Jet-black Mana coated Evergreen’s katana again, and she charged at Ragna. The floor turned to ice, Evergreen slipped, and frozen spikes shot from the ground, aiming for her face.
She swung her sword and rotated her body. The blade cut through the spikes, and Evergreen landed on her feet. Within the same breath, she swung her katana and evaporated the water around her. It turned to mist, surrounding Evergreen, but a second later dispersed, and Evergreen stormed at Ragna.
The Paladin swung her blade anew.
Altera blocked the attack, her partisan parring Evergreen's katana. The future Valkyrie summoned a wave of icicles and sicced them at her opponent.
From a distance, Puck aimed his arm at Evergreen. Metal needles flew from his sleeves.
Evergreen increased the pressure her blade exerted. She propelled herself into the air, cutting through the icicles and the metal needles, and landed on Altera’s partisan. Its tip crashed on the floor.
“You won’t be able to lift your weapon. You lose.” Evergreen pointed her blade at Altera’s throat. “I offer you a chance to repent. Cease all combat, don’t damage this place any further, and leave with your lives intact. Be smarter than your ancestors.”
“Then, I'll take my chance.” Wings grew from Altera’s back. She dropped her partisan and surged to the ceiling.
Evergreen clicked her tongue. She threw her weapon; it glowed black and rotated in the sky.
Altera shot another wave of icicles.
The sword cut through all of them and sliced Altera’s right wing in half.
Altera winced in pain. Mana and blood gushed out of the wound; feathers descended around her. She lost her balance and fell.
Through the air, Puck soared. He caught Altera and landed on the ground.
A new blade materialized in Evergreen’s hand. Coating it in Mana, she aimed at Puck and Altera when water splashed at it, and the weapon froze.
Ragna attacked Evergreen. She blocked with her katana. The blade shattered, and Evergreen jumped back to get out of range.
Diavolo laughed and stormed forward, firing his guns.
Grendel spewed a stream of fire. With his arms, he blocked the bullets.
Why was he still shooting? Diavolo should know that he couldn’t pierce through his skin. Even as a distraction, his actions failed.
Diavolo ducked and slid under the flames, escaping the scorching by a hair’s breadth.
Grendel twisted his neck.
Ah, it had grown too.
He turned it into a parabola. His head reached for his opponent and snapped, his fangs eating into metal. A glance showed him he had caught one of his opponent's guns.
Diavolo slid between his legs.
Did he think he was that stupid?
Grendel swiped his tail, and with its trunk, he hit Diavolo, throwing him across the corridor.
His fangs tore through the gun's metal casing, its fractures falling like spit. Grendel took a step forward, and his movements stopped. Pain raised through his body, forcing Grendel to kneel.
“Finally.” Diavolo grinned.
What did he do?
Grendel howled, but his roar had succumbed to a whimper.
“You are probably asking, what I did, right?” Diavolo twirled his remaining gun in the air and caught it without looking. “You see. My bullets aren't filled with lead. It’s pure liquid toxin. Makes them cheaper and easier to produce. If I assess your wounds, they didn’t penetrate your flesh. But that’s fine. A tiny scratch is enough to let it all in.”
Grendel opened his snout. Nothing happened.
He couldn’t even breathe fire anymore.
“Don’t be mad. You should be proud instead. The poison of one bullet is enough to kill a man in seconds. I riddled you with so many, and you only slowed down. I’m not even sure if you will die from this. You truly are a beast.”
A beast. Was this how it was supposed to end: Dying as a beast because he tried to do the right thing? Because he tried to fight for a girl’s justice?
“But I think it is time to finish it.” He positioned his gun. “Every beast has a weak point. Be it the underbelly, the head, or your throat. I have enough bullets left to test.”
A torrent of water crashed into Diavolo, throwing him to the ground and ripping the gun from his hands.
Ragna jumped in front of Grendel, her saber steadfast in her hand.
“Just a little bit,” she said to him. “Eric should be ready soon.”
She didn’t have to win. As long they endured a few more minutes, they would survive.
“Damn, did you have to squirt that much?” Diavolo raised his body from the floor. Water dripped from his body with every step he took. In his hands, he held two daggers. “Now, I’m all moist.”
He grinned and ran towards her.
Ragna swung her saber, Diavolo blocked the blade with both knives.
A smile appeared on her face.
Now, she had him.
Ragna drew her seax and attacked Diavolo.
He released the hold and backflipped. At that moment, a frozen stalactite fell from the roof. About to pierce his face, Diavolo pressed his right palm against the floor. Supporting his body, he spun around and kicked the stalactite away.
“Triple pene-” He backflipped again when Ragna attacked him with her swords. Another stalactite fell and missed. Ragna swung her swords, and in tandem, more spikes dropped from the ceiling. Like a dancer, she attacked Diavolo.
But the Paladin continued to jump backwards, avoiding her blades and the stalactites every time.
Water levitated from both sides and froze. It sharpened, surging like a guillotine into Diavolo’s neck. The Paladin parried with his daggers, cutting through the ice and breaking both.
“Girl, you got it all wrong.” He dodged another attack of Ragna’s swords. “You ought to give head, not take ‘em. Ain’t you a dirty girl, Ragna?”
Ragna didn’t answer, couldn’t afford it. It didn't matter how he knew about her identity. Their survival took top priority.
“What a mood killer. But that’s fine. I’ll talk. Cause I really want to know you.”
Ragna swung her blades, tried to impale him with the spike growing on her boot. And yet, Diavolo didn’t stop. Cackling and talking each time he dodged, the grin on his face wouldn’t disappear. “You got them eyes. I would recognize them anywhere. Them blue eyes. Just like Linde. What a woman. Met her in Baghdad. It was like destiny. We were meant for each other.”
Ragna’s assault grew furious. The force each of her swings exerted increased and, and the kicks turned to strikes, ready to dissect the Paladin. He tried to bait her. But fuck this. This was her mother. She might as well spit on her ashes if she remained calm.
“Battlefield after battlefield. We fought for hours. All sweaty and excited. Swords and guns. Poison and annihilation. Each fight better than the last one.”
“I understand.” Water encased Diavolo’s and Ragna’s legs, freezing them together into a single block.
“Are you trying to hump me?” Diavolo chuckled. “That’s not how this works.”
“I wouldn’t be joking if I were you.” Ragna’s voice deepened, casting away all emotions.
She sheathed her weapons and unbuttoned her coat, revealing the plastic bottles she had strapped to her belt. Each of them full of water and with the Hagal rune she had written on them. The runes started to glow, and bubbles rose inside the bottles.
“You tell me everything you know about my mother.” Ragna reached with her hand and caressed his face. In the reflection of Diavolo’s eyes, her pupils turned to dark slits. “Or I will blow us to Hel.”
All activity in the room came to a halt. Ragna's friends shouted at her, tried to reason with her. Ragna didn’t listen. Her attention focused on Diavolo and him alone.
“You really wanna go out with a bang?” Diavolo’s smile widened; his teeth pressed against each other. “What use is the truth if you’re dead?”
Did he enjoy this, or was he trying to pretend? Whatever. She would get her answers. And besides, this should give Eric all the time he needed to finish the teleportation.
“I would rather die knowing the truth than staying ignorant. So, tell me. What happened to my mother? Who killed Linde Sieg?”
“Oooh. You wanna know which of us o so evil Vaixian bastards capped off your mommy?” Diavolo chuckled, ignoring his predicament. “You aren’t a flower yet. Just a bud barely out of the earth. There’s so much you don’t understand. But you’re in luck. I like to make women happy. So I will answer. I remember it well. She was on a mission to eliminate her enemies. I can’t even remember how long we had fought. We were all bloody, but then she slipped up. One little mistake that cost her dearly. I raised my gun and shot. Bam. Bam. Right in the head.”
“Thank you. Oh. And I forgot to mention.” Ragna’s mouth formed a grin, and her pupils subdued to a mute deep blue. “I lied.”
The bottles on Ragna’s belt exploded and engulfed the two enemies in their impact.