“We need to wait for Tyler and Nick, Paige. With a full party, we can concentrate on one enemy at a time.” Zenith argued, shouting at Paige. “If they were close to breaking the interlocking formations, I can analyze the surrounding mana and attempt to recreate what they were doing.”
“That’s not good enough. They’re going to use the formation to teleport them away from the mausoleum. They cannot take Isabella and the weapon with them. We need to get in there fast!” Paige argued back angrily.
“Then use your Imperial Wardstone to bypass the wards. Prim told me what that necklace was, Paige,” Zenith yelled back, her temper flaring. “But we still need to wait for Tyler and Nick.”
Throwing her sword at the raised symbols, Zenith watched as the enchanted mithril blade pierced the symbol, but could not penetrate past the condensed wall of mana. The Demon Lord’s party were heading into the mausoleum already, keeping a close watch on her and Paige. Isabella stared back tearfully at them but was forced to move by one of the Nightwalkers and quickly disappeared into the mausoleum proper.
As her post-battle nerves calmed down, Zenith realized just how tired she was. Using [Vital Guard] and [Defensive Cloth] at the same time had used the majority of her mana, causing her to only be able to use simple [[Wind Blades]] to force the enemy back. Luckily, the mountain had an abundance of wind mana, so it wasn’t hard to replenish her mana. The mock battle against Paige had allowed her to test the limits of what her clothing could handle. Thus, Zenith was unafraid of getting into close combat with the two opponents and used her [[Wind Blades]] as both an offensive and defensive spell.
‘Prim had been right when she said that I’ve never seen her fight for real,’ Zenith thought to herself. She had seen glimpses of Paige and the Demon Lord’s battle, their swords and shields moving faster than anything she had ever seen. But that ruined her mood even more. “Paige, how confident are you that we can get Isabella back, unharmed? It seemed that you were on par with that Demon Lord.”
“He’s good, better than most Imperial Scions actually. I stopped him from using his skills, but I didn’t think he’d be such a technical fighter.” Glancing at her outfit, Zenith had noted that Paige’s mithril bodysuit was torn in places. “He must have been trained by a True Swordmaster, or maybe a True Warrior for him to be able to recognize a few of my moves. On the bright side though, it looks like that party is mainly boosting the Demon Lord’s attributes. Did those two Nightwalkers you were fighting use any Warrior skills?”
“No, they didn’t use any as far as I could tell. Paige, can your wardstone bypass the formation?” Zenith pushed for Paige to use her wardstone, knowing that it would be the easiest way to enter the formation if it worked.
Paige pulled out her sapphire necklace, the same one Zenith had shown Prim. She saw how Paige hesitated, alternating her gaze between her necklace and the formation, silently calculating if it was possible. Zenith looked around at the destruction “Are Tyler and Nick close by? Nick told me you had been able to find him relatively fast.”
“Yeah, they’re close by. Probably another half hour or so. There’s no way they could have missed those attacks. They’re flashy, but nothing to scoff at.” Paige said absentmindedly. She sighed. “I can use my stone, but we’ll have to wait for them. It’ll be a one-way trip though, the stone wasn’t really meant to bypass a mana wall this condensed. Paige smiled wryly, as though it was not her fault the magic circle was currently overloaded with mana.
“Then why are you hesitating? What happens when it breaks?”
“Bad things happen Zenith. It allows me to enter and leave most wards and active circles, but the cost...well, just know it also protects me from the Imperial Family. They can’t harm me so long as I have this stone, and it is harder for them to trace my whereabouts. But a formation this large...It would probably break upon entry…”
“Prim said you whereabouts are an open secret though? Even she was able to trace your fake names for the past few centuries, let alone anyone in the Imperial family who was given the same task.”
“Knowing who I was and where I am now are two entirely different matters. They can trace my past, but everything up until I use the stone is a mystery to them; so long as I try to keep my cover, that is. Even an Imperial Wardstone can’t hide gross negligence on my part. But the moment I use actually use the stone, every Imperial Scion will know where I am.”
“And that is bad because…”
“Because Zenith, I’m wanted by the Emperor!” She said miserably. “He needs me for a specific ritual, but he can’t really touch me so long as I have this. I stole this before I left all those years ago, and it has saved me in more ways than one.”
Paige sighed, holding the wardstone in her hand; the weight seemingly too much for her to hold. “But if it can save Isabella and stop a Demon Lord...I...I will just have to get another one, I suppose. Let’s wait for the others to come and we’ll go and get Isabella back.”
Paige sat down and pressed on her clothing; her white mana weakly rotating around her as she tried to mend her clothing. The mithril cloth shone with light as it gradually mended itself. “Zenith, could you and Nick stop the Assassins? It looks like their party is comprised of two Assassins, two Warriors, and one Shaman. Mostly close combat, so the Demon Lord must be getting a pretty solid close combat boost from his members. Hrmm, still doesn’t explain his swordplay though…” Paige muttered to herself.
Zenith thought about the question and hesitantly nodded. “We probably could Paige, but with Isabella being captured, it’d be hard to avoid her from afar if they tried to use her as a shield. Even if I tried using a highly accurate spell, their Shaman would notice it”
“They won’t use her as a shield. She’s too important. A captured human Cleric is something the other countries need desperately, especially one her age. I don’t think there are any non-human clerics any more,” Paige said with a frown on her face. “It was another mystery I intended to solve, but I never got around to it. Too many things to do in human lands that required my attention.” Paige’s mana stopped rotating around her, forcing her to close her eyes to meditate. Normally she would be able to replenish her mana just by breathing, but the large scale attacks had displaced all of the free mana in their surroundings.
Nick and Tyler emerged from the forest not soon after. Tyler looked at the formation with astonishment “This formation is not supposed to be this strong. It was only supposed to be able to protect against simple intruders, not a full out offensive." Surveying the land, they quickly spotted Paige and Zenith, who were both resting. “We could see that attack from across the mountain range. But… you weren’t able to kill the Demon Lord, even with that attack?”
Zenith answered for Paige since she was busy meditating.“No, she was trying to get Isabella back before they noticed her main attack, but they used Isabella’s blood to break into the mausoleum. Evidently, her blood is able to force the magic circle open as well." Looking at the magic circle, she idly flicked a piece of stone at the still active formation. "This magic circle is something else. I’ve never seen one that can absorb that much mana in one go and still be fine. We were waiting for you before we break in.”
“Could you tell what the composition of the party is?” Nick asked, frowning at the battlefield.
“I think it is two Nightwalkers, two Warriors, and one Shaman, with the Demon Lord being one of the Warriors. The Demon Lord is a technical fighter, he knows his swordplay. It doesn’t surprise me that he wants the heroic weapon in the vault; his equipment was pretty subpar for someone his level,” Paige said while releasing her mana to fix her outfit again. “Barring the Demon Lord, I think we could take the others on with relative ease. I mean, if Zenith could take on both Nightwalkers by herself, then with you two we’ll have no problems.”
Zenith blushed as Nick and Tyler looked at her with astonishment. “Well, semi-relative ease. We still need to get Isabella back.”
“Okay, you guys focus on getting Isabella; I’ll stop the Demon Lord. While it would be kinda devastating to lose a heroic weapon, it would be worse if they get away with Isabella as well. Thus, as Party Leader, I declare that our focus will be rescuing Isabella, then escaping at all haste.”
Holding her wardstone in front of her, Paige walked up to the magic circle. “Let’s get ready to fight. We can do this. Everyone, hold hands and release your mana. It’s not really meant to do this, but I’m pretty sure this will work.”
As their mana stormed around them. the wardstone shone bright with light and forced the mana wall apart, the symbols on the circle cracking in response to the light shining from the stone in Paige’s hand. “Move, now!”
Rushing forward, Zenith watched in horror as the symbols flashed green, the almost unmistakable response that magic circle was reacting poorly to the additional mana that was trying to force the existing mana away. “Paige! Do something quick!” she screamed, as the condensed wall started to shrink toward them. Zenith had seen how it had shredded Isabella’s arms and did not want to experience it for herself. Granted, Isabella was not wearing her circlet or mana shield, but those two items wouldn’t necessarily protect her from a mana-rich environment anyways.
Paige grunted in reply, a wisp of golden mana left Paige and inserted itself into the wardstone, causing the light to shine gold in response. The mana wall suddenly stopped and parted for her party, who quickly rushed into the mausoleum. As Nick exited the wall of mana, the wardstone in Paige’s hand dulled, cracking her name in half. Paige visibly flinched as it cracked. Steeling herself, she asked Tyler quickly, putting the now ruined necklace back behind her leather armor. “Tyler, you’ve been inside the mausoleum the most. Can you lead us to the Treasury?”
“Sure. There aren’t any traps, but we need to be prepared for any ambushes by the Nightwalkers.”
Paige disagreed. “No. You and I will lead the way, Zenith in the middle, and Nick will take the rear. They won’t be able to kill us on the first move. Get in, rescue Isabella, get out.” Nodding their heads, they raced into the mausoleum. As they entered the building, Zenith couldn’t help but notice that the symbols outside had started to change into a golden hue. She put aside her questions and raced to the interior, hoping that Isabella would be alright.
“They entered the building, Markus. We need to hurry,” Shavie announced quietly to the group. They had gagged Isabella as they entered, fearing that she would scream out to the group behind them.
“At least we made it to the Treasury. Look for a weapon, it should be a one-handed sword.” Stella said quickly, running through the aisles with Isabella in her hands. She had advocated treating Isabella better, but their tense nerves had gotten the better of everyone else’s opinion. The Treasury was incredibly tiny and was situated at the very bottom of the mausoleum. Stella looked around and saw hastily placed research notes lying scattered about the room, as though the researchers had been in a hurry to leave. Picking up a random file, she scanned it for anything that could help. Artifact #26001, Battlefield, Grid 1E6D, Priority Low. ‘Well, at least I’m in the right area,’ Stella thought to herself as she continued to pick up files that she had passed.
During this time, Isabella recognized that Stella had treated her the best out of all of the Demon Lord’s party, but was confused as to why. Paige had explained that being a Cleric meant you had a lot of protection in human lands, but also a lot of foreign enemies. But the way Stella was treating her was almost as if she needed her help instead of extorting her for some goal. Still, Isabella rested in Stella arm’s and decided not to put up a fight, at least not until Paige or Zenith came to rescue her. Still, she had a feeling that she should help them find whatever they were looking for. “Father was really strict about researching historical battlefields. They would have organized the battlefield into a priority grid system, so you should be looking for something near the middle of the grid, where the densest group of squares will be.” Isabella spat out the gag, coughing while she tried to help Stella.
Stella stopped and considered what Isabella had said. Scanning the room for a map of some kind, she realized that there was a weird looking square hanging on the wall, a mixture of what looked like a topographic map and dense icons marked by flags. Heading over to the map, she realized that Isabella had been correct, and they had taken care to color coordinate what they had found and where. Looking at the legends, she realized each square had been allocated its own aisle. Looking back at the map, she quickly looked for the center of the battlefield, hoping that the weapon in question would have been found there. “Check Aisle 9H! That’s the most likely spot where the weapon would have been placed!” Stella called out, telling them which aisle the sword should be placed.
They ran to the aisle and stopped, a row of weapons on either side of the aisle. Stella glanced at the weapons in confusion but saw Markus’s eyes focus on a single, rusty sword. She stared in disbelief at the weapon. The sword in question was rather plain and old; a broken one-handed broadsword, the hilt bindings partially ripped. All in all, it looked like a random weapon that someone had dropped in the woods and had started to rust.
Gingerly grabbing the weapon, they gasped as it changed shape, the rust peeling off as the blade lengthening considerably. The blade became pitch black, the blood grooves marking the flat sides of the blade becoming blood red, as though the weapon had just plunged into an enemy. Swinging it lightly, Markus smiled at his party. “It’s a perfect match. Come on, let’s get out of here fast. Head to the inner courtyard, we can attack the formation from below. Stella, gag the girl, we cannot allow her to give away our position.”
The team headed back up to the inner courtyard, stopping at corners to make sure no ambushes awaited them. Isabella’s two guards should have already arrived at the Treasury, so it made no sense why they were not yet here.
Clearing the hallways leading up to the inner courtyard, Stella realized why they had not bothered to go to the Treasury. Instead, the two female guards were waiting at the other end of the courtyard, intent on stopping them from progressing past. Markus stepped forward, intent on clearing the path. Stella was the only one able to attack the formation from here, so unless they were planning on throwing their weapons, they had to get closer to the formation.
“Get out of the way and you both can live. There’s no reason to throw your life away.” Markus said while brandishing his new weapon.
The female Warrior, Paige, stepped forward, eyes alternating between the new blade and Isabella. “How about this. Give up my goddaughter and you’ll get to leave with the sword. I’ll even promise not to hunt you down afterword either.”
Markus chuckled, holding the blade in front of him. “What is stopping me from taking both?”
“You won’t be able to leave; not with us here. Give up the girl and you and your party will live to see another day.” The Mage gathered close to the Warrior, her staff glowing green.
“Markus. We need the girl. We haven’t had a true healer in Trent for centuries. We can’t stop the Devil’s advance this way, not with the casualties we are taking.” Bishner walked forward, getting his shield and broadsword out. “Two enemies, we can do this.”
Nodding his head, Markus spoke to his team. “Stella, hold onto that girl and focus on attacking the formation above. The rest of us will stall for time. May the gods watch over us all.”
Going back a few minutes prior…
Paige watched as Tyler and Nick took their positions, hopefully outside the range of the two Assassins. “We need Isabella back. Anything less than that is unacceptable.”, Paige stated for the group once again.
“We’ll assume that attacking the magic circle from the inside will teleport everyone out. I really hope it would not self destruct. Watch out for their Shaman, Zenith. She should be the only one able to attack the formation from here. Focus on her and stop her from making things worse. Nick, Tyler, focus on protecting Zenith and killing the other party members. When they die the Demon Lord will experience a rebound from the loss of mana, so we’ll be able to better rescue her at that time.”
Looking up at the sky, Paige recognized the golden glow of the symbols above. Only Paige had known how great a sacrifice it was to open up the mana wall for her and her party. Forcing the wall open had taken away her Dawn Warrior class, as it had consumed the last of the divine mana she had accumulated. Most of the mana had gone to the party to create their subclasses, something that Paige still had no idea if it was a good idea or not. When she had created the party, she had thought it would be a class fusion as well. But it appeared the gods, or at least the divine mana. had other opinions.
The loss of her classes and her blessings had been painful, but the loss of the divine mana was catastrophic. There was no way she was going to be able to gather that mana again, as it had taken a unique set of encounters that was almost impossible to replicate. Shoving the thought out of her head, Paige quickly formulated her goals for after they rescued Isabella. ‘Get Isabella and leave before the Imperial Family comes. That’s my short term goal. Long term goal, kill an Imperial Scion and take his Imperial Wardstone. Little tough to do since they know I broke mine, but hopefully a few centuries will have worn down their guard. Just gotta find a hot-headed, entitled Scion. Shouldn't be too hard.’
Seeing the heroic weapon become fully demonized had irked her, more so when she saw how the Demon Lord ego had increased to match his new weapon. Although the mention of the clerics, frontlines, and devils had piqued her interest, she knew it was not the time for talking things out peacefully.
“Zenith, stop that Shaman!” Paige screamed as she took the initiative, hurtling toward Markus and Bishner. She knew full well that she’d be able to take both on for a short while. Superior swordplay only goes so far, and the heroic weapon cum demonic blade was a serious threat to her. Her leather vests and mithril bodysuit, while impressive, was not really meant to block weapons of that caliber. There was a reason why most heroic weapons were attacking weapons and not shields; a person wielding a heroic class shield would almost always die first since they were almost always relegated to passively blocking an opponent. One wrong move and you were dead. Her mithril blade could withstand a few attacks, but she had to be careful to protect it from breaking due to brute force.
The Shaman across from them was still holding Isabella, gathering her magic to strike at the formation above. Paige didn’t know how many attacks it would take before it teleported everyone out, but it couldn’t be much.
Zenith watched the two Nightwalkers ran forward to meet her in battle. She opted for long-range combat this time, gathering her mana to strike at the Shaman in the back. Zenith watched as the two opponents were about to strike her from a distance, when a flash of light erupted from behind her, blocking their weapons from reaching. Tyler emerged from the hallway behind, his shield glowing with a faint light, two scars running across his shield. ‘[Range Shield],’ Zenith guessed to herself as she lashed out with a wall of wind. She had learned from her last battle that in a contest of speed and flexibility, her opponents outmatched her.
‘I can’t use too much mana, I have to stop that Shaman. It’s fifty-fifty odd that either everyone will be teleported, or we will all be killed.’ Zenith had to trust that Tyler would protect her. She ran past the two Nightwalkers, who tried to follow but was pulled into battle by Tyler instead. ‘[Offensive Engagement]’. Even Paige had trouble getting away from that skill since it forcibly used the person’s mana to attract the attacks of the enemy. Unless the person using the skill was defeated or ran out of mana, it was incredibly difficult to stop. The Nightwalkers realized that their bodies were shrouded in mana and were slowing down as they chased Zenith, and turned around to face Tyler.
“[[Cutting Wind]], [[Hurricane Force]]!” Zenith cried as she struck down the Shamans spells, which were oddly colorful in nature. ‘She must have a lot of elemental attacks.’ A small, dark ball attracted her attention though. ‘What is…’, Zenith thought before the ball exploded, sending a dark mist into the courtyard, obstructing the view of the Shaman and the formation above.
“Oh no, it’s [[Dark Mist]]!” Zenith yelled out, attracting Paige’s attention. Paige dodged the Demon Lord as he pressed onward, freeing Bishner to head toward her, his sword swinging down as he lunged at her.
As she watched, an arrow took off his head, blood splashing her as the head flew sideways.
“No!” The Shaman and the Demon Lord cried out, as her other opponents immediately put Tyler between them and the hallway beyond, where the arrow had been loosed from.
“Get us out of here Stella, now!” The Demon Lord shouted, throwing his new blade at Tyler.
“Watch out! It’s [Blade Throw]!” Paige cried late, just as the sword pierced through Tyler’s tower shield, his face in disbelief as he sunk to the ground. Zenith watched as the blade flew back into the Demon Lord’s grasp. Paige immediately pressed the attack, trying to force him from throwing the blade toward her other two party members. The Shaman pointed at the ceiling and a thin jet of bright yellow light struck the formation above; the mana wall glowing ominously green as the attack was absorbed.
Zenith knew had no time to waste now, as the two Nightwalkers raced toward her, intent on getting back to the Shaman. Arrow after arrow shot past them came in greater frequency as Nick strode into the room, forcing them to keep an eye out from behind them. Zenith forced the two Nightwalkers to separate, and quickly took the initiative to attack the purple-robed Nightwalker. Behind her, she could hear the Shaman cry out “Luna!” from behind, but she had no time to spare listening to the enemy.
Casting [[Cutting Wind]] multiple times, Zenith quickly cornered the Nightwalker and attacked in close range, effectively sealing off the other’s chance at dodging the fatal attack.
But a sword pierced her side, and Zenith fell to the ground. She had realized the chances of surviving was minimal, and instead had used the rest of her mana to kill the Nightwalker. ‘Goodbye, Nick.’ She thought as the world faded from view.
‘No. nonono.’ Isabella thought to herself as she watched the battle progress from where she was standing. Tears had already started forming in her eyes as people died in front of her. All that was left in the room now was Paige, Markus, Stella, and Isabella.
She cried out when Zenith was killed, and even harder when Nick had traded his life for the last Nightwalker's. That left just the four of them.
The building groaned as the formation destabilized. She could feel tears falling on her as the Shaman Stella attacked the formation.
As Markus got in range of the two of them, he immediately grabbed Isabella, the sword pressed tightly against her body diagonally.
Paige stopped, her eyes going toward the magic circle, Markus, and Isabella herself.
“Let her go,” Paige said quietly, her voice trembling with rage.
“Get back or she dies. I’d like to bring her along, but if it comes down to killing her and taking just the blade, then I’ll do it.” The man holding her responded angrily. Both had lost the majority of their teams, but Markus had known his team for a long time, even growing up with some of them. His rage was boiling over, the symbol on his back glowing dark red.
“I should kill the girl just to spite you,” Markus said, pressing the blade into Isabella. She closed her eyes and gasped in pain as the blade started slowly sinking into her; her clothes offering no protection against a blade that sharp.
“Markus. Stop. The girl is innocent in all of this.” Stella said, brushing her tears away. Her mana was fully depleted now, the magic circle shrinking down and glowing dangerously as arcs of charged mana started to appear. By now everyone knew that the formation would not teleport them; rather it was destabilizing around them, the mana chaotically tearing the buildings around them apart. Stella gathered behind Markus, hugging him tightly.
‘The pain...It hurts...I have to stop the pain!' Isabella thought to herself, bringing her arms up to the weapon. Grabbing the blade that was cutting her, she cried out softly, “[[Heal]]…[[Dispel]]...”. The blade flashed, but nothing had happened.
Her hand was bleeding as she grasped the edge of the blade. She thought back to the clearing and used a skill she had not dared to use. “[Divine Right]! [Divine Shield]! [Divine Protection]! [[Heal]]! [[Dispel]]!” she cried out, this time the blade shining bright and the pain stopping.
Markus screamed as the blade transformed in his hand and the symbol on his back broke apart. Stella grabbed Markus and pulled him back as Paige lunged to grab Isabella. A minuscule shield made of golden symbols had gathered around her, stopping the blade from cutting in her half as Markus was pulled back. Paige hugged Isabella in one arm; her free holding onto the half-transformed weapon.
Isabella looked blankly at the weapon. One side of the weapon was a pure white staff; a white crystal floating peacefully at one end. The other was still the demonic blade, half of the blade’s length had been transformed into the staff that Paige was grabbing tightly.
The formation around them condensed around them, the circle had now gathered around the inner courtyard where they were standing, stopping right after it had consumed the hallway they had both entered from.
“We need to leave Aunt!” Isabella cried out over the screaming wind that was surrounding the courtyard.
“We can’t leave, Isabella. This is the end of the road. The last thing I can do is make sure the blade isn’t fully demonized. It should be able to survive the explosion!” Paige screamed, tears gathering in her eyes.
Markus and Paige pulled the weapon, as their two final party members held onto them. Isabella could feel something happening, as her mana was draining from her body and she felt weak, but no one paid attention to her screams. The light of the surroundings intensified, and Isabella Freal, of the Alcudian Royal Family, shut her eyes for the last time.
“I’m sorry, your Majesty,” Maggie said quietly. Queen Rebecca the Third was sitting right in front of her, reading the tiny report Maggie had quickly compiled. The Queen had been going around the country, pacifying the civil unrest with her daughter Beatrice and the New Headmistress of the Healer’s Hall, Prim. The Imperial Forces had arrived not soon after she had awoken, and had taken control of the war efforts against Trent; steadily pushing the Demons back toward the original borders of Alcudia. Luckily she had awoken too, otherwise, even her non-human citizens would have been removed by the Imperial Family.
Maggie polished the bar quietly, standing off to the side. The rest of the inn was occupied by the Royal Guards, who were busy watching for threats. She flinched as the queen threw the stack of papers to the far side of the inn, and looking quickly, Maggie hadn’t noticed when the queen’s tears started falling down her cheeks, her frame trembling.
Maggie gathered the papers, looking at what she had written once again.
Mount Trent and the surrounding mountain ranges were destroyed due to a magic formation overload. The mausoleum defenses were thought to have been placed by the royal family when it was first established. Unfortunately, an ancient magic formation was found to be circling the entirety of the mountain ranges, which was previously unknown. See map attached. The mausoleum was located at the center of the formation, based on the estimated radius of the explosion.
Overloaded formation hypothesis gathered from eyewitness statements, who saw a ray of light crash down at Mount Terst, as well as a subsequent earthquake in the early morning.
Based on the mission details, destruction of the magic circle indicated that the heroic weapon was in danger of being extradited out of the country. It is believed that Royal Vanguard Tyler Merk or Warrior Paige Alduit had advised the destruction of the mausoleum defensive circle, conceivably killing the demon lord and his party before they were able to escape. The unknown ancient magic circle was then assumed to overload as well in response to the fluctuation in mana, thus destroying the entirety of the surrounding mountain ranges. Imperial Forces have surrounded the mountain range, and are looking into party member Paige Alduit and Isabella Freal history. All relevant parties have been assumed to be killed in action.
The Imperial Family, Appealte, and Leit have sent formal protests to Alcudia, and demand compensation for the loss of…..
“Isabella...Paige…why did you have to die...”