A wall of flame burst into life, jetting out of Tafel’s palm and crashing into the six Fangs. The wind swirling around her picked up, causing the flames to grow even larger. Hints of blood-red light danced along the edges and interiors of the firewall, letting out faint phoenix cries instead of the usual crackling. Tafel’s eyes narrowed as she lowered her hand and leapt backwards as a red sword cut towards her from within the flames. She turned her body to the side, evading the slash, but Abel hurtled out of the fire with his upper body lowered into a tackling position. He shouted as he charged at her, a metal spike growing out of his shoulder. The spike stabbed into Tafel’s stomach and plunged into her body, but it didn’t come out of her back; instead, her flesh seemed to swallow Abel, and he disappeared from view.
“Gack!” someone shouted from within the flames as the sound of two armor sets colliding rang over the roaring. “Abel!?”
Abel’s voice pierced through the flames. “Expand the barrier! Stifle all the flames!”
Tafel held her hand out to the side and pulled her sword out of thin air. The red locks of hair that were wrapped around it fell to the ground, revealing Chi’Rururp. The sword’s eye flashed open as a single wing sprang out of the pommel and stiffened like a scythe’s blade. “Just one wing?” Tafel asked and furrowed her brow at her sword.
“Were you expecting more?” Chi’Rururp asked in return.
“Can you fly with just one wing?” Tafel asked, ignoring the flames that were being pushed back. The firewall gradually took on the shape of a sphere as Charlotte constructed a barrier from within.
“Swords don’t need to fly…,” Chi’Rururp said, its eye staring at Tafel as if she were dumb. “My wing cuts magic.” Chi’Rururp paused. “It’s retractable too. Like a cat’s claw.”
“Can it cut that barrier?” Tafel asked, pointing at the white light that was peeking out of her flames. Only the blood-red wisps of fire were still wrapped around the barrier, the rest having dispersed.
“Helpful, aren’t you?” Tafel asked and rolled her eyes before throwing Chi’Rururp at the barrier, hilt first. The sword’s wing stabbed into the white light, popping it like a bubble. The Fangs of Capitis screamed as the phoenix flames rushed in like a flood, bathing them in fire. Tafel held her hand out, and Chi’Rururp reappeared in her grasp.
“Calm down!” Abel shouted. “It might get a little hot, but your armor stops the worst of it! Charlotte! I said”—he raised his sword and bashed the back of Charlotte’s helm with its pommel—“calm down!”
Charlotte staggered forward, her flailing arms pausing before grabbing her head. “S-sorry,” she said as she took in a deep breath. A white light flowed out of her, enveloping the rest of the Fangs, and the red flames flickered while weakening. When the fire was extinguished, she exhaled. “Phoenix flames are frightening.”
“Really?” Tafel asked, raising an eyebrow. “Then have some more.” She pointed with her left palm, shooting out a jet of pure, blood-red fire. A clear phoenix cry pierced the air, causing the Fangs to wince from the volume, and a massive bird formed from the flames, extending its talons towards Charlotte.
“Mistle!” Charlotte screamed. “I know you’re watching! Do something!”
A thunderous sigh rang through the battlefield, and Tafel’s hair stuck to her skin as a white mist descended. The phoenix flames gave a weak cry as steam flew off of it at an explosive rate, its body shrinking until it disappeared. A giant octopus made of vapor and mist took shape in front of Tafel, a pair of crystal clear eyes staring at her from above. “You’re strong,” a melodic voice said from the octopus. “My name is Mistle, an ocean elemental. You wouldn’t happen to be an elementalist by any chance? I wouldn’t mind making a contract with you if you were.”
“Sorry, I’m not,” Tafel said, squinting her eyes as droplets of water rolled down her face. Her clothes were drenched, pressing down on her body. “And I won’t give up my subclass to become one.”
“Are you sure?” Mistle asked. “I can make you powerful. The flames of a phoenix and the water of an ocean elemental. Some people think fire and water don’t mix well, but they’re wrong. Combined properly, they can be just as strong as a fusion between wind and fire.”
“Hey, hey, Mistle,” Charlotte said, wiping away beads of water from her forehead. “What do you think you’re doing? She’s my enemy.” She emphasized each syllable. “En-e-my. I didn’t ask you to come here to make her stronger.”
“Why fight?” Mistle asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if we could all be friends? As part of her terms of the contract, I’ll make her stop fighting you.”
“I’m not going to contract with you,” Tafel said, pointing Chi’Rururp at Mistle. “Borrowed strength is useless; the only person you can depend on is yourself.” She furrowed her brow. “And my husband, but he’s not around. I guess that doesn’t make him very dependable, huh?” She sighed and crouched down before using the tip of her sword to draw circles in the ground. “And I probably have to fight a dragon the next time I see him. Why the hell do I have to fight a dragon? Auntie doesn’t know how I could beat that stupid lizard either.” She pouted while making a groaning noise. “I didn’t want to be reminded about that. Now I’m not in the mood to fight.” She raised her head and glared at Mistle. “It’s all your fault.”
Mistle turned around and stared at the Fangs. “Is she okay?”
“Why are you concerned about our enemy?” Abel asked. He slapped the Fang with the rifle’s back. “Shoot her.”
The Fang with the rifle lifted his gun and pointed it at Tafel. She was still sitting on the ground, stroking Chi’Rururp while muttering to herself. “Is, is this honorable?”
Abel growled. “Honor? Do you remember what she put us through?”
The Fang with the rifle clicked his tongue. He aimed at Tafel’s shoulder and pulled the trigger. A bullet flew out and struck Tafel, but it passed right through her and hit the ground behind her. He fired another bullet with the same result. “She set up a series of portals around herself. I don’t think we can hurt her until she exhausts her mana.”
“Hey, Chi’Rururp,” Tafel said as Abel charged at her. She ignored him before inspecting her sword. “You wouldn’t happen to know a way to defeat a dragon, would you?” Abel’s blade cut at her, but passed through her body without harming her.
“Can’t you just do this until the dragon gives up?” Chi’Rururp asked, its eye following Abel’s slashes. It flinched every time the blade approached Tafel’s skin.
“And then what? I’ll just have a pissed off dragon waiting for me to run out of mana,” Tafel said, biting her lower lip. She sighed and raised her head to stare at the sky, but she made eye contact with Abel instead. His sword slashed towards her forehead, but it disappeared a millimeter away from her skin and came out of a portal behind her back instead. “You’re in the way of the clouds. Can you move over a bit?”
“You, fight me like a man like you did in the arena battle!” Abel shouted. “None of this portal shield cowardice!”
“I’m a woman,” Tafel said. “And if I had enough mana to do this for an extended period of time when we first fought, then I would’ve done this instead of a giant spell. This phoenix imprint is really handy.” She leaned to the side. “But seriously, move over. You’re making it hard for me to mope properly.”
“Abel!” Charlotte said. “Just give it up. She doesn’t want to fight, and we can’t hurt her. Let’s leave her alone or she might teleport us somewhere random again. What if we end up in the sky or underground?”
“In the sky or underground…,” Tafel murmured as Abel walked away. “Underground…” Her eyes widened as she jumped to her feet. “That’s it! That’s the answer!” She dropped Chi’Rururp while running towards Charlotte and tackled her, giving the surprised Fang a hug that knocked her to the ground. “You’re a genius. Thanks!” She stood up and waved her hand, causing Chi’Rururp to disappear. “C’mon, Emile! I know how to beat Lulu!” She skipped towards the phoenix and met him halfway before turning towards the Fangs. “Oh, and since you gave me some advice, I’ll give you some as well. My Aunt’s doing work in that dungeon, so you’ll want to stay away from it until she comes outside. She gets angry when she’s interrupted. Take care!”
Charlotte opened her mouth to say something, but Tafel disappeared in a flash of silver light. Charlotte rubbed her helmet. “I’m not sure if I’m relieved or upset that she just left like that. Shall we take her warning to heart, or check out the dungeon anyway?”
“Obviously, we’re going to accomplish or task,” Abel said with a snort. He advanced towards the dungeon but stopped when a tiny figure flew in front of him.
“No trespassing,” Erin said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Or I’ll turn you into a mushroom.”