Ayxin, Golos, and Ryxi watched as the interlopers made their descent into the gorge.
“We should take them now,” Golos snapped impatiently, his voice low and vulgar.
“Silence,” Ayxin sibilated. “We shall observe their abilities and cantrips.”
Golos grumbled, emitting a thrum of louring thunder.
“This is your territory, isn’t it?” their eldest declared mockingly. “Your people look like they’re in a shocking state. They look half-starved.”
“Yes, you have taken far too little care of this place.” Ayxin furrowed her brow ridges attractively. Her own territory was flush with Merfolk who had built up entire theologies surrounding the Dragon of the Mount. “Father will hear of this.”
Were it not for the fact that they were about to ambush two intruders, Golos would have taken a chunk out of Ryxi. Tattletale Snake! The wyvern visibly fumed, sending up two streams of blue smoke from his nostrils.
“Hee hee.” Ryxi knew he would pay for it, but not before Father berated Golos. The White Serpent remembered fondly the time Golos was so intimidated by their father’s Dragon Fear, that he took a dump right there in the middle of the White-Jade Hall! Oh, that was the day! The putrid stench was worth it. Golos had been nest-ridden for a month afterwards, denied all healing as his body mended bone by bone.
The two humans, one male and the other female, stopped to study the village.
As their quarry waited patiently, so did they.
“Ryxi,” Ayxin urged their eldest. “Hurry it up.”
“Subtlety takes time,” Ryxi replied with a sibilant whisper, his voice barely audible. “It’s almost here.”
Possessing both the blood of the White Serpent and the Yinglong, their eldest could persuade the rain, fog and snow to fall where and whenever he wished within their father’s territory. The cost of moving elemental Air and Water from their natural formation was no simple feat. It took incredible volumes of mana and unimaginable concentration to coax even a single cloud to move against the course of nature. As Ryxi was a horrendously incompetent combatant, he chose to contribute to the obfuscation of their enemy.
The rain began.
First with the gentleness of soft archery, then growing with strength until Dragon Pines bent from the sudden inundation.
A flash of lightning rolled across the sky.
“I feel strong.” Golos cracked the many ligaments in his neck. “This is good.”
The fulmination of thunder soon followed a low rumble which matched Golos’ chuckling.
The Dragon-kins watched as their quarry skulked into the village.
“Sneaky rats,” Golos puffed with growing agitation. The village looked vaguely familiar. He recalled feeding here. The eels here were not as fat as the ones in Ryxi's territory. “I will make them pay.”
* * *
“Caliban, do it now-“
Under cover of rain and thunder, uncle and niece moved from shadow to darkness without fear of detection. Ariel streaked from hut to hut, cover to cover with impunity, while Caliban stalked in its Spider form. Until they engaged in combat, both of her Familiars were invisible to the naked eye, courtesy of her new Illusion talent.
As the rain fell, an air of celebration seemed to take over the village.
The males, slick with milky gloop, seemed to take on a new vigour. When Jun had said it was spawning season, Gwen hadn’t imagined that they would be stalking past spawning pools swimming with transparent egg-sacks.
Some of the eggs were enveloped in creamy gunk.
The two skirted around the village until they reached a point where it was easier to switch to Flight, thanks to the heavy rain, they could move unseen and undetected into the central compound.
Caliban and Ariel soon followed, skittering and creeping into place.
Two guards stood in front of the Chieftain’s hut, ugly humanoids, with wet neck-slits for breathing gills and fat lips that rolled in and out as the eel-folk breathed, savouring the moisture in the air.
A low rumble began to build.
Two headless bodies struck the floor, one head turned to ash.
The meagre magical resistance of Merfolk warriors was no match for the duo’s notoriously corrosive elements.
Caliban, perched atop the hut, pulled up both carcasses with its fore-claws before packing away its humanoid cargo wholesale.
“Alright Uncle, like we discussed.”
The two entered the Chief’s abode. Despite the smaller height of the eel-like Merfolk, it was impressively large and served a dual purpose, likely as a place of ceremony.
“Three guards on the right, one on the left. Uncle, can you take the lone one?”
Jun made an 'okay' with his fingers.
The two pushed inward.
Gwen waited at the door, a stick-straw-barrier that would prove no obstacle. The guards appeared to have been drinking. There was a sick smell of alcohol in the room. From the festive atmosphere outside, she guessed that they were likely having some sort of gala to celebrate the breeding season.
Another thunderbolt began to swell.
On her right, Jun emerged. He was done.
She turned her attention back to her quarry.
Caliban pried the door open, surprising the guards inside.
Gwen let loose the incantation she’d been nursing.
Her elementally-shifted Ball Lightning sought out their targets unerringly.
One guard lost his face.
The next took a hit in the right shoulder, with the spell expanding to consume his chest and arm. The final guard took it in the abdomen. He looked up at Gwen and opened his mouth to scream.
Caliban sunk his fore-claw into the wood behind the Merfolk’s neck.
The head fell, tethered by a flap of slimy skin.
Gwen suppressed the acrid taste touching the cavern of her mouth. She stalked from the room, her nostrils distending from the scent of gore, half-digested fish, and failing organs. Before Caliban could consume the corpses, a stirring commotion came from inside the hut’s main chamber.
“Rbmrgr mrmrll grrbmrgrmrgllbaba?”
“Ml mrllmrmgrlrl glrllrlrbrmrgllbaba!”
The smell! Gwen cursed herself. The stink of these creatures’ carcasses was immense and impossible to hide! Unlike her uncle, her spells did not entirely consume the bodies of her enemies.
“Ariel! Like last time!”
“Cali! Onslaught the Chieftain.”
The double ‘thatch’ doors opened.
Ariel shot into the room, between the Merfolk's legs.
The surprised warrior was one of their desired quarry, one that possessed a strong presence of Lightning. Inside, Gwen could detect her remaining Affinity-boosters scrambling to act.
Ariel escaped right before the Flashbang payload filled the room with light and sound, exactly as though a rolling coil of lightning and thunder had erupted, mixing well with the sound of the pelting rain outside.
Gwen allowed her mana to flow freely.
Ariel grew into its mongoose form. It re-entered the room, a living streak of lightning. The mongoose barrelled into a large Merfolk shaking his head vigorously, ripping out a chunk of his throat.
Caliban burst into the room, knocking the first ell-man onto his back.
“RBLLR MRRRLRRR! Grmlllgrmrgllbaba!!!”
The Chief was the first to act. It let loose a syllable of warnings before Caliban erupted into a full-fledged Onslaught fed by the collective death of three dozen draconic-deer and a Stag. The Eel-priest managed half a spell, raising a wall that barely covered its waist, before Caliban hacked off its limbs, stabbed two rending pincers into its chest, then shot a tentacle into its gaping mouth.
A lightning-bolt wreathed in dark fire and sooty ash appeared for a split-second, making a sizzling sound akin to fat pressed against a red-hot griddle.
Jun’s Ash-shifted Chain Lightning scored its first target, then leapt quickly to a second, third, fourth and fifth. The Merfolk warriors slump to the floor placidly, drained of will and fortitude.
IFF without a Spirit!?
Gwen wondered how her uncle managed such a thing.
Was it because of his absurdly high affinity?
Her Familiar threw the rag-doll body of the dying Chieftain away from itself, splashing its audience with a slick spray of slimy offal. It then turned to the first Merfolk, effortlessly assuming its toad-form; unlike the spindly spider-shape, the bipedal Gila allowed for expedient applications of Consume.
“Looks like everything's under control.” Jun scanned the room. “They should be stunned for at least five minutes, better hurry though. They’ll be spent before long.”
Gwen followed her uncle’s advice.
She ignored the fish-stink assaulting her nostrils, fortifying her mind for the butchery to come.
These Demi-humans were the enemy of the Human Race; she reminded herself. She wondered if this world endured the Vietnam War, whether governments told their soldiers that the farmers there were the Enemy of the Free World.
It’s a Fish-eat-Man-eat-Fish world out here.
Like her uncle said, you can't make sushi-roll without Mermen roe.
The law of the jungle spared no man.
She shouldn't dwell.
The downpour continued unabated, filling the room with the dull thud of pellets pelting the thatched roof, killing the clamour caused by their atrocity.
“That one first-” Gwen directed her Familiar to the biggest of the bunch.
With a smooth strike from its left, Caliban skewered the humanoid-eel like an unagi-slab at an Izakaya restaurant. It then distended its mouth, enclosing the victim’s upper body-
The double door opened.
A womanly Eel-folk stood at the threshold, its milky eyes wide with horror.
A female? Gwen's stomach lurched sideways.
The Merfolk pointed to the male struck halfway in Caliban's gullet.
“GHMMMRRL LR BHERRH!”
"Get out of here! Get out! Go!" Gwen hissed at the wretched thing. She had promised herself there would be a limit. This matronly aberration was that limit. They would be done soon; they could afford to let one go, surely?.
"Gwen, that's a female, AND it'll give us away." Her uncle appeared to have a different idea.
"Uncle... she's... pregnant."
"Gwen! Do you know how much that one female can spawn?! Our combat doctrine prioritises the females!"
Her uncle waited for Gwen to act.
When she did not, he raised his hand to strike the Merfolk.
Gwen caught her uncle's arm.
Jun's unconscious attempt at cleaning up her mess came so naturally that it made her heart sore. Unbidden, a spell uttered from her lips, accompanied by a dreaded sense of guilt far more compelling than her initial remorse.
Her attack shaved off the female’s lower body.
Surprised but satisfied, Jun gave her shoulder a reaffirming squeeze.
The horror Gwen had anticipated turned irrationally to an immense feeling of relief. A muffled cry of inner turmoil chided her hypocrisy.
But now was not the time for a performance reevaluation.
Gwen crushed down whatever feeling was rising in her chest and urged Caliban to hurry. If she was foolish enough to abandon her objective after all that, then the wretched female would have truly died for no reason.
“Wuaah, whuaaah…” The damned thing flailed. It was crying! Milky tears were flowing from its eyes! Her hand reached out again.
She attempted to finish it, but her invocation choked as it escaped her lips.
“GUUAARRGK! GBBBLRH! HURR!” the female let loose one last cry, her voice drowned out by the coming of rolling thunder. Gwen was glad for it. The thunder should mask the hateful thing’s voice, after which there would be blessed silence.
“WWARRRRBL ARRH HURRR?! GOORRRLOOOOTH!”
The thankful thunder came.
Gwen turned away from the sorry sight of the pitiful thing, her conscience numb with self-loathing. She would have to take up her issues with the woman in the mirror at a later appointment.
A jolt of Divination struck her spine.
“UNCLE!” Gwen cried out, her voice drowned by the rolling rumble now filling both of their ears.
That's no thunder! Gwen's mind barely had time to register the shock before they were struck. In a mocking parallel of how they had stunned their enemies, now something stunned them in turn, rendering uncle and niece incapacitated and disorientated.
It was only a split-second.
But it was enough.
The roof splintered.
Rain poured in.
An enormous draconic shape began to descend, its advance far quicker than Gwen could believe possible for a thing of its size.
A puff of mist and vapour appeared beside them. Jun was about to recover, his hands already in the motions of invoking a spell. There was a burst of colourless mana mixed with Air; then her uncle was gone.
The Thunder Wyvern landed in front of Gwen. She could smell its stinking breath.
“Imputak munthrek nak!” the Thunder Wyvern spat at her. "Hur-hur-hur!"
Desperately, Gwen circulated a violent jolt of her Almudj's essence through her body, defeating her deafened and stunned state. Her mind was running ten-thousand paces a minute trying to catch up to reality. Where was Uncle Jun? Where did he go? Was it an attack that took him?
“Where is he?” Gwen spat back at the Wyvern; her chest felt tight, her face flushed with blood, a strange heat was quickly consuming her rationality. “What the fuck did you do?”
“Shaaa… Shaaa…” Caliban swallowed its victim. It snarled at the Wyvern and bared its teeth-lined maw. Two tentacles, one red and the other bright-blue, distended from the recess of its bottomless gullet.
“Eee! Gowrrr…” Ariel likewise flattened itself in its combative mongoose form, having dispatched its victim.
The wyvern taunted them.
“Fogah shafaer ir! Si hefoc wer odat!”
Gwen’s vivid irises grew bright with encircling lightning. There was a terrible sensation in her bosom, an unspeakable emotion that harkened back to when she saw Sobel standing over her Master at Rosebay and when her friends disappeared along with the Grot.
When Gwen next spoke, she too possessed the baritone of rumbling thunder.
“You will give Uncle Jun back, or I will fuck you up from the inside out, you oversized flying maggot!”
“Fiesk! Origato ui|ulph ocuir sjek wux retalk huena si spred dout hoinpic! Huhuhu, si inglata wux geou ergriff scivarn!” The Wyvern had a lascivious look in his eye that would have usually made her nauseous, but Gwen was beyond such sensitivity.
Gwen felt her mind glowering with white rage. Everything had happened so fast; her comprehension couldn’t keep up with the chemicals bombarding her amygdala. All she knew was that she wanted to kill the fucking thing in front of her, really badly.
"Sho ve svabol wux tepoha itrewica!"
“YEAH, WELL FUCK YOU TOO! Elemental Sphere!”
The wyvern tensed.
An unruly smirk took to Gwen's lips.
Her spell emanated not from herself, but from Ariel's horns.
The Lightning Sphere caught the wyvern entirely off guard, it stuck his flank, crawled up its scales, then exploded into a blast of cobalt-energy more potent than anything she had ever manifested in her entire life as a Mage. The power and efficacy of tier 6 affinity! The second eruption was palpable enough that the Wyvern's body shifted half-a-meter in the mud.
She could do this!
And she was far from done.
Before the wyvern could recover, she let loose as many incantations as her rage-induced mind could weather before a temporary spell-fatigue set in. By the last spell, her mana reserve dropped to three-quarters, her vitality to a lesser extent.
“Shochraos Shud!!” A sheet of blue-white lightning emanated from within the Wyvern itself, shrugging off her assault with its absurd constitution.
Her hopes for a quick kill faded as her spells 'slid' from its neck and torso. Her Lightning ripped through the wyvern’s scales but failed to penetrate its tissues and sinews as it had done so for her usual monstrous enemies. The Void-matter was likewise limited. Though it consumed some of the Wyvern's keratin, her opponent's leathery hide was warded by an unseen, supernatural force, either the wyvern’s draconic vitality or his inherent affinity for Lightning, or both.
Gwen’s heart fell.
Now that she had gotten her immediate feelings out of the way, she began to realise the size of the shit-show within which she'd starred herself.
“Durrhop riika!” The wyvern seemed to grow larger the angrier it became, suddenly, it launched itself forward.
Both Ariel and Caliban propelled themselves into melee attacks, Ariel latched onto the Wyvern’s flank and dug into its back with tooth and nail.
Caliban meanwhile, dropped back into its spider form, Hasted, then leapt into the air.
It was met by a lashing tail which instantly crushed two of its forelimbs, slamming into its thorax. With another sickening crunch, the void-spider was sent tumbling into the mud and the darkness. Some distance away, it connected with a hut, crushed the thatch-wall, then spiralled into the interior.
The wyvern entirely ignored Ariel’s assault and pushed forward into Gwen’s Shield.
“FEEBLE!” it roared in a human-tongue as it brought its massive jaws to bear. Looking up and seeing the splattering rain against her opaque Shield, Gwen flashed back to the original Jurassic Park. Never in her life did she imagine that the T-Rex scene would be played out for her so intimately.
There was a moment of uncertainty as a toothy maw connected with the Non-Newtonian Shield. Both attacker and defender were caught off-guard, Gwen hadn't expected the Wyvern capable of actually biting a semi-dome Shield, while the creature had not expected a Mage’s fragile mana barrier to be so impervious.
The wyvern's head twisted awkwardly as its teeth failed to penetrate her Shield, a miscalculation which brought forward the awkward momentum of its body, made unstoppable by the might of two draconic bloodlines.
With a grace that seemed improbable for a creature of its size, the wyvern brought its rear to bear, twisting and turning until its wing-tips dug into the muddy earth, allowing him to stomp the Shield with both hind legs.
The thunderous noise that followed was not issued from the cloud-strewn heaven; it came from a semi-trailer-impact, from claws the size of Gwen’s arms raking against her double-Shield.
Her Shield broke.
There was too much force, much too quickly; well exceeding what her N-N Shield could maintain at her current tier of Abjuration. Without more complex barrier-patterns such as those employed by Whetu, her Shield was only so strong against an overwhelming force.
She hadn’t experienced such a thing since Wanka had struck a claw through her semi-dome in Australia.
Its remaining momentum sent the wyvern sledging into the mud and dark, though not before its lashing tail, its most deadly apparatus of bodily harm, struck her across the chest.
All the air was pressed from Gwen's lungs at once.
Her vision faded to black.
Gwen was vaguely aware that she was flying backwards. She observed a sudden shift in her bodily fluids as sudden G-force accelerated her from zero.
Smothering rain splattered her face as a portion of her cloak disintegrated against the abrasive caress of the barbed tail, her American made armour thankfully taking the brunt of the appendage’s scaly hooks and nooks.
This was the first time, Gwen realised.
It was the first time a Monster had broken her Shield.
How could she-
Her fleeting, floating moment of zen was interrupted by the ground kissing her shoulder. She rolled in the soft mud; a doll sent sprawling across the earth, skidding and sliding until she found herself face down in a pool of filth.
Gwen tried to cough, but her chest was aflame.
All she could hear was the sound of Ariel's snarling.
That and the thudding rain.
"AH~!" she groaned.
Not because her body was broken, but because Caliban delivered its payload.
* * *
Ayxin battered away the eldritch force with one hand, forming a protective barrier that prevented the necrotic energy from touching her body. It was a nuanced and modified version of the Abjurers' crude Shield Magic.
“You cannot defeat me.” Ayxin flared her nostrils, her ivory horn glowing with unidentifiable magic. “This is my realm. I control the space here.”
Her hand felt numb. Not all of the Ashen mana had been parried.
So that was the power of the Drought Goddess which made Ryxi so flustered. Ayxin flexed her fingers, flushing it with healing energy to purge the Ash. Their eldest was right to avoid the human Mage; if their eldest fell under the blight's influence, he would be a sitting snake awaiting slaughter.
Ayxin readied herself for another attack.
The human Mage had appeared flustered when she first forcibly pulled him into her pocket dimension, yet very quickly, he grew calm and collected.
Strangely, he didn’t attack her immediately.
But just as she was about to speak, he did.
“What do you want? Ayxin?” the man asked.
Ayxin felt a sudden unease in her chest. How did the man know her name?
“The name’s Jun, Jun Song. I am also known as the Ash Bringer.”
The name brought no recollections to Ayxin’s mind.
Was it a nickname or a title? During Ayxin's time, all of the Daoshi and Kenshi had officious titles.
“I am a member of the CCP; I hold the rank of Captain in the PLA. I am currently serving as a member of the Internal Security Bureau, holding the position of Inspect-Secretary.”
Ayxin had spoken to representatives of the CCP before, they were the ones who had succeeded the Dynastic rule of the Clans. It had been almost five decades since. Did the CCP even exist still? Were they still farmers?
The man furrowed his brows.
“I see. Let's get on with business then. Where is my niece?”
“She is being entertained by my brother, Golos." Ayxin was relieved that the conversation returned to a familiar setting. “Do not fret. He has been instructed to leave her alive.”
She raised both hands to show her peaceful intentions.
The mist cleared, they were now hovering above the village.
Below, Golos, mongoose, spider-demon and niece engaged in a grand melee of Void and Lightning, tooth and nail.
“She is performing admirably, but Golos will have her soon,” Ayxin observed the man. “Do you yield peacefully and place yourselves under our guard?”
“And be at your mercy? I don’t think so,” ‘Jun’ replied sardonically. “I suggest you let me out of here. I’ll take my niece, and we’ll peacefully retreat from your territory. You may lodge an official complaint with the local garrison.”
“Absurd!” Ayxin snapped. “Do you think you can waltz into our territory?!”
“You certainly take your liberty with our lands and people,” Jun snapped back at the dragon-woman. "Look, how-"
The sound of a Shield shattering interrupted her opponent's speech.
They observed Golos crushing the girl’s Shield, then she was sent flying.
“It’s over,” Ayxin sneered at the man’s arrogance, she would break his will yet. “Do you yield? If you refuse, Golos will make that girl wish she were never alive. You know the depraved appetite of the dragon-kind, do you not? Your niece, she appears to be a fertile female, no?"
The human warrior grimly watched as his niece skidded across the sodden ground like a rag-doll. The girl landed shoulder first, then sledged onward for several meters before coming to rest in the mud.
Ayxin studied Jun's expression carefully, watching his jaws set, his eyes growing bloodier by the second.
A smile touched Ayxin’s lips, flushed raw by the violence.
Now was the time to push the descendent of the Drought Goddess over the edge.
With a will and a word, Ayxin brought the power of her blood to bear.
Dragon fear radiated from Ayxin’s body, filling the limited space of her pocket dimension like a miasma, thick as molasses. If Golos had been here, he would have dropped on all four knees and whimpered.
The human Mage tensed, his face grew white as ash.
Good, Ayxin felt vindicated by the outcome.
Now they could negotiate.
One should always negotiate from a position of power.
“Avatar of Ash!”
A prickle of instinctual panic struck the Dragon-kin, bone-deep and likewise born from the blood. It was the dread of desolation, the fear of destruction, an anxiety shared by all living beings.
Her opponent stood, no longer as a man, but as a humanoid fount of death.
No, not death, Ayxin realised. The sooty fire smothering the man's physical form was something worse than death itself. Tenebrous flashes of netherworld-fire the likes of which Ayxin had never seen licked at the edge of her vision.
Her unassuming opponent had become the embodiment of eradication and extinction. In front of the terrifying visage of absolute annihilation, all beings and things material could be made immaterial.
“A year from now,” Jun’s voice came across with searing intensity, sending shivers up her spine. “The Yinglong will mark the passing of his children.”
“Insolence!” Ayxin simultaneously activated the latent powers of her draconic bloodline just as Jun delivered his threat; instantly, her dragon soul repressed any feeling of dread and panic.
A single stag-horn sprouted from Ayxin’s ivory stump, crackling with incandescent motes of sizzling lightning. Her pearlescent scales took on a delicate shade of ultramarine as her irises became iridescent and cruel. Her garb, which had been complexly stitched sheets of Emperor-Moth silk woven by Ryxi, immolated as she abandoned her orthodoxical draconian form, sprouting feathered wings of scintillating jade shimmering with metallic citrine.
Incredibly, to Ayxin's disbelief, her opponent proved the faster combatant. A ripple of stark-grey mana erupted from where Jun stood in a concentric ring, flaying every inch of Ayxin’s pocket-dimension with the destructive embrace of ashen obliteration.
Her mind was suddenly aflame, as though her brain had ballooned to twice its size and were now rebelling against her skull. She fought the agony, her draconic-constitution suppressing the pain.
The man was trying to escape!
She again called upon the bloodline of her progenitor, invoker of thunder and lightning, Lord under the blue heaven, he who answered the first Divine-Emperor.
Incandescent sheets of Lightning ionised from every direction, converging onto the human warrior. If caught, Jun would become the epicentre of a hundred lightning bolts, each capable of reducing a man to cinders. No matter how powerful the man’s Shield was, no matter how well he weathered the elements, Ayxin was confident her opponent would be lashed and whipped until an inch of his life.
The Ash Mage disappeared!
But he hadn't made an incantation!
Ayxin spun her head, flaring her wings out with the violence of a gale. She was sure that Jun would try to close in on her, exploiting the one glaring weakness of her Misty Realm - the invoker herself.
The irony, of course, was that unlike the originators of her magic, she wasn’t a human Mage. Her physical abilities, gifted via her father’s lineage, made her capable of crushing a man’s skull with one hand. Besides, she was near-imperious to most magic. As far as Ayxin was concerned, her talent had no weakness! Only a higher order existence could suppress her control over the pocket dimension, space she could command to shrink and expand, enveloping her enemies or ejecting them.
Her wings caught something.
Her strike struck true.
Ayxin's lips curled cruelly.
The Ash Mage, for all his bluster, was only human.
Then her smile faded.
The ash-smothered Mage wasn't sent flying. He instead held onto her wings, one in each hand. Instead of being buffeted by the force of her blow and falling to his knees, he had caught her. There was a sound of creaking sinew; the Mage had his right hand crushing the metacarpus of her right wing, while his left had snuck between her shoulder-blades and was now placed behind her back, against her heart!
Was it the Transformation?! Did his spell strengthen its user? Or was the man this strong to begin with. Father above! He could rival Golos when the wyvern took on his brutish, humanoid form.
But Ayxin did not need words nor gestures to control her Magic. Dragon-Sages had no such drawback. With her eyes, she directed the sheet of lighting toward her assailant.
She heard a snap.
The pain was unreal because Ayxin had never sustained an injury like this. She who had been raised by a silken cord felt equal parts agony and disbelief. The sensation was fresh and hot and so new that for a second Ayxin wondered if it was possible to escape the torture by blacking out. Her Lightning Field converged, licking the Ash Mage, tearing out chunks of his cloak and armour, gouging his body with white-hot claws of plasma.
Her whole body suddenly grew rigid.
Necrotic mana poured into her wound, into her back.
With a grunt of supreme effort, Ayxin activated her draconic blood yet again, driving back the negative energy, expelling it from the divine sanctuary of her body.
No! She forced her mind to focus, isolating the pain. This bastard! She would show him the power of the Yinglong’s daughter! An Avatar of Ash? She too could play that game! How would the Mage’s human body fare against the living embodiment of lightning itself?
She would abandon her human form entirely, a prospect she did not cherish, but there was no helping it now.
Her will focused, the lighting converged.
Dragon-kin and Ash Mage, the two became wreathed in lightning, glowing white-hot with explosive discharges of erratic electricity.
Another bout of ash-tainted mana invaded her body, disrupting her concentration.
Ayxin felt the man's mocking breath inches from her neck.
She desired to turn her head and snap at the man’s face, though rationality dictated she would lose a mouth full of teeth as opposed to the man losing the tip of his nose.
Another explosion of plasma licked the two as they danced the waltz of death. Ayxin herself felt the hot lick of electricity ripping at her scales, dancing upon her and Jun's exterior before grounding themselves like hysterical eels.
How was the man still alive?! Ayxin felt herself growing weaker, her vital reserves draining. The man’s mana was becoming more and more invasive, more forceful, pushing its way into her body, his fingers dug into her broken wing, scattering multi-coloured feathers that turned to ash the moment they left her body.
His grip grew stronger.
“Impossible!” Ayxin felt her legs falter. The man pressed in on her. How could it be that her, a dragon-kin, could be overpowered by a human Mage?!
“Cease your Lightning,” a voice rang out beside her ear-hole. Had Ayxin been human, she would have visibly flinched. “I can’t stop the Enervation if you don’t stop your lightning. At this point, you're just killing yourself.”
It suddenly struck Ayxin why the man wasn’t taking damage.
The spell! The spell the man used - it was Necromancy!
He wasn’t trying to invade her body with ashen mana, he was feeding his spell with her life-force, with her vitality!
Suddenly, a boot struck the small of her back.
Ayxin fell forwards, stumbling and slipping, landing on her hands and knees. Her broken wing sent up another bout of searing pain, making her curl into a ball instinctively as she broke her fall with a roll, just as the man’s niece had been sent skittering into the mud by Golos.
Ayxin found her balance. She stood, propping herself upward.
“You want to die, be my guest,” the Human stoically stated as lightning continued to bath his ashen-form. “Three seconds and I will resume my assault.”
Why had he let her go?
Were they not in an embrace of death, seeking mutual destruction?
Ayxin looked down and found her answer.
The girl stood up from the mud, clothes torn and armour in shreds.
Unharmed! She was unharmed? Who was this duo? When had human Mages become so capable at physical combat?!
Ayxin willed away the sudden deluge of lightning.
She felt her draconic constitution already working to repair her twisted wing, restoring tissue and bone. She placed a hand awkwardly to where it bent.
The bone mended, the feathers regrew, the tissues reconnected.
“No wonder,” the Ash Mage chuckled. “A Demi-human incapable of channelling positive energy would have lost their will by now. Look, I'll go meet your Master if the Lord of the Mountain insists, but..”
“But what?” Ayxin’s words emitted grudgingly. Dragons respected the strong. This man was strong. Ayxin couldn’t deny that.
“Well, I was going to say you had to let my niece go, but now we wait-”
The dark fire withdrew into the Ash Mage's body, though Ayxin was confident it could flare up at any time.
“Wait?” She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “For what?”
The barbaric male tapped his feet, indicating to the scene below them.
“We wait for my niece.” The Ash Mage folded his arms.
A cruel smirk touched his lips.
“A girl’s gotta eat.”