She ran. The church girl ran. She ran with her tattered rag fluttering from behind.
To a tree with a rock in place, she took a sharp turn to the right. She nearly fell to her side as she raked up the dirt and dried leaves with her bare feet. Then forward she resumed, gradually increasing the bruises on her feet. While running, she ducked. She dodged a branch that hung low. Then she immediately took a sharp turn to the left. Then right after a few seconds.
She ran and ran while branches whipped across her face. Fallen twigs snapped as she passed. Nonetheless, she endured the brunt of her wounds. She endured the pain the coursed through her body when her sweat met her open wounds. In contrary, she laughed madly as she went. “Ahahahaha!” Her face expressed a twisted kind of joy. She was free. She was like a wild dog released from her chains.
“Fools! Fools! You won’t get anything from me!”
Swift, she weaved through the forest. She seemed to know her path. Even at the dark of the night, she knew. She was trained for it. She wasn’t just an ordinary pawn. At least she thought when she got praised and picked for her job. To return the Hero to where it was supposed to. To Libet. With the church.
The moment she thought she got far enough from Amelia and her Guards, she shamelessly activated telepathy. [I’m here! I’m here!] She spurred her legs as she continued. [Quick! Close the path from behind! They’ll run after me! Use this chance to take them down! Daggers, spikes, or anything hardly visible, use them! Take them out!]
A few seconds passed and her wide smile started sinking. She darted her eyes in confusion. She knew there were supposed to be assassins hiding behind the trees. Something was amiss. Again, she took a quick scan of her surroundings and focused on her sense of hearing. However, she heard nothing. Nothing was moving between the trees in her path.
[What the hell are you doing?! Hey! I said move!]
She expected a movement. Or at least a reply with Wind Whisper or Telepathy, but nothing came. None. Nothing moved. Only the flapping wings of a bird and the hum of insects filtered through her ears.
Slowly, a sense of peril crept up on her chest.
Was I betrayed?! she thought. Then a sharp pang struck her head. It forced her to release Reinforcement. Gradually, her speed dulled and her breathing turned erratic. Her mana was almost drained. Her stamina was the same. Nothing was keeping herself other than her will. Her will to live and receive a second chance to retrieve the Hero.
Losing her steam, she halted. She leaned on her knees as she gasped for breath. Her brown hair clung to her skin, drenched in sweat. Her sight was hazy and her mind muddled. She was tired. However, she resisted falling. She refused to give up. There’s hope.
While beads of sweat trickled from her head down to her chin, she lifted her sight. Within it, she knew it was there. She waited for eyes to adjust and there it was. A boulder.
Just a little more!
Again, her lips curled into a smile. Adrenaline pushed her forward. She took a step forward with her bruised leg. The leaves crunched. She took another step. A twig snapped. Then the third- didn’t arrive.
From the boulder, flashes of light twinkled. Wide-eyed, she muttered, “W-what?” Gradually, the boulder turned transparent and then vanished. It was an illusion. However, the searing pain she felt was not. She felt warm, and yet she felt cold.
On the corner of her cracked lips, a tinge of red dripped. “Why…?” She creaked her head and looked down her chest. One, two, three. There, she saw four objects stuck on her body. It shone a vivid glow of white. “Why…?” she muttered. Her pupils shrank and trembled. “W-why…?!”
Her knees buckled. Then with a dull thud, her knees met the leaf-covered dirt. Scrunching up what little life she had left, she lifted her head and said, “You… bastard…!” At that moment, the Prismatic Blades dispersed into tiny particles. Her blood spilled from her wound. Then her face fell on the dirt. Her sight was focused on her left while her lips moved, but no sound came out. Not long after her lips stopped moving while her devoid eyes remained open.
“You’ve already failed, Beatrice,” said a man in a white robe. “There’s no use for failures.”
From where the boulder stood, numerous figures remained in wait. At the center of the group was the man with a white robe. He wore a white stole lined with golden threads while marked with cross-turned-sword. On his head was a hood. An amice. It only left his indifferent expression left in the open.
Around the robed man were men dressed in a tight black outfit. They wore black masks that expressed a frown. They had black belts fitted around their waists where daggers hung.
Underneath them was a magic circle spanning a diameter of twelve meters. A magic circled engraved onto a hardened ground. The circle glowed dimly in red. It seemed as if it had a life of its own.
At the outer ring of the circle, six assassins stood at a fixed distance from each other. At their front, was the bodies of the missing villagers. Children, adult, or elderly. There wasn’t a clear variety. After all, to them, it didn’t matter. What they needed is what they get. There were no exceptions.
The missing villagers were silent. They didn’t move. No, they weren’t able to move at all. Their eyes were lifeless. Their faces twisted in anguish were trickled by dried tears. And their necks slit open or their chest stabbed deep. And from their wounds, blood streamed. Their blood fed the magic circle with mana and life.
It was known as Blood Ritual. A ritual that uses the blood of any race mixed up with powdered crystalline manatite to fill up a magic circle starting with the runes, also known as Blood Runes. After all, a being of any race is also a container of mana. A natural container that refills itself with time.
Around the vicinity of the magic circle, more figures dressed in black emerged from the shadows of the trees. Calmly, they walked into the magic circle.
“You’re there aren’t you?!” shouted the man in white. “Show yourself, oh princess of Laurel!”
From the corpse of Beatrice, diagonally from behind it, a silver-haired girl emerged from a tree trunk. She approached the side of Beatrice’s corpse and halted. It was none other than Amelia. Still, there was about a twenty meters distance between them.
“That’s new,” with a hateful glare on her face, Amelia muttered to herself. “For a servant of the church to call me by my title instead of Demon. It’s quite surprising.”
“It’s pointless to fight, oh princess!” he said. “Surrender the Hero to us and we’ll give your kingdom a reprieve!”
Though pointless she thought, she answered, “And what makes you think your someone I should believe in?!”
“As you can see! We’re recalling all our men and have planned to peacefully return to Libet!”
Amelia gripped the handle of her sword. “Taking the life of my people is peaceful to you?! What kind of twisted belief do you have?!”
“They’re heretics! They deserve it!”
“In that case, this is my answer! I REFUSE YOUR OFFER YOU PILES OF SWINE!”
“You gave me no choice!”
The robed man raised his hand in the air and swung it downwards. At that moment, Prismatic Blades manifested. Towards Amelia, the fifteen blades shot like arrows. They flew sparsely, hoping to cover what little area she’s able to move in. However, in contrary, Amelia stood there with a mischievous smile. She refused to move.
Shortly after, the blades struck Amelia’s body and drew blood.
Or it was supposed to, but the blades passed through her body instead. Then gradually, Amelia’s figure vanished like smoke.
“You’re underestimating me!” A voice came from a distance while another figure appeared at a short distance from the illusion. Again, the Prismatic Blades shot towards it, but again, it passed through like usual.
Further behind where Beatrice’s corpse lied, Amelia took up a position of a pitcher. Within her right hand, were two crystal. With a firm control of her mana, she poured them into the crystals. In response, the crystals emitted a dim blue light.
“Start the ritual!” Struck by a dreaded premonition, perhaps through luck, the robed man ordered.
However, to Amelia, it was her best chance. With her left holding the handle of her longsword, she took a step forward. At the moment her boots scrunched the dirt, she poured mana into the longsword’s handle. Shortly after, a blinding flash of light lit the forest. Subsequently, she manifested her horn and activated reinforcement through her bracelet. Then with a shout, “Take this!” She hurled the crystals tied by a thin rope.
As soon as the crystals left her hand, she hid her horn and immediately turned to the opposite direction. She didn’t wait for the crystal to land a hit. She knew what would happen next. Silently, while running, she drew her longsword with her right while her left clasped the handle of the rapier. Then, using the mana from the crystals threads on the rapier, she erratically activated a series of flashes.
Shortly, an explosion shook the forest. The trees bent. The branches shook. And birds scrambled into the sky in fear. A second flash of light immediately followed from the second crystal, however, at the same time, it vanished.
Thanks for those defective crystals Garfin! She thought.
[Maize! Move in!] she commanded with Telepathy rather than Wind Whisper.
A few seconds later, piercing roars shook the forest.
“GYUWAH! GYUWAH! GYUWAH...”
When Amelia heard the roars, she halted and took a glance. There she saw two figures cloaked by the night. Both were around ten feet tall. In terms of length, one was around twenty-six feet while other was far shorter. Both were covered in rugged spikes that pointed towards its back.
Not long after, a hissing sound came and eventually painted the night by amber flames. The flames came from the rugged pores that dotted its square-shaped scales. It had four limbs with a flattened body.
Though far it was, she knew the cry and realized what beast it was. “A Flameclad?!” She then began to resume running towards Maize and his men.
Amelia realized along the way that the church used a two-way teleportation. However, she expected them to transfer troops instead of beasts. To make it worse, they transferred Flameclads into a forest during the season of fall.
“GYUWAH… GYUWAH… GYUWAH...” Cried the other Flameclad. Unlike the other that roared while unleashing flames, this Flameclad desperately clawed the dirt beside it. It endlessly swung its short neck covered by a maroon skin. It smashed its triangular head covered by a shoveled jaw on the ground and ravaged it.
It was its death throe.
Two-thirds of the thrashing Flameclad was missing. The hind legs, tail, and anything down its chest was missing. What was left were its spilled innards and the blood that spurted from the remaining body.
The reason was the teleportation. It succeeded, and at the same time, it failed. It was interrupted by the explosion caused by the crystals. However, some reached the other side safely. Just like the fortunate Flameclad that arrived in one piece.
“Gyuwahhh…” Then the Flameclad fell with a thud. But the other increased its output as it saw its fellow Flameclad meet its end.
[Maize!] Amelia called with Wind Whisper.
Quickly, Amelia ducked as Maize ordered. Shortly after, arrows flew overhead and struck two assassins that neared Amelia from behind. Then, while in a ducked position, Amelia propped herself with one hand and dashed towards the source of the arrows.
Then from the bushes, in-between trees, came Maize and his men. They held bows in their hands, while some held longswords and kite shields.
“We need to eliminate the Flameclad!” shouted Amelia as she passed by Maize. She stayed behind the front-lines and observed the situation. Then again, she weaved through the trees and vanished.
“Understood!” replied Maize.
One after the other, Amelia’s Guards appeared with swords and bows drawn. The bowmen windowed behind the line of swordsmen. On the other hand, the swordsmen formed a barricade using their shields.
As Maize and Amelia suspected, the church lied. Assassins came from the shadows with their daggers drawn in a backhand grip. They weaved through the trees and alternated their positions in hopes of confusing the Guards. However, the Guards were unfazed. They have dealt with similar cases from their clashes with assassins during the last five years.
Behind their shields, the swordsmen held shards in their hands. They poured mana into them while the assassins neared. Then, with a sound that tore the dirt, earthen spikes manifested on the predicted path of the assassins. Although most of the spikes missed their target, some were grazed, some passed through as a shadow, and some halted in their steps.
On the other hand, the bowmen took this chance to unleash their arrows. They aimed at those who were impeded by the spikes. Fortunately, most hit their target, Some on the head, and some on the shoulders or the chest. However, some missed. Regardless, they shot another round and halted the other assassin’s advance.
The number of assassins was dwindling. Starting with the illusions they’ve created, their numbers were gradually exposed by flashes of light emitted now and then. Nonetheless, though they’re numbered few, the Flameclad from behind was free. In that regard, them slowly losing the confrontation wasn’t pointless. In fact, they succeeded in stalling Amelia and her Guards.
Nonetheless, the assassins retaliated by pouring mana into the shards they held. They molded the dirt in their nearby vicinity into a sharp elliptical rock at the size of their fists. It then floated and shot towards Amelia’s Guards.
In response, Amelia’s Guards hid behind the tree trunks or held their shields while manifesting a barrier through another shard. But that wasn’t all, earthen spikes appeared underneath Amelia’s Guards. Fortunately, they themselves knew of the tactic, and thus only a select few were severely injured.
After they reappeared and reformed their ranks, they resumed their exchange. The assassins made copies through the use of shadows or shot Earth Bullets. On the other hand, the swordsmen defended with their shields and barrier while the bowmen sniped one assassin after the other.
At each passing second, the glow from the distance grew wider and brighter. Its light gradually consumed the dark forest as trees fell in the background. It also tainted the cloudless night sky with a large clump of smoke.
Then on the ground, an assassin suddenly fell with a thud. Behind it was Amelia. She held her longsword smeared with blood and shouted, “Maize! We don’t have much time! I know you can do better than this!” She then took a step to her right and pivoted. Shortly, a dagger flew to her previous position. “Maize!” she shouted, moved behind a tree, and vanished.
“Bowmen, move backward and form groups!” commanded Maize in a booming voice. “Swordsmen, move forward! Hold your shields up high then charge! Trample them like ants! For Laurel!”
““FOR LAUREL!”” replied Maize’s men in unison. Then they charged with their swords overhead and shields at front.
In response, the assassins began to retreat with shards in their hands. As they ran away, they formed a barricade of earthen spikes. They knew they were losing at the current pace and so they thought of further stalling the Guards to increase Laurel’s losses. A loss in terms of resource.
In contrast, Maize remained unconcerned and raised his voice further. “Move aside! Bowmen! Ready your shard-tipped arrows!”
As ordered, the bowmen drew an arrow from the quiver behind their hips. They knocked those arrows and loosed them. The arrows flew and struck the wall of earthen spikes and then exploded. Then another round of arrows flew, but this time, it passed through the passage and caused another series of small explosions. It dispersed the assassins waiting behind the barricade.
“Move!” Without a second to lose, Maize and his men charged through the passages. As soon as they crossed, they clashed against the assassins. Blades clanged against blades. Shields parried daggers to the side. Swords tore through flesh. Daggers bit through the skin. Bullets struck barriers and shields. Spikes grazed both assassins and Guards alike. All the while forming a small arc with the passages behind them.
Soon after, the bowmen entered the fray and positioned themselves from within the arc. They held their bowstrings taut and unleashed a drizzle of arrows. Steadily, the assassins turned few. And at their current state, with their backs nearing the burning portion of the forest, they no longer had an escape.
Again, from behind an assassin, Amelia appeared and slashed with her longsword. Then as quickly as she could, she disappeared and moved to another one. Though effective it was, the mana contained in her necklace and her rapier was almost depleted. After she took down another three, she returned to Maize’s side. At that moment, the last of the assassins was taken down by Maize’s thrust
Maize then kicked the assassin and drew his sword free. He then raised his sword and pointed it ahead. “Bring down the Flameclad!” Then they charged towards the raging flames.
As they neared the burning portion of the forest, those with affinities aside from water drew shards from their breast pockets. Then those with started chanting. As quick as they arrived, balls of water formed overhead. Their size was at a minimum of a one-meter diameter sphere. Upon reaching their desired size, the balls of water flew and splashed against the burning trees and bushes. Soon, another round of water balls followed, dousing the flames before them.
At the same time, the bowmen took their time in affixing shards onto their arrows. Then they shot their arrows towards the top of tree trunks from afar. After the arrows stuck and broke the shards, a large amount of water manifested and doused the burning leaves as it fell.
While moving forward, they continued to douse the flames with water. Not soon after, the bowmen shot their third and last shard-tipped arrows embedded with water magic. They then slung their bows on their back and joined in chanting or pouring mana into shards.
Unfortunately, though they achieved in quelling the flames on their side, the same wasn’t true on the others. The flames still raged and encroached the forest as it used to.
“Maize,” called Amelia with a frown. “This isn’t enough...”
“How many crystals do you have?” asked Maize.
“I still have two left of those defective ones and about three of the defective shards, why?”
“Please lend two of each to me. We’ll quell and detain the flames using the blast of the crystals.”
Understanding what Maize meant, Amelia took out the said shards and crystals from her pouch and handed it to Maize. Maze then called his men and ordered them split into three groups. He handed the two crystals and shards on two representatives and gave them the order to skirt around the flames. After he was done giving orders, his men moved in three different directions.
Amelia and Maize’s group raced towards the source, the Flameclad. They passed through puddles of water while they entered a sea of blackened trees with an orange background. The heat started to rise as they went, and breathing started to get in their way.
It didn’t take long before they reached the location of the Flameclad. It was silently nudging its nose against the body of the dead Flameclad.
“Dodge!” Amelia abruptly ordered as she jumped to her side.
Maize and his men jumped in response, but two were a tad late. In consequence, Prismatic Blades struck their bodies. However, the amount was nothing to scoff. It didn’t even give them the chance to scream in pain.
Amelia was concerned for the well-being of her Guards, however, she wasn’t able to peel her eyes from the white-robed man. His robe was severely torn and tattered, and his stole was missing. Blood trickled from his feet. His platinum-blonde hair was exposed. Still, those weren’t the reasons why Amelia couldn’t peel her eyes from the man.
The man was floating above the Flameclad.
He was surrounded by four wings of light. Two were badly damaged and were shattered like glass.
Lastly, two concentric halos floated above his head.