Episode 149 – Sacrifice
“I’ll halt its movement.” Nelaira yelled to the comrade with the orange-green crew cut who was controlling the arrowheads. “Finish it off!”
And then, just as the Tainted was upon Laica, Nelaira’s aura exploded.
Her maximum mana channeling speed had always been higher than Laica’s. When Nelaira disregarded her own safety, the aura flare she could produce was significantly brighter than Laica’s.
The creature suddenly felt another bright torch of life in its dark world. One that was even more enticing than the one it was chasing. Attracted by the waves of mana battering against it, the monster instinctively halted its chase.
The arrowheads floating above it immediately capitalized on this brief window of opportunity. They slammed into the remains of its brain, turning it into a paste.
However, the remaining Purgers didn’t even have the time to let out a breath of relief before the previously still corpse started convulsing violently.
Its limbs flayed around with such speed that only blurry shadows could be seen.
Its tail was especially vicious as it whipped around, looking as if it would slice through space itself.
It cut through the air pushing slices of air outwards into countless wind blades.
Volatile as the wind itself, they whizzed in all directions, shredding anything in its vicinity.
The wind blades caught Laica by surprise. She was too close to the epicenter of the attack, having no time to exit the attack range.
Even dodging them was hard enough, leaving little time for evasive maneuvers. She could only shrink her body to minimize the number of attacks she would take and hope that she could shift her body enough to dodge the majority of the blades.
She was about to bring her arms and legs towards her torso when suddenly her eyes landed on Luki.
He was raising from the darkness of the hole in front of her with Aurel on his back.
He had managed to activate his flying boots in time.
Just in time to be caught in the monster’s dying attack.
Laica didn’t freeze up.
Her body didn’t curl up.
Nor did she put up her arms in defense.
She faced Luki and spread her arms out wide.
Her back ramrod straight, her slim form stood valiantly in front of the two blocking the path of the air blades.
Using her flesh to shield and her life to protect what was dearest to her.
Nelaira’s heart stopped and her yell got caught in her throat.
But time waited for no one.
And before she could do anything, before her mind could come to terms with the events unfolding in front of her, everything was already over.
Laica’s uniform split open, shredded into pieces, revealing her skin that was no longer pale white but instead glaringly red.
Slowly, shakily, she flew towards Luki and Aurel, her flying form wavering, slowly dropping closer and closer to the ground.
Luki flew towards her, but he, who had his hands full with Aurel, couldn’t even reach out a hand to support her.
He wasn’t even close enough to crunch and let her fall onto his shoulder.
It was only a few steps away, but all he could do was stare as she fell forwards.
The twitching tail of the Tainted let out several more air blades and then stilled.
A final large air blade hit Laica’s falling form.
But this blade was too wide for Laica to fully block it.
She managed to block the middle with her back, but the air forming the tips of the slash whizzed past her body, towards Luki.
Luki attempted to use his arms to block but since he was using his arms to hold Aurel, he was unable to block in time.
The two small slices reached him, one cut into the left side of his chest and shoulder, another into his right shin.
He was pushed backward, away from the edge of the hole, away from Laica.
A large tear appeared in his uniform, going straight through his breast pocket.
From the pocket fell out two bloodstained halves of a picture.
They floated away in the wind.
One side flew towards the gory mess left of the Tainted.
Another flew towards Nelaira’s rushing figure.
She seemed to be yelling something but he couldn’t make out what.
Black spots appeared in Luki’s vision, his mind buzzing. Unconsciously, he urged his boots to fly forwards, towards the edge.
He was so close to the edge.
But, instead of going forwards, he felt himself falling backward.
His gaze fell down to his own flying boots.
Where there was another large gash, almost splitting his right boot in two.
Laica laid weakly in the snow, her rapidly dimming gaze locked onto the two falling forms in front of her.
Her arm shakily twitched forwards, trying its utmost to extend towards, to grab onto the two blurry figures.
Her hand grabbed onto empty air.
Her eyes could no longer see anything apart from darkness.
Yet, she refused to close them.
She hoped that in the next second the darkness would lift.
That she would be able to see the handsome face of her husband again.
Or perhaps hear his warm laugh.
Yes, just like that… The corners of her mouth curled weakly upwards. She could really hear it.
“Alright, alright, don’t be grumpy Evin. I promise, after this mission, we’ll ask for time off. We’ll have some family time, the three of us. How about it? We can go visit Arena City together, that’s where you always wanted to go, right?”
A blotch of red spread out in all directions.
Laica’s hand froze in its tracks, stuck reaching out, yet forever unable to grab onto Aurel.
Her unfocused gaze stuck staring into empty space, forever unable to see Aurel.
Stained in red, one half of a picture floated in the air like a feather, looking as carefree as the smiling small pink and teal heads occupying it.
The small round heads looked like a flock of tiwis cuddling together happily.
The other half of the picture was unable to fly as long due to the heavy blood soaking it, thus it fell.
Luki’s wide grin could be seen dropping into the pool of black blood.
And then, as if it had touched fire, the picture curled up.
The tendrils of Ink spread turning it completely black.
A moment later, when the wind caused by Nelaira’s rushing form reached it, it disintegrated into nothing.
Her best friend lied face first on the ground in a pool of her own blood, countless cuts covering every inch of her back.
Nelaira’s vision turned blurry with unshed tears but she didn’t stop to wipe them.
Nor did she turn away her gaze from the ghastly sight.
As she approached, her mind ran sluggishly, like she trying to run through a bog. She was unable to decide whether she should jump into the hole to save falling Luki and Aurel, or to stop Laica’s bleeding.
Then she heard a soft thump from the hole.
It was distant and hollow.
Like something had hit the bottom.
Nelaira’s legs gave out and she fell to her knees into the blood-stained snow next to Laica.
Her hands shook as she tried to stop the bleeding.
There was so much blood everywhere. She didn’t know where to start.
Ba-dum… ba-dum… ba-dum
In the silent world of snow, her long ears picked up Laica’s slowing heartbeat.
Ba-dum … Ba-dum
The blood pool spreading in all directions slowed down its spread.
Slower and slower.
And then it stopped.
And then, there was just silence in the blood-stained, frozen world
Nelaira’s fingers stiffened and she tried hard to remember how to conjure electricity. Did she ever learn the spell pattern for that?
Her thoughts were interrupted when she felt a weight on her shoulder.
She turned her head and noticed her corporal’s hand on her shoulder.
She looked up only to see him shaking his head. The golden chain tying his monocle to his uniform swung left and right, the bright gleam distracting her sluggish mind.
“With so many deep cuts it takes mere seconds for one to bleed out.” He elaborated patiently.
“More the reason why I should act fast!” Nelaira’s voice cracked. Her head jerked back to Laica. “Her bleeding has slowed down; if we can get her heart to start beating again…”
“The reason why her bleeding has slowed down”, Lorafiel interrupted, “is because there is nothing left to bleed out. Which is also, why her heart stopped in the first place.”
Nelaira’s body trembled as she sat there paralyzed, her mind blank.
Just two minutes before they were celebrating.
Two minutes ago all ten of them were perfectly alive and healthy.
Two minutes and 6 lives, gone, just like that.
Her best friend.
Gone, just like that.
Nelaira’s shaking hands caressed Laica’s pale face gently, closing her empty eyes.
Her skin color had always been on the pale, translucent side, but this deathly pallor could no longer be called a “color”.
She was simply as pale as the snow around them.
Her skin was so very cold.
With Thayn blood running through her veins, Laica’s skin had never been cold. Even in the dead of winter, even if she didn’t use any magic to keep herself warm, her skin had never been cold.
Let alone so cold.
Nelaira’s eyes stung, her chest painfully constricted.
She felt something warm sliding down her cheeks and suddenly her body jolted.
She scrambled to her feet, scurrying towards the pit as if preparing to jump straight in.
“What are you doing?” A strong arm grabbed her by her and pulled her backward.
Nelaira stumbled back, slipped and fell onto her behind.
Her eyes fell onto the paper stuck in the snow next to her. Surrounded by the whiteness it looked as if it absorbed all the color in the world.
It was filled with life, filled with laughter and happiness. Those pink and teal heads stared at her with large innocent eyes.
“What are you doing? Luki and Aurel might be alive down there!” She growled, her voice hoarse, and tried to get back on her feet.
“Falling from such height… I doubt it.” A tall frame stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
True, Luki’s spell casting speed had never been fast. His impeccable spell control was what set him apart from others, not casting speed.
But no matter how small the chance was, Nelaira wouldn’t let it go. “We can’t just assume, as long as there is a chance…”
“Even if by some miracle they did survive, they have already come in contact with the insides of the pit.” Lorafiel sighed regretfully.
Nelaira looked up to lock eyes with Lorafiel Talath, their corporal and archeologist. At the moment, the golden frame of his monocle was more glaring to her eyes than the pure white snow.
“Don’t you realize it? That’s where the Tainted had slept for hundreds of years. The place is no doubt filled with Ink.”
Nelaira’s heart chilled.
If the pit was tainted, then even if Luki had reacted in time, he wouldn’t have been able to use the surroundings to slow down or soften the fall.
The scariest thing about Ink wasn’t how it corroded flesh, but how it corroded magic.
If flesh was the only thing it could devour, then one would have thousands of ways of stopping it.
But without magic, how were they to stop it?
“Even if they are alive, they have been tainted.”
Lorafiel’s words hit Nelaira as hard as a brick.
She knew that. She just didn’t want to voice it out loud.
“To risk contamination just to confirm the death of two fallen comrades is foolish.”
Nelaira bit her lip until she tasted blood. “So, you are saying we should just leave them there?!”
Lorafiel didn’t speak for several seconds.
“They wouldn’t want you to risk your own life like this.”