“I won’t let you!”
Hearing Monica’s voice, I saw her spin as she descended down from up high.
Both her hands were gripped onto a mace, and with it, she delivered a blow that would lead any human it encountered to a tragic end.
It looks like my last breath wasn’t to fall on this white and red road.
No, perhaps I’d merely gained a little time.
The lowered mace was received with the rapier.
The air pressure from the swing caused the snow surrounding Celes to hover, and after Monica came to a halt in the air, their hairs rustled just a little bit.
It was quite an unbelievable scene.
Monica’s strike had truly been heavy.
A human… stopping it with such a slender rapier should be impossible by common sense.
But for Celes to accomplish such a feat was something I found myself accepting as natural.
“For someone to direct true hostility at me… you’re the second.”
Leaping away from Celes, Monica held up her weapon in both hands.
In the next instant, Aria’s back appeared in front of me.
Making her entrance skidding through the gap Celes left, her breathing was a mess.
“This is the first… time I’ve… used it in such succession, but… it looks like I’ve made it.”
By looking around, she seemed to understand the danger of the situation. She didn’t have along her spear, but she drew a dagger hanging at her waist, and got into position.
Celes’ eyes were turned to the yellow Jewel on the rapier, and she slowly turned her sights to Monica and Aria.
“One Skill user, and an ancient mechanical doll… interesting. Let’s add them to my collection.”
Celes looked at me.
I couldn’t move my body as I wanted, and with my limbs firmly planted to the ground, I could only return that stare.
Aria seemed to notice an abnormality.
“Just what are you…”
Locking eyes with Aria, Celes let out a light sigh.
She looked to be a bit troubled.
“It’s no good. Normally a look would be enough. Oy doll over there, do you have the mind to be mine? I’ll treasure more than Lyle ever did.”
Monica chucked her mace at Celes full force, before producing another identical one from the contents of her skirt.
Celes used her rapier to repel one and bisect the other.
The repelled mace rolled around close to me.
“I see. What a pity.”
And after Celes said that much, Monica gave her response.
“I’d appreciate it if you referred to me as an automaton or maid rather than a doll. But for me to hold animosity… are you human?”
She spoke as if Celes was no mere human, and in my inner thoughts, I was sure she wasn’t wrong.
Something that had transcended the term. That’s the impression Celes lightly tossed out.
After giggling a little, Celes spoke to her.
“When you’re merely a fake that manifested in the labyrinth yourself, you sure are stuck on the details.”
Celes put up a tone as if she knew something special, but Monica simply scoffed.
“And yet I still exist, with a chicken dickwad here to serve. Be I a real construct or not makes no difference at all!”
The Fourth gave me a simple analysis of the situation.
『Even with two extra, you’re still at a disadvantage. Lyle, confirm if anyone else is headed this way. And… make sure you definitely check if Novem-chan is coming.』
He spoke tensely with some doubt.
I didn’t want to suspect her, but Celes had definitely voiced Novem’s name.
“… Aria, where are the others?”
I confirmed with her quietly.
She responded in a soft voice.
“They’ll all be here soon. Only Monica and I went ahead.”
Hearing that, I spoke.
“Did Novem say anything?”
“I came here in quite a rush, you know? And after getting here, it’s all about Novem? I went as fast as I could, just to let you know? Even so, why are none of the people around us moving?”
As she took some nervous glances at the surroundings, I followed along.
Knights, soldiers, civilians… all of them were looking at Celes.
Among them, some onlookers were even letting their tear ducts flow.
I mustered some strength to reach for the mace near me.
『Lyle… why must you go so far? Are you irritated you lost? Or is it mere stubbornness? What is there to gain, getting angry just because someone or another talked down to you!?』
He sounded worried for me.
(Right, we’ve been together for more than half a year… it seems I’ve gotten to understand some things.)
The usually-aloof Third Generation offered my some advice.
『Lyle, can you try holding out until Novem-chan gets here?』
The Sixth didn’t think that highly of Novem.
Just as the daughter of a house he associated with.
『Third, do you have something in mind?』
The Seventh worried for me.
『A way to get through here, and let Lyle live another day?』
But the Third denied those allegations.
『That’s a dilemma more troublesome than you can imagine. She’s a moody one, and her hostility to our Lyle is strong. She voiced Novem-chan’s name, so if you hold out until then, something’s sure to be set in motion. Not that I can say if it’s for better or worse.』
Then isn’t escape the better option?
Even at that point, that was not what was on my mind.
By fighting and observing, that’s what I could understand.
I can’t escape from Celes. She’d easily catch up, and the battle would rage on.
The Fifth also seemed aware.
『There’s too much a gap in strength. I never thought it would be this large… we were naïve. If it was the current Lyle, then I thought that at the very least, escape would be a valid option from the description he gave of her.』
The Fourth spoke to me.
『Buying time should be fine, but I wonder how far Monica and Aria can hold out.』
I took some deep breaths, looked at Celes, and smiled.
“… Is something the matter?”
“No, not really.”
But saying that, I grinned and watched Celes once more.
Her eyebrows twitching a little in reaction, she instantly entered the gap between me and Aria.
That meant she had taken Aria’s back, so Aria turned around with her eyes wide open.
Celes grasped my and hoisted my up by the collar, but even so, I laughed.
Holding up a mace, Monica rushed towards Celes, while Aria stabbed down her dagger… before the two of them were sent flying into a wall.
They both hit the wall head-on. Perhaps Aria used a Skill to defend herself, as she instantly rose.
Monica crashed through, making a hole, before emerging from another wall.
I was surprised at her appearance, but Celes easily kicked her away.
The automaton rolled quite a distance away before standing to face Celes.
As I called for her to stop, Celes turned to look at me.
I knew well enough that Monica was trying to resolve the present situation, but her opponent was too much.
“Just sit there and watch.”
And in the next instant, my back was smitten with a sturdy wall.
With me still in her hands, Celes had slammed me into it.
Expressionlessly, she watched me, and opened her mouth.
“You sure seem lax. Given up already?”
Blood dripped down from my mouth, and on top of the pain, my mind seemed it would leave me at any moment, but I endured it, and smiled at her.
It seems she hated being made light of. At least that part of her was still immature.
Not in her usual condescending smile, Celes glared at me.
“I’m asking if you’re satisfied yet. You’ve gotten your overwhelming power, and you’ve used it to crush the weak. Having fun yet? Well then that perfect… quite fitting of you.”
After I said that, Celes stuck her blade through my left arm, nailing me with it to the wall. As she ground it back and forth, I let out a scream.
While such an indescribable sound escaped my mouth, I continued smiling at her.
(Yeah, that’s right, harassing her is just that much fun! I knew she’d do it, so I… dammit, it hurts!!)
『Lyle, how about you keep your provocations in moderation? But I’ll praise you for not making a sacrifice of the other two. It really was a gamble, but it seems looks like you’re in time. Well, the important thing is how things start moving from here on out.』
And there, Novem ran onto the stage.
… Novem watched Celes suddenly pull her rapier from Lyle’s arm, and take some distance.
She had decided to follow Lyle when he left Walt Territory. So the two woman hadn’t seen one another for a period over half a year in length.
She had grown even more from before, and her atmosphere was becoming even more fascinating.
Holding a beauty unbefitting her age, Celes watched an out of breath Novem race over to Lyle. She neither called out nor launched an attack.
Novem immediately began treating Lyle, going as far as to show Celes her back.
The boy could lose consciousness at any moment, but to Novem…
“Monica’s probably beyond magic, but please take care of Aria and Shannon, and Eva’s treatments first…”
Saying that, power left his body, and Novem held it close.
Gently laying him down on a bed of snow, Novem turned to Celes.
When Miranda arrived, she ran to Aria.
And Clara to Monica.
Standing in a position as if to protect Lyle, emergency first aid completed, Novem pointed the staff in her hands at Celes.
“… This isn’t what you promised. You said you wouldn’t raise a hand, right?”
Hearing that, Celes directed some fleeting glances towards her yellow Jewel.
It was as if she was going against its will, and Celes herself wanted to cut Novem down on the spot.
Novem seemed to understand that.
Celes returned her rapier to its sheath, and addressed her.
And the moment her weapon was put away, the knights gathered at her side.
“Yes, yes, sorry about that. My bad. But he’s the one that threw the first stone.”
Seeing her laugh to herself, Novem looked around, and saw Alfred and the soldier collapsed nearby. Snow had begun to pile on them.
She could easily understand that Celes was the one to take both of them out.
“That’s a lie. Lyle-sama isn’t that sort of person. The one to throw the first blow was your Alfred, was it not?”
Novem was aware of Alfred’s actions up to now. After all, she was the daughter of the Forxuz House, a house deeply connected with the Walts.
Celes feigned innocence.
“No idea~! I mean, they were already fighting when I got here.”
Still giggling to herself, she moved to leave the area.
Novem spoke to her.
“If Lyle-sama was to have died… I’d have fought, even with you as my opponent, Celes-sama.”
Celes stopped in her tracks. The knights around her reached for the hilts of their blades.
A few among them knew of Novem.
“The mere daughter of the Forxuzes thinks to turn a blade at Celes-sama!?”
“So the one betrothed to a failure is a failure after all!”
“When you’re nothing but the Forxuzes second daughter…”
Novem ignored them altogether.
That’s all she could do.
Because the emotion she held to them was one called ‘pity’.
(For the Walt House’s knights to have fallen this far…)
They were once splendid knights, rejoicing as Lyle matured. They got rowdy over who would take part in the boy’s first campaign, and often laughed around many a drink.
Even Alfred once doted on Lyle like a brother to his younger.
“Nothing to say in response? Or perhaps… you’d answer better to the name 【Septem】?”
Novem gripped her staff harder, making it so she could fire off magic at any time. Celes turned to her with quite an enraged expression.
“Don’t call my by that name. I am Celes… of the House you Forxuzes have always held so dear, the Walt House… their daughter. Can you really lay a hand on me?”
In the latter half of her speech, Celes began making a triumphant expression.
Novem lowered her staff.
To the Forxuz House, the Walt House held an important meaning.
(Then if she’s still Celes-sama, I won’t interfere.)
And it was for that sake that her house continued supporting them from the shadows.
“… Now about your promise not to lay a hand on Lyle-sama.”
Celes seemed largely uninterested.
“I forgot about it. My bad. But… the next time I see him, I really will carve him up. I’ll make sure to show you as well, so do care not to let him wander into my field of vision. Ah, but…”
Celes leaned forward, the index finger of her right hand resting on her lips.
Her pose was a lovable one, innocent as can be.
“There will be an important announcement in three days’ time, and I don’t mind if I see you in the plaza then. Go tell that to Lyle as well… he’ll even be able to see his parents, so come watch with his fingers crossed.”
Bursting into laughter, Celes left surrounded by her knights.
She sent a glance to Miranda and Clara as well, but as they didn’t show any interest, she walked on with a bored expression.
The soldiers recovered Alfred and his soldier’s remains, and now nothing remained in the area besides piled of rubble and snow.
Miranda lent Aria a shoulder, but she watched Celes go by all the way.
“… She’s even worse than when I last saw her.”
Having met her several years before, Miranda could understand that Celes had grown.
Aria stared at her back with regret.
“For me to be useless…”
Novem spoke to her.
“No, Aria-san, you put up some splendid resistance.”
“I don’t need your consolation. It’s a fact that I couldn’t do anything.”
Clara also walked alongside Monica.
(Normally, such a scene would never come to be.)
With Lyle collapsed, Monica noticed she couldn’t operate in her normal state.
And Monica glared at Novem.
“You know quite a lot of somethings, don’t you? I’ll have you answer me. What is your goal!?”
Perhaps she would become an enemy to Lyle. Determining that, Monica pressed her.
Novem seemed a little bewildered, but she made a bitter smile.
“I’ll carry out Shannon-chan and Eva-san’s treatment first. Because it’s cold out here. We have to get Lyle-sama up and moving as well.”
Monica stated she wouldn’t let Novem lay a hand on Lyle, draping him over her own shoulders.
And within that road that usually experienced very little traffic, a carriage came to a stop before their eyes…