White Dyed Red – Part 4
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Approximately two hours later, the hunters had arrived at the shore of the lake, sitting and resting for a time to ease tension and quench hunger and thirst.

Not being in the mood to talk, Maven gazed upon the sun on the west and at the darkening sky, also the reflection of dusk on the surface of the frozen lake.

Unknowingly, she mumbled, “How pretty, but I’m not crossing that lake ever again.”

The party again departed when the ray of dawn poured over the frozen leaves on trees. They moved fast, and the Crystal Palace looked even closer.

Maven turned again into a ‘monkey’ to scout over the surroundings. She kept returning to the front of the party to report to the guide. “Sir Bangor, Tobar has caught up with us and is on his way.”

“Oh, good,” answered the braid-bearded man. “Did ye spot any monster up there?”

“No, sir,” answered the ‘assistant.’ "Not a single one, even around the palace.”

Her answer surprised Bangor, then he shouted to the rest of the party, “Everyone, be careful! Ready your weapons.”

While she unsheathed her daggers as told, Maven remained confused and asked again, “There are no monsters, right? Shouldn’t that mean it’s safer?”

“Don’t be a smart ass, young'un. From my experience, if we see no monster, only two possibilities are present. Either most of them are hibernating during winter, or there’s a very powerful beast currently roaming around the place and scaring the others.”

“And now is not winter, so… there’s only the second one left,” said Sophia.

Declan blurted, “There is no such thing as ‘too easy’ in this land of dangers, that much is certain.”

Followed by a very loud roar.

Hearing that, Declan became annoyed. “Hey, I know my joke was not funny, but can you guys retort with something more creative than angry groaning?”

“No, idiot! Above you!” Reyl pointed the to sky.

Declan looked up. Instinctively the cleric threw himself aside, avoiding the giant claw striking right on to the spot where he just stood.

Maven who was perching on a tree looked at the giant creature descending as it flapped its wings that extended as long as the seven pine trees in a row below it, breaking four among them.

Then Maven could see its head on a very long neck resembling a girrafe’s. Its blue, completely round eyes glared towards its surroundings. The giant monster covered in whiteish blue scale then opened its jaw wide, showing its row of fangs before shierking a deafeningly loud roar.

Even the senior witch Nepathya Lei was stunned. “Dragon… The Frost Dragon…!”

Reyl shouted, “Watch out! It’s going to fire! Run!"

The hunters dispersed to every direction. The dragon began to blow a freezing breath, that was no different from the spell Blizzard being casted on everything in its sight as it advanced.

Back and forth, Maven jumped between trees to avoid it. The ice spray thus came her way. The girl evaded again, but her left leg suddenly felt numb and unmovable. Her movement was halted, then she lost her balance and fell.

Maven crashed on the ground. Luckily her position on the tree wasn’t too far from the ground. She had no broken bone, but If she were to move again, the dragon would surely pulverize her.

“Hey, you big ugly lizard! Look at me!”

A taunt came from another way, followed by the white beam of Illuminating Light of Faith. The Frost Dragon thus turned towards it.

“Oh, yeah. Here, come to papa.”

Maven was dumbfounded. Only one person would be foolish enough to challenge a dragon. Declan. The girl used the opportunity to get up and move away.

Meanwhile the rapid thrusts of the move, Swift Attacks of Diligence dove from above the tree. Its target is the weak point of any dragon, its eye.

Suddenly, the dragon quickly chomped towards Declan, intending to swallow him whole.

“An Jokul’me Fyasch!”

The spell Blizzard came abruptly like a hammer, beating upon the dragon’s head until it was pushed to the side. Declan who escaped death looked towards the caster, Sophia. Their eyes met, Declan nodded to thank her.

Meanwhile Maven’s right leg began to move again, thanks to Reyl who channeled his fire element by putting a side of his blade on the frozen part.

Then, all party members, Bangor and Tobar included, began to shower the giant winged lizard with the strongest attacks they could muster. Unfortunately, the dragon easily dodged by twisting around. It stretched its wings then began floating to the sky.

“Look! Is that dragon already bored of playing, then just leaving us here?” Declan pointed upwards.

Bangor replied, “Aye, it's bored indeed, but it won’t just leave without finishing us first! Now y’all get what my condition is about, right? I don’t want to be killed here!"

“Oh, now I get it,” Sophia said cynically. “It's better for you to leave us dying here since you’re no more than a guide.”

“Stop it! It’s not the time to be arguing!” Reyl shouted. “Look! There’s a light coming out for that dragon’s mouth, it’s going to be an even stronger attack than before!”

“You’re right, Reyl! We have nowehere to run!” Maven replied. “We have to combine our strength and hold it back here, like the time we fought Udmelekh!”

“No need! You all just run! Let me hold it back myself!”

All eyes were on the person who suggested the crazy idea. The magic instructor, Nepathya Lei stood firm with her staff pointed at the enemy. Her partly-braided silver hair waved like dancing snakes. Her body was surrounded by a tender blue glow emanating to all directions.

Reyl extended his hand to help. “You can’t, madame! We must fight it together! Should we die, we die together!”

“You fool!” Lei glared angrily. “Don’t waste your life here! Let me, this disabled woman be the sacrifice. Don’t argue with me! Run, now!”

 “Tsk!” Reyl turned around and ran, chasing for Declan, Bangor and Tobar.

Even Maven had to pull Sophia by force. The redhead kept looking back, crying as hard as she could. “Teacher, no! Please come with us!”

The teacher's bandaged face got farther away. Only her shout could be heard faintly, “Farewell, my sweet Sophia! Joklgaeanos!”

Maven stopped running to look back. She could see two waves of white light beamed upwards and downwards each. The two similar powers collided, creating a massive explosion and shockwave, sending Maven, Sophia, and everything it swept through flying.

Maven’s back collided with a pine trunk that bounced her forward. Still groaning, the little elf opened her eyes.

From afar she could see a tower of ice soared tall. On its tip was a silhouette of the giant dragon frozen inside with its feet leaning slantly. The base of the tower covered a pretty wide area of ground. It was the result of two colliding equal powers, one of which came from the ultimate ice spell, the Frozen Doomsday. Judging from its result, it seemed impossible that the caster, Nepathya Lei, survived it.

“Teacher! Teacher!” Sophia knelt and cried hysterically.

Filled with emotion, Maven approached and hugged the red-haired girl. Softly she told her, “Madame Lei has sacrificed herself for your happiness, Sophia. Now, we have to keep going to the Eternal Ice Palace, so that Reyl can survive and your teacher’s sacrifice won’t be in vain.”

Maven then turned around to see the ice structure that soared even higher then the artificial ice mount behind her. Unknowingly she murmured, “We’re close. It won’t be long now. I wish… I wish we can complete this mission and return home together.”

Everyone gathering there heard her murmuring, then looked towards Zaburyvostok. The four young warriors then laid their hands on top of each other. Together they declared, “Come together, fight together, and return home together.”