Aethernea ★ Episode 152 – Last Resort
Scotty the scout nodded in confirmation and his muscular brown arms rose up as if he was molding something invisible.
Grass ran his left hand through his green crew cut while pointing towards Nelaira with his right hand. Following his signal, a fresh set of arrowheads came whizzing from his belt.
Expecting Nelaira to use a ground attack, all three of the men kept their eyes glued on her as they rose into the air. They were unable to spread their mind out due to the risk of Ink contamination, however, they had still caught subtle signs of her mana drilling into the ground.
Nelaira completely ignored Grass and Scotty, charging towards Lorafiel with no poise, her bloodshot eyes never leaving his form. She would occasionally morph ice shields to block the arrowheads, but otherwise, she paid the duo no attention.
Unlike Grass who was quick to start his offense, Scotty seemed to be weaving something more intricate for his attack still hadn't appeared.
Little did they know that their assumption was completely off the mark.
Since he was most proficient at Morph which he was using to scout, Scotty had intended to Morph the ground to stop Nelaira's approach. However, his magic had failed to activate. His nostrils flared, and his eyes bulged as he tried again to no avail.
Something… wasn't quite right…!
If his magic failed once, he would assume that it was because Nelaira already had a spell active on the part of the ground he wished to target. But failing twice…? Did she perhaps extend the radius of her mage armor?
He had no chance to ponder the issue further because, at that moment, Nelaira who was charging straight towards Lorafiel suddenly made a sharp turn.
And at that exact moment, the entire battle, too, made a sharp turn.
The entire valley started to shake, raising white snow and dust into the air. Completely concealing Nelaira and the snowy surface of the valley under white mist.
The trio was stunned for a brief moment, but due to the years of training, they recovered a moment later.
"Hmph" Grass grunted in displeasure. "Useless tricks."
He quickly accelerated the air around him and directed it downwards. He was kicking up a storm to blow away the mist and reveal Nelaira's position.
Yet, when the mist cleared what greeted the trio was a flat snowy ground with no Nelaira in sight.
"She hid herself underground." Lorafiel clicked his tongue. "Scotty, scout her out. Let's see how long she can continue to hide."
Scotty spread his mana out, channeling it into the ground. Since they couldn't use their mana sense, he would need to do a large area of effect Morph and feel the ground underneath them.
Yet, no matter how he tried, his Morph wouldn't activate.
No matter where he placed his spell roots, his spell still wouldn't solidify.
"How is it?" Lorafiel shot him a questioning glance.
Scotty stayed silent for a moment before erupting into a loud swearing fit. "I can't feel anything! The entire ground is already under her Morph!!"
Lorafiel's calm face morphed into a grimace. "So that's why she had been stalling us. She was weaving a large-scale Morph spell…"
He rubbed his chin in thought. "If you can't set up a Morph spell, then set up some other spell that doesn't interfere with her Morph."
With his mouth pressed into a thick line, Scotty glanced bitterly towards Lorafiel. "All transmutation spells used for sensing the terrain are Morph based…"
Lorafiel closed his eyes and rubbed his temples in exasperation. "Use your brain. We don't need to sense the terrain, we just need to sense her presence. Even using a wide scale Temperature spell would be enough to sense a temperature difference between snow and a living elibu."
"I can't use augmentation magic." Scotty retorted. He then turned to Grass as if to say, "He is an argel, he can use Temperature."
Grass put his hands up and refuted. "You can't sense someone by using Temperature. You wouldn't be able to weave spell roots close enough to them to be able to feel their temperature."
Lorafiel took off his monocle to wipe it clean even though it was already spotless, a clear sign that he was getting frustrated. "That was an example. And if you can't cast the spell in an area, then obviously that area is where she is. Who cares about her temperature?"
"Ooooh" Grass and Scotty let out a sigh of understanding.
Lorafiel put his monocle back on and looked at Grass expectedly.
The bulky man seemed to shrink as he mumbled: "I'm not good at wide area-of-effect spells… and if my spell is too slow and small scale, by the time I am done scanning the entire area she could have just reallocated to an area I've already scanned previously…"
He had a point. Lorafiel let out a long sigh and turned to Scotty.
"Can you hear any movement from below?" He stared at Scotty's long elibu ears as if waiting for them to start rotating like windmill blades.
"No, not with all this chatter." Noticing that the two stopped talking and were watching him expectedly, Scotty hastily added: "…nor from this distance."
Lorafiel let out a frustrated exhale. "Then go closer."
Heavens, he never realized how hard it was to effectively control a team. Nelaira made it look easy. Only now did he realize just how much thought had to be put into every single command.
It really made him appreciate her all the more. There was a good reason why she managed to become a lieutenant even though she wasn't a loyalist. Truly, it was such a pity that she had to die.
Scotty didn't move.
"What are you waiting for? An invitation?" Lorafiel was starting to lose patience.
"The whole ground is under her control," Scotty complained.
"Yes, we've been over this," Lorafiel sighed again.
"If I put my ear to the ground she can kill me in an instant…"
"Then don't put it near the ground!" Lorafiel's voice turned a pitch higher as he pointed his index finger towards Scotty. "Just do something! Anything! Don't you know any transmutation spells other than Morph? Transmute ice into water, conjure flames, just do something for heaven's sake!"
Although the trio couldn't spread their minds to locate her in fear of getting tainted, that didn't apply to Nelaira. Since she had already been tainted, she need not fear her mind touching Ink.
They were blind, but she could see both them and their spells clearly.
Being able to use her mana sense again was liberating. Like a short-sighted person that had put on glasses. No, it was more exaggerated, like finally opening one's eyes after a long sleep.
With her mind locked on them, they had no chance at finding her position. Especially because she wasn't laying in wait, no, she was quickly making her way towards the exit of the valley.
Clouded by rage, she had indeed lost her reason for a moment there, but it was only for a moment. Soon after she remembered her plan. Only by careful preparation would she be able to achieve her aims.
She wasn't a fool, fighting bravely was exactly what they wanted her to do. To fight and die in vain.
And while she really, really wanted to beat them up, she had to force herself to do the exact opposite. She had to run. She had to hide.
All in order to live and make them regret everything.
While she wanted nothing more than to tear Lorafiel apart, she was in no condition to fight. Her body was on the verge of collapse, and her mind was getting more sluggish by the second.
She would probably lose her consciousness before long.
With her mind getting hazier by the minute, her spell casting speed and weaving ability were rapidly degrading.
Luckily she was a Helyot, raised in a family of architects in order to become an architect. Doing large scale construction and destruction through Morph was what she was raised to do.
She might not be able to fight effectively, but at least she could shift the ground aside slowly to make an underground path.
Run, hide, rest and recuperate. That was the plan.
Hopefully her mind would clear back up soon enough, otherwise, the trio might decide to stop chasing after her and teleport back.
It was ok if she wasn't in a battling condition; as long as she managed to set up an ambush and steal their Beacon, she would have a few more days to recover and deal with them one by one.
She would then return for Luki, Aurel, and the bodies of her other fallen comrades.
Hopefully, Luki and Aurel will manage to survive until then.
If they were still alive in the first place.
The pit was too deep so when she tried to stretch her mind inside she was unable to reach the bottom.
Nelaira's vision had already turned completely black, but she still continued to stumble in the dark tunnel created by her own Morph.
She tried to feel the surroundings with her mana sense, but everything was one big blur. Her mind was too hazy to concentrate, too painful to think. She could no longer sense Lorafiel and the others, or anything at all.
Her mind was quickly turning just as dark as her vision.
Her legs have long given out, forcing her to use her flying boots in order to escape. But now she couldn't even control her boots properly.
Her flying form wavered and then she slumped onto the ground.
Her lungs felt like they were on fire, her breathing short and labored.
Somewhere along the way, she had lost the ability to conjure oxygen, but she must have conjured enough of it previously for the air in the tunnel wasn't stuffy.
She figured that if she never woke up again, the cause for it certainly won't be suffocation.
With the last of her consciousness, she relinquished the control of her Morph spell, turning it into a useless enchantment. She wasn't sure she'd be able to keep it up after fainting, so it was safer to make it self- sustained.
Hopefully, the mana powering the spell would allow it to be sustained until she woke up. Otherwise, if it failed, the trio might be able to locate her hiding place.
No sooner had she relinquished her control than her consciousness fell into a deep slumber.
Nelaira didn't know how long she had laid there on the hard ground. Her body was chillingly cold. Her limbs had turned stiff and she had trouble moving them.
Her uniform had rather good heat insulation properties, so she wouldn't freeze to death in a short amount of time, but the cold was nonetheless, rather uncomfortable.
Perhaps the source of this chill wasn't the gentle snow around her, but rather the Ink running through her veins. She felt like her blood was about to freeze. Like the chill was coming from inside out.
Her body felt a bit better, she could breathe a bit more easily now and she didn't feel the extreme weakness in her limbs.
Her mind slowly returned from the darkness, but no matter how she tried, she couldn't lift the perpetual haze around it.
Her mind ran all over the place, seemingly without her control. Feverish, stuck in between sleep and wakefulness.
All kinds of strange thoughts occurred to her, she even chuckled at the irony of it all. The irony of how instead of being tainted by a Tainted, she had been tainted by her comrades. It was them that pushed her into that pool of Ink.
It's alright. It'll be alright. She muttered to herself. I'll deal with those three and then… and then…
And then what? Save Aurel and Luki?
Ah, but they are already dead. A little voice whispered her fears right next to her ear.