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Chapter 10 - The Last Stand

Sister Carnelia made such haste as she aimed for the path on the opposite side of the sludge-filled channel that I could have sworn she was actually running on the liquid's surface, based on my observation of the minuscule spatters her feet produced. And of course, she passed me by in the blink of an eye, the space growing wider and wider between us as I continued to trudge my way through the filthy muck.

Flashes of magic erupted from the darkness by the sluice gate and ripped through the air in rapid succession, but none of them could overtake the speed at which Sister Carnelia moved. In an unyielding offensive by the shadowed aggressors, the settled feculence in the depths of the channel was thrown up in the form of a powerful tsunami, and in the instant before clearing myself from its destructive path, I feared that the terrible wall of sedimented filth would crush me under its weight and bring me to an unsightly end.

With a mid-air spin to avoid the last of the oncoming magic, Sister Carnelia flew to the opposite side of the channel with incredible speed. Hurdling the wall of piled-up sandbags behind which the attackers took cover, she whirled her arms in a ferocious onslaught. One by one, like a row of pins being struck by a weighted object, the line of standing Jaegers crumbled to the ground.

Sister Carnelia's attacks were like a whirlwind of death, blurry with the speed at which they struck. They came in advancing at inconceivable angles, puncturing throats, slashing open arteries, and then they were gone. So it was that when I finally reached the cobbled path beyond the stagnant channel, not a soul was left standing besides Sister Carnelia and myself.

'The cathedral is at the end of a ladder just beyond this gate,' she indicated as she flicked dripping blood from her fingers like a child who forgot a handkerchief to dry her wet hands. Her eyes shone with the afterglow of battle. 'The Jaegers can't be far behind, so we'd better hurry,' she warned. And as if to punctuate her warning, the damp sound of numerous feet kicking up water as they advanced toward our present location had now become clearly audible to my ears.

Stepping over the handful of Jaeger corpses lying scattered about behind the wall of sandbags, we made our way for the dry-bed channel which lay ahead of us. I placed my hands on the slightly damp stone floor of the empty channel and crawled through the half-open door of the sluice gate. A falling water droplet struck the nape of my neck as I passed through the cramped opening, causing me to stop dead in my tracks. In the moment that followed I recognized the sound of an orbment overhead on the verge of discharging a burst of magic.

'Toby!' came the ostensible voice of Sister Carnelia as my vision was instantly flooded with a wave of exceeding brightness. Then, in the midst of this world of blinding light, came the hand of a savior which grabbed me firmly by the shoulder. The powerful feeling of being dragged and the explosion produced by magic rupturing stone were almost simultaneous.

As the booming roar swept across the whole of my body, I was thrown backwards toward the ground. Despite my clouded vision, I managed to somersault before landing in the prone position.

Choking on the filthy puddle I had fallen face down in, I lifted my head in time to see a cloud of blackened dust being heaved from the mouth of the halfway-raised sluice gate door. And as if my worst nightmare had now become reality, I watched as one after another, the blockading Jaegers emerged from the smoky cloud, each bearing a glinting blade.

I floundered about on the slippery mud and watched as their ranks sprang into action and closed in, their rugged facial features now visible to my eyes. Instantly rolling to the side, I unsheathed my hidden blade as I attempted to deflect a wide-arching slash of another with my bag. The cloth of the bag, over which the sharp edge ran, split open without a sound, and the paper-wrapped orbment fell onto the cobbled floor.

Frantically, I searched for the orbment at my side, but I was unable to get a grip on it because of my clumsy, panic-stricken state. One of the mercenary men, his eyes intent on my throat, drew back his long sword to end my life. But before he could make his move, a dark silhouette appeared from behind him.

It was Sister Carnelia.

Her hands, moving with such finesse, disarmed the man in an instant, and left only his sword behind before he was launched from view into the hanging shadows veiling the dank conduit. As the sound of the falling sword struck the ground with a high-pitched clink, Sister Carnelia dropped to her knees. Her soft, whispered words were full of regret.

'I'm sorry, Toby.'

With her head bowed forward, I watched in disbelief as several streaks of blood began to run down the side of her face.

'It looks like the Goddess may be calling you home, too,' she said gently.

Once again, Sister Carnelia rose to her feet, her coat hanging in tatters. Eyeing her outer garment's ragged state, I knew for certain that it had been caused by the previous blast of magic. In order to protect me from harm, Sister Carnelia had willingly used her body as a shield to absorb the brunt of the force. And now, a stain of effervescing crimson blood had begun to seep through the cloth covering her breast.

I swiped up the artifact which had tumbled to the ground from the hole in my severed bag and tore away the wet paper which covered its surface. Then, with the cold lump of metal in hand, I placed it atop my orbment as I gripped them both tightly together.

The sound of footfall from the jaeger corps had by now subsided. They stood in a cluster with their swords drawn, effectively blocking any possible escape through the sluice gate. Sister Carnelia let out a shrill cry and I, as if taking the sound to be a command to attack, unleashed the energy pent up within my orbment.

The device roared, and at the instant the magic was discharged, I felt an intense wave of searing heat graze over my cheeks as my entire body was immediately blown backwards by its powerful force. Stunned, I collapsed onto the floor.

When I finally forced open my eyes, I could see Sister Carnelia standing above me with her back turned to face me. Her right arm had lost all strength to function and hung limply at her side. Dazedly, she slid to her knees and slumped onto the ground before me.

I pulled Sister Carnelia close to myself and hugging her tightly, blasted the pack of assailing mercenaries with an instantaneous wave of magic. But then it was all over, my last stand ending as soon as it had begun.

Countless razor-sharp sword tips stared down at us from all sides. Convinced that I had finally reached my life's terminus, I raised my right hand and while placing a false hope in my orbment that it could somehow protect us, I activated it, the last of its energy being consumed as it was drained to empty. Whirling aeroblades spun around us as I closed my eyes and accepted my fate. And behind my darkened eyelids, an endless realm of whiteness began to spread out before me.

第10回 発動