Melissa opened her eyes to a horrific sight. The bodies of her comrades were sprawled across the dark forest floor in pools of gore, each looking as if some ferocious giant had mauled all of them in their final agonized moments. As she stood in the center of this scene, the worst shock came when she saw Juto, who lay on the ground with his viscera covering his broken sword and his bulging eyes staring upward. She shook her head in hopes that she was still unconscious and this was all a nightmare. The last thing she could remember was a mysterious chest pain overwhelming her before falling into total blackness. When she realized she wasn't dreaming, she thought out loud in a fearful tone.
"What happened here?"
The voice of a sinfully delighted female echoed in the back of Melissa's ears. The black-haired swordswoman frantically turned her head to look for the speaker somewhere in the forest trees.
"I used my new weapon against your friends. I must say, it surpassed all of my expectations."
Melissa grit her teeth and growled in defiance when she quickly recognized the tone of the voice. She announced the name of the mysterious being in a muttered breath.
The seemingly invisible woman responded accordingly in a playful air.
"Long time no see, Melissa."
Melissa scanned the grassy, blood-soaked ground again before closing her eyes to rid herself of the terrible sight. She clenched her fists in rage and squeezed her eyelids in sorrow as she demanded an explanation.
"What did this? What weapon are you talking about?"
Claire's voice giggled briefly before casually responding.
The mourning soldier's eyes fluttered open with shock and stared forward at this revelation. She struggled to convey her next words in disbelief.
"How... could I... ?"
Melissa suddenly heard a soft humming sound in front of her. She looked down to see a small circle of white light pulsating from the exposed cleavage of her short, flower-themed battle dress. The glow was coming from the top of her left breast, and she expected her earlier heart pains to return. This time, however, it actually felt soothing. Melissa exhaled gently as she heard Claire's voice again.
"This is the Kamond we implanted in you when you were first captured. It turns you into a rather powerful Sentinel."
The glow soon faded, and Melissa's relaxed state ended with her becoming aware of the unwanted device in her body. In her surprise, she could only blurt out one word.
Melissa heard Claire laugh softly before she replied. The sinister woman seemed to take delight in explaining the full details of the Kamond's abilities.
"Huaren designed this one with special limiters. I can unlock your full power or revert you to your human form any time I like."
Melissa shuddered at this notion as Claire continued.
"All of the previous subjects we implanted this kind of Kamond in ended up going haywire or dying. We had almost given up trying to make the blasted thing work, but then you came along with the rest of that Highwind Island trash. Since you were nearly dead anyway, I figured trying to recycle you wouldn't hurt. It would have been a shame to let something as pretty as you spend the rest of your days in one of Schuenzeit's dungeons, even if you were just some filthy wench leading a farmer's rebellion."
The raven-haired warrior's mind cycled in a hodgepodge of emotions. She couldn't tell if she was more angry at Claire's barrage of insults, or more overtaken by feelings of helplessness and vulnerability toward how she had been violated by the scientists employed by the wicked imperial. As Melissa struggled with learning what she had been through, Claire's voice continued speaking as proudly as ever.
"It couldn't have been a more stable match. It was almost as if your body wanted the Kamond. When you came out of surgery, it made itself right at home beside your heart without any rejection issues. I'm still not sure if all Highwind women have such promiscuous physiology, or it's something specific to you. In any case, we put your capabilities to good use and you turned out to be the best present I've ever been given: Beautiful AND strong."
These last words were enough to make Melissa boil over in the direction of anger. She shouted to her enemy in full conviction.
"You... you bitch! You stuck this THING in me and you forced me to kill everyone!"
Melissa's outburst didn't concern Claire in the slightest. The noblewoman knew exactly how to turn her subject's words around.
"I didn't FORCE you to do anything, sweetie. You betrayed me on your own will, and I shut off your stabilizer for a little while to punish you. I warned you there would be harsh consequences if you weren't a good girl, didn't I?"
Melissa's flames of hatred were quickly extinguished by a flood of regret. Her voice softened as she studied the chaos around her again and took Claire's words to heart.
"I... I thought you meant you'd kill me."
Melissa's statement caused the ghostly voice to only giggle again and retort in a tickled character.
"Heavens, no. You're too precious to me for me to do that. You should have known better."
When the playful air faded from Claire's words, she continued in a more stern tone.
"So, I suppose this leaves you with two options. Either you can keep your wits at the small price of volunteering your loyalty to me, or I can just send you on another messy rampage to get whatever missions I have for you done. You can stay human and carry out your duty with caution, or become a monster and mindlessly slaughter anyone who stumbles in your way."
She seemed to pout slightly when she spoke her next words.
"I really do hope you'll choose the humane option. If I'm going to have a pet, I'd rather have a clever puppy than a rabid beast."
Melissa clenched her eyes shut in guilt as a result of Claire's words. When she opened them again, she peered down to see her signature curved rapier lying on the forest floor just beside her red and white boots. Realizing there was only one way to stop this, she knelt on one bare knee to retrieve the blade. She then rose back to her feet, holding the weapon's handle in both hands, and carefully turned the deadly end toward herself. She aimed the sword at her own chest, intent on sacrificing herself so Claire wouldn't be able to cause more despair.
The scheming noble's voice suddenly interrupted Melissa's tragic vigil in an almost taunting tone.
"Ahh, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Melissa."
Melissa continued to hold her sword in place as she blinked in confusion, failing to understand how Claire could have known what she was about to do without physically being present. She then spoke in the same baffled manner.
"How do you know what I'm doing?"
Claire answered this question with confidence in her voice. She had no doubt she had Melissa on a very short leash.
"Another safety measure I had Huaren put in that cute little thing. My connection allows me to see what you see. Privacy is a luxury you no longer have. I used your eyes to know when would be the easiest time to annihilate your party."
She paused for a moment in the middle of her response. Had Melissa been standing in the royal chambers, she would have seen Claire had stopped to lick her lips.
"Every inch of your body and mind already belongs to me. The only question is whether or not you'll make it easier on yourself and accept it."
Melissa briefly turned her head away in disgust toward these words, causing her long hair to flutter in the forest air. She then turned back to the matter at hand, and her hands held the blade in place as steady as ever as she shouted in anger.
"Tell me why I shouldn't do this. After everything you've done, tell me why I should let you get your way!"
Claire paused before answering, causing Melissa to picture her shaking her head in disappointment. Finally, the sultry villainess explained the situation to her hostage.
"Suicide at this point may kill your human half, but your body alone is quite sufficient for your Sentinel form to survive. If you decide to end your own life, you'd only be handing absolute control of yourself to me. Unless you want to cause another bloodbath, I think it would be best to keep your own consciousness intact."
Melissa gasped at these words. Her determined expression quickly changed into an uncertain frown, and she stared at the blade pointed at her chest in silence for several moments. Finally, she lowered her arms and held the thin saber at her right side. As she stared toward her feet in grief, she spoke to the haunting voice in a near-whisper.
"I... I'll do as you say, mistress."
She thought she heard the echo of Claire clapping her palms together in excitement before her new superior spoke.
"Good! Come back to the Northern Army's base as soon as you can. I'll probably have to give you a bath since you've been traveling with those flea-bitten mutts."
Claire's final words were delivered in a scolding manner. Melissa curled her nose in contempt, taking insult to both being treated in such a vulgar manner and hearing her fallen comrades be talked about so disrespectfully. However, for the sake of countless others, she had to bear this and make Claire happy. After sighing, she spoke in a quiet, obedient voice.
"Very well, my lady."
With her heart full of regret, Melissa began her journey out of the forest with her sword at her side.