Chapter 9: Let’s Have a Taste of the Ice Queen’s Power, Part 3
「Good day to you.」
Mio returned the greeting of the woman who waved her hand at her with an uneasy expression.
「Do you know if he’s home today?」
「Y-You know Lord Aur?」
She bore no weapons and Mio could feel no hostility or murderous intent from her whatsoever. She had the same gentle and calming atmosphere around her that Ellen did. And besides, Mio heard from Aur that they’re going to cooperate with some of the local people.
「If he’s not here, then would you be so kind as to deliver this letter that I have written to him?」
The woman took a letter out of her pocket and handed it to Ellen.
「I’ll be sure to deliver it to him.」
Ellen was a true warrior. When it came to sensing danger, her instincts and the drawing speed of her bow could always be trusted.
That is what Mio believed.
「Don’t do it!」
With that scream, Celes pushed Ellen back. And the moment the woman’s outstretched finger touched her skin, her whole body was frozen solid.
「My oh my.」
Zana’s eyes widened in surprise. She was sure that she masked her intentions perfectly, but I guess that was not the case.
With blinding speed, Ellen rolled on the ground and released her arrow.
But that very same arrow turned to ice in midair and was crushed into nothingness.
Enraged, Ellen released two more arrows. But they were also blocked by the invisible wall of ice, and Zana remained unscratched.
When she tried to fire another shot, her bow snapped in half. The string was turned into ice and got destroyed due to the strength of Ellen’s pull.
Mio shouted to Ellen, who fell to the ground seconds later. Acting out of rage, she commanded the two demons she summoned to breathe fire from their mouths.
「My my, it would certainly be bad if something like that hit me, you know?」
Zana spun in place and covered herself with her cape.
Amplified by Mio’s power, the fire breathed by those two demons was enough to melt even the hardest iron. In contact with it, any ice would simply turn into steam.
「It’s such a shame that there are only two of them.」
Zana held her hand up, and from behind her appeared soldiers holding bows and arrows.
Now Ellen and Celes were sure. This woman was not someone they could fight with.
And they are all probably going to die here.
Bows and arrows could not reach her, and Mio’s beasts were also ineffective against her. And she was getting closer to them with each step…
That was the last thing they remembered before they lost consciousness.
「And that is all I remember from that time.」
Trembling, Mio reported all that she remembered while she drank hot tea.
「We weren’t able to protect you… forgive us, Mio.」
「I feel truly ashamed of myself…」
「No! It’s not Ellen’s or Celes’ fault! We didn’t do anything wrong! It’s just that…that she was too strong.」
She looked apologetically at Aur, who observed her cautiously this entire time.
「Don’t beat yourself up over it. If someone here made a mistake it was undoubtedly me.」
「And we cannot fight against something which we didn’t see coming, so it is understandable.」
Tena walked into the room and looked at the three girls with a worried expression.
「And it’s not just about the Dungeon either. For some reason, perhaps because of some ability of hers, I am unable to determine her future.」
She was able to see it, to be exact, but every time she tried it, the outcome rapidly changed over and over and over again, so she was unable to determine her future for sure.
「This is the first…. No, the second time something like that happened to me.」
「Who was the first?」
「The redhead, that Yunis girl.」
When they visited the volcano for the first time, Tena experienced something like that when Yunis was about to teleport. It was to a different degree, but the same happened with Zana now. It was quite a strange phenomenon.
「So your ability is useless to us now, is what you’re trying to say. Not that I expected much from it anyway.」
「Well how nice of you.」
「I’ve only stated the facts.」
Tena was visibly angered, but Aur was the one who was in the right here. Recently, they’ve relied too much on that damned predictions of hers and grew too complacent. This was a grave mistake on their part, and the only saving grace was that they realized that before some really fatal damage was inflicted upon them.
The same could be said about Zana’s ability. It must have some weakness that they could exploit. There was no way that such a powerful ability was without any drawbacks.
And Aur headed to Zana’s quarters to find out what they were.
「Ughhhh, this is so frustrating. One more. Let’s have a one more match!」
「Mari, you had your turn, mine’s next.」
「No, it’s going to be mine next!」
「You know that I don’t really care who goes next, right? You can both come at me if you want.」
「What are you guys doing?」
Aur asked with a shaky voice as she saw four girls stirring a commotion around the desk in the room. Mari, Yutsu and Spina were at its one side, and Zana sat at the other.
「I was teaching the how to play chess, and it took an interesting turn.」
Zana answered and laughed like it was nothing.
It won’t be an understatement to say that they were now in the middle of the enemy territory, but they were all as relaxed as if they’ve come to visit a friend’s house.
「It’s true that you’re good, but we can beat you if we just do our best!」
Mari declares while watching Zana’s game with Spina.
But in reality she wasn’t doing all that good and there was nothing to be impressed about.
Chess was a game of no coincidence. Of course, winning purely by chance was possible, but the chances of winning increased dramatically if the player was able to perform simulations of what could happen on the board in his head.
In other words, it all came down to which of the players had better tactical sense and the ability to plan ahead. Spina visibly lacked that, because she lost to Zana without snatching a single piece from her. Was Zana doing that on purpose to intimidate him or was she just that good?
After all was said and done Spina bite down on her lip in a display of frustrated disappointment. Out of all the people gathered here, only Aur and Mari understood what that change in expression meant for her.
「Well then, why don’t you test yourself against me?」
Aur says as he took spina’s seat and sat face-to-face with Zana.
「Then why don’t we spice things up a bit? If you win, you’ll have the freedom to decline making an alliance with me.」
「And if I lose?」
「Let’s see now…. Maybe all of you will become my pets?」
This was an offer that he had to consider very carefully before agreeing. For a while, he just silently calculated the potential risk and reward, and Zana just looked at him, greatly amused.
「Very well then, I accept your conditions.」
Are you really that good, or do you just crave an alliance so desperately, Aur thought.
Zana just smiled and nodded, as if she was sure of her victory already.
「Shall we begin?」
A flame shot from Aur’s finger and stroke Zana straight in the chest. It didn’t burn her or inflicted any damage, but it inscribed something in her soul. It was the Curse of the Pledge. It was a precaution that made sure she’ll be unable to weasel her way out of her promise.
「You can pick your pieces first.」
Aur hid one black and one white piece in his palms and pointed them towards Zana.
「I’ll take this one then.」
Zana picked Aur’s left hand. Inside of it was a black pawn.
There was a general rule that said the advantage was with the player with white pieces, as he was to one who had the privilege of the first move, but… was this really for the best here?
「Looks like the first step belongs to me.」
Once the game started, Aur’s impression of Zana’s playstyle was that it was that of an amateur. She wasn’t astoundingly bad, but she made a number of small mistakes that tipped the scales in Aur’s favour.
But that trend changed around the midgame, when Zana began to attack Aur’s pieces from unexpected positions, turning the dominance on the field towards her slowly, but surely.
Looking at this situation, Aur was sure that his initial impression of her was correct.
Now a simple game changed into a battle of wits. Aur could defeat Zana’s pawn, but that would mean that in three moves Zana could strike his knight down. Taking down her pawn would only be a temporary success, as it would mean sacrificing one of his stronger
pieces for it. On this battlefield, the winner would be the one who’d be able to utilize the strategy that was best for the long term, not the short term.
Aur’s goal was to attempt to predict his enemy’s actions all the way to his victory, but it was not all that simple, mainly because Zana’s abilities were not as over the top as he anticipated. Her apparent strategy was to achieve dominance in the midgame, as was evident by her match against Spina. If their game advances like that, then the number of actions she’ll be able to surprise him with will decrease, and his chances of reading through her movements will increase accordingly. Maybe it’ll even shed some light on that ability of hers.
Spina exclaimed silently. Zena took down Aur’s queen.
Since she was a figure able to advance eight squares in every direction, losing her meant being put at a great disadvantage.
「I’ll be taking that, thank you very much.」
But Aur only grinned in a very unsettling way.
From her match with Spina, he analyzed the possible number of moves she could read ahead in the midgame. Now his job was quite simple. Prepare a path for her ruin in ten moves, and shove her down that path from the eleventh move forward. After that, there was no going back, only forward on the path to victory. That’s it. Aur’s victory will be sealed within the next thirty moves.
When she realized that, finally her expression began to cloud. But it was too late now. Aur was making his moves until he had her cornered.
And then, unexpectedly, Aur stopped his hands of a moment. It was a gesture without any deeper meaning, as Aur’s victory has been pretty much decided. At least that’s what he initially thought, but…
He run the simulation in his head again and claimed the bishop that Zana sacrificed. Since that move she started utilizing unusual tactics, and Aur corrected his simulation after each of her moves….
And notice that he was unknowingly on the losing side.
Thirty moves that were supposed to bring him victory were getting away instead of getting closer, and he hit a wall before he could even notice it, even though he remembered his every move and executed them perfectly. But despite that, Zana seemed to be recovering and gaining the upper hand again.
It was an impossible result, but the one achieved by her very own hand. If she’s going to continue to advance along that path, she’ll be the one who’s going to end up victorious.
Three more moves until Aur loses. The way to victory was not in his reach anymore.
And then, a miracle happened on top of the chessboard.
A tremor passed through the Dungeon and shook the entire room just as Zana was about to move her queen to do a checkmate. It was a momentary thing, but the tremor made her hand slip and unintentionally place the piece in the wrong position.
「I’m sorry, I didn’t want to put it…」
But just as she was about to take her queen back and change her position Aur grabbed her hand and stopped it with his iron grip and exclaimed coldly while looking her in the eyes:
「Your turn is over.」
In chess, there is a 『Touch and Move』 rule. It states that once the piece was taken by the player and moved to another position, it cannot be taken back.
And it just so happened that Zana wrongly placed her queen just where Aur initially needed her to place it. It was her one fatal mistake.
Aur declared as he took down Zana’s queen.