King Leygur had already cut down a multitude of criminals by the time that Prime Minister Jagil had stepped foot into the execution grounds.
As usual, the criminals were allowed their own weapons and were baited into battle with the promise of freedom. This was probably Leygur's idea of training. Jagil thought that his king had horribly bad taste.
And, as always, the battle ended in King Leygur's absolute victory.
A countless number of corpses littered the circular execution grounds, which were surrounded by a high wall, and the last criminal was standing before the king, trembling. The stench of blood filled the air.
Without even sparing Jagil a second glance, the king quietly said to the criminal,
"what's wrong; hurry up and come at me. I know that you are the most capable of this group. That's why I purposefully saved you for last."
"Y, you…… what on earth……"
"What am I, you ask?"
Allowing his sword arm to drop to his side, Leygur cracked a slight smile while watching the pallid man attempt to catch his breath. He continued,
"hahaha…… Soon enough, the entire continent will know of my true identity. You would do well to watch that happen from Hades."
Leygur silently jumped in front of the man's eyes the moment the words left his mouth.
His magic sword hummed as it drew an arc in the air. It was ominously red in color.
With the first strike, the man's sword arm danced into the air, and when Leygur's tall figure circled back for the second, the man's head followed his arm with ease.
Unable to even begin to show any signs of counterattacking, the man's freshly severed head fell to the ground with a look of surprise etched on his face. His bloodshot eyes stared up at the aged prime minister in resentment.
It was the most that Jagil could do to resist the urge to fall to his knees.
Only then did Jagil realize that someone outrageous had become his new king.
"——What is it, Jagil? Don't simply stand there."
"Yes, Your Majesty,"
Jagil hoarsely responded to his master, who stood with his back to him as always. He continued,
"p, please forgive me. Rain's assassination attempt ended in a failure. The report came in just now."
He collapsed to the ground and prostrated himself.
He did not dare to even lift his head.
"Oh? We sent in so many men, but they still failed?"
There was an unexpected touch of vivacity in Leygur's quiet response.
Even still, Jagil kept his head on the ground as his king continued,
"hmm…… I see that it was not merely an irresponsible lie. Shall I test it out and see for myself……? Whether or not my greatest enemy exists even in this closed-off world?"
Surprisingly——the king began to laugh quietly as he delivered his exaggerated and clichéd lines.
He sounded like he was having fun, as if he was eagerly waiting for something to come.
-Back at Sunkwoll.-
The army that Rain commanded, which was three thousand strong if you included the reserves and the new recruits, was set to depart from Cortecreas Castle the day after the assassination attempt.
Rain had generously proclaimed that, "anyone who doesn't want anything to do with this fight may remain here," but no one in his army had requested to stay behind.
Despite the magnitude of the battles to come, Rain had already proved his strength to his men in battle, and, unbeknownst to the man himself, many of his men followed him because he was their ideal leader.
The army, centered around Rain, was completely in sync despite the fact that it was comprised of almost three thousand men. Far removed from any sort of gloom or pessimism, the army marched with a sense of security and reached Ralphus' castle, Starhill Castle, in a few days. Needless to say, their objective was to rendezvous with Ralphus.
Starhill Castle was located to the south of the capital, and was only half a day away from Galfort Castle by horse.
The very fact that he owned territory here proved that Ralphus had held the trust of the late king. It was a huge difference from Rain, who had been tossed away to the rural borderlands like a nuisance.
During their march towards the castle that rested atop a small hill and oversaw its castle town, Rain had conversed with Shelfa, who rode next to him.
However, he had spoken in a quiet voice.
"Sorry about this, Little one. For making you dress up like that and all."
He was referring to her hooded robe, which covered her up so completely that it was impossible to even see her face.
Rain had decided to keep Shelfa a secret for the time being.
"Not at all, Rain,"
Shelfa replied in an equally quiet voice. She continued,
"I'm sure you know what you're doing. I have faith in you, Rain……"
"……Thanks. You'll understand soon enough."
Unfortunately, his reason was a bit hopeless——
Eventually, they finished climbing up the path carved into the green hill, and the castle spread out before Rain and his men.
Without even bothering to celebrate their reunion, Rain asked Ralphus to gather both armies into the great hall the minute he had arrived.
Then, he disappeared into a separate room with the Princess.
"It's gotten pretty busy here all of a sudden. I wonder what Rain is trying to do? Him and Her Highness both…"
Ralphus found himself in the awkward situation of being at a loss within in his own great hall.
The great hall was three stories tall, and anyone inside of the castle had to cross it at least once. Essentially, it served as the castle entrance.
Engraved on the ceiling, which was so high up that it hurt just to look at it, was a mural of the goddess of battle with multi-colored hair, Myusra, whom the knights of Sunkwoll put their faith in.
Close to the wall on either side were cloisters that led to the second floor.
And at their feet, the entire floor was made out of shiny, polished marble that reflected the surface almost as well as a mirror.
It was generally a quiet place despite the everyday pedestrian traffic, but at the moment it was jam-packed with knights from both armies.
"Well, it's hard to know what the General is up to sometimes. Though he did say that it had something to do with raising morale,"
said Leni, who stood at Ralphus' side. He was so casual about it that it was difficult to believe that he was Rain's aide sometimes.
"Raising morale? That's a good thing, if it's true. Everyone is anxious about facing a strong enemy."
"Yeah, I guess. But it's probably best not to get your hopes up."
"This isn't the time to be doing something like this!"
said Senoa. Her beautiful golden hair was disheveled, and she looked like she was about to start stomping her feet in frustration. She continued,
"our duty is to march towards the Zarmine army at once and show them justice! And yet…!"
She stomped down her foot. Then, perhaps because she had stomped a little too hard, she scowled.
"And what on earth is the General doing alone with Her Highness?!"
This was what she really seemed to want to get off her chest.
"My point exactly~. Aren't they so~ suspicious~?"
said a cutesy girl with her black hair cut evenly across the nape of her neck that Ralphus had never seen before in an irritating tone of sycophancy.
"……Leni, who is she?"
Ralphus asked quietly.
"Oh, her name's Yuri. She became a squire recently because her father and the General's father knew each other."
After listening to Leni's happy explanation, Ralphus found himself admiring Rain for his knack of befriending women. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he too was rather popular with the fairer sex.
Then, Ralphus' aide Gwen, who had stood around doing nothing for a while, turned his thick neck and said, "oh, it's him," in a deep, throaty voice. Even Nigel, who was also standing around inconspicuously, had narrowed his eyes to stare at the person in question.
"…? What is it?"
When Ralphus turned around, he saw Gunther walking through the great hall's giant, rectangular entrance while carrying a large crate with a sullen look on his face.
As always, he went about looking as if something bad had happened to him. It was as if he hated the entire world and everything in it.
"What is that crate for, Gunther?"
Ralphus called in a hurry before Gunther could slip away.
"This is the 'Morale-Boosting Item No. 1,'"
Gunther replied curtly.
Then, he made to leave.
"What? Hold on a minute!"
Raphus chased after him. Leni and the others followed him like ducklings.
We've been together for over ten days, but I still don't know what this man's deal is——
Ralphus lamented as he picked up his pace.
In any case, the man was unsociable. He never started conversation and would only reply with curt, short answers if talked to, as if he couldn't be bothered to continue.
He seemed to be completely loyal to Rain, but Ralphus couldn't help but wonder what sort of common ground he had with his master, who generally disliked men.
Ignoring Ralphus' musings, Gunther kept walking with his head held high until he reached the wall near the entrance and dropped the crate upside-down with a bam.
"Isn't this…… an apple crate?"
pointed out the girl called Yuri, who had immediately began examining the crate, in confusion.
"You can find crates like this laying around the cellar of any castle. ……And this one was filled with apples,"
Nigel nodded in agreement.
"I don't get it. What's so special about this one?"
asked Gwen as he threw a suspicious glance at Gunther.
In response, Gunther, without a shred of amiability, replied,
"regardless of what it used to be, it is now the 'Morale-Boosting Item No. 1.'"
"Y, ya know…"
Gunther cut off Gwen mid-sentence by pointed towards the staircase, deftly avoiding the latter's irritation.
"Morale-Boosting Item No. 2 has arrived."
Everyone, starting with Ralphus, turned to look at the staircase.
——and they were rendered speechless.
All traces of noise disappeared from the great hall and only silence remained.
Rain and the Princess were slowly and gracefully climbing down the staircase that had been covered with a blue carpet.
As usual, Rain was clad head to toe in black.
Princess Shelfa on the other hand, wore a pure white dress…… The dress was lavished with frills and lace, and she looked elegant in it. Her attire was accented by a pink rose that rested slightly above her blossoming bosom.
Which was lovely and all, except that her skirt was rather short.
It appeared that Rain's plan was to raise morale, which had been stagnated for quite some time, to an all-time high in one go by dressing up the sheltered princess and putting her on stage for all to see (though her stage was an apple crate).
Rain, you sly fox!
Ralphus groaned to himself.
No normal knight would even dream of doing something as outrageous as this.
Well, it's certainly something he would do, to say the least.
In the face of Ralphus' reproachful glaring, Rain kept his head down as he escorted the princess and stood beside the crate. He then drew close to her and whispered something in her ear.
After a brief moment of hesitation, the princess stepped onto the crate.
A silent commotion immediately stirred across the great hall.
Hardly anyone had seen Princess Shelfa in person up until now.
It went without saying for Ralphus' men, but even most of Rain's men had never seen the princess before because she had kept her face hidden throughout the entire march.
The knights gathered in the great hall (who were mostly men) were thoroughly captivated by her beauty and were stupefied.
"Alright, listen up everyone! Standing before you is the daughter of the late king, Her Royal Highness Princess Shelfa! Naturally, she's also the next person in line for the throne. Our new master is about to greet us, so listen well!"
Ralphus suddenly felt faint after seeing Rain shout out so brightly.
Shelfa began to speak in a fragile and unsteady voice. Her words died off as if she had become overpowered by the combined weight of the numerous eyes that rested on her.
She immediately looked at Rain, seeking rescue. Rain simply smiled in silence and gave her a slight nod.
They looked at each other for a short while.
It was as if the princess was drawing some sort of invisible strength from Rain's black eyes.
Then, Shelfa straightened up and began once more.
"I am not someone who has the capacity to become a ruler, and neither do I have the ability to do so. I am merely an ignorant little girl. I am sure that there are some among you who feel discontent with me becoming the representative of your kingdom."
The princess paused to survey the great hall. All was silent. Everyone, including Ralphus, had their eyes fixed upon the beautiful girl.
They were loath to miss even a single word from their new master.
After another quick glance at Rain, Shelfa continued her speech.
"I am more aware of my own shortcomings than anyone else. That's why, instead of being here to issue orders, I am here before you to fulfill my final duty.
I believe that there is meaning in the fact that I am here today, despite my incompetence. Surely, mine is a duty that somebody must carry out."
Her voice steadily grew louder, perhaps due to the strength that she had received from Rain, or perhaps because she finally began to tap into the strength hidden in her own heart.
Her serene soprano reached every corner of the wide hall.
At that very moment, the strength and charm that Shelfa had always carried within her had been revealed for all to see.
"Please believe me when I say that I do not intend to let you bear the danger by yourselves.
I cannot fight with a sword. I have never held a sword in my life. Neither do I believe that I could lessen the burden that you bear if I tried.
Still, I will go to battle with all of you.
Because I believe that such is the duty of a ruler.
And yet, I hold neither fear nor anxiety in my heart. Because, from the bottom of my heart, I believe that this battle will end with our victory!
I am sure that there are many of you who do not share my belief right now, and I cannot blame you for it. But still, I——"
Shelfa surveyed the knights gathered before her with a warm smile.
Then, she gently extended her hands.
It was as if she was trying to gather everyone into her arms.
"On the other hand, I have readied my resolve.
Should the unthinkable happen, should we fail to emerge victorious, I will be here. The ruler of Sunkwoll will be here!
I believe that rulers exist precisely for times as such. Even I, as unfit to be a ruler as I am, am determined to fulfil my duty as should such a time arise.
That's why I implore you —please fight without hesitation. ……I'll say it again: I do not intend to let you bear the danger by yourselves."
A strained atmosphere hung over the great hall.
Although she had not spelled it out for them, everyone present understood that the young girl was willing to offer up her head to the enemy if necessary.
——In exchange for the lives of those who had survived the battle.
Shelfa gently continued her speech as she looked down at the knights who waited for her words with baited breath.
She spoke without a trace of exhilaration or tragedy.
"But I do not think that such times will ever come to pass……no, I know it will not!
Now, with our entire kingdom united for the first time, we will surely seize victory from Zarmine.
Once this painful battle is over, then surely, surely, there will come a time when I can talk to all of you again.
So please, do not die until that time comes. This is my only request……"
After concluding the speech that she had poured her whole being into, Shelfa surveyed her audience once more.
Then, she slightly bowed her head.
By the time she had resurfaced, Shelfa had returned from being a ruler to being an ordinary, embarrassed girl.
With her cheeks still flushed pink, she took Rain's hand and hurried off the wooden create.
The great hall remained silent even after she had left.
Someone raised a strange cry. It sounded something like, "Uwoooh!"
Starting with that shout, the great hall began to fill with cheers and applause.
People stomped their feet, clapped their hands with tears streaming down their faces, or simply shouted at the top of their lungs…… What they had in common was that each and every one of them was extoling Princess Shelfa.
"Damiiiiiit!!! I'm goin' ta fight! I'll never hand over Her Highness to the likes of them Zarmine scum!"
After hearing a familiar voice shout right by his ear, Ralphus turned around in surprise to confirm that the voice that indeed belonged to Gwen.
Overcome with emotion, Gwen raised a fist into the air and continued to roar, "I'm goin' ta fiiiight!" The great hall was overflowing with knights like Gwen, creating an uproar that could not be summed up as a simple increase in morale.
Rain had hit the nail right on the head. Then again, he always did.
I see, he really did boost morale, Ralphus thought with a wry smile.
He was the only one who had not been caught up in the frenzy.
An elated Rain arrived before him together with the princess. She still looked embarrassed by all of the praise that she was receiving.
Bothered by the length of her skirt, she subconsciously pulled down at its hem. Well, it probably bothered her because she was more used to wearing long skirts that dragged behind her.
Then, Rain, looking happier than he had ever been, declared,
"how about it; Shelfa's——no, the Princess' rally was exceptionally effective, wasn't it?"
"Whoa, let's not do any fault-finding here. At the end of the day, it was effective. Oh, and just so you know, I had nothing to do with the content of her speech."
"Even still…… Well, whatever."
Ralphus gave the princess a light bow and brought the matter to a close. There were more pressing matters at hand. He wanted to ask about Rain and the princess' relationship, but decided to shelve that issue until after they survived the war.
"Rain, a minute."
Ralphus invited Rain over to a corner of the great hall. Gwen and the others followed behind him.
"Hey! The rest of ya are supposed to be gettin' ready to march!"
yelled Gwen, chasing away the other knights who attempted to tag along.
When the other knights had left, Ralphus got straight to the point and asked,
"as for what comes next……do you have a plan?"
"Heh, well y'know…"
"Ooh me me me!"
Yuri interrupted without restraint.
She was hopping up and down with both hands in the air. She was a rather lively girl who acted without reserve.
"You've a pretty big attitude for a squire, don't you……whatever, say your piece,"
said Rain as he jabbed a finger at her in exasperation.
"Hehehe. Well, since there's a huge difference in numbers, I think we should hole up here in this castle and wait until the enemy gives up and withdraws~"
Rain's handsome face twisted into a frown as he stared down at Yuri and curtly ordered,
"go back to the countryside and pick flowers or something, dimwit."
"Ehh~, why? I thought it was a good idea."
Yuri puffed out her cheeks in crushing disappointment.
"Holding a castle is a viable strategy only on the premise that you'll be getting reinforcements from somewhere else,"
Ralphus interjected and explained, feeling a little sorry for the girl. She turned around with a surprised look on her face as he continued,
"the other high generals' troops have been wiped out, so we won't be getting any reinforcements. We couldn't hold the castle even if we wanted to."
"……Oh, is that how it works?"
"Exactly, so you should hold your tongue."
This time, Senoa stepped forward. Ignoring Yuri, who had begun to sulk, she took a look at everyone present and continued with conviction in her voice,
"the Zarmine army is large! It would be ill-advised to face it head on."
Even Ralphus was surprised as she stressed her point.
He had thought that she would advocate for a more assertive approach. Rain, similarly surprised, said, "that it is, I'm glad you get it."
"But of course I do."
With a blush on her face (because she was getting excited), Senoa took another step towards Rain.
Ralphus, Gwen, Nigel, Yuri, Rain, and the princess waited for her next words with bated breath. Rain even looked serious. Only Gunther continued on as sullenly as usual.
Then, after straightening up, Senoa said with a dignified expression,
"and yet, a true knight would face such a powerful enemy without any fear! As long as we are courageous, we will surely be able to bring down the iron hammer of justice upon our invaders! And should it be necessary, I will personally rip the enemy apart and tear them to pieces!"
"Shut up, you godforsaken idiot!"
Raid said as he hit Senoa on the head with his scabbard (with his heavy magic sword still inside).
Senoa wobbled and fell to the ground while holding her head.
"Tch, and here I was expectin' somethin' great and all,"
Gwen muttered as Nigel sighed next to him. Then, Rain delivered the final blow and lamented,
"is that really it? Ugh, you're useless. Now I want to go back to the countryside."
He sounded like he actually meant it.
Before anyone else could present their extraordinary opinions, Ralphus spoke up and said,
"I'd like to hear your plan, Rain, rather than anyone else's. You have one, don't you?"
Rain smiled in displeasure.
"There are two ways to force a large army to retreat without engaging them in battle. Do you know what they are?"
"One is to defeat their commander. The other is to rob them of their provisions,"
Ralphus replied without missing a beat.
"Exactly! Much better than the likes of Senoa or Yuri,"
Rain happily praised his friend before turning to the ever-reticent Gunther and asked,
"how are things coming along?"
"Milord. According to the reports I received through Magic Vision, my men have completed their preparations,"
Gunther answered readily.
"Alright, then we'll be marching soon."
"Hey, Rain. You never told us what your plan was."
"You don't get it?…… Basically, we're using both of methods you mentioned simultaneously,"
said Rain as he finally began to explain the details of his plan……
Afterwards, Rain and Ralphus' joint army marched without rest and set up camp upon reaching the northern border in just three days.
They were near the former border to Lunan, and a vast plain stretched out before their eyes. Highlands extended to their east and west, though they were rather low in terms of elevation, so the enemy would most likely march towards them.
The joint army was lined up against a river that ran along the border, called the Jigrem River.
Just a day later, as they had predicted, the Zarmine army appeared from the horizon heralded by thunderous rumbling.
The Zarmine army spread out and formed their battle lines immediately after realizing that the Sunkwoll army was already waiting and ready for them. They lined up like an arrowhead pointed toward their foe, and their brilliant performance showcased how much they had trained. They were brimming with the will to attack.
Including reserves, the Zarmine army roughly numbered a little more than forty thousand.
Surprisingly, this number surpassed the total population of Sunkwoll's capital city, Lydia.
On the other hand, the Sunkwoll army had scraped up every rank and file soldier they could find but still barely numbered seven thousand. Not to mentioned that Rain and Ralphus were the only high generals present.
In truth, a few other high generals still yet remained, but they had long since fled from the castles that they had been appointed to hold during the war.
The only reason that Rain and Ralphus' men did not flee was because their men trusted and idolized them.
Well, I guess we made it in time. It would've been bad if we couldn't meet the enemy here,
thought Rain, a little relieved, as he sat on top of Kris.
In order to carry out his plan, they had to intercept the enemy here——at this exact location.
It was fortunate that Gunther's false information had spread so well and that the Zarmine army had advanced slower than anticipated. While he had backup plans ready, he was glad that the groundwork that Gunther (or rather, Gunther's men) had laid out had not gone to waste.
Get a load of this, Leygur. I'll make you regret the fact that you failed to kill me.
Rain smiled fearlessly from his horse.
Despite the fact that he was headed to war, he was still in his all-black ensemble and hadn't even put on armor. His attitude, which could make one doubt how serious he was about the war, was brazen enough to exasperate others.
Anyone who didn't know the truth would think that he was not taking the war seriously.
And to add salt to the wound, he had suddenly burst into heartfelt song. His bass, off-key singing normally attracted looks of annoyance from his men, but did not do so today.
The clashing feelings of fear and the sense of duty brought on by the sentiment of "protecting the Princess (she had accompanied them to the battlefield)" had mentally affected even some of the former mercenaries.
And yet, as shaken as they were, a sprout of confidence telling them that they could definitely win the battle began to bud within them after watching their calm and composed commanding officer break into song.
As long as the commanding officer remained composed until the very end, the soldiers fighting under him could have some peace of mind.
On the other hand, if the person in charge panicked into a feverish haste, his men would grow anxious as they tried to keep up with his orders.
In that sense, Rain's composure served to reassure his men.
"Oh…… Senoa, c'mere for a second."
After taking notice of one of the many sets of eyes on him, he beckoned his beautiful aide over.
Senoa, who was clad in simple leather armor instead of her favored silver armor because Rain had prevented her from wearing the latter to battle, drew her horse closer to his.
"……What is it, General?"
She lacked her usual energy for some reason.
Her smooth skin was pallid, and her blue, almond eyes were frantically jumping here and there. She was doing her best not to look at the large army in front of her.
Rain gently reached out and clasped Senoa on the shoulder.
"Listen close, Senoa. You're my aide. That's why I have something to tell you."
"Of, of course……"
Senoa looked back at him with a meek look on her face, which was rare for her.
"The battle will start soon. Most of our men used to be mercenaries, so they're used to battle, but there are a few who are fighting for the first time."
Rain's words were overflowing with kind consideration. He clapped his hand across his aide's shoulder as he continued,
"if you see a soldier vomit from fear or something like that, I want you to pretend that you didn't see it without reprimanding them. Even the greatest of heroes are terrified during their first fight. That's normal, and it's definitely not something to be ashamed of. ……It becomes easier to deal with the fear the more you experience it. Alright? Return to the rear guard if you understand. Being the Princess' bodyguard is also an important role."
Her eyes, which marked her as a noble, were moist.
She had fully understood who the kindness in his words were really directed at.
Her face crumpled and twisted, but Senoa was able to mold it into a full-blown smile.
"I have received and understood your orders. ……Incidentally, are you not afraid, General? Even when you face an army that large?"
Rain smiled, but it was a darker smile than what he usual wore.
"My ability to feel fear was burned away. I don't feel anything. Though I know I probably should be afraid."
Senoa wanted to ask for further details, but felt that it would be too rude to do so. Instead, she bowed deeply to him from her horse and said,
"I'll be praying for your luck in battle, General. ……I plan on becoming strong enough to fight with you shoulder to shoulder one day. So, please wait a little until that day comes."
Then, Senoa turned her horse around and quietly galloped away.
Luminas knit his eyebrows together, creating deep trenches in his forehead, as he glared at the Sunkwoll army from the Zarmine army headquarters.
For some time now, he had been baited and lured all over the place by the distressing information that his scouts had brought back…… In other words, he had been baited by false information telling him that a large army was hiding here and there, or that Rain had gathered the entire Sunkwoll army and had circumvented the Zarmine army to ambush them from behind, and thus was not in a very cheerful mood.
Rain had likely planted reports of those false findings by having his mages or whatnot use the "Illusion Spell," but Luminas couldn't ignore the reports outright if he was to be cautious.
Besides, King Leygur had personally warned him to "be wary of Rain" repeatedly via Magic Vision more times than he had cared to count. He couldn't help that caution bred more caution.
However, I can't ignore that we had to slow down our advance as a result. Well, it's not as if it will affect the results of the upcoming battle anyhow,
or so Luminas had thought at the time, unaware that he would soon be forced to swallow both his words and his naïveté.
"Good grief…… I don't like this at all."
After hearing the idle complaint that Luminas had accidentally let slip, Garblake pulled up his horse and perceptively inquired,
"what grieves you, Luminas?"
"Well…… This Rain of ours isn't the type of man who would throw himself into battle that he had no chance of winning. And yet, he is here before us…… I can't help but think that he has some sort of plan up his sleeve. The problem in that I can't even begin to guess what the nature of this plan is. Not to mention that none of the scouts that I sent in have returned."
"It's possible that he doesn't have a plan at all. Besides, even if he did have a plan, all we have to do is press on without giving them a single step,"
Garblake replied with an answer that was truly befitting of his character while stroking his beard.
"Indeed. But that man is dangerous. In both his strength as an individual and his ability as a commander. I cannot help but be wary of him."
"……Luminas, are you hiding something from me? Both you and His Majesty are far too wary about him."
Garblake gave his aide the side-eye for a lo~ng time.
Realizing that it would be difficult to hide it any further, Luminas opened his mouth and said in a heavy tone,
"That man might be a Dragon Slayer."
Garblake abruptly turned to face his aide.
"I don't know the details either, but……"
Prefacing his speech with a dash of doubt, Luminas began to speak of the results of his investigations into Rain's past.
"Rain appears to have left his hometown and begun his journey when he was fifteen. While his motives are yet unclear, he had a habit of recklessly throwing himself into battle. If he caught wind of the existence of a base of a group of bandits, he would storm it alone with nothing but a single sword in hand……is the general gist of his scope of activities at the time. That man seems to have wanted to grow stronger by any means necessary, so perhaps it was meant to be his way of training.
Then, right after he turned eighteen, he heard rumors about a mythical beast……in other words, a dragon, rampaging around a land far away and unsurprisingly left for its nest to challenge it in battle.
Their fight lasted an entire day, and although he suffered a grievous wound in the process, Rain apparently managed to defeat the mythical beast. This is all just a rumor, of course.
But, as for whether it's true or not? I believe it is. In truth, he still looks like a youth despite being twenty-five. I believe that is because he stopped aging when he defeated the mythical beast at eighteen.
Those who defeat a dragon on their own will obtain their overwhelming power, in other words, their near-immortal lifespan and their powerful magic —it would appear that the legends were true.
It's just…you can't even call him human anymore. He has too much power for a mere human. I cannot fathom why he yearned for so much power, but he went too far. Of course, this is all based on the assumption that the rumors I uncovered are true."
Luminas pursed his lips together with a sour face.
This was how he truly felt. While he shared the sentiment of wanting to grow stronger, he had no intention of picking a fight with an all-powerful mythical beast. He felt that Rain's methods had been too extreme.
Garblake, on the other hand, had other thoughts and voiced his approval with a low growl.
"A Dragon Slayer, huh? To think that they really existed. As a knight, I'd love to have a chance to fight him one-on-one. I'm itching to test out my skills against him."
Luminas almost blurted, "whoa there!" out loud.
What was he thinking? There was no way he could win. His opponent was a monster who had defeated the strongest of mythical beasts and inherited all of its power. No matter how strong he was, there was no way that Garblake, a mere human, could win.
Only a monster could take on a monster. Monsters like the daemons who fell long ago……or like King Leygur.
But Luminas chose instead to reply, "victory will be ours even if you don't personally take to the field, General," as if nothing was wrong.
It was entirely possibly that word of this had already reached their king, even if by accident. For better or worse, he was an exceedingly cautious man.
"In any event, we cannot move about so carelessly at the moment. At least not until we see through the extent of Rain's plans,"
Luminas said, as if he was talking to himself.
While Rain was singing without a care in the world as he glared at the large army in front of him, the cheers of the knights around him informed that Ralphus and the Princess had left the rear guard and was heading toward him. Ralphus was naturally equipped in full armor. The Princess was wearing a dress of simple tailoring. Behind them was Yuri, who wore fashionable blue leather armor with style.
Meanwhile, Gwen and Nigel were obediently awaiting orders back at the rear guard.
"Rain, the enemy isn't moving,"
Ralphus said right off the bat.
"Yeah. It'd be nice if they'd just charge at us all at once, with that Garblake guy at the point——but I guess it won't be that easy. I guess I'll just have to go over for a bit and invite them over."
The Princess suddenly raised her voice.
She was taken aback as the others regarded her with surprise, and continued only after lowering both her eyes and her voice.
"……Surely there's no need for you to personally take lead, is there?"
Ralphus and Yuri stole a glance at the princess before staring deadpan at Rain. ……Yuri, in particular, stared at him with sharp eyes (or so he felt).
After clearing his throat on purpose, Rain answered,
"You know, Princess…"
He threw out his chest with exaggerated pride and gazed down at the large, black army before him. He continued,
"I won't be done in by small fry like them. It'll be fine as long as I don't mess up my timing. Then, I just have to run. Besides, I used to be called "Rain the Gale Wind" as a kid. It won't be a problem."
Then, Ralphus interposed,
"weren't you called a "wonder child" when you were young? I thought that's what you said before…"
"Shut it, you. I was also called Rain the Gale Wind! You're a man, so stop being so nitpicky!"
"Ah, my bad. By the way, since I'm already here, should I fight in the frontlines too? I think I should be able to provide you with a bit of cover."
"No way. It's my turn to fight. You and your aides guarding the Princess. That's what we decided."
This time, Yuri interjected and said,
"but Commander Leni is like that, so wouldn't it be better if you take him up to his offer?"
At her words, everyone except for Rain turned to look to their left. Their expressions turned gloomy after seeing what she had meant.
Rain didn't have to look to know. Leni was probably trembling so hard that it was visible to the eye. Though he was reasonably strong, Leni was a scaredy-cat. He generally acted like that when battle drew near.
"He's always like that, so it'll be okay. All things despite, he'll still fight properly when push comes to shove. ……Though he'll be a bit teary for it."
"……Isn't that just an act of desperation?"
Yuri needlessly pressed on.
"Zip it! It'll all good and fine as long as it works out in the end."
Despite how hard he was trembling, Leni was still here and had not run away. While Rain thought that Leni's presence was a testament to his courage in its own right, the others did not seem to share his views. They would not go as far as to call Leni a coward, but they probably still felt that he was unreliable.
A little while later——. The Princess, who had been looking at her feet as if she had been suffering in silence, looked up and gazed directly at Rain with a faint blush coloring her cheeks.
All of her fear and trembling had vanished, and there was a small smile on her lips.
"I'll say no more. I pray for your luck in battle, Rain. I'll trust you and wait at the rear guard……for your return. I do not intend of fleeing by myself. I'll be waiting for you no matter what."
She had most likely wanted to gent~ly add on, "I entrust my life to you."
Rain nodded silently.
"Well, Ralphus, I'll leave the Princess to you."
"Understood. Do try not to die out there."
"'Course I won't. I'm too awesome to be the type of guy who dies somewhere like this."
Finally breaking out into broad smiles, Ralphus and the Princess turned their horses around and returned to the rear guard.
"……And why are you still here?"
"What's with the Princess' attitude?"
Yuri, who had remained behind, asked sharply.
"Geez! Don't "eh?" me. Spit it out already!"
Yuri lost all traces of formality as soon as no one else could hear her. Rain, however, did not criticize her for it because he was in no position to do so. They were in the same boat.
"It's no big deal…… Anyways, you should hurry back too. The battle's about to start for real."
"You saying that it's no big deal proves that it actually is. Sheesh, you work fast."
"You're just imagining things."
"Yeah, yeah. We'll talk more about this later. But in all seriousness, will you really be okay cutting through their frontlines like that?"
"Pfft, your worries are wasted on me. I'm not exaggerating when I say I'm immortal, you know? Actually, you should be feeling sorry for the enemy instead."
As usual, Rain brushed back his hair in a show of arrogance. He continued,
"Our future ruler is watching us today, so I better give it my best. Gotta stand out as much as I can in front of the person who pays my wages, so I'll distinguish myself in battle and make myself look good! That's the key to being successful in life"
"And then you'll just laze around when said ruler's not looking, right? I'm really starting to agree that my worries were wasted on you."
Yuri looked exasperated as she continued,
"well, I'm gonna head back too…… Work hard out there."
"Yeah, you too. Don't miss the timing on the signal. In a sense, you have the most important job today."
"Got it! I make my livelihood too. I'll make sure to complete my mission!"
She gave him a small wave with her hand in front of her body so that others couldn't see and returned to the rear guard. There was no way that a girl as shrewd and cunning as Yuri would miss her timing.
After that, it's all on me.
Rain smoothly unsheathed his magic sword. He held it horizontally in front of him.
"Obey my commands!"
The sword, swirling with a bluish-white aura, hummed louder and it began to grow longer. Soon, it was as long as a pike. The infamous sword that was known throughout the continent, for whatever reason, was able to grow to a certain extent if its wielder willed it.
Or, it could have been a type of fluid metal——though that didn't mean much to anyone other than Rain.
"I guess even this tiny, closed-off world is still filled with mysteries."
Rain smiled and continued,
"Whatever…… Shall we begin? Hey, Leni!"
"Y, yes sir!"
Leni jerked and trembled some more a little way from Rain after being called.
"Let's go! Don't fall behind!"
Leni smiled weakly and bobbed his head up and down.
"I, I'm ready when, whenever you are."
"Relax, you dolt. The worst thing that can happen is that you die. Don't worry about it so much."
"But I don't wanna diee!"
Ignoring Leni, who had begun to lament miserably, Rain raised the Siren's Blade high up in the air.
"Frontlines, prepare for battle!"
The metallic sounds of his men readying their weapons filled the air. Each and every soldier waited for Rain's next signal with baited breath.
Rain took a deep breath and brought down his magic sword, shouting,
"frontlines, attack! To meeeee!!"
With the cheers of Rain's men behind her, Kris spearheaded the charge with Rain on her back. The reddish-brown earth scattered around her like arrows, and the wind roared as it whipped around Rain's ears.
Kris had overtaken Rain's men in an instant. There was nothing strange about it. After all, no living thing across the entire land could possibly match Kris' speed. She crossed over the river in a blink of an eye.
Seeing Rain charge at them at full speed, the archer units deployed at either side of the Zarmine army began to shoot in a hurry.
However, they misjudged their distance and most of their arrows went flying off-mark because Kris was too fast for them. The few arrows that did fly true were easily swatted aside by Rain's extraordinarily keen kinetic vision and his magic sword.
Rain rushed straight into the enemy vanguard without slowing down and angrily shouted,
"come at me if you wanna die!"
As he yelled, Rain swung his pike-sized magic sword to the side. After its vivid afterglow subsided, three enemy knights lay dead on the ground with matching wounds cutting evenly across their chests. Although they had been wearing armor, it had been as effective as paper before the Siren's Blade.
"Th, this guy! Stop messing ar—"
"Shut it! And move your hands before you move your mouth!"
An enemy commander, who happened to be standing near Rain, was felled by the magic sword's blade before he could finish his sentence.
Rain went on a rampage and swung his sword at random. The crowd of enemy knights around him were buried with one swing of his magic sword. He had created a mountain of victims in just a few dozen seconds.
"Hey, what's wrong!? Give me everything you've got!"
"Wha, what a guy……"
As the knights that composed the enemy vanguard broke out in cold sweat and began to retreat, overwhelmed, Leni charged in with his men in tow and a strange cry rising from his throat.
In an instant, the area was filled with the sound of multiple sets of horse hooves racing across the ground.
Lance in hand, Leni fell in step with Rain while on the verge of tears——or rather, with a cry that sounded like half a sob.
"General, we'll be together when we die!"
he shouted, as he lunged at the enemy soldiers that swarmed them. For all of his crying, he still managed to repel enemy lances and pierce the gaps in enemy armor with sharp finesse.
Despite his timid nature and dislike for battle, Leni's talents and abilities as a knight were more than enough to be first-rate.
"That's the spirit, Leni! It's not scary anymore if you fight; not scary at all! So go all out! I'll at least pick up your bones!"
After shouting out his exceedingly irresponsible words, Rain moved his magic sword so fast that it became a blur. In fact, the magic sword, which Rain was spinning around like a water wheel, moved so fast that its afterimages made it look like it had split into multiple copies. Rain was like a walking nightmare for the Zarmine knights.
Suddenly, a baby-faced knight jumped in front of Rain, trembling.
"I, I can fight too!"
While he was about to slice through the knight's frail neck at lightning speed, Rain instantaneously drew back his magic sword and grabbed the knight by the waist instead.
"Wah, aaaah! Wha, what the hell are you doing?!"
"What am I doing?! It's way too early for you to be on the battlefield. Come back once you've grown up a bit!"
After speaking, Rain threw the knight away with a single hand.
The knight, who should have weighed at least one hundred kilograms with his armor, drew a ridiculously large arc in the air as he flew away at an unbelievable speed.
"Weak; you're all way too weak! You're barely putting up a fight!"
All of Rain's men cheered at his show of superhuman strength. Then, they charged at their enemies with increasing momentum.
On the other hand, the Zarmine army was startled by Rain's power and started to be pushed back despite having the overwhelming advantage in numbers.
"Did you see that just now, Luminas?"
Garblake asked with a creaking voice at the Zarmine army headquarters.
The headquarters had been set up on top of a man-made hill of dirt that overlooked the battlefield, so they were able to see Rain's fighting in minute detail. Garblake and Luminas were stupefied after witnessing Rain throw a knight equipped in heavy armor with one hand.
"……It's a good thing that we have the advantage in numbers. We would have no chance at winning otherwise,"
Luminas finally replied after quietly clearing his throat.
Rain was a man that he had never wanted to make an enemy out of, but was still just a single man when it came down to it. No matter how much military prowess Rain boasted, there was no way to overcome the fact that the Zarmine army had tens of thousands more soldiers to their advantage.
"Weak; you're all way too weak! You're barely putting up a fight!"
yelled Rain in an inconveniently loud manner.
Garblakes cheeks twitched. As a commander who prided his prowess in the martial arts, he found it difficult to ignore that slight.
"General, you must not respond to his provocation. No matter what he babbles, our victory will remain unchanged."
"You say that, Luminas. But you must also consider how it looks from our soldiers' perspectives. What will I do if they start spreading rumors saying that all Garblake did was tremble in the safety of the headquarters?!"
"A commander's duty is to preside over the battle. No one will criticize you for doing your job."
"Ah, I suppose that must be how you think."
Garblake looked at his aide with bloodlust in his eyes. Luminas reflexively looked away. The two of them had never gotten along very well to begin with. Luminas knew all too well that Garblake had never thought too kindly of him.
"I came here to fight. I can't just stand here as that youngster makes light of me! There are limits to how much I can endure!"
"General! We must not act too reckles——"
As a flustered Luminas struggled to hold back his general, Rain's loud jeering echoed around them at the worst timing possible.
"Where's that spineless coward called Garblake?! Is he hiding in the back huddled up in feeear?!"
"Da, damn youuuu!"
Garblakes eyes suddenly shot open wide.
He roared at his attendant to bring over his spear.
"Shut up! I can't just sit back and watch as he keeps making light of me! I climbed all the way up to my current position in life with just my sword and spear. I won't turn away from my enemies now! You can stay here and count your soldiers or something!"
Burning red with rage, Garblake yelled at his men to follow him as he whipped his horse and galloped away.
"Ugh! Such foolishness!"
Luminas grinded his teeth, knowing that there was no way he could simply abandon Garblake here. The death of an army's overall commander would to lead to its downfall.
"All troops, advance! Follow the General! Don't you dare let him die!"
Rain knew that the first step of his plan had gone well when he saw a cloud of dust arise from deep within enemy ranks.
As he had expected, the man called Garblake was someone who prided his military prowess and was thus susceptible to being lured over if properly provoked.
It would have been much easier if he could challenge Garblake to single combat, but, unfortunately, Garblake had dragged a bunch of "extras" along with him. Not to mention that Rain might not necessarily be his chosen opponent.
It would be difficult for an ordinary knight other than Rain to defeat Garblake.
Then, I'll just go ahead and do as I planned——
Rain exchanged looks with Leni, who was fighting at his side, after determining his next objective on the spot.
Leni, who had been waiting for the enemy to make their move, understood the meaning behind their exchange and curtly nodded.
The flow of the battle changed little by little. Rain and the Sunkwoll army pulled back in a natural manner, just as they had planned to do in advance.
Their initial momentum had just been a fluke and they were now being pushed back the Zarmine army as their lines crumbled——that was what they wanted to trick their enemies into thinking. And they succeeded.
Watching the Sunkwoll army act out their retreat, the Zarmine army decided that it was a great chance to press a counterattack.
Ignoring the fact that he wasn't fatigued in the least——, Rain heaved his shoulders up and down as if he was at his limit and weakened his grip on his magic sword. He nonchalantly confirmed Garblake's position among the enemy reinforcements and waved his sword in the air.
"Tch! Fall back for now; retreat!"
The Sunkwoll army commenced their retreat as if they had been desperately awaiting his signal.
No matter how hard one looked, anyone would come to the conclusion that the Sunkwoll army had finally began to be routed by their enemy.
"Uwaaaa, I'm gonna be kiiiilled!"
Leni's scream with theatrical flair…… Or, he could have actually meant it.
And then, the spies that Rain had planted among enemy ranks cheered——
"The enemy lines have crumbled! Attack now, and don't let their leader escape!"
The Zarmine knights, fully believing that they had reached the battle's final stages, let loose a war cry and moved to pursue their retreating enemies.
When Rain and his men had changed their tactics from a fierce assault to a sudden retreat, it truly looked as if they had become as helpless prey before Zarmine's large, black army.
——Or at least, that's what it had looked like to Senoa, who was stationed at the very back of the rear guard.
For a moment, she had truly thought that Rain had retreated because he could not fight any longer, despite knowing that it was all part of his plan.
Senoa could not stop herself from trembling as she watched the Zarmine army greedily engage in their pursuit from afar. She subconsciously gripped onto her thighs so hard that it hurt as she sat atop her horse.
Why was it that she hadn't been able to ask to fight by the General's side earlier?
Because he would definitely refuse? Indeed, he most likely would have. But, even if he hadn't refused, Senoa knew that she would not have been able to fight.
The reason was obvious——because she was afraid!
Senoa trembled slightly. What……a pathetic sight she was!
She was always talking big, and she had continued to criticize him at every turn…… But to think that she would become so pathetic now that she was actually on the battlefield!
At this rate, how long, just how long, would it take until he approved of her?
Although she had never told anyone, Senoa had been taken to Rain as a warrior and had ran to his side because of it.
She admired his strength, his manliness.
……That's what she had always thought and what she had always believed.
But her belief wavered whenever he granted her such kind words, like he had earlier.
Such words made her think that……strength was not his only charm.
The first time that she had laid her eyes upon him, the first words they had exchanged——in truth, she vividly remembered all of the times he had been so kind to her.
"Don't stand at attention with such a stiff look on your face. ……You don't have to push yourself that far, you know? You're a beauty, so you should smile a bit more."
Those were the gentle words he had told her the first time she had greeted him after taking up a new post at Cortecreas Castle.
After they had talked for a while, he had also said this:
"You want to hurry up and fight in order to get stronger? Don't, we already have one too many idiots who did that and he's standing right here in front of you."
She still could not forget how his invincible smile had disappeared and was replaced by a terribly saddened expression as he had leaned against the window with his arms crossed.
She sighed every time she recalled it.
What had been the meaning behind that expression of his?
She thought that it was the same expression that he had worn when he had given her his warm words earlier.
But in all likeliness——he probably won't tell me the way I am now……
Senoa grinded her molars together.
I wasn't able to become the kind of person that my father wanted me to be, but at the very least I want to be a knight that I can be proud of.
She wanted to become a warrior who could one day fight by his side.
So please……please wait for me just a little longer.
Please don't go ahead and leave me behind——
Someone gently touched Senoa's arm, as if they had been drawn to her quiet voice.
When she had jerked up her shoulders and turned around, Senoa found that Princess Shelfa had come close to her side without her noticing.
Leaving her hand on Senoa's arm, Shelfa stared deeply into Senoa's eyes.
It was as if she was trying to share her personal determination with that beautifully clear expression of hers.
"It'll surely be alright. There's no way that Rain will die at a place like this while fighting people like that. ……Let's have faith and wait for him to return."
Her infinite trust in Rain——and her sympathy for Senoa, shone through her whispered words.
Shelfa was the only person present who was wearing normal clothes instead of battle gear, yet she looked more at ease than anyone else.
Up until now, Senoa had secretly harbored ill feelings against the princess, but those feelings vanished as she looked into the princess' eyes.
She automatically reached out and took the princess' hand.
And she gently nodded many, many times.
"You're right…… He's bound to make it."
They looked at each other and gently smiled.