Well, it's time to make you dreams come true, Selphie!
– The royal castle of Sunkwoll, Galfort Castle. –
A young girl was pumping herself up in front of the castle gates.
She had long black hair that was slightly wavy and light green eyes. She was clearly a Sunkwoll commoner. She had a pretty face that attracted passersby, but her beauty had unfortunately been reduced by thirty percent because of her shabby appearance.
Her pink blouse was discolored from being washed one too many times, and a closer look at her somewhat short, off-white skirt revealed that it had been patched up at one spot. Moreover, the sack that she carried across her back looked like it would burst open at the seams at any moment.
There was one thing that was strange about her.
She had a sword belt attached to her skirt for some reason, despite the fact that she was still a young girl, and an unbecoming longsword was hanging from her waist. In addition, the coating of the sword's scabbard was discolored and peeling.
The girl perfectly personified the word 'poor' with her entire being, if you excluded the fact that she was armed.
Even still, each and every castle affiliate who passed through the gates glanced over at her from the corner of their eye. This was because her appearance was still worth the look.
Still, anyone who saw her could tell that she was not just a doll.
The light of a tenacious will flickered in her large, beautiful eyes. This light in and of itself was her true nature.
(My dream will finally come true…… I have to do my best, and I absolutely have to pass. I'm definitely gonna become a knight!)
She stood bolt upright at the gates for a short while. Then, Selphie faced forward, her eyes teary from nervousness and inspiration, and was about to take her commemorated first step.
But, she suddenly broke out in goosebumps.
A prickly feeling that made her feel as if icicles had formed on her body……an overwhelming sense of intimidation. She had never felt this kind of pressure even from the master of the dojo that she had attended. She even felt as if the sun itself, which had been shining down on her, had suddenly gone out.
In actuality, Selphie had not thought things through for very long, and her body had reacted before she could even think, "oh no!" Due to the rigorous sword training she had endured day after day, her hands had moved before she could think.
The senses she had honed at the dojo had not rusted, and she was a bit of a birdbrain, too. In any case——
Selphie drew the sword at her waist so fast that her eyes could not follow and brandished it horizontally to her side as she spun around.
(Kyaa!! This isn't even a wooden sword!)
A very realistic set of images jumbled up together in her mind.
Those images were namely of the unfortunate layperson who would soon become a bloody mess rolling around the streets just because they had been standing behind her. Never mind the knight's exam, Selphie thought that she would be going directly to prison…… No, she might even be sentenced to death for this.
However, it was Selphie's arrogance that had conjured up these images. After all, there was no way that an ordinary layperson could release such pressure.
By the time that Selphie had resolved herself, thinking, there's no way I can stop this, I'm gonna slash right through him——
The wind suddenly danced around her and gently picked up her bangs.
A bluish light that shone brighter than the sun reflected off of Selphie's eyes.
There was no other outcome that could have surprised her more than this.
She couldn't help but let out a hoarse scream at the magical sword……the magic sword that had come up to her neck like a magic trick before she knew it.
She wanted to shriek those words with her trembling lips.
The tall man before her eyes had not moved a finger until the very last moments before her attack had hit.
She had definitely seen him simply standing there.
So how did he manage to unsheathe his sword (and a magic sword at that!) and press it up against me right at the last moment?! Is he really just that much faster than me? B, but I worked so hard on my sword skills, too!
There was another thing that surprised her.
Her opponent had not moved to dodge her blow.
Selphie's attack had been intercepted by the man's left hand. He had managed to splendidly stop her sword by grabbing the blade with his fingers.
And, the magic sword in his right hand was pressed up against her throat. A bluish-white light enveloped the entire blade, likely because of the powerful magic imbued within it, and it reverberated with a hum like the buzzing of numerous winged insects.
The sword could have easily cut through one or two skinny girls who had not had much to eat in a single blow.
For some reason, the man ignored Selphie as she stood in a daze, dumbfounded in more ways than one, and drew out a long sigh. Then, looking almost drunk, he slowly shook his head from side to side.
"To think that I'd already mastered the "one-handed sword grab" after using it just once before——"
After a slight pause, he continued in a tone that suggested that he simply could not bear to keep his emotions to himself,
"——I'm a genius! Sometimes, my own genius ability amazes me……"
Are, are you showing off?!?
Selphie's nerves began to unwind all at once.
"Hey! You there!"
the man continued as he suddenly returned to normal and glared at Selphie's direction. His glare was extraordinarily intense.
(He, he's scary!)
Selphie instinctively dropped her sword and shrank away……or rather, she tripped over a rock and fell back on her bottom.
"What's the big idea with slashing at me all of a sudden?! If you weren't a girl, I'd have sent you flying ten meters in the air with a bloody nose——"
Suddenly breaking off his threat, the man abruptly looked down at Selphie sprawled out on the floor and remained silent. His irked expression changed into an extremely serious one.
Thanks to his change in attitude, Selphie was finally able to observe the tall man at her leisure.
He wore black pants and a similarly black shirt, and even his boots were black. Since his hair and eyes were black too, he was covered in black from head to toe.
Selphie didn't know if that was his fashion sense or if he simply didn't care enough to groom it, but his black hair was lazily done and stuck out here and there. His manly face looked incredibly daring, and a brazen smile crept at the edge of his lips from time to time.
There is nothing in the world that I fear…… He looked as if was silently declaring this statement.
Selphie felt as if a large beast, such as a lion or a wolf, had appeared and was looking down at her.
As if he was saying, will she be my lunch?
The man re-sheathed his magic sword while keeping his eyes fixed down at a certain level and muttered,
"an orthodox white, huh……"
"……Eh? Ah, no way!!"
Selphie blushed furiously as her cheeks began to burn.
She stood up with a jolt and pulled down at the hem of her skirt.
"It's a little too late to cover it up now."
"Y, you're horrible! You're so mean! Why didn't you warn me?! Or pretend that you didn't see?! You're a pervert!"
"Stop being stupid!"
The man shouted in thunderous indignation. He continued,
"if you have the chance to look at a girl's underwear, it's obvious that you're supposed to take it! What kind of idiot would warn the girl instead?!"
He spoke with such force that Selphie was overwhelmed for a moment.
Passersby had stopped walking to see what the commotion was, and they were stunned into silence by his unabashed claims. One look at the man's face told Selphie that he harbored no guilt over what he had just said and that he believed his words without a single doubt. He was so self-justified that Selphie almost found herself nodding in agreement.
"And for starters,"
he continued his claims,
"when I was a kid, I'd create those opportunities for myself if I didn't get any, you see!"
"——Doesn't that just mean that you went around lifting people's skirts?!"
Selphie retorted after she had recovered.
However, the man took no notice of her and continued,
"at the end of the day, that's what makes a man a man. Hey, you there, you agree with me, right?!"
He suddenly jabbed a finger at the gatekeeper's direction.
"Eh, are, are you asking me?"
The gatekeeper was still young enough to be mistaken for a kid, and he began to backpedal for some reason. He was wearing the uniform of a squire and had a lance in his hand.
"Yeah. You. You wouldn't just let a chance like that go by if you're a man, right?"
"I, I, well…… I couldn't really see anything from where I was standing…… So…"
the man said as he grasped the poor youth by the shoulder. He continued,
"what's your name?"
"……Did you forget, sir? It's me, Miran. I introduced myself to you just a little while back."
"Never heard of that name before!"
The man decisively cut the youth off and peered into his face. He continued,
"anyway, there's this super scary story that I know; care to hear it?"
"I've already heard that story, sir! It's the story about M, who got on his liege's bad side, right? Okay, I get it! I agree! Yeah, I'd look if there was a girl sprawled out over the ground! It's just as you say, General!"
the youth wailed on the verge of tears. He had said most of his piece in desperation. Selphie did not quite understand what was going on, but she gathered that the youth had had a similar encounter with the man before. Although the man in question seemed to have forgotten the incident entirely.
No……I don't really care about that.
I just heard something outrageous right now——
All of her anger vanished in an instant.
Selphie hurriedly picked up and re-sheathed her sword in a panic. She continued,
"are you……the lord general?"
"Pft…… Well, yeah. I'm the one and only Rain, the high general known throughout this kingdom himself."
The man……or rather, Rain brushed back his hair in one smooth motion.
Wha, what do I do?! Selphie felt as if the blood was draining from her body.
Of all people, he's the person who'll be proctoring the exaam. A, and to think that he was the rumored Lord Rain!
Rain left Miran back at the gates and earnestly stared at Selphie from head to toe, observing her as she panicked.
"Come to think of it, what's with you? Do you have a grudge against me or something? I'm a man who's sweet to girls before all else. I don't remember doing anything to deserve being cut down out of nowhere."
"Ah, that's…! I, I suddenly felt the chills when I sensed your presence, General, and…… Argh, what am I saying?!"
Mysteriously enough, Rain's expression softened up a little after hearing her chew on her words and mumble to herself.
"Oh……? You felt my 'power,' did you now? You have some promise. ……Though you're still pretty weak from my point of view."
Ignoring the second half of what Rain had said, Selphie jumped at the part about "having some promise." Then, she began to rattle on,
"I'm here to take the Official Knight Recruitment Exam! I made sure to hand in my application beforehand! M, my name's Selphie, and I was born here in this town. I want to become a knight to matter what! I'm trying my hardest!"
When Selphie had finished her self-introduction as suddenly as she had begun it, Rain retorted,
"oh……? Well you've just had one hell of a great start, haven't you, my examinee?"
Selphie's temporary ardor vanished at once. She continued,
"no wayy. I really didn't know that you were Lord Rain."
Selphie immediately found herself on the brink of tears, although she rarely ever cried in front of other people. While she could endure almost anything else (for example, her poverty), it was a different story when it came to her dreams.
What will I do if he chases me away……?
"Don't cry, silly. Don't worry, I'm not gonna fail you on the spot or anything."
Rain nodded resolutely when Selphie looked up to him with upturned eyes as if she was silently asking, really? However——
"But a calamity will befall upon you in the distant future if you fall from my good graces. Make sure you remember that!"
"It's all fine and good as long as you understand! And it's just about time, too. You should follow me."
Perking up at once, Selphie threw her sack across her back and followed after him. Although, the youth called Miran's look that seemed to say, "someone outrageous is expecting something from you, huh," bothered her somewhat.
Selphie toddled after Rain in small, quick steps as he strode through the castle gates.
It had been bound to happen because of the drastic different in their gaits. However, after walking for a little while, Rain noticed that Selphie had fallen behind him and slowed down his pace.
"*gasp, gasp*…… Thank you very much, General."
Rain looked at Selphie out of the corner of his eye as she staggered with the sack on her back and murmured to himself is a smallish voice that was still loud enough for her to hear,
"low stamina, huh? ……Minus twenty points."
"Eh, ehh!? I, I'm fine! I actually super tough! See, look at how tough I am!"
In a feverish haste, Selphie began to run laps around the courtyard for no reason. The sack bounced up and down on her back and a cloud of dust whipped up after her. She ran out of breath right about when she was done and immediately became completely exhausted. Then, she plopped down to the floor.
"I, I can still run…… *gasp, gasp*"
"It's getting annoying, so don't, stupid."
He got mad at me.
"It just makes your low stamina all the more obvious. I was just teasing you before, so don't take me too seriously."
"P, please don't make fun of me like that…… I'm already nervous because of the exaam!"
"Just relax, silly, relax. It's not like you'll die if you don't become a knight. And besides——"
Rain poked at the large sack and continued,
"what's even in this thing. It's way too big for your physique."
"Um, my clothes and underwear and stuff. Basically, it's stuff that I need for everyday life."
When Selphie, who had finally stood up, replied, Rain responded,
"it's not like you're running away from home in the middle of the night or anything…… Why'd you come here with all that?"
If she became a squire, she would be allowed to lodge at the castle. She had prepared her things for that purpose, but she wasn't very willing to explain the truth to Rain.
She was afraid that he would figure out the fact that she had been chased out of her house because she couldn't pay her rent if she did. And besides, she didn't want him pitying her either.
Fortunately, Rain did not press her for answers.
Then, he walked on and said with a gentle voice,
"anyway, hurry up as fast as you can. She's gonna get on my case again."
Selphie was hesitant to ask something that could be perceived as impolite. And besides, she had the feeling that she would find out soon enough. Once they had cut through the courtyard and walked around the back of the palace and arrived at their destination, they were greeted with a square building that appeared to have been newly constructed.
"Is that the exam venue?"
"A venue, huh…… That's the arena that was established just recently. We just happen to be borrowing it for the exam.
"An, an arena!?"
"Well no, it technically has a proper name. I just happened to forget what it was. It's supposed to be a place where knights can practice their swordplay. It wasn't a dojo…… I really can't recall what it was."
Selphie nodded in vague confusion at Rain's extremely lackadaisical explanation. Rain seemed to be a much more broad-minded person than he looked. She was also surprised at how much younger he looked than his supposed age (twenty-five).
Then again, Selphie was currently in no position to worry about that, and she soon found herself fully engrossed by the upcoming exam.
She began to feel nervous all over again.
A large crowed of men and women (mostly men) who appeared to be examinees were gathered by the entrance. Each and every one of them looked strong in their own right, and Selphie felt like they could easily push aside a 'poor, malnourished girl' like herself with one arm. In fact, in Selpie's eyes, they looked like they were all villains who had recently escaped from the dungeons. For example, they looked like criminals who had murdered several dozen people.
When she imagined this, Selphie became so frightened that she felt like she could die.
"Hey, what are you freezing up for? You're not a bride facing her wedding night, so relax, just relax. Everyone's scared, but it's only scary at first."
"Y, yessir! I'll do my best! It, it's only scary at first!"
More than half of Rain's joking had gone through one of Selphie's ears and out the other. She followed after Rain's black figure with awkward footsteps while trying her best to avoid looking at the assembly of scary fighters.
It seemed that she was the only dunce who had failed to recognize Rain on sight, as most of the other examinees opened up a path and saluted him. Rain gave them a smug nod and passed through.
Selphie chased after him like a child chasing after their parent and fled into the venue grounds. She ignored the soldiers stationed at either side of the entrance as they called out to her.
"*sigh*…… That was so scary!"
She let out a sigh of relief after she finally set foot into safety.
Rain began, exasperated.
"Why the hell did you follow me in?! You're supposed to wait outside!"
"Ah, you, you're right! B, but!——"
"Late! You're late, general!!"
A shrill voice cut in and rescued Selphie from her state of panic.
Wh, who's that!?
When she quickly turned around, she saw a beautiful female noble, and a pure-blooded noble at that, with blonde hair and blue eyes standing upright before her. Anyone with noble blood in this kingdom (or at least anyone from a pure noble lineage) was distinctly marked with eyes that were blue all the to the sclera.
The noblewoman, covered in silver armor that had been polished to a shine, spread her legs a little apart and rested her hands atop a sword that was stuck upright in the ground.
She looked like an assistant instructor at a dojo who was reprimanding a lazy disciple, but lacked any real sense of gravity because the armor was too large for her.
Next to the armored beauty (which was what Selphie had decided to call her for the time being) was a troubled young man with short blond hair who also looked like a noble. He was in normal attire, and his eyes told Selphie that he probably wasn't a pure-blooded noble.
"You're late; you're barely made it on time! If a high general like you keeps acting like this, it will corrupt discipline inside and out!"
the armored beauty clamored with a voice as strict as her appearance.
Annoyed, Rain took one look at her and immediately became wholeheartedly displeased.
"You really never learn, do you."
"Whatever do you mean?"
Sensing the stormy mood, Selphie said,
"umm. I'll just wait outside with the rest of the examinees."
"We're letting them in soon anyway. Just stay here. ……It's never a bad feeling to have more women nearby, even if you're just a kid."
"Is, is that so?"
Selphie felt as if Rain had said something incredibly rude. This person probably has a lot of enemies, she thought to herself. However, personally, she wasn't all that angry with him. That might be because she knew of Rain's achievements and had seen his strength with her own eyes.
She thought that surely, in order to have become so strong, he had had to endure hours upon hours of painfully hard effort.
Rain walked up to the armored beauty and kicked her armor with the tip of his boots. Then, he continued,
"I told you to quit dressing up like that, Senoa!"
"P, please don't kick it. It's rude!"
"I don't give a shit about being rude. Take it off right now!"
"It sounds kinda lewd when you say it like that,"
the other youth nonchalantly interjected.
Both parties ignored him because he had said something so senseless.
Rain continued to say to the woman called Senoa in a very blunt manner,
"can you even walk in that, huh!?"
"Of, of course I can! What would I do if I couldn't even walk……"
"Hey, you got real quiet at the end there! Then why don't you try walking around a bit to prove it?"
"Why must I do that?"
"If you don't, I'll split that armor of yours right in two!"
Rain threatened with a hand placed on the hilt of his magic sword. Selphie had a feeling that he would actually make good on his threat, and Senoa appeared to be of the same opinion as the blood drained from her face.
"That's not even funny! This armor is the Estherhart ancestral armor that has been handed down——"
"Just shut up and start walking!"
"Un, understood. I'll walk, just you watch. It's no big deal."
Senoa took a deep breath as if she was resolving herself to her fate, slowly lifted up her feet, and began walking. At a first glance, her expression seemed to say, "I can walk just fine," but the truth was evident before she had taken even five steps, as her white forehead began dripping with sweat.
It was even funnier because she tried to look like she wasn't having any trouble at all. Her breathing had become ragged by the time she passed in front of Rain.
"Whoops, my foot slipped."
Suddenly. Rain stuck out a leg.
With a loud crash, the clump of metal fell to the ground.
"What are you doingg?! I won't forgive you for this today! How could you bring such shame upon an upper-class knight like myself——"
Senoa could not seem to get up no matter how much she squirmed around. She simply bashed her arms and legs around blindly on the ground. She was stirring up a fuss, but could not manage to get up. From Selphie's point of view, it looked like the size and weight of Senoa's armor was to blame.
"Ugh! I, I can't get up……"
Senoa rolled here and there as she struggled to get up.
Looking down at her, Rain sighed and said,
"hey Leni. ……Hurry up and strip her armor."
The youth who had been standing off to the side……Leni's face was bright red, likely because he was trying too hard not to laugh.
He somehow managed to pry Senoa's armor off so that she could stand. She was understandably furious. Selphie thought that it was such a shame that her pretty face was twisted in anger.
"I prepared my armor on purpose so we could show the examinees some of our dignity,"
Senoa muttered in spite.
Rain mercilessly replied,
"you idiot! What use is armor if you can't even move in it? Learn the limits of your own abilities already. You useless fool!"
"Ugh…… You didn't have to go that far…"
Senoa's eyes darted to and forth like she was wounded……until they finally rested on Selphie's.
"I was wondering, but who is this young lady?"
she began to vent her frustrations on the girl.
"Y, you mean me?"
"Oh yeah, she's——"
Rain continued, as if he couldn't have been any more bothered,
"she's an examinee I met just now by the castle gates. Says she wants to become a knight."
"Examinees are supposed to be waiting outside. Why is she here?"
Senoa pressed on without bothering to hide her displeasure. Selphie almost apologized on instinct, but Rain waved his hand like he was swatting at a fly before she could.
"Well, the mood brightens up when there are women around. And besides, it's just about time anyway."
"Yes, exactly. I don't have any objections to cute young ladies being around either,"
Leni approved Rain's statement with great zeal. He flashed a grin at Selphie at the same time. She tried to smile back at him, but she was sure that her face was extremely stiff.
"Sir Leni! That's a controversial statement."
"Enough, I say!"
Rain interrupted Senoa and continued,
"it's time, so let's get this over with and eat lunch. ——Hey!"
He raised his voice and signaled to the two soldiers stationed at the door.
Examinees poured in once the two soldiers saluted and opened the door wide.
"Alright, you go on over there too, Selphie."
Selphie stiffly hurried back to where the rest of the examinees were as she was told.
"It doesn't need to be perfect, so get organized into roughly four lines,"
Rain lazily called out, and about a hundred examinees obeyed and formed lines. Selphie, who had tried to line up at the very back, was jostled around by the crowd and found herself at the very front before she had realized. She was only a few steps away from Rain and his aides.
Eek~, I, I'm so nervous~.
What will I do if they're going to make it a tournament or something?
Selphie was already drenched in sweat even though the exam hadn't begun yet.
After all, it wasn't only her dreams that were at stake. She couldn't help but be nervous because her livelihood was as stake as well.
The image of herself sleeping under a bridge after failing the exam and having her plans to stay at the castle lodgings go down the drain flickered before her eyes.
And, within ten days, she would have to stoop as low as to engage in night work…… Well, she wasn't that much better off to begin with.
"Um, won't you please buy me for a night?"
I definitely don't want this.
Oh, but, a girl as skinny as I am might not even be able to do something like that.
Aah, what on earth am I thinking?!
An, anyways just please don't make this a tournament…… Tournaments are scary.
Just as Selphie was secretly wishing to herself.
Leni turned to Rain and said,
"I suppose we'll be using a tournament to decide who passes, General?"
I hate this person. I hate him!
Selphie burned up in irrational rage.
Fortunately, however, Rain readily rejected the notion.
"Nah, I'm not about to do something so tedious when lunchtime's ticking closer."
Selphie felt the tension leave her cheeks.
General, I, Selphie, will follow you anywhere.
She truly felt this way, if only for now.
Completely indifferent to the girl who was staring at him with respect and gratitude, Rain took a cursory glance at the examinees and frowned.
"Whoa, they're mostly gross men. Let's get this over with as fast as possible."
"Hold on a moment please, General!"
The atmosphere, which had relaxed somewhat after Rain's energy-draining comment, tensed up again.
Blushing furiously, Senoa continued her interjection,
"please allow me to saw a few words to the examinees before we begin."
"Well……I won't stop you if you insist, but…"
Without sparing a glance at Rain who was wearing an expression that seemed to say, "don't, stupid," Senoa said, "well then," and opened her mouth wide to start.
"Everyone, at attention!"
A shrill voice roared in sharp rebuke.
After confirming that the examinees had reflexively moved to stand at attention, Senoa triumphantly began her speech.
"Right now, our fatherland, Sunkwoll, faces unprecedented danger! It has only been a mere month since the despicable Zarmine, the powerful kingdom from the North, invaded our country. We were able to repel their attack with great and strenuous effort, but should they invade us again, it is obvious that we knights, the cornerstone of our kingdom, must stand at the frontlines!"
Selphie began to question why Senoa had referred to this speech as just a "few words," while the words began to flow more naturally from Senoa's mouth and she started to blush red (from apparent excitement).
"Our enemy, King Leygur, is already recruiting more soldiers to replenish those that he lost and is steadily rebuilding and restructuring his army. It goes without saying that he is preparing for yet another battle. And thusly! We too must reinforce our military might and appoint more knights in preparation for the upcoming enemy invasion and—"
It had come out of nowhere.
Without saying a word, Rain had hit the blonde beauty's head with his scabbard and the full weight of the magic sword inside of it.
"Th, that hurt……"
It must have hurt a lot, since her blue eyes began to well up with tears.
"Of course it did, you fool! You said you'd just be saying a few words. So don't just go off on a long-ass speech."
"Oww, I feel a bump…… I was almost done! And yet…!"
"Nope. I can't bear to have my lunch wait for me any longer."
With about eighty percent of his brain worried about his lunch, Rain put Senoa aside, turned to the hesitant examinees, and ordered,
"all of you, weapons at ready and turn to me! You can use any stance you like."
Clatter clatter clatter
The examinees drew their weapons with confusion etched onto their faces. Then, they spread themselves out and aimed at Rain's eyes just as he had ordered. There was even an exceptionally strong examinee who took up a battle axe high above his head.
Rain glanced through them and said,
"yep. That'll do. We'll begin the exam now."
Tension ran through the air.
Naturally, Selphie, who stood at ready with a second-hand sword, was also nervous.
He's not gonna tell us to come at him all at once, is he?
On the contrary, Rain said,
"don't think of me as a high general of Sunkwoll. Think of me as your worst enemy! Then, in a moment, I want you to psyche yourselves up as if you're gonna come and cut me down. Now, begin!"
What the hellll!!
A silent protest that probably would have sounded like that if it had been put into words enveloped the entire area (or so it felt). Even the honest and obedient Selphie thought that the examinees would not be satisfied with Rain's orders.
Selphie had long since realized that she could feel surges of power rolling off of people who had more than a certain level of strength. She thought that Rain was intending on seeing which examinees had that kind of power, but——
Is that really……okay?
I mean, I'm happy with this because it's not scary.
"Hey, go home if you don't feel like doing it. Otherwise, hurry it up already!"
Despite being the most unwilling out of everyone present, Rain yelled out, "got a problem?!" at the crowd of examinees and glared begrudgingly at his two aides who seemed like they wanted to protest his methods.
The giant and tough examinee with the battle axe sullenly took a step forward, alone, but ultimately rethought his decision and returned to where he had originally been.
Other small voices of discontent leaked out and spread like a ripple before tapering off. All of the other examinees looked at each other as if they were saying, 'this is stupid, but I guess we'll play along,' and readied their weapons once more.
"Alright, let's hurry up and begin, quickly now. Psyche yourselves up as if you're gonna cut me down in a moment, mkay? Pretend that you won't have a future! I'll kill you if you don't get to me first……think something along the lines of that."
The tension in the air tightened up a little as he spoke with a hint of something sharp in his words. The venue grounds fell silent at once. Selphie had already psyched herself up long ago. Pressing her lips into a thin line, she fired herself up as much as she could and narrowed her large eyes.
This person is an enemy, an enemy I have to beat!
At that moment, all of the commotion faded from her ears.
Her senses sharpened. She forgot about the other examinees clamoring around her, and she even completely forgot about her extraordinary circumstances (that she was homeless). She made sure that she wasn't grabbing onto the hilt of her sword too hard so that she could swing it at any time, and she did not let her gaze fall away from her opponent for even a moment. Subconsciously, she drew back her left leg a little. Now, she could leap out at any given moment.
Perhaps something that was unseen to the eyes had been conveyed to the enemy——in other words, to Rain at the time.
Rain, who had been looking over at the examinees with a relaxed bearing, turned his head as if someone had called out to him and met Selphie's gaze.
Oh? he seemed to say with his eyes and the corners of his lips curled upward.
His smile was even more brazen and bold than what the rumors said.
And then, there was a sudden counterattack.
And it was ever a spirited one!
She felt a sudden gust of wind pressure. Of course, there hadn't actually been any wind. She had, however, certainly felt pressure exploding out from Rain like a windstorm.
She suddenly felt sweat dripping down her face…… For some reason, Rain looked like a giant towering over his surroundings to her.
Her overwhelmingly strong opponent astutely caught her gaze. She couldn't look away.
His black eyes were so clear that they were scary, and it felt like they were peering through the depths of her very being. Currently, his eyes occupied her entire field of vision.
The man who had long since finished climbing the path that normal humans could only take little by little stared directly at Selphie. It was then that Selphie realized that her opponent was someone who had exceeded the realm of humanity.
Her opponent was in all likelihood not being serious, and half of the reason he had had mixed in a bit of his 'power' into his fighting spirit was likely just for fun. After all, he hadn't even touched his magic sword.
"Well, I'm gonna come at you guys now…… Are you ready?"
He was probably only showing them how he boosted his own awareness right before a battle.
It was as if he wasn't serious at all. It was something similar to how people sometimes pretended to take the puppy they were playing with seriously. Selphie could at least understand that much.
But even still——
At that time, Selphie had most certainly touched upon a fragment of Rain's strength.
Her legs became unsteady, and she began to back up little by little before she knew it. Her opponent's fighting spirit had blown away all of her willpower, and had even broken through any remaining stubbornness she had held. The tip of her sword was wavering……as if it was projecting its master's discomposure with every tremor. Her knees trembled under the weight of the overwhelming, invisible power. The sound of feet scraping echoed from various places throughout the venue. It seemed that several other people had also felt Rain's power. The people whose posture had crumbled out of fear.
I can't do this anymore, I'm gonna fall to the floor!
When Selphie had let out a shriek because she could not endure the pressure any longer, Rain abruptly broke off his gaze.
The overwhelming pressure that had weighed upon her entire body gently faded away.
Then, as if it had all been no big deal, Rain ordered,
"alright, that's enough. That's the end of the exam."
Crestfallen, Selphie fell to her knees.
She could not help but do so.
While most of the examinees in the venue were sighing as if their spirits had left them, Selphie was breathing raggedly. She thought that there were a few other people who were just as exhausted as she was, but she did not even have the energy to check.
She had really thought that she was about to be killed.
"Ah~, well, I'm gonna announce the names of those who passed now. First, Selphie."
"No……don't "fuehh" me, I really mean that you passed. Oh, and I can see your panties again, you know?"
She sprang up like she had been kicked.
"I'm kidding. Have you returned to your senses?"
Rain turned away from Selphie and continued to call out the names of those who passed, saying, "ah~, and you there in the second line, second from the front, and——". Most of them were drenched in sweat and laying exhausted on the floor like Selphie.
The jubilation began to kick in little by little.
Forgetting about how nervous she had been up until now, Selphie was honestly moved by the fact that her dream to become a knight would come true. She would start out as a squire, but she was definitely a step closer to her goal than she had been before. She felt that the path leading to her dream had opened up to her all at once.
However, the only thing that bothered her was the question of whether or not it was really all right for someone like her to pass. After all, she had not been able to stand up against Rain at all.
"——And, that's it. Unfortunately, the rest of you are disqualified."
Rain finished calling out the names of the examinees who passed.
Many examinees who had been listening with bated breath wailed silently. Most of them were probably dissatisfied with how the exam had been conducted.
"Hey, you can't just do that!"
And, of course, a voice of dissent.
The owner of the outcry, the large man with a battle axe who had almost stepped forward to complain previously, left his line and lumbered up to the front.
He then began to glare at Rain from up close.
The mountain of muscle, who stood a full head taller than the longsword-wielding Rain and was unquestionably wider, insisted on making his existence known.
He kinda smells like sweat.
She felt bad about it, but that was Selphie's impression of him.
Rain jabbed a finger at the large man with a side-eye that anyone could tell was filled with irritation and asked,
"what's with this?"
He was asking Leni, who was standing next to him.
The large man opened his eyes wide. He's mad, he's super mad.
Flustered, Leni dropped his eyes down upon a piece of paper in his hand that was likely a register of the examinee's names. Selphie had reacted before either of them……but, because her legs were still trembling, she could only move to the front while tottering like an old woman.
"Excuse me! There's something I want to ask you, Lord General!"
"What is it? You passed, so what are you so dissatisfied about? Did you want to fail instead?"
He was still glaring out of the side of his eye like he would brush aside any nuisances at any moment.
"Of course not! I'm not dissatisfied about anything. It's just…"
"It's just what?"
"……I couldn't measure up to you at all, Lord General. So how did I pass?"
"Look here, you."
Rain looked like he was looking at a pitifully feeble creature. He continued,
"first things first, quit with the "Lord General" thing."
After giving his warning, he added on,
"what did you think after facing me?"
"Eh? After facing you, Lor——no, General? Well that's……"
Selphie glanced back and forth between Senoa and the others, who were listening in on the discussion, and the flabbergasted man who had been rendered unable to protest because he could not follow the flow of conversation, and continued in an extremely high-pitched voice,
"I think that you have a very masculine face and that you're very handsome, General, but I like older brother types who give off a kinder vibe, so——ack!"
Rain hit her on the head with his scabbard (with the magic sword still in it).
Giant stars danced before her eyes. Selphie now understood how Senoa had felt earlier. She felt like her head would split in two as she sank down to her knees like a nun in prayer. What ever had Rain meant when he called himself a "man who's sweet to girls before all else"? That wasn't the case at all!
Selphie managed to squeeze out.
"Of course it does! Who the hell asked you about the types of guys you like?! And what was with that shameless part about kind older brothers?! Besides, I don't prefer little kids like you either!"
"But I'm already seventeen,"
she somehow managed to say. She couldn't say any more because her head was still throbbing.
"Seventeen is still young enough to be kid from my point of view. And that's not it! I was talking about our invisible fight from earlier. I was asking about your thoughts on facing me during that!"
"Oh, if that's the case——"
Recovering from the hit, she continued,
"I thought you were amazing! I knew you were strong, but I'd never guess you had that much 'power'! General, you're definitely stronger than you say you are!"
Rain's mood visibly recovered.
After taking a moment to brush back his hair, he pointed at the brawny muscle man who had been left out of the conversation and unable to continue his protest.
"In a nutshell, that's the reason. You're weak, but you're still able to read how strong your opponent is. But this sweaty dude here couldn't do that at all. That's why you passed and he failed. Got it?"
……Now that you spell it out like that, I think I do.
It couldn't be argued that being able to feel Rain's fighting spirit was worth points in and of itself.
"……I think I understand."
"Well there's no way in hell that I do!"
the man clamored in protest, recovering from his daze after watching Selphie nod repeatedly.
Leni finally looked up from his piece of paper and said,
"oh, General, I found it! This guy's name is…"
"Who cares what his name is?!"
Rain curtly rejected his aide's hard work.
Turning to the protesting man, he twisted his mouth into a frown and continued,
"I see that you're pretty dissatisfied with how I run my exam."
"Of fuckin' course I am! Who the hell'd be okay with the damn nonsensical way you ran it, huh?"
the large man angrily barked back while raising his thick eyebrows. A few other ex-examinees who remained in the venue surrounded them from a distance and secretly nodded amongst themselves. He continued,
"for starters, I'm obviously stronger than that brat no matter how you look at it!"
The large man pointed his battle axe at Selphie with a whoosh and threw out his chest. His pectorals bulged atrociously through his vest. It looked like his buttons would explode off at any moment.
Selphie squealed and stepped back out of disgust, rather than fear.
"Geh……gross. You really can find guys like this almost anywhere."
Rain also frowned and created some distance between himself and the large man. Then, he continued,
"guys who've made it through the world on brute strength alone and impulsively think that brute strength will carry them through anything just because it's worked for them so far. It can't be avoided that they don't realize how weak they actually are."
"Wha, what'd you sayy?!"
Rain let the large man's anger pass right over him and brazenly smiled.
"I'll force you to understand. I'm gonna sock you now, so try blocking it. If you can avoid it or even hit back, I'll make you a knight or a general or whatever. I'm sure you won't have any objections!"
"Of course. Besides, do you really think I'd still be a general if I couldn't even deal with punks like you?! Just try and fight back as hard as you please."
The muscle man, who was clearly pouting about being called a punk, slowly began to grin widely as he digested Rain's proposition. He stroked at his stubble and laughed vulgarly. It was clear that in his mind, he was already vividly imaging himself basking in glory after having defeated Rain and succeeding him as the high general.
Even Selphie might have imagined Rain getting beaten up if this exchanged had happened half an hour ago, but her current opinion differed.
This guy just doesn't get it.
"You're gonna regret it. Gahaha!"
the large man laughed heartedly, as if he wanted to blow away the ceiling with his laughter, as he returned the battle axe to his waist. The reason he spoke so freely was because he did not doubt that he would be victorious.
Leni looked at him as if he was a cow that was about to be turned into beef, and Senoa looked like she didn't know whether she should stop him or not.
Rain, who was at the center of this all, laughed along with the large man.
He laughed in harmony with the man for a while and then suddenly stopped midway. Then, he said,
"well, are you ready?"
"Yeah, I'm good whenever you are. Gimme your worst!"
And a moment after he said that——
The man flew into the air while bleeding heavily from the nose and his large body slammed into the right-hand wall. He really must have flown at least ten meters.
It should have been impossible considering his weight, but Selphie couldn't help but accept it as real because it had happened right in front of her.
Even Selphie, who had been watching from the very beginning, had not grasped Rain's actions. Just like what had happened at the castle gates, there had simply been a gentle breeze that had slightly lifted up her bangs.
Then, she had seen a black afterimage for a moment before it lost its shape and disappeared.
That was it.
Before she could even think, 'whoa,' the large man was already convulsing on the floor. He could not move at all. Or rather, considering how far he was thrown, he probably wouldn't wake up for a while.
"……He was so weak that he wasn't really even worth doing this for. In any case, he failed,"
Rain said cheerfully as he lowered his fist. It was thanks to this action that Selphie finally realized, "oh, I see, he punched him." Rain had been so fast before that Selphie had no idea what he had done.
Rain swiftly looked over at the ex-examinees who had been spectating. He continued,
"does anyone else have any complaints? I'll listen to any objections you might have."
He received a quick response. Everyone shook their heads in tandem. Even the people who had passed.
"It's all good as long as you understand. Well then, the exam has safely concluded,"
Rain wrapped up in an arrogant manner.
Then, a lovely soprano sounded through the air.
The gleeful shout of an extremely happy girl echoed throughout the silent venue grounds.
The voice had come from…… A lone girl had appeared from a small exit along the right-hand wall instead of the entrance behind Selphie with an expression that seemed to say, 'I found you.'
Even the heartfelt joy that Selphie had felt at passing the exam temporarily vanished.
The girl had such a well-proportioned appearance that Selphie found herself at a loss for a moment. Her long, straight blonde hair, which lacked even the slightest hint of dullness, reached down her back and her azure eyes, which was characteristic of her status among the nobility, were so large and lovely that Selphie was almost jealous.
Along with her kindly shaped eyebrows, the distinct shape of the bridge of her nose, and her porcelain-white skin, Selphie couldn't help but think that this girl was favored by god.
Selphie had been called "cute" countless times in the past, but she felt like the dull moon before the bright sun when she compared herself to this girl.
People could find fault with any beauty if they tried hard enough, no matter how lovely the beauty was, but they would have to give up on finding any faults with this girl. She was the embodiment of perfection.
That girl is so pretty…… Selphie was captivated. She thought that it would have been bad if she was a boy. She would have fallen in love at first sight.
The girl's face enthusiastically brightened up after seeing Rain and she did not seem to have even noticed the smelly muscular man sprawled out at her feet.
Most likely, all of the other spectators, including Selphie, had not even entered her field of vision. She was simply looking at Rain, and only Rain, with that much earnest.
Immediately, the girl trotted her way over to Rain. She looked so very, very happy as she did.
The mysterious girl's identity was revealed soon afterward.
Senoa and Leni saluted her reverently, and Rain called out to her with great familiarity, as if he had been calling out to a close friend.
Unrest spread through the crown of spectators like ripples across water's surface.
There was only one person who could be called "Princess" in all of Sunkwoll. That person was Her Royal Highness Princess Shelfa, who was to be the next queen. There was a coronation that was planned to take place soon, and once the ceremony was over, she would be queen in both name and reality. No, she was basically the queen already.
Generally speaking, the Sunkwoll throne was inherited from parent to child.
While there were several nobles who could be considered royalty, Shelfa was to be the next queen according to this basic principle.
Still extremely flustered, all of the other examinees bent down on one knee. Technically speaking, the Princess was just another noble and wasn't even their liege, but it was still considered proper etiquette to kneel before royalty.
To explain, Selphie was a squire under Rain's command and her only liege lord was Rain, not Princess Shelfa.
This arrangement would not change even after Shelfa ascended the throne. Other countries aside, Sunkwoll knights only served their respective feudal lord, so Selphie's only true ruler was Rain. As an extreme example of this principle, should Rain ever exclaim, "I'll overthrow Shelfa and become the king myself, gahaha!" Selphie and the other knights would have no choice but to aid his plans.
This was the case from Selphie's position even if Rain was also a knight in Shelfa's service. Just because Rain was Shelfa's retainer, it did not mean that Selphie was as well.
It was a little complicated, but it could be said that the king of Sunkwoll was simply the greatest feudal lord in the kingdom.
That being said, the aforementioned schema was simply the official doctrine, and the next queen was still the next queen. It was only natural to pay her due respect.
Selphie wanted to bow so low that her head hit the floorboards, never mind just bending a knee. After all, she had been a homeless commoner just mere minutes ago.
And thus, Selphie tried to bend down on one knee like everyone else——. However, her legs had not completely recovered yet and were still wobbly, causing her to lose her balance like a fool and classically fall over. Naturally, her skirt flipped over spectacularly.
Rain immediately looked over and rudely commented, "this is getting old."
Then, he added,
"I've been watching you for a while now, but……do you have some kind of fetish where you feel a pressing need to show off your underwear at periodic intervals?"
Selphie knew that her face was probably bright red by now.
"Ab, absolutely not! Besides, do people like that even exist?!"
Rain replied without missing a beat.
No, well, if you say so.
Discouraged, Selphie knelt again with an awkward look on her face. She lowered her head so that the princess would not see her blushing. Still, she secretly peeked up to look. ……She had never laid eyes upon royalty before, so she could not help but be curious.
The princess lifted a slight hand up to her lips and opened her eyes wider, as if she was saying, "oh my." It seemed that she truly had not noticed Selphie and the others until now.
"Um…… Am I interrupting something, Rain?"
Shelfa gently placed a hand on Rain's back. She was rather timid for a princess.
"Not at all, it's already over. We held the Official Knight Recruitment Exam today."
"Is that so? And……who is the person on the ground over there?"
Again, the princess, who was fretfully staring at the fallen man, did not seem to have realized he was there until just now.
Blood was pooling on the ground from the man's nose as his large face planted a kiss on the floor. ……It was truly a wretched scene.
Rain sighed as if nothing had happened and continued,
"he was a bit oversensitive, despite what his body frame may suggest. He got a nosebleed and fainted because he was too nervous during the exam. Man, it didn't suit him at all…… It's a pity, but he was disqualified. Truly unfortunate. Well, he did have plenty of enthusiasm, to say the least."
Th, the nerve of this guy!
Multiple reproachful glares converged on Rain, but he only continued to act as nonchalant as ever.
"And what about you, Princess; did you have some business here?"
"No, I simply wanted to speak with you, Rain."
She smiled brightly.
Her smile was so beautiful that Selphie found herself deeply moved again. She's so pretty……but she's really obvious about her favoritism. I'm kinda jealous.
"Oh, but now that I think about it,"
the princess recalled,
"Lord Ralphus was looking for you, Rain."
Why is she only referring to Lord Ralphus as "Lord"?
Selphie wondered right off the bat. She knew that Ralphus was Rain's fellow high general. Actually, there wasn't anyone who didn't know that Ralphus was Rain's fellow high general. Ralphus had deep ties with royalty and was one of the greater nobles.
Even still, the reason that the princess addressed Ralphus politely was likely due to her personality, so why didn't she extend the same treatment to General Rain?
From the aforementioned point, one would generally reach the conclusion that 'there's something suspicious about those two,' but Selphie, who did not have any ill will toward them, simply thought, 'I'm glad that I'll be serving under someone who gets along so well with his liege~," and was relieved. She was sure that she would be able to serve under Rain as a proper knight (though she was still a squire) for many years to come since that was the case.
At any rate, that was what she had thought at the time.
Later, she would be brought to tears after recalling her naïve prediction.
Anyhow, Rain replied to the princess,
"he's calling for me? Ohoo…"
Satisfied, he nodded to himself. Then, he called out to his two aides and said, "hey, I'll leave the rest to you," and made to leave with the princess. Senoa, who looked angry for some reason, and Leni, who looked a little jealous, gave them a light bow.
On the other hand, Selphie, who was still sitting on the ground, recalled her pressing situation.
She called out to the retreating black figure,
Selphie blushed again as the princess and her retainer turned around. After thinking things through, she realized that what she was about to ask wasn't the sort of thing she should be asking the general, who was technically her liege lord.
"What is it; hurry up and spit it out."
"Of course. Err……is it possible for me to enter the lodgings today?"
"……Are you seriously asking me that?"
As expected, he told her off.
"You're a pretty cheeky one, you know that?"
He even delivered the final blow.
"I, I'm sorry!"
"Well you see, there's a bit of a complicated procedure that has to take place before you can stay at the lodgings, and it usually takes at least five days."
Leni, ever the kind older-brother type, informed her from the side. She should have asked him instead to begin with.
"Oh, is that so?"
Meanwhile, Selphie wanted to cry. She was embarrassed after drawing attention to herself, and she didn't know anywhere she could stay for five days. A few copper was all that she had on her…… It would only net her maybe one meal or so.
By the time she had resolved herself to sleeping under a bridge, Rain brusquely said,
"You can stay at lodgings starting today. I'll make a special exception for you."
Before Selphie could express her joy, however, Senoa flared up and exclaimed,
"General! You can't simply say things like that! It sets a bad example for the others!"
"This is why I don't like people who were pampered growing up,"
Rain grumbled with his mouth twisting into a frown. He continued,
"if anyone has a problem with it, they can just shut up and leave my service, I won't stop them. And besides,"
his tone became intentionally cockier,
"in my unit, I am the law!"
"Enough! ……Leni, deal with all the paperwork so she can stay at the lodgings."
"Yes, yes, please leave it to me,"
Leni nodded with a smile.
Selphie was relieved from the bottom of her heart. While she could nibble on bread crusts for food if it came to the worst, there was nothing she could do about not having a place to sleep. She was truly grateful.
"Well, make sure to do it properly,"
Rain said as he pat the reassured Selphie on the shoulder. Then, he whispered to her so that the others couldn't hear,
"come to my room once you're done putting away your things."
Eh? Selphie immediately looked up at Rain, but he had already urged the princess forward and was walking away as if nothing had happened.
Come to his room later…… I wonder why.
Selphie's face had already become as red as an overripe apple.
There, there's no way……right?
He didn't mean it like that, right……?