Slayers:Volume 11 Chapter 3
A Fight To The Death Breaks Out in the Lake Town
“Graaaah!” Narof’s formerly severed head cried out. Tentacles spurted from its mouth, twisting wildly.
Did this guy... absorb Narof’s corpse?
I had no idea what kind of abilities Narof had while alive, but one thing was for sure: my already bad feelings about the whole situation just got twice as worse. Still, I’m not really the type to sportingly wait for the opponent to show off what he can do before springing into action, so I immediately began to chant a new spell.
Before either me or Aireus could make a move, Dilarl launched a spell from the back row. This incantation attacked the opponent’s astral form directly, and was powerful enough to kill a lesser demon in a single blow. There was no way for Aireus, who looked like little more than a mass of skin growing out of the ground, to dodge something like that; the spear of light managed to score a direct hit. ave
The young man’s expression did not change at all, though, and Narof’s head next to him also continued with his ‘yell and twist your tentacles’-routine. The skin where the Elmekia Lance connected simply peeled off and plopped to the ground like a piece of scab.
Narof’s head began howling even louder - it felt like the space itself cracked around us. Numerous points of light appeared in the air.
“Dodge!!” I warned the others, halting my incantation, and made a run for it. At the same moment, the lights sprang into motion, bombarding the ground in random directions. I narrowly managed to avoid a couple of them heading my way, and--
The fierce sound of an ear-splitting explosion echoed through the cave. I could feel an enormous amount of heat and steam rising from the ground around me.
“Is everyone all right?” I called to the others.
“I am, for now.” The three voices reached my ears.
It seems everyone made it, but... Aireus smacked us with something really powerful back there. It might have even been the Blast Bomb; a spell which, in simple terms, creates several hugely boosted Fireballs, and lets them loose all at once. The projectiles that missed and hit the lake instead were responsible for the steam.
Thanks to that, though, I could no longer see our opponents or anyone of our team either. It would’ve been good to say that the enemy wasn’t faring any better, but since they weren’t really human, it was hard to say for sure.
Oh, and to make things even more unfair for me, I lost my short sword which I was using as a light source in place of a torch when we were swept away by the water and ended up here. Not that I could strike too many enemies down with it, but it was good for making a diversion.
Anyway, complaining about lost stuff is a waste of time.
For now, I chose to chant another spell.
Suddenly, the sense of great danger struck me, seemingly without reason and I by dove to the left by instinct. Something whizzed through the fog and grazed the edge of my right shoulder guard.
“Aah!” At the same moment, the yells of Gourry and Dilarl could be heard from somewhere nearby.
So, like I suspected, they were trying to use the fog for their tricks? Not so fast!
“Diem Wind!” My spell created a gust of wind that blew away the fog. And once visibility was back to normal... I was looking at Aireus, who finished some kind of transformation.
He was still a mass of skin rooted to the ground with a young man’s face and Narof’s head stuck on, but now he also formed dozens of arms. Okay, I say ‘arms’, but they actually looked nothing like human limbs - more like a withered tree branches. It was really bizarre, a long arm like that having so many joints.
Did he try attacking us in the fog with one of those just now?
Oh, and since we could see Aireus...
“Fireball!” Dilarl wasted no time to make his body burn.
The same moment the spell exploded, Gourry dashed towards our opponent. Aireus reached with one of his limbs towards him.
“Haa!” Gourry struck the arm with his sword! I expected to see the severed limb fly through the air, but it was merely pushed aside with a clang. It was definitely stronger than it looked.
Also, the part of skin which was hit by the Fireball simply peeled off again, regrowing the same way it did when it was struck by the Elmekia Lance earlier.
So, the guy can regenerate most of his body like a lizard can regrow its tail? If so, there surely has to be a part of him somewhere that cannot be healed like that. That might be his weakness...
“Khyaaaaak!” Narof’s head simply couldn’t quit shouting.
Though its cry sounded little more than the howl of some beast to human ears, it was probably the chant itself for some kind of spell. The movement of those countless tentacles might have also been part of it.
Anyway, since we just found out that the enemy’s spells were nothing to sneeze at, I could not let him finish!
“Hell Blast!” Aria’s spell...
“Zelas Brid!” ...and my own was fired at the same time!
Her blast broke off one of Aireus’ arms and hit the young man’s face, while mine zigzagged through the arms and smashed into Narof’s head.
Woohoo! I stopped the chant!
Aireus’ attack patterns did not change one bit, however. He kept Gourry at bay with five or six of his arms, also trying to attack Aria, Dilarl and me sporadically. Luckily he couldn’t control his arms very well; their movements were so simplistic that even Aria could avoid them, even though she wasn’t used to fighting.
As for the bad news, the young man’s face which was hit by Aria’s spell also peeled off, the new skin in its place gradually reforming into what it was before.
“It’s useless...” Aireus murmured.
“I can’t believe it...!” Aria couldn’t hide her astonishment.
It’s glaringly obvious that she has zero experience with all of this...
The way the young man’s face was there, it was basically shouting ‘Here’s my weak point!’ - but I don’t think someone with such regenerative abilities would let his weakness get discovered so easily.
Oh, and Narof’s head, which was hit by my spell, was growing back too. It regenerated more slowly than the other one, since it wasn’t part of the original body, but there was no doubt that it’d be complete soon and would try casting more spells.
I’d rather finish this fight before that...
The guy’s weak point was probably inside his body, however, normal attacks could only damage his skin, which would peel off and then regrow. But...
Wait a second... Maybe this spell would be...
Avoiding the attack of a couple of arms, I murmured an incantation, and--
“Blam Blazer!” The blue light of the boosted spell, strong enough to take down a lesser demon easily, managed to penetrate Aireus’ body!
“Uaah... Aaaaaaaah!!” A death cry echoed throughout the underground lake. The withered branch-like arms dropped to the ground of the island, their strength lost. The spell I released had the ability to reach inside the opponent and do the damage there, instead of exploding immediately on contact like the others. I had hoped that I could nail his weak point with it - and I was right. Aireus’ body collapsed on itself like a dried-out heap of earth.
“It seems like we took him down... somehow...” Gourry said with a quiet sigh.
“It sure looks that way.” I nodded. “Well then, somewhere around this island, there must be a way to go up from here.”
“Wait a minute,” Dilarl dared to interrupt my lighthearted explanation, glaring at me. “That plan you talked about earlier... to find the route to the guild... it was this?”
“Yep,” I answered lightly, ignoring his foul mood.
In more detail, I assumed that way to the guild would have guards protecting it, who would no doubt attack us if we strolled by. All we had to do is to wander around the cave until that happened, and then we could be sure that we’ve found the passage.
“Are you insane?! How could think up such a reckless plan?!” Dilarl raged.
“Ah, relax. We all made it through alive, after all. ?
“Why you...” The guy’s clenched fists were trembling. Just before he could start an argument though...
“Ms. Lina!” Aria called me to a stone pillar she found at the center of the island. “Could this be it?”
She was showing me a hole under the column of rock. It definitely looked like it, but...
“It’s too small...” Gourry murmured with an embarrassed look.
Yeah, while the whole looked pretty deep, it was so small that even I could barely crawl into it after removing my shoulder guards. No matter where it led, Gourry and Dilarl could not enter.
“I... don’t think this is the one. That Narof guy was talking about a ‘route’, but he couldn’t go through something this small, could he?” Dilarl suggested a logical explanation. It was definitely true that neither Narof nor the fish demons could pass through a narrow passage like this.
However... wait... Then maybe the way is...?
“Lighting!” Finishing the spell, I threw the sphere of magic light I made into the lake.
The bright light illuminated the water below, letting us see farther into it.
As I suspected, right under the island lay the gaping mouth of a huge underwater cave.
The sound of dripping water repeated itself endlessly.
We entered the cave with Ray Wing, and after going for a while, the water receded revealing a path; so I released the spell, and we continued on foot.
If this really was the so-called ‘route’, it was reasonable to expect the enemy lying in wait for an ambush. It was especially likely since while we were fighting Aireus one of the fish demons fled, possibly in this direction, and could have told others about our arrival. So while it might have been faster to fly, walking like this was better in case we got attacked. Also, the fluorescent moss was there on the walls and the ceiling once again, so we didn’t need to have a light ready.
That said, though...
“...But... this is... way too long...” Gourry said in a tired voice, when we were walking for what it felt like ages. The ground was too wet to speed up our pace, and the scenery around us did not change at all, which made the trip seem even longer than it really was.
But even if all these weren’t true, the passage was just really, really long.
Maybe we’re walking under the bottom of the underground lake?
“I’m saying this now... If we keep walking and walking only to realize in the end that this isn’t a passage but a simple cave, I’m going to die...” Dilarl spoke in a weary tone.
When we entered Crimson Town, the sun was about to set. We can’t see up to the surface from here, so I can’t tell what time is it exactly, but it should be in the middle of the night? That means, except for the brief time when the water sweeping us away knocked us out, we were moving around almost non-stop. If someone wouldn’t be tired after this, that’d be inhuman.
Aria might have been the most exhausted: she hadn’t opened her mouth since we entered the cave. Still, this wasn’t the situation when we could afford a break. We had to infiltrate the enemy base and destroy their forces as quickly as possible.
Or, we can just blow up the whole Sorcerer’s Guild with a Dragon Slave when we arrive?
I guess I’ll think about that when we get there...
“I’m sure this is the passage,” I spoke up again.
“How could you know that?” Dilarl asked in disbelief.
“Because this is a man-made road.”
“The road...? You mean this thing we’re walking on?” Gourry chimed in.
“Yes. Look at that.” I pointed above. “There are stalactites hanging from the ceiling. If the bottom would be natural, we could expect to find a couple of them rising from the floor too. But there aren’t any, which means someone cleared the way to make passing through easier. Also, it looks like we’re nearing our destination...”
I pointed with my eyes towards the end of the passage. There were jars both big and small lined up in a row on both sides.
“This part is being used for storage, which means the place has seen active use lately,” I explained. “By the way, Aria, have you ever heard about this basement passage when you were part of the guild?”
“Well... I know the basement is used for storage purposes... but because they’ve hired a person to keep the place in order... I’ve never been here...” she murmured. As expected, she seemed completely spent now.
If this cave and the basement are connected, shouldn’t there be at least a few rumors circulating about it? Unless, there is something here which they want to keep a secret?
I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.
While I kept walking deep in thought, more and more jars, some toppled over, and a couple of strange tools came into view. And finally...
“Looks like I was right.” With those words I stopped in front of a door. Yes, a metal door, which was really unusual to find at the end of an endless cave tunnel. It was unlikely that they put it here because they often passed by while mining or expanding the cave; the stones around it made it look like it was installed more as a quick fix.
There was no sign of any opponent beyond the door - although they might have just been good at concealing their presence.
“In a second... I’m going to push it open,” I warned the others.
Someone gulped loudly. Gourry silently unsheathed his sword to prepare against a possible surprise attack, while Dilarl started casting a spell.
I pushed my hand against the door.
“Ah. It’s locked. No surprise here.”
“Hey!” Dilarl blurted out, exasperated, stopping the incantation.
But really, a door like this being locked shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. I examined it more closely.
“Hmm... Wait... It’s not locked, only bolted. Then...” I pulled out a thin knife hidden under one of my shoulder guards, and stuck it between the door and the frame.
A small metallic sound could be heard. It seemed like the bolt was released.
“Okay, now for real... let’s go.”
With a loud creak, the door slowly swung open towards the inside. No ambush came, for now.
“Isn’t this place too small to be used for storage by the guild?” Dilarl murmured as he looked around.
“Besides, there are household items lying around...” I heard Gourry say, urging me to take a closer look at the dimly lit room myself.
As he said, cooking utensils and cleaning tools could be seen in the corner, and everything they stored here seemed entirely mundane. The room itself wasn’t bigger than that of a normal home, with an unlit lamp hanging from the ceiling.
What on earth... is this?
With no better idea, I chanted a spell. “Lighting!”
I raised the magical light up to the ceiling, but even well-lit, the room looked just like the basement of an ordinary house. Also, I spotted some stairs leading upwards.
“It feels like we’ve somehow ended up at the wrong place...”
“Ehehe, let’s head up the stairs first.” I laughed nervously at Gourry’s comment and started to climb.
At the end of the narrow, steep stairs, we came up to a door. It was locked, but I took out a needle I’d hidden near my chest, put it into the keyhole, and opened it without much fuss. Checking that there was no one beyond it the best we could, I opened the squeaky door and found a corridor on the other side. I went in first, with Gourry, Aria and Dilarl following behind in order.
“This... this is not the guild,” Aria muttered with an almost completely vacant expression.
Ah... So it really isn’t...
Actually, it was a pretty awesome piece of masonry, but just seeing the structure made it obvious that this was nothing more than an ordinary house.
“Huh? What? Did we come here by mistake?” Dilarl asked.
“Does that mean that we need to keep going inside the cave for even longer?”
“Hmm... Looks like we have to...” I answered Gourry’s question reluctantly.
We were about to turn around and head back towards the basement down the stairs...
“This is... Cairus’ home.”
…when Aria’s quiet murmur stopped us in our tracks.
“Re... Really?” I asked, a bit skeptical.
“I’m certain it is,” she answered with stubborn determination. “I might have only been here once, when answering my sister’s summons right before Cairus’ revolt... but I swear, I’ve been here before.” With that, she began to march forward with large steps.
“Wait! Aria!” I called after her. “Where are you going?”
“To my sister’s room,” she answered without turning back. Instead of slowing down, she hustled even faster than before; we had no choice but to go after her.
We thought that the ‘route’ was a passage to the Sorcerer’s Guild, but in reality, it was connected to Cairus’ mansion. Of course, Narof might have realized our misunderstanding, but he had no reason to tell us about it.
Aria hurried through the mansion showing no signs of fear, even though enemies could have been hiding anywhere. Finally, she stopped in front of a door. With a deep sigh, she put her hand on it.
Before we could stop her, she swung the door wide open, and--
“Bell...” she murmured, her faint voice shaking.
Moonlight flooded in through the doors leading to the terrace.
Even without any other light, we could see a canopy bed and a tiny table in the large room; there was a rocking chair next to the bed as well.
And near the rocking chair stood a woman, who resembled Aria greatly. Long silver hair shone in the moonlight.
“Ari...a?" she stuttered.
“Bell!” Crying out her sister’s name, Aria ran into the room and buried her face into her chest.
“Aria... How can you be here...?”
“I... I came here to save you! I’ve heard that because of Cairus’ revolt, the king’s army is coming this way and the city will be turned into a battlefield... so... so I came here to save you!” Probably because the reunion with her sister let her release the tension built up inside her, Aria’s voice quivered with tears.
Bell just softly stroked her sister’s hair, while gently moving her gaze towards us. “And you?”
“You could say we’re your sister’s bodyguards,” I replied. “But first thing’s first; we need to get you out of this place, the introductions can wait. We might be attacked any moment.”
“Y-Yes. Bell, come with us,” Aria asked her.
“That will not be allowed.” Suddenly, a familiar voice was heard from the corridor.
“Zonagain?!” I exclaimed while snapping my head back, and saw the short man with his hood pulled deeply into his face, wearing the same cloak as before.
Also, next to him stood another man - roughly 40 years old, with black hair. He wore a finely crafted cloak embroidered with silver thread and a talisman jewel, but the clothes did not fit his ugly-looking face at all.
Then... considering the situation, this man should be--
“Would you be the one named Cairus...?” I asked.
“Yes, I am he. I praise you all for making it this far... but here is where it ends. This place will be your grave.”
I didn’t mull on his words much, just burst out laughing.
Cairus gave an unpleasant frown. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s just that your speech was so cliché!” I made my stand in the center of the corridor, pointing a finger at him. “Your face already looks like a small-fry villain, and now you just blurted out the three most typical lines! Even a kid would laugh at you.”
Cairus’ eyebrow twitched, but he probably figured that if he got carried away I’d only make him look even more ridiculous. So he desperately fought to repress his anger, hissing, “Stop babbling nonsense. No matter how skilled you are, you will die here regardless!”
“Well... We’ll see about... that!” I said while stepping towards the wall. At the same time--
“Fireball!” Dilarl, who had been chanting a spell behind me, let loose a sphere of crimson light!
With a great explosion, flame swept through the corridor. We evaded the spreading blaze by using the open door as a shield.
It was the same trick we used when fighting Narof down below. But now, because of the straight corridor, it was also impossible to evade the attack.
Then, however, an arrow of light emerged from the flames and wrecked our shield-door! I jumped quickly away from it, and started casting my own spell. As the smoke cleared, I spotted the figures of Zonagain and Cairus standing on the opposite end of the corridor.
How could they move such a distance so quickly? '
No later than that thought formed inside my head, Zonagain was already closing in on me from the right, running through the corridor with a bizarre sound and extraordinary speed.
Out of habit, I quickly reached for the sword which normally hung from my waist, but...
A dull clang came from right above my head. It was Gourry, who blocked whatever attack was heading my way with his sword.
Those black... things...
They were the legs of a spider, reaching out from the old man’s hunched back.
“Hmph. You’re worthy of killing Graimore,” said Zonagain, making a gap between us by scurrying backwards on his spider legs. He might have given up being a human, but he still wasn’t keen on a close-quarters fight with Gourry.
“Blam Blazer!” I shot my spell - right behind my back, where a new source of bloodlust emerged!
The blue light nailed a woman dressed in green, who somehow appeared in the corridor without anyone noticing. Or so I thought, anyway - but instead, when the spell was about to hit, the woman released her own wave of azure light that spread through the room!
“Ugh!” Suddenly, my body was struck by intense pain.
That was... it lost a lot of power, but I’m sure that was Blam Blazer! Did she reflect my spell back at me?
After the light had faded away, the woman in green was... no, wait... after looking at her the second time, I realized my mistake: she was not wearing green clothes, rather her whole body - face, torso, head, even hands and feet - was colored radiant green, like an emerald.
With someone like her on the field, the scales weren’t exactly tipped in our favor. I really wanted to beat up Cairus then and there, but the current situation didn’t make that easy at all.
“Everyone! To the room!” Shouting to Gourry and Dilarl, I lunged back into the room where the two girls were. “Aria! Bell! Let’s get out of here!” I started chanting a spell.
Since it has come to this, we’ll get Aria and the others outside, and then with a bigger spell I’ll blow the building to smithereens, along with the enemy!
“Don’t let them get away!” Cairus’ voice was heard from the corridor. “Go after them! Zonagain! Mucale!”
Hearing this, Aria came to a halt. “W... What did he--?”
“What are you doing, Aria?! Come on!” yelled Dilarl, kicking the terrace doors open.
“Oh...” She started running once more.
Meanwhile, Gourry came face to face with Zonagain again, who abruptly appeared at the terrace doorstep. And then...
“Wait! Stop!” I called out towards Dilarl, but he, Bell and Aria were already outside by that time.
They did stop when they heard me, but then... something that looked like a sickle pierced the right of Dilarl’s chest.
Slowly, he collapsed, hitting the ground with a thud.
“Mr. Dilarl!!” Aria’s desperate scream echoed through the building.
Gourry and I sprinted to the terrace. The instant we got there, something sliced through the night air, but Gourry swatted it aside with his sword.
I hugged Dilarl with one arm, while holding Aria’s hand with the other. After confirming that Gourry was grabbing on to my shoulder, I released my finished spell.
We must clear out of here with that boosted Ray Wing right now!
But when the spell was about to take effect--
“Kyaaa!” Ms. Bell’s scream hit my ears. When I snapped my head back, I saw some withered branch-like thing grasping her right leg.
“Bell!” Aria’s hand slipped out of her sister’s! “Take to the sky!” she declared while Bell fell out of the wind barrier just as it came into being.
The four of us took to the air, leaving her sister behind.
“Bell...!” Aria bit back another scream; she no doubt wanted to turn back and save her, but probably thought that Dilarl could not be left in such a condition for long.
However... in my arms, Dilarl’s body already began losing its warmth little by little.
I knew what that meant.
It’s like this... when a man dies.
In the ruins, there was only darkness, musty air, and silence.
None of us was willing to say a word, neither me, nor Gourry or Aria.
We managed to make a narrow escape from the air troops who were chasing after us and took refuge in these ruins to avoid detection. Considerable time had passed since then.
“I...” After what felt like an eternity, Aria opened her mouth to speak. “What... what have I done?”
She just droned the words without any emotion at all.
“I couldn’t... save my sister, and... because of me... Mr. Dilarl died...”
“It wasn’t your fault--”
“It was my fault!” she cut me short with a yell. “If my grip on her hand would’ve been stronger, I could have saved my sister! And if I hadn’t told him I wanted to go to Crimson, Mr. Dilarl... Mr. Dilarl would not be...”
“When it comes to Dilarl... I’m the one to blame, not you,” I said with a self-mocking smile. “It was my plan, and it was me who didn’t recognize the attacker waiting outside the terrace.”
“The attacker...? Do you know who was there?” Gourry’s question came from the darkness.
I nodded, although I knew he couldn’t see me. “Maybe... It might have been Aireus... the one we fought at the underground lake.”
“He’s still alive?” Aria asked.
“He didn’t really survive; it might be better to say that what we killed down there was only part of him, not the whole thing... that’s my best guess, at least. When we flew away from Cairus’ mansion with Ray Wing, I managed to take a look at the building... the mansion was covered with something that looked like ivy... with some round blobs sticking out of it here and there.”
I nodded to Gourry’s question again. “Yes... Aireus looked just like those. I think the guy’s composition is more like a plant than a human. His ‘parts’ are all connected to some kind of root in the basement.”
That was how along with the ivy, a presence covered the whole mansion as well, even though neither me nor Gourry noticed it until the last moment. Of course, it could have been another guy with the same ability as Aireus, but that sickle-like attack that struck down Dilarl had the same shape as the fish demons’ fins. Considering that one fish demon disappeared during the fight underground, it seemed more likely that Aireus used his ability to absorb it, rather than a person similar to him having that attack by simple coincidence.
And if this theory of mine is true, then he’s going to be a really irksome opponent.
We had no idea what his weakness could be. Blowing up the whole mansion might have solved the issue, but even that was only a ‘might’. If you bash someone’s head in, he’s dead, but there are plants which can grow back from their roots, or even from a single branch. Even if I incinerated the entire building, if Aireus shared abilities with plants like those, it was possible that he’d regenerate as long as even one piece of his body remained intact.
“Anyway,” I continued, “these people annoy me to no end. I don’t know how many abilities Cairus himself has, but even without him we have Aireus, the winged demons, Zonagain, that girl named Mucale, and--”
“About her... I want to have a word with you,” Aria interrupted my catalogue of the enemy. “When I was in the guild... there was a girl there, who entered the association around the same time as I did. We became friends while working together on a research project... her name was Eridia Mucale.”
“What?!” I exclaimed without thinking.
“And... I also remembered... among the people who managed the underground storage... there was a man whose name was Aireus...”
“What the...? Then these people were...” I trailed off in the darkness. Aria answered with nothing but silence.
“So Mucale and Aireus were Cairus’ followers?” I spoke up again after a while.
“No...” Aria replied. “I just heard Aireus’ name in passing, so I don’t know he was Cairus’ follower or not... but Eridia made no secret of how she abhorred him.”
“Umm, then what happened?” Gourry sounded confused.
I gave a small sigh. “That means... Cairus is controlling the members of the guild by turning them into his chimera slaves.”
“But... is that possible?” Aria said. “Cairus’ main field was the general application of magic, so he studied a lot of topics, from attack spells to healing magic and conjurations, magical equipment and also chimera technology... but as a consequence, he wasn’t very knowledgeable in any one of them. I can’t imagine Cairus having the skill to create chimeras like these...”
“So you mean there is yet another dark secret involved?” I commented.
“Yes, I suppose it’s possible... I just don’t know that much about Cairus. He could have a lot more knowledge on chimeras that I’ve never seen a sign of...”
“That’s true...” I muttered with uncertainty.
To be honest, from what his mansion looked like, I did not get the feeling that Cairus had been the type of person to study chimeras.
Those that do tend to have a pretty large laboratory in their basement - and no, that’s not just me generalizing. To create chimeras, you need a large space to work in because of what’s involved in the process, but you can’t claim whatever room you want for yourself at the expense of fellow researches in the guild. Even if you put your laboratory there, in some cases other sorcerers working in the same field may steal the findings or the invented technology. Because of this, if someone researched chimeras with some market potential, it was normal for him to install a private laboratory under his house or somewhere else, to avoid anyone intruding on his work.
Of course, I did not look into every corner of Cairus’ mansion. It’s possible that there was an underground laboratory there which we didn’t come across, or it could’ve been in a remote location, or to catch us off-guard, the laboratory might have been on the second floor...
Even if that was true, though, we still should have come across some trace or clue at least - but we didn’t. And I don’t think he could’ve used any guild equipment to turn all these people into chimeras either.
“So... Ms. Lina...” Aria began in a tiny voice. “About Eridia... Mucale... Is there any way to turn her back to normal?”
I couldn’t give her an answer.
There’s a person I know who was turned into a chimera by someone else and then wandered through the land to find a way to become human again. I didn’t hear news of him at the time, but it seemed obvious that he’s having a hard time with it.
Also, to quote yet another guy I know: ‘Even if you have a recipe to make fruit punch, you can’t simply remove the orange juice and leave in the apple.’
Besides, in Mucale’s case, we were definitely talking about mind control too. If she was only controlled through her spirit, we can solve the problem by defeating Cairus, but if they messed with her mind using brainwashing techniques...
“There’s no way... is there...” Aria’s whisper spread through the darkness.
“I can’t give you an exact answer since I don’t know enough about chimeras,” I told her, “but... it’s no simple thing, that’s for sure.”
“I... see...” She sank into silence once more.
“Well, how about we get some sleep?” Gourry spoke up, as if waiting for this moment. “The most important thing right now is to get our strength back. We want to settle this tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah... That’s the plan.” I said, nodding. “Aria, let’s get some rest, for now... And tomorrow... we’re going to save Ms. Bell and wipe Cairus off the face of the earth.”
We set out the next evening, as the last rays of the sun painted the ruins blood red. Our destination was Cairus’ mansion.
“How are we going to get there?” Gourry asked.
“We’ll use the canals and go under the water,” I replied. “If we go on foot we’ll be discovered by their air troops, and it’d be difficult to navigate underground - we would run into the same problems as yesterday. In the water on the other hand, the number of fish demons has lessened after yesterday’s fight, and Narof is gone. Our opponents probably thought about this too, but it’s still a safer bet than travelling on the ground. From here, we will dig a tunnel through the earth to the canal... and after that we’ll go right to Cairus’ place. Aria, I’ll need you to help us find our way around.”
“Yes.” She nodded resolutely.
I inclined my head as well in reply and started chanting a spell.
“They’re coming!” Gourry warned as we were nearing Cairus’ mansion. I could see something like an orange-colored light moving toward us.
Aireus’ tentacles. There were lots of them, and their sickle-like tips sliced through the wind barrier with a sharp noise. Holding onto me with his left hand, Gourry swung his blade in his right and blocked the attack. And right after that... Aira’s spell materialized outside the shield!
The water froze, hindering the movement of the sickle-tentacles. Though it was the same strategy Dilarl used against the fish-demons, I have to give Aria credit for remembering and using it.
“We’re almost there, Ms. Lina!” she declared.
“Okay! Then we’re going up!” I directed the spell, and the barrier breached the surface of the water, rising into the air.
Cairus’ mansion was almost next to us. As we saw before, Aireus’ ivy covered the building completely and there were a couple of flying opponents floating about here and there as well.
I didn’t really care about them, but charged right towards the mansion instead. They chased us from behind, while Aireus’ sharp-ended tentacles came at us from the front, so I was really eager to finally reach the building’s terrace, but...
Aria’s spell appeared behind the wind barrier... and went off.
The explosion slammed into the shield!
“Woaaaahh?!” Shoved by the pressure, the wind barrier gained enormous speed, shook the tentacles off and crashed through some windows into the mansion.
Well... it was the same tactic I used yesterday, but still... that was a bit frightening, coming from you, Aria.
Anyway, I dismissed the spell and hopped down to the floor.
“Hey... Aria...” Gourry said with an embarrassed look as put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll just say this... if you follow her bad example, you won’t be living the right kind of life. Be careful.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Gourry?” I grumbled.
“Err, nah, it’s not supposed to mean anything. Anyway, let’s hurry.”
I wanted to grill him a bit about his transparent denial but had to agree that this wasn’t the right situation for chitchat.
We dashed into Ms. Bell’s room as planned, but she was nowhere to be found. She might have been moved to another.
“Let’s go!” I kicked the door in and ran into the corridor.
The question is, where did they move her?
“Aria! Any ideas where Ms. Bell might be locked up?”
“All right, then we’ll search this place from top to bottom!” Guided only by my intuition, I hurried towards one end of the corridor with Aria and Gourry behind me.
We kicked the doors open of all the adjacent rooms one by one until we found ourselves in the front hall. There, Zonagain scurried forth, moving silently on the spider-legs sprouting from his back.
“Well-well... Don’t you think you’re being overly violent?” he said.
I heard a creak from the gallery surrounding the hall, and saw Cairus descending the stairs with Mucale in tow.
“Haha... So you came again?” the sorcerer snickered. “But it looks like one of you is missing.”
“Where’s my sister?!” Aria shouted, angered by his words.
“Bell?” Cairus asked back. “I can let you know that she is in this mansion. Of course... you’re not much wiser just by knowing that, are you?
“We’ll soon see who’s wise and who isn’t,” I said, stepping forward. “Aria, keep your cool. It’s our loss if we let ourselves be provoked by such a third-rate villain.”
“Don’t you think those are bold words...” Interrupting Cairus who was about to throw a fit, Zonagain spoke in a cold tone. “...especially coming from people who already lost one of their own?”
Aria wanted to scream something nasty at him, but I was faster. “I don’t think all this wrangling is getting us anywhere.”
“It is as you say. So then... here we go!” With that. Zonagain began closing in on us.
Gourry stood in his way, grasping his sword - but the moment he wanted to strike at the old man, Zonagain made a huge jump backwards, turned around in mid-air, and...
“Blam Blazer!” He released the spell he had been chanting, right towards... Mucale?
The green-colored woman’s entire body flashed up with brilliant light.
“Huh..?!” A shockwave of light ran through Gourry, Aria and me. It was weaker than the original spell, but it still hurt.
This ability is... a bit too effective for my tastes...
Gourry came to a halt for a second, during which Zonagain landed behind his back, and without turning around reached with two of his legs towards him. Gourry did not turn around either, but probably still felt the attack coming, as he took a step forward and avoided it; he then dashed straight at Cairus and Mucale!
Mucale blocked the way, and...
“Icicle Lance!” Cairus launched his spell into her back!
“Nnngh!” Struck by the spreading cold of the snowstorm emanating from Mucale, Gourry pulled back in a hurry.
She can even reflect spells like that?
So they are using Mucale’s ability to reflect magic in all directions as their main weapon, while Cairus is just standing there to protect her from attacks if needed... Ha, I bet he’s pretty comfortable with staying out of the front line.
This strategy of theirs, though, will be a tough nut to crack. If we use offensive spells, Mucale will absorb and reflect them back at us, but if we try a direct physical attack, Cairus will use his own attack magic on her to keep us at bay.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s no way to defeat them. Mucale already had problems reflecting the spells in their entirety - if we use magic which is powerful enough, it may overload and destroy her. The problem is that I don’t know what ‘powerful enough’ means here. For example, if I pull a Dragon Slave out of nowhere, that would surely do the trick, but I can’t use that spell in a place like this. On the other hand, I can give less powerful, but still potent magic like Dynast Brass or Zelas Brid a try, but if Mucale somehow manages to reflect those... well, such spells can take down even a pure mazoku with a single blow. Their power would be lessened while spreading through the room in all directions, true, but even so, we would not last a second if hit.
Not to mention that Mucale used to be Aria’s friend, so the thought of killing her doesn’t sit all that well with me.
Maybe the best would be to target Cairus instead with a surprise attack, coming from multiple directions all at once...?
All right! Then...
“Gourry! Keep Zonagain busy!” I shouted.
“Got it!” he answered, turning around to face the old man.
Meanwhile, I kept my eyes on Cairus and Mucale and started chanting my next spell.
“So, it seems you want to fight me to the bitter end!” Zonagain blocked Gourry’s blade with several legs. The moment the limbs and the sword connected, with a whistle, something like a sticky thread came out of Zonagain’s mouth and covered the weapon!
“--Uh?!” Gourry was caught by surprise.
“Icicle Lance!” Standing next to him, Aria shot a spell at Zonagain!
His spider legs hastily took off from the floor, and he jumped above Gourry’s head. The thread covering the sword was still there, so Gourry could hardly move it, which put him at quite a bit of a disadvantage. However...
I quickly ran toward the spot where Zonagain was expected to land. He saw me coming and hesitated for a second, unsure whether to defend against me or attack Gourry...
“Flare Lance!” At that moment, I released the spell I’ve been chanting while on the run, aiming at Cairus. Then I closed my mouth and held my breath.
Mucale quickly intercepted the projectile, absorbed it and fired it back in a wide shockwave towards me. I clenched my eyes shut.
Scorching heat filled the air around me - and around Zonagain as well.
“Aargh!” the old man’s scream echoed through the room.
Yep, no kidding. My attack was not meant to catch Cairus off guard, but to catch Zonagain inside the rebounding shockwave. This spell called Flare Lance originally has the power to reduce the opponent to a pile of ash, but I held back with it a bit and Mucale’s ability also diminished its power, so it only made my skin twinge.
But what if you inhale the same heat? I held my breath and closed my eyes, but Zonagain’s painful looks told me that his lungs were getting the lava treatment right now.
But there was more: Gourry, avoiding the shockwave, appeared behind him - and his sword penetrated Zonagain’s back.
“...Urgh!” He couldn’t even scream anymore, only the spider legs on his back kept twitching. And finally...
“Dam Brass!” Aria’s spell stabbed into him. She also wasn’t hurt as she stayed out of the shockwave’s range.
Shocking no one, that was all Zonagain could endure. His spider legs twitched two or three more times, and became still.
“Well, it looks like that’s one down,” I said, gazing at Cairus with a mocking smile.
“Damn...!” His expression was distorted by hatred - and also anxiety.
I looked around the room in a leisurely manner.
“It also seems like you’re running low on allies. Neither Aireus nor one of your winged buddies showed up to help you during our fight... so, in other words, they only serve as defense from outside attacks, right? Then the only protection you have left is Mucale, whose only ability is to reflect spells... I think you better prepare for the worst, dear Mr. Cairus,” I ended my speech in a wonderfully belittling manner.
Maybe this will prompt him to go outside, so he can call on Aireus or his troops in the sky for some extra firepower - which was exactly what I wanted him to do. The moment Cairus left the building, I could freely blast him with all those wide-range spells I wasn’t able to use indoors, and end this fight in a jiffy!
“Ku... huhu...” Cairus swallowed a chuckle, edging towards Mucale. “Would that be possible...? Do you dare to think that my... my ambitions could be brought to ruin by people like you?”
As he spoke, his right hand grabbed the back of Mucale’s head.
What is he--?!
A strong, dull noise echoed through the hall. Green fragments flew in the air.
“--Eridia!!” Aria cried out.
Cairus crushed Mucale’s head in his hands.
As her headless body began to collapse, Cairus embraced it from behind.
“Why the hell did you do that?!” I demanded.
“Haha, isn’t it obvious? Because if I don’t do this, I’ll become confused.” His words made no sense to me whatsoever. Even his eyes started to lose focus, like he was going plain mad.
I don’t know what he plans on doing, but...
“The body!” Gourry shouted. He was the first one to notice the unexpected event, I couldn’t spot it until I followed his gaze which was fixed on Cairus.
Then I realized: in his embrace, Mucale’s body was slowly sinking into Cairus’ form.
Is he... is he absorbing Mucale?
Does that mean Cairus himself isn’t a human either?
Eventually, Mucale’s body completely disappeared within.
Nothing but Cairus’ insane laughter filled the air...
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