At the very back of the expeditionary force, Erwin and Freud stand watching the rear guard. Not too far, the two of them can hear the sounds of swords hitting flesh and magic being fired, even closer they can hear the heroes taking a rest before once again heading into battle. Freud, leaving the task of leading to his son, watches the back line allowing the heroes to focus on the battle in front of them. New soldiers shouldn't be fighting a two-front battle, is his thought process.Erwin, having little to no value on the front line, stands with Freud occasionally killing weaker enemies.
A small skrill crawls out from behind a rock, it's probably a smaller scavenger that feeds after the larger herd kills prey. Erwin has transmutation on consistently, even with his low mana transmutation can be held on for an extended length of time, so he won’t have to recast it for an approximately 10 minutes. He uses transmutation to bind the lower half of the skrill then drives a short sword through a gap in the armor.
"Looks like Al's really putting you through the ringer. Teaching you how to kill skrill with ease, seems like something only he would teach a blacksmith," Freud states after watching Erwin trap and kill multiple skrill.
"You know Alphonse," Erwin responds mildly shocked. Al had never mentioned knowing Freud. In fact, Al hasn't said anything concerning his past, at first Erwin didn’t really care. Working on smithing was far more interesting than chatting about their respective pasts. But overtime Erwin had noticed that not only did Alphonse not answer questions. He avoided them like the plague, yet Erwin understood someone’s business is their own. Alphonse has the right to his own secrets and as such he left those stones unturned.
"Of course, He and I have known each other longer than a Lord knows his flag. When he was no older then ye, he came to my father, raving about some spectacular forging process increasing the durability of equipment." Erwin looked at Freud with curiosity what forging process was he talking about.
Then it clicked, he must be talking about the Loden Process, A transmuting process using magnets to mass galvanize materials. Before the Loden Process galvanizing weapons and armor was slow and expensive only the finest blades had an extra coat, but with its creation mass production of galvanized metal means even foot soldiers could have anti-corrosion weapons.
"Most lords would have sent him away, thinking him as nothing more than ignorant child with mad ravings. But not my father, he saw a fire in the young Al's eyes. He gave Al a workshop where he mass produced high-end weapons. Being of the same age, we quickly became friends. He even introduced me to my wife. We had falling out when we were younger didn't speak for years, but made up before I was wedded. Actually, after my official coronation, I haven't made the time to speak with him." In a few sentences Erwin learns more about Al's life than the past month living with him. wonder why he doesn't talk about it. "you know if your transmutation is fast enough you can transmute multiple spears from the ground and use that to stab a target from long range, that was one of Al's favorite attacks." Frued laughs most likely reminiscing about a long past adventure. His face shifts to a solemn expression, maybe not all of his adventures were laughter.
The sun is at high noon meaning the expedition is at its halfway point. The amount of skrill have greatly diminished, most of them probably returning to their nests along the side of the local mountains. In fact, for the last kilometer there hadn't been any skrill at all.
Samantha attempts to lighten the mood with nonchalant banter "You know if it weren't for the monsters this place would be pretty romantic."
"What makes you say that?" asks Isabella almost certain of where this conversation is heading.
"Well, the position of the sun and mountains makes it look like the sun is always setting. the tree's have a vivacious green. The smell of blossoming flower's enclose us. It all give off the impression of being one with nature,"
Isabella reflects on her surrounding noticing the gentle presence of nature, that she was previously ignoring, "hmm, you actually might be right about that."
"The cool mountain breeze gently lifts up the skirts of young maidens, creating a scenario that can only lead to one thing. The two young lovers find themselves rolling in the grass, as soft as a mattress yet a fragrance that loosens carnal desires." Samantha giggles at Isabella’s blushing face. Isabella had expected the conversation to take such a turn, but still isn't ready for when it does.
"Why do things always turn like this. You know people are gonna start thinking that you’re some ditzy dumb blonde," Sam, in contrast to the impression she gives off, is actually an intelligent person. Even though she comes from a well-off family, she gets high marks on test and is perceptive of the people around her.
"I'm smart enough to know that the opinions of people like that aren't worth shit," Samantha makes a knowing smile and pulls Isabella closer to her. "plus, as long as I have my best buddie, who cares about other people’s opinions." Isabella returns Sam’s thoughts with a smirk.
The expedition team approaches two mid-size mountains, that look like one mountain was split in half. If it wasn't for the narrow path in-between this is where the expedition would end.
"We should pass Lover's Peak in several minutes. After which we'll be in the dragon country, Dheginsea." Iskandar said knowing everyone had relaxed. "Things will get harder from now on, prepare to fight larger animals."
"All right I wanna kill a fire breathing, village burning, damsel kidnapping, ferocious dragon of the sky," Jason says holding his mace in the air.
"Don't be an idiot, Dragons aren't normal animals, they're a type of tierzal," J.J. responds contentedly. "And they're stronger than an army, if they transform they'd kill you instantly."
"Plus, they're isolationists, so it's not like you'd see them so close to the border," Raiko adds.
"All right, all right, it was just a joke, can’t a guy dream," Jason looks down disparaged that his dreams of saving a princess and taking the dragons gold had been crushed before they even began.
The group is in the middle of Lovers’ Peak with the two mountains several feet away from them. The rocky peak is divided by a dirt path. The path itself is narrow only allowing several people, at best a single carraige, to pass at a time. In war times the path itself had no tactical advantage, so it was mostly forgotten except by those wanting to explore Dragon territory.
"Hhhhhmmmmm," A familiar high-pitched squeal rings out from the surroundings coupled with a golden magic circle.
"We're being teleported," Leonardo yelled not knowing where he was being sent or who would be waiting on the other side. Fighters ready their weapons, magic users have perform their chants. The all consuming light swallows them leaving everyone shielding their eyes.
The lightly quickly fades and everyone opens their eyes. Immediately everyone notices two rocky mountains on either side ofthem. They were still in-between lovers peak. Leo was certain that they were to be teleported somwhere, not even expecting the enemy to come to them.
"Rawr" A quadruped beast walking with the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion roars from one end of the mountain pass. The massive horned beast bursts into a run with might like a tornado about to hit a barn. Some student's buckle in terror from the sheer size of the beast. Every step sounds like an explosion it's clear that this beast is orders of magnitude stronger than the monsters they've met so far.
"A fucking Manticore. Dammit, they're not ready for that." Iskandar screams while taking the lead right behind him follows Leonardo. If it was only Iskandar and Freud, they could have fought the manticore with scant difficulty, but right now Iskandar also has to protect the rest of the party members. His main concern is making sure that nobady behind him gets injured. He's so focused on the manticore that he forgot the first rule of being ambushed. Assume there are always more enemies.
"Sam shield," Yells Erwin from the back of the party. Most of the students hadn't noticed because the overbearing roar but behind them hundreds of skeletal soldiers were also teleported in. Most of them are close range soldiers armed with swords, shields, and pikes, but several dozen are equipped with bows and arrows.
The skeletons unleash a flurry of arrows with enough speed to pierce to armor. Arrows soar through the air ready to hail down on the party. Fortunately, the arrows hit a durable blue semitransparent wall. Sam started casting her barrier magic before the teleportation magic had finished, so she's ready for Erwin’s call. The shield is able to hold against the arrows but since they were coming in consistently Sam couldn't bring her barrier down.
The temporary safety is mitigated by the rush of the other skeletal soldiers. The magic users facing the skeletal soldiers aren't ready for the rush of the close-range skeletons. They retreat, mixing into the close combat party members who have yet to notice the skeletal soldiers. The destruction of the party’s formation causes the whole team to go into a panic. Not sure of where to be or what to do the entire team is in a disarray.
Freud, in front of the horde of skeletal soldiers, swings his Macedon with a violent grunt shattering the steel thick bones of several skeletons. Even though the skeletons were brittle compared to Freud's strength their numbers would consume him quickly. Bloody fuck, I won't last long like this, He thought while trying to prevent the hordes progression. However, before they had the chance to surround Freud, a massive dirt palisade forms in front of him, allowing him a moments reprieve.
Freud glances behind seeing the comparatively small Erwin crouched on the floor casting transmutation magic. "Excellent work boy these walls might have just saved our lives." Freud looks even farther behind Erwin. Eyeing Leonardo and Iskandar fighting the manticore, while Raiko, Salvador, and Elliana attempt to bring the other students back in formation. "Dammit, at this rate we'll still be killed."
Freud shifts his gaze back to Erwin who is still on the floor transmuting his hastily made dirt palisade to make sure it isn't broken down by the skeletons on the other side. "Boy, do you think you could hold down a larger beast with transmutation."
"Yes, but without me the wall will break in a few minutes," Erwin looked up afraid at what might have been just propositioned to him.
"Bind the manticore. The rest of us will route the skeletons," Freud knows what he's asking might be unreasonable. To ask the weakest person to single handily take on a beast that makes grown men cower in their beds is preposterous, but this isn't some ordinary weakling, to Freud. This is the student of Alphonse, a man that had saved his life on countless occasions, a man that he could easily trust to watch his back on any day, one of the only men he could call a true friend. It isn't a difficult leap in logic to trust the abilities of Alphonse's student, nay it's almost easy like trusting gravity to keep you falling.
Erwin was afraid of him asking that question. The fear made his heart stop for a moment, but he looks up and see's Freud's face. He sees a face full of confidence one that actually believed in that he could do it. I'll do it, I can do it, I will do it. These thoughts reverberate in Erwin’s head.
"I'm on it," He says hiding his fear under a mask of bravery, but unable to stop the constant shaking. Erwin bolts toward what he most fears.
At the other end of the battle. Leonardo and Iskandar are fighting the manticore. Leonardo swipes his blade at the manticore's body, but is unable to cut through the steel like outer shell of the manticore. Iskandar constantly attacks the beasts far faster tail making sure that it didn't attack Leonardo.
"Keep your distance, one sting will kill you in minutes," Iskandar says while fighting the beast.
Even though Leonardo left an arms length between them, the manticore still had the upper hand in the battle. The manticore's claw glows a bright blue as mana collect in them, then in one fell swoop, it swipes its claw creating a projectile directed at Leo. With his quick instincts, he's able to block the attack using Rantzau to guard. Even though physical damage is prevented, he can feel his knees start to buckle. Dammit, at this rate my stamina will run out before I can do anything.
After the manticore's attack it take a moments rest. Leo notices its arms relax by a little and uses that as an opportunity. He wraps his blade in a full cowl, dashes forward and uses the full weight of his body on one downward slash going through a piece of exposed flesh on its shoulder, with the intent of cutting of an appendage.
To Leo's surprise, not only was he unable to severe of the arm, the slash only made a small cut. I put everything in that attack. How high is its defense? The small cut is able to accomplish nothing, but make the beast angrier.
The manticore jumps backward four meters and lets out a ferocious roar. A violent red fire begins to form around its mouth, but rather than spread forward as a flame should it condenses itself to one finite point within the manticore's mouth. With one more roar a beam of pure energy barrels down toward Leonardo.
Iskandar, without a moment of hesitation, jumps in front of Leo taking on the full brunt of the beam. Iskandar uses his arms to block the direct blast most of the shock is absorbed by his orichalcum armor, but the intense heat still brought Iskandar to his knees using all his strength just to stay conscious. Leo see's Iskandar on his knees weakened from the beam. That blast was intended for me, yet he took it. If it had it hit me I would be nothing more than dust.
For the first time, his life Leonardo Antonio felt powerless, purely unable to fight the enemy in front of him. This weakness brought out a rage that he had never felt before. A rage that made him want to do nothing more than kill the enemy in front of him.
He stands up with a mild shake in his arm, from anger or fear not even he knew what it's cause is. "Limit break," he yells as a brilliant white light gathers around him. Limit break increases the strength of the user by a factor of five with the drawback being that afterwards the stamina of the user is depleted forcing him to rest.
The manticore is heavily panting, still as stone from the beam it had just fired. It's still recharging. This will be only opportunity.
"I'll finish this in one last attack," Leo raises his bade to the heavens and begins chanting.
"On Monday, I took up my Spear,"
For it would pierce revenge,
On Tuesday, I wielded my Axe
For it cut the through the climax
On Wednesday, I threw my Knife,
For I need to stab the life,
On Thursday, I drew my Bow,
For the will to make him know,
On Friday, I carried my Maul,
For no one be a doll,
On Saturday, I brought down my Hammer,
for the world needed to clamor,
On Sunday, I sheathed my Blade,
for it was over and I laid."
"Book of Armaments" Leo yells as seven gold weapons surround him, each one corresponding to a line in the chant. The heroic arms catapult themselves at the manticore each one reaching magnificent speeds. The first to reach is the hammer the with force like missile it strikes the manticore in its chest leaving small cracks in its exoskeleton. It's working, a few more and it'll be dead, Leo thinks but the manticore wouldn't allow itself to be so easily beaten.
The manticore swings its segmented tail rapidly deflecting the five other weapons before they have a chance to make contact, due to its small size the knife is able to pierce one of the manticore's leg. Leo looks at the manticore stunned at the amount of damage he had done. That was my strongest attack. It didn't do anything. Hope quickly drains from his face, fear begins to slowly well up. No, I have to keep fight. I can do this. I have to do this.
The manticore shakes of the little damage it received, its tail is mildly damaged but will heal quickly. The Manticore makes a mad sprint towards Leo ready to tear his throat out with one direct slash. Leo sure of that his own strength will pull through readies his blade.
The manticores speed increases with every second, getting closer and closer until reaching max speed. At max speed Leo's defense, even with limit break, is no match for the manticores claw, but he still holds his ground believing I'm the only one can kill him. The manticore, half a meter away, launches up on its hind legs. Its claw comes in at a speed immeasurable to its former long-range attack cutting thought air like a jet. Leonardo is stands his ground believing that surely, he can dodge. He leaps backward but it's too slow at the manticores speed he'll rip straight through his chest cavity. Am I dead, he thinks right before impact.
The manticore claws cut through air itself appears to move as it's claw reaches for Leo. The initial impact of the attack is enough knock the wind out of Leonardo's lungs leaving him gasp. The attack is so strong that he is thrown backward a meter, slamming down with the force of a meteor.
Leo looked down at his chest cavity expecting to see a gaping hole, but to his surprise there's only a minor dent in his armor. What the hell. At that speed, I should have been split in two. The confused Leo looks up at the manticore. Its hind leg is entombed in stone. As it's front legs drop to the ground stone crawls up its legs restricting its movement.
Leonardo looks to his side seeing Ellie heal Iskandar, and to his side he sees Erwin with his hands on the dirt.
"You two need to go rally the troops," Erwin says with a sternness that Leo hadn't seen before.
"No, I can kill it. I have to end this," Leo gets back on his feet and starts marching towards the manticore. The look in his eyes is furious, the eyes of someone more concerned on his own personal vendetta then the mission as a whole.
"God dammit, can you put your personal egotism away for god damn second, and go where your needed!" Leonardo looks at Erwin, seeing the sweat beading down his face. The sound of his voice, a mixture of fear and anger. Erwin is terrified. Pale faced from the hulking beast that stands in front of him. Unable to fight, yet still doing the only thing he can.
"He's right we have to rest the panic, and lead a charge." Iskandar says finally back on his feet. He looks at Erwin seeing determination where Leonardo saw fear. He gives a confident smile, the spitting image of his father. "He'll be able to handle things here."
"Your right," Leo responds accepting that he was focused on his own childish wishes. The two runs towards the class, with them leading the charge the skeletons shall be of minor concern. Erwin can almost focus wholly on the task at hand.
"You should go with them to," Erwin says with eyes still locked on the manticore. "They'll need your help,"
"What if you get hurt?" Ellie asks standing behind Erwin with her legs shaking at the sight of the manticore. "I won't let you die."
"Don't worry I have no intention of getting hurt."
"Just go," Ellie looks saddened, but understood that she has to do what's best for the party. She leaves following Leo and Iskandar.
Erwin know focuses one hundred percent of his attention on the beast in front of him. It's confused by the fact that that it can't move its legs, hopefully, it would remain that way.
Erwin can feel his mana running low. He'd been using it consistently without hesitation because he was sure that this exact scenario wouldn't happen. But as is How long will I last. He already feels his mind getting weary. Why the hell am I here? I would have been happy sitting in the workshop hammering away at some steel, yet I just can't stand here and allow people to get hurt. Maybe Ellie's right, and I've got some hero complex.
The manticore figures out it's situation. Using its hind legs as leverage to force its front legs free. Erwin quickly remakes it's shackles and uses pig iron, from the earth, to reinforce them. Dammit, this isn't the time for introspection. I need to focus.
The manticore gives up on breaking its restraints and begins collecting flame in its mouth. From studying, Erwin knows about the manticores hyper beam, but he never dreamed that the heat would be this violent. Even if it's only charging the beam, Erwin feels as if he's in an oven, slowly roasting from the like a potato. I can't let him launch that beam.
Erwin seamlessly transitions from transmuting the manticore's legs to transmuting the air around its head. Transmuting air is far more difficult than other material. Due to its lower density, it doesn't conduct Magic the same way, so Erwin didn’t have the option of simultaneous transmutation. Hopefully, it doesn't break free.
In several seconds, an explosion goes off at the manticores head. No damage is done, but the flames disperses. The manticores attack is nullified. Fuck yeah, Erwin smiles transitioning back to its feet. Erwin can feel his transmutation getting weaker. His mind weary at this rate I'll last what... less than a minute. Erwin hopes that things behind him are faring better, but didn't dare look back, even the slightest distraction would spell doom. His vison begins to fog. Dammit not yet, not yet. He closes his eyes, devoting everything to keeping the beast in binds. Some cold sweat rolls down his face, yet firm hands are kept as the manticore struggles. He can feel the last shreds of consciousness fading knowing that if he rests that would be the end. Dammit, Dammit, Dammit.
Boom, A fireball struck the manticore in the face, causing little to no damage. Erwin awakens his consciousness returning with a burst of adrenaline. He doesn't need an explanation that's a good enough signal as any.
Erwin turns going into a full sprint. In seconds, the manticore will break free from his bindings, in a second it would be on Erwin, in less than a second it would devour Erwin. He bolts with all his remaining might hoping that he can outrun the manticore, not even thinking what might happen if he falters. Erwin can just barely here the sound of voices in front of him, but, with his vison slowly fogging once more, he can't make them out. Just keep running
"Fire," Iskandar yells as Erwin runs in a frenzy of limbs stumbling every half step. The entire class releases any long-range magic they have aimed at the two sides of lover's peak. The resulting force causes the mountain side to collapse on itself, releasing tons of rubble on the manticore killing it almost assuredly. The rubble falls with the ground shaking like an earthquake, with a cloud of dust obscuring the scene.
Iskandar, even with his injuries, is the first to run into the clearing dust cloud. He sees Erwin in fetal position nervously shaking unable to even let go if conciusness. "Ellie!" he screams at the top of his lungs. she's already beside Erwin casting healing magic. She ran before the dust even gathered the only keeping her behind was her own speed stat.
"3rd degree mana exhaustion, healing magic, followed by heat magic, make sure he doesn't lose consciousness, if any signs of atrophy cast cure magic," she begins to say in a low voice. Iskandar doesn't know if she's telling him or herself, but still uses fire magic to warm Erwin up. Unlike the 1st degree mana exhaustion Raiko was dealing with earlier, which can be solved with a mana potion and some rest and left untreated could mean fainting. 3rd degree mana exhaustion meant that Erwin had rejected any notion of bodily limits. He could die from exhaustion, hypothermia, even some of his limbs could go through rapid atrophy leaving him permanently injured.
Within ten minutes Ellie is able to stabilize Erwin's condition. Risk of death has fallen to zero, but he still had to be kept conscious and preferably active. Elondra Luther, the second healer of the party, was able to heal the other members of the party. The mostly had minor injuries, so he made short work of healing them.
Erwin is being shouldered by Freud keeping pace. Freud towers above Erwin creating an uncomfortable slant for Erwin to walk on, but any support is better than none..
"Good job, back there," Freud says in a calming tone. His usual spirited tone is quiet, sincere. For the first time, Erwin feels as if he's talking to an equal rather than some teacher. It almost makes him want to blush.
"Don't mention it," Erwin responds attempting to be nonchalant like some cool aloof action hero. Of course, this is said through a mumbling fatigued mouth, so any nuances of heroism are lost
"We made it through that without a soul lost, it was a bloody miracle. Everyone can see that. I know for a fact that your friends can see that," Psh, friends I don’t they think of me as a friend. In the end things will return to how they always are, Erwin thinks inside. They didn't like him, and he certainly didn't give a rat’s ass about them. In the end, he'll be happy back at the forge.
"Yeah, you did great back there." Salvador said giving Erwin a stalwart pat on the back. Erwin winces in pain hopping a little bit from the impact. "Ooh, sorry. not at your best yet, he,"
"Yeah we went into quite the panic. It's pretty embarrassing actually," Michael says.
Erwin looks around and for the first-time in... well ever he doesn't see eyes of contempt staring back at him. Their faces aren't screaming useless or scum, they almost look like the faces of actual friends. Even J.J.'s expression shows signs of approval. For Erwin, it's like looking at completely different people. Maybe I was wrong about them. Maybe things could be different.