Ami backed away as the huge form of Boris advanced on her. The man's face was a mask of fury, bare teeth gleaming within a thicket of black beard hairs. The barbarian still had a few goblin arrows sticking out of his breastplate and arms, but they looked more like needles compared to his bulk. While the wounds were bleeding, they didn't seem to slow him down in any useful way.

"Boris! Cut it out!" Jered shouted, trying to get at least a semblance of control back over the situation. In response, the giant tightened his grip on the haft of his axe and drew the massive weapon back for a swing at the blue-haired girl in front of him.

Long experience dodging youma attacks prevented Ami from freezing up in fear. Instead, she dodged by reflex. Boris, even in his berserk rage, felt a pang of surprised of when the girl, only half his size, got out of the way by jumping over his head and landing behind him. The physical abilities of her senshi form didn't just go away because she was dressed unconventionally for the job.

"Told you she's a monster!" the towering man roared, spinning in place to face the girl, who was rapidly putting distance between herself and her attacker. Just as he lunged after her, he felt Jered tackle his legs from behind. He fell like a tree, striking the ground with an earth-shaking impact. The more limber brown haired man quickly climbed on his back and sat down on his back.

"I ordered you to stop you barbarian oaf! Do you want a bounty on your head if something happens to the girl?" Crap. This can't have been good for his injuries. I can't afford to lose two mercenaries. Why doesn't the idiot just listen? Boris reared up under him, making the smaller man nearly lose his hold on him. The bear-like man was foaming at the mouth and letting out unarticulated howls of rage, all the while clawing at the pest on his back that was holding him down.

"He's lost it completely!" Jered considered his options. Normally, if he wanted to take down a target in this position, he'd just use his daggers. Unfortunately, he didn't want to kill his subordinate. Biting his teeth together, he slipped both arms around the berserker's neck and put pressure on his throat. Damn giant has a neck thick as a steer. Damn, I hope the kid appreciates what I'm doing for her! Without his hands free to defend himself himself, he was taking his shares of bruises. Jered made a pained 'oof' sound when Boris managed to roll on him, but didn't loosen his grip.

Ami watched in horrified fascination as the two men struggled among the fallen leaves, and Boris' face went more and more blue. She gave their battle a wide berth as she stepped around the two fighters, moving closer to the blonde swordswoman, who was trying to tend to Snyder's injuries. She had rolled the short red-headed acolyte on his back, making him sit up leaning against a tree, and was in the process of stripping off his robe to get a better idea of what, if anything, she could do to help him. A weak trickle of dark red blood was dribbling down from the not-yet-a-priest's chin.

"Please let me use a healing spell on him," Ami pleaded. "I can't possibly make things worse!"

Cathy looked at her, undecided. "Jered?"

"Don't. For all we know, the Keeper will whisk her away the moment that amulet is removed, and where would that leave us?" the man managed to gasp out, still struggling with the much larger Boris.

Ami was beginning to get angry. "You would just leave your companion to die because you are worried about not getting your reward for turning me in? You make me sick!"

"Oh, put a lid on it! We have no reason to believe tha- CRAP!" the distraction had allowed Boris to get a good grip on the back of Jered's green shirt, and with a mighty heavy, the brute lifted the weasel-featured man forward, over his head, and slammed him into the forest floor. Wheezing, the giant swayed as he pulled himself to his feet, picking up his axe in the process. Eyes wild, he looked around for his quarry, found it, and thundered toward Ami.

The senshi wisely made a run for it. Getting to far away from the others wasn't an option, but maybe if she took higher ground? Ami looked at the trees rushing past, annoyed at the undergrowth tearing at the white robes she was wearing. Ah, there was a particularly thick tree trunk that forked not too high up. Ami aimed for the uneven platform formed by the two crooked branches and jumped, seeing the leaf and brushwood-covered ground shrink away under her. With any luck, she'd be able to land safely even with her arms tied behind her back. She landed with a jolt, striking a knot in a branch hard enough to drive the breath from her lungs, but at least that prevented her from falling off the other side. Below, she could hear a bellow of rage as Boris discovered that she was now effectively out of her reach. Back near the former battlefield, she could make out Jered getting back to his feet and rubbing his side, cursing loudly about too hard roots.

Ami squatted down, pressing herself against one of the branches to make room, grabbed an imp from her dungeon, and plopped it down in front of her. The creature let out a surprised squeal and wobbled, flapping its little arms rapidly to avoid losing its balance on tumbling off its perch. The new arrival prompted Boris to let out an enraged scream, and Ami felt a shudder go through the wood of the tree, accompanied by a thwacking noise. Below, the barbarian was chopping at the tree with renewed fervour, using his battle axe like a woodchuck's tool. Alerted by the racket, Jered turned his head to see what had the black-maned man set off even more. His amusement at finding Ami seeking shelter in a tree like a scared cat turned into an alarmed frown as he spotted the imp about to bring its pick down on the lock of her chains. Plink!

"Stop that right now!" he demanded, grabbing one of his many throwing daggers from his bandoleer while running toward her location.

Ami wasn't about to oblige, and ducked her head lower. She could almost see the lock before her, badly damaged, hanging between her hands and against the tree bark. She needed a moment to realise that she did see it, from the perspective of the imp. Weird. Then , the lock shattered under a repeat strike of the magical digging implement, and Ami felt the chains around her wrists loosen. With the imp's assistance, she quickly unwrapped them, then stretched her arms. They prickled as blood shot back into them, but she ignored the sensation and lifted her hand to her collarbone, and grabbed the warding amulet located there. It stuck to her as if it was a magnet and she was made of iron, but came off with a determined yank. As she had been under a lot of stress lately and and was feeling vindictive, she bounced the golden trinket off of Boris's forehead. "Shabon Spray!"

Unnatural greyish-white mist blanketed the area, reducing visibility to about arm's reach. Jered tripped over a root, and bit down a curse. "Mercury! Cease this nonsense and come out! Otherwise, we'll be forced to treat you as hostile!"

"While Boris is like that? Not a chance!" it was hard to estimate the voice's direction, but he was sure that it had come from ahead, ground level. So she was moving already. He cautiously started stepping in that direction. Damn. He didn't want to deal with a completely unrestrained black sorceress with Keeper support when he was down one team member, and the other in a questionable state of sanity. Speaking of which... "Boris! Calm down! We need to work together!" they needed to capture or subdue the girl as soon as possible, before she decided to hunt them instead. This fog spell of hers was a real pain. "Boris?" "I'm here. You'll help me catch the witch now, will you?" the large man growled, an undertone of mistrust swinging in his voice.

"Obviously," Jered drawled to the large silhouette in the fog. "Capture, not kill, if possible. We need to- over there!"

The two adventurers heard footsteps moving away from them, and gave chase. They were fortunate that the girl didn't seem the aggressive type, Jered figured. "Surrender, or we'll have to subdue you!" he shouted into the mist. He'd rather not have to fight her if he didn't have to. For such a meek -acting kid, she sure packed some nasty surprises.

Ami pressed herself against a tree and stayed motionless and quiet, watching as her pursuers passed not five metres away from her. Her heartbeat sounded so loud that she was sure it would give her away. The two figures, one heavy-built and looming, the other lean and wiry, moved on without even a glance in her direction. Carefully, Ami backtracked her steps, looking at the ground to not accidentally step on a twig.

Cathy shuddered. The late spring air had become rather chilly when this fog had appeared. She covered Snyder's pale body with his robe to keep him warm, as there wasn't much else she could do for him. She was pretty sure that his internal bleeding would be fatal if something wasn't done soon. His shallow breathing had become rather ragged. The blonde suddenly looked up when she heard the rustling of dry leaves as soft footsteps approached. Rising from her squat position she turned to face the dark silhouette peeling itself out of the all-concealing murk. "Who's there?" she asked, sword drawn. Suddenly, the fog seemed to become strangely transparent, and she could see the young sorceress. Her blue eyes widened in alarm when she noticed that Mercury's eyes were back to blue. A glance down confirmed that the ward was gone, and so were the restraints.

"What did you do to Jered and Boris?" the swordswoman demanded, moving protectively between Ami the prone form of Snyder.

"I sent them on a wild-goose chase. They will be fine," Ami assured her, holding up her hands to show that she was unarmed.

Elsewhere, the able-bodied men of the group were rushing through the forest, which felt like a nightmarish maze full of dark, towering silhouettes and treacherous roots by the fog. "Where to now?" "Listen! She's over there, quickly!"

The imp moved with a hopping gait, making sure to stomp down hard and make a lot of noise when landing. It looked back over its shoulder and giggled quietly at its two pursuers. The little minion as deriving an inordinate amount of merriment from this assignment, and gleefully led the two men chasing it through every thornbush and mud hole it could find. It stopped for a moment, rubbing its three-fingered hands in malicious anticipation. Ahead, it had spotted a wasp hive hanging from a tree.

"Look, if I really wanted to harm you or him, I could just throw spells at you out of the fog," Ami explained, turning away from the suspicious blonde and illustrating by turning an innocent sapling into an icicle with a well-aimed Shabon Spray Freezing. "Please let me heal him. I don't want to do any harm. I could have just run away, but instead I'm here to help. "

Swayed either by the pleading expression in Ami's blue eyes or by her arguments, Cathy finally lowered her sword and sighed "Fine, I believe you. Just don't make me regret it."

Ami immediately knelt down at Snyder's side, putting both palms on his slowly rising and lowering chest, and concentrated on the spell. Cathy watched the proceedings warily, especially as the blue-haired girl's eyes flared red once more, brighter than she had seen before. Her sword's point was resting on the ground. but she hadn't sheathed the weapon yet, just in case.

Ami, for her part, found the healing procedure to be more difficult than when she had used it on herself. She had to track down the injured flesh, move it, and knit it back together with an exertion of will, while for herself, the injuries to her ribs had mended upon the slightest coaxing. Still, she felt a sense of elation as she sewed tissues back together and repaired broken bones. This, she realised, had been her goal in life: study enough to become a doctor and help people. She hoped that she would be able to keep this ability when she returned home. Maybe even teach it, she allowed herself to dream. She focused on finishing up, evacuating the blood from Snyder's lungs so he didn't drown in it. Cathy frowned when the acolyte vomited up a mouthful of black, clumpy blood. The knuckles on her hand holding the sword whitened.

Ami hurried to calm her. "All done. He should be fine now, if still weak. I couldn't replace the blood he lost."

It was true, the blonde thought. His breathing was more regular, and some colour had returned to his cheeks. Still, necromancy... well, what counted were the results.

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Chapter 13: A Poor Plan Chapter 15: Journey's End

References Edit