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Archive for October 10, 2021

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 24 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 24: Story of Growth – Part 2

“The moment that Elio made his offer, I recalled the memory of how entranced I was at the thought of Magic when I first saw it. Of Mother’s words and how one day she would teach me. Of how all that was taken from me.

Now, one of Mother’s race was offering to teach me the Art of our people. Even though I had human blood flowing through my veins. Even if it was only because of his own circumstances, that didn’t change the fact that it was probably the chance of a lifetime.

…But the price of accepting that was too steep. We weren’t blood, but Argo was my family. He was the one who took my hand when the others who would had been lost to the flames and monsters. He held me at night and kept me warm when it was cold.

What good was the power I sought after if the one I would use it to protect was no longer there?”

—Too Steep A Price

[-|-|-|-]

These new clothes are going to take some getting used to…

The Thousand Elf found herself feeling butterflies in her stomach as she walked through the ashes left behind in the wake of the Sword Princess as they proceeded along the 37th Floor towards where the Irregular monster was last spotted. There had been monsters that were standing in their way, Spartoi and regular Obsidian Soldiers. But the latter stood no chance against a Level Six and the former she could mow down well before they got within range.

Once the time they had to search for the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance passed, the two returned to their camp. The others had greeted them with new battle clothes to their surprise. It turned out that Lady Riveria and Sir Gareth had gone out of their way, with Captain Finn’s blessing, to procure them ahead of time.

Aiz looked absolutely dashing, befitting of one who could claim the title of Sword Princess. The clothing themselves was predominately white-rimmed with blue that depicted a sword while the emblem of the trickster was beneath it. Her arm covers and stockings were black and covered by arm and leg guards that were silver so well polished that the light of the Dungeon reflected off them, while an azure cowl fell down her back. Attached to her breastplate and her tiara were the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance, a deep azure that drew the eyes.

Meanwhile, Lefiya didn’t think her own suited her. The colors were red and white and looked more regal than anything she owned. If anything, she thought it would better suit Lady Riveria, an actual Royal Elf. She honestly felt a little unworthy of them, considering the fact that she wouldn’t likely be able to deal with the Irregular they had to face.

I still haven’t come up with any way to really help, she lamented silently as she unfurled the map of the floor and used the landmark to identify the path that they were on. One of the others would have been better suited to deal with this kind of enemy than her, but she still didn’t want to betray the faith the others had in her. “The corridor to the left will lead us to where it was last spotted.”

“Let’s go then,” Aiz said, her voice soft and calm even though they were going to face such an intimidating foe. Lefiya wished she had the same level of confidence that the Sword Princess did, or even the confidence she had during the War Game. But that was the difference between then and now.

The enemy was specifically something that was the bane of Mages, and she was a Mage. Her confidence was tied to her ability to use her Magic to contribute to protecting those around her. At least with the Apollo Familia she knew she could technically handle them because of the Level disparity, and the rules of engagement were different…

Thump… Thump…

Heightened senses detected the sound of distant footfalls from the mouth of the corridor entrance. They were deep and rough, breaking stone underfoot with slight tremors emanating from the impact. And, more to the point, they told Lefiya that she might have been underestimating just how large it was.

Combat training kicked in at that point. Aiz raised a hand to stall their advance and then sharpened her gaze further ahead to take in the scope of what would become the battlefield. Her golden gaze eventually spotted something even beyond Lefiya’s Elven perception and then extended her hand for Lefiya to take while her other hand brought a finger to her soft lips.

The Half-Elf accepted her hand and wound up being taken into her arms and carried as Aiz used her superior speed to move them along the outer rim. The Sword Princess then deposited her in a section where stone outcropping provided them a better look at the monstrosity that they would have to face. An Obsidian Soldier was by itself a rather bulky and large monster, but the Irregular took that concept and ran with it.

The Reflection Soldier, as it was dubbed looked to have been born not of the same obsidian materials as its kin, but chunks of polished metallic stone melded into a vaguely humanoid shape that was top-heavy enough that it was hunchbacked. The lower half of its body was as close to normal for a bipedal as possible, but its torso was much larger despite being hollowed out to form what looked to be a mouth as it fanned out to limbs more akin to massive gauntlets attached by the smaller arms. The place where there was a gemstone to represent its eye was instead an orb of light that burned with a malicious flame of such intensity that it strained her eyes to stare into it.

Worse, there were the shattered remains of Obsidian Soldiers around it. The thing was bringing the bodies into its mouth and crushing them to consume their magic stones, meaning that not only had it been born an Irregular monster, but it was also cannibalizing them for the sake of increasing its own power further. If it only took five or so magic stones for a normal monster to show a notable increase in strength, then it would be much stronger than that.

Tension threaded Lefiya’s body as instinct honed by experience alone told her that this thing was probably one of the worst matchups they could face. The dense shell that made up its body would provide it with a level of raw brute strength and defense beyond what either of them could output in terms of sheer capacity. Adding the fact that it was devouring other monsters as well, she was starting to wish they had let Sir Gareth take care of it.

“…We have to go.” The declaration snapped her attention from the monster and back towards the Sword Princess. “Before it can get any stronger, we have to stop it.”

Her golden eyes were fixed onto their target, but unlike the Half-Elf they lacked any hesitation or doubt. She had no uncertainties that she could prevail.  Seeing her resolution reminded Lefiya of why she had fallen for her once upon a time, and why she envied her even now.

It quelled the uncertainty within her stomach and her heart as she once more decided to do what she could. “I understand. But please let me cast a protective spell before you go ahead.”

Aiz nodded her head and kneeled next to the Thousand Elf as she clutched her staff in one hand and began to sing. “I beseech the name of Wishe. Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul bathed the two in pale light as it encompassed them, rising motes of magical energy washing over them and leaving their hair to waver aloft as the Summon Burst was complete. The spell opened the gateway and connected her to the ancestry of Elvenkind, every spell that flowed through their history at her disposal. In spite of that, she reached out to one of the most familiar to her—one of those nestled away in a private shelf befitting of royalty.

Her magic circle turned from aureate to jade as a voice more befitting of her garments overlapped her own. “Gather, breath of the earth. In my name of Alf—Veil Breath!

The words left them to be swaddled within a shroud that acted as a dense second skin that sheltered them within its protective embrace and would soothe any aches and pains that may result. Her Mage Development Ability limited the number of people she could cover in a single cast in comparison to Lady Riveria. But for the moment it was the best defense she could provide to one who was heading off to the battlefield as she breathed out a soft sigh at her success.

“That should at least be able to give you a little extra protection on top of your Wind and Magic Resistance,” she said, meeting the golden eyes with a smile.

Aiz nodded before she closed her eyes. Her chest rose and fell as she straightened her posture and turned towards her unaware foe. Then she jumped high into the air, as if flying towards her foe, before she called forth her wind. “Awaken, Tempest.

Her birthright stirred. Her azure cowl billowed madly as the gale gathered around her, the swirl of the air catching her body at the apex of her height. Then, as she turned her body and focused her gaze on the monster below her, the gale turned into a violent storm that fixated around her blade and sent her rocketing forward towards the Reflection Soldier.

“LIL RAFAGA!

All sound and sight were lost to the Half-Elf after the announcement as the location where the Irregular Reflection Soldier erupted into a maelstrom of stone, dust, and sand. Opening the battle with her strongest technique to maximize the damage to her unaware foe, the Sword Princess’ raging wind unfurled. It sent everything that was nearby hurdling away at dangerous speeds that eroded the nearby landforms as it gave rise to a curtain of dust hiding everything else from view.

She really is amazing, the Thousand Elf thought to herself before there was loud reverberation, a droning sound that expanded as a shockwave billowed out and swept away the obscuring veil. The shockwave washed over Lefiya even at her distance as the stone outcropping she was behind had nearly crumbled from the sheer force. What was that?

Her unspoken question was shelved when she noticed the giant rising up from the cratered earth, unbroken by the living projectile fired at speeds that would have shattered ordinary stone or steel. It only sported webbed fissures beneath its malformed mouth that were shallow enough that it hadn’t even exposed the magic stone of the Irregular Reflection Soldier she was aiming for. The massive construct then slammed its fist down as its burning gaze fixed on something amidst the sunken ground and the room quaked as the earth erupted.

Uncertainty wormed its way into Lefiya’s mind until a white-and-blue blur emerged from the rubble. Her heart began beating again as she noticed it was the Sword Princess, cowl fluttering amidst the debris that had been sent skyward. She had been stripped of her protective veil and her wind in itself seemed unstable. At least until she caught her breath as she backflipped onto a piece of airborne rubble that was twice her height and kicked off it.

Turning herself into a missile for a second time she cleaved through the dust and earth that had been thrown about and dragged the sharpened edge of her blade along the exposed head of the Reflection Soldier. The sound of metal scraping against something akin to itself shrieked briefly in the air along with a bloom of sparks marking her passage. It was short-lived given the speed at which she moved, but flared up once more as she darted across its frame the moment after she touched the ground.

Shrieks and sparks flittered about as the giant found itself under assault from all angles. Its massive limbs attempted to crush her, but Aiz’s superior speed made such large and unwieldy attempts futile in every sense of the word. The only thing it served to do was to create more openings as she used them as a springboard to reach higher and drive her blade against its torso.

It only took Lefiya a moment to realize that she was gradually carving deeper with each pass, skillfully targeting where she had inflicted the greatest amount of damage in her first assault. Even if it was relatively shallow, each blow would gradually widen the wound as the wind riding along her sword would force itself deeper and attempt to pry it apart from the inside out, wrenching bits of its stone body loose. Eventually, she would reach its magic stone if she kept it up.

But that was impractical. Her blade was too shallow if they took into account the size and mass of the Irregular. And re-establishing her wind that was worn away from mere contact with the Reflection Soldier’s body took away from her Mind. She could effectively run dry the well that she possessed even with Spirit Healing gradually restoring it as time passed.

Aiz should know that as well. There was too little chance of success if they relied only on that approach, and the longer it took the greater the chance for something to go wrong. The Dungeon could respawn more monsters to hinder them, or the Reflection Soldier could get in a lucky blow. Not to mention its breath weapon could recharge and fire in that time. So why was she taking such an impractical approach?

…Lefiya only came to her answer when those golden eyes turned back towards her direction for a moment. Time seemed to freeze as she registered behind them was a wordless message. One that slowly clicked into place before Aiz turned her full attention back to her foe.

I know that your magic can penetrate it, so I’ll create an opening for you to take your best shot.

A soft sound escaped her mouth as she felt the sensation in her lower back that signaled that Vow of Elcos was active. The two of them were connected here and now, on the same battlefield, and she felt the trust that was being placed within her by her idol. She would tear open a path for her to take a shot that would pierce its body and strike through to its magic stone.

If you’re going to place that much faith in me then I have to do it then,” she murmured before taking a deep breath. She could only respond as a Mage by ending the battle for her. Tightening the grasp on Forest’s Teardrop, her mind began to run through the calculations to make the shot.

The amount of magical energy needed. The trajectory and optimal distance. The best position to make the shot. She confirmed them in her mind three times over to make sure that it was as accurate as possible.

And with that done, the Fairy Sniper moved towards the battlefield.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Level Six hearing picked up footfalls as Lefiya shifted her position, the steps having a sense of purpose behind them. It seemed her message carried. Good.

Aiz had thought that she noticed that her friend had some uncertainty in what way she could contribute for a while now. And she couldn’t blame her given the enemy they were facing. It was the bane of Magic-users after all.

Desperate was a First-Class weapon created by the Goibniu Familia. It had the Durandal property that made it impossible to break, even if it could dull. Even though Aiz herself did not have a focus on the development of her Strength attribute, as a Level Six she was still more than capable of easily cutting through solid steel depending on its make and composition. Her Swordsman Development Ability, the proof of her dedication to the blade, only further refined her capabilities.

And yet she couldn’t cleave through the monster in front of her even with the boons of both her blood and efforts—Ariel and her Falna. If she had the raw strength of Bete, Tiona, or Tione then she could break through its mass for certain. But as she lacked that she had to make up for it by putting her faith in Lefiya.

The Fairy Sniper could output a great deal of power within a single shot. And even with its massive size contributing to its resistance to spells, it was not flat-out immunity. If given a straight path towards the magic stone with her maximum output, Aiz was certain that she could force it through until she hit the mark and killed it.

Thus, it was Aiz’s duty to keep it in place long enough for that to happen on her own. Her awareness of Lefiya’s presence was relegated to focusing on her footfalls until they came to a stop, telling her of the girl’s chosen position to take the shot. So, she performed her duty by keeping its attention as she circled around it and maneuvered it into an optimal position to be fired upon as she felt the quivering in the air—the sensation of a spell being cast along with the song.

That was when things went… wrong.

The Irregular seemed to have sensed the presence of the spell as well, given its burning gaze turned in her direction. Then Aiz felt the wind around her take shape, likely due to her birthright. It was pulling itself towards the Reflection Soldier before becoming rigid and unyielding with a deceptive amount of quickness.

“Lefiya, wa—” Her words failed to reach as a solid, translucent wall took shape around the monster right as Lefiya finished her chant. Light burst from the top of the Thousand Elf’s staff and the golden arrow slammed into the invisible shield, creating a horrible screeching noise as the two clashed briefly with the bright intensity of a miniature sun. The dense torrent of light that was meant to bore through with pinpoint precision was met with an unexpected obstacle, an invisible canopy that threw off the precise calculations that were made by the Half-Elf to ensure the kill.

The spell smashed through the Wind Shield at the expense of its composition, unraveling the rudimentary defense with a hot gale that left Aiz’s hair to billow wildly even as she shielded her eyes from the resulting lens flare effect. But the angle of the shot was bent, hitting to the side and lower than expected. And the loss of power itself meant that, even as it attempted to push through the reflective body and left the impact zone crackling and orange from the intensity, the beam came undone and sent out golden streaks that threatened friendly fire.

One knocked Aiz backward—her own Magic Resistance and wind preventing serious injury. But it was still enough to leave Lefiya horrified as she immediately halted the spell and called out to her. “Miss Aiz, are you all right?

In response, she shouted out a warning of her own as she got back to her feet and tried to rush towards her companion. “Move, Lefiya!

Turning its mouth into the barrel of a cannon, the Reflection Soldier launched a compressed ball of air towards the Fairy Sniper. Though Aiz tried to intercept it, she couldn’t before the creature’s ‘Howl’ slammed into the ground as Lefiya barely managed to avoid it upon hearing her warning. But even though she missed being crushed by the sheer force of it in a direct blast, the shockwave it unleashed swept them both up.

Her vision of the Half-Elf was lost beneath a wall of force and debris. The sound of her voice was lost beneath an unrelenting droning. The expanding wall denied her approach until she drove Desperate into the ground and called forth her wind. “Tempest!

Magic stirred the wind to form a swirling veil to brace against it, allowing it to wash over her while the stone and rubble interspersed within it were guided around her. Then she spread it out, sending the wind rushing outwards to scatter the dust obscuring her view.

The Mage she was supposed to be protecting was nowhere in sight. Her heart stalled. The blood pumping in her veins froze. Color fled from the world as she called out, her eyes rampantly searching amidst the aftermath. “Lefiya! Lefiya!”

There was no response except the distant rumble of the monster.

Ba-thump. The haunting silence began to burn in her chest, a gnawing ache that fed the dark flame within her at the absence of the girl’s voice. Biting down on her lip, the grasp on her sword tightened and her blood began to boil as that flame seared its way through her flesh.

This… this was why she hated monsters. They always took the people she cared about from her. Any bond she forged was taken. Every warm smile she recalled was lost. The bright future that awaited the Half-Elf was stolen just like that.

They all were fuel thrown into that dark flame that had nearly been smothered, feeding it to where it grew larger once more as the thundering steps of the monster’s footfalls shook the ground. She whirled around towards it and her throat tensed as she called for her wind. “Awaken, Tempest!

Her wind rekindled from its dormancy. No longer mere armor that rolled around her, it instead became a sheering gale that ripped and tore away at the ground around her like countless blades. Bringing her birthright under her control, she billowed it forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

The vicious wind barreled forth as it tore apart the earth and swept it along, lacing the gale that slammed into the Irregular. Like countless daggers, they slashed away at its massive body. The sheer force and sharpness of the wind slowed its advance and tore gouges into its shell even as its Magic Resistance properties eroded the wind.

But that was fine. She could simply summon more. The cost was only her Mind. “RAGE, TEMPEST!

So she called forth her wind to supplement what was lost. The chaotic wind, born anew, surged forward even more violently. So much so that the previous wave was akin to only a light gale while this was a hurricane-force blast with thousands of invisible swords. The sheer force of the impact rebuked its advance entirely and staggered the giant as the gouges within its body deepened and grew more numerous.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Her hatred was a black flame that grew hotter and hotter as it churned the wind, turning her anger into the invisible blades that would tear it apart. Those flames would grow hotter and hotter until it robbed her of all sense beyond the heat, drowned out all sound barring the crackle of relentless flames, and left the world only black-and-white…

That was when she felt it washing against her.

The soft-touch of magical energy being shed, a great deluge being gathered and pulled along. It felt… familiar. Her unblinking eyes that had become dull slowly turned to the source and spotted as a fairy fluttered past her, covered in grime and dust with her lips moving.

She was singing. Even though Aiz couldn’t hear with the howling wind and crackling flames, she could feel deep down that Lefiya was singing a song. Her eyes, the bright azure being the only color in the world as it contrasted the greyscale, now carried the wordless message that she had conveyed once before.

Then she turned her head forward and started to rush straight ahead. Straight into the path of the razor wind that Aiz had called forth. The wind as it was didn’t distinguish friend from foe. It was simply a surging torrent of invisible blades that wouldn’t hesitate to tear her apart. There would be nothing left of her but kindling for the dark flames to stir her anger, the key to break the seal on her lower back that had been chained down.

A flip switched in Aiz at that moment. She had no choice but to smothering the dark flames with her own will to avoid burning away the smile and future that she thought had been lost. She quelled the wind, stripping it of its blades and turning it into a rushing zephyr as color and sound bled back into the world, white-and-red clothes billowing amidst jade motes that swirled like fireflies as she took to the sky.

Then the final verse of the flying fairy’s song reached her. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

Ice ran.

A cone of white mist and blue frost swept through the air as the crackle of rime devouring space billowed forth. Crystallizing every surface. Leaving even the dust that lingered in the air suspended by hoarfrost that could trace a chain to the surface somehow. The spell that harbored the essence of a winter that could herald the end of the world swept forward like a tidal wave.

It turned the crater where the razor gale had buffeted the Reflection Solider into a frozen wasteland. The sentinel that had been slouching within it was encased within a frozen coffin, from where the frost-laden winter chill met with it. The light from above refracted off the surface as the mist rolled down its shell.

A breath escaped Aiz as she exhaled a plume of the fog and called out the girl’s name. “Lefiya…”

Those azure eyes faced her once more with a determined expression. “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

[-Lefiya Viridis-]

Lefiya had lost consciousness for a bit after being caught in the blast.

Veil Breath and the inherent Magic Resistance of her clothes had protected her. In fact, it was safe to say they had prevented her from being killed outright. But the blast had nearly been point-blank, and she had been tossed around like a rag doll until she came to a stop.

While she was unconscious it almost felt like she had been adrift until she felt it. An insidious burning in her lower back that was so painful and searing that it pulled her from her unconsciousness. Her immediate thought before she remembered what she had been doing had been that Bell had gone mad again due to that knife that Mister Welf had given him, only much worse somehow.

But then she pulled herself out of the rubble she had been entombed under and saw otherwise. There had been a windstorm brewing and the eye of that storm was Aiz. The maddening flame was coming from her, flowing through Vow of Elcos that bound her to the Sword Princess in a similar manner it had her brother.

The Half-Elf didn’t know why something like that was coming from Aiz. It felt overwhelming to the extent that she feared it would burn away something important if it was allowed to run rampant. That the person she admired would be burned away in her entirety with regret and loss being the very thing that fueled it.

“M-Miss Aiz!” she called, barely able to catch her breath before shouting at the top of her lungs. “MISS AIZ!!

But it was clear that she couldn’t hear her. The wind that was more powerful than anything Lefiya had seen before was also deafening her to the world as the flames grew even hotter. They were smothering her words to such an extent that even if she shouted at the top of her lungs right next to her, they would never reach. And with every passing second the flames themselves seemed to grow more intense.

Yet, that was all that stopped the Irregular from having a chance to counterattack. That menacing wind that barreled down upon the massive construct was stopping it from even shielding itself, tearing apart the wind it could use to form a shield at the same time as it was having gouges torn into its body. Stopping Aiz meant it would have freedom of movement again.

Even so, allowing Aiz to burn herself away would be the worst outcome and she wouldn’t forgive herself if she let that happen. So she had to find a way to reach her and deal with the monster at the same time. She had to cast a spell that could do both, but what?

Wracking her brain as her body felt burning hot, the desire for something to quench the flames drudged up a memory from only a little while ago and a solution to do both. It’ll be a long shot, but if it stops her then I’ll do it.

Rising to her feet, Lefiya poured strength into her legs and rushed forward. Fighting the wind that seemed to push her back as a consequence of simply being on the same battlefield, she instilled within herself the unshakable will of a great tree as she called forth her Summon Burst. Her magic circle shed magical energy freely as she pushed it out, steadily accumulating what would be needed until the gateway opened and her circle turned jade.

That was when she felt Aiz’s attention on her. Even if sound wouldn’t reach her, the permeation of magical energy within the air was something that adventurers such as them became acclimated towards and she was accumulating as much as she could in order to send out a signal towards her. It was when she looked into her golden eyes that seemed to have lost their luster that she could see the toll of using that flame within her and the despair that fueled it.

That despair bred a sense of yearning for strength from what passed through their connection. It was familiar and yet foreign to Lefiya when she compared it to her own desire for strength. She yearned for strength to not only catch up to those who had constantly protected her, but to avoid losing her brother. But for Aiz, it felt like something irreplaceable had already been lost, leaving an emptiness inside of her and a yearning for the strength to avenge it.

That wasn’t something that Lefiya felt she could fill in. Not on her own. But she wanted to help see if she could, if not because they were Familia then to return every bit of kindness that she had shown her. That was why she wanted Aiz to instead give her a chance rather than relying on that flame.

Please have faith in me, Miss Aiz.’

She continued her song, fighting to shrink the distance between her and the monster. Since the wind itself was rushing forward she could ride it to get close enough that she could maximize the output of her spell while taking the distance out of the equation. Even though every instinct she had told her that the wind as it was would tear her apart, she knew that same wind could be gentle. So she put her silent words into action and placed her faith in Aiz to adjust it as she allowed it to sweep her up.

The fierce wind cradled her almost protectively as it swept her along, her chant unbroken until it finally petered out when she was at the edge of the mouth of the crater that had been carved into the stone floor from the ruthless wind that had tried to tear the stone asunder. The burning gaze of the Reflection Soldier fixed onto her once more now that the wind had died but she didn’t give it the chance to protect itself as she unleashed the borrowed spell. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

It was the first level of Lady Riveria’s offensive spell. It was said to create cold so potent that it could freeze even time itself. Whether or not that was true, Lefiya would never be able to reach that level of power when she was so far beneath the Royal Elf in terms of ability. She normally constrained it to lines of ice to prevent sweeping up her allies along the path, regulating the intensity of the cold to being just enough to stop the living in their tracks or freezing everything inside and out if necessary.

But Lefiya knew that if she dedicated her Mind to increasing the duration and intensity, she could make it work. After all, she didn’t need to freeze time itself. She just needed to plummet the entire space in front of her into temperatures where everything solid within it was frozen, an exchange that was remorseless in its cost as it kicked aside the laws of thermodynamics to make her wish come true.

Winter’s chill stifled all life and smothered every surface with rime. Had the Irregular been a normal monster, the cold would have invaded every inch of its body inside out and killed it. But the composition of its body on top of its Magic Resistant nature meant that she had only bought a minute at best before it escaped.

Ngh…The exertion and post-magic rigor took root then, a headache already settling in. She had emptied more than half of her remaining Mind to ensure that the result she wanted. And considering what she would have to do next to make sure that this worked, Lefiya was sure that she would be chastised by Lady Riveria once she was dragged back to her afterward.

“Lefiya…”

The voice of the angel reached her before she could show any sign of the toll it took though, leaving her to remain upright rather than slouching. In the face of the person that she wanted to have faith in her the most right now, showing exhaustion was inexcusable. She couldn’t allow herself and her uncertainty to be seen through a second time—not here and now.

So Lefiya only showed her resolve in the face of those golden eyes as she declared, “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

Confusion seemed to be present within her gaze. Miss Aiz wanted to question what it was that she could do. But the Thousand Elf didn’t have time to tell her. Her ears could pick up on the sound of the thick ice covering the Reflection Soldier already starting to crack as it moved to break free of its prison of ice. So she chanted anew her Summon Burst for the third and last time today, waiting until the very end to accumulate the magical energy to cope with the strain of the rigor.

Like she had told Primo and Bell, the greater the chant and power the greater the rigor. It would be painful to push through it and she knew for a fact that she was probably going to be feeling it for the next few days, but she wasn’t willing to let Miss Aiz rely on that dark flame again. She could put up with having aches, pains, and migraines for a little under a week if that was the alternative.

With that in mind, she sang a song of destruction that followed in the wake of three winters. “Soon, the inferno shall be loosed. Creeping flames of war, inevitable destruction heralded by battle horns and bloodshed that resound throughout the battlefield…

Red, hot static shot through Lefiya’s mind as the surge of magical energy began to eat away at her. It spoke of how demanding the spell she was calling forth was, a level above that which she cast before—the second level of Lady Riveria’s attack spell, meant for wide-scale annihilation. It was so taxing that she nearly felt her own body was turning into a raging blaze as she focused on channeling it into her staff.

She would have lost herself to it, if not for her mindset to be the Great Oak that could weather such an inferno. No, even greater than that was the Spirit Tree that could weather the flames of a dragon consuming it, a testament to Elvenkind’s pride and its resilience despite all that they had lost. That same resilience dwelled within herself, so she latched onto it and finished the spell with pride in her voice.

Come, crimson flames of the ruthless inferno. Sweep through, avatar of hellfire, and bring the battle to its end. Incinerate all before you, Sword of Surtr—in my name of Alf.

The magic circle at the base of her feet swelled. The jade circle dictated the range of the spell, overlapping the stone and rime, and bestowed upon her the presences nestled within—of human and monster. With only one target in her mind, she pulled the trigger of the spell. “REA LAEVATEINN!!

A deafening explosion resulted.

An eruption akin to a volcano’s awakening.

A natural disaster that would spell the destruction of all life within its boundaries.

Calling upon the full might of Lady Riveria’s spell, bathing the entirety of the 37th Floor with columns of fire, was beyond the Thousand Elf even if she expended every drop of Mind she possessed. But if she focused only on a singular enemy and a singular location, then that was different. She could focus the intensity and duration all upon the frozen Irregular Reflection Soldier.

The result was a chant that unleashed a column of hellfire that surged from beneath the frozen wastelands and high into the sky. Ravenous, merciless flames constrained to a singular pillar spouted forth and slammed into the ceiling above, turning it a golden hue as if attempting to melt through it. Permafrost from the three-fold winters that had sunken beneath surface evaporated in a flash, steam violently erupting to unleash a hellish and scalding wind as the area within it was turned into a layer of the Nine Hells.

The eruption knocked away the Half-Elf who had been closer to it. The new battle clothes were well made given that she barely felt the intense heat as it rolled over her with such ferocity that her skin was reddish, even though she was on the higher end of Level Three. She had her suspicion that Lady Riveria had taken into account her choice of spells and tailored them to account for that, so she wasn’t seared from head-to-toe from the superheated air.

But she knew that was her limit as she felt a soft, firm embrace upon her. Her Mind had been bottomed out. Mental exhaustion quickly set upon her as the world was devoured by darkness.

The rest she would leave to Miss Aiz.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Aiz managed to grab the Half-Elf as she was blown back from the sudden expansion of air, superheated from the spell that she had unleashed. Cradling her as it rolled past them, her golden eyes spanned over her prone form and realized she had mentally collapsed. Other than that she was alive and relatively unharmed.

Relief flooded her like a splash of cold water washing over her. But it was short-lived as she heard the droning cry coming from the inferno as the pillar of fire died with the consciousness of its caster. She turned her eyes back to the source and tension replaced the relief.

It was still alive.

The heat of Rea Laevateinn had melted the ground beneath its origin like wax. The Reflection Soldier had sunken within due to being more durable and heavier, submerged in the molten earth until the flames ceased. Now that the hellfire had cut off and the charred and blackened slag around them was still crackling hot, it was pulling itself out of that molten pit like it was emerging from the depths of Hell.

But Lefiya’s efforts were not in vain.

Its polished and reflective body had been burnt black while still glowing hot. Steam leaked from the countless fissures threading its form. It was still whole, but its body had been greatly weakened, and its structure was compromised—reducing its defense drastically.

That was the result of being chilled to the point of absolute zero and then suddenly superheated to molten temperatures. That hard body that resisted her strongest blow before would not be able to do so a second time. Her comrade had banked everything on that to the point of leaving her to finish up.

I understand, Lefiya,” muttering that as she set her companion down to the ground, she stepped forward and called forth her wind while leaping into the air with all her might. The wind stirred gathered around her sword once more for a final assault.

That was when its burning gaze fixed onto her a final time. Perhaps sensing her Magic posed a threat to it once more, it wrested control of the air that was around it. Instinctive fear formed the Wind Shield meant to oppose her assault—a reflexive defense that had prevented the Mage’s killing shot prior.

But there was no problem. She would focus all of Aerial’s wind into a single point and then pierce it. Resolve solidified, Aiz shot forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

LIL RAFAGA!

Her ultimate attack was unleashed. Her mother’s wind reinforced her unbreakable sword, rocketing her forward fast enough to split the air. She brought all of that momentum to bear on the wall in front of her—

BREAKTHROUGH!

— and shattered it before she plowed through the monster that summoned it faster than the eye could see. One moment she had been aloft in the air. The next the lance of wind had broken through its weakened body, leaving Aiz standing distantly on the ground as Aerial petered out.

Eventually, the world around her caught up. The air that should have been pulled along roared as it surged past her, leaving her blue cowl to thrash as the wind continued into the distance…

Carrying along with it the ashes of her slain foe.