Liel—he was now just a few yards in front me, clear as day and I couldn’t help but want to smile, but then stopped myself. For a regrettable reason, he had now become my enemy. No, I’ll need to make sure none of my attacks are lethal. Which goes without saying… but it won’t be the same for anyone else who interferes—not even Lilia.
He stood there, looked to Lilia and handed her a rope. I looked at my surroundings, but there was no Pauline. No matter. All I need to do is concentrate and be careful not to injure him, and Nes should be planning the same.
“I was afraid of trying something I haven’t tested out,” said Lee. He raised his right hand and pointed it toward Nes. A second after and now his left toward me. “Forgive me if hurts a bit.”
I breathed in to ready myself for whatever attack he would fling at us. A fire spell? It would need to be fired at me, since it would not affect Nes. Water? At his age, the magic reserves he has will likely not be enough to be create an element so opposed to his blood, meaning that we only need to watch out for Lilia’s magic. I breathed in for that precious air I never thought twice about.. until now, that when I breathed in, the air I took in felt thin—thinning.
Thud. There was a sound of something hitting the ground. I looked over and saw Nes as she fell to her knees and tried breathing. Then it was my turn. I also fell to my knees, holding my chest for that hard to breathe in air and my body began shaking. Eyes going blank slowly. The air was missing something essential. Then Nes fell completely face down and Lilia quickly moved to her and began tying her hands to her back.
“Oxygen,” said Lee. Oxygen? A word I’ve never heard of before. “I’m breaking down the oxygen atoms before they reach your lungs. You’ll pass out soon like Nes.”
I quickly grabbed one of the stone that orbited around me and let it activate. An unsual circumstances that for some reason led me to need a use for a stone that normally would only see the light of day when I needed to breathe underwater. It cracked open, and I swallowed it.. letting it escape..
“Cough!” I gasped for air, coughing profusely and supporting myself with both arms to keep me from hitting the ground.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump! Lilia’s footsteps became heavy as she ran towards me soon after, but before that, I grabbed yet another stone.
Crack. It opened and released its magic as Lilia advanced with her next movement, batting her lance in an unsual attack, hitting my stomach as I attempted to bring myself up with its long round edge. Thus having me slammed back and pushing me to the grassy surface of the open field in this forest.
“Agh!” I let out a yell.
I saw a dim blue layer of light crawling to my hand as it began to cover it. Soon enough, and now I was completely engulfed by that light all around my body.
“You could have chosen to thrust,” I said.
“Death is the last thing the young lord would wish upon you,” said Lilia, this time she pointed her lance and gathered her legs ready to run and thrust at me. “But now that you’ve protected yourself, I don’t need to hold back!”
I grabbed the next stone and in return it quickened my movements.
Lilia’s lance thrust itself many times in my direction as I dodged them, left, right, and I also stepped back. From behind her, and in the background, I saw Lee with his hands following me as I kept dodging Lilia’s speedy attacks, some which managed to land a hit on the soft edges of my reinforced skin, leaving nothing but a Scratch and the lance forcing itself pass by.
“Lee!” I yelled at him, confused that his hands did not force magic from its center to fire off a spell, and waiting for something to come out so I can plan my next move. Both of his arms were merely frozen in place as they were pointing at me. Nothing happened as I could tell. I breathed in, knowing fully well that I could do so and eliminated that thought of him having a replay of his actions from a while ago. Regardless, I can’t keep analyzing something I can’t see.
The next stone I grabbed, as I kept Lilia within my reach, was a stone to let me ends things. A stone that pours out a fragrance of sleep to those around me… but instead it oozed magic, flowing out like a smoke’s fire that was recently put out and on a closer look it was cut in half, smooth to the touch. It’s useless!
“eh?!” I kept looking at it. How? No usual cutting technique could come to mind.
“Keep her busy!” he yelled, instructing Lilia who kept thrusting her lance at me. Then she landed a hit on my stomach and she stopped. She was breathing heavily from her nonstop attacks and yet her lance had pierced only past the few layers of cloth on my dress. Without thinking about it, I grabbed one other stone with my right hand and Lilia’s lance with my left.
Crack. The stone gave me its magic, and it wasn’t cut like the other. It gave me strength, and I used it to grab tighter on Lilia’s lance and quickly pull it towards my direction before she could let go. I grabbed her arm that tried pushing me away with weakened force. She failed. I retracted my arm to push it forward in a punch that I aimed at her stomach.
“Aaaah!” She fell to her knees and I let her down on the ground, quickly this time, I ran to Lee.
I kept getting closer and closer as the distance closing in between us. Four seconds, three, two, and now Lee was right in front of me.
“It’s over,” I said while a little tired and heart beating quickly from the adrenaline in combat.
I looked into his eyes but he did not resist. He had grown since the last time I’ve been this close to him. Cheeks a bit more plump, hair with the same dark distinct color and eyes that always seemed curious—eyes that ever since he was young, they would feel like they analyzed everything I did. It was him. It really is Lee. His clothing was burnt, holes making skin visible and he was a bit messy with dirt here and there. He was looking up at me with arms held high… arms that seemed like he signaled for me to pick him and carry him like old times–but instead, these were arms that continued to use magic. In that moment also, a stone doing its orbit came into my field of view and I saw it being cut slowly. It then oozed the magic it lost.
“You won’t give up,” I said, “will you?” He frowned.
“No,” he said, breathing exhausted. “I don’t think I can last another day in that castle before losing my sanity.”
“Oof!” Just then I felt something hitting my sides, like a tackle and with a good amount of force to push me and whatever tackled along to the ground. We were laying down, my back on the grass surface and I pulled my legs from the knees up to force a body off from on top of me. We both got up, and in my eyes, I couldn’t say I was surprised.
“Don’t–” she said, trying to catch her breath. She had a severely burned hand, closed and the type to appear from touching very hot metal.
“Puline,” I said.
“Don’t forget about me,” she said, then laughed lightly. She moved to Lee and got in between us. Then Lilia, with hand to her stomach, joined in on that moment and both stood next to each other. Lilia placed her lance in position again for an attack.
“I spared you once,” I said, looking to Lilia.
“So have I,” she said.
“Don’t expect the same for yourself,” I said, looking directly at Pauline.
“Hahaha…” she laughed again, and proceeded to open that burnt hand of hers to reveal two magic stones. Her hand shook, vibrating from the damage and lack of control Pauline had with it. She took the stones with her other hand and looked at me. “I won’t expect the same treatment… not ever.”
I closed my eyes and commanded the stones that orbit me to gather close and cover my body whole. Whatever stones Lee hadn’t yet cut, they cracked open. From the sound of it, four had remained of the twenty I had prepared. Then the stones dropped to the floor as their magic had already been transferred to me.
A shape of a sword, thick and sharp, it emerged out from my blue dim shield, and in that same color of blue light, from one hand to the other–another one came out and extended carefully as it was being molded into a perfect blade. The second stone let me see the day much brighter, almost blinding. This was for seeing in the dark… no use for that one. Two left, the second last gave me a cure for poison… useless. Then the last one…
* * *
“…” I gazed in awe at Alice.
Wings sprouted from Alice’s back in that same dim blue light and stretched widely so much so that they felt threatening. She flapped them. Short gusts of wind were felt from its movements. Dust ran away from the strong flaps and leaves were blowing in all directions. Without saying a word, Alice began flapping her wings quickly and flew toward us. Both Lilia and Pauline dodged to the sides which made a straight opening path to me and I was immediately picked up by the pits of my arms.
“Wait!” I yelled, but Alice ignored me. I then moved my hands to make contact with the skin on her arm. Then focused the atoms to create electricity, however, instead paralyzing her, I felt a very sharp and stinging pain within the core of my left hand and even a light buzz from my right hand. I’ve used up too much magic!
She continued flying and toward the forest with wings that picked up speed, thus having Lilia and Pauline, who had gathered themselves up, look smaller and smaller as they were becoming farther from us. We then reached a tall tree and she placed me on its branch.
“Don’t you dare jump,” she said, glaring at me. “Please stay here.”
“Don’t hurt them,” I said.
“…I cannot promise that,” she said.
She then stopped her wings from moving and dropped down, letting gravity do the work and giving her speed that a moment later she used with extended wings to glide back to the field. She lands. Then I saw a red light coming out of Lilia’s lance and it fired out a great fire spell at Alice. In answer to this, Alice diverted the fire’s path toward the sky with a simple flick of her wings.
Then I felt the hard bark of the tree and looked to the bottom. It’s a ground too far down to get a good estimate of the distance. I grabbed the branches and began climbing down. From far I could see Alice flying in chase after Pauline and hitting Lilia’s lance that tried protecting Pauline. The lance only served to negate what would have been a lethal cut and pushed Lilia to the ground a good yard back, only to land on her feet.
I continued climbing down, carefully placing one foot and one hand to support my weight, while the others lowered me down.
“…What’s going on..” I whispered. I remember reading about using magic stones on the body, yet none of the ill effects where becoming present on Alice.
What seemed like a black angel then reached Pauline and two lights broke off on Pauline’s hand. Her magic stones? She then gained a protective shield on her body like Alice’s, but a dimmer shade of blue that seemed almost transparent. Alice swung one of her swords to Pauline. and the new transparent light of protection did the job. However, it also seemed to fuse with Alice’s sword, like a virus, Pauline’s barrier began eating up the dim blue sword and Alice quickly flew backwards a good few yards back and hurried to dismiss her infected blade before it could reach the hand she held it with. Now Pauline had no barrier, and Alice had missing in her possession one of her swords.
I continued climbing down. Then grabbed tightly around as I felt a strong gust of wind shake the tree. Not that far down now.
Nes was sitting on her legs and looking at the fight going on far from her. She should be fine where she is, and the rope is still binding her together. By then I saw Lilia regrouping with Pauline. Alice then readied her sword again. Lilia’s lance grew a red light by its tip again and aimed the fire spell to Alice, this time only one was shot to Alice and the event from before was repeated with one wing diverting the fire’s path. Following spells of fire from Lilia’s lance hit the ground near Alice, soon creating a dust of dirt mixed with smoke that smeared Alice’s view from the two in front of her. Pauline ran in a half circle to move behind Alice and tackled her to the ground. Both hit the ground and the smoke began clearing with a follow-up of Lilia, who activated one of her magic stones and quickly moved near Pauline, stepping on one of the wings and pointing the lance directly at Alice.
I finally reached the ground and began running to them.
“Give up!” I heard Lilia yelling from far. Pauline was holding down one of Alice’s arm, the one she had to hold her sword. Though Pauline did, as I got closer, I saw her struggling to force Alice’s arm down, Lilia too, with her foot. The one free wing that Alice had, then began flapping uncontrollably. It could not bend at an angle enough to push either Lilia or Pauline off.
I continued running, slowly losing my breath, then reached Nes who was looking on at the scene. She looked at me for a moment, still bound by the ropes and looked back to those fighting not that far from us now. I walked past Nes, now tired from having run here. I felt the short bursts of wind from Alice’s wing as it continued to flap. Then Lilia began striking her lance at the wing which in turn made Alice’s protective barrier blink from losing and returning its magic with each hit. Thunk. It was the sound of impact on her wing being repeated.
After a good many hits, her wings began deteriorating, until they finally vanished completely, leaving only Alice’s dim blue layer on her skin remaining. Lilia pointed her lance at Alice and she began to strike her lance in that repeated movement toward the protective layer and it soon began receding. I was now close enough..
“Stop!” I ordered. Lilia stopped before she could land another strike and looked back to me. Alice’s barrier was still there and in my amazement I saw it reshaping itself and slowly trying to cover the parts of Alice where it had receded from. Pauline got off and rested herself on the ground, breathing heavily with closed eyes. Lilia moved away with her lance and moved toward Pauline.
I was now in front of Alice and looking down as she lay there. Her eyes looked up at the sky and were calm as if uninterrupted from thought. I saw her chest moving as she breathed. She’s definitely still alive. I sat on my legs to the ground and on the right side of Alice. She finally turned her gaze to me but soon turned to look at my arm. It was the same arm where letters were etched on my skin. Aril Islah in letters could barely be seen past the burnt holes in my clothing. She ignored it after looking at it for no more than a second.
“…I would have won, you know,” she said.
“I know…” I replied.
“Are you going to give up now?” I asked.
“Never,” she said, closing her eyes. I placed my hands on her cheeks and pinched them apart. She reopened them and looked up and away from my stare in silence.
“…I’ll return,” I said, “but on my own terms.” Then Alice looked directly at me, catching her complete attention. I continued. “I will not live in that castle, or that room… as for mother.. if she believes differently.”
“I will side with you,” said Alice, finally speaking. “Anything else…?”
“Are they safe?” I asked, and Alice answered knowing who I referred to.
“They are fine,” she said, “they should be waiting for you on a Talician ship offshore.”
“They.. are also my family,” I said. Pausing for a moment. “I want them to come along with me, should they wish to.”
“That can be done.”
“And most importantly,” I said. “I want freedom… I don’t want to feel captive again.”
“…Only if you let me be there to protect you,” she said, now sitting straight up. I sighed.
“Fine,” I said, and Alice quickly hugged me with arms held tight, I could barely breathe. “You’re smothering me!” She then rubbed her cheek on mine as she always did in the past.