The drizzle that had been falling since midnight finally lifted around noon. It was a great relief. After all, with winter around the corner, you didn't want the water freezing over.
Ralphus looked back at his men, shaking his head softly.
Since they were marching it wasn't too strange, but it seemed nobody was talking. Even so, it just felt too quiet.
It was almost as though his men riding along the road were being pressed in by uncertainty for what lay ahead.
It wasn't strange...after all, the country they were going to face was Zarmine after all. Not many people would be excited about going off to a battle where the chances of winning were slim to none. No matter how seasoned a fighter, everybody wished to return alive from the battlefield. Nobody in their right mind would wish for anything else.
Ralphus felt the weight of responsibility in caring for the lives of his men weigh down on his chest.
The land they were passing through now was once Lunan, wiped out half a year previously by Zarmine. They were passing through a scarcely traveled forest, along a narrow road.
Ralphus had already passed the border several days earlier on the King's order, but currently he was moving towards the battlefield with only his unit.
The reason was simple. He had been left behind by the King.
This morning, he had awoken to find, to his great displeasure, that King Douglas and the other Generals had long since proceeded on.
It seemed that the King harbored a dislike for him after all. Most likely it was due to him covering for Rain before.
He had thought it was strange to have been sent in such a round about direction, but he never would have guessed that once in the enemies' land they would have been left behind.
Ralphus still did not regret his earlier actions, but the King's absence of generosity went beyond hopeless to verge on despair.
It was the nerve of the thing that got him upset the most. After all, it would only serve to harm their chances if a battle were to break out suddenly.
...I've got to stop worrying about it. It's not something dwelling on it is going to change. It'll be alright if I can just give it my best.
Telling himself so, Ralphus raised his voice to address his men.
They needed to catch up with the King as quickly as possible, but taking a break was also a necessity.
"Attention! All units, we will take a short rest before moving out! You have permission to eat!" As though a bit of life had been restored to his men, a moderately energetic response met his ears. The men dismounted from their horses, relieved for the moment.
Ralphus looked out over his men, observing, when he heard a shout from behind.
"Lord General! What are you doing!? When it's time to rest, don't be so stiff!" A man large both in stature and size rode up beside him.
He had a thick beard, and a face weathered with his experience in the mountains. His voice was rough, and his thick black hair was shaggy and unkempt.
His name was Gwen, and he had been Ralphus's aide since the first time he had gone to the battlefield when he was fifteen. He was halfway through his twenties.
"It's alright, I have to..."
"Come on, let's rest over there. I'll go with you!"
Giving a strained smile, Ralphus dismounted.
Gwen had a nice demeanor, but when he wanted to do something, it was hard for him to back down. Going along with him was for the best.
Also, for some reason Gwen still referred to Ralphus as Lord General, and had called him such for over ten years now. To be precise, there are times when he uses 'General,' but then he'll fall back into his habit of saying 'Lord General.' Ralphus had long since stopped caring, and so didn't mind being called 'Lord General' as much anymore.
After all, Gwen wasn't doing so in a disrespectful manner.
They walked away from the rest of the men, and sat down with their backs to a tree.
"Geez. The ground is damp. My butt's gonna get wet."
Gwen scrunched up his face.
"If you can feel it, then it's proof you're alive."
Ralphus let slip his current thoughts. Thinking he had said something foreboding, Gwen responded.
"Lord General, you think this time is that dangerous? I guess it can't be helped considering the enemy is Zarmine after all..."
"No no no."
Ralphus tried to downplay it, but he paused, mulling it over. There was no reason to hide it from Gwen.
"I'm afraid so. I can't deny that Zarmine is impossibly strong."
"I gotta agree with ya there. I've heard we've got about fifteen-thousand strong, but they've got forty to fifty-thousand just in their expedition force, right?"
"Yeah, according to the official reports that's how things stand. The commander...I believe his name was General Garblake."
The aide was something like Luminas.
Ralphus calmly recalled the two names. Garblake was a General who had honed his battle skills through countless battles, while Luminas relied more on strategy and brains to win his battles. Is what the rumors stated. After all, this would be the first time Zarmine and Sunkwoll would be facing off against each other, so not much information was available.
Even so, the absolute might of Zarmine was known. At the very least, they were two that should not be underestimated.
"Well, if there is such a difference in skill then there's no helpin' it. Besides that, there was something else I'm wonderin' about."
Gwen gazed fixedly at Ralphus. For some reason he frowned deeply.
"It's not like you, taking such a round about way to say something. What's upsetting you?" Ralphus asked gently. Gwen blurted out,
"Obvious! It's about Lord General Rain!"
"Yeah! Isn't he a close friend of yours, Lord General? If so, then I can't accept him just runnin' away like he is this time. When things are this bad, he's only thinkin' of himself... Don't it seem like he just went an' abandoned you Lord General!?"
"Rain, huh... Wonder what he's up to right about now."
Ralphus smiled, remembering the face of his close friend back in Sunkwoll. He must have already reached his castle over ten days ago, so probably he was being pestered by that golden haired beauty Xenoia right about now.
He had already sent off the letter Princess Shelfa had requested of him, and that had probably arrived as well by now.
"What are you laughin' about!? I'm really upset here!"
"Getting angry at me won't solve anything."
"That's true but...ahh! Lord General you're too nice fer your own good! I just don' get you!
As though he'd grown more aggravated from talking, Gwen’s veins were pulsing in his face, and it a swift movement he drew close to Ralphus.
Gwen’s face looked like that of a child crying at night, Ralphus thought apologetically. From the start, his face was one to show a lot of expressions though.
Not understanding Ralphus's feelings, Gwen sat back in discontent.
"Ya know, no matter what I say, I do admit that guys strong, at least a little. He has helped you out, Lord General, after all. It's just this time, even if he didn't care about anyone else, I thought he'd come an' at least help you, Lord General. Geez, what a mes'!"
"Even if you say that... I don't feel as though I've been betrayed by Rain."
"What else could there be....if this isn't betrayal, then what other explanation could 'der be?" Ralphus squared his shoulders, but could offer no response.
He knew himself that Rain wasn't that kind of person. It's just, it was hard to explain it to someone else. Something he believed in the depths of his heart, just wasn't something he could express in words.
Even Gwen had been helped out by Rain a time or two before, so at the very least he should have a little more faith in him.
Well, this time Rain had acted a little different from usual.. Wait a moment...
Thinking that far, Ralphus got caught on one thought.
Why would, after risking a lot of danger in opposing the war, he have been satisfied to just quietly accept being placed under house arrest... If he was serious about running away, there were countless other ways to do it. Then isn't there some other motive behind his actions? Another motive I haven't considered yet...
Contemplating to this extent, he thought of something as though just received some kind of divine revelation.
"I see! That guy...!"
Gwen’s eyes opened wide at Ralphus's exclamation, and he began to explain.
"I've got it. I know now why Rain wanted to be put under house arrest."
"...What are you gettin' at?"
"In other words, it's like this. How would things be now, if Rain had marched out with us?"
"That's easy. He'd be out here fighting with us right about now."
"No no no, that's not the point." Ralphus shook his head.
"If we go out to battle the way things are now, he'd just die with us. In that case, he wouldn't be able to fulfill his objective."
"Just a minute, Lord General...this ain't the place for thos' words."
It seemed even Gwen cared about his surroundings. Then again, Ralphus had just said something that anybody listening could mistake for a declaration of hopelessness.
"It's not like Lord General So, what is this objective?"
"That's obvious, isn't it. To save us."
Ralphus said with full certainty.
"Had he followed orders and marched out to war with us, no matter how strong he may be, he wouldn't be able to move as he wants. Under the orders of His Majesty, in the end only death would be waiting. That's why he got himself put under house arrest on purpose. If he did that, then he could move freely, and find a way to save all of us. That's the real truth here."
Ralphus nodded, as though confirming his own words.
Only, out of those he would save, most likely His Majesty wasn't included.
Gwen could only stare dumbstruck at Ralphus after listening to his response. It was the face a greedy moneylender would make upon spotting a poor customer.
"......Well, if that's the way thin's are, then I really wan' him to work hard. After all he's always goin' on about how much of a genius he is."
Gwen said sarcastically, turning his gaze to his companions. He didn't seem to believe even an inch of that explanation.
"But he most definitely has something up his sleeve. But you really seem to be doubting him, Gwen. Just as he says, that guy really is a genius. For some reason, Rain doesn't seem to believe his own words though..."
"D, don't joke about something like that!"
Gwen’s eyes widened in shock.
"He's someone who calls himself a genius every every ten steps you know?"
"Gwen, you're exaggerating. Well, not that far off the mark, and the gist of what you're saying isn't wrong. It's just, what he says and how he feels is a little different, is all I think."
"He hasn't told you anythin' specific, has he?"
To Gwen who asked curiously, Ralphus could return give a slightly lonely smile.
"Of course not. He's not someone who let's out what he's feeling that easily. This is just how I see it."
He was unable to explain any further to Gwen who was looking at him with an unsatisfied expression. Noticing another of his aides approaching, Ralphus stood to meet him.
"What's happened, Nigel?"
Nigel was an aide with a lot of experience on the battlefield, but just from looking at him you wouldn't get the impression of a warrior.
His lustrous black hair which must have been washed only this morning shimmered in the sunlight, as he looked at Ralphus with his large girlish eyes.
His face which resembled a beautiful young girl was the very picture of calm and composed.
There was almost no chance he had come just for idle chatter, so something must have happened that he had come to report about. Ralphus had an odd premonition.
Nigel saluted magnificently, stating his business in a manner that suggested he was talking about the weather.
"The scouts have yet to return, though it is past the scheduled time."
Ralphus met Gwen’s gaze.
When proceeding in unknown territory, he always sent out many scouts. The fact that none of them had returned, was very forbidding indeed.
"Oi! You can't mean not a single one has returned!?"
Nigel nodded silently.
Nigel kept his unconcerned composure, but this was definitely not something that could be dismissed. Under most circumstances if a scout doesn't return, it can be assumed they were killed by the enemy.
Obviously in this case the enemy was none other than Zarmine.
It would seem as though their enemy had finally caught on to their movements.
It was the only explanation, Ralphus thought, biting his lower lip. Occupying enemy territory for this many days, it wasn't strange that their presence had been made known by now. There was no point saying it now, but from the start this strategy had been a bust.
"......Lord General, we're in a heap of trouble, ain't we..."
"Yeah. We've been planning a surprise attack, but in the end it is us who are on the receiving end... I'm worried about His Majesty. We're going after His Majesty!"
While he was still shouting--
From far off the faint sounds of a multitude of people bellowing could be heard.
Accompanying the shouts was the distinct sound of metal on metal.
"Che! It seems we're already too late!"
Ralphus shouted, clanking in his armor as he started to run. Shortly behind, the two aides followed.
The three of them, knowing what the source of the sound was, moved quickly through the soldiers to their mounts. In a loud voice, Ralphus addressed his men.
"Listen up! Bad news, but it seems the enemy is at hand! Most likely this sound comes from the start of a battle between our King and the enemy force. We must join the fight swiftly!"
As though their previous conversations had been stopped in their throats, the men all listened intently to Ralphus. All eyes and ears were on him.
After ensuring that his words were heard by all, especially the unit leaders, in a loud voice he gave the order.
"Alright! All units in formation, and move quickly into battle formation! When we reach the battlefield, line up and wait for my command. Everyone, quickly!"
Following Ralphus's command, the soldiers who had just been perfectly still, all moved out with a single objective. Movement was calm and without faltering.
Even with all the hard expressions on their faces, Ralphus, impressed, spoke to Gwen
"Even though war is just around the corner, they're all so calm. As expected of a soldier."
"No, that ain't it. It's because the one givin' the orders is you, Lord General."
"--? I don't understand."
Gwen shrugged, shaking his head at Ralphus, before pointing directly ahead.
"It's fine if you don' get it. Let's get goin'! If would be crazy for the Lord General to arrive later than the rest."
"Y, yeah. You're right!"
Light spurring his horse forward, he moved into a gallop. He prayed that they wouldn't arrive too late.
He and his men moved at this pace for a while. The extent of the bellowing and screams they could hear intensified as they drew nearer.
As Ralphus was hurrying down the road, he spotted a group of soldiers in armor running his way.
One of them was a centurion he recognized, so these weren't enemies. All of them had lost their mounts, and so were running on foot. From he fact that he could see several injured mixed in, he concluded they were in retreat.
Ralphus halted his horse, and raised his voice.
"Stop there! What are you doing? What has happened on the front?"
The men's faces seemed to gain strength, and they looked relieved upon seeing him. Gwen made a 'hmph' through his nose before speaking.
"Whoa whoa, you're already deserting? Seriously!?"
The centurion opened his mouth in opposition, but lost his nerve after looking into Ralphus's eyes.
"Th, there was no helping it! W, we were betrayed by one of our own!"
Ralphus faced showed his anger at this news. The centurion swallowed hard.
"Th, that's right. As soon as we thought we had come into sight of the enemy, General Ganoa's and General Gilles's units turned on His Majesty's unit...H, His Majesty had his head..."
Seeing the color drain from Ralphus's face, the man started shaking and couldn't continue.
Ralphus forcibly ground his teeth, before asking quietly.
"In other words...His Majesty has died."
The mens' eyes met Ralphus's, and as though guilty of some great crime, they shook in fear.
"......Ganoa or Gilles. Which one killed His Majesty."
"I, I don't know. The two of them, it was as though they were competing over it."
Ralphus grasped the situation.
In other words, when it had happened he didn't know, but they had accepted an offer from Zarmine. And so, knowing the plan of attack, they had made their final decision.
As soon as the Zarmine soldiers had appeared, they had attacked and killed King Douglas. After all, there was no better present when trying to buy your safety than the head of a King.
"AAHHHHHH! DIRTY SHITS!"
Gwen who had been silent until that moment, suddenly let out a tremendous howl. Nigel sat silently upon his horse, his arms crossed, seemingly lost in thought.
"......Have to hurry."
Paying no more heed to the men, Ralphus urged his horse forward. What filled his heart now, was the weight of regret.
If I had only been more aware, I could have done something more to save His Majesty...Or else have I just always been making the wrong choices to end up here?
Perhaps it was no use talking about it now, but even so he felt responsible.
"That's the end of the forest!"
Gwen said in a rather wary tone. Ralphus spurred his horse on faster, breaking out into the bright sunlight.
As his field of vision widened, he could see a dark multitude across the field.
The standard armor of Zarmine was jet black, and really stood out. It was as though the ground itself was a giant mass of pitch black movement.
But at the moment only a fraction of the mass was still continuing to fight, and it wouldn't be far off to declare the remaining Sunkwoll army done for. The difference in numbers was just too great, and the fatalities were rapidly increasing, or else they were deserting.
Seemingly sucked into the nearly forty-thousand strong enemies, it was clear that Sunkwoll's defeat was imminent.
The herd of silver armor was being pushed back, its numbers continuously dwindling.
From what Ralphus could see, it also seemed that the five-thousand that had made up the King's regiment was already completely eliminated, and the one's fighting now were the remaining Generals and some men that had rallied around them. Even so, the remaining were no more than several thousand strong.
As the rest of his unit arrived behind him, his men gazed out at the scene before them.
"Lord General...this is already..."
Gwen said, softly.
Ralphus slowly shifted his gaze across the battlefield. He understood what Gwen was trying to say. There was no point in joining the fight now. The King they were to protect had already fallen, and the remaining men were already starting to retreat.
Only, there was no way Zarmine would just let them retreat at this point. If they had wanted to, it would already have come to pass.
"I know, Gwen."
Calm enough to surprise himself, Ralphus turned to his men and spoke.
"Regrettably, this battle is already decided. I see no reason for us to join the fight at this stage.
Silently, the men took in what Ralphus was saying.
"As fast as your mounts will carry you, run back to your homes in Sunkwoll! There is no longer any reason for you to heed my commands. Everyone, return to your country!"
Ralphus raised his hand in salute.
Nobody saluted in return. The men who would always move immediately upon receiving a command...not one of them moved.
Ralphus, agitated, was about to repeat his order when Nigel silently moved forward.
"General, what will you do?"
He asked, his voice full of meaning. "Me? I will--"
After only a moment, Ralphus gave up on trying to make an excuse. They aren't people he could easily deceive anyway.
"I have decided this will be the place where I die. You need not worry about me, so the rest of you should hurry and return home."
Nigel said nothing, and only continued to stare at Ralphus. "What is it, Nigel?"
"I can't say. After all you will just tell me to stop. Besides, I understand how you feel."
"That response, it's obvious what your planning! Just be quiet and follow my order!"
Ralphus blurted out, forgetting himself for a moment.
Just then, a beat-red faced Gwen slapped Nigel on his back.
In a good mood, moved by Nigel's words, Gwen continued to pound vigorously on Nigel's back, causing him to go into a coughing fit.
"So moving! That's what a real man is! I thought you were always so gloomy, but that you were such a man, I never knew!"
"Geez. But the part about you having no charm, that's the same as always."
Gwen laughed deeply, in a manner that caused his throat to vibrate wildly.
"Now just hold on one second. This isn't a time to be laughing, Gwen. Same goes for you, Nigel. I'm begging you, please go back to our homeland. If you leave now, there should still be time."
"Can't we just drop it already, General. The guys that don't want to die are already running away, and the ones following the same fate as the Lord General, won't listen no matter what you say."
Gwen said cheerfully, showing off the great battleaxe strapped to his back.
You're just talking about yourself... Ralphus let out a sigh. Only, it wasn't just Gwen
Starting with Nigel, not one man moved from his place.
"What are you goin' on about. Let's get down to business already. Where should we start? It's an all-you-can-have buffet of enemies to choose from."
Ralphus recovered his composure, and pointed to the depths of the great army to where their previous allies stood.
"If we're going to die anyway, we might as well have some revenge on the betrayers."
Gilles, who had sold out Sunkwoll, was uncharacteristically standing at the front lines, even though the battle was still in progress.
Of course there was a reason.
Because the head of King Douglas had already been taken by Ganoa, he need to prove his loyalty to Zarmine by taking as many heads as he could.
His change of sides still only just a faint promise, things had gone full circle for him.
Then again, he may be at the front lines, but everyone who had once counted him an ally, were in the process of fleeing.
At he very least, that is what Giles was thinking.
That idiot Ganoa. Just because he had taken the King's head, he had already long since fled to the back lines. Even though it was a chance for him to gain even greater achievement.
His large body swaying with the movement of his horse, Giles was at that moment contemplating his next action.
According to his agreement with Zarmine, he had been promised territory that was several times the size of the land he had now. With that much land, he could even build a new castle.
He had always been thinking his castle was too small.
He would need a lot more side rooms too. Then he'd order his men to find him some beautiful girls.
Giles had the image of the beautiful Princess Shelfa float into his mind. Might he make that virgin girl his... Well, it wasn't impossible. She was no longer that flower so far out of his reach.
Grinning broadly while imagining having his way with the willowy princess, one of his aides approached him on horseback. His face was pale.
"General! T, trouble! E, enemies are attacking!"
"Enemies? What are you daydreaming. They've all been almost completely wiped out already!"
"It's not them, the enemy is different!"
His aide's face was filled with fear as he stood before Giles.
"It's G, general Ralphus's unit, sir....that unit is charging straight for us! They'll be here any moment!"
Giles wildly looked towards the front.
There was something like a cloud of dust rising, and the bellowing of a small group charging this way. That standard was unmistakeably Ralphus's.
"N, no way..."
Gilles's large body shook violently, as he let out a whimper.
It's not that he had failed to see Ralphus arrive. It's just, he never thought Ralphus would join in the skirmish.
When the battle was determined, and all that remained was to eliminate the remaining Sunkwoll forces, be it Ralphus or anyone else, there was no way they would charge into the fight. Even if it was to show their allegiance to Sunkwoll, this was the time to retreat and rethink a new strategy.
――It was a huge miscalculation for Giles, who had lived his life from the viewpoint of a mercenary.
Ralphus's standards were something he couldn't begin to comprehend.
"What's your order, General!?"
The aide had asked, but it was Giles who really wanted to know the answer.
"F, for now let's set up a defense! The Zarmine army should come to help shortly!" Just as he barked the order, the first wave hit.
Just like a sharp blade, the enemy force sliced into Gilles's ranks. Gilles's men were not prepared for such a frontal assault.
Apart from knowing they had betrayed their allies, there was an unshakeable fear of Ralphus himself. After all, Ralphus's bravery and feats on the battlefield were highly renowned throughout Sunkwoll.
Giles was no exception. He was a man with a high level of self-confidence, but even so he had never once thought he could defeat Ralphus.
In the next moment, the unit which Ralphus was heading crashed into the front lines of Gilles's men. Giles swallowed hard.
What forcefulness.....there's no way we can win this one. Zarmine! Why haven't you come to help yet!
About ready to cry, Giles looked back to see the Zarmine forces withdrawing, even though their distance wasn't all that far apart. They didn't move one foot from their location. They looked on with a cold gaze that would cause anyone to become enraged.
"Damn it! What's going on!?"
Looking around for his aide, Giles realized that he had disappeared without him realizing.
Abandoned! It wasn't just him. Giles watched his other commanding officers turn their horses back and flee.
From the start his men weren't ones to follow out of respect, and when the situation turned grim, they all fled, leaving him behind.
Falling deeper into fear, Giles pulled back on the rains hard.
His mount, not used to such treatment, bucked, tossing its rider off. "Ahhh!"
Giles landed hard on the ground, shouting in pain at the sudden impact to his hip.
Unfortunately all the others around him had already disappeared, and Ralphus saw it all.
Their eyes met, as though a line had been drawn between them.
"Giles! Don't move!"
Usually very subdued in speech, Ralphus let out a shout like lightning. "Hiyaaa!"
Letting out a scream that would cause anyone's soul to jump out of one's body, Giles squirmed along the ground in an attempt to move away, but his horse had long since disappeared.
"I, is there nobody!?"
There was no response, and by the time he regained his feet, Ralphus was standing silently before him.
Behind him stood two aides, and they watched him just as fiercely.
Giles swallowed what he was about to say.
Without breaking their gaze, Ralphus asked quietly.
"The one who raised his hand against His Majesty, was it you, Giles."
"I, it wasn't. Head, His Head was taken by Ganoa! I, it wasn't me!"
"......I see. In that case, he will be sent to the underworld after you......Prepare yourself, Giles." Ralphus's sword sung as it was removed from its scabbard.
With eyes narrowed sharply, and taking a stance that left no openings――Ralphus was overwhelming.
Giles had always considered Ralphus a quiet individual who liked and was liked by everybody. But now, as his body shook from the fear he felt, he realized.
All he had known up until this time was merely a fraction of the person standing in front of him now.
Don't mess with me! There's no way I can take this guy! If anybody would be a match for him, it could only be that monster, Rain.
"W, wait a moment. There's no need to be so hasty. Right? Sunkwoll is going to be destroyed, there is no mistaking that. Even us mercenaries have to think about which side to choose, wouldn't you agree?"
Straightening himself in a way that would cause no alarm, Giles laughed brokenly.
Ralphus only lowered his eyebrows in response.
With the sound of metal scrapping metal, Ralphus swung his sword up to stop just before Gilles's nose.
"Giles! At his last moment, let's see the mercenary hold his sword up like a knight." Looking into Ralphus's eyes, Giles only shuddered.
He's serious! He's really going to――
"M, my reward! What I was going to receive, I'll give you everything! S, so at least let me live!"
"That's pathetic, Giles!"
Ralphus swung his sword.
Raising his voice to a feverish shout, Giles turned around and tried to run.
"You Fool!" was all he heard before a burning sensation on his back caused him to loose consciousness for eternity.
"If I could, I would have avoided attacking when your back was turned." Ralphus shook his head, looking down at the sprawled corpse of Giles.
Swinging his sword in a half-arc to let the blood fly off, Ralphus returned it to its scabbard.
"Nothin' we can do 'bout it. He tried to run in the most dishonorable way. He chose his own path." Gwen stated, spitting at the ground.
It seemed he was in no mood to show sympathy to Giles.
Most likely Nigel, looking coldly down at Giles, felt the same way.
"Besides that, Lord General. It seems the guys from Zarmine weren't planning on helping him from the start. Makes you wonder, don' it?"
Ralphus responded in a low tone.
"It is not all that strange. To them, it's just a way to have any obstacles finish themselves off. It's great to not have to lift a finger to get something done."
"――I see. In other words, they had been planning on killing Giles from the start. Just use and throw away......vile."
Gwen spat again.
Judging from his face, he was really upset.
It wasn't as if Ralphus was in a good mood either, but it was different.
He turned his gaze to the multitude of Zarmine soldiers, searching for Ganoa.
Perhaps because he had already slipped behind their back lines, Ralphus couldn't see him anywhere.
Even so he continued to search without giving up. While he was still looking, the high pitch of a whistle being blown entered his ears.
There was no reason to worry about the meaning of the signal. The black formation covering the entire land began moving, causing the land to reverberate in response. Their objective was most likely the annihilation of Ralphus and his unit.
All the other units had either been wiped out, or managed to flee.
"Seems like we'll have to put Ganoa aside for now."
Gwen nodded in agreement.
Without showing any signs of nervousness, Nigel continued to calmly watch the army moving their way.
......At least these two he wanted to see live through this.
"Gwen, Nigel..you should――"
"Don' go there, Lord General."
"Our minds are made up."
The moment Ralphus had opened his mouth to speak, they had cut in.
Ralphus couldn't say more than that.
These two seemed ready no matter what to take on the same fate. At this point even if he gave an order, it would be pointless.
Looking at his two faithful aides before turning his gaze to the rest of his men, Ralphus mounted his beloved steed, taking the rains in his hands.
"In that case! There are no longer any words I can give! Let us show our enemies our spirit to the end!"
The roar from the men at his back, Ralphus shot out on his horse like an arrow released from a bow.
Aiming for the center of the enemy multitude, they charged straight ahead.
The enemy forces steadily grew closer. Before coming into direct contact, Ralphus stopped his horse just once, bellowing his name.
"My name is Ralphus Juliard Sunkwoll! Any who wish to fight me, come to the front!" Zarmine's soldiers balked for a moment, and in the next began to swarm wildly to his position.
"This is surprising. It seems a man by the name of Ralphus has come charging at us." Luminas, one of the main commanders of the Zarmine forces, said.
A pointed chin and pale complexion were the markings of the thirty-something military man. The black armor wrapping his body really didn't suit him. Those eyes which showed no underestimating, were directed intently at the enemy before him.
Ralphus was at the head of a small group that was coming intently towards his location. In reality he didn't want to deal with it, but at the same time he was impressed.
"Hmph. Now that is what I would call a true soldier. Compared to Ganoa or Giles who switched so easily to our side, it is like the difference between the clouds and the mud. Even more, wouldn't he be royalty? He most definitely said the name Sunkwoll."
A higher-up riddled with muscles all over his body said to Luminus, stroking his long beard. He had golden locks, and his face looked as though it were chiseled from stone. He was much older than Luminas.
He was the commander of this expeditionary force, Garblake.
"Actually, due to his exploits throughout the years, Ralphus has been granted use of the name Sunkwoll......if we were ever to have an ally, he would have been the most desirable." Luminas said, in a tone showing both how much he wished for it, and how much he knew it would never happen.
Even before looking into him, it was obvious he was a man who highly valued faithfulness. If he had been someone who could have been swayed by land or money, they already would have made a move.
Most people moved in the direction of the money. Even so, there were some who had no inkling towards fortune.
"If we won't be able to have him join us now......then what should be done?"
Garblake asked regretfully.
Luminas' reply was exactly according to his prediction.
The enemy had just arrived before them. This fight would most likely not be a very long one.
"Of course we will kill him. If we can't make him an ally, then he is only another enemy."
"No helping it, huh."
Luminas responded shortly.
No matter how skilled the soldiers were, on the empty plain with no strategy, just the sheer difference in numbers would decide the outcome of the battle.
After all, the most decisive factor in determining the outcome of any confrontation, was military might.
If a multitude collides with a small group repeatedly, the multitude will always win. That is an ultimate truth on the battlefield.
Only......it's not as if there was nothing nagging at the back of his mind. It was none other than Rain.
Actually the Sunkwoll General Luminas had always been warned about, was the 'Unknown Genius,' which was Rain.
From multiple reports, it was confirmed that Rain was currently under house arrest. The reason seems to have been his opposition to the strategy at the war council.
It was reasonable to see it as him trying to avoid going into a losing fight, but even so was he the kind of man who would abandon his friends?
From what reports told him, he and Ralphus were quite close friends...... That was the part where Luminas came up blank. To put it simply, he thought there might be a trap somewhere.
But, if that were the case and there really was a strategy, what about Ralphus' reckless actions?
――In other words, it could be assumed Rain hadn't let Ralphus in on his plan. Am I thinking too much...
Garblake interrupted Luminas' musings. "Is there anything bothering you?"
"Well...... Nothing much, just that companion of Ralphus, Rain has me a little worried."
Luminas explained his concerns.
"――In other words, it's possible that guy might try something."
"Yes. Now that I think about it, His Majesty gave a warning about Rain. But he should be in his castle at the moment. Even if there is a mistake in the information, a few or a lot of soldiers would still be no match for the multitude we have."
"......That man is dangerous. I don't want to be brush him off here."
Luminas said carefully, coming dangerously close to going against his superiors with that statement.
He had plenty of reasons for being careful of Rain. But he thought it wouldn't be appropriate to mention them to Garblake under the current circumstances.
Besides, Garblake was showing little interest in Luminas' ramblings.
He snorted out his nose, looking at Luminas as though he were being foolish.
And then, a complaint.
"I don't give a damn about Rain. That aside, what's wrong, Luminas. They are breaking through. Hurry up and give an order. We have plenty of reserves to call on."
Luminas started at Galbreak's words, and looked around at the battle.
Ralphus' unit had split into two, an advanced and rear guard, which came slicing into their formation. It was commendable for such a small unit. But it still didn't even come close to turning the tide of the battle.
Vehemently charging into their ranks with such a small group really couldn't do much to the foreseeable outcome.
"There is no helping it. He is a commendable man, but we should hurry up and finish this soon."
Luminas orders five-thousand of his men to split into two groups, and flank Ralphus' unit on both sides. It was the end.
The units began moving after receiving his order. Luminas and Garblake followed the movement with their eyes.
For some reason a mist had entered his field of vision.
Thinking it had only appeared faintly, it began to grow thicker and whiter. "Ah..."
It seemed Garblake had noticed it as well.
The far off forest, and the unit――they were both dissolving into the mist. Even more, it began getting thicker and thicker.
"What's that, mist?"
"No, it's...Shit! It's magic!"
The mist had grown so white it looked like milk, and had encompassed both friend and foe alike. Luminas hurriedly retracted his previous order.
At this rate there was the possibility of attacking their own men. "What's the meaning of this, Luminas!?"
"It has to be the enemies magic. Most likely several magic users are forming the mist with their spells."
You've one upped us, Rain.
Luminas exhaled slowly. There was no one besides Rain he could think of that would intervene at this point. It seemed he couldn't leave Ralphus to die after all.
His lookouts were using Magic Vision, and so he knew Rain hadn't moved from his castle. In that case it must be some of his subordinates.
He had just been out-maneuvered, but for some reason he didn't feel that upset.
"Luminas, we can't make a move at this rate......"
"Yeah. We can't afford to have our men striking one another down. Send out some scouts to the surrounding areas, and see if we can't find the ones casting the magic."
Luminas gave his opinion, while at the same time knowing it would be nearly impossible to find such a small number of people under these conditions.
It would seem they could only wait for the mist to clear.
――You've gotten in a blow. But Rain, you can't win if all you do is run. In the end, we will still be the victors.
Atop his horse Luminas folded his arms across his chest, waiting for the mist to lift.
Ralphus was engrossed in the battle, not noticing the mist until it had covered him so completely that he had to stop his horse.
The Zarmine soldiers were retreating because of the same fear of striking an ally.
"......It seems we've been spared, Lord General."
Gwen exhaled slowly, drawing his horse close.
As though trying to tell the tale of his fighting, his armor was cracked and scratched all over. It was the same for Nigel.
"Gwen, you're in a bad way!"
There were punctures here and there in his armor, and from the holes blood could be seen dripping steady down. Ralphus dismounted his horse hurriedly.
Gwen held out his hand to stop him.
"It's nothing to get all worked up over, Lord General. Nothing has hit the bone yet. But yourself, Lord General, it seems you've been bearing some stomach pains?"
"......It's only a scratch to me."
Ralphus said firmly, brushing it aside. It was definitely more than a scratch, but not something life threatening.
"Really this mist couldn't have had better timing. It's a miracle, Lord General."
"Gwen, miracles don't happen so easily. This is Rain's handiwork. Either that, or one of his men."
"N, no way. You're reading too much into it."
"......Someone is coming."
Nigel said softly, interrupting their conversation.
Now that it was mentioned, the sound of footsteps could be heard. Someone was approaching casually.
Gwen said, bringing his large ax to bear. Nigel gripped his spear.
But Ralphus, having an inkling on who it could be, didn't move.
"The two of you, lower your weapons. This is, most likely, alright."
Before he finished, a man riding a black stallion came into sight through the thick mist.
"Is this Sir Ralphus before me?"
The man halted his horse, looking intently at Ralphus.
His body was thin, so much so that he could easily be mistaken for a woman. He wore no armor, having only a heavy cloak on top of his shirt.
He had the black hair and green eyes were the tell-tale signs on a Sunkwoll commoner, but his eyes were uncannily sharp. His expression made him seem to be looking at something undesirable. Or else it might just be his natural expression.
"Yes, I am Ralphus. And who might you be?"
Upon hearing his response, the man nodded his head stiffly from atop his horse.
"I apologize for the tardiness. I am called Gunther Valoa. Under orders from my master, Rain, I have come to get Sir Ralphus."
Gunther introduced himself rather unpleasantly.
"I thought so."
Ralphus sighed, looking at Gwen from the corner of his eye.
"Is he here as well, then?"
"No. Rain wanted to, but I kept him from coming. The enemy will more likely be off-guard if my Lord remains in Cortecreas Castle."
"......I see. But that he would send you... I thought I was fairly familiar with Rain's acquaintances, but this is the first time we have met."
"Rain has kept me back for just such a time and place as this. I am the leader of the intelligence and tools division. That aside, we must hurry up and pull back. My subordinates are working at keeping the mist thick, but magic is a limited resource."
Gunther said to Ralphus is a slightly irritated tone of voice. Most likely there wasn't much time left.
Ralphus looked silently into the depths of the mist. Gwen, Nigel and the rest of his men looked at their Leader without speaking.
Finally, Ralphus spoke in a distressed tone.
"I was hoping to be dead before Rain stuck his hand in to help. I have no intention of escaping punishment for the sin of letting His Majesty die. My feelings still haven't changed."
"You mean you are talking about dying in this place?" Gunther confirmed, the color of his face never changing.
"That's right. There is something I want you to tell Rain when you return. I want him to live and watch over the Princess. Zarmine would never just be content to leave her be.. And if possible, I'd like you to take my men with you."
Silent until this last line, Gwen burst in.
"That's already closed. We've all decided to follow you wherever you go."
"Anyway, that isn't something I can relay to Rain." Gunther broke in to the arguing.
"What's that supposed to mean!?"
"To me, Rain's orders are absolute. I have no intention of returning without you. It's not what I wished for, but I will just have to die with you."
His expression never changing, Gunther said so matter of factly. "WHAT!?"
Ralphus looked intently at his face, wondering if he was serious.
A steady gaze stared back at him. Not even his pupils wavered.
Just what kind of man was he... He didn't appear to be a noble, but still he had a last name.
"You are choosing death, then? In that case I must entrust what happens next to my subordinates. Then...!"
Ralphus moved to block the way of Gunther who was just heading off. "Is there something else?"
Gunther said, as though there was no greater disturbance that this.
It was rare to find someone who cared so little about living or dying. Saying he would stay with Ralphus and die along side him, it's not like he had any attachment to him.
For the first time, Ralphus's heart wavered.
If he did nothing, this man would die. Looking at his eyes, he knew it wasn't a bluff.
In other words, because of him, one of Rain's trusted men would die.
No, the problem wasn't just Gunther. Out of all Ralphus's men, not one tried to leave.
Even though Ralphus didn't want anyone to go down the same path.
What should I do... What should I do!
Gwen and Nigel looked at Ralphus with concern.
Gunther looked at their display without any change, and seeming to remember something all of a sudden,
"That's right, there was a message I forgot to relay."
"......What is it?"
Ralphus's expression showed his confusion. Gunther said in a calm voice,
"Rain has asked me to give this message. The problem in a brawl isn't the method. It's who is standing at the end."
"That's all?" Ralphus broke out into a bitter smile, but Gunther remained the same as always as he continued.
"Not that I think about it, he mentioned this as well. 'Don't push all the responsibility on me, you fool!'"
"That sounds just like him."
Even at a time like this, Ralphus couldn't help but chuckle.
He didn't mean for it to happen, but his shoulders started to shake, and he let out a huge laugh. He didn't even care about the looks from his men.
"So, what will you do? Are there no changes in your decision? I am in a hurry."
Gunther said, his expression one of impatience. His eyebrows were pulled together, almost making one single brow. That face is a shame to his features.
Ralphus finally stopped laughing, and responded strongly.
"I've changed my mind. It seems Rain has a plan for victory yet. I'll be betting on that."
"......A more bothersome decision. If that was the case, then you should have said so sooner." Gunther responded in an irritated manner.