Beasts of Croudon
Jane continued to study the environment around her as she followed Jaie across a vast, snow-littered plain. It had been hours since they'd crossed into Croudon and the land still seemed to stretch on infinitely into the distance. “This place is huge” she thought, spotting a large collection of rocks to her left that easily reached her shoulders despite her impressive height of one hundred and sixty feet. “This is definitely crou territory. Everything here is colossal. I wouldn't be surprised if Croudon took up most of the continent.”
Distracted by her surroundings, Jane didn't notice Jaie had stopped walking until she bumped right into her. “Hey watch it!” the princess snapped after just barely managing to stop herself from tumbling face-first into the ground with a single stomp of her foot.
“Sorry, sorry” Jane chuckled. “I'm just a little overwhelmed by this place and got a little distracted.”
Hearing that brought a mild smirk to Jaie's face. “Well we crou used to have villages all over this land” she explained. “It was so dangerous my ancestors didn't have time to be 'overwhelmed' by anything. They had to overcome danger after danger with no time to be afraid.”
A little smirk from the princess caused Jane's eyes to narrow. “Well you don't have to worry” she said, returning Jaie's smirk with one of her own. “I'll protect you if we run into any trouble.”
Jaie clenched her fist, struggling to keep her frustration at Jane's confidence buried. “You've always got to have the last word” she growled.
“And you're always acting like I'm scum not worthy to be speaking to you” Jane growled back. “But I seem to recall we tied.” When Jaie remained both still and silent, Jane stepped forward. “I get it, you don't like me. That's fine. You're not the first, and most likely not the last, to have some kind of grudge against me.” As Jaie continued to say or do nothing, Jane put her hands on her hips. “Do you want a rematch or something? Is that it?”
After letting out a mildly threatening growl, Jaie swiftly spun around and thrust her hand at Jane's head, a fierce and intense glare on her face.
Taken completely by surprise, Jane could do nothing as Jaie's hand clamped down on her face. However, she was even further shocked when Jaie suddenly tossed her aside, just in time to save her from being hit by something big that quickly zipped by, leaving three cuts in Jaie's cloak before landing behind her.
“That was close” Jaie growled before turning to face the thing that had managed to sneak up to them without Jane noticing. “It almost got you.”
Jane was back on her feet in a second, fists raised toward the beast roughly half her size. “What the hell is that thing?” she asked, staring at the strange creature standing before her. At first Jane thought it was a wolf considering the creature's gray furry body, four legs and bushy tail. However, the many large spines protruding from the beast's back and the thing's Venus flytrap like head quickly ruined any comparison she could make with a creature from earth.
“That's a Lycross” Jaie explained, reaching for her sword as the beast snapped and growled at her and Jane. “A scout in fact, meant to test us for it's pack.”
“Is it's pack nearby?” Jane asked, keeping her fists raised.
“Oh absolutely” Jaie assured as she drew her huge sword from her back. “The scouts don't wander too far when they're looking for prey. Meaning we don't have long before they catch up to us. Maybe an hour at best.”
The lycross gave the pair of woman a vile screech, it's spines flaring up as it did.
“Careful” Jaie said, throwing her arm up toward Jane. “Those spines are almost unbreakable if you can't use ful. Leave this one to me.” Ful energy began to crackle around Jaie's horns, quickly traveling down her arms and into her blade.
Not intimidated, the lycross lunged at the crou princess with it's fanged mouth open.
Jaie answered the beast's attack by swinging her sword straight into the lycross, slicing it in two vertically from it's head to it's tail. Not two seconds after both halves of the lycross hit the ground, the ful energy around Jaie's sword dissipated.
With the danger now over, Jane lowered her fists. “You alright Nice?” she whispered, Nice quickly assuring her she was perfectly fine. As Jaie put her huge sword away, Jane approached the crou princess. “Hey” she said, getting Jaie's attention. “Thanks. You saved me there.”
Jaie took one look at the genuinely grateful smile on Jane's face and turned her head away. “It was nothing” she said, hoping Jane didn't notice her mildly blushing cheeks. “Please keep your guard up in these lands. I don't want to have to keep saving you.” Without looking, Jaie pointed to the lycross' corpse. “We'll bring that along to cook.”
“What about it's pack?” Jane asked as she grabbed both halves of the lycross.
“They'll catch up to use soon” Jaie explained as she surveyed her surroundings. “But if they see their scout's corpse and not a scratch on us, they'll think twice about attacking. Plus, lycross meat is actually not half bad if you cook it long enough.” Jaie suddenly spotted something far in the distance. “That looks like a good spot to camp” she said, pointing to what looked like a bunch of stone boxes just barely visible on the horizon. “Come on, let's get there quick.”
With a mild jog, the pair reached their destination in minutes. Jane was surprised to find they were in what appeared to be some kind of crou village similar in size to Kaizori Refuge, only far more dilapidated.
“Monos Village” Jaie said, answering the question Jane was about to ask. “The first of three villages we'll have to pass through to reach the center of Croudon.” Jaie wandered over to the largest of the stone huts, a sad look on her face.
Jane guessed the crou princess used to live here before her mother led the other crou to attack Etin city, an attack that ended less than favorable for the crou to say the least. With Tylia's story still fresh in her mind, Jane opted not to ask Jaie about this place and simply placed both halves of the lycross down along with the large fur pouch Tylia had given her.
“We'll camp here” Jaie said, her gaze turning toward several small trees that were growing beside the hut she was standing in front of. “It'll get dark before we could reach the next campsite and trust me, you don't want to wander around Croudon at night.”
“I figured” Jane said, looking down at the dead lycross.
After plucking most of the small trees from the ground, Jaie brought them to a different hut, this one easily the most stable and secure. “This one still looks good” she said before tossing the trees inside the hut. “A little more kindle and we'll be good for the night.”
“I'm on it” Jane said before eagerly surveying the small village, spotting a thick tree as tall as Tylia nearby. After hurrying over to the tree, Jane knocked it down with a single strong punch to the base of it's trunk, her fist smashing through it with relative ease. When she returned to the stable hut with the tree over her shoulder, Jane found the crou princess dragging the lycross inside.
“Go ahead and leave that there” Jaie said, using her ful to create a spark to ignite a pile of trees. “I'll start cooking dinner while you go get another tree.”
Eager to carry her own weight, Jane nodded and hurried to find another tree.
About an hour later, as the sun began to set over the horizon, Jane stretched out her arms as she got to her feet. “That hit the spot” she said, using her tongue to pick her teeth clean of any residual lycross meat.
“It sure did” Jaie sighed, patting her belly as she leaned against the hut's wall, keeping her bare feet close to the fire.
Without food to distract her, Jane took a moment to glance around the hut. “This place used to be some kind of workshop?” she pondered aloud, taking note of the basic-looking stone forge in the corner of the hut.
Jaie nodded. “Bale's actually” she explained. “Or rather, his father's workshop. Mother used to say Bale's father could make anything if you gave him enough time.” Jaie let out a sigh. “Unfortunately he wasn't able to teach my mother, grandfather or Bale much before...”
“I see...” Jane said, averting her gaze to the crude armor on Jaie's shins, forearms, right shoulder and chest. “They must know some stuff at least.”
Jaie noticed what Jane was looking at and nodded. “Bale does a great job given the circumstances” she said, not even thinking about the words coming out of her mouth. “Besides my mother and grandfather, he's the oldest.” Jaie's gaze fell to her laps. “Most of us were too young to remember the crou who went with my mother, but Bale... He actually knew what it was like...” Realizing what she was saying and noticing the sad look on Jane's face, Jaie cleared her throat and glanced toward the hut's entrance.
“I'm sorry” is what Jane wanted to say, but instead chose to keep her mouth shut, not wanting to make the mood even more awkward.
“I shouldn't have brought that up...” Jaie thought, her eyes still fixated on the doorway. “I'm supposed to be scaring her. But instead I've just made things weird.”
Wanting to check on Nice, who had been mostly silent throughout the meal and conversation, and also look for something to change the subject, Jane exited the stone hut and walked into the center of the village. “How are you holding up in there Nice?” she asked, making sure to speak softly enough so that Jaie wouldn't be able to hear her. When Nice didn't respond, Jane gently put her finger in her ear. “Hey Nice. Nice?” A mild panic began to rise inside of Jane, only to be immediately dispelled when Nice make some quick snorting sounds like she had just been awoken from a deep slumber.
“I'm not asleep!” the kassi assured loudly. “I was meditating!”
“So sleeping” Jane said after letting out a relieved sigh. “Tell me Nice, do you ever actually meditate? Every time you go to, you always fall asleep.”
“N-not every time minion” Nice scoffed before letting out a nervous chuckle. “And I'll have you know that I am merely going into a deep trance. Sure, to you and many others with simple minds it probably looks like I'm sleeping.”
Jane let out a little chuckle, amused at her friend's stubborn denial. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something silently dart behind one of the stone huts to her right. “What was that?” she thought as she removed her hood. With her injured left eye unable to see anything but blurs, Jane continued to glance around.
The sound of stones tumbling down a hard surface caused Jane to turn back towards the hut she and Jaie had eaten in. Standing atop the hut was another lycross, it's mouth opening up to reveal many rows of sharp fangs. When the beast let out a fierce growl, several more lycross appeared from behind other huts, cutting off any possible escape route. Jane swiftly glanced around, counting the lycross surrounding her as she did. There had to be at least twenty of the beasts snapping at her as they slowly approached.
The one lycross atop the hut jumped down, eager to take a piece of the hornless crou he and his fellow beasts were surrounding. Unfortunately, it would never get the chance as Jaie's huge, ful-empowered sword came crashing down on top of it, slicing most of the angry beast in two.
“Told you they'd catch up quick” Jaie said as she emerged from the hut, throwing her sword over her shoulder as she marched to Jane's side. “Although I wasn't expecting them so soon.”
Not wanting the beasts to strike them from behind, Jane quickly put her back against Jaie's. “So, all we have to do is identify the alpha and kill it right?” she asked.
“Y-yes that's right” Jaie replied, her cheeks blushing mildly as she felt Jane's back press up against her. “Just give me a moment to figure out which one it is.”
Unfortunately, the lycross weren't going to just stand around and do nothing. One by one they started to shake their quills, almost as if they were signaling to each other. A second later, one of the beasts lunged at Jane, only for it's attack to be answered by a powerful uppercut to it's lower jaw, sending it spiraling back into a stone hut.
Another lycross darted at Jaie's legs, hoping to attack her from below.
Not intimidated in the least, Jaie rammed the tip of her huge sword down on the beast's head, crushing it in an instant. However, as her weapon pierced the ground, another lycross leaped at her, hoping to strike before the princess could lift her sword. Rather than lift her blade, Jaie simply took one hand off it and threw a punch at the lycross, causing a small burst of ful energy, no bigger than her hand, to shoot out of her fist and hit the beast with enough force to send it soaring backwards. “Thank you Crysta” she thought, thinking back to her friend teaching her how to turn your ful into a projectile.
“Vicious little things” Jane grunted as another lycross clamped it's jaws down on her left gauntlet. Fortunately, one of her powerful kicks was all Jane needed to force the beast to release her. “Have you figured out which one is the alpha?”
“Not yet” Jaie grunted while keeping three more lycross at bay by swinging her sword wildly. “Give me a moment.”
Once again, the lycross all began to shake their quills one by one. A few seconds later one of the beasts sprang toward Jane and Jaie's side. Much to the beast's surprise, both woman took a quick step forward, giving the lunging lycross enough space to pass in between them. However, as it did, both Jaie and Jane threw an elbow back, striking both sides of the lycross before allowing it to flop to the ground.
Distracted by her and Jane's perfectly timed attacks, Jaie didn't notice another lycross pounce at her until it was too late to properly counter attack. “Damn” she thought after swiftly raising her sword to intercept the lycross, which simply kicked off the flat side of her blade and returned to it's pack. “Which one is the alpha? None of them seem to be. They're all around the same size and none of them look overly scarred.”
Suddenly, two lycross managed to clamp their jaws down on the tip of Jaie's sword. Before Jaie could free her sword with her ful, another lycross managed to grab her left leg with it's mouth. Fortunately Jaie's black and bronze greaves held firm, stopping the beast from ripping into her flesh. A second later, a fourth lycross lunged at her, forcing Jaie to throw up her arm to make the beast bite into her arm guard rather than her neck.
While four lycross held Jaie in place, two more tried to tear pieces out of Jane's legs, only to get a solid chop from Jane's armored hands to their heads instead. “Down!” Jane barked to the unconscious beasts. “Down!”
With four lycross holding her in place, Jaie began to call upon her ful energy. With one hand, she swung her ful-empowered sword up, sending the two lycross holding it soaring. A quick stomp to the third one's head got the beast to release her leg, while seizing the fourth lycross' throat with her free hand forced it to stomp munching on her arm.
Now that the Jaie was keeping one lycross' head pinned under her foot and another held away with one hand, a fifth lycross managed to circle behind her. Undetected by the crou princess, the lycross sprang towards it's prey, it's opened maw aimed directly for the back of Jaie's head.
Sensing something behind her, Jaie glanced back just in time to see the lycross' mouth stop a few inches, relative to her size, from her face.
With her hand gripping the beast's tail, Jane immediately yanked it away from Jaie. “No you don't!” she roared before using one hand to slam the lycross into the ground. When another lycross tried to attack her, Jane simply used the one in her grasp as a club to smack the beast away. “You okay Jaie?”
“I'm fine” Jaie assured before tossing the lycross in her hand away and pressing her foot down hard enough to crush the head of the lycross beneath it.
Jane tossed her still growling makeshift club away and quickly regrouped with Jaie. “Still looking for the alpha?” she asked.
“Yes...” Jaie grumbled as she readied her sword. “This alpha appears to be a far craftier than the last one I killed.” Jaie grit her teeth. “But the second I figure out which one it is...”
Suddenly, the still quite numerous pack began to shake their quills for a third time.
“Why do they keep doing that?” Jaie thought, thinking back to the first pack of lycross she defeated and the simple way they had attacked her; Swarming like a pack of ravenous beasts while the alpha stood back and watched.
“There it is!” Jane roared, pointing to one of the lycross to her left. “That's the alpha!”
Jaie was a little shocked, but also detected nothing but confidence in the runt's words. “What?” she questioned, glancing over to the lycross Jane was pointing at. “It looks like all the others. How can you be so sure?”
“It's the one giving the orders” Jane quickly explained.
Jaie was more than a little skeptical. “Again, how can you be so sure?” she repeated, only to have her question answered when the lycross stopped shaking it's quills, the rest of it's pack doing the same a few seconds later. “Get behind me, now!”
Ful energy began to crackle from Jaie's horns like lightning, causing Jane to quickly follow the princess' orders. She watched in awe as Jaie's ful started to jump straight into her huge sword, causing the weapon to begin to glow. Jane had seen this technique done before, but that was with a little dagger, not with a sword longer than her body.
“Let's hope you were right” Jaie grunted as she raised her sword up high, struggling to keep it steady. After taking a moment to let out a slow breath, Jaie swung her sword down, smashing it into the ground. A second later, a huge pillar of ful energy erupted from the impact point and rushed across the ground at an incredible speed.
Completely intimidated by the gargantuan display of power, the cowering lycross could only watch as the ful energy consumed it's entire body a second later.
Jane watched as the intense pillar of ful carved it's way through a stone hut almost as if it wasn't even there. “Wow...” was all she could mutter.
The attack probably would have continued on for a while, but Jaie quickly raised one fist. The instant she opened her hand, the pillar of ful shattered into small fragments that quickly dissipated. Jaie collapsed to one knee a moment later, completely exhausted.
With many lycross still surrounding them, Jane kept her fists up. “Was I wrong?” she thought before noticing that all the lycross were staring at the scorched ground where their kin used to be.
For a few moments, the lycross pack gave each other worried looks and low growls. A second later, the entire pack swiftly dispersed, bolting away in random directions and disappearing over the horizon.
“Guess not” Jane said, letting out a relieved sigh. “That was quite the powerful attack Jaie. Ful is incredible.”
Jaie responded with heavy breathing, still far too exhausted to speak.
“Here, let me help you up” Jane said, holding out her hand.
After giving Jane a weak nod, Jaie took the hand and allowed Jane to lift her back onto her feet. “Thanks...” she muttered.
“Are you going to be alright?” Jane asked as she helped Jaie back into the stone hut that had eaten dinner in.
Jaie nodded. “Yeah, I just used a little too much ful there” she explained. “Don't worry, I'll be fine after I rest for a bit.” After sitting down next to the fire inside the stone hut, Jaie let out a weak chuckle. “Nice job spotting what that alpha was doing. Especially with that bad eye.”
“I got lucky” Jane assured with a smile, only to quickly lose it when she noticed something strange about her vision. Curious, Jane used one hand to cover her right eye and much to her surprise, she found her left eye was almost just as efficient. “My eye... It works?”
A confident, over-the-top laugh echoed in Jane's ear. “Aren't you lucky minion?” Nice snickered, sounding almost as exhausted as Jaie. “It took awhile, but I fixed your eye for you. I doubt I'll be able to do anything about that burn mark though...”
Too tired to see the happiness building in Jane's expression, Jaie turned her gaze up to the hut's roof. “Thanks for saving me before Jane” she said, sounding genuinely thankful. “I'm sorry about how I acted be-”
Overcome with joy over her eye working again, Jane jumped up and threw her fists into the air. Unfortunately she jumped a little too high and both her fists collided with the stone roof, causing it to crack. A second later, a large chunk of stone broke off and plummeted toward Jaie, breaking over her face.
Jaie remained still, only grinding her teeth together as fragments of the stone crumbled down her body.
Realizing what she had done, Jane let out a nervous laugh. “S-sorry” she chuckled. “Sometimes I don't know my own strength. You were saying?”
“Never mind...” Jaie growled through her teeth.
TO BE CONTINUED....