Chapter 246: Dear Old Friend
Even as I said his name and knew who he was, Elijah had changed tremendously. Aside from the fact that he was now a head taller than me with skin as pale as alabaster, his short jet-black hair and sharp eyes made him look almost completely different.
Elijah let out a chuckle, his gaze fixed on me. “Long time no see, Tess. How’s Arthur doing?”
I shuddered as a sharp chill ran down my spine. Elijah and I had gone to school together—he was Art’s best friend. So why were his words so threatening?
“He’s doing fine,” I mustered, trying to stand taller as the pressure Elijah gave off continued to weigh down on me.
“Of course he’s doing fine. That fool has been as resilient as a cockroach for as long as I’ve known him.”
My brows furrowed at the unfamiliar word. “Cock…roach?”
“Guess you wouldn’t know yet,” he smiled, taking a step closer to me. “Come. Let’s go.”
“Go? Where?” I asked, my heartbeat quickening. “Elijah, what happened?”
Elijah flinched slightly at the mention of his name. “I’ll explain on the way. For now, it’d be best if you come with me.”
“Don’t!” a voice croaked from behind. I looked back to see Madam Astera back on her feet, her sword in hand.
“Impressive that you can talk despite the pressure I’ve put on you especially,” Elijah said. “But I advise you not to speak again.”
Madam Astera raised her sword, hands trembling. “H-He’s the…one…battlefield.”
I barely had time to think when I sensed danger. The instincts embedded into me through assimilation with my beast will caused me to tackle Madam Astera.
Glancing back to where she was standing before, there was an all-too-familiar black spike, jutting from the ground with blood dripping from its point.
Madam Astera groaned in pain, but my eyes remained glued to Elijah. “Y-You? How…”
We were told that the only ones able to conjure those black spikes were some of the scythes and their retainers. So why—how—was Elijah able to use it?
“A-Are you with the Alacryans?” I asked.
Elijah’s expression turned serious. “The Alacryans and I both have something we want to get out of this war. That is it.”
Realization dawned on me. “It was you—you were at Etistin. W-Were you the one that…”
Elijah took another step toward us. “Step away from the woman, Tessia.”
“I refuse,” I said through gritted teeth.
“G-Get out of here, Princess. It seems he can’t kill you,” Madam Astera whispered. “We’re no match. He’s the one that slaughtered scores of soldiers at the bay shore battle. There’s no mistaking it.”
“I’ve trained and suffered, waiting years for this, Tessia. Come with me and I’ll leave the others alone.”
I tightened my grip around Madam Astera.
Elijah let out a sigh. “Okay. I really didn’t want to leave any distasteful memories, but you leave me no choice.”
Another chill ran down my spine, signalling danger.
With just the faintest rustle, another black spike was conjured, piercing through the wounded soldier we had just found.
But it was too late.
Madam Astera jerked within my grasp, trying to reach her fallen comrade, but I kept her down.
“Come with me, Tessia,” Elijah repeated.
My mind spun as I tried to think of a way out of this. I knew I couldn’t go with Elijah. He was purposely keeping me alive for something. My first thought was that he was going to use me as a hostage, but then Elijah said he didn’t want to leave any distasteful memories…
Another chill ran down as I felt the fluctuation of magic. This time, there was only a surprised grunt in the distance before I saw it.
Jast had been pierced through the chest and hoisted into the air…just like my parents had been. The traumatized soldier’s expression wasn’t of pain but of surprise and confusion as blood dripped from the corners of his mouth.
“No!” Madam Astera screamed, trying to pry herself away from me.
“Now…” Elijah held out a pale hand. “Come. With. Me. ”
My gaze shifted from Jast’s corpse to Madam Astera and to Nyphia and Herrick.
I was caught between two choices: relent until everyone but me was killed, or go with him.
Desperation sunk in, and I decided to make my own third option.
Grabbing the blade of Madam Astera’s sword, I held it by my throat. “Don’t.”
A look of surprise skirted across Elijah’s face before he revealed a smirk. “You’re not going to kill yourself.”
Without another word, I pressed the edge of the blade against my throat until I drew blood.
This was a dangerous gamble, one that could get myself and the people around me here killed, but I knew I couldn’t go with him—I knew something far worse might happen if I went with him.
Fortunately, the gamble paid off. Elijah visibly stiffened and his brows knitted in frustration before he snapped. “Stop.”
I held the blade in place, keeping my expression firm despite the sharp pain radiating from my self-inflicted wound.
Fear bubbled up in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to die now. I didn’t want to die.
The hand holding the blade trembled, and it barely lowered because of my hesitation, but that was all Elijah needed.
Instantly, a thin spike shot through Madam Astera’s sword, knocking it out of my hand.
“I’m sorry I had to risk your life like that, but I’ve waited too long,” Elijah said sincerely as he walked towards me.
I fell back and scrambled desperately away from the man that was once Arthur’s friend. What had happened to him?
I hated myself for being so weak. Because of me, everyone here was going to die and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Elijah flicked his wrist, and another black spike shot up from the ground…through Herrick. I closed my eyes, unable to watch as Nyphia’s scream pierced through my ears.
My heart hammered against my ribs as my breath turned shallow. I tried to keep calm, but I was suddenly reminded of the battle in the Elshire Forest—all of the deaths that had been caused by me. I opened my eyes again to see the world spinning and tipping. I felt like I was drowning underwater as the only noise I could hear was my frantic heart beating and the short desperate breaths coming out of my mouth.
Then, suddenly, a hailstorm of golden white light rained down on Elijah. Clouds of dust enveloped the entire area as trees fell and the ground crumbled.
A dragon as black as the conjured spike a few steps in front of me appeared. Moments later, even through my blurry vision, I could make out the all-too-familiar figure with a head of long auburn hair, holding someone. Faint golden markings glowed just beneath his eyes as he appeared. As he looked at me, a mixture of emotions washed over me as my vision darkened: embarrassment, guilt, but most of all, relief.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not even able to hear my own voice.
I could make out more of Arthur’s face as he got closer. He was sweating and his usual composure was nowhere to be found. His mouth moved but I couldn’t hear what he said as the world faded into black.
I dropped Nyphia, who I had practically pried away from her dead friend, and caught Tess as she fell unconscious. Slinging her over my shoulder, I snapped my fingers to get Nyphia’s attention.
“Help Madam Astera onto my bond,” I said sharply, jutting my head over to Sylvie, who was walking towards us.
Nyphia, who had been staring at me blankly, snapped out of her daze and nodded. She slung Madam Astera’s arm over her shoulders and helped her up onto Sylvie.
“What is this?” Madam Astera marveled as she got on top of my bond, her right ankle bleeding profusely.
Wordlessly, I handed Tessia to her and made sure all three of them were secure before I withdrew Static Void. I ignored the tight grip of fatigue around my mana core and jumped onto Sylvie’s back as we took off high into the cloudy skies.
How easy would it have been if I had full control over Aevum like Lord Indrath; I could’ve kept time frozen as I took everyone to safety. Of course, if I had the powers of an asura, things would never have escalated to this point.
‘Are you okay? You used borrowed aether arts for much longer than you’re used to,’ Sylvie asked, her concern emanating onto me.
I’ll be fine. Were you able to get a close look at that Alacryan though? From those black spikes and the pressure he gave off, he was at least a retainer and one we haven’t seen before.
‘I wasn’t able to make out his face either,’ she answered. ‘But he’s already approaching us.’
I sensed it too. We had already reached above the thick blanket of clouds and had already cleared several miles but I could feel the Alacryan’s presence not too far off.
Madam Astera was the next to sense our enemy’s approach. She jerked back, her face pale and expression grim.
She and I both knew that as soon as we landed, a battle would be inevitable. But that didn’t matter. I just needed to hold this person off until Madam Astera and Nyphia can get Tess through the portal safely. With the artifact she and I had, the portal would take us to the refuge shelter where the rest of them were waiting.
‘We’ll make it back,’ Sylvie assured. ‘We’re much stronger than we used to be.’
Without Dawn’s Ballad and the fact that I barely managed to wound a scythe out of sheer luck, I couldn’t help but feel a lingering doubt. Still, there were people waiting for me.
We continued flying through the air silently. Nyphia, who was around my age, was coping with her loss, trembling as she clutched something in her hands. I found myself staring at Madam Astera’s back as she held onto Tess. I didn’t think I’d meet the old soldier again after seeing her briefly at the battle of Etistin Bay… or even before that as a cook.
A sharp influx of mana behind me snapped at my attention. Immediately, I whirled around, conjuring a dome-shaped barrier of ice. Not a second later, sharp cracks resounded, cutting through the howling wind as black spikes embedded themselves onto the ice barrier before it shattered.
I utilized the dense clouds below us to fuel another frost barrier but the barrage of black spikes continued unceasingly.
Sylv. Dip lower into the clouds, I conveyed while manipulating the dense clouds to cover our movements.
‘Got it. We’re almost at Telmore City,’ my bond informed.
We picked up speed during our descent, giving me enough time to prepare an attack. Unable to use lightning effectively because of the abundance of moisture around us, I readied a barrage of ice shards in the general direction of the approaching Alacryan, adding a deadly spin and boost in speed using wind magic as well.
My spell tore through asunder, punching dozens of holes through the clouds. My confidence wavered as I spotted the black dot approaching, unabated by my attack.
Soon after, the black dot multiplied and I found myself facing another two dozen black spikes the size of spears.
Faster! I snapped, unwilling to waste any more mana right now when a battle on the ground seemed inevitable. At this point, I could only pray that there wasn’t another retainer or scythe waiting for us by the teleportation gate.
Finally, after speeding down through an endless visage of murky gray, we burst through the cloud floor. Below, the city of Telmore exploded into view, its buildings and the surface they were built on fast approaching.
Even with the wind magic I had cast around us, Madam Astera and Nyphia had to clutch tightly around Sylvia’s back spine to keep from falling off.
‘Arthur! Help me with the landing!’ Sylvie pleaded as we approached the paved clearing in the middle of Telmore City. My gaze shifted back and forth between the approaching black spears and the ground, my ears popping from the change in pressure.
“Hold on!” I roared as I ignited Realmheart and cast a powerful updraft just in time for Sylvie to spread her wings.
Simultaneously, I cast another barrier of ice over us as the black spears began raining down. The spears were different this time though—they burned right through the ice barrier.
“Damn it,” I cursed. Curling my hand into a fist, I dispelled the frozen barrier over us, shattering it before using the same updraft I had conjured to slow our descent to redirect at least some of the black spears.
Just how much mana does that retainer have to constantly churn out spells like this? I wondered in frustration as we neared the ground.
I could barely make out the screams and shouts from the people below as they scattered below us.
Suddenly, Sylvie let out a cry and we jerked to the left.
‘I was struck on my right wing,’ Sylvie sent painfully as we started spiraling out of control.
It took a few minutes for Sylvie to be able to coat her wing in mana and slowly close her wound before she regained control. The problem now was being able to slow down our descent fast enough to land safely instead of crashing like a meteor.
With my attention split between creating the updraft as well as fighting off the scores of black spears that didn’t seem to be stopping, however, I couldn’t help but prepare for the worst.
We plummeted down, Sylvie’s wings spread wide to catch as much of my updraft as possible.
Just as my fears were about to come true, a green light emanated from around me.
I spared just a glance back to see Tess awake and back up on her feet.
The light had spread from Tess and onto Sylvie as green translucent tendrils of mana shot out from underneath my bond, embedding themselves into the ground and buildings around us.
Most of the translucent vines ripped apart as they tried to counter the speed of our fall, but I could feel us slowing down.
Trusting Sylvie and Tess to handle the fall, I focused my attention back to the approaching Alacryan speeding towards us like an ebony comet.
Utilizing both fire and water, I conjured a blast of thick steam towards our enemy in order to obscure his vision before releasing an arc of lightning. The blast of steam served as a powerful conductor for the lightning, creating a lightning-cloud that lit up the darkening sky in brilliant flashes of gold.
At the last moment, Sylvie cast a barrier of mana around us, and with Tess’ beast will slowing our fall, we were able to land on the ground without a scratch.
“Let’s go!” I snapped, picking Nyphia up by her waist as Tess and Madam Astera hopped off of Sylvie.
I glanced down at Madam Astera’s right ankle. She had enveloped a thick layer of mana just around the wound to keep it from bleeding. It was only a temporary solution but a smart choice with how little time we had.
“I-I can run!” Nyphia said, her face red froms she struggled underneath my arm.
“Good.” I let her go and we all began racing towards the podium only a few hundred feet east with Tess and Madam Astera leading the way.
Sylvie changed into her human form and followed closely behind me when Tess suddenly looked back at me over her shoulder.
It was only for a split second and no verbal exchange happened but the expression she made as she looked at me lingered.
With our mana-clad bodies, we quickly approached our destination, but so had our enemies. There were Alacryan soldiers lined up in rows between us and the teleportation gate, but they weren’t the reason that every hair on my body stood on its end.
I glanced back to see a black fire burning away at the lightning cloud and a figure merely standing on the ground where we had landed.
My eyes widened at the sight of the same power as that scythe I had fought against in the Castle.
With Realmheart still active, I could see the horrifying amount of mana coagulating, not just around him, but on the ground below us as well.
My mind whirled as I debated whether to risk using Static Void once more. Encompassing our entire group long enough for us to make it to the portal without the help of mana would take a minute, maybe more.
My gaze landed on Nyphia and Madam Astera. Could I abandon these two and lessen the burden?
“Arthur!” Sylvie shouted, urging me to do something— anything .
I cursed under my breath and decided.
I used Static Void… only on myself. I whirled back, digging my heels into the ground and dashing back to where the Alacryan was preparing his devastating attack, hoping to withdraw Static Void in front of him and dispel his magic.
But as I got close enough to make out who my opponent was, my concentration wavered and Static Void shattered out of existence.
There was a look of surprise at my sudden appearance just a few yards away from him, but his lips curved into a smirk.
His arms lowered but the umbral energy still swirled around his hands as Elijah greeted me. “Long time no see, my dear old friend…Grey.”