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MATURE: Dawn of Courage (Chapter 221 Up)

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

Knight of Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened here?” Kettu asked.

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

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

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

“What happened here?” Angelo asked.

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

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

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

“Kathy!” he called out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thundervolt, come forth!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nova, now!”

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

“Elora, come forth!” he stated strongly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rock Blast!” some soldiers stated.

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

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

Nova nodded and primed an arrow.

“Ifrit Mode!” he stated.

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

“Flame Slash!” Sir Reginald stated.

“Wind Cutter Arrow!” Nova shouted.

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

“Combo skill: Firestorm Slash!” he stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dragon Strike!” Nova stated.

“Meteor Throw!” Van said strongly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about you?” a soldier asked.

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

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

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

“Teleport!” Nina stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Crafting Bonds

That's all for today. I wonder what Nova promised Nina in exchange for her using her feminine wiles in battle today? Tune in next time to find out.
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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains male nudity, sexual suggestions)

Crafting Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winged woman smiled, “Sure, Nova.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, how’d it go?” Zeeker asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nova then pushed another ring to Zeeker, saying, “Here, Zeeker, take this Fire Ring. It’ll increase the power of all Fire-based skills and spells by 45% and cut their mana requirements by 15%. Since you know a lot of Fire-based magic and skills I figured this would be helpful to you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodnight, Nina. Sleep tight.”

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

Next Chapter: The Phoenix Burns the Darkness

That's all for today. Good to see the party bonding, right? Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

The Phoenix Burns the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

The robed lich then vanished, leaving Muu alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nova!” Nina cried out.

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

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

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

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

“Who are you?” Kettu asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s hope this is it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hopefully third time’s the charm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nova!” she cried out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Impossible!” the monster roared.

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

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

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

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

“Nova!” she cried via telepathy.

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

“Nova! Please, speak to me, beloved!”

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

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

“But what about you?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked confused, “What?”

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

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

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

“I-I don’t know about that…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Fusion Force

That's all for today. Wonder what the party's Shaman powers will look like? Tune in next time to find out.
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Time for the next chapter in Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, sexual suggestions, girls running around in less clothes than Nina)

Fusion Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you elaborate?” Kettu asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded, “Deal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Reginald nodded, “Right. Cancel Fusion!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Making a Splash Against Evil

That's all for today. How will this Shaman magic help our heroes? Tune in next time to find out.
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Time for the next chapter in Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, violence)

Making a Splash Against Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The villagers looked relieved and elated to hear these words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He summoned a tidal wave that charged toward the party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Time to sleep with the fishes! Maelstrom!”

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

“Time to end this! Sea Splitting Slash!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Burning Beast

That's it for today. Got to see some Shaman powers in action. What will the other forms look like? Tune in to find out.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, violence)

Burning Beast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nina complied and flew back down to the party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ifrit Mode,” he said.

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

“Dragon Strike!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dragon Strike!”

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

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

Next Chapter: Werecat Woes

That's all for today. Another day, another Shaman form, another Undead Base destroyed. Tune in next time to see what happens.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

Werecat Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Idiot…” both grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No he’s not!” Eoleo protested.

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

“He never learns…” Ian sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elemental Energy Fusion activate!” he roared.

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

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

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

“Nova…” Zeeker said gently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: The Goddess of Phoenixes

That's all for today. Doesn't that Werecat ever learn? Probably not. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

The Goddess of Phoenixes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Return to Phoenixwing Kingdom

Another day, another Shaman form, another victory against Muu. The party is on a roll. But what does the next chapter title suggest? Tune in to find out.
We now return to your regularly scheduled content. (Warning: contains violence, mild language)

Return to Phoenixwing Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve got to be kidding me! Theo?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Recover!” he stated.

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey!” Theo protested.

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

“And what does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

“You did that on purpose!” Theo whined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Double Petrify Shot!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sad but true,” she replied bitterly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nova, it’s all you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded, ready to leave.


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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter: Of Skitter Mice and Men

That's all for today. Hopefully this means things will change with the Phoenix Clan. Tune in next time for some fascinating familiars.
Time for some familiar fun with Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, female nudity (sorta))

Of Skitter Mice and Men

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

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

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

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

“Nina?” he asked soothingly. “Are you okay? You’re being awfully quiet today. Something on your mind?”

She turned to him, “Sorry, Nova, I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m still thinking about yesterday… when we had to rescue my clan from Muu’s forces. I’m unsure my clan will really abide by our demands to change for the better. They’ve been that way for centuries so I’m worried that they’ll slip back into old habits. Or even outright ignore what we said and continue their disgusting ways. I just don’t know if they can be trusted to change for the better.”

Sir Reginald gave a small smile, “I understand how you feel, Lady Nina. Your clan has been living a certain way for centuries. It won’t be like flipping a switch for them to change. But I have confidence they will change, though it’ll take time, as they basically have to destroy their clan’s very foundation and start over to do it. But with the lingering threat of being cut off from the alliance along with the possibility of an economic collapse should be enough to motivate them to change. Try to have some faith, Lady Nina, as I feel they stand a good chance at turning things around.”

Nina replied, “I wish I could be so sure. I mean, you are right, as the threat of losing support from the alliance and the sheer thought of an economic collapse would be a good kick in the can to get them to change… but I’m still uncertain they’ll actually follow up on their promise. I want to believe they will but after centuries of deep-rooted greed and other sins I’m not sure if they will change for the better or not.”

Nova placed a hand on her should, “We’re just gonna have to have a bit of faith. It’ll be a hard thing for them to do, especially after centuries of reveling in it, but they know it’s the best course of action to take if they want to keep getting support from their allies. Going cold turkey isn’t easy but I feel your people will be able to achieve it. It’s gonna be a long process but over time they’ll change for the better.”

Nina gently nuzzled up to him, saying, “I hope you’re right, Nova. I really want them to change as it’ll benefit everyone, even though I still hate my clan. If they can somehow turn things around then I will be very impressed.”

Just then a young man who looked like an archer walked by with a strange creature on his shoulder. It looked like a large yet somehow adorable spider, with a black, fuzzy body, eight green eyes with two eyes being particularly large, tiny fangs, a yellow pattern shaped like an archer’s bow on its thorax, and two spikes near its rear.

“What’s that?” Nova asked.

Van replied, “It’s a Sniper Spider, a type of Insect familiar. They’re not strong but they are very useful, especially for archers, assassins, and traveling merchants due to some of the bonuses they grant their masters. Specifically they increase their master’s eyesight and accuracy, while also being able to use their spider silk to trap enemies. Traveling merchants love that last bit.”

Suddenly, another warrior, this time a mage, passed them by with what looked like another familiar on her shoulder. This one looked like a leopard gecko but it was larger, with green, red, and white patterned skin, large chocolate brown pupilless eyes, feet that looked like they could stick to anything, and a thick tail.

“And what about that?” Nova asked.

“That’s an Edan Gecko familiar, a type of Reptile familiar,” Sir Reginald explained. “They’re great for potion makers and alchemists, as they increase their master’s ability to create more powerful potions and other alchemy-related items.”

Suddenly, a third person, this time a swordsman, passed them, with yet another familiar on his shoulder. This one looked like a naked female pixie with wings made from leaves, peach skin, small antenna made from pollen stems, blue pupilless eyes, and vines for hair.

“And I take it that’s another familiar?” Nova asked.

Nina nodded, “Yep. That’s a Leaf Pixie, a type of Spirit familiar. They not only increase the user’s Wood magical properties but also increase their levels of good luck. But I wonder where all these familiars are coming from?”

The man with the Leaf Pixie turned to them, saying, “There’s an old woman a few blocks toward the rear of the village who is offering familiar summoning rituals for one gold per person. According to her, due to the increased threat of Muu she wants to help people become stronger in case they have to deal with any of Muu’s baddies. And since owning familiars grant special properties they can be a real game-changer if one capitalizes on it. I suggest you check it out, since you look like warriors.”

He then moved on, leaving the party alone.

“Maybe we should check it out?” Angelo suggested. “Might be an interesting idea.”

“Couldn’t hurt,” Nova said. “While I’m perfectly fine with Elora I am curious to know what other types of familiars there are in this world. Who knows? Maybe some of us will pick up a new partner at that little summoning ritual.”

Nodding in agreement the party started to make their way toward the back of the village where the familiar summoning ritual was taking place. Little did they know that a pair of sinister eyes was watching them, gaining a devious idea.

The party soon arrived at the location. A firokoko-drawn carriage was parked next to a large summoning circle with what looked like a magical candle in the middle of it. An older woman was seated next to the summoning circle with what looked like another familiar with her. This one looked like a cairn terrier whose body was made of tree roots, with grass-like fur, large cherry red pupilless eyes, ears made from leaves, a tail made from vines, and wooden paws.

“And what’s that familiar?” Nova asked.

“That’s a Wood Dog familiar, a type of Beast familiar” Kettu explained. “They are good guard dogs. They also increase their master’s sense of hearing and smell along with increasing one’s Wood magical powers. They’re also rivals to both Devil Cats and Mimic Monkeys.”

The older woman said, “Hello, are you here to summon a familiar? I’m offering a special service right now. During this trying time we need all the help we can get. And obtaining a familiar is a good way to do it. Hmm?” She then looked at Nova and Sir Reginald, saying, “I can sense you two already have familiars. Very strong ones, in fact, especially you, young man, though I can’t tell what type of familiars you have.”

Nova replied, “I’ve got a Gorgon Viper as a familiar while Sir Reginald has a Thunderclap Stallion.”

The older woman’s eyes widened, “You have a Gorgon Viper? One of the most powerful and dangerous familiars in existence? You are a brave man to have such a powerful and dangerous familiar.”

Nova gained a sheepish expression, “Actually, Elora is pretty tame. Yes, she’s powerful, no doubt about that, but unlike other Gorgon Vipers she’s very friendly and calm. She’ll also follow my instructions to the letter. From what I’ve been told, Gorgon Vipers tend to be willful and will only obey their masters if they have respect for them. And, for an added twist, she was originally a wild familiar that I nursed back to health and ultimately bonded with.”

The older woman looked surprised, “My word, young man. You mean to tell me that your Gorgon Viper is pretty much the opposite of what Gorgon Vipers tend to be like? This I gotta see. Please summon it so I can see for myself.”

“Okay. I hate summoning Elora for trivial things but if it’ll prove my words to be true then so be it.” He took out a Summoning Sticker, placed it on the back of his right hand, and took a dynamic pose, “Elora, come forth!”

The Summoning Sticker glowed, then a summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of smoke and fire, and soon Elora was standing next to Nova. Everyone present except the party looked on with eyes wide with awe at the magnificent familiar. Elora gently nuzzled against Nova, making him smile and stroked her under the chin.

“By the Goddess, you weren’t kidding,” the older woman said. “I can see just how tame and friendly she is. While I’ve never seen a Gorgon Viper before due to their rarity I have heard all about them. After all, I’m in the business of familiar summoning, so I have to know my stuff. But I never thought I’d see a Gorgon Viper so gentle and tame, especially since most people consider them dreaded due to their nasty temperaments and willfulness. You clearly hit the jackpot with her, as my experienced eyes can see she’s completely devoted to you.”

Elora gave a happy hiss, clearly pleased at the praise.

Nina stepped up, “Madam, I would like to have a familiar.”

The older woman nodded, “Certainly, dear. That’ll be one gold.”

Nina paid the woman one gold. The woman then took out a piece of parchment paper with a seal on it.

“Okay, you need to draw a circle of blood on this parchment, then hold it over the candle and the smoke will bring forth your familiar.”

Nina nodded. She bit her thumb to make it bleed, drew a circle of blood on the parchment paper, stepped into the magical circle, and held the parchment over the candle. The parchment started to burn and smoke began rising. The seal on the parchment glowed, the magical circle started to light up, and soon a shadow started to form within the smoke. The parchment vanished and something fast shot out of the smoke, doing a few aerial laps before hovering in front of Nina.

“A Stealth Falcon!” Nina said.

The Stealth Falcon was a large bird of prey, covered in black and silver feathers, large gold legs ending in silver talons, a wide fan of tailfeathers, impressive wings, a noble head with purple pupilless eyes, a silver beak, and a silver crest. Nina held out her arm allowing the Stealth Falcon to land on it. Despite its size it seemed very light and Nina expressed no discomfort when it perched on her arm. She smiled and gently stroked its breast.

“How cool,” she said. “While I was half expecting a Demi Phoenix, given the fact that I’m a Phoenix Clan member, and I’m not complaining in the slightest. Besides, a Stealth Falcon is rather rare and it can be very helpful in our line of work.”

The older woman smiled, “I’m glad you’re happy, young lady. And judging by the crest your Stealth Falcon is male. I suggest you give him a name.”

Nina nodded, “Okay.” She took a moment to think before saying, “How does Phantom sound?”

The Stealth Falcon gave a screech of joy, liking the name.

“Okay, Phantom it is. Welcome to the team.”

The newly named Phantom took a moment to observe the party before locking onto Elora. He took off and landed on one of her horns. Elora seemed perfectly fine with this, as she looked up at Phantom and gave a smile.

“Looks like your Gorgon Viper and Stealth Falcon like each other,” the older woman observed. “They’re immediately hitting it off with each other. That’s a good sign, as some familiar tend to not like others, even if they don’t have rivalries like Wood Dogs and Devil Cats. Now, does anyone else want to have a familiar?”

Kettu stepped up, “I would. I must admit I’m very interested in this.”

“Very well. That’ll be one gold.”

Kettu paid the woman one gold. She then gave him a piece of parchment paper, which he took, bit his thumb to produce blood, drew a circle of blood on the parchment, and walked into the magical circle. He held the parchment over the candle and smoke started to form. The seal on the parchment started to glow and then as the smoke got larger a burst of cold air could be felt from the summoning circle. Something swift darted out of the smoke and zipped around before coming to a stop in front of Kettu.

“It’s a Frostbite Fox!” Sir Reginald said.

The Frostbite Fox was a large fox with bluish white fur, ice blue pupilless eyes, soft paws, a large, brushy tail that seemed to be made of ice, large ears with tufts of fur in them, and a muzzle full of sharp teeth. It nuzzled up to Kettu, who gently stroked it.

“Should we be surprised that a Werefox would get a fox familiar?” Angelo chuckled.

Nina giggled, “No, but considering that I, a Phoenix Clan member, got a Stealth Falcon instead of a Demi Phoenix means that not every familiar will be an exact match to their master’s race.”

“Fair point,” Van chuckled.

The older woman smiled, “Your Frostbite Fox is a male, so think of a good name for him.”

Kettu nodded and took a moment to think before, “How does Snowstalker sound to you?”

The Frostbite Fox jumped up and down eagerly, clearly liking the name.

“Okay, Snowstalker it is.”

The older woman nodded, “A good name. Now, does anyone else want a familiar?”

A voice them boomed, “I do! And I know it’ll be the most magnificent familiar of them all!”

The party groaned, knowing who that voice belonged to. They all turned to see Dominic approach them.

“I’m getting really sick of seeing his mug…” Nova grumbled.

“Zip it, pink brat,” Dominic spat. “I have a major bone to pick with you. But first I’m gonna prove my superiority by obtaining the mightiest of all familiars to match my own mightiness.” He held out a gold coin, “Here’s my payment, now give me the parchment.”

The older woman sighed, “Ever heard of saying ‘please’, oh bombastic one? But fine.” She took the gold coin and gave him a piece of parchment, “I don’t think I need to explain how this works to you, so please proceed.”

Dominic bit his thumb, causing it to bleed, before drawing a circle of blood on the parchment, stepped into the summoning circle, and held the parchment over the candle. The parchment began to produce smoke, the seal glowed, then there was a surprisingly small burst of white smoke and soon a new familiar was standing before them. To Dominic’s horror it was a small white mouse with green pupilless eyes, a thin tail, pink paws, and what looked like a pair of tiny devil wings on its back, allowing it to hover.

Nina started to laugh, “Yeah, some ‘magnificent’ familiar, Dominic! You got a Skitter Mouse, the weakest and most cowardly of all familiars! Not only is it the only familiar that’s ranked Level Zero, meaning it’s extremely weak, but it grants no bonuses or special effects to its master! And how fitting that you’d get the weakest and most cowardly of all familiars since YOU’RE so weak and cowardly!”

Everyone else present started to laugh, much to Dominic’s frustration, while Elora, Phantom, and Snowstalker seemed to be eyeing the Skitter Mouse with interest.

“I demand a do-over!” Dominic yelled at the old lady. “This injustice will not stand!”

The old woman replied calmly, “Unfortunately, oh bombastic one, what you get is what you get. This Skitter Mouse is your familiar and you can’t change that. Familiars often reflect their owners and are almost predetermined by their master’s nature. And to further twist the knife, even if you could perform a redo of the familiar summoning it would end up the same. So, unfortunately for you, that Skitter Mouse is your familiar and nothing can change that. And you need to realize one thing: due to the blood contract you’ve forged if your familiar dies so do you and vice versa.”

“W-Wait… if my familiar dies so do I?” Dominic gulped.

“That’s the power of the blood pact you’ve made. Familiars can be considered a double-edged sword, so one does need to exercise caution.
And I suggest you take that Skitter Mouse and run, as Stealth Falcons and Frostbite Foxes are the natural predators to Skitter Mice, and I can see that those two familiars, along with the Gorgon Viper, seem to be interested in eating it.”

Dominic’s face went pale as he turned to face the other familiars present. Indeed Elora, Phantom, and Snowstalker were eyeing the Skitter Mouse with hungry expressions. Phantom started to open his wings while Snowstalker got into a pouncing position. Dominic screamed, grabbed his Skitter Mouse, and ran away as fast as he could, much to the disappointment of the three other familiars.

“Oh, that was rich,” Nina giggled. “Dominic’s ego got knocked down another peg or two again. For all his bravado he certainly can’t deliver.”

Nova chuckled, “It’s like I said, he’s all mouth and no moxie. Or if you prefer his tongue outstrips his technique. Both work if you ask me.” He turned to the old woman, “Thank you for letting us use your service. I’ve got a feeling that these new familiars will be a huge asset to us.”

The old woman smiled, “I thank you for your gratitude. And I also thank you for allowing me to see your Gorgon Viper, as I’ve never seen one before. Just remember that a familiar contract is a double-edged sword, so you need to protect your familiars as much as they protect you.”

Kettu nodded, “We know, and you can count on that.”

Sir Reginald said, “Now with all that excitement over with let’s go get some lunch.”

Nina nodded, “Right. Phantom, to the Spirit Plane.”

Kettu said, “Snowstalker, to the Spirit Plane.”

Nova stated, “Elora, to the Spirit Plane.”

All three familiars vanished, allowing the party to go get some lunch. They were happy at their newest additions to their ranks, feeling proud.

Next Chapter: Fox Fyre

That's all for today. Hopefully these new familiars will help the party. Tune in next time to find out.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains violence, mild language)

Fox Fyre

It was the following day after Nina and Kettu gained familiars. They were back on the road, heading toward their next destination. Sir Reginald was in the lead, taking a look at the map while guiding the party forward.

“Okay, thanks to what we learned from that last village we now know where another Undead Base is,” he said. “We should be approaching it soon so we’d best keep our guard up.”

Zeeker nodded, “Yeah, although we don’t know which big baddie is running it. When we do find it we’d better have Kettu scope it out.”

Nina said, “Don’t forget my new Stealth Falcon, Phantom. Stealth Falcons can become invisible and intangible, making them great for espionage and stealth missions. Plus they can record what they see and project it to their masters.”

“So a Stealth Falcon is like a spy camera, huh?” Nova observed. “That’s a pretty handy ability to have, especially in our line of work. Looks like you really got a good familiar out of that special service, Nina. Though Kettu’s stealth abilities are still top-notch, too. We now have two options to work with when it comes to scouting the enemy. That’s a good thing, as it gives us more methods to utilize depending on the situation.”

Kettu nodded, “Indeed. Never hurts to have some extra options when one is dealing with Muu’s forces.”

Van turned to Nina, “Hey, Nina, speaking of Phantom, why don’t you summon him so he can get a bird’s eye view of where the Undead Base might be, as we should be getting close.”

Nina nodded, bit her thumb to make it bleed, and stated in a strong voice, “Phantom, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a gust of wind, and Phantom appeared, perching on Nina’s arm.

“Phantom, I have a mission for you. Please scout the area to see if an Undead Base is nearby. They often look like forts built with rather dark materials. If there is one, use your abilities to turn invisible and record what you see so we can get an idea of who we’re up against.”

Phantom gave a nod and took flight, scouting the area. After a minute he spotted the Undead Base, turned invisible, and flew down to check it out. He perched on a flagpole and his eyes started gleaming, seemingly recording what he was seeing. After a couple of minutes he took off and returned to the party, becoming visible again. Nina held out her arm allowing him to perch on it.

“Did you have any luck, Phantom?” she asked.

Phantom gave a screech before projecting a recording from his eyes. He showed the inside of the Undead Base, revealing about an average amount of Undead Soldiers and their leader. Their leader was a vampire-like being, with large wings for arms, sharp talons, a rather fancy set of armor, glowing green eyes, and a fang-filled mouth. When Kettu saw this member of Muu’s army his fists tightened.

“Okay, we seem to be dealing with the usual amount of Undead Soldiers,” Sir Reginald observed. “But who is that Undead Captain or General.”

“He’s General Bloodgore,” Kettu growled. “He’s one of the few vampiric members of Muu’s army. He’s fast and strong but not very durable, though me makes up for it by being able to restore his strength by draining the energy from his victims and enemies. He’s also in Muu’s Top Ten Generals, ranked seventh if my memory serves me correctly.”

Everyone turned to Kettu, surprised.

“Kettu, how do you know this?” Angelo asked.

The Werefox clutched his fists before saying, “I had a run-in with him a while back. It’s because of him that I took up this fight against Muu. Because of him I started to infiltrate Undead Bases to gather intel so I could use it against Muu and his army. And it’s because of him… that I lost something very dear to me.”

Nova immediately figured it out, “He killed a family member, didn’t he? And collected said family member’s soul to give to Muu. Am I right?”

Kettu nodded, “Yes… he claimed my brother’s life. I tried to stop him but even my Werebeast form wasn’t strong enough to rip that bat-faced freak away from my brother. My brother, Felix, was drained of his lifeforce by that flying freak, his soul collected, and then the empty husk that was his body left behind. I consider what happened that day my greatest failure. I failed to protect my younger brother, who always looked up at me. We were thick as thieves—literally, but we were as close as could be. And thanks to Bloodgore I lost him forever. I didn’t jump back into the fray right away. I instead drowned my sorrows for a while until my girlfriend, Julia, convinced me to stop, as Felix wouldn’t want that. So, that’s why I started my mission. I knew I’d cross paths with Bloodgore again sooner or later and I have every intention of getting my revenge for what he did to my brother.”

The party exchanged nods before Sir Reginald said, “Then we’ll leave Bloodgore to you, Kettu. At least we now know why you’re fighting against Muu. And why you went to such lengths to dig up as much dirt as possible on his army. While I don’t approve of using revenge as motivation I can understand why you’d feel that way. As an older brother myself I know how it feels to want to protect your sibling from those who want to hurt them. We’ll devise a plan to deal with the bread and butter Undead Soldiers while you go for Bloodgore. We’ll jump in if needed but we know this is your battle.”

Kettu gained a warm smile, “Thank you. At least now I have a new trick that Bloodgore won’t be able to stop as easily as my Werebeast form: my Shaman Magic Bracelet, especially since Muu doesn’t know about our new Shaman powers yet. But I appreciate you letting me take on Bloodgore myself. If I need help you can jump in but I want to take him down myself. For my brother’s sake. While I know killing Bloodgore won’t bring Felix back I can at least take some solace knowing that I avenged his death. I just hope Muu doesn’t use his soul to create another Undead Captain. He’s already suffered enough.”

Nova said, “Actually, Kettu, it might be in both yours and Felix’s best interest if Muu used his soul for a new Undead Captain. Because if we destroy that Undead Captain we can free him from Muu’s grip forever, allowing him to rest in peace.”

Kettu’s eyes widened before saying, “You know… you bring up a good point, Nova. As much as I don’t want Felix to suffer anymore if Muu were to use him to power a new Undead Captain then I’d have a chance to save him sooner. I’d hate to fight him but if it frees his soul from Muu’s decaying claws then it’ll be worth it. Yeah, that’s actually something to consider. Good thinking.”

Nina turned to Phantom, saying, “Thank you for your help, Phantom. You’ve given us exactly what we needed to start mapping out a plan. I’ve only had you for a day and already you’ve proven to be very valuable. You’re a fine familiar. To the Spirit Plane.”

Phantom held his head up high, clearly enjoying the praise, before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

Sir Reginald nodded. “Okay, let’s get to work on mapping out a plan. Especially since we need to ensure that Kettu gets a clear shot at Bloodgore. Kettu, do you have an idea of what elements you’re going to use?”

The Werefox nodded, “Yes. Fire and Dark. Bloodgore is weak to Fire, so I want to capitalize on that. While using the Dark element will give me a stronger form to use. Plus it’ll help block some of Bloodgore’s nastier Dark techniques, as he uses a lot of them, since we gain an immunity and a power boost to the elements we fuse with. Now, enough talk. Let’s get to work.”

The party started to map out their battleplan, keeping an eye out for any possible threats while they were at it. After about an hour they had settled on a strategy.

“Okay, this should do the trick,” Sir Reginald said. “Our plan is very straightforward but speed is key. We need to get all the Undead Soldiers away from Bloodgore so Kettu can have a clean shot at taking him out. If he gets into a bind we’ll jump in but this is his fight. Plus the power of the Shaman magic does give us a huge edge over our foes, something that we’re very grateful for. So, with the planning phase done it’s time for putting it into motion.”

The party nodded and started to make their way to the Undead Base. It wasn’t long before they found it. After ensuring they had everything ready Sir Reginald turned to Nova.

“Nova, if you’d be so kind?”

Nova nodded, “Right. Ifrit Mode.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now on Ifrit Mode. Nova then loaded up an arrow onto his bow.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which had transformed into a lightning dragon. It rocketed toward the Undead Base before exploding upon impact with the gates, blowing them off their hinges, revealing the Undead Army platoon.

Captain Bloodgore said calmly, “Well, well, if it isn’t the Demon King’s puppet and friends. So nice of you to come. You’ve saved me the trouble of hunting you down. Master Muu is very displeased with you lot and has you on his blacklist. You’ve proven to be a nasty thorn in his side. But I’ll make him happy by eliminating you. Minions, attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in. The party got into a battle-ready pose.

“Kettu, like we planned!” Sir Reginald said. “We’ll handle these boneheads! You take on the big baddie!”

Kettu nodded and quickly wove his way through the Undead Soldiers, making a beeline for Bloodgore. Some of the Undead Soldiers tried to turn around and stop him but were blocked by Van and Zeeker.

“You’re not going anywhere!” Van stated.

“Indeed!” Zeeker smirked. “In fact, I think it’s time to shred some heads.”

The party quickly tore through the Undead horde while Kettu confronted Bloodgore. The Undead General gained an odd look on his face.

“I feel like I know you from somewhere, fox boy,” he said. “But considering how many victims I’ve claimed it’s hard to know.”

Kettu growled, “Yeah? Well I remember you very well. You claimed my brother’s life and soul! Now I’m here to collect your dues for what you did to him!”

Bloodgore quirked an eyebrow before grinning, “Ah, now I remember where I’ve seen you before. That’s right, I took your precious brother, Felix, from you. He was one of my tastier prey. His soul now belongs to Master Muu, and he has plans for him. I wonder if you taste as good as your brother did? Let’s find out!”

Kettu tapped two Elemental Gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, saying, “I was not strong enough to stop you then, but this time I intend to avenge my brother’s death at your hands! Fire, Dark! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

Kettu was engulfed in swirling energy, much to Bloodgore’s surprise. When the energy dispersed Kettu’s new form had appeared. He looked like a fox demon covered in black and red fur, his tail had split into nine and were now larger and brushier with ghostly flames burning at the tips, his paws and claws were coated with fire, his eyes were blood red with beastly pupils, his ears seemed to be giving off embers from the tufts in them, small flames leaked from his beast-like muzzle, and what looked ghostly will-o-wisps floating around him.

“You may have been stronger than my Werebeast form… but can you handle my new Shaman form: Fox Fyre!?” Kettu snarled.

Bloodgore looked surprised, “Well, this is a new twist on the formula. But nevertheless I will prevail and claim your soul as well! Darkness!”

Kettu was struck with a blast of Dark energy but to Bloodgore’s surprise he was unharmed. In fact, the ghostly flames on his body seemed to get larger and brighter, making the Werefox smirk.

“That won’t work this time, fang face,” Kettu said mockingly. “This form renders your Dark attacks useless, and I know you possess a lot of them. Now, my turn! Will-O-Wisp!”

He fired one of the will-o-wisps that were floating around him at Bloodgore. The Undead General tried to swat it away but in doing so it fused with his body. He suddenly fell to one knee as he could feel the effects of the ability take hold, with the will-o-wisp forming above his head.

“W-What have you done to me!?” Bloodgore sputtered.

Kettu grinned, “Put you on a timer. As long as that will-o-wisp is with you it’ll rapidly drain your lifeforce until death claims you. And only I can remove the curse that is that will-o-wisp, something that I have no intention of doing! And just to speed up the process: Illusion Flames!”

He summoned a wall of black fire that engulfed Bloodgore. He screamed in agony as the flames not only burned him but seemed to affect his mind. When the flames dispersed Bloodgore looked crazed and enraged.

“You little weasel!” he snarled. “I should’ve killed you when I killed your brother! Take this! Death!”

He fired the deadly energy at Kettu. However, to his shock, the spell did absolutely nothing to the transformed Werefox, making him smirk.

“Tisk, tisk, tisk,” Kettu said, wagging a finger. “That won’t work, either. Not only does this form make me immune to all Dark element attacks, but I’m also immune to curses and instant-death attacks. So this form effectively neuters all your spells and abilities in one sweet package.”


He opened his wings, took to the air, and tried to divebomb Kettu, ready to rip him apart. However, before he could, the will-o-wisp hanging over his head became brighter, causing him to stop in midair and clutch himself. He could feel his body and lifeforce rotting away. Cracks started to form in his body, where ghostly flames began to leak out of. He screamed in agony as his body began to crumble away.

“Who needs garlic when my Will-O-Wisp does a much better job?” Kettu grinned sadistically. “Time for you to say goodbye, Bloodgore! This is for Felix! Illusion Flames!”

He launched one more attack at the defenseless Bloodgore, summoning more black flames that engulfed the Undead General. Bloodgore roared in pain, flailing his body around before the combination of the ghostly energy eating him from the inside and the black flames destroyed him, leaving no trace of him behind. Kettu took a more relaxed position, inhaling and exhaling to calm himself, before gaining a satisfied smile.

“Felix… I destroyed your murderer. While I know your soul is still trapped in Muu’s grip I will find you. And I will save you, no matter what. So please, wait for me, my brother, as I will make amends for my failure and allow you to rest in peace.”

He turned to see the rest of the party unharmed with nary a trace of Undead Soldiers in sight. He gave them a warm smile before walking over to them.

“I thank you for leaving Bloodgore to me,” he said sincerely. “I feel better knowing that I avenged my brother’s death at his hands. While I know the job is only half done, as I actually need to find Felix’s soul and save it from Muu, I feel a great sense of comfort knowing that I was able to mitigate my failure that day. My soul feels calmer knowing that I destroyed Felix’s murderer. But we’re not done yet. No, we need to go the whole distance and ensure that Muu is destroyed once and for all so no more innocent lives will be lost to his insane ambition.”

Zeeker nodded, “Oh, don’t worry, Kettu. We have every intention of doing so.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Now, let’s finish the job for today. I’ll erect a barrier so Nova can safely snipe the Magna Crystal powering the Undead Base.”

Everyone nodded and got behind Sir Reginald. He released pulses from his hands that caused a barrier to form. Nova then took aim at the Magna Crystal.

“Dragon Strike!” he stated.

He fired the archery skill at the Magna Crystal, striking it. The crystal started to shake and hum before exploding, taking the base with it. When the dust had settled all that was left of the base was a charred patch of earth. Sir Reginald lowered his barrier now that it was safe.

“Good work, everyone,” he said. “We took down another Undead General. We’ve been doing a great job so far. But we cannot let these victories go to our heads, as the loss of another Undead General will most definitely enrage Muu, if he isn’t already. We’d best be on guard for any possible retaliations from him, especially from someone like General Vertebreak.”

Zeeker nodded, “Aye, I can speak with confidence that your statement is correct. As you know I speak from experience, as that’s exactly how the Beastman Resistance failed. It’s only a matter of time, now, before Muu goes all-out on us, as by now he must be ready to go ape on us. We’d best be ready for that.”

Nova replied, “Very true words, Zeeker. We can’t get complacent as that’ll be an ideal setting for Muu to knock us down with. Hopefully we can spend a bit more time building up our strength for when that day comes, though I doubt we’ll have that luxury. Not if Muu has anything to say about it.”

“Sad but true,” Angelo nodded. “But we’ve done well so far so we do deserve a pat on the back. But like you said we need to stay alert.”

Kettu gave a sigh, “Yes. Now, time to return to normal. Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and before long he had returned to normal.

“Shame I didn’t have this little trinket back when my brother was killed but like Nova said to Zeeker that’s the cost of getting stronger. But at least I know I can use this Shaman Magic Bracelet to make up for past mistakes.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed. Now, let us move on, as our job has only just begun.”

The party nodded and continued on their mission, with Kettu feeling a sense of relief knowing he ended his brother’s murderer.

Next Chapter: Egotistical Eoleo

That's all for today. At least we now know Kettu's motivation. And the next chapter suggests more headaches for Nova and Nina. Tune in to find out.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language)

Egotistical Eoleo

It had been a couple of days since the party defeated General Bloodgore. They were on their way to the next village. Sir Reginald was in the lead, as usual, checking their location on their map.

“Okay, if everything goes accordingly, we should reach the next village by lunchtime,” he said.

“That’s good to hear,” Nova said. “But that’s assuming we don’t have any unwanted events happening before then, correct?”

“Yes, that’s true. Mostly depends on how many monster attacks we encounter. Especially since we’ve seen a fair few today already.”

Zeeker smiled, “True, but we got some nice monster parts to sell. Stuff like Condor Seed wings, Cure Harpy talons, Blue Salamander tails, and even Tin Hawk talons and feathers. Those will fetch good prices, especially the Tin Hawk parts. Plus we still have a bunch of Gargathox parts tucked away in Nova’s Digi-Pack from quite a ways back, so we have plenty to work with.”

Kettu huffed, “Don’t start getting greedy, Zeeker. You know that doesn’t go over well with Nina and me.”

The Beastman countered, “I know that! But every coin counts on the road, so we need to get what we can when we can. After all, equipment, medicine, and food aren’t cheap. Hopefully the next town is large enough that we can sell a Gargathox horn, or at least a vertebrae, to go along with our other monster parts for some decent pocket change.”

Sir Reginald said, “Zeeker does have a point. Equipment, medicine, and food aren’t getting any cheaper so we do need to have plenty of coins ready when we need them. Plus it never hurts to have some stashed away for a rainy day. While I do agree we cannot get greedy, we also can’t deny that, unfortunately, money does solve most problems.”

Nova placed his hands behind his head, “Sad but true. It is the root of all evil, and unfortunately it’s something of a necessary evil. Especially in our line of work, as we’re not mercenaries or anything who do guild jobs or whatnot for money. So, sadly, we do need to get as much as we can when we can. Considering I’m used to working with a tight budget I know how important it is to squeeze every penny. Or copper in this case.”

Suddenly, Van’s ears twitched. He turned around and listened. Kettu and Zeeker’s ears also started to twitch and they looked in the same direction. The party could see a small, fast-moving whirlwind approaching.

“Oh, merciful Goddess, no…” Nina groaned. “Not him again…”

“Just what we need: a visit from the ever-persistent Werecat,” Kettu sighed.

Nova took a moment to look around before gaining a grin.

“I have an idea for a bit of fun,” he said. “And to show that Werecat he’s got rocks in his head.”

A few minutes later Eoleo came into view. Nina was standing just slightly off to the side, using her wings to hide something behind her. Eoleo spotted her and increased his speed, racing toward her. He then launched himself like a missile at her, arms extended, ready to grab her. Nina gained a devious smirk and quickly sidestepped, revealing a large boulder behind her. Before Eoleo could react he ran face first into the boulder, causing cracks to form upon impact.

“And that’s a facial disgracial!” Nova snickered.

Nina giggled at Nova’s remark. Eoleo flopped to the ground, dazed, allowing Nina to quickly retreat back to Nova. Ian and Hunter finally caught up and saw the sad sight, giving depressed sighs. The boulder suddenly gained more cracks before crumbling away to pebbles, much to the party’s surprise.

“How’d he do that with just his face?” Angelo asked.

Nova replied dryly, “I always said his head was as dense as depleted uranium and this just proves it.”

A few moments later Eoleo managed to stand up, his face looking a bit squashed. He staggered for a moment before regaining his bearings, turning his attention to the party. His eyes locked onto Nova, who had a smug expression.

“This was your doing, wasn’t it, human?” he snarled.

“And if it was, what are you going to do about it?” Nova replied tauntingly.

Eoleo ran over to punch Nova--only for the archer to merely sidestep out of the way, causing the Werecat to punch a tree instead. After a long pause Eoleo pulled his hand back, clutching it with his other, giving a cry of pain, his tail stiffening. The tree remained unharmed.

“Looks like your knuckle buckled,” Nova sneered.

Nina giggled again at Nova’s remark, only making Eoleo madder. He turned around and stormed up to Nova, eyes flaring dangerously.

“You watch your mouth, human, or I’ll rip out your tongue and feed it to the dogs!” he spat.

“I’ve heard better and more original threats from a cartoon show,” the pink-haired man snarked in response. “Maybe I should just cast Banish on you again and send you back to your den.”

Ian and Hunter got on their knees, begging desperately, “Please, don’t, Nova! We can’t run this whole distance again! Please, we beg of you, don’t use Banish on us again! Please!!!”

“Stop your groveling, you two!” Eoleo snapped. “And you should be ashamed of yourselves, begging a human for mercy!”

Ian shot back, “Unlike you, Eoleo, we’re not racist towards humans. So, if we have to we’re willing to beg Nova to not use Banish on us again. And it’s not like you can do much to threaten him, Eoleo, as he’s clearly got the edge over you. Just give up chasing Nina and let’s go home already.”

“Not until she becomes my pack queen!”

Nina slapped him, stating, “I have told you several times now I want nothing to do with you, Eoleo! How many times do I have to drill it into your head?! Even if it wasn’t for the whole Phoenix Clan/Werecat issue I’d still never consider you worthy of me! Nova has proven time and time again to be reliable, competent, strong, intelligent, and kind. In other words: everything you’re not! So just back off and leave me alone!”

Sir Reginald sighed, “Eoleo, we respect the fact that you don’t give up. But you’re not the type of man Lady Nina needs. Nova has proven time and time again to be exactly what she need. She has been mistreated at the hands of men like you for years. Nova was the first one to show her even a shred of kindness and decency. You honestly didn’t stand a chance, as Nova had won Nina’s heart a long time ago. Long before you even came into the equation. So we suggest that you stop chasing after her and just leave her alone. We’ve got more important things to attend to than dealing with you, like taking on Muu and his army.”

Eoleo stated, “Yeah, well I’m fighting Muu now, too! And I’ll be the one who will defeat him! And when I do Nina will see that I’m superior to that pink-haired human!”

Zeeker growled, “I hope you realize the gravity of your statement, Eoleo. Taking up the fight against Muu is not something to take lightly. After all, I speak from experience. And unless you want me to pound you into the dirt again with my Shaman form you won’t utter a word about the lives lost that day when the Beastman Resistance faced General Vertebreak. This isn’t a competition, you know. It’s about saving Edyn from a terrible tyrant who has been harassing our people for centuries. If you’re going to fight Muu’s forces then you need to take it seriously and not let your ego get the better of you. The Beastman Resistance learned that lesson the hard way. This is serious business, Eoleo, not something you can use to make yourself look big to impress someone. Unless you want to die I highly suggest you back out now.”

“What do you know, beast boy?” Eoleo huffed.

Ian said, “Uh, Eoleo, did you not learn from last time? Zeeker was a captain of the Beastman Resistance. So he knows all about dealing with Muu’s army and what’s at stake here. And besides, unlike Nova’s group, who are fighting against Muu for our world’s sake, you only want to fight Muu to impress Nina. So while Nova’s group has noble intentions you’re using selfish desires as motivation for fighting Muu.”

Eoleo smacked Ian on the head, clearly angry at his fellow Werecat’s statement.

“Thought as much,” Nova said. “So your true motivation in fighting Muu is to impress a woman who wants nothing to do with you? That’s pretty bad. While I may also have a selfish reason to fight, which is to survive, I understand the gravity of the situation and thus I’m willing to battle for the lives of those who live here. I hate every minute of it but I’m willing to do it. Especially since, thanks to this mission, I’ve made new friends, so I want to protect their world for their sake as well. So while I don’t want to I will fight because it is the right thing to do. And on top of that, what’s stopping Muu from taking over just this world? If he were to succeed in conquering Edyn he could very easily move onto other worlds. He needs to be stopped before any more lives are lost to him and his army. This war has dragged on for more than 3,000 years and Edyn really wants to be free from Muu’s oppressing presence. This isn’t a game or a competition, Eoleo, this is war. War needs to be taken seriously, not treated like a means to show off. So your motivation for fighting Muu is extremely petty, selfish, and childish, which prevents you from seeing the big picture. I suggest you back out now while you still have your life and leave the fighting to those who are actually prepared to do it.”

Hunter said, “He’s got a point, Eoleo. You’re just charging head first into a 3,000+ year war without any sort of plan. If ending this war was as simple as that it would’ve been done by now. No, Nova’s right, as jumping into a war like that is suicide. At least Nova is doing his best in a war that he really has no business in other than being the Demon King’s champion. He’s fighting our battles to save us, while your only motivation to fight is to impress a girl who wants nothing to do with you.”

Eoleo smacked Hunter on the head in a fury, clearly upset at his statement.

“Whose side are you two on!?” he spat at his lackies. “I’m the leader of this pack so you need to respect me!”

Kettu huffed, “You know there’s no law stopping them from at least criticizing your leadership, Eoleo. And from what we’ve seen… you’re a terrible leader. It’s even more clear that your childish ego can’t take criticism, be it constrictive or otherwise. That’s a poor trait to have when you have a pack to take care of. Even Reggie here, who is a world-renowned knight, knows how to handle criticism and use it to improve himself.”

Sir Reginald retorted, “My name is NOT ‘Reggie’, Kettu!” He then said in a calmer tone, “But he is right. A leader needs to be able to accept criticism, especially if it’ll help improve them in the long run. You call yourself a leader yet you expect no one to utter a single complaint against you because of that title? That’s very childish and immature.”

Nina nodded, “Indeed. I want a man who’s mature, not one who is an egotistical child. Nova has clearly proven to be mature, especially compared to you and Dominic, which is something I love about him. In fact, you’re really no better than Dominic, Eoleo. We may agree that Dominic is a slimeball but in reality you’re not much better. Especially in how you treat me and Nova. You treat me as a prize to be won and something to satisfy your lust, exactly how Dominic treats me. Well I’m neither of those. I’m a woman who demands respect and not be treated like an inferior being. I’ve had to endure too much of that back when I was living with my fellow Phoenix Clan member. Nova was the first man to ever treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity, allowing me to see that not all men were like my fellow clan members. He is willing to bend over backwards and potentially get into hot water for my sake: something that no other man has done for me before. I love him and I will spend the rest of my life with him. So I suggest you go back to your den before you hurt yourself with your stupidity and selfishness.”

Nova sighed, “This is getting us nowhere. Let’s just go, team. Eoleo clearly can’t learn a lesson to save his life, so we’re wasting oxygen on him. It’s like trying to discipline a spoiled child who blows a temper tantrum in return. It’s just not worth trying to lecture someone who refuses to listen to reason. We’d have better luck asking Muu to surrender than getting Eoleo to obey our requests. Let’s just leave this spoiled kitten and get on with our mission.”

Everyone nodded and started to walk away, much to Eoleo’s fury.

“Hey!” he spat. “Don’t you dare turn your backs to me! I demand it! I won’t allow you to treat me this way!”

The party ignored him and continue to walk away, much to the Werecat’s fury. He started kicking up a fuss but, much to Ian’s and Hunter’s embarrassment, the party kept going.

Angelo sighed, “It’s like Nova said, he’s a spoiled child who’s throwing a temper tantrum when not getting his way. And here I thought some royals could be rather spoiled. He’s even worse.”

“True,” Nina sighed. “Even my brothers acted better, and they got spoiled due to my clan’s social structure. Hopefully a beating from their older sister and the clan’s social structure getting ripped apart and rebuilt from scratch will shove some humble pie down their throats. Hopefully. If we were to shove some humble pie down Eoleo’s throat he’d definitely choke on it. But let’s get on with our mission and leave the childish Werecat to his temper tantrum.”

As the party moved on, leaving Eoleo and his two lackies behind, the Werecat was fuming mad.

“I’ll prove to those losers that I’ll defeat Muu!” Eoleo snarled. “And then Nina will see that Nova is not worth her time and marry me. Just you wait, pink boy, as I’m gonna dethrone you good.”

Next Chapter: Proving Grounds

That's all for today. Boy, what a little spoiled cat Eoleo is. Will he become a useful "ally"? Probably not. Tune in next time to find out.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, violence)

Proving Grounds

It was the following evening after the party had run into Eoleo and his packmates again. They were at a magical campsite, having set up their tent for the night. Nova was cooking dinner, much to the eagerness of his party. After a bit he took a sample from the pot and tasted it.

“Hmm… yeah, everything is ready,” he said. “The maple roasted duck with rice is ready. Gather up.”

Everyone held out their plates, allowing Nova to give them generous portions for food. They took their seats and began eating.

“Mmm!” Nina purred. “Delicious, Nova, like always. We get to try many new foods because of you. And I can’t wait to try out your baked goods. Shame you can’t make any on the road for us to sample but I know they’ll be worth the wait.”

Nova chuckled lightly, “Glad you like my cooking, Nina. There’s plenty more so help yourself when you want it.”

A voice then asked, “Mind if we join you for dinner?”

The party turned to see Eoleo and his two packmates. Ian and Hunter were eyeing the food hungrily while Eoleo had his arms cross and looking away. The party groaned as they saw the Werecats approach.

“What now?” Kettu grumbled.

Ian raised his hands up defensively, “Hey, hey, easy, we’re not here to pick a fight or anything. We’re just hungry. Eoleo failed to catch us any dinner so we don’t have anything to eat. We’re hoping you’d be willing to share with us, please?”

Eoleo snapped, “Don’t beg a human for food like a whiny puppy! Show some dignity!”

Ian and Hunter retorted back, “We wouldn’t be begging if you had caught us dinner like you promised! Instead YOU almost ended up dinner to a Gargathox!”

Zeeker asked, “Ran into a Gargathox? Surprised you got out of there alive, as they’re not the easiest enemy to take down. Although Nova knows their weak point so he can kill them in one hit, but if you don’t know it then they’re tough nuts to crack.”

Hunter sighed, “We managed to get rid of the Gargathox by stabbing its eye with a rock, forcing it to retreat. Though I doubt we’ve seen the last of it, as Gargathoxes can be pretty vengeful. And… wait. You know their weak point, Nova? And that weak point can kill them in one hit? How?”

Nova replied casually, “It was an educated guess on my part that turned out to be correct. Since then we can exploit that weak point to kill Gargathoxes easily. We also found the weak point on Tin Hawks, too. Like before it was an educated guess but we had to test it again, as the first time I exploited that weak spot the Tin Hawk had already taken a lot of damage. The second time we faced a Tin Hawk I put that theory to the test and it worked. So, yeah, I know how to kill both Gargathoxes and Tin Hawks in one hit by attacking their weak point. And, as much as Nina might not like this, I’ll allow you two to have some of our food, since Eoleo proved to be unreliable. Again.”

Ian’s and Hunter’s eyes lit up, stating in unison, “Thank you!”

They quickly sat down as Nova gave them plates of food. The two Werecats had expressions of gratitude as they quickly started eating, their eyes shining in bliss.

“Mmm!” Ian said. “This is so good! You’re a good cook, Nova!”

Hunter nodded, “I’ll say!”

Eoleo snarled at his two packmates, “Traitors! Don’t let a lowly human feed you!”

Ian retorted, “We wouldn’t have to if you hadn’t failed to catch us dinner, Eoleo. At least Nova’s gang is being nice and allowing us to have some of their food. We’re grateful for that. And this racism
you have towards humans is only going to make things worse. So, for once, swallow your overbearing pride and just accept the help. We’re willing to if it means we can have a meal so you should at least consider it.”

Sir Reginald said, “At least you two seem to not only be capable of intelligent thought but actually show quite a bit of decency. Including willingness to swallow your pride to ask for help. Those are good qualities to have. Your fearless leader could learn a thing or two from you.”

“Shut up, human!” Eoleo spat.

Nina huffed, “This is exactly why I can’t stand you, Eoleo. You embody all the things I don’t like about men. And I especially don’t like how you treat my friends. You remind me a lot of Dominic. At least your packmates have good qualities, unlike you. So either you get off your high horse and start behaving or we’ll knock you off it for you. Besides, we still don’t believe you’re willing to fight Muu, especially for the selfish reasons you’re using. You probably can’t even beat a basic Undead Soldier, much less an Undead Captain or General.”

Eoleo replied, “And you’re saying that pink-haired sissy can?”

Nova replied calmly, “Not to toot my own horn but I did destroy an entire platoon on my first day here. Against Captain Boneregard and his Undead Army platoon. Granted, I didn’t fight them directly, instead I led them into a trap that allowed me to destroy them all in one shot. It cost a village its watchtower but they accepted it, since a watchtower can be rebuilt while a life cannot. So, yeah, I can destroy Undead Soldiers. I’ve also destroyed several Undead Captains and a handful of Undead Generals. I’ve got quite the body count of Muu’s forces under my belt. So while you’ve been tormenting humans for kicks I’ve been helping countless lives by uprooting Muu’s army.”

Ian looked at him, wide eyed, “You’ve killed that many of Muu’s forces? That’s amazing.”

Nina nodded, “Yes, he has. I’ve seen almost all his battles, the only exception being Boneregard’s platoon. Nova has done very well. He had a rocky start but when he got off the ground he soared as high as a phoenix. He’s an unorthodox champion, that’s for sure, but he’s an effective one.”

Nova blushed lightly before resuming to eat his meal. The party continued to eat while Eoleo continued to act prideful, clearly annoyed at the praise Nova was getting from Nina. After a bit the food was gone allowing Nova and Nina to wash the dishes. The party started to make their way into the tent to rest.

Nina turned to Van, “Van, would you be so kind to block the entrance to the tent with yourself so Eoleo doesn’t try to sneak in and curl up next to me? Last thing I need is that mangy Werecat trying to have his way with me.”

Van nodded, “Sure, Nina, I’d be glad to.”

Ian gave a small bow in gratitude, “Thank you for sharing your food with us. I guess we’ll stay out here.”

Zeeker nodded, “Yes, do so. Especially so you can keep an eye on your fearless leader and keep him away from Nina.”

The party piled into the tent and closed the flap. The Werecats could see Van position himself in front of the entrance to the tent from the inside, blocking it. Ian and Hunter picked a spot near the still-burning fire to sleep while Eoleo continued to keep his back to the campsite, his arms still crossed, clearly angry.

“I’ll show them,” he growled silently. “I’ll show them how serious I am in fighting Muu. And then Nina will see the truth about that pink-haired human.”

Dawn broke the following day. The party was slowly getting up from their slumber.

Nova turned to Nina, “Nina, did you sleep okay?”

She replied, “Not really. I couldn’t rest comfortably knowing that Eoleo is just outside. I’ll feel better when we finally ditch him, although he’s becoming as bad as Dominic when it comes to pestering us. I just wish he’d take a hint and leave me alone. You’re my man, Nova, and that’s how it’ll stay.”

Nova smiled, “Thank you, Nina. Your loyalty means a lot to me. Now… I guess it’s time to make breakfast. I just wish I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn all the time.”

Nina giggled and the party made their way out of the tent. Ian and Hunter were still there, looking depressed, but Eoleo was missing.

“Where’s your fearless leader?” Kettu asked.

“Hunting,” Ian said simply.

“Hopefully he catches something this time,” Hunter grumbled. “I’d settle for a rabbit at this rate.”

“Good,” Nina huffed. “I can spend breakfast without the threat of him ready to pounce on me.”

Nova started up the campfire again and began making breakfast. Ian and Hunter eyed what he was making with interest, still waiting for Eoleo to return with any catch. Eventually, by the time the party’s breakfast was ready Eoleo returned, carrying two rabbits.

“Finally,” Ian sighed.

“Yeah,” Hunter nodded. “The smell of Nova’s food was making me really hungry.”

Eoleo stated, “Move aside, human. I’m using that fire so beat it.”

Nova replied coldly, “Ever considered of using the word ‘please’ before, Eoleo? I suggest you try it. But whatever, I’m done cooking anyway so the campfire is all yours.”

The party moved away from the fire, clearly not wanting anything to do with Eoleo. The Werecat couldn’t care less and started to cook the two rabbits over the fire. When the party had finished their breakfast the Werecats started to eat the rabbits. Nova and Nina washed the dishes in the nearby river while the rest of the party started to pack up the tent and other stuff. By the time the Werecats had finished eating the party was heading out.

“You’re not going anywhere without me!” Eoleo snapped.

“And why is that?” Van asked.

“So I can prove to you how serious I am about fighting Muu! And so I can prove that I’m superior to that pink-haired human!”

Nova retorted, “Get a life. Get nine of them. Face it, Eoleo: you don’t stand a chance, both against Muu and in winning Nina’s heart. You’re just a little kitten, one that’ll get skinned if you charge headlong into battle with Muu. So just give it up and leave battle to the real warriors, furball.”

The party resumed walking down the path. Eoleo seethed silently before pursuing after them, Ian and Hunter reluctantly chasing after him. However, it wasn’t long before they’d spot trouble. When they came over a hill the party stopped and quickly ducked for cover, confusing the Werecats. Before the Werecats could see what was beyond the hill the party grabbed them by their tails and dragged them back.

“What’s the big idea!?” Eoleo protested.

“Shh!” Sir Reginald hissed. “Keep it down! There’s a platoon of Undead Soldiers just up ahead. They appear to be building a new Undead Base. They haven’t noticed us yet, so keep quiet so we can start planning an attack.”

Eoleo’s eyes gleamed, making Ian and Hunter sweat.

“Oh no…” Ian said, full of dread. “We know that look. Please, Eoleo, don’t run in battle with Undead Soldiers like an idiot.”

“You be quiet!” Eoleo snapped. “This is a golden opportunity. I’ll show all of you how a real warrior defeats Muu’s forces!”

He then raced over the hill and charged toward the Undead Army, making everyone groan.

“That moron…” Van grumbled.

“You can say that again…” Hunter sighed.

“Well, thanks to Eoleo we can’t devise a plan so we’re gonna have to wing it this time,” Sir Reginald said bitterly. “Let’s go before they skin that cat.”

The party gave a collective resigned sigh and quickly chased after Eoleo, Ian and Hunter following them. They could see a rather sad sight. Eoleo was trying to punch and kick the Undead Soldiers but his attacks were doing negligible damage at best; the Undead Soldiers were virtually unharmed. In fact, even the Undead Soldiers looked unimpressed. Eventually one Undead Soldier got annoyed and swatted the Werecat with its morningstar, knocking Eoleo flying and crashing into a boulder, dazing him.

“Idiot…” Nina growled.

The Undead Army turned their attention toward the party and charged. The party quickly retaliated, fighting their way through the Undead horde. Ian and Hunter quickly ran over to Eoleo, who was still dazed, in order to help him.

“Eoleo, you idiot!” Ian spat. “You could’ve gotten yourself killed! Come on, let’s get out of here!”

Eoleo came to his senses and smacked Ian, growling, “I was doing just fine, thank you! I’ll handle these Undead goons myself!”

He raced back into battle, much to Ian’s and Hunter’s dismay. He tried to perform a flying kick on one of the Undead Solders only for his target to smack him out of the air with a well-timed strike from the flat side of its sword, stunning him. Some of the Undead Soldiers then started to make their way toward Eoleo, ready to kill him, requiring Van to charge through them like a freight train, smashing them to bits, saving the Werecat from certain death.

“I didn’t need your help, pony boy!” Eoleo snapped.

“You’re welcome,” Van replied snidely.

Nova loaded up an arrow, sighing as he saw Eoleo’s ungratefulness, “He could be a little more appreciative of Van’s help. Whatever. Celestial Shot!”

He fired his arrow, which was now supercharged with Holy energy. It blasted through several Undead Soldiers in one swift motion before blowing up a chunk of the unfinished Undead Base.

Nina started to channel energy, saying, “Nice shooting, beloved! Now it’s my turn! Lava Wave!”

She summoned a wave of lava from the ground that destroyed several Undead Soldiers in one sweep, causing more damage to the unfinished Undead Base in the process.

Zeeker was channeling energy, “Save some fun for me, Nina! Flame Burst!”

He launched his spell, causing a pyramid of fire to erupt underneath several Undead Soldiers, burning them to ashes.

Kettu smirked, channeling energy, “Time for me to get a lick in! Petal Storm!”

A storm of sharp rose petals appeared, hacking and slashing the Undead Soldiers to pieces. Eoleo charged in again, fists held high, and started to launch a barrage of fast punches at one Undead Soldier. However, his attacks weren’t doing much of anything, as the Undead Soldier almost looked bored. It then smacked him with its mace, knocking the Werecat back, and prepared to strike him again.

“Fire Shot!” Nova stated.

He launched the flaming arrow at the Undead Soldier. Before it could smash its mace down upon Eoleo the burning arrow struck it and exploded, destroying the Undead Soldier. Eoleo shot an angry expression at Nova.

“Stay out of my fight, human!” he spat.

“A little gratitude goes a long way, you mangy alley cat,” Nova shot back. “Unless you wanted to become a smear on the ground. If so I can arrange that.”

Eoleo jumped back onto his feet and growled, “I’ll show you, human! Watch and learn.”

He ran over to one of the few remaining Undead Soldiers and started launching repeated roundhouse kicks. However, his attacks were still doing negligible damage, as the Undead Soldier was virtually unharmed. It then grabbed Eoleo’s leg as he attempted another kick and started to slam him on the ground repeatedly.

Nina rolled her eyes as she started challenging energy, “The idiot just doesn’t learn. Mana Ball!”

She fired the condensed sphere of magical energy at the Undead Soldier. It struck the skeletal warrior and blew it to bits, which also sent Eoleo flying and crashing onto the ground in a heap. He tried to get up but was unable to. He could only watch as the party vanquished the Undead Army platoon without his interference. When the last Undead Soldier was defeated the party walked over to the partly-built Undead Base.

“Well, obviously we need to destroy this base,” Van said. “But let’s see if anything is worth salvaging first, like tools, materials, and other items.”

The party nodded and started to scavenge the base for anything useable or worthwhile. Meanwhile, Ian and Hunter gingerly crept out of their hiding spot and ran over to Eoleo, who was still struggling to stand. The two Werecats helped their leader, using themselves as crutches to support Eoleo. By the time the Werecats were back on their feet the party had finished collecting anything of worth from the unfinished Undead Base.

“Well, we got some decent stuff out of this Undead Base,” Sir Reginald said. “Now it’s time to destroy it so Muu can’t finish building. Unfortunately, we can’t detonate it like normal because no Magna Crystal has been installed yet so we’re just gonna have to do it the old fashioned way. I’ll start things off.” He started to channel energy before saying, “Earth Power!”

He launched his attack, causing an eruption of energy to burst from underneath the incomplete Undead Base, destroying a chunk of it.

Van started to channel energy, “My turn. Wood Spears!”

Thick spears of wood shot up from underneath the Undead Base, tearing more of it to bits in the process.

Nina started to channel energy, “I’m up at bat. Nightmare!”

Dark bolts struck the Undead Base, destroying more of it.

Nova loaded up an arrow, saying, “I’ll handle the rest. Everyone, get back. Lucifer Mode.”

The Demon King Ring adjusted itself, now set to Lucifer Mode. The party stepped back as Nova took aim.

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the archery skill at the remains of the Undead Base. The powerful attack collided with it and blew up, taking the rest of the base with it, leaving only debris behind. The party got into a more relaxed position before they all glared at Eoleo.

“Because of you recklessly charging into battle we weren’t able to create a more effective battleplan to deal with these Undead Soldiers!” Sir Reginald snapped. “If you had given us even a few minutes to think of a more effective plan instead of ‘charge in headlong and bash them senseless’ this battle could’ve been over much sooner!”

Eoleo replied defiantly, “Why do you even bother with useless plans when my battling style is flawless?”

“You’re ‘flawless’ battling style nearly got you killed multiple times!” Van countered. “If it wasn’t for us you would’ve become a bloody mess on the ground! So a little gratitude goes a long way for saving your ungrateful arse!”

Angelo nodded, “Indeed. Your reckless attempt to fight a foe you clearly can’t handle nearly cost you your life. You should be more grateful that we saved you whenever you got into trouble.”

“I didn’t need your help!” Eoleo spat.

Nina stormed up to Eoleo and slapped him across the fact, stating, “Eoleo, this is exactly why I can’t stand you, among other reasons! We risked our lives to keep you from dying and you have the gall to be critical about it. Face it, Werecat, you’re not a strong as you think you are. You’re as weak as a newborn pussycat. On top of that your ego and attitude is just as bad as Dominic’s yet you can’t back any of your talk up with action. If it wasn’t for us you’d be dead now. And if it wasn’t for you we would’ve won this fight much quicker and more efficiently instead of having to stop to save your ungrateful arse every few minutes. Eoleo, you are nothing but a weak, useless wannabe warrior, just like Dominic. I can’t stand men like you, even if it wasn’t for the whole Phoenix Clan/Werecat issue. And you proved today to be unreliable and useless in battle. Maybe you can handle low-grade monsters and animals but it’s clear that even the basic Undead Soldier that are the bread and butter of Muu’s army are out of your league. You can’t fight Muu’s army, not with how weak you are. I’ve seen Wing Seeds do more damage than you did. Face it, Eoleo, you’re a sad excuse for a warrior and not worth our time. And if you don’t adjust that attitude when someone goes out of their way to save your life then you’ll find out the hard way that it’ll come back to haunt you. Because of that you have cemented my hatred of you. Yes, that’s right, Eoleo: I hate you. Deal with it!”

She turned around and walked back to her party, leaving a stunned Eoleo in her wake. The party shot the Werecat disgusted looks before moving on, leaving the trio of Werecats behind.

Ian sighed, “They’ve got a point, Eoleo. You not only stupidly risked your life by attacking a foe you couldn’t handle but you were pretty ungrateful each time they saved you from getting killed. It’s clear as day that you can’t handle Muu’s forces. We have to leave it to them, as they know what they’re doing.”

Eoleo growled, “No, I won’t give up that easily. I’ll just have to train and become stronger. I’ll just have to strengthen myself so that those losers can see that I’m not a weak kitten like they say I am. I’ll prove them all wrong and show them that I, Eoleo the Werecat, can take on a threat as strong as Muu. And I’ll also prove that I’m better than that lecherous creep Dominic. I swear it, I will get stronger and prove to them that I’m not a weak kitten. Just you wait and see! And then Nina will see that I am the only true savior!”

Ian and Hunter exchanged depressed looks, sighing defeatedly, knowing exactly what was going to happen. The three Werecats limped away, though Eoleo was determined to prove his superiority once and for all.

Next Chapter: Valiant Van

That's all for today. Eoleo sure proved something, alright, just not what he intended. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

Valiant Van

It was the following day after the party had destroyed an Undead Army platoon and Undead Base before they could take root. They were heading down the road to their next destination. To their relief Eoleo and his fellow Werecats were no longer following them, thus allowing them to put some distance from him.

Sir Reginald looked at the map, saying, “We should be reaching our next village soon. If I’m not mistaken the village is a Centaur village. I wonder if they got the message from Chief Gallant or any other ally Centaur Clans yet?”

Van said, “We should find out soon. If my knowledge of this particular Centaur Clan is correct I believe they’re called the Forest Rider Centaur Clan. They specialize in both forest and jungle missions, thus have a strong affinity for Wood magic. Well, stronger than usual, anyway. From what my father has said about them is that they can command plant life through music such as flutes and drums. I do hope they have gotten the message that Muu threw down the power gauntlet against us Centaurs, allowing us to join the fight, as like all Centaurs, this clan follows a code of honor when it comes to their involvement in war.”

“Hopefully they did get the memo, as the more allies we have the better it is for us,” Nova said. “Especially since our party can’t be everywhere at the same time, so having other allies to handle any straggling groups of Undead Soldiers would be crucial in ensuring that Muu loses this war.”

Nina nodded, “Agreed, beloved. Especially since our group is taking the fight to Muu’s front door itself. Having allies in other lands to take care of any remaining forces while we take on the big bone daddy himself is crucial to our success. Hopefully it won’t take much to rally these Centaurs behind us.”

The party made their way over a hill until they saw a large settlement nestled near the front of a large forest. They could see several Centaurs galloping around, though they seemed rather melancholy. Concerned, the party quickly made their way to the front of the village. One Centaur who was acting as a guard stopped them.

“State your business,” he said in a strong tone.

Sir Reginald stepped up, “We are the Demon King’s champion party. Is this the Forest Rider Centaur Clan?”

The Centaur nodded, “Indeed it is. So you’re the one Chief Gallant told us about, although it’s clear your ranks have expanded since then. Your timing is actually very convenient, as we’re in bit of a bind right now.”

Angelo looked concerned, “What happened?”

“Having gotten wind from Chief Gallant we Forest Rider Centaurs prepared for battle. We have managed to destroy several Undead Army platoons. However, recently, we ran into a massive snag. A new, stronger Undead Captain appeared and built a base not far from here. Naturally we went to take him out. We destroyed his platoon without much issue but… we grossly underestimated that Undead Captain’s power. Worst of all, he claimed the life of our leader, Chief Thunderstruck, which demoralized us and caused us to retreat. We’ve been licking our wounds and trying to regain our fighting spirit but it’s been a slow process. By now that Undead Captain has recouped the loss of his underlings but a lot of our members are now too nervous to fight him, especially since Chief Thunderstruck was our strongest fighter. Chieftess Roseroot has been trying to get the troops back on our feet but the loss of her husband has seriously dented her confidence. Maybe you can help us?”

Nova took a moment to ponder before asking, “This Undead Captain. Can you tell us more about him? Like did he have any glowing energy in him?”

The Centaur took a moment to think before saying, “Matter of fact, yes. There seemed to be a glowing energy sphere inside his torso. We couldn’t see it much because of his armor but it did leak through the cracks. Why?”

Sir Reginald explained, “That was a special Undead Captain. One that is powered by a fallen soul. You see, Muu is using the fallen souls his Undead Captains and Generals capture and fusing them with Undead Soldiers to become new, special Undead Captains. These Undead Captains are much stronger than normal, even compared to the higher ranked ones, as the soul powering them gives them a substantial boost. They’d be comparable to Undead Generals at the very least. Worst of all, unless Muu decides to give them an element, which we haven’t seen him do yet, they have no elemental weaknesses, so it’s harder to defeat them because we can’t use an elemental advantage to deal extra damage. That’s why you were bested, as despite their rank Undead Captains powered by fallen souls are significantly stronger than normal. You were facing a completely unknown enemy, one that cannot be defeated as easily as more standard Undead Captains.”

A strong female voice then said, “So that’s why that Undead Captain was so strong.”

Everyone turned to see a strong-looking female centaur approach.

“Chieftess Roseroot!” the Centaur guarding the entrance exclaimed.

Chieftess Roseroot said, “So you’re the Demon King’s champion party, correct? And you know all about these special Undead Captains, right? Then maybe you can educate our army about them, as we made a critical mistake when we first fought Captain Spinesnapper. One that cost us our Chief… and my husband. Since you have experience dealing with such threats you will be best to help get our army back on its feet.”

Van stepped up, saying, “Leave that to me.” He turned to Sir Reginald, “Sir Reginald, I apologize, but you’ll have to leave this part to me. Centaurs tend to listen more readily to other Centaurs. It’s not racism or anything, it’s just part of our code of honor that we will listen to another Centaur first over anyone else due to kinship values. It can cause unintentional friction but that’s just how our code works. So you’ll have to leave this part to me. You can still help, obviously, as you’re a master strategist, but you’ll have to leave most of the work to me due to our code complicating things. Can you accept that?”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, Van, I understand completely. I’m aware of how the Centaur’s code of honor works. It can be an annoyance at times but I understand and thus respect it. We will leave to you educating the troops about this new threat and anything else you feel is necessary, since the other Centaurs will be more willing to listen to another Centaur over the rest of us. We’ll see what we can do in the meantime. If you need us just holler and we’ll help however we can.”

Van smiled, “Thank you, I appreciate that.” He turned to Chieftess Roseroot, “Please take me to the main troops so I can start explaining what they need to learn about these special breeds of Undead Captains. Then we will start a strategy meeting to discuss how to handle this threat. Undead Captains who are powered by fallen souls are much stronger than regular Undead Captains… but that doesn’t mean they’re invincible. They just require a bit more effort than one would expect.”

Chieftess Roseroot nodded, “I understand, Van, son of Chief Gallant. Please follow me. The rest of you are welcome to roam around our village. Maybe you can lend a hand in the recovery efforts and helping boost morale.”

“Well, a good way to boost morale is with a good meal,” Nova suggested. “If you don’t mind me using your ingredients I could make a large pot of stew to feed the troops. After all, a good General knows when to feed and rest their troops.”

The Chieftess nodded, “That’s an excellent idea. And it’s very true. A hot bowl of stew will definitely give our troops a much-needed boost. I permit you to borrow any ingredients you need to make our soldiers as much stew as needed. Come with me, Van, so we can discuss what we need in order to rebound from this setback.”

Nova turned to Nina, “I know you can’t cook much, Nina, but I’ll need your help in getting everything set. Even if it’s just chopping up ingredients that’ll be help, as we have a lot of mouths to feed.”

Nina nodded, “I’m all over it, beloved.”

Sir Reginald said, “The rest of us will see what else we can do to help get these noble troops back on their feet, such as giving information or tending to the injured.”

Everyone nodded and split up to do their assigned tasks. The Centaurs provided Nova with a massive pot easily big enough to fit one Centaur comfortably in it and plenty of ingredients, allowing him and Nina to start making the stew. Van followed Chieftess Roseroot to where the main force of Centaurs were gathered so he could inform them of their opponent. The rest of the party helped out around the village, tending to anyone who was still injured and assisting in any needed tasks. Soon the smell of Nova’s delicious stew wafted through the air, getting the Centaurs excited. When Nova rang a bell they knew it was time to eat, so they all lined up with bowls and spoons, waiting to be served. Nova served them generous portions of the massive pot of stew, knowing they needed the energy for the fight ahead, which the Centaurs greatly appreciated. After the last Centaur was given their serving of stew they settled in to eat.

Chieftess Roseroot smiled, “Good, our soldiers are getting their morale back. Good food will do that to you. And I thank you, Van, for giving us this valuable information on these special Undead Captains. We never would’ve known that they’re powered by fallen souls, thus making them stronger than normal. But that also means we need to free said soul from Muu’s grip.”

Van nodded, “Yes, although that’s fairly easy. We just need to destroy the Undead Captain’s body and that’ll free the soul. However, we have to avoid using things like hellfire, as that runs the risk of hurting the soul, so, sadly we cannot use Nova’s Gorgon Viper in these situations despite her incredible usefulness in our fights against Muu. Once the troops are fed we will begin the strategy meeting on how to end this threat and avenge Chief Thunderclap. Sir Reginald can help us there, as he’s a master strategist.”

“Okay. And I must admit I’m surprised to hear that the Demon King’s champion owns a Gorgon Viper. He must have a good grip on it due to their nasty temperaments.”

“Actually Elora is different than other Gorgon Vipers. She’s calm, friendly, and unquestionably loyal to Nova. She only gets aggressive in battle or if someone threatens Nova. She’s something of an exception, as we’ve heard all about how Gorgon Vipers tend to be rather temperamental at best.”

The Chieftess’ eyes widened, “You don’t say? Never heard of a Gorgon Viper being like that. He should consider himself lucky, as a rare find like that comes only once in a triple blue moon. But let us eat, too, so we can be at our best when we fight back against Muu’s forces.”

Van nodded and they obtained bowls of food from Nova along with everyone else. The Centaurs ate their meal, clearly happy at the quality of it, feeling more energized and motivated. After all the stew was finished Van, Chieftess Roseroot, and Sir Reginald held a strategy meeting to discuss their plan of attack. After informing the Centaurs of their plan everyone suited up for battle. Van stepped up to the front of the herd of Centaurs.

“My fellow Centaurs,” he said strongly. “I know I’m no replacement for Chief Thunderclap but I promise you I will help avenge him and guide you to victory against Captain Spinesnapper. We will fight and we will win! We won’t bow down to Muu or his forces! Let’s show them what Centaur warriors are capable of!”

The Centaurs cheered, some going on their hind legs, raising their weapons up high. They started to march, heading toward where the Undead Base was located, ready to avenge their fallen leader. It didn’t take long before they found it.

Van turned to Nova, saying, “Okay, Nova, you know what you have to do, right?”

Nova nodded and loaded up an arrow, saying, “Ifrit Mode.”

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

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the arrow, which had become a lightning dragon. It rocketed toward the Undead Base before exploding upon impact with the front gates, blowing them off their hinges, revealing the Undead Captain and his army. Captain Spinesnapper looked a lot like a skeletal anthropomorphic velociraptor with large claws, a bony tail, what looked like sawblades made from bones on his wrists, a reptilian head, and a glowing sphere inside his ribcage. His eyes flared as he saw the enemy force.

“So, you came back for more punishment I see,” he growled. “I guess you’re gluttons for punishment. Well, far be it for me to deny your wishes. Men, attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in, ready to fight.

Van touched the Shaman Magic Bracelet, saying, “Time for an extra boost of power! Earth, Wood! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

Van was engulfed in swirling energy, stopping everyone briefly. Before long the energy dispersed and his new form was revealed. His horse lower body was now made of earth and tree bark, with a wooden catapult-like tail, and hooves made of crystal. His upper body was in full armor with vines and ivy leaves on it, his head is encased in a helmet made of rock, his hair was now green, and he wields two lances made of rock and bark.

He got on his hind legs, stating, “Let’s see you face my Guardian of Edyn Shaman form, Spinesnapper!”

Captain Spinesnapper growled, “So, you can use Shaman magic? That’ll cause problems for Master Muu. I will eliminate you personally. Men, deal with the others, the Shamanized Centaur is mine.”

The Undead Soldiers obeyed and charged toward the rest of the heroic army while Spinesnapper raced over toward Van, sawblades erect and spinning. The two clashed weapons, with the sawblades attempting to break through Van’s twin lances but to no avail. Van used his newfound strength to push back so hard he sent Spinesnapper flying. The Undead Captain recovered and prepared to attack.

“Not if I can help it!” Van stated. “Poison Ivy!”

Large ivy vines erupted from underneath Captain Spinesnapper and ensnared him. They then released energy that caused the Undead Captain to cry out as his body was poisoned by them. Despite this the Undead Captain lashed out his sawblades and cut the ivy, freeing himself, but the poison was already taking effect.

Van gave both his lances a twirl, stating, “Now you’re on a timer! And I intend to do more than just poison you! Take this! Thorn Spears!”

He pointed his lances at the Undead Captain, causing them to glow. They then fired large thorns like spears at Spinesnapper, hitting him with a barrage of power that the Undead Captain tried to weather. However, the damage from the attack combined with the poison was quickly wearing him down.

Van turned to Nova, “Nova, give me a hand. Let’s finish him off with a combo skill!”

Nova nodded and primed an arrow while Van readied his lances.

“Thorn Spears!” Van stated.

“Wind Cutter Arrow!” Nova stated.

The two attacks were launched at the weakening Undead Captain. Both combined, becoming a fast-moving missile-like cyclone. The Undead Captain could only look with wide eyes as the combo attack rocketed toward him. The combo struck him, engulfing him in its mighty power, making him scream and his body was torn apart. When the attack waned all that was left of the Undead Captain was the glowing soul that was empowering him. At that time the last Undead Soldier was defeated, allowing the Centaurs to raise their weapons up in celebration. The soul then transformed, taking the form of a tiger Beastman, making Zeeker’s eyes widen.

He walked up to the Beastman soul, saying, “Conner? Is that you?”

The Beastman smiled, “Hello, Captain Zeeker. It’s good to see you again. I’m glad to see you’re still alive after that fateful day.”

Zeeker begged, “Conner, please forgive me for that horrible day. Because of me letting our accomplishments go to our heads I led us to disaster. I’m so sorry. Please, can you find it in your heart to forgive me for making such a costly mistake?”

Conner smiled again, “Yes, Captain, I can. It wasn’t you’re fault. We all let our victories go to our heads, allowing Muu to knock us off our high horses with a low bridge called General Vertebreak. I don’t hold it against you, as we all made that critical mistake and paid for it. But seeing you back in the fight against Muu means that the losses we suffered that day will not be in vain. Please, save the souls of our fellow Beastman Resistance members, as Muu plans to use them the same way he did with me. I know he used Whip already so I hope you were able to find and save him.”

Nova nodded, “Yes, we already encountered the Undead Captain powered by Whip’s soul and have since set him free.”

“Good, that make me feel better. Please, Captain Zeeker and friends, free not just the souls of us Beastmen Resistance fighters, but all the souls Muu’s captured. Before they suffer the same fate that ones like Whip and I did: becoming power sources for new, stronger Undead Captains. Also, if you’re looking for the soul of the Centaur that Spinesnapper captured it’s still in the base, as he hasn’t had a chance to give it to Muu yet. It’s in a crystal, so you have a chance to free him before he becomes another pawn in Muu’s game of chess.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Don’t worry, we have every intention of doing so. And we’ll make sure that your sacrifice will not be in vain.”

Conner smiled, “Thank you. Now, it is time for me to go and rest. Please, Captain Zeeker, keep fighting against Muu to save everyone. The world needs to be saved before Muu gets what he wants. We’re all counting on you. Farewell my friends.”

Conner turned into a sphere of light and started to ascend into the heavens. Everyone stood and saluted in honor of a fallen soldier before returning to what needed to be done. Nova went into the Undead Base and recovered the crystal with the soul trapped in it.

“Okay, if we break this, Chief Thunderclap’s soul will be set free,” he said.

Van stated, “Allow me, Nova. Please toss it into the air.”

Nova complied and threw the crystal into the air. Van lashed out both his lances at the crystal with tremendous force, shattering it effortlessly, freeing the soul within it. The soul took form, becoming a noble-looking and quite handsome Centaur. Chieftess Roseroot quickly galloped up to him.

“Honey…” she said gently.

Chief Thunderclap smiled, “You’ve done well, my beloved wife. I can see you guided our Centaurs and allies to victory today.”

Chieftess Roseroot shook her head, “No, I didn’t. Van, son of Chief Gallant, is the real hero. He’s the one who guided us to victory, even destroying Captain Spinesnapper. He and his party restored our morale and got us back into the fight, as we were devastated when you were killed. It was fortunate that your soul was still here, as we saved you from suffering the same fate as the soul that was empowering Spinesnapper.”

Chief Thunderclap quirked an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

Sir Reginald stepped up, saying, “Sir, Muu has been using captured souls and infusing them with Undead Soldiers to create stronger, special Undead Captains. These Undead Captains, like Spinesnapper, are more powerful, intelligent, and dangerous than normal ones, easily on par with Undead Generals at the very least. You were killed by such an Undead Captain and if we hadn’t rescued your soul you could’ve become a power source for one such Undead Captain.”

“I see, I see. Then you have my eternal gratitude for saving me before I would suffer that same fate.” He then turned to Van, “You are Van I take it, as you don’t look like any Centaur I know.”

Van nodded, “Yes, although I’m using a special Shaman magic form right now, which is why I look so different. I used the Shaman Magic Bracelet I got to strengthen myself so I could take down Captain Spinesnapper and avenge you.”

“So, you can use Shaman magic?” Chief Thunderclap said, amazed. “That’s a rare gift you have there. But you have my thanks for not only avenging my death but saving my soul. Your father would be proud, Van. At least now, with my soul free, I can rest peacefully knowing that you are on the case.” He turned to Chieftess Roseroot, “Rose, my love, I leave the rest to you and our son. Please continue to guide our clan of Centaurs. And please don’t forget me.”

Tears formed in Chieftess Roseroot’s eyes, “I can never forget you, honey. I will do my best to ensure that our clan continues to prosper, even with your absence. All of us Centaurs will never forget you. So please, honey, rest in peace knowing that we will do everything we can to ensure your sacrifice will not be in vain.”

Chief Thunderclap smiled, “Thank you, beloved. Farewell. May the Goddess guide us to victory.”

He turned into a sphere of light and started to ascend. Everyone saluted as his soul traveled into the sky: one final bit of respect for a noble warrior. When his soul vanished everyone lowered their hands.

Sir Reginald said, “We’re not done yet. We need to destroy the base so Muu can’t just recycle it with another Undead Army platoon. Let’s put a bit of distance between us and it, I’ll erect a barrier, and Nova will snipe the Magna Crystal powering the base.”

Everyone nodded, took several steps back, and got behind Sir Reginald who erected a barrier.

Nova took aim, “Dragon Strike!”

He fired the attack at the exposed Magna Crystal, striking it. The crystal stated to hum and shake and before long it exploded, taking the base with it. When the dust had settled all that was left of the base was a smoking crater and chunks of debris.

Chieftess Roseroot stepped up, “We won a great victory today. We not only destroyed Muu’s forces but we avenged and saved two lost souls. We deserve a celebration. Noble Demon King’s champion party, would you honor us in joining our celebration?”

Sir Reginald nodded, “We’d be delighted to.”

Van then said, “I guess it’s time to return to normal now. Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and when it dispersed he was back to normal. The party then followed the Centaurs back to their village, as they were eager to celebrate their success.

Nova said silently, “We need to do everything we can to save this world. No matter what it takes we have to stop Muu. I’m not looking forward to that but it has to be done. No more souls should have to suffer at his hands. I hate this mission but I know this is bigger than me. Billions of lives are at stake so I need to do my part. I just hope we figure out a way to win.”

Next Chapter: Magical Malfunction

That's all for today. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence, sexual suggestions)

Magical Malfunction

It had been a few days since the heroic party had helped the Centaurs fight and defeat Captain Spinesnapper and his Undead Army, avenging their leader’s death. The party was on their way to the next town. As they walked they noticed a large bubbling tarpit that took up a large section just to their north.

“What’s that tarpit?” Nova asked.

Sir Reginald answered, “That’s the Iselina Tarpits. They’re connected to Mt. Iselina, which is that volcanic mountain just a bit further away from the tarpits. Because of the strange soil composition here the molten magma that flows through Mt. Iselina mixes with the soil to create a special type of tar. Basically, if you get stuck in that stuff, you’re doomed, as not only will it trap you, but burn you until death claims you. So everyone knows to avoid those tarpits. Animals and monsters, not so much, as the tar unintentionally gives off a smell like honey that attracts them. Though that’s one honey trap you want to avoid. Mt. Iselina is one of the places everyone avoids due to it being an active volcano. It hasn’t erupted in a long time, which no one is complaining about, but the lingering threat of it erupting still haunts the air around here.”

“I see. That explains the sweet smell I’ve detected. But what’s so different about the soil here?”

Nina explained, “There are certain types of minerals made from crushed Magna Crystals and Mana Stones. These minerals cause the soil to be super fertile, thus making them ideal for crops. But those same minerals when mixed with intense heat and magma will create the special tar that the Iselina Tarpits are made of. So it’s something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this area is great for growing various crops and making them super rich in nutrients and increases their growth, while on the other the risk of Mt. Iselina erupting and the chance of more tarpits forming does make people cautious in setting up farmlands here. There are some farmlands but only the bravest and hardiest tend to set up shop here. And those who can resist the honey smell of the tarpits. We should be seeing some farmlands coming up.”

Zeeker fanned his nose, saying, “Hopefully the honey smell gets a bit weaker when we get further from the tarpits, as it’s overwhelming my nostrils.”

Van nodded, “Same here, and we Centaurs have strong senses of smell, so it’s a bit much. But fortunately the further we get from the tarpits the more upwind we’ll be of them, so just hold on a bit longer.”

The party continued their way, trying to block out the honey-like smell of the tarpits. By the time they had reached what looked like various farms the smell had died down to the point it was barely there. However, when they got to the farms, to their surprise, none of farms had crops. In fact, their land looked charred, as if something burned them down.

“What happened here?” Kettu asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Sir Reginald said, “Let’s find out.”

The party made their way toward what looked like a bunch of disgruntled farmers having a discussion. The farmers turned to see the party approach them, eyes widening.

“Hey, you lot!” one called. “Think you can give us a hand?”

Nova quirked an eyebrow, “With farm work?”

“No, with dealing with a monster that destroyed our crops,” another said.

“A monster burned your land?” Angelo asked, surprised.

“Yeah, although we don’t know what it is,” another farmer said. “It resembles a Fire Jelly yet it seems smarter and almost human-like. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s responsible for destroying our hard-earned crops.”

Nina pondered for a moment before saying, “A Fire Jelly that became smarter and more human-like? I wonder if it came into contact with another Comet Core or something along those lines. Even something like an Alpha Mana Stone could enhance a monster into a more advanced form. And considering that this area is loaded with Mana Stones, be it crushed or whole, then it’s possible that a Fire Jelly came into contact with a very strong one and evolved. It’ll be just like that evolved Torrent Cobra incident.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “That’s a good point, Lady Nina.” He turned to the farmers, “Do you know where this creature dwells? We’ll deal with it for you.”

One of the farmer replied, “We were going to ask you to deal with it anyway. It seems to lurk just northeast of here, near the Mana Stone quarry. No one’s been in that quarry for a few years now, as they claim it was tapped out, but if what you say is true then it’s possible that a Fire Jelly came into contact with something powerful like an Alpha Mana Stone that was recently discovered. There have been a few rumblings over there lately due to the unstable ground caused by the underground magma rivers. Be careful.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “We will, thanks for the tip.” He turned to the party, “Okay, team, let’s investigate this unusual phenomenon. But be alert, as we’ll be near some dangerous territory.”

The party nodded, not looking forward to where they were going but they headed toward the Mana Stone quarry in search of this mysterious monster. It didn’t take long to find it. The Mana Stone quarry was a large area with a mineshaft heading into a small mountain. There were old tools like pickaxes and leftover wheelbarrows littered about.

“Too bad there aren’t any Mana Stones left here,” Zeeker said. “They fetch a pretty profit. Plus we could use them ourselves, as they can restore a person’s mana just by holding it, so finding even a single Mana Stone would be useful to us in many more ways than one.”

Van held out his arm, saying, “Hang on a minute, gang. I smell something.” He took a moment to sniff the air before saying, “I smell… what seems like a burning smell… like something that’s on fire touching… a Mana Stone.”

Zeeker sniffed the air before saying, “Yeah, I can smell it, too. I also hear kind of a jiggly noise. Not like Nina’s bouncing breasts but kinda like a jell or gooey noise. It does sound like a Fire Jelly, only a bit more… solid.”

Nina shot Zeeker an annoyed look, “My breasts don’t make jiggly noise when they bounce, thank you!”

Nova chuckled, “Nina, focus. Now’s not the time. I can hear the noise, too, and it appears to be coming from the mineshaft. And it’s getting closer. I suggest we get ready to fight, as our unknown friend should be upon us soon.”

The party nodded and got into a defensive position. They could all hear the jiggly noise coming closer, along with the burning smell. Soon what looked like a flame could be seen coming from the mineshaft. Everyone got their weapons ready as something emerged. It looked like a red and silver jellyfish that had become humanoid. Its tentacles had morphed into multiple arms and a pair of legs, with an oddly shaped humanoid body, its head was the top of the jellyfish and what looked like a woman’s face made from crystals that littered its body with glowing eyes.

It said in a gurgling voice, “Who are you? Wait… those loser farmers sent you after me, didn’t they? I won’t let a bunch of nobodies kill me! I’ll melt you down with my fire! Take this! Fireball!”

The mutated monster hurled a large fireball at the party, forcing them to scatter to avoid it. She then started lashing out her tentacle arms, which were now coated in fire, striking everything she could reach.

Nina gained an idea, “I know how to deal with this evolved Fire Jelly! My Goddess of Phoenixes Shaman form will put it in its place!”

However, just as she was about to activate the Shaman Magic Bracelet the evolved Fire Jelly struck her with a wave of fire, knocking her back.

“Nina!” Nova cried.

Nina shook her head, saying, “I’m okay, nothing broken or anything. Huh?” She then noticed that her Shaman Magic Bracelet was crackling, eyes widening, “Uh-oh… that’s not good. That wave of fire… it was full of Mana Stone energy… and it’s… oh no…”

The Shaman Magic Bracelet started to glow, the nine different Elemental Gems flashing randomly. Suddenly, they stopped, with two gems lit up: one shaped like a leaf while the other was shaped like a tornado. Suddenly, the Shaman Magic Bracelet activated on its own, engulfing Nina in swirling energy, much to everyone’s surprise. When the swirling energy vanished a new form was before them.

Nina had transformed. This new form looked like a plant or flower fairy, with giant pink rose petals for wings in a more butterfly-like shape, thorny green vines for hair that reached her ankles, and pink eyes. Thorny vines wrapping around her lower arms ending in three large petals at her wrists, the same vines making up her bikini breastplate, a bikini bottom made from leaves, thorny vines weaving around her calves, ending at her bare feet with painted toenails, and a tiara made from wood on top of her head. Nina took a moment to look herself over before trying to cover up, clearly embarrassed by the form’s appearance.

“I feel nearly naked!” she sputtered. “And what the hell is this form!?” Something flashed front of her that showed the form’s name, “Nymph Wing? Now I’m a Wood and Wind element?” Her eyes widened in horror as the enhanced Fire Jelly’s eyes gleamed, “Oh no… Now I’ve got a serious elemental disadvantage! Cancel Fusion!”

However, to her horror, the fusion didn’t undo, leaving her in the same state. Her eyes widened in horror.

“I… I can’t cancel the fusion!? Is the Shaman Magic Bracelet malfunctioning?! Oh, this is not good!”

The evolved Fire Jelly sneered, “Yum, plant fairy, my favorite!”

Nova loaded up an arrow, saying, “Oh, no you don’t! Torpedo Shot!”

He fired his arrow, which was infused with Water energy and moved like a torpedo toward the enhanced monster. It struck the monster, making it roar in pain, dealing extra damage due to elemental advantage. The Fire Jelly redirected its attention to Nova, angry.

“Now I’m mad!” it said. “Lava Wave!”

It summoned a wave of lava directly toward Nova, who was trapped.

Nina’s eyes narrowed, “No one will cook my boyfriend! Geyser!”

She slammed her hand on the ground, causing a geyser to erupt in front of Nova. The lava and the geyser collided, neutralizing each other, creating a cloud of steam. Nova used the steam to quickly camouflage himself as he raced to get to Nina’s side while the Fire Jelly was blinded. When the Fire Jelly had regained its vision Nova was standing in front of Nina, protecting her. The evolved monster started to make its way toward them, making Nina nervous.

“Water Bomb!” a voice said.

The Fire Jelly was struck by a ball of water, making it scream in pain. It turned to see the rest of the party, all with angry expressions on their faces.

“Hello, forgetting something?” Sir Reginald snarled.

Angelo growled, “You won’t lay a tentacle on Nina, vile monster! Not if we have anything to say about it!”

The Fire Jelly snarled back, “Fine, I’ll melt you lot first, then I’ll eat the flower fairy.”

It started to make its way toward the party, who were all ready for it. Nina hovered off the ground with her rose petal wings, clearly uncertain about what to do.

“Nova…” she said timidly. “What should I do? I’m at a severe disadvantage in this form. I was trying to become the Goddess of Phoenixes so I can gain a Fire immunity but with my Shaman Magic Bracelet malfunctioning I’m stuck in this Nymph Wing form. Got a suggestion I can use?”

Nova said calmly, “Nina, it doesn’t matter what your element or form is. You’re still Nina, the mighty and wonderful Phoenix Clan magician. You’ve got more magic in your little finger than that monster does in its whole body. And you’ve got courage to spare. I’m not sure why you’re so timid right now but I know you can continue fighting. This form may be at an elemental disadvantage to our foe but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. You always believe in me, and I always believe in you. This is no different. You still have your regular spells, so you can still access your Water elemental spells. And just because you have an elemental disadvantage doesn’t make you useless. With the right strategy and some good improvising you can make this form work. I know you can do it. I believe in you, the party believes in you, so you should believe in you.”

Nina’s eyes widened before her face melted into a smile, “Thank you, Nova. That was just the pep talk I needed. You’re right, I can’t back down. I’m not useless in this form. I just have to work with what I got and improvise however I can. Thank you, Nova, you truly are the best.”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek before taking flight. She hovered over the mutated Fire Jelly, eyes narrowing.

“Let’s see if this flaming seafood can handle this! Sleep Spores!”

She released a large amount of spores from her body that rained down upon the evolved monster. When the Fire Jelly realized Nina was above it the spores had coated its body. Suddenly it became drowsy before falling on the ground, asleep, making the party smirk.

“Time to tear this thing limb from limb!” Zeeker grinned.

Nina said, “No, it’s mine! Water Bomb!”

She fired a sphere of water at the Fire Jelly, striking it, dealing a lot of damage. However, this seemed to awaken it. It glared at Nina, who returned the glare with interest.

“Time to eat you, little fairy!” it snarled, lunging at her.

Nina quickly dodged out of the way before it could grab her with its tentacles. She narrowed her eyes.

“Not happening!” she said. “Hurricane Winds!”

She summoned a massive windstorm that swept up the Fire Jelly, whipping it around, causing its body to start tearing apart.

“Time for the finishing blow! Flower Cannon!”

She put her arms together, causing the petals around her wrists to create a full flower. Then energy formed inside her hands before firing a massive pinkish blue energy sphere. Just as the windstorm, ended the energy sphere struck the Fire Jelly, exploding and ripping its body apart, ending the battle. Nina wiped her brow before hovering back down to the ground. Nova caught her by her waist and held her close, smiling.

“I knew you could do it, Nina,” he said, giving her a kiss. “You see? Just because you had a type disadvantage didn’t make you useless. And if there’s one thing we’re good at it’s improvising on the fly. You did great, Nina.”

She smiled warmly, “Your pep talk slapped some sense into me. Although I think my newfound timidness is because of the form, as fairy-like entities tend to be timid and shy. Makes me wonder if the Shaman magic form can affect one’s mind, as I don’t usually get timid or intimidated. Though why is this form so revealing? I feel nearly naked. I’m used to showing off skin and wearing skimpy armor but this is a whole new level. Plus I worry that some of the very conveniently placed parts of this outfit could slip, causing me to show off more than I want. Plus how am I going to transform back to normal?”

Van said, “You may just have to wait until the Shaman Magic Bracelet runs out of power. Valerie did say that the bracelet will automatically shut down, canceling any form currently active, when it runs out of mana. So you probably just have to wait until the mana in the bracelet is depleted.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Yes, that’s probably what Lady Nina will have to do. At least Nova has the spare Shaman Magic Bracelet so he can loan it to her while her original one repairs itself, since they do have an auto-repair function. But, for now, let’s check out the mineshaft, as it’s clear that Fire Jelly found something that empowered it into its new form.”

The party nodded and ventured into the mineshaft. They followed what looked like a trail of burnt earth, suggesting it was from the Fire Jelly, before coming to a dead end. However, there was a large glowing stone jutting out of some rocks. It looked like an upside-down pyramid made from blue material and some energy emitting off it.

“That’s an Alpha Mana Stone,” Nina said. “It must’ve been unearthed by accident, as the farmers did say that the tectonic shifts in this area have been rather active. That Fire Jelly must’ve been attracted to the strong mana energies it’s giving off, causing it to evolve. I suggest we take it with us so this incident doesn’t repeat itself.”

Van nodded, “Right, let me get it out of the wall. Then we can put it in Nova’s Digi-Pack for safekeeping.”

Van walked over, grabbed the Alpha Mana Stone, and with tremendous strength managed to rip it out of the wall. He gently put it down on the ground, allowing Nova to put it in his Digi-Pack. The party retraced their steps and made it back outside.

“Let’s head back to the farmers to tell them their evolved monster problem has been solved,” Kettu said.

The party nodded and made their way back to the farmland. The farmers noticed the party and quickly ran up to them.

“What happened?” one asked.

Another one noticed Nina and said, “And who’s this flower fairy? Where’s that Phoenix girl friend of yours? Gotta say, she’s mighty fine.”

Nina slapped him, growling, “I’m the Phoenix Clan member! This is a Shaman form that I got accidentally stuck in due to my Shaman Magic Bracelet malfunctioning. And don’t talk about me like that, as this form makes me feel really uncomfortable. Only Nova can talk about me like that.”

“That’s Shaman magic?” another farmer asked. “Aren’t you a lucky one to have such a rare gift. But in any case, what happened?”

Sir Reginald explained, “A Fire Jelly found a recently exposed Alpha Mana Stone. It must’ve been attracted to its strong energies. When it was exposed to it the Fire Jelly evolved into a more advanced form, becoming smarter and more human-like. We’ve since destroyed it and removed the Alpha Mana Stone so this incident can’t repeat itself. You should be safe now.”

One farmer said gloomily, “Sure, we’re safe from another incident, but we can’t say the same for our crops. All our hard work, burned to the ground by a damn Fire Jelly too big for its britches.”

Nova pondered before turning to Nina, “Hey, Nina, do you think you can use this new Shaman form to restore plant life? You are a plant fairy now so maybe you can restore the crops with your new powers?”

Nina shrugged, “I guess it couldn’t hurt. According to what this form is telling me I can restore plant life while in it. I’m not sure if I can restore the crops, as there may not be enough of them left to restore, but it’s worth a shot. Let me test it with the nearest field.”

She took flight and hovered over the charred farmland of one of the fields. She took a deep breath and focused.

“As Nova would say, ‘Here goes something’. I just hope this works.”

She fired energy from her hands into the ground. The energy rippled around the fields. Suddenly, crops started to grow rapidly. Before long the fields had been restored and the crops were large and healthy-looking.

“Okay, I guess that works. Onto the next one.”

After about an hour the various farmlands had been fully restored, if not seeming better. The farmers were overjoyed, dancing and singing the party’s praises. Nina was still somewhat coy in her transformed state, keeping close to Nova, who gladly stayed by her side.

“I guess the mana in the Shaman Magic Bracelet hasn’t expired yet…” she said gloomily.

“The malfunction may have altered it,” Nova said. “It was struck by energy from an Alpha Mana Stone, so that might have something to do with it. Just give it more time, Nina. Besides, I find your rather coy personality in this form to be adorable. I still prefer the strong, noble, and wonderful Nina that I’ve come to love, but I don’t mind this rather coy side of you, either. But I know it’ll pass eventually. Just have a bit of patience, okay, love.”

She nodded, “Yeah, I know. I actually don’t like being this coy, as it feels like the opposite of how I normally am. But I’m glad you don’t mind it. I just hope I can transform back soon, as a feel very exposed in this form. I worry that one false move and I’ll be showing off more than I want to. Normally wearing something revealing doesn’t bother me but for some reason it feels strange now. Considering that fairy folk go around naked without a care who or what sees them it is kinda odd that I’m this shy about my body right now. We’ve deduced that the Shaman forms can affect the user’s mind to varying degrees, depending on the form in question, but it seems to affect me a bit more strongly. I wonder why? I don’t think I’m weak-minded, especially since I can be pretty bullheaded at times, so why?”

Nova shrugged, “I dunno, Nina. Maybe because your forms tend to be much higher in the magical energy department that the very same magical energy affects your head a bit? Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out someday. But, for now, let’s go join the group and eat, as the farmers are throwing a celebration for what we did.”

He held out his hand to her, giving her a warm smile. She returned the smile and took his hand. The two of them walked over to where the farmers had set up tables to celebrate the heroic party. Nina nuzzled against Nova, clearly enjoying is presence, feeling more comfortable despite the form she was in.

Next Chapter: Love at First Flight

That's all for today. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
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Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence, sexual suggestions)

Love at First Flight

It was the following day after the heroic party had defeated the evolved Fire Jelly. They were on their way to the next town. To Nina’s displeasure she was still stuck in her Nymph Wing Shaman form.

“Why am I still stuck in my Shaman form?” she whined. “The Shaman Magic Bracelet should’ve run out of mana by now. So why am I still in this form? I’m starting to not like this form.”

Van scratched his chin, “I dunno, Nina. It does seem strange that the form hasn’t expired yet.”

Nova got an idea, “Wait, let me try something.”

He grabbed Nina’s left wrist where the Shaman Magic Bracelet would normally be with the hand containing the Demon King Ring. The gem on the ring glowed and what looked like a screen appeared, allowing him to read it.

“I see the problem. The Shaman Magic Bracelet is frozen. That’s why Nina hasn’t transformed back yet. But I have an idea. I can use the Demon magic in the Demon King Ring to force reset a magical item, so I just need to use it on the Shaman Magic Bracelet. Give me a moment.”

He started to concentrate, causing the Demon King Ring to start glowing and releasing energy. After a few moments of this Nina was suddenly engulfed in swirling energy, prompting Nova to let her go. After a few moments Nina had returned to normal. She looked herself over before tackling Nova in a hug.

“Thank you!” she said happily. “I’m back to my normal self! You’re the best, Nova!”

She planted a big kiss on him, making him blush but smile. He then grabbed Nina’s Shaman Magic Bracelet and took it off her, placing it on his own arm. He then took out the spare Shaman Magic Bracelet and gave it to her.

“Here, Nina, use the spare for a while,” he said. “I’ll hold onto the malfunctioning one until it repairs itself. Since I’m not compatible with Shaman magic I can wear the malfunctioning bracelet safely until the auto-repair function completes its task. And this way you can still use your Shaman forms if need be.”

“Why aren’t you putting it in your Digi-Pack?” Kettu asked.

“Because anything that goes into the Digi-Pack is preserved in the state it’s in. So if I were to put the malfunctioning Shaman Magic Bracelet in there it wouldn’t be able to repair itself because it’d be preserved in its current state. That’s why I’m wearing it until it repairs itself, as it wouldn’t be able to do so if I were to put it in my Digi-Pack.”

“Good point.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “Well, at least Nina is back to normal and the Shaman Magic Bracelet can repair itself now. And we learned something: the bracelets are vulnerable to energy from Mana Stones, since it was struck by an attack infused with Mana Stone energy, thus causing it to malfunction. We’d best keep that in mind for later.”

The party nodded and continued on their way. However, not long after they heard a scream for help and what sounded like a screech of a large hawk. They looked toward a cliff to see a teenage boy clinging on for dear life while what looked like a copper colored Tin Hawk with bronze talons was trying to grab him.

“That’s a Copper Hawk!” Nina stated. “And it’s trying to eat that teenager!”

Nova stated, “I’ll draw it away while you go and save that boy, Nina! Ifrit Mode!”

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


The ring fired a wave of energy that struck the Copper Hawk. It caused the monster to turn around, give a screech, and start making its way toward Nova. Nova quickly put some distance between him and the party to lure the Copper Hawk away while Nina took flight in order to rescue the boy while the monster was distracted. The boy’s eyes widened when he saw Nina approach him.

“I got you, don’t worry,” she said gently.

She grabbed him and with surprising strength was able to fly while carrying the teenage boy. She started to make her way back down to the ground. At the time Nova had taken aim with his bow as the Copper Hawk began charging at him.

“Fire Shot!” he stated.

He launched the flaming arrow at the Copper Hawk. It struck the gem on its forehead, making it screech in pain before crashing to the ground, dead. Nova gave a small smirk before putting his bow back. Nina gently hovered to the ground, carrying the teenage boy, putting him down safely. At the time what looked like the boy’s parents ran up to them, out of breath.

“Lucas!” the mother cried. “You’re alive!”

Lucas ran over to his parents and hugged them, clearly shaken by the events. The father looked at the dead Copper Hawk, then at the party, and gave a sigh of relief.

“Lucas owes you his life,” he said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. That Copper Hawk came out of nowhere and just snatched him while he was working in the fields in our village. We tried to catch up to it but it was too fast. Thank you for saving him.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “We were glad to assist, sir. Although Nova and Nina deserve the credit, as Nova aggroed the Copper Hawk away from your son while Nina flew up and rescued him, carrying him to safety.”

Zeeker turned to Nina, “Yeah, about that, Nina. How were you able to carry both your weight and Lucas’ weight with your wings? That’s a lot of weight to carry. Are your wings just that strong?”

Nina smirked, “Well, for starters, my clan are very lightweight. Our bones are hollow to better enable flight. As a result I’m actually a lot lighter than I look. I weigh less than 100 pounds. I won’t say how much I weigh, as that’s a woman’s secret, but I will say I’m less than 100 pounds even with my clothes and armor. And while carrying extra weight isn’t the easiest for my wings I am able to carry another 150 pounds or so before it becomes too much, and Lucas was under that weight limit. So it wasn’t difficult. Though my hollow bones do make me a bit less durable. I’m not like glass or anything but I have a harder time taking a hit without getting too badly injured compared to anyone else. Even Nova is more durable than me. But my wings are strong enough to carry some extra weight if need be.”

Lucas turned to the party, saying, “Thank you for saving me.”

“Gladly,” Nova said.

Lucas gave him a look, “I was talking to the good-looking woman.”

This statement annoyed Nova.

His father gave him a gently but firm strike to the head, saying, “Lucas, don’t you start this again. He saved you as well, you know, as he distracted the Copper Hawk and killed it before it made a meal out of you. So he deserves thanks, too.” He turned to Nova, “Forgive him, as he tends to single out good-looking women over anyone else, even if he’s been helped by both a man and woman. He’s only 16 so his teenage hormones and such are raging right now, so women tend to get priority over men in his eyes. Don’t take it personally, please, as he means well.”

“Don’t I know that all too well back when I was a teenager,” Nova replied. “But a little gratitude goes a long way, you know.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “He’s right, as he’s the one who got the Copper Hawk off your case. But enough of this, let’s collect some parts from the Copper Hawk and be on our way.”

Zeeker, Kettu, and Van were already harvesting parts from the Copper Hawk, making the party chuckle. After a bit they had collected plenty of stuff from the Copper Hawk and put it in Nova’s Digi-Pack.

The father said, “Please, why don’t you come to our village for a rest? It’s the least we can do for you saving our son. We may not have much right now, as we’ve been plagued with a drought and famine, but what little we can offer is nice.”

Nova scratched his chin before saying, “We could probably help fix your drought and famine issue, too. Let’s go and see.”

Surprised, the family escorted the party to their village. It was a farming village but the party could see it was suffering. There were very few crops in the fields and the nearby river was very, very low.

Sir Reginald looked concerned, “I can see your point. You look to be in pretty bad shape.”

The mother nodded, “Yes. We have very little food and our water supply is getting low. If you have some way to restore our fields and river we’d be very grateful.”

Nova smiled, “I do have an idea on how to fix this. With a little Shaman magic.”

Angelo smiled, “I see where this is going, Nova. You want us to use Shaman magic to restore the fields and river. I’m down for that.”

Nina looked a bit depressed, “Do I really have to transform back into that form? I just got out of it earlier today after my Shaman Magic Bracelet malfunctioned yesterday. Do I really have to become Nymph Wing again, Nova?”

Nova nodded, “Yes you do, Nina. It’s for the people here, as they need our help.”

She gave a heavy sigh, “Okay, okay. It’s for people in need. I just have to keep telling myself that. I just hope I don’t get stuck in that form again. Well, here goes something. Wood, Wind. Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

She was engulfed in swirling energy, much to the surprise of the villagers. Soon she had transformed into Nymph Wing. She hovered over the large fields and started to fire energy from her hands into the ground. Within a few seconds the fields were suddenly full of ripe crops and the surrounding area was looking revitalized. The villagers were wide eyed in surprise. Nina stopped after a bit, gaining a satisfied look.

“Okay, that should do it. Cancel Fusion.”

She was engulfed in swirling energy and before long had returned to normal. She hovered back down to the ground. Lucas seemed to be even more enamored by Nina now, his eyes sparkling.

Angelo stated, “It’s my turn now. Water, Light. Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and before long had become the Tsunami Knight. He walked into the very shallow river, slammed his claymore into the riverbed, and started to concentrate. Suddenly the water level rose rapidly and before long the river was full. Angelo pulled out his claymore and made his way back to shore.

“That should do it,” he said cheerfully. “Now, Cancel Fusion!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy and before long he was back to normal. The villagers all cheered happily, doing little dances and clearly elated. They surrounded the party and started shaking their hands, patting them on the back, and singing their praises.

“You did it!” a woman said happily. “Now we don’t have to worry about the famine anymore!”

A man cheered, “Thank you! Thank you so much! You saved us!”

An older man who looked like the village elder walked up to the party, smiling, “Thank you my strangely assembled but fine friends. You restored our livelihoods in one fell swoop. And you saved Lucas from that Copper Hawk to boot. We owe you a big debt of gratitude, as we were suffering due to the poor harvest and lack of water. Please, join us in celebration. We’d be honored if you would allow us to show you our gratitude.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “We’ll take you up on that, sir, as we need a rest anyway.”

Nova chuckled, “This is the third celebration we’ve been invited to in a week. First the Forest Rider Centaurs, then the farmers near the Iselina Tarpits, and now this. We might get spoiled at this rate. But we accept, as we know it’ll mean a lot to you.”

The villagers happily guided the party into their humble abode. Everyone started to participate in setting up tables for a large celebration. The party decided to help as well in order to speed up the process. However, one villager was eyeing a member of the party.

Nina was helping set up some tables for the celebration. Lucas slowly crept up to her and suddenly groped her rear, making her yelp in surprise. She turned around and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark, clearly angry.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” she spat.

Lucas’ parents ran up, asking, “What happened?”

Lucas said, “She slapped me!”

Nina countered, “Yeah, in retaliation for you groping my rear!”

Lucas’ parents gave a heavy sigh, both saying, “Not again…”

She looked at them, “This has happened before?”

Nova approached, asking, “What’s going on?”

Nina turned to him, “This kid groped my backside! I slapped him in retaliation. And, judging by his parents’ reactions, this isn’t the first time, either.”

The father sighed, “We’re so sorry. Lucas has a bad habit of groping women he likes. It’s clear he’s gained an interest in you, Miss Nina, and wants your attention and affection. He’s only 16 so he doesn’t know that he can’t treat women like that.”

Nova’s eyes narrowed, saying, “He needs to learn that lesson.” He turned to Lucas, “You can’t go disrespecting women like that, kid. Nina deserves respect, like all women, so you can’t be treating her like that. That means you can’t go and grope her like that. You got that slap for a reason because you disrespected Nina’s personal space and body. Women don’t like being treated that way. You need to be more respectful toward women and not act lecherous around them. How would you like it if the situation was reversed? Where you are the woman being groped unwillingly by a pervy man? You need to consider that when trying to get a woman’s attention.”

Lucas growled, “What do you know about attracting women?”

Nina snapped, “Watch your mouth around my boyfriend, kid.”

Lucas’ eyes widened, “H-He’s you’re boyfriend?! This loser?”

Nina slapped him again, saying, “Nova is not a loser! He’s a great man! He’s done many good things for everyone, including you! I love him because of everything he’s done for me. He treats me the way I want to be treated: with kindness, respect, and dignity. He’s the only person who I’d allow to talk down to me or grope me, but he refuses to do either out of respect for me, which only endears me more to him. So I suggest you be more respectful toward Nova, as he did save your life today. I won’t tolerate anyone disrespecting him or me. So keep that in mind, kid, otherwise you’re gonna get hurt.”

Lucas glared at Nova, saying, “You’re not good enough for her! She’s mine! And I’ll prove it!”

He ran off somewhere, making his parents sigh defeatedly.

“Please forgive him,” his mother said. “He means well but seeing pretty girls overrides his common sense and rational thinking. He probably feels special because Nina saved him from falling to his death even though Nova was just as important by luring the Copper Hawk away. We’ve done our best in trying to teach him to not be disrespectful toward women but he’s pretty stubborn. Please, forgive him.”

Nina crossed her arms, saying, “He’s not getting my forgiveness until he learns his lesson and apologizes for violating me. Only Nova has any rights to my body and even though we’re in a relationship he refuses to disrespect me in any shape or form. Nova was once a pervert, too, yet he’s never disrespected women even at his lowest. Lucas needs to learn that women are people, too, not playthings or possessions. So I won’t forgive him until he realizes the truth and stops treating women that way. I get that he’s young but even teenagers know the difference between right and wrong. Considering I’m 19, thus I’m also a teenager, yet I know that you can’t treat women like that. He needs to learn his lesson before this behavior corrupts his adulthood years.”

Nova nodded, “Indeed, my love. I just hope he doesn’t do something rash or stupid in order to get attention from you. If he feels special because you rescued him then he might try something so you can give him that same feeling of specialness.”

The father sighed, “Sadly, I can see him pulling something like that. He really wants female attention and will resort to anything to get it. Even other boys his age know not to act like that yet he can’t seem to get the message. I just hope he doesn’t do something dangerous so Nina can give him the attention he wants.”

Sighing, everyone went back to work in order to set up for the celebration. Roughly an hour later the party was set. Some of the villagers were cooking food, including the new crops that Nina’s Nymph Wing form had grown, much to their happiness.

Suddenly, a voice called out, “Help!”

Nina gained a look of dread, “Oh no…”

The party and Lucas’ parents ran over to a rickety windmill. Lucas was stuck on part of it, struggling to break free, calling for help.

Nina crossed her arms, “If this is a stunt to get my attention and save him then he’s got another thing coming.”

Nova sighed, “Indeed. So I’m gonna burst his bubble and be the one to ‘rescue’ him. Give me a few minutes.”

He started to climb up the rickety windmill. He could sense it was very unstable, with rotting wood in some places, so he cautiously climbed up to where the teenage boy was struggling to get free. However, when Lucas saw Nova he turned away defiantly.

“Go away!” he stated. “I want Nina to save me, not a loser like you!”

“Well, tough break, kid, as she’s refusing to lift a finger for you after what you did to her earlier,” Nova growled. Suddenly, he noticed something, “Look out!”

He lunged, grabbing Lucas and both started to fall. Moments later a second Copper Hawk swooped down and smashed the top of the windmill with its large talons, clearly trying to get Lucas. Nova flipped himself and Lucas over so his legs were underneath him as they fell.

“Hoverboots, on! Maximum Burn!”

The Hoverboots ignited, slowing their descent, allowing them to land safely. Lucas’ parents grabbed him and hugged him. The Copper Hawk was circling overhead, looking for an opening.

“That must be the first Copper Hawk’s mate,” Van said. “The members of the Tin Hawk family always mate for life so it must be trying to avenge its partner.”

Nova said, “I’ll lure it away from the village where it can’t cause anymore damage. Ifrit Mode!”

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


He fired the energy that struck the Copper Hawk, causing it to focus on him. Nova then used his Hoverboots to rocket out of the village, drawing the Copper Hawk away.

Sir Reginald smiled, “Nova’s come a long way since we first met him. He used to be cowardly, weak-willed, and insecure. Now, he’s brave, strong, and determined. He’s really grown into his role as the Demon King’s champion.”

Nina nodded, smiling, “Considering I’ve seen his growth since nearly the beginning, as I’ve known him since just shy of his entire time on this world. He’s really come into his own. He’s a real man. He not only acknowledges his flaws but he’s working hard to improve himself by addressing those flaws. I know several men who could learn a thing or two from him, such as Dominic and Eoleo. He still has some flaws, some of which do annoy me, but he’s worked very hard in improving himself for the better. He still seems to have some self-esteem issues but he has come a long way since when he and I first met.” She then took flight, “I’m going after him to ensure he doesn’t get hurt. He doesn’t really need it but as his lover I want to make sure he comes out of this unharmed.”

She took off after him, leaving everyone else behind. Lucas looked heartbroken but it was clear Nina’s words were having an effect on him. Nina flew out into the nearby grasslands only to see Nova collecting parts from the downed Copper Hawk, making her smile. She flew over to him and gently landed, tackling him in a hug.

“I knew you’d be able to handle this, Nova,” she said happily. “But I came out here just to be sure. After all, we’re lovers, so we should stick together, right?”

Nova smiled, “Yes, Nina. I still think I don’t deserve you but every day I try to improve myself more and more so I can feel worthy of you. But I thank you for always believing in me and being willing to love me. It means a whole lot to me. Now, help me collect the needed parts from this Copper Hawk. Hopefully with this second one dead that’s the end of it.”

Nina nodded and helped Nova collect the valuable parts from the Copper Hawk. After getting what they wanted they returned to the village. When they got back they saw Lucas getting scolded by his parents. As they approached Kettu turned to them.

“Good, you’re back,” he said. “That brat deliberately got himself in trouble with the old windmill in order to get Nina to save him. So not only did you refusing to save him bruise his ego but Nova saving him pretty much defeated his attempt. Although his scheme didn’t account for the second Copper Hawk getting in the mix. Hopefully this event will knock some sense in the boy.”

The parents had finished scolding Lucas before forcing him to turn to Nova and Nina, saying strongly, “Now apologize to Nina and thank Nova for saving you.”

Lucas reluctantly walked over to the duo, saying, “I’m sorry for groping you, Nina. And thank you for saving me, Nova. I get it now. I can’t treat women like that, as you were willing to ignore me after I disrespected you by groping your beautiful behind. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

Nina gave a resigned sigh, saying, “I’ll forgive you this time, although I didn’t like that extra remark about my rear. I know I’m easy on the eyes and tend to wear very little but you need to be more respectful toward women. But I’ll forgive you this once. Just don’t let it happen again.”

Lucas looked hopeful, saying, “So… can we kiss and make up?”

Nina’s expression swiftly changed to anger, slapped the boy hard enough to knock him over and leave another mark, and stormed off in a huff. Everyone else groaned defeatedly.

“Way to go, tiger,” Nova snarked, clapping his hands sarcastically. “Way to ruin everything, including the lesson you just learned, because you couldn’t keep your perversion to yourself. Now Nina’s angry with you again and it’s all your fault. Looks like you didn’t learn anything after all. Good luck getting her to forgive you a second time, as I’m certain she’s withdrawn her previous forgiveness because of you completely ruining the situation. Guess that means I have to go and comfort her now. But smooth move, Mr. Smooth Operator, as you proved you didn’t learn a thing.”

With a sly smirk Nova chased after Nina. The party all gave depressed sighs before following, while Lucas’ parents could only groan defeatedly at what just happened. The villagers and the party were now celebrating for the deaths of both Copper Hawks and the restoration of their fields and river. Nina made sure to keep her distance from Lucas, as it was clear she was still mad at the boy, while Nova guarded her like a priceless treasure. The celebration lasted well into the evening before everyone retired for the night.

Next Chapter: Princess Elizabeth’s Wish

That's all for today. Very original title, I know. And poor Nina can't catch a break. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, female nudity, attempted rape)

Princess Elizabeth’s Wish

It had been a few days since the party helped the farming village. They had just arrived at a massive walled city, relieved to see it.

“This is it,” Sir Reginald said. “This is Gloria Kingdom’s capital. We finally made it.”

Kettu sighed, “About time. Hopefully we can get the info we need from King Jasper, as we don’t have any more leads. Plus we can restock on supplies that we couldn’t get elsewhere, especially more arrows for Nova, as he’s running low.”

“Not to mention get some good prices for the monster parts we have,” Zeeker added. “And I think it’s time Sir Reginald replaced his Zombieslayer, as it’s starting to get worn out and losing its cutting edge.”

Sir Reginald looked at his Zombieslayer. Indeed it was getting pretty worn down and its edges looked dull.

“Yes, I agree, Zeeker,” he said. “This Zombieslayer has gotten me very far. I definitely learned a lesson about item quality vs. price thanks to Nova and Lady Nina, as this Zombieslayer, while cheap in price, lasted me this long. We’ll ask King Jasper what types of swords his knights use and where the best armory in the city is. I know this city has a good six or so. But, for now, let us enter the city and meet with King Jasper.”

The party nodded and approached the front gates. Two guards were stationed there. When the party approached the guards stopped them.

“Hold it!” one guard said. “The city is on high-alert, so you need to state your business before entering.”

Nina quirked an eyebrow, “High-alert? Why?”

The second guard said, “We’ve had a string of thefts by this muscle-bound goon claiming to be the Demon King’s champion. He’s been proven to be a fake but he’s stolen a bunch of goods from various shops and merchants.”

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Sounds like Dominic, but just to be sure, what did he look like? Did he have a massive upper body, blonde hair, and a bombastic voice?”

“Yes, he did.”

“Then that was Dominic Flight, an annoyance that’s been causing trouble for so many people,” Van said. “Especially us. Sounds like he’s trying to tarnish Nova’s good name or try to get benefits from places that respect him.”

The first guard sighed, “So, that was the infamous Dominic Flight, huh? We should’ve known. Given the fact he’s been kicked out of Phoenixwing, Galvatar, Aquatica, and more recently Luvar Kingdom, it’s no surprise he’s causing us headaches here in Gloria Kingdom. At the rate he’s going he’s gonna be kicked off the continent, which I think many people would be fine with. But since you mention ‘Nova’ I take it that’s the true Demon King champion?”

Nova stepped up, “Yeah, that’s me, sad to say. If you want proof here’s the Demon King Ring.”

He held out his hand, showing the Demon King Ring. The guards looked at it and gently adjusted its level to see if it was the real thing.

“Yes, that’s the real Demon King Ring,” the second guard said. “Then that means you’re the true Demon King’s champion. As a result, you are permitted to enter. Just to warn you Dominic is still on the loose in the city. If you can help catch him we’d be most appreciative.”

“Since he’s smearing Nova’s good name then we have to get involved,” Sir Reginald said strongly. “Allow us to assist in his capture.”

The first guard said, “If you can catch him we’d be very grateful. And King Jasper would be more than happy to assist you, as he knows you’re coming. Please, proceed.”

He opened the gates, allowing the party to enter the city. He then closed the gates the second they were within the city walls to keep Dominic from escaping, nearing catching Van’s tail in the process. The party could see that there were a lot of disgruntled people, mostly merchants, talking to knights, with several women also looking rather violated.

Nina huffed, “Judging by those women it’s clear that Dominic has been making his usual unwanted moves on them. That man can’t keep his hands to himself. I’d say he’s a disgusting swine but I don’t want to insult pigs, as they’re actually nice animals. I should know, my grandpa had a pygmy pig as a pet and he was a sweetheart. Probably the one creature in the castle that actually liked me and wanted to play with me when I was growing up. But time for that later. Let’s find Dominic before he causes anymore damage to Nova’s reputation.” She then gained an idea, “Wait! I know how to track him. Phantom can use his powers to track Dominic wherever he may be.”

Nova smiled, “That’s an excellent idea, Nina. Summon him and let’s see what he can find.”

Nina nodded, bit her thumb to produce blood, and stated, “Phantom, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a gust of wind, and before long Phantom was perched on Nina’s arm. People nearby were surprised to see her familiar.

“Phantom, we need you to use your superior tracking ability to find Dominic. You remember him, right? The muscle-bound goon with blonde hair and the Skitter Mouse you want to eat? He’s somewhere in this city. See if you can locate him and report back to me as soon as you can.”

Phantom gave a screech in response before taking off and soaring over the city. His sharp eyes scanned the area, almost as if he could see through buildings. He then spotted something. He saw Dominic run out of a butcher carrying a bunch of stolen meat, with the butcher trying to chase after him but to no avail. Phantom immediately flew after Dominic, keeping him in his sight. He then saw the jerkish man take cover in an abandoned cellar. Phantom flew back to Nina and landed on her arm.

“Did you find him?” she asked.

Phantom nodded and produced an image from his eyes of Dominic and where he had hidden. Several knights were looking at the recording.

“That’s the old abandoned wine cellar that once belonged to Joe the winemaker,” a knight said. “He’s long since moved out but the building remains, albeit unoccupied. So that’s where that goon has been hiding.”

Nina turned to Phantom, “Phantom, please lead the way. While the knights know where the location is, we don’t, and we need to confront him for causing damage to Nova’s good name.”

Phantom nodded and took flight, guiding the party and several knights toward where he tracked Dominic to. They eventually came to the abandoned building and soon found the cellar. They could tell it was locked from the inside.

Nova took out a Summoning Sticker, saying, “Leave this part to me.” He placed it on the back of his right hand and said strongly, “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, much to the knight’s surprise.

“Elora, bash this cellar door open,” Nova instructed. “Dominic is down there and he’s been causing problems, including trying to either tarnish my name or take advantage of it.”

Upon hearing this fact Elora gave an angry hiss and lashed out her tail blade, effortlessly smashing the cellar door open. She charged inside, followed by a familiar girly scream, and moments later she dragged Dominic out of the cellar, his head in her mouth.

“Elora, spit that out. You don’t know where it’s been.”

Elora’s eyes widened in horror before spitting Dominic out, leaving his head coated in saliva. The large man looked at the various angry eyes with fear, almost if he was about to soil himself. The knights stepped up, clearly furious.

“Dominic Flight, by order of King Jasper, you are under arrest!” they said.

Dominic tried to run only for Van to kick him in the crotch, causing him to crumple to the ground, clutching his loins in pain. This action allowed three knights to quickly tackled and tie up Dominic, putting his hands in cuffs. Two more knights ventured down into the old wine cellar for a moment before coming back out.

“All the stolen goods are in here,” one said. “Well, most of them, as some of the stolen good were food; he clearly ate some by now, though there is still some food left. We’ll take care of returning the stolen money and items to their rightful owners. Please escort that thieving conman to the dungeons. And alert King Jasper that not only has the fake Demon King champion been caught but the real Demon King champion and his companions are here to see him.”

The knights nodded and dragged a wailing and begging Dominic away.

One knight turned to the party, “Thank you for your help. He’s been a major thorn in our side for a good week now. At least we can finally lift the high-alert from the city, as we didn’t want him escaping. But with him in custody we don’t have to worry about that. Please head toward the castle but don’t enter just yet. Wait for a knight to say you are allowed to enter, as we had to lockdown the castle to prevent Dominic from causing trouble in there.”

Nova nodded, “Glad we could assist.” He turned to Elora, “Thanks again, as always, Elora. To the Spirit Plane.”

Elora gave a happy hiss before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

Nina turned to Phantom, who had landed on her arm, “That goes for you, too, Phantom. We would’ve never been able to find him in this elaborate rat maze without you. To the Spirit Plane.”

Phantom looked proud before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles. The party then made their way toward the castle, which was located near the backend of the city. It took them a while but they eventually made it. They waited outside the castle until they got the word that it was okay. About five minutes later a knight came out of the front doors and faced them.

“Okay, it is safe to enter now,” he said. “King Jasper is waiting for you. He’s quite pleased you helped apprehend that fake who was tarnishing your good name. Please, enter, and allow a servant to escort you to the throne room.”

The party nodded and entered the castle. A servant wearing a nice suit gestured them to follow him. After a short walk they arrived in the throne room. Sitting on the throne was a handsome king along with a very beautiful princess in the throne to his left, though the throne to his right was empty. The party got into a bow as they approached the king.

“Thank you for your help,” King Jasper said. “As you know, I’m King Jasper, ruler of Gloria Kingdom. You did my people a great service by capturing that goon Dominic Flight. How dare he tarnish the name of the Demon King’s champion with his selfishness and ego. He caused my people so many headaches. No wonder he’s been banished from nearly every kingdom on this continent, and I may just do the same after his latest stunt. But putting that aside, you are the true Demon King’s champion party. Led by Sir Reginald Ganner of the Galvatar Royal Knights no less. I was informed about you from King Hendrik. Welcome to my castle.”

Sir Reginald said, “We are honored to meet you, Your Majesty. And I see Princess Elizabeth is looking well, too.”

Princess Elizabeth gave a small nod. She was a beautiful young woman with long ginger hair, bright blue eyes, far skin, an ample chest though it was much smaller than Nina’s, narrow waist, wider hips than Nina, and long legs. She was dressed in a traditional princess gown, mostly white with some blue trimmings, nice shoes, and a tiara on her head. She seemed awfully quiet.

“Is she okay?” Nova asked.

King Jasper said, “You’ll have to forgive my daughter. Recently she’s been courted by various nobles but they’ve left a negative impression on her. She might be developing an animosity toward men, or at least noblemen. I, too, am not pleased with how those nobles were treating her. But don’t worry, she’ll come around, she just needs time to get this out of her system.”

“I’m sorry she had to experience that. I take it they were treating her like a possession or a prize to be won?”

King Jasper nodded, “Yes, that is correct.”

Nova sighed, “The nerve of them. Why is it that women are getting mistreated by men on this world? Nina was mistreated by men, too, almost developing a hatred for them, and now a nice girl like Princess Elizabeth? Not to mention all the women who Dominic harassed. What’s the deal with that? It’s not right.”

Princess Elizabeth’s eyes widened in surprise at Nova’s statement, her small frown slowly turning into a small smile.

King Jasper smiled, “It pleases me to see that you’re respectful toward women, Demon King champion.”

Nova looked up, “How do you know I’m the Demon King champion?”

“King Hendrik told me about you. Not many archers with metal backpacks and pink hair are running around this world. That’s how I knew that Dominic was a fake despite the fact he was wearing a ring that he claimed was the Demon King Ring. But he was slippery, I will say that. My knights had a whole lot of trouble with him. If there’s one thing he’s good at it’s running. So I thank you for assisting in his capture. Now, I know you need help. What can I do to assist you?”

Sir Reginald answered, “We need help from your intelligence network. We need to know where there are other Undead Bases so we can uproot them before more crop up. If we can remove Muu’s influence from this continent it would be a major victory for our side. We’ve successfully taken down several Undead Captains and a handful of Generals but we’ve been almost flying blind in trying to find other Undead Bases. Kettu the Werefox here had extensive notes on numerous Undead Bases and their leaders but those have since run dry. So we need help from your intelligence network to see if we can find anymore Undead Bases, at least in this kingdom, and we can complete our mission in destroying them.”

King Jasper nodded, “Yes, I understand. That makes a lot of sense. I will have my intelligence network begin looking into how many Undead Bases are in this kingdom. I will also ask Queen Maria of Emerald Coast Kingdom if she can assist by having her intelligence network track any Undead Bases in her kingdom. If our two kingdoms can work together we should be able to find all the remaining Undead Bases so you can track them down and destroy them. If we can get rid of Muu’s influence on this continent it would be a huge boon to us. I will have my men get on it right away, though it make take time.” He gestured a servant to approach, “Please escort these noble warriors to one of the guest rooms. I will begin getting our intelligence network running to see if we can track down any remaining Undead Bases. I will also contact Queen Maria to get her onboard with this request.”

The servant bowed, “Yes, at once, Your Highness.” He turned to the party, “Please follow me to a guest chamber.”

The party nodded and followed the servant out of the throne room. Princess Elizabeth was eyeing Nova with interest. The party was escorted to a large guest room. It was elegant and stylish, with all the needed trimmings to make it feel like it belonged to royalty. The party took the time to relax for a bit.

“Unlike the last time we were in a royal guest room, this time we don’t have to worry about a glory whore king attacking us,” Kettu said.

Van chuckled, “Yes, that’s true. We also don’t have to worry about a literal prince charming stealing Nina away from Nova.”

Nina wrapped her arms around Nova’s right arm, “True, though it did help me come to realize the truth. That day was chaotic but it had a good outcome, especially since we saved Luvar Kingdom from self-destruction due to Fredric’s greed and ego nearly ruining it. I just wonder how quickly King Jasper will be able to get the information we seek?”

“Hard to say,” Zeeker shrugged. “It depends on how fast King Jasper’s intelligence network is. Hopefully it won’t take too long, as we do have work to do. But, at the same time, a bit of rest wouldn’t hurt, as we have been running around a lot lately.”

Suddenly the Shaman Magic Bracelet Nova was wearing started beeping, lit up briefly, and returned itself to normal.

“Looks like the auto-repair sequence is finished,” Nova said. “Let me just check something.”

He took off the Shaman Magic Bracelet and held it in his right hand, allowing the Demon King Ring to analyze it. A screen popped up from the gem on the ring and explained everything to him.

“Yeah, the Shaman Magic Bracelet is repaired. That means Nina can safely use it again.”

Nina smiled, “Thank you, Nova. I’ll return yours now so we can exchange them.”

She took off the spare Shaman Magic Bracelet and gave it to Nova, who returned hers in exchange. Nina slipped it back onto her wrist, examining it, while Nova placed the spare back in his Digi-Pack.

“Looks good as new. I just hope it doesn’t malfunction again and get me into trouble like it did against that evolved Fire Jelly.”

Angelo smiled, “We should be fine. Especially now that we know that Mana Stone energy can mess with it. We’ll be sure to be more careful with them around such energies. Now, let us just kick back and relax for a bit until we get some information from King Jasper.”

The party nodded and took this opportunity to unwind for a bit. After a little while Nova started to make his way out of the room.

“Where are you going, Nova?” Kettu asked.

“Little boy’s room,” he replied. “I’ll be right back. Hopefully nothing happens in the same vein as when we were in Luvar Kingdom’s capital.”

He walked out of the room and headed toward the nearest bathroom. A few minutes later he emerged, wiping his hands dry, and started to make his way back to the room.

“Um… excuse me…” a gentle voice said.

Nova turned around to see Princes Elizabeth approach him.

“Oh, Princess Elizabeth,” he said, surprised. “Does His Majesty need us?”

She shook her head, “No, I just wanted to thank you for what you said before. It’s clear you have respect for women, unlike those noblemen I’ve been dating lately. That meant a lot to me. You seem like a nice man.”

Nova blushed a bit, “Well, I like to think I am. But I do respect women as they deserve it. Women aren’t playthings or possessions like how some men treat them. I strongly believe in gender equality, for good and for ill. And someone like you deserves to be treated fairly, not just because you’re a princess but because you’re a woman. I just wish I could help you find a good man, Princess, as they are out there. My party is full of them. But it seems that noblemen around these parts let their status and prestige go to their heads if they’re treating you with such disrespect. That’s wrong. I hope you find the man you need, Princess.”

Princess Elizabeth smiled warmly, “Thank you, Sir Nova.” There was a pause before she said, “Um… I want to know. Those bracelets you and your party are wearing. What are they? Hmm?” She then noticed Nova wasn’t wearing his, “Where is your bracelet?”

Nova replied, “To answer your questions in order, those are Shaman Magic Bracelets. They grant us the ability to use Shaman magic via Elemental Energy Fusion. Everyone in the party can use then. Well, everyone except me, that is. The reason why I was wearing one was so it could repair itself, as it had malfunctioned when being struck by Mana Stone energy. It’s actually Nina’s but I was holding onto it while it repaired itself and gave her the spare Shaman Magic Bracelet I was carrying in the meantime. Because I can’t use Shaman magic it would be safe with me until it finished its repairs since it can’t affect me if it were to malfunction again. Hers just finished repairing itself so I returned it to her and she gave me the spare back so I can hold onto it for safekeeping. But I admit I’m jealous of my fellow party members and their ability to use Shaman magic, as I worry I’ll become the weakest link, if I’m not already, and start falling behind them. But that’s what those bracelets are.”

Princess Elizabeth’s eyes were wide, “You mean your party can use the rare and coveted power of Shaman magic?! You are so lucky. I’ve heard a bit about Shaman magic. Do you think maybe someone in your party could demonstrate it to me? I know it might be wasting the Shaman Magic Bracelet’s energy but I really want to see what Shaman magic can do. Please?”

Nova scratched the back of his head nervously, saying, “I’m not sure, although I doubt they’d be against showing off the power of the Shaman Magic Bracelets. If you want to follow me back to our guest room they could maybe give you a demonstration.”

Princess Elizabeth looked excited and she followed Nova back to the guest room. Nina’s eyes widened as she saw the princess with Nova.

“What’s going on?” she growled.

“Easy, easy, Nina,” Nova said. “Princess Elizabeth wanted to know more about the Shaman Magic Bracelets you all are wearing. She’s curious to see Shaman magic in action. It’s up to you if you want to do a bit of show-and-tell, as I can’t do it, obviously, but she wanted to know more.”

Nina became calmer, saying, “Oh? Is that all? Then I guess a little show-and-tell wouldn’t hurt, especially since we have time to spare in allowing the Shaman Magic Bracelets to recharge afterward.”

Princess Elizabeth looked excited, “Please, do show me! I want to see Shaman magic in action, as I’ve only heard stories and rumors about it.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “I see no harm in it, especially if it’ll educate you about Shaman magic. Everyone, let’s show Princess Elizabeth our Shaman forms.”

Everyone nodded, tapped certain Elemental Gems, and all stated in unison, “Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

They were all engulfed in swirling energy, much to Princess Elizabeth’s surprise. When the energy dissipated the party were in their Shaman forms. Princess Elizabeth’s eyes were wide as saucers as she gazed upon the different forms.

“A-Amazing!” she said eagerly. “So this is Shaman magic? It truly lives up to its reputation. What are these forms called?”

Sir Reginald said, “My form is called the Terra Dark Knight, a combination of Earth and Dark elements.”

Angelo smiled, “My graceful form is called the Tsunami Knight, a fusion of Light and Water.”

Nina struck a pose, “My form is called Goddess of Phoenixes, a masterful mix of Fire, Wind, and Light.”

Zeeker crossed his arms, “My form is called the Burning Beast, a combo of Fire and Wind.”

Kettu said casually, “This form is called Fox Fyre, a fusion of Fire and Dark.”

Van stated in a noble tone, “And this form is called Guardian of Edyn, a fusion of Earth and Wood.”

Princess Elizabeth looked like a kid at Christmas. She took a moment to get close to each and every form to drink in as much as she could, trying to see all the finer details of the Shaman forms.

“Oh, you all are so lucky to have this rare gift,” she said. “Your forms are magnificent. I’m so glad I got to see Shaman magic at least once in my life.”

Nova said, “Nina actually has two forms: Goddess of Phoenixes and Nymph Wing, which is a Wood and Wind fusion. She got the second form kinda by accident, as it was the result of her Shaman Magic Bracelet malfunctioning when it was struck by Mana Stone energy like I mentioned earlier.”

Princess Elizabeth turned to Nina, wide eyed, “Really? You have a second Shaman form? Can you please show me?”

Nina gave a light sigh, “Sorry, I can’t, at least not right now. I can’t shift between forms while transformed. And in order to access my other form I would need to first end this form and then let my Shaman Magic Bracelet recharge, as it needs to recharge after each use. Maybe later, okay?”

Princess Elizabeth nodded, “Okay. But please show me when you can, as I want to see if the form is different than this one.”

“As you wish, Princess Elizabeth. I’ll seek you out when I’m ready to show you my Nymph Wing form. It’s not my favorite form, I’ll say that, but it does have its uses. Now, boys, let’s end the show-and-tell for now.”

Everyone nodded and said in unison, “Cancel Fusion!”

They were all enveloped in swirling energy. When the energy vanished they had all returned to normal, with their Shaman Magic Bracelets turning dark to recharge.

Princess Elizabeth politely bowed, “Thank you for letting me see your Shaman forms. I’ve heard a bit about Shaman magic but I never thought I’d actually get to see it in action. It is so cool. Thank you again for your willingness to satisfy my curiosity. I’d best be off now. Miss Nina, I expect you to show me that Nymph Wing form, as I’m very curious about it.”

Nina gave a small smile, “Yeah, sure, don’t worry. Just give me some time until the Shaman Magic Bracelet recharges. When ready I’ll seek you out.”

Princess Elizabeth bowed again before leaving the guest room, allowing the party to rest and relax.

“She seems nice,” Angelo said with a smile.

“Yeah, she is,” Nova said. “She also seems to appreciate being around nice men for once, as, according to her, the nobles she’s been dating lately have really left a sour taste in her mouth. She seems to like having us around as we’re not like those noblemen she’s been courted by as of recent.”

Nina huffed, “I just hope she doesn’t try to get too close to you, Nova. You have been recently attracting a number of women, after all. I’d rather not have to have more competition for you.”

The pink-haired man chuckled, “You can relax, Nina. You’re the only woman for me. You’re everything I could ever want in a woman and more. Besides, Princess Elizabeth deserves better. A real prince charming who can sweep her off her feet. Not someone like me, who is better off with a warrior princess like you, Nina.”

Nina wrapped her arms around his neck, purring, “The way you talk.”

The two of them shared a tender kiss, making the rest of the party smile. After a while a servant came to the guest room.

“Pardon me, but His Majesty, King Jasper, requests your presence,” he said.

The party nodded, gathered up their stuff, and followed the servant to the throne room again. There King Jasper was waiting for them, giving them a warm smile as they approached.

“I heard from my daughter that you all can use Shaman magic and were willing to give her a little demonstration,” he said. “I thank you for that, as Elizabeth has a strong fascination with rare types of magic like Shaman magic. But back to the point at hand. I just finished talking with Queen Maria from Emerald Coast Kingdom. She’s gathering up her intel on any Undead Bases and Muu in general and will give it to you at the checkpoint to her kingdom. Make sure you get it. As for my own intel we’re still collecting the data from our sources. It’ll probably take until tomorrow before all the information has been gathered. Normally it’d take less time but our intelligence network has been rather scrambled lately due to Muu’s interference. So I will permit you to stay here in the castle until then.”

Sir Reginald bowed, “Thank you very much, Your Majesty. This’ll be a huge help to us, as we’ve been almost wandering aimlessly trying to find any information on Muu’s forces after exhausting Kettu’s notes.”

“We are all allies, after all, Sir Reginald, especially in this fight against Muu. Thus we all need to work together during these times. It is my pleasure, especially since you all made Elizabeth quite happy with your Shaman magic displays. Seeing her happy makes me happy, as she’s been pretty down in the dumps since her mother, Queen Sasha, died two months ago. Then dealing with those annoying noblemen only seemed to rub salt on her wounds. So you all cheering her up made me very happy. Now, you are dismissed. I will have one of my subjects inform you when dinnertime is. Please relax and enjoy your stay.”

The party bowed and were escorted back to their guest room. Nova then started to head for the door again.

“Going somewhere, Nova?” Kettu asked.

“I want to explore the castle a bit,” he said. “I don’t get to see too many castles. I’d like to find out how each one differs from others we’ve been to, such as their taste in artwork and how the staff is run. I won’t be long.”

“Just don’t get lost, as castles can be unintentional labyrinths to even its residents,” Angelo said. “But I’m glad to see you’re interested in such things. Culture is good for oneself, after all.”

Nova chuckled lightly before heading out into the castle to explore. However, he didn’t get far before he was suddenly struck by some sort of spell. He felt drowsy before collapsing on the floor, a familiar figure standing over him.

Nova slowly came to his senses. He felt strange. He felt the comfort of something soft underneath him yet his arms and legs seemed to be stuck. When he finally regained his bearings he realized he was on a luxurious bed with his arms and legs tied to the posts, much to his surprise.

“I’m getting a strong sense of déjà vu right now…” he said, clearly dreading what was about to happen.

Suddenly someone emerged from behind a changing divider, which he had just noticed, making him go wide eyed in shock. It was Princess Elizabeth, and she was completely naked, much to his shock. He tried to turn away, a blush on his face.

“P-P-Princess?!” he sputtered. “W-W-What are you doing?! Why are you naked!?”

Princess Elizabeth gave a small giggle, “There’s no need to be shy, Sir Nova. I want you to look at my naked body. After all, you’ll be blessing it with something special.”

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

She slowly walked over to him, smiling, “I’ve gained an attraction to you, Sir Nova, and I want you do grant me a wish. I want you to make love with me and impregnate me. I know you have your mission so you cannot stay but I want you to give me your child so that a part of you will always be with me. You see, you are the first man I’ve met since these stupid courting sessions that treats me with such kindness and respect. You clearly value women and that means a lot to me. You treat me better than any other man has treated me, so I want you to claim me and give me your child. That way I won’t have to deal with anymore annoying suitors and I can bear the child of a truly noble man. Please, Sir Nova, take me and give me the gift of your child.”

She slowly climbed onto the bed, positioning herself on top of Nova. She gave him a warm, loving smile, making him blush as he tried to turn away. She used her hand to make him face her, causing his blush to get brighter. She then started to work her way toward his pants, ready to pull them down. Just then the door burst open, much to both of their shock, and an enraged Nina was standing in the doorway.

“Miss Nina!” Princess Elizabeth sputtered.

Nina growled, “I knew something was up. My female intuition could detect that someone was making a move on Nova. Now listen here: Nova is MY boyfriend! I won’t let anyone take him away from me, not after everything we’ve been through! That includes you, Princess Elizabeth. The only reason why I’m not running over to strangle you is because you are an ally to us, thus I don’t want to jeopardize relations with our party and our allies. Thus I’m using whatever restraint I have to not do something rash. But I’m deadly serious that if you don’t get off him and untie him I WILL attack in order to keep my man safe!”

“Wait, please, Miss Nina! Just hear me out! I only want Sir Nova to impregnate me so I can bear the child of a truly noble man like him! I know he’s on a mission thus he cannot stay but I want him to give me a child so I can keep a part of him with me forever.”

Nina’s eyes flared, “And you think that’s okay with me?! Not on your life! This is no different than rape! I won’t allow you to claim his virginity! The only one who will be bearing him children will be me! So get off of him!”

Princess Elizabeth said, “Maybe we can share him? Why don’t you join us in a threesome?”

Nina was taken aback by this offer. She seemed to seriously consider the idea, much to Nova’s dismay.

“You can’t be serious!” Nova sputtered.

Nina quickly shook her head, clearing it of the thought, before stating, “No! I’m not sharing my man! He’s mine and mine alone! After everything he’s done for me I’m not about to let anyone else claim him! So get off of him now!”

Just then a voice said, “Please, Elizabeth, release him and put an end to this.”

Everyone turned to see King Jasper walk into the room.

“Holy slag I’m in real trouble now…” Nova gulped.

King Jasper ignored him, keeping his focus on Elizabeth, saying, “Elizabeth, I understand how you feel. I, too, have been greatly annoyed at those suitors and how they treat you. It’s clear that Sir Nova treats you the way you crave, thus you’ve become smitten for him. But he’s already dating Lady Nina. Do you think it is wise to get in between two lovers? Besides, did it ever occur to you what Sir Nova wants?”

Elizabeth looked surprised, “What Sir Nova wants?”

“Yes, my daughter. You need to consider his feelings in this situation, too. It’s clear he’s not appreciative of his situation. Would you like it if a man tied you to a bed and attempted to rape you like you are doing to him? I don’t think so. So what makes you think Sir Nova is okay with this situation?”

Nova turned to Princess Elizabeth, saying, “Princess, I appreciate that you find me appealing. But my heart belongs to Nina. And, besides, I would not have the heart to grant your wish and impregnate you. I have a strong policy when it comes to women. I refuse to engage in sexual activity with a woman who I will only see once. As such, even at my loneliest and most desperate I never resorted to hookers or call girls. On top of that I’d feel horrible if I were to father a child and leave that woman the sole caretaker of him or her. I can’t do something like that. I take responsibility for my actions. If I’m to impregnate a woman I will stay with her to ensure that the child gets both a father’s and a mother’s love, and make sure the responsibility of raising that child is split between me and the mother. I couldn’t impregnate you and then walk out on you, leaving you the only one to raise the baby. I understand how you feel, and I appreciate that you find me worthy of you, but I could never impregnate you and leave all the responsibility of childcare on your shoulders. Please, Princess, understand that I’m the type who will see my actions and responsibility through to the end. And please understand that I cannot grant you your wish, as that goes against my policy regarding women and childcare. So, will you please get dressed and untie me?”

Nina’s face melted into a smile, thinking, “Nova, you truly are a rare gem. I can’t believe women prior to us meeting were so cruel to you, not realizing the wonderful man you are. I’m so fortunate that you are now my man and hearing you say this means when we finally do wed and have children I know you’ll take your side of the job seriously. As if I didn’t need anymore reasons to love you.”

Princess Elizabeth looked at Nova with warm eyes, “I’m sorry, Sir Nova. I understand that you are a man who takes responsibility seriously. I respect that. I just hoped that you would grant me my wish so I could let my heart be free. But I can see Miss Nina has already claimed your heart. As such, I will let you go. It’s a shame, really, as I’d be honored to bear the child of such a noble man like you. But it’s clear that Miss Nina is your beloved woman and will become the mother of your children.” She turned to Nina, “Miss Nina, you are a lucky woman to have such a wonderful man like Sir Nova as your lover. I admit I’m very jealous of you. But it’s clear his loyalties lie with you. Please forgive me for what I tried to do. I really had good intentions when I captured him, as I only wanted to feel real kindness from a man who treats women well. But I can see that in doing so nearly jeopardized things. Please forgive me.”

Nina took a deep breath before saying, “I’ll let it go this time, as I understand how you feel. Nova is an incredible man, one that I’m amazed more women didn’t recognize prior to him and me meeting. He’s a rare gem, that’s for sure. A diamond in the rough. At least we managed to defuse this situation before you pulled his pants down. So, could you please get some clothes on now and untie him?”

Princess Elizabeth nodded, “I’ll let you untie him while I get dressed. Thank you for being so understanding, Miss Nina.”

She got off Nova and made her way to the changing divider to put her clothes back on. Nina immediately ran over to Nova and managed to untie him before hugging him.

“Nina…” he said gently. “I’m so happy you’re not mad at me for this. Any other woman would probably blame me for this incident despite the fact I’m the one who was ambushed and tied up.”

She cooed, “I know you’d never cheat on me, you’re not like that. Thus I know you’re the victim of this incident, not the aggressor, so to speak. But I wonder why this has been happening? First Joy the witch and now Princess Elizabeth? Why is this happening?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I wonder if this is the universe’s attempt to break us apart? I still feel there may be some cosmic forces out to get me, so maybe they’re trying to drive a wedge between us in order to erase that victory you helped me achieve. This really only started happening after you and I became an item, as before misfortune befell me normally anyway. I just hope this doesn’t become a recurring situation. Twice is more than enough, thank you.”

“Perhaps…” Nina said, concerned. “If so, we’ll continue to defy the universe and remain together.”

King Jasper said, “While I don’t know what you mean I do ask you don’t tell anyone about this incident. Or at least don’t reveal that you saw my daughter naked. It could make for some… unpleasant circumstances among my people.”

Nova nodded, “Gladly, Your Majesty. We’ll keep our mouths shut about this, especially if it preserves your family’s reputation and prevents unwanted situations from cropping up. We’ll pretend this never happened.”

“Thank you, that means a lot to me.”

Princess Elizabeth emerged, fully dressed, and gave a polite bow, “I’m truly sorry, Sir Nova and Miss Nina. I only wanted to express my feelings and be free from the shackles that held me down. I thank you for being so forgiving to my actions. I wish you many happy years together. Oh, and Miss Nina, you don’t have to show me your other Shaman form, especially after I tried to steal your man.”

Nina gave a light sigh, “I’ll still let you see my other Shaman form, as I already promised I would. And like Nova I’m a woman of my word. It’ll have to be later, though, as I need to defuse from getting so worked up over Nova nearly getting stolen from me again.”

Princess Elizabeth smiled, “Thank you, Miss Nina. You and Sir Nova truly are wonderful people. While I’m jealous over your relationship I do wish you many years of happiness together. I just hope I can find a man like Sir Nova one day.”

Nova gave a small smile, “I’m sure you’ll find an even better one. You just need to look in unlikely places. Maybe even potentially considering a commoner, since it seems various nobles tend to be jerks.”

King Jasper replied, “I may put that on the table. After all, my wife, Sasha, was a commoner, so if the nobles continue to give Elizabeth grief I may allow her to seek out a commoner, since Sasha and I spent many happy years together. Now, please return to your guest room and please pretend this never happened.”

Nova and Nina nodded, left the princess’ chambers, and returned to their guest room; their bond stronger than ever.

Next Chapter: General Vertebreak

That's all for today. Wonder why Nova's become such a target for women? Tune in next time to see if that question will be answered.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

General Vertebreak

In Muu’s fortress the evil Undead King was fuming at the recent setbacks in his army progress. He glared hatefully at magical images of Nova and his party.

“I have had it with that little pink-haired rat and his band of buddies!” Muu roared. “This time the gloves come off. I’m going to ensure that he and his party are wiped off the face of Edyn! General Vertebreak, come forth!”

What sounded like heavy footsteps started to make their way toward Muu. A massive shadowy figure with glowing blue eyes appeared before the Undead King.

“You summoned me, Master Muu?” the shadowy beast said.

“Yes, I did. I want you to go and find those seven weasels and wipe them off the face of the planet. I don’t care what you do or how you do it, just eliminate them once and for all.”

The shadowy figure nodded, “I hear and obey, Master Muu. Leave them to me. They have been quite the annoyance lately so I’m all for wiping them out for good. I will take my leave now and I will return with their souls.”

The figure vanished into the darkness, allowing Muu to settle down in his throne.

“Those little vermin have caused me so many problems. Vertebreak better not fail me.”

At the time the party was back on the road. It had been a few days since they had arrived at Gloria Kingdom’s capital and were now heading to the next Undead Base. Sir Reginald was comparing a second map they had gotten from King Jasper with their original one, nodding as he completed his calculations.

“I’m glad that King Jasper was able to get all the remaining locations of Undead Bases in his kingdom’s territory,” he said. “It makes tracking them down so much easier.”

Zeeker nodded, “Aye, that’s true. And we even know who we’re up against. Not to mention Queen Maria should have the information we need ready and waiting for us at the checkpoint. So once we clean up our affairs here in Gloria Kingdom we can focus on getting that information and dealing with Muu’s forces in her kingdom.”

“Not to mention that once we liberate Emerald Coast Kingdom from Muu we’ll have removed all his influence on this continent,” Kettu pointed out. “Meaning we’ll have to head by boat to the next continent in order to continue our mission.”

Nina looked excited, “How cool. I’ve never been on a boat before. I just hope Angelo will be okay, as the Hopper Clan gets really sick in salt water.”

Angelo smiled, “I’m grateful you’re concerned about me, Nina. I should be fine on the boat itself, as it’s only if I’m submerged in salt water that I have problems. Salty air doesn’t hurt me, other than maybe make my throat a bit dry, but other than that I should be fine on the boat itself.”

Nova nodded, “That’s good to hear, Angelo. We don’t want you getting hurt or sick from the salt water. Although I do worry about possibly running into Captain Boneacuda and his zombie sharkmen out there, as we’re probably getting closer to Muu’s territory when we hit the sea.”

“That’s a fair assessment, Nova,” Van said. “While the continent Muu is on is a bit further off it’s possible he might relocate Boneacuda to cut off any possible threats before they even come close to his territory. So we’d best keep that in mind in case Muu decided to do that.”

Nina turned to him, “By the way, Nova, that was very nice of you to give Princess Elizabeth one of your custom-made accessories as a gift. It really made her day. You’re starting to become a lady killer.”

Nova blushed, “I wouldn’t go that far, Nina. After all, you’re the only woman for me. But I felt it would be a nice gesture, especially since she seems rather lonely. I know that feeling all too well. Hopefully that Jade Crystal Bracelet will make her happy. It was one of my better-made accessories from the batch I currently have.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “You did a good thing for her, Nova, as it’s clear she took a shine to you. So giving her a nice gift probably meant the world to her, especially after having to deal with rather bad men prior. You really know how to make women happy.”

Nova blushed again, “Again I wouldn’t go that far. But I do understand how she felt so I gave her a little something to make her feel better. Hopefully she finds a good man, preferably a commoner at this point since the nobles she’s had to deal with are jerks. And at least she got to see Nina’s other Shaman form like Nina promised.”

Nina blushed a bit, “Yeah, well, it’s still not my favorite form. I feel so exposed in it, and I don’t like not having my Magic Fire Feathers on-hand in case of an emergency. Hmm… maybe I should consider plucking a few and keeping them in a container or something in case of emergencies?”

Suddenly, the sky went dark, alerting the party. They quickly took a defensive position, clearly knowing that an enemy was approaching.

“Speaking of emergencies, we’ve got one upon us now,” Kettu growled.

A voice chuckled, “You lot are sharp to detect my arrival. Master Muu is not happy with you, so I’ve been sent to eliminate you for good.”

Zeeker went pale, “No… gang… it’s him. It’s General Vertebreak.”

The voice chuckled again, “I’m not surprised you remember me, ‘Captain’ Zeeker. After all, who could forget that fateful day. The day I knocked your resistance on its head. While some of you managed to escape my clutches, yourself included, today I’ll make sure all seven of you don’t live to see another sunrise!”

A black portal opened up and something massive emerged from it. To everyone’s horror it was a giant skeletal dragon. Its entire body was made of bones, with a glowing red core in the center of its ribcage. Its bony body was standing on large legs ending in massive feet with four toes in front and two in the back. It had a long, swishing tail composed of bones and skeletal wings on its back. Its claws were bigger than its feet, consisting of thick bones, while its draconic or dinosaur-like head was resting on top of a long neck with glowing blue eyes and a japing jaws filled with sharp teeth. The party got into a defensive position, knowing they had a huge fight on their hands.

“So this is General Vertebreak?” Nova gulped. “I can see how he stopped your resistance, Zeeker. Not only is he massive, but even I can sense his immense power.”

General Vertebreak chuckled, “I’m glad to see you understand my power, Demon King puppet. I hope you won’t mind me giving you a demonstration… by using you lot as target practice. Master Muu is really furious at how far you’ve gotten in uprooting his army. He knew it was time to send in the big guns to keep you from going any further. And I intend to deliver his final judgment upon you. Once I’m done with you Master Muu won’t have any opposition left, at least none that would be concerning to him. After you fall the rest of the world will be easy pickings. So, prepare for your final battle.”

Nina stood her ground, saying, “We won’t bow to the likes of you, Vertebreak! We’ll show you that we can overcome anything! Gang!” She turned to the party, “It’s time to bust out our Shaman forms, as we’re gonna need the extra power.”

The party nodded and activated their Shaman Magic Bracelets, much to Vertebreak’s confusion.

“Elemental Energy Fusion activate!” all but Nova said strongly.

They were engulfed in swirling energy and before long General Vertebreak was facing the Goddess of Phoenixes, Terra Dark Knight, Fox Fyre, Guardian of Edyn, Burning Beast, and Tsunami Knight. His eyes flickered in surprise as he saw the Shaman forms.

“So, you can use Shaman magic?” he said, clearly surprised. “That’s a new one. But it also explains how you could defeat someone like General Cranidon. Not that it’ll matter right now, as I plan to kill all of you today. This at least should keep things interesting. Go ahead, show me your ‘power’!”

Nina took a dynamic pose, “You’ll regret that! Flames of Judgment!”

She launched her sea of flames that engulfed General Vertebreak’s lower body. His eyes widened in shock as the flames actually hurt him, making him quickly try to put them out. When the flames subsided his bony legs were charred a bit.

Sir Reginald raised his claymores in the air, “My turn! Dark Meteor Crush!”

At first nothing happened. Then a massive black meteor came out of the sky and smashed into General Vertebreak: briefly knocking him onto all fours, stunning him at how strong the attack was.

Kettu stated, “Let’s see you avoid this! Will-O-Wisp!”

He launched one of the will-o-wisps that floated around his body and it fused with General Vertebreak. He stumbled a bit as the cursed fire started to eat away at him.

Van got on his rear legs, stating, “My turn! Thorn Spears!”

He fired several large thorns at General Vertebreak, striking him in the face, making him cover it with one of his bony claws.

Zeeker stated, “This is for the Beastman Resistance! Firestorm Wrath!”

He summoned a massive firestorm that engulfed General Vertebreak, swallowing him in the intensity of its flames. When the flames subsided he was still standing albeit burnt.

Angelo said, “And now to cool you off! Waterspout Tempest!”

A massive waterspout formed and engulfed General Vertebreak, whipping and striking him with powerful water blows. When the attack waned General Vertebreak was still standing though dazed.

He shook his head to clear it before saying, “I’ll admit that surprised me. Now I know how you beat my allies like General Cranidon. But I’m not weak. Your attacks won’t take me down! Take this! Darkness Explosion!”

A massive explosion of darkness erupted underneath the party, blasting them with intense energy, making them scream in pain. When the blast subsided Nova’s party was on the ground, dazed and hurt. They slowly got to their feet before glaring at General Vertebreak.

“Impressive,” he said. “Not many can survive my Darkness Explosion. But let’s see if you can survive this! Dark Star!”

Nova’s party was engulfed in a black sphere. The sphere shrank a bit before exploding like a star. The party crashed to the ground, severely hurt and dazed. They struggled to stand as their Shaman forms began to flicker. Suddenly, a feather on Nina’s wing ignited before engulfing her in golden flames. When the flames subsided she was standing tall, completely refreshed.

“I see, little birdie. You have the power of the Magic Fire Feathers. So killing you will be nearly impossible as they’ll just heal you before you get too deep into danger. That’s an annoyance, to say the least. But you can’t fight me alone.”

Nova, although very weak, took aim with his bow while General Vertebreak was distracted with Nina.

“Lucifer Mode…” he said weakly.

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

“Celestial Shot!”

He fired the Holy energy-infused arrow at General Vertebreak. Before the Undead General realized it the arrow struck him in the core, making him scream in agony. Nina took advantage of this situation.

“Flame of Judgment!” she cried.

More flames erupted and washed over General Vertebreak’s lower body, making him howl in pain. When the flames subsided he looked enraged.

“You two seem to be the biggest problems to Master Muu!” he snarled. “This’ll show you! Darkness Eruption!”

Another explosion of darkness engulfed the party, making them scream in pain. When the explosion cleared, the whole party was on the ground. Worst of all, the other party members had reverted from their Shaman forms, now back to normal. Only Nina remained in her Shaman form as another one of her Magic Fire Feathers activated and healed her, allowing her to continue fighting.

“You’re a resilient one, little birdie,” General Vertebreak said. “I’ll give you that. Your Magic Fire Feathers make you virtually unkillable. But your allies won’t be so lucky.”

Nina floated in front of her friends, holding out her arms, stating, “I won’t let you hurt them anymore!”

General Vertebreak started to laugh. Nova, who was very weak and injured, held out his hand with the Demon King Ring and pointed it at the Undead General.

“B-Banish!” he stated as strongly as possible.

Before General Vertebreak could register this statemen he suddenly vanished in a flash of light, leaving the party alone. Nina blinked a few times, clearly stunned at what just happened, before quickly floating over to Nova.

“Nova…” she said softly. “You just saved us.”

Nova replied weakly, “You can thank me later. Nina, heal the rest of the party, as we’re all on death’s doorstep.”

She nodded and stated, “Goddess Blessing!”

The party was bathed in divine healing energies. When the energies subsided the party slowly came to their senses.

“What hit me…?” Kettu asked, dazed.

“Nothing short of a freight train to the face…” Nova replied wearily.

Sir Reginald regained his senses, stating, “Wait! Where’s General Vertebreak?”

“Yeah, and how are we still alive?” Van grunted.

Nina said, “Nova cast Banish on General Vertebreak, sending him away, saving all of us. I then used Goddess Blessing to heal everyone after all the damage we had taken. And before you ask, the reason why I’m still in my Shaman form is because my own Magic Fire Feathers healed me before I got into too much danger, thus preventing me from defusing and allowing me to keep fighting.”

Zeeker turned to Nova, amazed, “Nova, how did you know Banish would work on Vertebreak?”

“I didn’t,” Nova admitted truthfully. “It was a desperate gamble that fortunately had the dice roll in our favor. But I doubt it’ll work a second time. Knowing Muu he’ll find a way to prevent that, just like how he can prevent his Captains and Generals from being victims of the Angel spell and such. I admit my move was a desperate one, it thankfully worked, but Vertebreak won’t fall for it a second time, that I know.”

Sir Reginald smiled, “Still, that was some pretty smart thinking, Nova. It may have been a risky gamble but it worked, saving our lives. And we do know one thing: we’re no match for General Vertebreak. Even our Shaman forms were only able to damage him but not enough to defeat him. We lost this round. We only survived thanks to Lady Nina’s Shaman powers and Nova’s cleverness. We need to get stronger if we’re to have any chance at beating General Vertebreak.”

Kettu grunted, “True; at least I fired off a Will-O-Wisp on him. That’ll get him out of our hair for a while; it’ll drain him of his lifeforce and energy. Muu will probably be able to get rid of it but it’ll still have done its job in weakening Vertebreak and forcing him on the bench for a bit. But you are right about one thing, Reggie: we lost today. Which means we need to get stronger.”

Angelo said, “True, but we survived, and we still have each other. Things could be worse, right?”

Nova gave a weak smile, “Angelo’s right. We still survived despite the beating we took and we still have each other. And we weren’t totally helpless, as we did damage him a fair bit and I discovered his core is his weak spot, since my Celestial Shot did a lot when it struck it. So this day wasn’t an entire loss. We’re still alive, we now know we need to become stronger, and we have knowledge of our enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. While I agree we were utterly defeated today we still got something out of it. The only really big issue I see is that now Muu is aware of our Shaman powers, so he might try to find a way to get around them. Dealing them enough damage will cancel them but we can circumvent that with powers like Nina’s Goddess Blessing. No, Muu will have to find a way to prevent us from pretty much using them at all if he wants to take us out completely. And he will start figuring out a way to do so now that Vertebreak knows about them and lived to tell the tale.”

Nina gave a sad smile, “That’s true, so we need to be careful. At least Muu still doesn’t know about Elora so we still have that ace up our sleeve. But Vertebreak will return to fight us again, and Muu will now be aware of our Shaman powers, which gave us a much bigger bite today. We knew that Muu would eventually learn about it, so it was only a matter of time. At the end of the day that doesn’t mean we can’t still use our Shaman powers. It just means we can’t flex them as often in front of his army, as they’ll eventually figure out a way to completely stop them.”

Zeeker nodded, “Aye, that’s true. A good poker player would say, ‘It’s good to have an ace up your sleeve but don’t show your hand too often’. We’d best be careful about that. But the fact that we survived an encounter with General Vertebreak is no small feat, especially since he was dead serious about killing us. So we should count our lucky stars we got out of that situation alive. It was a loss, no doubt about it, but we still managed to escape with our lives, and that’s good enough for me.”

The party nodded in agreement. The slowly got to their feet, with Nina returning to normal, and started to make their way down the road again.

Meanwhile, Muu was a bit annoyed at what had transpired.

“Damn that meddling party of heroes,” he growled. “They actually forced Vertebreak out of my ranks for a bit due to the damage to his core and that damn curse-like Will-O-Wisp. But I now know that they have Shaman magic, something that past Demon King parties didn’t have, which gives them an undeniable edge. And I’m also aware that my army is vulnerable to the Banish spell. I’ll have to keep that in mind, since it’ll be hard to prevent that from happening again. While I’m annoyed that Vertebreak failed to kill them, I am armed with more knowledge on my enemies. And I can take solace knowing that they’re no match for Vertebreak. Next time they won’t be so lucky, that I promise.”

Next Chapter: A Disastrous Day with Dominic

That's it for today. You win some, you lose some. At least the party lives to see another day, but Muu now knows about the Shaman magic. How will this play out in the future? Tune in to find out.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence, female nudity, sexual innuendo, crotch abuse)

A Disastrous Day with Dominic

It had been a few days since the party faced General Vertebreak and managed to survive. They were currently crossing some badlands, heading to the next village. It was fairly hot and dry, with little plant life and water around them.

“Whew… it sure is hot out…” Zeeker said, wiping his brow.

“Just a bit further, gang,” Sir Reginald said. “The next village is stationed at an oasis so we can rest and refreshen ourselves there.”

Angelo was looking a bit weak. Nova noticed this and held out a canteen to the Hopper Clan prince.

“Here, Angelo, take a drink,” he said gently. “You need it, as this is not weather suited for your kind.”

Angelo smiled gratefully as he took the canteen, “Thank you, Nova, my friend. This’ll help.”

He guzzled the water down quickly, trying to restore himself. Nina then gained an idea. She opened her wings and adjusted them so they would block the sun over Angelo, making the frogman smile even more broadly.

“Here, Angelo, let me give you a bit of shade,” Nina said. “It’s not much but the less sunlight that’s beaming down upon you the better.”

Angelo replied, “Thank you, lovely Nina. That is a big help. Even if it isn’t much it’s still helping me keep the sun off my head so I don’t become a dried frog. It’s nice having friends like you all who are willing to do anything you can to help. But what about you?”

Nina replied, “My clan is strongly associated with the Fire element, so we tend to tolerate heat well. I admit I can’t wait to splash around in some cool water when we get to the oasis village, but I’m more tolerant to heat because of my clan strong association with Fire.”

“Lucky you,” Nova said. “I hate heat. I prefer winter. Not only does my health and energy improve in winter but I thrive in the cold. Not to mention I’m good at a lot of winter sports such as snowboarding, skiing, figure skating, and so on.”

Van looked perplexed, “Wait. Figure skating?”

“Don’t ask. It was my mom’s idea. She was worried I wasn’t… ‘graceful’ enough. Considering the universe was conspiring against me even back then being ‘graceful’ wasn’t exactly a high priority to me at the time. And yet she insisted on it. Now I can do triple salchows, biellmann spins, layback spins, Lutz, and so on because she insisted on me becoming more graceful. I’ll stick to snowboarding, thank you. I feel more comfortable in snow than on ice. But enough of this, let’s just hope we can get to the next town before we become a baked buffet for a buzzard’s breakfast.”

Nina giggled at Nova’s remark, saying, “I’d like to see this gracefulness on the ice one day, Nova, especially since it would be the first time I’ve seen snow and ice. Before you ask, Phoenixwing Kingdom is pretty much the same temperature year round due to its placement on the planet being near one of the subtropics of this world. I’ve never seen snow or ice before outside of magic. If what you said is true then you live where you get plenty of snow when winter comes around. I actually really want to see it when we go back to Earth together. So maybe you can show me a few moves on the ice, Nova.”

“We’ll see, Nina, as I’m years out of practice, since mom made me take those lessons when I was 11 so it’s nearly been a decade since my last lesson.”

Kettu chuckled, “Still, seeing you perform graceful tricks on the ice must be quite the sight.” He then gained an idea, “Speaking of which, I have an idea on how to cool ourselves down.” He bit his thumb, causing it to bleed, before saying, “Snowstalker, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of cold air, and soon Snowstalker was standing before Kettu.

“Snowstalker, I need you to produce some cold air to cool us down. Can you do that?”

Snowstalker nodded, bristled his fur, and soon a small whirlwind of cold air swirled around the party. Everyone gained more relaxed expressions.

“That’s the ticket,” Zeeker sighed happily. “Good thinking, Kettu. Now we can get to the next town without roasting in our own juices.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, and I can see it just up ahead, so let’s hurry and get out of the sun.”

The party nodded and quickly made their way to the oasis village. Nina continued to use her wings to shield Angelo from the sun while Snowstalker kept the cold air swirling around them. After a bit they reached the oasis town. It was clear that the people here were used to the heat but they were also splashing around in one of the large pools of clear water that occupied the village. Angelo eagerly jumped into one of them to refreshen himself while the rest of the party splashed some water on their faces to cool off.

“Ahhhh… that’s better…” Nova sighed contently. “Hey, Angelo, how do you feel now?”

Angelo replied happily, “Much, much better, thank you for asking. The cool, crisp water has revitalized me. It must be coming from an underground aquifer if it’s this cool despite the strong sunlight. Plus it feels like it’s full of minerals, just what a Hopper Clan member like me needs to feel refreshed after a trek through the badlands.”

Nina smiled, “Good, glad to hear it. We should probably fill up our canteens while we’re here. And maybe we should consider getting a few more, as I’m certain the item shop here would sell them. That way we can have more water on hand, especially when we have to leave here. While this oasis town is closer to more lush land in the direction we need to go than it is to get here, it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra supply of water.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “That’s a good point, Lady Nina. Once we’ve refreshed ourselves let’s go and pick up a few more canteens for water, along with any other supplies we can find. Then we should head for the local restaurant so we can get something to eat.”

The party nodded in agreement. After spending some time cooling off with the water they gathered up their stuff and went to the item shop, with Kettu sending his familiar back to the Spirit Plane. They picked up some items at the shop, including a few more fair-sized canteens, before heading to the local restaurant. Inside it was fairly cool, much to the party’s gratitude, so they sat down at a table and got menus from one of the waitresses. After deciding what they wanted they ordered their food and waited. It wasn’t long before the food arrived, allowing them to dig into it. However, partway through the meal a familiar figure arrived.

“I found you, you pink-haired rat!” a familiar voice snapped.

The party groaned and turned to see Dominic storm up to them.

“What do you want now, Dominic?” Nova sighed.

“And why aren’t you in jail?!” Zeeker snapped.

Dominic stated, “Hah! No prison can contain Dominic the Daring! And as for you, you pink-haired vermin, I intend to get rid of you here and now for everything you’ve done to me! Because of you I got kicked out of Luvar Kingdom as well! I will not stand for it any longer! Time to take your medicine, punk! Banish!”

He cast a spell that caused Nova to vanish, much to everyone’s shock.

“Where’d you send Nova?” Nina growled.

“Hah! Far, far away!”

Suddenly, he felt something tap him on the shoulder, with a familiar voice saying, “Not quite, oh bloated ego one. I’m actually stuck to your back.”

“WHAT?!” Dominic sputtered.

He turned around, trying to see Nova, who was, indeed, stuck to his back. The party gave a collective groan.

“Dominic botched the spell so Nova is now stuck to him,” Kettu sighed.

Dominic was able to turn his head enough to spot Nova’s coral pink hair, making him mad.

“You little weasel,” he growled. “I’ll get rid of you for good! Banish!”

“Dominic, don’t!” Nina cried.

Too late. When Dominic cast the spell both he and Nova vanished, much to the party’s horror.

“Does he ever think?” Van sighed.

“We have to find them, and fast,” Sir Reginald said. “But where did they end up?”

One of the waitresses said, “Ask the village sorceress. She can at least give you the basic idea of where they went. Hopefully it’s not too far.”

Nina then noticed that Nova’s stuff was still with them, gaining a look of dread.

“Uh-oh… Nova’s Digi-Pack and equipment are still here,” she said. “Which means the only defense they have against monsters is the Demon King Ring, as I didn’t see a sword on Dominic, either. Not that he can use one properly but still. We have to find them before the monsters try to make a meal out of them.”

Meanwhile, Dominic and Nova suddenly reappeared out in the badlands. Dominic looked around, completely confused.

“Huh?” he sputtered. “Where am I?”

Nova gave a defeated sigh, “Way to go, moron. Didn’t it ever occur to you that if I’m stuck to your back due to you botching a spell and you’re casting the same spell would teleport us both out into a dangerous situation? Now we need to find a way back to the oasis village before we die of either heatstroke or get eaten by monsters.”

“Shut up! This is all your fault!”

“Hardly, Domi. You’re the one who cast the Banish spell, botching it and getting us both in this mess. As such, it’s your fault. If you had just stayed in jail like a good baboon then we’d both be spared of all this nonsense. And neither of us have our weapons. I still have the Demon King Ring, which is now our only defense against monsters. So we need to get back to the village before something tries to make a meal out of us. Now, let me see.”

He licked his finger and held it out, checking the wind flow. After a moment he lowered his hand.

“Okay, here’s the deal, Domi. We need to follow the wind to reach the oasis village. This area has a prevailing northeastern wind, and I now know which direction that is. It’s about 45 degrees to your right. If we go in that direction we should reach the village.”

Dominic countered, “What makes you think we’re not beyond it already?”

He replied calmly, “Simple. Turn around to face the direction I’m currently facing.”

Dominic turned around to see three rock formations that looked like crescent moons.

“You see those rock formations that look like crescent moons? That’s one of the landmarks out here. According to Sir Reginald by going northeast from this point will take us back to the village. My party also passed by this place earlier on our way to the village so I know we’re not beyond the village. Now you need to turn around again and head in the direction I told you to.”

“Why don’t you walk?”

“Because I’m stuck to your bloated back. I can’t reach the ground from here. My feet are dangling at your swollen arse, and I can’t do any legwork since I can’t even reach the ground. So you’re gonna have to do the walking, Domi. Now turn around and march. The sooner we get out of the badlands and out of the sun the better, as we run the risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and sunburns. And that’s not taking monsters into account. So get walking, Dominic before we roast like piglets.”

Dominic grumbled as he turned around and walked in the direction Nova told him to. It wasn’t long before something would attack them. Suddenly, a porcupine monster jumped out from behind a rock formation. It hissed at the two men, clearly ready to attack. Dominic gained an evil look and turned around, making Nova face it, chuckling darkly.

“Demon M—” Nova started to say.

However, to his surprise, the porcupine monster instead scurried around him and faced Dominic. It took the egotistical man a moment to realize the porcupine monster was now in front of him. Before he could do anything the porcupine monster charged at him, curled into a ball, and slammed its quills into Dominic’s lower body, crotch, and thighs, making him scream in pain and Nova chuckle. Seemingly satisfied, the porcupine monster scurried off, leaving them alone. Dominic started to slowly and painfully pull out the quills that littered his lower region.

“That’s what you get for deliberately putting me in front of an attack out of spite,” Nova said matter-of-factly. “Karma can be mean, and it always collects its dues.”

Now angry, Dominic straightened himself, positioned his arms in a T-pose, and began to lean back, trying to squash Nova behind him. Nova immediately realized what Dominic was trying to do and put out his legs.

“Hoverboots, on! Maximum Burn!”

His Hoverboots ignited, causing a huge amount of fiery momentum that threw Dominic forward, landing flat on his face, and causing him to scream into the dirt as the quills dug deeper into his body. Nova continued to push back with his Hoverboots, a satisfied look on his face.

“Try that again Dominic and I’ll show you what third-degree burns from hot ion coils feels like. Spoiler alert: it hurts. Got it?”

Dominic whimpered in response. Nova merely rolled his eyes before deactivating the Hoverboots, allowing Dominic to stand up. He then continued the process of painfully plucking the porcupine quills out of his lower body, yelping in pain with each one pulled, while Nova waited for him to finish.

“I hate you…” Dominic growled.

Nova replied, “The feeling’s mutual. This is gonna be a long day…”

At that time the party was standing at the front of the village. Nina was preparing herself to take flight.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself, Lady Nina?” Sir Reginald asked.

“It’ll be better this way, as I’m much faster in the air than on the ground,” she replied. “While the sorceress couldn’t pinpoint Nova’s location she did at least give us the general area. Phantom and I will search for him from the air. You all stay here in case he and Dominic get back before I find them. If they do get back throw a fireball into the air and have it explode like a flare so I’ll know they returned.” She then bit her thumb, causing it to bleed, before saying, “Phantom, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a burst of wind and soon Phantom was sitting on Nina’s arm.

“Phantom, I need you to search the southwest area of these badlands. Nova and Dominic are stuck together and lost out there so see if you can find them. I’ll be searching another area of the badlands so if you spot them first find me and guide me to them, okay?”

Although surprised, Phantom nodded before taking flight and heading toward the southwest. Angelo then stepped up and gave Nina two canteens.

“Here, Nina, take these canteens,” he said. “You and Nova may need them while you’re out in this heat and sunlight.”

Nina nodded and took the canteens, smiling, “Thank you, Angelo. We’ll make good use of them. Now, I’m off. Wish me luck.”

She gave her wings a powerful flap before taking off into the sky. The party gave heavy sighs as they watched her fly out into the badlands.

“Godspeed to you, Lady Nina,” Sir Reginald said. “And good luck. Make sure both you and Nova come back alive.”

A while later Nova and Dominic were still trudging along. Dominic was sporting several fresh wounds on his body, mostly in his lower region, whimpering like a lost puppy, while Nova was unharmed with an annoyed expression on his face.

“Well, that’s what you get, Dominic,” Nova said matter-of-factly. “If you’d stop putting me in front of monster attacks karma wouldn’t strike you down.”

Dominic countered, “Shut up! You’re supposed to protect us with the Demon King Ring! That’s why I’m putting you in front of the monsters!”

“Uh-huh, sure. And I’m certain that evil chuckle every time I get put in front of a monster is just the wind and not you. Sorry, Domi, but I ain’t buying it. You’re trying to spite me only for the monsters, who seem to understand the concept of karma, leave me alone and attack you instead. Face it: you’re trying to get me hurt on purpose but you pay the price instead. And it seems even monsters don’t want your cocktail weenier to violate women, since they’ve been targeting that the most.”

Dominic sputtered, “How do you know my size!?” He then realized what he said and tried to backtrack, “I-I mean you’re incorrect.”

However, the damage was already done. Nova tried to resist before he burst out laughing, much to Dominic’s fury and embarrassment.

“I knew it!” Nova laughed. “I knew that you flailing your sword around was to compensate for your own shortcoming! Yeah, some impressive little sword you have there. Looks like it’s not what women desire after all, huh?”

“S-Shut up!” Dominic spat, blushing. “I bet you’re even smaller!”

Nova chuckled lightly, “Sorry to rain on your parade but… I’ve got the reverse problem. My ‘equipment’ is so large that people who know about it wonder how I can hide it. My dad even called me the ‘God of Virility’ a few years ago, and I’ve grown since then. Nina is already aware of it thanks to one of your stunts and let’s just say she’s looking forward to some action in the sheets with me.”

Dominic’s eyes widened in horror, saying in a tiny voice, “Y-You’re kidding me, right? Someone as scrawny as you… can’t be that well equipped. It’s not possible.”

“Sorry, Domi, but that’s the truth. I admit I’m a bit embarrassed about it but, yeah, I’m pretty well equipped to make my woman happy.”

Dominic started to wail in dismay, clearly upset at learning this. Nova merely rolled his eyes. Suddenly another monster appeared. It looked like a fire red cobra with a yellow hood, a flame-shaped hood pattern, and a flaming tail. It hissed at them, baring its fangs, which seemed to be coated in fire. Dominic gained a nasty look and turned around, placing Nova in front of it.

“We’ll see how much of a ‘God of Virility’ you are after this Fire Cobra cooks your manhood!” he laughed.

Both Nova and the Fire Cobra seemed unimpressed. The Fire Cobra slithered through Dominic’s legs, ignited its fangs, and bit down upon his crotch, setting it on fire. Dominic screamed in pain as he tried to both pull the Fire Cobra off of him and put out the flames. He managed to get the Fire Cobra off, who merely hissed and slithered away, while Dominic still tried to put out the flames that was cooking his manhood. He saw some mud and quickly splashed it on his loins, putting out the flames, making him sigh in relief.

“What was that about my manhood getting cooked, Domi?” Nova taunted.

Dominic muttered words of contempt under his breath. Suddenly, they both heard a screech. They looked up to see a large bird of prey circling around them.

“Oh no!” Dominic cried. “A buzzard has come to eat my gloriousness! I’m too handsome to be picked apart by a buzzard!”

Nova placed his face in his palm before saying, “Domi, that’s not a buzzard. That’s Nina’s Stealth Falcon, Phantom.” He then called out, “Phantom, over here!”

Phantom flew down toward Nova. He held out his arm to allow the Stealth Falcon to land on it, gently stroking his breast as he did.

“Phantom, you’re a sight for sore eyes. I take it you and Nina are out looking for me?”

Phantom nodded, giving a screech to confirm Nova’s statement.

“You and Nina are lifesavers. Find her and bring her here so she can guide us back to the village, please.”

Phantom nodded, opened his wings, and took off to find his master.

“Now what do we do?” Dominic asked.

“Just stay put until Nina and Phantom return,” Nova said. He took a look around before saying, “Over there, to your right, I see a large boulder. Why don’t you sit down on it to rest until Nina and Phantom comes for us.”

Dominic nodded, walked over to the large boulder, and sat down on it, waiting for the two flyers to find them. About ten minutes later the two of them saw Nina and Phantom flying toward them. Dominic got excited, jumped off the boulder, and started to run in her direction.

“Nova!” Nina cried out. “Are you okay?”

She started to descend from the air toward the two men. Dominic held out his arms, closed his eyes, and started making kissing motions. This action caused Nina to come to a screeching halt, her face showing disgust.

“Oh, I’ll give you something in the kisser, all right!” she snarled.

She swooped down and planted her foot into Dominic’s face, seemingly smashing it in a bit, dazing the obnoxious man. She quickly flittered around him to face Nova, concern in her eyes.

“Are you okay, Nova? You’re not hurt are you? Are you thirsty? Can I get you anything, beloved?”

Nova chuckled lightly, “You’re going into mother hen mode again, Nina. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind, as it’s nice to have someone fuss over me. Yeah, I’m pretty thirsty. Got any water?”

Nina nodded and held out one of the canteens she was given. Nova graciously took it and guzzled the contents down.

“Ahh, that’s better. Thanks, Nina, you’re the best.”

She gained a coy look, “It’s my pleasure, Nova, as you’re the best thing to ever happen to me. Now, let’s get you back to town.”

Just then Dominic had recovered from the kick in the face and abruptly turned around. However, Nina saw it coming and quickly got into the air and out of range.

“Hey!” Dominic protested. “What about me? Aren’t you concerned for the greatest man alive?”

“If you mean Nova, then yes, I am concerned for the greatest man alive,” she replied coldly. “But if you mean you, you’re sorely mistaken, as you’re the most pathetic excuse for a human being imaginable. The only reason I’m out here, saving you, is because Nova is stuck to you. You’re just part of the package, Nova’s the real reason why I’m willing to risk sunburns and heatstroke in order to bring you back to town. And judging by your wounds you’ve taken some much-needed karmic punishment. Now enough of this. Follow me back to town.”

She flew toward the town, going slowly so Dominic could keep up, Phantom flying next to her. Dominic whimpered at Nina’s harsh words before following her, Nova giving a satisfied chuckle. After a while they reached the oasis town where the rest of the party was waiting for them.

Van stepped up, “Okay, now that you all are back I can fix the botched spell. Hang tight while I get my magic ready.” He started to channel energy before saying, “Curse Breaker!”

He cast the spell, causing the botched effects of the first spell to lift, allowing Nova to slide off Dominic’s back and onto the ground, stumbling a bit as he did. Nina quickly landed and hugged Nova, clearly happy to see him alive and well. Dominic’s eyes gleamed as he glared at Nova.

“Take this, punk!” he roared.

He swung a strong kick at Nova. Nina grabbed her boyfriend and managed to pull him out of harm’s way, causing Dominic to kick an animal that looked like a cross between a dachshund and a crocodile. The now-irate animal growled at the obnoxious man, who was now sweating nervously.

“N-Nice crocadog,” he said gently. “Friendly crocadog…”

The crocadog gave a fierce bark before lunging at Dominic and biting his crotch, making him scream in pain. He struggled to pry it off while the party watched with bemused expressions. He finally got it off but it started to chase him, barking, causing him to run screaming into the oasis village, the crocadog hot on his heels.

Sir Reginald turned to the crocadog’s owner, “Sorry about that.”

The owner said, “Ah, it’s okay. Charlie’s been getting a bit chubby so the exercise will do him good. At least I know he’ll sleep peacefully tonight. Serves that goon right if you ask me. He’ll come back home when he gets hungry or chases that goon out of town, whichever happens first. So don’t worry about it, as Charlie’s pretty tough.”

The party chuckled, still hearing Dominic’s screams of terror and the barking of the crocadog. They made their way to the inn to rest.

Night had soon blanketed the land, the three moons high in the sky, and the badland’s heat waning. In their room Nova and Nina were sitting on the same bed. Nina had since stripped naked as per usual and was nuzzling against her lover.

“Oh, Nova, I was so worried about you,” she said. “I’m so glad you didn’t get hurt. And it appears that even monsters know about karma, as they punished Dominic for his heinous actions. Serves him right. But I’m just glad you came out of this unharmed.”

Nova smiled weakly, “I’m a little overheated from the hot sun and badland heat but I’ll live. I wonder if Charlie is still chasing Dominic.”

Just then they heard Dominic scream as he ran past the inn, followed by the crocadog barking, clearly still chasing him.

“Ask question, get answer,” the pink-haired man chuckled.

Nina giggled, “Yeah. And Charlie will definitely lose a few pounds after chasing Dominic all over the village. Plus he’ll sleep pretty soundly tonight.”

“Oh, by the way, Nina, I learned something interesting today,” Nova sneered. “You know how Dominic is always boasting about his manhood, calling it ‘what women crave’ and such? Turns out it’s a lie, just like him and his ‘heroics’. Anytime he swings a sword it’s clearly compensating for his own ‘weapon’, if you catch my drift. His Skitter Mouse is probably better built than he is, and his familiar is already pretty tiny.”

Nina giggled, “I knew it. Unlike your massive beef sausage I had a feeling his ‘equipment’ was pretty pathetic, and now I know for sure. Any women who learn about it will be pretty disappointed. Unlike when you and I get some action in the sheets. You’re gonna make me a very happy woman. I just hope I can fit all of it in me when the time comes. Size does matter, after all.”

She then became quiet before tackling Nova, making him blush. She nuzzled against him; her naked body pressed up against his. Nova gently held her by her waist, rubbing his head against hers. She then started to play and braid his hair while still cuddling him, making him chuckle lightly. After a while they broke apart. They exchanged a tender kiss before looking at each other lovingly.

“I love you, Nova. Please, don’t ever leave me.”

“I love you, too, Nina,” he replied warmly. “If you can keep putting up with me I don’t think you have to worry about me leaving you. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Nina smiled warmly and cuddled up to Nova, using her wing to gently cup him from behind. They remained this way for a while before they broke apart, went into their beds, and fell asleep for the night.

Next Chapter: Gaia Knight Rising

That's all for today. Dominic certainly got his just desserts for his actions. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
Time for the next chapter of Dawn of Courage. (Warning: contains mild language, mild violence)

Gaia Knight Rising

It had been a few days since the party’s most recent run-in with Dominic. They had since crossed through the badlands and were on their way to the next Undead Base. Sir Reginald was in the lead, as usual, guiding the party to their destination.

“Okay, thanks to King Jasper’s intelligence network we now know where the remaining Undead Bases are in this kingdom and which Undead Captain or General is running them,” he said. “And according to that information, our next opponent will be Captain Bonechill. Despite his name he doesn’t have the Ice element in him, but he instead relies on scare tactics such as illusions and hallucinations to disable his opponents before going in for the kill. So be prepared for those tactics being used.”

“Something tells me that he’s able to create hallucinations and such based on the target’s fear, right?” Nova asked.

“Possibly,” Kettu said. “I’ve heard only a bit about Bonechill but I don’t know for sure if his scare tactics actually prey upon the target’s fear or are just generic illusions and whatnot. So I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Zeeker turned to Nina, “Hey, Nina, why don’t you summon Phantom and have him get a bird’s eye view of the area, see if he can spot the Undead Base before we stumble upon it.”

Sir Reginald nodded, “That’s a good idea, Zeeker. Would you mind, Lady Nina?”

Nina smiled, “Sure, be glad to.” She bit her thumb, causing it to bleed, before stating strongly, “Phantom, come forth!”

A summoning circle appeared, followed by a gust of wind, and Phantom appeared, perching on Nina’s arm.

“Phantom, I need you to scope the area for another Undead Base. If you spot it, turn invisible and check it out so we know what we’re dealing with. Think you can do that, buddy?”

Phantom nodded, giving a screech in response before taking off into the sky. He spent about a minute soaring overhead before spotting the Undead Base. He became invisible and made a beeline for it. He landed on its topmost pillar and his eyes started to gleam, recording what he was seeing. After a few minutes of checking everything out he took off and flew back to Nina, becoming visible again as he perched on her arm.

“How’d it go, Phantom?” the winged woman asked.

Phantom gave a screech and started to project what he saw from his eyes, allowing the party to see what they were up against.

“Hmm… I see…” Sir Reginald said. “So we’re dealing with a decently large Undead Army this time, at least double than normal. And it appears Captain Bonechill is actually quite formidable looking. We may have to bust out a Shaman form or two in order to get the advantage against so many enemies. Hmm? Looks like there’s a crate of Mana Stones in the Undead Base. Not sure where those came from but we should take them with us. They’ll not only fetch a fair bit of pocket change on their own but when used as crafting materials they create high-quality items. Plus simply holding one when you’re low on mana will regenerate it instantly. That’ll be our prize for this battle. Thank you, Phantom, that’ll do for now.”

Phantom stop projecting the images from his eyes. Nina gently stroked the top of his head, making him coo a bit.

“You did great, Phantom,” she said with a smile. “Thanks again, my fine, feathered familiar. To the Spirit Plane.”

Phantom held his head up proudly at the praise before vanishing in a flurry of sparkles.

“Okay, then, now it’s plan-making time, right?” Angelo asked.

Sir Reginald nodded, “Indeed, Angelo. Let’s get to work.”

The party started devising a plan on how to fight against their foes effectively. After about 20 minutes they had settled on a plan.

“Okay, I think we’ve got ourselves a good strategy. Nina’s Goddess of Phoenixes Shaman form can easily handle the bread and butter Undead Soldiers, with Zeeker’s Burning Beast providing backup. Kettu’s Fox Fyre is immune to illusions and hallucinations, as that’s the form’s specialty, so he’d be the best equipped fighter to deal with Bonechill. Nova, Van, Angelo, and I will provide assistance to whoever needs it. We need to be alert for any of Bonechill’s illusion-making abilities since we don’t know if it actually preys upon the target’s fear or is just generic scary illusions. Don’t fall victim to them, as it could leave us open to a sneak attack. Are we ready?”

The party all exchanged nods. They made their way to the Undead Base. It was a larger one but still built the same as they tend to be constructed. Nova primed his bow and pointed an arrow at the base.

“Ifrit Mode,” he said.

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

“Dragon Strike!”

He fired the archery skill at the Undead Base. The electrified dragon struck the front gates, exploding upon impact, blowing the gates off their hinges, revealing the Undead Army. Their leader stood up and faced the party. He was a skeleton knight not unlike the basic Undead Soldiers, only his bones were blood red in color, with more fancy armor, glowing gold eyes, and was wielding a spear.

“So, you fools decided to show yourself,” he growled. “Thank you, as that saves me the trouble of hunting you down. Master Muu will reward me for killing you. Undead Soldiers… attack!”

The Undead Soldiers charged in, ready for battle. Nina, Zeeker, and Kettu activated their Shaman Magic Bracelets.

“Elemental Energy Fusion activate!” all three said in unison.

They were engulfed in swirling energy, stunning the Undead Army and their Captain. Before long the trio had transformed into their respective Shaman forms.

Bonechill growled, “So, what General Vertebreak said is true. You lot now have access to Shaman magic. Master Muu is not pleased to hear that, as he knows Shaman magic can be a major game-changer in this war. But I’ll still find a way to defeat you. Soldiers, get them!”

The Undead Soldiers charged ahead. Kettu swiftly wove his way through them to reach Bonechill, with Sir Reginald and Van joining him. The rest of the party proceeded to deal with the Undead Soldiers, with Nina and Zeeker doing the majority of the work.

Bonechill pointed his spear at the trio of warriors who were opposing him, growling, “So, you want to die first? Be my pleasure. Nightmare!”

He fired the dark energy bolts at the three individuals. However, Kettu got in front of the attack and took it, much to Bonechill’s surprise. To his even greater surprise Kettu was unharmed and even seemed to be stronger, as the will-o-wisps floating around him got brighter.

Kettu sneered, “Nice try, bonehead, but I’m immune to your Dark attribute abilities in this state. Now, my turn. Illusion Flames!”

He launched his attack at Bonechill, engulfing him in black flames, making the Undead Captain scream in pain. When the flames subsided Captain Bonechill was furious. At this time the rest of the party had destroyed the last Undead Soldier and joined up with Sir Reginald’s group to assist.

Bonechill growled, “You may have some impressive power, but let’s see if you can handle THIS! Nightmare Illusions!”

He fired his attack at the party, engulfing them in black spheres. However, Kettu managed to burst out of his sphere, grinning.

“That doesn’t work on me in this state,” he sneered. “You’re out of options.”

Bonechill pointed his spear at Kettu, saying, “Not quite, fox face.”

At the time the party was being tormented by illusions consisting of their greatest fears. They tried to remain calm but it was clear they were struggling.

Sir Reginald growled, “I… will not… succumb to… fear!” He tapped two gems on his Shaman Magic Bracelet, “Light! Earth! Elemental Energy Fusion activate!”

He was engulfed in swirling energy. This event caused the sphere he was trapped in to swell, much to Kettu’s and Bonechill’s confusion. Then when the swirling energy burst, it tore the dark sphere apart in the process, revealing his new form.

Sir Reginald was a shining knight in impressive full-body milk white armor with two pairs of wings made of stones, a helmet made of bluish crystal, long blonde hair, and radiant emerald green eyes. His boots were made of crystal, there were three orbiting rings of stones around him, and he was wielding a large halberd and a shield. He was also taller and more muscular.

“Say hello to my Gaia Knight form!” he stated strongly.

He then gave his halberd a mighty swing. Moments later the dark spheres that were trapping the rest of the party were torn to shreds, showing the party members to be a bit rattled but fine, nonetheless.

Bonechill growled, “Impressive, knight boy, but can you handle my most powerful skill? Nightmare Syndrome!”

He fired what looked like a dark, sinister ghost at Sir Reginald. However, the shining knight merely narrowed his eyes.

“That won’t work here, Undead scum!” he stated. “Judgment Slash!”

He gave a powerful slash of his halberd, which was now glowing with Light energy, effortlessly destroying the Nightmare Syndrome attack like it was a soap bubble. He then slammed the blade into the ground.

“Time to get rid of you! Tectonic Fissure!”

The ground started to open up from where his halberd was planted. Kettu quickly got out of the way as the fissure got larger and larger, making its way toward Captain Bonechill. The Undead Captain could only watch in horror as the fissure opened up underneath him and swallowed him, before slamming shut around him, crushing him to dust, ending the fight. The party was in awe at Sir Reginald’s newest Shaman form. He held his halberd over his right shoulder, smiling.

“I must say this form seems to be more powerful than my Terra Dark Knight form. But either way we have vanquished another Undead Captain and his Undead Army platoon. Now, we must collect the Mana Stones from within the base before we destroy it.”

The party nodded and entered the Undead Base. They collected every single Mana Stone from the crate that held them before walking back outside.

Sir Reginald said, “I’ll destroy the base this time instead of Nova. First thing’s first: Barrier!”

He summoned his usual barrier, although it seemed much stronger than normal.

“Tectonic Fissure!”

He slammed the halberd into the ground again, causing another fissure to form. It got much larger than the previous one, clearly large enough to swallow an entire house. The ground underneath the Undead Base crumbled away, causing it to sink into the fissure. The Magna Crystal stared to shake and hum as it became more unstable. The fissure then suddenly slammed shut, the Undead Base trapped within it. Then the ground shook as the Magna Crystal exploded underground. The party got into a more relaxed position as the ground stopped shaking.

“Most impressive, team,” Sir Reginald said. “We vanquished another Undead Army and its leader, destroyed another Undead Base, and even got a large collection of Mana Stones for our trouble. Though we’d best keep them away from the Shaman Magic Bracelets, as we learned the bracelets are vulnerable to their energies.”

Nina crossed her arms and huffed, “Yeah, thanks to what happened to me getting stuck in my Nymph Wing form. Although it is possible that we can use the Mana Stones to recharge the Shaman Magic Bracelets, as when mine malfunctioned it was because it was struck by an attack enhanced by Mana Stone energy. We’ll have to figure out if we can use Mana Stones to recharge the bracelets or not, which would make them more valuable to our cause.”

Nova nodded, “Yeah, that’s a thought. Though we collected quite the treasure trove of them, so we can do what we want with them. I just wonder what we’re gonna do with the Alpha Mana Stone we got during that incident, as I’m still lugging it around in my Digi-Pack.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Van said. “But, for now, I suggest you all deactivate your Shaman forms so we can move on.”

“Cancel Fusion!” Nina, Kettu, Zeeker, and Sir Reginald said in unison.

They were engulfed in swirling energy. Before long they had returned to normal, the Shaman Magic Bracelets going dark, indicating they were recharging.

Sir Reginald nodded, “Okay, another victor is under our belts. That’ll rub Muu the wrong way. Now, let us continue on our mission before we move on into Emerald Coast Kingdom.”

The party nodded and continued to make their way toward their next destination, happy about having another victory against Muu.

Next Chapter: Defending Fort Aquatica

That's all for today. Another day, another Shaman form. Tune in next time to see what our heroes face.
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