Editor: PervySageChuck, Nate, Skythewood
Itami rubbed his forehead as he shook his head, his vision slowly returning to him.
The ground, which should have remained still, seemed to be spinning back and forth. Had he fallen down? Or did something knock him down? He did not know. After being hit by Seimy and her LAM’s backblast, the semicircular canals in his ears were disturbed, and his sense of balance was disrupted.
Every part of his body that had sweat on it was stained with dirt, and combined with the thick black exhaust smoke of the LAM, Itami looked like a filthy mudman. The grit had even gotten into his mouth, and the feeling of the dust filling the gaps in his mouth was disgusting.
He tried to gather up saliva and spat several times to clear his mouth. After that, while he felt some spit on his face, he remembered how he had been knocked down.
How long had passed? An instant? Several seconds? Or a few minutes?
The world spun before his eyes, and as Itami waited for his dizziness to fade, he looked around.
Right now, Seimy’s face was within arm’s reach, and her eyes were staring at Itami. The fact that her eyes were so close and so still startled Itami. What had happened to her? Then, as Itami’s line of sight drifted down her beautiful, over her slender neck and her ample, generously proportioned breasts, he understood.
Seimy was a corpse.
Although she was chewed to pieces by the Flame Dragon, she was not gulped and swallowed down. The seductive Seimy was reduced to this state in the span of a few seconds, which struck Itami as unnatural. This girl would never move again. Her motionless body would not think, nor would it speak. It was but a carcass.
Itami slowly reached his hand out to touch her face.
Her body was still soft, and there were traces of heat in her flesh. Her face was untouched. When he closed her eyes, she looked like she was sleeping. However, after looking down at the unimaginable reality below her breasts, at the crimson ruin of her waist and the nothing that was left of the rest of her body, Itami finally realised that she would never wake up again.
Suddenly, there was an explosion, and a wave of heat carried a hail of fragments down on Itami.
He hurriedly grabbed his head. Although he had small cuts all over his body, he could not pinpoint which of his many bruises or burns filled his body with agony. The shock wave that came with the heat and the fragments battered his entire body. It would not be a surprise if that impact dealt heavy damage to him.
This was when Itami keenly realised that his battle with the Flame Dragon was just beginning, and it would keep going on.
It was said that when a man was decapitated, he would still be conscious in the brief period before his brain cells died. If that was true, then Itami was the last thing Seimy saw as her world faded to black.
If that was the case, what was she thinking as she looked at Itami?
“I have to go.”
Itami patted Seimy’s head in farewell, and then his conviction spurred his body into motion as he crawled forward.
He realised that his helmet was gone. Because the chin strap was old and frayed, it broke when the helmet was subjected to a light impact and the helmet flew off. Should he be glad that his head was still intact, or sad that his helmet had failed him?
Grabbing his head as he dodged the flying fragments, the shockwaves of the explosions, and the Flame Dragon’s gouts of searing fire, Itami looked around, feeling for the detonation trigger.
Before long, he found it buried under some dust and sand.
Itami reached out for it, but it did not feel like a detonation trigger at all, and he clicked his tongue.
The detonation wire had been severed. Was it because of the LAM’s explosion, or the flying fragments? Nobody knew.
His hard work was all wasted.
If they could not use the explosives, then they had to bet everything on the LAMs. However, the Dark Elves had sacrificed themselves in a wild, uncoordinated charge. The only Dark Elves left were Crow, Fen and Yao. And the three of them were worn out. They were covered in blood and cuts, and black scorch marks all over them which might have been caused by the Flame Dragon’s breath or the LAM’s backblast.
Yao grabbed a LAM from Ban’s corpse and charged the Flame Dragon. She faithfully followed Itami’s instructions. She pulled out the probe and set the safety to F. If it hit, it would blow the Dragon’s scales to gory chunks.
The maddened Flame Dragon threw itself against the rock walls, jumping around as though to escape the LAM’s rockets. Every time its vast body smashed into the ground and stone, the outcropping of stone shook violently, and rocks from the walls rained down on everyone, accompanied by an avalanche of volcanic ash, gravel and bedrock.
Just then, Fen was consumed by the Flame Dragon’s breath, and with his dying attack, he scored a telling blow on the Flame Dragon.
Itami rose, saying “You idiot!” as he did.
In just a short while, the Dark Elves had accrued a startling number of casualties. Seimy was dead, and now Fen was dead. If he hesitated for even a single moment, the next ones might be Lelei, Tuka, Yao and Crow. The instant he thought that, Itami blurred into action. Perhaps it was some grand resolve, or his conviction, but whatever the case, it was moving him. He did not imagine anything, his mind was blank and the only thing he did was the reflexive actions drilled into him during his training. Itami launched himself out, grabbed the detonation trigger, the reel of detonation cord, and he had the pliers in his mouth.
He ran beneath the Flame Dragon’s feet, felt for the buried detonation bus, and began excavating the ground.
A mere clash of blades was not a battle. A mere exchange of gun and cannon fire was not a battle either. Digging, conveying orders, setting explosives, every task had its place, and every order relayed had to be faithfully executed. That was the whole of a battle.
Itami’s order to himself was to ensure their final trump card against the Flame Dragon was usable.
He found the severed ends of the wire, stripped them, then spliced them together.
It sounded simple, but the Flame Dragon was tramping about above him, spewing flames from its bloody maw, and the shockwaves from the LAM explosions rocked the area.
The Dragon cried out as though it were wailing in pain.
It spread both its wings to leave the outcropping — at last, it was going to flee.
The dust and sand falling on Itami’s head made him cough uncontrollably. He grabbed the reel and paid out the newly-repaired detonation cord. Just then, somebody laughed with mocking shrillness.
He glanced behind — it was Lelei.
Her robe-like vestments blew in an invisible wind, and her emerald eyes glowed with power.
Her slender arms projected forth from her body, and her outstretched hands reached to the sky. Her fingers pointed forward, and there Itami saw countless swords floating in the air as if they had been hung there, their numbers blotting out the starry sky beyond them.
“Die, you shitty lizard!”
With her uncharacteristic crudity as the signal, the swords fell like rain.
Itami suddenly realised that being caught in this sword rain was no joke, and he swiftly fled. Yao and Crow realized the danger as well, and panicked.
Lelei’s personality seemed to have changed all of a sudden.
The usually calm and emotionless Lelei, like a sheet of white paper, was now vividly dyed by assorted emotions.
Itami grabbed his head and threw himself down onto the ground. Yao and Crow followed him to the dirt, their foreheads almost touching.
They gritted their teeth and waited for the swords to fall. However, the impact they created was not as powerful as they thought it would be.
The floating swords were not simply drawn down by gravity. From the way they were launched, they were clearly aimed at the Dragon’s eyes. They flew to their objective with precision targeting. The swords encircled the Dragon from all sides and cut off the Dragon’s escape, and then the explosions began.
The impulse of the explosions launched the swords forward. Many of them were blown to pieces, and many others bounced off, having lost their sharpness. Of course, some of them pierced the Dragon’s tough scales. But from the looks of things, that was only a small fraction of them. At an estimate, 10% of them struck home? Or 5%? From this, one could see how many merchants had betrayed the heroes who placed their trust in these swords.
However, Lelei controlled many swords.
Perhaps only a small fraction of the swords struck home, but even a fraction of a large number was still an impressive amount.
The swords made by legendary smiths pierced into the Flame Dragon’s body. In addition, Lelei’s attack also targeted the wings of the Flame Dragon as it tried to flee. Both wings were shredded into tatters and lost the power to lift its vast body, and so it fell.
That vast body struck the outcropping.
It did so with an incredible impact.
The outcropping lurched violently, and cracks spread through the bedrock. The Flame Dragon was as badly hurt as the stone it fell on, and it thrashed in agony. Its wings could not bear it aloft, and the numerous wounds all over its body leaked blood. Impaled by dozens of swords, spears and blades, it did not have the strength to stand up.
It did not even have the strength to moan in pain.
“We did it!”
Yao and Crow were elated as they saw the Flame Dragon sprawled on the ground like a beaten dog. They each drew their sabers. However, even if it could not fly, it still had offensive and defensive power on par with a tank. As Itami saw their charge, he saw that it was still dangerous.
Itami managed to grab Yao by the hair, but Crow did not stop. In addition, Lelei collapsed in exhaustion before him. Itami’s hands were full holding onto Yao and helping Lelei up.
Crow drew his sword, and looking straight ahead, he swung at the Flame Dragon with all his strength.
As the blade bounced off with a ringing metallic sound, Crow realised the unnatural toughness of the Dragon’s scales, but the thrill of striking the Dragon with his sword consumed him, and he launched blow after blow at it.
“You bastard! You bastard!”
Crow seemed to have forgotten everything else as he swung his sword, and when he realized it wasn’t working, he stabbed with the point. He drove his blade through the gaps between the scales. He planned to work his blade and cut out its scales.
However, even on the brink of death, a Flame Dragon was still a Flame Dragon.
It raised its head and looked at its shifting body, and at the same time it exhaled a gout of fire over the irritating gnat picking at it, and Crow burst into flame.
“Crow!” Yao shouted and reached her hand out to him, but Itami held onto her for dear life.
“Don’t go, Yao! Don’t do it!”
“Crow! Itami-dono, let me go!”
“Don’t do it, you’ll get caught in it as well!”
Yao’s shouts were futile, and Crow went from a rolling fireball on the ground to a lifeless corpse.
The Flame Dragon’s eyes were filled with bloodlust. It exhaled brief spurts of flame as it intimidated Itami and the others. Its eyes were filled with the dogged determination to live that any Ancient Dragon would have.
“Why! Why did you stop me?!”
“You stupid bitch, get a fucking grip and calm the fuck down!”
Itami could not let go of the agitated Yao. His plan was to back away from the Flame Dragon that might breathe fire at any time and into the cave, and he kept pulling on Yao’s hand as he went.
“Ah, aaah, aahhhhh!”
“Just bite your nails and watch from the side,” Lelei said mockingly. Tuka could only sit there in silence and watch the battle play out before her.
The Dark Elf died in the fire.
Yao reached her hand out to help her comrade, but Itami held onto her and did not let go. He was steadfastly determined to drag her away from the Flame Dragon. Yao, filled with bloodlust, kept resisting Itami’s pull. She kept trying to break free from him and run at the Flame Dragon.
At that moment, she saw her body superimposed over Yao’s.
I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot, idiotidiotidiotidiotidiotidiot.
The Flame Dragon before her shook its body slightly and bared its fangs at Itami. Itami’s back was to the Dragon as he scooped up Lelei and yanked at Yao’s hand.
The Flame Dragon lowered its jaw, revealing its razor-sharp fangs.
Tuka saw the image of her father over that of Itami, his back to the Dragon.
“Father… is dead.”
And in this moment, that thought filled Tuka’s mind.
She clenched her teeth, and stepped forward.
She had no sword or bow in hand. Most Elves would be defenseless in this state.
Tuka went forward with her bare hands.
Forest Elves lived in the woods, and they had an affinity for wind and wood-elemental magic. And of course, Tuka was a High Elf, and she only needed two verses to incant her magic.
This was spirit magic that summoned lightning.
A tear ran down from Tuka’s sea-blue eyes, and she finished the incantation for her lightning spell.
Of course, Tuka’s lightning attack would not be fatal to the Flame Dragon. Perhaps if her father or many Elves in unison cast that spell, it might have felled the Dragon.
However, that was enough. That was enough to get the Flame Dragon’s attention. Even if it was just for a fleeting moment, a fraction of a second, an instant, a blink of an eye, it was enough for the man whose body overlapped with the image of her father to get away, to flee the gaping maw and save himself.
Blue-white lightning flashed through the air, and the earth trembled.
As the lightning struck, Itami grabbed Lelei and pulled Yao toward Tuka. And then, Tuka received them with both arms. In this way, Itami brought Lelei, Tuka and Yao into the cave. This time, Tuka was not alone; she was with everyone, and together they went for the safety of the cave.
As the electricity struck the Dragon’s body, the current which should have flowed harmlessly along the Dragon’s body and into the ground was instead conducted into its body by the swords protruding from it.
Electricity followed the path of least resistance when it travelled, and so it stabbed into the Dragon’s body. After that, Itami armed and fired the detonation trigger. The electronic impulse raced down the freshly-repaired detonation cord and into the countless detonators stuck into the 75 kilograms of C4 plastic explosive buried within the earth.
The Flame Dragon’s heart pounded.
And then —
The Flame Dragon howled mournfully, its death throes exploding into the air like the rending of a slab of metal. And then, after the wail, it was the earth’s turn to explode, making people think the volcano had erupted. The wall of sound echoed through the cave and the earth shuddered. The shockwave blasted through the ears of Itami on the ground and the standing Tuka. For everyone, it felt as though their very souls had been blasted to bits by the explosion.
The Flame Dragon’s vast body was torn asunder by the destructive power of the C4.
The blood that spurted from its cardiac arteries burst into flame as it contacted the air.
Every beat of the Flame Dragon’s heart spurted more blood from its arteries, and in place of the red liquid that should have flowed through its body, tongues of flame flew into the air. The blood that splattered everywhere began to burn, and soon its body was consumed in flame.
The sturdy dragon scales had been blasted apart and the inside of its body was a furnace. At this stage, there was no saving the beast. The Flame Dragon shuddered and trembled, trails of crimson flame spraying out of the injuries in its body and setting the whole place on fire. As it struggled in agony, the outcropping finally collapsed, and it fell into the endless darkness below.
And then, with that, the whole world started to come apart.
The cave’s roof began to collapse, as though it was a mineshaft whose supports had been knocked out. Cracks spread through the ground and grew larger, finally becoming a yawning crevasse. It seemed as though the four of them would be dragged down to hell.
Itami slapped Yao’s face, then picked up the immobile Lelei and urged Tuka on.
Tuka’s body had been battered by the tremendous impact and she hurt all over, but she had no time to complain about that. “Run! Run! Run!” Itami shouted, and Tuka broke into a sprint.
The cave roof, the stalactites, the floor, cracks appeared everywhere and they began to collapse.
The earthquake did not stop. Instead, it seemed to be getting stronger. If this kept up, the entire world might break apart.
The cave’s interior, where the steps seemed like the inside of a temple, began to collapse behind Itami’s band as they ran past.
The debris that fell was swallowed by the yawning void below them.
The bolt of fear that lanced through Tuka as the ground underneath her disappeared into the Abyss made her scream.
Itami grabbed Tuka’s left hand with his right. He desperately pulled her up, trying to keep her from falling.
Itami was thinking of hauling her up when Yao suddenly reached her hand out and supported her body. Both their hands gripped Tuka’s firmly.
Countless cracks appeared around them, all of which led to the earth.
The sturdy, hard floor beneath them sudden felt like sandy stone. The rock pillars collapsed. All the pillars holding the cave up snapped and broke.
It was dangerous here, it was dangerous there, and there was hardly a safe place in sight.
Itami held tightly onto Tuka’s hand and ran through the collapsing cave.
The group ran desperately forward, as the floor behind them collapsed just a hair’s breadth behind every step they took. It felt as if the collapsing cave was pursuing them in order to swallow them into the depths of the earth.
The fear of the collapse and the fatigue of the full sprint drained Tuka’s strength without remorse.
Her flowing long hair was stained with dirt and blackened by smoke. Sand and debris stuck to her skin with her sweat as the mortar, and she looked like she had rolled around in a mud puddle.
Her heart pounded like a clock tower striking twelve, and her chest felt like it would break. Every breath she took burned and filled her with pain and misery.
A rock fell from the mouth of the cave. The word “catastrophic collapse” would be appropriate here — everything was falling. However, some people survived — they had cheated death.
She was alive.
Itami was alive.
Lelei was alive.
Yao was alive.
Tuka gripped Itami’s hand and savored the reality — that she had not died, and that she had avenged her father.
Before she knew it, they had made it outside, and her strength returned.
The group emerged from the collapsing cavern with their lives. As they made contact with the outside air, Itami’s group collapsed like puppets whose strings had been cut.
Their shoulders heaved as they took deep breaths, and then coughed uncontrollably.
They had breathed in the searing air, and it burned their lungs. Their limbs were as dull and heavy as lead, and Itami was angry and depressed at his pitiful state.
The area around the cave entrance was covered in debris, and the dust in the air settled slowly.
The western side of the sky still sparkled with stars, but the east was stained a dreamlike red.
“Haa, haa, haa… is everyone alright?”
Itami’s question was simple. Tuka replied, “I’m alive”, Yao said, “Somehow” and Lelei replied, “No significant injuries”.
“You sure took your time,” Rory said in a voice that was more of a whisper.
It looked like everyone was safe, but come to think about it, everyone was covered in wounds, so calling this “safe” did not seem very appropriate. In any case, after Itami confirmed that everyone was back, he breathed a sigh of relief.
After a brief silence, Itami suddenly noticed something.
Itami raised his head, he saw a ragged doll, fallen on the ground, clad in shredded black Goth clothing sewn with lace.
Her limbs looked like they were about to come apart, and her body was covered in wounds.
There was hardly a spot on her which was intact. A thin white smoke rose from her wounds, like steam hissing off a hot pan, and the wounds healed in an instant. But to a bystander, this healing could not match up to the bleeding and the damage she had taken. The fact that she was still alive was quite surprising.
“What’s this? What happened?”
Ignoring everyone else around him, Itami went up to the Loli and cradled her in his arms.
When Rory’s arm drooped powerlessly to the ground, he panicked. It would seem her left arm was only attached by a piece of skin.
Amidst his panic, Itami managed to stick her arm back on. It seemed illogical, but this time, it was the right thing to do — the wounds all over her body began to heal.
“Really, onee-sama, to think a human would be worrying about you. It seems you’ve gotten rusty.”
Itami turned around, looking to where the voice had come from.
Further up the slope stood a girl in white priestess’ clothing, flanked by two young Dragons.
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