That decayed shrine was at a distance of about one day on horseback from the Imperial Palace.
Cracks ran on the walls as well as the pillars, and one part was covered with a deep black moss. The ornament did not retain its original form as it was shaved by the wind and rain, and one did not know what was enshrined in the temple. The exit door and entrance were lost and a square hole opened gaping wide.
It was a building in which ghosts were likely the kinds to inhabit rather than bandits.
It greatly deviated from the main road and there were neither villages nor towns nearby. Or, although there might have been some before, they might have died out for some kind of reason.
A girl was visiting that run-down shrine to which probably not even one person would approach.
The girl was riding a horse. She covered her bright red hair and her eyes of different colors with a hat and put on an overcoat on top of her purple dress. There was a whip bundled in a circle to the waist of the dress.
It was the “Flash Princess of the Thunder Swirl” Elizavetta.
“It seems to be without a doubt here.”
As she looked up at the run-down shrine and muttered, Elizavetta got off her horse. She tightly grasped the black whip in her left hand and, showing no signs of fear, entered the run-down shrine. The cold stagnant air in the building stroked her cheeks.
The black whip which she was grasping in her left hand was tinged with a white light and blew off a part of the darkness. Elizavetta suddenly turned her gaze to her right hand. So far, she felt nothing in particular.
Elizavetta circularly turned the light emitting black whip and checked the state of the surroundings. As expected, the inside of the decayed shrine had begun to fall apart just like the outside. Debris rolled all over on the narrow passage that was full of cracks.
Elizavetta silently advanced through the passage and immediately came out to an opened place. In the back of the space likely to hold 20 to 30 people, a stone statue of a small-sized old woman was put there alone.
As she sharply glared at the stone statue, Elizavetta shouted in a voice so loud that the run-down shrine shook.
“Come out, Baba Yaga!”
But, there was no one who responded to the red-haired Vanadis’ voice. As the echo of the thundering cry melted and disappeared in the atmosphere, Elizavetta approached the stone statue with long strides. She brandished the black whip. The atmosphere howled and the statue was smashed to pieces and fell with a hard sound of destruction.
Elizavetta set up the black whip again, and ran a cautious look around. However, contrary to her expectation, a time of about 100 counts flowed without even one sound occurring.
Elizavetta silently turned around. She turned her back on the wreckage of the statue and left the run-down shrine.
“The act of a lunatic, eh…”
She entered into a shrine which was probably uninhabited for dozens of years, cried, and destroyed only the statue and came out. Elizavetta herself thought that if she asked others, they would look puzzled.
However, it was certain that she did not come up with another method.
In the run-down shrine which she visited with Urz, Baba Yaga had taken the form of a statue. Or, she appeared in that place through the statue.
As for Elizavetta, other than calling out to the statues of Baba Yaga in Lebus and destroying them to provoke her, she wasn’t able to think of a method to drag her out. Even if she consulted with someone, or had the scholars of Lebus carried out a detailed investigation, it would take too much time.
As she rounded the black whip and put it back onto her waist, Elizavetta stared at her left hand.
She was originally right-handed. She had practiced so that she could wield her Viralt even with her left hand in preparation for when push comes to shove. However compared with her right hand, she remained uneasy after all; of whether in a fight against a demon, she would be able to wield the Thunder Swirl as she wanted.
—I have no choice, but to do it.
When she persuaded herself like so, Elizavetta straddled the horse which was quietly waiting in front of the shrine. She grasped the reins and made the horse run as she kicked its belly.
She knew the nine other locations of run-down temples which enshrined Baba Yaga. She would think about whether or not this way of doing things was meaningless after visiting them. She must act first.
On the desolate ground, only the sound of hooves could be heard.
It was seven days later after Lim and company met Urz that a letter arrived to Elen who was in LeitMeritz. Considering the distance from the castle town of Lebus to LeitMeritz’s Imperial Palace, it might be said that it was an astounding speed.
Elen was processing government affairs in her office, but she looked at the letter she received and knitted her brows.
The seal stamped on the letter was without a doubt Legnica’s. Although feeling suspicious, Elen broke the seal with careful hands. She quickly looked over the letter.
The letter was written with Limalisha’s handwriting. She seemed to have sent it to Legnica using a company from Lebus’ castle town, which was then carried to LeitMeritz.
When her red pupils shone while she was reading it, and then after she finished, Elen strongly grasped the letter as she was overcome with emotion.
“What a relief…”
She muttered these words from the bottom of her heart. The inside of her chest was filled with warm feelings and tears blurred on her eyes. The silver-haired Vanadis muttered “what a relief” once again.
“So it was Tigre after all.”
After having sent out Lim and company, Elen had tried not to think about it.
This was because when she was reminded of Tigre’s face, she ended up remembering Urz who was beside Elizavetta and she felt depressed, but she felt that it was probably all right if she entrusted it to Lim and Mashas.
“However, so his memory hasn’t returned yet…”
Elen leaned on the back of her chair and looked up at the ceiling. Even she did not know of a way of returning his memory. Elen wandered her look, and looked at the long sword leaned against the wall.
“Arifal. Do you know?”
The Silver Flash put on its sheath calmly responded to his master by sending wind. Elen revealed a soft expression and smiled wryly.
“You don’t know, huh. No, I ask a strange thing.”
When she said that, Elen vigorously stood up from the chair. While grabbing the Silver Flash, she called a civil official by ringing the bell on her desk.
To the civil official who showed up, Elen said with a smile she had not showed in a while.
“I will leave for a while. In the meantime, I leave this place in your care.”
“Did something happen?”
While being overawed by Elen’s bright smile which had not been seen recently, the civil official asked.
“Limalisha who headed to Lebus found Earl Vorn. He is this LeitMeritz’s guest General. I will go and bring him back.”
A voice of admiration leaked from the civil official’s mouth. It’s not as if he was holding that much good will towards Tigre, but he was fully aware of the importance of being entrusted with another country’s guest General.
“Does that mean that Earl Vorn is kept in Lebus?”
“No. It’s just that he lost his memory in an accident, and is freeloading in Lebus as they took a liking to him.”
Although more than freeloading, he was actually the Vanadis’ adviser, Elen said that in order to explain so that it was easy to understand.
“Do you need soldiers?”
The civil official asked in a tone as to confirm. Elen shook her head.
“It isn’t as if I will start a war. I alone am enough.”
“At least, take someone to accompany you…”
“Your worrying is natural, but I have this guy.”
Saying so, Elen lightly tapped the sheath of the long sword which she held in her hand.
“I know that I’m putting you in trouble, but please.”
The civil official, seeming to have given up, respectfully bowed. But, he must’ve understood when he was told this matter.
On that day, Elen left the Imperial Palace.
In a deep pot put on a fire, fish soup let white steam rise. It was a recipe where one put plenty of water in a pot along with finely cut fish and vegetables and cooked them together.
Today’s ingredients were salmon pickling in salt, potatoes and turnip that they were supplied. Aside from the fish soup, the meal consisted of rye bread and one cup of vodka.
Lim who received the fish soup served in a bowl said in an unusual tone.
“In Lebus, potatoes and turnips are cylindrically cut long and slender.”
“Speaking of which, they are cut more roughly in LeitMeritz.”
While eating the fish soup similarly served in a plate, Mashas responded. It was a dish which was eaten everywhere in Zhcted, but how it was made seemed to be subtly different from region to region.
—So that’s it.
While looking at the fish soup in the deep pot, Urz consented without uttering his voice. He thought that he had seen a fish soup different from this somewhere. He had probably eaten a fish soup somewhere in Zhcted that was not Lebus before losing his memory.
Looking around the surroundings, deep pots were put on fires here and there and were letting white steam rise. Sounds of soldiers’ friendly chats could also be heard here and there.
While the sun set at the west end, several stars were already beginning to twinkle in the sky which had gradually darkened. The air increased its coldness and everyone firmly wore their overcoats.
It was several days ago that Urz, Lim, Mashas and the 100 Lebus cavalrymen had arrived at a run-down shrine. Urz and company had built a camp near the run-down shrine and spent the day while waiting for Elizavetta who might visit it sooner or later.
The trio of Urz, Lim, and Mashas sitting around a pot of fish soup was in a meaning a natural course of events. Urz was the commander after all, and Lim and Mashas were, so to say, Guests Generals. Urz had to keep them company.
Lim, a person of LeitMeritz, and Mashas, a person from Brune, were turned looks of doubt and caution by the soldiers on the first day, but at least concerning Mashas, he has quite opened up with the Lebus soldiers.
When the trio was eating, one of the Lebus soldiers walked to Urz and company. It was a young soldier around 20 years old. A stubbly beard began to be conspicuous around his chin.
“Earl Rodant. May we count on you tonight, too?”
“Yes. I’ll go after eating this, so gather those who want to hear.”
While putting the salmon in the fish soup into his mouth, the old Earl calmly answered. The young soldier revealed a joyful smile, bowed to Mashas and Urz, and walked away.
—He’s more popular than me to the soldiers, eh.
While looking at the old Earl’s face in profile, the youth thought such a thing. It was neither jealousy nor prejudice; Urz genuinely admired the old Earl.
The reason why Mashas had opened up with the Lebus soldiers was that he gathered them every night and he told various stories.
There were times when Urz had also blended in with soldiers and heard them, but there was no end to the topics, such as stories of other countries like Brune and Sachstein. Stories of delicious meals and alcohol, stories of journeys, an old legend of a hero heard from a certain minstrel, stories of ghosts haunting mansions which became abandoned buildings and the like, that this old Earl offered.
Although it couldn’t be helped, there were many parts in Naum’s order this time that the soldiers could not understand. They had headed towards a similarly run-down shrine far away from the main road and waited for the Vanadis there.
It wouldn’t matter even if he didn’t have to tell about why the Vanadis was visiting run-down shrines one after another. Even they understood that the commander’s intention didn’t have to be conveyed in detail to a simple soldier. Above all, the soldiers respected and swore allegiance to Elizavetta.
But, it was extremely boring just to look at a run-down shabby house-like old shrine in a wintry place far away from villages and towns all day long.
Hence, stories told by Mashas became a valuable pleasure for the soldiers. In a sense, this old Earl became more familiar with the Lebus soldiers than Urz.
“Earl Rodant, thank you.”
Urz deeply bowed to Mashas. Although Urz had achievements, partly because his life in Lebus was short, it was hard to say whether he gained popularity with the soldiers. It was without a doubt thanks to Mashas’ art of conversation that the soldiers’ morale was maintained.
“What, it’s not that big a deal. Besides, I’ve also heard various stories from them.”
While putting the rye bread into the fish soup and eating, Mashas laughed and said.
“Now then, I wonder what kind of story I will tell tonight. Shall I tell about a small bear which changed itself into a girl in order to return the favor of having been saved by a hunter?”
“Lord Mashas. Could you also let me hear that story?”
Having showed a quick reaction to the old Earl’s mutter was Lim. Urz stared at her with a face saying that it was unexpected.
“Are you interested in bears?”
As he asked so, Lim was first surprised and then revealed a lonely smile. However, those changes were only for an instant; she immediately returned to her unamiable expression.
“Yes, a little.”
Urz inwardly reflected on whether he had asked something bad. I should apologize later when no one is looking.
Since they left the castle town, Lim almost never changed her unamiable expression; she did not speak that much. She didn’t try to associate with the Lebus soldiers and was for the most part next to Mashas, to the point that there were many soldiers who mistook her for being the old Earl’s attendant.
However, Lim was watching (observing) this unit well. She, who noticed that the formation was disordered during the march, immediately told Urz about it. Besides, about the decision in changing the formation of soldiers or building camps, Lim gave various advices in a modest attitude.
She was the only woman there, so she should have hardships because of that, but she did not emit even one complaint or dissatisfaction.
Lim was considerate of Urz. She left the familiarization with the Lebus soldiers to Mashas, and she herself, put her heart and soul into the duty of supporting the youth; in an inconspicuous way.
Though Urz was friendly to her from the start, he thought that he was really thankful for her presence in these past several days.
—However, I wonder where master is now…
While nibbling the bread, Urz suddenly looked far away into the distance. On the other side of the many barracks that were lined up, the decayed shrine soared.
Urz thought that Baba Yaga also seemed to be interested in him, but her current aim was probably Elizavetta. This was because if that demon was aiming for him, there should’ve been many opportunities when he was taking that short trip with Damad.
He wondered whether he should have also borrowed only a horse, and visited the run-down shrines without being entrusted with soldiers by Naum, but even if he, who wasn’t familiar with the land, did such a thing, he would only lose his way in vain.
He persuaded himself to not get impatient. Now, being here should be the best choice.
—Please, be safe.
While Urz inwardly wished so, the sky calmly increased its darkness.
At this point in time, there was something that nobody noticed including Urz.
It was that the place where they were at and the place of the run-down shrine shown on the map were out of alignment.
But, this was not their fault.
Naum and Lazarl had overlooked a certain thing. Both of them did not think about whether or not there was similarly a run-down shrine, which enshrined Baba Yaga, near the indicated places.
Lazarl who was requested by Elizavetta took about one day to check the run-down shrines of ten places. Then the red-haired Vanadis wanted to act asap when she finds out about the ten places she became scared that her retainers would be being controlled.
Of course, Lazarl also continued investigating about the places of other run-down shrines.
But, as he was preoccupied with Elizavetta having disappeared and then Urz’s return, he forgot about them.
Even so, if the locations of the run-down shrines were a little easier to find, then Urz and the others would not have made a mistake, either. However, all these run-down shrines were greatly detached from the main road, and they were hard to find even if looking at the map.
In addition, Naum’s instructions were as followed.
“Each unit shall proceed to a different run-down shrine and be on standby until Vanadis-sama shows up. And if they find Vanadis-sama, they should bring her back to the Imperial Palace at once.”
The place, where Urz and company were at, was about five Belsta (about 5 Km) away from the target: a run-down shrine.
The bonfire was burning.
Branches which were stabbing potatoes were standing near it. The number of potatoes was three.
“I like the boiled ones more though. I wasn’t able to prepare a pan, so it can’t be helped. Besides, directly burning it in this way is also rather interesting.”
The girl who was sitting nearby happily said while looking at the potatoes. Elizavetta slightly moved her head and looked at the profile of the girl next to her.
She was around 10 years old same as her. It was a girl with long silver hair and impressive red pupils which shone, brimming with vitality. Although her hands and feet which extended from her blue dress were thin like hers (Elizavetta’s), they had the sturdiness and flexibility peculiar to a child.
By the way, it was this girl who brought the potatoes. She said that she had secretly filched them from a master chief. Elizavetta asked wonderingly.
“Is it interesting? The potatoes?”
“It seems that you can make them either burnt or not. Which means that you can enjoy various flavors.”
The silver-haired girl answered so and laughed; and Elizavetta going with the flow also smile.
It was just yesterday that Elizavetta met this girl.
Elizavetta was helped by her as she was bullied as usual by the children of the village. It was a place in the back of some house where people didn’t come by that much. Pure white snow covered the ground, piled up on the roofs of houses and covered the trees around the village.
“You guys! Aren’t you ashamed of ganging up on only one person?!”
The number of children who were bullying her at that time was four. There were also children with bodies bigger than the girl’s. However, the silver-haired girl, not even showing any signs of fear and with her arms folded, proudly glared at the children. The children frowned first and then scornfully laughed.
“It has nothing to do with you. A stranger shouldn’t poke her nose into it.”
Then, the silver-haired girl briskly walked in their direction. She looked up at the child with the biggest body and beat his face.
Anyone who was there was dumfounded; Elizavetta, too. Speaking of the silver-haired girl, she glared at the children with a nasty smile.
“Even with this, will you still say that it has nothing to do with me?”
The hit child’s face turned red (in anger) and he attacked the girl. The other children surrounded the girl so as to not let her escape.
Elizavetta, with her posture of being crouch down on the ground still could only watch that scene. There was also the fact that her whole body which was hit and kicked was hurting, but she was too scared to break in and wasn’t able to do it.
That quarrel showed a one-sided development as the girl utterly beaten up the children of the village.
It’s not that the village’s children were weak. They, who had helped with farm work since they were children, had enough physical strength and stamina. They also often quarreled between themselves.
But, the girl was more used to fighting than them. The way she moved her body was different. She watched well with not only the opponent’s movements, but also her surroundings.
As she focused her aim at the one who seemed to be the weakest among the four children, she quickly attacked him and kicked a vital part. She slipped through the side of that child who crouched down holding his crotch, came out of the encirclement and beat them in turn one by one. She thoroughly attacked only vital parts such as the head or the feet.
“We’ll get you for this…!”
When the children left that place while cursing and bearing tears, only the girl and Elizavetta remained there.
In those days, Elizavetta looked at that girl with eyes wide opened.
It was an unbelievable scene. Elizavetta who was bullied by them since she was small had naturally believed firmly that the village’s children were strong. She had also never thought that there was someone, a child like her and a girl at that, who could beat them.
“Can you stand?”
The girl held out her hand to Elizavetta with a smile. Although Elizavetta shook her shoulders as she was startled, she timidly took the girl’s hand. That hand was warm.
“You’ve quite an awful face. It’s swollen, so it’s better to cool it.”
The girl said with a shocked face, and Elizavetta scooped up snow that was underfoot and pushed it against her face. The snowy feeling felt good on her face which was tinged with heat.
The girl introduced herself as Eleonora.
“Just call me Elen.”
To the girl who said so with a smile, Elizavetta mumblingly moved her mouth and told her name, too.
By the way, at this time, Elizavetta was still wearing an eye patch on her right eye. It was to hide her Rainbow Eyes. She did so thinking that she would be bullied because of her eyes of different colors, but in front of the villagers who knew from the start that she had Rainbow Eyes, it was meaningless.
“I’m a member of a mercenary group. Though I say that, I’m something like a subordinate worker (servant)  though.”
About the first half of that line (her words), Elizavetta had already expected it. If there were unfamiliar faces currently in this small poor village, they could only be those of the mercenary group named “Silver Gale”, which had arrived at the village yesterday. But, it didn’t even occur to her that there was such a child in it.
“Does even a child like you get used to being a mercenary?”
Elizavetta asked so out of curiosity. The mercenary group “Silver Gale” consisted of about 40 people. There were more than 30 male combatants and the remaining people were those like cooks, blacksmiths and young women. There were no children other than Elen.
“I don’t know.”
Elen plainly answered Elizavetta’s question.
“By the leader’s story, he said that he picked me up, a baby on a battlefield. I don’t know why he intended to raise me, but since then I been in the mercenary group. The leaders had never seen a child of my age being employed.”
Elizavetta was listening to Elen’s story with eyes wide opened. It was the story of an unknown world. And, she somehow understood why Elen was strong in fighting, too. If you surrounded by such ruffians every day, you would become sturdy whether you like it or not.
“By the way, why were you bullied?”
Being asked by Elen, Elizavetta once again faltered.
She did not want to speak about her Rainbow Eyes. That’s why she lied that her right eye was inconvenient, and added that she was an abandoned child who did not know her parents.
Elen did not doubt Elizavetta’s words and greatly nodded.
“I see. But, it’s not a reason to stay quiet and being bullied. How about revenge?”
Elizavetta’s face turned pale and she intensely shook her head. She thought in her mind that she was an outsider after all. She might not be able to stay in this village if she did something like that.
“I’m not saying to go as far as beating them up. But, if you keep on being beaten, the other party will only grow arrogant. You also have fists, kicks and I will teach you that there are teeth to bite with.”
Elizavetta dropped the snow she had onto the ground and touched her cheeks. The pain had not yet gone away; not only her cheeks, but also her arms, sides, back and thighs.
The figure of Elen having beaten up the village’s children earlier flashed across her mind.
“Can I do it…?”
That scene smashed into pieces the belief which Elizavetta had held for a long time.
She thought that it was only the adults of the village that the village’s children were no match for.
Especially, the child with the big body who bullied her proactively. She had never imagined that he, of all people, would be beaten by a girl.
“You can do it.”
Elen nodded with a smile.
“We’re going to be in this village for another three or four days, when I have time, I’ll come. I’ll teach you as much as I know about fighting.”
During the four days from that day, the mercenary group “Silver Gale” stayed in the village. According to Elen, they were employed by a noble in order to subdue bandits who were in the vicinity.
“It looks like the feudal lord here fought other nobles and flashily lost against them and now he is short on troops to fight bandits. That’s why he employed a mercenary group like us.”
It was common knowledge that mercenaries were also the same as bandits. It was not necessarily prejudice. This was because in order to get food and fuel, mercenary groups who attacked the village which they were supposed to originally protect and threatened small towns by force certainly existed.
Thinking based on that, the “Silver Gale” was a comparatively decent mercenary group. Except Elen’s case, the mercenaries did not turn their hands to the people of the village. They properly negotiated even when they invited women and also paid their bills.
Although they received the pay, the hardships of the village which offered bed and food to 40 people was considerable, but they bought food from the neighboring villages and towns and somehow got over it.
By the way about Elen fighting, the children of the village did not complain, so it was left unsettled as such. It seemed that Elen herself received a fist from the mercenary group’s leader.
Anyway for four days, Elizavetta was taught how to fight by Elen. It was for only four days, and there was little time in the intervals between works, too. Many chores such as drawing water, laundry, and mending of clothes were forced on Elizavetta who was treated and reared as an abandoned child.
Therefore, Elen thoroughly taught her the basic ways of moving her body and also to watch her surroundings.
“Remember. Even after I leave, find free time and do it every day. These four days are so that you remember to continue doing this every day from now on.”
“If I continue this every day, will I become strong?”
“It won’t be possible in ten days or around the corner . One or two months… Can you do it?”
Elizavetta nodded. The silver-haired girl’s teachings were severe, but Elizavetta whipped her tired body and desperately followed them. Of course, there was the desire to overcome her present condition, but more than that, she wanted to get closer to that figure of Elen of that day.
“In your case, it may be better to first think that you won’t lose. I was taught that the feeling of winning is important, so I mustn’t throw it away, but…”
“Yes. ––I won’t lose.”
Four days passed in the blink of an eye.
The morning of that day, when Elizavetta went to Elen to say goodbye, there was nobody there. The “Silver Gale” had already left the village.
Elizavetta dropped her shoulders for having been unable to say goodbye. Then, she softly touched the eye patch on her right eye.
—I also wasn’t able to tell her about this…
Elizavetta hid to Elen until the end that she had Rainbow Eyes. Although she mustered her courage and tried to tell her several times, four days were too short for a ten-year-old girl to strengthen her determination.
On that day, the bullying towards Elizavetta was restarted.
Just like before, she was one-sidedly hit, kicked and fell in the snow, but she did not despair. Hasn’t Elen also said it? That it won’t be possible in ten days or around the corner.
—One month. You’ll show them in one month.
The girl who had given up on everything before meeting Elen was no longer there. Even if she was scorned for being an abandoned child who did not know her parents, and her Rainbow Eyes were hated, she had stopped minding it that much.
The children weren’t opponents that she would never match. It was painful when she was hit, but there was no need to be randomly afraid.
Perhaps because composure was born in her heart, her outlook had also widened.
The adults of the village tolerated the bullying of Elizavetta and might occasionally even take part in it, but if the bullying became too cruel, interference would always arise. Elizavetta came to think that there was some kind of reason for that.
It was three months later that she found the reason. One man had visited Elizavetta.
At that time, Elizavetta had reached the point where she was now able to mercilessly counterattack the children. It was not just revenge for having being bullied. She grew up until she could escape if necessary, sometimes ruin the other party’s work, and invite discord by calmly telling a lie, and she was regarded as a problem in the village.
The man who visited Elizavetta told her this.
“Your father is calling for you.”
At this time, Elizavetta got to know that she was the illegitimate child of a certain noble. The adults of the village were holding back the degree of bullying because they knew that.
Then, she also knew why she, who was the illegitimate child of a noble, was treated as an abandoned child without parents and bullied. The man called Rodion Abt who was Elizavetta’s father, because his daughter was born with Rainbow Eyes, properly chose a village in his territory and pushed her into it.
However, Rodion’s heir had died from an illness. He couldn’t help but decide to take in Elizavetta, his daughter.
Elizavetta began a new life as the daughter of an aristocrat.
After having parted with that poor village, it was five years later that Elizavetta met Elen again. Elizavetta was 15 years old. And Elen was 14 years old then. The two girls met each other as Vanadis.
Elizavetta immediately remembered Elen. But, the silver-haired Vanadis didn’t seem to realize that Elizavetta was the child of that time.
Elizavetta thought that it was no wonder since she hid her Rainbow Eyes. Besides, neither ‘Eleonora’ nor ‘Elizavetta’ were names that were that rare for women’s names.
LeitMeritz and Lebus were distant, so there were few opportunities for interactions. While she thought that she would someday talk with Elen while carrying out her duty as a Vanadis, cracks which couldn’t be restored occurred between the two girls.
In front of her, fire vacantly flickered. Elizavetta startled raised her face.
Before she knew it she had fallen asleep. There was a bonfire in front of her, and a branch which had a potato stabbed onto it was standing near it.
The potato was something which she had just bought in the village she stopped by at one koku before.
“I had a quite nostalgic dream…”
Did fatigue called for sleep and the bonfire and potatoes awaken her past memory?
Suddenly, a burnt-like smell assailed Elizavetta’s nose. The red-haired Vanadis who noticed it hurriedly took the branch that had the potato on it. She unintentionally dropped it due to the burning heat and the potato rolled on the ground.
The part that was burnt black looked upward as if to blame Elizavetta.
Elizavetta sighed and picked up the potato over her overcoat. She removed the dirt, chipped off the burnt part with the hem of her overcoat and bit into it without hesitating.
It was a deserted field path vastly away from the main road. Dry grass covered most of the ground, but the soil was exposed here and there. A forest could be seen in the distance, but not even one tree had grown in this area. The sky was dyed red and the sun was hidden beyond the clouds.
Twelve days had passed since she left the Imperial Palace. Elizavetta had already visited the places of nine run-down shrines and destroyed all the statues of Baba Yaga.
However, the demon did not show up at all.
Although she had many times encountered the units of Lebus soldiers, which Naum had dispatched, along the way. She, who persuaded them, high-handedly ordered them to withdraw, or sometimes pretended to abide and ran away, continued her trip.
The shock that was given to her due to the matter of losing 15 knights was great. Elizavetta intended to act alone until she brought down Baba Yaga.
Also when she stopped by a village some time ago, she bought only the necessary food and fuel, and immediately left the village. Until today, she didn’t borrow a vacant room in a town or village and intentionally spent her nights outdoors. When thinking that they might be manipulated by Baba Yaga, Elizavetta was able to bear it.
—The run-down shrine where I’ll head to after this is the last…
If the Baba Yaga did not appear there too, then she would have no choice but to go back to the Imperial Palace. This was because aside from the ten locations given to her by Lazarl, she did not know another location of run-down shrine where to head after this.
Why didn’t that demon show up? Was this way of doing things meaningless?
“I’ll think about it after going to the last run-down shrine.”
As she finished eating the potato, Elizavetta took some dirt and put out the bonfire. Fatigue from the trip and impatience blurred on her eyes of different colors. Her mind and body were exhausted by the tension which continued incessantly and the days of sleeping outdoors.
Putting the saddle on her horse which she had let rest, Elizavetta got on horseback.
Heading towards the tenth location of the run-down shrine, the Flash Princess of the Thunder Swirl rode her horse.
A desolate land was spread around that run-down shrine. What were reflected in her field vision except the decayed building were only gray grit and a little slush. The sun was nowhere to be found in the lead-colored sky, but evening should have been imminent.
Elizavetta, who got off the horse, looked up at the run-down shrine with an annoyed expression. Its appearance was hardly different from the ones she had seen so far. The walls and pillars were finely damaged and cracks were running everywhere. The plaster came loose and fell and some rubble were sticking on the surface of the wall.
Elizavetta grasped Valitsaif in her left hand and walked right until the run-down shrine. As expected there was no door, and what looked like a hinge shook to the wind as it was stuck in the edge of the entrance which opened gaping wide in the front.
The red-haired Vanadis shouted towards the abyss where light did not reach.
“Baba Yaga! If you hear me, come out!”
Before the echo of her angry voice disappeared, a tepid wind flowed from the depths of the darkness. Then, an old woman’s hoarse voice reached Elizavetta’s ears.
“––Don’t utter such a loud voice. What will you do if this collapses?”
Elizavetta opened her eyes wide and quickly leapt back from there. Her golden and blue eyes were filled with anger and fighting spirit, and power accumulated in her hand grasping her Viralt. The black whip was tinged with light from the handle to its tip.
A small-sized old woman appeared from within the darkness dragging a broom. She wore a black robe that was bigger than her body and put on a hood that was the same color over her eyes. Only a long hooked nose peeped out from the hood and a breathtaking ominous miasma was released from her whole body.
“You really went and broke nine statues that serves to worship and revere me. “Whip”, you need a little punishment––”
The demon did not speak her lines to the end as they were blown away by a storm swept sideways. Elizavetta wielded her Viralt at the same time she treaded on. The black whip clad in lightning drew a sharp arc in the space and attacked Baba Yaga.
The old demon woman didn’t even try to avoid it. Valitsaif passed from the left to the right while tearing up her black robe. At that moment, the robe became a piece of cloth, greatly extended blocking Elizavetta’s field of vision.
The red-haired Vanadis who felt danger retreated while pulling back the (her) whip. Then, something collided with her back. Although wrapped in shock and shivers, Elizavetta struck the black whip behind her and rolled on the ground. She quickly rose and looked at what she had collided with.
Four children who wrapped their bodies in shabby clothes were standing there. Elizavetta was familiar with their faces. They were the children who bullied her when she was a child.
—What is the meaning of this…?
To Elizavetta who stared at them with an astonished expression, the children revealed uncanny grins and opened their mouths.
“Why is someone as disgusting as you doing in this village?”
“With your eye colors different on the right and left, aren’t you a monster’s child?”
“You monster. We’ll teach you a lesson!”
The red-haired Vanadis’ face was distorted in anger. These were words which she was told almost every day a long time ago.
—To use such repulsive means…
The children kicked the floor and attacked Elizavetta.
They were without doubt illusions created by the demon. But, even if she understood that, a suitable mental attitude was necessary to wield the black whip.
With a war cry, she brandished her Viralt. The children, still revealing sadistic smiles, were bisected right in half from around the waist. However, not a drop of blood flowed out from the cut trunks. No shock was transmitted also to Elizavetta’s left hand grasping the Thunder Swirl.
Their corpses rapidly faded and disappeared as they melted into the atmosphere.
A voice came from behind. Reflected on the eyes of Elizavetta who looked back was a girl around ten years old with silver hair and ruby-colored pupils.
It was unmistakably the Elen that she had med when she was small. Hiding her left hand on her back and revealing the bright smile of that time, Elen stared at Elizavetta.
“Why is someone as disgusting as you doing in this village?”
The completely same words as what a child of the village had said earlier flew out from Elen’s mouth. To Elizavetta who was at a loss for words and stood stock still, Elen repeated word by word the abuse that the children spoke of. Without changing one bit her smile.
“You are also… an illusion, right?!”
Elizavetta openly spitted out her anger. She raised the Thunder Swirl and struck the girl. However, her movements were dull, and slightly awkward.
The girl lightly leapt back and dodged the powerful and violent blow. A black whirlwind clad in lightning gouged the ground and the earth and sand mixed with grit was blown off.
“That’s quite a tremendous power. All right, I’ll give you this as a reward.”
Smiling at Elizavetta who was breathing heavily, Elen casually threw what she was holding in her hand that was hidden behind her back to the front.
It, which rolled on the ground, was a freshly severed head smeared with blood and mud. The red-haired Vanadis’ face turned pale.
This was because that severed head was her father’s, Rodion Abt. He was a man who committed many crimes two years ago and was killed by Elen.
As Elizavetta didn’t take her eyes off it, the mouth of the severed head moved and emitted a groan-like voice.
“Why didn’t you help me?”
At that time, Elizavetta tried to help her father. However, Rodion escaped without listening to his daughter’s words. The severed head spanned further words.
“Why don’t you take revenge on the Vanadis who killed me?”
After Rodion was killed, Elizavetta challenged Elen to a duel. But, Elizavetta, being not a match for her at all, was defeated and left.
The severed head indifferently repeated reproaches. These words became an immaterial poison that entered Elizavetta’s ears and slashed at her heart many times.
While shouting, Elizavetta firmly closed her eyes and turned her face away. The black whip drew a small arc in the atmosphere and smashed the severed head. In order to wield her Viralt, she must eagerly muster willpower.
Elizavetta raised her face without so much as fixing her disturbed breathing. Before she knew it, countless bodies were rolling around. Each body had countless swelling things all over and the skin turned strangely black. There were traces of blood around the nails and there were no bodies’ faces which did not have an anguished expression.
“Why didn’t you help me?”
One of the bodies blamed Elizavetta. Then, the other bodies emitted words one after another blaming the red-haired Vanadis. They were people who suffered from a plague and died. They were people whom Elizavetta was not able to save.
—I mustn’t listen to them.
Elizavetta tore her eyes off from the bodies and looked to the front.
She greatly opened her eyes wide. Elen stood there. Not the Elen when she was child, but the present Elen. The silver-haired Vanadis who was dressed in blue clothes and hung a long sword to her waist was staring at Elizavetta.
“Did you enjoy it, “Whip”?”
The old woman’s hoarse voice resounded and Elen’s face was distorted. As it swelled to the extent that the left eye made up half of the face, the eyeball fell. Elizavetta was about to leak a scream to that disgusting scene.
From the hollow eye socket, a sticky black fluid-like thing flowed out. When the black fluid covered Elen’s face, it formed the face of the old woman who revealed a damp and shady smile.
Although Elizavetta unintentionally raised the Thunder Swirl, she desisted from swinging it just before she did. She stopped her movements with that posture.
—Calm down. This is also an illusion.
While gazing at that ugly thing which had the old woman’s face and Elen’s body, Elizavetta persuaded herself so. Even if she crushed this, it would either melt and disappear like the illusions so far or only change into something different.
Fixing her breathing, Elizavetta called out to her Viralt. In response to its master’s call, white lighting repeatedly flashed many times on the tip of the black whip’s handle.
Each time the Thunder Swirl made a flash, several dozens, hundreds of particles of light, as small as sand, were released into the atmosphere. It was a feeble thunder stroke of the degree to only feel itchy even if you touched it, but Elizavetta’s purpose was not to attack.
The swarm of thunder strokes calmly advanced around the area and one of them caught the demon’s presence. It was not the fake Elen standing in front, but it was on Elizavetta’s right side. About ten steps away. Although nothing was found there, Elizavetta swung down the Thunder Swirl in that direction without hesitation.
“––Slash and brush aside the dark night, ephemeral fang (Nott Rubeed)!”
With a roaring sound harking back to thunder, intense light surged from the tip of the black whip. Light ran through the space at the speed of lightning and pierced through the thing which was lurking. A clear response was transmitted to Elizavetta’s left hand through the Viralt.
The next moment, the fake Elen also rolled to the ground, melted and disappeared into the atmosphere.
Then, an old woman wearing a black robe appeared at the place where Elizavetta let out her Veda. She let her hooked nose peep out and trailed a shabby broom. It was Baba Yaga.
“I was wondering how far you would dance, but well it’s to this extent, I guess.”
At the back of the hood, the demon leaked out a muffled laughter. Elizavetta sneered and glared at Baba Yaga.
“You’re quite composed. Do you still have any tricks?”
“That’s right. For example, I’ve also got such a trick.”
As the demon responded in a tone filled with composure, she set up her broom with both her hands and recited something which seemed to be an incantation.
Soon after, a flame the size of a fist appeared at the tip of the broom held by the old woman. Elizavetta stared wide-eyed.
While flickering, the flame swelled up in the blink of an eye and became a fireball as big as an adult’s head. When Baba Yaga swung her broom once, the fireball fiercely ran through the air leaving a trail of flame and attacked Elizavetta.
—Is this also an illusion!?
The red-haired Vanadis clenched her teeth and mowed down the fireball with the Thunder Swirl.
However, perhaps because she swung with the left hand which she wasn’t used to, the Thunder Swirl’s movements were slightly off. At a distance closer than Elizavetta had thought, the black whip and the fireball clashed.
Scattering a roaring sound, with blasts and waves of heat into the atmosphere, the fireball was blown off into pieces. A heavy shock remained on her hand through the Viralt and the scattered sparks made small burns on Elizavetta’s skin.
—No. It’s not an illusion…
“Well defended. Then, how about this?”
As Baba Yaga happily laughed, she rotated the broom in her hands and turned its tip to Elizavetta. The broom was tinged with a white light.
Elizavetta, who sensed danger, shouted. Her shouting and the white shining lightning surging from the tip of the broom were almost simultaneous. Golden lightning being also released from the black whip held by the Vanadis, the two thunder strokes clashed in the air while dazzlingly tearing apart the space.
The lights from two colors became entangled, boisterously danced and burned Elizavetta’s eyes. The roaring thunder shook the skin of the Vanadis of Rainbow Eyes. Although her skin was burned by the flying lightning particles, Elizavetta put strength into her feet and eagerly stayed put.
The atmosphere vigorously burst open and a shock wave attacked Elizavetta. The two thunder strokes, unable to crush each other, lost their power and vanished. Although her view was wrapped in white light for an instant, she gradually regained the original scenery.
—How should I fight?
Elizavetta couldn’t help shivering.
She had fought against humans, beasts, dragons and even against a demon like Torbalan.
But, it was not Elizavetta who defeated Torbalan, but Sasha. If she had fought him alone, Elizavetta would have without a doubt lost.
And, Baba Yaga was completely different from Torbalan. She deceived humans, showed illusions and freely manipulated fire and lightning. She was a fearful witch like those coming out of an old tale.
She couldn’t predict at all how she would attack.
In addition, she could not accurately fix her aim with her left hand after all. Though only a little, the whip was late and slightly off its trajectory. If the opponent was an ordinary human, it would be a gap of a negligible degree. But, with a monster like Baba Yaga as the opponent, it would certainly become fatal.
Watching Elizavetta standing stock still, Baba Yaga broadly laughed at the back of the hood worn over her eyes.
“What’s wrong? If you don’t come, I’ll attack again.”
When the old demon woman swung her broom from right to left, a sudden gust violently blew. While rolling up pebbles and a cloud of sand, the wind attacked Elizavetta. The red-haired Vanadis reflexively covered her face with her left hand.
—With such petty tricks!
While being stirred by the wind and staggering, Elizavetta raised her Viralt.
But, there was no sign of the demon in her field of vision. In the gap when she took her eyes off for just an instant, she disappeared.
A hoarse laughter tickled Elizavetta’s ears. The Flash Princess of the Thunder Swirl reflexively swung her Viralt. Valitsaif pierced through the black shadow floating overhead.
However, there was no response, and the black shadow disappeared like fog melting before the red-haired Vanadis’ eyes. At the same time, Elizavetta’s legs were swept out by something. Her stance was broken.
As she unintentionally got down on a knee, the handle of the broom attacked her with a side blow. Without room to avoid it, when she felt heat on her cheek, Elizavetta was blown off and fell on the ground.
A fireball once again appeared at the tip of Baba Yaga’s broom and was released towards Elizavetta. The red-haired Vanadis tried to avoid it by rolling on the ground, but her right hand suddenly became heavy like lead and an acute pain ran through. Without any other choice left, she swung the Thunder Swirl as she was still lying on the ground.
Although she avoided a direct hit, the fireball exploded at point-blank range. The blast sent Elizavetta flying. The heat wave burned her body and the shockwave tore up her dress.
Elizavetta fell on her back.
Her field of vision shook. An acute pain ran throughout her body. She tried to get up, but she could not muster any strength. Her voice did not come out, too. As for her right hand, it was so heavy that she couldn’t move even one finger.
She thought that she didn’t want to lose. But, she wasn’t able to think of what she should do.
“I shall soon deliver the final blow.”
Baba Yaga dragged the hem of her robe and approached Elizavetta. Elizavetta grasped her Viralt, but other than that, she could only frustratingly glare at the demon.
The old demon woman raised her broom. However, Baba Yaga did not immediately swing it down.
“Speaking of which, there is something I wanted to ask. ––Where is the “Bow”?”
At the back of the hood, the demon’s eyes were tinged with a suspicious white light. Elizavetta didn’t know, but this was reason why Baba Yaga didn’t show up before her until today.
This demon was looking for Urz while watching Elizavetta’s movements. However, without being able to find Urz in the end, she decided to fight Elizavetta.
“…Do you think I would say it even if I knew?”
Elizavetta spitted out. Even before a premonition of death, only her pride was not shaken.
“In that case––”
When Baba Yaga was about to answer, the sound of something cutting the wind reached Elizavetta’s ears. One arrow hit the demon’s broom, which was flipped and fell on the ground.
The red-haired Vanadis stared at that arrow which fell before her eyes with a surprised face. This time, she could hear the roar of horses’ hooves. It was approaching straight to this direction.
Tears blurred to Elizavetta’s Rainbow Eyes.
That arrow was shot from a distance of 300 Alsins away.
Having shot that arrow was a darkish red-haired youth.
The youth’s name was Urz.