Lily slammed a fist sideways into the door frame of the open back door as she suppressed a scream of frustration. Faint footprints lined the soil leading from the open door to the lake. Lily, Iris and Tate quickly followed the trail, ending on the water’s edge, where the trail simply vanished. No signs of a battle, no additional sets of footprints. Prei’s traces simply vanished. Floating aimlessly atop the surface of the lake was Prei’s clothing, her white shirt and black pants, ripped to shreds. Lily grit her teeth in anger.
What had happened to her dear child? Had she been attacked? Kidnapped? Numerous possibilities flitted through her mind, each worse than the one before it, each fueling her anger. She felt Iris touch her hand, recognising the feeling of the girl’s synthetic skin. She took a deep breath and forced the dark thoughts out of her mind. Prei was more than capable of fighting off an assailant. Lily knew that. It was likely that Prei was physically unharmed. What, then, had happened to her?
Lily closed her eyes and focused, expanding her probe network, sending it around her, searching, expanding it until it was at the limit of its effective range. Nothing. Lily growled, frustrated. Without saying another word, she took off running, followed closely by Tate and Iris. Once she reached the limit of her initial probe’s range, she stopped and sent out another. Still nothing. She ran again, stopped again, scanned again. She repeated this process, hoping against hope to detect a Prei-shaped void in her web.
The group moved further and deeper into the forest, trying to locate Prei’s presence. For a frustratingly long time, their efforts bore no fruit. Then, finally, Lily found something. At the very edge of her probe, east of their position, she found traces of disturbance. There was a large void which indicated the presence of a living creature, just as she was searching for. However, it was too large to be Prei. It was an immense mass, a gaping hole in her net.
Lily narrowed her eyes and lowered her speed, carefully making her way toward the source of the disturbance. The other girls followed her lead.
The group moved in silence, carefully making their way through the forest, which was far too dense to see through, particularly in the darkness of night. Iris kept an eye on the path ahead with her night vision, while Lily used her probe to home in on the source of the disturbance.
Eventually, they exited the forest into a clearing, where a silhouetted figure lay curled up. Lily’s breath caught. The pale shine of the moonlight granted a surreal quality to the creature’s pure white, gleaming scales. Far larger than any human, the creature took up most of the clearing, its wings furled up against its body. It was a sight that Lily knew well, that she had never managed to forget, even after close to three years. As she stood still, stunned by the sudden appearance of a White Plated Dragon, the creature’s body tensed up as it raised its head and swiveled in Lily’s direction, fixing the glare of its blue, reptilian eyes on her. It let out a majestic roar, and its tail struck at Lily.
Lily had barely any time to react; she threw herself sideways just as Tate stepped in front of the blow, a large tower shield on her arm. The tail struck the surface of the the shield, pushing Tate back several steps. The shieldbearer had no time to rest, however, as the tail immediately struck again, this time from the other side. The dragon kept up its assault, attacking the party on all sides, causing Tate to move ceaselessly. Iris had her shooters out and was attacking the dragon, but each time she fired, the dragon released a blast of fire from its mouth to intercept the attack. The party was being kept at bay purely by the dragon’s tail and fire.
Frustrated, Lily broke from under the cover of the forest, dashing inside the range of the tail, attempting to get close to the dragon. She had almost reached its side when one wing sliced down at her at blinding speeds. She hastily jumped back, and Tate leapt in between her and the approaching wing, taking the attack on her shield. The dragon immediately fired several shots of flame at Lily, but they were intercepted by blasts from Iris. Lily glanced at Tate. The girl was panting heavily and drenched in sweat. The physical strain of taking all of the dragon’s attacks was beginning to show.
This battle was incredibly different from the one against the Black Plated Dragon. Their opponent was stronger, faster, smarter and held the advantage in this open terrain. Tate was beginning to tire, and Iris had been forced to relegate her attacks to cover fire. Tate had ridiculous defensive power, but in human form, her stamina could only last so long. Iris was being forced to use her attacks to protect them, limiting her offensive contribution. Lily could not get in close enough to attack, and could find no good position from which her threads might be useful. Lily grit her teeth. Their situation was not a favorable one.
Even as the dragon continued assaulting them with its wings and fire, clear spears made of ice materialised above Lily and Tate and crashed down, barely missing both of them as they instinctively dove backward out of the spears’ path. Seeing this attack, Lily’s eyes widened. Magically formed spears. She knew this tactic. She knew it very well. She took another look at the stark white scales and hostile blue eyes of their opponent, and an expression of disbelief passed over her face for a brief moment, before it gave way to annoyance, then to renewed resolve. She tapped Tate on the shoulder, who gave her only a very quick glance before nodding in understanding. She grabbed hold of Tate’s hand, following which the girl was enveloped in a burst of light and mana. The dragon took advantage of the brief lapse in Tate’s defence to strike downwards with its wing, but Lily caught the blow on the shield which now adorned her left arm. The force of the impact forced her back several steps, but she quickly recovered and dashed toward the head of the dragon.
The dragon fired several shots of flame at her, but they were all stopped by Iris’ attacks. The wing struck downward, but Lily deflected it with shield form Tate. As she approached, the dragon grew visibly more panicked, and began to scramble up, but by that point, Lily was close enough to send her wires wrapping around the dragon’s head.
Yanking on the wires, Lily swung herself under and around the dragon’s head, ending up right next to its face, on the side where its attacks were not concentrated. Suspended midair, regulating her power output to 80%, making sure to include the momentum from the swing into her attack, she slammed her knee into the dragon’s head as she shouted.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Prei?!”
The blow caused the dragon to fly a short distance away, landing on its side, crashing into the trees at one side of the clearing. Lily crossed her arms and waited patiently. Iris walked out from under the cover of the trees and stood next to Lily. The shield on Lily’s arm glowed and shifted, leaving Tate standing on Lily’s other side, visibly tired. The three girls said nothing and simply waited. When the dust cleared, the dragon was back on its feet, but it had its large forearms wrapped comically around its head and was whimpering. The reptilian blue eyes had lost their edge and hostility, leaving behind a pair of very familiar, if large, blue eyes that betrayed the creature’s intelligence. The dragon locked eyes with Lily, then tilted its head as it spoke in a calm, feminine voice.
“Eh? Oh, it’s you, mother.”
Prei looked around at the clearing and the marks on the ground her earlier attacks had left. Then she looked at Tate’s exhausted state. Then she looked at Lily. Then she averted her large, brilliant eyes, lowering her head to the ground in embarrassment, covering her face with her wings.