Akeya stood in front of the infamous Lycan Woods, staring into the area in between the trees. It was in the middle of the day, with the sun shining brightly, but still it seemed that it was night underneath the canopy of the leafs, and for some reason the half dragon got the impression that it would never be day in there. Of course that kind of made sense: lycanthropes were at their strongest at night, especially if the full moon was out. Whatever kind of place they would call their home, it would be a place where they would never have to deal with the sunlight. Whether the darkness was caused by the werewolves or whether it had already been there when the werewolves found it, Akeya couldn't tell. The result, however, was the same: no sunlight would ever dispel the nightmare that was the Lycan Woods. A place inhabited by monstrous wolf-like creatures, which claimed the entire area as their hunting grounds. Definitely not a place where one could afford to let their guard down.
The half dragon herself was amply prepared: she had now also wrapped extra bandages around her upper arms and shoulders to completely hide herself in the dark shades, even more so than her nature as a Shadow Dragon Slayer already made her hard to spot whenever it was dark. In that way the nature of the Lycan Woods also worked in her favour, although she wasn't going to be optimistic enough to belief that her advantage was greater than that of the werewolves. It was their home, and from what Akeya had been able to find the woods and the lycanthropes suited each other very well. Still, it was one bonus Akeya had over other mages in this kind of situation. She just hoped it would be enough.
Besides of having covered herself completely she also had a sturdy backpack on her back, with multiple wraps keeping it tied to her body. She wanted it to move about as little as possible, because besides rations the three eggs were inside that backpack. Plenty of cloth and textile was dedicated to making every single egg a separate compartment in which they were safe and sound. The only way that they would break is if the backpack would receive enough damage that all the contents were doomed anyway. Akeya wasn't going to fail this task by being careless in any means. Securing the eggs like that wasn't going to be enough, but at least it meant that it could only fail if Akeya was in trouble anyway. Werewolves were going to be a tough opponent.
After checking that she was as prepared as she would ever be (in fact, she checked twice. For some reason she was actually feeling nervous, an experience which otherwise would be quite foreign to her. Why did she feel so anxious about this particular task? She wasn't that focused on being accepted in a higher rank. Or was she?) Akeya took a deep breath and stepped into the forest, quickly adopting a more stealthy way of moving as more and more trees showed up, blocking out all the light more and more. It didn't take long before Akeya had no way of telling that it was afternoon: it could as well have been the middle of night. For some strange reason it wasn't completely dark though. A fog was forming, and spreading out, glowing faintly, but enough to make the place feel even more cold and desolated. This truly was a cursed place, or at least a very creepy one. The winged ninja felt no desire to try and claim that it wasn't creepy. The Lycan Woods were not a place she would visit if she could help it. She just hoped that she could find the tears of the moon quickly and finish this.
At first the road was fairly uninteresting and boring, with Akeya staying cautious the entire time as she sneaked her way forward, trying her best to not even cause a rustling as her cloth-wrapped feet stepped on the leafs that had fallen from the trees above onto the dark ground. She wasn't too sure whether she was actually making progress, as there weren't any real landmarks to look out for and every tree looked like the next, tall and grey. No tracks to follow, no idea what she exactly was even looking for, Akeya wasn't sure how long she would continue going like this before she would just give up and tell Zack that no matter how important this test might be, the lack of information made her unwilling to try and walk through a creepy forest for days on end. How large was the forest supposed to be anyway? If it was large enough to serve as the home of werewolves it would take up quite some space, but how many days could it take to traverse the entire area? Or would she just get lost and walk in circles, until she eventually had to use her wings to escape?
There was still no sign of where she was supposed to go, so the half dragon crept onwards, trying her best to find some kind of sign while avoiding the inhabitants of this place. She didn't know if she could take down a werewolf, and she didn't really want to find out. Such curiosity had never been hers. Her curiosity was that of knowledge and magic, not of raw might or even fighting ability. Being strong was important, but not her main drive. It was a fortunate and desirable side effect on the road to understanding. However her knowledge fell short here: she knew little about this place, she didn't know what she was looking for besides the name, she didn't know how to find it. She could only hope that there actually was a way of finding what she sought besides being lucky. So far she had been trying to go towards the middle of the forest, reasoning that it was likely that if the tears of the moon had some magic effects they would be hidden away deep inside the woods. That was usually the case. Sources of power rarely were found at the edge of their domain.
Yet that wasn't enough to reassure Akeya. She wanted to be sure, and so her advance was rather slow, as she tried to inspect everything that she came across. Unfortunately all she saw was trees, ground, leafs, and that fog which coiled around her legs and for some reason appeared to be luminescent. It reminded her of the other time that she entered a creepy forest, and that made her even worse nervous. She really hoped she didn't have to experience something similar here. At least werewolves weren't known for playing too much with their food. If they saw her they would hunt her, like true predators. They wouldn't waste their time playing tricks. In which case Akeya could fight them properly, although the eggs on her back would be a serious problem for her mobility, and restrain what types of magic she could use.
The question that was most prominent here, whether she would first find the path or the werewolves would find her, was answered in the less fortunate way. The half dragon froze and cursed silently when suddenly a lone howl went upwards into the sky. She sharpened her ears, but even after the first howl had already disappeared she didn't hear any others. A lone hunter? She could try to deal with that. Although if there had been no response because the other werewolves in the area hadn't deigned to answer, or because the forest was that large that they were out of range even with their sharp ears, was not something that Akeya could make a proper guess to. If she really had to make a guess she'd go with that the werewolves weren't always friendly amongst themselves, and as such this werewolf had no nearby allies to answer him and join his hunt. Although others could now be lying in wait to steal the beast's prey. Nothing Akeya could do about that. Instead she immediately switched to the tactic she had thought up when trying to figure out the best way to deal with a werewolf.
As a half dragon Akeya was physically strong, but she wasn't going to try and challenge a werewolf in raw strength unless she had solid proof that she would win. She did not, so she would have to be clever instead. Lycanthropes weren't stupid either, so she would have to be smarter than them as well. However she couldn't use too elaborate a tactic, because each step would make the chances of failure higher. So instead she just used an advantage that the werewolves most certainly didn't have: spreading her wings Akeya flew upwards, once high enough using the sharp nails on her fingers and toes (which she had purposefully not covered in cloth for just such an occasion) to climb upwards into one of the nearby trees. Like a lizard she climbed upwards, once she deemed herself high enough that the werewolf could never possibly get to her in one leap (and then doubling that distance just to be sure) coming to a halt and looking down, her nails digging into the grey bark as her tail and wings wrapped around the trunk for extra stability.
She didn't have to wait long before an oversized dark grey shape appeared down below, with claws that could cover her entire head and fur that bristled like barbs. The werewolf was looking around, yellow eyes glowing in the darkness that even that white fog wasn't able to completely suppress as it smelled the air, trying to figure out where its prey went. Said prey was up in the air, making not a single sound and in her mind repeating all the procedures that she went through to ensure that she would not have to worry about the eggs. They were each in a single compartment, and wrapped tightly so they could not be jostled about. There was not a single hard object for them to smash into, everything was soft, and the walls of each compartment were thick enough that the eggs couldn't break each other either. The only way for them to crack would be if the entire back was smashed into something like a tree with excessive force or the werewolf went to town on the eggs. And Zack had warned her that for some reason the wolves liked eggs. If she was really lucky the beast would give up and go away. However she didn't believe in that kind of luck.
And sure enough, the werewolf didn't. Akeya's plan of flying upwards had it confused for a while, sniffing about and trying to figure out why the scent suddenly disappeared. However it wasn't a stupid creature, and eventually it figured out what the last possibility was. Staring upwards its golden glowing eyes scanned the trees, trying to find the source of that strange smell it had caught. It wasn't something it had experienced before, even in this large forest containing so many different types of creatures. It smelled both like a human and...something else. Not quite one or the other, but also smelling like both. It was quite the puzzle, but food was food. The lycan wasn't going to let it escape. So when it finally found the creature huddled up against one of the trees high up in the air it grinned and howled in triumph.
The half dragon meanwhile frowned at the howl. It wasn't a pleasant sound. She shook her head as she tried to focus. If she wanted to get out of this without making the rest of the trip considerably more difficult she would have to be very precise in what would happen next. At least she had managed to get some practice rounds done before she came here…
The werewolf didn't bother to climb. Instead it leaped upwards, slamming into another tree with all four claws before using that support to launch itself again. Like that it travelled upwards quite rapidly, Akeya tensing as it got closer at a frightening pace. As expected she was right when she overdid how high up she climbed. If she hadn't doubled the height she wouldn't have been able to react in time, and even now she wasn't too sure she could time it right…
As the werewolf finished its last jump and aimed straight for Akeya, with open maul and a loud growl as it readied its claws to rend her apart, a trail of drool from one corner of that fanged maul and a look of bloodthirst in its eyes, a promise of certain death, Akeya released the trunk she had been clinging to and jumped herself, going over the wolf's head and then diving back downwards. The lycan appeared only surprised for a moment before it growled and caught itself, launching itself after Akeya, that same promise of certain death not having wavered a single second.
Akeya closed her eyes for a moment as she focused on her wings. They were folded right now, and she would have to unfold and move them very quickly for this. If she messed this up not only the eggs would likely break, but she herself might as well. However the thought of messing up, and the eggs, breaking, was enough for her usual cold and steely focus to return to her eyes, shadows gathering around her hands. She was nearing the ground at quite some speed, and the werewolf wasn't too far behind her. Neither would get her. Neither would get the eggs. She came here to prove herself, to see what was going on with these eggs, and even a werewolf wasn't going to get in her way. As a half dragon being defeated here would only show her to be too weak.
Silently, and without warning, Akeya suddenly unfurled her wings, gritting her teeth as she pulled out of the dive and instead shot back upwards, right past the surprised werewolf. Unfortunately the werewolf wasn't stupid enough to not have prepared for landing, so it didn't just crash. However it was busy with that for long enough that Akeya could execute the next part of her plan, where the shadows in her hands turned into a dark katana that she was quite familiar with by now. She wasn't planning to just fly upwards. Her flight once again turned downwards, and at the same time that the werewolf glared upwards to try and track down the movement of its prey the black blade sunk right into its throat, entering it from above and the tip coming out on the other side, accompanied by a small burst of blood and a permanent leak.
The werewolf cried out in surprise at this, but before it could move the rest of Akeya also slammed into it, her feet coming down onto its back with all the rest of her weight behind it, making its entire body crash into the forest floor. At that point Akeya pulled out the katana and instead revealed the dagger she had created in her other hand, and began to quickly slice the werewolf open in all the ways that she could imagine. Its neck was opened, the entire spin was revealed, the muscles leading to its limbs were severed, its brain was pierced, its ears and nose were removed, its tail was chopped off, its innards were punctured… It was a gruesome and messy business, with the ground getting painted with the lycan's blood and the beast still twitching. Werewolves didn't die easily. Akeya didn't have any silver with her, mostly because she was pretty sure the creatures could smell that and that would just have made it more wary, too wary to fall for this trick. She also didn't have any flames. Well, actually she did. She used those to finish the job, when the creature could no longer do anything in the next minute or so gathering a large amount of energy inside herself.
Amidst the white fog black flames poured forth from Akeya's mouth and finished the job, the werewolf twitching another time before it stopped moving permanently, the black flames continuing to feast for quite a while before those also died out. It was a small fortune that while dying the creature hadn't made too much noise, the wound in its neck probably making that too difficult. The half dragon dismissed both weapons as she realized that she was panting heavily (even though the gem that was hidden underneath her clothes on her collarbone removed the need for breathing), her nose filled with the stench of the beast's blood. Once again something that normally wouldn't happen. Why was she being so easily influenced right now? It was like the normal focus that she always possessed was being pushed aside by a feeling of urgency, or great importance. It was a bother, and worrying.
Well, at least the first werewolf was dead, and Akeya had actually not received any wounds from it at all. Quite impressive, although that didn't mean that this victory wasn't without cost. Her arms were now for a fair part covered in the beast's blood, making her a lot easier to track, the time spent in one place made it more likely that other predators had come closer in the meantime, and she would have to spend some more time calming down. Could she still continue sneaking in this situation? Honestly she doubted it. This werewolf apparently had been hunting alone, but it was impossible that none of the other lycans had not noticed something. And to assume that they always would come alone was a kind of suicidal optimism.
No, Akeya might have been able to take this one werewolf down without issue, but it had managed to blow her chances of getting in and out without any trouble. Stealth was no longer going to work. Like all predators lycanthropes could track the scent of blood too accurately, and she couldn't get rid of all the stench without wasting too much time. So she had to start moving fast instead, even though she still had no clue where she was supposed to go…
Akeya stared into the distance. One specific distance. If she was correct that was still the direction where the middle of the Lycan Woods could be found. Maybe she should just start running in that direction? It was her only bet, and she didn't have enough time to make a random guess… She looked down at the dead and destroyed creature below her. She couldn't find any clues either. She was only wasting time now. She had to keep moving, and she had to start moving really fast. On the ground she would be caught too easily. This was no longer the time to be careful. She would have to bet her success on this. If this failed she could try again. All the eggs in her backpack were still fine: she could feel them still filling up the space by sensing the shadows inside the bag. If all else failed she would fly away, wash herself, and go back in. No reason to wait any longer now. GO.
With that Akeya unfurled her wings once again and jumped up, without another second of hesitation flying forwards, deeper and deeper into the forest as the darkness clothed her and made her little more than a shadow, a shadow which weaved between the branches. The density of the trees was a hindrance, but not enough to truly halt the half dragon, as she spun and weaved and ducked and swerved as she kept going in that one direction, where if her guts were right she would find that which she was looking for. However she wasn't going to get there without some more trouble running into her along the way.
It didn't last that long before another howl could be heard, and this time more howls followed. A pack had found her this time. She could not fight an entire pack, because none of her tricks would allow her to take them all down without too much risk of failure, or without abandoning the eggs. If the werewolves didn't care about the eggs she could have tried that, but Zack had stated that they actually for some reason took an interest in eggs. This wasn't something she could solve using violence, or even extensive trickery. She would have to try and reach her goal before they caught her.
It didn't take too long after the howling had started before shapes began to show up in Akeya's vision. Dark, fast, blurry shapes were showing up aplenty on the ground, all heading in the same direction as her. They were around her, beneath her, and they were working together. They weren't going to let her fly away: the moment she tried to land somewhere she would be caught, and that would be the end of it. Maybe if she kept flying she could keep out of their grasp… Unlikely, as the lycans themselves were also willing to prove. The first monster had shown itself capable of jumping amidst the tree using amazing leg strength, and after they had trailed her for at least a minute without her showing any signs of stopping apparently they decided that they would have to do the same. Some of the dark shapes began to climb up, then jumped from tree trunk to tree trunk as they tried to corner her and catch her.
The first one to jump at her was dodged rather easily by sharply diving before rising up again, but then it became more difficult. They coordinated, all together trying to jump at there in such a way that to dodge one would mean getting caught by the other. It was only her increased reflexes and her ability to analyse their movements accurately (even in this situation she at least retained those abilities useful in battle) that allowed her to escape with only a few scrapes, but slowly and slow they also got better at it, forcing Akeya to completely abandon her current direction as she now focused solely on evasion. The shapes that were still on the ground tirelessly trailed the fight going on amidst the trees, the shapes that were jumping as if born to be in the air showing way too much skill but a perfectly acceptable amount of deadly intent for such killing machines.
Akeya didn't know whether she should continue like this or call it a day. There was nothing that said she couldn't come back later as long as she still had the eggs. Zack's note had said absolutely nothing about a time limit or that she had to find the tears of the moon in one go. She had made some progress, got used to the Lycan Woods, and if she rested and put some more effort into it she could use this experience to increase her chances of succeeding next time. And the current situation was becoming more and more dangerous with no guarantee that sticking around would actually be of any use besides giving the werewolves more chances of catching her. She really didn't want to know what would happen if those lycans actually caught her.
With those thoughts in mind the half dragon nearly missed something which showed up in the corner of her eye, something which stood out in this forest of white mist, grey trees and dark shapes. Now just diving all the way down (although still not low enough to fall prey to the werewolves on the ground) Akeya dove towards that strange object, which was actually quite a sore thumb now that she noticed it once. It was a large blue monolith, with jagged edges but completely smooth on what she could only call the front. It looked like something that had been polished: she couldn't think of a way to have something be that smooth and flat using only natural processes inside a forest. More so, it was glowing, and when Akeya looked up she saw that this was about the only place where the trees did not manage to hide the sky, even if the only light that came down was of the same blue colour as the monolith. However there was no more time to figure out the why and how: the werewolves were catching up, and they were doing so fast.
Taking the opportunity the half dragon immediately started flying straight upwards, right towards that sole hole in the roof made out of branches and leafs. The werewolves were still chasing her by jumping between the trees, forcing her to ignore the branches scraping at her instead of going around them. The beasts also knew that she was trying to escape, and they would try their best to stop her. Akeya frowned and gritted her teeth as she flew faster and faster, the wind caused by her own speed blowing straight into her face as if her mask and blindfold didn't exist. At this point she could only go faster and hope it was enough…
If it wasn't for her blindfold Akeya would probably have been blinded, but as it was she blinked as suddenly she flew right out of the forest and into the open skies, where the sun was still blazing freely. It was already significantly lower than before, though, showing just how long Akeya had been down there. From here the half dragon could see the sea of trees that stretched out in every direction. From here the hole in the canopy was rather obvious, although she knew that if she hadn't found it from below before she would have missed it regardless. But still, at least now she had an entrance for her next attempt.
A sudden realization shot through Akeya as she remembered about the eggs, nearly trying to twist her upper body to the opposite direction of her lower body before she remembered that she didn't have to do that. Instead she focused on the shadows inside the bag, sensing that the eggs still occupied the same space as before. After she had found a spot that wasn't in the middle of the air she could look them over to see if they had cracked during all the activity down below. For now she had to get back to ground somewhere that wasn't inside the woods that she had escaped from so narrowly. Doing her best to remember this exact location Akeya flew out towards the direction from which she was pretty sure she came from, beginning to feel rather tired.
After a fair bit of flying (the half dragon's wings were beginning to seriously complain by now) she finally reached the edge of the forest, where she flew a bit further just to be sure before she landed and sat down with a sigh. Unstrapping the backpack she placed it in her lap, opening it and carefully looking at each of the eggs. It looked like they were fine, making Akeya feel more relieved that she believed possible. All three eggs were as whole and sturdy as ever, but she knew that it had been way too close a shave. It almost made her extremely angry at Zack, that he would risk these eggs just to make the test a bit more challenging for her. If she failed and the eggs were destroyed that would be a lot more of a cost than just her failing the test, and she didn't want that.
At this point Akeya had to admit to herself that it was pretty obvious what was happening inside her mind: of course becoming a half dragon wouldn't just be a purely physical change. Her soul had already been a lot like a dragon, but that didn't mean that the synchronization rate couldn't still increase. She was now a female half dragon with three eggs to care for, and everything seemed to point towards her instincts having decided to treat the eggs as if they were her own. In which case she most definitely couldn't let anything happen to them. The half dragon grumbled to herself as she stroked her three passengers, waiting for a bit longer so her limbs wouldn't be as sore before she put them back and resumed moving. She wasn't done yet for the day. She wasn't going to try to enter the forest again until tomorrow: she needed at least that much time to recover. But she needed to find a stream which she could use to remove the blood that the werewolf had left on her. Even dried blood wasn't safe enough to take with her into the forest.
Finding that stream didn't take too long: Akeya remembered passing by one as she travelled to the Lycan Woods, so she just had to follow the same road back. When she got there she tried her best to remove the blood from the bandages around her arms, but to no avail. It had already seeped in too deeply, and too much. It looked like she had managed to avoid the same fate with the rest of her clothing, but the only way to not leave a trail of blood scent would be to remove the bandages around her arms and hands. Reluctantly the half dragon removed them, then looked at the dark blue scales revealed underneath them. At least those would also merge in with the shadows nicely…Still, she would have preferred it if she didn't have to remove the bandages, but she didn't have a choice now.
Having cleaned herself at least enough that she would no longer have to wonder about alerting the werewolves of her presence unless they were already close enough to find her anyway Akeya then ate some of the rations that she had taken with her, at the same time putting the three eggs in her lap and stroking them. It was an oddly comforting thing to do, and it's not like it would actually harm them in any way. For now she would focus on recovering enough that she could try again tomorrow: she would fly over the forest back to that spot with the huge blue stone, and continue from there. In fact, she was quite curious about what that monolith could be about. It certainly looked like it was there with an actual purpose…
Once she was done eating and felt like she had waited long enough Akeya put the eggs back in the backpack and curled up so she could fall asleep, not even noticing that her body, wings and tail were all wrapped around the backpack containing the eggs. Closing her eyes the half dragon slowly became almost invisible as sleep took her and the day was replaced by the night.