The Grandmaster had the same broad shoulders and muscular arms from his videos. He even wore the same tight-fitting black t-shirt. Close-cropped silver hair framed his face, and a day's worth of stubble covered his sharp jawline.
Akari had half-expected to find a caveman, considering how long he'd been trapped. Apparently, hair didn't grow in ice chambers.
His eyes were closed, and half-a-dozen restraints kept his body secure. Some restraints were steel, but others looked solid black and crystalline. Were those the unbreakable ones Jared had mentioned?
"Hurry," came Kalden's voice in her ear. "The Martials are closing in."
Akari's heart skipped a beat when she heard Kalden's voice. Still alive. She shuffled forward, reaching out to remove the restraints.
The Grandmaster's eyes shot open, and she staggered back. He twisted his head both ways, and the black collar broke off from the chamber. Then he stepped out of the chamber, snapping the remaining steel cuffs like tree branches.
He straightened his back and stretched his arms, towering over Akari by more than a full head. His brown eyes darted left and right, taking in the cell's white brick walls. Not much to see there. Footsteps echoed down the hall as the Martials closed in. If he heard them, he didn't show any concern.
Finally, his gaze settled on Akari. She took another step back, raising her hands in surrender. "Um—I freed you?" Her words came out like a question, which made her sound like a stereotypical teenage girl. Her cringe completed the image.
The Grandmaster rubbed at his eyes as if to clear them. "Emiri?"
What the hell? That was her mother's name.
"No," she replied. "I'm Akari."
He hummed in consideration. "Yes, I suppose you are."
What did that mean? Did he recognize her?
"I'm Elend Darklight," he said with a shallow bow. His lip quirked when he saw her feet. "Ah, so that's how it is. They sent an unshod girl to interrogate me."
Akari glanced down at her black woolen socks. Seriously? That was his first question? She'd half expected him to avenge himself in a rage of fury and mana. She'd almost forgotten that he'd willingly walked into their trap.
Akari's chest was still heaving from the previous battles. Whenever she closed her eyes, she saw Jared's broken face, and the trail of blood pouring from Viv's torso. She didn't give a shit about her missing boots.
"You've been frozen for half a year," Akari told him.
His smile faded, and his shoulders sagged with the weight of her words. "Where are my students?"
"The Martials killed the Knowledge Artist," Akari said. She'd already forgotten the boy's name, and she didn't bother guessing. "Happened a few weeks after they captured you."
His eyes hardened, and his skin glowed blue with his Cloak technique. He worked a finger between his neck and collar, trying to pry it free.
"And Relia?" he asked after a short pause.
Akari fought down the urge to stare at her feet. "She came here to rescue you, but the Martials set a trap..."
"Where is she?" he demanded.
Akari shook her head. "I saw them cut her throat. They—"
"Take me to her. Now."
She glanced at the cuffs on his wrists and ankles. "Can you fight with those on?"
"Won't be a problem," he said. "Impedium only blocks ninety-nine percent of all mana."
Well, she hoped to Talek he was right. Akari pressed the button on her transceiver, "You still there?"
"Still here," Kalden confirmed. "You've got about forty Martials waiting for you in the corridor. "They have grenade launchers, Missile rods, and—"
The Grandmaster strode through the cell's doorway.
Chaos followed, as expected. Akari took cover in the cell, covering her ears as a hundred explosions and gunshots sounded in rapid succession.
Silence followed, and she peeked through the doorway to see the Grandmaster standing unharmed amidst clouds of smoke. Bodies littered the floor around him. Half the lights had broken, and burn marks scorched the floor and walls.
"Woah," Kalden said in her ear. "Did you see that?"
"Yeah," Akari muttered. She hadn't seen much, but she wanted him to hear her voice.
Talek. This was one percent of his total power?
The Grandmaster—or Elend Darklight as he'd called himself—began walking down the hall, and Akari scrambled to keep up through the sea of bodies. There was more Martial than bare tile at this point, and she practically hopped between clear spots.
They reached the main corridor where more Martials attacked from the left.
Elend raised a hand, and a solid brick wall appeared between them and the enemy. it matched the prison walls perfectly.
"What the f—" Akari trailed off, then began again. "What aspect is that?"
"Dream mana," Elend said as he fired a red Missile down the opposite hallway. The mana warped as it flew, growing a head, limbs, and even a freaking tail. Akari blinked, and the transformation was complete. A raptor charged toward another group of Martials. Scales and feathers covered its body, and it looked as real as the ones they'd fought in White Vale.
So these were just illusions?
The Martials fired their weapons, shooting the creature with a storm of bullets and mana. Their bullets glanced harmlessly off its scales, and the Missiles turned to mist.
Very durable illusions.
The raptor reached them a second later, closing its teeth around one man's arm. A scream of pain followed as he collapsed on the floor, staining the white tile with his blood.
The Grandmaster didn't even pause. "They'll be fine," he told Akari. "None of it's real."
The raptor began conjuring Missiles in its fangs, attacking more of the retreating Martials. Angels above. Now his Missiles were shooting Missiles. And this was still just one percent of his power.
They kept walking until they reached the security booth. Kalden unlocked the door and stepped outside.
"That's Kalden," Akari explained before the Grandmaster sent another raptor to bite off his arm. "He's with me."
Elend gave him a curt nod. Kalden responded with a deeper bow, then he passed Akari her boots and hoodie. The Grandmaster just kept on walking, and she even didn't have time to put them on.
"Where's Frostblade?" Akari asked Kalden as they walked.
"He retreated with the others. They're probably outside."
Too bad. It would've been a treat to see a dream raptor dismember him.
Their route took them past Jared and Viv's bodies, but Akari didn't look. Feel sorry later, Kalden had said. They still had to get off this island, and she couldn't afford any more breakdowns until then.
They rounded the next corner into Relia's cell, and the mana chamber was dark and smoking.
"Damnit," Kalden muttered. "They actually overloaded it."
Elend strode forward without a word. His fingers wrapped around the lever, but it didn't budge. He pulled harder, snapping it off its hinges.
Akari glanced at Kalden, and she saw her own worry reflected on his face. Were they too late?
The Grandmaster held out his hand, gathering pure mana in his palm. Akari braced herself for an explosion, but the mana formed into a Construct instead. It was small—about the size of a knife or dagger. The mana gathered the same way Relia's did when she made shields. But while Relia's mana had a semi-transparent quality, this looked more solid.
He drove his dagger into the sides of the chamber, slicing through the steel like chunks of cheese. Relia fell backward through the open doorway, still tangled in the metal net.
Elend dropped the mana dagger and it plunged straight into the tile floor. He untangled Relia from the net and lowered them both to the ground. The cut on her neck still hadn't healed. Instead, the blood had turned to a frozen river. Icicles hung from her braid, and her skin was purple with frostbite.
"I have healing potions," Kalden said as he unshouldered his bag.
Elend grabbed the bag as he lowered Relia to the ground. Instead of opening it, he used it as a pillow for her head.
"Come on..." He pressed a hand to her forehead and closed his eyes. "Remember what I taught you."
Nothing happened for several heartbeats. Akari glanced at the walls and ceiling, wary of another trap.
"Come on!" Elend raised his voice, forcing his own mana into her forehead. "You can do this."
Relia's body shone with a familiar green-gold light. Fresh skin closed around her neck wound, and the purple faded from her skin.
Her master gave a weary smile. "Most people can't do Mana Arts while they're asleep or unconscious," he muttered. "There are ways around this, though. Ways to control it on instinct."
Useful skill for a healer. And Talek only knew what he'd done with his dream mana.
"Now." Elend looked up and met Akari's eyes. "I'll defer to you on the next step."
Akari wasted no time dropping the burden on Kalden's lap, and he summarized the past few months, including Relia's time as a fugitive, and how they'd met. Finally, he explained how they'd planned to take the truck to Keylas and fight their way through any Martials who stopped them.
"Not much of a plan," Elend said. Still, he seemed much calmer now that Relia was safe. Almost as if this were an ordinary day for him.
Maybe it was.
"Yeah." Kalden gestured to Relia. "It was her idea. Minus the ambush."
Elend hummed in consideration. "She's always been too reckless. I told her to stay on the beach—to leave if anything went wrong. I should have known she wouldn't listen."
He gathered Relia in his arms, then draped her over his shoulder as if she were a small child.
"Well then. Let's do it, shall we?"