The next few days passed in a flash as I fell into a routine of training, hanging out with the Lions and Andre, and privately meeting with Lisa; to Ryse's dismay. She stopped being overly pushy with her advances and I enjoyed her company, it was a welcome change.
Lisa was a total maneater, or should I say woman eater? Either way, the tension was getting more palpable with each next meeting. What started as a casual conversation with a glass of wine often changed into me being mercilessly teased by her.
I can't say I didn't enjoy the attention but I absolutely hated being in a passive position, I think it was my manly soul trying to rebel. On the plus side, Ryse stopped bothering me when he realized that I didn't mind an older woman taking advantage of me.
"Another one for her, damn...!" Ryse muttered, thinking that I couldn't hear him.
My skill with the sword was still nonexistent but I was getting nimbler with each passing day, I even had dreams about dodging Lion's attacks, wildly kicking my sheets. My shield skills were also pretty decent, I guess it was in human nature to protect your body from harm as well as you could.
On the third day, thick clouds gathered above Balera, completely cutting off sunlight. Because of mine and Lisa's complains about the smell we also moved outside, our group took over the grass patch next to the palace.
Ryse and Land were sitting on barrels, spectating our training session, a group of free soldiers was also spectating. I think they were talking about us but I didn't have attention to spare because Lisa's sword almost grazed my thigh.
I realized yesterday, Lisa was using some kind o magic to boost her speed.
She moved like a wind, floating about and attacking in tandem with Andre. Their combination was the one I struggled most against, mostly because of Andre's pragmatic way of fighting. He only did short cuts and rapid thrusts, always pointing his sword at me.
I tried to intercept one of his slashes with my own but he just twirled his blade around mine and whacked me with the flat of his blade; leaving a long red bruise on my cheek. Andre chuckled and the soldiers let out a collective "Ooh!"
"Andre!" Lisa exploded in outrage, "Lady's face is her most important asset, be more careful!"
I heard Ryse mutter under his nose, "I thought it's the ass."
Grinning at his comment, I massaged my cheek and said to Lisa, "Pretty face won't do me any good against Thunder."
Everybody went silent for a moment, the air felt colder than it really was because the thunderclouds looming above us, the lack of sun, and general somber atmosphere.
Ryse heaved a sigh, "You are right, two days to go." He patted Land, "Our turn big boy."
Land let out a low grunt of agreement and we continued the training after they changed places with Andre and Lisa. This time it didn't take long for them to score some hits against me, on top of that, it soon began to downpour.
Drenched, we had to hide into the palace after I slipped on the wet grass and almost impaled myself on Ryse's spear, it was pointless to continue. We wiped our wet heads with some towels and dried ourselves in front of a fireplace.
"Marie, do you have any armor?" Lisa asked me worriedly, trying to untangle her hair.
"Not exactly, I have something else though," I said to her and began digging in my bag of holding.
There were many armors and outfits in my possession but after testing them on I realized one thing; I had problems moving around in armor. It wasn't a fault in the armor's design, most of them didn't limit my motions at all.
It was Marie's breasts that turned out to be a problem.
I couldn't wear a cuirass, a part of the armor that protected the torso. Cuirass couldn't stick out too much or it would be impossible to do some of the arm movements required in battle, it had to be a slim fit after accounting for the padded jacket underneath.
Then what was the problem you might ask, Marie had pretty small breasts, right?
Yes, it was just a small protrusion of the chest, just a fistful. Imagine my surprise when it was simply ungodly painful to cram my tits into a metal can and try to move around. Maybe if there was literally nothing there... Maybe then it wouldn't hurt.
"There it is," I murmured and pulled out something that could be called a tunic.
It had long black sleeves and turtleneck while the rest was made of scales that faded from an orange into a green. I threw it on the ground and it clanked like chainmail. Intrigued, Ryse picked it up and furrowed his eyebrows. He pinched the sleeve in between his fingers and twisted it.
He said, "What kind of material is this? It's cold as if it was made of a metal thread but it also feels soft and silky. I've never seen scales like these either."
The rest also leaned in to look and feel the tunic. None of them recognized the materials it was made of but I wasn't surprised, these creatures might not even exist in this world.
[Wyrmscale Shirt, a combination of Wyrm's scales and magically woven Archspider's silk. Crafted into this protective shirt, it is to be worn with extensive gauntlets and greaves as it offers no protection to these areas. The skirt of Wyrm scales protects vital areas such as torso and crotch while the Achspider's silk makes it pleasant to wear. Weight. 5kg.]
"The scales come from a sea serpent but I am not sure about the inner part," I replied.
Looking enlightened, Ryse gave me back the shirt and said, "I am getting envious of your collection, Marie. First the scrolls, now this. I hope you are hiding some special weapon as well." He joked.
I smiled wryly, "Who knows."
We spent the rest of the day discussing tactics, imagine my surprise when I was told that Andre was an archer and not a fencer. Lisa was a mage with the control over wind element and Ryse was similarly a mage but he controlled fire.
From our brief discussion about magic, I learned that people of this world categorized rags into two main branches; Magi and Sorcerers. Magi generally controlled one to three elements, Lisa and Ryse were Magi who also trained in close combat, they were classified as Battlemagi.
Sorcerers couldn't control any elements and generally were helpless in battle, however, they were the ones who created all these crazy enchanted items. Lisa also mentioned something about Arcane but Ryse's gaze stopped her from talking.
Of course, my interest was piqued, but I knew better than to ask with Ryse around though.
The next two days passed in a flash, yet the rain never stopped.
The last night before Thunder's appearance, I was feeling uneasy and jittery. Lisa was with me in the living room of my apartment in White Stallion, describing Arcane River academy to me, I was charmed by the stories of the shenanigans she pulled as a student.
Victoria stood next to us, refilling our glasses with wine when needed.
I was sitting on the couch, Lisa leaning against me from time to time. Feeling tipsy and hot, I unbuttoned my shirt and rolled up my sleeves. I could vaguely feel Lisa's finger doing circles on my thigh.
Her voice dulled by alcohol, Lisa turned to Victoria and said, "Leave us, we need to discuss private matters."
Victoria hesitated and looked at me, a trace of unwillingness in her eyes. I nodded my head at her. Only then did she agree.
"Goodnight, your Highness, Miss." She said and bowed to each of us.
When Victoria closed the doors behind her, Lisa waved her hand and as the key turned, she turned to me and leaned in closer, letting me feel her hot, sweet breath. I felt butterflies in my stomach, but I was ready.
Lisa squeezed my thigh and whispered, "We might die tomorrow, be with me this night."
"What will they think?" I whispered back, my voice trembling.
Lisa pecked my neck and I quivered in pleasure, I even wanted to change my stats from three to more but I decided against it; I didn't want to pass out after the second base. I allowed her to take the glass from me and with a wave of her hand, it gracefully floated to the table.
"They don't need to know." She replied and nibbled on my ear, "I knew you are like me. Since I saw you. The way you looked at me." Lisa heaved.
My breathing was as ragged as hers, her hair smelled so nice, "I-I-" I couldn't squeeze out a word.
I moaned when her hand found its way under my shirt, I didn't know it was even possible for me to make a noise like that. She kissed my exposed collar bone, her hands squeezing and pulling on my body.
Lisa took a deep breath and looked me in the eyes, "No feelings. Just pleasure." She raggedly whispered.
"Get over here," I blurted out and pulled her off the couch onto the fluffy carpet.
We laid on the carpet for a long time, giggling and snuggling against each other. I rested my head on her shoulder, both of us trying to calm our breathing. Lisa waved her hand and an invisible gust of wind carried her coat to cover our naked bodies.
"I thought you are inexperienced, but what the hell was that?" Lisa laughed, running her fingers through my hair.
I stuck my hand above us, Ring of Tounge's bronze gleamed in the dim lighting.
"I knew this ring had another effect but I didn't expect that." I purred, scrutinizing the ring on my finger.
Thank you Lazy Wizard for creating this wonderful item, I truly am.
Lisa gave me a side eye and smirked mischievously. "Why don't you let me borrow that ring for a moment?"
I was ready to agree but a deafening sound of thunder jolted our bodies, we sat up and crossed eyes. Before either of us could speak, a booming voice shook the windows, I could even feel my insides tremble.
"Champion of Ash, I am waiting at the southern gate. An hour. If you won't appear; this settlement will be no more." It was a deep voice, filled with electrical static as if he was talking through a badly connected microphone.
No one had to tell us who was the owner of this voice. We scurried around the room, trying to clothe up as quickly as possible.
"Wear your scaly tunic!" Lisa reminded, her shaky fingers were struggling with the buttons on her shirt.
I cursed under my nose and struggled to get my underwear on. I hurriedly put on my pants and an undershirt before getting the Wyrmscale Shirt on. Lisa was doing much better, she was already finishing clothing up.
My fingers were struggling with fastening a greave to my calve, I kept swearing and hastily pulling on the leather belts. Lisa noticed my struggle and came to the rescue and with her help, I secured the necessary armor to my extremities.
"We need to make haste!" Lisa said and stormed out of the room, her legs still shaky.
I took my bag of holding and followed her, my head was still spinning, alcohol wasn't helping. My legs gave in and I almost fell, Lisa caught me but my vision was swimming. She held me up and we continued walking.
"Oh no. I was so stupid, so selfish." She muttered, "Breathe slowly, sweetling."
I heard Victoria's voice, she shouted, "W-what is happening?!"
"Don't worry, the Lions are here!" Lisa replied, kicking the door open. She was cursing under her breath, "Why now of all times...?"
The cold rain outside didn't help to make me feel better either, each droplet felt like a stone striking against my head. I struggled to pull out a potion from my bag of holding, we were a district away from the gate when I finally managed to find what I was looking for.
[Panacea, Restores HP and removes every physical debuff. Cannot be used in rapid succession without the risk of poisoning.]
I signaled Lisa to stop and chugged from the small flask, she held me up and shot a suspicious glance at the flask. It felt like hot iron being poured into my mouth, it took my breath away and I was on the verge of vomiting, tears welling in my eyes.
Suddenly, everything returned to normal. I took a deep breath and straightened myself. "Let's go."
"What was in that flask?" Lisa asked, shocked by the sudden effects.
I pulled her by the hand and explained as we ran towards the gate.
The other Lions were already there, waiting for us, no one said anything about our disarrayed hair and messy clothes. The other Lion's only spared us a glance, their eyes were focused on a person that stood in front of the gate.
It was a humanoid, no taller than two meters. It wore exquisitely shaped, smooth black armor with a long black skirt that reached to its calves. It had a long face without a nose, a maw of sharp teeth instead of lips and a long chin.
There were two flat horns on the side's of its head, their shape resembled wings. Electricity danced in its empty eye sockets.
"Thunder? What's with the black? Are you a goth?" I asked it.
A thick, branching lightning bolt illuminated the area, I froze on the spot. The light revealed four more figures standing behind Thunder.
Great, there were five of them. I clenched my jaw and stiffly smiled.
I asked, "Let me guess, Thunderbolt and the lightning bolts, ready to take the world by storm?"
To the side, Ryse cursed out loud and said, "There were only two before!"
Thunder's eyes exploded in intensity. "I will show you a true storm soon, human child. Where is the Champion of Ash?" Its voice was still as booming as before.
Another lightning bolt illuminated the skies. Andre said something but his voice was drowned out by the rumbling thunder.
I took a step forward and said, "Who knows? You probably shouldn't expect him to show up."
Thunder didn't reply, he looked disinterested in our group.
The five of us crossed eyes, the smell of fear in the air was thicker than the thunderclouds that loomed above us. I pulled out a helmet, it had a slit in the shape of the letter "T" and elongated, split cheek guards.
I pulled out the scrolls as well, [Clarity] went to Ryse while Lisa was entrusted with [Grand Heavenly Intervention]. Thunder's eyes exploded in intensity when he saw the scrolls, he started to observe our every move.
I took a deep breath and rotated CoM to seventy. With the five of us, I could disable its effects at any moment. The gem clicked in place and my senses went out of control, it took all of my willpower to focus and push aside unnecessary stimuli. I took out my Coldsteel weapons and put on the helmet, my field of view instantly shrank.
I could only see what was directly ahead of me, Thunder and his emo boyband. I could swear he was paying attention to me, electricity dancing around his eyes.
"May Heavens grant us victory, let's do this," said Andre.
My eyes landed on him, he took out a long bow, as tall as him, and a quiver of arrows that he fastened to his belt. No one else said anything, only the sound of the unceasing rain existed in our ears.
"Lisa." Ryse's voice reached me from my right.
"I am ready," Lisa's voice reached me from my left.
"Hmm!" Land hummed.
Two flashes of brilliance lit up the area, one gold, and one light blue. I felt my fear melt under the light, my legs stopped shaking and my breathing steadied. In my heart, I felt some kind of warmth that gave me reassurance that nothing bad could happen to me.
The scrolls were activated, the race with time starting at this moment.
Andre unleashed a volley of arrows at Thunder, each of them leaving a vapor cone in their wake. I rushed forward, running alongside Lande. I felt my body get lighter, weightless. A warm reassuring breeze washed over my body, I knew it was Lisa's spell.
The four figures behind Thunder rushed at us with incredible speed, they deflected the arrows and were upon us in a heartbeat. Up close I realized what I was facing, it looked exactly like Ash but smaller and without the fire in its eyes.
It was more like an empty husk.
Each of these figures carried a large paddle-like sword, a scaled down version of Ash's sword. I blocked the swing with my shield and went flying, the world spun around me but a warm breeze cushioned my fall.
I had no time to thank Lisa because another of the mini-Ashes was already in front of me. A blinding firebolt struck against him and exploded, steam and smoke were everywhere. I dashed into the cloud and slashed blindly with all of my strength.
My cinquedea cut through the molten body of mini Ash as if it were made of wet paper. I split it into two halves and its body disintegrated into dust. Shocked by my easy victory, I hurriedly scanned the battlefield.
I saw Land ripping off a head from another mini Ash, another one was turning to dust, pinned to a wall by Andre's arrows. The other mini-Ashes were gone, we regrouped and Andre jumped onto a nearby roof.
I looked at Thunder, he was still standing there, observing us, observing me. I was confident, like never before. CoM tinkled against my gauntlet, I could disable its effect whenever I wished to.
"I can't believe they were so weak, the victory is assured!" Andre bellowed from above.
Thunder spread his arms, "Indeed, it is." He said in his booming static-filled voice.
A lightning bolt struck him, at least that's what I believed had happened, my ears were ringing and I couldn't see. When the milky blindness faded away, I could see Thunder standing in the same spot, his palms were clasped in front of his chest.
Small arcs of electricity escaped from between his fingers and cracked in the air.
Suddenly, Thunder split his palms and a deafening buzz of powerful electrical discharge drowned out even the sound of rain. It was so loud I felt as if my eardrums could break at any moment. I looked at the blinding light in front of Thunder's chest, there was lightning caught between his hands.
Thunder kneaded and twisted the lightning bolt in his hand, it took shape of a blindingly bright spear entirely made of lightning. Thunder grasped the spear and pointed it as us, the buzzing still drowning out other sounds. Then he made his move, I didn't realize until it was too late.
Thunderclap. Thunder disappeared, I could only follow the constant deafening buzz. Land's body was disintegrated where he stood, not even ash was left.
Thunderclap. The buzz was now above me. I looked up just in time to see Andre's split body disintegrate, his face was contorted with fear.
Thunderclap. It was Ryse this time, there was already a fireball in his grasp but he had no time to throw it. Thunder skewered him and split his body in twain, Ryse's eyes looked unwilling.
I turned to Lisa, I wanted to push her aside but she was too far from me. Thunderclap. Lisa no longer was Lisa, her beautiful head was gone.
Thunder released his spear, it turned into a lightning bolt and returned to the skies, branching into the clouds. The buzzing disappeared. The sound of Lisa's body splashing into a puddle reached my ears.
I was lying on the ground, my helmet fell off and my face was pressed into the mud below me. Something was holding my arm, I turned my head just to see Thunder's hellish apparition. My heart stopped when I realized what he was doing.
"No!" I screeched, trying to break free, trying to disable CoM's but I was as helpless as a child would be against an adult.
He twisted my arm, I could hear my bones break, my muscles tear. The pain was so strong I almost passed out, I didn't even have the strength to scream. My body violently twitched, I pissed myself.
My cloudy vision saw Thunder's clawed fingers fiddling with Covenant of Mortality.
Click after click, he changed it to ninety-seven. The gem clicked in place.
Deflated, I could no longer move, my body stopped twitching. I no longer felt pain, the sudden decrease of my senses dulled it to the point of nonexistence. With tears in my eyes, I could only helplessly watch when Thunder pulled CoM off my wrist.
My strength didn't return, my stats were still at three.
Despair, I finally understood what kind of emotion it truly was. Thunder inspected the bracelet in his hand and put it on his own wrist, then, he looked at me.
"Your holy boon is about to run out. I shall take your heart." Thunder said to me, his booming voice shaking my body.
He pulled me up by my broken arm, I couldn't even hold my head up, it stiffly dangled on my neck. I could only see my own chest and the wet road below; our reflections in the wrinkled puddle.
I saw the reflection of Thunder raise his hand up.
I didn't feel pain, I didn't feel fear, actually, I didn't feel anything. My eyes registered the sky and a cityscape rapidly rotating and changing places but even this was slowly being replaced by darkness.
All I heard was the constant deafening buzzing of electricity.