The duo picked up from where they left off. Hotaru sprinted toward the creature, showing no signs of injury despite having been impaled moments before. Will silently considered various explanations for Hotaru's sudden recovery, but the only one that seemed plausible was a recently developed regenerative healing factor, and Hotaru wasn't the type to keep something like that from her friends.
“You’re mine, big ugly!!” Hotaru threw a flurry of punches at the creature's torso, aiming for the same spot where she had been impaled. “How do you like it? Haaaaaaah!!” She delivered one more heavy blow to its jaw.
It staggered back, writhing in agony. Something it hadn't done much of before this point. Will, Chiaki, and Daytona all looked on in disbelief.
Daytona’s mouth gaped. “Her punches, they’re…stronger?”
“Even more so than before it seems,” Chiaki deduced. “Hotaru…what…happened to you?”
It was odd, Will thought. They'd wound the chimera earlier in the battle, but other than crying out a few times, it never reacted like this. Whatever had happened to Hotaru had boosted her offense significantly.
The chimera collapsed to the ground, howling as it spread its wings and convulsed in pain. But then something strange happened: the monster's appearance began to change right before their very eyes.
The monster grew in size. It had grown from a seven-foot behemoth to an incredible ten-foot titan. Its talons became longer and sharper, and its lips became pointed and jagged, like the fangs of a predatory animal. Large cracks began to form all over its upper body, from its head to its torso. Hotaru eyed the creature with a look of disgust.
“What the hell?”
“Damn, we can’t let it finish!” Will clasped his hands together. “Over here, Hotaru! I’ll give you another boost!”
“Gotcha!” Hotaru leaped over to him and landed on his hands with both feet. Channeling his aura, Will used all of his strength to propel the small girl into the air. Hotaru repositioned herself in midair once more. The veins of her arms and legs pulsated. She stretched her arms backward and dived down toward her target.
Just as Hotaru was about to approach the chimera, it leaped backward, flapping its large wings and taking to the air.
“Dammit,” Hotaru cursed as she landed on her feet and clicked her tongue in annoyance. “Forgot about it copying Daytona’s speed!”
“No need to apologize. You did it to protect, Chi-Chi.”
The usual roar of the monster was followed by a sound that could only be described as glass shattering. The dark skin on its torso began to crumble and dissolve, falling to the ground below.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Will channeled his mana and flew after it. He was about to fire another Gyro Blast when the creature did something he hadn't anticipated.
The countless pieces of the chimera’s shedding dark skin transformed into a murder of pitch-black crows with striking golden eyes. They swooped down on Will like a flurry of throwing knives.
The crows moved too quickly for him to put up a Gyro Shield, and their sharp beaks pierced his sides. A searing hot pain rushed through him.
“Will!” Hotaru leaped upward to save her friend from the onslaught but was obstructed by a beam of purple light. The blast's gravitational force knocked her back down, pinning her to the ground.
“It’s…it’s using Will’s Gyro Blast…” Hotaru concentrated her mana throughout her limbs and began to rise to her feet, pushing against the gravitational downforce, as she'd done in the past when dealing with Will's gyro episodes.
Hotaru managed to rise to her feet and break free from the creature's gyro spell with a grunt of effort.
“Gaaah!!” Meanwhile, Will sent a rippling shockwave through the pitch-black crows, disintegrating them. However, he was now wounded, and his sides burned intensely. He lowered himself to the ground beside Hotaru, who turned to him with a look of concern.
“Will! Are you alright?”
“Ugh, barely. Those crows got me pretty good, but I’ll…holy shit.”
His focus was drawn over to the chimera. Gone were its beastly features, now bearing a more human-like appearance. Its obsidian skin was no more, replaced by a pale pigmentation that appeared whiter than snow. Long red tresses sprouted unevenly from the scalp of its once bald head, and a long dijon-colored horn protruded from the center of its forehead. The sole feature that remained was its large golden eyes. And their hostile gaze shook four teens to their core.
The chimera’s metamorphosis was now complete.
Daytona gasped. “N-No way…Is that…a yōma?!”
“No, that’s impossible! This chimera must be a shapeshifter…” Chiaki doubted the possibility, providing her best logical explanation. “No one’s even seen a yōma since…”
“Aaaaagh!” Hotaru doubled over, dropping to her knees and clutching her chest.
“Hotaru! What’s wrong?” worried Will.
“M-My heart…It…it burns!!”
“Will, what’s happening?!” Chiaki called out to him.
“Not sure,” he admitted. “I haven’t a clue what could be causing this.” He started to form another Gyro Shield around Hotaru, but she raised a hand to stop him.
“No, Willy,” she said. “You’re hurt…Save some mana for yourself…”
“I’ll be fine, I promise…” She assured, slowly heaving herself off of the ground. “Must be the after-effects from before…Guess they’re finally catching up with me…”
“She’s right, Will. Let me see your wounds.” Chiaki rushed up to him and immediately cast a chrono-spell on his injuries. “Alright, hold still. This will only be a moment.”
The creature swooped down at them. Its talons, now resembling human hands, had long sharp claws protruding from its fingers. It made to swipe at the trio but was stopped by a flash of blue light. It was Daytona. She'd sped over to intercept the creature and unleashed an electric-charged kick to its face.
“Sod off, you hideous tosser!”
The monster flew back a few feet before swooping back over to Daytona with a speed that rivaled her own and shoulder-tackled her to the ground.
The chimera then landed on the ground. Hotaru began to charge, but it quickly cast a gyro pulse that knocked her back.
Then the chimera raised its right hand to the sky and a massive accumulation of violet-colored mana began to swirl toward its palm, forming a massive sphere of magical energy.
“What is that…?” Will eyed the phenomenon with mingled curiosity and dread. Whatever this thing was planning, it was going to wreak havoc. They needed to flee the premises as soon as possible. However, Chiaki was still tending to his wounds, so neither of them could move until the procedure was finished. He looked over and saw that Hotaru and Daytona barely getting back to their feet. And the mass of the chimera's red sphere grew larger still. They weren't going to make it in time.
Dammit! It can’t end like this!
Will clenched his teeth. He knew Hotaru and Chiaki would have his hide for what he was planning, but he couldn't just sit on his ass and do nothing. Just as he was about to channel his aura once more...
…the ground beneath them trembled and shook, reshaping the landscape of the entire battlefield.
The chimera was then launched into the sky by a massive pillar that erupted from beneath it.
“I invoke the power of Dogoda, child of Kerio,” came a voice. “O’ Ruler of Storms, grant me your glorious gale...Fortis Ventus!”
The amplified voice rang out throughout the park as they called out the name of their aero sprite. A strong gust of wind swept through the area, forcing the four of them to brace themselves. The intense maelstrom of aero mana made contact with the chimera and severed every external appendage on its body, the massive waves of green aura ripping through its skin with ease. Everything from its wings to its arms, legs, and head was cleanly divorced from its torso. Pieces of the creature’s body fell to the ground one by one. Finally, with a strangely satisfying wet plop, its head landed in front of its now limbless torso.
With the monster dead, the four teens rose to their feet and stared in silence at the carcass. Whoever cast that spell had made quick work of the creature they'd been fighting for quite some time in only a matter of seconds. They then cast their gaze upward on the hill overlooking the battlefield, where the voice came from, curious about the identity of their savior.
And three pairs of those eyes widened in surprise.
“Well, I’ll be…”
Upon the hill stood a teenage boy. He was relatively tall, about two inches shorter than Will, with a lean frame. His short, curly hair was dark blonde, neatly flattened, and parted on the left of his head. The boy was dressed in a white military blazer with a navy blue accent, navy blue trousers, and a pair of black loafers with gold laces. His blazer’s left arm was embellished with the shielded emblem of St. Magnus Academy of Scholarship, the most prestigious of Taqora's four major schools.
Adorned on his blazer’s right pocket was a ram-shaped brooch, the symbol of his house. In his right hand was his unsheathed weapon, a Wiccastrean athame with a two-foot-long blade of glinting steel, and a hilt crafted from silver and gold.
“Yes!” the boy exulted, pumping his fist with delight. “Looks like I’ve made it just in the nick of time!”
“Huh?” Confused, Daytona raised an eyebrow, turning to the others for an explanation. “Oi, this lad a friend o’ yours?”
And indeed a friend he was. Peering down at them with his dark brown eyes, was Jonathan W. Shepherd—The Golden Lamb of House Shepherd—a childhood friend of Will, Chiaki, and (to a lesser extent) Hotaru. A childhood friend who should have been in the capital city of Bevenhome, where he was to attend St. Magnus Academy. Yet, here he was, in the heart of Marlia City, standing there with a warm smile on his face, giving off a welcome sense of familiarity.
“Ah, William, Ms. Chiaki, and Ms. Hotaru! It has been far too long!” He cast a worried glance down at the heap of monster chunks below. “Now, what in Mother’s name have the three of you got yourselves into while I’ve been away?”
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