...There can be...
No good without evil...
No love without hate...
No heaven without hell...
No pleasure without pain...
No joy without despair...
No light without darkness...
And in the struggle between light and darkness,
Lies the place legends are born.
- Ridley Scott
"Only two more day's journey, and we will be there. Even less, if we cut through the forest." Scarlet pointed with her bow and arrow, which she had kept half-cocked for the last hour or so. She seemed to be getting more nervous the closer they got to the monastery.
Mercy frowned. "I don't know, Scarlet; your last 'Shortcut' was a disaster. Maybe we'd better just stick to the path."
At this, Scarlet shook her head. "If it hadn't been for that dragon, it wouldn't have been a disaster. It saved us two days, at any rate. And this shortcut is NOT through the Mist Marsh, or anything else of the sort. It's just through the woods. Right now, time is of the essence." She started off into the wood. The party followed.
Mercy looked around. It was a full moon, and there were no clouds, making the night shine as if lit up by silver. "I dare say, the forest looks rather pretty at night." A nightingale started warbling. She looked upward, at the stars through the trees. "It's all so peaceful..."
Suddenly, Shin gave a surprised shout from the front of the party. The party had come upon a small cliff, and at the base of this cliff was the mouth of a cave. Shin looked as if he was about to investigate, when a hissing sound was heard from the trees, and an enormous creature dropped down in front of Shin, between him and the cave.
The creature towered over them, raising its head to about ten feet. It looked like an enormous serpent with wings, and was covered with a dark, diamond-like pattern. It looked to be at least thirty feet long, but was relatively narrow, about the thickness of a small tree trunk. Its black eyes sparkled in the moonlight. It coiled in front of the cave, hissing at them, baring its snakelike fangs. Its head flattened out to a cobra's hood, and it snapped at them, narrowly missing Ethon, who dived out of the way. The creature spread its wings and glided into the air, circling above them. It made a dive, and coiled around Atlas. It then tried to take off again, but Atlas was too heavy.
Atlas reacted with a yell, and tried to get at his axes, but his arms were pinned. He struggled to slip out of the serpent's coils, but it was coiled too tightly. Mercy drew her sword and rushed to Atlas' help. The serpent snapped at her, almost succeeding in biting her. Venom dripped from its fangs, and spattered on the ground. Mercy had to dance out of the way repeatedly to keep from getting bitten, and didn't get a single hit in. Mercy was getting tired, and her limp, although slight, was getting more pronounced. Scarlet was circling around to the side, furiously mouthing to the others not to interfere. She then climbed up a tree, and prepared to make a jump for the serpent's head.
However, Shin saw his chance. Drawing his sword, he charged at the preoccupied creature, his sword held in front of him. He brought it up over his head, and brought it down into the middle of the creature. Scarlet saw what he was doing, and her eyes widened in horror.
"Shin, STOP!" cried Scarlet, but it was too late. Shin's sword had impaled the creature to the hilt in its chest. It hissed and fell backward, limply, loosening the coils around Atlas. Shin managed to hold onto his sword, and landed on top of the serpent.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" Scarlet's shriek grew more and more like a roar, and a giant ball of fire, looking almost alive, hit Shin and threw him off the creature, sending him flying backward. Scarlet rushed forward and pulled the sword out of the serpent's hide. Green blood, before just oozing, gushed out in a torrent. Scarlet then laid down the sword and took the creature's head in her lap. It gasped and trembled, but did not pull away at her touch, nor did it try to bite her. She stroked its head gently, attempting to calm it. It made a cooing noise, almost like a large bird. Then it shuddered, and lay still.
"DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU!" Scarlet, in a cry of rage, stood up, letting the creature's head slide off her lap. She turned toward Shin in rage, and began casting a spell. Fire danced at her fingertips, and flew toward Shin, circling around him in a small ring of flames. He quickly stood up to get away from them, and he began staring at Scarlet. She had slumped down again, cradling the creature's head again. She was sobbing, her face covered by her hair, her arms around the creature's head.
"What on earth?" puzzled Shin. He didn't dare move, for fear he would get burned further. He looked first at the fallen creature, then at Scarlet, then back at the rest of the party. A dead silence had fallen over the entire forest. Not a single bird was chirping. The only sound was the crackling of the flames around Shin. Atlas finally broke the tense silence. "I think I know what's going on. There has been legend of a Guardian of the Forest. No one knew exactly what it looked like... could this be it?" He shook his head. "Impossible. They said that it looked somewhat like a giant bird, a phoenix, perhaps."
Scarlet continued to cry, but she managed to speak between sobs. "She was just defending her nest. Why must you assume that a good creature must be beautiful?" Then, she lowered her voice so that none but the slain serpent could hear. "Why must humans always kill what they don't understand?" She cried softly again, then spoke aloud. "Now that the Guardian is dead, the Night Wings are free to roam, unhindered... DAMN YOU, SHIN!" She raised her hand, and the flames contracted around him, and he had to remain in the exact middle of the circle to keep away from them.
Shin, looking rather uncomfortable within the circle of flames, spoke. "What are the Night Wings?" Scarlet looked up at him, fuming. "You'll find out soon enough; they're coming. Thanks to you." Shin turned away and closed his eyes in regret, sighing. "I'm sorry, Scarlet. I didn't know... " He was met with an uproar of flames, which singed his exposed skin, and set his shirt sleeve on fire. He quickly batted out the flames, but not before they burned a hole in his sleeve and slightly scorched his arm.
Meanwhile, Atlas had ventured into the cave, Glitterspike following behind and illuminating the way. The cave was a rather small one, and at the very back, three dark brown, spotted eggs rested in a nook in the floor, almost buried with dirt. They were rather large, and came up almost to Atlas' knee. Atlas slowly touched one. "They're warm... I think they're going to hatch soon. No wonder the guardian was so hostile." He looked at Glitterspike. "There may be hope yet." He scooped some dirt up in his hand, then poured it over the eggs, then turned and walked back out of the cave.
"Scarlet, there are three eggs in the cave. I think they're going to hatch soon." Scarlet looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. "I... It might give us a chance to undo the harm that we've caused." Scarlet nodded and gently took the serpent's head from her lap, and laid it on the ground. She went into the cave. Soon, she came back out. "I give them a week or so before they hatch. They'll be able to survive without their mother if they do hatch, but before then... there's very little chance of that happening." She sighed. "Predators... or Night Wings... will find the cave and destroy the eggs, more than likely."
Atlas pondered a moment. "What if we seal the entrance? We could come back after rescuing Xeiss and Celes, and open it back up again."
Scarlet nodded. "That will work... it would certainly protect them against any predators. However, we should leave a small opening, so that if they hatch before we come back, they'll be able to get out of the cave." She looked at Shin, a look of rage crossed her face, but then it passed, and she raised her hand. The ring of flames around him went out. She still looked like she wanted to kill Shin, but she instead went to the mouth of the cave. She began chanting something, and raised her arms. Inward, she smiled. The chanting and raising of arms was just for show. She could cast spells even if she was blindfolded, gagged, and had her hands tied behind her.
A portion of the rock above the cave softened, and turned into soft mud. This fell in front of the cave mouth. It spread out to form a short wall of mud. Quickly, before it spread out too much, Scarlet chanted again, and the mud hardened into soft rock. She repeated the process until the cave mouth was filled, leaving a small crack at the top. This crack she covered with a bush.
Meanwhile, Shin and Atlas were burying the Guardian. Shin still looked filled with sorrow. He noted uneasily that the Nightingale's song had stopped, and that the only sound was that of the wind. There was very little mist this night, but that did not set his mind at ease. They finished burying the guardian and walked back to Scarlet. Scarlet sighed, and looked at the sealed entrance of the cave. "We've got to get out of here. Now." She laid her hand on the makeshift stone surface. Then, she took it off, and began quickly walking. She looked over her shoulder to make sure the others were following her, then she took off in a dead run, making a beeline for the road. She was almost in sight of it, when she skidded to a stop.
Blocking the path between the party and the road was a lone figure. It sat on a black, winged horse. The horse snorted and reared, flapping its wings and neighing. However, the figure on its back was far from human. It was relatively small in comparison to a human, around five feet tall, and translucent, insect-like wings sprouted from its back. Its eyes glowed red, and it had four arms. It looked almost like a giant fly with a relatively human head. On its head was a silver crown. It held a silver halberd in three of its arms, and it slowly turned his head to look at the group. Around them, several other creatures, similar but smaller than the first creature, landed around the party. They held spears instead of Halberds. Those creatures were not on mounts, only the leader. Then, the leader spoke, in a voice that buzzed a bit, but was soft as a whisper.
"My friends, thank you for killing the guardian. Now that it is gone, I, Shamaroth, leader of the Night Wings, have returned, and there is no stopping us now." Shamaroth chuckled. "I'm so sorry we have to kill you now. We'll make it as painless as possible." He snapped his fingers, and the Night Wings lifted off, hovering just above the ground, and began attacking.
Mercy, riding atop Triesque, slashed out at the Night Wings with her sword. Two of them were flitting about her, looking for a good opportunity to spear her. They managed to stay out of reach of her sword, and she was having trouble blocking their blows. Atlas had felled one of the creatures in his first blow, severing it in two down the middle. It fell, steaming, to the ground.
Sereven, grinning, decided to fight the Night Wings barehanded. Two of them came at him at once, one walking, one flying. He tripped one, then sidestepped the other, grabbing its spear and wrestling the creature for it. The Night Wing, though much smaller than Sereven, held onto the spear with all four hands, making it very difficult for Sereven to keep hold of it. Finally, he grabbed onto the end, swung the spear around, then let go, sending the Night Wing hurtling off into the forest. He smiled, dusted off his hands, then kicked the other Night Wing and simultaneously grabbing its spear, quickly wresting it away. He killed the creature quickly, piercing it through the throat with its own weapon.
Shin, faced with the creatures he had inadvertently brought to the forest, raised his sword to attack the Shamaroth. He laughed, and brought his halberd down on Shin's sword. Shin parried easily, then twisted to bring himself close to the maddened flying horse, and made a jab at the leader. However, Shamaroth managed to block Shin's blow, then lashed out, giving Shin a small cut on his arm. It began smarting horribly, almost as if he was stung by a bee. He switched his sword to his other hand, and made a swing at the front of the horse. However, it reared; and Shin, being unused to holding his sword in his left hand, missed. The horse's hooves fell to the ground, one landing on Shin, knocking the wind out of him and pinning him to the ground. Shamaroth raised its halberd, intending to spear Shin through the head.
Glitterspike saw his chance, and Shamaroth's deathblow was cut short. Glitterspike charged at the horse, and rammed into it with his shoulder. The horse, startled, spread its wings and flew into the air. Cursing at missing his chance, Shamaroth called to the other Night Wings. They flew off into the forest, quick as lightning. Shamaroth called back, faintly, "You haven't seen the last of me, fools!"
Scarlet sighed, looking at the disappearing Night Wings. "Come on, let's go... and pray that they do not find the cave." She turned toward the road. The rest of the group followed, Shin coming up last. He looked back at the forest, sighed, and finally turned away, shaking his head and vowing to undo the damage he had done... no matter how long it took him.