“What a pain...” sighed a tall and slender woman wearing outdoor glasses, a sports hoodie, and shorts while jogging.
She took a short break to stretch her limbs, twist her hips around, arch her back, and otherwise limber up her body while checking her smartphone.
“Keep fighting until I get more than 10 ‘sures’! Special Move☆Sideways Peace Sign!! ...No, that isn’t quite right. Should I wink and stick my tongue out a bit?”
She practiced her Nanskagram selfie pose only when there were no other pedestrians around, but after a bit of that, she switched her focus and her smartphone’s screen to her Ground’s Nir battle records.
They had settled their battle against Skull Wave, an artificial mutation of an undead Skeleton, but she could not exactly say she was satisfied with the results.
She would not stand a chance against Boo Boo either, but she did not enjoy this reminder that she could lose a battle of pure physical attacks. And at times like this, that beautiful woman with her long black hair tied back did not rely on awakening a convenient talent inside her or on the legends of some ultimate magic hidden deep within a cave. The Percentage-type Magic provided by their equipment added a % to their physical abilities. A gauntlet of STRx200% would help a heavyweight boxer much more than it would a book girl. Things might be different when it came to INT, but it all came down to good old-fashioned hard work. One’s daily studies and workouts would mean a lot to their Parameters.
She switched her smartphone to music mode, stuck it in the holder on her upper arm, and resumed running through early morning Tokyo. The lithe legs extending down form her shorts displayed the energy of a carnivorous feline.
Lately, she had left the runners making a large loop around Tokyo Station and the National Theatre. Instead, she ran to the fish market on the bay coast. She could not find breakfast anywhere near as good anywhere else. Since she was trying to build strength instead of go on a diet, she did not have to view sugar and carbs as her enemy. In her mind, there was no substitute for a cheap seafood bowl with plenty of sea urchin, roe, and salmon on it.
(I really can’t keep up this kind of habit without some kind of reward at the end.)
Mixed in with the middle-aged men whose hair and skin had been punished by the direct sunlight and sea breeze, she scarfed down the contents of the Styrofoam bowl in her shorts that showed off her legs all the way up to the base of her thighs.
She had thought every channel only aired the news or an infomercial at this early hour, but the cable broadcast was apparently an exception. The restaurant’s TV was showing a police drama rerun.
“Detective, reload already! If you don’t hurry up, the next one will get here!!”
“Shut up, Mystery Freak! I’m going to be disciplined yet again thanks to you!!”
(Ahh, I’m so jealous. I wish I could ride a motorcycle around the harbor at night while firing a shotgun like crazy... Oh, I know. I should ask Inoue if there are any dangerous cases I could work on.)
“Thanks for the meal.”
“Sure thing! It’s great having a beauty stopping by every day. Sales-wise, I mean.”
Unsure what he meant, the black-haired woman began her return trip. Some old men were already casting fishing poles into the bay. They had likely already competed for the seafood they needed at the market.
“Only a boot and a can. They say Tokyo Bay’s gotten a lot cleaner, but there’s still a ways to go.”
She smiled bitterly and left the fish market. Once back inside the squalid urban area, she hit the rush hour crowds. She always used this road, so a group in red elementary school backpacks called out to her.
“Oh, it’s the runner lady!”
“You still wear shorts as an adult?”
She waved and continued on.
(It’s probably about time to change my course. It probably isn’t a good idea to have too many people remember me.)
As she thought that, her smartphone rang. It was a voice call. The timing was perfect, so she came to a stop and felt the sweat and heat she had nearly forgotten about while running. She mainly wore the hoodie due to her complex about her breast size, but she had no choice now. She unzipped it, bent back a little to remove it, fanned her neck and chest with one hand, and operated her smartphone with the other. An old man out walking his dog was so entranced by the sight that he tripped and fell face-first into a pile of trash bags, so she gave him a curious look as she began her conversation.
“Hello. This is Sakurai.”
“Hello, hello. It’s Inoue. Do you really need to use your fake name when talking with me? Good morning, chief. There’s already been a change of plans.”
“They’ve already made their move? I only just circled around the administrative office and swapped out the battery.”
“That isn’t what I meant, so let’s bring an end to the national bank case according to schedule. I was referring to your sparring partner! Go to the gym now and you’ll find everyone’s left. You broke their spirits after all the beatings you’ve given them!! When a guy is more than twice your weight and still loses that badly, it’s shameful enough for him to want to commit seppuku, so please show some restraint!!”
The beauty in a tank top and shorts shook her head at his shouting. Even if she had left out of necessity, she still missed the different dojos and the shooting range at Sakuradamon.
It was so easy to grow rusty.
But it was difficult to continue honing her skill with only civilian facilities to work with.
“Inoue, find a replacement before I arrive. Make sure they’re at least at frontline combat level. I’m not interested in someone with one of those black belts that are only for show or who’s only used a sword in a sports setting.”
“Ehh? But it’s not even 8 in the morning. It’s unreasonable to call someone up so early.”
“Is that so, unreasonable boy? Either find someone, or it’s your butt in the ring. I don’t care which it is.”
Ignoring her subordinate’s scream, the woman in outdoor glasses ended the call. She switched the music to some fast-tempo rock and started on the last spurt.
The gym had yet to open, so she entered through the back. She silently checked all the rooms, but there was no sign of anyone.
Whether or not she would really place her cute subordinate in the ring later, she walked to the shower room on a different floor. Without an opponent, she could go ahead and wash her body.
She freed the long black hair she had tied back. Sweat drops flew and the hair flowed down over her back. She quickly stripped off the sweat-soaked shorts, but the tank top clung to her skin and put up more of a resistance than expected. After managing to strip it away, she looked down and sighed.
“Dammit. It’s sad how perfect a fit that sports bra is.”
She kept her glasses on so she could still see.
She stripped off her underwear too and cut across the shower room in her birthday suit. A shelf contained a brand new type of body oil and some other bath goods that she had stockpiled here.
(I-I’m definitely not taking a lesson from Filinion here. I’m definitely not thinking body oil will increase my feminine charm!! It’s meant to soothe my heart from my days of hard work! I’ve never once wondered if it might help my boobs grow!!)
She had considered trying some when she had the time, but she was surprised to find the seal broken on a few of them. The seals had been lazily torn off with bits and pieces remaining. As she trembled in the nude, she grabbed her smartphone, stood tall, and called a certain number with enough intensity that crimson light would have shot from her eyes in Ground’s Nir.
“Yes!? S-sorry, chief, but if I’m going to die as your sparring partner, at least give me some time to sign up for a high-payout life insurance policy to support my parents...”
“This isn’t about that!! I recognize this lazy seal removal. You’ve been using my body oil, haven’t you!? Along with the washing sponge for sensitive skin!! These are for women, you know!?”
“Oh, the Capricious Bear one? I didn’t know who bought that. So it was you?”
“Make no mistake! It just happens to suit my skin and it’s only a coincidence it’s modeled after that mascot. Besides, how did you accidentally use them when I left them in the women’s shower room!?”
“Um... That gym only has the one shower room. It isn’t a diet gym for young wives, so it’s not like anyone’s going to peep...”
“You come with me to Ground’s Nir for a minute. We can continue this chat after I drop a Shooting Star on your head.”
“No, thank you. That technique makes the ground sink down over an area the size of a school campus! And in Ground’s Nir, I’m Huldra the cute Alchemist Cheerleader. I spent a lot of care making minute adjustments to that cute girl face, so I’m not going to let you crush it underfoot like an empty can!”
“Why is a guy like you a popular girl with a nicer body than me!?”
She shouted in anger and hung up. She really wanted to hit him now, but that major technique barely ever hit in an actual battle and it would be impossible to target Inoue while he ran around. She actually liked aloe oil the best, but she had no interest in using it now that a guy had touched it. Capricious Bear had done nothing wrong, but she could only see it as a sponge covered in filth and curly hair. She tearfully puffed out her cheeks and carried only the unopened bottles into one of the shower booths. She grimaced when she saw the large mirror in front of her.
(Dammit, I really want to get contacts. But I’m afraid of the unexpected happening, so only glasses will do. Why can’t they invent lenses that won’t fall out in a light struggle or from the recoil of a gun?)
The boiler had issues, so there was a trick to using the gym shower. The temperature knob had only a few millimeters between ice cold and scorching hot.
She stared at her breasts in the large mirror. She held her hands up and hesitated over whether or not to touch them and massage them, but she managed to shake herself free of a superstition as common as the one saying milk would make them grow.
“...I guess something that simple won’t make them any bigger.”
She let the warm water wash over her naked body as she pressed her forehead against the mirror. She focused on the sensation of the hot liquid washing from the top of her head, down her neck, past her chest (which refused to give her any confidence), along her navel, and to her thighs. She belonged to a secret division that handled unofficial investigations that the normal police and even the JSDF could not handle. She was the chief of what was officially a private detective agency full of retired police offers and JSDF officers. That phantom unit was not known even to their allied nations and its leader muttered something like a curse while all alone in the shower booth and completely forget to try out any of the new products.
“Keep fighting until I get more than 10 ‘sures’! Special Move☆Upturned Gaze!!”
“Argh. I need Capricious Bear to comfort me...”
After using his prized nose to sniff out some Jewel Truffles and Tree Hollow Honey, Boo Boo happily returned home and found his house had been given an upgrade.
His house had always been simply made because it could be destroyed at any time (by the dynamic way he tossed and turned in his sleep), but the leaf house had transformed into a log cabin.
The house’s owner tilted his head, so the usual meddling Fairies must have worked a little too hard this time. Armelina read the note left by Expert Construction Worker Meridiana.
“What’s this? Your house has glass windows now and a door that locks!”
There was a small Fairy door just below the roof, so it really did seem to be their work.
Filinion dangled down from the lever-type knob positioned quite high up, opened and closed the thick door, and peered inside.
“Hoehh. It’s pretty spacious inside. The floor space can’t be that much different, but the leaf house was a triangular tent. Just making the walls vertical has really increased the total volume.”
The inside was more like a mountain cabin than a normal house or villa. It was a single large space with no interior walls. There was a fireplace by the wall and a set of giant blankets stuffed with Ghost Down folded up at one end.
However, the end of Beatrice’s ahoge began to burn.
“Why isn’t there a bath?”
The Fairies apparently had no intention of interfering with Boo Boo’s lifestyle. He would continue to draw water from the river, cook the animals and fish he caught outside, and refuse to bathe in water warmer than his own skin.
(But, but. Surely I’m not being overbearing if I just want to rid him of that smell so I won’t choke when I hug him. Sigh, isn’t there anything I can do?)
That was when a girl of about 10 approached. She was actually the Fairy Queen and one of the Break News. She had long, silver hair and a small body. She wore a ribbon dress that only consisted of black ribbons except for the miniskirt, and a large flower decoration.
“Oh, oh. Boo Boo. How do you like the new home my underlings prepared for you?”
She may have made a sudden visit to ask his thoughts in place of Meridiana who was too shy to appear before them. Despite looking like arrogance incarnate, she could be quite considerate for a paradox with a soul.
“Boo. Can I really accept something like this?”
“If you don’t, it’ll just be a mysterious empty house. Then I’d lose my nap spot and that perverted carrot would be lonely if your field fell into ruin.”
They heard an odd concerned cry from out in the fenced-off field.
“Staying here will help everyone. When good fortune falls from the sky, it’s best to accept it instead of fearing it.”
Filinion and Armelina just about had their souls taken away by the heartwarming talk, but Beatrice remained wary with the look of a hawk eyeing its prey.
“Then I’ll have to repay all of you,” said Boo Boo.
“C’mon, now. My underlings are doing this to repay you. You’ll get us stuck in an infinite loop.”
“Boo. That’s fine. If we both repay each other, we’ll both be happy!”
“Hah hah! Then I’ll take you up on your offer. Oh, I know. I feel like eating an egg dish. And a rare one at that.”
In an instant, the red Holy Swordswoman’s eyes widened and she shouted a word she did not often use.
Everything was white.
They were in northern Ground’s Nir. It was a small island that would only take around 3 days for a human to walk around, but due to the great difference in height, the north was known for being covered in snow year-round. The translucent water spirits known as Undines were happily dancing in a circle here, so it was an utterly icy land.
Beatrice tried to disguise her hawk-eyed look with a cutesy voice as she clasped her hands behind her back, approached from the side, and introduced the snowy area to Boo Boo.
“O-okay, we’re almost there, Boo Boo. You have to repay, Sutriona, right? And you need a rare egg dish to do it. Well, the north is well-known for its Hot Spring Ice Cream which can only be described as ‘Rare☆’.”
With a smile on her face, that bird of prey added more in her heart.
“This is my chance!! I can use this unusual food to lure Boo Boo to a hot spring. I have such a devilish mind. And he’d suspect the hot springs nearby, so I went for the northern Hot Spring Ice Cream instead of the Hot Spring Egg! It’s all so perfect that I’m scaring myself!!”
“It’s all coming out of your mouth, Beatrice. And you aren’t hiding those hawk eyes.”
Hearing Armelina’s exasperated comment, the Holy Swordswoman quickly covered her mouth and gave her friends a suspicious look.
“Filinion, Armelina, why are you two with us? Show some tact!”
“I’m worried about you and your hawk eyes.”
“I’m here to check on some interesting rumors I’ve heard related to Mixing. But...uuh...it’s way too cold!! Without your warmth, Beatrice, I’ll start freezing from the end of my hair!!”
“You moron, this is no time for girls to be sticking together for warmth! Can you please read the atmosphere!?”
Unable to resist her survival instincts, the glasses girl abandoned her femininity and began embracing her, so the Holy Swordswoman stopped the zombie cow with a (gauntleted) fist.
Meanwhile, Boo Boo trudged along through the white landscape like a snowplow.
“Are you cold too, Armelina?”
“Hm? Well, yeah. I do have some Water Resistance, but I’m not an expert like that Ice Waterfall Princess. Still, I have Magic to thank for letting me attack a snowy mountain with so little equipment.”
“Then you can stay close to me. I’m warm, so you’ll be warm too!”
“Oh dear,” said the Fighter Priest as Boo Boo placed his large hand over her head. He pulled her over to his hips like he was roughly rubbing her head.
She was essentially clinging to his side as she looked up at him.
“Cough. You do have a powerful smell... But, Boo Boo, you really are a gentleman.”
“Boo. Again, what’s a gentleman?”
Boo Boo tilted his head while continuing to roughly rub her head.
“Gyahee! Y-you’re gonna burn me, Beatrice! You’re really gonna cook me medium rare!” 𝒾𝗻𝐧𝓇𝒆𝒶𝒅. 𝒸૦𝒎
The unfortunate person who was caught in the middle writhed around on the snow (with certain parts of her jiggling), but she was a recovery potion expert. She would probably be fine.
But as the White Witch rolled around, she suddenly disappeared with the sound of something passing by. A biting wind blew through and the snow around their feet was blown into the air, forming a pure white screen in every direction.
“Wah! What!? A whiteout!?”
“Boo! No one move! Stay still and wait for it to pass!”
“What happened to Filinion!? She wears white, so it’s hard to tell where she is!”
“The glasses cow is a healing expert, so she’ll probably be fine even if she’s frozen solid!”
That sounded cruel, but talk in the bathroom or break room was always somewhat harsh. It was like a rose’s thorns.
As she walked, Beatrice had fired torch-like illumination Magic onto the snow at even intervals and drew lines between the light sources to secure their way back. But with their vision blotted out with the white, the light could not reach and the lines were erased. They had to be careful.
It probably only lasted a few minutes.
When the pure white screen cleared away, the entire landscape had changed. First of all, the rise and fall of the land was different. They saw hills and a valley that had not been there before. They also saw the occasional roof or stone chimney.
Snowmen were hopping around, but they were probably Snow Golems which had Gimmick gears embedded inside them. There were also Wild Snow Rabbits which seemed to have been intentionally released here. They all kept people away from the valley.
“I guess these ruins buried in the snow appear or disappear during the blizzards and avalanches...”
“Hold on. That means this is even worse than a desert mirage. If even the landmarks change, we’ll completely lose our bearings.”
Well-camouflaged White Witch Filinion was lying at the bottom of the valley. However she had fallen, she tearfully had her butt sticking into the air like she had just been hit by a German suplex. Her shorts were pulled as tight as possible, so the base of her thighs looked even plumper than usual.
“Heeee. H-help me...”
“She’s trying to seduce some help, so why not just leave her?”
“Yeah. ...I’d rather die than decide I’m lacking that.”
The girls immediately made up their mind, but Boo Boo was a boy. He walked down the steep slope on his own. The drop of a few meters was only a small step for his giant body.
“Pant, pant. Gasp, gasp. Th-thank you.”
“Boo. I’m happy that you weren’t hurt.”
“Heh heh heh. Um, more importantly...”
Filinion took Boo Boo’s hand and looked around the ruins surrounding them. Most of it was still buried in white snow and ice, but the parts sticking out of the snow walls was enough to figure out what it was.
“This is a foot-powered lathe. This was used to carve metal...no, animal horns and teeth... The brick dome is for...well, there are tongs and a plaster container nearby...so melting down metal I guess...”
“Yes, is this the Amalgam counterfeit factory?”
Beatrice’s eyebrows twitched as she looked down from overhead. Armelina was too perfect and showed an unnatural lack of reaction.
Boo Boo alone tilted his head.
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, sorry. Amalgam is a Guild made by humans. You know what a Guild is, right? It’s a large group working toward accumulating lots of Experience Points, learning Magic, and securing the Pieces that will bring about technological revolution. But they never entered the Labyrinth.” Filinion lowered her voice a little. “They specialized in the gears used as currency in the inn town. They would sell cheap counterfeits of rare Mixing ingredients like Unicorn Horns or Mermaid Scales and they would counterfeit the order forms and shop deeds to acquire the real deal. The people who had their recovery potions and ingredients taken apparently had a lot of trouble in the Labyrinth. Their name, Amalgam, comes from a deceptive success from the ancient days of alchemy. That means they intended to commit these crimes from the outset.”
This had been their base of operations. Their counterfeit factory.
Had Filinion gone out of her way to visit here because she had failed to see through their tricks as a Mixing type? Or had she thought she could use their negative techniques for good?
“But since the rumors about Amalgam’s counterfeit factory being here were true, and it’s even buried under the cold snow and ice...”
Beatrice completed that thought for her with her hands on her slender hips.
“Then the ending of the rumors might also be true. ...The ending where Amalgam went too far, earned the Sage’s wrath, and was purged in a single night.”
That was not a pleasant word for anyone. And it weighed especially heavy on Boo Boo’s life. The recent Skull Wave incident suggested that the Sage had been involved in the attack on the Iberian Orc village. And now they found Amalgam’s base buried in snow and ice. They had likely been guilty of their crimes, but that was not what mattered to Beatrice and the others.
The Sage was not just a relic of the past.
Even now, they were continuing to wield their “justice” to take lives.
“More importantly, look. We’ve reached the hot springs, Boo Boo. And since we’re here, it would be a shame not to take a dip! C’mon, c’mon. I have some Large Deceptive Silkworm towels and cooking oil soap!!”
“S-squeal!? I won’t let you trick me! I’m here to become the world’s greatest master of Hot Spring Ice Cream for Sutriona and the Fairies!!”
“And this is a hot spring, Boo Boo.”
“You aren’t making any sense! Boo... Then let’s settle this with sumo wrestling. I’ve heard of that human game. I’m not moving another step.”
“Beatrice, why the deadly serious look in your eyes!?”
The Holy Swordswoman grew flame wings from her back and charged forward like a rocket, but even she had trouble against that mass of muscle. It was truly a back and forth battle.
They were at a hot oasis (i.e. hot spring) in the snowy plain. A small pond of hot water melted the snow and some fruit trees grew around it thanks to its heat. It was a tiny paradise. The snowy north was apparently dotted with these hot oases.
Armelina watched the two of them push and pull while she hung a leather bag full of Bitesize Duck Eggs from the edge of the hot spring. Hot Spring Ice Cream was made by soft-boiling eggs in the hot spring, mixing them in a bowl with Wild Cow milk, Tree Hollow Honey, and Super Sweet Leaf herbs, sprinkling salt on the mixture, sticking the bowl in the snow to lower the temperature, and mixing it further to trigger the transformation. Ground’s Nir’s Fairies could apparently make their own popsicles by simply freezing fruit juice, but they had not reached the level of soft ice cream. This midway point was a lot like an ice cream cup and was sure to be highly valued by them.
Filinion crouched down and held out her hands for warmth as the steam fogged up her glasses.
“Won’t the Hot Spring Ice Cream have melted by the time we get back?”
“You’re a Mixing type, aren’t you? Bitesize Duck Egg shells are decent insulators, so if we stick the completed product inside here and you fix the cracks, it’ll last for a day or two just fine.”
No one said anything more about Amalgam’s fate. They forced themselves to enjoy this in order to clear away the malice that seemed to be pressing down on them like a dark cloud.
But even if they said nothing, they may have all understood that they could not so easily rid themselves of the Sage’s great shadow.
They heard a metallic ringing that sounded out of place in this blizzard hot spring. It placed a tiny crack in the harmonious atmosphere and it all fell apart from there. Or perhaps the pure sound of the bell returned the world to its proper state.
They saw a slender girl with her lemon-yellow hair worn in a splendidly curled ponytail.
Her clothes look a lot like a black sleeved leotard with silver armor added to the chest and waist. A hagoromo-like decorative cloth fluttered from her hands and around her back. She wore a tiny gold crown on her head. The bell sound had likely come from the crown. Her upper body was soft and slender like a gymnast or dancer, but her lower body was covered with knee-high steel boots that shined a dull silver.
Then there was her weapon. It looked something like a large scythe taller than she was, but the blade was a giant disk 70cm across instead of a crescent moon shape. That made the weapon look like the number 9. Beatrice was skeptical, but she soon found a few symbols in a chain reaction, much like figuring out a piece of trick artwork. The long handle had lumps in places and was actually made from multiple clubs attached end to end. The small cloth wrapped around it as a grip was actually a ribbon. The decorative crystal ball and long string on the back of the scythe were actually a ball and rope. And the yellow disk was a hoop. Altogether, it pointed to a single motif.
(The 5 categories of rhythmic gymnastics. I don’t know how she uses them to attack, but I doubt she just swings that around. It’s called a Shining Weapon because it controls your Magic.)
From the bottom of the long handle to the top of the giant disk blade, it was more than 2 meters long. One wrong move and that strange weapon could chop off its own user’s fingers. That naturally told Beatrice something about its user.
She did not even need to look at the curves running from the ribs to hips showing through the leotard. The girl’s lithe body was readily visible. If that soft body was unleashed, just what kind of ever-changing movements could she use to attack?
(Based on the STR and VIT support from her equipment, she probably uses footwork to dodge instead of defending. She must rarely come to a stop, so once we let her get going, we’ll have to deal with an unending rush.)
“A Noble Dancer. Your name is Rusalka, isn’t it? You’re known for your incredible power with the Wind Element and I’m often compared to you. Your home is in Kobe, I believe.”
“Those details are unnecessary. You only need to know that the Information Broker has officially sent me here to take your life.”
Beatrice clicked her tongue and forcefully drew her Shining Weapon rapier. Filinion and Armelina also prepared for battle.
An attack for political reasons, now of all times? She had no real proof, but the Holy Swordswoman could not help but think of a certain title who had a connection to the Ministry of Defense.
(Could the Sage be behind this? They’ve already made their next move!?)
She had never directly fought this Noble Dancer, but she had heard the girl was as big a winner as the Ice Waterfall Princess who was known as queen of the battle arena. As previously stated, she specialized in wind. Just as Beatrice specialized in fire, she had pursued wind to the point that her skill could not be underestimated.
Beatrice’s group could not sit around planning out their fight now that Rusalka had approached so close so suddenly. As the seconds passed painfully slowly, Beatrice desperately tried to figure out what their enemy would do.
(How’s she going to attack? A simple gust of wind? A vacuum blade? Or is she going to fire needles or stones with compressed air? And will it be a precision attack meant to pierce a single point or a scattershot meant to cover an entire surface?)
Sword and scythe. She mentally predicted the lines along which the blades and Magic would pass. If she misread even one of the virtual strings between the enemy and her allies, one of their heads would fly off like they had been hit by a snapping wire. The Holy Swordswoman was surrounded by a dreadful pressure and an odd sense of oneness.
(Or is she more fundamentally going to directly control the air pressure or oxygen density?)
Just then, a sudden voice cut through the compressed time.
“Wait! Take this seriously, Boo Boo! It’s all over if we misread the very first move!!”
Beatrice could not look away as she yelled at him, but she could tell Boo Boo had not drawn his giant Shining Weapon. He held a hand to his mouth and tilted his head before saying more.
“But, Beatrice, she isn’t moving at all. The snow is starting to pile up on her.”
The Holy Swordswoman finally started questioning this and Filinion pushed at her glasses with her left hand while producing a rectangular frame from mist. She viewed the readings displayed there.
“Um, based on her Parameter-type equipment...she’s focused so much on Wind Resistance that she has nothing to fight the cold. In other words, she hiked up into this freezing mountain in nothing but a gymnastics leotard and turned herself into a chilled dish. Simply put, she really is an idi-...”
Rusalka, the slender girl with a curly lemon-yellow ponytail, released a groan from her small lips. She could not remember what had happened. She remembered receiving a secret mission from the Information Broker and contacting her target, but what was this warmth?
She belatedly realized she was inside one of the hot oases that dotted the snowy plain.
And if she was in a hot spring...
She was nude save for a bath towel. Her slender body was soaking up to above the chest in the cloudy water, but the gentle curve of the top of her breasts and her narrow collarbones were exposed. She also found herself more shocked than she had expected to find her clothing missing without her having removed it. Her 9-shaped circular scythe of a Shining Weapon was still there, but any girl would have to question having to defend herself while nude but armed.
On top of it all, a 4-meter pig-faced mass of bestial odor was soaking in the hot spring with her.
“Boo. Beatrice, it looks like she’s thawed out.”
“Ugyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!? A-a-a-a beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeast!!”
The mysterious level cap girl screamed and flailed around in the water, but then she seemed to notice something. She had felt the towel wrapped around her body but her head was towel-less. Her curled ponytail was soaking in the hot spring.
“Ah, ahhh!? Wait, why didn’t you put a towel around my hair!? Is this hot spring acidic or alkaline!? Either way, my cuticlllllllles!!”
Filinion had removed her kneesocks to soak her feet and she tossed a towel over with an exasperated look. Slender Rusalka raised her arms to catch it.
But then something fell straight down: the towel wrapped around her body.
“Oh, honestly. We can tell your face is covered in tears and snot, so slow down and deal with this one thing at a time.”
When Armelina gave that advice while pulling up the leather bag full of the soft-boiled eggs for the Hot Spring Ice Cream, the flushed girl sniffled and wrapped the towels around her body and hair.
“And without Boo Boo supporting you, you would’ve drowned before coming to.”
“Besides, our clothes are just Magic taking that form. Yours disappeared because you forgot to set them up properly. Does that mean you end up naked every time you sleep? Even in the Labyrinth? I suppose they automatically return while you rub your sleepy eyes, so you never noticed.”
This time, the Noble Dancer’s face went entirely pale. It was the same look as someone realizing their skirt had been caught on the back of their waist, showing off their butt the entire way to school.
Meanwhile, Beatrice wore a towel while she sat next to Boo Boo and she could not care less about Rusalka or the towel on her head.
“Eh heh heh. Boo Boo, I knew you would never abandon someone in need. And now’s my chance to wash you! God is on my side!!”
“Squeal. You need to be quiet in front of a sick person. Bad Beatrice.”
“If you’re going to wash his body, then get him out of the bath! It’s times like this that I remember you’re a sheltered girl with some odd gaps in your knowledge of etiquette!!”
This was different from the personal jacuzzi she usually used or the disposable hot spring dug out of the dirt next to the river, but Beatrice did not seem to understand that. This was one downside of her life of confinement.
Meanwhile, tearful and red-faced Rusalka did not overlook that their attention had strayed from her.
“Hmph! Don’t think you’ve won!”
The small assassin tried to use this chance to escape, but then she caught a glance of Boo Boo’s eyes. Despite his ferocious porcine face, he had a sad look in his eyes as if being yelled at had been a shock to him.
“Y-you’ll regret not finishing me off while you had the chance!!”
The assassin sent by the Information Broker shook off the brief feeling in her chest, twisted her body to escape Boo Boo’s support, threw off the bath towel, summoned her Percentage-type clothing back on, and planned to escape the hot spring. Steam rose from the small girl in no time at all and it looked like she would vanish beyond the white screen of the blizzard, but...
Rusalka fully vanished into the cloudy water as if she had fallen into a bottomless swamp. Beatrice rubbed at her temple with her index finger.
“How did she think humans like us were in the same bath as 4-meter Boo Boo? We’d only laid out a duckboard made from Ladder Ivy at the bottom to give us a shallower area.”
“Squeal! It’s dangerous putting your head under the water, so we need to save her.”
Boo Boo alone was a gentleman.
He walked over to where Rusalka had disappeared and used his massive hands to find the slender girl in the water. She must have swallowed a lot of water in her surprise because her face was red and she had passed out, but she eventually opened her eyes a little.
“Poyaaa...ah!? Ahhh, no, no. Why am I feeling the suspension bridge effect!? And you! Why are you princess carrying me!?”
“That – is – my – line, you princess carry thief!!”
Beatrice was beginning a pretty serious eruption, so Rusalka finally managed to escape the hot spring in her soaked equipment and she ran off into the blizzard.
Filinion’s half-extended arm wandered through empty air.
“Ah! ...Sh-she didn’t even ask how to change her settings. Does she plan to end up naked when she goes to sleep again?”
“Actually, if she goes to sleep in this snowy land, she’ll never wake up again. She still has no protection against the cold and the water will only chill her faster once it cools down...”
“Wow. So she’ll end up a naked girl frozen in a pillar of ice? That’s quite a niche sort of treasure. It sounds like something you’d find in the deepest part of a cave full of ice and crystals.”
Boo Boo and the others exchanged a glance.
None of them wanted to imagine a life they had saved turning into a human ice sculpture only 5 or 10 minutes later.
They felt silly heading out to save an assassin sent for them, but they could not just let her die. And so they set out to search for Noble Dancer Rusalka.
However, something changed the instant they set foot outside the hot oasis.
“What? It’s cold?”
Beatrice should have been a mass of fire, but even she had to comment on the temperature. Filinion had been using her for warmth, so her entire body grew blue, starting with the lips, despite having warmed herself in the hot spring just a moment ago. The only one without much issue was Boo Boo who had been walking through the snowy mountain in only a loincloth to begin with.
The blizzard curtain grew even thicker and their vision was cut off by a whiteout once more.
“No, the lines of light between light sources are still active. Be careful, Boo Boo! This isn’t natural. Someone is artificially interfering with my Magic!”
She could produce fire and a bit of light and smoke, but it provided no heat. It felt like being trapped in a giant cold storage warehouse and staring at an image of flickering flames on an LCD screen. It was no use whatsoever.
Hee hee hee.
Bewitching female laughter reached them from the depths of the blizzard. Beatrice briefly thought it was an illusion created from the mixture of noise. Yes, like the groans heard at a famous suicide spot or the mysterious screams heard in a famous singer’s song.
But it was not.
The curtain brighter than silk was torn and someone appeared there.
She was a bright blue.
She had a tall and slender body and beautiful skin that was more pale than white. She wore a princess’s dress so transparent it seemed to be made from ice. However, there was no corset or bustier to cover her torso.
Only a single sheathed cross-shaped sword.
The straight sword extended from her chest to below her hips, hiding the important bits of her otherwise naked body and it was strapped to her torso by leather belts. The girl with splendid ringlet curls that fell past her knees almost seemed to act as the sword’s sheathe or seal.
She pulled an ice fan from her waist, spread it to hide her mouth, twisted her curvy body, and spoke.
All the while, her ringlet curls blew in the wind.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Holy Swordswoman.”
“...And who are you?”
“I am Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau, the new queen of the battle arena after your departure. And you can also think of me as another assassin from the Information Broker.”
She looked Beatrice’s way with surprising directness and crushed the transparent fan in her white hand.
Immediately, a hunk of ice taller than she was fell alongside her right arm.
The snow on the ground flew up and increased the density of white. At first the object alongside the blue woman’s right arm appeared to be a guillotine.
But it was not.
Five thick fingers seemed to wriggle at the bottom of the thick wall. It was a hexagonal snow crystal shield attached to a gauntlet. When Beatrice saw the striking spikes extending from each corner, a certain name came to mind.
“A lantern shield!? Why would you make that weird weapon even weirder!?”
“Oh? It would seem you have some slight education. However.”
The Ice Waterfall Princess laughed and controlled the five fingers of the hexagonal shield floating in front of her own fingertips.
“It is rather inelegant that the crucial blade must be supplied separately.”
Snow spiraled around the shield and a double-edged ice sword twice the Ice Waterfall Princess’s height appeared in her hand.
Wildefrau used her other hand to hold down the hair on the side of her head and she seemed to recite a piece of terminology.
“Zweihänder☆ This should suffice for testing out your strength.”
“Wait!” shouted Boo Boo. “I see no reason why we have to fight. And we have to find Rusalka who ran off somewhere...”
“Yes. She was supposed to be the hound while I am the hunter, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. That worthless dog forgot the honor I showed her by putting a collar on her and ran off in the middle of the hunt to escape my whip, so I have no obligation to look after her. Although if she does survive, I will give her a very, very geeeentle punishment.”
“Now, then. Does that give you a reason to fight? Besides, she is none of your concern. You need only focus on running through the snow so I can enjoy the hunt. Toh!”
She made a horizontal slash.
Immediately a blizzard erupted as blood from the world’s wound.
Beatrice carelessly raised her Shining Weapon rapier and tried to cross blades with the giant ice sword, but she immediately realized her mistake.
The Ice Waterfall Princess did not approach.
With silent and careful movements, she actually stepped back beyond the screen. To her, a direct attack was unimportant. The snow grew more and more intense. The white wall covered everything.
“Kh...!! Is she trying to get us lost so we freeze to death!?”
The Holy Swordswoman raised her voice and received a response from unexpectedly close by. But she could not tell if it was an illusion or not because the blizzard was too thick to even see the end of her outstretched arm.
“Well, if that is the death you would like, I can fulfill your request. But be on the lookout for unexpected attacks. Heh heh. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
She gave into her irritation and swung her rapier toward the voice, but sparks flew as it struck Armelina’s metal staff.
“! She’s cruel through and through. Beatrice, you’re letting the blood rush to your head! Don’t play along with her rural train station Sentai show!”
“Filinion, Boo Boo! If you can hear me, look to the ground and come here. Take it a step at a time. Trying to look into the distance will only screw with your sense of distance and direction! And don’t turn your head!”
They had only been a few meters apart, but Beatrice was still relieved to see them all again.
“I wanted to fall back to the hot spring before planning our counterattack...but it doesn’t look like we can do that.”
They had felt its heat not long before, but now this. Safely escaping this northern mountain was looking like a dream within a dream now.
“B-Beatrice, you fired illumination Magic into the ground on the way here, right? C-c-c-c-can we follow that back from the mountain or at least back to the hot spring!?”
“I did draw a line all the way to the hot spring, but we ran into the Ice Waterfall Princess as soon as we left, so I didn’t have a chance after that. That means we can’t go back.”
“Besides, we couldn’t get off the mountain in this blizzard even if we knew the route. You saw what happened at Amalgam’s counterfeit factory, right? The blizzards and avalanches change the landscape so frequently that the signs in the ground might have been swept away or buried.”
As she said that, Armelina lowered the metal staff from her shoulder. She then tapped the head against a thick layer of snow. An explosion created a distorted crater.
“Making an igloo would be the logical thing to do. The air will gather inside the snow walls, so it acts as an insulator, just like a down jacket. If we all get inside, our body heat will warm the air.”
“I know. It’s only temporary. It only needs to keep us from freezing to death before we finish coming up with a plan.”
Either way, they had no time.
Boo Boo did not seem bothered since he had been half-naked and Magic-less from the beginning, but he worried about the sacrifices around him more than the average person. It was his heart that would break, not his body.
After entering the igloo, Beatrice held her shoulders and spoke quickly.
“First and foremost, this blizzard is being controlled by the Ice Waterfall Princess. The entire area is more than 10 below 0 and some kind of heat insulation is preventing my Magic from warming us. That means ‘waiting it out’ isn’t an option.”
“It’s c-c-c-c-cold! We already established we can’t leave the mountain with this blizzard in our way, so we’re going to have to defeat Wildefrau.”
“The question is whether or not we can capture her when our movements are restricted and she can walk around just fine with her 100% Water Resistance. It’s easy to lose track of distance and direction in this snowy world, so just walking through it will wear down our lives.”
They could not produce Magic heat even in the makeshift igloo and there was only one other way to preserve their body heat.
“The hot oases. We’ll have to walk from hot spring to hot spring while searching for Wildefrau.”
The maps they could summon using Magic showed a few dozen hot oases, but it was unclear if they could actually follow the map through the snowy plain. They would easily lose track of distance and direction and things could appear and disappear like the ruins of the counterfeit factory, so even apparent landmarks could confuse them.
“Armelina, how much of your map related Magic can you use?”
“Beatrice, it looks like you were their target from the beginning. I’m receiving almost no interference at all. I can tell the direction just fine, so don’t worry.”
The Fighter Priest’s words were reassuring. Even if the surrounding scenery was confusing, they had an absolute way of knowing which direction was which. Armelina used all sorts of blunt weapons and that had led to a specialty in magnets.
If they lost their way even once and failed to reach the hot spring, they would definitely end up as human ice sculptures. Their deadly march through the snow was about to begin.
“Boo. I’m also worried about Rusalka. If we find her, let’s carry her to the hot spring.”
That might sound carefree given the extreme situation, but Beatrice felt that keeping those obvious things in mind would be an important factor in this battle.
“We can’t forget about that Noble Dancer, Boo Boo.”
Beatrice’s group could not sit still and wait for rescue, so their only choice was to warm themselves at the hot springs as they searched as wide a range as possible for Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau. They walked through the snowy world a step at a time while firing illumination Magic into the ground at set intervals as markers.
But no matter how much they filled their minds with their goal and the logic of their methods, the blizzard still felt just as frigid. They were surrounded by featureless white in all directions. They felt a hopeless exhaustion in their chests, like they were searching for a single grain of gold dust in the middle of the desert.
“W-will this really work out? I’m not seeing suspicious footprints or anything else...”
Filinion shook a small bottle of some kind of potion, but her expression was grim. It was probably a potion that visualized traces of life readings, such as footprints. Only their own footprints were emitting a white light and those vanished as they watched.
“I guess footprints are buried in no time in this blizzard. Boo Boo, do you know how to hunt on a snowy mountain?”
“Boo. Food doesn’t rot easily where it’s cold, so you only have to find some leftover seeds or bones!”
That did not really apply in this case, but even if the Ice Waterfall Princess could resist the cold, she still needed food and water. Her strange princess dress looked like nothing more than a sword, belts, and ice armor over her naked body, so there was no room for large camping gear.
“Does she think this will be a short battle or does she think it’ll be easy to acquire food and water when she can walk around freely?”
“If so, the meat and fruit would mostly be found in the greenery around the hot oases, wouldn’t they?”
It seemed unlikely they would just so happen to run into each other at the same hot spring, but if Wildefrau was using the hot springs to determine her range of movement, then their odds were even. Both they and the Ice Waterfall Princess would leave traces behind at the hot springs and leave hints as to where they were headed next. From there, it was the same as two submarines working out each other’s positions from the slight noises they made.
“Anyway, I don’t know how much help this will be, but...”
“Armelina, what’s that metal spike?”
“It’s a pin that reacts to biomagnetism. After I drive it into the ground, my parchment map will display a blood alert when a living creature enters within 10 meters of it. That said, it’s useless against the lifeless Gimmicks in the Labyrinth.”
That sounded much more useful than walking around randomly trying to fill their map in. However, just thinking about it was not going to accomplish anything. They were still walking around a white hell.
The White Witch was out of breath in no time. Beatrice left behind illumination Magic and drew a line between them, but they could not trust those too much. They were no more than insurance.
But their situation was better than it might have been. Without cold-resistant Boo Boo pushing aside the thick snow like a bulldozer, the girls’ legs might have developed frostbite in no time. Then Boo Boo waved a hand.
“Filinion, if it’s really too much, you can stick with me. I’m warm, so you’ll be warm too.”
“Heee! Now! Hold me now!! Brrrrrrr...aaaahhhhhh!?”
The White Witch clung to him like her life depended on it, but Beatrice did not get after her this time. Thanks to the potion sprinkled over all their heads, they each had a soccer-ball-sized illusion sphere floating over their head. Boo Boo’s was a healthy blue and had a bodybuilder-like smile, but the rest were a dangerous yellow or red with a troubled frown. When shivering Filinion clung to Boo Boo, her sphere’s color changed slightly and the expression smiled a little. That vital signs display was determined based on one’s temperature, stamina, muscular strength, hydration, etc., so it would change from blue to red as they declined and Xs in the eyes meant they were dead.
The initial window display had been full of more detailed information, but they had rejected that. As for why...
“Hey, cow pie factory! Why do these list our weight and measurements!? That’s personal information!! It’s got nothing to do with surviving in a snowy mountain!”
“Boo? Beatrice, what does this 79 mean?”
“Higiiiii!? Don’t look, Boo Booooooo!!!???”
That sad story ended with the glasses cow having her butt kicked by the Holy Swordswoman and Fighter Priest before being rolled down a hill, turning her into a slight human snowball. So if the White Witch claimed to be cold, it was probably more than just an excuse.
Beatrice suddenly looked up as she used her paces to keep general track of the distance.
“We’re almost there.”
“Assuming our sense of direction wasn’t thrown off, you mean.”
This first test would predict their overall success. And they found a source of steam surrounded by greenery.
Filinion’s face lit up.
“A hot spring! A hot oasis! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
The White Witch threw her arms in the air, ran over, erased all of her Percentage-type Magic clothing save for her underwear, and dove into the hot water. She must have thought a woman’s hair was her life because she had that held up by something like a kanzashi carved from wood, but it was meaningless when she dove in headfirst. Also, she had completely forgotten about the parts of her she needed to be most worried about.
“Cow!! We have a few extra towels, so...oh, honestly!!”
The Holy Swordswoman grabbed the cow’s favorite bathing outfit from among the towels and threw it over with a sigh.
“But it does seem we made it.”
“Boo. But it doesn’t look like anyone’s been here. There are no footprints on the snowless dirt and none of the fruit has been taken.”
Boo Boo selected and pulled some Ladder Ivy from the hot oasis trees and worked with Armelina to quickly weave a duckboard.
“None of the water has been splashed on the edge of the hot spring either. ...Well, except for where a shameless glasses girl jumped in. She isn’t drowning in there without the duckboard, is she?”
They could not be picky. While Boo Boo could walk around in the snow just fine, the others needed to raise their body temperatures or risk death. After dropping the duckboard in a corner of the hot spring, the Holy Swordswoman wrapped a towel around herself and deactivated her Magic armor and clothing within. Armelina also used a headband to keep her hair up.
...It could be easy to forget, but Boo Boo was a guy. The glasses girl had lost at life by giving into the cold and failing to take that into account.
After so long in the cold, the heat of the spring seemed to sting their skin. Toweled Beatrice’s face grew flushed as she settled on their next step.
“After warming up, let’s get back to searching for the Ice Waterfall Princess. Armelina, where’s the next hot oasis?”
“The closest one is about 200 meters south of here. But the map shows a steep slope and there might not be a passable route with the blizzard and avalanches. It’s a bit further, but it might be best to head west.”
“Ehhh?” With her glasses fogged up, Filinion interrupted like a spoiled child. “Can’t we just stay here? There doesn’t seem to be a Gate for Signing Out and we couldn’t use one even if there was since we haven’t registered our smartphones with it. We’ve got a hot spring to protect ourselves from the blizzard and food in the greenery around it, so we’ll be fine for a while. Isn’t holing up here an option?”
“No, no, no! No one’s coming to rescue us and the weather isn’t going to improve if we wait. And what about Wildefrau!?”
“Well, that Ice Waterfall Princess is trying to kill us on orders from the Information Broker, right? That means she can’t afford to fail and she’ll probably have a time limit for completing her mission. So it seems to me she’ll feel more and more pressure the more time passes.”
The Holy Swordswoman and Fighter priest just about gave into the temptation of the hot water, but...
“Squeal. Then what about lost Rusalka?”
“Ah!? That’s right, that’s right. Besides, we can’t stay in Ground’s Nir for long. Waiting is a poor strategy for anyone here.”
“Buuuut. Isn’t that true of the Ice Waterfall Princess too? Bubble, bubble, bubble.”
Filinion started sinking down below the water as she spoke, so Beatrice knew she was a lost cause. The actual argument no longer mattered. Filinion was only thinking about keeping them stuck in a loop so they would stay in the spring longer and find themselves unable to leave. She was probably the kind of person who could never get out of a kotatsu once she was underneath it.
Armelina was the next to speak.
“There’s a blood alert on my map. Life sign detected. She may have thought she was hiding, but I’m betting a big Werewolf or Abominable Snowman approached and got her running wildly around. Here she comes!!”
And the cause of all this would be enjoying the situation most of all, so she would not let them just hang around here.
“Hee hee hee. Oh, you seem to be enjoying yourselves. Mind if I join you?”
The voice came suddenly.
Just as the 3 girls jumped out of the hot spring in their towels, something fell right in the middle of the water.
It was Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau.
“Hm. This is a little too warm for my sensitive skin.”
Alongside her right arm, she had summoned a large sword and a shield combined with a gauntlet made of ice. She used her other hand to elegantly hold her hair down as the floating lantern shield and sword dropped down, detonated the water’s surface, and pierced the ground.
The pond of cloudy water froze solid in an instant. Nevertheless, something odd happened around the woman with ringlet curls who stood in the space opened by the splashing water. A mysterious liquid carrying a white frost began to appear on its own and fill the space.
Beatrice hurriedly summoned her Percentage-type armor inside her towel, causing the towel to burst off of her, and narrowed her eyes in displeasure. As soon as a leaf fallen from one of the trees came in contact with the mysterious liquid, it froze.
Beatrice and the others’ vital sign displays quickly changed from blue to yellow and from smiles to troubled expressions. Yes, as if they had been thrown out of the hot oasis and into the blizzard.
“If you like, I could prepare some oxygen or hydrogen instead. Ahhhhh.... A bath really is better for your health and beauty when it’s a tad lukewarm. Ah ha ha!!”
The Ice Waterfall Princess soaked herself up to her fully exposed shoulders in the liquid nitrogen bath she had summoned. Her magnificent ringlet curls spread out and she crossed her legs so just one of her blue boots stuck out. There was no need for Magic to read her vital signs. She was a picture of health despite a temperature of -195 degrees. But Beatrice and the others could not get too fixated on that insane visual.
“Boo Boo, hurry! We need to get out of here!!”
The hot spring itself had frozen, but they were still benefiting from the surrounding heat. And while liquid nitrogen was known for causing flash freezing, its volume would increase 700-fold when exposed to normal temperatures and returned to its gaseous form.
Wildefrau snapped her white fingers.
That threw out the safeties maintaining that unnatural situation.
A fierce explosion followed.
With a blast louder than a gunshot, the nitrogen forming the liquid shot up more than 10 meters as an intense pillar of mist. It had the same force as when a mine was detonated out at sea. Of course, they could not let any of it touch them. Their only option was to leave this safe zone before it poured back down.
The soft dirt, fruit-bearing trees, and the rest of the hot oasis had frozen solid behind surprised Boo Boo.
In the center of it all, 100% Water Resistance Wildefrau laughed and watched her targets leave.
“Yes, make a run for it. Anywhere you stop, I will freeze you out. Now, can you capture me before I eliminate all of the hot oases? Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
Beatrice clenched her teeth, but they had to leave for the time being.
Another major limit had been set: before all of the hot oases were gone. If they failed, they would be stuck in this hopeless snowy world and they would all become human frost sculptures.
Instead of continuing on to the next hot oasis, the Holy Swordswoman’s group built an igloo near the original hot spring. They all clung to Boo Boo for some faint warmth, waited a while, and made a U-turn.
The frozen remains of the hot oasis were abandoned. A ton of nitrogen had been splattered around, but when Beatrice lit a small fire at the end of her rapier, it did not vanish. The biting wind had apparently been swept away.
Filinion sprinkled around some of the potion that caused footprints to glow, but...
“Any luck, curry girl?”
“I’m a White Witch, not the Yellow Ranger! Don’t call me beef curry!”
“Stop it. Looking at it that way, Beatrice, you’d be the festive red and white kamaboko girl.”
“Shut up, matcha girl!!”
“Shut up, matcha girl!!”
“I’m not an old lady and I do have some fat!!”
Confused, Boo Boo tilted his head and brought a hand to his mouth.
“What does all of that mean?”
“Pant, pant! W-well, whatever the case, I didn’t find anything.”
This was no longer a hot spring. The footprints had been easily erased by the blizzard.
“Well, I didn’t really think that Ice Waterfall Princess would show a convenient opening. Armelina, you said the nearest hot oases were a dangerous one to the south and a safe one to the west, right?”
“Assuming she hasn’t gotten there ahead of us and frozen them.”
Whatever the case, they had definitely arrived here before the Ice Waterfall Princess. Her range of movement was sure to be within a circle of this point, so the closest hot oases were indeed the most likely suspects. Either because Wildefrau needed food or water, or because she wanted to mock them.
They resumed their march through the snow.
Armelina drove a map-linked sensor spike into the ground.
“Let’s start with what we know we can do. The western one is more distant, but we won’t get lost. And even if it’s frozen, there should be several hot oases nearby.”
“Let’s just pray they aren’t all frozen.”
But they soon discovered another issue. As soon as they set out, they spotted a lemon-yellow glow fluttering in the snow.
It was Noble Dancer Rusalka’s hair where she was collapsed face-down and half-buried in the snow.
“Dammit, I knew this would happen to her! Boo Boo, pull her out!!”
“Right. Leave it to me.”
Boo Boo trudged on ahead and pulled Rusalka’s small form from the snow. She must not have changed her settings because her equipment had vanished.
“Let’s hope she doesn’t catch cold...”
Boo Boo always only wore a loincloth, so he was more worried about her health than her shame. He took a towel from the Holy Swordswoman and crudely wrapped it around the girl. Cold-resistant Boo Boo was their sole source of warmth.
She had nothing to do with this, but even Filinion clung to his back.
“I-I-I-I can’t stand it anymore, Boo Boo! The water cooled down so fast and it’s sapping my endurance gauge like crazy! Help me!!”
Beatrice picked up the 9-shaped disc scythe left in the snow.
“Cow, the vital signs display over your head is bright blue with a full smile. You’re perfectly fine.”
“With a self-indulgent kotatsu-addicted girl like her, you can’t let her get even a taste of luxury.”
(If Wildefrau shows up with her Zweihänder while we’re all crowded together, Boo Boo won’t be able to move and we’ll be wiped out, won’t we?)
Armelina and Beatrice kept an eye on their surroundings, but luckily, there was no sign of such an attack. Or was their opponent only toying with them? It felt like the Ice Waterfall Princess’s malice had permeated the entire snowy world around them.
Their slow progress gradually wore at their nerves, but they finally reached the next hot oasis. It was not frozen. Beatrice’s body relaxed, but her mind knew she could not celebrate. Not running across Wildefrau had not been a lucky break. It was proof that they had yet to escape her grasp.
Regardless, treating the unconscious Noble Dancer came first. Beatrice stuck Rusalka’s scythe into the water to test the depth and then they dropped in a duckboard they made as before. Boo Boo then lowered the girl’s small body feet-first into the white cloudy water.
This had dramatic results.
“Wah...wah, wah. Wagyaaaahhhh!? A-another hot spring and again no towel on my head!? My cuticllllllllllllllllllllllllllllles...gaboh!?”
Rusalka’s scream grew muffled at the end because she had started to run, stepped off the duckboard, and dropped into the depths of the hot spring.
“She just doesn’t learn, does she? C’mon, stay still! Humans aren’t made to be frozen and thawed so often! Not even a convenience store bento full of preservatives and additives can do that!!”
In a two-piece bath towel and a headband, Armelina fished Rusalka’s skinny arm out of the water instead of overly gentle Boo Boo.
As before, her eyes had melted.
“Poyahh...ah! Ahhh, no, no! Why am I feeling the suspension bridge effect for another girl!?”
“I don’t exactly want some girl I ran across falling for me! And is just anyone enough for you!?”
They had no choice but to hold her shoulders down so she could not leave the water. They had only found her by complete coincidence and they wanted to avoid any additional missions while pursued by that insane Ice Waterfall Princess.
Meanwhile, the curled ponytail girl was completely ignorant of their efforts.
“Kh. Once again, I’m reduced to a single towel. Does that mean you saw everything when putting it on me!?”
“I’ll tell you how to change your settings, so just calm down. Ahhh, bubble, bubble, bubble.”
As a cold-weak kotatsu girl (?), Filinion began fully submerging herself until the vital signs sphere above her head returned from red to blue and from troubled to a smile.
The Noble Dancer wrapped a towel around her head and sat in the water while she listened to the White Witch’s useful lecture. Everything slowed down and a stagnant air hung over them, so Boo Boo spoke up.
“You should come with us for the time being. That way you won’t get lost.”
“I-I wasn’t lost!”
“You were either lost or you were a nuisance of a hiker. Do you want to go around apologizing afterwards?”
“I’ll give you this,” said Boo Boo. “It’s Hot Spring Ice Cream! Everyone gets irritable when they’re hungry, so eat this and calm down.”
“H-how dumb do you think I am?”
Well, she had attempted to climb a snowy mountain in only a leotard, gotten herself frozen, fled from a hot spring while mostly naked, and turned herself into a chilled dish, so the answer was “extremely”, but Beatrice avoided answering and put on a smile as big as one on a round yellow sticker.
Towel-waring Rusalka must not have been the type to waste food because she ate what was given to her. She held the small egg shell container in both hands and started by squeezing her eyes shut and sticking her small tongue out to lick the top of the ice cream, perhaps to test it for poison.
“Oh, it’s actually pretty good...”
“A weird flavor, isn’t it!? It’s sweet and cold. The outside is hard but the inside is all melty! I don’t like hot springs because they make it hard to think, but eating something like this is perfect.”
“Yes, visiting a hot spring on a frigid mountain and then eating cold ice cream really is the greatest luxury. And with the eggs and milk, you even get the sugar and protein you need.”
Rusalka started to relax, but then she came back to her senses.
“Wait, no!! Don’t let yourself be distracted by something like eating ice cream in a kotatsu! They’re my assassination targets!!”
“About that.” Beatrice cut in there. “I don’t know what the Information Broker told you, but what do you think after actually meeting us? Are we deserving of death? Has even Boo Boo done anything that bad to you?”
“We had no real reason to search for you since you’re an assassin. In fact, even if we happened across you, we could have just kept walking. But when Boo Boo saw you half-buried in the snow, he ran over to help you. You ran from the hot spring without knowing what you were doing, but he didn’t complain about having to save you. Now, a question. I want to hear it from you directly: Have we done anything worth having everything taken from us by someone we’ve never even met?”
There was no reply. But this was different from a simple refusal to answer. This silence was born from hesitation and doubt.
Eventually, Rusalka hung her head and spoke while still holding the egg container of her half-eaten Hot Spring Ice Cream.
“...That isn’t going to work.”
That question was not asked in desperation. The Holy Swordswoman narrowed her eyes as all heat left her voice. The Noble Dancer had to understand that, but the girl with a towel around her lemon-yellow hair continued.
“Because this has nothing to do with what I want or think is right.”
The look on towel-wearing Filinion and Armelina’s faces changed too. That was a mercenary’s answer. It reminded them of the plant Break News that had helped the Religious Society the other day.
“This is a contract to get back someone very important.”
That was overturned.
She was fulfilling her mission with no concern for her own principles, but she also had a pure objective.
And on top of that...
“I mean, you were the ones that stole Gruagach Onee-sama’s future in the first place!!”
All hell had broken loose for Rusalka’s group when they had taken their precious recovery potions deep in the Labyrinth and realized they were only colored sugar water.
They had argued and shifted blame. Who had been in charge of them? Who had bought them? Who had not noticed? It had been more than enough to form a deadly fissure in a group with no specific ideals that had been simply gathered via online recruitment.
None of them had learned any Magic that would help them escape, and that only made things worse. They had all scattered and desperately sought the exit on their own. Once they finally reached open sunlight once more, they saw far fewer familiar faces than when they had gone in. And they had all widened their eyes in surprise when they saw Rusalka was among the survivors.
That was when she noticed that the others had crossed a line. They had held onto the counterfeit recovery potions. They should have dashed the containers against the ground and started for the exit, but they had realized they could fool someone else with these clever counterfeits and they had traded with people in the Labyrinth to heal themselves along the way. ...And they of course had no idea what had happened to the people who had trusted them and made the trade deep below the ground.
They could not allow any other method.
Their sanity depended on the idea that they had had no choice and it had been the only way they could have survived. When someone found themselves stranded and were forced to tear out the hearts of and sip the blood of those who had already died, they could never accept that there had been another way to survive.
Rusalka had realized they would kill her.
But not to suppress the truth. Their broken and twisted methods had allowed them to return with a smile, but that only worked without Rusalka’s alternative solution. Her presence prevented them from rejecting the idea that something inside them was superior to their immoral persistence.
“I pray you have a wonderful day.”
It had happened in an instant, like the arrival of a flash of light.
By the time she had realized that giant meteor was a Magic arrow, it had already been over. The insanity of their inescapable delusion had made it an unbreakable wall, yet this casual afterthought of an attack had carried such conviction and strength compared to it. That was something Rusalka had lacked. She had had nothing beyond the rare Job of a Noble Dancer, so this light had been too bright for her.
The attack had been made by Summon Hunter Gruagach.
Rusalka had looked up to her at first. She had never invited her to the deadly Labyrinth for fear of tripping her up, but she had spoken with her whenever she saw her in the inn town. She had gladly worked hard toward anything that would be useful for her and she had rapidly developed her rare Job. The way that woman with long, beautiful blonde hair had spoken behind a veil had possessed an allure and mystery not found in Rusalka.
Curiosity killed the cat.
When she had peeked behind the veil, Rusalka had greatly regretted it.
She had found the Religious Society. That wicked Guild had been born from the chaotic religious world. Gruagach seemed to be a central member of the Guild.
Rusalka had wanted to do something for her.
She could not have done anything on her own and Gruagach had refused to listen. And she had known something bad would happen if it became clear that she knew Gruagach was a part of the Religious Society. The stickiness she had occasionally felt was far worse than her former party members.
So she had thrown out her pride. She had tried everything she could, expanded her circle as far as she could, and worked to accomplish something she could not as an individual.
A Noble Dancer’s fighting style was better suited for a group battle between humans than exploring the Labyrinth. Her impatience, longing, and need for strength had further honed her.
And it was not always the humans of the inn town she had relied on.
“Hmm. What an energetic young girl.”
Rare and colorful plants grew in the Flask Flower Garden among the mountains. Central among them was a Break News and the greatest of the Mandragoras. That queen named Ileana seemed impressed with her. Was she impressed that Rusalka had entered this remote area, that she had spoken to this queen without fear, or that she was still intent on rescuing someone from the powerful Religious Society after everything that had happened?
“But everything comes with a price. For every contract, I demand a virgin girl. And in this case, it would seem you are the only option.”
She had not been conveniently thinking that only she would escape unharmed.
If she had been asked to tear out her own heart and offer it up, she would have. She had been afraid, pained, embarrassed, and frustrated enough to feel her head burning, but that was just how important this was to her. When Gruagach had solved her problem, it may have been no different from dealing with a pebble on the roadside or a weed along the sidewalk, but Rusalka never could have dealt with that on her own. All of her supposed party members had held their Shining Weapons out toward her, so she would not have been here now without Gruagach’s help.
So she had made up her mind.
“...That’s fine. You can take whatever you want from me. So please help me save Gruagach Onee-sama, Ileana!!”
This time, that bewitching flower laughed with delight.
“Words are mere decorations. I am satisfied hearing the determination inside you. Very well. I, the greatest of the Mandragoras, shall take on this job. I will help Gruagach for you.”
Rusalka really had collapsed to the ground.
She had been so relieved. Everything was going to work out. She had not known why Gruagach had become the Religious Society’s vanguard, but she had gained a Break News on her side. That giant organization may have been frightening to a human, but that would not matter against this monster. Ileana was sure to save Gruagach from any number of enemies, just like a superhero in a movie or drama. She would do what Rusalka could not.
Word had reached her just the other day.
Ileana had been defeated and the Religious Society had been destroyed.
What had happened to Gruagach after she was manipulated by Demon Lord Tselika and wreaked havoc on Tokyo?
Rusalka had realized something then.
...She had been only a step away and the difference had been paper thin, but she had not at all made it in time.
They did not actually exchange many words at the hot oasis. But all sorts of information had to have been spiraling through the Noble Dancer’s head all the while.
“I have to settle this...”
Rusalka parted the cloudy water and slowly stood up.
Below the towel, her wet body was covered by a leotard-like outfit and asymmetrical armor. The towel burst off and her hair twisted into a curly ponytail on its own.
“Otherwise I can’t repay Gruagach Onee-sama while she’s bound by the chains of her crimes!!”
She was equipping for battle. No, in this case the weapon and armor may have been a sign of rejection.
Rusalka raised her 9-shaped disc scythe and used the bottom of her thick metal boot to kick something like a lever near the bottom. Immediately, an engine-like roar burst out. The scythe’s disc blade began to rapidly rotate.
But the Noble Dancer did not manage to swing around her scythe like a baton. Some frightening interference cut in before she could.
“Oh, now this is surprising. The hound that pathetically fled into the forest has actually latched her jaws onto the prey’s leg.”
The steam parted and a beautiful face emerged. She held her hands behind her back, bent over, and peered up at short Rusalka’s face from below. This newcomer with large, straightforward eyes was of course Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau.
They all immediately jumped back like they had been repelled.
“Tch. Did she slip past the map-linked sensors!?”
“As developed as it might be, it is still human Magic. It is the same idea as all locks being unlockable.”
The woman could drop the temperature enough to liquefy the air and they had already seen her use the flash vaporization of liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze a natural hot spring.
“Good job, Rusalka. I will give ‘her’ some consideration now. Hee hee. And here I thought I was going to have to punish her in a dark room.”
Beatrice started to cry out, but they did not have time to form up and face Wildefrau. Once they all escaped the hot spring in their own way, the all-encompassing white ice mist detonated. The nitrogen explosion was a curtain of death that included the still-liquid droplets of the mist. Splitting that apart and travelling through it would be far too reckless.
“(Boo Boo, this way.)”
“Beatrice? Boo, where are the others? Where are Rusalka and Armelina...?”
“(Not so loud, Boo Boo. You’ll give away our position. Anyway, this way!)”
Beatrice entered big sister mode and held his hand to guide Boo Boo away from the frozen hot spring while the safety of their allies was still unknown.
“I understand how you feel, but we can’t wander randomly in this blizzard. And...huh? I feel like we’re forgetting someone...”
“Brrrrr. I’dsh me. Eberyone’sh shunshine, Filinion, is righd here...”
Holding her shoulders (and pushing her large breasts together), the White Witch staggered over from surprisingly close by.
She really was hard to see with her white clothing. But she was already clinging to Boo Boo’s waist to help the vital sign display over her head recover its smile.
(That means we don’t know what happened to Armelina, Rusalka, or Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau. 1-against-2 is not the best situation...)
Beatrice left that unsaid because directly informing Boo Boo of her concerns would cause him to panic and run off in search of Armelina. Even if he was resistant to the cold, he would be in trouble of a liquid nitrogen water gun hit him from a blind spot in the white curtain or the wind direction sent a dense section of the gas silently sneaking up to suffocate him. Not even Boo Boo could handle this on his own.
“Calm down, Boo Boo. We have to continue on the same as before. This snowy plain might be large, but Armelina isn’t going to stick around in the cold if she can help it. Let’s go search the nearby surviving hot oases. That would be the easiest way to regroup with her.”
“Really? We’ll really be able to find Armelina and Rusalka? I don’t want to abandon them. I know how lonely it is to be left behind. Beatrice, if you say yes, I’ll do anything.”
Beatrice prepared to give a firm nod, but the shivering glasses girl interrupted from the side.
“B-b-b-but that route would be obvious to the Ice Waterfall Princess, wouldn’t it? If she catches up to us or lies in wait for us, we won’t be able to wait around there. Plus, we can’t use the map or compass without Armelina. Not to mention the sensor readings. This really doesn’t seem like a good time to start wandering randomly...”
(I should really strip her naked and roll her up into a snowball!!)
Beatrice almost made that threat out loud, but she held her tongue. If Boo Boo panicked, it really was over. With his giant frame and great horsepower, it was hard to stop him once he lost control.
But surprisingly, Boo Boo did not yell or run. He lowered his head a little, thought silently, and then looked up again.
“Boo. Wait a moment. The Ice Waterfall Princess is going around destroying the hot springs. That means we know we’ll run across her if we stay at one of the hot springs, right?”
“Um, Boo Boo?”
“And if she’s a cold expert and can’t do anything other than that, none of this makes sense. Boo. That’s right. Why did she even show herself initially? If she only wanted to bully us with her coldness, she didn’t need to meet us.”
Boo Boo twitched his large pig nose as he sniffed his own upper arm and chest.
“Boo Boo, what are you doing?”
“You too, Beatrice. Sniff sniff. Your hair, armpits, and thighs too just to be sure.”
“Gyaaaahh!? Wait, Boo Boo!?”
Beatrice blushed and pummeled the big round cushion that was his face, but it did not seem to affect him at all.
“Beatrice and Filinion.”
“Fuheee. I-I’ll die without your warmth, Boo Boo...”
The level cap group was tormented by their limits in this blizzard, but Boo Boo held a hand to his mouth and made an announcement.
“I think I’ve figured some things out.”
Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau moved through the snowy world.
She touched the skirt-like ice armor as if pinching it and her feet stepped silently on the snow.
The sexy girl had magnificent blue ringlet curls, a cross-shaped sword strapped to her torso with several leather belts, and thick ice armor that provide the outline of a princess dress. There was no concern on her face. When the temperature was more than 10 below 0, the passage of time was a powerful weapon. Due to the differences in planetary rotation speed, atmospheric content, and basic gravity, she could only stay in Ground’s Nir for so long, which meant she had a time limit herself, but the grim reaper would never tap her shoulder first.
It meant a lot that she could walk freely through this environment without having her stamina worn down and that she could accurately locate her target even within the blizzard. She might as well have been seated in an absolute throne.
The Ice Waterfall Princess was a hunter. She would follow her prey’s tracks, injure them, and repeat the process until the fleeing fawn ran out of strength. This was not restricted to a snowy mountain. At the inn town’s battle arena, she would disguise it as an accident and she would do the same thing when assassinating someone in the Labyrinth with no witnesses. She would continue doing this in the future.
(Hee hee. So they’re still intent on relying on the hot oases, are they? They know it’s dangerous, but those fawns will continue playing the same card even as it wears them down. Now, what should I do this time?)
She only had to follow her prey’s tracks, judge how fresh they were, and cover everything up in freezing temperatures. Whether living or not, she would win if she eliminated anything that moved.
(But repeating the same thing can be so boring. Oh, I know. It might be fun to freeze the entire pool of active volcano magma at -195 degrees to cut off the overall source of heat. Then all of the hot springs on the surface will freeze over.)
She approached one of the sources of steam with that in mind. She would crush that small shelter.
She parted the steam and set foot in the hot oasis. And at that very moment...
“Take this, you tasteless and odorless Western Yuki Onna!! Hot Spring Ice Cream Bomb!!!!!!”
“If we throw this many, at least one of them’s sure to hit you! Take this, and this!!”
It did no damage.
And that was why the Ice Waterfall Princess stood stock still as the entirely unexpected downpour hit her. The White Witch squeezed her eyes shut and threw them with her left and right hand equally ineptly, but a bombardment was still a bombardment. Wildefrau quickly covered her beautiful face with a white hand, but the attack still hit her. The solid-looking projectiles easily split from the impact. The contents got on her exposed arm from wrist to elbow. She felt the gooey substance burst and a sticky liquid got on her hair, forehead, and cheeks. From there, it dripped to her chin, neck, and ample chest. It had a distinctive sweet aroma that caught in her nose. As the unpleasant smell and sensation dirtied her bright body, the blood vessels bulged out at her temple.
The Ice Waterfall Princess boiled over at the meaningless impurity that made her feel like she was surrounded by foreign hooligans.
“I can’t believe you!! You pieces of shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!”
A gauntlet appeared by her right arm, a spiked hexagonal shield made of snow crystals attached to it, and it held a giant ice sword. She let out a roar as the sword swept horizontally. The hot oasis instantly froze over in a white explosion. The scene lost all individuality and everything was covered by the white curtain of a distance-less and directionless snowy world.
“I’ll kill you!! I’ll kill you and then wash this filth off of me! Ohhh, I’ll go crazy if I can’t wash everything from the end of my hair to the tips of my fingers! What is this sweet and sticky feeling!? It’s disgusting!!”
“Squeal! Beatrice, Filinion. I know I made the request, but you didn’t tell me you would be wasting food. There had to have been another way!! Hmph!!”
“Don’t panic, Boo Boo. The reason we don’t waste food is because we need it to live. We might be using it differently here, but if it’s keeping us alive, it doesn’t count as wasting it. Isn’t that right, Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau!?”
The queen’s heart leaped. That yell was accurately directed at her through the blizzard’s curtain. It felt as odd as having the monster speak to you from the screen while watching a horror movie.
(They shouldn’t be able to judge my distance and direction here. So how?)
That was when it finally occurred to her: the unpleasantly sticky feeling violating her forehead, cheeks, neck, and cleavage.
“The ice cream... No, the distinctive smell of the Super Sweet Leaf herb!?”
“Boo. Is it that surprising? It’s the same thing you were doing.”
“It would be easy enough for a low-temperature and freezing specialist to create an icy hell, but that doesn’t explain how you accurately tracked us through that blizzard’s curtain.”
“So you had to have something more than your coldness: smell. It wasn’t because you didn’t want Beatrice and the others to get warm that you kept showing up at the hot springs. You were afraid they would wash off their smell.”
“Once we thought about it, it was obvious you didn’t need to greet us with that ice sword if you could have frozen us to death from the get-go. That shield and sword look impressive, but they were just a bluff to secretly get the scent you wanted on us. It was like a stage magician’s wand. And while your lantern shield looked like a Swiss army knife with that gauntlet and the blades, its primary feature is the lantern inside it. You only had to swap out the illumination candle inside for an aroma candle. Miss Strongest put a lot of effort into this behind the scenes.”
(That may be true...!!)
None of this process was necessary for the Ice Waterfall Princess. She could indeed send a blizzard across the entire mountain without ever appearing before them.
(But the Information Broker insisted I hurry. I might be able to kill them, but it would be a problem if I had to dig through the mountain and only found their frozen corpses half a year from now, so I had to directly pursue them. And now they’re showing off that extra step like they’ve already taken off the demon’s head.)
But however it had happened, the conditions were even now. Wildefrau had Hot Spring Ice Cream on her hair, face, and chest, so she gave off a distinctive sweet smell. The average human would be unable to detect it, but the air was incredibly clear in this snowy world where even microbes had difficulty reproducing, so smells stood out. They tended not to mix together, so a stranded person’s shampoo or nail polish could sometimes be smelled from several hundred meters away on a rescue mission.
“Prepare yourself. My nose isn’t just for show. I can sniff out Jewel Truffles and Tree Hollow Honey. I’ll never lose track of you now!”
The Ice Waterfall Princess finally managed to focus on reality despite her anger.
Wildefrau avoided flashy fights and preferred the low-risk and surefire victory of waiting for her opponent to freeze to death.
She had 100% Water Resistance and would take no damage from the freezing temperatures, but her feet were buried in the deep snow the same as anyone else’s. Simply put, her speed was restricted as long as she was fighting on the snowy mountain. Whether fleeing or fighting, that was not a fun handicap to have. That was why her surefire methods were similar to those of a sniper or combat engineer: move slowly, wait in hiding, and secure the best position for an unavoidable attack.
Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau spoke aloud and abandoned her calm. Specifically, her right arm. She shattered and left behind the hexagonal shield combined with the gauntlet and did the same with the Zweihänder. They were only the handkerchief and wand during a magic trick. They were meant to disguise that she was placing a marker on her opponent by using the rose essence candle from upwind. It was no longer time for her to distract them by swinging it around.
She needed an all-out attack from head on.
She would use her true power as an Ice Waterfall Princess.
The girl with blue ringlet curls took a few steps back and grabbed the true sword with her slender arms. This one was not a fake made from ice. It was her true Shining Weapon. The sheathed cross-shaped sword reached from her voluptuous chest to her hips. One hand held the hilt and the other the sheath. Then the leather belts binding her body were released one after another and the ice dress shattered. It was like a strange seal was being broken.
In fact, the queen herself may have acted as the seal and the sheath while wearing only the skimpiest of underwear.
The way she arched her back and drew the blade vertically made it look like a cruel ritual in which a frozen blade was drawn from her soft belly.
“Behold the true power of an Ice Waterfall Princess in the bewitching light of my Shining Weapon. I will give you a generous taste of absolute zero: another world where all things – water or air, liquid or gas – grow solid!!!!!!”
A single swing of Wildefrau’s sword would solidify all gases in the world and drop both temperature and air pressure to absolute zero. Gravity itself would exist, but it would feel a lot like being flung into distant space where the light of the sun barely reached. Would they simply freeze, would they asphyxiate, would their blood break down like a severe case of altitude sickness, or would they suffer a painful death as the pressure difference forced the organs from their bodies? With so many competing causes of death, it was a cruelly powerful form of anti-personnel attack.
The only one who could survive this white hell was Wildefrau who had the 100% Water Resistance needed to repel all freezing attacks and who could convert solid oxygen and nitrogen into gas to preserve the pressure and breathable air. She could slay any opponent with a single swing of her sword. That deadly blade was no longer sealed. It rose a few centimeters from its sheath and the blue blade could be glimpsed. It would all be over once she drew it. She would settle this.
Or so she thought.
Boo Boo’s giant hand suddenly split the white curtain and grabbed the sword from above the pommel before she could draw it.
She should have noticed.
Boo Boo was more than twice her height, so the same depth of snow would not hinder their movements equally. Its grip on them was different. And with his greater muscular strength, his mobility on the snow was entirely different.
(The weakness of an iai attack that uses overwhelming speed is that the momentum of the drawing motion can be entirely negated if the sheath or your wrist is grabbed before you can draw the sword.)
The Ice Waterfall Princess’s cross-shaped Shining Weapon had to be drawn before it could have any effect. At this rate, it would remain uselessly sealed.
(So I’ll have to respond in the iai way. I made sure to learn some aiki and joint locks in case this happened!!)
That said, Wildefrau was not an expert in ancient martial arts. Plus, no amount of skill was going to overcome the advantage Boo Boo had with his 4 meter body.
But she did not need to throw him.
She only had to move even closer and get his large hand away from the sheath. As long as she drew the sword, victory would be hers. And due to his great size, he would have trouble attacking her if she moved in close. It was the same as being unable to put your hips into swatting a bug crawling on your own body. And his Shining Weapon could be mistaken for a log or steel beam, so it would require a fairly large space for a full-power swing.
She only had to make him hesitate for half a second...no, a third of a second. Once she drew the ice sword, she could create the vacuum pump needed to remake everything into solids and turn this open space into outer space.
Approaching by twisting her sexy body covered only in the skimpiest of underwear proved effective. The giant hand sealing the hilt moved away slightly, creating a gap.
But she should have realized something else. What would happen if a human approached a tiger, even if that would seal away its maximum strength? What would happen if they tried to embrace a wild elephant?
She soon received her answer.
Wildefrau’s sword stopped once more. The giant hand had left the hilt, but Boo Boo was no longer targeting the skinny sword.
He targeted the entire slender Ice Waterfall Princess herself.
His far too burly arms wrapped around her, but this was not an expression of affection. His frightening strength truly reduced the distance between them to 0mm. Their bodies held the sheathed sword like a vise and it would not budge.
The Ice Waterfall Princess was certain of her fate.
Her opponent had never been concerned about her Shining Weapon. So what had he been after, what had he grabbed, what did he hold...and what had he come here to destroy?
With only the skimpiest of underwear covering her naked body, the violent princess looked up at the mass of odorous muscles and gave him a stiff smile even as he tightly squeezed her.
Then the squeezing and cracking sounds of the horrific bear hug filled the snowy world.
The powerful blizzard – which, thinking back, had been unnaturally powerful – had calmed down. The sky was still ruled by thick leaden clouds, but the pure white curtain that robbed one of any sense of distance or direction was gone.
The white world had seemed endless before, but it did not seem so bad now that the storm had cleared up. The temperature felt about 10 degrees different.
“Ah, ahh... Boo Boo’s body and Beatrice’s recovered flames. It’s like a flower in either hand. Oh, I might earn some divine punishment for this kind of paradise.”
“Hold it, cow. Quit clinging to me. And I want nothing to do with those slimy glasses.”
“Uuh. But now that I’m warming up, I feel a pressure in my crotch...”
“God, you are such a pain!!”
Their spherical vital sign displays were smiling normally and the flame frame map matched the scenery around them. The harsh but beautiful snowy mountain was back to normal.
And so it may have been inevitable that they noticed the sounds of clashing weapons and the light of flying sparks.
It was Fighter Priest Armelina and Noble Dancer Rusalka.
The blunt weapon and wind users were dancing around the open snowy plain.
Rusalka wore a tiny golden crown, a black sleeved leotard, asymmetrical armor on her chest and hips, and a thin cloth that wrapped around her back like a hagoromo. She fought differently from Beatrice and Wildefrau who forced their way through with overwhelming firepower.
Rusalka rode the current.
If she was surrounded by snow, she would use gusts of wind to blow snow into the air or create vaporization heat. If she was surrounded by a wildfire, she would send in oxygen to intensify the flames. If she was attacked by dirt, she would blow it into the air to trigger a sandstorm. Instead of going for a collision of power, she would capture, parry, deflect, and ultimately send back her opponent’s power. That was how she presented her strength.
She had likely strengthened the Ice Waterfall Princess’s power up until now. Armelina had no heat source, so some of her hair was frozen. It was unlikely her feet were unharmed under the snow.
The Fighter Priest’s metal ball-and-chain and the Noble Dancer’s yellow disc blade were still clashing head on and scattering sparks everywhere. The scythe with the rapidly rotating disc blade did not force its way through. Instead, it was light. It swung vertically and horizontally. She would sometimes bend over and place its long handle on her small butt or form a bridge with her entire soft body and support it on her navel as she spun it around like a baton from every possible angle. All the while, it deflected Armelina’s metal ball and sent it flying irregularly away.
It was like juggling a chainsaw. Her muscles, joints, and even the collarbones and ribs visible through her black leotard looked flexible when she moved like this. If Armelina let it bewitch her for even a second, she would lose her life. The slightest touch of the rapidly rotating disc blade would likely slice off an arm or a leg if not bisect her entirely.
“Armelina!! Rusalka too!!”
“You can’t, Boo Boo!!”
The Iberian Orc tried to run over, but Beatrice quickly stopped him.
“The situation is too complex. If we try to help Armelina with our fire or strength, it could get caught in the wind and hit her!!”
And it was not like they had not helped at all. Ice Waterfall Princess Wildefrau had been defeated. Rusalka could not use the unnaturally low temperatures anymore. The extreme cold would no longer sap Armelina’s strength and the white curtain would not throw off her aim. The situation had changed.
The blunt weapon pushed through the air.
Each time Armelina swung her ball-and-chain, it tore into the snow and triggered an explosion, but that failed to stop the Noble Dancer. The bell inside the tiny golden crown on her head rang lightly as she instantly adjusted to the changing situation. As the slender girl continued her spinning dance, the rapidly rotating scythe deflected the metal ball and the Magically-produced wind would unnaturally alter its direction. Just as it looked like the ball would hit the snow right in front of Rusalka, that snow would fly into the air, the wind would catch it, sharp shards of stone would enter the white curtain, and the Fighter Priest would be the one struck by the storm of projectiles.
The number of audible explosions was uncountable.
As they both swung their weapons, they also exchanged words.
“You’ve noticed the change too, haven’t you!? The Ice Waterfall Princess’s power is gone while Boo Boo and the others have shown up. Acting the hound on the vanguard is pointless when the main unit isn’t going to show! Fall back, Noble Dancer. You can’t win here!!”
The short girl with her bodylines showing through her black sleeved leotard bit her lip while sometimes using the yellow disc blade to smash stone into projectiles, adjusting the rotation speed by kicking the bottom of the handle with a thick steel boot, and blasting snow into the air as a smokescreen.
“Shut up! I’m not falling back. I won’t get another chance. I need to prove I defeated all of you here! Because...because if I don’t, Onee-sama will...”
Rusalka only referred to one person that way: Summon Hunter Gruagach, the poor puppet of Demon Lord Tselika. What about her? Was it that important to use a childish duel to cleanse the humiliating defeat of a friend? That was how Armelina viewed it, but she had forgotten something.
Back at the hot oasis, the Noble Dancer had said this had nothing to do with what she wanted or thought was right.
In other words, her crime was not motivated by a grudge.
And what was the other possibility?
“You don’t even know where Gruagach Onee-sama is being imprisoned!! If I don’t defeat you, I can never save her. She’ll never be able to break the chains of her crimes and crawl out of that festering hell! So I have to do this to free her. No matter how much I have to dirty my hand in the process!!”
Finally, Armelina felt like she had grasped the crux of the situation.
Gruagach had caused severe damage to Tokyo while controlled by Tselika, so of course she was not just going to be let go. It was laughable to think the monsters confining a young girl to the Detached Magic Palace for their own convenience would give any thought to rehabilitation.
They did more than just make up for a loss; they would take advantage of the tragedy to double or triple their wealth. When everyone else was suffering from war or disaster, they were the reprehensible ones who would reach for easy profit in the name of reconstruction and recovery.
Gruagach had caused a lot of damage. But what if she could be used as a controller to get a level cap Wind Element expert to do their bidding? The Pieces that caused technological revolutions were proof that Magic could bring great profit. Just as they kept Beatrice closed in the Detached Magic Palace, they held the blade to Gruagach’s throat, bound Rusalka, and dug for a new oil field or valuable lode.
Armelina clenched her teeth because she had seen that same method herself.
“Then why would they ever release her!? They’ll never let go of you! They’ll suck you dry, to the very marrow of your bones!! Until the oil field has dried up and the lode has been fully excavated!! They’ll have you run a full marathon!! Rusalka, think this through again. Ask yourself if obeying them will really make anyone happy. You’ll never be able to repay Gruagach like this!!”
“Even so...even if it’s all a farce...”
The girl would not stop even as she faced ruin. She never would, so long as leaving these rails meant throwing someone dear to her into the abyss. So long as she remained bound like this.
“Relying on others wasn’t enough. Ileana’s presence was so great that I forgot that I had to tell the world my thoughts myself! If I do it through someone else, it loses its purity, like in a game of telephone!! So how can I stop now? Nothing will stop me from standing in the line of fire and giving up my life to reach my hand out to Gruagach Onee-sama!!”
It was the same as seeming to freely draw a card from the deck while actually being guided by the sneering magician.
“I can ask myself ‘what if’.”
She had the voice of someone spinning a roulette wheel that would never pay out.
The person she most cared for was being used as a shield, her heart had been cornered and torn to shreds, and she clenched her teeth in coldhearted determination, but she still howled from the bottom of her throat like she could not bear it.
“But the one thing I can’t do is give up and pull back my hand. Onee-sama is right there in front of me and she needs my help! So it doesn’t matter if I can’t win. I don’t care if I don’t stand a chance. What else can we do but rely on the tiny miracle prepared for us with a sneer!!!???”
Her thick steel boot roared. As soon as she kicked the bottom of her scythe, an odd change occurred. The rapidly rotating disc blade burst apart and transformed into a giant crescent moon blade held together by a thick wire. The decorative string attached to the inside of the disc blade and the back of the handle must have been made to link it together like a train’s cars because it had been absorbed into the scythe somewhere.
The hoop had had a diameter of about 70cm and this crescent moon was more than 200cm long.
Armelina was already in the lethal range, so Rusalka’s ferocity targeted her neck and also sent countless vacuum blades where she might try to dodge. The look in the short girl’s eyes said she did not care of Armelina died. Not if it would save a certain life.
But the Fighter Priest did not falter. In fact, that look was why she did not.
That was enough of a reason to ignite her soul.
When she swung down her metal staff, a bolt of lightning followed it down. No, it was a massive hunk of metal. A weapon colossal enough to mistake for a meteor or asteroid caused the ground to sink down by more than 70cm. This was more than just the snow. The solid ground itself sank.
Rusalka could not follow it down, so she remained in the air. She desperately twisted her supple hips, but she could not produce a significant motion vector without her feet on the ground.
Armelina had taught herself a few pieces of Magic for linking her maps with sensors because she had wanted some targeting support to help this major technique hit. It had ultimately not been much help, but even if she could not hit her target, she still had ways of using it without hitting them. After all, its destructive power could sink the ground by more than a meter over an area the size of a school campus.
Left in the air, the Noble Dancer’s dance froze in shock. She had never imagined her enemy would secure a space to move further down than the ground. Armelina calmly slipped below the deadly winds and safely approached Rusalka.
“What should you have done when you hit a dead end?”
A large steel fist appeared on the end of her metal staff.
And the Fighter Priest declared her answer while swinging that giant fist.
“That’s easy. Instead of relying on a miracle, you should’ve come ask me for help! No matter what it might be!!”
There was only one sound of impact.
Even with the Percentage-type clothing amplifying her body’s abilities, she was helpless against a blow to the face with a blunt weapon that could knock out an elephant. Boo Boo and the others looked down at the crescent moon scythe and the lemon-yellow assassin sprawled out on the snow.
Beatrice asked a question with her hands on her hips.
“You shouldn’t just make unconditional offers like that.”
“I don’t like having to do this, but I guess I have to explain how the world works to you. When you’re really in trouble and someone’s life is in danger, there’s one thing you should always try before relying on miracles. ...Honestly, they’re supposed to teach you these things at a safety lessons puppet show in elementary school.”
The Fighter Priest rested her metal staff on her shoulder and winked as she answered.
“You dial 110. Then you let the police officers handle it. And they’ll do a better job of it than any American comic book superhero in full-body tights.”
Extraterritoriality. What comes to mind first when you think of that term? Perhaps an American military base or a moored nuclear aircraft carrier. Perhaps an embassy or consulate. Perhaps the blue license plate of a foreign diplomat.
It was generally a privilege for foreigners, but here it was granted to a local.
The Shirokanedai district of Minato, Tokyo had plenty of extraordinarily large estates with a great variety in design, but one especially oppressive-looking dark red mansion made of granite was known as Shirokanedai’s Last Free Territory. That Bloody Residence had lured in more than 500 innocent citizens of a certain country and used its many traps to feast on their blood. It had been bought, disassembled, and shipped across the ocean so it now stood here as a “historic” mansion.
“Cough, cough. Oh, honestly...!”
There was a red carpet, an ebony desk, and a fireplace heating the air. The old record player only played classical music and this gentle world seemed to say that even jazz would be considered a heretical newcomer, but that was disturbed by the coughing voice of a small girl with short black hair.
This was the control room. It was the heart of the mansion hidden behind a disguised bookcase in the master bedroom. It was lined with metal pipes. They reflected light and sound like periscopes and speaking tubes so that it was always obvious where a victim was screaming in their death throes or when their paranoia led them to destroy each other.
In a certain “neighborhood” it was whispered that if you wished to settle an old grudge, public or private, you only needed to pay a certain old man some money. The more money paid, the better the game he would prepare.
The old man in a gown was maintaining a bladed weapon. Its odd shape was closest to a spear, but it looked more like a butcher’s knife had been attached to the end of an old mop handle. And that description was not inaccurate. However, its value was more obvious when it was described as a weapon used during a revolution and ultimately used to decapitate many guards after the fall of the Bastille.
Unlike Japan, the name of the blacksmith was not given much importance in the West.
A blade’s meaning came from the land in which it was made and the lives it had taken. Just like the holy spears of old.
“What is it, oh great Ice Waterfall Princess? It isn’t often you return without time to heal your wounds with Magic.”
“Cut the sarcasm. Cough. Cough!!”
Dark red blood spilled from between the fingers covering the slender girl’s mouth. Everything she wore was soaked with blood: the bandages worn on her right arm as fashion, the intentionally torn T-shirt and shorts, the bra allowed to show through the torn shirt, and the stockings worn on just the one leg. Even the floor was colored by her blood. The old man did not know how much the carpet cost, so he did not mind. But not in an aesthetic sense; he was simply not interested in the purchase of daily items.
“Pant, pant. I thought this was supposed to be an easy job. Ahh, I can’t believe this!! Where’s that star student!? The Student Council President! Is she still in the bathtub!?”
“I appreciate the help in maintaining my tools, but don’t overdo it.”
The short-haired girl with bandages on her arm and an eyepatch on her forehead ignored the advice and moved to a corner of the control room.
The room’s interior was not at all concerned about harmony, so there was a white bathtub there. It contained a lot of ice and a girl. The living sacrifice’s brown hair was long and soft and she was bound with her legs folded up and her hands behind her head. Not many people could have correctly guessed what her clothing had originally been. What had apparently been a school uniform’s dark blue blazer had been almost literally torn to shreds, she had leather bands around her entire body, and her joints were fixed together with metal bars.
“How do you do, Lady Gruagach? It’s a chilling thought to think it might have been me in the bathtub if things had been a little different. Hee hee. Gh...cough!!”
“Pant, pant. It’s said that the cold numbs your pain, but that is an issue of degree. Flick your ear in midwinter and it might just hurt more than you expect.”
The restraints were probably entirely unnecessary because the long-haired sacrifice could not move properly. And there was fear in her barely-opened eyes. That was because the shorthaired girl had stuck both hands in plastic gloves.
“Your adoring Noble Dancer went off and died on her own.”
Despite the half-dried blood staining her lips, the shorthaired girl with mismatched shoes smiled cruelly.
“So how about you pay the penalty in her place, Miss Star Student? Have you grown accustomed to the electric stimulation? Then how about we increase that to ‘labor pains’ or ‘birth’ today?”
The metal bars covering her body were capacitors that produced high-voltage currents. And the electrodes attached to carefully calculated parts of her limbs and torso would vividly reproduce various types of pain. In a violation even greater than licking across every part of her body, a great explosion would shoot straight to the untouchable core of her body.
She knew that, but the bathtub sacrifice could not respond any longer. Shaking her head would not change anything. She doubted there was anything here that could tell right from wrong.
“Now, now. Calm down a little.”
The old man in a gown looked troubled, but he did not stop polishing his revolutionary spear.
“Perhaps I am misunderstanding. I have no way of knowing what happened in Ground’s Nir, but is it possible you left and Signed Out before the Noble Dancer did?”
“Look, here is a photo sent by the Noble Dancer. She did quite well. She stole and destroyed the Shining Weapons of all 3 level cap targets and even the Iberian Orc. They can’t Sign Out without those, so only eventual death awaits them. And it will be interesting to see how long a naked human who can’t use Magic will last on that island.”
The bloody shorthaired girl with an eyepatch on her forehead was briefly confused.
Then she held a hand to her mouth and muttered some words like a curse.
Immediately, she heard a loud crash like a dump truck had slammed into a large tree.
At the source of the noise was a woman in glasses and a tight suit who had her long black hair tied back. She had a long object resting on her shoulder and she had mercilessly kicked down the mansion’s front gate. Her movement support suit was doing well tonight. The standardized bodyguards in black suits and sunglasses first pulled out legal police batons, but she dealt with them using a sweep of the long object on her shoulder. As she strolled toward the moonlit dark red mansion, she did not hesitate to destroy the front door with a long leg.
While the servants and accountants panicked, the only one to realize what was going on was the elderly butler who had seen more of the bloodline’s history than his master. He bent over and bowed to welcome the unexpected visitor.
“Yeah, that’s what’s going on. No hard feelings, okay?”
The tight suit woman smiled a little and undid a few of her blouse’s buttons.
Sharp sounds immediately intersected.
She grimaced at the dull pain in her side. The fabric of her coat ripped and her stockings tore, but she lightly smiled at the elderly butler who had knocked over a decorative suit of armor as he collapsed to the floor.
“You won’t aim for a woman’s face even at a time like this? ...You’re making me want to recruit you, old man.”
But she did not have time to coax him now. More standardized bodyguards rushed out from further inside. Shirokanedai’s Last Free Territory had effective extraterritoriality, so they gave up on staying legal and pulled out stainless steel blades and handguns.
But the tight suit woman did not care.
Each time she spun around and let the long object fly, the many guards were sent flying. Distance and range did not seem to matter. However, this was not some special weapon. This long object could be found anywhere.
(Who would’ve thought a lure fishing pole would one day become a secret weapon?)
The fishing pole used a weighted contraption to send it flying with a snap of the wrist, so it became a decent weapon just by tying several weights to the end of the line. Even as a projectile, it could be retrieved by reeling it in, so she could ignore the concept of ammunition except for keeping a spare on hand in case the line got tangled.
That said, a sports fishing pole and line were simply not sturdy enough. That was why the tight suit woman had procured a pole made of the same special steel used in a tank’s suspension and a wire made from the same spider web structure used in bulletproof vests. The weights were of course tungsten steel. Hand-reeling it would be a pain, so she had chosen a fairly ugly electric reel.
Altogether, she had constructed a strange projectile with infinite ammo that did not violate the Swords and Firearms Control Law. She could accurately hit someone’s head at a distance of 30 meters and she could use it as a curved flail weapon at midrange. When the weights had been fully pulled back to the end of the pole, it functioned as a whip with a deadly head at close range.
As proven in World War One when various new weapons had been so effective even their inventors’ balls had shriveled in fear, standardized soldiers were poor at handling situations outside their training. A never-before-seen weapon or tactic was the best source of confusion. And that could easily lead to more damage than would normally be possible.
The woman held a hand to her ear and gave instructions over her headset.
“Team B, the target hasn’t escaped out the back, have they!?”
“This is Inoue. We wouldn’t screw up like that. We’re covering all the exits and we have control of their cars and helicopter. Can you believe this? They have what looks like a whole chess board’s worth of luxury foreign cars underground here. I bet you could buy our entire residential district with what these cost.”
“Make sure you seal off the sewers too. I don’t know if these rich people are willing to throw out their pride, but it never hurts to be careful.”
“We already are. I came all the way to Shirokanedai and now my 29,800 yen super luxury suit stinks of high society piss! You monstrous chief!! You dominatrix! Please step on me!!”
She swept aside more assassins and rolled out of the way of the guillotines and arrow traps installed in the mansion itself as she continued further in.
After breaking down a few doors and knocking down some men in black, the tight suit woman arrived at her destination with the lure fishing pole resting on her shoulder.
There she found an old man in a gown lovingly polishing an antique that entirely ignored the Swords and Firearms Control Law and a young girl who was coughing up blood.
“Ah, aohh, ughahh!!”
The girl tried to grab something like a poker that seemed to be chilled with dry ice or something contained in the grip, but the woman did not hesitate to bury an iron fist in the center of her face.
“Oh? You’re surprisingly deficient in the real world, Ice Waterfall Princess. In both brains and body.”
That level cap girl flipped backwards, knocked over a heavy ebony desk, and sent a bottle of brandy and a glass to the floor, but the gowned old man did not bat an eye.
“Who are you?”
She named herself in a singsong voice and the old man glanced at the documents scattered on the floor.
The glasses woman kept the long object on her shoulder.
“You lot have a way of mistaking cowardice for caution, so you’d have gone into hiding if I didn’t give you something to put your mind at ease. Those destroyed Shining Weapons are pretty well made, aren’t they? By the way, what counterfeit factory do you think we used to make them?”
“And about that. A certain somebody might have purged the counterfeit factory itself, but my guess is that was cutting off the lizard’s tail. Someone couldn’t have the problem rising back up to them, could they? Assuming, that is, that someone who can’t afford to get into the counterfeiting business – such as a mint or a national bank – brought their knowhow to another world where no one could recognize them and used the name Amalgam to get into a certain national business. Black money isn’t only distributed in this world. The Real Money Trade run between worlds is quite common. That’s why people like me keep a close eye on the movements of the gears used as currency in Ground’s Nir.”
The old man did not carelessly open his mouth. There was no one here anymore. The old man had no words for the girl who was wide-eyed and trembling. Anything you say can and will be used against you. That was the ironclad rule of a certain world.
“No need to fall silent. I forced my way in here, ruining half a year’s worth of covert investigation. I’m not here about that.”
“Then what are you here for?”
“Let’s settle things with Summon Hunter Gruagach and Noble Dancer Rusalka. Especially that Student Council President, since Beatrice and Boo Boo left her in my care. I promised she would be fairly tried and given a chance to redo her life. Your unwanted intervention has stained the work of our police officers. You understand, don’t you? ...Or do I need to break the dentures in your mouth and drag you around a bit, old man?”
“That is what you want?” The gowned old man did not even stand from his chair. “Are you unfamiliar with this country’s system? No one can be tried for anything done in another world.”
“It’s true no one can be charged with murder or involuntary manslaughter if someone dies in the Labyrinth. No one would go exploring if that could happen. The current system is hopelessly money-obsessed and cruel.” The woman winked through her glasses with the long object on her shoulder. “But what about something done while here on Earth? There’s precedent, such as the Real Money Trade being judged an economic crime. For example, ignoring all the official paperwork and keeping a high school girl in your private residence would count as imprisonment. And sending an email ordering our deaths would count as a threat and contract killing.”
“Now. You don’t actually think you can get out of this with the old ‘my secretary did it all and I knew nothing’ excuse, do you?”
“...You do not seem to understand.”
The old man in a gown seemed to be forcing out the deep words. His voice was even sharper than the illegal revolutionary weapon he held. A normal person would have trembled, but the tight suit woman scoffed. A truly confident villain was not so loquacious.
“This is Shirokanedai’s Last Free Territory. I can never be tried by this country’s system. Grandstanding here will only lead to your own demise. I will make you rue the day you were born a woman, little girl.”
“You’re surprisingly cowardly for a member of the Conference Room. Mixing in your own desire only weakens the threat. Or are you merely borrowing their authority and you’re just a subcontractor working under them?”
She cracked her neck.
This time, she smiled fiercely with the eyes of a hunter facing her prey.
“I thought it was well-known in this ‘neighborhood’ that there was a gathering of police officers and JSDF officers who grew fed up with their organizations’ restrictions and turned in their resignations. Well, that’s the official story anyway. Or did you not have authorization to view that data?”
“C’mon, now. After hearing that, do you really think this starving wolf is going to take even a single step back from the fattiest sirloin imaginable?”
“Oh, I almost forgot. I have a message from Rusalka, Onee-sama.”
These last words were not directed at the old man.
The police officer used a lighter tone as she spoke to the person in the bathtub of ice.
“No matter what happens, she swears she will rescue you this time.”
The rest did not take long.
The gowned old man stood up with enough force to knock his chair backwards while holding the revolutionary spear that had soaked up historical blood and the tight suit woman calmly lifted the long object from her shoulder.
Long-Lived Royal Elf Sibyl's Live News☆
The Secret to Health and Beauty! An Attack on the North’s Hidden Hot Springs
Pant, pant. I’m sick of covering scandals. It’s wrong to wish for people’s misfortune. So to soothe my damaged body and soul, today I am visiting the northern mountains which are known for their hot spring therapy. Surely nothing terrible can happen to me with this kind of heartwarming news story.
There are actually dozens of hot springs in the northern mountains. Hidden hot springs suddenly appear in the middle of the snow and they are called hot oases because they are so similar to those desert water sources. Their effects vary. The humans place all their focus on the underground Labyrinth, but the northern mountains are a complex arrangement of various mineral resources. Depending on what areas the branching underground water veins pass through and how the magma heats them, even neighboring hot springs can have entirely different effects. Hot spring water is said to be a panacea, but it sounds like you would need the help of a guide to find the hot spring most suited for your needs. If you want to tame a local Werewolf or Abominable Snowman as a guide, you need to bring some raw meat with you. And if your souvenir freezes, they’ll just eat you instead, so be careful.
Now, is this the hot spring that’s good for a trick back? ...I mustn’t lament how old that makes me sound. I’m not known as a long-lived Royal Elf for nothing.
What is this? What in the world happened!? The hot spring is completely frozen over! Ah, and it looks like a powerful blizzard is blowing in... Now I’m all alone out in this snowy world with no heat source. What’s going to happen to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!?
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