48. Inferno
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I want to apologise for the lack of updates. It has been over month since the last chapter was released, and the schedule was supposed to be at least one chapter a week. For anyone that was waiting, I'm sorry. Hopefully I'll be able to write frequently again, but University has begun so I'll be trying to battle studying and writing for a while.

Thank you. I hope you can enjoy this chapter!

The three headed beast was something Uru had once heard of long ago.

There was a tale about a land far past the unknown lands of the Depths, where Dragons flourished and thrived.

But among those beasts of the skies, there was one that anchored itself to the world yet could easily tower the height of anything that flew.

It was a ridiculous story.

Nothing with such a height could possibly exist – unless it was the God of the Dragons.

But this beast was not a God.

With a neck that reached the heavens where they flew, her body screamed that this creature was undoubtedly the one from the tale.

But why was it here?

Uru thought of such things as she prepared to bring the group back towards the volcano, which had hardly taken any damage.

In fact, the eruption was astronomically minuscule compared to what was expected. Had they remained on the crater, they would’ve been left without a single scratch.

The realisation angered Black as well as Frosty who detested the fact that their expectations were toyed with. Particularly Black, who knew that the true extent of such an eruption would’ve killed them in an instant. That was if they lacked any form of protection.

It was as if the Maiden of Time wanted them to do nothing about their ‘inevitable’ death.

The thought sparked a festering hatred within Frosty and Black.

“BWAGAAAAAAAH!”

And as the roar of the beast reverberated in the air – Uru thrust herself to the side and began to speed towards the faraway volcano.

“H-hey! It’s giving chase!” Khaos cried, holding his Carbodix shield close.

“Tch. And it’s fucking faster than we are! How about you knock these [Barriers] down so I can shoot that piece of –!?”

The moment those words left Black’s lips – the gaping maw of the centre-head loomed over them. Then, a powerful flame spat from its mouth similarly to [Liquid Fire].

Exrite’s shell managed to fend off the blazing flames as a wall of fire encased them. Uru’s movements soon became erratic, to the point where it nearly broke Frosty’s shoulder due to the sheer force alone.

“Ack-! Uru –!?”

“Keep silent! The flames are nothing but a distraction from the dangers ahead!”

No one knew what she meant until the flames broke for a split second. Their eyes widened in shock as all three heads twisted and entwined in front of them.

It was trying to ensnare them. When the flames returned, their vision was cut off once again. But despite this – Uru seemed to be able to perfectly navigate through the tight twists and turns that were thrown her way.

She could see through the flames as if they were transparent. But even more surprising, was that there was seemingly zero distortion from the heat.

“You have my praise Exrite! Your [Physical Barrier]’s doing more than you can possibly imagine!”

“Thank me later! Just keep focusing on dodging! You’re our only hope right now!” She yelled as she stared back at the mouth of the beast with contempt. “White – Frosty, we’ll hit it from the outside with magic!”

“Cast magic outside the [Barrier]? Got it!”

“There’s no other way to attack it besides that! But keep another [Barrier] at the ready Exrite!” White warned.

It seemed like she wanted to say more, but in the midst of their predicament, Exrite cut her off and exclaimed:

“Better than nothing! My [Barriers] can only hold on for so long! At this rate we won’t survive for more than a few minutes!”

“Hmhm~! You better brace yourself then! White’s not exactly well known for healing~!”

“Wait a minute – is White not a healer!?” Khaos raised a concerned brow.

“You clearly don’t know a thing! A weapon can only injure, but White’s a special case when she’s sane like this~!”

“If you have nothing better to say, then shut up!” White sharply snapped. “Frosty! Exrite! Buy me thirty seconds! If it’s this close, then I’ll be able to swat it away for a moment!”

“Then you have plenty of time!” Exrite roared as she put everything she had onto her [Barriers].

The unrelenting torrent of flames continued to batter their shell. It was only one head that dared to attack head-on, while the others twisted and swirled their necks in an attempt to block their route.

A barrage of [Ice Shards] and [Electric Bolts] that were thrown straight into its gaping maw by Frosty, but it did nothing. It seemed to have a high natural resistance to magic – at least to that of the [Third Tier].

Among the constant barrage, Exrite was tempted to throw her own magic into the mix. But the slightest deviation of her concentration had the risk of destroying her [Barriers].

After all, they weren’t created with magical circles, nor was it a simple unmovable [Barrier].

Uru’s flight was equally as majestic as it was chaotic. Khaos tightly gripped Frosty from behind as they were tugged in all directions with enough force to completely dislocate a human’s head from their body.

In addition, the volcano continued to spew flaming debris across the charred land. She had to dodge the necks, the falling rock as well as ensure that her movement wouldn’t instantly kill them.

There was no escape in this dance of death.

But it wasn’t something outside of their comfort zone.

It would seem like terror plagued the group, but the Colours and Uru were gleefully exuberant. Now that something of great significance had arrived after their mundane travels, they could not help but to become riled with the prospect of battle.

An eager grin grew on Black’s face as she confidently stared into the creature’s gaping maw. It wasn’t the first time she had fought something so large, but it certainly was the first time she – and White for that matter – would have to fight with limited powers.

But that only fuelled her lust for battle.

They had already won in her mind.

Uru continued to dodge the necks of the other heads at a breakneck pace. The sharp turns at such a high speed battered the already weakened Frosty. Khaos could only support her like a brace to combat the extreme forces.

But even that wouldn’t be enough.

A second later, the outer layer of Exrite’s [Barrier] suddenly shattered under the might of the beast’s flames. An explosion of crystals blind-sighted her as she struggled to maintain the other two remaining [Barriers].

“Thirty seconds right!? You’re gonna ward it right!?”

“You underestimate me Khaos! For your sake – and the rest of you all – you better close your eyes!”

White’s cry sparked the response almost immediately, save for Uru who knew that nothing could easily blind her Demonic eyes. Nor could she afford to close them in the first place.

“For what!?” Frosty yelled despite shutting her eyes.

“Tell me Frosty – what’s the first thing you imagine when you think of ‘white’!?” Black asked in a threatening tone.

It took a few seconds of silent thought before the answer came to her.

“Light –!?”

But as she answered, everything behind the once orange space behind her eyes became a stark white. It was as if their eyes were still open, and they were exposed to the sun after being stowed away beneath the darkness for days.

An orb of light appeared directly in front of the liquid eyes of the beast. It was no more than five metres in diameter – however, the light it emitted was akin to that of a star.

Or – as Black would describe – a supersized ‘flash bang’.

“BWAGAAAAAAH!”

A tremendous roar sounded from somewhere within the white void. And when their vision returned to them, the beast had been blown back by the incredibly bright light. Its pursuit came to a halting stop as it roared once more in rage.

However, the other intertwined heads were still a problem.

“It- it worked! What was that magic!?” Frosty exclaimed. “A flare? A giant flare!?”

“Far from it! But it’s not going to keep it there for long!” White yelled with a proud look on her face.

“At least you bought us some time! Don’t stop the barrage Frosty!” Exrite immediately began working to repair her [Barrier].

Although, there was a look of surprise on her face. It seemed like the beast’s lava-flowing eyes indeed worked like one – and were not merely for show. It wore no eyelids, meaning that an effective method of warding it would be to destroy its vision.

Perhaps it was what White had hoped to aim for. Her proof came in the form of her confident grin, and a slow-nodding Black who half-heartedly admired her magic.

The volcano steadily drew closer and with every passing second, and the magic-users of the group bombarded the beast with magic that fizzled upon impact. But Frosty’s magic was weak – far too weak.

If she used the mana of the many souls she had reserved, then she could possibly create a more powerful spell. However, she refused to harness this power with every fibre of her being.

It was not a necessity. So long as the others were alive, then there was no need to vanquish those souls.

Exrite had to focus everything she had onto the [Barriers], leaving White to continuously emit balls of blinding light, among other strange magic – such as magical bullets which harnessed the power of light.

It riddled the impossibly long neck and head of the beast with tiny fractures, but none could successfully penetrate even the slightest into its armour. Most of her magic was being dispersed before it could even land, as if its armour was made of carbodix.

The beast roared once more, shaking its head like a rabid dog before lunging straight for them once again. The pursuit drew on as Uru weaved through the necks of the other heads with immaculate precision.

They anticipated another fire attack from the head, bolstering their defences and offences to their maximum capabilities. But magic was mostly ineffective against it.

They needed to reach the volcano before they could hit it with everything they had at their disposal.

But that was if they could make it there in the first place.

Suddenly, what was expected to be flames turned into a nightmarish hailstorm of obsidian teeth which instantly destroyed Exrite’s already weakened outer [Barrier].

“– Fucking bullet teeth –!?” Black exclaimed, but was quickly interrupted by a surprised Uru.

“Ho!? The [Barrier]’s already destroyed!?” She briefly glanced back, witnessing the horror before swiftly turning to Exrite. “Hold the remaining two if you can Exrite! We’re almost at the summit! But be prepared to land! I doubt that an unintelligent beast would allow us the time to find out footing!”

“W-wait – you’re going to drop us!?”

“Shut up Khaos! Now isn’t the time to worry about that –!” Frosty yelled.

“– Stay quiet and shut your eyes! NOW!”

Another luminous ball painted the sky white. The less-than-a-second warning was more than enough for them to react.

“BWAGAAAAAH!”

The beast was successfully warded once again. It lingered in place and continued a ravenous assault on where they last were. The sight was equally as terrifying as it was bizarre, at least in Exrite’s eyes.

For a being made of molten rock and flames; one could imagine that it would be able to withstand such intense lights.

It was a fundamental flaw and White sought to abuse it to the fullest extent.

“Aha! So a little light is all it takes to bring it down! Makes you wonder whether this is truly that Maiden’s trial! Or maybe this really was designed for pitiful humans!”

“Huh!? Do you think any human would be able to outrun this thing in the first place!?”

“You never know~! Considering it’s only a single fucking head that’s trying to kill us – it seems like its been watered down intentionally!”

Black brought something interesting up. Even in the midst of battle, Exrite couldn’t help but to agree with her and ponder on that thought.

Indeed, it was mostly one head that sought to fight while the others attempted to use their necks to ensnare them. But what struck her with uncertainty the most was the fact that the beast still couldn’t see despite the other two heads being unaffected by White’s light.

But that thought was soon cut short when the bombardment of teeth and flames returned. The back and forth battles were chaotic and the beast repeatedly fell for the ball of light, for it could never close its eyes.

Frosty’s [Ice Shards] and [Electric Bolts] targeted the eyes. Her attacks were incredibly wild – like a swarm of leaves caught in a gust – but the few that hit would rouse a violent growl.

And – to their surprise – cracks began to form on its seemingly fluid eyes.

There was a thick transparent layer that encased the lava, almost like a [Barrier].

Black wickedly grinned.

“The summit is upon us! Get ready to land!” She cried, more than eager to drop from their staggering height.

Uru swiftly nosedived straight towards the crater’s edge. Her great speed was enough to rupture organs and shatter bone. A contained panic surged from within the depths of Khaos’ eyes as he watched the peak grow closer at an alarming rate.

From an outsider’s perspective it would appear like they were going to crash.

The head of the beast struggled to keep up with her newfound speed and instead roared before disappearing behind the slopes of the mega volcano. As the air reverberated around them, Uru began to glide dangerously close to the ground before dropping everyone but Exrite onto their feet.

They skidded and used whatever means they had to ground themselves in place. Khaos held his sister tightly in an arm as his shield deeply excavated the ground as they slid further than the others.

“You ok Sis!? Feeling any different!?”

“I don’t know. Think a swollen shoulder and a sore neck means anything?” She sarcastically replied with a small painful grin. “But thanks. At least it’s not your fault. Entirely… that is.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean!?”

“Maybe if you stop holding me you’ll realise it yourself! You’re crushing me!”

“Ah!? I am –!?”

“Idiot! Let go already –!”

“Can you two stop your bickering and get away from there!? You’re at the fucking edge of the crater! Or did you suddenly forget about your fear of heights you muscle brain!?”

Black’s angered call was swiftly answered with the release of Frosty. The crater behind had considerable less lava than before the eruption, and was far more deeper than they initially imagined.

As Khaos quickly ran back towards the scattered group, Frosty lingered as a pale object suddenly caught her eye.

“… There’s barely anything left…. Wait – Exrite! Everyone! I can see something!”

“Frosty!” Exrite cried. “As much as I’d love to come join you – we’re up against that three-headed beast remember!? Get away from there!”

“Y… yeah. Coming!”

“Speaking of that thing – where the fuck did it disappear to!?” Black growled, waving her handgun beside her face.

“… it… was right behind us, right?” Khaos muttered tiredly as his plated armour rattled nosily.

“Too close… Exrite, do you still have your [Barrier] up?” White asked.

“I’ll take it down after we figure out what’s going on now. I don’t need to remind everyone to stay vigilant. Even I don’t think I’d be able to withstand that magic.”

“Nonsense. A body capable of harnessing magic of the [Fifteenth Tier] can’t possibly receive a scratch from something as measly as that beast’s embers. You vastly underestimate the strength of a Maiden.” Uru sharply spoke from above her.

“Uru, do you really think I’m used to having my body in one piece? For this long?” Exrite said half-jokingly. “And I don’t want to test if I really can stand in front of those flames… or those teeth… Frosty, can you see anything under us?”

“Nothing. I couldn’t get a read of its soul either.” She clutched her scythe and glanced around her. “No... I don’t think it had a soul at all! Is it a Golem or some sort of construct? I hope you have some info about it Uru. Magic’s your strong point isn’t it?”

She feverishly spoke.

“Precisely. But I’m uncertain whether that beast truly is the one from an old tale I’ve heard of. It’s no construct or Golem, but rather a flightless Dragon.”

“– Excuse me? Wait – a Dragon? Here? Underground!?” Khaos suddenly blurted out.

“A… flightless Dragon?” Frosty was just as confused as he was. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Hmm? What’s wrong? Are Dragons supposed to be scary in this world? They sound just like any other oversized target practice.” Black sneered.

“Supposedly. But they’re rare creatures, so I’ve heard.” White hummed as a small orb of light hovered beside her. She prepared another burst of light just in case the beast suddenly pounced form out of nowhere.

“More than rare. You only hear them in legends. Supposedly, there’s a place far beyond the Depths where Dragons flourish… Uru, how do you know about that tale?”

Exrite was roused with suspicion. Rather than the fact that the beast was actually a Dragon of some sort, she was more surprised by Uru’s mention of a tale regarding it. In the entirety of Eastern Six Point, there was never a mention of a ‘flightless’ one, much less a Dragon with a neck that could pierce the heavens.

“Ho~? Unfortunately for you Exrite, I’ve never traversed through the Depths myself. That tale came from a… friend of mine. But enough of our idling, less we forget about our predicament!”

In an instant, they primed themselves for combat, although, Exrite found herself briefly wondering who that friend of Uru’s was.

By the sincerity in Uru’s eyes, she understood that they were not one of her betrayers – but someone who resided close to her heart.

The ground softly shook after a few idle minutes. Then, another one. And another – until it finally became a tremor. Smouldering gasses rose from the crater as loud crackles ruptured the air.

The small remains of lava somehow began to spurt from the crater as a pair of crimson eyes emerged from the smoke.

“BWAGAAAAAAH!”

The mighty roar was so loud that Exrite felt her vision waver for a moment. The smoke dispersed in an instant, revealing the entirety of the singular head which completely dwarfed them.

At a height of over a hundred metres there was no way that they could get close.

However, that wasn’t an issue.

Because as soon as the beast revealed itself, it was met with an unrelenting barrage of magic and bullets.

“So that’s where it went huh!?” Frosty cried.

“What a foolish creature to reveal itself in such a vulnerable place! Truly, I’m amazed that it even belongs to the Maiden of Time!” Uru spat.

[Ice Shards], orbs of bright lights and explosions bombarded its head. Smoke and small chunks of obsidian were spat like shrapnel with each hit.

But their magic – even Uru’s explosive orbs – were nothing compared to the unforeseen force called a ‘bullet’. The supersonic attacks easily tore shattered its armour, leaving behind an array of craters and fissures.

It was inherently magic resistant. But it had little to no defences against high-impact attacks – like bullets. And they were no ordinary bullets either, for they belonged to Black.

When the effects of White’s light faded the creature quickly began its own assault. With a gaping maw and another roar, they could already tell what was going to come next.

“– Start moving and split up! I’ll cover you all with my [Barriers]! Now GO!” Exrite swiftly ordered.

They spread out as quickly as those words left her lips. Her head turned like the gears of a clock as she studied every move both her friends and the beast made.

She activated a [Barrier] behind Black as she outran the hailstorm of teeth which obliterated the rock and gravel around her.

“Tch! Maybe it’s not so pathetic after all! I guess I’m the greatest threat here!” Black growled with a terrifying grin. “But little did you know that I’m not the only one here with a handgun~!”

Multiple dry explosions sounded from the other side at the same time the head suddenly swayed like it had been hit by an invisible force. The origin came the barrel of White’s ‘Moon’s Rhythm’ which continued to relentlessly pierce straight through its armour and bore through the other side.

Unlike Black’s bullets – White’s were specifically designed to kill as efficiently and cleanly as possible. But for a beast of such a great size – this was more than a challenge.

The attacks soon moved over to White, who raced around the rocky crater dodging its storm of bullet-teeth.

“Maintain a [Barrier] on me Exrite! My bullets can only do so much against that thing! And Black! Don’t stop shooting!”

“On it!”

“Who do you think I am!? The thought never once crossed my fucking mind!”

In the course of not even five minutes – the head had lost more than a third of its dark armour, revealing the glowing lava beneath.

Khaos stood at the sidelines throwing giant pieces of rocks at it. But even his contribution was small in comparison to the Colours. Even Uru could not help but to give this fight to the Colours, for her magic was effectively useless.

And seeing that the head was no more than a hundred meters in the air – her [Solar Core] would undoubtedly backfire and kill the others. Despite this however; she summoned her [Seekers] and targeted the exposed bits of its head.

It staggered, waving its head like a worm before it turned to her with unkempt fury in its eyes.

“Ho? Interesting. Magic won’t damage it, but it can respond as if it can feel pain. Emotion is wasted on a creature that cannot bleed!”

She bared her claws and watched it reel its head back.

“Pitiful. Exrite, your [Barrier] will only get in my way! To bare your fangs at a Demon like myself – I’ll respond appropriately with my bare hands!”

Exrite trusted Uru’s judgement and dropped her [Barrier]. Flames burst out from the side of the beast’s mouth before suddenly charging straight for Uru. It rapidly accumulated damage as it ignored Black and White, as if it held a vendetta strictly against Uru.

“Uru!? Are you crazy!? Get out of there! Even if it’s you, you’re not going to be able to take that thing head-on!”

“Magic is useless against it. What other better way is there than to do it yourself!? Perhaps you’re not able to take it on – but I can! You underestimate me Frosty! Not even my own [Solar Core] can warm my blood!”

“Listen to me! That’s not what I mean –!”

“Sis – leave it to Uru. None of us can fly or get within twenty metres of it. Just put your trust into her and help her from the sides! We’re all in this battle together, no matter how insignificant we may be!”

He easily held a massive stone over his head, primed to throw it at the beast.

“Where’s your faith young Frosty!? Although I appreciate your concern – you must remember that we do not share the same weaknesses! Stay there with your brother and rest for now! This is but only one of three heads!”

Frosty wanted to refute, but she swallowed her words of rebellion and smashed her scythe into the ground.

“You better return safe then, you hear!?”

“Hm. That goes without saying!”

“Tch. If only you showed that kind of concern to all of us!” Black complained.

In between their feud, Exrite had been striking the beast with massive crescent-shaped [Wind Blades] and [Stone Shards] by using the surplus of material beneath them. While they did little to no damage despite being magic of the [Sixth Tier] – the beast certainly felt its power.

Regardless, it continued to lock eyes with Uru.

Then with a mighty roar, it suddenly thrust itself towards the Demon with flames bursting from its wicked mouth. The air ruptured in its ravenous wake as Uru too threw herself at the beast with her claws more than ready to strip off its armour.

The beast certainly did not expect that. By the time it realised that Uru was already in front of its eyes – she disappeared behind it and left a scar of broken scales across its face. It grew frantic and began twisting its head to find her as gashes continued to riddle its armour.

She was too fast. In addition to her size – she was like an annoying fly.

The bullets never stopped, and the beast could do nothing about it. It threw flames at itself in an attempt to incinerate Uru. But the Demon easily danced through and thrust an explosive orb straight into its gaping mouth.

A blazing explosion threw her back as the head suddenly bled a torrent of lava. Because of Black’s continuous assault – the armour around its mouth had weakened to the point where magic could finally damage it.

Its bottom mouth hung from a thick piece of flesh-like lava as it screamed in rage. It swooped at Uru like a blade, but was quickly met with her claws which gouged deeply into its eyes.

And to its dismay – Exrite’s [Wind Blades] too started to slice chunks of its molten flesh whilst massive [Rock Shards] embedded themselves deeply into it.

What was once a majestic beast had turned into a pincushion in the matter of a few minutes.

But it was still well and alive.

And despite the damage that was done – a surge of lava repaired its missing body parts, save for its armour.

“Regeneration? With lava!?” Frosty blurted out.

“So what!? We’ve already destroyed its armour! We just need to kill it faster than it can regenerate!” Black cried, continuing her assault.

But Exrite thought otherwise.

As she pondered on the thought glanced down at its body and realised that it was still connected to the crater.

And because no other part of its body was sacrificed to heal its head – she immediately knew that it was draining lava straight from the crater.

It would also explain why its armour did not regenerate with it.

“We’ll be stuck here forever if we try to out-pace it! Black – White! Get rid of the armour around its neck! I have a gut-feeling that it’s draining lava straight from the crater in order to regenerate!”

“No. You’re right Exrite! We’ll have to sever it from the source!” White cried, already targeting its neck with her handgun. “But I want to know one thing – that’s not a Hydra, is it!?”

“Wait – what’s a Hydra!? You’ll need to explain what those Otherworldly words mean White!” Khaos swiftly responded in confusion.

“Hmph! Your ignorance shows just how little you know of the world, young Khaos! It’s nothing more than a multi-headed Dragon! White – ease your worries! I assure you this one will not grow another head! Nor is it a Hydra! A flightless Dragon can never be considered a ‘true’ Dragon!”

“Perfect!” White grinned and began to unload her rounds straight into the centre-point of its neck along with Black.

The damage was frightening. No matter how many times it tried to attack the Commanders it would miss and be met with Uru’s attacks, or a barrage of bullets from afar.

Exrite continued to hit its weak points with lesser magic as she silently muttered a chant underneath her breath. With passion blazing in her eyes, she stared at the beast and waited for the perfect moment to strike.

All she needed was for the armour to finally fall.

“Idiot… you didn’t know what a Hydra was?”

“Never heard of it! And what makes you think I know the name of something that flies!?”

“Common sense! That’s what –!”

“If you two have the energy to talk, then make yourself useful! Tch! Or better yet – save it for when you’re needed!” Black yelled from across the crater as she outran a wall of flames.

Her garbs perfectly protected her from the heat that could effortlessly smelt iron in seconds. Combined with Exrite’s [Barrier] – she was more than safe.

However – she knew all too well that not even she could survive a direct hit. She was, after all, a weaker version of her true self. Her flesh was sturdy and resilient but not impenetrable.

And neither was White.

But this only fuelled their lust for battle. The thrill of combat drove them in their fight against the beast. Although – it was only Black who showed unconstrained enthusiasm.

Her harrowing laughter echoed with each shot, and Exrite was reminded of just how dangerous the Colours truly were.

Then – a hailstorm of teeth attacked White. But she was more than prepared and in an instant, she disappeared from her spot, only to reappear many metres away.

Her speed was somewhat slower than Frosty’s, but her range of travel was far greater. The bullets were fired from the left. Then the right – and then underneath it.

It could not catch a glimpse of her. When it did, Uru would carve its eyes out and leave it open for yet another assault.

Their teamwork was awe-inspiring, and their strength only reminded the others of how weak they truly were compared to them. Uru could annihilate them at any time, and much the same as the Colours to a certain extent.

“… Incredible…” Frosty muttered.

“We’re not even considered a threat by it, huh Sis… But that only means that we still have much to improve on!”

“… ‘much’… I hope that’s not an understatement. Exrite. Exrite! What are you –!?”

At the sight of her, she initially thought that she was stuck in a deathly trance. But then she noticed Exrite’s lips mumbling silent words.

“– Casting magic? I thought a Maiden has more than enough mana to use whatever magic they want… just what is Exrite scheming?”

Despite her words Frosty already had a hunch on what Exrite was planning. To even consider a chant meant that whatever magic she planned to use was either extremely powerful – or something experimental.

She hoped that it was the former.

But knowing Exrite – the odds were like the toss of a coin.

* * *

The end was nigh. The beast wore a glowing ring around its massive obsidian-plated neck. Its attacks grew increasingly ferocious as more of its armour crumbled into the crater beneath.

But it was still too slow to catch the flying Uru or even the sly Commanders. It ignored the Frostbitten and Exrite surprisingly. They were barely a threat compared to the other three.

The thought was perplexing. Exrite half-expected herself to be the primary target considering she was the Maiden of Time. Or perhaps that was precisely why she was largely ignored.

Then what about Khaos and Frosty?

She could not delve too deeply into the thought. One slip of her tongue or concentration and she would have to start her chant from the beginning.

A powerful gust of wind blew around her, swirling above her head. It morphed into a visible green halo which spun like a toothless saw-blade. The size was thirty metres in diameter – more than the span of the beast’s neck.

This was Bailey’s [Wind Blade] taken to the extreme, for it was comparable to magic of the [Eight Tier]. The sudden surge of mana distracted the combat-locked Uru as she turned over her shoulder.

“Ho!? A [Wind Blade]!? How interesting!” The Demon was pleasantly surprised. “But I wonder how your accuracy will fair against a beast of this magnitude!”

“So that’s how she’ll sever it, huh!? Listen Exrite – you’ve got zero room for error! The gap is about as large as a fist!”

“That won’t matter the slightest if it can’t move! Uru! Is there anything you can do to hold it in place!?” White cried as a ball of light discharged in front of the beast’s eyes.

Nothing for a creature of this size! My tendrils can only reach so far! But your lights will suffice! The rest lies with Exrite!”

Uru dodged a barrage of flying teeth and severed its massive jaw. At the same time Exrite’s magic finally materialised as she wore a proud look on her face. This was her first time using a powerful offensive-type magic – especially of this calibre.

Suffice to say – she had no qualms that it would be able to level a street of wooden houses in one fell swoop.

“– [Wind Blade]!”

The massive halo flew towards the beast like a bullet. It ripped through the air and created a vortex that swept the gravel into an upwards spiral.

“I won’t miss!” Her confidence was met with a grin from Uru.

She turned back to the beast and dove into its fiery breath. A second later, its eyes were gouged by her vicious claws. It flailed in agony with a thunderous roar as more scorching flames were spat in an attempt to incinerate the pesky Demon.

“G-get out of the way!” Khaos yelled.

Khaos and Frosty quickly escaped a stray blaze that would’ve rendered them to their bones. But a [Barrier] that was placed by Exrite earlier nearly nullified the attack, although, the edges were turned to a liquid orange as an illusive heat rose.

“… How… can Uru withstand that kind of heat…?” Frosty uttered in disbelief.

By the time they could manage to peer at the beast – Exrite’s [Wind Blade] had already passed by Uru. It flew wide and homed straight in for the chink in its armour.

The beast was unaware of the attack. And even if it was – there was nothing it could do about it.

It sliced through its throat as quickly as it left. Then without any warning, Uru threw an explosive orb into its gaped mouth.

The explosion destroyed its face and sent the body toppling straight down into the shallow pool of lava beneath. Not even a single death woe was uttered, for it had died instantaneously.

Screams of enthusiasm broke from Black as she celebrated their temporary victory.

Exrite allowed herself to take a deep breath as she admired her own magic. A Maiden’s mana capacity could easily turn low-grade magic into something formidable. The contrast of her current body and her human one made her wryly smile.

She wished the difference of power wasn’t so obvious.

“One down… two more to go.” She muttered to herself. “Frosty, Khaos – are you two still fine!?”

“Perfectly fine! We can stick around for another fight! No man leaves his comrades to fight on their own!”

Exrite admired his fortitude. Even without turning she could tell that the man spoke with a gallant smile and a raised fist. But the thought was brief. Her eyes were glued to the crater as she began to prepare new [Barriers] for the upcoming fight.

But their moment of respite was short-lived.

Suddenly, the ground quaked. It seemed like their fight would be much sooner than expected.

“Here it comes!” White cried.

Giant rocks were spat from the depths of the crater. They left massive fissures in their destructive crashes all around the summit. Uru simply blocked all attacks with her own purple-inscribed [Barrier] as she noticed something alarming.

“Ho!? You all may want to get onto higher ground or a platform even! The crater is going to overflow!”

“Huh!? You’re joking right!?”

“Would I ever lie to you Frosty!? But beware – the beast is still inside!”

“Overflow… does that mean the first head’s innards are filling it?” Exrite muttered to herself.

“You’re rather calm, aren’t you Exrite!” Black cried, somehow hearing the girl’s voice from afar. “But really – I guess I would be too if I had that kind of body!”

Exrite lightly shook her head and yelled:

“I’m far from it –!”

And at that moment – the ground began to swell and split into massive segments.

“Ah –! Look out!”

Her sudden cry was directed to the Frostbitten siblings behind.

But the two were already a step ahead. Khaos and Frosty had already found a perfect platform to perch above and avoided the sudden overflow of lava which quickly seeped through the cracks like creeping ivy.

The Colours jumped from segment to segment, avoiding the furious torrent of lava until they settled on a massive floating platform. It rocked like a boat on a stormy night as lava spurted over the edges.

The flow of lava only increased. Exrite’s platform was soon scooped by the surge, sending her on a path straight off the edge of the summit. She clenched her teeth and launched herself from platform to platform until she reached Frosty and Khaos.

Her movement was crude, but somewhat elegant. She was clearly not accustomed to her body’s speed and effortless might. But she paid no heed to it.

There was something far more important than pondering on the power of her maidenly body. However – she could not help but to thank her body.

After all, she could not have safely leapt across as a human.

“It’s trying to limit our movement, huh?” Frosty sharply spoke. “Not that it matters to us anyway. We’re fast – faster than that thing’s magic. Letting us jump around is only going to make us a harder target!”

She was confused on why the beast – presumably – had turned the summit into an overflowing pool of lava.

“A bizarre decision. But not one I’m willing to question if its in our favour!” Uru lightly laughed at the beast’s stupidity.

However – Exrite kept her guard up.

There had to be a reason for the change of terrain.

Then – as the creature suddenly lunged out from the depths of the crater – she finally understood.

“Ho –!?”

The obsidian-armour head attacked Uru head on like a spear. She instantly propelled herself away with an explosive orb at the last second and narrowly avoided its charge.

The air screamed around her as Exrite’s [Barrier] – which was placed just moments after its attack – shattered like it was a measly plane of glass.

“Open fire!” Black cried and a series of dry explosions shook the air at once. “Don’t let that thing catch a fucking break!”

Magic and bullets riddled the beast’s length as it faced the Colours with unrivalled fury in its eyes. But their weapons did nothing but leave small scratches across its thick obsidian armour.

“A bit difficult when our weapons can’t damage it! Did it adapt to our weapons!?” White’s growled, her pale bullets ricocheting from the beast’s eyes. “Not even its eyes are a weak point!”

“Considering how quickly things change down here, I wouldn’t be fucking surprised if that was so!”

“Get your magic ready White! It’s coming straight for you!” Uru warned.

“I can’t spit out magic as easily as bullets in my current state!”

Her weapon morphed into its blade form as she carefully studied the beast’s movements. It climbed hundreds of metres into the air and released a mighty roar at its climax.

“Tch! Have fun staying on this platform White! I don’t know what the fuck happened to its armour – but bullets are not going to cut it!”

Black swiftly escaped from the platform, hopping away to safety as her handgun transformed into a black blade. The thin platforms cracked and split underneath each step. A single wrong move would leave her submerged in the molten liquid.

“Only a moron would remain!”

She too fled from the platform. Seconds later, the beast fell from its great height and smashed the platform like an oversized mace. Rocky fragments and molten rock spewed across the crater like a tidal wave as the others precariously surfed across it.

The rock gave way beneath Khaos’ foot, causing him to quickly backpedal away to safety. But the cracks followed and soon spread across the entire platform.

Frosty dodged a deathly split and dashed onto a nearby rock.

“Idiot! Watch your step!”

“Easy for you to say! Just look at what the hell I’m wearing! Do you think a man like me can float on a thin island like this!?” He turned to Exrite with fearsome eyes. “Exrite –!”

“I’m already on it! Stick close to me Khaos and we’ll be fine!” She called as a giant sky-blue [Physical Barrier] manifested underneath them like a thin layer of ice.

It was a beautiful display – one that Uru could not help but to admire as she scraped her claws against the length of the quickly-rising beast.

Only a trail of scratches remained. But this time, she could surprisingly pierce through its armour.

She noticed a fine detail on its face.

It had hundreds – or perhaps thousands of tiny tentacles. They were static, but the moment the beast let out another roar, they quivered and pointed towards Exrite.

“A disgusting beast you are. It’s no wonder a flightless dragon like you had no place amongst the majestic dragons of Jo’Lojo Dragos! You’re nothing but an abomination!”

She spat.

Then, the tentacles pointed to her. The beast let out a mighty roar and charged straight for the flying Demon.

But at that moment a ball of light painted the sky a pale-white. Uru could perfectly see through as she avoided the devastating path of the charging creature.

However, the creature too was unaffected by the light. Uru was suddenly caught off guard by the sudden and sharp turn of the beast.

“Ho –!?”

But Uru’s reflexes were just as sharp. She instantly propelled herself to the side and narrowly dodged its fangs. An explosive orb was left behind, and sunk into the beast’s maw.

But it did nothing. Steam vented through its nostrils as it turned and charged after Uru once more.

“So its vision remains even after being blinded. Or rather – it's using something else to navigate!”

“Like what!?” Frosty cried.

“The tentacles on its head! It reacts to sound!”

She flew with the beast and continued to strike it with her claws. In their dance of death, its lower neck sailed close to a cluster of platforms.

In an instant, everyone – save for Exrite – charged towards it.

Naturally, Frosty reached it first and with an amazing twirl, her scythe penetrated deep into its armour. Lava immediately gushed from its wound as she thrust herself away and struck again at different areas.

But even so, it could hardly be called ‘damage’.

Regardless of this – the beast screamed and suddenly dove down straight for her.

“Impressive Frosty! Not even my claws could reach those depths!”

“My weapon’s longer! Its obviously going to go in deeper!”

“You’re saying a swing of your scythe had more of an impact than our bullets!?” Black growled in annoyance, her blade finally reached the depths of the beast.

Surprise riddled her face.

Needless to say; she did not expect her blade to penetrate its armour so easily. Even if her blade was sharp enough to slice through a chunk of obsidian effortlessly, she still couldn’t believe it.

After all, their bullets were almost entirely ineffective against it.

In spite of this, her eyes soon swelled as a cunning grin formed across her face.

“Aha! It can shake off a focused amount of force, but when its spread, it breaks so easily! Khaos! Get the fuck over here and break this thing open!” She dragged her blade across the side of its neck as she ran around it.

She suddenly became the primary target. And when it came close, she easily jumped onto another smaller platform and rode the lava waves to safety.

“Not a problem! My strength is second to none for this kind of encounter!”

He ran towards the half-submerged head of the beast like an unstoppable boulder. The blazing surface underneath could not touch him, for Exrite’s [Barrier] acted as a platform for him to sprint across.

White drew the beast’s attention by the explosions of her handgun.

It could not see Khaos’ advancements, nor even notice his presence to begin with. Uru carefully watched the tentacles on its head – and despite Khaos’ cry – it did not point towards him.

Instead, they continued to point towards Black’s direction. Then when White arrived to attack – it pointed towards her.

Even Exrite noticed this now that the creature’s head was within fifty metres.

“Rather than sound – is it mana that those tentacles point to!?” Uru yelled in surprise.

“Uru! Get Khaos out of there as soon as he lands his attack!”

“Hmm! Of course! I too would hate to see such a useful Frostbitten perish!” Uru closed her thoughts and immediately swooped down to the man who was already within reach of the beast’s colossal head.

A mighty roar left Khaos as he clenched a powerful fist and reeled it far behind him. His powerful steps echoed through the madness and with one swing –

Its armour shattered under the might of his fist.

A network of cracks suddenly spread across its face as a massive indent was formed. Lava glowed in between the fractures and soon gushed out over him like a geyser as its head was shoved back by his indomitable strength.

Uru snatched the pained man off his feet like a hawk and dragged him high into the air.

“Hmhm~! Seems like your strength isn’t limited to carrying our cargo!” Black was stunned, and so was White who stood awestruck by his display of power.

“We… never really gave him a chance to show it, right?” White slowly spoke.

“With a group of individuals like us – was there really even a chance to begin with?”

“Well it shows that he’s not a fool to overstep his boundaries. But this isn’t so bad!”

Khaos’ gauntlet had been reduced to scrap, and it constricted his arm like binding ivy. It was a surprise that even a fraction of it still remained.

As they flew a hundred of metres above the summit, he crudely began to peel off the embedded metal.

“Fuck –! Uru! Y-you’re going to drop me if you keep swerving like that! PLEASE LISTEN TO ME!”

“Silence! ‘Care’ isn’t a word in the dictionary of battle! If you want to live then I suggest you keep that mouth shut and stop squirming! My tendrils are only as strong as your grip!”

Amid their bickering, Black, White and Frosty relentlessly struck the stunned beast with everything they had. The magical platform Exrite provided unhampered movement in the decimated battleground.

Their rapid strikes were near impossible for the naked eye to see – particularly Frosty’s. She flew back and forth with no sign of rest as each attack left a chaotic explosion of blue sparks, lava and obsidian chunks.

She was going to fight until her last breath, no matter how battered her body was. Even with a half-broken shoulder, her strikes were comparable to the Colour’s.

But in the end – they still could not break through its armour.

Frustration riled Black with each strike. The woman sent a series of chaotic lunges into its lower neck as the beast began to chase after Uru.

“Tch! You can’t run away from me you coward!”

“Take the fight to it instead! Let it be known that not even the skies it rules are safe from us!”

The commanders glanced at each other and immediately knew what to do. Their combat experience and pure instincts drove them to jam their blades deep into its broken armour.

And with an iron grip – they were dragged straight up with it.

They rode it with utter ease, lodging their blades deeper as their height grew exponentially in mere seconds. If a human were to do this – they could’ve been torn apart by the extreme winds.

And if they somehow survived that, they would not be able to breathe at such a height.

Exrite stood there, almost bewildered by their efforts. Frosty briefly rested by her side with heavy pants as she too tried to fathom their sanity.

“… Frosty… Do you think that’s on my level of recklessness?” Exrite joked with a wry smile.

“…. Al- Almost. To be honest with you… If you had a sword like theirs – hah – I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the first thing you – ahh – tried!”

Exrite slowly brought her down to the ground and tended to her. She filled an empty vial with cool water from an [Ice Shard] and fed it to the tired woman.

“… am I really that reckless?”

“Are… you seriously asking!?” She nearly spat in annoyance, causing Exrite to silently laugh.

She sighed her focus back to the battle overhead. Although, there was a brief smile on her face.

“… just how strong did the Maiden of Time expect you to be? If you managed to arrive here with any other party, then how the hell would you be able to beat that thing?”

She clasped Exrite’s hand in front of her and grit her teeth.

“Just what was she thinking… what were the Gods thinking? Why… were you made the Exrenity? The Maiden of Time? Haven’t you suffered enough?”

“Apparently not.” Exrite softly laughed. “Whether I’m the Maiden of Time or the Exrenity doesn’t matter to me. In the end, all I want is to find a place to call home and figure out why I was roped into this mess. But for now – rest easy Frosty. It’s not just us anymore.”

Indeed. It was no longer only the three of them anymore. They had Uru and the Commanders, and even their friends back in the Capital.

Frosty’s gaze slowly shifted to the skies. And there, they softened ever so slightly.

“… Geez. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m... thankful that they’re on our side.” She sighed.

“For now, at least.” A silent mutter followed after she trusted Exrite with her weight.

Above their little bubble of respite was a battle unlike any other.

Black and White climbed the beast with only the support of their blades. Their uncanny agility allowed them to dodge the jaws of the beast, which only served to further damage its armour.

It twisted, coiled and trembled but it still could not shake them off. There was nothing it could do.

A beast of this calibre was nothing, even in their weakened forms. The skills and knowledge they possessed from their world and countless others were retained in its entirety, and combined with their strength – they were unstoppable.

In the corner of their eye, a familiar figure swooped. To their surprise and near disbelief, they managed to find a man being dragged straight into the beast’s broken face.

“URUUUUUUUUUUUU!”

His battle cry instantly drew its attention, and by the time it could realise what was happening, he had smashed both fists into its temple with tremendous force. The network of cracks widened as thousands of obsidian shards fell a landslide.

“Put more faith into me! Do you really think I’d allow you to die!?” Uru laughed mischievously as she dragged the man away to safety with her thick root-like tendrils.

“IF IT’S YOU THEN HOW CAN I NOT!?” He yelled at the top of his lungs as he scraped off the flattened metal from his knuckles.

“Ho! Really, you’re a bizarre one Khaos! A Demon doesn’t lie! Unless it’s for a greater purpose, of course!”

The Commanders were left to take the full brunt of the falling debris, which many were metres in length and thickness. What was once an already treacherous path had become certain death.

But this only fuelled their blood-lust.

After all, they thrived in these situations.

“You’re blade’s fit for a roadblock like this! I’ll leave it all to you~!”

“You’ll be my stepping stool then?”

“Hey! Don’t get carried away! I can break through it too – but I’m not so sure if you would be guaranteed a safe path~!”

“That’s just like you. Anyway – lend me your strength!”

“Already a step ahead of you!”

Black overtook White and perched herself on the hilt of her blade, where White soon found her footing in her palms. She was then flung straight into the heart of the collapsing debris as Black cried:

“Hmhm~! Pave the way White Heart~!”

“Don’t –!”

White sliced through many dozens of obsidian chunks in the blink of an eye, reducing them to simple geometrical figures.

“– Ever call me –!”

She maintained her momentum and broke through the debris, further slicing through the countless layers as she dodged random splashes of lava, which all showered past a hysterically laughing Black.

“– By that name in our current state!”

At the peak of her journey, the molten face of the beast appeared. There were so many fissures that it was almost unrecognisable. The two massive indents made it appear as if it had multiple mouths.

If she wasn’t a weapon – and more importantly, if this was not an enemy – she most certainly would’ve felt sympathy for the beast.

Her cold eyes failed to reflect the blazing heat before her.

It opened its shattered mouth and let out a roar that threw her hair and mantle behind. But she floated there, unfazed by its mere bark. When she began to descend, her blade suddenly emitted a violent glow.

She held it overhead, gripped with both hands as she infused it with a magic unlike anything Exrite – and Uru for that matter – had ever seen before. The blinding like was so intense, that it completely enshrouded her being and anyone that dared to even glance at her light was immediately forced to turn away.

At first, Uru thought it was some [Holy] type magic – which was only effective against the Undead. However, White was not foolish enough to fail to realise that, nor did she imagine that a Vampire of all beings would possess such magic.

With a single, invisible swing – a shock wave disbursed the smouldering clouds and ash into a massive ring. The world seemed to stop for a split second before a thundering roar exploded from the beast’s temple.

The network of cracks expanded from its head to chin before it suddenly split open like the petals of a flower.

“… What… just happened?” Frosty muttered in shock.

“Her blade… it extended, I think? You didn’t see it either?”

“Of course not... Of course not! That light… and that damage… just how strong are they!?”

“… too strong. But the cracks – she must’ve found one that spanned across its face, thanks to Khaos. If it was only lava, then her blade could pass through effortlessly… still though… the precision to pull that off is incredible.”

Exrite was beyond surprised. To be able to perform such a feat in the thick of battle on such a massive scale was baffling to say the least. It roused inspiration in the depths of her being, but also raised a few questions as to what other unknown powers the Colours possessed.

To extend one’s weapon was unheard of in Corozin. Weapons were usually imbued or enchanted with magic, but never to affect their physical structure. Such a thing was akin to [Transmutation] or [Alchemy], but the Colours had their own unique version, which surprisingly wasn’t a form of magic.

It was [Materialisation] – the ability to instantly change the form and shape of their weapons so long as they had the energy required. It was limited however, and it could not be shaped freely. As Black put it: they had predetermined forms which best suited the wielder.

This was most likely one of them; an extendable blade.

“Beat me to it, huh?” Black muttered before she began to gradually descend down the beast’s length, her blade carving through its armour with ease.

“Such splendour! I’m envious of that magic White! Perhaps you can teach me a thing or two about your Otherworldly incantations!”

“Unfortunately for you, the only thing you’ll learn is my light! Our abilities are nothing like magic!” White battled the screaming winds as she plummeted from her great height.

She rode its neck with her blade, excavating its armour as she caught up to Black in mere seconds. Exrite swiftly prepared a [Barrier] for their landing, for there was no platform remaining within the vicinity of the beast.

“Unfortunately indeed… Khaos, wield your shield close and defend your vitals. I cannot guarantee your safety otherwise.”

“Wait. Hold on – what are you scheming, Uru –!?”

“You’ll soon understand.”

“Hey!? Hey! HEY –!?”

“Don’t panic.”

Her cold words were met with immediate obedience, despite the terror that swelled in his eyes. He pulled his shield from behind and steadily defended himself as Uru drew him close to her chest.

The beast had become a fountain of lava, filling the crater more and more as it seeped through the edges like a waterfall. What was once a super-massive creature had become a hollowed husk of its former self.

It was dead. No amount of lava could repair its face, for it was almost entirely constructed out of obsidian. It would take days for it to recover. If it could, that is.

“How’s your condition Frosty? You’re not done yet, are you?” White inquired the moment they regrouped with Exrite and the resting Frosty.

“I still… ah... have some fight left in me.”

“Your breathing says otherwise. Well, at least you weren’t useless~” Black hummed, tightening her gloves.

“Black, shut up.” White firmly spoke, causing the woman to grin. “Hm? Your broken shoulder has already healed? Was this your doing Exrite? Or do the Frostbitten possess abnormal regeneration?”

“Yeah, somehow… I didn’t think it would actually work, to be completely honest.” Exrite awkwardly smiled.

“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?” Frosty muttered with a raised brow.

“I just tried reversing what I knew about injuring the body, and it seemed to work. Thankfully, it ended up being something akin to Inkshard’s healing magic – wait, why are you surprised all of a sudden? I warned you that it was experimental, didn’t I?”

Black could not help but laugh as she turned back to the motionless beast, which stood like a stone monument.

“… only that is was ‘experimental’… ahh… I should’ve known it was something… like that – hah... considering it’s you.” Frosty deeply sighed.

Indeed. Exrite’s anatomical knowledge solely came from killing, butchering, observation and… herself. From it, she knew what parts were vital, how innards were arranged, and what parts were the most agonising.

However, it was knowledge used only for inflicting death. Healing had been a counter intuitive concept for the longest time, until only recently when she finally lifted her curse of immortality.

Thankfully, her knowledge was applicable to [Healing] so long as the concept of death or injury was reversed.

It was risky because she knew that a single slip up would have adverse consequences, one being the destruction of an intended site or death.

Funnily enough, it fell in line with her concept of [Time].

To heal is to reverse, and to kill is to accelerate.

And from it, she suddenly arrived at a name for the acceleration effect – [Withering]. Although she did not know how it would work in nature, or how long it would take to kill something.

She imagined it was more useful against already wounded targets, the ill and elderly.

“Exrite. Exrite? Exrite!” White’s voice shook her out of her slight trance. “It even occurs at a time like this? I’m surprised you haven’t already died because of it… or rather… I don’t think that would matter anyway. You’ll probably be able to survive whatever’s thrown at you with that body of yours.”

“Eh? Was I dozing off?”

“You weren’t aware?”

“Ah… Sort of… I was thinking about something for a second. How long was that?”

“One hundred and twenty fucking seconds. Whatever goes on in your mind, I want a part of it too. Must be nice to cruise around in a wonderland from time to time~” Black hummed.

“If only it was a wonderland.” Exrite whispered as her gaze fell onto Uru.

Suddenly, her eyes widened.

“[Solar Core]?”

“So you’ve finally noticed. I believe she’s preparing to kill the next head with a single attack.” White said. “But magic hasn’t worked out so far. What makes her think it's going to work this time?”

It seemed like everyone agreed, however, Exrite was the only exception. During their battles, she noticed an odd pattern with the heads. Despite all being immune to various attacks thus far – there was always one weakness.

The first head was vulnerable to projectiles, and the second to weapons like blades and Khaos’ fists. These were two out of the three major concepts of combat in Corozin.

The final one was magic.

She uttered her findings to them, to which was met with eager grins.

“I see. So a combat triangle exists in your world? I was not aware.” Black hummed.

“Combat triangle? No one that is greater than the other. They all have their own strengths and are equally as powerful.” Frosty managed to explain without breaking into a fit of pants.

“Is that so? Hmm. Forget I said anything. I was thinking of something from my old world. Reminds me of how much Earth has changed since the last time I visited.” Black sighed with a tired expression.

Then, it morphed delightfully when she noticed something strange in their surroundings.

One by one, pebbles began to float into the air as if gravity ceased to affect them. The bizarre sight was magnificent, but Exrite and Frosty remained guarded as they watched the final event unfold.

Rocks then were scooped into the mix and before long, entire platforms were many metres off the ground. They were being drawn to an unknown source somewhere above the hollowed beast.

Exrite’s [Physical Barriers] kept their platform anchored. It seemed like the strange effect only influenced the surrounding rock and lava, which swirled into the sky like columns of fire.

They mixed into a spherical concoction which pulsated like a beating heart. It took the shape of a dragon’s head as two blazing eyes emerged with a grand roar to mark its spectacular entrance.

“Be relieved you have the honour to be destroyed by a Demon like myself. Your heat is nothing but a grain of sand compared to my [Solar Core]. But it’s a shame. For a legendary beast, I expected more. To be the final gatekeeper of the Maiden of Time’s trial is nothing but a spit to the face.” Uru hissed and at once, a thin beam was fired straight at the still-forming beast.

She did not give it the luxury of constructing itself before battle. Her intention was as clear – and as cold – as a frozen lake. With one fell swoop, she aimed to eradicate the molten mass like the tumour it was.

An explosion of unprecedented scale erupted high above the summit, instantly pulverising the floating rocks into dust. The blast destroyed the empty pillar beneath as a roaring heat swept over the entirety of the summit.

Uru quickly drew herself away as Khaos shielded himself from the ungodly shock wave and heat. But his shield could only cover so much, and his armour began to glow a slight orange.

Exrite erected another [Physical Barrier] to defend them from the heat, especially the exhausted Frosty who watched her brother with worried eyes.

“Shit! My armour’s already fucking melting! Couldn’t you have attacked from a distance!?” Khaos yelled, enduring the heat with what little energy he could muster.

“[Solar Orb] weakens with distance. The closer one is, the more powerful it becomes!”

“Wasn’t it already powerful enough against the Decanid from fucking hundreds of metres away!?”

“You’re remembering incorrectly. My magic failed to kill the Decanid because of my own incompetence. I implore you to remember that is has been over a thousand years since the last time I had used anything beyond the [Eight Tier]!”

Khaos gulped and stared at the pale orb which swallowed everything in its path. It was as if the sun had fallen, and with its heat it would be no exaggeration.

It was nearly twice as powerful as her previous, spanning a hundred meters as it loomed over the crater. The surrounding rock liquefied in the blink of an eye as the crater expanded by almost five-fold.

If it weren’t for Exrite’s [Barrier], they would have undoubtedly perished.

Khaos was beyond lucky to still maintain a steady breath. The carbodix shield worked wonders against the heat, slightly better than Exrite’s magic even. However, his exposed limbs were subject to the torturous heat which cooked him from within his armour.

Uru could not deflect the heat for him. Her [Barriers] were a unique kind which did not protect one from heat. Her body already possessed unparalleled resistance to heat, so there was no need.

It was tragic, but she believed in the healing abilities of her companions. In addition, Exrite’s [Barrier] could only do so much near the epicentre of the attack.

Black awed her destructive power. Magic was certainly fantastical when used in such a frightening manner. She envied it for a moment and compared it with her own devices, and grinned mischievously.

“Not bad for something that costs so little, or however much mana that is. Isn’t it wonderful, White?”

The woman didn’t reply.

“Tch. I think I get it~ You don’t have anything as explosive in your magical arsenal. So – are you envious?”

“You’re annoying.”

Black clicked her tongue again when White failed to bite her bait.

Uru returned to them moments later, leaving Khaos on the scorched ground as Exrite quickly scrambled to his side, aiding him in removing his armour until he wore nothing but simple cloth.

“Your fists! And the burns... Ah – Khaos, drink this! I’ll heal your burns for now. White, are you able to remove the metal from his knuckles?”

Surprise and horror filled her eyes. The degree of burns were one thing, but the way his hands were mangled was like he was caught in a bear trap. It was a miracle that he could still move his fingers, and the way the metal was embedded deep within instilled just how devastating his attacks truly were.

Under normal circumstances, not even a blade sharpened by a Kingdom’s most renowned blacksmith could deeply penetrate his mountainous build.

“Hmm...” White stood beside him with a hand on her chin.

“Please...” Frosty muttered.

It seemed like White had no intention of aiding, but it was in fact the opposite. She was simply stunned by his wound as she wondered if it was anatomically possible to still retain fine functions, despite being so… mangled.

But she digressed, crouched beside him and softly smiled.

“I’m not so cruel to let an ally of mine suffer.”

Frosty returned a thankful smile.

With the tip of her teeth, White slit open her thumb and allowed her blood to run into his wound. She skilfully numbed his senses before she intricately removed each strand of metal from his fists.

“M-many thanks, White...”

“Don’t thank me for something mandatory.” Her words were lukewarm.

“A...ha. Right. But still – thank you, nevertheless.”

Despite this, he mustered a gratifying smile before he turned to Exrite, who busily healed the burns across his limbs. The discoloured patches of skin soon regained their colour. The fact that he could not feel it meant that the burns had penetrated deep into his flesh.

“How… am I Exrite? Is it as bad as the one from the mountains?” He laughed.

“Looks like it… but at least this is the extent of your wounds. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened to you if Uru didn’t get you out of there immediately.” Exrite softly smiled.

“But your [Barriers] also did more than it needed to. Without them, I definitely would’ve died back there!” He laughed.

He was convinced that was so. The carbodix shield was not enough to defend him entirely. Without the [Barrier], his limbs would be reduced to nothing but charred remains.

“I knew I could count on your aid!” He added.

The same could be said for everyone. Throughout the fight, Exrite keenly watched everyone’s back. She was their final safety net in the event that they would perish – as unlikely as that was.

She was simply glad that she did not have to use as many [Barriers] as expected. They were all capable in their own might, particularly the Colours who surpassed the strength she had initially imagined them to possess.

“It’s the least I can do. I’m not so much of a front runner than I am a support. My role in the party is to help you guys stay alive… well, most of the time.” Exrite quietly spoke, the majority of her focus directed to her [Healing] magic.

Her hand quickly hovered over the rest of his burns as she healed them with surprising speed.

“As always, huh… at least that part of you hasn’t changed.” Frosty muttered as she weakly covered her eyes to the blinding light high above. “… Say… Uru… are you sure that killed it?”

“Hmm. Rest assured – I see nothing inside. Even a soul would be destroyed upon grazing my [Solar Core], let alone a creature of tangible rock and lava.”

Her confident words did little to ease her suspicion, and the ominous silence only added to her uncertainty. Perhaps it was due to how quickly the final head died compared to the rest.

The instantaneous defeat was jarring, and almost unreal even with the knowledge of Uru’s power.

Maybe this was designed for humans – as unlikely as it was – after all.

Rest assured, huh… Ack…” She sighed and rolled to face her brother with cold eyes.

“Looks like we’re both done for, am I right Sis?” He returned the gaze. “A volcano, a dragon and this damned heat… I guess we Frostbitten aren’t so tolerant to this kind of stuff after all!”

“Idiot. We’re the least resilient out of – hah… a party of monsters. Lava… volcanoes… there’s nothing like that in the Enthoric region, huh. Only warm summers and snowy winters… and those damned soldiers from Enthile.”

“The comfort of human civilisation could not prepare you for something like this. But you’re only juvenile Frostbitten, so adapting is only a matter of time.” Uru spoke haughtily as the light from the [Solar Core] began to waver.

“Yeah… give us a thousand years.” Khaos joked, but judging by their exhausted bodies, it could very well be a reality. “Hey… do those garbs protect you from the heat, or do Colours possess some kind of ability?”

His question was directed to the Commanders, and was met with a small hum from Black.

“Both. But~ to a certain extent. We’re not created equally, or else we’d all be as proficient as White over here.”

When White finished tending to Khaos’ wounds and stood up, Black added:

“Hmm. You know, that reminds me of something. Our old world wasn’t as colourful as it was today, was it White? It was a colourless Colour Plane. A boring blank canvas for whoever the fuck lived in that world before the rest of us arrived~”

She glanced back at White with a cunning smile, which was met with a gaze of contempt.

“How scary~ Tch. I guess I’ll start leading the way, since we’re all done here. Not a bad fight for a finale if I do say so myself. I just wish it wasn’t so anticlimactic!”

“If the first head died so easily, then there was no point in having such expectations in the first place.” Uru spoke.

“Hmhm~! Correct~! Well, hurry up and finish up you three. The end of this boring trial is just ahead!”

Exrite wore a conflicted face. A part of her wanted the two to rest until they were healed, but the immense heat of the <Forty First Floor> made it nearly impossible for a full recovery.

Moving to the next floor – which she assumed was where Gaia’s home resided – would be the wiser thing to do.

On the other side of the dilemma was that they did not know if this was truly the final floor. There was a chance that another more gruelling world of flames awaited them below.

But with their circumstances, the odd nature of the obelisks and the gear-less, soulless dragon – it was likely that this was either the end, or the beginning of something else.

Whichever it was, Exrite made up her mind and moved over to Frosty. When her hair fell above her, the woman gave her a small smile and sighed.

“I guess there’s no point in sleeping on a bed of hot coal… Geez…” Frosty roused a laugh from Exrite.

She offered a hand, and Frosty gladly took it. But she could only muster enough strength to sit seated up with a pained face.

“Hey, you Ok? I can carry you Frosty, so don’t push yourself. We’re just a slope away from the next floor.”

“Thanks... Ack. My legs are burnt out from all that jumping… I think I got a little too carried away with hitting it. Shit… and that was barely any damage.”

Exrite quietly listened to her complaints as she carefully scooped her up into her arms. She was held in a princess carry, which drew the attention of Uru as she helped Khaos onto his feet.

“But it’s a start, isn’t it?”

“A start, huh...”

“Mhm. It really puts our strength into perspective.” Exrite laughed, but as it drew to an end, she became silent and stared off into the distance with solemn eyes. “… Yeah. We’re still pretty weak, but if we were able to hold our own – then I’m happy, because we can only go up from here.”

Her words were optimistic at best, and they both knew that all too well. But they were stubborn and were determined to stop at nothing to achieve their goals – no matter how impossible it seemed.

Frosty groaned into a smile and muttered:

“Idiot… don’t say that while we’re going downhill. You’ll jinx it.”

Exrite laughed as she had her cheeks playfully pinched. The atmosphere that was once filled with dread, ash and battle mellowed ever so wonderfully. The remnants of the [Solar Core] finally died out, and lava trickled and pooled into small ponds around the crater.

“Oh what I would give to take her place. Although, no mortal should be carried by a Maiden in the first place.” She hummed and followed them down into the depths of the crater. “Don’t fall behind now Khaos. You’ve proven your strength to be a valuable asset to our group.”

“Right. I’m glad my strength could be of aid!” He quickly donned his clothing and carried his still-glowing armour before making his way down with the others. “But I’m more amazed by you and Black both. I can’t imagine what it would take to scale a tower with only a sword. Haha! You Otherworlders are amazing in many ways!”

“We’re not as amazing as you think. Not as we are at the moment. Besides – you started the chain remember? If it weren’t for you, my blade wouldn’t have carved into it like it did.” She walked beside him and gave him a friendly smile.

The man staggered unevenly with each step, but he managed to move through the gravel at a reasonable pace.

“You did well… no, we all did well. Hm. I can’t remember the last time I was part of a group fight. Must’ve been a long, long time ago. Need a hand?”

“Would you? Many thanks, White.” He humbly accepted her aid.

“Likewise. I unfortunately had to hold back for your sake. My magic isn’t exactly made for one on one battles~” Uru chimed in with a hum. “But we did splendid. Although, I do wish Exrite could have displayed the true power of a Maiden.”

“Isn’t it too soon for that? Hah… You and Black are something else. In the first place, there hasn’t been enough time for her to properly train herself. That’s why I wanted her to stay in the Capital a little while longer, so she could learn as much as possible before being thrown out here into the deep end with a bunch of monsters like us.”

White’s complaint was a mouthful, which came as a surprise to Khaos. He had never heard her speak so much, nor was he or the others aware of White’s intention to keep them at the Capital for the full month they promised.

While he knew White was the gentler of the two Commanders, he did not expect her to be this kind. But he wondered if it was because of the blood she had constantly been drinking to stay sane.

After all, this White was considerably different from the one they first met. From the eyes to her personality – they were like night and day.

“You learn how to swim out of desperation –”

“What desperation? Do you think Exrite has had a single episode of desperation under our protection? Her biggest threat is her own recklessness with her magic and the Eye of Despair.” White swiftly retorted.

Her reasons were indisputable.

“I said it already Uru – she’s in the deep end with a bunch of monsters like us. But I’m not going to ignore her own growth though. Exrite has gotten stronger – just not nearly enough, not with a one-of-a-kind body like a Maiden’s.”

She sighed and stared at the three figures who waited for them at a strange gear-shaped platform. It was whiter than snow, and it spanned more than twenty metres across with jagged teeth biting deeply into the surrounding sediment.

In the centre was a pale obelisk. Its size was smaller compared to all of the previous ones, but by the way Exrite was absorbed by it – they imagined it was just as important.

“We’re interfering too much. Only a person’s world can shape how fast they can grow, and – if that person’s willing to do it themselves. Exrite fits in perfectly, but like all chess games, we can’t afford to risk losing our king. Because if Exrite goes, then we’re all screwed.”

Uru savoured her words as she and Khaos both fell silent. It took time for the man to digest, but he ultimately agreed. They knew that without Exrite, there was no other way they could achieve their goals.

She was their key to defeating the Maiden of Realms, their key to accessing the far reaches of Western Corozin; where the Maiden of Wisdom resided, and Uru’s ultimate proof of the Maiden of Time’s existence, and a vital key to enacting her revenge.

At this point, not even the Frostbitten would cut it now that she was beside the Maiden of Time herself.

“Ho. An intriguing analogy. But life is never as simple as a mere game of chess. The world is far too complex and ever-changing to be defined. Although, I do understand your sentiments. My thousand years of living had taught me that nothing is ever stable – save for fate.”

“A thousand years?” White whispered to herself with a gentle sigh. “Anyway – So long as you get it, then we’ll get along just fine.”

Uru softly whistled a soothing song. Amongst the flames, the heat and the desolated world – it was like a dirge for the broken floor. But it was beautiful nonetheless, and White silently listened to her voice as the faces of the others came to view.

The scrunches underneath their feet soon transformed to a uniformed tap as they embarked the giant gear. Everywhere they looked was a pristine white, and the falling ash and rock seemed to dodge its spotless surface.

The bowl-shaped walls that surrounded them were quite massive now that they were in its depths. Khaos held back a curse as his stomach churned, while Exrite greeted them with a sturdy nod.

But her gaze never left the obelisk.

“We’re… really down here now, huh.” Frosty curiously eyed their surroundings as she lay flat on the floor. “To think this place was once filled with lava…”

“Such is the case with magic. It really doesn’t make any sense at all. But whatever. If it works, then it works.” Black yawned. “Well, don’t keep us waiting Exrite. The finish line is just a step closer.”

“We don’t have to touch it?” Khaos wondered.

“Better to treat it like the old ones, unless you guys want to stay here.”

“Oh. Right.”

Exrite didn’t move. All she needed to do was to take a single step to activate it, but there was still something that bothered her. The obelisk emitted a powerful ticking that entranced her, and reminded her of the [Gears] she possessed.

In addition to this, she remembered that there was another purpose of this trial other than to strengthen the Maiden of Time – which she had barely succeeded in.

This purpose was to understand the mechanism of the [Gears], and how to ultimately create them. She could not believe Gaia would hand it over on a silver platter even if her life depended on it. That was the Gaia she knew – a Maiden who sought to teach Exrite everything through experience, even if it possibly meant breaking her.

...Gaia. This can’t be the final floor, can it? You wouldn’t give me the answer so easily… would you?

Her thoughts wavered. Perhaps there was a chance that Gaia had left something for her in her ‘home’. The uncertainty was intoxicating. While she could easily handle another month or few months down here – she could not say the same about the others; save for Uru.

But there was no other way than to move forward. And she had hope that her friends and companions would persevere to the very end.

With a single step – the obelisk suddenly activated. There was no high-pitched sound or floating [Gear]. Instead, it turned like a key and suddenly, the entire platform shifted underneath them.

The sound of splitting rock and shifting gravel crackled as the gear slowly pulled them into an impossibly long chasm. It bore straight through the heart of the volcano as veins of lava illuminated their surroundings.

“Down huh…” Frosty whispered with a voice of suspicion.

“Hmm. A magical elevator. Looks like these [Gears] have more functionality than I thought.” Black hummed and sent a glance at a distracted Exrite, who strangely stared around the platform. “Now the question is – how long do we wait?”

No one answered her. They were all too fascinated by the chasm, save for Khaos who cowered on the ground near his sister, and Exrite who was struck with intrigue and suspicion.

“You look confused Exrite. Something on your mind or is your Eye acting up?”

“Confused... Black, is there a reason why someone would design a platform of this size?”

Her question struck the woman with curiosity, and moments later, she stood beside Exrite with both hands proudly on her hips.

“For an army, or a really big fucking group. I wouldn’t use it for anything else. I guess cargo would also work, but would the Maiden of Time make an elevator just to transit her goods?”

“Unlikely. An obelisk this small wouldn’t be able to move that many people anyway, so you’re probably right...” Exrite trailed off, her eyes widened as she arrived at a sudden conclusion. “Gaia… I don’t think she expected our group to only be six people. This size is excessive, unless the [Gear] needs to be this large in order to move.”

The latter was just her speaking what was on her mind. Her [Gears] were the size of a fist, and could move as flawlessly as her limbs.

“Humans work best in a pack. To be fair and frankly honest with you, do you think a small group of humans – or any other race – could take that beast down as easily as we did?”

Black hummed and walked into the spacious clearing. She turned back to Exrite with a simple twirl and presented the space around her with open arms.

Of course not. Exrite wanted to blurt out. Even an A-ranked adventurer was nothing but a speck of dust before the three-headed beast, and the Heroes of Truebirth were much the same.

“A giant group was likely what was on her mind. Numbers always works wonders when trying to compensate for individual weakness. Hmhm~! That's one thing you humans are good at.”

Exrite nonchalantly stared at her. She could not be bothered to muster any energy to utter a curse, and neither could White for that matter. Only a sigh left their lips in perfect unison, which humoured the obviously bored woman.

“I think so as well… but can you imagine how supplies would be carried for that many people? Horse carriages, caravans, giant chameleons – it wouldn’t just be a party of people…” Exrite trailed off once again.

Suddenly, her answer became riled with fundamental holes. For one – how would they traverse the floors safely, and two – there was no possible way they’d bring everything up to the summit and survive.

Then what was this grand space for?

She thought hard and long, rousing suspicion in the others as they thought her Eye had begun to manifest. But before anyone could pry her away from the trance, she remembered the strange obelisks scattered on this floor.

“Interesting you believe that is so.” Uru’s voice suddenly emerged from above as a hand gently caressed her jaw. “The Maiden of Time left us clues ever since the beginning of our scorched trial.”

“The obelisks…”

“Precisely. The condition at the time was for us all to be present and touch it. So tell me like the detective you are my little Exrite – why do you believe the final obelisk only required you to activate it?”

The answer was as clear as day, but was as wicked as a moonless night. Her heart sank into her gut, and her Eye of Despair began to emit a dangerous heat.

“… Wait – Did she expect everyone else to die!?”

Her sudden outburst of rage echoed in their hollowed chamber. The times when the beast seemingly refused to attack her made sense all of a sudden.

Only Exrite was expected to survive.

But it wasn’t merely this realisation which boiled her blood. It was the fact that the prior obelisks of the <Forty First Floor> required them all to be present and alive after pushing through the dangers of the previous floors.

Even a single death would ultimately doom her from completing the trial. Exrite didn’t believe in ‘what ifs’, however, this was an entirely different case.

“And for what fucking purpose!? What the fuck was the point of bringing a party if they were doomed to die!? Did she want the Maiden of Time to lament over their deaths in this empty place all alone!?”

It was a cruel trap, and Exrite only escaped it thanks to the strength of her companions.

If she was the only survivor of the group then this spacious [Gear] would be a hellish prison to remind her of the people who died for her sake.

If a Maiden’s body was too tough to be scarred by a three headed dragon – then her mind would have to be broken. Exrite could see how this would serve to mentally strengthen an individual, but on the flip side, it posed a near certain risk to break them.

And Exrite was not immune to this.

Not even she knew what would happen to her if she ever lost Khaos or Frosty in such a way. And then to be told that it was ‘inevitable’ or a ‘necessity’ would undoubtedly send her on a downward spiral into insanity.

For a moment, she considered Melody’s goal of killing the Maiden of Time – but she quickly realised just how foolish that was. Even so, the thought lingered for some time and the heat from her Eye of Despair continued to burn.

However – she could not remain enraged forever. She knew that however cruel Gaia’s methods were, it was ultimately all for the sake of strengthening the Maiden of Time.

Even if it was Exrite, there was only so much a human could withstand.

A sigh finally left her, along with half of the pent anger. She stared down at her palms and slowly closed them as she silently reminded herself that she could not deviate from herself, no matter what was thrown at her.

“… Have you returned to us?”

“Barely…” Exrite’s voice was quiet. Too quiet. It roused concern in Uru, who gently held her in a motherly embrace. “… I can’t complain about Gaia’s insane methods. My Eye has had enough already. Anymore and I’ll be stuck staring at iron bars and black walls again.”

She entrusted her weight to Uru.

“Do you regret following this path.”

“I can’t regret something I was forced into.” Exrite sighed and forced a small laugh. “But… I think I should’ve expected something like this. I don’t care about filtering the weak from the strong. That should be a given in a dungeon of this scale… but… I think Gaia wants me to see something.”

Her words came out as odd to the others, but they keenly listened to her complaints.

“Regret because I couldn’t save the people I cared about? Despair, because I lost those who were close to me? Motivation – as… sad as that sounds?” Exrite began listing the reasons that came and went like a soft breeze.

Frosty grit her teeth with each word as Khaos hunched over with a solemn look on his face.

“Or – does she want me to cope with inevitable loss? Death is always lurking around the corner for us, whether we like it or not. And if it never happens, then what about fifty years later? Or a hundred? A thousand? Three? Ten? I won’t ever die a natural death – I know that much. And the thought is daunting to a human like me. A hundred years is already long enough, because we’re constantly changing, and it's the little things that change humans the most.”

Exrite confessed. The moment she spoke about her fears of out living the others, they immediately knew that this wasn’t a newfound fear that sprung up from out of the blue. It was something she feared ever since she attained immortality.

No one but Exrite dared to speak. Only the sound of the churning rock around them echoed here.

“… Gaia… wants me to see something, whether I like it or not. And I can only hope I’m still in my right state of mind when the time comes. I don’t believe for a second that our near identical appearance is a coincidence… And maybe at that time, I’ll finally figure out why I was made the Maiden of Time.”

She was determined, and there was nothing that could possibly derail her from the impossible task. From a single event that could easily be shrugged off as something negligible by others manifested into something monumental for Exrite.

Indeed. Events like these impact humans the most, because they could absorb every little thing in a given situation and formulate their own perspectives – whether its nothing more than a warped fabrication of reality, or a road that could guide them to wherever they wished.

When Uru saw the renewed fire in Exrite’s eyes, she couldn’t help but to feel envious of her indomitable spirit despite what the future inevitably held.

“If we can get out of here in the first place that is.” She added.

“You understand the monumental task to such a degree, yet you continue to pursue it. As a human no less. A reckless person like you is bound to run into a harrowing end. Although, I never did hate that part of you.”

Uru wholeheartedly admired her and brushed a hand through her silken hair.

“The moment you prove that fate is nothing but a farce, then my worldview will collapse into yours. Do not let my faith go to waste.”

“Believe me Uru – I’ll break through all this nonsense. The future is never set in stone. If Gaia expected one of us to die, then we’ve already broken a fragment of fate.”

Only a fragment. But as your saying goes – the present shapes the future. Perhaps it is a philosophy worthy of being followed. With you as the Maiden of Time, you could easily attain millions of adopters –”

“Uru, all that matters is that you understand. The millions don’t matter.”

“Ho… I see. Hmm. That’s very much like you, Exrite.”

“Isn’t it?” Frosty muttered to herself, relieved that Exrite had returned from the looming storm. “We’re dancing on the palms of those Damned Gods and the Maiden of Time again, huh. Geez… will we ever catch a break?”

“Not until the very end. But there’s no point in complaining. We didn’t die, so that’s all that matters~ Maybe you can think of it like my minor miscalculation with the missiles. None of our little Demi-human friends died, did they?”

“Minor… you’re sick, you know that?” Frosty held back her spite.

“The outcome weighs more than everything else. If you disagree, then I’m not so sure just how much your goal means to you. But what do I know? I’m just a bystander from another world here to help you get through this~ Well, not for free of course. You three still have your work cut out for you. If something like this is enough to shake you, then we have an issue.”

She gently stroked the handle of her handgun with a threatening stance.

“I may or may not see that as an act of betrayal~ So – try not to betray our expectations. Because at this rate, you wouldn’t last even a microsecond in front of that Melody.”

A brief silence followed. None of them could argue her viscous words, for they knew it was true.

Exrite was nothing more than a candle in front of a blazing inferno compared to the Maiden of Realms, who had trampled over more worlds than she could count.

Her power was monumental. A single snap of her fingers could destroy hundreds of the same three-headed dragon in the blink of an eye. After all, there was nothing in this world that could withstand the magic of the [Fifteenth Tier].

Nothing had the mana capacity and reserves to stomach it, save for another Maiden, and maybe a select few beings like the Gods and Overlords.

But even that was generous at best.

The legends of a Maidens power was indomitable, although, this was only so long as they remained within their Domains.

As Exrite delved into a sea of thought, the lights suddenly disappeared. The pitch-black chasm fell faster until their hair rose above their faces. But strangely enough, none of them were left behind by the platform.

Silent chatters filled this dark space for many minutes which felt like hours on end. They remained calm but alert of their surroundings, save for Uru who continued to embrace Exrite from behind.

The speed only increased as time went on. Soon, their attires flew over them as they entered a state of free fall. Khaos glued himself to the ground and spread his limbs like a starfish. His humorous appearance garnered a few curses from Frosty and a teasing laugh from Black.

At this point it was safe to say that they had finally left the <Forty First Floor>.

Then – light began to creep at the edges of the [Gear].

“We’re close!” Exrite cried with enthusiasm.

“Just a bit more!” White eagerly yelled.

“FUCK! ARE WE GONNA STOP OR WHAT!?”

“Idiot! Just shut up and sit still you big baby!”

The light steadily grew brighter with each passing second until it painted their world white. Their time spent in the dark made them abnormally sensitive to this light, and whilst blinded, they could feel a strong breeze brush by with spectacular force.

And then, the world finally revealed itself.

“No… way. We’re here… We’re here! We’re finally here!” Frosty broke into a giddy cheer.

But the others weren’t as cheerful as she was. Instead, they were utterly awed by the mythical world that they slowly descended upon.

It was an amalgamation of all the previous floors, where valleys of ice, grass and fire stood together in harmony as hundreds of thousands of creatures roamed this fantastic dreamscape.

Their descent slowed down to a crawl. Suddenly, all of Khaos’ fears were vanquished by the mesmerising sight.

“… Hey… w-we’re still underground, right?” He looked around, unable to fathom that such a place could exist many thousands of kilometres beneath the world.

Thankfully, there was something to break this mind-numbing illusion.

A massive hole many times the size of a mountain carved through the ceiling of this floor, which lead into an abyss that not even Uru could perceive.

This was different from the one they passed through, as water fell from its gaping hole and formed a massive inland ocean which perfectly reflected the world above.

But there was one other thing that stood out more than the hole.

It was the [Gears].

Hundreds and hundreds of mountainous [Gears] spread across the landscape like ancient relics, half-buried into the surrounding world. The pale [Gears] were colossal in size, easily spanning hundreds – and some – even thousands of metres across.

This place was a paradise in every sense of the world. No. Not even ‘paradise’ could convey the serene sight that took even the breaths of the Commanders away.

“It’s… beautiful. So beautiful. This surpasses all of my expectations.” Uru was left breathless by the sight. “This is truly a home worthy of being fit for the Maiden of Time. Exrite, I can’t thank you enough for allowing myself to embark on your journey. I’m eternally thankful.”

Exrite didn’t respond, nor did it seem like she heard her.

“Incredible. Out of all the amazing places I’ve seen… this definitely takes the cake. Hmm. There’s even monsters from the first floor down there… looks like we’re going to have a tough time searching for her ‘home’. Exrite, do you have a lead?”

The girl didn’t respond. She was far, far too engrossed with the world beneath.

“Hello? Earth to Exrite? You there?”

“Ah – sorry?”

“Ha~ah… I’ll ask once more; do you have a clue on where to start searching for your Maiden’s home?”

“Nothing at the moment. But we might find something when we’re down there...”

She could not break away from the miraculous view.

“No ticking, right?” White asked.

“Not a single thing. This might really be the end, huh…”

“Surprised?” Black hummed as she pulled out her colourless compass. As usual, it displayed nothing but spiralling arms. “Tch.”

“I expected there to be more to be honest. The [Gears] still don’t make as much sense as I would like it to be. Nor do I know how to make them.”

“Maybe your answers are somewhere on this floor. Look at how many [Gears] there are.”

“Yeah… only one way to find out though.”

Exrite was determined to hunt for the secrets of the [Gears]. However, she did not know if this was truly the final floor.

There was no ticking to indicate the presence of an obelisk. However, the gears struck her as something odd. While the others found them beautiful, Exrite was struck by a bone-chilling eeriness whenever the [Gears] were caught in her vision.

But she couldn’t put a finger on why this was the case.

And as they grew closer to the ground, she briefly remembered the way Uru described the result of her ‘Gear Overload’.

I apologise if this chapter felt a bit off or out of sync. I wrote this over the course of a month or so little by little, so piecing the flow together wasn't as smooth as I would've liked.

Thank you for reading!

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