The wind whistled against my ears as I chased the ant queen down through the labyrinth of clouds. I had healed my ruptured eardrums with a hasty application of the Tier 2 light magic: Heal but there was still a persistent ringing in my ear. Probably a result of my inexpert application of the spell. When I returned, I could expect a chewing out from mother for abusing medical magic followed by a crash course in medicine.
Ignoring the tinnitus, I accelerated myself with another burst of wind as I temporarily lost sight of the queen behind a bank of clouds. Even injured heavily as it was, the queen was fast, after all it was a Tier 5 being. If it hadn't exhausted most of its mana, leaving too little for its intrepid regeneration to kick in, it would have turned around and counterattacked by now.
Thankfully, wind was the element that lent itself most to speed and I was steadily gaining on it. Once I caught up, all I had to do was keep it engaged until father recovered a little and arrived to deal the finishing blow.
Punching right through the bank of cloud, I emerged on the other side… just to receive a fireball in the face.
Shadows spilled out of me and then collapsed inwards, teleporting me away. Reappearing from the shadows of a cloud, I stared at the queen that had been lying in ambush with some lingering fear. That was close.
Once these beasts reached Tier 5, their intelligence couldn't be underestimated. The ant had known to swiftly evacuate the battlefield once its life had been threatened. Then it had made a beeline for the concealment of the clouds remaining outside the range of the gap in the cloud layer created by Lieutenant Neera and father's spells. Now, it demonstrated its predatory cunning by using the clouds to evade my line of sight and laying an ambush to eliminate me, realizing, that unless it dealt with me, at our relative speeds it would never be able to flee.
The worst thing was that as a Tier 5, when it wanted to restrain its aura, I couldn't pick up its mana signature despite my advanced senses.
Fortunately, I had been prepared with a Shadow Walk for just such an occasion. It had saved my life – or at least let me avoid some horrific burn injuries.
Noticing that I had escaped unscathed, the ant turned to me and clicked its mandibles in agitation. Unlike the land-locked queen that had the build of an elephant, the flying queen was a lot more petite and streamlined.
Judging by size alone, it was indistinguishable from a Tier 3 ant, rivalling one of our military stallions. But one look at it and it was clear that it was out of the ordinary. Its transparent ruby carapace sparkled under the sunlight, casting a corona of red on the pristine white clouds nearby. Thin lines of yellowish-orange mana filled the hair-thin channels on its carapace, drawing out natural runes all over its body that amplified its spells and helped it gather mana faster. Its four diaphanous wings blurred as it beat them hard to keep aloft, refracting the light that passed through them into a shimmering rainbow haze.
There was a grotesque beauty to the creature – something I didn't have time to appreciate as I realized that it was healing much faster than predicted. The two wings that had been damaged by our combined efforts had already recovered.
Opening its mandibles, the ant shot a jet of fire at me, forcing me to dodge. Taking the opportunity, it turned around and fled.
Clenching my teeth, I followed. This kind of chasing war was advantageous to it. It could use the time to spread out with us and stall long enough to recover. Alternatively, it could use the clouds as cover for an ambush.
I had to engage it in combat if I wanted to maintain my current superiority.
Aspect of Wind, Aspect of Amplification.
Straining my mind, I narrowed my perception to a cone in front of me and extended its range to include the ant queen. Reaching out to all the wind mana within the cone, I pulled.
Tier 4 wind magic: Void.
The ant stagnated in its flight as a powerful suction erupted from behind it, pulling it back the way it came. Wind and clouds battered it as they were pulled towards the source of that attraction – a dark vortex that had taken shape in front of me.
This spell was inspired by my observation of the elemental's mana gathering vortex in the Dungeon and the results showed its effectiveness, dragging the ant back towards me despite its desperate wingbeats. Veins beat upon my temple and the side of my neck as I strenuously maintained the vortex, the effort required increasing as more and more air was sucked into it and I was forced to compress it into the core of the vortex.
With an angry screech, the ant stopped struggling. Turning around and wreathing its entire body in white-hot flames, it used the suction of the vortex to accelerate and lunged at me. Grinning, I vanished in a swirl of shadow, leaving the unstable vortex behind.
The condensed mass of air blasted outwards, giving rise to a gale that blew another circular gap in the clouds. Battered by the winds, the queen was sent tumbling away, concussed by the force of the impact.
Emerging from another shadow, I stamped my foot on the air, compressing it into a dense disc and using it to propel myself towards the ant. Slamming into it from the side, I sent it tumbling yet again.
Using discs of air to push myself off, I attacked the queen from all sides, keeping it from regaining its balance.
Tier 2 fire magic: Heatwave.
A spherical wave of flame burst out of the ant, scorching everything in its path, forcing me to abort my offensive. Crossing my arms in front of myself and wrapping myself up in a barrier of air, I lightened myself, letting the wave of flame push me away without injuring me.
But it had served the ant's purpose, giving it time to recover its bearings and spread out from me.
Shooting an angry glare at me, it turned around and fled again, this time using bursts of fire to accelerate. It wasn't trying to conserve its mana anymore, focusing wholeheartedly on escape.
I tried to give chase but an intense bout of dizziness struck me making me sway in the air, almost dropping out of my mental state of the Void.
I started seeing double, the speed at which I pondered growing extremely slow. I just couldn't think.
'What… is… this?'
It was all I could do to even stay aloft, let alone give chase. I watched helplessly as the queen went further and further away. This was probably the backlash of straining myself beyond my limits to use that wind spell. It was quite similar to the apathetic state I had fallen into after I had overexerted myself to fuse four fire domains back in the Dungeon.
The hint of an inspiration flashed past in my mind. I knew somehow that I was onto something extremely important but in my current state, my thoughts refused to move. I felt stupid. Retarded.
The inspiration was there for a short instant and then… it was gone, leaving me filled with regret. That was the final straw and with a phantom 'crack', my mental state of the Void shattered and I was falling out of the sky.
'Damn… it… all.'
Black wings flashed at the edge of my vision. Bursting out of the clouds, a man-sized shadow raven dived towards me. Grabbing me in its talons, it flapped its wings hard to keep us both from plummeting to the ground.
As it steadied us and began gliding to the ground, I caught a glimpse of a streak of violet lightning slamming into a ball of fire up in the sky.
The last thing I heard before I lost consciousness was the distant rumble of thunder.
'Father… made it in time…'
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