Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume9 Chapter6
Chapter 6 - Scarlet Valkyrie
Amidst endless darkness, even blacker than night--
The demon sword of darkness gradually regained consciousness.
Here was a mental realm completely isolated from the outside world.
Prohibiting movement, this place only allowed the existence of consciousness.
Currently, the demon sword that stood as her temporary state was being carried by the hell cat girl.
"--How ironic. To think I would be saved by a rival whom I once tried to kill."
In the darkness, Restia sighed softly.
The damage inflicted by the divine armament would not recover immediately. Due to the effects of the strong Geis, there was also no way to return to her main body.
As much as she disliked it, for the time being she had no choice but to remain in the form of the demon sword.
Drawing her knees up to her chest, Restia surveyed the darkness enshrouding her surroundings.
A pitch black darkness surged forth, restless.
This was not the darkness of the night which calmed her heart.
Instead, this was some otherworldly substance possessing astounding will.
Absolutely something that should not exist in this world.
Furthermore, it was three years ago, just when he was about to realize the Wish -- That darkness devoured her.
People had no idea, but the so-called miracle of the Elemental Lords that could reputedly grant all Wishes, its true form was this astounding darkness--
"Over these past few days, the rate of corrosion has increased greatly -- There's not much time left."
Restia showed anxiety on her face.
"Next, I shall become the Enemy of the World."
Dark light lit up in her dusk-colored eyes.
(...Kamito, even if it would cause you to resent me, hate me.)
Even if it would cause her great suffering.
What Restia recalled in her mind was the promise he had made in his youth.
Should there ever come a time in the future when I have changed so much I am myself no longer--
Hiding in the ruins, Claire turned her head towards the demon sword of darkness resting against the wall.
The demon sword, which had remained silent all this time, seemed to be murmuring something.
(...Was it an illusion?)
...However, the demon sword remained silent.
The sharp blade of darkness shone with ominous luster as it reflected the moonlight.
Earlier, Restia was heavily injured by the divine armament that pierced her chest. Even for a high-level spirit like her, recovery would take quite a long period of time.
(--That knight hasn't caught up yet.)
Leaning against a wall in the ruins, Claire searched the area for presences.
It was inconceivable that Luminaris would give up so easily--
At this moment, Claire felt a powerful presence up in the air, causing her to tremble intensely.
In the evening sky, a gigantic spirit resembling a multi-headed dragon was flying.
During the daytime, no spirits could be sensed other than those ghosts in this abandoned city.
But as soon as the sun went down, it was as if the city changed completely.
It became a literal "City of Demons" with violent and ferocious demon spirits roaming the skies.
Furthermore, the spirit flying overhead belonged to the highest rank, categorized as "archdemon class" by the Spirit Knights of the Empire. An existence that none of the elite Blade Dance participants from various countries could possibly handle alone.
If one were to attempt slaying it, most likely an entire division of elite spirit knights would be required at least.
However, Kamito had apparently defeated an archdemon class spirit singlehandedly before.
(...Probably some kind of joke. How could a single person defeat something like that?)
Claire looked up in trepidation at the demon spirit flying in the night sky.
Of course, from the demon spirit's perspective, beings like Claire were completely insignificant. So long as she did not attack first, it probably would not assault her--
Scarlet also seemed to have sensed the danger and had humbly curled into a ball.
After some time, the gigantic demon spirit leisurely flew into the distance.
Seeing that, Claire breathed a sigh of relief.
...As soon as she relaxed, a rumbling informed her of the hungry stomach.
Speaking of which, she still had not eaten yet.
Claire took out the little pill from her pocket and placed it in her mouth. Seeing Scarlet wagging its tail as if it wanted one too, she gave the cat a pill as well.
(...What a tasteless meal.)
However, Claire was used to such lonely meals. Before she met Kamito, she spent her days alone in the Academy residence, subsisting on canned food.
--Completely different from several years ago.
Although the Elstein family's dining table was not as luxurious as other great nobles, they did have exclusive chefs in the city who could provide hot meals on demand.
Also, whenever large scale festivities were being held in their territory, their subjects would prepare and bring all sorts of prided specialties of local cuisine.
(...The Fire Spirit Festival once a year, how nostalgic.)
Stroking Scarlet's head gently, Claire muttered in her heart.
Even now, Claire could still vividly recall the figure of her elder sister in glamorous ritual attire as she danced in offering during the festivals back then.
--It was a memory of her happy everyday life that had vanished like a dream.
At this moment.
Sensing the presence that suddenly appeared, Claire went into high alert.
With her left hand, she grabbed the demon sword of darkness that was leaning against the wall.
"...Who is it!?"
A wild animal's low cry responded to her sharp question.
This word entered her mind momentarily but she instantly rejected the notion.
Wild animals could not possibly appear in this abandoned city.
If they did, they must be--
Claire swiftly chanted spirit language to release her elemental waffe.
The burning flames lit the dim surroundings.
Appearing out of the darkness was a pack of black hunting hounds.
Five... Or was it six? --Their outlines flickered nonstop as if melding into the surrounding darkness.
"...Why? I couldn't sense any elementalist just now."
As if responding to Claire's murmurings, a voice answered:
"My legion spirit Shadewolf possesses skills in tracking and presence concealment. Ordinary methods cannot detect us."
A girl approached from the entrance of the ruins.
Glaring sharply, this girl had hair that was cut short like a boy's.
"--Special Operative of the Sacred Spirit Knights, Ayla Cedar."
The girl bowed politely then snapped her fingers.
Hearing the sound, the wolf pack began to make intimidating howls as they encircled Claire.
"That demon sword, hand it over."
"I'm sorry, I cannot comply."
Claire struck the floor with Flametongue to deter the wolves.
(...A special operative, in other words, an expert tracker. What a troublesome opponent.)
The wolves were very likely the minions of the shadow spirit.
Despite the name of the Sacred Spirit Knights, it did not imply that all members employed spirits with the holy attribute.
After all, an unbalanced team composition of that sort would be unlikely to win the current Blade Dance with its team format and regulations.
Shadow spirits possessed excellent skills in presence hiding.
Although the flame spirit Scarlet was stronger in pure offensive power, Claire could not afford to be careless because shadow elementalists were skilled in special blade dances.
"Go forth and capture, Shadewolf!"
Heeding the calls of Ayla Cedar, the shadow wolves attacked one after another.
Claire swung her whip to trace out a column of fire in an arc.
--However, the enemy anticipated her move. The wolves instantly melted into the shadows on ground and dove into gaps in the rubble to get around the wall of flame.
"...Tsk, take this -- !?"
Faced with a pouncing wolf, Claire incinerated it at the last second using her whip.
An endlessly criss-crossing mad storm of whip strikes made it impossible for the wolf pack to approach.
"As befits one hailing from the renowned lineage of flame priestesses--"
"After all, I'm used to training animals!"
"I hope you will refrain from throwing insults, Claire Rouge!"
Ayla Cedar snapped her fingers again.
The shadow wolves divided and increased their numbers.
(...With this many, I'm not going to be able to handle them!?)
Instantly, the tides turned on Claire.
There was no end to things when dealing with legion spirits as enemies.
"Go forth and devour, scorching ball of conflagration -- Fireball!"
Releasing spirit magic from her palm, Claire blew away the shadow spirit.
The shadow wolves dispersed like mist but they were not defeated by the attack just now.
Legion spirits which relied on numbers for victory were rather tricky to deal with. In that case--
(--I'll just attack the elementalist directly!)
Claire kicked the ground to accelerate and closed in instantly.
Due to the nature of their duties, special operatives tended not to be skilled in close combat using elemental waffen.
The wolves that had escaped the earlier explosion now bared their fangs and claws as they gave chase, however--
Claire brandished Flametongue as she ran, establishing a barrier around her.
Using a whip in a one-against-many blade dance was precisely Claire's forte.
Within the blink of an eye, Claire had closed in before Ayla, then--
"--Turn into charcoal!"
Mercilessly, she swung down the fiery whip.
A whip strike with god-like speed, so fast that there was no trail of its trajectory.
During practice, the only one capable of dodging this move was Kamito.
Ayla Cedar was just about to be devoured by the crimson flames -- However.
"I am the shadow that moves in time -- Shade Leap."
Her figure disappeared from before Claire like an afterimage.
(Transfer type spirit magic...!)
Claire's mind began to turn rapidly.
(I remember amongst spirit magic with the shadow attribute, Transfer type magic--)
Having learned at the Academy about the basic magic systems of all the major attributes, Claire had them all memorized with certainty.
The title of the "Problematic Honors Student" was not simply for show.
(...It is supposed to be a magic system with many flaws that make it hard to control.)
Ayla's figure vanished completely.
Instantly, Claire jumped away from her position.
(Shade Leap -- its effect is the transfer between shadows that are closest together...!)
Beneath Claire's feet, her shadow was shaking unnaturally.
But having seen through her opponent's attack, Claire had already prepared countermeasures.
"O Flame, dance a magnificent rondo -- Fire Burst!"
She chanted spirit magic at high speed in midair.
Countless glowing spheres of heat appeared from her palms and banished the surrounding darkness with dazzling light.
Unlike the Fireball, this move lacked damage but could shock and awe the enemy through powerful light and noise.
The white flash instantly cleared the ground of shadows, cancelling the Shade Leap magic.
Suffering the backlash of the cancelled magic, Ayla was ejected onto the ground.
Landing nimbly, Claire instantly attacked with Flametongue.
The special operative was enveloped in fire and sent crashing into the floor.
With a cracking sound of air, Claire pulled Flametongue back into her hands.
"--Victory has been decided."
Just as she was about to inflict a decisive blow--
She found her foot sinking into a shadow on the ground as she took a step forward.
"...This is an Isolation Barrier!?"
Claire exclaimed in surprise.
Before Ayla started the fight, she must have set a trap in the surroundings--!
"...How careless, hell cat user. After all, special operatives are most adept at relying on traps to fight."
Lying on the ground, Ayla smiled.
However, even with one foot swallowed by shadows, Claire remained calm and composed.
"Relying on a barrier of this level, do you really think you can catch me?"
The victor of the blade dance was already decided.
Struck by a direct hit from Flametongue, Ayla was incapacitated from fighting within the near future.
Unless the ensnarement occurred during battle, otherwise this type of Isolation Barrier, which only took mere minutes to dispel, was virtually meaningless.
"No, I have already achieved my goal."
"Because my goal was to keep you pinned down in this location."
Claire clicked her tongue as she realized her own stupidity.
(...Her comrades are nearby?)
On further thought, it was only natural.
Otherwise, this girl would not have come to challenge her one on one.
--In that case, it was imperative to escape from here as quickly as possible.
Claire lit a fire with her finger and traced out a magic circle in the air for dispelling the barrier.
'--This method will not be anywhere quick enough, you know. Claire Rouge.'
Claire suddenly looked down.
The exasperated voice came from the demon sword held in her left hand.
"...You recovered your energy?"
'Only a bare minimum, enough to transmit my thoughts. Still not enough to resume human form... That aside, use me to pierce that shadow. Your spirit magic takes too long.'
'Do it quickly. The Paladin is hastening to this place.'
"...I-I got it."
Claire frantically nodded and used the demon sword's blade to stab the shadow.
Instantly with an ear-splitting metallic clang, the Isolation Barrier ensnaring Claire's foot was easily broken.
"How could this happen!?"
Ayla exclaimed with surprise.
Claire could not help but gasp.
Simply within an instant, a barrier that would occupy an experienced elementalist quite some time was dispelled--
--Well then, hurry and leave this place.'
"W-Why are you giving me orders!?"
Despite retorting back, Claire was already preparing to flee the scene. However.
"Do you really think I would let the same prey escape twice?"
On the other end of the dim passage came a solemn voice.
"Well done, Ayla. Please rest there for a while."
As her military boots sounded with every step she took, Luminaris Saint Leisched approached.
Then from the opposite end of the alleyway came another person--
"I'll shoot you full of holes if you dare move."
Wielding a silver longbow, yet another girl of the Sacred Spirit Knights.
(...This is bad.)
The two knights were closing in on Claire with a pincer formation.
Her escape routes were completely sealed off.
(...This is hopeless. Nothing I can do but fight?)
Paying attention to the archer behind her, Claire readied Flametongue.
The one before her was the runner-up from the previous Blade Dance who had fought and lost to Ren Ashbell.
Although Claire had no idea how well she could fight against an ace-level elementalist--
--She could not allow herself to be defeated here.
Claire had a Wish she must realize no matter what.
(All this time, Kamito has protected me many times.)
She gripped the demon sword of darkness in her hand tightly.
Holding the contracted spirit from Kamito's past, the darkness spirit girl.
(...Therefore, I shall in turn protect what's precious to Kamito!)
Reacting to the divine power she released, Flametongue's flames intensified instantly.
The flames were so astounding that even Luminaris displayed wariness and halted her advance.
"Claire Rouge. Why are you going to so far in protecting that darkness spirit?"
"...None of your business."
"--Is it because the demon sword belongs to the Strongest Blade Dancer, Ren Ashbell?"
"Like I said, none of your -- Eh?"
Claire's jaw dropped in surprise.
For an instant, she could not comprehend what Luminaris had said.
"...Just now, what did you say?"
"...? Could it be, you didn't know?"
This time it was Luminaris who displayed an expression of surprise.
"Then I shall tell you. The darkness spirit over there is the elemental waffe -- the Vorpal Sword."
An unbelievable statement was announced.
"--Namely, the sword used by the strongest blade dancer during the Blade Dance three years ago."
...After several seconds of silence.
Claire uttered a weak powerless sound.
"What do you mean...?"
"Exactly as the words say. The demon sword you are holding right now in your hand is the contracted spirit of the Strongest Blade Dancer. The elemental waffe -- Vorpal Sword."
Luminaris repeated the same content.
Claire instantly opened her eyes wide and her gaze fell upon the demon sword in her hand.
...Luminaris did not appear to be lying or providing misdirection. Furthermore, this rigid Paladin did not seem like the type to care for word games.
"...H-How did you find that out!?"
Claire questioned to corroborate.
...Indeed, the sword's appearance was extremely similar.
But despite the similarity -- it was not entirely the same.
The appearance of the elemental waffe used by Ren Ashbell whom Claire had always idolized and revered remained vividly in Claire's memories to this day.
...Claire could not possibly make a mistake in recognition.
Elemental waffe were existences that materialized the user's psyche. Hence it was understandable for Kamito and Ren Ashbell -- two people whose sword skills originated from the same master -- to have similarities.
However, Luminaris quietly shook her head.
"...I know without a doubt. After all, I fought directly against that demon sword three years ago."
Claire closed her mouth.
--Indeed, Luminaris had engaged the Strongest Blade Dancer, Ren Ashbell, in blade dance during the finals three years ago.
As an elementalist of the highest class, discerning the true nature of elemental waffen she had faced directly in combat before should not be a difficult task.
Since she had determined this demon sword to be the Vorpal Sword, it was equivalent to saying -- it was fact beyond a doubt.
The darkness spirit Restia was Kamito's contracted spirit in the past.
At the same time, Restia was the demon sword of the Strongest Blade Dancer, Ren Ashbell's -- Vorpal Sword.
From this, one could conclude--
(In that case, Kamito really is...?)
Claire felt her breathing quicken and her heart beginning to race.
All along, Claire had suspected Kamito's true identity many times.
When Kamito used the same sword style as her, Claire had even sought Ellis' aid to investigate the truth.
However, no matter how much she suspected, some part of her mind remained in denial.
Three years ago, the Strongest Blade Dancer, Ren Ashbell, had appeared out of nowhere like a comet.
Through her overwhelmingly powerful and magnificent blade dance, she became the "maiden" idolized by all princess maidens across the entire continent.
The one whom Claire had idolized from childhood and regarded as her goal--
--Turned out to be right by her side all this time.
"That darkness spirit is taking part in the current festival as a member of Team Inferno. With that, it should be an elementary exercise to speculate that she is Ren Ashbell's demon sword, right?"
Luminaris continued to display a surprised expression.
She looked like she was not aware of Restia being Kamito's contracted spirit, and she even believed firmly that the commander of Team Inferno was the real Ren Ashbell.
Claire's gaze stopped on the demon sword of darkness in her hand.
"...Is that really true?"
But the demon sword did not reply.
Whether this was intentional or because she simply exhausted her power to dispel the Barrier, Claire was not sure--
Claire felt her throat dry up. Her mind was in turmoil.
...The truth has yet to be confirmed.
She could not be sure that Luminaris' words were the truth.
(The fact that Kamito is Ren Ashbell, the Strongest Blade Dancer...)
...There was no feeling of being deceived.
Because Kamito's wish to keep it a secret was understandable. Furthermore, the trusting relationship they had built up over their days together was not so shallow as to waver so easily on a discovery like this.
"...~I, how shall I face Kamito from now on?"
Claire felt her cheeks heat up instantly.
...She had yet to settle her emotions.
Even though it was not the time to waver before a formidable enemy--
"--In any case!"
Luminaris closed in further at this time.
"Hand the demon sword over. It is an existence that will one day become the Enemy of the World."
Claire brought her awareness back to the enemy at hand and readied Flametongue.
Now was not the time to think too much. Kamito's true identity could be pondered later.
(This is Kamito's sword and his precious contracted spirit. Therefore--)
Feigning ignorance as she swept away the penetrating ache in her heart--
Claire voiced out her determination.
"I have no reason to hand it over to you!"
The burning Flametongue slashed across the night sky.
Both Luminaris in front of Claire and the knight in the back took action simultaneously.
Ignoring the archer behind her, Claire faced Luminaris.
(The rule of one-against-many engagements is that the first strike must eliminate the greatest threat...!)
Chanting a spirit language incantation--
"Go forth and dance, the crimson flames summoning destruction -- Hell Blaze!"
In the forward direction, Claire released the strongest spirit magic with the fire attribute.
This astounding heat wave, hot enough to melt rock, engulfed Luminaris.
(...Success! Once a direct hit--)
But in the next instant.
The intensely burning flames were instantly extinguished.
What sliced through the flames -- was a flash of dazzling brilliance.
Claire had seen the sword before.
Three years ago, Luminaris had used this elemental waffe on the stage of the Blade Dance finals.
"With brilliance that illuminates for eternity, the demon vanquishing sacred sword -- Murgleis!"
Luminaris called out the sacred sword's title sonorously.
The sword blade gave off blinding light, devouring the flames, the torrential light sliced through the dark night.
Faced with dazzling light, Claire could not help but narrow her eyes.
"Together with Her Majesty the Queen's sacred sword, Durandal, they are known as the highest ranking elemental waffen. Don't delude yourself into thinking it could melt from flames of that level!"
Luminaris stabbed the sacred sword into the ground.
Instantly, the ground shattered as a sharp blade of light rushed forward in a straight line.
If Claire attempted to evade by jumping, she would probably become a target for a second slash.
"--Block it, Flame Wall!"
Claire urgently chanted defensive magic.
Intending to reduce the power of the blade of light--
But the blade of light easily sliced through the flame barrier and struck Claire's body directly. As physical damage instantly converted into psychological damage, her mind was shaken.
"Wow, one hit was not enough to take you down?"
Luminaris expressed mild surprise in her voice.
(...Damn it, so this is what it means to be an ace-level elementalist.)
Not just martial arts. The total volume of divine power at their disposal also differed substantially.
Despite releasing the spirit's power to such an extent, Luminaris remained completely composed.
"Claire Rouge, you are an excellent elementalist. However--"
Luminaris stopped in front of Claire who lay collapsed on the ground.
"You are still too inexperienced."
She stepped on the demon sword of darkness held firmly in Claire's hand.
Readying Murgleis with both hands, Luminaris pointed her sword straight down.
"Vorpal Sword -- I originally hoped to defeat you in a proper blade dance."
Claire desperately moved her fingers as she panted.
The darkness spirit Restia -- she was precious to Kamito.
(I, must protect her...!)
Claire mustered all her strength, trying to pull back the darkness spirit who was stuck in demon sword form without any power.
"Please spare me the futile struggle. I have no wish to enact unnecessary violence."
However, Luminaris' military boot crushed Claire's left hand.
The blunt sound of bones shattering could be heard.
Claire suppressed the scream rising in the depths of her throat.
An overwhelming disparity in power. Despite the progress Claire had made during the current Blade Dance, her difference in level compared to Luminaris was still massive.
At least, in a one-on-one blade dance, she had no hope of winning.
(...But clearly that "Ren Ashbell" is even more powerful than Luminaris.)
She recalled the scarlet-masked elementalist she faced off against in the forest.
During that time, even partnered with Rinslet, they could not even put up any meaningful resistance.
(Right, back then...!)
Claire had a flash of inspiration.
The flames she displayed for Rinslet who was about to be killed.
(That Ren Ashbell imposter called it the Flames of Elstein...)
If I could once again release those flames that incinerated other flames--
Just like back then.
Claire imagined flames dancing madly and lit a fire in her right hand.
(...No good, not this type of fire!)
These current flames were converted from one's own divine power using the contracted spirit as a medium.
Fundamentally different from those flames that incinerated other flames.
"You still have strength to resist huh?"
Luminaris announced coldly, pointing the tip of her sacred sword at Claire's neck:
"However, it is futile. You shall be defeated and retired right here."
In that instant.
The archer girl screamed shrilly.
Flametongue turned back into the hell cat and roared as it attacked Luminaris.
"What a loyal and dutiful spirit."
Luminaris turned swiftly and swatted Scarlet away with one strike of the sacred sword.
Scarlet was instantly sent flying and crashed into the ground.
Even its desperate strike ended in failure.
(It's all over, is it...?)
Claire bit her lip hard.
Having exhausted the last of her strength, even maintaining her consciousness was difficult.
At this moment.
'--There's still a chance, you know.'
A whisper was heard in her mind.
Restia was talking directly to Claire's consciousness like earlier.
'Claire Rouge. Perhaps in your current state, you might be able to draw out her original power that was sealed.'
(...By her you mean?)
In her mind, Claire questioned back with surprise.
'Please call out her true name. The spirit weapon once known as the bloodstained princess. The utmost treasure entrusted to the Elstein bloodline -- the Scarlet Valkyrie.'
(Scarlet Valkyrie... Could it be that--!)
Claire opened her eyes wide.
(You know Scarlet's true name?)
Come to think of it, that "Ren Ashbell" also mentioned this name before.
--The flame spirit serving the Elstein family, whose true name had been lost in the distant past.
'Claire Rouge, touch the body of my blade with the back of your hand. I shall transmit to your mind directly her image. As reluctant as I am to awaken my enemy, there is no other choice now that things have progressed to this point.'
Hearing Restia urging her--
Claire steeled her determination and used the back of her right hand -- the fire spirit seal to touch the tip of the sword.
She had no choice but to believe in the darkness spirit and take a gamble.
Accompanied by an acute sense of pain, an expanding torrent of images surged into her mind.
The crimson princess knight wielded a massive scythe as she faced armies of countless spirits in battle.
--The one who guided courageous warriors to the final battlefield.
--The one whom the flames of destruction obeyed, bestowing eternal demise upon foolish enemies.
'Her name is--'
Claire loudly called out the true name transmitted from the darkness spirit.
"Her name being, the Scarlet Valkyrie -- Ortlinde."
Instantly, crimson flames swallowed Scarlet's body.
Luminaris exclaimed in alarm.
"--You have finally called out my name, Master."
Out from amidst the wildly dancing flames, a girl appeared.
The sight of the red-haired girl appearing out of the crimson flames--
Made Claire even forget the pain in her bleeding right hand--
Claire murmured in shock.
Within Claire's hazy and unsteady field of vision--
The girl stepped up to protect Claire, facing off against Luminaris.
A petite, graceful and slender figure.
Pristine pale complexion, clad in a dress of flames.
Emerging from her crimson hair that was redder than fire--
Triangular ears like a cat's.
The pair of cat ears moved slightly.
The red-haired girl nodded as she stared at Luminaris before her.
"The Scarlet Valkyrie -- whose true name of old is Ortlinde."
Instantly, the flames on the girl's body burned even more intensely.
Claire held her breath in the face of such flames that seemed as if though they were charring the night sky.
In contrast to its cute appearance as a cat, Scarlet was already a powerful spirit.
However, the girl before Claire's eyes -- was an existence far surpassing norms.
"...Is that the flame spirit's true appearance?"
Luminaris groaned in her throat.
Her expression no longer displayed the same composure as before.
"Spirits bearing human form are known as the highest level spirits--"
Staring at Scarlet unerringly before her eyes, Luminaris held the sacred sword Murgleis with both hands.
At this moment.
An arrow of light shot at Scarlet from behind.
This was the doing of the other female knight lurking on the other end of the darkness.
She probably intended to launch a surprise attack from the direction opposite to Luminaris.
Scarlet created little fireballs in both hands.
The fireballs silently rotated around her, easily deflecting the incoming arrow.
With a mere turn of her finger--
Suddenly, a fireball flew towards where the arrow was shot from--
In the next instant, an astounding explosion was heard as a pillar of fire emerged.
Taking this as the signal for their fight to begin--
Wielding Murgleis in her hand, Luminaris stepped forward forcefully, instantly closing the distance.
"--Master, please issue your orders."
A crisp voice with a touch of sternness was heard.
"...Please order the Scarlet Valkyrie -- Ortlinde!"
Gradually slipping towards unconsciousness, Claire cried out.
"Defeat the enemy!"
Scarlet swiftly swung her arm towards the air.
With a burst of scattering fire, she summoned a massive crimson scythe in her hands.
Its ferocious appearance seemed as if it were forged out of the flames of hell directly.
Held in this adorable little girl's hands, it seemed extremely out of place.
"--O Knight, thou art the one who prevaileth against the trials of fire!"
Luminaris chanted for protection against fire.
Producing slicing wind from the swings of her sword, she slashed apart the burning flames.
Scarlet leaped with agility, swinging the massive crimson scythe in midair.
With an ear-splitting sound of impact, sparks flew all around.
The shockwave from the clash caused rubble on the ground to fly.
This was a blade dance between a topnotch elementalist and a top-class flame spirit.
Seeing the blade dance being performed before her eyes, Claire could not help but exclaim in admiration.
Scarlet's movements far surpassed her speed in hell cat form.
Although they were well-matched in the initial clashes, the tides quickly turned against Luminaris who could not defeat the incoming flames.
"...So this is the power of a top-class spirit!?"
"--Unforgivable. I cannot show mercy to you who have hurt Master."
Scarlet swung the massive crimson scythe, her slashes forming flames that began to burn.
The scorching flames she produced could not be defended against by mere defensive magic.
"...No matter what, I cannot lose in this kind of place!"
Despite the flames surrounding her, Luminaris continued to swing her sword.
"I must resume my duel with her and bring victory back to my homeland--"
Instantly, Scarlet's figure vanished.
Or rather, using the sacred sword's blade as a stepping platform, she jumped into the air at once.
"You will disappear here."
--The crimson crescent shone against the dark night.
An expression of despair was spreading from the blue eyes of the Paladin as she gazed upwards.
"O Flames, let a night of red descend upon the earth -- Crimson Judgment."
The dancing flames of conflagration devoured Luminaris.
In the dark underground maze, the aroma of pancakes spread through the air.
"...So very tasty."
The mysterious young princess maiden was enjoying the delicious pancakes.
Nibbling away in small bites, she looked extremely adorable.
"I can make as many as you want, so please eat to your heart's content."
The girl nodded happily.
(By the way...)
Rinslet suddenly inclined her head in puzzlement.
(...This child, who is she actually?)
...Her identity was a complete riddle. How should one put it? No humans were supposed to be present in a place like this except for participants in the Blade Dance.
Rinslet suddenly thought of one possibility.
"Like Est-san, she is a high-level spirit--"
Then her presence in Astral Zero could be explained.
Her cheeks stuffed full of food, the girl looked in Rinslet's direction.
"...You, perhaps you are a spirit?"
The girl silently nodded.
...It looked like the speculation was correct.
Rinslet adjusted her sitting posture lightly.
This was the proper etiquette for a princess maiden towards a high-level spirit.
"Well, may I be so bold as to ask what your divine name may be?"
The girl averted her gaze... Clearly she did not want to answer this time.
"Well, may I ask why you have appeared in such a place?"
No answer either. --Just as Rinslet concluded that...
The girl looked up and gave that answer.
Did she lose her memory?
But spirits were not supposed to lose their memory--
(...Wait a minute, there's also another case like that.)
Rinslet had heard that the sword spirit Est only retained portions of her memory because of the irregular contract she established with Kamito.
Perhaps this spirit who resembled a girl in outer appearance also lost her memory for some reason.
(Could she be toying with me?)
Rinslet muttered in her mind.
"Just now, you said you knew the spirits whose names are carved on the stone wall, right?"
The spirit girl nodded.
"Scarlet Valkyrie -- Ortlinde. In the Spirit War several thousand years ago, she was the flame spirit revered and feared as the bloodstained princess."
"Why would you know something like that?"
Although Rinslet felt it was a little impertinent to question a high-level spirit like this...
"...When clearly you've lost your memory."
Rinslet still felt she had to add the last statement.
"I have been imprisoned in this underground maze all along. The only thing I could do to alleviate boredom was to decipher the voluminous history carved on the stone walls."
If this girl really was a spirit--
Physical imprisonment in a maze was not possible.
Probably through some kind of magical means, she was sealed here.
"So who did--"
Just at this moment.
The ground shook intensely, causing debris to rain down noisily from the ceiling.
Shielding the girl reflexively, Rinslet looked up.
"I-It's an earthquake?"
"Earthquakes do not occur in this abandoned city."
The girl shook her head.
"Very likely, a powerful spirit is rampaging on the surface."
"A powerful spirit?"
Rinslet's expression froze.
On the surface, the final round of the Blade Dance was in full swing.
Perhaps, Kamito and the others were facing a crisis right this moment.
"...What is it?"
"It's no time for me to be dilly dallying here like this."
Rinslet stood up. Although she wanted to learn more about this spirit who bore a young girl's appearance, it was clearly not the occasion for this.
...In any case, she had to leave this underground maze to search for her comrades.
The girl wiped her mouth using the sleeve of her priestess uniform and stood up lightly.
"The exit, I'll show you."
Kamito and Ellis shifted to some nearby ruins away from the place they had been staying earlier.
Staying in one spot was not a wise idea because as soon as an elementalist skilled in espionage spotted them, barriers and other traps could be set.
Compared to the Tempest where it was advantageous to establish and defend a stronghold as early as possible, the Cross Fire required completely different tactics.
"Is the poison all gone?"
Lying down on his back against the stone floor, Kamito asked.
"Yeah, I feel much better... All thanks to you."
Ellis blushed in response and nodded.
"However, uh, I hope you do not get the wrong idea. J-Just now, it was all because of the aphrodisiac from the poison! O-Only because of it, did that kind of shameless behavior..."
"...Y-Yeah, I understand."
Recalling what had happened during the poison treatment, Kamito became embarrassed as well.
...The two of them avoided eye contact.
"I-It's about time we went to sleep. At this time, it would be best to stay away from outside."
The abandoned city at night was the city of demons where archdemon class spirits roamed.
In a certain sense, they were even more dangerous than meeting an enemy team.
"Mmmhmm, you are right. Because blade dances in the night are dangerous! O-Of course, even though I mentioned blade dance in the night, do note I am not referring to that particular meaning!"
"H-Hurry and go to sleep! We must leave this place early in the morning."
"You're not going to rest, Ellis?"
"I have rested enough. After all, you were keeping watch all this time. When early morning arrives, I will wake you up."
Wielding Ray Hawk in her hand, Ellis shook her head.
Kamito could not help but smile wryly.
"This is totally fine for me. In past missions, there were times when I went days without sleep."
"Uh yeah... It was back during the days at the Instructional School."
"...Sorry. I have made you remember unpleasant memories."
Kamito scratched his head awkwardly.
The memories he recalled were of the two whom he used to team up with.
Lily Flame and Muir Alenstarl.
These girls, whom he had not seen for four years, had now reappeared as Kamito's enemies.
--Is there no other way of life for the children who grew up in that facility but this?
"...Those two's hearts are probably still sealed and locked away."
By that insane facility that was now destroyed.
Pitying them would be an act of excessive arrogance.
(--I had Restia.)
Without her, Kamito's hands would probably be completely stained with bloodshed.
Hands that were not for protecting precious companions--
Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble -- !
Suddenly, the ground shook intensely.
The quake sent Kamito tumbling forward and falling into Ellis.
Burying his face into a soft mountainous valley, he was about to suffocate.
"Uwah! K-Kamito, what are you doing! I-I am not quite ready yet..."
"S-Sorry... No wait, what on earth is happening--?"
As he lifted his head up from Ellis' bosom, in the next instant--
The ceiling of the ruins suddenly vanished.
As if sliced open by a sharp blade.
Appearing right above was the starry night sky of Astral Zero.
A gigantic and vicious flame demon, wielding a fiery whip.
"A demon flame spirit...!"
On the shoulder of the vicious demon that spewed forth scorching flames--
Sat a girl dressed in the Theocracy's military uniform.
Innocent eyes of pure blue. Ash-gray hair tied into twintails on the sides of her head.
"Onii-sama, let's play♪"
The Monster of the Instructional School smiled adorably towards Kamito.