The wolves had him surrounded on all sides, quickly filling the gap that he created with his spell. They growled menacingly, their black fur writhing like shadows.
Erk searched desperately for a way to escape, but all he saw were fangs and claws, getting closer and closer. On the other side of the hoard were Crest and Charlotte, looking at him with a mixture of shock and fear. But they were too far away to help. There was no escape. Realizing his fate, Erk steeled himself. "Come on then you drooling mutts!" Giving them a cocky look, he waved them closer with his hands. "I'll send you running with your tails between your legs!"
The mass of wolves glared and growled before the closest ones sprang into the air with their fangs and claws bared.
Erk yelled a battle cry and was about to rush at them when he heard someone shout, "Rebound!" Then a glowing green circle appeared around Erk and encased him. The wolves weren't able to stop themselves as they hit the barrier. But instead of stopping, they sank into in like a bubble before being shot out and sent flying across town.
Erk stared at the squishy barrier in surprise before he realized what happened. Turning around, he saw Crest standing with his legs planted in the ground and making a cupping motion with his hand. His eyes were staring straight forward and his muscles were tense with concentration.
The wolves must have noticed what was happening. As Erk watched, the ones in the back turned and lunged at his friend. But they never reached him. Just as they were about to strike, a yellow shield appeared and blocked them from reaching him.
The muscles in Crest's neck strained as the shield went up. But he wasn't done, after the wolves backed off, Crest began slowly walking forward. The wolves growled menacingly and lunged at him, but again Crest's shield kept them at bay as he gradually began walking his way through the mass of fur and fangs.
Erk couldn't imagine how much magic and concentration it was taking to maintain both of their shields. But he didn't have time to think about it. Wolves began throwing themselves at him as well. But just like the first few, they bounced off and were sent flying through the air. Erk watched as the entire barrier began shaking like jelly from the amount of wolves pressing against it. He worried if it would be able to hold under the onslaught. "I can't stay here forever though." He said to himself. "We need a plan to get out of here."
While he worried about his escape, Crest was doing the exact opposite. Step by step, he was getting closer to the barrier he had erected over Erk. Wolves jumped and lunged at him, but they were all stopped short by yellow shields. His teeth were clenched and sweat was beading down his forehead from the effort.
When he finally reached Erk's barrier, the press of the wolves was almost too much. The shield around himself was glowing like a beacon from all the magic he was pumping into it. But he didn't give in. Instead, he turned around to face the mass and clapped his hands together loudly and made a pushing movement with them. "Expand!"
The barrier around Erk began moving outward, pushing and flinging wolves back, but Crest went right through it without any hindrance. Once it was covering both of them, Crest dropped the shield surrounding him so he could concentrate on maintaining the large one, which the wolves were throwing themselves against.
Erk ran up to him with a grin. "I didn't know you could do anything like this. This is awesome!" Crest shot Erk a dark look, which stopped him in his tracks. "Er, I mean, how long do you think you can keep this up?"
Crest shook his head. "Not long. If these wolves keep this up, I'd say another few minutes. Then we'll need to fight our way out of here."
Erk nodded. Then his eyes widened. "Where's Charlotte?" He scanned the area outside the barrier until he saw the lavender haired girl still standing where Crest had left her. She looked petrified with her hands covering her mouth in fear. "She can't fight! You should have stayed to protect her or brought her in here with you." He said accusingly.
Crest shook his head. "I didn't have enough magic to bring us both in. I barely made it on my own." He took a second to scan the crowd of wolves. "Besides, the beasts are concentrating on us. Charlotte will be fine so long as she doesn't do anything to attract attention."
Before they could say anything else, the wolves suddenly stopped and as one, howled into the air. The barrier trembled with the vibrations.
"What's happening?" Erk asked worriedly.
Crest didn't have a chance to answer before something crashed into the top of the barrier. But instead of being bounced back, the object kept moving forward until it broke through, causing it to shatter.
The two guild wizards shielded their eyes as whatever it was landed on the ground, kicking up a gust of wind. Once they were able to look again, they saw Lupus in Alec's body standing before them. In one hand he held an unconscious man that was covered in leaves and vines by the front of his shirt. Lupus seemed to be slowly taking over Alec completely. Black fur was sprouting on his arms and neck. And where fingernails had been previously, claws now protruded sharply. And unless their eyes were deceiving them, he had a tail sticking out from behind him. He also seemed a bit taller than he used to be.
"Who are you? And why are you disturbing the revival of my army?" He hefted the green covered man into the air and he began to glow a dark light. When the light faded, he wasn't holding a man any longer, but a newly transformed wolf. He set it down and it ran to join the rest of its kind that were surrounding the trio.
Then Lupus' eyes fell on Crest. "You." He said pointing at him. "My host knows you." His eyes closed in thought for a moment. Then he smirked. "Ah yes, a guild wizard. I remember your ilk. Always so proud and headstrong. I destroyed many like you in the last war." He raised his hand, with newly grown claws to his mouth and licked a claw cockily. "And each and every one of them joined my conquest afterwards."
Crest glared at the rough spirit. "You'll find that wizards aren't like they used to be. We'll put up a better fight this time."
Erk smirked and added, "Besides, you lost last time. Why even get your hopes up?" He gave him a thumbs-down and chuckled.
Lupus glared at them. "A setback is all. I made a mistake in thinking that I could conquer the Spirit King's forces with only a countries worth of followers. This time, I'll conquer this entire planet!" He laughed, his tail swaying from side to side. "And that foolish Spirit King won't do anything to stop me! He'll bide his time until I'm knocking at his front door. After all, no spirit can stay in this world for too long. Well…besides me of course."
Erk whistled as his eyes drooped from boredom. "He doesn't shut up does he?" He asked, turning to Crest.
Crest shrugged, acting sympathetic. "So many years trapped in a prison, he's probably lonely and wants someone to talk to."
Lupus growled angrily. "Who do you think you humans are!? I am Lupus, the next King of the Spirit World! Do not take me lightly!" He sprang forward and in the blink of an eye, he was standing in front of the two. "Know your place." He swung down with a clawed hand.
But Crest saw it coming. "Shield!" A glowing yellow barrier appeared between them and Lupus. But it wasn't enough. Lupus cut through it like a knife through butter. Before he could react, Crest was swatted aside like a doll, sending him rolling across the street.
"Crest!" Erk shouted in alarm. Then he whirled around to Lupus, anger in his eyes. "Steam Engine!" He shot forward and swung his fist into Lupus' jaw, causing the spirit to stagger backwards. After passing him, Erk stopped and spun around for another run. Lupus looked up just in time to get socked by Erk again. Erk was starting to feel confident as he turned for another run at him, but just as he swung his fist forward, Lupus caught in with one hand, taking him by surprise and stopping his spell.
"Enough of that." He said, not even fazed by the hits. "It's useless you know, mere humans can't hurt me." Erk gaped at him wide eyed as Lupus picked him up and slammed him into the ground, creating a small crater.
Crest staggered to his feet from where Lupus had hit him and wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. "He shouldn't be this strong." He said as he got back up, ready for another attack. "Alec was never powerful enough to hit like that." He eyed Lupus. "What are you doing to him?"
Lupus grinned, his fangs gleaming, as he picked a groaning Erk back up and threw him into the building behind where Charlotte was standing. He went through the wall and Charlotte ran to make sure he was alright.
"You see, unfortunately my body is still locked up in that prison they trapped me in. So I had to get a new one." He gestured at Alec's body and grinned evilly. "I believe you humans call it Take Over." He ran a hand through his hair. "He looks much better this way, don't you think?"
Crest spit at the ground in disgust and got into a battle stance. "We'll see how good you look after I'm through with you. Now come at me!"
In the building Erk had landed in, Charlotte was helping Erk get to his feet. "Are you okay?" She asked softly?
Erk rubbed his back and winced. "That's going to leave a bruise, but nothing's broken…I think. I'll be fine." He looked out of the hole he'd created in the wall to watch Lupus and Crest. Lupus was slashing so quickly he could barely follow it. But Crest was ready for him now, so he was blocking each blow while attempting to land a few of his own. So far, neither was succeeding.
Shrugging off his pain for now, Erk put on a determined look. "But I need to get back in there." He turned to Charlotte. "You stay here where it's safe." He turned back only to see Lupus ducking under Crest's fist and grabbing his arm. Erk heard him yell something before hefting Crest up and throwing him directly at where they were standing.
Erk only had time to push Charlotte out of the way before Crest slammed into him and crushed him into the wall behind them.
Charlotte ran over to them and helped Crest to his feet as he groaned. The moment he was up, Erk fell from the new crater in the wall to land on the floor in a heap.
"Erk!" Crest shouted. "Are you alright?"
After a few moments, Erk managed to push himself up to his knees shakily. "I'll…be fine." He said, grimacing. Then he grabbed his chest and started coughing up blood. "But I think broke a few of my ribs."
Before he could say anything else, Lupus was there. "Oh I'll be breaking more than that." He grabbed Erk and Crest by their faces and threw them back outside, completely ignoring Charlotte. As they slid across the ground, the wolves stalked closer with their fangs bared. "No." Lupus said, walking out of the building. "It's been a long time since I've had any fun. These two are mine." The wolves whimpered slightly as they backed off to give their master room.
Charlotte wanted to turn away from what happened next. Lupus immediately set on Crest. He slashed and clawed and Crest wasn't able to keep his shields up under the onslaught. The white haired man tried attacking, but Lupus dodged each attempt. At one point Erk managed to get to his feet to try and help, but Lupus crushed him back into the ground with a blow from his elbow.
Crest yelled furiously and charged, but Lupus swung around quickly and, with his claws brought together into a single point, stabbed through Crest's chest.
Charlotte let out a scream as Lupus pulled his claws out. Crest put a hand over his chest and looked down in surprise before falling to the ground in a heap. He didn't get back up.
Lupus laughed maniacally at his victory. But he was cut short as a high pitched scream filled the air. Charlotte looked to see the two children Erk had saved standing just outside the hole in Iver's house. The little girl was crying while the boy was trying to shush her. Then Iver came running out of his house and ran to the kids.
Charlotte could hear him saying, "Please, children. Come back inside where it's safe."
Then she heard Lupus say, "Well, well. There's still some fresh meat left." He left Erk and Crest lying where they were and started off towards Iver and the kids.
Charlotte didn't know when she did it, but she suddenly found herself standing in Lupus' way.
Lupus stopped to give her a once over. "If it isn't the woman." He sniffed at her and then scowled. "I overlooked you since I can sense almost no magic coming from you. If you were smart you would have run while you had the chance."
Charlotte shakily shook her head. "I-I won't let you hurt them." She said, raising her arms protectively.
Lupus looked at her before laughing. "You think you're going to stop me? Ha! Humans can't hurt me. You don't stand a chance!" Then he stopped laughing and studied his claws forlornly. "But now that those other two are done for, I don't have time to play around anymore." He clacked his claws together and grinned. "So I'll be merciful and finish you quickly!"
With a yell, he jumped forward with his claws extended. But in the few moments before he struck, she had time to think. Images floated into her mind. When she joined the guild. When she met Alec and Crest. Then came the sad times. When Alec betrayed her and viciously attacked and defeated all but one of her spirits. The loneliness and helplessness she felt all the years after. Seeing Alec again and watching as her friends were beaten by him so badly. Crest and Erk falling to the ground.
No more. She thought. Then she looked up defiantly with tears in her eyes. "No more!" The keys at her belt began shining as large amounts of magic flowed through them. And for the first time in years, she picked them up.
"I am linked to the path to the world of the Celestial Spirits." She took up one key, a silver one like the others that had a rabbit for a symbol, rabbit ears as the blades, and what looked like a vest carved into the shaft. "Now! O Spirit, answer my call and pass through the Gate!" The light grew brighter. "Open, Gate of the Hare. Lepus!"
The light focused into one spot and solidified into a large rabbit that was as tall as Crest. "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here!" He shouted happily. He stood on his hind legs like a human and had snow white fur covering his body. He wore a red vest that only went down to his stomach and he had a small messenger pouch hanging on a string by his side. On his nose were perched a pair of small glasses.
He studied the area around him and then Lupus. Then he straightened his vest. "Miss, I am not a spirit made for battle," he said to Charlotte, his nose twitching irritably, "but for this scoundrel, I'm willing to make an exception." With a grunt, he kicked off the ground and vanished in the blink of an eye.
Lupus was looking around nervously. Wherever the rabbit touched down on the ground, he would kick up dust and a gust of wind before speeding off again. He was moving so fast that he couldn't follow him with his eyes. "This is pointless." He said, a little less confidently than before. "Humans can't hurt me."
Then Lepus appeared right behind him. "I am decidedly NOT human." Then he kicked at Lupus with his powerful legs, sending him staggering forward.
Lupus stopped himself from falling over and immediately put his guard up. Lepus began pummeling him with kicks, never staying still long enough to be seen. "No, but I remember you." Lupus said while enduring the blows. "You aren't meant for fighting. You just send messages." He waited patiently until Lepus fell into a pattern in his attacks. Then he grinned and grabbed Lepus by his face before he could kick him again. "Which makes you just as useless as the humans."
He raised his claws to finish Lepus, but the rabbit just looked at Charlotte remorsefully. "I'm sorry, Miss. But this is all I can do." He began fading as he closed his gate. "I'm gone, I'm gone, I'm gone." He vanished just in time to avoid Lupus' strike.
"Thank you for helping, Lepus." Charlotte said to her key. She put it back on the belt and picked up another one. "But we aren't done yet." She gathered up her magic. "Open, Gate of the Big Bear. Ursa!"
The key, another silver one, had a blunt tip with a plain shaft and what looked like a bear's head in the handle. It began to glow a chunk of rock broke off from the ground and floated in the air before a large bear burst from it.
It let out a loud battle cry before brandishing a club in Lupus' direction. "I'm taking you back even if I have to carve you from that human's body!" Ursa had thick brown fur that had patches missing and scars all around his body from battle. There was a piece missing from his ear and had two rows of grenades tied around his chest and back, making an 'X'. He wore combat boots on his feet.
"Ursa." Lupus said with a sly grin. "You made a wonderful wolf. A true specimen." He raised his claws. "I'll enjoy turning you again."
Ursa roared defiantly and charged. "You only defeated me because you were sneaky. You can't beat me face to face!" He swung his club down and Lupus raised a hand to stop it. But he misjudged his strength. He crumpled under the weight of the club, making a crater where he had been standing. Ursa laughed cockily and set his club on his shoulder. "Bwahahaha! You aren't so tough!"
But then Lupus rose out of the hole in the ground. His arm was severely broken and his shoulder was out of place. He looked very angry. He growled as he popped his shoulder back into place. Then with a grunt of effort, he raised his arm and with a cracking noise, it straightened back to normal."
"That hurt." He growled, his hair standing on end. The he jumped forward and slammed Ursa into the ground with his fist. Then he lifted his head by his hair and snarled. "But I'm growing stronger by the minute. And once I fully take over this human body, I'll be invincible!"
Seeing Ursa in danger, Charlotte raised her key. "That's enough. Ursa, close the gate!" Ursa glared at Lupus menacingly before growling as he vanished.
Lupus stood up and sniffed. He raised a cocky eyebrow at Charlotte and said, "Is that all you've got? A couple of B list spirits?"
Charlotte was breathing heavily and sweat ran down her forehead. Opening two Gates in one day was almost more than she could handle. But she wasn't giving up yet. She still had one more spirit. The one she could always count on. Her strongest spirit.
She raised the key. It was silver with two swords jutting out of the end. Down it's middle were three dots that were connected by a single line. It's symbol was a belt looped around a sword. "Open, Gate of the Hunter!" Lupus' smirk dropped and a small amount of fear showed on his features. "Orion!"
An orb of bright light appeared high in the air and branch of light flew out of it, creating a bridge between it and the ground. Then out of it came running a man with a sword attached to a pure white belt. His chest was bare, revealing slightly tanned skin, and his pants were a deep bronze color. On his face was a white cloth that covered half of his face, leaving one eye, half his nose, and half of his mouth uncovered. His brown hair stuck straight up. He wore no shoes.
Halfway down the bridge of light, he jumped off and landed just in front of Charlotte. "You rang?" He said cheekily, turning his head so that his uncovered eye could look at her.
Charlotte nodded and staggered on her feet. She was nearing her limit. Her knees crumpled but Orion caught her and helped her to her feet.
He looked up at Lupus, who was staring fearfully at him. After making sure Charlotte could stand, he walked forward and pulled his sword from his belt. The blade was as dark as the night sky. "Naughty, naughty, pooch. Shouldn't you be in your cage?"
Lupus visibly swallowed and shook his head. "You can't be here. This isn't possible."
Orion tsked. "You know the rules. Every spirit needs a key." He tossed his sword into the air and caught in nonchalantly. "And as fate would have it, my key holder just happens to be standing in your way." His eye scanned over the mass of wolves and the unconscious Erk and Crest. He whistles. "You've been a busy little bee. But you should know better." His joking tone vanished. "You don't stand a chance against me."
Lupus sniffed and growled, regaining some of his earlier confidence. "The only reason a nobody like you beat me last time was because I was busy fighting all twelve of the Golden Gates along with that old man. So I think you're wrong. It's you who doesn't stand a chance."
From behind him, Orion heard Charlotte breathing heavily as she struggled to keep his Gate open. He needed to hurry. "No messing around then." With his free hand, he lifted the cloth covering his face, revealing three dots connected by a line marked across his cheek, the first being where his pupil should be and the last one being just above his jaw. As the light hit it, it began to glow. Then his sword began to shine, like the stars in the night sky. "I haven't been sitting around all these years. I'll finish this in under three minutes."
"You're right, but I'll be standing on top." Lupus growled. Then he lunged forward, claws and fangs bared.
Orion ran forward to meet him, sword blazing. Lupus slashed and bit with all his might, but Orion simply parried him with a calm smirk. "Too slow." He said confidently. "You're not at full power yet." He slashed, connecting with Lupus' side.
The wolf spirit screamed in pain as the fur dissolved at where he'd been hit, revealing normal human skin underneath. He spat angrily and made a motion with his hand.
Several wolves separated from the pack and lunged at Orion's back. But the spirit casually dismissed them with a backswing of his sword. The wolves howled as they dissolved, becoming normal humans again. But Orion didn't pay them any mind. He continued his assault on Lupus, not giving the dark spirit an moment to think.
Lupus blocked him with his claws, barely able to keep up. And then it happened. He was a moment too slow with his block, which allowed Orion to stab him through the heart with his sword. Lupus choked and stopped all movement, as did all his wolves. Then Orion narrowed his eyes in concentration, making his sword glow even brighter.
Lifting his sword, it separated from Alec's body without leaving a mark. And as the sword lifted into the air, a black spirit rose with it, writhing in pain and trying to pull itself from the sword. It was nothing but mist and vapor, but it vaguely held the form of a mix between man and wolf. Once it was separated, Alec's body dropped to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.
Orion scowled and pulled his sword close so he could look Lupus in the eye. "Now get back to your cage before I smite your ass there."
Lupus struggled for a moment more before howling in defeat and evaporating, leaving not even a speck of darkness behind.
All around the clearing, the wolves were dissipating and returning to their human forms. Satisfied with the rate they were returning, Orion sheathed his sword back in his belt and walked back to Charlotte, who was now sitting on the ground on the brink of unconsciousness.
Orion began fading in small motes of light. He smiled down at her. "See? I told you I'd be done in less than three minutes." He laughed cheekily before vanishing completely.
Charlotte could only smile as her eyes began to close. "Thank you." The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was Alec lying on the ground across the clearing. I'm ready to move on now. She fell asleep with a smile on her face.