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It's had been close to two hours since Helena started screaming, and she could barely take time to catch her breath. Risli was constantly healing her and trying to lessen the pain, but if she did it too much, it would also affect the parasites. To make matters worse, the creatures, if you could call them that, were growing. Ogryn had to recast the spell with increased strength every time. Despite the pain, Helena was adamant about continuing, even when her nose started to bleed. This was something she couldn't stand anymore and would give anything to get rid of the parasites.

"Those things are getting stronger again! We are close, but they can recover all the damage the spell is doing," Risli turned to Ogryn.

"I can increase the strength of the burn, but her mana won't last," Ogryn's clothes were covered in sweat. Having to control the spell in such a specific way was taking its toll.

"Do it! Kill those things!" Helena cried with the belt still on her mouth.

"Helena… if I push too much, you might die or go crazy from the pain," Ogryn said.

Helena just shook her head, her dark brown eyes filled with resolve. Ogryn sighed and turned to Risli, who replied, "Humans are more resilient than us. They are more used to pain. I mean, the women go through the cycle once a month! Give them some credit. However, if I see that it's getting too much, I'm the one who's going to stop it," Risli told Helena, who just nodded in response.

"Before that. If I push my mana into her, would that help keep the spell going?" Hera asked.

"Well, yes, but you would feel the full brunt of it as well. Don't expect the pain to be any less than what she is experiencing. The spell doesn't work like that," Ogryn replied.

"Don't. Dare!" Helena yelled at Hera with an angry expression.

Hera just stared back at her friend. Seeing that the tension was growing, Ogryn prepared the strengthened version of the spell and activated it. Helena screamed loudly, the pain becoming several times worse than before. Even the air in her lungs seemed to be attacking her. She could feel herself trying to pass out, but if that happened, no one knew what the reaction of the parasites would be and she would have no say if the rest decided to stop.

The time went by slowly, but Helena's mana was rapidly decreasing. She had her status window open on the side and was constantly checking her current mana. In less than 10 minutes, it had been reduced to 30 thousand.

"How long?" Helena was sweating, and even her nose was bleeding.

"If we don't have any changes, we need half an hour," Risli had the sage on Helena's left shoulder where the cluster of parasites was grouping up while trying to hide from the spell.

"Too long. No mana," Helena replied with tears coming out of her eyes. She got so close, but all her effort would be wasted because she didn't have enough mana. Suddenly, she felt a pair of hands against her back.

"Compared to you, I barely have any mana, but any little bit helps. Keep the spell up Ogryn and Risli, focus on Lena. I can handle the pain for a few minutes," Hera said and started to cycle her mana just like she did with Blue so many times during all those months.

"Don't!" Helena yelled, but it was too late. She felt that strange mana entering her body and gradually refilling her own mana pool. At first, a small amount of her own mana left her body and moved to Hera's, but that was just to open the gate. After that, Hera pushed everything she had back into Helena.

The moment their mana touched, Hera felt the effects of the spell. Every single part of her body was burning, every fiber, every cell, every atom begging for it to stop. The simple act of her heart beating sent waves of pain through her skin, and the only thing in her mind was the fire. Even so, this was nothing. Helena endured this for hours. Hera had to hold on until the parasites were dead. After the first minute, Hera had depleted her own mana, but thanks to the regeneration from the A-heart room, she could send a constant stream of energy to Helena. It was a mere drop to the mage, but every little bit could help.

"Twenty more minutes, but I don't think they can handle it," Risli shook her head while the screams of the human echoed in the chamber.

In response, Bonnie sat behind Hera and pushed her own mana to her. This resulted in a bottleneck of sorts. Hera's mana pool wasn't enough to take in all the mana from Bonnie at once. Unbeknownst to Hera, this was the best way to go about it. If the researcher tried to put her mana directly into Helena, it would clash with Hera's and cause even more problems. Unfortunately, this didn't mean that Bonnie was safe from the mana burn spell. Just like it was with Hera, she took on the effect at its full strength.

The three focused on just recovering their mana and surviving this ordeal. Hoping to hear someone telling them it was over or something that would signal that the pain would stop. Risli would occasionally tap Hera and Bonnie with a healing spell. That felt like a being splashed with water in the middle of the desert, refreshing their bodies for but a moment before the burn took over once more.

Second by second, minute by minute, they sat there. Paralyzed by the pain, focusing on the single task at hand, passing along their mana to Helena. All the while, Silah was just there watching without being able to do a thing to help. She wasn't someone well versed in magic enough to share her mana with others and her healing spells were nonexistent.

"Please, help them, Mountain. I beg of you," the blacksmith prayed for the mountain. Even if humans said that the blue screen was actually a system, that didn't change the faith she grew up with. A faith she barely ever remembered, but if there was a time to pray, it would be now.

"That's it. They are gone!" Risli shouted.

"Are you sure? What if they are just hidden?" Ogryn asked.

"I am. The last one vanished a minute ago, and Helena's energy is steadily growing."

With a loud clap of his hands, Ogryn halted the spell. This was only possible due to his years of control over mana, but even so, it wasn't easy.

"Helena, are they still there?" Ogryn asked with a grunt.

Helena took a couple of deep breaths now that the pain was finally gone and took a look at her own mana. Hera had stopped pushing her mana to her, meaning that any regeneration she would have now would be purely hers. Still, this wasn't a foolproof way to confirm that. Inside the A-heart room, the amount she recovered was much higher than normal. The only way to be sure it was working was to leave the room again. Helena tried to get up, but her body didn't respond. After close to three hours of the mana burn spell, there was no strength left on her muscles. The only thing she managed was to fall to the side with an arm pointing at the door.

Hera was having trouble breathing as well, but she was still able to see Helena trying to get up, "Silah, help Lena. Don't worry, I'm ok."

Silah jumped at the opportunity to do something and helped Helena to get up, but in the end, it was easier to just pick her up and carry her out. With the door of the A-heart room still open, Helena checked her mana. It was all increasing steadily with no signs of anything eating it away. She felt tears coming out of her eyes, but they weren't because of the pain this time. It was over. It was finally over. She would be able to use her own mana again without having to worry about not having enough. She didn't have to be protected by everyone or wait for someone to get home to recharge her crystals. Helena was no longer a waste of a mage. She had her magic back.

"Did it work?" Ogryn asked, still holding the spell in place.

"It did..." Helena managed to reply just before passing out. Ogryn let go of the spell that he was holding, making the burn effect disappear.

Silah brought Helena back inside so that Risli could check on her, and after carefully placing the mage on the ground, she rushed over to Hera, "Are you ok?"

"Not at all. I don't know how Lena held on to this for so long," Hera turned to Ogryn, "For someone who cares so much about protecting others, you made something really nasty."

"I am well aware of this, and I hope that this spell stays between us. I do not wish others to know of its existence," Ogryn was breathing heavily. Even if he wasn't in pain during the last few hours, keeping the spell up for such a long time was exhausting.

"Sure, but do you mind if we still use it? A spell-like that would be a great weapon against monsters," Hera was holding Silah's hand to keep herself steady. She could still feel the pain even if the spell was gone.

"I trust you will use it wisely," Ogryn nodded.

"Hera, are you seeing this?" Bonnie was staring to the side.

"Seeing what?" Hera looked around. By her side, there was a familiar blue window.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Skill Acquired - Reinforced Mana

Rank: 1

This skill allows your body to create more powerful mana. Reinforced mana makes spells cost less to cast and deal increased damage. Some spells can also have other increased effects.

Spell Cost: - 10%

Spell Effectiveness: + 10%

Maximum mana growth rate: +50%

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"This is ridiculous," Hera gasped.

"I know, right? It's like, a mini version of a mage's synch," Bonnie replied.

"What do you mean by that?" Silah kept looking at the two.

They explained the skill, and even Ogryn agreed that it was somewhat similar to what the mage's role provided. However, if they had the mage role on top of it, the end result would likely be even better. Another huge boon was the growth rate. They were young, and with time, their mana pools would get to ridiculous numbers.

Before anyone else said anything, Risli stared Hera down, "Don't even say it. I will not help torture people just so they can get a skill. Find another way to train that."

Risli finished checking on Helena and moved over to Hera and Bonnie. The healing was much easier, and it only took a few minutes to make them stop feeling that phantom burn for the most part. After she was done, Risli sighed, "Your friend still has a long road ahead of her. If the two of you can still feel as if you were under the effects of the spell even after the healing, I can only imagine what it will be like for her."

Hera looked at Helena. She seemed so weakened at the moment. Her clothes were soaking wet from all the sweat, there was a large bloodstain on her chest, but the blood around her nose was already starting to dry. When they were all ready to leave, Silah picked Helena up again since she was still sleeping after the ordeal. Risli and Silah were the only ones who didn't understand completely what she had endured during those hours, but that didn't mean they were any less worried.

Because of Risli's insistence, Helena was dropped off at her hut. She wanted to be close by just in case there were any issues with the mage's recovery. The group all thanked her and Ogryn one more time before heading back home. Risli also gave them a couple of potions to take in case the pain came back. Alex and Blue were waiting for them there. They had wanted to help out too, but magic wasn't exactly their forte, and having people around just to freak out wouldn't help.

"Oh, before I forget," Blue took a bag out and passed a black box to each of her friends.

"What's this?" Alex asked.

"Well. We need a good way to talk to each other, even at long distances. Soooo. I got us all new communicators," Blue opened her box. There was a small earpiece, a collar, and a small thing that she could place between her eyes, just on the bridge of her nose. The moment she did that a small light covered her eyes and vanished, "This one has that display that points out our direction, and we can customize to show any temporary buffs and indicators we might have. It also has an effective range of 500 meters, and it won't have any issues with mana interference until the 15th layer."

"That is amazing! How much was it? I need to pay you back," Hera said.

"Nah, don't worry about it. We have way too much money now. And I got this as part of a deal that Rutigan made, so it was cheaper than usual," Blue waved her off.

"Question, do you know if Shane has one of these? She might feel weird if we can talk behind her back with these," Bonnie asked.

"She doesn't have the same model, but we can be in the same network. I asked her before getting this one. In fact, this was one of her suggestions for us to buy. I got lucky that Rutigan saw me coming out of the hotel and asked if I needed anything," Blue explained.

"How does this work?" Silah asked, while trying to use the earpiece as a microphone.

"Let me show you," Hera got closer to her girlfriend and explained what she could. It would still take some time since she wasn't sure about some of the communicator's functions, but no one questioned how much this would help.

With this, the group was ready to head deeper inside the MAZE. All they had to do was wait for the green light from the guild and for Helena to recover.

 

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A note from Perizou

Finally, Helena is better.

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Cover art by LiaArt

Thank you Aldous, Deane, Cory, Daniel, Giuseppe, Mitchell, Benjamin, Way, Chris, David, Jacob, Theredescare, Jiri, Zhaliora, Romeo, Corey, Marco, Rebbecca, Onean, Sloth, S, Toby, Matt, Emanuel, Michael, DB, Thomas, Hoot, Robert, Dreegonz, Talek, Bobnip, Noland, Tzucaza, Mike, Alexander, Kyle, Gregório, Ben, Codered999, Matt, Robin, Death2moo, Romeo, Schfe, Vladerag, and Munirah, Sissy, PeterN, Talek, Sad Turtle, Clara, Exxator, Joshua, Michael, Zach, Seth, and Burke for the amazing support!

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