Hei Lian could hardly believe her eyes. 'He can fly? How?' It had taken her a subjective decade of suffering before she had managed to upgrade her understanding of her Dao to the level of mastery. Yet, right in front of her was a boy younger than her who had mastered the wind. How? The question could hardly be removed from her mind as she kept an eye on the confrontation between the elemental and the runners as she made her way across the stone bridge the fire and earth mages of her team had collaborated to build.
The fire mages were reducing the temperature of the magma, cooling it into rock that the earth mages manipulated into the path under their feet. As they made their way to the centre of the lake, the entire chamber vibrated again from the force of the elemental's tails smashing against the ground.
The gunner team had waited, concealed, as the runners had baited the elemental out of its lair by shouting and throwing rocks at it. Enraged, the creature had spewed a pillar of white fire at them with a deafening roar. The might of one of its casual spells was scary. Even with her mastery of fire, Hei Lian didn't have the confidence to take that blow head on. They had dodged the flames and that had forced the irate elemental to approach them in order to deal with them.
The gunners had wasted no time in capitalizing on the distraction and had discretely began their construction of the bridge. When the elemental had slammed its fist into the magma, sending a wave of molten rock at the runners, the complementary waves had swept towards them, nearly submerging the bridge.
The Regiis water mage, what was her name again? Right, Teal, as well as the overgrown fox the Felidae brat had for a wife had nearly jumped off the bridge out of concern for their husbands. Should she feel guilty that she wasn't as anxious about the well-being of hers? Was it the sign of her trust in him? Somehow, she didn't think so.
That was when it had happened. Felidae along with Canis and another Regiis wind mage had risen to the air, letting the wave of magma pass beneath them. They had flown. 'How?!'
She had been curious about him before. The exaggerated accounts she had heard of his magical prowess from the soldiers of the Firang Contingent had lit her competitive spirit. She had wanted to see for herself how much truth was contained in those words. That was why she had ignored the advice of the Regiis earth mage called Luke, letting a Tier 3 ant slip through the ambush. She needed to know the true capabilities of all her team mates to properly make any plans for the mission. That's how she had justified her actions to herself.
Of course, she wouldn't needlessly endanger someone just to satisfy her curiosity – at least not one of the keys to the success of the mission. She had been keeping an eye on their fight, ready to rescue the boy if he faltered. And there had been a point when it had seemed that he needed rescuing but he had pulled through at the last moment and defeated the ant.
That success had made a strong impression on her and now he showed that he could fly. Her interest in his strength was getting more and more abundant. 'Let alone,' Hei Lian shot a glance at the large russet fox that kept stealing looks at the fight between elemental and mage, its four tails lashing agitatedly behind it, 'even his wife was a freak.'
As the runners kept the creature busy and away from its nest by separating into three teams and kiting it, Hei Lian and her team had already crossed three-fourths of the way to the centre. The battle was growing in intensity as the elemental grew more and more frustrated. The magma lake grew choppy, waves of the burning rock crashing against their makeshift bridge, breaking away chunks of it.
"Don't conserve mana. Pick up the pace." Corvus, the raven-winged Lieutenant from Regiis, commanded. And they did, the fire and earth mages pouring their mana without reservation into the bridge. Glowing magma cooled into red-hot stones that, in turn, cooled into flagstones made up of the same dark rock that made up the cavern walls. Under the guidance of the earth mages, the flagstones were made porous and therefore, capable of floating atop the lake.
Suddenly, Ceres collapsed onto the ground, twitching.
"What's wrong?" asked Teal, noticing her poor state.
"En-e-my…" she choked out.
"Ceres. Ceres! What happened! Talk to us!" Teal exclaimed anxiously.
A strong draught of scorching wind ruffled Hei Lian's hair and blew the stench of fire and brimstone into her face, drawing her attention away from the scene. For a moment the entire cavern seemed to still in anticipation before the suffocating mana pressure of an elemental in its home ground came crashing down on them.
The entire cavern rumbled, shaking loose stone and dust from the ceiling as the elemental gathered potential for its large-scale spell. Shockwaves spread outwards with it as the centre, the fronts of compressed air crashing into the gunner team. Without wind mages to protect them, Lieutenant Corvus had to bear the brunt, diffusing the impacts with his shadows.
"Damn it!" he cursed under his breath. "Hurry it up! Faster damn it!" he exclaimed, his only remaining hand clenched into a fist and blue veins sticking up on his neck as he clenched his teeth as he stared keenly at the battlefield.
Hei Lian's vision sharpened and colours dulled as she morphed only her eyes into that of her wolf form. With her enhanced sight, she could see that the three teams of runners had split and run off in three separate directions. When the elemental would fire its spell, at least one group would meet with misfortune.
It had been nothing short of miraculous that they had managed to reach the core of the Dungeon without any losses. The appearance of casualties now wasn't strange in the least. If anything, it was long overdue. Shaking her head, she turned away.
Whatever the outcome, she hoped it was that pair of mages from Regiis she hadn't bothered to get the names of that became the fall guys. The other two options would be… inconvenient.
"What is he doing?!" exclaimed Teal, causing Hei Lian to turn back to the battlefield.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she noticed the team consisting of Mars, Azure and Marshal Canis positioning themselves behind the elemental instead of running away. She saw them fermenting a large sickle of wind that chopped off two of the elemental's tails, causing it to lose control of its spell.
'He really is full of surprises,' she thought before her vision went white.
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