Epilogue

† 1 †

 

“Here, Yuuki and Tina-chan’s share.”

Alfred was visiting the store. With those words, he handed over some silver coins.

“…Our ‘share’?”

Yuuki blinked uncertainly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand?”

“It’s for the dragon incident. You were the one who informed the authorities and led the way right? You also helped with the cleanup, so the Church is rewarding your actions. Although I wasn’t able to offer the least bit of assistance, but as the party leader, it’s the least I could do to request some remuneration. I’m sorry to say that this amount of money is little consolation in the face of what you had to suffer, though.”

“Well, it’s at least enough to enjoy some good food, right?”

“Ohhh, that sounds nice. Food is indeed the best use for it! Tina wants to eat something yummy!”

The two girls had already made the full return to normalcy.

“This isn’t even enough to cover our medical costs,” Yuuki bemoaned.

“I also dropped by to invite you guys out to eat. My treat,” Alfred said with a wry smile. “You two only entered the labyrinth at my request, after all.”

“If you’re going to say that, Master, then it’s really my fault——”

“Neither of you are to blame for this. I decided on my own to stick my nose into this business, so I’m just reaping what I sowed. ——That said, I think I’m going to take a break from raiding for a bit; I’m exhausted.”

That was only half-true. Although he was indeed physically weary, his mental fatigue was much greater.

He didn’t dare count how many Reliquia they’d wasted during this outing. And all he had to show for it was the handful of coins he’d been handed earlier. They were deeply, inexorably, in the red. If Boris were still around, he wouldn’t be able to complain even if the old man killed him.

Franka’s father’s Reliquia, the first-grade Divine Pearl, had also been used up. Although it had been Franka herself who had done so, and had played an instrumental role in saving the lives of all involved – the mere thought of having to explain how things had come to be gave him a migraine.

 

It had now been some ten days since the incident in question.

Alfred hadn’t made it back to the surface until everything was long finished, and was thus utterly dumbfounded when he heard the news.

Yuuki and Franka had been hospitalized, but under the dutiful care of the healers, they’d been out in just over a week.

When the incident had first been reported, the Church and the Oath Legions had immediately dispatched a carefully selected rescue squad. To their surprise, however, by the time they arrived at the scene, the dragon had already been destroyed. The current theory was that the Void Beasts had slaughtered one another in a vicious free-for-all.

In the end, the number of casualties had been held to within the single digits. Although it was undoubtedly a tragedy, but considering the situation – wherein numerous, powerful Void Beasts had found their way to the upper levels; all told, they’d been extremely lucky.

Because of their role in the teleportation incident, Yuuki was called upon by the Church investigation. The fact of the matter was, however, that he really had no idea what had happened. Neither he nor Tina really knew what had caused the 64th floor teleporter to act as it had, let alone Alfred and Franka, who really knew nothing at all. On the matter of Tina’s nature and powers, though, Yuuki maintained his silence.

The third floor teleporter had, for some unknown reason, disappeared. Yuuki, of course, had no intention of ever divulging that secret either.

In the end, the Church of the Five Holies had released the findings of its investigation – the cause of the incident was still unknown. With that said, the number of things in the labyrinth for which they had no explanation were innumerable; the adventurers had long since become accustomed to such.

 

“Alright then; we’re gonna take off first,” Alfred said as he rose.

“Oh, okay. ——Um…”

“What’s the matter? Is there something you need to buy?” Yuuki asked, noticing her reticent manner.

“N-No, not that. It’s…”

Franka frowned, and flashed Yuuki and Tina a quick glance in turn.

They strangely resembled some people from her memory.

“Er, well… Thank you very much, you two. ——I’m really glad.”

She didn’t say what she was thanking them for, nor did Yuuki ask.

“——Okay, see you Yuuki-san, Tina-chan!”

With a stiff smile, the cleric girl left.

 

“…Did Franka notice?” Tina asked in a somber tone.

“Perhaps, but we left no evidence. Just play it off, and we’ll be fine. Anyway, that girl is very sensitive to the feelings of others. As long as she feels that we’d prefer for her not to delve into that line of questioning, then she won’t pry.”

When it came to that, though, he wasn’t quite as sure about Stefan, but at the very least, he had yet to approach them.

“There’s no longer any need to hide things, I think. Tina understands now that it’d raise a fuss if it were known that she was a Shinki but—— Master, you don’t have any reason to hide the fact that you killed the Void Dragon, right? What meaning is there in doing so?”

“…I’d get requests to ‘go do this,’ and ‘go do that.’ It’s a major pain in the ass, and I’d rather do without. I like my life now – the life of a merchant.”

“But——”

Tina hesitated for a moment before sighing and changing the topic.

“Do you think Franka and Stefan will be able to work things out?”

“That’s up to them. I think the possibility’s there, though. Their grief over her father’s death was the same, after all.”

On the whole, Stefan’s sole desire had been to keep his little sister safe from the dangers of Bertolt and the labyrinth. Although his stubborn, clumsy manner left much to be desired, he was not the unfeeling man he appeared to be.

Yuuki’s guess was that the reason he’d denied Franka’s requests to meet was simply because he was embarrassed.

“To be honest, though, Stefan’s position right now is rather precarious. The fact that his party was wiped out is indisputable, and he’ll have to bear the responsibility for that one way or another. That said, whether or not things turn out on the whole for the better or for the worse is unclear—— What’s wrong?”

Yuuki noticed that Tina had been staring intensely at him.

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just that even though Master’s always talking about being a ‘merchant’ and ‘having to weigh the pros and cons,’ in the end, you’re someone who really cares about others. Didn’t you say that you weren’t interested in things that wouldn’t profit yourself?”

“…And what’s wrong with that? Anyway, when it comes to sticking their noise in other people’s business, aren’t you a hundred times worse than me?”

“That’s only natural. Tina is a Shinki; she exists for the sake of the people and the world. Being given the chance to serve those people is a blessing. Do you not agree, Master?”

 

“And what will I protect? Who will I save?” Yuuki asked.

“People. This world,” she answered in turn, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

 

“…”

“Hmm? What’s the matter, Master?”

“You’re nothing at all like her. Not the way you look, not the way you sound, not the way you act.”

The auras they exuded were entirely unalike.

“Huh? What did you say?”

“It’s nothing. ——It’s just that… for this space of time, I’ve been nothing like I used to be – that’s definitely because of you. You’re just such a busybody.”

“What are you saying, Master? When it comes to Tina’s personality, you’re to blame as well.”

Yuuki frowned at her rebuttal.

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Hmm, you know, this is a good opportunity. Is it alright if I talk freely, Master? It could be a while.”

“It’s not like there any customers, anyway. Sure.”

Yuuki closed up shop and they headed to the kitchen table.

“Now then, what did you want to say?”

“Now where do I start, hmm… Hey, don’t look at me like that. Tina spends a lot of time thinking about things, you know?”

The fact that she’d felt it necessary to add the latter statement meant that she had at least some self-awareness.

“Anyway, after spending some time pondering things, I’ve had several revelations. About you, Master.”

“About me?”

“In my short time living here, I’ve come to understand just what kind of existence a Shinki is to this city. That is to say, they’re not the type to casually appear before the people.”

“I told you that from the very beginning, you know?”

“And yet in spite of that, Master – from the very beginning, as you say – you never seemed to doubt my identity?”

“…Huh? What’re you talking about now? There’s no way I didn’t doubt something as shady as a self-proclaimed Shinki. Generally, people’d wonder what you were after, or whether or not you were crazy.”

“And that’s why this is the first thing I find odd about you. If I were indeed either of those things, then why would you bring me home with you?

It wasn’t a question – it was a declaration.

“If you really felt I was mentally ill, then why didn’t you leave me at the clinic? It’d be enough to leave me to the professionals. You had no reason to take me home with you, Master.”

“…”

“Now, the second thing that stands out. At the time when you were testing whether or not I could teleport, you gave me a Reliquia with which to charge my powers. As far as this store is concerned, that was a pretty costly item, was it not?”

“Oh, that sword. Yeah, it was a third-grade Reliquia. Just remembering that incident makes me want to cry.”

“Why didn’t you give me something cheaper? It was utterly unlike your normal stingy self.”

“Could you not say ‘stingy’? At least say I’m frugal, geez… Anyway, that’s because if you lacked the energy for a proper miracle, then there’d have been no point to the test, right? What I wanted to see was something that humans are incapable of reproducing. I was testing you on several different levels, so I needed to be sure you had enough divine energy.”

“In other words, Master——”

Tina made direct eye contact.

“You knew precisely how much divine energy would be necessary for a Shinki to produce a small-scale miracle of the kind you sought. ——Am I wrong?”

“…No.”

“Point #3: this is the final, and yet most conclusive, reason I have. ——You never once rejected me, Master,” the Shinki solemnly and calmly declared. “For someone to proclaim themselves one of the Shinki? How could they be anything if not crazy? And yet, Master, you never once treated me like I was crazy – you simply prohibited me from saying it out loud. More than that, you have never once directly refuted my claim.”

The corners of her lips turned up.

“And though it was a small thing… I was happy.”

“…”

Yuuki didn’t respond.

After a while, he sighed in resignation.

“As you say, I once served the Shinki. Although I never obtained any of the qualifications of a high-ranking adventurer, it’s true that I have an abundance of experience. What’s funny to me is that though you’ve pointed out these small things, you haven’t expressed your surprise over the larger things, like my extensive knowledge of the labyrinth or the fact that I was able to defeat the Snow-white Void Dragon, nor have you pried after my true identity.”

It was honestly amazing. To take hold of such tiny clues and yet manage to piece together the entire puzzle. Given her generally childish demeanor, who would ever have imagined?

“I don’t know if you’d call it a suspicion or what, but from the very beginning you were out-of-the-ordinary; despite having collapsed in the labyrinth, you were entirely unharmed.”

As Tina had previously guessed, it had indeed been the 53rd floor on which he’d found her. Void Beasts at that depth were incredibly vicious and prone to ambushing the unwary. The only ones who could escape unharmed were the Shinki, whom were protected by the ScutumHoly Shield.

“As soon as you teleported, I knew for sure. Although, I guess to be perfectly honest, I already knew long before then – back when I asked you what your purpose was.”

“My purpose?”

Tina stared vacantly. She couldn’t remember the incident in question.

“You spoke of the ‘enemy you must defeat,’ remember? To the people of the city, the Shinki are protectors, and protectors only. The Church of the Five Holies has no record of any ‘enemy’ of the Shinki. In other words, only a true Shinki would have uttered those words. More specifically, the identity of the enemy that must be defeated is——”

“Of course, the other Shinki,” Tina replied without a moment’s hesitation. “They would say the same. From the very moment we enter this world, it is instilled deep within us that we are enemies of one another. When the time arrives when there is but one Shinki remaining, she will have ascended to the throne of the Heavenly King. It is only then that she will have proven herself worthy to save this world and lead the people.”

As far as the people of the city were concerned, the Shinki were compassionate, undying protectors.

That, however, could not be further from the truth. Their only desire was to accrue more divine energy than any other. The only truth they knew was a selfish, violent, and bitter struggle. The “protection of the city” was nothing more than a compromise necessary to preserve the arena of combat.

Had they truly been as friendly as was claimed, then there would never have been any need for separate factions in the first place. No need for personal Oath Legions. Not a soul doubted that the reason factions had arisen was simply to increase feelings of competitiveness and productivity.

The Shinki, fighting over who would get to save the world, engaged in wholesale slaughter against one another.

It was true that they didn’t age, but that was hardly the same thing as immortality. The celestial Dragon Fang weapons could hurt – and kill – them.

Duelists were not responsible only for protecting the Shinki. No, they were also there to kill them.

When a Shinki was killed, a new one would be born within the halls of the appropriate temple, and rise to claim her place.

This was the greatest-kept secret of the Church of the Five Holies.

“Simply put, I have no desire to be drawn into all of that. Anyway, if chaos broke out, it’d hurt business. It’s for that reason that I’ve kept you by my side – so that I could keep an eye on you.”

“Still——”

The Shinki met his eyes.

“Tina had not only already run out of energy, she had no Duelist to protect her. If the other Shinki had found me, I’d have been killed. ——Wasn’t there one time when I wasn’t careful and divulged my identity? You were so mad, Master. Now I understand why. If you want to tell me that that thought hadn’t crossed your mind, then I won’t dispute it.”

“…”

“Long story short, you’ve been protecting Tina from the very beginning, Master, and it’s only under your watchful care that she’s grown. Under the guise of showing me the ropes, you brought me to a lot of different places, haven’t you? It’s only through that that I’ve come to understand this city. The lives of the merchants and the adventurers, the thoughts of the people – this town is a tapestry weaved from the threads of the lives of individuals. It’s by meeting Franka and Alfred, and even that man Stefan, that I’ve learned these things. Moreover, from that slaughter in the labyrinth, I was made to understand the brutality and waste of human fighting against human.”

Tina smiled.

“‘Protecting the city’ requires safeguarding each and every one of those feelings. They’re not just hollow words; I think I truly understand the meaning behind them now. Thanks to Master, Tina has truly seen this world. ——It’s for that very reason that I said earlier that if I’m like this, it’s only because of you, Master.”

 

“First, you need to learn what it means to be human,” she said.

 

Yuuki tossed the memory aside and spoke.

“You’ve misunderstood. I’m not that good a person.”

That notwithstanding, the fact that Tina had learned a great deal from what he had shown her was indeed true.

Just as the dry sand would greedily absorb every last drop of water, she’d taken the feelings of all those around her to heart, and had slowly come to understand.

It makes me… happy?

The existences known as the Shinki and the painful memories buried deep within his heart were inextricably interwoven.

This is why I didn’t want to get involved. I’m in uncharted territory now.

Perhaps this was an opportunity, he thought.

“Well, it’s all the same to me. As long as some good came of things, then it’s enough. ——Here, I’ve got something for you. This is both your wages as well as a gift.”

From his pocket, Yuuki removed a large white gem, which he placed on the table.

“The Dragon Fang Gem…” Tina mumbled.

“This is that Snow-white Void Dragon. Because I defeated him, this was mine to claim. It’s not just a weapon, it’s also an incredibly high-class Reliquia. It holds enough energy to even summon a Duelist; it’s yours.”

“Then… our agreement is at an end?”

She took the gem into her hands, but her expression was anything but joyous.

“That was what we determined from the beginning. You’d call a Duelist to your side and then you can take part in the battle. Once that happens, there’ll be no more need for you to work in this junk shop anymore.”

“…”

“Truth be told, it’s dangerous for me to step in any further. The probability that I’ll get drawn into your battle is too high. ——The incident from before; I’m pretty sure someone was behind it.”

The 64th floor teleporter had been activated before Tina had even arrived.

The device’s purpose was to allow a newly-born Shinki to quickly reach the surface after their Duelist had been summoned. More to the point, the ability to activate one was restricted to the individuals in question – the Shinki and their Duelists.

Since Tina had not been the one to turn it on, the only possible explanation was that either another Shinki or one of their Duelists had been present on the 64th floor as well.

And one other thing: after Yuuki had dispatched the Snow-white Void Dragon, it had been his intent to clean up the other Void Beasts as well. However, he’d found them already hunted nearly to annihilation and, judging by the wounds on their corpses, it had been the work of a lone individual.

“The five Shinki are all alive, and yet a sixth has appeared – you. This defies everything we know about the system, and so I’ve tried to keep your existence hidden from them. I think they’ve already started to catch on, though. That’s why it’s best that we part here. Good luck and take care.”

“…Are you not going to help Tina anymore, Master?”

“There’s not much I can help you with anymore, now is there? Anything you want from now on, you’ll have to grab with your own two hands.”

“Master, do you really plan on continuing to run this shop? Can someone like you, who is so casually handing over something as incredibly valuable as this, really call themselves a merchant?”

“Absolutely. I love money, after all.”

If he did well, he’d see more money. If he did poorly, then he’d see less. The direct impact of his actions was easy to measure.

——This would be the proof that he’d lived, the record of his existence.

“I’ll be the one who determines what I have to gain, what I stand to lose, and act as I see fit. As hollow as I am, this is the way I’ve decided to live.”

After having lost all, this is what he’d learned from Boris, who’d taken him in. It was also Boris who’d taught him that “understanding what you personally stand either to gain or to lose is the hardest thing.”

“——I’ll say it once again. Consume that Dragon Fang Gem and summon your Duelist. I’ll remain here, as a shopkeeper. From this point forward, we walk two separate paths.”

As he spoke, a sad smile crossed his face.

“If you ever find yourself wanting to buy anything, though, I’ll be happy to welcome you.”

Tina frowned, intending to refute his words, but in the end, she simply sighed.

“…That’s right. You are a businessman.”

She gently placed the Dragon Fang Gem on the table and closed her eyes; the stone was enveloped by a soft and radiant light.

This time, Yuuki was the one to frown. Just what on earth is she doing?

“In other words, expecting your help without payment was my mistake.”

The light faded, revealing a sword resting upon the tabletop.

“This was known as the NixSnow Blade, was it not? I place this celestial Dragon Fang weapon in your trust. Please lend me your aid, Master – no, Snow Blade King.”

The room was silent for at least ten seconds. Finally, Yuuki broke the silence.

“How long have you known that name?”

“I’ve known for a long time now that you were someone special. However, if you’re asking when I realized that you were the Duelist of that name, then it was when you fought the Void Dragon. You knew what its weakness was from the very beginning, did you not?”

“You were the one who told me, you know? ‘Its neck,’ you said.”

“That was in response to your inquiring as to where its divine energy was strongest. Moreover, I never specified any specific location on its neck. That didn’t stop you from getting it on the first try, Master. ——You knew where to strike because you’ve fought it before, right?”

“…”

“Along those lines, back on the 64th floor, when Bertolt had fused with the Dragon Fang Gem, you sure knew what it was thinking.”

I guess there’s no point in playing dumb any longer. Yuuki sighed.

“Yeah, once upon a time you might have called us partners. We were together for a long time, so I think it never quite forgave me for casting it aside later on.”

The Dragon Fang Gems were sentient.

When it had attacked while fused with Bertolt, its resentment had been conveyed quite clearly. That was why once Yuuki had proven that Bertolt was incapable of assisting it in revenging itself, it had cast him aside without a second thought.

“That means…”

“Yes, as you say, I was once the Duelist known as the Snow Blade King. That said, the stories about me are greatly exaggerated, though it’s a fact that I became rather well-known for slaying countless people and Void Beasts alike. I’d imagine there are many who would like to see me dead.”

“I’m guessing the reason you’ve never told Franka who you really are is because you don’t want her to become a target?”

“Nah, I’ve said it before – I just hate dealing with troublesome things. Anyway, how could a criminal like me just unabashedly flaunt my crimes like that? If I did that, then I could never face her, someone who strives to the utmost to live an upright life.”

That was why he’d always kept his distance, pretending he’d never once noticed her true feelings.

“In any event, why did you choose me? If you had simply summoned a Duelist like normal, then you wouldn’t need me, right?”

This was the one thing he couldn’t understand.

When a Duelist was summoned, the one person most suited to the Shinki in question would be called forth from another world to serve. The act of summoning would bind Shinki and Duelist together. As a result of this process, the Duelist would share in the gifts of unaging as well as the ScutumHoly Shield.

This was what he’d been taught by his former master. There was no way that Tina didn’t know this.

“It’s been a very long time since I stopped being a Duelist. Things are different now. I’ve lost the master who summoned me, and so I now both age and can be hurt. I’m in no position to serve as a substitute Duelist. Selecting me will only put you at a disadvantage.”

Tina didn’t answer right away. Instead, she turned, and looking off in the distance, finally spoke.

“——I’m the sixth.”

“…”

“If there’s no place for me in the temples, then the city is fine. The ‘Shinki that Dwells in the City’ I shall be. That’s why I need someone from this city to stand by my side. Tina would love for Master to continue to teach her more about this city.”

She faced him solemnly.

“This isn’t something that can be summed up so simply as advantages and disadvantages. I’ve already made my decision. Given the choice, rather than entrust my life to someone from who knows where, I’d much rather place my life in the hands of someone I trust. ——That is to say, the one I want is you, Yuuki Takamigahara.”

She closed her mouth, seemingly having said all that she wished to say.

“…”

Yuuki was unable to respond. Instead, he thought back to the first time he’d met his former master.

——”Because I need you,” she said.

Before that moment, he’d been nothing more than a tool for murder, unfeeling and without personal desire. At the time, the idea that he’d been needed was both inconceivable and wonderfully novel.

What should he do?

Tina needed him. Truth be told, this was because he’d already done much to be deserving of her trust, but——

“…Oh. I guess I’ve changed as well, haven’t I?”

He’d become someone who could impart unto others.

All that she shared with me, I can share with Tina.

Perhaps this time I can change the ending…

 

“Together, we’ll protect this world,” she said, taking me by the hand.

“Please, protect this world,” she requested there at the end, as she passed on.

 

Yuuki clutched the sword without thinking. The feel of it in his hand was incredibly nostalgic.

“Master——”

“…Alright. I’ll do my best. This is more than enough for payment. It is a celestial Dragon Fang weapon, after all.”

Tina heaved a sigh of relief and collapsed onto the table.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m relieved… Thank goodness. I didn’t know what I was going to do if you refused.”

The expression on her face was a silly one befitting her age. Nothing remained of the Shinki who’d so powerfully and perceptively gone after his true identity.

“…If you realized who I was that long ago, why haven’t you asked me this before now?”

“You have things backwards,” she replied. “Tina’s always known that you’d ask her to leave once the suitable moment arrived. However, Tina has always wanted Master, and so she thought with all her might, what could she do that would make Master change his mind? Searching after these thin threads of hope, I’ve thought long and hard about every moment we’ve spent together. When it finally all came together, well, the result is what you see now.”

“So the goal came before the deduction.”

In other words, long before she’d known who he was, she’d already wanted him. It had been because she’d wanted him that she’d tried to learn everything about him.

“…I’ve always taken it seriously, that’s why,” she said.

She looked a bit embarrassed.

“I know,” he replied, turning her awkward expression into a smile.

He’d seen more than a few Shinki in his time. The personality and demeanor of each were very different, but each and every one of them were worthy to lead the people, and worshiped for it. It seemed Tina, too, had that quality.

Even if he’d taken the bait she’d set, he thought to himself that he didn’t mind.

Even if he started anew, it wouldn’t erase the past. Nor would it make up for his sins.

——That notwithstanding, what stood before him was a second chance. He would watch this future for himself.

Will she forgive me, I wonder?

 

† 2 †

 

A temple halfway up the mountainside.

Deep within the temple, in a space cut off from the world and reachable only by teleportation, was the residence of a Shinki.

 

An austere room.

Within that room sat a single throne, upon which rested the “Shinki Crowned with the Moon,” awaiting the return of her Duelist.

Before long, the teleportation device in the corner began to glow faintly, and a young man appeared.

“——I’ve returned, Shinki-sama. I’m here to report that everything’s been taken care of. It all went according to plan.”

It was a dark-skinned young man. When he’d served in Stefan’s party, he’d always been accompanied by a large sword. At the moment, however, he was unarmed.

“Jahar-san——!”

The Shinki was ashen as she rose and walked to his side.

“T-The news of the incident is all over the city! Y-You went too far…”

“You’re way too panicked there, Kaya-chan.”

Abandoning his deferential mood, he patted her on the head.

From her outward appearance, she was just an eleven or twelve-year old girl. In Yuuki’s eyes, she was just a beginning trainee student. To Tina, she was the companion who’d she watched the puppet show with.

“B-But the way you handled things… So many people died…”

“That’s Bertolt’s fault.”

He shrugged, unmoved.

“My original goal was just to infiltrate their group as your spy, and eliminate the competition when the time was right; nothing big. Their party lost everyone but Stefan. Moreover, in the wake of the incident, you can be sure the Sky’s Oath Legion will be held responsible. ——That said, I’m sure the Shinki in question will have taken appropriate measures in advance.”

He’d pretended to have died at Bertolt’s hands, only to have initiated the teleportation sequence on the 64th floor, warping the Void Beasts and everyone else to the third floor. That had been the entirety of his actions.

“Oh, by the way, we can just about be sure that the little lady is ‘that.’ She was able to repel the Void Dragon.”

“D-Didn’t you already confirm as much back at the puppet show?”

Back in the plaza near the Cathedral, Jahar had chopped at her with his sword in order to test whether or not she’d had a Shinki’s powers.

Kaya had heard her say that she’d been born just a few days prior, and Jahar had witnessed her declaring herself one of the Shinki. Any normal person would have discarded her comments as the ramblings of the mentally ill, but these two knew better.

“Ah, yeah, you’re right. Yeah, I’d intended to cut the skin on her head, but she was completely unharmed. As you say, that was pretty much all the confirmation we needed.”

“Then you had no reason to instigate such tragedy——”

“Listen. It’s because we know who she is that you should know she’s an enemy.”

His cheerful tone dripped with menacing savagery. Kaya shut her mouth reflexively.

“Powers, combat strength, way of thinking, tendencies – we need to know all these things if we’re going to defeat her. This incident with those Sky bastards was the perfect opportunity to learn exactly those things. Kaya-chan, don’t tell me you’re thinking anything as foolish and naïve as ‘I don’t want to kill her’ or ‘I wish we didn’t have to fight’?”

As he finished speaking, Jahar waved his hand. A huge, red blade appeared – the IgnisCrimson Flame Claymore. It was twice as large as the sword he’d carried around in the labyrinth.

Jahar lifted the claymore onto his shoulders. Kaya yelped in alarm.

“I know this is disrespectful toward you, my master, but… that kinda shit pisses me off. I’ve been doing all of this for you!”

“I’m sorry…”

In accordance with the will of the Heavenly King, the Shinki would be bestowed with the one person most suitable for them; to serve as their Shinki’s Duelist would be their life’s calling. ——Or at least that’s how it was supposed to be. However, this crude and bloodthirsty man could not be more unlike Kaya.

“We’re partners of destiny. If we win, we live, if we lose, we die – our fates are as one. I have no intention of losing, and even less of dying, and so Kaya-chan, if you lack resolve, then I have a problem with that.”

“I, I understand. But still, that person – she’s the sixth, right? I mean, the rest of the five are all still here. Can something like that really happen?”

“You’d better believe it. A one-way teleporter, that far down? The only explanation is a Shinki, born outside the city.”

“But then, doesn’t that mean things have changed? Maybe, I don’t know, maybe we don’t have to fight… Maybe we can be friends…”

“…Do you seriously still not understand?”

Jahar’s voice grew in volume, resonating with impatience. Kaya trembled fearfully.

“That little lady aside, you’re the newest Shinki. You have no experience. You have no Legion to support you. You haven’t really accumulated any divine energy either. In other words, you’re at the bottom of the ladder.”

It was an indisputable truth.

“That’s why we have to set foot in the city personally for intel. If the opportunity presents itself, then we end our enemy. I don’t care if she’s the sixth Shinki or even the seventh – if she’s going to compete against us in the future, then we’ll kill her. And take all that she has. That is the only road left to us.”

“…”

Kaya bowed her head, unspeaking.

“Right. I’m going to continue with my report then. ——It seems that little lady has a helper. That guy killed the Snow-white Void Dragon. Even though he’s not a Duelist, but that doesn’t mean we can underestimate him. The sooner we eliminate him, the better. His name is Yuuki Takamigahara.”

“Eh? Yuuki-sensei?”

Kaya blinked in surprise. The odd young man who occasionally served as an assistant instructor at the training school. Now that he’d mentioned it, she’d definitely seen him and Tina together…

Jahar laughed joyously as he continued.

“That bastard is an interesting one. He was once a Duelist – until his own Shinki died at his hands.”

 

Translator notes and references

None.