Chapter 5 – The Princess of Darkness and the Mechanical Dragon
Two weeks had already passed since the start of the new school term. Days passed as Ash attended his classes as a second-year student in the Senios course while also partaking in student council activities. Another large event awaited them later in the month.
—Aries Dragon Riding Festival.
It was a dragon riding festival that was focused on athletic events. Last year’s festival was still fresh in Ash’s mind, and it wasn’t something he would ever forget. He raced against Silvia. He had a chance encounter with Milgauss and was attacked by Anya. It was also the birth of Eco, who had been asleep up until then. Ash’s turbulent school life started exactly a year ago at the Dragon Riding Festival.
However, now was not the time to reminisce about the past. A responsibility for officers of the student council was to enter Fianna Forest in advance in order to set up devices in strategic locations to drive beasts away — [Magic Incense Burners]. The route of the dragon riding race included Fianna Forest, but many ferocious beasts inhabited the forest. In order to prevent participants from being attacked by beasts, setting up Magic Incense Burners in advance was an important task for the student council officers. Ash and the others already had experience with this last autumn, so there was nothing unfamiliar about it. As long as everyone divides the work and cooperates, it’ll be easy to complete — that was what Ash thought before they set off.
—After school that day.
Led by Ash, the officers of the student council changed into their Academy dragon riding uniforms and gathered at the entrance of the forest. As for the groups, this had been decided by drawing lots prior to their departure. As expected, sparks went flying between the girls during this process, and Ash was suppressed by their sheer aura. Although it was sufficient to divide the work up between three groups last year, five groups were necessary this year due to the expansion of the route through the forest. As such, the student council made a special invitation to Anya and Linda as helpers. According to the fair, open and transparent lottery process, the groups were determined to be:
- A Rebecca and Lucca (Cú Chulainn)
- B Max and Raymond (Arianrhod)
- C Eco and Linda (Gawain)
- D Silvia, Cosette and Jessica (Lancelot)
- E Ash and Anya (Brigid)
“Sorry for asking you to help out even though things are so busy with your job at the student restaurant.”
Anya made a somewhat embarrassed smile upon hearing Ash’s apology.
“It’s okay, you guys help me out a lot normally anyway. Moreover, I think a task like this is more suitable for me.”
“It’s a relief to hear you say that.”
Ash also responded with a smile, but suddenly became unsure of where to direct his gaze. Since Anya didn’t have a dragon riding uniform, what she wore instead was her usual combat attire. Since it was a tribal outfit, Anya wasn’t shy about it…but thinking about it calmly, it was quite revealing, and it unreservedly exposed much of Anya’s tan skin. When she was their enemy, Ash had hardly realised this, but he couldn’t help but feel his heart race whenever he gazed at her bare abdomen and thighs.
Ash suddenly noticed something odd. He immediately understood after looking at Anya for a while. She was still wearing a cat ear hairband on her head. It was probably because she forgot to take if off when she changed from her waitress uniform into her combat outfit. She was clearly wearing her combat attire, but also had cat ears on her head. It was quite a refreshing look.
“What’s wrong, Ash?”
Anya asked, noticing Ash’s gaze.
“Umm, your cat ears…I think you forgot to take them off?”
Anya was so surprised that she almost jumped up, and she grasped at her head with both hands.
“W-What should I do? T-These cat ears take up a lot of space…”
They had to carry a lot of Magic Incense Burners today, so it was best to have a minimal amount of other luggage on hand.
“Why don’t you just keep wearing it then?”
“Uuh, it’s so embarrassing…”
Anya cheeks became flushed. Ash found it somewhat amusing that she didn’t mind wearing her revealing native attire, yet she was embarrassed about wearing cat ears. After chatting with Anya like this for a while…
A dark aura surged from behind, and Ash immediately sensed danger.
“—You two seem rather friendly.”
The person staring at them with narrowed eyes was Silvia.
“I didn’t expect Anya-san to make a surprise ambush!”
Jessica puffed out her cheeks.
“The atmosphere between Ash and Anya…seems nice…”
Lucca whispered softly beside Jessica.
“It’s quite regrettable…”
Even Linda, who normally acted rather maturely, made a rare expression of her opinion.
“You…if you keep showing that lovestruck look on your face, watch out or I’ll crush you!”
Eco proudly declared as she folded her arms in front of her chest.
“Everyone, it’s not good for you mind or body to get angry over such a trivial matter, you know?”
As expected of Rebecca, she displayed the calmness of a mature woman. Yet, Ash felt no trace of joy in her eyes and couldn’t help but shiver.
“Geez, I really wish they’d spare us some of the attention…right, Max?”
Raymond shrugged as he sought agreement from the friend by his side. Raymond looked rather depressed because he had been placed in the same team as Max.
“No. I’m actually looking forward to the beautiful Ashley…isn’t it her turn to appear yet?”
Unfortunately, not only did Max disagree with Raymond, but he also responded like that with a serious expression. This scene felt rather cute in Ash’s eyes. It was precisely because he had experienced so many desperate battles that such a peaceful daily scene felt precious. While Ash soaked in such emotions, Eco’s attention eventually focused on Brigid.
“Hey, Brigid? You have to keep an eye on Ash, and don’t let him do anything strange to Anya!”
Upon being glared at by Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor, Brigid broke into a cold sweat and kept nodding its head at the same time.
After bidding farewell to everyone, Ash and Anya ventured into the forest. For students, this was a familiar route.
“Let’s go, Brigid!”
Ash entered a state of human-dragon integration with Brigid as he tugged on its reins. As sunlight poured through the leaves and branches to illuminate their path, Brigid galloped along briskly. At that moment, Ash felt a soft sensation against his back.
“Hey, Ash? Isn’t this a bit too fast…?”
Anya nervously whispered. Perhaps because she wasn’t accustomed to riding on a dragon, she had been holding on tightly to Ash for a while now. She might not have realised, but a slight bulge was pressing up against Ash’s back. Ash couldn’t help but feel anxious when he became acutely aware of the sensation. To distract himself, he said to Brigid,
“Good, keep going just like this. We’ll arrive at the first set up point fairly soon!”
Perhaps sensing the momentum in Ash’s voice, Brigid let out a courageous roar.
“Phew…that’s the second one set up. Four to go now.”
Ash wiped the sweat from his brow after activating a Magic Incense Burner behind a bush.
“Thankfully, no beasts showed up during the activation process.”
While remaining vigilant of their surroundings, Anya squeezed her way through some bushes as they walked back.
“Having said that, even if we do encounter one, I’ll use my whip to drive them away for you. Dealing with beasts is my forte.”
In fact, Anya had already repelled three beasts. With just a single crack of her whip, the beasts would retreat in fear. It seemed the sharp sound generated by the whip made them fearful. Even if his opponents were beasts, Ash didn’t want to cause harm to them. As such, he had been relying on Anya’s technique ever since they entered the forest.
“It’s really reassuring to have you by my side, Anya.”
Anya was astonished when Ash said that to her with a smile.
“Geez, the way that you casually say such embarrassing things is troubling. Maybe it’s just your innocence…but because of that, all of the girls around you are—”
Unfortunately, because Anya’s voice was too soft, it didn’t reach Ash’s ears.
“Sorry. I didn’t catch that just then…”
“If you didn’t hear then don’t worry about it!”
Ash couldn’t understand why Anya’s face turned completely red.
Brigid let out a weak roar. It appeared that it had been running for too long.
“Brigid seems tired too, so shall we take a break?”
Ash suggested, and Anya finally smiled.
“In that case, how about some special sandwiches and coffee from <La Tene>?”
Anya jogged over to Brigid and took off the satchel that was tied to the saddle. Anya had already distributed lunch boxes and water to each group before their departure.
“It just so happens that I’m feeling hungry, so that’d be great. The manager of <La Tene> always seems to look after us.”
“It’s because you guys are loyal customers, so don’t worry about it.”
Anya responded with a smile as she spread out a picnic rug next to Brigid. Brigid took a comfortable nap under the sunshine that simmered through the leaves and branches above. Thanks to a double serving of meat before they set off, it seemed there was no need for Brigid to have anything now.
After opening the lid of the lunch box, Anya handed it over to Ash. It was stuffed full of colourful sandwiches.
“I think I’ll have a pork cutlet sandwich first then.”
“Help yourself to as much as you like.”
Anya cutely replied. In that instant, Ash grew nervous as he felt as though Anya acted like a newlywed wife. She was simply adorable because she still wore cat ears on her head like usual.
“Thanks for the meal!”
Ash took a bite of the pork cutlet sandwich in an attempt to distract his lust with his appetite.
“Mmm, it’s delicious.”
The crispiness of the batter and the soft yet elastic fibres of the thick-cut pork complemented each other, and it went perfectly with the sweet and spicy sauce. When paired with shredded lettuce, the taste was less greasy than it appeared. Suddenly, a mellow fragrance filled their surroundings.
“Would you like some coffee?”
Anya smiled as she handed the flask lid which doubled as a cup to Ash. It was filled to the brim with coffee that emitted steaming vapor. Ash couldn’t help but burst into laughter.
“Haha, your tone has totally transformed into that of a waitress!”
“S-Sorry! I’m so used to it that I accidentally—”
At that moment, the flustered Anya suddenly fumbled.
It was too late for Ash to dodge, and so the brown liquid spilled onto his thigh.
“Kya! Y-You have to take that off straight away…!”
Anya extended her hands toward Ash’s belt in a panic. She didn’t seem to realise just how bold her actions were.
“N-No! I was just surprised, but it’s not actually that hot!”
Ash managed to regain his calm. However, Anya was still in a state of panic and constantly tried to take Ash’s pants off.
“Wait, it’s okay really! Just calm down first — huh!?”
This time, it was Ash’s hand that slipped. The hand that he had reached out with in an attempt to placate Anya had accidentally slipped into an unintended location. That place was — underneath the native outfit covering Anya’s chest.
Her slightly raised breasts unquestionably transmitted a soft and elastic sensation to his hand. The palm of his hand felt a protrusion that was reminiscent of a flower bud.
Anya fell into even more of a panic as she attempted to untangle herself from Ash’s hand. At that moment—
Her clothing slid away in an unexpected direction—.
And then, the slightly bulging breasts of the tan-skinned girl were exposed under the sunlight that filtered through the treetops.
Ash and Anya both froze stiffly in place, and after a few seconds—
A flurry of tears was mingled with a scream that echoed in the depths of the forest.
After some twists and turns — Ash and Anya finally managed to deploy all of the Magic Incense Burners before sunset.
“Huh? This place, isn’t this…”
Ash suddenly urged Brigid to stop. A cliff stood before them. It was both a terrifying and nostalgic place — a place full of memories. It was where Ash had fallen one year ago. It was also where Ash was saved by the newly born Eco.
“Speaking of which, this is also where you and I met for the first time, Anya.”
Ash murmured with feelings of nostalgia as he jumped down from Brigid.
“Yeah, you’re right…”
Anya followed Ash and gracefully landed on the ground.
Anya suddenly lowered her head to Ash as if she had recalled something.
“I’m really sorry for what happened back then! It’s my fault that you fell off the cliff…”
“Anya!? It’s been so long ago since that happened. Are you still hung up on it?”
“At the time…I was supposed to be the only one to fall off the cliff. But you pushed me aside and saved me, right? You took the fall for me…and for that…I never properly apologised to you.”
Anya lowered her head dejectedly as tears welled up in her eyes.
“D-Don’t make that kind of face! Besides, I was saved by the birth of Eco, so you don’t need to worry about it, okay?”
“More importantly, if not for that accident, Eco might not even be born yet. As long as it ends well, then everything else if fine.”
Ash desperately tried to console her.
“Thank you…you really are kind, Ash.”
Anya wiped her tears away with her fingertips and finally smiled. After immersing himself in nostalgia at the edge of the cliff for a while, Ash suddenly seemed to remember something and took out his silver pocket watch to confirm the time.
“It’s almost time for us to head back.”
He said to Anya with a hint of reluctance.
She didn’t respond. Anya’s entire body grew tense.
Ash sharply asked, to which Anya replied,
“Don’t you think it’s weird? Just then, the presence of the birds, beasts and insects in the forest…it’s all disappeared.”
“Now that you mention it, it does seem a bit too quiet…”
Upon saying that, Ash paused and gasped. After all, it was because Anya’s expression was as serious as when they first met. Is it really necessary to be so concerned about the current situation…although Ash found it strange, perhaps Anya was particularly sensitive to this abnormal phenomenon given that she grew up in a tribe that was surrounded by nature.
“Ash! At the bottom of the valley…there’s something hiding there!”
“What did you say!?”
The instant that Ash gazed down from the top of the cliff…
Brigid suddenly roared and exhaled a breath of flame. An astonishing amount of atmospheric pressure and a loud noise suddenly erupted at the same time. The flames were sprayed directly at a rock on the other side of the cliff. A cloud of dust was kicked up, and fragments of debris continued to fall. Stones fell like rain towards the bottom of the valley.
“Brigid, what happened to you all of a sudden…?”
Ash whispered in surprise. In an instant, the surrounding air began to vibrate — something beyond Ash’s comprehension slowly floated and surfaced from the bottom of the valley.
“Eco-san, the last Magic Incense Burner has been activated. This concludes our job now.”
Only when Linda said that with a cheerful voice did Eco raise her head in surprise and recall that she was actually riding on the back of a Maestro. When Linda began to activate the Magic Incense Burners, Eco couldn’t help but feel a bit drowsy under the comfort of the early spring sunshine. The one responsible for transporting Eco and Linda was Gawain, who had been borrowed from Lucca. Because Gawain was extremely loyal to its master, they were initially worried about whether it would allow Eco and Linda to ride it — but since it was Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor and Linda, who was suspected to have the same dragon riding ability as Ash, even Gawain obediently obliged.
“This was a surprisingly easy job.”
Eco uttered as she stretched her body.
“Nii-san is very considerate, which is why we only needed to set up three of them.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Eco glanced at Linda from the corner of her eye. With an innocent smile on her face, Linda seemed to be a rather clever girl at first glance. In fact, she had been the subject of various compliments among the officers of the student council, with descriptions such as:
“Maturity unlike that of a freshman.”
“As expected of Ash’s little sister.”
…And so on. As such, despite being a freshman, she was selected to help with the activities of the student council. However, Eco still couldn’t lower her guard against Linda. Because of what happened that night, various thoughts still lingered in her mind.
—…I want to be onii-chan’s bride. I have to…uh…
—As long as it’s for onii-chan…I’m willing to do anything…
—Onii-chan…don’t…don’t leave me…I don’t want to be alone…if I can’t be with you, I won’t be able to live on…
Linda’s words didn’t seem to be mere sleep talk. In other words, perhaps…because it was dream talk, it was an indicator of her usually repressed emotions. The <Seikoku> engraved on Linda’s lower abdomen was also rather intriguing. What kind of dragon resided in Linda’s body? Moreover, why did Linda have the same abilities as Ash? A genius dragon tamer — it was an ability that was already far beyond common sense. Why did this ability only manifest in Ash and Linda?
—Well, there’s no need to worry for now. After all, I don’t want to suddenly ask questions and make our relationship awkward…
Eco thought and convinced herself of this. At that moment—
A prolonged roar echoed in the distance.
“That voice…it’s Brigid!”
An ominous premonition cast a shadow across Eco’s mind. The voice sounded urgent, as if it was trying to convey some kind of emergency.
“I can’t tell the voice of dragons apart…but if that’s really Brigid, then it must mean that something has happened to nii-san, right?”
Linda worried for Ash’s safety as an apprehensive look spread across her face.
“It’s disturbing…Gawain, let’s move in the direction of that voice immediately!”
Gawain promptly responded by flapping its wings with enough vigour to sweep away all of the surrounding branches.
A noise emitted from a particular device stimulated Ash’s ears. The full figure of what floated up from below the cliff finally revealed itself.
“…H-Hey, is this for real!?”
Ash was dumbfounded. As for Anya, she was too shocked to even make a sound. The thing was extraordinarily similar to a dragon. It had a head with sharp horns attached to a long and thick neck. It had a majestic body with four limbs and razor-sharp claws. Its wings were sharp and pointed. Every part of it was similar to a dragon. In addition, its body was larger than that of an average Maestro. The problem was…it wasn’t a living thing. What covered its entire body was neither silvery-white fur nor scales, but jet-black armour plates. From the top of its head to the tip of its wings, the entire thing was constructed of metal. Mounted on each of its shoulders were long and wide-barrelled magic cannons. In the centre of its head, an eerie sphere glowed red, as if it was keeping an eye on Ash and Anya. Perhaps the sphere really did have the function of vision.
Ash was stunned. Who made this? What purpose was it made for? Why was it lurking in Fianna Forest? Suddenly, Ash recalled the report that Silvia had shown him.
—‘A mysterious giant dragon appeared in the forest at night!?’
Since the beginning of spring, a gigantic dragon flying at night had already been spotted several times. The mighty figure that stood before him at this moment was indeed consistent with the eyewitness reports. No, its size was even greater than he had guessed based on the sightings. In terms of physique, the only one capable of surpassing this dragon was probably the Holy Dragons’ Emperor, Eco.
“…Since its mechanical, does that mean it uses the unique technology of the Empire? Did you hear anything about this from Milgauss, Anya?”
“I didn’t. I’ve never heard of anyone developing something like this…”
Anya shook her head in disbelief. At that moment, the mechanical dragon slowly descended and landed in front of Ash. The ground made a slight grumble.
“Hmm, thou actually saw through our camouflage. Colour me impressed.”
The voice that descended from above startled Ash. On the mechanical dragon’s head — there stood a slim figure. A girl in a dark dress gracefully rode on top of the mechanical dragon. No, perhaps it was more suitable to describe it as being ‘on board’ rather than ‘riding’? The young girl’s appearance was reminiscent of a dazzling silver crescent moon against the backdrop of a dark night sky. She seemed to be around fifteen years old and gave off a refined aura. Her slanted eyes had a commanding presence, and her pupils were emerald in colour. She had gorgeously long blonde hair, with curls that hung down on both sides in front of her chest. It was a hairstyle that seemed like it would be fashionable among nobility.
She was armed with a spear in her right hand, and its terrifying shape was somewhat similar to the magic sword that Milgauss once had.
“Who on earth…?”
Ash asked with a surprised tone, to which the girl softly giggled…
“That face…thou must be Ash Blake, correct?”
“How do you know me!?”
“A stupid question. Not only didst thou successfully defend Fontaine City against the <Schwarz Drachen Panzer> led by Klaus, but thou also stopped Prince Uriel’s conspiracy at the very last moment. Moreover, thou repelled the Necroplant that was morphed from the Mother Dragon. Every country around the world has their eyes on thee and young dragon Eco, as well as the movements of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights.”
The girl’s words were spoken with an imperial accent, cementing the fact that she was indeed from the Empire.
“You know that much!?”
“Moreover — thou art very important to us.”
It seemed that she was not alone. Just as Ash tried to question her further, the girl spoke first and asked sharply,
“By the way, where art thy Pal? Surely that Asia is not the Holy Dragon Emperor, Eco?”
The girl glanced alternately at Ash and Brigid.
“I’m not going to tell someone like you about Eco’s whereabouts. More importantly, what is that thing that you’re riding!?”
“How insolent! What dost thou mean by ‘that thing’!?”
The girl glared at Ash coldly. It seemed as though she was quite attached to the mechanical dragon.
“This child is the greatest masterpiece of the Maschinen Drache, and mine dear Pal — Brünhilde!”
“Hold on! The term ‘Pal’ is sacred. You can’t just use it on a mechanical toy!”
“Didst thou just say…a toy? It seems thoust accidentally said something thou shouldn’t have.”
Anger surfaced on the girl’s expression, and it seemed as if veins could appear on her temples at any moment. Despite her seemingly calm demeanour, she was quite quick to anger.
“Let’s go, Brünhilde!”
As soon as the girl raised her spear up high, it emitted a faint glow from the tip. The Maschinen Drache — Brünhilde made a deep metallic hum as it took a heavy step. Ash couldn’t help but shiver. After all, many shiny black machine gun barrels were mounted on Brünhilde’s abdominal armour.
Ash guided Brigid to run in a zig-zagged pattern to evade a rain of bullets. Yet, Brünhilde’s gunfire grew more intense and continued to draw close.
“Hmph, the Asia’s movements gradually seem to be getting sluggish, it seems?”
The girl’s comment chillingly entered their ears. In actuality, Brigid’s fatigue had indeed reached its limit.
The next instant, a bullet finally pierced Brigid’s hind leg. The large calibre round penetrated through its hard scales.
Brigid’s body violently shuddered, and both Ash and Anya fell from the saddle.
Ash’s back crashed onto the ground, assaulting him with a sharp, aching pain. Anya seemed to have hit her head as she lost consciousness.
Even despite its wounded hind leg, Brigid stood its ground in front of Ash and Anya. It let out a growl from the depths of its throat, as if to intimidate Brünhilde.
Ash shouted in anguish towards Brigid from behind. However, Brigid remained as firm as a mountain, determined to use itself as a sacrificial shield.
If this continues, I’ll rob my best friend Raymond of his Pal…
“Hmph, this is exactly why I despise living creatures. I’ll turn thou into a taxidermy mount and display thee in the corridor of my castle!”
After the girl uttered such cruel words, Brünhilde slowly advanced. The reason that she didn’t immediately attack was probably because she was convinced of her victory.
With every step, Brünhilde drew closer. To Ash, it sounded like the footsteps of death incarnate. He came to a grim realisation of just how powerless he was when separated from Eco. The girl’s attitude changed from one of mockery to seriousness as she coldly commanded,
“Brünhilde, ready thy cannons!”
Instantly, Brünhilde began to move. Accompanied by a deep mechanical hum, the magic cannons mounted on its shoulders took aim at Ash and the others.
Ash gasped in astonishment.
“Farewell, Ash Blake. Be blown to pieces along with that useless dragon!”
There was no longer an option for escape. All Ash could do was figure out a way to move his paralysed body, hold onto Anya, and try to shield her. And then—
Just as the girl yelled, the deafening cannons unleashed a sequential blast.
Two magic blasts drew out perfect parabolic arc in the air as they flew towards Ash and the others.
“Hmm. I didn’t expect that of the famous Ash Blake — so that’s all he was capable of. It’s honestly a disappointment.”
The girl stood on Brünhilde’s head as she waited for the dust to disperse.
“There is no doubt that they are an obstacle to the Exalted Leader. Naturally, Eco’s Knight — Ash, is a target that must also be eliminated. The Exalted Leader will surely understand.”
Just after the girl coldly whispered as if trying to persuade herself—
“—You idiot! Don’t get yourself killed without my permission!”
An ardent voice reverberated from beyond the veil of dust and debris.
Amidst the haze and dust, Ash slowly raised his head.
“—You idiot! Don’t get yourself killed without my permission!”
Ash’s heart was instantly filled with courage upon hearing such words of reproach. There was no mistaking that the voice belonged to Eco.
“Nii-san, Anya-san, are both of you okay!?”
Linda’s anxious voice also reached his ears.
“You infidel! Not only have you invaded the territory of my country, but you’ve also brought suspicious weaponry! It seems everything written in the report was true!”
Silvia’s awe-inspiring voice followed.
“…It seems the ‘Leader’ that she spoke of is her boss.”
What followed after was Rebecca’s cautious voice.
“My Ashley was almost killed…how dangerous.”
Ash deliberately pretended not to hear a word that Max said. Then, as a gust of wind blew past, the dust finally settled—. Four Maestros — Cú Chulainn, Lancelot, Arianrhod and Gawain all stood in front of Ash, deploying defensive magic that seemed as impenetrable as a fortress. Rebecca and Lucca rode on Cú Chulainn. Silvia, Cosette and Jessica rode Lancelot. On Arianrhod were…Max and Raymond. Riding on Gawain were Eco and Linda. Taking the lead, both Rebecca and Silvia had already equipped their Arks. Their fiery red and ice blue colours were a stark contrast.
[That was really close, Ash. You owe me a big one this time, okay?]
Navi’s voice was telepathically conveyed to him. The reason why all of his comrades had been able to rescue him in time was because Navi sensed the danger and alerted them.
“Thank you, Navi.”
Ash wiped beads of cold sweat from his brow as he thanked Navi.
Rebecca urged Cú Chulainn to take a step forward, and then said to the girl,
“First, tell us your name and the organisation that you belong to. Then, explain this dangerous vehicle—”
“No, wait! That face…I’ve definitely seen it before!”
Silvia appeared flustered as she interrupted Rebecca.
“Could it be, but that’s impossible…no, but…that beauty…I couldn’t possibly forget. This person…no, you can’t be…!”
The creaking sounds that could be heard from the seams of Silvia’s Ark were clear evidence that she was trembling all over.
“Hmm. If I recall, thou art the Fourth Princess of the Lautreamont Knight Country, Silvia — I didn’t think I’d run into a familiar face here.”
After the girl cast a sharp glance at Silvia, she looked around at everyone else.
“Halt, ye fools!”
The air of majesty that she commanded made it difficult to believe that she was only around fifteen years old. Ash couldn’t help but back away. The girl then proudly declared her name.
“I am one of the Seven Winged Generals of the Magic Association <Demiurge> — Annegert Lara Walpurga von Zepharos!”
“Magic Association? No, more importantly, the surname of Zepharos…!?”
Ash stood there with a dazed expression. It was so sudden that he couldn’t process the situation. No matter how vast the world was, there was only one meaning behind the ‘Zepharos’ surname.
“It’s as you imagine, Ash. Although our countries are not on friendly terms with each other, the Knight Country’s royal family and the royalty of the Zepharos Empire have met several times in the past…and that is why I know…”
After Silvia paused to take a breath, she continued,
“There is no doubt. She is the Sixth Princess of the Zepharos Empire.”
Ash was so shocked that he couldn’t utter a single word. At that moment, Annegert scoffed and said,
“Well, you can rest assured. I am only here now of mine own will. Everything I have said and done has nothing to do with the Imperial government.”
Upon hearing Annegert’s arrogant statement, Ash retorted,
“Do you think we’ll just believe what you say!? How did you obtain such a ridiculous weapon? Was it not developed by the Imperial Army?”
“…Preposterous. How could those crude and oil-smothered Imperial soldiers possibly give birth to such a lovely child? Behold its beautiful form! Everything is the result of the technological capabilities that <Demiruge> has cultivated.”
In that moment, Annegert appeared extraordinarily innocent, much like a girl fascinated with a doll.
“The Magic Association <Demiurge>…huh. I may not have heard of the name, but if what she said is true, then the organisation must have financial and technological capabilities comparable to that of a country, right?”
Rebecca solemnly whispered. Beads of cold sweat appeared on Rebecca’s forehead as well, much unlike her usual calm appearance.
“That is the end of my self-introduction. It looks like all the actors have assembled.”
Annegert sneered like a wicked witch.
“Fufu. I wonder which would be stronger between mine Brünhilde and the dragons that you have raised. Wouldn’t it be an interesting contest? It’s just—”
After saying that much, Annegert paused, and then revealed a serious expression. Her cold gaze darted straight to Eco.
“I’m also well aware that the situation will become troublesome if Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor is awakened.”
Annegert brandished her spear and shouted as if casting a spell.
“Rain down, o grace of Pluto. Dye the light of Avalon in darkness with ye black power…”
Brünhilde’s eye gleamed as it responded to the chant of Annegert’s spell. The mechanical figure emitted a dark aura. And then, the aura was gradually absorbed by Annegert’s spear. It was a mysterious and strange sight to behold. A sense of unease took hold in Ash’s mind. Perhaps it was an instinctive fear. The unpleasant shivers that coursed through his body reminded him of something he had encountered in the past…
“Behold and be awed! The name of my great spear is Gungnir! Reveal thyself, <Ouroboros>!”
In an instant, a dark aura was ejected from Annegert’s spear.
Ash immediately charged out in an attempt to protect Eco, but — the aura released by Gungnir swiftly struck Eco like a bolt of lightning.
Eco let out a horrid scream out of fear. Her petite body suddenly floated.
Linda also tried to grab Eco’s legs, but her hands couldn’t reach. In an instant, Eco’s body was already floating several metres above the ground.
“Kuh…what…is this…my…my body can’t move……”
A jet-black snake restrained Eco. In fact, dozens of snakes densely swarmed together almost in the form of an altar. And it was as if Eco was being offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The swarm of <Ouroboros> relentlessly buried themselves under Eco’s armpits and behind her knees. They then entangled themselves around her wrists and ankles. Eco’s distance from the ground continued to grow with each passing moment.
Eco struggled in tears as she was strung up in the air.
“Let go of Eco!”
Ash glared at the <Ouroboros> and tried to attack, but…
Just touching them caused his entire body to be repelled away. It felt as if his entire body was assaulted by a dark aura. Ash’s back slammed onto the ground, leaving him breathless.
“Fufu, it’s useless. If ye want to release her, then try and catch up to Brünhilde.”
A sinister sneer formed in the corner of Annegert’s mouth, and a burst of magical flames erupted from behind Brünhilde. In the blink of an eye, the pitch-black machine had already ascended into the sky.
“What should we do…?”
All Ash could do was gaze at the trajectory of Brünhilde in a daze. Feelings of despair gradually darkened his emotions — but Rebecca’s sharp voice reinvigorated Ash.
“Ash! Your top priority is to rescue Eco!”
Ash immediately straightened his posture. It felt like he had gone back to how things were a year ago.
“Max, Lucca and I will chase down the enemy! Linda, you’re responsible for taking care of Anya and Brigid! Let’s go, Cú Chulainn!”
Under Rebecca’s orders, Cú Chulainn majestically ascended.
“Let’s follow them!”
Silvia also commanded Lancelot and flew into the sky. Immediately afterwards, Arianrhod also flapped its wings and took off whilst carrying Max. Lastly, Lucca jumped onto Gawain and took off. Having finally reunited with its master, Gawain seemed as lively as a fish in water.
—I’m sorry, everyone…!
Ash endured the pain in his back as he stood up. Behind him, Linda and Cosette were taking care of Anya, while Raymond and Jessica tended to Brigid. Ash also felt quite regretful for dragging Linda into this situation when she had just enrolled at the school. Perhaps sensing his emotions, Linda gazed at him with a sincere expression.
“Nii-san, it’s okay. Please don’t worry about me. I may not look it, but I’m quite resilient.”
Ash was deeply moved by his little sister’s mature words.
Jessica also spoke to him with a rare, serious expression.
“It doesn’t look like Anya-san or Brigid have any life-threatening injuries. We’ll take cover in the forest momentarily.”
“Thank you, Jessica.”
Ash firmly nodded.
—That’s right. I have to do what I must…!
Ash clenched his fists as he looked up at Eco.
Restricted by the entanglement of the constantly writhing <Ouroboros>, Eco appeared to contort her body due to the increasing agony.
“Just hold on a bit longer, Eco!”
The battle between an ‘aircraft’ and ‘four dragons’ thus unfolded above the forest. In order to capture Brünhilde, the team composed of Cú Chulainn, Lancelot, Arianrhod and Gawain continued to fly at high speed in an organised formation. However, Brünhilde’s agility exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“Kuh, how is it this fast!? It’s clearly such a heavy machine…”
Silvia voiced her frustrations as she commanded Lancelot by its reins. After they finally managed to get close to Brünhilde from behind, the distance was gradually widened again.
“Huh!? Watch out!”
As the one furthest in front, Rebecca issued a warning. Silvia also took notice. Brünhilde’s armour began to undergo an odd transformation.
The girl’s voice cut through the cold sky. Accompanied by a loud bang, something was unleashed all at once. They were small white cylinders that seemed distinctly different from ordinary shells. Like a school of fish scattering in water, the shells released trails of white smoke as they fanned out in a radial pattern. It was almost as if each and every cylinder had a will of its own.
“Disperse! They’re probably…missiles!”
Immediately after Rebecca shouted, the mysterious cylinders turned one after another. After a brief moment of silence, they darted towards everyone. Because they were small and fast, it was a difficult task to shoot all of them down.
“Are all of them homing types!?”
Silvia murmured in disbelief.
“Fufu. These missiles are the pinnacle of Magica Technica! They can reach the speed of sound, and they’ll chase a target to the ends of the earth as long as they sense magical energy!”
The girl snickered coldly while Brünhilde continued to glide gracefully through the air.
“This is nothing! Lancelot, deploy a Hexagonal Shield!”
Under Silvia’s orders, Lancelot let out a fierce roar. As a result, a myriad of small hexagons immediately appeared in the air, forming a sturdy defensive barrier. The next instant, several missiles collided with the Hexagonal Shield!
“Huh!? What’s going on…?”
The situation didn’t proceed as Silvia expected — none of the missiles exploded. The missiles simply pressed against the surface of the barrier and stopped there.
In an instant, the front of the missiles radiated light, producing a phenomenon similar to electrical discharge. A piercing, crackling sound was emitted.
Unexpectedly, the Hexagonal Shield dispersed as easily as a puff of smoke. The tip of the missile then dropped off and the remainder resumed its trajectory. The halved missiles then aimed at Lancelot’s flanks. Lancelot immediately twisted its body, but the missiles grazed its hips before finally exploding.
The immense pain evoked an anguished roar from Lancelot. Although it had avoided a direct hit, its silvery-white fur was charred, and it also sustained burns on its skin. After losing its balance in mid-air, Lancelot made a painstaking effort to restabilise itself. Silvia barely managed to hold on and avoid being thrown off.
“Silvia! Are you okay!?”
Rebecca cried with worry. Silvia loudly replied,
“Please be careful! My defensive magic was forcibly undone by them! It seems like defensive magic is ineffective against those things called Doragvemdr—”
“Got it! Max, Lucca, don’t rely on defensive magic!”
Rebecca quickly relayed the instructions.
Lucca replied with a soft voice — but Max was one step too late. After being cornered by the missiles, he had ordered Arianrhod to use its defensive magic. The missiles easily defused the defensive barrier and exploded near its forelimbs.
Due to the tremendous shockwave, Max’s glasses were blown off.
Silvia’s voice was almost overshadowed by Arianrhod’s cry of pain. It roared as it lost speed and fell, eventually crashing into Rubina Lake. Even if the others wanted to go to the rescue, the fierce missile pursuit didn’t allow them to.
—Max! Arianrhod! Please be safe…!
Silvia prayed to herself. Annegert leisurely gazed down at Rubina Lake as a grin spread across her face.
“‘Twas our goal was to break the defensive magic of the dragon race. That was made possible with knowledge of Magica Technica. What happens when two sound waves of opposite phase overlap? The sound waves will cancel each other out entirely. We applied this principle to the magic of the dragon race.”
The tone of Annegert’s voice was akin to that of a calm scientist.
“Thanks for the detailed explanation, but do you think we have time to listen!?”
Silvia gripped the reins tightly as she evaded the successive missiles that homed in on her. Although Rebecca and Lucca had been forced into defensive manoeuvres, they still seemed calm.
—As expected of Rebecca-san and Lucca. If this continues, I might be the next one to get shot down…
As soon as that thought surfaced in her mind, Silvia shook her head.
—No no! How could think something as pathetic as that, Silvia Lautreamont! Didn’t you decide to become the future Paladin?
Perhaps the Silvia of a year ago really would’ve been dragged down by her own cowardice. But at this moment, she continued to motivate herself.
—Ash. Thanks to you, I feel like I’ve become stronger!
Perhaps sensing Silvia’s emotions, Lancelot let out a fierce roar. The white smoke trails left by the missiles criss-crossed against the darkening sky, forming a web-like pattern. But in that moment, Brünhilde suddenly descended.
“Wait! Are you trying to run!?”
Silvia yelled, but Annegert simply responded with mockery.
“‘Tis the end of the game with ye. Fufu, the spell cast on Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor is nearly complete.”
By the time that Silvia frowned, Brünhilde was already gliding away towards the horizon of the evening sky.
“Don’t get distracted! Concentrate on dealing with the missiles in front of you!”
Silvia returned to her senses as soon as she heard Rebecca’s stern instructions. There were still dozens of missiles circling around intricately in the air, chasing after the three dragons.
“Silvia! Since it’s come to this, let’s all join together and defeat the missiles in one go!”
Rebecca’s voice was carried into her ears by the wind.
Despite the situation they found themselves in, Rebecca’s voice was still full of confidence. It’d be nice if I could be like Rebecca someday — Silvia hoped as she prepared to engage.
Ash’s dragon riding suit was already in tatters. His body was covered in grazes and bruises. Linda and the others had already taken refuge in the forest earlier, so it was only Ash and Eco that remained. While the sunset shrouded one end of the horizon, Silvia and the others were engaged in an aerial struggle against guided missiles. From time to time, loud noises like those of fireworks could be heard, and they dyed the evening sky a deep red.
[—Are you okay, Ash?]
Navi worriedly asked via telepathy.
“…I’m fine. I can’t fall until I rescue Eco.”
Although Ash stubbornly said so, it was already the fifth time that he had been repelled by the <Ouroboros>. It was as if the snakes were protected by an invisible barrier, and they couldn’t be touched from the outside at all.
“No…Ash. If you keep going, your body…won’t hold up…”
Eco worried about Ash as she murmured in pain. She was still suspended in mid-air, with her entire body being assaulted by pitch-black snakes.
[It’s too dangerous to go on like this. The <Ouroboros> appear to be draining Eco’s magical energy…]
As if in response to Navi’s speculation, the momentum of the <Ouroboros> continued to rise. Each one of the serpents grew longer and thicker. In contrast, Eco’s face grew more and more pale.
[…In any case, this is too odd. To be able to supress Eco’s power to such an extent…I can only think that this is a weapon of Brünhilde specifically designed to oppose Avalon. If that much is possible…could it be…]
“Navi? Have you got any ideas!?”
[No. I shouldn’t say anything in the absence of conclusive evidence. It’s just…]
“Even a guess is okay. Please just tell me what you’re thinking!”
Ash urged Navi with desperation as if she was the only ray of hope.
[…Perhaps Annegert targeted Eco from the beginning, and that was why she snuck into the Knight Country.]
“What do you mean?”
[In order to prepare for the Aries Dragon Riding Festival, the officers of the student council will set up Magic Incense Burners in the forest — even citizens of Ansarivan are familiar with such traditions. With just a little investigation, the people on Annegert’s side would’ve easily been able to discern the actions of the student council officers.]
[Unlike in an urban area, once you’ve been isolated in the forest, she can attack freely. It’s also convenient for her to conceal Brünhilde. It’s an excellent opportunity for her to do something bad to Eco.]
“Damn it! So, we unsuspectingly walked into the forest where Annegert was waiting for us…”
Just as Ash clenched his teeth in frustration, a pitch-black mechanical figure made a loud noise as it landed on the ground.
“—It looks like the <Ouroboros> are almost fully grown.”
Annegert leisurely said as she stood atop Brünhilde’s head. She then slowly waved her spear, Gungnir.
“The time hast come. Activate — <Shackles of the Ouroboros>!”
As soon as she said so, Gungnir unleashed a dark aura.
Ash instantly braced himself, but the pitch-black aura passed directly above his head and surrounded the swarm of <Ouroboros>. The <Ouroboros> then morphed.
Eco let out an agonising cry. One after another, the <Ouroboros> were sucked into <Avalon’s Bracelet> that she wore on her wrist. Most of the <Ouroboros> had already been subsumed by <Avalon’s Bracelet>. When the last snake finally disappeared — Eco, who was left in mid-air, fell straight down.
Ash ran forth with all the strength that he could muster, sliding into the position where Eco fell. At the very last moment, Ash embraced Eco in mid-air and then landed on his back.
“Are you okay!?”
“I’m fine! But the bracelet that Mother gave me…”
With a pale expression, Eco showed Ash <Avalon’s Bracelet>.
“W-What’s going on with…that!?”
Ash fell silent. <Avalon’s Bracelet> which originally shone with a silvery-white brilliance was now dyed black, much like oxidised silver. It gave off an unsettling, and even ominous feeling.
Eco left Ash’s arm as she stood up unsteadily.
“Hey, you! What have you done to the bracelet that Mother gave me? It’s a memento of her as well!”
Her eyes glowed with the burning embers of rage.
“Fuhahaha! Thou definitely hast thy priorities the wrong way around.”
Annegert scoffed as she said so in front of Eco. It was the first time that she didn’t seem to sneer or ridicule them, rather, she was genuinely amused.
“Young dragon Eco, art thou sure that’s what thee should be worrying about? Allow me to gift thee a hint. Try removing thy bracelet!”
Although Eco frowned, she touched the bracelet as if a thought had occurred to her.
“No…I can’t take if off. It won’t budge!”
A look of despair appeared on Eco’s face. —It was <Avalon’s Bracelet> from the Mother Dragon. As long as she wore that bracelet, Eco would not inadvertently turn into her dragon form. In other words, it was a control device. And if she was unable to remove the device, then…
“Like this, I won’t be able to dragonise…”
Ash couldn’t help but shudder upon hearing Eco mumble that to herself. In the past, whenever facing a strong foe, the overwhelming combat power of Holy Dragon Emperor Eco was a great help. As for Brünhilde, it was different from past enemies, and impossible to know just how strong it was. Since he had been forcibly separated from his companions, it was the ideal time for him to be riding Holy Dragon Emperor Eco, but he could no longer do so.
“Hmph. I didn’t expect things to progress this smoothly. It’s honestly gone beyond the level of pleasure and into the realm of boredom. I was expecting ye to entertain me a little more.”
After saying that much, Annegert stopped, and the smile vanished from her face.
“‘Tis checkmate. Brünhilde, ready the cannons!”
Annegert spoke in the Imperial language and then raised Gungnir up high. Accompanied by a deep mechanical hum, the two magic cannons mounted on Brünhilde’s shoulders slowly began to move.
—Damn it! Some <Avalon Knight> I am! With Eco immobilised, there’s absolutely nothing I can do! What can I do? What can I do to save everyone?
Ash’s clenched fists continued to tremble. But all he could do was painfully accept his own powerlessness.
Just as the two cannons unleashed a thundering boom—
“Don’t give up!”
An awe-inspiring voice resounded. An elegant and beautiful lady suddenly descended before his eyes.
Just as Ash cried out, Navi deployed a Hexagonal Shield. The magic shells which arced through the air produced massive explosions upon hitting the barrier, but Navi’s defensive magic remained steadfast.
“Think back, Ash, Eco! Before Eco was able to dragonise, you fought against Milgauss and the others regardless! Only dragonisation has been sealed by the <Ouroboros>! Your other abilities have not been sealed!”
Indeed, it was too soon to despair — and Ash changed his mindset. The corruption of <Avalon’s Bracelet> had been such a shock to them that they’d even forgotten such an important thing. Indeed, only dragonisation had been affected—
Ash placed his hands on Eco’s shoulders and gazed at her face. If he wanted a sword to fight with, then he had to rely on Eco for help. However, due to the attack of the <Ouroboros>, Eco had already lost most of her magical energy. Perhaps it was cruel to rely on Eco in such a state. Perhaps sensing Ash’s worries…
“Of course! Who do you think I am?”
Eco proudly puffed out her chest.
“Fire! Keep firing!”
In response to Annegert’s voice, the two Balmung cannons continued to rumble and roar. However, the defensive barrier deployed by the woman who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere seemed impenetrable against Balmung’s assault.
“Hmph, I didn’t expect ye to have backup. Her horns and hair colour…it seems she’s somehow related to Eco…but defensive magic is useless against us! Keep firing! Doragvemdr, fire!”
Annegert raised her spear up high as she issued new orders. Doragvemdr was probably able to undo the defensive magic of the dragon species. As such, Annegert’s trump card remained unchanged.
However, an unexpected development occurred. Much to Annegert’s surprise, Doragvemdr did not activate.
“Tsk, no more bullets huh. It seems I used too many during aerial combat—”
At that moment…
Ash charged forward, abandoning the safety of the defensive barrier that Navi had deployed. Moreover, he ran straight towards Annegert like a madman. It was seemingly absurd behaviour.
“What’s going on!? I don’t understand, I don’t understand this guy at all…kuh, use Karlsnautr as well! It doesn’t matter if you expend all ammunition!”
Upon hearing Annegert’s enthused voice, Brünhilde began to fire the machine guns mounted on its abdomen. The sounds of cannons and gunfire seemingly intensified the atmosphere of the battlefield. However, Ash still gradually approached her in a fearless manner. His eyes weren’t those of a madman, rather, they were brimming with desire. Ash’s figure suddenly vanished. He had made use of the smoke and dust produced by Balmung’s cannon fire to conceal himself.
“Could it be…even now, he intends to reverse the situation?”
—Boom! Boom! Dodododo!
The sound of cannons and the continuous firing of a machine gun overlapped with each other. Anyone’s body would be riddled with bullets if they stopped for even a moment. Yet, Ash madly sprinted across the battlefield without any regard for it. It was most certainly not an act of self-destruction. It was the battle plan that he had come up with and shared within a very short period of time. Concealing himself within the dust and smoke kicked up by Balmung, he continued straight ahead. He had no choice but to trust in Eco and Navi as he continued to race forth. He ran, ran, and kept on running. All of a sudden, a cold evening breeze blew past, sweeping away the dust that had been kicked up by the cannon fire.
Ash’s figure was immediately revealed before Annegert’s eyes. Unsurprisingly, he made eye contact with Annegert.
“…Hmph. I didn’t think thou would be stupid enough to charge at me on thine own. As a token of respect for thy stupidity, I’ll gift thee with the biggest shot!”
Annegert held the magic spear Gungnir with both hands and stabbed the tip of the spear into the ground. It was the first time that she had done such a thing.
“Brünhilde, prepare to fire the main cannon!”
“What…so Balmung aren’t the main cannons!?”
Ash was stunned as he watched Brünhilde slowly part its upper and lower jaws. Accompanied by a deep mechanical whir, what appeared from its mouth was an enormous muzzle. Its calibre was similar to the main gun of a large magical ship. Judging by the Bright Dragon Crystal that was embedded on top of it, it appeared to be some kind of magical cannon.
“…H-Hey, no matter how you look at it, that’s clearly an anti-magic ship weapon, isn’t it!?”
Did she really plan to unleash that upon a mere human? Ash suddenly felt as though his legs would go numb. He was strongly reminded that he was just an infantryman as a knight without his Pal’s help. —Even so, he continued to race forward! Indeed, it was because Ash had decided to entrust everything to Eco and Navi. Even if Brünhilde’s main cannon unleashed an inferno of flames, he would not stop.
“Accumulating magical energy. Ten, nine, eight…”
In contrast, Annegert’s voice remained cold and ruthless, as if she was an extension of the mechanical weapon itself. With a monotonous voice, she began a countdown. It didn’t seem like intimidation at all. She truly intended to blow Ash away with the main cannon.
Ash yelled as if in an attempt to drown out Annegert’s countdown. He unleashed a roar from the depths of his throat as he accelerated forward.
“…Four, three, two, one.”
Annegert’s countdown mercilessly came to an end.
Just as Ash exclaimed so in his heart…
A shout came from behind. In that instant, Ash was bathed in a warm glow. The various components of an Ark began to be equipped on Ash’s body. Even with the majority of her magical energy drained, Eco still beautifully bestowed her Ark. Ash’s <Seikoku> violently reacted in response to the aura of the Ark. His <Seikoku> pulsed as if enlivened, and gradually covered his entire body. Ash felt his entire body grow hot as he wholeheartedly accepted Eco’s feelings. Annegert’s cold voice mercilessly interrupted Ash’s thoughts.
“Main cannon — Dáinsleif, fire!”
Having transformed into an Ark Dragonar, Ash immediately summoned Excalibur and pulled it out of its scabbard in a single breath. He crossed the blade and its scabbard to form a cross as he faced the main cannon head on. The tremendous pressure was reminiscent of a dragon’s flames, making it difficult for Ash to maintain his footing. Even with the Ark, there was still an immense amount of heat. However, Ash refused to fall with just that. After all, he wouldn’t be able to protect his companions unless he defeated Annegert—
“I will…protect everyone!”
Ash endured the blast of Dáinsleif…
Ash finally took a step forward. Even though it was only a step, it was unbearably heavy…!
“Kuh!? Thou can actually withstand Dáinsleif!?”
Ash declared, as if in reply to his opponent. Thanks to his desperate sprint earlier, the range of Brünhilde’s Dáinsleif had already been reduced to its minimum. It was now Ash’s turn.
“O all-conquering steel that slashes through all, the holy sword destined for the knight of all knights—”
Along with each word that Ash uttered, the <Seikoku> covering his body warmly responded. Everything had been for this moment. All of the magical energy in his Ark was injected into the holy sword.
“Tsk, you mustn’t face Excalibur…fly, Brünhilde!”
Brünhilde continued to unleash Dáinsleif while it simultaneously prepared to emit magical energy from its back—
“Fourth Dragon Riding Dance — Vine of the Crown of Thorns!”
A delicate cry echoed across the distant sky. At the same time, the pattern of a <Seikoku> was carved into the evening sky, with Lucca at its centre. The figures of Rebecca and Silvia riding on their dragons could also be seen on each side of the pattern, as if guarding Lucca. Moreover, although it seemed as if Max had been defeated, he re-joined the team. The seriously injured Arianrhod also flew in the air, filled with vitality. Rebecca, Silvia, Max, as well as their respective Pals were all battle-scarred. Max had lost his glasses, and his forehead was bleeding as well. Even so, Lucca and Gawain were unscathed. Ash then came to a shocking realisation — Rebecca and the others had wiped out a vast number of missiles and devoted everything to protecting Lucca for this moment, because she possessed the trump card of performing a Dragon Riding Dance. Since they had been fighting separate battles on land and in the air, there was no time for discussion at all, but their timing was exceedingly coincidental. Ash couldn’t stop his eyes from growing moist. It was his first time seeing the Fourth Dance, and its effect was different from the others. A myriad of thorned vines formed by magic crossed over each other and constricted Brünhilde’s lower body.
“Mere trickery…tear them off!”
Annegert shouted. Brünhilde used its tremendous strength to tear the thorned vines off, one after another — but that momentary distraction was more than enough for Ash.
“Its name is — Excalibur!!!”
The single blow unleashed by Excalibur turned into a raging torrent that swallowed up the immense heat of Dáinsleif and slowly advanced forward—.
“Kuh! Endure it, Brünhilde!”
Despite her longstanding calmness, Annegert couldn’t help but cry out in distress at this moment. And then — an impact powerful enough to shake the entire forest fanned out. The slash that Ash had poured all of his strength into landed a direct hit on Brünhilde’s abdominal armour.
…What followed was silence. Much to Ash’s surprise, Brünhilde was still standing firm and Annegert still held her spear as she stood on top of Brünhilde.
“Kuh, how is it that tough?”
Completely exhausted, Ash couldn’t help but drop to one knee. At the same time, his Ark and Excalibur disintegrated into particles of light and disappeared. All of his magical energy had been expended in that blow. Perhaps having calmed down, Annie Group sneered,
“It seems the goddess of victory smiles upon me.”
“No, you’re wrong.”
Ash lifted his head as he revealed a smile. Just as Annegert frowned, a change occurred in Brünhilde. The armour on its abdomen shattered like glass and shards began to peel off. The attack from the holy sword Excalibur had certainly landed a hit. However, Ash’s smile froze in the next moment.
“Hey…wait! What is that…!?”
Ash’s eyes widened as his body was frozen in place. An unexpected object was concealed in Brünhilde’s abdominal region.
“What’s going on?”
Eco ran up behind Ash. Having exhausted all of her magical energy, Eco looked rather haggard but still somewhat vibrant. Ash found her rather cute in this way, but he immediately pointed to the interior of Brünhilde.
“That…look at that…”
Eco followed the direction that Ash pointed in with curiosity, and then widened her eyes as well.
“What…! What is that!?”
Hidden in Brünhilde’s abdominal cavity — was a cylindrical object. The cylinder was made of glass and filled with a transparent liquid. The thing suspended in the liquid completely upended Ash’s imagination. —A lone naked girl floated in the liquid, much like a foetus. Her hair was dark and waist-length. Her body still appeared rather young, at around twelve years old. Her pale skin was like that of a newborn baby. And the most distinguishable feature of the girl was — slightly curved horns on the left and right sides of her head.
“…Could it be that that girl is also a dragon!?”
Eco was so shocked that even her voice trembled. At that moment, Annegert simply spoke with a pitiful tone as if she had made a minor mistake,
“Oh, my beloved Brünhilde! What a sorry state thou art in! It must hurt…it must be painful…let us go home at once, and I’ll patch thee up straight away!”
Surprisingly, Annegert seemed totally disinterested in the fact that the girl had been seen. She simply continued to lament the damage that had been done to the mechanical dragon. To Annegert, was that girl just ‘a component of Brünhilde’?
“Wait! That girl—”
“The conclusion of our battle will be decided next time!”
An explosion resounded. Completely ignoring Silvia and the others who were still in the air, Brünhilde took off and flew away at a tremendous speed.
A powerful gale hit them, and Ash quickly protected Eco. While shielding his eyes from the cloud of dust, he stared into the distant sky. At some point, the sun had already sunk, and the sky was stained with the colours of night. The remnants of Brünhilde’s flight trajectory faintly remained in the centre of the night sky.
“…I wonder what’s about to begin.”
Ash could only whisper that in amazement. The mystery was more puzzling than ever, but one thing was certain — and it was that someone was plotting something….
“The Imperial Princess ~A.S.B.1366.04~” is closed.
(All 14 of 14 parts) (17/9/21)
Continues on to Epilogue