Shining Pendant

Chapter 9

Omega

--

A young girl, no older than ten maybe, walked through the enchanted forest, wary of her surroundings. Suddenly a twig snapped, and she turned her head towards the source of the sound. Nothing… The girl kept walking, quietly and slowly. Her senses started picking up the feeling of being watched, and the girl made a break for it. Her pink hair wafted in the wind as she ran for cover behind a particularly large tree trunk. Her breathing was erratic as she hid behind it, but one could almost sense excitement in her breathing.

A stalking presence, its aura eerie and unsettling, walked through the forest. Its footsteps (or what you could hear of them) were soft and quiet. As the figure walked, it passed behind the tree that the young girl had just hid behind. It suddenly stopped and turned towards the tree trunk. It slowly approached the tree.

The girl currently hiding behind the tree could barely hide it. She was shaking, trying to keep herself from sounding out. However, the figure suddenly appeared in front of her. In front of her was a girl, maybe a year or two older. She wore an exquisite white dress decorated with flower petals, but her façade seemed to speak otherwise. Her face was stone cold.

Suddenly, the girl who had been trying to hold it in burst out laughing. The girl in the dress smiled, although it was a small one. "Found you," she said simply.

"Looks like you did!" The girl said with a bigger smile than her friend's. "What do you wanna play now?" she asked inquisitively.

"How about tag?" the placid girl suggested. Her enthusiastic counterpart vigorously nodded her approval.

"Tag! You're it!" the girl cried out suddenly, as she placed her palm on the girl's right arm. She withdrew her hand just as quickly, and spun around, already moving away from her friend. The girl in the white dress smiled once again before chasing after her pink-haired friend.

--

"Today is very beautiful, isn't it?" the girl with pink hair asked, as she looked up at the sunlight that shined through the boughs of the trees.

"Indeed, it is," her paler friend remarked. They were lying down, looking up at the sky and watching the clouds. Just like what kids do…

"Hey Éve," the girl with pink hair said as they continued to laze about. "My powers feel jumpy today. Like something is gonna happen. Do you know what it is?"

"… I sense several presences within the Forest of Life," Éve responded. "Of them, I can sense Kyle. But that is not out of the usual."

"Hmm," the younger girl mumbled, unsure of it all. "I feel something strange. Like there is… Someone like us, I think. Normal but full of power."

"… I do not," Éve responded. "You are thinking too much, Simone. It's getting late. How about you go home for today? I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay!" Simone called out, as she shot up in a sitting-up position. She stood up and smiled at her friend. "I'll see you at the tower tomorrow, won't I?"

Éve nodded and the inkling of a smile was slowly creeping onto her face. "Yes. I cannot wait to see you tomorrow." Simone giggled slightly, and out of the shadows, came a taller figure. It was a stone-faced girl, with light green hair cascading down her back. She looked to be about 20, and she seemed to be quite well-developed. Her short-cut skirt mixed with her earthy green top gave her an appearance as if she had risen from the earth herself. On both of her wrists, she wore a deep forest green wristband.

"I am ready to escort Simone home, Mistress," the girl said, completely without emotion.

"Hello Thorn!" Simone said, greeting the newcomer.

"You may leave," Éve said coolly, as Thorn nodded deeply in a half-bow. Thorn turned around and left, Simone running up to her and chattering eagerly.

Éve looked at the retreating pair with a strange glimmer in her eye. She didn't know what this feeling was, but it blossomed in her chest. Being bound to the forest, she never got to have any interaction with those outside, and the few people that ever ventured in were almost fearful of her. That is, until she met Simone. The pink-haired elf-child had a strange affinity for plants, something that not even Éve herself could explain or determine. Every time Simone came to play with her, Éve would feel happy that she could call Simone her friend. Because that was something she never understood. Friendship…

Pushing the feelings that captivated her attention to the side for now, Éve schooled her expression as she walked off to where she felt the presence of five intruding entities.

--

All five of them stared at the lone figure that stood atop the wall of ivy. Éve looked annoyed at their presence, although a certain part of her felt glad to see new faces. She quickly quashed that part.

"Éve," Kyle spoke breathlessly, looking at the lone girl.

"So it is you," Éve said. "I thought we had agreed that you would not bring trainees any farther than the 5 mile mark of the tower. If you continue to proceed, you might die."

"Éve…" Kyle said once again. "I can explain…"

"I wish to reclaim my bow," Sarah said, stepping forward. Éve raised an eyebrow at the blond-haired girl.

"There is power emanating off of you," Éve said while closing her eyes. "Who are you?"

"My name is Sarah," Sarah proclaimed boldly. She looked at Éve with determination in her eyes. "I am Omega, the incarnate of Goddess Milliiana. I need to retrieve the 'Serpent's Tail.'"

Éve simply stared at the girl that stood before her. This girl... She was quite young, although her eyes held knowing and understanding, as if she had already been touched by the hands of her past lives. "Very well then," Éve said eventually. "I will pass on the 'Serpent's Tail'… If you can pass my test that is."

"I am ready for anything," Sarah stated resolutely.

Éve turned to the other four. "Kyle. Your obligation is to assist Omega with retrieving her bow." As Kyle opened his mouth to argue, Éve silenced him by saying, "It is your duty as head of the Rangers. Do you not remember that Omega was the founder of the Rangers?" At that statement, all argument in Kyle died.

"So Kyle…" Maeve said, attempting to dispel the uneasy and confused air. "Care to explain?"

"You know the stories," Kyle said, looking away from the eyes of his subordinates. "The Rangers are much more than just a simple mercenary force. Why do you think our base is right next to the Forest of Life? Éve here guards 'Serpent's Tail,' the legendary bow of Omega that is currently stored in the tower in the back. As the leader of the Rangers, I work with Éve and follow her orders." He turned to his two subordinates and the trainee Ranger. "You three are to leave," Kyle said. "This mission is far too dangerous. Naomi, correct?" Naomi nodded. "We'll postpone your trial until I get back."

"Now hold on for a minute," Maeve said, a flash of anger crossing her face. "Who said we are just going to go back all calm and peaceful and leave our leader deep in the woods. You said it was dangerous, and if it really is, then wouldn't it be easier if you had more people with you?"

"This duty is mine, and mine alone!" Kyle shouted in a stern voice. "You are not to disobey me! Go back now!"

"Hang on there, steamy," Cole said, putting a hand on Kyle's shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. "What Maeve's trying to say is, you can't just make us go back and expect us to pretend you're gonna be alright. What if you die, hmm? I'm pretty sure it ain't gonna look pretty when our leader is found dead and they found out we high-tailed it and ran away."

"Cole," Kyle said, a hint of annoyance in his voice, but overall, it was a lot calmer. "I have to do this alone. As long as Éve says I must, then I must."

"Actually," Éve said, cutting in. "I don't mind at all. They can accompany you if they want, but they must not breathe a word of what they're about to see."

Kyle furrowed his eyebrows as he looked at everyone. Éve merely looked impassive, while Sarah tapped her foot lightly, wishing for this to go a little faster. Maeve stared back at Kyle coolly, and while Cole didn't look like he could care less, Naomi looked at him with pleading eyes.

Kyle finally sighed. "…Fine," he said, knowing he would regret the words someday. Maeve merely smiled, while Cole and Naomi cheered. "But!" Kyle broke in. "You are all to follow my orders. I am making this an official mission, and Naomi," Naomi nodded, showing she was listening, "this will be your Ranger trial."

Naomi smiled, her smile small but it also looked relieved. "I will not fail you, sir!"

"If we are all done and happy," Sarah said, an angry look marring her otherwise beautiful face, "can we get a move on?"

"… Very well than," Éve said, as she released her spell. The wall of ivy she was standing on slowly began to crumble and deteriorate, as she floated down to the floor. When her feet touched the ground, she turned around. "Follow me," she simply said, as she walked off, deeper into the forest.

Kyle, Maeve, Cole, and Naomi all followed obediently. Sarah looked up to gaze at the tower that loomed over the horizon before following.

--

Éve led the small group through a clear and well-worn pathway. Although it was well-worn, Éve knew that very few humans had ever had the pleasure of walking along this particular pathway. As Éve approached a split road, she paused in her step. Everyone else paused as well.

"Why did we stop?" Cole asked. "Are we there already?"

"No," Sarah said. "I feel something. But I can't explain it."

"It's merely the guardians of the forest," Éve said dismissively. Before any questions could be asked, a large rumbling could be heard. Everyone except Éve stepped back upon feeling a gust of wind pass right in front of them. They could see the faint outline of an invisible force run right in front of them, the only evidence of them being the leaves they trampled underfoot.

"What was that?!" Naomi asked, frightened.

"Nothing but a few deer," Éve said, starting to walk again. The others followed. "From now on, I suggest you all follow closely. The Forest of Life is famed for many things. Among them are its invisible animal guardians. That proves we're getting closer to the tower."

"Those would explain the records of unknown assailants," Maeve breathed out, remembering casualty records she had read in the past. She even briefly remembered a mauled up corpse, causing her to shiver slightly.

"It is not my job to keep track of who walks into my territory," Éve said pretentiously. "It is an agreement I forged with the first Ranger heads long ago. No one is to proceed any closer than the silvertree markings. From there on out, the forest crawls with all forms of invisible and visible animals, as well as the paths splitting up into various places."

"Like what?" Kyle asked curiously. He had never heard of any other paths in the Forest of Life other than the way to the tower.

Éve sighed. "There are too many to list. But I do know of one particular section of the forest where it is said that a person may see their perished loved ones."

"Really now?" Cole asked. "Is there any chance we may see this section?"

"I am not a tour guide," Éve said, as they stepped into a clearing. In front of them loomed a giant tower stretching towards the sky.

"It seems bigger up close," Cole mumbled.

"Let's go," Sarah said, walking past Éve and towards the tower.

"You really want that bow of yours, don't you?" Maeve remarked, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Sarah paused before turning back. Her eyes still held a distant look, but a fire was burning behind them.

"It is my destiny to seal Chaos. If I am to do that myself, I will. But I have to retrieve my bow if I am to do it."

"Truer words have never been spoken," Éve said, stepping towards her. Despite the height difference, Éve still held herself up boldly. "Chaos's power is growing too strong. I even feel his corrupt energy starting to affect the trees near my land. He needs to be put down."

"Well why don't you do something about it?" Cole asked. "I mean, you seem like you're 'all-that', but are you?"

Éve's eyes narrowed. "Do you question me, human?"

"The name's Cole," Cole replied with a smirk. Éve held her gaze on Cole before turning around.

"Such trivial information does not concern me," Éve said. "But if you are so curious, I am willing to indulge, if but for you. Chaos is indeed very powerful. I am afraid that if he continues to grow, he may corrupt this beautiful forest." She looked back at Cole and the rest of the party. "I am not so foregone that I do not know that cooperation is the best means to success. It is written in the prophecy, it shall happen one way or another. Which is why I am leading Omega to her bow instead of expelling her along with your four." Éve paused. "But know this. This tower will test you. It will not be easy, but you probably didn't expect it to be."

"I'll pass this test and become a Ranger!" Naomi proclaimed.

"I will do what I can to help my friends," Maeve said sagely.

"Anything's better than sitting around doing nothing," Cole said, shrugging noncommittally.

"I guess I am to play a hand in destiny as well…" Kyle mumbled.

"I will reclaim what is mine, and I will strike down anyone who gets in my way," Sarah said determinedly.

Éve looked at everyone. "Perhaps you humans are not so terrible," she said. She started walking towards the tower. "Here we go."

--

Another barrage of arrows flew towards the encroaching lizardmen, piercing their skin and causing them to stagger. They were shortly dispatched by either Kyle's blade or Cole's knife. This continuous cycle of arrows from Maeve, Naomi, and Sarah, and slashes from either Kyle or Cole was starting to decrease in effectiveness as the archers began running out of arrows, and the cuts Kyle and Cole received themselves became more numerous.

"Damnit, this is tough," Cole ground out as he collapsed on one knee. Milliianna seemed to be smiling on them, as they were given a momentary reprieve from the wave of never-ending demons. There were all kinds of demons as well, some that the party had never even seen before.

Kyle was breathing in and out harshly as he surveyed the room they were in. No more enemies seemed to be hiding for a surprise attack, so Kyle deemed it alright to rest. The demons they were cutting down came in waves, and when they were killed, they faded into nothingness, as if they were mere illusions. The damage they left was real, however.

"That's some nice bow work you have Naomi," Kyle panted out, using his sword to keep himself up.

Naomi paused from salvaging any arrows she could, and looked up at Kyle. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Thank you, sir! It means a lot coming from you!"

"I have not seen an archer of your caliber in a very long time," Kyle remarked. "Almost all of your shots are 100% accurate, which is much better than even me."

"I wouldn't say that," Naomi said, her face turning red at being praised. "Your tales of being a 'Weapon Master' has reached even my sleepy little village. It must've taken you years to master a core weapon, much less all four!"

"I hardly deserve praise!" Kyle said with a laugh. "I have done nothing to deserve a title such as 'Weapon Master,' much less 'Leader of the Rangers.' I was merely chosen by some ill fate."

"Is knowing me such ill fate?" Éve asked, walking towards them. During the fighting, she had only been watching, casting a spell every once in a while, but otherwise, doing nothing. "The leader of the Rangers is chosen for his or her natural talents in both martial arts and leadership skills. Kyle is a perfect example of one who has honed them over time."

"None of that, please," Kyle pleaded. "As I have said, I have done nothing."

"If only we could believe that," Maeve said, butting into the conversation as well with a smirk. "Even as a child, you were exceptional."

"I wish to have no more talk of this," Kyle said, whining, although the others would never tell him that.

"Are we done now?" Sarah asked, although the stress of multiple battles had been getting to her as well. Their time spent in the tower was indeterminable, as there was no way of viewing the outside. All they knew was that they were fighting their way up.

"We're almost there," Éve said. "One more floor and we'll be at our destination."

"Thank goodness," Maeve mumbled out. "I just want to go back to my tent and sleep for weeks on end."

"I'll join you…" Cole remarked tiredly, although Maeve was too drained to even hit Cole for the seemingly innocent comment. However, Maeve knew that a majority of Cole's comments possessed a form of suggestiveness, in that little way that only Cole could do.

"We can rest later," Kyle said, standing up. "Let's go!" Leading the small troop, he ran up the stairs. As he neared the top of the tower, he saw a wooden door stand in his way. Eyeing the innocent door, Kyle slowly reached for the handle and opened it up. As he opened it up, his eyes widened at the sight that stood before him. A giant behemoth stood hunched over, but it eyed Kyle with its unblinking red eyes. Its skin was dark green, and it bore horns and fangs. Its muscular frame covered its entire body, down to its gnarled feet that even seemed to pulsate with malefic energy. Covering its body were the shredded remains of clothing, as if this twisted creature was the image of something that was once human.

"No way," Naomi whispered, eyeing the big creature. As soon as she spoke, however, the creature let out an ear-piercing roar, rushing towards them. Its movements were wild, but they held so much power that even a stray blow could crush a skull.

"Everyone, move!" Kyle called out, filing into the room and moving out of the line of the creature's charging attack. The others followed behind him, and soon, they all had the monster surrounded. However, the monster blocked passage to the only exit.

"This doesn't look good," Cole mumbled. "Damn beast is at least three times Kyle's height!"

"We have to find a weakness!" Maeve said, drawing an arrow. "Everything has one." Maeve pointed her arrow at the beast and let it loose. The arrow flew straight and struck true, drawing blood from the beast's muscular arm. The beast, however, seemed to be unaffected by it and growled, starting to charge towards Maeve.

"Ahh!" Maeve yelled out, as she started running around the square room, anything to put some space between her and the beast.

"Hold on!" Cole said, as he tossed his dagger into the air. He did a flip, jumping up to catch it and while spinning in the air, disappeared from sight. Moments later, he reappeared right on the rampaging behemoth's shoulder, slashing his knife right across the monster's jugular. Blood spurted out in a cut that surely would have been fatal if the monster was normal. The monster, however, didn't even seem to register the blood spurting out of its throat as it grabbed Cole by the body and threw him hard into the wall. Cole hit the wall with a sickening thud, the sound of something cracking as he slid down the wall. "Oww…" he mumbled out, his eyes closed and him being on the verge of unconsciousness. He had hit his head pretty hard against the wall.

"Cole!" Maeve cried out to her partner, running over to check on him.

"Damn beast!" Kyle exclaimed, running forward and slashing up with all his might. The monster seemed to register the oncoming attack, and brought his arms together to defend his body. The slash cut through his right arm, severing it from his body, but again, the monster seemed unaffected. In fact, he seemed to get even angrier as he screeched out and started to rush towards Kyle.

"Kyle!" Naomi called out, having just shot another arrow. She and Sarah had been shooting arrows at the beast, but every shot ended up getting lodged in the beast's thick skin. Naomi readied another arrow, but this time, aimed for the beast's head. She released the arrow, letting it fly towards the head with expert aim. The arrow dug through the beast's head, its head piercing through the skull entirely and making its way over to the front.

The beast stopped, just as he was about to crush Kyle with his remaining left arm, as if he just realized he had taken all the damage he did. The arrow that had pierced his head was even sticking out between his eyes, the blood splattering out across Kyle's leather tunic.

"Forez!" Éve called out as she held out her hands. Ivy seemed to spring from her sleeves as they wrapped around the entire frame of the beast. The beast, snapping out from his trance, began to thrash and turn. "Omega!" Éve called out. "Finish him!"

Sarah nodded, and readied her last arrow. She focused on the behemoth's chest area, and found where the heart was supposed to be located. Feeling power coursing through her, as if the bow itself was coming to life, Sarah let loose the bow. The arrow flew straight towards the chest, piercing through the flesh much like Naomi's had. The beast immediately ceased all struggling, finally realizing that he had been beaten. It collapsed on its knees, and then began to fall face-forward. Kyle held his hands up when he thought he was going to be smashed by the weight, but the beast's body seemed to shatter like glass when it came in contact with Kyle's form. After a few moments, the remains of the beast seemed to glow with an eerie light before completely disappearing, leaving nothing but the damage it had caused in its wake.

"…" No one spoke. Maeve sat dazed Cole up, looking at the head wound, as Naomi collapsed to her knees, exhausted. Kyle collapsed onto his rear, realizing that it was finally all over. He even looked down at his tunic, seeing the blood splatter from the beast was no longer there. Sarah, however, felt elated. A strange power was thrumming through her veins, and she didn't want it to stop. She lowered her bow, but something strange about it caught her eye. She looked at it, realizing that it was no longer the standard-issue bow that all Ranger archers possessed. It was dark green in color, and it possessed an intricate design of a snake curved into a bow. There was an opening where its maw was wide open, and that seemed to be the place where the arrows were shot out of.

"So you've retrieved your bow," Éve said, walking towards her. "Congratulations Omega. You probably remember how to use it, but let me explain anyways." Éve pointed at the bow with her pale hand. "That bow is special, in that it can only be used by you. It needs no arrows, as its fires bolts of pure energy. What makes this bow even more special is that you have the ability to curve the arrow as it flies to your will, much like a snake weaves through the grass."

"Hmm…" Sarah mumbled out thoughtfully, looking at the bow. The fabled "Serpent's Tail…" "Thank you, I guess," Sarah said, looking at Éve. She then looked at the Rangers. "And thank you for the assistance. I shall be taking my leave now."

"Where will you go?" Naomi asked looking at her.

"Hmm..?" Sarah mumbled out.

"Where do you plan to go from here on out?" Naomi clarified.

"She's right you know," Maeve said, standing up after having deemed Cole fine. He wasn't going to die, but it was necessary for them to get back to the base as soon as possible for treatment. "You can't possibly plan on becoming a wandering mercenary. I'd say your best option would be to stay with us, at least for a while. At least you'll have some form of structure to your mercenary life."

Sarah considered the option. "I doubt your leader would be into that arrangement," she said.

Kyle sighed. "You are correct there," he said, his weariness making him seem older than he really was. "But I won't turn you away. Not only are you Omega, but there's something about fighting alongside someone. You start to feel a sort of trust, especially when they literally save your life." Kyle then flashed a smile, which was almost impossible considering his current state. "I, Kyle, the current Ranger head, deem both you, Sarah and Naomi, official Rangers. You are our brethren now."

"…" Sarah didn't respond at first. She looked away, pondering the thought, but then flashed a smile. This one was not faked, and it held all the lightheartedness of the Sarah before this whole mess of being Omega started. "I like the sound of that, actually. Being a Ranger… Alright then. I will stay."

"That's great!" Naomi said with a smile on her face as well. "Let's go back to camp and celebrate!"

"Of course," Maeve said, a smile shining on her face. Seems like smiling was contagious. "And with Cole passed out, we may just even be able to get through the ceremony in one sitting." Everyone (well, except Éve and obviously Cole) laughed.

"Let's go back home guys," Kyle said, standing up. "Éve. Would you like to join the festivities with us?" Éve, who had been just watching the small exchange, looked at Kyle with a hint of shock in her eyes.

"Truly?" she asked, looking at Kyle. At that instant, all signs of her being the physical manifestation of the forest itself faded. She was just an ordinary girl for that one instant. A small smile made its way onto her pale face. A smile that she only ever showed to one girl, the one girl that made her feel normal. Suddenly, however, she caught herself and snapped back to her impassive self. "Thank you for your offer, but I'll have to politely decline." Kyle seemed a bit disappointed at her response, but Éve quickly amended it by saying, "I'll take you back to your base though. Consider it a congratulatory gift for becoming Rangers." Kyle nodded, understanding Éve's need for privacy. As Éve closed her eyes to concentrate, Kyle, Sarah, Naomi, and Maeve all felt their bodies began to move quickly. It was as if time had frozen around them, and they had warped right back to the base. Before they had finished blinking, they were all standing inside Maeve and Cole's shared tent. Éve was nowhere to be seen.

"Well, I should tend to his wounds now," Maeve said, laying Cole on his cot at one end of the tent. She began rummaging through some medical supplies underneath her own cot.

"I'll go make preparation for the ceremony and the celebration festival," Kyle told everyone, leaving. Sarah looked around, not knowing what to do, but followed, her bow still in hand.

"I've finally become a Ranger," Naomi said, more to herself than anyone else. "Calvin… Collins… Are you watching me from where you are right now?"

"Kind of," Cole replied, shocking everyone, even Maeve.

"You're up," Maeve stated. "I thought you'd be out for at least until after the celebrations.

"Nice going Nami," Cole said, ignoring Maeve. "You've finally become a Ranger."

"Collins!?" Naomi asked, shocked.

"Yup," Cole said with a smile. "Though I do prefer Cole."

"I-I never thought…" Naomi stammered.

"C'mon, who else has green hair like me?" Cole asked. Seeing the dumbstruck look on Naomi's face, Cole started laughing. "Hey, I should be beating myself up over this. I can't believe I didn't recognize you for your legendary archery prowess earlier!"

"It's not like that…" Naomi said, blushing slightly. "Grandfather was the legendary one."

"I take it you two know each other then," Maeve interjected.

"Yup!" Cole said with a big smile. "She's my little bro's best friend. She's an awesome archer, and always dreamed of being a Ranger."

"Which reminds me, do you know where Cal is?" Naomi asked.

"Cal?" Cole asked. "I kinda thought you'd know…"

"No," Naomi confessed sadly. "I haven't heard word of him since he left the village."

"What?!" Cole exclaimed. "When?!"

"A little after you left, I think," Naomi said.

"Damnit…" Cole muttered. "I really hope he isn't dead…"

"You and me both," Naomi sadly said. Maeve was wise enough to not speak.

Cole sighed. "Well, no use moping 'bout it now. I heard there were celebrations coming, so let's get your ready to face everyone! We can catch up later!"

"You still have yet to recover," Maeve said, pushing Cole down as he sat up. "That was some pretty serious damage you sustained back there, and you're lucky you're not dead. Just a few fractured ribs, and a concussion to your head, so I'll get one of the medics to go and heal you up. But for now, you have to stay in bed."

"Aww, c'mon," Cole said, his lips quirking up in a pout. He stared at Maeve with his pout, but was soon interrupted by Naomi.

"I think you should rest too, Cole!" Naomi cried out. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you and Cal…"

"Aww, man!" Cole said. "Two mother hens now…" Cole sighed. "Fine. I'll stay. But you're keeping me company, Nam!"

Naomi smiled, as she sat down by the bed. "How about we catch up now then?"

Cole smiled. "I'd like that."