Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume13 Chapter6

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Chapter 6 - Winter Gulf Castle[edit]

Part 1[edit]

It was already dark by the time Kamito and Rinslet crossed the Kyria Mountain Range and reached the foot of the mountains.

Stars were shining in the night sky while light produced by spirits flickered in the dense forest.

"...Although it's dark, at least we finally arrived."

While shaking off the large amount of snow on his winter clothing, Kamito exhaled white mist.

Thanks to the blizzard subsiding, getting down the mountain was not as tough as when they were climbing it. But due to depleting all excess stamina in the battle against the ice dragon, his body's fatigue was soon reaching a limit.

So those ice dragons were the cause of the blizzard after all, huh?

If that were the case, then why did they suddenly disappear from the mountain range—?

"We will arrive presently at Winter Gulf. Look, watchfires can be seen outside the forest."

Sitting on Fenrir's back, Rinslet pointed to the other end of the coniferous forest.

Under the night sky, numerous watchfires could be seen illuminating the castle's walls of stone.

Rather than a grand castle symbolizing authority and prestige, the castle was built in a simple and sturdy style that emphasized practicality.

After walking a while in the forest, Kamito and Rinslet arrived at a stone-paved road.

This was the road system that was spread throughout the entire Ordesia Empire's territory. The stone-paved surface was slippery when frozen but after the residents' snow shoveling, it was much better than the snow-covered paths in the forest.

"I'll have the people in the castle make preparations to welcome us."

Rinslet patted Fenrir on the back.

Standing in one spot, the demon ice spirit howled lengthily towards the night sky.

...After a while, the watchfires on the castle walls flickered greatly.

"Looks like they noticed us."

After walking along the road for a while, they were finally able to see Winter Gulf Castle's gates.

Standing respectfully at the castle gates, dozens of guards welcomed the Margrave's daughter.

"As expected of the Laurenfrost family's precious daughter."

"...Can't stand it, that girl always loves to make such a big deal out of things."

Rinslet seemed to be grumbling in embarrassment.

Once the two of them neared the castle gates, a petite girl hurried over, dressed from head to toe in furry winter gear.

"...Onee-sama! It's really Onee-sama!"

Possessing the same eyes of emerald as Rinslet's, a young girl with platinum blonde hair glittering under the light reflected off the snow—The Laurenfrost family's third daughter, Mireille Laurenfrost jumped into her sister's bosom with running momentum.

"E-Enough! Know some restraint, Mireille."

Despite putting on airs as a strict elder sister, Rinslet still stroked her sister's head gently with her hand.

Withdrawing her head from being buried in Rinslet's bosom, Mireille asked:

"But I was really startled, Onee-sama. You suddenly returned without informing us. There was no letter saying you wanted to come home... By the way, how did you cross that Kyria Mountain Range?"

She blinked her round eyes.

"We forced our way through... It was really tough. Without Kamito-san, perhaps I would have become an ice sculpture by now—"

"...Kamito-san?"

Tilting her head, Mireille turned to a different direction.

Seeing that, Kamito raised the hood of his winter coat.

"Yo—"

"...O-Onii-sama!?"

Staring wide eyed, Mireille looked back and forth between Kamito and Rinslet's faces.

"N-No way... Onee-sama, did you come home to report your marriage with Onii-sama...?"

"N-No, of course not!"

Rinslet frantically denied.

"Oh dear, Onee-sama, you're going red in the face."

Mireille peeked at her sister's face hidden under the hood.

Then at this moment, she was grabbed by the neck and dragged away from behind.

"Mireille, stop teasing milady."

Speaking in a monotonous voice was a cute girl dressed as a maid.

She had slightly wavy dark-brown hair and heterochromic eyes. Her complexion was as white as snow while her face was as exquisite as a doll's.

"Milla, how are you?"

Kamito greeted casually but Milla Bassett instantly went red in the face and avoided eye contact.

"...Kamito, why are you here?"

"Oh, that's because I need to do something in Laurenfrost. Rinslet is my guide."

"...I see, your purpose is not accompanying Rinslet-sama back home to get married."

Milla exhaled deeply as though greatly relieved.

"O-Of course! How could even you misunderstand as well, Milla!?"

Rinslet coughed lightly and placed her hand at her waist.

"In any case, Kamito-san is already very tired from the long journey. Prepare some hot food. And a bath too—"

"Yes, all prepared already."

"Wow, not bad at all, different from Carol..."

Kamito could not help but exclaim, impressed at Milla's instant reply.

Part 2[edit]

After taking off his snow-covered clothing, Kamito was taken to the castle hall.

Designed as fortress, Winter Gulf Castle was equally modest in furnishings as its exterior appearance. The stone walls were virtually devoid of fancy decoration while the only exception was the chandeliers ornamented with a large number of spirit crystals to produce an atmosphere of grandeur.

"Did you grow up here, Rinslet and Mireille?"

"No, there's a house we live in at the castle town."

Mireille shook her head to answer Kamito's question.

"After all, this Winter Gulf Castle is a stronghold used for military purposes."

Saying that, Rinslet activated a large spirit crystal that was installed at the fireplace.

Glowing red, the spirit crystal warmed up the air in the hall within the blink of an eye.

Then she sat down at a large eight-person table in the center of the hall. Mireille and Milla took their seats on her left and right while Kamito sat opposite to her as the guest. Ordinary maids would not eat on the same table as nobles but Milla was apparently an exception.

"It's such a shame that Father and Mother are away when you've made a rare return home, Onee-sama."

"It can't be helped that I just missed them."

Their parents, Margrave and Lady Laurenfrost had apparently gone to the imperial capital to attend the All Nations Conference. Since they had taken the long route around the Kyria Mountain Range, they had set off several days prior.

"But it's a rare chance to introduce Onii-sama—"

"Enough, Mireille!"

Rinslet frantically covered up Mireille's mouth.

Kamito forced a laugh then asked:

"...Uh, since Margrave and Lady Laurenfrost are away, does that mean that you're the temporary master of the castle, Mireille?"

"Yes. I have been managing this castle seriously."

Hmph hmph, Mireille childishly puffed out her chest in pride.

"...Say, are you really okay on your own?"

Becoming the temporary master of the castle at the young age of nine was very impressive, but it was still a bit worrying.

"Don't worry. Because there are excellent knights at Laurenfrost."

Milla spoke expressionlessly.

"This Winter Gulf Castle has seven spirit knights stationed. They are elite spirit knights, rigorously selected and can handle simple government affairs for the most part."

"...I see. As expected of a castle belonging to high nobility."

There were actually very few castles that had as many as seven spirit knights. Many regional castle lords did not even have a single knight serving them exclusively.

"I don't leave everything to the knights. I've been stamping paperwork properly too."

Mireille pouted unhappily.

Just at this moment...

"—Sorry for the delay, milady."

The door to the hall opened as maids pushed in carts laden with food.

Dressed in adorable uniforms, the maids deftly moved the steaming-hot luxurious offerings to the table.

Lamb pie that was baked crispy. Winter melon soup that was flavored with plenty of spices. There was also salted cod, boiled quail eggs and a bean dish served in a hollowed out pumpkin. Served on a large plate was the main dish, a deer roast, honey-roasted to perfection.

"Wow...!"

The aromas drifting in the hall were making Kamito's stomach rumble.

Just as he swallowed his saliva—

"...A thousand apologies. We could only prepare a simple dinner at short notice."

A maid was bowing her head, seemingly in shame.

"No no... Was all this made just now?"

"Indeed. Had we known milady's return ahead of time, we could have specially prepared a feast..."

The maid murmured with chagrin while the other girls nodded one after another in agreement.

(...Th-They're way too competent!)

...Kamito was speechless.

Speaking of Laurenfrost maids, perhaps his perceptions of them being selected on basis of cuteness only were colored by his first impressions of the useless maid Carol.

"Kamito, the one who made that baked pie is me."

Milla pointed out calmly.

"Oh, then I've gotta try this—"

Slicing up the pie, Kamito brought a morsel to his mouth.

(...W-What is this!? It's too delicious!)

After a single bite, Kamito widened his eyes.

As soon as he bit the pie's crust, the juicy filling flowed out.

"...How is it?"

"...!"

Kamito silently made a thumbs up. Despite the simplicity of the dish, it was a modest and sincere flavor.

"You're quite good at cooking, Milla."

"...No. I am simply following the directions of my seniors."

STnBD V13 160.jpg

Milla spoke expressionlessly then blushed and bowed her head.

"—Kamito, let me try too."

"E-Est!?"

Without him noticing, the sword spirit had materialized next to Kamito already.

Opening her dainty mouth, she stared straight at Kamito just like a young bird waiting to be fed.

"...I surrender, Est."

Chuckling wryly a few times, Kamito delivered a sliced piece of pie into Est's mouth.

"...Mmm, so tasty, Kamito."

"Onii-sama, that's unfair if you just do it for Miss Spirit!"

Mireille leaned over the table and opened her mouth with an "ah~"

"M-Mireille!?"

"That is too unseemly, Mireille!"

Rinslet grabbed the hem of Mireille's clothing.

"Oh my, then how about you feed Onee-sama a bite too?"

"...Th-That... That kind of thing, no way..."

Hearing that, Rinslet's face went red as she held her face in her hands.

"—No, Kamito is my Onii-chan."

As though competing with Mireille, Est clutched Kamito's uniform tightly.

Part 3[edit]

After enjoying the hot dinner prepared by the maids of the Laurenfrost household...

"—Natalia, report the situation."

While sipping black tea after the meal, Rinslet inquired of the head maid.

The head maid was an older girl with shoulder-length hair. She was also apparently responsible for the cooking earlier.

"Have you gathered the reason for the blizzard at the Kyria Mountain Range?"

"—Yes, the persistent snowfall over the past few days was undoubtedly the work of ice dragons roaming the mountain range."

The head maid answered calmly.

"Just as expected, I see..."

"The problem is why would the extinct ice dragons appear."

The head maid nodded slightly at what Rinslet pointed out.

"This is merely my personal speculation but—"

"Not a problem. Please speak your mind."

"Perhaps it has something to do with the Forest Dwellers inhabiting the Forest of Ice Blossoms."

"...What is that about?"

Rinslet frowned.

"Ice dragons are the minions of the spirit Zirnitra. And the Forest Dwellers revere Zirnitra as the guardian of the Forest of Ice Blossoms, worshiping since olden times—"

"In other words, the Forest Dwellers are summoning ice dragons in some manner and controlling them?"

"That possibility cannot be ruled out."

Hearing Rinslet's suggestion, the head maid nodded in agreement.

"—Excuse me, what are Forest Dwellers?"

Kamito interrupted at this point.

"It's a name for the Elfim race who lives in the deepest part of the Forest of Ice Blossoms."

"...The Elfim huh."

A highly mysterious race who had come from Astral Zero in antiquity.

Excellent ability to commune with spirits, preferring to spend their days quietly in the forest, but on the flip side, they extremely rejected and resented contact with humans.

—This was what Kamito had heard from Lily Flame back during his Instructional School days.

"Supposing that's the case, why can't you ask them directly?"

"Yes. We have sent messengers many times to attempt contact, but a powerful barrier of fog was deployed in the depths of the forest, even making it impossible to reach their settlement."

"...An Elfim barrier huh. Now that's tricky stuff."

"Yes, and we can't recklessly destroy the Barrier—"

Not confined to Ordesia territory, the Elfim race had also settled and established secure communities in various nations on the continent. Suppose the Laurenfrost ruler invaded the Elfim settlement here, it would probably make the entire Elfim race enemies of the Empire given their strong sense of racial solidarity—

Suddenly, a thought came to Kamito.

"...Those Forest Dwellers, what are the chances that Restia's come into contact with them?"

"...I remember that the Elfim basically revere spirits. We can't rule out the possibility that Miss Darkness Spirit accidentally entered the barrier..."

Rinslet nodded, resting her chin on her hand.

Kamito turned to the head maid.

"...Do you have any reports about a girl in a black one-piece dress seen in the forest?"

Natalia made an expression of disbelief in response to Kamito's question.

"No, the branches in the Forest of Ice Blossoms are as sharp as knives. Consequently, well, I believe that it is quite difficult to make one's way through the forest in attire like a dress—"

"...I see."

...In the end, this Winter Gulf Castle had not obtained any information on her.

Not to mean he doubted Iseria Seaward's information, but Kamito still had trouble hiding his disappointment.

"But speaking of which—"

"...You have some kind of lead?"

Kamito leaned forward.

"Not exactly, but a messenger sent to the forest returned with concerning news—"

"...What?"

"Reportedly, a human princess maiden has appeared in the Forest Dwellers settlement."

"...A human princess maiden?"

Kamito repeated.

"Indeed. The Forest Dwellers apparently call the girl 'Queen of Ice Blossoms'."


Part 4[edit]

After dinner, Kamito decided to head over to his assigned room to wait for dawn.

Trying to search for Restia in the forest at night was virtually impossible. And since there was a barrier deployed, it was also necessary to prepare for negotiations with Forest Dwellers.

Rinslet promised to borrow eight trained hunting hounds. Although Kamito had no idea whether hunting hounds were able to track down Restia who was a spirit, but they should come in handy when frequenting a dangerous forest.

Speaking of which—

(..."Queen of Ice Blossoms" huh.)

Walking on the path to his room, Kamito muttered to himself.

This really was quite concerning news.

According to the head maid, messengers sent to the forest had met an Elfim princess maiden who had inquired. The girl had apparently gotten the wrong idea that the messenger was there to take back the human princess maiden—the Queen of Ice Blossoms.

In the end, the messenger apparently ended up as a target for arrows and had to flee for his dear life.

(...Can't be Restia—Right?)

Indeed, Restia's appearance was no different from a human girl's.

The jet-black wings could also disappear in accordance with her will.

—At this moment, Kamito reached the door to a room. There was a wolf emblem on the door.

"It's here, right...?"

After pushing the door open...

"..."

...Time stopped.

Milla Bassett was on the bed, hugging Kamito's pillow.

"Uh... Milla, what are you doing?"

"Bed-making."

"No, but..."

"Bed-making."

"...I-I see."

"Yes..."

Milla nodded expressionlessly then nonchalantly started putting the sheets in order.

"Are you getting used to life here?"

"Mireille-sama treats others very well. Natalia-sama is also teaching me the work."

"...That's the head maid just now, right? She seems very excellent at her job."

"Of course. Natalia-sama belongs to the Wolf Ritters of Laurenfrost."

"...Huh?"

Kamito was taken aback.

"...What do you mean?"

"Exactly what the words say. The head maid is the captain of the knights at this castle."

"...You must be kidding, right?"

"Absolutely serious."

Milla replied with a serious expression.

"W-Why is a spirit knight serving as a maid?"

"Knights should take the lead to serve as role models for the people. This is one of the Laurenfrost family traditions."

"Well yeah, I guess. Rinslet is even more pro than a real maid."

Should one say, like master, like knight?

"I will also become a splendid maid, then cultivate Mireille-sama into a full-fledged noble."

After making the bed, Milla looked into Kamito's face and said:

"Not a tool for the military—That is my new way of life that you taught me."

She blushed in her cheeks while clenching her fist tightly.

"...Ahhh."

...She's changed, Kamito thought.

Formerly the possessor of a Demon Sealing Eye, she was used as a tool of war in the past. But currently, she had found something she wanted to do on her own volition.

...It was quite an amazing thing.

"But I think it's a bit of a challenge to cultivate Mireille into an full-fledged noble."

Hearing that, Milla calmly shook her head.

"Mireille-sama will surely turn out as a splendid noble, because she is a very serious child at heart."

"...Oh okay, that's true too."

Kamito smiled wryly and turned his gaze outside the room.

Kamito had noticed their presence quite early on.

"...C-Cough."

"...Mireille?"

Milla exclaimed in surprise.

"I-I just happened to pass by, so I didn't hear anything!"

Mireille was panicking, a rare sight indeed, looking away in embarrassment.

"The bath is ready, Onii-sama."

"Okay, thanks."

"Kamito—"

Just as Kamito was about to leave the room, Milla spoke towards his back.

"Come—Kamito..."

"...Huh?"

"I will scrub your back for you. Because it is a maid's job."

Blushing red to her ears, Milla murmured expressionlessly.

"N-No thanks!"

Kamito shook his head and frantically left the room.

Part 5[edit]

..Splash. The sound of water was heard in the quiet night.

Long platinum blonde hair clung to tender skin.

Hugging her shivering body, Rinslet sighed.

Before heading off to a certain place next, she was cleansing her body as a precaution.

The bath at the Laurenfrost home was not a natural hot spring but heated using fire spirit crystals. Four years ago, this place was completely frozen all year round due to the Calamity Queen's rebellion, but now, there was no problem with using it.

"...Mmm... Ah...♪"

Finding it difficult to control her body that felt like it was burning, Rinslet made a sound of annoyance.

"I-I seem a little strange...!"

Rubbing her thigh, she exhaled scorching breath.

She felt that the symptoms had started during the kiss with Kamito in the snow mountain, undertaken with intimate skin contact.

The sweet pain she experienced from that time continued to linger in her body without stopping.

And now, during a purification rite, it had turned into a raging torrent and was rushing out all at once.

(...I-It's almost as though Kamito-san is inside here...!)

Like shocked by electricity.

Every time she touched a sensitive spot on her skin, she felt a numbing feeling in her brain.

(...Ooh... W-What should I do!?)

Rinslet twisted her body, pouring bathwater over her head repeatedly.

...But her scorching body still did not cool down.

(...I-In such a state, how could I face that girl...)

—Just at this moment.

The sound of voices came outside the bath.

"...!?"

Part 6[edit]

"...Wow!"

Taken to the bath by Mireille, Kamito could not help but exclaim.

Before his eyes was a massive open-air bath built from marble. Hot water was running nonstop from a wolf sculpture carved on a pillar. Steam hung in the air over the entire bath.

Although it was not a natural hot spring, this was a grand bath that rivaled the Academy's purification site.

"Are you really sure I can have this place all to myself?"

"Yes, no one uses it at this time. Feel free to swim in the bath."

"...No, I'm already past the age of swimming in baths."

"Oh my, but even nowadays, Onee-sama still practices swimming in the bath."

"Speaking of which, Rinslet can't swim..."

Kamito recalled teaching her to swim at Ragna Ys.

...That was perhaps the only weakness of this perfect well-bred lady who was able to do anything.

"Then please enjoy the Laurenfrost bath thoroughly, Onii-sama."

Smiling mischievously, Mireille returned to the corridor.

"Oh, thanks for showing me the way."

Kamito swiftly undressed, went to the purification area to cleanse his body, then soaked himself in the tub.

The water temperature was not too high and controlled just right. His cold skin quickly warmed up.

(...Phew.)

Soaked in the tub, Kamito breathed out in relief.

Looking up at the night sky where cold winds howled, he began to reminisce about her.

(...Seriously, will we meet again? Restia—)

Water Elemental Lord Iseria Seaward had brought a sliver of faint hope.

But no matter how faint, he had no choice but to gamble on it now.

Iseria's observation might have simply been mistaken. Besides, Restia should have no connection to the Laurenfrost region. Even if Restia was still alive, what reason was there for her to appear in this kind of forest on the border—

(...But if that's the case—)

Kamito murmured in his heart.

(—It wouldn't explain why the Holy Kingdom's knights are infiltrating this forest.)

The Sacred Spirit Knights had invaded this forest on the border even willingly bearing the risk of trespassing the Empire's boundary. Surely there must be some goal there.

Their presence served as counterfactual evidence that Restia might be here.

(Luminaris Saint Leisched—The sacred sword user huh.)

Kamito closed his eyes and recalled the opponent from three years ago.

A knight with brilliant and striking blonde hair and clear ice-blue eyes.

She had exhibited overwhelming power at the tournament three years ago.

Right now, she would be even more powerful. On the same level as Dracunia's Leonora Lancaster, possibly superior.

—Gurgle.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of water.

(...Hmm?)

Kamito frowned and turned towards the source.

He could see the water surface bubbling behind a thick pillar of stone.

"...What?"

Finding it strange, Kamito approached. The area near the pillar was in the shade so he could not see clearly.

The bubbling at the water surface intensified.

Feeling puzzled, Kamito reached towards the bubbling water.

...Boing. Suddenly, his fingers touched something soft.

"...?"

Boing.

Boing. Boing. Boing.

(...Wait a sec, this feeling, no way...!)

Just as Kamito realized in surprise...

Splash, something emerged from under the water.

"S-Stop... Stop it right now!"

"...!?"

A blizzard instantly swept through the bath.

Part 7[edit]

...After the blizzard stopped.

"...~Tsk, s-so off-putting, Kamito-san is really such a pervert!"

Immersed in the water, Rinslet pouted and protested against Kamito.

"S-Sorry, I didn't do it on purpose... Say, why are you here?"

"Th-Those are my words to you!"

Rinslet glared viciously at him. She was apparently cleansing herself earlier but panicked and hid in the bath after hearing Kamito's voice suddenly outside.

"This purification facility is exclusively mine!"

"An exclusive purification facility? So this entire bathroom is for your personal use?"

"This is very normal for princess maidens from high nobility. Before their family's fall, the purification facility at Claire's home was even more impressive than this."

"...I see. But Mireille told me it's a public bath..."

Only then did Kamito realize.

...Speaking of which, she did smile mischievously before leaving.

"...~Tsk, seriously, it's that child's mischief again."

"Totally fell into her trap."

Kamito shrugged and sighed.

"...Uh, sorry. I'll go out first."

Just as Kamito was prepared to leave the bath...

"—H-Hold on first."

"...Huh?"

She firmly grabbed the towel wrapped around his waist.

"...Rinslet?"

"A little later, I hope you could accompany me to a certain place—"

Part 8[edit]

The Water Elemental Shrine, the largest shrine in Laurenfrost territory, was located in a forest some distance from Winter Gulf Castle.

Unlike usual shrines built from stone, this Water Elemental Shrine's outer walls were sculpted from ancient magic ice.

This type of magic ice did not melt and was much sturdier than ordinary stone.

However, no rituals had been held at this shrine ever since the incident when Judia Laurenfrost was imprisoned in ice.

Kamito had heard that a strict barrier was deployed there, forbidding everyone except the Laurenfrost family from entering.

"...The last time I visited was when I was certain we could enter the Blade Dance."

Rinslet touched the shrine's door to release the barrier.

"Here was where I vowed to save her. Okay, you can now enter."

The barrier did not activate when Kamito stepped inside.

Rinslet used lighting magic for illumination and walked into the depths of the shrine.

It was all quiet inside.

Cold air, chilling to the bone, was making Kamito shiver nonstop.

"She's been locked in such a lonely place all this time...?"

"Yes. It's the fourth year now."

Rinslet held a small spirit crystal in her hand.

The transparent crystal showed the image of a lovely young girl in a dress.

Emerald eyes and dazzling platinum blonde hair. Judia Laurenfrost was her sister's very image.

Inside the dark interior of the shrine, Kamito and Rinslet continued to advance.

The deeper they went, the stronger the cold.

After walking a certain distance—Rinslet finally stopped.

"...Judia, let me introduce Kamito-san to you."

She directed the magic lighting towards the darkness.

However—

"...Huh?"

Rinslet widened her eyes, exclaiming in surprise.

"...What, what is this?"

Even Kamito could not help but gasp.

At the spot where Rinslet's sister was supposed to be sealed—

Nothing was left except for shattered ice all over the floor.

Part 9[edit]

Restia was taken to a certain stone-built shrine some distance from the settlement.

A large group of princess maidens had already gathered in front of the shrine and were in the process of offering prayers.

"Is this temple the shrine of your people?"

"Yes. This place is a historic site that existed before the Empire of the humans was founded."

Rana knelt down before the temple and started to pray like the other princess maidens.

(...The Queen of Ice Blossoms is inside this temple?)

Staring inside the temple, Restia began to feel nervous.

The girl with mysterious powers, capable of controlling ice dragons freely. Also, for reasons unknown she had used the Forest Dwellers to bring Restia here.

(An existence like humans yet unlike humans at the same time...)

The Elfim princess maidens were all focused on chanting their prayers.

(...What will happen after she wakes up?)

...There was an inexplicably foreboding sense.

If the situation allowed, she wanted to escape immediately, but that was most likely impossible. The difficulty of escaping from the magically talented Elfim would be no small feat at all.

"Excuse me..."

"—Silence. The Queen of Ice Blossoms is appearing."

Rana's crimson eyes stared straight into the pitch-black darkness occupying the inside of the temple.

Suddenly, faint ringing sounds of a bell came from the temple's interior.

Emerging from the darkness was a young girl in ritual attire.

"...!"

Restia could not help but gasp.

The girl was roughly twelve or thirteen in age with a noble appearance and very pretty.

Her eyes were clear and emerald in color. A head of shining platinum blonde hair.

(A beautiful girl...)

"Oh exalted Queen!" "The Queen of Ice Blossoms has awakened...!"

The princess maidens looked up and gazed with mesmerized expressions at the girl.

Her slender legs moved slowly as she walked down the temple's stone steps. However, her emerald eyes only reflected emptiness instead of looking at the princess maidens.

"O exalted Queen, the human's knights have ravaged this forest. Please lend us your assistance—"

Rana looked up and pleaded.

At this time...

—Acknowledged.

The girl's inorganic voice was heard from the depths of the forest.

—Hence, I shall—summon the great guardian hither.

"Ohoh, then—" "Zirnitra will be revived!" "Then we don't need to fear the humans any longer!" "O guardian spirit of ours, destroy all the humans!"

The sincere joy displayed by princess maidens made Restia shudder.

Perhaps the guardian spirit's revival definitely was the Forest Dwellers' long-sought wish.

But this fanaticism felt quite odd.

The blind devotion to this Queen of Ice Blossoms also seemed odd.

Even given the mysterious power of controlling ice dragons, it was still quite difficult to explain why they would worship this human girl whom they have only met for a couple days.

The Queen of Ice Blossoms' hollow gaze was cast in the Kyria Mountain Range's direction.

Instantly, the ground shook violently, causing Restia to lose balance and fall.

"...What?"

"The earthquake is a warning sign of Zirnitra's awakening. See, that peak there—"

Rana spoke with a dazed expression.

Following her gaze, Restia instantly stared wide-eyed.

Near the peak of the towering Kyria Mountain Range, an astounding number of dragons were circling in the air.

The ice dragons were almost blotting out the night sky.

Where had such a great number of ice dragons been lurking—?

Just as Restia was staring in shock, a giant tear suddenly appeared out of thin air.

"...What... is that...?"

"A gate to Cocytus, the frozen hell in Astral Zero. That is the magic sealing away the domination ice spirit Zirnitra and its minions the ice dragons. That seal is now being released—"

The tear in space was gradually expanding. From that tear, a giant claw reached out.

"So that is the forest's guardian spirit, Zirnitra..."

Still kneeling on the ground, Restia was rendered speechless.

For a single claw to be so massive, how large was the entire body—

—And not only that.

"...Eh?"

Hearing a faint sound, Restia could not help but turn her head.

The Queen of Ice Blossoms had cast her empty gaze towards the princess maidens.

It was seeking more divine power.

Za, zaza, za, zazaza, za—

The girls' mouths made strange noises.

Suddenly, the ground underfoot gradually froze, shrouded by the cold air surrounding the temple.

"...O exalted Queen? What are you doing—!?"

Noticing the sudden change, Rana questioned.

But her lower half was instantly covered by the crawling, black, cursed ice.

"Kyahhhh!" "O exalted Queen... Please stop, exalted Queen...!"

The princess maidens could not escape even if they tried.

One after another, their feet were ensnared by the black, cursed ice, turning them into ice sculptures.

Then the magic ice approached Restia—

"...Noooo...!"

—Just as she was about to be devoured by the cursed ice, a moment before that could happen...

"Found you, darkness spirit!"

A squadron of knights charged into the forest.