no, I haven’t seen a woman like that, though I wouldn’t mind meeting her.”

The Captain spat, “Damnit, did we lose her trail?”

Nova then got an idea, “However, sir, I did hear a rumor about a woman matching that description. Now, I’m not 100 percent sure if it’s true or not but it might be some kind of lead. The rumor I heard said that a woman like that was heading to a large mountain to the north. What was the name again? It’s on the tip of my tongue… starts with a ‘K’ if I’m not mistaken…”

The younger knight suggested, “You mean the Kalaraka Mountain?”

“Yes! That’s it! Sorry, I’m not good with location names, or names in general. But I heard a woman matching that description was heading toward the Kalaraka Mountain.”

“Why would she go there?”

The Captain replied, “I know why. It’s full of caves and other nooks and crannies that she can hide in. Plus the local monsters there are decently tough nuts to crack, yet she’s strong enough to fight them. And then there’s the wind current that makes approaching it by air hard. It would be a perfect hiding spot, as we’d have to explore it by foot, giving her ample chance to turn our search into an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse. It’s not much of a lead but the location makes sense. You! Pinky!” he returned his attention to Nova, “If you happen to see or hear anything else about that criminal report to one of us Phoenix Clan knights pronto. Got it?”

“I have a name you know!” Nova protested. “And it’s not ‘Pinky’! And the chances of me learning anything else about that woman are slim to none, so don’t hold your breath. Now let go of my shirt, you brute.”

The Captain growled, “Watch your mouth, loser, or I’ll rip out your tongue and feed it to the crocadogs!” He roughly tossed Nova, causing him to stumble to stay upright before turning to his ally, “Let’s head back to the capital and report what we’ve heard. Then we’ll take some troops to the Kalaraka Mountain to begin a search. Use Warp to get us back to the capital pronto, rookie!”

The younger knight saluted, “Yessir!” He turned to Nova, “Thank you for the information. Sorry about the rough reception from my Captain, he tends to use force to get what he wants out of people. We’ll take our leave now. Warp!”

Both knights vanished in a flash of light, leaving Nova alone. After taking a moment to ensure that no other knights were around he returned to the pond where the “criminal” was bathing.

She turned to him, “I heard everything. You just had to get ‘interrogated’ by Captain Talon, who is one of the rougher members of the Phoenix Clan army, befitting his name. Sorry you had to deal with him but I’m impressed you stood your ground against him, as he’s not afraid to use magic as an interrogation method to get what he wants, even if they’re no threat to him. And good job sending them on a wild goose chase to Kalaraka Mountain, as it’ll take them quite some time to search the whole place, giving me a chance to get out of this kingdom and into another one where they can’t follow me. I thank you for taking my side here despite them calling me a ‘criminal’.”

Nova blushed as the winged woman presented herself to him, saying, “N-No problem. But care to explain the whole story
to me. And maybe you should turn around or cover up first?”

To his surprise she walked right up to him, not bothering to cover her body, before stopping just inches from him.

“I’m not bothered by my current nude state,” she replied. “You’re free to look, I don’t mind. In fact, for some reason, I rather like your eyes drinking in my body. I don’t know why but it feels… natural to me. But let me finish my bath and then we’ll talk. Please return to the main road to keep an eye out for any more knights. While I doubt there will be any more knights showing up here, please keep a lookout just in case. I’ll be done shortly.”

Nova reluctantly walked back out to the main road, still thinking about the winged woman’s beautiful body. He sat back down on the boulder and waited for her to emerge. About a few minutes later she appeared, now fully dressed. She was wearing a strapless bikini armor top that barely covered her ample breasts, a bikini bottom, a crotch guard armor in front of it, several pouches on her belt, and high-heeled ankle boots. Nova also noticed that she had a ring on each hand, nestled on each middle finger. She had also tied her hair up in a high ponytail but it was still long enough to reach her calves while her large plume-like feathers gently flowed behind her as she walked.

“Thank you for waiting,” she said. She sat down next to him, took a deep breath, and said, “I guess it’s time to explain my story. My name is Nina Firewing. I’m the former princess of the Phoenix Clan. However, I have since rebelled against my people because of the abuse I was enduring and fled, which has caused my people to label me as a ‘criminal’. The reason behind that is extremely petty, mind, as the only reason why they bothered to keep me around at all is because I possess a rare gift that my people wanted to use to their advantage.”

“What’s this ‘gift’ you have?” Nova asked. “And why do your people want it so badly?”

Nina unfolded her wings, putting them on display, saying, “See my feathers? The possess a legendary power that my clan lost centuries ago: the power of the Magic Fire Feathers. Magic Fire Feathers are the ultimate healing power. They can save anyone from the brink of death, no matter how severe their injuries or illness, making them extremely powerful and coveted. However, for some reason, my people lost this power a long time ago, along with another one of our signature powers, so we’ve been deprived of such a wonderful gift for quite some time. However, when it was discovered I possessed the Magic Fire Feathers I instantly became a money-making method for my people. And to clarify, Phoenixwing Kingdom is one of the richest kingdoms in the world, so we really don’t need the money. But my people are greedy, thus they forced me to pluck a few feathers daily, which hurts, I might add, so they can sell them for outrageous prices to line their already filled coffers. And this was after I was largely neglected by my parents and people because of my gender.”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, “What do you mean? Were you being discriminated because your female?”

Nina nodded, “Yes. You see, in my clan, males are superior to females, thus sons tend to be the preferred gender child. I’m the first-born child in the royal family, and since I was female I was considered bit of an insult to the royal family, so I got largely cast aside until my brothers were born. My parents weren’t shy about calling me a disappointment to the royal family either, so you can bet that did wonders for my psyche. But, again, once it was discovered I possessed the Magic Fire Feathers I was pretty much routinely abused for my gift in order for my already filthy rich kingdom to make even more dirty money. After about three years of this I finally rebelled, used my powerful offensive magic to give my family and people hell before flying away, using my Teleport spell to put some extra distance between me and them. For the past month I’ve been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with my knights, who are out to drag me back to Phoenixwing so I can continue my ‘role’ as a money-making machine. I want none of that. I want to be a free bird and not use my gift for profit, but for the purpose it was designed for: to save lives. That’s why I rebelled and that’s why I want to get out of this kingdom before they find me. And… to be honest… I need help. I can’t cross the border without some help.”

“Can’t you just fly over it? I’m certain a wall won’t stop a person who can fly.”

Nina shook her head, “No, as the wind gusts that flow around this kingdom’s borders are too strong to fight. This kingdom is surrounded by mountains that cause powerful wind gusts, preventing only the strongest of fliers from overcoming them. Plus they’d expect me to try that, as I’m bold enough to do so. I can’t use my Teleport spell, either, as I know they have Sentry Orbs blocking any attempt to use a form of teleportation magic. I have to go through the border like anyone else. Fortunately, I stole a passport while I was rebelling, so I don’t need to worry about that. But, obviously, I stand out, and my knights at the border are aware that I’m trying to escape, so I’m kinda stuck. But since you were willing to take my side even before knowing this I feel that you’re trustworthy enough to help me.” She clutched his hand in her hands, making him blush, pleading, “Please, will you help smuggle me out of this kingdom and into Galvatar Kingdom, where my knights are forbidden to follow after me?”

Nova took a moment to think about it. After debating every possible outcome he turned to her and gave her a smile.

“Okay, Nina, I’ll help you,” he said. “But you have to help me in return. I’m stuck in a situation where if I don’t get any help I’ll most likely die a gruesome death. As the old saying goes, ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’. So I’ll smuggle you out of this kingdom but you have to help me with my… unwanted mission in return.”

Nina’s face lit up before tackling him in a hug, saying happily, “You’ve got a deal! Thank you! Thank you so much! Um…” she then gained a sheepish expression, “I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Nova Blitz, but just call me Nova.”

“Nova, huh? Sounds noble. Also…” she looked up a bit, “I’ve never seen a man with pink hair before.”

Nova gave an annoyed sigh, “I inherited it from my mom. It’s been one of the sources of my—” but stopped when he noticed Nina playing with it and seemingly braiding it. “…What are you doing?”

“Playing with your hair,” she replied.

He gained a crooked smile, “And why are you doing that?”

“Because I can. And because I find it so fascinating. It’s also remarkably soft and well kept. What type of shampoo do you use?”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, saying, “Nina, my coral pink hair isn’t ‘fascinating’, it’s a curse. It’s been one of the sources of my misery for quite some time, so please stop playing with it.”

Nina reluctantly complied, looking a bit dejected as she was forced to stop playing with his hair.

She then said, “Well, okay, Nova. Let’s make this partnership work out. I noticed you have the Demon King Ring on your finger. That means you’re the newest champion to help fight against Muu and his Undead Army. I know a fair bit about the Demon King Ring so I can help you at least get the basics down. And since I know a lot about magic I can teach you what you need to know on how to cast spells and such. I can also teach you about the various monsters we’ll face, along with what parts of them are valuable enough to sell for spending cash. You will eventually need your own weapon, as the ring only has a finite amount of mana in it, so having a weapon like a sword or spear would be a good idea.”

Nova sighed, “Good, because I’m gonna need all the help I can get. I’m nowhere near qualified for this job, especially since I’m afraid of ghosts and undead, but I’m stuck with it until I either beat Muu or die, the latter of which feels like the most likely outcome. I just hope you can at least get me off the ground in this unwanted mission of mine.”

Nina smiled, “I have faith we’ll pull it off. We’ll need more allies than just us, though, but that’s one reason to head for Galvatar Kingdom, as they can provide us with excellent assistance.” She jumped off the boulder and held out her hand, “Come, Nova, let’s get moving. It’s bit of a trek to the border so we’d better get going. I promise I’ll help you with this mission in exchange for your help in smuggling me out of this kingdom. So let’s go and smash Muu’s boney booty!”

Nova gained another crooked smile but slid off the boulder and took Nina’s hand. She smiled and the two started their trip toward the border, hand-in-hand.

Next Chapter: The Basics of Being a Hero

That's it for today. Hopefully Nina will be the wind beneath his wings and be just what Nova needs to get off the ground. Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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

The Basics of Being a Hero


It had been about an hour since Nova and Nina became partners. They were currently fighting a pack of monsters that had appeared. They looked like blue gumdrop monsters with googly eyes.

Nina instructed, “These Gummies are weak monsters. They go down really easy. You don’t even need to adjust the Demon King Ring off of Lesser Devil mode as they’re just that weak. Just follow my lead.” She focused on one of the Gummi monsters and started to channel energy, “Razor Wind!”

She fired an air slash that effortlessly splattered the Gummi monster she was targeting. Nova nodded, held out his hand with the Demon King Ring, and took a deep breath.

“R-Razor Wind!” he stuttered.

The ring glowed and fired an air slash at one of the Gummi monsters. The air slash cleaved the monster with ease, causing it to splatter all around.

Nina nodded, “Good, very good. Try another spell.” She then turned to another Gummi that started hopping toward her, “Ice Shard!”

She summoned a chunk of ice that rocketed toward the attacking Gummi. It slashed through the monster, killing it with minimal effort.

Nova stated, “Okay, here goes something. Fireball!”

He fired a fireball from the Demon King Ring. The fireball engulfed the final Gummi monster, setting it on fire before exploding, killing it. Both of them got into a relaxed position after the final monster had been slain.

Nina smiled, “Not bad, Nova. A lot of the monsters here are pretty weak so they’re easy enough to beat. Even a beginner like you can slay them without breaking a sweat.”

Nova gave a sigh, “Yeah, but they’re no less frightening to me. The only monsters I’ve ever fought were in video games, so facing real monsters is rather nerve-wracking. And I’m not exactly the bravest soul to being with.”

The winged woman replied, “Perhaps, but you’ll get there. And at least dealing with something like Gummies are good practice for you when it’s time to face something like an Undead Captain. Although, judging by what you told me earlier, you already defeated a small army of Undead Soldiers and their Captain. Given the description you gave me, you took out Captain Boneregard. While he’s pretty low on the Undead Army food chain, he’s still dangerous enough to most people, so his destruction is still worthy of praise for your resourcefulness. It was pretty clever using a watchtower, some lamp oil, and the Fireball spell to destroy his small but dangerous platoon in one go. Not bad for your first fight against the Undead Army. But, like I said, Boneregard is pretty low on the power scale, so consider him a preview and a warm-up for the fights ahead.”

Nova sighed again, “Not the type of coming attractions I like to see. Moving on, you said that collecting monster parts can help make money. Is it safe to say that these Gummies are worthless in that regard?”

“Yep, because they splatter when killed, so there’s nothing to collect. Slime-type monsters are pretty much worthless in the market of monster parts, so don’t expect to get any sort of reward for killing them except a bit of target practice. That also applies to Undead-type monsters, as their components are usually cursed or have some form of negative energy that makes them hazardous. If you fight an Undead-type monster, including the Undead Army, destroy them with extreme prejudice, as they’re not only completely unnatural, but generally dangerous.” She then thought of something, “Speaking of selling parts, I need you to make me a promise, Nova.”

He turned to her, “Sure, I guess. What type of promise do you have in mind?”

Nina gained a serious expression, stating, “I want you to promise me you won’t even consider using my Magic Fire Feathers for profit. While they can fetch a huge sum of money, I want you to promise me you won’t sell them, no matter how bad things get. Can you do that for me?”

Nova gave her a warm smile, “You have my word, Nina, and I keep my promises, for good or for ill. I can totally understand why you’re making such a request, since that’s how you ended up out here in the first place. So, I promise to never consider using your Magic Fire Feathers for profit, no matter what.”

The winged woman gained a relaxed expression before smiling, “Thank you, Nova. I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from with this. When I ran away I vowed to use my Magic Fire Feathers for their original purpose: to save lives. Hearing you promise me that you won’t use them for money puts my mind at ease. Thank you. While I’ll hold you to this, I have faith that you will follow up on your promise. Now, let’s see if we can find a magical campsite before it gets too dark.”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, “Magical… campsite? What’s that?”

“Oh, right, you don’t know. They’re special locations that are dotted around the world where a statue of our Goddess is placed. The statue is full of her divine power which repels monsters. As a result, travelers have turned them into special campsites so they can sleep peacefully without fear of being attacked. The energies don’t cover a huge area but they cover enough for at least one wagon and a handful of travelers to remain safe. And before you ask why those locations exist, the Goddess put them all over the world after the Great War with Muu and his army, since his very presence caused the monsters to become more aggressive. Before the Great War it wasn’t such a big deal, but after the Great War was a whole other story, all thanks to His Rottenness. I just hope we can find one soon, since it’ll give us a safe place to sleep without one of us needing to do a night watch.”

“Would my map have their locations on it?”

“No, it wouldn’t. At least not on a traveler’s map, anyway, as there are just too many magical campsites to mark on a map. On something like a world map in a castle map room, yeah, that’s possible, but not on a smaller traveler’s map. But many tend to be near main roads and/or fresh water sources, so hopefully we’ll run into one if we keep going down this road. Come on, let’s get moving.”

Nova nodded and followed Nina down the main road they were on. Every now and then some monsters would challenge them, mostly Gummies, though a handful of other monster types would sometimes be mixed in. Nova was clearly fearful of each and every one but he managed to swallow it down for his survival. By the time the sun was starting to set they had reached one of the magical campsites.

“Whew, that was lucky,” Nina said. “We found one of those magical campsites like I had mentioned. It’s good that the Goddess put several of them near main roads. And this one is also near a fresh water stream, which is a bonus. Come, let’s take a load off here.”

Nova looked the campsite over with skeptical eyes, “I just hope these things are as good as you say they are. I don’t doubt you, Nina, I just doubt that something like that statue is enough of a repellent for monsters so travelers can sleep peacefully.”

She gave him a crooked smile, “I can see why you’d feel that way. Many tend to be pretty skeptical of these special locations, too. But I’ve rested in a few of these while on the run from my knights and was not attacked by any monsters. I know they work. Try to have a little faith.”

“If you say so.”

The two of them settled down in front of a campfire pit. Using some logs that were sitting nearby they started a fire to keep them warm.

Nina gave Nova a sheepish grin, “Now… Nova… I’ve got something to confess. I… can’t cook. Like, at all. So I hope you can somehow feed us, otherwise we might be in some trouble.”

Nova chuckled lightly, “Considering you were raised in a castle I’m not surprised. Fortunately, I take pride in my cooking ability. While I’m not the best cook in my family, I do rank myself at most third, maybe forth even. Although there is one field of cooking I outstrip everyone in my family at: baking.”

Nina’s eyes lit up, “Baking? As in cakes, cookies, pastries, and other such sweet treats?”

“Yeah. Baking is my real forte when it comes to cooking. My specialty, however, are cheesecakes, with my signature cheesecake being a vanilla bean cheesecake. I can bake other types of deserts, too, but cheesecakes tend to be my most popular item. But enough of that, let me make something before it gets too late.”

He took out some of the cookware that the previous village gave him, some ingredients, and began cooking over the campfire. Nina watched with interest as Nova made their dinner, but her thoughts were mainly on the fact that he was a baker. After a little while dinner was finished. Nova handed out a bowl and poured some stew into it, making her smile.

“Real food!” she said happily. “I’ve had to make do with whatever I could pick off of trees and bushes while on the run due to my terrible cooking ability. So having a real meal again will taste even better now.”

She scooped up some of the stew with her spoon and shoved it into her mouth. Her eyes lit up like stars.

“It’s delicious! Probably one of the best stews I’ve ever had! You’re good. And you say you’re only third in terms of cooking ability in your family? I find that hard to believe.”

Nova chuckled, “Well, believe it. As my dad’s cousin and my cousin-in-law, who are first and second best, respectively, are significantly better. They are true chefs, I’m more of a cook. However, the one advantage I have over them, outside of baking, is that I tend to use more exotic ingredients like bison, alligator, and wild boar. They’re still superior to me in general but they don’t deny that my usage of more exotic ingredients does give me a unique edge over them, as they prefer more traditional, if still quite good, ingredients. But I’m glad you like my cooking. There’s plenty, so if you want some more just help yourself.”

“Don’t mind if I do. And I never knew that you could cook with more exotic ingredients. I just might have to try some of your exotic dishes one day. But, for now, this stew will do quite nicely.”

The two of them continued to eat the delicious stew. Both helped themselves to more servings before the last bite was finished. Nova gathered up the dishes and was about to walk over to the stream before Nina stopped him.

“Wait a second, Nova. Let me do the dishes. You did all the cooking so it’s only fair I do something, too. And I don’t mind getting dishpan hands if it means I can eat more of your good cooking. How about it?”

Nova gave her a smile, “Sure, sounds like a plan. And, if memory serves, I may just happen to have some cookies and such for a little dessert. Sound good to you?”

Nina smiled, “Deal. Now, let me handle this part while you get out the dessert.”

She took the dishes and walked over to the stream to wash them. It didn’t take her very long but she made sure to do a thorough job. When she returned with the cleaned dishes Nova held out a small package filled with various snacks like cookies.

“Here, try these on for size,” he said with a smile.

Nina gave him the dishes before taking the package of cookies. She looked the bag over out of curiosity.

“Huh… ‘Oreo Minis’? I’ve never heard of these. But, then again, you’re from Earth so I shouldn’t be surprised. I hope they’re good. What about you?”

Nova held up another package of cookies, saying, “I’m covered. I’ve got some cinnamon Teddy Grams here. Now, let’s have our dessert before it gets too late.”

Nodding, Nina sat back down next to Nova and both opened up their respective bags of cookies. Nina plucked out one of the small Oreo cookies, looked it over, and popped it into her mouth. Her eyes widened as she tasted it.

“It’s good!” she said. “Like, really good. And they’re just the right size for an after-dinner munchie.”

She started to quickly eat her bag of Oreo Minis while Nova at his Teddy Grams at a slower pace. Before long both bags were empty. Nova took the empty bags and put them into his Digi-Pack along with the cookware.

Nina gave a wide yawn, “Those Oreos hit the spot. But now it’s time to call it a night.”

Nova then took something out of his Digi-Pack and held it out to her, revealing it to be a blanket. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“You’re giving me a blanket, Nova? What about you?”

He replied, “I’ll survive. But it’s only proper that the lady gets the blanket to stay warm. And, besides, I want you to know that I’m not like the other men you’ve met, like your fellow Phoenix Clan members, as I actually care about you. So take it.”

Nina gratefully took the blanket, her eyes sparkling with joy, “Thank you, Nova. I’ve only known you for not even a full day and already you’ve proven to be the best. We’re gonna work great together. Goodnight.”

She curled up under the blanket and quickly fell asleep. Nova laid down, got as comfortable as he could, and drifted off to sleep.

A few hours later Nova heard something. It sounded like grunting and groaning. He slowly opened his eyes, seeing it was still nighttime. The fire had mostly burned out, with only a few embers left. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness but when they did he wished they hadn’t.

Lurking around the outside of the campsite was a horrific creature. It was a rotting corpse that dragged itself by its decaying arms because it no longer had legs, with the lower part of its spine and hips dragging behind it. Nova’s eyes widened in terror before he screamed, startling Nina awake.

“W-What happened?!” she sputtered.

She then noticed the decaying corpse monster trying to find a way into the campsite. Nova quickly scrambled as far away as he could, pure terror written all over his face. Nina’s eyes narrowed at the corpse monster before she started channeling energy.

“You’ll regret waking us, you disgusting thing!” she snarled. “Holy Bolt!”

She fired a bolt of pure Light energy at the zombified monster. It struck it and engulfed it in a burst of light. When the light vanished there was no trace of the monster, having been completely atomized.

“When it comes to Undead-type monsters, Light and Fire magic are the most effective.”

She then turned to Nova, who was trembling like a leaf while in a fetal position, his head on his knees. Nina gingerly approached him, trying not to spook him any further.

“Nova?” she said in a gentle tone. “It’s okay now. That was just a Corpse, a weak Undead monster. But I took care of it, so we’re safe.”

Nova whimpered, tears in his eyes, “I knew I wasn’t cut out for this. What was the Demon King thinking when he chose me, a worthless, spineless, cowardly loser, to be his newest champion? What does he hope to gain from using me as his champion? Am I just bait? If I can’t fight a simple Corpse then what chance do I have against the ruler of all Undead? Now I know what happened with Boneregard or whatever was just a fluke. I can’t do this. I’m not hero material. I’m just a worthless, spineless, cowardly, good-for-nothing loser.”

Seeing Nova this rattled allowed Nina to realize just how frightened he was in facing such a daunting threat. It also allowed her to see just how terribly low his self-esteem is. She approached him, sat down next to him, and used one of her wings to gently cradle him.

“Nova, it’ll be okay,” she said soothingly. “While I’m beginning to question what the Demon King had in mind when he chose someone whose afraid of all manner of ghosts, specters, and undead, I feel that he does have a good reason for it. I don’t know what but he’s never been wrong before when it comes to his champions. I can see just how afraid you are, Nova, and I can fully understand why. But I know you’ll become the hero that this world needs. Heroes aren’t born, after all, they’re made. It’ll take some time but I know you’ll come to see yourself as something great. You’re not a worthless, spineless, cowardly loser, Nova. I’ve seen the goodness and courage inside of you and I know that, with some work, you’ll become Edyn’s savior. And I’ll stand by your side to the bitter end. You gave me hope and kindness, now it’s my turn to give you the same thing. We can do this, Nova, I know it. It won’t happen overnight but I know that, with some time, effort, and luck, the blood, sweat, and tears we’ll have shed by then will reward us. So, please, don’t be scared. We’ll get through this together.”

Nova didn’t reply, still trembling in fear. Nina gently nuzzled up to him, holding him. They stayed this way for some time before both of them fell asleep in this position. They knew their task was a daunting one but they had to do it if there was any hope for a future.

Next Chapter: Fletching Fledgling

That's all for today. Poor Nova. He's certainly got it rough. Tune in next time to see how the duo fairs.
 

CynthiaLover

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

Fletching Fledgling


It was the following morning. Nova and Nina were up and about. Nova was making breakfast for the two of them. He still seemed rather shaken from the night’s events but was trying to put on a brave face. Nina understood but didn’t push the issue, as she was more interested in what he was making. After a while Nova put the food he was cooking together, creating two breakfast sandwiches on rolls.

“Here you go, Nina,” he said. “A bacon and cheese eggwich. I hope you’ll like it.”

Nina quirked an eyebrow, “Eggwich? What’s that?”

“It’s a type of breakfast sandwich. They’re easy to transport and easy to make so they tend to be pretty popular.”

Nina took her eggwich, looking it over, “I’ve never heard of such a concept. I’m learning a lot of new, interesting things from you, Nova. I just hope it tastes good.”

She hesitated at first before biting into her eggwich. Her eyes lit up as she tasted the breakfast sandwich.

“Wow! That’s really good! I never had my breakfast as a sandwich before. I like it. And it’s a great meal for being on the road. Man, I’m loving all the new stuff you’re introducing to me.”

The two of them happily ate their eggwiches. Before long they were finished. After washing the cookware and packing it away they left the safety of the magical campsite and continued down the road. Nova then gained bit of a sad expression.

“Everything okay, Nova?” the winged woman asked.

“I’m just wondering how Zeke; my pet ringneck parrot is doing. I’ve been gone for a few days now. I hope he’s okay.”

“You don’t have to worry about it, Nova. Time here on Edyn moves much faster than on Earth. The two worlds were once synchronized but Muu’s very existence destroyed that. Now the time flow is different here on Edyn. Months could pass here but only minutes will on Earth. They say that when Muu is destroyed the two worlds will resynchronize but that has yet to be confirmed. But you can rest easy knowing that your pet will be fine, as you’ve probably only been gone for a few seconds on Earth at this point.”

“That’s a relief,” the young man replied. “At least I don’t have to worry too much about him being alone without me for too long. Let’s keep moving and see if we can reach the next town or village before lunch.”

Nina nodded and the duo continued their trek. However, it wasn’t long before they’d run into trouble. Four anthropomorphic lizards wielding bows and arrows jumped out of some underbrush, ready to fight. Both Nova and Nina got into a battle-ready pose, although Nova was hesitant.

“We’ve got Komodo Archers!” Nina stated. “They’re not too tough but they’re some of the tougher monsters in this territory. They are, however, weak to Lightning, so use that to our advantage.”

The Komodo Archers drew some arrows, took aim, and fired them at Nova and Nina. Nina took to the air on her strong wings while Nova managed to dodge the arrows with a surprisingly lithe maneuver. The Komodo Archers gained annoyed expressions and started to fire arrow after arrow at Nova, but he kept dodging them with extremely quick reflexes. Nina was surprised as she witnessed Nova’s masterful dodging ability.

“He’s deceptively light on his feet,” she said silently. “Those Komodo Archers haven’t landed a single hit on him. They’re gonna run out of arrows before he gets hit, which will be our opening to strike back.”

Before long the Komodo Archers ran out of arrows, causing them to become nervous. Nina smirked and started to charge up energy.

“Thunder!” she shouted.

The Komodo Archers were struck by a decently strong bolt of lightning, dealing heavy damage to them and causing them to drop their bows. While they were stunned Nova swallowed down his fear and faced them.

“Devil Mode!” he stated.

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself automatically, now on Devil Mode.

“T-Thunder!”

He summoned more lightning to strike the Komodo Archers. This blow was the final one, as the four lizards fell to the ground, dead. Nina floated back down to ground level.

“Not bad at all, Nova,” she said. “And I’m very impressed with your dodging ability. I’ve never seen anyone move like that before. You completely avoided all the Komodo Archers’ arrows, something that’s considered extremely hard to do if you can’t fly, as Komodo Archers and their cousins are extremely good shots. Now, time to collect some goodies. Grab their bows, arrows, and the quivers, as they fetch decent prices on the market. I’ll cut off their tails, as those also fetch a fairly good price.”

Nova nodded and started to gather up the bows, arrows, and quivers while Nina used a Razor Wind spell to slice the tails off the Komodo Archers. As Nova collected the bows he took a moment to look them over, both out of curiosity and to see if they were damaged. After they had collected everything they stored them in the Digi-Pack and continued onward.

As they walked Nova asked, “Hey, Nina. I’ve been wondering something. You don’t seem to have a weapon yourself. Don’t you need one, too?”

She turned to him, “Actually, I do have weapons. See these rings on my middle fingers? They’re magical rings, a type of weapon. Mages and magicians like myself often use either rings or staves as their weapons-of-choice. Staves are generally preferred but rings are still very effective. Plus rings are easier to wield and carry, as they don’t take up any space. And since I’m traveling light, and I’m on the run, rings work better for me than staves.”

“Huh, I see. So rings are a type of weapon. I guess that also applies to the Demon King Ring on my finger. What other types of weapons are out there?”

“Well, other than rings and staves, there are swords, obviously, axes, bows, spears, hammers, daggers, boomerangs, and claws. And each type of weapon has a set of different skills associated with it.”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, “Skills? You mean like a weapon-specific ability?”

Nina nodded, “Yeah, that’s correct. Different weapons possess different skills. Skills are similar to magic, as they require mana energy to activate and use, but they’re not affected by anti-magic techniques. They also take a long time to learn, even longer than magic, due to their more specific nature. While some can learn quicker than others, the general rule is that skills require more practice than magic in order to learn. But just like magic once you’ve learned a skill you’ve got it forever, so the effort is worth it.”

“Can you give me some examples? I’m actually rather fascinated by this.”

“Sure, but only a few, as there are a large number of skills out there. Let’s take rings for a start. One of the more basic skills for rings is Mini Boom, which launches a small but strong explosion at the opponent. It’s high strength for its level makes it a good beginners skill. Another ring skill is Will, which allows the user to instantly restore a chunk of their mana energy. The less mana energy the user has, the more it regenerates. A claw-type skill that’s very popular is Twister Claw, as with a single slash it creates a mini twister to strike the opponent. And since we just collected some from those Komodo Archers a common bow-type skill would be Fire Shot, which shoots a flaming arrow. Also, before I forget, some skills are of a higher tier than others. Using bows as an example, one of the most powerful, and most difficult-to-learn skills would be Dragon Strike, which turns the arrow into a dragon made of lightning and is capable of nuking a large amount of enemies with it. That should do as a starting lesson for you about skills. While your Demon King Ring grants you bit of a cheat ability when it comes to magic I doubt it’ll do the same for weapon skills, as those need to be obtained through actual training. Hopefully that’s enough of an explanation on weapon skills.”

Nova nodded, “Yes, that’s good enough. At least now I know there are other types of abilities to learn here since I’ll need to learn as much as I possibly can in order to get out of this war with Muu alive. Thanks, Nina.”

Nina smiled and the two of them continued to make their way down the road. About an hour later they arrived at a small, cozy farming village. However, they noticed things didn’t look so good. There were too few livestock in the fields and the area looked pretty torn up.

“What happened here?” Nova asked, surprised.

“I dunno, but I hope it’s not the Undead Army,” Nina replied. “Come, let’s ask around.”

They took a moment to look around before they found a young, muscular man working in what was left of the fields. He noticed them approaching and gained a look of dread.

“I’d recommend that you two get the hell out of here,” he said. “It’s for your own good.”

“Why?” Nina asked. “Is it because we’re outsiders?”

The man shook his head, “No, that’s not the issue. The problem is a Death Chimera has been terrorizing us.”

“A Death Chimera!?” the winged woman sputtered. “You only find those in certain mountainous locations like Kalaraka Mountain, not grasslands and fields. How did a Death Chimera end up here?”

The man shrugged, “Beats me, although the village elder has a theory that it was displaced by the Undead Army, since we know they’ve been lurking around the various mountain ranges to setup new bases. But we can’t confirm that. Unless you two can help us with the Death Chimera I highly suggest you make tracks before it returns.”

Nina gained a determined look, causing Nova to gain a look of dread.

“I know what you’re thinking, Nina,” he sighed. “You want to help these people in fending off the Death Chimera, right?”

She nodded, “Yeah, we have to. We can’t let it run rampant, as it’s already caused a lot of damage. Leaving it to its own devices could cause even more damage, not just to this village but other villages as well. Plus, as Death Chimeras are pretty high in the monster food chain, this one could easily dominate everything here, be it monsters or animals. We need to take care of it before it becomes an even bigger problem.”

Nova sighed defeatedly, “I was afraid you’d say that. Well, at least it’s just a monster and not an Undead Captain or something. Fine.”

The young man’s eyes widened, “You two will really help us out? You have no idea how much that’d mean to us!”

Suddenly, a man in a watchtower started banging a bell, shouting, “The Death Chimera is approaching from the west!”

“Well that didn’t take very long,” Nova said, completely deadpan.

Nina grabbed him by the arm, stating, “Let’s cut it off before it gets too close to the village! We need to minimize the damage! Let’s go!”

She quickly dragged him toward the western side of the village. As they did they saw the various villagers looking at them with both hope and fear, not knowing if the duo were going to be their saviors or would be killed by the beast. Nova and Nina took a battle-ready position, as they could see the beast slowly approach them. The Death Chimera was a three-headed beast; one head was a lion, the other was a ram, and the last was a demon, with glowing yellow eyes, large wings, horns, a sturdy body covered in bristling black fur, strong legs, and a long snake for a tail.

“D-D-Demon Mode,” Nova gulped, causing the Demon King Ring to adjust itself automatically. “D-Do you have any idea on how to beat it, Nina?”

“Death Chimeras are weak to Light, as they’re of the Dark element, so any Light attacks such as Holy Bolt will be very effective. Be warned, however, as they’re deceptively fast and light on their feet. Pretty much every part of its body is a weapon so don’t underestimate it.”

The Death Chimera stopped a certain distance from the duo,
growling. It eyed them with all six of its glowing yellow eyes, as it knew these two were opposing it. The air was tense, as both sides waited for the other to make a move. After a few tense moments the Death Chimera roared and charged at them.

“Holy Bolt!” both Nova and Nina stated.

They fired the bursts of Light energy directly at the Death Chimera. The sphere of energy struck the beast in all three of its faces, causing it to roar in pain and come to a stop, temporarily stunned. Nina quickly flew up close to it and started to channel energy into her rings.

“Mini Boom!” she stated.

She released a condensed explosion from her rings that blasted the Death Chimera, knocking it back and doing some impressive damage. She quickly got out of range before it could recover and retaliate.

“H-Holy Bolt!” Nova stated.

He fired another burst of Light energy that struck the middle lion head of the Death Chimera, angering it. It charged directly at him, ready to rip him to ribbons.

“Hoverboots, on! Maximum Burn!”

Nova’s Hoverboots were activated, much to Nina’s surprise, before the energy they were releasing increased significantly. Nova used them to propel himself over the Death Chimera, doing some impressive front flips before landing surprisingly gracefully behind the beast. The monster lashed out its snake tail to bite him but he used the Hoverboots to swiftly get out of its range. The Death Chimera realized that these two were not weak foes like it was used to. It turned to them and gave a roar, its eyes glowing.

“Nova!” Nina stated. “Be ready to dodge, as it’s about to fire the Nightmare spell! When the energy sphere forms immediately dodge it!”

Nova nodded and both paid attention to the spell that was starting to generate. When it took the form of a black sphere both Nova and Nina swiftly dodged it, as not a second later it released powerful Dark energy bolts right where they originally were. This swift dodge angered the Death Chimera, making it roar in fury. It suddenly charged at Nina before jumping, claws extended, ready to pin her. Nova quickly rocketed toward them with his Hoverboots and managed to snag Nina just moments before the Death Chimera could crash on top of her. Nina blushed as she sat in Nova’s arms, bridal-style, her eyes wide in surprise.

“Are you okay, Nina?” he asked.

“Y-Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. She then said silently, “Why is my heart racing like this? Is it the adrenalin from the battle? Or… am I enjoying being carried bridal-style in Nova’s arms?”

Nova gently put her down, making her blush even more before turning his attention back to the Death Chimera. He, without thinking, took out one of the bows and an arrow that they had collected from the Komodo Archers
from his Digi-Pack, took aim, and focused as the Death Chimera charged toward him.

“Fire Shot!” he stated.

To Nina’s surprise he fired the arrow, which was now coated in unusually strong flames, just as the Death Chimera jumped into the air. The flaming arrow struck the Death Chimera, piercing through it before coming out of its back, having torn a large hole through its chest. The Death Chimera crashed in a heap on the ground, dead, ending the fight.

Nina looked dumbstruck, “Nova… do you realize what you just did? You not only bravely faced a Death Chimera, but you just used an archery skill on your first try without any practice or training, killing the Death Chimera with it. How?”

Nova gained a sheepish expression, “It was just beginner’s luck, that’s all. Just spur of the moment. I doubt I’ll be able to replicate that again.”

Nina stood up, saying, “I dunno, Nova. You may have some natural talent with a bow and arrow, as, if what you’ve told me is true, you’ve never even held a bow and arrow until today. And yet you not only used one perfectly, but you also used an archery skill like it was nothing. While Fire Shot is one of the more basic archery skills one still needs to practice it first before they can use it skillfully. But you used it like it was second nature to you. I’m not sure if the Demon King Ring is granting you another cheat-like ability or you’re just a natural with a bow and arrow that you could call upon Fire Shot perfectly on your first try. Maybe you should consider a bow as your weapon while you’re here, Nova, as you took to it like a duck takes to water.”

Nova shook his head, “No. It was just beginner’s luck. There’s no way I’d be able to replicate that performance again. I wasn’t even thinking when I grabbed the bow and arrow out of my Digi-Pack, I just did it.”

Nina place her hands akimbo, “Nova, that’s the sign of a natural archer. That was no beginner’s luck. After that display I’m certain you’re a natural when it comes to archery. And we need to work on your self-esteem, as even the most talented of archers wouldn’t have performed that good on their first attempt. Hell, even the Legendary Archer himself struggled at first but you nailed it on your first try. I seriously think you should take up archery as your fighting style. But time for that later. Let’s gather up some of the parts from this Death Chimera, as they’ll fetch a pretty copper, to say the least, and then let the village know we dealt with their problem.”

Nova looked back, saying, “I don’t think we need to do that, as they’re already approaching us.”

Nina turned to see the villagers running up to them, cheering.

“You did it!” a man said.

“You killed the Death Chimera!” a woman cried.

“Now our village can recuperate from the damage it caused!” another man cheered.

The village elder stepped up, smiling, “Thank you, my young friends. You saved us all from that terrible Death Chimera. While we don’t know where it came from or why it ended up here we are still very grateful for you two putting your lives at risk for our sake. You have our eternal gratitude. We have suffered damage thanks to that blasted beastie, but you are welcome to stay here for the night free of charge as a token of our appreciation.”

Nina smiled, “We’ll take you up on that offer, sir. Just let us harvest some parts from this Death Chimera and we’ll follow you back into the village.”

Nova and Nina quickly harvested the more valuable parts from the Death Chimera, leaving the rest for the village, before the villagers escorted them back for a celebration. Nova looked at the Komodo Archer bow he was still holding, contemplating Nina’s suggestion about him taking up archery.

Next Chapter: Bad to the Bone

That's it for today. 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, female nudity)

Bad to the Bone


It was the evening after Nova and Nina saved the small farming village from the Death Chimera. The village, despite the damage it had sustained, held a small but joyous celebration in honor of the pair saving them. There was food, drink, and music all around. Nova and Nina felt a bit sheepish at all the praise but they were grateful that the village was willing to do this in their honor. After a while the duo made their way to the village inn to rest.

Nova closed the inn room door and gently locked it, his back to Nina, saying, “Whew… that was… a bit much. The village needs to rebuild after all the damage that Death Chimera caused and yet they were still willing to give us such a nice celebration as thanks. I’m a bit worn out from all that.”

Nina replied, “At least we know they appreciated our help. There was no way they would’ve been able to handle a Death Chimera without asking for help. They would’ve probably had to send the request straight to the Phoenixwing royal family for military aid. And given my clan’s greed, they wouldn’t do it without something in exchange. Plus, by the time my birdbrained knights would’ve gotten here that Death Chimera could’ve eradicated the village. So it was better that you and I dealt with it without the villagers needing to poke the vespabee nest that is my kingdom’s capital.”

Nova sighed, “Yeah, that’s true. At least we got a free night here as a bonus so we can—” but he stopped dead in his tracks as he turned around.

Nina had stripped completely naked, almost as if she was oblivious to Nova’s presence. Nova could feel his male urges getting stronger as he gazed upon his partner’s gorgeous body, naughty thoughts popping up in his head. He quickly banished such thoughts and tried to remain calm.

“N-N-Nina!” he sputtered. “Why are you stripping naked?!”

She turned to him, not bothering to cover up, “I prefer to sleep naked. It’s more comfortable to me. Granted, I can’t get away with it too much now that I’m on the road but since we’re at an inn I felt it was safe to do so.”

“And you’re willing to do this while I’m in the same room as you?!”

She merely smiled, “Yep, I’m perfectly fine with it. Not just because I’m proud of my body, but, for some reason, when I have your gaze upon my naked figure, it feels so… natural. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it feels… kinda nice. I can’t explain it but for some reason being like this with you nearby feels so good. Strange, right? I mean, I’ve only known you for little more than a full day and yet being around you feels so perfectly natural and right. I wonder why?” She shook her head, “Anyway, enough talk, I think we’ve both earned a rest, especially after that celebration. Goodnight, Nova.”

Without a shred of shame or modesty Nina walked over to one of the beds, slipped underneath the covers, and quickly fell asleep, leaving a rather stunned Nova in her wake.

“I’m not sure if I should be excited or flustered that Nina doesn’t mind me seeing her naked…” he said silently. “Just don’t think dirty thoughts, Nova. She’s your friend, after all. Don’t think lewd things about her. You don’t want to violate her trust or anything, as she’s your first friend in years. And the first woman who doesn’t think you’re a loser, either.”

Giving a defeated sigh Nova walked over to another bed, kicked off his Hoverboots, placed them and his Digi-Pack at the foot of the bed, curled up under the covers, and slowly fell asleep.

The following morning the duo was back on the road. The village had sent them off with smiles and waves, still appreciative for what the pair did for them. As Nova and Nina continued their way toward the border where they would need to cross in order to get to Galvatar Kingdom, they wondered what obstacles they would face.

“I’m still thinking about that Death Chimera,” Nina said. “The village elder seems to suspect that it was displaced by the Undead Army building another one of their bases. If that’s true then we need to find that base and destroy it before any more monsters like that Death Chimera cause trouble for other settlements.”

“Great…” Nova said dryly.

Nina giggled, “Oh, don’t worry about it, Nova. You’ll do fine. After all, you beat Captain Boneregard, even if he’s pretty low in the pecking order, so that proves you can fight against the Undead Army. Just try to have a little faith in yourself, as I know your previous showdown with the Undead Army wasn’t a fluke. And, besides, it’s your job to eliminate every single member of Muu’s army as the Demon King’s champion, so we’ll have to deal with the Undead Army at one point or another.”

“Even better…” the pink-haired man replied dryly, making Nina giggle again.

The duo continued onward. However, it wasn’t long before they came to a merchant and his cart of goods being led by some strange large bird coming their way. He stopped just as he became level with them, looking rather frantic.

“What’s wrong?” Nina asked.

The merchant replied, “I highly suggest you two get the hell out of Dodge, as there is an Undead Base not far from here, just up on that mountain over to the southeast.”

He pointed toward a nearby mountain behind him. Nina took flight and narrowed her eyes to try to see if the merchant was telling the truth.

“Yeah, I can see the Undead Base,” she called down. “Just barely, though, as it’s somewhat obscured by rock formations.”

Nova was stunned, “How is your eyesight that good?”

She floated back down and landed before saying, “I’m part of the Phoenix Clan, remember? We’re related to phoenixes, which have the best eyesight of all avian creatures, even in the dark. If I focus my eyes I can see for several dozen miles. Looks like we know now where we need to go.”

The merchant was shocked, “You’re not actually planning on attacking that Undead Base, are you!? You two would be slaughtered!”

“Unfortunately, it’s our job now, as Nova here is the Demon King’s newest champion. Show him, Nova.”

Nova reluctantly showed the Demon King Ring on his finger, making the merchant’s eyes widen in surprise.

“You’re the new champion for the Demon King?” the merchant asked. “You look… rather unimpressive, to be honest. I don’t think you’re good enough to handle them. But it’s your funeral. As for me, I’m getting the hell out of here. Good luck, ‘cause you’re gonna need it! Hiya!”

He shook the reins of the bird creature, signaling it to run, which it did, dragging his cart away as fast as possible.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Nova said sarcastically, making Nina giggle again.

She replied, still giggling a bit, “Be as it may, we have a job to do. Come, Nova, let’s get going. We’ve got some boneheads to smash.”

Nova sighed defeatedly as he followed Nina toward the location where the Undead Base had been set up. After an hour of hiking and climbing the treacherous terrain they reached the Undead Base. Using the various rock formations as cover they slinked around, trying to get a feel for what they were up against.

“Let me get some air and see if I can get a good view of what we’re dealing with,” Nina said.

“Be careful, Nina,” Nova said, concerned. “I don’t want you getting caught or hurt.”

She smiled at him, “Thank you, Nova. I’ll be careful. Just give me a moment.”

She took flight, still using the rock formations as cover, trying to get a good view of what they were up against. After finding a good spot she focused her eyes at the inside of the base, as it was mostly just a fortress wall surrounding a campsite of sorts. She took a minute to gauge the situation, trying to identify the Undead Army they were dealing with, before floating back down to Nova.

“Okay, I think I’ve got the general gist of who we’re up against,” she said. “We’re dealing with Captain Bonenapper and his platoon. Bonenapper is pretty low on the pecking order just like Boneregard, being roughly the same strength as the latter. His platoon isn’t very large, either, as his group is mostly designed to act as scouts and to setup bases for stronger Captains and Generals, just like Boneregard’s platoon. As a result, his army isn’t very strong. The two of us alone should be able to deal with them fairly easily. Here’s a pro tip, Nova: Fire and Light techniques are extremely effective against Undead. Petrifying abilities are also pretty solid, too, as it’s basically an instant kill to them, though we lack those right now. Now, this may seem like a dumb question but do you still have the bows and arrows from the Komodo Archers we fought yesterday?”

“I do, as I forgot to sell them for extra spending cash,” Nova replied. “I take it using archery will be an effective tactic?”

She nodded, “Yes. The problem with most Undead is that they rely primarily on physical attacks, so they need to get up close and personal. The Undead Army isn’t much different. While some of the stronger Captains and Generals, along with Muu himself, clearly avert this, being magically adept, the foot soldiers and lower ranked Captains are pretty vulnerable to ranged attacks.” She then pondered something before adding, “Seeing how you used Fire Shot so easily yesterday this might be a good opportunity to not only use it but for me to teach you about another archery skill that can help: Petrify Shot. Since petrification abilities are kinda rare, and yet they’re super effective against Undead, you learning Petrify Shot could give us an extra edge. Sound good?”

“If it boosts our chances of survival, then fine, teach me whatever I need to know, Nina,” Nova replied.

She nodded and gave him a quick rundown on the basics of Petrify Shot. Afterward the two of them slinked around in order to find an opening. They saw two Undead Soldiers standing by the front gates, completely unaware of the duo’s presence. Nina took a moment to observe the situation before giving Nova a nod. He reluctantly took out one of the bows and two arrows from his Digi-Pack, took aim, and focused.

“Demon Mode,” he said in a hushed tone, causing the Demon King Ring to adjust automatically. “Here goes something. Petrify Shot.”

The arrow that was currently loaded up glowed with energy. He made sure his target was in sight before firing the arrow. He then quickly loaded up the other arrow and took aim.

“Petrify Shot.”

The second arrow glowed with energy before he fired it. The two arrows rocketed toward the Undead Soldiers standing guard, completely oblivious to the incoming danger. When the arrows struck them they jumped in surprise, but before they could do anything the energies in the arrows quickly turned them to stone.

“Nice shooting, Nova,” Nina smiled, giving him a thumbs-up. “I’m starting to think your Demon King Ring offers another cheat for you, allowing you to use skills without any prior training. Either that or you’re just this much of a natural with a bow. But time for this later, let’s go and break a few legs.”

The duo continued to slink around the Undead Base, trying to get a good vantage point to launch their next attack. They eventually made it to a small ledge hanging over the base, revealing its insides. There they could see the various Undead Soldiers still working on the base, with what looked like a multi-limbed skeleton in fancy armor and wielding several weapons watching over them.

“That’s Captain Bonenapper,” Nina explained. “Despite his rather intimidating appearance he’s not that strong. He still packs a decent punch but he’s nowhere near as strong as someone like Captain Skullguard. Hmm…” she took a moment to observe the base before smiling, “Aha! They’ve got a Magna Crystal acting as a power source for the base. And it looks like a raw one. That’s perfect. We can take the whole base out in one swoop thanks to that.”

Nova turned to her, “What do you mean?”

“Magna Crystals are valuable crystals often used as power sources for various things. However, one needs to be segmented and refined into cubes in order to be handled and used more safely, as they’re highly volatile when raw. The slightest provocation can set a raw Magna Crystal off, causing a massive explosion that can wipe out a whole city, depending on its size. I’ve got an idea on how we can destroy this entire base without even needing to engage the Undead Army and Captain Bonenapper. Nova, use Petrify Shot to seal the gateway. That’ll prevent them from fleeing, as it’s the only way in and out. I’ll use a spell to set off the Magna Crystal so it’ll explode, taking the entire base out with it. Consequently we won’t have to set foot in the base to take out the threat of the Undead Army.”

Nova nodded, “I’m good with that strategy. The less I have to get involved with any Undead, the better. Let’s get to work.”

After going over the strategy one more time the duo got into position. Nova took out another arrow from his Digi-Pack and aimed carefully at the closed fortress gateway.

“Okay, the Demon King Ring is still set to Demon Mode so I don’t need to change it,” he said to himself. “Here goes something. Petrify Shot.”

The arrow he had loaded up glowed with energy before he fired it at the gateway. The arrow flew down toward its target before wedging itself in-between the two halves of the door. It then glowed and quickly turned the gateway into stone, completely sealing it off. This action didn’t go unnoticed by the Undead Army.

Captain Bonenapper snarled, “What!? Who sealed off the base’s entrance?! Hurry and break down the door so we can find who did this!”

Nova gave Nina, who was in a different spot, the signal. She nodded and started to channel energy.

“Time for Captain Bonenapper to go out with a bang,” she said. “Mana Ball!”

She fired a condensed orb of mana energy that rocketed toward the Magna Crystal. It struck it, causing it to start humming and shaking, much to the Undead Army’s alarm.

“Hurry, you boneheads!” Captain Bonenapper sputtered. “The Magna Crystal is gonna blow! Break the door down NOW!!!”

The Undead Soldiers were scrambling to break the fortress door down. It was all in vain, as the Magna Crystal erupted, creating a massive explosion that engulfed the entire base. Nova and Nina quickly ducked behind cover as the base was blasted to bits. The Undead Soldiers and Captain Bonenapper screamed in agony as they were ripped to shreds by the explosion. Finally, everything went silent, except for the clunking of debris that fell back to the ground. Nova and Nina gingerly climbed out from their hiding place to see what had happened to the Undead Base. It was now just a smoldering crater with no traces of the Undead Soldiers and Undead Captain left.

Nova flopped onto the ground, sighing, “Whew… I can’t believe we managed to do that without a hitch. I was dead nervous during that whole ordeal.”

Nina smiled, “Perhaps, but you still did well, Nova. And your ability to use a bow is quite remarkable. I’d say you could even rival the Legendary Archer, or at least come close to him in terms of natural skill. But now the Undead Base has been destroyed and all the Undead Soldiers in it have been obliterated. That’ll not only make Muu angry but it’ll also weaken his grip on the world. We did good today. Now, let’s find a magical campsite to take a load off, as we earned it.”

Nova nodded and the duo made their way back down the mountain and onto the main road, hoping to find a magical campsite before it got too late.

Meanwhile, a skeletal imp ran up to Muu, who was concealed in shadows, looking quite frantic.

“M-Master Muu, we have trouble!” the imp stated. “The newly built Undead Base in Mount Zaka has been destroyed by an unknown force!”

Muu growled, “It was probably the Demon King’s newest puppet. Looks like that cowardly weasel is a bit more able than I thought. Alert Captain Zomboni about this. Tell him to find that little rat and eliminate him once and for all. I won’t tolerate any more failures. Now go!”

Next Chapter: Dominic’s Disastrous Debut

That's it for today. 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, mild sexual content)

Dominic’s Disastrous Debut


It was the following day after Nova and Nina had destroyed an Undead Base and eliminated Captain Bonenapper’s platoon. The duo were still heading down the main road toward the checkpoint that would lead them out of Phoenixwing Kingdom and into Galvatar Kingdom.

“I gotta say, you people on Earth sure eat better than we do,” Nina said cheerfully. “Those bacon cheeseburgers you made last night were great! And the pancakes you made this morning really hit the spot. It’s nice having someone who can cook, as if I somehow got into a kitchen it would end up a disaster zone.”

Nova chuckled, “I’m glad you like my cooking, Nina, especially since you came from a royal background, so you probably ate gourmet meals for most of your life.”

“Perhaps, but they were pretty much the same meal over and over again with very little, if any, variety between them. I’ve been introduced to some really good stuff thanks to meeting you and becoming your partner. Hell, even a ‘common’ food like those bacon cheeseburgers had more variety than most of my castle-cooked meals. I’d gladly take those over anything I’ve had back when I was a princess. Now, let me see the map and compass you got so I can get a feel for how much further we have to go before we reach the border.”

Nova took out the map and compass, allowing Nina to look it over. She checked the position of the sun, looked at the compass, scanned the surrounding area, and read the map.

“Okay, the good news is we don’t have much further to go. After the next village we just follow the road a bit longer before reaching the border. The only issue that we need to think about, however, is how we’re gonna smuggle me across the border. By now the knights stationed there must be aware that I’ve run off, so unless we can find a way to either hide my appearance or sneak me off through the side we might hit a roadblock.”

Nova replied, “We’ll figure something out. If we have a bit of time before we reach the border it’ll give us at least a few days to think of a strategy. When we get to the next village we’ll spend some time mapping out a plan and seeing what our options are. We’ll make any changes as we go. We’ll probably have to wing it a bit but we will find a way. Like the old saying, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’.”

Nina looked at Nova with loving eyes, “Nova, you truly are the best thing to ever happen to me. You’re willing to potentially get into trouble on my behalf. No one has ever been willing to go that far for me, especially a man. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Once we get into Galvatar Kingdom we won’t have to worry about my knights chasing after me, as, unless given special permission, knights from other kingdoms cannot cross into another kingdom’s territory. The only real exceptions are if soldiers are needed during war or if a knight gets a special passport that enables them to do so. But, anyway, let’s keep moving. According to the map we’re only about two miles away from the next village. After that it’s a straight shot to the border. Hopefully by then we’ll have figured something out on how to cross without the guards finding me.”

Nova nodded, “Yeah, and we can sell some of the monster parts we’ve collected lately. We didn’t do it at the last village because of the whole Death Chimera thing so let’s sell some of the stuff like the Death Chimera horns for travel money, since we’re probably gonna need it, along with extra supplies. It may be just you and me right now, and we’ve been working off the food I unintentionally brought with me when I got isekai’d into this world, but we’ll probably need things like medicine and such for later on.”

Nina nodded and the duo made their way down the road, fighting a pack of monsters along the way. They soon arrived at the village. It was larger than the previous two Nova had been to, consisting of several more stores and houses.

“So, you’re the expert, Nina, where do we go do market off some of the stuff we’ve gathered?”

Nina looked around before saying, “Well, the Komodo Archer tails can be sold to butchers, as they turn them into cut steaks because they’re edible. They should fetch about 10 silver a tail, depending on the size. As for things like the Death Chimera’s horns and fangs, we sell those to weapon shops, as they can be crafted into daggers. Those will probably only net us about 90 copper per pair despite the fact that Death Chimeras are rare. The snake tail and wings can be sold to potion crafters, as they can turn the snake’s venom into antidotes and grind the wing bones into powder to make remedies that cure various illnesses. The snake tail should fetch roughly five silver while the wings will fetch about 12 silver a pair. And since we just ran into a pack of Wing Seeds, their wings can be sold to item shops to make hats for farmers and fans for noblewomen. I should know, my mother has a fan made from a Hawk Seed’s wing. That will only really earn us about 10 copper per wing but it’s better than nothing, especially compared to the various Gummi monsters that roam around this land, which have nothing worthwhile to sell. Let’s see what type of store we run into first and take it from there.”

Nodding, the duo made their way around town, stopping at various locations to barter for the monster parts they had collected. After a while they had collected a fair bit of profit from the various monster parts they had sold.

“We did good,” Nina said. “You’re actually quite good at bartering, Nova, as you managed to help us get the highest prices for those monster parts, thus earning us a few extra coins. This’ll keep us going for a bit.” Suddenly, her stomach growled, making her blush, “Ehehehe, sorry, I guess I’m getting hungry.”

“Why don’t we check out that restaurant we saw a block back?” Nova suggested. “It seems to be the only one in town so let’s go there to grab us a bite to eat. We’ll do any shopping later once our bellies are full.”

The winged woman nodded in agreement. The duo backtracked to where they saw the restaurant, finding it very easily. As soon as they entered they were greeted by a loud voice.

“Yeah, those Gargathoxes were no match for me!” a voice boomed boastfully, startling them. “I slayed each and every one of them with my trusty blade and rugged, macho manliness. They regretted the day they tried to challenge me: Dominic the Daring!”

The duo turned to see a large man surrounded by various women. He had blonde hair surrounding his handsome face, with green eyes, a very top-heavy build with what looked like walls of muscles on his torso, while his lower body was unusually small in comparison. He was dressed in what looked like barbarian-style armor, seemingly emphasizing his ruggedness, with a sword sitting on his hip. The women surrounding him were all fawning over him, practically having hearts for eyes. He took advantage of this and copped a feel on a couple of them. When a waitress walked past carrying a drink he swiped it and guzzled it down.

“Hey!” another patron snapped. “That was my drink!”

“Not anymore,” Dominic stated. “But you’re paying for it. Now that I’ve wet my whistle, let me tell you about some of my other tales of heroism.”

“What a creep,” Nova huffed. “I bet his ‘tales of heroism’ are just hot air, which he seems to be full of. More than a blimp, even. I bet his ‘muscles’ are just inflatable airbags.”

Nina nodded, “I know. I hate him already. Come, let’s just find a spot to sit and order something to eat, as I’m getting hungry.”

The duo walked over to an empty table and sat down, ignoring Dominic as he continued to brag about his exploits. A waitress, who was obviously annoyed at having Dominic, gave them menus to look over. It was then Dominic noticed the duo, but his eyes immediately locked onto Nina. He then gained a seductive look.

“Excuse me, ladies, but I noticed another friend we should add to our little party,” he said. “Give me a moment to corral her into our festive conversation.”

He got out of his chair and strutted toward Nova and Nina, who were busy looking at the menu, ignoring him. He grabbed the back of Nova’s chair and tossed him off, much to his annoyance, before sitting down in it and locking eyes with Nina, who clearly had a look of contempt as she saw him.

“My, my, my, what a lovely Phoenix Clan woman you are,” he said in a suave voice. “As it so happens, I find Phoenix Clan women to be the cream of the crop. And you are the cream of the cream of the crop, my lady. Especially in that wonderfully sexy attire-of-choice, something that most Phoenix Clan women won’t wear. Why don’t you ditch that loser with you and come join me so you can hear tales of my incredible heroism?”

To everyone’s surprise Nina slapped Dominic across the face, clearly livid.

“In your dreams, you moronic monkey meatball!” she snapped. “And don’t you dare call Nova a ‘loser’, as he’s not one! Especially in front of me! He’s my best friend and then some, so I won’t tolerate you badmouthing him! Now get lost, as I’m not interested in anything you have to say or offer. And get out of Nova’s chair, you braindead brute.”

Although surprised, Dominic’s face quickly shifted to a seductive one, purring, “Where have you been all my life? I like your spunk, angel cheeks. But, at the end of the day, even a feisty one like you won’t be able to resist my rugged, macho manliness and dashing good looks. So don’t resist, angel cheeks and join my little party.”

Nina slapped him again, growling, “Not happing. You’re the type of man I cannot stand. Especially since you clearly see women as your playthings. Well, if I may quote Nova, ‘News Flash’, I’m not anyone’s toy. Especially to the likes of you. Now beat it, as your musk is burning my nostrils. Ever heard of a bathtub before? I suggest you try it.”

Dominic leaned in closer, purring, “That’s not possible, angel cheeks, as it’s all part of my manly charms. Now, stop resisting and come with me.”

Nova, who had recovered from the sudden shock of getting tossed out of his chair, narrowed his eyes hatefully at Dominic.

“Lesser Devil Mode,” he growled. “Fireball.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself before he launched a small fireball at Dominic’s rear, setting it on fire. Dominic screamed in pain, jumping off the chair and running around, trying to put out the fire, making Nova and Nina chuckle darkly. He grabbed another person’s mug of water and splashed it over his buttocks, putting out the magical fire, leaving the seat of his pants burned. He glared hatefully at Nova, stomping up to him, who, surprisingly, did not flinch, returning the glare with interest.

“You little weasel,” the burly man snarled. “How dare you get in my way. This Phoenix Clan woman is mine and mine alone. So butt out, you little pink-haired shrimp!”

Nova replied strongly, “No. I won’t let you harass Nina. She’s my friend and she’s made it perfectly clear that she wants nothing to do with you and yet you can’t seem to take a hint. Well, just like she said, News Flash, she’s not interested in you. If anything she clearly hates you. So I suggest you back off and leave her alone, as women aren’t your toys. They are beings who deserve being treated with respect and dignity, not like lesser lifeforms that exist for your enjoyment. So back off at once, as I won’t let you ruffle any of Nina’s feathers, both figuratively and literally. And, besides, she and I can see right through you. All your ‘tale of heroism’ are nothing but hot air. I bet you can’t even kill a Gummi, much less a Gargathox. You’re just a schoolyard bully who feels strong when picking on someone smaller than you but you’ll run and hide the moment things go south for you. That’s easy enough to see. So I highly suggest you take your business elsewhere, as Nina clearly doesn’t want anything to do with you.”

Dominic grabbed Nova by his shirt, growling, “You think you’re so tough, pinky boy? You probably couldn’t kill a Gummi, while I could slay a King Saurus with minimal effort. With these massive muscles, unbridled machismo, unyielding swordsmanship, and brilliant mind I could slay even Muu without breaking a sweat. So watch your mouth, pink boy, or I’ll rip it off.”

Suddenly, a man yelled from outside, “A Gargathox is coming!”

Nova noticed that Dominic’s expression had changed to a nervous one, making him smirk.

“Here’s your chance to prove yourself, Domi,” he chuckled. “You said you slayed an entire pack of them once, so a single Gargathox should be no problem for you. Let’s see if you can back up your talk with action. You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?”

Dominic roughly put Nova down, saying, “I’ll show you whose a real man, pink head. Watch me take down that Gargathox like it was a bug!”

He marched outside, ready to deal with the Gargathox, his army of groupies following him. Nova and Nina followed, both eager to see how this would play out. Dominic marched up to the front of the village where a massive beast was coming their way. It looked like a large, serpentine dragon, with rubbery skin, an armored head with three horns, two pairs of tusks on its fang-filled jaw, glowing red eyes, large wings, and a row of spines down its back. The village awaited eagerly to see what Dominic would do while Nova and Nina merely smirked.

“I’ll bet you a silver he runs, screaming like a banshee, the second things go south for him,” Nova said.

“That’s a bet you’d win easily, so I won’t take you up on that,” Nina purred.

When the Gargathox was just before the village, Dominic drew his sword, stating strongly, “Taste the steel of the Dashing, Dynamic, and Daring Dominic!”

The Gargathox responded by biting his sword, breaking the blade off before eating it, leaving only the hilt and a small chunk of the blade. Dominic’s eyes widened in horror and his face went pale.

“Well, he tasted it,” Nova smirked. “And I think he liked it.”

The Gargathox gave a powerful roar right at Dominic’s face. Dominic then screamed like a little girl before running deeper into the village, trying to get away from the massive beast.

“Okay, maybe not quite a banshee’s scream, but he certainly has a girlier scream than most women do,” Nova commented. He then turned to Nina, “Guess it’s our turn to step up to the plate, right, Nina?”

She nodded, “Yep. Let’s take care of business, Nova.”

Both got into a battle-ready post, much to the surprise of the villagers. Nova took out one of the Komodo Archer bows and an arrow while Nina hovered off the ground. The Gargathox could tell that these two were different compared to Dominic, so it immediately roared and started firing globs of energy at them. Nova dodged them with rolls while Nina flew up a bit higher.

“Nova!” she stated. “It’s weakness is Wind! So any Wind magic will deal impressive damage to it! Like this!” She started to channel energy before stating, “Typhoon!”

A massive wind storm made from air slashes formed. It viciously slashed away at the Gargathox, making it roar in pain. Nova then noticed something. In the back of its mouth was a strange energy orb that seemed to fluctuate when the beast was hit.

“I wonder…” he said silently. “Could that be its weak spot? Might be worth a shot.” He then called up, “Nina, hit it again with another spell! I might have figured out its weak point!”

Nina, although surprised, nodded. She started to channel energy again.

“Mana Ball!” she shouted.

She fired the condensed ball of magical energy at the Gargathox, slamming it into its face, making it roar in pain. This was the opening Nova was waiting for. He quickly loaded up the arrow, took aim, and fired it directly into the beast’s mouth. The arrow pierce through the energy orb in the back of its mouth. This shot had an immediately reaction, as the Gargathox froze in midair, as if it was frozen in time. Everyone watched with tense eyes, waiting to see what was going to happen. The Gargathox suddenly crashed to the ground, dead, before its flesh instantly vanished, leaving only bones.

Nina floated down to Nova, surprised, “Nova, how did you do that? You killed it in one shot. What did you hit, exactly?”

Nova replied, “There’s an energy orb in the back of its mouth. That seems to be where it generates power for its attacks. It also turned out to be its weak point, as all it took was one shot through that orb to kill it. It was an educated guess on my part but it ultimately paid off.”

Nina’s face melted into a smile, saying, “You really are something else, Nova. Now, let’s help ourselves to this Gargathox’s parts. The horns, tusks, and vertebrae are all extremely valuable, so let’s harvest what we can before Dominic shows up to try to steal the credit and prize.”

Nova nodded and they quickly gathered up the various valuable parts from the dead Gargathox, storing it into the Digi-Pack, while the villagers were still in a state of shock at what they saw. Just after Nova had packed the last vertebrae the village erupted into cheers and quickly swarmed the duo, singing their praises and thanking them for defeating the Gargathox. Suddenly, Dominic appeared out of nowhere and placed his foot on the Gargathox’s skull.

“Aha!” he stated in a booming voice. “You all can rest easy now that I’ve killed the Gargathox! Now, shower me with your praise and adulation!”

However, the villagers gave him icy glares of contempt, much to his surprise. They then started booing at him and throwing rocks at him, yelling various insulting statements at him.

“You dirty coward!” one man said.

“You ran away the second the fight went south, you rat!” a woman spat.

“You didn’t do anything of worth, you phony!” another man shouted.

“You’re just a lying, slimy fake!” a child stated.

“You don’t deserve any praise or glory for leaving us to die, Dominic!” an older man roared.

“Yeah! Now, git! Beat it! Get out of here, you creep!” the entire village started shouting.

Nova smirked, “Just as I thought, Dominic. You can talk a big game but when put into action your true colors are exposed. All your ‘tales of heroism’ are nothing but make-believe stories that you cooked up in order to impress the ladies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you stole credit from other warriors’ acts of heroism. Now, your entire world has just come crashing down, and it’s all because you showed today what type of man you are. So beat it, you worthless scumbag, as no one wants you around here anymore.”

The villagers grabbed Dominic, dragged him out to the main road, and hurled him to the ground, much to his surprise. They all kicked him a few times while he was on the ground before walking back to the village entrance.

What looked like the village elder turned to Nova and Nina, smiling, “Thank you, my young friends. You not only saved our village from that Gargathox, but also from Dominic. You have our eternal gratitude for what you’ve done today.”

Nina smiled, “We were glad to assist, sir.”

“If I may be so bold, but would you two allow us to take the rest of the Gargathox for ourselves? While the parts you collected, which are rightfully yours, are the most valuable, would it be okay if we took the rest?”

Nova nodded, “Sure, if you know what to do with them. Better you than Dominic. Now, if you don’t mind, Nina and I have a date with lunch, as this whole ordeal got in the way of our mealtime. So, if you’ll excuse us.”

The duo walked back to the restaurant, eager to finally have some lunch, while the villagers gathered up the remaining skeletal bits of the Gargathox. They then shut the front gates of the village, preventing Dominic from entering, much to his fury.

“I’ll get you for this, pinky!” he roared. “You’ll pay with your life for what you did to me! Just you wait, pink boy! No one makes a monkey out of Dominic Flight! NOBODY!!!”

Nova and Nina sat down at their original table in the restaurant, picking up their menus again. What looked like the head chef walked up to them.

“Thank you both for getting rid of that goon,” he said. “Order anything you want, it’s on the house as a reward for what you did for us.”

“Thank you very much,” Nina said cheerfully. “We’ll take you up on that offer.”

Nova nodded and both resumed looking at their menus. After a short time they ordered their food and began chatting while they waited for it.

Nina purred, “Nova, thank you very much for what you did for me today. You were willing to stand up to that big bully without any fear on my behalf. You truly are the best thing to ever happen to me. I’m so grateful we’re friends, as you’ve been the beacon of light that I needed for so long. You saved me from traveling down a very dark and dangerous path with your kindness and respect. That means the world to me, as you were the first man to ever treat me that way. I almost came to hate men, but now that I’ve met you I realize that not all men are like my fellow clan members. So, thank you, Nova, for being the best.”

Nova blushed, saying, “I’m glad I could do all that for you, Nina. You’ve been a huge asset to me, too, as I haven’t died yet thanks to you. I just hope we can get some extra help when we get to Galvatar Kingdom, as this mission is more than both of us can handle alone.”

She nodded in agreement. Not long after the food arrived, allowing them to eagerly tuck into it. They knew they had another daunting challenge ahead of them that they need to be ready for.

Next Chapter: Escape to Galvatar

That's all for today. Looks like Dominic might become a problem for the heroes. What will happen? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: Contains mild language, female nudity)

Escape to Galvatar


Nova and Nina had just exited the restaurant, feeling full and satisfied after their meal. The village seemed to be much calmer now that Dominic was gone, with the grateful villagers thanking the duo for their hard work.

“Now that we’ve filled our bellies what should we do next?” Nova asked. “As in what types of supplies should we get?”

Nina replied, “Well, for starters, we should sell a couple of those Gargathox vertebrae to the potion maker. Gargathox vertebrae can be crushed into powder to make some extremely high-quality potions, and they fetch quite the price. Ranging from 700 silver to even 50 gold, depending on the size and weight. While we can’t sell the tusks or horns here, as those can only be sold at larger cities due to just how much they are worth, we should sell a couple of vertebrae so we have some extra spending cash, as I know the next settlement after the checkpoint is a fair distance from it. So let’s head back to the potion maker and sell one or two vertebrae so we can have a nice chunk of pocket change for later.”

Just then several women swarmed Nova, pushing Nina aside, much to her annoyance, and started fawning over the pink-haired man.

“Thanks for saving us from that Gargathox, handsome,” one said cheerfully.

“Yeah, and thanks for getting rid of that lying flirt, Dominic, too,” another chimed in.

As Nina looked on she felt a strange sensation forming inside of her. She placed her hand on her heart in confusion.

“What is this feeling?” she said silently. “Why am I having this strange sensation when Nova is surrounded by women? I don’t understand. What is this boiling emotion brewing inside my heart? It feels like… resentment? Anger? I don’t know…”

Nova, although a bit flustered, gently pushed the women back, growling, “Don’t play me for a sap, girls. I saw everything when you were swarming over Dominic. You’re only flocking to me now because I helped save the village and exposed that fraud for what he is. What’s stopping you from doing the same to me when I fail to deliver and someone else catches your eye? I may want female attention but I won’t seek it out from shallow individuals who are only interested in me for equally shallow reasons. Now, please, move aside, as Nina and I have errands to run.” He pushed through the women and turned to Nina, “Let’s go, partner, as we’ve got other things to deal with.”

Nina smiled, “Right!”

The duo left the group of women, who looked upset, while Nina started to feel another strange emotion inside of her.

“Why am I having this fluctuation of emotions?” she said mentally. “First that strange feeling when Nova was swarmed by those women and now I feel… relief that he’s pushed them aside. Why? Why am I having these emotions?”

She banished the thoughts from her head as she and Nova proceeded with their errands. After a while they made their way to the inn to rest. Both sat down on one of the beds, clearly a bit tired but nonetheless fine.

“You were right, Nina,” Nova said. “Selling two of those Gargathox vertebrae was smart, as the ones we sold earned us over 1,400 silver. That’ll definitely keep us going for a bit. Now… we need to discuss a means of smuggling you across the border.”

Nina nodded, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that during lunch. I might have an idea. There are spells that can change a person’s appearance: Cloak and Transform. Cloak, like the name states, turns the user invisible. However, I know that’s out of the question as the Sentry Orbs can detect invisibility magic along with blocking teleportation magic. That way criminals and such cannot cross the border into either country. Transform, however, might be our ticket, as it turns the target into something else. So, if you were to use Transform on me to turn me into, say, a half-elf, which are pretty common, then even the Sentry Orbs wouldn’t be able to sniff me out. That might be our best bet.”

“I see, I see. And I assume that I’ll be the one casting it, as the Demon King Ring grants me bit of a cheat when it comes to magic. Am I right?”

“That’s correct, especially since I don’t know the spell myself. But since you only need the name of the spell in order to cast it, as the Demon King Ring grants you an exception to the rules, then you’ll have to cast it on me. And to reverse the effects, just cast the spell on me again to turn me back to my usual self. Although, in Transform’s case, you will need to envision what you want to turn me into in order to pull it off, otherwise the spell won’t work.”

Nova nodded, “Okay, sounds like a plan. I’ll cast Transform on you before we reach the border so we don’t get caught by any guards. That way you can slip past them without any issues. Hopefully. But it’s probably our best bet, so let’s go with that and we’ll improvise as needed, just in case.”

Nina smiled, “Thank you, Nova, I really appreciate this. You’re willing to potentially get into trouble with my kingdom in order to help me. That takes guts. And you claim you’re a coward. You certainly showed quite a bit of backbone today, both against Dominic and the Gargathox, even figuring out the latter’s weak spot through observing it. No one has ever figured that out before so that’s quite the accomplishment.”

Nova gained a rueful look, “Well, I tend to identify myself as a ‘cowardly lion’ more than a straight-up coward. Except when ghosts or zombies are involved. And before you ask, a cowardly lion is someone who is a coward but will stand his or her ground when needed, especially at a crucial time. Dominic, however, is the type of coward I hate and hope to never become: a dirty coward. Even I have standards when to comes to cowardice and I don’t like dirty cowards, with Dominic being a textbook example. I hope I never stoop to that level of cowardice.”

“From what I’ve seen, you will never sink to that level, even against Undead. Sure, Undead and such do frighten you, that I cannot deny, but at the end of the day you still face them, even if you’d rather not. That proves you’ve got the courage inside of you, Nova, it just needs a bit of coaxing to show itself. And…” she gained a blush, “…I commend you for pushing away those women who were hitting on you. You saw through them and knew they were not worth it. I respect that.”

Nova gained a blush, “Well, like with cowardice, I have standards when to comes to women. I’m not attractive, that is obvious and I won’t deny it, and I tend to be shoved aside by women in favor of other men, thus I seek female attention. But I also know that women like those dames are not worthy, as there is nothing stopping them from ditching me like they did Dominic when I fail to deliver or another dreamboat appears. I may want female attention, but I won’t seek it out from shallow individuals who only want my attention for equally shallow reasons. I want a meaningful relationship with a woman, not a fling or one-night stand, no matter how desperate I get. If I can’t count on a woman’s loyalty then she’s not worth pursuing, especially if she’ll dump me like yesterday’s garbage the moment I fail to give her want she wants. Those types of women are not worth the effort, even I know that.”

“I greatly respect that about you, Nova. It’s clear you treat a woman with respect and will only seek out a meaningful relationship. That’s something I like about you. It’s because of you that I not only didn’t stray down a dark and dangerous path, but you also flipped my opinion about men on its head, helping me realize that not all men are like my fellow clan members. That I thank you for.”

A knock was heard at the door, with a female voice saying, “Dinner will be served soon. Please come down to the dining room.”

Nova called back, “Okay, thanks.” He turned to Nina, “Let’s go eat dinner then call it a night, as we’ve had a busy day. And tomorrow we’ll begin our plan to smuggle you across the border.”

Nodding, Nina followed Nova out of the room and down to the dining hall to eat their complimentary dinner. After dinner they returned to their room, where she stripped naked again in preparation for bed, making Nova rather flustered. Both slipped under the covers of their respective beds and slowly fell asleep after such a busy day.

A few days later the duo was making their way to the border. They knew they only had a little distance left to go before they reached it. After a certain point Nina dragged Nova into the bushes.

“Nova, I think this is a good spot to use Transform on me,” she said. “We’re only about a mile from the border so it might be wise for us to change my appearance now before any guards see us.”

Nova nodded, “Okay. So we agreed to turn you into a half-elf, right? I take it a half-elf looks pretty much like you except for your wings, right?”

Nina nodded, “For the most part, yes, but half-elves also have a slight curve to their ears due to their human blood. Also, their ears are a tad shorter than mine. Got that?”

“Right. Here goes something. Let’s see… Demon Mode.”

The Demon King Ring shifted to Demon Mode. Nova then tried to envision a half-elf with the description Nina gave him. He pointed the ring to her and took a deep breath.

“Transform!”

Nina glowed as her body changed shape. Within a few moments she was different. Her purple hair had been replaced with blonde hair, her wings were gone, her eyes were now green, and her ears were slightly shorter and had a curve to them. She was also dressed in more modest clothing consisting of a tunic and a slit skirt. She took a moment to observe herself in a puddle of water.

“Hmm… not bad, not bad at all,” she said. “Although I look a bit closer to a quarter-elf, you did a good job in changing my appearance. Though why am I blonde?”

Nova replied, “Blondes have more fun, at least that’s what they say. And better blonde that coral pink like me.”

She looked at him, “But I like your coral pink hair. It’s so interesting and unique, as I’ve never seen someone with coral pink hair before. But I guess time for that later, as we have to get moving.”

“Also, I have an idea, Nina. Let’s give you a temporary name change so it’ll make your disguise more convincing.” He took a moment before saying, “How about Serena?”

Nina nodded, “Yes, that’s a good idea. And I like that name. We’ll go with that. Now, let’s move before some monsters attack us.”

Nodding, the duo made their way to the checkpoint. It was a large building nestled between two mountains that narrowed into a single pathway, along with a large barrier and a gate. Floating above the gate were three magical orbs with what looked like eyes, seemingly scanning the area. After ensuring they were ready they walked up to the guards that were stationed there. They stepped in front of them as they approached.

“Halt!” one said. “State your business.”

Nova took out the passport, saying, “We need to cross into Galvatar Kingdom. This should be enough.”

One of the guards looked at the passport before saying, “Yes, everything seems in order. Give me a moment.”

He pulled a lever, causing the gateway to open up. He then returned the passport to Nova.

“You may proceed.”

Nova nodded, “Thank you.”

However, as they duo started to make their way through, the other guard said, “Wait a minute!” He looked “Serena” over, saying, “Who is this girl?”

Nova, although nervous, replied, “That’s Serena, my half-elf girlfriend.”

The guard went wide-eyed before laughing, “You? Have a girlfriend? An unattractive loser like you? What a laugh!”

Angry, “Serena” punched the guard in the face, knocking him over, giving him a black eye in the process, much to his shock.

“You listen here!” she spat. “Nova is NOT a loser! He’s the best thing to ever happen to me! He’s a great man and I won’t allow you to badmouth him! So watch what you say in front of me or I’ll rearrange your teeth!”

The other guard sighed, “Stewart, you’ve gotta stop that. That’s the third time this week you’ve insulted someone and got decked for your efforts. Keep that up and Captain Talon will give you ‘the punishment’ for these constant disruptions. Just let them pass. While there’s no accounting for taste, it’s clear that even someone like that pink-haired guy can get lucky. Considering you’re still single and this Nova got himself quite the chick says a lot about you.” He turned to Nova and “Serena”, saying, “Sorry about that. My partner has a tendency to do stupid things like this. Please, carry on.”

Nova grabbed “Serena’s” hand, saying, “Thank you. Come on, Serena, let’s not cause a scene, even if he did deserve it. We’ve got more important tasks to attend to. Let’s go.”

He gently pulled “Serena” away from the guard, as she looked like she was ready to strike them again. As they walked the guard closed the gateway, cutting them off from view. After hiking for a bit they came to a stop.

“You think this is far enough away to lift the Transform spell, Nina?” Nova asked.

She nodded, “Yes. We’re out-of-range of the Sentry Orbs, which would be the bigger problem, so we should be safe now.”

Nova nodded and started to focus on the Demon King Ring. He pointed it toward her and took a deep breath.

“Transform!” he stated.

Nina was enveloped in light and before long she was her usual self. She gave her wings a stretch and checked herself out before turning to her partner.

“Thank you, Nova, for going this far for me,” she said with a smile. “Now we should be safe from my knights, as they cannot chase me here. Your willingness to potentially get into trouble for me really means the world to me. So, thank you.”

He replied, “You’re welcome. But I need to know… Why did you defend me like that? I mean, that guard isn’t exactly wrong. I am an unattractive loser, so—” but was cut off by Nina squishing his cheeks in between her hands.

“Nova, you are NOT a loser!” she snapped. “I will not stand for anyone calling you that! Even if it’s you saying it! You are the best thing to ever happen to me and I know you’ll be the hero that Edyn needs! No one, absolutely no one can call you a loser in front of me! And the reason behind that is simple: you’re not a loser! You are something special. Anyone who says otherwise better hope that a black eye is the most I give them. But remember this, Nova; you’re not a loser. You’re a wonderful man who is willing to go to great lengths for someone you care about. A loser would never go that far, especially for a ‘criminal’ like me. You are my best friend, my partner, and the best thing to ever happen to me. Tell me, does that sound like the traits of a loser? Because I certainly don’t think so. So don’t call yourself a loser, Nova, as you’re not one. You’re great and I know you’ll become even greater.”

Nova was stunned by Nina’s outburst, unable to process the situation due to his surprise. After about a minute Nina let go of his cheeks, looking a bit frustrated.

Nova took a deep breath before saying, “Come, Nina, let’s get going. You said it yourself that we’ve got bit of a trip ahead of us. So better make tracks. And… thanks for saying what you just did, Nina, it means a lot to me.”

She looked at him warmly, “No problem. It’s the least I can do for everything you’ve done for me. And I will admit I got bit of a kick out of punching that guard. Not just because he insulted you but because I’ve redirected my hatred to my own clan members, so it felt good decking that punk. Hopefully Captain Talon gives him ‘the punishment’ for his actions.”

“Yeah… what exactly is ‘the punishment’?”

“Oh, dripping hot wax on one’s nipples.”

Nova’s eye twitched, saying, “I regret asking. Enough of this, let’s get going.”

Nina nodded and the duo made their way through the pathway toward the main area of Galvatar Kingdom, knowing that they will soon get some extra help.

Next Chapter: Zing Zomboni

That's it for today. Hopefully it's smooth sailing for Nova and Nina from now on. But knowing Nova's luck, that's not gonna happen.
 

CynthiaLover

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

Zing Zomboni


Deep in the planet’s core two individuals were speaking to each other. One was a beautiful goddess with shimmering blonde hair, six large wings, and an elegant frame. The other was a rather handsome demon with glowing red eyes, a pair of devil wings, and a sturdy frame that was befitting of the crown on his head.

The goddess asked, “Belzebuth, tell me, how are things going with our gambit?”

Belzebuth replied, “So far so good, Serenity. Muu has underestimated my newest champion, allowing him to take out Captain Boneregard and Bonenapper. Granted, they’re pretty low on the undead power food chain, but the fact that both captains and Muu have underestimated Nova is proving costly to their side. They’re trying to use Nova’s plasmophobia to their advantage but so far it hasn’t worked. And since he came into contact with that rogue Phoenix Clan female he’s been making more progress. Now, with both of them in the Galvatar Kingdom, they’ll soon run into Captain Zomboni, who has been given orders from Muu to eliminate them.”

Serenity replied, “Isn’t Captain Zomboni a bigger problem, though?”

“Zomboni may still be rather low on the pecking order but he’s a lot smarter than Boneregard and Bonenapper. He’s not quite the bonehead that those two were. This might present a challenge to Nova and Nina. But, at the same time, if he’s taken out, that’ll severely weaken Muu’s grip in Galvatar, as Zomboni’s ability is crucial to the Undead Army’s success in lands they haven’t infiltrated yet. If he’s defeated then Muu will have lost a critical soldier, giving the warriors of Edyn a better fighting chance. While he isn’t a lynchpin or anything, he’s still a vital cog in Muu’s machinations of evil. So if those two can take him out then they will have dealt a serious blow to Muu’s army. The only unknown variable is if Nova and Nina have enough oomph to do the deed before they both become victims of his ability. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

It had been a few days since Nova and Nina had crossed the border between Phoenixwing Kingdom and Galvatar Kingdom. They had just finished slaying a pack of monsters and were making their way to the nearest town. Strapped to the sides of Nova’s Digi-Pack was a bow and a quiver of arrows, no longer inside the cybernetic backpack.

“It was fortunate that we fought some Komodo Archers,” Nova said. “It allowed me to restock my arrow supply, as I was getting low.”

Nina smiled, “I’m glad to see you’ve decided to take up archery full-time, Nova. It suits you. Especially since you’re such a sharp shot. And you’ve never even held a bow before now yet you’re a natural with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Legendary Archer himself took note of your talent, as they say he’s the best when it comes to identifying potential budding archers. But, in the meantime, let’s get to the next town, as we have to restock our food and other supplies. Plus we can market off the Komodo Archer tails and maybe another Gargathox vertebrae for some extra spending cash. Oh, there’s the village up ahead. Hmm?” She squinted her eyes to get a better look, “It looks like something bad happened there. Let’s check it out.”

The duo made their way toward the village. Indeed, the village looked like it had been through a battle, as there was damage all over the place, with the wall and gate protecting the village looking particularly beat up. When they approached the village a man who was standing watch stopped them.

“Hold it, you two,” he said. “No one is allowed to enter the village, as we’ve got bit of a crisis to attend to.”

“What happened?” Nina asked.

“We were attacked by Captain Zomboni and his Undead Army platoon. They’ve setup a base not far from here. While we were fortunate to escape his attack largely intact, we’ve had to put the village on lockdown in order to avoid any more damage.”

“Then it’s a good thing we’re here, as Nova is the current Demon King champion, so we’ll deal with Captain Zomboni and his army on your behalf.”

The man looked Nova over, saying, “Him? The pink-haired kid? No offence but you don’t look like much of a champion. Why would the Demon King choose you?”

Nova gave a heavy sigh, “I have no idea but he did. And I’m stuck with it until I either succeed or die, though the latter outcome seems more likely. And I’m not a ‘kid’, as I’m 20, thank you. But since we need to enter the village, and it’s part of my stinkin’ job, it appears we’ll have to deal with this Zomboni guy for you. Where is his base located?”

The man guarding the gate replied, “Captain Zomboni’s base is over on that hill to the northwest. Can’t miss it, as it stands out quite a bit against the usual scenery. If you’re going to fight Captain Zomboni I have one warning: watch out for his special spell: Decompose. It’ll slowly turn the target into an Undead, effectively allowing him to make more Undead Soldiers for Muu’s army. Don’t get hit by it or you’re done for. There are ways to reverse the effects but you have a time limit before the victim is turned into an Undead, so you need to work fast.”

Nina nodded, “Thanks for the tip. Come on, Nova, let’s deal with Captain Zomboni and his Undead Army platoon.”

“Joy…” Nova replied, completely deadpan.

The duo started to make their way toward the Undead Base. It was very easy to spot, as it was pretty much the only noticeable feature of the nearby hill. Nina flew up into the air to get a good look at the situation before floating back down to Nova.

“Okay, we can’t rely on stealth this time, as there are no forms of natural cover for us to use,” she said. “Like last time the base is powered by a Magna Crystal. Destroying that will undoubtedly wipe out the Undead Base and its inhabitants in one shot. This time we’re gonna have to use a frontal assault in order for them to expose the Magna Crystal. That’ll be your ticket to sniping it with your archery skills, since you’re the best shot. Are you ready?”

Nova gave another heavy sigh, “No, but we have no choice in the matter. Let’s just get this over with.”

Nina merely smiled before they went over some battleplans. After selecting the idea that they felt was best they went into action. Nina started channeling energy as they approached the Undead Base.

“Time to get their attention!” she stated. “Light Burst!”

She launched her attack, causing a blast of Light energy to erupt inside the base, making the residents scream in pain. The fortress gates opened, revealing the disgruntled Undead Soldiers, many of which were sporting injuries. The largest being, who looked like a decaying samurai, stomped out and looked at the duo.

“So, you two are the little rodents that are causing trouble for my Master Muu,” he snarled. “You don’t look that impressive, especially for the Demon King’s newest champion. But I, Captain Zomboni, have orders to deal with you. So it’s time to die! Soldiers, attack!”

Several skeleton soldiers charged in, ready for battle, but they were not moving as quickly as expected due to the injuries they had sustained earlier. Nina started to channel more energy.

“Let’s see you handle this!” she stated. “Flame Burst!”

What appeared to be a pyramid of flames erupted underneath all the Undead Soldiers and Captain Zomboni, burning them with a vengeance. Several Undead Soldiers were destroyed in the process, but many were still standing. Nova, although nervous, took this opportunity to load up an arrow and take aim.

“Demon Mode!” he stated. “Fire Shot!”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself to Demon Mode. Then the arrow he was holding was ignited with fire. He launched it at the Undead Soldiers, tearing through several of them before the arrow struck the base, detonating as it did.

Captain Zomboni growled, “You two aren’t half-bad, I will admit. Maybe instead of killing you I should have you… join our ranks. And I’ll do so with this! Decompose!”

He fired a black sphere of energy toward the duo. Nova and Nina both managed to dodge the attack.

“Not bad, but can you keep it up? Decompose rapid-fire!”

Captain Zomboni started to fire multiple black spheres of energy at the duo, forcing them to keep moving in order to avoid getting hit. However, when Nova attempted a dodge roll he ended up accidentally rolling into an Undead Soldier. The Undead Soldier raised its blade up and prepared to attack, making Nova freeze in fear.

“Nova!” Nina cried out, channeling energy. “Holy Bolt!”

She fired the sphere of Light energy at the Undead Soldier. It detonated upon impact, destroying the Undead Soldier effortlessly, though Nova was still somewhat frozen.

“Decompose!” Captain Zomboni stated.

He fired another shot at Nina. This time she was unable to dodge the attack, causing it to strike her. She cried out as her skin turn to a rotting purple, her hair turned into a sickly green, and her wings became grey, making Nova’s eyes widen in horror.

“N-Nina!” he sputtered.

“Hah!” Captain Zomboni laughed. “In just a few minutes your winged ally will become one of my Undead Soldiers. And it’s all your fault for letting your fear get the better of you. Now watch as she slowly decays into Master Muu’s newest puppet.”

Nova clenched his fist, growling, “I don’t deny that this is my fault, but I intend to rectify it here and now.” He drew another arrow and took aim again, “Ifrit Mode!” The Demon King Ring shifted again, now on Ifrit Mode, before he said, “Time for you to be eradicated.”

Captain Zomboni laughed, “What good can you do? Even if you were to use Petrify Shot on me it won’t save her. Face it: you failed her and you’re next.”

Nova replied coldly, “I won’t let that happen. Dragon Strike!”

The arrow became supercharged with Lightning energy. He then fired the arrow, causing it to transform into a dragon made of electricity. Captain Zomboni’s sunken eyes widened in horror as the attack plowed through the rest of the Undead Soldiers, instantly vaporizing them, before striking him. He screamed in pain as the skill ripped through his body and continued until it struck the Magna Crystal. The Magna Crystal instantly exploded, tearing the base and any remaining Undead Soldiers to bits, leaving only the duo alone.

Nova quickly ran toward Nina, asking, “Please, Nina, tell me… is there anything I can do to save you?”

She replied weakly, “Cast Cure on me. It’ll reverse the effects of Decompose. At least… I hope it will.”

Nova nodded and pointed the Demon King Ring at her, saying, “Cure!”

Nina was bathed in healing sparkles. To Nova’s relief her skin, hair, and wings returned to normal, the effects having been reversed. She looked at him with warm eyes.

“Thank you, Nova, you saved me.”

Nova gained a depressed expression, “I had to, since it was my fault you got struck by the Decompose spell. All because I froze in fear. I’m sorry Nina. Please, forgive me.”

Nina gently touched his face, saying, “I can easily forgive you, Nova, as I understand why you froze in fear. At least you reversed the effects and saved me in return. Don’t feel bad about it, as there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to fear.”

Nova shook his head, a tear leaking out of his eye, “No, there is, as my fear hurt someone I care about. You could’ve died because of my fear, or worse. That’s inexcusable. I’m so sorry, Nina.”

Nina gently brushed the tear away, saying warmly, “I forgive you, Nova. It was a mistake, yes, but you still saved me from becoming an Undead. Now… let’s get back to the village and report our success.”

She tried to stand but when she got upright she fell back down onto her knees.

“Sorry, Nova, but my legs feel like jelly. I guess it’s the aftereffects of the Decompose spell. Maybe I need some time for my body to become more solid again.”

Nova nodded, “In that case, the lady will be treated like a princess.”

Before Nina could ask what he meant by that Nova scooped her up into his arms bridal-style, making her eyes go wide and blush. After ensuring he had a good grip on her he activated the Hoverboots and started to make his way back to the village with her in his arms.

“What’s this feeling I’m having?” Nina asked silently. “This feeling of enjoyment at being carried this way. It’s just like when Nova briefly carried me this way during the Death Chimera incident. Am I enjoying being treated this way? And why is my heart racing? It feels like it’s gonna pop out of my chest.”

She hesitated at first before wrapping her arms around Nova’s neck, making him blush. But he continued to make his way back to the village so Nina could rest, especially now that another Undead Base and its soldiers were vanquished.

Next Chapter: The Will to Fight Back

That's it for today. Tune in next time to see what happens to our heroes.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage.

The Will to Fight Back


It was later that same day. The village had opened up its gates again now that the threat of the Undead Army was no more, all thanks to Nova and Nina. The villagers all breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing they were now safe.

At the local doctor’s office Nova was sitting in a waiting room. He was waiting for Nina’s examination to finish. He was worried sick about her after the events of the day.

“It’s all my fault,” he sighed. “Nina wouldn’t have gotten hit by that Decompose spell if it wasn’t for me freezing in fear when I got too close to an Undead Soldier. While I know the effects have been lifted I’m worried there might be other long-term effects from Decompose. I just hope she’ll be okay.”

Suddenly, a nurse walked out to him, saying, “Your lady friend will be fine. The doctor has taken a good look at her and says she’ll make a full recovery.”

Nova sighed in relief, “Thank God for small favors. Is there anything else I need to know?”

“Yes. She’ll need a day’s rest in order for her body to recuperate from the effects of Decompose, as she’s still rather weak. But that’s not a difficult thing to do, especially now that the threat of the Undead Army is gone. You can enter the examination room now.”

Nova nodded and walked into the examination room. Nina was sitting on an examination chair while the doctor was going over some final notes. She flashed a smile as Nova entered.

“Hey, Nova,” she said. “The doctor said I will be fine, so don’t worry about me.”

The doctor turned to Nova, saying, “It was good of you to cast Cure on her when you did, as that spell could’ve weakened her more the longer it was in effect. While she won’t suffer any long-term effects from Decompose, her body is rather weak, so she’ll need a day’s rest for it to return to normal. But other than the muscle weakness from the spell’s effects she’ll be fine.”

Nova nodded, “Thank you, doctor. That’s a lot off my mind. How much does this come to?”

“Two silvers, please.”

Nova paid the doctor two silver coins before gently scooping Nina up in his arms bridal-style, making her blush, and gently carrying her out of the office. As they walked toward the inn the various villagers thanked and praised them for saving the village from Captain Zomboni, though Nova was very melancholy despite the praise, something that Nina noticed. They made it to the inn and, with help, paid for the room and managed to lay Nina down on a bed.

Nina gave him a smile, “Don’t feel bad, Nova. You know I don’t have any hard feelings toward you after what happened. You still saved me despite everything and I’m very grateful for it. Now I just need to rest and everything will be fine. So try to cheer up, okay?”

Nova sat down on the bed, replying, “It’s hard to feel good about it when I’m so ashamed that my fear nearly cost us your life. That’s not an easy pill to swallow for me, as you’re pretty much the best thing to happen to me. So to nearly lose you because of my fear is rather devastating to me, even if everything turned out okay. But there’s something that I want to know. Why didn’t your Magic Fire Feathers activate in order to protect you?”

Nina gave a weak smile, “I asked the doctor that question. Turns out that under normal circumstances my Magic Fire Feathers would reverse the effects of Decompose. But since I was the one under its effects, my Magic Fire Feathers lost their power temporarily, thus I was not able to heal myself with my own ability. Even I didn’t know that about my Magic Fire Feathers and I’m the one wielding them. They’ll still kick in if I’m injured or my life is in danger, but apparently if I’m under the effects of Decompose their powers are drained until I’m cured. It’s a tad annoying to learn that the Undead Army could use that as a loophole to prevent me from either healing myself or using my Magic Fire Feathers on someone else while under the effects of Decompose. But at least now I’m armed with that knowledge. Maybe I should consider plucking a few loose feathers and have you hold onto them in case it happens again?”

“Maybe. But, for now, you need rest. And I’ll stay right here by your side until you recover, Nina. That’s what friends and partners do, after all. Am I right?”

A tear leaked out of Nina’s eye, smiling, “That is true, Nova. And you’re clearly the best thing to ever happen to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner and best friend.” Her eyelids started to look heavy, “If you don’t mind, Nova, I’m gonna close my eyes for a bit. I feel very drained.”

Nova nodded, “Yes, that’s fine, Nina. You need all the rest you can get if we’re to keep going. At least the immediate threat is over, so we have a chance to power down and recharge our batteries. So, please, close those beautiful cerulean eyes and rest.”

“Thank you. Normally I’d strip to sleep more comfortably but I guess I’ll make the exception this time due to the circumstances. Wake me if anything happens, Nova.” She then gave a wide yawn, “Sorry… goodnight…”

Nina quickly drifted off into a deep slumber. Nova sat on the bed along with her, gently holding her hand, watching her with intense yet gentle eyes. As he watched her frame rise and sink with each breath he couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened today.

“It was all my fault that Nina ended up this way,” he scolded himself silently. “I let my fear get the better of me and it nearly cost me Nina’s life. And yet she can find it in her heart to forgive a cowardly loser like me for such a stupid mistake. I… I can’t let this happen again. My fear hurt someone I care about. I’m so ashamed of myself for letting that happen, all because my fear gripped me at the wrong time. I’m certain Muu will learn of this and try to exploit it further. While I’m not sure if Zomboni is the only one of Muu’s army that has the Decompose spell under his bony belt or not, or if there are other spells or skills like it, but I need to make sure that I don’t let it happen again.”

He continued to watch Nina sleep, still clutching her hand. He could feel a sense of protectiveness growing inside of him as he watched his partner rest.

“What is this feeling I’m having? This strong desire to protect and care for Nina. What could—” His eyes widened as the realization hit him before closing them and giving a weak smile, “It’s obvious, Nova, you dunce. I’m hopelessly in love with Nina. And that’s not hard to see why. She’s proven to be the woman of my dreams. She not only likes me but doesn’t see me as a pathetic, cowardly, unattractive loser like every other woman has. She keeps calling me ‘the best thing to ever happen to her’, and she’ll defend me from those who call me a loser, as it’s clear that ‘title’ of sorts sets her off. She trusted me right from the start and I’ve worked hard to make sure I keep her trust. While this spectacular blunder I made today should’ve at least caused some damage to our bond it’s clear that it somehow didn’t even scratch it. Is she just this forgiving to me? Or is it something more?”

He continued to watch Nina sleep, his mind swarming with thoughts as he watched the winged woman gently rise and fall with each breath. As the sun started to set his eyes showed newfound strength.

“I have to get stronger. I have to get braver. I cannot allow my fear to grip me at such a critical time as it could cost me something I love. I need to become the man that Nina sees me as. I need to prove that I can become strong and shed my cowardice. So I can defend those who I care about. This is not about my survival anymore; it’s now about doing what I have to in order to protect those I hold dear to me like Nina. She sees me as something great and I need to live up to that.”

He gazed upon Nina’s beautiful frame, feeling his heart race as he did. He gently squeezed her hand, making her smile in her sleep.

“There is just one thing that I’m concerned about… Can Nina love me the same way I love her? Is it wrong to consider a member from another race as a potential lover? I know that half-elves exist thanks to Nina, so that does indicate that crossbreeding isn’t unheard of, but is it possible for me, a human from another world, to love and potentially marry Nina, a Phoenix Clan member? I-I just don’t know. It’s obvious I’ve fallen for her but since I don’t know if it’s possible for someone like a Phoenix Clan member to love and marry another race I’ll just bide my time until I learn more about her clan and their ways. For now, I have to do my part to become stronger and braver. To shed my cowardice and become the man Nina sees me as. It won’t be easy, nor will it happen overnight, but I have to at least try. For her sake, so that way I won’t hurt her like I did today.”

He continued to sit by her side as she rested, the three moons rising overhead. He stayed that way the entire night, not budging from his spot, continuing to watch over Nina like a precious treasure. Nova made sure to banish any perverted thoughts from his mind as he continued to almost guard the Phoenix Clan woman, feeling a strong desire to shield her from any harm.

Next Chapter: The Incantation of Bravery

That's all for today. Short, sweet, but important. Tune in next time to see if Nova can follow up on his desire to become braver.
 

CynthiaLover

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

The Incantation of Bravery


Inside his hidden location Muu was growling angrily. The undead imp that was relaying him information looked on with nervous eyes as his master clenched his fists.

“So, that little rat managed to destroy Captain Zomboni?” he growled. “He was one of my more valuable pawns thanks to knowing the Decompose spell. While there are a handful of others in my army with that spell under their belts he was the one who would enter different territories first due to being part of my army that acts as footholds into new lands. With him gone I’ll need to shift the burden to another member of the army that possesses Decompose in order to create more minions for my army. Alert Captain Wightmare that I need him to be ‘relocated’ to a different position due to the loss of Captain Zomboni, as he’s also one of the few members of my army with the Decompose spell.”

The undead imp nodded, “Yes, Master Muu, right away.”

As the undead imp scurried off Muu said silently, “This champion is a curious one. He’s afraid of our kind yet he’ll still stand his ground. I have never heard of a person like that, much less a Demon King champion. What is Belzebuth planning with this whelp? No matter, I can still use his fear of our kind to my advantage, as fear is a powerful weapon. Soon, I will crush that whelp like a grape in the palm of my undead hand. Just you wait.”

It had been a few days since the battle against Captain Zomboni. Nova and Nina were still making their way to Galvatar’s capital, hoping to get some more allies and other forms of help in the fight against Muu. They were currently facing down some monsters that had ambushed them. The monsters were near identical, both being clusters of electrical energy with horns, glowing eyes, and fang-filled mouths, the only difference being their colors: one group was electric blue the others were yellow.

Nina said, “These Volts and Zaps aren’t very strong, but be careful, as the Zaps will empower the Volts with a Lightning-type spell, allowing them to fire off their own Lightning spell, although they only have enough mana energy to do it once. Under best circumstances Wood and Earth techniques would do them in easily, but we don’t have that so we’re gonna have to do this the old-fashioned way.”

Nova nodded, loading up an arrow, “Right, let’s do this. Devil Mode. Fire Shot.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now on Demon Mode. The arrow that Nova was prepping lit on fire, allowing him to shoot it at one of the Zaps. The arrow pierced through two Volts before striking the Zap, killing all three in one shot. Their bodies then vanished, leaving only their horns.

Nina said mentally, “Is it just me or is Nova acting braver lately? Not that I’m complaining, but I wonder why the sudden shift in demeanor?” She then said aloud, “Let me handle the rest. Flame Burst!”

A pyramid of fire erupted underneath the remaining monsters, burning them to ash, leaving only their horns. With the threat over with the duo took a moment to relax.

“Nice work, Nina,” Nova said with a smile.

“Same to you, Nova,” Nina replied. “Now, let’s gather up their horns, since that’s the only valuable, and frankly solid, part of these monsters. They should fetch about 12 copper a pair at monster part shops. Then we should keep moving.”

Nodding, they gathered up the horns of the downed monsters, put them in Nova Digi-Pack, and continued onward.

Nina looked at Nova, “Hey, Nova, I’ve noticed that the past few days you’ve been noticeably braver. I’m not complaining, mind, but I wonder why?”

Nova replied sheepishly, “Well… it’s because of you. When you were hit with that Decompose spell because I froze in fear I knew it was my fault. You almost died and became an Undead because of me. So, while you were recovering from that incident I decided that I had to become braver and stronger so I can protect you and not let that happen again. You believe in me and see me as something special so I want to live up to your beliefs and feelings. Thus I knew that I had to at least try to shed this cowardice I have in order to do everything in my power to protect you so history won’t repeat itself. That’s my resolve.”

The winged woman gained a warm smile, “You truly are the best, Nova. You’re willing to push yourself because you want to protect me. You’re the best thing to ever happen to me, Nova. I’m proud to call you my best friend. Just don’t force yourself to change overnight, though, as stuff like this requires a more rational approach.”

“I know. It’ll take me some time to shed my cowardice completely, and I doubt I’ll be able to fully remove my plasmophobia from my system… assuming it doesn’t get worse over time… but that incident taught me that my fear can hurt those I care about. So I cannot allow myself to be such a pushover anymore, especially since you believe in me. This won’t be an overnight thing, that I know, but every battle I face will throw another log in the fire of courage that I’ve kindled. It’s only a small campfire now but I hope to one day make it burn brighter than the flames of Hell itself. This is a long, thorny road I’m taking, but I know it has to be done.”

Nina fluttered her wings a bit, smiling, “You really are something, Nova. We still need to work on your self-esteem and such, but the fact is you’re taking the first steps needed to overcoming your fears. That’s commendable. Now, enough talk, we should be near the next village or town. Let’s try to get there before it gets dark, as the monsters tend to get more vicious at night.”

Nodding, the duo continued to make their way down the road toward their next destination. It wasn’t long before they arrived at the next village. It was a fair-sized village but still had a warm atmosphere to it, with lots of people bustling about.

Nina looked at the map before saying, “Okay, we’ve reached a good place to do business, as this is a trader’s town. According to the map it sits on a four-way intersection between various settlements, meaning it tends to get a lot of travelers and business. This’ll be a good chance for us to at least try to upgrade our equipment, as you’ve been using the bows and arrows we’ve gotten from Komodo Archers while my old magical rings are getting a bit worn out. Plus we can sell some of the monster parts we have for some pocket change. Hopefully we can get some good deals from the various merchants and vendors. Let’s get going.”

Nova nodded and followed Nina around the town, checking out the various vendors and shops, trying to find good places to do business. After about an hour of searching and bartering they stopped at the inn to rest.

Nina sat down on a bed, sighing, “In the end we couldn’t get any new equipment for us. None of the merchants were selling magical rings or bows, just stuff like swords, daggers, staves, and axes. Bummer. I hope we don’t have to wait until we get to one of the larger towns in this territory before we can upgrade our gear.”

Nova sat down on the other bed, replying, “Yeah, it’s a bummer but we’ll manage. At least we got some decent coin for all the monster parts we collected. While we still have things like the Gargathox’s tusks and horns, since those are too pricy to sell in a place like this, we at least got some cash for the Volt and Zap horns and Komodo Archer tails. We also managed to get a very good price for one of the Gargathox vertebrae, netting 15 gold, which is a first for us, as we’ve mostly only been working with silver and copper coins, so that’s progress. While getting our gear upgraded would’ve been great, I’ll take what we can get right now, as we’ve been winging it for the most part. Let’s just count our lucky stars that we’ve made it this far as just the two of us.”

“Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it. We’ve gotten this far and haven’t really run into too many problems so we can probably get a bit further down on this trip before we really need to start worry about stronger threats. And at least we haven’t run into that Dominic guy again. What a creep. Hopefully he’s still stuck behind the border between Phoenixwing and Galvatar Kingdom, as I don’t need to see him and his lecherous advances again.”

Nova nodded, “Yeah. Plus all his talk about his ‘heroic deeds’ are just hot air that he blows to impress the ladies. Glad you didn’t fall for it. And he’s such a dirty coward, too, running the first chance he gets, especially when the fight goes south. He makes cowards like me look good in comparison.”

Nina gave him a look, “Nova, your ‘cowardice’ is nothing compared to someone like Dominic. At least you’ll stand your ground to the bitter end even if you’d rather not. That proves you’re more of a man than Dominic ever will be. I respect that about you. And I also respect that you turned those women down when they started to flirt with you after we had dealt with the Gargathox, as you identified them as Dominic’s shallow groupies. That was very smart of you to not accept their ‘advances’, since they could’ve just as easily turned on you the second you failed to deliver or another hunk appeared. As you said, you want female attention due to being lonely for so long, but you’re smart about where you seek it from. That’s a trait I wish more men had. Once again proving what a rare gem you are.”

Nova blushed a bit, “You really see me that highly, huh, Nina? It makes me fearful that if I fail you again you’ll come to hate me.”

“I can’t hate you, Nova, even if you were to screw up somehow. You’re my best friend and then some. I know that friction can ruffle a friendship but I have complete faith in you. It’s clear your self-esteem is pretty low, which is something we need to work on. But I know that you’ll come to see yourself as something great one day.”

Suddenly, a knock was heard at their door, followed by a female voice, “Dinner will be served soon. Please come down to the dining room.”

“Okay, thanks, we’ll be there.” Nina then turned to Nova, “I know that you’ll prove to be the hero Edyn needs in this endless war with Muu. And one day you’ll see it, too. Now, let’s go and get some dinner and then call it a day, as we’ve got more work to do tomorrow.”

Nova gave Nina an insecure smile before following her down to the dining room for dinner. They ate their meal in peace, as the inn wasn’t very full, allowing them to enjoy their meal. Afterward they returned to their room to prepare for bed. Nina once again stripped naked, giving Nova a playful wink before curling up under the bedsheets. Nova kicked off his Hoverboots, placed them, his Digi-Pack, bow, and quiver of arrows by the foot of the bed, and slipped under his own bedsheets.

“Nina really sees me so highly,” he said silently. “I can’t let her down. I know I’ve taken the first steps needed to shedding my accursed cowardice, but I also know it’ll take time for me to be able to handle more serious Undead Army enemies. I just hope we can get some more allies soon, as we’re heavily outnumbered right now. We need some more serious firepower if we’re to make any sort of headway against Muu. I just hope we can do it.”

Next Chapter: Sir Reginald’s Thunderous Charge

That's it for today. Next time we get the debut of the newest main character: Sir Reginald Ganner. Tune in to see how it all plays out.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage.

Sir Reginald’s Thunderous Charge


It was the following day. Nova and Nina were continuing their way toward Galvatar Kingdom’s capital. They had stopped by a river for a break. Nina was sampling one of the food items that Nova unwittingly brought with him, being a drink can while Nova merely rested.

“Mmm!” Nina purred as she drank her new drink. “This stuff is great! Earth really has good-quality food and drink. And far more creative than what Edyn has produced. What’s this called again?” she looked at the logo on the side of the can, “Yoo-Hoo? Strange name, but it tastes so good. I swear, ever since meeting you things have gone right for me, which is a nice change. Looks like you’re my lucky charm, Nova.”

Nova merely chuckled, “I wouldn’t go that far, Nina. Especially since my luck tends to ping-pong all over the place at any given time. Calling me a ‘lucky charm’ is questionable at best. But I’m glad you like the various foods that unwittingly came with me when I got isekai’d into this world. At least they’ve proven useful on this trip, giving us an unexpected boost in supplies, especially early on. Now you should finish up your drink, as we still have a long road ahead of us.”

“I know, I know. I’m almost done. And—” suddenly she looked over to her right, eyes narrowing, ears twitching.

Nova gained a serious expression, “What is it, Nina? Do you detect a threat?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. She quickly downed the rest of her drink before saying, “I can hear a rather thunderous noise coming our way. Like a stampede or something. And I can see something coming over the hill nearby. We’d best be on guard, just in case.”

She tossed the empty can over to Nova, who placed it in the Digi-Pak, strapped it back on, and drew his bow and an arrow, while Nina started to hover off the ground, getting her hands into a battle-ready pose. Suddenly, something massive jumped over the nearby hill. It looked like a giant stallion, although its body was electric blue with what appeared to be a mane made of lightning energy, large hooves that crackled with electricity, two horns on its head, glowing green pupilless eyes, and a long tail made from lightning energy.

“That’s a Thunderclap Stallion!” Nina stated.

“A what?” Nova asked, surprised.

“A Thunderclap Stallion is a type of familiar. And there is only one person I’ve heard of who rides a Thunderclap Stallion as his steed. We can relax, as it appears help has found us. You can see him on the familiar’s back.”

Nova looked to see a strong-looking knight riding the Thunderclap Stallion. He was then flanked by several other knights riding strange bird creatures, the same the merchant they once met had. They charged toward the duo. Nina landed on the ground and got into a relaxed pose. Nova, however, was apprehensive of this new army, thus remained on the defensive. The Thunderclap Stallion came to a screeching stop just before them, gave a powerful cry that seemed to crackle with energy, and stomped its front hooves down.

“You can relax, young man, as I’m no threat to you,” the knight said.

Nova reluctantly placed his bow and arrow back, still feeling a bit uncertain of this new individual.

Nina smiled, “Hello, Sir Reginald. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Sir Reginald got off the Thunderclap Stallion, gave it a pat, and approached the duo. He was a handsome man with a very strong-looking body, shortcut lime green hair that was neatly groomed, hazel eyes, and sharp facial features. He was dressed in an impressive set of armor over a dark blue tunic, brown pants, and knee-high glaives.

“So, we finally meet, Lady Nina,” he said. “A real pleasure. And I take it this young man is the current Demon King champion?”

Nina nodded, “Yes. This is Nova, the current Demon King champion.”

“And a poor one at that,” Nova sulked. “Belzebuth was really scraping the bottom of the barrel when he picked me.”

“Nova!” Nina scolded. She turned to Sir Reginald, “Forgive him, he’s got some serious self-esteem issues. While I, too, question why Belzebuth chose a champion that’s afraid of ghosts and undead I know there’s got to be a reason for it we’re not aware of. But so far Nova’s done pretty well, having shut down Captain Boneregard, Captain Bonenapper, and Captain Zomboni. While they’re not the most impressive members of Muu’s army that’s still worth noting for someone who’s been winging it this whole time.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. And on that note, I’ve been given orders to track you two down and bring you to the capital. His Majesty, King Hendrik, wishes to speak to you. Hmm?” He noticed the bow and quiver Nova was using, “You’re using some rather subpar equipment, Nova. Looks like you salvaged it off of a Komodo Archer. Haven’t you been able to get better gear?”

Nova placed a hand on his hip, “No, we haven’t. I’ve been making do with what I can scavenge off of enemies, since we have yet to find a shop that sells bows and arrows. Nina’s magical rings also need replacing, as they’re getting worn out. I trust that your capital has access to better equipment for us to purchase?”

“Yes, our local weapon shops sell a bevy of different equipment, including bows, arrows, and magical rings. So you can get new equipment there. But first things first, you need to speak with His Majesty, King Hendrik. My men and I will escort you to the capital.”

Nina looked at the Thunderclap Stallion, “So, we’ll be riding your Thunderclap Stallion, Sir Reginald? He’s certainly a magnificent one.”

Sir Reginald gently pat his familiar, “He sure is. This is Thundervolt. He’s my trusted steed and will face any danger without hesitation. I obtained him from a familiar summoning ritual a few years ago and he has proven his skill and worth time and time again.”

“So I guess he doesn’t horse around, huh?” Nova said with a wry grin.

Everyone present groaned, even Thundervolt gave Nova a look. The exception was Nina, who giggled.

“That was uncalled for, pink head,” a knight huffed.

Nova shrugged, “Guess I should quit foaling around, huh?”

Everyone groaned again, rolling their eyes, with the exception of Nina, who continued to giggle.

A knight turned to her, “Why do you find that funny? They’re terrible jokes.”

Nina brushed some hair out of her face, smiling, “I like his sense of humor. He’s got quite the dry wit and I like that about him.”

“Do you want some cheese with your whine, knight boy?” Nova smirked.

“Will you stop that!?” another knight spat.

“Hey, when it comes to my wordplay, it’s always spur of the moment.”

Everyone groaned again, even Thundervolt looked exasperated, while Nina continued to giggle.

Sir Reginald sighed, “Be as it may, let’s get going before you crack any more bad puns. Get on.”

He jumped onto Thundervolt’s back and got into a position. Nova managed to climb up on the massive lightning horse familiar behind Sir Reginald.

“Hold it, Nova, you need to scooch back a bit,” the knight stated.

“Why?” Nova asked.

“So that the lady can ride behind me.”

Nina gave Sir Reginald a disappointed frown, stating, “Not happening, Sir Reginald. I’m well aware you can be quite the flirt, so don’t try it on me.” She flew up and positioned herself behind Nova on Thundervolt’s back, gently clutching her partner, “There. That’s better.”

“Suit yourself. Now, let’s go. I can get us there instantly so hold on tight.” He started to channel energy before stating, “Warp!”

They all vanished in a flash of light. They then reappeared outside the front gates of a massive city. Nova shook his head in surprise.

“Woo… that tingled something fierce!” he said. “I hope I didn’t lose any body parts.”

“No, you didn’t, don’t worry,” Sir Reginald stated. “I’ve fully mastered the Warp spell. It’s not as powerful as Teleport, as it can only take the user and allies to a place the user has been to before, but it’s still useful.”

He jumped off of Thundervolt’s back, landing gracefully. Nova followed suit, stumbling a bit as he did, before he held out his hand to help Nina down, making her smile. After Nina was on the ground Sir Reginald turned to his familiar.

“Thank you for your hard work, Thundervolt. To the Spirit Plane.”

To Nova’s surprise Thundervolt vanished in a flurry of sparkles, leaving no trace of him behind.

“Where did Thundervolt go?” he asked, surprised.

“Whenever a familiar that’s under a contract is not in use, they are sent to a realm called the Spirit Plane,” Sir Reginald explained. “From what little is known about the Spirit Plane it is a paradise for familiars, giving them a place to rest, eat, and heal if need be. It’s essentially a home for them. Now, enough of this, I have to escort you two to King Hendrik. Follow me, please.”

He guided the duo into the city. It was full of people bustling about, doing their chores or jobs, with kids playing in the streets. Sir Reginald led Nova and Nina through the crowds and all the way to the castle that was seated in the center of the city. After getting past the guards at the front door he took them to the throne room where a handsome king and his teenage son were waiting for them. The three of them went into a bow.

“Your Majesty, I have returned with the Demon King’s newest champion and his companion Princess Nina Firewing.”

King Hendrik smiled, “Excellent work, Sir Reginald, though I’d expect nothing less from you.” He turned to Nova, “So, you’re the current Demon King champion, am I right?”

Nova sighed, “Yeah, I am, although I’m not a very good one. The Demon King was really scraping the bottom of the barrel when he picked me. Especially given my crippling flaw that puts me a great odds with this ‘mission’: I’m afraid of ghosts and undead and yet I’ve been tasked to fight the ruler of all undead. Ironic.”

The teenage prince laughed, “You’re afraid of ghosts and undead and yet you’ve been selected to be the Demon King’s newest champion? What a joke. Why’d he pick such an unattractive loser like you?”

Nina swiftly moved up to the prince and slapped him across the face, stunning everyone with her boldness.

“Don’t you DARE talk that way about Nova in front of me!” she spat. “I don’t care if you’re a prince or not, no one calls Nova a loser in front of me! He’s not a loser! He’s a great man who is doing his best to save all of us! You should be more respectful toward him and not badmouth him. Don’t treat him like a joke. After all, I don’t see YOU going on the frontlines and fighting Muu’s army. So don’t be critical of someone else when you can’t prove yourself to be more competent.”

“How dare you slap me, woman!” the prince snapped. “Father, deal with her!”

King Hendrik replied, “No, I’ll allow it, as you did have it coming, Keith. And she is right, as you’re not risking your life to fight against Muu’s army unlike Nova here, so you shouldn’t be so critical. But Princess Nina, please refrain from being so bold, although I do admit it was almost refreshing to see someone actually have the guts to pull that.”

Nina huffed, “I’m not a princess anymore. I’ve cut ties with my family and clan and started anew. So don’t call me a princess since I want to put as much distance as possible between me and my clan. And it’s not like my title meant anything to my people, as I was just a means to an end for them. Though I apologize for my outburst, but badmouthing Nova is a good way to get me angry, as he’s the best thing to ever happen to me, thus I care deeply about him. Watch what you say about him in front of me or else.”

She returned to her original position, feeling quite satisfied with what she did. Nova couldn’t help but smile inwardly.

“Nina really cares about me,” he said silently. “She’ll stop at nothing to ensure that I get treated right. Not many would be willing to go that far for me, especially a woman. She truly is something special.”

King Hendrik cleared this throat, “Anyway, moving on, I do have something to tell you, Lady Nina. I was requested by your father, King Blazar, to track you down, as he figured you had crossed over into another kingdom’s territory in order to evade capture. I’m aware of why he wants you back and it’s rather petty, to put it simply. You can rest assured, however, that I won’t be sending you back. After all, he told me to find you, he didn’t say I had to return you.”

Nina gave a sigh of relief, “Whew… that’s lucky. For a moment there I thought I was about to be shipped back to my greedy kingdom.”

“Unfortunately, it is that very greed that ruined your race, Lady Nina. You don’t know this, but after the Great War ended the Phoenix Clan needed to rebuild. But, somewhere along the way, when they realized they could market their Magic Fire Feathers for a high profit they gave into that greed and started lining their pockets with as much money as possible. This, in turn, corrupted the race, causing them to lose both the power of the Phoenix and the Magic Fire Feathers. My theory on why you retained the trait of the Magic Fire Feathers is because you weren’t corrupted by your race’s greed due to the… circumstances surrounding your birth. Since you had it harder than others due to your clan’s social structure, it prevented you from falling victim to the same corruptive energies that preyed upon the rest of your kin. Thus you were given the gift of Magic Fire Feathers as almost a reward of sorts.”

Nina sighed, “So that’s how it all happened. My ancestors’ greed ruined our race, robbing us of our special powers. And I avoided it because I was the first-born in the royal family. Looks like getting neglected because of my gender actually had some benefit, as depressing as it is, since it allowed me to gain the gift that our people had lost ages ago. Now it all makes sense. Although my ‘gift’ turned into a curse when it was discovered. But at least now I can use my gift in the way it was intended.”

Sir Reginald then asked, “Forgive me for going off topic, but where’s Her Majesty, Queen Ruth?”

King Hendrik sighed, “She’s ill, unfortunately. It’s nothing serious or anything, just a nasty stomach virus that’s been going around, but given her sensitive stomach it’s done a number to her. So, as a result, she’s resting. Don’t worry about her, as the local doctor has already given her the needed medicine; she just needs to take it easy and eat light things for a bit until it passes. With that settled, I have a mission for you three. We’ve been recently harassed by Captain Skullguard of Muu’s army. Our kingdom’s barrier has protected our city but he needs to be dealt with in order to keep our people at ease. He tends to attack at night due to his sensitivity to sunlight, so you need to assist in stopping him and his platoon of Undead Soldiers. For now, you should rest and remain on standby until nightfall, as he’s sure to attack again tonight.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yessir, Your Majesty. We will deal with Captain Skullgard for you, rest assured.”

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Great… dealing with an Undead Captain at night is gonna be a nightmare for me.”

Nina gave him a warm smile, “We’ll manage, Nova, as this time we have an entire army to assist us. Besides, I know how to take out Captain Skullguard. It’s a bit tricky but he has a weak spot that will destroy him if hit. Hitting it, however, is the tricky part. But I have a feeling your impeccable aim should do the trick. We should first buy new equipment to better prepare ourselves for the fight ahead.”

King Hendrik nodded, “That’s a good idea, Lady Nina. Go to the local weapon shop and pick up some new gear. You’ll need it for the battle with Captain Skullguard. Then return here and rest until it’s time for battle. Sir Reginald, you escort them to the weapon shop and help them pick out the best gear they can get. Then you need to get the troops ready for battle, as Captain Skullguard will most assuredly strike once the sun goes down.”

Sir Reginald bowed, “At once, Your Majesty.” He turned to Nova and Nina, “You two come with me so we can get you better equipped for what’s to come.”

The duo nodded and followed Sir Reginald out of the throne room in order to prepare for the battle. Nova was clearly not looking forward to it but with a resigned sigh he pressed onward.

Next Chapter: Showdown at High Moon

That's it for today. We've been introduced to both Sir Reginald, a new main character, and the concept of familiars. How will both help our heroes? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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

Showdown at High Moon


Sir Reginald was guiding Nova and Nina toward one of the weapon shops in the capital city. The duo were taking the time to observe the surrounding area, trying to get a feel for it. Eventually they stopped at a large building.

“Here we are,” Sir Reginald said. “Honest Sam’s Armory. The best place to get new gear in the city.”

Nova gained an odd look, “With a name like that it sounds rather fishy.”

Nina nodded, “I concur. The general rule of thumb when it comes to sniffing out conmen is that putting the world ‘honest’ in their titles is a red flag. Are you sure this is a good place, Sir Reginald?”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, most of our knights buy from him. But, for some reason, they complain about him being greedy. I think it’s nonsense. Come, let’s go inside.”

Nova and Nina exchanged odd expressions before following Sir Reginald into the armory. The man at the counter looked rather weaselly, his eyes hidden behind his glasses and had a rather odd grin.

“Gee, the shopkeeper seems like an honest dude,” Nova said dryly.

Sam, the shopkeeper, said in a rather scratchy voice, “Welcome to my armory. Take your time and check out my wares. Only the best.”

Sir Reginald said, “We’re looking for a new bow and some magical rings for these two. What do you recommend?”

“A bow and magical rings? No problem, got ya covered.” He walked into the back before returning with a longbow and two magical rings, “This Hunter’s Bow and Ruby Rings are some of my best. I’ll give it to you for 30 gold. Oh, and the arrows cost extra.”

“So—” Sir Reginald was about to say before Nina stopped him.

“Hoooold it, Sir Reginald,” she stated. “That’s an outrageous price for a Hunter’s Bow and a pair of Ruby Rings. A Hunter’s Bow is only 50 silver at top price while Ruby Rings are only 70 silver at best. He’s charging us at least 25 times the price of what both would be normally. Even at their best quality a Hunter’s Bow and a pair of Ruby Rings would only fetch no more than 125 silver, or one gold and 25 silver, if you prefer. This guy is a rip-off and a scam. And, besides, we can’t afford 30 gold. No, this place is no good, as not only is he charging outrageous prices for items that would only be a fraction of the cost but it’s clear he’s aware of that. We’re leaving and going to a different weapon shop, as this guy is scamming everyone here.”

Nova nodded, “Agreed. We’re outta here.”

Both walked out of the store, surprising Sir Reginald, who quickly chased after them.

Sam said, “You’ll be sorry.”

Sir Reginald caught up to Nova and Nina, who were asking a townsfolk about other armories.

“Nova, Lady Nina, why’d you leave his shop?” he asked, clearly stunned. “Those were good prices.”

Nova crossed his arms in front of him, “BZZZ, survey says, wrong-o. That’s an outrageous price for a simple bow and a pair of magical rings, and that’s before factoring in the arrows. Even I can see that and I’m not a native to this world. I can’t believe you can’t see that, Sir Reginald. And like Nina said we can’t afford a price like that. No, we’re going someplace more affordable, as that guy is clearly a con artist.”

Nina walked up to them, “And I just got a name for a place from a young archer. He said the best prices for new gear are at Geo’s Armory. He said that no one should ever buy at Honest Sam’s Armory, as he’s clearly a conman. So we’re going to Geo’s Armory. He said it was down a block and then off to the left. Let’s go.”

She guided them to another armory, Sir Reginald looking rather confused as they made their way to Geo’s Armory. They came to the store. It was much smaller than the previous one.

Sir Reginald quirked an eyebrow, “This place? Sure, his prices are low but that hints the quality is equally low.”

Nova wagged a finger, “Tisk, tisk, tisk. You clearly don’t know how money works, Sir Reginald. Just because a product is low cost doesn’t mean it’s low quality. For example, as store on Earth called Walmart offers incredibly good products for equally good prices. I’ve shopped there lots of times and I’ve gotten really good deals on stuff that I love that’s also high-quality. Just because something is outrageously expensive doesn’t mean it’s automatically higher quality. That’s how con artists get you. I mean, really, Sir Reginald, a child could tell you that. Let’s check this place out.”

Nova and Nina entered the shop, leaving a stunned Sir Reginald outside. He quickly followed them into the armory. At the counter was a strong-looking, balding man with a handsome face. He turned to see the trio enter his shop, smiling.

“Welcome to my armory, folks,” he said with a smile. “Feel free to browse my shop. What can I get for you today?”

Nina replied, “We need a pair of magical rings and a new bow. Oh, and some more arrows, too.”

“That can be arranged, young lady. I’ve got a Hunter’s Bow and a pair of Ruby Rings on sale. The Hunter’s Bow is 40 silver and the Ruby Rings are 50 silver. And if you buy the bow I’ll provide 24 free arrows, though if you want more they’ll cost you one copper apiece.”

Nina smiled, “Now that’s a good price. Let’s see them. Also, if possible, can we trade in some old equipment for either a discount or some cash back?”

Geo nodded, “Sure thing, little missy. What do you have to offer?”

Nova stepped up, “Well, I’ve got about eight Komodo Archer bows and seven quivers. Technically I have eight as well but I’m using the eight one. Unless, of course, you can offer a better quiver.”

“Let me see the bows and quivers, young man.”

Nova took out all the quivers and all the bows, including the one strapped to his Digi-Pack, and placed them on the counter. Geo looked them over, trying to get a feel for them.

“Hmm… a bit worn out but nothing a little elbow grease can’t fix. I have an offer for you. In exchange for these eight bows and quivers, including the one you’re currently using, I’ll give you a discount of 10 silver, a new, larger, and more durable quiver, AND will throw in an extra 15 arrows on the house. How does that sound to you?”

Nina clapped her hands together, smiling, “That’s a great offer! You’ve got a deal!”

Nova turned to Sir Reginald, smiling, “See? Just because something is lower priced doesn’t mean it’s bad. One needs to be cautious about money, as lowlifes like ‘Honest’ Sam will weasel it away from you, especially if you’re naïve about the value of certain items.”

Geo turned to him, his eyes narrowing, “So, you went to Sam’s place first? No surprise you came here. He boasts about everything being top quality while offering them for outrageous prices, yet from what several people have said the quality of his items are actually rather low. A few people who came in here said his stuff broke after a few uses. Just because I offer things at lower prices doesn’t mean my stuff is lower quality. I know the value of money and I know you need to understand that people like Sam are just out to rip you off. I’m surprised that you, Sir Reginald, who is Galvatar’s top General, doesn’t understand that. It’ll come back to haunt you unless you wise up about the value of money compared to the quality of the item. Anyway, let me sort out your bow, arrows, and rings. Give me a minute.”

He took the bows and quivers and brought them into the back of his shop. A few moments later he returned with a pair of Ruby Rings and a new Hunter’s Bow, along with a larger, more durable quiver filled with arrows. He placed them on the counter.

Nina took a moment to observe the items, smiling, “These are good quality. They’ll carry us for quite some time. I knew coming to a different place was a smarter choice.”

Geo smiled, “Thank you for saying that little missy. I also noticed your old Bronze Rings. They’re not worth anything, given how beat up they are, but I’ll take them off your hands. That way you can use the Ruby Rings without any need to dispose of your old rings.”

Nina nodded and removed her old Bronze Rings and placed them in Geo’s hand. He gently disposed of them in the back of his shop.

“Now, then. The Hunter’s Bow and Ruby Rings would come to 90 silver. However, since you traded in eight Komodo Archer bows and quivers, that knocks off 10 silver. So the final price is 80 silver.”

Nova nodded, “Deal.”

He gave Geo 80 silver coins, which the shopkeeper graciously put away. The duo quickly equipped themselves with their new gear, giving it a feel as they did.

“Nice,” Nina said. “Very, very nice indeed. These will serve us well. Thank you, Geo.”

Geo smiled, “You’re welcome, little lady. Come back anytime. And do spread the word about ‘Honest’ Sam being a rip-off. Not to promote my business but to expose him for the con artist he is, as many people complain quite a bit about his greed and lower quality stuff.” He then noticed Sir Reginald eyeing a sword on the wall, “I see you spotted my newest item: a Zombieslayer. It’s a type of Holy sword that’s extra potent on Undead and the like. It’s perfect for someone who is going up against Muu and his army, as a single slash can slay an Undead Soldier like a soap bubble. While the Captains and Generals are, obviously, more durable, it’ll still do quite a bit to one of them. Would you like it, Sir Reginald?”

Sir Reginald looked it over, saying, “I’ve heard of Zombieslayer and Zombiesbane swords. They’re quite rare. How’d you get ahold of one?”

“My brother, Michael, is very good at finding such items. He’s a bit of a treasure hunter but he’s not greedy. He recently found a monk monastery that was making these Zombieslayer swords in order to fight against Muu. He managed to purchase a few for a good price and gave them to me. I highly suggest you buy it, Sir Reginald, as it’ll be far more potent than your Steel Broadsword against Muu’s army.”

“How much is it?” Sir Reginald asked.

“Under normal circumstances it’ll be two gold, but if you trade in your old Steel Broadsword I’ll remove 30 silver from the price, making it one gold and 70 silver.”

Nina turned to Sir Reginald, “That’s a really good price. Zombieslayers are worth at good five gold. You’re getting one at a fraction of the cost. I recommend you take it, as we’re gonna be fighting against Captain Skullguard tonight probably, so having the extra bite in your sword slashes would be most beneficial.”

Geo smiled, “You know your stuff, little lady. You are, indeed, correct.”

Sir Reginald looked it over before saying, “I guess having that extra edge over the Undead Army wouldn’t hurt. Fine, I’ll take it. I just hope it works.”

“Good, glad to hear it. That’ll be one gold and 70 silver if you’re going to trade in your Steel Broadsword.”

Sir Reginald nodded, gave Geo the money and his old sword, and took the Zombieslayer off the wall. He took a moment to look it over before placing it in his now vacant scabbard on his hip.

Nova placed a hand on his hip, “See, Sir Reginald? Just because something is low in price doesn’t make it automatically low quality. Likewise, just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s automatically top quality. That Zombieslayer could very well be the key to stopping Captain Skullguard and his platoon tonight if he shows up. Looks like we need to educate you in the way of budget shopping and learning the value of price vs quality.”

Sir Reginald replied, “I hope you’re right. Now, you two should return to His Majesty, King Hendrik. I have to go talk to my troops about our battleplan for dealing with Captain Skullguard. His Majesty is going to offer you food and lodging in one of the guest rooms until we know when Skullguard and his platoon appear. For now, rest, as you’ll need it for the fight ahead.”

“Joy…” Nova replied, deadpan.

Nina giggled, “Don’t worry about it, Nova. While Undead are more powerful at night we now have an army to help us. At least this once, anyway. So we should be fine. We can let Sir Reginald’s men handle the small-fry Undead Soldiers while we focus on Skullguard, as he’s got a particular… I guess you could say ‘gimmick’ to his power. I’ll discuss it more at the castle. For now, let’s go back and take a load off before the big fight, as we’re gonna need it.”

Nova gave a resigned sigh as he followed Nina back to the castle. Meanwhile, Sir Reginald made his way to where his fellow soldiers mapped out their battleplans and began preparations for the battle ahead. While everyone waited for nightfall Nova and Nina took the opportunity to relax for a bit, discussing any plans and tactics that might be useful. Soon, darkness covered the land, and the three moons rose into the sky. Everyone was tense, as they knew the time was upon them.

Suddenly, a guard in a watchtower stated, “I see Captain Skullguard and his platoon! They’re coming from the east!”

Sir Reginald drew his new Zombieslayer, stating, “Okay, it’s time, men. We cannot allow a single Undead Soldier into the capital. Nova, Lady Nina,” he turned to them, “You two will be assisting the archers in stopping Captain Skullguard. As you’ve probably discussed, he’s near immortal. However, he has one key weak point that, if struck, will kill him instantly. However, said weak point is protected by three layers of orbiting defenses, so even the best archers and the best magicians cannot snipe that target. From what Lady Nina has said you’ve got impeccable aim, Nova, so you’ll be our best bet and trying to hit that weak point. Can you do that?”

Nova sighed, “Not like I have a choice in the matter. But I’ll do what I can.”

Sir Reginald turned to the army, “Close the front gates! It’s time to wipe out Captain Skullguard and his platoon! Tonight we fight and we will win!”

The other knights cheered, raising their weapons up in the air. Nova gave another defeated sigh, clearly not looking forward to this. The front gates of the city were closed and locked, thereby protecting the city and its people from harm. It wasn’t long before the Undead Army was upon them.

Captain Skullguard was massive compared to past Undead Captains. His torso was mostly a giant skull with three different layers of orbiting shields, while his lower body was almost that of a tank made of bones. He was wielding a massive scimitar and his sunken face sneered at the army opposing him.

“So, you’ve all come to die, huh?” he grinned. “Hmm? And I see the Demon King’s newest puppet is with you. Good, once I eliminate him then Master Muu won’t have anything else to worry about. I’ll avenge my fallen Undead Captains tonight. Undead Soldiers… ATTACK!”

The various Undead Soldiers charged in; weapons held high, ready to cut down their opposition. Sir Reginald and his knights rushed in to meet them halfway while the archers, mages, Nova, and Nina stayed behind to provide coverfire.

Nina started to summon up energy, stating, “This’ll give them something to worry about! Light Burst!”

She launched her attack, causing a massive burst of Light energy to strike all the Undead Soldiers, with the exception of Skullguard, whose orbiting defenses shielded him from the attack. The attack stunned and severely damaged several Undead Soldiers, allowing Sir Reginald and his knights to start hacking the enemy forces apart. Sir Reginald was surprised at how effective the Zombieslayer was; effortlessly cleaved through the Undead Soldiers like they were wet paper and killed them near instantly.

“Maybe there is some truth to Nova’s and Nina’s statement about price vs item quality, as this Zombieslayer is tearing through these Undead Soldiers like tissue paper despite it being relatively cheap,” he said silently.

At the time the various archers and mages were trying to strike the weak point, which appeared to be the nose of the skull on Skullguard’s torso. However, the various orbiting defenses protected the weak point, preventing any shot from getting through.

An archer turned to Nova, “Hey, pink boy! Why haven’t you fired a single arrow yet? Are you scared?”

Nova turned to him, “Yes, I am, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m taking the time to observe how those orbiting defenses work in order to see if there’s an opening I can exploit. Just shooting attacks willy-nilly won’t solve anything.”

Skullguard laughed, “You can just forget it, Demon King puppet! There is no way anyone can strike my weak point. Face it, you’re going to die tonight and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Although unnerved, Nova continued to observe the orbiting defenses. After about a minute he drew an arrow and took aim.

“Hah! You honestly think you can hit my weak point, pinky? Go ahead. Make my day. I’ll stand still, I promise.”

Nova smirked, “You’ll regret those words. Demon Mode. Fire Shot.”

He aimed carefully before firing his now flaming arrow at Skullguard. The burning arrow rocketed through the air toward its target. To Skullguard’s surprise and horror it flew right through a small gap that had suddenly been aligned in his orbiting defenses before striking him dead center in the weak point. As it did energy started to rupture from Skullguard’s body, making him scream.

“HOW COULD YOU!? HOW COULD YOU HAVE TIMED THAT SO PERFECTLY!?! THERE’S NO WAY A LOSER LIKE YOU COULD’VE DONE THAT!? NOOOOOOOOO!!!”

His body burst into energy and disintegrated, leaving no trace of him behind. The remaining Undead Soldiers were shocked and horrified. Their moment of distraction allowed Sir Reginald and his knights to finish them off unopposed, finally ending the battle. Everyone was in awe at how perfectly Nova had sniped that spot through the brief opening in Skullguard’s defenses. Nina then tackled Nova in a hug.

“You did it, Nova!” she said happily. “You managed to take out Skullguard in one shot! That’s amazing! You’re amazing! I knew you could do it!”

Sir Reginald walked up to them, “To say I’m amazed at how perfectly you performed that shot would be an understatement. How did you figure out that there is a brief moment where the gap in Skullguard’s orbiting defenses would align?”

Nova replied, “I took the time to observe the pattern of how those defenses worked. I noticed that all three of them had a small gap in them, and every 25 seconds that gap would align. So, once I figured out the timing all I had to do was make sure I exploited it just right. And me taking that time to study it paid off. Now, with another Undead Captain destroyed I can go and throw up now.”

Nina giggled, “Don’t be like that, Nova. You managed to hold your own very well tonight. But time for praise later, as we need to report to King Hendrik about what happened.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Men, we have earned ourselves a great victory! Now our city can sleep peacefully knowing that Skullguard is no more! Today we have claimed another victory over Muu! And may this be only the start of our victory lap against him!”

The knights cheered triumphantly. Sir Reginald led the group back into the city to report their success to King Hendrik, knowing that they had gained another foothold against Muu.

Next Chapter: Everything’s Familiar

That's it for today. That's another Undead Captain down and out. This is looking good for our heroes so far. Tune in for the next installment.
 

CynthiaLover

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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage.

Everything’s Familiar


It was the following morning after Captain Skullguard and his platoon were destroyed. Nova, Nina, and Sir Reginald were kneeling before King Hendrik, awaiting their next instructions.

King Hendrik stated, “Well done, you three. You vanquished Captain Skullguard and his platoon. That’ll allow our people to rest more easily now that he’s no longer trying to bust down our doors. But the job has only just begun. Sir Reginald, you will be accompanying these two in the fight against Muu. They will need your guidance and expertise on the battlefield if they are to win. While I am very impressed with you, Nova, for being able to snipe such a difficult target, you and Lady Nina are not enough to tackle this threat alone. Know that you’ll have our kingdom’s full support, not just Sir Reginald. So you can rest assured that you’re not going into this fight alone.”

Nova nodded, “Yes, I’m grateful for that, as there is no way in hell I can do this without extra firepower.”

Sir Reginald turned to him, “You need not worry, Nova, as the whole world has your back, so you’re not alone. But, in any case, we should get ready for our trip, as we’ve got a long way to go before we reach the next kingdom that’ll grant us aid. So lead the way, Nova.”

Nova turned to him, “Sir Reginald, since you’ve got the most experience out of all of us, I nominate you as the leader of our party. I’ve been winging it this whole time, even with Nina’s help, but I am no leader. You have the necessary experience so you’re a better pick.”

Nina nodded, “I agree. Plus, you’ve got the most influence with other kingdoms over us, so you would be the better pick for being the leader.”

King Hendrik replied, “They are both right, Sir Reginald. You are the most qualified for being the leader of this group. It would be in everyone’s best interest if you took the helm.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “If you feel that way too, Your Majesty, then I accept. And I assume you’ll be providing us with a special passport that’ll allow me to enter other lands, correct?”

“That is indeed correct. It should be finished soon.”

A servant walked up, presenting a passport, stating, “Here you go, Your Majesty. One special permission passport for Sir Reginald.”

“Speak of the devil,” the King stated.

“That was convenient timing,” Nova said.

The King stated, “Give that passport to Sir Reginald. Now don’t lose it, as it’s very valuable.”

Sir Reginald graciously took the passport, saying, “I will keep it safe, Your Majesty.” He turned to Nova and Nina, “Come, you two, we need to purchase supplies, as this journey will be a long one.”

“Yay…” Nova said, completely deadpan.

King Hendrik stated, “Before you go, take this.” He clapped his hands, which summoned a servant holding three fair-sized bags of money, “I have provided some extra funds, as you will need them. To be exact, 1,000 gold, 3,000 silver, and 5,000 copper. Take it with my regard.”

The servant handed Sir Reginald the bags of money which he graciously took.

Nina suggested, “We should divide it up between us so that way we’ll all have some funds on hand and it’ll make it harder for thieves to try to rob us.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “That’s a good idea, Lady Nina. We’ll do it after we’re done here.” He turned to King Hendrik, “Thank you very much, Your Majesty. We will put it to good use. If you’ll excuse us, we have to prepare for our trip.”

King Hendrik nodded, “Godspeed to you three, as the journey you’re about to embark on will be a long and dangerous one. We’re counting on you. Especially you, Nova.”

“Then you’d better have a back-up plan ready,” Nova said dryly.

“Nova!” Nina scolded. “Don’t be like that. You’ll do fine.”

Sir Reginald stood up, stating, “Indeed. Let us begin the necessary preparations and be on our way.”

Nina and Nova followed Sir Reginald out of the throne room so they could start preparing for their journey, although Nova was very reluctant. They knew they had a large mission on their hands so they made sure to get everything they could carry before leaving the capital.

It was the following day. Nova, Nina, and Sir Reginald were heading to the next settlement after leaving the capital. Sir Reginald was in the lead, holding the map and compass that Nova had gotten a while back, while Nova and Nina followed him.

“Okay, according to the map, compass, and position of the sun, we won’t be able to reach the next town until tomorrow, so we’ll need to find a magical campsite for the night,” he said. “That Digi-Pack you have, Nova, will be a godsend for us, as it can carry most of our stuff, especially the bigger items like the new tent and sleeping bags. It’s a good thing that got transported with you when you were first summoned here, as it is proving to be a valuable asset.”

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Yeah, I know. It was just luck, really, as I had it on-hand when I got isekai’d into this world, as I was returning from doing an errand when this all happened. I’ll take any bit of good luck I can get, since my luck generally ping-pongs all over the place, making it unreliable at best.”

Nina smiled, “Don’t be like that, Nova. You’re doing just fine. Now, let’s press onward.”

They continued to travel a bit further. However, they heard something, making them stop. It sounded like a pained hiss crossed with a whine. The trio looked around, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. They followed it and came to a small clearing, where they were greeted with quite the sight.

Lying in the clearing was a massive creature. It resembled a giant snake that was easily 10 meters long, if not longer. Its body was a milky white color with purple markings on its face, neck, and back, with two pairs of dragon wings, one near its neck and a smaller pair near the tail. Its tail ended in a flat, triangular blade that had red markings on the sharp edges, while on its head were two sapphire blue horns that curved upward and slightly inward, along with a prominent pair of fangs. They noticed the creature was wounded, sporting several gashes on its otherwise beautiful body.

“What is that?” Nova asked.

“It’s a Gorgon Viper,” Nina replied. “It’s a type of familiar that originates from the Netherworld, being classified as a demonic hellfire serpent. Despite being called ‘vipers’ they’re actually a Dragon-type familiar. And it’s a female, too. Before you ask, the horns are different colors depending on the gender: males have ruby red horns while females have sapphire blue ones. But I wonder who or what injured her, as Gorgon Vipers are known for being extremely durable: their scales are harder than even the toughest of armor. I admit this is the first time I’ve seen one in person. I’ve only seen them in books so I admit she’s more impressive than what the various texts on familiars and the Great War describe.”

Sir Reginald said, “We should move on, as Gorgon Vipers are very dangerous, aggressive, and temperamental. While males are more aggressive and dangerous than females, a female Gorgon Viper is still extremely dangerous.”

Nova shook his head, “No, we can’t leave her like this. We need to heal her.”

The Gorgon Viper opened her eyes, revealing them to be venomous green in color and pupilless, having now realized that there were people nearby. She gave a threatening hiss, trying to intimidate the group, but it was clear she was too injured to actually back it up. Nova got an idea. He took off his Digi-Pack, which had his bow and arrows, and gave it to Nina.

“Here, Nina, hold this, please,” he said. He slowly approached the Gorgon Viper, saying, “I’m unarmed. I won’t hurt you. Please, let me help you.”

The Gorgon Viper seemed confused at first, wondering why this person was willing to approach her unarmed. However, she could see the kindness in his eyes and, with great reluctance, allowed Nova to approach her.

He turned to Nina, “Nina, what are some types of healing magic?”

She replied, “Well, other than Cure that I told you about a while ago, there is Heal, Rejuvenate, Vitalize, Recover, and Vigor, in ascending order of strength. Her wounds look bad, so I suggest Recover, as it fully heals the target. And I recommend you use Demon Mode on the Demon King Ring for good measures.”

Nova nodded, “Right, I’m on it.” He turned to the Gorgon Viper and said gently, “Allow me to heal your wounds.”

The Gorgon Viper took a moment to debate the issue before giving a small nod, allowing Nova to come closer.

“Thank you. Now, first thing’s first… Demon Mode.”

The Demon King Ring shifted, now set to Demon Mode. Nova then focused on the ring at the Gorgon Viper and began channeling energy.

“Recover!” he stated strongly.

The ring released energy, causing healing sparkles to engulf the Gorgon Viper. To the Gorgon Viper’s surprise her wounds instantly closed and her strength returned. Once the effect of the healing magic had ended the Gorgon Viper was fully healed. She looked at Nova with wide eyes, clearly surprised that he’d go out of his way to heal her. Nova lowered his hand and smiled at her.

“There you go, that should take care of those injuries,” he said warmly. “Now you should be in the clear. We can’t have such a gorgeous creature like yourself suffer from those wounds, now can we? Whatever gave those to you I hope you get some payback on it on them. Take care of yourself and don’t get hurt again.”

As he started to walk back to his group the Gorgon Viper extended her tail and gently coiled Nova up, as if giving him a hug, and started to nuzzle her head against his. He smiled and gently stroked her under the chin.

Sir Reginald was in shock, “I’ve never seen or heard of a Gorgon Viper being so gentle, let along actually cuddling someone. Even under familiar contracts they tend to be willful and dangerous, even to their masters, only obeying orders if they have at least a decent amount of respect for them. While females are gentler than males the difference is marginal at best. This one is almost perfectly calm and gentle. That’s unheard of.”

Nina smiled, “Well, they say that every rule has an exception to it. This one is probably just gentler in general compared to other Gorgon Vipers. But obviously she appreciates what Nova did for her. Not many would be willing to approach an injured Gorgon Viper due to their usual temperaments, yet Nova’s kindness to help her clearly won her over.”

Nova gently stroked the Gorgon Viper’s chin, smiling, “I’m glad you appreciate what I did. It’s a shame I can’t make you my familiar, as having you around would be a huge asset in my unwanted mission to fight and defeat Muu and his Undead Army.”

The Gorgon Viper’s eyes narrowed at Nova statement, becoming suddenly more alert and aggressive, looking around, as if trying to find Muu and his army.

“What’s gotten into her?”

Nina replied, “Well, Gorgon Vipers and Undead are enemies. From what has been said about Gorgon Vipers is that they were bred mainly to hunt Undead. They’re immune to all kinds of techniques and abilities that Undead have, making them perfect counters to them. It’s even said that the Demon King has a Gorgon Viper as his familiar. So it’s no surprise she’d become alert at the thought of any Undead being nearby, as she’s basically the hunter of all Undead. But I wonder if maybe the Undead Army hurt her, as I wouldn’t put it past Muu to have crafted weapons to counter a Gorgon Viper.”

The Gorgon Viper turned to her and nodded, confirming her statement.

“So, this Gorgon Viper was attacked by Muu’s Undead Army,” Sir Reginald pondered. “That would explain the severity of her wounds, as any Undead would probably fight back frantically if they were to cross a Gorgon Viper. And if Muu has created weapons to better fight against Gorgon Vipers then that would be a smart move on his part, as even he’s afraid of them.”

Nova turned to the Gorgon Viper, saying, “So, you had a run-in with the Undead Army? No wonder you were so badly injured. I bet you’d love to pay them back, right?”

The Gorgon Viper nodded in response.

“Then maybe you should come with us. We’re taking the fight to Muu himself, much to my displeasure, so it’ll give you plenty of opportunities to take down his Undead goons. What do you say?”

The Gorgon Viper nodded eagerly and began nuzzling Nova again.

“Looks like we have a new friend,” Nina smiled.

Nova nodded, “Yes, but is it possible to create a familiar contract with a wild familiar? Obviously we can’t have her out all the time, especially if her type are feared by both friend and enemy alike. Is there a way to forge a contract with this Gorgon Viper so she can reside in the Spirit Plane until needed?”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, it’s possible to forge a familiar contract with a wild familiar. It’s rare but it is possible. You just need to draw a circle of your blood on the familiar’s body to create the contract. That’ll allow you to send her to and from the Spirit Plane whenever needed. It’ll also give her a comfortable home to reside in when not in battle.”

Nova nodded and turned to the Gorgon Viper, “Would you like to become my familiar and help me fight Muu and his army? I could really use your help and it would give you a chance to get some payback on Muu and his army.”

The Gorgon Viper nodded in agreement, making Nova smile.

“Thank you. Now, before we go any further, how about I give you a name?” He took a moment think before replying, “How about Elora?”

The Gorgon Viper nodded eagerly, somehow managing to smile.

“Okay, Elora it is. Now, let’s do this contract bit.”

Nova bit his thumb in order to get it to bleed. The newly named Elora raised her head up so Nova could draw the circle of blood on her neck. He gently drew a circle of blood on her body. Once the circle had been completed it started to glow, then levitated off Elora’s body and vanished in a flurry of sparkles. Two orbiting rings of what looked like strange text then surrounded both of them before vanishing. Elora’s eyes glowed before she gave a hiss-like roar, seemingly confirming the contract was now in place.

“Is that it?” Nova asked.

“That’s it,” Sir Reginald stated. “Test it. Send her to the Spirit Plane.”

Nova nodded, “Okay. Elora, to the Spirit Plane!”

Elora vanished in a flurry of sparkles, leaving the group alone.

“And there you have it,” the knight stated. “Now, you just need to summon her with your blood and mana, in your case stating, ‘Elora, come forth!’, and that’ll summon her.”

Nova gained a nervous expression, “Slight problem with that, Sir Reginald. I don’t have any natural mana. Unless the Demon King Ring can substitute for it.”

Nina replied, “No, sadly, that’s the one thing the Demon King Ring can’t do. But there is an alternative way to summon a familiar. Simply use a Summoning Sticker. Summoning Stickers are designed for those who have little to no natural mana in order to summon a familiar. From what has been said there really is no difference in using a Summon Sticker over the ‘normal’ method so it’s not like you’re handicapping yourself or Elora by doing so. You can buy them in most item shops and they’re reusable so you only need a few at a time.”

Sir Reginald took something out of his backpack, revealing it to be a sticker with what looked like a summoning circle on it.

“Here, Nova, take this one,” he said. “I always carry a few Summoning Stickers with me just in case I’m running low on mana and need to summon Thundervolt. It’s been gently used but it still works. I suggest you buy some more at the next town’s item shop so you’ll have your own supply of them. But this’ll do for a start. Simply place it on the back of your right hand and state what I told you
before to say in order to summon Elora. Give it a go.”

Nova nodded, graciously taking the Summoning Sticker. He placed it on his right hand, cleared his throat, and took a deep breath.

“Elora, come forth!” he stated in a strong voice, complete with a cool pose.

The Summoning Sticker glowed, followed by a larger summoning circle appearing. Then a burst of smoke and fire erupted from the summoning circle, followed by a pair of glowing venomous green eyes and before long Elora was standing by Nova’s side. She gently nuzzled against him, clearly happy that he successfully summoned her.

“And there you have it,” Sir Reginald stated. “Simple, easy, and just as effective as the traditional method. You truly are a rather irregular element here, Nova. Oh, before I forget, there is one more piece of info you need to know. Your familiar is bonded with you now, and your lives are linked to each other, thus you need to take care of her. If you die then she dies and if she dies you die, so you both need to watch each other’s backs. Don’t take unnecessary risks with your familiar, especially against Muu’s forces, as you’ll both be done for if only one of you were to fall.”

Nova nodded, “Right, thanks for the info. We’ll be careful. Right, Elora?”

Elora nodded in agreement, nuzzling against Nova again happily.

Nina smiled, “Now we’ve got a very strong and good-looking ally on our side. Especially since she’s the natural counter to Muu and his Undead Army. You did good today, Nova, as saving Elora’s life means we now have her help in this rather daunting mission of ours. Let’s do our best. Oh, and here’s your stuff back. You no longer need to leave yourself unarmed now that you’ve won Elora over.”

She handed Nova his Digi-Pack, bow, and quiver of arrows, which he strapped back on.

“Okay, with that said and done, let’s go,” Nova said. “I’ll call upon you when I need your help. So, for now, enjoy chilling out in your new home.
Elora, to the Spirit Plane.”

Elora vanished in a flurry of sparkles, giving a smile as she did, knowing she was in good hands. Nova then took the Summoning Sticker off his hand and placed it into his Digi-Pack for safekeeping.

Sir Reginald said, “Now with a new, powerful ally on our side, we should keep moving. We need to reach the next magical campsite before it gets too late, so let’s go.”

Nodding, the group continued to make their way toward their next destination. They felt good knowing they now had the strength of a Gorgon Viper on their side, feeling more confident as a result. They knew every bit of help they could secure would be crucial in this wargame with Muu and his forces.

Next Chapter: Disaster Thy Name is Dominic

That's all for today. How will Nova's new friend help him in his unwanted mission? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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

Disaster Thy Name is Dominic


It was the following day after the party had acquired Elora the Gorgon Viper as Nova’s new familiar. The trio were heading down the road, led by Sir Reginald, making their way to the next town. Along the way they had fought some monsters and were victorious, adding some of their parts to their collection.

Nina smiled, “Battles with monsters are a lot easier with Sir Reginald around, as we utterly curb-stomped those Harpies, Spine Porcupines, and Froggies. In general it’s good to have another ally, as there’s only so much Nova and I can do on our own.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “You flatter me, Lady Nina. Yes, there is strength in numbers, something that monsters like to employ a lot. But you two did pretty well before now all things considering. Now, we should be reaching the next village soon. We can market off some of the monster parts we got such as the Harpy’s talons, the Spine Porcupine’s quills and claws, and the Froggy’s tongue and legs. They’ll fetch some decent pocket change, that’s for sure.”

Nova turned to Nina, “Nina, you do realize we forgot to sell the Gargathox tusks and horns while we were back at the capital, as I’m still carrying them in my Digi-Pack.”

She nodded, “Yeah, I know. But given the fact that King Hendrik was generous enough to give us some pretty solid funds it wasn’t really necessary. Besides, there are other larger cities that we can sell them at so we’ll hold onto them until a rainy day.”

Sir Reginald turned to them, “I wasn’t aware you two had Gargathox horns and tusks. I assume it also means you have their vertebrae, too, or at least some of it left. Gargathoxes are fairly rare in Phoenixwing Kingdom but are definitely higher on the food chain compared to most monsters in that territory. I’m surprised you were able to take one down.”

Nina smiled, “Nova figured out their weak point. While their weakness is Wind, like always, Nova took an educated guess and managed to strike an orb in the back of the Gargathox’s throat, instantly killing it. It made what would normally be a rather tough fight into a breeze.”

“There’s an orb in the back of its throat that when struck will kill it instantly? I never knew that.”

Nova replied, “It was an educated guess that turned out to be correct. Since that orb seemed to generate energy for its attacks and it fluctuated when the Gargathox was struck I took a gamble and struck it with an arrow. My gamble paid off as it took the beast out with a single strike. So keep that in mind if we ever face another Gargathox.”

“I will, thanks for the tip. Now, we should be pretty close to our next destination. There we can stock up, sell our monster parts, and sleep in a real bed. Let’s go.”

Nodding the trio made their way forward. It wasn’t long before they arrived at the next town. It was a nice-sized yet cozy village, with its residents bustling about, doing their own thing.

“Okay, let’s start by selling the monster parts. If I remember rightly, the quills can be sold at medicine shops for about 10 coppers, the claws and talons can be sold at weapon shops for about 25 coppers each, and the tongues and legs can be sold to butchers for roughly 20 coppers a set. Then we should check out the item shop for any new supplies, including more Summoning Stickers for Nova so he can summon Elora whenever needed without issue.”

Nova nodded, “Right, lead the way.”

The trio made their way, going to different shops to barter for the monster parts before picking up any other supplies they thought would be necessary. After a while they stopped to take a break.

“I gotta hand it to you, Nova, you sure are good at bartering. We got better prices for our monster parts than normally,” Sir Reginald said.

Nina smiled, “Yeah, I made note of that, too, a while back. Nova can be quite the shrewd negotiator when it comes to getting the best value for something. He’s not only a good budget shopper but also good at selling items. We don’t have to worry too much about money with him around.”

Nova blushed, “Please, don’t praise me to that degree. I just did what I thought would help benefit us the most, that’s all. It’s nothing special.”

Suddenly, everyone’s stomachs growled, making them all gain sheepish expressions.

“Sounds like we’re all getting hungry,” Nina said. “Let’s go to that restaurant we saw a block or so back and get something to eat?”

Nodding in agreement the party made their way back to where they saw the restaurant. As soon as they entered they were greeted by a bombastic voice.

“Yeah, that Gargathox was no match for me!” a familiar voice stated. “I took it down with one swing of my trusty sword!”

Nova gained a look of dread, “Oh no, not him again.”

The trio turned to see Dominic. He was once again surrounded by women who were listening to his false tales of heroics, while the other patrons, including the waitresses and chef, looked on with distain.

“I don’t believe it…” Nina sighed defeatedly. “I had hoped that we’d never see Dominic again.”

Sir Reginald pondered, “Dominic? As in Dominic Flight? I’ve heard that name before. If I recall what I’ve heard about him is not good. But, for now, let’s ignore him and just get something to eat.”

“That’s not gonna happen, Sir Reginald, as Dominic will immediately lock onto Nina like a heat-seeking missile the moment he sees her,” Nova said, deadpan.

Sure enough, the moment Dominic turned in their direction his eyes locked onto Nina, his mouth turning into a seductive smile.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my lovely Phoenix chick,” he said.

“Case in point,” Nova said dryly.

Dominic moved past the women that were surrounding him as he made his way toward Nina, who was giving him a look of contempt. Before he could get near her Nova stepped in between them, annoying Dominic.

“Move it, pink boy,” the wannabe warrior growled.

“Not happening!” Nova snarled back. “You back off and leave Nina alone or I’ll shove an arrow right where the sun doesn’t shine!”

Before Dominic could strike Nova Sir Reginald grabbed the bigger man’s wrist and bent it back a bit, causing it to release a crack as he did. Dominic yelped in pain as Sir Reginald forced him back.

“Back off, Dominic,” the knight growled. “Leave Nova and Lady Nina alone. It’s clear neither of them want to deal with you, so stand down or I’ll make you.”

Dominic turned to Sir Reginald, growling, “And how are you going to make me, knight boy?”

“Do you really want to pick a fight with me, Sir Reginald Ganner, General of the Galvatar Royal Knights?”

The restaurant went silent, surprising Nova. There were whispers in the background as the patrons realized who Dominic was dealing with. Nova noticed an instant change in Dominic’s demeanor, as he was no longer boastful, instead now meek, sweating a bit.

“S-S-Sir Reginald?!” Dominic sputtered. “W-Why are you with this pink-haired loser and the sexy bombshell Phoenix girl?”

Nina instantly flew up to Dominic’s face and slapped him, further stunning the people at the restaurant.

“Don’t you DARE call Nova a loser in front of me!” she spat. “If there’s a real loser in this building it’s you, Dominic! And I see you’re still spreading false stories about your ‘heroics’. If your latest story is about the Gargathox that sent you running, screaming like a little girl, back at that village just past the Phoenixwing/Galvatar Kingdom border then you’re, once again, taking credit from someone else. Namely Nova and me, as we’re the ones who slayed that beast. And we’ve got the proof. Nova, show the people here one of the tusks we collected from that Gargathox we slayed on behalf of that village.”

Nova nodded and pulled out one of the Gargathox tusks from his Digi-Pack. The whole restaurant went wide-eyed as they gazed upon the tusk before turning their attention to Dominic, who was looking nervous as their eyes narrowed hatefully at him.

“Looks like forgetting to sell those tusks and horns back at the capital paid off in a different sense,” Nova said simply.

Sir Reginald grinned, “The people now see you for what you are, Dominic. And I now remember where I’ve heard your name before. You routinely steal credit from other warriors’ triumphs in order to make yourself more desirable to the ladies. You regularly lie through your teeth about any and all ‘accomplishments’ you’ve had, as in reality you never lifted a finger to properly claim those ‘victories’ of yours. You’re just a liar, a cheater, a thief, and a bully who feels the world’s women belong to you alone and that anyone who doesn’t worship your overblown ego should be sacrificed as martyrs or sacrificial lambs to further your own image. Nova and Lady Nina killed that Gargathox, not you, yet you have the gall to try to steal credit from their hard work. That just goes to show what a slimeball you are. And if you want to pick a fight with them, then you have to also pick a fight with me, as I’m part of this little group now. It’s part of my mission in stopping Muu and his army. So I suggest you back off and leave before things get ugly.”

The villagers were now looking at Dominic with hatred in their eyes, realizing he’s been lying to them the whole time.

“Get lost, you lying jerk!” one woman said.

“Yeah, you’re nothing but a fake, wannabe warrior!” another spat.

“I feel ashamed that we believed your stupid stories, you has-been!” another woman yelled.

Nova gained a smirk, saying, “Well, once again you’ve been exposed as the fraud you are, Dominic. As they say in France; c'est la vie, translated as ‘such is life’ for the less intelligent folk like yourself. It just goes to show that those who work honestly get rewarded while those who lie and cheat their way through life, riding the coattails of others, will pay a heavy price for their scams. Maybe you should consider doing honest work for a change instead of lying and stealing credit from others. Then maybe you might get lucky with the ladies instead of them turning on you when you’ve been exposed. Just some helpful advice you should consider.”

Dominic attempted to draw his sword at Nova in a rage but Sir Reginald gripped the bully’s wrist and pulled him back, sending him crashing to the floor.

“Don’t try your luck in front of me, Dominic,” the knight growled. “I won’t let anyone, especially a cowardly wuss like yourself harm either Nova or Lady Nina. Now get lost before I gut you like a fish.”

Dominic’s eyes were wide with horror as Sir Reginald drew his sword. He quickly scampered to his feet and ran off, screaming.

“You’ll regret this, pinky pie!” he yelled back at Nova.

Nova gave a heavy sigh as he put the Gargathox tusk back into his Digi-Pack. Sir Reginald put his sword back into its sheath and calmed down. Suddenly, the women who were fawning over Dominic moved over to Nova and Sir Reginald. While Sir Reginald was acting modest about the attention, both Nova and Nina could tell he was enjoying it. However, Nova seemed a bit flustered about the women around him. Nina clutched her chest as strange emotions started to form in her, her ears drooping a bit.

“It’s happening again…” she said silently. “What are these emotions that are boiling inside of me whenever I see Nova surrounded by other women? And why am I having these emotions in the first place? I don’t understand what I’m feeling or why I’m feeling it. It… almost hurts…”

Nova pushed the women back, saying, “Sorry, ladies, but I’m not interested. Especially since I don’t feel you can be trusted, seeing how you were fawning over Dominic’s false tales of heroism like that. It makes me suspicious that you could just as easily turn on me if I fail to meet your expectations or another dreamboat shows up. Plus, I can see that some of you already have wedding rings, which might not sit well with your husbands. And that’s a hive I’d rather not provoke. Sorry, but I’m not interested in groupies.”

He gently pushed them aside and walked over toward Nina so they could sit down at a table. Sir Reginald reluctantly followed them, leaving the women behind. Nina felt another strange sensation when Nova walked away from the other women.

“And now these emotions are returning,” she said silently. “Whenever Nova turns down women I get this very strange sensation. Almost like… relief? Joy? I don’t know. And I don’t understand why these feelings keep showing up. And why they tend to only show up when it involves Nova and other women. I don’t understand any of it.”

Her thoughts were interrupted when Nova asked, “Nina? You okay? Is something bothering you?”

Although startled, she shook her head, “No, no, everything’s fine. Guess I’m just a bit tired and hungry. Dealing with Dominic will do that to you. I’ll be okay once I get some food in my belly.”

Nova chuckled, “Yeah, Dominic will ruffle anyone’s feathers, if you’ll pardon the expression.” He then said in a more serious tone, “But if anything is bothering you, please, don’t hesitate to tell me. I’m your friend, after all. I want to be able to help you if you’re having trouble. So if anything is bothering you please let me know so I can try to make it better for you.”

Nina gained a warm smile, “Thank you, Nova. I appreciate what you’re saying. You truly are the best thing to ever happen to me. I’ll let you know if anything is bothering me. But, for now, let’s order our food and take it easy for a bit, as we’ve got a long road ahead of us.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Lady Nina. We might as well enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation while we can. I just hope Dominic doesn’t pull something. He’s also known for causing a disturbance so he can swoop in and stop it. That way he can look like a big hero to everyone. It usually involves riling up some monsters in the nearby area to attack a town or village so he can slay them and make himself look big.”

“So, he’s big on engineered heroics, huh?” Nova said, deadpan. “Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. But enough about that moronic meatball monkey, let’s order some food and eat, as I’ve got a nagging feeling that we’re not done with Dominic right now.”

Meanwhile, Dominic, who was now out of the village and in a clearing, was fuming at being exposed again.

“Damn that little pink-haired rat!” he spat. “How dare he upstage Dominic the Daring! I’d like to put him in his place, that’s for sure. But now that Sir Reginald is with him it’ll be harder to squash that pink punk like the bug he is. Ooh, I’ll get him good if it’s the last thing I do!”

Suddenly, he heard something. He turned to see a traveling merchant talking to a group of travelers. Dominic got closer while hiding behind a boulder to hear what they were talking about.

“I see… so we’d best avoid the swampy area just south of here,” one of the travelers said.

The merchant nodded, “Yes. I hear there’s a trio of Gargathoxes lurking there. From what I know they don’t bother anyone, as they’ve got enough food and such not to go after villages, including the nearby one. But it’s best not to accidentally aggro them into attacking, as one Gargathox is tough enough, much less a small pack of them. The nearby village is aware of this and thus they leave the Gargathoxes alone, which, in turn, keeps the Gargathoxes from attacking them. Since you need to go south I suggest you go past the next village and turn south about five miles later, as that’ll allow you to dodge the swampy area where those Gargathoxes reside.”

Another traveler said, “Thanks for the tip. We appreciate it. We don’t want any trouble with those Gargathoxes so we’ll take up your advice. It’ll extend our trip a bit more than we’d like but better to take a detour then to aggro a small pack of Gargathoxes.”

Dominic gained a devious smirk, saying, “A trio of Gargathoxes reside in the swamp near here, huh? I think I know how to show up that pink rat, win the Phoenix woman’s heart, claim glory, and get a large profit all in one swoop. Say your prayers, pink boy, as I’m going to turn you into my personal whipping boy when I’m done with you.”

He quickly scurried off, but not before getting the attention of the merchant and the travelers.

“Hmm…” the merchant said with a disapproving frown. “I’ve got a bad feeling about that guy. Better take some precautions.” He bit his thumb, producing some blood, before stating strongly, “Eyebolt, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke, and from within the smoke three glowing demonic eyes could be seen.

It was later that day. Nova and the group had their lunch and were busy making the necessary purchases for the road ahead. In the process Nina was teaching Sir Reginald about the value of certain items compared to their prices, which he paid close attention to, as he knew this was one of his drawbacks. However, just as they had finished purchasing some potions a panicked voice could be heard.

“T-The Gargathoxes are coming!” a man yelled.

The village went dead silent, immediately dreading what was coming.

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Looks like we need to step up and take out those Gargathoxes before they level the village. At the same time, this feels like a plot or something. I hope it’s not Dominic’s doing or he’s gonna get it.”

Sir Reginald replied, “I wouldn’t put it past him. But time for that later, we have a village to save.”

The trio quickly dashed over to the front of the village. A crowd of people had gathered, some wielding tools as makeshift weapons in preparation for the Gargathoxes. Suddenly, out of the nearby forest three Gargathoxes appeared, giving fierce roars, ready to attack the village. However, at that exact moment Dominic appeared from another direction, drawing his sword triumphantly.

“Leave these beasties to me!” he said in bombastic voice. “I will defend the village from these monsters.”

“Seems a bit too convenient that he’d show up just as this village is about to be attacked by three strong monsters,” Nova said.

Sir Reginald nodded, “Agreed, Nova. This smells like one of his plans to create, as you put it, engineered heroics to win back this village’s trust and admiration.”

Nina huffed, “He won’t succeed. He couldn’t even handle one Gargathox, much less three. We’d best be ready to jump in when he inevitably screws up.”

Dominic raised his sword in a heroic stance, “Time for you three to eat my blade and the taste of defeat!”

The largest Gargathox proceeded to bite the sword, breaking the blade off and eating it, leaving only the hilt and a small chunk of the blade behind. Dominic looked at his now broken sword before looking at the three Gargathoxes with eyes filled with terror.

“You were just asking for them to do that, Domi!” Nova said, deadpan. “Talk about déjà vu.”

The largest Gargathox then proceeded to smack Dominic with its tail so hard he went flying before crashing into a large pile of manure.

“Well that must stink,” Sir Reginald stated.

“Compared to the foul musky smell he has, it’ll be an improvement,” Nina said dryly.

Nova took out a Summoning Sticker, saying, “Time for that later, as we’ve got three irate Gargathoxes here. We need some extra firepower to take these floating freaks down.” He placed the Summoning Sticker on the back of his right hand before stating in a strong tone, “Elora, come forth!”

The Summoning Sticker glowed, followed by a summoning circle appearing, then a burst of smoke and fire, and before long Elora was standing next to Nova. The villagers were slack jawed at the sight of a Gorgon Viper. Elora saw the three Gargathoxes and immediately gave a threatening hiss, igniting her tail blade in black flames, and got into a battle-ready pose. Nova drew his bow and an arrow, Nina started to hover off the ground, and Sir Reginald drew his Zombieslayer, all three ready for battle.

“Remember: aim for the weak point!” Nova stated. “It’ll kill them in one hit! Elora, coil up the big one for me!”

Elora obeyed without question, quickly lunging at the largest Gargathox and coiling it up with her long body. She then started to squeeze it tightly, making it roar, while holding her flaming tail blade underneath its throat. Nova took aim and fired an arrow directly into the open mouth of the Gargathox, striking the orb in the back of its throat. The Gargathox froze in midair, as if frozen in time, before it started to fall. Elora quickly untangled herself from it before it hit the ground, dead. Its flesh immediately vanished, leaving only its skeleton behind.

“How’d he kill it with one shot?” a villager asked.

Nina stated, “We’ll tell you later. Now it’s my turn!” She started to channel energy before stating, “Mana Daggers!”

She summoned several floating daggers made of magical energy. She then fired all but one of them at the second Gargathox, impaling it in various places, making it roar in pain. She then fired the final dagger into the now open mouth and struck the orb within it. The second Gargathox froze just like the first one before crashing to the ground, dead, its flesh instantly rotting away, leaving only bones. The third Gargathox became hesitant as it saw its fellow Gargathoxes fall. This gave Elora an opening and she coiled herself around it. She wrestled it closer to the ground where Sir Reginald was waiting. He drove his sword through the throat of Gargathox, striking the orb, causing it to freeze up like its brethren. He quickly withdrew his sword while Elora uncoiled herself from it just as it started to fall. It hit the ground, dead, before its flesh rotted away in a flash, leaving only bones, ending the threat. The villagers were in shock and awe at how easily the heroic group had slayed the Gargathoxes, unable to speak or move.

Sir Reginald turned to Nova, “I gotta say, Nova. Learning about that weak point made killing these beasts much easier, as they’re normally tough nuts to crack. That is very valuable information to have on hand.”

Nova shrugged, “Well, like I said before, it was an educated guess that happened to be correct when I first thought of it. But at least it makes dealing with powerful monsters like this easier. Makes me wonder if other such beasts have similar weak points and such. But time for that later. Let’s collect the tusks, horns, and vertebrae for ourselves before Dominic digs himself out of that manure pile and tries to steal both our prize and credit from us.”

Nodding, the trio quickly gathered up the most valuable parts of the Gargathoxes and placed them in Nova’s Digi-Pack. Just as they put the last vertebrae away, having finally recovered from the shock of what they saw, the villagers erupted in to cheers and quickly surrounded the party. They were thanking them, praising them, shaking their hands and patting their backs, clearly happy that they saved the village.

The village elder stepped up, saying, “Thank you, my young friends, for rescuing us from these Gargathoxes. But I need to know something… why did they attack us? They’ve never bothered us before. We never bother them, either. So what prompted them to attack us out of the blue?”

Nova’s eyes narrowed, “We suspect that Dominic is the one who aggroed them into attacking. According to Sir Reginald here, Dominic is one who is willing to purposely endanger a location so he can save it from the very threat he created
with engineered heroics.”

Dominic, who had finally dug himself out of the manure pile, spat, “Where’s your proof, pink boy!?”

A voice then said, “He may not have it, but I do.”

Everyone turned to see the same traveling merchant from before. Dominic started to become nervous.

“You do?” a villager asked. “How?”

The merchant said, “I’ve got two forms of proof. First off, I’m guilty of accidentally giving him the idea of provoking the Gargathoxes nearby, as I was talking to a group of travelers, giving them directions. This meathead overheard me talking about the Gargathoxes and how not to aggro them. He went off after them. I realized what he might do so I sent my own familiar out after him to see what he was planning.”

Sir Reginald quirked an eyebrow, “You have a familiar?”

The merchant nodded, “Yes. Let me show you.” He bit his thumb again, causing it to bleed before stating strongly, “Eyebolt, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke, and three glowing demonic eyes could be seen within the smoke. When the smoke cleared, a new familiar was before them. It was actually three red demonic eyeball creatures with yellow slit pupils, a pair of maroon devil horns on top of each eye, small bat wings on their backs, with tiny devil tails.

“That’s a Fiend Eye familiar!” Nina said.

Nova turned to her, “A Fiend Eye familiar? What’s that?”

“A Fiend Eye familiar is a Lesser Devil-type familiar that, like Gorgon Vipers, originates in the Netherworld. They’re not very strong but they make for excellent sentries, as they’re not only stealthy but also capable of capturing images of events and showing them to others. They make excellent partners for both merchants and security guards, as they can simply use their sharp vision to record an image or event and show it to whomever they need to, making them great for exposing crimes.”

The merchant smiled, “You know your stuff, little lady. That’s correct. When I got suspicious of this guy I sent my Fiend Eye familiar, named Eyebolt, after him. He saw everything. Eyebolt, show them, please?”

The Fiend Eye familiar nodded and projected a recording of what he saw, revealing that Dominic stole the Gargathoxes’ food supply in order to provoke the hungry monsters into attacking in search of food. Eyebolt then stopped the recording, allowing everyone to glare at Dominic hatefully.

“So, you deliberately agitated those Gargathoxes just so you could ‘save’ use from them in order to make yourself look like a hero?” the village elder snarled. “I have never heard of such a deceitful tactic. You deliberately endangered us all! And you failed miserably in the process! Get out! Get out of our village! And never come back! You hear me? Scram, you slimeball!”

The village joined in on the verbal takedown toward Dominic, throwing rocks at him. Elora then spewed black flames from her mouth at him, burning him with their intensity, leaving him charred.

“Thank you, Elora, as I like my meatheads well-done,” Nova snarked.

Elora looked proud of herself before glaring at Dominic. The dirty coward ran away, screaming.

“I’ll get you for this, you little pink rat!” he yelled as he ran away. “Just you wait! I’ll get my revenge on you and prove what you really are!”

Nina huffed, “What a creep and a loser. He deserves to be punished to the highest degree for all the trouble he causes.”

The traveling merchant said, “Please, forgive me for accidentally giving that goon the idea to aggravate the Gargathoxes into attacking this village. I didn’t mean to cause any problems.”

The village elder turn to him, “Not to worry, we don’t hold any ill will toward you, as it was all Dominic’s idea, not yours. You were just trying to be helpful and he twisted it into a way that would’ve caused more harm than good. So it’s not your fault that Dominic performed such a dangerous stunt, especially since Sir Reginald says he does this all the time.”

Nova nodded, “Indeed. It wasn’t your fault. Dominic’s entirely to blame, as you were just trying to be helpful to another group. He’s the one who warped it into a dangerous yet poorly planned idea in order to bump up his status and win over the village. And Nina. So no one holds any hard feelings toward you. In fact…” he then took out one of the Gargathox horns and gave it to the merchant, “Take this. Even though you did unintentionally give Dominic the idea you also exposed his scheme to us. So take this as a sign of good will.”

The merchant gratefully took the horn, smiling, “Thank you. I appreciate that none of you are holding me responsible for unintentionally giving that goon such a dangerous idea to make himself look like a hero. I’m still sorry about the whole ordeal but I’m grateful you all are not angry at me. Thank you.”

The village elder smiled, “No problem, as it wasn’t your fault. Now, then, young man…” he turned to Nova. “Would it be all right if we were to help ourselves to the rest of the Gargathox bones? While you took the more valuable parts, as you and your party were the ones who killed them, would it be okay if we took the rest?”

Nova nodded, “Sure, go ahead. Better you than Dominic. Just don’t try to take the credit for our work.”

“We won’t, we promise. Now, how about I arrange for you three to stay at the inn for free? You did defend us from both Dominic and the Gargathoxes. What do you say?”

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

Nova turned to Elora, “Thanks for your help, Elora. You’re quite the valuable asset. And quite the looker, too.”

Elora looked elated at Nova’s compliments, quickly and gently coiling him and nuzzling her head against him, giving almost a purr as she did. Nova gently stroked her chin, making her flutter her wings a bit in delight.

“I must say I’ve never seen a Gorgon Viper before,” the village elder said. “Much less one that’s this tame. This one is perfectly calm, friendly, and seems to be unquestionably loyal. Aren’t they normally temperamental, aggressive, and willful?”

Nina nodded, “Normally, yes, but Elora might be the exception to the rule, as she’s only really aggressive when in the heat of battle. Otherwise she’s an absolute sweetheart.”

Elora reached out with her tail and gently coiled Nina, bringing her into the same hug that she was giving Nova. To their surprise, the duo were pushed up to each other, with Nina’s large breasts pressed up to Nova’s chest. Both started to blush at how close they were together while Elora continued to nuzzle both of them, completely oblivious or ignorant to their current state.

Sir Reginald chuckled, “You two look good like that.”

Nova’s face turned even redder while Nina felt confused. The villagers laughed lightly at the duo’s predicament before they started gathering up the remaining bones of the Gargathoxes for themselves. After a bit Elora uncoiled herself from the duo and allowed them to separate from each other. Both were still blushing as they stepped apart, looking both embarrassed and almost like they wanted to do it again. Nova returned Elora to the Spirit Plane so his group could continue their necessary shopping for the fights ahead.

Next Chapter: No Bones About It

That's all for now. Looks like Dominic doesn't learn. And at least we got to see a new familiar. 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)

No Bones About It


It was the following day after Nova and his allies had vanquished the Gargathoxes that Dominic had unleashed on the small village. He and his group were making their way to their next destination. It wouldn’t be long before their next mission would emerge.

The trio were taking a break near a river, having a drink and just giving themselves a chance to rest.

“Whew, today is rather warm,” Nina said. “Even a Phoenix Clan member such as I can feel it’s rather uncomfortable today, and we are strongly associated with the Fire element.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Lady Nina. Good thing we stopped by this river to freshen up a bit, as the cool water felt good on our hot faces.”

Suddenly a traveling merchant rode up to them, his cart being pulled by another one of those strange bird creatures. The trio looked at him as he came to a stop before them.

“Whatever you’re sellin’ we ain’t buyin’,” Nova said bluntly.

The merchant replied, “I’m not selling anything except advice. I highly suggest you all get away from this area, as there is an Undead Base nearby. From what I’ve heard this platoon is led by Captain Pelverizer, who is a rather nasty customer. The heat is keeping him and his platoon at bay for now but it’s only a matter of time before he and his platoon make their next move. So I suggest you beat a quick retreat before he and his Undead Soldiers skewer you.”

Sir Reginald’s eyes narrowed, “So, Captain Pelverizer is in this area? Looks like we have our next mission. Can you give us more details?”

The merchant quirked an eyebrow, “Why? You’re not thinking of fighting him and his platoon, are you?”

Nina replied, “It’s our job. Well, to be technical, it’s Nova’s job, as he’s the Demon King’s current champion, thus he has to fight and destroy any Undead Army platoons and their leaders in order to get to Muu.”

The merchant turned to Nova, “You? You’re the Demon King’s newest champion? No offense but you don’t look very impressive.”

Nova gave a heavy sigh, “None taken, as I’m a rather poor champion. Belzebuth was really scrapping the bottom of the barrel when he selected me. Either that or he has some hidden motive regarding me that he has yet to clue us in to. But, regardless, I’m not an ideal champion, but I’m stuck with this gig until I either defeat Muu or die, the latter seems more likely.”

“Nova!” Nina scolded. “Don’t be like that. You’ve already taken down Captain Boneregard, Captain Bonenapper, Captain Zomboni, and Captain Skullguard. They might not be the most impressive members of Muu’s army but that’s still several feathers in your cap. And in most of those cases you were winging it the whole time, with only Skullguard being more organized due to us having the backing of King Hendrik and his army at the time. You’ve been doing fine so far. I feel that Belzebuth has some hidden plan that requires you as his champion. I don’t know what but he’s never done anything without having a good reason for it. Try to have some faith, as you’ve been doing just fine up to this point.”

Sir Reginald turned to the merchant, “Can you tell us where Captain Pelverizer and his platoon are stationed?”

The merchant replied, “I don’t know the exact location but I do know that his base is somewhere inside the Misty Forest, which is just southeast of here. I’m warning you, though, as you’re going to bite off more than you can chew with Captain Pelverizer and his platoon. If I were you I’d head for the hills, but it’s your funeral. As for me, I’m getting the hell out of here. Good luck, as you’re gonna need it! Hiya!”

He gave the reins a sharp shake, causing the bird creature to charge ahead, taking him and his cargo to safety.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Nova said dryly.

“Be as it may, we have a job to do,” Sir Reginald stated. “From what I know about Captain Pelverizer is that he’s got a large weakness to Lightning and Wind, which is unusual as Undead tend to be more weak to Fire and Light. That said, his Undead Soldiers are the same as any other grunt members of Muu’s army. This would be a good time to have Elora help us, as she can torch the platoon to ashes with her hellfire, since they’ll be especially weak to it. Thundervolt will also be a huge asset to us in this fight due to Captain Pelverizer’s aforementioned weakness to Lightning. Plus having that extra raw power will greatly assist us, since there’s only three of us right now. Let’s start devising a strategy so we can tackle this threat properly.”

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Very well. Let’s get this over with.”

After spending an hour mapping out various battleplans and strategies the trio made their way to the southeast. It wasn’t long before they found the Misty Forest. Like its namesake, the forest was overflowing with a fine mist. The trio ventured into the forest in search of the Undead Base that was stationed there. It wasn’t long before they found it, as it was a large, menacing fortress in the heart of the forest. The trio ducked into the underbrush so they could go over the plan again.

Sir Reginald stated, “Okay, our plan is straightforward but speed is key, as Captain Pelverizer slowly gets stronger as the battle goes on due to his special ability: Power Charge. We need to take him out as quickly as possible before Power Charge boosts him to the point he could flatten us. Nova, if what you said is true, then you have the best shot at beating him, as you possess the very powerful archery skill: Dragon Strike, which is a Lightning element skill. Though Thundervolt will also help in giving us the Lightning elemental edge we need. Meanwhile, Lady Nina, Elora, and I will handle the small fry Undead Soldiers, since they’re the least threatening but they have a numbers advantage over us. Let’s do this.” He bit his thumb, causing it to bleed, before stating strongly, “Thundervolt, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by several flashes of lightning, and before long Thundervolt was standing before them.

Nova placed a Summoning Sticker on the back of his right hand before stating in a strong voice, “Elora, come forth!”

Another summoning circle appear, followed by a burst of smoke and flames, and soon after Elora was standing next to Nova. Thundervolt did a double-take as he saw the Gorgon Viper appear before them, looking a bit shocked at such a powerful familiar being part of the group. Elora then looked at the Undead Base and immediately became enraged, her tail blade becoming coated with black flames.

“Something tells me that this is the Undead Army platoon that injured you when we first met, Elora,” Nova said.

Elora nodded, giving a threatening hiss, clearly ready to brawl.

Nina smirked, “Then it looks like she’s gonna get some much-deserved payback. Let’s do this!”

Sir Reginald turned to Thundervolt, stating, “Thundervolt, get their attention with your powerful lightning. It’s time to break some boneheads.”

Thundervolt gave a loud neigh and fired off powerful lightning at the Undead Base, striking both the outside and inside of it. The front gates opened, revealing the various Undead Soldiers and their leader. Captain Pelverizer was much larger than his underlings, looking like a decaying knight wielding a lance and shield. He glared at the opposing group.

“So, you all have come to die?” he growled. “Good, that’ll make things easier, as eliminating the Demon King’s current puppet will make Master Muu very happy. Men, attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in, ready to strike down the hero group. Elora immediately spewed her hellfire at them, burning several to ashes near instantly. Nina began charging energy.

“Eat this!” she stated. “Flame Burst!”

A pyramid of fire formed and engulfed several Undead Soldiers, making them scream in agony. Sir Reginald charged in and started to cut down the various remaining members of the platoon with his Zombieslayer. Nova started to weave his way through all the chaos so he could get to Captain Pelverizer, who was building up energy.

“Thundervolt, assist Nova before Captain Pelverizer can build up his strength!” Sir Reginald instructed.

Thundervolt gave a loud neigh and charged in, smashing through several Undead Soldiers and shattering them like glass. He then coated himself in electricity and rammed Captain Pelverizer, doing impressive damage and seemingly stunning him. This gave Nova the opening he needed.

“Ifrit Mode!” he stated as he loaded up an arrow. “Time to give you a massive shock to your system! Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow at Captain Pelverizer, which transformed into a giant dragon made of lightning, before striking the stunned Undead Captain, engulfing him in an explosion. However, when the smoke cleared, Captain Pelverizer was still standing, although it was obvious he had taken a lot of damage.

“You little worm!” Captain Pelverizer snarled. “I’ll take great pleasure in ripping you limb from limb!” He focused energy into his lance before stating, “Have a taste of this! Bone Crusher!”

He fired a powerful strike from his lance that rocketed toward Nova. Nova performed a dodge roll at the last second, causing the attack to sail over him and strike a nearby boulder instead. He primed another arrow as Captain Pelverizer turned to face him again. Before either could make a move both Elora and Thundervolt attacked Captain Pelverizer simultaneously, with Elora’s flaming tail blade slicing the Undead Captain’s right arm off and Thundervolt smashing his shield with a double rear kick, robbing him of both his weapon and shield.

“Looks like I need to give him a bit more power,” Nova said. “Lucifer Mode!”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself to the next setting, now on Lucifer Mode. Nova primed his arrow once again and took aim at the now worried Undead Captain.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which transformed into an even bigger dragon made of lightning. Elora spewed her hellfire onto the attack while Thundervolt added in extra electricity, causing the attack to become even more powerful and monstrous in size. Captain Pelverizer could only watch in horror as the now-enhanced attack rocketed toward him. The archery skill struck him, making him cry out in agony as his body was completely atomized, leaving no trace of him when the attack waned. It was at this time that the last Undead Soldier had been slain, allowing the hero group to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Excellent work, everyone,” Sir Reginald stated. “We just defeated another Undead Captain and his platoon. That’ll rub Muu the wrong way for sure. And throwing Elora and Thundervolt into the mix was a good idea, as it not only gave us a few extra members in the fight but also helped us overcome our enemies much quicker. We still have a ways to go but we have earned a major victory regardless.”

Nina said, “We’re not quite done yet, Sir Reginald. It’s also Nova’s job to destroy the Undead Bases themselves so other members of Muu’s army can’t reuse them and regain footholds against us. I can see that this base is also powered by a Magna Crystal, just like all the others, so we need to detonate it to take out the base itself.”

Nova gave a sigh, “Yeah, I know. Everyone, back up quite a bit. I’ll snipe the Magna Crystal with an archery skill so it’ll give us some time to duck for cover.”

“No need for that, Nova,” Sir Reginald stated. “One of my specialties is creating barriers. So I can just simply make a barrier to protect us so you can destroy the Magna Crystal freely.”

Nina smiled, “I had forgotten that creating barriers was one of your special skills, Sir Reginald. And from what I’ve been told, your barriers can block several high-level skills and spells simultaneously. Let’s do that, then.”

Nodding, everyone got behind Sir Reginald. He started to channel energy before releasing strong pulses from his hands. The result was a large barrier forming around the group.

“Okay, Nova, you’re free to strike the Magna Crystal,” he said. “My barriers allow my allies to attack freely from within them while keeping the enemy out.”

Nova nodded, “Right. Okay, since it doesn’t take much to set off a Magna Crystal I think Devil Mode will be strong enough. Devil Mode!”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set on Devil Mode. Nova primed an arrow and took aim at the exposed Magna Crystal.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which transformed into a smaller but still strong-looking dragon made from lightning. The skill struck the Magna Crystal, causing it to start humming and shaking. Moments later the crystal detonated, destroying the fortress effortlessly, sending debris all over the place. Sir Reginald’s barrier shielded the group from the flying debris, leaving them completely unharmed until it was safe to lower the barrier, as the once formidable-looking fortress was now just a smoldering crater.

“Great work, everyone,” Sir Reginald stated. “That’s another Undead Captain and his platoon vanquished, which is another step toward our victory against Muu. We still have a ways to go but we’ve been making good progress so far. Now, let’s get out of this creepy forest and see if we can find a magical campsite to rest our weary bones.” He turned to Thundervolt, “Thanks again for your help, old friend. You deserve a rest. To the Spirit Plane.”

Thundervolt nodded before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

Nova turned to Elora, saying, “Thanks for your help, too, Elora. And you got revenge against the same Undead Army platoon that hurt you so badly before. You deserve a rest. To the Spirit Plane.”

Elora happily nuzzled Nova before she vanished in a flurry of sparkles. The group made their way out of the forest, pleased at their victory, knowing they were making good progress in their mission.

Next Chapter: The Werefox Thief

That's it for today. Another victory for the heroes. Tune in next time for the debut of the next main character.
 

CynthiaLover

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

The Werefox Thief


It had been a few days since the heroic group fighting against Muu had defeated Captain Pelverizer and his Undead Army platoon. The trio had just made it to the next town. It was larger than some of the past settlements they had been to but was still very nice-looking and cozy.

Sir Reginald said, “Okay, this looks like a good place to do business. We collected some monster parts from our victories over the past few days so we can get some decent pocket change for them. Plus Nova needs to restock on arrows, as he’s starting to get a bit low. Hopefully the weapon shop here supplies them, otherwise we’ll have to find some Komodo Archers to pillage arrows off of, since I don’t think Nova can make it to the next town without refreshing his arrow supply. And it’ll be nice to sleep in a real bed.”

Nova nodded, “Yeah, all that sounds good. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with Dominic for a bit, either, as I know we haven’t seen the last of him. So, where should we go first? The monster parts we’ve collected recently are Wing Seed wings, Volt and Zap horns, Blade Hornet wings and stingers, and Devil Kid spears and wings. That’s not counting the Gargathox parts from before, which we still have.”

Nina replied, “Well, as I stated once before, Wing Seed Wings can be sold at item shops for about 10 copper a wing, and Volt and Zap horns can be sold at monster part shops for 12 copper a pair. As for the other parts, both the Blade Hornet wings and the Devil Kid wings can be sold to potion crafters, as they can be ground up into various types of medicine. The Blade Hornet wings fetch about 10 copper a set while the Devil Kid wings net 15 copper a pair. Meanwhile, the stingers and spears can be sold to weapon shops, as the stinger can be turned into knives and daggers. The stingers should earn us about 10 copper each while the spears will net one silver each.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “You certainly know your stuff, Lady Nina. Yes, that is all correct. And, again, that’s not factoring in the Gargathox parts we have, such as the horns, tusks, and vertebrae. While we can’t sell the tusks and horns just yet, as even a town like this won’t be able to afford them, we can sell some of the vertebrae to potion crafters. Let’s get going and sell our recent monster part collection so we can have some additional funds for any purchases we need to make. And, again, we cannot forget to replenish Nova’s arrow supply; that should also take high priority.”

Nodding, the group started to make their way to the various shops to sell their catches and make any necessary purchases for the road ahead. After taking care of business they stopped by the fountain in the center of the village to rest.

“Once again you managed to be a good negotiator for the monster parts we have, Nova. We got some pretty solid funds thanks to you. And it was fortunate that the local armory supplied arrows, so now you have a full quiver, ready to use against Muu and his army.”

Nova gave a small sigh, “Yeah, well, we still have a ways to go before then. And I’m not looking forward to any of it. Whatever Belzebuth is planning with me as his newest champion I want to know: he certainly picked the wrong person to be his champion. Honestly, what was he thinking, sending me into battle? Not only am I not a warrior but my plasmophobia is proving to be a problem. How does he expect me, a nobody, to take on the ruler of all undead?”

A voice floated toward them, saying, “That’s a good question. Though, at the same time, you’ve garnered quite the reputation at your exploits.”

Everyone looked around before they spotted someone nestled in the gap between two buildings. The figure moved out of the shadows, revealing himself. He looked almost human, having pale grey eyes, messy auburn hair, slightly tanned skin, and a lithe frame, but had fur on his lower arms, ending in five-fingered claws, fox ears on the top of his head, sharp teeth, a fox tail behind him, and paw feet. He was dressed in what looked like a bandit’s garb, consisting of a torn vest with no shirt, shaggy pants, a headband, a belt full of pouches and some knives, and toeless boots that allowed his paws to be free.

“Who are you?” Nova asked defensively.

“I know who he is,” Sir Reginald growled. “He’s Kettu Softfoot the Werefox thief. He’s well-known for being very cunning and devious. He’s stolen from several nobles and such in the past. I can’t believe you’re lurking around here, Kettu.”

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the legendary Sir Reginald,” Kettu said in a soft, smooth voice. “I had heard you were deployed to help spearhead the fight against Muu so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you joined forces with Belzebuth’s newest champion. And as for my past heists I only steal from those who deserve it, such as that McConnell guy in the farming village to the north. After all, he was constantly hiking up taxes so he could use them to pay for both his special ‘bodyguards’ and women. It’s because of my tip that your knights learned of his dealings with the criminal organization that had been causing a lot of problems for everyone. I also know that some of those goons got away from you, such as the infamous Charlie Horse brothers. You should be more grateful as it was me who exposed him and led you to him. And as for what I steal, I only steal what I need and no more. Even thieves like me have honor, as I would never steal from widows, or from places like orphanages and churches. My targets are those who deserve it and no one else.”

Sir Reginald’s eyes went wide, “Wait a minute. It was YOU who informed my knights about McConnell’s dealing with the criminal organization that the Charlie Horse brothers were associated with!?”

Kettu chuckled lightly, “Indeed it was, Reggie. I have my methods to keep myself under everyone’s detection abilities. Like I said, I only steal from those who deserve it and only what I need, so you should be more grateful that I helped you and your knights shut down a sizable chunk of that criminal enterprise McConnell was associated with. You see, my stealth abilities are top-notch. Not even Muu’s army can detect me. I should know… I’ve infiltrated several Undead Bases already and was never caught even once.”

Nina’s eyes went wide, “Wait! You’ve actually infiltrated several Undead Bases already?! Why would you take such a risk like that?”

He turned to her, “I have my reasons. Let’s just say I’ve got a bone to pick with the Undead Army and leave it at that. And that’s why I’m approaching you lot. You see, I’ve spent countless hours infiltrating those bases for a reason: to learn the ins and outs of the Undead Army and figure out a way to defeat them. But I’m just one Werefox. I lack the needed firepower to defeat entire armies, even if I were to use sabotage to gain an edge. Even my Werebeast form isn’t enough to single-handedly topple that many enemies. That’s where you three come in. I have an offer for you. Let me into your ranks so I can help fight against Muu’s army in exchange for my stealth abilities and knowledge of the enemy. I’ve managed to get plenty of dirt on various Undead Captains and even a few Undead Generals, along with where several Undead Bases are located. If you want to win this war you need my help, as I can give you plenty of juicy info on the enemy. What do you say?”

Sir Reginald growled, “Like we’re gonna let a well-known thief into our ranks.”

Nova, however, replied, “Hold it, Sir Reginald, let’s not be hasty. Knowledge on the enemy and their locations is crucial to our fight. We cannot pass up on the chance to gain information about our enemies before we even fight them. I know how you feel about having a well-known bandit in our ranks but at the same time he’s making us an offer that we’d be foolish to refuse. You’re a soldier yourself, Sir Reginald. You should know the importance of intel gathering and learning of the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. As much as I, too, am leery of a thief among us, he’s offering us something extremely valuable. We cannot pass this up.”

Nina nodded, “I agree. Thief of not, he’s offering us some much-needed advantages over Muu’s forces. While I’m not sure why he wants to fight Muu and his army we cannot pass up on this chance to gain valuable information and extra support. Excluding our two familiars there’s only three of us right now, so having more support, both on and off the battlefield, is crucial. You should know that, Sir Reginald. I say we give him a chance, as the information he's offering is too important to pass up on.”

Kettu smirked, “They’re right, Reggie. I have information you seek. And isn’t it a soldier’s duty to gather as much information about the enemy as possible in order to overcome them? That’s just common sense. Both of your allies agree that I’m making an offer you’d be foolish to refuse, so you should put your pride aside for the greater good.”

Sir Reginald took a moment to think it over before replying irritably, “Fine, you win. I don’t trust you, Kettu, I’ll make that very clear. But if you are offering information on our enemies then it is, unfortunately, an offer we cannot refuse if we want to win. Very well, then. But I expect you not to steal anything from either us or others during our travels.”

Kettu smirked, “I can live with that. You made the right choice, Reggie. Very well, then. Let us check into the inn so I can start giving you the intel I’ve gathered. I will say our next major opponent will be Captain Wightmare, as he was recently relocated to a different Undead Base due to the loss of Captain Zomboni.”

“Why?” Nova asked.

“Captain Wightmare is one of the few members of Muu’s army that knows the spell Decompose. If my knowledge of your past battles is correct you had a run-in with that spell when you face Zomboni. Am I right?”

Nova gained a depressed expression, sighing, “Yeah, you’re completely right. I still regret that day, as it nearly cost me Nina because my fear of undead gripped me a such a critically bad time. I managed to rectify that mistake but it left me quite shaken for a bit. It did, however, act as a catalyst to motivate me to start overcoming my fear of undead, or at least tolerating it. But I still regret what happened that day.”

Nina gently placed a hand on his shoulder, saying, “You know I hold no ill will toward you for that incident, Nova. Fear is a powerful force. It exists for a reason, after all. But I’m glad you used that incident to motivate yourself to become braver, even if it was a rather brutal way to do it. And you still saved me that day regardless. I can’t harbor any negativity toward you because you made one mistake. It’s in the past now, Nova, and I’m perfectly fine now. So don’t dwell on it. Okay?”

Nova blushed before replying, “I’ll try. It’s not something I can get over easily but I’ll try.”

Kettu chuckled, “Aw, so sweet. But time for that later. Let’s go to the inn so I can give you a rundown of what I know about Captain Wightmare and his platoon. Trust me, you’ll be needing it if you want to avoid a repeat of what Zomboni did with his use of the Decompose spell.”

Sir Reginald sighed, “Very well, then. Let’s go to the inn so we can start mapping out a battleplan for when we face Captain Wightmare. But like I said before, don’t think about stealing from us or anyone now that you’re part of the team, fox thief, or I’ll turn your tail into a scarf.”

Kettu shrugged, chuckling, “You’re not the first one to give me that threat, Reggie. But like I said I can live with those conditions. Besides, if I’m working with you lot I don’t need to steal, as I’ll be given the necessary provisions such as food and money without needing to get my hands dirty. Now, let’s go.”

Nodding, the group made their way to the inn, one member stronger.

Next Chapter: On the Wight Track

That's it for today. Short, sweet, and to the point. Now the party has grown by one more member. Will Kettu be able to contribute to the cause?
 

CynthiaLover

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

On the Wight Track


It was later that day. The party were in one of the inn rooms, discussing battleplans and going over the information Kettu was providing them. They were surprised at just how extensive his notes on the Undead Army were: going into great detail about the enemy forces.

Sir Reginald pondered, “Okay, so from what you’ve shown us, Kettu, it’s that Captain Wightmare not only knows the Decompose spell, which we need to be careful of, but he’s also got the ability to summon an army of various Undead-type monsters such as Liches, Specters, and Zombie Masters to go along with his regular platoon. That’s concerning, since that’ll just make the numbers game against us even worse. It appears we need to take him out as soon as we can in order to limit the amount of reinforcements he can summon.”

Kettu nodded, “Indeed. Not to mention he’s actually one of the higher ranked Undead Captains, which is why his abilities are going to be the most difficult for us to face right now. Thanks to Zomboni being destroyed he was relocated to become more of a frontline fighter in Muu’s army, which, given his abilities, makes him a much deadlier opponent than the past few boneheads you’ve crushed. He does have one large flaw that we can exploit: he extremely vulnerable to both Fire and hellfire. And since I know that our little champion has a Gorgon Viper as his familiar she’ll be absolutely vital if we want to beat Wightmare before the battle gets out-of-hand with his summoning ability.”

Nova rubbed the back of his head, “Sheesh. I knew adding Elora to our ranks would be a good idea. But I didn’t think she’d become this vital, especially since we’re gonna be dealing with a foe who normally we would be facing later on if things remained unaltered. Amazing what one act of kindness will do to you. Karma can be funny that way.”

Nina nodded, “Indeed, and that’s why you’ll benefit from all the good karma you’ve been building up over time, Nova. But getting back on track, we know that Elora is going to be an absolutely crucial cog in our fight against Captain Wightmare, so we need to ensure that she doesn’t get hurt. Especially since she and Nova are now connected due to the familiar contract, which means if either of them falls the other will go with them. And by now I’m certain Muu has learned about Elora, since even he’s afraid of Gorgon Vipers due to his arch-enemy, Belzebuth, having one himself, at least if my knowledge of history is correct.”

Kettu replied, “Yes, that’s correct. And while I don’t have that bit of information, at least not yet anyway, I do know that Muu won’t take any chances if a Gorgon Viper is part of his opponent’s forces due to the fact they’re perfect counters to his army. After all, Gorgon Vipers are Undead hunters, so if there’s even the slightest chance that his enemies have a Gorgon Viper in their ranks he will do whatever he can to stomp out that problem before it gets to the point where his plans will fall apart. So your obtaining that Gorgon Viper has given you a huge advantage over Muu and his army, as Elora, as you call her, can strike fear into him and his forces just by being part of our ranks.”

Nova smiled weakly, “I’ll take any advantage I can get right now, no matter what it may be. I’m not a dirty fighter or anything, but I want to get out of this whole ordeal alive, so whatever I need to do in order to survive I will do. And if it means flexing my lovely familiar to strike fear and panic in Muu and his army then so be it. Sheesh… saving Elora is paying off even more than I had originally hoped. But let’s continue with our strategy meeting so we can iron out a good plan in dealing with Captain Wightmare.”

Kettu added, “I almost forgot one thing. Captain Wightmare is extremely vulnerable to sunlight, so he can only attack at night. To compensate for that his Undead Base is inside Stone Spear Cavern, which allows him to fight off enemies even during the day. However, I noticed that there is a spot just above his Undead Base where small traces of sunlight are leaking through. It leads me to believe that there is a crack or blocked opening there that we could possibly exploit. If so, it’ll make for a handy backup plan in case things start getting crazy, as the sunlight weakness applies to the various Undead-type monsters he can summon. So if push comes to shove we can blast a hole in the celling and pour sunlight in to even the odds more in our favor.”

“That’s actually very useful information,” Sir Reginald said. “I admit I was skeptical about you. And I still am, mind. But this information you’ve collected will make fighting our foes easier. As a result, we need to exploit that weakness and that possible hole in the cavern’s celling to even the odds. And that’s before we factor in using Elora’s hellfire to further tip the scales in our favor. Part of me wants to use my familiar, Thundervolt, in this fight, but unfortunately, not only does the location not benefit him in some way, but he’s also afraid of small, enclosed spaces like caves. If he were to fight in a cave he'd have a panic attack.”

Nina quirked an eyebrow, “Thundervolt has claustrophobia? I guess you do learn something new every day, as I always heard that Thundervolt is considered fearless. That’s an interesting tidbit of info I never knew. We’ll keep that in mind in case we have to do anything involving caves.”

Nova shrugged, “We’re all afraid of something. No one is fearless. But I’ve learned during my travels here is fear can hurt not just the owner but those around him or her, and the consequences can be brutal. I definitely learned that the hard way. I’m still amazed you don’t harbor any negativity toward me during that incident when that lesson ran me down like a Mack truck, Nina.”

She smiled, “You still saved the day, Nova, and me, so I can’t hold any negativity toward you. At least you’ve been taking the needed steps to not let something like that happen again and overcoming your cowardice. But let’s get back on track and focus on our mission.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Now, if what you said is true, Kettu, then we need to plan our attack on Captain Wightmare’s base during the daytime so we can exploit his weakness to sunlight. You said his base is in Stone Spear Cavern, right?” He took out the map and compared it to Kettu’s notes before saying, “It’ll take us at least a day to reach that location from our current position, weather permitting. That will give us a bit of time to iron out any flaws or loose ends in our plans before then, but also means we have to work with the weather itself if we want to exploit that weakness to our advantage. And that’s a gamble considering the weather is unreliable at best. If we cannot exploit that weakness we’ll just have to do things the old fashioned way. At least with Elora giving us some much-needed firepower we should do okay even if we cannot use the weather to our advantage. So, with that in mind, let’s iron out a plan and we’ll work from there.”

The others nodded and began devising various plans and ideas in hopes of defeating Captain Wightmare. After several hours they settled on a particular plan.

“Okay, that should do it,” Nina said. “Our plan sounds pretty solid but we’ve agreed to improvise when needed, as you can’t factor in every possible event that can occur. Elora is our key to success here so we need to ensure she remains a hidden element until needed. The longer we can keep Muu and his forces in the dark about a Gorgon Viper in our ranks the better. Since the only Undead Captain, Captain Pelverizer, and his platoon were wiped out, they were the only ones who knew Elora was part of our forces. Thus unless Muu has some all-seeing power or something along those lines to know how we beat Captain Pelverizer we still have a surprise advantage, at least for a bit. Eventually he’ll get wind of Elora but until then let’s take every opportunity we can to strike down his forces before he can formulate a means to counter her. Especially since we learned that he has crafted anti-Gorgon Viper weapons, something that Elora informed us of when we first acquired her. Let’s keep that tidbit in mind, too.”

Kettu nodded, “Yeah, that’s a good point. And like we discussed we left enough breathing room in the plan to improvise when needed, so we don’t have to rely on factors that may not turn in our favor. Now, let’s have dinner and get some rest, as we’ve got a big job ahead of us, as Captain Wightmare is still a tough nut to crack no matter what.”

As if on cue, a knock was heard at the door, followed by a woman’s voice saying, “Dinner will be ready shortly. Please come down to the dining area when you’re ready.”

Sir Reginald replied, “Thank you.” He turned to the group, “Okay, let’s go eat and get some rest. We’ll continue to iron out any issues as we go.”

The group nodded, gathered up all of Kettu’s notes along with their stuff and proceeded to the dining area to have their dinner. Afterward they returned to their room to rest, knowing they had a big mission ahead of them.

A few days had passed since Kettu joined the group. The heroes had made it to their destination, which was a large cavern leading deep into an equally large mountain.

Sir Reginald looked scornfully at the sky, saying, “Well, so much for hoping to exploit the weather to our advantage. Total overcast that looks like it’ll start pouring any minute. Guess we have to do things the old-fashioned way. At least we made the necessary adjustments to our plans in case this did happen so it’s not the worst. It’s a good thing the whole plan wasn’t banking on the weather playing in our favor though it would’ve been a nice bonus.”

Nova chuckled dryly, “That’s why being a meteorologist, where you have to predict and inform everyone about the weather, is a rather dicey job, since they’re only right at most 50% of the time, if even that. Well, we cannot dwell on it. Let’s just get this over with.”

Nina nodded, “Yeah, let’s just do our job and uproot another Undead Base and its occupants. Who knows? Maybe the sun will come out at the last minute or something? At least we still have our trump card: Elora, so the plan is still relatively intact. Enough chat, let’s go break some Undead legs.”

Nodding, the group made their way into Stone Spear Cavern, keeping a low profile so they can keep the element of surprise on their enemies. The cavern was long, with several corridors that twisted and turned in every direction. After a bit they reached the largest part of the cavern. There was an impressive-looking Undead Base. They quickly ducked behind cover and stealthily moved closer to their target.

Kettu said, “Leave this next part to me. I’ll infiltrate the Undead Base to get an idea of what we’re up against. Considering I’ve done so a few times already it shouldn’t be an issue. Wait for me here.”

Nova asked, “How are you going to accomplish that, Kettu?”

“Like this.”

Suddenly, his form changed. In a matter of moments there was a regular-looking black-colored fox standing where Kettu was previously.

“What the—!?" Nova sputtered.

Nina placed her hand over his mouth, hissing, “Shush, Nova! Werefolk like Kettu can turn into both a Werebeast form and a normal-looking form based on their particular species. So Kettu turning into a regular fox isn’t a stretch. Now keep it down, as we don’t want to be spotted before we’re ready to fight.”

“Sorry…” Nova said in a muffled voice behind Nina’s hand.

The fox somehow rolled his eyes before quickly and quietly sneaking around the area. The rest of the gang waited patiently for Kettu to report back his findings. After about 10 minutes the black fox scurried back to them, still maintaining a low profile. When he was safe with the rest of them he transformed back into normal.

“Okay, judging by what I just observed not much has changed since the last time I was here,” Kettu said. “Other than maybe more supplies and more weapons not much has changed. This base has remained pretty much the same, give or take one or two Undead Soldiers. So our original plan is still completely valid.”

“You mentioned they might have more weapons, Kettu,” Sir Reginald said. “Do you think any of them are anti-Gorgon Viper weapons?”

“I kept that possibility in mind when I snooped around, even getting close to some of the weapons for good measures. They appear to be the standard swords, maces, and axes that the Undead Army tends to use. Essentially their bread and butter weapons. I detected no traces of special properties on any of them. That also applies to Captain Wightmare, as his retractable mace is the same as always. How would I know this? It’s very worn out, showing significant use, and since you told me Muu had only recently created anti-Gorgon Viper weapons it rules out the possibility of these Undead goons having them. So we still have the advantage with Elora and have minimal risk regarding hers, and by extension Nova’s, wellbeing. The only weapons I think are new are some bows and arrows since I don’t remember them the last time I was here.”

Nova pondered for a moment before saying, “Maybe when this fight is over I’ll help myself to the leftover bows and arrows. Or at least just the arrows in case the bows are cursed or something along those lines. Never hurts to have extra ammo.”

Kettu grinned, “I like the way you think, Nova. Like I said, I steal from those who deserve it, so stealing from the Undead Army is definitely up my alley. But enough talk. Let’s go over the plan one more time to ensure we’ve got everything ironed out, especially since we have new info to compare.”

Nodding, the group took a moment to discuss the new information compared to what they knew previously. After a few minutes they nodded and prepared themselves for battle.

“Nova, would be so kind to give the enemy our ‘greeting’?” Sir Reginald said.

Nova nodded, stating, “Ifrit Mode.” The Demon King Ring shifted to Ifrit Mode as he primed an arrow, “Dragon Strike!”

He fired the Dragon Strike attack directly at the front gates of the fortress. The attack slammed into the gates and exploded, tearing them off their hinges. The Undead Army looked livid as they saw the hero group ready for battle. Their leader, Captain Wightmare, a lich wearing fancy mage robes and wielding a mace, glared at them.

“You will pay for your insolence,” he growled. “But at least you saved my men the trouble of hunting you down, Demon King puppet. Get them!”

“I’d say the message was received,” Nova said dryly as he put the Summoning Sticker on the back of his right hand. “Elora, come forth!”

The summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke and fire, and moments later Elora was standing alongside Nova. The various Undead Soldiers were in shock at the sight of the Gorgon Viper, especially Captain Wightmare, who was starting to look frightened.

“A Gorgon Viper?!” the Undead Captain sputtered. “Since when did you have a Gorgon Viper as a familiar!? Master Muu never told me about this!”

Kettu smirked, drawing his largest daggers, “Is that so? Then we’ll be keeping that element of surprise to our advantage, as once we’re done with all of you, we’ll be the only witnesses of what transpired today. Now, time to head back to the grave where you belong!”

“G-Get them!”

The Undead Soldiers hesitated at first as Elora’s glare was enough to intimidate them. But when Captain Wightmare started channeling magical energy and taking aim at his own troops the Undead Soldiers charge in.

“Elora, it’s barbeque time!” Nova stated. “Burn them to ashes, my fine familiar friend!”

Elora obeyed without question, instantly spewing her hellfire at the oncoming army. Her flames easily torched several of the Undead Soldiers, reducing most of her targets to ash. Nina started to channel energy.

“My turn!” she stated. “Light Burst!”

She fired her spell, causing a massive burst of light to erupt on the enemy side, striking every foe with powerful Light energies. The Undead Soldiers screamed in pain while Captain Wightmare tried to shield himself from the attack.

“Summon Skill: Undead Rising!” he stated.

He fired magic into the ground, followed by a brief pause, and then suddenly several Undead-type monsters rose up from the earth and faced the group.

“We saw that coming,” Sir Reginald said.

“Perhaps, but do you think you can outlast both them AND my troops, Demon King puppets?” Captain Wightmare taunted. “Do you have the energy and mana needed to continue fighting hoards upon hordes of enemies?”

Nina did a front flip and axe kicked one of the Undead monsters, surprisingly cleaving it clean in two, stating in a determined voice, “We’ll just have to find out, now won’t we?”

Nova notice something. He loaded up an arrow and took aim at the celling.

“Time to put one of my newest skills to the test,” he said. “Wind Cutter Shot!”

He fired the arrow directly at the celling, which was now coated in wind with a slash of air in the front. It struck a certain spot, exploding, and causing the rocks to fall away, revealing the sky. It was still overcast.

“I’ll give you credit where it’s due, Demon King puppet,” Captain Wightmare said. “You were going to exploit my weakness to sunlight to even the odds. That was very clever. Too bad Mother Nature didn’t feel the same way.”

Nova gave a small smirk, “Maybe. Or maybe the universe is just ready to prove me wrong.” He then stated in a strong voice, “It’s a good thing it’s not hot and sunny right now!”

To everyone’s surprise, the overcast instantly cleared, revealing the sun. The sunlight then beamed in through the opening in the cavern, illuminating everything and everyone inside it. Captain Wightmare and his various Undead monsters screamed in pain as the sun’s rays roasted them. The Undead monsters disintegrated to nothingness while Captain Wightmare was starting to burn.

“Now’s our chance!” Nova stated. “Finish them off!”

Although stunned, the rest of the group nodded and immediately went on the offensive while the Undead Soldiers and Captain Wightmare were writhing in pain from the sunlight. Nina, Sir Reginald, and Kettu quickly finished off the remaining Undead Soldiers while Elora spewed her hellfire at Captain Wightmare. The lich screamed and flailed in agony as the combination of sunlight and hellfire burned him to ashes, leaving no trace behind, ending the battle.

Sir Reginald sheathed his sword, saying, “Well… that was quite the plot twist. We won, obviously, and I’m not complaining, but I have one question… How?”

Nova gained a weak smile, saying in a rather depressed tone, “I’m pretty much a butt-monkey to the universe. If something bad happens, it’ll most likely happen to me. If I tempt fate, fate will be all too happy to prove me wrong. It never fails. Although I admit I wasn’t sure if it would work this time but it appears even on another world the universe is out to get me. Although this is probably the first time I’ve ever weaponized my trait as a cosmic plaything. I’m not sure if I should be happy or depressed that I was able to actually weaponize my pitiful status in the universe’s eyes.”

Nina looked concerned, “Nova, what do you mean? Does that mean you’ve been a victim at the hands of others?”

Sir Reginald huffed, “I doubt that’s the case, Nova. It was probably just coincidence. There’s no way in hell the universe is out to get you.”

Nova gave him a look, “I’ll prove it to you, but only after we get out of this cavern. You’ll be eating your words soon enough. But before then, let’s scavenge any useful stuff from this Undead Base and then destroy it. Afterward, you’ll soon see that the cosmos have it out for me. But, for now, Elora, to the Spirit Plane, as you’ve done your job today.”

Elora nuzzled Nova before she vanished in a flurry of sparkles. Although skeptical about his claims, the rest of the party quickly salvaged any useful stuff they could find from the Undead Base. Afterward Nina detonated the Magna Crystal powering the base, causing it to blow up and destroying it. The party then made their way back outside into the now hot and sunny weather.

Sir Reginald placed his hands akimbo, “Okay, Nova, prove to us you’re this ‘butt-monkey’ and that the ‘cosmos have it out for you’.”

Nova gave a depressed sigh before saying, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now… let’s start with something basic.” He took a deep breath before shouting, “I just washed my car!”

Suddenly, the sun vanished behind overcast, and moments later it started to pour rain, much to the other party members’ shock.

“Need another example? Gladly.” He then said in a strong voice, “It’s a good thing it’s not hailing right now!”

The rain instantly stopped but hail suddenly came down upon them, causing the rest of the party to try to duck for cover, completely dumbfounded.

“Time for one last example.” He cleared his throat before saying, “At least there’s no pitfall trap underneath me.”

On cue the ground opened up, revealing a pitfall trap directly underneath Nova.

“NOVA!!!” Nina cried out.

“Hoverboots, on,” he said in a rather bored tone.

The Hoverboots activated just as the ground fully opened up underneath him, levitating him safely over the hole. The rest of the party was gobsmacked at what they just witnessed.

“I hope I’ve educated you in the art of being the universe’s butt-monkey,” Nova said in a sagely tone, although it was clear he was mocking it. “Tomorrow’s lesson will be ‘How to NOT tempt fate into proving you wrong’. Now, to end this session, I will give you one last demonstration.” He cleared his throat before saying, “It could be worse. At least it’s not sunny and pleasant today.”

On cue the hail stopped and the clouds cleared, revealing the sun. The remaining party members were slack jawed at what had just happened. Nova merely hovered over to solid ground before deactivating the Hoverboots, allowing him to land safely.

“What the hell was that?!” Kettu sputtered.

Nova gave a weak smile, “That’s just the universe showing me who’s boss, that’s all. ‘Tis the fate of a lowly creature such as myself that the cosmos have deemed worth nothing more than to abuse for its amusement. I’d say something that would compare me to a character named Waspinator from an old TV show I watched as a kid but that might be yet another cue for the universe to abuse me. So I’m gonna shut up and keep what little self-worth I have left intact. Let’s just say that life, and fate, have not been kind to me. Now, let’s go and find a magic campsite before fate decides to throw me another bowling ball to the face as a reminder of my status as a butt-monkey.”

Nova started to walk away, heading toward the main road. The rest of the party exchanged looks of shock and horror before quickly catching up to him.

“Nova… have you really suffered at the hands of fate that much?” Nina said silently. “Well, I’ll make sure you don’t suffer anymore, whatever it takes.”

Next Chapter: Dominic’s Dazzling Disastrous Plan

That's all for today, folks. Another day, another Undead Captain defeated. 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)

Dominic’s Dazzling Disastrous Plan


It had been a few days since the hero group had defeated Captain Wightmare and his Undead Army platoon. They had made it to the next town. It was actually a small city compared to past locations, filled with dozens of shops, houses, and even a manor. There was also a section dedicated to farmland.

“Quite the city we’ve ended up in,” Nova said. “Looks like a good place to do business.”

Nina nodded, “Indeed, and a good place to get more supplies. While we raided the Undead Base back in Stone Spear Cavern, most of that stuff we’re going to sell for extra spending cash, like the various weapons. Although I suspect you’ll be keeping the bows, Nova, because you like to have spare bows as a back-up plan. We also collected a fair few monster parts since then, and they’ll fetch some decent coin. We’re gonna need it if we’re to stock up on supplies, especially now we are one member stronger. Every extra ally we have makes a difference, and we need to be able to provide for said ally.”

Sir Reginald huffed, “Yeah, while I still don’t trust Kettu because of his history as a thief I won’t deny his contribution to our cause. Any info on the enemy is crucial, allowing us to map out our battleplans more efficiently.”

“Aw, you can go on and say it: you like me,” Kettu teased. “You’re just too shy to admit it, aren’t you, Reggie?”

The knight spat, “I DO NOT! And my name isn’t ‘Reggie’!”

“No need to hide your true feelings about me… Reggie,” Kettu continued to tease with a wry grin.

Sir Reginald looked like he was ready to strangle Kettu but refrained from doing so, doing his best to keep his composure. Nova and Nina couldn’t help but giggle.

“Those two share an interesting dynamic,” Nova whispered to Nina.

“Indeed, and it certainly spices up our day whenever they go at it,” Nina giggled.

“I feel at the end of the day they’ll become vitriolic best buds and see each other as good friends, even if they’d rather not say it out loud,” Nova snickered.

Sir Reginald gave a fake cough to get their attention before saying, “Let’s get back on track. Let’s first sell what we’ve collected and then start getting supplies. The weapons we salvaged from the Undead Base, at least the ones that didn’t have cursed energies, can sell for a pretty profit at weapon shops. Ranging from 45 to 95 silver, give or take, depending on the weapon, while the shields will fetch a good 50 silver each. As for the monster parts, the Platy tails will fetch 7 copper each at butchers, the Bat Seed wings will fetch 12 copper per wing at item shops, the Pixie Moth wings will get 10 copper a pair at potion crafters, and the Bamboozle bamboo will earn us 15 copper a stalk at item shops. And since this city is large enough we may be able to sell at least a couple of Gargathox horns for a tidy profit of 200 gold each at monster part shops. Sadly, I don’t think we can sell the tusks yet, since they fetch a whopping 2,000 gold minimum, but getting a few horns sold will help lighten our load. So, let’s see what kind of shops we find first and take it from there.”

Nodding in agreement the heroic party started to make their way to various shops, bartering and selling various items they had to offer. After a good hour and a half they stopped to take a break.

“I gotta hand it to you, Nova, you’re quite good at bartering,” Kettu said. “We collected a nice profit because you were able to help us get the best price for the stuff we collected. Makes me think you’re a natural businessman or something.”

Nova shook his head, “No, I’m not, but because my budget back home is rather limited due to my rather low paycheck I learned how to barter for better prices. It helps that I learned how to be thrifty from my mom, since she never buys anything for full price. Excuse me, I mean learned how to be a ‘budget shopper’ as she would say.”

Nina giggled, “I think the first one is more accurate. But, regardless, it is a useful trait to have while we’re on the road. Every coin counts so we need to ensure we’ve got enough for a rainy day or if things go sour at any point. While I despise greed, due to being a victim of it because of my Magic Fire Feathers, I do know that, unfortunately, money solves most problems.”

Kettu crossed his arms, “Yeah, I hear ya, girl. I may be a thief but it’s not out of greed. I only steal what I need and only from those who deserve it, such as greedy folk or those who do ill deeds for the sake of greed. I despise greed, too, as it corrupts and ruins lives. Even at my lowest I could never resort to the levels of destruction that those who are blinded by greed will sink to. There’s a reason why it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins and it certainly lives up to that status. No, even a thief like me has honor and I would never stoop to the levels some of the people I’ve robbed would resort to. That McConnell guy is one such example, along with the Charlie Horse brothers. And before you ask, yes, I have stolen from them. It felt really good doing so since a lot of their profits were earned through… less savory methods that often involved a lot of bloodshed. Even at my absolute worst I would never resort to such disgusting levels of cruelty for the sake of something valuable. I’m a thief, yes, and I wear that title like a badge of honor, but there are several lines I would never cross.”

“That’s actually something we respect about you, Kettu,” Nova said. “You may be a thief, something that you openly admit, but it’s clear your code of honor keeps you from going down the same path that several others have. That’s pretty noble for someone who works in your ‘field of expertise’, so to speak. And the fact that you did help Sir Reginald and his army by ratting out that McConnell guy shows that you’re willing to do good deeds even if there’s no reward in it for you: if Sir Reginald had known it was you who gave his men the tip about McConnell things
obviously might’ve gotten dicey for you.”

Sir Reginald gave a heavy sigh, “I, too, have to admit that is a rather good trait to have. Even if you are a thief.”

Kettu teased, “Aw, you do like me, Reggie. I knew that underneath that tough armor was a shy pansy who didn’t like to show off how big hearted he is.”

“Watch your mouth, fox boy, or you’re gonna get it!” the knight snarled.

“Those two certainly keep things interesting,” Nova whispered to Nina.

“Indeed, and it’s so much fun to watch,” she giggled in response.

Suddenly, all their stomachs growled at the same time.

“Let’s go grab some lunch,” Nova suggested. “I say we’ve earned it for not only destroying Captain Wightmare and his Undead Army platoon but for our hard work in other areas. I just hope for the love of God that Dominic isn’t in the restaurant we end up at.”

Kettu quirked an eyebrow, “Dominic? I’ve heard that name before, but where? I take it he’s not a friend of yours.”

Nina crossed her arms and huffed, “Not remotely. Especially since he’s quite the selfish scumbag who antagonizes Nova and spends most of his time lying about his ‘heroic deeds’ so he can get some action with the ladies. And I’m one of his top targets since, apparently, he’s got a ‘thing’ for Phoenix Clan women. Not saying that’s unheard of, as many men find Phoenix Clan women appealing, but given the race’s stupid purity-of-blood and loyalty to breed mindset it’s often a lost cause for anyone to hit on a Phoenix Clan chick in hopes of winning her over.”

Nova’s heart chipped a bit as he heard this, thinking, “So the race refuses to marry outside of its own kind? That’s a bit disheartening. But given Nina’s statement about how stupid it is maybe there’s still hope for me to win her over: she is something of an outlier among her kind.” He said aloud, “Let’s just find a place to eat and hope that Domi isn’t around to give us grief again.”

Nodding in agreement the party left their spot and decided on a restaurant that looked good. As soon as they entered, however, they were greeted with a familiar bombastic voice.

“Yeah, those three Gargathoxes were no match for me!” a familiar voice said cockily. “They went down nice and easy, as I, Dominic the Daring, proved to be the true power!”

“Oh, for the love of… here we go again,” Nova groaned.

They all turned to see Dominic surrounded by women again, once again telling false tales of his heroic adventures, while the staff and male patrons were looking at him with disgust.

“Ah, you mean that Dominic,” Kettu observed. “As in Dominic Flight. Now I get what you mean. He’s a thief like me, but he’s the type of thief that I hope to never become, even at my lowest. His kind disgusts me. I’ve heard of too many negative stories surrounding him, none of which are flattering.”

“That’s the understatement of the year,” Nina huffed. “And trying to ignore him won’t work as the second he spots me he’ll be right in our faces.”’

As if on cue Dominic’s eyes locked onto Nina, causing his mouth to twist into a seductive smirk.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the lovely Phoenix girl,” he purred. “Still hanging out with that pink-haired loser I see. Come on, girl, he’s not worthy of you. You should be able to see that.”

Now enraged Nina summoned an energy ball from her hand and fired it at Dominic’s face, blasting him with it and knocking him back with relative ease.

“Don’t you dare say such things about Nova in front of me, Dominic!” she snapped.

“He isn’t exactly wrong this time, Nina,” Nova said in a rather defeated tone, which Nina decided to ignore.

Sir Reginald stepped up, growling, “So, I see you’re spreading more lies about your ‘exploits’ and ‘heroics’ again, Dominic. And judging by it you’re, once again, taking credit from Nova and Lady Nina, while also glazing over the fact that you were responsible for the incident you’re describing. Listen up, people, the ‘heroic battle’ that Dominic is telling you about, where he claims he fought three Gargathoxes is a lie. Nova, Lady Nina, and I were the ones who won that battle while Dominic was the one who purposely aggroed the Gargathoxes into attacking a village so he could regain their favor, only to fail miserably. In short, he purposely endangered an entire village just so he could ‘save the day’ and show off. And if you want proof we’ve got it. Nova, show them one of the Gargathox tusks we collected that day.”

Nova complied, pulling out a Gargathox tusk from his Digi-Pack, revealing it to the people in the restaurant.

“I’m getting serious déjà vu from this,” he said. “But, in any case, this is one of the tusks from those Gargathoxes that Dominic purposely antagonized into attacking a small village so he could attempt to save the day and regain the village’s favor. He failed spectacularly and a traveling merchant with his Fiend Eye familiar exposed his crimes to us that day. And, from what I’ve heard, him doing stunts like that, which is called engineered heroics, is a pretty common tactic of his in order to claim glory, money, and women. In short, he’s lying through his teeth about everything and he routinely steals credit from others to further his own image. This isn’t the first time he’s stolen credit from us, either, and I doubt it’ll be the last.”

The patrons and restaurant staff went wide eyed before turning toward Dominic, glaring at him, realizing he’s been lying to them the whole time. Dominic started to sweat as the various people in the restaurant were looking like they were ready to beat him up for his lies. He then glared at Nova and started to make his way toward him.

“You little pink-haired rat!” he roared, drawing his sword. “I’ll fillet you for constantly ruining everything for me!”

However, Sir Reginald drew his sword and pointed it at Dominic’s throat, stopping him dead in his tracks, glaring with contempt at the larger foe.

“Try it and I’ll gut you like a fish, Dominic,” he snarled.

Kettu started to channel energy through himself before saying, “Time to let the beast out for a bit!”

He gave a roar and his form changed. Moments later he had become a massive Werebeast fox that was bigger than Dominic, making the burly man look like he was about to soil himself. Kettu smirked, grabbed Dominic by the head with a massive claw, lifted him up with ease, and began pounding him to a pulp. In a matter of moments Dominic was thoroughly beaten before Kettu roughly threw him out of the restaurant, causing the staff to cheer. Kettu then transformed back into his normal form. He rotated his shoulders, popped his neck, and stretched his arms.

“Woo, that felt good,” he said. “Haven’t gone off the hook on someone like that in quite some time. Felt refreshing to let out the beast within for a bit. Especially on someone who deserved it like Dominic.”

Nova put the Gargathox tusk away, smiling, “Nice work there, Kettu. I gotta say that Werebeast form of yours is quite a powerhouse. I bet you could wrestle a Gargathox down with it.”

“It’s a pretty useful ability that we Werefolk have, though the attributes of the form varies from species to species. For example, my Werebeast form sacrifices some agility for more stamina and bulk, while something like a Weretiger will sacrifice bulk for more speed and maneuverability. It depends on the type of Werefolk; each type of Werebeast form has shades of uniqueness. The downside is that when in Werebeast form I can get a little carried away because the beast-like instincts can override my logic and common sense a bit, so I don’t use it too often in order to avoid doing something rash or reckless. I prefer my regular fox form because I’ve got greater control over it compared to my Werebeast form. It’s still a handy power-up form when it is needed so it has its benefits.”

Just then Dominic limped back into the restaurant, clearly livid at what had just happened. However, before he could do anything the patrons grabbed him, lifted him off the ground, and carried him back outside, much to his protests. The gang waited a bit before the various patrons returned, looking quite satisfied.

“We threw him out of the town,” one man said.

“He had it coming,” a woman said.

“We also told the other townsfolk to not let him back in or help him in any way, since he’s a lying scumbag,” another man huffed.

Nova chuckled lightly, “So he’s back to square one again. As it was meant to be. But I doubt he’ll take this lying down. Just like last time I’d be willing to bet he’ll perform another engineered heroics stunt in order to win back your favor. If a powerful monster or something along those lines attacks this city sometime later today you can bet it’s his doing.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” one of the waitresses said. “Thanks for the tip.”

Suddenly, the women from before swarmed Nova, Sir Reginald, and Kettu, flirting with them and singing their praises. Nina clutched her heart again as she saw this.

“Not again…” she whimpered silently. “I’m getting these strange feelings and emotions every time I see Nova surrounded by women. Why? Why do I always get these whenever this situation arises? Merciful Goddess, please explain to me why I feel this way every time Nova becomes the center of attention to a bunch of women.”

Nova pushed through the women, saying, “Sorry, ladies, but I’m not interested. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I’m not looking for groupies, especially since I don’t feel you can be trusted after what just happened. After all, there’s nothing stopping you from turning on me the same way if I fail to deliver or another dreamboat appears, so why should I take that chance. Sorry, but no deal.”

He pushed through the women and rejoined Nina. Sir Reginald reluctantly did the same while Kettu merely brushed them off, allowing all of them to sit down at a table.

“And now these emotions are returning,” Nina said silently. “The same ones that feel like joy and relief whenever Nova rejects other women. Why am I having these emotions? Merciful Goddess, please, give a sign so I can understand why I get these bizarre emotions every time Nova is around other women.”

She shook it off for now and the group received menus so they could have their lunch.

Meanwhile, outside of the small city, Dominic was nursing his wounds at the hands of Kettu, still fuming at what had just transpired.

“That damn pink-haired rat!” he spat. “He ruins everything for me! He needs to be squashed like the itty-bitty bug that he is! I need to prove to everyone he’s the real fake and that I’m the most glorious and greatest of all men in existence. Then that Phoenix girl will finally see that he’s not worth her time and should ditch him for me, as I’m vastly superior to him in every way. I just need a new plan.”

He then noticed a sign in front of a forest. Curious, he investigated it. He took a moment to read it over.

“Hmm… ‘Caution. Do not enter. Aggressive Tin Hawk dwells in this forest that will attack any intruders. Enter at your own risk.’ So this forest has a Tin Hawk nesting in it?” He then gained a devious smirk, “I think I know how to show-up that pink-haired rat and win back the city’s love and admiration. And I just so happen to have something that’ll help me to turn that Tin Hawk into my unwitting pawn. Say your prayers, pink rat, as you’re about to be ripped apart by a monstrous bird of prey.”

A little while later the heroic group were back on the shopping trail. They had finished their lunch and were now using the money they had recently gained to buy more supplies for their trip. Suddenly, as they were shopping for food, they all heard a loud, almost metallic, screech of a hawk or eagle. This cry caused the people to freeze up, gaining looks of dread.

“Oh no…” Nova groaned. “Don’t tell me that Dominic aggroed something else into attacking a settlement again in order to ‘reclaim’ the city’s favor.”

“That would be a pretty safe guess,” Sir Reginald sighed.

“Judging by the sound of it, we’re going to be dealing with a Tin Hawk, a massive metal bird monster that is capable of carrying off two horses with a carriage easily and can swallow a person whole,” Nina said. “We’d better get ready to fight as we’ve got a dangerous foe on our hands. Especially since our foe is able to fly and moves much quicker than a Gargathox. It’s not quite as strong as a Gargathox but its tough metal feathers do give it more durability, making it harder to take down. And as far as I know it doesn’t have an easily exploitable weakness like the Gargathox outside of elemental attributes, so we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. But enough talk, let’s get going and save the day from another one of Dominic’s dazzling disastrous plans.”

Nodding the heroic group quickly made their way to the front of the city, ready for battle. They saw the monstrous bird creature flying around nearby, screeching as it approached the city. The various townsfolk were frightened of the massive bird monster, knowing it could easily tear them apart. When the Tin Hawk got closer it allowed them to see what it looked like better.

It was a massive hawk made mostly of black metal feathers acting like armor, with huge wings equipped with sharp, almost sword-like feathers, gigantic silver talons that looked like they could crush a castle with ease, a large head with a sharp beak that could easily fit a person inside of it, glowing copper eyes, a gem in between its eyes, and a metal crest. It cried out as it approached the city, clearly ready to fight. As it approached, however, Dominic jumped out of nowhere and got into a battle-ready pose.

“What a shocking and unbelievable coincidence Dominic would show up just as a powerful monster arrives to attack a place he was just kicked out of,” Nova said sarcastically.

Dominic ignored him before stating in a heroic voice, “I will vanquish this Tin Hawk on your behalf! Observe how a real hero gets things done!” He pointed his sword at the Tin Hawk, “Face the power of my mighty sword, you vile beast!”

The Tin Hawk swooped down quickly and snatched the sword with its beak, flew back up into the sky, and bit the sword, breaking it into several pieces. Dominic’s face instantly went pale as this happened.

“You must go through more swords in a month than most soldiers go through in their career because of your stupidity,” Nina said dryly.

The Tin Hawk swooped down again and pinned Dominic to the ground in its massive talons. It then proceeded to stomp on him repeatedly, making him howl in pain as the Tin Hawk pounded him to a pulp. After he had been thoroughly trampled the Tin Hawk grabbed his leg with its beak and threw him away, as if stating he wasn’t worth eating, before redirecting its attention to the small city.

“It shows just how pathetic of a creature Dominic is if a monster that’s known for eating people doesn’t find him good enough to be eaten,” Nova snickered. “But jokes aside, let’s roast this turkey!”

The Tin Hawk screeched and took flight again, as it could tell that this group of warriors were in a different, better class than Dominic was.

“Tin Hawks have a weakness to both Lightning and Fire!” Nina instructed. “That’s the best way of dealing with it!”

The Tin Hawk did a backflip before charging down again, ready to crush the group in its talons. Kettu transformed into his Werebeast form and managed to grab the Tin Hawk’s talons, preventing it from succeeding in its task and forcing it into a power stalemate. This tactic gave the others the opening they needed.

Sir Reginald coated his sword in flames, stating, “Eat this! Flame Slash!”

He slashed the Tin Hawk on the side, making it shriek in pain.

Nina started to channel energy, saying, “Time to fry this bird! Thunderbolt!”

A massive thunderbolt struck the Tin Hawk, making it cry in agony. This attack caused it to weaken enough for Kettu to not only push back against it but successfully throw it onto its back while it was stunned.

Nova drew an arrow and pointed it at the Tin Hawk, “Ifrit Mode! Dragon Strike!”

He fired the Dragon Strike attack after the Demon King Ring adjusted itself. The electrified dragon slammed into the Tin Hawk, making it weak and injured. It managed to recover and quickly got into the air, realizing this group was a lot stronger than expected. Nova then noticed something, gaining an idea.

“Nina, stun it again with your Thunderbolt spell!” he instructed. “I’ve got an idea that I want to try out but I need the Tin Hawk to be stunned for a moment!”

Nina nodded and started to channel energy again before stating, “Thunderbolt!”

Another large lightning bolt struck the Tin Hawk, making it cry out and stunning it again. Nova loaded up another arrow and took careful aim.

“Fire Shot!” he stated.

He fired his now-flaming arrow directly at the gem in between the Tin Hawk’s eyes. The arrow smashed the gem upon impact. The Tin Hawk froze in midair before it came crashing down, landing with a loud, metallic sound. Everyone waited a moment to see if it would get back up but it remained motionless, indicating the fight was over.

“Don’t tell me you figured out that Tin Hawks also have a weak spot that will kill them instantly when struck?” Sir Reginald sputtered.

Nova shrugged, “Like before, it was an educated guess which turned out to be correct. But given the fact we had already done so much
prior damage to it me hitting the gem on its head does put the theory into question. If we ever fight another Tin Hawk we will test that theory again. If the results are the same we will determine if my guess was truly accurate or was just a fluke due to previous damage.”

Nina tackled Nova in a hug, saying, “You’re just being modest, Nova. That was brilliant. You figured out another powerful monster’s weak point. But you are right about one thing: we need to test it again on a healthier Tin Hawk to ensure it is the key or was just the collective amount of damage and that the last shot pushed it past its limit.”

Kettu transformed back to normal, saying, “I’ve gotta agree with the winged chick, Nova, as you’ve got some very keen observational skills. Now, let’s harvest our prize from this Tin Hawk. The feathers and talons fetch a pretty pile of coins, so let’s help ourselves before Dominic tries anything.”

Nodding, the hero party started to harvest components
to add to their collection from the downed Tin Hawk, while the townsfolk continued to recover from what they had just saw. After they had collected what they felt was enough, the party was suddenly swarmed by the grateful people of the small city, singing their praises and thanking them for defeating the Tin Hawk.

What looked like the mayor of the city walked up to the group, saying, “Thank you, my friends, for saving us from the Tin Hawk. But we want to know… Why did it attack us? It’s never bothered us before, as it never leaves the forest it dwells in. So what spurred it into attacking us all of a sudden?”

“We suspect Dominic is to blame,” Sir Reginald explained. “He’ll often pull stunts like this to make himself look big and be considered a hero to a particular location. Basically, he’ll purposely agitate local monsters to attack a town, village, or any other settlement and then fight them off to improve his image. It’s a regular, recurring strategy of his to gain a settlement’s favor. The past few times he’s done it after he’s been kicked out of whatever town or village he was in. But we’re not sure how he did it this time if he is the culprit.”

Kettu then noticed something on the Tin Hawk’s face. He took a closer look and found a strange red powder on its face and in its eyes. He gently scooped up some and gave it a sniff.

“This is Berserk Powder,” he said. “It’s a type of powder that’s used to send monsters into a blind frenzy and have them attack indiscriminately. Hmm…” He walked over to the still thoroughly trampled Dominic, rummaged around his mangled body, and extracted a pouch of the same powder, saying, “Here’s your proof. Dominic has Berserk Powder on him. When his previous scheme was exposed he used this to send the Tin Hawk into a blind rage and have it attack the city in hopes of regaining favor with all of you. So, yeah, this whole stunt was Dominic’s doing in an attempt to regain your trust and faith. And possibly one-up our little group, too, because we’re the ones who exposed him the first time.”

The townsfolk glared hatefully at Dominic, who began to whimper pathetically both out of fear and pain.

“You vile worm!” the mayor growled. “You’ve got some nerve purposely endangering us so you could make yourself look like a big-shot hero. That’s one of the dirtiest tricks in the book, you scumbag. I’d say it’s time we return the favor and send you packing, Dominic.”

Several townsfolk, both men and women, started to approach him menacingly. Dominic was too weak and mangled to even attempt to run as the townsfolk were soon upon him.

“Mommy…” he whimpered pathetically.

The enraged townsfolk pounced on him and began beating him up further, causing him to wail in pain and plead for mercy, which the people of the city were clearly short of at the moment. After a few brutal minutes the townsfolk stopped beating up Dominic. They then tied him up, put him in a spare cart, and shoved it down a nearby steep hill toward the same forest where the Tin Hawk resided, Dominic screaming all the while.

“Something tells me that’s not the last we’ve seen of Dominic,” Nova said bluntly.

Nina nodded, “I agree. He’s like a rash that won’t go away no matter how much ointment you use.”

“That’s a rather disturbingly accurate description of him, Lady Nina,” Sir Reginald said.

The mayor turned to the heroic group, saying, “We thank you once again. If you don’t mind would it be okay if we helped ourselves to what’s left of the Tin Hawk? Tin Hawk parts are quite valuable; the feathers making for fine swords and spears. You’ve already collect the more valuable parts, since you did rightfully earn them by killing it, but would it be okay if we help ourselves to what’s left?”

“It’s fine,” Sir Reginald said. “Better you than someone like Dominic. Just don’t take any credit for our work.”

“We won’t, we promise. And thank you again. And how about I offer you a free night at the inn as a small token of our appreciation?”

Kettu chuckled, “We’ll take you up on that. One must never pass up something
for free being given to you. Unless it’s poisoned, a trap, or something along those lines. But anything else is fair game.”

The mayor chuckled and led the heroic party toward the inn while the various townsfolk began harvesting parts from the Tin Hawk. The group felt proud that they had thwarted another one of Dominic’s poorly planned schemes and saved several lives in the process.

Next Chapter: A Horse By Any Other Name

That's all for today. Tune in next time to see the debut of the next new main cast member.
 

CynthiaLover

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

A Horse By Any Other Name


It had been a few days since the hero group had thwarted another one of Dominic’s poorly devised plans. The group of four were making their way through a valley. It was a peaceful and beautiful valley, filled with wildlife, plant life, and a crystal clear river. The group could feel a sense of tranquility as they traveled down this valley.

“What a beautiful valley,” Nina said. “The air is so clean, the water is fresh, and everything is in harmony. It’s places like this that’ll make you forget that there is a war going on and help you enjoy the beauty of nature.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Lady Nina. This valley looks pretty much undisturbed from all the events that have been taking place recently. It’s nice to see places like this as it reminds you what beauty this world has to offer. If it wasn’t for Muu this world would be at peace. But that’s why we’re out here: to end his long reign of terror so our people can be at peace once again.”

“Yeah… too bad it’s betting on the wrong horse to do the job,” Nova said in a dejected tone. “I still want answers from Belzebuth on WHY he picked me of all people? There are far more qualified people out there than a lowly, cowardly loser like me to do the job.”

Nina turned around and squished Nova’s cheeks in between her hands, saying aggressively, “Nova, you are NOT a loser! You want to see a loser? Look no further than Dominic. You’ve done a great deal of good for us all, Nova. You’re fighting the very thing you’re afraid off in order to save lives. That takes a great amount of courage. People are quickly coming to see just how great you are. I wish you could see that yourself. I will repeat myself: you’re NOT a loser. You have done the people of Edyn a huge service, and you’re still fighting Muu and his army despite your plasmophobia. Just the thought of fighting against Muu’s army is enough to make most people soil themselves, but you’re doing it despite already having a fear for his kind. That’s beyond commendable. Even though you were forced into this role you’re still doing it, and you’ve helped so many lives in the process. You are a true man and a true hero, and I know you’ll be the one who ultimately ends this 3,000 year nightmare that Edyn has had to endure.”

Kettu whispered to Sir Reginald, “Wow. Is Nova always this pessimistic? Not saying I’m a paragon of positivity myself but he can’t seem to go one day without putting himself down or feel like a failure. What’s the deal?”

Sir Reginald whispered back, “He’s got rock-bottom self-esteem, among other things. I don’t know the exact reasons why but from what little I’ve pieced together he’s had a rough life. And considering that it seems that the universe itself is out to get him, as evident by that… ‘demonstration’ he gave us after defeating Wightmare, he’s got a lot of issues to deal with. While from what I’ve seen and what Lady Nina has said he’s grown a lot since he started out but it appears any attempt to build up his self-esteem is going to take a long time, as he clearly has a lot going against him. Again, I don’t know the whole story: from what I’ve concluded he’s basically been abused by both people and the universe, resulting in his current personality. At least that’s what I’ve come to observe. It’s also safe to say that Lady Nina thinks very highly of him and doesn’t like it when he, or anyone, puts him down, as evident by she’ll always retaliate whenever Dominic insults Nova in front of her.”

Suddenly, their attention was diverted by what sounded like weapons clashing just around a nearby corner. The group quickly made their way to find out what was going on--only to be horrified at what they saw.

There was a male centaur being attacked on all sides by a cluster of Undead Soldiers. The centaur was fighting bravely but it was clear he was at a serious disadvantage. Not to mention he looked hurt, as he was holding up one of his front legs and not using it as he tried to fight back.

Sir Reginald stated as he drew his sword, “We have to help that Centaur! The various Centaur Clans are close allies to my kingdom so we need to act!”

Nova placed the Summoning Sticker on the back of his right hand, saying, “Yeah, and I know just how to give us some extra oomph.” He took a dynamic pose, stating, “Elora, come forth!”

The summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke and fire, and soon after Elora was standing next to Nova. The moment she saw the Undead Soldiers she gave a hiss and ignited her tail blade, ready to fight.

“Elora, jump in and help that Centaur! But try not to use your hellfire, as we don’t want to destroy this valley. Instead use your Gorgon Glare ability, as petrification works just as well. Don’t let a single Undead Soldier escape!”

Elora nodded and rocketed toward the Undead Soldiers, who had not only knocked the Centaur down, but broken his spear, leaving him defenseless. The Centaur braced himself for the final blow but Elora barreled through the Undead Soldiers, sending them flying like bowling pins. Elora then coiled herself loosely around the Centaur, shielding him with her wings, and brandishing her flaming tail blade at the Undead Soldiers.

“A G-G-Gorgon Viper?!” one Undead Soldier stammered.

“W-Where did you come from?!” the Centaur asked. “Not that I’m complaining, mind, as your timing is perfect.”

Just then the group appeared and began their attack, much to the Undead Soldiers’ surprise. They quickly retaliated when they realized that Nova was wearing the Demon King Ring. However, any time one of the Undead Soldiers tried to attack Nova Elora’s eyes would gleam, followed by a flash, and the Undead Soldier would instantly turn to stone. However, one Undead Soldier succeeded in getting a clean shot at Nova before being petrified, slicing his bow clean in two, forcing him to jump back behind his allies. Elora saw this and was about to make a move but Nova held out his hand.

“No, Elora!” he instructed. “Keep protecting that Centaur! I’ll manage, as I’m not completely unarmed!”

Elora reluctantly complied and continued to shield the Centaur, using her flaming tail blade to keep any attack attempts at bay. Before long the last Undead Soldier was defeated, allowing them to breathe a sigh of relief, with Elora extinguishing her tail flame. The party approached the Centaur, allowing Elora to uncoil herself from around him so they could see his injuries.

The Centaur said in a grateful tone, “Thank you. I would’ve been butchered if it wasn’t for you.”

Nina took a look at the Centaur’s wounds before saying, “You’re quite badly injured. But I’ve got just what you need.”

To the Centaur’s confusion she started to comb her fingers through her wing feathers until she extracted a loose one. It then dawned upon the Centaur.

“N-No way!” he sputtered. “Do you possess the legendary Magic Fire Feathers?! I thought you Phoenix Clan members lost that power ages ago.”

She replied, “We did, but because I was not corrupted by my people’s greed, in fact being a victim of said greed, I was gifted this power as a reward or compensation, depending on your view. Now, I’m going to warn you all, when I use this feather on him, it’ll look worse than what it really is doing. So no one panic at what you’re about to see.”

She gently placed the feather onto the Centaur’s horse half. The feather glowed, then ignited in golden flames, which then quickly spread all over the Centaur. Nova instinctively made a move but Kettu stopped him, calming the young man down. A few moments later the fires vanished, with the Centaur not only being completely unharmed, but totally healed. The Centaur looked himself over and saw that all his wounds and injuries were gone. He stood back up and tested his previously injured leg, which was now fully restored. He gave a warm smile, got down into a polite bow, and lowered his head. This allowed the group to get a good look at him.

His upper body was very muscular and strong, donning a spade-shaped breastplate over a handwoven tunic, topped off with shoulder pads. He had a kind and handsome face framed by light purple hair, large horse ears, and sparkling hazel eyes. His lower
horse body was strong and tough-looking, with copper-colored fur, decked out in armor in various places, powerful legs ending in large horseshoes, and capped off with a light purple tail.

“Thank you, my new and rather strangely assembled friends,” he said in a very polite tone. “You have my eternal gratitude. I was out here collecting herbs and plants for making potions, as this valley is rich in plants like Medicinal Leeks, Sootfoot Roots, and Emerald Roses, when I was suddenly ambushed by those Undead Soldiers. I have no idea why they were here or why they attacked me, all I know is that I was suddenly surrounded and fighting for my life. If it hadn’t been for you all I would’ve met an untimely end. Considering this valley is very peaceful, with little to no monsters ever in this area, it strikes me as odd that those Undead Soldiers were here. Oh, forgive me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Van Junko, a member of one of the many Centaur Clans in this kingdom. Now that I’ve introduced myself, it is your turn.”

Sir Reginald stepped up, “I am Sir Reginald Ganner, General of the Galvatar Royal Knights and the leader of this group. My comrades here are Nova the current Demon King champion, former Princess of Phoenixwing Kingdom Lady Nina, and Kettu the Werefox thief,” he then said in a softer tone, “who you should be wary of.”

Kettu replied in a teasing tone, “Aw, you don’t have to hide your true feelings about me, Reggie. I know you love me, you’re just too shy.”

“My name’s not ‘Reggie’, fox face! It’s Reginald! Sir Reginald, to you!”

Celtic merely chuckled, “And there they go again, like clockwork.”

Nina giggled, “Kettu really knows how to set bait that Sir Reginald will take. And it works every time.”

Elora gave a hiss of protest, making Nova grin sheepishly.

“Sorry, girl, we didn’t forget you,” he said. “This my Gorgon Viper familiar, Elora. She’s been a godsend for me since I got dragged into this mess in dealing with Muu and his Undead Army. She’s helped even the odds in numerous battles with Muu’s forces. And she looks so good doing so.”

Satisfied, Elora nuzzled up to Nova, who gently stroked her chin, making Van go wide eyed.

“I’ve always heard Gorgon Vipers were aggressive, temperamental, and willful,” Van said. “From what little I’ve seen yours is friendly, calm, and unquestionably loyal. Aren’t Gorgon Vipers often considered dreaded as a possible familiar to be summoned? How did you summon one? And one that’s this pleasant to boot?”

Nova chuckled, “To be fair, I didn’t summon her via a ritual like Sir Reginald’s Thunderclap Stallion. She was a wild familiar that I nursed back to health and bonded with. I’m an animal lover so I couldn’t stand to see her injured and used the Demon King Ring’s magic to heal her, which ended up earning me her loyalty. And Elora is probably the exception to the rule regarding Gorgon Vipers, as she’s always been this friendly. Unless you’re an Undead, then she’ll show her species aggressiveness. Granted, because I don’t have any natural mana, and because I can’t use the Demon King Ring to supplement any, I have to use a Summoning Sticker to summon her instead. But from what I’ve seen and been told it really doesn’t matter, as I’m not handicapping myself or Elora by using a Summoning Sticker instead of the more traditional method. But like I said before she’s been a godsend to us, having played critical roles in some tough fights, especially against our most recent bout with an Undead Captain: Captain Wightmare. But like you I wonder why there were Undead Soldiers here, too?”

Kettu looked around before saying, “I’d be willing to bet they were scouts or sentries, probably looking for new locations to set up more Undead Bases, since we have successfully uprooted several already. Well, technically, you and Nina have done most of the work, as Reggie and I only joined up a short time ago. But seeing how Muu has lost several bases and even more Captains, I wouldn’t put it past him to try to reestablish footholds to replace the ones he’s lost. That was one of the purposes of Captain Boneregard and his platoon, who was the first Undead Captain you took down: to find and establish new locations for Undead Bases. So those boneheads were probably scouting the area for a good place to build a new Undead Base since Muu has lost a fair few of those lately and Van here just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“That’s probably a safe bet, Kettu,” Nina said. “But we also have one more problem to deal with. Nova’s bow was destroyed in the battle. We need to get him a new one.”

Sir Reginald asked, “Um… doesn’t he have spares that he scavenged from Captain Wightmare’s base?”

Nova sighed, “Not anymore. I had to destroy them. The Demon King Ring was responding to them so while we were at that city and split up to do errands I took them to a weapon appraiser. Turns out they also had cursed energies. But not only was the Demon King Ring keeping them at bay, thus protecting me from them, but the negative properties hadn’t been fully activated yet. So, in the end, I destroyed them with the Demon King Ring’s magic. Though it was protecting me from it I’m a cautious individual, thus I don’t like to take unnecessary risks if given the chance. I felt it was a safer idea to destroy them so they cannot harm anyone rather than take the risk of one of those cursed bows getting a grip on me instead of the other way around. So, yeah, I gotta get a new bow. At least the arrows weren’t cursed so those are still safe to use. I don’t need to worry about them or running out of ammo for a bit. But I’m not sure how soon I can get a new bow.”

Van said, “That can easily be arranged. My fellow Centaurs are strong warriors. Bows and spears are our specialty, so I can take you back to my village and you can obtain a new bow there. I need to pick up one of my spare spears anyway. Plus, thanks to you lot, we Centaurs finally have the excuse needed to fight in this war with Muu.”

Kettu quirked an eyebrow, “Whattya mean?”

Sir Reginald explained, “The Centaur race is a very proud one. They’ve got a code of honor that they follow when it comes to the art of war and nobility. Their code strictly prohibits them from making the first strike against a warring enemy, only allowing themselves to engage in battle if they are attacked first. Against monsters and beasts it’s fair game, but against intelligent beings like other races and Muu’s forces it’s something of a hindrance at times.”

Van nodded, “Indeed, Sir Reginald. You know your stuff. But, then again, King Hendrik is an ally to use Centaurs as well, so I’m not surprised you’d have the knowledge on how we Centaurs function. Yes, unfortunately, our code, which has been passed down for generations, even before the Great War itself, forbids us Centaurs from joining the battle against an intelligent foe or race unless they attack us first. But thanks to those Undead Soldiers attacking me and you rescuing me from them when they had me backed into a corner I now can report back to my leader and tell him the gauntlet has been thrown. To be honest, even we know the code can be a bit of a pain at times, but we follow it just like our ancestors did--out of respect for our traditions. And we’ve been itching to get into the fight with Muu’s forces for quite some time now. Thanks to those Undead Soldiers and you, we have the necessary reason to finally raise our weapons for war against Muu. Come, follow me to my domain so I can not only report back to my leader about what has transpired, but so you can pick up a new bow, Nova. After all, we Centaurs take pride in our weapon-crafting skills.”

“How far is it from here, Van?” Nina asked.

“Only about a mile away from the outskirts of this valley, so it’s not far at all. And since this area tends to lack monsters you should be fine until we reach my domain.”

Nova nodded, “Yeah, that’s a good thing. But as I once learned back on Earth, ‘The weapon does not make the warrior, but the warrior holding the weapon’.”

Kettu looked stunned, “Nova, where the hell did that unusually sagely statement come from?! That’s not something I’d expect from a guy who tends to crack bad puns and snarks to the high heavens.”

Nova gave a wry smile, “You tend to pick up a lot from the various entertainment media on Earth. Here’s another one for you: ‘What’s a warrior without weapons? A warrior still.’ I may like to make wisecracks and jokes but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few snippet words of wisdom tucked away here and there. I just like making jokes because it helps me deal with stress, being one of my methods for venting pent-up emotions safely. But let’s stop flapping our gums and follow Van to his home so we can potentially gain more allies in our fight against Muu, as the more help we’ve got the better. And on that note, Elora, to the Spirit Plane.”

Elora gave one last happy hiss before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles, with Nova putting the Summoning Sticker back in his Digi-Pack.

Sir Reginald nodded, “He’s right. This is a golden opportunity to gain some strong allies, as Centaurs are well-renowned for their skill on the battlefield.”

Nodding, the group followed Van toward his home. As they walked Nina looked over at Nova with warm eyes.

“Nova, you can be surprisingly insightful at times,” she said silently. “Those two statements you picked up from somewhere are quite sagely. And they are true. Although I must admit I wasn’t aware that you use humor to vent pent-up stress in safe bursts. Though while everyone else doesn’t like your wit I certainly do, especially since now I know it serves a second purpose.”

After a long walk the group reached a large village full of various Centaurs. There were several different types and colors of the mighty and graceful beings. Suddenly, one galloped up to them. It was a female with honey blonde hair in a bob cut, baby blue eyes, fair skin, an ample chest, a more sleek lower
horse body, chestnut brown fur, a honey blonde tail, and was wearing more casual clothing. She quickly embraced Van, looking quite worried.

“Van!” she cried out. “I was worried about you! You didn’t return when you said you would. What happened? Did some monsters attack you? Where’s your spear?”

Van gently embraced her, saying warmly, “I’m safe, Serena, my beloved wife. You can thank these fine folk for coming to my rescue. I’m sorry I worried you, but I was ambushed by an unlikely foe. But, at the same time…” he gained a more serious expression, “it means we finally have our reason to fight back.”

Serena’s eyes widened, “V-Van… You weren’t attacked by the Undead Army, were you?!”

All the other Centaurs in the area stopped what they were doing, focusing on Van, becoming deathly silent. The gang noticed that the tension in the air had gotten very thick and they could feel the intensity of the various eyes upon them.

Van replied in a serious tone, “It is true. While I was out gathering herbs I was ambushed by a pack of Undead Soldiers. According to the Werefox here they may have been scouts looking to set up a new Undead Base, as several have been destroyed lately. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet, at the same time, you know what this means, right? The Undead Army threw down the power gauntlet. We can finally draw our weapons and rise against them. We need to let Chief Gallant know that the Undead Army finally made its move against us, so we can now stand up and fight back. And not just us, but all our Centaur brethren now have the reason needed to light the battle fires and let them burn bright in defiance of Muu!”

A strong voice then said, “Then, it is finally time for us to call our brethren and raise our flag against the Undead Army.”

Everyone turned to see a very large male Centaur walk up. He looked like an older and bigger version of Van but had scars on his body and a goatee.

Van bowed, “Father… I mean Chief Gallant, yes, it is true. We can finally join the other races in fighting off Muu. Those boneheaded Undead Soldiers attacked me unprovoked, as I wasn’t even aware they were in the area, which means Muu himself has thrown down the gauntlet. We no longer have to wait and pull our horsehair out for Muu and his forces to make a move because today they did exactly that. It is time for us to show what real warriors can do.”

Chief Gallant reared up on his hind legs and raised his axe high, “Finally! It is about time Muu made the critical mistake in provoking us! Now we Centaurs will charge into battle with our allies such as King Hendrik’s army and break those disgusting walking corpses to bits! Begin preparations at once! With my familiar I will contact the nearest Centaur Clan to inform them that we can light our battle fires and gallop to victory.” He landed back on all four legs, bit his thumb, causing it to bleed a bit, before stating in a strong voice, “Stormwing, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a blast of lightning, then a pair of glowing purple eyes could be seen, followed by a hawk’s screech and before long a new familiar was before them.

It looked like a larger version of a hawk. Its electric blue and yellow plumage seemed to crackle with energy, with a wide tail, large talons ending in sharp red nails that seemed to emit energy, a proud-looking face with purple pupilless eyes, a silver beak, and a silver crest on its head. It gave a powerful cry that seemed to cause the air to reverberate with electrical energy.

“That’s a Storm Hawk familiar!” Nina stated.

“Storm Hawk?” Nova said. “Talk about déjà vu, as I’ve heard that name before, though not in this particular sense. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised a noble warrior would have an equally noble familiar.”

Chief Gallant replied, “That is true, young one. But time for that later.” He then concentrated before what looked like a scroll appeared in his other hand, “There, the spirit message has been crafted. Stormwing, you need to deliver this to Chief Kaze of the Wind Runner Centaur Clan. It’ll explain everything. After that come back here so I can reward you. Be careful, my electrifying friend, as the enemy has finally made their move against us.”

The Storm Hawk familiar nodded, grabbed the spirit message in his beak, opened his wings, and with a powerful flap took to the sky. After circling around the area a few times it suddenly took off like a bolt of lightning toward the southwest.

“Now, with that taken care of, from what my son, Van, has said, you lot are responsible for saving him from Muu’s forces.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, Chief Gallant. We rescued Van from being butchered by those Undead Soldiers, as they outnumbered him and took him by surprise. Know that you have my kingdom’s support as well, as I’m one of King Hendrik’s top generals: Sir Reginald Ganner.”

Chief Gallant smiled, “I thought you looked familiar. I remember you. Back when you and your brother first joined the Royal Knights. You both were just squires back then, but I’ve heard you two have become the pride and joy of King Hendrik’s army. But I wonder why you’re here, Sir Reginald? And who are these people?”

“These are my comrades. We have the former Princess of Phoenixwing Kingdom, Lady Nina, Kettu the Werefox thief, and Nova, who is the current Demon King champion.”

“Him?” Chief Gallant had to bend down quite a bit to become level with Nova, gaining a look of disapproval, “He’s not quite what I would expect from Belzebuth. I wonder what the Demon King’s reasonings are for selecting such a scrawny whelp as his new champion? Does he have some sort of special plan in mind for him?”

Nova gained a depressed look, “Your guess is as good as ours. Let me tell you, he picked the wrong guy. Yeah, sure, I’ve taken down Captain Boneregard, Bonenapper, Zomboni, Skullguard, and Wightmare, but they’re not exactly top of the totem pole to begin with so I don’t blame you for doubting my ability to handle a job of this magnitude. Belzebuth bet on the wrong horse when he picked me… er… pardon the expression. Okay, sure, I have gotten better over time, since I’ve been mostly winging it up until Sir Reginald took the helm, and I won’t deny I’m a good shot, but I’m definitely the weak link here. I’m not cut out for this job so I don’t hold it against you for thinking rather lowly of me.”

Chief Gallant quirked and eyebrow, “Not big on self-esteem, are you? Wait… you said you beat Captain Wightmare? He’s actually a bigger deal than you realize, kiddo. He’s one of Muu’s more powerful Undead Captains and is one reason his army has gotten so large. But why would you lot face him this soon? Sure, in order of power, the other Captains you beat aren’t much to write home about… except Skullguard due to his annoying defense gimmick. However beating Wightmare actually robs Muu of a pretty vital cog in his machinations for total conquest. Why would Muu relocate him to a lesser area?”

Kettu explained, “It’s because Nova destroyed Zomboni. Zomboni and Wightmare are some of the few members of Muu’s army that hold the coveted Decompose spell to turn other lifeforms into Undead, thus adding more members to the army. When Zomboni was destroyed Muu had no choice but to relocate Wightmare from his normal base to one in Stone Spear Cavern. He knows that Decompose spell is worth relocating more powerful members of his army to the frontlines so he could make use of it. If my knowledge of the enemy is right, then there are only two more high-ranking Undead Army members with that spell: General Cranidon and General Juggerrot, and they’re too valuable to relocate, so Wightmare was the only reasonable option he had.”

“Hmm… I see, I see. But that does bode well for our side, as eliminating two of the four members of Muu’s army who have the Decompose spell does limit how much damage they can do.”

Nina said, “That’s not entirely true. I just remembered that Muu himself has a particularly powerful option at his disposal, something more powerful than Decompose that can turn and entire village into Undead: his familiar.”

Nova looked stunned, “Wait! So Muu has a familiar, too?!”

“Yes, and a particularly nasty one, too. His familiar is the horrifying and highly dangerous beast known as a Zombie Drake. It has the special ability called Rotting Breath that can turn an entire village worth of people into Undead with just one attack. If Muu gets desperate he may resort to sending out his Zombie Drake to help him regain some lost ground. Which, as fate would have it, means Elora plays an even more crucial role in our fight.”

Chief Gallant quirked an eyebrow, “Elora? Who is this Elora? And what good is she against a Zombie Drake?”

Nova gained an annoyed look, “Elora happens to be my familiar: a Gorgon Viper. I’m fine with me getting disrespected, since I get it a lot, but Elora is a whole other story.” Something then dawned upon him, “Waaaait a minute. Are you telling me that Gorgon Vipers and Zombie Drakes are enemies, Nina?”

Nina nodded, “Yes, that’s correct. Gorgon Vipers and Zombie Drakes are natural enemies. While neither has the advantage over the other, as both are immune to the other’s various abilities due to centuries of fighting and evolving, plus both are Level Seven familiars, which is the highest class possible, Gorgon Vipers do possess one key trait that gives them an edge: intelligence. Gorgon Vipers are smart, unlike Zombie Drakes, which rely on decaying instincts to fight effectively, so Gorgon Vipers are often able to outsmart and thus outfight Zombie Drakes. Both will fight to the death when they cross paths but from what the history books and knowledge on familiars state Gorgon Vipers tend to win those battled 95% of the time because they use their smarts to outmaneuver their foe. Rarely will a Gorgon Viper lose to a Zombie Drake, but it has happened, hence why they have 95% victory rate. So your gaining Elora has given us an even greater edge over Muu, since she can counter his Zombie Drake, which would most likely be his last resort if all else fails or if his options for making more Undead run out.”

“For the love of God! I did ONE nice thing to a wild Gorgon Viper and it’s rewarding me to this INSANE degree in our fight against Muu?! I’m not sure if this is some kind of karmic jackpot or not but my good fortune is NEVER this good! Not that I’m actually complaining, mind, but come on! Me obtaining Elora turned out to be such a crucial linchpin in our fight against Muu? I wonder what would’ve happened if we never found or helped her? I’m at a total loss and how just one act of kindness to a wild Gorgon Viper snowballed into basically our trump card or ace-in-the-hole against Muu. Sheesh… I feel dizzy…”

Chief Gallant gained a crooked smile, “Life’s funny like that, kiddo. But your helping that Gorgon Viper and ultimately gaining her as your familiar has proven quite beneficial to your cause. In any case,” he returned to an upright position, “Sir Reginald, I want to talk to you about some things regarding the fight against Muu. Since King Hendrik is an ally to us Centaurs I figured you’d be the best person to talk to about our enemy.”

Kettu stepped up, “I’ll come, too, as I’ve got extensive notes on the various Undead Captains. I’ve spent time infiltrating their bases and gathering various bits of intel on the Undead Army.”

“You have? Then that’s perfect. Both of you come with me so I can start a strategy meeting regarding our foes. As for the kiddo and the Phoenix girl, you do whatever you want for a bit.”

Chief Gallant led Sir Reginald and Kettu away from the group.

Nina huffed, “I feel like we were just rejected from a club. But fine, we need to get Nova a new bow anyway since his was destroyed when we defended Van from the Undead Soldiers.”

Van turned to them, “I’ll take you to one of our best weapon crafters. Serena, take these herbs I gathered to Rosa so she can start turning them into various medicines. We’re gonna need them now that we can finally go to war with Muu.”

Serena took the two large satchels of various plants from her husband, smiling, “Of course, dear. And hopefully this’ll be all over before a certain delivery arrives.”

Nova and Nina instantly realized what she meant, eyes widening.

“You’re pregnant?!” both sputtered.

Serena smiled, “Yes, but I’m only about one month pregnant, so it’s still early. Centaur pregnancies are much longer than races like humans or Phoenix Clan women, so I’m going to be carrying this product of our love for quite some time. But I am looking forward to it. It does mean I cannot assist in the fighting but I’m better at potion making anyway and that’ll be my contribution. And thank you once again for rescuing my husband. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to give Rosa the medicinal plants Van collected for her.”

She turned around and lightly trotted deeper into the village.

Van turned to the remaining party members, “Now, with that taken care of, let me escort you to one of our weapon crafters. We’d better pick up a new bow for you before things get crazy from all the excitement of going to war with Muu. Follow me.”

He guided Nova and Nina toward one of the weapon crafters which was run by another, albeit older Centaur. He smiled as he saw Van approach.

“Hello, Van,” he said. “Looks like things are about to get hectic now that Muu has made the fatal mistake of getting us involved in the war. On that note, what can I do for you?”

“Hello, Birch. Yes, our new young friend and ally here needs a replacement bow. The Undead Soldiers who attacked me destroyed his original bow while he was defending me. So what do you recommend for him?”

Birch looked Nova over, saying, “Hmm… I can tell he’s got a surprising amount of raw talent with a bow. That’s not a very common trait these days, as most people tend to do better with swords or spears. Let’s see…” he turned around and began rummaging through his various weapons before picking a bow off the wall, “This might be up his alley.”

He placed the bow down on the counter, allowing them to get a good look at it. It was a sleek and stylish longbow, built from redwood, with a sturdy bowstring, a leather grip near the front, and decorated with gold paint.

“This here is a Redwood Longbow, one of my best works. It’s lightweight enough to not be a hinderance when aiming despite its size, yet sturdy enough to be able to handle some roughness. The bowstring is made from woven fibers from the Umbra Plant, which are renowned for their sturdiness, while also being stretchy enough to provide a nice snap when you release your arrow at your unlucky target. And the leather grip prevents it from slipping even if your hand is sweating or it’s raining out. What do you say, kiddo?”

Nova picked up the bow to look it over, saying, “I gotta give you props on your craftsmanship. This is very well-built. Even I can see that and I’m no bow, or weapon, expert. I’ll take it. How much?”

Birch replied, “It’s yours. We Centaurs don’t bother with money. Everything we do is for our community so we don’t need money. While we do understand how money works and how, unfortunately, money does solve most problems in the world, we don’t bother with it. We prefer our simple lifestyle over worrying about a few coins. So the bow is yours for free.”

Nova went wide eyed, “Wow, really? I-I guess I’m so used to needing to barter and spend money on new equipment I’m actually stunned you’d be willing to give me such a nice bow without anything in exchange. I feel like I need to give you something in return…”

Van smiled, “You were raised properly, Nova. Your parents would be proud of you.”

“Hey, Nova, why don’t you offer one of the Tin Hawk feathers we got a short time ago in return?” Nina suggested.

Birch’s ears twitched, “Tin Hawk feathers? I haven’t worked with Tin Hawk feathers in quite some time. Tell you what, kiddo, I’ll trade you that bow for a Tin Hawk feather, since it’s obvious you’re a bit uncomfortable taking that bow for free.”

Nova nodded, “Deal.”

He took out a large metal feather from his Digi-Pack and placed it on the counter. Birch examined the feather closely, smiling.

“Now this is a good quality wing feather. I can make a good four swords and/or spears from this. And good timing, too, as we’re going to war soon so having weapons made from this Tin Hawk feather would provide us with some extra cutting edge. Thanks, kiddo, as this feather will do nicely. Enjoy your bow.”

Nova nodded and strapped the bow to his Digi-Pack. After a little while everyone had gathered in the center of the village to have what looked like a war party, with plenty of food and drink to go around.

Van turned to Sir Reginald, “Sir Reginald, if it would be okay, I would like to accompany you and your party to fight Muu. I owe you and your party my life and my code of honor dictates I must repay the favor somehow. Not only am I a warrior but I also possess powerful healing magic. From what I’ve observed your only healing abilities are Nina’s Magic Fire Feathers and Nova’s use of the Demon King Ring, so you could use a regular healer on your team.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, we could most definitely use someone who specializes in healing magic. Welcome to the team, Van.”

Serena nuzzled against her husband, saying softly, “So… you’ll be joining the party in order to take the fight to Muu himself, huh, honey? Just promise me you’ll return safely. I don’t want to be the one to tell our child that he or she lost their father to Muu, nor raise them myself.”

Van gently embraced her, saying, “I promise I’ll come back alive when this is all over. I won’t leave you alone forever, honey. But we need to take the fight to Muu himself if we are to have any hopes of finally ending this 3,000 year nightmare once and for all. And when I do, I’ll help raise our foal alongside you, my beloved. Hold down the fort until I return, then we can raise our family together.”

The two Centaur lovers gently nuzzled against each other, making the rest of the party smile.

“We’re one member stronger now,” Nova said silently. “And we’ve got a healer to boot. That’ll serve us well. Hopefully with our new ally we’ll have a stronger chance at winning this fight with Muu. I’m not looking forward to any of it but lives are at stake so I have to fight. I just hope I don’t screw up.”

Next Chapter: Curse This Curse

That's it for today. Another day, another party member. How will Van contribute to the cause? Tune in next time to find out.
 

CynthiaLover

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

Curse This Curse


It was the following night after the heroes left the Centaur Clan’s village. They were at a magical campsite, having set up the very large tent and taken refuge there for the night. Nova was busy cooking dinner while his comrades waited patiently for their meal.

“I thank you for allowing me to join you in your quest to vanquish Muu,” Van said sincerely. “If there is any hope in stopping Muu we need to take the fight to him instead of letting him cower behind his troops.”

Nova, who was paying more attention to making dinner, replied, “So, Muu’s a coward, too, huh? All that power and yet he won’t fight his own battles. Not much of an evil overlord. While I question why Belzebuth prefers to send ‘champions’ to fight in his stead instead of just busting down Muu’s front door and breaking every bone in his undead body I guess he has his reasons. Though from what I’ve seen they’re not very good ones.”

Nina gave a light smile, “Well, it’s because Muu’s a coward that Belzebuth has to send champions out after him, as Muu will only confront a foe if he feels he’s got the advantage over them. He won’t fight Belzebuth because the Demon King could crush him easily. It’s basically a way to lure Muu out of hiding so he can be struck down by a force he didn’t expect to be stronger than him. It’s not a fool-proof strategy, as past champions only dealt with decoys of Muu, not the big, bad, bone daddy himself, but Belzebuth choosing you might have an extra layer of strategy to it. What that is we don’t know but hopefully it’ll become clear soon.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, that is true. Muu never fights a foe unless he has either no choice or is confident enough that he can take it down. I do feel Lady Nina is right as Belzebuth choosing you, Nova, must have an extra layer of strategy behind his reasoning. It would be nice if he could tell us what it is but maybe he’s keeping us in the dark so to keep Muu in the dark.”

Nova replied, deadpan, “The old ‘To fool your enemy you must first fool your friend’ strategy, eh? That doesn’t exactly help in this case. Belzebuth keeping us in the dark as much as Muu prevents us from finding a strategy on how to use whatever Belzebuth’s idea is to our advantage. It forces us to pretty much wing it the whole time. Honestly, the more I look at it the more I feel like I’m just disposable bait to lure out Muu. I may not have much self-worth but that’s insulting even to me.” He took a sample from the pot he was cooking at before saying, “That aside, the beef and potato stew is ready. Gather up.”

Everyone held out their bowls as Nova served them the stew. After everyone got a serving they settled down to eat.

“Mmm!” Nina purred. “Your stews are always the best, Nova.”

Van smiled, “I have to agree. My wife makes a mean stew herself but you could give her a run for her money. Where’d you learn to cook like this from?”

Nova gained a sheepish expression, “Well, growing up, my parents were not the best cooks. Mom was much better than dad but she tended to use a lot of leftovers in her recipes. I was something of a picky eater. And then it was discovered I was a supertaster, which is a person who has more tastebuds per square inch than others, which was the reason why I was a picky eater. I decided to learn how to cook for myself both to expand my taste palate and satisfy my own needs. Plus, cooking is a science, something that most members of the Blitz family are good at. So I spent time learning how to cook from various sources such as cooking shows, cooking classes, and so on. As a result I became one of the best cooks in the family, ranked third or fourth, depending on who you ask. However, my true cooking skill is baking, and in that field I’m unmatched when compared to the rest of my family. It’s fortunate that I can, as so far no one else here can cook, which is a necessary skill if one is going to travel.”

Everyone else gained sheepish expressions at this remark.

“Well, whatever. There’s plenty to go around, so feel free to… ouch!”

Nova looked to see that a black fly had bitten his arm. He put his bowl down, aggressive swat the fly, and took a moment to examine the bite.

“Damn pest,” he snarled. “As if I’m not enough of a magnet for problems.”

Van nodded, “Yeah, the black flies around here can be nasty. My fellow Centaurs hate them, especially since they tend to bite us in rather… sensitive areas.”

“Spare us the details,” Kettu said dryly.

Nova took out an ointment he had gotten from a previous town and gently rubbed it on the bite, soothing it.

“Sheesh… for a fly that thing has a bite like a snake,” he grumbled. “I hope I don’t get some sort of disease or something, as flies often carry nasty things like that.”

After becoming satisfied with treating the bite Nova resumed eating, the rest of the party following suit. After a few more servings the stew was gone. Nova gathered up the dishes and pot and made his way to the nearby river to wash them. Nina walked over to help, making him smile.

“Those two seem to be quite close,” Van observed.

Kettu leaned back, “Yeah, they’re practically attached at the hip. Nina considers Nova her best friend and she’ll fiercely defend him from anyone who gives him grief or insults him. Considering his self-esteem issues he probably doesn’t feel his dignity and manhood is threatened whenever she defends him instead of the other way around. That said, he did go quite a distance for her, so it’s probably just her returning the favor.”

“What do you mean?”

Sir Reginald explained, “Lady Nina, as I said before, is the former Princess of Phoenixwing Kingdom. But because of the neglect and later abuse she was enduring she fled, causing quite a bit of damage in the process and became a wanted criminal by her people. The real reason they labeled her as a criminal, however, is actually rather petty: it’s because her running away deprived the Phoenix Clan of the means of using her Magic Fire Feathers to line their already heavy pockets with more money. Nova took her side and helped smuggle her out of the kingdom, as getting past the checkpoint was the next major issue for her in order to fully escape her people’s clutches. Remember, unless given special permission, knights cannot go into other kingdom territories due to the threat of war. And given our current situation, where Muu is making another attempt to conquer this world, that’s something other nations want to avoid.”

Van nodded, “Ah, yeah, that’s true. Civilians like ourselves can cross without issue but knights can’t. So Nova helped her sneak past her checkpoint into this kingdom where the other Phoenix Clan members couldn’t chase after her. As a result she’s very fond of him.”

Kettu yawned, “It’s a bit more than that. Nina’s been a victim of sexism, as in the Phoenix Clan men are higher ranked than women. And since she was the first born in the royal family she pretty much suffered since her birth because of her gender. She started to develop a hatred for men as she got older. Nova’s kindness completely flipped her opinion of men on its head, as it made her realize that not all men are like her own kind. Since she’s never really met anyone else outside of her own kind she never knew what other types of people, or at least men, were like. She warmed up to Nova pretty quickly because of what he gave her and how he treated her. Now she’s probably his most steadfast and loyal supporter.”

Suddenly, all of them jumped as they heard Nova yelp loudly in pain. They turned to see what looked like an eel had clamped down on his wrist.

“That’s a mud eel!” Sir Reginald sputtered.

“Get this damn thing off me!” Nova spat.

Nina quickly grabbed the mud eel and managed to massage its jaw open in order to let go of Nova. She then threw it a great distance downstream while Nova nursed the bite wound.

“That’s two bites in one evening,” Nova grumbled. “If that black fly had a bite like a snake that mud eel had a bite like a jackal. Looks like the universe is out to get me again tonight.”

Van quirked an eyebrow, “What do you mean ‘the universe is out to get you again’? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would the universe be out to get you?”

Nina replied, “Trust us, Van, but Nova doesn’t exactly have it easy. He’s been the victim of a number of problems prior to this adventure. Nova gave us a very frightening… um… ‘demonstration’ at how the universe will gladly prove him wrong or do something horrible to him if prompted to. And even when it isn’t. I was a doubter at first, too, but after said ‘demonstration’ I’m a believer that there is some sort of cosmic force out to get him. Especially after the pitfall example. It’s clearly more than just bad luck as not even the worst luck could perform logic-defying feats that Nova showed us.”

The Centaur gained an odd look, “I find that hard to believe.”

Kettu replied, “I didn’t believe it, either, until Nova proved it. As strange as it may sound, and it certainly does sound pretty bizarre, there does seem to be some sort of force working against Nova. Why it selected him to torment we don’t know but it certainly does its job in making his existence miserable.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yeah, I was surprised, too. There really does seem to be some cosmic force out to get Nova. I don’t recommend asking him to prove it, though, as I’d rather him not take any unnecessary abuse since it might demoralize him further.”

Nova sighed, “Thank you, as I’d rather not have to prove it, either. Let’s just dress this bite, since it’s bleeding, and go to bed.”

Van held out his hand, “Here, let me handle that.”

Nova gave Van his hand and the Centaur started to channel energy.

“Heal.”

The wound closed and his wrist looked fine now.

“Thank you,” Nova said sincerely. “Now I’m off to bed before something else happens.”

Everyone piled into the tent, which was large enough to house all of them even with Van’s large size, picked a sleeping bag, with Van merely placing a blanket over himself, and went to bed.

The next morning after breakfast the gang was on their way to the next town. They were fighting some monsters that had jumped out at them. They were porcupine monsters that had brown fur, black quills with white tips, glowing green eyes, sharp claws, and sharp teeth. It wasn’t long before the heroes prevailed over the vicious porcupine monsters.

Sir Reginald walked over to the monster corpses, saying, “Okay, time to harvest the quills and claws of these Prickly Porcupines so we can sell them when we get into town. The quills of these monsters should get about 12 copper a set at potions crafters while the claws will fetch a good 30 copper each at weapon shops. It’s not much but every coin counts when on the road.”

However, when Nova attempted to help harvest some parts he slipped on a rock and ended up landing on one of the Prickly Porcupines, causing some of its quills to stab him in the rear.

“OUCH!!!!” he yelled. “God dammit! The universe is still out to get me I see.”

“It was just an accident, Nova,” Van said. “Don’t think too much of it.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Kettu replied dryly.

After managing to remove the quills from his backside Nova helped collect the monster parts and put them in his Digi-Pack. The party eventually made their way to the next town. However, when they walked underneath the welcome sign at the front of the village, part of it broke off and hit Nova on the head.

“Argh!” Nova snarled, rubbing his head. “I guess today is torment Nova day, huh, universe?”

Nina was starting to get concerned, “This might be a bit more than the universe’s attempt to mess with you, Nova. It’s happening without your input and with greater frequency. Maybe you might have a curse or something on you.”

“When could Nova have gotten cursed, Lady Nina?” Sir Reginald asked. “He’s been with us this whole time. And we haven’t faced any monsters that can inflict a curse lately.”

“I don’t know. But maybe we should get him checked out just in case, since curses can be rather hard to detect.”

Nova rubbed his head, “While I harbor a few doubts about a curse, I’m willing to get checked out if it’ll help. This could just be another day for the universe to exercise its cruel sense of humor at my expense but since I know nothing about curses I’m willing to find out if this sudden display of cosmic abuse is one or not.”

After asking around briefly the party headed toward the local medic. As they walked through the streets Nova was hit in the face by a ball, splashed by a bucket of water, and had a cart run over his foot.

“Okay… maybe there is some sort of cosmic forces at work here…” Van said nervously. “Let’s get to the medic quickly before Nova takes any more abuse.”

They eventually made it to the medic. Inside was a nurse and a doctor, who were startled by the oddly assorted group.

“Can we help you?” the nurse asked.

Nina nodded, “Yes. Could you examine our friend, Nova, here for any curses? He’s been on the receiving end of a lot of sudden, and random, abuse from various sources.”

The doctor nodded, “Certainly. Please follow me, young man.”

He led Nova to the examination table, allowing him to sit down, and began examining him, while the rest of the party waited patiently. After a few minutes the doctor completed his examination.

“Hmm… judging by what you told me, that black fly that bit you may have been the source of your getting a curse. You see, sometimes flies will carry a strange disease called the curse marker virus, where the person who was bitten will be inflicted with a curse. It’s very easy to cure, fortunately, as all it takes is either a certain potion or the Curse Breaker spell, whichever is easiest to access for you. I have the potion that can cure it. Give me a moment.” He walked over to the shelves with potions before taking one, “Here, drink this. It'll lift the curse marker virus.”

Nova quickly downed the potion. His body was surrounded by sparkles followed by what looked like a burst of negative energy erupting from his body and vanishing. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, doctor, that takes a load off my mind,” he said sincerely. “I never liked flies and this only reinforces it. How much does my treatment come to?”

“Two silver and five copper, please,” the doctor replied.

Nova paid the doctor and rejoined the group.

“See, Nova?” Van said. “The universe isn’t out to get you. It’s just a bit of bad luck.”

“Don’t count on it,” Nova said acidly as he made his way to the door.

Suddenly, the door burst open, slamming into Nova and flattening him to the wall behind it, startling everyone present. A mother and father ran in holding their young son who had a bleeding leg.

“Doctor!” the father said. “Please patch up our son!”

The family noticed that everyone else in the building was stunned at something.

“Umm… what’s going on?” the mother asked. “Why is everyone staring at us?”

Sir Reginald pointed behind them. The family turned to see the office door slowly close, revealing Nova who had been plastered to the wall behind it. The family went wide eyed before gaining rueful expressions.

“Uh… sorry, lad… we didn’t see you there…” the father said in a nervous tone.

Nova merely gave a painful groan as he slid down onto the ground, dazed and hurt. Nina quickly ran over to him to help him. The doctor took the family into the examination room to help the young boy.

“Hmm… maybe there is some truth to this ‘universe is out to get Nova’ thing after all…” Van said, clearly surprised and perplexed at what just happened.

Next Chapter: He Who Laughs Loudest is Lost

That's all for today. Looks like the universe is out to get Nova again. Tune in next time to meet the next main cast member.
 
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