Chapter 4: The Gentle Rain
"Have you all lost your minds?" asked Mistral, surprisingly calm, considering she was about to be destroyed. "Why are you turning on us?"
Barquite, equally calm, his expression slightly somber, answered. "Our situation is hopeless. Can't you see? Bonetail's forces are far too much for us. But if we join the Shadow Queen, then maybe our tribe can survive. And I'm afraid we've been ordered to kill you all."
Alyss, who had been too shocked for words until now, spoke, her voice trembling. "H-How can you say that?! The Shadow Queen won't spare you! She's evil! She'll kill you without a second thought! If you helped us, we could still win! Please!"
Barquite laughed grimly. "You're pretty bold, Alyss, and intelligent too. But you're too young to understand these things. I wish you were right. I wish we could stick together and win this."
For a moment, Alyss saw a hint of sorrow on Barquite's face. At first she thought he was lying, but now she realized that he was actually being sincere. Coward or not, he really didn't want to do this.
"But the fact remains," Barquite continued, "this is our only method of survival, and as much as I don't want to do this, it must be done."
Barquite was about to signal his men to attack, when Alyss saw the slightest moment of hesitation in his eyes. If he did this, he would be a murderer, a traitor, and a liar. As much as he didn't like the Punies as a tribe, he had always respected their leaders, and now he was about to wipe them all out. Mistral saw it as well, and that split second of indecision was all she needed.
"Run for it!" she cried, and everyone in the room instinctively dashed to the exit, a barrage of fire crashing down all around them, setting fire to the tree. At first, Mistral was afraid this would start a forest fire, but then she remembered that the inside of the tree was very damp from the cold, letting very little air in. The fire probably wouldn't spread anywhere.
The Jabbies, now free to exercise what little magic their tribe possessed, began hurling energy balls at the Punies, but they had been quicker to react than the Jabbies, and escaped the room.
As the group descended the Great Tree, making a beeline for the entrance, another group of Jabbies came through the entrance just before the Punies did. Mistral cursed. As if things couldn't get any worse! Luckily, the Jabbies entering were confused by the sudden appearance of nearly five hundred Punies and a Goomba right in front of them, and that gave the Punies the moment they needed to strike. They immediately rammed into the Jabbies, their superior speed allowing them to strike and counterstrike faster than the Jabbies, beating them with minimal casualties.
About eighteen Punies had fallen, and Alyss felt a knot in her stomach seeing her people dying. She glanced at Mistral, and saw she felt the same way. But there was no time for that now. They quickly ran out the entrance, Barquite and his men following close behind.
And that was when the Punies saw the
worst thing they ever could have imagined: Bonetail, Gloomtail and Hooktail,
along with the mighty General Onyx, his vanguard of Iron Clefts, and an
entire army of Dark Koopas, Dark Magikoopas, Dark Bones, Winged Craws,
and Hyper Clefts. Somehow, although it had been well concealed, they had
found the Great Tree. And Mistral knew exactly why…
The mighty Bonetail gazed down at the Punies, which looked like white specks of dust below.
"Well, they certainly put up a good fight," Bonetail announced smugly. "They defended their lands well, and they nearly made these lands useless to us. But now, we have them cornered and completely defenseless. It's over. Checkmate."
Gloomtail was looking quite nonchalant.
He was beginning to feel that they were getting nowhere in this battle,
that the Punies were frustrating them and putting up way more of a fight
than they should have. The constant complaints from Hooktail hadn't helped
matters. But now, seeing them trapped here like this, between the hammer
of their forces and the anvil of the Jabbies, he felt quite pleased. Of
course, the Jabbies would have to die too. Once they discovered that their
leader was killed by their hands, they would try to fight back.
Hooktail smirked. "Looks like the Jabbies are a little late to the party."
The others looked down and saw the Jabbies, led by Barquite, now appearing outside the tree behind the Punies, looking startled at the Dragon's sudden appearance. Bonetail was relishing the moment. This would bring a swift end for all of them. He felt the energy welling up in his throat, a dark energy bolt about to escape his mouth that would obliterate all before him, when a Winged Craw flew up to him, interrupting his moment.
"Sir! I have a report---"
"Begone!" Bonetail roared.
"B-But, sir! I have new orders from Her Majesty, the Shadow Queen!"
That was enough to get the dragon's attention. He turned, fixing his icy gaze on the Craw. "What orders?"
"Sir... our new orders... are to kill
he said, pointing over to a nearby hill. Bonetail and his siblings gazed
over at the hill. The Punies and the Jabbies saw the interruption and followed
their eyes to the hill as well... and all of them saw a single figure standing
on the hilltops, watching the battle from afar…
At the top of the lush, emerald-green hills, with the morning sun behind his back breaking through the veil of darkness, stood a tall, handsome Toad in his early teens, though he looked to be a lot older. It was probably his deep brown eyes, eyes that had seen too much. He was armed with nothing but a sword, a sword very similar to the one his close friend had used in Petalberg before he was taken away, yet he seemed incredibly calm.
He had just arrived, praying he wasn't too late. After hearing about the great battle at Boggly Woods, he had left his home in Petalberg to help the Punies win. Of course, he had other motives besides just helping the Punies win; namely, chasing the monsters to their base in his search for his friend Kahn.
Everyone below was confused by the stranger's sudden appearance, but only Mistral realized who the stranger was. "We...we're saved!" she cried. "It's Sir Aaron, the hero of Petalberg!"
Despite herself, Mistral couldn't hide her joy and relief. Alyss was confused; she had never heard of any hero of Petalberg. In fact, she had only visited Petalberg once on a trip with the elder, but if Mistral had confidence in this Aaron, that was enough for her.
Among the sea of faces gazing on this newcomer, quite a few were less than pleased; namely Bonetail, Gloomtail, Hooktail, and Onyx. "How can he be here?!" roared Hooktail, her blazing red scales bristling with anger. "Who does he think he is, barging in on our battle? I'll teach that whelp respect!"
Hooktail spread her wings and took off. "Don't be a fool!" called Gloomtail. But Hooktail was not in the mood for listening. Then again, she never is. Her pride was too great to back down yet again. Several onlookers turned their heads toward the hills, Hooktail looking like a blazing missile hurling toward a dot in the green.
Gloomtail was about to stop her, but Bonetail blocked him. "Don't. She needs to learn her lesson."
Aaron saw the enormous dragon flying at him. He did not move. Hooktail rocketed at him, cutting through the air, roaring like a hundred cannons all firing at once. Aaron waited until the last moment, then deftly lunged left, the flying red missile whooshing past him, missing him by mere inches.
Hooktail, stunned, halted her flight. That one moment of shock was all Aaron needed. He rushed at her, jumping high in the air and landing on her head, then held his sword high and plunged it into her. Her rock-hard scales held under the impact, but it still hurt Hooktail, and she crashed to the ground, dazed, her whole body paralyzed by the force of the blow.
Having defeated his opponent, Aaron
charged down the hill and into the fray. Then everything fell into chaos…
All at once, the entire forest had gone into a frenzy. At Mistral's command, the Punies had taken advantage of the confusion and launched an all-out attack against the demonic army.
The Jabbies, confused and not knowing what to do, began desperately fending off relentless attacks from the Punies. But the Jabbies were not their target; the demonic army was still the greatest threat here.
Bonetail watched their armies collide. "Enough," he roared. "I am taking point. Gloomtail, come with me."
"Got it," called Gloomtail, flying next to him to the front of the army. Bonetail saw General Onyx and flew down to him. "I am taking point," he bellowed. “I want that tree leveled. NOW."
"Yes, sir!" yelled Onyx, calling his Iron Clefts to him and charging the Great Tree. Energy balls, spears, flares, swords, shells, and boulders were flying all over the place in a hurricane of confusion and destruction. Punies, Jabbies, Craws, Koopas, and Clefts were hacking and stabbing and charging and ramming and blasting everything in sight.
Bonetail saw Aaron and snarled. "I am going to tear the boy apart," he growled, crimson flames licking out from his mouth. "Kill everyone in sight."
"Yes sir," said Gloomtail, eager for battle. Bonetail flew off at Aaron, and Gloomtail swooped down, rocketing at the Punies. He began releasing a blinding holocaust of green liquid flames, vaporizing about thirty Punies and fifty Jabbies on contact. They didn't even have time to scream.
Below, Barquite was panicking, trying
to maintain order. "What are they doing?! They're aiming for us!" And then
Barquite realized, all too late, that Alyss had been right. Gloomtail was
going to kill them all…
Aaron, of course, saw the massive dragon
flying at him. It was impossible to miss. Aaron
had taken the other dragon by surprise, but he knew the same trick had no chance of working twice, and he could tell this Bonetail was far stronger than his younger sibling.
As a matter of fact, he had no chance against Bonetail--at least, not at the moment--and he knew he could do more damage by getting Bonetail as far away from the battle as possible. So, at incredible speed, Aaron took off running through the woods, like a bolt of lightning moving through a maze of green and brown, followed by a giant green rocket.
Bonetail, gritting his fangs in rage, chased Aaron through the woods, smashing down any trees unfortunate enough to be in his way. Aaron ran around a mountain a split second before Bonetail smashed through it, reducing it to rubble. Aaron, having gone through much training, was able to keep up his impressive speed almost indefinitely, and in the cover of the woods--or what was left of it--he knew he could keep Bonetail busy for quite a while.
Except Bonetail was no fool. He saw
through the ruse almost instantly. He laughed. Aaron had made a big mistake
underestimating his intelligence. With that, much to Aaron's dread, Bonetail
took off at Mach speed back to the battle. His bluff had been called, and
Aaron circled the clearing to find another way to beat the great behemoth…
Alyss was tired of sitting back and doing nothing while her people died in front of her. She knew she would probably be killed, while if she lived she would certainly have a horrible headache and stomach problems next morning, but she concentrated all her strength into creating a crackling blue ball of energy.
One at a time, the elder had always taught her, otherwise the strain would be too much. She then made two more, then three, then four, struggling with the pain. Then, finally, having twelve bright multicolored energy balls above her, she hurled all of them into the battle, obliterating nine Hyper Clefts and shooting down a Winged Craw. A success. The other two balls crashed onto the ground, exploding on impact.
About twenty feet from her, Mistral was also fighting, though she was far more adept at using her magic, and she cut down almost twenty Magikoopas with her volleys. Though she was doing quite a bit of damage, her mind seemed focused on something else. An Iron Cleft charged at her, but she focused all thirty energy balls she had made, firing them all at the Iron Cleft, obliterating it. That had cost her dearly; it would take time to make more, and right now, she had her hands busy with three Dark Koopas that had decided to take her out.
Lieutenant Danes rallied his men together, making a V-shaped formation, then all at once they charged the enemy, ramming into them, attacking at all different angles, dodging the enemy attacks and counterstriking. Winged Craws rained down spears from above, Punies falling left and right against the onslaught. Alyss saw this, and began charging her energy again, hurling energy balls as fast as she could. The Winged Craws were hard to hit, but the attack still forced them to back off for a moment.
Xavier saw Mistral fending off relentless attacks from the Dark Koopas. She had taken a bad hit, and was now limping to try to get away from the monsters. He rallied his courage, charging at them. Xavier instantly began attacking, beating back the Dark Koopas before they could resist. He took Mistral into the cover of the trees. "Are you okay?" he asked. Mistral nodded.
"I'm fine. Protect Alyss!" she yelled, seeing Alyss surrounded by five Magikoopas. Xavier ran over to her. The Puni Captain, seeing the attack, ran over to Xavier's side, the two of them beating back the Magikoopas. The Captain was wounded in the gut from a stray blast, but he carried on. "Nice work, Xavier. I'll see you promoted for this."
Barquite rallied his troops. He had lived his life like a coward, but he didn't have to die like one. "Rally your courage, Jabbies! We must beat back these hordes, for the glory of the tribe!"
His men cried their ascent, charging into the thick of battle. Barquite battled his way through five Dark Koopas and saw Lieutenant Danes struggling to find a way to beat the Iron Cleft that was attacking him. Barquite ran up to him, and the two ran around the Iron Cleft, hacking and pounding away at its armor until they finally beat it.
Danes looked at him, stunned. "I thought you had turned against us," he said.
"Turns out we were turning against ourselves. What do you say, Danes? Let's win this thing!"
Danes nodded, and the two of them continued beating their way through the enemy.
With his only intent being to destroy the Great Tree, the mighty General Onyx and his Iron Cleft brigade charged through the forest, smashing down trees until they reached the clearing created from the devastation of the conflict.
The Iron Clefts began ruthlessly attacking the Punies and the Jabbies, cutting down forty of them in the first pass alone. Onyx grinned; this was why he loved wars like this. He rushed at the Puni Captain with amazing speed for a Hyper Iron Cleft, twelve Punies falling to his horrible spikes.
The Captain saw Onyx coming too late; he only just barely moved aside in time to avoid being killed, the spikes raking across his side, deeply wounding him. The Captain desperately tried to run, but it was no use. Onyx was far faster than any Cleft he had ever seen. Onyx swiftly kicked him into a tree, and the Captain had to fight desperately to remain conscious.
Mistral saw the fight from afar. She was hurt a lot worse than she was letting on, but she charged up one last energy ball. She knew it wouldn't hurt Onyx, and it would definitely drain her strength, but it would distract Onyx long enough for the Captain to get away. She hurled the energy ball at Onyx, being careful to leave behind just enough energy for what she had to do next.
The ball of light flew in a perfect arc, slamming into Onyx and causing him to stumble. He pivoted around, looking for the source of the attack, but found nothing. He turned back, only to find the Captain gone and two angry soldiers in his place. Danes and Barquite stood before General Onyx, their eyes defiant.
"Stand aside," bellowed Onyx.
"Not a chance," Danes retorted. "You want him, you'll have to beat us."
Onyx looked thoughtful. "Well, then, I guess I'll have---"
Suddenly Onyx rushed them, Barquite lunging aside just in time to avoid being skewered. It was an old tactic--talk to your enemy, then without changing tone or pace, strike. Danes swiveled around the attack, trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Onyx pivoted around for another attack.
Barquite created four fireballs above his head. Onyx snorted.
"Hah! You think you can hurt me with that?" He laughed, charging them again, like a raging bull at a red flag. Barquite hurled the balls of fire at Onyx. It would have no effect, as Clefts were immune to fire, but the smoke blinded him for just the moment Danes needed. He rushed at Onyx, then took a mighty leap into the air, landing behind the raging Cleft.
Danes gathered every bit of his strength, then launched a furious barrage of attacks, striking with everything he had, delivering blow after blow on the confused Onyx. As the General swung around to strike Danes, Barquite began attacking with equal ferocity to that of Danes, the two of them striking Onyx with everything they had. Onyx grunted in pain. Finally, Danes and Barquite had damaged the general enough to force him to retreat.
Danes, panting and gasping, whistled. "My God... We defeated Onyx!"
Barquite nodded, though it was too early
to celebrate yet. The two rejoined the battle to engage the remaining Iron
Aaron, having returned to the battle faster than Bonetail through a shortcut, finished beating two Magikoopas and an Iron Cleft that had decided to take a shot at the hero of Petalberg. He was doing quite well, hammering away at any opponent who appeared while sustaining little to no injuries. Suddenly he saw a figure fleeing from the battle, a figure far more imposing than an Iron Cleft, with metallic orange armor that was now cracked.
"That must be General Onyx. This'll
b-be his last battle."
General Onyx, wounded and humiliated, limped toward the edge of the forest to escape. He thought he was going to make it, but suddenly a Toad in his teens blocked his way, a fairly large silver sword in his left hand. How dare that boy get in his way? Did he know who he was dealing with? Onyx had had enough. He may have been bested by those two cursed soldiers' cheap tricks, but surely he could handle a mere boy! He readied himself, charging forward with a blow that would destroy the child.
Suddenly the boy leapt out of his way and counterstruck, a perfectly timed blow that sheared off more of his armor. Onyx reeled, stunned. This boy's moves were not those of an amateur. Somehow, despite his age, he had the skill of a full-grown warrior. Onyx wouldn't take any more chances with him. He reeled around, getting ready to strike again. The boy just stood there, his face emotionless. Onyx went into a rage. Was this child mocking him? He leapt to the right, preparing a swift kick that would break all his bones.
Which was exactly what Aaron wanted.
He leapt above Onyx as he charged him, coming down with a blow equal in
power to the one he used against Hooktail, plunging his sword into Onyx.
The general staggered back. How was he being beaten by a mere child? Aaron
followed up his strike with a series of lightning-fast blows, each one
more devastating than the last. Onyx tried to fight back, but it was no
use. There was nowhere to run, and the boy could not be defeated. Onyx's
guard fell, and Aaron delivered the finishing strike…
Once the demonic army realized their general had been defeated, they fell into disarray, some giving up, others just attacking at random. Normally this would spell doom for an army, but their massive numbers and superior strength made them still a dangerous threat.
For a while, the Puni army seemed to be winning, but their triumph didn't last long. A great behemoth emerged from the woods, a vicious monster with fangs the size of minivans and glaring, black eyes. Bonetail had returned.
And the first thing he saw when he arrived was Aaron fleeing from two of his top lieutenants, who could not match his speed.
"Such a cowardly act," growled Bonetail. "Does he flee from all his enemies? Did this craven whelp win the previous battle by mere fluke? He may be fast, but I'm faster."
With that, Bonetail pushed off the ground
and rocketed after him…
From the edge of the clearing, Aaron
saw Bonetail arriving. He was about to engage him again, when he saw Bonetail
fly off in another direction after some fleeing figure he couldn't quite
make out. Confused, Aaron briefly wondered whether Bonetail had seen him
or not, then dismissed it as he saw a group of Magikoopas on a rampage,
and he moved to engage them…
Meanwhile, Gloomtail saw the resistance getting stronger, and moved to eliminate them. As he flew down he breathed a wave of poison, killing anyone he passed over.
Just as he was about to turn and go
for the tree, he saw, much to his delight, the ones who had started
it all: Mistral, wounded, hiding behind some trees; Aaron, exhausted from
the fierce battles; Alyss, that annoying apprentice who had frustrated
his sibling; Danes, who had rallied his men against the demonic army; and
Barquite, who had turned the Jabbies against them. He grinned wickedly;
he could kill all of them in one fell swoop. What luck!...
Aaron, seeing two figures in the thick of the woods, moved closer, preparing for an enemy. When he did arrive, he saw a wounded Goomba and a young Puni hiding out from the attacks, the Puni trying to help the Goomba. He approached, hoping they were all right. When the Goomba saw him approaching, she looked quite relieved.
"Ahh, Sir Aaron, you've come to help the tribe?" she asked.
Aaron nodded. "Sir? Whatever. Yes, although I'm n-not sure how much longer I c-can keep this up. How are you two?"
"Surviving. My name is Mistral, by the way."
"And I'm Alyss," the Puni chimed in.
"Nice to meet you," said Aaron. "But we n-need to get you to safety."
Mistral shook her head. "I can still fight. We have to help the others."
Aaron nodded. "All right. I'll get Lieutenant Danes and his men to aid us and get Alyss to safety.
"No way!" protested Alyss. "I want to fight too! I know you think I'm just a kid, but I know how to use the magic of the tribe, and I know the secrets of the forest better than anyone!"
Aaron was a little taken aback, but he smiled. "Admirable. Very well, as long as you understand the d-danger. I'll get Lieutenant Danes to accompany us in the final push."
Aaron, Mistral, and Alyss cut their way through the battlefield until they reached Lieutenant Danes and General Barquite, who had just finished beating back an Iron Cleft death squad.
"Greetings, Lieutenant Danes," called Mistral. "I'm glad you made it. We need you to rally your men for a final attack against the remaining forces. Sir Aaron, Alyss, and I will assist you.
At first Danes objected to Alyss coming along, but after they explained her usefulness, he relented. "Very well, ma'am, we'll ready the men."
Aaron turned to Barquite. "Can you coordinate your men with ours for the final push?"
Barquite nodded. "It would be an honor."
Suddenly a Puni soldier in his late teens ran over to them, shouting out to them. "Hey! Don't forget about me!"
Alyss, recognizing the voice, immediately turned to him. "Xavier! You're alive!"
"Heh, of course! It'll take more than some stone-faced blockheads and a few lizards with wings to get rid of me!"
Suddenly a loud, booming voice pierced through the noise of the battle. "Is that so, mortal? How amusing." The great dragon Gloomtail landed in the clearing, towering over the group like ants to a tree.
"Well, now that you've gathered everyone together, it will be so much easier for me to be rid of you. You've made my work so much easier."
Aaron readied himself. "Sorry to disappoint, b-but I'm afraid you've lost this battle."
Mistral was not so confident. She was glad to have Sir Aaron's help, knowing he could probably beat most of the demonic army, but she also knew that Gloomtail was probably too much for them, let alone Bonetail when he returned.
Gloomtail, as though reading her thoughts, laughed. "Heh, I'm afraid you don't know who you're dealing with. The Shadow Queen's reign is nigh, and little bugs like you merely flit about and annoy, waiting to be swatted away. Your time is over. Destiny is at hand!"
With that, Gloomtail rushed at the group, poisonous flames erupting from his mouth. Mistral knew that if they were even touched by the flames, they would be poisoned and would die almost instantly. Leaping aside, she charged up thirty energy balls, holding them in place until she had a clear shot.
Aaron leapt up and swiped at Gloomtail with his sword, the dragon blocking the sword with his claws, then counterstriking. Aaron ducked under the attacks and ran past Gloomtail, trying to find a good striking point. Gloomtail spewed more poison flames at Aaron, missing him by mere inches.
Barquite saw Mistral hurl her balls of energy at Gloomtail, stunning him for a moment, and he used that moment to fly up to Gloomtail's face and blast away with a furious fusillade of fireballs. It wouldn't do much, but he didn't care; he was tired of living like a coward. The fireballs did more than he thought, though, and the great dragon roared in pain.
Danes leapt out of the way just as a mighty claw cleaved down at him, slamming onto the ground behind him. Danes flicked a spear that was dropped by a Winged Craw, and hurled it at Gloomtail. It struck home inches below the dragon's left eye. Any higher and he would have been blinded. Gloomtail howled in pain, furiously swiping at Danes with his hook-like tail. Unfortunately, Danes wasn't quick enough to avoid the attack, and the dragon's tail stabbed deep into him, nearly fatally.
Xavier saw his commander take the hit, and he and Alyss rushed over into battle. Alyss charged up more energy balls--about ten—and Xavier picked up a fallen Magikoopa's wand, and both of them hurled as much energy as they could. Gloomtail turned to them, swinging his claws at them, but Aaron ran over to them, parrying the blows with his sword. They were both dumbfounded; what strength it must take to parry a dragon! Alyss and Xavier moved behind Aaron, and while he parried Gloomtail's attacks, they charged up their energy and struck whenever they saw an opening, then moved back behind Aaron and repeated the process.
Gloomtail knew he couldn't afford to
let this keep going. If he could just fight off these relentless attacks
for a little while longer, he would have enough energy for his famous Megabreath
attack. Four energy balls slammed into his head, and he countered with
a blast of poison. He swiped his claws at Aaron and those pesky Punies,
but they leapt out of the way. Curse their small size! Gloomtail thought
about taking to the skies, but decided against it; flying into the sky
would just make it easier for them to hit him with energy balls, while
he wouldn’t be able to hit them as easily. Finally, he felt the energy
welling up inside him. At last! He had enough strength to destroy his opponents!
The Puni Commander, having just cut through the last of the poison ivy, stopped to catch his breath. No wonder no one used these paths! After Lieutenant Danes had relayed the location of the secret paths Alyss told him about, the commander had immediately taken his best men and set off for the paths, hoping to sneak around behind the enemy and ambush them. He was starting to wonder if it was worth it. From the instant he set foot on the paths all the way up until now, he and his men had been tormented by thorns, poison oak, hornets, you name it; and most of them were pretty sick of it. At least they were almost there.
Finally having cut through to the end of the secret paths, the Commander and his troops made it to a large clearing... and found themselves in the middle of an incredible battle. Shocked, they ducked behind some trees, praying there were no thorns or poison ivy. In the middle of it all there was the mighty Gloomtail in an epic battle against Aaron, Mistral, Alyss, Xavier, Danes, and Barquite, their troops fighting back against a fearsome onslaught of adversaries.
The commander turned to his chief
lieutenant, Ben, and signaled him to approach. "Ben," said the Commander,
"have the men prepare to attack…"
Aaron was flung back against a tree from the force of one of Gloomtail's tail strikes. Mistral was trying to launch as many energy balls as she could, but it was doing little to stop Gloomtail's rampage. Fortunately, Xavier got in a lucky hit, and that irritated Gloomtail enough to distract him, and Aaron recovered from the strike. Mistral knew something was wrong, though. Gloomtail was tougher than this. He was up to something.
Gloomtail grinned. "So, you've pushed me this far, then, ay? Fine!" He pulled back his head, yellow flames licking out between his fangs. Suddenly, with unbelievable power, he unleashed a blast of fire so bright it lit up the entire forest. The attack was aimed at Aaron and Mistral, and although they were able to dodge it, the blast was so devastating it obliterated half the forest, the shockwave knocking Aaron and Mistral across the clearing.
Mistral staggered to her feet. "S-So... that was... Megabreath..." She gazed upon the rest of the woods. A massive, gaping hole had appeared in the forest where the attack was fired. And that was the most terrifying thing of all: The enemy was no longer trying to salvage the forest. They were here to obliterate it.
Lieutenant Danes was thrown off his feet from the shockwave, and he felt the pain from his earlier wound, a pain that might never fully go away. Barquite was desperately trying to find a way to attack Gloomtail while he was spent, but the dragon had other plans. With his remaining strength, Gloomtail reeled back, then lashed out with his claws yet again. The group was lucky; the dragon's claws missed them, but the dragon's leg still smashed into them, knocking Danes and Xavier unconscious.
"Heh heh... Not so brave now, are y---"
At that moment, an army of Punies broke out of the woods from a well-concealed entryway, smashing through what was left of the enemy forces. The one leading the charge was the Puni Commander, looking to be at his best as he fought valiantly through the enemy to reach the wounded group.
Gloomtail overheard two of his generals talking about calling a retreat. Gloomtail called out to them, "If you retreat, I'll make you wish you had stayed here and were killed by the Punies."
Not needing any other incentive, the generals forgot their plans of escape and got back to the battle.
The Puni Commander, the call of battle in his heart, charged at Gloomtail and struck at him. The attack did little more than annoy Gloomtail, but it distracted him long enough for Aaron to gather the last of his strength. He imagined what his dad would do, and that gave him strength. With all his might, Aaron held his sword high, charged at Gloomtail faster than he had ever run before, leapt up high into the air, and struck at Gloomtail with every ounce of strength he had.
The attack connected perfectly, the blow shearing through Gloomtail's scales and knocking the dragon back. The wound was near-fatal, and with a mighty roar of pain and agony, Gloomtail backed off. He knew when he was beaten.
"Arrgh... Glory to Her Highness, the Shadow Queen! Savor this moment of victory!" he bellowed, taking to the skies and vanishing into the darkness.
Mistral was in shock. "We... Did we really do it? Did we really beat the odds?"
Aaron, too tired to answer, collapsed
against a tree…
Hooktail watched as the demonic army was defeated by the Punies. There were far too many of those vile creatures for the demons to pull through, and soon, the demonic army was surrounded by the Punies in a circle that was slowly closing around them until it finally shrank down to a small dot, then disappeared. Their army was finished.
Hooktail growled. It was unbelievable
that they could have been beaten by such puny creatures. Having had enough
of this place and not wanting to get caught in this one-sided conflict,
Hooktail took to the skies and flew off back to the Palace of Shadow…
Bonetail saw Hooktail and Gloomtail fleeing. He snarled. He knew those two weren't up to his caliber, but how could he, Bonetail, the mighty leader of the dragons and second-in-command to the Shadow Queen, possibly have been fooled by this illusion? He had had enough. These creatures had pushed him too far. He spread out his wings, a glowing red aura spreading out across his body, his eyes glowing a bright yellow; and he prepared to descend on the forest and annihilate everything in his path.
At least, he was, until a shadowy figure
appeared in front of him. Bonetail recognized
that old crone instantly.
"Begone! I have business to attend to!"
Beldam chuckled. "Well, I'm afraid I have new orders from the Shadow Queen herself."
That got Bonetail's attention. "What orders?"
"She 'requests' that you return to the palace at once."
Bonetail growled. As much as he wanted to tear that forest apart, he couldn't disobey the Shadow Queen's orders. "Very well. Now, begone, hag!"
Beldam laughed, then disappeared into
the shadows. Bonetail took one last look at the forest, scoffed, then flew
away, the wave of darkness disappearing as he went…
Finally, after the defeat of the demonic army, the woods (or what was left of it) was peacful again. None of the demonic army had surrendered. The weary heroes gazed upon the battlefield, mourning their fallen comrades. The Great Tree had survived, but almost half of the forest was destroyed.
"Incredible," muttered Mistral. "If Hooktail or Bonetail had stayed, we would have lost. They could still have won."
Aaron nodded. "Yes, this was a great miracle. I d-don't think this battle will ever be forgotten."
"Well, the grass around the woods is looking a little greener now that they're gone. It looks like this battle is over."
"Wait a second... Look!"
Everyone gazed upward, and saw a light
drizzle coming down through the trees, which soon became a strong downpour.
It was as though heaven was washing away the stains of battle. The gentle
rain cleansed the woods, washing away the remains of the conflict like
a bad memory. It was a breathtaking sight…
Alyss ran across the battlefield. She couldn't find the Puni elder anywhere. Where had she gone? Seeing everyone gathered in the center of the clearing, she ran up to them.
"Has anyone seen the elder?" she asked, her voice sounding worried.
Aaron instinctively looked around the area. "N-No, I'm afraid she isn't here. Should we send a search party?"
Mistral sighed and lowered her head. This was the worst part about war.
"Alyss," she began, not knowing how to start. "There is something you need to know. Before the battle, the elder and I were discussing the future of the Punies, and eventually we came to a decision on what to do to save the tribe. As you know, I have command of some magic, small as it may be. I have the power to shroud something in an illusion. We decided we would use this power to trick the dragons and get them away from the battle. Unfortunately, the dragons are extremely clever. They would see through the illusion instantly if it were normal, and I can't make the image move itself. The only way to make it convincing was to use the illusion on a living being. The elder, of course, suggested she be the one to use the illusion. She knew the consequences all the time, and she accepted them. The illusion we chose was that of Sir Aaron."
Aaron nodded, understanding. "So, that's why Bonetail f-flew off like that."
"Yes. When the Jabbies showed up at the tree, she escaped through the secret entrance. The elder moved as you did, Aaron, luring Bonetail away from the battle long enough for us to make a comeback. The elder saved the tribe... but at the cost of her own life. I'm sorry, Alyss."
Alyss nodded, not trusting herself to speak. There was nothing left to say. As much as she didn't like her lectures, the elder had always been like a mother to Alyss. And now, she was gone, at the hands of Bonetail. She turned and walked away, back into the Great Tree.
Mistral turned back to the group. "She needs time to deal with this grief. It must be hard to take in."
The commander turned to his wounded men. "We need to get these soldiers some treatment. Some of them were poisoned by Gloomtail, but there may be a chance to save them."
With that, everyone went to their duties…
Everyone knew things would never be the same between the Punies and the Jabbies. Though they had helped at the last minute, the Jabbies had still betrayed the tribe, and many had lost their trust in them, a trust that would take many years to regain. The Jabbies left the tree, finding their own home. With Barquite leading the tribe, there may be hope for peace one day.
Aaron entered Mistral's quarters, and she put down her book. "Hello, Sir---"
"Please," Aaron cut in, "forget the 'sir'. Call me Aaron."
"Sorry. So, what brings you here?"
"One of the scouts from Petalberg says they may have found where my friend Kahn is being held."
Mistral nodded. After the battle, Aaron had told her about Kahn and how they’d saved Petalberg together. "Well, I wish you luck in finding him. May our paths cross again."
"Uh, actually, that's kind of the reason I came to see you."
"Well... you seem to have quite an extensive knowledge about the monsters, and you have strong magic... To tell the truth, I was actually h-hoping you could come along."
Mistral, taken aback, stood up. "Come with you? But, I can't leave the tribe. They need help patching up the damage of the battle."
"I thought you'd say that. Before the scout I talked to left, I told him to ask the mayor of Petalberg to help repair the damage and restore order. I think I c-can convince him to help when he arrives."
"Well, thank you, but..."
"Please, Mistral, I need your help. The world needs your help. Your knowledge is invaluable. The Shadow Queen is still out there. Alyss can lead the tribe, and the commander and Danes will help her."
Mistral saw the logic of the situation. As much as she wanted to stay with the Punies, she never denied common sense.
"Very well. I'll join you."
Aaron hid a sigh of relief. "Thank you. By the way, I hear Danes and Xavier are getting a promotion."
"Yes. After their bravery in battle, they certainly deserve it."
With that, Mistral left the room. She
would have to tell the rest of the tribe she was leaving. She just hoped
Alyss wouldn't be too sad about it. She had been through a lot…
Later, after saying their goodbyes, Aaron and Mistral set off to rescue Kahn. Alyss had taken it surprisingly well. The tribe was in good hands. Mistral was still a little reluctant to leave, but she knew it was for the best.
"You'll see them again," Aaron had told her. "Once the Shadow Queen falls, you can go back and live with them."
The two left the woods and crossed the valley, feeling the gentle rain once more.
To Be Continued...
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