Like I said, a gateless caster can’t use high-level spells because they don’t have the halo reserves to learn and practice mastering them. Obviously, this fact doesn’t apply to someone who once did have enormous reserves and two hundred years of practice.
New tears flooded Cassia’s eyes. “I thought you were really going to make me choose…”
I didn’t want to say anything to that, so instead I said, “How’s the belly? Can you stand?”
“I will need a moment,” Cassia breathed, pushing herself up to a knee.
She was covered in scrapes and bruises, and her arm still clutched her abdomen, but I could already see that her strength was returning. From the moment that she’d been punched, she had begun to regain her physical energy. That was the effect of having the Gate of Breath open for you. She had even gathered some aura from the cracked third gate. However, from what I could tell, it was completely sealed again.
I winced and looked down at my hand, chuckling to myself, then I caught Cassia looking up, and I quickly tucked my hand into my pants pocket.
In truth, I was not certain I would be able to pull off the spell. Rule Sixty-One, Pointed Pillar was not in fact meant to be used the way I did, but without my gates, it was the only spell I could cast at such a high level. And I had not been lying when I told Cassia a weaker fighter should hit their opponent with everything they had from the get-go. Pointed Pillar was the strongest spell I could cast in my current state.
The spell worked by condensing all of one’s magical halos into a single point. With such minimal halos, however, I could only hold the spell for a split second, and it would have been easy to miss. But with the situation I’d set up with Darren, where I openly pointed at his bare chest from only a few paces away, it was a guaranteed hit.
That being said, it was still an extremely difficult spell to pull off without any gates. My halo reserves were entirely drained even though I held the spell for only a blink. I could feel my whole body shaking from the exertion. The feeling was akin to having been starved for days. If Darren got up for a second time, I’d be in no different a situation that Cassia was in only minutes earlier—completely helpless. But there was no chance of that.
I strolled over to him. The high templar’s back was against the floor, his face drained of color, and his eyes were barely-open slits that watched me as I stepped before him. His wound was only a hole the thickness of my finger, but it was bleeding profusely now. I made sure to step around the pool of blood spreading from his body.
His voice was hoarse and strained as he said, “W-ho a-r-e you? T-tell me.”
“I told you,” I said. “I’m a tavern keeper.”
“You’ve d-defeated m-me,” he said as if he was still having trouble believing the fact.
“Of course, I did,” I said. “You may be a genius at spellcraft—only a few handfuls of people in the world can cast spells above Rule Forty without letting the destructive energy destroy them, and you’ve done it with only three gates. But your skill is also your greatest weakness. You put too much weight on that one thing and grew overconfident. First you underestimated Cassia, and when you didn’t learn your lesson, you made the same mistake with me. I wouldn’t lose to someone with a glaring inadequacy like that. What I want to know is who taught you such powerful spells when you clearly weren’t ready for them.”
Darren did not reply, nor did he speak again. It appeared he wished to but did not have the strength for it. He watched me until his eyes closed and he fell into unconsciousness.
Standing on her own two feet now, Cassia limped to my side. “Is he alive?”
“For another minute or two,” I said.
Cassia fell to her knees beside him and placed her hands over his wound.
“What are you doing?” I said in disbelief.
“He has lost a lot of blood,” she said, concentrating. “He will be no threat to us.”
“If you save him, it’ll be his word against ours,” I said.
“Celeru gave mercy to Daiboth on the Mountain of Death. We must do the same.”
I sighed. “Fine, do what you want, I could care less.” I doubted she’d be able to save him anyway.
“Spell of Lesser Binding, Mend,” Cassia chanted, and her hands began to glow with a soft green light over Darren’s wound, and slowly it began to knit together.
Once again, I found myself impressed by the templar. It was a low-level healing spell, but healing spells were the most difficult to master—it was far easier to destroy than to put back together—and I was surprised she had learned one at such a young age. Still, it was fifty-fifty chance at best that she’d be able to save him.
In the end, Celeru came in on Darren’s side. That damn bastard, always saving the wrong people. Cassia pulled her hands away and drew a breath of relief as Darren laid unconscious but alive.
“Your aim was incredible, Arch-don,” Cassia said. “If you had hit him only half an inch to the left or right, I would not have been able to save him.”
Oh great, so it was my fault he pulled through. I had, in fact, been aiming for his heart, but in my sorry gateless state, I could not properly control such the spell, and my finger shook at the last second, missing my intended mark.
“You knew you could defeat him from the beginning, didn’t you?” Cassia said. Coming from anyone else, her words would have been an accusation considering that I let her get beaten first, but from her mouth, it seemed as if she was in awe and praising me.
I shrugged. “I had a hunch. Met plenty of his type of personality before. But you can never be sure. And anyone who is sure will make the same mistake this idiot made.”
Cassia smiled warmly at me, her eyes bright and blue, and it made me feel uncomfortable inside. I said, “So uh… what would you like to do now?”
Cassia nodded, shifting her focus, and a new look of hardened determination overcame her features. “Now we speak to the bishop.”
“Figures,” I said. I looked between the two fallen men. “Don’t think Darren’s going to be waking up any time soon. Guess we’d better get the other one to talk.”
I kicked Drimdelon in the shin. He snapped awake and saw us, and quickly searched the atrium for a view of his master. Then he saw Darren’s unconscious body lying at his side, and his face turned pale.
“Oh good, you’re up,” I said, leaning over him with a darkening smile. “The lady here would like some answers, Two-Leg.”