Counter 26: Whiteout March
Fifty-five minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Two versus one. It’s quite the stunt to pull.
“Your arrogance can only accomplish as much, Azalea.” Malikk warns her but she continues to ignore him. He expected as much.
She is not fighting at all. She is only blocking all of Elen’s attack along with the massive explosions that the other guy throws at her time and time again. If she distances herself far from the demon, where her claws cannot reach, it gives the other guy a better opportunity to aim at her. Her magical shield cannot hold the continuous slashes of those powerful claws, it cannot keep up with every single explosive magic thrown at her either. One small magical shield gets shattered like thin layers of glass, every time an attack from the enemies hit. This is nothing more than a waste of time and energy. Whatever she has planned, at the rate she consumes her mana, she will not last long.
“If you would only be serious about it, these two should not be a problem. You were fighting demons! Alone, you have slain demons. Demons with level higher than those two.”
“Shut up!” She responds strongly. “Stop messing with me. The objective of this battle is to simply buy time.”
An explosion which has slightly impaired Malikk’s vision occurs while they are talking. Azalea still answers him as though she got something up her sleeve. Despite all the bluff, he can see how much she has been cornered by the two. If she is not going to kill that demon then her only option is to immobilize it.
“How?” He asks himself while his vision is returning. “Cut her limbs?”
No matter how much he thinks about it, he cannot recall any magic that can restrain a demon for more than a few seconds. There is no paralyzing magic that works with demons for a long period. If there is one then demon hunting would have not been as difficult as it is.
While Azalea is fighting he notices a number of presences closing in. They feel like the other students are roaming nearby. They are approaching fast, a group of mages.
“Quite a powerful one,” Malikk thought as his eyes follow the group of three mages riding a flying magic circle passing by. Though they are far enough that normally one would not be able to see their face properly, He is still able to identify some features. “One male. Two females. One girl is sitting on a wheel chair. The other girl has a stunning silver hair. It seems that miss silver-hair noticed Azalea’s battle along with my presence too but did not bother to interfere. She could sense me, even though that other the enemies that have been fighting close to never perceived my existence. I must watch out, that is a sign of a very skilled mage. Will she be an ally or the other way around?”
Meanwhile, Azalea continuously creates a new magical shield as soon as one breaks. The concurrent blasts that are being spiced by the sound of fragile thin glass breaking to pieces must be very nerve-wracking for her. She almost misses a step while dodging. It does not seem that she noticed the group of mages that passed by. Or maybe she did not mind them since she has determined that they are not her foes.
“How long is she going to keep this ridiculous act?” Impatience grows inside Malikk. “She sounds so sure that that monstrous creature is no demon but still human. She might be right.” He continues to evaluate the situation. “Even though I do not think that she had already figured out the secret behind this transformation. Sure, humans cannot turn into demons; they are very different creature after all. It is like turning a mere stone into gold. However, there are a lot of ways around it, just as how people could produce some high quality fakes. However that is no demon, much less a fake one. That is a mere failure.
Probably a primary experiment… or, worst case scenario, a deliberate execution of an expendable tool. Whoever gave that little orb of spell to Elen, thinks nothing of the life of his subordinates. I have never seen that kind of spell before but this form is by no doubt a ‘yashou’ as perceived by my eyes. From that information, I can assume –let’s say that I am simply assuming—that the spell used here is the kind that could forcefully open the Vis of an ubliss. Unfortunately, it is still incomplete that’s why rather then turning her into a contractor. Her lack of ability to hold the yashou in its materialized form and incomplete spell made it so that the yashou would merge to the human that summoned it giving her such monstrous appearance. Due to the mental and physical pressure of transforming and fusing, her ability to reason had been lost. She is indeed not a demon, however whether she is still human is something I cannot confirm.”
A drop of sweat falls down her chin while she dodges those sharp monstrous claws. Every now and then she runs out of time to prepare a shield that she is resorting into her evasive maneuvers. Some of her weakness is starting to show up. Spells takes time to prepare and takes time to be used again. Furthermore, more than running out of mana, she is more concerned with her running out of stamina. She is a topnotch mage, a skillful demon hunter, however her stamina is not any different of that of an average physically fit person. This much physical exhaustion is not within her specialties.
No matter how smooth her footwork is. No matter how flawless her evasive maneuvers may be. It will all be for naught once she has burned out her stamina. She must finish her match with either of the two if she wants to win. That is how she had always done her hunts, though there is a great difference between her hunting missions and her battle today. The solitary demon hunter, she was able to hunt alone not only because she is overpowered but because of her strategic planning. Every battle must end in the time before she tires herself out. She never blindly charges into the demon’s territory without studying it first. Before going into battle, she had already thought of an escape route as well as how it could be used in case of emergency. If her first try at fighting a demon does not work out, she could escape, take her time to recover, analyze her strategy again, evaluate the demon’s strength and its skills, amend her strategy and take another shot at hunting. Even if the second encounter does not let her win, she could still try again and over again as long as she could keep herself alive. But her greatest weakness right now is the fact that those chances do not exist. There is no backing down. No retreats. This is not the regular hunting she is used to. This new environment is different from the norm that she had known.
“There in no way to turn her back into her human form again.” Malikk declares hoping to crash her hopeful fantasy.
She distances herself from the monster. “We won’t know that until we’ve tried.”
Then a series of blasts follows. The smoke covers everything like a thick fog. Those explosions cannot produce this massive cloud of smoke. She must have mixed some magic spell along with the explosion for it to result into a smoke screen. She is even using her enemy’s power into her advantage.
“Hah-! Doubling the smoke effect may be good way to conceal herself for a while.” Lyrus says in a playful tone. “Yeah, just a while. All I have to do is blast all this smoke away and then I’ll be sure as hell to get you this time!”
“Evan, take care of the other guy!” Azalea’s shout echoes.
“What does she mean by that?” He looks around in a panic. “Is she simply trying to confuse me with this thick smoke screen act? There are no other people around here to help her. I can still hear that demon’s claws crashing at her flimsy magical shields. She’s just bluffi--!!”
An unknown man has suddenly shown up attacking Lyrus with sword-shaped ki energy. He manages to block it with a smaller explosion but he also sustained small injuries.
“What the fu--!!” Lyrus cusses after distancing away from the attacker.
However, the new guy is not stopping his offensive. Something glowing like a ray of light almost hits him while he is trying to get a hold of the situation.
“Hm. He dodged.” A very bored male sounding voice rings. “He just dodged even though I thought he is fully unaware of my presence. It’s either because I screwed up or this guy is just that skilled. Which is it?”
Then he shoots another beam at Lyrus.
“Who the hell are you!” Lyrus roars after dodging. The smoke around them slowly disperses. He has no intention to just stand there and wait. He uses his explosive magic to blast the remaining smoke away. “Show yourself you coward!”
“You don’t have to be so noisy.” His voice sounds calm and confident.
The smoke has been blown away and now Lyrus can see his enemy clearly. Not far in front of him is a man in AB Academy uniform, with a weird sword hanging on his waist. He has black hair with blue highlight near his left temple. He is from the blue-zone. He has no idea who exactly this guy is, but if he is from the blue-zone then he might be a tough opponent. After observing his new opponent, he looks around to check their surroundings. No one else is there; in that gym’s roof, that demon hunter as well as the demon is nowhere to be found.
“Where are you looking?” He asks while firing another beam at Lyrus. “I am your opponent now.”
Lyrus dodges it, barely. With the surprised expression that he cannot conceal, he looks back at him. “That guy, as odd as he may be, is smiling at me. A smile, not gentle, not a trace of delight either; as if he is looking at a mere bug—a bug he is playing with—he smiles, an obscure sign of twisted amusement.”
“You--” The blue-zone guy’s voice resounds clearly on the empty roof. “You are the one giving her a hard time, aren’t you?”
Lyrus pauses looking confused. He does not know how to process what he just said. “Are you talking about that witch?”
“Witch?” He laughs a little, as though he is mocking the man in front of him. His smile looks kind but his eyes are cold. “I’ll make you regret you joined the wrong side.”
“This guy is nuts! He smiles like a psychopath and then suddenly comes up with the weirdest thing I ever heard. I mean, this guy is bad news.”
Azalea is able to hide herself thanks to that smokescreen and to the entrance of Evancross. It has taken her so much time to lure Elen into that corner of the gym’s roof where they cannot be seen. When she got the chance she kicked Elen down. Now that they are on the ground, Lyrus will not be able to interfere. Evan is also there to take care of him keeping him busy. Azalea can finally concentrate on learning whether there is still something she can do for Elen in this situation.
“What now?” Malikk whispers beside her as though he is expecting some mind-blowing twist from her. “The match suddenly turned into a one-on-one. There should not be anything that’s holding you back from defeating her, right?”
Azalea watches Elen’s monstrous form while it slowly stands. “Mhm… You’re a bit right.” Defeating her is one thing. Whatever it is that Elen has turned into is something that she will not know unless she defeats her. “I don’t need you to pester me any further.”
After that Malikk has become silent. Azalea still has no idea why he is here, his purpose, or what is he thinking right now other than being an annoyance. That pest aside, Elen is now sturdily standing. From her distance, Azalea can see her smoky breath escape out of her helmet. While she is caught up staring, Elen starts to attack; the monster rams her claws aiming into Azalea’s chest. Luckily, Azalea is able to block that giant hand using her floating Kharite staff. She then kicks the monster but the force she used is too weak. Elen is totally unaffected like an unmovable wall. Seeing the difference in their physical strength, Azalea decides to leap away. Just at the moment she gets away, another swift slash of the monster’s claws follows. Fortunately, it is unable not catch her. She would have been ripped to pieces if it ever did. From here on, she has to keep her distance.
She at least needs to stop her from moving. She does not have any available magical cage or anything of the sort. Cutting of Elen’s limbs off is not an option. She cannot reattach severed limbs once too much time has passed. To revert Elen back from this mindless creature into being human again without paying anything as a consequence, that might just be a wishful thinking.
They are simply going on round and around. Azalea’s breathing rhythm is starting to increase. While she keeps on evading the monster’s extra sharp claws, she notices that the smoke above is quickly dispersing.
“Ah—that mini explosion earlier.” She thinks while looking at the gym’s roof. “Evan and boom-guy must have started their getting to know each other phase.”
It is a funny thought but she must not get distracted now. She almost slips when Elen suddenly charges at her like mad. Azalea ducks and manages to keep the two-meter distance between them. Just enough so that the monster’s claws will not reach her and keep its attention focused on her. The monster lets out a heavy smoky breath and pauses for few seconds while staring at the only human close by. The eyes behind that helmet are glowing red. It seems that she is incredibly pissed now. She takes a deep breath and then puffs out another foggy air before dashing towards Azalea again. Using the same attack, the monster is trying to rip her apart, continuously attacking without any break.
The monster growls in low tone. It is as if she is mumbling something. Azalea is puzzled by it. Is she just imagining it? Or is she simply trying to convince herself by thinking that this transformation still has a little consciousness left? Looking at those claws that always almost pierces through her chest makes her sway back and forth between hope and uncertainty. If she takes into consideration what she has observed so far… She notices that it only has been using its claws to attack. The armor is a given as it is imbued with strong mana for protection. She is still unsure if she can crack it using some mid-tier attack spells. Considering that anything above that may kill her. Those claws are toughened by mana, but it does not seem like a special skill. If her assessment is right, it may be that Elen has still not grasped the full capability of this form. This means that Azalea’s only chance to find a way to restrain her is limited to this monster form’s early adjustment stage. She has to finish this match and avoid further aggravating the situation.
“Y-you…” A cracked voice resonates from within that armor-clad body.
“H-huh?..” Azalea is confused; unsure if she hearing this right.
“Be… b-betrayed…” The low toned voice continues to say something that is hard to understand. “Aluet, b-betrayed… B-baal… lam. A-aluet.”
“Is Elen starting to regain her consciousness? A sign?..” She responds quietly. She is listening to those inaudible words but she can scarcely get a anything out of it. “It seems like you know something that our history books had rejected to record.”
Azalea is certain now. She analyzes the enemy’s stance while distancing herself. The enemy is preparing to attack but this time it seems to be acting more cautious. Now, Azalea has chosen what spell she is going to use to end this.
“I think I’ll have to sacrifice a limb for this, but that’s better than not doing anything at all.” She takes a deep breath.
The spell takes three-second casting time, while that monstrous form will need less than a second to jump at Azalea. To stop the enemy’s movements in three seconds as she casts the spell she will need another spell. Something that has a short casting time and good grip.
“Okay, I got this!” She tells herself while fixing her eyes at the target.
Elen in that transformation glares back at Azalea.
Azalea closes her eyes, and then she takes a deep breath. She relaxes her body. She looks calm but her aura is threatening look. She then starts to cast a spell to taunt the enemy.
With claws ready to tear limbs apart, the monster dashes towards her. A low slanted slash aiming for her abdomen would have gashed her innards out if she has not evaded in time. She steps back and then quickly runs pass the side.
A magic circle suddenly glows below the opponent; right on where she stands.
The earth forms a hand-like structure catching those monstrous legs. Meanwhile, Azalea continues to run and distance herself.
Elen struggles to break free from Gaia’s grip however cracks are already appearing on it. Azalea can hear the crackling sound of the hardened earth that is falling apart. She casts speed up to distance herself farther before casting the main spell.
Multiple magic circles start to form in front of Azalea towards Elen’s direction. Meanwhile the mass of hardened earth holding Elen in place is falling apart. Azalea stays focused on her spell. Elen then breaks free of Gaia’s Grip but before she can leap, ten magic circles have already formed. The monster leaps at her at terrifying speed, its her huge claws are aiming for her head.
Within an inch’s gap, Azalea casts the spell that immediately stopped all of the monster’s movement. If she has been a little late in casting that spell, then those giant sharp claws might have splattered her brain on the dusty ground.
While keeping her eyes focused at the statue-looking monster, Azalea also slowly moves away from it. The fossilized monster looks like it is running forward while reaching for something. Azalea then looks down her right arm as thin smoke rise from it. Bright red glows around it as if it is tracing some weird markings. The red glow dispels leaving black marking as if they are tattooed on her arm. Burning pain erupts all over her whole right arm. It feels as though her arm is being continuously being burned and she is unable to heal it. Small magic circles are appearing around her legs, but most encircles her right arm making it shine. Her passive heal is reacting as if her arm has been severed but since that is not the case it is trying so hard to heal a wound that does not exist.
With her right hand, she taps Elen’s solidified shoulder which had become as hard as stone. “Sorry,” she whispers closely though this petrified monster can no longer hear her. “For now, you will stay in that position until I could find a way to revert your back to normal.” She then looks up the gym’s roof. “Now, I just have to check on Evan then help defend the students by the dorms.”
Her vision darkens for a split second. Her heart beat increases but she quickly calms down. Maybe she is just imagining things. She then touches her left eyes. It feels a little teary. However, what caught by her hand is not a normal tear, its red.
“W-what the hell?”
She quickly grabs a part of her robe to wipe it away. The sticky red liquid does not persist to flow. However, she has been startled. She has lost her cool for a moment there.
“Have I already gone over my limit?” She asks herself while standing stunned in the same place. The exhaustion is slowly eating on her. “No… Hold on a little bit longer. It’s almost over… Just hold on… I have to hold on.”
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