Chapter 51: You Can’t Hide Forever, Mortal!
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Bane rolled his eyes, and stood his ground. "I don't have a choice. Look." Bane said, and then pointed outside to where Lysia and Eve were sitting in the far off distance drinking tea. "See those two? They aren't going to let me leave until I close that portal over there, and you seem to be the power source that is keeping it open, right?"

Bane's bold declaration seemed to give Aetheryx pause. The dragon's eyes flickered between Bane and the distant figures of Lysia and Eve. "An interesting predicament," Aetheryx mused, his voice a rumbling echo in the cave. "You seek to close the portal. Very well, mortal. If you wish to challenge me, then prove your resolve."

Bane nodded, not like he had any choice. "I'm not looking for a fight, but I'll do what I have to."

The dragon regarded him with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. "Very well. Mortal, if you wish to close the portal, you must first prove your worth. I will grant you a chance to demonstrate your strength."

With that, Aetheryx reared back, and Bane turned on his heels as the dragon lunged forward. The cavern shook with the force of Aetheryx's movement, but Bane managed to dodge to the side, narrowly avoiding the dragon's massive jaws.

"Come back here, little mortal," Aetheryx's voice boomed. "Show me what you are capable of!"

Bane flipped the dragon his middle finger as he jumped from side to side trying to get out of the cave as fast as possible. He didn't want to wait and find out in this place if the dragon could breathe fire or not. Bursting from the cave, Bane took a hard left, avoiding another snap of the massive creature maw, and then put some distance between them.

The huge dragon waddled out of the cave, but once it was outside, it stretched up onto its back feet. Bane turned when he felt like he was far enough away, but the creature was so large that its hips towered above the trees. Aetheryx's scales shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting the brilliant hues of red. Bane cursed, realizing the enormity of the challenge before him.

"You can't hide forever, mortal," Aetheryx's voice echoed, rattling every tree across the clearing. "Face me, if you dare."

Bane took a deep breath, and smacked his cheeks. He knew he couldn't outrun the dragon, and he couldn't abandon his mission. Lysia and Eve also weren't going to help him, and Onyx had basically told him to "figure it out". This left him the option of defeating the skyscraper dragon or being eaten by it. Bane wasn't really the type to like getting chewed, and shat out, so his options were limited to say the least.

"Damn stupid dragon! How the hell does something like that even get that big!" Bane griped, but then closed his eyes.

Despite his complaining, Bane could feel that this air was nearly humming with all the mana in it. While not as abundant as the demonic energy in the Domain of Dead Kings, it was still thick in the air. Since there was no point in trying to use his weapons on something this size, Bane had to think outside of the box. Thankfully, there was no Lysia to steal all the mana from him like back with the Tree Spirits, so Bane started to draw it in from all around him.

From far up above, Aetheryx noticed all the mana in the area converging to one point rapidly. Aetheryx casually reached over and picked off one of his scales, and then flicked it at the child in the center of the mana storm that was brewing. The scale flew at supersonic speeds, but the mana Bane had gained so far had his senses dialed up.

Layering earth and fire mana from his skin to his bones, Bane tracked the scale hurtling at him. Everything moved slowly, Bane caught the scale, turned around with the momentum. Slamming his foot forward and shattering the ground around him, Bane sent it back up with even more force.

Aetheryx only had a brief second to put it hand in the way, but the scale, which was only a foot and a half wide, tore a 5 foot diameter hole in it. The scale barely missed the dragon's head, but now Aetheryx was furious. This child would have killed him in a single strike if he hadn't gotten his hand in the way.

"Die, human child!" Aetheryx roared, and slammed his other uninjured hand down on Bane, but even before the clawed hand smashed into the ground, he knew the child was gone.

Down below, at the dragon's feet, Bane was eyeing the scales. He was just as surprised as the Aetheryx about the damage the return shot had caused. Though, if Bane thought about it, it did make perfect sense. The red plates were naturally magical, designed to resist both physical and mystical attacks, but they were still part of the dragon's body, subject to the limitations of its own strength and defense. Using its own scale against it with that much force had essentially turned its own armor into a weapon.

"Time to play smart," Bane muttered to himself as he assessed his surroundings. The clearing was vast, with large boulders and trees providing potential cover and tactical advantages.

Aetheryx, now enraged, swiped its massive claws at Bane, sending shockwaves through the ground. Bane darted between the dragon's legs, using his small size to his advantage. He focused his mana, enhancing his speed and reflexes, making it harder for Aetheryx to keep track of him.

"You think you can escape, mortal?" Aetheryx roared, spewing a torrent of fire towards Bane.

Bane cursed and turned on his wheels. This was not good, and he didn't think that he could get away from something like this. He looked back, and felt a cold sweat come over him even though it was about to be really hot! The flames almost completely blanket the sky behind him, and Bane couldn't even see the dragon anymore.

"Dammit!" Bane shouted, and then filled every part of his body with fire mana as his entire being was bathed in the flames.