In the dark
After conquering the Ruins without problem, we returned from the Ruins to earth by once again stepping on a magic circle.
By now, the sky really looked about to let loose, and a forced march back to town was maidenly impossible.
We would indiscriminately get drenched down to our underwear without a doubt and I didn't want to shame Ilya in town.
...Well, myself, neither.
That being said, waiting out the rain in the monster-infested Ruins would be tiring, too.
When I looked around for a better solution, I spotted a hollow in the cliff rising nearby.
It wasn't enough to call it a cave, but deep enough to weather the rain.
After retreating inside for the moment, we took a breath.
"Cira-san, are you in a hurry?"
"No, I'm fine. Let's wait until the rain lets up."
Thus, that's what we did.
We'd finished what we'd come for, so there was no need to rush.
Both Ilya and Cira were no longer apprentices, but fully qualified.
A happy occasion.
We'd done nothing but fight in this place, and still I was only Level 6.
But, well, thinking about it differently, that might be an amazing speed.
My limit was 15 after all.
But then again... Till's class was Sage, wasn't it?
An advanced Class, I guess?
Therefore, I'd probably get reset to Level 1 after the next class-up.
Not that worrying about that now helped.
Attack Magic: Thunder (Mastered), no Cast Time, 5s Cooldown
Attack Magic: Lightning (Proficiency 2), No Cast Time, 20s Cooldown
Support Magic: Heal, no Cast Time, 20s Cooldown
Support Magic: Lightning Enchant, no Cast Time, 10s Cooldown
Skill: Cast Time Reduction (special)
Weapon: None (Broken Lightning Rod)
Armor: Improved Leather Robe (High Quality) (Inscription: Adele)
Accessory: Sylv Faeria
That were my current options.
Instant mid-class magic made me feel the awesomeness of Cast Time Reduction (special).
Also, I learned that support magic had no proficiency.
I mean, I've used Heal so much so far.
Still, the burden it put on me was considerable. It was more exhausting than using the mid-class magic Lightning.
Furthermore, depending on the graveness of the wound, I might collapse afterwards.
But that didn't mean I could do without that magic.
Then there was the other support magic, Lightning Enchant.
Till had shown the kind already, so I knew what it did.
It would probably cover a weapons in light, granting them the lightning element.
"Alice-sama, are you not cold?"
Come to think of it, my skin felt a bit chilly.
I had gotten a little wet from the rain.
"Nothing to worry about."
"If you say so. But it would be bad if you caught a cold," Ilya said and huddled closer.
So warm, but what was this.
Cira was staring at us with wide eyes, blushing.
Ahh, well, yeah.
The dilemma where a scene feels wholesome to oneself, but looks decidedly not so from the outside.
"A-anyway, Alice-san, your magic is amazing. You defeat every monster with one hit. And the color is so beautiful."
I wonder, alone with Ilya I'm not that self-conscious, but with a third party around this is extremely awkward.
Let's not overdo it, okay, Ilya?
But while thinking that goes through my head, I don't think I'll stop her, either.
...not that I'm going to say way.
But more importantly now...
"The color? Isn't it the same for everyone?"
"No, Alice-sama. A magic's color shows your personality. It differs from person to person."
Was that how it was?
Of course, I had only seen only my own lightning magic, so I'd thought it was normal.
Come to think of it, I forgot because I'd been too desperate at the time, but the ice magic used by that bandit felt different from the one Till uses.
I don't remember the bandit's anymore, but Till's is a a deep, deep blue.
"Alice-san's lightning is silver and very beautiful. I've never heard of a magic colored like that before."
Well, when it comes to lightning, I'd think of something gold or blue or so.
So I can't say I didn't think 'Hmm? Silver?'
"But shouldn't we talk about you now, Cira-san? Congratulations, now you're a proper Smith."
"Y-yes. I'm so happy. With this, I can carve my own inscriptions. I'm kind of embarrassedmeow..."
Ahh, she's so shy~~
At that point, Cira fidgeted and looked at me with upturned eyes.
"So, ehm, Alice-san. About what we talked about before we entered the ruins, that is..."
"——? Sorry, you two. Didn't you hear something just now?" Ilya apologetically interrupted our talk.
After she pointed it out, Cira and I listened carefully, too.
What we heard was the sound of the rainfall getting stronger and stronger.
Frankly, I couldn't hear anything else.
But Ilya kept listening intently.
"This is... a landslide!"
Now that she'd mentioned it, the ground may have rumbled a bit...
If we stay here, we'll get buried alive!?
"We have to get out of here!"
"Going out now is even more dangerous! Alice-sama!"
I see, the landslide would hit us directly?
As Ilya had said, not a moment later earth and sand came falling from above.
The rumbling was dreadful.
I was getting chills over the thought that our shallow cave might collapse.
I couldn't remain standing anymore.
The noise of the avalanche was ear-shattering.
I bodily felt how a thunderous roar alone could fill people with base fear.
Seeing the earth and sand rush down the slope, our only luck was that it didn't enter out cave.
That relief only lasted until our view from the cave was completely covered.
Just how long had the three of us waited with bated breath?
Finally, the rumbling died down.
No, conversely now we even stopped hearing the rain like it was moving to a far away world.
...just how deep had we been buried?
We were covered in complete, total darkness.
My heart was beating like a warning bell.
As quietly as possible, I took a shallow breath.
"...are you two alright?"
"I-I'm meowkay... okay."
For the moment, relief washed over me.
I had felt them right next to me so I'd thought they were alright, but hearing them say it still gave peace of mind.
But buried alive, huh...?
"This... if we dig wrongly, more earth will come falling from above?"
"Maybe. It's all loose from the rain."
"We... cannot get out, can we?"
I couldn't give her an immediate answer.
It still felt unreal.
Not monsters, not humans... but nature was going to kill us?
Well, in front of nature's fury, both man and monster might be nothing but trash.
"... It's too early to give up. If we dig from as high up as possible, the rubble might be thin there, so let's carefully try that," I said and pointed up. But.
"Alice-sama. We don't know up from down."
Ahh, I see.
The others couldn't see?
What's with my eyes granting me vision even in this darkness?
Are they shooting sight-beams or something?
"Can you grasp my hands, you two? I'll lead you where I think we need to go."
Don't be anxious, me.
If you don't spend encouragement here, then what are you for, my heart.
"Don't worry, there's no need to give up. It might be unexpectedly easy to get out."
Since the two couldn't see, I grasped for their hands.
I wasn't giving up.
"Right, Ilya?" I added with just a little tease in my voice.
"...hehe, if that Alice-sama says so, I cannot remain idle, can I."
It was funny how Cira inclined her head in wonderment.
Alright, let's do this.
Like hell I can die in this pointless place for a pointless reason.
Carefully digging out way outside with the three of us proved to be difficult.
We had nothing like a spade on our hands, so I was digging with the grip of my Rod.
Maybe Ilya had judged it dangerous to dig with her spear, but she had put it in the bag of the cave and was digging with her own hands.
I'll have to examine them later, they might have been scraped bloody.
Cira was holding a Wooden Stick and using it the same way I did to dig through the earth.
By the way, that Wooden Stick was Cira's proper and true weapon.
Getting hit with it hurt.
Although I guess it wouldn't work on Ilya.
"...I can't... work anymeow..."
A little while after we began digging, Cira dropped out first.
"Hah, hah, it's fine. Don't apologize? It's our job to protect you, so please rest for a while, Cira-san."
While gasping for air, Cira drew back into the cave with her head held low.
Her steps were uncertain. Did she not fall over along the way in this darkness due to some animal instinct?
"Alice-sama, please take a short rest, too. I shall make more progress in your place."
Am I... still doing okay?
Don't act tough, me, collect yourself now.
Now isn't the time to suddenly fall over.
I was thinking at myself.
"...okay, I'll rest a little. But Ilya, you don't force yourself either."
She would force herself. I knew that, but I couldn't tell her to stop.
Please let me rely on your right now.
I gave the Rod I'd been using to Ilya and rested my body.
"I'm sorr... ry... sor... don't...!"
"Cira-san...? Are you alright!?"
After I stepped back to the end of the cave and sat down next to Cira, I noticed her change.
Her breathing was erratic?
It was too shallow, too fast.
This was... hyperventilation?
From what I saw, the space we were in was definitely not wide.
But I wasn't having that much trouble breathing yet.
I looked at Ilya, but her breathing seemed stable, too.
I see... mental anxiety had caused Cira to panic.
"It's alright, Cira-san... It's alright, so calm down? Take a slow breath. Don't be impatient?"
I talked to her as gently, calmingly as I possible.
I held her hand and told her she would be alright.
If I wasn't mistaken, I had heard dealing with hyperventilation the wrong way had the opposite effect and could be dangerous.
But most important was calming down the patient and make him feel relieved.
"There's nothing to be scared of. See? Take deep breaths. Slowly. See? It's all right."
I gently held her hand.
Cira's hand flexed and I felt a pain like a cat's scratches.
Her nails might be poking me.
"――See? It's not scary, you see? You don't have to worry about anything. Take slow breaths."
Her hand slowly relaxed.
Her breathing, too, calmed down.
It was fine. As long as she calmed herself, she'd get better right away."
With dilated eyes, Cira was looking at me.
There were tear tracks there.
Even in the darkness, I could see those clearly.
Thinking about the meaning of the murmurs I'd just heard, I leaned towards Cira and whispered near her ears.
"Cira――――leave the rest to me."
With a really quiet voice, I whispered so that only Cira could hear me.
Once, her body stiffened like something had surprised her, but then she relaxed like she was calm now.
For a short while, I looked at her condition like that.
Her breathing had stabilized.
Come to think of it, the battles she wasn't used to and the fear of being shut it must have pushed her to her limit.
I felt a bit reluctant about it, but I slowly unfastened her hand that was still holding mine tightly.
Don't want to become a liar, do I.
How much time had passed since we'd been buried?
I had no feeling for that whatsoever.
It could have been a whole night, even.
On the other hand, I did feel that that guess was a bit long.
"Ng... the air is getting a bit thin."
With three people in this closed-off space, the oxygen wouldn't last that long.
And yet the digging was processing only slowly.
The more we digged, the more earth took its place.
The fear of it all pouring into the cave sent shivers down my spine.
"Ilya... you can still go on, right?"
"Of course, Milady."
Of course she couldn't be alright.
She hadn't even taken a single break.
Although she had borrowed Cira's Wooden Stick, what had happened to her hands in the long time she had digged barehanded?
Regret almost crushed me when Ilya replied like nothing was wrong.
Digging would probably get us nowhere.
I didn't know how much earth we were buried behind, but without enough power to blow all of that away, this was nothing but a waste of effort.
But, what to do then?
There was magic, but my lightning magic was not made for something like "blowing stuff away".
There was too much earth, too.
And even as a repellent force...
No, I could only go for it.
Pushing my hands against the earth, I concentrated my magic on my right hand and accumulated it.
The trick was the same I used at the lake.
You could call it the natural outcome, but what was blown away was me, not the earth.
I heavily crushed into the wall in the back.
My body wasn't tough enough to do that again and again though.
But I could only take my chances with what I had.
With no losing option, I tried what I could.
"Split the heavens and become a ray of light, to strike my enemies! Thunder!"
I shot lightning into the earth.
But, as expected, it only "pierced" and didn't blow anything away.
When I'd shot it into a wall for the first time in those Ruins, it hadn't destroyed the wall, either.
I'd known that, but...
When I lowered my gaze, I saw Cira still sleeping.
But, it was a fact that the air was getting thin.
There was no time.
"...there is one last thing I can do, Alice-sama."
"There's no need."
Hearing my immediate reply, Ilya made a dumbfounded face.
"I don't know what you're intending to do, but it would kill you, wouldn't it?"
"That's why you don't have to do that. I'll break through this. I won't give up——!"
Right. Because it has no mass, my magic cannot blow stuff away.
Then I'll have to find a replacement for that.
I looked at the Lightning Rod in my hands.
It was broken and didn't work adequately anymore.
But... if that was the case.
Onee-chan, I will use this to save people.
"——Come, Lightning Spirit, become my Blade! Lightning Enchant!"
With the added lightning element, the Rod shone silver.
I had one chance, and I had no clue what this one attack would do to the ground.
We might get buried alive completely.
But at this rate, the time limit was nearing.
I didn't want to regret without doing everything I could.
"I will blow the earth away. Ilya, hold on to Cira and me and defend us with your Field in that moment."
I would blow the entrance open and before new earth came falling, I would jump us out of the cave.
Using magic at maximum output, consecutively, and skillfully.
I could do it. No, I would do it.
I brandished my left hand holding the Lightning Rod.
"——Blade of Light descending from the Heavens, become my Sword and split the Darkness!"
The pentagram spun.
My maximum output.
But I wasn't just going to shoot a lightning.
I would make the rod a projectile and shoot that.
That's why I had enchanted it, for the magnetic repellant force.
Pushed forward by the lightning, it would even break the sound barrier and————
One strike, the silver torrent from my left hand catapulted the Rod forward like a bullet.
Activating mid-class magic with my left hand.
My power left me all at once.
But I couldn't complain about the firepower.
The flash blew the entrance open and shot all the way up through the rain clouds before disappearing.
I could see one ray of light from between the clouds.
And then——the vibrations.
"Any time, Milady!"
Ilya laid her hand around my waist.
Cira was on her back.
The vibrations got stronger and stronger.
Control the activation of my magic, create a repellant force below my legs, and——
The moment before the entrance was buried again, we flew out of the cave.
We were almost crushed by the avalanche of earth and rocks, but that much was expected.
Protected by Ilya's Field, we broke through the pouring ground and escaped into the sky.
The feeling of freedom was refreshing.
"... what is this."
Ilya hugged my waist stronger.
"Nn... it hurts, Ilya."
"Please bear it, Milady."
Yeah, yeah, bear it, right.
in the air, I'd spontaneously looked to the top of the cliff.
I'd only thought about checking out the landslide. The trees and rocks on the plateau at the top of the cliff had collapsed and only the part with the landslide was completely bare.
That, that was a natural phenomenon, right...?
I'd only seen a fear-induced illusion, nothing more.
I wanted to laugh it off.
——and still, the thought that I'd seen a woman with red eyes on that plateau made my whole body shiver just a little.