Still humming quietly to herself, Mai looked at the six dark, cloudy figures standing in front of her. They moaned something unintelligibly, before one of them shot a fireball at Mai, who quickly rolled out of the way.
"Hey! Stop being such meanies!" Mai huffed.
Despite her protest, the figures refused to stop being meanies, in fact doing the opposite when they all fired off bolts of their magic at Mai: two lightning bolts, two balls of solid ice, and two fireballs. The lightning users immediately were of intrigue to Mai, who had decided that they would be the last targets. Of course, this split decision was made as she leaped into the air, activating Galeforce Boots to enhance her speed and dodging ability. She prided herself in her elusiveness, and this would be no exception to the rule. One of each of the fire and ice mages leaped to each side of her, attempting a similar attack in a triangle formation, though Mai was able to once again leap out of the way, this time activating her Thunderstrike Talons as she headed towards those to her left. She came upon them quicker than they must have expected, with the ice wizard unleashing a small stream of cold air from his hands. While this certainly had the intention to hurt Mai, and it certainly did, the larger impact that it had was that of fueling her rage. "No! I don't like the cold!" she roared, delivering a fist straight into the head of the ice wizard figure. It quickly faded away before quickly reassembling and turning to blast a ball of ice into the back of Mai's head. She tumbled down to the ground, getting prepared to her feet after a quick roll. They were not human, she now knew. Perhaps it should have been obvious from their distinctly cloud-like demeanor, but it seemed unnatural for a non-human to possess such a form. What were they, then? she would think. She shook aside that thought, figuring it would be best to attack at range. Four of them had to catch up, with two taking much longer than the others due to her targeting the opposite group, and she knew that. She quickly collected her thoughts, blasting out a Torrential Stream at the ice wizard. As she expected, he froze it, leaving himself open from an airborne attack from Mai in the sky, who unleashed a Windburst Punch before landing quickly on the rooftop and sending herself towards the ice wizard with a Tempest God's Spire, turning herself into a sort of missile, crashing into the ice wizard, who vanished, not to return.
Of course, in her doing this, she now had been tossed back into the fray with five opponents, and it took a solid effort in order to even defeat one of them. The two lightning wizards fired off their lightningbolts towards Mai, who slipped out of the way, not willing to reveal her ability to consume their lightning quite yet. She figured that, despite them not being human, they were at least intelligent enough to learn quickly from combat and, while it would remove them from combat entirely, it also would remove a quick avenue for a resurgence of power. Instead, she set her sights on the fire wizard that had accompanied the ice one that she had just beaten. While she managed to outsmart the ice one by exploiting the thought to freeze water, fire would not go down as easily. To test her hypothesis, she fired out a Torrential Flurry towards all her enemies, mainly to serve as a distraction. One dart managed to pierce through her focused target, which quickly reformed the hole that had been carved through its torso. She glanced at the other ice user, who, just as she figured, simply dodged as opposed to being distracted by freezing the water. Just as she thought, while they were inhuman and incapable of speaking, they were almost certainly beings formed for the purposes of combat.
It seemed like something Papa would do. While she was focused on her combat, she could not shake the feeling and the perception that this entire event had Papa's fingerprints on it. The color that these beings took, the lack of speaking, the purpose towards war, even the cloud that hung over Cedar. It all seemed too akin to something Papa had done before, she thought. As she delivered a tempest-laden fist into the head of the fire wizard, banishing it for good, a memory flowed into her head. She let the memory consume her as her animalistic senses took charge of her combat.
It had happened some five years prior, this being one of the first memories Mai even had. It was a stormy day, as all were around Papa, and he turned to Mai, with a grin on his happy face. "Want to see a cool trick, girl?" he had asked. Mai nodded, always excited to see anything that Papa would show. He laughed, his jovial nature shining even in the darkest storms, and he began mumbling something quietly. A dark cloud flowed over the town, with little black-and-purple spores raining down in substitute for rain. "What happened to the rain?" Mai remembered asking. Papa merely smiled and laughed again. "Wait and see, girl." Like a good child, Mai did so, and she watched as the townsfolk began warring with each other. The slightest provocation in the town square led to fisticuffs, and those fisticuffs led to a full-on brawl in the town, which lead to magic being involved, and countless people tumbling to the ground. "Humans are fickle creatures," Papa explained. "With just a little coaxing, they will easily turn on each other at the littlest thing."
While much of the remaining actions remained a blur, one moment had just risen up due to the current events happening. Papa had taken note of one particular wizard, though Mai could not remember what magic she used. Following the battle that occurred in the village, Papa had called for that wizard to come forward and, when she did, Papa mumbled something under his breath, and a figure made of black-and-purple clouds emerged from the wizard's body, much like what was happening here. The figure used the same type of magic as what the human did, sending the human crumbling to the ground. "Storms are a powerful thing, girl," Papa said. "They exist to destroy. But that is not to say that they cannot create. They are beautiful by nature, yet they wreak havoc." For a time, the figure remained with Mai and Papa before vanishing one day mysteriously, and Mai could not recognize the reason Papa gave.
Mai returned her mind to the battle, flipping out of the way of a fireball. It seemed as if she had beaten the other ice wizard and only had the two lightning users and the second fire user remaining. If these were, indeed, the same sort of creature that Papa had made five years prior, then this would certainly lead to information on him. She reactivated the Galeforce Boots, which had run out in her time reminiscing, and she rushed at the fire user. To her surprise, one of the lightning wizards intercepted her along the way, delivering a hearty kick to Mai's stomach, sending her crashing into a nearby building. The fire user fired off another, much larger fireball at the building, and it exploded in a beautiful cloud. Of course, Mai had brought up a Cyclonic Shield, which had absorbed much of the damage and increased the amount of smoke that would be billowing from the explosion. She used this cloud of smoke to hide her use of an ElectroCannon Sniper, which pierced right through the heart of the fire user, who vanished with no intent to return to form. It seemed as if she had fought off the fire user at least one hit while she was mindlessly fighting. Now all that remained were the two lightning users, one of which fired off something similar to an ElectroCannon Sniper while the other had his fists wrapped in electric energy. Mai dodged out of the way of the long-range attack, rolling right into the melee user. He wrapped his feet in electric energy, slamming quickly against Mai's jaw, sending her flying comedically into the air. The long range user launched out a ball of electric energy, which the melee user added to, and it crashed against Mai, creating a bright explosion. Of course, she had saved herself for this moment, consuming the electricity that they used before firing off a Tempest God's Bellow, engulfing the two and sending them out of existence as soon as they had come.
The town was empty, yet the cloud remained. A pillar of dark clouds suddenly struck down into the middle of the town square, refusing to leave. Not knowing what else to do, she skipped along towards the town square. Unsurprisingly, in the middle of the pillar of clouds stood another enemy, likely the final enemy. What was a surprise, however, was what that enemy was. Notably, it was a cloudy figure that bore the same shape as Mai herself.
"Who are you? Where's Papa!" Mai shouted.
The figure simply giggled. It seemed more intelligent than the previous figures, though that was not a high bar to clear. What was more notable about the laugh, however, was the strange echoing that remained in the back of Mai's head to go along with the general creepiness of the sound. While most would be more preoccupied by the doppelganger and the creepy laughter, Mai was more concerned about if that was what her laugh truly sounded like. "I don't sound creepy when I laugh! I'm cute! I don't make people uncomfortable by being weird like that!" The figure was confused at Mai's rambling, though it shrugged before activating its own Galeforce Boots and rushing at the real Mai. Mai had to activate her own Galeforce Boots as she dodged out of the way, quickly reacting with her own Thunderstrike Talons to clash fist-to-fist with her copy. They stood at stalemate for a moment, each glaring into the other's eyes. Then, without a word of indication, they began matching each other blow-for-blow. Every punch was met by a matching punch. Each kick was countered with a kick of its own. Even the headbutt that was attempted was met in head-to-head contact, though it truly hurt neither party due to the figure's composition. The two, after fifteen seconds of this clash, disengaged. Mai was breathing heavily, while the figure had nothing that seemed to slow it down. The two clearly thought the same, likely a product of Papa's combat-first mentality that he had instilled into Mai and had been installed into the very being of these tempest creations.
Once again, without a word of communication, they each unleashed a Tempest God's Bellow at each other, the two clouds crashing against each other in a struggle between the similar, if not same, power level. Neither side made progress on the other until they simultaneously disengaged once more to return to melee combat. As had happened in their last engagement, each blow matched each other without either able to gain ground on the other. After another twenty-five seconds, they simultaneously disengaged. Mai was surprised how similar they were, both in capability and mindset. They were so similar that it convinced Mai that this, indeed, was Papa's doing. Of course, Mai knew that she could not simply lose to a false version of herself, and she did not know how similar the copy would think. Mai figured that she would have to use some strategy, though fighting herself would mean that she would have to know her own weaknesses, which Mai often disregarded. Generally, she knew that she was less than great at taking damage if she were actually hit, but she did not know how well this would apply against her cloudy counterpart. Other than that, as far as she was aware, she had no in-combat weaknesses. Papa never said that she had any weaknesses. She was capable of slaying gods, after all, and if you can slay a god, then you can beat any opponent with ease, so Papa would say. Just punch it hard enough and every problem goes away was Papa's mantra. She could use some strategy, but just going in guns-blazing was the easiest way.
While she was mulling over a way to take down her doppelganger, the copy lunged forwards. Mai was prepared to reengage in brawling, but she was taken aback by the sudden release of a Tempest God's Bellow at point-blank range. Mai flew back into a nearby building, crashing through and landing on the couch that sat inside the house. Sometimes, getting beaten up is a way to learn, Papa said as well, and it gave Mai an idea. Misdirection. She had already used it once before, and nothing was saying that she could not do such a thing now. She rushed out to meet the clone again, before firing off a Windburst Punch into the ground, sending her small body high into the air. She pushed herself even further up with a Zephyr Sweep before firing off three quick bolts of ElectroCannon Snipers. She once again punched the nearby air, sending her hurtling closer to the ground. She wrapped her arms in preparation for a Torrential Flurry, which she fired out as she continued soaring towards the ground. After launching the arrows of water, she wrapped her arms into her Tempest element, once again using herself like a missile hurtling towards the earth to strike down immense wrath on her opponent. The clone was able to dodge some of the hits, Mai saw as she crashed into the ground.
Mai groggily got up to her feet, a headache drilling into the side of her head. She looked around for the clone, not seeing it anywhere. She smiled and giggled to herself. However, she was less than excited to hear the same creepy giggling that she had heard as she initially encountered with the doppelganger. "I don't sound like that! If you're going to be a copycatting meanie, at least copy me right!" Mai clapped her hands against her cheeks, refocusing on combat. Her other self stood at the edge of the crater that Mai had created when she crashed, collecting energy for a Tempest God's Bellow. Mai tried to lunge towards her foe, but was stopped by her legs refusing to move. Papa had done moves similar to what Mai just did many times before and was immediately able to return to the fight. So why was Mai not able to? She was standing like a deer in the middle of the lights, wondering if she would be able to take a hit from another Tempest God's Bellow. As the copy fired off her Bellow, Mai's head became filled with an idea. It would be a crazy idea, but perhaps it would work. Papa's methodology was all about high-risk, high-reward plays, and this would be the apex of that thought. The Bellow crashed into Mai, who simply opened her mouth to consume the Tempest God's Bellow. Papa always said that it was impossible for someone to eat their own magic, but this was not truly Mai's own magic. It was the same type, sure, but it was not produced from her. The energy of pure tempest energy filled up Mai's tummy. She had not tasted Tempest Element since Papa was around, and even then it was only a reward for a job well-done in hunting or on getting high marks in a class. She was fully charged now, and she burst out towards the copy, delivering a punch straight into its face.
Despite the copy's amorphous face, Mai felt a feeling of shock from it. It was, after all, the first melee strike either truly landed on each other. Mai took this small sense of victory too far, perhaps, as the copy quickly countered back with a Zephyr Sweep that sent Mai hurtling into a nearby warehouse. It was a dimly lit storage area, with a single swaying light-producing lacrima being the only source of interior light. The copy pounced in after the real Mai, firing off another Tempest God's Bellow to scout where Mai was. She dodged out of the way, firing off an ElectroCannon Sniper at the head of the clone. It tried to eat the blast of electricity as Mai had done, but to no avail. As Mai had figured, while it could copy her spells and even her mindset, it could not reproduce the ability to eat elements. Papa had always said that it was a difficult thing to recreate, and he reveled in his ability to teach Mai such a thing. The copy took this defeat in stride, however, lunging once again at Mai to engage in fisticuffs. Finally, the two were able to land blows on each other with Thunderstrike Talon-enhanced fists and Galeforce Boots-enhanced feet.
They would crash out of the warehouse and in and out through various houses, until finally Mai was sent crashing into the side of an inn. The copy wrapped its arms in Tempest Element, clearly preparing to do a Tempest God's Spire-boosted missile attack. Another crazy thought came into Mai's mind. The copy burst forwards, fist-first heading towards Mai. As she had done with the Bellow previously, she simply opened her mouth, letting the fist fly into it. Sure, she had crashed through the wall and was now pinned against the wall behind the reception desk, but she had her mouth firmly around the copy's fist. Testing a hypothesis, Mai bit down, and the hand came clean off as the familiar, succulent taste of Tempest filled her mouth. As she figured, these were much the same as Papa's creations, being made of pure Tempest element. The clone looked at the empty space where its hand used to be, before slowly taking a look back up at Mai and once more returning to its own hand. What little there was of a face quickly contorted into fear as it shrieked. Mai caught an arm around its neck, in what Papa called the "Tempest God's Choke Hold." Her mouth nearly watering from the prospect of delicious Tempest, she bit into the copy's neck as she had done with wildlife back with Papa, and her mouth was once again filled with the lovely, sweet taste. The copy shrieked once more as Mai continued to snack on it before it finally burst into small spores, not unlike those that Papa had sent to the village.
Mai skipped outside of the inn to see that the clouds were slowly subsiding. Of course, she also saw the havoc that her combat adventures had wreaked on Cedar. While she was afraid of the chastising she would get from Miss Luna for destroying this much stuff, a part of her was certainly proud of how much damage she did cause. It reminded her of Papa's brawls in the forest where they once lived, when many trees would be snapped clean in half or toppled over, and nearby caves would be closed off. She made her way back to the crater that had once been the town square, where she noticed a small sheet of paper right in the center of the crater. Puzzled, she went into the crater to investigate, though she enjoyed herself for sure by rolling down the incline. Taking a look at it and remembering Papa's lessons about reading, she read the letter to herself.
We believe we have found The Beast of the Forest's resting place. We are not quite certain how it was slain, as it must have taken a group of wizards of considerable talent to defeat, but we know for certain that it has been defeated. In addition, we believe we have found a way to produce an effect similar to that of the incidents in Bellum and Pergrande. We will be testing our hypothesis in the near future, with an observer prepare to take notes on any sort of action that is taken against it. They, much like yourself, are to return to the location I will be sending you. Drop off the vial attached to this message and contact me via Archive for further instruction.
Beast of the Forest? Bellum? Pergrande? A vial? None of this made sense to Mai, though she figured someone at Sabertooth, or even Miss Luna, could shed light on the situation. Even in the midst of her confusion, Mai held tightly onto the letter as she skipped her way out of Cedar, humming to herself peacefully as a building crumbled to rubble behind her.