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161. Self-Destructive

“No, no, please don’t go.”

The Lich desperately tried to gather the dust and rubble from the ground, hugging them into his arms, only for it to fall, scattering, dispersing like the pollen of a flower on a beautiful spring day.

Edithe stared at this sight, unable to react. It wasn't the solemnity of it which caused her to hesitate. No— the very weakness Edithe had been targeting proved to be nothing more than a box full of ashes. That meant that the Lich…

“Why aren’t you dying?!”

Salvos cried out as she loosed more Nebular Arrows at him. It broke his bones, it set him alight, but it never once bothered him, not in his mourning. The Draugr swiped down at Salvos, drawing the Demon’s attention.

Daniel stumbled over from the hallway, glancing around the chamber as the battle between Salvos and the Draugr raged on. Edithe just stood there, wide-eyed, nearly dropping to her knees.

“We’re all going to be killed… we need to leave, now!”

She spun around, only for Daniel to grab her by the hand.

“What’s going on?”

“The Lich is—”

“Give her back.”

Edithe was cut off, even before she could explain the situation. There was a moment’s pause where the Lich stood silent. She took it as her chance to yank Daniel away from whatever came next. And it was a storm of wrath and death.

“Give mE bAcK my LiLIAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!”

The Lich spun around, the green in his eyes blazing like small suns. His fury directed at the world itself. Rage. Rage against all that had ever wronged him. He brought his hand up towards the heavens, calling forth a calamity from his fingertips.

“[Comet Hail]. [Rimebloom]. [Arctic Death].”

Spikes of ice shot out of the ground. Frozen boulders tumbled through the air. An explosion of frost froze everything close to the Lich. It was an unbridled anger that did not discriminate between friend or foe.

The Draugr screamed, falling to its knees as it was ripped apart by the Lich’s spell. Salvos leapt away as the rooftop came crashing down. The powerful magic that held together the castle’s walls couldn’t withstand the overwhelming tempest brought about by the Lich’s anger.

But wait, why didn’t the Lich do this sooner? This was the very same power he demonstrated in their first encounter. Why had he been holding back?

Edithe paused, and Daniel shouted.

“Edithe!”

He pushed her aside as the ground broke open. They narrowly escaped from the massive icible that shot up like a sword. She scrambled to her feet as the pair left for the hallway. Glancing back once, Edithe caught sight of ice and fire exploding out of the throne room. Then the entire chamber collapsed.

“Daniel, this entire castle— it’s not just reinforced by some magic. It’s being kept together by the Lich’s life force itself!”

She spoke as they ran through crumbling corridors. Daniel glanced over at her.

“Are you certain?”

“Yes! It has to be. Why else would the Lich hold back for so long? It’s his fucking phyalctery—”

Edithe didn’t get to finish. The ground behind them gave way as a crevice ate up the earth. And from beneath the darkness poured out a plume of arctic wind. One that turned everything it touched into ice.

“[Open, My Cold Heart, And Freeze Time Itself].”

A Grand Skill. One that ripped a hole in the earth, releasing a deluge of white. Edithe saw it coming. It rapidly approached her and Daniel.

The [Hero] gritted his teeth and stood before Edithe. His arms were spread wide, and a glow overcame his body.

“[The Will of the Hero].”




 

Would it work? Did it work? Daniel didn’t know. He was afraid. Very, very afraid. He might have lost his life here. But he had to act. He had to do something. Even if that something was risky.

Daniel didn’t know much. He didn’t grow up in this world, learning things just as others did, naturally picking things out until it was common sense. No, he was summoned to this world, a lost, lonely young man.

He was taught everything he knew in the short span of a few months. One of the things he learned was how powerful a [Hero] was. With each advancement, he’d get a [Hero] Skill. [Hero’s Slash], [Passive - A Hero’s Strength], and [The Will of the Hero] were the ones he got so far. These Skills were special. Faith told him they were. When he asked why, she simply said that they were nearly equal to a Grand Skill.

So, whether it was a foolish attempt at protecting Edithe, Daniel threw himself in front of the Grand Skill that would’ve consumed them both, and prayed for the best. All [The Will of the Hero] did was boost his Stats, right?

But that couldn’t be it. Daniel never tested it out, but it had to have done something more. So, he prayed that it would protect them. He hoped that it would somehow save them. A barrier of protection, even if momentarily, would have kept them alive.

There was a flash. As if two great powers collided. He felt a searing cold run through his body, but it somehow didn’t kill him in an instant like he thought it would.

But his head spun. The world around him turned into a twisted mess. He found himself lying on the ground, next to debris and dust as Edithe kneeled over him. His Draconic Scalemail was destroyed.

“Daniel, Daniel—”

She shook him awake. He drew himself to his feet, feeling a burning sensation on his hands. But he forced himself up.

“What happened?”

He tried to view his Stats, only to find that there was no boon. His Skill protected them, and that was it. It ended there and then.

“We survived, somehow.”

She gave him a small smile, but glanced around.

“But the castle is still standing. Part of it is. Look.”

Pointing past all frozen desolation, Edithe’s gaze landed on a single tower. The only thing left of the Lich’s keep.

“That’s Lilian’s room. We just have to destroy it now and we can defeat the Lich.”

“Right. But where’s the Lich?”

Daniel staggered forward, trying to see if he could find where the Lich was located. There was no signs of the Lich. Not anywhere close to them.

“This is our only chance. Hurry!”

Edithe ran forward, conjuring a spell in her hand. Her staff was gone. Just like Daniel’s sword. There was too much destruction. He was surprised that they were even alive.

The red-haired woman loosed a powerful ball of fire at the base of the tower, damaging its brick surface, but not bringing it down. She clicked her tongue.

“Help me out here. It’s fucking tough!”

Daniel nodded and ran up to the tower. He couldn’t throw a punch, his hands were too damaged for it. He kicked at it, using his Skills and everything he could muster up. But that was just like a miner picking away at a mountain.

It barely broke apart the brick layer. He was just too tired. Too exhausted. Too injured to tear down the tower. It was reinforced by immense magic— if it was a regular wall of stone, Daniel knew he could bring it down.

“We need something more powerful. Something that can tear it down completely.”

Edithe grunted as she stepped back, closing her eyes and conjuring an even stronger spell.

“Step aside—”

She tossed the ball of fire and lightning, only for it to freeze mid-air. It exploded into a million pieces of ice as Daniel and Edithe spun to face the Lich. He was hovering in the air behind them, a sorrowful look on his skull face.

“This is all that’s left. Everything else has been taken away from me. I will not let you rip the last vestiges of Lilian away from me.”

The pair of Humans backed up. They were going to die here. Daniel accepted that fact. Even as Edithe stared defiantly up at the Lich, he had already given up.

“We never took anything from you. You came to us and kidnapped me. My friends only tried to bring me back.”

The red-haired woman, even in the face of overwhelming power, did not surrender. Daniel didn’t understand it. There was no point trying to reason with the Lich.

That was what he thought until he saw what Edithe saw. A flash of white and silver. A dim glow.

Daniel stepped forward, standing beside Edithe. A man from another world together with a red-haired woman, both opposed to the Lich. That sight made the Lich hesitate. Then scream.

“Why? Why? WHY? Why did it all go so… wrong?”

It was a morose cry. One that threatened the pair’s very lives. Swords of ice formed around the Lich. But Daniel spoke out, making the Lich listen before he killed them both.

“Did it, Zach?”

It was in English. And it made the Lich hesitate.

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe things didn’t go the way you wanted it to. Maybe others were the ones responsible for hurting you. But what you did after was your own fault. We never once threatened you.”

Taking a deep breath, he spoke insistently, not letting the Lich get a word in.

“Even when Salvos sought you out, she wanted to befriend you. That never happened, because we had to go back. We were finished with the Plaguelands. This destruction you see? The current state you’re in? It’s because of how you reacted after things all went wrong.”

Was Daniel speaking to himself? Or was he speaking to Zacharius? He didn’t know. He just knew that his words were getting through to the Lich. It made the Lich think for a moment.

“You can end this now, Zach. That’s your real name, isn’t it? Or is it Zack with a k? Let us go, and we’ll leave you be.”

Daniel drew his lips into a thin line, waiting with bated breath for a response. The Lich had a thoughtful look.

“I…”

But that moment of thought came to an end. Insanity returned to his burning eyes. The Lich spread his arms out towards the air.

“For what you’ve done to me, to my Lilian, you shall die a gruesome death.”

It was an eerie calm the Lich spoke with. No longer as crazed as before. But still, insane. Daniel sighed.

“Fine.”

He grabbed Edithe and jumped to the side, shouting.

“Salvos, now!”

From behind the Lich, the Demon girl leapt into the air, her hands unfurling a scroll. Its runes were already glowing. They came to life, symbols which filled the air. Then a circle seemed to form, a hole that led to an abyss of nothing.

“Runic Scroll of Starfall.”

The Lich spun around, confusion clear in his face.

From that darkness, the hoole in the sky, twinkling balls of light shot out. They quickly expanded as they came, like a star that came crashing down to the earth. But they didn’t crash from the sky. They came from the hole, a small ball that grew in size the closer they drew to the Lich.

They soared through the air, left, right, up down, coming at him from all directions. At first, the size of a fist, then the size of a head, then the size of a person. It wasn’t made of rock or ice or fire. It was a ball of light. Magical. Purely made from mana. It sparkled like the stars in the sky. And it exploded with calm blasts, as if it were underwater.

The golden light blasted the Lich down into the tower. It blew apart the unsteady foundations of the last remaining structure of the castle. It turned it into rubble and dust as the Lich was caught amid the explosions.

Dozens, hundreds of these little ‘stars’ came down at the Lich. It swerved around his barriers, whatever he fired back at Salvos didn’t come into contact with falling stars The Lich screamed as he tried to fight back, but his spells grew weaker and weaker.

His voice lost its ethereal ring. He sounded like a Human. A sad man, broken from millenia of loneliness.

The salvo stopped. And Salvos hopped down next to Daniel and Edithe.

“Are you guys ok?”

Daniel nodded as he got back to his feet. Edithe wiped at her forehead, letting out a sigh.

“That was a close one. Is he…?”

She glanced over at the fallen tower. The dust from the explosions was beginning to settle. A figure stood within. The Lich stumbled out, and Salvos readied her weapon.

“Why is he still—”

“Wait, Salvos.”

Daniel held out a hand. He walked up to the Lich, meeting the undead’s gaze. The green fire in his eyes were gone. There was only a husk standing before them.

“I only wanted… I just wanted… to be happy…”

“We all want the same thing, Zach. Everyone wishes to be happy.”

The Lich’s hollow eyes bore into Daniel.

“So, why did they betray me? Why did everyone…?”

Daniel shook his head.

“Not everyone did. You were hurt and betrayed by others. Because of that, you betrayed everything you had left. You lived, Zach. You survived your betrayal. You could’ve continued being a [Hero]. Instead, you did all this.”

Gesturing at the fallen castle around them, Daniel turned back to the Lich. The Lich stared at the destruction he had wrought. Then at his own hand. He spoke softly.

“I… see…”

And the Lich crumbled to a pile of ashes.

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