Chapter 25

"A Hot-Blooded Reunion"

...There was a girl in crimson like a vivid, scorching flame, richly scented in blood.

Amidst the sudden battlefield, upon the upper levels of City Hall, this violent beauty dominated the desolate scene while holding a radiant sword of legend. With her dazzling orange hair, blood-colored dress, and feminine figure; her back exuded strength while grasping her sword.

Subaru: “...."

Staring at her in exasperation, Subaru's thoughts were stirred into confusion as she clasped her sword out in front of her.. Momentarily forgetting to breathe, the pain that coursed through his body became a single word that bounced chaotically in his empty head: Why?

Why was she here? Why did she save Subaru? Why was she able to face Arakiya with such impunity?

Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, he can’t stop wondering why.

Overwhelmed by endless questions, Subaru felt like time had stopped. Then, as if to ridicule the muted Subaru, the Red woman sniffed and said...

Priscillia: "You look like a fool. Have your eyes been burned by my nobility?"

Subaru: "What, do you have eyes in the back of your head?"

Priscillia: "Nonsense. Do I look like such an abnormality to you? I can tell simple fools apart by the way they breathe."

Priscilla Barielle had proudly retorted, with barely a glance back. Subaru was thrown off by her answer, that she may be able to determine his gut feeling just based on his breath. The situation slowly progressed in front of Subaru, who could only be stunned and dumbfounded.

Priscilla: "Well."

After taking a short breath, Priscilla looked around as she continued to firmly wield the ornate crimson sword. She recognized that the City Hall had been completely transformed by the sudden intruder's rampage, of which included the injured People of Shudrak and the comatose Zikr. The only ones who could move, albeit barely, were Subaru, Rem who was behind him, and Abel. The latter who was resting on the balcony. And the one who was the cause of all this…

Priscilla: “...Arakiya."

Arakiya: “..."

Narrowing her crimson eyes, Priscilla focused on the other girl quietly. The one who maintained her silence under such circumstances was the brown-skinned, silver-haired demi-human... Arakiya. She’s been said to be the second strongest person in the Vollachia Empire. Her abilities showcased this well. The fiery gaze of her unpatched eye matched the strength of Priscilla’s gaze, or not.

Arakiya: "Prin… cess…?"

Until now, Arakiya had given the impression of an otherworldly presence, imposing a solid world of her own. However, under Priscilla’s stare, that world collapsed in a single beat. Instead, what emerged was intense agitation and equally great joy.

Arakiya: "Princess, Princess, Princess…!"

The dangerous atmosphere fizzled out, while Arakiya uttered it over and over again, as if to confirm it. Almost as if she were a lost child reunited with their parents, or a small brother and sister trying to regain their bond... One could see the obsession of the weak trying to cling to the strong.

The relationship between Priscilla and Arakiya was unknown to the others.

Odd as the sight was, Subaru couldn’t figure out the reason why Priscilla would need to come to this place and could only guess that there was an unusual past between the two. It could be this past relationship that broke Arakiya’s fighting spirit, of whom was by far the most dangerous being in this place.

Priscilla: "...Tch!"

Lowering the thin tree branch in her grip, Arakiya tried to advance with a look of bursting emotion. It seemed as if she were about to jump straight into Priscilla's chest. Perhaps she wanted to follow the passion that was welling up in her heart and embrace Priscilla. But...

Arakiya: "Princ–"

Priscilla: "Silence."

But that didn’t happen. A short, fierce command was accompanied by a flash. As Arakiya was about to take a step forward, a red glow swept across her bare feet, just inches from the ground, as glaring flames flared up to prevent her from advancing.

Arakiya: "..."

At best, the flames had the power of a bonfire, which went up to her shins. They weren't large enough to hamper Arakiya's long legs from stepping over them. She easily could, yet despite that, she wasn't able to move. It was almost as if she faced an insurmountable wall. As they stood, Priscilla continued to stare coldly at Arakiya, whose eyes widened at the unexpected action.

Priscilla: "Arakiya, why do you wish to come to me now?"

Arakiya: "Wha…?"

Priscilla: "Did you think that I would be so excited to reunite with you that I would take you into my arms? If that's the case, I can't help but be amazed at your foolishness."

Priscilla's words were tinged with contempt and disgust, completely blocking Arakiya from approaching. Arakiya must have understood that there was distance between them. Her eye trembled in astonishment as she desperately tried to find the best answer to Priscilla's words. But...

Arakiya: "P-Prisca-sama…"

Priscilla: "Prisca is dead. ...Have you not changed after all of this time, even after obtaining your newfound position?"

Arakiya: "...Tch."

Priscilla: "That's a shame. It's been a long time since I've seen the soil of my homeland, but it's not very impressive when it's so disappointing."

Priscilla was unable to dismiss the fact that she was deeply disappointed. To be honest, Subaru didn't have enough understanding of her position in this situation to even begin to guess what Priscilla was thinking. Even so, Subaru knew that her heartless words had hurt Arakiya greatly.

It was a deep wound. One of being disrespected by a person with whom she had formed an important bond. Arakiya's eye wavered when she was called a disappointment. She could have cowered at the verbal wound, however, instead of faltering, she instead reflected a fierce look from her exposed red eye. It was not anger, but a glimmer of determination and resolve.

Arakiya: "...I don't care what the Princess thinks of me. It's painful. But I've made up my mind."

Priscilla: "Oh. So you've made up your mind? Can you regain my interest then? Tell me what you have decided."

In response to Arakiya's quiet appeal, Priscilla threw out a provocative statement, whether she intended to or not. In turn, Arakiya looked up and yelled, "I!" As she yelled, Arakiya braced her slender frame.

Arakiya: "For the Empire! I will take the princess back to her rightful place! In order to do that..."

Arakiya's words were not directed at the subject of her outburst, who was only half listening, but rather...Arakiya. Her gaze strayed from Priscilla, directing toward Abel, who was still perched on the balcony as these events unfolded. He became the target of her shifting emotions.

Arakiya: "You're a liar, Your Excellency...tch!"

Arakiya's eye blazed with a passionate fury, as her slender body leapt high in the air. Ignoring the barrier of fire between her and Priscilla, as she vaulted forward towards Abel on the balcony. Her leaping prowess was extraordinary. However, it was not that surprising, considering she held the title of the second strongest person in the empire.The main problem was that, aside from Priscilla, there was nobody who had the means to stop her.

Subaru: "This is bad, Abel…! Priscilla!"

Priscilla: "Don't make such a fuss. Why are you acting so familiar, fool? With whose permission did you call me by my name?"

Subaru: "This is not the time to…"

Priscilla: "... I said don't make a fuss."

With her ornate sword lowered in one hand, Priscilla ignored Subaru's plea.

Her next action was unreadable, as Arakiya surged like an arrow, approaching Abel in Subaru's breathless vision.

Abel: “..."

Abel was leaning onto the railing of the half-destroyed balcony, blood pouring from his forehead. He hadn’t shown any signs of dismay at Priscilla's sudden intrusion, and was still standing firm, looking at Arakiya with his intense black eyes. It was a known fact that he was not a particularly skilled fighter. His lone uninjured arm of course wasn’t strong enough to take on one of the strongest in the Empire, so Subaru didn’t know why he refused to fall into despair. Without knowing...

Subaru: "Abel...tch!"

He knew it was pointless, nevertheless he tried to run at him, but his legs lost their strength at the first step. Having fallen on his knees, Subaru could only reach out as Arakiya approached Abel.

...The next moment, a chain of events beyond Subaru’s comprension occurred.

Abel: “..."

Abel stomped hard on the balcony floor, keeping his eyes on Arakiya. Immediately after doing so, cracks spread across the half-destroyed balcony, and the scaffolding collapsed instantaneously. Naturally, Abel, who was on top of it, would normally fall helplessly, but that was not what happened. His body instead remained suspended in midair. His outstretched right hand had grasped the curtain, which hung from the top floor.

With his life depending entirely on his next movement, Abel had voluntarily collapsed the foothold in order to gain the high ground. Or perhaps it was a strategy that, if the opponent had been a small army, he could have dropped them down below all at once. However, the opponent was one of the Nine Divine Generals. What’s more, she was also ranked number Two among them.

Arakiya: "What fun….!"

Swinging like a pendulum, Abel held on for dear life to the curtain, as Arakiya bared her fangs. Although she had lost the foothold necessary to land after her leap, Arakiya’s strength came not only from her enhanced physical abilities, but also from her superhuman powers. Her legs flickered like glowing embers, and from her knees down, her body transformed into flames, her posture flexed in midair like a missile with jets blowing from her legs.

The flames that had burned Mizelda, the fierce tornado that had blown away common soldiers, the crude craftwork that had supported a collapsing pillar, the gale that had disarmed Rem, and finally the transformation of a part of her own body into flames. From all of these past events, they became painfully aware of the endless versatility of Arakiya’s abilities.

Arakiya: "Your Excellency, die...!"

At this rate, a branch with unknown power was going to strike Abel. Hanging from the drape, Abel was unable to maintain his position and spun around. It was unclear if the branch was going to stab him, if it was going to release magic, or if it was going to create some sort of other supernatural effect. It was unknown, yet regardless of what it would do, Abel was going to be shattered into pieces. That certainty alone made the pupils of Subaru's dark eyes narrow with impatience and urgency. But...

???: "Oh damn, bro. I didn't even know that it was you bro until I heard your voice just now."

Instantly, a figure intervened between the demonic Arakiya and the suspended Abel.

From beside Rem, who was knocked down, a figure ran over the pillar that Arakiya had caught, and threw an attack from the side, aiming for the branch that she held. The strike of the Blue Dragon Sword was blocked by the branch, but the resulting momentum sent Arakiya flying.

After the person’s attack was parried without any difficulty, he let out a “Daaah!” and angrily stomped the ground.

???: "Damn, my arm hurts! Don't hit people so effortlessly, that’s going to leave a dent!"

His whine and waving of his aching arm concluded the chaotic series of events. That person was, once again, outside the scope of Subaru's imagination. It was a man who wore a jet black helmet and was dressed in a bandit like fashion from the waist down. The man, who looked like a brigand or a thief, was characterized by his missing left arm, while his thick right arm held the Blue Dragon Sword. It was a man he knew. In fact, this was the first person he should’ve thought of if Priscilla was here. He was…

Subaru: "...Al?"

Al: "Hey, bro! I didn't think I'd run into you on the other side of the border. I’d like to share my thoughts on your attire and this strange reunion…"

Priscilla's knight - or rather, servent, Al - tilted his head and raised his voice in an out-of-place greeting. He responded to Subaru in the same aloof tone as usual, while prohibiting Arakiya’s advance. In this case, Subaru didn’t know if he should be more surprised by Al's ability to block Arakiya's attack with just one strike, or the durability of the tree branch that could go head-to-head with the Blue Dragon Sword and come out unscathed.

Al: "You can be surprised, man. After all, it wasn't like this was something done in one shot.”

Arakiya: "Get out of the way! I can't kill His Excellency like this!"

Al: "I've come all this way to interfere, how can I get out of the way now? I can't just stand here and let my head fall off my body. But..."

Arakiya howled in anger, and Al looked at her from the front without hesitation.

Arakiya's outfit was overly revealing, but Al did not look at her with lewd intentions. His gaze only contained feelings of nostalgia and deep emotion. In fact, Al let out an admiring sigh.

Al: "You’ve really grown up. I always knew you'd be beautiful."

Arakiya: "…Who are you?"

Al: "That really hurts! We trusted each other with our lives!"

When Al called out to her, she raised her eyebrows in suspicion. In order to keep her at a distance, Al kicked up a piece of the broken floor at her slender body.

Looking over Al’s work , Priscilla called out to him.

Priscilla: "Al. You know what I want, I brought you here, not Schult. Do your job."

Al: "I'm doing it! Do I look like I'm having fun with this cute girl? If I'm not careful, I'll be ripped to shreds in ten seconds, okay?”

Priscilla: "If you look at the situation, you certainly haven’t done much."

Al: "It's better than being ripped to shreds, isn't it? Whoa!"

Al, whose concentration was broken by the impatient remarks of his master, was almost killed by Arakiya's blow. Flying in the air, Arakiya circled more freely than a bird, and Al desperately parried the attacks from her branch several times.

Arakiya: "You're in the way…tch."

Al: "It really hurts an old man's heart to hear a girl your age say that."

Abel continued to hang, and Al continued to protect him. Glaring down at both of them, Arakiya’s eyes became angrier, and every inch of her body was filled with fighting spirit. Still, the reason she didn’t unleash the fearsome ranged attack that she initially showed was...

Subaru: "Priscilla…"

Princess, that's what Arakiya called her. ArakiyaPriscilla's attitude was nothing but cold and disconnected, but not towards Priscilla. That was the only reason why she had not created even more destruction. Therefore, if anyone could change this stalemate, it should’ve been Priscilla, who kept the floating Arakiya in check.

Subaru: “..."

Priscilla: "Don't look at me with those clingy eyes, foolish commoner. I can praise you for your feigned good looks, but wanting to use them to move me would be disrespectful"

Subaru: "Kuh...tch!"

Subaru, on his knees, turned around, but Priscilla was too arrogant to take him seriously.

Instead, it was Rem, who had been sheltered by Subaru's back, who moved. She pursed her lips and stepped in front of Priscilla with a perilous gait. And then...

Rem: "Please, I beg you. Please, lend us your strength."

Priscilla: "...Hmm, that's an auspicious thing to say. I'd say you're more polite than most fools."

Rem: “Then…!"

Priscilla: "Don't get too carried away. And watch it. I'm already prepared to change the situation."

Rem's plea and the possibility of Priscilla's disapproval sent a chill down Subaru's spine. However, Priscilla didn't lose her temper and indicated to the battlefield with a slight turn of her head. Rem followed her gaze with a surprised "Eh?" and Subaru followed suit. In the battlefield on the balcony, if left unchecked, Abel and Al could have been slaughtered by Arakiya in seconds. And in fact, that risk remained.

Arakiya: "Da! Ga! Ao! Gua! Ubaa!"

Arakiya danced in the sky with her burning legs, and Al managed to block her attacks, though his movements were terribly clumsy and unrefined, as he was repeatedly pushed back with one blow after another. But the succession of miracles would not last forever. The damage from the accumulated strikes began to show, and as soon as his reaction began to be visibly delayed, his upper body was shaken by a huge blow. As it was, Al lost his stance and was defenseless against the next attack, and at that moment...

Arakiya: "...Tch!"

Arakiya tried to kick the air, her body unnaturally swayed, causing her to lose some control. To the run-of-the-mill layman, this was no ordinary kind of attack motion, as demonstrated by the wide astonished eyes and choked out cry of distress.The fact that it was not an attack motion of the kind that ordinary people could not understand was clearly shown by the eyes that widened in surprise and the strangled cry that she stifled.

Arakiya: “..."

All of them were startled by what had happened to Arakiya. The two people who were not caught off guard were Priscilla, who was looking at the situation leisurely, and an instigator, who was supposed to be in the middle of a fierce battle.

???: "...Spring into action!"

The order slammed into the air with a mixture of a burning and dusty smell. It was Abel, suspended in midair, whose voice was more stern than angry, more ostentatious than arrogant. The man, still hanging from the curtain, shouted at the opportunity that arose in the battle overhead. It was as if he had known this moment would come.

Al: “You can tell me what happened later!"

In response to Abel's command, Al flew. In an awkward leap and twist, the Blue Dragon Sword drew a parabolic line and mercilessly slammed into the slender body of Arakiya without mercy - no, there was mercy. The wrist holding the Blue Dragon Sword twisted, and the blunt side, not the blade, headed for Arakiya.

Priscilla: "Fool."

Priscilla said this quickly after analyzing Al’s move, as her eyes, endlessly arrogant, correctly foresaw the situation.

Arakiya: "Stay back…!"

At the moment of the collision, there was a dull sound that made Subaru want to turn his eyes away. Al's powerful blow flew into Arakiya just as he intended, and she took it head-on with her raised left arm. Her elbow snapped in the opposite direction, broken bones pierced her brown skin, and blood sprayed. It was a painful blow, but not a fatal one.

Behind his jet-black helmet, there was a low growl from Al, and an indication that his cheeks were surprisingly tense. A moment later, Arakiya's slender foot struck him in the neck from the side, sending him crashing to the floor with a fierce impact. His bouncing body was blown away, and went straight out of the collapsed balcony.

Al: "Dohhh, Aaaaaaaaah...tch!"

An ugly scream tailed off, and Al's figure disappeared from sight. He was safe, of course, but now the obstacle between Abel and Arakiya was gone. Arakiya extinguished the flames from her legs and planted her feet on the floor. This time, she was going to pluck the life out of Abel's body.

...Suddenly, a black shadow leaped furiously at Arakiya's back.

???: "Oooooooohhhh...tch!"

A shadow blew away the rubble and rushed at Arakiya with a fierce yell. It was a being that grasped a large knife in its backhand and attacked with it’s hunting instinct. For a moment, the sheer spirit of the shadow's surprise attack almost overwhelmed Subaru’s understanding of its true identity. Her tall, well-built body, wounded and burnt black, her black hair dyed red, and the white pattern on her skin indicating her as one of the People of Shudrak, Subaru then shouted…

Subaru: "Mizelda-san!"

Mizelda: "Tchaaaaaahhh!"

Without answering Subaru’s call, Mizelda continued to roar as if she was spitting up blood. Mizelda was the victim of the first strike from Arakiya’s intrusion, and as her whole body burned from the flames, she continued to attack as if her own life was on fire.

The relentless blade she wielded was aimed at Arakiya's vitals. Unlike Al, Mizelda had no mercy or compassion to give to her prey at the last minute. Seeing the way she fought, Subaru belatedly realized that she was the target of Abel's order from before.

Abel had foreseen Arakiya's slump and had inspired the dying Mizelda to fight harder.

Subaru couldn't imagine how much thought went into performing this divine calculation under such sudden and seemingly unrecoverable circumstances. But still, this extra step was not enough.

Mizelda: “..."

Despite Mizelda's struggles, she was still in bad shape, and Arakiya's expert ability would easily be able to deal with her. Frowning and annoyedly, Arakiya easily blocked Mizelda's attacks, the latter almost burning to death, as the former wildly swung the tree branch. No longer was there any point in mentioning the strength of that branch. The impact of the cleaving branch drove Mizelda's knife out of her hand, and a moment later, the branch was thrust into Mizelda's unarmored torso.

Her well-developed abs of steel were pierced with a sickening sound. It bored through Mizelda's body without any effort, shredding vital internal organs and forcing the mighty amazoness's body to the brink of death.

Arakiya: "Now, finally…"

Mizelda: "Where are you looking?"

It was the moment when Arakiya's attention shifted from the interloper she thought she had eliminated. Mizelda's eyes glistened as she froze in place, blood bubbling at the corners of her mouth. She gave a fierce smile, red blood staining her white teeth, and grabbed Arakiya’s right hand that held the branch with both of hers. She gripped it more and more tightly, then made herself immobile.

Mizelda: “..."

The moment of stagnation that was created was, or was to be, the last opportunity. But there was no one on their side, including Subaru, who could take advantage of the moment created by Abel's wisdom and Mizelda's dedication.

The People of Shudrak, led by the struggling chief, had not recovered from that last raging storm, and neither had Subaru, who could barely stay conscious. Even Rem, who had broken off a pillar, was unable to reach the two due to her weak legs. Without everyone working as one, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was lost. However...

Priscilla: "At most, you can hold your head high, oni girl. It was your plea that brought about this swing of mine."

However, even though Subaru’s allies couldn’t reach out, that was not the same for the third force on the battlefield.

Priscilla: “..."

Priscilla, who had a bird's eye view of the battle, closed the distance with a single step and aimed for Arakiya's unprotected back. For a moment, Arakiya was aware of the presence behind her and moved to engage it. She wanted to throw Mizelda's tall body, which was grabbing her arm, and slam it into the enemy behind her. But she couldn't do that. ...She couldn't do it because she knew what that presence was.

Arakiya: "Prin..."

Arakiya, who had been unable to break her obsession with Priscilla from beginning to end, was struck by a flash of the crimson sword. With a bang, her gushing blood was burned by the flames, and Arakiya's body shook greatly.

Priscilla: "I told you, Arakiya. ...You should’ve been prepared before you met your mistress again."

A promise made in the past, the true meaning of which no one else had the right to intrude on. The only thing they knew was that Priscilla’s merciless blow was the answer to that promise, and also the answer to Arakiya's unbreakable longing.

Arakiya: “..."

Arakiya's body collapsed on the floor as the treasured crimson sword collided with her back.

Mizelda, who had grabbed her arm and was blocking her movement, was also involved. The two of them fell in a tangle, throwing their arms and legs out like sluggish ragdolls.

Mizelda: “..."

The situation, which had been moving at a dizzying pace, as the air that seemed to be stirred endlessly with swords and flames, was suddenly engulfed in silence, and Subaru felt as if time had stood still. It was as if the mere movement of one breath or one step would ruin everything and it would all fall apart like a dream.

Rem: "...Mizelda-san!"

It was Rem's tense voice that shattered the stillness of that moment. With faltering arms, she crawled across the floor and hurried to Mizelda, who was lying folded up against Arakiya.

Mizelda’s whole body was burned all over, blown away by a gale of wind, and even pierced through the stomach. Rem, kneeling beside her, gasped, and with a desperate expression, placed her hands on Mizelda's body and tried to hold her together with a pale light of healing magic.

Abel: "Stop gawking and give me a hand!"

Subaru: "...Ah."

Abel's voice reached Subaru's ears, who was unable to move after seeing Rem in action. Abel was still unable to climb up from his suspended position. Shaking his head, Subaru hurried towards the former balcony and looked down at the empty space below them. Abel, hanging by his right arm with a curtain wrapped around him, pierced Subaru with his eyes.

Abel: "You survived. You're a lucky man, aren't you?"

Subaru: "… Looks like you've got plenty of bark left in that hateful mouth of yours."

Subaru's cheeks twisted at Abel's inability to stop talking, then he grabbed the curtain and pulled him up. To be honest, if Subaru was a mess, Abel, who was being pulled up, was also in shambles. Subaru wanted to throw his limbs out and let go of his consciousness right now, but he couldn’t do that.

Subaru: "Mizelda-san, it's not just her…"

A large number of injured people had fallen victim to Arakiya's rampage. In an environment where those who can use healing magic are rare, non-magical first aid is necessary. There wasn’t any time to pass out. To fall here would be to allow oneself to be lost. That should not be allowed to happen. For that reason…

Subaru: "Hurry up and get up here…."

Clenching his back teeth, he pulled the curtain and grabbed Abel's hand when he came within reach. Relying on the feeling of Abel’s tight grip, he managed to pull the man who was taller than him up. Abel, upon his return to solid ground, gasped slightly before Subaru fell on his ass.

Abel: "That was a great deed. I commend you."

Subaru: "Shut up…"

Rejecting the praise that didn’t show a shred of sincerity, Subaru clucked his tongue softly. As it was, he was about to get up to start carrying out the other wounded–

Priscilla: "–Do not move on your own, fool. Who do you think you are, the ruler of this place?"

Subaru: “..."

Subaru, who was on his buttocks, and Abel, who was on his knees, closed their mouths in unison. What intimidated them was Priscilla’s eyes and voice as the crimson beauty lifted her slender arms and crossed them.

They were acquaintances, not strangers. But if one asked him if they have a good relationship, he would hesitate to nod. This was not only because they belonged to opposing camps in the royal election, but also because of Priscilla's temperament. Pompous and uncompromising, Priscilla could be a powerful ally if she was willing to cooperate, and an unpredictable bomb if she was not.

In the battle for the Water Gate City of Priestella, she was a reliable ally. On the other hand, what about this time? Was it okay to consider her as an ally after she lent a hand fighting off Arakiya? In any case…

Abel: "While I resent it, you're the one in control of this situation, Prisca Benedict.”

It was Abel who opened his mouth in place of Subaru, who could not move or speak. With one knee on the floor, Abel called Priscilla by a different name, and it sounded like the one Arakiya had said before collapsing. Priscilla gave a tiny snort at being called that.

Priscilla: "Unfortunately, Prisca Benedict was defeated in battle and died in vain. How could one who is beneath the grave speak like this?"

Abel: "...I see. Then who are you and what do you call yourself?"

Priscilla: "Priscilla Barielle. That is my name. You will do well to remember it, Vincent Abellux."

Priscilla's and Abel's gazes met as she answered his question in a dignified manner. A storm of pressured glances, like either fire or lightning, passed between them. Subaru,standing beside him, was caught in the middle and had to turn his head slightly to avoid being blown away.

Priscilla, who knew Abel's name, and Abel, who called Priscilla by a different name.

Subaru gulped quietly, foreseeing the alarming relationship between the two. Such a brutal atmosphere...

Al: "...Hey, can anyone help me out here? I'm almost at the end of my rope."

The only sound in the air was Al's pathetic plea for help as he hung from a crystal light fixture below the balcony’s edge.