Chapter 405: Left Alive?
Frey felt a scorching pain drag itself across his cheek as he stepped aside of the radiant blast, which then sailed to the other side of the clearing. A flash shattered the silence of the night; Smoldering bodies flew from the blast, the stench permeating the air. The survivors grew wide-eyed, the pure terror of facing a War Monk’s raw power practically yanking the little wooden bows and slings from their frail fingers. They ran.
Owen fired again, and Frey snapped out of his shock. He needed the group to help close the gap between him and Owen. They just needed to see someone as strong as Owen, a leader, and that was where he made his mistake. Frey gritted his teeth and swung wildly, willing to exchange a few hits to land just one.
Owen saw straight through him, easily twisting his torso around the swing: “I’m disappointed, Frey.” His fists sent two painful shocks through Frey’s ribcage, gravitating to any openings.
“Shut up,” Frey huffed, taking a moment to catch his breath.
“Tired?” Owen taunted.
Frey nearly lost it. “Why don’t you attack me?” he snapped.
“Don’t need to,” Owen explained. “You’re going to pass out well before I do, so why waste the energy?”
“You bitch,” Frey said, circling him. ‘I need a change of plan.’
“Maybe so,” Owen said, backing up a few steps. “Or maybe I’ll just do whatever it takes to achieve my mission. Don’t worry, you’ll be trained up with your family. We’ll show you how to use your power appropriately and with purpose. Arte will never have to know what being weak is like. He’ll never have to struggle for food or shelter.”
Frey’s eyes darted around the forest to gauge the distance between trees, to note the lumps of snow big enough to trip someone, the bag on Owen’s back. Anything could be useful. “Food? Shelter?” he scowled, slowly getting back into his stance. “A dog would be happy with those things. What’s next, matching collars, just like his father’s?”
Owen sighed. “You don’t under-“
Frey exploded the ground, swinging in a wide sweep. Owen followed his usual pattern and stepped to the side, eyes locked onto Frey’s unguarded ribs. ‘Here comes his counter,’ Frey thought, gritting his teeth. Pain erupted from his side, feeling a few ribs crack inwards. He dug his feet into the dirt to hold his stance. ‘Don’t pass out. He needs to be caught off guard.’ He pushed into his missed swing to his true target, a tree trunk.
Frey felt the thick wood splinter and break. Then, the night grew darker; The tree descended upon them both. ‘I show openings between my swings,’ Frey thought. ‘And the same is true for you, Owen.’
Owen’s darkening expression was brightened by radiant light, dazzling around his rising hand. “Compound magic: Great Wyrm Crunch.” Two magic circles spun around his palm, sending mana to embrace the tree. The branches sank in towards the trunk, outlining an invisible, toothy maw. The remnants descended harmlessly around Owen, who dispersed his mana with a satisfied grin. “Where did you go…”
Frey watched the hairs on the back of Owen’s neck rise up.
Owen whipped around, but it was too late.
Copper life essence flared around Frey’s arms. ‘Can’t dodge this time,’ he thought. His weapon tore through the air, the pole axe’s hammer-face diving in a bed of soft flesh and brittle ribs. Owen’s body bent around the bone-shattering impact and he cried out in pain.
Owen flew across the clearing, limbs desperately flailing through the air. He came to a stop when he slammed into a tree. He went limp and a still, quiet night returned to the clearing.
“Finally,” Frey huffed. He tried to turn around but winced. Pain was something that he, like any soldier, was used to. The shortness of breath, bruises, and the exhaustion he could tolerate.
However, they were nothing compared to the nausea gnawing away at his gut or the poisoned blood pumping through his trembling body. He leaned against his pole axe and his lunch spewed from his lips. It left a vile taste in his mouth but he felt better, for now. Turning around, that brief feeling of relief vanished.
Frey locked eyes with a familiar person crawling through the snow, Olpi. “The hell?” he blurted out.
Olpi forced a smile. “H-hi Frey.”
“I thought I told you to run,” Frey snapped. “Well, what did I expect? If you had listened to me in the first place, we wouldn’t be here.”
Olpi kept her head down, still searching through the snow. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t trust me, but it was important that I come back. I thought you’d need it to win.”
Frey scanned the snow. Whatever seemed so important that she would risk her life coming back, he couldn’t see it. He shook his head: “You know what? I don’t understand you. You said you wanted to help me as a friend, Olpi, yet all I see is someone digging their hands through the snow. You came to me. You…”
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Frey’s voice trailed off as Olpi looked up at him; Wrapped around her scarless neck were bruises. His hands tightened around his pole axe.
“I’m not like you, Frey,” Olpi lamented. “All I had was magic. He sealed it, and I don’t know when it’s coming back, if it comes back.” She held up one of her hands and closed her eyes to concentrate. Mana drifted out of her palm, fading just as fast.
Frey shrugged: “I’ll have to force him to undo it. I’ll handle it for you, don’t worry.”
“Didn’t you…” Olpi slid a finger across her throat.
“I can’t get answers out of a dead man. Get me those manacles, will you?”
Olpi didn’t move. “He’s still alive?”
“I broke him a bit but yeah.”
“You realize he’s a War Monk, right?” Olpi slowly lifted her head up to Frey, eyes slowly widening. “Frey…duck!”
A hail of fists cracked against Frey’s spine, a cacophony of blinding pain. Owen was back on his feet, his holy magic snapping his bones back into place. The beating was merciless. Relentless. No counters, blocks, nor dodges.
Frey was on the ground before he knew what hit him, his back pressed up against a tree. His arms went limp.
“Stop!” Olpi screeched, her voice sounding increasingly distant…
“You’re going to kill him! You’re going to kill him!”
“You’re killing him! You’ll kill him!”
For the second time that day, Frey fell back into darkness, a darkness much heavier than the first.