<<White Plated Dragon>>.
It was a beast of legends, occupying the position as the grandest, most powerful of the race of monsters known as <<Dragons>>. With immense killing power, with claws, wings and teeth that could slice through anything, with scales harder than steel that shone brilliantly in the night, the <<Plated Dragons>> were a subspecies of Dragons that were feared and respected greatly. They possessed a monstrous strength and speed, and were gifted with extraordinary sensory capabilities, able of navigating in pitch darkness with equal capability as in the light, <<Plated Dragons>> possessed an official risk rating of “E”, for “Escape”. It was largely considered folly to attempt to combat one, and escape was advised as the only wise solution to encountering one. They were rare and low in number, and often kept to themselves, but most who foolishly attempted to challenge these beasts paid for their arrogance with their lives. There were very few recorded instances of <<Plated Dragons>> being defeated, and these instances usually involved the collaborative efforts of multiple Hero-class adventurers, with the aid of numerous <<Paragons>>.
<<Plated Dragons>> had different colours, with each colour indicating their different subspecies. Each colour had different attributes, and some were considered less dangerous than others. <<Black Plated Dragons>> were considered the weakest of their kind, and most of the <<Plated Dragons>> slain in myth were of the black variety. <<Red Plated Dragons>> had the ability to use <<Air>> and <<Fire>> magic, along with being faster than their brethren. <<Blue Plated Dragons>> were capable of utilising <<Water>> and <<Earth>> magic, and had harder scales than the others.
And then there were the <<White Plated Dragons>>. These were considered the <<Kings>> of the <<Plated Dragons>>. They could use <<All Element>> magic, were faster, stronger, smarter, more durable than their fellows. There were almost no records of them, and absolutely no records of one being defeated. They were considered the stuff of legends, beasts seen only in the old tales and stories of great heroes. Most scholars doubted their very existence.
And yet, here one was, advancing towards the members of <<Battleforged>>, emanating pure hostility.
Lily wrapped her arms around herself, making herself smaller. Hina stayed in a ready stance, the tip of the katana slightly trembling. Sweat beaded on her brow. Christopher’s face was dyed a pale white, tail standing straight up, ears constantly twitching. Anya’s face remained stoic, but her fists restlessly clenched and unclenched. Enya bit her lip, her face a show of fear, but she stayed in position. And Gorin, staying tall, stood before the creature, in front of the group, his face a picture of grim determination. His grip tightened on his sword as he raised his shield, planting his feet firmly on the ground beneath him.
The room they were in had two entrances, one on either side of the party. Across from the party was the dragon. They had to choose.
Gorin spoke up, never relaxing his stance, never taking his eyes off the foe.
“When I give the signal, run to the left. Keep running until you escape. Don’t stop, don’t turn back. No matter what, don’t stop until you all get to safety.”
“E-eh? Gorin… what are you planning to do…?”
There was something clearly off in his tone, and Enya picked up on it perfectly. Something was wrong.
“It’s been a great time. I enjoyed adventuring with you. These few years that I’ve known you have been the best, most meaningful of my short life.”
“Enya, Anya. You two twins make sure you always stay together. Always support each other. Anya, make sure Enya doesn’t get too out of hand. And Enya, always remember to keep Anya in good spirits.”
“Gorin, you’re not… are you…?”
“Chris, watch over the girls. I’m leaving it to you. I know how dependable you are.”
“Gorin. I don’t approve of whatever you’re planning. But okay.”
“Hina. You have a lot of potential. Never give up, always move forward, and I’m sure you’ll one day be a top-rate adventurer. Perhaps even Hero-rank.”
“…Gorin. What are you saying? Why do you sound like… you’re going away…?”
“Finally. Miss Lily. It’s a shame we didn’t get to talk more. But… your power is not useless. Your power is amazing. Believe in that. I believe you will change the world. Don’t ever lose sight of your dream.”
Lily could give no other response than a stifled sob. Gorin, still locking eyes with the Dragon, smiled slightly.
“It’s been good fighting with you. Thank you all. Well then… my last order. Move! <<Base Attraction>>!”
With a shout, Gorin dashed to the right, activating the <<Base Attraction>> skill, which caused monsters to target the user. As he moved, the remaining members of <<Battleforged>>, tears in their eyes, dashed for the left exit, with Hina pulling along Lily’s hand.
As he ran, Gorin’s thoughts became calm. He knew he was going to die. He accepted that. He was content that with the Dragon’s attention on him, the rest would get away safely. As he ran, a great force struck him across the back, instantly shattering his ribcage, sending him flying into the wall next to the right exit.
Upon the impact, cracks began to spread along that wall, to the ceiling, and then the exit passageway crumbled upon itself, burying Gorin in rubble, blocking off the exit. Without any time for last thoughts, Gorin’s death was instant.
If there were any one thing to be thankful for in this situation, it would be that while attacking Gorin, the Dragon had not paid attention to the other members of the party, and thus they had enough time to reach the left exit and escape. That was Gorin’s intention. That was Gorin’s last act.
…If only fate cared about the wishes of a dead man.
The strong blow that had catapulted Gorin into the wall was not an attack. Rather, it was the tail of the dragon, whipping behind it as it turned to the left exit. Gorin’s <<Base Attraction>> skill was far too weak to affect a creature of such majesty. The creature had paid Gorin no heed, tracking Lily the whole while. The moment Lily had fled to the left, it turned that way in pursuit. Gorin’s death was simply collateral damage.
Just as Christopher, in the lead of the fleeing party, was about to step through the left exit, the Dragon pounced on him, swiping away his body, sharp claws gouging cleanly through his torso. Flung away, the Nekoi man bounced on the floor several times, finally rolling to a stop against the wall, his entrails glistening as they leaked out of the three diagonal lacerations across his abdomen. He vomited blood once, then moved no more.
The Dragon turned its attention to the rest of the party, its body blocking the path to the exit. The group of girls stood before it, all rooted to the spot, skin turning paler with each moment. Enya glanced at the pile of rubble under which Gorin lay, then she slowly looked over to Christopher’s ravaged corpse. Eyes open wide, she began to quiver, dropping her staff on the ground.
What was to be a scream was cut short in its early stages as the Dragon’s wing flashed downwards. Her last scream of fear caught in her throat, with an expression of surprise eternally etched onto her face, the two bisected halves of Enya fell to the ground.
The moment Enya fell, Anya crouched down, clutching her hand to her heart. Tears flowed unchecked from her eyes. Then her sorrow was ended by the other wing, erasing her life in an identical fashion.
Finally, Lily and Hina stood alone against the Dragon before them, standing side by side. Lily locked eyes with the creature, a mixture of fear and defiance in her eyes. Hina stood in a ready stance, hand on her sword hilt, posture bent low. But her eyes showed fear. Slight tremors ran along her body. Her hands shook ever so slightly. Her whole body was tensed, facing the expectation of death.
Then she felt a warmth on her shoulder. Lily’s hand. Hina closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Then she opened them again, filled with renewed determination. The fear still threatened to overwhelm her, but she held it back. If nobody else, she would protect Lily. In truth, the reality of her party members’ deaths had not set in fully; a part of her still refused to believe it. But the time for acceptance could come later. First she had to protect her friend and client.
As Hina and the Dragon stared each other down, the Dragon’s neck tensed slightly. With a sudden premonition of danger, with a brief glance of the future provided by <<Clairvoyance>>, Hina immediately pushed Lily away with all her might.
It was not quite enough.
At the same moment when Lily lurched backward, the Dragon’s head surged forward, clamping down where she had previously been. While Hina’s quick action had saved Lily’s life, it was not quick enough to let her completely escape. The Dragon’s jaws clamped upon Lily’s legs at her thighs, piercing through the skin with ease, biting through most of the bone and muscle.
For a moment, Lily remained silent, unable to comprehend what had just occured. Then the pain struck her in full.
Searing pain scorched through her nerves, centered around her legs. If put into words, the pain was similar to that of getting one’s leg slowly, methodically being crushed by a waterwheel, but condensed into a single moment of blinding agony. Lily could think of nothing but the pain, any coherent thought seared away cleanly by the intensity of her suffering. Then she blanked out.
The Dragon slowly drew its head back, Lily clamped in its jaw, rising back to its original relaxed posture. Lily dangled limply from its jaw, the scarce tendons keeping her attached to her calves threatening to give way at any moment. Her newspaper cap fell to the ground, landing with a soft, wet sound amidst the rapidly growing puddle of Lily’s blood.
Hina got another brief glimpse of the future. A future where the dragon tossed Lily into its mouth and swallowed her in one gulp. Struck with rage and fear, she tensed up, ready to strike, to make her final attack.
…at that moment.
A small box fell from Lily’s torso, glinting slightly. It struck the ground. And then the world became a cacophony of sound.
The <<Music Box>>. As Lily dangled, it fell from her pocket. Upon striking the floor, the <<Amplification Ore>> shattered. As if in mockery of its creator’s countless hours of effort, the sound it produced as it shattered was jarring. The sound of glass breaking, multiplied by a factor of fifty, being reflected throughout and within the circular cavern, resounded from all directions, creating an unnatural shriek that simply echoed over and over.
Hina’s head felt like it would split apart from the sharp, torturous sound. As it continued to echo, her concentration was entirely broken by the sound, rendering her unable to attack effectively.
For the Dragon, whose sense of hearing was far and above that of humans’, the effect was far more pronounced. It began thrashing wildly, its wings and claws slicing up the ground around it without mercy. Its eyes darted around quickly, unceasingly, in discomfort. It rapidly shook its head back and forth, looking for the source of the sound.
It was this movement that finally wrenched Lily’s body from her legs, the last few tendons snapping under the strain of the sudden movement. She flew across the room, into the room from which the Dragon had emerged. She slammed against the wall, causing a number of snapping sounds to resound from her spine and chest, then she fell to the ground, slumped over. The impact restoring her consciousness, she listlessly watched the <<Transfer Circle>> around her begin to glow, suffering from a pain which rendered her incapable of screaming.
The blood which continued flowing from the stumps where her legs had once been started to pool within the <<Transfer Circle>>, turning its white glow a deep crimson. Slowly, she lifted her head, enduring agony, to see Hina left alone in the circular cavern, facing down the Dragon, with a sharp ringing filling the air. The <<Transfer Circle>> glowed brighter, and brighter.
Then she was in a wasteland.