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To Cinderella, she is the epitome of 'Villain'.

Violet casked in demonic gales ruptures the sunset. She stares at the villain's back; the two of them stand 50 metres above this planet's scraped and unending rock, atop the cobble pavings of a sky-piercing tower. The tower's grey bricks are riddled with countless cracks, barely held by crumbling pillars, pierced and littered with countless weapons of the fallen, from the bell at the top to the bottom floor. An intense orange ruptures the air clear of clouds, but spares no hue for this lifeless, long-abandoned place. She's within layers of battlefields gone, only the wind left to bolster her.

"Oh?" Echoes the two-tone voice of her target. "What have we here?"

"You..." Cinderella growls, placing a hand on her scabbard. "...I've found you."

Samael.

The villain turns her head; then, she fully turns around, not a face to be seen courtesy of her grim helm.

"...My, what a delightful kitten you are. I see my reputation precedes me across more than just tyrants."

Her entire frame is covered in jet-violet armour from head to toe. Her de-crested shoulderpads end in spikes, scars tearing the design on them and the pointed chestpiece. A seething aura of shadow drips upward from her imposing figure, flowing out everywhere from the plates on her trousers, to the slits in her horned helmet's visor, down to the metal on her gloves. And her sword; Cinderella knows it as a horror story amongst the 10th Fleet. Her fellow knights in there describe it exactly the way it is; a malignant, buzzing 2-meter abyssal blade, whose edges lap around themselves in whirring wails. Cinderella stares into the depths of its metal and sees a jagged river whose delta is the wounds it has sprayed through The Crusadia.

But none in The Crusadia's empire feel fear. Cinderella's mission is to fight this so-called 'knight'; and personally, she thinks 'no-good space pirate' sounds MUCH more fitting. "At the battle for Terfborne Castle, you broke our towers, disarmed our fellow soldiers, slaughtered our dukes and skewered our king. For your crimes against the 10th Fleet, I've come to execute you!"

"Fwahahahah... such a fire The Crusadia has." Samael lowers her head. "How ignobly it burns."

"Silence, villain!"

The hero's skirt glimmers below her white armour as she draws her silver sword.

"In the name of the empire, I, Cinderella, shall make you submit!"

BkZkrrRRR...

Samael's blade rumbles. "I accept your challenge, Crusadia kitten. But be warned."

...BRZZZZKKRACKTK!

"Taste Retribution's blade... and you will be JUDGED!"

The ground roars.

A second too late, she processes why; her nightmare has already carved through it.

CLANG!

"Gah...!"

Cinderella's back nearly breaks from the force of the impact. But with all her strength, she steps aside and drags her sword out from the clash, saving it from being shredded by Samael's blade.

CLANG!

CLANG

Samael closes in again. Sweat begins to run down Cinderella's head; her sword'll break if it keeps taking these hits!

CLANG!....

Step back,

"Hiyah!"

And swing!

CLANG!

Argh! This person's fast!

CLANG
kkKKHHHHHHCRACKKKKKRKrKrKRKR

Barely managing to duck only rewards Cinderella with the sound of the wall behind her being torn in two. But... "Take this!"

CLANG-
K KKRKRKRR

"W-what?!"

A whirlwind of swings knocks the silver sword out of her hand. No... she needs that thing!

KCCRASH!

As she runs up the wall, Samael catches up instantly; Cinderella leaps away barely in time and lets the cobblestone take the blow, catching her sword in the process. Then;

"Hiyah!"

shr shr shr shr

Drawing the motion of a bowstring with her hand, she pulls back and fires a spread of beams upside-down during her descent.

SHRW!SHRW!SHRW!SHRW!

CRASH
         CRASH
CRASH

               CLANG!

Samael wordlessly rushes through them all. How is she that fast...? Wait, that gesture-

Cinderella grits her teeth and boosts her descent, flying away from streaks of sullen projectiles carving through the air like claws.

CLANG!

Samael is already there when she lands. "G-gah!"

Having met the clash once more, Cinderella uses Samael's blade as a springboard to fly back up, then aiming a concentrated laser from her hands.

"Just die already!"

KKCCRKRROWWWW-

SLASH! "...Wh..."

But it dissipates on impact with just one swing. "I'm afraid that will not be enough."

CLANG!!! "U-urk!"

Pinning Cinderella to the ground with a brutal clash, Samael's ethereal aura flares. She unleashes a barrage of demonic swings; Cinderella holds her ground, deflecting as best as she can, but she's pushed back, further, and further, and she can feel her blade crumble by the second. Nothing she's trying is getting her any breathing room... if this keeps up, then...

CLANG!!!

"Stand down." Samael's blade pushes further, grinding further, howling further. "I'll only spill blood if I must."

"...Grrr...!"

Why can't she push back...? This person's... overwhelming...

...but... no... i-if she gives up here, then...

...then there's nothing left for her!

Samael gasps. "A bomb?!"

"Eat this!"

The sole daughter of the Kitazawa line detonates it, fearing nothing-

KKRRBOOOOOOOOOOMMMM!!

And then she feels pain.

She feels her hearing break apart. She feels the rough concrete slamming against the back of her head. It hurts. Nothing can change how much it hurts. Blinded and numbed, she can't stop the tear that flows from her face as she tumbles across the collapsing interior and falls against the cold marble two floors below, trembling there amongst the dust. "...H-help... I..."

N-no. Grit your teeth... you can't...

...die here...

Wiping the dirt from her face, she manages to stand and finds her sword glued to her grasp, barely intact. Scars riddle her armour and puncture her skirt. It would take a storm for her to get her breath back. But she... has to stand. She-

"So I see."

"...!"

No. No way.

Samael's right there. There's a shadowy barrier crumbling in front of her, having protected her from the fall and leaving her violet armour with nary a scratch. Cinderella accomplished nothing.

"It appears I have misjudged you. You are no ordinary kitten."

CRRRASSH!!

An edge of black fire tears through the ground, its debris illuminating a red eye. "You're a lionel."

"Argh...!"

Cinderella's nerves burn. But despite everything, she roughly tackles Samael, trying to force her back. "Tell me, lionel," Samael asks, "what is your name?"

"It's..." Cinderella spins around her blade and initiates the next clash. "...Hagumi!"

CLANG! "So I see. What a beautiful name," Samael says. "Your reputation precedes you too. I have heard of a Cinderella with burning hair who descends from Lord Kitazawa."

"What...?" She nearly misses the next swing. "No. There's no way you've actually heard of me. I'm a nobody."

"To many, yes. But I believe every kitten is worth remembering." CLANG! KRRRRRrrr "When I heard of the princess deemed an unworthy heir... who believed she could carve her own path, by becoming a flagbearer for war... I wished she was not one of The Crusadia."

KKCLANG!

"It truly is a shame that we must clash!"

"Ggah!"

Samael's assault intensifies further; Cinderella feels a weight surpassing legions and titans weighing down upon her, strikes and shadowed flares cutting by her armour and heaving down upon her in a flood. But Cinderella keeps striking, and striking, and striking, nonetheless, never letting her arms rest, never surrendering; because she is Cinderella. She'll become the hero that men sing songs in salute for... she-

c-crack!

"...Huh?"

She...

...she's without a sword.

CRASH!!

"Argh!"

She tumbles to the dirt again.

That's it.

She doesn't have a weapon anymore. Her armour is broken. Her pride is gone.

She has nothing to fight with any longer.

"So it ends."

...She stands up anyway. It's all she's ever been good at. She clutches her stomach and stares defiantly at Samael's rupturing blade.

"You fought with a bravery I do not find in armies." SWIPE! The blade runs gales through the air. "But you cannot fathom the hell I've lived. Neither you nor your backup will fell me."

"So..." Her legs shake. "...You knew?"

"It is a Cinderella classic. Her tower lies in wait behind her," Samael says. "You were merely the vanguard, to keep me in one place; before your fleet's ships blow this planet up to hell."

"Yeah. That's right."

"Your corpse included."

...

"That is the truth you did not know." Samael lowers her blade. "They did not send you to be a hero. They sent you to be a sacrifice. No doubt they deceived you with dreams of freedom and glory; to make you their pawn, convinced she would become a symbol of victory." She points to the broken sword. "Frankly, I find it a disgrace they would send you to fight me with that. That is no standard model. It is a thinner, frailer dupe; steel as fake as the words of your empire."

...Hagumi grips her fist.

"I have seen the tale repeat many a time. Young women, plucked from their homes because of their infertility; thrown onto the battlefield so their beautiful deaths may inspire the Crusadia men. You are not the first Cinderella I have seen meet this fate. And you will not be the la-"

"...I KNOW I'M A SACRIFICE!"

Samael stops.

Hagumi lifts her head. Tears flow down her face, unable to hide any longer. "I know... I know I'm a sacrifice. I know they sent me here to die. I knew they'd do something like that the moment they named me a princess. But I took the role anyway!"

"...What? Why?"

"BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY WAY I CAN BE ME!"

It bellows through the walls. Samael can't respond.

"I..." Hagumi fights tear, after stupid tear. "I... I did it all so I could be me. I took this uniform because it was the only one with a skirt. I took the name Cinderella because I knew everyone'd accept me that way... that my dad would see me as a girl that way. And I took that weak, broken sword, because the only model I could get otherwise was exclusive to men!"

"What?! You..." The second tone in Samael's voice disappears. "You're..."

"Laugh if you want. I don't care. Th-this is all I have left."

She clutches her arms, waiting for the end.

"This was the only way... so it's fine... it's... fine..."

...

..

 

 

The wind bellows through the planet.

"Hagumi. Please, look at me."

"..."

The ebon blade is planted upon the ground. "I mean you no harm. Will you raise your head?"

...Sniffing, she looks at Samael. The visor on the helmet is lifted, revealing two sharp, soothing eyes.

"You need not spill blood to wear a skirt. And you need not become a martyr to feel joy." Samael offers a hand. "Your fleet will raze this place to the ground soon. Please... will you flee with me?"

"..."

She knows. To The Crusadia, she'd be nothing but a nuisance if she lived now. That's what it means to be a living sacrifice.

She looks into Samael's eyes. "Can I trust you?"

"I will stand by your side no matter what comes. Consider me your shield, Hagumi."

...Hagumi takes her hand. "...Thanks."

"Shall we leave?"

Hagumi nods.

As the gales become stronger, Samael leads her deep into the planet's tunnels, seeking a secret exit. The surroundings are dark; but Samael lights the way with her unholy flames, and keeps a soft, warm grip on Hagumi's hand.

"Hey, Samael..."

"You may call me Kaoru. That is my real name."

"Kaoru," she asks, "were you telling the truth? Can I get a skirt somewhere else?"

"But of course. In fact, I know of a talented seamstress who can make you one."

"Can she give it lots of frills?"

"Of course."

"...Would she give it to a girl like me?"

"Of course." Kaoru smiles warmly at her. "You'll be welcomed with open arms."

"...Thank you."

Hagumi hopes; that if one day, she returns to a Crusadia plaza, and finds a statue of herself, showered with roses...

...she can smash it into pieces.