Several more days passed as the group awaited the “okay” from Nikki to infiltrate the Fire Guardian’s Shrine. Elliot’s wound had long since healed and he had been practicing relentlessly with Rue and Julian to improve his fighting abilities. It was good practice for them as well. During the meantime, Kiro was working to become familiar with the village. He believed it was good to gain the trust of the people on his journey not only to gain their favor, but if they were to be faced with an enemy, they will have the courage to fight them off rather than submit as easily as the other villages have.
It was late evening after the seventh day when Nikki returned with new information. He reported that although there was no new activity from the enemies in the shrine, the reason behind it was their lack of orders. The enemy’s leader turned out to have been Shadow, the woman who had been following them earlier and was killed by Bear. She had appointed one of the female ogres to take her place, but told her not to do anything until she had official word from either Ravelien or herself.
“This means there is also a strong possibility that your father is still alive.” Nikki informed Rue.
“I thought so.” Rue nodded.
“I’m glad.” Elliot smiled, though it was a sad one.
Rose ruffled his hair and thanked the heavens that her husband was alive, “Please, hurry and help him! He must have been suffering so much…”
“Pops? Never!” Rue shook his head, “He’s tough as nails, that b*****d! No, he’d EAT nails for BREAKFAST! Without even wincing!”
Rose shot him a look and he fell silent. Kiro quietly thought about everything. To him, it seemed like they had good odds. Those enemies would never see them coming, and, at best, they should be able to sneak in, assassinate the leader, save Rue’s father, and, with his help, annhilate the rest of the ogres. Kiro nodded.
“Then we’ll go tonight, when they least expect anyone to enter.” Kiro told them.
When twlight came, the group left the home, weapons at the ready, and headed for the shrine. They had to climb up the trail quite a ways, but by the time they got there, it was completely dark. Staying back in the shadows, they spied two lone ogres standing guard at the entrance. The two didn’t seem like very intelligent creatures. One was practically drooling all over itself.
“Nikki…” Kiro looked at the tiger, who merely nodded and threw his knives at the creatures, killing them quickly and quietly.
The Fire Region shrine was a large set of tunnels deep inside the volcano. Although one would think that living inside of a volcano was only something a dragon would be able to do, everyone and anyone can enter. It was the job of the Fire Guardian to keep the volcano dormant, and thus, keep its temperatures low. The fact that these ogres could infest this cave and keep it proved that Rue’s father was still alive, and they must’ve been using the man to keep the temperatures steady.
“Just like a dragon to live in a cave.” Rue had commented earlier about his father.
Kiro kept his promise to Julian and let him take the lead. The griffin quickly made his way to the entrance, the others remaining right at his heels. Julian had Elliot look inside, since it was almost pitch black, and see if there were any other guards about. None had run to the aid of the two dead ones, so he figured they must’ve been further back. He was correct.
Once assured of their safety, the five entered the tunnel. They did their best to keep to their toes and stay as quiet as possible while running ahead. Because it was only the entrance, they didn’t encounter any more ogres until they reached the first cavern.
Before they entered, Rue looked at the others and said, “They’ll know we’re here once we go in.”
“Fine with me.” Julian replied.
Kiro nodded in agreement and lead the charge. It was fairly easy to clear the cavern of all the ogres with the five of them attacking at once. There were really only a few there. It wasn’t until they reached the open expanse of the spell chamber that they really had any trouble.
Like the Earth Guardian’s dwelling, there was a large web pattern carved into the stone ground. The rest of the chamber was lit with torches nailed into the wall. The dim lighting revealed that the cave had a maroon coloring which was more brown than red. Though, the stone appeared a light orange color outside of the cave. Around the chamber, there were openings to more tunnels that would most likely lead to more rooms or even more towns if the person travelling were willing to go that far.
It was from these openings that the ogres came flooding out. Their weapons were raised, and they were shouting battle cries so deafeningly loud that it made the cave shudder and the party’s ears ring. While they were disoriented, the monsters encircled them, putting their archers in the front so if one of them made any move, then it would all be over. One of the ogres looked to the side and garbled something in broken words.
“Miss, captured bad guys.” It seemed to say.
“Let me see.” Came a girl’s voice.
The group of ogres broke apart slightly to allow a girl around Rue’s age to come forward. She had shoulder-length, pale blue hair and big, bright green eyes that seemed to glow in the dark; she didn’t look like a ogre at all! Smirking, she tapped a large, spiked club against her boots.
“That’s her.” Nikki reported to Kiro, “That’s the ogre boss.”
“Heh, so you were spying on us, eh? Well let me introduce myself. My name is too complicated for mere humans to decipher, so I’ll dumb it down for you. You can just call me Blankie, or Boss if you prefer. But, because you won’t be living long enough, it’s rather a waste to tell you.”
“So then why did you?” Rue snorted.
“SHUT UP!” she approached him and decided to give him a personal punch in the face rather than waste her valuable club on him.
He fell back a step, but didn’t seem too perturbed by it, “Ha! You’ll have to punch a lot harder than that to get me to flinch! Maybe you should take lessons from my princess?”
“What are you, a masochist? Want me to punch you again?”
A loud uproar started after she said that: the ogres were starting to chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” or “Go Boss!”
Kiro leaned over to Nikki, “This is a great opportunity. Go get Rue’s father while they’re distracted. Take Elliot with you.”
Nikki nodded and then nudged the blonde boy with his elbow before leaving. Elliot quickly followed. Kiro turned to Julian next.
“Get ready to step in if things get dicey.”
Julian nodded and lowered his weapons to watch. Blankie and Rue started out dueling hand-to-hand, but once Rue started to have the advantage, the ogre queen switched to swinging her club around. Quickly, Rue ducked before she could take his head off and shifted his hands into dragon claws, making a quick jab at Blankie’s stomach. She jumped back and swung again, this time, clipping the dragon in the shoulder and knocking him aside. Kiro grimaced when he heard the crunch of his friend’s arm breaking. The ogres caught Rue before he could fly out of the circle and set him up right again.
“Heh, at least you guys believe in playing fairly.” Rue grinned, not minding his broken arm at all.
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” Blankie huffed, approaching him and readying herself to swing again.
This time, Rue got to her first, ripping open a nice gash in her upper left arm. Blankie roared and swung her club again. Rue didn’t have any time to dodge this one, so he prepared himself to take the impact at full-force. However, something came in between the two of them, creating a crashing sound when it came into contact with the club. It was Julian! The collision had knocked his glasses off, and one of the spikes from Blankie’s club had given him a cut on his forehead. Other than that, he was just fine and was glaring daggers at the ogre girl.
Blankie gazed in wonder at how quick this human was, and, for some reason, his glare sent chills down her spine. No, this wasn’t a human; a human couldn’t move that fast. What was this creature? Just looking at him made her blush.
“W-Who are you? What are you doing? Th-this is our fight, so butt out!” she ordered him, but he didn’t move.
“As much as I would love to have you kill this guy, I’m afraid we need him alive.” Julian replied, “So quit, or we’re going to have to kill you.”
Blankie lowered her club, still staring at Julian as if she was stricken with a case of love-at-first-sight. Wait…maybe that was it? Was she in love with him? Not wanting to admit to any such unnecessary human feelings, she huffed again and turned around, crossing her arms.
“Fine, but you’re not leaving here! I am under orders from Lady Shadow to keep the prisoner here and not let him go. Also, she told me not to let anyone in or out, so you guys are just out of luck.”
Julian went to pick up his glasses, “We can’t abide by those rules, sorry.”
Blankie whipped back around, “What!? You’re just going to disobey the queen!?”
“Yeah, about that, how is it that you’re queen of the ogres, yet you look like a human?” Rue asked her.
“Hmph! Ogres are creatures too! Who says ogres can’t look human like every other creature here? Maybe we just prefer to stay in our natural, elegant form? I just happened to be born with such good looks that I felt I should only share them with the one I love!” Blankie shouted at him.
“I suppose that makes sense.” Julian nodded.
“See? Glasses agrees with me!”
“Yes, that’s what I’m going to call you, since you wear glasses. Or, do you prefer I call you feather-head, because your hair looks like you piled a bunch of purple feathers on top of your head?”
“I prefer Glasses…”
“Glasses it is, then!” Blankie grinned.
Kiro just stood back and watched the whole scene. Sighing, he silently stepped into the center circle of the web pattern. Inconspicuously, he signaled Rue to step in the circle directly in front of him. Once he was there, he quietly started to recite the spell that Fauna had taught him. Julian distracted Blankie in the meantime. The ogre queen didn’t take notice of them until the prince started to glow white like he had done the first time he cast the spell.
“Hey! What are you doing!?” she hollered at them and tried to get between them, but Julian grabbed her wrist and pulled her back against himself, pinning her in place.
She blushed and watched as the light turned a flaming red-orange color, left Kiro, traced the lines of the web, and flooded into Rue. Being as quick as he was, Rue was there to catch Kiro with his good arm as he once again collapsed from exhaustion. The prince stared questionably up at the red-haired youth when he started grinning from ear-to-ear.
“What are you grinning like a fox for?” he asked him.
“Now, I’m officially your knight in shining armor!” the dragon beamed and helped Kiro back to his feet.
“You…” the prince shook his head, “What am I going to do with you?”
“I’ve plenty of ideas.” Rue smirked and readily took the punch to the face that came afterward.
“You never change do you?” a sudden, unfamiliar voice cut through the chaos and caught the attention of everyone in the room.
Everyone turned to look and saw that Nikki and Elliot had freed the Fire Guardian! Blankie fumed, but her anger went unnoticed by the others who were awed at how similar, yet completely different, Rue was from his father. They looked the same: the same red hair, tanned skin, and fuchsia eyes. Only, Rue was of slimmer build than his father who had bulging muscles everywhere and a thick, bushy mustache with flakes of gray over the dark red color; a sign of his aging. Their personalities were the one thing that was significantly different: Rue was careless, flirtatious, and sly whereas his father was stern, polite, and harsh.
“Finally, you have amounted to something. No doubt the others will be picking up your slack within the week, though. At least I can retire…” the man grumbled, heading for the exit.
The others were very confused by this relationship. They had expected Rue’s father to congratulate him or even be PROUD that his son had been named the next Fire Guardian. Rue, on the other hand, seemed moved by his father’s words. Those were the kindest words his father had ever said to him!
“I return only to find disappointment…how typical.”
That voice…! Kiro thought, It’s impossible!
The group looked in the direction Rue’s father was leaving and saw Shadow standing there with a dark, sinister presence. She had another hoard of strange monsters behind her again as well. Didn’t Bear kill her? How in the world had she survived!?
“I can’t believe you would fail me as well, Ogre Queen.” The brunette shook her head sadly, “To allow the prisoner to escape…”
“I never said he could leave!” Blankie protested.
“And I am leaving anyway, whether you try to stop me or not.” Rue’s father told them, and continued towards the exit, stopping only to push Shadow to the side.
Shadow didn’t try to stop him. It was too late for that now. Unlike Ravelien, she didn’t like killing when it was unnecessary. Rue’s father stepped past the monsters and stopped before the exit.
Looking over his shoulder, he smirked at Rue, “If you cannot even fight your way out of this cave without letting a single scratch touch his Highness, then you have no business being a Guardian.”
Rue smirked in return, “No one will touch my princess!”
A disgusted expression passed over his father’s face for a moment before he finally turned ahead once more and exited, leaving the others to fend for themselves. Shadow stepped forward into the cavern.
“Let’s get on with this shall we? You all are due for a thrashing.”
She approached Kiro with her hand outstretched, a spell charged and ready to fire, “Let’s start with you.”
A look of pure malice reflected in her eyes as she let loose a flurry of the purple arrows.