“I'm Kaguya,” said the assassin. “Kaguya Kageyoshi.”
“I don’t really care.” Ragna’s eyes wandered through the banquet hall. Altera grabbed Aura's hand and ran backstage.
Good, the princess’s safe. Ragna looked back at her opponent. She had yet to make a move and stood on the spot, waiting for Ragna’s attention to turn to her.
But the level continued. Aura wasn’t out of danger. Other threats lurked, waiting for an opportunity to strike, or clearing the task required the elimination of the assassin.
“Don’t you wish to know the name of your killer?” asked Kaguya.
“What’s the point? Whether I end up in Valhalla or Hel, I’d rather think ‘bout other stuff. But if you’re so hot about it.” Ragna stomped her boot on the floor, crushing a pearl beneath the sole. “Name’s Ragna Griffin.”
Ice spread over the ground between the women. It reached the assassin’s feet, and stakes shot out of it, racing at Kaguya’s face from all sides.
“Rude.” The assassin jumped and landed on one of the stake’s edges. Using it as a springboard, she jumped on the next stake. She repeated the process and elevated herself into the sky. Her arbalest pointed at the ground. Kaguya fired. Multiple bolts flew from her weapon. They crashed into the stakes, and ice dust whirled up, covering the air with mist.
Ragna narrowed her eyes. Where’s she?
Wires started to form through the banquet hall, but before Ragna could finish, a bolt shot out of the ice Midgard. It pierced through her left shoulder. Ragna's flesh ripped apart, and her collar bone cracked.
Ragna howled in pain. She thudded her hand against the wound screamed more.
Ice froze over her collarbone, replacing the pulverized fragments. Another layer grew over her flesh and muscles and closed.
"You...bitch..." Ragna panted, her body shaking from the pain.
The wires behind her crumbled and sent signals to Ragna’s runes.
Ragna dived, and the bolt flew past her. Its flight turned into a parable. The bolt changed its direction, targeting Ragn anew. A body of water appeared in the air. It charged at the bolt and submerged it within it. The projectile slowed down. Ice grew on its metal surface, and it dropped to the ground.
At that same moment, the mist settled, and Ragna’s eyes locked on the assassin.
There she is.
The water bubbled. Its mass thinned and formed into a serpentine shape, levitating in the air. The water snake charged at the assassin. It widened its jaw, ready to swallow its enemies whole and freeze them to their core.
Kaguya pointed her arbalest at the ground and fired. Through the floor cracked the bolts, and the arbalest’s recoil catapulted the assassin into the air.
The liquid snake turned upwards, and Kaguya locked on Ragna. Multiple bolts flew out of the weapon. Ragna jumped, performed a roll, and the bolts crashed into the floor for a second time. Further and further blasted the assassin herself into the air until her hand reached for a chandelier.
Smaller than the one she had hidden in before, it couldn’t provide her a cover or a hideout but allowed her to grab a hold. Her arbalest pointed at Ragna, and she fired.
Ragna jump-dived. From the ceiling fell icicles at the assassin. Kaguya let go and fired her arbalest multiple times. She recoiled through the air, the snake following her. Another icicle as wide as one of the chandeliers sped from the ceiling right above Kaguya’s head. She grabbed its tip with her free hand, performed a revolution, and descended.
The snake collided with the ice and splashed into thousands of droplets, bursting down as rain. In midair, Kaguya shot another bolt. Ragna rolled away. As Kaguya landed, Ragna got up, and both women faced each other.
The assassin raised her arbalest.
What weapon was that? Modern technology couldn't develop a semi-automatic arbalest. Had Utgard progressed further than the kingdoms?
Two bolts flew out of the weapon, and Ragna jumped sideways.
Kaguya moved her finger, and one of the bolts turned around and raced at Ragna.
No, the abilities of the arbalest had to be Fylgja. Otherwise, it would be more widespread in use. Besides manipulating the bolts' trajectory with her finger, that Kaguya could fire multiple projectiles in quick succession and play with the force of the recoil. She didn’t run out of ammo either. Luckily, she could only control one bolt at a time.
The water on the floor rose into the air. It conglomerated into a single amorphous entity, flew at the bolts, and swallowed the projectiles. Within seconds, they froze and dropped, splintering on the ground.
Using the opening, Ragna rushed towards her opponent. She drew her saber and closed the distance between the two.
How crazy was that? Her opponent controlled the vectors affecting her arbalest. She could change, disable, reduce, or increase the laws of physics affecting the crossbow.
Ragna swung her saber. With the arbalest, Kaguya blocked the strike. The blade hit the metal crossbow and vibrated from the impact. The vibrations traveled to Ragna’s body. She stopped in her tracks, and a shrill sound rang in her ears.
Ragna ground her teeth. She forced her wounded arm to grab the seax from her garter belt and attacked.
Kaguya performed a roll, evading Ragna’s swing, and grabbed a bolt from the ground. She jumped up, parring the seax with the bolt.
Ragna swung her saber. In tandem, she used her two blades. Kaguya blocked with her arbalest. She tried to strike with the bolt, but Ragna attacked with her weapon, forcing Kaguya into defense. Ragna raised her leg and performed a kick.
Kaguya jumped back, and Ragna continued her barrage. Alternating between her two blades and kicks, she drove the assassin further and further back.
A smile flashed across Ragna’s face.
It was only a guess, but she couldn’t fire her bolts in close quarters. Her opponent was helpless.
The arbalest blocked the saber, and Ragna smiled again. A frozen spike formed around her kneecap, and she rammed it into Kaguya’s stomach.
Kaguya groaned. She dropped to her knees; her fingers slipped, and the arbalest fired at the ceiling.
Let’s end this. Ragna raised her saber.
Her blade shone in the reflection of Kaguya’s motor helmet. It mirrored the weapon about to end the battle – and the bolt changing its direction. It raced through the air and blew through Ragna’s arm. The projectile froze and, alongside the body part, fell to the ground.
Huh? Why did her body feel lighter? And where was her saber?
Ragna’s eyes switched towards her arm. Where once used to be her limb, only a stump remained. Blood gushed out, and bone fragments stuck out of the wound.
Her arm...she had lost her...it was gone.
“Fuck. I fucked up.” The stump froze to ice, and Ragna looked at Kaguya.
The assassin groaned and pressed her hand against her abdomen. She had dropped on her knees.
Without saying a word, Ragna readied her seax. She pointed it at Kaguya. But the assassin threw a bolt with her free hand. It pierced through the seax, and the blade broke. Cracks drew on its surface, and the upper half fell off. The arrow changed its trajectory and flew at Ragna.
Ragna dashed away and jump-dived. The arrow chased after, its speed increasing. She turned right and rolled behind the row of couches facing the stage. She pressed her body against the floor, and the bolt swooshed over her head, crashing into a pillar.
Wiping away the sweat beads from her forehead, Ragna leaned against the couches’ leather fabric. She reached for her saber, only to feel nothing. There was no hand to coordinate, no arm to move.
Right...She had lost her arm. Strange, how it felt like nothing. Did the bolt damage her nerves? Why wasn’t she panicking? It felt almost funny. She had heard of stories from Soldiers, how they didn’t notice their wounds until later. Was this a result of the endorphins and adrenalin her body was releasing? Did she lose her arm, or was this some hallucination? It felt like nothing? How long would that last? Did it feel like that? Like nothing? So surreal.
A bolt pierced through one of the couches and got stuck in the piano.
No, she had to focus and think of a way to defeat the assassin with or without limb. For now, the couches protected her. Her opponent didn’t know her location. It looked like she wasn’t in any condition to check herself, and she summoned a limited amount of bolts. Did the pain affect her abilities? Controlling the bolts seemed to be out of question as well. Though, that may be more because the assassin couldn’t see her with her eyes.
Five bolts burst through the couch.
But she got closer to figuring out her location. Sooner or later, that Kaguya would hit her. She had to get out, but the moment she jumped, she would become an open target. Her opponent would riddle her with holes. Beyond that, she didn’t know where her opponent was. Yeah, figuring that out would be her priority.
Ragna closed her eyes, and wires started to form around the banquet hall. Immediately, several shattered. Bolts pierced through the majority of those, some made contact with her opponent, and a few with...
Wait, wasn’t that?
Images flashed in her mind; Key moments of the battle passed revue.
Yes, now she had a plan.
Ragna smiled. The water from the ground rose. It morphed into a spear-like form and flew over the couch.
She couldn’t see, but she could feel it. The water chased after her opponent. More wires shattered, and more arrows pierced through the couches. A bolt swooshed next to her, missing her by a few millimeters.
Ragna gulped. She had to hurry.
Wires shattered in an increasing number. Water chased after the assassin.
Closer. Just a bit closer...almost...there.
A plop sounded through the banquet hall, and Ragna looked over the couch.
Her opponent lay on the floor, struggling to get up. Blood rivered out of her limbs. It formed a puddle of blood, tainting the ice construct. Where once Ragna’s arm used to be, a frozen flower of guillotine blades had grown on it. Blood dripped from their edges, falling on the assassin's limbs.
Kaguya splashed within the blood like a fish.
Ragna rushed to her opponent and froze her stumps before she would bleed out. Her eyes looked at Kaguya’s arms and legs and then, back at the main body.
“I could easily kill you,” said Ragna and crouched next to her head. “But, I wanna know if there are others?”
Kaguya didn’t answer.
“Are you working with someone? For someone? Who else wants to kill the princess? So, you wanna live, then please do me this favor.”
Again, she didn’t answer.
Ragna wiggled her hand, her fingernail scratching the helmet's surface.
What should she do? What would be the best method to extract information? Should she threaten her with death if she didn’t comply? Well, given her pitiful state, the promise of death may entice her. Maybe she should use that and allow her to die if she answered. What else was there? What options did she have to make her talk? Should she use her runes? She possessed water, ice, and even if she didn’t like it, poison. That should open up a few possibilities.
A bang erupted from the stage, and Ragna turned around. Pieces of the piano lay around. From its remains emerged Altera.
Ragna’s eyes widened, and she covered her mouth.
Altera stumbled, her feet unsteady. Every step she took could cause her to collapse. Blood dripped from her body. Half her hair had burned away; her face had withered away and stuck to her skull like a leather mask. Fiber and muscles, it exposed, and where the flesh was gone, charred bone came to the forefront. And her carmine eyes had turned black and white. Only fragments of her armor remained, fused with her coal-like skin. On her right side, skin, cloths, blood, flesh, and armor all fused to one mass. On the left side, pieces of her body were missing, and the wounds cauterized. Not severed or cut off, just gone, as if one had used an eraser to remove them from existence.
And in her hand, she held Aura’s head.