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Chapter 27

The Loose End

A bolt of ice dropped from the sky and landed between the two great evils, as they continued to battle! There was a passing of a momentary silence, then simultaneously, raindrops of fire, fell, burning through everything they came in contact with; there was no longer a balance in the weather, and other strange occurrences continued to pan out in the great mystery of it all; there would be a few seconds of hail here and there, then there was lightning, striking all over the surface of the earth, and then flashfloods far off in the distance; for certain, this was just the beginning; more was yet to come.

Cristoph, caring Lithia in one arm, and the hidden-faced man in the other, had led the rest, flying on no matter what!

A blast of lightning struck a tree, just missing Cristoph by a couple or so feet!

“There’s not much time… hurry!” Cristoph said as he lunged off at full speed!

A splatter of blood splashed off of one of the invisible being’s face flinging towards the ground. The blood turned black as it moved through the air; and when it finally did hit the ground, the blood disintegrated into millions of little particles resembling dust.

The earth cracked and split, opening an abyss of darkness! Cristoph peered on down, and gazed at the colossal broken vein spreading out over the ground beneath. He glanced back, as if to evaluate the others which chased, straining to keep up with him!

Tesmorlah caught a glimpse of what flickered there in his eyes, and knew by his expression that he knew she would follow after him, no matter where he would lead. He returned his gaze below, and unexpectedly, made a swift dive deep down into the Forest, and disappeared in the trees!

“Come on!” Angelus said as he plunged down after him!

He had abruptly thrown Tesmorlah out of her place, and now was in the lead; and Helen sped up to match his pace, and came to follow closely to him. Ahead, Tesmorlah had spotted Cristoph. “There!”

She took off, passing Angelus hastily; yet he and Helen followed not far behind.

Lightning struck, cracking throughout the Forest from all sides; and every now and then, it had struck dangerously close in the front, and from the back of them; at any moment, it could strike one of them down!

Cristoph spotted something questionable! The leaves, branches, twigs, plants, rocks, and soil, were tossed and thrown as if stirred up by an odd shifting of movement! He could not tell if it was of the storm, or of the devil he was searching for. Lithia glanced up upon Cristoph, and he knew and responded with eye-contact and a nod; he dropped her like how she signaled, and she landed on the ground, pulling out her sword!

Lithia hid behind a tree with her back on it! The great evils didn’t even notice her presence, for any sound she had made was drowned out by the constant wind, and floods and cracking ground. The disaster around grew larger and louder. The Forest couldn’t take much more of this. Time was running out!

Cristoph flew on over a bit to another location, and dropped the man on the other side of the battling beings; but something Cristoph had not expected had happened; the man uncovered his face, revealing a hideous deformity! He was blind and his forehead was riddled with lesions and terribly scarred flesh! The man spoke. “By the end of this day you will know my name!”

Cristoph dropped the man, and he walked calmly behind a nearby boulder after landing in a secure crouched position; his left hand keeping him supported from falling forward.

Tesmorlah, Angelus and Helen, came flying up, and Cristoph gazed individually into each of their eyes as if he was telling them this was it. The final moment that would soon prove to be for the better, or for certain doom.

Angelus had now came to see the invisible forces for himself, and was awestruck by it; but at the same time terrified! Jack and Helen, Astrid and Tesmorlah, glared at the sight of the greatly disturbed earth, left desolate and withered, drained of life! They quickly gathered further awareness of their surroundings, forming a strategy; they spotted Lithia behind a tree, then the man behind a boulder, across from her on the other side; they wouldn’t have noticed him, unless if he made himself visible to them like how he did; for a few seconds he stepped out, and then returned to conceal himself.

Beyond the confines of what they knew, and of what they could feel; it was time for their next move. Cristoph looked to Astrid, then to Jack, and nodded. Astrid sprung forth from Tesmorlah, falling through the air, and moved her lips rapidly. A watery substance shot out from her palms to the front of her, creating a clear wall. Before she hit the ground, she pointed her palms down facing the floor beneath and stopped; giving her only a space of three inches from plundering into the earth. She idled there for a moment, then hovered forward slowly on. Jack watched her... magic could only be of the gods with how she had executed this; an immaculate display! It was about seven seconds after her descent, Angelus came and flew over, now dropping Jack; and then Jack had done the same as Astrid.

Slowly and stealthily, they all crept closer and closer to the evil life forms. The shields of Astrid and Jack were camouflaged mimicking whatever terrain would be there if they weren’t, and it made them invisible to every eye, unless of course if their presence was felt, heard, detected in some other way, they would remain unseen.

As they walked, Astrid and Jack formed shields in front of each of the others, zeroing in; starting with Lithia and the man first and then continued with the others.

With understanding of this, the man, and Lithia came out from behind their hiding, and joined Astrid and Jack, following closely.

Steadily, Cristoph began to fly forward, catching on quickly to what trick Astrid and Jack had put to good use; Tesmorlah, Angelus and Helen, flew near to him and maintained in flight alongside; yet slightly behind him.

Lightning struck the ground almost constantly, and just missing them; and hailstones of all sizes, fell from the sky; it was a dreary setting, and there was no mystery of the misery it brought regardless of their fighting spirits!

Another slop of blood splattered off of one of the beings, just as the wind had picked up asking the leaves for a dance, as the blood hit the ground. Now came the grand finale of the raging storm; a whirlwind spiraled down from the distance, off in the east!

But the weather was not quite finished with surprising, shocking them; and it was then when thousands upon thousands of cyclones began to form throughout the Forest. Nothing outside the area of the battling beings would be alive for much longer!

Astrid threw her hands to the sky, and glinting blue light shot on up creating a large rectangular box, sealing closed over and above them. The protective chamber shut out the weather, enclosing in a large part of the forest with all of them, and the two invisible evils, safely confined inside!

Silence… stillness… the roaring weather had gone unnoticed outside the clear rectangular chamber; even though she had struggled to keep it hidden, this great creation had taken its draining toll on Astrid. She was weakened, and Jack knew this, he felt this… Yes, it had taxed her considerably.

The tossing and throwing of the earth had stopped, and the two evils were now undetectable! They had known that something was here, with them now. Astrid struck out her eyes for a sign of them, looking around indefinitely it would seem; as well, did Jack and the rest.

The damaged titans stood silent; confirming that they had not been in the branches above; all around them... complete silence!

They still searched over and on through the endless trees as if it was preeminent that they should be there. Foolish, but above all else, desperate. This peacefulness offended them, insulted their warring and ready hearts. Then, all so sudden and unexpected, Astrid had been knocked to the ground and dragged off by the thing that had gotten the better of her from behind! She swung her body to face the invisible attacker, but only managed to do so ever-so slightly, but still enough to put forth her hands to draw purple dust into her palms, and whisper in the magical tongue! She had this handled, but before the spell was performed, a purple glowing globe had come out of nowhere colliding with the invisible fiend!

This unforgiving purple sphere exploded on impact, and the evil being screeched in an unearthly wail; though in this attempt of rescue, still, the fiend hadn’t released Astrid! There was silence and the world had stopped moving; then she was dragged off on through the Forest again!

In Astrid’s hands, a generating energy from the purple dust, a fireball formed, and hit the invisible being, but it hadn’t made a difference, and this time, there was not a screech or a sound at all. Could this thing have been becoming stronger and more resistant from and with each of their blows! There was no time to find out! They feared what would happen, if they didn’t get Astrid away from this demon!

Cristoph, Angelus, Helen and the Dragon Queen charged at the demented and warped existence, and readied their means of attack!

Helen threw a blast of water at the being, and Angelus a gust of wind! Cristoph lunged at the thing with his sword out! Why wasn’t anything working! What was this damned thing?

Lithia, Jack and the man, ran on after her trying to reach her, throwing one useless attack after another! Lithia took to the trees, chucking knives. Jack kept trying his sorcery, which the thing mysteriously seemed to be gaining an immunity to! The man did nothing but follow and strain to close in near enough to strike!

Tesmorlah was not confident enough to trust her aim, and she couldn’t use her solar breath for she would certainly injure Astrid in the process. Meanwhile, everyone except for her and the man, still continued their attempts to free Astrid and destroy the unseen fiend!

A rising pressure, overtook them. And the very realization of losing Astrid was too intolerable to fathom! Their attention… minds so preoccupied, they hadn’t passed a single thought for their own skins! Electrifying and distracting, a loud rushing clack had snuck up from behind Jack and the man! It was the other of the two invisible beings! Yes, the other had now made itself known!

Jack turned and whispered, materializing and throwing one jade colored dart after another, in every direction hoping to strike the thing eventually!

The sound had grown louder and louder, meaning the thing had been close now!

The man put his finger out, sending a black sparking electricity, bolting straight out to the nothingness in front of him. Miraculously, it struck the invisible being, outlining the thing with a then mild gray film. Its whereabouts had now been known, for it was visible… in a way, more or less. Jack began to swat one attack after another, stumbled a little in the distraction of the chaos, but did not fall or falter. He bolted out fireballs and spells, and magic of all kinds. One was a magic cage, but the fiend broke free like it was nothing. He continued on tenterhooks, that one, if not the previous, would at last have some effect!

Cristoph finally neared close enough to the thing to throw his sword, and the blade went chopping through the air; but when it had reached the invisible being, the sword was deflected; and had bounced off to be sent piercing into a tree!

Invincible were these beings; undefeatable it would seem!

The thing stopped finally, but then, as matters appeared to become less complicated, the thing jumped up into a tree with Astrid dangling from its grasp; she had continued to cast spells and blast fireballs to no avail. Nothing fazed these unknown monsters!

Such strenuous efforts Jack had made to destroy the unseen evil; but they were ineffective. It still had come trampling on through the Forest towards him, though he tried everything in his power to stop it; it would never be stopped! How defiling to all that is holy; and if he was to be conquered by this evil, what a horror that would be!

Then suddenly, as Jack had ceased attack, all about given up, the man took over!

He had reached him, guarding in front of him as the gray film-covered beast continued to charge; he put his hand out!

A destructive sphere of black had burned with flickers of gray fire, and zoomed off through the air with a sleek whistle!

The sphere struck the monster head on, blowing the thing back; the attack of the man had effect, and inflicted a notable sort of injury; but even though, it was not incredibly maimed!

“What are you?” Jack said in disbelief and doubt of his own capabilities!

The man turned and spotted Astrid; and this was not a pleasant sight! She was held up, as if about to be torn in half by the fiend which had her!

A black bolt of electricity shooting from out of his chest, plowed into the invisible thing and threw it back; Astrid was free, and now dropped clumsily to the ground.

Jack put forth his hand and sent a greenish cloud zooming to break her fall!

The cloud met with her falling body, intercepting, and caught her twelve feet above the ground, and then swung around and began to come back to Jack.

Cristoph reached the tree where his sword had been wedged inside, and pulled it out swiftly as he flew by.

A thundering screech, had come from the outlined demon, as it returned to its feet!

Jack spun around to defend himself, but the creature struck him with a hulking and enormous arm!

The man threw a glossy, silver and shapeless object upon the invisible fiend, and the object broke like glass, splashing a chrome liquid, pouring over it!

Jack went sliding through the debris and crashed into a trunk! He appeared to be unconscious, as the tree he had struck began to crack.

Astrid had shook and collected herself. She stood upon the cloud, as it moved towards this gray and translucent beast. The mysterious man had been casting some kind of spells on the invisible fiend; of a kind of magic she had no familiarity with, and it was surprisingly having a considerable effect!

Something caught her ear! She could no longer pay mind to that of the attack of this invisible hulk; Jack was in trouble! She looked over, and then observed the large split traveling up the tree from the source at the base. She saw Jack, but first had no idea of what to do!

She stared back and saw Cristoph, Lithia, Tesmorlah and the others, battling the invisible being. Lithia jumped at the thing, but it had thrown her aside before she could strike with her sword.

This continued to happen as each of them charged at it and came too close within its reach.

She realized that for some reason, this being had really only wanted her, not them. They were fending it off, trying to keep it from her! It tossed them and threw them, zeroing in on her.

What could it possibly want with me? Astrid thought.

The tree began to fall! Astrid jumped down from the greenish cloud and began to run to Jack’s rescue, becoming a blur as she zoomed off!

The tree snapped, falling toward her now, and if she didn’t hurry, Jack, as well as her, would be crushed!

She put her arms up, palms facing the falling titan! A bright orange, red, and yellow glowing light, shot up from her hands. The tree stopped in midair as the multihued light spread out and had covered over it completely.

Astrid reached Jack, and then gathered him up dashing away from the invisible being! No more had the others been able to keep it away from her! The chase had begun.

This was her now making her great escape! Astrid glanced back to the fiend, and saw that Cristoph, Lithia, Tesmorlah and the other two, had still been lunging upon the unseen enemy, though still tossed aback by a deflective force!

Lithia pulled herself up from the ground, and struck at the air around her in desperation. A powerful nova exhumed by the fiend, flung Cristoph, Lithia and the others, high and far off into the Forest. Now that they were out of the picture, the fiend appeared to rapidly gain momentum, pulling away the life of the Forest as it ran passed; draining the energy of the environment around to fuel its own power, while closing in on Astrid!

Cristoph, Lithia, Tesmorlah, Angelus and Helen, hesitated from rising to their feet; they were off balance, dizzy, and slightly confused by the blast.

Astrid glanced, and saw where the leaves, twigs, branches and soil, were being thrown up, and the trees had been left dead and dried up behind! The fiend was almost in reach of her!

She observed further and realized the patterns of the debris flying up and back, was the same pattern as her own! Could it be that it had performed the same spell as she?

Astrid returned her gazed to the Forest afar in front of her. Soon she would reach the wall of the rectangular chamber; she tried to think of a way to exterminate this demon. If magic doesn’t affect it and knifes, swords, and elemental attacks don’t affect it; how can this thing be destroyed?

Something broke her concentration! An unearthly screech; but it sounded too close to be the wraith which was behind her … neither of something else that could be around her. It hadn’t been physical or tangible; it seemed like it had come from inside her head!

The screech came again as Astrid had reached the wall of the chamber; but instead of changing direction, she whispered something in a rapid tongue, and ran on up the wall of the rectangle; defying the laws of gravity, and had no struggle in doing so.

“What do you want?” She asked as the screech came yet again. It was an intimate tone, the one of which she spoke these words, as if whatever had caused the screeching had been there right alongside her!

No answer came. Astrid looked back when she heard the hulking fiend creeping up behind her; running upon the clear chamber wall as well!

Astrid scanned far back, and saw Cristoph, Helen, Angelus and Lithia, dashing to her aid.

The mysterious man had held his own. He was quite composed and calm amidst the chaotic circumstances. The translucent beast dove to attack the man, but he blasted it back an impressive distance. It seemed that he was not attempting to destroy it; just keep it preoccupied with him; keep it at bay. These beings could not be defeated; wasn’t that right?

Helen and Angelus had come together to form a super attack! They joined the fire surging from their palms into a massive rolling flame-blast; rocketing towards nothing from thirty feet behind Astrid, hoping to hit the invisible fiend!

A breathy sigh of ease thud in Astrid’s head; she gave out a death-written scream, followed by an unearthly shout. “What do you want!”

Surprisingly for the first time there had been an answer; though it was one from a scratchy echo of many unsexed voices. “You!”

“What?” Astrid said in shock, but there was not another reply to follow.

She continued running on with Jack resting unconscious in her arms.

The fiend had gained on her, and would soon have her in its grasp… for the second time! She contemplated the situation and realized that dying by the hand of this thing, would undeniably be her fate.

Subsequently, the invisible fiend snatched her by the back of the neck. A blue ripple rolled down from a hand, and continued to travel, revealing a muscular and tall man’s body!

Astrid struggled, but couldn’t get free; it was the same as before.

The invisible man had swung her around to face him; and a voice spoke inside her head as another ripple rolled down from his arm, over the rest of his body, disclosing, that he had been looking directly into her eyes!

“I should almost thank you for doing this to me… ’cause now I am truly invincible!” The voice in her head, said.

Silence… as if she became deaf while she, in a daze, had turned her head to the side, looking at Cristoph, Lithia, Tesmorlah... Angelus... Helen.

Jack slipped from her grasp as her vision began to blur…

“How did you become this? She said as she stared off into the abyss with her head and limbs dangling.

“Ah, you recognize me!” The man said, revealing his true voice. “You didn’t plan for this did you... well, ha! Mostly everyone and everything I’ve killed, I’ve also damned to walk this earth unseen and unconnected to it forever; as a ghost… as one might put it.”

The invisible man drew Astrid to an intimate closeness and began to whisper to her. “How ironic… don’t you agree; in trying to destroy me… you have made me into something you can no longer destroy!”

He pulled her even closer, and said, this time softly into her ear. “This is the part where I kill you…”

Astrid drew her face up to look into those scarcely suggestions of his eyes, and said with all the strength she could conjure. “No… Heckyeth!”

Something had changed. Heckyeth became visible, and a black charcoal darkened him, and spread out over his body as Astrid continued. “This is the part where I destroy you!”

He squeezed his hand around her neck, but in the closing of his grasp, it had broken into sleek glossy black chunks of coal, and slipped down the surface to fall to the ground far beneath.

Heckyeth shouted in a panic, as his limbs, then, began to crack and break off. “What…what is this! What is happening to me?”

Astrid whispered a spell and her feet returned to the rectangular chamber wall as if she was pulled to it magnetically. Heckyeth remained floating in front of her, confused and dastardly struck by the realization of these being his final moments.

She watched his body crack and fall, sliding on down the clear glassy chamber wall.

“You have destroyed yourself by revealing your identity. It’s ironic; you came after me in seeking revenge, and I am the only one who knows your name… and... by speaking your true name I have destroyed you.” It was all too perfect.

The rest of Heckyeth’s body, had then, broke into smaller pieces, joining the rest of his remains.

As Astrid had watched what was left of Heckyeth slide down, she remembered Jack slipping from her grasp!

“Oh no! Jack!” She cried out!

She scanned the area below, but hadn’t seen him!

She spoke the magical language hurriedly, and dashed, and surfed down the glossy clear wall, running and sliding at an incredible rate!

Astrid spoke again in the unknown tongue, and moved her eyes frantically all over the terrain as they had changed to purple!

Then, at last, she spotted him!

Jack’s body was lying lifelessly on a high and large tree branch!

She swiftly dashed over and up into it, as soon as she reached the Forest floor!

Jack laid on his back with his face turned away, and all his limbs lying outstretched; except for his right from of which his hand had rested upon his abdomen.

She neared him slowly and kneeled down close.

He was breathing!

Astrid felt relieved, and almost began to cry, but didn’t. Her eyes scanned over his body for any injuries.

She laid her left hand on top of his hand upon his abdomen, and turned his face to face hers; slowly and tenderly with her other.

Tesmorlah, Cristoph, Lithia, Helen and Angelus, came rampaging through the Forest, and stopped at the base of the tree looking up at Astrid and Jack; they tarried there waiting for one of them to decide what to make of it… what to do… but Astrid seemed to have everything under control, and none of them acted upon what was expected; of climbing or joining them in the tree… so they just stood silent having patience.

“Astrid, you’ve defeated the fiend! How?” Tesmorlah asked, finally breaking the silence.

Astrid replied. “I spoke his true name…”

Suddenly something caught Astrid’s eye over in the pile of Heckyeth’s remains. There were three sparkling objects. She hastily hopped down from the tree, and had rushed to them, as if they were to disappear before she would reach them!

There were three stones flashing off and on, in red, blue and white light, lying in a nest of the broken charcoal.

Astrid bent down and scooped them up in her one hand. Oddly, when she had, the flashing stopped, and steadied to a soft glow.

All of a sudden a loud thunderous crash grumbled towards them from where the mysterious man, and the other invisible fiend had been; carrying on, keeping each other occupied.

Astrid turned, and stared off in the distant direction, searching for the source of the sound! Jack, Cristoph, Lithia, and the others, came to notice the stones Astrid held in her hands.

“The Sacred Stones of the Protectors!” Tesmorlah said.

“Yes, but there are only three…” Cristoph added, and then continued to speak. “That means, the other invisible being must have the fourth!”

An intense blast of wind brought on by an explosion, rushed towards them; and right after the wind, a low rolling cloud of soil and other particles had ripped up, and then, flopped flat to the ground like a crashing wave!

Dodging the blows, of the bulky, yet unrevealed fiend, peculiarly, the man put his hand out to one side, while continuing to maneuver with incredibly fluid agility.

His hand began to turn black, and rapidly; thick black armor resembling scales, broke out of the skin of his fingers, and then, huge reptilian claws forced their way out from beneath, causing his fingernails to drop to the ground.

The man speared the hand into the fiend’s side!

Blood squirted out and splashed on everything near, while it continued to spray out of the sizeable wound!

Jack slipped from the tree branch, and Astrid dashed to catch him! She jumped up and lifted her limb out for him, then caught him, and did so quite elegantly considering the clumsy awkwardness of the rescue; and she gracefully landed, crouched slightly, and laid him down.

When she pulled her hand out from underneath him, she found a stain of blood running from her palm down to her forearm!

Quickly she rolled Jack over on his side and inspected his flesh.

Jack’s back had been sliced open from a branch which snagged him as he fell from the tree. Astrid placed her finger on the top of the cut, and dragged it down along his back. As she did this, Jack’s skin healed shut without even a single scratch or residual scar left to show for it.

Astrid, then, turned him over and cradled him in her arms, staring at his peaceful face. From the jostling, he awoke, opening his eyes slowly to find Astrid’s beautiful bright blues gazing back into his.

She put her hand on his cheek and stroked it gently; as she, for the first time noticed how remarkably chiseled his features were. Her eyes wandered from his perfectly defined and dark eyebrows, to his gorgeous steely eyes, sparkling as if they were shining with the very light from the heavens. She definitely liked his looks. His strong jaw, ivory skin, and plump lips, so tempting to kiss.

Jack folded forward and sat up! “What happened?” He demanded.

Just before Astrid or anyone else could speak, they were all caught off guard; and by a very demanding and unexpected attack! The translucent beast came flying through the air, and had landed only a matter of feet from Lithia, Tesmorlah, Helen and the others!

Jack stood up, and peered on ahead at the fiend, scanning the trees and terrain near it, searching for the mysterious man!

Sure enough, from above, the man came ascending fast to an earth-crushing landing!

The invisible being began to rise from the ground, but the man had jumped up, landing on top of the fiend, forcing it back down! It appeared as like the beast was his pet, and he was its master. He leaped from off of the fiend, and put his palms out, facing it straight on, shooting a large black net that sparked with powerful and barely containable voltage!

The beast tried to rise again, but the net, heaved on over it, and pinned it down tightly.

Sunlight shone through the parting clouds, and the intense weather had settled from outside the chamber.

Astrid spoke a few abrupt syllables and the rectangular chamber disappeared.

“Is it over?” Jack said, while looking at the man who replied. “No... it’s not over yet... until the Tree of Beginning, Life and Light is brought back... evil will prevail.”

“How can we bring it back?” Cristoph demanded authoritatively, though humbly.

“I must die…” Astrid said softly and slowly, while looking into the painful abyss of truth.

Cristoph turned and analyzed at her and said. “What do you mean?”

“I destroyed the Tree of Beginning.” she continued in the same soft voice.

Jack veered over and put his hands upon her. “Astrid?”

“Please Jack!” She exclaimed anxiously, and ripped away from him; not wanting him to see the tear rolling down her cheek. Sorrow… yes.

Astrid had turned her back to all of them for a moment, gathering her bearings, then she faced the man and said. “I don’t want to die… but I don’t wish all of you to die either; no more blood should be spilled... unless it is mine.”

“Astrid, what are you speaking of!” Jack said, while looking at her, yet not receiving a response. He turned toward the mysterious man and pleaded. “There has to be another way!”

Jack swayed back towards Astrid and tried to reason with her. “There has to be…” She could not ignore the blatant dismay that lingered in his voice.

There was silence for a period of time, and then Astrid whispered to Jack with a burdened soul. “There isn’t Jack.”

She looked up at him afterwards, and he beheld all the sadness and peril of the whole world, within her eyes and tear-streaked cheeks; an imminent end… and one she would have to face alone.

Jack’s heart broke into millions of tottering smithereens; he ached to comfort her, to hold her, and tell her she didn’t have to go through with this. But he knew her mind was made up, and his interference would only make this worse.

Snap! The net containing the beast tore, and the massive translucent fiend lunged at Helen, seizing her in its clutches!

Angelus blasted a rolling flame at the thing, but it had no effect and while the fire had blasted upon it the fiend savagely ripped off one of Helen’s wings!

The mysterious man took immediate action! He stretched his arms out and clapped his hands together, sending thousands of black ghostly arrows, piercing into it!

The fiend had dropped Helen and roared in extreme pain with an unholy and monstrous growl of an evil dimension they could not fathom!

Angelus hurdled and slid on the ground beneath Helen, breaking her fall just in time.

Blood streamed from her remaining wing-joint, with strips of flesh hanging from it.

The mysterious man shot another attack at the beast, this time, it had been dozens of small black spheres.

Surpassing their expectations, the transparent beast dodged the attack by leaping up high above, catching its claws on a tree! The man heaved another attack, yet the fiend dodged it again, ascending to the ground.

Astrid tried to flee as it had jumped up again to land next to her; but she could not escape, it had her! Jack wasn’t quick enough to prevent the demon from snagging her up and carrying her off into the Forest! The power of this fiend was beyond anything he could pretend to understand! What was this thing; this devil!

The man dashed on after it, and jumped upon the fiend’s back, knocking it forward into the dirt. If this man was capable of such things, and he, nor any other of them were; what was he... was he even of this Forest. He was like an archangel, sent from heaven to give justice to who it was due!

Astrid slipped from the fiend’s grasp, rolling off to the side.

When she came to a stop in a bed of flora, she noticed something! A green stone, shining just like the other three she had!

As she extended her hand for it, reaching closer and closer, the stone, as well as the other three, began to glow brighter and brighter!

The beast saw that it had lost the stone and dashed, then tumbled toward her! The man wasn’t going to let the fiend escape him, and he leapt up high above, from off its back, and then landed down upon it again, causing the beast to slide in the dirt!

Astrid grabbed the stone, and immediately, the beast was thrown back as if by an incredible force!

The stones absorbed into her hands which held them. She looked at her hands examining them, holding them flat out in front of her, and watched as a light traveled from them into the rest of her body, causing her skin to glow with radiance!

She felt a sensation, a lightheadedness, and as if she was being lifted up from the ground; and this sensation grew stronger as her head fell back and her arms dropped to her sides. The light, swept up into her hair, making it drift out almost like a wind was blown through it, but it was too graceful; in slow motion or like she was underwater.

The light ceased, but she herself remained to shine in a steady glow. She drew her head down and peered at the beast, and to the mysterious man standing upon it.

A loud vicious, yet breathtaking air blast had rushed through the Forest all around them, and then, from out of nowhere, the three Protectors appeared, standing next to Astrid on both sides!

“Astrid, focus the power! Don’t let it run through you aimlessly... or it will try to break free, from your body, and you will combust!”

Shocked, Astrid stared at Soscorek who had said this… and she heeded; closed her eyes to visualize and focused the power to her center.

Astrid then opened her eyes, staring at the beast shifting underneath the man. Instinctively, Astrid put forth her hand and shot white light upon the fiend! The light, illuminated the beast, and then revealed its appearance steadily!

Vines, rocks, earth and plants, composed its skin, and then, two very dark eyes appeared, and stared back at her; so black that like a mirror, Astrid saw her reflection in them!

Cristoph, Lithia, Jack, and Tesmorlah had neared closer. Angelus carried Helen, trying to be as accommodating as possible to her. Slowly, they crept closer to the victorious sight, and were astonished when they had seen the fiend to now be visible; significantly, when Cristoph saw what it was, he stopped and kept a careful distance, and in staring at this monster, he exclaimed. “Bougsmeith!!”

Astrid marveled at the earth beast, and said; asking of anyone who would answer. “What is this monster?”

There was silence for a while, then, Soscorek spoke. “It is Bougsmeith! The Protector with the Force of Earth... who has been tainted by darkness.”

“Shall we kill him?” Astrid asked; after observing the three Protectors had still stood there, doing nothing; and the mysterious man remained on top of the corrupted, now unmoving Protector.

“No!” Said all of the three Protectors in unison; then Soscorek continued to speak alone. “If we do, the world will fall apart... for he controls the element of Earth.”

Astrid gazed upon the unholy and infected Protector. “Bougsmeith.” she said.

The corrupted Protector shifted from under the man, causing him to lose his footing! The man regained balance and landed on his hands, flipping back upon his feet, while shooting this black liquid at the evil Protector! Bougsmeith couldn’t move any further as the ebony liquid spread out over his monstrous body, and then he was frozen in a position with one bulky arm up, as if he was about to slam it down on Astrid and crush her!

The black water snapped and crackled, as it turned to clear ice! Astrid took a generous step back.

Lithia, Jack, and the rest, moved closer to the three Protectors and Astrid, and stared at the beastly creature now trapped in ice.

Astrid scanned down the great frozen fiend herself, and then, glared at the man who stood behind and off to the side of this beast.

Soscorek, Villicus and Zulmpreedor moved forward, and drew their heads up to look upon their fellow Protector’s face… bound in ice.

“Astrid.” The man said, and then, continued. “Time is running out… the Forest is dying.”

A dark shadow covered the Forest. A cloud rolled over the sky, blocking out the sun, and caused it to appear as night, glooming the Forest to something that was bleak and desolate. It started to snow.

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