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Chapter 20

It All Comes Together

The Forest had seen a great deal, many a thing. For all these years, Elvia hadn’t a clue, and had come into all this new knowledge, all at once; and in this knowing of things now; she had been gaining a maturity along with it. Mental maturity; and the more she knew, the more she had wanted to know. She was an ever receptive mind, a deep black pit, sharp of wit, needing something to fill it; but her fascination could be pacified, with participation for now.

Elvia, Adrian, and the three Protectors, moved swiftly through the Forest! Soscorek, the force of Water, gave direction, as they had come over a large boulder. “Straight ahead! The Tree of Ending, Death and Dark!” All of them, peered at the dense trees in the distance. These trees, having a close-knit significance about them. Elvia looked at Adrian; and Adrian looked back at her and held her hand. “This is it Elvia!”

Cristoph, Lithia, Jack, Angelus and Helen, stayed in a close group, as they wandered into the unknown. Deep within, an uneasiness, churned; not only in their stomachs, but in the very pit of their souls. Their eyes were drawn to an arching and twisted line of trees, very close to each other; a great fence of trees!

Cristoph, who was in front, aside Lithia, revealed the mystery, of which they had contained. “There it is... just beyond those trees!”

Helen held close to Angelus, as if she would be ripped away and lost; for good, forever in a darkness, that one could not escape from, once consumed. She felt this treachery, after Cristoph finished speaking; as Jack hurried closer to him and Lithia. He was caught off guard, by what Cristoph had said, and found that his pace had slowed. Nox gave out a small reptile, gurgling yawn, and crawled out from under Helen’s collar. Helen glanced at him, as he tapped on her neck. “Where are we?”

Overhearing Nox, Jack turned his head to Helen’s shoulder, and bent his brows, like an unfriendly snob. “If you didn’t keep passing out, maybe you would know!”

Nox glared at him, in silence for a second. Jack would be the one to say such a thing to him, if anyone were to say it. “I’m a Tree Dragon, and that’s what Tree Dragon’s tend to do, mostly. Sleep… and wouldn’t you pass out too, if you were as small, and as helpless as I; after all, I can’t very well understand much about you humans… things affect you differently; ego is important to you for survival.” Jack turned his eyes forward, watching his step, and said nothing else. A dreamer, a doer, a thinker, a seeker. Tree Dragon’s had a natural aptitude awareness, of these prominent, dominate traits, in all Creatures of the Forest; but humans... humans were another matter and kind, all their own. One that was so simple, in characteristics to Nox, but still, unknown and unfamiliar to him.

Tesmorlah ran on and on; full of energy, dashing right passed boulders and trees, and jumping on over the fallen titans. Astrid clung to her back, not strenuously, but lightly and gracefully. It was with ease, Tesmorlah had scaled the obstacles in her path; for now, no Creatures had made an attack, but something among the shadows would soon make itself known! A sudden loud sheer ringing, roused Astrid and Tesmorlah’s attentiveness. They reacted, keeping an ever watchful lookout for what was there!

Tesmorlah stopped, and Astrid swiftly slid from her back! They could hear it perfectly now! It was something massive, moving through the air, something huge!

They started to trod on foot, at a steady pace, watching to the side of them; and in front of them, would be their safe haven, if they could get clear out of sight in time, from the unknown Creature; making those taunting sounds! They moved as quickly as they could, without drawing attention to themselves. More careful they were, than quick, though; so not to make too much noise, as they proceeded on. If only they could escape this; timeliness was important, they had to get to where they needed to be, with nothing standing in the way, that would stop them, or delay them.

Cristoph and Lithia stopped, and peered into the far-off trees, to their left! Jack, Angelus and Helen, rammed into them, for the abruptness of their unplanned action; they were all so close together now. Jack looked around anxiously, as he stumbled back, and eyed the direction, Lithia and Cristoph, had been looking in. “What is it?”

All of a sudden, the sound of a far away air cutting ruckus, came; growing louder to their ears! Nox held close to Helen’s neck, and became clumsily tangled, in her hair! “Ah, I’m stuck!” Nox cried in distress, as he struggled to get free! Helen, carefully split the knot, he had created, and pulled him out. The little dragon, returned to underneath Helen’s collar, where he knew, he would be safe; watching from under it, with big worried eyes, as Helen, Angelus, Jack, and Cristoph, gazed in the distances to the left!

Lithia tightened her grip on her sword, which she held, pointing down to the dark earth. Cristoph also held his sword tightly, and then, he and Lithia began to move again; leading the group onward cautiously, as they followed behind closely. They found themselves, watching the distant trees, off to the side, feeling like the trees, were watching them as well!

Unexpectedly, the noise stopped, and left an awkward stillness in the air. They walked through the arched line of trees, searching the area around them, for any Creature, or thing that might be lurking within the shadows; it was a great big forest around them; it could be anywhere!

Something changed; or moved. They moved; moved into destiny of great purpose, and some sort of indifference within themselves. Coming through the trees, and standing there; Astrid and Tesmorlah, the three Protectors, Adrian and Elvia, and Cristoph, all of them; Lithia, Jack, Angelus, and Helen, came out from between the trees, at almost the same moment. But from different sides of the encircling tree fence. Astrid and Tesmorlah came through a line of trees, which had been dried up of all its greenery and health. Was this significant, that the terrain behind them, was the same as the entwined and twisted fence now. The three Protectors, Adrian and Elvia, flew through a line of blackened and moss grown titans; and Cristoph, Lithia, Jack, Angelus, and Helen, through trees mostly green; and still, dark as coal, was the bark. It was haunting, but the most beautiful part of the Forest. Elegant, captivating titans, with moss, hanging from their branches, as notes on a staff; as a lament, a requiem for a dream... a hope.

All of them were struck in a daze. They looked around, upon these tree barriers, and the phenomenon of how they mimicked the condition of their particular part of the Forest; then, they looked at each other.

“Astrid!” Elvia shouted. Astrid glared at her with contempt. “Elvia... come looking for me have you... to bring me back to where it is that you must, it slips my mind! Well, I’m not going anywhere!” Astrid stood in a defensive manner, steadfast and strong, and did not linger to any other emotion.

Adrian squinted, and looked at the giant, dragon-winged man, with thick blond hair, and sparkling blue eyes; then, looked at the fair and black haired, green eyed goddess, next to him; they both wore suits of armor. Very powerful, their appearance was, standing there. The woman wore some sort of thick black leather, covered in scales, and the man, a chrome sort of metal, appearing more as an angel, than the equally godlike and celestial beauty, of what the woman had been.

Adrian, then, looked behind the two, noticing others with them. He couldn’t believe it! It was Jack! He was in a breastplate, of the same kind of leather as the woman! With Jack, he saw Angelus and Helen, there with him also! It was such a remarkable sight! It was as if, they had come back from the very place of the dead!

Adrian shouted with excitement, as he dashed on through the air towards them. “Jack! You’re alive! Angelus… Helen! I can’t believe you’re alive!”

They stared at the fairy, surprised by it flying straight at them, so trusting, how it did. When Jack caught a good look of the fairy’s face, he became eager to greet him. It was his brother. His brother was a fairy. “Adrian? Adrian!”

Cristoph and Lithia stepped to the side, as the fairy flew up and stopped. Jack walked up to him, and drew up his hand, poking the fairy, to confirm what he had perceived to be real. He paused for a moment, in a process of contemplation, then, poked him again. “Adrian, how did you become a fairy?” Adrian grabbed hold of Jack’s finger. “Enough!” Jack, had then, pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry! I just can’t believe it!” Jack asked Adrian what had happened to him, and Adrian told all; Angelus, Helen, Lithia, and Cristoph; whether they liked it or not, had to listen, putting in a few comments of their own, here and there.

Tesmorlah recognized the three beings of light, knew of them; all the ancients had. But she did not know of their intentions. Astrid continued to watch and wait for something to happen, not peeling her eyes away from Elvia for a second. Then, when all promised to become chaotic, the three beings began to speak; they spoke the same words, all at once, together. “Tesmorlah, Astrid... there is no need to fear, or be in conflict. Astrid, we’re not here to capture and take you anywhere. We have come because something terrible is about to happen… concerning the fate of the Forest! We are here to help… not to harm… we know you did not destroy the tree… you were being forced to do so, under the control— we know about Heckyeth… we know everything…”

Astrid became calm, then asked softly. “Who are—” Astrid, had then, been cut off by Tesmorlah. “They are three of the Four Protectors! The Protector with the Force of Earth has been polluted by the dark… he is blackened with evil… to the core…”

Astrid looked upon Tesmorlah now, and said. “How do you know this?” Tesmorlah nodded her head, pointing her snout to the beings. “They told me… they told me, with their eyes…”

The three Protectors nodded back as one; united. “Tesmorlah… Dragon Queen! You have seen more than any other dragon… you have been through more hardships… you’ve lived through things, which others could not even begin of imagining! But this time, you do not have to face the task at hand, alone… for rest assure… we all have come together, for this very reason. The evil that is upon us!”

In the background, Adrian had moved towards them, leading Cristoph, Lithia, Jack, Angelus and Helen, over to the three Protectors; and these other two creatures speaking with them.

Adrian looked at Tesmorlah, and said, as the three Protectors had finished conversing. “So this dragon is Tesmorlah, the Dragon Queen? I didn’t even know there was a Dragon Queen! Learn something every day.”

Tesmorlah said nothing; she just raised her head and looked down upon all of them, as they had collected around her. Astrid looked at the little fairy as he spoke, and then, looked at the joining group. She turned to face them. “Who are all of you?”

Tesmorlah drew her head down to a comfortable level. “They are the ones who are headed to disaster!”

Jack’s attention had been significantly drawn to Astrid, after she had spoke to them; now… he was, unknowingly, staring at her.

Astrid realized Jack was staring at her, and she had done the same to him, locking eyes.

Something, all so suddenly happened, he didn’t know what it was, but... he felt cold and numb from it. Then, he had strangely become disconnected from the present time, and was visited by the identical vision that he had seen twice before; but this time, when the girl ran from the beast, she looked back, and he caught a glimpse of her, recognizing her face!

Jack came to his senses, and shouted, pointing to Astrid. “It was her!”

Everybody looked at Jack, peculiarly, with confusion. Adrian noticed Jack had been… not quite himself. “What are you talking about?” Jack gave no mental embrace to what his brother had asked of him. He drew his arm down and gazed at her, in wonder and marvel. “It was you… I saw you running from the beast, in my dream… there was a second time I had seen the same thing, in a vision as well… just before we began our journey, finding the Lost Forest! And now again… I have seen this vision. Who are you?”

Astrid looked at him, as if she knew exactly what he was talking about, and the meaning, and the reason behind it. “I am Astrid… you?” Astrid walked up close to Jack, and put her hand on his face, stroking his cheek gently, as she looked into his eyes. Jack had no idea of why she was doing this; but somehow, it was familiar to him; he felt like they had a history, like he knew her.

Of course, everyone had a heightened interest to find out what was going on, it was odd; Astrid and Jack, gazed, inspecting each other closely. Why had she been touching him like that.

Astrid closed her eyes. “Jack…” She whispered, and then, breathed softly. “I know you!”

Jack felt as if he was pulled down and down, and down and down, growing heavy, and went into a state of dreaming! He was surrounded in pitch-blackness, and had heard a faint humming sound of vibration. Then, there was the squeaking of an old door, being opened. Light shined into the darkness from behind him, and he had heard a female voice saying. “You are the one I’ve been waiting for.” He turned, and saw a girl standing there, her body surrounded by light. He had been captivated by her stunning, and beautiful appearance and charm. “My kiss, will reveal who you are!”

Jack snapped out of the dream, from otherwise being hypnotized, and put to sleep again, by this fair and beautiful creature. He could feel the warmth of her body. Astrid drew her head down and looked him in the eyes with longing. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t mind this at all; no matter how strange it was to the others watching; it didn’t matter. Nothing else seems to be real anymore… but he so wished this was not just another dream; that this was real.

Jack knew what she was going to do, before she did it; she kissed him! But it was unpredicted what had come next; they both started to glow with a white light, rising and hovering, up off the ground together, with grace and angelic countenance. Jack’s hair had blown back, becoming richer in color, and his eyes turned gray, as they had been, when he was young!

Adrian, Elvia, Tesmorlah and the others, watched from below; though the three Protectors were the only ones, which remained calm and fine, with what was happening.

Yes, everyone else stared suspiciously, slightly frightened, yet not enough to do anything about it.

Radiance gleamed off of their bodies, growing brighter. Then, out of nowhere, a violent generating and rippling light, forced them apart! Of all the mysteriousness of the world, of all the places of such a tale to unfold; it was all so unbelievable, frightening and marvelous. Whatever it was, that had been occurring. Astrid and Jack, hovered in the air, from across each other, with their arms dangling inanimately, and their heads thrown back, from their arching, floating bodies.

Wind blew, and swirled up at them from below, blowing their hair straight up, to stand on end. Jack and Astrid didn’t seem to know, what exactly, was going on here themselves. This was as new to her as it was to him. Astrid and Jack drew their heads up, looking each other in the eyes. Jack’s eyes, shined and flickered with iridescence, as he looked at her, discovering hers to beam back, in a brilliant and immaculate blue! She was beautiful... so beautiful.

“You are the one I’ve been waiting for! The Warlock, to stand by my side!”

It was a nice trick; how he heard her say these words, though she hadn’t moved her lips once.

Images and spells, began to flood in as visions; flashing in his mind, one after another; but what was strange about this, was that he barely saw the words, well enough to read them. They had been written in some strange language, but after a while, it had not mattered. Somehow, he understood all of it now. On and on, one after another, flashed by; and he knew of what they were, and what they had said; and gathered all of their knowledge, storing it away, in his memory!

Jack felt a strong energy and power, rapidly rising within him! It surged out, traveling down his arms, and it was so overwhelming, he clenched his fists, and then, relaxed his hands again. It didn’t hurt… it was quite pleasurable, this feeling of power surging through him. Oh yes, he would enjoy magic very much. Interestingly enough, one could tell this, by his facial expression. Yes, he exulted in it; that was apparent. But who could blame him, anyone coming into all of this, all at once, would surely behave in the same manner. Overtaken by the delight of it all, he couldn’t hold back any longer; the urge to use this new magic was overwhelming.

He threw out his hand in a claw and whispered four syllables viciously; and a white and bluish fire, collected, then, bulleted from his palm!

There it went! Flying off into the distance and out of sight! A loud blustering vibration, echoed back to him, confirming his new powers were a very real thing indeed, as a crash gave answer to impact, that it had met one of the enormous titans!

Astrid was amazed of how much power he possessed! She saw it in his eyes as he looked at her, a mirror reflection of herself, but a man; a powerful man. She saw fierceness, confidence, strength, and enormous power radiating off of him. Oh how she liked this! She hadn’t seen another as powerful as she was, for the last eight hundred years, and now; she finally, and undoubtedly had!

Jack looked back at her, and realized, just how confused he had really been… he felt like he knew her, but he had no idea who she was, or what she was. Her saying, ‘she had been waiting for him,’ was the most baffling part of all of this! But he didn’t care, he was a new being, maybe not human anymore, but that thought only crossed his mind for a moment as being the only downside; then, it slipped away as he looked at his hand. His hand from where the white fire had just formed, and blasted indefinitely, until it found something in its path. Oh how he feared what he may become because of this; this great magic and power he felt pulsing through his veins. Had Astrid created a monster…

Astrid and Jack slowly descended to the ground, in the same position, across from each other. It was miraculous to behold, it was undeniable; they were so alike in their movements, and mannerisms. When they had turned and posed for the group, Angelus, Helen, Elvia, but in particular, Adrian, had been utterly changed himself, by their appearance; shaken, shocked by the outstanding!

Adrian flew up to Jack, inspecting him, and this new sheen to his complexion. “Does this mean you—” Adrian had been cut off by Soscorek. “This means, he is now a Warlock… but not just any Warlock; he’s a Trance Warlock, who now possesses all the same abilities as Astrid.”

An eerie wind blew at them, from the thick dark forest; in the direction opposite to the lines of remarkable trees! Jack turned to face the dense woods, ahead of the rest, and had flexed his hand, stiffening his fingers. Astrid held her hand slightly out to her side, in readiness, while Jack and her both, had watched intently. Tesmorlah turned, swinging her tale around behind her. Her rear end facing them, as her eyes moved over the ground, trees and branches!

Melody had grown rich in the trees; all around them, they creaked, filling the Forest with the seemingly singing of a choir. Cristoph and Lithia scurried in, back to back, with their swords out ready to fight! Their eyes watchful, complying to the demand of the ever unpredictable and treacherous unknown! From there, to the point of influence, had been an easy task of terrain; but of what lied in wait after that, was of complex and frightful dimensions; and would be difficult to interpret from their vantage point.

They shifted, and moved out; under the pressing thumb of the Forest! Angelus and Helen, had been now, in between Lithia and Cristoph, as they came around and circled; kept aware with their scouting eyes and keen intuition!

The three Protectors turned and faced the opposite direction, which Astrid and Jack had faced, and Adrian and Elvia, had retreated behind them!

The great fear that any of them had, from the beginning, had been tried… and numbed, but they could not deny that, no matter how used to something they had become, they could not shake it.

They stood silent and watchful for a long while, waiting; but nothing happened… yet! There had been no sign of a threat; not a single Dark Creature, let alone, one in sight…

Jack couldn’t stand there paused like that any longer! He gave out a scream, a war cry, and ran off into the Forest ahead; still holding his hand down in a claw like an animal! He got cocky, and began to toss fireball after fireball, and immediately performed, and created, a watery forcefield, being prepared to protect against anything in front of him, that would attack, as he ran on. He was surprisingly efficient with his magic, though new to it. When the watery forcefield was complete, he continued throwing, flame, and all other enigmatic variations of fireballs! Had the group remained behind him, or had someone come after him; he paid no mind, not ignorant to responsibility, but keen on impulse. He well knew, he would be able to hold his own now, against anything! He whispered and a knife materialized in his hand!

He pricked his finger, and then, the reflecting piece, slowly disintegrated into black dust, blowing away into the past behind him!

He squeezed a drop of blood from his fingertip, not stopping for a moment; and when the drop of blood hit the ground, it had formed into an identical copy of himself. Jack stopped, turned, glanced at the uncanny, and quite perfect clone, right down to the smallest detail. This had been his true self, what he was meant to do, and be! He still felt new to it, and a bit overcome by the excitement of it all! He was a time-bomb, ticking down, waiting to be fed a little more of this euphoric fix, this feeling of grandeur. Time would tell, of what he was to become. He tried to keep himself focused on other things rather than the feeling of perpetual supremacy, by putting the energy, flowing within him, to productive use. He began to perform a spell!

He brought his hands up and out, and pressed his palms, hard together, as if he was trying to fuse them into one! He had brought them apart, and a staff of white light, began to appear, when he spread his hands to his furthest reach. When he had stretched to the complete max, he closed his right hand in a fist, breaking the white light, to make an end. He let the end he had created, drop, and thump, as it came in contact with the ground! Jack pulled the staff further out of his left palm, till he had been satisfied with the length. Then, he closed his left hand in a fist, cutting it off.

What a beauty; a staff of white light. It began to spark out, little fireworks, in the same white light; as he held it straight up and down, in his right hand, tapping it on the ground.

Astrid spoke in his mind, from afar, and he searched for her in the distance, with longing in his heart and in his eyes. The reason was not so much because there had been chemistry between them, but that he felt loyal to her for creating him. There she was; he stared at her unwavering; in all her countenance and beauty, she would be the salvation of him, if he was to be overcome; grow mad with power. His savior, his angel, his redeemer. Of course he would heed to her wishes. “Jack... come back... you don’t know what’s out there!”

Jack looked back at her, now more intensely, and said in her thoughts. “Why… do I love you? Why… do I feel I must listen... to you?”

Astrid had an unfamiliar steadiness and tenderness to her voice; she spoke in his mind, in thorough answering, to his ever searching intellect. “Because you are a part of me now. And everything I am, is what you are now…everything you feel, I feel, and everything you long for... I long for.”

These words infused a burning passion within him. He loved her. Love at first sight, so it would seem. He did feel connected to her, linked to her, he wanted to protect her; but she could handle herself just fine. How he had looked at her now, gave her chills. He saw right through her, he knew all of what she was; she was what he was; and he was the same to her...

The moment was broken; interrupted. A loud blustering thunder, came at them from the trees behind! The indescribable roaring, screeching, and hissing, bent his hearing, upsetting his ears! He covered them, but only for a matter of brief fleeting moments, while he whispered a spell, in the familiar to him, but still mysterious and unknown language!

A circle of transparent black fog, surrounded, and orbited around him in atmospheric rings of clouds. The sound became muffled to him, and he had took his hands off of his ears. From the very moment Astrid saw him, a legend was born.

He ripped up, with him, the rich earth and foliage of the Forest; after whispering under his breath. Whether for good, or misguided intentions, he was not going to be stopped! Off he sped with tremendous velocity, commanding his decoy to race on, ahead of him!

Astrid wanted to go after him; what had been holding her back from doing so? She had always done as she liked! That was who she was.

Her heart wanted to go after him, but she felt she had a duty to stay by Tesmorlah and the others; they needed her to protect them! She thought for a moment on what to do; then, came to a conclusion, and announced it out loud, as if she needed to convince herself of it; give herself a push.

“I’m going after him!” Yes, that was who she was; driven by want and will.

Her eyes turned purple, and now, looked for him. How he instigated her to act irresponsibly... but is it irresponsible, if you are independent, if you can always watch out for yourself, always know that you have the efficiency to get the task done... to know your abilities and put them to use. Why do some not know, how to look after, and bring order to themselves; just how they don’t understand this of her… she does not understand the other of them.

Lockdown! She spotted him, and sped off while whispering, and then, became a blur, rushing through the trees, stable, solid within herself, calm and undisturbed. She was skilled and well-seasoned in her magic; something Jack would have yet to learn to be. She was nothing more than a blur; that was what was seen by those she had abandoned, pressing the issue, that she had left them to fend for themselves, but hadn’t left them for dead; Jack... now Jack was a newborn, and how he made her fancy her memories of how she used to be. At that stage… she was just as restless. He had made her snicker a little. Yes, she was restless, but not reckless.

The three Protectors had known where she was, and knew that she was in no real danger… for the moment. The group saw her as a blur, but the Protectors, could see her quite clearly, even though she moved swiftly; it was as if she moved in slow motion to their sight; as she went blasting through the trees!

Friction from her incredibly quick pursuance seared the vegetation, as the vague impression of her rapidly advanced over the terrain towards Jack!

Jack continued on, to find the source of that wretched sound. In his focus to resolve the mystery, something caught him. He hadn’t known why, but his attention was pulled elsewhere... there was silence... then, he heard Astrid; she was speaking in his mind again. It was so sweet. He couldn’t, and didn’t want to ignore it. “Jack... behind you!”

He glanced back, and saw that there she stood. Astrid, who looked into his eyes, cunningly, as if to say, ‘surprised?’ He turned away from her, and looked on in front of him. There was a massive entanglement, preventing him from going on any further; promptly, he stopped! His replica ran into the massive and thick black thorns, and disintegrated; and he himself, almost plowed into them as well!

A representation of a matter that would have struck horror in him as a man, was just something of strangeness to him now. He came to a halt, and beheld the twisted, endlessly knotted, sharp thorns. What was this; the wretched and undefined echo, ceased to be no more!

He looked on and above, following them all the way up; they were never-ending! They just kept going and going on, climbing all the way up, as if to the heavens. A great wall of thorns!

Jack looked down each side, but still, all that he could see, was miles and miles of huge black thorns. Thorns that held a metaphor for the entire Forest. It was consumed, and choked of all that was right and holy. The gray points, turning red as they came to the fine needle tips; blood stained, and disturbing.

Astrid appeared there behind him; and he slightly glanced over his shoulder to let her know, she had not snuck up on him like how she had thought; he knew she was there.

An area of the thorns had not been uniform to the rest.

He moved over, and bent down closer to investigate. There were no thorns here, but some solid, black surface. There had been a line also, of small thorns, across the middle of this velvety black surface. Very peculiar, that it was solid and not hollow; not an opening to the other side.

He held his lighted staff out and up to it, then, poked at the darkness.

A large eye opened and moved around in the socket, then, fixed itself upon Jack! The indescribable sound had returned, and the thorns began cracking, and moved all together, covering over something, within it! Then it hit him! It hadn’t been a great wall of thorns; it was a Creature; it was alive!

A giant snake unwrapped from its coils! It had planned this as an attack! Yes, it was the snake that had made the deafening ear-splitting; the artificial sound of thunder! Right away, Jack knew that this had been a means to disable its prey; as it gave out another roar, amplified by a visible sonic wave!

Astrid, formed a watery shield.

The snake, raised its head up, high above, displaying the smoothness of its skin of its belly; it glared down upon Jack and Astrid, intimidatingly. No matter; the serpent would not divide them, pick them off one at a time, or whatever it was, of which it intended to do. A grumble, like a dragon’s, had resonated in its throat, and nasal cavity!

Jack and Astrid, watched the thorn-covered snake, staring them down. Astrid made eye contact with the snake’s cold, but beckoning stare. She felt danger now, terrible danger. Jack heard Astrid murmur something about the eyes of the serpent, but he hadn’t been able to quite make it out. He hadn’t looked in the eyes of this unpredictable hissing snake, but Astrid had! She looked directly into the wide sliver pupils, surrounded by bright orange-red, like a fire burning a hole into her soul… What had this meant, what had been brought about in this. She began to feel queasy, and a bizarre numbness, rushed on through her veins like poison; tingling throughout her body.

Jack drew forth in a defensive stance, and swung his staff around in the air; and held it out in front of him! He glanced back at Astrid now for a moment. Her eyes darkened slightly, and she seemed to not quite be herself! He hadn’t known her long, but he hadn’t known what to make of this sudden change. Where were they; he hadn’t counted on this coming into play. All the shed skin, spread abroad, made him feel, as if it was time to let go and be who he was in this moment… and forget the human part of him. He was gone. She trembled, struggled with her very self, very essence, as if fighting a battle within!

His face softened suddenly, as he now looked at her; confused and repulsed by her appearance. She stared at him, and, cocked her head back and forth, then, kept it straight and still. “Astrid?” She was covered entirely in gray scales like a reptile! Her hair was an almost glowing white, and her eyes, totally black, with a gloss to them, a nocturnal shine; they were two, big, black, soulless windows!

Astrid brought her arms up, and Jack hadn’t known what to expect, and grew with anxious fright. “Astrid! What are you doing?” Every muscle in his body, recoiled, condemning him, for Astrid hadn’t given an answer; in fact, it was like she hadn’t even seen him, or knew that he was there!

He knew what it was like to feel completely alone, to feel rejected and abandoned. But this was, by far, the worst he had ever felt! What was this monster she had become! She clasped her hands together, and the ground beneath him burst, shooting him up into the sky! Jack’s lips, fluttered unheard words in the drowning out of the blast! Had he understood his power; he would soon know for sure! He stretched his hands out, and sealed the watery shield shut, in a dome covering him!

The dome free-fell to the ground, farther off to the distant right; and as soon as it hit, bouncing a little on the Forest floor, Jack took off, running like a rodent inside a globe! This had caught him off guard; he was in such question and doubt of Astrid now. He spoke another spell, then zoomed on off through the trees, as a faded distortion of a watery sphere! He was pursued by Astrid, and he dreaded the idea of having to face her. He didn’t want to hurt her; he despised the very likeliness that that was in the future; he would have to keep running from her. He ripped up the plants and earth in his path, as he breezed on through the environment!

Astrid wasn’t far behind! The debris of the crushed plants, and chunks of other things thrown up from under him, flew at her. But they were immediately absorbed by some clear magic wall, leaving behind traces, and splash patterns, across the surface!

It would not be easy for him to take further action to stop her! He wouldn’t stop her; he would just try to outmaneuver her. Dare he be so cocky now, to think, he even stood a chance against her; and there was the snake as well to deal with! It had come tearing through! The snapping, cracking sound, caught Jack’s attention as familiar; that was what he had heard before, from the thorns, when it moved. How the snake could be alive and functioning without feeling the pain, when the thorns had broke off; the thorns were part of its body!

He shot back a quick look, then, kept his head forward! He saw Astrid there, hot on his heel! Her speed matched close to his, and was increasing, with the snake, slithering violently behind her; it was after him as well!

Jack moved off to the right, and ran in a bit of a distance in that direction a while. Then, he turned left and kept going, until he found the area immediately known to him; where he first entered, when he ran off!

He made a sharp left with the dome, bouncing on a few tree trunks, then continued rolling on!

A thunderous roar, of smashing, crashing, and incredibly rapid movement, grew louder and louder!

Cristoph, Lithia, the Dragon Queen, and the three Protectors, faced the dark crooked woods, where Astrid and Jack had run off and disappeared.

With Cristoph’s and Lithia’s hands, tightly gripped to their swords; and Tesmorlah’s claws, dug into the ground, nostrils exhaling gold light and sparkly dust; they waited. The Protectors stood uniform, knowingly prepared for what had been coming at them!

It was hard to see what was contained in the darkness, but they couldn’t ignore the great amount of debris, stirred up into an immense cloud, created by, whatever it was that had been coming at them! It tore up the ground and threw it above into the sky, like a violent chain-explosion!

The loud resounding, indescribable roar, had come to shriek in their ears like a high-pitched note played by the symphony of the demons. It was agonizing, and unlike any sound they had heard so far. It was unique; could not be compared to anything.

Cristoph, Lithia, the dragon and the fairies, covered their ears, but it hadn’t done much good! The Protector, Villicus, threw out his hand, and then, a fierce wind blew into the Forest, sending the sound-waves away from them into the other direction!

They drew their hands away from their ears, while the raging wind continued to blow forth from the Protector’s palm.

A storm had come; Jack tried to move against the wind, but it was rather difficult. He glanced back, and saw that the wind hadn’t even fazed Astrid, or the thorn-snake; and they were gaining on him, and quickly!

Jack saw Lithia and Cristoph; and the three beings of light, stood in a line right there next to them. The being of white light, had his palm out; the wind… this was his doing! Jack pushed himself with the very last of his strength, to run as fast as he could possibly; he hoped that he could reach them in time, for them to lend their aid!

Cristoph, and Lithia, saw a blurred sphere now coming at them! Something else, too; trailing behind it, but the thing was moving too fast for them to gather any sense of what it was.

Cristoph jumped up, and hovered above, where he stood, getting a better look at the sphere speeding towards them!

“It’s Jack!” Cristoph shouted over the sound of the shrieking wind. Lithia glared through the blurred watery globe and saw the faint image of Jack, now but seven yards from her. She quickly leapt up and flipped around in the air, to then land on a branch near Cristoph. Jack zoomed passed the spot, of where she had been standing!

He stopped and stood there under Cristoph, which hovered several feet above him. The watery dome was perfectly see-through.

“Where’s Astrid!” Jack took a moment, catching his breath!

Astrid and the snake were still coming, more reckless and hellbent than ever! He shouted so all could hear him! “Don’t hurt Astrid… she is somehow being controlled by the snake!”

Jack glanced at Helen and Angelus, then, at everyone else! He collected himself, and in a hurry, touched his hand to the inside of the dome and whispered something violently!

Drops of water floated out from the dome to Adrian, Elvia, and Angelus, and Helen!

Angelus held Helen close, as they watched the drops float out towards them! When they came within a few feet of them, the drops stopped abruptly; and had made a sound, as if being splattered against an invisible and inflated plastic ball. Then each drop of water spread out and sealed, in the same kind of dome that Jack had been shielded and isolated by!

The snake had managed to dominate the atmosphere with a loud Screech, though Villicus had still maintained the wind; blowing it out from his palm without the slightest sign of exhaustion!

Astrid and the gargantuan snake, came tearing on through the blasting gust as if it was nothing! The watery dome around him, disappeared, as he had decided to join the fight. “Don’t look the serpent directly in the eyes… no matter what!”

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