V06 Chapter 5: The Storied Wraith

Under the crumbling starry night.

I reflected as I sprinted down the endless ‘Corridor of Stars’ alone, of the current me.

…The joyous days spent with Glenn has revived me to the world, through which, I regained parts of humanity that I had lost.

Although the days are far from calm, I still enjoyed the time together with Glenn.

However, the voice tucked away in the depth of my soul continued to pressure me toward the mysterious mission.

Is it really the time to play house?

Don’t you still have things you need to do?

Complete your mission as soon as possible. Complete your mission!

Yet, I could not remember my mission.

As the happy days continued, the joy that I had felt slowly permeated my very soul drip by drip like poison. Before long, I was afflicted with the ‘ailment’. It was an ailment that my lonely self in the past could not have imagined and at which I would surely have scoffed in the days when I feigned fortitude – an ‘ailment’ so ridiculous that I would not have considered even in time of my greatest leisure.

But the truth is, I had contracted the ‘ailment’, and the more I regained my humanity, the greater pain I felt.

Therefore…

“I… must keep on moving forward!”

While I ran, I slowly lifted up and gazed forward with my previously hanging head. In the far distant, I could see a similar portal to the one that had first brought me into the corridor.

“Glenn…”

Don’t go. Come back. The voice of my beloved pupil resonated in my ear.

“…I’m sorry.”

A portal of light, the exit to the ‘Corridor of Stars’, slowly came into sight. There…

“No matter what, I…”

I unhesitantly stepped through the doorway and returned to the place I belong.

◇ ◇ ◇

In the deepest recess of Taum Observatory – the large planetarium chamber.

Glenn, with the assistance of Rumia, activated Black Magic [Function• Analyze].

Tsk… What is all this? How is this in any way a ‘simple planetarium device’?!

Having only now seen the incredible amount of undiscovered magic formulas hidden away in the planetarium device, Glenn could not help but break out in cold sweat. The construct of the formulas bore some resemblance to the magic scripts used by Glenn and the others.

If I have to describe this, it is like our modern magic language is merely ‘inferior runes’ to their ‘superior runes’.

Although not entirely correct, Glenn did roughly describe the essence of the difference. In a sense, from the vocabulary to the grammar, all the parts that the ‘inferior runes’ lacked were wonderfully included in the ‘superior runes’.

The details aside, they were standing at the cusp of history. The ‘sorcery’ that lacked intelligible formulas – the greatest mystery of ancient magic, was revealed to be simple ‘magic’ under the auspices of Rumia. If Glenn wrote the findings in a thesis, it would certainly be the discovery of the century.

However, I have no plans to do something like that…

For the thesis to stand, Glenn would need to reveal Rumia’s existence to the public. This alone made it impossible, as even if Glenn had the will, the Imperial Government would surely send men to silence him.

Glenn roughly browsed the formulas and noticed that there were countless more functions to the planetarium device, so many that he could not take the time to identify them all. It was a project that would easily take many years, and Glenn neither had the interest nor the spare time to do so.

Following Sistine’s instructions on the operation of the control panel, Glenn opened a portal of light identical to the one before.

Uncertain of what dangers would greet them on the other side, Glenn brought all sorts of tools and provisions in his backpack. After confirming everything to be ready, Glenn carefully stepped into the portal.

What greeted him on the other side was a darkness dotted with a myriad of twinkling stars – a mysterious, dream-like, and infinite space. Before him was a path made of the same light as the portal that extended as far as the eye could see, where any misstep may drop one into the ocean of stars.

I see… I remember Celica referred to this place as the ‘Corridor of Stars’, and I have to say it is a surprisingly fitting name.

Glenn and the others journeyed down the path that Celica had already taken, what came to be a long and arduous journey. In the end, Glenn and the others finish traversing the ‘Corridor of Stars’ and entered the portal on the far end.

“Wh-…”

The scene that unfolded before their eyes brought Glenn and the others to a standstill.

As the doorway vanished behind the group, Glenn noticed a small stone tablet next to where the doorway used to be. The tablet was very similar to the control panel located in the large planetarium chamber, and, to ensure their safe return, they should investigate the tablet immediately. However, the abnormal sight that stood before them made them momentarily forget their priorities.

Scattered all around them were countless mummified remains, with faces twisted in horror and malice.

“Eek?!” Sistine shrieked after seeing the corpses and tightly gripped Glenn’s arm.

However, Glenn himself had no time to calm the terrified Sistine.

“W-what happened here?”

Glenn tried to calm his racing heart and once again surveyed his surroundings.

They were standing at the center of a T-junction, where the ceiling, the walls, and the floor were all constructed with slabs of stone. It was a place completely different from the interior of Taum Observatory.

Then, Glenn dreadfully examined the corpses near his feet. From the tattered remains of their clothing and the staff clenched in their hand, it was quite clear to Glenn that…

“These guys are… magicians? All of them? But, their injury…”

The mysterious remains were all undeniably burnt or had otherwise incurred horrendous slashes with parts of their body cleaved off. These severe wounds were likely the cause of their untimely demise. However, regardless of how they died, one thing was painfully clear…

They were killed… by whom? What exactly happened here? From the state of their remains, they should have been killed ages ago.

“Ugh…”

Suddenly feeling dizzy and nauseous, Glenn knelt on the ground with his hand pressed hard against his head. The air was putrid, mixed with a strong scent of ‘death’. Just by being there, Glenn could feel the heat draining from his body, as if his spirit and life were being shaved away. It was a place filled with unpleasantry…

“D-darn it…”

Glenn could not bear with the atmosphere, or rather, the absolutely horrid surroundings, and continued to tremble uncontrollably. To not mince words, they were essentially in ‘hell’. A space filled with malice and death. An accursed space shrouded in miasma.

It was absolutely a place where the living should have no business – a place Glenn and others shouldn’t have come. Within Glenn’s heart, regret began to sprout independent of his sensibilities.

“T-teacher…”

R-right, as a teacher, I must not look too useless in front of the students.

Before the worried gazes of his students (With the exception of a certain someone), Glenn tightly clenched his fist and took a deep breath.

“Alright, let’s head out! The sooner we find Celica, the sooner we can ditch this disgusting place!” Glenn strengthened his resolve and gave a confident speech.

At that time, a slight shuffling sound was heard from far behind them.

“?!”

The group quickly turned their heads toward the sound. Glenn turned the light at his fingertip toward the source of the sound and saw a woman with long golden hair crawling out from the corner.

“Celica?! Hey, what is wrong with you! Please get it toge-…!” Glenn dashed toward the woman, only to come to a stop after a few steps.

It was not Celica.

Slide…

That woman… was missing a left hand…

Rustle rustle…

…And she was missing the bottom half of her body, dragging along dried up entrails as she crawled.

Rustle rustle…

The woman crept up to the motionless Glenn. Her disheveled hair gave the appearance of a vengeful spirit, and she glared with hate-filled eyes at Glenn and the others. Her eye sockets no longer had any eyeballs within, only two gaping holes with bottomless darkness in their place.

Fwoosh…!

The woman used her remaining right hand and approached Glenn at a rapid pace. With a solid push, the woman launched herself into the air.

“Ugh…?!”

The woman’s hair, like living vines, twisted itself around Glenn’s neck and sealed his mouth. She looked intently at Glenn with her shriveled face.

If it weren’t for that woman!! If it weren’t for that traitor!!” The woman shouted as her eyes filled with tears of blood.

N-not good. I can’t chant any spells with my mouth sealed… and what is with this abnormal strength?!

The hair wrapped around Glenn’s neck exerted considerable strength, so much so that Glenn felt his neck could snap at any moment.

“Get away from… Glenn!!” Re=L swung her giant sword, with the clear intent to cleave the woman.

All of a sudden, countless arms burst out from the nearby wall. The arms latched onto Re=L and dragged her back into the wall, leaving her completely immobilized.

“Ah? Ugh…?!”

Re=L could not struggle free from the incredible strength of the arms that gripped her, and her body started to creak.

“I-it hurts! L-let me go!!”

“Teacher?! Re=L?! Ahh… ‹Oh merciful light•Cleanse the filth-…›” Sistine hastily began to chant an exorcism spell.

However, the corpses next to her feet suddenly sprang into motion and gripped her feet as they climbed up her back…

“?! Ahh!!” Sistine reflexively reacted to the touch of the undead and broke her concentration, “N-no! No!! Let me go! Let me go!!”

Sistine completely sank into confusion. Under the circumstances, it was impossible to chant spells that demanded a high level of concentration and control. Yet, in their inactivity, more and more corpses began to awaken.

D-darn it, this is not good! If this keeps up… but, what can we do?!

Just as Glenn was about to fall into despair…

“‹Oh merciful light•Cleanse the filth•Purify the land›!”

With a clear and resounding voice, the chant for the exorcism spell, White Magic [Purify•Light], was complete.

L-Rumia?!

Rumia was also completely surrounded by the spirits of the dead.

T-to be able to complete a chant under such grueling conditions! What incredible willpower!

As Glenn stood dumbfounded by the fact, Rumia raised her left hand in a blinding flash of light, illuminating her surroundings.

Kyaa!!

The undead and spirits of the dead began to turn away, crying in sheer agony. As soon as her immediate vicinity was cleared out, Rumia took out a small flask of holy oil.

“‹Flames of exorcism•Bring peace to the dead•Guide their way›!”

As the droplets of holy oil burst into flame, the bright orange flame began to stir with a roar. It was a flame that purified only the dead, leaving Glenn and the others unharmed.

Kyaa…

As the dead burned to ash, calm returned to the scene. Not a single dead was spared from the flames as the miasma slowly dissipated from the surroundings.

“Is everyone… alright?”

“T-thanks, Rumia.”

“Mm. You saved our lives there.”

Sistine and Re=L both thanked Rumia for her timely actions.

“T-that was quite the surprise. I didn’t know you were able to use such a high level exorcism spell like White Magic [Saint•Fire] that were almost exclusive to powerful shamans.” Glenn looked at Rumia with wide open eyes.

“Yes… as part of my education in the imperial household, I learned the spell from my mother.” Rumia showed her treasured flash of holy oil to Glenn.

Alencia Oil, an expensive oil extracted from the flowers used in funeral rites.

“Rumia, this holy oil… Wasn’t it the precious gift that her majesty – your birth mother – had given you as a protective charm? To think that you’d use…”

“Don’t worry about it. After all, it is to save everyone from harm, so I’m sure mother would approve.” Rumia flashed a bright smile toward the apprehensive Sistine and then turned to Glenn.

“Let’s continue, teacher. We still need to find Professor Arfonia.” Rumia said with an assertive tone.

“Aren’t you reliable?” Glenn gently pat Rumia on the head, “Sorry, to tell you the truth, I was completely frightened by those creatures earlier. But I won’t let them get to me from now on, so please rest at ease.”

“I believe in you.”

The pair revealed a trusting smile to one another.

“For some odd reason, I feel like I am slipping more and more from my rightful place…”

“?”

Sistine let out a cold sweat while watching the scene unfold, while Re=L just tilted her head in confusion.

After investigating the nearby tablet, Glenn confirmed that as long as they have Rumia’s amplification, they could open the portal at any time. With that settled, they proceeded deeper down the path.

It was not hard to find their way. On the path covered by a thick layer of dust were fresh footprints, likely to have belonged to Celica. They followed the tracks down the pathway, crossed through a few room-like chambers and navigated across a series of labyrinthine passageways, until finally reaching a long flight of stairs.

Still, that Celica… Where has she gone?

As Glenn and the others continued to follow the tracks, questions began to spring up in their minds. The steps Celica took were all without hesitation or pause, giving the sense that she had an inexplicable familiarity with the place.

However, the questions were endless. The structure was one of countless disk-like floors rising straight up into the heavens, as if a ‘tower’ of stacked coins. When Glenn and the others arrived at the outer rim of a floor, they peered out from the balcony to survey the surroundings. As the cold breeze blew past the tower, Glenn found that the sun had supposedly set, and what greeted them was boundless night sky. Hanging in the center of the sky was a large pale moon.

“W-where are we?”

Below them, the base of the tower reached far into the darkness. Unquestionably, they had come to an incredible place.

“Still, what exactly is this ‘tower’?”

Glenn could only remain silent at Rumia’s seemingly straightforward question.

At a glance, the ‘tower’ was as complicated as a labyrinth, with confusing passageways and dead-ends that seemed to discourage humans from approaching… but at the same time, it contained many residential spaces that, no matter how you looked at it, were filled with inhabitants in the past. It was made a labyrinth, yet at the same time, a city.

Faced with the seemingly contradictory design, Glenn could only conclude it to be the eccentricity of the ancients.

Whoosh…

In the rooms and corridors, there were countless corpses of magicians sewn about. All of them, like before, had received fatal wounds. However, these corpses would occasional reanimate and, alongside the vengeful spirits, attack Glenn and the others. The constant harassment made their journey a grueling one.

“Hiyaa!!”

With Re=L’s Sword,

“‹Keep them at bay•wall of tempest•Grant peace to those below›! Rumia, now!”

…Sistine’s Magic,

“Mm! ‹Flames of exorcism•Bring peace to the dead•Guide their way›!”

…And Rumia’s Exorcism Spell, the undead were easily dispatched. A perfect teamwork of Re=L, who knocked the approaching undead away, Sistine, who sealed their movement using [Storm•Wall], and Rumia, who used the holy oil to conjure up flames of purification. Carried on Sistine’s winds, the flames gently wrapped around each and every one of the undead and exorcised them. No matter how many undead assailed them, none could escape the flames of purification, and one after another were severed from the world and sent to the afterlife.

“I have to say, aren’t you all impressive~”

Rumia’s composure could not be overstated. Although her techniques were rough, she could remain calm and collected enough to accurately chant spells in the face of death. Even in the entire army, there were few who could match her mental fortitude.

On the other hand, although Sistine lack the mental fortitude of Rumia, her creative use of spells has resolved many dire situations and could be said to have a genius level of adaptability.

However, the one who surprised Glenn the most was Re=L.

During the time when she was with the Mage Corps, Re=L was always overly aggressive and direct in her attacks. Now, Re=L was better at working together with others, shielding Rumia and Sistine from attacks as they completed their spells. This newfound emphasis on teamwork rather than personal valor was something impossible for Re=L in the past.

Since arriving at the inside of the ‘tower’, they had been chasing Celica deeper than they had ever imagined. Without a doubt, Glenn would have never been able to make it this far alone.

Perhaps the day I yield the center stage to the younger generation will arrive sooner than I thought…

Glenn wryly smiled as he led the students forward.

◇ ◇ ◇

Hours upon hours they walked down the tower.

Just as they were growing slightly groggy from the seemingly endless journey, a loud rumbling that came from ahead of them jolted them awake.

“!”

Before them stood an opened gothic door, beyond which was pitch black.

“Teacher?! That noise earlier was…?!”

“…Mm. It was probably Celica’s magic… Perhaps she is in a fight?”

“Then let us hurry, teacher!”

By the footsteps on the ground, Celica had undoubtedly passed through.

The group picked up their pace and dashed through the opened door.

“W-what…?!”

Through the door, Glenn and the others found themselves in a large open space in the shape of an arena – a circular stadium with fires scattered across the field. On the far side of the arena was a massive stone gate glowing in a faint black light, and before the gate…

“Hiyaa!!”

Celica was in combat against countless vengeful spirits and undead.

Looking upon the carnage, Glenn and the others could not imagine the depth of malice and terror that had permeated the space. The scene unfolding before them trivialized the combat they had experienced on the way. Endless corpses and vengeful spirits poured out from the ground and charged toward Celica, It was a scene straight out of purgatory.

However, the torrent of undead could not reach Celica.

With sword in her right hand, and magic in her left,

“Mph!!”

Celica unleashed dozens of sword flashes in the blink of an eye and cut the approaching undead into pieces.

“‹Get lost›!”

And then, Celica used just two words to activate Black Magic [Plasma•Cannon], [Inferno•Flare], and [Freezing•Hell] in tandem, all upper B-class military-grade strategic spells, and enveloped the entire field. Thick stream of lightning, flood of scorching flame, and wave of crippling chill erased the massive undead army surrounding her.

Triple Harmonics. One of Celica’s greatest techniques.

Standing atop the growing mountain of corpses and cutting down all challengers that approach, Celica’s appearance was like a demon lord reincarnate.

“W-what incredible strength…”

“I-is this Professor Arfonia’s combat ability…?”

Celica’s stunning display of might has rendered Rumia, Sistine, and Re=L speechless.

What unbelievable power. As I thought, Celica really is incredible. Compared to someone like me, I doubt I could even graze her level with five or six lifetimes… but still…

Glenn gulped at the sight before them. Yet, a vexing feeling made Glenn furrows his eyebrows.

What is she in such a hurry for…?

Certainly, Celica was known for her highly destructive spells. Although they are all devastating spells, Celica gave off a certain transcendent beauty to them – like a pyrotechnic engineer creating a wonderful display of fireworks, such that even the destruction could be breath-taking.

However, the current Celica lacked her usual elegance. She was simply forcing her way through with brute strength, a demon bent on annihilation. Her current self truly was a perfect rendition of the rumored ‘Ashen Witch’.

The piercing eyes of the countless undead remain focused on her and her alone.

Oh, the hate! The hate we have for you!!

It is all your fault!! It is all your fault!!

You took away everything! You destroyed everything! Our glorious, peaceful, prosperous world. Everything! Everything! Everything!! All because of you!!

Unforgivable traitor!! Curse you! Curse you!!

The bottomless resentment and hatred that were directed toward Celica would overpower any normal person.

“‹Too Loud›! ‹Shut up›! ‹Not my problem›!”

“””Ahhh!!“””

However, standing before the oppressive and tangible hatred, Celica’s powerful spells erased them with ease, not giving them even the opportunity to approach. The pillars of flame pushed out from Celica, reaching the high ceilings, obliterating all those who were closing in on her.

“How many times I have to say it! I don’t know any of you, so get out of my way already!”

However, the hatred continued to gush forth as neither side could come to an agreement. The countless undead quickly replenished their ranks, blocking Celica from her path forward, almost as if declaring to Celica that ‘she shall not pass’.

“Hmph. Just because of a few pointless lingering attachments, you stay latched onto the real world. Very well, I will be so kind and send you trashes to where you all truly belong!” Seemingly reached the end of her patience, Celica revealed an aloof air and gently snapped her fingers.

All of a sudden, it has appeared. A massive black array of black light that crisscrossed on the ground as it drew itself, instantly forming a hexagram. Immediately, the field was dyed black, as if an illusionary hell has appeared.

“Hmph. This will be a one way trip to the abyss, enjoy!”

Ritual Magic [Gehenna•Gate]. It was a depraved magic that casted the souls of the undead into the abyss. Originally comparable to White Magic [Saint•Fire] for its use in exorcism and was a method of dealing with the undead, the spell was ruled a forbidden magic because of its cruel nature. To put it simply, unlike the white magic that returned the souls to the cycle, the forbidden magic forced the dead into an eternity of ‘nothingness’.

No! Nooo!!

Help me! Not there!! I don’t want to go!!

“””Ahhh!!“””

The screams of the forsaken souls echoed in the chamber. The bottomless hatred quickly turned to fear and despair. The dead were helplessly dragged into the depth of the abyss. Their lingering grudge, their attachment to the real world, and their overwhelming resentment, none of it mattered. Everything was to be mercilessly swallowed by the abyss – by ‘hell’.

In the end, an uncharacteristic silence returned to the chamber.

“Hmph… That’s for needlessly obstructing my way…” Celica irritatingly muttered to herself.

All the hate and madness trapped in the space were cleansed, and now the field has returned to its original calm state.

Glenn hurriedly rushed over to Celica, who was standing in a daze.

“Celica!”

“…G-Glenn? How…?” Celica slowly turned her head.

In her gloomy visage, not an ounce of her usual attitude was visible.

“…W-why are you here?”

“That’s what I want to say! Why did you run off to this place alone?” Glenn angrily shouted as he grabbed her by the shoulder, “I-I am not worried about you at all, but the students were worried sick! B-but I wasn’t worried at all!”

“T-teacher, you said the same thing twice…” Rumia wryly smiled at the complaining Glenn.

“Either way, let us hurry back. Seriously, always making so much trouble…” Although appearing not happy about Celica, Glenn’s emotions were suffused with relief.

“Hey, Glenn! Hear this! I finally… finally found it!” Suddenly, Celica revealed a forced smile, with little emotions behind it.

“Ah? Found? What did you find?” Wanting to quickly leave the accursed ‘tower’, Glenn vexedly replied.

“The ‘leads’ of the past that I had lost!”

“…What?”

The unexpected answer froze Glenn in his tracks.

“I have remembered. In the planetarium chamber at the depth of ‘Taum Observatory’, when that portal appeared, I have recalled figments of my past!” Celica excitedly approached Glenn, “I-… I had gone through that doorway in the past, that ‘Corridor of Stars’! It was definitely like that!”

Celica extended her arms to her sides and performed a pirouette in joy.

“And… and! Glenn! Do you know where we are?”

“Umm… In a certain ‘tower’?”

“Hehehe~ Actually, we are currently in the Underground Labyrinth below Alzano Imperial Magic Academy!”

“…Huh?!”

The Underground Labyrinth? Underground?!

Because of the sudden influx of information, Glenn had a tough time keeping up.

“And, this is the 89th level! I have used Black Magic [Coordinate•Detection] and confirmed the specific location, I am certain of it!” Celica passionately explained, leaving Glenn to his confusion.

“Don’t you understand? I have easily bypassed the impossibly difficult 10th to 49th floor – the floors that I had come to call the ‘Trial of Fools’!”

Celica’s excitement was not without reason.

She had incessantly challenged the Underground Labyrinth, but the endless and grueling journey, the countless guardians, as well as the myriad of fatal traps have prevented her progress. Additionally, the construct and the traps within the Labyrinth would time and time again change, rendering maps and teleportation spots moot. The very design meant to impede any meaningful progress, the so-called ‘Trial of Fools’.

Of the many times Celica challenged the Labyrinth, she was constantly thwarted by the ever-shifting deterrents and, to this very day, was unable to pass through the 49th level. On days of poor luck, even passing through the 15th level proved to be an impossibility.

“49th Level… as long as I am able to break through that accursed ‘Trail of Fools’, I would be home free! Rejoice, Glenn! I am inches away from unveiling the truth of this Labyrinth!!”

This is the Underground Labyrinth? As in under the ground?! And if they were underground, what was that night sky they saw earlier from the balcony?

Why would the Taum Observatory be connected to the Underground Labyrinth below the academy, and what exactly was that planetarium device?

What was that ‘Corridor of Stars’ they crossed earlier?

Why was Celica so obsessed with the Underground Labyrinth? Or at a fundamental level, what exactly was Celica?

Glenn had a million questions in his mind…

…But none of the questions are important right now.

To Glenn, more than the answers to the mysteries, there was something much more important that needed to be done, and that was…

“As I expected. My past, my lost mission, my inexplicable immortality – they are all found in this Underground Labyrinth, just as the ‘voice’ had foretold.” Celica continued to speak in riddles, “Yes… I also, vaguely, remember that… ‘door’!”

As if bewitched, Celica slowly drew closer and closer toward the jet black door.

“On the other side, I am certain… everything… my everything…”

“Stop.” Glenn grabbed Celica by her hand, pulling her to a halt.

“G-Glenn…?” Celica turned to look at Glenn with puzzled eyes.

“…Let us go home, Celica.”

“W-why? I am finally so close to find out about my true self.”

“Although I don’t know why you are certain that your past lie beyond that ‘door’, I do understand that…” Glenn paused for a moment, “Let me just say this to you straight. Celica, the past that you lost may have nothing good to it.”

Glenn looked straight into Celica’s eyes and continued.

“On my way here, all of the dead spirits had an intense hatred to them. For the longest time, I could not figure out what filled them with so much hate, but after seeing your fight earlier, I am certain: The reason for their hate was you.”

“…?!”

“You had heard their voices earlier as well, right? How horrible were the acts that you had committed to have driven them to such hate, I could not at all fathom.”

“G-Glenn…”

“But, I don’t mind it at all. No matter how much those lousy dead spirits hate you, you will always be my beloved… mentor. Nothing else matters.”

“B-but, Glenn! I-…! I-…!!” Celica lowered her head in silence.

“Hey, Celica, let’s go home. You already had done enough. Don’t seek your past anymore. Just forget about it. No matter what kind of person you were before, I will always…”

Celica cut off Glenn’s words…

“N-no…” Celica trembled as she replied, as if a child throwing a tantrum, “I can’t do that! B-because, if that happens, I will forever be… alone…”

Celica seemingly wanted to say something, but stopped at the very last moment.

With that, Celica swatted away Glenn’s hand and charged toward the door.

“Ah! Hey! Celica!!”

With her back to Glenn’s sorrowful cries, Celica continued her dash to the door.

That’s the door! Everything that I sought for so long is definitely behind that door!!

As Celica ran, she reminisced…

“‹Return thyself to the cycle of providence•…›”

…About the four hundred years, about the never-ending, arduous, and painful days, about the countless times she sought to simply end it all…

“‹The five elements to the five elements•…›”

…And about the ‘voice’ that had constantly propelled her forward.

One day, the voice that had always been whispering ‘complete your mission’, ‘realize your destiny’ and such, changed. It was a day Celica cannot forget, the moment ten years ago, soon after she had adopted Glenn and took on the position as a professor at the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy. Due to some task, she was down in the Underground Labyrinth. At that time, the voice called out to her…

Go to the deepest recess of the Underground Labyrinth… There, you will find you destiny.

Since then, Celica, as if possessed, challenged the Underground Labyrinth time and time again, to unveil the truth behind her four centuries of wandering… Such was Celica Arfonia’s abnormal attachment with the Underground Labyrinth.

“‹Sever the links woven between images and truth›!”

However, honestly speaking… to the present Celica, her real identity, her past, and her mission did not matter to her. Even without her previous memories, even without her past, and even without her mission, Celica was no longer alone, for she has Glenn by her side. She was now able to walk with another, toward a shared future. She no longer needed her past and mission to define her existence, nor felt unease by the loneliness. Therefore, what she currently sought was because of something else entirely.

“With this…”

Celica activated Modified Black Magic [Extinction•Ray]. The beam of light that erased all that crossed its path extended from her left hand, straight toward the door that stood in her way. For a moment, the world was dyed white by the intense light and heat.

As the beam dissipated, an uncharacteristic silence descended.

“H-how…?!” Celica stared at the sight before her eyes.

The door was without a scratch and remained ever steadfast before Celica, as if laughing at her ineptitude.

“How? How is it not destroyed?! Darn it! How could I get to other side of the door?!” Celica walked in front of the door and, with a heart filled with loathing, began to desperately bang on the door with her bare hands.

“…It’s no use. This is not like you. How could you not notice something as simple as Etherio Coating? The constructs of the ancients could not be damaged by physical or magical attacks.” Glenn chased up to her and stopped her incessant thumping.

Glenn gazed up at the massive gate. The surface was packed with etchings in ancient writing, mysterious symbols, decorations, and drawing, but none to immediately indicate the method to open the gate. Glenn himself felt it wasn’t particularly a terrible thing to leave the gate locked.

“Unhand me! Unhand me, Glenn!! I-…”

Glenn pushed Celica, who was throwing a tantrum with bloodied fists, against the door. As long as it was not a contest of magic, Celica was just a simple girl. Her physical strength was no match for Glenn’s.

“Give up… and forget about it.” With his face close to hers, Glenn pleaded, “What is it that you are not satisfied with?! Celica!!”

“…!”

Glenn accusatory tone made the usually aloof Celica show an unexpected soft expression, and she meekly drooped her head in response. It was at that moment, when…

“Remove thy hands from the door, filth!”

A voice echoed from what seemed to be the depth of hell,

“Daws and guards shalt not passeth. Only citizens of the land and the sky shalt passeth. Thou doth not possess the qualifications!”

“Wh-…?”

Glenn and the others could not help but gaze toward the source of the sound. As if stepping out of the darkness, it has come to appear at the center of the arena. The mysterious existence was draped with a cloak of crimson red from head to toe, with his face hidden away by the hood. Black air oozed out from the seams of his cloak, as if darkness took on the shape of a human while sporting a robe. There was no doubt that the one who stood before them was a wraith.

D-darn…!

Seeing the appearance of the wraith made Glenn’s heart curse his luck.

“Ah…?!”

“Teacher…! That being…!”

Sistine and Rumia also felt terrible vibes coming off the wraith. Even Re=L was on her guard toward the new arrival, the tip of her sword trembling.

D-darn it!! T-that guy… is definitely bad news!

Glenn could tell from just a glance that the wraith was abnormally strong.

In the same way a normal citizen without an ounce of magic would feel standing before a powerful mage, Glenn could not help but feel the same sense of despair when facing the wraith. As an ex-mage, Glenn’s instinct, honed through countless life and death battles, screamed to him. Before the wraith, any magic they could possibly use – including that of Celica’s – were no match against him. The wraith was simply on a different level to Glenn’s party.

“Ha! Who the heck are you?!”

However, the irony of the situation was that Celica did not seem to fear at all, nor did she realize how terrible the being that stood before her was. Celica’s desire to open the door trumped her better judgment, leaving her without her usual calm.

“Forget it. At least you seem to understand words. Let me ask you then, how do you go about opening this blasted door? As long as you obediently tell me, I will leave you with your life.”

“Thou art…?” The wraith seemingly had recognized Celica and drew back some of his murderous intent, “I see thee hath returned. The only one worthy of being mine master, Heavens (Celica)!”

“Huh?”

Celica froze when her name was suddenly called out.

“I see thee not as the Celica I knoweth. Thou has’t not the right to cross through this gate. Argal, prithee returneth the way thee cameth!”

“W-what are you saying?! You know of me?!”

“Begone. Thy current self doth not int’rest me.”

With that, the wraith completely ignored Celica and looked toward Glenn and the others. Without anyone noticing, two swords appeared in the hands of the wraith – a red one in his left, and a black one in his right. Just gazing upon the swords alone, Glenn and the others could feel the overpowering atmosphere.

“Daws. Thy lives art forfeit the moment thee trespass’d into the realm of the divine. Alloweth mine own blades end thee lot and, as the dead, still catch but a wink in the ‘Tower of Breaths’!”

The animosity and murderous intent burst out from the wraith and, like an unstoppable torrent, suffocated Glenn and the others with its incredible pressure.

“Eek…?!”

The terrified Sistine tightly gripped Glenn.

“Ahh…!”

Even the dauntless Rumia had colors drain from her face, trembling where she stood.

“Haa… Haa… Haa…”

While the emotionless Re=L was completely pale and began to hyperventilate.

Glenn had decided to retreat.

Celica! Let us…!

Glenn signaled Celica with the intent of having them ‘buy some time for the students to escape’.

“Hey, don’t ignore me!”

However, Celica completely ignored Glenn’s intent and charged headlong toward the wraith.

“I had it! If you don’t want to tell me, I will just have to force it out of you!!”

“Idio-…! Stop! Celica!!”

Celica has completely ignored Glenn and began to chant magic.

“‹Die›!”

Black Magic [Prominence•Pillar]. Bright red pillars of flame rose up and consumed the wraith.

“M’re child’s play…”

With a single wave of the sword in his left hand, the wraith sliced the magic in two.

“To beest companions with daws, how weak has’t thee gotten. Whither gone the proud ‘king’s sw’rd’? Hast the previous thee perish’d?”

Wh-?! What did that guy just do?!

Glenn was startled by the sight. At a glance, all that had happened was that Celica’s spell got nullified. But for Glenn, a veteran mage that has survived through countless battles, his intuition screamed that it was something more. Yet, despite his misgivings, Celica continued to charge at the wraith.

“Ha! Your counter-magic is pretty good!”

“No, Celica! Do you not understand?!”

The problem was that Black Magic [Prominence•Pillar] was a B-class military-grade spell. As far as modern military-grade spells were concerned, there was no way to nullify a B-class spell and have to be taken by defensive spells. In short, offensive spells that surpass a certain grade could not be nullified.

“That is not some simple counter-magic! It is something more…!”

However, with blood rushing into her head, Celica could not take in Glenn’s warning…

“Hyaa!!”

With her mithril sword, Celica leapt straight into the wraith. Having had already activated [Load•Experience], Celica now took on the skills of the famed “Sword Princess” and became an unmatched swordswoman. In her current form, there should be no one able to win against her.

“Let me take off that prideful head of yours! Hopefully with just your head, you will finally be obedient and answer my questions!!”

Celica approached like a gust of wind at ready to strike.

“To rely on borrow’d arts. Art thou not ashamed?”

The wraith stepped into the approaching Celica and once again swung his left sword.

Ding!

With a sharp ring, Celica’s sword clashed with the wraith’s blade.

“Wh-…” Immediately, Celica let out an unexpected gasp, “H-how could this be?”

She could not hide her surprise and pointed her sword straight at the wraith. However, her poise no longer had the air of the strongest swordswoman.

“W-why has my spell been dispelled? W-what did you do?!”

“I has’t in mine left hand the r’d magic, Wi•Zayer… Thy tricks art useless ere me.” The wraith turned to look at Celica and warned her, “I has’t deep respect to the real owneth’r of the sw’rd. From thy attack earli’r, I wast able to und’rstand. The owneth’r of the sw’rd nay hadst longeth been dead. F’r a foolish human, a m’re mortal, to reacheth such aspiring heights…”

The wraith drew a circle above him with his blade, as if offering his prayers to someone.

“Although I am of the sky, I couldst not holp but beest aw’d by the arts within the sword…”

With that said, the wraith entered a stance with both of his swords, “Argal, I doth not permit thee to sully the sw’rd any longer, Heavens! How far shalt thou falleth? I couldst nay longeth’r hide mine disappointment in thee…”

“Darn it…! ‹Hammer of the Thunder God›!”

Leaping back, Celica raised her left hand and chanted Black Magic [Plasma•Cannon]

“Once again, child’s play…”

With a single swing of his sword, the lightning that approached the wraith was easily cut down.

Immediately afterwards, the wraith dissipated into smoke and reappeared behind Celica. With terrifying speed, he swung his right sword down.

“Tsk!”

At that moment, Celica forcibly responded by turning her body in the air and was planning to dodge the blow. However, despite her best efforts, the wraith’s blade barely managed to nick her.

“Haa?”

When she received the injury, Celica felt the sensation of her soul being torn away. Immediately, Celica’s limbs turned weak and, no longer able to support her weight, made her collapse onto the ground.

“W-what? What happened to my strength?”

“I has’t in mine right hand the r’d magic, Sou•Lter… Those who art injur’d by the blade shall beest feeble.”

The wraith walked next to the defenseless Celica and brought his right blade to her neck. Without any means to resist, the air around the wraith became more pronounced, in a way that clearly demonstrated his superiority.

“Uwaaa…” Celica trembled with the blade to her neck. Without the strength left to lift even a finger, Celica could only meekly accept her fate.

“I has’t misjudg’d thee. Thou art not worthy to beest mine master, disappear from mine sight.”

“!!”

Celica stared helplessly at the edge of the blade. With only a gentle nudge, Celica’s head would be cleanly detached from her body, and, with it, her life would end. Despite always worried about her immortal self, Celica was now face to face with death.

However, at her end, all that appeared in Celica’s mind was the time spent with Glenn, the ten or so years of mundane life.

“Ah…”

A thought that had never cropped up in the four hundred years, or rather, she had always sought the opposite of that thought. But at this junction, why would that thought appear?

“I… don’t want to die…”

At the sudden realization, tears began to pool in the corner of her eye.

“N-no… I-… still…”

If I had knew I would die in a place like this, for such a pointless reason… what was I so obstinate for?

“Utt’r disgrace…” With his last words of criticism, the wraith lifted his sword for the swing.

S-save me… Glenn…!

Celica thought of Glenn in her last moment, with her eyes tightly closed as the icy blade came down to take her neck.

“Get ahold of yourself! Darn it all!!”

With half a dozen shots, six flashes streaked across the air. Glenn had unloaded his clip onto the wraith.

“Geh…?!”

Taken by surprise, the wraith was pierced through the heart by a bullet that had snuck past his defenses. He then immediately swung his blades with blinding speed, creating five streaks of light that struck down the remaining bullets – a truly stunning display of agility and swordsmanship. With the bullets gone, he leapt toward the ceiling, pulling some distance away from Glenn.

“Celica, are you alright?” With the wraith backed off, Glenn quickly made his way forward to cover for Celica, with his eyes constantly locked on the enemy.

“What curious weapon thou has’t…” The wraith remained cautious of Glenn and held his blades at the ready, “A magic tool that us’d explosive magic to propel pellets of metal? M’re third-rate toy, bethink not ’twill w’rk again.”

The wraith remained standing. Glenn’s attack earlier seemed to have no effect at all.

“Darn it, why are you still alive?! I clearly shot you through the heart!!”

Somewhat vexed at the ineffectual attack, Glenn quickly ejected the cylinder of his revolver, dumped the spent cartridges, and refilled the chambers with new bullets. Sadly, there was no way the wraith would kindly wait for Glenn to finish.

“V’ry well! Alloweth me see how far the daws has’t achiev’d in their senseless struggle!”

With speed that seemed to part space itself, the wraith only took one step to close in the entire distance between it and Glenn.

N-not good!!

Glenn had no time to finish loading his revolver. Standing well within striking distance for his two large blades, the wraith was just about to cut down Glenn…

“Sisti!”

“‹May the storm gather•Form a hammer of war•Smash all before me›!” Sistine quickly chanted the spell with Rumia next to her, hand in hand.

Sistine’s Black Magic [Blast•Blow] smacked against the wraith towering above Glenn. With Rumia’s amplification, the hammer of wind was at its peak power and, with the force of destruction, crushed the wraith beneath.

“…Child’s play.”

Once again, their magic dissipated upon touching the edge of his left blade, turning from a powerful blast to a mere breeze.

“No way! It won’t work even with Rumia’s amplification?” Sistine let out a cry of despair.

At the same time, Re=L was on the other side…

“Not a problem! Hiyaa!!” With the opening, Re=L leapt toward the wraith, swinging down her large sword with all her might.

However, the wraith was as swift as ever, with his left blade to catch Re=L’s blow, his right blade moved to bisect Re=L.

“Hngh!?”

Re=L’s sword suddenly shattered to shards and obscured the sight of the wraith. Her magic sword was made through alchemy from the stones outside the observatory and, upon contact with the wraith’s left blade, would disintegrate to its original components. Re=L took advantage of his magic to blind the wraith for the moment, and, precisely in this moment, Re=L unleashed her real attack.

“Hiyaa!!”

It was the mithril sword lying beside the crippled Celica, which Re=L picked up on her approach. With the sword held in reverse, Re=L spun her small frame like a whirlwind from bottom up and delivered a slash from the wraith’s right waist through his left shoulder.

“Ugh?!”

Re=L’s powerful cut sliced deep into the wraith and sent him reeling into the air. A blow so strong, it created a blast wave that blew past Glenn and the others half a second later. Taking such a terrifying blow was undeniably fatal, and the wraith was likely done for. However, as with before…

“…Commendable.”

With a sigh, the wraith gently landed at a point far away from Glenn and the others.

“Unexpectedly, I hadst endur’d two hits from daws. Looks liketh I still needeth training.”

The wraith held his two blades at the ready and slowly approached Glenn and the others. From a glance, the attack seemed to have once again failed to do any lasting damage.

“Seriously, aren’t you working a bit too hard? It doesn’t hurt to rest a little, you know.” Glenn derided the wraith as he raised his loaded revolver.

Within, Glenn was hastily sorting out the information he have on the wraith in his mind, with cold sweat pouring out from all over his body. From what he gathered, the wraith’s left blade was able to nullify any magic on mere contact, which meant using magic against him was pointless. On the other hand, his right blade could render anyone it touch immobile, likely an attack that directly interfered with the spirit. Although simple, it was an exceedingly problematic move. At the same time, no matter how heavy an injury he sustained, he could not be felled. All that was then combined with the wraith’s innately superb martial arts, who could use the two blades to their utmost.

No matter how you look at it, this thing is the strongest possible mage killer…

The wraith was simply too strong, and there was no weaknesses for Glenn and the others to exploit. It was simply the type of enemy that was the worst match up for Glenn. At that moment, victory against the wraith felt like no more than a pipe dream.

“I am coming, daws. Taste mine attack… ‹$!@%…›”

Also, what is with that spell?!

With unknown words, a large spherical fireball slowly appeared above the wraith, which brightness and heat rivaled the sun, dying the entire area pure white. Feeling the intense blaze trapped within, Glenn was hard-pressed to describe the object as anything but a miniature sun. It was a spell that Celica’s greatest fire magic, Black Magic [Inferno•Flare], could not compare.

“N-no way! H-how much magic power do you have?!” Glenn was completely stunned by the display of might. Certainly, the wraith was strong by itself, but now he had stepped beyond the realm of logic.

It can also use magic unknown to man? Isn’t that just straight up cheating?!

In that moment, Glenn hesitated to pull out his Fool tarot card. With the wraith still in the process of casting his spell, as long as Glenn activate his unique magic [The Fool’s World], he could easily seal the spell.

But even if I seal his spell, what good would that do?

All that was left to Glenn would be his fists and gun, in addition to Re=L’s sword. With all magic sealed, even Rumia’s skill would become moot. In short, while they would be able to avoid immediate death, without any combat potential, they could not avoid it for long.

In his hesitation to activate [The Fool’s World]…

“‹…%!#@#›. Die.”

The wraith had completed his chant.

“Darn it…”

Boom! The miniature sun above the wraith’s head glowed brighter and brighter. Its intense heat and light robbed Glenn and the others of their sight, slowly swallowing and erasing everything in its path.

“…Hmm?”

Just as everything was about to end, the world lost its color and sound. The wraith and the sun above him also froze. Everything has turned to a shade of gray… with only Glenn and the others unaffected.

“W-what is this?”

“Teacher? T-this is? What exactly happened?”

The development that exceeded their understanding made Glenn and the others sunk into confusion.

“…Hurry, everyone, over here!” A voice came from behind.

Glenn and the others quickly turned to the source of the voice, and the sight made their heart skip a beat.

“Wh-…?”

“I could not keep it activated for long, so hurry up and leave!”

Before them was a young girl. Her hair ashen white, and her eyes shone like red coral with a dark hue, all the while dressed in a thinly veiled dress. On her back were a pair of wings clearly not of this world.

“What are you waiting around for? Hurry up! That guy will never forgive foolish humans that wandered into the realm of the divine, and will chase you to the end of the world! So…”

“Y-you are…!” Glenn had seen her before, “At the first ritual chamber, below the statue of the Twins of the Sky, Taum. So you were not a mere hallucination?!”

“Hmph, humans are really foolish. They’d readily fool themselves when met with something they cannot explain, and refuse to see for what it is… Really, complete fools.” The young girl looked at Glenn with belittling eyes and let out a small scoff.

“Umm, who exactly are you…?” Sistine nervously asked, “W-what is happening? And why do you…”

It was not something only Sistine noticed, but by everyone present.

“W-why do you… have the same face as Rumia?!”

Just as Sistine asked, the young girl’s face looked identical to Rumia, almost from the same mold.

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