“So be it!” Said the guardian and began approaching me with his glaive at the ready. I didn’t have much experience with using magical items, but tapping into the powers of the Cloud Cutlass seemed almost intuitive and I could feel some sort of control over the thunderstorm above and the gale around me. I tried to command the wind to surge against the Guardian, but it didn’t seem to bother him much and it didn’t even slow him down in his approach. But there was a slight difference in his demeanour, before his moves were full of flamboyance and downright swaggery, now he was much more methodical and careful. The melee before was just a game for him, but now that he was standing against a magically infused foe, he was not ignorant of the fact that a single mistake might spell the loss of this confrontation for him. That’s also why he wasn’t charging at me like he did at Maestro, but he was just hastily walking, ready to deflect or intercept anything that might hinder or unbalance him. Now, seeing the focused look on his face, I started doubting that the powers of the Cutlass will be enough to beat him. Looking for any potential help during the fight I glanced at my companions to see whether they could join me in the fight. Squeakly’s body was still smoking from the scorching ray a few feet away from me, and he seemingly fainted from the pain, so his help was probably out of the question. Maestro I couldn’t see because of the wind, but he hit he received was a substantial one for a being of his size. So I was for once alone in this fight. During this part of the journey I was always the one being saved by my friends, and now I was alone. The Guardian was now about thirty feet away from me, “Well, here goes nothing” I said to myself and I charged at the Guardian. I used the winds at my command to try and gain an unnatural surge of speed that I hoped would throw him off guard. He stopped and assumed a stance to try and deflect my incoming blow, as if expecting a head on charge right against him, but those weren’t my intentions. When I was within reach, instead of attacking I quickly changed my direction a little bit and akin to a horseback charge, I tried to cut him whilst running past him without stopping for even a second. As he realized what I was doing I could see shock in his eyes and he quickly tried to change his posture to protect himself from flank cut. He wasn’t fast enough, I could feel my cutlass cutting through the chitinous carapace on his hamstring and through the soft flesh underneath. It wasn’t a battle-winning blow, but it filled me with joy nonetheless, as it was the first one the Guardian suffered since the start of our confrontation, and it showed that he wasn’t infallible. However no matter how perfectly done my manoeuvre was, I still didn’t come out of it unscathed. As I cut the Guardian and kept running away from him, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my calf that made me fall to the ground. It probably went through my muscle, but it wasn’t fortunately hurting as much. I tried to quickly get up, but as soon as I put my weight on the afflicted leg, an enormous surge of pain went through it. “Great, so no running shenanigans again.” I thought to myself. I looked at the Guardian and he was facing me with visible pain in his face. He was leaning on his glaive for support, judging from that I suspected that we were in a similar situation. “Well done my lady, a cunning strike indeed, maybe I have been mistaken in your group. But one lucky strike doesn’t gain you the passage through the portal. What do you intend to do now? No offence my lady, but fighting me head-on is surely not the best situation for you to be in.” I threw a mischievous smile at him. “Oh, but I am exactly in the situation I want to be in right now.” And put all my concentration on strengthening the gale again. The winds started rising and while they barely hindered the Guardian before, they proved to be a real challenge to him now, in his leaning weakened state. As he was being swept further and further off balance, he started laughing and shouted over the winds. “I haven’t had a worthy foe in years, ah how good it feels to see the scales of battle turning toward my loss. You are a clever one lady, may the winds be forever in your favour, but judging by this…” and he outstretched his hands as to emphasize the thunderstorm we were in “… I think they already are.” I shouted back at him, trying to show respect with a side dish of pure happiness. “Thank you dear Guardian, I apologize but I believe a final blow is in order.” And I Raised my Cutlass towards the thunderstorm raging above me. And after feeling a great surge of power going through the blade, a mighty lightning struck the Guardian standing those few feet before me. He immediately lost his balance and was swept inside the furious rage of the gale swirling all around me. I savoured my joy of victory, of achievement, and stood in the storm’s eye until it passed and calm tranquillity encompassed the surrounding land. Then, a sudden hum started sounding throughout the whole vale and I could see that the two gigantic monoliths, joined at the top to create an enormous archway, started lightning up with various runes and symbols, and before I knew it, the space underneath turned into a swirling chromatic vortex of pure magic… a Portal. “Well, it seems like you’ve finally found your way home child.” Said a deep soothing smooth voice behind me. I first thought it was Squeakly, but this wasn’t Squeakly’s voice, and he would never call me child. I looked around and saw a familiar figure standing behind me. A figure with their garments covered in various fungi and moss. With a black jagged shovel at their side. With glowing white eyes, and a plague doctor’s mask covering their face. “G..G..Gardener” I asked nervously. “Indeed my child.” “What are you doing here, I saw you turning to dust after you threw your hand into the cauldron, I thought…” “Hush child, some things cannot be explained and some shouldn’t be, I just wanted to let you that I am proud of you.” “But I haven’t done anything, I was just…I…” You have kept the courage you showed when we first met, you have kept your optimism, and you have showed strength even in the most dire of situations. You never gave up whilst searching for your goal and you prevailed. But most importantly of all, you went through all this due to not wanting to sacrifice a single life. And that is a virtue not shared by many, but one, I believe you have passed on to your friends.” And he gestured towards Squeakly and Maestro, who were now peacefully sleeping right behind us. I looked at the Gardener with a confusing look. “But why tell me all this? Why are you here?” He looked at me and even through the mask I could feel the soothing gaze of his eyes. “I want you to know, that I shall be watching over you. And when we next meet, you will have lived a full and joyful life, and our reunion will be a peaceful one amongst two old friends.” And with these words he vanished. At that time I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but it filled me with peace regardless. As soon as he vanished, my two friends awakened and got on their feet. Without saying a word I hugged them both, and then we started slowly walking towards the portal, its colourful vortex mesmerizing us with wonder on our way. We stopped right at the precipice of this amazing anomaly, and I grabbed Squeakly’s hand and one of Maestro’s eyestalks. With nervous glee said to my friends: “Well, this is it. Squeakly, Maestro, before we go into this world unknown to you, I just wanted to say, that I am grateful for all that happened, because without it I wouldn’t have met you.” I needed to say that, but it felt like those weren’t the proper last words before going on another amazing journey. So I kept on talking: “Look at me, here I am spewing sentimental nonsense. Where is my sense for drama and closure. Well anyway, off to another, even greater adventure. With two of my favourite creatures ever. A rhyming eye named Maestro, and a walking rat called Squeakly.” I was just about to go into the portal when Squeakly started grinning. How dare he make fun of such a awe inspiring speech. “What are you smirking at.” “After all the time we spent together you still call me Squeakly, do you know that my real name is…” But before he managed to finish, I jestfully pushed him into the maw of the Portal. “He always tries to ruin all the fun doesn’t he?” I remarked at Maestro. “Not only is he short, but also a spoilsport.” Said Maestro wisely and floated into the portal. “Well said Maestro, well said.” I said with a feinted serious voice. Then I looked into the portal and a sense of newfound wonder and curiosity filled my soul. “Well, here goes nothing.” I said, as I stepped into the abyss.