“You really think I couldn’t beat Karsos?”
Nox’s question caught Estella off-guard. She stopped in her tracks, one foot already in the air. The uncertainty in his voice was clear even without the Resonance.
Lowering her foot, she turned to face him. “What’s this all of a sudden? I thought we both agreed that I will train you until you could defeat him.”
In the dim light of the lamp, she could see Nox looking at his feet, hesitant and unsure. The silence dragged for a minute. Estella crossed her arms. If her squire had something to say, she would wait for as long as needed.
Finally, Nox sighed. “I couldn’t protect you yesterday.”
Estella raised an eyebrow. “Nox, that was a Remnant. You’re a second-year student. Do you really think you could defeat that on your own?” She shook her head. Was this what had been bothering him ever since they started following the underground river?
“Not even I could defeat a Remnant,” she interrupted him. “I know you passed the Assessment Exam, but don’t get too overconfident, Nox. You couldn’t even defeat me.”
It pained her to say that, and her heart ached when hurt flashed in Nox’s eyes. But now wasn’t the time for this talk.
She turned away wordlessly, resuming her walk. Nox followed in silence. The river rushed ahead of them to their left, swift and dark.
Estella had tried to forget about the Remnant, but Nox had brought back unpleasant memories. And with them were horrible thoughts. Did Aldros and Erian got away safely? Had the Remnant followed them? Or had it returned from whence it came, prowling the tunnels?
Was it chasing them now?
She shivered, and it wasn’t from the coldness of the tunnel.
“Ella,” Nox murmured in concern.
“I’m fine,” she said softly, even though the Resonance would reveal her true emotions. Despite that, Nox didn’t broach the subject any further.
They followed the river for an hour. At one point, it branched in two directions. Estella chose left where it flowed faster, the sound of its rush bouncing off the walls. A stronger flow meant that there was an exit.
It wasn’t long until they came to another cavern, smaller than the one they had fallen into, but vastly different. The uneven ground gradually gave way to solid floors, and the walls were smooth and tall. Crumblings pillars, not unlike the ones in the Coltar Ruins, supported a wide domed ceiling. It was broken in many places, but the fading paint and patterns were still recognizable.
Estella observed it with curiosity. It was a mural of sorts depicting a battle between monsters and gods. One stood out in stark relief; a demon with four wings and shadows curling about its hideous form like flames. The demon looked eerily familiar, and it took Estella three seconds before she could put a name on the monster.
“Azrael,” Nox said behind her. She turned to face him, but he was looking at the mural with an odd expression. Guilt, and a hint of annoyance.
“Azrael,” Estella repeated. She returned her attention to the ceiling. Now she remembered; the name popped up in some books during the time she was trying to learn more about Nox’s powers. But why did the dwarves painted the ceiling like that? Was this some kind of temple?
“Dwarves weren’t native here, I think,” Nox said. With a sigh, he dropped his gaze. “I think they just found this room during their excavations.”
Estella muttered, “Which meant that whoever built this room was worshipping a demon.” Great. Now that explained the Remnant.
The chamber was a viable source for a report, and she would have to stay longer and record everything they could find. But they didn’t have the time nor the supplies. Besides, the mural was unnerving.
She proceeded toward the only exit. Nox lingered for a moment, gazing at the mural. But he soon followed her.
They were almost to the exit when a tremor passed along the floor. She whirled around, Astra appearing in her hand instantly. Nox’s gaze snapped to the ceiling, and she looked up as well.
An earthquake? Then she heard a muffled roar.
“Run!” Nox surged forward and took her hand just as the ceiling broke.
They took off for the exit. Estella didn’t have to look back to know that it was the Remnant. Its roar shook the tunnel, showering her and Nox with dusts. The sound bounced along the walls. Soon the tremors came. Footsteps. And they were approaching fast.
Sweat coated her palms, and her heart hammered. The tunnels and corridors twisted and turned. She had hoped it would be enough to confuse the Remnant, but its snarls were still close. She could feel the malevolent aura pursuing them.
She glanced at Nox. There was no fear, no hesitation in his eyes. But the worry washed through their connection—his worry for her.
Their legs carried them deep. How long they ran and how far they had come, Estella didn’t know. Soon they emerged into another chamber, vast and cold. Ahead of them rose a steep stairway.
“We could seal this room and trap it here,” Estella said. The distance was far. Three hundred feet, maybe more.
The walls behind them exploded.
On instinct, Estella whirled around just as Nox did. The Remnant stood by the destroyed left-hand wall, a mass of writhing shadows and limbs. From its back sprouted huge wings, enough to completely block the passage it had come.
Estella raised Astra, and Nox mirrored her with Erebos. Silver and black. Light and darkness against a terrible shadow from the abyss.
Go, she heard Nox say in her mind.
She wanted to; terror gripped her heart like a vice. But she was done running. She couldn’t leave behind her squire just to save herself.
No, she responded firmly. And though she didn’t look his way, his gratitude and acceptance flowed through the Resonance.
Whatever happened, they would face this together.
The Remnant roared and charged. Estella extended her free hand. “Burst!”
The fireballs that erupted from her palm wouldn’t damage the monster, but they were merely distractions. By the time they were racing across the distance, Nox was already sprinting to the left.
Estella surged forward, seconds before the fireballs struck the Remnant. “Engulf!” she shouted, and the flames swirled around, a twisting conflagration. The monster’s wings flared and swept, sending a gust that blew the flames away. It didn’t seem hurt.
It didn’t notice Estella until she was within range.
Astra carved a silver arc in the air. Despite the terror filling Estella’s veins, she cleaved at the Remnant without thought. Her Animarta passed through the veil of shadows.
The Remnant shrieked as the blade sank into flesh. Good, Estella thought with satisfaction. If it could feel pain, it could be killed. The monster shrieked louder, arms flailing. She never had to look up to know that Nox had jumped from behind, impaling the monster in the back.
Through the Resonance, Estella felt rage. Images and sounds flashed inside her mind, one after another. A monster much like the one she and Nox were facing now, only smaller and less terrifying to look at; a pool of red, and a hand reaching toward a small body nearby; a scream of fury and sorrow as the monster descended upon the body.
The images vanished. Estella stepped back to avoid a deadly swipe from one of the Remnant’s thrashing limbs. Were those Nox’s memories? Did he get those scars from a Remnant?
Now wasn’t the time to solve that mystery. Nox leapt down on the ground. He slashed at the Remnant, severing a limb. Black blood sprayed from the stump, and he quickly evaded, as did Estella. As the viscous liquid splattered on the stone, an acrid smell filled the air. The floor smoked.
Acid, Estella realized. Now she knew why these things were almost impossible to kill.
She looked at the stump, and an idea struck her. Nox was already chanting, sensing her intent through their connection. She surged forward, Astra coated in flames. Her Animarta was a whirlwind of fire as she danced around the Remnant.
Within seconds, many of its limbs flew, and a geyser of acid showered everywhere. Estella winced from the monster’s ear-shattering scream; it sounded like the scream of a dying child. She weaved through the raining acid. One splash in the wrong place could kill her.
Now, she told Nox. He responded silently, and soon the temperature in the room dropped. Ice coated the floor, freezing the walls and engulfing the Remnant’s severed limbs. Even its feet and wings were encased in ice, immobilizing it. The shadows covering it vanished, revealing an even more grotesque form.
The ice prison trembled, but held.
“How do we kill it?” Nox asked as he joined Estella. She hesitated, searching her brain for any scant information she knew about the monster. From what she remembered, they possessed two hearts, joined together like twins, near the center of their chest. A single strike was all it would take to kill a Remnant.
But that would be risky. They could bury the Remnant like they did yesterday. And yet even that could be dangerous. There was a chance it could survive.
Nox grunted. “At this point, taking risks is our only way out.”
Estella looked at the Remnant. The ice could only hold it for so long. She had to make a decision soon. “I’ll handle it,” she said at last. “Make sure it stays frozen.”
Despite the worry in his eyes, Nox nodded.
Taking a deep breath to steady her pounding heart, Estella dashed forward. Astra was burning in her hand, humming with power, almost as if it anticipated the kill. It gave Estella comfort, and she smiled faintly.
She was just twenty feet away when Nox shouted, “No! Get back!”
With a crack, the ice encasing the Remnant shattered. The monster roared, shadows coalescing around its form to conceal it once more. Its wings swept, buffeting Estella with a powerful gust. But she planted her feet firmly on the floor and stood her ground, shielding herself with Astra.
Her eyes widened. Like saplings sprouting from the soil, the Remnant’s limbs grew back. She swore and weaved Astra in a complicated pattern as the limbs darted toward her, long appendages ending in vicious talons. Flames erupted around her body, forming a shield of fire.
Again the Remnant’s limbs were severed, but the acid evaporated from the heat. She surged forward, and she sensed Nox rushing after her while chanting his next spell.
“Burst!” A blast shot forth from Estella’s outstretched palm, splashing into the Remnant’s chest. It staggered, severed limbs thrashing. The flames had cauterized the wound, rendering it unable to fling its acid. But it was still a dangerous opponent.
She charged in a whirlwind of fire and steel. Though most of the Remnant’s limbs were no longer elongated scythes, they were still resilient enough to block most of her attacks. And there were dozens of them.
Nox was faring no better. The Remnant seemed to be focusing on him, sending the brunt of its attacks at Estella’s squire. Erebos was a web of black steel in Nox’s hands, parrying blow after blow.
Estella ducked under a swipe. Her fire shield was still active, but she couldn’t cast any other spell; the drain on her magic would be too much. She had to find a way to kill the Remnant quickly.
Pain surged through her head. Nox cried. She looked toward him out of reflex, and watched as he sailed into the air before hitting the far wall. He crumpled to the ground, barely moving.
“Nox!” Rage filled Estella’s heart, and she swung at the Remnant with a savage yell. One of its limbs whipped about and the air was knocked out of her lungs. She gasped as her body went weightless, then there was a crunch as her back and head struck the nearest wall.
Estella’s vision flickered. Through blurry eyes, she watched as the Remnant stalked to her with deliberate slowness, as if savoring its kill. Perhaps it was. She couldn’t feel her legs, or even Astra’s warmth.
Not again. I have to save her. Please, not again.
She tried to croak Nox’s name, but it came out barely a whisper. Darkness crept at her vision. The Remnant was so close now that Estella could feel its putrid breath.
So this is how I meet my end. It was a horrible fate. But at least, she fought to the best of her abilities.
Not like this. Please!
Darkness finally blanketed her eyes, and the last thing Estella saw was a monster looming over her.
Thank you for reading!