Sylsa let out a heavy sigh as she sat back down on the deck of the ship, watching the angel, Kokriel, fly off to her teachers’ rescue. Everyone else was moving, meanwhile. It was a constant flurry of anxious motion since the crew of the Finja had to fully deactivate the balloons attached to the damaged ship, in order to actually repair it, and her fellow students were simply pacing anxiously.
Their worry was understandable, quite understandable, seriously, and thankfully Sue and Mask were keeping Adrien from blaming himself for the mess and Adrien and Sue were keeping Mask from blaming themself, and Maria and Sergio were doing their own thing and it was a whole good thing that everyone was working to help each other but she was still far too terrified of the damn dragon that nearly drove them into the ocean.
It was an exhausted kind of terror though, the kind where it just kept on going and going even after the danger should have passed. The type that was all too common less than three decades ago. None of her fellow students had been around when Kigalori had darkened the skies of Naloriva, but Sylsa remembered those days with a sharp clarity. The panicked eyes watching the sky, the sense of unending dread, the slow trickle of information that yet another village had vanished under crushing stones and an army of twisted abominations, nothing left but petrified faces staring in horror…
The old warriors and mages resting in the treetops, ever vigilant, and refusing to leave the village to try to help anyone else. Because what if the monsters attacked while they were gone? There was no hope of alliance when everyone was too terrified to march to another’s aid.
But it was different now. She could actually do something this time.
“U-Um, Sylsa, are you okay?” Looking up, she found Sophia staring down at her, worry evident on the healer’s face. Though, whether that was for her or the two lost at sea, she wasn’t sure.
“I think I should be.” Good, didn’t stutter there. Calm, collected, confident. Sylsa stood, brushing her hands down her robes and letting a little push of purification fully clean off her clothes. “How about you?”
“O-Oh, um…g-good? P-Pretty good…I-I just wanted to make sure you were okay first.” Oh gods, she was so cute. Sylsa had to resist hugging the smaller woman. Would it be inappropriate or condescending to pat her? Better not. There was just something about Sophia’s nervous demeanor that she liked. Perhaps appealing to some kind of protectiveness? Though Maria had a nice confidence to her, a little too brazen though, tended to make her blush…Sue actually did have a very nice confidence too, much more proud and solid, now that she thought about-
No. No, bad brain, no thinking about cute ladies in times of crisis. Ugh, why was she so useless?
Sylsa sighed, then smiled. “I appreciate your help, Sophia. I’m just feeling a bit tired after what just happened.”
“Oh, that’s good. I-I mean, not you feeling tired, but th-that you’re not feeling bad.”
“Thanks for being worried about me.” Looking out over the immediate area, Sylsa could see everyone else had stopped pacing and were now just talking with one another, likely deciding on what to do next. They were currently on a beach of an island, though it currently had a clear sky, so it probably wasn’t the destination they intended…Unless the name “Rainfall Island” wasn’t literal. That would be weird though.
At any rate, most of her team were on the beach, along with Leicester, who Sue had secured on a post shoved into the sand. Hopefully that should keep her from trying anything else, like siccing a dragon on them…
Well, everything seemed okay, so, as the eldest there, Sylsa decided to take charge.
“Okay everyone, I know we’re all worried but we can’t stand around waiting for our instructors’ return,” Sylsa spoke up as she walked up to them, “So, what do we know we can do at the moment?”
“Oh, uh…Well, Serge is up on the ship with a telescope to see if anyone’s around,” Adrien answered, shrugging, “And there does seem to be a town nearby.”
Sylsa looked where he pointed and saw there were indeed a few buildings in the distance, matching the architectural styles of what they’d seen in Gorokiva. “Hm. Then some of us should go into town and get supplies. Maybe even see if we can hire someone to help with repairs?”
“THAT WOULD BE MUCH APPRECIATED!” shouted Joral as he examined the balloons for any tears.
“Sue and Adrien, do you think you could handle that?”
“Hey, we’ve got someone coming over!” Sergio jumped down from the ship and headed over to them, stashing the telescope in his pouch. “They’re coming from the town, so why don’t we wait?” He pointed off in the distance, and Sylsa squinted, vaguely making out a single figure slowly approaching their location.
“In that case, we should at least met them halfway. Though at least two of us should stay and keep an eye on Leicester.” Glancing the opposite way, Sylsa noted that the arachne was still there, aggravation apparent on her face as she talked with an orange-haired woman squatting down beside her-…wait.
“Woah, hey!” Adrien shouted as he headed over to the woman, who was wearing a black kimono embroidered with yellow chrysanthemum patterns. “Miss, you can’t go near her-”
Adrien’s voice cut out and he suddenly dropped face forward into the sand, landing with a ‘fwump’.
“ADRIEN!” Sue immediately shouted, running over to him as the orange-haired woman lowered her hand, a single finger pointing at Adrien.
“-I’m sure poor Sethy’s getting fixed up as we speak, so there’s no need to worry~,” the woman said to Leicester, before she stood up, smiling at all of them. She had bright orange eyes too, matching her hair. “And so sorry for that, kiddos~! You see, I really needed to reconnect with my favorite adorable albino over here, so I might’ve reacted a little hastily~.” She giggled, covering her mouth with a long, drooping sleeve. “Don’t worry though, he’s just taking a little nap~.”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean, bitch?” Sergio asked, an arrow nocked and ready. “Because if you-”
“Sleep. She used Sleep,” Sylsa answered as she stepped forward, putting a hand in front of Sergio and letting Sophia head over to Adrien too. “It’s a basic spell from the Dark Lands, the first in the Stygian branch of magic. You’re from the Dark Lands, aren’t you?”
“Aw, what gave it away~?”
“Your stunning good looks, now what do you want?”
The woman blinked, then giggled again. “Ooo, such spirited youngsters~! I-”
“Uuuugh, would you stop playing with your prey and just let me out already?!” Leicester complained.
The woman rolled her eyes, still smiling, and glanced at her ally-friend-colleague, or whatever. “Yes yes, we’re well aware your vacation has gone on far too long, Ari my dear, but you seem to forget that you’re currently chained up while these youngsters seem to be aiming arrows at me. And for the cute slime in the mask, do stop trying to inch towards me, you’re not nearly as subtle as you think.”
Mask stiffened, before lowering themself–
“Mask, don’t,” Sylsa ordered, “We don’t know what else she’s capable of. Sue, Sophia, how’s Adrien?”
“H-He’s not waking up! I-I tried healing him, but he’s not-” Sophia tried to answer as Sue held her boyfriend in her lap.
“Oh, that would be me~!” the woman interrupted with a cheerful grin. “I really don’t feel like dealing with more of you than I need to, so keeping the daring swordsman there in blissful sleep is far more to my benefit~.”
“So you’re saying he’ll wake up if we beat you?” Sue asked, lowering Adrien back down and standing up too.
“Something like that, yes~,” she answered, before reaching into her sleeve and pulling out-…A pipe? The woman snapped her fingers and flame lit on her thumb, which she used to light the kiseru, before taking a drag of it and smirking as smoke poured from her mouth. “Do you think you could do that, little girl~?”
“I’m willing to give it a shot, yeah,” Sue replied, settling into her usual brawler stance with her fists up.
“Cute~! Ah, you’re all so adorable~!” The woman giggled again, then glanced at Leicester. “Ari, you wouldn’t mind if I sent you home now, would you~?”
“Wha-Of course I wouldn’t mind! You’re here to rescue me, are you not?”
“Just checking~! I like to have permission before I do anything fun~.”
“Then yes, of course you-Wait, what do you mean by-” The woman suddenly flicked something at Leicester with her free hand and their prisoner completely vanished in a flash of black, her chains and gown dropping into the sand without anything to hold them up.
“Uh…were her clothes supposed to stay behind?” Sergio asked after a few seconds, still keeping his arrow on the woman, “I’m pretty sure none of those other losers had that happen when they ran away.”
“Ha~! Ah, I like you, you’re a feisty one~! And no, that was just a little trick I added for my favorite albino aristo~. She’s had such a troublesome time, I thought I would be nice and give her the lovely treat of going right to our lord~! And I’m sure Lady Claire won’t mind a pretty woman dropping in her lap~ Literally~”
Sylsa blinked as the woman kept on giggling, briefly imagining-And nope, cutting that off immediately. “You’re sort of a bitch, huh?”
“Mm hm~! I’d say that’s certainly accurate~.” She suddenly bowed theatrically, actually taking her eyes off of them.
“Wait don’t-!” Sylsa tried to say as Sue and Mask immediately took the opportunity to charge the woman.
“I am General Hachibi Kiyoshi of the Mosairo Clan of Anrusho, dear youngsters,” the woman said, not looking up at all as the entire sky suddenly turned a blood red, “And you’ve all just made a horrible mistake.”
Sylsa flinched back as a boom of thunder echoed out, the red sky up above quickly getting covered with dark, rumbling storm clouds. The sands around her suddenly stretched out until she was standing alone in a desert.
“…This is an illusion,” she muttered to herself, looking desperately around what her mind was telling her was the endless deserts of the Seventh Hell, the Mothers’ Hell, where devils and demons of immense terror lurked under the sands shifting beneath her feet. It was barren, lifeless, so unlike the green home she grew up in she could nearly feel her skin burning with the sheer sense of wrong that was suddenly permeating her entire being, surrounded by nothing, nothing to fight, no one to help, nothing to use and a black sky overhead that shifted with the distant beat of massive wings-
“CLEAR!” And then it was all gone and Sylsa felt her eyes and mind snap back into reality as Sophia stared up at her, her eyes wide and terrified. “Syl! Can you hear me now?!”
“Of course I can, have you seen my ears?” she automatically replied, then blinked again as something clicked. “You didn’t see the illusions.”
“Huh? What illusion-”
“Aw, that’s annoying.” Sylsa flinched back, protectively shoving Sophia behind her as Hachibi pouted at the two of them, way closer than she was before. “Interesting though. Your healer’s an outworlder then?” The general suddenly grinned, cocking her head as she took another hit of her pipe, blowing out a big plume of smoke to her side. “Haah~. I didn’t realize they would be immune to illusions. I suppose that means I need to handle her before I can deal with you.”
“That won’t-” Something slugged Sylsa straight in the cheek, knocking her a few feet away in the sand as Sophia screamed. She shook her head, trying to clear the fuzziness from it, then blinked at the sight of a second Kiyoshi standing there, this one in a tight, black bodysuit, padded with ceramic plate armor. The new one had her hair tied up tight-
Sylsa nearly slapped herself. She was a complete idiot. Hachibi, eight-tailed. The fox ears poking up from the new one’s hair proved it almost as much as the eight fluffy, orange tails waving around behind her back. She was a kitsune, a race of fox-like demons from the Dark Lands…
The original Kiyoshi smirked as her clothes melted away into an identical outfit, her hair tying itself up as her clone grabbed Sophia in a sudden choke hold-
“Let her go!” Sylsa immediately ordered, glaring at the general.
“Hm? Now why would I do that~?” they asked in unison, both giggling with wide, smug grins, “I’ll never get anywhere if I let go of every cute girl I get my hands on~.”
Sylsa felt her scowl deepen as the darker tattoos on her right arm throbbed. Maybe it was a stupid idea, but magic was meant to be used, and there was no need to hold herself back when Sophia was already starting to wheeze from the lack of air and the rest of her team were all just standing there, swaying vacantly in the breeze.
“Don’t worry too much though~. I just want to put her to sleep for a little…Oh?” The main Kiyoshi tilted her head, smirking at Sylsa. “Now what could you be trying to do there? I don’t see a staff on you, little mage, so-”
“That’s because I’m about to shove it somewhere inappropriate,” Sylsa snapped, coming to an immediate decision as she slammed both hands against the ground.
The clone immediately burst into smoke as a sharp post shot straight up from the sand, stabbing the taller entity straight through the sternum while leaving Sophia unharmed as the real one jumped back, narrowly dodging the chains that tried to wrap around her.
“Ooo, so you do have some tricks~! Cute~!” she taunted, jumping and twirling as more and chains erupted from the sands, trying to tie her down.
“Sophia, are you okay?” Sylsa asked in the meantime, glancing at her friend as she kept coughing. Sophia nodded a little rapidly, pressing a glowing green hand to her throat as she tried to heal herself.
“Aw, worried~? You wouldn’t have to if you just let yourself drift away, cutie~.” Kiyoshi suddenly leaped right for her and Sylsa jumped to the side as the general slammed her heel into the beach and a massive plume of sand and rock burst up. In an instant, Sylsa conjured a staff and blocked a hard punch that would have smashed her nose completely if it landed.
“Ooo~! So many interesting tricks~!” Kiyoshi giggled even as she kept jabbing rapidly, her pipe poking out the side of her grinning mouth as Sylsa blocked and deflected every attempt to punch her out. “You’re such an interesting lady, lovely~! It almost makes me sad that I’m about to wreck that pretty face of yours~!”
“Meh. I know plenty of people who like scars, so I’m not too worried.” Sylsa smirked, before twisting and slamming her newly conjured round shield into the side of Kiyoshi’s head, knocking her straight out. “Though that implies you’ll actually hit me, bitch.”
“Y’know, you make it really obvious that you’re not used to cursing, lovely.” The one on the ground abruptly dissolved into mud, and Sylsa abruptly felt a pair of hands circle around her waist as-Oh wow those were soft- “Ooo, you’re firmer than I thought you’d be~.”
Blushing as Kiyoshi felt her abs, Sylsa took a page from Mr. Goldforge’s book and slammed her head back into the general’s face, abruptly feeling a rain of dirt down her back as another Kiyoshi stepped out from behind the sharpened pole she’d formed earlier. “I’m surprised, really. I didn’t think you’d be such a fighter.”
Sylsa shrugged, settling back into a stance as she tried to ignore her still-warm face. “M-Mom always said an elf gains a new layer to their mind with every century. I guess I was always a prodigy in that regard.”
“Ha! Aw, what an adorable saying~! Hmmm, I wonder how many layers that would give me? Why don’t you guess, lovely~?”
Where was she going with this? “Eight, right? One tail for every hundred years lived.”
“Aw, sorry, but wrong~. You could say I’m a bit of a prodigy myself, lovely~. Or a cheater, depending on who you ask, but it’s my own little pride to say that I’m only three hundred and seventy-six~.”
Sylsa blinked. “…What? How did-”
Kiyoshi’s grin suddenly got a great deal sharper. “It’s funny what you can discover when you decide to take a few study trips to the Infernal side of things~. Like, say…” The ocean suddenly rose up in a huge wave beyond the general as she spread her arms wide. “A massive amount of expe-”
A fireball abruptly caught Kiyoshi in the chest and she went flying back into the wave, bursting into water.
“What the fuck was that!?”
Sylsa blinked, then looked over at Maria, who was staring at her with wide eyes, one burning hand still raised in the water clone’s direction. “…Hey Maria. Where were you?”
“The…The forest. I was gonna see if there were any more bad guys we needed to look out for.”
“Huh. You missed one.”
“YEAH I SAW!”
“Mou, you two are really making this way tougher than it needs to be.”
Sylsa immediately whirled around, then blinked as the clone’s hand burst into dirt when it punched a glowing barrier between her and it. She glanced back and saw Sophia pointing her staff there, still rubbing her throat a little.
“Oh shit, Soph!” Maria immediately ran over to her as Sylsa let out a little breath of relief, then immediately went back to scanning the beach for any sign of-
“Awww, now this is just unfair,” Kiyoshi whined, pouting at all of them from a clear space on the beach, closer to the town. “Three on one? Really?”
“You weren’t having trouble with six of us,” Sylsa replied, narrowing her eyes. There was a lot more distance between them, but maybe a net at the right time could catch her off guard enough to finally put an end to this mess.
“Hmm…nope, I don’t see your point. And now that the outworldly healer’s up and going, plus this new cute elfy mage, I really gotta rethink my strategies here…” Kiyoshi seemed to muse on the dilemma for a few seconds, then smirked, snapping her fingers. “Overwhelming force it is!”
With that said, she pulled the pipe from her mouth and blew a massive plume of smoke up into the air as Sylsa tried to throw her pole like a spear at the general, only for it to be blocked by the first of many earth clones forming up from the sand around them, much like a number of water clones were forming from the ocean. Soon enough, the legions were joined by newly formed smoke clones, and Sylsa could feel Maria and Sophia backing up against her.
“Uh…so, can I get a rundown on the whole ‘hot foxy lady attacking us’ thing?” Maria asked.
“An attractive vulpine woman trapped our friends in illusions and is trying to fight us,” Sylsa replied, “She also rescued Leicester from us by stripping her naked.”
“…Wait, what? I missed what?” Maria blinked in confusion as Sophia giggled a little raspily under her breath.
“Awww, now isn’t that cute~! You’re all trying to keep each other safe~! Well, don’t worry girls~!” Kiyoshi smirked, clapping her hands together. “I’ll make sure this experience is more humiliating than lethal for all three of you-”
Sylsa blinked as a huge hammer abruptly slammed into Kiyoshi’s back and the general abruptly went flying over their heads. Actually, high over their heads. Really, really high.
Sylsa, Maria, and Sophia turned in unison to watch as the darklander general flew higher and higher, before disappearing into the sky with a little twinkle. Then they all turned back as the clones dissolved back into their disparate elements at the huge woman standing there, her tanned, muscular body shining a little in the sun as she hefted an even larger mallet over her shoulder.
The woman was, from Sylsa’s estimate, around six feet, ten inches tall, and had dark, shaggy brown hair that went down to her back. She had two white horns curving up from said dark hair, and a long tail with a tuft of fur at the end that was visible from around her back. Also, she was wearing a rather short, midriff baring black top along with low hanging blue hakama pants and sandals, which gave her a surprisingly casual look overall for someone hefting a hammer that could probably put a decent crater in a castle wall.
Further…she was rather sweaty. And solid. Good gods, someone could grind steel on those abs…
“Hm. Am I safe in assumin’ you three were bein’ menaced by that kitsune?” the glorious warrior goddess sent from the heavens asked in a low, commanding drawl, raising a thick, dark eyebrow at Sylsa’s unworthy soul. “…So, you okay over there?”
“…You know you can stop starin’ at me at any time, right?”
“All three of y’all are lesbians, huh?”
“Uh, bi, mostly,” Maria answered, which snapped Sylsa out of her own little…’trance’.
“Yeah dicks are great.” Nope. Nope, she was not snapped out at all.
The woman raised another eyebrow to meet the first.
“…Right. So, y’all need help with them?” Tilting her head off to the side, the new arrival gestured with her free hand towards those still out of it.
“Oh, right, Sophia!” Glancing over at her friend, Sylsa blinked as she saw the support mage still staring at the minotaur, her eyes stuck on her. “…Sophia?”
“…O-Oh! Y-Yeah, I’ll do that!” Blushing heavily, Sophia rushed over to help their friends. Maria followed after her too, very clearly glancing back at the minotaur every few seconds as said new arrival walked over to the post and chains currently on the ground.
Setting her mallet down, the minotaur picked up the discarded gown. “This belong to y’all?”
“Er, no, that was….More something from the kitsune,” Sylsa replied, feeling her face heat up again at the reminder of Ariel’s…’transportation’. And, for a moment, she considered what exactly Kiyoshi was planning to do with them earlier. Suffice to say, her face was probably pretty red by this point.
“Hm. Kay then.” Dropping the gown on the sand, the minotaur ignored Sylsa’s odd reactions in favor of walking over to the ship. “Speaking of her, seems she took the time to mess with your ship too.”
“Huh?” Walking over as everyone else started to wake up from their trances, Sylsa found the crew of the Finja all standing in similar trances, while the ship’s balloons had several obvious, thin gashes cutting across them. “…Great.”
“Don’t worry about it. I know Rainfall well enough to show you some places that can help.”
“Thanks…” Sighing, Sylsa let herself drop into the sand, a small frown on her face as she sat and stared at the wreck. Maybe she should’ve been keeping an eye on it…
“So, are you in charge here?” the minotaur asked as she took a seat beside Sylsa.
“Until our mentors get back, I guess.”
“And who would those mentors be?”
Sylsa was going to answer. Really, she was planning to, but then an oddly gaudy boat suddenly pushed up into the beach, its small oars pressing into the sand as it landed and a-
”Oh, there they are,” Sylsa noted as Mr. Goldforge and Mr. Yew both jumped off the boat. Mr. Goldforge immediately sprinted towards them and the ruined airship while Mr. Yew took a slightly more sedate pace towards Sophia and the others.
“What the hell happened?!” Goldforge shouted, concern evident in his eyes, though Sylsa’s gaze wound up…drifting a tad lower. She wasn’t sure why both her mentors were in their underwear, but…damn, Goldforge was buff. Not quite as buff as the minotaur, sure, but wow…Oh, and he had a mixed-magic tattoo on his left pectoral, a little sun with steel-colored markings wrapping around it. Interesting…Also of interest to the curious conjurer was how those boxers of his really seemed to hug his-
“Hey Jules.” Oh, right, people are still around. Wait, ‘Jules’? “That’s a good look for you.”
“…Tisma?! What are you doing here??” …Ohhhh. Right. Muscular female minotaur. Now, there were likely plenty of people in the world that would match that description, but given the wild, reckless machinations of fate and fortune, Sylsa really should have expected something like this to happen.
Tisma Vlahos, former teammate to both Julius Goldforge and Douglas Yew, let out a low chuckle as she stood up, grinning down at her old friend.
“Some stuff. So, any reason you had a romantic boat ride with Douglas?”