Here's part 1. Enjoy.
"This is the person...... who defeated all the regular guards......?"
The girl in her mechanical helmet was the first to shout.
"W-Who are you!? We are the official members from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>!"
Maha. The man who called himself by that name did not reply.
All he did was to climb up the crater one step at a time.
"D-Did you hear what I had said? What are your motives—"
Sheltis interrupted her. He pulled out the twin swords from the sheaths behind him and held them in reverse grips.
"He has no intention of communicating with us."
There was a strong animosity in the pressure emitted from Maha's body. They were looking at the person who downed the squads from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> one after another, so there was little chance of him listening to them. The sneak attack from earlier proved just that.
...... Earlier, that guy just referred us as witnesses.
There's the mysterious water tank with a Yuugenshu in it. That man must be the guardian of the tank, and he will eliminate all who gets close to it.
Sheltis lowered his voice to barely within Kagura's auditory range.
"I'll be moving in. Stay away from me."
With that said, Sheltis refocused his sight on Maha.
— I'sa said this person is a puppeteer.
They are casters who direct their shinryoku into objects to control them — the amount and type of objects controlled will depend on the capabilities of the caster. It would be tough for Sheltis should Maha increase the distance between the two of them.
— If that's the case, I'll just have to strike before he can use his 'puppets'!
A whirlwind was created from his leap.
"Ta". Sheltis stomped his foot hard against the ground and created an afterimage. With the speed of his feet that was fast enough to stir up a whirlwind, he pressed his body as low as he could and dashed towards the crater.
The surroundings became a blur due to his high speed. He shortened the distance between himself and Maha in a blink of an eye and raised his brilliantly shining sword against the rays of the sun—
"I, define the universe."
Sheltis could see the lips of the robed man curving upwards.
"Za...... da...... dadadara...... ka......"
Strange sounds were coming out from the man's mouth.
...... What's that?
Maha was right before him. At the moment when the battle would be decided with a swing of his sword — an ominous chill spread throughout his body.
"Zazakazada............ da...... zakarakara...... zadadadazakakakazadazakazada............ rada...... rakazazakakadada...... za...... zaza...... karakara...... zadadadada............"
Objects sprang out from the slope of the crater.
Countless stakes shot up from beneath the ground with the speed of bullets, and the sharp ends of the stakes stabbed towards him like the tips of a spear. Hundreds of stakes appeared.
— All of them are his puppets!? What an incredible amount. Is it really possible for a person to control all of them?
As the wide area attack approached, Sheltis swung the swords in his hands. He sliced, wrecked and severed the sharp tips of the stakes that were flying towards him one at a time before parrying them all away.
The fallen stakes stirred up a cloud of dust before losing their golden luster and turning into soil.
...... They're not made of gold? Then why are stakes made of soil shimmering with a golden luster?
"Define. The dream of a world covered in roots."
As Maha said that in a low voice, the ground beneath his feet began to rumble.
*Sha*. His ankle was ensnared by something. Sheltis moved his sight in that direction.
His right ankle was ensnared by a dull, cypress-colored root. The root, thicker than a human's arm, was bound around his ankle in a spiral.
A certain object clawed out from the ground next to Maha's feet.
Two lion statues with flowing manes.
"Replicated with soil. Color - 'deep red'; nature - 'gallant'; shape - 'lion'. Two shall appear before me. Defined to eliminate the enemy before me."
The two large lions were as tall as humans were.
They were originally just lion statues made of soil. However, their eyes gave off a fiery glow as the color of their body turned ruby red.
"...... Could it be?"
After he saw what happened before him, Sheltis realized what the Maha's spell was.
The two lions roared beside Maha. They were the mystical beasts of the floating continent that were rarely seen by anyone.
"Don't come here!"
He stopped Kagura from sprinting over. Next, he chopped away the roots that were binding his ankle.
— Kagura would be attacked if she make any sudden movements.
The two lions were baring their teeth in hostility. As the two lions closed in on him from both sides, Sheltis moved in and closed the distance between them.
He jumped upwards and dodged the razor-sharp claws above him. Next, he blocked the paws of the other lion with the sword on his left side.
While enduring the burning pain from his left shoulder-blade, he slammed the sword in his right hand towards the jaw of a lion.
The beast gave a painful cry. It then turned into sand and rained onto the ground below...... Where was the other one?
As he lifted his head, he could hear the screams of the young girl from afar.
He sprinted at subsonic speed, leaving the winds behind him.
With its sight locked onto the defenseless girl who was rooted to the ground, the lion was about to mercilessly pounce on her. Sheltis tossed the sword in his right hand. The blade grazed past the mane of the lion, forcing it to stop in its tracks momentarily.
Taking advantage of the brief window of opportunity, Sheltis slashed the back of the mystical beast with the sword in his left hand.
"Are you alright?"
The red lion turned back into soil before the girl as Kagura trembled with her head lowered in fear.
"Sheltis, this spell is—"
"Define. The world shall turn into stones."
Kagura was interrupted by the chants of Maha.
Rrr...... rrrrrrr...... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr............
The ground beneath their feet rumbled and began to sink. In contrast, giant boulders as tall as large castle gates were sprung up at their sides. They were surrounded by countless high-density and impermeable boulders that were closing in on them.
Both of them were enclosed in a boulder cage within mere seconds.
A chill ran down Sheltis' spine as he raised his head to stare at the boulders that were blocking out the sun. Trapping them within the boulders was merely the first phase of the attack. The second phase was to use the cage itself to—
"Eliminate the opponents by crushing them."
*Kra*— the boulders with a total weight of more than ten tonnes burst apart.
The stone ceiling above their head came crashing down like a tidal wave. The boulders were sizes of adult males despite the fact that they were split into fragments of the original. The sheer amount of rocks was unfathomable.
"We'll be squashed!"
"Hang on tight!"
As he grabbed the shrieking Kagura, Sheltis began to leap through the minute spaces between the boulders.
Swiping aside the unavoidable sharp fragments with his blades, Sheltis jumped onto the slanted surface of a giant boulder that was falling downwards. He dashed to the peak of the boulder before jumping towards another incoming one. Sheltis made his way to the top of the cage with Kagura in his arms by climbing up the boulders and squeezing through the minute spaces.
"...... Incredible. That is some crazy athletic ability."
Exclaimed the girl who he was carrying on his left shoulder. Sheltis chose to ignore her statement.
— We're out.
After breaking free from the collapsing cage, the two of them landed on the peak of the leftover boulders. Sheltis glared downwards at the robed man who was some distance away from him.
............ I'sa was right.
Despite the fact that they were both puppeteers, their 'object' controlling abilities were miles apart. Maha could accurately control such heavy boulders to trap his opponents; moreover, his spell allowed him to destroy the boulders as he wished. He was probably much stronger than any other shinryoku-practitioners Sheltis had ever seen in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
............ But something felt off.
The main focus of Maha's art was not the control of the objects. Instead, it on was what happened before that—
A large bird statue appeared besides Maha.
The stone statue emitted a golden glow due to the shinryoku within it. It underwent gradual changes as Maha defined it in detail.
"Replicated with organic matter extracted from the grounds. Color - 'black'; nature - 'incensed'; shape - 'bird'. Appear before me with fire in your body. Defined to get within range of the enemies before me and destroy them."
After the formation of its sharp beak and claws, the strange-looking pitch black bird flapped its powerful wings.
Heeding the instructions of Maha, it flew slowly towards the boulder that they were standing on. The slow-moving actions were not something replicable by the birds of nature — its speed was no faster than that of a walking man.
With its huge size and slow speed, it was practically begging to be destroyed.
Before he knew it, Kagura grabbed tightly his left sleeve.
"Organic matter extracted from the ground............ fire within its body?"
The girl was mumbling what Maha had chanted earlier. She kept repeating those words while ignoring the giant bird which was closing in on them.
"Incense...... fire within its body............ organic...... extracted...... which means...... organic compounds?"
She suddenly lifted her head as though she was electrocuted.
"Sheltis, that's not a bird. It's a bomb that's shaped like one!"
"...... A bomb?"
"Nitroglycerin! That bird itself is a huge explosive chemical compound! You can't strike it down or the vibrations will set off an inferno and a shock wave!"
"What should I do then?"
Her yell came too late.
Sheltis made his move long before Kagura could finish her sentence. The pitch black bird slammed itself into the boulder beneath their feet. And then—
Their sights were dyed white.
An inferno and a shock wave spread outwards at supersonic speeds, and engulfed and swept aside everything in their paths.
The boulder that the young girl and man were standing on earlier was reduced to small rocks. The plains was razed by the inferno, and turned into scorched land.
All that was left was the thick black fumes emitted from the ground.
As the heatwaves swept through the lands, the motionless Maha focused his attention onto the center of the explosion. The vision turned clearer as the wind blew away the thick smoke.
The charred land was razed mercilessly by the inferno.
Boulders were shattered into pieces due to the shockwave from the explosion.
However, the two of them were not seen at the center of the blast.
"............ They're determined to have escaped,"
Said Maha quietly before turning his body away.
"........... Forty-seven minutes remaining."
With his head lifted upwards in the direction of the water tank, Maha stopped moving once again.
— He probably will not find us here.
Sheltis heaved a sigh of relief as he looked towards the robed silhouette below him.
"Are you alright?"
The girl in close proximity to Sheltis replied softly.
Countless number of fissures were created on the ground, and they were hiding in one of them. The cage made of huge boulders had caused a great disturbance in the ground, which was then compounded by the huge explosion in the end. These spells from Maha resulted in huge fissures on the ground. Maha probably did not expect them to be hiding in these fissures, and it seemed like he did not deploy any searching spells to locate them either.
"...... Unbelievable. Is this the arts of a human being?"
Kagura bit onto her pale lips tightly.
"The man can control enough matter to cause disturbances in the ground itself. A typical puppeteer can only control up to a few hundred kilograms of mass. However, those boulders had a mass of at least ten tonnes. That's just atrocious......"
"That's not the problem."
"...... Are you referring to the red lions or that strange-looking bird instead?"
He nodded in silence.
Those were originally made of soil, but they became mobile after receiving shinryoku from Maha. The red lions attacked with agile movements that were on par with that of real ones, while the bird was granted the ability to fly towards its target and self-destruct.
"That guy said this: 'I, define the universe'. Do you remember that?"
"Are you saying that the guy's shinryoku arts allows him to create and control anything? That's impossible. Just like what Monica always says, shinryoku itself is not an omnipotent power. That is why grueling training are necessary."
"I know that. But......"
Those red lions and the strange-looking bird, together with how he manipulated the boulders from within the ground — they were all real. The arts of that man is undoubtedly one of the most shocking he has ever witnessed up till now.
"What I am more interested in is that strange chant."
"You mean his 'define' thingy? He said things like nature, colors and such."
"No. What's most bizarre is that 'rakazazakakada' thing which he said earlier — those lines sounded like the flapping wings of an insect."
*Tok* — the girl tapped onto her visor with her finger.
"Did you notice this? That chant was made up of only 'ra', 'ka', 'za' and 'da'. The frequency of 'ra' used was significantly lesser than that of 'ka', 'za' and 'da'. There must be some sort of rules to that chant...... a huge secret hidden behind it."
She remembered it all in such a short period of time?
"I did mention that this little thing here is my pride, did I not? It had recorded down everything earlier,"
Said Kagura as she hugged onto the machine pearl <Machina>.
"The way I look at it...... the chants made up of those four syllables form the main body of the spell. The 'define' part is probably just the secondary part to the spell or something?"
"I hold the same opinion as well. The four-syllables chant is like the loading of bullets, while the firing mechanism is the 'define' part that forms the second phase of the spell. However...... even if our hypothesis are right, it will be pointless if we can't decipher that four-syllables chant."
"Can you do that?"
"If I have the luxury of time, I am confident of doing it. However, I can't do it here."
And why's that?
The young girl shook her head before he could even ask.
"I cannot guarantee the accuracy of my decipherment if I am given only a short period of time. A wrong analysis would result in wrong instructions which would lead to our annihilation — the risks are far too high. Moreover, he would definitely try to stop me if he realized what I am doing. I'll be in a defenseless state during the deciphering process, so my life will be exposed to danger during that time."
"...... I'll take care of that."
"Are you planning to buy time for me by becoming the bait? Sorry, I do not think you can protect me from that scary arts of his."
That was an incredibly blunt declaration.
And at the same time, it showed her distrust towards him.
"I've said this many times already — I do not trust you. On paper, you may be asking me to decipher the contents while you act as the bait. However, there is the chance of you running away in times of danger and leaving me behind...... Laugh at me if you want, but that's what I am most afraid of."
The young girl's shoulders trembled as she hugged onto her machine pearl <Machina>.
She imagined the scene of Sheltis abandoning her as she faced Maha alone; the images of her body collapsing onto the ground with injuries all over her body.
"........... I see."
Kagura's answer might have been different if it was Monica instead.
Her answer might have been different if the person asking her was someone whom she could entrust herself to.
That was the decisive gap between them — a unbridgeable distance between him and Kagura caused by the lack of trust.
"Thankfully, our opponent has not realized our hiding place for now. We should be able to escape given the right opportunity. I should be able to focus on deciphering his chants when we returned back to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and we can even ask for reinforcements. We can then decide if we should revamp the team or......"
"So you got it? Well then—"
"Let's split up from here. I'll keep him busy. Kagura, you shall head back to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."
"You said there will be an opportunity for us to escape, but Maha's not someone who will let us go that easily."
Sheltis smiled as he prodded at the mechanical helmet on Kagura's head. The bewildered expression on the girl's face was cute in a childish way.
"It's not your fault that I cannot gain your trust. It is very clear that the problem lies with me. I'm sorry, but I can't tell you the truth."
"U-Urm...... Sheltis...... What are you planning to do?"
"I'll be staying back to fight against Maha. He'll have to give his full attention to me, and that will allow Kagura to escape."
"A-Are you an idiot!?"
"I'm not idiot, yeah? I've originally planned to take on him alone anyway."
"Those are the words of an idiot! You're facing someone who's beyond the realms of our understanding...... Moreover, aren't you instructed to rest? The doctors even banned you from undergoing any training, so how long do you think that body of yours will last?"
"...... It'll last for a while more."
He pressed gingerly onto the injury at the back of his head. *Pa* — a cracking sound reverberated in his head, and a searing pain shot down from his head to his neck to his spine.
He had no idea how much longer he will last, but it should not be long. That's what his body told him.
It will be all over if the injury opens up.
...... Can I defeat that man while protecting my injury at the same time?
...... No, I have to win.
"I'm curious about the implication behind the 'forty-seven minutes remaining' said by that man."
Even as he was eliminating his enemies, Maha did not once step away from the water tank and the Yuugenshu that was encased within it. What is his motives? Somehow...... the ominous feeling inside him was getting stronger and stronger.
He has to stop Maha now. It will be too late if they return to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> for reinforcements.
"You mean, there will be changes to the Yuugenshu that's within the tank?"
"That's highly possible — in the worst case scenario, his ally will be here as well."
"...... What do you mean by that?"
"If the forty-seven minutes refers to a time-limit, then someone will be here to meet him when the time is over. In this case, there must be someone to check if Maha has managed to protect the water tank successfully."
"So that man...... has an ally?"
As a shinryoku-practitioner, the abilities of that man is incredible — however, it is highly unlikely for that man to be a researcher like Kagura is. The water tank and its imprisoned content should be made by someone else.
"H-Hold on a second. If that monster has an ally...... and if that ally shows up here, there is no way you can take on them both."
"Right? That is why I have to take him down while he is still alone."
The abilities of that robed man was way beyond his gauge. Sheltis had no confidence of surviving if someone else is to appear as well.
The girl suddenly raised her lowered head.
"Why are you forcing yourself?"
There was an incredible innocence in the voice of the young girl.
"Isn't that so? All those things we discussed earlier were nothing more than just conjectures. But...... why are you staying back because of these unproven conjectures? A sense of justice? Your vanity? Your moral values? Or is it simply because you're a sore loser? I cannot comprehend why you chose to fight against that monster."
There was nothing clean or dirty about that question of hers.
It was nothing more than a purest form of doubt — one that is formed after filtering all the impurities.
"There's a promised land."
The peak of the tower; the place where Ymy was waiting.
"I have to go to that place, because someone is waiting for me."
"I-If that's the case, then why—"
As he took the gaze of Kagura head on, Sheltis continued—
"...... I do not want to disappoint her. She was waiting for me all these while despite her being in a place that's out of my reach even as the years flashed by...... That's why I can't just aim to reach her. I have to take a path that she can be genuinely happy and proud of."
The path of absolute conviction will definitely lead him to the place where she is waiting for him.
He has no intention of turning away.
"I saw I'sa and Jin before coming here."
"I heard. They are the ones whom we met yesterday, yes? The dual gunner named Jin suffered heavy injuries from protecting the girl named I'sa."
The female puppeteer cried at the hospital. She lamented on the fact that she could do nothing when Jin collapsed before her; she cried about how weak she was.
And yet, she planned to take on Maha alone despite her tears.
Their situations overlapped with each other.
I'sa wanted to take on Maha in revenge for the dual gunner, her partner. Despite being alone, she insisted on fulfilling her responsibilities as a guard—
As for Ymy, she kept waiting for Sheltis who had fallen into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>. She did not pick her Sennenshi which should have been necessary, nor was she assigned any guards. However, Ymy continued to give her all as a Priestess. The situations of the two different girls were similar in a sense.
"I do not wish to disappoint her...... because I can understand her feelings very well."
"B-but, you are not related to I'sa in any way! Why are you doing all these just because you understand her feelings?"
"Because we are all from the same tower. That's a good enough reason for me, isn't it?"
Upon hearing that line from Sheltis.
Kagura swallowed the words she was about to say and lowered her head for a long while.
"...... You are the exact opposite from me."
Her voice was close to tears.
"The only people who I trust are those whom I believe in, but you are willing to trust those who believes in you............"
It was as though Kagura was murmuring to herself.
"Sheltis...... if...... and I mean if............ if I swear now that I'll assist you, will you believe in me as well?"
Before Kagura could answer.
Sheltis put on a mischievous smile.
"There is no need for you to do that. I've always believed in you, Kagura. Didn't you do your best in helping me to analysis the appearance of the Yuugenshu when I asked you to?"
"!! ...... W-Wait! Wait a second—"
"Alright, make sure you escape from here."
Sheltis flashed a brief wink before picking up his dual swords once more.
Maha looked upwards into the direction of the water tank despite the fact that his eyes were obscured by the hood of his robe.
In the water tank lies the Yuugenshu that was captured by Igun-I. They had specially moved it here so that they can perform the 'resonating experiment' at the faraway Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>.
How boring, Maha thought to himself.
His job was to eliminate all who came close to the water tank. It has been seventy-one hours since the mission had proceeded, and there was only an hour left before he completes his task. However, was there a need to activate him for this job?
He did not meet anyone who was worthy enough to be his opponent; a strong opponent who was on the same level as he is, someone who can force him to activate the true powers of the 'Golden Hexahedral'
And so, Maha thought,
I gained nothing from this task.
Then again, there was that dual sword wielder.
The one who fought him and managed to escape from his arts despite the fact that he was protecting a girl at the same time. If it's that dual sword wielder—
Maha turned his body around when he heard the footsteps.
"— Let us begin."
The two blades were giving off a violet glow in the rays of the sun.
There was no sneak attacks or any concrete plans. All the young man did was to walk slowly towards Maha one step at a time.
Sheltis Magna Yehle stood right before him.
Maha flashed a hidden smile beneath his hood.
Right, that should be the way. Or else it will be pointless for me to be at this place.
"Za...... da...... dadadara...... ka......"
The creation and control of the art, 'Golden Hexahedral'.
"Zazakazada............ da...... zakarakara...... zadadadazakakakazadazakazada............ rada...... rakazazakakadada...... za...... zaza...... karakara...... zadadadada............"
It was all so that he could defeat the dual sword wielder in front of him.
"Why are men such egoistic creatures?"
Back in the fissure, Kagura hugged the machine pearl <Machina> and shut her eyes.
"How can he possibly win against that Maha guy by himself? That shinryoku-practitioner is way beyond the realms of our understanding."
The 'Golden Hexahedral' was an all-powerful art. There must be some sort of secrets behind it, and it is likely to be hidden in the semantics of that chant.
"It will be impossible to win without the cracking of that chant...... I should have told him that already."
There is no way he can defeat Maha if he did not decipher its secrets.
If that is the case— what if he knew the secrets behind it?
If someone is able to crack the chants of Maha, will Sheltis be able to win?
"I-Impossible! That will not happen! It is impossible...... for that to happen."
She tried her hardest to reject the idea from her mind.
That is definitely impossible. I am the only one around who can do that. There is no way the chants will be cracked if I do not assist him.
That's right...... that will be the case...... if I do not believe he stands a chance in defeating Maha.
"How could he possibly win with those injuries on him......"
It's not just the injury on his head. Back then that strange-looking bird exploded—
The inferno and shockwaves which surpassed the speed of sound. Both of them was engulfed in an explosion which shattered tonnes of rocks easily. Back then—
"...... If he did not protect me............"
I could not escape in time. Sheltis was the one who shielded me with his back and brought me to this fissure.
His back suffered from burns caused by the explosion.
"...... Even though he already knew how timid I am......"
Those burns which stretched from your neck to your back — was it all from protecting me?
...... I cannot bring myself to ask him that question. I was afraid he will give me the answer I expected from him.
"For a creature as timid as I am......"
What are these feelings inside of me?
Why am I still here instead of running away from this place?
"............ Monica...... I want to be like you too......"
Her trembling did not stop.
She continued to hug the machine pearl <Machina> tightly. And at the deepest areas inside her—
"Monica...... please............ grant me courage."
Should I abandon everything? Not at all.
Now is the time for me to resolve myself.