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Chapter 5 – The
Ayato unintentionally gasped at that name which Julis said.
“Orphelia, don’t tell me──”
At the same time, a sensation he has never experienced so far welled up in his chest. It was closely similar to uneasiness and it was strongly appealing to Ayato for something.
“…Why did you come?”
That silhouette slowly looked back.
She wore the uniform of Le Wolfe, but other than that she only wore long gloves covering up to her elbows and white tights; she did not even put on a coat within this snow. Her calm voice was cold as if freezing and dark and hollow as if resounding from the bottom of the ground. The amount of her prana was quite abundant and one could understand at first glance that it was spreading until every corner of her body.
However, what was impressive above all was her long pure white hair which melted into the surrounding snow and her ruby-like red pair of eyes. Like her voice, her eyes as if inlaying the red moon, which is a symbol of ill omen, retained a desolate darkness which would cause one to freeze. And yet, her expression was full of sadness as it looked like she would burst into tears at any moment.
“Is it really her…?”
Ayato had also seen her figure in the news before.
Orphelia Landlufen. She was Le Wolfe Black Institute’s rank #1 who won two consecutive , and was called the strongest in Asterisk’s history alongside that Helga Lindvall.
There was no mistaking that the girl standing now in front of Ayato was the same which he saw in the news.
“It’s been about one year since then. I didn’t think I’ll meet you in such a place.”
Julis, though with still a grim face, continued in a somewhat nostalgic voice.
“…Even though I warned you many times to no longer get involved with me.”
But, Orphelia, with still a sad expression, briefly replied so as she treated Julis coldly.
Julis ruefully bit her lips for only an instant, but she immediately turned a piercing gaze at Orphelia.
“My business is the same as one year ago. Come back, Orphelia. The world where you should be isn’t there.”
“…Stop it, Julis. I’m just following my fate. You cannot overturn it.”
Orphelia feebly shook her head and clearly showed a will of refusal.
“I won’t admit it!”
Julis’ voice seemed almost like she shouted.
When Orphelia cast down her eyes, she touched the school badge on her chest with her hand.
“My fate is right here now. If you want to make me abide at any cost──”
“Yes, I understand! But it won’t go like one year ago!”
At the same time as Julis said that, mana swirled.
“Ayato, don’t interfere with this! This is a problem between me and Orphelia!”
Julis shouted without looking back at him.
Ayato who felt a strong determination in her voice could not help but stop his foot which was about to step forward.
“Your school badge, I’ll smash it this time for sure!”
Heat waves swirled around Julis and fiery chakrams manifested.
“Bloom proudly ── AnthuriumGreat Crimson Heart Blazing Shield!”
When Julis shook her arm, nearly twenty chakrams were released towards Orphelia.
But, the chakrams which made up the vanguard nose-dive just before Orphelia and scooped out the ground.
The scorching chakrams instantly melted the snow, and steam and snowflakes soared.
It might just be a mere smokescreen, but it was enough to cut off her line of sight even for a moment.
At that opportunity, the chakrams parted left and right and assaulted Orphelia as they surrounded her.
It was a perfect combination be it range or timing.
At least, it should be enough as a first move to seize the initiative.
At that moment, Ayato felt a shiver run down his spine.
On the other side of the white screen, an incredibly powerful prana swelled up.
That amount was no joke. Ayato himself had confidence in the amount of his prana, but it could not even compare to that of the girl before him. It seemed to be gushing forth immeasurably… or rather endlessly.
Prana overwhelming to the extent that it could not be estimated── and very ominous.
An amount of mana, which could not be compared with that of when Julis activated her ability, raged and blew off the spray of snow in an instant. The air shook and a ferocious overpowering feeling as if twisting and squashing everything was released.
There, the figure of Orphelia calmly standing and countless arms which rose like smoke at her feet wriggled like that of the dead. Those poisonous-looking blackish brown arms flickeringly waved like a heat haze and they looked not like solid, but gases.
Those arms blocked and caught all the chakrams released by Julis. The chakrams strengthened their rotation as they struggled so as to somehow break loose from the arms, but the blades of flame slipped through the dead’s arms like smoke.
Despite this, the claw-like hands still firmly seized the chakrams.
“So that’s Orphelia Landlufen’s ability…”
Naturally, Ayato had also heard about it.
The ability of the said to be the strongest ── it was the power to manipulate poisonous smoke called miasma.
“…Ah, Julis. It’s no use. As expected, it’s impossible for you.”
Immediately after Orphelia muttered in a voice filled with sorrow, the chakrams were easily crushed.
There, Ayato finally understood the feeling from earlier.
That was a warning.
Ayato’s instincts judged this girl to be dangerous. Probably something like that.
Although at this late hour, he remembered the words that Helga said before.
『──She’s an existence different from us.』
He thought that it was metaphorical, but that’s wrong. It was a plain fact.
Certainly, the power of the girl before him clearly surpassed the human realm. By just confronting her, he keenly understood it. He was made to understand it instinctively.
“I’m not done yet!”
Julis moved as if she anticipated this.
An overpowering feeling by which even Ayato froze for an instant. To Julis who set an attack in defiance of it, Ayato was surprised, yet in admiration.
Judging from Julis’ tone, the two of them seemed to have also fought before. In other words, Julis probably knew Orphelia’s power. That’s why even after being showed such overwhelming power, she continued to challenge Orphelia without flinching.
But generally, it would be the opposite. Not having your heart broken even after experiencing this much overwhelming power was impossible unless you possessed a very strong mental strength.
(Or… is there something that she can’t yield to the point of going that far?)
It was probably the latter.
“Bloom proudly ──Anemone CoronariaBlazing Sunflower!”
As Julis put up both her hands right overhead, a large flame flower opened its bud.
That flower of anemone which emitted a dazzling light illuminated the snowfield of midwinter like a small sun. It was to the extent that a burning heat reached even where Ayato who took some distance was. This was a technique that Ayato was seeing for the first time, but it was quite a bold move.
“Take this, Orphelia!”
When Julis swung down her arms with a shout, the large flame flower fell towards Orphelia.
But even so Orphelia, without changing her complexion, just quietly raised her right arm.
The next moment, Ayato doubted his own eyes.
From Orphelia’s action, Ayato thought that she’d activated some sort of defensive ability, but ── of all things, Orphelia stopped Julis’ technique barehanded.
The glove of her right hand flared up, immediately turned into charcoal and disappeared into the wind.
Even so, there was not even a trace of burns on the right hand of Orphelia who stopped the huge mass of flames.
“No way… are you telling me that she stopped it only with her prana…?”
It would certainly be possible in theory if one invested prana to local defense.
However, defense in prana basically reduced damage to some extent and it was impossible to completely stop an attack. By doing something like that, prana would probably dry up immediately. And if one was to block a technique of this scale, then all the more so.
However ── one could see no signs of Orphelia’s prana being dried up at all.
Julis opened wide her eyes in disbelief.
“…Your fate is weak… That’s why I told you.”
As soon as Orphelia listlessly frowned and clenched her right arm, the large flame flower burst as it exploded and vanished like mist.
Moreover, miasma blew up from around Orphelia and formed a huge arm which absorbed the countless arms which were wriggling so far and soared to the sky.
“──Turn to dust.”
As Orphelia muttered, that blackish brown arm swiftly ran through the snowfield like a snake crawling on the ground and caught up with Julis.
Julis raised a painful scream, but the arm which grabbed her raised her until about ten meters high and then mercilessly flung her against the ground.
Although Ayato ran off and caught her body at the last second, he was blown about ten meters away on the snowfield with Julis due to the strong impact.
“Julis, are you okay!?”
Ayato immediately got up and lifted Julis in his arms.
Julis seemed to have already lost consciousness.
On a closer look, corrosion-like traces from being grabbed remained on her uniform and her complexion was awfully bad, too.
(This is the ’s miasma…)
Rumors said that its poisonous nature would undermine others just by touching it, but it seemed to be true without any exaggeration.
“…Are you Amagiri Ayato?”
As if having noticed Ayato for the first time, Orphelia looked at him with cold eyes, not even showing one ounce of interest to him.
“It’s already settled, right? It’s true that it’s Julis who suddenly challenged you, but any more would be──”
Before Ayato finished his sentence, miasma blew up around Orphelia ── no, from her body. She lost her glove (because one glove was already burned away by Julis) and one could see that miasma rose as it swayed from her exposed white skin.
“It is sad, but even I cannot stop a fate which has already begun to move… If you do not want to be rolled up, too, you should leave.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”
While holding Julis, Ayato activated .
“…It’s a shame.”
As soon as Orphelia said so with a sad expression, the countless arms formed by the miasma attacked Ayato and Julis.
“Amagiri Bright Dragon Style Intermediate Sword Technique ── ”
However, they were all bisected before reaching Ayato and Julis and disappeared into the void.
Just a little, Orphelia’s eyebrows twitched.
“Ah, that is …”
Orphelia’s miasma probably could not be dealt with using an ordinary weapon, but if it was this ogre lux which burnt all things, then it was another story.
If Orphelia was to draw back with this, then there would be no problem.
But in case that that wasn’t so, he might be forced to a bout.
(Honestly, I don’t feel like being able to win at all.)
While holding Julis in his left and setting up in his right hand, he gradually took distance.
Fortunately, Orphelia showed neither signs of moving nor the attitude to set something.
At the time when Ayato began to hold such a naïve thought like “at this rate, I might succeed in escaping”──
Ayato’s feet suddenly grew weak.
His hand holding trembled and he choked as if something was clogged in his throat.
“Don’t tell me…!?”
When Ayato explored the surroundings with the state of “cognition”, the flow of air was clearly unnatural.
Probably, Orphelia would have already set up miasma around.
“Hahaha… I would say it’s something like tasteless, odorless, colorless and transparent poison gas….That’s really crazy.”
Only dry laughter could still come out, but if Orphelia could manipulate miasma at will, doing at least that would not be strange.
“──I am sorry. But, you will soon feel at ease.”
The arms of miasma were raised in order to smash up Ayato and Julis.
He could still barely move his body, but at this rate, it would be just a matter of time before he is caught.
Even so, he could not give up. As he tightly grasped again, he somehow waited for an opening.
At that moment.
“Can you wait a little, young lady?”
An out-of-place, cheerful voice resounded on the snowfield.
- ψ -
On a closer look, yesterday’s gentleman ──Gustave was standing on the snowfield with a smiling face.
“Actually, I was requested to dispose of these people. There is a bonus for each head, you know? Therefore, if you like, would you please hand these preys over to me?”
Orphelia looked at Gustave with uninterested eyes as expected.
“…And you are?”
“I am called Gustave Malraux.”
“Never heard of you.”
Though Orphelia curtly said so, a space window suddenly opened in front of her.
『──Hey, Orphelia. You bastard, where the hell did you go? I told you many times not to come out of the research institute, right?』
It was only voice communication, but that voice was familiar.
It was Le Wolfe Black Institute Student Council President Dirk Eberwein.
“…I’ll be right back.”
At the same time as Orphelia replied so, the ominous overpowering feeling disappeared from the surroundings. And as she turned her gaze at Gustave, she said with a sigh.
“I am grateful.”
Gustave took off his hat and respectfully bowed.
On the other hand, Orphelia remained silent and turned her back on Ayato as if nothing had happened. And just like that, she returned to the car without looking back.
“Dear me, I really got cold feet. I have heard the rumors, but to think that she was such a monster… scary, scary.”
Gustave who saw off Orphelia shrugged his shoulders as he jested.
“Now then, I guess I shall settle my business.”
As Gustave said so smilingly, magic squares appeared one by one on both his sides. Like last night, mana accumulated; a huge double-headed dog slowly crept out from the right magic square and a three-headed dog from the left magic square.
They were about one size smaller than yesterday’s chimera.
However, the strength of the mana felt from their bodies was far greater.
“Let me introduce them. They are my masterpieces, Orthrus and Cerberus. How do you find them? Aren’t they majestic figures like those transmitted in the myth? My dear watchdogs which once turned all the stalwarts of the Star Hunter Guard into a bloodbath… well, still they were no match for the Guard Captain though.”
Gustave who talked as if seeming disappointed did not break his smile.
“Even so, I gradually improved them very much since then and it will be more than enough to hunt wounded prey.”
While Ayato adopted a cautious stance, he kept a close eye on the surroundings looking for any chance to escape from this situation. Although Orphelia’s ability was cancelled, the damage due to the poison still remained. Though not very much, it was not a condition where he could satisfactorily fight. Moreover, if he were to fight while protecting Julis, it would be simply impossible.
But, the two-headed magic beast was moving in a circle around Ayato looking for an opening while baring its sharp teeth.
(It’s really bad…)
These magic beasts seemed to be tougher than he thought.
It would be all right if it was just one beast, but fighting two beasts simultaneously would be quite difficult for the current Ayato.
Being able to use unlike yesterday was at least a saving grace, but it was questionable about how long he could hold. After all, even maintaining this ogre lux was the utmost that the current Ayato could do.
The three-headed magic beast ── Cerberus, while raising a low growl, bent over as to check for openings. It was a posture in which it could attack at any time, but the next moment, the other magic beast leaped from behind it.
A simple feint ── but even though Ayato understood it, his body could not follow.
Its arm which was moved down as it tore the wind sent Ayato along with Julis, whom he held, flying.
The shock was tremendous and perhaps because there was also the effect of the poison, he almost fainted.
The double-headed magic beast ── Orthrus once again engaged in pursuit further aiming at Ayato rolling on the snowfield like a rubber ball. Its huge jaw which could swallow whole a person approached Ayato, but the latter, measuring the timing, took a defensive position and rebuilt his stance. Then, rather than dodging its sharp fangs, he took one step forward aiming at its mouth.
“Amagiri Bright Dragon Style First Sword Fighting Skill ── “Mont Fuji”!”
He rounded his body and while putting his weight, swung down with all his might.
That blow bisected the two-headed magic beast which raised a scream of death throes.
“Hou. As expected of the champ, you’re good. However…”
To the words of Gustave clapping his hands while nodding, Ayato turned his gaze around.
At this instant, the fangs of Cerberus, who sneaked around directly horizontally, were approaching in front of Ayato.
(I can’t… dodge this!)
The moment he was about to thrust away his body in order to protect at least Julis.
At that moment, a sharp sword flash ran cutting the space itself and all three heads of the beast which bared its fangs were flying about in the air.
Its large build fell down making the ground rumble and the piled up snow soared.
In the middle of that, shining golden hair glittered.
“I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Ayato. I made it in the nick of time.”
The body of the relieved Ayato rapidly lost strength and he weakly sat.
On a closer look, in Claudia’s hands a pair of demon swords ── was tightly grasped. The eyeball design put in the handle felt as though it was goggling at Ayato.
“Oh dear, this is a problem. An unexpected obstacle appeared.”
Impatience appeared just a little on the face of Gustave who did not break his smile so far.
“What will you do now, Gustave Malraux? I don’t mind being your opponent as is, but… it’s not the case for you, right?”
“…I see, what an unpleasantly shrewd young lady.”
Gustave confronted Claudia silently for a while, but he greatly sighed before long and shook his head.
“Haa… You’re right. I was certainly told not to lay a hand on you. Though it is a rare chance, I shall reasonably withdraw here.”
“It’s a wise decision.”
Contrastive to Claudia who chuckled, Gustave disappeared within the forest with a bitter face.
“Haa… You saved us, Claudia.”
“No, I’m glad that I made it in time. I already contacted the royal palace, so I think they will soon come to get us.”
At the same time as he muttered so, Ayato’s field of vision became blurred. And his consciousness rapidly faded away.
“Ayato? Are you all right, Ayato…?!”
While hearing Claudia’s cries, Ayato’s consciousness was sinking into deep darkness.
- ψ -
That greenhouse had already lost its function as a greenhouse long ago. The glass was cracked here and there, full of repaired marks and generally, it undeniably gave the impression of an old deserted house.
But still, in this country where the winter cold was severe, having been isolated from the open air meant that it probably had some level of benefit. The plants which grew as to fill up the greenhouse all retained a fresh green and among them, there were those which bloomed pretty flowers.
Inside it, a girl with rose-colored hair was only gazing absentmindedly at the girl with chestnut-colored hair who endeavored in gardening without getting tired.
“…I don’t understand after all. How is it fun making such a thing?”
At these words, the chestnut-haired girl shrugged her shoulders with a chuckle.
“Hmm… Well, if I have to say, it would be the actual experiences, I guess.”
“Yes. The experiences of coming to touch with a life.”
“I think that facing these runts would be more than enough for that.”
Although both of them were still children, too, there were many children younger than them in this orphanage.
“Fufufu, it’s not the same. These children cannot talk, but in return they are very honest. When poured with affection, they will properly return it; conversely if you ease up on them, they will ignore you.”
“Plants? Ignore people?”
The rose-color haired girl made a face showing that she could not understand after all.
“Oh my, don’t you know? Even healthy plants will wither if they don’t receive affection from people.”
“…I didn’t know that.”
Although the rose color-haired girl noncommittally said, still she did not intend to leave the greenhouse.
For some reason, it was very comfortable here.
Though it was so old, small and ragged, she strangely felt at ease.
The roseate-haired girl somehow realized that the reason was the warm girl before her eyes.
“Hey, it’s boring to be always looking, right? Why don’t you try to help me occasionally, too?”
“…You mean me?”
“Is there anyone else here? Come, take this.”
The roseate-haired girl revealed a perplexed expression at the girl who peremptorily handed her a small shovel.
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