Chapter 12:

Two to Tango, Four to Duel

Why Kill? When Witches Can Be Tentacled!

“So, you figured it out. But of course, we were expecting you to. You knew full well that we couldn’t leave you alone. Neither could we ask others for help. Wouldn’t want it to get out that Trifecta harbored a Witch as a member of our team.” Cassandra’s words dripped with venom as her magic continued to swirl around her hand.Bookmark here

Both Maribell and Cassandra looked ready to unleash a plethora of spells at any moment. In the meantime, Snazzy waved his tentacles in the air, obviously flustered about what to do. He knew best not to get involved in a personal catfight.Bookmark here

“And Clive, where is he? It’s not like you to be not joined at the hip with him.” Maribell scanned the surroundings, waiting for the familiar swordsman to pop out. Suddenly, she caught some movement from a high branch that shook. The sound of someone landing echoed in the fog.Bookmark here

“I’m here, all right. Just waiting to see what you would do. I know full well not to underestimate the powers of darkness. Especially now that a blessed beast is by your side.”Bookmark here

A man walked through the edge of the fog, his armor clinking lightly with each step. The sun cast its glow on the reflective suit before brown hair and a tanned face parted from the whiteness. Casually letting his sword hang by his side, he had a stiff expression that looked like he didn’t want to be here.Bookmark here

Maribell’s expression softened as he came into view. Moisture bubbled from her eyes, likely from painful memories overlapping with his current self.Bookmark here

“I have no choice… this is who I am now,” she spat bitterly.Bookmark here

“No choice, huh? Just like you had no choice to betray me, to betray the two of us?!” Clive yelled, bringing the sword in front of him. He bit his lip in determination to take down Maribell, reminded by what she had done. “And now, you’ve led on another one, huh? A replacement to cater to your whims!”Bookmark here

As Clive dashed forward, Cassandra unleashed a wave of her magic. In response, Maribell quickly grabbed Snazzy and tossed him in the path of the spell, while dodging to the side of Clive’s thrust.Bookmark here

Snazzy screamed as he was pitched into the flying liquid, which was numbing cold to the touch. While he was still kindling fire inside of him, the liquid still turned to ice upon contact. He was like a balloon hurled into the path of a freezing rainstorm.Bookmark here

“Uwahhh!!! Brain freeze!” Snazzy cried as a sharp pain shot through him, caused by the contrast of hot and cold. The heaviness of ice piling on top of him made it hard to stay afloat. But he called upon the flames inside of him to rocket out of his bottom, keeping his tentacles warm and spinning to propel himself. At this point, Snazzy looked like a miniature rocket sailing through a tidal wave.Bookmark here

Not long afterward, a strange glow appeared around him, sucking the frigid water in. His absorption skill kicked in, taking up the spell and incorporating it as his own. But before his body could properly adjust, the freezing rain stopped.Bookmark here

“Clive, this blessed beast is special! I can’t use magic against it! I get a bad feeling!” Cassandra yelled to her partner, signaling for them to split up. “I’ll take on Maribell! You cut the squiggly thing down!”Bookmark here

With a nod, Clive changed trajectories, heading for Snazzy instead. With several swipes of his sword, he forced Snazzy to dodge away from Maribell to make distance between them. Being a jellyfish that floated in the air, he wiggled his little tentacles to swim higher into the air to avoid the strikes.Bookmark here

The air was not the best place for a jellyfish to be in. Flapping his tentacles hardly made any difference, only giving him the false impression of adding to his speed. As a result, Clive’s sword struck him several times before he could move safely higher, leaving gaping cuts on his head.Bookmark here

While the wounds stung a little, Snazzy licked one of his tentacles and slathered his spit onto it. Applying it onto the wounds, they magically sealed up in a matter of moments.Bookmark here

“Haha! Jellyfish BANZAI! You can cut me or whatever, but I will survive!” Snazzy celebrated, mocking the swordsman below him. Now out of range of that sword, he called up the fire within him and spat out a barrage of fireballs downward.Bookmark here

Clive watched carefully as they approached, swinging his sword to bat away the closest ones. The magic that Snazzy could muster right now was hardly a bother to him. Still, it was an annoyance that kept him from double-teaming Maribell with Cassandra. He scanned the area, taking note of the trees. With a nod, he ran towards one.Bookmark here

“Hey! Trying to duck for cover? That’s no fair! I’m an eco-friendly jellyfish!” Snazzy didn’t prefer to commit arson for no reason, so he stopped his barrage and tested out the new magic he swiped not long ago. Since a little frost wouldn’t hurt the trees, he decided to go ahead and paint them white. After all, he knew that he was just being a distraction to buy time.Bookmark here

But as Snazzy tried to follow Clive through the leafy branches, the swordsman suddenly disappeared. Double-checking where he was looking before, he suddenly heard a battle cry, a little too close for comfort.Bookmark here

The metal blade sliced through the air and caught Snazzy by surprise. He barely had time to swivel away, feeling a small sliver of his head chopped off. Clive had run up a tree trunk and propelled himself toward Snazzy from a nearby branch. Through acrobatic skills, he was determined to dominate aerial combat.Bookmark here

Snazzy tried to drift farther up, but there seemed to be a limit to how far he could climb. There was a feeling of emptiness like he was no longer standing upon clouds for support as he struggled to levitate.Bookmark here

In the meantime, Clive circled around, kicking off the tops of trees. His blade made hit-and-runs as he zoomed through the air with style. With his tactical advantage lost, Snazzy didn’t know where to go.Bookmark here

He was too slow to avoid the hits. The ice magic wasn’t slowing the man down. As a last resort, he sent electricity through his tentacles and curled them around his head as a defense. Seeing this change in tactic, Clive drew back his sword during the next pass, opting to punch the jellyfish with his bare fist.Bookmark here

With a loud smack, the hammer blow sent Snazzy plunging to the ground. Unable to roll away, his body bounced once before the gleam of a sword sparkled above him. A dark form overshadowed the bright sun in the sky and before he knew it, a metal blade slammed itself straight in the middle of Snazzy’s head, pinning him to the ground.Bookmark here

A wave of destruction exploded around Snazzy and Clive, who had decided to end it with a downward slam. The ground fissured from the sheer force, creating a man-made quake that sent the entire forest rumbling.Bookmark here

Clive stood up from the dust cloud that had formed, fanning away the debris. He clenched his right fist cautiously, checking to see if the twitching had subsided. Snazzy now laid unconscious in the middle of a crater, completely spent. While it was true that one could keep cutting down a jellyfish without killing it, it still took time for it to regenerate. Clive expected him to be out of commission until he dealt with the Witch.Bookmark here

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Meanwhile, Maribell and Cassandra were in the midst of a duel of fire and ice. Flames lashed out, only to be quenched by the cold water. The canceling out of each other’s attacks created a sizzling steam with each wave. Splashes of warm mist sprayed across the ladies’ bodies as they moved around to get a better angle of approach.Bookmark here

After several minutes of this, the clothing on their bodies clung heavily to their skin. Maribell had long discarded her cloak, finding it stifling and unnecessary. Her white blouse had become nearly see-through, but she didn’t care. Flashing the current audience was the last concern on her mind.Bookmark here

All throughout the fight, Maribell recalled in remorse at how it had come to this. Cassandra had been like a sister to her. They grew up together in an orphanage, trained their magic together, and roped Clive into joining them on an adventure.Bookmark here

They had spent years in freedom and bliss, getting stronger and finding a purpose in the wide world. But that had all changed when she first touched that blasted grimoire. Their eyes changes whenever they saw her, and it took mere days for their lifelong relationship to crumble into pieces.Bookmark here

How could one book create such turmoil, such distrust, and such hatred?...Bookmark here

Did we not vow to be together through all times? Were our promises mere words? Lies, spoken by fragile minds and existences that sought only to protect oneself?Bookmark here

But Maribell understood one thing. They were afraid, just as she was. No one knew what to do in the face of tragedy, and as a result, she watched everything turn to dust. She could no longer be with them. They could no longer face her. The destiny of normal people and Witches were just too far apart.Bookmark here

She felt the same even now, six months after. Even if she could break away and escape, the cold eyes of her former friends would continue to gnaw at her. They would remind her that even those closest to her despised her existence, and that they wouldn’t rest until she was dead before their feet.Bookmark here

Because of her, their lives were ruined. Because Witches existed, she was hated. And any people that she met on her journey would simply trample upon her extended hand, once the truth was known.Bookmark here

What am I fighting for? Some thin strand of hope? Some meaning in struggling to live?Bookmark here

Her fighting spirit waned with each passing thought. The fires at the tips of her fingers wavered, allowing for the freezing rain to advance closer and closer. Believing that her duel with Cassandra was growing more pointless, the frigid spell started to dust her body with powdered snow. The damp clothing was now glued to her skin, making it hard to move because the frozen material tugged painfully at it, just like how each attack tugged at her heart.Bookmark here

Maribell heard footsteps next to her. A slight turn of the head revealed Clive, who held his sword out in position. He was ready to dive in once Maribell had turned into a statue. Chopping her frozen head off would be the end of it.Bookmark here

“I feel pity for that blessed beast, being fooled into doing your bidding! But with this, it will be free from your trickery. And you, please let your soul rest in peace. Away from the darkness. Away from the grasp of the Demon Lord.” Clive proclaimed, wanting nothing more than his former friend to return to her old self.Bookmark here

Those sweet words of acceptance after death nearly made her smile. No more pain and suffering, for her and for the other two. She would fall into a deep sleep and never return…Bookmark here

“ORRYAHHHH!!!”Bookmark here

A shrill battle cry echoed through the forest. A small form raced past them and leapt into the beam of freezing rain. Not until it stopped to take on the icy spell did they notice that it was glowing brightly.Bookmark here

Maribell’s eyes widened at the sight of Snazzy, fighting to hold back the blizzard. He was all beaten up and several of his tendrils were missing. But nonetheless, he was determined to take in the intense magic spell that Cassandra emitted.Bookmark here

Cassandra immediately canceled her magic, sensing danger from the little creature. But the absorption had been complete. Snazzy let out a beastly howl, spurred on by his enraged state.Bookmark here

Wisps of mana traced across the air, reaching out and zooming toward Maribell. She felt them stab straight into her, bringing renewed energy into her body. The smoldering flame in her hand instantly grew past where it normally was and swelled into a giant fountain that spewed out an inferno around her.Bookmark here

“Don’t you give in to those taunts, Onee-san!” Snazzy screamed, forcing everyone to focus on him.Bookmark here

“They don’t know what you’ve been through! Their words don’t understand the pain, the sorrow, that you have to face! But I feel you! I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t fight! I couldn’t live with myself if you were left behind in such a way! Even with this body, I-I’ll find a way!”Bookmark here

Though Maribell’s body was rejuvenated, her spirit still wavered. Why did Snazzy feel the need to do so much for her? Why couldn’t he just pick another Onee-san to be with? One that was bogged down with less trouble. One who would let him feel her up whenever. None of that made any sense to her.Bookmark here

All those thoughts boiled down to a single word that escaped from her lips.Bookmark here

“Why? Why?! WHY?!” Maribell screamed, each time louder than the next. “You barely even know me, so WHY?!”Bookmark here

Snazzy turned with a grin, pointing one of his tendrils at the sky and placing another on his non-existent hip in a dramatic pose.Bookmark here

“Because I-… am your knight! Your warrior of the misunderstood! And I have a mission to make sure that people like you are heard!”Bookmark here

Dropping his stance, he floated towards Clive, putting his tentacles together like cracking fists before a battle.Bookmark here

“And if you don’t want that, then you can smack me after I save your ass!”Bookmark here

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