As she tightened the blue scarf around her neck, Ata wrestled the words out of her mouth. “Isn’t he Element Artist?”
There was no reply came but Ata understood the implicit confirmation from the stern faces of her teammates.
“Gor, the orders stated that we shouldn’t pursue the enemies. Do we flee?” Viore asked while she unknowingly stroked the silver snake ring on her right ring finger. As she waited for a reply, she heaved and noticed her breath was raspy, and it came to her understanding that her mouth was parched, so parched that her tongue was like a flower that had suffered the courtship of a hundred suns.
“The girl…we’ll attack her,” Gor said. “Viore, you’re in charge of offense. Ata will support. I’ll defend.”
“But the orders!” Viore protested, but was harshly put in her place with an austere stare from Gor.
“You think we can flee with them on our back?” Gor hissed amid clenched teeth. It was not often he would be agitated like this.
While the trio planned, Westin and Myrine scrutinized them. There was the old man dressed in a coat, Gor. There were also two women: the one with a blue scarf was Ata, and the one with a pink scarf and a silver snake ring was Viore.
“Sister,” Westin said. “They said they’d attack you.”
“They think I’m the weakest link,” Myrine replied indifferently. She had already seen many people who judged her as weak. “Maybe I should show them what I think?”
“And what is it that you’re thinking?”
“That I’m an elite. Don’t ask the obvious.”
“What?” Westin laughed. “On second thought, how about you just let me take them, Miss Elite?”
A gust swept across the battlefield and Viore dashed forward. Each step of hers kicked snow into the air and as her pink scarf undulated, she whipped out a long chain from her silver snake ring. Behind her, Ata followed while Gor stayed behind.
“Star Flare,” Westin said.
Unruly flames blazed out from thin air and whirled into seven bloated fireballs, glaring a bright orange. With a snap, the fireballs raced toward Viore and Ata. Quickly, Viore whipped the incoming fireballs but she failed to extinguish them; behind her, Ata struggled to keep close while dodging. But just when the fireballs were close to collision, hands of snow arose from the ground and engulfed them.
“Is that old man an ice user?” Myrine asked.
Westin shook his head. “A snow user. We’ve got real bad luck to run into him in Avalsnow Land. Not to mention, he’s canny to focus on pure defense.” Having said that, Westin dashed off to halt the advance of Viore and Ata.
Myrine smiled to herself at the sight of the firm concentration of Gor. “Gor…I’ve never heard of him,” she said. “He’s indeed smart to choose pure defense. Did he realize that brother would’ve barbecued his comrades immediately if he’d tried to attack—even once?” She then looked to Westin, whom was nonchalantly avoiding the attacks of Viore. “She’s using the chain to restrict brother so that Ata can close in and hit him. Ata probably only needs one hit to manifest the potential of her ability. But is that all?”
Thick clouds circumnavigated watchfully above the cold firmament. In their hands, they held a ginormous load of snow. Due to its weight, their knees ached and their arms throbbed. But it was finally ending. In a moment of cathartic surrender, the clouds relaxed their muscles and loosened their grips, and from the gates of heaven, a looming colossal mass of snow outpoured.
“It’s a stalemate now,” Myrine thought. “Although it looks like they’re seriously attacking, they’re buying time. Are they stalling until the avalanche arrives to escape? No, they’re fighting us because they’d decided that there was no way to escape. What’re they planning?”
“Viore, Ata, come back!” Gor shouted with urgency. This broke the deep mulling of Myrine and she did the same.
“It’s okay. I’ll manage,” Westin shouted.
Fireballs flew from Westin to the retreating Viore but hands of snow caught them. By now, the avalanche hung perilously over the battlefield, yet Westin did not return to Myrine, whom was inside a diamond blue barrier in the shape of a pyramid. Instead, he used Concept Craft: Water Scythe.
With his fingers stretched open, the snow around Westin receded in harmony, thawing into puddles of water and amassing into tendrils, and then acting like some charmed snakes, they rose and swirled into his hands to fashion a scythe. Now armed, Westin recklessly pursued Viore: he picked up his stride and his arms swung hard in turn, to the front and back, and then with a gust collected at his feet, Westin blasted himself into the air and crossed several meters in the blink of an eye. The cold air kissed his face harshly and threatened to claw his skin raw, but he ignored the chilly warning since he was too consumed by his own palpable bloodlust, and with that beastly instinct, he curved the scythe down and sank its seemingly feeble blade into the chest of Viore, gashing it open like the cracking of chest in a surgery; when he wrenched the scythe out, blood splashed and glistened like precious rubies in the air, and some soaked into the pink scarf, drenching it sanguinary.
Westin sneered at Viore as she groaned, and in response, she manifested three more chains with each groomed like an unappeasable snake that struck with no pause. However, Westin was proficient and by spinning his scythe, he parried the onslaught.
“Get back here!” Gor shouted and Viore awoke from her wrath. Shelving her vengeance, she retreated, only to discover that she could not—having been anchored in place.
“Water Chain,” Westin said and more chains of water shackled over the body of Viore. And by blasting out a gust from his feet, he promptly retreated into the barrier of Myrine, with his scythe in hand and a smirk smeared on his face.
The avalanche crashed onto the battlefield—crushing a barrier, a dome of snow, and Viore—with its mountainous weight.
The darkness in the barrier lifted from the flame hovering over the hand of Westin. “Sister, are you okay?”
“Of course, who do you think I am?” Myrine said. And her hand waved over the barrier, shaping it from a pyramid to a cone. Then, she raised the barrier and stabbed through the copious snow that sat on them to emerge back at ground level. “Brother, where’re they?”
Westin stepped off from the barrier and onto the snow. “Viore is dead,” he said. “And there’s one person in a dome of snow.”
“Just one person?”
The ground exploded with spikes of snow and both Westin and Myrine reacted concurrently: Westin wrapped himself in a column of water and shot to the sky, while Myrine jumped and landed on a barrier plate that she had formed with Heaven Stairway.
“Sister, that old man—” Westin said.
“I know,” Myrine interrupted, “he assimilated with the snow. But you can win right?”
“Not by using snow or even water. Get ready for—”
“Fire? Explosions? I’ll be in my Diamond Safe House so feel free to turn the heat up. Just be quick as we’re quite late.”
Myrine dropped from the barrier plate and onto the snow ground. At that instance, two huge hands of snow, one on each side, enclosed her. But she was unconcerned. Using Diamond Safe House, she materialized a diamond blue barrier that was in the shape of a dome. As the hands of snow hammered at her barrier, she shot a furtive look at Westin, which prompted him to use Star Flare. Multiple fireballs sprung out from thin air and shot like brilliant comets at the hands of snow, inevitably hitting the barrier and exploding. The hands melted while the barrier shook, albeit without visible damage.
“Sorry!” Westin shouted. “Are you okay?”
“Of course. Who do you think I am?” Myrine said. “But besides that…were you trying to help me or break my barrier?”
Westin laughed wryly since he had no proper answer. As he withstood the sharp stare of Myrine, he glimpsed a white form that rocketed at him and he realized that he was in trouble.
In actuality, Myrine had flashed Westin a look when the hands of snow attacked her. And being her brother, Westin easily grasped her clandestine message: Gor was averting the attention of Westin to Myrine so that he could attack him. But as Westin was 30 meters above ground, he thought that there would be enough time to react to an abrupt attack and he took the bait to tempt Gor to reveal himself.
Before Westin could glean the situation, Gor had already reached him and froze the column of water that extended from the snow ground to his waist. With a sword of snow in his hand, Gor hacked.
“Footch!” Westin shouted. But because he remembered to keep close to Myrine, she shielded him in time with Firvenge.
A silver shield with a black, two-horned dragon head on its front materialized.
“Vengeful Breath Style: Sleeping Dragon,” Myrine said, just as a sonorous clang rang out from the clash of shield and sword.
The dragon head glowed a burning red and with no warning, it spat fire at Gor and he crumbled into amorphous snow. But Westin was not finished with Gor. Using Storm Refuge, he caused the cold wind to encircle him and it caught his amorphous body like gentle hands. Gor was appalled; he had been trapped in a sphere of gyrating wind. Frantically, he pushed the wall of wind with his hands of snow, while the wind howled and grounded his hands into specks.
Westin clothed himself in flames and the ice that held him from the waist down shattered. Floating in the air, he started to amass a huge amount of viger and a magic circle sprung out from his feet, just as Gor seethed within the prison of wind, his eyes locked onto the shield that had thwarted his effort.
Westin noticed this and said, “Even if my sister hadn’t protected me with Firvenge, you still wouldn’t have been able to hit me since I was going to use Phoenix Flight.” And with a wave of his hand, he said, “Pilgrimage of the Hell Serpent.”
A flaming serpent instantly spouted from the snow ground and swallowed Gor into its fiery bowels, and inside it, Gor recalled its fervid eyes, calescent fangs, and flickering tongue.
“Argh!” Gor screamed.
The pain was intolerable and Gor distracted himself with the taste of smoke from his throat, the sizzling of his eyes, and the boiling of his body. But it was futile; the pain was torturous—insurmountable. Finally, as his body incinerated, Gor felt the mercy of death kissed him on the forehead and lethargy spread over him, and in this sweet moment, his eyes closed from the unendurable fatigue and his life snuffed out without struggle.
Westin landed beside Myrine, whom had removed her barrier.
“That was tremendously hot,” Myrine said.
“You’re an elite, you can take it.” Westin reminded playfully.
“I couldn’t have said it better, thank you—”
Abruptly, from a fair distance away, the ground erupted like a wrathful volcano and snow spewed. Among the powders of snow, Ata stood with her blue scarf wrapped tightly around her neck and from her slim figure, viger brimmed. The viger acted like a skin-tight garment, hugging close to her skin, and with it, she was bestowed with a bursting amount of strength. Usually, she would not use this spell since it had a long cast time. However, with careful planning by Gor, her team was able to exploit the avalanche to buy time for her to prepare it.
“Surprised?” Ata asked.
“I knew there was something going on,” Myrine said and Westin questioned her. “Gor was a snow user so he must’ve been able to sense the presence of the avalanche. That was why they were more on the defensive: to buy time until the avalanche. They wanted to use it as a cover—”
“So that she could prepare this spell while hidden!” Westin said, slightly agitated. “That was why Gor fought us by himself!”
“That’s right,” Ata confirmed.
Westin pondered and said, “Your ability uses viger to reinforce the body. With your high power, you were trying to sneak in one hit while Viore was limiting my movement, weren’t you? You needed only one hit to significantly damage me.” The deduction by Westin elicited a smile from Ata, which was followed by an intensifying bloodlust.
Westin stepped up to receive the challenge but Myrine held him back. With one look, he understood her concern over his safety and allowed her to step in front of him.
“Ata, I’ll be the one to fight you,” Myrine said. “Color Medicine: Red Pill.” A red pill appeared on her palm and she popped it into her mouth.
“You?” Ata asked. “You don’t look strong.”
“That’s because an idiot couldn’t possibly recognize an elite.”
Myrine dug her feet into the snow ground and exerted strength upon her thighs. When she had flexed the fingers on her right hand and firmed them, the energy within her thighs exploded and she was launched several meters across the field of snow, like a petite fairy performing a grand jeté; however, the dainty appearance was immediately marred by her incisive bloodlust. Ata tensed. She instinctively held her arms over her chest and stepped back, just as Myrine jabbed her four fingers into her chest like fine scalpels and fractured two of her ribs, stopping merely inches away from her heart. But Myrine was not yet finished. She fluidly anchored her left foot into the snow and twisted her body clockwise, ripping her fingers out of the chest of Ata, and then turning a full circle, she returned to face Ata with her right foot in the air, and she kicked hard into her stomach and sent her rolling back in the snow, drowning with the taste of blood in her mouth.
“Just to let you know,” Myrine said, “you’re not the only one who can raise physical status. Color Medicine allows me to do the same. It was beyond stupidity that your team would assume me to be some weak little girl. If I were to fight my brother, Element Artist—”
“I’d win,” Westin interrupted.
“—no, brother! Both of us would stand equal chances of winning because I’m not any weaker than you!”
“I was just joking!”
The eyes of Ata burned a ravenous flicker against the white landscape and her rage flared. She could not believe that the little girl in front of her was so strong; however, she had to, especially with her chest stinging and her stomach wrenching. Now, she was examining Myrine with a fresh perspective.
“On second thought,” Myrine said, “brother, she’s yours. You need to practice with these types of opponents,”
“For what?” Westin asked.
“Don’t you want to beat Crest?”
“Don’t make it sound like I always lose to him.”
“You mean you don’t?”
“Because you two—”
“Alright! Don’t bring that up.”
The white fluffy snow melted around the feet of Westin and collected into his hand, where it was fashioned into a scythe. As he rotated it, he dashed forward and fireballs spread out around him and shot at Ata. However, she dodged them all and ran straight at Westin and both of them clashed. Westin maneuvered his scythe with precision while she blocked with her hands that were coated with viger. This went on for a few seconds with neither of them backing down, until Westin jumped backward and threw the scythe at her, which she struck and scattered into droplets of water. Instantly, the droplets of water gravitated toward her neck up, forming a ball of water around her head. Ata widened her eyes and hurriedly held her breath, just as she noticed chains of water crawling over her body from the snow. She was locked in place.
“Concept Craft: Earth Knuckle,” Westin said.
Westin spread his hands out and from thin air, chunks of earth was conjured and they fitted onto his hands like a pair of bulky gloves. Armed, he sprinted at Ata, whom had her hands bound by chains, and he smashed his right fist into her stomach. Ata retched slightly and spat out bubbles into the ball of water. She had sustained only minimal damage, having blocked by channeling viger to her stomach. Thinking she was safe for the time being, she thrashed about in a violent attempt to loose herself. However, the lack of damage did not deter Westin and he continued to smash his heavy fists into her stomach, causing her to spit out more bubbles. It was then that Ata finally understood the severity of the situation. She quickly contracted her diaphragm to endure the unrelenting assault of punches. Each was heavy and fast and although she sustained only minimal damage with each hit, every precious volume of breath was being forced out of lungs. Soon, she was left with only a gasp and she gambled it. She gathered viger at her throat and screamed out a deafening cry, and the ball of water burst, just as the eardrums of Westin ruptured and his abilities unraveled: the knuckles crumbled and the chains splashed. Hastily, Westin retreated with a gust at his feet, accidentally landing head first from the vertigo. Ata sprinted toward him as he struggled to pick himself up amid the pain that shrieked in his ears. She was fast approaching him with a vendetta that had only one conclusion—one crude chop from his nape down.
Westin could tell where Ata was—even with his head spinning. He had sensed her movement with the snow. Raising his right hand, he formed a gigantic flaming skull with eye sockets that burned like a furnace. It cracked open its jaws and a heave of sweltering air burst out.
“Fire Ghost Head,” Westin said.
The flaming skull zoomed at Ata and slurped up the surrounding snow but she did not slow her speed; she held her fist back and punched a hole through it. The flames from the skull lost their form—nearly extinguishing in the frigid air.
“Star Flare,” Westin said.
The remaining flames gathered into five fireballs and sped at Ata—and all five of them hit her. Explosions boomed and she flew into the air, landing onto the snow with her body smoking. However, she sustained only minimal damage since she had reinforced the viger over her body.
Ata got up with wobbly legs and leaden arms. She was tired from using so much viger to block. Gathering the viger around her body to her legs, she crossed the distance between her and Westin with a few leaps and at the last leap, the viger from her legs sped up to her balled up fists that were as pale as the stretch of snow around her.
“Phoenix Flight,” Westin said.
And as if on a day of coronation when the sun had set and the sky was torched in ardent orange, Westin draped over his shoulders a kingly robe of flames that extended to the snow ground, and in that instant, he was royalty and his eloquence was mesmerizing, so much that even the flames were swayed and when he commanded them to put an end to the impudence of Ata, they obeyed like obsequious subjects.
Around Westin and Ata, snow boiled into vapor and Ata fell onto the stone ground because the snow ground had evaporated. A shrill cry escaped her and interjected the roar of the flames but it quickly cut off; the flames had rent her throat.
“I’ll kill you…” The barely audible cry escaped the hoarse throat of Ata but the words were flavorful as they poured out from her chapped lips. Even with Westin deaf at the moment, he had seen many others who had made this threat so he understood. Also, the stare that Ata held within her eyes had left little room for guesswork.
At the side, Myrine watched with tacit approval. The flames were eating away at the viger that protected Ata and patches of swollen red were branded all over her, etched beyond the surface of her skin, into her flesh, and then bones. But with death knocking, Ata saw a glimmer of hope. If she were doomed to die, she would clutch tightly to the young boy in front of her—and bring him with her. Suddenly, the viger that had so stubbornly clung to her body receded to gather at her right arm, and she rotated her hip while the flames slathered their tongue over her singeing flesh and crunched her bones. And she punched.
“Footch!” Westin shouted and drew his arms over his chest, only to hear a feeble and fragile crack.
A blistering force had jetted out of the fist of Ata and it blew apart the robe of fire that had enveloped Westin. It was so intense that even his arms and ribs shattered.
Westin flew up into the sky from the force of the punch while Ata crashed onto the snow ground as a flaming skeleton. The battle was over.
“You caught me?” Westin asked.
“Yes,” Myrine said, “with my barrier. I wasn’t interested to run after you.”
“Next time make your barrier softer, sister. My back hurts.”
“Don’t be whiny. And haven’t you realized? I healed your deafness.”
“Oh yes, you did! Thanks!” The bones of Westin started to jolt rhythmically and he tensed. “Argh, that fucking bitch!”
“I’ll be ignoring the filth that poured out from your mouth. Come on, arms out.” Myrine started to prod the arms of her brother. “They’re smashed into bits. What happened?”
“You didn’t see?”
“More like I couldn’t. Your flames were too bright.”
“She’d concentrated all her viger on her right hand to punch out a shockwave. I blocked with my arms but they broke—and even my ribs broke.”
Myrine lifted the shirt of Westin and saw that his chest was bruised and a few bones jutted out from his side, pulling at his skin. “She was smart,” she said. “Not many can remain calm and assess the situation. She realized she was going to die and she wanted to bring you down.”
“She was desperate for my company.”
“Gross. You could’ve died if you hadn’t blocked. Look, your arms are in pieces. Imagine if that shockwave had hit you squarely in the chest.” Myrine shook her head. “Anyway, you should put some ice on them. They’re beginning to swell.”
“They’re already swollen.”
“This is just the start. They’re going to get bigger, so put some ice to reduce”—Myrine looked at the hole that was dug into the snow ground—“hey, that hole. They were trying to enter it earlier.”
“Pardon me! But can you heal me already? I’m more important than some hole.”