It was getting on evening and Riley had made her way to one of the parks in Osaka. As the eleven year old girl plopped down at the side of the small pond situated in the middle of a grove of trees she unshouldered her bag and pushed aside her books so she could get at one of the breakfast bars she had been living off for the past few days.
Despite the night looking to be one of the warmer ones she had been through while she had been in Japan, Riley was happy that she had summoned her Mantle earlier. The cloak was comforting, it reminded her of home, and made for nice bedding when she got tired.
Besides, it also played on her sense of the dramatic, and made her feel like a dashing adventurer instead of the dirty vagrant that she appeared to be in reality.
All those thoughts were chased away when she heard the familiar honk of a goose. A smile appeared on the little girl's face and she took a second bar out of her bag before turning towards the group of seven geese that had begun to waddle toward her.
Now that she had acknowledged them the whole group began to make noise and jostle each other as each one tried to get in front of the next. Riley giggled and hid the bar behind her back, "Now then you all! Be nice, I won't be handing anything out if this turns into a fight!"
All of a sudden, all seven of the animals stopped and stood stock still. Despite her age, Riley knew that the geese wouldn't have actually listened to what she had said. But, be because of her age, her curiosity took over and she started to walk towards the group.
Ruarc had just settled against the tree he used as a temporary home and pulled out some dried beef when his right eye flared up. He stopped moving for a moment as he registered what he had just felt. "That can't be good," the Irishman thought to himself. After shoving the dried meat back into his bag, he pulled the hood of his cloak over his head, hoisted his fifty pound pack, and sprinted off across the park. It were times like this that made Ruarc wish he didn't have to lug around his book and a bunch of rocks when he wanted to do something.
After a minute or two of sprinting full speed, he crested a hill and saw what caused the reaction in his eye. He looked down to the waters edge at the base of the gentle slope and saw a cloaked figure standing in front of a flock of geese. His right eye saw a red haze around each of the geese.
"I wonder who that figure is? Maybe they are responsible," Ruarc thought after a few moments of observation. Determined to get this whole escapade over with, Ruarc approached the figure. "Hey you! Stop whatever it is you are doing to those geese!" he yelled at the figure in Irish.
Riley stopped moving and whipped about, looking up towards another cloaked figure, most likely a man from his voice, yelling at her in a new foreign language. The girl sighed inwardly, she had come to this park because it was unpopulated and listening to the confusing run of a language she didn't know all day tended to give her a headache.
Riley took a few steps forward anyway and waved at the man to be polite, they were both wearing cloaks after all and that had to be some sort of kinship in some way.
As a reply she yelled in English, "Mister! You know anything about ducks, this group is acting a bit queer! Standing stock out of nowhere!" Her acting training came in at this point, and her small voice was clear and carried easily to Ruarc.
"Fuck, English. Well, here goes," Ruarc thought as he tried to understand the person speaking. "Oi Lass, wha' did ye do ta thees animals?"
"Do?" Riley asked the man a look of confusion on her face. She hadn't done anything to the geese, in fact she had planned on feeding them, but hadn't managed to get that far yet.
"I told you already, they just started all on their own -" Riley's explanation was cut off as she heard the geese begin to move behind her.
If Riley looked, she would notice the geese were different as well. They seemed to have grown bigger, and their eyes had turned a glowing red. The sharp edge of their beaks had grown in size as well, and looked quite dangerous. A few of them began salivating, and suddenly, the Geese launched themselves at Ruarc and Riley, flapping, honking, biting, and kicking at the duo with suddenly much more dangerous appendages.
Ruarc swore in Irish as the geese turned violent. "Ahl deal with yu aftar this," he said to the girl. In a fluid movement he dropped his heavy pack and pulled out the Ancestral Tome. He had no time to ready the book as the first goose was already on top of him. In a quick, adrenaline fueled motion, the Irishman swung the heavy metal bound book and struck the goose on the side of it head sending it tumbling away.
Without missing a beat Ruarc brought the book out in front of him in his right arm, and stuck his left arm out at the geese. "Gaoithe lÃ¡idre!" he shouted the ancient Irish chant. A torrent of fast moving air rushed out of his hand and straight into the oncoming flock pushing them away to give him more time to get his runes out.
As Riley quickly leapt backwards, her eyes widened at the possessed ducks attacking her and the newcomer. Dodging another one of the maddened creatures, the little girl was knocked over as Ruarc's spell sent a duck crashing into her back.
The beast had smacked into her cloak with a loud crack, and it was only due to the protection that the Mantle had offered that she scrambled away from the collision with a few quickly developing bruises.
Looking over to the man, Riley didn't bother to even yell at him for throwing a goose into her - it had most likely been an accident anyway - instead she started rushing towards him. "Incoming Mister, we've already had one accident today so be careful with that book until I get over there!"
The geese, though temporarily stopped by the gust of wind, seemed unperturbed, possibly even more determined to kill the two cloaked figures now that they had been angered. Again, they charged, though this time they flew up higher and began dive-bombing at the magicians, their even more sharply clawed than usual feet aimed at Ruarc and Riley's eyes.
In the time between attacks Ruarc had a handful of purification rune stones at the ready, and he wasn't sure how the other cloaked figure tied into this, but she wasn't attacking him so he could wait to find out. He didn't bother responding to the young girl as he looked up at the diving geese. Knowing this fight posed greater risk of personal injury he held onto his Tome to use as a shield against the claws.
When the geese came within range, Ruarc brought the heavy book above his head to take the brunt of the impact. Due to the combined weight of the book and the increased weight of the goose, the impact stopped the goose but drove the book onto Ruarc's head. Shaking off the daze and potential concussion he drew back the book and thrust his left hand against the goose's chest and activated a purification rune. The familiar bright light lite up the park before fading away and the goose dropped to the ground, a piece of paper appearing on its back. The Celtic rune for corruption was briefly visible before the paper tag dissolved.
A minor victory considering there were still six more geese coming towards him and the girl. The next goose was too close for Ruarc to be able to do anything about it.
Geese, even hell geese, aren't too smart, and Riley was a trained acrobat. Still, the first barrage of flying geese that came at her she just barely managed to dodge. But, the other - most likely older, which made it more of a disappointment - cloaked figure wasn't doing so well.
He was standing stock-still just like the geese had before they changed, and even if he was throwing out some, by the looks of it, rather powerful magical rocks. It was also rather stupid to put so much trust in a book for protection after all. Muttering under her breath the little girl spurted forwards and tackled the goose about to attack Ruarc. It squirmed under her, but she had taken it by surprise, and its attempts to stab her with its beak and claws were awkward and easily dodged.
Not sure whether or not to show off any of her magic yet, Riley pushed one of her right hand into a pouch at her side and when it came out it was covered with large amounts of red pepper, which after dodging another thrust by the animal's beak, she rubbed directly into the goose's eyes.
This only caused it to squirm harder, honking more loudly than ever. Its next move was to sink its fang-like beak into her leg and bite with all its might.
The other five Geese split up, three attacking Ruarc, from different directions, while the other two teamed up to help their Comrade against Riley.
In the few moments before the three geese converged on Ruarc's position, the Irishman pulled out a rune marked "light" and activated it above his head. It wouldn't keep the geese blinded for more than a second or two, so he worked quickly.
Ruarc turned to the closest goose and flung off his cloak right in the goose's path causing it to become covered in the folds as it barreled past Ruarc and towards a tree. The second goose was almost on top of his right side as the Irishman once again thrust his Tome at the goose, making contact with its left wing and causing it to tumble away. The third goose was coming straight for him as he pulled out another purification rune. However, due to his last few movements he was now off balance as the goose tackled his left shoulder.
Riley bit down on her lip as the goose's beak closed around her leg. She was pretty sure the only thing that was keeping her limb attached was that her cloak had managed to get between her leg and the beak. Still, the pressure was almost unbearable and she would feel blood running down her leg from a series of thin cuts where the beak was especially sharp.
Concentrating on her hand closest to the duck's face she shoved once again against the animal's eyes, this time forming a blank white mask. As mana begin to be pulled out of the beast the pressure on her leg diminished until she could finally push the possessed goose away from her.
Not even bothering to stand, Riley rolled through the grass and then, once she thought she was far enough away she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Tears were on the little girl's face as she summoned her knitted maw and pointed it at one of the two other monsters attempting to kill her.
As the unwitting beast lunged forward to try and savage her arm, a ten foot long cone of fire burst from the little dragon puppet's mouth and engulfed the corrupted animal.
The momentary burst of fire was enough to stop the goose, but it simply flopped to the ground and rolled around, extinguishing itself within a few moments. As it struggled back to its feet, one could see most of its feathers gone and a lot of charred skin, but the animal wasn't finished yet. The other, unconcerned, continued its charge at the young Canadian girl, sharp beak-fangs bared and ready for blood.
The first Goose that had charged Ruarc quickly extricated itself from the cloak, and flapped back into the air, jumping at the Irishman. The second, its wing broken by the heavy book, raced along the ground, aiming for calf muscle. The third goose had managed to kill itself, snapping its neck during the impact with Ruarc's shoulder, the bludgeoning effect also dislocating said shoulder. Once again, a tag was seen on the back of the goose, which dissolved as the fallen creature reverted to normal, still dead.
Ruarc let out an agonized shout as the goose dislocated his shoulder which also caused the purification rune to fall to the ground. Doing his best to use the momentum of the impact, Ruarc dropped his Tome and spun to pick up the rune stone. As the young Irishman continued in his spin he came face to face with the once ensnared first goose. Acting on reaction, he thrust out his right arm and grabbed the goose by the neck and activating the rune, but not before the goose managed to bite down on his forearm. Gritting his teeth against the pain coursing through his upper body, Ruarc tossed the unconscious goose aside.
As the second goose rushed forward to bite his leg, Ruarc quickly searched for another purification rune which was made all the more difficult considering they were in his left side pocket without the use of his left arm. The goose was within kicking distance and Ruarc shot out his right foot like when he would play futball as a kid. He caught the goose's underside and lifted the goose into the air with the kick as he found another rune.
Riley wasn't even paying attention to the goose she had caught in the fire. Her eyes were glued on the beast's partner as it got ever closer. The little girl tried to concentrate through her fear and managed to shoot out a second mask to try and stop it - even temporarily - as she had the first.
When the mask came in contact with that sharp, corrupted beak it shattered into hundreds of pieces that flaked lazily through the sky and then disappeared.
A small gasp came out of Riley's mouth in between gasping breaths as her tear stained face scrunched up into a look of utter concentration and she closed her eyes, ignoring the charging figure as best she could.
Her third mask flew through the air with a fluid quality, stretching and reforming itself into strange shapes while it traveled. When it struck the goose, the mask wrapped itself first around the animal's beak and then creeped up its face covering its eyes and the top of the head.
As Riley felt her spell draining mana from the animal as quickly as possible the little girl slowly opened her eyes. Not five feet from her was the goose that had been charging her, slowed, but still struggling towards her as it got ever weaker.
Riley would notice that the Goose she had masked earlier had finally been drained of magic, and one of those paper tags was just dissolving. On the second masked goose, she could see a similar paper tag appearing and disappearing, as if it were fighting to remain in control, but its magic was draining through the mask. The burnt duck was still staggering around, trying to get its bearings, but it was obvious that it did not have much energy, magical or otherwise, left.
The last goose attacking Ruarc honked in a melancholy manner as it was sent flying through the air, crashing to rest in the branches of a nearby tree. The Goose could be heard noisily making its way toward the end of the branch, and suddenly it emerged, dropping onto the Irishman's head with murderous intent.
Ruarc started to get really annoyed by these geese as the last one had dropped onto his head and begun clawing at his face and neck. With an angry shout and an Irish curse Ruarc punched his right fist into the goose's side and activated his last rune. After a few more clawing attempts the goose fell away and the Irishman let out a sigh of relief as his last opponent was stopped. His relief was short lived as he suddenly remembered the little girl.
After picking up his book again he made his way over to the girl. Much to his surprise he saw geese lying on the ground as well as one that was severly burnt. "Well, that is unexpected," Ruarc thought to himself as he stood to watch the girl finish up.
As the last goose collapsed, Riley, having completely forgotten about Ruarc, rushed over to the goose she had burned. Pulling off her cloak she tied the weakened animal up in the Mantle and then attempted to order her exhausted mind so she could try and help the animal.
She began to pour mana into the goose in a steady stream, stabilizing the corruption that was augmenting its body and serving as the only thing keeping him alive for the moment. As she felt her reserves begin to waiver and slip out of her grasp under the strain tears poured down the little girl's face and she tried her best to reach down deeper and somehow find more mana that just wasn't there.
Despite the girl's efforts, it was too late. As she poured mana into the creature, the corruption simply grew stronger again. It attempted to snap at her, but finally, the goose had no more in it, and fell limp, dead. Around them, the other geese were beginning to wake up, quietly honking, and walking around as if in a daze. Several of them injured, something needed to be done about them or they would die like the burnt and broken-necked geese had.
Ruarc, sensing the fight's conclusion and the girl's saddness, walked over to where she knelt with the dead goose. With his good arm he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder before kneeling down next to the dead goose as well. "Faigh sÃochÃ¡in leis an mbiotÃ¡ille de do shinsir. TÃ¡ do phian mortal os a chionn. An chuid eile," he said as he chanted a prayer.
With nothing more to say he reached into his right pocket and fumbled around a bit looking for a healing rune. Once he found what he was looking for he stood up and made rounds to each of the injured geese.
Riley rubbed the tears from her face and canceled her masks, the two geese who had been effected by her spells were released and the masks themselves dissipated much like the broken one had.
Riley unwrapped her cloak from the dead goose and then let it too disappear. The little girl then limped over to where the last duck she had fought was, the animal was exhausted but unhurt and the little girl pulled out one of her breakfast bars and broke off a corner for the animal.
Ruarc spent approximately thirty seconds tending to each goose, mostly just getting the bird to the point where it could heal naturally. With the injured birds tended to, Ruarc finished up by repeating his prayer from earlier for the goose that had broken its neck.
After a few moments of solemn silence, Ruarc stood up again and looked around to make sure there was no one else. "Oh god, I wish I could use this healing rune to fix a dislocated shoulder. This is gonna hurt," he said to himself in Irish. Anxiously he reached over and grabbed his left bicep, counted down from three, and popped his shoulder back into place. He let out a pained yelp and fought back the urge to vomit as tears formed in his eyes. "Balls that hurt," he said.
After stretching his arm to make sure the shoulder reset, he looked over to the girl. "She's probably hurt as well," he thought. He picked up and put on his cloak again after shaking out the goose feathers, and then he walked over to the girl.
"Ar' yu 'urt anywhar?" Ruarc asked, doing his best to make his English understandable. His own cuts and lesions were beginning to hurt as well, but he concluded to help the girl first and foremost.
Whirling around as the man approached her, Riley shook her head. "I'm fine Mister, just a few bruises, nothing that won't be gone in a few days at least." The girl didn't completely trust the man yet, but she didn't feel any hostility from him.
She motioned to all the geese, Riley had a good memory and she could recall Ruarc seeming sucpicious of the geese just before they attacked. She gave the druid one of those deadpan looks that only a child can. "Mister what happened here?"
"Ma naim is Ruarc, not Mistar," Ruarc said with a chuckle, but stopped when he was reminded of a few cracked ribs. He sat down carefully and placed his healing stone against his chest to begin healing himself.
A few moments passed by as Ruarc thought about how much to tell the girl, then he remembered that his job wasn't really confidential. "Well, ah 'ave bin trackin' a person fur quit' sum' tahm now. Tha use special markin's to mak' animals turn feral. Ah had though' you wer responsibl when ah sa ye wit' the geese befur. But I suppuse tha's no' the case," he drolled on in attempted english with heavy Irish accents.
Riley's eyes got as big as dinner plates. "What!? Me? Hurting animals?" The little girl sniffled a little bit again thinking about the goose she had tried to save. As if all the confirmation needed to know she wouldn't do that the girl shook her head violently.
After thinking for a moment she looked up at Ruarc. "Did you find anything to help with this, or was it all just useless?"
Ruarc thought about how to respond to the girl's question. "Nfortunatly, ah was unabl ta find out anithin' new. Ah am abl to cunfirm tha' this was dun by tha same person who caused tha othar attacks."
"That's... I guess that's good." Riley said in a small, exhausted voice. Her eyes looking as if she was on the verge of tears again. The girl rubbed her face again and then plopped down next to the goose she had been feeding earlier and had coincidently decided to stick around. Riley patted the bird on the head and offered it another section from the bar, which it gladly gobbled down.
Ruarc put his left arm through several stretches again to make sure the area had healed up. "Well lassie, i's gettin' lat', ye had better be gettin' home befur yer parents start ta worri about ya. Take care of yurself alright?" he said as he stood up and made his way over to his pack.
Riley stopped for a moment and licked her lips. "Want to eat a little snack together before you leave?" The little girl waved the breakfast bar that was in her hand and then towards the goose that was yet again munching on a piece. "He seems to enjoy them, you might too."
Ruarc looked over his shoulder as he finished putting away his stuff. "Hmm, Ah s'pose ah could go fur a piece. Ah 'ave been livin' off of dried beef fur tha past month," he said as he picked the pack up with his right arm and returned to where the girl was sitting and plopped himself back down.
Riley pulled out one of the bars from her pocket, it was a bit smashed from the fight, but still quite edible. The girl slid it across the grass to Ruarc, then pulled out her own and unwrapped it.
After a couple bites though she looked up at Ruarc. "You said something about beef? Also, if you want water my bag over there has a few cups and a bottle or two that's still fresh." Riley kept her voice casual, not wanting to let the man know that she had been living for about a week off of water and breakfast bars. Ruarc, after all, looked almost like an adult and they usually got upset when they figured things like that out.
Ruarc grabbed the bar as it got close, unwrapped it, and began to eat it quickly. He much enjoyed eating a flavor other than beef for once. The bar was gone rather quickly and Ruarc pocketed the wrapper.
"Nah, water Ah 'ave. An' 'ere is sum beef if ya want," Ruarc said as he pulled out a cloth bag from inside his pack. The cloth contained dozens of thick slices of salted and dried beef. Each round slice measuring about ten inches in diameter and a quarter inch thick. The Irishman grabbed one of the slices and tore it in half and began gnawing.
With Ruarc's permission now given Riley took one of the pieces of beef and happily tore into it. Her mouth full she had to chew thoroughly before she could swallow. The jerky was good, but salty and she stood up and got her bag. Bringing it back over she pulled out a cup and a bottle of water. Riley drank greedily and then pulled a few more of the breakfast bars, the words "Breakfast Bear" emblazoned on each wrapper along with a cartoonish bear wearing a hat.
Riley motioned towards the pile as she spoke. "Take a few if you like 'em Mister Ruarc."
Ruarc reached into the pile and pulled out a single pack that said "Bluebearry." He tucked the bar into his pack for later. "Laoise loves blueberries, so this should make her happy," he thought to himself as he took another bite of his dried beef slab. As he chewed he looked at the pile of meat with a sullen look on his face as he came to the conclusion that he would have no where near enough rations for his return trip to Ireland, much less making it through the next two weeks.
"Much appreciated," he said as he finished off another bite.
"So, where have you been staying Mister Ruarc?" The girl asked as she herself opened up one of the original honey flavored Breakfast Bear bars.
Ruarc had pulled out his canteen of water and tipped it back to drink. He coughed slightly after Riley had asked him about where he was staying. "Um, Ah 'ave been stayin' in a nice li'l place on tha oth'r side of tha park."
"It's got comfortable trees." Riley said off-handedly as she finished eating her breakfast bar. "We'll I guess we should be going our seperate ways then?" The girl was a bit unhappy to find that her planned sleeping spot was already taken for the night, but the man was nice enough that she wasn't going to say anything.
"Comfortable trees? Has she seen me sleeping in the park before?" Ruarc thought to himself as he got up to go his own way. "Take care, lass," he said as he turned and walked back over the hill. He gave a casual wave over his shoulder as he crested the hill.
Riley herself gathered her stuff, slung on her backpack and summoned her Mantle. The girl quietly slipped out of the park. As she made her way to what should have been tomorrow's sleep site, Riley wondered briefly why neither she nor Ruarc had said anything about the magic they had used.
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