Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume13 Chapter5
Chapter 5 - Monsters of the Kyria Mountain Range
After setting off from Frost Town, several hours had passed.
Reaching halfway up the mountain happened even later.
It was currently noon but the sky was blotted by thick layers of clouds, making it totally impossible to see the sun.
The blizzard was blowing harder and harder. Mixed with frost and snow, the raging winds howled while they rampaged.
The view was just a wide expanse of white.
"...It's almost impossible to see ahead!"
Inside the blizzard, Kamito yelled towards Rinslet.
As soon as he opened his mouth, a strong gust of cold air went straight into his lungs.
"You must keep Fenrir's tail firmly in your sights!"
Rinslet's voice could be heard from somewhere.
She was supposed to be advancing while riding Fenrir's back, but given the pure-white view, Kamito could not even tell which direction was which.
Relying on Rinslet's voice, Kamito tried hard to find the figure of Fenrir the vanguard.
More precisely, he was looking for the light from the spirit crystal tied to Fenrir's tail.
The faint light swaying in the blizzard was the only beacon to guide Kamito's direction of advance.
Finally finding that faint light ahead in his view, Kamito adjusted his direction slightly.
To prevent sinking into the deep snow, Kamito focused divine power into his legs, staying in a state akin to floating. This was a technique for moving over snowy terrain and it required extensive training to master.
(...This turns out to be more exhausting than imagined.)
The Academy's uniform was already woven with magic for resisting cold, but even together with extra winter clothing, this extreme cold was still unbearable. Entering these snow-covered mountains without sufficient preparation would undoubted lead to getting frozen to death.
Of the prepared fire spirit crystals, two were already about to become spent. Once exhausted of power, fire spirits would return to Astral Zero, turning spirit crystals into something indistinguishable from transparent stones.
Although Kamito was struck with an impulse to simply release the Demon Slayer's power to blow apart the blizzard, actually doing so would probably cause a massive avalanche.
Kamito quickened his pace and finally caught up to Fenrir ahead.
"...H-Huff... Although I prepared myself mentally... Nothing less expected of the Kyria Mountain Range."
Almost out of breath, Kamito stabbed the Demon Slayer into the snow.
"From now on, the road will get even tougher."
Riding Fenrir, Rinslet looked back and said.
"Say, it's about time for a break, right..."
"No, you must break past this place before the blizzard exhausts your stamina."
"I guess you're right..."
Looking around, Kamito saw that there was no place at all to stop and rest.
Taking out a water bottle, Kamito took a sip of black tea which had plenty of sugar and raw ginger added, warming up his chest instantly.
There was also a tiny piece of fire spirit crystal inside the flask to prevent the tea from freezing over.
"I remember there's a cottage built for hikers up ahead. There is a stove inside there, so we could warm up some milk and make some pancakes."
"Then I'm looking forward to it."
Rinslet's pancakes were probably his only hope in this freezing hell.
"But you see—"
Kamito looked up at the sky with its heavy layers of clouds.
"It really doesn't seem like an ordinary blizzard..."
"...Indeed. I have never seen it snow like this in all my years growing up."
Even if someone possessed a spirit with flight capabilities, it was probably impossible to fly under these conditions.
"Could it really be Zirnitra...?"
Kamito asked with curiosity.
—Speaking of which, he seemed to have heard this name at the tavern yesterday as well.
"It's an ancient legend in the lands of Laurenfrost."
"Zirnitra is the guardian spirit of Laurenfrost. A thousand years ago, during the Demon King War, spirits that were fighting under Demon King Solomon's banner were sealed into this Kyria Mountain Range, so the story goes."
"Uh... In the end, it's just a legend... Right?"
"Yes. However, no one knows for sure whether that kind of spirit actually exists for real."
Rinslet shrugged and took out a slightly larger spirit crystal.
"I shall release Fire Magic's Protection. Please step back slightly."
"Yeah, got it."
"—O burning flame of protection, I beseech thee to grant us thy protection."
Pouring divine power into the spirit crystal, Rinslet recited an incantation of releasing.
Instantly, the spirit crystal released powerful heat, covering the surroundings with warm air.
An anti-snow barrier was deployed from the spirit crystal, finally freeing up visibility that had been invaded by the snow.
However, Kamito could not help but gasp at the scene before them—
A giant valley of two opposite walls of ice. The path running along the precipitous cliff suddenly became very narrow. A single misstep would mean falling directly to the bottom of the valley.
"...Are we taking this route? It's going to be a pain."
"There is actually a safer route, but if we followed that one, it would be impossible to traverse this mountain today."
"I see, then it really can't be helped..."
Kamito took a step forward. Fragments of ice underfoot rolled and fell to the valley's bottom.
"We should hurry, Fire Magic's Protection cannot persist for long."
If the spirit crystal's effect vanished halfway, survival would definitely be impossible.
With Fenrir heading the vanguard, the two of them followed cautiously after him.
Along the way, Kamito saw countless ice caves on the opposite cliff face.
"Those ice caves, are they naturally formed?"
"People say that those were the homes of Frost Giants."
The Frost Giants were a race that had come from Astral Zero to this continent and built a vast empire before the rise of mankind. Although they had already gone extinct several thousand years ago, the countless ice caves dug out from the walls of the cliff remained preserved and untouched, giving a somber feeling of history.
Just as Kamito's emotions stirred while he was looking at the ice caves...
He heard the sound of wings flapping overhead, sounding strong enough to tear the air apart.
He frantically looked up.
Ripping apart the dark-gray clouds, a giant winged silhouette was flying in approach.
"—That's an ice dragon!?"
Talons as sharp as blades. Ice-like scales covering the entire body. A breed of flying dragon.
A pair of crimson eyes flashed with blazing light, locking down on Kamito and Rinslet below.
"So it looks like the rumors of a monster are true!"
Gripping the Demon Slayer tightly, Kamito prepared for battle.
The ice dragon was not intimidated and descended rapidly from the air, posturing its massive talons for attack.
The attack powered by overwhelming weight was parried by Kamito's sword. The talons were shattered while the ice dragon smashed into a wall of ice with its original momentum. The ice wall shattered, producing scattering ice debris that blocked Kamito's view.
"Kamito-san, be careful of the ground!"
Hearing Rinslet's warning, Kamito hastily jumped backwards.
Immediately, the path along the cliff collapsed. The place he had been standing was instantly turned into shattered ice, rolling into the valley. Kamito broke out with cold sweat in fright.
(...Fighting here is way too risky!)
Among all dragons, ice dragons were only ranked in the middle. Under normal conditions, for Kamito who was able to solo high-level demonic dragons, ice dragons would not count as terrifying enemies.
But under such adverse terrain and weather, there was no way for him to bring out his original power.
After crashing into the ice wall, the ice dragon shook its giant body and flew into the sky again.
"Freezing fangs of ice, go forth and pierce -- Freezing Arrow!"
Having released her elemental waffe, Rinslet swiftly fired arrows.
However, they were almost all dodged by the ice dragon circling in the blizzard.
"...It's totally impossible to aim properly in such a heavy blizzard!"
Meanwhile, the ice dragon was a breed of dragon blessed with the protection of ice. Even in this kind of weather, they were capable of flying freely without problems.
The ice dragon flew towards Rinslet while she was firing with her bow, opening its jaws lined with sharp teeth.
Its mouth began to glow—
Kamito jumped and stood in front of Rinslet to shield her—
"—Est, I'm counting on you!"
The Demon Slayer released its full power.
At the same time, countless sword-like shards of ice were brought by the howling blizzard.
Dragon's Breath—One of the reasons why dragons were considered the most terrifying of all magic beasts.
The sacred blade released silver-white radiance. The flash of light erupting from the Demon Slayer melted and destroyed the countless ice blades blown by the rampaging wind.
"Rinslet, let's retreat back to the place we were just now. Otherwise, it's impossible to fight properly here."
"I understand—Freezing Rain!"
Rinslet nocked five arrows and fired them into the sky.
The arrows suddenly split apart in the air, turning into countless blades flying towards the ice dragon's scales. Since dragons possessed high magic resistance, this kind of attack was probably quite ineffective, but at least it was enough to halt the ice dragon for now.
While the ice dragon was hindered, the two of them swiftly returned along the path they had came.
They could still hear the sound of wings flapping behind them. Shaking off the ice adhering to its body, the ice dragon made an ear-splitting roar and flew high in the sky.
"The ice dragon is escaping!"
"No, that's not right—!"
Almost entirely through instinct, Kamito grabbed Rinslet's arm while she was running alongside him.
At the same time, there was the sound of something slicing through the air, enough to shake the atmosphere.
The ice dragon was making a rapid dive at the ice cliff above Kamito and Rinslet. The impact broke off a large chunk of the cliff and giant blocks of ice were rolling from above.
Kamito forcefully pulled Rinslet's arm that he was holding and hit the ground while covering her. Then he immediately drew out the Demon Slayer to smash apart the falling blocks of ice.
Falling down one after another, the ice blocked their path completely.
"...Our retreat has been cut off entirely."
Dragons had the highest intelligence among all magic beast, even to the point that there existed some among high-level dragons that were capable of human speech.
This ice dragon was also very crafty.
Flying to the air once more, the ice dragon looked like it intended to continue breaking the ice cliff.
Pulling Rinslet's hand, he returned to the path they had been walking along. Finding his body unable to move freely at will, Kamito was greatly anxious, for his entire body's muscles had grown sluggish due to the air temperature together with the thick winter clothing that was difficult to move in. The accumulated fatigue instantly erupted all at once.
(...Also, this air here is so thin.)
Trying to get more oxygen was making him take large breaths through his mouth irregularly, causing his divine power to become unstable. Without highly concentrated divine power, the Demon Slayer would be nothing more than a blunt blade.
"Kamito-san, the Fire Magic's Protection is almost over!"
The fire spirit crystal's barrier effect shrunk greatly in area.
"At this rate, the situation will get worse and worse—"
Kamito suddenly halted and stared at the ice dragon circling in the air above.
"...Do you have a plan?"
"Even if only for an instant, can you find a way to suppress that thing?"
"Then what are you planning to do then?"
"Well, you'll see when the time comes."
Hearing Kamito's answer—
"—In that case, I shall try!"
The platinum blonde hair fluttered forcefully.
Rinslet nodded with an expression filled with confidence.
"Freezing fangs of ice, go forth and pierce—Freezing Arrow!"
Readying her elemental waffe, the bow, she shot an arrow to the sky.
Rather than the ice dragon's body that possessed high magical resistance, the target was above its head—
Freezing the air over the ice dragon, she created a giant block of ice.
"O hammer that punishes the proudly strong—Frost Fall!"
A giant block of ice, twice the size of the ice dragon, fell straight down under the action of gravity.
Struck by the overwhelming weight, the ice dragon roared in pain.
"Now is the moment!"
Yelling, Kamito had already taken off his winter coat that had snow and ice all stuck to it.
Releasing his divine power completely, he kicked the ice wall and used the crumbling cliff to move straight up.
"Th-That is way too reckless!"
Rinslet screamed shrilly.
"Don't worry, I'm counting on you to cover me!"
Kicking the wall of ice, he rose to the cliff's pinnacle in one breath.
Raising the Demon Slayer up high, Kamito made a thrust at the ice dragon's back along with the ice.
The dragon's scales broke and scattered with a metallic sound.
(—How hard is this thing!?)
Kamito exclaimed with surprise in his heart. Dragon scales were the hardest material on the continent. In his current state, unable to control Est's power in a stable manner, it was very difficult for Kamito to pierce the ice dragon completely.
Howling angrily, the ice dragon flew up into the sky again, turning at high speed in the violent blizzard.
Kamito tightly gripped the sacred sword that was stabbed into the dragon's back.
A bottomless abyss lay below. Letting go would mean instant death.
(I'm counting on you, Rinslet—!)
Down at the cliff, Rinslet was currently chanting high-level spirit magic.
In the blizzard, Kamito could hear her clear voice resounding faintly.
"—I hereby summon thee, capable of defending against the breath of dragons and the arms of giants, the frozen shield—!"
—With that, the spirit magic was complete.
Countless giant walls of ice extended out from the silver-white shattered ground, one after another.
Kamito pulled out the Demon Slayer and jumped down from the dragon's back.
His entire body's muscles shuddering, Kamito curled up in the air, bracing himself for the impact.
In the next instant, Kamito fell down hard on the ground surface of ice.
Ice Wall—Defensive spirit magic originally used for defense had now prepared an excellent battlefield.
"Well done, Rinslet!"
"You really would have fallen directly to the bottom of the valley if this failed!"
Rinslet yelled angrily.
The wounded ice dragon's eyes shone red with wrath. Opening its jaws, it was about to release another dragon's breath.
But this was exactly the chance Kamito was waiting for.
"—Let's do it, Est!"
Est's reply could be heard from the divine power enveloping his right hand.
"O steel wrapped in endless darkness, the Demon King's Sword—Terminus Est Zwei!"
The instant he yelled, his right hand's spirit seal gave off dazzling light.
Carved on top of the sword emblem was Restia Ashdoll's emblem.
"O endless darkness, slaughter mine enemy—Vorpal Blast!"
Aiming at the dragon's giant glowing mouth, Kamito swung the steel sword that was dyed by the color of darkness.
Dark lightning erupted, piercing the ice dragon's throat.
"Dragon scales are what possesses high magical resistance but that kind of thing can't possibly be inside the dragon's body, right?"
Roaring with wrath, the ice dragon fell straight into the abyss of the valley.
"...Is it dead?"
Rinslet walked over.
"...No, dragons have extremely powerful vitality. Before that thing recovers—"
—Mid-sentence, Kamito swallowed the rest of his words.
Suddenly, the blizzard was even stronger than before—
A giant shadow covered them from above.
Kamito jumped in fright. Also, this one was even bigger than the ice dragon from just now.
It was not that Kamito had been careless. Dragons tended to be highly territorial and chances for two dragons to appear simultaneously at the same place were very low.
(...But why are there six more ice dragons!)
Rumble—The six ice dragons landed on the ground neatly.
Currently, Kamito and Rinslet were standing on a temporary foothold created by magic. Naturally, there was no way it could withstand such a great impact.
The ice underfoot cracked open and collapsed instant—!
"Rinslet, hold onto me tight!"
Saying that, Kamito reached out to catch Rinslet.
In that manner, together with the collapsing ice, they fell towards the bottomless darkness.
Kamito bent his body in midair and used the sword gripped tightly in his right hand to stab into the wall of ice.
Screech—Accompanied by violent scattering sparks, a trail was carved on the ice wall.
But this was not enough to halt their falling momentum. Falling straight towards the bottom of the valley in this manner—
"...Don't... let go no matter what!"
Kamito pulled Rinslet with great force.
(—What am I going to do about the bottom?)
Their falling speed kept increasing. At this rate, it was impossible to stop.
(...My arm strength, is already... reaching a limit...)
"Kamito-san, hurry and look over there!"
Rinslet suddenly cried out.
Looking down, Kamito saw a place in the ice wall that could serve as a foothold.
(That's an ice cave of the Frost Giants!)
Seeing a ray of hope... A very faint ray of hope.
(...It's too far. But there's no choice but to try—)
If he failed to jump with the right timing, only death awaited them.
"Okay, hold on tight to me—"
Pouring his entire body's divine power into his right hand, Kamito released the Demon Slayer's power.
The blade gave off a flash of dazzling light, shattering the ice wall.
Kicking at the ice wall, Kamito jumped towards the ice cave. All that remained was falling under gravity and leaving things to fate.
(This must succeed!)
—Kamito closed his eyes.
Opening his eyes slightly, he saw Rinslet's face while she was desperately calling to him.
Confirming that Kamito was still conscious, Rinslet exhaled in relief.
"...Looks like, it seems to have succeeded."
Making a twisted expression from the pain attacking his entire body, Kamito whispered. Landing on his back in order to protect Rinslet, Kamito had virtually taken on all of the impact.
(...Due to a powerful impact hitting my spine, my entire body is in a state of paralysis. Also, my right arm is dislocated.)
Lying face up, Kamito calmly assessed his body's condition.
If he tried to stand up forcibly, it would probably hurt like hell.
Without getting up, Kamito surveyed his surroundings.
This was a giant cave that was carved out of the ice wall. The ceiling was very high while the depths was completely pitch dark.
"...Could it be that this ice cave leads to somewhere?"
"The imperial capital's Spirit Investigation Association investigated many times already. But because the internal structure is too complicated, ultimately none of the investigations bore fruit."
"...I guess trying to cross the mountain through here doesn't work after all, right?"
"Getting lost in a labyrinth of ice would be even worse."
Rinslet shrugged as she answered.
"In other words, we need to climb back up the ice wall huh... Gah..."
"Y-You can't get up yet!"
Just as Kamito tried struggling to get up, Rinslet frantically held him down.
"But if you don't cross before sundown..."
Once night fell, the air temperature would become even lower. Staying here like this, they were going to freeze to death sooner or later.
"In your current state, there's no way you can climb up the ice wall no matter what. Besides, there's such a heavy blizzard as well."
Kamito was instantly at a loss for words, looking out at the raging blizzard outside. Besides, with those ice dragons out there, with that kind of creature present, climbing up the ice wall was absolutely impossible—
Suddenly, Rinslet's fingertips touched Kamito's right hand.
"Please don't speak. I will now enchant you with healing magic."
She was holding a healing spirit crystal.
"O light of healing, I beseech thee to grant this person the power of life—"
After she recited a simple incantation, the spirit crystal gave off a gentle sacred light.
But still lying down, Kamito turned his head to look at Rinslet, pushing her hand away lightly.
"I'm very grateful for your kind intentions, but this sort of half-baked magic isn't going to work on my body. So Rinslet, you should use this spirit crystal on yourself."
The vast majority of healing magic belonged under the holy attribute. As an ice specialist, Rinslet was only able to use simple healing magic by borrowing a spirit crystal's power. To be honest, magic of this level was completely ineffective on Kamito whose body housed the Darkness Elemental Lord's power.
"I... have almost no injuries, you know?"
"Just now, when the ice broke, your foot was cut by the fragments, right?"
"Th-This level of minor injury is completely nothing compared to your condition, Kamito-san."
"It'll be a huge problem if scars were left behind on a girl. And look, I still have Steel's Protection from Est. This kind of small injury will heal on its own."
Rinslet's face went bright red—
...As though making some kind of decision, she nodded forcefully.
"F-Feel honored, Kamito-san, since you have already said this much, then—"
Rustle rustle rustle... Fwip.
Suddenly, Rinslet took off her skirt.
"H-H-Hold on, what are you doing..."
"P-Please be quiet!"
Wearing only underwear on her lower body, Rinslet mounted Kamito.
Silken panties with delicate embroidery. Kamito could feel her soft thighs pressing against him.
His entire body's blood flow sped up, instantly heating up his body.
"...I-I'll transmit this healing magic directly into your body, Kamito-san!"
Rinslet's face was bright red from embarrassment—
One by one, she unfastened the buttons on her uniform.
Clad in the pristine undergarment of pure white was a pair of voluptuous breasts.
Her snow-white skin was tinged slightly red. Long platinum blonde hair draping down, the sight of this body—
...Honestly, it was very pretty.
Kamito was mesmerized by the sight instantly—
"S-Staring like that makes me very embarrassed..."
Rinslet pursed her lips tight.
"Please... close your eyes."
"Yeah, got it..."
Kamito hastily closed his eyes. He knew what Rinslet was about to do next. Indeed, transmitting healing magic through direct physical contact like this would have an effect to some extent. In actual fact, Fianna had been using this method to treat Kamito all this time.
Rinslet used her fingers to lightly remove Kamito's winter clothing then she unbuttoned his uniform.
Sweet breath. Dangling from the side of her cheeks, her long hair touched him... So tickling.
(...This is bad.)
Helpless to resist, Kamito could only exclaim in his heart.
(...Because my eyes are closed, all sorts of messed up imaginings are popping up in my mind!)
His outer uniform was completely removed, leaving just a shirt when Rinslet stopped. As one would expect, direct bodily contact with Kamito was probably very embarrassing.
"Umm, w-what need to be done next?"
Riding on Kamito's body, Rinslet sounded uncertain.
"Hey, Rinslet... Umm, you don't have to force yourself..."
"I am not forcing myself..."
She instantly retorted.
Kamito felt a sensation from his lips.
Rinslet extended her tongue, moist with saliva—
Instantly, Kamito felt vigor suddenly injected into his body.
A gentle light seeped into every nook and cranny in his body, sweeping away the fatigue in his limbs completely. Perhaps because she could feel the healing power working its effects, Rinslet pressed her lips down even more forcefully.
"Smooch... Mmm, huff... Mmm, mmm...♪"
"...Rins... let... enough...!"
Not because of pain but due to excessive embarrassment, Kamito could not help but cry out.
Several minutes later, the two of them were sitting back to back in order to avoid eye contact.
...The exceptionally awkward atmosphere hung in the air.
Already dressed properly, Rinslet spoke up.
"I-I, umm... just now, did something so shameful."
"N-Not at all. You did it for the sake of healing. Thanks to you, I've recovered much of my stamina."
Kamito shook his right arm. Although it was still hurting to some extent, it no longer hindered his movements.
"...The blizzard doesn't look like it'll stop any time soon, so let's rest here a bit for now."
Rinslet nodded and started activating a fire spirit crystal. After placing the red-glowing mineral on the ground and pouring in divine power, a warm light of fire illuminated the ice cave.
Fenrir opened his great jaws and spat out cooking utensils.
Rinslet poured milk into a small pot which she then placed on top of the burning mineral.
Kamito turned towards Rinslet.
"What's up with that group of ice dragons?"
"...I have no idea either."
Rinslet shook her head.
"Besides, the ice dragons of Laurenfrost were supposed to have gone extinct several centuries earlier. Why would they suddenly appear in this place—"
"So in the end, it's still related to the current abnormal weather, right—?"
Supporting his chin with a hand, Kamito entered deep thought.
"Could it be that the blizzard on the mountain is actually those ice dragons' doing?"
According to legend, dragons possessed incredible powers different from spirit magic. Furthermore, when the six ice dragons appeared at the same time, Kamito clearly felt the blizzard increasing in strength.
"That possibility cannot be ruled out. There are still many unknown areas in research on dragon ecology."
Rinslet nodded in agreement.
After a short while, the milk in the pot boiled.
"...Okay, what should we do next?"
Taking a sip of steaming hot milk, Kamito sighed. Rather than staying here and waiting to be frozen to death, he would prefer to simply take a gamble with the ice cave's labyrinth—
"Let us wait a little and see, shall we? The blizzard is not going to stop and we have no idea if it might let up a little. What I'll do now is prepare a portion of special pancakes first."
Holding a frying pan, Rinslet smiled nonchalantly.
"...I'm really sorry. It's my willfulness that got you caught up in all this."
"There is no need to feel guilty. I was the one who insisted on leading the way for you."
Rinslet flipped the pan that was being heated over the fire.
Fresh hot pancakes were served on a plate with a generous helping of butter and honey.
As the sweet aroma filled the air, Kamito's stomach rumbled and growled.
"Come, please enjoy—"
With the steaming plate brought before his eyes, Kamito instantly picked up a piece with his fork.
"...This is great!"
The soft and spongy texture, with honey absorbed in it, melted in his mouth. Not only that, but the edges were crunchy like a biscuit's.
Kamito finished a pancake within the blink of an eye.
"Kamito-san, you look like you are quite enjoying it."
"...Yeah, because it's really tasty."
Kamito made a thumbs up. Rinslet smiled radiantly.
Nevertheless, her face was soon shrouded in gloom.
"...For some reason I do not know why, I am suddenly reminded of her."
Rinslet murmured softly.
"Yes, this pancake was her favorite."
Kamito suddenly remembered what Rinslet had said in her dreams the previous night.
"...That's your little sister, right...? The one who got sealed in cursed ice by the Elemental Lord."
"That was four years ago. Back then, she was only nine..."
Watching the sparks erupting from the spirit crystal, Rinslet continued.
—It was roughly several months before the incident of the Calamity Queen's betrayal. That year, the Laurenfrost region was holding a traditional Great Snow Festival.
In past years, Rinslet had always performed the princess maiden's kagura dance offering as the eldest daughter. But that year, it happened to be Judia's debut as a princess maiden on her ninth birthday, standing before the Laurenfrost subjects.
Just having turned nine, she was entering this kind of stage for the first time.
"Judia is a very endearing child and naturally gifted. However--"
The kagura dance she performed had incurred the Water Elemental Lord's ire. Rather, the Water Elemental Lord back then was corrupted by the Otherworldly Darkness and already in a complete state of insanity.
Judia's ritual had angered the mad elemental lord by chance.
"Of course, my father exhausted all possible solutions. He gathered all the princess maidens in Laurenfrost to offer kagura, trying to appease the elemental lord's wrath. However, no matter what they tried, they still could not melt the cursed ice..."
Hence, Rinslet had decided to participate in the Blade Dance tournament. Just like how Ren Ashbell, that Strongest Blade Dancer, had offered blade dances to the Elemental Lords three years ago, successfully placating their wrath—
"Hence, Kamito-san, I can understand your feelings for wanting to seek someone precious to you."
Rinslet looked at Kamito's left hand, the back of the hand where the spirit seal had vanished.
"I too, shall absolutely not abandon Judia."
"Yes, well said."
Kamito clenched his fist.
(...That's right, I must bring her back.)
Even if it meant chasing to the farthest ends of the world—
...Tug. Tug tug.
Feeling a sudden tugging at his sleeve, Kamito looked back.
"—Kamito, I am hungry too."
Materializing, Est was demanding food again.
"Est, you've been working hard too."
Kamito caressed Est's head, causing her to half-close her eyes from the pleasure.
"There's Rinslet's special pancakes here and canned peaches."
"Uh, that's a bit too..."
"Yes, we do—"
With a snap of her finger, Rinslet took out a white object from Fenrir's mouth... Beancurd that was frozen solid.
"Can this be eaten directly?"
"No, I have to boil it again first."
Placing a pot on the burning spirit crystal, she added a large amount of snow.
As soon as the water boiled, she threw the frozen beancurd into the pot.
Est's mysterious violet eyes flashed with the light of excitement while she was humming a strange song.
"This is the dish known as boiled beancurd."
"Boiled beancurd, boiled beancurd♪"
Humming a song expressionlessly, Est kept staring at the pot intently.
Seeing Est like that, Kamito smiled—
Rinslet suddenly stood up and pointed outside the ice cave.
Kamito turned to look—
In the next instant, he was so shocked that his mouth gaped wide open and said the same thing as Rinslet.
"...The blizzard stopped?"
"—Luminaris-sama, the stone monuments suspected as part of the Barrier's foundation have all been destroyed."
Special operative Ayla reported to Luminaris.
"Good work... Turning out as predicted, the Barrier's disorienting mist effects have weakened."
Just as Luminaris pointed out, the drifting fog was much thinner than several hours earlier. Just now, it was a place where one could hardly see a step ahead, but now it was possible to see the several trees in front of them.
"Everyone, the destination is ahead. Let us set forth for the Forest Dwellers' village."
Giving her fatigued subordinates encouragement, she advanced further into the Forest of Ice Blossoms where it was still snowing.
Assuming the Barrier's effects were gradually going to weaken in this manner, they were going to see their destination eventually. It was unknown whether the Forest Dwellers had elementalists who controlled combat-type spirits, but even if they did, they were surely going to be defeated by the Sacred Spirit Knights.
Luminaris swung her sacred sword, chopping the branches blocking the way. Just at that moment—
The sound of giant flapping wings could be heard overhead.
The surrounding fog was blown away in an instant while a powerful blizzard swept through the forest.
"...What is going on!?"
"Luminaris-sama, look over there quick!"
Her adjutant, Alda, was pointing above.
"...Could it be... dragons... no way!?"
Luminaris was speechless.
Looking up at the gray sky through the tree branches, they could see a group of giant dragons flying in the air.
Scales flashing ice-blue light. These were precisely the ice dragons inhabiting the north part of the continent.
Normally, dragons could not possibly move in groups due to their highly territorial nature. But dozens of dragons were currently flying overhead as though under central command, moving in a fixed formation.
The blizzard blew stronger and stronger, mercilessly attacking the girls who were cornered, unable to advance or retreat.
"Luminaris-sama...!" "This forest, what on earth...!?"
The ice dragons roared.
Eyes flashing with crimson light, they stared like predators at Luminaris and her group on the ground.
"—They're coming! Elemental waffe, release!"
Drawing her sword in a stance, Luminaris yelled.
(...Although human... yet different from humans... The Queen of Ice Blossoms...)
Left all alone with nothing to do, Restia was thinking over these things in her tent.
The girl who had appeared in the forest, possessing unbelievable powers.
The princess maiden Rana had said that Restia resembled that queen very much. However, Restia did not have the power to control ice dragons. Neither did she need to sleep for many days to store up power.
(...Or perhaps, it's just a visual resemblance?)
Sitting on the bed, Restia cocked her head to listen.
Noisy sounds of people running around were coming from outside the tent.
...Something had happened, apparently.
Walking outside in bare feet, she discovered it was the noise from children gathering in the plaza.
"...Hey, did something happen?"
Blocking one of the boys, Restia asked.
"...This is bad, the forest's fog is dispersing!"
Restia tilted her head in puzzlement.
"Umm, is it that serious?"
"The barrier is broken! Soon, armed elementalists are going to storm this place!"
Restia went pale, all color of blood leaving her face.
"Umm, the barrier can't be repaired?"
"No way. Those people have destroyed the stone monuments serving as the barrier's foundation. Even if we repair them, there's not enough time now—"
The children's commotion became greater and greater.
(...It must be the work of those people hunting for me.)
Restia bit her lip hard.
Those pursuers were definitely not going to let these children go.
(...I must hurry and leave this place.)
Secretly, she made her decision. She must not bring calamity upon the Forest Dwellers on account of herself.
That said, she did not know where to go to leave this place.
"—Everyone, please calm down."
A solemn voice resounded in the plaza.
Emerging from the depths of the forest, it was the princess maiden Rana.
Looking as calm and composed as someone advanced in age, Rana walked over to the plaza.
"Don't worry, the Queen of Ice Blossoms has already summoned the ice dragons from the Kyria Mountain Range."
"Her Highness the Queen?"
"Yes. Also, Once the queen fully awakens, Zirnitra's seal will be released. Then there is no need to rely on the Barrier anymore."
"Y-Yeah! You're right..."
Hearing Rana's confident speech, the children finally breathed a sigh of relief and nodded.
Seeing that, Restia instantly felt suspicions towards the Queen of Ice Blossoms.
(...Even at a time like this, she still has not appeared.)
Hence, she walked over to Rana who was standing in the center of the plaza—
"Where is that Queen of Ice Blossoms currently?"
A sharp voice.
"Didn't I mention before? Her Highness the Queen is currently sleeping in the shrine to accumulate power."
"Does the queen you speak of really exist?"
"She'll awaken very soon. The princess maidens are already preparing to welcome her arrival—"
"Yes, that's right.." "Onee-chan, don't worry. It'll be fine."
Restia shook her head lightly.
"I am truly grateful to you all for hiding me here. But the one the pursuers want is me. As long as I leave this place, you'll be fine."
Just as Restia turned around, intending to walk towards the forest—
Restia's feet felt as though they had been nailed to the ground.
Suddenly, she was unable to move, as though paralyzed.
"...What... is going on...?"
"—I'm very sorry."
Rana's crimson eyes stared at Restia.
"Hiding you here is the will of the Queen of Ice Blossoms. If you try to leave, I cannot turn a blind eye—"
"...The will of the Queen of Ice Blossoms?"
Restia felt confused. What on earth was the reason—
Running over from the depths of the forest, princess maidens showed panic on their faces.
"What's the matter?"
"Th-The shrine's situation—"
Rana was shocked.
"...Let's hurry over. You come along too."
Restia suddenly regained her body's freedom.
"—The Queen of Ice Blossoms has awakened."
The Ordesia Empire's capital—Ostdakia.
Commonly referred to as the "imperial capital," the city was formerly the town that the army led by Sacred Maiden Areishia had used as their stronghold during the Demon King War a thousand years earlier.
This town was merely a rural municipality back when the Demon King War ended, but thereafter, it began to flourish as the Ordesia Empire's military center, then gradually developed into its political center.
Moving the capital from Nebrasia in present-day Fahrengart territory happened roughly six centuries ago. From then on, it became one of the continent's most prosperous cities along with the Quina Empire's "realm capital" and the Holy Kingdom of Lugia's Alexandria.
This imperial capital was where factions from the continent's various nations had gathered for the upcoming All Nations Conference.
"...It's completely different from the Academy that's surrounded by the Spirit Forest."
The current location was a room in the Nefescal Palace in the city center.
Looking out into the streets from a window in the room, Fianna sighed.
"...The air here seems frozen solid."
"Princess, please try to keep still."
The handmaiden's chattering while tying the corset was making Fianna impatient. Fianna was currently putting on a glamorous white dress, a fitting match for her lustrous black hair and silver-white tiara.
Looking at the giant mirror hanging on the wall in the room, Fianna sighed again.
"Excuse me? Must I wear this no matter what?"
"Yes. There are rules prescribing the attire of princesses when summoned for an audience."
The handmaiden replied indifferently without changing her expression.
The handmaidens of the palace only treated Fianna as the Empire's second princess. They only served her for her status as an imperial princess, that was all. Back when Fianna was known as the Lost Queen and locked away in the palace, like those hated nobles, everyone was mocking her behind her back.
...Unlike her friends at the Academy who had fought alongside one another during the Blade Dance tournament.
With dusk-colored eyes a little gloomy, Fianna looked into the mirror again.
(...No matter what, I really miss Kamito-kun.)
That was what Fianna was thinking about.
As soon as she finished putting on her dress, there was a knock at the door.
"—It is almost time, Second Princess. Preparations are due for welcoming the various nations' representatives—"
Appearing at the door was a silver-haired spirit knight dressed in formal knight attire.
Fourth of the Numbers—Dunei Lampert, a spirit knight who had contracted with a spirit of the earth.
Fianna was not good at dealing with someone with an forthright and straitlaced personality like hers.
Fianna sighed again, rising from her chair.
Walking along the corridor of the magnificent hanging gardens, they made their way to the great hall where the All Nations Conference was to be held.
"Aren't they making too big a deal out of things by asking you, a member of the Numbers to serve as my bodyguard?"
"It would be best if you would understand your own position better. You are currently the Empire's second princess. The most important person after His Highness Arneus and Her Highness Linnea—"
Dunei spoke without looking back while leading the way.
"Is there anyone in this imperial capital who would dare to target my life?"
"Last night, Balsas Prison was attacked by persons unknown."
Balsas Prison was a fortress located on the north side of the imperial capital. Originally built as a garrison post for the Anti-Demon King army, it was later converted to be used as the Empire's most secure prison. To think someone would attack this prison that was protected by powerful guardian spirits and numerous spirit knights, it was completely unbelievable.
"The perpetrators broke into the prison using a militarized spirit. Several of the prisoners in the lowest level escaped. Jio Inzagi, the merchant woman from Murders and the Fahrengart daughter—"
Fianna asked without thinking. The other two aside, Velsaria was supposed to be staying voluntarily in the deepest and harshest level of the prison to atone for her sins. To think she would do something like escaping from prison—
"And the perpetrators' identities?"
"Umbra is currently investigating. The perpetrators' objectives are still unclear but we cannot rule out the possibility of them targeting you, Princess. Hence, it is necessary to place a trustworthy bodyguard by your side."
"You're saying that the Numbers are trustworthy?"
Fianna's words brought awkwardness to Dunei's face.
The miraculous hands of healing—Lurie Lizaldia's betrayal had only occurred recently.
Succeeding in cracking that poker face, Fianna shrugged with slight satisfaction.
"But back to the subject, what meaning is there behind asking me to attend the All Nations Conference?"
"Your Highness Fianna, you are the elementalist approved by the imperial family's guardian spirit, Georgios. Right now, there is probably no one in the palace who would dare underestimate you anymore."
"How fickle. I thought I clearly abandoned the title of the second princess a long time ago."
"It is not something that can be abandoned so easily. This is the responsibility of royalty."
"...Yes, I understand."
Fianna bit her lip hard.
"There is also a sizable number of supporters who wish to nominate you as the successor to the throne instead of His Highness Arneus."
"You say that even as a member of Numbers?"
"I am simply reporting objective facts."
Among all the nations on the continent, there were virtually no cases of princess maidens ruling countries as sovereigns.
That was because princess maidens possessing the power of spirit contracts were all gathered at the Divine Ritual Institute where they were isolated from the mundane world. It was common belief that princess maidens' responsibilities lay with administering various rites and there was no need for them to care about political matters.
Hence, the Ordesia Empire had a custom of prioritizing male succession to the throne. Once the emperor abdicated, Fianna's elder brother, two years her senior, was supposed to succeed to the throne.
But there was a huge problem.
(...Arneus doesn't have what it takes to be emperor. All the citizens of the Empire know that.)
Fianna recalled images of his cruel visage, that of a person whom she had despised since childhood. In actual fact, there were people in the imperial council who had suggested bringing back First Princess Linnea who had entered the Divine Ritual Institute like Fianna, so that she could be wed to an influential noble.
But compared to the elder sister who had entered the Divine Ritual Institute, support for Fianna had also grown louder after she regained her power of the spirit contract. Ironically, her performance at the Blade Dance was precisely why she had gained the support of so many people.
(...What a pain.)
Fianna sighed. Unwilling to get caught up in the games of power struggles, she had never entertained the thought of marriage with influential nobles.
(...In my heart, I already have someone I love.)
Walking downstairs, they came to a great hall on the first floor.
Standing there was the person she wished to see the least.
"Hmph, well isn't this the useless Lost Queen eh? To think you'd be shameless enough to come sauntering back."
Dressed in grand imperial attire was a black-haired young man. Although quite good-looking in facial features, the cold light in his eyes rendered his handsome face a total waste.
Arneus Ray Ordesia—Fianna's elder brother.
"—Greetings to you, dear esteemed brother."
Fianna greeted politely without any emotion at all.
Just as she was about to enter the great hall directly—
"—Not so fast."
He yelled with agitation, stepping on the hem of her dress.
"How else may I help you?"
"...Cut the pretense. By this point, what are your intentions in returning to the palace?"
"I only returned because I was summoned by His Majesty the Emperor."
"Hmph, who knows. In the imperial council, there seems to be people recommending you as the successor to the throne."
Arneus look at Fianna with eyes of suspicion.
Just as Fianna was about to refute him...
"Excuse me, Your Highness Arneus—"
"Please set aside your conversation with your sister for now. The princess is currently required to greet our guests from various nations."
Staring at Dunei, the color of fear flashed across Arneus's eyes for an instant.
"...Tsk, a knight huh."
Arneus clicked his tongue and departed. Adjusting the hem of her dress, Fianna lamented.
"...Still hasn't changed the slightest, that person."
Leaving Dunei at the door, Fianna entered the great hall.
A giant table was prepared in the center of the hall. Furthest at the back was the seat of the Ordesian Emperor, Ugust Ray Ordesia.
Next to him were Prime Minister Conrad, Duke Cygnus Fahrengart, Margrave Gryas Laurenfrost and other top nobles of the Empire.
At the same time, Greyworth was present, dressed in formal knight attire. Formerly known as the continent's strongest spirit knight, the Dusk Witch still carried a powerful presence about her despite having retired.
Fianna greeted the emperor then sat down next to Greyworth.
"Wow, you look good in a dress too. Why don't you show it to the lad?"
"Well, no matter how I dress up to seduce him, Kamito-kun is always... Hey, now is not the time for jokes, Headmistress."
Fianna pouted and asked quietly:
"...Umm, how is Kamito-kun right now?"
"The lad should be on a journey to Laurenfrost right now."
Hearing an unexpected answer, Fianna could not help but exclaim.
"Why would he go to Laurenfrost?"
"...I'll tell you the details later. In any case, it's related to the darkness spirit."
Greyworth whispered quietly in her ear. Fianna nodded lightly.
"I heard that the Kyria Mountain Range is under rare heavy snowfall at the moment..."
"Well, he'll always find a way. Margrave Laurenfrost's daughter also went along."
"...Rinslet is with him as well?"
"...Could it be that, a private trip for t-two? Is that what's going on!?"
"Fufu? Worried about the lad?"
"...Yes. In another sense."
Fianna sighed again.
"—Let us welcome the arrival of the representatives of all nations."
The voice of a guard was heard from outside the hall.
Entering the hall one after another were representatives from the continent's handful of major powers—the Quina Empire, the Dragon Duchy of Dracunia, the Kingdom of Balstan and the Holy Kingdom of Lugia.
Dracunia's diplomatic delegation included the Dragon Princess, Leonora Lancaster, whom Fianna's team had fought in the Blade Dance. This time, she was wearing a gorgeous formal dress rather than the military uniform of the Knights of the Dragon Emperor. Of course, that Dragon Slayer sword was not by her side either.
The Alphas Theocracy's delegation had not arrived yet. The most pressing matter on the agenda at this All Nations Conference was Sjora Kahn's coup d'etat. One of the reasons why Fianna was asked to join this conference was because she had directly interacted with Sjora during the Blade Dance.
"—Fianna, pay close attention to what the Holy Kingdom's representative says."
Greyworth whispered in her ear.
"The Holy Kingdom, huh?"
"A witch's intuition. Lately, the Holy Kingdom's movements have been quite unusual. According to my judgment, those people were also involved in the Theocracy's internal strife."
The piercing stare of Greyworth's gray eyes were directed at the cardinals dressed in vestments of pure white.
"...I have no intention of getting involved with politics."
"Whether it is your wish or not, destiny will always descend. The lad never wished for the Demon King's destiny either—"
Staring off into the distance, Greyworth murmured softly to herself.