Flame and shadow collided in a dance of death as raven and ant interweaved through the mountains in the Forbidden Zone.
After breaking through to Tier 4, Aeryn Corvus’ mana had undergone another qualitative leap. If Tier 1 mana was vapour, Tier 2 akin to clouds, Tier 3 like water, then, Tier 4 mana was slush. The semi-solid origin of his magic had condensed around him into his Domain and taken the shape of a gigantic raven. Merged with his Domain as he was, and empowered by his newfound instincts, he ducked and weaved through the storm of fireballs that the horse-sized ant was shooting his way.
Unlike his wings which were built for sustained flight, the wings of the ant were pitiful excuses. The four transparent membranous appendages were veined in a pattern that reacted with the surrounding wind when mana was passed through them, keeping the giant insect aloft. Designed more for hovering than flight, they blurred as the ant tried to match the raven’s speed, producing their characteristic whine.
In sharp contrast, Aeryn’s wings were exquisite creations of nature. Each feather meshed in patterns that aided flight and lightened him as he channelled mana through them. The patterns had carried over to the shadow raven’s wings when he had merged with his Domain. That was why, even before he had advanced to Tier 4, he had been able to keep ahead of the pursuing ant commander.
He had expected that once he had advanced, he would be able to outpace the pursuit of the ant but unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case.
He had grossly overestimated the boost to his speed that advancement to the higher Tier would bring. He was faster, yes, but not fast enough. Especially not when the ant had taken to burning its mana to propel itself faster in the air. It was like a flaming comet, scorching through the air, leaving fiery contrails behind.
While advancement had improved the quality of his mana, it hadn’t done anything about his dwindling reserves. The ant had more mana than he did and even with its wasteful spending, he would be the first to drop down in the battle of attrition. That was why, he had decided to engage it in combat before his reserves ran too low for that to be an option.
The shadow raven cut through the air silently with the ant in hot pursuit. Whipping his wings, he dodged another barrage of flaming bullets, letting them pass beneath him. He snapped his wings open to catch the updraft created by the flames. Flying upside down above the ant, he came down behind the beast, flipping the roles of pursuer and pursued.
Hovering in mid-air, he whipped his wings hard. Hundreds of feathers made of shadow shot out, hitting the ant, that was in the process of turning around, square on its body.
Upon contact with its carapace, the feathers splattered onto the ant as though they were made of ink, covering its body with shadowy blotches.
Tier 4 bloodline magic: Feather storm.
It was one of the spells that he had learnt from the instinctual memories in his bloodline. The ant screeched in pain as the shadows made a sound like oil on a frying pan as they began corroding its body.
One feather that had missed its mark, landed on the mountain beneath them. The shadows ate through the weather-beaten rock leaving a hole whose bottom couldn’t be seen.
The ant glowed an infernal red, then burst into crimson flames that seared the shadows away.
Encased within the raven, Corvus sighed. Magic really sold at a discount when it came to Beasts above Tier 3. The bodies of the Beasts were their Domains. Their mana was infused into each inch of their flesh and blood, making their resilience and resistance to spells phenomenal. Just like his shadow raven, all the beasts had to do to heal their injuries was to pump their mana into the injured part and it would regenerate. And in the case of light elemental beasts, the efficiency of that healing was so great that unless one managed to kill them in a single strike, they were nearly undying until they ran out of mana.
Using a spell against a Beast that had managed to completely infuse its body with mana and form its domain was just a competition of mana. The effects of the spell were secondary to the amount of mana contained within. This was quite a disadvantage for him as the last thing he could afford to do now was compete against the ant in mana reserves.
Taking advantage of the distracted ant, he swooped down on it and grabbed two of its wings in his talons and pulled. Screeching in outrage, the flames on the ant burnt exuberantly, expanding outwards to engulf both of their forms. Clenching his teeth, he ignored the heat and beat his wings powerfully.
With the sound of ripping parchment, the two membranous wings were torn apart as the both of them tumbled down towards the ground. Spreading his charred wings, he slowed his descent and flattened out while the ant slammed into the mountain beneath, fissuring the hard rock.
It didn’t take even a minute for the monstrous regeneration of the ant to kick in and it crawled out of the crater limping on four legs and with two tattered wings.
Aeryn hovered above the crater, watching grimly as the wounds began to heal at a speed visible to the naked eye.
This way, his defeat was just a matter of time. He had no other choice but to bet it all on a single throw of the die.
A tiny portal formed in front of him. It was made of lightly swirling shadows, ethereal and incorporeal.
The raven shrank as he poured more and more of the mana that made it into the portal, trying to solidify it. The aperture grew from the size of a coin to the size of Aeryn’s palm, darkening from the fuzzy shadows of dusk to the absolute darkness of an overcast night. When he had fed the entirety of his mana into the portal, dispelling the raven and revealing his true body, it substantialized.
Gasping for breath he pushed his hand through the portal and clenched his fist. With a wet ‘squelch’ he felt the brain of the ant get crushed.
With a rending cry, the dying ant lit the entirety of its mana and exploded, dyeing the mountaintop a sanguine red.
Aeryn only had time for a muttered expletive before the force of the explosion threw him away, slamming him into the rock face.
The blast triggered an avalanche of rock and soil that ran down the side of the mountain, raising a cloud of dust.
Aeryn coughed out dusty blood as he struggled up from where he had been thrown. A wing was broken, one of his legs was fractured and he could barely crawl with how exhausted he was from using up the entirety of his mana.
He looked at the hand he had pushed through the portal.
From wrist down, only a charred stump remained.
“How unfortunate.” he sighed.
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