Chapter 1: CHAPTER 000 - Beauty and the dragon
There was an umber-brown ancient forest. It reeked of age. Every sprawling tree was like a watchful guardian, a silent sentinel of the groves. Huge roots spread-eagled the ground, like the back of mythical beasts that once roamed the world in the olden days.
The foliage became thick and lush, forming an arch of fairytale-green, refusing any weak light to pass through. Only the strong was able to penetrate their dense veil and appeared as claw of lights, illuminating its dusky surrounding. Arthritic boughs, gnarled with age, dripped their bounty nuts onto the ground.
Diverse animals and monsters populate this very forest. Everyday to devour, or devoured. Each one of them practicing the phrase 'survival of the fittest' to the letter. Yet, in this harsh environment, harmony was actually maintained, and no animal or monster ever wandering outside the forest.
They had no reason to. Anything they needed was provided. It was their home.
At the moment, a large part of the awe-inspiring forest was violently disfigured. The trees were either cut down or ravaged, and all the forest residents flee their cherished home with unprecedented vigor. They did not have a destination in mind, to survive was their sole intention. They would not stop running until they achieved it, even if there was a town blocking their path...
---Several days later, deep inside the wrecked forest, stood a woman with cerulean hair who possessed a mature, well-developed figure. At the moment, there were only two triangles of fabric covering her voluptuous breasts, revealing much of her fair skin, and a tight, long skirt with narrow opening at the left side where a rectangular-bag circled her thigh could be seen, as well as a matching pair of arm-length gloves and heeled boots.
This combination resulted in the woman possessing an unmatched sex appeal. Until now, no man, young or old, was immune to her charm, and she had used it effectively for her cause. Regardless, that appeal was useless in front of her current partner. This was their first meeting, yet he brazenly showed aggressiveness to her body. A genuine pervert.
The partner opened his extensive mouth, showing countless sharp teeth capable of ripping apart steel armor like a hot knife through butter. Witnessing how proud he was, the woman expressed her unhidden disgust. 'Did he think that kind of crude thing will impress a woman? Absolutely not!' internally screaming her refusal.
The next moment, he thrust his lengthy neck toward the woman with astounding velocity, similar to an arrow unleashed from its bow, eager to have a bite on her bountiful flesh. Fortunately, the woman anticipated this improper behavior, without incantation, swiftly clad her body with lightning magic and was able to evade his advance by a hair's breadth. The mouth bit nothing but innocent air.
"...That was dangerously close..." commented the woman, while able to maintain a satisfying degree of composure.
He continued to launch the very same attack several times, blowing nearby time-honored trees in the process like mere papers, and it took all of her focus to avoid that savage repetitiveness, even with the lightning magic heightening her reflexes by several times.
Before being chased after evading his twentieth charge, the woman already constructed five magic circles at once in front of her. Each circle emitted considerable power, enough to put an end to her past challengers, and what emerged from the circle was a bluish, sizeable blade of ice, robbing away the environment from its tightly-guarded warmth.
Without hesitation, she ordered the five frozen blades to assault him.
As if had a mind of its own, the blades heed her command, launched themselves to the target in straight trajectory and made contact.
A thunderous sound echoed throughout the forest, and freezing aura was unleashed, encasing nearby land and vegetation with solid ice.
Furthermore, towering ice crystals were now visible on the place he was before. Trapping him permanently inside the cold prison. At least, it should be the case. However, there was nothing in the ice. The target was nowhere in her line of sight...
"For mercy's sake..." disappointment was painted on her beautiful face, and she instinctively looked up. The only possible place to escape from her earlier magic.
There he was, calmly flying in the sky above while looking down on her. The sunlight illuminated his thick metallic skin, which capable of withstanding considerable physical abuse and otherworldly phenomenon such as magic, and a pair of large, intimidating bat-like wings. Two backward curving horns lied on either side of its head, blending with spikes that lined on its back.
He was from a species that said had existed since this world was formed. A monster that was depicted as either harbinger of destruction, or preacher of the light in many bards' tales. Regardless of what role he took, it had the same immense strength to show; a dragon.
On the other hand, the brave woman on the ground was a silver-ranked adventurer sent by the Association to investigate a stampede that destroyed a nearby nameless town and took numerous lives. After arriving at the wrecked town in the morning and conversed with survivors, she immediately headed to the forest where the stampede originated.
According to the survivors, although the forest had no shortage of animals and monsters that could not be described as cute and fluffy, they never left the forest, and the townspeople also made sure not to disturb them. They even made a firm rule about this issue.
She had a few hypothesis about what caused this situation. But, when the survivor also said the animals and monsters sounded terrified when passing through the town, then, there was only one possibility. Something, dreadful enough to threaten them, had appeared.
The woman was right on the money. In the forest, she encountered this dragon, a monster who placed at the top of the food chain and should not even be in this area. What great luck she had.
A dragon was beyond the capability of a single silver-ranked, a group consisted of five silver ranks was needed to take it down, and even with that there was no guarantee they would succeed. That was how strong a dragon really was.
In this kind of circumstance, the right thing to do based on adventurer's code of conduct was to ask for reinforcements. That being said, hoping to outrun a flying dragon's speed was absurd, only a handful of creatures could match it, and she had no access to them. Furthermore, even if the woman miraculously able to do so, she would led the dragon to the already devastated town and bred more tragedy. Therefore, to avoid such tragedy from taking place, she decided to confront and end the dragon, right here.
Was this confidence? Or desperation? She had no idea. This was the only available choice and she would execute it to the best of her ability. Only the result would give answers for these questions.
"I can do this..." whispered the woman in a tense voice, encouraging herself.
The woman raised her slender, yet toned arm upward. In a blink of an eye, a rotating magic circle appeared on top of the dragon, and she summoned a lightning pillar from it. Her magic successfully hit the floating dragon, and a violent electrical discharge spread and illuminated the sky above the forest.
Not just once, in seconds, two more lightning descended. The ability to cast powerful magic in succession was rare, even within high ranked adventurers only a handful of people could do so and she was one of them.
She was confident the sudden and rapid lightning attack of that magnitude just now would hurt the dragon. Yet, betraying her expectation, the dragon came out unscathed, as he was protected by a dense sphere of energy.
Before the woman could even voiced her astonishment, the dragon let out an ear-splitting roar to exhibit its domination.
The roar was loud enough to make her body, as well as the forest and earth trembled in fear. The survivors in the town could even hear that roar. But, they could not run away, they had no will to run away, strength left their poor legs, and despair clenched their heart tightly. They belived their doom had come.
Fortunately, she was able to steel her resolve, and overcame the fear embedded to her flesh, if she wanted to climb higher this much endurance and resilience was natural.
Not giving her a chance to recover, unfathomable energy gathered in the dragon's mouth, even the air around the dragon was quivering because of its pressure.
"Dear lord..." with that amount of power, the woman knew exactly what was going to happen the moment that dragon pointed its head at her, and it was not something pleasant at all.
The dragon unleashed a heavy non-elemental magic in form of a flare to where the woman was standing.
A bright, flame-shaped pure magic energy was heading her way. She channeled considerable amount of mana to immediately create a thick ice shield to block the attack. Yet, the shield was easily shattered like a poorly made glass, unable to withstand the attack for even a second.
The attack touched the ground, blasting away any object in the vicinity without an ounce of mercy, and a blinding vertical explosion pierced the clouds.
The woman was violently thrown to sky due to the shockwave from the dragon's attack. Fortunately, she could rearrange her position in the air with wind magic, and was now floating in the same height as the dragon. Their eyes met.
Noticing the woman was still alive, the dragon flew to her place with frightening speed.
"Can't you let a woman prepare herself first?!" shouted the woman while trying to tidy up her messy, yet glossy hair.
An aerial battle ensued, the woman and the dragon exchanged ranged attacks in the sky. Splashing the horizon with various colors, not caring for other people's opinion of their destructive artwork.
She formed and sent numerous spears of blazing fire to attack the approaching dragon, but the dragon's maneuver was simply too fast, in spite of its massive body, and not a single spear came close to hit it. This result did not find success in dampening her fighting spirit.
Right after, she weaponized the gentle breeze around her and ceaselessly threw crescent moon-shaped wind blades, and quite a number of them successfully reached the dragon. Nevertheless, they were not strong enough to pierce its barrier.
To retaliate, the dragon unleashed another non-elemental magic from its mouth, easily vaporizing any blades that came to invade its personal space.
This time, the woman formed three layers of thicker ice shields to confront that attack. The attack was halted. Unfortunately, that too, was not enough to block it in the end, and another vertical explosion was created. The woman was again spinning in the sky due to the blast wave. At this point, she was barely able to keep up with the dragon, and did not have any leeway to worry about her hair quality anymore.
Strength, speed, magic power, mana capacity, and stamina, the dragon was winning in every aspect.
Moreover, when she was still arranging her position in the air, the dragon successfully arrived in front of her, sending chill down her spine. Before she could protect herself, the beast performed a swift tail swipe. The woman received that overweight physical attack directly with her body, and she crashed to the ground from dangerous height.
The woman was coughing blood, a sign of internal bleeding, and hurting all over. She could feel the bone in her left arm broke, ribs fractured, and vision spinning. The pain was beyond anything she had experienced before. Thankfully, that kept her awake.
Even though visually unreliable, her outfit was a high grade equipment, made from special fabric which capable of continuously generating magic skin that was sturdier than steel by consuming its wearer's mana. That, was the only reason she could survive such lethal impact. Regrettably, her cloth was now in shambles, exposing her exotic body. Though, she did not notice, nor the least bit care about her inelegant appearance right now.
The next time the woman hit by similar attack, she would surely move on to the afterlife, followed with mountain of regrets. "Or, maybe I'm going to become a ghost instead...? If that's the case, I'll haunt that discourteous dragon forever..." Her thought was all over the place, and was spouting nonsense.
Strangely enough, the rambling managed to calm her down. Simultaneously, she painfully admitted that the current her was still nowhere near the might of a dragon.
Above her, the dragon was about to deliver a finishing blow, once again gathering energy in its mouth, when it noticed something moving irregularly from the corner of its eyes.
Something illogical and unreal, and it took awhile until the dragon decided to make sure of it by shifting its head. A boulder as big as his body, and covered by barrier, was an inch away from him. Puzzled by this situation, the dragon could not evade the approaching boulder. The two giants collided in the air, causing an explosive sound to escape the collision.
Both the boulder and the dragon's metallic skin disintegrated, widely revealing the later's weaker skin surface. The dragon lost consciousness for a second, and the gathered energy dispersed completely.
On the ground, the woman could not comprehend what the hell she just witnessed, it was like her eyes were playing tricks on her. A flying boulder? Was it earth magic? Was another adventurer came to her aid? Was there another strong beast in the forest she did not aware? She was completely in the dark. But, this was a one in a million chance, there was no way she would let it passed!
"Ice! Lightning! Wind! Fire!" she shouted hoarsely at the top of her lungs.
The woman formed two fusion magic circles at once, she never did this before, because creating just one required considerable mana and concentration. But, right know her ability to focus and concentrate was at its highest and turned her eyes crimson like the fabled devil in stories. Its all or nothing!
The first magic circle was a fusion of ice and lightning magic, between the elegant and the wild, and the second was of fire and wind magic, between the raging and playful, creating a massive elegant ice blade clad in violent lightning and a wrathful sharp firestorm, respectively.
The two magic attacks landed on the inert dragon at the same time, causing a four-colored explosion, as well as a gust of cold and hot wind with electric particle.
The dragon let out an eerie scream that pierced her ears. For the first time, it felt pain.
Nevertheless, she did not stop, she would not stop! and continued to send the same powerful magic attacks toward the now struggling dragon. She put aside the issue about her mana consumption, which was critical for a wizard such as herself. She would die being eaten anyway if these desperate attacks failed to kill the dragon. After the nth time, the dragon finally became silent, and his limb body that was both burnt to a crisp and frozen solid dropped to the ground.
A speck of unnatural dark mist left the dragon's bloodshot eyes, and it peacefully closed its eyes afterward, seemingly found the peace it deserved, forever. Though, the woman did not see it.
The battle concluded haphazardly...
The woman was at her limit and fell forward to the ground. She felt drowsy, her body rapidly went cold, and she was twitching uncontrollably, this was due to both her wounds and mana deficiency. If not treated right away, it would be life-threatening. Unfortunately, all the potions in her bag were either lost or broken, but the money she brought was still there.
In this circumstance, what could money even do?
'...Is this my end...?'
There were tons of dreams she wanted to accomplish, but it seemed those dreams would remain as just unattainable dreams.
"I don't want to die! I don't want to die! I don't..." she pleaded repeatedly.
Unending tears bursted from her eyes, the woman refused to accept that her life would end today. Sadly, contrary to her unyielding determination her body was getting weaker by each passing second.
After the woman's last attempt to seek aid that was unlikely to come, her vision went dark and the woman turned ghost-quiet.
Then, a figure was slowly approaching her...