43 Taree“s Trus - Headed by a Snake
"Dad! Don't go!" Pale yelled.
Pale found himself standing in a cold forest of gold leaves and wild green moss. His hand was outstretched to no one. He wiped a tear that had slid down his cheek and sighed. He was no longer in that awful place. He silently thanked both Boss Tycon and his father, in his heart. They had saved him.
He took a deep breath, taking in the cool forest air, the herbaceous scents, and appreciating the crispy, golden leaves. The nightmare was over.
Swiftly and without warning, Pale was struck in the side, tumbling to the ground. He held tightly onto his spear, but he was unable to escape or roll away. A bundle of orange robes and short silver hair had tackled him. Taree buried her face into his stomach and immediately began bawling her eyes out.
"It's you! Why did it have to be you who saved me!? I wanted the Chosen One! Why is it you?!" The girl was sobbing nonsensically.
Pale gently stroked her head, reassuring her. "It's okay. I'm here."
As she looked up with her watery-eyed, snot-nosed face, he wiped a tear with his thumb and whispered, "Don't cry."
"I'm... I'm older than you." The girl sniffled, "You have to respect me!"
Pale smiled silently in return. He continued stroking Taree's head, observing his surroundings. On himself-- his armor was undamaged, his forearms didn't need bandaging. His back didn't itch or sting. He turned to a snoring individual lying nearby. Tamaki was face-down (arrow-up), snoring peacefully. Beside Tamaki was his battle-buddy, his log. It was still covered in darts, giving it a wild and dashing look.
Darts... Pale looked around-- there was no sign of the cave they entered. But for some reason, deep in his heart, he knew Baketsu had died. He, Taree, and his brother had survived the nightmare. They did not. Pale felt a deep sense of regret about their painful ends. He stared at his hand-- feeling like only moments prior, he had clenched his fists so hard his palms bled.
"Taree," Pale said. "Let's bandage your brother's injuries."
She wiped her eyes with her bright orange sleeves and nodded, "Mm!"
Wroe and Tycon sat on a branch high above the forest floor. Wroe was again, maintaining a Shadow Veil with his concentration.
"What is it?"
"Haven't we been hiding long enough?"
Tycon rubbed the back of his neck, "I suppose... the lesson has yet to finish, Mister Wroe."
Wroe tilted his head, rotating a bit too much, "Pretty nice thing you did, Boss, using a Healing Skill like you did."
Tycon rolled his eyes, "If the boy survived whatever spell you cast, he deserves a Heal."
"And the potion?"
"Any Invictus member should always have at least one potion on him."
Tycon averted his gaze. By providing Bucket with a second potion, he was effectively giving it to the Archer. The boy was the helpful-type and wouldn't hesitate to offer his own rations to or spend his own hard-earned coin on someone else. Admittedly, it was a good personality to have in an adventuring company. He'd never be short of friends, as long as he associated with people who would return his favor.
It appeared to be a calculatedly selfless reason, removing a casualty, and increasing the combat power of Bucket's team. It wasn't. Tycon liked the blonde kid.
Fortunately, Wroe shrugged it off. Tycon breathed a sigh of relief.
"Anyroad, Mister Wroe... I thought I'd told you not to cast any spells on Bucket."
"Oh, I didn't, Boss." Wroe smiled innocently.
Tycon glared in response, waiting for more information.
"I didn't! I had no idea they'd get caught between worlds!"
Tycon glared harder, his face a mix of shock and rage.
Wroe raised one of his palms, trying to calm Tycon down, "Boss! It was just Thelanis?!"
Tycon's pupils shook and he clenched a fist in rage. Anger surged from within him at the mention of the spell.
« System! Inquiry! What is Thelanis and why am I so angry?! »
[System response: Thelanis is the Plane of Fae, existing as an "Echo" of the Prime Material Plane.]
"You brought them to THE FAE WYLD?! You imbecile, featherbrained BUFFOON!!" Tycon was seething.
Tycon didn't remember much of names and relationships, but he kept memories of creatures and places. He knew of the Fae Wyld... Nothing there could be trusted, not the plants, not the elves, or pixies, or hags. Strange laws governed the reality and the people therein. It was a world of madness and danger, rampant murder and cannibalism, lawless savagery and ethereal beauty.
A single name crossed his mind, connected to the Fae Wyld. Who they were, he did not know. It made him physically shudder in fear. It made him tremble in anger that Wroe's foolishness could have provoked Her.
"Boss! Boss?" Wroe was smiling, but sweat dripped from his brow, "They were fine, though? Boss?? I'm... I'm maintaining the Shadow Veil? Please don't hit me."
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Tycon raised both hands as if to strangle Wroe. But as his anger peaked, his emotions suddenly deflated. He dropped his head, took a slow, deep breath and gave a long, exaggerated sigh, "Maintain the veil, Mister Wroe."
Tycon kicked one leg over to straddle the branch and laid back against the tree trunk to rest, "And from hereon, no opening convenient portals to dangerous realms on a whim."
"A-aww," Wroe looked disappointed.
"You brought this upon yourself," Tycon replied angrily, his eyes shut.
Pale had checked his bag for bandages and found a second red vial. Taree was incensed. She had thoroughly searched the bag before they had entered the nightmare, or so she thought...
Pale told her not to worry about it, but she was feeling more and more useless as the day was going on. She was the genius of the Ivory Judge sect! She was determined to show Pale a face of power and might! Or reliability as someone who was older than him! ...Anything was better than the crying face she kept showing him.
They woke up Tamaki, bandaged him, and had him drink the Outsider healing tonic. Introductions were short and simple, but her big brother kept asking Pale weird questions like 'So, what do you think of my sister?' and 'So, are ya single?' Besides that, Tamaki had managed to keep his bow slung over his shoulder and in one piece. Even though he complained of a sore shoulder, he was as battle-ready as he could be.
"But Mister Pale, why are we goin' back?" Tamaki asked, scratching his blonde hair. "Aren't we still bein' chased?"
Taree had completely forgotten. Her brother was completely right. She looked over to Pale.
Pale smiled and Taree and gave Tamaki a hopeful look, "Three of our four pursuers are gone. Let's meet up with Lone, in case he needs our help... He'll be doing the same for us."
Taree felt strange about her situation. She was originally worried about having the Chosen One come to their sect, but after Pale had been the one to pull her out of the Nightmare, she couldn't look at him straight without fluttering butterflies swirling around in her stomach.
"Aaaaah!" Taree yelled. BAM! Taree threw out a frustrated punch! She didn't know what to think, anymore!
Tamaki keeled over, holding his stomach, "Coach! It hurts!"
Pale was stunned, kneeling down to help Tamaki up, "Hey, hang in there, man!"
Taree's face paled, "Oh no! Big brother!"
"Coach, everything... Everythin's goin' dark." Tamaki muttered. With a rattling sigh, the blonde archer fell unconscious, once more... Pale laid him down with tender care, a tree root beneath his head as a pillow.
He turned to Taree with a serious face, "It happened so fast... I didn't see our attacker... and I never felt their presence. Taree... Stay behind me, so I can protect you from Yoshio."
Taree hid her fists behind her back, feeling guilty, but secretly thrilled in her heart.
"O-okay," she blushed as a flame burned within her soul. "I'm not afraid! When I see that Yoshio, I'm gonna punch him so hard, he explodes!"
"Is that so?" Yoshio asked as he stumbled out of the undergrowth.