Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume14 Chapter5
Chapter 5 - Silent Fortress
"Stay here and don't try anything funny, Demon King of the Night—"
Restrained by spirit magic, Kamito was taken by the knights and violently thrown into a jail cell inside a military facility behind a metal door.
Est was confiscated and his hands were cuffed behind his back. Under such conditions, even Kamito could not resist. Besides, even if he could resist, he was out of options while Restia was taken hostage.
As the metal door shut, a magic circle engraved on the door's surface glowed.
(...An isolation barrier huh. What a pain...)
While lying on cold stone tiles, Kamito cursed inside his mind.
With that, even trying to find Est's location through the spirit seal's resonance would not be possible.
Crawling over the floor, he moved near the door.
He detected one presence on the other side of the door, apparently just an ordinary guard, not a spirit knight.
"What happened to Claire and the others? They're not getting rough treatment, are they?"
He asked the other side.
"You don't need to know."
The guard's cold voice replied.
"Is this attempted assassination on the emperor for real? What the heck happened at the imperial capital?"
"Shut up, you're being annoying."
This time, the door was kicked violently.
(...Looks like it's not someone with loose lips.)
Kamito sighed, sat up and leaned against the wall.
Throwing a tantrum here would be pointless. It would be wiser to conserve his energy and bide his time.
(...But things have gotten troublesome.)
The situation was too terrible.
Fianna was surely caught in some kind of power struggle and got framed.
At this rate, she might end up executed before a proper trial took place.
(...And it takes at least four days to hurry to the imperial capital from here.)
Also, even if he could hasten to the imperial capital, he would still need to find a way to get around the army's guards to rescue her.
...Before that, even getting out of here was a problem.
The image of the princess, who sometimes teased him and often encouraged him, surfaced in his mind, instantly filling him with impatience.
—At this moment.
"...to... Kazehaya Kamito—"
He suddenly heard a voice behind him.
Rather than coming from the door's opposite side, it felt more like a whisper by his ear.
Kamito looked at the door behind him. There were no signs of any one else.
All he saw was his own shadow.
However, Kamito felt a sense of dissonance from that shadow.
The cell's light source was a faint bit of light entering from a gridded window near the ceiling.
However, the shadow was projected with unnatural clarity against the door, looking almost like a human figure had been singularly cut out of space.
"...Say, could this be—"
The shadow raised a finger and made a hushing gesture.
Immediately realizing the shadow's true identity, Kamito lowered his voice as instructed.
He spoke the name of his homeroom teacher.
Indeed, he had seen this many times during mock battle tests at the Academy.
The true identity of this bizarre shadow was Miss Freya's shadow spirit—Shadow Servant.
The shadow nodded then...
"My apologies for coming late. It is a little difficult to use a spirit inside an isolation barrier."
"Don't tell me you sneaked into the military facility?"
"No, I am not inside the facility. I am controlling this spirit at long range from somewhere in the Academy Town. The moment you were arrested, I slipped it secretly into your shadow."
After deftly unfastening Kamito's handcuffs, the shadow's shape distorted and passed through the crack under the door to go outside. Before long, a quiet unlocking sound was heard.
"Make it quick. Leave before the spirit knights notice."
"...Sorry, I owe you one."
Kamito immediately stood up.
"But are you sure this is okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"Surely, you're endangering your position by doing this—"
"All along, my loyalty lies with the headmistress alone, not the Empire."
The shadow on the ground shrugged and answered.
Inside the headmistress' office on the third floor of the Academy...
"—Claudia, I do not approve of your occupation of the Academy!"
"Your permission is not required, Lady Ellis."
Ellis was at a loss for words, confronted with the calm Claudia whose expression did not even change.
This was after Kamito and company had been arrested.
Areishia Spirit Academy had been taken over by the Imperial Knights.
All the protesting students at the main entrance were arrested. The other students were under house arrest in their dorms.
At the same time, the Sylphid Knights, in charge of upholding law and order in the Academy, were forbidden from taking action. It was equivalent to relieving Ellis of her position as the captain of the Sylphid Knights.
"I am simply fulfilling my duties as an Imperial Knight."
Claudia declared coldly.
"Duties? Your duties include arresting helpless students who cannot resist?"
"This cannot be helped. They were the ones to use spirit magic first."
"...Hmph. Besides, why was the headmistress arrested and imprisoned!?"
"Reportedly, she conspired with the Second Princess and attempted to assassinate His Majesty."
"It must be a setup. They are not the type to do that."
"Her Highness the Second Princess is your classmate, Lady Ellis, isn't she? Is there anything else you wish to add?"
Ellis raised her hand on reflex.
After taking a deep breath, she lowered it slowly to the table.
Then in a quiet and trembling voice, she said:
"...Put me in there."
"I want to be put into prison just like Kamito and the others!"
"To think I was expecting something different—"
Claudia shook her head in exasperation.
However, Ellis continued:
"I opposed the Imperial Knights at the time too. It would be unfair if I remained as the only one not arrested. Or are you telling me that a daughter of the Fahrengart family is entitled to special treatment?"
Reaching the end of her patience, Claudia remarked and snapped her fingers loudly.
Soon, the door of the headmistress' office opened and two spirit knights entered.
"Take her to the military facility to cool her head a bit."
"...This is unacceptable!"
Claire roared angrily at the tightly shut door of the cell.
Like the place where Kamito was kept confined, this was a prison in a military facility.
Although she was not handcuffed like Kamito, the isolation barrier had severed the link to her contracted spirit, not only preventing her from summoning Scarlet but also using spirit magic.
(...But I could probably get out if I used those flames.)
Claire cast her gaze upon her hands. The special power whose nature differed from spirit magic, passed down the Elstein family—The flames of oblivion, even capable of incinerating other flames.
However, even if she could escape this cell, she would still be helpless against the spirit knights outside.
"...Let me out or else you might end up burned into charcoal!"
Despite banging on the door and even kicking it twice, she could not get any response from outside at all.
Finally felling tired, Claire sighed helplessly and sat down on the spot.
"...I am terribly sorry, it's all because I was caught—"
At this moment, Restia apologized from her position, crouching in a corner of the cell.
"It's not like it's your fault. That bunch of violent knights are to blame."
Claire turned her head to look at Restia.
"But if you could recover your power, escaping this kind of prison should be a piece of cake."
"I have that kind of power?"
"Yes, you are a high-ranked spirit of the darkness element after all. If you used your original strength, ordinary spirit knights are no match at all. Using that black lightning, you can fry them in a sizzle—"
"...That sounds so scary."
Restia moaned and spoke timidly in a whisper.
"There, there. You don't have to force yourself to remember. Sorry about that."
Seeing how she reacted, Claire apologized, feeling bad.
(...I-It feels quite unbelievable, spending time alone with the darkness spirit.)
Claire felt quite conflicted inside. Claire was a shy girl originally. Even disregarding the fact that the two of them had been clear enemies previously, Claire really did not know how to interact with her after she had lost her memory.
(...She's the girl that Kamito holds dearest, I guess?)
Suddenly recalling this fact, Claire instantly felt a tightening in her chest.
(Much much further back in the past than me, she was already together with Kamito—)
Hearing a cute little sound, Claire was instantly brought back to reality.
"Are you hungry?"
Restia blushed to her ears, looking quite flustered... Speaking of which, they still had not had dinner. Claire suddenly remembered.
"Uh, would you like to have this?"
From her pocket, Claire took out a biscuit wrapped in oil paper. It was made by Rinslet and Claire had taken it when leaving the castle at Laurenfrost.
"I'm eating too. Let's share it half-half."
While eating the biscuit, Claire spoke.
"Don't worry. Ellis will surely find a way."
All things considered, Ellis was a daughter of the Fahrengart family, which held vast influence over the Imperial Knights. If she negotiated with the higher-ups, surely they would be released soon.
Just as Claire was thinking so optimistically...
The cell door, which had shown no reaction no matter how much she yelled or kicked, opened with a rusty grating sound.
Claire stood up and yelled.
Appearing outside the door was precisely the Ellis she had just mentioned.
"You're late, Ellis. I've been waiting so long."
Claire said to her.
However, Claire soon noticed something off about her.
"No, uh, sorry—"
Ellis came in and sat down in a corner of the cell, drawing her knees to her chest.
Then the door was shut from outside and locked with a clack.
"W-Wait, what's going on? Why are you sent to jail too?"
"I-I am simply insisting on my principles..."
Saying that, Ellis turned her face away in embarrassment.
"Y-You... Don't tell me..."
Guessing the gist of things based on her personality, Claire buried her own head in her hands.
"I-Idiot! Who's going to save us if you're jailed here too!?"
"U-Umm, you make a fair point... My apologies."
Looking like she was reflecting on her actions at least, Ellis apologized quietly.
"B-But I do not regret my decision—"
"...Sigh. Sheesh, you simply can't think outside the box."
Claire clutched her head and sighed in exasperation.
"Well, it is very much in your style..."
"Yeah, looks she's not nearby."
Running along a passage, led by the shadow spirit, Kamito focused his awareness on his right hand's seal.
His link with Est was still not restored.
At the very least, she did not seem to be in the vicinity.
(...Or perhaps, Est is locked away behind an isolation barrier too.)
Were that the case, then he would not be able to sense her location until they were extremely close.
Kamito erased his presence to avoid getting detected by guards, using blind spots in the passages to move around.
Although his escape had yet to be discovered, that would only be a matter of time.
"How about here?"
Discovering what appeared to be a storeroom, Kamito stopped.
The shadow spirit slithered into the keyhole and quickly unlocked it.
"Nothing less expected from a former special operative knight belonging to Umbra. This kind of stuff is easy as pie for you."
"Oh? You noticed?"
Freya's shadow spirit sounded surprised to hear Kamito's comment.
"I can tell from your movements. I've already fought those people a number of times."
"The Empire's special operative knights? What kind of life did you lead exactly?"
"...It's a long story."
Shrugging, Kamito entered the storeroom.
Taking and activating a spirit crystal hanging on the wall that was meant for illumination, he shone it inside, only to see many bottles on the ground. They looked like they were used to preserve pickled meat or the like.
No signs of Est. Not this place, apparently.
"Damn it, if we don't hurry—"
Kamito was just about to exit the storeroom when—
Hearing loud footsteps and yelling outside, he stopped.
"The male elementalist has escaped!" "Catch him, dead or alive!"
"...Tsk, they found out already."
It was sooner than expected. Compared to the guards he had taken out just now, the enemies were well-trained spirit knights. It would be tough, even for someone like Kamito, to fight them unarmed without an elemental waffe.
(...But the situation actually isn't that bad.)
With the Imperial Knights' attention focused on Kamito alone, suppose he managed to create an opening, then Claire and the others might have a chance to escape their imprisonment.
"Freya-sensei, Claire and the others should be somewhere inside this facility too. Can you go rescue them first?"
"Sure, but what is your plan?"
"I'll find Est on my own. Once I get Est back, I'll always find a way."
"How very confident. I don't suppose you intend to fight all the spirit knights stationed at this facility?"
"Give me a break—"
"I'll draw the Knights' attention in the meantime. After you help Claire and the others escape, tell them to go to that spring in the Spirit Forest and we'll meet up there—"
"Claire will understand."
"...Very well. Don't overdo it."
Leaving behind this reminder, the shadow spirit left Kamito's shadow and silently disappeared into the darkness of the passage.
After watching it leave, Kamito went:
"—Oh well, infiltration and causing disturbances was my original line of work."
Kamito muttered quietly and began to move.
The voices and footsteps of knights searching for Kamito grew more and more.
However, these sounds ended up telling Kamito about the knights' positions.
(—Looks like they're splitting up to find me.)
Kamito determined this from the sound of their footsteps.
Spirit knights in the army would usually take action in units of two or three. This allowed them to compensate for the elemental weaknesses in one another's contracted spirits, thereby allowing them to fight at maximum power.
For example, a fire elementalist, whose weakness was water, would partner up with an earth elementalist, who held an advantage against water.
However, knowing that Kamito was currently unable to use his contracted spirit, the knights had chosen to prioritize search efficiency. Indeed, it was a very reasonable decision.
(—Too bad for you lot, your opponent was trained in the Instructional School.)
Kamito chanted a spell of Weapon Works, producing a dagger in each hand.
Divide and conquer was a basic tactic used by Instructional School combatants. Even without the use of an elemental waffe, it was sufficient for the purpose of causing a commotion.
No sooner had he thought that than a knight appeared opposite him in the passage.
"—Found you, male elementalist!"
Seeing Kamito with weapons in both hands, the knight released the spirit magic of Fireball without hesitation. Instantly, the scorching flames exploded.
—However, Kamito was no longer there. Kicking a wall, he jumped and dodged the flames in the nick of time and took advantage of the flames' explosion to throw his magic daggers.
(—Great, let's see how much of a ruckus I can make.)
The sound of an explosion in the distance made Claire look up suddenly.
She hastily approached the door.
Suddenly, a bizarre shadow crept in from the gap under the door.
"What is the matter, Claire!?"
Hearing Claire's scream, Ellis called out sharply.
"S-Something weird from outside—"
"Calling others weird from the onset, are you? Claire Rouge."
Claire was stunned. That displeased voice sounded so familiar.
"Don't tell me you're Freya-sensei?"
"Correct. Your supplementary lesson shall be waived."
The shadow slipping in from under the door gradually took on a human shape.
"Sensei, please rescue us!"
"I will. Hurry and leave as quickly as possible while the commotion is going on."
Claire and Ellis nodded and immediately opened the unlocked door.
The shadow spirit moved along the ground, leading Claire and company through the passage.
"Okay, darkness spirit, hurry and run—"
Claire took Restia by the hand and chased after the shadow that was moving along the passage.
While running, she asked the shadow that was crawling on the floor.
"Sensei, what about Kamito? Also, the explosion earlier—"
"He escaped first. I presume he is currently causing a disturbance to draw away the knights' attention. He intends to converge with you outside after he retrieves the sword spirit."
Kamito's strength was undeniable.
However, to fight an order of knights alone—
"Will he be fine on his own? Or should we go along to fight too—"
Although Ellis suggested that...
"Do not worry unnecessarily. His efforts must not go to waste."
The shadow spirit shook its head and answered. ...Indeed, a single misstep and all would be lost if they wasted their chance to escape.
"...I understand. So the rendezvous point is?"
"He said it was that spring in the Spirit Forest."
Claire instantly frowned and thought over it.
"...Oh I see, he meant that spring."
She soon figured it out. Kamito was referring to the purification spring where he had first met Claire.
Recalling how Kamito had seen her naked at the time, Claire could not help but feel her face heat up.
—At that very moment, footsteps could be heard coming from the opposite end of the passage.
"...Damn it, how on earth did they open the jail cell's door—"
Appearing from around a corner was a knight armed with an elemental waffe.
"...We've been found. But if it is only one person—"
"Yeah, let us break through by force!"
While yelling, Ellis summoned Ray Hawk in her hand.
"Darkness spirit, hide behind us—"
Claire summoned Flametongue and immediately swung it.
A crimson slash tore through the air, attacking the knight before them.
"I beseech thee to blow, O wind of hot sand—Desert Storm!"
The knight chanted spirit magic. Instantly, a violent sandstorm swirled in the passage, blocking Claire's view.
With the knight's figure was obscured by the sand, the flaming whip missed its mark.
"Pretty good huh—"
"Claire, the teacher's shadow spirit—"
Ellis cried out acutely.
The howling sandstorm had mercilessly devoured the shadow crawling on the ground.
"...So this is its limit huh...? I leave the rest, to you, students—"
Her voice, mixed with static, was cut off.
A shadow spirit was not meant for combat in the first place. In addition, it was being controlled from long range. Once the shadow could not sustain itself, it vanished rapidly.
Claire bit her lip and stared intently across the sandstorm.
"This is bad. Scarlet's elemental compatibility fares poorly against that sand spirit!"
"Yes, watch out, it is coming—"
Ellis readied Ray Hawk and shouted. Instantly, a gigantic arm of sandstone reached out from the barrier of sand covering their view.
"...Tsk, curse you—"
Ellis' spear swept towards the arm of sandstone in an arc.
However, it did not work. Severed, the arm soon regenerated by gathering the nearby sand and struck Claire.
Sent flying by a hook punch, Claire smashed into a wall.
"...I-I'm fine... Take this—"
Claire chanted spirit magic while in a kneeling posture.
"Come forth from the furnace of conflagration—Hellhounds!"
Flames appeared out of thin air to turn into two hunting hounds, diving into the howling sandstorm. This was an automatically homing beast of fire that could chase a target to the very end.
In response, the arm of sandstone extending out from the ground hastily changed direction and blocked the path in front of the hellhounds. Blocked by sandstone, the scorching flames were easily extinguished.
—However, that was precisely Claire's plan.
It would be impossible to personally control that arm of sandstone with precision in a situation of zero visibility. Its nature must include some level of autonomy in attacking targets and guarding its master.
In other words, it would automatically defend when the user was under attack, which also meant that—
It was not difficult to guess her location even with a sandstorm obscuring her from view.
"Ellis, do it now—"
"—Over there huh? Fahrengart style of the spear, Flying Strike!"
Ellis launched her spear, enveloped in a whirlwind, against the arm of sandstone sticking out of the ground.
Infused with all her divine power, the thrown Ray Hawk pierced the arm of sandstone, releasing a slicing gale inside the depths of the sandstorm.
The howling sandstorm instantly vanished, accompanied by a scream. Visibility was restored all at once.
A knight could be seen lying face up on the floor of the passage, her armor pulverized.
"Hold on, Ellis, aren't you overdoing it?"
"I controlled my power. She simply lost consciousness."
Saying that, Ellis pulled out Ray Hawk from the stone floor.
"Darkness spirit, you can come out now—"
Claire called out behind her. Immediately, Restia emerged from her hiding place, a hole in the wall.
"...You two are so strong."
"Kamito is even more amazing."
Claire shrugged and looked into the depths of the passage.
"Let's hurry before the knights' reinforcements arrive—"
At this moment, even Kamito was gradually getting cornered by the knights encircling him.
"S-Seal the passage!"
"The Demon King of the Night must not get away!"
(...Est, where are you? Answer me!)
While using a wall to hide himself, Kamito called out to Est mentally.
However, the spirit seal on his right hand did not react at all. She was probably sealed in sword form inside an isolation barrier. Trying to find a single sword in a vast facility was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
(...At this rate, they're going to surround me.)
Kamito placed the collapsed knight at his feet in the center of the passage as conspicuously as possible. This was a knight he had ambushed while erasing his presence. She was completely unconscious.
(...This makes five. I've already made such a big commotion, so it should be almost time—)
Kamito was attracting as much attention as possible for a purpose. Naturally, first of all, he wanted to make it easy for Claire and the others to escape. Secondly—
This was the moment. Kamito's sensitive ears picked up on multiple sets of footsteps.
Roughly four or five people. No less than three.
(Man, they finally took action huh...)
Kamito muttered in his heart and hid himself again, focusing his mind on the sound of footsteps.
Previously, the knights were acting independently, probably underestimating Kamito's power in a decision to prioritize search efficiency.
Then now, they were forming a small team to defeat Kamito with certainty—?
No, no matter how much they feared Kamito's power, deploying five knights to handle an opponent who had no elemental waffe would be too much. To search for Kamito in such a vast facility like this would be too inefficient.
This team's purpose was probably to guard something rather than to hunt down Kamito. Under such circumstances, there could only be one object that the Imperial Knights would send five of them to guard.
Precisely what must not fall into Kamito's hands—The Demon Slayer.
Indeed, this was Kamito's other purpose. To make the knights feel a sense of crisis in the face of Kamito and send people to guard Est—
Kamito focused his attention on the footsteps in the distance and began to follow them.
(...But five spirit knights huh. Engaging them head on would be a bit too tricky.)
To be honest, this was quite a gamble.
The best-case scenario would be to locate Est while the Imperial Knights were still underestimating him. Putting them on high alert so that they beef up security was definitely not the best plan. Even after taking back Est, it would be pointless if he was unable to break out of the encirclement.
(...As long as I have Est in my hand, there will always be a way.)
Kamito was confident that he could escape once he retrieved the Demon Slayer, even if he had to confront all the spirit knights in the facility.
Erasing his presence, he followed cautiously. The knights were not very vigilant, probably lowering their guard after forming the team. They did not seem to notice Kamito approaching them.
Soon, the team of knights stopped in front of a certain door. A massive metal door carved with a magic circle. An isolation barrier had probably been deployed inside.
Throb—Kamito felt a stinging pain in the spirit seal on his right hand.
Hiding in the shadows, Kamito instantly focused his mind on his right hand.
...No answer. But he definitely could feel Est's presence.
(...I knew it, she's here huh—)
Est is here—Just as Kamito believed with certainty...
"—There's someone over there!?"
A knight guarding the door yelled out sharply.
Kamito reflexively left his spot in the shadows.
In the next instant, an arrow of light shot down at his hiding place, exploding in a flash of light.
—Apparently due to re-establishing his link with Est, the knights were able to sense the faint presence of divine power.
Seeing Kamito emerge, the knight who had released the arrow of light exclaimed in shock.
"O steel, grant me thy power—Weapon Works!"
Kamito created a dagger in each hand using spirit magic and kicked the ground to accelerate.
A separation of merely nine steps. However, it was far too great a distance when confronting well-trained knights.
(Eight steps, seven steps—)
Concentrating to his very limit, Kamito felt as though time in his surroundings had slowed down.
Judging from their movements, he could tell that these five were probably an elite team carefully selected from the knights.
They were much higher in standard than the people he had defeated earlier, even though they were all knights.
An arrow of light was shot again at Kamito while he closed in. He instantly threw his dagger, slightly deflecting the arrow's trajectory. Brushing past his face, the arrow then exploded behind him.
(Six steps, five steps, four steps—)
Knights who had swords and spears ready as their elemental waffen were right in front of him. In a direct clash, daggers made using spirit magic would surely shatter on contact.
One knight swung her sword.
The moment before the blades made contact, Kamito stopped advancing.
Unable to stop her momentum in time, the knight's sword smashed into the ground. The blade's front tip flew past the tip of Kamito's nose, shaving off a few strands of hair from his bangs.
(If it's this distance—)
Kamito extended his right hand towards the door.
He poured a great amount of divine power into the spirit seal while chanting the words for releasing his contracted spirit.
"—Dispassionate Queen of Steel, the sacred sword that destroys evil!
—Now form a sword of steel and be the power in my hand!"
The spirit seal erupted with intense lightning, turning his view white.
The feeling of connecting to Est was unmistakable.
The knight in front of him groaned with shock in her eyes.
The Demon Slayer—Terminus Est—was the strongest sword spirit.
However, her contract with Kamito was incomplete, thus resulting in a limitation of physical distance in their link. Without Kamito to supply divine power, the Demon Slayer would be nothing more than a relatively sharper sword.
However, once they were connected—
(Destroying an isolation barrier of this level would be a piece of cake—)
The metal door, reinforced with protective magic, was instantly blown apart from inside.
What had destroyed the door were several bolts of jet-black lightning radiating out from a center.
"I-Impossible—!" "What, this ominous black lightning is—"
The knights near the door were struck by the raging black lightning, collapsing one after another.
The knights probably assumed from the Blade Dance tournament that Kamito's sword spirit was thoroughly a melee weapon. They thought that it could not show its power unless it was held in Kamito's hand.
(—This is the reason for your defeat.)
Currently, Est was not simply the Demon Slayer—
Rather, she was Terminus Est Zwei, the Demon King's Sword that had inherited Restia's power.
Kamito dashed amidst the erupting black lightning and gripped the hilt of Est who was inside the room.
"Thanks for waiting, Est—"
With the link fully restored, Est's voice sounded inside his mind.
Thus, Kamito drew out the Demon King's Sword whose blade had turned black.
Probably noticing the loud noise, a large number of footsteps were approaching from all around.
"Sorry, I'll need you to put on a show as soon as you wake up, Est—"
'Yes, Kamito. I am your sword, your wish is my command.'
"Hurry, the knights' reinforcements are arriving—"
"Yes, over here!"
While Kamito was playing hide-and-seek with the knights, Claire and company were running along a passage leading to an exit at ground level.
Along the way, they encountered a number of spirit knights, but with excellent coordination from silent understanding, Claire and Ellis defeated them successfully. They were already a match for the knights of Ordesia. Having survived battles against the elites of other nations and obtained victory at the Blade Dance, the two girls had improved their abilities dramatically.
"—By the way, security on this side seems to be quite weak."
"Yes, my hunch is that Kamito is occupying the majority of their forces."
Ellis nodded and replied while running in the lead.
Since Miss Freya's shadow spirit had vanished, Ellis had to summon a wind spirit to lead the way to the exit. The spirit had not mapped out the facility's entire layout, but simply by following the flow of wind, they should be able to reach the exit at ground level. However, this facility apparently had a number of exits, hence where they were going to end up would be a matter of luck—
"Darkness spirit, are you okay?"
"Huff, huff... I'm fine, yes..."
Restia tried her best to answer bravely, but the prolonged running seemed to be tough on her.
...Still, it was not like they could stop to rest. As soon as the Knights' reinforcements arrived, there would be no hope left.
"We'll be there soon. Hang in there."
Passing through a passage for transporting cargo, they went up a flight of stairs leading to the ground surface.
—Ahead of the passage after reaching the top of the stairs, they could see a great door that looked like the exit.
There were two spirit knights in front of the door.
"That must be it—"
"Yes, it looks like the exit is completely sealed."
Wrapping herself in a gale, Ellis accelerated forward all at once.
"—Vicious wind, rampage!"
She swept Ray Hawk horizontally, instantly producing a haphazard dance of wind blades.
"...! Defend me—Rock spirit!"
A knight instantly reacted and summoned her contracted spirit.
A giant of rock appeared out from thin air and blocked the wind blades with its massive body.
Claire summoned Flametongue and swung it back and forth endlessly. A raging dance of crimson slashes criss-crossed the passage. In the next instant, the rock giant's body shattered, disappearing into space.
A flame spirit was supposed to fare poorly against a rock spirit, but using skillful maneuvers of the whip, Claire had severed the rock spirit's joints in an instant. Next—
"O wind, I beseech thee to sweep away mine enemies—Wind Bombs!"
Ellis released an explosion of wind blades.
This was attack magic meant for releasing a storm over a wide area. Inside the narrow passage, it formed a compressed mass of wind, blowing the two knights ahead of them, smashing them against the door.
Ignoring the collapsed knights, Ellis released wind blades at the door.
However, the door's surface remained unscathed. It was no ordinary door, probably made of mithril, the same material used for the armor of military ships.
"...Tsk, looks like this will take time to break."
"Wait, I'll do it—"
Claire stepped forward and pressed her palm against the very center of the door.
"...What are you planning to do?"
Ellis looked surprised.
Claire closed her eyes and focused. Then she chanted.
"O true flame carved upon the ancient bloodline, dwell in my hand to devour flames—"
—Instantly, a fierce crimson flame appeared on Claire's palm.
"This being the flame that reduces all creation to oblivion—End of Vermilion!"
The crimson flames exploded, turning the mithril door deep red.
In the next instant, the door was scorched red-hot, melting easily.
"Claire, w-what on earth was that..."
"I guess you could call it a secret move... Guh..."
After replying to the surprised Ellis, Claire instantly fell on her knees.
"A-Are you alright?"
"...Huff, huff... It's too draining, this move..."
"All that is left for us to do is leave the base. Hang in there a bit longer."
Ellis supported Claire by the shoulder and walked out of the facility.
There was no moon outside. A completely dark night. Perfect weather for escaping.
"What good fortune, we will get to the Spirit Forest—"
"This farce has gone on long enough, Lady Ellis—"
A flash of light illuminated Claire and company while they were walking in the darkness.
The blinding light was forcing Claire to squint. After a while, she realized it was a military flash grenade created using spirit crystals.
The flash of light subsided. Claire opened her eyes wide again then gasped.
Dozens of guards and spirit knights had already surrounded them.
"...They guessed we would leave from the cargo entrance huh."
"Lady Ellis, please return quietly to the jail. Or else—"
The captain of the knights, Claudia, drew out a longsword, her elemental waffe.
"You will have to suffer even though you are Duke Fahrengart's granddaughter."
Glaring at Claudia before her, Ellis bit her lip hard.
"...Looks like a fight cannot be avoided."
Holding Flametongue, Claire counted the numbers around them.
"Eight knights and twenty to thirty guards huh."
"Claire, the odds do not favor us—"
"...I know. But at least, we can stall for time."
While standing back to back with Ellis, Claire said softly.
"Right, as long as Kamito gets here in time, perhaps..."
Claudia shook her head and spoke with disdain.
Raising her longsword, she ordered her subordinate knights.
"Catch them, even if it means harming Lady Ellis! I authorize it."
The knights deployed their elemental waffen at once.
"Very well, let us see how long we can endure..."
Ellis wiped sweat from her brow.
"Darkness spirit, stay there quietly and wait—"
Claire looked back but noticed something alarming.
Claire frowned in astonishment.
Despite such a tense situation, she was looking up into the sky instead.
Her dusk-colored eyes were wide open, her face frozen in a stunned expression.
(...What on earth is she looking at?)
Claire could not help but follow her gaze. Next—
Seeing the object currently high in the sky, Claire was rendered speechless.
"W-What? That thing is!?"
"...Why did something like that appear!?"
Like Claire, the guards looking up at the sky also started to clamor.
Hovering right above the base was the streamlined form of a giant ship.
"A military flying vessel!?"
Claudia exclaimed in shock.
This implied that it was not a ship belonging to the Imperial Knights at least.
"The Academy Town has not issued any flight permits. Where is this ship registered!?"
"Not registered to Ordesia, that ship is—"
At that very moment, the bottom of the flying ship, motionless overhead, was slowly opened.
"...! Something is coming out!"
Claire yelled forcefully.
In the next instant, something extremely massive separated from the bottom of the ship and was launched over the base.
Claudia yelled sharply. In the next instant...
A frightening noise was heard while the ground shook violently.
"Guh—W-What!?" "What the hell!?"
Claire and others shielded their faces from the incoming sand and dust blown by the blast.
A cloud of dust rose all around them. Inside the shadow, a dazzling light was flashing.
Claire looked into the shadow and saw it.
Over there was—
(...What the heck!?)
—A "fortress" had descended upon the land.
Black multi-layered defensive armor. A brightly glowing reactor.
There were countless gunports of various calibers protruding from all over the body. What appeared to be the main cannon was aimed at Claudia, captain of the knights, and her subordinates.
Thud—Protected by heavy armor, the gigantic legs sank into the roof of the military base.
Confronted with the overwhelming and oppressive presence, everyone present stopped what they were doing.
"Madam Claudia, w-what on earth is that..."
One of the knights asked nervously.
"An 'elemental panzer'—the Juggernaut. Deployed in actual combat for the first time, its responsiveness has been adequate."
In contrast to the fortress' intimidating appearance, a pleasant and lucid voice was broadcast in the air.
The visor covering her eyes opened up. Glittering platinum blonde hair fluttered in the wind.
The face revealed from under the visor was—
All the knights gasped.
"I-Impossible... Why is she here—!?"
—No one did not recognize her. At the very least, they had heard of her exploits.
Previously dominating Areishia Spirit Academy with her overwhelming power, ruling the Sylphid Knights with an iron fist of terror.
Those who feared or hated her would call her "Silent Fortress."
Areishia Spirit Academy's strongest elementalist.
Claudia exclaimed in shock.
Ellis' dark-brown eyes widened greatly with disbelief on her face.
"W-Why are you here—"
Claudia's voice trembled.
Shining with harsh light, the ice-blue eyes looked down coldly at Claudia.
"—To return to the battlefield. To uphold the conviction of my chivalry."
Claudia gritted her teeth and yelled at her subordinates.
"She is a traitor. Arrest her!"
"No need to fear that thing. It's just a bluff!"
Under Claudia's shouted orders, the knights instantly responded. They prepared to fight despite the fortress' gigantic and intimidating appearance.
Wielding Ray Hawk, Ellis was about to rush over but Claire hastily pulled her back.
"W-What are you doing!?"
"Idiot, you'll get caught in the barrage if you go over there!"
The knights surrounded Velsaria and charged.
At the same time, the fortress' reactor released a flash of blinding light while every gunport on the body activated.
"—! Get down!"
In the next instant, the countless cannons all fired.
A deafening roar of explosions. The ground was blasted open deeply. Buildings belonging to the base were wrecked in an instant. The wind from the explosions knocked over knights and surrounding trees. The night sky instantly turned white.
Restia screamed. Claire shielded her from the flying debris.
—The barrage stopped.
Claire slowly opened her eyes.
The artillery strike, fired in all directions, had reduced the base to scorched earth in a matter of seconds.
Witnessing the astounding destructive power, even Claudia could not find any words to speak.
However, the accuracy of the barrage was even more terrifying than its destructive power. Despite such a wide area attack, unbelievably, none of the small fry guards had taken a direct hit.
"What, that power is..."
Claudia collapsed on her knees in shock.
"You were supposed to have lost the power of the spirit contract due to using a cursed seal armament."
"Yes, I had indeed lost the power of the spirit contract on account of my own foolishness."
Velsaria landed on the ground with a thud.
"Perhaps this could be considered a taboo power too—"
"A taboo power... Come again?"
"Claudia, order your subordinates to withdraw. I do not wish for unnecessary sacrifices."
Velsaria spoke calmly.
"...! W-What are you fools doing? Surround the traitor!"
Hearing that, Claudia felt a rush of anger and yelled.
However, no one moved. Half of the knights had been struck down by the earlier barrage. Those who had fortunately withstood the attack did not dare to fight again after witnessing the overwhelming firepower.
At that very moment...
"—Are you all okay!?"
A voice came from across the darkness of the night.
Kamito. Holding the Demon Slayer, glowing silver-white in his hand, he rushed over.
"Kamito, you're okay."
"Sorry for making you wait. Hold on, what's going on here?"
Seeing the scorched earth and all the collapsed knights, Kamito asked in puzzlement.
Velsaria cast her gaze upon Kamito and said:
"Oh? I intended to assault the base but if you have escaped, that saves me the effort."
She murmured and closed her eyes.
—Instantly, the fortress vanished into thin air as particles of light.
Landing on the ground was the beautiful female knight, dressed in the Academy's uniform.
"...Velsaria! Why are you here—"
Kamito showed an expression of surprise.
He looked back at Claire and Ellis but they both shook their heads.
"There is no time to talk here. We must board immediately—"
Following Velsaria's gaze, Kamito looked up.
The flying ship above was slowly landing on the base.
The Academy Town blared with a noisy siren while the base also shot a flare. Soon, the Imperial Knights' reinforcements would arrive in a hurry.
"...Looks like there is only one choice."