The sun was shining down on Leni, but it wasn't very warm because it was almost winter.
On the contrary, it was rather cold. A chilly wind relentlessly assailed Leni as he sat on a bench in the courtyard. Crimson leaves fluttered down from the trees that had been planted at set intervals inside of the castle walls.
——It's kinda cold. But Yuri might come by, like she did a few days ago.
He was thinking about giving in and returning to the shelter of the castle, but he didn't know if and when Yuri would come. He could not simply let waste the possibility of having lunch together with her.
She had finally taken interest in him and had admired his sword skills, so this was where the real battle began. Just a little more, just a little more(?), and…!
……Leni did not even stop to consider that Yuri could have seen him train the other day simply by chance.
The wind began to grow colder and fiercer, as if it was sneering at Leni's stout, yet pathetic, determination. In response, he persevered even as his fingers grew numb while holding onto his sandwich.
"Well……at least it's pretty peaceful."
Currently, they were preparing to depart for the frontlines under Rain's orders, but the general in question had not issued any specific directives. On top of that, unlike the knights and squires who worked under him, Leni, a knight-captain, was not particularly busy to begin with. Well, actually, he wasn't supposed to have as much time on his hand as he did, but he figured that it was necessary to take a break every once and a while.
In other words, nothing was out of the ordinary. Even despite that the leader of the kingdom had died and most of their allied troops had been wiped out. Well, Senoa was making a fuss about it, but she was the only one.
But even still,
Just what in the world was going in the General's brain?
Four days ago, Rain had called his two aides, Leni and Senoa, to his room in the evening.
He was beaming from ear to ear with his ever-youthful face, which made him look younger than he actually was, and had said,
"I received a report about the situation with the Zarmine expedition through Magic Vision today."
He had worn such as cheerful smile on his face. He had been in a good mood, too. And the color of his face looked vibrant and healthy (though this was always the case).
Have we won the battle with a "surprise comeback victory" against all odds?! Have we defeated Zarmine?!
Leni had been convinced that Rain would say something along those lines, so he had grinned like an idiot before Rain had said anything else.
Anyone would have thought the same thing after seeing the General's smile at that time. He wasn't at fault here…
But as the matter stood——the truth had been completely different.
Most of the expeditionary force, save for Lord Ralphus' unit, had been annihilated. King Douglas had been killed in battle due to Ganoa and Gilles' betrayal……
Leni had thought that his legs would give out under him on the spot. He remembered thinking, why the heck is the General laughing about this?! Leni had worked under Rain ever since their mercenary days, before Rain had become a knight of Sunkwoll five years ago, but he was still unable to comprehend this aspect of Rain's personality.
He had paled and had begun to tremble, and Senoa had drawn her sword and waved it around in a violent fit of emotion…… Just remembering the scene gave Leni a headache.
"Well, I guess it doesn't really matter."
Leni looked down at his half-empty lunchbox, put the lid back on with a touch of lingering regret, and stretched with his arms to the sky.
He did not have a personal relationship with the king, and the ever-kind Lord Ralphus had been saved, so the situation wasn't really all that bad.
(And the General was and is my only master to begin with.)
Indeed, while King Douglas had been the ruler of the kingdom, he had never been Leni's liege. Leni had only ever accepted and followed one master.
And, from the bottom of his heart, Leni was glad that Rain had not abandoned Ralphus.
A relieved voice called out to Leni and stopped him from leaving.
Turning to its source, Leni saw a youth in his teens jogging toward him. If he remembered correctly, the youth was a squire from a unit that he was in charge of. He did not remember the youth's name, but he was sure of this.
"Did something happen?"
"Um, yessir. Actually, I was at a bit of a loss…"
"I'm on guard duty at the gates today, and someone who looks like a noble that I've never seen before came asking for General Rain just now. And, I didn't know what to do…… She wouldn't give me her name,"
said the young gatekeeper, who brought the matter to Leni's attention with large gestures while still wearing full armor.
Leni listened attentively and nodded while also secretly thinking, 'why do people always come to me when something happens?'
Miss Senoa's here too, so why me? And I was just about to go take a nap, too…
"We can't let them in, of course,"
Leni said decisively, which he did not do often, while hiding away his inner whimpering. He continued,
"we're basically at war right now. Even if they look like a noble on the outside, we have no way of knowing if they really are who appear to be. I tell you all the time, right? That you mustn't let suspicious people in."
The youth seemed extremely disappointed for some reason.
He stole one last fleeting glance at Leni before reluctantly doing a right about-face, as if he had seen that there would be no room for compromise.
Leni hardened his heart and deliberately refrained from calling after him.
After all, we're at war right now.
We can't just let someone who won't even give us their name into the castle. Some rules have to be strict, even when we're not really doing much. Yep.
As he was leaving, the youth muttered under his breath,
"Aw man~. And she was such a beauty too. Oh well…"
"Wait a minute, you!!"
Leni had already caught up to youth by the time that he had shouted.
He had reacted immediately.
"My intuition tells me that I need to at least meet with this person. Yeah, I'll go and meet her personally."
And just as he said he would, Leni quickly departed and left the gatekeeper behind. He also left his lunchbox behind on the bench.
He ignored the youth's confused stammering and hurried on.
"N, no fair! You can't just get a head start like that, Commander Leni!"
Leni simply quickened his pace as the youth continued to call out behind him.
An angel stood before the castle gates.
It was a ridiculous expression, but it had undoubtedly been the first thing that Leni had thought when he laid eyes upon her. The girl before him was simply that beautiful.
She was probably fourteen to sixteen years old.
Her long, straight, golden hair reached down to her waist. Her large, sapphire eyes grew steadily darker inwards from the outer edges of her iris to her pupils like a gradation. No matter how you looked at it, she was a genuine Sunkwoll noble.
The beauty with gentle, —-but strikingly handsome, features looked up at Leni and almost immediately looked back down in crushing disappointment.
She was rather mild-mannered, which was rare for a noble.
"You guys, you're scaring the lady! Quit staring at her!"
Leni said for the time being, his orders directed at the youth who had called for him and two older guards. Both of the older guards had been gawking at the girl with their mouths wide open.
Unable to defy a direct order, the two guards reluctantly turned their eyes away from her.
As a man himself, Leni understood just how smitten they had been. But he wouldn't rescind his order, of course.
Then, he stared at the angelic girl himself with an intensity that could have bored holes into her.
"Come now, Miss. Please ask me if you need anything."
"……Um. You see, I……"
The angel lifted up her face ever so slightly and immediately looked down again after meeting Leni's intense gaze.
"What's wrong? Please, feel free to ask me anything. I, General Rain's aide Leni, will——whoa!!"
It had been as sudden as it had been unexpected.
The beautiful girl, who had been shy and bashful up until now, had suddenly drawn closer to Leni.
She had come so close to bumping into him that a sweet fragrance that he could not name tickled Leni's nose.
"Rain's aide! In that case, please let me meet with him!"
She looked up at Leni once more with a strong light in her clear blue eyes.
Apparently, there was more to the docile girl that she had let on.
"Yes, of course…"
Leni subconsciously nodded so many times that he started to get dizzy. He was almost about agree to her every whim and desire then and there.
At that moment, he felt the two gatekeeper's piercing glares.
They brought Leni back to his senses.
Indeed. It was he himself who always strictly enforced the order, "you mustn't let anyone into the castle without a good reason!" to the point that it had become tedious to all parties involved. It would be bad for him to bend the rules because he had been charmed by the allure of some girl. Really bad. It would also cause problems concerning the way he governed his men.
"Ah~, sorry 'bout that."
Feeling a little self-conscious under his men's piercing glares, Leni awkwardly cleared his throat. Then, once he had regained the composure in his voice, he asked the happily smiling girl,
"well, you see, it's not that I wouldn't refuse to take you to see the General if the circumstances called for it, but I'd at least like to ask for your name and your business with him."
A shadow instantly fell over the girl's face. It seemed like she was caught up in some kind of complicated situation.
Still, it was a question that he had to ask, so Leni silently waited for an answer. A bit of time crept by before the troubled-looking girl finally opened her delicate pink lips.
"……My name is Shelfa."
"Shelfa? Hmm~, I feel like I've heard that name somewhere before…"
Something tugged at the edges of Leni's memory. He was certain that he'd heard that name before. The two gatekeepers tilted their heads to the side just like Leni, as if they too were of the same opinion.
Unlike Leni, pureblooded nobles had entirely blue eyes like this young girl's. No part of their eyes was white. Could this girl possibly be someone famous?
"Miss, you're obviously a noble…… and a noble from a prestigious family, too, right? What's your full name?"
The silence that followed this question was longer than the previous one had been.
The three men exchanged nervous glances between each other until the girl gave them her name with extreme reluctance.
"My full name is——"
"……Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll."
"Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll…… Sunkwoll…… wait, whaaaaaat?!"
Leni startled himself after repeating her name after her. Suffice to say, he was utterly astonished.
There were only a few people in the kingdom who were named after the kingdom itself.
Once the full revelation of the beautiful girl's identity finally sunk in, the three men literally jumped back in surprise.
Oh crap! thought Leni as he felt sweat drip down his brow.
She's one heck of a beauty!
I have to hurry and inform the General!
Leni opened the door without any prior warning and stuck his head inside, his eyes as wide as saucers.
Rain looked away from the map laid out on his table, which he was actually using for once, and sighed deeply.
"……The hell is wrong with you all? Quit bothering me when I'm finally in the mood for cooking up a plan! And besides, this isn't some dingy room from some cheap-ass inn. It's the room of the most important person in this castle. So at least knock, would you?!"
"That's not that important! Something huge's happened! Really huge! Something so huge that everything else pales in comparison!"
"You're being repetitive. Spit it out already."
"Alright. I'll tell you; are you ready?"
Leni took in a deep breath and declared with a touch of theatrical flair,
"she's here at the castle! The Princess herself! I was so surprised!"
"Cut it down a notch!"
Rain rebuked sharply while begrudgingly getting up from his seat.
Oh, so I didn't have to go and pick her up.
"……You don't seem very surprised…?"
Leni asked with a hint of suspicion.
"Well, yeah. I just got a letter from Ralphus asking me to take care of the Princess, and the Princess must have heard about the arrangement from Ralphus. He probably told her to come and find me if anything happened. Well, I guess there's nothing I can do about the fact that she's already here."
"You, you brush her off so easily…… She's a real beauty you know, the Princess, that is. Shouldn't you be a bit more……"
"Quit lying to my face,"
Rain interrupted him, laughing with contempt. He continued,
"as if that sweaty old geezer could possibly father a beauty."
"General, he's still the former king of this kingdom! We, well, whatever. But I'm serious. I doubted her identity at first, too, but she really is the Princess and she really is beautiful!"
"Argh, okay, I get it. Then why don't you take charge of her? That should keep you happy, right?"
"Huh? Really? Hooray~ ……wait, no! Even if I wanted to, the Princess herself said that she wanted to meet with you no matter what!"
"With me? Why?"
"How would I know?! She seemed like she knew you from before, though."
Leni glared at Rain with jealousy in his eyes.
Leni was like an open book. It was obvious that he had taken interest in this princess of his even though Yuri was already the apple of his eye.
"How the hell would I know this princess? You were probably misunderstanding something."
"I really don't think I was. It was like, like she was desperate to see you or something."
"Even if you say that, I really can't help the fact that I haven't got a clue about what she wants. Well, either way, I can't refuse if the Princess says she wants to see me."
Rain proceeded to leave his room with great reluctance.
Well, he figured that he might as well at least hear her out.
Rain's attituded seemed to vex Leni, as the latter then, a little forcefully, declared,
"her beauty will surprise you when you see her."
"You really think so~? Wanna bet on that?"
"You bet I do! If you still think she's isn't beautiful after you see her, I'll run around the castle a hundred times, naked, doing a handstand, and singing all the way!"
Rain was surprised, to say the least.
To think that Leni, the timid man who boasted his utter lack of self-confidence, would go that far!
Perhaps it really was better to meet her at least once.
He sped up in anticipation and entered the hallway.
If I see her and she looks exactly like King Douglas, I'll make him do exactly what he said he would!
A blonde beauty briskly walked up to him as he made his way for the parlor on the first floor. She was wearing a mauve coat that reached down to her knees and pants of the same color.
Much to Rain's chagrin, it was Senoa. She looked like she was about to scold him again.
she called out as soon as she caught sight of him.
She immediately looked angry, and it ruined her pretty face……as usual.
"Well met, General. There is something that we must discuss at once!"
"Right to the point, as always…… Sorry, but I'm not free right now. Some high-profile guest has called for me, you see."
Rain answered with a steady voice and a straight face. It went without saying that he did not stop moving his feet.
However, Senoa was not one to simply let the matter go at that, so she fell in step with him and snapped,
"and who might this high-profile guest be?"
"It's Her Highness the Princess herself! Isn't that awesome?"
Leni happily followed up in Rain's stead.
……Not that it matters, but stop bragging about it like some little brat, Rain thought piteously.
"What?! Her, Her Royal Highness the Princess?!"
Senoa stumbled in shock and steadied herself with a hand against the hallway wall. She placed the other on her forehead and looked up at the ceiling in unadulterated astonishment. Her reaction was so overdone that her audience could not help but wonder if she was doing it on purpose.
"W, when did she arrive?"
"Um, just now, actually……"
Leni answered her in the kindest manner that he could manage, but Rain simply left his two aides behind him and hurried onwards.
Sticking around Senoa inevitably meant having to deal with her nagging, and that was a huge pain. Then, though Rain really should have expected it, he heard someone pursuing him hot on his heels as Senoa caught up to him and fell in step with him again.
And just then, she badgered,
"why have you neglected to inform me about such an important matter?"
"Look here, I only found out about a few moments ago myself! If you're going to complain, complain at Leni!"
"General! How could you!?"
"In any event. I shall accompany you as well."
With a sharp glare at Leni, Senoa stated her most inconvenient intentions.
Completely fed up with the situation, Rain stopped in his tracks.
"Suit yourself. We're already here."
He raised a hand to knock on the sturdy, iron-enforced door in front of him……and froze.
Something akin to a sixth sense, that Rain had cultivated though countless battles, sounded a silent warning around him.
The person inside was dangerous.
A surge of power that was stronger than that of any enemy that Rain had ever faced before made the hairs on his neck tingle so much that it hurt.
What is this? The person inside is the Princess, right? But this power……it might even rival mine. No, it might actually be stronger.
And that wasn't all.
I've felt this before. I've met someone who emitted the same kind of pressure before. I'd forgotten about it, but I'm sure it was……
"General, what's wrong? You've frozen solid."
Rain blinked and regained his composure after Leni peacefully called out to him.
Gently, he put down his hand.
"Hey, Leni…… Senoa, you too. I'm asking just in case, but does the Princess excel at swordsmanship or martial arts? Or magic, even?"
Leni tilted his head to the side and Senoa looked at Rain as if she had no idea what he was talking about.
Irritated, Rain tried again,
"in other words, is she strong?"
The two aides traded glances.
After a slight pause, Senoa answered,
"Her Highness has almost always been confined to the castle grounds. I have heard that she is learned in academics and etiquette, but I don't believe that she had ever studied swordsmanship or magic."
But he could not have possibly been mistaken.
After all, he could still feel the pressure even now. Rain did not doubt his sixth sense. It was the only reason that he was still alive.
It was only a matter of entering the room.
There is nothing in this world that I'm afraid of. So why don't we go ahead and see who's inside?
With newfound vigor, Rain raised his fist and knocked on the door.
A young girl turned toward him as he entered the room, her long golden hair dancing nimbly around her.
The girl, who had refused a seat and was standing up to look out the window instead, looked straight at Rain, and only Rain, with her large blue eyes.
Whoa there…… Rain found himself at a loss for words.
He was stunned by how beautiful the girl wearing the frilly white dress was.
Wait a minute. How is that fugly old man with stinky feet the father of this SUPER beautiful girl? She doesn't even look like him!?
Rain knit his brows together.
I feel like I've seen this girl before.
Pushing the matter of the intense pressure aside, Rain stared hard at the girl's handsome face.
All of a sudden, tears began to bubble up from the corners of the girl's eyes.
At the verge of tears, she stretched out her trembling hands and began to walk toward him.
"Eh? Umm~, are you Her Highness?"
Rain's hesitant question did not seem to reach the girl's ears.
"I missed you…… I've been for you for so, so long."
The girl drew nearer to Rain, who was still at a complete loss, one step at a time until she finally threw herself into his arms. He felt her soft body press into his chest.
This time, it was Senoa and Leni's turn to freeze up.
Leni, in particular, had both of his arms stretched out like he was waiting for a hug and wore the expression of a kid who had had his candy taken away from him.
The Princess clung onto him as if her life depended on it.
"Whoa, hold it!! Excuse me, Your Highness, but I think you have the wrong person…?"
Rain said while firmly wrapping his arm around her waist. He took a moment to appreciate how good he had it.
"Rain, don't you remember? It's me. You played with me three years ago……"
The girl finally broke out into a stunning smile and looked up at him.
Three years ago…… He finally remembered after hearing those words. Of the young girl he had met in the garden that had been off-limits, of her melancholy beauty, of the promise they had exchanged……
The image of the young girl from his memories overlapped with that of the princess in front of him in vivid detail.
"I remember now~! Are you the Little one from back then?"
Rain said in a louder voice than he had meant to.
"Yes, I am! You remember me!"
"Course I do! But man, I hardly recognized you! You've become incredibly womanly in just three years, huh. It took me so long to realize it was you!"
Feeling nostalgic, Rain tightly embraced the girl with the intent of welcoming her back to him. She squeezed him back with the arms that she had wrapped around him as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Whoa! Her flat chest filled out quite well over the——
A voice from the shadows cut Rain's bliss short. Senoa was glaring at Rain with a steady gaze. She had a hand on the sword at her waist.
As for why she was armed inside of the castle, was a complete mystery.
"May I ask for an explanation of the current situation?"
"You have a really unpleasant aura coming off of you right now, you know."
"The situation, Sir!"
Her hand, wrapped tightly around the hilt of her sword, began to shake.
She had snapped just as easily as ever.
It was unfortunate, but Rain hastily took his hands off of Michelle.
"Yeah, I'll explain, so calm down. This girl is an acquaintance of mine, and her name is Michelle."
"Huh, whaat? Isn't she Her Highness the Princess?"
asked Leni, who had finally de-frosted.
"Uh…, nope, not at all. Well, I can guess why she said she was. Michelle probably used the Princess' name in order to meet me because she couldn't get into the castle otherwise, am I right?"
Michelle timidly tried to interpose.
——With shyly upturned eyes.
Rain smiled and waved his hand in the air and signaled to her not to worry.
"Don't worry about it, Michelle. If some random guy tried to pull that on me, I'd send them flying, but you're special. You don't need to worry about any~thing."
"N, no, that's……"
"It's fine! A harmless prank or two every now and then is nothing. When I was a kid, I used to be called the 'emperor of pranks,' you know?"
"That's not it!"
Michelle suddenly raised her voice.
Then, with a proper and serious expression, she continued,
"I lied to you, Rain."
"Please allow me to re-introduce myself with my real name. My name is Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll……and I am the daughter of the king…… I'm sorry, Rain. I've been lying to you this whole time."
Rain's mind went completely blank.
After staring at her in a daze for a short while, he finally managed to say,
The atmosphere in the room suddenly grew heavy.
He was dreaming.
He was dreaming of crossing swords with a man whose silver hair was long enough to cover an eye. The man was closing in on Rain, who had never known defeat after leaving his hometown, and was close to brining the battle to an end.
thought Rain in his dream.
Is this even possible? For me to be cornered this far-—
I have to be the strongest. I must not lose to anyone! Never again will I——
However, the silver-haired man ignored Rain's distress and mercilessly brought down his blazing magic sword on Rain. Before long, the crimson blade flooded Rain's field of vision and cut him to pieces.
Rain jolted awake, drenched in sweat.
He found himself in his own bed in his own room, as he always did, and sunlight filtered through the window.
Rain took a moment to grimace while remembering the crappy nightmare he had just had before shaking his head and climbing out of bed. ……It was only just a dream. There's no way I would lose.
He decisively nodded to himself and headed for his dresser. He changed into his usual ensemble, consisting of a black shirt and black pants, and yawned lightly. He had finally regained his composure.
……We're departing tomorrow, after all. I guess I'll at least take things slow for today. I even had some strange dream. I must be more tired than I'd thought I was.
The lord of a castle was supposed to be busy on a day like this, but Rain, who disliked troublesome things, decided to leave the work to Senoa and conceal his whereabouts from her.
He had Gunther feeding Zarmine false information. The fake orders that Gunther had mixed into all of the orders that the army was receiving from their home country would likely render them immobile for a short while. If everything went as planned, they would meet at the kingdoms' borders.
Rain finished changing while thinking about all of this and looked down at the courtyard from his window after fastening on his magic sword, which had been propped up against the wall.
"Hm. No one's watching."
He nimbly jumped out of his window after briefly making sure that no one was there.
With the agility of a cat, he somersaulted multiple times in the air and landed safely from a six-story jump, which normally would have spelled death for an ordinary man.
"Now, maybe I'll go on a long ride or some……whoops."
At the edge of Rain's field of vision was a youth, who could have still passed as a child, with his eyes wide open.
Unknown to Rain, the youth was the guard who had initially greeted Shelfa yesterday.
"Yeah, I have this bad habit of automatically excluding men from my field of vision. Ah~ hey, c'mere for a second."
At Rain's call, the youth tottered over with his eyes still open wide.
"What's your name and rank?"
"S, sir! My name is Miran. I'm a squire, General."
"I see, Miran, was it? Did you see me just now?"
Rain smiled and tightly clasped Miran's shoulder.
"Hey, Miran. Let's talk about scary stories for a bit. I'll tell you the scariest story I know."
"No, no thank you, Sir. I don't really…"
"Just listen, will you?"
Rain silenced Miran, who had stiffened up, with a sharp glint in his eyes and began,
"it's a story about a certain squire that I know, let's call him M…… One day, M accidently learned about a secret of the lord that he served. Then, because he was quite the chatterbox, you know, he happily told someone else that secret."
Miran began to sweat profusely, despite how cold the weather was.
"A, and what happened to M then?"
he asked, paling. His lips had turned purple.
Rain shook his head in great exaggeration and replied in a dramatically tragic tone,
"it was such a tragedy, and a scary one too. First, as punishment, M was put on lavatory duty every day, then he was put on gate guard duty for the next five years straight, his wages were halved, and what's more, his chances of getting promoted had vanished forever. How was it? Scary, right?"
"Ve, very scary, Sir. Extremely scary,"
said Miran as he nodded, trembling.
His face had gone from pale to ghostly white. Rain looked deeply into his eyes.
Then, in a low voice, Rain said,
"so, let's go back to the question I asked earlier: did you see anything strange just now?"
"I, I saw the General properly exit the castle from the entrance and nothing else!"
Miran replied on the verge of tears.
"It's all good and fine as long as you understand. You'll be a future centurion, M!"
Rain smacked Miran hard across the shoulder before walking away in good spirits, leaving Miran behind in stupefaction.
……I might be serving under someone totally amazing,
thought Miran, standing as straight as a pole as he watched his liege lord walk away.
Rain hummed happily to himself as he continued toward the courtyard as if nothing had happened.
Cortecreas Castle had a plumbing system that utilized the water pressure created by differences in height, but it still also had a well.
He turned around headed for the back of the castle, planning on washing his face before leaving. When he reached the well, however, he found that it already had a visitor.
The girl before him carefully dried off her damp hair with a towel……her golden hair shone as it danced in the long-awaited dawn.
The snow-white dress she wore suited her well. It was one of the pieces that Rain had his men prepare for her yesterday. Incidentally, her skirt reflected Rain's personal preferences and was rather short.
"Yo, Little one!"
Rain greeted her in a manner that was quite unbecoming of his status as her retainer.
The girl burst into a smile upon hearing his voice.
With joy permeating through her entire being, Shelfa threw aside her towel and ran up to Rain.
"Good morning! I'm glad that I could see you first thing in the morning."
Even Rain could not help but hesitate at her gleeful words. Her clear sapphire eyes glistened with joy, and her slender hands grasped Rain's without even a hint of her usual timidity.
Did I do something to make her like me so much?
"Umm~, you're technically my liege lord, but is it alright if I treat you the way I did before when we're alone?"
"Something like that…… You don't even need to ask about that."
A shadow flickered across her smile. She continued,
"are you still angry with me?"
"Of course not. I've already heard about your circumstances regarding that matter, and I really don't mind anymore. I was just making sure."
"Still, we should still talk like princess and retainer when we're in the presence of other people. Fortunately, I'm able to sense people's presences, so it won't be a problem."
Shelfa's long eyelashes followed her gaze downward. She continued,
"I want to speak normally with you at all times, Rain. And, about me taking the place of my father……"
"We discussed that yesterday too, didn't we? You're the first in line to succeed the throne. After all, the former king never had any sons. And the troops need some kind of figurehead to look up to in order to keep up morale. At the very least, I'll need you to hold out until the fighting in over,"
Rain lightly admonished her as he pulled up the clattering bucket from the well and washed his face.
At his side, Shelfa answered,
"I will bear the weight of the crown as long as you help me, Rain…… But for you to speak to me with such formality——"
"You don't like it?"
Shelfa gulped and nodded. She looked up at Rain with beautiful, upturned eyes. However, there was nothing that could be done. At the end of the day, Rain was still her retainer.
"Hmm~, that's a pickle. Oh, I'm borrowing the towel."
"Uh, umm. I used that just now."
"It's fine as long it was you. I don't mind."
Rain calmly used the towel to wipe his face. It smelled very good, like the fragrance of flowers.
"Well, let's rethink the matter about you succeeding the throne and about me being formal to you in front of other people when we've taken care of other issues first. There are probably a lot of people who are sitting around eyeing the throne right now. We can just push that problem on them if it gets to that."
He hung the towel over the edge of the well and looked at Shelfa. She did not look very satisfied with how things stood. Then, he said,
"……Oh, geez. Quit thinking so hard about it. Oh, I know; why don't we go on a long ride together for a change of pace?"
Shelfa looked up in surprise and asked,
"is it alright for me to go outside?"
"What's with that? Are you not feeling well or something? Come to think of it, maybe you're a little too thin? Are you hurting anywhere in particular?"
"Oh, no, that's not it. I was just surprised because I've never really been allowed outside before."
Rain nodded deeply and gently placed a hand on Shelfa's cheek. Her snow-white cheeks flushed pink in an instant. He continued,
"forget everything that happened to you until now. Alright? You're the ruler of this kingdom now. No one can make light of your wishes anymore. You can do whatever you please."
"In that case, I have a request!"
Eyes sparkling, she continued,
"is it alright for me to remain at your side, Rain? Is it alright for me to always stay by your side, and never be apart from you?!"
Why did it turn out like this?
Rain was taken aback by the strength of her wish, but it he could not bring himself to refuse her at this point, either.
With no other alternative, he said,
"……if that's what you wish for."
"I'm so happy…… I'm truly……so happy,"
Shelfa muttered as she buried her head into Rain's chest.
Her voice was overflowing with delight.
Her reaction made even Rain think, have I agreed to let her do something outrageous, by any chance?
"Hey, don't get so happy over something like this. Putting that aside, let's go for a ride, yeah?"
"Yes, of course. As long you're with me."
"Great. Guess I'll call Kris over."
Rain placed two fingers in his mouth and let out a loud whistle.
After a short wait.
His partner, Kris, came trotting over.
"Amazing! She came as soon as you called!"
"Well, yeah. That's 'cause she's my partner and all."
"Her coat is the most beautiful breed I've ever seen! It's pure white."
Shelfa entertained herself by lovingly running her hands across Kris' coat. Kris, who was generally hard to please, seemed to take a liking to Shelfa as well, and did not shake the girl off.
It was truly a pleasant scene to watch from behind……
But then, how do you explain the pressure I've been feeling from her?
Rain pondered while watching Shelfa as she was enthralled by Kris.
He remembered it clearly now. He had felt the very same overwhelming strength when he had first met Shelfa in that garden.
He had lowered the volume of his singing in an attempt to figure out and approach the person that the pressure had belonged to, but had let the matter go upon learning that it was a lovely young girl.
He had not paid it any heed back then, but it seemed strange now that he thought about it. It wasn't as if she had been leaned in the ways of the sword (he had asked her about it yesterday), so he could not figure out why the beautiful girl exerted so much pressure.
It's not possible that she's hiding her strength on purpose——is it?
It doesn't seem like she is at all……
Should I test her out?
Rain put a hand on the hilt of his magic sword and nonchalantly called out to Shelfa,
"hey, Little one."
Shelfa stopped petting the horse and turned around.
Rain purposefully let out a large amount of bloodlust and swung his magic sword so fast that it had become no more than just a blur rushing toward the girl's side. It was a strike that only someone with considerable skill and experience could possibly evade.
The sword left a trail of light that flashed blue like lightning.
Unfortunately, she did not react.
Rain managed stopped his blade a paper's width away from the nape of the unsuspecting girl's neck.
Th, that was really close. I almost cut off her head.
He broke out in a cold sweat.
"My. This sword was a magical sword, yes? Are you letting me see it?"
Overflowing with curiosity, Shelfa reached out for the sword with her delicate white hand, without thinking even in her wildest dreams that she had nearly just been killed.
"Whoa! Hey, you can't just touch a blade like that. You'll hurt yourself."
"Oh……you're right. I've never held I sword before, so I…"
Shelfa apologized remorsefully.
She probably wouldn't come up and suddenly say, "actually, I'm really quite strong."
It didn't seem like the mystery would be solved any time soon.
The outskirts of Cortecreas Castle were filled with woods and grassland, with plots of cultivated fields scattered throughout, and didn't really seem like it was the heart of Astel. This was because Claralta, which was supposed to be Astel's castle town, was a bit far away from the castle. Rain had distanced Claralta from the castle on purpose while constructing Cortecreas Castle so that the flames of war would not reach the town if the castle was ever under siege.
An elderly woman stooped over and weeded a field next to the highway so serenely that it almost felt as if the Zarmine threat did not exist.
"It's very peaceful,"
said Shelfa from in between Rain's arms.
It was an arrangement that had inevitably resulted from the fact that the two of them were riding on Kris together.
They were stuck together like spoons on top of the saddle.
Rain had proposed to get her a horse of her own to ride, but she had wished to ride together with him instead.
She really, really likes me for some reason? thought Rain. All I did was play with her…
Then, he had a sudden stray thought,
what would my parents say if I brought her back to the countryside with me?
"Oh, my! This is the first time I've seen a real bonafide princess. Let me bake you some cookies," ……was what his mother would probably say.
"You're gone and eloped with a princess…not too shabby, are you?" his delinquent of a father would say while laughing heartily.
……Now that I think about it, my parents might be a little strange.
"Hm? What's up?"
Shelfa, who was having trouble speaking her mind, brought Rain back to reality.
Then, she spoke of her grave resolution——and in a voice that carried her budding determination, she said,
"earlier, I said that I wanted to be with your forever…… but from now on, should you determine that we are in danger, I want you to ignore me and save yourself. Your safety is more important to me than anything else, Rain."
Shelfa calmly spoke of her considerations for Rain. ……Not that he would ever agree to them.
Rain said, exasperated, and poked at the blond hair just under his eyes.
"Don't "ah" me. You're being cheeky, you know."
Shelfa looked up at him in surprise as Rain gently scolded her. He continued,
"I said that I'd stay by your side, so all you have to do is accept that without saying another word. You have an amazing genius like me right here with you, so why aren't you relying on me more?"
"No buts. I'd tell you up front if I didn't like something. So you can rely on me as much as you want as long as I don't refuse you. ……You're different from King Douglass, after all."
Rain gently hugged her from behind with the hand that was holding the reins. Then, he said,
"sorry for not saving your old man. I'll apologize to you and only you about that. If I'd known he was your father, I would have given it a bit more thought."
"Please, don't let it weigh on your mind,"
Shelfa said with an expression overflowing with trust as she leaned against Rain's arms with her delicate frame. Then, she whispered,
"I believe that my father's death was his own fault. More importantly, I'm so happy that you said I could rely on you……"
There was not even a hint of hesitation in her voice.
Unable to respond, Rain simply put more strength in the arm he was hugging Shelfa with.
They had come pretty far before they knew it and had been engaged in friendly banter all the way.
They had cleared one forest and yet another one stretched out in front of them. At that moment, a group of men on horseback appeared before them and kicked up a cloud of dust in their wake.
Rain, who had abnormally good eyesight, saw that the men were clad in leather armor, carried longswords at their waists, and generally looked like mercenaries.
The men immediately whipped their horses faster as soon as they spotted Rain and Shelfa. Their bloodlust was so concentrated that Rain instinctively scowled in response.
"One, two, three……twenty, huh. I wonder who their target is? …….Or, maybe they're planning on killing both of us?"
Rain muttered ever so leisurely.
"Shelfa, we appear to have a few guests."
Shelfa only noticed the approaching group of men after Rain pointed them out to her. She continued,
"and these people are……"
Shelfa stiffened up atop the saddle. It was a natural reaction. Not many people could remain calm while knowing that someone was after their life. She continued,
"won't you run away?"
"Nah~. I could run away, but I really don't like the idea of a group of men like that wandering about my territory."
"But…… I don't want you to get hurt, Rain."
"Oh please. There's no way I'd lose to a bunch of losers who only have numbers going for them."
Shelfa twisted her body around to look up at Rain. Rain, on the other hand, thought that her worry was wholly wasted on him. Thus, he replied arrogantly on purpose,
"of course I am! If I felt like it, I could easily take on a thousand or so men at once!"
Shelfa opened her already large eyes even wider. Her face was filled with surprise and respect. Her response almost made Rain fall of Kris.
Wait, you believed that?!
I should really think twice before saying anything careless to her…… Oh, well. It's not like I told her a horror story or anything.
But I should probably still warn her otherwise,
"hey~, Little one."
"You know, you really shouldn't trust everything that people tell you. ……But I'm the exception to the rule, of course."
"You needn't worry about that. I'm actually quite distrustful of others."
Shelfa laughed innocently and continued,
"Rain, you are the only one whom I trust from the bottom of my heart."
"Is, is that so?"
Shelfa nodded resolutely with her body still comfortably nestled against Rain's.
Rain thought that the fact that she did not trust anyone else was a problem in and of itself, but he could not bring himself to criticize her for it after recalling the details of her upbringing. After all, from what Rain had heard, King Douglas had been rather cold toward his daughter.
The group of assassins had closed a considerably amount of distance while they had been talking.
Rain brought Kris to a halt and jumped down in one fluid motion.
"Well then, I'll be right back. Wait here and watch me with Kris, alright?"
Shelfa nodded obediently instead of voicing any further objections.
Then, she took Rain's hand in her slender fingers and gently whispered heavy words as if they were the most natural thing in the world,
"I wish you luck in battle. ……I am prepared for what would come next should something happen to you."
It was only then that Rain understood.
Only then did Rain finally understand just how pure and how deep her feelings for him were.
Geez. ——You're expecting too much from me, Little one.
The men simultaneously dismounted their horses after seeing Rain casually stroll up to them.
They had yet to draw their swords, but the ugly glare in each of their eyes made it clear that they had every intent to do so.
In any case, it was clear that they were not here to make friends.
With a refreshing smile on his face, Rain casually walked up to them as if he didn't have a care in the world.
When he was close enough that everyone present could see each other's faces, he waved his hand and cheerfully called out,
"yo! Nice weather today."
The men stared at Rain with suspicious eyes, like stray cats cautiously eyeing a passing human.
There were even some who seemed to want to say, "is this bastard fucking stupid?" One actually turned around to ask,
"are you sure that it's him?"
"Yeah. That annoyingly brazen smile is definitely the same one that we were shown through Magic Vision,"
replied a self-important young man at the very back of the group. He had an oily face that looked like it hadn't been washed in a while. He looked like an idiot, but he was probably the leader of the group.
"But he looks pretty young…… Is he really twenty-five?"
Ignoring the man who had voiced his doubts, Rain called out to them,
"hey, there's something I wanna talk to you guys about. Hear me out without getting upset, alright?"
The entire group glared at Rain as if he was the most insolent creature they had ever met. Still beaming from ear to ear, Rain continued,
"it's true that I'm the strongest in the world, but it's not like I enjoy killing people or anything. And besides, I wouldn't make a single copper even if I killed off all of you. Well, I guess I'd be doing the rest of the world a favor or something."
Rain cast a cursory glance at each and every man after his eloquent speech. They all looked completely taken aback. He nodded to himself and promptly continued,
"but I'd still prefer not to have to spill any blood today. I don't know who put you up to this, but this'll end up as wasted effort on your part. So, why don't we pretend this never happened, and you can get the heck out of my territory……and didn't I tell you not to get upset?"
The looks on the assassins' faces had changed.
Their bloodlust, which had already been densely concentrated to begin with, grew even thicker.
The man at the forefront of the group spat on the ground.
"Fucking around with us…… Shit's like you just need to die already."
Rain withdrew his smile and let out a sigh.
"Actually, I was thinking the exact same thing."
The very next moment.
Rain's body abruptly stirred. ——Or rather, he became nothing more than a blur.
Rain, who had disappeared from the assassins' field of vision, closed the distance between them with astonishing speed and suddenly appeared directly in front of them.
By the time the men had processed what had just happened, he was already before their eyes ——he had already broken through their ranks.
First, the man standing absent-mindedly at the front of the group was cut diagonally down from the shoulder. The blade of Rain's sword became an oblique flash of blue light that cut through even the bone with ease.
The man's leather armor had proved to be no more useful than a piece of paper as fresh blood sprouted from his wound.
Before the blood reached the ground, Rain slashed his sword to the left and right and cut through more flesh and left fountains of blood erupting behind him.
Each time Rain swung his sword, it emitted an aura of magic that permeated the space around it and drew a trail of pale blue light in its wake.
It was almost funny how the assassins dropped one after the other like flies. Rain moved too fast for them to make use of their greater numbers.
Not a single man could catch up to Rain as he rushed past them like wind and broke them as if they were merely dolls.
Rain's magic sword glowed like a sinister phantasm and burned the assassins' eyes.
The surviving men gulped and cheeks turned gaunt.
"A, a magic sword?! S, spread out! He's stronger than we th…!"
"You're too slow, dumbass!"
An afterimage suddenly materialized before the eyes of the man who had shouted.
Needless to say, it was Rain.
By the time the man had raised his sword and warned the others, Rain had already rushed in and pierced him through the heart, ending his life before he could retaliate.
With a flick of his wrist so fast that it was barely a blur, Rain withdrew his sword from the first man and sank a second into the sea of blood around them.
It was only then that the enemy finally began to move.
Two men burning with rage came at Rain from both sides. They were probably capable mercenaries to begin with. Both men aimed their swords precisely at Rain's vitals and advanced with considerable speed.
However, they had only succeeded in cutting through a fleeting illusion ——Rain's afterimage.
Rain had seen through the paths of their swords within a millisecond and had smoothly evaded their fatal strikes.
Their swords harmlessly cut through the air as if they had been repelled by an invisible barrier.
Rain evaded the two longswords with the smallest amount of movement necessary and twirled the magic sword in his right hand.
One was slashed across the throat, and another across his chest, and both men stopped moving and crumbled where they stood.
Next, another challenger jumped into the fray.
When the man's sword missed its target and took him off balance, the blue blade sliced him across the throat and drew out a fountain of blood.
Without pausing to confirm his kill, Rain kept his sword's momentum and swept at another assassin from the side.
The man had barely just managed to defend himself with his sword. But, unable to withstand the energy and power of the magic sword, it broke into pieces while smelling of burning metal.
As the broken sword had done little to reduce the force behind the magic sword, it continued straight into the man's chest and mowed him down.
The man fell backwards in a fountain of blood, and a piece of his sword clattered to the ground as if it was chasing after its master.
Then, without even looking back, Rain unleashed a powerful kick to his rear.
His long, extended leg landed hard at the thick throat of the man who had tried to circle behind him ——and with a sickening crunch, the man with a freshly broken neck was thrown into the air and landed off to the side of the road.
By that time, however, Rain had already zeroed in on his next prey like the wind.
Rain moved between twenty assassins as if he was dancing. Each time his magic sword whistled through the air, someone screamed or burst into a fountain of blood and fell.
The men were at their wit's end. They could not keep up with Rain's movements, so they could not even begin to make use of their greater numbers.
Their opponent was simply too fast for them to surround, despite the fact that the road was more than wide enough for them to do so.
Rain surpassed them in speed, physical strength, and even grit. At that point, their skirmish could barely even be called an actual fight.
Furthermore, Rain did not look even the least bit nervous.
Although they did not want to admit it, the men realized that Rain was still taking it easy.
Their numbers had been reduced to half in the mere ten seconds it had been since the skirmish had begun.
"Ugh! And we prepared a large number of men just for this commission…… Is this guy a monster?!"
Although he had been pretending to oversee the battle from horseback with the airs of a lofty leader, the confusion in his voice betrayed the oily-faced man's internal panic.
Infected by their leader's fear and cowardice, the assassins that had been fighting with determination suddenly drew back. The stole glances amongst each other with pallid faces.
"Hey, what's wrong? You guys got real quiet all of a sudden."
Instead of pressing his advantage, Rain swung his magic sword over his shoulder and yawned. He wasn't even out of breath from the fighting. Thus, the assassins were made to witness his unbelievably inexhaustible stamina. Then, he continued,
"I'm still willing to overlook this, you know. I'll give you one more chance, so hurry up and scam."
"The, the fuck are you saying?! Don't act all high and mighty just 'cause you got yourself a magic sword. Hey, hurry up and attack him already!"
However, only the leader responded with such ferocity, as the other men appeared to hold a different opinion. The rest of the men slow~ly backed away from Rain.
Then, Rain said,
"oh, okay then. Well, who am I to stop you if you wanna die so badly?"
He advanced towards them as soon as the words left his mouth, and the men turned around and sprinted for their horses with commendable speed the very moment he took his first step.
"Huh?! H, hey! What the hell are you guys doing?! Get back; get you asses back here!"
None of the men responded to their leader's shouts, and instead they promptly fled on their horses without a second glance. Of all the things, even the horses of the dead joined in on the escape because they had been frightened by the tumult.
All that was left was the oily-faced man, who had lost both a means to escape and had been abandoned by his men.
The man's pitiful voice echoed around him.
"Now, what to do with you?"
Rain smiled devilishly at the flustered oily-faced man.
The oily-faced man grew deathly pale. Sweat poured down his face in a comical manner as he desperately averted eyes.
He gulped and said in a quiet voice,
"do, don't get mad…… We never meant any harm."
"Never meant any harm? Are you delirious? You must really have a death wish, huh?"
Rain lifted his magic sword high inter the air.
"Waah! Wait, don't be rash. Let's talk this out! I've done nothing wrong. There was a co, commission from the prime minister of Zarmine. And then…… ah."
The oily-faced man, now drenched in sweat, suddenly spaced out. His small eyes widened as he gazed over Rain's shoulder.
"Rain! Are you unhurt?"
When Rain warily turned around, he found Shelfa, following closely behind Kris, walking over to him while trying to ignore the corpses littering the ground.
"Hey. I thought I asked you to wait for me."
"I'm sorry. But Kris just started to walk, so…… Nevertheless, Rain, you're so very strong."
Shelfa looked up at him with respect.
For the time being, it seemed that her admiration had overcome her fear.
"Well, yeah. I'm a genius after all."
Rain broke out into a sudden smile and instinctively brushed back his hair.
"……This girl; who is she?"
the oily-faced man asked with zeal, throwing a wet blanket on Rain's mood.
"She has nothing to do with you! She's never had anything to do with you, and she won't have anything to do with you from here on out, either. Stop looking at her like that; you'll taint her with your ogling!"
"Y, you didn't have to go that far!"
"Yes, I did! And besides, are you really in any kind of position to ask me questions, huh!?"
Rain pressed his sword against the man's throat, causing him to tremble and attempt to raise his hands in surrender. Only then did he realized that he was still holding onto his sword and threw it away in a panic.
He shot both of his hands into the air.
"I get it! Please, forgive me! I was really only doing what I was told. It was the prime minister; he submitted a commission through the assassin's guild——he's the bad guy behind all of this!"
"……Tell me more."
"I, I took the job only just the other day. According to the prime minister, the assassination order was directed by King Leygur. So, the order really came from King Leygur. I'm not lying!"
"Hmph. This King Leygur of yours must be real piece of work to come after me even though he's a guy. He's a hundred years too early for that, I do say so myself."
"King Leygur plans……to assassinate Rain……"
Immediately worried, rather than shocked, by the revelation, Shelfa clung onto Rain's arm. Rain smiled back at her in an attempt to tell her not to worry. After all, it was not the first time that someone had targeted his life.
"Hey, aren't you done with me? Just let me go already."
"You're pretty shameless, aren't you? You could just accept your death like a real man……oh."
Rain stopped and looked toward the forest in front of him mid-sentence and furrowed his brows.
There was another cloud of dust. A new group of ten people or so were galloping toward them.
laughed the oily-faced man who had been revitalized the moment he saw it too.
His previous look of sycophancy had been wiped off of his face and with his chest puffed out with pride he said,
"look, they're on my side! I prepared more men that what the prime minster ordered me to just in case. How d'you like that?!"
"Are you stupid?"
Rain flatly shot back. He continued,
"twenty people couldn't stand up to me just now, so what good do you think another ten will do?"
The oil-faced man lost his short-lived confidence as Rain talked. He seemed to have realized that Rain had a point.
"Geez. What's with the gross sausage feast on this fine morning? I can't take this anymore. Maybe I'll just use a secret skill……"
spat out Rain, visibly fed up with the situation, as he removed himself from Shelfa's grasp and swung his magic sword high above his head.
Then, he swung his sword directly down, ignoring the confusion his movements caused in the girl and man besides him.
The magic sword released a bluish white aura as it etched a trail of light in its path.
For an instant, it looked as if the sword had rent asunder the very space itself——and in that very same moment, some of the men from afar slumped over backwards on their horses.
It was as if they had taken a direct hit from the blade.
Several of the oncoming assassins fell from their horses while spewing blood.
The remaining men stopped their horses in a panic. They looked around their surroundings in abject confusion.
"That was me. Get with the program already, fools. ……Guess I'll have to do it one more time……one, two~, and…"
Rain swung his sword down again while talking as if he was just messing around, and one of the remaining assassins slumped backwards and fell off of his horse like the others had before him. Finally, they understood that it had been Rain's doing.
After pointing fingers at Rain and striking up a heated conversation amongst themselves for a short while, they turned tail and ran away.
"You should have done that from the start,"
mumbled Rain as if nothing had happened. Unlike the calm and composed Rain, Shelfa and the oily-faced man had the blood drained from their faces. They had come to realize the magic sword's identity was with that last attack.
"A ra, ranged attack…… That, that sword…… cou, cou, could it, cou, could…"
"What are you, are rooster? Or were you trying to ask me if this is the Siren's Blade? If so, then yes, it is."
"H, how can you be so calm about that?!"
The oily-faced man's bearded visage distorted with fear.
He pointed at Rain, who stood before him as if nothing was wrong, with a shaking finger.
"Don't you know how fucking dangerous that sword is?! Where the hell did you even get it?!"
"It's not like I'm telling you to use it. Get a grip on yourself, would you?"
said Rain, decidedly ignoring the man's questions.
——The blade lacked an official epitaph.
There were no records of who had imbued the sword with magic.
The sole remaining record of the blade dated back to at least a thousand years ago.
At that time, a small kingdom called had "Celestia" flourished in the deserts at the center of the continent.
It was a small city-state with a population of about five thousand, but it prospered and thrived around the oasis at the kingdom's heart.
That is, until one scorching summer day.
That day, a single man stepped foot into the peaceful kingdom of Celestia.
Even to this day, the reason behind his faithful visit to the peaceful kingdom remains a mystery.
Regardless of his reasons……the man, whose eyes were soulless and devoid of life, had begun to slaughter the inhabitants of Celestia without warning.
In his hands was a magic sword enveloped in a magical blue aura.
The magic sword, which carried the fearsome power to attack anything that entered its wielder's line of sight no matter how far away it was, displayed its power to its heart's content that day. All who had tried to stop it fell before the evil blade, until even the elite royal knights were drawn out of the palace.
Although they had eventually succeeded in slaying the slaughterer, over a thousand innocent lives were lost that day according to the legend.
Of course, it was possible that the numbers in the legend had been exaggerated. Regardless, it could not be denied that countless people had died.
Furthermore, the crown prince of Celestia, who had commanded the royal knights, numbered among the dead.
After losing his only son, the king, who had once been renown as a wise sage, sank into despair and died of madness.
The king's lineage died out soon afterwards. But, Celestia's misfortune only continued. Civil war broke out ravaged the lands, and before long, she had fallen to hands of savage tribes that raided the weakened kingdom.
The once beautiful city was burned to the ground and would never rise again.
……Later on. The people began to revere the sword that had destroyed a kingdom with awe and fear and called it thus: the "Siren's Blade."
Rain had come across this infamous sword, which had been thought lost to the pages of history, in some underground ruins several years earlier……
"Y, you're something