The Selection

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Chapter 60 - Inteiru Expota - Edge

There’s only one explanation left how these weapons are flying toward us; Lightning magic. We learned that Lightning magic could stay dormant inside metal weapons and paralyze you with contact, but not much else past that.

Sitos did some weird stuff with his weapons like making his sword attract or repulse his other one. I should’ve asked him about it works. Then again, I wasn’t in a learning mood back then. I thought I knew everything I needed to know. How wrong I was. He must’ve learned more at the Lightning magic bonding class or on his own. The Academy focused on improving our own abilities but not so much understanding other magic.

The incoming barrage lowers in height. It will be problematic if they sink too low. I’d have a troublesome time hitting them away. Clangs resound as my weapons hit the star-shaped blades away. I use as much force as possible on those small ones without sacrificing the ability to follow up on the next ones. Preferably, I launch them into a tree, hoping that it’s enough to keep them immobile.

I’m trying to be as efficient as possible, attempting to hit two small blades at once with one swing if possible. I can’t connect with all of them. It’s simply impossible because there are too many at once. Unless my eyes are deceiving me, they’re speeding up too.

The two short swords should not be allowed to pass no matter what. I’m sure letting a few of the small blades pass on my right won’t be a big deal. Ada has greaves and a chest plate protecting her vital organs. It’s more problematic if I let any pass on my left because it could hit her neck or head instead.

Luckily, the few that I’ve managed to lodge into trees haven’t come loose. It’ll be easier with time. I try to do the same to the two short swords, though it doesn’t go as planned. They didn’t fly back nearly as much compared to the smaller ones.

“Damn it, Kai!” Ada yells. “Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Doing just the opposite, actually,” I answer while constantly swinging my swords, deflecting the projectiles.

“You let three pass! I caught them with my arm. Now the rest is going to pack a stronger punch.”

Her arm? That means they’re attracted toward the Lightning charged blade in her shoulder. Wait a minute. She blocked with her arm, which means she can move. That’s a bit confusing since I thought the Lightning would keep her paralyzed.

The weapons I hit back fly back less distance now. Their incoming speed increases as Ada mentioned. So the few that I let pass that hit her increased the attraction force between them. It’s only a matter of time before I slip up again and it’ll only cascade from there. I need a new plan. And fast.

The ones that were stuck inside the trunk of a tree come loose. I don’t have time to think. If my gut instinct is right, I won’t be paralyzed if I let some of those Lightning covered weapons hit my arm, but it’ll hurt.

I stretch out my left arm with the top side facing forward while continuing to swing my sword on my right. I grit my teeth as a sharp pain penetrates the skin on my left arm. One, two, three, four, five. My left arm has full mobility despite the Lightning magic having direct contact with my body.

Resuming my previous stance, I have a much easier time deflecting the remaining two swords and five star-shaped blades in circulation. I’ll easily be able to buy enough time for Ada to recover and help me out.

After several seconds, the weapons in the air stop dropping in height. Instead, they lean more to the left. Is it the blades stuck in my left arm? If that’s the case, I might be able to try something else, but I’m not sure how it will turn out. None of this makes sense to me.

I take several steps back to align myself with Ada while deflecting the last projectile back. If I stand beside her a few feet apart, the blades will go in between us, or so I predict. I’ll stand a few feet away from her feet so that the in-between area includes the protected regions of her body. For some reason, she starts pulling out the weapons lodged in her arm.

“Whoa, what’re you doing? Keep it in there! You’re ruining my plan!” I exclaim quickly, but it’s too late. The Lightning covered blades are here — the moment of truth. I gulp as the weapons fly between us, hitting neither of us.

“Shut up. I know what you’re trying to do. But it looks like you don’t. I’d take those out of your arm as soon as possible if I were you,” she answers as the barrage curves around toward me. It sounds like she knows more about Lightning magic than I do. The blades in my left arm dig deeper into my skin with every passing moment, but I can’t risk ruining the plan. If they’re headed for me, that’s easy. I’ll stand behind a tree, and it’s a done deal. The only problem is the enemy.

Fork lightning!” he exclaims from behind me. A straight line of Lightning magic forms between the weapons in the air, Ada, and the four small blades lodged in my left arm. A shocking pain permeates quickly throughout my entire body from my left arm. I try to yell, but nothing comes out. I fall forward, losing grip on both of my weapons. The Lightning disappears a moment later. “You put on a good show, but I’m bored.”

What the hell? I’m still trying to process what just happened. Nothing comes out of my mouth. I can’t move my arms or legs, let alone breathe. My vision darkens while the sound around me goes mute. Am I dying…?

My vision continues to darken, and a blanket of warmth gradually covers me.

I gasp for air as Ada screams, “Please, stop! Stop it!”

How long have I been out? I can’t move my head to see what’s going on. But this is an all too familiar scene to be ignorant. If I don’t do something, he’s probably going to kill us both.

The man laughs and then says, “There’s nothing I love more than hearing your screams. It gets it up, you know? For when you’re dead.”

“You sick fuck,” Ada says and then squeals.

I gulp. I don’t know if they both think I’m dead. Ada’s screams might’ve camouflaged my initial gasp of air. This is my chance. I think about killing him at this point to save both of our skins. I could take him out with my strongest fireball, but if he somehow survives it, we’re both screwed. It’s not a stretch since Ragnar was able to beat it, though I warned him it was coming.

Something tells me he hasn’t shown his real strength yet all things considered. He could very well be stronger than Ragnar. There’s a smell of danger coming off of him that I practically feel the bloodthirst. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before.

My right arm has the most body function right now. I can grip with full strength. I search nearby for my weapon, trying not to make too much noise. Hopefully, my weapon fell near me. It helps that Ada’s screaming drowns out the small amounts of unavoidable rustling sounds. I find the blade part of it. I carefully move and rotate the sword so that the grip is in my hand.

What I do next is tricky. I think the best option is to buy time somehow. A gut feeling tells me that he’s one of them. It doesn’t add up if that’s true, though. Exposing his identity like that defeats the purpose of the masks. It’s more likely that he’s just some crazy guy from the Xantho army.

But I can’t shake off the feeling that he might be one of the white masked men. If that’s true, he revealed his face to both of us. What’s the point? I guess it doesn’t matter if he kills both of us in the end. What does he hope to gain from toying with us? He could kill us at any time.

If he really is one of them, I highly doubt that I can convince him of anything, but I don’t have any other choice. It’s a gamble. I could use my one-sided portal to stab him through his back somewhere. Maybe kill him by stabbing through his head or neck, but I wouldn’t have any answers. We might also get into trouble. I’ll have to do it fast so that he doesn’t see my Void magic. Best be the back of his leg to limit his movement. It won’t be fatal, but I’ll let his curiosity get the better of him.

My head can move a bit now. I angle it upward. The man is lying on top of Ada doing something with her upper body. Both of their clothes are on, so not the same thing from before. So, he’s inflicting physical pain on her. I don’t know what’s worse.

I’m confident I can estimate where the back of his leg is from this angle. There might be a chance that I stab Ada instead, but hopefully, that doesn’t happen. She deserves it, but not worth throwing away my one chance to get us out alive. I’m tempted to wait a bit longer before intervening, but then again, there’s an impending monster attack. I can’t risk everyone’s safety to get a little revenge.

I bond my Mana with Void Affinity and write instructions for two one-sided portals. One side next to my head facing away from the two ahead. The other side faces the ground on top of the man’s legs. I don’t want the portal to be too big. It’s important that I properly align it so that when I stab it through the portal, it’ll go exactly where I want it to go on the other side. I’ll set the instructions so that the portal deactivates half a second after it activates. Any more time risks him discovering my magic. Timing is crucial.

I release my Mana, setting to activate it in five seconds. I keep an internal clock and a tight grip on my weapon. One…two…three…four…five!

I lunge my blade through the portal with as much force without sacrificing accuracy.

“Ouch!” the man exclaims. My sword impales the back of his right calf. It hit the bone. I let go of my sword before it’s too late. The portal disappears. The man slowly pushes him off the ground and turns his head. He grabs the sword and pulls it out. If I had not let go of the sword, it would be in my hand. That would mystify him more than lodging it in his leg, but I don’t want to stretch his imagination too much. “You’re still alive?”

He stands up and walks toward me. “How the hell did you manage to impale me from over there? Without making a single sound.”

I tighten my muscles as he raises his foot over my left arm. He stomps it down, pushing the small blades deeper into my arm. I squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of hearing me suffer. “Your heart should’ve stopped. Why aren’t you dead?”

“I guess your magic was too weak,” I answer. He slowly raises my sword above my face. “Wait. If you kill me, you’ll never find out how I poked your leg with my weapon.”

He stops. The man nods his head and smiles. “You make a good point. What do you propose?”

“A rematch between you and us. You’ll let us recover and fight again, two on one. If you win, I’ll tell you how I did it.”

“That’s pretty cocky…but sure. Hope you don’t bore me this time. It would be too easy to demolish both of you…but I’ll use the same strength as before. Nothing more. We’ll see if you can overcome the gap. My magic should be wearing off soon. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“We’re gonna need some privacy to strategize.”

“Fine, fine…just don’t even think about running,” he says. He drops my sword and walks away. Far enough away, so we’re within his line of sight but not close enough to hear our voices.

I crawl over to Ada. A small pool of blood is around her left shoulder where the dagger pierced her skin. She’s also missing all the skin from the top of her shoulder to halfway down to the elbow. It looks raw but not dripping with blood.

She pants with fluids dripping out of her eyes and nose. Not high and mighty anymore. No one would be after enduring torture. She sits up and wipes her face with her good arm. She mutters, “So, you’re not dead.”

“Nice to see that you’re alive too,” I answer. You’d think she’d be a little more grateful for stopping the guy skinning her alive. “How long was I out?”

“I don’t know. A few minutes or longer. What did you do to him?”

I curl my lips inward. My secret’s going to be out of the bag. There’s no avoiding it. I never would’ve thought that she would be the next one to discover my secret, willingly. I say, “First, promise me that you’re not gonna tell anyone. You owe me that for saving your life.”

She shakes her head and rolls her eyes before replying, “Fine. I don’t want to owe you anything.”

I take a deep breath. “Okay, look. I have something called… Void magic. I made a portal that basically connected point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and I stabbed him with the sword without being next to him. It’s complicated...but know that we can use this to launch a surprise attack on him.”

She knits her eyebrows and looks at me as if she’s seen a ghost. I continue, “I know you’re confused, but I can’t show you right now without risking him seeing it. I’ll show you before we start the rematch. First, we need a strategy. Before that, you need to tell me about Lightning magic. You know about it, right?”

She lets out a chuckle. “Yeah, Melody filled us in from what she learned. It’s not surprising that that traitor from your team didn’t considering—“

“Look, let’s skip the part where you say my Academy group’s teamwork was poor and that you hate me because I’m one of them. We’re gonna have to work together if we’re gonna make it out alive.”

She sighs and looks away. Quietly, she responds, “I know.”

“Well?”

She turns her head to me. “At the Academy, they went as far to educate us that Lightning magic’s special property is to paralyze you and that it can be dormant inside some objects where it can avoid interaction with other magical objects.”

“Yeah, that’s what I know. Metal objects, right?”

“Usually metal, but there are others, I heard. Users of Lightning magic were instructed a little more past general education because they could reinforce their learning through practice.”

“Right,” I say and nod my head. I’m starting to understand the differences in curriculum between the Adventurer path and the Soldier path. “Because monsters don’t have metal weapons. They only use Lightning magic to paralyze us. So, there was no need for us to know.”

“No, that’s not it. Well, I don’t know. It’s because it’s complicated. It’s not that easy to understand. It’s not as simple as a ball of fire. Kids like that dumb—” she stops abruptly and sighs. “It would take a lot of time to teach. So, only users of Lightning magic were taught in the specialty classes.”

That’s surprising. If anything, I thought it would be something like the Academy deemed it too dangerous to teach in-depth. Or they wanted us to discover it and learn on our own as Hina suggested. “So, what’s this complicated feature of Lightning magic?”

“Lightning magic can apply another effect without paralyzing you. It can apply a charge.”

“A charge? What does that even mean?”

“It would take a long time to explain everything, which I figure we don’t have a lot of. I’ll give you a really short version. He can shoot Lightning magic at us to give us a negative charge or surround his swords with it giving it a negative charge. If those swords connect with our weapons, it can leech the charge on our weapons, and they become positive as a result.”

“Wait, hold on. Our weapons have charge on their own?”

“Apparently, everything does. But not negative or positive. I don’t know that in-depth. Charge can be localized too. Like when he stabbed me with the dagger, it didn’t paralyze me. It leeched my charge around my shoulder, making the knife more negative. But in the process, made that part of my body more positive. Negative and positive charge attract and similar charges repel. The higher the differential between charges, the stronger the effect.”

“Uh-huh…” I mutter. Not sure if I follow everything. It is a bit complicated as she mentioned. Or she sucks at explaining. Or both. But I think I get the big points.

“He can discharge the positive or negative charges at any time with additional Lightning magic. The discharge causes a paralyzing effect depending on how much charge is expelled. The attack he used on you essentially connected the charges he had on his weapons and us discharged it on the most negative charge, you.”

“So, that’s why you told me to remove these,” I say while stretching out my left arm. “And my plan still worked because the charge didn’t disappear from your arm after you took out the dagger.”

“Yup.”

That explains why they were digging deeper into my skin too. My arm became more positive, and the attraction effect applied. “Okay, so how do we stop all of that from happening?”

“Well, if you have charge already, there’s nothing you can do.”

“What the hell? That’s cheap.”

“Not really. Lightning magic doesn’t have a lot of Durability compared to Evocation, like Fire and Earth magic. It requires trickery and brain to use well.”

“Durability?”

“Right, I forgot you haven’t been to many of the informational seminars. It’s the energy emitted by Mana and magic. It’s how much of a beating it can take before it fades away.”

Hearing about it makes a lot of sense. I knew intuitively that the same amount of Fire magic was able to beat the same volume of Water magic head-on assuming that they’re the same Mana quality too. It’s that concept, right? That must mean Fire magic has more Durability than Water magic. But, it can’t be that simple. I think back to what Ragnar said about Earth magic. He said it was the most stubborn. That definitely means Earth magic has the highest Durability out of any magic.

She continues, “There is one thing we can do. Don’t get hit by Lightning magic and surround your swords with Mana like an impenetrable fortress. But, he only has to break through a small piece of that barrier before he’s able to apply a negative or positive charge on it.”

“That’s really confusing. I thought you said leeches the charge from our weapons making them positive. He can make them negative too?”

Ada sighs. “The only way for him to make us or the weapons positive is through Lightning magic surrounding his weapon. If he shoots us with Lightning magic, only negative is possible.”

That makes a little more sense. But she’s wrong about one thing. Common magic knowledge tells us that it’s impossible to make cold fire or soft dirt because it’s changing the Special property of Fire and Earth magic, but I know both of those are possible. I assume under the same concept, giving something a positive charge directly with Lightning magic should be doable too. I wouldn’t know if this man is capable of that.

“It’s probably best we don’t assume that either one of us has charge. Let’s try to come up with a plan that ends it during the initial attack. Considering your injuries, I doubt you’d be able to fight at 100% either. He might decide to reveal his full power at a whim. We only have one shot.”

“And that’s possible with your…Void magic? He’ll see you before you have a chance.”

“No, he won’t. We’ll hide from his sight. There’s no way to run over there without making any sounds. As long as I don’t make a sound, he won’t know I’m over there. It’s possible to turn invisible using Void magic too. That’s what I’ll utilize. What’s more important right now’s we come up with how we ambush him and how to follow-up.”

The man’s Lightning magic has mostly worn off. I stretch out my left arm. These star-shaped blades have to come out eventually. I grip one tightly with my right hand and pull it out in one swift motion. I grimace as a sharp pain erupts. I do the same for the other two. I close and open my left palm repeatedly. Feels the same. Good. Nothing major was damaged.

I walk over to where I was and pick up the two swords left there. Ada follows.

“Finally, are you ready to fight?” the man asks.

“No, not yet. Just picking up my weapons.”

“If you take too long, I’ll come to you instead.”

He’s getting impatient. We need to hurry. I hide behind a tree nearby from his vision. “I’ll hide here. You stay in his sight. We don’t have a lot of time. How many daggers do you have left?”

“Just four. The two connected by a chain and two with nothing attached. We need to blind him with my magic.”

“That should be pretty easy to do with a surprise attack, right?”

“He knows I have Light magic, so it shouldn’t be that easy.”

“True. But, he doesn’t know about Void magic. You could prepare some instructions to shoot out a straight beam of Light from the tip of one of your daggers. I’ll take it with me, and you’ll activate it at the right time. I’ll have it pointed at his eyes. Light travels fast so he won’t have time to react if we’re good with the timing.”

“That could work…if he’s not expecting it. Look,” Ada says and nudges her head in his direction.

I peek my head out, finding that he has Unrefined Mana surrounding his entire body except for his eyes. There’s no way that he doesn’t know that it’s not enough to protect himself from Light magic. “So, you think he has a barrier of Wind magic around him too?”

“Of course he does. And Light magic has the lowest Durability. I’ve done a lot of testing and found that Light magic can’t lower the Durability of any other magic. No matter how much of it I used to hit a stationary wall of Wind, the second lowest Durability magic. Light never was able to destroy it regardless if I used Unrefined Mana or Rich Mana to do it against Scrap Mana. So, even the weakest Wind barrier would be able to counter it.”

“So we need a way to deal with the barrier of Wind that he has. Then somehow hit him with Light magic all while using the element of surprise. The only way’s to utilize Fire magic somehow. But, I can’t think of a scenario where he doesn’t notice its presence before it’s close enough to him.”

“I don’t know about your Void magic, but can’t you use it to hide Fire magic? You said something about invisibility, right?”

“Make my fireball invisible…? Interesting, but I’ve never tested it, though I could try it right now. We’re almost outta time. Act natural,” I warn. I write instructions binding my Mana to the Void magic to form two small one-sided portals behind the tree facing us while leaving some space between the tree. I activate my magic. The two portals appear. “I made these small for experimenting purposes. Basically, these connect.”

I stick a finger in one, and it comes out the other one. I continue, “You’ll have to take my word on the invisibility as it would take too much time to explain everything. I need you to look behind the portal after my Fire magic appears without looking too suspicious.”

I program instructions for a basic minuscule ball of fire to move into the front of one of the small portals. I activate the Mana, and my magic moves halfway inside one. I nudge my head forward. Ada takes a step past the two portals and turns around with her head next to the trunk. She informs, “Don’t see anything.”

I smile. We can use this. I deactivate the Fire and Void magic with Scrap Mana. “Okay…give me some time to think of a plan.”

“Hurry up. We don’t have any time.”

The first step is to take a Void portal across from him to have a better view of the area. It would be much easier to ambush him from there. Since I can make my fireball invisible, I could activate the one-sided portal faced upward so that he can’t see it or feel it. And I’ll keep doing to get as close as possible to him to know where his Wind barrier is. But that’s a waste of Mana and would take too long. That’s only a slight improvement from sending a ball of fire down from above. I can do better.

What if I put a shell of Fire magic around Ada’s dagger and drop it from above? The Fire would break past the Wind barrier; then I’ll deactivate my magic and Ada activates hers. But if his Mana barrier is strong enough, the Fire won’t be able to break past and Ada’s inactive Mana around the dagger won’t either.

I’m thinking too simply. I need to be more creative. There’s no perfect ambush because his capabilities are high. I bite my lip.

If I can force him to move exactly where I want him to...I could have my Rich Mana fireball waiting for him between two one-sided portals. He’d move right into it when he’d see nothing before it’s too late. But if that isn’t enough. He’d be on high alert and would be near impossible to do anything else from there. We need more.

Ada’s right. We need to blind him somehow with Light magic to limit his movements and gain a short-term advantage. There’s nothing he can do after the fact. The only way for him to be affected by Light magic is if he drops his Wind barrier. I’d imagine Wind magic is worse than plain old Mana to defend against Fire magic. Otherwise, there’s no reason for him to wear that armor of Mana. So, Mana has a higher Durability than Wind magic in general.

That means the only option for us is to trick him into focusing his defenses on the Mana barrier. The only way to do that is to hit him with a bunch of Fire magic. So, forcing him to back into the shrouded fireball is a step in the right direction. At that moment, he’d be very confused. But he’d focus more on his Mana defenses and try to move out of the way and reposition himself. I won’t let him reposition himself. The only way to do that is to have another one-sided portal waiting for him. At the same time, I don’t want to risk him seeing it. I’ll have to use a trigger for it at the right moment. Ada’s Light magic could be good camouflage too.

I’ll have more Fire magic waiting for him on the other side. He could use Basic Wind magic to escape. But, he won’t know that his perception of up and down will be swapped to left or right when the portal that he goes into drops him from a portal that faces down. He’d launch himself right into the ground. That’s why it’s important that I don’t drop him from a tall height because he’d have time to react.

Once he hits the ground, there will be another moment of confusion. That’s when we’ll blind him with Light magic. It’s a perfect plan…if he falls for it. I need a way to coerce him into moving into the invisible ball of fire and the portal.

The only thing I can think of is to surround him with a wall of Fire with the space behind him open. But that’s too obvious. At the same time, he won’t see the invisible ball of fire waiting for him. He doesn’t know about Void magic, so at best he’d be suspicious and wary. Ada could use all of her Wind magic capabilities to push him into the portal. However, his Mana armor would stop the push. Since she didn’t use much Wind magic in our duel, I doubt she’s very comfortable with Wind magic.

I gulp. Now’s not the time to hold back. If that wall of Fire looks threatening enough, he’d more opted to jump back than take it head-on. I could utilize my Mana to do that to make my strongest Fire. If he’s as good as I think he is, he will sense the danger.

“Okay, so here’s what I need you to do. First, give me one of your daggers with one of your trigger words ready to activate Light magic around it. The Light should stay stationary after activation. It’s to camouflage my Void magic,” I say. She takes one of the daggers without the chain on it.

“Activate it when you see me throw it behind him. It’ll be around the time the wall of Fire appears at the start. I’m going to force him to jump back into an invisible ball of fire and into another portal that drops him into the ground in front of you with additional Fire magic waiting for him. That’ll clear him of the Wind barrier, and that’s when we’ll blind him. I’ll be behind him, and you’ll be in front. If it all goes according to plan, we’ll have a vast advantage from there.”

“Done,” she says and hands me the weapon. I take it.

“I’m going to set up the first set of portals now to reach him. Pretend that I’m still talking to you here,” I say and prepare instructions for my magic. I sheathe my weapons, release my Mana, and then activate it. One portal appears right of the trunk of the tree next to us. I carefully turn my back against it and bend backward into a squat. I don’t want to set my feet across to the other side because if I make the slightest sound, he’ll know something’s up.

The only thing in front of me is the other portal, but based on the surrounding, I know where I am. The man is right in front of me if there was no portal. I write the instructions for the next step before releasing the Mana into their proper positions. I’ll save the wall of Fire as the last step because I don’t know how long the other steps will take, so I can’t set a timer. I don’t want to use a trigger word for it because it’ll give him additional reaction time.

“I’m tired of waiting! Let’s go, now!” the man exclaims.

I stand up and reposition myself with Ada before answering, “One minute! That’s when we’ll start.”

“One minute, then.”

My palms are sweaty. I’ve got to keep focus. I prepare one last portal that the Fire magic would rest in at an open space around us above grass level so that it doesn’t catch anything on fire. I create a spherical cluster of Fire magic set halfway into the portal using Rich Mana. I’m not trying to kill him. That should be the invisible Fire magic. It would be a waste not to utilize all the Fire I form, so I set a trigger word to move it into the portal when the time comes. Now, there’s only the Rich mana ball of fire waiting for him after going into the portal and the initial wall of fire. I’ll have the ball of fire shoot upward since I don’t want to block Ada’s light magic when he hits the ground.

Done. It’ll appear when I activate the trigger word for the portal. The only thing left to do now is to create the wall of Fire that closes in on him from every direction, only leaving the length of the invisible Void portal behind him open.

“Get ready,” I say, turning my back toward the first portal I made. “I’m going to create the wall of fire now.”

I squat backward, preparing one final touch to the attack. I release my Mana bonded to Fire Affinity, instructing them to activate in five seconds. I move Scrap Mana throughout my body in preparation to use Enhancement magic.

“Ten seconds, hope you’re ready,” he says.

Now! I jump back and throw the dagger between the man and the invisible fireball. The wall of fire already appeared and closes in on him.

Activate!” Ada exclaims the moment the knife flies past the wall of fire from her perspective. Not perfect, but close enough. A sphere of light appears that covers the length of the invisible portal. Part of it might overlap with my Fire magic, but it’s not like it’ll destroy it.

The man dashes through the sphere of light. I smile, feeling like we’ve won this. I exclaim, “Open! Haste! Strength!”

I unsheathe both of my weapons the moment strength surges throughout my body and then dash toward the point that he’ll drop. Ada’s already waiting with her Unrefined Mana armor on while swirling her chain daggers with one hand. I cover myself with Unrefined Mana too in order to not be knocked back by Wind magic when he’s out of options.

He appears head first at the exit point covered in Rich Mana now instead of Unrefined Mana. The ball of fire that’s flying upward is only inches away from him. Ada’s daggers are spinning in the air, flying toward the man. At that rate, they’d wrap around him. I exclaim, “Forward!”

The stationary cluster of Fire magic I set should now be flying maximum speed forward, sandwiching him in my magic. My Fire swallows him completely for a moment. His body rotates around and crashes into the ground at an angle. It wasn’t straight down as planned, so hopefully, it doesn’t ruin whatever Ada has set up.

Close!” I exclaim. All the Void magic should be deactivated now, so he doesn’t see what happened to him. The remnants of my magic hit the ground, bursting into fiery hot gasses around it. The grass nearby catches fire and burns away instantly.

Ada shoots a ray of Light toward the man’s head with one hand and grabs the last dagger with her other hand. Ada’s chain daggers have his left arm tied down around his body. The man jumps up on his feet while moving his weapon in front of his face. Ada moves her hands according to his movements. As soon as she moved her dagger and angled it toward me, I understood. I’ve learned my lesson from last time.

The light reflects off her dagger toward me. I know I should reflect it back, but where? She doesn’t have another dagger to use. That’s when I remembered she has two more blades on her body. I angle my sword to point it back to Ada‘s lower body, and she lifts her left foot and redirects the light onto the man’s face using the blade on her greaves. Everything happened in fast succession, so he had no time to react with Wind magic.

“Shit!” the man exclaims and takes several steps back. Ada stops her Light magic and dashes toward the man. We’ve been waiting for this opening, so I charge in too. I squint my eyes as a burst of Wind magic explodes from him. “You brats, don’t push your luck!”

“Rule number one of fighting. Never let down your guard,” I say and then pull my arms back, preparing to slash him in the next moment.

Fire burst!” he exclaims. Suddenly, a rush of fire erupts all around him outward.

What?! It stops my advance forward. I cover my face with one arm as his the fire destroys my Unrefined Mana armor. Before I can send out Rich Mana to protect myself, a burst of hot air knocks me back. It burns the uncovered parts of my upper body for a second. Ada screams.

Rich Mana appears in front of me, but it’s only a delayed reaction to his magic. I’m already out of his attack range. I can’t believe he was hiding Fire magic all this time. We lost our only chance to beat this guy. We’re screwed.

I stand up, the fire surrounding the man clearing up. He untied the chain around him and has full use of both arms. He laughs and turns his head toward me. “Very interesting… But we’re out of time, so I’ll let you have the win this time. See ya, sucker.”

I widen my eyes as he jumps away. I chase after him immediately, but he’s too fast. I’m starting to regret holding back my attack power.

“Kai, where’re you going?!” Ada yells behind me.

He moves at speeds much faster than before. I bite my lip. It’s hopeless. I can’t catch him. I stop running. I wouldn’t forget those words. That man was one of the masked men from that day. But why?

So many things don’t make sense. Those masked men kill without a second thought. Why didn’t he kill us without holding back from the start? Instead, he toyed with us. Then I remember what Viessa told us. Is his ploy to turn us against each other? To turn Xantho into an enemy? It’s possible. He’s playing for the long game with the Inteiru Expota coming up. Killing the two of us here wouldn’t accomplish anything long-term.

The same could be said of killing him here and now if I didn’t hold back. It wouldn’t accomplish anything. We wouldn’t learn anything about their organization or future plans. I sigh. I’ve made the correct choice. He’s far too strong for us to fight, anyway. But wait…if he’s one of the masked men…does that mean there were others here too?!

We need to regroup with the others as soon as possible. I hope Ruby and Marin’s okay. A roar resounds. It’s close!

“Kai! We need to get back to the others! Forget that crazy guy,” Ada says.

If only she’d know who that guy truly was, she’d act completely different. But she’s right. We need to regroup with the others. I don’t want to disclose the information to her now, or she might want to do something stupid like chase after him. She took back her chain daggers so we wouldn’t need to take a detour.

“Right…you lead the way,” I say. I have no idea where we are right now.

“This way,” she says. I follow her.

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