Grimloch and Theresa shot toward the xyrthak.
The huntress was the faster of the two; she hefted her spear and closed on the monster, and Grimloch followed close behind. He’d always been able to cover a lot of ground with his enormous strides, but Life Enforcement had begun to increase his speed.
Isolde, Khalik and Alex flew up and over the xyrthak, preparing their spells. Alex cast a forceball and Thundar cast a body enhancement spell on himself.
The minotaur got Grimloch’s crossbow ready, tensing his muscles then using both hands to pull the string back. Unlike the shark man, he needed to use much of his body and a lot of grunting to pull it back, but he set it just as Theresa reached the xyrthak.
The creature was utterly battered.
The arrows and bolts that had struck her had snapped off, leaving the tips in wounds that gaped open. She panted from exhaustion and her wings revealed several small rips. Blood dripped down her scales.
Still, the fight hadn’t left her eyes, and a screech echoed across The Barrens as Theresa closed in on her.
The xyrthak’s neck whipped forward.
Its jaws came down on empty air: Theresa slid beneath its beak and pointed her spear up toward its chest like when she dove beneath the dying hive-queen. Now she was faster.
She thrust the spear forward with all of her enhanced strength and precision, driving it through a gap in the steel-like scales. The point sank a foot deep before a twist of the monster’s body snapped off its haft. Theresa was back on her feet, with her ancestral sword and hunting knife in either hand.
The huntress danced within its reach, her weapons flickering like flashes of light under the sun. She went for shallow, twisting cuts that would strip skin from most creatures, but slipped beneath the xyrthak’s hardened scales, delivering light cuts between the gaps.
More blood dripped, seeping into the dirt as the beast tried swiping at her with wings and talons, and even trying to crush her with its immense bulk. But the huntress’ speed, and the creature’s poor vision up close made it impossible for the xyrthak to pin her down.
It could not even use its lance against her because Grimloch was now closing in.
With a dreadful hum, it fired its force beam at him, but the shark man dodged sideways. Grimloch grunted in pain: it had clipped his shoulder, but he kept charging forward despite the wound.
He thrust his massive spear at its body, but a sweep of its neck split the weapon with its force lance. Grimloch snarled, stalking toward it more cautiously, waiting for a moment when Theresa’s harrying caused its attention to shift.
Yet the monster was cautious as well, swiping and smashing at Theresa while taking care not to point its lance away from the shark man for too long.
Nua-Oge’s freezing water magic sprayed from just outside the range of the xyrthak’s cry, freezing over its wings and scales. Angelar followed up with a stream of bolts of magic, while Thundar fired Grimloch’s crossbow: the bolt struck the beast’s side, but angled off of its scales, bouncing away.
Hogarth and Svenia loosed arrow after arrow at the creature. Many bounced off, but some bit into the membranes of its wings or struck the wounds it had already taken between its scales.
The creature grew more frantic as its blood dripped onto the ground, and its movements whipped up great clouds of dust. It fired its force lance again and again, keeping Grimloch at bay, but Theresa still danced through its defences, opening more cuts as it tired.
“We have it now,” Khalik said. “Come, let us finish it!”
He and Najyah soared above the xyrthak in circles, blasting it with sharp conjured stones and clay magic. Alex floated above and called his forceball to his side, his eyes narrowed at the beast.
The young wizard noted the rising cloud of dust and remembered that the creature had poor eyesight up close.
“Tell me when you’re gonna blast it!” he shouted to Isolde.
“Momentarily,” she said. “With my strongest lightning spell, I will strike it after it fires its lance.”
With that, she began her spell.
The air shifted as pressure changed, like before the coming of a storm. Blue lines of electricity traced their way across her fingers and between her arms as she extended them skyward.
Mini booms of thunder sounded around her.
Then two orbs sprang to life above her hands.
Alex’s eyes widened.
They looked to be similar to force balls or perhaps orbs of air, except that lightning arced between them with an ear-splitting crackle and near-blinding light. Isolde’s black hair began to rise around her as though caught in the wind.
The xyrthak heard, or maybe felt, the building lightning magic and let out its scream. Unfortunately for her, she was too far below for the sound to reach them. In a desperate move, it leapt back—using the powerful muscles in its wings to push off the ground—and raised an even thicker cloud of dust between itself, Grimloch and Theresa.
In the same motion, it began to lift its neck toward the sky.
Alex heard the hum of force magic building in its lance.
“Hey, try this instead,” Alex said calmly, then ordered his Wizard’s Hand and forceball down.
The two crimson spells shot toward the xyrthak at tremendous speed, and he stopped them just in front of its eyes, blocking its sight. Caught off-guard, wounded and with its poor eyesight—especially through the dust—it went into panic, sweeping its horn left and right, blasting apart his Wizard’s Hand but missing the forceball; he shot the orb back and forth around its eyes, confusing it further.
Then Isolde finished her incantation.
“Get back!” she shouted to Theresa and Grimloch.
The pair ran from proximity to the xyrthak.
Isolde swept her hands down.
The arcing balls of lightning burst toward the earth.
They were slower than Alex’s force spells, but still quick, and seemed to be going wide, set to strike on either side of the xyrthak instead of directly into its body.
“Isolde, you missed!” he cried.
“Do you have another one in you?” Khalik asked her.
A wicked smile swept across her lips. “Did I miss? Did I?”
Both young men looked back down.
The balls of lightning stopped in mid-air on either side of the xyrthak.
They flashed brightly.
Thunder roared through The Barrens.
The beast screamed.
Lightning blasted back and forth between each orb—striking the reptile with stroke after stroke, again and again—passing electricity through its body in a vicious current. It spasmed as the power wreaked havoc through its form, its muscles spasming with each bolt. Crackling lines of lightning raked the ground around it as it foamed at the mouth.
Alex and Khalik gaped, and even Grimloch and Thundar looked stunned. The ice and clay steamed on its body and cracked, and blood shot from its wounds.
It appeared ready to succumb.
“Fall,” Isolde said. “Fall, curse you, fall!”
Yet the xyrthak neither fell, nor succumbed.
With a shudder, it let out another mana-disrupting scream, which shook the spells around it, slowing the lighting and weakening it just long enough for it to roll out of the path of the two orbs.
It shook like a wet dog, coughing dust and fighting to recover.
Blood sprayed through the air.
The xyrthak screamed.
Grimloch had charged it, jumping onto its back as it was fighting to recover, and sank his razor-sharp teeth into its scales. They popped and cracked under the force of his bite, and he violently shook his massive head back and forth, ripping and tearing apart the flesh underneath.
The creature opened its mouth to cry out, but he reached out with his arms—wrapping them around its neck to secure his position—and forced its beak closed with both hands.
Several spikes burst from the earth, driving into the xyrthak’s torso and securing its body in place. Alex saw Eyvinder emerging from the earth near Malcolm.
Yet it still would not die.
Wrenching free of the spikes, its strength waning, it gave a desperate beat of its wings that carried it into the air out of Theresa’s range as she skidded up to where it had been.
“Grimloch!” Nua-Oge cried. “Let go!”
But the shark man was determined, and continued biting down and holding on.
The xyrthak took flight, desperately gathering speed and flying north towards its nest.
“Dammit!” Khalik swore, beginning to give chase.
Alex followed and Isolde soared after them.
“Do you think it’s defeated?” Isolde shouted.
“I am making sure,” Khalik said. “I do not want this creature to simply start diving at us again. It is most likely going to die, but as Theresa said, a wounded beast is a dangerous one.”
“Well, it’s not gonna get far,” Alex said.
Grimloch continued to bite into it, blood trailed from the creature as it desperately flapped away, but it was much slower than before.
“Where do you think it’s goi-Oh shit,” Alex swore.
It was soaring past its nest and flying over the wild mana vent.
“It's going to try and shake him off over the vent!” Alex shouted. “Grimloch! Let go!”
But the creature had soon carried the shark man over the vent and was sweeping back and forth, trying to shake him off.
“I have had enough of of this,” Khalik said. “Najyah! Go, and stay high above!”
The students were flying over the vent now, and Alex was beginning to feel that strange resistance in the air from the wild mana. It felt a lot better than it used to, but he watched Najyah carefully as she flew behind the xyrthak and caught up.
She soared over the beast.
“Now! Take its sight!” Khalik shouted.
With a screech, Najyah plunged down with talons slashing as she shot past its head. The eagle tore out one of its eyes.
The xyrthak recoiled, going stiff in mid-air in its agony, and rearing back its neck.
Grimloch released the flesh on its back and pulled himself upright while bending its neck back.
There was a horrifying sound like something wet being ripped apart as the shark man bit into its throat. He tore it out with a vicious twist of its head.
It was dead within heartbeats. The shark man jumped off, hovering in the air as it plunged toward the vent glowing with its multitude of colours.
“Yeeees!” Alex cried. “Good job, Najyah, and you too Grimloch, you terrifying death-beast!”
“Well done, Najyah!” Khalik shouted.
“Make sure to feed her the fattest rabbit you can find!” Isolde called. “And I will buy you a whole swordfish, Grimloch!”
The shark man turned and gave them a toothy and very bloody grin.
Alex looked up at the position of the sun. They’d been flying for a good while. Maybe they shouldn’t be hanging around above the mana vent for too long in case the Potion of Flight began to wear off.
“Everyone!” he shouted. “Get to the side of the vent before the potion wears off! I don’t know how much more time we have. It’ll let us down slowly, but if we go down here, we’ll plunge right into that glowing giant mana sponge down there!”
Even Grimloch looked frightened at that; the wizards and shark man used whatever mana was left in their Potions of Flight to begin flying toward the side of the vent.
Alex glanced down at the xyrthak’s corpse.
The reptile’s body began breaking apart the more it fell into the vent. The wild mana ripped through its form, breaking it down into smaller and smaller components as it dropped. It seemed its natural tolerance for the mana vent held the core of its body together as it fell, but its neck, head and limbs soon disintegrated completely.
Alex shuddered, beginning to feel strange.
Was it just him or was his perspective starting to change? The ground seemed closer than before.
“The potion’s wearing off!” He shouted.
Alex fought through panic. He did not want to know what would happen to something with very little or no tolerance to the wild mana.
They soared toward the side of the vent, but it seemed to never get closer. As their altitude decreased, the wild mana became thicker in the air, and it began to feel like he was flying through quicksand.
“Where’s Baelin?” Isolde screamed. “We defeated the monster, and Eyvinder got its eggs! Should he not be saving us?”
Alex began thinking quickly. ‘What was happening?’
If the chancellor hadn’t come for them yet, that must mean there was a way for them to get out of this situation. But what could it be? Whatever it was, they needed to find it fast because the fading potion was making them feather-light for a time, before it completely wore off. When it did, they would float down...right into the mana vent.
His mind froze before it could even begin its mantra of thinking and adapting. Light as a feather? He glanced at his forceball.
“I can get us out of this!” he shouted. “We’re light enough that my forceball can carry us!”
“And Najyah can help as well!” Khalik said. “Najyah! Go to Grimloch! Isolde! Try to make it to Grimloch and grab onto him! Grimloch, hold onto Najyah! She’ll tow you and Isolde!”
“At once!” Isolde cried, using what propulsion she had left to drift toward Grimloch.
“Khalik, grab the forceball!” Alex drifted it toward the prince.
“No time to be noble, just grab it!” Alex said, shoving his spell in front of his friend. He noticed the forceball begin to shake as they’d gotten lower and closer to the vent, and he used every ounce of mana manipulation he could to keep it together.
Khalik grabbed it, then Alex brought it back so he could grab on too.
Najyah and the forceball towed them at increasing speed toward the side of the mana vent. The thickness of the wild mana in the air stabilized somewhat: they were sinking toward the vent, but getting nearer the edge faster than they fell.
The edge came closer and closer, until—finally—Najyah and the forceball began struggling to bear their weight.
“Get ready for a rough landing!” Alex cried as they dropped toward the ground.
Grimloch tucked in his arms and dropped like a stone, with Isolde holding tight to him.
The shark man landed hard, but bent his powerful legs to absorb the impact.
Isolde jumped free, running to stay upright.
Alex and Khalik came down rolling to absorb the impact. The prince grunted with exertion, but Alex’s Mark-enhanced practice paid off, and he rolled to his feet, then helped Khalik to stand.
They were just past the edge of the mana vent. If they had fallen even slightly faster, they would have plunged into it. The vent’s power roared through the air, but—though he had to grit his teeth—Alex found he could tolerate being close far better than before: something that filled him with a ferocious pride.
With excited nods between them, Khalik, Alex, Isolde, and Grimloch, began moving away from the mana vent. Najyah landed on Khalik’s arm.
When they had gotten perhaps fifty steps away and were finding it easier to walk, Alex felt teleportation magic.
Then Baelin appeared before them, a radiant smile on his face.
“Congratulations, my young Proper Wizards.” He beamed. “You have defeated the xyrthak. Now, let us go back for some well deserved debrief and celebration.”
With a wave of his hand, they were away, and the last thing Alex saw were the victorious smiles on his companions’ faces.