Lith's and Solus minds were spinning at full gear, but for entirely different reasons.
"What if magical beasts are the primordial true mages? What if human mages learned true magic by watching the magical beast hunting, like Chinese martial artists derived their moves from Earth's animals?" Solus pondered in amazement.
"What the F*ck can I do? I just revealed my trump card for nothing and my fusion magic is useless, since if that thing closes in, it needs only one hit to rip me in a half. Not to mention that air, earth and spirit magic would probably be useless against it.
I am only left with light, dark, fire and water magic!" Lith trembled in fear, but his body was ready to move, his mind never giving up on life.
The Byk charged through its own shield, intending to make things up close and personal. Lith reacted promptly, using air fusion to gain speed and keep their distance in check.
"You may truly be immovable as a mountain, but you sure can't keep up with someone fast as lightning!" Yet the two enemies' speed was the same. The Byk was indeed heavier, but the difference in physical prowess was enormous.
Not to mention, they were both slowed down by trees, rocks and undergrowth.
Lith felt reassured noticing that the Byk couldn't close in, since he could still resort to fly as a desperate measure.
"Unbelievable speed my pale a*s! This thing is fast, but not that much. Ekart and his men were either too scared or hallucinating."
The game of tag went on for a while, with Lith throwing ice spears whenever he could spot an opening, and the Byk using rock projectiles trying to shoot him down.
Lith knew that bears weren't supposed to smile, but on the Byk's muzzle he could clearly see a smirk, sometimes even emitting a "Hurr, hurr" sound.
"Is that a laugh? Is that b*stard actually just having fun?!"
While running, Lith moved the fight to his private clearing. He had finally found a path to victory, but he needed to have both hands and legs free, without worrying about tripping on roots or pebbles.
Also, the river Philo flowed nearby, greatly enhancing his water magic. Not having to conjure it anymore, Lith could focus only on the manipulation aspect.
The Byk moved forward slowly and triumphantly. It knew the prey was now cornered. In front there was only the raging river, while the Byk was plenty capable of cutting off any other escape route.
But soon it noticed that something was off. Not only the smell of fear was gone, the prey had ceased to run, standing firm with the river at his back, watching the Byk's every move with defiant eyes.
The Byk slowed down even further, trying to suppress its overbearing bloodlust and looking again at the surroundings. Suddenly it remembered about all those dangerous ice spears, realizing it was a trap.
But it was too late, it had already got too close to the river. Tendrils of water grabbed its legs, trying to drag the Byk in the water. The Byk reacted promptly, making tendrils of earth envelop his legs and body stopping the water in its tracks.
It knew it could not play only on the defensive, so it fired a barrage of stones against the prey. Lith didn't move and inch from his spot, either dodging the rocks, or using his own earth magic to deflect those he could not avoid.
It soon became a war of attrition, about whose mana would run dry first.
After a few of such exchanges, Lith infused himself with fire and earth magic, performing a roundhouse kick to send a huge stone back to the sender.
The Byk didn't miss that anomaly. The prey had never done such a thing, it was clearly a deception. As soon the stone come near enough, the Byk deflected it with a flick of a claw, using earth magic to avoid touching it.
That way it noticed that right behind the rock there was a dense black mass, Lith's Plague Arrow.
The Byk followed its instinct, and tried to dodge that slow bullet, but its own tendrils of earth were keeping it stuck in place! Before the Byk could summon any sort of magical protection, the Plague Arrow had hit his mark straight in its huge chest.
Pain started blinding the Byk, that became unable to notice Lith closing in while shooting six more Plague Arrows. The first to the chest, again.
The easiest target to enhance the crippling pain. Then he followed striking the four limbs once, to prevent the Byk from fighting back.
The sixth and last one to the head, almost at point blank, for the kill.
It all happened in barely three seconds. In that very short lapse of time the standstill had turned into a victory for the prey.
And that saved Lith's life that day.
As soon as the Byk let out an agonizing cry, a second one, even bigger came out rushing from the woods.
"It wasn't fast! There were two of them! That's why they could play with the hunters like a cat with a mouse."
Lith used air fusion to stay away, keeping the distance the same he previously had with the other Byk.
Luckily the second Byk didn't seem interested in pursuing him, and started to lick its partner affectionately.
"From its size, it should be a male. The only notable difference is that his fur has shades of black instead of green. No wonder the hunters weren't able to tell them apart." Solus observed.
"You better make use of this time to replenish your mana. We don't know what it's capable of."
Lith immediately used the Invigorating breathing technique, letting the world energy replenish his lost mana and washing away his fatigue. Thanks to the good night sleep, Invigoration effect was at its peak, and it would not take Lith long to recover.
After all, his body was in perfect condition, only his stamina and mana had been consumed during the fight.
"Filthy human! How dare you kill my spouse?!" The Byk spoke.
Lith had no time to be surprised, so he kept his breathing rhythm steady, aiming to stall as long as he could.
"Wow, you talk! I didn't know bears could talk."
"Lowly maggot! I'm not a bear! I'm Irtu, the new king of the woods, and she was my queen, Gerda."
"Sorry, your majesty, but if you wanted to live happily ever after, you should have respected my turf. I don't care what you do on the east side of the woods, but the west side is mine! Not to mention that I know a Ry that could refute your claim."
"A Ry?" Irtu moved away from the carcass, putting enough distance from the river to be safe from the man pup tricks. "You mean that weakling! The mutt is as good as dead." Irtu grinned while slowly moving forward.
"Don't come any closer!" Lith ordered. "If you leave now and promise to never return, we can close it here. Otherwise one of us will have to die."
"Hurr, hurr, hurr." Irtu laughed. "You will not die, murderer. I will just rip off your legs and arms. Then I'll follow your scent back to your burrow and will devour your family alive, in front of your eyes. Only then we will be even!"
Lith dropped the act like a live grenade.
"I never intended to let you walk away alive from here. I only had doubts about how much make you suffer. Thanks for clearing them up for me."
"Such arrogance for a weak man pup! I will not fall for your trickery, like my poor Gerda. I have watched the whole time. The only reason you are still alive is that she loved so much playing with you vermin, before biting your head off!
It's all my fault. I shouldn't have indulged her so much. If I had killed you back then, she would still be alive!" Irtu roared, getting even closer.
Lith had already fully recovered and some more.
"If you want so bad to apologize to her, let me send you to the other side!"
Despite all his provocations, Irtu remained calm and collected, always keeping a safe distance from the waters.
"He is too confident, I have a bad feeling about this. Why does he keeps advancing despite what happened to the other Byk?" Lith fought back the temptation of using all the extra mana from the world energy in one go, limiting to a single Plague Arrow.
Instead of dodging it, Irtu stood up on its legs, laughing cruelly.
When the Plague Arrow hit the Byk's heart, Lith could see thanks to Life Vision that instead of attacking its vital organs, the dark energy was being assimilated by Irtu's core.
"Hurr, hurr, hurr. Did you really think to be the only one that have mastered dark magic, maggot? Now die!"
Irtu jumped forward, and before Lith could take advantage of its inability to dodge in mid-air, four rock formations abruptly erupted from the ground, right were Irtu's paws were going to be.
That way the Byk was able to jump forward once more, his speed further increased by the four rock's borrowed momentum.
In less than a second Lith was robbed of his opportunity to counter attack, while Irtu had turned into a one-ton bullet.
To evade the attack Lith had not only use air fusion, but also to roll forward. The Byk was too fast for a real dodge, his only option was to pass under it.
After that point, things got worse. When Irtu landed, instead of creating a crater, the ground stretched under its legs like a trampoline, allowing it to resume the chase without a second of delay.
"What the f*ck?! You can do that with earth magic?" Lith bit his lower lip hard, cursing his own ignorance. He was a self-taught after all, the only knowledge he had about true magic was what he discovered experimenting by himself.
Clearly the Byk was a natural at magic, and had refined its mastery over earth through the years, aptly adapting it to best suit its hunting techniques.
Making a split-second decision, Lith kicked the ground with his left leg while using all the mana he could to infuse himself with earth magic, boosting his defence.
Thanks to the clean cut in his previous trajectory, Lith got only grazed on the chest from Irtu's claw. Yet it was enough to rip off his chest protector and graze the underneath skin.
Lith instinctively used light fusion to stop the bleeding and gain a healing factor.
The mid-air strike had messed up the Byk's tempo, so after the second jump it was forced to stop.
Lith used that moment of pause to activate Soaring Hawk and take flight. The opponent was clearly superior, he had almost run out of options.
"No escape!" Irtu roared, shooting a rain of rock debris against him.
Lith mimicked Gerda, using air instead of earth to generate a fast spinning barrier that deflected the sudden attacks. Yet his flight was interrupted, and he started to fall down.
Irtu grinned, getting up on its back legs, ready to catch him. He could already feel in its mouth the crunchy taste of the prey's limbs.
Lith was almost out of options. Almost.
From that angle, Irtu could not notice that Lith's right hand was now holding something, removing the stopper with a snap of the thumb.
At the last second, Lith stopped in mid-air with Float, while the substance in the flask kept falling and hit Irtu right on the head.
Suddenly the Byk was blind, his eyes burning like fire. A strong smell inundated his nose, making him sneeze and rendering it unable to sense Lith presence anymore.
"When I bought this horrible perfume, my idea was to use it to make a Byk lose my traces in case the worst happened. I never expected being forced to resort to such a gamble. Luckily Irtu does not know about Solus, nor her pocket dimension."
The flask materializing out of thin air was something unconceivable for the magical beast, taking it by surprise.
Irtu was still roaring in pain, the paws rubbing his eyes, when he got stabbed from all sides.
Thanks to the river, Lith's Ice Spear spell needed just a split second to strike.
Lith waved his hands non-stop, sending a barrage of spears until Irtu's corpse was so riddled with holes that he could see through it. And even after that, he sent another one piercing its head, right between the eyes.
"I always hated how in horror movies no one ever makes sure that the frigging monster is really dead, only to get backstabbed during the credits."
"You took a huge risk there, pretending to have lost control of the flight spell and going into free fall." Solus had objected to that last-minute contingency plan from the second Lith devised it, deeming it too reckless.
"What if the Byk impaled you with a rock spear? What if instead of waiting for you to come down, it had jumped to finish you off?"
"That would have been merciful. Irtu was too cruel to do such thing."
Lith replied without hesitation.
"It wanted me to feel despair and helplessness, to be conscious while it ripped me apart. In some ways we were quite similar, both hell-bent on revenge and inflicting pain to our enemies.
The only difference between us, is that I would never allow my bloodlust to drive me crazy. Gerda and Irtu were a threat to my family. That's the only reason I came here.
I prefer giving my enemies a painless death, even making Irtu's pelt worthless, rather than taking the smallest risk that they could harm one hair of my beloved ones."
Lith had just collected the two magical beasts' carcasses inside the pocket dimension, when his body started trembling in pain. A familiar hot sensation rising from his mana core.