Chapter 220: Grieving
Handling two kinds of mana at once, on two different patients, was the hardest thing Lith had ever done.
He had to repair all the injuries in a timely manner, using darkness magic against the wounds the Valor's life force caused, otherwise his companions would die of shock or organ failure.
At the same time, he couldn't relieve the pressure on the black mass, not even for a second.
It was already only centimeters away from their cores, a single slip up and everything would be lost.
The memory of the kid dying in his arms during the plague was still etched into Lith's mind.
There was no way to repair a broken core.
Lith only had one chance and had to make it count.
His energy reserves were constantly depleted by his endeavor and replenished by Invigoration, but with every cycle, his breathing technique would lose part of its effectiveness.
Lith needed Solus's help from time to time, letting her take control of his mana flow whenever he felt his focus was slipping.
Soon it became a battle of will, Balkor's against Lith's.
Ironhelm would have liked to let himself fall on the ground and rest, but Nalear was getting worse by the second.
He placed his hand on the fallen Skoll's neck, caressing his soft fur for the first and last time before leaving.
Then, he felt a pulse.
He immediately activated his communication earpiece.
"Manohar, Marth, get your as*es over here! Otherwise, I swear to the gods that I will kill you!"
Blood Desert, Balkor's secret lab
When Ilyum Balkor finally regained his senses, everything was already over.
Kalla's opening move had caused a domino effect, making months of careful planning go to waste.
The shock from the sudden death of the Valors had taken him out of the picture long enough for the battle to be lost.
Without his supervision, the Valors had let themselves be blinded by the hatred Balkor had infected them with, making them conceited and reckless.
Each time one of them fell, all the others would become weaker, making it easier for the enemies to kill another one, rinse and repeat.
While trying to get up, he coughed blood again and again.
Not only was almost all of his life force gone, but also most of his magic.
It would take him years to recover, if that was even possible.
"Mother, father, my siblings, please forgive me." He wept uncontrollably.
"I have failed you.
Tomorrow, no blood will be shed.
Your deaths will be forgotten because of my incompetence!" The Lords of the forests had proven to be way stronger than he anticipated and so too were their minions.
Many Professors had fallen, even the Lightning Griffon Headmaster had died during the attack, but only a few students had been harmed.
The four remaining academies had survived, all of Balkor's efforts had been for naught.
Following Linjos's protocol, the other Headmasters had removed the academies' power cores, entrusting them to the Crown.
When Balkor's minions had stormed the academies' gates, the castles were empty shells.
"I only have one choice left.
I can't activate my last prototype.
I would die in the process and without my control, it wouldn't be able to distinguish friend from foe.
It could even harm my family.
That accursed bear has ruined everything.
In the end, even the god of death dies."
Before Warping out of his lab, Balkor activated the self destruct mechanism.
The memory crystals, his method to fuse Abominations and undead, his whole life work.
All of it was too dangerous to allow humans to ever get their hands on it.
"It all ends now." Watching the small mound collapse from afar, Balkor found himself sighing in relief.
Even if things hadn't gone as planned, he still had his closure.
Two of the six great academies were lost, several Archmages had died.
His legend would live on, instilling fear in the accursed old nobles' households for years to come.
They would never know what had happened to him or why he had stopped his attacks.
For all they knew, the god of death would be biding his time, waiting for his enemies to lower their guard while building an even stronger army.
"Also, I would pay my weight in gold to see their terrified faces.
Tomorrow night nothing will happen, yet their fear will make it the worst day of their lives."
Balkor laughed heartily, cleaning the blood from his clothes before returning home.
His children deserved to finally have a full time father.
When Lith regained his senses, he had no idea how much time had passed.
His body ached with every movement due to the strain of prolonged excessive mana use.
He barely had the mental energy to open his eyes.
His vision was blurred from physical exhaustion and he had a splitting headache caused by the severe lack of mana.
Human figures seemed to be moving around him, but because of the haze, he wasn't able to recognize any of them.
- "How… how long was I out" Even in his own thoughts, Lith couldn't avoid stuttering.
Thinking was a heavy burden, he just wanted to close his eyes and sleep.
"A few minutes." Solus replied.
"Just enough time for Friya and Quylla to wake up and infuse you with some of their life force.
Try not to speak much, your core is almost empty.
We already know what happens when someone forcefully goes beyond their limits."–
Solus was worried too.
This time Lith had gone too far, treating his companions' condition until he had lost consciousness.
She wanted him to be more human and compassionate, but not if the price was his life.
She had even given him part of her mana without him noticing.
She didn't care about her own hunger or the weakness that was numbing her senses, she wanted for him to be alright.
Lith nodded, using Invigoration once again.
His mana core was still empty and his body exhausted, but at least now he was able to see and talk properly.
"Lith what happened" Both Friya and Quylla were worried to death.
"Why won't Yurial and Phloria wake up No matter what spell we use, their condition does not improve, nor do we understand what's wrong with them.
Also, how did you get so exhausted" Friya asked.
"So nice of you to think about me too, even if only at the end." Lith rubbed his temples, trying to ease the pain.
Friya opened her mouth to reply in kind to his sarcastic remark, but remained silent.
- "Telling him that I can't help but see him as more of a monster than a human would be too cruel of a joke.
Lith may be a bit scary sometimes, but he has always been nothing but a good friend to me.
Thank the gods I can hold my stupid tongue."– Friya thought.
Lith used that respite to tell them about how he had escaped from the Valor bringing them with him.
He also told them how the creature had infected their companions and his attempts to cure them.
Even if she meant it as a bad joke, Friya felt terrible for thinking those words.
"Please, go find a Professor.
I don't know if I saved them or just bought them some more time.
They need someone that knows what we are dealing with."
Friya nodded, leaving Quylla to take care of her friends while she Blinked right above their house, her rapier ready at hand.
From the higher ground, she noticed that the battle seemed to be over.
The town plaza was empty.
Some skirmishes were still going on between beasts, Professors, and lesser undead, but the black creatures were reduced to a few handfuls.
From the moment Scarlett had killed the Controllers, the hive mind had collapsed.
Without it, the Tox Spitters had no combat awareness, they had reverted to mindless blank slates.
It was only a matter of minutes before they got completely wiped out.
Friya identified a group of Professors and went to ask for their help, too late to notice that, what they were battling against, students that were turned into undead.
Her rapier cut and stabbed the reanimated corpses mercilessly.
Her hand didn't even hesitate when she recognized some of them as her classmates.
The only things Friya felt were the urgency to prevent her sister and friend from suffering the same fate and gratitude towards Orion.
The blade he had crafted for her fitted her hand like a glove.
While the multiple enchantments he had forgemastered it with made short work of her enemies, turning them into dust and smoke.
- "I swear that if I get back home alive, I'll start calling Orion 'dad'."– Friya thought, realizing the depth of care and love her adoptive father held.
"Please, I need a healer! My friends have been hurt!" Realizing what was affecting her friends, Friya's worry increased tenfold.
Professor Wanemyre nodded, activating her communication earpiece.
"There isn't a second to lose, tell me where to find them."
It took less than a second for Professor Marth to join them and open a Warp Steps back to Lith's room.
"How long ago have they been struck" Marth knew that, once the dark energy entered the bloodstream, it was only a matter of minutes before the victim died, almost instantly resurrecting as a lesser undead.
"I don't know." Friya pointed to him the two youths lying on their beds.
Marth cursed their bad luck, casting a diagnostic spell to see how severe their condition was, only to discover that their system was completely cleansed.
The two students were simply exhausted beyond reason like they had fought and won the battle of a lifetime.
Marth had no idea what could have possibly happened, and he was simply too happy to care.
His joy was short lived though.
As soon as he saw Lith, sadness gripped Marth's heart.
Lith seemed exhausted too, he barely had the strength to eat the medical provisions Quylla was handing him.
Marth didn't want to burden him further, but time was of the essence.
"Lith, I'm really sorry." Marth placed a hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him.
"One of your friends has been gravely injured.
He doesn't have much time left and he is asking for you."
"A friend" Lith's sleepy eyes were suddenly wide open, checking his surroundings.
"What's wrong with Yurial" He couldn't help but be surprised by the worry he recognized in his own voice.
"Yurial is fine.
Whatever you did, it worked.
You don't know how proud I am of you." Marth smiled gently, he would have liked to ask him many things, but questions had to wait.
"I'm talking about Protector.
He has something to say to you.
I've never seen someone with such strong willpower.
He is literally refusing to die before speaking with you one last time.
Please follow me."
Something inside Lith snapped, making all of his exhaustion disappear.
Solus knew it was only a placebo effect, caused by Lith's desire to cry clashing with his firm denial that something might have happened to his old friend.
"Take me to him."
Marth opened a Warp Steps, seeing ill concealed pain in Lith's eyes.
Protector's body was too big to fit in the field hospital and his condition was too severe to move him from the spot he had fallen.
Lith's heart ached to see the flaming red fur blackened all over, the flames that made up the tails were reduced to embers.
Protector's chest raised and lowered slowly, accompanied by heavy pants.
Manohar had done his best, arriving as soon as he had been summoned.
He had used all his expertise to cleanse the toxin, close the wounds, and defuse the lethal effects that such a prolonged exposure to the Dark Star spell would induce.
He was called the god of healing, but he was no god.
Just a gifted man that loved his job.
There were things even he was helpless against.
"It's all your fault!" Manohar roared to Ironhelm.
"You should have called me earlier! I could have saved him.
I never, ever fail!"
Manohar didn't care much for the Skoll's fate, nevertheless, he had done the best that he could.
His work was his life, it defined what and who he was.
Lith pushed Manohar away, touching Protector to use Invigoration and check his condition.
What he saw made his heart skip a beat.
Protector's core was deeply cracked, his mana was slowly seeping out.
It had already turned back to green and was losing strength with each passing second.
"Glad to see you before the end, Lith." Protector's voice was still calm and serene like the first time they had met.
"Don't be sad for me.
I had a great life, a loving mate and many offspring.
If it wasn't for Scarlett, I would already be dead.
I was living on borrowed time.
I am really happy to get the opportunity to return her favor."
Every one of his words was supposed to console Lith, to make him feel better.
Yet every time he spoke, Lith felt a dagger piercing his heart.
Tears started to stream from his eyes, but his voice was stone cold.
"This is all your fault!" He roared to Scarlett and Linjos that were standing at Protector's side after trying every single spell they knew to save his life.
"You screw up everything you touch! Who the f*ck is that dumb son of a b*tch that made you Headmaster" Linjos could expel him for all he cared.
If something happened to Protector, Balkor would have to get in line to get his turn with the Headmaster.