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Thread: [Quest] Lost Singularity - Fimbulwinter

  1. #1541
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    At first I was thinking of closing in on melee (but still playing it safe regarding Javier's firepower) because I was worried about Berserker unleashing that "spellstorm" again... But Sunny is right: he's now back on autopilot, doesn't seem to be casting any spells more complex than Instant Action, and seems much less agile.

    Maybe we could try to deliberately take advantage of the Irminist weakness that's been set up from the beginning (and re-emphasised in this post) through a write-in, like Sunny also suggested, but we don't know when - or even if - he'll go back to casting more complex spells again, so...

    For now, at least, I'll also vote for 3 and 2.
    Last edited by SpoonyViking; December 14th, 2023 at 07:24 PM.

  2. #1542
    Persona rajvir's Avatar
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    I was also considering physical, but Sunny is right, at this point unless we can target the caster I doubt anything we are doing is going to seriously stop his spell casting other than killing/stopping him entirely.

    Fire got countered pretty hard both this chapter and last, and it's main positive is that it would increase us back to optimal warmth at best.

    So I'll also go with Earth, and not push ourselves to our breaking point considering we are just restraining him.

    Vote is 3 and 2.

  3. #1543
    wwwww Spartacus's Avatar
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    I agree with Admiral Doctor Master General Sensei Sunny so 3 and 2

  4. #1544
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    Near the Port of Valparaíso
    Uttercold (-47°C/-52.6°F)




    (BGM)

    While everybody is involved in their own crises, a mythical battle unfolds by the shore of the Bay of Valparaíso. A clash of legendary beasts that should have never crossed paths, both of them endbringers in their own ways. Hound and serpent meet with primal ferocity, intent on nothing but the other’s end; the frozen Valparaíso the most bizarre stage for such an impossible theatre.

    It is unthinkable for a creature so large to move so quickly. The Bašmu cares not for logic or physics, and lunges like a gargantuan bolt of black and bile-green lightning, unbothered by the concrete, brick and metal it tramples through. The shopping mall adjacent to the city port is torn apart; razed to rubble by its massive bulk as it attempts to bite, swallow and crush its much smaller enemy. Maria will no longer be able to loot any chocolate. Shielder does some damage too, not caring about charging through walls and glass panels as he weaves and dodges the serpent’s immense maw.

    The hound of Hel is not deaf nor blind to the obvious absence of sword-sized arrows striking the Bašmu. He has no reason to complain—Archer at no point has ceased to be his enemy. If the Naga vanquisher intends to have him do all the work, that is his prerogative.

    Archer won’t win. He can’t win. Garmr will not let that happen.

    The hound bursts out of the collapsing mall to an open space. To his right, the toll booth controlling vehicular access to the port’s Prat dock. In front of him, frozen ocean and two ships also frozen at port: a white cruise ship and a cargo ship with a grey and blue hull. Garmr has no way to know the latter was Javier Lucero’s workplace until the day this city was captured by this raging Fimbulwinter.

    At first glance, there is no difference no matter where he runs. Then again, he is about done with running for now.

    A hard twist of his body gets him turning away from the sea and charging straight at the serpent surging out of the destroyed mall. It cannot react in time—the infinitesimal delay created by its charging through walls makes all the difference Shielder needs.

    Landing on the Bašmu’s face, Shielder growls before spearing through its left eye with his bare right hand. The other holds tight to the Bašmu’s small keratinous horn as the wounded serpent twists and sways in every direction, bringing down the toll booth before tumbling backwards into the AIEP building right next to the shopping mall; a once beautiful and colorful structure of glass panels instead of exterior walls, all long shattered by Maria’s Enuma Eliš. While the hound’s ears are filled with the gross sound of metal beams warped and bent by the serpent’s bulk, his eyes squint as countless fragments of shattered glass on the frozen ground reflect the austral aurora into a kaleidoscopic disorder. However, it is Garmr’s nose that suffers the most, suddenly assaulted by so many strong scents.

    The AIEP building was an educational institution, equipped with photography, chemistry, electrical and clinical simulation labs, among others. The Bašmu’s immense body plows through the building, but even before that, countless containers have already spilled so many substances that linger just enough to irritate the Hel hound’s sensitive sense of smell.

    It takes him almost a moment too much to realize his mistake.

    He jumps backwards, and he is like a rocket blasting off and away from the Bašmu as fast as he can, his speed second only to that of the other flying projectile striking the colossal serpent’s flank. An arrow that Garmr could not see—or smell—coming. It is, therefore, sheer survival instinct that saves him from being caught in the fiery blast that engulfs the serpent—a tremendous roaring fireball large enough to swallow a six-story building.

    The shockwave strikes Garmr in midair, and it feels like being rammed by a Maglev train, throwing his body northward across the Valparaíso port until he crashes on a wall of stacked cargo boxes. It is a vision of living billiards: Garmr’s body sends these metal containers scrambling in every direction and crashing with even more boxes, producing a calamitous threnody as they scatter all over the place.

    A single cargo container flies off as Garmr growls and punches his way out of a pile of wrecked metal. He idly throws away the Bašmu’s enormous eye still in his right hand while swaying his head from side to side to stretch his neck. He is unharmed—not even an attack of that magnitude or power can break through his [ruby=Gnipahellir]Hel Hound’s Inviolable Shelter[/spoiler]. If he had taken a direct hit from the arrow, though, it would’ve been a different story.

    Defense is not a problem, but he’s certainly lacking in the offense. This kind of highly mobile battle doesn’t suit him, but it’s hard to stand his ground against such a swift and massive creature.

    “Agh!” A dismissive sound loaded with frustration as the Hel hound charges forward, dashing all the way back as fast as he can. That was a direct hit from Archer, so the tide of battle should be tilted in his favor—

    The serpent emerges from the ruins of the AIEP building, its gullet swelling to an aberrant degree. Garmr is no strategist; he’ll just let instinct guide him through this obvious threat—

    A second arrow strikes the serpent. The impact manages to pierce the Bašmu’s hard scales, and the serpent deflates like a balloon, the wound releasing the stream of pressurized poison gas it was about to expel through its mouth.

    “Archer!” Garmr roars as loudly as he can, loud enough to be heard across the entire coast of the Bay of Valparaíso. Then he leaps with great power, his legs lifting him all the way to match the height of the Bašmu standing like a dazed cobra.

    A third arrow flies. This one targets the hound—rather, it flies to intercept the hound’s jumping arc. Shielder half-smirks, half-snarls, and the same hand that ripped out the Bašmu’s left eye now catches the arrow in flight, large enough to act as a longsword.

    The primordial serpent lunges at the flying hound, maw wide open to swallow him whole, and Garmr lets it happen. He roars the moment his feet touch the wet, slippery underside of the Bašmu’s mouth. Even after his free hand grabs the Bašmu’s tongue, Garmr’s posture remains rather unbalanced, but this in no way impedes him from plunging Archer’s sword-arrow up the roof of the serpent’s mouth.

    Shielder has to hold to dear life to not be swallowed, the serpent shaking and shuddering almost as if without control of its body. He roars, shaking the sword still buried in the serpent’s palate while pushing down with both legs, trying to force the Bašmu to open its mouth wide enough to let him jump out. What he gets instead is a strange, gurgling tremor that seems to expand from the depths of the giant serpent’s body all the way to Shielder’s feet.

    This is—!

    The stream of poisonous gas surges up the Bašmu‘s throat like a geyser. Shielder can only let go of the sword to allow the venomous breath weapon to push him out of the serpent’s mouth as it is expelled.

    It is agony.

    It is poison and vitriol, hatred and entropy.

    Shielder’s defenses do not protect him from something like this. He does not even feel his body striking the pavement of Valparaíso’s port, for every single inch of his body is consumed by the venom intent on unraveling his very form. Hound and serpent become mirrors of each other, both mythical beasts squirming and rolling the ground, unable to escape the agonies torturing them both. However, only one of them has vocal cords capable of screaming.

    Yet, even as yet another arrow strikes the serpent, sending it crashing down on the pavement, the hound’s screams rise into a howl of sheer fury, as if all pain had been channeled into utmost, feral, primal bloodlust.

    No windows break because there are no windows left to break.

    (BGM)

    The hound rises, his arms swelling grotesquely until they rip the sleeves of his clothes, becoming monstrous, beastly black limbs ending in vicious claws. Shielder roars again, as if he needs to roar to recenter himself through the soul-rending agony. He charges, and the fallen serpent still has it in itself to lunge at him, but Shielder just catches its snout and stops it cold in its tracks, his inhuman limbs swelling with grotesque musculature. Shielder feels the colossal creature shuddering and swelling again, so he leaps over the next stream of poisonous gas, landing on the Bašmu’s head to start mauling it with his terrible claws. He strikes again, again, and again, all the while roaring through the venomous agony wrecking his Saint Graph.

    The Bašmu shakes haphazardly; it is enough to make Shielder slip off its head. The hound has to admire the serpent’s persistence even after being to thoroughly mangled, but it lacks the time to do so as it has to catch it by its venom-dripping fang before it impales him. The sheer contact feels like his limbs have been set on fire, but Garmr is still roaring, pushing his body and his mind to ignore the searing torture to instead punch the serpent’s snout towards its own tail. The Bašmu hisses and coils, swaying uneasily, debilitated by its many wounds. This is the opening Shielder needs to leap with all its mythical might, his roar one of victory as he stomps the creature’s head, making it sink its fangs in its own body. He stomps over and over again, pushing the Bašmu’s head down every time it tries to end its self-impalement. More importantly, this renders the serpent denied of all movement.

    “Archer!”

    It is a needless call. The Servant of the Bow will not fail against an unmoving target of that size.

    Arrows almost as long as Shielder is tall strike the primordial beast, each one striking the exact same spot one after the other—a merciless pursuit of the serpent’s heart. Unable to do more than hiss futilely and shudder with every impact, it does not take long before the decisive blow strikes true, and its body begins to break apart into base spiritrons.

    There is no celebration.

    Garmr falls to his knees the moment he drops back to the ground, planting his knuckles on the pavement as he grits his teeth to deny himself any further show of weakness.

    Everything hurts.

    His entire body feels like it’s been set aflame. He cannot feel the chill of the frozen city, and the strong breeze from the ocean does nothing to soothe his pain. It is like acid in his veins and needles poking every single one of his cells.

    But this will not bring him down. This ache…is nothing.

    It cannot possibly compare to his eternal longing for the Master long absent. The Bašmu’s poison is pitiable, so much so the hound laughs darkly in the middle of the wrecked port, a contemptuous bark for the leashed primordial beast.

    He catches a scent, and quickly turns back to grab a wrist he cannot see.

    “Eh?” A disembodied feminine voice speaks in front of him. Even if he cannot see her, he can discern her shape flawlessly thanks to his prodigious nose.



    “How…?”

    There is no such thing as perfect stealth. Certainly not within the imperfect, degrading realm of magecraft. Most definitely not against the finest of hounds.

    “Leave,” Garmr growls a warning. “If you try anything else when I let go, I’ll kill you.”

    Such is the way of the hound. When one of the living dared set foot on Helheim, he would scare them into fleeing and chase them back the way they came from, but only so far. There was never any need to hasten their permanent entrance into his Master’s realm.

    He can smell the young human’s emotions: surprise, frustration, anger, and fear more than anything else. He then throws a pointed glance in another direction before releasing the invisible Maria Magdalena, who struggles to create words as she looks at her free wrist and back at the hound.

    Shielder stares straight at her, making it overly clear that he can perceive her just fine, no matter what she tries.

    “You, youuu...!”

    The hound can smell the girl’s tears—the shame and disgust that suddenly overpower any other emotion coming out of her. He cannot see her bite her lip and grit her teeth, nor her right hand squeezing the sharp-pointed icicle with which she earlier intended to stab him from behind.

    He can, however, hear the sound of her high-heeled shoes as she sneaks away, never rendering herself visible.

    “You should have killed her.”



    The powerfully tall Servant protests in a lackadaisical tone the moment he appears.

    “I thank you for not doing it yourself.”

    Indeed, it was Garmr’s silent request that stopped the ancient king from striking down the backstabbing girl.

    “She’ll be causing trouble to your friends now that you let her go.”

    Of course, Shielder knows this. That girl has only blood and hatred in her.

    “That…is not our problem anymore.”

    (BGM STOP)

    The petty conflicts of mages are to be resolved by mages. If Senta and the others cannot deal with the girl, then maybe they deserve whatever she does to them.

    Curiously enough, she probably would’ve had more luck pulling off a backstab on Archer, but he was sniping from spots she couldn’t reach safely or without being noticed.

    Archer grunts at the hound’s words, neither accepting nor refuting them. He takes the other Servant’s pale, haggard form, ravaged by the spawn of Tiamat’s venom.

    “So? What now?” he inquires of the hound.

    “Now?”

    Garmr turns to face Archer properly, six or so meters of open space separating them. Behind Archer, the ruins of the buildings in front of the city port. Behind Garmr, the frozen sea and the docked ships trapped in shackles of ice.

    “Now I kill you.”

    Archer chuckles at the beast’s audacity, but knows better than to underestimate him. Crossing arms in front of his massive chest, the Servant of the Bow renders himself kingly and mighty; a pillar of a man, unshakeable and unbreakable. Even in this stance bursting with confidence, he is a warrior ready to destroy the enemy in front of him.

    “Well, let us see how that works out for you.”


    *** ***


    A single gunshot echoes throughout the hills of Valparaíso.


    *** ***


    (BGM)

    The hound roars, and the world shakes, the very air vibrating to block an impossible barrage of brutally long arrows. Archer can only dismiss his bows and grit his teeth at the unbelievable sight, well aware that Garmr will charge faster than he can switch stances from archery to melee combat.

    Yet, to Archer’s surprise, even as he switches stances, the hound instead leaps away.

    He read my own read!?

    Garmr, who would be disadvantaged against the Servant of ranged combat, now gained the time Archer will need to re-switch stance and conjure bows and arrows yet again.

    But, why—

    Garmr has no ranged abilities. Putting distance between himself and Archer can only be disadvantageous to the beast of the netherworld.

    In the time it takes Archer to set himself up for ranged combat once again, the hound has reached the cruise ship docked and encroached by ocean ice, holding to its hull by punching through it. He roars as he very much rips the anchor’s chain off at the hole leading to the windlass, and displays his tremendous strength as he swings the massive chain with his sole free arm, very much aiming to smack Archer with it.

    THAT’s his answer to my arms!?

    Archer knows better than to test his arms against an anchor almost three times as large as he is, wielding by that monstrous beast of the end times. Sparks and concrete fly when the immense anchor strikes the ground where Archer stood just a moment ago. It is surprisingly hard to aim his hundreds of bows while Garmr is flailing and swinging his massive improvised weapon like a gigantic whip. Soon enough, however, it becomes Garmr’s turn to jump and weave his way out of Archer’s fusillade, many arrows spearing through the hulls of the docked ships behind him. Rather than a hound, he looks more a monkey, using the very holes created by Archer’s attacks to climb his way up the cruise ship’s hull.

    Archer realizes the threat of the anchor-whip made him go for sheer volume of attacks instead of properly aiming and corrects himself. To Archer’s surprise and wondrous amazement, Garmr reacts by using his makeshift weapon defensively, using the huge anchor as a highly effectively, highly mobile shield.

    Archer knows he’s not dealing with a tactical genius. This is the utmost expression of bestial instinct—a superlative danger sense matched with impeccable reaction time and a powerful body capable of keeping up with those instincts. Rather than a match between two warriors, he feels like a hunter aiming for the ultimate prey. The thought brings a smile to the ancient king’s face.

    Garmr reaches the deck and keeps climbing up the cruise ship’s many levels, dancing past the subsonic arrows tearing through air and metal with nary a change in their speed. Then, his powerful legs propel him high into the sky. Archer does not hesitate to seize the chance, the hound’s airborne trajectory easily to follow and to target, but that’s of course when Shielder throws the giant anchor straight at him, faster even than what Archer can achieve with his man-sized bows.

    The warrior-king grunts as he is showered by concrete and metal shrapnel even as he successfully dodges the sudden strike, but he knows it could’ve been a lot worse.

    Ice cracks, and steel groans. Archer watches in muted wonder as the impact of Garmr landing on the cruise ship’s bow is enough to make the gigantic vessel lean dangerously forward, its stern breaking through the frozen waters and rising above surface level. And it is when Archer sees the way Garmr is using the anchor now buried on the concrete floor of Valparaiso’s port to support himself as his feet push the ship’s bow further down, making the ocean colossus lean further and further, that he realizes the immensity of Shielder’s crazy plan.

    The anchor wasn’t enough, so you’re going for an even larger weapon!?



    *** ***


    Inside a Building Near Av. Errázuriz, Valparaíso



    “The fuck you waiting for!? Run!”

    Elisabeth does not quite hear Isolde screaming at her with Seigi Nomikata’s voice. The air around them is filled with the sounds of cracking ice and groaning metal coming from outside. The youngest Hexensoldat can only assume that the clash between Servants and the Divine Beast has escalated to a new fearsome stage.

    The British mage moves with measured agility that fails to match Isolde’s intense concentration and borderline desperation on Seigi’s face as they struggle to keep the man-beast that almost twice as large as Seigi from breaking his body with its bare hands. Focused as the werewolf is on destroying Seigi/Isolde, this is certainly Elisabeth’s chance to slip away. However, instinct she did not know she had until this very moment all but screams at her that this is a bad idea.

    She can feel it—the missing third werewolf is nearby, watching. Waiting for somebody, anybody, to make the wrong move. Running away and isolating herself will only make things easier for it. It is a paralyzing pressure that pins Elisabeth to the floor, like she is standing in the eye of a tornado and a single step will sweep her into inescapable doom.

    What is the right move? What can she do?

    The first one is to get her hands on a tool. Her eyes fall on the shattered guns dropped by the Werwölfe after her earlier miracle. The guns are destroyed and worthless, but…

    Finding the will and the drive to push her legs forward, Elisabeth scampers to the nearest fallen weapon, her gloved fingers moving clumsily, hampered by both cold and fear.

    A surprised grunt catches her attention. Seigi stands with the stairs behind him, and the werewolf has finally caught a hold of his winter garb. The lycanthrope all but lunges at the British mage, smothering him with its powerful body.

    “Got you, fucker!”

    The redhead bends backwards, meeting the werewolf’s lunge with a kick to his midsection. Seigi’s unstable posture actually aids him in throwing the larger man-beast over him and tumbling down the stairs.



    *** ***


    Parish Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Valparaíso



    “Yes!” Oliver Drake clenches a fist in restrained celebration at the sight of the conical Feuerball drone shaking erratically as it slowly and inexorably falls from the sky. Of course, that’s all he can afford. His entire body immediately turns in the opposite direction, facing northward towards the sea, where three hulking lycanthropes in black uniforms have already perked their heads up, staring straight at the church’s bell tower.

    “Fuck, fuck, fuck…!” The jeweler is torn between hiding and keeping his eyes on the werewolves’ movements. His urgency is such that he pays no attention to the unbelievable sight of a cruise ship’s stern rising out of the frozen port waters, the whole ship leaning forward towards a vertical position no sea vessel is ever supposed to take.

    The Fourth Reich supersoldiers resolve Oliver’s conundrum by closing in on the church like the hunters they are. Soon enough they disappear, hidden by the bulk of the church building. To Oliver’s dismay, this does not last nearly long enough; he cannot see the first werewolf adopting a horse stance, entwining its hands together to catapult its two companions all the way up to the church’s ceiling. He only sees the two werewolves reaching the rooftop with apparently little effort, and he shrieks in a most unmanly way before throwing himself down, the bell tower’s walls his only barrier against the hail of autofire that promptly follows.

    “Shit-shit-shiiit!” Even more cursing pours out of Oliver’s mouth as he crawls his way to the spiral stairway down the tower. It is a wise choice, as he soon hears a much closer hail of bullets striking the church bell and creating an awful cacophony. He jumps to his feet to run the rest of the way down, not having the time to worry about the third werewolf still outside at ground level. What is he supposed to do now that he has two of the men-beasts hot on his trail?


    *** ***





    Archer conjures a massive bow, grasping it with his sole pair of visible arms. Powerful muscles bulge and grow taut as he pulls an equally massive arrow, straining his weapon to the limit. If Garmr is going to stay there, pushing an entire cruise ship down with the sheer might of his body, Archer is not going to miss this chance. The arrow would be fearsome and lethal even without all its barely restrained magical energy, bursting with the very concept of ‘beast-slaying’.

    “Can you take this arrow, hound of Hel!?”

    Garmr pays no heed to the taunt, gripping the huge anchor chain with both hands while pushing the cruise ship’s bow down with both feet. The port of Valparaíso is filled with the groan of tons of steel forced to defy gravity, already inclined over forty-five degrees.

    The arrow flies, so fast no ordinary eyes would be able to see it. What Archer does see is that Garmr lets go of the chain just in time to catch the arrow. What Archer does see is how the arrow powers through Shielder’s grasp and strikes him right in the center of his chest, slamming him against the ship’s deck, a roaring shockwave pummeling both hound and ship together. What Archer does sees is how this thunderous impact makes the ship break at the bow; the force of his attack sinking Garmr inside the ship’s hull while the larger piece of the broken vessel leans forward until the stern is pointing straight up at the aurora-wreathed sky…and then even further, towards the frozen city, its frozen port, and a frozen Servant watching a colossal cruiser about to drop on his head.

    That crazy dog…!

    Hundreds of invisible arms conjure hundreds of invisible bows and arrows. The obvious strategy would be to get away, and that’s why he can’t allow himself to do that. He lets the barrage loose, set on destroying the ship before it crashes on him and on the city the Fourth Reich turned into a realm of cold and death. Whole chunks of hull fly off, striking the frozen ocean like metal meteorites, but then the falling ship shudders, and Archer knows he won’t make it in time.

    That accursed dog is pushing it from the other side…!


    *** ***




    (BGM)

    A hissing, bursting sound outside, on the church’s side wall, like somebody flinging oil into a stove’s open flame. Whatever it is, it grabs the attention of the two werewolves at the top of the bell tower, allowing Oliver to reach the bottom of the stairs and dart into the empty church chamber. He hears their footsteps on the rooftop, quickly followed by bursts of automatic gunfire in the direction of that explosive sound.

    Oliver doesn’t get the time to think about that when Sakura Edelfelt pops out of thin air, stumbling on her steps and dropping hard on her hands and knees, taking deep, labored breaths like a shipwrecked woman finally touching land.

    “Sa-Sakura!?” he calls out, his legs not quite obeying his mind’s wish to go check on the woman.

    “I got… a good blow…on one of them…!” she declares, her stiff smile betraying whatever strain she just went through to pull it off.

    “Where are the others!?” Oliver reminds himself to keep his voice low before demanding. “Why aren’t you leaving!?”

    “If the drone is down…no point in leaving…” Sakura states. “We can’t…lose them…”

    Oliver grits his teeth, well aware that she’s right. There is no outrunning or hiding from those things, not while carrying a recovering Alicia.

    The two hear footsteps on the rooftop above them. Will they go back to their original plan of chasing Oliver down the bell tower? Will they try something else? And what about…?

    “What if they go to the parish house?” Oliver wonders, his voice and face both clad in anguish at the thought of this hulking werewolves finding his wife.

    “Fiore—”

    That’s all Sakura manages to say before the entire world shakes.


    *** ***




    “Eat this, bitch!” Isolde (in the body of Seigi Nomikata) cackles triumphantly before throwing a black Nigredo –Kusanagi— at the werewolf halfway down the stairs. Its flight, enhanced and accelerated by wind magecraft, strikes fast and true, piercing the lycanthrope’s powerful body like a knife through butter.

    Impaled by the conceptual weapon, the werewolf futilely struggles to pull it out even as his body begins to break apart into inert dust; there is no pain because his pain receptors break apart before they can send signals to the brain. Satisfied by the cruel scene, Isolde glances at the inept woman seemingly incapable of following simple instructions. Elisabeth has collected bullets from the broken submachineguns, clasping them in her hands as if driven to prayer. Isolde does not need to be a genius to guess she is casting a spell.

    “Elisabeth, the guy’s dead already. Let’s get out of here.”

    The eyepatch-clad woman quickly shakes her head.

    “There’s still one—”

    Her words break into a shriek when the ceiling over her head shatters and rains debris on her, as a large figure drops right behind her. Elisabeth doesn’t need or want to see it, but Isolde gets a good view of the terrifying creature looming over the youngest of the Hexensoldaten.


    It is huge, noticeably larger than the others. Truly monstrous. The others managed to wear uniforms; the almost-grotesque musculature of this one long ago ripped whatever clothing it might have tried to wear.

    Elisabeth can’t do a thing. The werewolf effortlessly grabs her shoulder and spins her around to knock her out with a single, brutal, air-shaking punch to the gut. Half a dozen bullets clatter on the floor. Catching her inert form, the werewolf glances at Seigi as if silently challenging him before leaping through the very same hole it made.

    Whether Seigi Nomikata might or might not have done something had he been in control is anyone’s guess. Isolde was the one in control, and they could not move. The very simple instinct, the will and desire to stay alive, pinned Seigi’s legs to the floor.

    “…goddammit, Senta, how did you even…!” Isolde wheezes more than speaks, Seigi Nomikata’s most pathetic voice in a very long time. Perhaps realizing this, Isolde half-groans, half-roars and slaps their (Seigi’s) cheeks.

    “Fuck! We have to go after him!”

    Their hurried pace does not falter even when Seigi makes an internal inquiry.

    “Don’t you realize what’s going on!?” Isolde scolds the British mage. “Elisabeth is a Holy Grail! Even if some bullshit Human God or whatever stopped the wish the last time, she’s still a Grail! Set up the proper ritual and feed her with enough magical energy, and she can still perform as a wish granter! There’s no fucking way we can let that Werwolf deliver her to Hilde—”

    They almost trip and crash straight into the wall when the most terrible impact shakes the entire city.



    *** ***




    Character Status
    Health: Stable
    Sustenance: Stable
    Warmth: Optimal
    Stamina: Good
    Regression Level 3

    Magic circuits active.
    (BGM)

    I…shouldn’t be able to punch him like this.

    I shouldn’t be able to run around him after the most straightforward of charges and score a hit on the back of his head. I mean, Nazi piece of shit or whatever, this is supposed to be a goddamned Servant.

    The only thing that keeps me from just incinerating the bastard right away is his fucking scary magic; he just draws some random rune with his fingers and unpredictable bullshit happens. I just can’t stick close to him.

    What’s wrong with him? Why…can’t he keep up with me? His movements remain slow and clumsy, or rather, his reaction speed? It’s like…he just can’t react in time to things.

    All sorts of sounds echo throughout the city, especially whatever madness seems to be happening by the sea. I’m more interested in the fainter buzzing/zipping side of the approaching—whoa!

    I barely duck in time to dodge Wiligut’s backhand blow, and then leap away like a scared frog when he tries to thrust his glowing rune at my face. Everything changes all of a sudden: his stance, his poise, even the look on his face, although the last one might be just me seeing things.

    It all happened when the drone I left behind caught up to us.

    …I see. I think I get it.

    Brünnhilde is not directly possessing Wiligut this time. She’s controlling him remotely…and I don’t think she has access to his sensory input. She cannot see through his eyes or hear through his ears; that’s why he could not keep up with me. But now she can see and hear what’s going on through the drone. It’s like Wiligut is a videogame character she is controlling—not that I know shit about videogames. Feels like I lost a valuable chance, but there was no way for me to figure that out quickly enough.

    The problem is the stalemate of our fire-related powers. His black flame has no effect on me, but he also is pretty good at keeping my flame away from him. It turns things into a battle of attrition I’ll definitely lose. If I have a chance, it’s gotta be with Earth magic. Restrain him long enough to score a decisive blow.

    Something sparkles around his right hand, and then…


    …a wand—no, a cane? It doesn’t look like much, but…

    The drone doesn’t try its disruption waves or whatever—perhaps Brünnhilde has concluded they don’t work on me…or perhaps she’s prioritizing keeping the drone safe a distance away. It circulates around the battlefield, feeding the scene of mine and Wiligut’s standoff to wherever and however she is watching.

    …let’s go for a feint.

    I beckon a bead of flame to my left hand. Wiligut starts drawing runes of light out of the tip of his wand, far more slowly and deliberately than his frantic, hurried earlier rune castings. Is this a rule for using the wand, or is Brünnhilde just playing it more safely now?

    I make an act of aiming for the floating drone; let’s break your pace, Brünnhilde—now I quickly twist and fling the fireball at Berserker to make him switch to defense—

    Wiligut’s free hand conjures black flames that devour my own. I think he directs a derisive smile at me, silently mocking my attempt at a feint, but I should know better: there’s no expression on that face. He’s a doll, denied all ability to emote.

    …but he can double-cast spells now, it seems. Just great.

    A new stream of black flames lashes out; this time I remember I don’t need to dodge it. This is his feint; the flames are meant to hide the rune he’s drawing with his free hand, which becomes a whip of lightning that I must certainly have to dodge!

    The problem is that he just keeps drawing more and more tiny runes—he’s keeping me busy with his free hand while that wand is building up to something big; anybody could figure out that much!

    I dodge lashes of lightning and wind sickles, and my flames melt icicles and devour black flames. I feel like a trapped rat suffering a mad scientist’s sadistic experiments. I can’t get close, and I can’t do this forever. At the same time, however, I know I can take Brünnhilde by surprise with Earth magecraft, if only because I rarely use it.

    “Boring,” coldly declares a feminine voice out of the flying drone’s speaker. Wiligut’s index finger draws a cross and a letter ‘T’ next to it before pointing the finger at me like gun’s barrel. Something’s coming!

    I somehow manage to conjure a burst of flames to meet the wind arrow/bullet/spear that otherwise would’ve pierced through my chest. The resulting explosion blows me backwards, and I grunt as my ankles bear the effort to stay on my feet, but Wiligut is already right in front of me—holy fuck he’s fast now!

    His fist clad in black flames is gonna get me this time. That fist…I can’t…it’s gonna…



    My ankles give in, my body swaying down like a deflating doll—a move Brünnhilde could’ve ever predicted and thus cannot adjust for. Berserker’s fist strikes empty air, barely grazing the crown of my head. The same swaying motion lets me slide next to Berserker, my own flame-clad hand reaching for…the wand. I have to do something about that wand, but Brünnhilde is no idiot and she’s obviously not letting me get any close to it. Our hands wreathed in magical energy bat and slap at each other, neither unable to overpower the other. Perhaps inevitably, we end up with hands clasped together, locked in a simple contest of strength that goes nowhere.

    “What the fuck are you?”

    Brünnhilde has a good reason to complain. I think I get it, though; enough people have explained Servants to me.

    Berserker is not getting a power boost from Mad Enhancement. Furthermore, I…the way I’m moving…I’m using Sthūla-Śarīra. I engaged it unconsciously, without even the verbal incantation.

    Wiligut and I…are actually matched in strength right now.

    “So, how long you gonna stick to using Wiligut like a cheap toy?”

    Berserker suddenly switches from pushing to pulling, but any idiot could’ve seen that trick coming, and I use to pull to propel myself into a knee kick right to his chin. To his (or Brünnhilde’s) credit, he doesn’t let go of my hand, but unlike Berserker and his magic wand, I still have a free hand, so it’s not hard to flip him over my shoulder and slam him into the ground—or it would’ve been, except the asshole catches himself and falls on both feet.

    I kick his shin before he can straighten himself up, but he pulls me again as he loses his balance. He’s trying to turn this into a ground fight, which means I can’t let him! Spirits of Wallmapu, split the land for me!

    Berserker cannot move to pin me beneath him if the very pavement under his feet splits and he slips into the crevice. Even if I’m still stumbling and falling on top of him, I’m just gonna blast him point-blank with my strongest flame—


    “Gah!” I hear myself uttering an embarrassing sound as something meets my flame, pushing me backwards and away from Wiligut and making me fall on my butt.

    Fuck, what—what was that!?

    It’s…it feels colder than normal. It’s already fading away, but…

    I must look like a dumbass, plopped on the middle of the street with an outstretched hand. There’s…ice all around me, except in front of me, where I unleashed the flame.

    That was…

    “Look at what you made me waste, you piece of shit.”

    Wiligut is slowly rising out of the gap in the pavement, so I hurry back up as well. His wand…there are less runes floating around it. So Brünnhilde spent them to…

    That was the ice prison. The cage that even know still holds the majority of the people in this city. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he can pull off this kind of shit, but still.

    “As if I’ll be stopped by some nobody!”

    Berserker raises his free hand over him and starts doodling more runes. The wand is also working to replace the spent runes. So, should I go for another ground trap—


    *** ***


    (BGM)

    There is no way to properly describe thousands of tons of steel falling on a city. Adjectives such as “thunderous” or “disastrous” do not quite cut it. A first sky-rending impact like a flash of lightning, followed by the persistent rumbling of thunder that is the ship breaking apart even as it squashes several city blocks. Of course, for all its size, the ship is not large enough to harm much of the city past the vast port area, but the sheer intensity of the impact is such that the entire city seems to shudder and shake, as if attacked by one of the earthquakes it is so unfortunately familiar with. Concrete groans and breaks under the burden of impact and weight it was not designed to bear, and a thick cloud of dust rises to engulf Valparaíso’s coast.

    In a building dangerously nearby, Isolde in the body of Seigi Nomikata rushes down the stairs as they feel the walls around them shuddering and fine concrete dust rains on their face, adding to rising fears that the building will collapse on them.

    Inside the Church of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Oliver Drake and Sakura Edelfelt hold to each other until the sound of two bodies falling off the roof and hitting the ground catches their attention, just on the other side of the wall on which they’re leaning.

    A distance away, Fiore Forvedge is reminded of her earlier years as the trembling makes her legs fail her, and she falls on her butt right in front of the small side entrance to the parish house, where the third werewolf that never climbed to the church’s roof looms darkly, its bulky figure denying her any glimpse of the white world outside.

    Much further away, the puppet that is the (former? fallen?) Sovereign of the Fourth Reich looks down at a Javier Lucero who also lost his balance and fell on his butt once again when the city began to shake. The Feuerball showed Brünnhilde what was happening at the port, so she was ready for it. That’s the sole reason the body she is controlling stands, and Javier does not.

    “My only regret…” The cold voice of the eldest Hexensoldat comes out slightly roughened by the deficient quality of the drone’s speaker. Runes of glowing ether swirling around both Berserker’s wand and his free hand. “…is that I don’t get to kill you with my own two hands.”



    *** ***


    Summit of Cerro Colorado, Outside the Valparaíso Metropolitan Area



    (BGM)

    “Damn it…” Maria murmurs because she cannot really come up with anything else to say. The two women are very far away from the coast, but their elevated position atop the ziggurat gives them a privileged view of the absurdity the Herald of Fimbulwinter has unleashed.

    She tries to not think of the locals trapped inside ice prisons that might have been crushed by the fallen cruise ship. It proves impossible.

    “He’s turning the goddamned city into some Roland Emmerich bullshit.”

    “I think the freezing did that some days ago,” The Maid points out with heartless candidness.

    They have talked, this whole time. Rather, Enheduanna has done most of the talking, about her time in this world—about the Vril Society, about Maria Oršic, and the knot magecraft she developed in the hopes it would one day seal the dangerous Ghost Liner she brought into this world.

    “Could it have ever worked?” Maria asked.

    “Of course not,” admitted The Maid. “But I was not going to be the one who stopped her earnest effort, fruitless as it may have been.”

    Maria cannot avoid the conclusion that arises from the other woman’s words: Enheduanna had, and still has, a very positive opinion of her grandmother.

    “…you keep talking, but you’ve yet to ask my two questions,” Maria scolds. “What happened to my grandma, woman? And where is die Glöcke? The artificial Grail?”

    Enheduanna remains the epitome of serenity and grace. Her smile drips with what some would call compassion, others condescension.

    “The question you should consider, then, is why I still keep those answers from you.” She offers Maria only the barest of glances before setting her gaze on the distant coast. “Of course, it is neither of those questions that truly disturbs your thoughts right now.”

    Naturally, she is right. Maria’s most immediate concern right now is Ṣāltum. The eagerness, the urgency to fight the woman next to her that Maria was expecting, is just not there. Ṣāltum feels almost sheepish in her silence.

    “I take it you know what’s happening to Saver?”

    “Nothing is happening to the Dancer, girl,” responds Enheduanna. “It is merely what it is. Now, let us watch respectfully. Things will escalate further from this point.”



    *** ***


    Streets of Cerro San Juan de Dios, Valparaíso



    They were only half a block away from each other. If anything, once Ortrud decided to sneak out of the house where she was hiding, it was almost inevitable for Senta to see her. This is how they ended up back inside that same house, huddled together to weather the extreme cold together.

    “It’s like last night never ended~” teases a trembling Ortrud, looking even paler than usual.

    “Oh, fuck off,” retorts a Senta trembling even more, holding tightly to her elder Hexensoldat for much needed warmth. With their uniforms disabled by the Feuerbälle, it is only their natural physiology and their magic circuits providing inner heat to their bodies, and it is not enough. Not in this cold. It is unfortunate, but they could not find any thick winter garb in this house; at least nothing for weather harsher than Valparaíso’s mild winters.

    “This is…the lamest shit…” Ortrud muses. “We’re gonna freeze to death…without doing anything…”

    “Don’t say that…” Senta refutes. “For as long as can, we have to…we said we would…”

    They said they would deal with their eldest.

    “Ortrud, she…she was possessing him, but then…I, I think…she switched to a form of remote control…”

    The elder sister easily figures out why Senta is telling her this.

    “…she must be nearby…”

    They both find it hard to believe that Brünnhilde has the means to perform remote possession. If she wants to possess Berserker’s body again at some point—for example, after making Isolde heal it—, she needs to do that in person. It would be difficult to pull it off if she’s hiding on the other side of the city.

    “…underground?” Ortrud sounds almost hopeful; it would be a way to avoid the harsh windchill.

    “But…” Senta muses. “What if something changes up here…?”

    Ortrud can figure out what remains unsaid. Even if Brünnhilde is indeed underground, what if the circumstances change on the surface, forcing her to come out before they find her? They would have no way to find out.

    “…so, we go back to Javier?” Ortrud then proposes. Senta reveals her crooked smile at that.

    “Is that what we should do, or what we want to do…?”

    “Does it matter?” The older girl points out, and that’s the end of that. Being the physically stronger of the two, Ortrud pushes herself up first and helps Senta do the same. “Come on…it’s just a few blocks…”

    Holding close to each other and ignoring the eerie blue tint in their lips and fingertips, the two sisters lean on each other and set off. Towards love, and warmth. Hopefully, their bodies will not fail them too soon.

    “It’s fine…” Senta posits. “If my legs freeze, I’ll move them with magecraft.”

    “That…is the most morbid thing…you’ve ever said…”

    *** ***


    Parish Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Parish House Entrance




    (BGM)

    Fiore is seated on the ground, legs sprawled in front of her. She is on the very spot where the entrance hallway splits into a passage to the right (to the north) and one who continues straight westward. There is no room in her brain for minding the thunderous sounds of disaster from the coast. Her eyes are fixated on the large figure looming at the entrance. The werewolf in dark uniform looks almost gleeful to have stumbled on prey that cannot even run. Far more worrisome than the werewolf itself is the gun held lackadaisically in his right hand. When the werewolf begins to lift than hand, Fiore acts on instinct honed by magical prowess stirred awake by this crisis.

    The flash of steel. A brief burst of gunfire. Everybody in the building hears that: Alicia Drake and Ricardo Scherer in a nearby bedroom, as well as Oliver Drake and Sakura Edelfelt much further away in the church nave. They also hear two harmonizing screams of pain, one feminine and one outright feral. Everybody inside the building thus moves to converge in the same place, albeit at very different speeds.

    The fastest is of course the Jesuit priest who has been thoroughly aware of everybody’s movements this whole time. He just has to glance out the door towards the end of the hallway. His heart shrivels at the sight of Fiore on the floor. Her left arm limps lifelessly by her side, the thick winter jacket revealing only the bullet holes and the blood slipping out of the sleeve. Fiore is no longer screaming, powering through the pain with gritted teeth and tears pouring out of her eyes. She has very long copper wires wound around her fingers, their opposite ends disappearing around the corner towards the parish house’s entrance he cannot see. He can, however, very much hear the agonic howls of whatever lurks there; a song of pain seemingly directed by the wires’ swaying motions.

    Gasping out to keep herself from making any other noise, Fiore makes a gesture like pulling back her wounded left arm, which retracts the wires tied to that hand. This lets Father Scherer see that the opposite ends of those wires are tied to knives and forks of all things. The pain Fiore is inflicting on herself is obvious when she outstretches that same hand in the priest’s direction. At first glance it seems a plea for help, but then the cutlery flies off as if with a will of its own, pulling Fiore along like overexcited dogs dragging their hapless handler down the hallway. This proves providential, as it is only two seconds later that gunfire rains upon her former spot from the parish entrance around the corner.

    “I think I took one out,” Fiore says through gritted teeth. “At least two left.”

    “Fiore!” Sakura yells from the furthest end of the hallway, but Fiore finds no comfort in her arrival.

    “Take cover!” Father Scherer yells out in her stead while pulling the fallen Fiore into the bedroom. Sakura shows some real sharp instincts by promptly grabbing Oliver next to her and throwing themselves into the nearest room. Moments later, gunfire fills the hallway, trapping the group inside their respective rooms.

    “Miss Fiore!” a pale-looking Alicia kneels next to the wounded (ex-)mage, who immediately shushes her quiet. Through her pain, Fiore does not fail to notice Father Ricardo Scherer quietly placing himself between the two women and the door. She can guess he must not be too pleased about guns being fired in the house of the Lord, but…this is obviously about something else.

    She glances down at her wounded arm, the result of her failure at disarming the werewolf in time. She cannot forget that she’s rusty after years without casting a spell. She cannot presume she’ll be able to cast more spells through the pain.

    Her eyes happen to meet the priest’s for a moment. They are both all too aware of their situation. It is only a matter of time until the werewolves make the short walk to this room. That is the time they have to figure out a way to make it through this alive.

    (BGM STOP)



    *** ***


    Streets of Valparaíso, East of Bismarck Square


    I…my brain needs a moment to understand the sight before my eyes. What should have been the moment of my death…has become something else. What isn’t supposed to be there, is there, and thusly a whole new scene has taken shape. Somewhere in the distance towards the coast, buildings collapse and a cloud of dust and debris rises to the sky. Even now, the cracked pavement thrums and buildings shake.

    (BGM)

    A spike of ice protrudes out of Berserker’s chest. A spike of ice, and the hand holding it. A hand belonging to a person who wasn’t there a moment ago; or rather, she was, but nobody could have perceived her presence.



    “I’ve had enough. Of all of you. His life belongs to me, so get out of the way, pest.”

    The pieces of the ice prison that tried to encase me shatter into myriad pieces, which I then see twist and reshape into finger-sized razors that fly at and through Berserker’s body, lacerating and tearing through his body until he drops like a marionette whose strings were cut.

    There was…frightening, even surgical precision in those attacks. She went both for the muscles that allow the body to stand and all sorts of vital spots. In any case, Berserker now lies prone and inert; even if Brünnhilde can still control that body, it would be like trying to drive a remote-controlled toy car without wheels.

    And why the hell am I still sitting on my ass with Magda looming over me?

    After the detached coldness with which she dispatched Berserker, the way her expression softens when she looks down at me doesn’t quite sit well with me.

    “Javier.”

    “…Magda,” I reply as I rise on my feet. There’s somewhat of a tired smile on the woman’s face.

    “…estás bien alto.”

    Well, we hadn’t even touched puberty the last time we met. I’m not being chauvinist when I say it’s to be expected I’m taller than you now.

    “Nah, not really,” I quickly dismiss her assertion, remembering to switch to our native Spanish. “And you…”

    I can admit she has grown into a lovely woman. No big surprise there; say what you want about the Vyhmeisters, but they were certainly…genetically gifted, in lack of better words.

    “Well, too bad we’re meeting in these circumstances. How’re you dealing with this cold?”

    Her face contorts into the briefest of scowls for barely an instant, but quickly ease back into a content half-smile. Your mask is slipping, Magda.

    “Do not look down on me, Javier. This is nothing to me.”

    That…does seem to be the case. Perhaps her connection to water also grants her a degree of resistance to the cold beyond the heat generated by her circuits. Dunno, just speculating here.

    “Magda, where is Diego?”

    Her eyes…look almost clouded. What is she really looking at? Where is her mind at this moment? What…what is it that this girl truly wants, that pushed her to show up right here, right now?

    “I had to do it, Javier,” she says. Her voice…is not quite sad. I’m…not really sure what adjective to use to describe it.

    “I had to end it. Everybody is dead, Javier. The entire community…Diego killed them…”

    I…I’m not sure what to feel about that.

    It is certainly shocking and impactful, yes, but…I guess…I was never really close to anyone there, after all. It’s been so long, really, and I didn’t really leave in the best of terms, now that I can think back on it. What I did to Magda and Diego’s father…was a terrible accident, but that man was going to kill Liria.

    Aside from my parents, the only person in the Villarrica community who truly mattered to me was Lily. Still, those were my neighbors and classmates after all.

    “Why would he do something like that? What…happened after I left?”

    There is consternation on Magdalena’s face, as if she’s not getting the reaction she expected. She appears to need a moment to figure something out.

    “Oh, so you don’t even know…” And she looks like she is pitying me for whatever reason. What the actual hell? You sound almost disappointed.

    I let her approach me; I feel no hostility in her body language.

    “When I say ‘the entire community’, I mean everyone.”

    (BGM STOP)

    She takes my hand. Hers feels incredibly cold.

    “Javier, when was the last time you talked to your parents?”

    (BGM)

    I cannot begin to fathom the darkness in those words. The wind, the cold, the very world around me disappears. There is only a weight, a burden that clouds my senses, that drowns me, chokes me, asphyxiates me. There is no implication in her words, only a horribly, heart-wrenching reality.

    “Everybody knew you and your family moved to Concepción, so Diego went straight there after he was done at Villarrica.”

    She is still talking. Why is she still talking?

    “That’s why…I couldn’t, I couldn’t stop him, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I, I had to end it. I had to—I had to kill him, but…”

    I…I very rarely visited them once I left home at 16. Not once when I was penniless; not once while under Father Scherer’s care, and afterwards I spent my time in one ship or another; I didn’t have a permanent home they could visit, and I didn’t have fixed, long holidays to stop by their place. I can count the times we met in the last 10 years with a single hand.

    I…I simply…walked away. From them. They weren’t really part of my life anymore. They did not even know about my magecraft. And now…

    “Javier,” Magda leans closer, resting her forehead on my chest. “You’re all that’s left of the community. You and me. You…are everything I have left...”

    Why…? If this was about avenging their father, that doesn’t explain killing everybody at the community. So…what is it I’m not seeing…and why should I care…

    “Javier…” Magdalena lifts her head to look at me in silent supplication. It’s lovely and all, but…

    “Javier!”

    A fiercer voice reaches me from the side. It’s good to know she’s safe.



    “Javier, don’t listen to her!” Liria shouts while atop the rubble of a house. “That bitch—”

    “I know, Liria, I know,” I interrupt her, taking Maria Magdalena’s shoulders with gentle firmness and pushing her away.

    Magda is very much displeased with Liria’s appearance. That’s right, there is no need for deceptions.

    “Magda…why are you acting like a defenseless little girl after summoning that giant serpent?”

    “Javier, leave this bitch to me,” Liria reaches my side after a single leap. “Can you do something about Isolde and Ahrens? Even with Isolde’s healing magic, they’re gonna freeze to death at this rate…”

    Her voice drifts off for the same reason I’m not quite paying full attention to her words. I don’t need to say anything; I don’t need to explain myself. I walk down the street, leaving Liria and Magda behind to meet the two approaching figures hunched against each other, supporting themselves as they feebly try to approach us.

    Again, there’s nothing I can say; nothing I have to say. I just know the brimming conviction in my chest.

    I want to protect them. No, that just sounds wrong. They’re not frail glass dolls that need my gentle care. Rather than that, I just want them to be safe.



    “Javier…” Why do you sound almost ashamed, Senta?



    “Ahh…you caught us at a bad time, man…” Ortrud tries to keep things lighthearted despite looking like the cold is about to make her drop. Their faces are already caked with a layer of frost. “Fucking Feuerbälle broke our uniforms, so…”

    Say no more.

    I’ve never done this, and I have no guarantee it will work, but I just know. Right here, right now, it will work.

    I will make it work.

    The alternative is unacceptable.

    If the Flame doesn’t like it, it can suck it. This has nothing to do with its divine power. This is my magecraft.

    “Javier…?” Senta murmurs, seemingly concerned by my lack of speech. No need to worry, Senta. Just let me help you.

    Luminous Dress.”

    It doesn’t fail. It was not allowed to.

    “Ah…”

    “Hmm…” Unlike Senta’s simple and needless marvel, Ortrud’s brain switches to analytical mode. Well, she’s a theosophist, so she’d be more into dissecting this spell. Who knows, maybe soon enough she won’t need me to do this for her.

    The spell that I designed to isolate alchemical reagents becomes a raiment to protect them from the wind and the cold.

    “There, that should be enough—!”

    It’s a little embarrassing, but I guess I should be glad Senta can hug me like this without hesitation. The hesitant of the two might be Ortrud, who plants a kiss on the corner of my lips like one unsure of whether she should stick to the cheek or whether she is allowed to go all the way.

    “Javier, that one…” She is referring to the redhead she sees over my shoulder.

    “That’s Maria Magdalena. She and her brother killed my parents.” It stings to say it, but I cannot afford to stop to mourn them right now. Senta and Ortrud need to know that she is an enemy, and I…I’m a feeble man who feels utmost gratitude from the smallest gestures, such as Senta tightening her hug for a brief moment before letting go.

    Magda is saying something to Liria. We cannot hear it at a distance, but from the look on her face, it cannot be anything friendly—

    (BGM)

    It appears from out of nowhere—not really. It simply jumps from a nearby rooftop, landing on a low crouch in the middle of the street, closer to Magda and Liria than to myself.

    “A were—”

    “The alpha!” Senta interrupts her sister.

    “He’s got Elisabeth!” Ortrud then interjects, and that’s when I do notice the inert figure it is carrying with its immense, trunk-like right arm. The free hand then reaches for the other inert figure on the ground.

    “Wait, you didn’t kill him—!”

    Liria’s outcry is interrupted by the snow and ice all around us instantly sublimating into a cloud of thick white vapor that quickly expands to engulf the entire block. In an instant, my vision is filled with only white, but my arms quickly reach out and hold both Senta and Ortrud close to me. Aside from water vapor, the air is filled with Liria’s very colorful Spanish.

    “Aaaaaagh—andate a la rechucha, hija‘eputa! Te arranco la concha cuando ‘e vea, maraca culiá!

    I guess she got away, huh.

    “Magda can become invisible. We gotta be very careful.”

    “Got it,” Ortrud says promptly, moving to stand back-to-back with her sister.

    “Javier!” The lone girl a distance away calls out to us through the mist.

    “We’re right here, Liria; we haven’t moved!”

    “Magda’s gone invisible! The werewolf grabbed Berserker and jumped away! I’ve got familiars around, but that doesn’t help much in this mist!”

    “Liria, let’s stick close!”

    “No, Javier! Go help Isolde and Ahrens!”

    “But—”

    “Javier.”

    Senta, who had nested herself in my embrace, reluctantly pushes herself once again as she looks up at me.

    “Please. Help our sibling.”

    Liria appears from within the mist.

    Te juro que no la vuelvo a cagar,” she hisses more than speaks. There is real rage in her eyes. “I’ll take care of Magda, and I won’t let her hurt anyone else.”

    She points in the direction I remember she first appeared. The rubble of the house that almost, or perhaps did fall on her and on Isolde and Marco Ahrens.

    To this point, I still don’t know why Diego and Magda annihilated the entire community, including my parents who left it years ago. Logic suggests that, as the last survivors of the Villarrica community, Liria and I are also their final targets. But now Magda has also killed her brother.

    Why?

    Liria…I can tell you somehow know the answer. If I don’t get to hear it from Magda, I expect to hear it from you after all this is over.

    The only person I’m holding right now is Ortrud, so I hug her like I might never get another chance. My reward is the smallest of squeaks, and the look on Senta’s face that portrays a woman regretting her decisions.

    I hold Ortrud strongly, firmly, and very briefly, before taking off in the direction Liria indicated. I hope I didn’t hurt her, to be honest.



    *** ***


    (BGM)

    Why did I live? Rather, what was the purpose of everything?

    Why did I do the things I did? Why did I make the choices I made?

    It was all…for power.

    Power.

    Power…!

    Power without a purpose. Power for the sake of power.

    Because “I had to be the most powerful”.

    Nothing else made sense. Nothing else would feel right and proper.

    I had to be the strongest. Everything else descended from that.

    That is why I performed the correct austerities, and earned the blessings of the Trimurti.

    I was the son of a king. As a kshatriya, I was born to fight, and to rule. Thus, I ruled. But nobody taught me how to rule. I only knew I had to be the most powerful, so I…

    A good king builds a grand, prosperous capital, but I didn’t know how to build anything, so I just found the most beautiful city, conquered it, and made it my capital.

    I was called “a great king”. I was called “chakravartin”.

    I remember none of that. The only thing I remembered, the only thing that mattered, was Power. I proclaimed my power, flaunted my power, and punished all who challenged my power. I was the mightiest of all, uncontested through heaven and earth.

    Oh, how truly blissful it is, the life of a fool.



    *** ***


    (BGM)

    They have never stopped fighting. When the cruise ship fell upside down on the now-wrecked port of Valparaíso, Archer leapt into one of the gaps created by his many arrows and met Shielder inside the hull. He soon found himself at a disadvantage, his many arms obstructed by the narrow spaces that make a ship’s interior. Garmr manages to score a dozen punches and a few gashes before Archer powers through the metal and ripped apart a space large enough for him to move a bit more comfortably.

    “Hound!”

    A hundred hands grab Shielder, who pulls them so he can slam his knee on Archer’s face. The large man reels back, and the beast growls and lunges at his jugular, but Archer swats him away with at least two dozen backhands. Garmr just spins in midair to bounce off the wall and throw himself right back at the forest of arms. Shielder tries to bite, but there are enough arms to grab his body, pull his hair, and shove his head to the side. The Herald struggles, but this time Archer’s hold is firm, and he has arms to spare to ready a bow and arrow, aimed straight at Shielder’s heart.

    “Answer me, hound: why do you fight? Nothing that is happening here concerns you!”

    Garmr replies with a howl, the sound at point-blank reverberating inside Archer’s head even as it carries along the chill of the endtimes. A deathly frost quickly grows everywhere, caking the ship’s inner walls and Archer’s body both—a terrible cold heroes cannot ignore, for it is the harbinger of their doom.

    “I’m not here to chat!”

    Garmr rams Archer, the metal wall behind him creaking and bending and sinking under the force of the impact. When countless invisible arms attempt to catch him in a bearhug, he responds with an uppercut that dazes Archer and renders his limbs limp. The moment of inaction is what Garmr needs to grab Archer’s head, dragging it across the wall before slamming it down on the frost-caked ceiling with enough force to make the entire wrecked ship shake. Archer’s many invisible arms flail wildly and manage to shake Garmr off, and when the hound tries to charge back in, he finds himself tested by a one-man phalanx of hundreds of blade-like arrows. Archer becomes a walking field of death, hundreds of blades slicing through steel in their pursuit of their prey. The Herald finds himself unable to engage in melee, allowing Archer to summon a great bow in his two visible hands.

    The arrow pierces through the ship, opening a large hole on the side after Garmr barely dodges it. The hound flings a collapsed bunkbed at the warrior king, who just slices and dices the improvised projectile, and Garmr rushes right after it.

    Like that would ever work!

    Archer has arms to spare, ready to slash at the onrushing enemy, but he is not prepared for Garmr using the frosted ceiling-turned-floor to slip and slide under the incoming attacks. Archer steps away from the hound’s attempt at tripping him, and Shielder keeps sliding before somersaulting out of the room, disappearing into the narrow hallway.

    This time, however, Archer proves the more cunning one, taking into account Garmr’s speed to fire arrows through the walls. The first two miss, but they let him calibrate his mental calculations to score a proper blow into Garmr’s left flank. The hound whines and trips to the side, rolling until he crashes into the nearest wall, clutching the new wound with gritted teeth.

    Archer spits some blood out of his mouth as he steps into the hallway, bow already well aimed at the figure on the floor.

    “I guess I shouldn’t expect a dog to know anything about the way of the warrior.”

    The Herald scoffs. Archer does not fall for the show of contempt. Garmr has scored some good hits, but he has clearly taken the most damage, including the Bašmu’s venomous breath.

    “Men and women, warriors and mages, kings and slaves…”

    Garmr murmurs as he struggles to rise to his feet.

    “…when you stand in front of me, at the gates of Master’s realm…”

    Archer finds himself catching his own breath. It’s like all those wounds don’t matter. It’s like the venom coursing through his Saint Graph does not matter. The hound remains strong and unbroken. Mighty.

    “…you’re all the same.”

    Archer stares at the fearless hound with something akin to nostalgia, or perhaps admiration. Sighing to himself, he nods in acknowledgement of the facts. The one in front of him is no mere beast; Garmr is a symbol of eschaton, a creature that simply does not care for the world of mortals, nor their affairs. Archer realizes that even if Shielder revealed his reason to fight, he probably would not be able to understand it, or accept it. It might even make no sense to him.

    “…hmph. My apologies, Shielder,” he says. “I was too full of myself. That…seems to be a mistake I cannot stop making.”

    No matter how much I pretend, I cannot be anything else but what I am.

    Such is the static existence of a Ghost Liner.

    Archer fires his beast-killing arrow. Garmr parries it with a kick, making it crash on the floor-turned-ceiling above him. Archer has to close his eyes and protect himself from shrapnel, so he can only hear Shielder slip through the same hole he just created. Unable to tell in which direction the hound moved, he tries firing scattered shots through the floor-currently-ceiling, without success. Well aware that jumping through the same hole is asking for an ambush, Archer takes off to find a different path into the bowels of the ship.

    It becomes a masterclass in hit-and-run tactics; the narrow passages and small chambers in the ship’s depths under (currently over) the passengers’ rooms gifting Garmr with countless opportunities to attempt sneak attacks, to be countered by Archer’s sublime reflexes and combat instincts. His many arms remain a hindrance in the ship’s confined spaces, and Shielder thoroughly takes advantage of this, attacking whenever Archer gets stuck in places too narrow for his formidable bulk. Of course, Archer would not be a Heroic Spirit if tight spots were all it took to bring him down, and he deals as much as he takes, scoring glancing cuts here and there. The whole time, they ascend further and further, wrecking the ship’s innards on their way to the bottom of the ship’s hull now facing the sky.

    Expectedly, it is Archer’s arrows that open the holes allowing both Servants to see the sky again. The two stand on the blue keel, but only until Garmr leaps back to stand on the ship’s immense propeller.

    From his place, Archer can look at the hills, where the young iudex appointed by the native gods must be caught in his own battle for survival.

    …in the end, nothing ever changed.

    A sardonic smile creeps up his normally stony face.

    For all my power and prestige, I’ll never be more than a secondary character in another’s story.

    His gaze drops to look at his opponent again.

    “At this rate, we will be at this forever,” Archer posits. “I thought the venom would bring you down, but that is not going to happen any time soon, is it?”

    The great bow in his hands disappears, allowing him to cross his arms in front of his powerful chest.

    “How about we just end this now?”

    The Herald snorts.

    “About time.”

    Archer restrains his chuckle. As expected, the Herald cares not for the fight. It is simply what he must do to bring down an enemy.

    Perhaps…this was the opponent I deserved.

    The air around them rumbles quietly as magical energy begins to coalesce. The metal under their feet groans in complaint as it feels invisible forces bearing down on it.

    “Don’t worry, Senta,” Garmr murmurs very softly, to someone who cannot hear him. “I’ll just take a little bit from you.”

    Just enough to make his success inevitable.

    “Very well then…” Archer calls out, leaving the sentence unfinished for a bit. Garmr lowers his stance and narrows his gaze, silently readying himself for the final act of this pointless script. Nevertheless, he will succeed, and Archer will be slain. Not for his own sake, and not for Senta’s.

    Everything he’s done, he’s done for the sake of that one and only precious Master.



    “Let us make the world tremble, Herald of the End!”

    “Let’s just put an end to this.”



    Wise Up! (Archer, Shielder)

    Bow and Arrow Creation
    Rank: A+
    A Skill for designing and creating a bow and arrows.

    Having the ability to wield five hundred bows simultaneously implies the need for five hundred bows plus ammunition. The bows are extensions of his arms, and both bows and ammo the size of longswords can be conjured instantaneously using his magical energy. Even if one of his arms is chopped off, he will regenerate a new limb already holding a readied bow or arrow. Naturally, as a warrior king, he is equally skilled at wielding his arrows in melee.


    Hunda Bezt
    Rank: A
    The Skill of the exalted guardian beast, The Best of Hounds. It encompasses all elements expected of a hunting and guarding hound, elevated to the logical and supernatural maximum: muscle power, crepuscular vision, biting force, visual discrimination, motion detection, auditory frequency range, tactile sensitivity, and a sense of smell that deserves to be called “clairolfaction”, among other things. It results in a creature optimized for leaping, jumping and pursuit, both sprinting and endurance; a creature uniquely designed for capture and submission just as well as tearing its targets apart. Furthermore, it includes the greatest factors ensuring the evolutionary triumph of Canis lupus familiaris: a unique attunement to human behaviors, and their ability to understand and communicate with humans like no other species can.

    Long story short, he’s the best dog.

  5. #1545
    Flying Fairy Sunny's Avatar
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    Best dog. ;.;

    …Really feels funny to be Magda who didn’t even end up saying hi until Final Chapter.

    But things are starting to coalesce and does feel like it’s closer and closer to the ending…

    And Saver’s reaction to that is all the more hmm.

    Wah, more thoughts when I’m not stuck on phone at work, ideally. Eventually.

    But thank you for the big update!

    Signature by fumato
    Avatar by ootato470

  6. #1546
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    When ROAD ROLLER DA! just isn't enough, and you have to go even further beyond. XD
    Excessive memery aside, the fight between Garmr and Archer has been very intense and engaging, and I'm curious to see how it will end!
    Speaking of curiosity: sorry, but why did you go with "Hunda Bezt" instead of something like "Aedsta Hunda" (or "Aethsta", if you prefer)?

  7. #1547
    Persona rajvir's Avatar
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    A very interesting chapter, and it was fun to hear actual lyrics in Garmr, normally most of the music you recommend is purely instrumentals, but it did a good job further hyping up the fight.

    Magda really does interest me mostly in wondering what she would have been like if we had picked a different route, but I"m satisfied with basically just leaving her for the others at this point.

    I look forward to seeing just where we go from here.

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