Anya raised her round shield, pouring her wind energy through its built in channels. Special symbols on the shield glowed, and the outer rim started rotating at high speeds, generating a magical forcefield-like current of air.
It was just in time too, as right at that moment, a powerful blast of fire crashed into the wind barrier.
Instead of being burned to a crisp, the flames were dispersed by a vortex of wind, creating a tornado of wind and fire that passed harmlessly around her.
Never had Anya been so grateful to her father for gifting her this magical artifact for her coming of age ceremony. She had requested a weapon artifact, but he had reasoned that her safety was more important. His wise choice was the only reason she was still alive today.
After dispersing the attack, Anya continued to run. In her footsteps chased a monstrous creature that was shooting fireballs the size of boulders out of its mouth at her retreating form.
Why! Why has it chosen now to attack us? Anya repeatedly asked this question as she swiftly dodged incoming fireballs.
Three years ago, it drove us from our home. Since then, it has ignored our existence. Why now all of a sudden! Activating her shield, Anya repelled another wave of flame.
Was it somehow aware that father left? How could it have known? Anya jumped over fallen debris as she attempted to create distance.
I must continue to lead it away from my people! Steeling her resolve, Ayna pulled out her short sword. Stepping out from behind the cover of a tree, she faced the monster threatening her village.
Concentrating, Anya channeled a thin layer of her wind energy along the razor edge of the blade. Swinging her sword, the energy slid off and became a blue streak as it raced across the air, cutting through anything in its path.
It collided with its target, leaving behind only a scratch on its scales, but that was enough to continue drawing its attention, judging by its offended roar of fury.
Loud stomps echoed in the forest as the massive beast gave chase to the diminutive figure that insulted it.
Meanwhile, Finn was working his way down the mountain at a rapid pace. As he approached the decline that faced the direction where the flames originated, Finn felt a regrettably familiar feeling surface from deep within him.
Fear... Finn felt an unexplainable fear coming from instincts that were ingrained into his very being. Whatever created those flames was something a whole magnitude more powerful than anything he had ever faced.
Wait, this seems familiar... A memory resurfaced in Finn's mind, his feeling of terror when he had faced that guild master long ago. A feeling of insurmountable danger.
This must be the qualitative change rank four brings... Nothing Finn had met so far in these woods had given him such a feeling of pause. Whatever this beast was, it definitely was the biggest threat he had ever encountered.
Finally reaching the bottom, Finn struggled to move forward towards the source of conflict. His body was telling him to run, but his curiosity would not be denied.
I have to see! Finn could've sworn he had seen people shaped figures. He couldn't run until he confirmed the situation himself. The sun was still up, and he could always retreat if it came down to it.
Feeling subtle vibrations on his back, Finn glanced back to see the four light foxes shivering as they curled up in fear.
They are terrified... Finn felt a little guilty for not noticing this sooner. Kneeling down, Finn gently nudged them off his back with his head. Scooting them away, Finn lightly pushed them towards the underbrush, hoping they would understand.
Finn was relieved to see they did, somewhat. The parents squeaked, leading their pups away as they turned invisible. Finn saw Shrimp give him one last long look, before he too disappeared into thin air.
I really need to learn that... Finn was jealous of their ability to turn invisible. He had been practicing, but so far his manipulation of natual light was still in its infant stages. He could only warp and compress it somewhat, lacking the delicate control such an ability likely takes.
Confident they would be able to find him later, Finn continued on towards the sounds of destruction. When he finally crept close enough to see what was happening, he finally confirmed his suspicions.
A person! A girl! Finn saw what appeared to be a young woman darting from tree to tree at incredible speeds. She had pale skin with blond hair, and was wearing what looked like a combination of brown leather and sewn white cloth for clothes.
The most eye catching feature about her was the large round shield covered with strange symbols strapped to her left arm. Observing closely, he could see a bluish glow on her legs and feet.
Wind energy! She is able to use wind energy! Finn confirmed from the safety of his hiding spot.
What is she running from? His delight at finally finding someone in these woods was hampered by this question.
The oppressive feeling of danger had only grown in intensity the closer he came, and if the loud growls and stomps he was hearing were any indication, he would soon find out.
The girl flew by his field of vision like a blur, and several seconds later, something else came chasing along the same path, something terrifying!
As the massive beast came into view, Finn started shivering uncontrollably. It was something he couldn't help, a result of being near something so dangerous. Every fiber of his being screamed at him to escape.
Finn was having trouble containing his shock. This mountain of a creature... looked similar to him! At least, its overall form looked similar. This new beast was at least three times bigger than Finn, which was saying something! He was reminded of the time when he was nearly killed by the ironhide bear. The size difference was staggering.
Adorned with blood red scales, this beast was like a physical embodiment of wrath. Its scales were not smooth like Finn's, but were tapered to sharp points that gleamed in the sunlight. It gave it a feeling of a porcupine, where simply touching it would give you a cut.
Its head, legs and claws were similar in form to Finn's own, only the beast's somehow looked even more menacing due to their larger size and reddish hue, and its head had several more horn growths than Finn had, giving it a very complex and fearsome look.
Even more eye catching was that the beast was literally on fire! Self immolation? Wait... Finn looked closer to see a layer of reddish colored energy surrounding its body.
Finn had come to learn that this was a common defensive tactic that all magical beasts utilized. However, the energy he was seeing surrounding its body was almost no different than fire itself. Tongues of flame peeled off its scales as it ran by, falling to the ground and igniting the surroundings.
Is this a common occurence for those with a fire affinity, or is this a qualitative change rank four brings? Finn didn't have time to consider the possibilities, as the game of cat and mouse was getting further away from him.
She is... leading it away? Finn made a guess. There were scents similar to the girl coming from the opposite direction. Knowing this, it wasn't hard to assume she was leading this fire breathing beast away from other people.
Finn watched as the chasing fiery beast opened its mouth and released a large flaming projectile at the puny person running away, who narrowly dodged the blast.
Finn followed behind, making sure to stay hidden. There was no question, Finn wanted to help the poor girl. Deep down, Finn still considered himself a person, and there was no way he would sit idly by while a young woman was massacred by a monster.
What would be the point of my power otherwise? Finn continuously encouraged himself to combat his ingrained instincts to run. Even now, they were telling him to leave, to forget the girl, to flee.
To... abandon someone who needed help to save his own skin.
Finn felt angry at this fear, for it highlighted the discrepancy he had always felt, being a man in a beast's body.
A magical beast would run away, only facing dangers it knew it could handle, slowly growing stronger as it hunted weaker beings. If Finn did this, in time he would grow to become strong as well, but there was a problem.
In Finn's mind, that was completely stupid. He was a person deep down, not a mindless magical beast. There was more to life than simply surviving and growing stronger.
How could I face my family if they knew I left someone to die when I could have done something? Finn had been taught growing up to always stand up for others who needed help. His own father had called it standing up for the little guy and helping your fellow man.
As pleasant memories of his old life resurfaced, Finn felt a calm settle over him that washed away his fear. Remembering a whole lifetime of experience and learned wisdom filled Finn with an empowering sense of self assurance.
Deep down, I am a man, and men were blessed with the power to control their instincts. I won't be lead by fear!
At the end of the day, some things were more important than personal safety. Finn chose the only action he could live with, which could ironically get him killed.
I have to help her, but how? Finn picked up the pace as he followed the trail of flames left behind by the inferno beast, as Finn had begun calling it in his mind.
I will have to wait for an opportunity...
Meanwhile, Anya was running out of steam. Having advanced to a rank three wind warrior, she was able to last for quite a while, but the relentless fireballs from the chasing fire drake forced her to burn through her accumulated wind energy at a ridiculous rate.
Using her shield took a lot of energy, and running at sufficient speed to stay one step ahead of a rank four beast was taking its toll as well. She was caught on the horns of a dilemma. No matter what she did, she felt trapped.
Eventually, she would run out of energy and either be burned to a crisp or eaten.
Anya scowled in fury and sadness. At least I managed to draw it away from the village. Hopefully they've already retreated...
Even if she died here, Anya could at least comfort herself with the knowledge that her people would live on.
Sending energy into her shield, Anya dispersed another fireball she wasn't able to dodge in time. With a sinking feeling, she realized that the fire drake's aim was improving. It was getting harder to dodge.
Or maybe I'm just getting tired... Either way, it wasn't good news. Having to disperse fireballs with her shield gave the fire drake time to get closer, which made it easier for it to aim, making it harder to dodge, and therefore giving her no time to run. It was a vicious cycle, one that inevitably led to Anya being cornered.
With her back against a tree, Anya struggled to catch her breath. Her clothes were badly singed, and she was trying desperately to gather ambient wind energy, but it just wasn't fast enough.
Soon, the beast was fully upon her. Standing above its exhausted prey, the cat and mouse game had finally come to an end. The fire drake released a continuous breath of intense fire at the spot where the puny girl was standing.
In the sea of reds and oranges, one could see a speck of blue struggling against the tides of flame. Ayna was using the last of her energy to form a shield of wind, but she knew she was delaying the inevitable. The bubble of air protecting her from being washed away in the inferno was shrinking rapidly. Sonn she would be engulfed.
Anya felt tears rolling down her cheeks as the surrounding heat became more and more intense. She didn't want to die to the same beast that massacred so many loved ones from her village.
If only she had been stronger, maybe she could have helped her father and brother defeat this evil monster that stole their home.
Despair clouded her thoughts as the protective wind bubble produced by her shield was about to implode.
And then everything stopped. The flames that were battering her wind barrier receded. Unable to maintain it anymore, the barrier dispersed as Ayna collapsed to her knees, sweat causing her blond hair to stick to her face.
What? What happened? Why didn't it finish me? Struggling to catch her breath, she looked up to see the fire drake staring off in another direction. It wasn't even looking at her anymore.
And then there was light.
A column of light brighter than the sun slammed into the stunned fire drake as it staggered backwards. Quickly regaining its bearings, the drake countered by breathing fire into the onslaught of powerful light energy.
The energies from both attacks fought eachother, causing the surrounding air to distort from the intense heat.
Anya was too shocked to understand. What was happening? What had ambushed the fire drake?
She watched as the beam of light dwindled in strength before ceasing. Looking to the fire drake, she could see a black streak of burnt skin and charred scales on the spot where the attack had landed.
Anya's eyes widened. How intense must've been the heat from that column of light to burn even an infamous rank four fire drake?
Anya's surprise only lasted a second before she was forced to cover her ears. An ear shredding roar of fury bellowed out of the drake's mouth. Completely forgetting the small creature on front of it, it took off towards its attacker.
Having just successfully completed his ambush, Finn felt a jolt of terror when the monster truck sized inferno beast started running over.
Having not forgotten to plan ahead, Finn controlled himself and focused, condensing the ambient light in front of his face. A small black sphere started forming.
As more light was absorbed into the miniature black hole, it grew in size till it was about the size of a beach ball. Using his control over the compressed light, he sent it out towards the charging beast.
The fire drake witneased the strange black orb being created by the creature that ambushed it. Having survived long enough to grow this powerful, the fire drake was no fool. It did not dare to underestimate any creature that could harm it.
Coming to a stop, the fire drake braced itself by enveloping its body in a layer of red energy identical to flames that flickered off its scales.
Clearly, it was suspecting this was some form of attack. It watched carefully as the black orb floated towards it, exactly as Finn hoped it would.
Finn internally smirked, and released his control over the sphere, closing his eyes in the process.
A brilliant flash of light illuminated the area, casting shadows in all directions. The light that had been gathered and compressed into a ball exploded with intense luminescence, blinding both the girl and inferno beast, who were totally unprepared for such a tactic.
Finn watched as the inferno beast stumbled around, shooting fire in all directions as it roared in confusion.
Now was his chance!
Using this opportunity, Finn ran to where the girl had collapsed, avoiding the random barrages of fire being spewed out by the blinded beast.
He found her rubbing her eyes as copious amount of tears leaked out.
Without waiting for consent, Finn stuck his head under her body and scooped her up onto his back. The girl let out a startled yelp, before unconsciously clinging to his neck. He then took off, away from the inferno beast, who's eyesight still hadn't returned.
Finally, Finn listened to his instincts. He ran as fast as he could.