It all came as a breath of fresh air, or water, for Rick as she felt her mind being purged of the strange thoughts of loyalty and caring for her warden. All the questions rushed back to her, now thinking clearly. The first question that ran through her head and out of her lips was “H-How did you make this?” she asked looking at Marina in her arms just as there was a muffled splashing ripple coming from above them as the red haired mermaid dived from the waterfall.
“Silvia will explain it to you,” Marina said, with a relieved smile on her face. “I-I can’t believe it all worked… I-I was so worried,” she said holding Rick in close embrace as she felt her body blush and a warmness feel down around her breasts.
“It is good to have you back,” Silvia said testingly, reaching over to slip the rope off Rick’s neck. “Are you all well?” she whispered.
“Yeah, I am, I think I am,” Rick muttered taking a couple of moments to consider if she was really well. Not feelings of resent towards the girls, she had her love for Marina clear in her as well as the caring for her father and the fellow employees. As she began to order her thoughts, it dawned on her of all the things she had been meaning to tell them.
“Oh my god…” She muttered to herself as all the weight of secrecy just fell on her. “What day is it?” she asked urgently, i have to know.
“Rick, what does it matter? We just got you back…” Marina whispered confused, wanting to have celebrated for this moment.
“No no no!” she shook her head urgently. “I need to know what day it is!”
“It is New Year’s eve,” Marina noted. “Six days after you went into the mansion on Christmas,” she recalled.
Color drained itself from Rick’s face. Time had been passing so quickly with her slipping in and out of consciousness that she forgot of the days. “W-we can’t celebrate, not yet.”
“Why? Rick? What is going on?” Silvia asked with concern.
“Elliot is planning something horrible today!” she explained. “He is planning to terminate operations here!” Her mind traced back as to when she was about to hang herself. The clouds had made it hard to tell, but she felt sure it was almost midday.
“What?!” asked Marina, breaking her hug and backing away in surprise “How?”
“He said Kristel’s grandmother, Rita, has been pushing him about moving over to live with him, likewise, her sons and daughters are supposed to come for a meeting later this month. Knowing he won’t be able to hid his operation that long, he is planning to kill her during the dinner and transport the drugs elsewhere before the relatives arrive.”
“Is this true? But what about us?” Marina asked outraged.
“He is planning to dispose of us. Not just us but the other employees and children as well, keeping only Kristel for himself as insurance.”
“Oh my god…” Silvia muttered.
“This is big… we have to react b-but how?” Marina said alarmed.
“Hm… W-we need a plan…” Rick asked before turning to Silvia “Do you have something in mind? A plan we can carry?”
“M-me?” Silvia asked “I don't have any,” she admitted but her face gained a strong reassurance “But I’ll come up with something. But I can’t guarantee it will work.”
“We are going to die either way if we do not do something,” Marina interjected. “We need your plan.”
“First… first we rally the others,” Rick muttered “We can’t do much on our own.”
Marina sighed and nodded “Very well. I am gonna call for the other employees, this is an urgent meeting.”
“Wait,” Rick called out before the mermaid darted into the tunnel. “There is something else… Megan mustn’t know.”
“Why?” Marina asked somewhat startled, but her eyes soon narrowed a bit as she began to infer with that comment.
“Megan… Megan approached to me while by the river by myself while I was under Elliot’s mind control. She confessed me she has always been Elliot’s spy for the employees. It was her who warned him about the escape attempt with Bruthus, and… I suspect she was responsible for the previous failure.”
Silvia’s expression was one of surprise, but then it hardened and her eyes narrowed with determination. “That bitch!” was a snarl that came from Marina, who punched the stone wall of the cave with no hesitation. “It is because of her Alita suffered? It is because of her we never triumphed in the first place?” Rick swam over to her and rested her hand on Marina’s shoulder, getting her to look at her with her sad eyes. “I-I…” she sighed. “I will tell the others… Don’t worry,” she looked at Silvia for a moment.
“Can we trust the others?” Marina whispered.
Rick took a moment to ponder on the others actions. Bradhin used to be Brandon one of the first that rebelled against him, her younger sister is at stake in here. Frank and Maelon had shown little malice, and proved themselves to be rather fair people resisting their urges when she wasn’t herself. Ferilia’s little brother was a hostage as well. The wolves had two of their kind trapped in the mansion. Mina was a caring person and a very good friend. Anya was the only reasonable suspect but after what they’ve been through, she imagined Bradhin and Ferilia would give an opinion on the red haired busty elf “I trust them,” she managed to say.
Silvia sighed “Megan has been meeting up with us ever so often. In retrospective, those conversations might have been to get the information out of us…” she looked at Marina “Do not worry. I will make up a plan, Just rally them to meet us in the eastern clearing…” Silvia said reassuringly.
And having said that, Marina darted into the tunnel, swimming swiftly through the barrier. Rick couldn’t help but blink for an instant as she saw the barrier, which was often invisible to her eyes ripple and shine even brighter than usual as Marina passed through it. Silvia didn’t seem to react at it.
“I couldn’t believe it either… but she confessed it to me, and it makes sense, explaining how I was caught.” Rick muttered. “So what are we gonna do?”
“We have to plan, come up with an idea. What else can you tell me about this?”
“Well, I overheard Elliot mention he was planning on keeping one of his shadows by himself at the supper while another was keeping an eye on the children as the last three were to take care of us…” she began to narrate and retell all the details she could muster.
“This is bad, very bad… One of the shadows can take care of us without much trouble if we try a head on confrontation,” Silvia muttered. “I will have to bring out everything we have. I have a file I have been keeping on the shadows for a while now. If we are doing this with the employees we need to tip them off as to what to expect,” she took a moment and sighed before swimming down into the tunnel. “I will share it information with the others.”
“It is for the best. We can’t succeed on our own,” Rick muttered, feeling nervous and eager. She found herself filled with energy and powerful. It wasn't until she found herself by her own that she could notice this energy. Her vocal chords were vibrating, warm with energy and needing for release.
Blinking, she suddenly found herself seeing more than before. The invisible barrier in the wall of the lake suddenly became more evident to her. But with the blink of an eye, the colors were gone. “Maybe I’m still not cured yet,” she muttered to herself.
Her mind began to travel back “This is like when I see hints of the connections and links between my mana and the magic around me…” she muttered to herself recalling the moments before. Times over and over again before, she had seen auras traveling the air and emanating from her, the water she was controlling and even the marks, only this time she could see them bright as day, and as she eventually found out, she discovered how to control it.
“Um… Ignis Incandescente,” she muttered as suddenly a ball of light popped into existence before them, appearing and shinning blindingly.
She lost no time and lowered the spell’s level until it was tolerable. “Better,” she whispered before noticing something. A bright teal string that seemed to emanate from the ball of light, trailing itself back to her own hands.
“What is this?” she asked, noticing how more teal magic seemed to ebb from her pores, almost like steam or fire. She waved her hands and tried to grasp it with a surprised expression watching how it went through her like water.
“Rick?” Silvia’s voice came from the tunnel as she returned with some scrolls underneath her arm, with a bit of a confused expression on her. “Everything alright?”
“I don’t know…” she muttered slowly “I mean, I can see things… things that I couldn’t before…”
Silvia blinked and approached Rick closely “Rick, there’s nothing there.”
“What?” she paused, half in fear. Dreading to hear she was experiencing some sort of dementia. “But…”
“Maybe it is some sort of effect to our solution,” Silvia muttered.
Rick touched her own lips, recalling how Marina kissed her and how it solved that. “What did she do to me?” she asked, basking lightly on the eroticism of that moment. She couldn’t help but wanting her to repeat that sometime where there wasn’t a looking danger coming up.
“That was actually my idea…” Silvia muttered. “Remember how when we traveled to the Atlantis we found a passage about the Joplin, only person who could stand up to Kael?”
“Yeah. He said to have received the mind control curse… like I did,” Rick recalled. “But he died after breaking free without revealing how he broke free,” she muttered, a small part of her concerned it would be her fate.
“Joplin perished, but he mentioned that he was saved by what he called a ‘mana surge’. As the name might have implied, it is a sudden discharge of magic energy. It was Marina who reminded me of it, a couple of days after the failed escape attempt.”
“Over the course of this week, Marina and I have been trying to figure out how to achieve it, making sure it was the only solution we had, and we were hesitant as to how to deal with it. We took some time to figure out how much mana we should pump into you to purge Elliot’s corruption, how to make it properly. I planned a special potion with the remaining ingredients we had to make Marina’s a more ‘universal’ mana,“ she explained. Rick imagined that the matter of the mana was something like a blood transfusion, or at least bearing the same logic. Silvia then added “And Joplin perished after the ensuing fight, of old age…” She reached and stroked Rick’s shoulder “Do not worry… If we make it, we’ll give you a check up if you want to.”
“I-Is that, the mana surge, why I feel like I am about to burst with energy?” Rick muttered watching ethereal mist coming from her hands, like fire in the air.
“Well, Marina donated most of her mana. Don’t worry, she will regain her energy as time goes by and you will be de-power back to normal. But until then, you will be overcharged.” Silvia said, noticing Rick staring at her hands.
“But this is not the first time I’ve seen this,” Rick pointed out “I’ve seen it before. Like at times when I cast the spell or when Elliot used his magic on us. It is like a bond connecting me and the magic spell…”
Silvia paused for a moment. “Have you?” she blinked moving closer towards Rick and looking at her eyes. “I think you have some sort of mana empathy…” she noted backing away. “I remember reading that some Artic mermaids have this natural ease to see the bonds with magic through practice and use of magic.”
Rick immediately recalled the booklet she read about the mermaid races as well as the tidbits about the mana link. “I know, they use it to maneuver themselves through the ice caps and poles.”
“Hm… the link is not only visible but you can also feel it and control it with effort… no wonder how you learned magic that fast. And the mana surge must’ve amplified this ability…” Silvia muttered. “Rick, right now you are probably the magically strongest person in the grounds,” she noted.
Rick paused to consider this. She indeed felt powerful right now, and the use of magic would allow her to use much stronger spells as before, maybe even let her cast strong spells without singing.
“Rick… are you sure you are ready for this?” Silvia whispered.
She wasn’t. She felt like she lacked everything, after all her ordeal, she felt like she needed time to think things through. “I am not, I am scared, concerned above all things about what is gonna happen,” she admitted “But if we don’t do something, none of us will be left.”
Rick pondered. Last time she had been reckless, and rushed through with a plan. She had taken a decision and it backfired on her. But this situation required to suck up her error and try again, right now.
Eventually Marina returned down with news. “Some have agreed to meet us in the clearing. “Megan isn’t among them.”
“That’s good,” Silvia whispered.
“It’s not only that… but lady Rita has arrived this morning, accompanied with her apprentice and two of Elliot’s shadows. We can’t warn her,” Marina added.
Rick sighed, It would’ve helped to warn the woman before everything takes place. But then again, odds were that it wouldn’t be possible to speak to her.
Rick gulped as she looked down, holding tightly onto the tree. Being out of the water felt strange now, let alone being above it on the branches. The bark scratched more against her skin uncomfortably as her long fish tail coiled around the tree’s trunk as she pulled herself a bit higher and forward on the branch, making the leaves sing rhythmically to the wind. The sun was already beginning to set away behind the tree line and the sky was gaining an orange color.
Her gaze was intently down at the snow covered campfire, with the white edging itself away from the place where the fire tried to keep itself alive. The tree stumps and logs that were often used as benches sat there circling it and close to a carved table where the employers used to play poker on. Three large wolves were in the place, prodding around the grounds.
Black furred Jason seemed to be acting bottle up the excitement and anxiety he felt by walking to and fro the fireplace while Luke paced alongside him, but instead of doing so in a single line, he was circling the camp area keeping his eyes open. The only calmed one was Petra, who was lying by one of the trunks, looking as if sleeping.
Frank and Maelon were talking to each other by the fire place, muttering some things to each other details about the plan. Maelon seemed somewhat hysteric if not rather furious, almost to the breaking point while Frank tried to calm him down. “Come on, guys,” Rick muttered, feeling nervous for an instant “Come on Frank, teach Maelon how to make a poker face,” she sighed relieved as the satyr began to calm himself down.
After minutes, she looked up to the nearest tree, the one that was facing up on the north eastern side of the clearing, where she would see some rustling around, but nothing left to be seen. Then she glanced up the intertwined branches by the northwestern side of the clearing, which was the closest thing to a path and where the shadows would access the place. There was nothing to be seen there.
Rick was glad Silvia kept the camouflage potions, and she was in turn even more relieved to see that the mark allowed it’s effects. She looked down at her arm and moved it, seeing how her skin and scales dyed itself with different colors and textures, soft snow and almost gray-ish brown bark, making her look even more surreal than before. She could tell how even her braided hair had changed color from teal to those of the tree. It wasn’t perfect invisibility, but it helped her blend in the surroundings like a chameleon. The most uncomfortable part of it, though, was that she was clinging nude against the bark since her vest wasn't affected by the potion.
After some time, Maelon stepped up to try to calm the wolves and produced a wooden stick, deciding to try to have them play fetch to try to distract their minds. Both Luke and Jason agreed and began to hop around and chase after it. They began to repeat that over and over as time passed.
Rick stirred and tensed, hoping to keep herself on the wait for the shadows to start. While at the same time, she felt herself beginning to sweat as doubt began to claim here. “What if they are gonna handle with them after dealing with the children? What if Elliot was gonna deal with a way they hadn’t foreseen? And what if this is all part of an hallucination? That last one had her feel like a stab down her gut.
Eventually, Megan, the harpy flew low from the sky and landed atop the small cubes of a room and quarters the elves had to share since all this began. “Hey everyone,” she said casually, only to get a greeting back from the present members. The other employees acted rather casual around her, ignoring the truth. Yet now that she had confessed, she could notice how Megan was constantly glancing around and to the trees.
Megan began to look around the place and wondered” where is Ferilia and Mina?” she asked.
“They were tired after the day, headed to bed early,” Petra said naturally. Enough that the harpy nodded and kept on checking the surroundings.
There was a moment where she stared at her direction, making Rick keep her body as still as possible. True that the potion granted them a natural disguise, but would it be good enough to fool the harpy’s eyes? She took a deep breath and awaited staring at her through the leaves. Megan gave a shrug and hopped off rooftop of the prefabricated house and glided down to the tree trunk, sitting next to Frank and beginning to make small talk.
A couple of minutes later, there was another pair of blonde wolves that were coming in from the northwestern entry access. They were the sisters Sasha and June. Both of them trotted in as the heads of the people in the clearing turned to look at them. In particular the two male werewolves who went over to meet their mates. “Is it our shift already?” Asked Jason.
“No… Elliot’s guards wanted us to come here. Do you know why?” June asked confused, trotting over to meet over Jason with an affectionate nuzzle while Sasha padded after Luke to rub noses.
And it was then that Rick saw the shadows approaching behind the two wolves. Three of Elliot’s guards came to the encampment, mounted on three of the mind controlled centaurs as if they were their steeds. Two of them were male, were bearing large quarterstaves while the female bore a large thick bow and a quiver strapped around her hips. Seeing that alone put the employees on alert.
The shadows bore what seemed to be casual robes with their heads exposed as opposed to their usual black hoods, the kind they wore when they were around Kristel and her grandmother.
Rick took a moment to study them and their faces while at the same time remembering what Silvia told her she knew of their magic. The ‘human’ magic was weaker than mermaid magic, but a lot more versatile, allowing for a grand number of effects. They could store spells they had experience with within their bodies for rapid casting. Mages often carried a grimoire, a thick book, that contained the some of the spells they might need for a reference to cast in case they wanted more alternatives. Luckily, Elliot’s shadows didn’t have one on their person.
The first of Elliot’s shadows, the one mounting the female centaur was a rather young man who looked around in his late teens if not early twenties, with a youthful thin face along with a protruding face and mousy blonde hair. He was quite average in that aspect. Rick recognized him as Carl, according to Silvia’s profile, he was adopted by a normal family, unaware of his magic talent until he came into contact with Elliot. Looking over for power after discovering magic was real, he opted to follow him. He is said to have decent magic ability, but there was no data regarding as to what spells he used to prefer.
The second shadow was a mirror image from Carl, with he exception that he bore a large burnt scars on the lower left area of his face. That must’ve been Cory. According to Silvia’s reports, he came over after his twin brother, Carl, was recruited by Elliot. Lacking of any natural magic power, he was taken in and apparently taught how to craft potions and alchemical explosives and potions to compensate. Also, being the only one with no actual magic, he bore nor could use a seal.
The third person of the group was a middle aged man, human by the looks of it. According to Silvia’s data, his name was called Roger and he is from the alternate. Despite showing innate basic magic, he claimed to have opted to favor his swordsmanship and work as mercenary. Hence he was the only person who roamed around the grounds armed with a sword strapped around his belt. Despite of that background, the mermaids had rarely seen him wield. He was originally a hired mercenary, but as time passed, he was offered a more promising position. As to internalized spells, there was no information on that matter either.
The shadows trotted forth towards the camp. “Gather up!” Called Cory “It’s an order!” added Carl.
Each and everyone of the employees began to stand up and walk down before them, making an irregular line whispering among each other. The twins stepped forth and with their mounts while Roger stood back near the entrance, covering the rear.
Rick swallowed her stress and took a deep breath preparing for the next part of the operation, the attack as it was hers to call out the order and execute the plan.
Carl smirked “Well, first of all, Master Elliot is nothing but thankful for your loyal service in his operations and in keeping him and his treasures safe. We know that it has been rough for some of us, some more than others, but I want to tell you that today, as this new year looms over us, things are gonna change, I assure you that.” Carl was slowly unrolling his glove and preparing to take it off.
That could only mean well as they haven’t noticed something was amiss with the setting, which worked in their favor. Rick sighed and closed her eyes, trying to focus and gather courage, it would all begin in any second.
Cory however, was more cautious than his brother and began to look around, his head jumping from people to employee to employee counting the heads. Roger seemed to have noticed it as well as he was now frantically looking around to see if they had been hidden.
“In my master’s name, we want to compensate your long time of service. But I wonder how?” He continued, the young man seemed to savor in the moment, something that reminded Rick of a younger version of Elliot. Her eyes went up for Roger, gazing at him warningly as he whispered something to Cory, barely loud enough for him before trotting away.
Rick swallowed and took a deep breath. “Cryo Derritae!” she declared before thrusting her arms downward towards the bank of snow that had been prepared there before hand. Her magic, amped up by Marina’s mana, manifested instantly with great violence as the snow underneath her rapidly melted and exploded in a flood of water. The effect was so strong and explosive, it was the ideal distraction.
Things happened so fast it was hard to keep track of things. The employees scattered around, each followed their hunch as well as the vague plan outline. Even Sasha and June, who were unaware of it began to act accordingly. Carl tried to reach to hold down his mark, but was interrupted by a swift bolt of fire that came from among the north eastern trees, heading straight for the young man.
He managed to back away, barely dodging the projectile and tried to get his hand onto the mark, but was just interrupted as Maelon jumped over, trying to fight in close quarters, immediately going after his wrist to stop him from using it. The satyr was stronger and faster than him, that was evident as he forced him back.
Roger took notice of it and quickly tried to kick the centaur into a gallop, running back to the mansion only to be knocked off by Marina as she dropped herself onto the centaur, letting out a battle cry as she fell hard on him, tumbling him over and pulling the mercenary down with her.
Rick quickly let herself fall, using her water magic to manipulate magic, finding it very easy to use it without singing a note. The water molded itself into a cushion to receive Rick and used it to propel herself forward into the battle.
The werewolves were trying to rally Roger’s centaur back in line while Marina swung her arms, letting her fins grow into blades while she struggled with the mercenary in her arms, trying to keep him from moving around.
Megan jumped back, flapping her wings in alarm, if not startled by the confusion, edging herself towards the edge of the forest. Frank began to fight with one of the male centaurs bearing the quarterstaff, managing to tumble him and throw him off, that victory was cut short by an fire filled explosion. The sudden blast threw both of them aside, both the satyr and the centaur ended up wounded. Franks hip and waist had some burned marks on his chest but seemed well enough to force himself up. It was Cory who caused the chaos as he produced bombs from under his coat and lighting them up as swiftly as possible before tossing them.
Rick kept on crying the defrosting spell, melting the water around her and turning it into water before using her skill with the element and gathering as much of it around her as possible and using it to create a wave to propel herself forth.
“Stop this you, subhuman!” Carl snarled at Maelon as he tried to release his arm from the satyr’s grip. He immediately closed his fist and his hand began to glow red as he threw out a fireball, aiming for his face. Much to his surprise Maelon managed to barely duck before swinging the young mage down and proceeded to pin him.
“Don’t let him get you, brother,” Cory said, in concern as he tried to and also frustration as he couldn’t use the seal himself. Instead, he focused on Rick, who was just sliding towards him amassing more and more water. Losing no time, he lit one of the bombs and tossed it at her with great accuracy. Fortunately, Rick at just the right time and managed to gather all the water around her just before the it hit.
Her eyes widened as she saw the little copper and black sphere spin before her before suddenly explode in what seemed to be slow motion before becoming a full shock wave of red and yellow that tore through the water barrier she had erected and she was propelled back. Rick did her best to get her concentration up, which had her skidding over the grass and snow towards one of the tree trunks by the campfire. Thankfully, she managed to survive the impact with nothing more than a bruise.
“Rick!” Marina exclaimed, the slip of concentration cost her the wrestle with Roger who managed to overthrow her and draw his sword as a first reaction as a blade for hire. Luckily, Luke was close by to help and distract Roger snarling wildly at guard.
It was then that Rick realized that one of the centaurs was riding towards her, trying to flank her, with the staff swung high, ready to deliver a deathblow with it’s iron tip.
“Crap,” Rick muttered before raising a note and having the water rise and hitting the centaur’s flank with such pressure and strength it threw him up against the tree trunk.
With a swift movement, she muttered “Cryo Solidus,” and the water began to freeze on the large centaur’s body, slowly hardening and gaining mass to keep him rigid, thick enough to keep the thrashing animal from waking up.
Cory grinned and began to throw down more of the bombs at Rick. This time, she was prepared, having learned her lesson not to charge straight after him, she gathered the water around her and ice and used the extra mana to swiftly propel herself across the place barely at the ground level, “almost like a penguin,” she thought as she was zooming along and the explosions echoed away from her.
The overcharging had managed to grant her an easier control of the water and ice, and it felt great almost in control, but she still had to focus. Her eyes quickly scanned the campaign, focusing on the priority targets: the shadows.
Carl was kept under control thanks to June and Maelon, as they were holding him down with both hands while Marina and Luke were fighting Roger. For this, the werewolf had been forced to adopt a more human form as the creature was suddenly larger and standing on his two feet, looking rather fierce and nimble at that.
A swift and definitive swing came from Roger and Luke staggered back clutching his stomach, falling to his knees. Sasha howled in anger as she saw that just as Jason and Petra pinned down the mercenary’s centaur.
Marina gasped and yelled a curse as she tried to take on the shadow, using her tail and body like a crouching snake while trying to flail her finned arms at Roger, but it wasn’t as effective as the mercenary simply sidestepped and dodged her barely breaking a sweat. He swung his blade down at her, which she managed to deflect with her fins.
“I’ve had enough of you lot,” Roger grunted as he tried to cast aside his glove to touch into the mark.
Rick’s eyes widened as she skidded away dodging Cory’s explosive caskets. The plan consisted in keeping the shadows from using the mark of Kael as much as possible. The moment his finger was laid down on the mark red and black energy began to fly from Roger’s arm, swirling into the air fast, splitting over and over and searching for whatever enemy the mercenary gazed at.
The moment the dark mana touched Marina’s waist, she inevitably let out a shout of pain as she was hit by the mark. Kael’s seal began to seek more of the employees. Rick could see how the bodies on each of the victims began to project a white aura that carried the curse at a much faster pace. The wolves, having managed to wound up the large centaurs, were now writhing on the ground while Maelon bleated in distress but still managed to keep Carl restrained under him despite the sensation.
Silvia tried to fire a bolt of fire at Roger, hidden among the trees, but he swiftly dodged it and tried to use the mark on her the bolts kept on coming. Rick began to see how the magic emanating from the shadow swirled into the air until finding what seemed to be a white aura coming from the tree and quickly chased after it. Soon Silvia fell from the tree branches on a bank of snow.
The teal haired mermaid was so wrapped up with the battlefield that she barely noticed the red and black mana swirling towards her, guided by a bridge of white that seemed to come out from her hip. For a split second she felt it. The magic bond that connected the master and servant marks, she felt it almost like the one she created whenever she casted a spell.
Her contemplation lasted for too long as the mana hit her hip, right where the mark was, but the feeling suddenly spread all over her body as she felt the familiar bone crunching and muscle straining pain stretch all over her body. Her concentration was broken and the water capsule she had been using to propel herself around the scene suddenly collapsed and Rick found herself rolling around the snow.
“Now, what is the meaning of this?!” Megan demanded taking off from her location and landing close to Rick, taking a grip of her forearm with her talon and quickly tightening. “What is the meaning of this?!” She asked again, shaking Rick for answers. It wasn’t until she stared into Rick’s eyes that she noticed it. “You broke the mark’s mental curse!”
“Quick Megan!” Cory yelled out loud as he prepared to go over for his brother “Tell the master!”
That was quickly interrupted with Roger’s scream of surprise as suddenly a set of strings with two boulders tied to the end flew from among the trees and clung onto the shadow’s wrist, having it throw his hand away from the marking. Rick could see how the mana trail began to dissipate and break down.
The other employees reacted quickly and resumed their attacks. Marina again tried to spring herself after Roger, catching him by surprise and knocking the sword from his hands as he still staggered with the ropes, looking as if one of the boulders had smashed his bones.
“That must be Ferilia,” Rick muttered to herself. She was the backup plan, having been preparing herself to intercede from afar before moving in.
Ferilia, the dark elf emerged from the trees and forests and lost no time to hold onto Roger’s arm and hurl him against the tree. Ferilia was quite strong herself and easily pinned him against the tree and struck a blow at his stomach with a knee.
With Roger knocked out with that blow and Carl pinned down and the centaurs under control, that only left Cory and Megan. The remaining shadow produced another casket of red liquid and was struggling to actually turn it on as Silvia recovered and began to cast fire balls at him, forcing him to dodge and run towards the cabins.
“I must tell Elliot!” Megan snarled as she saw her allies fall, hopping back away from Rick and flapping her wings to try to take off.
“Surprise!” Mina said appearing from among the snow and jumping onto the harpy’s back. The Yuki onna’s natural talent for blending in with the snow and light stepping made her ideal for a sudden ambush as the second backup.
“What the…” Megan gasped surprised as she felt Mina’s hands touch her wings. “Get off me!” she hissed trying to shake her off, hopping around in alarm.
“You won’t fly or tell,” she said coldly. Mina’s eyes went blank for a moment as she narrowed them, giving her a rather scary and eerie appearance, one that made the harpy scream in dread. Mina just clutched harder to the harpy’s wings and began to squeeze, tightly. Rick could see as a thin layer of ice began to form around Megan’s arms as she began to flap to break free or to take off. Her movements began to turn more sluggish and her face began to reveal the pain she was feeling.
Eventually Megan groaned in pain as she fell down on the bank of snow as Mina just stood there looking down at the harpy with a blank expression as humanity returned to her face. She stared down at her and frowned, making sure she wouldn't try to run away.
“Rick!” Silvia called and pointed at Cory who was now the last man standing, came out from his hiding spot behind one of the employees prefab houses, preparing the casket of red liquid and preparing to toss it towards the teal haired mermaid.
Rick gasped, realizing that Silvia, Mina, Megan and herself would end up in the blast range. She didn’t think much, she just reacted and used her control of snow and water to rapidly raise a column of water and ice between herself and Cory.
The casket hit the hard shard of ice face full and the page flask broke against the hard surface and liquid spilled on it, catching fire in mid air at a brisk pace before suddenly flashing bright and wild in a pyro technical and flashy explosion that shattered the prefabricated houses, having them blown apart and set ablaze in a mere instant. Rick sighed relieved as she was unharmed by the explosion. She couldn’t say the same for Cory.
There was a deafening scream from the remains of the houses where Cory was. He was rolling on the snow covering his face, as smoke and fire seemed to be trying to come off from between his gloves screaming in pain as he held it. He kept on crying in pain, trying to put them off.
“We have triumphed,” Frank exclaimed with a groan as he wobbled towards the trunks around the campfire and reaching under it for a large thick rope, presumably taken from the storage warehouse.
After that as the sun was beginning to set, they began to rally down the shadows and the centaurs, taking some time to restrain them properly. The centaurs had their legs tied together rodeo style with their arms tied up between their horse legs. They squirmed wildly at times, but the mind screw Elliot gave them left them most of the time in a catatonic state, despite that, Frank was asked to keep an eye on the three of them. The satyr was wounded but could remain standing, if not leaning against a tree stump for support. Rick couldn’t help but to feel pity for them as that could’ve been her.
The shadows were tied in a different way. Roger and Cory were tied down on their back, having their arms and legs spread by their restrains so they wouldn’t be able to use the marks. Roger was knocked out cold from the beat up Ferilia gave him and would probably would be out for a while. Cory was badly wounded, the backfire from his casket burned part of his face, leaving only a small part of his face untouched. Rick felt some pity for him, mostly because he looked about her age.
Petra trotted, carrying Rick on her back down the camp. The fires had finished devouring the structures, leaving black crisps. Mina did a good job using her powers to hide the smoke with her snow.
She lost no time in putting on her vest just as the camouflage potion began to wear off and her skin began to return to its natural color tone. Her vest, as well, as some of the mermaid’s personal belongings had been placed in a hidden stash before the attack, and now that it was over, they began to recover them. Rick only had and brought the knife the werewolf gave her for her birthday. She never really planned to use it, but then again, it was worth having around.
“This was a very effective plan,” Petra praised sullenly as she trotted over to the werewolves, most of which now stood in a rather humanoid figure, now bigger and looking more civilized, sitting around Luke who just laid down on his back resting with his eyes closed. His waist was bandaged with red but stained from the injured cut he received at the hands of Roger. Sasha snuggled with him, whimpering in concern, nuzzling him while June tended his wounds, trying to feed him what remained of Silvia’s healing potion. Rick wasn’t certain if it would be enough, though.
So far, Luke and Frank had been the biggest casualties in the fight and Rick couldn’t help but feel concern about this, especially since she was one of the few leading them now. “Don’t worry about him,” Petra whispered, sensing the mermaid’s uneasiness as she looked at the large brown furred werewolf. “Just… just focus on the task at hand, it will all be in vain if we fail.” And having said that, she prodded away and over to the others.
Standing by campfire rested Megan, the harpy, with her wings and legs tied up while wrapped around with one of the blankets they group managed to savage from the burning houses. “I need… warmth,” she repeated shivering heavily as Mina stood by her looking at her pitifully, if not sorry as she tried to feed off the campfire. She looked at Rick for a moment before nodding softly and returning to her watch. The snow spirit had used her powers to give Megan’s wings a rather severe case of frostbite, since birds were rather sensitive to cold, the harpy will have some trouble trying to fly again.
“Arrgh!” screamed Carl to the top of his lungs.
“Lets go,” Rick whispered to Petra, patting her side. The she-wolf trotted where Carl was restrained. He had been forced to his knees while the ropes forced his arms to spread on different sides just like the other. The mermaid might have not had felt her legs in a long time, but she could imagine the position was comfortable if not stressing, but then again, keeping the hands tensed and wrists tight was a great way of handling mages, limiting the mana output, or so Petra told her.
“Take that thing away from me! I command you subhuman!” Demanded the young man, screaming, his face red in pain. Trying to shake the light green paste that had been smeared on his arm, but with the arms restrained, it was almost impossible to accomplish, which was now sizzling lightly against the mark, already shinning red and gaining a gross green color.
“It hurts, doesn't it?” Ferilia asked coldly, standing before the restrained man holding a rag that was dabbed with a gooey light green paste. “I can stop the sooner you speak.”
Next to the drow elf was Silvia, holding up a vase that had more of the substance. Rick winced, that was Joplin’s salve, or at least was the mixture they tried to create. The resulting paste was not only ineffective for removing the mark of Kael, but it was acidic and ended up burning Rick’s skin, causing some nasty boil that lasted over a week before fading off. “At least they found a use for that,” Rick muttered to herself.
Ferilia kept on her interrogation “Listen, we are low on time here,” she snorted, reaching into the jar with the rag and dabbing a large amount of the paste on it “Maybe if I use this on your brother he will spill the beans faster than you are.”
She passed the rag close to Carl’s face, making him cringe right away. It wasn’t until the tip of the mixture was a millimeter away from his nose that he broke up “Okay okay, I’ll confess! Just get that thing away from me, you subhuman!” he cried squirming as much as he could. It was easy to tell that he wasn’t doing it for love; but cowardice.
Carl’s screams immediately got the attention of the other employees. Silvia pulled herself forward, letting herself slide by the snow “We want to know how much time do we have? What is Elliot planning and where he’s planning to take lady Kristel?” She asked right away.
“I-I don’t know…” Carl muttered, grunting at the uncomfortable position he was forced onto. “The master didn’t tell us where we were heading. We were only told to dispose of everyone as my brother, Roger and I were tasked with killing the employees, letting us use the marks as we wanted. Koronir is staying with the children, awaiting for our return to get rid of them as well as the elves. The master is planning to poison lady Rita during supper. Her, the apprentice and the child! That’s all know!” he yelled as Ferilia approached the rag to his cheek threateningly.
“Elliot is planning to kill Kristel as well?!” Rick gasped in surprise. “I thought he was planning to kidnap her.”
“He was,” Carl muttered “But after thoughtful consideration. He imagined the little girl would just cause trouble, and that her family might be even more hellbent of getting her back. No, Elliot was actually considering to fake his death.”
“Then how was the plan supposed to go?” Silvia asked.
Carl scowled at them before taking a deep breath “First… first, my brother, Roger and I were to kill each one of you. After it, we would head over to the lake where one of the mermaids would help us dispose of the others,” His eyes narrowed as he looked at Rick and at Maelon, who had approached upon during the interrogation. “Then we would meet up with Koronir and proceed to dispose of the children, Roger and him would take care of that. After it we would go after the kitchen cooks and then wait for the master to emerge from the dinning room.”
“So it won’t start until you three return to the mansion?” Asked Rick
“That is correct, the elves are employed for a while until we return to the mansion.”
“What about Rita, how is he planning to kill her?” Ferillia asked, urgently, looking up at the sky as it acquired a much darker tone of purple and blue.
Carl only smirked. “He is planning to kill them with the dessert, sprinkling a very special poisonous powder coating on the cake’s cream. Lunch must be beginning in an hour or less.”
“We’ll just have to intercede,” Ferilia muttered.
“No, no no,” Carl shook his head, trying to revel on their inability for saving the day. “Elliot took several safety measures. He had us, shadows, lock up all but the front door so the children or elves wouldn’t be able to escape. He is keeping Kendra with himself as guard and executioner, in order to finish the job should the poison plan fail, and has planned to cast a silent spell on the doors so no one would come in or out easily. The room is also magically soundproofed so you can’t really warn them. And no matter what you try, you will not be able to fight the mark of Kael.” He only chuckled just to try to push their buttons. “Whatever you try, the result will be the same.”
Rick gulped taking a moment to consider the words and hope to figure out a plan. Ferilia slapped Carl’s face before turning her back to him and picking up Silvia, carrying her towards a small circle by the place. June carried Marina along with Jason.
“We have to head over to the mansion, now,” Silvia broke at once. “We are going to need to act now if we hope to save the Mistress and little lady Esther.”
“The faster we get there, the better,” Ferilia noted.
“Wouldn’t it be rushing things?” Jason asked, feeling nervous.
“We don’t have time,” Rick pointed out “We have to head over there now.”
Silvia took a moment to sigh before leaning forth as she was lowered onto Jason’s back “Alright,” she decided “We’ll split in two groups. The first one will travel to the mansion while the others will stay here to keep an eye on the shadows and centaurs.”
“I suppose, it is a fair plan,” June noted “I’ll stay, I can chase the centaurs if they try to run.”
“Sasha won’t part Luke’s side. Frank would be better off resting in here. Mina is contingency if they try to escape, with the snow around, she is in her element.” Silvia listed.
Maelon pondered and stepped in “I’ll stay over, keep an extra eye on the shadows.”
“Alright,” Silvia muttered.
“I-I think I’ll stay too,” Marina added and before anyone actually asked her she replied. “I am currently low on mana, and can’t fight well on the snow, let alone on firm ground. And since June is staying here, I can help as well keeping an eye on them.
Rick looked at her but only understood. While Marina was depowered, she herself was still supercharged with the mermaid’s mana. Silvia almost considered her a secret weapon, and Rick could easily tell why, arguing that her power levels were those of an experienced master. Of course, that had been hours ago, by now Rick could feel that extra power beginning to wane.
“Then it’s settled,” Silvia said, “Petra, Rick, Jason, Ferilia and I will set off the mansion in a minute. Rick, don’t forget to bring your knife,” she added.
The mermaid nodded and patted the sheathed blade that hung around her tight waist.
Ferilia nodded and headed over to the forest quickly to find her handcrafted weapons, she wasn’t sure how much of a help it would be, but it didn’t hurt to have it around.
“Be careful,” Jason said trotting over to June, licking her muzzle affectively. She closed her eyes and whispered some encouraging words at him.
Rick took a moment to stare at Marina for a moment, reaching up to hold her hands for a brief moment. “This ends here tonight… it has to,” she whispered.
“Let’s hope it all works out,” was all Rick could say before pulling her for a fleeting kiss just as Petra began to walk away and trot after the rest of the group. With the uncertain future, whether it brought success or failure, she wanted to rejoice on that moment where she accepted the task.
The image of Marina and June standing by the clearing growing smaller as they ventured deeper into the woods just reminded her what was important or what was at stake, but also of the long way they’ve been through and how things had changed in a year’s time. She had been thinking all this time of the things she had been forced to give up and tried to reassure herself that she would get them back, ending this imprisonment.