A soft whisper coupled with the crisp echoes of the crunching of snow filled the air. Emma peared around one of the sculptures, her eyes shaky with unease as she lifted her flame up to its head and examined the frozen wraith. Its form stood still, unmoving within the cold embrace of winter as its remaining expression, a face oozing with malice, sent a shiver down her spine.
The fire mage frowned and ripped her gaze from the sculpture before continuing through the frozen forest filled with death. She increased the strength of her blaze, counteracting the frigidity of the air with fire as her eyes scanned for a black shirt. The others were still outside, fighting the last remainders of the wraiths while she herself was stuck looking for Rin.
Finally, peeking out from beneath a frozen scythe was a hint of the black fabric. Emma’s gaze lifted and she rushed over to the girl’s body. It was unmoving and still.
‘No... It can’t be...’
Her eyes widened as she reached forward towards the girl. However, she immediately stopped as her hand hovered above the girl’s face. Her initial thought was rebutted as soon she saw the faint lifting of the girl’s chest and she released a sigh of relief. Although Emma’s expression of fear gradually changed as she regarded the ice mage with a guilty expression.
Ever since she had seen the girl along with the warrior launch themselves without regard towards the enemy, she couldn’t help but feel ashamed. They had both slaughtered entire hordes of creatures within mere seconds, but all she had done was pick off a couple with her fire from afar. In complete safety.
Emma sighed, shaking her head as she prodded the girl’s arm.
“At least mother will be okay if I keep making money...”
Feeling a tiny pressure against her limb, Rin slightly opened her eyes and glanced towards the side. There she saw red, auburn hair and a pair of wide eyes looking straight at her.
“Hey...” she murmured in a groggy tone.
Her body still felt a little lethargic, but after the quick nap it seemed that she had recovered enough that fighting wouldn’t be a problem. Although, if it meant activating winter’s embrace once more—she wouldn’t be able to handle the toll that would be subsequently exerted on her body.
Letting out a yawn, she brought her body forward as she seated herself and looked towards the girl.
“So? What’s the situation?” Rin asked nonchalantly.
Her hands reached towards the side as she scooped up a handful of snow and formed it into the shape of a ball before lightly playing around with it. However, she didn’t receive an immediate response and looked to the side, her eyes meeting a face sans expression.
“Eh? Is there anything wrong?”
The ball of snow fell to the side just as Emma pursed her lips and crossed her arms.
“You were sleeping in the middle of the battle!” The fire mage sputtered. “That’s not safe at all! What if you got hurt or even died?!”
Rin raised herself to her feet and shrugged. “Well yeah it was dangerous... but I was tired. Anyways, shouldn’t we get going? The others probably dealt with the rest by now, right?"
“W-what...? Wait up!”
As Rin’s steps easily flowed through the snow, Emma struggled to keep up as she stumbled right on after the ice mage. Although, Rin quickly noticed this and waved a hand with an amused smile. Immediately, the snow started to melt as the grass was once again revealed to the two. Emma mustered a silent nod of thanks and soon they were out of the frigid forest.
In the distance, Rin saw the party gathered around the end of the area. They looked her way, one of the men waving towards her with a wide grin.
“Seems like they were waiting?” Rin murmured as Emma let out a snort.
“Yeah. For you,” the girl retorted before breaking into a jog. “Come on, let’s go.”
Chuckling, Rin followed soon after and quickly caught up with the girl as they met up with the party.
“Took you long enough,” Anna stated. Her eyes lingered on the aftermath before they turned to take in the newcomers. “What happened.”
“It wasn’t my fault!!” Emma exclaimed, “Rin was taking a nap.”
The rogue raised a brow, “...A nap—” then clicked her tongue. “Aish... It can’t be helped then. Guess the white princess needed her beauty sleep.”
Immediately, a round of snickers resonated from the party all the while Rin tilted her head to the side.
“White princess...?” the ice mage murmured just as the rogue elegantly covered her lips.
“You didn’t notice?” Anna chortled with a sardonic smile, “Then I guess you’ll just have to wait to find out…”
A second passed as Rin’s gaze quickly flicked over to the fire mage. “What was that all about?”
However, it seemed that the girl could only reply with a light shrug of her shoulders; and soon their direction was back onto the rogue.
“Let’s go, we’ve got money to make.”
Turning around, Anna strode to the front and signaled with a wave of her hand to continue. The warrior immediately followed without question, and a beat later, the rest were at their heels.
As the party continued through the dungeon, their steps were met with silence as the cavern dipped downwards into a winding path. Rin noticed that the further they proceeded, the quicker the dungeon walls were being engulfed with a dark overgrowth. Although unlike before, this time it seemed to suffocate the very air, depriving the atmosphere of its precious oxygen.
“Tanner,” the guardian called in a gruff tone. He was looking towards the walls with a dark glimmer within his eyes, almost as if he held a sneaking suspicion that something was very much wrong.
“Right,” the swordsman immediately nodded as he slowly unsheathed his blade, but before he could do anything, his pupils suddenly jolted to the space right above the guardian's head.
“Watch out!!” he roared.
A second later, the vines above the guardian’s head emitted a creak before coalescing and intertwining into a vicious lance. Gritting his teeth, Kai spun on his heels, boots digging into the dirt of the dungeon as he crouched and raised both of his bear-like arms above his body.
Rin watched the sight, licking her lips with the anticipation of the man’s body being split into two and blood being subsequently spilt across the dungeon walls. However, the image never came into fruition as an instant before certain death, silver glared beyond her vision.
A metallic ringing noise quickly filled her ears as a wide shield came into existence and defended against the ambush.
“Grrahhh!” The guardian fell to the ground as a single leg buckled beneath the force of the attack. He slid back several metres, armor skidding against the gravel and creating large scrapes, but otherwise the man was unharmed.
Although, it seemed that the dungeon wasn’t done just yet. The lance quickly retracted into the ceiling before slamming back down with an exponentially larger threat. Once again, the shield clashed against the lance, holding for a second before the center caved in with an aggressive tinkle.
Kai’s eyes widened as his perception of time slowed, the oncoming lance the last thought of his mind as his body relaxed. His view shifted from the present as the film showcasing his life flashed before his eyes.
“Kai...” a light voice reached his ears, but he ignored it.
“Kai!!” But when he heard it once more, his pupils shook. The man raised his head and looked to his right. There, he saw his friend, companion of many years, a fellow old bastard known as Tanner.
The swordsman carried two swords within his hands, held in a supportive angle against one another as a grim look took over his face. Alongside the man was the warrior, Adam, a stoic man with a massive claymore. His mysterious and rather intimidating sister, the kindhearted ember mage, and lastly the beautiful but deadly ice mage.
I'm not alone... the guardian thought, his eyes flickering with life as time advanced to a blur. The lance that was once crashing into his skull was deflected to the side then engulfed in flames before being completely frozen in ice. The vines struggled against the forces of the elements but the girl’s hold on the magic was far too powerful, and it seemed to be nothing but a joke as he witnessed the manic grin plastered on her face.
It was then that his view shifted to the two siblings; they leaped into the air, great sword crissed against the cross of two daggers as the lance of nature was eviscerated into pieces not even large enough to support a smol fire.
However, it seemed to only be the beginning as suddenly, a wide cacophony of sounds ranging from scythes cutting through the wind to the deep earthen sounds of an earthquake crashed against their ears.
Rin looked around; her sight filled with the constant alien movement of vines shifting around to form humanoid-like creatures. Their bodies melted off the wall in an unnatural manner, some of them formed to be lithe and agile while others imitated the golems she had encountered in the infernal castle dungeon.
“There we go...” Rin laughed.
The constant action of the dungeon was nothing but pure excitement, and the corpse flower within the locks of her hair seemed to agree as it lightly swayed. Its monochrome scale flickering between a ghostly white and a midnight black. The girl looked forward, bringing her magic to the ready as the mana within her core began to pulse.