It's obviously always the best course of action to run towards the sound of an explosion inside a cramped building like this one. If it's caused by someone's magic, it's the best way to get taken out in a large group. I hope you can do the same when you choose to attack the demon castle one day.
We come upon a room with a big window. Rather, a big hole was blown into the side of the building from the inside and the scorched room, with several charred bodies, is what remains. They're pretty much unidentifiable, but I can see one of them has pointy ears. Must have been one of the kidnapped slaves. The others have remains of weapons on them, so I guess they must have been adventurers. It seems at least someone is able to fight back.
But when we look outside, there's no fight. The lookouts are in their positions, and some of them point towards us. Whoever blew this hole into the building is still inside? Why would they do that, when they could just break through the encirclement with this firepower and escape on their own? There must be something of value here.
"Spread out and find whoever did this!" Ingrid's voice is filled with anger. Yeah, good idea. This mage burned a bunch of adventurers with an explosive spell, and you think it's best to send people after them? I'm not sure I could withstand that kind of magic. Actually, the same goes for this glacial prison that Luna created. If she cast it on me, I'd most likely freeze solid and become unable to move - if I don't just die right away.
The offer for the academy sounds very enticing now - even if only to learn countermeasures against magic. I doubt everyone is like Luna and requires minutes to chant a single spell. In fact, this mage must have been able to use an instant spell. Otherwise, it doesn't explain how they could overcome several adventurers carrying melee weapons.
I follow Rolan and Gram, making sure to stay behind the latter's enchanted shield. Rolan seems fearless despite the danger from this mage, and Luna doesn't seem especially alarmed either. Are you just that confident, or is there something I don't know?
Another explosion shakes the floor under our feet. A wave of scorching air blows through the corridor but is mostly blocked by Gram. Good to have you here, big man. The mage must be close.
We soon enter a large hall, where the slavers seem to be making a stand against the adventurers. Several people with shields, although none as big as Gram's, on the adventurers' side are encircling half a dozen thugs wielding daggers, axes, and clubs, hiding behind a makeshift barrier made of crates and tables. Among them is one who stands out. He's wearing a dark red robe with a red feathered collar. He has reddish-brown hair and tan skin. This must be the mage. He's even wielding a cane-sized staff with a ruby laid into its handle.
"Ignis!" He chants this single word. A fireball the size of a grown person's head appears above the tip of his cane, which he takes into his palm and throws at the adventurers in a single fluid motion. Upon contact with the ground in front of them, it goes up in a fiery explosion. Hey, isn't that just an illumination spell?
"He must have a double fire affinity!" Luna exclaims. A double what now?
Luckily, it seems several of the adventurers have enchanted shields as well since they don't seem to break under the fire explosions. However, nobody dares to approach the fire mage. Luna, do something with water, it should be super effective, right?
Another fireball directly hits one of the shield bearers, who didn't brace himself in time. The explosion flings him through the room, and he hits the wall. The opening he creates is immediately used by the fire mage, as the exposed party members of that unlucky guy become the targets for the next spell.
Gram jumps in front of them and blocks it with his shield, causing the flame to disappear completely on contact. What level of enchantment does your have shield, oi? Look, the fire mage is also baffled. But in the end, it's just one broad shield, and there are still enough targets in the room to choose from. Also, Gram can't see ahead when he wields his shield, so the flame mage can throw attacks right next to him, too. At least that's what I would have done in this situation.
Now that I look closely, there's a large cage behind the slavers, which they seem to be protecting. It's covered under a sheet, so I can't see what's inside. Must be some especially expensive slave that's worth fighting over, huh?
The thugs surrounding the mage don't have much to do, but they are quite vigilant, making sure nobody comes closer during the downtime between spells. What do we do here?
"Protect me while I prepare my spell." Are you sure, Luna? You will become the target for a fireball when you chant right in front of the enemy. Rolan stands in front of her as if to shield her with his body. Woah, this isn't some final battle where you have to sacrifice your life to get the win. It's just a side quest boss. Didn't you want to defeat the demon lord?
"Ignis!" There, I knew it! A fireball flies towards us. But Rolan jumps forward and slashes it with his sword. The fire is cut in half and dissipates harmlessly. Oi, are you for real? You never showed some skill like that before! Okay, I admit, we never fought a mage before. I guess I need to reevaluate this party's strength. By the way, where is the bard?
A crossbow bolt hammers through a wooden table and hits the thug hiding behind it. Ah, he's with the group behind Gram now. There's another archer with him who fires arrows in an arc, to hit the mage. I follow one with my eyes and see it burning up and turning to ash before it reaches him. This fire mage must be extremely proficient in his magic.
"Tri-natura!" Luna is finally done. This spell took longer than with the Elemental Overload spell she used on the Wulfar. But that was four elements; this one sounds like three.
An unnatural breeze picks up and whips her cape around. From the tip of her staff, water and fire form and mix, against all laws of physics, and create a glowing sphere. A barrier of wind holds it in place until the orb glows as brightly as the sun. Don't tell me this is fusion?
The fire mage sees it and his eyes expand in shock, and he dives behind a crate. So this must be quite the powerful spell. Luna swings her staff in the direction of the opponent and from the sphere a single beam emerges. It's faster than my eyes can follow, and it cuts right through the crate the mage is hiding behind. That's a freaking laser!
A scorching hole remains in the crate, and from behind it, the mage falls to the floor, clutching his shoulder. The laser went right through him, too. If I get hit by that, I won't fare better. I don't have a conceptual defensive shield that I can summon to block this positron sniper rifle! And Luna is still keeping the sphere up, meaning it can fire at least one more time.
"If you do not surrender, the next one is going to hit a vital spot." She proclaims. So I was right, and this spell can be used repeatedly.
"We surrender!" The thugs behind the barricades stand up with their hands in the air, dropping their weapons in the process. Their leader was just sniped through cover, so obviously they won't feel safe anymore behind their own. The fire mage seems unable to fight with that wound. Magic requires concentration, I guess.
"I... surrender..." He presses out between his teeth, visibly hurting.
This concludes the raid.
"But really, why would someone with a double affinity become a criminal?" Luna wonders while the slavers are bound and taken away. "The academy offers great incentives for such a talent."
Apparently not as great as what the slave trade ring has to offer. In either case, that's the same everywhere. Crime is the easy and fast way, high-risk high-reward. It's like gambling, with one's future at stake. But there's no way out; you have to keep at it until the day you lose. Some lose earlier, some later. Those thugs who died here or were captured just lost at this simple game.
"What is a double affinity?" I ask Luna curiously. Sounds like having the affinity to a single element twice.
"It means someone who would normally have access to two elements having both of them be the same element." She begins to explain, but it doesn't make much sense. "These mages can greatly enhance even the most basic spells. You saw him cast Ignis, right? No matter how talented one is, the flame cannot grow bigger than a torch fire. But he could use it to create explosions. Fire is an unstable element, to begin with, so enhancing it causes its power to run rampant."
I think I get it now. It means greater control and output in the particular element, which is like inborn talent. It's another layer to the affinities themselves.
That aside, let's see what's so important that they made a stand here. The cage is big enough to hold a bear. Might be some rare animal rather than a slave. Somehow nobody else in the room seems to pay it any attention. Am I the only one who thinks they were defending this place for a reason?
I approach the cage and unhesitatingly pull off the sheet that covers it. Inside is a girl, maybe in her early teens. It's a dark elf, with mauve skin and hair colored the blue of the night sky. Not Lady Nightwane, that's for sure. Then I spot the reason why she's being held separately and in a steel cage with very thick bars. She has a body befitting her age, her face is beautiful, and her faintly glowing violet eyes are mesmerizing, but her right arm is deformed. From the middle of the upper arm down, it morphs into the claw of a crab. Unlike her skin color, it's a bright red, and it's incredibly huge. If she stood up, the tip would reach the floor. The asymmetry in limbs reminds me of a fiddler crab.
"She's been affected by the demon lord's corruption before her birth. This is the result of the curses spewing forth from the Demon Continent." Rolan walks up next to me with an expression filled with anger. But then he looks at her with pity. Hey, what's with that face?
I turn to look at the girl who's trying to hide her arm behind her as she backs away and into a corner. But the deformed arm is practically bigger than her body. I actually think it looks pretty cool.
"What happens to her now?" I have the feeling that she's an outcast in the world of humans and elves alike. I'm sure nobody on the Demon Continent would mind, though. I mean, beings like me exist there. Uhh, why do I always take jabs at myself...
"I don't think anyone is going to come and claim her as family... it's even possible that she was sold into slavery before the ban." Rolan explains in a quiet tone. That's really cruel.
I gaze at her, and our eyes meet. At that moment, I'm overcome with a feeling.
"I want her."
"Miss Chloe? But slavery is forbi-"
"No, not as a slave. I want to free her. I want to give her a place to be." I look up at Rolan, silently adding 'just like you did for me' with my eyes. He blinks in surprise and embarrassment at my upturned eyes. When I look back at the dark elf girl, I can see real despair. There's only a tiny hint of life in her eyes; everything else was taken by cruelties at the hands of humans. Hers is a gaze on the verge of giving up on life. She's too young for that.
In other words, my motherly instincts awoke. Even though I'm only seventeen...
I round the cage to find the door. It's obviously locked, but Rolan is looking at me dumbfounded and doesn't follow me, so he can't see what I'm doing from his angle. I stick my finger into the keyhole, turn it into a tentacle, and pick the lock. If they ask me, I can just say it was already unlocked, and that the slavers might have been in the process of taking her out of there to run away right before they were confronted by the adventurers.
"Wait, that's dangerous, Miss Chloe!" At Rolan's agitated voice, others turn around to us. I've entered the cage and am walking towards the girl. While her eyes don't really show much of any emotions, her body reacts as if she had many painful experiences with people coming into her space. Luckily, I left Senka behind outside since her appearance surely won't do any good in such a situation. "Please come out of there. You don't know how strong the cursed can be!" He's not shouting, but his voice carries a certain urgency.
Others have approached now, and an adventurer with a bow is even aiming an arrow at the little dark elf. Stop it, or I'll get mad! I'm ready to take you all out to save this girl if I have to! To me, she feels more like kin than any human does. I circle around to block their view on the girl. If you shoot and hit me, I'll be mad, too, just so you know.
With my arms outstretched, I slowly step forward, and I see her slowly raising her crab arm in response. From this close, it looks quite scary. There are spikes on the outer ridge, and the inside is filled with sharp teeth. The color makes me think that it's been drenched in blood, too. But I'm not one to be discouraged by that. We're now both in range to touch each other, but I stop.
"There is nothing to fear, child." I hope I'm making a relaxing warm voice; I can't really tell. Ah, a little life returned into her eyes. I smile at her as best as I can, but she gasps and tries to retreat further. Was it an evil smile after all? Damn, are my true colors showing? But maybe it's because she doesn't let herself feel hope, in fear of it being betrayed? Maybe me smiling seemed dishonest to her, and she thinks that I will only hurt her in the end, too?
No point in thinking, it's do or die! I move forward quickly and get slapped by the huge claw. Ahhh, of course, that'll happen. I'm crying here, little girl. Onee-san is crying over your rejection of her kindness.
"Miss Marcott, are you alright?" Luna is the one to be concerned about me. You of all people? But the slap was unexpectedly light, and it was the side of the claw, which is entirely smooth. Either way, I don't think physical attacks work on me that well. At least none on this level. But now that you attacked, and it didn't have any effect, I'm in your range!
"Everything is alright now..." I hug her to my chest. She's shocked by this action but then begins to struggle. I won't let go, now that I got you. "I will not let anyone hurt you ever again." I whisper to her. Of course, that's a very arbitrary promise since I can't guarantee that. But at least it sounds reassuring.
And she bites me in the shoulder. Are you a wild dog? I heard that when a dog bites you because it's afraid of you, and you don't show any hostility afterward, it will lick the wound as if to apologize. Well, I don't expect a humanoid to do that, but I endure it. Not that it really hurts, since she doesn't have much strength behind it. It doesn't even pierce my skin.
"Sano." I cast it on her, not because she's injured, but because of the warm and fuzzy feeling it gives. Finally, she stops struggling and lets go with her teeth. I separate from her and look into her eyes to see the fear fade, replaced by sadness. Tears begin to form in their corners, and she buries her face in my chest. I did it.
"You're a real daredevil, Miss Chloe..." Rolan sighs behind me. I turn around and see the tension in the room dissipating. Gram's even making an approving gesture. I can see him befriend wild animals humans would consider dangerous, too.
"What is your name?" I speak softly after she finally calms down and we separate.
"... Kamii..." Her voice is frail. That name sounds a lot like kami. I pet her hair and smile to her. I look at Senka from the corner of my eyes. Two lolis in one day. But they're just too cute!
Bad taste? Whoever says that will get an eternal ride inside the part of my body that dissolves the slowest.
Oh, right, Lady Nightwane was found in another room later. She was tied up and blindfolded but seemed to be enjoying it. I guess all's well that ends well.