“Who are you?” I yelled at her.
After clashing with her lance several times, we both retreated away from each other.
The opening exchange was simply to get an initial measure of our respective opponents.
Afterwards, I realized with a sinking feeling that I was at a disadvantage.
I wasn’t wearing my Skinsuit that amplified my strength during training sessions, and I had yet to unlock the Valkyrie Maiden sufficiently to summon its Skin-Regalia – a bodysuit like armor that far exceeded the capabilities of a Skinsuit.
In contrast, my opponent was clad in her Kavalier’s Skin-Regalia, and thereby possessed an advantage in strength over me.
This was a battle I wasn’t prepared for, but it was a battle I couldn’t avoid.
If I lost here, she would kill Desanto.
The question I wanted to know was why she wanted him dead.
The fact that the drone with Enforcer markings continued to watch from overhead, added to my worries.
Clearly it was watching and recording the battle, but for whose benefit?
I didn’t think this was something organized by the Prides or Primogens. Instead, I suspected a third party was involved. However, I discounted Crimson Crescent.
It just didn’t feel like this was orchestrated by Crimson Crescent.
Something about this scenario was too low budget for them.
If Crescent was involved, why not dispatch someone with a fully unlocked Artifact to kill Desanto? And why go about it this way? It just didn’t add up.
“Who are you?” I yelled at her again.
“Valkyrie! You’re a damn Valkyrie Meister!” she yelled back at me.
I shifted my stance to a sidelong defensive posture.
The lance she wielded presented a problem because it outreached my arm-blades.
Through my sensorium-field, I could sense the piercer-field wrapped around the lance’s arrow head. Beneath that field was a barrier-field – an Aegis-field – that protected the weapon from attack.
I too had summoned piercer-fields around both my three foot long arm-blades.
Because of this, when our weapons struck each other it was akin to two swords impacting edge to edge.
If I struck at her barrier-fields, then it was like hitting a sword against a shield.
“Why are you protecting him?” she yelled at me. “Why? Don’t you know who he is?”
I held back a frown. “Why wouldn’t I protect him? And who is he to you?”
“He is my vengeance. My revenge. For me and the others?”
With my mind overclocked, I pondered the situation a little more, and considered my options.
If I couldn’t win against her the girl, then could I drag out the battle long enough for the authorities to arrive? Had they noticed the battle taking place on the school’s rooftop? Were they coming? Surely they had to be on their way. But if so, then why was that drone still watching from overhead?
Standing some seven meters away, the girl’s face twisted in fury. “We have worked for this day for so long! You won’t stop me. You won’t deny me!”
“I have no idea why you’re trying to kill him. But my Guardian will be royally pissed if he dies. And you don’t want to see her angry—”
I leapt toward her.
“—because she’s a redhead!”
That was indeed true.
Arisa was a redhead, and ninety-nine point nine percent of the time she was calm, cool, and in control.
But that point one percent of the time was terrifying for anyone caught in the firing line.
And I didn’t want to be in that firing line.
With an Icarus-field emanating from the Valkyrie’s armored legs, my body accelerated from a standing start to a hundred kilometers an hour in a mere second.
Since I wasn’t wearing a Skinsuit or the Skin-Regalia, I relied on summoning a Hecaton-field to strengthen my limbs, wrapping it around my torso and arms to help protect me from the effect of the acceleration, as well as amplifying the power of the slash I delivered to the girl’s chest.
She responded in a hurry, bring up her lance to deflect my arm-blade while simultaneously sidestepping away from the line of my attack.
But I had closed the distance enough to bring my second arm-blade into play.
I pivoted my body as soon as my Valkyrie’s tapered feet touched ground.
Thrusting the arm-blade attached to my left arm’s gauntlet, I plunged it toward the girl like a rapier.
The blade struck the Aegis-field shielding her armored chest, and the field flashed emerald green as it was penetrated by my piercer-field.
A fraction of a second later, the blade scraped the scales of her Kavalier’s armor, furrowing and shattering them.
The girl darted back, and with a little distance between us, she regained her stance.
A moment later she was on the offensive, and I had to employ both arm-blades to fend off her thrusting lance.
Though she had reach on her side, I was finding that with both arm-blades moving in concert, I was able to avoid being stabbed by the lance’s arrow head.
But I was having to move extremely fast to keep up with her armored body.
The Hecaton-fields around my arms and torso could not fully compensate for the lack of a skinsuit or Skin-Regalia.
As a result, my concentration that should have been free to focus on attacking and defending, was divided with directing the Hecaton-fields.
For now, the process was manual, but I had been told by my Instructors that in time the Valkyrie would choose to support me.
It wasn’t that it couldn’t do so now.
It was simply that the intelligence within the Valkyrie’s Core chose not to.
That’s right. My Valkyrie was being difficult at a time when I truly needed its support.
Despite my using Brynhildr for seven months now, its reluctance to assist me was an indication that our bond was still weak.
And Brynhildr was judging me, gauging me, deciding for itself if I was worthy of its power.
In that case, I would demonstrate to it the extent of my talent, training, and determination.
I would allow my actions to speak for me.
I chose to be unconventional. Instead of parrying the girl’s swinging lance, I kicked it aside.
The blow I delivered with my armored left leg was much greater than she expected.
She lost her balance, and as she staggered to recover, I stepped in.
At close distance, I had the advantage.
Sword masters decry the use of two blades. In their opinion two blades don’t offer an advantage. It causes balance issues, and requires the wielder be ambidextrous with no preferred side. In other words, the wielder needed to move in a perfectly symmetrical manner where they favored neither their left or right side.
But I was using the arm-blades as swords, and as an extension of my fists.
And for the last six months I had been training to move fluidly such that I could employ both sides and both arms equally.
Thus when I attacked with the right blade, I protected with the left.
It wasn’t so much a sword dance, but a martial art employing my hands, forearms, and legs.
I punched at her, plunging the three foot blade extending from my right forearm.
The blade was angled so that it flowed over my right hand.
It struck the Aegis-field over her right breast, and emerald flashes sparked wildly as my blade’s piercer-field again penetrated through to her scaled armor.
Once again she darted aside, giving herself room to make use of the long lance.
I refused to give her the opportunity to bring the lance into play, and chased her down across the courtyard.
She skipped back repeatedly, somehow managing to avoid the worst my blades could deliver. But even when she managed to block one blade with her lance, the second would come close enough to inflict more damage on her Kavalier.
It wasn’t long before she was sporting dozens of narrow, short rents that revealed a second layer of metal scales.
Now that I was close to her, I realized the scales were shaped more like petals of gold and silver. When struck by the piercer-field flowing over my arm-blades, the petals would twist, buckle, or break apart. Yet I knew that against conventional ballistic weaponry, the Kavalier’s armor was close to impregnable. It could survive the explosive kinetic energy delivered by a tank shell, but if not complemented by an Aegis-field to absorb and redirect the energy, it was highly probable the Familiar within the Kavalier would be killed by the shell’s detonation.
It was a case of the armor surviving but not the wearer.
I continued punching her, stabbing her in the process, finding it more effective than slashing as it allowed me to block her lance while attacking her.
I mixed up my assault on her, bringing my armored legs into play.
Occasionally I was able to deliver a kick that forced her back, or struck hard enough to elicit a pained grunt out of her, but the downside was that it opened up the gap between us.
Pivoting on a tapered foot, I spun around, and delivered a kick with my other leg.
Actually, my leg armor didn’t have feet, but you get the gist of what I mean.
The piercer-field I had summoned around my outstretched foot, cut the air like a blade aiming for her throat.
While her neck wasn’t exposed to the elements, the armor protecting it was weakest, and there was a limited Aegis-field wrapped around it like a scarf.
Her reaction was surprisingly quick.
It was either the result of innate talent or exceptional training.
Jerking her head and torso back, she was able to avoid the piercer-field shimmering faintly over my armored foot.
The edge of the field missed her neck by mere inches.
Then my leg completed its swing, and I allowed its momentum to carry my body along with it.
I spun away from her, in the process briefly exposing my back that was unprotected save for a couple of overlapping Aegis-fields.
To dissuade her from charging in, I slashed with outstretched arms as I spun like a lethal top.
I succeeded in keeping her back, but having avoided both my kick and scything right blade, she used her lance to parry my left arm-blade as my body continued to spin.
The impact slowed me down, robbing me of momentum, and unsettling my balance for a moment.
Capitalizing on the sudden change in fortune, she moved quickly, plunging the lance toward me.
Overclocked, I felt my heart stop in fear as I momentarily imagined myself skewered by the lance.
In desperation, I simultaneously bent and twisted my body in an awkward manner, and narrowly avoided the weapon’s deadly arrow head, as the lance passed behind me with mere inches to spare, its piercer-field grazing the Aegis-field protecting my back.
With my body still wildly contorted in the shape of the letter S, I realized my left arm was free to move again, and I quickly flicked my forearm, whipping the attached arm-blade across the girl’s face. She had drawn in close to thrust the lance into me, so the piercer-field flowing over the tip of my arm-blade scrapped the Aegis-field protecting her face, making the air shimmer like emerald water.
She jerked her head aside, and kicked off the ground.
This gave me the opportunity I needed to recover my stance by quickly summoning an Icarus-field to propel my body away from her.
My tapered feet skated on air millimeters above the ground, and I came to a stop several meters away.
Turning quickly, I faced her with my arm-blades at the ready.
Thus far I’d done well to restrict her from making the most of her lance.
However, I was growing exhausted from the relentless pace of the battle, and little by little my movements were losing their edge.
I was in good physical condition, and with continued training my Familiar body would continue to improve, attaining a performance well beyond those of a Regular, and nearing that of an Aventis. But here and now, I was confronting this girl without a Skinsuit or the Valkyrie’s Skin-Regalia.
Even employing the Hecaton-fields to strengthen my body, and frequently summoning an Icarus-field to aid my mobility, wasn’t enough to slow down the rate at which I was burning through my stamina.
And I had one more regret.
I was without the Symbiote inside my body.
If I had taken up Arisa’s offer two days ago to drink her blood, the Symbiote would have grown inside my body now, and it would have boosted my physical abilities beyond those of an Aventis.
I pushed aside that regret, and focused on the girl with the Kavalier.
I needed to win this fight soon, but how was I to do that?
And why hadn’t anyone come to investigate?
Where was the Enforcer Division?
Where was Public Security?
Where the Hell were Arisa’s people?
To my surprise, the girl did not press the attack.
Instead, she stood her ground, and I saw that she was breathing quite heavily.
Had the strain of battle gotten to her as well?
As I’d mentioned already, she was fully clad in her Kavalier’s armor, so she definitely had a physical advantage over me. But seeing her huffing loudly, her shoulders heaving visibly with every breath she took, she was apparently more exhausted than I was.
It irked me to realize that if I’d been wearing my Skinsuit, I could have overwhelmed this girl by now.
Victory would have been mine.
I did deserve a pat on the back for wearing her out, though she showed little sign of going down.
“Why? Why…a Valkyrie?” she gasped between short heavy breaths. “Why do I need…to face a Valkyrie? Why now?”
I swallowed and caught my breath as well. “Are you going to tell me who you are? Why do you want Desanto dead?”
The girl raised her chin as she glared at me. “I will not be denied my vengeance.”
“What vengeance? What are you talking about? What has he done to you?”
“For my sister. For their sisters. I will end this now. I will kill him!”
I held my expression steady, foregoing a frown. “Your sister?”
I shot Amiella a look.
She had dragged Desanto to a corner of the courtyard, and held him tightly.
Stretching Brynhildr’s sensorium-field toward the pair, I sensed his life signs.
Though weak, he was still alive, and I also sensed the contents of the vial slowly spreading through him.
She did it! She injected him with Arisa’s blood!
Now all we could do was wait and hope that the test results had been true.
I had to hope that his compatibility with the Lanfear Symbiote was as high as the tests indicated.
But my job protecting him wasn’t over until I defeated this girl who continued to rail at me.
“You’re a Valkyrie Meister just like her. Just like that bitch.” Without preamble the girl shifted her stance and whirled her lance, cutting an elaborate pattern in the air before bringing it to bear in my direction. “But I will not be denied. Not after so long. Not after so much sacrifice—so much pain!”
Through the sensorium-field generated by the Valkyrie Amor, I sensed the lance’s piercer-field extend significantly in front of the arrow head.
The girl lowered her center of gravity. “I was chosen by them to wield this power—this power that they sacrificed to give me—that amongst us only I could use! And I will use it!”
An incredibly strong Aegis-field surrounded her body.
It was the equivalent of doubling up on her armor.
If she succeeded in striking me, I wouldn’t escape unharmed.
I grit my teeth.
*Brynhildr, if there’s ever a time I needed you, then this is it.
Shifting my stance, I prepared to meet her oncoming charge.
*Please, Brynhildr. Please, judge me worthy.
The girl too shifted the placement of her feet on the courtyard ground.
*Judge me worthy—AND LEND ME YOUR STRENGTH!
Opposite me, the girl suddenly shifted her stance. “They placed their trust in me—their hopes! I won’t let them down!”
She leapt across the courtyard but she didn’t charge at me.
She charged for Amiella who was cradling Desanto.
When we fought close by, Brynhildr had sensed Desanto’s weak life signs. In other words, he was still alive, so I assumed that Amiella had injected the vial into him. But Amiella’s efforts would be for naught if I didn’t stop the charging girl in the Kavalier.
I called up on the strongest Icarus-field the Valkyrie Armor could manifest, and pushed my overclocked awareness to a desperate, dangerous degree.
Time may have slowed down further in my mind, but my surroundings moved as quickly as before if not quicker as I summoned every last ounce of acceleration the Valkyrie Maiden could summon.
I soared low over the courtyard, wrapped in overlapping Aegis-fields, and propelled by a dense Icarus-field that made the air shimmer in the shape of wings behind me.
The girl wielding Kavalier had to have noticed me, though she continued charging toward Amiella and the wounded Desanto.
The girl screamed for the boy’s death.
Amiella screamed in terror.
And I belted out a war cry as I crashed into the Kavalier.
The Aegis-fields I’d layered around me flashed brightly, then shattered into emerald snowflakes.
But as soon one field broke apart, another was projected in its place to keep me safe.
Protected by the Valkyrie Maiden, I careened with the girl in the Kavalier into the courtyard fencing.
Ripping through it, we fell into the school grounds five stories below.
The impact cratered the ground, and though I was protected by the Aegis-fields wrapped around me, some of the energy released upon landing travelled through my body.
My brain jarred within my skull, but by some good fortune, I avoided blacking out.
Around me, the fencing that had been ripped away fell to the school grounds, and adding to the debris littering the air.
My arm-blades had flicked back to their retracted position.
I noticed this as I pushed myself up off the ground.
Aided by an Icarus-field, I stood up on my Valkyrie’s tapered feet.
Another Icarus-field stretching out from my armored legs that kept me standing upright.
Cries of panic filled the air as the students in the school’s central courtyard fled in a hurry.
I wasn’t sure if it was a blessing in disguise that we’d fallen into the school, instead of out onto the street.
And it was fortunate that we had landed on empty ground.
Sensing motion nearby that didn’t belong to a student, I quickly turned to see the girl in the Kavalier rise unsteadily to her feet with her lance in hand.
“Valkyrie Girl,” she hissed, and blood trickled out the corner of her mouth.
I stared at her in disbelief, then chided myself for thinking a five storey fall would have incapacitated her.
After all, she was wrapped in her Kavalier bodysuit.
So if I had survived the fall and remained conscious, there was no reason for her not to.
She staggered about several steps.
“I’m…I’m going to….I’m going to kill you!”
I started running toward her with the intention of delivering the mother of all kicks into her sternum.
With one kick, I would send her flying into the school building wall behind her.
I’d already torn away the rooftop courtyard fencing.
What difference was a hole in the wall going to make?
They could bill me. Rather, they could bill Arisa, though she would probably have to pay for the damages with her bottomless Black Credit Card.
Regardless, with this kick I was going to end this battle—before I ran out steam!
Unfortunately, the girl had other ideas.
Rearing her head and shoulders back, she screamed loudly in rage, just like a cartoon character or the final boss in a game just before they levelled up.
I skidded to a stop as black mist jetted out of the breach between Pocket and real-space taking place behind her.
In an instant she vanished from view, and my sensorium-field lost its fix on her as she was shielded by her Sarcophagus.
My heart pounded loudly, and fear warned me to get away.
Kicking off the ground, I leapt backwards, aided by an Icarus-field, and touched ground almost a hundred feet away.
The black mist continued to spread out over the central courtyard.
My heart continued drumming out a frenzied beat in my chest.
It was a beat I could do nothing about.
In truth, I was gripped in both panic and fear.
An incredible pressure was emanating from the breach.
It was like that killing intent that you read about in light-novels and manga.
It was so strong that it corrupted and distorted my sensorium-field.
And then I recognized if for what it was.
It was another sensorium-field gone wild – a field distorted by the unadulterated emotions radiating from the Familiar – from the Fragment’s Meister.
The girl with the Kavalier had flipped her lid.
In other words, she had gone ballistic – fully intercontinental – and her sensorium-field was acting like a medium for her rage, radiating it into the surroundings.
The breach warped the fabric of reality, making me feel nauseous for several heartbeats.
Then a loud boom trailed a shockwave that expanded like a giant donut.
With its epicenter at the point where the girl vanished, the donut of air blasted aside the black mist, clearing the courtyard in a heartbeat.
I braced against it, employing a Hecaton-field to anchor me to the ground, and an Icarus-field to push me into the shockwave.
Behind an Aegis-field that protected my body, I stared in the direction from whence the blast had originated…and my blood ran cold.
The girl was standing upright in Kavalier, but now a skirt of floating metal blades surrounded her in a semi-circle.
Her Kavalier had also upgraded, sporting armor such as golden-silver pauldrons that weren’t there before.
She looked much more like medieval knight in armor than she had a minute ago, and my blood ran cold as I realized that she had powered up, and I was screwed.
I was tired. I’d burnt through half my stamina.
I had no Symbiote to power me up inside.
I’d given away my chance to attain the Symbiote when I entrusted the vial of Arisa’s blood to Amiella. But I had no choice in the matter. Desanto had to be saved, and Arisa’s blood was the only thing that could do that.
But what about me?
Could I continue to fight her? What were my chances against her now?
Despair overwhelmed me, and my body began to tremble.
Giving way to fear, I stopped thinking rationally, and my subconscious took over.
Abruptly I wasn’t seeing the central courtyard or the girl in the upgraded Kavalier anymore.
I was seeing that street again.
I was back in that street – in that nightmare – smelling the stench of burnt composite metals and plastics in the air from the nearby burning cars.
I was six years old and I was helpless.
I was helpless.
Helpless to save her.
Helpless to save myself.
And striding toward me was a beautiful young woman with raven hair, clad in a blue and white Skin-Regalia.
In her right hand she hefted a weapon that resembled two broadswords joined at the pommel – a sword-spear – and behind her six glorious angel wings spread magnificently around her.
She smiled at me but it was a smile of pure hatred.
I was seeing it all over again.
I was experiencing that night all over again.
And I was going to die.
I was going to die.
I was going to die.
I was going...to die.
A scream ripped the air.
It was terrifying in its pureness.
Terrifying in its ferocity.
It was a scream that made the air tremble.
It was a scream that came from the darkness that haunted me since that night.
The young woman with the six angel wings charged at me.
And I leapt toward her with blades extended and my fangs out.
With a roar erupting past my throat, I slashed at the woman with all my strength.
My arm-blade met her sword-spear and I was flung back.
An instant later, Brynhildr answered my prayer and my world turned black as she swallowed me into her Sarcophagus.
I was still alive.
I simply couldn’t believe it.
The arrow-headed lance had come within feet of Caelum and I.
Then the girl in the golden armor had crashed into the girl with scaled armor.
In the blink of an eye they had careened into the fencing to my right.
Ripping through part of it, and uprooting the surrounding fencing, the pair of them had crashed out of sight.
But I felt the ground shake and heard the loud boom that roared through the air.
Slowly I swept my gaze and surveyed the destruction before me.
The courtyard was an ruins, and parts of the ground had collapsed into the floor below.
I didn’t know if anyone had been caught in the falling debris.
I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt.
But I was alive…and Caelum was alive too.
I knew this because all of a sudden he began convulsing in my arms.
It started as a shiver, but grew violent within seconds.
I yelled at him. I screamed at him. But he continued jerking about madly in my arms.
I had to use all my weight to keep him down and the pressure on my breasts was agonizing.
I screamed in pain, feeling as though his convulsions would rip my arms out of their shoulder sockets.
Yet I refused to let him go.
I would not let him go.
Realistically, the entire event lasted for minutes yet it felt like an hour.
Then it ended just as it started.
The convulsions eased away, and Caelum became very still, so still I couldn’t hear him breathe – so still I couldn’t feel his heart.
I shook him gently.
I shook him again, a little more forcefully this time.
“Caelum? Caelum, please wake up. Please wake up. Please wake up!”
I rocked him as I held onto him from behind.
I bowed my head, pressing my face into his right shoulder.
My eyes were squeezed shut, but they failed to hold back my tears.
They fell onto his shoulder and soaked his shirt.
“Please…even if you leave me…please…please be alive…please…even if we’re apart…as long as you’re alive…as long as you’re alive…please….God…please…don’t let him die….”
Something stroked my hair.
Startled, I jerked my head up and off his shoulder.
I realized it was a sudden breeze caused by the passage of two shadows that fell to the school’s central courtyard.
The ground trembled faintly and I heard two loud thumps resound in the air.
Not knowing what was happening, abandoned on the rooftop, I felt lost and alone.
It was too much for me to hold in and I began crying anew.
I froze, my breath caught in my lungs, and my tears were cut off like someone had closed the faucet with a single sharp turn.
“…jeezes…who’s crying now….”
I swallowed a couple of times, and then looked down to see Caelum looking up at me.
His face was pale as though drained of blood, and his lips looked faintly blue.
But his eyes were steady as he held my gaze.
“…who’s crying now…Celi….”
He closed his eyes, and I felt a shudder run through his body.
Then I felt his chest rise and fall with each slow breath that he took.
He was alive.
I didn’t know how, but Caelum was alive.
Shaking my head, I then lowered it to his shoulder.
It didn’t matter to me how he was alive, just as I didn’t care for what was in the container.
Closing my eyes, I listened to the slow beating of his heart.
At that time, in a corner of the rooftop, all that mattered to me was that Caelum was alive.
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