Chapter 87: A Pure-Blood Devil
Nero’s armor pulsed as his boots sank with a crunch into the screeching pile of burning hellspawn. The conflagration of crawling scorpions swarmed up his torso as their tails struck against the scarlet armor like a thousand tiny needles. A flash of magic spiraled out from the witch hunter’s armor with devastating effect as it scattered the hell fiends across the church. Nero used the boost from the enchantment’s kickback to cartwheel away from the twin flame serpents that dove after him, snapping at the air beneath his chin and grazing his heel.
The chapel’s air, once frigid with frost, now rippled as the temperature climbed dangerously high. The witch hunter resettled a safe distance away and pulled up the scarf at his neck, which he secured over his mouth and nose. “Guess that’s my cue to get serious.”
“Your ice isn’t an enchantment,” Ghost spat venomously. For a moment, the ghoul’s dark eyes flickered red. “You’re a witch!”
“Half-right, pure-blood,” Nero retorted as he dodged another cross-bolt and vaulted over the corner of a pew. A shadow moved in the corner of his eye. Nero barely raised an ice wall before two unseen assassins scraped its surface with their deadly knives.
‘Shadow guards? Right—this was the Emperor’s son, after all.’
“Ho?” the witch hunter chuckled darkly. “So much for a one on one eh, little prince?” He turned to find the pure-blood gone. Instinct sent him diving to the side as the burning blade singed dangerously close to his throat. The sword’s glowing red steel hissed through the witch hunter’s braids that caught fire even as they were cut clean through.
Nero rolled to his feet and put a few more pews between them as he dampened the flames in his hair with ice magic. “You’re not exactly fighting fair, your Highness.”
‘Fighting this bastard up close will only get me roasted one piece at a time.’
“Victors write history,” Ghost mocked as he circled the pews after the witch hunter. “The dead don’t get a say. The church should have plenty of experience with this philosophy. Still, if you want to complain before you die, who am I to deny a dead man’s last request.”
‘Pretentious little brat!’
“I would write that on your tombstone, your Highness, but witches don’t require graves,” Nero retorted as he drew his enchanted dagger. The Witch Star flared against his skin as Nero extended his arm. An ice shaft formed in the air beneath his fingers and closed around the hilt of his dagger. He swung his newly forged frozen spear through the air and leveled it at the pure-blood. “Ready when you are, bastard prince.”
Ghost snorted. “Half-witch or not, I’ve never understood why your kind would serve a religious institution that has persecuted witches and half-witches for centuries. Is it out of spite, jealousy, or inferiority?”
“Do you want a fight or a history lesson?” Nero snarked back as he deflected another cross-bolt with his spear.
They launched towards each other. Fire and ice clashed and hissed against steel as the room filled with mist and sparks. Every impact of their blades sent a wave of heat crashing into Nero’s armor, that flared as it repelled the dangerous magic.
At first, Nero thought the pure-blood was toying with him. Most witches relied on the power of their magic rather than the limitations of a blade or weapon. Still, each of Ghost’s attacks came with a lethal force intent on shattering the witch hunter’s defenses.
‘Why is he holding back? If it weren’t for his skills as a swordsman, I might have the advantage. Unfortunately, I don’t have his unlimited magic to pull from.’
The armor flared a dull gray, the protective enchantment already dangerously exhausted. Nero retreated as he flipped pews into the pure-blood’s path with his spear. His attempts to slow his opponent proved futile as Ghost shattered the benches beneath his sword like dry kindling.
“The ferocity of a pure-blood’s magic is not to be underestimated. They are a living cataclysm of unholy destruction.”
There was only one witch hunter in existence who had defeated a pure-blood alone—the commander of the Witch Hunter Order, the Pope’s right hand, and Nero’s mentor.
‘And I am not him,’ Nero realized bitterly as he struggled to keep the pure-blood before him at bay. The flame serpents had become wings that now boosted Ghost’s speed and the power behind his attacks.
‘Fuck at this rate—’ Nero swung his spear up to meet the descending sword of fire. The power behind Ghost’s attack nearly took the witch hunter to his knees. The air howled and twisted beneath their feet, as the sanctified stone floor of the church cracked and caved beneath the impact.
The chink in Nero’s armor widened as he struggled to remain upright. The spear shuddered against his hands as the sweat dried upon his brow. The enchantments of his rings had long burned out, and his magic was running dangerously low.
“Pulchritudo dolore,” Nero hissed as he glared across the fragmenting spear into the ghoul’s demonic eyes that now glowed orange.
“I smell fear, witch hunter,” Ghost taunted behind the ghoul’s leer as the witch hunter’s weapon dripped and hissed water onto the cracked floor beneath them.
Nero smirked as the Witch Star’s hidden power flooded through him and shifted the temperature around them once more. Magic flowed through the spear as the fractures closed, and the weapon was made whole once more. Ice reclaimed the caved church floor and rose to form a frozen prison shell around them.
Ghost laughed even as frost wove vines across his mask and black-leather armor. “I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed, witch hunter,” he muttered with a twinge of disappointment. “Cinis Cinerem.”
The flame serpents shifted as they recoiled around Ghost’s extended arm and lunged into the witch hunter’s face. Nero retreated and smacked against the walls of the ice prison. He ducked below the demon’s deadly bite and thrust his spear beneath their glowing bodies up into the pure-blood’s exposed chest.
His pivotal moment of victory shattered as Ghost caught the spear in his bare hand and snapped the weapon in half.
‘Too strong—too fucking strong!’
“What kind of devil are you?” Nero growled as the remaining shaft in his hand crackled like dry paper and evaporated into thin air. The enchanted dagger fell to the floor beside him, dull and muted—stripped of its enchantment.
The blue ghoul’s mask tilted as the pure-blood stalked closer. “Ask the goddess of death when you meet her.”
The serpents swelled in size and merged into a demonic visage that made even Nero’s blood run cold. He rolled to the side as the hell beast bashed its skull through the already splintering ice walls.
Nero retreated as the ice prison evaporated behind him. He flinched when the Foxes resumed their ranged attacks on him from above. His weakened armor did little to protect him now as arrow after arrow bit into his backplate. At this rate, the scarlet armor barely had enough magic to hold itself together. Nero took cover behind the nearest column and attempted to locate the archers above.
Shadows shifted in the corner of his left eye. Nero hastily summoned an ice wall around him as the assassins danced closer. “Never underestimate how quickly a battle can turn against you.”
Nero growled as black needles struck the translucent shield and injected their deadly poison into the ice. ‘I can’t keep up against these numbers. Perhaps I should focus on clearing them out first.’
Determined to take out a few more pests before Ghost reached him, Nero summoned another ice spear, lowered his shield, and thrust his frozen weapon towards the nearest shadow guard. A bullet took out his knee and threw the witch hunter off balance against the chapel wall.
Nero barely registered the gray Fox Master, who dipped out of sight through a nearby window. The witch hunter swung his spear wildly at the three shadow guards that closed in. They danced back as he slid down to one knee and blasted them with a wave of ice daggers that managed to take down one of the shadows.
‘How many of these bastards are there?’
His chest constricted painfully as the Witch Star flashed a warning. The fight had already pushed him into the cursed gem’s magic reserve, and now even that was half-way drained.
Nero roared in frustration as he slammed his closed fist against the ground. A sheet of heavy ice coated the floor, carpet, and pews. The shadow guards who weren’t quick enough to escape fell as the ice imprisoned their arms and legs. But before Nero could pick them off, Ghost appeared.
The pure-blood’s footsteps melted the ice below as he swung his sword down and pierced the dense frozen stone. Fire consumed ice as Nero clambered gracelessly to his feet and retreated once more.
‘Fuck you, pure-blood!’ Nero panted with effort and swore as his scarf fell down his face. Shock registered as the first breath of air sank into his lungs—and no scorching pain or death followed. ‘He’s holding back—no, he has to hold back! Fuck, I can use that!’
While the Shadow Guard might have enchanted coverings to shield them from a pure-blood’s toxic magic, the Foxes did not. Even the flames that danced and writhed along the church pews were held carefully in check to avoid the corners of the chapel where the Foxes still lingered.
Nero’s enchanted armor also protected him to some degree from the witch’s flames, but the Foxes wouldn’t survive a direct hit, and even the shadows knew better than to get too close.
Bullets and cross-bolts nicked the witch hunter’s armor as he ran. Nero cursed as pieces of the scarlet plate armor fell away beneath the relentless attacks. ‘I can’t keep this up. At this rate, I’m just a moving target. One lucky shot and even the vermin can take me down.’
Nero took shelter behind another column and attempted to catch his breath. The choices before him were attempt to flee or— ‘Fuck, if those are my only options, I’m dead either way.’ The shadow guards swarmed upon him in an instant, and Nero blasted them with his ice magic once more.
Every time Nero barely managed to thin his opponents by one, Ghost would appear and force him to flee from cover into another fray of bullets and arrows.
Nearly every inch of the church was burning. The smoke that pooled up towards the rafters offered the witch hunter some respite from the archers above, but the flames below severely limited his movements. Nero blasted a path clear with his ice and almost doubled over in pain as the Witch Star flared another warning.
His magic and the passive enchantments holding the scarlet armor together had drained the gem to one-third of its reserves.
‘If this goes on, these bastards will bleed even the Witch Star dry.’
A cross-bolt danced past his nose, and Nero managed to pin another pesky vermin against the wall with an ice dagger. The numbers were finally thinning. Only three foxes remained in the loft above. The Fox Master himself still roamed the floor, guarding the windows below. Five or six shadows also remained, though it was hard to get an accurate count of their numbers. Either way, without magic, Nero couldn’t hope to beat the pure-blood.
‘It was foolish to think I even stood a chance.’
He slid behind the alter of Harmonia and pulled the Witch Star free from his armor. The once blue gem now tinged with red as it drained away at the witch hunter’s life to replace its depleted magic.
‘If you’re going to be that greedy than I’ll make you turn the tide for me with a little bit of chaos.’