The realm of Midgard is rife with legends and rumors which span from the Rune-Midgarts Kingdom and beyond. But the greatest of these tales is the fabled realm of Asgard, the seat of power for the Aesir who serve under the Allfather. Amidst this realm lies a temple – a hall more resplendent and glamourous than any individual had ever seen. This was Breidablik, the heavenly temple created by the God of Light, Baldr, and its beauty was said to have no equal.
Of course, that was what the legends made everyone believe.
The once proud temple had suffered great damage. Though its walls and edifices still bore some degree of majesty, its owner had long since passed, and a new host has taken up residence within Breidablik. Patrolling the perimeter of the temple were masked Gargoyles flying around with arrows nocked. The light from the sun shone through the temple windows, revealing a vast throne room deep within. A woman with dark skin, white hair, and long, pointed ears clad in garments of black and gold sat lazily upon a throne made from the statue of Baldr, her eyes slowly opening to reveal golden orbs as the light caressed her porcelain-smooth face. The touch was warm, but slightly irritating to the woman. And yet she could not help but feel a hint of amusement from this as she met the radiant star's gaze.
"Even in death, Your radiance still lingers, Baldr… I'd expect nothing less from one of the Aesir," she thought to herself. After a few long moments of waiting, she would hear the faint beating of wings approaching the temple. Then, from the corner of her eye did she see a winged silhouette zoom by; it circled the area once before landing just outside the entryway.
Disembarking from the creature was a young lady of cream-white skin in form-fitting violet-and-white robes. The end of her sleeves and sash were adorned with gold trim, and her outer coat was held together with three violet-golden clasps on her stomach which hugged her hourglass figure, as well as a violet collar with two buttons. A large, whitish-pink stole coiled her arms and levitated behind her head. She was a highly attractive woman with round glasses, deep, violet eyes and lips, with dark brown hair that was tied in twin ponytails in the back, and two bangs in the front which framed her exposed bosom.
A grin was made apparent on her face as she crossed the threshold into the temple, opening the doors to the great hall. Once she was about halfway, she stopped and dropped to a knee, bowing low before the Elf.
"My Mistress Zenobia!" she greeted, "It has been quite a while, I must say. You are looking as beautiful and deadly as ever!"
The Elven woman, apparently named Zenobia, simpered in response to her words. She stretched out a hand as the spectacled lady approached, planting soft kisses upon it as her cheek rested upon her free hand.
"As eloquent as ever, Arkana," Zenobia replied. "Your efforts have helped my sisters and me a great deal in gathering our forces for the rebellion. But you have taken considerably longer since last you reported…"
"Very little gets by you, Mistress Zenobia!" Arkana chuckled as she stepped away from the throne. "I have indeed been taking an extensive amount of time… analyzing the recent events in Midgard, and I have reason to believe that you may be quite pleased with the results!"
With a wave of her hand, Arkana summoned a portal which replayed images of various battles that she had observed. Zenobia arched a brow in slight curiosity, trying to figure out the significance behind these lowly Normans. "My scouts and spies have discovered that The War of Emperium has arrived in Midgard once more!" This made Zenobia sigh in response – clearly she was unamused by this news.
"You spent your time observing this?" the Dark Elf questioned. "Why should we concern ourselves with a bunch of lowlifes fighting over shiny, colored rocks?" Arkana straightened her glasses and smiled.
"I am glad you asked, Mistress Zenobia!" she answered. "This is not your average War of Emperium. This is the Emperium Frontier: a brand new event hosted by the Kafra Corporation! It is said to be the greatest spectacle to have ever graced their world!"
Zenobia rolled her eyes and groaned in frustration, her long fingernails tapping impatiently on the armrest. Arkana chuckled at the response as she then waved her arms again as the portal split into twelve smaller replicas, organized into three groups of four, and each portal revealed a different individual. Zenobia was now beginning to show interest as she slowly scanned them all from left to right. "These individuals are purportedly twelve of Rune-Midgarts's greatest champions due to their heretofore efforts in the Emperium Frontier," Arkana began, "and while I completely agree that this seemingly pointless squabble over colorful rocks is negligible, I am pleased to say that the resulting conflict has caused great disturbances to the environment! Monsters from all over have become more aggressive, and even powerful ones such as Amon Ra and Eddga have made appearances!"
"Hm… now we're getting somewhere," Zenobia mused. "Go on. I feel there is more."
"Indeed there is!" she exclaimed as she snapped her fingers. Ten of the twelve portals vanished in black smoke, leaving two – one of which revealed a High Wizard and the other, a golden Shinobi. "What is also intriguing is that these two boys are different from the others! While they may wear the uniforms of their respective jobs, I have reason to believe that they are from a land unlike Midgard!"
"So these two boys are demigods? Or perhaps they are from another realm…?" Zenobia pondered. "Muspelheim…? Jotunheim…? No… They are no giantborn. Perhaps even Valhalla…?"
"Good guesses all the same, Mistress Zenobia," Arkana stated, "but it would be more accurate to say that they are from another universe entirely, and as such, harbor strength never before seen by anyone, Norman, Giant, Asgardian, or otherwise! This is Thiji Higuri, High Wizard Strategist, and Raien Kotetsu, a Ninja of Lightning. They serve the White Trinity guild and are now based in Juno!"
"Thiji and Raien…" the Dark Elf repeated. Upon mention of the City of Sages, Zenobia's eyes widened. "The City of Sages…? This contest has taken them to Schwarzwald? Why is this?"
"The Emperium Stones seem to give off some strange energy which is the source behind the recent monster attacks, and as they continue their competition, they only increase in severity," Arkana explained. Zenobia, seemingly pleased by her subordinate's findings and what they may infer, stood up from her throne and walked several paces behind Arkana, whose head was bowed low.
"These two boys may serve as the lynchpin to our efforts. Though the conflict between these three guilds may also give us an opportunity. Arkana, I give you full leave of this mission. Do whatever yourself and your spy network must to accelerate our plans, but do not kill them unless absolutely necessary. Soon, our Goddess will return, and the reckoning we have so longed for will finally be upon them. The Queen of the Valkyries shall be avenged for the wrongdoings of the Aesir!" Zenobia declared.
Arkana grinned as she rose her head, turning on her heel to exit the premises as she thanked her servitor for her blessings. The roar of the wyvern echoed through the temple, followed by the beating of wings until all was quiet. Once she was by her lonesome, Zenobia glared at the portraits of Thiji and Raien, now fully intrigued and invested in learning more about these two extraordinary gentlemen.
Within the City of Sages, the sun was just beginning to rise, and the first rays of light welcomed the airborne city and the Schwarzwald Republic at large – dawn had arrived. Docked upon Solomon, Northern Island of Glory, was the vessel which carried the deadly Battle Vixens across the heavens – the War Star. Upon the ship's bow, a green-haired Elven girl leaned against the rail, staring silently into the limitless expanse of blue and white before her, emerald locks billowing in the wind. A falcon swooped out and dove into the clouds repeatedly, getting a feel of its new environs.
Elua, Elven Sniper of the wind, had risen early to get her fresh air with Mukuhawk, her trusted companion. She heaved a long sigh as she watched the clouds fly by, seeming to exhibit feelings of longing.
From below decks, Heal-Do slowly approached her pensive older sister, wondering what was troubling Elua. As she approached, Heal-Do laid a hand upon her shoulder and gave Elua a light smile. The Sniper responded with a half-hearted one of her own, not even trying to hide her emotions. So, Heal-Do pressed the issue.
"Good Morning, Elua," she greeted. "What's the matter? We're here in Juno, ready to take on the Frontier, and we're high above the clouds, with the wind at our backs and the freedom it brings!"
"I know, I know…" Elua groaned. "I'm as eager as Lupi and Aege are to get this contest back on track, but… I miss home. It's only been, like, a week since we got here, but I'm already missing Amatsu and Payon…"
"Payon…" Heal-Do pondered. "Yes, where you learned to become an Archer, right?"
"Yup!" Elua confirmed, keeping her eyes on her avian friend. "So many years ago, when we were much younger and we were spread out across Rune-Midgarts to train, I was in the forest city, learning the ways of the wild. The undead rose from deep within the Payon Caves and were on the verge of terrorizing the city proper, were it not for its first line of defense: the Archer Village."
Elua closed her eyes and retreated into the confines of her mind, thinking back to the event of which she spoke. She recalled massive hordes of skeletons, zombies, and other undead denizens emerging from the caverns, and the many members of the Archer Association mobilizing to combat the threat. Amongst their number was a young Elua, seemingly 10 or 11, just graduated and was taking her first steps as an Archer. "When the uprising happened, I was so ready to help defend the city, but because I was still green, I was advised to stay back. Were it not for Cecil, I wouldn't have seen my first battle. She pleaded that I was just as able to defend Payon as anyone else in the Archer Association, and when she spoke on my behalf, they didn't oppose her."
"Cecil?" Heal-Do questioned. "I'm not sure who that is, sister."
"Cecil?!" Elua exclaimed, now straightening herself. "Cecil Damon?! The Hero of Payon?! She was the savior of the city during the uprising! She was kind of like my mentor, too, and introduced me to Mukuhawk! Though I didn't really have the skills to tame a falcon at the time, Cecil was able to vouch for me! She saw potential in my abilities as an Archer, and stood by my side while we took care of the undead menace alongside our brothers and sisters! I owe so much to her…"
Mukuhawk swooped in and stood on the railing beside Elua. He bowed his head to the Sniper as she petted him, and gave her companion a kiss on the cheek. Heal-Do could not help but give a smile of her own as she witnessed the strong bond formed between Elua and her falcon. After a while of praising her companion, Elua had an epiphany. "That's it!" she cried. It shocked Mukuhawk so that he fell off the railing and down into the clouds for a brief moment before catching himself and flying back to the ship.
"What's it, Elua?" Heal-Do asked.
"Cecil Damon should know about the Emperium Frontier at this point!" the Sniper explained. "If I can find her, then maybe she'll know where the next facility will be!"
"But we're far away from Rune-Midgarts. That would take all morning if not longer to even fly back to Izlude," Heal-Do deducted. "And teleporting there from here isn't possible either since we're in an entirely different country…"
Elua grumbled in annoyance at her younger sister's logic, banging her fist against the railing. As they continued their contemplation, the two older sisters would make their appearance from below decks. Lupi, conscious of her image as ever, was brushing her hair while Aege was polishing her axe…
Aege: Hey, sisters. Getting some fresh air?
Heal-Do: A little. I was just talking to Elua about the Frontier.
Lupi: Find out anything?
Heal-Do: She thinks she can figure out where the next installation will be if she goes back to Payon.
Aege: That's awfully far, though!
Lupi: Yeah, you're right… How'd you figure this out, Elua?
Elua: Cecil Damon, an old friend of mine and mentor! An adventurer as famous as her would definitely have some knowledge about the Frontier at this point!
Lupi: You expect to fly all the way back there?
Elua: I thought about that, but that'd take hours... Wait! What about the Emperium Jungle?
The Lord Knight shuddered at the mention of that battlefield.
Lupi: Why would you even dare to mention that mucky place?
Aege: Elua's got a point. Even though we didn't actually win it, White Trinity stole its stone and traded it with the Sapphire Emperium.
Lupi: That does make sense, regrettably.
Heal-Do: But those energy signatures – it makes teleportation to those places impossible! The Kafra Corporation said so!
Aege: Oh, hell, Baby Sister's right…
Elua groaned again in frustration as Mukuhawk attempted to calm her down with a soft wing to her shoulder. Lupi, eager to get back in the fight as ever, stopped brushing her hair to turn to Elua.
Lupi: Think, girl! Your Cecil friend can't just be the only one. Someone else has to have ties to her!
The Elven Sniper thought long and hard, pacing the deck as she tried to recall anyone or anything that may provide an answer to her dilemma. After a short while, she finally had something, which made her smile.
Elua: Yes! Of course! The Guildmaster! He knows for sure!
Aege: There you go!
Elua: Yeah, the Guildmaster of the Archer Association should know everything! He, like Cecil, is actually a Hunter, but he chose to stay behind to oversee new recruits while the Hunter Guild migrated away from the Archer Village!
Lupi: All right, now we're getting somewhere. Did your master say anything about where the Hunter Guild went?
Elua: Um… I think I remember him saying that the Hunter Guild went "somewhere far to the north".
Heal-Do: If that is what he said, then surely the guild is here somewhere in Schwarzwald!
Elua: You think so?!
Heal-Do: I'm sure of it! If the Rune-Midgarts Kingdom is to the south, then going north past Mt. Mjolnir would take you to this country!
Elua squealed with delight and jumped with joy as she and her sisters were able to piece together the puzzle. Lupi simply cracked a smile as she patted Elua on the back.
Lupi: Good work, Elua. So now we just have to figure out where this place "far to the north" actually is.
Aege: But who would even know of, let alone tell us, of such a place…?
?: Perhaps I can be of assistance, ladies!
Enter the blonde Zonda Corp. representative, Maximillian, approaching the deck of the War Star with a warm grin.
The Island of Intelligence known as Snotora made up Juno's eastern portion, and is where the Odin's Will had made its perch. The elite of the Holy Saviors utilize this vessel as their home away from home. The guild's emblem was displayed proudly upon its sails and hull, and the holy symbol of the Allfather formed the figurehead on the ship's bow.
Within the lower decks of the vessel, Youmei and Tsubaki flanked a statue of Odin, meditating silently. Momiji would join them, but she usually did not commence with any communion without her twin sister. She was pacing the floor for a few moments until the Paladin and the Dark Priestess broke their concentration…
Youmei: Momiji, are you well? You must calm your nerves before your patrol.
Momiji: I know, Sister Youmei… It's just not like Botan to miss out! This is an important part of our daily routine, after all!
Tsubaki: She is right… This isn't very becoming of her. I will seek out Botan. Momiji, stay here with Youmei.
Momiji: Yes, Lady Tsubaki. Thank you!
Youmei, grinning: Spoken like a true mother figure.
Tsubaki, with a scoff: Don't you start, Paladin…
Youmei stifled a laugh as Tsubaki ascended the stairs to the main deck. Scanning the area for a moment she noticed a Priestess in red robes gazing out into the heavens at the ship's port bow. She seemed distressed about something, but what, she was yet unsure. Approaching her ally, Tsubaki gave a small grin to the Priestess – it was none other than Botan. Botan sensed the nearby presence of her ally and gave a halfhearted smile in response.
"Botan," Tsubaki said, "your sisters are waiting for you below. Did you oversleep?"
"No, Lady Tsubaki," she quietly replied. The Witch placed a hand to her hip and sighed.
"Botan, you need not give me such titles," Tsubaki commented in a soft voice. "I am a sister of the Church of Odin as anyone else. Just 'Tsubaki' will do." Botan's smile grew wider, honored to be acknowledged by her as an equal. "Now come. What troubles your mind? Speak to me."
She was reticent at first, but if there was anything Botan knew about Tsubaki, it's that she genuinely cares for her and her twin a great deal. Botan turned to the Witch with hands folded and nodded her head.
"I've… I've been having visions since before we came here," Botan stated. "I did not mind them as much, but now they've been affecting me in a way I can't explain. Momiji has always been the more gifted in the more supportive aspect of priesthood, while I made up for it offensively."
"Visions…?" Tsubaki pondered. "Perhaps you are seeking the ways of the Witch as well? If you wish, I can train you in secret –"
"No, no!" refused Botan with a shake of her head. "I don't think it's those type of visions… they're more like… spirits. Souls of warriors from long ago, approaching me and… lending me their strength. They are telling me something, but I do not know what…"
Tsubaki wrapped an arm around Botan's shoulder and smiled. Her warmth was like that of a mother's to her, and she rested her head on her bosom.
"Botan…" the Witch whispered. "Odin works in mysterious ways. Perhaps this is an omen for you – one that will grant you powers unique to any the Holy Saviors have wielded. Do not despair; do not stress. Reflect on these visions, and the answer will come to you in time. I am sure of it."
Botan beamed and hugged Tsubaki, returning her embrace. Back at the staircase leading down to the lower decks was Youmei and Momiji, eavesdropping on the two.
"I knew Tsubaki had a soft spot for you two…" the Paladin sighed as she placed a hand to her heart. "She truly is like a mother figure."
"I agree!" affirmed Momiji. "It suits her quite well, I should say!"
Tsubaki beckoned her fellow Savior back down stairs to join the rest in their meditation, which startled the two at the staircase that they hurriedly made their descent to avoid detection. Unfortunately, Momiji – ever the ditz - slipped on one of the steps and fell to the floor with a loud thud, alerting Tsubaki and Botan.
"Momiji…! Have a little more grace, girl!" Youmei quietly scolded. Momiji's twin gasped and hurried to her side to address her wounds as Tsubaki groaned to herself, following close behind.
"Is nothing ever sacred anymore…?" the Witch said in her mind.
Mineta, Central Island of Prosperity. Within this section of Juno docked the Shining Heart, White Trinity's vessel. The guild's elite had returned the day after their exploration through Juperos, traversing the El Mes Plateau to make the journey back to the City of Sages, each of the men carrying a strange device they recovered from their most recent battle.
Once they had safely returned aboard their airship, White Trinity immediately went to the bridge to contact the Kafra Corp. on their recent quest…
Nora: Wow! So Juperos was where he was hidin' this entire time!
Scarlett: And to think that mechanical behemoth was all that remained of Vesper Newton. A tragic end. If nothing else, I hope that he at least finds peace. Thank you for reporting this to us, White Trinity.
Ray: Don't mention it, ladies! It was a good start to knowing how things work in this new country!
Raien: Of course we had things under control, but thanks for coming in the clutch, brother!
Lee: Yeah – those Yggdrasil berries were just what we needed to fight off Vesper!
Thiji: You're welcome. Though my arrival was thanks in no small part to our ever-dependable Kafra Corporation.
Scarlett: You flatter us, Mister Thiji. Which reminds me: the items you obtained from the remains of Vesper – may we see them?
White Trinity nodded and each of them flash a small item resembling an ornate bolt held together by a cog. It appeared large enough to fit around one's forearm. Along the side reads the word "Core", with the Roman numeral for one, two, three, and four.
Scarlett: Hm… I would suggest trying one of them on. Vesper won't miss them, I'm sure.
Ray: All right – I'll go ahead and try it. Let's see…
Inspecting it for a moment, the Gun-Knight slipped it onto his left forearm – a snug fit. A moment of silence would settle in before the gear activated and "fastened" itself onto Ray's forearm. A robotic male voice would then say, "VESPER CORE 01 ACTIVATED. CLARITY AUGMENT: ENGAGED."
Everyone gave out surprised gasps at the voice while Ray would suddenly feel his mind clearing. Thiji would follow suit, placing the core around his left forearm. The same voice would speak: "VESPER CORE 02 ACTIVATED. STRENGTH AUGMENT: ENGAGED."
Thiji: Well, I feel I could lift mountains… Lee?
The Champion equipped his own core. "VESPER CORE 03 ACTIVATED. ALACRITY AUGMENT: ENGAGED."
Lee: Nice! I'm feeling lighter than air!
Last was Raien's. "VESPER CORE 04 ACTIVATED. ACUITY AUGMENT: ENGAGED."
Raien: Holy crap! My vision's so good I can see into the future!
Nora: Well, I'll be! They're like accessories! So, the first core's good for spellcasters; the second one's for melee; third is speed; and the fourth is accuracy!
Scarlett: Truly an excellent find! These should suit you quite well in the battles to come!
Ray: As awesome as this feels, I'm giving this to you, Thiji.
Thiji: Fair. Lee will take the strength one.
Raien: I'll give this one to Ray, then. It'll help with his shooting.
Ray: Eh, it could work for either of us, but yeah, using firearms isn't as easy as it looks.
Lee: Which means Raien will take the speed core!
Raien: Sounds good.
After each tried out their Vesper Cores, White Trinity deactivated them and turned back to Nora and Scarlett on-screen.
Scarlett: While you four are busy getting acclimated to Schwarzwald – Miss Nora, anything to report from your Krew?
Nora: Not much, Scar. We're doin' what we can to figure out where the next facility's gonna be. With the energy signatures getting' stronger, it's makin' things difficult!
Scarlett: Hm… as I thought. White Trinity, keep an eye out. There's no telling where the next battle may take you.
Ray: All right! If we find out anything, we'll let you know!
Scarlett, with a wink: We appreciate it. In the meantime, the Schwarzwald Branch has an important meeting in Lighthalzen to attend. I may not be able to contact you until later this evening.
Thiji: I am certain Kafra Nora will relay any information we give her your way. Thanks again for your aid, Kafra Scarlett.
Scarlett: Anytime, boys. See you soon, and thank you for choosing the Kafra Corporation!
With another wink, Scarlett closed the transmission, leaving Nora alone with White Trinity. She gave a bow to them before closing her end as well.
Raien: Well, quest complete. Now what?
Ray: We just got back, so I say we rest for a bit; see the sights.
Lee: Sounds good. Thiji, you?
Thiji: As Ray said, I'll rest. In case something happens, we can get back to the Shining Heart and head out to wherever.
Ray: Thinking ahead, as always. Suit yourself! Let's head out, gentlemen!
The High Wizard remained on the bridge, waving farewell to his brother and companions as they made their way into the city. As he sat in his chair, he had contemplated over the possibility of returning to Rune-Midgarts as that was the country which housed their means of entering this world. Though it was definitely feasible, the events that will unfold would prove too great to spurn their attention.
Meanwhile, in the outskirts of the El Mes Plateau, the landscape was rife with rolling hills and fauna both strange and adorable. An army of small shrubberies ambulated on long, lanky legs as they advanced towards a peculiar Poring surrounded by an entourage of strange creatures; what appears to be a pair of wooden toy soldiers, each equipped with a functioning rifle (Cruisers); a demonic clown bouncing atop a rainbow-colored ball (Carat); two tiny elves garbed in red shoes, pants, and a hat (with an ostensibly runny nose (Christmas Cookies)); a red wrapped gift box with a face (Myst Case), and a Wild Rose.
Relying on their sheer numbers, the bipedal plants (known as Rafflesia) surrounded their foes from all sides. Now alerted, the Cruisers opened fire on their floral foes as the Wild Rose wildly struck at any who came too close. The peculiar Poring sprouted angel wings from its gelatinous body as the ground they stood under began to glow with holy light, keeping itself and its minions in the fight. Thus empowered, the Myst Case went in front of the Cruisers' line of fire and revealed a magical spear and struck at the Rafflesia. The Carat kept the Christmas Cookies safe with its mocking laughter, provoking the Rafflesia to focus on it while the tiny elves provided support fire via Cold Bolts. Though they were holding their own for a while, the sheer numbers of the Rafflesia would prove too great as they overran the greyish-blue Poring's minions. As a last resort, it unleashed another wave of holy energy from its body, eradicating any who dared to come too close.
Seeing their numbers dwindle at the deceptive power of this adorable creature, the Rafflesia scattered in all directions, admitting defeat. As the dust settled, the peculiar Poring then healed its injured minions until it felt its body jiggle from tremors in the earth. The group scanned their surroundings to find the source of the tremors until they saw a small pack of three slavering wolves of dark brown fur and red eyes approaching them. Their pack leader, however, was a lumbering beast of grand proportions. Dark brown-and-white fur covered his skin, sporting maroon pants which stopped at the knees. He wore a spiked collar around his left wrist and neck, the latter of which had a bronze chain dangling from it which stopped at his belt buckle. Hoisted over his shoulder was a massive blade resembling a butcher's cleaver, and on his face sported deep red eyes and a toothy grin as he beheld the Poring's strength.
"Well, well, boys, it looks like we finally found ourselves a challenge!" the alpha said to his pack in a gruff tone. Getting into a combat stance, he cackled loudly as he led the charge. "Let's see what you've got, Arc Angeling!"
The lesser wolves charged ahead of their alpha, proving far sturdier than the Rafflesia as the shrugged off the bullets from the Cruisers and Cold Bolts from the Christmas Cookies. Overrunning the Arc Angeling's minions, the alpha rose his blade high in the air, preparing to strike the ground with great force before the Wild Rose emerged from behind to ambush it. Looking over his shoulder, the alpha glowered as he caught the cat by its face in midair with his free hand, swinging it around until slamming it atop the Myst Case, forming a small crater and knocking them out. The Arc Angeling attempted to create another healing zone with his holy magic, which seemed to have annoyed the alpha somewhat. The rest of his pack, however, weren't noticeably affected by it too much, and with blinding speed, zoomed past the Arc Angeling before smacking it with their tails, sending it into the air. Now helpless, the alpha rose his massive blade in the air and made a series of deft strikes at its body, cutting it into hundreds of cubed pieces.
The wolves howled in victory as the alpha laughed heartily, sticking his blade on the ground as he surveyed the area. "That wasn't a bad fight, boys… But it was too easy! Don't tell me we traveled all this way to meet pipsqueaks like them!"
The alpha heaved a great sigh and shook his head, as if unsatisfied from his recent battle. He picked his blade up and ordered his pack to make the walk back westward, but just as they would begin to leave the Plateau, his pack stopped, turning back westward. With an arched brow he looked at them, trying to figure out what was wrong, until he turned back around towards the battlefield, where he would then notice an indigo-colored beam of energy shoot upwards towards the heavens. His red eyes went wide with astonishment and he hoisted his weapon over his shoulder as his resolve was renewed. "Now that's more like it! There's bound to be a good fight waiting for us there!"
As the alpha led his pack towards the light, from far away, atop a steep cliff, was a woman perched atop a wyvern, observing the whole scene from its vantage point - Arkana. She was grinning from ear to ear in an almost euphoric manner, and rubbed her hands together in excitement.
"It's just as I predicted!" she said with a giggle. "Like moths to a flame, monsters are driven to the Emperium Stones' power like a beacon! But for creatures such as those to even wander this far… There is more to this Frontier than meets the eye. And there is only one town I can think of in Schwarzwald so far east… I wonder how our vaunted "heroes" will respond! Mistress Zenobia will love to hear what I have discovered!"
Arkana chuckled to herself as she walked out of the alpha's line of sight before taking off on her wyvern so as to avoid detection. As she fled to parts unknown, back on the War Star, Maximillian of Zonda Corp. was tossing his hat in with aiding the Battle Vixens…
Lupi, Aege, Elua, and Heal-Do: Hugel?!
Maximillian: That is correct! Far to the northeast reaches of Schwarzwald lies the rural, coastal fishing village known as Hugel, known by some as the Garden City! Despite its small size, it is quite festive, as the recent tourism boom and airship construction has caused Hugel to respond in kind, and as such, have thrown a great many parties and activities, hence turning this quiet and peaceful town into a popular area of interest!
Heal-Do: Huh. Almost reminds me of Comodo back in Rune-Midgarts. Wait… Aege, didn't the Blacksmith's Guild relocate somewhere, too?
Aege: I think I remember hearing something about that during my training, but I don't wanna shift our focus. You're sure this Hugel is where Cecil went, Elua?
Elua: I'm sure of it! If the Hunter's Guild is based there, then my old friend will no doubt be there with her fellow Hunters! Though knowing her, she probably became a Sniper in no time.
Lupi: In any case, we not only have our lead, but we're also two steps ahead of the other guilds.
Maximillian, giving a bow: Happy to be of service, ladies! I expect you will be taking off soon, then?
Lupi: You know it.
As Lupi made her way towards the bridge, Heal-Do jumped in response and turned to her elder sister.
Heal-Do: W-Wait, Lupi! So soon?
Lupi: Yes, "so soon," Heal-Do. We've been given the upper hand this time. And we're going to capitalize on it by getting there before the others. We know where the city is, and White Trinity owes us a fight. So we're going to bring them to us this time.
Elua: Heck yeah! We beat the Strategy Man this round! We lure White Trinity and Holy Saviors into a trap, and have that sky battle were denied a few weeks ago!
Maximillian, chuckling: I admire you ladies' spunk! Zonda Corp. will be wishing you the best.
As Maximillian left the Battle Vixens' ship, he waved farewell to them as the gangplank retracted from the deck, detaching the War Star from the island. Lupi and her sisters made their way below decks to suit up before taking off, with Aege getting her sisters' weapons in prime condition for battle.
Once out of view, the Zonda Corp. employee received a message. He listened in for a moment as his fellow employee spoke to him, but once it was over, his eyes widened with astonishment. Maximillian then pinched the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb, clearly in disappointment.
In Aldebaran, Kafra Nora had descended from her office to address her Krew and colleagues.
"Everyone!" she exclaimed. "The results just came in from our friends in the Western Branch and Schwartzwald: Kafra Corp. has won the Dungeon Election by a landslide!"
Much rejoicing was had as everyone gave cheers and threw their hairbands in the air. Blossom, in lieu of her hairband, threw whatever was in her hands at the time (which is usually her clipboard). After realizing what she just tossed, she scrambled nervously to catch it, though Nora easily grabbed it with one hand as it succumbed to gravity, handing it back to Blossom and calming her down with a pat on the head. She then put a hand to her ear as she gathered her Krew. "Thanks for the good news, Scar! Aldebaran's gonna be all abuzz like a swarm 'o' bees!"
"Couldn't have done it without you and your hardworking Krew, Kafra Nora!" Kafra Scarlett replied. "Which reminds me: I've got some extra time before the meeting commences - can you put me on speaker? I've some important news to share."
Nora gathered her Krew into her office while the other Kafra were celebrating, already breaking out the Mastela shakes. Kafra Curly Sue managed to grab one for herself and Kafra Pavianne before following the others upstairs. Once they arrived, everyone circled her desk while Kafra Roxie and Kafra Jasmine closed the doors. Kafra Nora placed her earpiece in the middle and sat down with her arms folded.
"Okay, Scar, you're on blast – lay it on us." Nora stated.
"Now that we've secured this foothold," Kafra Scarlett began, "our girls can post up in the more distant areas of Schwarzwald for the next week. Which is a good thing because – thanks to the information you lot gave us – we've confirmed the location of the next facility."
The Kafra Krew gasped as they hovered over Nora's desk; Curly Sue and Pavianne took huge sips as a reflex, which resulted in their faces contorting from a nasty (yet comical) brain freeze. A long pause would set in as the ladies stared at each other with bated breath before Kafra Scarlett gave her response:
"Hugel?" Kafra Glaris repeated. "The Garden City east of Thanatos Tower?"
"The very same," Scarlett replied. "One of our colleagues is already en route, and with the Dungeon Election won, she received a pretty good head start after teleporting to Abyss Lake."
"Should we inform White Trinity?" Kafra Blossom thought aloud. "After their interview, the least we could do is provide them some information."
"I can set up the transmission in a few minutes, Kafra Nora," Glaris said. The teal maiden pondered for a moment, nodding all the while.
"You make a good point, Blossom, I'll say that much," Nora concurred. "But Scar's got that important meetin' startin' at any time now. We'll need to work with her colleague in her stead."
"You have my gratitude, Kafra Krew," thanked Scarlett. "Her name is Kafra Lyn - short for 'Lynette'. She'll keep you informed on the situation." Chatter would be heard coming from her earpiece a few seconds later. "Looks like we're finally getting things in motion over here. Even Maximillian's showed up. Good luck, ladies!"
"Make sure you rub it in deep for that blondie!" Curly Sue cried with a raised fist. The others laughed as Kafra Nora's earpiece went silent. The rest of the Kafra Krew would begin to establish their connection to the Shining Heart while Nora put her earpiece back on to contact Kafra Lynette.
Meanwhile, back at White Trinity's flagship, Thiji was still pondering over the possibilities of returning to Rune-Midgarts. While they could simply take the Shining Heart back to Izlude, they would surely catch the eyes of their opponents and attract unwanted attention. And walking would just take far too much time and energy.
"Perhaps a different airship…?" he thought.
As he continued his contemplation, it would be interrupted as he felt a disturbance in the earth. This shock was felt throughout all of Juno; Ray, Lee, Raien, and Thunderhorse were alerted by it as well. The Holy Saviors felt it the most, for their meditation was broken, as well as their shrine to Odin. Fortunately, the statue was merely toppled, and nothing was shattered (the twins managed to catch it). But the event itself more than gained their attention.
An earthquake? No. it wasn't that violent of a tremor. Plus the city was a trio of floating landmasses high above ground level, making such claims illogical. Before Thiji was able to find whatever was behind this sudden phenomenon, he received a transmission from the bridge seconds after the shaking subsided. Letting his curiosity take the helm, he opened the frequency and beheld who was on screen, which shocked him even greater than did the tremors. A young woman sat upon a scarlet sofa with legs crossed, a palm resting on the pommel of her lance whilst her other hand hung over the armrest.
"Hello… Thiji Higuri," spoke Lupi, of the Battle Vixens. His eyes widened at the sight of the Lady Knight. Though he caught several glimpses of her in the past, this time he was able to get a good look of her. She carried herself in a more dignified manner compared to her former self when the Emperium Frontier began. Lupi was definitely not the rash woman he once knew. This Lupi seemed more… focused. Confident. Deadly.
"Greetings, Lady Lupi," Thiji replied formally, sitting back in his chair. "To what do I owe the pleasure of speaking to you this day? Being graced by your beauty does not come often." The Lady Knight could not help but smirk.
"Such a gentleman," she said with a sigh. "But that's not what I wanted out of you." She straightened her posture and glared at the High Wizard. Meanwhile, a massive shadow loomed over the Odin's Will. Youmei and her companions went to the surface and caught the sight of rainbow-like sails gleaming in the sunlight as a certain Elf zoomed by on her falcon shouting, "Later, Saviors!"
"Oh, of course… The flighty one goads us," Tsubaki pointed out. "Guess we have to give chase if they're leaving the city so suddenly."
"But Tsubaki," Momiji asked, "isn't that what the Vixens want?"
"That is exactly what they want, Momiji," Youmei replied. "But we're not going to sit idle while they gain a foothold in Schwarzwald! Have our crewmen prepare for takeoff!"
"Your little stunt, though commendable, really struck a nerve for my sisters and me," Lupi explained. "Because of this, we're going to strike first."
"You mean…" Thiji began.
"Yes, Thiji. We know where the next facility is," the Lady Knight followed. "More importantly, you owe us a fight. And we know you're going to give us one."
"You're awfully enthusiastic about this, Lady Lupi. I would feel ashamed if I disappointed you, let alone harm a lady," Thiji complimented coolly.
"You won't disappoint me, Thiji," Lupi immediately replied as she stood upright.
"You think so?"
"I know so."
Lupi brought her weapon in front of her, the lance's tip touching the floor while she rested her hands on the pommel. "Despite our differences, I acknowledge your guild's strength; I would even go so far as to say that I respect White Trinity. But it has been an entire year since we fought, and I have not had a greater longing for battle since before you boys showed up. Your strategies won you many victories, and your elite have been among the few to keep my sisters and me on our toes. But we're in a new country now, and that means a new beginning to this contest. You may have your surprises, but we also have ours."
After her monologue, Lupi bent forward and pressed her stomach against her hands, keeping the lance stable as she leaned on her weapon. Were it not for the fact that she was wearing armor, the High Wizard would be met with quite a couple pleasant surprises indeed…
As she lifted a hand to make a beckoning gesture with her index finger, in a sultry tone - as if seducing or taunting him - she whispered:
"Come and get me, Thiji…"
The transmission thusly ended. He knew better than to pursue an enemy that was openly provoking them into action. But with no leads to follow, there was no other choice but to take the bait the Battle Vixens has laid.
Hurrying outside he noticed that the War Star had already disembarked from the City of Sages and was making its way eastward towards some yet unknown destination. Ray, Lee, Raien, Thunderhorse, and the Shining Heart crew hurried over and saw the spectacle as well, with the Holy Saviors hot on their tail.
"What's going on? Why are the Battle Vixens leaving the city?!" Ray asked before silently gesturing to the crew to man their stations.
"I received a… rather enticing invitation to pursue them," Thiji answered. Within moments, the Shining Heart was disembarking from their station and was cleared for takeoff.
"Well, trap or no, this is all we've got for now," the Gun-Knight concluded as he loaded his weapon. "After the Vixens!"
Their flagship took off, and it was time to take to the heavens once more as they gave chase to their rivals. Citizens of Juno cheered and applauded them as they left, and White Trinity couldn't help but wave back to their adoring fans. The four young men watched the other ships from the bow as their flight continued…
Raien: So… what exactly happened, brother?
Thiji: I received a message from the War Star. Lupi and her sisters are apparently itching to fight us after this year-long hiatus.
Lee: But so much that they'd lure us out like this?
Thiji: On the bright side, they may be leading us towards wherever the next Emperium establishment may appear. They also seem to acknowledge our skill and strength.
Ray: Right! And we'll be there to seize it and stake our claim in Schwarzwald!
Raien: She can praise us all she wants, but I swear that Lupi is obsessed.
Thiji: With the Frontier, with fighting, or with me?
Lee: Well, we have the Vesper cores with us. They'll be in for a surprise once we get to our destination!
As they conversed, Thiji was pondering over something, which got Ray's attention. He asked if the High Wizard was all right, but Thiji simply waved a hand at it dismissively, deeming it unimportant. Several minutes into their flight passed before one of the crewmen descended from the bridge, informing White Trinity that they were receiving another transmission from Aldebaran. The four wasted no time as they rushed to the bridge and got into their respective seats before they opened the channel.
The screen revealed Kafra Roxie and Kafra Jasmine, flanking Kafra Nora who was sitting in her chair with hands folded. Per the usual courtesies, the ladies would greet White Trinity with a gentle bow before speaking their piece...
Kafra Jasmine: Greetings, White Trinity. Thank you for responding to us so quickly. We have some urgent information that we believe may prove of use to you.
Ray: Oh, good! So you must have found out that we're already leaving Juno.
Kafra Roxie: Already left, you say? Well, before we get to that, thanks to the interview provided by your resident High Wizard, the Kafra Corporation was able to seize victory in the Dungeon Election! Because of this, our sisters in the Schwarzwald Branch are now able to access the far reaches of the country until next week!
Thiji: Happy to have been of aid. Speaking of which, where is Kafra Scarlett? Has she not yet returned from her meeting?
Nora: No, I'm afraid. They were just startin' when we contacted her a few minutes ago. Seems the Dungeon Election caused quite a fuss over there! But back to the question at hand: why are you boys leavin' Juno?
Lee: Thiji got word from the Battle Vixens that they knew of the next installation's location, so, without any other leads, we're chasing after them.
Raien: The Holy Saviors are doing the same.
Kafra Roxie, Kafra Jasmine, and Kafra Nora exchanged looks before turning back towards White Trinity.
Further to the east, in the outskirts of a village, a small team of four Hunters were escorting a blue-haired Kafra lady towards said town. This woman's uniform was similar to that of Kafra Scarlett's, only the upper chest was covered. They beheld a large tower-like structure that seemed to pierce the very skies, and a beam of indigo-colored energy shot up into the heavens, as a glimmering Emperium Stone of similar color descended from above, thus "activating" the structure.
As their trek went on, they noticed increasing activity from the local fauna. Thief Bugs and Poporings were running in the direction they were going, which did not seem to alarm them much.
"The Monster Race must have reached from beyond the town!" one of the Hunters said excitedly. "I've never seen this many flock towards Hugel before!"
"Kafra Lynette, what is this structure that has appeared, do you think?" asked another Hunter.
"This is definitely the work of the Emperium Frontier," she explained. "I'll need a closer look to figure out how it works."
Moments later, the monsters that were moving en masse towards Hugel multiplied, as if the entire ecosystem was changing from some drastic shift. Now growing concerned, the group turned around to figure out just what was going on.
They gasped as they beheld a pack of wolves led by an alpha of Brobdingnagian proportions carrying a large butcher's blade. There was a big, toothy grin on his face as he approached, the hunters and their falcons forming up in front of Lynette in response. Once within a few feet, the alpha stopped and looked down at the five. Lynette was quivering with fear as his shadow loomed over them.
"Please, I got no business with you small fry!" spoke the alpha in his gruff tone. "In fact, I was headed your way – towards that bright beam over yonder! My boys and I are lookin' for a good fight, and a place like that is bound to give us one!"
"O-Oh!" Kafra Lynette replied, feeling some relief. "S-So were we! Headed towards Hugel, that is."
"Perfect! Mind showing me the way?" the alpha asked. But before he spoke any further, he put a palm to his head and laughed at himself. "Oh, where are my manners! The name's Atroce, and these boys make up my pack: the Galions!"
"How do we know you won't just eat us after we bring you to the city?!" barked one of the Hunters, aiming an arrow at the alpha's face. His laughter was even heartier as he patted the Hunter's head.
"Come on! I didn't travel all the way from the Adhumbla Grasslands to fight a bunch of Hunters!" Atroce stated. "It's boring where we are – fighting Harpies and Hill Winds just for territory! But something just compelled me to travel east, and what do I find but a pretty blue ray of light at the end of this long tunnel?! I'm lookin' to be the strongest monster of 'em all! And I can't do that by fighting opponents who can't last for more than 30 seconds!"
Everyone looked at each other skeptically, deciding whether or not this fierce creature's story was truth or fiction. The Hunters didn't seem to think so, but Kafra Lynette, knowing how much commotion the Frontier's caused up 'til now, knew better than to deny a monster's honest request for a challenge – especially if he traveled from the other side of the country to do so.
Stepping forward, she gave Atroce a smile and bowed. The Galions ran in front of their alpha in defense, but he moved them aside with a wave of his hand, smiling down at the Kafra.
"Very well, Mr. Atroce," Lynette began. "You were right to come out all this way for a challenge. Your search is finally over: follow us to Hugel, and we'll ensure you get the fight of your life!"
"YEAH!" cheered the massive bipedal wolf. "That's what I like to hear! You just made our day; lead the way, missy!"
The Hunters were shocked. Very rarely are monsters able to be reasoned with – especially the more ferocious ones. And with someone like Atroce running around, that will cause quite a stir for the locals as well. Thinking that forewarning the guard about this event would be a good idea, the Hunters went ahead and left Kafra Lynette alone with Atroce, though they were reluctant in doing so at first.
Back at the Shining Heart, the other Kafra from the Rune-Midgarts Branch had just informed them of the next facility's location…
Ray, Lee, Raien, & Thiji: Hugel?
Kafra Roxie: Yes – also known as the Garden City. It is a peaceful town located on the northeastern edge of the Schwarzwald Republic. Their isolationism ended when air travel was introduced and pursuers began to seek out the riches of Angrboda Island.
Thiji: Isolationism, you say…? I can relate.
Raien: What's Angrboda Island?
Nora: Ladies, if you will!
Kafra Roxie: It is a large island off the coast of Hugel which houses Odin's Shrine. An ancient civilization long ago built this shrine in reverence to the Allfather. It was so huge that it nearly spanned the island itself!
Kafra Jasmine: One after another, the ancient peoples gave all that they could to ensure the temple was perfect for Odin, but it was in vain. Civil war broke out as several leaders sought the Allfather's favor. The resulting conflict nearly wiped them out, and destroyed a great portion of the temple in the process. Those who survived the conflict left that life behind them as they sought a better future someplace else in the world.
Kafra Nora: Scholars and adventurers are explorin' that island to this day! Spirits from the past and the present guard its greatest secrets zealously – even that of Giants!
Thiji: Oh, the Holy Saviors are going to have a field day with this knowledge.
Ray: Good idea! We can tell them about it and distract them from the Frontier!
Lee: Well, I don't know. I'd kind of like to explore that place myself someday.
Thiji: That will be an adventure for another time. Right now our sights are on this Garden City, and contesting the other guilds.
Kafra Nora: Roger that, White Trinity! We'll keep you updated on –
Their conversation would be interrupted as they heard an ear-piercing roar. The Kafra covered their ears in response as other ladies rushed into Nora's office seconds after it was heard from below.
White Trinity, meanwhile, exited the bridge to find the source of the noise, where they would notice the War Star and Odin's Will being assailed by a large number of creatures they've never seen before. They were brown-and-white imps with clawed hands and feet, wiry black wings, and from the end of their elongated necks were multiple eyes surrounding their maws.
"Where the hell did all these… things come from?!" shrieked Heal-Do. The Battle Vixens were trying to shoo the beasts off the ship, but to no avail. Lupi wasted no time to start incinerating some with fireballs.
"Foul demons from the dark beyond! Sisters, cast them out!" commanded Youmei with blade drawn.
"Who would dare attack us in open skies…?" Tsubaki said in her mind.
Suddenly, a woman's voice would be heard in the air.
"Sorry I kept you waiting, ladies and gentlemen!" she cried, "but ships flying in midair?! What a strange sight! They surely don't belong up here! Let's change that, shall we?!"
"White Trinity, is everything all right?!" spoke Kafra Jasmine. Raien hurried to the bridge to and replied, "We're under attack, ladies! We're gonna have to cut this short!"
"Under attack…?" gasped the gathered Kafra masses. While her Krew calmed down their colleagues, Nora stood from her seat and pointed at the Ninja.
"All right, then, Raien. You and the boys make sure your ship doesn't plummet from the sky!" Nora said. "I'll get a hold of Lyn and Scar and relay this information to 'em!"
"Oh! Th-Thank you for choosing the Kafra Corporation for your everyday needs…!" Curly Sue said as she jumped in front of the screen, frantically waving farewell before Nora ended the transmission. Raien and Thunderhorse went back down to join their companions as that female voice was heard once more…
"Time to commence Genius Beauty Sorceress Arkana's Surprise Airborne Monster Show!"
A large, red dragon swooped by the airships as another swarm of imps descended upon the decks. Everyone seemed to have been surrounded, though these creatures didn't pay the other guilds much mind, caring only for their airships entirely. As for White Trinity, however, they were focused entirely on them, and began to close in. Ray, Lee, and Raien drew their weapons as Thiji summoned Icerend, and easily scattered the fiends away with a ring of frost.
"Cool trick there!" Ray complimented. "Icerend, was it?"
"Yes," the High Wizard answered. As they fought off the creatures, one of the engineers emerged from below decks to speak to the four young men.
"Sirs!" said the engineer. "We've seen this sort of creatures before! They're called Gremlins, and they are known to devour and destroy anything that is mechanical! But for some reason they appear to be focused on you four."
"Mechanical, huh…?" Ray thought aloud. "I got an idea. Get my weapons from the storage room below! I'm gonna need more firepower than the Gold Lux!"
"But Ray, it's the Vesper Cores that they're after," Thiji explained. "Bringing out more firearms will only make them concentrate their attacks on you!"
"Exactly, Strategy Man!" he exclaimed as he ran downstairs. Thiji sighed and followed him, urging the engineer to join. Lee, Raien and Thunderhorse, meanwhile, kept the Gremlins at bay with their enhanced abilities.
As each of the guilds fended off the swarms, Arkana was spectating from above, with a pleased grin made apparent on her face.
"Well, well! It seems these people are more resilient than I thought!" Arkana said with a chuckle. "It appears I'll have to kick things up a notch!"
She rose her hand as if to summon another wave of minions, but before she would be able to do so, a beam of shadow energy shot forth from the Odin's Will. Arkana's reflexes activated as she stretched her arm outward to block the attack with a barrier, which startled the winged creature upon which she was riding. "Now who would dare strike against me?!"
"Arkana!" cried a voice from below. The sorceress looked down and was utterly intrigued by the sight of Tsubaki, who had immobilized the Gremlins attacking her ship with the power of light. Arkana was so intrigued, in fact, that she would greet her with a huge smile.
"Good to see you… old friend!" she replied. Botan, Momiji, and Youmei gasped. Tsubaki took a step forward and sneered, her Shikigami hissing challengingly at her winged mount. "Still playing Priest with your silly friends?"
"I am still a Witch, Arkana!" defended Tsubaki. "Unlike you, who casted her lot with Freyja!"
"My, my…! Such audacity, Tsubaki! You know better than to say Mistress Freyja's name in vain!" Arkana replied, displaying slight offense. "You should know better! The mere fact that you even side with the ones who serve her betrayer fills me with disgust!"
Tsubaki growled lowly in response, clenching her Nemesis mace in hand. The Battle Vixens looked on as the two conversed, while Lupi was enjoying herself eradicating Gremlins.
"Who the hell is she?!" Aege asked.
"Never heard of anyone known as Arkana before," Heal-Do answered.
"Or even Freyja, for that matter!" Elua followed with a shrug. Arkana's countenance was no longer one of joy after hearing that name being spoken inappropriately a second time. The wyvern upon which she rode then opened its mouth as flames began to spew from its maw.
"I suggest watching your tongue…" Arkana warned in a low tone. "Otherwise, disrespecting Her name will result in divine punishment!"
Arkana snapped her fingers and summoned a large wave consisting of more Gremlins, tiny, one-eyed demons with wings (Beholders), and young, silver drakes with red eyes (Sky Petites). Meanwhile, her wyvern was preparing to unleash a massive fireball upon the Odin's Will, which caused Youmei to raise her shield to defend herself and her sisters.
"All right, boys – let's give this 'Genius Beauty Sorceress' a White Trinity welcome!" Ray shouted as he returned with his fully loaded Gatling gun, resting it on the starboard bow. Activating the Gatling Fever and Madness Canceller skills, Ray pulled the trigger and let loose a storm of bullets to enfilade the minions attacking the other two airships. As he laid down suppressing fire, Thiji, augmented by his Vesper Core, concentrated and shrouded himself in a thin veil of blue energy before focusing it onto Icerend, amplifying his magic power. He would then catch the fireball the wyvern released mid-flight with a glacial blast, dispersing it and turning it into steam.
Thunderhose let out a proud roar as lightning bolts danced around the Shining Heart, taking out any stragglers as Raien sliced through the Sky Petites with his electrified blade in the blink of an eye. As for Lee, he was easily overpowering the Beholders with his Vesper Core enhancement, shrugging off their attacks with little effort.
The Battle Vixens, meanwhile, were shielding themselves from the bullet storm while Youmei easily deflected them with her tower shield, some even hitting the remaining Gremlins still immobilized. This display of power fascinated Arkana, immediately noticing that something was strange.
As he exhausted his ammo belt, Ray tossed the Gatling gun aside and switched to his sniper rifle, flipping a coin from out his pocket, which immediately went into the chamber, enhancing the bullet's strength (it landed on heads, for the sake of argument). Now loaded, he took the extra moment to focus on the wyvern, activating his Tracking ability to drastically empower his next shot. Arkana took notice of this, and hastily ordered her wyvern to launch another fireball before he pulled the trigger.
"There! Aim for the forearm!" Arkana commanded, spotting their "weak point." The wyvern let loose a hot sticker at the Shining Heart just as Ray fired. The bullet flew through the flames like a laser, finding its mark in the wyvern's maw, and pierced its hardened skin on the other side, causing a breaching wound. A gasp was all that parted her lips before she found herself knocked off her winged beast. "I suppose I've done all I could for now… that's all for this show, folks!" she cried before descending into the clouds below, her laughter echoing throughout the heavens.
The fireball continued flying towards the deck of the Shining Heart. Thunderhorse created a plasma barrier around her companions as quickly as she could before it struck, crashing into the ship with sufficient force to push it off-course.
"Oof…! That looked like a nasty one, sisters!" Elua cringed. "Think they're dead?
"They'd better not be, or I'll kill them myself," Lupi growled as she stowed away her lance and flipped her hair back into place.
"They saved us, though!" Heal-Do interjected. "Thank you, my Lord Thiji…"
"That doesn't mean anything – we've still got a Frontier to conquer!" chimed Aege. "Helmsman: full speed ahead! We're getting to Hugel first!"
As the War Star resumed its course, Youmei watched as their adversaries took off, and took this time to relax and collect herself…
Youmei: White Trinity again shows their selflessness this day. That fire attack would have done a number on us if it had connected.
Momiji: They are true warriors worthy of the highest honor, Sister Youmei!
Botan: I don't feel so bad being frozen now! But… who was that girl? She seemed very eager to take us down…
Tsubaki: That was Arkana. Like myself, she, too, is a Witch. But she is actually one of the bad ones.
Youmei: You two know each other?
Tsubaki: Yes. She was also a part of the Witch's Guild alongside Kirkena and me. There are several notable ones other than the three of us. But compared to her deeds, I am a saint.
Youmei, in disbelief: Is that true…?
Tsubaki: Arkana has now consigned herself to Freyja, and the Valkyries that serve under her.
Botan: Goddess Freyja…? (Gasps) Odin's consort?!
Tsubaki: Former consort.
Momiji: So she serves the former goddess of love, who now seeks revenge on Odin and His followers…
Youmei: A test of faith, no doubt. One that we have passed. This evil Witch sought to sway our resolve. But for now, another glorious battle awaits the Holy Saviors.
Botan & Momiji: Odin guide us!
Tsubaki: Odin guide us.
The Odin's Will accelerated into the clouds after the Battle Vixens as they would soon be within sight of the Garden City. As for White Trinity, they had begun to recover from the fireball they had sustained. The boys had some burn marks around their clothing, but no heavy injuries were suffered. Their Vesper Cores, however, were shattered into pieces, lying before them on the deck.
"ERROR: CRITICAL DAM…AGE… SUSTAINED… VESPER CORE… SHUTTING… DOWN."
The four sighed in both relief and annoyance. While they succeeded in fending off that Witch's airborne assault, it came at a great price. They were nevertheless thankful that their airship was still intact. They got up and dusted themselves off as Thiji aided the crewmen in putting out the fires; they went back on-course to Hugel in a matter of minutes, spotting a rather massive tower off to the north.
"Hey, isn't that the Thanatos Tower the Kafra mentioned?" Lee pointed out.
"Yes," Thiji confirmed, "which means we're not too far from Hugel…"
"Well, grab a berry and load up, Trinities," Ray ordered. "That was a warm-up round; the real fight begins soon!"
At the tranquil Garden City of Hugel, the citizens were uneasy from the arrival of Atroce and his pack, but Kafra Lynette calmed them down and ensured he meant no harm – mostly. Hugel was an otherwise peaceful settlement, with rolling hills and a stream of clear blue water which funneled from the mountains and emptied out into the sea to the east.
The massive structure that appeared on the north end of the city dwarfed Hugel by comparison, and it appeared to have been creating rings and platforms around it using terrain from the nearby mountains. This sight pleased Atroce a great deal, and turning towards the entrance of the city, he and Lynette would notice large airships fast approaching. Meanwhile, his Galion pack seemed rather interested in the Monster Races – a small area where people can bet on various creatures to win in a contest of speed and skill.
"Gah!" Atroce barked. "You silly pups have your fun – more fight for me! Speaking of, Little Miss Lyn, who's comin' to town?"
"Oh, that would just be the guilds contesting for this spire," Lynette answered. "White Trinity, Battle Vixens, and Holy Saviors – the three most famous guilds from Rune-Midgarts – have come here to Schwarzwald to continue the Emperium Frontier!"
"Well, if they're as famous as you say, then they should provide me a decent challenge!" Atroce deducted as he rubbed his chin with his free hand. "Thank you, ma'am; I'll take it from here!"
Using his powerful legs, he leapt high into the air to get from platform to platform to ascend the spire. Lynette wiped some sweat from her brow, being thankful that such a creature as fearsome as Atroce was actually rather easygoing. Her focus re-shifted towards the approaching airships – their proximity towards the structure caused it to react, as three indigo beams shot out from it and "grabbed" the three flagships, pulling them in separate directions. Utilizing the power of Schwarzwald's technology, Lynette used her headset to open a hailing frequency with the three guilds. Ignoring their ships being pulled involuntarily, each of them hurried to the bridge to answer it. However, when they did so, nothing came up on screen except for the symbol of the Schwarzwald Republic, which threw them off-guard for a moment.
"Greetings, and welcome to Hugel, guilds of Rune-Midgarts!" spoke Kafra Lynette. "This is Kafra Lynette; I am speaking to you directly from the site to where your vessels are being pulled. This Emperium Spire has you all locked in a harmless tractor beam, and is taking you to certain locations around its structure. Once you have arrived, you will need to ascend the rings and platforms to reach the spire's pinnacle – where the Lapis Emperium dwells! Fight your way through the hordes of creatures that have taken up residence and seize the Emperium Stone to claim victory for your guild! But beware – a powerful threat lies within the upper levels, so take caution! In the event you happen to fall or get knocked off from the Emperium Spire, you will be eliminated and sent back to your respective flagship! I will be monitoring from below; may the best guild win!"
The briefing was over and the transmission had ended. Each of the three guilds made their final preparations as their ships continued to be pulled toward their destination. The Battle Vixens, eager as ever, looked over their weapons and gear once more…
Lupi: All right, girls. Remember: we're here to take the fight to those Trinities after that stunt they pulled.
Elua: I hope Cecil's watching us from here! I can't wait to show her how much I've learned!
Aege: We gotta focus, Elua. Your friend may be watching, but we still have a battle to deal with.
Elua: I know! I was just showing how happy I am to finally see her again! I can even see the Hunter's Guild on the far side, too!
Heal-Do: We just need to get through the other creatures, first…
Lupi: Easier done than said. With our new powers, it won't be long until we get to the fun part.
At the Odin's Will, the Holy Saviors were gazing upon the Emperium Spire, its platforms slowly taking shape and swirling around the central structure like a storm…
Tsubaki: This is definitely not Rune-Midgarts anymore. It looks like it will be a while before we meet the other guilds.
Momiji: We will succeed in the name of our God! I am as ready as ever! Botan?
Botan: Yes… I'm prepared to fight for Odin as well!
Momiji: Are you well, Botan? You weren't as enthusiastic in your response.
Botan: I'm well, I'm just… focused, is all.
Tsubaki: She'll be fine, Momiji. Many things plague our minds now that we are here, and many questions must be answered. We will find them in due time.
Youmei: Yes. Now, stay close, sisters. We must prioritize clearing the area before we consider encountering the others. Though it relieves me to see White Trinity well.
White Trinity was surveying things as well from their vantage point on the deck…
Ray: What can you make out of this, Thiji?
Thiji: The energy coming from the Emperium Spire seems unstable. I expect the outer platforms to move around in irregular patterns. If that happens, we should try to get to one of the central rings to maximize our chances of staying in the game. However, "Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions."
Lee: Oh, wait, that's one of those ancient quotes, isn't it?
Raien: Speed and unpredictability is all a Ninja's about!
Thiji: If you see an opportunity to attack our opponents, take it. If this structure is as unpredictable as it seems, then we can use this to our advantage.
Ray: I like the sound of that! But then there's that "powerful threat" Kafra Lynette mentioned…
Thiji: Another guardian of the Emperium Stone, most likely. We must either defeat it, or circumvent its defenses to acquire the Lapis Emperium.
Lee: And how will we even get onto the Spire itself?
Thiji: Think about it for a moment, Lee – does any of this seem familiar to you?
Lee, Raien, and Ray tried to piece together towards what their High Wizard was hinting. The beam was their biggest clue – it connected them to the Spire proper. Then, they recalled something similar occurring during the Battle of Britoniah, where the various stones created "bridges" which lead to the Sapphire Emperium that floated hitherto beyond their reach.
Lee: The Emperium Citadel! We'll use the beam to slide across!
Ray: Good eye, Lee! So we'll be coming in hot, if that's the case. We'll need to strike hard and fast so the others don't catch up!
Raien: I don't think that'll be much of an issue. We're high up in the heavens, and Thunderhorse has some mean tricks up her sleeve!
Thiji: This bridge will probably only be wide enough to fit one person at a time, so we'll need to establish a marching order.
Ray: As if you had to ask! I've got point. Lee will get my back, followed by Raien and Thunderhorse, and you, Thiji, will bring up the rear!
Thiji: Understood. I'll take out any stragglers you miss.
With their plans now in motion, the Emperium Spire continued pulling them closer and closer towards the structure. The Shining Heart was being taken westward; the War Star was sent northward, and the Odin's Will, eastward. Within minutes, the ships would coast to a stop, overlooking a large platform swarming with a bunch of larger green and red wingless dragons with large tails whose ends resembled that of a mace or hammer.
Lynette watched with bated breath as the airships hovered overhead, wondering how this fight would commence. She took this time to contact her colleagues to inform them over the recent events.
The Battle Vixens and Holy Saviors scanned the area, clueless on how to proceed. They noticed the draconic creatures awaiting them, but saw no feasible means of entry that wouldn't result in plummeting from the heavens. Elua thought to unleash a volley of arrows, but even with her skill, it would have little effect due to the unstable energy permeating from the Spire.
"How the hell do we get over there…?" Lupi murmured under her breath. Even the crewmen were stumped as to how they should proceed. The beam which held them in place froze their controls; they were likely sitting ducks until this battle resolved. They looked on in silence for a few moments until something caught Lupi's eye, spotting the Shining Heart.
White Trinity dealt the first move as they would slide down the indigo path, one-by-one. They were ducking fire blasts from the larger dragons as the smaller ones swung their tails around like flails, preparing to strike.
"What…?!" gasped the Vixens in total awe.
"What are they doing?!" Botan asked. Youmei then took their example and stepped off the deck of their ship and onto the path – it pulsed with a deep, blue light.
"They're showing us our means of ingress!" Youmei answered with shield raised. "Come! Do not fall behind!"
Tsubaki reassured them with a smile as she followed Youmei. With a reluctant nod, Botan and Momiji hopped on and slid down after them, setting up the field with buffs and defensive spells.
"Dammit, how did White Trinity find this out?!" grumbled Aege. Elua wasted no time as she jumped off the War Star and called on Mukuhawk to ferry her across. Lupi and the others, meanwhile, began their trek through the skies and down the indigo path, weapons brimming with elemental might.
Thus began the Battle for the Lapis Emperium.
Once the dragons were finally alerted to the others' presence, they would fire upon them as they swung their tails wildly. Meanwhile, Ray leapt high into the air as he reached the end of the path, clearing a landing zone by firing a hail of bullets at the creatures before touching down with a strong Bowling Bash, knocking back any monsters from the center a considerable distance. Lee followed with an Excruciating Palm technique as he landed, further spreading out the crowd for Raien and Thiji.
The dragons converged on the Gun-Knight and the Champion, preparing to unleash another fireball at them, but Raien would arrive in the nick of time to create a Reverse Tatami around himself and his friends, nullifying the attack. A chilling wind was felt as the dragons' bodies became encased in ice in a matter of seconds!
Thunderhorse enveloped herself with lightning before crashing down on the platform with a thunderous boom, shattering and summarily routing the horde. Thiji landed soon after, and the platform would begin moving towards the lowermost half-ring.
"There appears to be four levels to the Spire," Thiji stated. "We must maneuver our way upwards to reach the Lapis Emperium. I wasn't able to get a good look on the pinnacle, so the guardian is still unknown to us."
"We'll stay close, then!" Ray declared as he drew his blade. "Look: there's an orb on the far side of this ring – that's gotta be our ticket upwards! Let's move!"
The Holy Saviors made their entrance with Youmei opening with a powerful Grand Cross. Its radiance blinded the dragons not caught in the strike zone that they stumbled backwards and fell from the heavens. Strangely enough, they did not plummet to their demise, but had instead vanished into indigo dust. Botan and Momiji healed up their leader while Tsubaki's shikigami siphoned some dragon's blood before returning to her side. Opening her Book of the Apocalypse, she let a single drop fall onto the pages and began to chant…
"Fallen Verus of red and green, wounds, restore and ailments, clean!"
A special blessing was bestowed upon herself and her allies as they felt themselves invigorated by a veil of green energy that slowly healed any wounds they would sustain.
As for the Battle Vixens, who were eager as ever to meet their adversaries, Lupi wasted no time walking through the dragons' flame, shrugging it off before skewering some of the creatures with her lance. Aege removed the stragglers with an expert display of her Cart Termination, resulting in an unexplainable explosion appearing from the point of impact. Heal-Do and Elua touched down, scanning the area as their platform made its way to the lowermost ring after the Saviors.
"True Sight!" cried Elua. Her already acute sense of sight was increased threefold as she focused on the far end of the ring – White Trinity was meters away from touching the orb, and the Sniper sought to stop them. Nocking two arrows, she focused her powers into her bow before setting to loose.
"Yeah, Elua!" Aege cheered. "Get 'em good!"
Augmented with the power of wind, Elua used her Double Strafing attack and fired, the arrows shooting through the pillar of energy which held the Spire together. They zoomed straight towards White Trinity, who had all touched the orb and were transported to the next level of the Spire – save for Thiji. He thought on his feet, inspecting his clothing for a moment before getting into a crouching position. Just before the arrows would find their mark, he would leap as high as he could into the air, stretching his arms outward as he did. The projectiles struck the ground from which he stood, erupting in a small gust of wind that lifted Thiji upward.
"Nice! You knocked him off!" Aege cheered. Heal-Do and Lupi watched with suspense. The arrows seemed to have performed their desired effect.
However, the garb male High Wizards usually wear have a cape that is wrapped around their forearms, and with this knowledge, Thiji was able to safely ride the air currents and glide towards his companions, leaving the Battle Vixens in awe.
"Dammit!" Elua shouted. "Mukuhawk, Falcon Assault!"
Elua's pet immediately tucked in its wings and made a divebomb for the Saviors. Youmei and Tsubaki rushed for the orb, but the twins sensed the falcon's presence, and hung back, causing the Paladin and Witch to stop.
"Odin, shield us! Kyrie Eleison!" they shouted as a tessellating barrier of divine energy formed around their bodies. Mukuhawk's might would come to bear upon Botan and Momiji, the resulting clash pushing them back slightly.
"Sister… We can't… hold it…!" Momiji warned through strained grunts. Doing some quick thinking of her own, Botan unsheathed her half of the Divine Cross and stared down the falcon as she wound up for a strike.
"You do not scare us, winged assailant! Not you, and not your master!" taunted Botan as she struck Mukuhawk hard in the face with a holy-imbued swing of her Divine Cross, sending the falcon back a considerable distance. After catching itself in midair, Mukuhawk flew back and retreated to Elua, who was growing increasingly irritated.
"Impressive, you two!" Youmei congratulated. "Priestesses will learn from your example this day; truly worthy of Odin's praise." They giggled and followed them to the orb.
"Come on, Elua! White Trinity I can understand, but how are you going to let the dead weight do you like that?!" Lupi scolded. The bird hung his head in shame, but Elua remained determined. This battle meant more to her than her sisters may think. This city housed her fellow Hunters – her people. Cecil Damon, most of all. She was going to win, no matter the cost.
"That won't be happening again, Big Sis. Count on it!" Elua replied in a serious tone which shocked even her sisters. She took point once the platform had reached its destination, and dashed towards the orb.
"That was skillful of you, my Lord Thiji…" Heal-Do thought. "But beware my sister..."
The three guilds were now whisked away to the outer portion of the Emperium Spire, finding themselves on a weirdly-shaped platform. As the other guilds teleported in, everyone jumped in fright before getting a hold of themselves and preparing for battle. However, before they could even strike, the platform began to shift, unbalancing them until it finally divided itself into three large, circular platforms. The twins almost fell off, but were caught by their robes by Tsubaki and Youmei.
The Battle Vixens and the Holy Saviors floated away towards opposite ends of the Spire, surrounding the structure in an equilateral triangle-like formation. Meanwhile, White Trinity remained in place. They surveyed their surroundings and did not see anything out of the ordinary: Hugel laid below, with the citizenry watching intently; the energy pillar in the center shooting upwards into the heavens… nothing truly noteworthy.
"Any sight of that guardian, boys?" Ray asked as he observed the pillar.
"Nope," Raien replied. "I can't see crap past these platforms blocking the view. The Spire must have taken pieces off the nearby mountains and used it to form this facility."
"These dragons must have flocked here from the nearby Abyss Lake," Thiji deducted. "It makes sense given its close proximity."
"That's true!" Lee agreed. "Those ones with the hammers for tails are called Ferus. They don't usually show interest in money or jewels, but like collecting golden things. There was also the one in charge of them all, but I can't pronounce his name…"
"But you read about it, didn't you?" Ray questioned.
"Yeah, but it was while I was still an Acolyte."
After a moment of relative calm, a loud roar was heard, followed by the flapping of wings. It seemed to have come from the level above, but no one could make heads or tails on the source of the roar. Everyone readied themselves for their next trial, only to be met with more flying beasts. These ones, however, were much larger, and consisted of gold dragons and silver wyrms (having wings and only forelegs). They poured from the upper level of the Spire and swooped towards the three guilds.
Meanwhile, everyone would feel their bodies shift as the platforms on which they stood began to move slowly in a clockwise manner. Aege crouched to the floor with a hand to her head as her sisters fought off the hordes.
"Man… I withstood two airship rides at much higher altitudes than this… why the hell am I getting airsick?!" the Whitesmith commented. Her sisters could only respond with laughter.
"Get your bearings, sister. We'll get rid of these dragons!" Heal-Do reassured as she drew a fan of knives.
The Holy Saviors held their own, Youmei keeping her teammates safe with the power of Devotion while Momiji kept her healed; Botan and Tsubaki took the offensive, firing back with blasts of light and shadow.
"Good, Botan! Good, Momiji! Your cohesion is improving!" Tsubaki complimented.
"For the Holy Saviors!" the twins shouted in response.
White Trinity had its own problems. The dragons had begun switching tactics as they were clearing them out, resorting to diving tackles in an effort to knock them off, but they were able to dodge with relative ease. Lee grabbed one of the silver dragons by the tail, spun it around, and then threw it at an approaching group, knocking them out. Once Ray had fired enough shots from his Gold Lux, he noticed his ten coins had appeared (five coins overlapped with another five – distinguishable by a larger sphere), which gave him an idea.
"Boys, you better duck!" warned Ray as he loaded a Bloody Bullet into the chamber. Thiji, Raien, Lee, and Thunderhorse hit the dirt on command as Ray span a complete 360 degrees, his blade igniting each coin into small orbs of golden-red flame. He pulled the trigger as he cried, "Circle Blast!" and created a radial shockwave of superheated air which sent the draconic hordes flying into the underside of the ring above them.
The spectacle could be seen from above and below as Hugel's people watched in awe. The hordes, however, were enraged by this, and responded by sending a massive army at the three guilds from above. Thiji got up and immediately began charging for a powerful spell while his companions got ready for round two; Lupi cracked her knuckles and picked Aege up to her feet, now getting her bearings; Botan and Momiji chugged a blue potion to replenish their magic reserves.
They had descended from above and even from the highest level, screeching and assailing them in a sea of gold and silver.
"Geez, is there no end to these Acidus?!" Lee groaned as he stretched his arms. "One heck of a level two."
The three guilds prepared to face the grand host of Acidus head-on. Thiji was poised to unleash a powerful ice spell to scatter them once more, but he paused when he would see the Acidus horde coasting to a stop. A hearty laugh was heard from above, followed by what sounded like a very hard punch. Everyone looked up and saw another Acidus, but whose body was blue like the ocean, being sent spiraling from the upper levels and out of the Emperium Spire's area of influence. This caused the Acidus horde to fly towards the blue wyrm, but doing so brought them out of bounds, teleporting them out of the Spire.
"That was their ringleader, probably," Thiji stated. "Though whatever knocked it out of the sky must be quite eager to meet us."
"Then let's not keep 'em waiting!" Ray followed. "This only means we're halfway there!"
After an indigo pulse of energy emanated from the central pillar, they, along with the other two guilds, would continue their ascent of the Emperium Spire, having cleared its second challenge.
Now on the third level, White Trinity found themselves on a larger platform in the shape of a crescent. Taking note of their surroundings, they noticed two similar platforms on the far left and far right – where the Holy Saviors and Battle Vixens appeared respectively. Holding them in place were several chains of energy which linked each platform to the center ring.
As their ascent continued, Thiji's previous assumption would begin proving relevance as the lower levels were beginning to change; the half-ring in the lowermost section began to form into a full circle, coiling the central energy pillar, which had begun to draw in the terrain from the surrounding mountains – a result of the Emperium Stone's power being "stabilized" by the three guilds' efforts. This realization puzzled the High Wizard a great deal.
Meanwhile, the three guilds took this moment to catch a breather before continuing. Elua, eager to show out from the beginning of the battle, saw the uppermost ring above, and knew that she had the means to secure victory for the Battle Vixens…
Elua: I'm going up, sisters. I won't be long!
Heal-Do: Elua, what are you talking about?
Aege: Yeah. Usually this kind of recklessness is something I'd expect from Lupi!
Lupi: Hush, you. I've matured over the last year.
Aege: Yeah – in more ways than one.
Lupi: Yes, little sister, continue showing the world how jealous you are.
Aege could only respond with a chuckle while Heal-Do shrugged. Elua, meanwhile, took off as Mukuhawk carried her, slowly coming up towards the final level…
Tsubaki: What on Midgard is she doing…?
Momiji: Is that even legal?
Just then, the swirling clouds would part as a storm of large flaming rocks descended upon the three guilds. The Sniper's lips parted into a gasp as one headed directly towards her and her falcon. Mukuhawk did his best to evade it, the flaming object merely singeing his wing, but the sudden maneuver caught him off-balance, releasing Elua before spiraling out of control. Her sisters cried out her name (save for Lupi, who merely covered her face with her palm) as gravity began pulling her down.
"Everyone, gather round!" Thiji yelled to his team. White Trinity formed up in a circle around Thiji, who then threw down a blue and yellow gemstone on the ground. Stabbing Icerend on the ground head-first, Thiji cried, "Ganbantein!" as their entire platform began to shimmer, white runes forming upon its surface. The meteors attacking them would crumble under the influence of the spell, turning into ash before they could even touch them.
"That was some quick thinking, brother!" Raien sighed in relief. "Thanks!"
"Please, 'twas nothing," Thiji replied. "Though I'm not too sure the others would be as fortunate…"
White Trinity watched as the Battle Vixens and Holy Saviors did their best to dodge the meteors crashing onto their respective platforms, the impact shaking them as a result.
"Such power…!" Tsubaki grunted after getting back to her feet. "Is this the work of the Lapis Emperium's guardian…?"
Heal-Do got up as quickly as she could, reaching out desperately for her sister, but she came up short by five centimeters.
"No…" she whispered. She then cried out, "ELUA!" at the top of her lungs, almost falling over herself. It seemed that the Sniper was going to be the first one eliminated from the Emperium Spire. Everyone watched Elua's descent, feeling some modicum of commiseration for the Elf. Thiji, especially, who faced a similar fate back in Britoniah. Of everyone affected, this event hit home the most. Once Mukuhawk recovered, ignoring his singed wing, it dove after Elua to rescue her.
Elua, however, seemed to have given up, tears welling in her eyes.
"Is this really all I can do…?" she thought. "My fellow Hunters… my Guildmaster… my sisters… Cecil… I'm sorry…"
As she closed her eyes and accepted her fate, she thought back to the memories she had made during her solo adventures in Payon, before the Battle Vixens were formed by her and her fellow sisters. That same memory she had cherished above all others – when Cecil Damon came to her aid, and helped hone her skills as an Archer.
"You're as free-spirited as the wind, Elua!" complimented Cecil. "If you keep up your training, there is no limit to how high you can soar!"
Everything faded to white as Elua snapped back into reality, her eyes shooting open as her earring began to glow a bright green.
"Yes… of course! Thank you, old friend…"
Meanwhile, Botan and Momiji helped each other up, then pointed out a figure amidst the smoke and flames. This creature stood upon the third level's center ring: a large red drake with small forearms and sporting three heads (from left to right, facing the drake) one silver, one red, and one gold. Its three heads growled menacingly at the three guilds, each head individually focused on them (Silver on Holy Saviors; Red on Battle Vixens; Gold on White Trinity).
"Only one creature I know of can summon a Meteor Storm of such strength…" Kafra Lynette thought to herself. "They're facing a Hydrolancer!"
Soon after, a voice rung in the air…
"Winds… heed my call!"
A powerful gust blew into the Spire as everyone shielded themselves. Looking around, everyone saw streaks of green soaring through the air, and enveloping the Hydrolancer, distracting it.
From the Spire's pinnacle, the ring was littered with unconscious dragons. Sweeping some aside with his blade, Atroce looked over the ledge and noticed a woman bathed in green light flying upwards. He parted his lips into a big, toothy grin, anxious to see these powerful individuals in battle.
"The more this fight unfolds, the more excited I am to have traveled this far!" he said aloud to himself. "Looks like it won't be much longer – good! These shrimps with wings hardly worked up a sweat!"
Elua ascended back towards the third level of the Spire, making loops and twirls around the structure as she discovered her newfound powers. The Hydrolancer broke free from its distraction long enough to launch a breath of dark energy at the Sniper, only to be met with a wall of green wind.
Heal-Do and Aege cheered for their sister as Lupi simply nodded in approval. Everyone else was dumbfounded by this spectacle, save for Thiji, ruminative as ever, who saw something… off about this wind. It was sentient. Living, even.
Lupi caught Thiji from the corner of her eye, staring him down as soon as their gazes met. While she was right in her paranoia of the High Wizard, she figured that he wouldn't be as shocked by this as the others. A cursory glance is all she spared him before her eyes fell back on Elua, who had begun to draw her arrow for a powerful shot.
"This one's for you, Cecil…" Elua whispered to herself as the winds around her gathered into the orbs in her bow, forming a tunnel of green rings that started from the arrowhead and ending at the Hydrolancer's heart. Elua then took a deep inhale and closed an eye to improve her aim…
"Focused… Arrow… STRIKE!"
Letting loose her arrow, a powerful burst of wind energy formed, the projectile moving at blinding speeds and finding its mark in the Hydrolancer's chest. The drake's three heads roared in pain as it retaliated with another dark breath attack, but before such a move could be made, the arrow which struck its chest continued digging into its flesh until it pierced the drake entirely!
"YEAH! GO, ELUA!" cheered the Battle Vixens.
"She pierced the beast right through! A direct, critical hit!" spoke Aege.
The breaching wound caused the Hydrolancer to stumble backwards, reeling from the pain as it spewed fire, ice, and lightning breath in all directions, until finally falling over and dissipating into energy which was absorbed into the pillar.
Elua exhaled deeply, and with the last of her powers, performed a backflip and landed beside her sisters, sticking the landing. Mukuhawk returned to her side shortly after, and her sisters cheered her on for her amazing play…
"How is that possible?" Botan questioned in annoyance. "She was shot quite literally out of the sky by that dragon! There's just no – huh?!"
Botan and her companions would feel the ground beneath them quake for a moment following another pulse of indigo light. Looking over towards the center ring, she noticed the chains holding the platforms in place were beginning to break. Once the links had been shattered completely, the three platforms would slowly gravitate towards the central ring, piecing themselves together like a puzzle as it formed a larger circle from the three once-separated platforms.
"There's no denying that Elua's got style!" Raien complimented. "We could definitely use someone like her."
"Yeah, good luck," Lee scoffed. "But she did take care of that dragon. Which only leaves the Lapis Emperium's guardian!"
Now finally together on the battlefield, the three guilds stared one another down. The ring would slowly begin to rotate as Botan boldly stepped forward to challenge the Battle Vixens. Lupi, astonished by this display, chuckled to herself and brushed aside a few loose strands of hair.
"Heathens and cheaters!" Botan scolded with weapon drawn, pointing the Divine Cross at them. "Your Sniper should have been eliminated from the battle after her reckless act sent her plummeting to earth!"
"Stand down, sister… it's not worth it!" Momiji urged in a hushed whisper. But Botan did not listen.
"We're about to see a catfight, aren't we?" Raien thought aloud with a hopeful grin. His companions and Thunderhorse shook their head in response to his comment as the tension rose.
"You call our sister a cheat?!" Aege defended. "As if you have any room to talk – you're just a Priestess!"
"A Priestess who has halted your advance not once, but thrice, even if only temporarily!" Botan retorted. "Odin and the light is with us, and through His will have the Holy Saviors triumphed over you and your unkempt kin! We held you at bay at Beacon Island, we have trounced you at Mt. Mjolnir, and we even routed you in the Kordt Forest!"
Elua cursed the priestess under her breath as she drew an arrow, but Lupi lowered her arm, glaring searing daggers at the Priestess. Heal-Do's eyes darted back and forth between her sisters, the Saviors, and White Trinity, who silently observed from their end.
"Botan, it's all right; we will face them together," Youmei reassured. But again would Botan disobey, shaking her head to the Paladin, which shocked her. Something was egging this girl on, and nothing seemed to stop her.
"Hiding under your scarlet floozy of an elder sister again?!" she chided. "You call yourselves warriors, yet you blatantly tarnish the rules of the battlefield and cause harm to all you affect! You Battle Vixens are bereft of honor, and will stoop to new lows just to gain a foothold in the Emperium Frontier! At least White Trinity – previouslythe only guild who dared to defy all odds and stood against yours – show restraint in their efforts, and treat their opponents with utmost respect and humility! Their message rang clear to all in Rune-Midgarts that your guild is not as fierce as you may think! White Trinity rekindled the fires in our hearts and resurrected the Holy Saviors to bring you and yours down a few pegs! But it is as Sister Youmei had said before: Neanderthals to the end!"
That was the final straw for Lupi. She drove her Flareripper into the ground and cracked her knuckles. She then commanded Aege and Elua to "hype her up," which caused the Whitesmith to slam Tearing Fissure into causing a great shockwave of earth burst forth, and their bodies shone white for a couple seconds. Botan took to her best defensive stance during this time. The Sniper, meanwhile, called upon the winds to make herself and her sisters fleet of foot, utilizing the Wind Walker ability.
Lupi, however, did not reach for her weapon once her sisters finished buffing. Instead, she balled her hands into tight fists, the gauntlets radiating fire energy. With a smirk, she took a small step forward. Botan prepared a defensive spell as soon as she saw movement.
"Kyri -" was all Botan could utter before Lupi – in a wondrous display of speed - zoomed towards her almost instantly with a Charge Attack, barely finishing the first word before Botan would be met with a hard left hook to her stomach – hard enough that the Priestess dropped her weapon and was lifted upwards by the Lady Knight.
As Botan was helpless in midair, Lupi readied her right hand and swung downward with all her might, her fist connecting with the side of Botan's head as Lupi uttered the words, "Head Crush…" before slamming her down into the ground. The resulting impact created a small crater with Botan's unconscious body lying in the center.
White Trinity winced collectively at the sight…
Raien: Damn…! Did she just kill her?!
Thiji: No. I'm sure the wind was merely knocked out of her from the first blow. That second attack, however…
Ray: That was Head Crush, a Lord Knight exclusive technique. It delivers a concussive blow to the enemy's skull that can induce a nasty bleed which can last longer or shorter depending on the receiver's toughness.
Lee: And Priests aren't exactly the hardiest of jobs in Midgard…
"Sleep now, child…" Lupi whispered in Botan's ear before planting a soft kiss on her cheek. Climbing back out of the crater as the ring continued ascending, Momiji's were filled to the brim with tears as she hurried to her unconscious sister's side, pushing Tsubaki and Youmei out of the way.
"Botan… Botan, speak to me!" she pleaded, trying to staunch the bleeding from Botan's head wound. Her sister did not answer, lying silently in Momiji's arms. However, the bleeding was under control thanks to her efforts, combined with the enchantment placed on her by Tsubaki. She glanced over at Botan's half of the Divine Cross, and then at the Battle Vixens…
"Think that shut 'em up, sis?" Aege asked as she bumped fists with Lupi.
A brief moment later, she heard an angry scream from behind. It was loud enough to unnerve even Atroce, who was still waiting for them to arrive! Lupi turned around and saw an enraged Momiji charging her at top speeds, body wreathed in holy power as she brandished the completed Divine Cross and the Spiritual Ring on her left hand amplified her strength twofold.
"You will pay a thousandfold for this, you red-tressed wench! That was my sister!" Momiji cried furiously, swinging the Divine Cross wildly at Lupi, who could only defend with her armored gauntlets, as she was slowly being pushed back towards the outer edge of the ring.
Elua quickly drew an arrow to intercept Botan, but her adrenaline heightened her senses, and would yell "Suffragium!" before stretching out her hand and launch a beam of Holy Light straight towards Elua's face. Her Elven reflexes activated in the nick of time as she closed her eyes and bent over backwards, making a ninety degree angle with her body, her back barely touching the ground.
"H-Holy shit…!" Elua whispered. "Mukuhawk, are you okay?"
She looked around and would find her trusted falcon spiraling down the structure. All she could do was gasp as Mukuhawk fell too far out of bounds before a beam of indigo light "trapped" him, slowly transporting him back to the War Star.
"She eliminated Elua's pet! That's going to weaken her!" Raien stated.
"Well struck, Momiji!" cheered Youmei.
"The Divine Cross alone grants its wielder holy strength of considerable magnitude when the pieces are together, but the Spiritual Ring amplifies that by a factor of two; a harbinger of doom for any Undead or Demon who face it," Tsubaki elaborated.
"Feisty little one, aren't you…? So, you've some fire after all!" Lupi grunted, still withstanding her assault. She took a few hits to the face, only able to guard against her attacks before Momiji would find an opening. "Aege…! Heal-Do…! Do something!"
Drawing her Poseidon Wave Katars, Heal-Do leapt into the air and prepared to strike with a Sonic Blow, only to find herself being unable to speak. A wreath of blue electricity constricted her neck, breaking the Assassin Cross' focus and falling onto the ring as Momiji cried "Lex Divina!"
"The hell is with this child?!" Aege grumbled as she rose her cart high over her head to slam down onto the Priestess. "Let's see how you like some Cart Termination!"
The Whitesmith's cart struck down hard on the Priestess, a minor explosion erupting from the point of impact. When the smoke cleared, however, Aege's attack would be stopped dead by a purple barrier as her cart bounced off and out of the Spire. "You've gotta be shitting me!"
"Safety Wall!" cried Momiji before she swung the Divine Cross hard at Aege's face, hitting her square in the cheek and sending her flying towards and landing on top of Elua, who was just barely getting up from her lucky dodge.
"Oh, give me a break, will ya…!" the Sniper grunted.
"Wow… This is incredible," Lee commented.
"Getting smitten with the Priestesses, my man?" Ray teased. Lee scoffed at the thought.
Lupi was about a foot away from falling off at this point. While Momiji's offensive was dazzlingly impressive, the immense power was putting a strain on her body, still unaccustomed to its full strength. Her breaths were becoming heavy, her vision blurred, and soon she would find herself losing the strength to even swing the weapon.
"Oh, no… Momiji's body can't take any more!" Youmei gasped.
"Just… Just one more strike… For Odin… For Botan…!" the Priestess groaned before falling to her knees. Lupi, seeing this as a window of opportunity, rose her fist to prepare a Head Crush, only to be met with a one-winged angel looming over her head, bearing the scales of justice and a silvery blade. The angel pointed her blade down at Lupi as smaller phantasmal swords struck her body. The Lady Knight grit her teeth, but she felt no pain, nor were any wounds left once the blades faded. "Lex… Aeterna…!" Momiji cried with effort before blasting Lupi in the stomach using the last vestiges of her strength. The preceding spell amplified the efficacy of the next source of damage, making this Holy Light very painful for Lupi. She yelled in pain from the blast, clutching her stomach.
"You got balls, Priestess…" Lupi grunted. "But you're spent now."
"I still made my point clear… I did my best for you, Botan…" Momiji whispered before falling over the edge, a smile on her face as she descended. The Emperium Spire would catch her, and transport her safely back to the Odin's Will. Lupi went to her lance and pulled it from the ground before getting into a sitting position with her sisters, her wounds seeming to heal significantly faster as she relaxed her mind and body.
"Looks like it's just us, Youmei…" spoke Tsubaki. Knowing the two prefer to be together, she picked up the incapacitated Botan and whispered a prayer before gently letting go, the Emperium Spire doing the rest of the work to send her back towards the Odin's Will.
"Yes. But Botan and Momiji have demoralized them. So long as we stay close, we can take them and White Trinity!" Youmei replied.
The ring had completed its ascent, and everyone would at last find themselves at the pinnacle of the Emperium Spire, creating one huge donut-shaped arena. The Lapis Emperium, the Spire's source of power, shone brightly in the center. Everyone looked around, noticing the knocked out dragons strewn about, until they heard cackling in the air.
"It's about time you all showed up! I almost thought to take a nap!" said a gruff voice. White Trinity stood back-to-back in a circle, weapons drawn.
"All right, boys," Ray said as he loaded his Gold Lux. "Here comes the guardian. Look sharp; fight smart!"
Descending from one of the circular platforms above was Atroce himself, who jumped from it and landed on the ring with a loud thud.
"The name's Atroce, and I've come from the Adhumbla Grasslands to the west to find some good fights!" he introduced. "Judging from all the ruckus you've been causing down there, I'd say you'll be the most fun I've had in months!"
"Fun…?" Thiji said in disbelief. "You mean to say you aren't the one guarding this Emperium Stone?"
"What, this shiny rock here?" Atroce pointed out. "Nah, I don't have any interest protecting this thing! But something did draw me here other than the promise of a good battle! Though I'd have liked to take on all of you…"
Clearly he was referring to the contestants who were already eliminated, overlooking the battle from their respective airships.
"Well, Mr. Atroce…" Lupi said as she rose to her feet, her wounds completely healed. "If it's a fight you want, we're the ones who'll give it to you!"
The alpha grinned and hoisted his blade over his shoulder, licking his paw and slicking back the fur on his head as he winked at the Lady Knight.
"You're speakin' my language, girly! I'll follow if you'll lead!" Atroce offered. Lupi smirked. The rest of her sisters got in formation. White Trinity braced themselves for battle, as well as the remaining two members of the Holy Saviors.
"Mukuhawk… I'll do my best for you and Cecil!" Elua thought to herself.
Now hyped for the ensuing skirmish, Atroce slammed his massive blade on the ground in delight, laughing heartily as he did. The power he exerted reacted with the Emperium Stone, creating a shadowy barrier which formed around the entirety of the pillar.
"Now come at me from any direction!" he commanded. "You can have your shiny rock, but if I'm to be the strongest there is, you'll have to give me a fight to remember, first!"
"Even with my powers as a Witch, I alone will not be able to get through that barrier…" Tsubaki said to Youmei. "This monster's power is unlike any I've ever seen."
Youmei nodded and rose her shield, falling to a knee as she prepared to strike. Atroce took notice of this and braced himself. It would be Lupi, however, that would make the first move.
"Spear Boomerang!" the Lady Knight cried as she flung Flareripper towards Atroce. Taking advantage of this, Youmei would follow suit.
"Shield Boomerang!" Youmei followed, utilizing the hydraulics in her shield to propel it forward, hurling the shining tower at the alpha wolf.
Atroce was now attacked from two directions, with Youmei on his right, and Lupi on his left. With quick thinking, he ducked, resulting in the weapons flying over his head and continuing along their paths. Lupi and Youmei managed to avoid the other's attack as their respective weapons came full circle and returned to them.
"Ahh, so you're a Paladin!" Atroce surmised as he got back up. "Holy warriors always were a bit of a nuisance, to tell you the truth!"
"That makes two of us!" Lupi followed. "She's always hiding behind that shield of hers!"
"If he is pointing that out, then he must be of the Shadow property…" Thiji deducted. "He's definitely no Undead, and he's resisted most other attacks as well."
"Holy, you say?" Ray said as he emptied the clip his Gold Lux and loaded it with Silver Bullets. Lee snapped his fingers and nodded.
"Good call, Ray! Those should do some good damage!" spoke the Champion. Thiji looked around whilst his companions prepared to make their scene, noticing a large stone disk laying on its side. It seemed spacious enough to carry one person. He went over and placed a hand on it; the disk reacted to his touch, activating blue runes which danced along the cool surface. He turned to his brother and smirked.
"Raien, I'm going up," he told him.
"The hell you mean, up?" the Ninja questioned. "There's nothing else but the energy beam and the sky!
"You'll see," the High Wizard replied. "Just back up Ray and Lee for now."
Taking the offensive, Lee concentrated his Spirit Spheres into himself and stomped the ground with great force, an aura of chi made visible from his power using Critical Explosion.
"White Trinity's turn!" Ray shouted as he circled around the pillar past the Battle Vixens, but Aege struck back with her axe in an effort to cut him off. Before her attack could even connect, however, she found herself rendered immobilized.
"Huh…?" gasped Aege. She saw her axe blade being held by Lee, who stopped her using his Blade Stop technique. Heal-Do attempted to break the hold by jabbing him with her katars, but he was able to teleport away after giving the Whitesmith a wink. "Damn that Champion!"
This provided Ray the opening he needed to unleash a flurry of bullets at Atroce, who tried his best to deflect some of them with his blade, but caught a few in his left shoulder. The alpha struck back with a downward swing with his blade, but Ray pulled the trigger on the Gold Lux attached to his blade, using the force of the blast to propel him out of the way, avoiding the attack completely and countering with a diagonal slash to the chest. Atroce swung at him with his left fist which found its mark in Ray's chest, forcing the Gun-Knight back several meters.
Lee had entered the scene immediately after, striking at the alpha with a flurry of swift punches and kicks. Atroce swung with his blade, only to miss as Lee sprung up in the air into a front flip before forming the tiger's claw with his hands.
"Tiger Knuckle Fist!" the Champion called out as he delivered a heavy punch to Atroce's cranium, but only met his blade which he rose to defend himself. Sparks flew from the impact as Atroce grunted with effort, impressed by the Champion's strength. He saw an opening, however, and parried his strike, knocking Lee off-balance and grabbed him by his leg, spinning him around before throwing the Champion underhanded towards Ray. He recovered mid-flight and slid across the ground, stopping beside the Gun-Knight.
"Huh… That was some impressive footwork there!" complimented Atroce as he shrugged off the bullet and blade wounds. "Not bad hits, either! Now I know that I can cut loose!"
Stabbing his sword into the ground, Atroce let out a mighty roar as his body effulged in a blood-red aura. As he powered up, the blade began to glow a bright orange.
"Oh, shit, that's Magnum Break!" Ray warned, immediately taking note of the telegraph. Raien and Thunderhorse hurried over towards Ray and Lee to protect them with a plasma barrier before Atroce's weapon released a vast wave of fire which engulfed the entire ring.
Heal-Do utilized her powers over water to create a shield to protect herself and her sisters from the flames as Tsubaki ducked behind Youmei's shield. Lupi was virtually unaffected, but Aege and Elua were beginning to feel the heat.
"Damn… that's a caliber of Magnum Break I've never seen before!" Aege grunted. "I don't think I can hold it much longer, girls…!" It was so hot that she was compelled to step back to escape the flames, but she found herself out of space when her foot slipped on the edge of the ring.
"Sister!" Heal-Do gasped as she lowered the shield to rush towards Aege. "Those scales are heating her up like an oven!" She managed to catch her sister by her brassiere, pulling her back to safety as Lupi took over and shielded them with her own Magnum Break to contest the flames.
"Heal-Do, no!" Elua shouted, reaching out to her baby sister, but jerked her hand back when the flames swirled around her and her sisters, trying not to get singed again. The Assassin Cross sacrificed herself to keep Aege in the game, and she would find herself falling from the Spire before it deemed her disqualified and joined Mukuhawk at the War Star.
As for White Trinity, the flames were proving too much for Thunderhorse as it broke through the plasma barrier and sent her flying off the Spire. With no time to mourn their loss, Raien threw a Flame Stone in the air and slashed it with his golden shinobigatana and performed a few hand signs with blinding speed.
"Katon: Crimson Fire Formation!" Raien yelled. A swirling dome of fire surrounded himself, Ray, and Lee as it protected them from Atroce's ferocious Magnum Break. The fire storm raged on a few moments longer before Atroce re-equipped himself with his blade, giving everyone who survived a grin. Tsubaki healed up Youmei's arm which was burning from the heat buildup of her shield in the meantime.
"Now - show me what the three best guilds in the world can do!" challenged Atroce as he took a step forward.
"With pleasure!" replied a voice. Everyone scanned their surroundings for a short moment before a figure appeared hovering above White Trinity. Their strategist had returned, his weapon wreathed in white and blue energy through Mystical Amplification.
"Oh, now he's just mocking me!" Elua grumbled.
"That young man never ceases to amaze…" chuckled Tsubaki.
Pointing the tail end of Icerend at Atroce, Thiji cried "Magic Crasher!" and unleashed a powerful orb of force which found its mark in the chest of the alpha, knocking him back a few steps towards the pillar. As he was recovering from the hit, Thiji chucked three blue gemstones – one at the Battle Vixens; one at the Holy Saviors, and one at Atroce's feet before he began to cast another spell. Ray, Lee, and Raien took the time to rebuff and prepare for another offensive.
As Thiji completed his conjuring, the gemstones shattered and created a large violet field which surrounded them, their bodies suddenly becoming heavy as the earth beneath them shook. Elua was able to cartwheel out of it in time before she experienced its effects, drawing an arrow as she leapt in the air.
"Always the schemer…" Lupi sneered, falling to a knee. Elua launched her arrow at Thiji, only to miss completely as he levitated to the side.
"Gravitational Field!" the High Wizard called out.
"Forward, White Trinity!" commanded Ray as they charged Atroce. He rose his mighty blade high in the air, taking note of his slowed movements. Glowering at the three, he swung to his left, but White Trinity easily avoided the attack. Ray took aim for a moment, using the extra time from the altered gravity to line up a powerful shot while Lee charged up for a Guillotine Fist. Raien remained on the defensive, keeping his hand close to his ninjato.
No longer holding back, he caught them unawares as his body shimmered a bright gold before striking down with his blade using both his hands. They avoided the attack, but not completely, for the force of the impact created a shockwave which nicked them in the leg and was fired outward in a cone alone the ground, heading straight towards Youmei and Tsubaki!
"Curses…! We're being overpowered, sister!" Youmei grunted, straining to hold back the shockwave with her shield. "This beast is formidable indeed!"
"Then if we are to go out, let us strike a blow for our fallen comrades," Tsubaki declared, doing her best to rise to her feet from the Gravitational Field. Its effects were beginning to wear off, and Youmei as well would find standing up much easier. As Tsubaki held back the shockwave with a Safety wall, Youmei looked across the arena and saw Lupi and Aege, still vulnerable, and understood what Tsubaki meant, and glared at them.
"Lupi!" cried the Crusader in a booming voice which drew everyone's attention. "Your actions will not go unanswered! If the Holy Saviors are to face defeat this day, then we shall welcome it honorably. You will know the wrath of our God, and you've nowhere to escape His judgment, for it shall be swift and brutal like the hammer of Thor!"
Youmei gathered holy energy into Excalibur, raising it high into the air as the clouds above them parted. Lupi grimaced as she got to her feet, Aege and Elua shielding their eyes from the blinding light. "Now Tsubaki!"
Heal-Do was beholding the spectacle from her guild's airship, squinting from the light shining from above.
"Lex Aeterna!" the Witch cried. Utilizing her own variation of the spell, her Shikigami sprouted dark wings (temporarily making it an amphiptere) from her outstretched arm, zooming past White Trinity and coiling up Lupi's body before biting her on the shoulder, "marking" the Lady Knight, who yelped slightly from the bite, trying to swat at the serpent in retaliation, but it vanished into thin air and reappeared beside its master.
"You bitch!" Lupi growled.
"Which is less than I can say about you…" Tsubaki riposted.
"For Botan! For Momiji! For Odin!" shouted Youmei, her voice increasing in volume. Her body was shining like a holy beacon as everyone shielded their eyes; even the onlookers from the city below could feel the power she was emanating. Lupi then found herself surrounded by a large white square, but she was unable to do anything to avoid what was coming next.
The words rang loudly from the ocean floor to the very heavens. All that was seen was the glint of some object descending from on high, followed by a massive, booming thud which shook the very earth. A gargantuan cross had landed right on top of the Lady Knight, and with the added effect of Lex Aeterna, it was more than enough to knock her out cold. White Trinity and Atroce shielded their faces from the dust cloud; Aege and Elua skid across the ground from the force of the impact, though the ground beneath them had started to crack.
"What the hell kind of a spell was that?!" Raien gasped. The area surrounding the Battle Vixens slowly began to split apart into numerous smaller platforms, still floating thanks to the Emperium Spire's power. Lupi fell between the cracks, leaving Aege to try and catch her in a vain attempt to keep her in play, but fell along with her and was eliminated, joining Heal-Do and Mukuhawk back at the War Star, leaving only Elua to fend for herself.
"Aege!" Heal-Do exclaimed as she ran to her sister, the Whitesmith sitting on the deck, breathing heavily. "What on Midgard happened over there?!"
"Sister…" she began as she looked up to Heal-Do. "I don't know about you… but I think we've been sleeping on the Holy Saviors."
"Hey, what's the big idea?!" Atroce scolded.
"Long story; we'd bore you if we told you," Thiji replied.
"Damn… I'm all that's left," Elua thought. "But I still have a chance to win this!"
Ray, Lee, and Raien got up on their feet, while Thiji took notice of the Sniper and surrounded her in a box formed from several Ice Walls. "HEY! WHY YOU-!"
Ray's blade and body shone gold as he charged at Atroce, who gladly accepted his challenge, clashing blades with him at fast speeds and laughing as he did. Raien, seeing an opening, unsheathed his own sword and applied lightning-infused chakra onto the blade. Thiji went over and landed pot shots at Elua with Cold Bolts. Lee would buy Raien some time and advanced upon Atroce's position with a powerful Raging Palm Strike, but was blocked by the alpha's free hand. Ray was currently in a deadlock with Atroce's blade, but his body was exposed for Raien to deliver a powerful attack!
"Hold 'em right there, guys!" Raien shouted as he finished charging his blade.
"Youmei, now is our chance!" Tsubaki stated. The Paladin nodded and gathered herself before rushing towards the pillar. Meanwhile, Raien had crushed a Wind Stone upon his blade, creating a miniature hurricane coated with lightning.
"Fuuton Raiton: Typhoon Lightning Spiral!" the Ninja cried as he dashed towards Atroce, delivering a vertical slice along his chest. The energy in the blade was discharged, exploding in a small storm of wind and lightning, dealing a great amount of damage to the alpha. Youmei struck at the barrier surrounding the Lapis Emperium with a Holy Cross while Tsubaki used her Holy-empowered Nemesis Mace to deliver a strong blow to it. Their combined strength was sufficient enough to make the shadowy bulwark crack, slowly spreading throughout and weakening the pillar's integrity.
Elua, no longer trying to be a sitting duck, took out a small object from her pocket which resembled a mine. She placed it in the middle of her boxed room and it would activate with a small beep. She then got into a crouching position and smirked at Thiji, who hovered just above.
"She means to shatter the barrier!" the High Wizard thought as he retreated. He was only able to get a few meters away before the mine exploded, the Sniper jumping as high as she could just before it detonated so that the resulting explosion would propel her upwards. The shards of ice shot in all directions, some even lodging themselves into the weakening shadow barrier. As for Atroce, he had sustained heavy damage from Raien's attack, and hunched over as he stabbed his blade into the ground to keep him upright, his aura dissipating as a sign.
The barrier would ultimately burst as it was breached, and everyone still grounded would be knocked back from the shockwave of the Lapis Emperium's energy that Atroce's barrier contained.
"We did what we could…" Tsubaki sighed. "The twins are waiting for us." Youmei smiled as she took the Witch by the hand before descending the Spire together, and thus being transported back to the Odin's Will.
Ray, Lee, and Raien, meanwhile, were hanging over the edge for dear life, observing the scene…
Ray: Dammit! That Atroce's something else!
Lee: This Spire's powered him up, too! But at least Raien's attack weakened him!
Raien: I thought for sure that'd do him in! Must be some high level Shadow property monster or something!
Ray: It's all on Thiji now! Come on, you magnificent High Wizard of Ice!
With the barrier destroyed and Atroce catching his breath, Thiji would make his way towards the Lapis Emperium, but Elua would land behind him, sending him off-course. The High Wizard attempted to summon Icerend to strike the Sniper, but she proved the quicker as she had an arrow already nocked and aimed straight for his head. The hover disc coasted to a stop as she whispered the words, "Got you, Ice Boy…"
"Ahh, shit!" Ray groaned.
Raising his hands in the air, Thiji slowly turned to face Elua, who had her arrow aimed straight for his heart. Her lips crept into a sly smirk as she took another step forward. "Any last words?" she asked him, her fingers eagerly waiting to release the arrow.
The High Wizard approached her, slowly, disarmingly. He would then lean forward and plant a gentle kiss upon the Sniper's cheek before backing away. This unexpected action surprised Elua for a moment, but her smirk grew into a grin as her gaze focused on Thiji.
"Was that for me…? Or for Heal-Do?"
After a short pause, he chuckled. His reply?
"For the Elves."
She then gasped as her fingers slipped, the arrow flying straight into Thiji's heart and sending him flying off the hover disc.
"THIJI!" his companions yelled as they reached out to him, only to slip and fall. From below, the citizens of Hugel gasped as they saw a figure plummeting from the heavens, only to be captured by the Lapis Emperium's power and being transported to the Shining Heart, along with three other figures who had shared the same fate. Kafra Lynette beheld this and gasped.
"White Trinity has fallen…?" she asked herself in a hushed tone. "That can only mean…"
Elua was still astonished at Thiji's reply, but she snapped out of it and refocused. With her opponents now routed and Atroce weakened significantly, the Lapis Emperium laid before her, shining in its glorious indigo light.
"Heh… That's definitely more than what I expected!" Atroce said before bursting into a cackle. "I'd say I'm more than satisfied; the stone's all yours, little Elf!"
"OH! Uh, thanks?" Elua replied. With that, Atroce gave a two-fingered salute, grabbed his blade, and jumped down the Spire until finally landing next to Kafra Lynette, who was frightened by his entrance. As he returned back down to Hugel, his Galion pack returned to him with medals and full bellies, which made him laugh heartier than before.
"Looks like you boys have had your fun as well!" spoke the alpha. He patted Kafra Lynette on the head before he began to walk out of the city with his pack. "It's been a time and a half, Miss Lynette – we're headed back home to train. Hopefully we'll return with a bigger and stronger pack!"
"Glad you had lots of fun, Mr. Atroce!" Kafra Lynette yelled as she waved farewell. The citizens were still dubious over the whole event, but nonetheless stayed out of his way lest his wrath be incurred.
Back at the Spire, Elua slowly hovered towards the Lapis Emperium, reaching out to and touching the stone, causing a pulse of indigo light to shoot outward, filling the surrounding area.
Lynette would then receive a call from her headpiece shortly afterward…
Kafra Scarlett: Kafra Lynette? This is Kafra Scarlett. We saw a flash of blue light. Is everything all right?
Kafra Lynette: Yes, ma'am! The battle over Hugel has just concluded!
Kafra Scarlett: And the victors?
Kafra Lynette: It looks like the Battle Vixens have taken this one.
Kafra Scarlett: Understood. We have just finished things here. Go ahead and retrieve the package.
Kafra Lynette: Yes, ma'am! Kafra Lynette out.
"I did it, Cecil… I hope you saw everything…" she thought to herself. Thus claimed, the Emperium Spire was beginning to "power down," the energy pillar slowly dissipating and vanishing, returning the skies to normal. The hover disc upon which she rode had turned off as well, and with the last of its power, the Emperium Spire sent Elua back to her sisters aboard the War Star.
"The Emperium Spire has been claimed by Elua! The Battle Vixens are victorious!" yelled Kafra Lynette to the city. Everyone cheered and applauded the victorious warrior women. Over at the War Star, Mukuhawk reunited with Elua, and her sisters lifted the Sniper up in jubilation…
Aege: You did it, Elua! We've claimed Hugel for the Battle Vixens!
Elua: There was no way I was going to lose! I couldn't disappoint Cecil like that!
Lupi, struggling to get to her feet: Those Saviors did a number on us, I'll admit… But you did good, Elua.
Heal-Do: You did "well!"
Lupi: Whatever. Well, Hugel is now ours. Let's freshen up and head back to Juno.
Elua: Wait! I need to see the Hunter's Guild!
Lupi: Oh, right. Your friend. Fine, we'll stay for now. But I'm going back inside to – ow! – get rid of this headache…
Aege: Right behind you, Big Sis! (To Heal-Do) Oh. For what it's worth, thanks for trying to keep me in play.
Heal-Do: O-Of course!
As the two retreated into the lower decks, Elua came over and gave her sister a kiss on the cheek.
Heal-Do: Whoa! Elua, are you all right?
Elua: It's a message. From Thiji.
Heal-Do swore her heart had stopped upon mention of the name. At the Odin's Will, Tsubaki and Youmei had just revived the twins from the dream world…
Youmei: Thank the Allfather you two are all right.
Botan: I'm… I'm s—
Tsubaki: Don't you dare, Botan. You, too, Momiji. Your acts this day will be remembered by our guild. Most Priests and Priestesses wish they harbored the courage you two exhibited.
Momiji: Thank you…
Youmei: We're proud of you both. But now, take your rest. Let us return to Juno.
Botan: W-Wait… Sister Youmei…
Botan: East… We must go…
Momiji: What are you talking about, sister? That's open sea!
Tsubaki: From your visions, I take it?
Botan nodded weakly in response. The witch turned to Youmei…
Youmei: If her visions say so, then westward we shall head. We shall take to the sea and discover the truth behind Botan's meditations.
At the Shining Heart, Thiji was recovering from his wound…
Raien: Holy hell, man! How are you still alive?!
Thiji: Good question… that hit me straight in my heart.
Ray: Wait, I saw this before… Lee, remember the Izlude Arena?
Lee: You mean those Hunters who shot invisible arrows at us?
Ray: Yeah! I think that's what Elua did – she used that Phantasmal Arrow technique to knock Thiji off the disc! It didn't do any real damage; she was just trying to knock him off!
Thiji: That makes sense, at least… Though that monster did inconvenience us for a bit.
One of the crewmen descended from the bridge to address White Trinity.
White Trinity Crewman: Sirs! We have an urgent transmission coming from Aldebaran!
Ray: We'll be right there!
The boys and Thunderhorse made their way to the bridge and opened the channel to reveal Kafra Nora.
Nora: Hey, boys! Good to hear from ya!
Thiji: Hello, Kafra Nora.
Nora: You dears all right? Ya look beaten up!
Raien: Well, we lost the Emperium Spire; the Battle Vixens beat us.
Nora: Well, that's a relief!
White Trinity (save for Thiji) stood from their seats in protest.
Ray: Uh, excuse you?
Nora: The Kafra Krew and I were hopin' you'd lose this one, to be honest!
Lee: I don't get it – are we losing Kafra Nora's favor now?!
Thiji: No… I'm certain that there is a meaning behind Kafra Nora's words.
Raien: Even I find that statement to be some bull, brother.
Nora: Nope! He's absolutely right! Before y'all jump to conclusions, we'll explain everything if ya come back to Juno; Scar will be there, too!
The Gun-Knight sighed and plopped back into his seat.
Ray: Well, fine. We'll make our way back.
Nora gave them a wink and ended the transmission. Before long, the Shining Heart, now freed from the Emperium Spire, began flying back westward towards the City of Sages. Meanwhile, the Odin's Will lowered its altitude until touching the sea floor, making its way east and into the sea. Heal-Do was watching both vessels leave Hugel from the deck of the War Star, sighing to herself as she laid a hand upon her cheek.
"This is only the beginning of many battles to come…" she thought. "I pray this contest ends soon… and we can be together, my lord…"
TO BE CONTINUED