The two arrived at Crusaders location within moments of each other. Sun Wolf winning by a nose. They found him sitting on the ground spread legged holding his sword in one hand and his ribs with the other, his head slumped down. When they got closer he lifted his head up and looked at them. His left eye was completely swollen shut, his lips split, his nose obviously broken and what wasn’t covered in the dried blood from a scalp wound was black and blue.
“You did it.” He spoke through a jaw clenched in pain. “Any longer I don’t think I would have held out. They were getting really bad towards the end. Sorry if I don’t get up. I am exhausted. I think if I move I am going to throw up.”
“No man, stay down. You look really bad. Like you got swallowed and barfed up by the Wyrm Lord bad. We need to get one of the druids over to feix you up a beit.”
The three members of the team looked towards the runic domes that were slowly dissolving revealing the huddled druids underneath them. Grande shuddered a little bit at the sight.
Crusader noticed the shudder. “What’s wrong man?”
“I was imagining them sky clad and was super grateful for the robes.”
Crusader looking at all the middle aged men and women standing up from their protective huddle and gave a sympathetic shudder from his place on the ground.
When the purple tinted protective dome came completely down Betony limped over to her friends, she looked exhausted and drained. “You made it! Thank you so much for coming. We could catch a vague idea of what was going on out there and when the Sasquatch suddenly broke off their attack I was hoping you had made it.”
It was only then did she see Crusader leaning on the rock at her feet.
“Mother! Bring someone over here to heal Crusader! He looks really bad.”
He looked up at the weary blond druidess and gave a bloody half grin. “I really want to do the bravado thing and say my wounds are no big deal. But that would be a total lie. I can hardly stay awake sitting here.”
Betony’s mother and another druid hustled over to see what they could do. While the attending druid worked magic over Crusader getting his wounds to bind and the bleeding to stop her mother spoke to the assembled heroes.
“Thank you for your help. But I feel it was all for nothing. Whoever caused the attack did their job well. I don’t think we have enough power to complete the ritual and bind the Nexus...”
The heroes were a bit too tired to give the news the shocked expressions Betony’s mother expected. What she received was more of a tired resigned expression.
Grande looked at her “Leisten lady we deid all we could. We beat up... Well drove away your beigfoot problem. What else do you expect us to do?”
“I didn’t expect you to do anything I was informing you of the situation.”
“Oh, sorry to be a jerk, I’m just worried about my pal here.”
While those two were talking Crusader gingerly climbed to his feet, reached into his jacket pocket and threw a bundle over to Sun Wolf, who grabbed it and bounded off onto the nearby bushes.
Betony looked especially frustrated. “What can we do then? I used up almost my whole store of magic holding that shield up for so long. And I know if I take the necklace off I am going to pass out from mana drain.”
Her mother made placating motions. “We will figure something out. Margat took a blow to the head and is being tended to right now. They should have her healed up shortly. She will probably know what to do.”
In the bushes Sun Wolf changed back into her hybrid-form pulling on the studded leather bikini that Crusader had kept for her. She sent a mental nudge in Roland’s direction.
“Roland are you there? Are you ok?”
It was longer than expected before he replied. “I am fine. When I interrupted that woman’s control I got caught up in it… I am ashamed to admit I was reinforcing her commands but directing their aggressions toward Grande and Crusader. I could not stop.” His reply was subdued and Sun Wolf could feel his remorse.
“We both were controlled Roland. I understand. We will make sure she goes to jail and doesn’t do that again. I’m heading back to the group and am going to see what we can figure out to do about this Nexus mess.”
Clouds began to form on her walk back and a light drizzle began to fall. By the time Sun wolf came back the small group had broken up. Grande and Crusader perched and leaned on a nearby boulder complaining how they hated the woods.
“Shouldn’t you two be securing the cause of all these problems?”
They both started to move that direction, Crusader limping and grimacing in pain.
“Oh, sorry I didn’t think that you were still hurt. I thought the druids have had healed you. Crusader please rest and let Grande take care of it.”
“What? Why do I have to do all the work?”
“I was keidding.” He called over to the huddle of druids at the other side of the rocky outcrop “Come on Betony lets grab the crazy woman who messed your theing up.”
After Betony and Grande left the druids motioned Sun Wolf over. They were standing around stiffly; all of them were pretty banged up, several displaying evidence of broken limbs bound up in slings and all had lots of bruising.
Margat began to fill her in. “We have been talking it over and comparing our essence levels and we just don’t have enough to complete the ritual. But a few of our more sensitive members have noticed a magical aura emanating from all of you. We think if we can tap that aura we can siphon what we need to actually complete the ritual. It won’t be much and it will replenish itself over a few days.”
Sun Wolf frowned. “That sounds mighty risky. What if something goes wrong?”
“It should be fine. We are just going to tap into it and use a little bit to help anchor the working.”
“You said should. I’ll think about it for a bit but I don’t speak for anyone but myself. You will have to ask them.”
Grande and Betony trekked back out into the woods to grab the cause of all the evening’s problems. They found her exactly where Grande left her, with a nice purple fist shaped bruise on her face.
“Thanks she deserved eit. After doing what she deid to you guys and Tasha, I steill feel that she deserves more than that.”
They paused in the middle of the rain looking down at her when Grande broke the silence.
“I’ve got eit!”
Betony jumped startled by his exclamation.
“The team name. Grande and Heis Amazing Friends!” he made a little air guitar motion with his hands.
“I swear to the goddess Carlos that that is probably the worst team name I have ever heard.” She said in a weary and utterly disgusted tone.
“Eit’s not that...”
“Yes, yes it is that bad.” She sighed.
“Come on chica. Help me get theis Beastitrix chick back to the clearing. Do you have anything ein that magic bag to tie her up with so she doesn’t get free?”
“I might, give me a sec.” She dug for a minute or so with the occasional muttered no, when she smiled a slightly evil lopsided smile. She pulled out a big silver roll of duck tape. “I have this.”
Half a roll later their prisoner was secure.
“I like the way you made sure to press hard on her eyebrows when you covered her eyes with the tape.” Betony admired.
“Thank you.” Grande said with a grin. “Well I really don’t know if her powers use her eyes or her voice.”
“Suuure. Let’s get her back to the ritual site.”
Grande heaved Beastitrix over his shoulder and they trekked back through the downpour.
Margat nodded to Sun Wolf as they concluded their talk. “I shall dearie, thank you for being honest.” She gestured to Betony’s mother. “Come on Rowan. Let’s try asking that swords fellow. ”
With Sun Wolf trailing behind the three women walked through the thickening rain to where Crusader was gingerly leaning on a rock watching everyone hustle about the clearing. He tried to stand up straighter when the women got closer with a sharp gasp and a noticeable pained grimace on the portion of his face not covered by the rain soaked bandana.
Margat made placating motions. “No need to stand up young man. You look pretty bad off still.”
“I kinda am, they needed to conserve power for your ritual. They healed me just enough to keep me conscious and stop the bleeding.”
Margat made a sympathetic face. “I’m sorry, but that is one of the reasons I came over to talk to you.”
“More magical healing?” he asked hopefully
Rowan chuckled. “Not really Margat wanted to borrow some of your magical energy for the ritual, but I thought about it and I might have something that may be able to help with the healing a little.”
She reached into the belt pouch that every druid seemed to have and pulled out a golden amulet similar to Betony’s. Except where Betony’s amulet had individual thick links connecting to the central runic oval the one Rowan had in her hand seemed to be made out of a broad golden braided cable. It was clear that the amulets followed a similar crafting pattern and might have even been made by the same person.
“This works similar to Betony’s disguise amulet. It physically transforms you and increases access to your magical essence. Because you change physically it makes wounds less severe. I haven’t used it in years and don’t really need it anymore. I thought that it might as well be passed on to someone who may be able to use it. Hold your hand out and I will attune it to you.”
Crusader held out his left hand, his right remained on the pommel of Arondight “Didn’t Betony say she was going to pass out if she took her amulet off?”
She placed the amulet in his hand covering it with both of hers. “That is because she used up almost all her essence stores holding up the shield. When she takes it off she is going to lose the access to that extra power that is keeping her up at the moment. Now please quiet a moment I need to concentrate.” Rowan closed her eyes and began chanting quietly under her breath. A red light escaped from the gaps in her fingers as the amulet warmed up in Crusaders hand bonding to him. Seconds later the light dimmed and she removed her hands from on top of Crusaders, holding the amulet. “All done, it is now tuned to you alone.”
“Umm, thank you?”
Sun Wolf and Margat looked on at this byplay. Sun Wolf looking a tad confused and Margat with a slight smile.
“You’re welcome. Here let me put it on you.” She reached behind Crusader and clicked it closed.
“So what happens now…? Whoa...”
The magic in the amulet took no time before it began to work on the battered swordsman. He could feel his body shifting, contracting and expanding. It was not unpleasant. It was more like a soothing warm full body massage than anything else, while also somehow feeling like he just finished the best stretch of his life, a bit of pressure then a whole lot of relief. The whole transformation was over in about ten seconds.
Crusader stood there blinking for a bit feeling significantly less pain then before, and a bit more relaxed. Although his clothes didn’t fit right. Which was to be expected considering he had just changed shape but they were tighter and looser in odd unexpected areas. A lock of copper red ringlets fell in front of his new face. Without thinking he reached up and began to tuck it behind his ear when he saw his hand. His dainty fine fingered hand with a perfect oval fingernail. He froze and looked over at the women standing there. The druidesses looking at him with faint calm smiles while Sun Wolf’s jaw was agape in shock.
“I’m a girl, aren’t I?” His new voice unmistakably feminine.
Rowan nodded her head. “What did you expect? It was my amulet, the one I used when I was a practicing superhero. Of course it contained my heroing form. Looking at you I forgot just how much I looked like Betony when I wore that.”
Crusader stood there quietly in the pouring rain a moment looking at the women standing before her. She started to speak. “I, I don’t think I want to use this. It feel wrong.”
Rowan stepped forward again “That is fine you can just remove it and return back to normal. This isn’t permanent.”
Crusader reached behind her neck franticly to try to unclasp the necklace and return to normal. ”It is not coming undone. I don’t want to stay like this. Why isn’t it coming undone?” She fumbled at the clasp sounding more than a little panicked.
“Calm down. It was designed to be only unclasped by the person who put it on. It keeps your secret identity safer when an opponent can’t unmask you.” She reached behind the wide eyed panicking superheroine and popped the connecting clasp. It fell forward and the transformation happened in reverse. One full body stretch massage and ten seconds later Crusader finished his transformation and was once again his normal self, and in a considerable amount of pain from his Bigfoot inflicted injuries.
He looked directly at Sun Wolf, “Don’t you ever mention this to anyone, especially to Grande.”
It was at that moment when Grande and Betony returned with their duck taped captive. “Mention what to me?”
“OK, man. Whatever you say. We have our captive. Now what?”
Sun Wolf interrupted before any questions could get asked.
“Rowan and Margat have a favor they want to ask us.” She gestured to the two women.
Margat smiled her little old lady in a cookie commercial smile. “Thank you Sun Wolf. As you all probably know by now we don’t have enough power to complete the ritual to contain the extra aetheric energy from the Nexus. While we were talking about what our options were a couple of the more sensitive members of our order noticed that you all have strong magical auras. We think that we might be able to tap into them to augment our power reserves using a sympathetic linking spell.”
Grande looked a tad dubious at Margat. “How long will eit take us for our power to return to normal?”
“There should be no problem with them regenerating back to their previous levels in a week or so. And honestly I don’t think you will even notice the energy being gone.” She looked hopefully at the three nondruids.
The three looked at each other.
“Sure, eit sounds like fun. Just try not to keill me.” He said with a grin.
Sun Wolf looked a bit more hesitant than Grande. “You said should both times you mentioned this to me.”
“Well my dear. This sort of thing is rarely done. And none of us here have actually attempted it before, we have just read about it. I am confident that we won’t have any problems. But with an untried spell there is always a chance of error, no matter how slight. This is important enough to take a chance on.”
“Da, you are right. This is too important not to do. I will do it.”
Everyone looked at the last member who had not spoken, Crusader.
He slicked back his rain drenched hair and made his decision. “Nope. I’m not gonna do it. I’m not magic, the sword is. And I don’t want to take the chance it gets damaged. It is several hundred years old. And I don’t want to be the one that somehow causes it to be broken or destroyed. So unfortunately my answer is no.”
The older druidesses looked a bit disappointed. But each nodded her understanding of his reasons reluctantly.
Margat turned back to the cluster of waiting druids. “They agreed. Let’s hurry and get our preparations ready to try this again.”
They scattered and began once gain making sigils and placing candles that flickered and hissed in the rain, but that somehow didn’t go out. This time the patterns had an additional set of circles set near the center.
Betony started to join the rest of the circle and help with the rest of the preparation. Her mother stopped her, the newly bonded amulet in hand. “No sweetie. You have done enough tonight. Why don’t you two go get out of this the rain under the trees over there while the rest of use work on the spell. And give this to Crusader.”
Betony was too weary to argue with her mother and walked over to the woods and slumped against the trunk of a conveniently dry cedar, gesturing Crusader to come join her. He drug their captive out of the rain into shelter where he could keep an eye on her and gingerly sat down next to Betony favoring his side.
“Didn’t want her to drown.”
She nodded. “My mom wanted me to give this to you.” She said dropping the amulet into his lap. “That looks an awful lot like my mom’s...”
“It is. It was. She bonded it to me. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fair enough. Although...”
“Please not now. I am too tired.”
The tired twosome watched the rest of the druids and their teammates prepare for the ritual in the pouring rain from the relative dryness of their cedar shelter.
“That looks miserable out there. I’m glad I’m not out in it.”