Sunlight shone over Leni's head, but as it was closing in upon the winter season the air was hardly warm.
To the contrary, it was quite chilly.
Leni was being relentlessly assailed by the cold wind as he sat on a bench in the castle courtyard. From the branches of the trees planted within the castle walls, red-tinted leaves fluttered down.
It's really cold. But, like what happened a few days ago, Yuri might come by.
Wavering between seeking shelter in the castle or continuing to wait outside, Leni had no idea when she might come. No matter what, he had no intention of giving up the possibility of having lunch together with Yuri.
She had finally started to show some interest in him and his swordsmanship, so the real battle would be from here on out. Just a little longer, a little longer!
......Leni hadn't even paused to consider the possibility that, when Yuri had come to watch practice a few days ago, it may have only been a coincidence.
As though making fun of his tragic condition, a gust of icy wind slammed into him. His fingers gripping the sandwich were nearly frozen stiff, but as a man he continued to bear it.
"Well, it really is rather peaceful."
Leni said, letting out a slow sigh.
Currently, under Rain's orders they were preparing their marching formations, but there weren't any detailed instructions as of yet. Unlike the knights or trainees of lower status, captains like Leni really weren't that busy. It wasn't like they had nothing to do, but a break was a necessity.
In other words, nothing differed from the usual. Even if the leader of the country had died, and a vast majority of their allies had fallen. Well, Xenoa was making enough of a scene for all of them though.
At any rate...just how is the general's head put together, I wonder...?
Four days earlier in the evening, the two aides Leni and Xenoa had been called to Rain's room. His face always seemed to be younger than theirs. With a wide smile, Rain had given them some information.
"Today, I've received a report through Magic Vision about the current situation with Zarmine's expedition."
He really was beaming. All around, he seemed to be in a great mood. The color of his face was healthy and looked well. Then again, it always did...
What, have you finished defying the majority that say this war is decided with your 'Surprising-Turn-Around-Victory' strategy!? Have you already defeated Zarmine!?
Believing Rain would saying something along those lines, Leni broke into a ridiculous smile. Naturally, anyone that saw the general's expression at such a time would think so. It's not like he had thought of something anyone else wouldn't have...
By the way――the truth was far from what he had imagined.
The opposing expedition had nearly decimated every unit save Ralphus's. Due to the betrayal of Ganoa and Gilles, King Douglas had died in battle...
Leni felt his legs turn to rubber. He was stunned that Rain could laugh so in the midst of such a situation. Even before Rain had become a Knight five years previously, Leni had fought under him when they had been mercenaries. This was one aspect of Rain he never had been able to fathom.
Just remembering his own pale and shaking expression, and Xenoa waving her sword around in one of those violent outbursts of hers, caused his head to ache.
"Well, what's done is done."
Dropping his gaze to his lunchbox which was by now half empty, he put the lid back on with lingering affection before reaching his hands up and stretching his muscles.
In the end, he had never met the King before, and the always gentle Ralphus had been saved, so it wasn't really all that bad, he thought.
The one I serve has always been the general after all.
Yes...While Douglas had been the King of the country, he was not Leni's lord. The only one he would follow was Rain.
And the fact that he hadn't left Ralphus for dead, made Leni really glad.
"Ah, commanding officer~!"
A voice that sounded relieved caused Leni to pause as he was getting ready to leave.
When he looked back, a man who appeared to still be in his teens came jogging up towards him from the direction of the castle's gate. If he remembered correctly, the youth was a Knight trainee in his unit. Leni couldn't remember his name, but there was no mistaking him.
"Has something happened?"
"Ah, yes. Actually, I'm not sure what I should do."
"I'm on duty for guarding the gate today, but just a moment ago, someone who looks like a noble I've never seen before came asking to meet with Rain. I was trying to figure out what to do......they're not even giving me their name."
As expected of a gate guard, he saluted in form and hand while wearing his armor.
Nodding as he listened intently he wondered to himself why, whenever something happens, everybody came to him.
Xenoa's somewhere nearby, so why me? I wanted to get some rest too.
"It goes without saying but, we can't let them in."
Without letting out his previous thoughts, Leni responded crisply which was rare for him.
"We're in a time of war after all. Even if the appearance is that of a noble, we have no way of telling what kind of person they are. I'm always saying it, aren't I? No suspicious people are to be let in."
For some reason this youth seemed to be rather disappointed.
He glanced once more at Leni as though hoping for some compromise, before reluctantly doing an about-face.
Leni hardened his heart, keeping himself from calling out to stop him.
After all, they were in the middle of a war.
There was simply no way they could let anyone into the castle who wouldn't even give their name.
Even when things were slow, decisions had to upheld.
Sighing, the youth let out a stream of words as he walked away.
"And she was such a beauty, too. It's too bad."
"Wait a minute, you!"
Loudly calling out for him to stop, Leni sprinted to catch up with the youth who was walking away.
It was a response with no delay.
"My intuition tells me that I should at least meet with this person. Yep, I'll head over there right away."
With that, Leni left the guard behind. The lunchbox was also left on the bench.
He heard the guard stutter, but ignored it and hurried on.
"N, no fair! Getting ahead like that, Captain Leni!"
Hearing the voice call out to him from behind, Leni quickened his pace even more.
Right before the castle gate, an angel stood waiting.
It was a ridiculous expression to use, but that was how Leni felt. That was how beautiful this girl was.
She looked to be around fourteen to sixteen.
Long, straight and shining gold tresses fell to about her waist. Her sparkling eyes were a light blue that grew deeper in gradation closer to the center of the eye. No matter how you looked at her, she was undoubtedly a noble of Sunkwoll.
Gentle features――with an amazingly stunning face turned up upon Leni's approaching footsteps, before showing a look of complete disappointment and once again dropping to the ground.
Unusual for the nobility, she had a rather reserved personality.
"All of you, you're scaring the lady! Don't stare so much!"
For now, Leni gave the order to the youth who had called him a moment before, and to the other slightly older guard who had remained at his post. After all, they had been staring at her with mouths agape.
The two guards reluctantly moved their gazes away from the girl.
As a man he knew how much they wanted to look. Even so, he wouldn't change his orders.
Yet Leni himself continued to stare at the angelic girl, as though he were boring a hole right through her.
"Well now, miss. If you have any business here, let me hear you out."
"......Uhm. I, I am......"
The angel lifter her face ever so slightly, and when she met the burning gaze Leni was pouring towards her, she again looked down.
"What is it? You don't have to hold back, just come out and say whatever it is. I am General Rain's aide, Leni――ah, hey!"
It was sudden and unexpected.
The beautiful girl who had been so timid a moment ago, strode quickly up to Leni.
She came so close to bumping into him, that his nostrils were filled with the sweet scent of perfume.
"Rain's aide! In that case, please let me meet with him!"
Her perfectly clear blue eyes shone brightly as she looked up at Leni.
It seemed she wasn't just a quiet girl after all.
She nodded vigorously several times. He was taken aback, and felt completely at her command.
At that moment he noticed the glare of the two gate guards.
Leni quickly returned to himself.
That's right. Just a while ago he had been stressing 'You can't let anyone into the castle!' It was dangerous to change the rules because of the sweetness of some girl. Beyond dangerous. It would lead to problems in authority and structure with his men.
Feeling the eyes of his men on him, Leni purposefully took a few steps back. After he had regained his composure from the attack of this girl who was now all smiles, he spoke.
"Well, according to the circumstance it's not like I can't bring you to the General, but at the very least I'd like to know your name and business."
At that, her face shadowed over. It seemed there was some kind of complicated circumstance which existed beneath that countenance.
Even so, it was something he had to ask, so he waited silently for an answer. Time crept by until, at long last, with a troubled expression the girl opened her pale-pink lips.
"......My name is Shelfa."
"Shelfa? Hmmm, I feel like I've heard that name somewhere before."
Leni's memory snagged on something. It was definitely a name he had heard before. As though struggling with the same thoughts, the two guards tilted their heads.
Different from Leni, she was a noble of pure blood, and her eyes were entirely blue. There was no white part. By some chance, perhaps she was a famous person?
"You are unmistakably a noble......furthermore from a prestigious house, right? What's your full name?"
The silence that followed this inquiry was much longer than the last.
The three cast nervous glances between them as they waited, until at last she slowly started to give her name.
"My full name is――"
"Yeah, your full name is?"
"......Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll."
"Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll......Sunkwoll......So....EEHHH!?"
Repeating it faithfully, Leni broke out in a loud voice, shocked.
After all, there were only a few people whose name included that of the Kingdom.
At long last realizing who this mysterious beauty was, the three literally jumped at this revelation.
What a predicament! Leni felt sweat on his brow. What a beauty! Wait...that's not it! I've got to tell the General right away!
Without any warning the door to Rain's chambers opened, and Leni appeared, his eyes round as saucers.
Rain lifted his gaze from the drawn map atop the table, letting out a heavy sigh.
"...It seems everyone wants to barge in here today. I'm finally in the mood to come up with a plan, so don't bother me. Besides, this isn't some cheap inn. This room is the most important personal quarters of the entire castle, so at least knock, would you?"
"Let's leave that for later! Something big has happened! Something so big everything else pales in comparison!"
"You don't need to keep repeating yourself. Just spit it out already."
"Alright. I'll tell you, so I hope you're ready."
Taking a deep breath, Leni spoke in a dramatic tone.
"She's here at the castle! The Princess! I was so surprised!"
"Your voice is too loud, this isn't a rally, you know!"
Rain cried out in a loud voice, standing up in his aggravation.
Well, so she came on her own.
"...You don't seem all that surprised?"
Leni asked him dutifully.
"Well that's obvious, isn't it. I received a letter from Ralphus 'kindly requesting' that I take care of the Princess, so wouldn't it make sense that he gave her some sort of instructions? For example, if anything happens she should come to my place. Well, now that she's here, I guess it can't be helped."
"S, so quickly...She is quite the beauty, the Princess. A little more like..."
Rain cut him off, laughing.
"You really think a beauty could be born from that sweaty old geezer?"
"Hah! You jest! W, well it's okay. Only, what I said is true. Like you, General, I was skeptical at first, but when I came to see her..."
"Alright, I get it, I get it. In that case, you can take care of her. That should satisfy you, right?"
"Eh!? Can I really? Ya -hoo! Ah! Wait a moment. Even if I wanted to, she's quite adamant about meeting with you in person though."
"With me? Why?"
"I've not the faintest! She acted as though she already knew you though."
Leni's envious gaze bored intently into Rain.
He was easy to read. Even though Yuri seemed to have caught his eye, he was still going to chase after this Princess.
"How would I know her, a Princess. There has to be some misunderstanding somewhere."
"It didn't seem that way. It really felt that she has some pressing reason for seeing you."
"Even if you say so, there's nothing I can do if I haven't a clue. Anyway, it's not as though I could turn down the request of the Princess if she wants to meet me so."
In a bad mood, Rain proceeded to leave his quarters.
Well, for the sake of argument there was nothing wrong with going to meet her.
As though Rain's attitude made him angry, Leni put a lot of force into his next words.
"When you meet her you'll be just as surprised by her beauty."
"You really think so~? Want to make a bet of it?"
"That sounds great! If you meet the Princess and can say she isn't incredibly pretty, then I'll run naked around the castle grounds one-hundred times, backwards!"
Rain couldn't help but be taken aback at this.
For Leni who was weak-willed and lacked confidence, yet boasted no arch-enemies to date...
It might be best if he did meet with her.
Firming up his resolve Rain increased his pace and walked out into the hallway.
If I meet with her and she looks like King Douglas, I'll have you do exactly as you promised!
As he continued in the direction of the guest chamber on the first floor, a blonde haired beauty came walking towards him. She was wearing a violet tunic that fell to her waist, and a matching pair of trousers.
Unfortunately, it was Xenoa. He could feel a scolding coming on.
Upon seeing him, she came running up to him.
All of a sudden her face grew angry, and her prettiness was ruined......It was always the same.
"I met you at just the right time. There's something important I have to tell you."
"Starting with that right off the bat, are you......Sorry but I don't have time just now. Some troublesome person's requested my presence."
Rain responded with a serious expression and tone. It goes without saying he didn't stop moving either.
But Xenoa wasn't one to give up at just that, as she fell in step with him.
"Who is this person?"
"Apparently it's the Princess. Amazing, isn't it?"
Leni responded in Rain's stead, happily.
......It isn't that important, but this isn't some kid's boasting contest!
"Wha!? T, the Princess!?"
Seeming to grow a little pale, Xenoa put a hand on the wall to steady herself. She placed a hand on her forehead, and with a stunned expression lifted her gaze to the ceiling. It was such an overly dramatic reaction, it would cause one to think she were doing it on purpose.
"W, when did she arrive..."
"Well, just a moment ago, really..."
As Leni was explaining the events to Xenoa, Rain left them behind and continued on.
If he continued to hang around Xenoa, her nagging would become incessant, and he couldn't handle it. But as he anticipated, he heard the sound of hurried footsteps as Xenoa again lined up beside him. Followed by...nagging.
"Why didn't you talk to me about such an important thing?"
"My word! I've only just heard of it myself! If you're going to complain, tell it to Leni!"
"General! What a thing to say!"
Leni's voice was raised almost to a shout.
"Anyway. I'll accompany you."
Glaring at Leni, Xenoa said heatedly.
Fed up, Rain stopped walking.
"Do as you like. We've arrived after all."
Just when he lifted his arm to knock on the solid iron reinforced door....he felt a cold shiver.
Rain's sixth sense, forged from countless battles, was warning him of something dangerous.
The one in this room was dangerous.
A tingling feeling in his neck told him that it was someone, perhaps an enemy, that he had met before.
What is this? The one inside should be the Princess. Then why, this force......it feels as though whoever is in there could be equal to myself...No, perhaps even beyond that.
That wasn't all.
This isn't the first time I've had this feeling. I've met someone somewhere before who gave off this same type of pressure. I'd forgotten, but I believe it was......
"General, what's the matter? You've frozen solid."
Leni's peaceful voice drew him from his contemplations.
Rain slowly lowered his raised hand.
"Hey, Leni......Xenoa, you too. I'd like to ask just in case but, do you know if the Princess is skilled in swordsmanship or physical combat? Or perhaps magic or something else?"
Leni tilted his head to the side, and Xenoa's face showed she didn't understand the question.
Tired of waiting, Rain interjected.
"In other words, is she strong is what I'm trying to figure out."
The two aides traded glances that showed they were on the same page.
After a small pause, Xenoa spoke.
"The Princess has always been kept within the Palace grounds. I've heard she is learned and has studied manners, but I don't believe she ever learned swordsmanship or magic."
But still, there was no mistaking this feeling.
He was still feeling the pressure. Rain never doubted his sixth sense. It was because of it that he had been able to live through till today, after all.
He would know upon entering.
There is nothing that I fear, no matter the opponent. So let's just have a look, shall we.
Rain put strength into his hand, lifting it to knock against the door.
As he entered the room, he eyes rested on a young girl with long golden hair who turned around quickly.
The girl who had been staring at the scenery outside the window looked directly at Rain, and only Rain, with her large blue eyes.
Woah now...Rain couldn't say a word.
He was stunned by how beautiful the girl looked in the frilled, pure white clothing she was wearing.
Just a moment. How in the world could that ugly old geezer whose feet stank to high heaven, have a girl this beautiful? Not one part of her looks like him?
He knit his brow.
He definitely felt like he had seen this girl before.
The pressure lifting, Rain looked intently at every corner of the girl's face.
All of a sudden, tears began welling up from the depths of her eyes.
Stretching out her shaking hands, she walked towards him with both tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.
"Eh? Ahhh~! Are you the Princess?"
Rain's question full of uncertainty on how to react, didn't even enter the girl's ears.
"I've wanted to see you......Always, always I have been waiting for you. Rain......I'm so happy....so happy. Finally...finally we can meet."
One step at a time the girl approached him, at last running and throwing herself into him. Her warm body pressed against him.
Now it was Leni and Xenoa's turn to freeze in place.
Especially Leni, his hands were outstretched ready to hug something, while his face showed the expression of a kid who had just had his favorite candy stolen away.
It was the Princess who had called his name.
"W, wait a second! Princess, you seem to have the wrong person..."
Saying such, he firmly wound his arm around her waist. He felt rather good at the moment.
"Rain, do you not remember? It's me. You played with me three years ago......"
The girl finally broke into a great smile, and gazed up at him.
Three years ago......As he heard it, his memories at last came to the front. The girl he had met in the garden where trespassers weren't allowed. Her beautiful yet lonely face, and the promise they had made...
The image of the girl from his memories overlapped the figure of the girl before him.
"Aah~! You're that kid from that time!"
Without thinking Rain spoke in a loud voice.
"Yes! Oh, you remember me then!"
"Of course! But for me to completely mistake you. In only three years, you have really bloomed into a wonderful woman. I couldn't figure it out right away."
With the intention of welcoming her warmly, Rain hugged her tightly to his chest. In return, she squeezed her arms, wound around his back, tightly.
Oh! Her flat chest also seems to have expanded quite well-----
The soft voice interjected his moment of bliss. With a fixed gaze Xenoa glared at Rain. Her hand rested on the sword at her waist.
Why she was wearing a sword in the castle was a mystery to him.
"May I ask about the circumstances?"
"You know, I'm sensing a really unpleasant aura from you."
Her hand gripping the handle shook.
She was someone who snapped easily.
A bit regretfully, Rain removed his arm from around Michelle.
"Calm down and I'll tell you. This child is an acquaintance of mine, and her name is Michelle."
"E, eh? She's not the Princess?"
Leni said, finally breaking free from his petrification.
"Ah, no no. Well, I can understand the reason. Michelle tried to meet with me, but since she wasn't let into the castle, she had no choice but to use the Princess's name."
Michelle timidly tried to interject with upturned eyes.
Rain waved his hand in the air, signaling her not to worry.
"It's nothing to worry about, Michelle. If one of those men over there tried it I'd blast them away, but you're special. You've no reason to feel upset."
"N, no, it's just..."
"I said it's no big deal. A sinless prank now and then, its nothing. When I was young, I was called the Emperor of Pranks."
"That's not it!"
Michelle raised her voice suddenly.
She realigned her expression, looking very serious indeed.
"I have lied to you, Rain."
"Please let me give you my real name. I am Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll......the daughter of King Douglas...I'm terribly sorry, Rain. I have been lying to you since the beginning."
Rain's mind went completely blank.
After a short while of staring at her in a daze,
"...What'd you say?"
The mood in the room grew ever heavier.
He was dreaming.
It was a dream where he crossed swords with a man who's silver hair was long enough to cover one eye. He was closing in on Rain who had never been defeated since leaving his hometown, and trying to bring their battle to a conclusion.
He thought within his dream.
Is such a thing even possible? For me to be cornered so--
I must become the best. I can't allow defeat, no matter the opponent! Never again will I---
Ignoring Rain's edginess, the man with the silver hair swung his gleaming magical sword, closing down on Rain. The scarlet aura of the blade filled Rain's field of vision, before he was cut to pieces.
Rain awoke in a pool of sweat.
He was atop his bed in the same room as always, with the morning sun streaming in through the window.
After recalling the nightmare he'd just had, Rain slowly shook his head before getting out of his bed. --A dream is a dream. There is no way I could lose.
Nodding decisively, he headed to his wardrobe. He changed into his usual black shirt and black pants, yawning lightly. He had finally regained his composure.
...Tomorrow we are moving out after all. Maybe today I'll just take it easy. I did just have a strange dream after all. Perhaps I was getting tired without realizing it.
This was actually the day the lord of a castle was busiest, but Rain, who disliked troublesome tasks, decided to hurry up and head out before he was discovered by Xenoa.
He was already feeding misleading information to Zarmine through Günter. Due to differing instructions coming in from their home country, they should be immobile at the moment. If things went well, they would meet them at the border.
Thinking about the plan and battle to come, Rain finished changing and put on his magical sword that was leaning against the wall.
"Alright, I don't think anyone is watching."
After checking once again, Rain leaped out from his window.
Twirling several times in the air, Rain landed catlike upon the ground from a height of six floors which would have killed any ordinary man.
"Now, how about an easy long-distance ride...ah!"
At the end of Rain's gaze, stood a young boy with his eyes wide open.
Rain didn't know it, but he was the same guard that had met Shelfa at the gate the previous day.
"I've got a bad habit of automatically barring men from my field of vision...Hey you, come here a moment."
The gate guard, his eyes still wide open, shuffled his way over.
"What's your name and rank?"
"Y, yes sir! My name is Milan. I'm a knight-in-training, General."
"I see, Milan. Did you see that just now?"
Smiling broadly Rain clasped Milan on the shoulder.
"Hey, Milan. Let me tell you a scary story. It's one of the scariest I've ever heard."
"N, no thanks, I don't really care for..."
Rain silenced the taut-faced Milan with the glint in his eye before continuing.
"It's a story I know of a knight-in-training, let's call him M...One day, M came to witness, coincidentally, a secret of the lord he serves. He was, you know, quite talkative, and happily told that secret to someone else."
Even though Milan's face was icy cold, sweat was pouring down.
"W, what happened to M?"
He asked, his face pale. His lips had turned violet.
Rain shook his head in an exaggerated motion, before speaking in a tragic tone.
"It was such a tragedy, so frightening. As punishment, every day he had to clean the lavatory, his duties as gate guard were extended five years, his wages were halved and what's more, he never had another chance to go out into the rest of the world. Quite a frightening story, wouldn't you agree?"
"It's frightening! Terribly frightening!"
Milan nodded, his teeth clattering.
His face went from pale to ghostly white. Rain continued to gaze intently into his eyes.
He then said in a low voice,
"So, I'll return to my first question. Did you just now, witness anything out of the ordinary?"
"I only saw the General leave properly through the front entrance!"
Milan responded, his voice starting to develop a sobbing quality.
"Well, it seems we have an understanding. The future captain of a thousand, that will be you, M!"
Clapping him firmly on the shoulder, Rain left the stupefied Milan behind, walking off in a good mood.
......I might be serving someone totally amazing...
Milan, standing straight as a pole, thought as he watched the back of the castle lord heading off.
As though nothing had happened, Rain hummed happily as he continued towards the courtyard.
Cortecreas Castle had an elite plumbing system installed, but there was also a standard water well.
Rain went around the back of the castle, bent on washing his face before he left. It was at the well that he met his new guest.
The young girl was wiping her long damp hair dry with a towel...Her hair glittered golden in the light of the sun which had just begun its ascent.
The pure white dress she wore suited her very well. It was one of many outfits Rain had ordered be prepared for her. Reflecting Rain's interests, the hem of the skirt was quite short.
"Yo, little one!"
Rain greeted Shelfa in a manner most unbefitting for a Princess.
A smile spread across the face of the girl.
Her joy overflowed from her entire body, and throwing the towel aside Shelfa rushed up to him.
"Good morning! I'm so glad I could meet you so early in the morning."
Her words caused even Rain to be at a loss for a moment. Her perfectly clear azure eyes sparkled brightly as she stretched out a hand to firmly hold his.
--Did I do something to cause me to be so well liked?
"You know, you're actually above me in rank, but the fact we can spend time together like in the past is nice."
"There's no reason you need say such a thing, even if that is the case..."
Her smile faded somewhat.
"Perhaps, you are still mad at me?"
"Not a chance. If it's about that, then I've already heard your situation, and I don't mind. It was only for confirmation."
"I'm so relieved..."
"Only, in front of every one else we should speak as Princess and vassal. Luckily, I can sense people's presence, so there shouldn't be a problem right now."
Shelfa furrowed her brow.
"I want to be able to speak plainly with you all the time. Also, about me taking the place of my father..."
"We talked about that yesterday, didn't we? The next in line who has the claim to the throne is you. The former king never had a son after all. Thinking of the morale of the troops, we need someone we can look to as a leader. At the very least I need you to hold out until after this battle is finished."
Rain lectured, pulling up the bucket with a rattling sound and washing his face.
Beside Rain, Shelfa spoke.
"If you will help me, I will bear the throne...But for you to change your speech due to our positions..."
"You don't like it?"
Shelfa nodded. Her beautiful eyes gazed up at him.
Even so, this was the only way. At the very least Rain's position was below hers.
"Hmm, I'm at a bit of a loss then. Oh, I'll be borrowing the towel for a moment."
"U, uhm...I just used it..."
"Well that's alright then. Don't mind it."
Rain calmly dried his face with the towel. There was the faint scent of flowers.
"Let's leave the discussion about the throne and my polite speech for after we've taken care of this. There are a great many aiming for the throne that will come out of the woodwork later. If it comes down to it, you can always just push it off on one of them."
Hanging the towel over the edge of the well, Rain looked carefully at Shelfa. She didn't seem to be too accepting of this proposal.
"...Well, geez. Don't think so hard on it. I know, how about we go for a bit of a ride together, to change the mood?"
Shelfa lifted her face, surprised.
"Is it alright for me to go outside?"
"What's that about? Are you not feeling well or something? Now that I think about it, you do seem a little thin. Does it hurt anywhere in particular?"
"Ah, that's not it. I've never been allowed to go outside before, so I was only a little surprised."
Rain nodded heavily, gently touching the side of Shelfa's face, causing her snow-white cheeks to redden.
"Forget everything up until now, alright? The you right now is the leader of this country. Nobody can tell you what to do. If you want to do something, then go ahead and do it."
"Then, I have a request!"
Shelfa's eyes sparkled.
"From now on, is it alright for me to remain by your side? To always be by your side, and never leave...!"
--Why did it turn out like this?
Rain was slightly taken aback by the force of her wish, but at the moment he couldn't refuse her.
There was no helping it.
"...If that is what you want."
He said it.
"I'm so glad...I'm really, really happy!"
Shelfa said, as she nestled her head into Rain's chest.
Her voice overflowed with delight.
At that moment Rain though he may have given his permission a little too soon.
"Woah, hold on a moment. Don't get so happy over such a small thing. For now, let's just head out on that ride, okay?"
"Yes, of course. If I can be together with you."
"Alright. Guess I'd best call Chris."
Putting two fingers to his mouth, Rain let out a loud and robust whistle.
They only waited for a moment.
His partner, Chris, came trotting over.
"Amazing! She comes when you call!"
"Well, yeah. She is my partner after all."
"Her coat is more beautiful than any I've seen before. It's so white."
Lovingly petting Chris, Shelfa enjoyed herself thoroughly. It seemed Chris too had taken a liking to her, as she wasn't her usual agitated self.
Watching her from behind was quite pleasant...
But, just how can I explain this feeling of pressure?
Rain thought to himself, watching Shelfa who was engrossed with Chris.
He could clearly remember the feeling. It was the same as when he had first met Shelfa that time in the garden, he had felt the same intense force.
When he had lowered his humming and closed in on the source to identify who it was, he had lost his strength upon seeing it was only a young, beauty of a girl.
He hadn't paid it much heed at the time, but it really was strange. For someone who had never learned swordsmanship (as she had mentioned the previous day), he simply couldn't identify the reason for the pressure he felt from this novice girl.
It's not possible she was hiding her strength--was it?
If so, then she didn't let out even the faintest hint of it.....
Maybe I'll give it a test.
Rain put his hand over the scabbard which housed his magical blade, calling Shelfa in a calm manner.
"Hey, little one."
Ceasing her petting of the horse, Shelfa turned around.
It was at that instant.
He purposefully let out a killing intent as, at a speed which made the movement seem hazy, he swung his Demonic Blade towards her. If the opponent wasn't a seasoned veteran, they wouldn't be able to dodge it.
The blue light flashed like lightning.
Rain said, but there was almost no response.
He somehow managed to stop the blade a fraction of an inch from the neck of a mildly startled Shelfa.
T, that was really close. That almost ended up a beheading.
He broke into a cold sweat.
"My, this is a magical sword, isn't it? You're letting me see it?"
Not even in her wildest dreams would she have thought she was about to be killed. That was her state as she stretched out a white hand in deep curiosity.
"Woah! You can't touch the blade like that, you'll get injured."
"Ah...you're right. I've never even held a sword before, so I just..."
Shelfa said, looking apologetic.
It didn't seem like she would be saying "Actually, I'm quite strong," at any time soon.
It seemed this puzzle would continue for a while longer.
Castle Cortecreas was surrounded by woods and meadows, with cultivated land spattered across the countryside. It definitely did not appear to be the center of the Astel region.
This was because while any normal town was usually situated at the foot of a castle, his was located at a place a small distance away. He had purposefully done this when constructing the castle to keep them separate should the flames of war come calling.
Old ladies were stooped over picking at the vegetation in the cultivated areas, and it seemed the threat of Zarmine was all but forgotten here.
"It's so peaceful."
Shelfa said into Rain's arm.
They were both riding atop Chris, so that was how things turned out.
Sitting astride the saddle together, they were stacked like two spoons on one another.
Rain had suggested preparing another mount for her, but she had wished for them to ride together.
I really must be quite well liked. All I did was hang out with her for a little while, though.
Rain thought to himself.
If he brought this girl back to his home in the sticks, just what would his parents say...
"My goodness. This is the first time your mother has seen an honest-to-God princess. Let's me make up a batch of cookies now.".....surely his mother would say something like that.
"You took down a princess, did you now!" Rain's delinquent of a father would say, laughing heartily.
......Thinking about it now, my parents might be a little strange...
"Hmm? What's up?"
Rain was brought back to reality by Shelfa, who seemed to have something important on her mind.
It appeared she had come to an important decision--and spoke the certain resolution she had come to in a soft voice.
"I said I wanted us to be together forever a moment ago...but from now on if you feel you are in any kind of danger, please leave me and get to safety. Rain, you staying safe is the most important thing to me."
Her tone of voice was very calm, but Rain couldn't agree with it.
"You're such a..."
Rain said into the golden hair below his eyes.
"There's no 'ah' about it. That's quite conceited, you know."
Rain said, scolding Shelfa who had looked up at him with a shocked expression.
"You're the one who asked if you could stay by my side, so it's alright if you understand this. You've got a genius like me on your side, so you should rely on me a little more."
"But if Rain is--"
"There's no buts about it. If you don't like me then say it clearly. That's why, until I deny a request, you can rely on me as much as you'd like. --After all, you're different from King Douglas."
With the hands holding onto the reigns, Rain hugged her to him.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to do anything for your father. I'll only apologize to you. I would have thought about it a little harder if I'd known he was your father."
"Don't let it trouble you."
With an expression which showed her complete trust in him, she sank her delicate form deeper into his arms.
"My father's death was his own fault, and his alone. More than anything, I am happy that you've said I could rely on you..."
There wasn't a hint of uncertainty in those words.
Unable to voice a response, Rain could only put more strength in his arms which held Shelfa.
Having talked for so long, they had come quite a ways.
They had gone through one forest, and another spread out before them. It was at that moment that he noticed a cloud of dust rising, and he could make out a group of men astride horses in it.
Rain's vision was excellent, and he could even make out their bodies covered in leather armor, and the long swords which hung at their waists. All of this led him to the conclusion that they were fighters.
When they spotted Rain and Shelfa, they brought their whips down on the horses, increasing their speed. Rain could feel the desire to kill emanating from tightly-drawn faces.
"Let's see that's one, two...about twenty I'd say. Wonder what their aim is... Then again, maybe they want the both of us dead."
Rain said, calmly.
"Shelfa, it would seem we've got company."
After hearing Rain's statement, it seems she finally noticed the approaching group.
Shelfa stiffened atop the saddle. It was an obvious reaction given the circumstances. There weren't many people that could remain calm when their lives were in danger.
"You aren't running?"
"Well, I could do that, but within my boundaries I can't have such a group as them running free now, can I?"
"But...I just couldn't bear to see you get hurt."
"Please. There's no chance I'd be killed by such a large group as that."
Shelfa turned her body around, looking up at Rain. It was an unnecessary worry for Rain. Even so, he responded energetically.
"Of course! If I was in the mood for it, I could take on a thousand without any trouble!"
Shelfa's already large eyes opened even wider. Her face was filled with surprise and respect.
Looking at that expression, Rain nearly fell off Chris.
You didn't believe that just now, did you?
I'm going to have to think twice before I randomly say something to her...Well, I guess it's alright for now. It's not like I told her some scary horror story.
I guess I'd better warn her for now.
"Hey, little one."
"You see, you can't go around believing everything someone tells you. --Of course, I'm an exception."
"Then there is no need to worry. By nature I'm very prone to doubting, after all."
Shelfa laughed innocently.
"There is only one person I trust from the bottom of my heart, and that is you, Rain."
"I s, see..."
Still leaning comfortably against Rain, Shelfa nodded firmly.
There were other problems inherent in not believing anyone else, but upon remembering how she had lived until only recently, he could see why she might feel that way. After all, King Douglas had been quite coldhearted in dealing with his daughter.
While they had been talking, the approaching assassins had nearly closed in.
Rain pulled back on the reigns, bringing Chris to a halt, before dropping elegantly to the ground.
"Well then, I'll be right back. Stay here and watch together with Chris."
No longer objecting, she nodded obediently.
However, she took Rain's hand in her own slender one, speaking to him in a natural and matter-of-fact tone.
"I pray for your fortune in battle. --If by any chance something were to happen to you, I am prepared for what will happen then."
It was at that moment Rain came to realize something.
That something was just how deep and pure her feelings towards him were.
Geez. Little one, you're really overestimating me...
Watching Rain approach, the men dismounted.
Swords were not yet drawn, but their desire to do so was clearly evident within the glint of their eyes.
At the very least, it was plain they weren't here to make friends.
Putting on a rather refreshing smile, he drew closer without acting hostile.
When he had grown close enough for all of them to see each others' faces clearly, he stopped, raising his hand in a light-hearted manner.
"Hallo! Great weather today, ain't it?"
The men were all staring at Rain as an alley cat might upon the passing of a human.
Some even seemed to be saying 'Is this guy for real?' One of the men stepped forward.
"There no mistakin' him?"
"Yeah. This is the same bold smiling face we were shown through Magic Vision."
An important looking youth in the very back responded. He had a round face that seemed as though it hadn't been washed in a quite a while.
"It's just, he really seems quite young...Is he really twenty-five?"
Ignoring the one who had raised the question, Rain spoke.
"You know, I've got something I'd like to discuss with you. Could you listen and not get all hot-blooded?"
They all looked at Rain as though they thought he were the cheekiest brat they'd ever met. Still smiling, Rain continued.
"That rumor about me being the strongest in the world is true, but it's not like I enjoy killing people. Even if I killed all of you I wouldn't get a single copper coin. Well, I suppose it would do the rest of the world a favor, I suppose."
Rain's voice was nonchalant as he gave a once-over of the men. His expression seemed to hide a poisonous side. He nodded to himself before continuing on.
"Only, I do feel it'd be best if we could clean this up without spilling any blood. I've no idea who hired you, but it's hopeless. That's why I'll give you one option. I'll pretend I never saw you, if you clear out of my land right away...I told you not to get angry, didn't I!?"
The expressions of all the assassins changed entirely.
The killing intent radiating from them had grown even thicker.
The man at the front spat on the ground.
"Messin' around...It'd be best if a guy like you weren' around no more."
Rain withdrew his smile, letting out a soft sigh.
"Actually, I feel the same way."
In the next moment,
Rain shifted abruptly, seeming to blur with the speed of the motion.
He vanished from their field of vision in an instant, and at an incredible speed he closed the distance between them, appearing directly in front of the group.
By the time the men finished processing the action, he was right before their eyes.
First was the man who had stood at the front. Rain's magical sword sliced diagonally down from the shoulder. The blade became a diagonal flash of blue, as it easily severed through bone.
The leather armor was no more use than a sheet of paper. Fresh blood sprayed from the cut. Before the blood could even spill onto the ground, the sword went left and right, cutting flesh and opening a fountain of blood.
Each time, the gleaming aura of magic sliced through the sky, leaving a pale blue impression.
It was almost laughable how the assassins fell one after another. Rain's speed was too quick, leaving them no time to use the advantage of numbers they had.
Darting around like the wind, no one was able to catch him. They were dropped one after another as though they were immobile dolls.
The afterglow of the blue sword was so phantasmal, the image was burned into the eyes of the assassins.
Those left standing gulped, their faces turned gaunt.
"...A Demon Blade! S, spread out! He's more than we expected!"
"You're too late, half-wit."
Before the eyes of the man who had yelled, an afterimage solidified.
Without saying, it was Rain.
By the time the man, sword in hand, who had warned the others realized it, Rain had cut into his heart with the stroke of a sword before he could do anything in retaliation, ending his life.
With a speed that made him appear blurred, Rain withdrew his sword from the man, sinking his next assailant into a sea of blood.
About this time the enemy finally started to move.
Burning with anger, two men came at him from his left and right. There were most likely mercenaries whose arms were good. Well trained, they aimed for Rain's vitals at a very skilled speed.
But what they cut was only a shadow -- nothing more than Rain's afterimage.
He analyzed the movement of their blades in a matter of milliseconds, dodging the deadly attack.
As though victory had rejected them, their swords only drew an arc through empty space.
Rain avoided the two swinging longswords with only minimal movement, while at the same time twirling his Demon Blade in his right hand.
The neck of one, and the chest of the other were cut open, and they dropped to the ground.
Continuing where they left off, another assassin jumped in.
Rain dodged the attack, and a flash of blue dove into the assailant's neck. Fresh blood spouted out.
Without waiting to see the result of his attack, Rain attacked another behind him with a backswing.
The man managed to bring his sword just in time to block the fatal blow. Yet fiery sparks flew as the sword, unable to stand up to the force of the Demon Blade, was cut through.
Without a decrease in speed the Demon Blade continued into his chest.
With a fountain of blood spewing from him, the man fell backwards. As though following its master, his sword dropped to the earth beside him.
Without turning around Rain swung to his rear.
He caught one who had tried to circle around him accurately, cutting into his neck. With a gurgling sound the man flew backwards to land by the side of the path.
But by that time Rain had already moved on to his next prey.
Rain seemed to dance through the twenty assassins. Every time his Demon Blade swung through the air, another scream followed as someone dropped to the ground bleeding.
They had no chance. Unable to keep pace with Rain's movements, they were unable to make use of their numbers.
The path was wide enough for them to take a surrounding technique, but they just couldn't keep up with the speed.
Rain beat them in speed, sword drawing, physical strength and even in courage. At this rate, it couldn't even be considered a fair fight.
No feeling of tension showed on his face.
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the men came to realize that Rain was still taking it easy.
About ten seconds after engagement had begun, they had already dropped to half their original numbers.
"Shit. We'd finally gotten such a large group together because of the commission.....This guy's a monster!"
A tall man with a tight face in the back of the group said with in a dismayed tone.
The leader's fear and weakness was open for the rest to see, and the rest of the assassins who had determinedly continued the fruitless assault now backed up. They traded pale glances among themselves.
"Hey, what's wrong? Where'd all that spirit you had a moment ago disappear to?"
Rain ceased his offense, swinging the Demon Blade over his shoulder and even giving a light yawn.
He wasn't even breathing heavily as they witnessed his unbelievably inexhaustible stamina.
"I'm still willing to overlook this little matter. I'll give you one more chance, so run!"
"W, what'd you say!? Don't get all high and mighty just 'cause you've got yerself a Demon Blade! Men, hurry up and attack!"
Only the leader spoke out so firmly; the rest seemed to be of a differing opinion. They slowly began backing away from Rain.
"Ah, so that's how it's gonna be, huh. Well if you want to die so badly I won't stop you."
With that last word he made his move, and at that moment with a frightening speed the men leapt for their horses.
"Hey! What's the meaning of this!? Hey! Get back here!"
Not one responded to the leader's commands. They all jumped on their horses and, without looking back, galloped off. With a great tumult the horses of the dead men chased after them as though in a fright.
The only one who lost his chance to flee was the thick-faced man who had just lost all of his men.
The man's stressed cry continued for a while.
"Well now, what should I do with you."
Rain pointed a devilish look at the thick-faced man.
He grew deathly pale. It was almost comical the way sweat started to pour down his face. He turned his eyes away.
In a high-pitched yet small voice, he spoke.
"D, don't get upset......we didn't mean you any harm."
"Didn't mean me any harm? Are you spacing out or something? You must really have a death wish, right?"
Rain lifted the Demon Blade above his head.
"Woah! Wait! Don't be so hasty. You'll understand if you let me speak! I did nothing wrong. T, the prime minister g, gave me an order. That's why....Ah."
All of a sudden the sweaty, thick-faced man started cut himself off. His small eyes widened as his gaze turned to something behind Rain.
"Rain! Are you hurt anywhere?"
Deeply concerned Rain turned around to see Shelfa trailing Chris, as she walked towards him while purposefully avoiding looking at the corpses around her.
"Now just a moment. I told you not to move."
"I'm so sorry. But, Chris started to walk so......But Rain, you're ever so strong."
Shelfa looked up at him with respect in her eyes.
It would seem her admiration had won over her fear for the moment.
"Well, you know. I'm a genius after all."
Letting out a quick chuckle, Rain brushed his hair aside.
"...Who's the girl?"
The thick-faced man asked feverishly, dousing Rain in verbal water.
"It's got nothing to do with you! Her destiny has kept her from you until now, and from here on she will continue to have no fate that includes you. Don't look so casually, you'll dirty her with your ogling!"
"Y, you don't have to go that far!"
"Yes I do! Besides, do you really think you're in a position to be asking me questions?"
With Rain bringing his blade up to make contact with the man's throat, he started to shake, trying to raise his hands. But remembering he was still holding his sword, he hurriedly tossed it aside.
His hands shot up.
"I get it! Please, forgive me! I was only doing as I was told. It was the prime minister, he gave the request to the assassins guild, he's the one you should be upset with!"
"...Try being a little more specific, would you."
"I only accepted the request the other day. The assassination order was handed down directly from King Leygur, according to what he said. So, the one at the head of that order is King Leygur himself!"
"Hmph. A woman is one thing, but for a man to aim at me with such vengeance... It's a century too early, if I don't say so myself."
Rain scrunched up his face.
"King Leygur plans to...assassinate Rain..."
With a level of worry far beyond shock, Shelfa clung to Rain's arm. Conveying to her it was nothing she need be concerned over, Rain smiled gently at her. After all, it wasn't the first time he had been the target of hostile intent.
"So, are we square? You'll let me go, right?"
"You're quite a stuffy fellow, you know. What with your men all scattered....Ah."
Rain caught himself in mid-sentence, looking towards the forest before him and furrowing his brow.
There was another cloud of dust. Another group of roughly ten men were coming this way at a full gallop.
The moment he saw that, the thick-faced man seemed to have been revitalized.
As though his menial demeanor had been wiped clean, he now wore an expression that showed how full of himself he was.
"Take a look at that! They're on my side! Thinking something like this might happen, I increased the number of men much more than that requested by the prime minister. How about them apples, eh?"
"Are you really that stupid?"
Rain responded acutely.
"If twenty people couldn't stand up to me before, what makes you think ten will do you any good now?"
At that, the thick-faced man's haughtiness disappeared. It seemed he had just realized he'd overlooked that detail...
"...Geez. On such a fine morning as this, a bunch of men keep streaming in. I can't take it any more. Maybe I'll just use that technique..."
Letting out his grievances in an upset tone, he removed himself from Shelfa's hold, lifting his Demon Blade far above his head.
Paying no heed to the discomfort shown in both the man and the girl, Rain forcefully dropped his sword.
The blade which was giving off a bluish-white aura left a path as it cut through the air.
For an instant it seemed the space itself had been ruptured--and far off where the advancing group was approaching, the men seemed to lean backwards.
It was as though they had actually received a powerful blow head on.
From within the group of assassins, several of them dropped from their mounts, spewing blood.
In a flurry of uncertainty the other men stopped their horses. They were looking around at their surroundings.
"That was me, dolts. Hurry up and realize it. ...Guess I'm gonna have to do it again...One, two three!"
Dropping his blade the same as before in a tone that made him seem as though he were playing around, one man fell from his horse. It seemed they finally understood the one doing this was Rain.
After pointing in Rain's direction and exchanging hurried words, they turned their mounts around and ran off.
"It would have been best if you'd all done that from the beginning, you know."
Rain said, tiredly. Completely opposite to the composed Rain, the thick-faced man had lost all color in his face. They had come to understand what it meant to face a Demon Blade from that last attack.
"Eh, a long-distance attack...I never would have thought that sword....c, cou, cou...c"
"What are you, a rooster? You want to say this is the 'Siren's Blade,' don't you?"
"H, how can you say that with such composure!?"
The thick-faced man's bearded face was alight with fear.
He thrust out a shaking finger in Rain's direction.
"Do you have any friggin' idea how dangerous a blade that is!? Where in the world did you come across it!?"
"Don't get your fur in a bunch. It's not like I'm telling you to use it or anything." Rain said firmly, closing the topic.
--There were no inscriptions on the blade.
Neither was there any record of who had imbued the blade with its magical properties.
The only record of the blade still around, goes back to a distant time, more than a thousand years previous.
Around that time, a small country known as Celestia flourished in the desert at the center of the continent.
It was a small country of five-thousand, where the nation was more like a town in size. Yet, because its center was an oasis, the country was quite prosperous.
That is, until one blistering summer day.
On that day, a lone stranger set foot in the peaceful country of Celestia.
Even to this day no one knew what business had drawn him to that place.
All that was known, was that this man who's eyes gleamed like a demon's had without warning, begun to slaughter the townspeople.
He had done it with a Demon Blade held in one hand, which gave off a blue, magical aura.
Any one that was in his field of vision, no matter the distance, could be attacked. That was the blade he wielded, and the power it possessed. One by one the men who tried to stop him fell to the blade until at last, at the gates of the palace the soldiers came out to face him.
By the time they finally succeeded in killing the murderous demon of a man, according to the legend, over one-thousand people, including the townsfolk, had been massacred.
Of course, there is the possibility the numbers were exaggerated. However, what is undeniable is that the Demon Blade stole a countless number of lives.
What was most saddening, was that among the victims was the Kingdom's crown prince, who had been leading the soldiers.<