Kakane didn’t use this magic often, as it carried the risk of exposing his identity and true self. He didn’t know much about it either, other than the fact that he was born with it and that it was proof of his heritage. The magical affinity a person had was determined randomly at birth, but this magic was a hereditary trait. Nobody had taught him how to properly use it, so it sometimes went out of control. But here, when he could not use his flames, he didn’t see any other option. And to save Serena, Kakane was willing to do whatever it took.
Kakane felt the power of his forbidden magic surge through him, instantly tearing him from his foliage binds and manifesting as a raging red aura tipped with gold. Holding Serena tentatively, he got onto his knees and brought her closer to his body. All of his senses were heightened, enabling him to hear the hum of insects miles away and see every ugly detail on the roc’s body. The metallic taste of blood in his mouth was many times fouler than normal, and the scent of it even reeked from Serena. But beneath all that, Kakane could pick up traces of lilies, roses, and some strange bitter herbal aroma. The scent was soothing and comforting, growing more so the longer he smelled it. To Kakane, it told him that Serena was still alive. In his hands, she felt fragile, fragile and so breakable. For a moment he was worried he would accidentally shatter her with his enhanced strength.
The roc shrieked again, snapping Kakane’s attention back to it. He pulled back his lips into a snarl, revealing long canine teeth reminiscent of snake fangs. Kakane’s eyes flashed gold and he let out a roar, so terrifying and loud that birds on the other side of Atlantis were shaken from their perches. Even the roc was shocked, moving backward and into the sky. The soldiers momentarily stopped retreating, turning to face Kakane. Even Mira was bewildered by this sudden turn of events.
Serena shifted in Kakane’s arms, bleakly opening her eyes. She blinked in confusion, seeing that his horns were back, but they were slightly transparent, and their appearance was fuzzy. Something gently caressed her arm, and she flinched, discovering that huge bat-like wings had sprouted from Kakane’s back and even a tail slithered behind him. Both of them were foggy like his horns. Scales lined his arms, neck, and collarbone in the same colors as before: red, black, and some gold dotted here and there. His face was screwed up in total concentration, pupils dilating as they focused solely on his enemy.
The roc hadn’t gone away just yet and in response to Kakane’s battle cry, let out a fierce wail of its own. Seeing as the roc had finally moved out of the way, Mira came running to aid Serena and Kakane. He entrusted Serena to the blond woman and tackled the roc. The bird’s wing was nearly ripped off from the initial shock and Kakane was growling violently all the while. He seemed hellbent on murder and rampage. Serena had seen Kakane look animalistic before, but this was… Something else entirely Yet, among all that, she could clearly see the very human Kakane she had met back in Zetreum Forest. The Kakane who had stayed by her side for so long. The Kakane that she knew and trusted.
“What in the world is that magic?” Mira murmured. “I’ve never seen anything like it before…”
“Kakane…” Serena winced, hissing as Mira used magic on her wounds to heal them.
“It’ll be alright,” Mira told her. “He’s winning, he’ll be fine.”
Serena looked at Kakane, who was jumping off trees and punching and kicking the roc without any mercy. Blood was smeared across his face, which he licked off, looking satisfied. One of the roc’s wings had been broken, making the once beautiful feathers a bloody mess. Even its tail had been ripped off, oozing thick neon green liquid everywhere. Somehow, the roc was still airborne and it was attacking everything that moved in a frenzy. But for all its rioting, it could not catch Kakane, who was moving too fast for the human eye to follow.
Kakane, now a furious mass of red tipped with gold, grabbed the roc by the neck and slammed it into several trees before dragging it through the dirt. He threw it into the air, snarling, and then tackled it again. His horns, tail, and wings were now more defined, but even if she wanted to get a better glimpse of them, Serena’s vision was failing her. Everything was going blurry and her head was fuzzy. Something slipped into her mouth and she blacked out.
Mira pocketed the small package of sleeping pills, resting Serena’s head on her lap. The white-haired girl would be fine for now, but there was still so much Mira needed to do before she could rest easy. Right now, Serena was on the brink between life and death. At times like these, Mira cursed her weak constitution that rejected her magic; she was already feeling light-headed. But she had to heal Serena; after all, she was the one who dragged her friend into this mess. Kakane was fighting so hard for her and the rest of the expedition team as well. Mira would not allow Serena to die, for Kakane’s sake and hers. She turned to glance at the scarred, black-haired boy, who was still battling the roc valiantly.
He was airborne, wings fully extended and nearly forty feet from wingtip to wingtip. His figure blurred the lines between animal and human, with curved horns and a tail sprouting from his body. He was not smiling, eyes completely focused on his target, his prey. Yet the longer she looked, the more Mira saw Kakane in this strange creature he had become. There was still that fire in his eyes, the fire that burned whenever he was lost in battle. His back was hunched over and sparks danced in his palms, a habit Mira had become accustomed to Bannaanka Weyn and something she saw whenever Kakane got angry. No matter how odd-looking Kakane became, he was still Kakane.
Below him, the roc was crippled on the ground, nestled among shredded plants and creepers. All of its feathers were broken or splintered and its wings were bent at odd angles. A chunk of its upper beak had been completely torn off, revealing a pitch-black mouth and an ugly, slimy tongue. The roc let out a squawk, no longer sounding menacing due to the loss of its beak. Desperately, it tried flapping its wings only to yelp in pain as its bones shifted about. The roc trembled where it laid, clutching a fallen tree trunk. It chirruped meekly but was quickly silenced by a roar from Kakane. Mira could clearly hear that it was Kakane’s voice screaming, and it sounded pained and full of regret.
The roc flailed and peeped but it was thoroughly trapped in the jungle mass. Its beady black eyes met Kakane’s fiery robs, which had the effect of immediately making the bird shrink into itself. It let out a frightened croak, ceasing to move.
Kakane’s wings beat up and down in the air, keeping him steady in the sky. His golden-tinged scarlet eyes were narrowed and bits of golden magic were flowing out of his mouth in wisps. He was snarling, and his canine teeth were visibly longer and sharper. It seemed even claws had grown out of his fingertips, sharp and ready to tear into any visible roc flesh. He looked like a predator about to enjoy a delicious meal, or in his case, sweet, sweet vengeance. His eyes looked the same as when he killed the Thunder Lion.
The roc let out another cry and Kakane’s eyes flashed. A huge two-layered golden spell circle appeared in front of him, with runes Mira didn’t recognize at all; which was odd since magic usually had some crossovers. This magic had to either be very ancient or very specialized. How did Kakane know it? Furthermore, spells with more than one circle were extremely difficult to cast or even learn. Not even Mira could use a spell of that caliber, thanks to her weak body. She was sure Serena could not use magic like that either. Just what on earth was this magic and where did Kakane learn it?
“Bow down before me, foul monster,” Kakane growled. “My might, the might of a king, will tear you into nothingness!”
Mana gathered into the spell circle, focusing at the center. Once a ridiculously large amount of magic was collected, the circle suddenly disappeared, until Kakane opened his mouth and roared.
The image of a strange reptilian creature appeared around Kakane. Mira had never seen anything like it before. It was like a mirage, very blurry and washed out. Its eyes were bright gold and squinted in anger, and its lips were pulled back to reveal huge, razor-sharp white teeth. Its scales were black, with red accents and the occasional odd gold scale.
At that moment, the effect of the sleeping pill wore off, and Serena groggily awoke. When she looked up, she saw that Mira’s attention was kept elsewhere, so she followed the blond woman’s line of vision. Serena barely had time to blink before Kakane let out a war cry alongside a strange creature she had never seen before. She was able to briefly make out black and red horns, wings, and a tail before they all became warped as light flashed all around Kakane. From Serena’s perspective, it seemed as though Kakane’s face had suddenly become that of a fierce, angry monster. A huge stormcloud of pure mana gushed from Kakane’s and the creature’s mouths, condensed into a beam of pure destruction. It was faintly red in color, with gold streaks swirling throughout it.
The roc was vaporized immediately, as well as a good chunk of the forest and even some of the island itself. When the magic hit the water, it exploded, spraying seawater and releasing steam everywhere. Crackling bits of mana flew through the air, feeling hot on Mira’s face. But the magic felt so familiar; it definitely belonged to Kakane. The huge plume of water from the destruction beam sprinkled the soldiers on the navy ships, and the waves from the collision lightly rocked the boats. Even Atlantis itself shook; tremors spread all over the island. They weren’t that big and certainly not dangerous, but the other teams would surely be alerted. But it was highly doubtful that they hadn’t seen Kakane’s attack. When the steam cleared, there was a noticeable chunk of sand and foliage missing from Atlantis.
A deep line was carved into the earth, and surrounding it, the trees and plants had been shaved of parts of their leaves and trunks. It led right into the ocean, where water was beginning to fill the new rivulet. Parts of the beach had been obliterated, with some of the less stable parts having been completely collapsed into the ocean.
Kakane alighted down next to Serena and Mira, breathing heavily. He was shaky on his feet, stumbling, and even collapsed onto his knees next to Serena. Hand-to-hand combat was his specialty for a reason; despite his powerful magic, he had pitifully low mana reserves. Two or three big spells were all he could manage before he had to retreat. Kakane was feeling jittery, maybe due to a lack of hydration or sugars. Using magic burned energy and nutrients faster than anyone could imagine. His horns, scales, wings, and tail were now completely gone, leaving his appearance the same as when Serena first met him. The strange aura-like creature had also disappeared.
Ruefully, he touched his scar before using his other hand to stroke Serena’s cheek. She had passed out again, but Kakane could still hear her breathing; it seemed the sense enhancement from his spell hadn’t completely worn off yet. Relief washed through him knowing that she was alive. Her white hair was spread out from behind her like a fan, though twigs and leaves had gotten caught in the tresses. Blood covered her face and clothes, but at least it had dried up and stopped flowing. Kakane gently pulled Serena into his lap with some assistance from Mira, who was smiling. She looked absolutely horrendous with all that blood and dirt and foliage covering her face, but Kakane thought she still looked pretty. He smiled, tension fading, and pressed his forehead to Serena’s, relishing in the cool feeling that came with it.
She hadn’t died on him yet. Of course she hadn’t. As her king, he wouldn’t have let her. Even if she did die, Kakane would have stormed the underworld in order to bring her back.
“Serena… Thank the gods… You’re alive, you’re okay…” His voice was strained, and he sounded like a tone-deaf frog, but before Kakane realized it, he was crying. Pathetic sobs wracked his body as his tears spilled onto Serena’s face, sliding down her cheeks and into her mouth.
“This was… Not how I expected this to go,” Mira huffed, folding her arms over her chest. Kakane pulled away from Serena and, holding her close, turned to Mira.
“If you don’t mind, Mira, I’d like to go back to the castle.” She nodded.
“Yes… I think we should call off this expedition for today. At least we won’t make this same mistake next time. I’ll make sure everyone is prepared.”
Mira headed towards the beach, where the soldiers were coming out of hiding after Kakane’s assault. One of them glanced at Kakane and Serena, immediately shedding his cloak and placing it around Kakane shoulders. The soldier winked at the boy before proceeding to join the rest of his men-at-arms at the shore. Cradling Serena’s body, Kakane waited patiently for some relief teams to arrive on Atlantis’s banks. It didn’t take long and soon, Kakane was forcibly separated from Serena as she was taken away on a stretcher. He was a bit disgruntled as multiple medics looked and prodded him over; he would much rather have Serena do it. But he didn’t object to their fussing, bottling up every foul word he desperately wanted to let out.
Kakane reluctantly allowed himself to be led onto a rowboat that was then towed out to one of the navy’s ships. He wanted to say that he could do everything by himself, but he was so damn tired and exhausted he would stay quiet for now. But this certainly was not befitting of a king, though Kakane supposed a king would know when they needed assistance.
Speaking of assistance, he had been worrying Serena quite a lot lately. It made him feel quite guilty. He had gone as far as been determined to abandon her… What a fool he was. Kakane would never leave Serena’s side, not now, not ever. He had turned down all of her offers to help, even snapping at her occasionally, and look how that turned out. He would have to apologize later. A king was a figure of pride, but Kakane knew some humility was in order. If Serena slapped and yelled at him later, he would take it like a man. She was going to be very, very upset, but it was his fault and he should take responsibility. A king knew when he needed to take a step back.
Glancing at the head of the boat, with Ali’i in sight, Kakane sighed and stretched a bit. He felt dirty and disgusting, and he was so very tired. Once he did fall into bed, he felt as though he wouldn’t wake up for another hundred years. But he knew he didn’t have the luxury of sleeping that long, as he had some words for Serena that she desperately needed to hear.