Chapter 26

Kazu rested the giant claymore on his shoulder. It made him feel calm. Was it Mel? He didn’t know. But he knew the familiar feeling of the wind was back. It wasn’t the muted feeling he’d been subjected to when Mel took on the form of a human. Since Mel left, the wind felt weak around him. It terrified him. Now, faced with someone he couldn’t beat, in this case underestimated, he shouted for Mel. He’d expected to be punished for his hubris, to have his hopes dashed; instead, his hopes had been fulfilled, he had called for her aid—and she answered.

Kazu examined the lesser lich several meters away from him. The confidence in his wind came back to him, and the lesser lich seemed to become a smaller being. Yet his confidence did not alleviate the pain on his chest. The sharp pieces of rocks stuck out from all over, rasping against his lungs. It didn’t look good. It stung, like alcohol being poured onto his gaping wounds, but these rocks screamed and burned; it would neither purify nor alleviate the wound. They were shrapnel that ate away at his very stamina.

It was every bit worse for Mel as well. She hadn’t told Kazu that when she teleports, she gets nausea, an embarrassing curse as she calls it. Looking at Kazu’s wounds, she couldn’t recall the exact string she needed to perform her healing spell, all thanks to her spinning head . Thankfully, Kazu pulled her back before she pounced on the lesser lich with her bare fists. But it wasn’t all that better. She was now stuck in her sword form with nausea and no way to dispel whatever she ate for the past hour.

“Leonard!” shouted Kazu and the air vibrated a deep bass. A dramatic pause came afterwards. The fight on the side with Philip and the Igg family paused for a moment, but continued again when Harek took the chance for a kill.

Kazu slowly opened his mouth and continued, “The f**k man?!”

[/i]Mel: I don’t think this is the time for that kind of humor… On the other hand, I think I’m going to hurl.[/i]

Leonard was the one that raised sharp rocks along the trajectory of his skid. If it was him last year, he would’ve succumbed to the stalagmites the moment he crashed onto them. Kazu knew it was an attempt to kill him, but he didn’t know why. Leonard was friendly, at least he felt sincere during the short conversations they had. Maybe that was a ruse.

Kazu shook his head, straightening his train of thought. Why did it matter why Leonard did that? To Kazu, all that matters now was that he’s an enemy and invalidated Riona’s safety. There was one thing left to do.

The claymore clanged as Kazu lifted it up to ready it for a strike. He saw the fear in Leonard’s eyes. Despite that, Leonard still held his unyielding posture. Kazu knew he stood no chance were it a one on one match.

“You’re making a mistake Leonard,” said Kazu.

“Heh, I don’t make choices I regret even if they are mistakes.” Leonard spat. “We could’ve been friends Kazu. It’s just too bad the witch got to you first.”

“No Leonard. I don’t think we could’ve been friends,” replied Kazu, “I saw your eyes when you stabbed Frederick. No hesitation for taking a life. ”

Leonard chuckled, “You don’t know the deeds that man did! That man doesn’t deserve his life.”

“So what?” Kazu retorted. “We’re in the present, Leonard. I don’t know what happened in the past. But who cares? The past is the past.”

“Hahahaha, you really think it’s that simple?!” Leonard shouted. “So what? Am I just supposed to let go of the man who killed my only family?”

Kazu choked on his words. He understood that too well, and there were lives at stake. Frederick’s heart was still beating, and he had to finish this fast. He put on a poker face before replying again, “Don’t stall me Leonard... I can cut you down anytime I want.”

“Don’t make me laugh,” Leonard grinned. “You would’ve done it already if you had the guts-”

With one fell swoop, Kazu shot out a forward gale towards Leonard before he could his breath. It had every inch of Kazu’s killing intent. The air around the millions of wind blades rumbled the air in the dome. The blades hit the ground a meter in front of Leonard.

“Don’t misunderstand me, Leonard. I’m not that nice of a person who treats others’ lives poorly. Killing a person, Leonard? I would kill you right now if I knew how you fit into this puzzle.” Kazu lied.

Kazu didn’t want to take another chance. Sage already blamed him for the acceleration of the other side’s plans. What would happen if he were to take out a piece on the board? The way Leonard was placed on the board, he felt something amiss. Though, by the time he thought this, it was too late.

The lesser lich stuck his hand through Leonard’s chest from his back. The pain on Leonard’s face faded as his life with it.

Through the endless darkness, tortures a ravaged being.
Heart of a tortured soul. Thine become mine own.
Become my power, become my darkness.
Sacrifice for the Great God Hekaes!

Mel: Kazu be careful. That ritual is to temporarily make him into a full lich. Can’t help- Guuuh. Too dizzy.

Leonard’s body decayed into dust, and darkness filled the room. The Lich stood at the center of where the darkness originated. “Otherworldly being. Your foolishness astounds me.” The Lich hummed a low laugh. “If you still dare to block my master's path, prepare to die.”

“Leonard…” Kazu’s eyes were wide. “You goddamn bastard.”

Kazu appeared at the Lich’s side and a trail of dust shot up behind him. Of course, he used Rising Wind. A dark orb appeared between him and the Lich, blocking the view of his enemy. It was tough, but Mel’s sharpness dug halfway into the orb, and the orb shattered in half.

Fool’s Wind, that was the next move. Kazu anticipated the dark orbs surrounding him as they turned into red explosive orbs. He couldn’t use Fool’s Wind before, at least not without a real sword. Materialized swords weren’t counted as real swords so he couldn’t use any of the skills in his arsenal in the fight earlier.

It was different now. The wind was with him. It guided him as Mel would. He knew couldn’t rely on her forever. Relying on her felt like he was only receiving in the relationship. Still, it amazed him. He was fighting on his own through the experiences and knowledge ingrained in the very fibers of his muscle by Mel.

The wind pushed away the surrounding red orbs. They exploded a few meters away from him. The smoke dusts clouded his view, and he no longer knew where the Lich was.

Kazu closed his eyes and raised his awareness. He listened to the wind—the images of his surroundings transmitted directly into his mind. Neither the darkness nor the smoke that covered the entire field mattered any longer.

Kazu sensed the Lich approaching from behind, a claw extended with monstrous nails ready to pierce his flesh. Several orbs spawned in front of him, effectively trapping his escape route. A cautious opponent, Kazu thought. The next pulse from Fool’s Wind came, pushing away all the orbs that blocked his path.

The Lich retreated back into the smoke when he noticed his attack failed. Dozens of orbs appeared behind the Lich and launched themselves at Kazu.

Still with his eyes closed, Kazu swerved through all the oncoming orbs. Each orb grazed his tattered clothes, exploding behind him. “Damn Lich! Danmaku games should all go to hell!” It was no time to be spouting out needless remarks, Kazu sighed.

“Very well, otherworldly being. Taste the lowest degree of my chill.” The Lich’s body glowed a dark purple and the darkness swirled slowly around the room.

Mel: Hahahaha! Did you hear that Kazu? “Lowest degree of his chill” he said. Hahaha! Blurrghh… I shouldn’t have laughed.

“Tch, not a time to be laughing. The air is starting to freeze.” Kazu gritted his teeth. His control over the wind became sluggish as the Lich contested his control over it. He had to think of a plan to finish this fight fast; otherwise, it would become a battle of attrition, and that wasn’t an option.

While Kazu had been confident when he held Mel earlier, that confidence had disappeared when the Lich killed and absorbed Leonard. Anger also took over his mind, and now it was too late. Again, he underestimated the Lich. Never again would he underestimate any opponent, he vowed.

The Lich continued his onslaught against Kazu. Each explosion battered his body and caused his wounds to bleed even more. The fight wasn’t looking good. Every opening he took seemed like an illusion as if the Lich had already anticipated him.

Kazu released multiple Forward Gales, his primary attack. Some curved as Kazu became desperate to land even a single hit, but it was all for naught. The gales dispersed with calculated explosions from the orbs. He decided that it was either close quarters combat or he wouldn’t even touch the Lich.

Yet that too was fruitless. Rising Wind was linear, predictable. Whenever he got close, a sense of danger would surround him. At his last bout of trying to get near, he made a misstep, attacking from a range too far to reach the Lich. An explosion behind tore away his consciousness.

Regret. That’s all he felt. The view of the Lich’s grin faded away. It was then Kazu realized his delusion. He wasn’t strong. He thought he was, but he was wrong. A pretender. That’s what he was.

Mel was in disbelief when Kazu fell unconscious. The shock sobered her up. Kazu had been doing well up until now. Something must have happened to him apart from his wounds, she thought. She noticed the air, the strange feeling it gave. The feeling felt familiar.

Mel clenched her ethereal fist. She knew what it was—the signature magic of demons, the one that engulfed Kazu into a state of insanity back in the dungeon. It blocked stimuli, and in this case, probably Kazu’s perspective of the fight. To Kazu, it may have looked like he was doing nothing to the Lich. However, since she was a third perspective, she saw that he was doing well, even damaging the Lich several times in the countless attempts at close quarters.

It was too late. She didn’t realize the darkness took a hold of his mind. A mistake she could only blame herself.

Her figure formed back into human and her knees dropped on the ground beside Kazu. She knew only one way to remedy the situation. She needed to use that.

Mel held off healing Kazu. Her logic conflicted with her emotions. It would be fine as long as Kazu didn’t wake up before the fight finishes. A part of her wanted to heal him now instead of waiting for later, seeing his sorry state. Another part of her told her “What would he say when she sees him in that kind of form?” If she healed him, he would wake up sooner. That thought made the choice obvious.

She began laughing, at first a low hum. Her laugh grew until it filled the whole dome, dissipating the darkness. “Spouting such nonsense earlier, Lich. It was amusing. Now you’ve committed a grave sin. You know your life is already mine, right?”

Mel’s eyes glowed red. Black wings darker than the abyss spread from her back. They had no feathers and were reminiscent of a bat’s. The wings had countless mouths opening and closing, drooling and licking. It was grotesque, enough that when Riona looked at Mel’s wings, her mind numbed itself. From fear? Maybe.

Others were not so lucky. A sting in the back of the head, that’s what the Lich felt when he saw the wings. The very shape of it ate at anyone’s sanity when one’s sight took in the cavernous opening. It was something supernatural in a world of magic, something without reason nor logic, something that shouldn’t exist.

“A feast. Maybe not. For your sins, it’ll have to do.” Mel’s smile distorted with pleasure as she looked upon the lich, much like a predator looking down on its prey.

The Lich summoned hundreds of orbs and several dozens of ghouls in a panic at the cost of his remaining mana. The eye that peeked out of his robes told Mel everything she wanted to know—the eyes of the prey clawing at every chance to run away. He pointed at Mel, and the ghouls began their charge. Dust covered their part of the dome from the ghouls’ stampede.

Mel walked lightly with no ounce of fear in her eyes. Instead, her face was filled with ecstasy. When the ghouls met her, they simply disappeared into a purple mist. The mouths on her wings all expanded slightly as fluids and flesh rained upon them. A vacuum compressed the material as the wings cried for nourishment; finally, their hunger would be sated, if only for a little while. Then, in a bout of impatience, Mel dashed over to where the Lich stood, her hands molded into claws, clutching at his throat. The lich seemed to lose his faculties as the orbs simultaneously exploded in the surroundings.

The Lich laughed before saying anything. “Monster… I pale in comparison.” He coughed. “How much suffering did it take, Melcross?” the Lich asked.

“Suffering as it may, it still led me back to him,” Mel retorted, “The cost was well worth it.”

“I can only imagine the pain you’ve went through.” He coughed again and glanced at Kazu with narrowed eyes.

Mel held up his head near her and whispered into his ears, “That’s where you committed your sin,”

“Hehehe… He will still die as long as you’re beside him,” the Lich said, “I know of you, Melcross. He will not last long with you around.”

Mel slightly tightened her grip. She knew what the Lich was referring to, and she knew why the others who held her became insane. That’s why she was unsure. Would Kazu also suffer the same fate?

“Let me ask one question, Melcross,” pleaded the Lich. “For the millennia you’ve lived in this world, you’ve seen every event there is in this world’s history; with that knowledge, do you believe that the humans are worth protecting?”

“They aren’t. Of course. They’ve done many evil deeds, especially to the demon race.” Mel grinned. “But so what? As long as he is by their side, then I will also take their side.”

“Demon race. Hah.” The Lich coughed. “That’s our branded name by the humans. To them, we may be demons. To us, we are ordinary citizens of this world. We are still alive, yet the world is so cruel to us. No. The humans are cruel to us.”

“Those things don’t matter to me, and you know that Lich,” Mel commented. “Any last words?”

“Yes. I do,” the Lich answered. “Master, if you hear me, I have met an impassable being. Forgive me, I cannot complete this task. Forgive me, if this hinders the Lord’s plans.”

Mel crushed the Lich’s neck, effectively beheading him. She fed the head to her wings. The aberrant mouths greedily fought for it, and the rest of the body followed it afterwards. Then, Riona’s cage and the lingering darkness around the dome disappeared along with the Lich’s life.

The fight was clean, at least to her standards. Pieces of flesh and purple blood splattered the ground. The result was like a dozen bodies put in a blender and then sprayed back out minus the portions devoured by her wings. Mel could hear Riona vomiting in the background. Luckily, the body of her father lay near her prostrate form rather than close to the field of battle, leaving him free of the abundant gore.

But Mel’s worst nightmare came true. When she glanced back, Kazu was already awake, staring at her and her malformed wings. Her heart dropped when she saw his widened eyes, a feeling she hadn’t felt in an eternity. She didn’t know what he was thinking. Would he call her a monster? She imagined him calling her that, a voice filled with disgust and loathing. The sound echoed endlessly in her mind.

Mel wanted to run away, to teleport away. Wanted to, anyways. She couldn’t, not with the remaining energy she had left. However, just as when her thoughts was about to spiral her into depression, Kazu’s eyes softened, and a smile formed on his expression with the familiar warmth he always showed her.

“Mel, you’re not thinking of running away, are you?” Kazu panted with laboured breaths.

She was at a loss for words, wanting to say something but couldn’t. What could she say to explain the situation or her appearance? Nothing came to mind, not an ounce of an excuse.

Mel retracted her wings, and they disappeared from reality like an illusion. “You’re not scared?” Mel asked.

“Stupid.” Kazu laughed, wincing as the pain rebelled against his movement. “I’m more afraid of dying, Mel. You know why?”

“Why?” Mel asked reflexively.

Because I won’t be able to see you anymore, Kazu wanted to say as he stood up. He spread out his arms, inviting Mel for a hug, and she took it. A part of him feared Mel. The display she showed counted as abnormal even by this world’s standards. Yet the larger part of him accepted her unconditionally—he didn’t need a reason.

“It hurts you know.” Kazu commented on her tight hug.

“Ah- sorry.” Mel moved back abruptly. She raised her hand and a green glow surrounded Kazu. The rocks lodged in his chest squirmed out of his flesh and the wounds closed soon after.

“I’m keeping a lot of secrets from you, you know?” Mel said. “You’re still ok with that?”

“Its fine. You’ll tell me when you’re ready,” Kazu replied. “Besides, I’m more curious about how you heard me”

“Muu… Don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet?” Mel sighed.

“Figured out what?” Kazu looked at her curiously.

“Hah! You call me stupid, but you’re one too!” Mel grinned. “You can talk to me in like telepathy, you know!”

“Haaah? How’s that my fault?” Kazu said in an exaggerated tone. “How would I know without any hints in the first place?!”

“Hints? There were lots of hints!” Mel yelled. “Like that time when you were bonding with your family a few days before school started?!”

“That’s ridiculous! You can’t call that-”

“Children!” Sage shouted from behind. “This isn’t the time to be quarreling.”

Behind Sage, Daniel and Cynthia searched around the dome. The flesh splattered floor made them gag. The stench also distorted their faces.

“What the hell is this…?” Cynthia covered her mouth.

“There!” Daniel yelled, pointing at Riona. They ran up to her, and Cynthia tried to pick her up from the ground, but Riona shrugged off her hands. Riona continued to stare blankly at her father’s body.

“Riona?” Daniel shook her and was met with the same reaction, or rather, lack thereof.

Kazu, with Mel and Sage, stepped into the scene. He knelt down to Riona’s eye level. “Riona, he’s still alive.”

Riona swayed her head to meet Kazu’s eyes. “Don’t… don’t lie. My father, he’s not breathing.”

“It’s true, Riona Rye,” Sage butted in. “Although there is poison in his system, and he might die if not treated with an antidote.”

Riona rushed up, gripping Sage by her shoulders. “Can’t you do anything?! Like, like, like a detoxification spell! Right? You’re the kingdom’s Sage, right?!”

Sage shook her head, “The poison is a toxin and a curse.”

“Don’t tell me…” Riona’s voice trembled.

“I’m afraid so, Riona Rye.” Sage grimaced.

“Wraith’s Hand?” Kazu blurted out.

Riona’s eyes widened as she looked at Kazu. She then turned to Cynthia and Daniel, “You told him?”

“Father… no…no...” Riona collapsed back down to her father’s side, sobbing.

Riona’s sobs affected everyone. Especially Cynthia who couldn’t hold it any longer. She sat down with her friend, embracing her as well as crying with her. The tomboy now looked like an actual girl as tears began dripping down her cheeks. Daniel also started crying, but he kept his distance.

“You’re the only one to blame Riona,” Kazu stated.

“Kazu! Be quiet!” Daniel roared.

“I saw it, the look on your father’s eyes when he saw you trapped.” Kazu ignored Daniel. “Your father was the one that told me to protect you. Hired, in this case. Your father...”

“Will you not stop, Kazu?!” Cynthia shouted.

Is a great father. He was a bit misunderstood, as well as having a troublesome daughter,” Kazu continued. The sobs continued as well. “He never hated you. He really loved you. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have kept so many people around you, hoping to protect you from afar.”

“No… he really hated me…” Riona squealed.

“Family is family, Riona,” Kazu stated. “You’re his daughter. There was no way he could hate you.”

“Shut up!” Riona shouted. “A bystander like you knows nothing!”

“I know more than you,” Kazu retorted. “I was in your shoes long ago.”

“Liar…” Riona’s voice weakened. “I… I don’t.. don’t-”

“Then see for yourself. Mel.” Kazu glanced at Mel. She understood what he wanted. Why wouldn’t she? She knew him best.

Kazu kept his silence as he let Mel do her work. Actions would speak louder than words, especially now.

A mix of blue and green light swirled around Frederick’s body. Everyone understood the enormous amount of energy gathering. It wasn’t hostile nor a threat. The light was warm and serene. Then it disappeared as fast as it started.

Kazu felt Frederick’s breathing became stronger as well as the beat of his heart. Looking at Mel, he didn’t know how to thank her or show her how grateful he is.

“You’ll treat me later, okay?” Mel closed her eyes and leaned herself on Kazu. To her, the spell was a minor favour. Still, she understood it was a giant deed to the ones receiving. Especially to Kazu. She felt happy just doing him a favour.

Frederick’s eyes slowly opened. He saw Riona, her daughter, crying beside him as he laid on the ground. His hands reached up to her cheeks and brushed the tears away. A gentle smile floated across his face as he wordlessly comforted his daughter. He fell back unconscious soon after.

“Father…” Riona’s eyes widen as if she had come to a realization. She cried louder, embracing her father. “I’m sorry... I’m sorry…”

“A cursed sword with the highest holy spells. The irony, right Melcross?” Sage snickered. “Philip Nemean. I’ve already healed you. Stop playing dead. Hurry up and come here.”

“Tch, can’t a man get rest once in a while.” Philip stood up. His armour no longer looked majestic. The fight dirtied it, quite literally.

“Before we talk, let’s move to another place.” Sage swept a gaze on the field, before beginning her path to the exit. “The stench here is unbearable.”

“Yes, Sage…” Philip responded, signaling everyone to follow before scooping up Frederick.

“Oh and one more thing.” Sage stopped in her tracks. “Once we get back, put the PA facilities on lock down and begin decontamination.”

“A man really can’t get rest, huh.” Philip glanced at Kazu who shrugged in response.

Really late chapter! Exams are finished and I now have 2 weeks off.
Thanks for reading. Comments and criticisms are welcomed!
As always, thanks to SilentComfort for editting!

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