Inside the temple, after Melchi had made her leave…
Kaoru drank down about half of her cup of tea.
“…Is she gone yet?”
A voice addressed Kaoru, from the other side of the sliding screen behind her.
“Yeah, she’s gone. Did you hear what she said? She wanted to meet you.”
Kaoru, without turning around, asked back to the voice behind her.
“Now is not the right time. We’re sure to meet eventually, whenever fate dictates.”
“There you go, trying to sound cool again.”
Heard together with the voice’s annoyance was the sound of a bell-like ring.
Kaoru stole a glance behind her and drank the remaining half of her cup.
“Now then, I wonder what will happen next…”
She muttered and waited for a reply, but the voice on the other side of the screen never responded.
“Always so busy, huh?”
Kaoru, in the chamber darkened by the sunset, let out a subtle sigh, her breath warmed by the tea she had just finished.
~~Noon, Second Day of the Sixth Month, Ninety-Sixth Year of the War Demon Calendar~~
The elites of the Royal Capital Magic Guardians marched on, following Gaston’s lead.
They had gone west and went past the abandoned ruins of Kugg Village, after which Gaston felt a fluctuation in the air — a fluctuation of arcane energy.
By Gaston’s command, everyone silently came to a halt.
He had kept his voice down, so as to not alert any potential enemies in the area. The elite soldiers knew, and had responded accordingly.
And then, they started feeling the fluctuation — this time of the ground, so subtle yet so clear.
It did not take long for them to realize that it was caused by footsteps.
“It’s close. The Lizard…!”
Gaston whispered and proceeded to briefly suck on his index finger.
“That’s something only old-timers would do, Master.”
Konoha, in Gaston’s chestpocket, said sarcastically.
After using his soaked finger to confirm the wind’s direction, Gaston led the march downwind, staying stealthy so that the creature — most likely the Chaos Lizard — would not detect them.
Lina closely observed Gaston’s every movement.
“I must learn from his example…!”
At her side, Hornel chuckled.
“No, you really don’t have to copy that.”
“Come on, focus — back into formation.”
The elite soldiers’ footsteps were quiet, but they had no obstructing effect as they closed in on their target.
Before long, an opening in the woods came into view… and in the center of it a gigantic, dark silhouette.
The quadrupedal creature’s body surface looked smooth like a serpent’s, and the underside of its body was an unsettling ocher color.
Its muddied yellow eyes gleamed under the sunlight.
“There it is… the Chaos Lizard.”
In an instant, everyone readied their staves.
“Attack formation eight, ready…”
Upon hearing Viola’s command, the soldiers began drawing Spell Circles.
Everyone except Gaston concentrated their arcane energy and prepared to attack.
Fifty soldiers unleashed a volley of large-scale spells. The attacks knocked down all the trees in the way between them and the Chaos Lizard.
By the time the monster saw what coming, it was too late.
The whole section of the woods was engulfed in flames, but the burning did not spread to the surrounding areas.
The reason for that was none other than Gaston, leading the formation on horseback.
Gaston had deployed an anti-magic barrier, containing the destruction within this section of the woods.
The Chaos Lizard flailed about in the carpet of fire.
In an attempt to put out the fire that had ignited its body, it rolled around, knocking down the trees in its way. No matter how hard it struggled, however, its body was still on fire.
Having inflicted such massive damage in one go, the Royal Capital Magic Guardians elites raised a battle cry.
One soldier’s shout roused another, expelling the sense of fear from all their bodies.
“Unit 2, take the east flank! Unit 3, west! Unit 4, stay behind and support!”
By Viola’s command, Jeanne, Hornel, and Lina led each of their units and moved into position.
Despite being in the woods, they all maneuvered their horses skillfully around the trees.
Fuyu gave a signal.
“Mm-hm… Hit Point Reduction!”
Gaston invoked his HP-subtracting spell, and immediately following, Fuyu invoked her Craft Circle.
“Rise, A-rise, A-rise! Demonic Acceleration!”
The magic spell and magecraft worked in tandem, rapidly sapping the Chaos Lizard’s physical strength.
The monster, seemingly desperate to survive, stood its flaming body up and started running through the woods.
“Defense formation one! Ready!”
Viola shouted out another command.
The Chaos Lizard was charging straight toward Gaston. Either it could tell from instinct or could actually detect the dense arcane energy in the air, but the end result remained the same: it knew that Gaston was the most dangerous one among its enemies.
Multiple layers of solid earthen walls appeared directly in front of Gaston.
The Chaos Lizard pressed on, destroying them one after another… But in the end, it lost momentum, failing to reach Gaston and allowing the latter to gain some distance.
“Attack formation seven! Ready!”
With the Chaos Lizard rendered immobile, Viola shouted out, causing the monster to panic again.
It had learned by now that, whenever it heard Viola’s voice, a great deal of pain would follow in one way or another.
Although the shattered earth ended up extinguishing the flames on its body, it still felt painful — which meant staying here was still dangerous. Apparently deciding so, the Chaos Lizard attempted to retreat.
“Think I’d let you?”
Together with Gaston’s words, the monster’s eyes widened in surprise.
Black flames, sharp blade-like in shape, erupted from the ground and blocked the Chaos Lizard’s path, causing it to stop. Its face was painted with fear.
The monster bet everything on its last option: climbing up the earthen walls.
But that did not work either, as sharp blades of earth rained down on it.
Despite managing to dodge them at first, one lance after another ended up piercing its flesh.
All its four limbs impaled, the Chaos Lizard could no longer move.
And due to the accelerated Hit Point Reduction, it grew weaker and weaker with every passing second.
As Gaston commanded, the Inferno Pillars behind the Chaos Lizard began moving… toward the monster.
Although its body and its limbs were immobile, the creature still was defiant, moving its savage eyes.
It confronted the reality of its imminent death head-on.
The Inferno Pillars burned everything — its body, the earth lances, the earth walls. The battle was over.
The soldiers raised a shout of celebration.
Their victory was flawless — no one missing, no one injured.
It was only natural that one would celebrate such a gratifying achievement.
“Congratulations, Sir Gaston.”
Gaston nodded to Viola.
“Mm-hm. It feels like we didn’t even need half our numbers…”
“Not necessarily, sir. I think it is better that more of our ranks experience the real deal — battling an SS-ranked monster and claiming victory. “
“Hmm… perhaps that’s true.”
Gaston relaxed his expression for a moment…
…But then he heard a scream coming from Unit 2 on the east flank.
The very first one to react was the commanding officer of Unit 2, Jeanne.
But she was still too late. By the time she turned in that direction, the face of one of her subordinates had already been chewed off.
“W-what the hell is this!?”
Everyone in the unit was visibly and audibly filled with fear.
Jeanne immediately shouted to them,
“Retreat! Retreat now!”
With that order, everyone in Unit 2 pulled back their reins and retreated toward where Unit 1 and Gaston were.
Viola, unaware of the situation due to her distance, shouted out.
At the same time, Lina made her move.
“Sharp Wind Asteriskos!”
Some attention had been put into the operation to minimize the damage to the woods, but that would do no good if those among their ranks were injured or killed in action.
Lina, judging that it would be the best course of action, quickly shout out a large-scale wind attack. The spell cut open the way, freeing up everyone’s fields of view.
Jeanne noticed that, and proceeded to lead Unit 2 to dash through the clearing. Shortly following, Gaston leaped high above the trees and stared hard at whatever was behind Unit 2.
“What in the world…!”
A quadrupedal creature was closing in on Jeanne’s unit.
It was… none other than the specimen that Billy had created.