Chapter 25: Frostburn
Resting beneath the crown of a majestic oak tree, Nisha was slowly rising from her slumber. She was seeing no issue in sleeping in the forest, much less without proper bedding, the dragon liked to lean on a mattress, but didn’t need it
Currently she was strolling throughout the forest, clad into her latest treasure, the robe she had enchanted with her newest invention, her own variant spell. So far no creature had been able to spot her when she had passed right through lairs, careful not to make any noises or push anything over, as the effect on the dress did not prevent the beasts or monsters from picking up on anything that was not directly on her body.
Walking throughout the Wilderness without needing to fight anyone barring her way was a new and exhilarating experience for the blind girl, someone of her small frame and lack of natural weapons to defend herself was regarded as an easy prey in a world where survival of the fittest was the norm.
There were times when Nisha was welcoming fights, she particularly liked to turn the situation around and become the hunter, catching the last look of surprise in the opponent’s dead eyes; but seeing the [Flickering Cover] working exactly as she had intended pleased the aspiring magician to no end, and she let her battle wishes die down for the moment.
To check on the effects of the spell she had bestowed on the robe, the dragon girl had gone off to test out to what extent the limits of the spell could be pushed.
Starting with a common [Mountain Panther], she had walked right besides it and plucked one of its whiskers. It confused and enraged the pained creature, an invisible force had just injured it and there were no hints of its identity; the monster had scampered off deeper inside the forest and holed up until the irregularity passed.
Her playful nature surging, Nisha had lost herself in tricking various beasts and monsters in the part of the forest close to the cottage, often just stealing and hiding small items inside the numerous caves and lairs.
She had decided not to attack anyone since her blood lust was too much for the enchantment to hide; a particularity she had discovered when she had approached a [Giant Mountain Bear] and noticed that the animal was feeling enough dread to abandon its current meal, which Nisha was unable to identify as a large amount of its meat was missing, and flee from the ominous yet invisible presence.
The second restrain on her new dress was the limited amount of mana that it store. Several times monsters suddenly became aware of her presence as the enchantment wore out, revealing her for instance to a whole herd of [Raging Earth Warthogs] the first time it happened.
After a messy struggle, Nisha made sure to keep her [Taurith Short Swords] at her side, ready to be drawn whenever the situation would call for it.
However the primary cause for her outing was to try out her toy and not to hunt, so the dragon controlled her instincts and experimented more with the item.
Using her memory of the large map that was hanging in the lobby, she navigated to one of what was marked as a medium point on the map, looking for a bigger challenge.
Eldrin had pointed out that the green circle had recently appeared and said that it meant that a wind beast had emerged, but it was likely to be a normal monster that had awakened to its innate mana.
Making good use of the last hours of the day, Nisha managed to arrive around the area the map had pictured, curiously observing her surroundings to catch a glimpse of this beast’s shape, relying on her dress to divert the attention of other forest inhabitants.
Without a way to know what her target’s appearance was, the blind girl sat down beneath a large tree and almost fell asleep while surveying the surroundings.
She snapped out of her lethargy at the disturbing feeling of a pair of eyes resting on her body, a tingling sensation the dragon could not quite pin down.
I’ll just wait for you to make the first move then … Don’t think you can escape me just by seeing through my enchantment.
This was not the first time Nisha had pursued one of the larger stains of the map on the wall; usually they turned out to be stronger than her, based on the pressure that weighed on her body when she closed in on them.
Consulting the details of the picture with the old elf, she had learned that a small dot represented a creature from the early first rank in either mana or aura to the late stages of the third rank, while a middle sized dot symbolized either a fourth or fifth ranked being. Currently there had been very few marks of the largest size, either sixth or seventh ranked existences in the hunting grounds, the mage Eldrin being one of the very few exceptions.
This should be an early fourth-staged wind beast, I think it’s able to see me. I’ll just wait here, I bet I am much more patient!
The “the one who moves first loses” game continued, with Nisha laying under the oak’s branches while the hidden presence persisted in scanning her, preventing her from relaxing.
The dragon girl didn’t mind to expect a fight, she was looking forward to clash with a being stronger than her in physical terms, who also had the assistance of innate mana. During her many hunting trips, she had been coming across beasts every now and then, but seeing her stained in the blood of many monsters, they had proved their intelligence by making a wide circle to avoid her.
The thought of a beast with the first mana rank and the fourth aura should prove to be the limit the dragon girl felt she was currently able to handle, rousing her battle spirit and competitiveness.
A chilling gale covered Nisha’s free skin as the sun vanished behind the tree line, night about to descend.
She wasn’t particularly bothered with the cold, her body temperature maintaining her warmth even when the breath she was expelling was turning into mist, though she couldn’t watch the pretty phenomenon; one of the benefits of aura cultivation being the gain of a strong resistance to extreme climates.
When the bling girl was just about to fall asleep, the leaves of a nearby undergrowth rustled.
Alarmed by the unexpected sound, she put one of her hands on her left short sword’s smooth handgrip, contracting her muscles and ready to lash out against any aggressor. To her surprise the creature that appeared did not seem to have any violent urges or any will to drive the invader out of its nest.
A small hawk had landed on the branch of a nearby bush, curiously eyeing her yet remaining ready to escape should the situation require it.
Unable to contain herself anymore, Nisha bursted out in laughter.
Both of them had concealed themselves in the forest after encountering each other, waiting for the other side to make the first move, only to have no confrontation in the end. She had been excessively stressed over a small harmless bird.
The hawk seemed perceptive enough to understand that the intruder was making fun of itself and ruffled its feathers in a slighted gesture, squealing out loud indignant cries.
I guess it means that there won’t be a fight tonight. But battling a flying opponent would have been fun.
Taking out an already-barbequed piece of panther meat from her space, Nisha placed it on the ground in direction of the bird, trying to make amends for having insulted its pride.
At first the hawk was carefully observing her actions, distrusting her capricious nature and deliberately averting any eye contact with the delicious-looking food she had gifted it.
Only after she began eating another chunk of meat from her space did the flying animal descend to the ground and inch closer and closer to the meat whenever it thought that Nisha wasn’t looking.
“You’re a funny one.”
Out of reflex, Nisha started talking in the beast language she knew, commenting the hawk’s fickle behaviour.
“You’re one to talk.”
To her surprise, the beast had actually answered, apparently knowing the same type of wingedmonster language as the dragon.
Seizing up each other, both of them chuckled together, not questioning how each of them had acquired their comprehension in the language, enjoying the meal, before the hawk’s departure.
They did not exchange any more words, but they both knew that neither of them would try to hurt the other, at least for now.
Satisfied by the fun encounter and the food, Nisha fell asleep on the rugged intertwined roots of the oak tree, wrapping herself in one of the blankets she had stored away in her [Soul Space].
Talking with someone else in one of her native languages had made her miss the dragon siblings and she decided to pay them a visit before returning to the cottage.
Packing away her blanket in the morning, the blind girl was reminiscing the events of the past day when she found a present of her dinner guest on the ground, a single feather dyed in a green hue in her vision, clearly a valuable possession.
I think I will call you [Greenfeather Hawk]. Goodbye, maybe we will see each other again.
Taking out a piece of string, she tied the feather around her neck like an amulet and left in the direction of the [Dragon’s Den].
Most of the day, she travelled quickly, refilling the mana reserves of the enchantment every time she noticed that the effect were starting to weaken, eager to meet her draconic family as soon as possible, in a rare throe of homesickness.
By staying on the path and not provoking any of the indigenous beasts, Nisha had made great progress and was halfway through her journey, when night fell.
A feeling of uneasiness had plagued her the whole day, she had felt chased by a much darker presence than that of the hawk.
To evade her follower, the dragon girl had coated herself in the dark mantle of aura she had yet to name, and had strengthened her limbs to travel even faster until the disappearance of the ominous impression somewhere along the flight.
Cautioned by the disturbing event, Nisha chose to sleep on top of a magnificent tree; if something was tracking her scent, it would have a hard time climbing the sleek trunk of the plant. She chose to forego the blanket in case she would have to escape in the night.
Having lived through a fair share of dangerous encounters and resided in the Wilderness for more than ten years was enabling the blind girl to easily fall asleep under any circumstances, a skill that was also highly valued among adventurers.
In the middle of the night, something greatly startled Nisha, and she awoke from a horrid nightmare, drenched in sweat, her whole body shaking. Something bad seemed to have happened, followed by some change in her being.
Still caught in between the dream and the reality, she wondered where the difference laid, and looked around, recognizing that she was still on the wide branch by its wooden texture and its brown colouring.
Suddenly it hit her. She was seeing colors.
Not perceiving it with her [Spirit Sight], but actually with her own two eyes.
An ice cold hand cruelly gripped her heart, driving numerous shards of ice inside of it, chilling her blood and shaking her whole being endlessly.
Raising a hand to her eyes, Nisha checked whether they really were open, touching the opened lids that ought to have been sealed.
A tear formed, she desperately hoped for the last minute to be nothing but a bad dream. Just a nightmare she would soon forget.
After finalizing the trade with the two sisters Gabriel and Bael, who had helped her when Eldrin was dying, she had often thought about the deal in the darkness of her new world.
Rethinking from the most casual words over and over again, Nisha had imagined many different scenarios, but always avoided the one she desperately didn’t want to ever consider.
This has to be a dream. It has to be. Eldrin would never leave me. He promised. The two of them said so. He can’t leave me. He can’t! He can’t! He can’t!
Losing herself in panic she did not detect the person approaching her, and only when he stepped on a twig and broke it, seemingly intentionally, did she look at the ground, frightened and lost.
“Lady Nisha, I have finally found you. I am called Weiss, and have been sent by Mistresses Bael and Gabriel. It seems that your grandfather is about to die, and I was ordered to escort you back to the cottage. May you follow me?”
The new sensation of her eyes was confusing her almost as much as the first acquisition of her [Spirit Sight].
Seeing in the dark had never been much of a problem for her as a dragon, and now she could also watch things, albeit differently to the way it was in the daylight, yet there was the information her other sight provided her too, overlaying things and disorienting her.
Additionally the idea that Eldrin was sick and going to die, regardless of whether it was true or not, impacted the small girl with the force of a blade cutting straight through her stomach.
“You’re lying … You are lying … YOU ARE LYING!!!”
Refusing to trust this stranger and acquiesce to his words, Nisha denied everything he had said, with a whisper at first, then almost as if to convince herself, she repeated it ceaselessly, fighting with all her strength an unavoidable sinking feeling, almost falling off the tree.
“Please don’t make things difficult, I already lost you earlier in the forest. We don’t have much time left, so please come over here.”
The calm and orderly manner of the stranger wearing a grey tuxedo was sickening the dragon.
He was very tall, his bright blond hair appearing way too cheerful for the situation, angering the already upset Nisha.
“NEVER! I don’t believe you, grandpa will never leave me! He promised!”
Deep inside the girl knew what it meant to have the seals on her eye fading, and thus was making sure to fight the facts before letting them a chance to take root.
“You see … he promised! He can’t … be dead! You are lying! You are lying!”
She repeated the sentence, sounding more and more desperate. The collected man who looked much akin to a butler didn’t even think of pulling a face, and only patiently stood there, an existence as improbable as the idea of her grandfather dying to Nisha.
The overwhelming sadness was too much for her, and was quickly directed to something else.
The icy grip on her heart was tightening every second, and it finally splintered into pieces, spreading throughout her entire frail frame, filling each and every drop of her being with burning ice.
“I don’t believe it. Never!”
A primal roar broke through her throat, shaking the leaves of the tree she was clutching, her fingertips already piercing the bark and bleeding slightly from the pressure she was exerting.
The explosion of sound shattered the ice freezing her and the remains of her heart, setting her whole soul and blood on fire.
The urge to give in and just refuse reality, roll into a ball forever and ignore what the man that called himself Weiss had told her, was overwhelming; something broke inside her when she imagined returning to a mansion where grandpa Eldrin was not there to welcome her back, a warm smile on his face, like he usually did whenever the dragon girl was back home after a hunt.
A grey mist of power spilled from the most profound corner of her soul, shrouding her slowly yet steadily.
As soon as the cloud appeared, the expressionless man’s face changed for the first time, showing apprehension; and when the energy finally transformed in a blaze of night-black flames coated in red, a tinge of fear manifested itself on his face. He immediately opened a greater distance between himself and the looming calamity.
The dark haze rapidly expanded and devoured the tree, either corroding it or setting it ablaze wherever the flames or mist moved, until it finally took the draconic form Nisha possessed before her transformation, but three times as big.
With a thunderous and mad howl, the fiery apparition flickered to reveal the scaled girl, protected by the grey sheen, a mad expression devouring her visage, not losing in intensity to the raging inferno.
I don’t accept it. He can’t be dead, I’ll go and see for myself.
A single thought was dominating her whole being, wiping out everything else, be it logic or sadness, only calling for Eldrin without any delay, and screaming its anger against the world that allowed such a cruel thing to happen.
Without using its wings, the large energy construct jumped from the charred upper half of the tree to the ground, and charged into the forest, Weiss and his small speech long forgotten. Breaking through, anything in her way had two choices: move or perish.
Unseen to everyone, two small streams of tears were continuously running down Nisha’s face, instantly evaporating into the sea of fury and flaming hate.
Slowly losing consciousness, memories of happier times took over her mind, replaying moments when she laughed with the elf or scowled as he scolded her for playing around too much.
Their first encounter in the cave.
Fighting together against the noble’s party.
Living together and adapting to her blindness.
The old elf gradually acting more and more as a grandfather with her.
Sleeping in the same bed as him, and always waking up to his calming presence.
It was only a turn that they spent together, but it had transformed Nisha from a wild beast into an intelligent creature with a desire to learn more about the world and herself; and now, as he was fading away from this world, she had crumbled again, and went back to her initial state.
Her grandfather couldn’t be dead, she would hurry home and everything would be like always, he would be sitting on the bench in front of the cottage and laughing at her for rushing back in such a wrecked condition, before offering her a hug and letting her sit beside him, to watch him carve another figure.
Grandpa Eldrin can’t be dead. I need him, he promised me he wouldn’t leave. It’s not true.
Her tears stopped flowing, she had no more to shed, and the grey haze protecting her from the cruel throes of fate thickened and enveloped her completely, a shield against reality, while the fire continued to burn and consume her.
Please don’t let it be real… This has to be a dream.
And then, only the abyss remained, dark and cruel, frozen knifes moving under her skin, ravaging her body, even though the violent inferno was raging on.