Rain off-handedly picked up Shing's body as the latter slanted from his seat on his horse and laid him in front across his own saddle.
In almost no time at all, he heard a shout.
"General Shing has been captureeed!"
Rain didn't know if the shout had belonged to a considerate member of one of the spies he had slipped into the Chandrys army or an enemy soldier.
In any case, the shout acted as the trigger for the collapse of most of the Chandrys army. Many of the knights who were still fighting began to turn around their horses one after another to withdraw from the battlefield to the branch road.
The avoided Rain by a large margin as they escaped in droves. He didn't have any intention of getting in their way, so Rain intentionally moved off to the side of the highway.
The enemy army passed by before him like a thick ribbon. There were many of them, but hardly any noticed that he was loitering off the side of the road. There usually weren't many people who looked around in the middle of a rout.
In addition, Gazaram's booming voice echoed from the main section of the highway.
"Don't get yourselves killed for no reasooon! Victory's been decided! We won't stop you, so hurry up and flee. If you don't want to, then throw down your weapons and surrender! Surrender, surrender nowww!"
Rain smiled before he knew it.
Gazaram was just as used to battle as he'd expected. Perhaps he could say that Gazaram was good at reading the balance, as he had precisely and accurately read the flow of the battle from every aspect of the situation.
Even now, those who had continued to wield their spears and swords until the end were throwing down their weapons as if the old man's shout had become their saving grace.
Not all of the enemy had promptly run away.
They, the crowd of knights who couldn't find it in their conscience to abandon their commander and flee, would have likely fought to their deaths had Gazaram not called out to them.
They had chosen the path of "surrender" over abandoning Shing now that they knew the option was available to them.
"Alright. I guess that settles this."
Rain let out a small sigh and moved to return to the main road with Kris.
——However, it was too early to believe that the battle was over.
A sweet yell reached Rain's ears.
"M, Mortal Storm~~"
It was a docile voice that didn't seem to belong on a battlefield.
Or rather, it clearly belonged to a girl and not only did it sound adorable, but it sounded rather bewildered as well.
But, Rain felt a shiver run down his spine and promptly called out,
His partner's reflexes (if that's what he was supposed to call them) were outstanding. Just as Rain wished, Kris kicked off the earth and jumped high.
He heard a thunderous roar.
Rain looked down from up high in the sky to see a whirlwind with winds as violent as that of a tornado's pass through below.
A magic attack!
Rain tightened his loosened nerves.
The spell had ridiculous power despite what the sweet voice suggested and when he turned around, Rain saw that a group of enemy soldiers, including some who had already run fairly far, had all been blown away.
It had been as if they were merely leaves in the wind.
Rain, who had evaded the first attack, came back down to the ground while still riding Kris and braced himself anew as he turned back around in front of him.
A single girl was standing all alone on the highway's main road. She had long, chestnut-colored hair and large black eyes that glistened as if they were moist.
She was standing right at the point where the branch road broke off from the main road in the shape of a 'T'.
She was about fifteen meters away in terms of distance.
The girl looked flustered upon seeing that Rain had evaded her magic attack and looked around to her left and right.
But, unfortunately, all of her allies had already thrown down their weapons and were kneeling on the ground with their hands behind their heads.
At the moment, only the girl had any will to continue the battle.
——I don't know the exact details, but I'm pretty sure that she's a Chandrys mage.
Rain imagined that she had simply been standing off in the corner of the road during the short fight. Luckily, no one had attacked her because she clearly didn't look the part of a warrior no matter how you looked at her.
And then, she had suddenly realized what position she was in as the battle began to conclude and, upon deciding that she had to fight as well, attacked Rain, who was right in front of her, with magic for the time being.
Which was all fine and well (no, it actually wasn't), but she had evidently failed to think about what to do after her attack. It was all to obvious that she wasn't used to fighting.
Rain swiftly inferred her circumstances, and before he could hurry and warn his allies——
Gazaram's deep voice echoed out again, though he couldn't see the old man in person (since Rain was in the middle of the main road).
"Archery unit, put down your bows! Don't take aim! Don't aim for that girl! Leave her to the General!"
Hm~m……good instructions, Gazaram.
That old man was a real great bargain.
I guess experience really does come with age.
Rain nodded to himself twice in succession.
It was nice that Gazaram was able to predict what he was thinking before receiving any orders. The old man was seriously useful to have around.
Incidentally——the ever diligent and serious girl was chanting runes with all her might even as Rain was carefreely lost in admiration.
Then, she called out in a flimsy voice that conveyed the fact that she didn't really want to be doing this.
"L, Lightning Sworddd~~!"
Contrary to what her lovely voice suggested, the amount of magic she output was no joke. In that moment, alarms bells sounded their warning again at maximum volume in Rain's mind.
Regardless of how she looked on the outside, the girl was without a doubt a super first-rate mage.
Brilliant 'swords of light accompanied by lightning' made from magic rushed at him.
His field of vision was filled with a white flash of light as the surrounding area whited out.
The atmosphere shivered from the sheer amount of heat that the swords of magic (or rather, spears) emitted.
The main current of magical energy carbonized all of the grass in its path pitch-black and stirred up wind as it charged straight ahead. Even the pebbles began to liquefy from the heat.
Rain didn't have time to dodge. The white-hot swords of light drew closer and attacked him while he was still riding Kris.
The defensive field Rain had inherited from the dragon activated automatically as it always did. It stopped the girl's magical attack and began to shine as it absorbed the magic.
The radiant, rainbow-colored field turned scarlet after resisting the girl's attack for half a second……and readily shattered.
It had exceeded its absorption capacity.
Rain promptly gathered up magical power in his hands and stuck them out in from of them to create a transparent shield.
He barely made it in time.
The swords of light, which had lost neither their momentum nor their power, crashed into the shield and caused a large explosion.
The transparent field tremored and nearly vanished from the impact of the explosion. It had so much 'power' that even Rain was subconsciously forced to go all out.
Even Rain was a little relieved to know that he had successfully blocked the attack.
But even still…… thought Rain.
If she was able to break through my anti-magic field, which is equal to or stronger than a mythical beast's, that means that she wields enough 'power' to possibly harm a dragon if she really wanted to.
Then again, had she actually fought a mythical beast, it would have created a new shield like Rain had and it would have been a complete joke if she got in a lucky hit.
As their moniker as the strongest mythical beast suggested, dragons were not an easy species to defeat.
Even still, most normal people wouldn't even have the means to oppose them, which ultimately meant that the girl was still a rare case.
Besides, it had truly been several years since anyone had broken through Rain's barrier field.
Rain dismounted from Kris, knowing that he would be at a disadvantage on horseback. He narrowed his eyes and released his magic. A bluish-white aura rose up from his black-clad figure.
Unfortunately, however, the girl had utterly failed to comprehend that she had made Rain get serious.
She made a noise that made Rain want to lose focus as she stared at him with her round eyes. She hadn't thought that her attack would ever be blocked……else, it was possible that, failing to understand how powerful her attack had been, she was simply disappointed that it hadn't worked.
Anyhow, the girl's cute face crumpled into a frown, perhaps because she had become discouraged.
She looked around her surroundings in a flustered manner as if she was wondering what she should do. She looked like she was searching for something……or someone.
Sure enough, she called out, "b, big brother~" to someone.
"Hey now! What's this with calling out for your "big brother~" after picking a fight with me, huh?!"
Rain griped. He continued,
"I just remembered. Your name is Junna, isn't it? I received intel earlier about a genius mage who made full use out of the name."
Junna (probably) flinched audibly and stepped back. Evidently, Rain's menacing attitude had scared her. She was quite the rude girl who refused to say a word after forcibly making the preemptive strike.
Gazaram, Leni, and Rain's other comrades finally gathered around Junna and looked between her and Rain in amusement. Even the enemy soldiers who had surrendered and were on their knees had somehow joined the gallery.
Gazaram rubbed his stubble and laughed as if the entire ordeal was someone else's problem.
"Man, you sure are popular, General. You're a lot different from me when I was younger."
"Do I look like I'm flirting?!! I'll dock your pay later, damnit!"
Rain yelled back in a huff.
These guys don't look like they really understand how amazing her magic attack was since they were in a blind spot earlier.
Then, ignoring the tension in the air that had begun to die down, Junna held up her magic staff once more.
Her delicate frame was covered by a white magical aura as if to rival Rain's. The snow-white robe she wore billowed from an invisible power as she closed her eyes and concentrated.
The irresponsible gallery aside, not even Rain stopped Junna as she began chanting.
The spectators, starting with Gazaram, knew that Rain would do something about her while Rain himself had his own motives.
——Which was to say that, to be serious, Rain could have ended the match long ago had he wanted to.
This was because, sword skills aside, Rain had an absolute advantage over Junna as rune masters.
As for what that advantage was?
All rune masters required casting time to chant their incantations if they wanted to release a powerful magic attack. This was true even of genius mages like Junna. Or, at the very least, it should have been.
This was why mages had suffered so many losses that they had nearly gone extinct during the war with daemons long ago. It was due to the war that there were so few mages even to this day.
After all, daemons could use magic without having to chant.
Mages had suffered a handicap even on top of the natural disparity in magic between the two groups. They were completely helpless without a warrior's support.
However——Rain was not affected by the vulnerability known as "cast time". He had been, once, but he had overcome that weakness when he became a Dragon Slayer.
Just as dragons, the strongest mythical beasts, could freely use magic without having to chant a rune each and every time, Rain, too, was free from the shackles known as "incantations".
He was able to activate magic whenever he wished to as long has he still had magic and his capacity for it was phenomenal.
To put it bluntly, the fight would be over as soon as Rain closed the distance between them while Junna was chanting.
——Ignoring the rude gallery that was blankly watching along from around her.
Still, Rain went out of his way not to do that and waited for Junna to finish.
It wasn't that he was going easy on her or anything.
It was simply that he thought——he could couldn't call it a victory if he fought against her with his sword.
Rain had no intention of casting aside his obsession with victory even if others called him stubborn for it.
Now, hit me with all you've got!
A daring glint shone in his black eyes as he watched over Junna. Rain increased the volume of magic within himself as he waited.
For the time being, he told Gazaram and the other curious onlookers, "it depends on the direction the magic goes, but you might get caught up in it! Stay back!"
Everyone stepped back without a word of complaint, perhaps because they had felt the extraordinary atmosphere around them.
Junna's song-like chanting continued:
"——Fenrir, the White Beast of the Great Snow Field, and Geirut, the Devil of Ice and Snow. Materialize the power to overcome them here in this land! As one who believes in the almighty mana, I am an apostle who freely wields the great magics.
"I pray that you freeze this place for all eternity. Transform the world into a white graveyard by the power of the mana that dwells within me. Freeze everything and protect me~"
And so, Junna had finished her incantation.
"Ice Age Strike!"
A freezing gale whipped up where she stood when Junna pointed her magic staff at Rain.
It crackled as it froze the highway.
Thick ice formed over the earth as it froze instantaneously and the ice proliferated before their eyes. The ice moved in once direction —that is, towards Rain.
Junna's spell created not only the ice but had caused the gale as well.
Countless blades of ice formed in the freezing wind and snow and surged forward while dyeing their surroundings white. They closed the distance in a breath as they tried to trap Rain alive in a coffin of ice.
"Interesting! It's a match to see who's the better mage!"
Rain cried out as if he was scolding himself.
Naturally, Rain had no cast time and was able to use his magic freely.
A burst of hellfire blossomed like a large, ominous flower appeared before Rain like a shield.
The ultrhot flames materialized by magic advanced as they swirled like a whirlwind.
It transformed the air into a storm of scorching heat that rushed along with the flames.
It crashed into the oncoming winds of ice and snow from head on.
The clash created a sound like the sound made when red-hot iron was dipped into water——but hundreds of times louder.
Thick steam that could have been mistaken for smoke rose up toward the heavens.
The two opposing attributes that had been brought forth by magic, the extreme white cold and the ultimate crimson heat, clashed and struggled in between the two mages.
This was more of a match between two genius-level mages than a rivalry between ice and fire. The mage with less magic would end up getting hit directly by the other's attack.
The two powers were in perfect equilibrium for the time being.
That balance was only maintained for only a few more seconds. Junna began to breathe heavily with her shoulders heaving as she expended vast amounts of magical energy and her willpower exhausted in face of Rain's ever-increasing magic.
The tip of her staff trembled and her legs wavered unreliably……
She was near her limit.
You picked the wrong opponent, Rain thought.
While there did exist a difference in their capacities of magic, the fact that she wasn't used to battle posed the bigger problem. In other words, it was the difference in their experiences. That, and the difference in their mental strength.
She would likely grow to become an even more fearsome mage in the future if she gained more experience and polished her skills.
Rain had no doubt of this because she was able to freely cast a spell that had been touted as one of the highest-level spells in the golden age of magic even as inexperienced as she currently was.
She was undoubtedly one of the strongest mages on the continent in all of history.
She totally didn't look the part, though.
"——Let me be serious. I think that you're an amazing mage for your age. Your power truly deserves to be called 'genius'."
Rain used magic to ensure that Junna could hear him whisper.
His opponent looked at him even as she struggled to breathe.
"But, at the very least, I know of two mages who are better than you. The first is the women who taught me 'magic'. And the second——"
Rain opened his black eyes wide and released the full might of his magic.
"Is non other than myself."
In an instant, the writhing flames, having received multiple times the magic they had been getting, pushed against the wall of ice and broke through.
The overwhelming whirlpool of flames took the form of a crimson dragon and rushed for Junna.
Junna watched the burst of flames coming for her and let out a small shriek.
She had even forgotten to put up a shield.
It was Rain who panicked more in the moment.
He cut down his spell in a hurry and, at the same time, put up a shield in front of the girl for her. It was simple enough, even with the distance between them.
Rain somehow managed to stop the raging hellfire with his newly created barrier.
He had stopped the magic that he himself had cast……
He felt ridiculous, like he was performing a one man show, but it wasn't as if he could have just let it be either.
"……Phew~. Don't just suddenly cancel your magic like that! That was dangerous just now, you know."
Junna didn't respond.
She simply sank down and stared back at Rain. Eventually, tears began to well up in her large eyes. Her magic staff flopped down from her hands.
"Hold on a sec. Hey, calm down. It's not like anything happened."
He was too late.
Junna covered her face with her hands and began to cry. Her sobbing sounded so sorrowful that Gazaram, Yuri, Selphie, and Leni rushed to her side in an instant. They began to repeatedly offer her words of consolation.
No one was worried about Rain.
Rather, Yuri even grumbled to Rain, who had jogged over, in a quiet voice.
"Jee~z. You made her cryy."
"Me?! Am I the bad guy here?!"
How vexing it was!
Rain scowled and pointed at his own chest.
"Save for the last part, all I did was avoid or block her attacks! I'm technically the victim here?"
"You're strong, General, so there's no helping the fact that you become the bad guy at times like this."
Even Senoa, who had arrived late to the scene, responded in a cheeky manner.
Apparently, everyone had sympathized with Junna.
"……Is this what they call the solitude of the strong? This isn't worth it at all."
Rain grumbled to himself as he, too, approached Junna. As he did, he saw that Selphie's sword was covered in blood and the sight of it pulled at his heartstrings.
While her sword, proof that she had fought fiercely, was proof enough, he could tell from the way she was crouching down and consoling Junna with all her might that she had overcome a huge wall.
Even if it was impossible for her to get used to killing people because of her personality, it was a good thing that she had been able to cross at least one hurdle.
However, Rain had mixed feelings about it and didn't feel like being happily approving of this kind of growth.
Selphie knew what it felt like to lose someone dear firsthand. He didn't want for her to enter the path of fighting. Still, he knew that he was being selfish.
Rain shook his head clear of idle thoughts and bent down.
"Hey, you alright?"
Junna stopped crying when he reached out his hand. She stare~~~~~d at him with her black eyes filled to the brim with tears.
There was an acute glint in her eyes that reminded him of a baby squirrel born in the wilderness that was warily watching a human for the first time.
It was strange how he began to feel that he was in the wrong after meeting her gaze.
Rain consciously made sure to speak to her kindly upon seeing how her tiny frame had stiffened up as she squatted on the ground.
"……It's alright. I won't do anything. Not to you and not to your brother."
Then, Junna's eyes grew 1/5th times larger.
Rain wondered if she had noticed as well. No, that's probably not the case. If she had, she'd be looking at him.
"My goal here wasn't to wage war. Sorry for surprising you, though I was only trying to stop you."
He slow~ly reached out his hand.
Junna stared hard at his fingertips. She was still drawing back.
Still, she loosened up when Rain smiled. As delicate of a child as she was, she properly understood that his smile was not a fake one.
In the best-case scenario, it meant that she had accepted his sincerity.
Gently, ever so gently, Rain placed his hand on top of the long black hair on her head.
"You were trying to help your brother out in any way you could, right? You're such a good girl."
Junna's cheeks flushed as he slowly pat her head. She nodded ever so slightly.
The people around them smiled in relief after watching her.
Now, all that's left is big bro who's looking this way.
Rain casually waited for the right time——
——Or at least that's what he had intended to do until he looked up to see someone familiar up ahead and furrowed his brows.
At the other end of his gaze were a few men who looked clearly different from the other enemy knights. They were probably mercenaries, going by their dirty leather armor and shamelessly scary faces.
Chandrys had evidently let money speak for itself in her efforts to gather up numbers and had hired a good number of mercenaries into her army.
That in and of itself wasn't all that rare, as Sunkwoll did it too, but……still, he's——
The man jerked to the other direction upon receiving Rain's hard stare. But, even still, there was no way that Rain would mistake his vulgarly frightful face.
Even with the hand towel tied around his head or the strange new facial hair he was spouting, it wasn't enough that Rain would mistake is ugly face.
Besides, the fact that he was dressed up as a mercenary in the midst of the strictly uniformed Chandrys knights made him stand out all the more.
"……Hey you. What are you so obviously ignoring me for? I'm talking to you, the guy who just turned around with the oily face!!"
The familiar-looking squalid man let out a small shriek and covered his mouth with both hands in a panic.
He shook his stubbled head vigorously in denial when Rain approached him in large strides.
Still, his face was as horribly oily as ever, though it hadn't been that long since Rain had last seen him. Seriously, when was the last time he washed his face? I don't think even people with a lot of fat get this gross, normally.
"Hey, there's no point in shaking your head! It hasn't even been two months since you tried to assassinate me! Like hell I'd forget you!"
The oily-faced man's clouded, beady eyes began to tear up.
Still, why is it cute when a girl makes that face when it makes me want to punch him when he does it?
Rain nonchalantly placed a hand on the hilt of his magic sword as a silly thought ran through his head.
"I let you go free the other day, and yet here you are before me again. Just what are you trying to do, you bastard?! Did someone ask you for something again, huh? Say something!"
When Rain pointed at him, the oily-faced man, still on his knees in surrender, pointed at his own mouth and shook his head.
"What? You can't speak?"
The oily-faced man nodded twice in affirmation.
"Liar. I can see right through that charade of yours. You have until I count to two to speak up! I'll punch you if you don't!!"
Wow, that's short.
Not only did the oily-faced man, but Rain's men and the prisoners of war all also looked like they wanted to say the same thing.
Rain counted down, ignoring their reaction. The oily-faced man opened his mouth in a hurry when Rain finished counting half a second later.
Rain and all of the spectators listened closely to what he had to say.
"I, I, crost the sea, came from far far away country. This continent's words, I don't little understand, yes?!"
Silence filled the area.
Yuri, who was the only one who found it funny for some reason, laughed a little from behind them.
However, most of everyone else became suddenly exhausted and unamused, and Rain only grew more annoyed.
His cheeks twitched as he said,
"what do you mean, "this continent's words, I don't little understand, yes!?" Are you making fun of me?!"
He drew his sword and swung it down. The oily-faced man dodged it by falling over and sprang back up as if his behind had caught on fire.
He wailed in great indignation.
"H, hey! That swing was serious! How were you gonna take responsibility if it'd hit?! Besides, you said you'd punch me, not swing your sword on me! Enough of this nonsense, damnit!"
"Shut it! See? You can speak just fine! Besides, what's~ this crap about being from a faraway country when you obviously look like you're from the area? Think a little before you start making things up!"
"Urk…… I thought I could trick you after changing up my face a bit."
"Are you stupid?!"
Rain spat out at the oily-faced man's vexation. He continued,
"everyone else aside, did you really think you could trick anyone with that filthy face of yours? Be more aware of yourself!"
"W, wait. You'll understand if you let me talk! I was just trying to put food on the table as a mercenary! It's not like I resented you or that I thought I could get back at you if I was lucky to anything like that!"
The oily-faced man closed his mouth as Rain, magic sword in hand, silently cornered him against the mountain of dirt.
He suddenly burst into tears, likely because he finally thought that things were getting really bad for him.
"C, c'mon, wait. Despite how I look, I have eight, no sixteen kids waiting for me at home! Please let me go!"
"Like I said before, your math doesn't add up! Besides, that's one more than it was last time!"
Rain readied his magic sword high above his head.
"Waah! N, no! Another one was born since last time, and I have a lot of twins and triplets——"
Just as Rain was about to jump the man, a bright flash of light suddenly burst from up above their heads.
——Before Rain's reunion with the oily-faced man.
Sayle had climbed half-way up the mountain of fallen dirt and was staying as still as the large rocks around him.
He would have naturally been sighted immediately if that was all he did, so he had hidden himself using magic that "concealed one's figure."
Sayle was technically able to use magic as well.
Junna and Rain's individual match had just ended as Sayle watched over them from the mountain of dirt, and his concern for the Chandrys soldiers had all consolidated into his concern for his younger sister.
Still……I'd never thought that Junna could lose.
Sayle let out a soft sigh.
He had heard that Rain was able to use magic, but that Rain was this powerful of a mage had been completely outside of his expectations. Speaking of the unexpected, he hadn't thought that his sister would have attacked first with magic either……so does that mean that the pressure Rain gave off was just that strong?
Anyhow, the clash of magic from earlier had scared him half to death. He had almost rushed out screaming when Junna had sat down and was about to take a direct hit.
He was relieved from the bottom of his heart to know that his younger sister was safe.
Still——Rain was probably mistaken about something, as that hadn't been the limits of Junna's 'power.' It had simply been the upper limits of the power that his sister could currently control.
Sayle had only seen it once before, but he knew that his younger sister was capable of releasing even stronger magical attacks if she let her magic run rampant.
But he was nevertheless undoubtedly glad that the match was over because it was much better that Junna didn't let that happen. Besides, he felt that Rain, too, still had magic to spare.
If two extremely powerful rune masters fought to the full extent of their power, it was extremely probably that one or both of them would end up dead. Sayle, who had been spectating the match, did not wish for that to happen. Especially since one of the two participants of said match was his younger sister.
Rain had captured both Shing and Junna without hurting them. Sayle's hostility toward Rain, which had been low to begin with, grew even lower because of this.
That being said, it wasn't as if he could just fold his arms and look on while doing nothing when his comrades and family were captured by Rain.
——I have to rescue them!
Rain was crouching down in front of his sister at the moment. He was probably consoling her. If he would only get a little closer to the mountain of dirt that Sayle was hiding on, Sayle felt like he could launch a surprise attack without hurting Rain too badly and take back Shing and Junna while he was at it……
Even Sayle knew that his plan was a hit-or-miss, but it was better than running away alone. I'll launch a surprise attack on him, take him hostage, and rescue Mr. Shing and Junna!
But there's still one problem.
Sayle, still crouched down on the slope of the mountain of dirt, licked his upper lip.
He didn't have very much confidence——that Rain truly hadn't noticed him.
Concealment magic was able to erase one's presence as well.
That was why there was no way that Rain should have noticed him, in theory. Even his sister hadn't realized that he was here. It should be all right……should.
But if Rain's ignoring this mountain of dirt on purpose——Sayle could not help but seriously doubt. That Rain had noticed he was here but was ignoring him on purpose.
And then, Rain would periodically look up at the slope with sharp eyes as if to say that he wasn't letting his guard down in the slightest. ……In glances.
But Rain's prickling caution had to truly, truly, be the truth. He truly did not seem to have realized that Sayle was there.
But, what if Rain is a more cunning man than I'd thought?
He isn't some kind of all bark and no bite blockhead who doesn't even know how to hold a sword properly.
He's a warrior who's lived through numerous battles, seen numerous scenes of carnage, and used to be a mercenary.
Wouldn't it make more sense to think that he's just putting up an act? That he's pretending not to notice to deceive me?
Am I about to jump in like an idiot to where a Dragon Slayer, of all things, is lying in wait?
Even if I am, it's not like I can just run!
Sayle bit his lips and observed Rain, who alone was wearing regular black clothes despite the cold weather. There would be no point in taking a hostage other than Rain.
He had to decide.
And, he had to aim for the best possible chance.
Even if Joe Lamberck had warned him not to fight Rain, there was no way that he could pull back now.
Eventually, Rain saw someone who looked like they were an old acquaintance of his and began arguing with them. It ended up in something of a fight where Rain even drew his sword (though Sayle didn't think he was being serious).
Then, Rain had cornered his acquaintance all the way to below where Sayle was waiting. Location-wise, there was no chance better than this.
Whatever, I'm desperate here!
Sayle resolved himself and chanted runes in a quiet voice. He cast magic to control his fall first and the cast light magic temporarily blind his enemies.
A vast amount of light lit up the area as Sayle drew his sword and jumped off the slope.
However, Sayle quickly realized that he had made a mistake in his calculations.
He had initially closed his eyes so that he wouldn't be affected by the magical flash of light that he himself had cast, but Sayle saw that Rain had his eyes closed when he cracked his eyes open half-way as he fell.
The reason Rain had done so was obviously because he had decided to face his enemy without relying on his vision, rather than to recklessly move about blind.
Sayle inferred two things from this.
The first was that Rain was a warrior who was able to fight using only his hearing and ability to perceive presences, and the second was that Sayle's attempt at a surprise attack had been a wasted effort.
He noticed me long ago!
His opponent was outrageously skilled. To think that Rain's caution had all been just an act!
But even still——
Sayle was already mid-air with his magic sword drawn and poised to strike. He followed through with his attack even though he was aware of his failure half on sheer instinct.
And, Rain moved to evade him leisurely with his eyes still closed.
He really did look to be at ease.
He had predicted the attack and was fully prepared for it. Moreover, his reflexes were clearly several levels above Sayle's and it was no trouble at all for him to avoid Sayle's attack——or at least it shouldn't have been.
Junna had rapidly chanted a rune.
She was so fast that even Sayle could not hear what she had said, but her objective in casting the magic was soon made clear. The weeds by Rain and the oily-faced man's feet suddenly grew at a rapid pace and wrapped around their ankles.
Their bodies were pulled together as the weeds tightened up at once.
Rain's expression hardly changed.
Confusion, fear, anger, despair……none of the feelings that would have arisen on a normal person's face in this situation appeared on his.
He simply opened his eyes with a truly nonchalant mien that seemed to express his annoyance at how things had taken a slight unexpected turn as he thrust the oily-faced man away. He tried to get away himself soon afterward——but…
As expected, he hadn't made it in time.
After all, it had all happened in less than a blink of an eye. Sayle, while just as surprised as Rain, still obeyed his instincts and followed through on his attack.
However, he ended up cutting Rain more deeply than he had planned because of the latter's unexpected movements.
Sayle had planned to knock Rain unconscious with the flat of his sword if it was possible, but his actions were influenced not only by the unexpected events but also by the sheer amount pressure that Rain exerted.
As a result, he ended up cutting into Rain, who was wearing no armor, diagonally from below his chest to his stomach.
A spray of blood drew a crimson arc in the air.
The weeds that acted as shackles on Rain's ankles burst apart and scattered, likely by Rain's doing, the moment that Sayle landed.
Without the slightest delay, Rain, who had now become free of his bonds, threw his body backwards. He somersaulted backwards multiple times with amazing dexterity and landed only after putting some distance between himself and Sayle. He resumed his stance of pointing his sword at his enemy's eyes.
It had been so fast that his movements reminded Sayle of a sudden gust of wind.
Though he never planned for one to begin with, Sayle would have hit only air if he had gone back in for a second attack.
Sayle surely would have doubted that his first attack had actually hit if Rain's had not nearly fallen on one knee.
He's still human, even if he's a Dragon Slayer.
Even Rain gets hurt like this if he miscalculates an attack.
But still——Sayle thought at the same time.
He might have reached the highest peaks that humanity can ever hope to attain. Sayle seriously believed this after seeing Rain's movements.
The people around them finally began to stir.
The first person to react was one of Rain's aides named Gazaram (probably), who yelled, "don't just stand there! Close the branch road so they can't escape!" in a sharp voice.
A beat later, a blonde girl and a black-haired girl let out small screams. Their voices were soaked in disbelief. Evidently, Sayle had done something that was thought to have been impossible.
The enemy knights, while visible confused, obeyed their orders and quickly made a wall in front of the branch road. Junna had been pushed down and had her mouth covered by another girl. "Mmph~, mmph~!" she moaned as she struggled.
Gazaram had already drawn his sword and was moving closer.
"I'm fine! Leave this to me!"
Rain stopped him with a strong voice.
Gazaram stopped walking and looked to his master with a difficult expression on his face. He didn't lower his sword.
"But……your wound. That's probably hit through to your organs?"
"I'll be fine. I stopped the bleeding. My movements have only become about thirty percent duller than usual. I still have about two minutes until I get to the point where I can't do battle. That's more than enough time."
Gazaram stared hard at Rain. For about five seconds.
"……Understood. But I'm jumping in if I think that things are getting dangerous. I've decided to die at your side. So I can't have you die ahead of me."
"Enough with that nonsense. It'll just be a bother for me if an old fart like you died before my eyes. An aide is supposed to take over for his commander. Like hell I'll have you die before me."
The two exchanged something like a wry smile before Rain turned to Sayle.
"You're sister's pretty good. It looks like she's able to cast spells without incantations depending on the spell."
At Rain's words, Sayle finally realized that his sister hadn't chanted runes earlier. She had subconsciously cried out in her worry for him. She had undoubtedly realized that the explosion of light had been created by him. And then, she had immediately used magic.
Sometimes even Sayle forgot that his younger sister was able to cast low-leveled magic without chanting. After all, it was normally impossible.
But, Rain didn't seem surprised at all as he continued,
"you were planning on taking me hostage before escaping. It's not a bad idea."
"There's nothing good or bad about it since you'd already figured it out. ——But before that…!"
Sayle spat out in a hurry. He continued,
"your aide is right! I only meant to cut you a little, but it ended up being a lot worse. You have to hurry and get yourself treated or it'll be too late!"
Rain looked at Sayle in exasperation and shook his head.
"You're a strange one. Doesn't this work out for you anyway? This might be the perfect chance to take me hostage, you know."
"W, well, yeah, but…! It's not like I want you to die or anything. I just wanted to take my younger sister and comrades and get out of here!"
He laughed while showing off his white teeth in an absolute refusal to compromise.
"What a shameless wish you have there. Well, go ahead and try your best. But it'll be pretty hard to capture me, you know."
Sayle stared directly at the stubborn warrior's black eyes in disbelief.
Just what on earth is he thinking?
"……Are you seriously going to fight? I can already see how this'll end, even if you're a Dragon Slayer. It's only a matter of time until you aren't able to move anymore. But more importantly, your life will be in danger if you don't get treated soon. Please, just come with us. I'll have my sister tend to your wound on the road. And you'll be released soon."
A girl who looked like she was a squire reacted to Sayle's words by calling out, "Lord Rain!" in a noticeably loud voice.
She looked incredibly worried as she tried to run up to Rain, but Rain stopped her by raising a hand.
"I'm fine, Selphie. It'll be over soon, so you just stay there and watch,"
Rain said in a rather kind tone and silently turned back to Sayle. He continued,
"you can already see how this'll end, was it? You don't understand. You don't understand what it means to be defeated in the truest sense of the word."
Rain looked at Sayle with envy for some reason. He continued,
"well, I suppose you'd be happier never knowing."
Red drops of blood began to trickle down from his bloodied stomach down to the ground again. There was a limit to how long you could stop an open would from bleeding with willpower alone. It was strange that Rain was still even able to stand.
"I don't understand what you're saying. But more importantly, you have to get treated! You said you'd be good for two minutes earlier, and there's only half a minute of that left!"
"I know. That's why we'll cut the conversation here."
Just then, Rain's body suddenly blurred.
Sayle realized belatedly that his opponent had broken out into a dash upon seeing a small lump of dirt that Rain had kicked up as he kicked against the earth.
Indeed, even with Sayle's eyes, he had seriously thought that Rain had vanished for a brief moment.
Naturally, that was not the case.
Sayle's eyes had simply been unable to keep up. There was a limit to what the human eye could capture accurately in terms of movement.
And Rain had surpassed that limit all too easily.
The black shadow dashed forth with a bluish magical sword in hand, not unlike Sayle's own. His black hair fluttered a bit as he raised his magic sword up from below with minimal movement. He moved like a snake rearing its head to strike.
There had been a decent amount of distance between them just a moment ago, but now, Rain was swinging his sword down right before Sayle's eyes.
The wind whistled slightly as the magic sword closed in on top of Sayle with a tail of bluish light following behind it. It's bright blue magical aura burned into Sayle's eyes painfully.
This is thirty percent slower than normal for him?
You've gotta be kidding me!!
Sayle somehow managed to repel away Rain's sword with his own.
But, with a light flick of the wrist, Rain's sword that Sayle had repelled abruptly changed directions like it was alive and came back at Sayle to rend him from the side. The change had been made astonishingly suddenly and with outrageous speed.
Sayle moved his feet almost purely by instinct and deftly evaded the second attack. He was only able to move his body without thinking because he had been a mercenary for a long time. Then, acting again by his warrior's instinct, he leapt in order to create some distance between himself and Rain.
However, Rain reacted immediately despite the fact that Sayle had moved without thinking at all. Rain moved to closed the distance between them again and refused to allow Sayle the time to adjust his footing.
Sayle leapt backward while Rain leapt forward.
They moved as if they were famous dancers dancing a partnered dance as Rain refused to allow Sayle to put any distance between them.
Shit, I can't get away!
What a guy! I didn't show any signs of jumping this way, so how is he able to perfectly keep up with me?!
If this is talent too, then he's a much more incredible opponent than I'd originally thought he was!
It wasn't the time to be impressed. Rain twisted his magic sword mid-air, leaving a flashing afterimage in its wake. Sayle was able to catch this attack too, but he lost his balance because he had yet to land.
Sayle was slammed to the ground and began to roll before he could even cry out in pain. He rolled and tried to somehow regain his posture. However, his vision was suddenly filled with Rain's leg coming in for a kick when he was half-way up.
Sayle was kicked. Sayle was kicked hard. He was able to roll out of it, but the impact of the blow had forced out all of the air from his lungs.
Then, Rain jumped into the air again and leapt upon him. Sayle saw just two things in his dimming field of vision. They were Rain's magic sword, which was poised to thrust at him, and the red color of the blood dripping down from Rain's abdomen.
Sayle didn't have the time to get back up.
He raised his own sword in a daze.
The two magic swords crossed. One of them made a shallow cut on Rain's cheek, while the other——
The tip of Rain's magic sword was placed directly at the base of his throat. Rain, who had ended up straddling him, quietly said,
"And victory's been decided."
"……I regret to say you're right."
Then, Rain's faced twisted ever so slightly. It was probably from the pain.
Underneath his pained breaths, Rain said,
"you're too much of a nice guy. You can't be considerate of me when we're fighting. ……It would've ended just the same even if you'd fought seriously, but with your skills, you would have been able to put up more of a fight."
"You're wrong. I couldn't afford to be considerate of you at all."
"Nope, my eyes aren't wrong. You just haven't realized it for yourself."
Rain paused as his posture slowly began to crumble.
"H, hey. Whoa, I think I can see your intestines——"
Rain's comrades came flocking to him with the person he had called Gazaram earlier at the lead. Sayle called out loudly for his younger sister as Rain tried to get up again despite everything.
"Hey, Junna! Hurry up and heal him!"
Junna trotted over and stooped down next to Rain.
Rain looked up and absentmindedly said,
"ah~, I've lost all motivation now that the battle's over. ……Plus, it hurts like hell."
A flood of voices suddenly filled the air.
They were mostly from a group of girls.
Sayle didn't really know the particulars, but Rain was evidently pretty popular.
"General, how could you do something so reckless right in front of me?! I can't have you do that!"
"Lord Rain, Lord Raain!"
"Yep, it's wide open. I seriously think I might be able to see your guts……and it looks pretty painful."
……Upon listening, Sayle realized that there was one curious onlooker who didn't really seem that worried at all.
Sayle forgot what kind of position he was in and said,
"you can't do that! Clear away for a bit. Hurry, Junna. Use healing magic!"
In any event, Rain thought that it wasn't too bad since he was spared from having to use healing magic on himself.
Junna sighed in relief after managing to close the wound. She looked down and the dropped her head low.
"……I'm sorry. I only meant to restrain you…… I never thought it'd end up like this."
But Rain wasn't angry in the slightest.
He reached out with his right hand, but then changed to his left after realizing that it was covered red with blood. Then, he pat Junna on the head as he'd done earlier.
"It's alright. You were just trying to help your bro, so you don't need to feel bad about it. Besides, I make it a rule not to get upset at every little thing a cute girl does."
Gratitude filled Junna's eyes as she peeked up.
Sayle then quickly asked in a voice free of anxiety, perhaps because he was relieved as well,
"uh~. So, what's gonna happen to us? You went out of your way to capture us, so that means that you're not planning to kill us……right?"
"Yeah, about that. Actually——"
Then, Rain sprang up and looked around. He continued,
"hey, where'd the oily guy go?"
Leni shrugged and pointed to the other side of the highway.
When Rain looked to where Leni was pointing, he saw that the tiny figure of the filthy man in question was already quite the distance away and was raising his fist while on horseback.
"You asshole! I ain't afraid of you at all, you hear?! I'll show you one dayyy! And don't let it get to your head just 'cause you're a little popular! I ain't jealous of you at alll!"
This pissed Rain off quite a bit.
The oily-faced man immediately fled with a cloud of dust stirring up behind him, perhaps because he sensed that Rain was about to call for Kris.
"How naïve. Do you really think you can get away from me and Kris? I make it a rule not to go easy on men!"
"That's not the problem here!"
Sayle's and Leni's voices overlapped.
After they exchanged looks, Sayle said,
"please focus on postwar matters for the time being. Especially in regards to what you're going to do with us. On that note, I humbly ask that you treat us kindly."
Sayle spoke in a joking manner, but his gaze glanced to Junna, who had nestled up to him, in worry.
Rain reluctantly gave up on his pursuit of the oily-faced man and took a sweeping look over his surroundings.
Then, in a loud voice so everyone could hear, he said,
"I was planning to let you guys go after the war's over either way. I'll have you stay at my castle as guests-cum-prisoners of war, but I don't plan on causing you any discomfort."
"You'll let us go free even if Sunkwoll loses?"
"Yeah. Regardless of how the war ends. I'll take responsibility and promise you that."
Sayle placed a hand on his chest and sighed.
All things despite, he had been worried for his younger sister.
"Is that……so? But——"
He tilted his head to the side and continued,
"what was your objective? I felt like you specifically planned things out so that both sides only took minimal damage in our battle earlier……"
Rain stared hard into Sayle's face.
"I just wanted Folnier to notice something."
"That she's fighting the wrong opponent. Folnier came over to Sunkwoll the other day, didn't she? What did she come here for?"
Realization spread slowly across Sayle's visage.
As did a faint smile.
"……I see. So that's why you went out of your way to make sure that we didn't suffer any significant losses either."
Sayle tilted his head again and argued vehemently,
"what if Her Majesty still wishes to fight Sunkwoll regardless?
"Her Majesty doesn't like to lose. She might decide to be stubborn even if she understands the rights and wrongs of the situation now that we've come this far."
"Then there's no helping it at that point. We'll just have to fight back with everything we've got too,"
Rain answered readily.
They heard a new shout from afar when Sayle tried to ask another question.
A knight was galloping toward them on a horse.
He looked like an ally from his uniform.
Rain signaled his allies to make way for the messenger and wait for his arrival.
"General, this is where you were——a, and what happened with that wound?!"
The messenger, who had approached while still on his horse, looked down at Rain, who was sitting down covered in blood, and was scared out of his wits.
Rain made the most composed-looking face he could and waved his hand.
"Yeah~, don't worry about it. It's closed up already. It'll heal soon……and more importantly, did something happen at the castle?"
"Uh, no sir. That's not why I'm——. Are you really all right? What happened to the battle?"
"It's over. We won, of course. You don't need to worry, so hurry up and tell me why you're here."
"Yessir……it appears that congratulations are in order."
The messenger dismounted, still mystified, and handed Rain a folded letter he brought out of his chest. He explained,
"it's a letter from Her Highness. She instructed me to make sure to hand it to you in person."
Rain opened up the folded piles of paper and was surprised by the length of the letter. She had written quite a lot……and the letter was quite long.
He read the words that Shelfa had neatly written in girlish handwriting that was very characteristic of her. His subordinates tried to secret~ly sneak behind him part-way through, so he hid the contents from them as he read the rest. He heard someone say that he was being stingy~ but ignored them.
It wasn't as if he could just show them something that the princess herself had written.
Rain scratched his head after he finished reading through the long letter a while later.
"What is it, General?"
Leni asked impatiently.
The others apparently shared his sentiments as their expressions pressed Rain to hurry up and tell them what the letter had been about.
"Well……it's not like anything really happened. Though the letter was still pretty long. But in conclusion…"
Leni urged him on.
Rain smiled wryly and replied,
"well, she took an extreme~ly roundabout way to say that she wanted me home soon."
Rain thought that the way she had refrained from stating her feelings plainly was Shelfa's way of "holding back".
However, Rain's audience, who had been hyped up about the letter, suddenly became drained.
"I envy you, General. Someone so lovely cares so much about you."
"Hey Leni, don't go around saying rash things like that. What if someone takes you seriously!?"
"Well, either way, isn't it all——"
True? Leni finished silently by shrugging.
But, regardless of the veracity of the situation, it still wasn't a good idea be careless about what one said about their liege.
Leni could be difficult at times because he was too indifferent about such matters.
Rain frowned and gent~ly got up.
He glanced over at Shing, who was still on Kris (he was still passed-out), Sayle, and Junna and chuckled to himself.
"I've got quite the big catch here. Today's results were better than what I'd expected, so I guess we'll head back to the castle for now."
"Would it not be better to rendezvous with Sir Ralphus, who's acting as the decoy, as quickly as possible?"
Senoa cut in.
"Ralphus isn't a decoy, silly. If things go badly, his unit might have to fight the real battle here."
All of Rain's comrades' voices sounded as one.
They all seemed to have been taken by surprise.
"——That's just how it is. What, did none of you notice why I had Ralphus go on first?"
They all exchanged looks. Rain continued,
"it's fine if you didn't. Except……Ralphus might hate me for this later…"
Rain lamented as he rubbed the wound on his stomach.
Maybe it wasn't for the best that I didn't tell him anything, even if it was to end the war.
Everyone tilted their head to the side as they failed to understand what Rain was saying, so he shook his head as if to tell them not to mind.
Then, he suddenly turned to the messenger.
"By the way, you're from my unit, right?"
"……Yes! My name is Talon, and I'm a platoon leader from the second unit,"
the messenger named himself.
He seemed horribly disappointed by what Rain had asked him, though his sentiments were understandable.
"Alright, Talon. Good work, and I need you to return to the castle and tell the Princess that we'll "be back soon." It's faster than writing up another letter."
"And about that——"
Rain came up close and personal in the poor guy named Talon's face.
He stared at Talon hard enough that he could bore holes with his serious-looking eyes.
"Wha, what is it?"
"——It's not that big of a deal. But don't say any more to the Princess than you need to. All you have to do is tell her that "the General is in good health and has won a heroic victory!" Don't you dare tell her that I was "sitting down in a pool of my own blood" and worry her even by mistake. Got it?"
"……If, if you say so, General."
Rain stared hard at Talon and observed the later for a while before finally nodding once.
Then, he whispered by Talon's ear,
"as long as you understand. It's best that you don't think that I don't play favorites, you know~. Your report to the Princess just might have an enormous impact on your future career opportunities."
"I, I'll only report to her about your sweeping victory! I haven't seen anything else!"
Talon nodded almost ten times as he pledged in a hurry.
Rain pat him on the shoulder before giving Gazaram an order.
"Let the other prisoners other than Sayle and the lot here go free. We'll return to the castle once that's taken care of!"
And so, the "Battle of Dead Valley" was concluded with Rain's complete victory.