Chapter 3 The eve of their own decisive battles
In the early morning after the drawn out night. At the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy’s infirmary.
“….And this just about wraps it up.”
A girl with a thin figure and ephemeral expression, Cecilia = Hestia, the academy’s magic physician let out a sigh of relief. Her healing spell had finally finished.
“How does it feel? For the time being all of the nerves and spirit veins should be more less attached.”
Cecilia asked that as she let the red-headed girl’s arm rest on top of the bed. The red-headed girl ── Eve started to slowly lift her left arm….. clenching and relaxing her fist. She could move it so naturally that she could hardly believe that Jatice had cut it off from the elbow down not even a day before. Not even a scar was left behind, making it seem as if it all had been just a nightmare.
“So how is it? Is there anything that hurts or any motions you can’t do?”
“No…..there’s no problem. Rather it feels better than usual….”
Eve’s response was barely a mummer, devoid of any strength.
“I had thought that some damage would remain someway or another….Cecilia = Hestia…..you’re without a doubt a remarkable mage……I doubt there’s any healer in the army that could match you.”
“I-Is that right…..I’m not as good as my mother yet though….ahaha….”
Cecilia laughed off her compliment just a bit embarrassed.
“Well leaving your range of motion aside, how’s your magic circuit?”
Following Cecilia’s prompt, Eve adjusted her breath and tried to refine magic power from the mana flowing throughout her body. For Eve whose been training as a mage since her childhood, it was something that should’ve bee easy as breathing for her. She’s always had a prodigal level of mana manipulation, in her own opinion.
No matter how much Eve tried to refine her magic like usual…..the magic power that had been refined….just wouldn’t flow through her left arm. That means it’d be impossible for her to use the strongest of her magic, with the arm closest to the center of her heart incapacitated.
“It’s useless…..magic just won’t flow into my left hand…..I’d have no problem with my everyday life but….ha…..I’m as good as dead to the Ignite household.”
“E-Ehh!? Such a thing….!?”
Turning ghastly pale, Cecilia hurriedly grabbed Eve’s left hand diligently inspecting it.
“That’s strange….all of the spirit veins should’ve been properly connected…..even right now using my spiritual sight I can see that all of the spirit veins in the arm are still alive….!?”
Eve had no intention of doubting neither Cecilia’s words nor skill. In regard to her ability, it was an undeniable truth that her treatment was perfect through and through. So then, the only possible options was…..
“I’m sorry Eve-san! I’m still too inexperienced….I’ll do the surgery once more right now! I’ll absolutely heal Eve-san’s left hand….”
“…That’s enough already.”
Shaking of Cecilia’s hand, Eve put on her combat outfit and pushed her arm through the sleeve.
“It’s not your fault. I’m sure that this is my own problem….it’s all in my head…..”
“I said it’s fine. I’m already over it. More importantly, you can’t stay hung up on someone as incompetent as me right?”
“….The other people injured throughout the academy…..shouldn’t you see to them? They still need you. You do what you have to do first.”
And then Cecilia kept quiet for a short while….
“….I understand. I’ll take care of them and then I’ll continue your treatment!”
“That’s fine then. That way is much more beneficial for all.”
“But I’ll definitely come back here after I’m done! Please wait until then!”
After saying such a thing she finally made her exit. Cecilia left the infirmary and headed towards the main auditorium which was being used to house the majority of the injured. Seeming to struggle walking straight without faltering.
(She’s being ridiculous….constantly treating all of the injured people without rest, without a doubt she’s exhausted….probably on the verge of collapsing…..to begin with it doesn’t even look like she has the body cut out for this sort of thing……)
Eve saw off such a Cecilia with a dampened look in her eyes.
(That child….why does she have to go through so much…..? Tch, ha….what a stupid question….)
No matter what happens she would heal people. Even if she had to shave away at her life. That’s probably what Cecilia believed she had to do, her conviction as a mage. To the Eve right now, such a Cecilia was dazzling.
(….I…..why did I become a mage….? For the Ignite household? Was it really just for that? I feel like I don’t understand anymore….)
What kind of mage did I want to be….I feel like I had proudly resolved myself to do something spectacular…but I can’t seem to remember what that was. No wait, didn’t I intentionally seal it up so I couldn’t remember it?
The visage of her former subordinate popped into her head. No matter how she tried, he was just someone she could never get along with. Every time they met, for some unknown reason she’d swear at him left and right and continuously insult him, until the late Sara would intervene and calm both of them down……such a thing used to be a daily occurrence.
Why did she always flare up so much at Glenn…..she never quite understood it herself.
But even so….
(Glenn…..I’m sure you’re still focusing on what you should do without an ounce of doubt to this day…..no matter what hardships you’d encounter, disregarding your status and honor….just focusing on pushing yourself forward huh?)
As she continued to think of Glenn. Eve felt herself being tormented by an inexplicable sense of irritation….accompanied by an unexplainable feeling, as if she were yearning for something out of her grasp.
But she was too stubborn to realize that such a feeling was envy.
(Now that I’m like this…..what should I do…..? What can I even do now….? Please save me G-Glenn…..aren’t you my subordinate? *Sniff sniff*…..P-P-Please….)
Concealing such a fragile heart. Eve pulled the blanket over head and quietly shed tears, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.
“….What’s wrong Sensei?”
Sistine asked Glenn who’d abruptly turned his head around.
“….Mhhh? Who knows….I felt like someone had just called out to me….must be my imagination I guess.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Glenn once again turned to face forward. Within the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy grounds, inside the [basement section] of the school ── there exists a forbidden room whose entrance was locked. And there, mana was coursing through the countless magic circles along the stone walls, floor, and ceiling ── giving off a dim light in the otherwise dark room. Towards the back existed a quadrangular pyramidal structure made of a similar stone to the walls, and in front of that was what appeared to be a double sliding door. Various inscriptions, charms, and magic circles were etched onto the door ── their mana still actively powering it.
This was the entrance to the ancient archeological site know as the [Underground Labyrinth]. Beyond the quadrangular pyramidal structure’s doors lay stairs that lead to the [Underwound Labyrinth] which spread out seemingly endlessly underneath Alzano Imperial Magic Academy.
“Now then…..it’s about time we go.”
Following Sistine’s excited response, as Glenn started to operate the monolith-type magiputer that was erected besides the door….a low groan started to reverberate throughout the room as the it started to slide open.
“….Sisti…..Sensei….please take care of yourselves.”
“Don’t worry, leave it to me! I’ll make sure to keep my eyes open so that Sensei doesn’t do anything weird!”
“Seriously though….please make sure not to push yourself too hard okay? That place is really dangerous right?”
Sistine smiled as if to abate Rumia’s worry and said,
“That’s why I’m saying it’ll be fine! It’s not like we’re going to go as far down as Professor Arfonia does! Just a little beyond what’s considered the [Journey of Awakening] which is the 1st through 9th floor…. the 10th to the 49th floor is called the [Fool’s Trial] and we’re just going to hop down to the 13th floor and visit a room called the [Fool’s Graveyard] really quick. Right? Sensei!”
Glenn nodded in agreement with Sistine who seemed just a bit too ecstatic at ruin crawling.
“Yeah. The final ace up my sleeve to defeat that demon….. the materials required to make the [Eve = Kaiser bullet]….that’s probably the only place I can get my hands on it now.”
Glenn said it as if it were a huge drag though, going so far to even let out a sigh.
“Glenn. After all, I’ll be going with you too.”
Glenn lightly poked Re=L’s forehead and lightly pushed her back as she tried to come with.
“Ouch……what was that for? Glenn.”
“Don’t worry. Besides, you’ve got your injury that you need to let rest.”
Re=L’s arm was still in its original bandages. Although her own incredible self-healing coupled with Cecilia’s treatment made her leaps and bounds better than earlier, it was still far from perfect.
“We’re gonna need you in top shape for tomorrow’s decisive battle okay?”
“…..I got it. I’ll wait here.”
That seemed to convince Re=L who obediently withdrew for now. And, at that time.
“….Uhm Sensei…..are you really going to be okay?”
This time it was Rumia who tried to say her piece.
“Humph…..seriously stop worrying you. Didn’t I already tell you? I’m completely prepared! With the White-Cat here there’s no way I’d fall behind!”
Glenn tried to sidestep the question and reply jokingly but….
“Ever since yesterday’s meeting when Sensei decided to use the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet]…..your complexion seems to be getting worse and worse….”
Rumia once more voiced her concern.
Which caused Glenn to remain silent.
“Eh? Is that right?”
Sistine and Re=L peered at Glenn’s face as if this was the first they were hearing of it….
“….His complexion looks bad? …..You really think so?”
“Nn. Glenn looks normal.”
Those two who couldn’t see the difference just tilted their head curiously.
But Rumia’s expression remained unwavering.
“…..You idiot. Don’t worry about it.”
Glenn smiled as he rested his hand on Rumia’s head.
“I’ll be okay. There’s nothing wrong. It’s different from back then, I have you guys now.”
Glenn left those words with Rumia.
“With that being said. Oi, White-Cat. You’ll be taking care of exploration and navigation alright?”
“Hehe sure sure. I guess it can’t be helped….Sensei really would be hopeless without me.”
Sistine couldn’t help but take advantage of the situation to tease Glenn. And so the two, carrying a backpack chock-full of all kinds of exploration equipment, set foot into the Underground Labyrinth.
Rumia stood docilely next to Re=L, seeing Glenn and Sistine’s backs as they started to walk off.
“Tsk…..Shit! Seriously what persistent bastards!”
Clad in the official dress of a mage, a person dashed through the forest showered by the darkness of night carrying the trembling child I. Single-handedly focusing on running, ignoring the creaks of their oxygen starved lungs.
All to protect me from the hands of the enemy. Occasionally turning their head to look back…..endlessly thinking.
“This is pointless….I can’t manage to get away like this…..”
The person eventually hid themselves in the shadows of a large tree, lowering me down.
“….Do I really have to kill them here?”
Endlessly giving off a dark look in their eyes, a look that made me feel a chilling horror.
“….Eve・Kaiser…..I saved one shot and it seems like that was the right choice…..I’ll show you what I’m made of you bastards….”
That person pulled out a small medicinal vial from his chest pocket. Pouring the powdered contents from the vial directly into the revolver’s opened cylinder…. spitting out the bullet that was occupying the pocket of his mouth and placing that into the cylinder next….pulling the loading lever to reload the cylinder back into the revolver.
As the person started to attach a detonator to the revolver loaded only with one bullet……
The person wore a somewhat hesitant expression, but the agony was plain to see…..and they finally finished affixing the detonator as if to signal their resolve.
“[Set]…..” (TN: Written as 0 undivided attention)
And after muttering such a spell as if they were loading their murderous intent itself, they cocked the hammer with their thumb. Just for a moment, it seemed as if an unfamiliar, disturbing magic was birthed within the revolver.
“….It’s ready. Oi you, wait here.”
Saying that with a stone cold expression that’d even pierce through ice itself, the person pulled out The Fool’s Arcana from their chest pocket and leaped out from the tree’s shade ──
“Rumia? What’s wrong? You’re looking….a bit off.”
“Eh? Yeah, nothing’s wrong…..”
Suddenly assailed by Re=L’s quiet, subdued voice ── Rumia’s consciousness was abruptly brought back to the present. Rumia and Re=L, who’ve been long separated from Glenn now, had left the basement and walked along the corridor in order to take their next actions.
“I’m just a bit out of it right now….it’s just turned into this whole ordeal…..”
“I’m fine, I’ll somehow mange. It’s because I’ve got you and Sisti….and Sensei too.”
“Nn. I’ll protect Rumia.”
Re=L gave a reassuring nod to the dispirited Rumia…..but reality wasn’t so kind.
“….Rumia….it’s her….it’s all her fault….”
“Hah and she’s supposed to be an angel….not a god of pestilence…..”
“Tch….if she just weren’t here…..”
Such words could be heard emerging on all sides of her.
Looking around, students loitering on the sides of the hallway could be seen giving fleeting glances towards Rumia, whispering in hushed voices as if they were saying things that shouldn’t be said.
It was inevitable, Rumia could only cast her eyes downward with regret.
Few of those here knew Rumia’s personality beyond the superficial level, but almost all of them blamed her. If they were to think rationally then they’d surely understand that Rumia was just a victim of this undesired hardship as well. But not all students were able to reach that level of rationale. Despite understanding the circumstances, it was still Rumia who brought this to their doorsteps…..many students thought as much. Not everyone could be so noble nor virtuous.
So it was inevitable…. and just as Rumia was about to accept such a fate.
“Oi! Rumia = Tingel! Stop right there!”
Two students blocked Rumia’s path.
“You guys are….”
Rumia knew of them. Similarly second-year students as well, Kreiss = Eins and Ena = Uno of Halley’s class. Kreiss was a male student who brawled with Kash at the previous magic competition’s training ground while Ena was a female student who went against Sistine in her match.
“I have something to say to you….so listen up Rumia.”
“……What is it?”
“You….why did you stay here?”
Rumia closed her eyes as she prepared herself after hearing Kreiss’ question.
As if she knew what were to come.
“We didn’t know that you were a supernatural powered person or being targeted by the Researchers of Divine Wisdom…..but shouldn’t you have just left before you bothered anyone any longer?”
Ena also dug her talons deeper into Rumia’s heart.
And just then a fraction of the students who were just standing around to wait and see started to slowly join in with “yeah”s and “that’s right”…..such poisonous feelings began to spread faster and faster.
“It’s all your fault….! Why did you even show up!? Thanks to the emergency stand-by order we’re not even allowed to go home, so why!?”
“That’s right….! It’s because you were here….because you’re here we’ve had to….!”
Frustration, anxiety, fear, and….a strange threat visibly floated in the sky, ever present.
At first glance, Kreiss’s words seemed selfish and cruel…..but it was only natural for the manifestation of such feelings among the students who lived normal lives.
So Rumia could only apologize.
“Do you think that’ll cut it!? Because of you we’re ──”
But the saving grace of this situation was when Kreiss grabbed Rumia’s lapels and screamed at her point blank. As Rumia was just going to stand there and accept it……
Re=L stepped in.
“What is it short-stuff!?”
Re=L walked between Rumia and Kreiss, looked up at Kreiss with half-shut eyes, and spread her arms out as if to protect Rumia.
“It’s not Rumia’s fault.”
“…Uhm…I can’t speak well but…maybe, the really bad guys are the guys who’re good and bad?”
“What are you talking about……”
Ena got frustrated by Re=L’s convoluted words. In all reality, Re=L probably didn’t completely understand herself; completely distressed, she turned her eyes and sputtered out words while frantically thinking.
“That’s why….umm….Rumia’s also troubled….that’s why you can’t say that.”
“……I’m telling you I don’t get what you’re saying!”
“Nn….I mean that….umm….you guys are the bad ones……because you’re weak.”
“O-Oi you wanna fight!?”
Losing his temper Kreiss now grabbed ahold of Re=L. Re=L on the other hand just stared at Kreiss. In the past she’d indiscriminately rampage against even the littlest of enemies, but now she was displaying an almost lie-like adultness.
“Think harder…….I don’t really get it though.”
“Shut up already! Just shut up if you’re not going to talk properly short-stuff!”
Fueled by rage, Kreiss started to raise his fist against the non-resistant Re=L…..
“Re=L!? Please stop Kreiss-kun!”
As Rumia tried to intervene wearing a sorrowful expression…..
“Hohoho….stop fighting right now you guys.”
A somewhat lax, but powerful voice froze those three to the spot. Who appeared was an elderly man with a gentle smile.
Rumia couldn’t hide her surprise at the unexpected appearance from the head of the academy.
“I heard you guys talking. Will you perhaps allow me to interject. It’s not that Rumia decided not to disappear…..but that she couldn’t. I can’t go into detail, but that’s just what the upper echelons of the government ordered.”
As a supernaturally powered person being targeted by the Researchers of Divine Wisdom, Rumia was constantly under the Imperial government’s surveillance due to her affinity of being bait for them. She was forced to enroll into the academy thanks to the higherup’s decisions; it was all but impossible for her to leave on her own accord.
“As you’re well aware Rumia is an awfully kind child. You’ve been worried about that this whole time…haven’t you? Re=L-kun.”
And Re=L nodded in agreement as soon her feelings were verbally expressed.
“At any rate, it’s a mistake to condemn her….if you wish to blame someone for this incident, then blame us cowardly adults who’ve used her as bait….and above all else, the source of the problems…the Researchers of Divine Wisdom.”
“Haa!? What did you say!? How can we agree with that!?”
“And even so. It’s unfortunate but….in the event of an emergency, it’s the undeniable responsibility of the students enrolled in this academy to provide their services as mages. This is clearly specified in the academy regulations as well as the Imperial Wartime Act. In a situation like this the emergency stand-by of students is just a matter of course….”
Although Headmaster Rick was somewhat apologetic, the conviction in his voice was unmistakable.
“Because you all are the [military strength] of our empire. We who are privileged with the status of mages are not permitted to take refugee like the ordinary citizenry. I understand it’s frightening….but I wish that all of you would lend your strength, as mages.”
“T-That’s….! That might be so but….!?”
Incomprehensible….irrational….why is this happening to us….? Such restless feelings of anxiety and fear continued to torment Kreis and Ena.
“Hmm….if I remember right, you two are in the same class….Halley’s students correct?”
Headmaster Rick now changed the direction of the conversation.
“….What of it? Headmaster.”
“Well the truth is I’m not very fond of your homeroom teacher, Halley-kun.”
Kreis and Ena knit their eyebrows together at the sudden change in conversation.
“He’s your typical old-fashioned mage, an old-fashioned traditionalist instructor, has an authoritarian personality and to make matters worse, he’s stubbornly arrogant and pompous…he doesn’t help poor-performing students and snubs his nose towards those below him….well he’s just a hard person to get along with.”
“But this time I’ve noticed one thing. Despite his personality flaws, Halley-kun is undeniably a [true mage].”
Kreis unintentionally let out a surprised gasp as he continued.
“Halley led the initiative in fighting that demon didn’t he? Of course it wasn’t for the sake of the students, it was for his own personal reasons….but even till the end he refused to run away. He was probably well aware that he stood no chance of winning, and no one would rebuke him even if he did run away.”
“….That’s….that’s definitely true but…”
The scene of Halley freely wielding his transcendental magic techniques, and even him getting injured during his fight, was a sight that would be forever seared into Kreiss and Ena’s eyes.
“Risking your life for the sake of what you can’t give up, for your beliefs….what else but a [true mage] can one call this?”
“Even right now Halley-kun is doing the utmost of what he can do for the sake of the academy and himself……..[this is all Rumia’s fault]…..or [why is this happening]…..I won’t let such complaints leak out.”
“Kreis-kun. Ena-kun. ”……After receiving such an amazing instructor’s education, after constantly watching such an amazing instructor lead……don’t you guys feel anything? Just like in this unavoidable situation, you guys are searching for a [criminal] to unilaterally condemn…..but aren’t you just crying and lamenting your own helpless positions? So why not puff up your chest and be proud of Halley-kun?”
“E-Even if you spout such platitudes….!”
Kreis wrung out those words and screamed in response to Headmaster Rich who stuck home.
“What can we possibly do!? We’re still just powerless brats aren’t we!?”
“T-That’s right! If we had the strength of Halley-sensei then we could ──”
“The strength of a mage doesn’t lie within the strength of their hand. But how they slice their cards.”
Director Rick was caring listening to such complaints, but he resolutely cut them up and cast them aside.
“Think of what you can do in this situation. You guys are mages after all.”
“This might be a bit harsh….but you guys are simply scared; you just don’t want to admit to your own cowardice and timidity. So you’re looking for some to cast the blame onto and relieve yourself of responsibility…..if you’re like this every time you face an adversary, then you’ll never become a [true mage], right?”
Especially this time…..Kreis and Ena were unable to say a thing.
Something within the Headmaster’s word struck a cord with them…..even the gaze of the surrounding students who were merely casting a rebuking glare towards Rumia started to weaken.
“Nn. That’s it…..the gist of what I’m feeling.”
And then Re=L nodded in agreement, somewhat proud of Headmaster Rick’s words. After that Kreis and Ena decided to take their leave.
“Headmaster Rick…..uhm….thank you…..”
Rumia bowed towards Rick.
“Well originally it’s a problem that was brought about by the incompetency of us cowardly adults….there’s no need to give your thanks Rumia-kun.”
“Even still….it’s because I’m still the main cause of it…..”
To Rumia who once again bitterly cast her eyes downward.
“Don’t worry about it that much Rumia-kun.”
Rick, still as before, spoke kindly to her.
“Certainly, there’s some who wish to unreasonably use you as an outlet for their distress and anxiety. but there’s some people who don’t. Some people wish to become your strength, to reach out and help you……so forget about worrying that much.”
“R-Right….I understand….thank you….very much….”
Rumia once again bowed towards Rick, but with a vastly different feeling this time.
After carrying out a training session with Re=L, Rumia separated from her. She returned to the second-year student classrooms.
And as she opened the door and was about to enter….
“M-Mr. Solider, are you serious!?”
She heard Kash’s astounding shout from within and suddenly came to a stop. Rumia carefully looked through the gap in the doorway and.
“That’s right. For tomorrow’s battle to capture the [Ship of Flames]….Glenn = Radars, Sistine = Fibel, Rumia = Tingel, Re=L = Rayford, and Celica = Arfonia…..those five will board the [Ship of Flames] as a part of the demon subjugation team.”
Bernard stoop atop the instructor’s platform and addressed the students gathered in the room. With Liz leading the initiative as the student council president, they decided a good course of action would be to hold a special meeting in order to pass along notifications; the meetings would be held in each class and one was currently taking place here.
“Celica-chan holds a trump card to board the [Ship of Flames], Rumia-chan has the ability to break through the spatial distortion, Re=L-chan will act as the vanguard against the enemy forces aboard the ship, Glenn-boy is the only who can currently attack the demon, and finally White-Cat-chan serves as Glenn-boy’s assistant as well as an expert in magic archaeology……after thorough considerations, it was decided that this force distribution would be the best.”
Bernard continued to explain in response to the students who titled their head in confusion.
“Yeah, let me explain from there. Right now Halley, a magic instructor at this academy, and Chris-boy, an Imperial Court Mage…..oops I should properly say his name, Christoph = Flowel; those two are focusing on constructing a barrier that would protect Fejite from the [Flame of Megiddo].”
“Are you serious!?”
“H-Halley-sensei is actually pretty amazing…..”
“But after we guard against [Flame of Megiddo], the enemy will be sure to be aiming for the barrier next and they’ll dispatch combatants from within the interior of the ship to the base of the barrier, which will be this academy. While that’s happening, Glenn-boy and the others will board the ship and take care of the demon….in short, that’s the main outline of the plan.”
“What you’re saying is that….because we have to worry about defense, the level of our offence is limited?”
“It helps that you understand. We need to protect the academy and maintain the barrier until Glenn-boy and the others defeat the demon. The moment the barrier collapses is game over…..but we’re just too short-staffed.”
And then, Bernard faced the students directly and bowed while saying,
“Barrier-management personnel, combatant interceptors, medical and relief teams….we’re lacking in manpower on every front. Everyone, please lend us your aid. All of you here have sworn an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen when you became mages, and although imperfect, you should’ve received combat training throughout your regular curriculum in case of emergencies. So it’s by no means impossible.”
Hearing such a humble Bernard’s speech, an indescribable silence enveloped the classroom. Some of them might’ve been recalling the appearance of the Imperial Court Mage Corps’ during the whole Sistine-marriage fiscal not too long ago.
“Of course it’ll be us of the Imperial Army and the professors of this academy that’ll bear the main brunt of the battles….the role of you students will be in assisting and supporting us. However, as long as you’re on the battlefield the possibility of injury or even death is never nil….to put it plainly and not hide anything, it’ll be dangerous. But despite that, the more you help the more likely you’ll be able to save Fejite from ruin. It wouldn’t be impossible to issue class-A special emergency orders under the authority of Commander Eve = Ignite and [force] you to….but I don’t like that sort of thing. I want to respect your decisions all the way.”
“Of course none of you guys have to stand up on you’re own alright? Even if I’m alone I’m still an Imperial Mage and I promise I’ll protect you guys till the bitter end, because that’s the role of an adult dontcha think?”
And for a shirt while that place was quiet, but then….
“…I-I…..I’ll do it….”
Eventually one voice full of conviction rose among the students.
It was Kash.
“You serious…!? It’s dangerous isn’t it….!?”
Such a Kash turned over to face Kai and Rod who were filled with anxiety.
“I mean, if I don’t do anything….if we lose….Fejite will be destroyed won’t it? That’s why we just have to do it right! Whatever we can do!”
The students around Kash remained silent in response to his appeal.
“Additionally….Sensei and the others are going to board that ship and risk their lives fighting that shithead, powerhouse of a demon for our sake right!? But leaving everything to Sensei and just trembling in fear while cowering in some corner of the academy in safety isn’t something that I can do!”
“It’s annoying….but it seems like I’m in agreement with you.”
In response to Kash’s words, Gibul snorted and pushed his glasses up as he said,
“If we don’t do anything and leave everything to the adults, can you imagine the kind of patronizing expression that bastard will make when it’s all over….sorry but I don’t want to suffer such a humiliation.”
And Wendy who was trembling, also stood up.
“But….fighting to protect those weaker, that’s my obligation as a noble….e-even I can…..!”
“It’s okay Wendy….I won’t let you be scared alone. I’m here for you….”
Teresa said as much in order to reassure Wendy.
“That’s right….this whole time we’ve only been protected by Sensei…”
“This time, we have to do something…!”
Both Kai and Rod too.
“I-I’m….not very good at fighting but….but if it’s just treating everyone’s injuries….”
And even the shy Lynn meekly put in her piece.
In the face of this unparalleled trial before them, everyone was excited to do what they can following their own desires.
“To you guys who made this courageous decision….I offer my deepest respects.”
Standing in front of these students, Bernard let out a slight smile as if he were viewing something precious.
“Alright. From here on out I’ll teach you guys tactics. At first glance it seems hopeless but contrary to your guys’ expectations, we have the advantageous position here so it’ll be easy to defend. If we make use of that and you guys fight how I say you should, then the chance of injury or death should drop down to almost 0….please fight alongside us.”
“From here on out I’ll teach you how to fight. First let’s start with how to use this staff….”
Saying that, Bernard took out a long, cylindrical staff.
A sword-like staff with a rapier-like swept hilt.
“This is a [Mage’s Staff]…..it’s a magic device that’s stored throughout the academy in case of emergencies; it’s meant to act as substitute and change you students who are mere ducklings into full-fledged mages. Originally, it’d be strictly forbidden to use without the authorization of Her Majesty but….well, no need for such formalities now. This is a genuine emergency so I’m sure Alicia-chan will forgive me. Now then, so this staff…..”
The students began to earnestly listen to Bernard’s teachings.
Rumia was secretly staring at them through the gap in the door.
(If you wanted….you could blame me and call me evil….swear at me and condemn me….I’m sure there’s a lot of people like that throughout the academy right now…..but even still….everyone is….)
It’s not like it was completely irrational. It’s quite a natural and reasonable phenomenon. In the face of overwhelming trials and hardships, sometimes people reveal their cowardness, subservientness, unseemlyness, and ugliness; and sometimes they’ll reveal their courageousness, nobleness, and beauty……that was part of being human. It was just as Headmaster Rick had said.
(I…..I think I’m glad I met everyone…..but because of me, everyone got involved in this….even still, I’ll….)
Rumia was currently satisfied. She had been made satisfied.
Not a single regret came to mind.
That’s why ──
(…..I’ll….I’ll definitely protect everyone….even if it cost me this life….!)
Rumia privately strengthened such a resolution.
── Hey, are you prepared to give up your life?
What came to mind were the words that Navnløs had secretly uttered to her.
── At the same time.
Glenn and Sistine were steadily traveling through the Underground Labyrinth. Going through the 1st through 9th floors, which were known as the [Journey of Awakening], would pose no problem. To begin with, this section had a low exploration difficulty, and was even frequently used for archaeological site exploration training among the students. A map had already been perfectly compiled of it.
By taking the shortest route, the two of them were able to break through the 9th floor in no time at all without experiencing any difficulty. It was when they entered the section know as the [Fool’s Trial] from the 10th floor on that their leisure exploration had drastically changed.
The fundamental principle behind the phenomena was still unknown, but the internal structure of the labyrinth changed drastically on a regular basis, which made mapping this section impossible. The number of traps and tricks have multiplied, not to mention that demons and guardians started to roam….the degree of the jump in danger was as if this were a completely different world compared to the floors till now.
Furthermore, the amount of danger and difficulty increased for every floor deeper one goes. Because of this, even the all-powerful Celica could barely reach the 44th floor. In the past, Glenn and the others had used a certain cheat to explore the 50th to 89th floors, which were known as the [Gatekeeper’s Guardroom], which for some odd reason was easier to explore on account of the lack of traps and it’s unmaze-like structure.
Incidentally, according to ancient literature, it seems that the floors from the 90th floor on were known as the [Capital of the People of Earth]……no one has yet to reach it so it’s unknown what lies beyond.
“Seriously….I didn’t think it’d be this much of a pain in the ass to reach the 11th floor just from the 10th….”
Glenn laid down in a sanctuary area near the stairs that they just travelled down.
“Geez….pull yourself together Sensei!”
Sistine brought some water to a boil using an alcohol-fueled stove and brewed some black tea mixed with fatigue-relieving herbs. Up until this point, Glenn had been repeatedly fighting demons and guardians, but right now they were taking a short break.
“At this rate it’ll be quite awhile before we reach the [Fool’s Graveyard] on the 13th floor right? Every time we go down a floor the area gets bigger and bigger! If you’re like this this now how hard is it going to be on you later on?”
Sistine presented Glenn a steel cup filled with tea.
“Serioously…..why does it have to be such a pisspoor structure like this…..come out and face me you damn architect……”
Glenn accepted the steaming cup of tea and put his mouth to it. Then he broke the wrapping paper for some of the food, which was made by baking grains into blocks, and began to eat. In contrast with its appearance, the caloric intake of the bars were nothing to scoff at, making them the perfect substance for exploration but….it was unsurprisingly unappetizing.
“Actually, this underground labyrinth….there’s a theory that it was originally the interior of a huge, quadrangular pyramidal shaped structure.”
Sistine, who was sitting on the stairway, started to happily talk as she sipped on her tea. It seems like that the spirit of her archaeological side had been ignited.
“Haa? This was the inside of a building?”
“That’s right. It seems that the huge quadrangular pyramidal shaped structure sank deep into the ground due to plate tectonic movements and was buried, thus creating this [Underground Labyrinth]. Don’t you remember? When we entered, the entrance looked like a quadrangular pyramid didn’t it? That seems to be the summit of the square’s pyramidal megastructure.”
“……The scale is so big I can’t even begin to imagine it.”
“Other evidence that this [Underground Labyrinth] is actually a ginormous structure that originally stood above ground; for instance, is that according to the geochronological mana analysis ── (omitted) ── we’ve compared the tectonic shifts and magical spatial twists of the surrounding strata, taking into account of the ley lines’ discrepancy using the macro expansion method ── (omitted) ── just to affirm the above theory. Nevertheless, what’s still odd is that the area between the 50th and 89th floors, which is known as the [Gatekeeper’s Guardroom], is clearly structured like a tower and so if the sky was visible from the start ── (omitted) ── in other words, since this underground labyrinth was originally called the [Tower of Sorrows] or something like that in the ancient literature, its original function was probably ── [omitted] ── making the space distorted! This is the work of the Devil himself! It’s all a conspiracy! That’s why ── (omitted) ── (omitted) ── (omitted) ── in short, doesn’t that mean God is dead!? Actually, doesn’t that make me God!? I finally understand!!!!?”
“Hmmm, you’re right. That’s great isn’t it.”
Glenn stopped listening somewhere along the way when Sistine’s feverish words got too undiscernible.
(Even so…. using the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet]….huh….)
As Sistine’s gesturing and words grew more frantic, Glenn sipped on his still-hot tea and indulged himself to his inner thoughts.
(Seriously never thought…..that I’d end up making that again…..)
That was absolutely necessary for this time’s battle.
Glenn explained the theory and effects of the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] as a countermeasure to the demon at last night’s meeting, that it was the only way to fight him at the moment ── the consensus of the mages there were unanimous ── even Halley’s, whom constantly opposed Glenn.
That’s why he understood. Glenn had to once again make the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
(I understand it and yet ──)
Suddenly, a dark and cold memory from Glenn’s military days resurfaced in his head, a memory he wanted to remain buried.
In a certain remote fishing village where an ancient heretic religion ran rampart, at the deepest part of it’s temple. On that day, Glenn had [assassinated] the founder of it’s sect.
After countless hours of research and development ── it was the first time he made use of the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
Before he knew it. The Fool’s Arcana fell from his left hand. Holding the revolver in his right hand, the muzzle was wavering and a slight rattle could be heard, a faint cloud of smoke could be seen rising from it as well.
At Glenn’s feet was the sect leader whose long since collapsed and passed away. His [Eve = Kaiser Bullet’s] first victim.
The sect leader truly was an irredeemable man. Snatching away girls and women from the surrounding villages, violating them with his vulgar desires, using them as sacrifice for his magic rituals, and then reducing them to mere living factories for the creation of heretic beings ── such was the type of person the sect leader was. The number of victims of the sect leaders’ self-righteous heretic practices were immeasurable, and considering the number of sins he had committed, even death was too light of a punishment.
He had to die. Someone had to kill him.
Wickedness has its own justice and people don’t bear the right to judge others ── but he was too weak to even try to reach such an understanding. Killing was, beyond a shred of a doubt, an unmistakable part of justice. That’s why he was so sure of it ── that what he did was the embodiment of justice. But even so ──
At that time, Glenn couldn’t stop trembling. What had he done…. he was afraid of the bottomless, jet-black malice and murderous impulse hidden within the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
If he had thought about it. The Original Magic [The Fool’s World] could be said to be born under the will of a noble light. It was born from the fruits of him traversing the path to be a Mage of Justice in his own way. It might’ve currently been being used as a means of assassinations, but it had once been how he had protected his irreplaceable friend Nina from evil hands…..he was proud of it.
However, this [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] was different.
As his heart was worn down during his employment as an Imperial Mage, he felt the inadequateness of [The Fool’s World]…..he had thought that using it would actually be more efficient than [The Fool’s World]……..in order to [murder someone].
Glenn could no longer deceive himself; it was a power that was brought forth by his own dark desires…..a [cursed power]. A physical manifestation of his own darkness.
But what foolishness.
Until now, Glenn hadn’t noticed the darkness lurking behind his ideal of justice, until he carried out his first murder with the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
“Aa….I….why the hell……!? Did I make this!?”
On this day, the dream of being a Mage of Justice which he aimed for and dreamt of since childhood, had died completely. The moment he completed such an unfathomably evil and vile magic and used it to kill another, he became nothing more than a filthy, blood-stained [murderer].
Because he used such a thing, even [The Fool’s World] which was the last bastion in his heart, had been completely smeared in blood.
“Uo uogehhhhhhh!? *Cough!*”
Violently throwing up. As he turned his stomach inside out till nothing remained, sweat poured out of his body and tears streamed down his eyes ── the discomfort of nausea, headache, and vertigo continuously assaulted him.
“*Cough cough*! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!? Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!? Aaaaaaaaaa!?”
As Glenn cradled his head, roaring in a frenzy as his heart shattered into a million pieces ──
Someone with beautifully silver hair had frantically rushed to him from behind ──
Desperately hugging Glenn from behind, holding him tight as if his life depended on it.
── It was Sara.
“It’s okay! It’s okay so please calm down Glenn-kun, please!”
“Aaaaaaaa! Aa I’m, I’m not….anymore I’m ….no longer ── *cough cough*!?”
“Nothing’s changed! You’re still the same Glenn-kun!”
Sara desperately, gently embraced Glenn, who was about to shatter into pieces. Not even paying mind to the fact that her body was being soiled by Glenn’s vomit, she continued to just hug him.
“After all, wasn’t I saved!? It’s thanks to you that everyone that was kidnapped is safe now right!? You did this Glenn-kun, you saved everyone….!!”
“….It’s okay….it’ll be okay….nothing’s been changed…..everything will be okay….I’m here for you…..I’ll always be by your side….that’s why….okay?”
Gently whispering such words.
Sara kept hugging him until he managed to calm down ──
“Hey, Sensei! Are you listening to me!?”
Sistine’s face had suddenly appeared a short distance from his and brought him back to reality. The cup of tea he had been drinking has long since grown cold.
“Jeez! I’ve been trying to explain to you about the [Heavenly Taum] ── the mythological compendium of ancient civilizations ── in a way that even a cat could understand this whole time ya’know!?”
(TN: Taum is written using the Kanji for twins)
“O-Oh….my bad….I didn’t catch it at all….”
Glenn awkwardly drank his cold tea in front of Sistine who seemed to be pouting.
Sistine was anxiously looking Glenn head on.
“Uhm….are you okay? Somehow….your complexion looks a bit bad but….?”
Taken back, Glenn brought his face down.
“Is your physical condition….bad? Speaking of which, Rumia had also said that….”
“N-No….it’s not that. It’s not like that.”
“W-Was it perhaps that….you hate listening to me that much….?”
Sistine stared intensely at him with tears pooling in the corner of her eyes.
“Huh!? No I’m just a bit tired!”
“Is that really the case? Somehow, that level of complexion feels….”
“Oi look, it’s about time for us to go! We have to get the raw materials and return by the end of today!”
Saying as much to deceive her, Glenn had started to clean up.
And so their exploration had resumed. Constructed with stone blocks, the passageway carried on endlessly, twisting left and right in a complex manner.
Guardians and demons seemed to gush forth from the shadows themselves, and to make matters worse there was no space to retreat to. Basically, they had no choice but to fight to move forward.
Glenn charged forward.
From the other side of the passageway, the guardians were approaching in a makeshift formation ── he drew near the first stone guardian and his arm pierced through its body. His hand, reinforced by the Black Magic [Weapon・Enchantment], was able to penetrate the guardian’s chest and destroy its core.
As the nucleus that was powering it was destroyed, the guardian started to break down into pieces ──
Just after that, Glenn quickly dealt with the counterattacks from the guardians who were raising their arms and legs to strike him using his own fists to parry them. One guardian’s arm passed over his crouched head while another one’s leg missed his twisted body.
“I know! I’m ready!”
Sistine had taken some time to formulate her spell to account for the vast amount of enemies and their toughness.
Glenn immediately kicked off the ground and jumped to Sistine’s side.
“[O gathering windstorm・become a hammer of war・and strike that spot!]”
She had just finished chanting the incantation for the Black Magic [Blast・Blow]. The very next moment, a large amount of air was collected and condensed to its utmost limit and a hammer of wind had filled the passageway completely. Then it had let out a noise akin to a point-blank range bombardment and crushed the guardians in its path.
Their shattered pieces were blown to the end of the passageway.
“Fuwaa! Well, that wraps this up right?”
Sistine said that as she made a triumphant pose. Now after her forced maturity from fighting Jatice and Jin, this level of an enemy could hardly be considered a threat to her.
“White-Cat…..you’ve really gotten stronger huh….”
Glenn grumbled as if he were impressed.
“Hehe, haven’t I? Am I good enough for you to rely on now?”
“Yeah you are.”
Thinking that she’d get some sarcastic comment or quip in return, Sistine was startled by the positive confirmation.
“It fees like….having Sara behind me, a sense of security.”
His next words were muttered very quietly, almost as if they were spoken unconsciously; he had no intention of saying such a thing directly to Sistine.
But she had just so happened to catch what his words.
(Sara-san…..Sensei’s partner from his military days….but she’s passed away….and I’m pretty sure I look like her….)
When Sistine had heard of Sara from Glenn in the past……it seemed like he had liked her in a romantic sense.
“Still though, it really was a good idea to bring White-Cat with me. You can survey, locate enemies, and fight so it makes this exploration ten times easier…..huh, oi what’s wrong? White-Cat. Are you ready to head out?”
Glenn urged Sistine forward when she suddenly started to act strange.
Progressing through the labyrinth smoothly, Glenn and Sistine had finally reached [The Fool’s Cemetery] on the 13th floor.
It was a large, spacious room with stone coffins lined up in rows.
“S-Seriously though…..are the required materials for the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] really in a place like this?”
Sistine was already left unnerved by the creepy ambience of the room.
“Yeah…..I need [the dust of the remains of a body that’s been buried for more than 200 years]…..such dust gains magical properties and becomes essential for some magic rituals…….it’s quite a rare material. With everything going on right now this is probably the only place we can get it….”
Glenn was also preparing to run away.
“T-T-That’s right isn’t it….it can’t be helped I guess……”
“With that being said! White-Cat! I’ll let you collect all the dust that your heart desir──”
After having a bit of a back and forth, the two of them opened the top of the coffins and started to collect the dust (trying their best not to look inside).
“A-According to Celica’s research….it seems that in ancient times this place was used to preserve the corpses of the people who defied the rulers, something like an example and warning for others…..and then the rulers used magic to manipulate the corpses and made them fight against similarly rebelling citizens…..hahaha…..it’s a horrible story…..”
“Why are you bringing that up right now!?!”
“It wouldn’t be fair if I was the only one who knew and was the only one who was scared of it right!?!?”
Those two collected the dust as fast as they could, not wanting to spend even a second longer in this room; however, now the two of them were bracing themselves for [the remains to get up attack them]……but strangely enough such an event never came to pass.
Having finished collecting the materials those two bolted out of the room. The truth of the matter was that this room was originally in fact cursed by the malice and resentment of those buried here.
However, Celica had long ago cleansed the room by performing a magic ritual to let these tormented souls pass….right now Glenn and Sistine hadn’t had known that it was currently just a normal graveyard where the dead were peacefully resting.
This was of course because Celica had mischievously decided to withhold that information.
“Aaa I was so scared….”
“Gimme a break…”
Those two just had to retrace their steps in order to go back, a much easier journey than before. After all they made sure to map their route, not to mention that the enemies had been defeated. The labyrinth’s structure as well as the enemy positioning reset at the beginning of each month so there was no need to worry about that happening. The return trip was nothing like their initial journey, it was almost as easy as the first nine floors.
“Going at this pace we’ll have plenty of time to make it back.”
Glenn muttered those words as he looked over the map that Sistine had provided.
“Fufufu….now all you have to do is prepare the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] right?”
“…………Yeah, that’s right.”
Sistine hadn’t noticed the momentary pause Glenn took before he replied. Those two continued like so on their way home. Relying on a magic light protruding from their fingertips, they walked down the dimly lit passageway as their steps provided a constant background noise.
Was it possibly because of the excessive boredom she was feeling?
“Hey Sensei….what kind of person was Sara-san?”
Sistine quietly waited for a response.
“….Mmm? That’s out of the blue? Why?”
Sistine didn’t really understand why she asked the question in the first place, but when she had heard about Sara from Glenn before, she had thought something like [Hmmm I don’t really get it but I guess he had a lover that looked like me]. And now that she had heard Sara’s name from Glenn’s mouth earlier, she couldn’t help but be curious about this woman for some peculiar reason.
── Hmm I see. You’re in love with Glenn aren’t you?
For some reason Eve’s words had suddenly resounded within Sistine’s mind….
“I-I mean it’s not like I like Sensei or anything!! Please don’t get the wrong idea!”
Glenn jumped back after hearing Sistine’s sudden outcry and seeing her cheeks bright red.
“W-What are you saying so suddenly!? I mean what’s up with you!? Don’t yell in such a confined space like this or you’ll break my eardrums!?”
“Hyaaa!? W-What am I saying!?”
Sistine’s cheeks turned even redder when she realized what she just screamed.
“Awaa awawawawa….I-I didn’t say anything right now! Just forget it!”
Unable to bear standing there any longer Sistine broke out into a run. As if to discard the unknown, hot pounding emotions that were going through her head, she spun her legs around and turned right at the crossroads ahead.
“….!? Oi you idiot!? It’s not that way White-Cat!? That way is ──”
“P-Please leave me alone already!”
Ignoring Glenn’s panicked warning, she tried to just get farther and farther from him ──
Sistine felt a weightlessness to her body. By the time she realized it the ground beneath her feet ── was gone.
One of the labyrinth’s traps ── a pitfall.
Glenn’s voice quickly became more and more distant as she fell to the depths of the trap.
The weightlessness of her body was torturing her as she struggled to calm her erratic mind ──
“[Let the logic of the three worlds・the law of balance・and the plate of order tilt to port!]”
The Black Magic [Gravity・Control] ── she shouted a spell for gravity manipulation. Her spell took effect immediately and the speed of her descent was greatly reduced. And before long….Sistine slowly landed at the bottom of the pitfall.
Looking overhead. The hole that she fell through closed as if it never existed in the first place. Turning around to glance in all directions. An obviously complex maze could be seen spreading through each direction.
(Impossible…..I-I dropped to the 14th floor….!?)
The dawning realization made Sistine’s blood run cold.
In this Underground Labyrinth, the number of enemies as well as their strength multiplied as one went down each floor, not to mention dangerous traps like the one she just encountered appeared more frequently. Celica had also warned them before they departed that [Well you two should be good up until the 13th floor…..but the 14th floor is impossible for you guys]. In fact, the exploration of the 13th floor with just Glenn and Sistine was quite the hallowing experience for them.
And yet ── here she was on the 14th floor. Even more so, she was alone. Sistine had suddenly started to tremble as if she were in the middle of a blizzard, a tremble much different from the one she displayed in the graveyard.
[Oi White-Cat!? Are you okay!? Answer me! Oi!!!!]
Glenn’s anxiety-filled voice screamed out from the magic communication device that she had. She put the jewel to her ear and attempted to reply in the calmest voice she could muster.
“I’m okay, I’m not injured.”
[I-I see….thank god….don’t keep me waiting next time you idiot….]
“….Leaving that aside….it looks like I fell to the 14th floor.”
[Tch…god damn it, it was like that after all….wait there White-Cat. I’m on my way right now….shit once this trap activates it won’t open again!? It’s a trap aimed at dividing up the party huh!? What a crappy trap….then first I’ll….]
Glenn immediately started to plan his rescue of Sistine.
“…..Sensei, you can’t come.”
Despite wanting to scream for help and wishing that he’d come rescue her, Sistine did the opposite. Calmly choosing the right choice.
[Haa!? Don’t say something so stupid! I’ll think of a way to get down there right now….]
“Please calm down. It’s already been decided when Sensei has to prepare the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] by. You have to return to the academy by then. I don’t even know where I’m currently located on the 14th floor….if you try to find me then you’ll end up wasting too much time…..you probably won’t make it in time.”
It was just the hand they had been given, there’s a fixed time period for when the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] can be constructed. If it’s mixed at any other time then it’d become something different from the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
“And besides…..the 14th floor would be too dangerous for just us two who had our hands full on the 13th. Right now Sensei is the ray of light to save Fejite, we absolutely cannot let anything interfere with that.”
[That’s why I said I’ll ──]
“Just forget about me and hurry up and return to the surface!! You have a map that I made so if you just retrace our steps then it’ll be easy enough for you to return alone!!”
[You damn idiot! If I do that I’ll be fine but what about you!?]
“I’ll……I’ll figure out something on my own…I just got to find a way to reach the stairs and I’ll be on the 13th floor….”
[Stop being ridiculous! You think you can really do that!?]
To Glenn who was persistently refusing her.
“Just shut up already! This is just me cleaning up my own mess! So please just forget about me! I ─ I’ll manage somehow on my own!”
[Huh!? Zkk ─ O-Oi ─ wait ── zkkk ─ somethi zkkk ─ communicati zkkkkkk ─ bad zkkkkkkkkkkk ──…….]
She continued to fiddle with the communication device but for some reason it had been cut off. A mind-crushing silence dominated Sistine’s heart. The courage she’d wielded while arguing with Glenn had suddenly dissipated.
And that was when Sistine had noticed that something was strange with her body. As if mana was rapidly being drained from her ──
“Uu….I’m seriously….in that place!?”
A zero mana zone. There’d occasionally be such areas throughout the labyrinth. It’s as its name implied, a literal zone where no mana could exists; it would rapidly drain the mana of anyone unfortunate enough to enter.
Celica had warned that [make sure to at least watch out for zero mana zones. They’re seriously dangerous], she had warned with a scarily serious expression. The sudden malfunction of the communication device was probably due to this. The mana held within it had been drained instantaneously.
(……A-At this rate my…..my mana will be completely drained, and I won’t be able to use magic….)
Was this a joke? In the depths of such a dangerous labyrinth? Not being able to use the last thread of hope known as her magic?
That one word seared itself into Sistine’s head and crushed her heart.
Her chest was violently throbbing, she struggled to take in air as she gasped for breath, and her skin grew pale as if had lost a fatal amount of blood.
“….I-I won’t give up…!”
Sistine decided to start walking right after she rebuked herself for her own cowardness. The truth of the matter was that although her earlier words were a show of force for Glenn, they were also her honest feelings.
She couldn’t expect Glenn to come save her this time. She absolutely would not. Right now Glenn was Fejite’s hope. That’s why he had to prioritize his own return over rescuing Sistine. She wouldn’t even try to compare the safety of Fejite to her own life.
Therefore she’d have to overcome this problem by her own hand ──
Sistine resolved herself to break through the 14th floor alone, but right now she had just come to the realization of how much she had been underestimating the existence known as the 14th floor.
“[O gathering windstorm・become a hammer of war・and strike that spot!]”
How many battles has she been in now?
Sistine fired off a fully powered [Blast・Blow] towards a giant guardian that was about three times its normal size. The make-shift battering ram of wind struck the stone giant’s chest, gouging out a portion of it, and causing it to fall back.
But the stone giant paid no heed to it and merely raised its hands and leapt towards Sistine.
“Kuu ── [Gale Winds!]”
She activated [Tempest Feet] in response to giant’s fast approach. Clad in a gust of wind, jumping backwards while kicking off the walls and ceiling to gain even more of a distance from it ──
“[O gathering windstorm・become a hammer of war・and strike that spot] ── [Zwei]! [Drei!]”
She once again unleashed [Blast・Blow] ── this time rapid firing it from her left, right, and then once more from her left hand.
This time the stone giant took the three strikes head on and broke into pieces and scattered about.
The sound of heavy footsteps approaching could be heard. The sound of additional reinforcements echoed out from the depths of the darkness down the passageway, like a harbinger of her impending demise.
Sistine hurriedly rushed away from the scene before she got entangled with the incoming newcomers.
Occasionally stopping to rest her body against the wall, Sistine steadily traversed through the labyrinth.
(This….this is….too different isn’t it? It’s like a whole different world…!)
The 13th and 14th floors had an unmistakable difference in their level of difficulty. The poison known as the zero mana zone constantly cursed her body and the location of the stairs leading to the upper stratum still remained unknown. Thus in anticipation of a battle of endurance, she had to preserve her physical strength and magic power….but this floor was not such an environment where she could maintain her reserves.
If she encountered an enemy she’d be killed instantly if she didn’t use her magic to defend against it.
If she wasn’t constantly using search magic then she’d just as soon activate a fatal trap.
And the maze-like structure was the final invisible opponent that concealed her ultimate goal.
Furthermore, it was an endless zero mana zone, mana was being drained every passing second.
It was already a hopeless situation.
“….Haa…..haa…..don’t give up…..I can’t give up….the current me….is….different from….the bawling, cry-baby me of the past….! Haa….haa….”
Wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes, clenching her teeth, and advancing forward without giving up.
Death. Death. Death.
That single word was forcing itself in her head since before ──
“I won’t….in a place like this….I can’t die…..I refuse to die….!”
By utilizing all of the skills and knowledge imparted on her, Sistine desperately advanced to the area where she thought was most likely for the stairs to be.
Such a journey was too severe. The battles were too hellish.
“Kuu…. [O crimson lion・in a torrent of rage・roar in madness!]”
Fatigue forced itself on her more and more even while mana was continuously being drained ──
── After countless battles and a wearisome journey.
Sistine leaned against the wall once more.
She had reached her limit. Even if death itself appeared, her mind and body refused to move. She couldn’t take one more step. And as if to push such a Sistine further into a bog of despair and hopelessness ──
From just beyond the horizon of darkness, the sound of more stone giants’ footsteps approaching could be heard. Their number was unlikely to be limited to just a mere one or two enemies.
(Y-You’re kidding….I’m…..really….going to die in a place like this….!?)
Sistine’s heart felt like a rag being wrung of all its water as the dark shadow of death seemed to loom ever closer. Her head was spinning from fear and exhaustion, the whole world seemed to be shaking ── she didn’t even have the composure to formulate a single thought.
Sistine was surrounded by a group of stone giant’s from either direction. One of the approaching stone giants raised his rock-like fists ──
And finally when the words that she had been desperately holding back this whole time ──
“Save me Senseeeeii!”
Rushed out from her mouth ──
Such situationally-stupid words ran through Sistine like a gust of wind.
At that moment someone had snuck up behind Sistine, snatched her in their arms, and ran like the wind, and half a second later the sound of stone meeting stone could heard as the giant’s fist crashed into the ground.
“Oraoraoraora! Move move move move moveeeeeee!”
In the meantime, the person who saved Sistine’s life, Glenn, held her in his arms and passed through the legs of the stone giants using his expert dexterity. Of course the stone giants didn’t let this go unnoticed and attempted to strike him with their fists and feet.
But Glenn, making full use of his physique amplified by magic, twisted his body, kicked off the legs of the stone giants, and ran past them all while continuously dodging their strikes.
Using his lightning speed and cat-like reflexes, he managed to finally leave the giants behind in the dust.
“Fuahh….barely made it in time….”
Glenn ran straight down the passageway without slowing down.
“Sensei!? What are you doing here!?”
Sistine rapidly blinked in confusion seeing Glenn appear so suddenly.
“I went searching for another pitfall so that I could come down to this level too.”
Glenn said as much so half-heartedly.
“I figured that if the pitfall was relatively close to the one you fell through I’d end up next to you right?…..But even so it still took make some time to find you.”
“Seriously, don’t you know that it’s common sense that if you get lost you don’t move from the spot? Deciding to move around after I told you not to…..”
“Why….did you come down here?”
Sistine was trembling as she muttered such words.
“Sensei coming all the way down to the 14th floor…..doing this….how are you going to get home? What if you don’t make it in time?”
Once again, she was standing in the way of Glenn’s success. Sistine felt ashamed and deplorable as she begged Glenn who was holding her in his arms to answer her question with tears in her eyes.
“It’s me….it’s all my fault….that’s why….! That’s why Sensei should’ve abandoned me and ──”
And at that time.
“Oww!? W-Why did you do that!?”
Glenn had headbutted Sistine.
“Seriously, you…..sometimes I can’t tell if you’re just a brat or an actual adult.”
Saying that with a stunned expression.
“……You should be saying something else right?”
And while Sistine was momentarily taken back….
Glenn grinned at the words with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.
“That’s all a student has to say after being taken care of by their teacher.”
Glenn let out a sardonic smile as if he were relieved.
Sistine couldn’t look at him head on so she was forced to look down.
……..The sides of her face felt like they were burning up.
To sum of the rest of their trip…..there were surprisingly little difficulties after that.
The stairs connecting the 14th floor to the 13th floor were unsurprisingly hidden in the unexplored portion of the 13th floor. By combining that fact with Sistine’s experience’s on the 14th floor, the location of the stairs was somewhat predictable. The zero mana zone was not as hard on Glenn as it was on Sistine, namely because an odd characteristic of zero mana zones where the larger ones’ mana capacity were the more afflicted by it they were.
And fortunately for Glenn, he had been trained in his military days on how to close his mana pathways and reduce the natural expulsion of mana from ones body in order to conduct missions in zero mana zones.
Thoroughly focusing on efficiency and escaping, he continued to search for the pathway home….and before long, they had discovered the stairs leading to the 13th floor. There they continued up through the 12th, 11th, and 10th floors at a steady pace. And once there, they were able to sprint the remainder until they reached the 1st floor ──
“….Well it seems like we barely made it.”
Glenn climbed up the last pair of stairs and opened the last door, letting out a breath of relief.
The place that led to the Underground Section in the first place ── the [Forbidden Room]. They’ve finally returned to the starting point.
“Fuaah, I’m exhausted…”
Sistine had been carried on Glenn’s back this whole time and now she embarrassingly poked Glenn’s back.
“What’s up? White-Cat.”
“Uhm….well…..I’m probably fine right now so…..you can put me down….”
After being prompted, Glenn lowered Sistine down from his back.
Sistine’s knees violently wobbled once she hit the ground. It was clear to see that she hadn’t been able to completely recover but….it looked like she could definitely walk on her own, albeit staggeredingly.
The two left the basement section of the academy building and walked side by side inside the hallway. In just half a day the inside of the academy had drastically changed. In the hallways, classrooms, walls, ceilings, everywhere….rushed magic circles had been densely drawn wherever they could be as if they were murals.
This was all in preparation for tomorrow’s decisive battle. It seems like they had finished setting everything up while they were exploring the labyrinth.
Complete darkness could be seen through the window ── it was just past midnight when the icy night air dominated the world. Because it was so late, silence enveloped the academy, but from the classrooms that had been used as emergency sleeping quarters, one could sense that the students were having a sleepless night.
“Now then…..I’ve got one last job to finish.”
“Are you talking about making the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet?]”
Glenn took a quick breath before he responded with a meek nod to Sistine. For him, this next step was probably more distressing than collecting the materials themselves.
“…..Sensei?…..What’s the matter?”
Sistine looked up towards Glenn when she noticed him acting strangely.
“……..Don’t worry it’s nothing. I’m just wondering if this counts for overtime pay? Just kidding.”
Pretending to be fine, Glenn shrugged his shoulders and made a little joke.
“Jeez! This isn’t the time to joke around! Can’t you understand that!? The only way we can beat that demon is with Sensei’s [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] you know!? You have to make it~! I won’t let you fail okay!?”
It seemed that Sistine was suspicious of Glenn’s lackluster ambience.
“Uhm….Sensei…..well…is it alright if I help you? Somehow it feels like, right now Sensei is….”
Glenn gave a sidelong glace towards Sistine for a short while.
“……No I’m fine. This is only my fight. There’s nothing for you to do. I’m grateful for your feelings though.”
With that said, Glenn turned his back on Sistine and started heading towards the academy’s magic medicinal synthetization room.
“Haaahh….you should go get some rest. You have to be in tip top shape tomorrow right?”
“Thanks for today. You helped out a lot….although that happened at the end though.”
“Uwuu….I-I’m sorry…..for holding you back….”
“Don’t sweat it. Even discounting the time lost from that, I doubt I would’ve made without you to begin with. It’s thanks to you that I’m going to be able to make the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] tonight……don’t worry about it.”
*Swoosh,* Glenn looked back towards Sistine and smiled. And once again start walking.
“Please do your best, Sensei….”
Sistine watched Glenn’s back as she saw him off. Wondering why, more so than usual…..Glenn’s back looked awfully small.
After parting with Sistina, Glenn immediately shut himself in the magic medicinal synthetization room and started preparing the concoction. Arranging the various materials on tools on the table. He lit the candles he had placed and started to meditate under their glow. The dim flame swayed back and forth causing his shadow to look like a demon dancing in the background.
Glenn waited for the approaching time….calming himself.
Relaxedly….relaxedly….letting the time fly by….
The ticking of the pocket watch resounded throughout the otherwise silent room.
And before long…..that moment….came.
“…..Commence the compounding magic.”
Glenn, who had opened his eyes, immediately started to form the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet].
“[The 7th day is the heavenly battle. The appointed time is when the clock strikes 2……together they shall host Ysiel.”]
Glenn picked up a mortar and pestle with special runes engraved on them.
“[Three of the dusts from the tombs where the bodies have been lain to rest for more than 200 years, two finely ground Amaranths, a crushed pedal from a Songak, and finely grained salt. Blend them on Ysiel’s day at Ysiel’s appointed time. Execute the hand sign of Val over the powdered concoction and enclose it in the packaging marked by the symbol of Cis ──”]
He murmured the formula so scarred into his head that it would never be forgotten as he worked. Grabbing the ingredients in accordance with the magic ritual’s instructions, putting them in the mortar little by little, grinding the pestle a number of times before once again adding more ingredients, slowly repeating this process many times over.
It was something he was more than used to by now. There was no hesitation in his actions. His intimacy with this ritual was clear to see.
*Scrape, scrape, scrape….*
The sound of him working echoed throughout the room. Occasionally, the flame would flicker to and fro. His shadow continued to dance like a fiendish apparition.
[“── one powdered formulate, three white-smoked cotton plants, the water from ice crystals ──”]
The synthetization was going smoothly without any delay.
But that was when it happened.
Glenn had suddenly noticed.
Down below. His own hands.
Before he knew it, they had been steeped in blood.
He unintentionally let out a scream and jumped from the spot.
A cold sweat was pouring off his body as he felt like his heart was being squeezed tight. His consciousness started to flee him as his hyperventilation worsened.
Trying to endure it, he forced himself to look down at his hands once more and….
They were normal. There was no blood to be seen.
“……Just a hallucination, god damn it…..”
Glenn cursed and sighed.
Unfortunately his current concoction was a failure, he had completely ruined it. [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] was a very delicate formulate that required an extremely specific number of grinds and applied force to properly create. Since this had happened he had no choice but to start over from scratch.
Glenn let out a deep, gloomy sigh as he once again stood in front of the table.
(Can I….really make the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] again?)
Such worries suddenly assailed Glenn.
── Now that I’ve created and used this kind of power, I can’t return anymore……I’m going to eventually make some kind of mistake and fall into darkness ──
To Glenn who was worrying about such a fate.
── No matter what kind of power you use, Glenn-kun won’t any mistakes. If you’re on the verge of making a mistake, then at that time….I’ll make sure to bring Glenn-kun back ──
The person who had said that….was no longer with him.
(Damn it….the hell am I hesitating for….! Right now this fucking powder is the only thing that could damage that demon! The hell am I thinking!? I just have to do it! I’ll make it regardless! This is the only way!!)
He slapped the sides of his cheeks to motivate himself. Glenn started to mix the compound once again.
“[The 7th day is the heavenly war. The appointed time is when the clock strikes 2……together they shall host Ysiel……]”
Glenn frantically continued working, giving it his all as he clenched his teeth.
However…..it was all for naught.
His hands were trembling as he grinded, and although he was able to withstand at least that much, he was still assaulted with strange audial and visual hallucinations.
From the corner of the room, blood-stained eyes whose stares were almost the physical embodiment of resentment glared at him from within the darkness.
[How could you murder us…..], a hallucination in which hatred-filled curses were whispered just inches from his ears.
A hallucination where a swarm of the dead desperately tried to claw their way in through the windows.
A sudden hallucination of skeleton hands grabbing his feet.
Every time he tried; the synthetization failed miserably. All of the ingredients and time….will just be wasted in vain.
“Uoooooooooo! Get away from meeeeeeeeeeee!”
And then the first victim of Glenn’s [Eve = Kaiser Bullet], the heretic sect leader, had appeared in front of him in the form a decomposed corpse. Unable to bear the haunting, Glenn gripped the mortar and threw it at the apparition. Of course the hallucination disappeared into a haze the very next moment…. only the sound of the mortar impacting the wall could be heard.
“Damn it….! Damn it, damn it, god damn it…..!”
Glenn sat down on a stool, deeply disturbed. A certain feeling of being unable to complete the bullet had washed over him.
“There’s no time…! No materials….! The hell am I doing…!”
Grief-stricken shouts had echoed throughout the room.
“You’re supposed to be protecting the students aren’t you!? Didn’t you prepare yourself to do that no matter what it takes!? What the hell do you think you’re doing dragging this out for so long!? That’s enough you fucking coward!!!!”
And as Glenn staggered up wearing a pathetic expression….he prepared a new mortar.
“Haa…..haa…..I’m going to do it….after looking over how much time and materials I’ve got left…..this is probably my last chance…..my final attempt….”
Glenn got into the starting position with trembling hands…..
“[The 7th day is the heavenly war. The appointed time is when the clock strikes 2……together they shall host Ysiel]……!”
In the worst possible mood and plagued by the feelings of despair, just as Glenn confronted his final attempt at synthesizing the concoction ──
He turned his head over his shoulder after sensing someone’s presence.
Standing in the open door was none other than Sistine, Glenn hurriedly regained his composure and turned to face her.
“….O-Oi oi….you’re still awake? You twerp, kids should go to bed early…..”
“I’m sorry….it’s just that….I’ve been watching this whole time…..how Sensei’s been acting…..”
“It wasn’t my intention to peek but….I just thought that I should give you some food.”
Held in Sistine’s hands were sandwiches and tea upon a tray.
“…..Will you….talk to me about it?”
Sistine said such gentle, caring words; and in desperation, Glenn invited Sistine deeper into the room and began to confess his troubles.
“To put things simply….it’s pitiful, but I’m just [scared]…..of making this stuff.”
Glenn quietly talked with Sistine who was carefully listening to his every word. Of what type of tool that the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] really was.
“This thing….it’s a symbol of the dark side of my military days….born from the malice and murderous intent lurking within me….a negative legacy from those days….”
Earlier when Albert had brought Glenn’s preferred revolver, he wished that he could’ve brought the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] along with him as well…..but that was hoping for too much. Albert must’ve known that it would turn out like this and that’s why he went out of his way to at least bring the revolver; it was that man’s way of awkwardly showing his consideration.
“When I use it….I feel like I’ll won’t be able to return anymore….like I’m going to make a fatal blunder somewhere along the road I’m on….I know it’s just the paranoia in my head but….”
If you take a wrong turn, then I’ll make sure to bring you back….no one was here to say those words anymore.
“Ha….go ahead and laugh…I must sound like a little kid….”
As Glenn laughed in self-deprecation and drooped his shoulders low ──
“You’re right. Sensei really acts like a kid every once in awhile.”
Sistine voiced her opinion more harshly than he was expecting, and the very fact made Glenn dip his head even lower.
“But….this time it’s my turn to save you.”
Sistine said so and leaned in close to Glenn….
“Please tell me the procedure for mixing it….and then we can make it together okay?”
She took his hand and gazed intensely at him, showing off a gentle smile.
“Please don’t be so worried. Because I’ll be watching you…..it’s going to be okay. No matter what happens, Sensei won’t turn down the wrong road. Because you’re our prized instructor after all.”
“And if you’re about to take a wrong turn…..then I’ll make sure to catch you and bring you back. We’ll make sure to bring Sensei back onto the right path….that’s why….”
Sistine continued to looked at Glenn with a dazzling bright smile, her passionate expression reminded him of his dear companion from the past ──
Before he noticed, Glenn was unexpectedly nodding along.
“[Three of the dusts from the tombs where the bodies have been lain to rest for more than 200 years, two finely ground Amaranths, a crushed pedal from a Songak, and finely grained salt. Blend them on Ysiel’s day at Ysiel’s appointed time. Execute the hand sign of Val over the powdered concoction and enclose it in the packaging marked by the symbol of Cis ──]”
Of course Glenn was the one doing most of the work while Sistine nestled up close to him and attentively watched over his work.
“[── one powdered formulate, three white-smoked cotton plants, the water from ice crystals ──]……keh!?”
Occasionally, Glenn’s hands would start to tremble and he’d almost mess up the procedure.
But each time ──
“….It’s okay, it’s going to be okay Sensei.”
Sistine would gently lay her hands atop his. A touch light as a feather as not to disturb his work, but enough to comfort him with the warmth of her body.
And eventually his hands would stop trembling.
“………….[── three white-smoked cotton plants, the water from ice crystals; cut with a verdigris-stained knife and mix. Each four times. Draw the rune of Yoto ──]”
Glenn took a deep breath and then resumed the synthetization process.
Was it perhaps because of the warmth radiating off of Sistine’s body which was snuggled close to him?
But there were currently no hallucinations anymore, as if they never existed in the first place. He no longer felt the anxiety as if he were walking blindfolded on the edge of a collapsing cliff anymore.
The complicated process continued without a hitch….until finally….
“[── That’s all. With the completion of the third stage of each three processes, the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] is finished.]”
Glenn had finally completed the formulate despite his gut-wrenching struggle at beginning.
“You did a good job Sensei.”
In front of them lay the [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] packed into a small bottle engraved with runes. Sistine smiled and congratulated Glenn who let out a deep breath and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“You….you saved me….you seriously helped out….it was all thanks to you, White-Cat…..”
“Fufufu…..you’re really quite a troublesome person you know?”
Sistine was still showing off an expression that radiated nothing but kindness, it was nothing like the stern expression she usually wear when she’d scold Glenn.
“….W-What is it? Is there something on my face?”
Sistine noticed Glenn was staring at her in the dim light and embarrassingly faltered.
“…..No. It’s just that….you really do look like Sara.”
Sistine was startled by the forgotten topic suddenly being brought up.
“……Sorry if I offended you. I’m well aware that you and Sara are different people. To be honest it could be said that your guys’ surface-level personality and temperament are worlds apart. But despite that….it feels like…you and Sara are fundamentally similar…..”
“She was kindhearted, meddlesome, and liked to lecture me. On top of that, she seemed to always be ending up in trouble, she was scatterbrained, and I felt like she’d get into trouble if I took my eyes off of her for one second….kinda like you earlier today when we were in the labyrinth.”
She immediately started feeling awful, but she couldn’t refute that claim.
“But despite all that…..she was someone I could rely on. I was always relieved to have her by my side.”
“Our relationship….it felt something like a give and take….well I felt like we were a good a duo one way or another? Albert was a bit annoying, but he felt like a big brother to me….while Sara felt like a younger sister that you couldn’t leave alone.”
“I’d almost forgotten…during those days….it was always a bit tough…..but even so….”
Sistine kept quiet as Glenn let the nostalgia wash over him as he recounted of the past.
What could he possibly be seeing right now?
A calm, but somehow lonesome look…and yet she couldn’t find the right words to say.
Eventually Glenn smiled and stood up.
“…….Thank you Sistine…..you’ve ignited something within me. The [Eve = Kaiser Bullet] is definitely a blood-stained power for me….I felt like it’d be unthinkable for me to use this power in a world without her…..but….”
“Thanks to you, I remembered….you, Rumia, Re=L….and the rest of the students as well….there’s actually a lot of people looking out for me in this world….”
“I’m not lost anymore. I’ll use this [Eve = Kaiser Bullet]. Using this power….I’ll make sure to bring down that demon. And then, Fejite….you guys, I’ll make sure to protect everyone….that should be fine right?”
At that moment, Sistine felt a tempting, pounding throb in her chest as Glenn looked over her.
What could this feeling possibly have been?
She felt like she was close to obtaining the answer; but she couldn’t have know, this was the first time in her life that she’s felt this way ── a sensation never felt before, not even as a child when she was betrothed to Leos. She felt like that….she wanted to slowly confirm this feeling a bit more.
(I wonder if….Sara-san also felt like this….?)
Sistine felt a strange empathy with the woman she’d never met before.
“Well then…now that that’s out of the way I’m a bit hungry.”
And then a sentence devoid of a hint of tact had suddenly been spoken aloud; the sweet-feeling mood had been abruptly blow away.
“I can’t believe you….haaa~…..like I said earlier I brought a snack for you to eat…..do you still want it?”
“L-Let’s eat let’s eat! Thank you! White-Cat-chaan!”
Two people sat at the table and ate their late-night snack. Glenn gluttonously devouring the handmade sandwiches while Sistine sat facing him, her elbows on the table with her chin resting upon her hands, gently watching over him.
And yet the person watching those two from outside the room did so no longer.
(….I’m happy for you, Sisti….)
Rumia’s whose back was to the door, slowly moved away from such a scene as to not make a sound.
(Glenn-sensei….mmm…..if you have Sisti then you’ll be just fine…..)
Somewhere….somewhere in the depths of her heart, a slight pain could be felt….but that was just her imagination.
(Yeah….they suit together….those two belong together…..)
This should’ve been the development that Rumia originally wished for; that’s why this pain was just a mere delusion. Just a figment of her imagination.
(I….really don’t….have a single thing that I regret…..)
She was worried about Glenn’s strange behavior earlier, but that has now been resolved. And after seeing that….she confirmed her determination.
(I’ve already got….Sensei, Sisti, Re=L…..and everyone else as well. I won’t let myself want anymore than this….I’ll protect everyone….I’ll save everyone…!)
She’s resolved herself.
Rumia had exited the academy and walked to the north of the campus grounds. Overfilled with an unshakable will, walking forward….until she eventually reached the dark entrance of the forest deep in the north.
Against the back of the world enveloped by a chilly silence.
[….So you’ve come.]
There was a person awaiting her, standing silently besides a tree.
Rumia had secretly rendezvous with Navnløs last night.
……….And when she had finally prepared herself, she was to come now.
[So? Have you finally resolved yourself to quit being human?]
With a stiff voice, Navnløs questioned her resignation.
[Have you resolved yourself to sacrifice your life for to save everyone?]
[Is that right.]
Navnløs quietly approached after hearing Rumia’s firm response.
[In that case ──]
Navnløs extended her hand to Rumia.
And then ──