Chapter 156: A Lance’s Battle
“Where’s my mask?”
The witch’s hands fumbled over her face, still angled away from my line of sight.
“My mask. I need my mask,” she kept repeating as she realized her face was now bare. The witch tore away at her unruly black mane, clawing at her ponytails and using her undone hair as a curtain to cover her face. She kneeled on the ground, gathering the small shards of her shattered mask as she continued muttering.
I let out ragged breaths as I slowly inched away in fear of what she might do. I had used Static Void with Realmheart activated and in return, the tip of my sword was now gone.
The thatch of unruly black hair that fell over her face rustled as she began fitting together the broken pieces in a desperate attempt to make them whole. Suddenly, she clutched the pile she had so desperately gathered, clawing the ground along with it.
“My mask!” she screeched, gripping at the shards until her hands bled.
Watching the particles of mana congregating to form a murky green aura around her, I had no time think.
The faint purple particles of aether started vibrating as I activated Static Void once more. Ignoring my body’s protest, I rushed toward to strike the witch before the corroding aura completely enveloped her again.
With time stopped, I could close the gap without fearing that she would be able to react to me, but unlike my previous attempt, I wouldn’t be able to utilize the mana in the atmosphere—only the meager reserves I had left in my core.
Jagged vines of white crackled around the teal blade of my sword as I dashed toward the witch. With the spell considerably weaker than my previous attack, a sense of doubt began creeping up inside me.
I released the time-freezing mana art right as the flat tip of my sword buried itself in the green aura’s opening just above her left knee. The ever-familiar sensation of metal piercing through flesh was accompanied by the crackle of electricity spreading through the witch’s body. Yet the blood that leaked from her wound wasn’t the same red that came from her hand but rather a muddy green.
The site of where the wound should’ve been hissed as the murky green blood began congealing around Dawn’s Ballad.
As the witch raised her gaze from the ground, her thick wiry hair parted, she revealed to me what she had been so desperately trying to hide.
I tugged Dawn’s Ballad, wanting nothing more than to retreat. It wasn’t just her gnarled skin that looked more aged than the bark of the centuries-old trees surrounding us, or the two narrow slits between her sunken cheeks. It wasn’t even her thin leathery lips that were darker than her hair or her jagged teeth stained yellow.
It was her blood-curdling stare, radiating from the ghoulish pair of misshapen eyes, that filled me with a sense of dread. Unlike any monster or beast I’d faced since coming to this world, her dark hollow eyes that seemed like they had been gouged out and shoved back deep inside her skull made me wonder if this was the sort of demon that spawned from the depths of hell.
“Now that you’ve seen me in this state, I’m afraid that I can’t keep you as a pet,” she muttered, nearly whispering as she gripped my sword with one of her bloody hands.
I winced involuntarily as she spoke. My mind spun as I tried feebly to pull Dawn’s Ballad out of her grasp, trying to figure out what to do in this situation.
As I tore my gaze away from her terrifying stare, I watched in despair as her aura had nearly enveloped her whole body.
Unable to muster up the strength to trigger Static Void again, I looked down at my legs. I could still hear Lady Myre’s voice, warning me not to use Burst Step again. Glancing up, the murky green cloud slowly spread until only faint gaps the width of a feather were left.
I made my decision.
Letting go of my precious sword, I released a sharp breath to brace myself for the pain soon to come. Like the pistons of an engine in my old world, mana burst into specific muscles in progression with precise timing in the span of a millisecond, allowing my body to near-instantly flash from my original position.
I gritted through the mind-numbing pain that felt like the bones in my lower body were slowly smouldering inside a fire, and stabbed my hand through the faint chasm in her aura. Even with my hand coalesced with Absolute Zero, the deteriorating effects of her defenses seeped into my hand upon contact with her skin.
The witch let out a pained growl as she tried to pull herself away but my grip around her right arm stayed strong.
The flesh of my bare hand soon became painfully red as more and more layers of flesh began corroding. However, the effects of my spell showed signs that it was working. Her right arm, which had been gripping my sword impaled in her left thigh, turned a sickly dark color. Unlike frostbite that occured in nature, her arm began to freeze from where I was gripping her rather than from her fingers. She could no longer move her arm as the layers of skin and tissues had froze.
Before the effects of Absolute Zero could spread to her body, the witch cleaved down at her frozen arm with her other hand, tearing the limb completely from the shoulder.
A sharp, burning pain spread from my hand, reminding me of the injury I had sustained in exchange for her severed arm, which shattered like glass as I dropped it on the ground.
I wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not but looking down, the wound looked worse than it felt. Almost as if the skin on my left hand had been dipped in a batter of acid, yellow pus formed on the raw flesh of my hand, sending a surge of pain with even the slightest twitch.
Ripping off a piece of cloth at the end of my mantle, I gently wrapped it around my injured hand, keeping my jaw clenched through the entire process.
“How dare you!” the witch snarled. With a deranged fire in her hollow green eyes, she tore off chunks of her thick black hair to reveal a small stump just above her forehead.
“I am a Vritra! I’ll thoroughly make sure you feel the consequences of making a lady go through such… disgrace!” she screamed as she ripped off more of her mangled hair. “I’ll melt your limbs off and keep you as a trophy! I’ll cut off your tongue and feed you through a tube so you can only dream about dying!”
“Oh? You’ll have to at least be a scythe to even think about doing that,” I huffed, hoping she’d take the bait.
“A scythe? A scythe?” she howled, hobbling toward a nearby tree with Dawn’s Ballad still impaled in her left knee. “I’ll wipe that condescending woman off the face of Alacrya and take her place! Just because she’s a little attractive and her grunts fawn over her, she thinks she’s better than me? I’ll show her how degrading it is to be her retainer!”
Remembering how the witch had healed her hand earlier by submerging it inside a tree, I ignored the shrieks of protest from my legs and rushed to her.
She swung her only arm, releasing a gust of the smoke that’d nearly melted my lungs.
I activated Burst Step once more, dodging the poisonous smoke and closing the gap in a blink. Tendrils of black lightning coiled around my right arm. Rather than attempting to break through her corroding aura and risk mutilating another hand, I gripped the handle of my sword still embedded in her thigh. Acting as a conductor, the branches of electricity coiled down my sword into the witch’s body.
Her body immediately stiffened and jerked in a fit of convulsions from the current of lightning passing through her body. I could see her trying to fight back but I became hopeful as her hollow eyes reeled back.
Her head spasmed but there was still strength in her as her glossy eyes slowly came back into focus. The witch’s gnarled face cracked like dry soil as splotches of charred skin spread over her body.
Please, just die, I pleaded in my head as my decreasing mana reserves made me fear for the possibility of backlash.
Suddenly, I was wrenched back from the witch. As if I had been prodded by an iron brand, a searing pain radiated from my shoulder as I was sent tumbling back on the ground. Without looking back, I coated my hand in an icy aura and reached over my shoulder to pry off the fingers of mana she had conjured.
The witch was once again desperately trying to reach a nearby tree, just a few feet away, when I conjured an earthen wall.
Despite the thick wall surrounding her, she continued on with her staggering gait, unfaltered. The green aura surrounding her, despite being weakened because of my attack earlier, still managed to easily dissolve the wall.
I had no choice but to rely on Burst Step once more to stop her from healing her wounds when an all-too-familiar voice rang in my head.
‘Arthur!’ Sylvie cried as her large body cast a shadow over my head.
Perfect timing, I replied, my voice sounding strained even in my head. Gathering up as much mana as my body would allow without succumbing to the harsh effects of backlash, I conjured a torrent of wind underneath the witch’s feet.
“Catch!” I roared as I sent my opponent spiraling up in the air toward my bond.
Sylvie immediately dived down and grasped the witch using her long claws. With the weakened state of the witch, her aura had little effect on my bond. Her armored scales kept her protected long enough for her to soar up into the sky.
The two of them got lost in the clouds as Sylvie continued carrying the Vritra up.
‘She’s lost consciousness,’ Sylvie stated, the mental transmission sounding distant and muffled.
Drop her here, I transmitted, still on the ground.
‘I’ll do a little more than drop,’ she let out a growl.
After meditating just a bit longer for one last spell, I struggled up to my feet, my trembling legs barely keeping me standing.
With my good arm raised, I converged mana to form the head of a spear. The runes on my arms flickered and dimmed but still remained, helping me utilize as much of the mana in the atmosphere as possible. I could feel the temperature drop as the spear of ice expanded to the size of a tree.
As I steadily condensed the ice, the crude pike that I’d conjured took shape into a mighty lance large enough to be wielded by a titan. The lance continually changed, further refining itself as I condensed and molded it with the surrounding mana.
Feeling my legs giving out, I quickly raised the ground around me to support my legs, planting me to the ground in an earthen splint.
Compressed and sharpened so the spell that was once the size of a tree was now just a few feet longer me, the spear of ice, still suspended in the air, glimmered like the sky during the Aurora Constellate that occurred every decade.
The taste of metal filled my mouth as blood trailed down my chin, my body warning me of the wretched state I was in.
Moments later, I caught sight of the witch. The once mighty Vritra that seemed almost untouchable was hurtling down like a meteor fragment. Sylvie must’ve thrown her down by the speed she was plummeting toward me; it took only the span of a few breaths for her to be close enough to calculate where she’d land.
The Vritra’s mangled body plummeted right into the tip of my spear, and instantly, my body jerked from the force.
I could feel the brace I had conjured from the ground give in as the spear buried itself into the witch’s body.
With what remaining strength I had left in my legs, I managed to leap out of the way before I was caught up in the full brunt of the Vritra’s impact with my spear.
The blast of rocks and splintered trees bombarded my back as a thunderous explosion resounded, echoing throughout the entire forest and shaking every tree in the vicinity.
I fell in and out of consciousness as I tumbled on the ground, my body barreling through old logs and branches and whatever else was on the forest ground before the trunk of a large tree finally stopped me.
‘Hang on, Papa!’ Sylvie cried out.
I thought… it was beneath you… to call me… Papa, I let out, my consciousness faltering.
She remained silent; I could only feel the rampant emotions leaking out of her—desperation, guilt, anger, sorrow.
With my perception of time unreliable, I couldn’t tell how long it had taken Sylvie to get here, but her large black snout was hovering over me by the time I realized she was by my side.
Her translucent yellow eyes were lined with tears as she slowly opened her jaw. My bond let out a soft breath, but rather than air, a shimmering mist of purple enveloped me.
The cacophony of pains that I had over all of my body soon dulled as the soothing mist seeped into me.
“Vivum,” I muttered weakly.
‘Don’t talk,’ she scolded as she continued healing me.
Just like your grandmother. I managed a weak smile. For such a scary-looking dragon, your powers turned out be rather… docile.
A faint sense of amusement sparked in my bond at my comment, ‘If you have the energy for such lame humor, I’m sure you’ll be fine.’
Of course; who do you think I am?
‘A rash and idiotic child that has no sense of self-preservation,’ she grunted as she closed her jaw. ‘I warned you of the enemy coming your way, yet you still decided it was necessary to fight her on your own!’
Letting out a strained fit of coughs, I gently stroked my bond’s snout.
I’m sorry. At least it’s over—it’s over, right?
“See for yourself,” Sylvie said aloud, the gentle and mellow timbre in her voice soothing after hearing so much of the witch’s shrieks.
I propped myself up on the base of the tree I had collided with using my elbow as my bond moved to the side.
Less than fifty feet away was a crater the size of a home with a thin layer of dust still apparent. In the center of the large depression was the spear of ice buried halfway into the ground as the witch’s lifeless body laid dangling in the air, the spear impaled straight through her chest.
Steam still hissed from the witch’s body as her corrosive skin tried to eat away at the ice, but to no avail.
She was dead.