In front of the Hà Giang Empire Castle Gate―――
Beldi Raven is at a standstill.
「…I never expected to be denied entry into the castle…」
An ironic smile escapes her lips.
It was unexpected.
After all, she’s a fairly well-known adventurer. She had arrogantly assumed she’d be allowed in based on her reputation alone. But to her surprise, they asked for proper identification.
『Well, no matter how famous an adventurer you might be, we’re currently in the middle of a Continental Congress. Times are uncertain. We’d like you to go through the proper procedures.』
An older gate guard tells her with complete reasonableness.
I can’t even argue, it’s a valid point.
Even when she brings up her teacher Linwu, the guard asks, “Do you have any proof of that? It would take us a day to verify with Master Linwu.” It seemed like a waste of time.
By the way, adventurers are issued something like a passport at the guild.
It’s available in every country affiliated with the Adventurers Guild on the Faudo Continent, serving as an ID…
「…I left all my money and guild ID at the inn.」
Having only her weapons with her now seems to have backfired.
Going back to retrieve my ID would take too much time.
And it would be… embarrassing.
“…even though he’s like that, he’s still my partner!” she had declared boldly to Farley before leaving. It would be too mortifying to return now saying she forgot her ID.
Her pride would be utterly crushed.
「What should I do… If I can’t enter the castle, I could go to the guild to gather information—Oh, right! I should just go to the Adventurers Guild!」
Yes, she doesn’t need to force her way into the imperial castle.
She’s an adventurer, after all. She should just go to the guild.
Besides, within the Hà Giang Empire, the charges against her and Wald have already been cleared.
Now she should be able to access information appropriate to her rank.
What a brilliant idea!
See? I can think on my feet too, she thinks smugly.
With that decision made, she’s about to turn on his heel when―――
She senses Wald’s magical energy.
Beldi’s sensing abilities are sharper than Wald’s.
With that ability, she had once instantly located the black ants in the Eld Desert.
「He’s safe after all…」
Although Wald is stubborn like a cockroach and incredibly lucky, that doesn’t mean Beldi isn’t worried about him.
She continues to sense the magic.
「He’s quite far away… And from this energy… Is he fighting something? There are three large clumps of magical energy near him… I better hurry.」
Given the distance, she can’t pinpoint the exact location. But she can at least determine a general direction.
As she gets closer, she’ll know for sure.
Kicking off the ground, Beldi races forward, heading to the battlefield where her comrade awaits.
「Just wait, Wald…」
By the way, even if she had gone to the guild, she would’ve still been asked for ID. So it’s a good thing Beldi didn’t realize that, or it would’ve been a wasted trip.
On a hill outside the Imperial Capital―――
「―――Goodbye, Ms Elibel.」
Rias’s magic activates.
It’s a spell on a much larger scale than anything seen before.
「―――“Tempest of Tyrannical Storms”!」
What appears is a wind demon that devours and crushes everything in its path.
It’s a Pope-class wind magic called “Tempest of Tyrannical Storms,” and it’s aimed directly at Elibel.
A thick cloud of dust swirls up, rocks around shatter, the ground gouges out, changing the landscape.
「Wha—?! Miss Elibel!!!」
Even in the midst of battle, Berg cries out.
It’s a crucial moment of vulnerability.
But no attack comes.
Wald, too, is mesmerized by the wind magic.
「So this is Pope-class wind magic… It’s my first time seeing it…」
A shiver runs down his spine.
The landscape changes.
The scenery shifts.
A tremendous blast erupts.
「Wow… it’s incredible…」
The billowing dust completely obscures Wald’s vision.
It seems he had completely underestimated Rias’s strength.
Compared to this, that Arc Skeleton seemed like nothing.
While Wald is in shock, another surprise appears.
「I’m… not done yet!」
Unbelievably, from within the thick dust, the Arc Skeleton emerges.
How it survived the spell is a mystery, but it did.
Of course, it’s not unscathed.
Its robe is torn to shreds, and its bones are visibly cracked in several places, giving it a pitiful appearance.
But the blue flames in its eye sockets burn as fiercely as ever, undiminished.
「―――’Triple Water Dragon’!」
A three-headed ice dragon.
It’s a General-class water magic, “Triple Water Dragon.”
However, Rias effortlessly defends against it and fixes her gaze on Elibel.
「I really thought that would finish you off. You’re surprisingly tenacious.」
「Huff…puff… Don’t mock me… Okay? That attack… No matter how much I take… Cough… It doesn’t hurt at all…」
It’s clearly a bluff.
The wind magic Rias just unleashed is of the Pope-class.
That means it’s on par with Heleb of Accurate Crow’s “Flame Armor” in terms of power.
If it had been Elibel in her prime, maybe, but considering she’s currently only of the General-class, she shouldn’t be standing.
Even when she fought Robun, known as “Thousand Spells”, she always dodged attacks stronger than the King-class instead of defending against them.
She knows the Arc Skeleton body couldn’t endure it.
Rias smirks maliciously.
「Oh, is that so? If you’re okay… I’ll just fire about twenty more of those at you. Please, do try to endure them, Ms Elibel.」
Rias’s staff begins to glow with magical energy.
She’s not bluffing.
She means she can really fire dozens of that spell in rapid succession.
（―――Damn, this is bad… The ‘trap’ will take more time, and until then, I have to buy time somehow…）
She sneaks a glance at Berg.
He’s too occupied with his Dragon Slayer opponent.
She’ll have to buy time herself.
Rushing to the surface for a surprise attack seems to have backfired.
What’s more, she hadn’t expected Rias to have grown this strong.
「Well then, Ms Elibel, shall we begin? Let’s see how many you can—What!?」
Mid-sentence, Rias stops speaking and quickly looks back toward the imperial capital.
Elibel tilts her head in confusion.
Why did Rias stop the attack?
She’s completely defenseless now.
Is this some kind of trap?
「Could it be… they failed? No, but… not just Yasha… Suiren too? Impossible…」
What’s going on?
What is Rias talking about?
When Rias faces her again, the confident expression is gone.
The smug grin from earlier has vanished.
「Apologies, Ms Elibel, but something urgent has come up. I need to end our battle quickly.」
Rias’s staff gleams brilliantly.
A whirlpool of magical energy is gathering, far more potent than the previous “Tempest of Tyrannical Storms.”
A colossal attack is about to be unleashed.
It’s likely Rias’s trump card.
However, Elibel has no intention of just standing there.
「I don’t know why you’re in such a rush… but if you want to settle this, bring it on! Take this, Rias! ‘The law of the bright star separates Heaven and Earth, seven nights end, twelve gods―――」
Elibel starts chanting.
Simultaneously, an enormous number of magical circles appear around her.
“Forbidden spell: Sanctuary Interference”
One of Elibel’s trump cards.
It controls the surrounding magic and even the opponent’s magical circuits, manipulating them at will. A forbidden spell among forbidden spells.
Unbeatable once executed.
On the other hand, incredible magical energy is concentrating in Rias’s staff.
Pope-class… no, likely even beyond the King-class magic.
Both are gearing up for their final blow.
They are about to unleash their attacks.
But before they can,
「—――Wahahaha! Not gonna happen~」
A voice rings out.
A voice that’s completely out of place: cheerful, flat, ordinary, just a regular voice.
There’s a sound like shattering glass.
Incredibly, the magical energy residing in Rias’s staff dissipates like mist, and the forming magical circles shatter as if made of glass.
Rias’s face contorts in surprise.
Elibel is caught off guard, forgetting her chant and staring at the figure before her.
When did she get there?
Were she there from the beginning, or did she just teleport in?
It’s impossible to tell. But right there, naturally standing between the two, is a woman.
「Rejoice, for I have arrive!」
She strikes a mysterious pose, covering her face with one hand and raising the other high into the air.
She’s plain-looking, wearing nondescript glasses, dressed modestly, with a hairstyle that’s neither long nor short, and an utterly average appearance.
There stood―――”The Witch” Léna-Lloyd Reynolds.
Everyone is dumbfounded.
And understandably so.
In the midst of what was a deadly confrontation, this woman has appeared out of nowhere, striking an odd pose and interrupting everything.
The level of awkwardness is off the charts.
At the center of it all, Léna-Lloyd tilts her head, observing the scene around her.
「Hmm… Weird. I thought I made a pretty grand entrance, ya know? What’s with this atmosphere? Did… did I mess up my timing?」
An overwhelming sense of awkwardness and cluelessness radiates from her, and the “Witch,” with her loner tendencies, has suddenly descended upon the battlefield.
Not only Rias and Elibel, but even Berg and Wald, who were locked in fierce combat beside them, stare in astonishment. It’s Rias who finds her voice first.
「Le… Lena? It’s been a long while, hasn’t it?」
「For me too, Rias.」
She says with a grin.
However, Léna-Lloyd’s smile unmistakably carries a hint of disdain.
「But could you stop calling me that? I’d prefer you to address me as ‘Léna-Lloyd,’ and Léna-Lloyd only.」
「Strange request, isn’t it? Wasn’t it you who asked to be called Léna in the first place?」
「But only my ‘friends’ get to call me that. Sorry, but being addressed like that by an ‘ex-friend’ feels unpleasant.」
Her eyes, behind those black-rimmed glasses, sparkle with anger.
「I see… So you’re ‘also’ angry with me… Well, it can’t be helped then…」
Rias responds calmly, appearing even more composed than before.
「Hey, old hag… What are you doing here?」
「…Eli, please don’t call me that in public. It genuinely hurts」
Lena says with a forced smile, moving swiftly to stand next to Elibel, placing a hand on her shoulder.
「Look at you, you’re a mess. Did you really rush out here without preparing? It’s not like you, Eli. I understand being impulsive, but you should’ve come prepared. You could have been ‘annihilated,’ you know?」
She gently rubs Elibel’s back, casting a healing spell.
In an instant, Elibel’s fractured form begins to mend.
「―――! Keep your touchy hands off me, old hag! The only ones allowed to touch me like that are little girls!」
「Well, I don’t think any little girl willingly touches you… Here, take this magic stone. It’ll help you recover. Also, drop the ‘old hag’ bit. It’s taking chunks out of my HP.」
Reluctantly, Elibel takes it and consumes it with audible chomps and gulps.
Léna-Lloyd’s face softens, as if thinking how even this grumpy side of Elibel is endearing.
Their banter seems almost out of place, considering the intense battle that was unfolding just moments ago.
It’s Wald who interrupts the scene, seemingly forgetting about his fight with Berg and glaring at Léna-Lloyd.
「Why are you here, Witch of Reynolds?」
As Wald asks with a hint of malice, Léna-Lloyd completely disregards his question.
「What did you just say?! Weren’t you supposed to be the representative of the Borhelic Kingdom? Why the hell are you here then?」
Wald’s voice echoes with intense emotion.
After all, the person who caused the current state of him and his companions now stands before him.
Remaining calm in this situation would be unreasonable.
But Léna-Lloyd pays no heed.
She doesn’t even make eye contact.
Her cool demeanor hides her true feelings well.
But in reality, her mind is racing.
―――What should I do? Wald seems really mad. Should I apologize? But how do I explain about Rugios? I can’t possibly say I tried to kill him because he looked suspicious, right? And, oh god, I pinned all the responsibility for the Eld Desert mess on them! He’s definitely holding a grudge. How can I even defend myself? But maybe it’s okay. Who cares if Wald’s mad? I’ll just ignore him! That’s the plan! And why’s he suddenly talking to me? He scared me; I thought my heart would stop! Ugh, I’m sweating, people like him are such a nuisance! They have no sense of personal boundaries! Seriously―――
―――Such troublesome thoughts consume Léna-Lloyd.
Of course, she doesn’t let any of this show.
Upon close observation, you’d notice cold sweat trickling down her back. But only Elibel notices.
「…Hey, are you still not over your social anxiety?」
Elibel asks while munching on a magic stone.
「Can we not talk about that, Eli?」
「Seriously? It’s been 200 years!」
「Don’t remind me! By the way, you still can’t spot men from a mile away, can you?」
「We’re in the same boat then! And you’re still a vir――」
「Okay, okay, let’s drop this conversation! It’s for the best.」
They whisper to each other so that no one else can hear.
「Anyway, let’s try to calm Rias down. We can talk after that.」
The unassuming woman stands facing Rias.
「So, Rias, would you mind surrendering peacefully?」
「You must be joking. Besides…」
Rias surveys her surroundings.
Then, with a hint of relief, she breathes a sigh.
「―――Without Rugios by your side… what can you possibly do?」
Léna-Lloyd furrows her brows at that insinuation.
He’s Léna-Lloyd’s knight and someone so powerful that he could easily overpower Wald.
Rias has been wary of him ever since Wald was attacked.
Rugios was undoubtedly one of the monsters that surpass human abilities.
He’s probably on par with the likes of “Thunder Slash” and “Yasha.”
That’s precisely why Rias felt relieved when she noticed his absence.
Her relief lightened her tone.
「It’s unlike you, Léna-Lloyd, to not bring him along, especially to a place like this… A grave oversight, isn’t it? Granted, your ability to interfere with perceptions and your counter-curse magic are formidable. But you don’t truly believe you can handle me with that alone, do you?」
However, Léna-Lloyd tilts her head, looking genuinely puzzled by Rias’s words.
「What do you mean by that? It’s almost as if―――」
As she speaks, Léna-Lloyd is suddenly―――
「———you’re suggesting that I’m ‘weaker’ than Rugios.」
―――right behind Rias.
「How did you?!」
Rias exclaims in shock.
Elibel, too, can’t help but gasp.
Rias was on guard.
She had activated her magic detection.
Yet, she hadn’t noticed.
It’s as if Léna slipped through a gap in Rias’s consciousness.
But that wasn’t the only surprise.
Adding to the shock, Léna-Lloyd places a hand on Rias’s back.
A palm strike drives into Rias’s back, sending her flying with immense force.
Léna-Lloyd instantly darts forward, closing the gap between her and the airborne Rias.
She launches another kick, sending Rias spinning mid-air like a ball.
As Rias twirls in the sky, Léna-Lloyd invokes,
The ground around Léna-Lloyd rumbles and shapes into a colossal figure.
It’s the same blend of earth and fire magic of the King-class used by Robun before.
Just one step below the Soul King-class.
This magic is among the pinnacle of human abilities.
The molten giant, born from intense heat, effortlessly crushes the airborne Rias.
Following that, the hand of Muspelheim disperses with a blast.
A scream, then a roar.
From within it, a burnt and battered Rias emerges.
「Oh, good, you’re alive. It’d be a problem if you died on me.」
Léna-Lloyd chirps, cracking her knuckles.
「Ugh… it’s exhausting to move around like this after such a long break. So tiring~」
She stretches, speaking as if it was just another day.
「Wait, old hag… You can fight?」
Elibel questions in disbelief.
「Huh? Of course I can fight, to some extent anyway. …But seriously, can you stop calling me that? It really hurts my feelings.」
「Extent? After what you just did?」
Is she really downplaying what just happened?
Léna-Lloyd, talking nonchalantly, holds something in her hand.
「Oh, this? Found it in Rias’s pocket. Took it while I was at it.」
Seeing it, Rias’s face pales.
She frantically pats herself down, her face turning even more ashen.
「When did you…?」
「From your reaction, I guess this was your ‘insurance’? So that’s why you brought Wald along. Makes sense.」
Tossing it to Elibel, Léna-Lloyd continues, “Recognize this?”
「This… can’t be… the treasured Vajra!?」
The Treasured Vajra.
One of the six weapons imbued with “Dungeon Destruction.”
Indeed, it seems Rias had multiple “Dungeon Destruction” weapons in her possession.
But that’s not the most crucial part.
This relic is unique because of its special ability.
「I see, I see. So, Rias, you wanted to take Wald’s ‘Dragon Slayer’ ability.」
Léna-Lloyd concludes with a smirk.
Vajra possesses the formidable ability called “Usurpation.”
Its creator remains unknown, but this incredible artifact can steal and freely use the unique spells of its target.
「Indeed, with Wald’s refined ‘Dragon Slayer’ ability, it’d be a solid insurance against the resurrection of the Death Dragon. Given the power of the Dragon Slayer… but in this situation, that’s no longer relevant.」
Rias tries to activate a spell, but…
「Nope, not gonna happen.」
Léna-Lloyd, appearing out of nowhere, swiftly closes the distance and knocks the staff out of Rias’s hand.
Without missing a beat, she lands a “Piercing Strike” to her solar plexus.
Rias, coughing up blood, crumbles to the ground.
「Ugh… I miscalculated… I never thought you… would be such a monster.」
「That hurts my feelings. Though, to be honest, this isn’t a power I actively sought.」
She subdues Rias and activates a restraint spell.
Taking away her freedom.
「I didn’t want or need such ridiculous power. I know my own limits, unlike you. But…」
She glances at Elibel.
「If it means I can help Eli… maybe it’s worth having.」
The restraint spell tightens.
Rias can’t even move a finger now.
「This is… surprising.」
Wald, momentarily forgetting his battle with Berg, is captivated by the scene before him.
It all makes sense now.
Why she’s been the head of the Reynolds family for so long.
Why she became the nation’s Prime Minister after Eclair’s death and behaved as she pleased.
Why she could handle such a careless post-war situation, further straining international relations, and still remain unfazed.
Why she could calmly face a rebellion from two major noble families, and negotiate with the Celestial Dragon Yamu on equal terms. It all came down to a simple reason.
―――Léna-Lloyd is powerful.
Even more so than Rugios, her own knight.
She’s so formidable that she could probably take on an entire nation and come out victorious.
「Ugh… but I still have…」
「Oh? You still have the energy to resist———Hm?」
Rias struggles desperately to resist.
Léna-Lloyd watches with a smirk, but suddenly, her expression changes.
「Hmm… It seems you’re completely cornered, Rias.」
In the next moment, an overwhelming pressure bears down on everyone present.
「Wha… What is this!? Could it be…」
Rias exclaims in shock.
「Guh… This magical power is…」
「What the… What is this insane amount of magic…?」
Even Berg and Wald, standing some distance away, raise their voices in discomfort due to the crushing pressure.
「This tremendous magical power… No way…」
Elibel and Berg recognize the source of the magic.
After all, they had just met the owner of this power yesterday.
「―――It’s been a while, Rias.」
In the stifling atmosphere, that voice resonates peculiarly clear.
Before the subdued Rias stands a tiny earth dragon, small enough to fit in one’s palm.
The Divine Catastrophe Dragon King, Jibru, is there.
「Why… Why are you here?」
「To stop you… No, to stop both you and him—the Death Dragon Ouronus—I came here.」
From the sky, a majestic white wyvern descends.
「It’s been a long time, Rias.」
「Is this your doing?! Tracking and searching have always been your specialties since your familiar days…」
「Yes, that’s right. It seems you’ve made a mistake in your urgency, Rias. Thanks to that, it was easy for me to sense your presence.」
Rias glares hatefully at Gwyve.
The outcome is now clear.
Rias can’t move a muscle, surrounded by Elibel, Berg, Léna-Lloyd, Jibru, and Gwyve.
Even if her allies “Yasha” or “Thunder Slash” were to rush to her aid in this situation, rescuing Rias would be impossible.
Even if another Evil God-class entity were to appear, there’s no turning the tide now that she’s here.
The Divine Catastrophe Dragon King is just that formidable.
It’s a complete―――checkmate.
But there’s one lingering concern…
「Hey, Rias, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.」
Léna-Lloyd, while maintaining her magic, addresses Rias.
「That guy among your group… Who exactly is this ‘Joker’ guy?」
Indeed, there was one man they couldn’t gather any intel on.
They had relatively easy access to the details about “Yasha” Lau Lan Fan and “Thunder Slash” Aoba Kirishima, as well as the humans around them.
But that last one, the man known as Joker, remained an enigma.
This bothered her more than anything.
「Wait up, old hag, who the heck is that?」
「Huh? Didn’t Dos tell you? He’s one of Rias’s pals. Managed to gather info on the others, but I’ve got no clue about that Joker guy. And seriously, could you stop calling me an old hag? It makes me wanna cry…」
Léna-Lloyd is aware that back in the imperial castle, using the Silver Demon’s body, he attempted and failed to assault the emperor.
Still, his true identity remained elusive.
「So, are you going to tell me, Rias?」
Rias remains silent, looking down, her face unreadable.
「What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to———」
A chuckle is heard.
It’s coming from Rias.
The previously unreadable face of Rias twists into a smile.
And then, like a dam breaking, she erupts into laughter.
「Hahahaha, HAHAHAHA! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!」
「What’s so funny?」
「Ahahaha, wel- well, nothing’s really funny… It’s just that, for me, this is the worst possible situation… Jibru, Gwyve, Ms Elibel, and Léna-Lloyd… Never thought all my adversaries would gather in one place like this… All the plans I’ve laid out, all thwarted… It really is… the absolute worst situation…」
Rias’s voice drips with self-mockery as she continues.
「So this is what it feels like… this overpowering sensation from the depths of my heart, this is ‘defeat.’ Ah, I see now… it’s unbearable. Oh, so hard to endure…」
「――――That’s precisely why I win!」
Drawing a deep breath, Rias shouts!
Meanwhile, at the Hà Giang Imperial Castle―――
Floating above the palace, where he can see everything, is a man.
He’s clad like a jester, wearing a white mask.
That man is Joker.
There’s no weapon to be seen on him. He simply stands there, arms crossed, focused intently on a single point.
The eyes beneath his mask narrow.
「―――That’s the signal…」
「Ah, I figured it would come to this… From the beginning, every plan was designed to ‘fail,’ after all. Seems like the real deal kicked in. But still… to have foreseen all this, classic senior Rias.」
He stretches out his arms, and activates the designated spell.
「’Black mist, forbidden power, now, with the divine strength I wield, I shall paint this land in pitch black’.」
This chant unleashes the power he’s always hidden.
A black mist slowly emanates around him.
It’s similar to the mist he used when he was controlling Linwu.
「’The beast is an endless fog, its power an illusion. Thus, none can perceive my form, and my authority cannot harm any. I simply waver quietly in place’.」
This is the chant to reveal his true strength.
「’I will show my existence to this land. Thus, I shall brand myself with the mark of impotence’.」
The identity he’s kept hidden for over a thousand years now comes to light.
「―――’My name is ‘Dream Mist’. The disastrous evil fog that consumes all’.」
In an instant, a massive explosion of black mist engulfs the entire imperial capital.
One of the three Evil God-class entities in history, considered on par with Jibru.
The apex of monsters.
The creature regarded as divine has revealed itself.
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