Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 196,598,846 Issue: 929 | 26th day of Awakening, Y23
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A Hero's Journey: Masquerade


by precious_katuch14

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Part 4: Battle Dance

     Mipsy placed one hand on the wand clipped to her sash and swallowed when she saw the Halloween Lupe angle his crossbow, keeping the arrow pointed at her. Talinia froze at the sight of the chocolate Skeith training his crossbow on her and reached up as though about to pull something from her gown sleeve. And behind the ladies was a file cabinet with a single open drawer – although the answer they sought and then found was not even in that drawer.

     “I guess that means you won’t be telling us what you’re doing in Miss Meredith’s private study,” said the Halloween Lupe coldly. “But it doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be here.”

     Talinia and Mipsy traded a look and nodded discreetly at each other.

     “If you come quietly, we won’t turn you into Holey Cheese,” added the Skeith. “Well?”

     “Your offer is tempting, but we’ll pass.”

     Emphasizing her statement, the blue Acara quickly drew her wand and fired a jet of blinding yellow light that popped like a firecracker. The blast caught the Lupe in the stomach and sent him flying into the wall. In the process, he dropped his weapon with a loud crash. The Skeith fired in retaliation, but Talinia quickly flung herself against Mipsy, pushing her away from the crossbow bolt. Instead, the bolt embedded itself into Meredith’s portrait, giving her a new brooch for her lace dress collar.

     “Danny!” the Skeith cried. Livid with rage, he shot again, but the green Eyrie swiftly pulled the wizard behind the desk. Then he swore loudly at the sight of the portrait. “Oh, no, that is gonna come out of my paycheck!”

     “Mipsy, keep them busy.” Talinia hitched up her skirts and pulled her foldable bow and some arrows out from the case strapped to her thigh.

     “Leave it to me!”

     The chocolate Skeith loaded another bolt, but before he could shoot, Mipsy popped up from behind the table and shouted, “Petrify!” with a flourish of her wand. Suddenly his movements seemed to slow, as though he were stuck in molasses.

     “What the…yeowch!”

     While he was distracted, Talinia jumped back to her feet and fired an arrow from her bow, hitting his hand and causing him to drop the crossbow. Before he could pick it back up, Mipsy cried, “Obliterate!” and decimated the weapon into splinters.

     “Joe, you all right?” Danny asked.

     Joe clutched his hand, wincing, but he drew a polished baton from his waist. He lunged forward, dodging another magic spell from Mipsy and Talinia’s next arrow. The two of them veered away, but Joe managed to recover and rush at them as well with his own baton, prompting Talinia to switch her bow to her left hand and draw a hunting knife from her sleeve. Scowling, Joe swung his baton at Talinia, who parried the strike with her knife. But instead of targeting her again, the chocolate Skeith feinted to his left and jabbed Mipsy’s side with his baton sharply, causing her to fall with a gasp of pain. Danny immediately grabbed her and pinned her wrists to her back.

     “Mipsy!” the Eyrie cried. But the chocolate Skeith was keeping her busy with their duel. She found herself backed up against the cabinet and just managed to block his baton with the bow still in her hand. However, he managed to knock the bow out of her grasp.

     “Let me go!” the Acara protested as Danny began to usher her out of the study.

     “Not till we find out whether you really are on Miss Meredith’s guest list,” the Halloween Lupe answered, baring his fangs at her as she struggled. “I’ll take this one down to her, Joe.”

     Joe only grunted in reply as he dodged a swipe from Talinia’s knife. He retaliated by finding an opening and striking her shoulder, but she kept herself from dropping her blade and bit back a cry of pain. Unfortunately, as she did so, the Skeith jabbed her in her stomach, and then struck her side. Though she instinctively doubled over, she swung her knife at Joe’s knees and caused him to leap back. Wood and steel clashed several times until Talinia struck at his knees again, and he staggered and fell.

     The Eyrie wasted no time and knocked him out with the hilt of her dagger before hurrying after Mipsy and Danny.

     * * *

     The festivities of the masquerade suddenly ground to a halt. The guards closed in with batons clutched in their hands as Meredith looked on impassively from her table, hands clasped together. She was guarded by an electric Jetsam and a bored-looking ghost Moehog, both armed with staves.

     “So, about the deed they mentioned,” the royal Zafara reporter began. “Is this the one for the village square? Since you were hoping to buy that parcel of land…”

     Meredith huffed. “Terrivin and the rest of the council already had my entire mansion searched and found nothing.” She waved a hand dismissively.

     “If you say so,” said the blue Kyrii who was polishing his monocle.

     “What is that supposed to mean, Maurice?” the pink Ixi demanded.

     “W-Well, I don’t have anything to prove it either way!” Maurice exclaimed, throwing up his hands and glancing at the royal Zafara, who was now watching the battle unfolding on the dance floor and scribbling in her notepad. Beside her was a green Poogle with an open sketchpad.

     “What do we – whoa, watch it!” Velm complained as Rohane immediately drew the sword that had been concealed in the back of the Techo’s dress all this time. Then he positioned himself so that he and the swordsman were back-to-back. “I wonder if I should’ve invested in a collapsible staff…”

     “We’ll talk about that later!” Rohane interrupted as he stopped a baton swing with his blade. The yellow Chia who had unmasked him went for his left, but he tripped the Chia up and veered away, his friend following suit to ensure that they remained back-to-back. A silver Meerca whipped around and used her tail to attempt to trip them up, which would have been successful had Velm not turned in time to catch Rohane.

     “I need my staff, though!” Velm cried as he parried a baton from a Halloween Chomby with his forearm. His sleeve slipped slightly to reveal that he was wearing metal bracers. The baton swung toward his head, but he blocked it again and kicked out at the Chomby’s stomach. A red Kyrii with an eyepatch successfully struck him across the face with a baton, causing the healer to wince. “Like, right now!”

     “Then – we – need – to – move!” the white Blumaroo answered through gritted teeth, each word punctuated by a sword slash. One quick swipe deprived a shadow Gelert of his baton, and with some effort, Rohane feinted with his weapon, causing the Gelert to attempt to dodge and fall against the yellow Chia behind him. “Ugh, it’s so hard to move in these clothes…” The Meerca tried to catch him off guard again, her baton whistling in the air as she raised it again, and it cuffed him on one ear.

     While Velm allowed Rohane to grab his wrist and break through the gap they had created in the circle of guards, the shadow Tonu traded a look with the three purple Myncies who shared the band podium with him, and they started playing a frenetic tune that seemed to keep in time with the chase – and the battle – that ensued.

     “You really should’ve worn a dress,” said Velm as he overturned a chair to slow down their pursuers. The tactic worked, and the Chia tumbled over the chair.

     However, it didn’t stop the rest of the guards, who wove through the tables to try and surround them. The Halloween Chomby and the red Kyrii drew ever closer to block the adventurers’ path, and Rohane let go of his friend to properly duck a baton jab that might have knocked him out. Then he retaliated with a downward crescent slash meant to disarm, but the Kyrii he tried to disarm was too quick – and more used to moving in a fancy suit. As he evaded their clutches, Rohane found himself backing up against a table, and a lucky baton strike from the Kyrii found his left arm while he was busy fending off the silver Meerca. The Chomby drew a dagger from her belt and ripped Rohane’s sleeve.

     “I don’t need a dress!”

     With his free hand and some unintended flourish, Rohane divested himself of his suit jacket and flung it over the Chomby, who was nearer. While the Chomby staggered, flailed, stumbled against the Meerca and lost her dagger, the Kyrii rushed forward, only to receive an uppercut from the white Blumaroo.

     “Janet!” the shadow Gelert cried as the red Kyrii backed away. Janet winced and touched her jaw, but was still upright, a livid light in her eyes.

     Velm took advantage of this development to cut and run for the kitchen, pushing her aside. “Hold them off!” he called over his shoulder.

     The shadow Gelert sprinted after the Techo, but Rohane undid his stiff collar and, gripping it in both hands, used it to cover the Gelert’s face and send him screeching to a crashing halt.

     “I’ll try!” he shouted, gripping his sword again and facing the oncoming guards.

     * * *

     Danny didn’t get too far with Mipsy. Two doors down, an arrow whizzed past the Halloween Lupe’s ear, and he looked up to find Talinia with another arrow already nocked to her bow. Her sleeves were rolled up, her skirt was in terrible shape, and she had already discarded her mask.

     “The next one won’t miss!” the green Eyrie warned.

     “Where’s Joe?” Danny demanded.

     “Enjoying a nice nap in Meredith’s study. You’re next.”

     He just laughed, dragging Mipsy through the corridors and keeping her wrists pinned. However, she still had her wand clasped in her hands, and she discreetly aimed a blast of heat onto the floor where Danny was standing. In surprise and in pain, he let go of her, and she fell forward. That prompted Talinia to fire her second arrow, but Danny managed to hurl himself aside and avoid getting hit.

     “Intruders on the second floor!” the Lupe bellowed, getting back onto his feet and clutching the railing. “We need reinforcements!” He snarled. “Don’t let the guests on this floor, you morons!”

     Mipsy scrambled over to Talinia’s side, and the two of them watched a brown Aisha and a blue Grarrl climb the stairs in hot pursuit, shooing partygoers back down to the first floor.

     “I’m sure the boys will be fine,” said Mipsy nervously.

     * * *

     The boys were not fine.

     “My staff…my staff…hah!” Velm triumphantly pulled his staff out from a crate in the pantry and held it aloft before hurrying outside. But his way back to the banquet hall was blocked by an orange Kougra toting a shortsword.

     “Where do you think you’re going?”

     Velm hid his staff behind his back despite knowing full well that it could still be seen from behind his head. “Oh, you know,” he said airily, “I’m going to help a friend.” He swung his staff out in anticipation of the Kougra moving with the shortsword, but a ghost Krawk seemed to appear out of nowhere and whacked the Kougra with a frying pan, causing him to sprawl onto the floor. The blade skittered harmlessly at the Techo’s feet.

     “Frying pans, who knew?” was all the Krawk could say.

     “Uh…thanks,” said Velm, blinking as he took in her apron and uniform. “Don’t you work for Meredith?”

     “I should, but you guys are messing up her party, and I want in,” the Krawk answered slyly as she bent down and picked up the shortsword. “Go help your friend.”

     Velm needed no second urging and burst out from the kitchen, shouting, “I got my sta – “

     His words became a loud grunt of pain as something – or rather, someone – was thrown into him and sent both of them crashing against a nearby table. Plates and glasses shattered around them, and a sword and his staff met the floor with a loud clatter.

     “About time,” Rohane grumbled as he extricated himself from the healer. The white Blumaroo’s face was cut and bruised; about a dozen tears were evident in his shirt, vest and trousers; and one of his sleeves was tattered.

     “Get off me!” Velm complained. “Sheesh, you work out too much.”

     “I’m already getting off you! I could really use a healing spell right now!”

     “Right, right!”

     The shadow Gelert guard began flicking knives toward their direction. Rohane positioned the fallen table in front of himself and Velm to shield them from the blades. Velm flicked his staff, which glowed with a soft white light that settled over them, and their bruises, cuts and aches vanished.

     “Ready?” asked the red Techo, who suddenly toppled over, rubbing his head. The Halloween Chomby stood over him, with a broken chair leg used as a club. As she drew back to strike again, Rohane immediately placed himself between his friend to block the wooden leg with his sword. At that moment, the Tonu musician on the podium plucked his bass to produce a deep, booming note before leading his Mynci comrades into a fast-paced tune for Rohane’s duel with the Chomby.

     Velm faced the red Kyrii with the eyepatch, jabbing his staff toward her blind side. Janet dodged and locked her baton against his staff, and the two of them grappled with each other, overturning a stray chair. From the corner of his eye, Velm could see the shadow Gelert with the knives preparing to throw another blade at Rohane, who had managed to send the Chomby’s makeshift club flying. The electric Jetsam guarding Meredith calmly deflected it with his staff, and the club landed near the feet of one of the Mynci still playing his violin on the podium.

     “Rohane, on your left!” Velm shouted. “Left!”

     “What?”

     Luckily the Blumaroo was fast enough. He sidestepped and the dagger missed him; instead, it forced the Halloween Chomby to dodge as it embedded itself into one of the posts.

     “Watch it, Lonnie!” the Chomby complained as the silver Meerca dashed out of the kitchen, holding a cleaver aloft. She came for Rohane, fast and low, and the two of them proceeded to fence, strike and hack at each other on the dance floor.

     “How are two gate crashers giving my guards a run for their money?” Meredith whined, glaring at the royal Zafara still scribbling away on her notepad. “They should’ve been tossed out minutes ago! Along with their friends; apparently, there are two more on the second floor.”

     “I’ve covered these adventurers on their travels,” the Zafara replied. She gasped as Velm broke away from Janet, while Rohane jumped onto a table and kicked out at the Meerca trying to pursue him. “They’ve been through a lot, so this is likely nothing for them.”

     Maurice piped up, “You know, Meredith, if you just want them out, maybe you could talk this over…”

     The Ixi shook her head vigorously. “No! I’m going to teach them – and Terrivin – a thing or two about ruining my parties! Besides, the band seems to enjoy this.” She jerked a thumb at the quartet still cranking out appropriate music for the fracas in the banquet hall. The Mynci violinist stood up from his seat and started to dance in time with their ditty – although he found himself ducking to avoid a flying saucer from the enraged silver Meerca, which shattered against one of Meredith’s stained-glass windows. She didn’t get to throw another one as Rohane knocked her out with the blunt side of his sword.

     The Halloween Chomby and the yellow Chia charged forward together; the Chomby was forced to dive behind a table as Velm cast a spell with his staff, while the Chia had acquired a candelabra, which he swung toward Rohane’s shoulder. The ghost Moehog, Meredith’s other personal guard, lunged forward and wrestled Rohane to the floor, the two of them grappling and struggling as they rolled toward the banquet table.

     The entire hall was a mess, with the guests scattered in various locations depending on whether they didn’t want to be collateral damage or didn’t want to miss any of the action.

     Velm noticed a flutter of movement from behind a mess of torn, hanging streamers. He could have sworn that he saw a frying pan, and then suddenly, something flew straight toward the shadow Gelert trying to gang up on him alongside the Chomby. One second later, Lonnie was wiping Aggressive Casserole from his face.

     “Playtime’s over!” Lonnie growled, picking up a Pumpkin Pie from the banquet table. He hurled it toward the general direction from which the casserole had come from, but the pie hit a Christmas Zafara right in her rainbow mask. She gasped in surprise as the pan, crust, and filling fell from her face, and looked around at the guards, their quarry, and Meredith and her suddenly silent posse. Even the band paused in the middle of their set, and Rohane took this opportunity to throw the ghost Moehog off himself.

     Then the Zafara grabbed a fistful of her Bleeding Heart Jelly Sundae and threw it at the shadow Gelert.

     “Food fight!”

     To be continued…

 
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