The riders before us stared menacingly as they got into formation. With Himalgrim towering behind them, they looked like an imposing cavalry of knights ready for a charge.
“Riders of the Pale Hand… Trample…”
As soon as he gave that command, the horsemen raised some halberds in sync and pointed them forward. With a thundering stomp, they charged as one, ravaging the earth as they sped forth like a black wave.
I made to move ahead of them, but Himalgrim cut me off as he expected me to try and act against them.
“Now, now… as I said before… your fight is with me…”
While normally I could try and fly over him, something is telling me it’s a bad idea. Also, based on his stance, there’s hardly any openings I could exploit. It’s a tough choice, but I’ll have to trust the girls and Fenril to deal with the riders while I face this guy myself.
As the riders rose and organized themselves, a menacing pressure slowly spread outwards as they lined up to begin their charge. Sorena closed her eyes as she released some mana, but soon clicked her tongue.
“Is something wrong?” asked Azula.
“I was hoping it wasn’t the case, but they’re all… Pale riders…” sighed Sorena in response.
Azula merely cocked an eyebrow in confusion, but Vai joined in with her own question, “Pale riders? Not death knights?”
“If they were merely death knights, our worries would have only been their rusted steel and strength, but pale riders possess an aura of anti-life… which means that any living thing that gets close will lose vitality… literal years off their lifespan until they crumble away into dust.” Sorena said in a grave tone as she prepared her spells.
Hearing this, the other two girls tensed as they felt a chill down their spines while fear and anxiety slowly took hold on their expressions.
“Prepare yourselves! I’d rather we don’t get close, but I can prepare a spell to – what!?”
As Sorena was preparing to cast her magic, Fenril, as though without care, charged towards the riders.
The girls had a mix of panic and confusion when they saw the great beast charge. Getting back her senses early, Azula asked, “Sorena, I’ve been meaning to ask, but what is that thing? And isn’t it bad that it’s attacking them head on?”
With worry on her face, Sorena responded as she tried to speed up her casting, “To be honest, I’m not so sure. I only know it’s Camus’ familiar and that it looks like a wyrmwolf, but… I’ve never seen one so large and looks more… reptile than hound. I also know it could understand common, which is why I don’t understand why it charged recklessly despite hearing my warning.”
As she said this, Fenril sped up until he broke into a full charge. Blue voltaic energy surged across his body until it fully enveloped him and further increased his speed and momentum echoing with the sound of crashing thunder.
Seeing a large blue wave before them, the pale riders raised their spears and lances as they too sped up to meet the challenge. From above, it appeared like a massive blue bolt was about to crash against a black wall of spears.
Just as the two forces were about to meet, a heavy silence permeated throughout the region, as if all sound was held in check until –
A great explosion rocked the cavern as the two forces clashed. The girls held on as they covered their eyes from the flash and the dust blown throughout by the shockwave. They couldn’t believe the collision between the wyrmwolf and the riders could cause such devastation.
As the dust settled and the light receded, the sight that greeted their vision stunned them. Strewn across the ground were fragments of armor, bone, and metal reduced to nothing but piles of scrap and debris. Beyond them, the ground lay divided and at the end stood the beast, majestic and overbearing while voltaic energies surged across the surface of its body.
Shaking her head as she sighed, Sorena said “Well, no wonder why it wasn’t afraid. The heavy pressure its emitting is Draconic Pressure. This beast is an actual Dragon.”
Calming down as well, Vai responded, “Didn’t you say no living creature would be able to get near as their lives would be snuffed?”
Sorena smiled wryly and shrugged. “That would be the case if it were any other creature… and it’s not as though Dragons aren’t affected by the anti-life aura, but… death by aging would be meaningless against ageless creatures.”
Upon this realization, Vai and Azula could only nod in understanding.
Startled by the roar, the girls looked towards Fenril and were shocked by the sight.
Cracks formed around his body as his color grew paler, but the air continued to grow hotter and heavier. Blue colored vapor seeped from the cracks and started glowing brighter threatening to erupt from beneath his skin.
“What’s happening? Is it dying?”
“I don’t know! It might’ve been affected after all?”
One final roar then a flash of blue-white light blinded everyone as the wyrmwolf seemingly exploded, scattering scale, skin, and dust in all directions.
When the dust settled, what the girls saw next made their jaws drop. The beast, the wyrmwolf grew even larger, bulkier, and more brutal than imaginable. Dense, shiny, and sharp looking scales surrounded its body in greater number than before, which they though couldn’t be any more possible. In fact, the only trace of fur it had left, were the blood-red hair trailing from the back of its head all the way to its tail. The rest of it was covered in ash and coal-colored scales.
“Did it… evolve?”
Sorena shook her head at Azula’s question, “No… if I were to describe what happened, then it… molted.”
“Molted? Like shedding scales or fur?”
“Yes… like when a serpent sheds its scales when it reaches of age… and grows larger. I didn’t think the anti-life aura would have such a unique effect on it… then again, I didn’t really know that beast wasn’t at a mature age yet.”
Fenril’s eyes glowed red as if in response to Sorena’s statement, but he soon snarled towards the ground. While everyone was distracted, they failed to notice that most of the remains of the riders disappeared as if they sunk into the soil.
Which wasn’t wrong as indeed when the ground quaked, a large skeletal hand erupted from the earth pulling the rest of itself free while emitting a bone-chilling aura. With its upper body freed from the ground, a massive skeleton roared as it glared at them with blue hazy fire-like eyes.
“Well… at least we know what dragged that Balrog in earlier…”
“Beware! That thing’s aura is even worse than before!”
Sorena pulled out and threw some talismans that formed a shield around them. A visible gaseous vapor seemed to spread from the skeleton giant and as soon as it struck the barrier, sparks seemed to erupt all around it.
While the vapor continued to damage the barrier, Fenril leapt onto the skeleton’s back and with his bulk managed to smash it onto the ground. The skeleton, however, didn’t appear phased as it made to grab Fenril. Seeing the massive skeletal hand, Fenril leaped backwards with nimbleness belying his size while releasing a blast of pressurized air at the skeleton, knocking it back. The exchange between the two giants continued as the girls made their preparations.
“Any moment now, Zula. I can’t keep this for long.”
“Patience, Sora. The bunny girl needs a little more time to finish her enchantment.”
Despite the seemingly calm exchange between the two, the sweat and tenseness of their expressions didn’t do well to completely hide all their anxiety.
Vai was busily carving runes onto a massive javelin held by Azula. Despite the simplicity of the act, each stroke of a line on a rune put a huge strain on the caster especially the more advanced a rune. Rune Magic was rare, not due to scarcity of compatible people, but because of the hefty price of being able to shape runes. It required the caster to have the very runes carved into their body.
The deeper the runes were carved, the greater the effect. In Vai’s case, her runes were carved into her very bones, something nearly impossible to do without the caster dying from the shock of extreme pain. If not for her previous condition, she would have been a meagre Rune Caster, only able to cast and enchant the runes carved onto her body. But having runes carved into her very bones, she became a Rune Shaper, one who is able to shape every known rune and give it power.
Rune Casters could temporarily enchant objects with runes, but Rune Shapers could engrave the very runes using their blood, permanently leaving the enchantments and giving it more power. Unfortunately, this also meant it drew on their lifeforce, and in their current situation, Vai was drawing all she could into enchanting the javelin.
“Valna, I understand we need to be certain to kill that thing, but you’re putting too much. Any more, and it’ll become dangerous for you.”
Azula voiced her concern as she could visibly see Vai getting paler with each new rune she engraved, but she only shook her head.
“If this is the only way I can be useful to Master, then so be it. Ever since I’ve joined your side, other than providing you information, I’ve mostly been a burden. If my life can be used to save you girls who matter to Master, then I’ll gladly give it.”
Concern showed onto Azula’s face as she heard Vai speak, so she looked towards Sorena.
“Vai, dear, don’t be like that. Don’t throw your life away. Didn’t you say you wanted to experience life as soon as you were cured?”
“But Mistress…” tears started welling in Vai’s eyes as she struggled to speak.
Seeing her expression, Sorena’s eyes narrowed as she asked in a serious tone, “Is this about what happened in the pavilion between you and Camus?”
Tears started flowing as Vai answered, “Master… he was… in pain when he saw me… I saw it in his eyes. I don’t know why… but doing what he did to me hurt him… knowing this… hurts so much. I even became a burden to him when we fought my old master. That’s why I can’t forgive myself.”
Hearing this, Sorena grew visibly angry. Vai took no notice and continued to carve the runes, but Sorena grabbed her hand and stopped her.
Looking up with her tear-filled face, she wanted to protest but was stunned when she saw Sorena had a kind look on her as she gently held her hand.
“Dear sweet girl, you suffered much didn’t you. I promise, that once we survive and finish this, I’ll personally give that scaled lout a piece of my mind. Hmph! To dare make such a poor sweet girl cry! How dare he! I’ll be sure to make him give you his full attention when we get back.”
Seeing the warmth radiating off Sorena as she said those sharp words, though surprised, Vai gently smiled.
“If he still dares to ignore you afterwards, I’ll personally rip one of his dicks off, turn it into a toy, and shove it up his ass!”
Vai’s smile hardened after hearing Sorena’s crude remark. Hearing this made her thoughts turn from heartfelt gratitude to outright fear as she unconsciously shuddered.
“As much as I appreciate you always going out of your way for us Sora, but we really must deal with that thing soon.” said Azula as she sighed at the two of them.
Sorena turned to Vai and smiled when she nodded. Seeing their interaction, Azula readied herself into a throwing posture. With all the grace and power of a master, she fluidly threw the javelin towards the giant skeleton. As it continued to rise, it slowed when it rose higher and when it reached its peak, the javelin suddenly pulsed with purple-pink energy as it flashed like a bolt of lightning towards the skeleton.
As Fenril continued to wrestle the monster, he noticed the incoming pulsing bolt. Seeing its source, he understood its intended target and released the skeleton. Freed from his grip, it made a lunge for him but was instantly slammed backwards through Fenril’s somersaulting retreat smacking it from below with his tail.
Put off balance, it noticed too late the projectile soaring towards it. In a last-ditch effort, it made to block it with its massive bony palm, but this was proven to be a mistake. Despite the intense flight and oppressive energy it emitted, the javelin simply stuck to its palm in anticlimactic *thud*.
Despite looking like it merely harmlessly stuck onto its hand, its true effects were immediate. Soon, vast energies surged from the javelin and entered into its hand. Like electricity over a conductor, it completely engulfed its skeletal body as the purple-pink glow grew more intense. Realizing its fate, the bone giant made one last futile but defiant roar as the flash intensified for a mere moment then quickly disappeared.
As soon as the light vanished, the skeleton no longer moved and the pale ghostly energies surrounding it were completely absent. Soon, its pale bones grew a shade darker until it turned to the color of ash. When it completely turned, the giant merely crumbled into fine powder.
“One major advantage of Rune Magic is that it can produce the effects of almost every other form of magic as long as you have the proper runes. Imbuing that spear with holy runes combined with purifying fire ones was quite the task.” Sorena exclaimed smilingly.
Vai shook her head as she sighed “I also wanted to imbue it with the effects of void, just to be sure it wouldn’t be able to revive itself through other means, but… I guess it would’ve been overkill.”
“Hush now, no need to waste more energy than necessary. In any case, we should go and help Cam - !!”
Before Sorena could finish, her alarm bells rang as she immediately threw four paper talismans towards herself, Azula, Vai, and Fenril. The four of them looked as if they phased through space and reappeared several meters away from where they stood. Immediately, four massive bony hands tried to make a grab at the area where they once were. Seeing that their ambush failed, the owners soon made themselves known as they pulled themselves completely from the earth.
Before them stood four oppressive skeletal giants as they each wielded a weapon of the most brutal kind. The aura they possessed no weaker than the previous giant they fought.
“Gaaah! Unbelievable! If we survive this… I’m eating that dragon up whether he likes it or not and I won’t stop even if he begs or cries! This is too much work!” swore Sorena in utter frustration.