Chapter 40: Griffin King

"What do you mean none of them returned?!"

The glass of wine in Jaralis' hand shattered as he snapped at the person who was bowing in front of him. The spy who brought the news back nodded.

"I'm afraid it's true, Lord Jaralis."

"They're all veteran agents trained thoroughly under my supervision!" The lion beastman roared, his face was turning purple. "And you're saying that all of them died, under the hand of a single woman?!"

The spy looked awkward. "Well, about that…"

He pulled out a picture from his pocket. The lion beastman snatched it from the man's hand, and his face turned confused in a second.

"What the hell is this?"

It was the picture of a dog demihuman frozen in ice. His face couldn't be seen thanks to the mask covering half of it, but the shocked and fearful expression in his eyes was more than enough for Jaralis to understand that he had been through a terrible experience.

"All of them were like this when we arrived," said the spy. "They aren't dead, however; investigating closely, we saw that they were put in a state of suspended animation in that iceberg instead of frozen to death."

Jaralis fumed.

"Then break the ice! Melt it down, smash it, drill into it! Destroy everything if you need to!"

"Yeah, about that…" the spy scratched his head awkwardly. "We tried everything we could. Nothing worked at all. That ice was not normal. It is unbreakable; even the most powerful spells we used couldn't even scratch it. And not just an area; half of the forest was frozen, just like that. It's just like it was encased in a block of diamond, My Lord."

Jaralis stared at the picture in disbelief. He had known that the Queen of Melromarc was very powerful, but he didn't expect her to be this powerful. Even a whole squadron of his most elite warriors was no match for her, and she slipped out of their hand so easily, just like that. And she didn't even have to kill any of them.

Not to mention, if it was like what the spy had just told him, it would be impossible for them to twist things to their advantage. They were the ones who attacked first, and if they tried anything, that blasted woman would just point to that eternal glacier that had been trapping the two dozen assassins he sent after her. Siltvelt would lose all her credibility, and they would become the enemies of the world for trying to murder the head of a major nation.

Did you really think that a few thousand soldiers would stand a chance against me?

When she said those words, she wasn't bluffing. At all.

That accursed woman and her goddamned husband… Twenty-five years ago, and even now…

How many more times do they have to get in his way?


Climbing a mountain wasn't something that difficult to EMIYA. In his life, he had climbed countless mountains like this.

The same couldn't be said about the other members of the group, though. Even with all their training, it was obvious that climbing a mountain on foot was still something they didn't want to do at all.

Sure, climbing a mountain like Mt. Fuji wasn't supposed to be something too difficult. However, that could only be said in a climb where you would have a clear trail, bus trips to bring you to near the summit and even rest stations to stop by when you're tired. It had been 25 years since the last time someone stepped foot onto this mountain; there was no trail or map for them to check the direction. The group had to open a road to go by themselves as they moved up. This was unhelpful because the whole mountain, not having a human presence for years, was covered in shrubs, vines, and many other types of plants.

So, unsurprisingly, after about three hours of walking, most of the groups had already started to lose their breath. They had gone quite far up the mountain; glancing down, they could only see a dark green carpet of trees, which was the forest at the foot of the mountain. They must have been at least a hundred feet above the ground; just a misstep and there's a high chance they would forfeit their lives.

"I… regret… listening… to… you… Shirou… -san…"

Motoyasu breathed out. He, as well as his teammate Elana, looked the most beat up among the whole group. Naofumi's party was a bit better, but even they looked winded after such a long walk up the mountain, even Eclair herself. Even EMIYA's own party, the ones who had been enduring the ex-Counter Guardian's brutal training everyday, didn't do much better. In fact, the only people who managed to catch up with EMIYA were Sadeena and Larsazusa, the two most experienced adventurers of the group.

"Maybe we should stop somewhere for a break, Shirou-san," Naofumi raised his voice.

"It's not safe here. We don't have a lot of time to waste," the Sword Hero said; his voice was laced with a bit of exasperation. The Shield Hero sighed.

"I know… but we wouldn't be able to fight if we're exhausted, would we? We're not as strong as you, you know."

EMIYA had to admit what Naofumi had just said made perfect sense. He sighed. "All right, we're going to have a break. But not here. We need to find a safe place first," he said while swinging the Legendary Sword to slash apart a shrub in front of them. "Don't forget that this place is the lair of the Griffin King. We need to find a place where we can defend ourselves against surprised attacks first."

"There is a decently large patch of land about a hundred meters ahead," Larsazusa raised her voice. She had been kneeling on the ground for a while, her right hand on the dirt, and her eyes closed. We can take a rest there."

Suddenly she lowered her voice. "And get ourselves ready for what is waiting for us, too."

Those strange words didn't have any meaning to anyone in the group, except for EMIYA and Sadeena. The Sword Hero said quietly; he had been aware of the existence of that presence for a while.

"Them, huh."

"Yeah. Them."

This time it was Sadeena who answered. She had already unsheathed her harpoon, ready for battle. Following her eyes, everyone could see two creatures that looked like lions, but with feathered wings and eagle heads, perching on a rock above and glaring at the group of people. And not only them; they weren't able to see them, but the more experienced of the group could feel that there were at least ten more hanging around, out of their view.

The group of Heroes tensed up. They immediately brandished their weapons, ready to strike back, but in a narrow place full of obstacles like this, there was no way they could fight properly.

"Why aren't they attacking us, though?"

"It's not like they couldn't," Sadeena said. Her eyes still focused on the griffins which were gazing at the group from above. "It seems they're confident that no one can escape their talons. This is their playground, their home turf. They're going to let us walk around until we're exhausted, until our muscles get firm and tasty enough, at which point they will just need to reach out their talons to enjoy a tasty feast."

Those ominous words made everyone shudder.

"And they must be waiting for their brethren to come, too," said EMIYA.

And sure enough, the griffins they sensed hanging around earlier started emerging from behind the corner. Soon, the group was surrounded by fifteen griffins, flying and gliding above their heads, each of which looked feral and hungry with drool running out of their beaks.

Then, seemingly tired of waiting, one of the griffins decided to start the hunt. Like a strike fighter, it swooped down from the sky; its razor-sharp talons gleamed dangerously in the sunlight. Its target was Farrie, the person it deemed the least dangerous in the group.

But in Team EMIYA, there's no such thing as a member who wasn't dangerous. Farrie, as a magic user whose specialization is healing and support, obviously wasn't the strongest one in terms of combat capabilities, but that didn't mean she did not know what to do in a battle. Knowing that she couldn't stand a chance against that beak and those dangerous talons, she dove to the ground and rolled out of the way before the monster could bury those appendages into her body. Suddenly losing its target, the griffin couldn't stop its charge, and crashed into the rock painfully from the momentum. Immediately, three arrows dipped in Hydra venom struck it precisely at the soft joints on its body like three lightning bolts, and the griffin shrieked out in pain just once before falling over with a "thud".

Seeing their brethren falling, the other griffins let out an echoed cry of fury. Then, four of them rushed forward at the group of people as more and more griffins started coming out of their hiding places. They flapped their wings furiously, and a rain of razor-sharp feathers started falling down the team's heads.

"MOVE!" EMIYA bellowed. Fighting in such a narrow space was a clear disadvantage to them; they needed to find a place where they could fight properly without fear of misstep and turning into chunky salsa on the ground a hundred feet below them. He raised a Sword Barricade in front of the team, the same move he had used during the Grand Tournament against Larsazusa's Leaf Storm, and the rain of feathers clashed against the steel surface, causing a cacophony of ear-scratching noises. As the swords shattered under the pressure of the assault, he swung the Legendary Sword in a wide arc, sending a wave of fire balls at the griffins, which squawked in pain and staggered back in the middle of the air – somehow – as the fire hit their feathers and left burning marks on them. Not stopping there, the Sword Hero launched his signature skill. Thousands of blades appeared from thin air, ripping apart the griffins in front of him like sheets of paper.

Taking that opportunity, the group started running up the mountain toward the clearing Larsazusa had pointed to before. But that wasn't enough for them to leave the monsters behind; recovering from the surprised attack, more and more monstrous… birds… dashed after the group, screeches of fury escaping their gaping open beaks.

The behavior of these griffins intrigued EMIYA, though. From what he knew, griffins, just like lions, are proud phantasmal creatures who would never do such things as ambushing or ganging up on their preys; they would rather confront the preys directly and show off their massive power to overwhelm them. And yet, here, the griffins who were hunting the group were acting just like a horde of hyenas.

He could only guess that the griffins in this world were different from what he was used to. It wasn't the time to wonder about that, anyway, considering even more griffins had just appeared in front of the group from out of nowhere, blocking their way.

Sadeena dashed forward. She had transformed into her therianthrope form, which EMIYA recognized to be a killer-whale-like creature, and was now chanting a spell.

"As the source of your power, I command you to decipher the law of nature and let thunder strike my foes! All Dritte Chain Lightning!"

A lightning bolt shot out of the tip of her harpoon and struck the griffin she was pointing at with the speed of, well, literal lightning. The monster squawked in pain as it got paralyzed in the middle of the air by the high-voltage electricity, but the attack didn't even stop there; the lightning bolt jumped between griffins and griffins, lighting them up like a bunch of strangely-shaped light bulbs in midair. In the blink of an eye, the road in front of the group was cleared.

Everyone was flabbergasted by the strength the mercenary woman had just shown off, just by a single attack. Captain Fargus wasn't exaggerating at all when he said she was the strongest mercenary in Zeltoble.

"Wow…" Even Wyndia, the strongest magic user of Team EMIYA, had to marvel in awe at the incredible magic the killer whale woman had just performed.

Sadeena turned her head and yelled. "What are you doing, gawking out over there? Start moving already!"

The words snapped everyone out of their stupor. Their legs immediately started moving again, even faster than before.

Suddenly…

[Alert! Attack coming from behind!]

The Alert function of EMIYA's Champion's Garb and Naofumi's Barbarian's Armor blared out at the same time. And the two Heroes both understood what that meant. Naofumi immediately rushed back and slammed the Legendary Shield, which was in the form of the Shield of the Round Table now, on the ground in front of the group right before a beam of… something struck the surface of the Shield with an earth-shattering explosion. Had it not been for the incredible defensive power of the Shield, the group would have been blown to kingdom come by the attack.

What the hell…?

Hovering in the air above them, about fifty meters away from the mountain, was a griffin unlike any griffin they had seen before. It was at least five times as big as the normal griffins they had been fighting so far, and it was the one who had just fired the attack at them. Its wings were as big as those of a middle-sized airplane, and its feather was much smoother and more elegant than that of the other smaller griffins, showing that it was some kind of leader of the flock. EMIYA could feel a majestic aura coming from it that distinguished it from the smaller griffins, and that last attack alone proved that it must be at least as strong as Gaelion in terms of raw power. This must be the Griffin King Captain Fargus had warned them about.

And looking at it, he could understand why there hadn't been anyone who dared go up the mountain for twenty-five years.

The Griffin King let out a deafening screech. Then it threw its head backward, and EMIYA suddenly felt a premonition.

"Naofumi!" he yelled, and the Shield Hero immediately put up the Shield of the Round Table again in front of them right before three more blasts came and struck the surface of the Shield with three deafening explosions, one by one. Naofumi's hands shook violently under the force; even the massive defensive power of the fabled Shield couldn't completely deflect the attack, and the Shield Hero felt himself getting pushed back by the force of the relentless assault. It felt just like he had just blocked three cannon shots with a mere shield in his hand.

What the hell is this power…!?

"Are you okay, Naofumi?" EMIYA yelled at the Shield Hero.

"I'm – okay - !" Naofumi yelled back. "Something like this – I can handle it! I can…"

But Naofumi couldn't finish his sentence. Another beam lanced through the air toward the group, and the Shield Hero couldn't do anything but to raise his Shield to block the attack again. The Shield rattled furiously in the young man's hands, and his arms felt as if someone had just smashed them with a hammer.

That beam was very powerful. Too powerful, in fact. It must have contained a tremendous amount of energy. But… even a monster as powerful as this one couldn't throw that much energy around so haphazardly. It should have taken some time for it to gather enough energy to fire it in the form of a beam like that. But… he didn't see it do that, at all. Just like the most recent barrage the monster threw at them: three consecutive blasts in a rather short interval, without stopping in between. There was no build-up of energy at all. How was it even possible?

Unless…

"It is air!" EMIYA yelled; he had realized what the attack actually was. "It compresses air into its lungs and releases it in the form of breaths! Every breath it takes becomes a cannon shot!"

"What?!" Naofumi looked at EMIYA in disbelief. "Breaths can be that powerful?! How could it be?!"

Even EMIYA didn't know. However, there was something he knew. They must do something instead of just sitting there taking these attacks like a turtle.

"Eat this, birdbrain! Brionac!" From behind Naofumi, Motoyasu yelled. Even without much battle experience, he could still realize how dangerous the enemy in front of them was. And thus, he decided to bring out the biggest gun in his arsenal immediately without any hesitation. The tip of the Legendary Spear glowed with a bright light, and he thrusted it forward, aiming at the Griffin King. A beam of blazing white light shot out toward the monster with vengeance; if it hit, even such a powerful monster as the Griffin King would have to feel it for sure…!

The beam of light struck the monster in midair, exploding loudly, and covered it in a cloud of smoke. Motoyasu cheered.

"Ha! How about that?"

But when the smoke cleared…

"No way…!"

There wasn't even a scratch on the Griffin King. Surrounding the monster right now was a barrier made of wind; it was this barrier which took the full brunt of Motoyasu's attack, and even the most powerful skill of the Spear Hero couldn't make a dent on it.

EMIYA gritted his teeth. That monster wasn't just fighting them with its primal instinct of a hunter like its minions. It had realized how dangerous these preys were, so it chose to stay away and bombard them with those dangerous breaths from afar until they yielded, while protecting itself with that wind barrier so that no range attack would be able to harm it. They didn't have a lot of range combat capabilities, so this was a good choice for it to fight and at the same time, keep itself safe. This monster… was smart. It was fighting with strategy.

However, being smart doesn't mean the same as being sentient. From this monster, he couldn't feel the same thing that he felt when he fought Gaelion. The Dragon Emperor was smart, but he also had a heart, and fought with an honorable purpose. This one however… the only thing he could feel from it was the feral bloodthirst of a savage animal.

The gears inside his head turned furiously as another air blast arrived and was blocked by Naofumi again. If he wanted to kill this enemy, he needed to do three things. First, he needed to lure it to the ground, where he could close up on it to strike. Second, he needed to pierce through that wind barrier protecting it. And third, he needed to deliver a decisive strike to finish the monster off in one hit.

Everything he needed, he already had them in his arsenal. However… what he needed right now was to get access to them.

If he were alone, he could handle this fine enough, he guessed, albeit he deduced that he might not survive the battle unscathed. However, he was with a team right now, and he didn't want to put any of them in harm.

Then he saw the Griffin King firing another blast at them. No matter; if it's only this strong, Naofumi could handle it…

And in less than half a second, he realized that everything was going to go wrong. The monster wasn't aiming at them; it was aiming at the ground below them.

No…!

That moment of misunderstanding the situation cost them everything. The air blast struck the road EMIYA was standing on and blew it up with the power of a bomb, and everyone was sent flying.

"Fuck!" Larsazusa cursed loudly. She threw her kusari-gama at the three closest people to her, which were Tersia, Raphtalia and Keel. The chain wrapped around them and pulled them together, saving them in time. Naofumi also hooked his Rope Shield into the cliff and managed to grab Motoyasu and Elena, while Sadeena grabbed Fohl and his sister. Meanwhile, Wyndia kept herself flying with her energy wings and hastily cast Float on Welt, Farrie, the three filolial queen sisters and Eclair.

But no one was close enough to get Yuki. The poor little kitsune flailed helplessly in midair, and there was nothing that could stop her from falling to her death.

EMIYA cursed. Kicking the cliff behind him, he made a huge leap into the air and grabbed the kitsune princess with both of his hands. Then, to everyone's shock, he turned in midair and threw the little girl back toward the group. Welt managed to catch her, but there was no way he could reach for his teacher, who was freefalling in midair without anywhere to stand, anything to grab on.

A chorused scream of despair echoed through the air as the Sword Hero's figure disappeared into the dark green carpet of tree a hundred feet below them.


Motoyasu cursed loudly when he rolled on the ground, avoiding another deadly swipe of a griffin mook aiming at his torso.

After eliminating the Sword Hero, the one it deemed the most dangerous of the group, the Griffin King seemed confident that there was no one in the group that could be a threat to it anymore. And thus, the hunt continued for the bloodthirsty griffin flock.

These monstrous animals, even with their size, were as fast and nimble as falcons. Each time they swooped in, everyone needed to scramble around for their dear lives, and whenever the more experienced members of the team tried to do something, the King would fire its deadly air blasts at them, forcing them to dodge to avoid being blown to smithereens.

The only reason no one in the group of people had died yet was that the monsters seemed to enjoy toying with their preys instead of finishing them off quickly. It seemed to them that this battle was just a game for them instead of a hunt for the food they needed to live. That was after the group had managed to retreat to a clearing large enough to defend themselves; had they still been at the cliff road earlier, many of them would have lost their lives already. Right now, they were grouping up back to back, and each of them was desperately fighting to drive the attacking griffins back while defending the people standing behind them at the same time.

"I… should have… never… listened… to that jerk… in the… first place…!" The Spear Hero swore in his breath again as he frantically parried the talons of another griffin aiming for his face.

Tersia, in the middle of swinging her sword to bash another griffin away, snapped her head back and snarled. "What did you say?!"

"He pulled all of us here, knowing that it is dangerous, and then he went and offed himself just like that!" Motoyasu snapped back at her. "He's just an idiot who couldn't do anything but shooting his mouth, after all!"

Then the Spear Hero felt the back of Tersia's hand meeting his cheek. He stumbled to the ground in pain, but was immediately pulled up by the collar as the girl snarled at him in fury.

"I shoulda never brought you with us, you ungrateful bastard!"

Motoyasu slapped her hand away angrily. "Did I say anything wrong?! He was the one who decided to climb this blasted mountain! And now he decided to jump off the mountain himself! He's fucking dead! And there's nothing you can say to deny that fact!"

"You-!"

Those words Motoyasu had just thrown at her face were cruel and heartless. But Tersia couldn't find any way to retort. He was completely correct. No matter how strong her sensei might be, a human body wasn't made to handle a fall from the top of a hundred-feet tall mountain. She could not think of any way that allowed her sensei to survive such a fall.

Not only her, but everyone also knew that fact.

"Focus on the fight, for fuck's sake!" Naofumi yelled at the two. He had just arrived next to them, and was now using his Shield to block the deadly talons of another griffin from turning them into shish kabob. "What's done is done; Shirou-san sacrificed himself to save Yuki, and that's not something we could do anything about! But if you're not careful here, it's us who are going to become the meal of these monsters, not just Shirou-san!"

"Papa is not dead!"

Everyone turned toward Yuki, who had just blurted out those words. The little kitsune was standing firm on her feet, but there was no trace of fear on her face; she was glaring at the griffins soaring above her head with a look of defiance and confidence.

"Before saving Yuki, Papa told Yuki to hold on until he returned," the kitsune princess said again, still with the firm voice full of confidence and trust. She raised her hands into the air and fired a barrage of icicles at the flock of griffins, forcing them to swerve around to dodge. "There's no way Papa is dead! Papa is going to return to defeat that monster!"

The other members of the group grimaced. They knew that there was no way something like that could happen, but no one had the heart to tell Yuki that cruel fact. Now they understood why the little kitsune didn't snap like she did during the battle against Gaelion; there's no way they could break the poor girl even more.

"Are you all idiots or something? And you call yourself his disciples?"

Everyone turned toward Wyndia, who had just said those words. Motoyasu started angrily.

"Oi, you-!"

The dog girl didn't let the Spear Hero finish his sentence. She looked at Farrie while swinging her staff and sending a griffin flying with a gust of wind. "Look at your status screen and your level."

Confused, the priestess did what the sage had just told her to do. And her eyes widened when she realized it.

"No way…!"

Even though they hadn't been able to kill any more griffins so far, the bar that showed the experience points she needed to gain to level up was still going up gradually. Not only hers, but it seemed that the other members of Team EMIYA were also seeing the same thing happening to their status.

That could only mean…!

"He doesn't do anything without thinking ahead," the dog girl said in a calm voice. She started floating up from the ground; around her, hundreds of daggers made of lightning appeared from thin air, and they all turned their blades towards the flock of griffins. "There must be a reason for him to separate from us like that. Right now, he is somewhere down there, fighting to help us become stronger up here, to help us get strong enough to survive against these things. So, we need to help him too! We need to keep ourselves alive until he returns, and we also need to help him get stronger! Photon Daggers!"

She yelled and thrust her staff forward. The daggers of electricity, upon her command, rushed forward and drowned the monstrous birds in a shower of lightning. The monsters squawked in fear and tried to fly upward to avoid the attack, but the daggers seemed to have minds of their own; they kept following the monstrous birds no matter where they tried to run, and some of them had already managed to strike down some of the griffins. The other griffin mooks halted their assault abruptly as they saw their brethren struck down; none of them dared to rush in anymore.

The Griffin King squawked in rage. These puny insects, for some reason, dared to defy its will. It, the greatest griffin of all; it, the one who had been ruling this mountain for years, after the previous Griffin King was struck down by that blasted Queen of the Filolials. It, the one who had taken the lives of how many worthless, nameless humans. How dare these puny insects in front of it right now defy the grace of dying under its talons?

It flapped its enormous wings furiously, and a wave of wind as powerful as a typhoon violently dissipated the lightning daggers around it. Then it stretched its neck and let out a roar. It was just a roar, but somehow, it contained such a powerful force and authority that sent everyone on their knees. Wyndia fell to the ground painfully with a "thud"; her assault was stopped abruptly as her concentration was disrupted.

Then, the monster swooped down with its talons open wide, aiming for the dog girl. And with a surprisingly fast sweeping movement, it snatched her off the ground.

"NO!" Everyone screamed at the same time. Sadeena immediately sprang into action; she closed the distance with a big leap into the air and drove the tip of her harpoon, now coated in electricity, into the monster's chest. That attack could only startle the monster rather than actually hurting it, though; spinning wildly in midair, the Griffin King tossed the killer whale woman away like a sack of rice, and its mouth opened wide, taking in air… and aiming straight at Wyndia who was still within its grip.

Wyndia's eyes widened when she realized what was going to happen. She struggled within the Griffin King's talon, but it was all in vain; the monster's grip was too strong, and she couldn't move a muscle to defend herself from her incoming death.

"Bastard! Shield Prison!"

Naofumi yelled out the name of the skill, and the head of the Griffin King was covered in the ball of shields before the blast of air left its beak. The defense skill was launched so abruptly, and suddenly, the Griffin King couldn't stop its attack in time, and the air blast exploded inside the ball of shields.

Everyone winced at the same time. Getting that blast of air blown up in its face must have done quite a bit of damage to the monster. It staggered in midair; its talon loosened, dropping Wyndia who had been in its grip, and Sadeena quickly caught the dog girl before her back crashed against the hard rock surface of the mountain.

"Hey, little puppy," the killer whale woman whispered to her ear. "You are adept in the Way of the Dragon Vein, aren't you?"

Wyndia looked at the older woman with a startled face. "How did you-?!"

The mercenary only answered her with a mysterious smile. "Practitioners of the Way of the Dragon Vein have ways to recognize their brethren, you know. Now, let's do a collaboration to finish all of these off, shall we?"

Wyndia's eyes widened. She immediately jumped off Sadeena's arms and yelled to the others. "Everyone! We're going to finish them off, but we need some time to prepare! Buy us as much time as you can!"

Then she nodded at Sadeena and raised her staff. The orb at the tip started glowing in a bright light. "I call upon the power of the Wind to come to me and take form…"

Above them, cloud started gathering. Everyone felt their hair standing up unconsciously as a breeze crawled up their skin, not in the gentle way a spring breeze would do, but rather the violent way of a typhoon before it struck.

Sadeena also raised her harpoon. The tip of the weapon also started glowing, just like the orb on Wyndia's staff. "I call upon the power of the Lightning to come to me and take form…"

Thunder started rumbling in the sky as soon as the chant left the woman's mouth. And everyone felt their hair stand up as electricity started crackling in the air. Everyone immediately realized the danger of what the two girls were going to do.

Not only the heroes, but even the monsters understood that they were going to be screwed, hard. The mooks freaked out and started flying away, and the Griffin King let out an earth-shaking roar. Wind started covering the monster's body, and everyone could feel a tremendous amount of energy building up inside it. Soon, the monster king was covered in a freaking mini TORNADO. Naofumi didn't know what exactly it was trying to do, but it was obvious who it was aiming for.

There's no way to stop it from launching the attack now. The only thing he could do was putting his trust on the Shield in his hand… and doing what he does best.

He stood firm in front of Wyndia and Sadeena and planted the Shield of the Round Table on the ground. "Try breaking through this, bastard! LORD CAMELOT!"

The energy wall appeared from thin air and protected the three people as soon as the monster king shot forward like a missile and rammed the shield with a deafening "BOOM".

Ever thought about blocking a jet liner coming at you at full speed with a shield? Well, yeah, that was exactly what Naofumi was doing at the moment. Had it been someone else, and equipped with anything other than the Shield of the Round Table in Naofumi's hand right now, that person would have been turned into a red smear on the mountain surface, or at least thrown off the cliff into the dark forest below. However, this was Iwatani Naofumi, the Shield Hero, the person infamous for having a (mostly) invincible body that is only good for defense, wielding the strongest shield that belonged to the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table. The monster's charge pushed him back, but the energy wall refused to collapse; it stood firm as the monster drilled into it but couldn't break through, making a nasty screeching noise in the air.

Pain shot through both of Naofumi's arms. It felt just like his two arms were completely shattered under the extreme force of the charge. However, he refused to give up. The more pain he felt in his arms, the more strength he pushed into them. The survival of everyone depended on him now, and he's not letting go…!

Then he felt it. The monster, after trying in vain to break through the shield, was starting to slow down. This was their chance…!

"NOW!" he yelled.

"Binding Spear!" From the side, Motoyasu yelled and stabbed the Legendary Spear on the surface. A flurry of chains burst out and wrapped themselves around the Griffin King, pulling it down and binding it to the ground. Suddenly losing its momentum, the Griffin King squawked in surprise as its body was slammed painfully on the hard surface of the mountain. Immediately, Larsazusa and Yuki threw their own magic on the giant monster.

"Bamboo Magic: Sealing Cage!"

"Dritte Freezing Lock!"

Around the monster, bamboo trees erupted and quickly weaved themselves into a cage around it, effectively locking it in place. Then, the entire structure, chains, cage and all, were trapped inside a block of ice conjured by Yuki. Naofumi held his breath; was that enough to stop that monster?

Nope. The ice prison exploded violently in just one single second, throwing everyone around it away painfully. The Griffin King emerged from the smoke; it looked worn out after using its seemingly ultimate move, but Naofumi didn't think it would help them in any way, because the thing looked incredibly pissed now. It screeched and lunged toward Wyndia and Sadeena, knocking away Keel, Tersia and Eclair who tried to stop it. It swiped its deadly talon at the two girls, who were still finishing their spell; there was no way they could move away in time…

… and the appendage went right through them as the monster swiped at thin air. To its horror, the two girls in front of it faded away as if they were made of air.

It was an illusion. Behind it, Raphtalia was raising her right hand, and a victorious smile was blooming on her face. Taking the opportunity when the monster was busy trying to break through Naofumi's skill and got trapped in the prison made by Motoyasu, Larsazusa and Yuki, she had prepared an illusion spell just for this moment, in order to buy her fellow demi-humans some seconds to finish their own spell. And those very seconds made all the difference.

"Dragon Vein! Hear our prayer and grant it! As the source of your power, we ask of you, let the true way be revealed and bring the rage of the gods on the heads of our enemies! THUNDER GOD'S WRATH!"

The weapons of the two girls were brought down in a decisive movement as the long chant was finished. Naofumi's eyes widened, and he jumped toward the nearest people and covered them with a Shield Prison before lightning bolts came down from the sky and struck all the enemies with utmost precision and power. The air was suddenly filled with explosions and shrieks of pain, and Yuki and Motoyasu, who were inside the Shield Prison, could only wince as the horrible noises pierced their ears.

Finally the rain of lightning died down, and the air was full of the smell of ozone and charred flesh. All the griffin mooks were utterly annihilated, and even the Griffin King was a smoking heap on the ground now.

"Did… did we do it?" Eclair asked hesitantly. The attack didn't hurt anyone of the alliance at all, but her mind was still rattled because of the terrifying scenery that had just been unveiled in front of her. Never before had she seen such incredible magic, even from the King and the Queen themselves…

"Yes, maybe," Naofumi answered her. He started inching toward the griffin on the ground. "At least I hope so. I've never seen anything like this before. Even that boss monster in the previous Wave wasn't as strong as this…"

He poked the body of the Griffin King. "If that wasn't enough, I don't think there would even be anything else we could do to it…"

Suddenly a dreadful premonition filled Naofumi's brain. He could only turn his head before something heavy and powerful hit his side and threw him away like a sack of rice. All the bones in his body felt like they had been broken; he felt to the ground with a cold "thud" as the Griffin King jumped up back to its feet, once again. It looked pretty injured, indeed; its smooth and elegant feather from before was now full of charred marks, and its eyes were bloodshot in rage and fatigue. However, it was still alive… and that was more than enough.

"No…!"

Eclair's rapier left her hand and hit the rocky ground with a loud "clang". Never before had the brave knight lady felt such despair in her heart. No matter what they did, no matter what they threw at the monster, it wasn't enough. It was just like fighting the Interdimensional Soul Eater during the Wave… with the only difference being that they didn't have the Sword Hero here.

They're all going to die…

Motoyasu glanced around in horror. All of his comrades seemed to have lost their will to fight. Hell, even he didn't want to fight anymore. His strongest skill couldn't make a scratch on the monster; even something as powerful as what the two girls had just thrown at the monster couldn't manage to kill it. There was no hope at all for them to escape from this.

Unless…

He looked at the Spear in his hand. Should he use that?

No, he cannot use that. If he uses it, he might be able to defeat that monster, indeed, but what about everyone else? He already saw with his own eyes what that spear would do to the people around him.

But if he doesn't… everyone will still die. And he's going to regret it for all his life not doing anything even though he can. It will just be another Ryute Village.

What should he do…?

No, there's no other choice. If he doesn't do anything, everyone is going to die. He has to use it and try his best to control it.

He brandished his Spear and focused the very last particle of his mind.

"Spear—"

"No, don't do it."

The command stopped dead in Motoyasu's throat before it could even escape his mouth when something hit the back of the monster king with a force strong enough to slam the monster headfirst on the ground. Startled, the monster snapped its head back, and its beady eyes widened.

Not only the Griffin King, but the mouths of everyone else also snapped agape as soon as they realized what was happening, and who had just hit the monster. That red coat and the white hair could only belong to one person that no one standing there at that moment could ever mistake for anyone else.

It was the Sword Hero who had just launched the attack at the Griffin King. He was flying in the air, toward them… while riding on the blade of a sword.

[Name: Murgleis +0 – Quality: Epic – Base Power: 120]

[Attack + 50. Speed + 100. Increases power of Wind magic. Magic Nullification: High. Debuff Nullification: Medium.]

[Skill unlocked: Spellblade: Wind (359/500), Aero Blast (0/750), Flash Step (MASTERED)]

[Unique Ability: Wind Bender.]

[Proficiency: 0%]

[Unlocked at level 80 - UNLOCKED]

Murgleis, or Mulagir as some people called it, was the sword stolen and wielded by the traitor Ganelon of France. It was well known in history as the weapon that claimed the lives of Roland, Astolfo, Oliver as well as others of the Twelve Paladins of Charlemagne during the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, and a wicked weapon representing treachery and ruin. However, it wasn't always a wicked cursed sword as most people would know about it today. Created to be the best sword in all of France by the blacksmith Madelger of Regensburg, the sword held in its pommel a blessed carbuncle containing the power of the wind, giving the wielder the ability to control the wind. Either shaping the wind into an unstoppable blade that could cut through an army, or making a shield of wind that could protect the wielder from anything that would harm him, this sword could do it. That was the reason the sword was known as the Holy Sword of the Blessed Wind before being tainted by the treachery of Ganelon and became the Corrupted Sword of Treachery and Ruin, as it was known in the hand of the traitorous paladin.

And coincidentally, since the ability of the sword was to bend the wind to its wielder's will, someone skilled and understood its ability well enough would be able to use it to do a lot of things other than just a very good cutting weapon… such as riding it to fly.

It's needless to say how happy and relieved everyone was feeling at that moment.

"Hell yeah!" Welt pumped his fist in triumph.

"He's really alive… Thank God…!" Farrie's eyes were brimmed with tears of happiness.

"You bastard are so screwed now!" Fohl also cheered loudly.

But the Griffin King couldn't care less about what the ants below it was screaming about. Its mind was now filled with fury, and at the same time, utter terror.

This human was the most dangerous one among these puny insects. It could see that with a single glance. That was why it had aimed for him in the first place, and after he fell off the mountain, it had been sure that the biggest threat to it was gone. But now, somehow, SOMEHOW, the dangerous human survived that should-have-been-fatal fall, and he was now coming back for it.

All of its senses of danger went nuts. It needed to kill him, right here, right now, or its life would be the one that was going to be forfeited. It fired air blasts after air blasts at the incoming human, but for some reason, none of the blasts could even reach the flying man. They all seemed to be dissipated harmlessly right before they could hit him. There's nothing surprising, though; against a weapon that could bend the wind to its wielder's will, what chance did those pathetic excuses of attacks that use air itself as the source of power stand?

Flapping its wings frantically, the Griffin King decided to abandon the battlefield and run away. It needed to keep its life safe first; these humans were not worth it. There would be a lot of chances for it in the future…

Before it could take off from the ground, though, the Sword Hero had arrived in range, and flipping in midair, he kicked the hilt of the sword that he was riding on. The sword flew in a straight line like an arrow toward the left wing of the monster, and it hastily raised its wind barrier to stop it; after all, it had managed to block every projectile attack from the group before, and this was just another one…

The sword tore through the wind barrier as if made of rice paper, stabbing right through its intended target. The Griffin King shrieked in pain; suddenly losing its balance, it stumbled to the ground, unable to fly up anymore. The Sword Hero landed on the ground, and just like landing on a springboard, he immediately made a grandeur leap into the sky again. Two new swords appeared in his hands; one pitch black like the night sky, and one bright white like the crescent moon. Even though it didn't know what exactly they were, the Griffin King still knew, by instinct, that this was going to be its end.

[Name: Kanshou and Bakuya +10 – Quality: Legendary – Base Power: 300x2]

[Strength + 40, Agility + 35. Medium increase to Physical and Magical Resistance. Additional 400% damage against Monster-type enemies]

[Skill Unlocked: Synch Blade (MASTERED), Synch Blade Plus (MASTERED) (Prerequisite: Synch Blade), Sword Throwing (MASTERED)]

[Unique Ability: Mutual Attraction.]

[Unique Skill: Crane Wing Combo – Level 1 (0/100)]

[Proficiency: 0%]

[Unlocked at Level 80 - UNLOCKED]

But there was nothing it could do now…

Unlike anything that the group had been throwing at it before, the anti-monster married swords cut through the flesh of the Griffin King as easily as cutting through a block of butter. The monster king let out a final screech of pain and fell to the ground with a heavy "thud". There was no way it could be alive anymore after getting its body split vertically into three.

For a while, there was no sound that could be heard. Everyone was too busy staring at the corpse of the Griffin King, and the back of the Sword Hero who was standing in front of them, his figure bathed in the red sunlight of dusk. Then, finally, Naofumi croaked hoarsely.

"We did it…"

EMIYA turned back toward the group. He said with a smile.

"Yeah. We did it. All of us."

Then he found himself drowned in hugs and tears of happiness from his team members.


It was dark when they finally got off the mountain.

"So, we're finally back," Naofumi said as they stepped their first feet on the soil of Melromarc. EMIYA nodded.

"Yeah. From now on, it's going to be a war."

"It's fight or die now, huh," Motoyasu clicked his tongue.

The words of the Spear Hero tensed everyone up. They once again reminded them about what was waiting for them ahead, and what they were going to do. They once again reminded that sometimes taking the lives of others is unavoidable. Either kill, or be killed.

But there was no turning back now. They had made the decision, and it's time for them to press on, not only for themselves, but for the sake of this country, and the world too.