Chapter 221: Backtrack
Near the southern end of the Elshire Forest
The three of us stood aloft the canopy of trees. I gripped Dawn’s Ballad in my hand while a thousand thoughts and worries ran through my mind.
Despite Sylvie’s recent growth, she wouldn’t be able to handle the retainer by herself. And even if I were to hold Cylrit off myself, Sylvie wouldn’t be able to find Tess within the magical fog spread over Elshire Forest.
The best option was to end this battle as fast as possible in order to make it to Tess. However, expending too much energy and mana in a fight where the opponent was just stalling could be detrimental for the real battles soon to come.
Sylvie. I’m pretty confident I can beat Cylrit on my own, but not if his aim is to just stall for time. Let’s wrap this up quickly together.
While the speed of my flight was by no means slow, fighting was another story. It was difficult to utilize my fighting style, which consisted of sharp movements and bursts of speed, in the air.
‘I agree,’ she confirmed as mana already began gathering around her at an extraordinary rate.
Opening my mind entirely to my bond, Sylvie formed a solid panel of condensed mana beneath my feet at my request.
Cylrit’s expression didn’t change at my sudden approach. He merely lifted his greatsword into a defensive position.
I focused on a space about three paces in front of Cylrit, sending a quick thought to my bond. The timing was just a tad behind but another translucent panel formed beneath my right foot as I stepped on the space in the sky I had shown to Sylvie. This allowed for another quick change in direction as I pushed off Sylvie’s conjuration.
The retainer’s eyes calmly followed my movements but his greatsword remained frozen in place. Still, I didn’t let down my guard.
Dawn’s Ballad whistled as its sharp edge cut through the air toward Cylrit’s chest, but something felt off.
The closer my blade got to the retainer, the more I felt a weight ‘pulling’ on it. Dawn’s Ballad almost seemed to be sucked in by Cylrit’s behemoth of a sword as the teal blade arced off course and straight into its pitch-black blade.
The sensation disappeared as soon as our blades clashed, but as soon as I swung again, Dawn’s Ballad was once again attracted to his mysterious sword.
With only the thought of ending this quickly, I activated the first phase of my beast will.
The colors around me inverted, freezing everything but myself in place. I quickly brought the broken tip of Dawn’s Ballad against the motionless retainer’s stomach before releasing Static Void.
However, even at point-blank range, my sword veered away from Cylrit’s torso, barely drawing blood while leaving me drained.
Damn it! I cursed.
Sylvie reacted quickly to my failed attempt by conjuring another platform beneath my feet for me to quickly gain distance from Cylrit.
I let out a heavy breath. Static Void was a spell passed down to me from Sylvia that wasn’t compatible with my mastery of aether. Even as a white core mage, just using a few seconds of the aether arts made me feel like I had been fighting for several hours.
“I was taught of the various mana arts that asura clans had forged, especially the ‘aether arts’ of the Indrath Clan. Experiencing it in person, though, I could see why it’s to be feared,” Cylrit said, looking down at his wound.
Having no intentions of exchanging frivolities with him, I mentally nudged my bond.
Sylvie, fire a few shots behind him.
Just as arrows of mana manifested in the air behind the retainer, I launched a blast of frost and an arc of lightning. The ice blast spread into a cone while the lightning spell branched off to completely cover our opponent but to no avail.
With a single sweep of his sword, our spells were sucked up and completely eaten away by the black blade.
My bond conveyed her annoyance with a quick glance in my direction. ‘What a troublesome ability.’
Impatience welled up inside me as I watched Cylrit maintain his stance, not bothering to attack. Rather, he pulled out a small scroll and began reading it.
The retainer looked up, shifting his gaze from Sylvie to me before saying, “one of my scouts has confirmed that elven princess has been withdrawn from battle.”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe you and walk away?” I spat.
Withdrawing Dawn’s Ballad, I conjured two frozen blades like Varay had done—condensing layer upon layer of ice to reinforce its durability—before rushing towards the retainer.
Cylrit’s cold eyes narrowed in scrutiny, well aware of Sylvie preparing a spell from a distance as I quickly approached.
My two blades of ice clashed with his sword, generating a blast of pressure. Even with mana coating my weapons, cracks were already visible.
Mending the scarred surface of the weapons, I swung again, quickly turning into a flurry of blades. It was an odd feeling as my swords were unwillingly forced into a direction different from where I willed it.
It got to the point where I would purposely abandon the ice swords and quickly conjure a new one, hoping that there would be a bit of a lag in between the gravitational pull from his sword.
“If your master is really on our side, this is a meaningless battle, Cylrit,” I growled, releasing the eighteenth conjured sword from my hand and shooting a blast of fire at his legs.
That’s when I saw—or rather, sensed it. Something within his weapon changed . Not visibly, but it happened just after the sword I had let loose was pulled into his sword and I had shot the fire.
Immediately, I activated Realmheart, surprising both Sylvie and Cylrit. I tested it out once more, throwing my other ice sword at Cylrit while simultaneously shooting an arc of lightning.
The mana fluctuation within his greatsword—now visible to me with Realmheart—changed in the middle of his swing as he blocked both the solid composition of my ice sword and the mana-fueled spell of the lightning.
His sword can only attract one or the other at once!
By his annoyed gaze, I knew Cylrit noticed my revelation, but it didn’t matter. I knew his weakness.
Sylvie, capitalizing on our discovery, quickly casted the spell she had been preparing. Like a brilliant firework display, hundreds of sparks spread with blazing trails. Rather than fade, though, the sparks of light remained suspended in the air all around us.
A wave of fatigue leaked onto me from my bond, but she remained determined to finish this quickly.
‘I need to concentrate fully on maintaining this mana art. Don’t let Cylrit near me.’
With a mental nod, I burst forward, using a condensed blast of wind to aid my acceleration. I was doubtful whether we could pull off the sort of coordination we would need to follow through with Sylvie’s plan, but I followed through with her intention.
Cylrit was obviously wary of the gleaming sparks of light surrounding him but his attention remained focused on me as I was the more immediate threat.
I conjured a single blade of ice as I approached the retainer. The spark of light beneath my right foot turned into a panel for me to push off of, allowing me to sharply change my direction. Another spark turned into a platform, and another, until I was dancing around Cylrit fast enough for him to lose track of me briefly.
‘Now! ’ Sylvie expressed.
I pushed off one of the many platforms of mana my bond had conjured directly behind the retainer.
Even without his powerful vacuum ability, however, Cylrit’s reflexes were on par or even above mine. He whirled around, bringing his large sword around at a speed that made me believe his weapon was a hollow toy.
I saw the mana composition changing within his weapon before feeling my blade of ice being sucked in towards the black sword.
As I resisted the force pulling at my conjured weapon, Sylvie triggered one of the sparks of mana hovering nearby.
A blinding beam of pure mana shot out towards Cylrit just as my blade clashed with his. The retainer, unable to alter his weapon’s ability in time, was forced to dodge out of the way.
Sylvie’s attack still managed to glance off his black armor, leaving its mark alongside the small wound I had inflicted on his torso.
We didn’t stop there. I abandoned the ice sword for the countless time and concentrated mana into my fist before swinging hard at my opponent’s face while sending a blast of lightning with my other hand.
Cylrit opted to absorb the blast of lightning while using his own arm to block my fist. While he was pushed back from the force, I conjured a new—even larger—blade than the last one and striked.
Unable to change his ability fast enough, he took the full force of Ice Sword Mach Twenty-something. The mana around his body negated the brunt of the attack, but by the blood leaking from the corner of Cylrit’s lips, I knew we had landed our first successful attack.
We continued to stay on the offensive, mixing spells with conjured swordplay or attacking with my own hands and feet.
It’s working, I sent to Sylvie.
My bond triggered another spark to release a blast of mana while I purposefully shattered my latest ice sword. Being a white core mage, molding the dozens of ice fragments into spikes was instantaneous while they hailed down on the retainer.
However, before either of our attacks could reach Cylrit, the retainer spun towards me. I barely managed to dodge the kick aimed at my face but his foot still scuffed me on the shoulder.
Tumbling back in the air, I tried to regain my balance when a spotted a black object advanced directly at me. It was Cylrit’s sword, along with the barrage of icicles that were being pulled towards it.
I grabbed on to one of Sylvie’s suspended sparks to stop myself from tumbling. Four other sparks in between me and Cylrit’s thrown sword lit up and connected to form a large barrier.
The pitch-black sword pierced through Sylvie’s mana barrier but managed to stop the ice shards.
I dodged Cylrit’s weapon easily enough but the retainer followed up with another kick.
Barely managing to duck out of the way, I imbued my fist with lightning, but as I tried to strike at him, a force pulled the spell surrounding my fist back behind me.
This gave Cylrit enough time to land a solid punch to my jaw. The mana protecting me soaked up some of the force from the impact but my vision still swam.
I dodged the next hit and tried to gain some distance from him but he stuck closely to me. The sparks around us glowed threateningly, a sign that Sylvie was waiting for a chance to fire once more.
Now was the time—while Cylrit’s sword was set to attract physical spells.
“Do it!” I roared.
A note of panic and confusion bloomed from my bond’s mind, but I expressed my confidence and determination.
My bond abided and fired everything she had.
The sky lit up as every single spark fired a bright beam of mana directly at us.
My body begged me to move out of the way. It wasn’t too late. But instead, I grabbed ahold of Cylrit.
‘Arthur!’ Just from hearing Sylvie’s voice in my head, I could feel how horrified she was.
The retainer struggled to break free from my grasp, his attention focused not on the spell but on his sword behind me. It was obvious that he was trying to get his weapon back, but I didn’t make it that easy. Unable to even risk releasing a single limb from Cylrit, I smashed my forehead into his nose and repeated until the heat from Sylvie’s mana beams could be felt on my skin.
The world grew still again just as the cluster of beams were inches away from us.
I tried prying myself away from Cylrit, but the retainer had been grabbing onto the fur-lined mantle that Virion had passed down to me.
I slipped out of the piece of outerwear and dropped down out of harm’s way before releasing Static Void.
The world’s color shifted back to normal and I watched from a distance as Cylrit’s figure disappeared within the beams of mana.
Damn. So much for not wasting my energy, I cursed myself.
Cylrit’s abilities made it a bad match-up and there was still much to be desired from the coordination between Sylvie and me, but we managed to win without any serious injuries—a large improvement considering we got our asses handed to us by Uto last time.
I saw Cylrit’s figure plunging down into the canopy of trees and fog below but with Realmheart, I knew he was still alive.
I looked at my bond, both of us prepared to finish our journey, when I felt a mild shock pulse from within my pant pocket.
It was the transmission scroll linked with my sister. I quickly unrolled it and read the short message now inscribed on the vellum.
My hands trembled as I read and reread the content of the scroll. I fumbled with the scroll as I tried to shove it back into my pocket. But even after that, I remained still. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t decide.
A beat of silence passed before Sylvie’s voice echoed in my head. ‘Arthur. Let’s go.’
I could tell by the angst from Sylvie that she had read my thoughts that I hadn’t bothered to hide. She quickly shifted into her draconic form, swooped underneath me and scooped me up.
‘We’ll assume that the retainer was telling the truth for now. Right now, your sister needs us back at the Wall.’