Rain soon found the person who had been invisibly investigating him as he entered the plaza. He was in a corner, along with two others.
He had never seen the other two before, but the silver-haired man was a face he had seen ten years ago, though he had not anticipated a reunion with him.
He had thought that they would never meet again.
Rain noticed Gunther standing inconspicuously near them and called out to him first.
"……Nothing. I simply thought that something was about to come up."
"I see. That's sensible of you, as always."
Rain laughed and suddenly stopped before he prompted Kris up close to Joe.
He met the other man's gaze from up his horse.
"It's been a while, boy. Our positions have reversed from before. It's been ten years, but do you remember me?"
Joe looked away for a brief moment and turned his eyes to Shelfa. He furrowed his brows, puzzled.
But he then shook his head lightly and turned back to Rain.
……He had the same reaction as King Leygur. Well, it's only natural to be puzzled after seeing the Little one.
Feeling around his memories of the previous battle, Rain nonchalantly replied,
"I'm not a kid anymore. ……But I remember you of course, Joe Lamberck. What's the Fearless God-General of Chandrys doing here?"
"But, you really don't look twenty-five. You're surprisingly young."
Rain frowned as something interrupted from the side.
"……Who're you, woman?"
Folnier opened her eyes wide and promptly allowed her features to crumble as she began laughing like a man.
"I would never stand it for a normal person to call me that, but perhaps this is a part of your personal virtue. I actually find your open-hearted attitude quite reliable,"
Folnier said as she smiled enchantingly. She continued,
"I am Folneir Lucida Chandrys. As my name suggests, I'm the empress of Chandrys. I know this is a bit of a strange place……but won't you talk with us for a bit, Sir Rain?"
Even Rain and Shelfa unmounted from Kris after Folnier introduced herself, and both groups began exchanging information regarding the current circumstances. However, Rain's attention was focused on Joe, and Folnier was zealously observing Rain. Thus, it was difficult to say whether their exchange was successful or not.
That aside, when Rain explained the reason for their march as he'd been asked, Folnier became stiff and suddenly began to rattle on and on.
"Then, you mean to say that you surrendered your royal castle, your final stronghold, and evacuated?!"
"Well, if you put it simply, then yeah. Geez, the world changes too fast. The army, which was the national army yesterday, is a wandering army today."
Rain shrugged as if it had nothing to do with him.
Rain's attitude had not changed in the slightest even after learning that Folnier was an empress. He did not have any special sense of inherent respect for royalty to begin with. Furthermore, it wasn't even as if Folnier paid Rain's wages. Thus, he did not see any need to speak to her with respect.
The man called Shing or something that he'd been introduced to earlier frowned at him repeatedly, but, naturally, Rain couldn't have cared less.
"Anyhow. Things might change later, but that's what the situation is now. So even if you propose an alliance… Well, it's not like I'll be the one deciding that in any case."
He lowered his gaze to his liege standing beside him and continued,
"how about it, Princess?"
Shelfa looked surprised at suddenly being called upon.
Still, after a moment of contemplation, she candidly disclosed to Folnier,
"……While I'm happy for your proposal, the situation is as Rain has just described it. My household no longer commands the entire Sunkwoll kingdom. Only Rain and Lord Ralphus has remained my ally. Is that still all right with you?"
"S, so readily?! In other words, you, a member of royalty who is to become the next ruler, no longer control even a single plot of land?!"
"Oh, you're right."
It was exactly as Folnier had said.
Shelfa opened her bright blue eyes wide and giggled.
She had found it peculiar that, just until yesterday, there had been an uproar about her coronation ceremony and debut, but she had become penniless overnight.
Come to think of it, she had left the castle with just the clothes on her back, so she did not have even a single copper, let alone territory to her name.
"You're exactly right……. I don't own anything anymore."
"——Wha! A, are you serious?"
Folnier became exasperated and grew angry as if she herself was in Shelfa's predicament. She could hardly believe how composed the girl, a ruler like herself, was.
Shelfa had her own excuse that "even if I don't have any land to my name, I am satisfied as long as my beloved Rain is by my side," but Folnier would have probably gotten angry if she made her true opinion known.
Both female rulers were beauties that drew in attention, but the quality of their beauty were of different kinds, and they belonged to completely different worlds on the inside.
Only——. Rain was no longer listening to Folnier scolding next to him. He did not see Shing frequently turning his head toward him, worried, and neither did he notice that Gunther had nonchalantly moved next to Shelfa as if he was covering her.
What he was paying attention was the surge of power that Joe Lamberck, who was accompanying him, was giving off and was flaring up in the flames of rivalry.
Rain said with a low voice.
He braced himself and glared back at Joe, who was staring into him. He felt Joe's 'power' tingle on his skin just by standing there.
"It'd certainly be unexpected……but are you picking a fight with me?"
"I had no such intentions——"
Joe replied while laughing,
"but, you really haven't changed. You're just the same as you were ten years ago."
"Yeah? Everyone who knew me in the past usually says that I've gotten more shameless."
"That's just on the outside, is it not? I can tell. Your true nature has not changed in the slightest. You're just as you were then,"
Joe answered quietly. He continued,
"when I met you that day, you were a warrior with eyes like a wolf's, and you're still that way today. ……I would like a match with you at least once."
"Didn't we already have one?"
Joe said as he casually placed a hand on the hilt of his katana.
Rain had also placed a hand on his magic sword by then. It wasn't clear who had moved first, but there was no doubt that they had moved at almost the exact same time.
And, Joe spoke his next words almost like a cue.
Even if he hadn't intended to, he had challenged Rain in the most correct way possible.
"If you think you beat me that day, then you're sorely mistaken. Nothing……has been decided yet."
A dangerous light flickered in Rain's eyes as he heard Joe's words.
"Oh~……? I guess you don't mind if your slogan of 'invincibility' crumbles to dust, huh."
Fornier's voice, which was still rattling on beside them, and the hushed whispers of the citizens in the plaza completely disappeared from their minds.
They both knew that the other was a strong opponent. They no longer had the leeway to allow their attention to wander elsewhere.
Joe turned around and instinctively distanced himself. As if they were about to cross swords.
Rain, too, instinctively opened his legs out a little. He never looked away from his opponent's eyes even for a moment.
Just then……a breeze blew and carried along a withered brown leaf.
The two opponents drew their swords at the same time and crossed each other.
The leaf was split into four and was blown away.
They both groaned and twisted their upper bodies to hit back at their opponent behind them as they crossed paths. There was no delay in their movements as both magic swords aimed at the other wielder's vitals.
Crackle crackle crackle!
The two magic swords crackled as bluish white sparks scattered around them. Rain had cut his cheek and Joe's shirt had been cut around the shoulder, and both were bleeding lightly from their wounds.
Shelfa and Folnier screamed as they finally realized that something was up. However, their voices did not reach either of their targets.
"——How many decades has it been since someone's inflicted a wound on me? ……As expected of you!"
"It's a bit too soon to start bragging!"
Rain took a step toward his opponent as they locked swords and headbutted Joe on the forehead.
Joe instantly moved to avoid it, but Rain was just a bit faster. Unable to dodge it completely, he took the blow.
Joe purposefully threw himself to the stone paving behind him and splendidly flipped backward with one had on the ground.
He immediately readied his katana again, but——
"How naïve of you! But I'm up here!"
Rain danced through the skies like a bird in flight, half-turned midair, and swung down his magic sword in a single blow with all of his might. Joe caught the attack, which would have split his head in two if it had hit, spectacularly.
The two clashed, swapping positions and changing their postures in a dizzying manner numerous times. They were so fast that Shelfa and the others saw the illusion of four or five swordsmen were fighting.
Joe and Rain danced in between the two magic sword's attacks.
They were undeniably in mortal combat, of course, but their moves were so perfect that spectators gazed at them in wonder.
Joe's radiant silver-white magic sword drew multiple trails of light aimed at Rain's black hair. They were met by blue flashes of light that had not withdrawn in the slightest. The crossing magic swords created countless afterimages as they clashed repeatedly and scattered sparks as they crackled. The two outstanding swordsmen had easily crossed blades over ten times within the past few seconds.
The people in the plaza stopped moving and had their eyes glued on them.
"You're not human, are you, you bastard? Are you one of those daemons that were supposed to have been extinct?"
Rain asked, his doubt coloring his words as he jumped back to distance himself for the time being.
"I'm not. Besides, it's not like you're entirely human either."
With that last yell, the black shadow became a blur and charged forward. The few meters between the two opponents was basically nothing to Rain. He appeared in front of Joe in a blink of an eye and scythed his magic sword horizontally.
Joe reacted with inhuman speed and caught Rain's blow with his own magic sword.
However, Rain did not miss how Joe's body had wavered in the slightest bit and took the chance to rotate his tall figure and backward roundhouse kick his opponent in the temporal region.
There was a heavy crash.
Joe blocked the kick with only his right elbow, but his entire body was still thrown back because he wasn't able to neutralize the impact. Rain leapt at him again as his body flew in the air. At the same time that Joe safely landed on the road, Rain's magic sword fell down upon him like falling light.
Joe avoided the magic sword just before it made contact by twisting his body. Then, he stabbed his katana into the stone paving and used it as a pivot to kick Rain's completely open flank.
It was Rain's turn to be thrown back.
However, he quickly regained his posture upon landing. Both opponents ran at each other with a speed that had surpassed the limits of humanity.
"That's my line!"
"Both of you, step down!"
Folnier jumped in in between the two with her arms spread out as they made to clash once again.
"Y, you idiot!"
Joe and Rain, who were about to deal finishing blows on the other, stopped in their tracks in terrified surprise.
It was only possible because they two of them were outstanding knights, and if the match had been between anyone else, Folnier would have undoubtedly died. Joe's silver-white magic sword had just been about to pierce Folnier through the back, and Rain Siren's Blade had stopped just before rending through her torso.
Then, Joe let out a sigh of relief while Rain snorted out largely out of anger and with a little bit of a cold sweat.
"Your Majesty, you would have been dead by now if it wasn't us!"
The two men protested furiously, but Folnier could not have cared any less as she narrowed her cat-like eyes. First, she turned around and said,
"Well, don't be too angry. You're at fault here too, you know? It was an impressive battle……but why did you start crossing blades out of nowhere? It's not like you, Joe."
Joe uncharacteristically mumbled. Folnier pat his shoulder saying, "well, whatever," before turning to confront Rain.
"You showed me something good. To think that there was someone in the world who could fight on equal terms with Joe."
"……Are you blind? Where were you looking? In another minute, he'd have been laying in a pool of blood, saying his last words like, "ugh, in the end, I was no match for you……""
Joe, who had already re-sheathed his katana, shook his head and laughed as Rain said his piece in such a matter-of-fact manner. He had long since regained his composure.
Folnier's eye's sparkled brighter as she said,
"that confidence of yours is only possible because your abilities are the real thing……. You're most certainly worthy of being called a genius. If not, you wouldn't have been able to put up a proper fight with Joe at the young age of twenty-five or so."
Folnier's red tongue traced the lines of her lips as she spoke. Rain's anger subsided and he furrowed his brows. She continued,
"I was almost about to make a mistake about you when I first heard that you had abandoned the castle. But there's no mistaking that strength of yours. It was truly greater than the rumors say."
Then, someone called out, "Rain!" When Rain turned around, he saw Ralphus and Gazaram and all of the others galloping back on horse.
That was all fine and good, but Rain belatedly noticed that Gunther had his magic sword at the knight-captain named Shing or whatever's neck, so he asked him what was wrong.
"Nothing. This man was about to draw his sword to assist half-way through the fight,"
Gunther replied calmly.
Shing gulped. Gunther looked so straightforward that Shing could not tell if he was being serious or not.
"Oh, good work. It's fine now……I'm not up for it anymore, and we were interrupted anyway."
Gunther immediately drew back his magic sword at Rain's words. Shing's trembling breath that followed was impressive. The edges of Folnier's lips lifted as she watched and she drew even closer to Rain.
She laughed as she said,
"Shing is quite skilled himself, but to immobilize him so easily. You have truly skilled subordinates……. You seem to have a good eye for people. ——And yet,"
she lowered her voice,
"I can't comprehend how a man like you can be satisfied serving under a ruler like that."
"What, is this an invitation by any chance? The kind where you're trying to get me to work under you instead?"
Rain said in a normal volume, causing Shelfa's, who had been listening in to the exchange, shoulders to twitch.
"……Do I need to answer?"
Folnier replied, without sparing a second glace at Shelfa. As Rain silently scowled, she suddenly tiptoed and planted her lips on his cheek. He felt her soft, seductive lips.
"I'll be waiting for you anytime. I've grown a sudden interest in you,"
he heard her whisper clearly despite that she had quickly pulled away.
Rain voiced his indignation with a scowl while he scrubbed his cheek. Folnier, who didn't look like she had taken any offense, saw Ralphus and the others drawing closer and turned around, saying, "let's meet again, Rain."
……From the direction she was going, she was apparently heading for Galfort Castle.
Shing followed after his ruler in a hurry and Joe, too, continued after them silently. But, he turned around to look at Rain just once. When Rain nonchalantly looked back, he turned back around without a word.
Ralphus unmounted as he arrived and looked to Folnier's party.
"……Who were they, just now? I hurried back because I felt uneasy about the man."
He saw the tears all over Rain's clothes as he spoke and stiffened. He continued,
"Well, it's a bit complicated. Anyhow, I crossed swords a bit,"
Rain said, as if nothing had really happened. He continued,
"but the match was already over. ……Though I don't know if the other party will agree with that."
Isn't that right, Princess?
He looked over to Shelfa in a relaxed manner for her confirmation……and then Rain tilted his head.
Shelfa was despondently hanging down her head. She was suddenly depressed for some reason.
Gazaram, Leni, and Selphie arrived late and separately and looked at Rain and Shelfa while trying to figure out what was going on. Selphie, especially, had a weirdly sharp look in her eyes (or so Rain thought).
To add insult to injury, Ralphus took back the question that he had just been about to ask and was looking at Rain with reproachful eyes for some reason.
In any case, Rain felt the need to justify himself and said,
"……I didn't do anything. What's wrong, Princess?"
"——Nothing. Nothing at all,"
Shelfa replied in a depressed and quavering voice that heavily suggested that there was something wrong.
She wiped away at her eyes with her fingers, and the reproachful looks, including those of the general public, increased tenfold. Naturally, the target of their gazes was none other than Rain.
"……Like I'm saying, I have no idea either."
Rain denied his involvement with a wave of the hand and called Shelfa over, pulling her somewhere away from everyone else.
He stooped over and looked into her moistened azure eyes.
"What is it? Did something happen to bring you down so much?"
"……Just before, I saw her ki, kiss you on the cheek, Rain, and my heart started to hurt a lot for some reason……. I know that I'm being silly."
Then, she gently looked Rain in the eye and continued,
"and, I finally realized that I can't even reward you properly anymore, and I felt so bad about it…… I must be really stupid to not have realized this until now. But, even still, I still want you to be by my side, Rain. ……I'm selfish too, on top of being stupid."
"Oh, that's what it is. So, that vixen said something to you, didn't she? Don't mind her, it's nothing for you to worry about. And relax, you're still super rich as a ruler should be……putting the matter about your territory aside. Well, we'll be able to reclaim your lands soon too."
Rain cast a glance at their comrades, who had their gazes fixed on them, and smiled at Shelfa, who was tilting her head to the side with a still-forlorn expression.
Then, Shelfa's almost-crying expression came apart and she smiled back at him.
"……I'll explain in more detail when we reach the castle. For now, just know that your wallets are plenty rich as they are. And about the kiss……that's…"
——Something like that is basically just a greeting, isn't it?
was what Rain had been about to say before he reconsidered it.
After all, Shelfa had withdrawn the smile that she had finally shown and was waiting for the rest of his reply with a nervous expression. He didn't want to say anything carelessly.
After thinking about what he could say to turn her gloominess back into a smile, what he came up with was something along the lines of, "besides, do you know how babies are made?" and there was no way that he could twist it to make Shelfa laugh so he dismissed the idea instantly.
He wasn't some drunken greenhorn trying to hit on a girl. Besides, he could already guess what the answer would be without having to go out of his way to ask.
And so, he said the next thing that popped into his head without really thinking about it.
"……Ah~. If that bothered you so much, then let's do this. On of these days when we're in the baths or something, I'll kiss you all over the place."
——It was equally vulgar.
Of course, Rain had only said this as a joke in order to lighten up the mood. He thought that Shelfa would laugh again if he said something like this.
However, Shelfa expressed her glee with her whole body and exclaimed, "really?!" while clasping her hands in front of her chest. She was suddenly giddy with joy and her sorrows had all but vanished.
"I can't wait!"
……Perhaps I shouldn't have said that.
Folnier laughed after a quick look back at Rain and the others who were in the middle of a slight dispute.
"We were fortunate to have met with Rain. ……But I don't care too much for that princess."
"Indeed. There would be none more reassuring to have as an ally as he,"
Joe said candidly as he nodded.
He believed that it was only right to acknowledge his opponent's strength as it was due.
"Putting his actual abilities aside, however, he's got quite the large attitude. ……As does his subordinate."
"Shing, don't hold it against him just because you were done in,"
Folnier chided him with a wry smile.
"N, never. I simply——"
Leaving Shing behind, flustered, Folnier turned to Joe as they walked and said,
"I've been wanting to ask. Joe, why didn't you use your trump card?"
She had made the suggestion out of simple doubt.
"No. That……will not work on Rain. I can guess as much without actually having to test it out."
"Oh? Then, what about magic? Your magic is almighty."
"It's not quite almighty. ——And besides, he can use magic as well. He's a Dragon Slayer, after all."
"Yeah, you're right, he is. I didn't believe it at first, but I believe it now. Hahaha……a Dragon Slayer, huh? It's my first time seeing one."
"That's only natural. You don't usually see one too often."
"That's true too, ahahah!"
Folnier laughed in a cheerful manner. Her mood seemed to have lifted considerably upon meeting Rain. She probably thought that her efforts up until now had been greatly rewarded.
Joe concurred with that sentiment.
Only, he did not think that it would be so easy to make that man their ally.
Folnier finally stopped her content laughing and abruptly looked up at Joe.
"But, even someone as good as you suffered quite the number of wounds, albeit shallow."
"My opponent was who he was. But Rain should have suffered a similar number of wounds as well."
"Hmm, that's true. Even still, it looks like you found yourself in a bit of a predicament, considering the wound on your throat. Not that I could follow what was happening."
After all, you two were moving too fast for me to see.
——The latter half of Folnier's words did not reach Joe, who had stopped in his tracks.
He felt like icicles had formed in the core of his body as he hurriedly placed a hand at his neck.
When he pulled it back in front of his eyes, he saw that it was wet with blood. Though small, he had suffered a wound there.
……And unlike the ones elsewhere, Joe had not noticed this one at all.
It needn't be said that his only opponent had been Rain. It must have happened during their fierce battle.
The wound at his throat quickly disappeared the moment he noticed it.
Folnier, who had also stopped walking, lowered her voice as she watched it happen as if it was normal.
"Don't tell me……you didn't notice?"
"——No. I see…… No wonder he let me go so quietly despite being so recklessly obsessive about the match."
Joe recalled Rain's earlier words.
"Are you blind?"
"In another minute~"
I had thought that Rain was simply exaggerating……. But wasn't that too naïve of me? In truth, he marked my vital point and I didn't even notice.
——It seems that I've underestimated that man.
As Joe began walking again, he made a quiet vow in his heart.
Should we ever get a rematch……I'll fight will all my might. Things won't go the same next time, Rain.