“Hey, Schnee…isn’t Shin acting kind of weird?”
Shin swung the ice blade towards Ishkar. Unable to keep it in anymore, Filma asked for Schnee’s opinion.
Schnee did not answer. Her grip on 『Blue Moon』’s hilt tightened.
There was no need for questions, she already knew the answer.
Ishkar had started fighting with Shin, and Shin only: it was like it did not even acknowledge the existence of Schnee and the rest of the party.
While Shin had tried not to get them involved, it was more than clear that the dragon actively not attacking them.
Finding the battle a good opportunity, Shin fought with his limiters off, but his current style of fighting was kind of different from the one that Schnee was familiar with.
Regardless of how high Shin’s stats were, his party members were unable to determine precisely how strong he was. No one knew how powerful of an enemy he could fight by himself, what kind of enemy could match him, or what kind of enemy could be superior to him.
More than his offense, Schnee was worried about his defense. The only way to actually know was to be attacked, so even if they could make predictions, there was no way of knowing how much he could withstand.
Shin’s current way of fighting, however, did not suggest that he was sparing much thought to his defense.
“This is bizarre…for Shin to laugh while fighting such a battle.”
Following Filma’s question, Shibaid expressed his doubts too. His shield high, he still kept his guard up, but his gaze followed Shin, not Ishkar.
“Kuu, something, strange.”
Yuzuha watched Shin with furrowed brows. Kagerou likewise cried in agreement.
“This is strange. I can’t feel any miasma coming from Ishkar!”
Tiera, who had been focusing on trying to purify the miasma, as she had done against Trypophobia, suddenly raised her voice, slightly panicked.
Schnee’s expression turned sour.
She was also capable of detecting miasma, to a degree. Based on the density of the miasma corrupting the dungeon, it was impossible that its boss, Ishkar, was unaffected.
Watching the battle Schnee and the rest of the party thought that Ishkar had weakened or could not move anymore, due to having sealed the miasma. If not, it would have lost to the miasma and turned into an Invader.
Despite their predictions, however, Ishkar appeared before them looking just as they remembered, with all of his abilities intact. It was fighting against Shin as if miasma didn’t affect it in the slightest.
Looking at Shin’s clearly offensive-oriented fighting style, Schnee felt compelled to run to him. She wanted to go to his side, to talk to him.
She could not do it though.
Shin was fighting against a monster above all monsters, a beast of level 1000.
While her stats had been boosted by the Ley Lines when they freed Filma, and she equipped Ancient-grade weapons and armor, this fight was too dangerous for her to dive into.
“….Filma, Shibaid. Let’s go to Shin’s side. Tiera, you go with Yuzuha and Kagerou close to the walls, make sure you stay out of attack range.”
“No, I’m going too.”
“It’s dangerous, you know?”
“I know. But I can feel a power that’s not caused by the miasma coming from Shin and Ishkar.”
“A cold, mighty power from Ishkar and a raging power from Shin. The latter is especially something the likes of I’ve never felt before,” said Tiera.
“A raging power…might that be the reason why Shin’s acting so strange?”
“Let’s think about that later. More importantly, even if we go, what exactly are we going to do? It’ll be tough even for us to keep up with Shin as he is now, you know that right?”
Without his limiter, Shin moved much faster than anyone else in the party and his attacks were also much more powerful than theirs.
He could face Ishkar head on, after all. His power was on a whole other level.
If Schnee and the party were to participate in the battle between Ishkar and Shin, it could only be as decoys.
“I believe that if the targets become two, it will have to look at us too. With Shin as he is, we will just act as support.”
“That’s fine as for joining the battle, but are we going to leave Shin like that?”
“I’ll go by myself. I have the highest speed among us, and even if I’m attacked I can dodge with a Kunoichi skill.”
The power-up received when they freed Filma, the usual boost attachments.
Combined with the physical boosts due to spirit summoning, available only to Elves and Pixies, Schnee’s AGI was maxed out. Being a Kunoichi skilled in dodging, she would probably be the quickest in reaching Shin’s position.
“You’re really something, you know…”
“Based on our abilities, Schnee is the most suitable one. Shin’s belligerent attitude is a concern, but even if something happens I doubt that she could be felled in one instant.”
Everyone nodded at Shibaid’s words and started moving. Shibaid led with Filma following a few steps behind. Tiera, Yuzuha, and Kagerou acted as the rear guard.
Separated from Shibaid’s group, which proceeded with every member at the same pace, Schnee approached Shin at high speed, using a different route.
She was looking at Shin, now surrounded by water spheres, Ishkar’s 【Aqua Cage】.
She knew that they weren’t just spheres made of water.
Shin would probably be okay, but in Schnee’s heart, the worry that was supposed to be dispelled appeared once again.
One second before Schnee could activate a skill to get rid of 【Aqua Cage】’s spheres, Shin had slipped past the spheres’ area of effect. A blade of light extended from 『Moonless』 and pierced one of the dragon’s eyes.
Shin then moved closer to Ishkar and readied his right hand into a fist. His body was wrapped in a faint aura, different from anything hat Schnee had seen before. Cold chills ran down her spine.
No one needed to explain it to her. Schnee instinctively felt that Shin, while possessed by that aura, could not be allowed to fight any longer.
Schnee’s voice, however, did not reach him.
Shin’s fist landed heavily on Ishkar’s skull, which burst into pieces in front of Schnee’s eyes.
A wave of power spread through the seawater, exhibiting the strength of the attack.
The party felt the surge of power course all over their bodies. Schnee and the other members were stopped in their tracks by it.
“I have to go…quickly…”
Schnee focused her strength on her frozen legs and kicked the water hard. Before she could get closer to Shin, however, something changed in Ishkar.
His skull exploded. Ishkar was now headless, completely still. Blue vapor flowed out from his severed neck.
At the same time, countless icicles shot out of the dragon’s torso and neck, like a flurry of lances, covering the monster’s body.
That ice then gradually changed shape.
The ice spears all fused together into one and re-created Ishkar’s head.
It was not completely made by ice, however: the eyes and horns were a deep blend of blue and purple. After forming the dragon’s head, blue ice also covered its claws and scales.
Shin attacked again before the monster regenerated completely, but Ishkar avoided his attacks with an agility unthinkable for such a large body.
Schnee was confused by Ishkar’s new, unknown form and was too late to notice what had appeared before her. She slowed down instantly, but could not avoid crashing into something solid.
She received no damage, but even looking at what she crashed against, she could not see anything. She stretched out her hands cautiously and felt the presence of something smooth, like a glass wall.
“This is…a wall?”
Schnee pushed against it, but the wall did not budge. She pressed with more strength, but the wall showed no sign of breaking. Shibaid and the others caught up with her, but they did not seem to be able to pass either.
Shin seemed to have the advantage in the battle, but as time passed the aura around Shin gradually grew larger. At the same time, his fighting style changed too.
“—-out of my sight!!”
Schnee swung 『Blue Moon』, forcefully, not holding back at all.
Filma and Shibaid noticed Shin’s state and struck the invisible wall with skills.
“Damn you, why…!?”
『Blue Moon』’s blade was repelled, and magic seemed to not have any effect either. The feeling spreading from the katana’s blade expressed that the wall hadn’t been damaged at all.
Schnee moved away from Filma and the others, to make sure not to hit them by accident, and unleashed one of her trump cards.
A long, thin blade of ice extended from 『Blue Moon』. Unlike Shin’s 【Seven Radiant Blades】, the crystal clear blade looked like a longer 『Blue Moon』.
Katana and Water Combination skill, 【Shiden – Flowing Spark Blossom】.
This skill ignored armor and all defenses and was also highly effective against barriers such as the one stopping the party’s advance. Schnee unleashed it against the glass-like wall without reserve.
“This can’t be…”
But even this slash, carrying every ounce of her power, could not destroy the barrier before them.
“The result was the same, then.”
Filma and Shibaid approached Schnee after trying their own Shiden skills, to no avail.
Behind them, Yuzuha and Kagerou struck the barrier with flame and lightning attacks.
“What in the world is up with this barrier? It’s way too tough!”
“I have no idea…I can’t remember ever seeing something this sturdy.”
In the game, Ishkar did not possess the ability to create such barriers.
A barrier that did not even crack after being struck by Schnee’s, Shibaid’s, and Filma’s Shiden skills could not be erected even by a level 1000 monster, after all.
“Nevertheless, if we do not pass this obstacle, we cannot go to Shin’s aid.”
Shibaid spoke while glaring at the transparent wall.
As the barrier did not show the slightest crack, it was clear that it couldn’t be destroyed just by hitting it with skills. Being invisible to the naked eye, it was also impossible to tell how far it extended.
“Tiera, can you tell us anything….Schnee, Filma, look!”
Schnee looked at Tiera after Shibaid called her, and saw her floating in front of Yuzuha and Kagerou. The latter two were moving their paws up and down, as if scratching against something.
Indeed, Tiera had passed through the barrier that was blocking Schnee and the rest of the party.
“Let’s go, Schnee!! We might have found a way to pass through!!”
Urged by Filma, Schnee and Shibaid rushed to where Tiera was. She seemed utterly confused and hurriedly spoke to the three as they approached.
“Master!! I-I don’t know why, but I got through!!”
“How?? What method did you use?”
“Well, I…I tried cutting through the barrier with my dagger, and I just kind of fell through…”
Tiera herself did not seem to know how she had gotten past the barrier. Kagerou, left behind, was scratching at the invisible wall with all his might. Yuzuha was also clawing at the barrier in the same way, but she suddenly slipped through the barrier. At the same time, Kagerou likewise passed to the other side.
Taken completely by surprise, the two spun once in the water because of their excess momentum. After a bit of paddling, they finally returned to their original stances.
“….we, passed too!?”
Yuzuha was baffled by the sudden development, then her body trembled. The same purple aura around Shin rose from her body too.
“This is…like Shin? Yuzuha, are you okay?”
Schnee, concerned, asked Yuzuha how she felt. However Yuzuha did not answer and howled loudly in response.
Yuzuha’s body glowed brightly and increased in size. When the light faded, Yuzuha had returned to her original form.
She was now much larger than Schnee or Tiera and sported her trademark nine tails as well. There was no mistaking it: Yuzuha had returned to her original form.
Yuzuha’s sudden transformation left Tiera almost speechless. Kagerou too, next to Tiera, growled in confusion.
“…so this power can influence me too.”
Yuzuha looked at her own body and whispered to herself. Her voice did not bear any childish traits anymore. Her consciousness seemed to have returned to one fitting to her current body.
“Do not fret, I remember you all. I shall lend you my strength. You too, Kagerou, do not glare at me so.”
Yuzuha used one of her tails and lifted Tiera on her back. She then slowly turned her eyes towards Shin.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, but I guess we can only leave things to Tiera and Yuzuha…”
“…Tiera. Listen well. I am sure you understand after seeing that aura, but Shin is different from usual now.”
Schnee breathed in, then started talking. She couldn’t go herself, so there was no choice but to talk.
“Yes. It’s kind of…scary. I also feel that he changed.”
“He cannot control it, surely.”
Tiera and Yuzuha agreed while looking at Shin fighting against Ishkar. Tiera, thanks to her sharp senses, had felt the same thing as Schnee.
Yuzuha, her eyes narrowed, seemed to be trying to conclude something.
“Yuzuha, do you know what that is?”
“It is power, that much I can tell. I do not know what it actually is. However, it seems Shin has not been completely consumed by it either.”
“Could you use it to break down this wall?”
“With time, it appears to be possible. But not immediately. This form too is temporary, not complete.”
“….understood. We cannot go any further than this. Thus we entrust this to you.”
Schnee spoke to Yuzuha and Tiera, restraining her emotions. She had not lost her composure to the point of asking Yuzuha to destroy the barrier, without knowing how much time it could take, in a situation like the current one.
“….I shall break into their battle.”
Tiera swallowed her breath and looked towards Shin and Ishkar. Her reaction was perfectly natural, as both opponents were using attacks that meant instant death for someone with Tiera’s stats. Interfering in their conflict meant that one misstep would result in certain death.
“….understood. Yuzuha, please.”
“Leave everything to me.”
After a few moments of silence, Tiera asked Yuzuha for her assistance, with a resolute expression. Going together meant facing danger together. Yuzuha was already prepared for what was going to come.
Riding on Yuzuha, Tiera headed towards Shin.
Schnee could only gaze at her back as she did.
“Can’t I…do anything…?”
Looking at Ishkar and Shin fighting, Schnee remembered the words uttered by the dragon before the battle started.
“Dolls….those born in this world….could it be….!?”
Schnee reflected and realized that Ishkar could have been talking about support characters and all those that came in this world from the previous one, excluding former players.
Only players can be enemies. That probably meant that, among them, only Shin should be allowed to fight.
“If so, why….”
Why could Tiera pass through the barrier?
Tiera was a creature of this world, not a player. Schnee knew that she was not the child of players either.
Yuzuha was Shin’s partner monster. Her role was to fight alongside Shin, that could explain why she could pass through the barrier.
Kagerou had the same relationship as Yuzuha did with Shin. If Tiera had not passed the barrier, Kagerou probably would not have been able to either.
Yuzuha, Kagerou, Tiera…among them, Tiera was a bizarre case. She was born in different circumstances, but she should be on the same side as Schnee and the others.
Yet she had passed through the barrier and was now heading towards Shin.
Schnee could only watch. In her heart, many doubts rose and vanished.
Why is that not me?
Why is it not me the one going to help Shin?
Someone else was in the place she should be in. Just thinking that made Schnee feel like her whole body was grinding and cracking.
—–was Tiera someone important to Shin?
The last doubt that rose within her, no matter how much time passed, would not disappear.