Edithe’s eyes clung to the doorway behind her even as she ran through the secret corridor. She couldn’t help but worry for William despite the fact that she knew the [Priest] was safe. He had been like a father to her. If Stephen did anything to him… she wasn’t sure what she would do.
Mistshard slowly ushered her forward, trying to keep her from running against the wall as they turned a corner. Ian led the group by scouting ahead; his keen senses as a [Rogue] would alert them to any possible assassins lurking about.
Sophia and Cless took up the middle, the two friends keeping pace with each other as they made their way to the end of the secret corridor. Druma was carrying Rachel a little bit behind them, the little girl hugged around his wooden chest by his four protective arms. Edithe looked at her small group of Gold Ranks and Greater Spirits, wondering if they would be able to even take down a single one of the higher leveled assassins she had seen previously that night.
Certainly, there were many lower leveled ones— most of them she had fought were Silver in level, some Gold, only a handful Platinum. However, she could not help but worry that their group would run into one of the dangerous ones. A fear predicated in paranoia.
And past experiences.
Clenching her first, Edithe cast her gaze forward as Ian pushed open the door ahead. A bookshelf opened up, revealing the temple’s library ahead. They came to a halt, taking in their surroundings. The [Rogue] squinted as he took in the room while Sophia blinked.
“This is… the library? I thought that passage would lead us out of the temple!”
“Apparently not. It seems all William did was buy us time. It’s up to us to get out of here alive on our own.”
Edithe answered simply, stepping into the place of books. Rows and rows of bookshelves filled this large chamber; it was a haphazard mess, cluttered with books strewn about in an unorganized manner. The [Priests] of the Sanctum of Elements were gaudy, flashy, but also studious. And since they spent all their money on decorating the entrance for visitors, they couldn’t really afford to pay for a librarian. At least, that was what William told her once.
Edithe wasn’t sure now whether the man had been lying to her. She had been pestering him with incessant questions— and such an answer now seemed like something an adult would tell a child just to keep them entertained.
The group weaved through the forest of wood and paper, navigating to one of the entrances of the library. Ian peered outside, holding a hand out to keep them back.
Taking a deep breath, Edithe nodded.
“Considering where the library is located in the temple, that means we’re closer to the back exit that leads out to the alleyways and the side streets rather than the front one leading out to the city square. The front exit will probably be guarded by assassins at this point, so our best bet would be just to sneak out the back exit.”
“You don’t think that assassins will be guarding that part of the temple too, do you?”
Cless asked in a worried voice. She shook her head.
“They will. But we have no other choice.”
“If it comes to a fight, you two will have to grab the girl and run.”
Ian spoke out, turning back to face the group. He gestured at Sophia and Cless, the two less combat-focused of them all.
“Your skills lie in making sure you avoid combat no matter what. Use it to your advantage.”
Sophia opened her mouth. Her friend stopped her.
“Got it. We’ll do that.”
She looked like she wanted to protest, but Cless gave her a look. Slowly, the two came to a non-verbal understanding. Edithe glanced between the group, glad that they came to a solution. Then they left the library and started down the hall.
They left no footfalls behind. None for anyone to follow. They were adventurers. Even if not all of them were [Rogues], they were used to being discreet. Especially when it came to diving through Dungeons.
The pace they traveled was not the fastest. Nor were they aiming to outrun any assassins. Their job was simple. Get to the exit undetected. Then from there, they would have to see what happened.
The group came upon a long hallway. At the end of it, Edithe could see the deepness of night— the dark sky illuminated by the pale, blue moon. The scintillating stars were like the hope she felt for a moment. Until Ian raised a hand.
He pointed at the ground. Thin threads were stitched just above the floor, forming an intricate pattern. A design meant to catch whoever was trying to leave the temple.
“Wires. Coated in poison and meant to trip an alarm. Whoever made this so quickly must be high leveled.”
“What do we do?”
Sophia stared at the trap, wide-eyed. Edithe glanced over at Ian. He nodded at her, and she spoke a word.
The Greater Spirit obeyed, flying down the hallway and sending a blast of icy waves at the wires. The cold crept up on the steel, forming a cool layer of white over them. Ian took a step forward, avoiding the now clearly visible design on the floor.
“Do not step on any of them.”
Sophia gulped and slowly followed. Cless was next, then Druma who was still carrying Rachel. Edithe went last. She cast a wary gaze back at where they came from, confirming that no one was behind them. Then she followed.
The group threaded carefully through the wire maze; it took some time, but eventually, they made it through. Then they were out. The city laid beyond, and with it were assassins.
They burst out of the darkness. They had been lying in wait. And now, their targets were here. Three assassins appeared before the group. One was at around Level 70, and the other two were at around Level 40.
Edithe immediately launched a spell at them while Mistshard flew diagonally at them. Sophia and Cless surrounded Druma who protectively covered Rachel, and Ian drew his throwing daggers in an instant. But the assassins didn’t strike. At least, not all of them.
The Level 40s vanished, running straight for the temple. The Level 70 assassin tugged at invisible strings on his fingertips, creating a network of wires to block the oncoming blasts. He danced around the plume of cold smoke sent by Mistshard and dodged the weaving daggers flying his way.
They bent in the air, changing directions as Ian directed them with a Skill. But the assassin flipped out of the way. He pulled as if his hands were gripping at Ian’s feet, and the [Rogue] was swept to his back.
A lightning bolt from Edithe was knocked out of the air, arcing back down to the ground and ripping bricks into the air. Spells and arrows from Cless and Sophia stopped the assassin from targeting Ian, who was still getting back up, his legs covered in small cuts.
Once again, the assassin pulled. And Sophia’s bow came flying. He weaved his fingers, and invisible threads cut the girl. Cless shouted, seeing his friend cry out in agony.
He dashed forward, hurling fireballs at the assassin running across tiled roofs. The blasts missed their mark and exploded in mid-air. The assassin flipped and landed lightly on the ground. He crossed his arms into an x-shape, twisting his hands.
Cless yelled, his body torn from dozens of wires cutting deep into his skin. The assassin let out a snicker before a hail of ice fell on him. It sliced open his dark clothes, and blood sprayed across the stone floor.
He tried to back away from Mistshard’s barrage, only to realize it was Edithe attacking him.
“[Borrow Skill: Mistshard].”
She aimed her staff, launching another volley at the man, injuring him and pushing him back. Already moving his hands, he clicked his tongue and faced her. Then a spear of ice caught his back. It plunged deep into his spine, eliciting a sharp and painful scream.
His wailings became death throes as Mistshard burned him with fire. A line of flames launched straight through him. The man clawed at himself in agony, his entire body burning and frozen. A notification sounded through Edithe’s mind— a level gained.
But she didn’t waste any time. The [Summoner] raced up to the body of Cless. He was losing blood. Fast.
She uncorked a healing potion and poured it over him, closing up his wounds and stopping the whimpers from escaping his mouth. Sophia limped over in a hurry.
“Cless— is he ok?”
“He’ll live as long as we get him to a healer as soon as possible.”
Edithe nodded at the young woman reassuringly. Sophia sighed in relief. She took a moment to down a healing potion herself before helping Cless up. The man’s face contorted, and pain followed every movement he made.
“It’s fine, I got you.”
Sophia spoke softly. Ian hobbled over, his wounds healed but still hurting slightly. His sharp voice cut through the banal conversation being had.
“We’ve got to go. More are coming.”
Sure enough, Edithe could see shadows making their way through the far end of the hallway inside the temple. Figures were moving, coming after them. And they had to leave. Now.
But they would be caught. These assassins moved faster than them. Additionally, Edithe could see the pain in each step Cless took. The group had been slowed. There was no escape. Not unless someone held Stephen back.
Edithe found herself saying. She glanced back at the confused looks on Sophia and Ian’s face.
“Bring Rachel to safety. I’ll stay.”
Sophia opened her mouth.
“But you’ll die!”
Shaking her head, Edithe gripped her staff with both hands. Druma was already moving, the [Yaksha] doing as he was commanded.
“But it’s my turn to do something to save someone else’s life. I will not allow those I care about to die any longer.”
Sophia hesitated. She wanted to protest, but Ian grabbed her hand.
He pulled her, and they disappeared into an alleyway, right behind Druma. Edithe raised her staff and aimed at the entrance to the temple. Cold smoke blasted out at it, coalescing into an ice wall that covered it entirely.
Mistshard flapped her wings beside Edithe, copying her. Or was Edithe the one copying Mistshard? She was using the Spirit’s Skill, after all.
The ice wall was formed, and instantly, a crack formed on it. The people on the other side were already breaking through the barrier. It was nothing more than a bump in the road to them. Edithe spoke slowly, facing her summon.
“You go too.”
“I can’t let you stay and die, master.”
Edithe chuckled, trying to reinforce the ice wall and fill its cracks. It was hopeless.
“You know, Mistshard, when I first got you, I thought you were nothing like Hana.”
The red-haired woman cast her gaze to the night sky while her barricade began to crumble. Her voice came out longing, almost regretful.
“You’re so polite while she was so rude. She would ignore half the orders I gave her while you would obey my command no matter what. She was chatty, you rarely even speak. But now I realize you’re both the same. She died for me, and you would too.”
Mistshard frantically tried to close the fissures that formed, the beating of her wings slowing as the endeavor failed. Edithe shook her head.
“She died. But this time. Things will be different.”
Raising a hand at Mistshard, Edithe took aim at Mistshard. But no spell came out. Only words.
“I am violating the treaty formed between Spirit and Human. I cancel the contract we forged five months ago, and I shall accept whatever penalty I shall have to suffer.”
The Spirit’s eyes widened. A reaction uncharacteristic of her. A morose smile crept across Edithe’s face.
“Goodbye, Mistshard. Return home.”
A glow overcame the invisible mark in Mistshard’s chest. The symbol that formed when she was first summoned was overcome with light. Shining ribbons sprouted from it and enveloped her entire being. A single word escaped the beaked mouth of the Spirit.
Then she vanished. The ice wall broke, and it was just Edithe standing there, alone. Stephen marched through the misty entrance, followed by six assassins. Three on each side.
Edithe spun to face them, a spell forming on the tip of her staff. But Stephen appeared before her. A kick to her stomach sent her flying back and away from the temple. She rolled on cool, stone ground before facing up to see him standing there once again.
A sickle was pressed against her neck as the man stared down at her.
“Where’s the girl?”
Edithe met his eyes. Cold, cruel eyes. He was the kind of man she hated most. A self-serving, callous person who would do anything to get what he wanted. The sharp blade of his sickle was pushed further against Edithe’s skin, drawing a trickle of blood. She grimaced as Stephen repeated the question.
“I said: where is the girl?”
Edithe took a deep breath. She closed her eyes as a bead of sweat rolled down her forehead. She felt her mouths unlatch, words spewing out.
She blasted the ground beneath the two of them. A simple Fireball spell. It sent her flying back in the air, her arms and legs burned by her own magic. She landed back on the ground and glanced up at Stephen.
Did it work…?
The man stood six paces away from the explosion. He was entirely unharmed. All he got was some dirt on his shoulder which he casually wiped off. Sighing, he turned an uncaring gaze towards her.
“Hm, unfortunate. I was actually going to spare you, but… I guess not.”
Edithe shot to her feet, preparing a force barrier around her. Stephen cocked his head in her direction.
An assassin shot out and hurled a ball at her. It exploded, shattering her barrier in an instant. The magic fell around her like broken glass as the assassin appeared before her, dagger in hand.
Edithe’s eyes grew wide, and time almost seemed to slow down. This is it, huh? She closed her eyes as the assassin plunged forward. She tried to raise her hands, but she knew it would be pointless. I just hope… her mind trailed off.
Sighing, Edithe felt one final wishful thought cross her mind.
I just hope they manage to get away—
And blood splattered across the stone floor. A body dropped in the courtyard, just beyond the temple. Death came quick. Almost in an instant. The cool, blue moonlight shone over the corpse, showing its features clearly to Edithe’s wide eyes.
The assassin lay dead. Cinder wisped through the air, illuminating the dark night. A flame burned. Blue flames. And Salvos stood there with her blue jacket, over the dead assassin, a fiery scythe in her hand.
She smiled down at Edithe.