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――It was humiliating.
Her fangs creaked, gnashing together, her insides seethed with rage, her soul cracked in indignation.
What was she doing? She was being toyed around with by lowly humans, she was being driven into a corner without doing what needed to be done, she had been forced to play her trump card, knowing that such a deed should not have been performed.
???: [What a mess.]
It was a shameful display, she had exposed a state of herself which those who were dragonkin should never have shown so easily.
If any other dragonkin were present, they would have probably covered their faces because of this terrible situation. They would curse Madelyn for this predicament and for the shame she had brought to the dragonkin, before killing her; Madelyn was half about to die in a fit of anger anyways, directed at both herself and everyone else.
But, that would never happen.
There were no other dragonkin. Madelyn had always been alone. That was why――,
――That was why, no matter what it took, she had to slay the person who had killed the one she desired as her mate.
???: [Flop-san, please help me. We need to carry this little girl inside…]
From the fringes of her bleary consciousness, she heard a voice that felt like it was coming from someone.
No, not from someone, that voice came from a human being. Given there were no other dragonkin, everyone who spoke the language of men was human, beings that differed fundamentally from herself.
And so, her head grew hot, faced with an all-too-familiar humiliation obtained at the hands of beings that differed from herself.
A woman of crimson, attired in a dress, and a woman of silver, who brought snow with her.
Those women had cooperated together with dreadfully high precision, searing Madelyn’s consciousness white.
She raised her body, like someone was guiding her, and stretched her arm out towards where the voice was coming from.
She would tear apart the slender back before her eyes, and then――,
???: [I don’t mind being called a moron.]
She heard a voice coming from someone else, and right after that, the silhouette before her eyes was replaced with another.
With that slender back pushed away, before her eyes, stood a slender someone. And that was whom she swung her claws at, which was followed by the feeling of recoil from a sharpness rending flesh not-so-shallowly in her hand.
Blood splattered everywhere; the slender figure collapsed helplessly, struck by the strength of a dragonkin.
I did it, was not what she was thinking. Ironically enough, the lack of response made her realize that the slender figure she had torn up, was not the object of her burning hatred.
Madelyn: [So, who’s the next one…?!]
That wants to be torn apart by my claws, or so she tried to bellow out, baring her fangs.
She kicked her now-felled opponent’s body, moving to surrender her body to the ferocity of looking for her next prey. And while doing so, she looked at the figure of her fallen enemy――,
A man was lying on the ground, his long, golden hair furled out on the floor, his pale skin soaked with blood.
She did not know him. She could only roughly tell apart the particulars when it came to faces of those belonging to the human races, however, that man was not within the ones she could distinguish.
Therefore, what had grabbed her attention had not been the man himself, but rather, what he carried.
On the fallen man’s weak chest, which had been torn and laid bare, covered in blood, was an ornament which he wore from his neck, made from the fang of a beast.
――No, not from the fang of a beast.
It was from… It was from… Itwasfromitwasfromitwasfromitwasfromitwasfromitwasfrom――.
With Flop running towards her, shoving her by the shoulder, Rem fell onto the garden’s grass.
She had not expected that force. With no time to support herself, Rem’s body tumbled sideways onto the greenery.
However, to inquire Flop about what he had done all of a sudden, was unrequired.
For a far more telling answer was splayed out in front of Rem, in the form of bright vermillion.
With her hands to the grass, Rem’s voice cracked because of that scene.
In front of her, lying on his back where Rem had just been a few seconds prior, was Flop, his body bearing deep gouges from the shoulder to the waist.
Four wounds, like those performed by sharp blades, sliced vividly through the front of Flop’s body.
And Rem immediately recognized that the wound was the result of his attempt to protect her.
And that it was the little girl Rem had run towards to give assistance, who had performed that deed.
A girl with sky-blue hair stood still, having swung her arm, blood dripping from the tips of her claws after she had gouged out Flop’s flesh.
Flop had been injured while protecting Rem from the little girl, who had attempted to murder her.
Immediately, Rem tried to pull herself up, as to check on his wounds,
Rem: [Let me through! Flop-san! Let me see your wounds… Kya!]
But as Rem attempted to approach Flop, she was interrupted by the little girl’s thin arms. The girl took a step toward Flop, standing in front of Rem, then grabbed Rem’s shoulder and pushed her down.
As Rem feared that she may even plan to finish Flop off, her blood raced through her whole body.
And just like that, the little girl’s arm grabbed Flop by the neck and, handling him roughly, forced him to stand up.
Madelyn: [Why is a dragon’s fang… Why is Carillon’s fang hanging from your neck?]
With desperation and grief plastered in her profile, the girl posed that question in something akin to a shriek.
For a moment, Rem’s train of thought paused, unsure of the meaning of the question. But in the meantime, the girl was still repeatedly directing a question of “Why?” to Flop, the latter’s eyes closed.
No response came from Flop, whose consciousness remained plunged into darkness. There was absolutely zero doubt, however, that the lingering embers of life were fading, as the wounds on his body kept bleeding unceasingly.
Madelyn: [Answer me! Answer! If you can’t do that…]
Rem: [P-please stop! He’s unconscious! He’ll die!]
Rem gripped onto the arm of the little girl who was rough-housing Flop, as if to cling onto her. The little girl’s golden eyes turned around in anger because of Rem’s interference, but she and her spirit withstood the intensity of her eyes.
With Flop’s life on the line, there was no way she could be intimidated.
Rem: [Let me treat him right away! Otherwise, Flop-san…]
Madelyn: [What’s the point of treating him? If he’s going to die anyway, before that happens…]
Rem: [Healing magic! I can perform healing magic!]
Rem’s desperate plea caused the little girl’s arms to relax slightly.
There was no way that Flop, gravely wounded as he was, would be saved with mere simple medical treatment. But healing magic was a different matter. The little girl’s golden eyes reflected Rem properly for the first time.
Madelyn: […You can save him?]
Rem: [――. I will do it. No matter what it takes…!]
Madelyn: [Then, do it quickly.]
Did she trust Rem’s words, or did she understand that there was no other alternative?
In a one-sided decision, the little girl pushed Flop’s body, causing him to fall onto Rem. But there was no room for Rem to protest against her attitude.
Rem: [This looks terrible…]
Assessing Flop’s wounds as he was handed over, Rem muttered so to herself at the gruesome sight.
As if performed by the claws of a beast, Flop’s white skin had been torn apart, leaving four gaping wounds. The wounds were deep and painful, similar to mud being gouged out by a tree branch.
The blood that flowed in a continuous stream was contained by the cloth that Flop had wrapped around his head, and healing magic was applied over the wound―― immediately after, Rem’s entire body was overcome by a sense of fatigue.
This came after she had already performed healing magic on many people who had been injured in the flying dragons’ raid.
Although she had limited her healing techniques to patients who absolutely needed it, as to reduce exhaustion, they required so much energy that fatigue was inevitable.
Then came Flop’s treatment, someone on the verge of death. The mental burden was heavy as well.
Rem: [Still, giving up isn’t an option…]
Hence Rem told herself that no possibility of the sort existed, and focused her attention on Flop’s wounds.
As Rem concentrated, Priscilla’s words were revived in Rem’s mind. They served as advice for Rem, as she pondered over her memories, her circumstances, her duties.
Words given to her during the days spent by Priscilla’s side in the city after parting ways with Subaru and the others――,
Priscilla: [Look not at the wound, but at life itself. For the body of a living creature is not solely blood, but also all kinds of unseen things that circulate within it. Beyond that, is what the healing arts must grasp.]
Priscilla: [What it is, I am not able to reveal to you, as I do not utilize the healing arts. I call it life for the sake of convenience. You may call it whatever you prefer. However――]
Priscilla: [Remember, Rem, you are a pitiful girl who has lost her memory, who has lost her foundation. You have lost everything, but you possess the power to heal people. That is your essence.]
Priscilla: [――No one can escape from who they are. Strive to remember my words, be diligent.]
Rem: [――See, life.]
The painful wounds themselves were not that which needed to be patched up; rather, life itself, the very thing flowing out of Flop and in need of being preserved, had to be contained. Or, possibly, it even had to be magnified in order to save his life.
Healing magic was not solely about filling gouged flesh, sealing wounds, or relieving pain.
Essentially, the healing arts were not magic that healed wounds, but magic that saved lives.
If she were to invoke that awareness and technique, of interfering with life――.
――It should also be possible for Flop to retain his shrinking life, saving him from the brink of death.
Seeking the optimal use of her limited remaining strength, Rem’s healing techniques, refined to the utmost limit, were brought to their true potential.
Connecting the threads of life that needed to be connected, stemming the flow of life that needed to be stemmed, and restoring vitality to the fading light of life. ――She would save Flop’s very life.
His breathing, which had become shallow and weak, and the color of his cheeks, which had turned pale and bloodless.
As both of these gradually began to display signs of stability, Rem tried calling out to draw firm responses. At Rem’s call, Flop’s long eyelashes quivered and his blue eyes opened only slightly.
Flop’s consciousness remained vacant still. However, if she continued to apply healing magic, he would survive.
With that, as Rem was about to breathe a sigh of relief, Flop’s lips trembled.
Then, with a faint exhale, he spoke.
Flop: […Don’t, heal me fully.]
Those unbelievable words assailed her eardrums, and Rem let out a muffled gasp.
So much was the shock that her concentration was disturbed, and even the usage of healing magic was hampered by it. Flop’s eyelids fell closed again and his consciousness slipped away before Rem could hurry to focus on her healing magic.
This time, Flop was completely unconscious; Rem focused her healing magic on the wound, half-confused about the meaning of his earlier words.
Why did Flop say those things?
What exactly did he mean that I should not heal him?
Rem: [Did you say something that strange because you were disoriented?]
That was a possibility. Considering the amount of blood that he had spilled, that he regained consciousness, even for a single moment, was a miracle.
It was no wonder that, with his awareness mostly misty, Flop would speak things that made no sense. However, even though they were brief acquaintances, Rem’s trust in Flop was high.
Flop was someone who would think over things carefully and present his honest opinion, always.
Suppose too, that Flop’s words just now were the result of him wringing out all he had.
Perhaps it would be too disingenuous to dismiss them as mere rambling.
Why did he say that he should not be healed?
――No, in the first place, what did Flop say? It wasn’t “don’t heal me”. It was “don’t heal me fully”.
Rem: [Do you… not want me to heal you all the way?]
The phrase “healed fully” was strange.
She was not about to stop healing, but rather stop healing all the way. However, if she did not heal him all the way, then Flop’s life would remain in jeopardy.
There were limits to Rem’s Mana as well. In the first place, she did not comprehend the meaning of doing such a thing. She would save Flop’s life properly, and only then――,
Thinking up to that point, Rem realized that her perception of the situation was off.
She had been concentrating on Flop’s treatment so desperately to the point of being completely blind to her environs.
The girl who had done this deed was standing there behind Rem, who was healing Flop’s wounds. More to the point, a flock of flying dragons was still flying over the rapidly freezing city, and fierce battles continued to rage in various parts of the city.
Nothing would change for the better. Even if Flop’s wounds were healed.
And that appeal by Flop, reminded Rem of a possibility.
That would be――,
Rem: [――Just, who are you?]
Without turning around, Rem asked this question to the girl behind her.
Although Rem had not been facing her as she talked, the girl would have understood that the subject of Rem’s question was herself. Immediately after, there was a sound of snapping fangs from the little girl.
Madelyn: [You, this isn’t the time to be talking like that. If you have time to worry, then get that man healed!]
Rem: [I too want to heal him! But…]
Madelyn: [But, what!?]
Rem: [But! I can’t concentrate because I’m wondering just who you are. If this goes on, I may not be able to continue the magic.]
Unable to come up with an excuse, Rem made a terribly childish response. If this were to provoke an angry response from the other party, it would be no wonder that the claws that had ripped through Flop would now be pointed at Rem.
But in reply to Rem’s poor rebuttal, the girl let out a turbulent exhale, and,
Rem: […What did you say?]
Madelyn: [Madelyn Eschart! General First-Class of the Empire!]
In a tone of voice that could neither be described as angry nor impatient, the girl―― Madelyn, answered Rem’s question.
Part of the surprise came from the fact that she even replied, but even more shocking was Madelyn’s title. She had called herself a General First-Class of the Empire, and Rem knew the meaning that position held, in this land.
And that understanding coincided with the possible suspicions that had sprouted in Rem.
In other words――,
Madelyn: [――? You, what are you doing? What for…?]
Madelyn: [Why did you stop healing that man!?]
Taking a deep breath once, Rem withdrew the hand she held over Flop’s wound.
Naturally, the healing magic to heal Flop’s wounds was interrupted, a fact that caused Madelyn to snap; she grabbed Rem by the collar, forcing the latter to turn towards herself.
Overpowered by the force of her arm, Rem stared back at Madelyn, courageously.
Madelyn: [Answer me! You, what are you playing at!?]
Rem: [――If you want me to continue healing Flop-san, I have a condition.]
Madelyn: [Condition…? What, are you suddenly rambling about…]
Rem: [――Please make the flock of flying dragons attacking the city leave. Unless you agree to that condition, it won’t be possible for me to continue healing.]
And so, negotiations were offered directly to the little girl who led the flock of flying dragons.
――She must not heal him all the way.
This was how Rem had interpreted Flop’s cryptic words.
For reasons unknown, Madelyn was greatly concerned with Flop’s survival. There had to be a reason behind her attachment to Flop, and currently only Rem could decide what happened to him.
With Flop’s life as a bargaining chip, she could put a stop to the attacks on the city.
This act, which perhaps could be profaned as inhuman, was something Rem was determined to carry through.
She would not concoct any excuses by saying that Flop himself had desired it. Her thoughts currently were that, by utilizing Flop’s life, she would save the Fortress City from its current predicament.
Even if this differed from the true intentions behind Flop’s words, Rem had already started to follow through.
Madelyn exclaimed in disbelief at the demand posed at her.
It was only natural. Rem had been just as confused the moment she heard Flop’s words. She understood that the same was happening to Madelyn.
However, she held no sympathy towards her. That was not something Rem could afford to have.
The agitation from having paused Flop’s healing, slowly burned Rem’s chest.
Deep down, all she wanted was to resume the healing magic immediately and do anything to save his life. His life, close to vanishing as it was, was hanging on those fingertips of her; its restoration would be decided at this critical juncture.
With each passing moment, Flop’s chances would diminish more and more.
Rem: [What will it be? Please decide quickly.]
Trying not to let her impatience show on her face, Rem pressed Madelyn into making a decision.
She attempted to plant the idea in Madelyn that she was the one being pushed into a corner, not herself. By doing so, she hoped to preserve Flop’s meager chances as much as possible
The white light that had shaken the entire city a while ago still left a great impression; Kuna and Holly, who had been guarding the mansion, were nowhere to be seen. It would take some time for them to recover.
To hope that this deadlock would be broken from the outside was not an option. The outcome rested entirely in Rem’s hands.
Rem: [Madelyn-san, there’s no ti――]
Madelyn: [――Don’t look down on this dragon.]
Any further attempts at forcing her hand, were interrupted by the force of Madelyn’s palm on her throat.
Madelyn’s tiny hand clamped down on Rem’s neck, preventing her from saying another word. ――No, Madelyn refused to entertain the notion of negotiating in the first place.
Her golden eyes aflame with rage, she was unable to tolerate Rem’s audacity in imposing her own terms.
Frightening, mighty draconic energy that betrayed Madelyn’s childish appearance overwhelmed Rem, making her very heart to cower in fear; forming inside her, was a wish to withdraw her reckless act immediately.
She felt the urge to go down on her knees, to beg forgiveness for her hubris.
She was reminded of Subaru, who stood in front of Rem in an attempt to protect her against an enemy that was as powerful as this one.
Albeit dressed in a ridiculous woman’s disguise, presenting an unsightly and shameful display, Subaru nevertheless stood there, risking his life to protect Rem. ――No, it was not restricted to that single occurrence.
In Rem’s eyes, Subaru was neither special, nor was he strong.
Despite being frightened of the danger before him, however, Subaru did not back down, ever.
Rem, envisioning Subaru, scolded herself for being so filled with fear as to be unable to move.
He had never cast his gaze downwards, nor had he thrown in the towel.
He had never displayed such naive notions, nor had he ever displayed such tenuous resolve.
Madelyn: [What is it?]
Rem: [Even if you kill me… You’ll lose…]
Madelyn’s eyes widened in surprise at the sentence Rem uttered through gasps, as she was strangled.
If Madelyn were to murder Rem in a fit of rage, she would miss her opportunity to talk with Flop.
So ultimately, the nature and substance of the choice Madelyn was being confronted with had not changed.
To destroy the city, or to let Flop live; those were the two options.
As a General First-Class of the Empire, it was Madelyn’s duty to fulfill the role entrusted to her. However, within her attitude and in her words, Rem had found a miniscule possibility for success.
Madelyn truly wished to exchange words with Flop. There was something she wished to make certain. How important was it for Madelyn to confirm that something?
Within that, Rem had seen something valuable that could decide the outcome of this battle――,
Rem: [――What, will you do?]
Rem: [――Please choose. Will you kill, or will you let live?]
――Her white-tinted consciousness gradually cleared, and the world around her slowly gained color.
Alongside the awakening of her consciousness, she felt a terribly heavy oppressive sensation throughout her whole body.
It was as if there were rubble on top of her body, a heavy sensation that pressed down upon her entire being, making it difficult to breathe. She moved her arms in order to push it away in any way she could, and,
???: [Hnn, ngahhh…]
Once she stretched her arms out from their cramped position, the pressure disappeared with a loud thud.
Only then did she come to realize that it had not been her imagination; she really had been underneath a pile of rubble, suddenly understanding the reason why it had been so difficult for her to breathe.
Becoming convinced of it, she began to try and remember why she had ended up trapped underneath the rubble――,
Emilia: [――Right. I was with Priscilla, fighting Madelyn.]
Recalling the events just prior, Emilia observed the surrounding landscape.
What was spread out before her, was the now-barren debris of the cityscape. Buildings had crumbled, their collapsed debris blown away, the very earth flattened.
At this sight, akin to fallen leaves having been scattered by a powerful wind, Emilia let out a small gasp.
The white snow falling here and there was the result of the space of glaciation created by Emilia―― a special technique Subaru had dubbed “Ice Age”.
What had tinted Emilia’s consciousness white, however, was another white something that had fallen from the sky.
Emilia: [――Gives the same feeling as Volcanica.]
The white light that had descended from the heavens to the earth, had been an attack triggered by Madelyn’s will.
Even though she had not known what was due to arrive, Emilia took swift action and joined forces with Priscilla, putting up ice barriers to intercept that white light.
The layers of ice shielding were shattered, and finally, Priscilla’s treasured sword of red flashed――,
Emilia: [After that, I got buried and… This isn’t good! What about Priscilla!?]
Recalling what had occurred, Emilia began to look for Priscilla, who was nowhere in sight.
Since Emilia had been under the rubble, it was not surprising that Priscilla, who had been right next to her, would have suffered the same. If so, there was a possibility that Priscilla would be buried, unable to get out as opposed to someone physically strong like Emilia.
She had to help her quickly. It would be sad if she were shivering with inconsolable fear.
Emilia: [Priscilla! Priscilla, where are you!? Answer me! I’ll get you out right away…!]
???: [――Cease your chirping, half-devil.]
Pushing her body through the pain, Emilia turned over the debris near her. Once there was an answer to her enquiry, Emilia hurriedly ran towards the voice.
And there, on the ruins of the collapsed city walls, at the other side of a mountain of accumulated debris, she found Priscilla.
Sitting on the wreckage, Priscilla snorted at Emilia rushing over to her.
Priscilla: [What ugly stubbornness. I suppose you are alive.]
Emilia: [Yeah, thanks for worrying about me. You’re fine as well Priscilla… right? But it’s a relief that you seem alright.]
Faced with Emilia stroking her chest in relief, Priscilla sighed, looking a little more tired than usual. Her gorgeous red dress was torn here and there, her fair skin stained with dust and bruises.
Because Priscilla was always so immaculate, it seemed all the more painful to look at.
However, upon Emilia lowering her eyes out of sadness because of that fact, Priscilla looked up at her with displeasure, speaking, “Do not look down on me”,
Priscilla: [Do not make me laugh with your anxious ponderings. You and I are enemies competing for the throne, first and foremost. Your true desire should be to wish for my downfall.]
Emilia: [Hmph, there you go saying mean things again. I don’t want Priscilla to get hurt. Besides…]
Emilia: [You seriously think of me as an enemy. It’s a bit surprising.]
Emilia had presumed that Priscilla took no interest in her for certain.
This assessment was surprising and gratifying for Emilia, who was aware that she was behind the other candidates for the Royal Selection, such as Crusch, Anastasia, and Felt.
To be placed alongside those amazing people, felt like a recognition of her efforts.
Emilia: [Oh, but if you’re safe, Priscilla, we have to move quickly, we don’t know where Madelyn went and we have to get the city out of danger…!]
She could only be happy that Priscilla was safe and sound, now that the crisis the city was undergoing had ended.
True, she wished that Madelyn would stop the assault of the flying dragons, but since she had not been able to locate Madelyn during her search for Priscilla, it was likely that she had escaped.
If Madelyn could not be relied upon, Emilia and the others would have to drive away the flying dragons on their own.
Therefore, to assist in battle, she thought of making haste to the place with the largest presence of flying dragons.
Priscillia: [――Halt, half-devil.]
Emilia: [I’d like to wait for you, but we can’t rest. We have to hurry…]
Priscilla: [No need. ――The situation is moving.]
Stopping her hurried run, Emilia turned around and let out a “Huh?” as she stared in wonderment.
Priscilla, having stopped Emilia, jerked her head up while sitting atop the rubble. Emilia’s attention was caught by her gesture, and she gazed upwards, at the cloud-filled sky from which white snow sprinkled.
Only then did she understand the meaning of what Priscilla had stated.
Emilia: […The flying dragons, they’re going away?]
Emilia’s vision, as that sentence escaped her mouth, was filled with the flying dragons that had previously overrun the city’s skies, hunting down people indiscriminately. Spreading their wings, they were slowly growing distant in the skies.
For a moment, Emilia was unsure of what that signified, then considered, “Maybe…”,
Emilia: [Madelyn listened to our request…]
Priscilla: [Foolish nonsense.]
Emilia: [I guess not? But I think Madelyn is the only one who can order the flying dragons to leave…]
The most pleasant possibility was shot down by Priscilla, and Emilia pondered on it.
Of course, even a flying dragon who followed someone else’s orders would not be suicidal enough to throw away their own life for naught. They would retreat if faced with likely defeat, and it was possible they would even flee in a hurry if, for example, the leader of the flock were defeated.
However, would Madelyn’s defeat count as the flock’s leader having been defeated?
Even if Madelyn considered herself as having lost, the blow from above the clouds, the one which Emilia and Priscilla had been unable to stop with their combined efforts, was also a thing.
Rather, it was Emilia and the others who were in danger.
Madelyn could have protracted the bout for quite a bit longer, had she continued battling with the flying dragons alongside her.
Priscilla: [Then, there must be a reason as to why they withdrew.]
Emilia: [A reason why they withdrew? What would that be?]
Priscilla: [Even I cannot discern everything. Perhaps, Madelyn received an order to withdraw due to the presence of the Cloud Dragon being discovered. Or…]
Emilia waited to see what Priscilla would say, her hand over her mouth as she pondered this.
After letting Emilia’s anticipation last for a few seconds, Priscilla directed her gaze towards the flying dragons moving away from them.
Priscilla: [――Did she find something that should take precedence over the orders of the Imperial Capital?]
――Priscilla’s reasoning would be revealed to be right or wrong, after the flock of flying dragons had made their absence.
The attack of the Flying Dragon General Madelyn Eschart, the leader of the flock of flying dragons, had left the city on the brink of ruin, with a large number of its inhabitants and defenders alike suffering injury.
Then came the arrival of the ice season, unprecedented within the Vollachian Empire, alongside the dreadful white light originating from the heavens that wrought destruction upon the entire city―― amidst this despair that made everyone believe the city would not escape doom, however, these threats suddenly disappeared. The city was rocked by this unforeseen, narrow escape from demise.
Even if they wished to rebuild, they would first have to ascertain the extent of the damage they had suffered, and whether the wounds could be healed. It would be a daunting and arduous task, akin to counting the drops of blood that had been spilled.
Before the survivors of the Fortress City commenced that, there was one fact that should be added to the list.
Madelyn Eschart, the Flying Dragon General, had retreated together with her flock of flying dragons.
Concurrent with her flying away from the Fortress City, accompanied by the flying dragons, two people also vanished.
――The merchant known as Flop O’Connell, and the girl named Rem, had both abruptly vanished.