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- "Let's keep our cool. If they wanted to kill me, they would have slit my throat on the spot. Then we would have discovered the hard way how tough my skin is and how strong my regenerative abilities are. Solus?"
"The bad news is that all their equipment is enchanted and razor-sharp. The good news is that inside the Small World they are just very sharp, very deadly weapons. These guys don't have access to dimensional items or even their tattoos, for that matter. All they have is what you see."
"Tattoos? What tattoos?" Lith had been so focused on the plague, to have forgot the details about the group of mercenaries that nearly killed him a couple of weeks before. Solus projected in his mind the highlights of their last encounter. –
What they ignored was that for once Varegrave wasn't the one to blame. The talons had spent a small fortune corrupting one of their old contacts, now in the administration department.
She had provided them authentic uniforms and IDs, otherwise going past the checkpoints would have been impossible.
Magic seals and doc.u.ments couldn't be counterfeited, and to have access to such tools they had to pay their contact enough gold to allow her to leave the country and live the rest of her life in luxury.
It was a sum that outshined even Lith's reward, but they didn't care, since it came straight from their contractor's pockets. The mandatory use of the masks had made their work easier, allowing them to move unnoticed until they had found Lith's tent.
The talons were unaware of his plague doctor persona, they couldn't care less about the Griffon Kingdom's crisis. This time they hadn't come only for Lith's life, but also for information.
Killing him was just the icing on the cake, erasing the failure that now stained their name. It was a desperate move, because once Lith returned to the academy, they would never get a chance to approach him.
Inside his academy, a Headmaster had G.o.dlike powers, even if they managed to infiltrate, they would immediately be discovered and killed by a snap of Linjos' fingers, activating one of the countless arrays that enveloped the castle.
The academy's forest was a no-go too. A squad had gone exploring it, and only one man had returned, babbling about a monster Scorpicore that had slaughtered the whole unit with a click of its tongue, releasing a barrage of light blades that turned them into shreds, ignoring all their defences.
The survivor reported that the creature had spared him intentionally, to bring back a message.
"I'm sick and tired of humans hunting for cubs. The next time someone messes with my turf, I'll come looking for you." Then, it bit both of his arms off before Warping him back into their allegedly secret base.
Alas, the mating season had come, turning the Lord of the forest into an angry murdering machine, having cubs of its own.
The talons hadn't taken the threat lightly. Sure, an offensive light spell was something out of the legends, no one in his right mind would believe it. Yet the limbless man had traversed hundreds of miles, bypa.s.sing the hideout's protections.
If the Scorpicore knew their location and could come and go freely, the light spell was the least of their worries.
The next option had been capturing Lith's parents, but they were guarded by two units of the Queen's corps, every single step they took was protected by arrays. There were more men stationed there than the surviving members of the talons, and they had the field advantage and months of preparation.
As absurd it sounded, the quarantine zone was their only viable option, with a very tight time window. Soon the disappearance of their contact would get noticed, and all her work would be subjected to scrutiny, blowing their cover.
"About two weeks ago, you were supposed to die during an ambush on your way here, yet you survived. Who saved you? What happened to your detail and your aggressors?"
The knife was pressed against Lith's throat, but it only managed to shave his few facial hairs. The skin was harder than leather, yet elastic. The woman needed to use the tip to spill some blood and make her point.
- "d.a.m.n, this array is more dangerous than we thought. It can also make non military weapons lose their edge. – It was the only explanation she could think of, so she informed her teammates of the discovery through their hand signs secret code.
Lith saw the other two switching their heavily enchanted knives and short swords for less powerful ones of the same kind. Both their actions and their questions made no sense to him.
In that moment, though, he was more than happy to indulge their curiosity and stall for time.
- "These guys are persistent. Just killing them would be useless, others may come. I need to find out who they are and what they want." –
Despite Small World wasn't capable of blocking spirit magic, the arrays were still able to slow down its effects. Unlike elemental magic, pure mana had no effect per se. It could be used as a form of telekinesis, but it required for the mana to reach and envelop its target.
Small World made the invisible mana flowing out of Lith's body spread like a fog, instead that like a river. Hence Lith's needed some time to wrap them up and take full control of the situation.
In such close s.p.a.ce, with the weapons already close to his vitals, even his speed wasn't of much help.
"The men and women of the Queen's corps saved me. They fought bravely until the end, despite the cowardly trap laid by the a.s.sailants." The mask covering his face prevented the talons to see his grin spread, as the spirit magic did the same.
"The Queen's corps?" The woman holding the knife was about to spit in disgust.
"We kill those losers regularly! It's impossible for six stooges to defeat more than half of the talon corps. Quit lying, kid. Tell us the truth, and I'll grant you a peaceful death."
"First of all, that's my line. Second, more than half you say? This means that once the three of you are dead, this so called talons corps is extinct."
Lith's sudden s.p.u.n.k enraged the three mercenaries, mostly because he was right. They had never stopped cursing the day they had accepted Archmage Lukart mission. Between those killed in the failed ambush and the ones butchered by the Scorpicore, only a handful remained.
They needed the money to cut their losses and rebuild from scratch. As long their success rate was flawless, no matter the price they asked, people would pay, just like Lukart did.
"You'd better not waste my time, kid. Otherwise…"
"Otherwise what?" Lith scoffed, moving away from the knife.
The thee reacted instantly, or better, they tried. The mana around them was so thick and strong it was like moving through molten steel.
With a flick of the wrist, Lith ripped the masks off their faces with spirit magic, destroying them immediately with a burst of dark energy.
"Even if you manage to escape, I'm afraid you'll die because of the plague." Lith's voice was stone cold.
"Now tell me how many of you are left and who sent you." He unsheathed his knife, pointing it to the eye of the nearest talon.
"Believe me, compared to the plague, I'm merciful."
Everything was going according to Lith's plan, yet Solus felt restless.
- "This is the first time since we entered the Small World that he is using so much mana. Necromancy was fine, since dark magic is not blocked. I hope this artifact doesn't have any more surprises in store for us.
Otherwise the situation could turn volatile in the blink of an eye." –
The talons refused to speak, so Lith started cutting their faces, only to heal them and start over again. The mercenaries felt cornered, not only they couldn't react but not even scream.
If any noise came out of the tent, their death would be a.s.sured, but until they kept silent, there was still a hope to escape from the deadly trap. Luck shined on them thanks to their tenacity.
The use of spirit magic was normally perceived by Small World like a fluctuation of energy, a harmless magical peak. Its prolonged use on such scale, though, was interpreted by the system like an anomaly, hence it provided to remove it.
Through her mana sense, Solus saw myriad of runes flowing into the tent, suppressing the magical restraints so fast that she barely managed to warn Lith of the impending danger.
But it was too late. As soon as the woman was free, she swept Lith with a kick, grabbing the knife at her feet, all in a single fluid movement.
Lith was taken by surprise, losing the knife trying to adjust the fall without offering his back. He was completely disarmed when the talon struck towards his left eye, aiming to pierce his brain.