...... I, Monica Esperanto, entered the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> at the age of seven.
I was one of the contenders to be a Priestess that protects the world — an apprentice-Priestess.
Just like the rest of the apprentices, I was really happy when I was chosen to be an apprentice-Priestess. I thought I could finally contribute something. Though it may be a little too exaggerated for me to be saying that...... but one day, I may really become an essential person on this floating continent.
However, most of the apprentice-Priestesses who entered the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> with that dream in mind had left the place willingly within a year.
Training that was akin to torture, mixed together with our tears and blood.
Glamorous and mysterious. Many apprentice-Priestesses were hit hard by reality, which was way different from the image of the Priestesses they had in their minds.
— As for me, I ended up failing horribly on the final test.
For someone who could not become a Priestess, how should I go about with my life next?
The people close to me recommended that I take up roles to develop the other apprentice-Priestesses. However, I hoped to be just like that dual-sword wielding young man - since I couldn't become a Priestess, I might as well walk on the path to protect them.
A cadet guard since the age of fifteen.
However, I'd be hit with constant failure...... for the next three years. Things like a mock team battle, or even when I was carrying out the actual missions - my body would not move due to nervousness whenever I was at critical juncture.
That was a psychological scar in me.
Because, I would always recall the final test of a Priestess — the scene in which I failed.
The eight years as an apprentice-Priestess; the eight years that I went through, supported by my tears and my pain - everything disappeared in an instant. I couldn't move whenever I thought of that.
An utterly useless cadet guard. Since I was labelled like that, over time, there were no longer any squads that were willing to welcome my participation.
For about a year after that, I was always alone—
"H-Hey! Are you alone right now? Have you teamed up with anyone else?"
Because of that, I was really happy when there was someone who invited me to participate in the mock team battle.
That was the very first time that I was victorious in a team training exercise. Since that day, it was like everything changed. With those thoughts in mind, I participated in this mission.
The enigmatic Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>; the mysterious research facility; the bred Yuugenshu.
However, the enemy is just a small-sized Yuugenshu.
Even though the danger still exists, I am still able to fight against it with the arts of shinryoku that I had learned before. As a part of the team, I am able to contribute as well.
...... That's what I have always thought.
"...... What's going on...... This monster......"
Due to the shock from the scene before her, Monica was murmuring in a daze.
The density of the mist surrounding the Yuugenshu had increased explosively all of a sudden.
The body of mist was expanding. One could see changes to the legs of the looming Yuugenshu amid the mist. There were originally thick shells on its legs, but the top layer of the shell was blasted apart, and the leg slowly became thicker.
The legs had already exceeded four to five meters in length, even though it was just barely one meter high at the start. Its diameter used to be as thick as that of a human wrist, but now it had grown to exceed the width of her own body. Not just that, it was tightly encased with a layer of newly grown shell.
— Battle mode? No, that's wrong. Could it be that it has grown that much within this short period of time?
The ceiling, which was reinforced by metal, was beginning to melt after coming into contact with the mist of the Yuugenshu.
It was originally just the size of a human child, but now it had grown into a giant Yuugenshu that reached the top end of the floor.
*Pra*— even the screen before it was crushed and shattered by the Yuugenshu.
The body expanded horizontally like a crab. The whole body was covered with a layer of spotted shell. Six legs that were as sharp as spears extended out from that body. It was over five meters in height, and one would have to lift their head up high to be able to see the whole Yuugenshu.
"...... This is?"
She said those words unknowingly through her lips.
That had way exceeded the definition of growth.
— A mutation?
That was way different from any of the living organisms that were on the floating continent. More importantly, even though she had encountered Yuugenshu during her stint as an apprentice-Priestess, she had never seen variants that had gone through such strange changes.
How should she fight against an unknown opponent?
Everything was already too late when she came to her senses.
The Yuugenshu had already approached her silently, and it had swung its leg, which was as thick as a log. When she lifted her head to see what was above her, the sharp spear-like leg was already crashing down on her swiftly—
It was too late for her to escape.
Upon understanding that fact, the world around her slowed down, just like a tiny frame in the movies. She could feel the time around her flowing slowly, as though there was some sort of slow-motion effect going on.
...... The moment just before death.
Everything, including herself as well as the movements of the Yuugenshu, were in the world of slow motion. Even so, nothing has changed. The leg of the Yuugenshu was still cleaving down towards her like a giant axe.
Someone knocked into her from her sides, and pushed her body out of the attack of the Yuugenshu.
...... I'm saved?
Just as that thought came to her mind, Monica was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of regret, that almost made her cry.
The Yuugenshu delivered the wicked blow.
And what happened before her was—
The young man, who protected her by crashing into her, was struck hard behind his head. He was blown away by the attack.
"...... Sh...... el......"
Blood spewed out from behind his head like a blooming flower. His whole body slammed into the wall close to the edges of the room. He remained motionless after that.
With that, the time of the world resumed its normal flow.
"Shel...... tis............ Oi! Shel—"
The young man collapsed onto the floor in a pool of crimson red blood.
That one thing signified everything.
...... H-Hey, don't make jokes...... like that............
...... You'll definitely stand up immediately, right? You're...... just pretending............
Someone, anyone, tell me this is not real.
The young man remained motionless.
The shriek of the young girl sounded far from that of a human cry - it was a tone of absolute sadness. Even though she was shouting his name, that was not what came out of her mouth. Despite her wanting to run up towards him, her legs remained immobile.
For the first time ever, Monica understood what a shriek was.
Though she had teared or sobbed during her training as an apprentice-Priestess, she had never cried that hard before.
As such, it was the first time that she was experiencing everything. Including the bloodcurdling scream from her throat, as well as the despair that exceeded her anger which she felt due to her own foolishness.
Despite her repeatedly squeezing that name out of her mouth, all that succeeded in doing was creating echoes in the floor in which they were in.
The young man was lying motionlessly on the blood-stained floor.
"I've said it ever since the beginning. Regardless of being a guard or a Priestess, I'm just a failure."
"Ever since failing the final test to become a Priestess, my body will become stiff and immobile whenever I face something important."
............ It was indeed like what I had said.
............ Regardless of where I go to, the scar that I got back then will haunt me for life.
"I think it's probably because of this scar within me that hasn't been totally healed yet."
The crossed rods <Rosario> fell off from her hands, which had already lost their strength.
"...... Everything is my fault."
Monica no longer had the will to pick them back up. She knelt down on the floor.
...... If I wasn't around, then Sheltis wouldn't have collapsed from protecting me.
...... If I wasn't around...... If I wasn't on this team......
The Priestesses that she used to look up to.
She hoped she could become the essential someone in everyone's eyes - someone who protects the floating continent. Therefore, she held back her tears and managed to hold on till the final test, despite her knowing very well that the absolute strength of her shinryoku was lacking.
The guard whom she used to look up to.
Even though she could not become a Priestess, she still hoped she could contribute by protecting the Priestesses.
Therefore, even though there was no squad that was willing to accept her, she still practiced her crossed rods <Rosario> by herself everyday, just like the dual-sword wielding young man she saw on that day.
However, the results still ended up as a failure.
Till the very end, she is a useless failure who could not become a Priestess nor a guard...... That was something that had been decided by the wounded world that she was in since the very beginning.
The Yuugenshu raised its sharp leg yet again.
— Her body could not move.
It wasn't due to the usual nervousness, but rather, her mind was occupied by the events of her teenage years - there was no room left for her to be concerned about her own safety.
Above her head was the incoming merciless strike, along with a swift gush of air.
She subconsciously closed her eyes upon seeing the giant leg that was about to hit her from above—
The incoming blow, the pain that should follow, as well as the death which should dawn onto her - all of it never came.
She timidly opened her eyes.
The young girl could not believe what she was seeing.
The originally collapsed young man had used his dual swords to block the attack from the leg of the Yuugenshu.
"You're giving up just like that? That's not like you at all."
She finally realized what she was witnessing was real, upon hearing his voice with her own ears.
The twin swords severed one of the legs.
Contrary to its huge body, the movements of the Yuugenshu were extremely agile, and it leaped a considerable distance back in a single jump. On the other hand, the young man did something that was even more inconceivable.
After locking onto the retreating Yuugenshu, he dashed forward in full speed.
A trail of blood traced the path of the young man. Each time he took a step forward, the motion of his body would cause blood to flow out from the wound behind his head.
Monica looked at the scene in a daze.
That's just too reckless. He should not be moving about after suffering such an injurie. Ignoring whether his body can hold on despite the blood loss, what about his consciousness? Can he really maintain a clear state of mind? Shouldn't his vision be blurry?
As he ran, the young man suddenly fell onto the ground, despite there being no obstacles around him.
— She was indeed right. There was no way he could move around freely after sustaining such a serious injury on his head.
"Stop, Sheltis! If you continue on like this—"
He may still be able to move for now, but if he continues to force himself, he may really cause damage to his brain...... no, he may actually endanger his life.
However, the young man did not stop moving.
He twisted his body to avoid the two legs that struck from his left and his right, and took the opportunity to chop one of them off cleanly. Using the wall to his left, he jumped up onto the ceiling and ran crazily to reach the back of the Yuugenshu in an instant.
But then, the young man knelt down to take a rest yet again.
Just as his shoulders were heaving up and down because of his breathing he lowered his head, at that moment the Yuugenshu attacked by swiping one of its legs horizontally towards him.
He flew into the sky, just like a leaf that was fluttering in the air.
And similar to what happened before, he was slammed against the wall and then fell onto the ground—
But he did not collapse.
Sheltis used his dual swords to support his body and stabilize his steps.
He did not collapse. He will never collapse.
............ Why can he still stand?
............ And he has suffered such serious injuries because of me, so why—
"It's not your fault."
With his head still hanging low, he suddenly mumbled that out with a hoarse voice.
"It's natural for me to protect Monica...... Because, we are teammates."
"Monica, didn't you say that there was a guard that you admired? You said you wished you could become just like him - that young man who fell into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>."
"W-Why are you mentioning that all of the sudden......"
"If that young man was still alive, he definitely wouldn't bow down to an opponent like this. Aren't I right!?"
— Just then.
A certain sound seemed to have rang from deep within my heart.
"T-That's because...... he...... was different from me. He—"
"There's nothing different!"
Just as I was about to explain, I was interrupted by the yell of the young man.
"Haven't you always hoped to become someone who can protect the floating continent! Even though you did not manage to become a Priestess, that conviction has allowed you to continue working hard to get to where you are today, right? You are always practicing later into the night than anyone else, isn't that so!?"
I could not speak.
It was as though he had seen through everything...... No, he did understand. Including my feelings, as well as the screams in my heart which I could not hide very well.
"You have always hoped that someday, you could be just like what that young man was, right? Get on your feet! This is the best chance for you to do so right now— so Monica, pick up your crossed rods <Rosario>!"
The dual-sword wielding young man whom she admired.
As well as the young man who was still fighting against the Yuugenshu, despite the multiple injuries on his body.
She did not know the reason why she did.
Had already overlapped the young man before her together with the 'young man of those days'.
— If so...... that should be enough.
Sheltis heaved a large breath of air as he wiped away the blood from his eyes.
"You are as reckless as ever."
"Totally not. It's because we are teammates from the same squad."
The attitude that all guards should have.
Three years ago, because he had an overly powerful teammate by his side in the form of Leon, he had never realized that not everyone possesses the physical and mental fortitude that he has. It's the same with the puppeteer and the dual gunner that he had fought together with Monica. In reality, everyone will have a weakness or two, that they will have to make up for.
— That was something that the him of three years ago did not notice.
"If I was a Priestess, I definitely wouldn't choose someone who only wants to protect the Priestess as a Sennenshi."
The him of three years ago did not understand what being a Sennenshi was all about as well.
The feelings which the Priestesses have in them, due to the tough disciplines that they must endure each and every day.
What sort of things the Priestesses are seeking from their Sennenshi.
The one who told him all those things was Monica who was in the same team as him. Therefore, he would not allow himself to fall.
Not as the young man whom she admired, but as her teammate.
"Can you still hold on?"
He ignored the question of the machine crystal <Ilis>.
Enduring the overwhelming dizziness and headache, Sheltis called out to the girl hoarsely.
"Let's work together. I'll be in charge of attracting the attention of the enemy. I'll leave the rest to you, just like what we did last time."
"Don't worry. You've always been practicing, no?"
He smiled and flashed a wink — Sheltis then made a dash for it.
Due to his dizziness, it felt like the floor was tilting. Not to mention, his sense of balance was totally disrupted. He had no idea if he was still running straight on the floor.
Even so, he could not stop.
The three legs were about to attack him from above, left and right. Sheltis depended on his blurred vision as well as his intuition to avoid the assaulting legs that were encased in a thick shell.
He skipped to the side to avoid the first strike which was going for his head. He then used the broad side of his blade to slam it against the incoming second strike that was approaching him, and used the recoil to keep his body afloat in the air. He landed on the leg of the enemy just like that, and swung the dual swords in his hands.
He sliced off the leg, along with the spotted shell as well as the mateki barrier which was protecting it.
— Half of it was done.
What's left are two right legs and a left one.
Just then, there was a sudden change in the atmosphere surrounding the Yuugenshu. It stopped moving its legs, one of which was lifted high into the air. The strange glows around its body burst outwards like millions of thin fibers.
The fibers entwined into threads, and the threads merged into lines. The lines combined together to form a giant glowing ring, big enough to occupy nearly half the area of the floor they were on.
A brief look at it would be enough for one to lose their vitality. However, the dark purple glow continued to intensify—
Oe/ Dia =U milve /x-recrey mihas I, xay xephnis xin sis.
<■ ■, ■ ...... ■ ■, ■ ■ ■ , ...... ■ ...... ■ ■>
A strange tone reverberated throughout the floor.
Mateki. The source of power of all Yuugenshu; the cursed melody that erodes everything on the floating continent.
*...... Zyuu...... zi.........*
The brilliance engulfed everything, together with the young man. The grounds, walls and ceiling began to boil and evaporate.
The high-intensity beam swept through the whole floor, which easily melted the heat-resistant alloy. What was left was the Yuugenshu, which believed that it was assured of the victory. Amid the space that was filled with the white smoke of the smoldering metal—
A flash of two swords.
The twin swords of the young man had chopped off the leg of the Yuugenshu.
For the first time ever, the Yuugenshu was unsure of what was going on.
That was the power which Sheltis had acquired after he was infected by the mateki of the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>. In return for paying the price of losing the shinryoku of a human, he utilized his own mateki to render the mateki and the barriers of the Yuugenshu useless.
...... Right, that should be enough?
After understanding that it's mateki was ineffective, the Yuugenshu aimed for the head of the young man, and swung its remaining two legs at it—
In the next instant, while remaining in the posture with its two legs raised in the air, the Yuugenshu stopped all of its movements.
Sia Sec elis arc...... Is io Miel
<I hope to dream once again, the dreams of that day......>
The words of power flowed out of the young girl's lips, without a moment of hesitation or pause in between.
*Zaaaa.............* a sound similar to raindrops falling against leaves rang. The floor which was polluted by the mateki was gradually cleansed by the brilliantly shining white lights, which looked like fresh snow.
"valen =C kis towle
<— Prayers, are just an illusion.>
shel =C eyen roo.
<The objects of desire, at a place out of reach.>
Kyele =C sion tis.
<Reality, exceeds all reasoning.>
phia =C delis elma.
<Thoughts, forgetting everything.>
————— ole =C kis eyen noe
————— <Dreams, hopefully resembling that day>"
"...... You idiot."
She had activated the arts of the Priestesses using their language.
The praying arts that will bring the world blessings and miracles. Something which is not easily used by anyone. Something that can only be manipulated freely only after years of training in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
However, there's a girl here who has worked hard at the her training, harder than anyone else—
"You've said a bunch of stuff to me, and with that righteous tone too."
The line of sight of the Yuugenshu did not land on the ground or the walls, but at a place directly above it.
With a cluster of faintly glowing dots of white light, the girl leaped into the space close to the ceiling.
"Oh blessed metals...... the Third Stone...... Descend, the crystals of white silver!"
A color that is paler, more uncertain, and more easily stained than any other color out there.
But at the same time, it's a color that is unrivaled in terms of elegance and beauty.
....... That's right, I am not a Priestess.
"Under the guidance of the advent...... the twenty-second power of the second process shall form the world."
The pale white particles of light shone around the whole body of the girl. The rays of light traveled through her arms, and blessed the crossed rods <Rosario> in her hand.
In that instant, the pale white light clustered themselves together, and began to crystallize.
The light of Shinryoku formed a brilliantly shining crystal at the tip of the rod, turning it into what seemed like a lance with a silver-white blade.
— As a guard, I hope to dedicate this power within me.
— And thus I swear.
— From now on, I will be the same as him whom I admired back then......
Ris sia sophia, yupa Sez =C cia dies, r-warb, als vel dia.
<I'll never yield; I'll never be shaken; I'll never stop.>
Ris sia sophia, elma cia kis eyen bie qo. ...... Is io miel.
<I hope that everything...... will be the same as that day.>
The young girl raised the crossed rods <Rosario> above her head, took aim, and tossed it towards the Yuugenshu with all her might.
The crossed rods <Rosario> turned into a flash of silver light. But just before it reached the crystal core of the Yuugenshu, the Yuugenshu began to materialize the deep purple brilliance to form a barrier.
Shinryoku against mateki.
The two opposing forces clashed, and they were currently repelling against each other. If the forces are of equal strength, the shinryoku crystal on the crossed rods <Rosario> will then shatter at the same time the barrier is destroyed.
If that was the shinryoku crystal of an ordinary shinryoku-practitioner, then that may very well be the result.
"It's my..... victory."
The young girl surrounded by the brilliance of shinryoku said that solemnly as she landed on the ground.
The person standing there was a girl who had pledged to become a Priestess.
An apprentice-Priestess who had endured her tears and pain for eight years, as she continued to bear the dream of becoming a Priestess.
With her blood and her tears as the price, she had obtained the real arts of shinryoku of a Priestess. Naturally, such dignified arts would never lose to an opponent that had only woken up not too long ago.
The silver-white crossed rods <Rosario> destroyed the remaining two legs of the Yuugenshu along with its barriers. After losing all of its legs and the mateki barrier, the Yuugenshu stopped moving due to it being caged by the barriers of the shinryoku.
"Alright, do you have anything to say?"
Monica showed a gentle smile after landing on the ground. And on the other side—
"It's a really beautiful spell."
Sheltis took aim at the Yuugenshu and soared into the air.
His vision was obscured by his blood and his dizziness.
The functions of his brain were mostly numb, resulting in a chaotic sense of balance. Under the twisted world, the only thing that he believed in was the feel of the two swords in his hands. He raised them over his head, and made a powerful jump.
Using the brightly shining point - the crossed rods <Rosario> - as a marker.
He tried his hardest to maintain his consciousness that was about to disappear, and once again took grip of the dual swords, which were about to fall from his hands.
— Let's put an end to everything.
"............ Ymy............ she has begun the disciplines of a Priestess."
"............ So, she asked me to pass this message on to you...... 'Please return safely'."
That was what Syun-rei passed on to him before they left for their mission.
The other reason he didn't collapse.
"...... I must return."
There's a young girl at the tower who believes that he will definitely return. Therefore—
Even if it's unacceptable to the ways of this world, returning to her side is the only thing that cannot be stopped by anything.
Right now, that was the only thing that he could do for Ymy.
He approaches the head of the Yuugenshu.
Gripping the dual swords in reverse, he raised them up high above his head. And then—
The swords of the dual wielding young man destroyed the crystal core of the Yuugenshu.
"Ahh...... ugh...... feels like my head is about to burst."
Sheltis sat cross-legged on the floor, and moaned as he pressed his hand against his head.
"It's because you pushed yourself too hard, you idiot."
Next to him was Monica, who was sitting with a straight posture in seiza.
"Well, such things are commonplace, so just ignore him. He's stupid to the point that he can't be cured anymore."
"...... Ughhh, it's so painful, I no longer have the strength to retort to that."
They had finally managed stop his bleeding with the use of anti-hemorrhagic agent and disinfectants, together with a compresser on the wounds using bandages. However, it's not like his wounds were treated just like that. He would still need to receive real treatment when he returned to the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Darn, what exactly is Leon doing at a time like this?"
"Speaking of which, I haven't seen Captain Leon either. It's the same as when we were on the floor of the hidden passage—"
"Speak of the devil."
There were sounds of running that echoed in the passageway. The hurried footsteps stopped right before the door, which then opened immediately after that.
"Sorry for the wait, Sheltis! Where's the enemy, the so called 'Slumbering Child'?"
"Sheltis, where's the enemy!"
It was Leon, who was carrying a great sword on his shoulder. Behind him, was Eyriey and Yuto, who were both looking around the room.
With the three people before them, Sheltis and Monica could only look at each other.
""Sorry, I'm really too tired. Allow me to take a snooze first.""
After saying the exact same thing in sync, the both of them collapsed onto the ground straight away.