Author's Note: the Storm Hawks series, the events concerned, and the characters are all copyright of Asaph Fipke, Nerd Corps Entertainment Inc., 2007-2010, and any other groups/people that deserve the credit. This is a non-profit work of fanfiction.

Yeah, I know; it's been a while since I last updated this fic. But I made a vow to finish what I started, and I see no reason to let a delay change that policy. After a year of revisions, real-life delays, and other assorted hurdles, I finally present the next chapter in "A Rainy Midnight Run." For those of you who started reading this when I first started producing it, thanks for bearing with me. For those getting into it just now, I hope you enjoy the story. And for those of you who just enjoy the adventures of the Storm Hawks, I hope I've captured their spirit in my writing.

Whatever the case may be, read on!


Chapter Seven: Flight through the Jungle

Why does something always go wrong?

The thought flew through Piper's head as she ran for her life through the jungle, her legs flying with the speed born of desperation. The hissing rush of rainfall and the crashing roar of thunder filled her ears; but neither sound could blot out the crazed, bestial snarls that echoed from behind her…nor the steady, rhythmic pounding of massive feet hammering the ground, punctuated by leafy snaps and hefty splashes. In her mind, Piper envisioned a primordial juggernaut smashing heedlessly through anything in its path, ripping loose vines and branches on its tusks and trampling through puddles in its relentless pursuit. The mental image sent adrenaline surging through Piper's veins like liquid lightning, lending extra speed to her flight as she raced through the stormy darkness.

Maybe later—if there was a later—she'd regret that her plan had failed, or that the other seven methods for making an angry Torka Beast fall asleep were useless when it went completely berserk. Right now, though, she had bigger problems…like trying to outrun the frenzied behemoth long enough for her and Aerrow to find a way to escape.

If the jungle didn't get them first. Vines and leaves whipped at Piper's face and arms as she crashed headlong through the undergrowth, and the rain-lashed mud sucked at her boots with a thick viscosity that threatened to send her stumbling at any moment. As the Crystal Mage brought up her staff to beat back the impeding foliage, the light from her Lumos Stone drove back the darkness and illuminated the path ahead in a chaotic jumble of green and black. At least, what little she could see—by this point, the downpour had turned her vision into a swimming blur of half-blindness; it was a miracle that she hadn't run straight into a tree or tangled herself up in a bunch of vines. To make matters worse, Piper's legs burned with the growing ache of fatigue; her breath came in desperate gasps as her heart hammered frantically in her chest; and sharp stings of pain lanced along her body as the jagged edges of ferns and branches found her bare skin through the open tears in her uniform. All the while, a stitch began to build up in her side, sending jolts of agony through her with every step.

But she didn't dare stop running. Not for the world.

At that moment, a vibrant flash of electric-blue caught the corner of her eye. Sparing a quick glance to her right, Piper saw Aerrow sprinting alongside her, his energy daggers a scything blur as he slashed away at the impeding foliage. Ferns and vines flew in ozone-laced chunks of shredded greenery, tumbling past the Sky Knight as he hurtled into the undergrowth. In the flashing light of those crystal-powered blades, Piper could the tension on her friend's face; the way his teeth had clenched and his eyes had widened with alarm. As those emerald orbs darted over in her direction, however, the Crystal Mage caught a flash of relief on Aerrow's face, and felt her heartbeat quicken further. That was just like him—even with the Torka Beast bearing down on him, his was more worried about her safety than his own.

Never mind; just run; think about it later; was that the sound of a tree bring knocked over—?

The crackling, leafy creak made Piper look over her shoulder again—and promptly conclude that she was flat-out cursed. In the stormy darkness behind her, the lush jungle had become a shadowy blur of vaguely-defined shapes, illuminated by flashes of lightning. Amidst those staccato bursts of harsh brilliance, the Crystal Mage could make out the hulking frame of the Torka Beast as it came smashing through the undergrowth in its wild pursuit. But some cruel twist of fate had decided even that wasn't enough—the ominous creaking was coming from one of the large palm trees that made up the jungle's canopy, one that the Torka had just shoved past. Whether it had been a dying husk dislodged by the storm, or been torn from its roots by the force the creature's berserker charge, Piper couldn't tell. All that mattered was that the massive tree was now toppling, its tangled branches trailing leaves and vines as it plummeted in a deceptively lazy arc…

directly towards her and Aerrow!

"Look out!" Piper shouted as she whipped her staff around to give Aerrow a hard shove, the butt of the steampunk rod catching the Sky Knight in the midriff and sending him stumbling to the right. Even as she heard his surprised yell and felt the mass of his body pushing away, the Crystal Mage hurled herself to the left, trying to get as much distance as possible before gravity took hold. She hit the ground with a moist thud and rolled, forcing as much momentum as possible in order to avoid getting caught in the viscous mud that had engulfed the ground—

KHA-WHAMMMMM

—The massive crash shook the earth, causing Piper's vision to lurch wildly as she was bounced along like a stone skipped across a pond. As she hit the ground with enough force to send bruising flashes of pain along her shoulders and hips, the Crystal Mage's eyes fed her the scene in disjointed chunks: the hulk of the tall tree lying its side amid the spray of muddy water that its impact had kicked into the air; a muted flash of cyan light on the other side of the trunk as Aerrow evidently regained his footing; the radiance from the Lumos Stone locked into her staff, casting light into the jungle at crazy angles as she hugged her staff close to her body—

"HrrrrrRRRHHAAAARR!"

—And then the light fell across the Torka Beast as it came stomping towards her, illuminating tusk-sized teeth as its armadillo mouth dropped open in a berserk growl. The limbs of its bulky gorilla-esque frame were tensed like piledrivers, and the bone-club tail behind its turtle-shell whipped around dangerously amid a spray of rainwater droplets. In the time it had taken for the tree to fall, the Torka had caught up, its beady light-colored eyes bloodshot with frenzy. Leaning hard to one side, the creature brought its tail up in a fluid arc, the bone-club at its end making the air thrum with momentum as it came whipping downward like a brutal pendulum of death.

Between the disorientation from her sudden tumble and simple blank shock, Piper almost forgot to move. Then pure reflex took over, and she was pushing off the ground and rolling, curling up to offer as small a target as possible—

WHDDD

—The Torka Beast's bony tail-club smashed into the ground so close that she actually felt the displaced air from the impact, pelted by a spray of dislodged mud and grass as she rolled clear. Ground and sky lurched until they seemed interchangeable, threatening Piper's sense of equilibrium…and then she found herself stretched out on her belly a couple of feet away, her heart hammering in her chest from adrenaline. Glancing over to her left, the Crystal Mage felt her blood run cold as she spotted the ragged trench that had been plowed into the rain-lashed soil-a wound in the ground about nine inches deep and thrice as long, bleeding rivulets of rain and scarred by pebbles and roots. Staring at the thick trench, Piper felt a sickening chill run down her spine as she realized just how close it had been—

Any slower and that would have been ME

A thick, wet noise like rock being pulled loose from wet mud broke into Piper's thoughts, calling her back to reality just in time to see the Torka Beast's tail rising out of the deep gouge in the ground. Above her, the prehistoric behemoth hunched forward as it wound up for another swing. Then there was no more time for thinking, and Piper rolled hard to the right to avoid the blow—

WHDDD

—Another tremor shook the ground as the tail-club missed her by inches, kicking up another geyser of mud and rainwater. This time, the bony tail-club wrenched itself free a lot more quickly, as if the Torka Beast recognized how agile Piper was. Without the chance to get up, she was forced to keep rolling—maybe if she was lucky, she'd get enough distance to—

WHDDD!

Without warning, the massive tail-club slammed into the ground, forming a living wall between Piper and the direction she'd been heading! With a yelp of alarm, the Crystal Mage thrust her arms into the ground and flipped onto her back, sprawling to a halt amid a spray of muddy water. Spitting the earthy liquid from her lips, Piper started to push herself upright, her pulse a rapid flutter….but then a dark shadow fell over her, and a belligerent growl made her look up, heart sinking with dread. The Torka Beast's simian-saurian frame loomed over her like a prehistoric colossus, a guttural growl escaping its tusked jaws. Clearly, the beast had figured out how to flank her with its tail-club; all it had to do now was bring one of its massive feet down in a brutal stomp, and it'd be all over for her.

The only choice left was to try and fight—tightening her grip on the haft of her staff as the Torka hunched down and snarled at her, Piper tried to bring the crystal emitter into firing position, fumbling for her crystal pouch with her free hand. She was going to need a miracle…

At that moment, the distinctive snap-hiss of ignited energy blades split the air, followed by a defiant battle cry. As the Torka Beast snorted in confusion and started to turn, there was a blur of motion beyond its hulking frame—a solitary figure vaulting over the trunk of the fallen tree and brandishing twin jets of crystal-born lightning. Illuminated in the flickering corona of electric-blue, Aerrow sank into a fighter's crouch atop the vast trunk. In that moment, time seemed to slow, and Piper could make out her best friend's expression in the blazing light—the reckless determination, the steely resolve. Those forest-green eyes closed once, remained shut for an infinite second…and when they opened again, emerald had become flecked with sapphire; the cyan aura from Aerrow's energy blades spreading along his arms until his sleek frame was suffused in sky-blue light. As the energy shaped itself into a pair of ghostly wings, Piper realized what was coming.

The Lightning Claw, she thought silently. Aerrow's signature attack!

And then time sped up again, and the Torka Beast was lurching around to face the young Sky Knight. With a guttural snarl, it whipped its saurian tail around in a wide arc, and there was a resounding crash as its massive bone-club smashed into the fallen tree-trunk with a spray of splinters. But Aerrow was already airborne, a blur of cerulean and red amid a spray of splinters. /wreathed in cyan crystal energy. The Sky Knight swung his daggers overhead in mid-leap, the glowing wings flaring wide as their charge built to its peak…and then those twin blades slashed downward, and their power was released as the wings coalesced into a surge of electric blue and shot forward like a thunderbolt.

With its heavy bulk, there was no way for the Torka Beast to dodge. The coruscating cyan blast struck it head-on, sending a serpent's dance of lightning crackling upward along its hulking frame. Bellowing loudly, the Torka stumbled back on its hind legs and shivered wildly as it was engulfed in a nimbus of crystal-born electricity, its armadillo mouth dropping open to expose blunt teeth the size of a man's fist. Limbs like small tree trunks twitched and jerked spasmodically, and the subtle tang of ozone rose from its scaly flesh. And yet, the creature somehow remained upright, beady eyes blinking in a rapid tempo as the corona of electricity engulfing its body began to fade. As Aerrow landed nearby, the Torka Beast began to swing its brutish head in his direction, letting out a shaky growl as it took a lurching step towards the young Sky Knight.

Not hurt, maybe, but it definitely felt that, Piper decided. It's off-balance, maybe dazed. Gotta keep it that way…!

Thinking fast, the Crystal Mage scrambled to her feet. Whirling her staff, she thrust the emitter towards the Torka Beast's head, catching its primordial head in the glare of the Lumos Stone's spotlight. Just as the behemoth turned its gaze back upon her, Piper thumbed a control dial on the steampunk rod and squeezed the emission trigger. With an audible snap, the spotlight glow from the staff's emitter flared up to the intensity of a small sun, illuminating the Torka Beast's primordial visage in stark relief…and sending a shaft of focused light directly into a pair of eyes that had become accustomed to stormy darkness.

The effect was immediate and total. The Torka Beast howled and recoiled from the blinding light, shaking its head wildly as it brought up simian forepaws rose to rub furiously at its eyes. Feeling a crazy surge of relief, Piper turned from the debilitated behemoth and ran over to Aerrow. The red-haired Sky Knight was already hefting his crystal daggers, but Piper knew pressing the attack was a waste of time—the Torka's blindness wouldn't last forever. Grabbing Aerrow's wrist, the Crystal Mage pointed wildly in the direction that they'd been running.

"Come on!" she yelled at him, "Before it recovers!"

Aerrow hesitated for a second, but one look at the Torka Beast seemed to convince him. Turning away from the giant creature, he twirled his daggers once and took off into a running sprint, with Piper right behind him. Even as the Torka's stentorian growl began to rise behind them, the two Storm Hawks were plunging into the undergrowth, crashing through the foliage in total flight. Once again, the world dissolved into a tangled maze of verdant darkness, green and black interspaced with flashes of lightning. Piper's awareness was engulfed in the instinctive bursts of fight-or-flight response; details came in bits and pieces. The rain beating down on her head and shoulders. The branches and vines leaping out at unexpected angles. Her staff leaping out by reflex, batting away the obstacles that Aerrow's slashing blades missed. The rapid squelch of the sandy mud beneath her boots, the viscous suction that tried to seize her movement. That stabbing pain in her abdomen as her stitch returned, exacerbated by the frantic gasps for air that filled her lungs.

And then suddenly, there was no more jungle, only stormy sky and a sudden sense of vertigo. Instinct took hold before Piper even realized what was happening; her heels dug into the ground as she skidded to a halt, and beside her, she was aware of Aerrow doing the same. As her senses caught up to her, Piper realized that they'd found a gap in the rainforest…literally. As another burst of lightning lit up the sky, the Crystal Mage found herself standing at the edge of a narrow cliff, her feet just inches away from the ledge. Dislodged pebbles skittered down an embankment so steep it was almost vertical, disappearing into the stormy darkness below. Was that pounding surf down there, or a thick canopy of trees lashed into motion by the wind? In the gloom, Piper couldn't tell. All she knew was that it was a long way down. They'd have to find another way around…

…except there wasn't one. Left and right both led from the precipice back into the jungle, and in the depths of the undergrowth, Piper could hear a distant snarling that was drawing closer and closer. In a few minutes, the Torka Beast would catch up with them again. Feeling the knife's edge of panic raking down her spine, Piper cast about for a solution. Dodge around it, and run back into the jungle? she wondered. No, that won't work—there's not enough room to get around before it can use its tail. Come on, think! Okay…maybe if me and Aerrow split up and take opposite sides, the Torka won't know which way to—

Without warning, Aerrow's voice broke into Piper's train of thought. "Here, catch!"

Blinking in surprise, Piper turned just in time to see Aerrow tossing one of his daggers in her direction. Instinctively reaching out to catch it by the handle, the Crystal Mage noticed that the serrated "blade" of the dagger's emitter had gone dark—Aerrow had switched the power off before throwing it to her, causing the sky-blue energy to withdraw from the metal it usually engulfed. Confused, Piper looked back at Aerrow, but before the question had even started to form on her lips, her best friend was crouching by the edge of the cliff. Leaning over the side, the teenage Sky knight studied the steep incline intently, his eyes narrowed in thought. Then he nodded in satisfaction and thumbed the power switch on his remaining dagger, the cyan glow fading to leave the emitter blade bare. Twirling the crystal-powered weapon so that he now held it in a reverse grip, Aerrow swung his legs over the ledge and dug his heels into the cliff face, ignoring the dizzying drop as he began to ease himself over the side.

Piper stared at him in disbelief. "What are you…?" Then it hit her. "Oh. Oh, no. You aren't seriously thinking of…?"

But Aerrow was already sliding himself over the cliff, clinging to the ledge with both hands. Thrusting his remaining blade into the thick, mossy mix of sand and rock, the Sky Knight looked up at her and flashed a valiant grin. "Unless you've got a better idea," he admitted.

And for once, Piper didn't. Stammering incoherently, she tried to think of something else—anything else. Just then, a leafy crash reached her ears, the throaty growl of the Torka Beast followed, and the Crystal Mage knew she was out of time. The Torka Beast would come crashing out of the jungle at any second, and the only way out was over the edge. Cursing inwardly, Piper thumbed a button to retract her staff, the steampunk rod's segments drawing in upon the central haft with a series of metallic clicks. Securing her staff to a loop in her belt, the Crystal Mage dropped into a crouch and slid herself halfway over the cliff, gripping the jungle grass tightly with one hand to avoid plunging to her death. As she jammed the blade-emitter of Aerrow's dagger into the sandy rock of the incline, Piper glanced over to Aerrow with a mixture of worry and exasperation.

"If we die from the fall, I'm going to kill you," she admonished, trying to mask her nervousness with bravado as she dug her heels into the cliffside.

It was a pretty hopeless effort—the concern in Aerrow's green eyes as they met hers said it all—but still, he offered a nod and a good-natured wink as he followed suit. "I'll hold you to that."

Piper had to laugh at that, even if her voice was a little shaky. And then, ignoring her common sense, she let go of the ledge. So did Aerrow. The last thing she saw before the clifftop shot upward was the Torka Beast crashing out of the undergrowth, its tusk-laden jaws dropping as it saw its aggressors vanish.

And then Piper and Arrow fell together, into the shadowy abyss below.

Or rather, they skidded—with their blades anchoring them to the cliff face, the two Storm Hawks plummeted along the steep incline as though they were snowboarding. A muddy spray flew from the serrated edges of the blade-emitters as they plowed a pair of jagged trenches in the mossy wall, providing just enough traction to prevent Aerrow and Piper's fall from achieving terminal velocity. As it was, Piper gasped reflexively as she bounced against rocks and roots in the cliff-side, the debris scraping her exposed skin from dark cocoa to an angry, burning red. Already, her fingertips and toes ached through her gloves and boots, throbbing with the strain of keeping purchase in the nigh-sheer incline of sand, moss, and stone. Wet sand and loose pebbles flew from the trench her blade carved through the steep cliffside, splattering across her face and half-blinding her. Through it all, the sense of free-fall hung in her belly like a hollow void, and the liquid surge of adrenaline burned through her veins with the realization that death was only a single mistake away.

But she ignored the pain—there was no pain, damn it! Gritting her teeth, Piper dug her heels deeper into the mossy incline and tightened her grasp on Aerrow's blade, pressing herself against the cliff even as she skidded downward at near-breakneck speed. The rubble scraped at her flesh, the impacts jolted her abdomen and shoulders, but she forced herself to endure—a few bruises and cuts were nothing compared to what would happen if she lost her grip. As her fingers went numb around the hilt of Aerrow's dagger, Piper lost track of how long she and Aerrow had been plunging down the steep cliff face. Seconds? Minutes? It didn't matter…this was a crazy idea, but she'd ride it through to the bottom, no matter what. It wasn't like they were dead yet, right?

A few moments later, Piper felt something she hadn't dared hope for—the cliff face she was sliding along was beginning to elongate, curving into a steady incline that was building towards a slope. Even better, her descent was actually starting to slow down. Exhilaration surged through Piper's spine—for all its sheer insanity, this crazy little stunt was actually working.

Without warning, a jolt ran up her arm as the earth that her dagger had plunged into suddenly gave way in a shower of muddy sand and tiny stones. There was a sickening lurch in Piper's stomach as gravity took hold, a single time-melting moment in which the realization of her imminent fall exploded in her mind with a sunburst of terror. Absurdly, she found herself thinking of the time she had visited Terra Neon and taken a ride on the Death Spiral. When the roller coaster had reached the zenith of its climb, there was a moment of perfect clarity—the instant the cars began to dip forward into their death-defying plunge, that dread anticipation of the inevitable. This was that instant all over again…only this time, there was no safety harness to protect her.

And then she was sliding again, skidding along the steep embankment like greased lightning. Piper was gasping, yelping, too shocked to actually scream; she scrabbled wildly for purchase, her fingers digging into the sandy mud for some kind of handhold. But the mossy sand was too soft under her fingers; her speed was building by the second; she didn't even have time to plunge her dagger back into the cliff face as she began to fall. Momentum started to pull Piper away from the ledge, and that alarming sense of free-fall began rising in her gut as she started to cry out in earnest…

There was a shout from overheard, and a flash of cyan light. Piper looked up just in time to see Aerrow's dagger re-igniting, casting his alarmed features in a cyan glow as the energy blade blazed through the muddy sand of the cliffside. In the space of a few seconds, Aerrow had skidded close enough to reach her; his hand shooting out at the last second to seize her wrist just before she could fall. A jolt ran through Piper's arm from the aborted momentum, for a single moment, her mind was blank with adrenaline and relief.

Then Aerrow's blade came loose from the Cliffside, the ignited energy unable to find any traction. For a few heart-stopping moments, Piper's world became a heart-pounding blur of motion; she was vaguely aware of throwing her arms out around her best friend's waist, of the scream that tore from her throat and into the thundering sky. Then she and Aerrow were falling together, mud and grit spraying in their wake as they skidded down the steep embankment…

WHUMPF!

…for about five seconds.

For a moment, Piper was disoriented, aware only of a dull ringing in her ears, the pounding of her heart, and the pungent smell of rain-lashed earth flooding her nostrils as the world lurched around her. Then she shook her head and blinked hard, and everything stopped spinning. She found herself sprawled out on her belly, lying amidst the muddy sand and tangled vines and grass that comprised the carpet of the forest floor. Tilting her head upward, Piper saw the near-vertical slope of the cliff she and Aerrow had been sliding down, jutting upward into the stormy darkness like a primordial edifice. Narrowing her eyes against the steady downpour, she could make out the muddy trails in the cliffside where she and Aerrow had been sliding. From the look of it, their grip had failed about fifteen feet from the ground. It hadn't been a very long drop at all.

Piper could have laughed at her stroke of good luck. Except that she was suddenly aware of something else, something quite different from the moist earth and the rain. There was a supple pressure against her body as though she was entangled with someone else; she could feel the embrace of toned arms around her shapely back, the feathery tickle of breath against her throat. A moment's confusion, and then Piper remembered—as she'd started to fall, she'd grabbed out blindly for something, anything, to use for a handhold. She'd ended up seizing Aerrow around the waist, and his other hand had found her shoulder. They had fallen together, hitting the ground and tumbling over and over…

Feeling her heartbeat spiking, the Crystal Mage lowered her head, blinking a couple of times as her eyes got used to the darkness. And found herself lying on top of Aerrow, her thighs astride his hips and her body pressed up against his. They were so close that she could feel every sleek contour of his toned figure—his broad shoulders beneath her fingertips; the trim surface of his abdomen against her taut belly; the gentle weight of his palms resting absently on her back. At the moment, Aerrow looked half-dazed from the tumble down the cliff, his green eyes unfocused and staring at nothing. Without his usual daring and confidence, the Sky Knight's features seemed a lot more vulnerable. Boyish, even. And yet somehow, it was rather flattering—it was as if she was being shown something private, a secret entrusted to her alone.

Without warning, Aerrow let out a low groan and blinked a couple of times, obviously recovering. Before Piper could think to push herself off him, the Sky Knight shifted, as though surprised at the unexpected weight upon his body. And then he looked up and saw her, his eyes going wide as realization set in.

Piper felt her cheeks grow warm. Between the downpour and their tumble , Aerrow's face had become spattered with mud and bits of grass, and his normally-spiky hair was now plastered to his head. And yet his eyes were bright and alert in that earthy mask, emerald orbs that gazed up at her with a wild mixture of emotions. He was surprised and nervous, of course; that was a given under the circumstances. But there were hints of something more in those forest-green depths…something that made Piper's pulse quicken as she tried to identify them.

Excitement?

Interest?

Desire?

For a moment, everything around Piper seemed to fade away, melting into nothingness. There was no rain, no darkness, no stormy jungle…just Aerrow, lying there beneath her. Inexplicably, she felt a sudden urge to bury her head against his shoulder and inhale the scent of his hair, bask in that subtle tang of sweat beneath the pungency of jungle flora. To let her fingers dance across his shoulders and arms, tracing the athletic muscle beneath that cerulean-and-red flight suit. To let whatever happened after that…just happen.

Then Aerrow's voice cut into her thoughts. "Piper? Uh…are you okay?"

The Crystal Mage blinked, and reality came flooding back to her. Hoping that the darkness hid her blush, she looked down at Aerrow and managed a shy smile. "I, um…yeah," she murmured softly, not sure what else to say. It occurred to her that she should probably get off him, but her legs didn't seem to want to respond. For that matter, Aerrow didn't seem to be in any hurry to get up—though he looked uncharacteristically nervous, he made no effort to try and push her off. As their eyes met again, Piper felt a strange tingle run along her spine, and wondered if Aerrow felt it, too.

Trying to ignore her pounding heartbeat, Piper looked away and scanned their surroundings, looking for something to change the subject. As her gaze swept along the cliff they'd slid down, she saw that the rainforest started up again nearby, a wall of palm trees and vines. She and Aerrow were in a clearing that seemed to run the length of the cliff's base, giving the Crystal Mage a good look at the stormy sky. Presently, another bolt of lightning danced amid the clouds, a jagged fork of vivid white tinged with electric violet…

And by that moment of stark light, Piper saw it. Her mouth fell open in surprise, and she stared blankly.

Beneath her, Aerrow blinked in confusion. "Piper? What is it?" Then he followed her arm as she pointed, and stared at what he saw. Then a look of incredulous relief crossed his face, and he chuckled softly. "Huh. How about that? We finally caught a break."

Piper could only nod, a faint smile stealing its way across her face as the first warm flutter of relief bloomed in her chest. Wordlessly, the Crystal Mage disentangled herself from Aerrow and pushed herself upright, trying not to think about how good it had felt. As the young Sky Knight joined her, the two of them lifted their arms to ward off the rain, gazing at the unexpected answer to their prayers.

Some distance away, the mossy rock and soil of the cliff face gave way to a large fissure, roughly seven feet wide and twice as tall. Though some thick vines from the cliff-side foliage hung over the gap like a tangled curtain, it was obvious that it wasn't just a shallow crack—judging from the thick darkness that lay within, the tunnel went back far enough to be a proper cave. And a few feet away, incredibly enough, lay a heap of battered metal and scorched rubber with a twisted set of helicopter blades—Piper's crashed Heli-Scooter. Of all the places in the jungle, they'd ended up where the hybrid vehicle had crashed after she'd been forced to ditch it in the skies above Terra Tropica.

But strokes of good fortune aside, the cave meant something a lot more important: shelter from the storm, and a chance to recuperate in relative safety.

Aerrow had summed it up perfectly. They'd finally caught a break.

To Be Continued…


Well, there you have it. Once again, I apologize for the delay. Chalk it up to a mixture of real life, writer's block, and my decidedly perfectionist self-critique. I've literally written blocks and blocks of text before settling on a paragraph that reads decently. The first sentence alone—Piper's internal pondering of why something always goes wrong—went through several changes before I was finally happy with it. Maybe it's a bit obsessive, but I like to shoot for novel-quality regarding my creative writing. The end result is that much more entertaining to read, don't you think?

The fight with the Torka Beast and the cliff-slide that followed took some time to work out as well—I'd decided to establish that the behemoth was near-invincible to normal weaponry, so I had to think of a way Aerrow and Piper could stun the beast…and how they could elude it permanently afterward. More importantly, I wanted Piper to have her own moments of heroism, and not be reduced to the damsel that Aerrow had to protect; that's why I had Piper blind the Torka Beast with her Lumos Stone…and why she had the presence of mind to grab Aerrow and run before the behemoth recovered. It wasn't a fight they could win, so she showed the foresight that anyone who's watched the show can expect from out resident Crystal mage.

I also wanted to throw in some additional ship-tease moments, so I added the part where Piper ended up on top of Aerrow after their little cliff-diving episode. But trust me, as charged and suggestive as that moment was, the majority of the romantic moments will become evident in the next chapter. Just wait and see.

As always, comments and criticism are appreciated. I hope you enjoyed this chapter!