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The empress took in a deep breath while lowering her sword. She gripped the hilt while turning to face Vur and Alora. The two dragons waddled backwards, destroying another portion of the mansion with their massive bodies, before plopping down onto their bellies, their paws extended out towards the front like dogs. Mary’s neck creaked as she turned her head back around, stopping when Tafel appeared in her view. “Dragon tamer?”

“Who are you calling tamed!?” Alora shouted, slamming her paw against the floor. She nudged Vur with her elbow. “Can I bite her?”

“No.”

Alora pouted and slammed her tail against the remains of the wall a few times before laying her head on her front paws. “Fine.”

Mary distanced herself from the dragons, inching towards her left while readying her sword. She pointed it at Tafel, a black aura surging out of the cracks in her armor like dark mist that sank towards the floor. The demon halted her charge, her flames coming to an abrupt halt as they collided against the mist, unable to pass. “You keep claiming to not be a devil, but in the end, you can’t hide the fact that you want to kill me.”

“That’s because you’re irritating!” Tafel said, pointing her sword at the empress. “And I don’t want to kill you. I just want to smack you around to teach you a lesson in manners.”

“That sounds awful,” Alice said from atop a pile of bricks. “Domestic abuse is a serious issue.”

Mr. Skelly stared at Alice, disbelief painted on his bony face. “Aren’t you the one who regularly punts my skull off?”

Alice cleared her throat and turned her head away, the tips of her ears red. “We’re not married yet, so it’s okay.”

“No, that doesn’t make it okay at all,” Tafel said. “Stop interrupting my fight with pointless commentary, please.” She took in a deep breath and locked eyes with the empress. “If Vur could beat you, then I can beat you too.”

Mary’s eyes widened as she stomped her foot against the shattered ground, causing a shockwave to blow back Tafel’s flames. Like a lightning bolt, Mary shot forwards with her sword raised directly above her head, its hilt held by both her hands. She chopped down at Tafel, the blade screaming through the air. Tafel lifted her sword horizontally and braced herself for the blow. Mary’s sword crashed into Tafel’s, forcing the demon straight down into the earth as if she were a nail struck by a hammer, causing her to disappear from view. Mary glared at the hole that Tafel had been struck into. “I didn’t lose to him.”

“Did Tafel teleport?” Vur asked, sidling over to Alice. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“No,” Alice said. “I think she was hit so hard that she was buried into the ground.” She pointed near the empress’ feet. “Look, you can see smoke rising out of that hole.”

Mary took a step back. A moment later, a jet of flames shot into the air, dispersing the clouds in the sky. She shielded her eyes as she retreated, enveloping her body with her black aura. When the flames disappeared, Tafel crawled out of the hole, blood soaking the lower portion of her robe. She spat out a clump of dirt and glared at the empress. “Alright, I admit it. That was stupid of me to take that hit directly.”

Mary tilted her head. “I can’t tell if you’re weak or strong.” She readied her sword, gripping the hilt with both hands. “As expected of a devil.”

Tafel groaned as she climbed to her feet. “All you have is strength, right? Then this should be an easy fight for me.” She tapped the back of her blade, and an eye appeared in the middle of the sword. “Cast ice storm, Chi’Rururp.”

“Alright,” Chi’Rururp said, blinking once. A low drone echoed out of it as it chanted. Tafel opened her mouth and chanted too, but in a higher intonation. Her horns glowed green as mana surged through her veins.

“A magician,” Mary said with a sigh, hanging her head. She ignored Tafel’s chanting and looked down at the sword in her hand. “Her sword talks too. Are you two related?”

“If you spent more time training your vision, you’d see that her sword has an eye. I don’t have any eyes—we can’t be related. Train harder!”

“Tornado!” Tafel raised her sword, whipping up a gust of wind. It circled around and around in place, creating a vortex.

“Ice storm,” Chi’Rururp said. Icicles formed above Tafel and shot into the tornado in front of her. Tafel swung her sword outwards, and the icy cyclone howled as it cut a path towards the empress.

Mary lifted her sword in front of her mouth and stuck her tongue out, pressing it against the sword’s edge. She jerked the sword to the side without flinching, coating the upper half of the blade with her blood. She pointed the bloody sword at the oncoming tornado and lightly flicked her wrist, sending a single droplet of blood towards the tornado. “Null magic.”

As if it had never existed in the first place, the tornado winked out of existence, not even leaving any ice behind. Mary spat the blood that was pooling in her mouth onto her blade before charging forward, swinging her now-red sword at Tafel, not giving the demon a chance to recover from her shock. A portal appeared in front of the blade’s path, but instead of entering it, the sword cut through the portal, splitting it in half, the halves dissipating into fuzzy grains of mana. Tafel barely managed to raise her Chi’Rururp before she was sent flying through the air, crashing into the wall beside Apollonia.

Apollonia swallowed and stepped to the side. “H-hey. Are you still alive?”

Tafel groaned as her eyes flickered open, blood streaming down her face. Her sword lay by her feet. She tried to grab it, but her arms wouldn’t move. Her legs wouldn’t move either. Her breath quickened as she lowered her head and vomited out a mouthful of blood. She swallowed and panted while raising her head, her sight blurry from the tears pooling in her eyes. What entered her vision was Mary’s expressionless face that almost looked bored. Tafel wanted to say something, but all that came out of her mouth were weak, unintelligible cries. Mary’s gaze remained on Tafel as she lowered her sword and slid it into her sheath, the clinking sound echoing through Tafel’s ears like thunder. As the empress turned around to face the two dragons, Tafel fell forward, her vision darkening black. The last thing she saw before her vision faded was Mary’s black metal sabatons walking away.

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Virlyce

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