Jessie hadn't cared if she was followed by the sage, but she was definitely more at ease when she heard them keeping him busy. She threw a powerful wind spell behind her to close the distance between her and Foce, and slammed the pommel of the blade into the roof as she fell forward, her other hand reaching out for Foce, who had rolled onto her back and was tottering on the edge, dazed.
The hero managed to wrap her fingers around the young woman's arm, grimacing as the vampire went over the edge, her arm slipped through Jessie's grasp. She cried out and let her blade clatter to the ground, crawled over the edge, and clutched Foce's arm, "Come on, Foce, wake up!" she turned anxiously to find the sage was still slowed by her friends, though she could see that they were getting beaten as Vindicatus went all out against them.
"E-eh? Ah!" Foce screamed when she saw the ground below her and swayed as she fought to wake from that kind of dream.
"Foce, don't move, j-just...use your wings, fly!" Jessie urged, feeling her palms grow sweaty, caused by the very fear that would be fulfilled much more quickly now that her grip was slipping from the sweat.
"I-I'm afraid I can't." she wheezed, staring at her deathly pale hand, "This must be a dream...I'll wake up soon...ugh, it's been so long since I even had a dream!"
"You look pretty rough...grab the ledge, I can't hold you up much longer!" Jessie grunted as she tried to pull the vampire up, but the pale girl's hand had no strength behind it.
"Just let me go...it's been fun, but there's no way out." Foce panted, feeling lightheaded, "I guess at this point I'll wind up fainting, at least I won't be aware of anything.
"No...that's not an option...the only way is down!" Jessie grimaced as she slid forward, despite Foce's protests and weak slaps, and slipped off the edge. She gritted her teeth and pulled the vampire lord close, "Your power was drained, and I know the best source of energy for a vampire...just try not to drink all my blood? I kinda need you to leave some for me." Jessie teased.
"Not like you leave me much choice in the matter..." Foce bit back, straining three fingers to expose Jessie's shoulder. She carefully pressed her fangs against the hero's skin, which broke quite easily under her fangs, and hummed as an old memory resurfaced, a fireplace, a girl in a gown, smiling as she turned to Foce. She was saying something, and she giggled and closed her eyes when she finished, for some reason the vampire started crying, her arms around Jessie squeezing tighter as she tried to choke back tears, instead she wound up coughing, splattering blood on the hero's shirt.
"Foce, it's gonna be alright." Jessie whispered, she chuckled softly as she pet the vampire's head, "Just get enough flying energy, I'll be okay as lost as we don't hit the ground."
Storm clouds had gathered by the time the hero and vampire returned to the top, Jessie dove from the arms that tried to keep her steady on her feet, and to the floor to grab her blade, she fell on her side and waved it at her scabbard.
"Jessie, here." Foce could see Jessie wouldn't give the blade to her, so settle for helping her to sheath the blade, then picked the hero up and ran to where Ray stood on the sidelines, keeping everyone's health as high as he could, "I'm taking her inside, I'll be back."
"What happened to her?! Never mind, I'm calling for a retreat, there's no chance of us winning today."
"I'm sorry." Foce whispered, before fluttering off to the airship.
Ray stepped as soon as Foce was more than halfway to the airship, "Sarah, Juliet, initiate retreat sequence!" he shouted, kneeling as the two women darted past him, stopped halfway between the airship and Ray, then turned and drew their bows, "Hidden Campfire...alright, Jacob, Romeo!"
"Shadow Flurry!" Romeo yelled, drawing his sword back and charging it as he and Jacob backed away, he released the attack when Vindicatus sprang on them, knocking the man back with a torrent of darkness. They passed the faint outline of the campfire that only Ray's allies could see--though Ray could see it clearly in all it's brilliance.
Vindicatus charged after them, the archers slowing him down some, but the knight and dark knight barely got halfway between the girls and the fire when Ray spread his arms out, "Flaming Net!" he snarled at the netted sage, as a red stream of energy flowed between his hands, which steadily grew closer and built up pressure in the spell, stepping around the ensnared sage until Vindicatus was between Ray and one of the short walls that supported the tall, open roof's conical top.
"This is for Jessie...Ray of Hope!" he shouted, launching the floating net and the man inside it to the other wall, he had leaped back in anticipation of the recoil, allowing him to turn in midair and prepare for the sprint ahead of him, "Sarah, Juliet, seal our retreat!"
"Right!" they shouted, kneeling to take aim.
"Mana Arrow..." Sarah laid her hand on the midsection of her bow's frame and slowly pulled her hand back, leaving a trail of raw mana leading to the drawstring, and closed her forefinger and middle finger around the back end of the newly formed magic arrow, and drew it back, "charging..."
"Fire Arrow..." Juliet drew her weapon and steadied her aim, "guide the magic arrow! Fire!"
Sarah remained perfectly still as the arrow she created was dragged along in the wake of Juliet's, even though her hair followed the respectable gale Juliet's shot created, she didn't so much as flinch until her arrow split the enchanted arrow Juliet fire, resulting in an explosion that caused the wall behind the sage to crumble, "My mana is redrawn..." she whispered, her bow still strung, and summoned another arrow in place of the one Juliet pulled from her grasp, "Juliet, again!"
"You're serious?!" Juliet turned to Ray, tipped her head at the pink haired dancer, "Scan this one."
"She's good for it, but just in case...Healing Light...be quick, you two." Ray turned after giving them a quick nod, and ran to the airship.
"Fire Arrow...Twin Suns!" Juliet held her bow out in front of her, an arrow held between her forefinger middle finger, and middle finger and ring finger, and ignited the two arrows, then released after focusing on the two walls on either side of the one that had just crumbled, "Nova Blast!"
Sarah gasped and leaned forward as her arrow split in two and left her grasp, "Flame Feeder!" she panted, an order to Juliet's arrows not to explode until hers split them down the middle. She watched anxiously until the two explosions removed the support from the tower's giant cone top over them, at which point she let out a heavy sigh and leaned forward.
"Impressive as always." Juliet held her fist off to the side, and Sarah bumped the back of her fist into the archer's, then took turns bumping one fist onto the other's. Juliet stood up after the brief celebratory gestures and pulled Sarah to her feet.
"You too!" Sarah breathed, running alongside the archer as the roof's top came down behind them.
"Know what'd be nice about now?" Juliet grinned, not waiting for the exhausted, versatile warrior to reply, "Some wings!"
Sarah nodded tiredly, she could tell Juliet made it a point not to outrun her and leave her behind, as much as that bothered her, she could barely find the breath to run, "Might've...overdone...why hold back? Run!"
"We're nearly there, just keep your eyes focused on what's ahead of us!" Juliet glanced up at the roof behind her, then to the stumble-running dancer, "You're just gonna have to forgive me for this!"
"Wha-ah?!" Sarah held her hands out, fighting for her balance as Juliet held her as she ran, and threw her forward. Romeo caught the gracelessly stumbling dancer as Juliet caught back up with her, and the pair dragged her back to the boarding ramp, the roof closing in dangerously fast until a red blast of fire erupted behind them, buying them time. They knew then Ray was watching from the deck, able to see them without being heard by them, which left Jacob to take the helm, not the steadiest pilot, but they weren't too picky right now.
"Hahaha!" Juliet laughed as she fell next to Sarah after she and the dark knight lay her down, and lightly punched her shoulders, "Man, that was close!"
"Hah...yeah." Sarah smiled and slumped against the wall, covering her face with her hands, "Too close."
"Yeah, but we came a long way!" Juliet pointed out, "If we were how we were back then, we'd probably have run first, then shot, and Vindicatus would've been on our tails!"
"If I was like I was, we would've just ran, I wouldn't have even learned Mana Arrow yet." Sarah corrected Juliet's statement rather bleakly, "You also didn't master Twin Suns until just recently...I have a long way to go as an archer."
"Heh, same with me." Juliet sighed, bouncing back to her feet, "Considering you train in other combat styles, I'd say you're making great progress, who even knew what two archers could do together? Makes me wonder if you shouldn't try to blend the techniques you've learned."
"W-well, it's not like you guys don't branch out," Sarah replied, trying to deflect attention, "after all, if Ray hadn't used the Warrior's Badge ten or fifteen levels back, he never would've developed his HP and defense to the degree he has today, and his stamina would be much lower, as well."
"Indeed, but," Ray grunted, falling against a wall as he entered the room, "we owe you a great deal for showing us the advantages to branching out, of not just spending all our time honing our strengths, but also developing in our weaknesses, unorthodox and overlooked, a simple solution to whatever we find lacking in our current abilities."
"Look who decided to join us!" Romeo chuckled, "You look exhausted."
"I am, but I'm passing through, I wanted to check on you guys to make sure you're here. I must say, there are more comfortable places to relax than by the exit of the airship, heh, but then, I also never expected to be such an interesting conversation topic." Ray pulled himself off the wall and walked back up the hall, followed close by the other three.
Jessie was hardly aware of the vampire laying her down, but as the bed creaked, she turned to find Foce laying on her folded arms, tears streaming behind closed eyes. She lay her hand on the vampire's head and coughed a little, "There's a lot I owe to you."
"Not true..." Foce nearly hissed, "I could've killed you trying to get my strength back, you lost enough blood that you could barely stand, much less focus."
"I knew the risks, but you're a lot more powerful than I am, if the world lost you...I don't know when we'll be strong enough to face him again, but we need you to be there when we do." Jessie explained.
"And how can there be a 'we' without a 'you', Jessie?! You can't just trade fates with me, if I get weakened and fall again..." Foce was pretty sure she could avoid getting hit again, but as often as she'd fallen today, and two of those times on inconvenient terms, it almost seemed like fate that she fell to her death.
Hey," Jessie sighed, trying to be firm, "I'll always be there to catch you, Foce, i'm not gonna lose any of my team..."
"Team...y-you don't have to owe me anything, you know..."
"Hah...well, we have to watch out for each other now, you know?" Jessie laughed as she stared at her limp limbs, "Well, gotta get some rest in, plenty of iron and fluids, too, then I'll be ready to look out for you guys again."
Foce sighed and shook her head, "Is that what you were doing when we met? Watching out for them, keeping them from risking their lives?"
"Well, it's also easier to use advanced abilities from different 'classes' if they're linked through enchanted items we use for communication," Jessie explained, "plus I get stat boosts, passive skills that activate under certain conditions, and their HP, mana, and stamina are added to mine, so I can keep on trooping, casting and unleashing Spirit Attacks! Of course...there are times I have to cut links to keep from pushing them too far..."
"So even when you're alone, sticking your neck out...they're also there." Foce let out a deep breath as she considered that method, "That kind of responsibility is...intense."
"Yeah, but for some reason, it only works when it's me, when it's Romeo or Juliet, the bond is their's alone, Ray, Sarah and Jacob don't have any boosts except mine..." as she spoke, the barely suppressed panic she felt was as though she was realizing all this for the first time, "That's why I need to get better, there could be an attack at any time!"
"Stay!" Foce held her arm out as Jessie sat up, her purple gaze intensely trained on the hero's blue, watery eyes, "If anything happens, I'll handle it, you've made me much stronger than I could be alone."
"Hah...but what if it doesn't work for you?" Jessie closed her eyes and lay down, she didn't have much interest or strength to defy the vampire lord, and trying not to cry was taking all the focus she had.
"Well, I don't know...if it doesn't work for me, then everyone but you will go, and it'll be fine. They'll level up." Foce added, and Jessie smirked.
"We still haven't officially brought you into our party yet." the hero whispered. sniffling as she held the pillow under her.
"There you are!" Ray cried, relieved, though with a bitter undertones to his voice, "And you! What do you have to say for yourself? You can't just go ahead and bite whoever you feel like!"
Foce stood suddenly and stared at Ray, surprised by the sudden outburst, then Jessie shouted, "It's not like she wanted to; she couldn't fly anymore, it was the only way!"
"You could've called for help if you couldn't pull her up!" Ray held his forehead, exasperated after the day's events.
"But I couldn't, wait for that help, if I had to hold on any longer, she would've slipped through my fingers..." Jessie squeezed her eyes closed,"Look, today was just way too busy, we'll calm down tomorrow and things will get better."
Ray sighed and sat down on the end of the bed, contemplative as he stared at Foce, who was glancing between Ray, Jessie, and the others, "If you guys want me to leave...if it'd just be easier, then I can go away, hide where you'll never find me."
"Jessie wouldn't allow that." Ray replied intuitively as his sister sat up, "Besides...I don't feel like I could push you away, you saved my sister and then the rest of us, and then Jessie turned around and saved you, too...I'd be a fool to send you away."
"Make that two fools." Sarah chuckled, and crossed her arms, "'Sides, Lord Vampire Foce has kinda grown on me. Oh, hey, what was that magic thing you did that made us float? That power could be very helpful to an archer, not to mention a mage could stay out of danger with your help."
Juliet and Romeo nodded to each other, "Juliet and I agree, add two more to the list of the fools that would have been."563Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡav17szQlOF
"Looks like that's all of us." Jacob observed, "Good thing, too, we'll need to cooperate if we want to survive whatever Vindicatus throws at us...I'm not ready to pronounce dead him by a roof just yet."
"Not to mention, there will be questions, at least, there will be if he's dead..." she looked down at her hand and noticed it was red from where the poison irritated it, "actually...if we show them this, it's obvious that he used poison on me."563Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡaKATzYborR