Act 1: Blue Ocean Pavilion – Chapter 235: The Unknown Group
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Oscar expected to find at least one thing on the island that they could bring back to show Elizabeth or perhaps some information about the island's strangeness. Still, he never expected to find another group of people here who stared down at him with hostility and chill in their eyes. Suddenly, his eyes and Prinstyct caught a whiff of Ein, and he swung his bulwark harshly.

A spiky object deflected off his bulwark, falling onto the ground. The spike was a short and thin dagger created from water, but it soon splattered into a small puddle on the ground. Oscar stared at the strange group, eyeing the one who threw the water dagger.

"Not bad, that student has quite the defense." A tall woman with a mature face smiled. She wore tight leather armor with several daggers lined over her waist. Her short white hair did not reach her shoulders, and her black eyes locked onto Oscar. "I'll take on that kid."

"Oi. You remember our purpose here." A large burly man, wearing only thick white pants, exposing his thick upper body, slammed his large axe on the ground. "Work together. Kill the students."

The strange glow behind the insidious group caught Oscar's attention. Whatever was back there was surely their goal. Oscar brought up his bulwark and quickly relayed his instructions. "Austin and Mary, go around left. Frederick and Emily, go straight through. I'll go to the right. Get past the enemy and get or destroy whatever is causing that glow."

"Alright," Emily shouted and brought forth her Ein, stomping ahead with her staff. The large burly man was also a Middle Elite Exalt like her, so she targeted him. Behind her, Frederick kept up with winds guiding his steps.

Austin and Mary sprinted left, and Oscar went right.

"Tch!" The burly man cursed. "Split up and get those students. Don't allow them to damage the pillars, or else it's our heads on the chopping block."

The four others split off to deter the students from approaching the stone pillars. The burly man beat his chest and charged at Emily; his powerful axe slammed into her staff, caving in the ground under them. He clenched his teeth, feeling the immense weight behind Emily's blows.

Emily frowned. This burly man had immense strength even to withstand her heavy spell. She stared to the side and found Frederick clashing against the enemy. 'These people are playing defensively. What is that strange glow?'

On the left side, around the rocky hill, Austin and Mary fought back-to-back against the two others. Mary's spear swung with lightning that scorched the ground below while Austin flickered around with his daggers.

"These people are troublesome." Mary cursed.

"Calm down. Less talk, more action." Austin replied.

On the right side, Oscar faced alone against the white-haired lady. He tried to get close, but the lady maintained her distance, throwing several daggers his way. Her movements aligned with that of an experienced ranged fighter, and Oscar cursed as he didn't want to waste his time.

He wanted to ignore the lady and go into the rocky hill, but he drew the short end of the straw and faced toward a very steep cliff that stretched onto the other side. He could scale the cliff, but that would expose him to her counterattacks like a mouse in a trap. 'I can only rely on the others to get past their enemies, or I can kill her and help them, or maybe keep moving.'

"Too bad." The white-haired lady stared behind her at the nearly vertical cliff. She seemed perfectly relaxed. "However, this is perfect for me. I am Natasha; who are you?"

"No comment." Oscar charged in with his buckler, but Natasha's feet surged with water and propelled her away. "But the fact you split up like this means you don't want any chance of someone getting through to that strange glow. I'll just keep moving along then."

Oscar didn't register Natasha as a threat for the time being because she kept playing defensively with evasive maneuvers, intent on wasting time. The only option was to keep moving until he spotted a safer way inside. His feet moved fast, but water bubbles sprang up from the ground and surrounded him.

Oscar halted in place because he didn't know the purpose and threat of these bubbles. The bubbles floated around in multitudes, seemingly serene and reflecting the sunlight around Oscar in a symphony of light.

"There's no escape," Natasha said from a distance. Her hands held several water daggers between her fingers, and she threw them without aim toward Oscar.

Oscar viewed the process through his Prinstyct but found she wasn't going to make a move herself. His frown deepened at her mysterious attack. His deer anima manifested by his side to prepare for anything.

The water daggers scattered all over, some went toward Oscar, which he easily deflected, but his eyes trembled at the others. The other daggers hit the water bubbles, but the bubbles did not pop. Instead, the daggers changed directions going from one bubble to the other, gaining speed to the point that Oscar could not keep up.

"Shit!" Oscar blocked as much as possible with his deer anima. Some came from off-angles and hit his arms and legs, but his Edureisclad deterred those, stopping them halfway. Blood spilled in small amounts from the slight punctures, and Oscar cursed. "I hate ranged fighters."

Oscar tried to move while blocking as many daggers as possible, but his face twitched at the bubbles following him. This spell had somehow locked onto him, refusing to let him go. His bulwark swung furiously at the bubbles, but they reformed right after they popped, allowing the daggers to continue moving erratically.

'It's like the ice porcupines, but I'm against a real person this time.' Oscar stared at Natasha, who kept moving around. His Prinstyct locked onto her movements and noticed that she threw the daggers toward where his general direction would be, despite whether he moved left or right. Undoubtedly, her Prinstyct was more advanced than his. 'How is this possible? I awakened my Prinstyct earlier than most people usually would. Unless she's way older than she seems.'

From her appearance, Oscar judged she was around 25 or 30 years old, but Exalts could maintain youthful looks as long as they progressed from one realm to the next. Staying in one realm for a long while would eventually degrade one's appearance to be more elderly, like Feye Raeven, who had an older look than her younger sister, Margaret Ward.

"How old are you?" Oscar asked.

Natasha frowned and puckered her lips. "Asking a lady for her age is quite rude. Someone with an average face like yours must not have much experience. The other two were in pairs, but not you. Don't have anyone?"

Ignoring Natasha's insults while under the barrage of the water daggers, Oscar said, "Maybe you're forty. How long have you been stuck in the Lower Elite Exalt realm?"

The only possible reason for her Prinstyct outmatching his was her long years in the Elite Exalt realm. Oscar may have awakened the Prinstyct early, but he only had the Prinstyct for about four years, and they were in the same realm.

'I have to do something!' Oscar formed a 'Silver Star' by his hand and aimed it at Natasha, who scoffed, seeing through it with her Prinstyct. However, Oscar shot it with his Reis and Ein together, reaching speeds faster than it reached underwater.

"This?!" Natasha managed to dodge in time, but blood splurted from her shoulder. She clutched it with a pained expression while staring at Oscar. 'What the hell is this speed? Is it even possible? I didn't see massive amounts of Ein flowing into it.'

'It worked.' Oscar formed another 'Silver Star' thanks to the brief respite provided by Natasha's moment of pain. He fired it again with Reis and Ein; however, Natasha had already gotten used to the speed and dodged accordingly, but her face still contained confusion.

'You can see my movements and Ein with the Prinstyct, but you can't predict my Reis.' His master, Draven, had told him that the key factor in overcoming the enemy's Prinstyct was to use spells and anima, or to break their concentration. However, a fourth option existed for Reis users like Oscar; the use of Reis itself never came up in the Prinstyct, so enemies had no way of knowing if an attack would be more powerful than it seemed.

Oscar wanted to break Natasha's concentration so he could move freely, but he underestimated her mental strength.

'What a surprise.' Natasha threw several more daggers and formed her anima, a crossbow. Her Prinstyct focused on Oscar's future movements, and she shot out a sharp bolt with an arrowhead made of torrential waters. 'However, losing one's calm is death in a battle. Your powers are shocking, but you still haven't changed the situation.'

Oscar's deer anima swung its antler against the crossbow bolt. The bolt shattered into pieces while his deer anima remained unharmed. Oscar's eyes narrowed at the sight of the shattered fragments. 'A grade-two anima. So that verifies her many years as a Lower Elite Exalt.'

Oscar wanted to fight back, but his Adamasreis reached its limit.

'Silver Sheen'

A thick silver skin covered Oscar, blocking all the daggers from reaching him. Their water tips failed to pierce past the thick metal. All the while, his deer anima managed to hold itself on its own while destroying some of the incoming daggers.

'Covering yourself in a defensive spell? How unusual.' Natasha's eyes narrowed at Oscar's arms and legs. 'It's strange. Earlier, the water daggers should have pierced deeper into his bare skin, and I did not see much Ein covering his skin. It's the same as with the metal ball; something else is at work here.'

Natasha stopped throwing more daggers and only released bolts from her crossbow anima and a crossbow armament. She planned to save up on her Ein if Oscar was going to hide in his shell.

Oscar furrowed his brow under the silver armor. 'If I use Treble Lance, perhaps I could get her in one, but she's moving more cautiously after my first Silver Star. There's a good chance she'd dodge it.'

Oscar chuckled weakly. For most of his life, he had been fighting against higher-grade Exolsia Exalts, but now he was pressured by someone lower than him. However, none of these attacks could kill him; even her bolt failed against his deer.

'It's back.' Oscar felt his muscles relaxing once again, ready to invoke Adamasreis. Oscar canceled his 'Silver Sheen' and used Adamasreis to save his Ein. 'She's trying to whittle me down, but I can last longer with Ein Awaken and Reis. The issue is how deep are her reserves?'

Oscar had a sudden thought and smiled. He had something else to try. Four smaller 'Silver Stars' formed on his four fingertips.

'Mini Silver Star Fourfold'