A darkness even darker than the night devoured the forest.
It reached even Kaya and Miya, who were tending to the three wounded and two others near the forest entrance, and they too quickly deployed a barrier.
They desperately protected the wounded, but what hit them was like a direct hit from a huge tornado. The sight and shock made the feel as if they were on a battlefield being constantly bombarded by magic.
With that swirling right outside the barrier, they didn’t have the lesiure to think about the princess or their comrades and could only focus on maintaining the barrier.
“Uu, a, ahhh! T-The barrier won’t last!”
“Gu, uu, uu! What is this!? What the hell is this!?”
Cracks filled the thin layer of light that protected them as the darkness covered everything outside.
The storm raged so violently that it seemed to have taken on a color of its own, enough to block their sight.
What was ironic was that they could actually maintain their focus despite their fears. After all, it wouldn’t have been strange for that thing to blow them and their barrier into the ends of the world.
But what they didn’t know was that this was actually the furthest away from the center of the storm; hence, this was the weakest it could be.
They might have been experts as far as Earthgant was concerned, but in fact, that was the only reason why they could block it with their barrier.
“…I-Is it over?”
Perhaps that was the reason why, or perhaps, it was simply a matter of any storm eventually ending, but the black storm passed.
The girls did not know exactly for how long that storm had tormented them.
Was it only for a few seconds? Was it some dozen seconds?
They did not know, only that they had exerted themselves of every ounce of strength and mana that they possessed. Unable to even stand, they collapsed to the ground.
What would come next would normally be a breath of relief, but they’d yet to figure out what had just transpired.
They were just glad that the calamity had finally gone.
But of course, that could only be the case if they still had hope left after seeing what was left in the wake of the black storm.
There was nothing.
What spread before them was a wasteland with nary a hint of the forest that once existed in that part of the land, the moonlight mercilessly pouring down to make clear that truth in this dark night.
But it was not as though everything vanished, for at the end of that black storm, which they endured with every ounce of strength they had, what greeted them was a circular clearing.
Time ticked by, and perhaps because of the training that they’d received in their childhood, they regained their calm and consequently became terrified as they realized how strange that circular clearing was.
Upon seeing how much more terrible the land was closer to the center, it finally dawned on them that that terrible violence they suffered was in fact the weakest part of the storm.
Meanwhile, the land beyond the crate remained unchanged. Not a tree in disarray, not even a leaf fluttering in the air, just a tranquil forest in the night.
“…J-Just what happened here?”
In the end, even he, the least wounded person, looked at that sight in shock.
The scene before him was so strange that his comprehension just couldn’t keep up.
But then, as though to make them understand, something suddenly appeared.
They appeared clad in that familiar light.
And despite their surprise, when they recognized what that was, they just stood there in aghast.
Stained in dust and damaged by the storm, the people that appeared were a shadow of their former selves.
Flowers of red bloomed here and there, but the white and blue of their clothes could still be made out. Yes, these were none other than their companions and colleagues.
These girls, who have never been driven into a corner no matter what villain or beast they happened into, were now in such terrible state.
At that, the boy-knight, Kite, could not help but lose his composure.
The maids managed to survive by teleporting, but they looked as though the slightest breeze could topple them.
Though they seemed to be groaning, their consciousness appeared to be in a haze.
Kite was relieved to see them still alive, but the scream that soon followed made him unable to sigh in relief.
The two people called out were indeed there.
The will in their eyes seemed stronger compared to the others, and they were conscious too.
But they were definitely the worst off among everyone there.
Even Princess Lilisha, who Stella was supporting with one hand, did not possess the same radiance she did before.
Kite was terrible at sensing mana, but even he could tell that she’d use up more than half of her reserves.
Her beautiful blonde hair was stained with muddy soil, and even her gorgeous dress armor was now just a remnant of what it once was, being stained in red with cuts all over.
Perhaps, it was because of that that her ever confident green eyes now seemed to have lost sanity.
Even Stella’s ever expressionless face was filled with exhaustion.
Despite that she forced herself to support Lilisha.
From the damage on her clothing and the deep lacerations covering the entire right side of her body, she probably shielded someone with her body.
“Miya-san, Kaya-san, heal her!” Kite said.
“I’d love to, but…” Miya said.
“I’m empty from the barrier earlier…” Kaya said.
Kite froze at that, but they still took out what tools and medicines they could to try and give first aid treatment, but Stella denied their proposition with her eyes.
“Kite, sama… Please, run… with the… princess.”
Though Stella struggled just to speak, she desperately pleaded for that, confusing Kite.
There was nothing wrong with her entrusting Lilisha with him since he was the one that got off the lightest here, but the resolve in her eyes gave him a terrible foreboding.
Was she planning to stay here and keep the enemy at bay?
But then the rebuking or accusing voice of the hooded boy resounded.
Though these girls, who had been in the same place as he, were in tatters, his appearance remained the same.
He walked while clad in those same old rags for a hooded coat.
How had Kite not noticed him before? The hooded boy was walking from the center of the storm that had passed.
“…It won’t change the result, though.”
The boy said casually after approaching close enough to be heard clearly.
“That was a good decision, Head Maid of Earthgant. You forcefully teleported everyone the moment you realized it wasn’t possible to block completely. Unfortunately, you had to pull it off so suddenly that you couldn’t get any distance.” [Ryouma]
A monotonous yet somewhat praising voice.
It was hard to figure out if he was being serious or not, but it caused Kite’s agitation and bewilderment to grow.
It was curious what Stella thought of his situation and Kite’s response, but regardless, Stella suddenly jumped out like an arrow and entrusted the princess with Kite, then she used her yet functional left hand to wield her halberd.
A half-assed chant that only the caster himself could hear, but what was unleashed was a giant fireball.
Stella and the fireball moved toward each other, but even as she approached close enough to see the boy behind the flames, the boy remained unguarded.
Even Stella thought that that much was only a given, but despite that she thrust out her halberd and skewered the fireball along with him.
“What a passionate woman.”
In the next moment, a whirlpool of fire erupted, and for an instant, she’d reached out for his chest with her halberd.
He easily avoided her attack, but she changed the momentum pushing her forward into a sideways movement to slash with her halberd, but────It was easily deflected by the boy’s coat.
“Huh, looks like this reached its limits too.”
That coat turned out to be much harder than it looked, resulting in a rebound that pushed her halberd back along with her arms.
Though no longer able to keep attacking, her efforts were not for naught, as the coat on the boy collapsed from her attack, revealing his face.