Tristana, Teemo and Rumble stood in the middle of the road as clean up crews bustled around them, trying to salvage what they could from the wreckage. Tristana gave the other two yordles a not at all friendly look.
“Well. I hope you know you just signed that boys death warrant. Even IF he somehow manages to lose Cho’gath in the dense terrain of the jungle, the jungle ITSELF will end up killing him. Did he look like an expert survivalist to you?”
Rumble shrugged. “Look, I feel bad about it too, I really do. But greater good, you know? Save one and let the town get destroyed and THEN the kid gets ate? That doesn’t make any sense either. Besides, it‘ll probably be over quick for the kid. More then most people get….”
Teemo spoke up before Tristana could offer a harsh rebuttal. “Stop it. You’re both wrong. The kid’s gonna make it.”
Both yordles stared at Teemo for a long moment, until finally Tristana spoke. “How do you know?”
Teemo nodded thoughtfully as he glanced westward. “Did you see how fast he volunteered to act as bait for something like Cho’gath? The kids strong. He just hasn’t realized it yet. Honestly, part of me hopes Cho’gath does catch him.”
Tristana stared at Teemo in shock, before speaking in a shaky voice. “How..how could you say that? Why would you ever wish for that?”
Teemo flashed Tristana a bright grin. “Because I’m not really sure who’d win that one, but I‘m dying to find out.”
Sweat poured down Hyram’s brow as he continued to sprint down the path. Though calling it a path at that point was an overstatement. It was wild and overgrown and more then once he’d lost track of it, only to realize it was under his feet again a few yards later. This jungle, Kumungu Jungle if he remembered the name of the maps Miss Fortune had shown him, was certainly a wild place. The terrain punished the slight of build mage, causing him to half sprint and half climb, with a fair amount of crawling sprinkled in for flavor. The only upside was that as difficult as the terrain was for him, it was sheer torture for the monster following him. Cho’gath had to just push it’s way through the dense terrain and Hyram quickly got the impression that the plants here didn’t like getting pushed. More then once he’d hear a roar from the monster as it shoved a new plant aside in it’s pursuit and Hyram knew that the plant had wounded the beast in someway.
The two has been running full tilt for what felt like hours. Exhausted himself, Hyram could tell the monster was getting fatigued, but that fatigue just seemed to make the monster angrier and more determined to catch the boy, though Hyram was glad to see it didn’t seem to be making the beast any faster. The beast howled at him as they ran, promising terrible things once Hyram was caught.
“Darkness shall devour you, light!”
“Woman won’t have light…I will swallow light whole!”
“Run little light. Run your life away before I feast.”
On and on like that. Hyram wasn’t sure why the beast was so focused on him, there was plenty to eat all around it, but it ignored it all. The way it kept calling him ‘light’ also struck him as odd. Yes, Hyram did have a small talent in light based magics as well as healing, but that was not a terribly uncommon gift. He was willing to bet others on this world had much more aptitude in the area then he. The enigma dogged him mentally, while the running wore at him physically.
Hyram was forced to admit to himself that he wouldn’t be able to run much farther. With a glance back, he saw the monster had gained another handful of yards on him during the last few minutes. The beast was oozing purple ichors from various wounds and, unless Hyram’s mind was playing tricks on him, it looked smaller then it did at the beginning of this chase, but regardless, the beasts stamina was outlasting his own. It seemed spurned on by a desperate, instinctive hunger, one that for some reason had focused itself completely on Hyram. Trying to fight this beast would be foolish though, he’d be devoured in seconds. Before Hyram could think of a better plan, the tree suddenly thinned out into a clearing. Realizing in an instant that this would give the monster a chance to catch him, the boy took off, panic speeding him back up to a full sprint towards the opposite end of the clearing.
Half way across, just as Cho’gath had managed to push its way into the clearing, Hyram felt a sharp pain in his lower leg. He tripped and went tumbling across the ground, finally landing in a heap. Cho’gath gave a roar of triumph before rushing towards him, moving in that same terrifyingly, disjointed, multi-limbed way. Hyram tried to flee, but his leg would no longer move well enough to run and he could only manage a slow stagger. He glanced down and saw a metal shard from what appeared to be a trap lodged in his calf. He looked back up just in time to see Cho’gath standing over him. “Foolish woman. Boy shall not live. Light does not belong here. This place is for darkness. Darkness shall consume the light…“
Cho’gath reared back opening his toothy maw wide enough to swallow the boy whole. Hyram closed his eyes and prepared himself for oblivion.
Instead he heard a faint ‘whooshing’ sound, then a thud, followed by a pained roar from the monster. Hyram opened his eyes to see a huge spear lodged in the flank of his attacker. By instinct, he rolled away as the monster looked around for the source of spear, only to have another fly out from the brush and pierce it’s thick hide once more. Giving another roar, Cho’gath turned back toward Hyram, but by then, the boy was back up and hobbling away at impressive speed. Cho’gath advanced, only to step on a trap, much like the one Hyram had tripped only minutes ago. Giving a weaker roar, Cho’gath pulled himself free of the trap almost effortlessly, ichors now flowing from his wounds as it caught up with the boy. “Nothing shall stop the darkness. We shall feast…”
As Cho’gath reared back once more Hyram leaped into action, muttering a quick incantation then throwing his hand up toward Cho’gath’s face as a bolt of brilliant golden light shot out.
Cho’gath recoiled as the bolt of light hit it in the face and eyes, giving a howl of agony. “It burns! The light burns!”
From the jungle, Hyram saw a tanned woman spring forth, throwing more spears at the monster, some bouncing off the monster hide, others piercing it cause more purple ichors pour onto the earth. Shaking it’s head, the monster turned and swatted the woman away with his tail, sending her flying before advancing on her. The woman looked at Hyram and shouted. “Hit it again!”
Hyram froze. “B-but I can’t get to it’s eyes…it’s just a blinding spell!”
The woman crawled away as the monster continued to advance on her. “Dammit, I don’t care what it does, HIT IT AGAIN! NOW!”
Hyram jumped forward as Cho’gath reached for the woman, shooting another bolt of light into the beasts flank. To his surprise, it gave another roar of pain as smoke rose from the creatures flesh. Hyram took a breath as a faint golden glow over took him once more, advancing on the beast, one step at a time. Each step, he threw another golden bolt at the monster, causing another howl of pain and another smoking wound.
After 4 paces, Cho’gath had given up on the woman and was trying to turn and face the young mage, but after 7 paces, it seemed to have lost all strength. Defiantly, it still crawled toward it’s prey, it’s single minded desire to devour it overriding even it’s self preservation. After 10 paces, Hyram was less then 5 yards from the monster, panting with exhaustion after firing so many full strength blasts. The monster reached a claw out to it’s prey. Hyram closed his fist as the faint glow surrounding him moved entirely to his fist, causing it to shine brightly with golden flame. Pulling his fist back, Hyram slammed it down into the earth with a great cry. Almost in unison, a great pillar of golden fire crashed from the sky, immolating the monster as it twitched and howled in pain.
As the flame cleared, Hyram saw the monsters blackened corpse simply fade into nothingness. Exhausted, Hyram collapsed into the scorched dirt and fell into a deep sleep.
Geography fail aside, (In order to get to Kumungu Hyram would have had to run across a few dozen miles worth of plains, cross the Sablestone mountains, and depending on the direction he took even pass through a bit of the Voodoo Lands) shaping up pretty well.
He’d finally found them. It had taken everything he had, but he’d finally found them. He found his sisters. He rush up to them, but neither seemed to be paying attention to him. “Hey!” He hollered, trying to get their attention, but neither of them turned around. He ran over to Morgana, who had his back to him. “Morgana! Hey! It’s me, Hyram!”
Rather then reply, Morgana just started to walk away, not looking back at him. Hyram turned instead to Kayle and ran up to her, be likewise, she was facing away. “Kayle! I-I need help. I don’t know where I am!”
Like her sister, Kayle simply started to walk away, not even looking at Hyram as she strolled away as if he didn’t exist. “…K-kayle? M-morgana?”
Hyram turned back to Morgana, but already, she was out of sight. Looking back to chase after Kayle, he realized he was all alone in the middle of the path. He heard a crash as a monster appeared out of nowhere, roaring. “Time to feast!”
Hyram awoke with a start, bolting straight up with a yelp. He shook his head to clear the memories of his nightmare from his mind, then mopped at the sweat on his brow. Looking around, he saw he was in a smaller clearing, laying atop a large hammock. His wounded calf had a bandage around it and he felt little pain from it. He’d have to test his leg to see if he could travel. He took a calming breath before swinging his legs off the hammock, only to hear a growl from beneath him. Recoiling back on top of the hammock, he glanced down to see a large brown cat, a cougar, lay in a ball just where we was about to step, staring at him with one eye open. Apparently, he had awoken it when he had cried out due to his nightmare.
He gulped as he glanced at the cougar. “Uh…nice…kitty?” He said softly as he slowly moved to get off the hammock on the other side. The cougar stood up and gave a long stretch, yawning as it arched it’s back. Hyram took this opportunity to step off the hammock and stealthily move back towards the thick jungle. The boy saw a tan flash and in a second, the cougar was standing between him and the jungle, ready to pounce, growling. Hyram gulped and slowly started to step back away from the large cat. “G-good kitty…I-I don’t taste very good. Really.”
The young mage tripped over a protruding root and tumbled onto his back with a grunt. He rubbed the back of his head until he saw the cougar standing over him, looking down at him curiously. The boy gulped once more. “…h-hi?”
The cat seemed to roll it’s eyes and casually strolled away. Hyram looked to where it was going and saw it sit down beside a smoldering campfire. It looked back at the boy expectantly. The boy pulled himself to his feet and strolled over to the campfire, seeing a pot sitting atop the coal. The cougar leaned forward to sniff at it, then looked back at Hyram. The young mage also sniffed at it and found that the smell from the pot caused him to salivate. His hunger overriding his better judgment, Hyram lifted the lid of the pot to see bubbling stew inside, ready to eat. The cougar licked it’s lips hungrily then looked back up to the boy.
“O-oh. You..want some? Do you think we should?” The boy said aloud, talking mostly to himself. Much to his surprise, the cougar stepped to the side and nudged a set of wooden bowls with it’s muzzle.
Hyram debated it silently for half a second before moving forward and grabbing the two bowls. He poured a generous ladleful of the stew in one bowl and set it on the ground, where the cougar pounced on it, devouring it. Hyram poured himself a helping of the stew and sat beside the fire to eat. He tore into the bowl of stew only slightly less ferociously then the cougar. The cat had finished it’s meal in seconds, while the young mage was only half done with his. To his great surprise, the big cat strolled back over to him and laid down beside him, once again looking up at him expectantly. The boy hesitated for a moment, then slowly reached a hand out and gently patted the big cat on the head. It gave a happy purr as Hyram scratched it behind it’s ear. As the boy finished he’s meal, he moved his over hand over to pet the cougar, scratching it behind both ears.
The large cat gave a contented purr, then stood back up and gave another stretch. Hyram also stood back up, brushing the dust from his pants. “Well, since you don’t want me leaving the clearing guess I’ll just have to wait here for your owner to get back.”
Hyram turned away from the cougar, looking out into the thick jungle. “Wonder what she’s up too. I hope she doesn’t mind us helping ourselves to that stew. She looked like the type of person you don’t cross.”
Hyram heard a cheerful female voice from behind. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry. She’s actually pretty nice to good people.”
Hyram froze and gulped loudly, slowly turning his whole body around until finally he was facing the cougar once more. Instead of the large cat though, he saw the tan skinned woman, leaning on her spear casually, grinning mischievously. “So, did you like the stew?”
The yordle messenger rushed down the path. He was to deliver a message to the League about this newcomer, as well as recommend a team of summoners be put together to search for him. However, he didn’t get very far, as by the time he reached the edge of yordle lands, the butt of a pistol cracked him on the back of the head, knocking him cold. Gangplank leered at the tiny yordle, leveling his pistol at it’s unconscious face.
“Wait.” Miss Fortune said off to the side. “No killing. Just bind him. We kill him and those hotheaded yordles might try to declare war on Bilgewater.”
Gangplank gave snarl and holstered his pistol. “So, we be going into the jungle after the boy then?”
Miss Fortune shook her head. “No, we’ll head for the Shurima desert. He’ll have to cross it to get to the Mogron Pass. Trying to find the boy in the jungle will just be a waste of time.”
Gangplank finished binding the yordle and stood, giving another growl. “How you be knowing the boy ain’t be void beast food by now?”
Miss Fortune simply smiled at the burly pirate. “Because, we fought him remember? You really think an exhausted Cho’gath managed to make him into a snack? Come on, lets go. We need to get ahead of him if we’re to set up a proper ambush.”
Hyram nodded at the tall tan skinned woman. “Y-yes I did.” The boy offered a bow. “Thank you for the meal. My name is Hyram.”
The woman laughed lightly and stepped towards the young mage. “He has manners. You definitely don’t belong out here then.”
Hyram lifted his head and took a moment to look the woman up and down. She wore a brief outfit of wild furs, adorned with many large teeth. Her long black hair seemed to have been braided into a simple ponytail and she had stripes of white paint across her skin. Her spear seemed like something much to large for her to use correctly, but the previous battle showed her to be quite proficient. Hyram had no doubt that her small muscles contained quite a lot of power.
The woman simply stared at Hyram for a long moment until finally Hyram managed to speak. “I-I didn’t get a chance to thank you. For your help earlier. W-what happened to that monster anyway?” A terrible thought flashed into Hyram mind. “Oh no…n-not the stew?”
The woman flashed a smile at him. “What, you don’t like void beast stew?”
She laughed as Hyram blanched, then shook her head. “No, no. I wouldn’t eat him. He’d taste terrible. No, he just faded, like he does when we fight on the fields. I’m guessing it’s the summoners work. They probably didn’t want him fading back into the void. Better to keep him locked up. My guess is he’s back in his cage at the Institute.”
Hyram stared at the woman for long moment. “Y-you’re a champion too?”
The woman nodded, giving the boy a teasing grin. “What? You’re surprised? My name is Nidalee. Surprised you haven’t heard of me.”
Hyram shrugged. “N-no, sorry. I’m not from around here. I-I only really found out about the League a few days ago.”
Nidalee frowned as she sized the boy up again. “That’s odd. Everyone in Valoran knows about the league. So you must be…”
Hyram finished she sentence as she trailed off. “Yes. I-I’m from Kayle and Morgana’s world. I’m trying to get to the Institute of War.”
The wild woman gave a barking laugh. “A new champion huh? Guess those summoners must have bungled the summoning spell.”
The boy shook his head. “N-no. Not a champion. I…uh…kinda got here on my own. Kayle and Morgana are my sisters. They disappeared, so I came here looking for them.”
Hyram was unprepared for the booming laughter that echoed through the trees. It went on like that for several long seconds, until finally, tears streaming down her face, Nidalee spoke once more. “Really!? Those two? Wow, I don’t envy you that kid. Those two couldn‘t care for a house plant let alone a boy. And they just left without telling you anything? HAHA! Trust me kid, you‘re way better off.”
Hyram blushed fiercely before finally his anger got the best of him. “Stop it!” Hyram yelled loudly, causing the tanned woman to fall silent. “You don’t know them like I do! They…they raised me. They taught me everything. Then they just disappeared! It’s strange I know, but I just feel like they need my help, okay!?”
Hyram once again started to glow faintly, a dim golden nimbus covering the young mage once more. He noticed the woman blanch slightly at his rebuke, so Hyram calmed himself with a deep breath and the glow faded. “I…thank you for your help. If you’ll just show me which way is north, I’ll no longer intrude.”
The woman looked at the boy searchingly for a long moment before finally giving him a slight smile. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn. To make it up to you, I’ll take you to the Institute myself.”
Hyram gasped and shook his head. “Y-you don’t have to do that, I..I don’t want to be a bother…”
Nidalee dismissed his concerns off with a wave. “I was left in this jungle alone, a long time ago. Fate saw fit to provide me a family. You’ve been left in this world alone, trying to get back to your family. It is only just that I help you.”
Hyram gulped and nodded. “I will not turn down help that’s offered. Especially considering how lost I am. B-but it would be wrong for me not to warn you.” The young mage paused to clear the thickness in his throat. “Someone or something is after me. It’s put a bounty on my head for some reason. T-There are a lot of people after me right now. If you come with, you could be in danger as well.”
The wild woman gave the boy a feral grin. “Well, all the more reason for me to come with. Now this is starting to sound fun.”
Less then 15 minutes later, they were ready to travel, both loaded down with large amounts of water for the journey across the desert. “Getting through the jungle will be easy. Day or two if we move at a good pace. The desert, that’s the real trick. It’s not to big, but it’ll suck the life out of you if you don’t have the right provisions.” Nidalee warned the boy as she checked to make sure his pack full of water and food was strapped on right.
Hyram paused as she checked the gear, then finally spoke. “W-why are you helping me? Really?”
Nidalee gave the boy a tiny smile. “You're a nice person. I generally don’t like people coming into my jungle, which is why I decided to stay in my cougar form while you woke up. You can judge a lot about a man by how he treats an animal.“
Hyram blinked in surprise. “Y-you mean…it was a test?“
Nidalee chuckled. “Yep. Don’t worry though. You passed. Alright, lets head out. Next stop, Institute of War.”
The journey out of the jungle was indeed fairly brief, but it was not at all uneventful. While most animals seemed to know to avoid the Bestial Huntress, Hyram thought he must have looked like a tasty treat. A few animals attacked, some who Hyram could not even comprehend, writhing plant monsters and tiny poisonous insects. Protecting the young mage quickly turned into a full time job for Nidalee, one she did quietly and without complaint. For his own part, Hyram tried his best to be helpful however he could, tending the fire, cooking, taking charge of most of the gear. He was happy to finally have a guide, one he felt he could trust. After all, she lived in the middle of the jungle alone, she had no use for the money offered for his capture. The only thing that bothered Hyram was the odd intensity in the woman’s eyes as she watched him set up camp, as if she had something she wanted to lecture him about, but kept to herself.
Slowly, the dense jungle started to thin as they traveled, until finally they broke out from the thick jungle entirely, now in a sweltering desert. The sun hung high over the changing landscape, pounding at the two travelers mercilessly. The ground was cracked earth at first, it greedily sucked in any nearby moisture. The drops of sweat falling from Hyram’s brow disappeared almost the instant they hit the dirt. Eventually the cracked earth gave way to rolling sand dunes, the wind picking up grit and tossing it into the boys sweat covered face, where it clung, itching him terribly. Hyram glanced at the feral woman leading him who seemed unfazed by the harsh climate. She had wrapped a large white sheet into a makeshift robe around herself to protect her skin from the ravages of the sun, so the two became white specks in the ocean of tan sand.
Even the cool water he drank would do little to invigorate Hyram further, no matter how much he chugged, which to be fair, wasn’t much. Nidalee has rationed it carefully for the two of them and she gave Hyram a harsh glare each time he took a drink without her permission, so he tried to drink only when she did. The young mage wondered how wise that decision was as it was obvious the feral woman's constitution far exceeded his own, but he suffered silently. Nidalee would occasionally point out a landmark here or call out how much farther it was until they reached a viable camping spot. Hyram guessed she did so to prod him to move faster as it was many miles until they could rest for the evening. He hated feeling like he was slowing her down, but he found the sand dunes even more punishing then the jungle. The jungle he could at least use his size and agility to ease his travels. The sand dunes were a sheer endurance trial, one what wore on Hyram.
Finally, with the sun hanging low in the sky, Nidalee stopped and with a sigh, threw her bag into the sand. “We can’t make it. The oasis is just to far to make today, it’ll be dark by the time we get there.”
Hyram followed Nidalee’s gaze and across a flat patch of sand he saw a speck of green. Hyram swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry. I…I’ll go faster tomorrow.”
Nidalee shook her head. “No, it’s my fault. I misjudged the distance. I’m used to traveling through the desert as a cougar. I make much better time. Even by myself, in human form, I’d have a difficult time making it all the way there in one night. Come on, help me set up camp. It gets very cold out here at night.”
Hyram wasn’t sure if she was joking, he couldn’t imagine this place being anything besides burning hot, but regardless, he helped Nidalee set up a simple camp, mostly a mat to get the two off the ground and a pair of blankets. There was little chance of rain in the place like this, but Nidalee seemed concerned at the lack of a shelter. Without trees or solid ground to hold poles, a tent was impossible. “We won’t have a fire tonight, so it’ll be chilly, especially without a proper shelter. If you get cold, just scoot closer to me. We’ll have to use what little heat we have.”
Hyram blushed slightly, then nodded as the sun quickly set over the horizon. Nidalee passed him a hunk of what he assumed was jerky and Hyram ate quietly. He glanced skyward as the stars started coming out, enthralled by how different they were then the stars of his home. He spent a moment creating his own constellations, figuring that if nothing else it’d help him with basic navigation in the future. After awhile, he felt someone’s eyes on him and he looked over to see Nidalee grinning at him. “You’re very…introspective, aren’t you?”
Hyram felt his face flush again. “Y-yea. Sorry, just…never had a chance to look at this world’s sky before. The first night was my only chance and I was in to much of a panic to do so.”
Nidalee nodded and sat beside the young mage, looking up at the stars. “Yea, well, I do that a lot too. Not much company in the jungle, so the sky is the most interesting thing about.”
Hyram felt compelled to finally ask the question that lingered in the back of his mind. “Nidalee…why are you helping me? Really? I mean, I see you staring at me sometimes. Reminds me how my sisters stared at me before giving me a lecture.”
Nidalee laughed at the abruptness of his question and shrugged. “I already told you, you’re a good person. And you’re all alone. I couldn’t just leave you.”
Hyram glanced at her, waiting for her to continue. “I know there’s more to it then that…”
The feral woman rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine, truth is…truth is, it’s getting a little lonely in the jungle okay? I’ve met other good people in the League, but none of them really make me feel like I belong. Teemo is probably the one I see the most, but even he and I don’t really…mesh.”
Nidalee smiled at the boy and shrugged. “I don’t know why, but you feel comfortable to me. Maybe it’s because we’re both alone out here. Maybe it‘s because you’re a kid and I can tell you aren’t judging me or pigeonholing me. ‘Wild woman of the jungle‘ is all anyone really thinks when they see me.”
Hyram nodded thoughtfully. “So, you’re saying you’re helping me…so I’ll be your friend?”
Nidalee gave a bark of self-depreciating laughter and nodded. “I guess so, though when you put it like that it sound silly.”
Nidalee paused, looking thoughtful. “Mostly though, I think you just remind me of that innocent little girl I used to be, all alone in the jungle. I guess I want to lecture you because I see you so lost. On the inside I mean. You don‘t know what to do with yourself. I can tell how lost you feel without your sisters…just like I felt lost when I was separated from my parents in the jungle.”
Nidalee offered an apologetic smile. “So, I guess I want to lecture you on finding your own path. I can help you get to any place in the world. But only you can really keep yourself from being lost, little one. Hence why I haven‘t lectured you. It‘s something you‘ll have to do on your own…but I promise I‘ll be around to help you out.”
Hyram smiled and drew his knees up to his chest as the first of the nighttime chill started to creep into the air. “…Thank you, Nidalee. Friends?” He held a hand out to the tanned woman who took it lightly and shook it. “Friends. Now, get some sleep. I want to make better time tomorrow.”
At the oasis, the two pirates sat, concealed behind various brush. Gangplank snorted. "So, how much longer we be waiting here, Sarah mi'dear?"
The Bounty Hunter glared at the pirate. "Tomorrow. He'll be here tomorrow I'm guessing, considering how fast he travels. He can't travel at night though, to difficult to navigate. We'll wake up at dawn and finish prepping our ambush."
Gangplank leaned a bit closer to the Bounty Hunter, giving a lecherous grin. "So, dear Sarah, how about we work together to get us through the chill of the night?"
A click was heard and Gangplank smiled as a pistol was leveled inches from his face. Miss Fortune hissed. "Anything you don't want to lose, I suggest you keep to yourself, Pirate."
Gangplank moved away a bit, still smiling faintly. "Har, don't be forgetting that I offered when you be shivering in a few hours."
Hyram stirred a bit in his sleep. He blinked sleepily a few times. He felt…warm. Safe. He realized he felt arms around him. He glanced up and saw his sister Morgana snoozing peacefully, her arms lightly wrapped around him. He felt something warm pressed against his back and glanced back to see Kayle likewise sleeping, her arms crossed lightly over him. Hyram smiled slightly as Morgana and Kayle awoke and smiled down at him. “I…I found you. You…you guys aren’t gonna disappear on me again are you?” Hyram said softly, only to be met by confused and sleepy looks on his sisters faces.
“Why would we go anywhere?” Morgana murmured absently, yawning.
Hyram smiled and shrugged, laying his head back down to rest. Kayle smiled and nudged him. “Come on lazy bones, time to get up.”
Hyram gave a groan of protest. “Just 5 more minutes…”
Kayle sighed and nudged him again. “Come on, I want to get to the oasis today.”
Hyram’s eyes shot open as he awoke from his dream to find Nidalee laying next to him, nudging him. “Come on kid, no more ‘5 more minutes’. Time to get up.”
Hyram rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to shake the dream from his mind. As he did so, he realized that at some point during the night, he and Nidalee had moved much closer together, uncomfortably close even, to the point that they were sharing a single blanket.
Scooting back from the tanned woman, Hyram’s face flushed. “S-sorry. I guess I rolled around a bit in my sleep.”
Nidalee smiled and shrugged. “Don’t worry about it kid. Probably the warmest night I’ve spent out here in the desert, so I’m not complaining.” Nidalee stood and stretched. “Come on. We got 10 minutes to get ready and eat something, then we need to be on our way.”
The two pirates awoke just after dawn, rubbing their hands together to chase the last of the night chill from their fingers. Gangplank leered at Miss Fortune mockingly. “You sure he be coming? I be getting a wee bit upset if we wasted all this walking and waiting just to have him not be here.”
Miss Fortune ignored the pirate, looking for a suitable hiding place to ambush out of. She pointed to a group of shrubs near the waters edge. “Here. We’ll hide in these. He’ll be happy to get to a water source, his guard will be down. We’ll jump him as he goes to drink and refill his water supplies.”
Gangplank nodded and comically crouched behind the brush, looking around in a paranoid fashion. “Is this what you be thinking? Hm…I seem to be a trifle large…”
Miss Fortune rested her face in her palm. Getting Gangplank to take this seriously and properly hide was going to prove challenging.
Hyram and Nidalee entered the Oasis almost 2 hours later. Hyram wiped sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his white robe and smiled down at the brilliant clear water of the oasis. “Finally.” He said quietly.
Nidalee nodded, her expression pleased. “Excellent. About halfway there then. Come on, lets stock up on water.”
She showed Hyram how to fill the various canteens, using a cloth to filter the water a bit, just to make sure nothing nasty got in it. She gave him all the canteens to fill as she stood, about to take a look around and forage. Instead, she heard a rustle coming from the nearby brushes. Narrowing her eyes, the wild woman cautiously approached.
Miss Fortune frowned at she saw the pair approach the waters of the Oasis. “What’s Nidalee doing here?”
Gangplank growled softly. “I told you we should’ve grabbed him earlier. He found her in the jungle. Now what’s your brilliant plan, lass?”
Miss Fortune glanced between the two of them and finally sighed. “We’ll split them up. I’ll take Hyram, you take Nidalee.”
Gangplank snarled, fidgeting about. “Like hell. I get the boy. I still want a rematch from the last time. I can fight that girl anytime on the fields.”
Miss Fortune winced as she saw Nidalee glance toward their hiding spot. “Way to go idiot! She heard us. Fine, go get the kid. Remember, we need him in one piece.”
The pirate laughed. “Don’t worry, I be bringing him to ya.”
Before Miss Fortune could call him on what she was sure was deliberately vague language, Gangplank took off at a sprint toward their target.
Nidalee approached the brush cautiously, not sure what to think. It was most likely a bird, perhaps something they could have for supper. It was rare to find other people out in the desert, and even rarer for them to hide. Hyram was distracted by the tasks she’d given him of filling the canteens to notice the Bestial Huntess’s concern. As she got closer, she readied her spear. As she did so she saw a flash of a red coat as a large man sprinted past her. She threw her spear after him, but he rolled as she did and it sailed over him. Nidalee looked past the man and saw where he was running…toward Hyram. She snarled angrily and gave chase, but before she made it 4 steps, she heard gunshots ring out, and the sand at her feet shook from a rain of bullets in front of her. She stopped and turned to see the female bounty hunter smiling at her. “Hi there. You have something that belongs to me.”
Nidalee growled. There was no way to get to Hyram without leaving her back exposed. She’d be shot full of holes in an instant if she turned her back on the Bounty Hunter. She could only hope the boy could keep Gangplank at bay until she got to him. Grimacing, the Bestial Huntress nodded, her thrown spear magically appearing back in her hand. “Let’s make this quick.“
The two women leveled their weapons at each other as Miss Fortune grinned. “My thoughts exactly.”
Hyram didn’t look up as Nidalee walked toward the undergrowth of the Oasis. He was to busy filling the canteens, only looking up when he heard the gunshots ring out. As he leaped to his feet, a shadow finally passed over him. He looked up at the thing casting the shadow and froze in terror. The towering Gangplank was leering down at him. “So boy. You remember me don’tcha? We’re gonna have a lot of fun.”
Water spilled from the canteen as Hyram’s hand trembled. Hyram took a single step backwards. That’s all he got before the Pirates fist buried itself into his stomach, causing all the air in his lungs to explode out. The young mage fell to his knees, gasping for breath, but no air entered his lungs. Without another word, the Dread Pirate delivered a backhand to the boys cheek, sending him sprawling into the sand. Hyram’s head spun as he tried to get up.
“Change. Come on now. I don’t want you, I want to fight that other one. The big, fiery angel. Hyramis or whatever. So go on. Change.” Gangplank growled down at him, his hand resting on the handle of his cutlass.
Hyram finally managed to draw a breath, using it to try and beg. “N-no…t-that magic. I don’t know how to.. I-I can’t do it again. P-please..”
Hyram felt a hand grab the back of his robe and drag him into the water as the Pirate waded into the Oasis. He pulled Hyram to his feet, scowling down at the boy. “Can’t or won’t? Maybe I just haven’t made meself clear yet.”
Without warning, the Pirate plunged the young mage's head under the water and held it there. Bubbles frothed to the surface as Hyram thrashed, trying desperately to lift his head from the water, but he was simply over powered by the large Pirate. Smiling, Gangplank pulled his head up as Hyram sputtered out water and gasped for air. “Now then. Ready to get to it?”
Hyram didn’t respond, instead sucking sweet tasting oxygen into his lungs. In an instant, the smiling Gangplank frowned. “Guess you be needing some more motivation.”
Hyram found himself back underwater as Gangplank continued to make his point. His lungs burned in seconds, but still the Pirate gave no indicated of letting him up. Finally, he was forced to gasp for air and sucked in only water. At that moment, Gangplank finally pulled him up. “How about now?”
Hyram spit up what felt like a gallon of water, coughing and retching until finally he could get air into his lungs once more. He whimpered softly as he tried weakly to pull away from Gangplanks iron grip. Gangplank tightened his grip on him and shook the boy fiercely, snarling. “Still not interested then? Well, third times the charm…let’s see how long it takes for you to drown this time…”
Hyram found himself under the water once more, having the presence of mind to take a deep breath this time. It did little good as the seconds ticked on and the air still forced it’s way from his burning lungs. Once again, he found himself gulping in water instead air, but still the Pirate did not pull him up. With one final tug at Gangplanks hand, Hyram felt all the strength leave his limbs and darkness claim him.
Nidalee rolled aside as the Bounty Hunter fired a shot at her, coming up to her feet and throwing her spear in one fluid motion. To her credit, Miss Fortune was almost as agile as the wild woman was and she too dodged the swiftly flying spear, coming up onto her knee to fire another shot. Nidalee rolled forward as the shot sailed over her head and her spear faded from where it landed and reappeared in her hand. Rather then throwing it, she got about 2 paces from Miss Fortune and thrust it forward at her chest, causing Miss Fortune to spin away and run back toward the Oasis to put some distance between the two.
Nidalee gave chase, throwing a trap out in front of the Bounty Hunter, forcing her to zigzag, letting Nidalee catch up. By the time she had caught up however, Miss Fortune turned and fired another shot, this one grazing her shoulder as Nidalee jumped away. Holding a hand to the wound, she growled, but what she saw happening behind Miss Fortune caused her blood to run cold. Hyram flailed and bubbles of escaped breath frothed around him as Gangplank held the boys head underwater, laughing.
“Hyram!” Nidalee cried out, causing Miss Fortune to turn, the Bounty Hunter’s eyes going wide as she saw the boy drowning.
“Gangplank! We need him alive dammit!” Miss Fortune yelled, but didn’t get a chance to continue her rebuke before Hyram finally stopped moving, falling completely still. Miss Fortune felt like a chunk of ice settled in her stomach and moved forward to pull the boy from the water, but her instincts told her to duck. A spear flew over her head as Nidalee ran at her two enemies full tilt, the wild woman’s face a mask of rage. She gave a feral scream as she raised her spear...
Blackness claimed him. Hyram felt himself falling endlessly, with nothing to stop him, nothing to catch him. Falling through darkness. He felt things flitting about in the darkness. Hungry things. Evil things. Infinite things. He felt their eyes on him as he fell farther and farther into the black as they tightened in closer and closer like a swarm of piranha. He looked up and saw a single spot of light far above him, growing fainter and fainter as he fell, until suddenly, he froze. He stopped falling and hung suspend for a handful of heartbeats. Then, as fast as lightning, he shot back up into the light while the monsters hidden in the darkness cried out in anger…
Gangplank growled as he saw Nidalee charging them, pulling the boy from the water. Seeing that the boy wasn’t breathing, he casually slammed his fist into the boys stomach again, causing the young mage to sputter up streams of water from his lungs before he started to gasp for air, still coughing and retching. Gangplank glanced back at the shore. Nidalee had closed the distance with Miss Fortune, who’s hastily taken shots had either gone wide or caused grazes that the Bestial Huntress ignored in her frenzied state. Miss Fortune managed to dodge a spear thrust toward her heart, but wasn’t quite fast enough as the tip of the spear bit into her flank, cutting a deep gash. Swinging the haft of her weapon around. Nidalee slapped the wooden shaft of her spear against the Bounty Hunters face with a WHACK!, driving Miss Fortune down to the ground. Her view now unobstructed, Nidalee pulled back the spear and with a shout tossed it full speed at the Pirate. Gangplank was caught off guard by the speed of the spear as it left her hand and tried to dodge away from it, but like Miss Fortune, he wasn’t quite fast enough. The tip still caught him in the shoulder, cutting into his red coat and causing a shallow wound. Blood stained his jacket as Gangplank snarled, throwing the boys unconscious body onto the shore, so just his head and upper body was out of water. He advanced on Nidalee slowly, drawing his pistol.
Miss Fortune shook the dizziness away. The Bestial Huntress had caught her with a pair of good shots, but she was far from done. She saw Gangplank advancing on Nidalee and smiled. No way Nidalee would be able to stand against the both of them. They’d finish this quick, so she could make sure the fool Gangplank hadn’t hurt the boy. She pulled a pistol and opened up, forcing Nidalee to fall back from the edge of the water, calling her spear back to her hand as she ran. The Bounty Hunter stood, the side of her face already starting to swell, but the bleeding from her flank already staunched. She level her pistols and opened up again, a vast fusillade of shots ringing out. Nidalee dodging as many as she could, but the Bounty Hunter was picking Nidalee apart with the few grazes she couldn’t completely dodge. The Bounty Hunter smiled as the Bestial Huntress fell to a knee, panting, leaning on her spear. She advanced on Nidalee, twirling her pistols.
Hyram’s eyes snapped open. He quickly realized that he was face down in the sand, still sputtering up bits of water from his lungs. He gave a final cough as he spit out the last of the lingering liquid and lifted his head from the sand. His arms felt weak, but he felt in his heart that he had to get up. That he’d never forgive himself if he didn’t stand. He managed to pull himself to his feet, still standing over waist deep in the oasis as he glanced over to where Nidalee was fighting. He saw both Gangplank and Miss Fortune advancing on the wounded Nidalee, and he felt a flash of righteous fury in his heart. He didn’t shut it down his time. No, he held on to it. Focused on it. As he did so, he heard a comforting voice deep in his mind. It was encouraging him. Cheering him. He could do it. He could change the outcome of this battle. He could win. All he had to do was try. Hyram started to walk slowly toward his enemies, his skin already starting to radiate a faint golden glow. As he walked, he prayed in a voice thick with emotion. ‘An Arrow…to Pierce the Heart….”
Gangplank spun as he heard the boy speak. His eyes widened slightly as he saw the boy advancing on him, but then his lips spread into a grin. “So, I not be making my point before then huh? I must say, you’re a tough one. I should just be hanging you up in my cabin somewhere and so I can use you as me punchin bag!”
Hyram still advanced slowly, ignoring the Dread Pirates words, still praying softly to himself. “A Will…to Uproot the Mountain….” As he spoke, his glow grew brighter, shining a golden light on everything around him, despite the midday sun.
“What’s that? You’ll have to be speaking up, I be a trifle deaf. Cannon fire, ya know?” Gangplank said mockingly, turning to face the boy fully, checking his pistol to make sure it was ready. “Any time you’re ready.”
Hyram grit his teeth, the fury building in his heart reaching the boiling point. “A Sword, to Divide the Waters…” As he spoke, the water around him started to steam and bubble, as if it to was boiling from the boys raw fury. “Wings…to Rend the Sky….” At that the water was at a roiling boil, steaming coming off the oasis in waves as Hyram continued to advance, growing taller and more muscular with each step, the robes around him smoldering despite the water.
Gangplank could no longer keep his demeanor mocking. No, he was to excited now, seeing the oasis boil from the magic the boy was simply radiating from his body. This boy was stronger then he thought. Gangplank almost giggled in glee as he realized the there was a very real chance he was about to lose this fight. “Come on then…let’s dance…” Gangplank said, a feral grin firmly fixed on his face.
Finally, now only knee deep in the water of the Oasis, Hyram looked up to stare the Dread Pirate in the eyes. “For all I possess…is a Soul…to Ignite the Fire of Change….”
In that instant, golden fire enveloped the boy, incinerating his white robes in an instant, growing bright until only a faint outline of the boy was visible. As the fire faded, it left behind a tall, muscular young man with huge golden wings, a nimbus of radiant fire still surrounding him.
Miss Fortune heard the commotion from behind her, but refused to look. She had to deal with Nidalee first. Besides, as tough as the kid might have been, he was definitely no match for Gangplank. Miss Fortune kicked the spear from Nidalee’s hand and raised her pistol once more, holding it level with the Bestial Huntress’s head. “Surrender. You’re out numbered and out matched. Just turn around and walk away. I’ll take the boy. No harm will come to him, I promise you. Just. Walk. Away.”
Nidalee did something that confused Miss Fortune deeply. She laughed. She looked up at the Bounty Hunter, her expression mirthful. “Oh, I’m not to sure about all that. First off, I’d say the odds just got a whole lot more even.” Nidalee nodded behind the Bounty Hunter. She took a quick glance back and froze in shock. She saw the boy combust into a pillar of golden fire, the Oasis at a roiling boil around him. As the fire faded, the Angelic Warrior they had faced on her ship was standing, but he seemed…stronger. She couldn’t explain it, but her instincts told her that whatever had happened, the angel seemed even more powerful then before. By how much, she couldn't say, but any strength gained made the gap between the Angel and Gangplank that much smaller. Miss Fortune swore to herself, and growled down to Nidalee. “Makes no difference. He’s still outmatched by Gangplank. AND he’s alone in this, you’re tapped.”
Nidalee’s smile widened. “That brings me to my second point…I’m not nearly as hurt as I was making out. But thanks for getting nice and close to me and the edge of the brush though..”
In a flash Nidalee transformed. Miss Fortune fired, but the transformation brought Nidalee’s head away from the muzzle of her pistol. The cougar lashed out with her claw, shredding Miss Fortunes pant leg and cutting deep gashes into her leg. Crying out, Miss Fortune jumped back, pulling her leg away just before the Bestial Huntress could close her fangs on her thigh. She rolled away and rose unsteady to her feet, spinning around and raising her pistols. All she saw was the last rustling of the brush as Nidalee disappeared. Miss Fortune knew the Bestial Huntress had not run. No….Nidalee was stalking her…The Bounty Hunter was now prey…
Hyramis stepped out of the water, the dampness that clung to his pants and skin instantly turning to steam and disappearing. He glared at the Dread Pirate, the bright, friendly blue eyes of Hyram replaced with cold, steel-blue eyes. The Dread Pirate and the Angelic Warrior stared each other down for long seconds, saying nothing as the Pirates red coat flapped softly in the breeze. The dampness of the pirates coat was drying swiftly, not just from the breeze, but from the heat radiated from the burning Angel. Finally Gangplank spoke, his eyes narrowing. “Is it me…or are you looking a bit more feisty then you did the last time?”
Hyamis nodded silently. “We’re a little stronger now. And we’ll be stronger next time. And the time after that. And the time after that. You have no idea the power that sleeps in this boy…”
Gangplank smiled brightly. “Maybe, but he’s fairly boring. Now you. You’re fun…” Gangplank rested his hand on the hilt of his Cutlass once more, slowly pulling it from it‘s sheath. “So, you be ready?”
Hyramis narrowed his eyes, a blade of golden flame forming in his hand. The Angel nodded. “We won’t lose this time, Gangplank.”
With a roar the two drew back their swords, before slamming them forward, causing a shower of sparks to erupt as heavy steel met unyielding fire…
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