Chapter VIII: Blood, Fur and Claws
The boat docked up at the edge of the other side of the river early the next day. The clouds were greyer than the guards, and, unfortunately, carried the sense of electricity. Lust was still furious about Cerise's little incident last night, and thinking about an encounter with his biggest bane frustrated him still.
The King prepared his other troops, while the Castle Crashers were assigned to scout and clear the road up ahead.
"Edge of bear territory, careful," Mauve's voice warned. Well, he just couldn't shut up.
Cerise chipped in. "They're the Tribe of the Bloody Bears. Or just the BloodClaws. They're reeeally good at taming wild beasts and orbs, so I kinda admire them. They're also very territorial…"
Flame gave a cheer. "So, we're crashing a whole team of monsters today? Awesome!"
Those three could form a separate group.
Now back to the battle tactics.
Lust breathed out and did a few quick trial-and-errors in his head. "We could go all out for this."
"You, Blue, Slate, and me. Cerise can come if he wants."
"Whaat?!" Flame protested. "What about me? I was out for long enough!"
"Rain is heavy in the air. And your second strength is defense, so that's not very useful."
"Sometimes defense is needed a lot!"
Harlequin interrupted with a cough. "I think we should all come. We don't know what we're up against."
"What about the as-little-people-as-possible rule?"
"Not for today."
Blue gave a nudge, and sprinted off. Without further argument, Lust and the others followed.
The camp for the bears was marked by flags of -obviously- bloody bear paws. The camp itself was relatively empty and strung up with a few tents. Four seemingly dead bears flopped around a pathetic campfire in the middle, eyes wide open.
"Do not," Harlequin hissed under his breath. "I repeat, do not make a sound. Walk around slowly."
The irony was that three bears immediately rolled over and sprang up, weapons in hand. The fourth rolled back to sleep.
"What did you just say, Harl?"
Lust grinned under his helmet, springing forward with a blast of electricity. Not soon, the four bears were not just playing dead.
Looking around, it did not take long to realise that only Blue and Flame had got into the fight as well. Cerise had crawled over to a small hole in a rock with a signpost beside it and trying to coax something out.
"Castle Crashers? Let's get on with it."
In the grassy fields across the camp, they were attacked by yet another squad of bears who squabbled furiously, throwing snowballs, batting and biting whenever they can, animal orbs flying around and assisting. The air seemed to be getting heavier by the second, and even a moron could figure out that the weather was not going to turn out great. The promising arrival of a thunderstorm did not help.
It did not take long to clear out all the bears, but it did leave him a few bites wounds and scratches here and there.
There was a bear sitting on a flat edge of stone as they advanced forwards, but something was a little different this time. The posture, the piercing eyes, the flag on his back; upon seeing Lust and the others, he narrowed his beady eyes, jumped down and started prancing. Lust gave a half-laugh at the silly movements, but it choked in his throat as a fat drop of rain fell onto his armour with a clink.
It was raining.
There was a rumble as a bolt of lightning streaked through the sky. Lust could feel his magic starting to go haywire, but he gritted his teeth and directed it towards the responsible bear.
There was a fizzle as a small white shape blocked the energy off, joining the opponent with a fierce bleat. A few other bears, seeing the commotion, hopped into a circle around them.
For a moment, the two teams stood glaring at each other. Then without warning, Slate rushed forwards, breaking the tension into a hands-on fight.
Lust quickly got used to the overpowering electricity he gained, using it to his advantage, shocking the less significant bears. He turned around just as his practice foil clashed with the flag bear's club.
"Leader of the Bears," Mauve informed. "Uses tornado magic- try arrows against him. Oh, and watch out for…"
Lust was knocked over with a sharp pain as the goat animal orb burrowed straight into him. Free to go again, the leader dodged a shard of ice and swirled into a tornado.
Lust quickly jumped up again in full battle condition, electrifying as many bears as he can and throwing a bolt at the tornado that was about to demolish Flame.
"Attack the leader!" he yelled. "The others would leave without him!"
"Dodge Rammy," Cerise added. "His ramming only goes a certain distance."
Lust rolled his eyes and immediately set to work on archery with Blue.
Flame was going nowhere with fire in the rain and set to defending and distracting instead. The others ran around fighting off other bears while Harlequin attempted close combat.
It was rather intense, especially when the placement of arrows needed concentration.
So when the lightning struck him again, it was so sudden that, like the first time, he did not have time to dodge.
A metallic smell tickled his nose; his hair stood up on end. Blue stepped back, dull eyes wide.
Before Lust could spare some attention to put two and two together, his vision whitened out.
Time seemed to slow down.
Unlike the first time, this time there was no searing pain, no slow-fade to black. In fact, there was nothing but frustration, exasperation and a power overload. Just a strong electric discharge that left with his next arrow and hit, bulls-eye, into the bear's bloody brand.
The whole process was so quick that nobody reacted until the bear slumped to the ground;
Rammy bleated as Harlequin finished the opponent by slicing the head clean off.
"Look at that improvement!" Flame and Slate chorused, then immediately snapped around to face each other. "JINX!"
Lust smiled triumphantly under his helmet in spite of how the team members were not being serious. "Yep, definitely getting better at controlling now. Now we advance forwards."
A clap of thunder shook the earth, as if agreeing.
"Wait!" Cerise picked up Rammy and handed him over to Harlequin. "Try this little pal instead of Seahorse. He's tough and tenant, just like you!"
Harlequin gave a nod of acknowledgement before calling out "The leader is dead but the hornet's nest has been kicked! Keep your defenses up!"
Almost on cue, two bulky bears whirled in with several smaller ones.
"What on earth did you say that for?!"
Lust shut the noise off, aiming bolts of lightning at every foe in sight. It did not take very long for the scuffle to literally die off, but the tall grass field seemed exceptionally squidgy, and it took forever to reach and clamber onto a tufty hill ledge tussled by the biting rain which, according to Mauve, leads to a bat cave…
…Coming face to face with the thieves carrying the remaining two princesses.
Both damsels gasped in relief as they saw the knights.
Lust sprang forwards, ready to electrify the thieves, but suddenly rebounded as a dull pain smashed into his side.
He dimly saw the dagger boomerang back to a lumbering shape wearing a thick cloak, stomping out of the dark mouth of a cave, followed by a tall, cloaked icy figure with red eyes.
The tall figure narrowed his eyes. A creeping cold, not unlike Blue's usual tricks, seeped into Lust's ankles. The two snatched up the unbound princesses—
"NO! Min! Carol!" Cerise yelped.
Harlequin burst free of his ice shackles, but Lust knew was too late.
The one-eyed giant plunged back into the cave while the tall figure, jeering, disappeared into thin air with a puff of icy dust.