Rain and his army began their journey north to regroup with Ralphus with remarkable speed.
They were about two to three times as fast as a normal march, possibly making theirs the fastest march the continent had ever seen. There was no doubt that they had set a new record.
So how had their speed been possible?
Their secret was stupidly simple—they had left behind most of the things that an army generally required to march. Since their load was lighter, it only made sense that they traveled faster.
What typically made an army slow?
It was mainly the fact that an army had to transport supplies with it —namely food provisions. An army would grow slower the larger it was because it had to travel with an endless line of packed horses trailing behind. Rain, however, had readily solved this issue.
——With a method that truly suited the man.
In other words, he had ordered his army to march with only a few days' worth of food at hand, to be carried by each individual.
Simply put, they had no provisions to transport. It was no wonder they were able to march so quickly.
His aides had naturally voiced their misgivings, but Rain had forcefully declared,
"We'll be extorting meals from Ralphus! That's why we're good to go!"
Upon seeing how exasperated everyone was, he drew back a little and added a brief explanation.
"Speed is our top priority right now. Understand?"
Ultimately, no one was convinced, save for Shelfa——
But, in any case, everything had gone as he'd wished, leading to their current situation. At the moment, they were about a day away from Ralphus' army on horseback.
It looked like they would make it in time.
On a night twinkling under the light of countless stars……
Rain's army had set up their final camp before their reunion with Ralphus.
Rain walked into his personal command post (though it was just a normal tent) once he was done giving out his orders, and a cloaked figure slipped in alongside him at the same time as was custom.
Naturally, this figure was Shelfa.
She had been prepared a large tent exclusively for her personal use in the camp, as befitting of her status as a liege.
Her tent was fully furnished with not only splendid bedding and ladies-in-waiting, but also with a bathtub (that being said, it was merely a large bucket), which she could have filled with hot water to wash herself down in if she wished.
And yet, she hardly ever stayed there. Shelfa al~ways spent her free time, breaks included, stuck at Rain's side.
She was sitting next to Rain, who himself was sitting on a portable stool, and was apparently entertained, judging by the way she was grinning and staring de~eply into Rain's profile.
She looked tired by this time of day, as she always did, but she evidentially planned on toughing it out until Rain called it a night as well.
Unlike usual, however, today she was busy with her frequent rubbing of an area around her waist——or to put it more bluntly, by the area below it.
Rain noticed her behavior and pointed it out with a wry smile.
"Yeah, I feel you. Your butt hurts, doesn't it?"
Shelfa looked down in embarrassment, as would have any other girl her age.
"Nah, it's nothing to be embarrassed about. I remember it happening to me a long time ago, too. Your butt starts hurting like hell if you ride for a long period of time before you're used to it. It's the throbbing kind of pain."
Oh, but——he said as he recalled something.
"Didn't you ride all the way to my castle on your own?"
"Back then……I was too absorbed otherwise back then. I don't think I'd be able to do it again."
Shelfa squirmed in a happy dance when he pat her gently on the head——but then her lovely visage crumpled into a frown when the pain resumed.
Rain was ready to say, "If it hurts that much, want me to massage it for you?" as a joke——
But quickly gave up on the notion because he felt that her answer would be frightening. Jokes of that nature wouldn't work on the girl before him.
"Um, Rain, do you think Lord Joe is aware of the message you're trying to send?"
Shelfa asked, looking like she had just remembered about it.
"Lord Joe? Oh, you're talking about Joe Lamberck. Yeah, he probably is. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm pretty sure he's noticed by now. The problem is what he'll do now that he has."
"Do you think……there'll be war?"
"That depends on Folnier. Or, on how well Joe's able to hold her back,"
Rain elucidated as if it wasn't his problem and abruptly turned to another direction.
The only thing there was the tent canopy, but he looked like he was looking somewhere much farther past the thick cloth.
After a little while, the corner of his mouth lifted up in a sardonic twist as he grinned brazenly.
"Huh? Oh, it's nothing……"
Rain shook his head and quickly changed the topic.
"More importantly. This is something I've been thinking about for a while——. Make sure you take care of Ralphus once you've successfully retaken the throne. Everything he says is always right. There's no way you can go wrong as long as you have an ear on his opinions."
Unfortunately, Shelfa did not bite.
She stared deeply into Rain's face and replied in a serious tone.
"Why are you telling me this now? I already know that Lord Ralphus is a very capable person. But the way you said it right now, Rain, makes it sound like you're worrying about what will happen to me if you're gone."
Rain was hard-pressed for an answer. He simply opened his black eyes wide and stared back at her.
Had he accidentally made her more anxious instead?
Shelfa suddenly began to tear up.
"Lately……as we march, no, even at the castle, you've been looking somewhere far away from time to time, Rain. Is someone after your life?"
Oof——Rain felt like he'd been pierced in the chest.
This child is weirdly sharp when it comes to me, he thought keenly to himself.
He couldn't find it in himself to trick her otherwise, so he shrugged and affirmed her suspicions instead.
"Well, yeah. ——C'mon, don't make that face. It's not a big deal, really. I don't really think that it'll be especially dangerous this time around of anything. I'm just taking the necessary precautions. A skilled and famous general should make a habit of always looking ahead, y'know?"
He ended with a bit of a joke.
Shelfa gazed at Rain with her moistened sapphire eyes as if to ascertain the veracity of his words. She was only finally convinced when he caught her gaze without looking away.
"I can trust you, right?"
"Of course. I'm immortal."
"……Yes. Um, and——"
"If you ever go away, Rain, I think that I'd vanish from this world as well. And so, your earlier concerns are unnecessary."
"Hey now! Don't say stuff like that while smiling."
He didn't go as far as to say that she was being irresponsible.
Shelfa had been neglected by her father and raised without the expectation she would ever hold royal authority. Rain didn't know what she'd choose to do in the end, but it was true that the previous king had not backed her as his official heir.
Even everything that was happening now was the result of circumstance, not a result of her wishes. It was he and everyone else who was selfishly pushing the burden of responsibility onto her.
But personally, Rain only wanted for her to be happy —happy enough to overturn the misfortunes she'd had to live with until now. He wanted for her to live a long and happy life.
Though he never said any of this out loud in words because he was embarrassed to do so.
Shelfa spoke in earnest.
"I'm sorry. ……But I would never be able to accept your absence. So please——"
Please, don't speak of such sorrowful things.
Rain simply twirled her silky blonde hair in his fingers instead of properly acknowledging his assent.
He was troubled.
I think this child might really kill herself——or, if someone manages to stop her, her heart would die if I disappeared from her life……there's a real chance it could happen.
I didn't think this would happen even in my wildest dreams, but she's serious. She's in love with someone like me, for whatever curious reason.
Rain had lived his life not caring whether he lived or died, but he realized that he might not be able to continue on with that paradigm for much longer.
It was then that those fated words echoed in his head again.
"You would do well to remember. In the future, you will be faced with a fated choice. You will face this without fail. One, is an easy, peaceful path. And the other——"
——The other, is a path that leads to death.
The fortuneteller had further added,
"I can see it all too clearly.
You are strong. Indeed, you are unbelievably strong. And you will only continue to grow stronger. You may even hone your skills to a level that none have ever reached before.
But, should you err in your choice, should you choose the wrong path——even you, as strong as you are, will forfeit your life.
Heed my words and remember them. And do not be mistaken in your choice when the time comes……"
That was what the old fortuneteller woman had declared.
But Rain thought otherwise. So what? So what if I might die?
I don't want a peaceful and uneventful life. A path that leads to death? Bring it! All human beings are destined to die one day. Even I, a Dragon Slayer, can't escape that fate.
And if that's the bloody path that'll let me face stronger enemies, then I prefer it over the other one.
I don't need a life of peace and tranquility, not when I couldn't protect the person I was supposed to protect.
That was what he'd said back then, and his feelings on the matter hadn't changed even now, but——
"Oh……. My bad. I was thinking back on something that happened a long time ago."
Shelfa stared at Rain again when he tried to make excuses and said,
"I am fine with any path in life, no matter how painful it may be, as long as you're by my side, Rain. I can endure anything. But——"
She gave a small sigh.
"I feel like I'm always adding to yours and everyone else's burdens, Rain. I think that……I have to study more and learn how to fight, among other things."
"The best rulers think about their subjects first and foremost. So I don't think you need to be too bothered about our burdens. If things come to war, well, that's why you have us."
Rain was thankful for the opportunity to subtly change the topic.
He disliked depressing matters.
And, it was also true that he thought Shelfa had the qualities to become a reputable ruler.
She held no envy toward her competent subordinates (Rain and the others!) and was doing her best to create a good government for her people——these two things were more than enough to qualify her as a reputable ruler.
Her subordinates could supplement her with the abilities she lacked.
That was why people like Rain were there.
"Then, putting off the topic of war……I should still train myself, since it's much too pathetic that I'm so……tired just from riding a horse for a long period of time.
"That's true, it's not a bad idea to train up. ……Can you do push-ups?
"What are push-ups?"
"Y, you don't know? You get down like this, and——"
Rain showed her a live example of one.
This isn't too bad every once in a while.
"Why don't you give it a try?"
Shelfa replied, all fired up.
It looked like she had completely regained her cheer.
Not only had Shelfa not known what a push-up was, she was also, as Rain had pretty much expected, so weak that it was almost sad.
She was able to get down on her hands by mimicking what she had seen Rain do, but she remained squashed on the ground because she wasn't able to push her body up.
"Hahaha……you don't have to overdo it. If you can't do it, then you just can't do it. Besides, rulers don't need to be physically strong anyway."
"My arms have started to hurt,"
Shelfa said with a hint of sorrow before looking to Rain.
"How many can you do, Rain?"
"Me? Hmm……I could probably do them all day long."
Shelfa's eyes shot wide open.
The amazement and wonder on her face left Rain in a good mood.
"Push-ups are okay, but I can do this too,"
he said as he purposefully transitioned into a fingertip push-up. He started with all five fingers on both hands and decreased their number one by one until he was left doing push-ups with only his index fingers. To be honest, this was still easy for him.
When he grinned and looked up to see how Shelfa reacted, he saw that she was in a daze with her lovely mouth half-agape. She was captivated.
Hey, do you normally make your respect that outwardly obvious?
Her expression was such that Rain couldn't help but think this. It was like she was looking at a hero.
Rain fired himself up even more in order to wipe her tears and apprehensions from earlier form her memory.
"Haha! Listen up, I'll show you something even more amazing. After all, I used to be called Rain the acrobat when I was a kid,"
he declared as he smoothly stood up on his fingers (essentially, in a handstand). Moreover, he was only using his fingers.
Then, he lifted the fingers from him right hand off the ground one by one until he was standing with only the fingers of his left. Without so much as a pause, he maintained his delicate balance and lifted the fingers from his remaining hand as well.
Ultimately, he was doing a handstand with only one finger and he boastfully smiled at Shelfa while sustaining his posture.
"How's this? Let me tell you that this "one-finger handstand" is impossible to do if you don't have considerable strength and a perfect sense of balance."
Speechless, Shelfa expressed herself with her actions instead.
Her cheeks turned bright red and she clapped her small hands together as fast and hard as she could. One look at the excitement on her face made it obvious that she wasn't simply being courteous.
"Al~right. I can still do more~. Next, have you ever seen someone pull off four and a half somersaults in——"
"General, there's trouble!"
Leni burst in out of nowhere.
Even Rain hadn't noticed Leni coming, since he had been concentrating all of his senses on keeping his balance.
Still, he stood up like nothing had happened and turned around.
Leni's gaze swam around the tent awkwardly like he didn't know what to say until finally, after a brief moment, he asked,
"um——. What were you doing?"
"……Just providing a bit of entertainment. At the Princess' request. Starting tonight, all of my aides and close associates will perform something in front of the Princess one by one. It's your turn tomorrow."
"Eh?! For, for real?! But I'm not that good with that stuff! I can sing a song or dance something right now if you'd——"
"I was lying, you idiot! Don't take me so seriously. Now hurry up and give me your report. What happened?"
Leni's shoulders dropped as low as they would go.
Still, he murmured his report with resent in his eyes.
Once he finished, Rain moaned,
"Safir picked a fight with Joe and was routed? So, what happened to Lydia?"
"Er, it hasn't been occupied, according to the reports from the fast horses. The Chandrys army continues to maintain its formation outside of the capital. Though, it should have been easy for them to occupy it, since the noble army's garrison fled after the battle."
Shelfa restlessly got up while Rain crossed his arms in deep thought and asked,
"um, will Lydia be all right?"
"I don't think you need to be concerned,"
Rain declared. He continued,
"they're probably waiting for us to arrive, judging from the fact that they didn't immediately take over the capital. I can't see any other reason they would do that."
"Oh, then…! That means that Lady Folnier and the others mean to reach an ami, amicable settlement with us, yes?"
Shelfa clasped her hands together in relief.
Rain could not answer her question.
"We'll see about that soon. Let's hurry to the battlefield, in any case."
Rain's unit finally made contact with Ralphus' the next day.
They had set up camp near a village close to the capital and were awaiting Rain's unit's arrival.
They had shocking numbers. Ralphus' army had grown close to thirty-thousand in number. Not to mention the fact that it was still growing.
At this point, they could be said to pose a considerable threat to the Chandrys army even if they were mostly comprised of normal civilians.
After all, the Chandrys army was thought to only number ten-thousand after they had split their forces.
Rain, who hadn't seen Ralphus in a while, pat his friend on the shoulder.
"Man~, you're a lot more popular than I gave you credit for."
Shelfa expressed herself by bowing politely and saying, "Thank you for your hard work."
"Not at all,"
Ralphus said to Shelfa before turning to Rain with a smile.
"This is proof that everyone still has hope for our future, rather than the result of my popularity,"
he declared with an ever-gentle smile on his face.
"——Hope you're right,"
Rain said as he shrugged.
Then, after clearing his throat, he glanced around the command center where only the three of them were present.
"So~……by the way. About how we should handle everyone who came here after answering your calls——"
Ralphus quietly raised his hand before Rain could finish.
"I'll leave that to you, Rain. You've already thought up of what to do afterward, yes?"
"Then you should do as you see fit."
Ralphus grinned and pat his friend on the shoulder, not unlike how Rain had earlier.
Then, with an unusually pregnant look in his narrowed cerulean eyes, he said,
"I don't intend on having been used, so there's no need for you to worry about that. It's not like I haven't learned anything from our war with Zarmine not too long ago. I brought everyone here with me because I have faith in your way of doing things. I told you before, no? I intend on having a good eye for people."
——In other words, that's just how it is.
Then, with a last invigorating smile, Ralphus left the command center.
Rain scowled and looked to Shelfa, who was standing beside him.
"——Did you see how disgustingly pompous his attitude was? Don't you think he's been getting a little cheeky recently? You should send him off to the border for a decade or so to teach him plenty about how harsh life is."
Shelfa simply smiled with glee.
Rain and the others set forth as a new day arrived.
There were about ten-thousand men between the two armies combined.
Of the multitudes that had gathered, they only asked those who'd had experience fighting, such as mercenaries or members of the garrison, to help fight. And so, their battle assets and increased in number.
They had the rest of the many, many civilians to stand by at the campgrounds. Rain planned on giving each and every one of them provisional rewards after everything was over, if he and the rest of the army survived.
He was being quite generous, since it wasn't his money.
The people had been difficult to persuade because their fighting spirits were aroused, but he had forced them to stay behind by saying, "I'll leave it to you guys to make your own decisions if we're defeated and the royal family of Sunkwoll falls."
To hammer his point home, he further asserted,
"we don't have enough weapons for you all, and you won't have enough time to memorize all of the war signals we use, right? You'd only end up getting in the way on the battlefield. We won't be able to do proper battle if everyone's all uncoordinated. Your goodwill will only end up in Ralphus' and the Princess' deaths."
Or something of that nature.
The multitudes of civilians who had been charmed by Ralphus had no choice but to oblige after Rain said his piece.
They would defeat the purpose of their being here if their actions lead to Ralphus' death.
And, according to Rain, they had already done more than enough to help. They had made it possible to send a vital message to Joe, and they put pressure on the Chandrys army even now just by standing by in their numbers.
Rain's side had succeeded in making allies of the masses, whereas the enemy had failed.
If Rain's side fell in battle, they would be the next to rise up in a large-scale revolt.
In its current state, Joe's army could not suppress the might of tens of thousands of vengeful civilians.
And, if the enemy insisted on fighting even after taking all of these negatives into consideration, then Rain would simply have to fight seriously. I've done everything I could. All that there's left to do is pray that they're not more foolish than I'd imagined.
Rain nodded while riding his horse and quietly steeled himself.
He would fight with all his might, depending on the situation.
That was all there was to it.
I won't lose to anyone.
I refuse to experience that ever again…… Never!
The Chandrys army had maintained their formation near Lydia even now underneath the clear blue sky.
There had been no helping the fact that they'd relaxed a little due to how long the duration of their encampment had dragged on, but even that was now a thing of the past. The scouts were updating the location of the Princess' faction with every turnover of their shifts, and the entire army was currently in a state of high tension.
Soon, the final enemies that barred them from capturing Sunkwoll would appear.
Everyone in the army understood that this enemy was of a completely different class than Safir, whom they had fought just the other day. After all, three of their generals, including Shing, had been captured by them as prisoners.
There was no way they could give them the same treatment as Safir.
Even still, while many knights and soldiers had made friendly conversation at breakfast, everyone took their respective positions when the final scout reported, "The enemy will be here soon!"
They could not be blamed for the fact that they were so nervous that their limbs froze up. It was finally time for the main event. It would be different from everything they had faced up until now. Even Zartz, who would have normally been all fired up by this point, was glaring silently into the horizon with his arms crossed.
Would there be peace, or war——?
Everyone knew that the final outcome had yet to be decided despite the fact that none of the developments surrounding it had been publicly announced.
They all hoped for peace, but were willing to fight with everything they had as knights and soldiers if it came to war.
Similar whispers rippled all throughout the army.
For example, one soldier, while blowing warm air on his cold and numb fingers, would quietly ask,
"did you hear? Apparently, Rain, the enemy, has never been recorded to have lost a battle that he commanded directly. Never, not once!
That means that this'll be a clash between two undefeated generals……"
Then, the colleague he spoke to would always answer thus:
"What of it? Our Lord Joe's been undefeated for far longer than him. Their terms of service are too different to compare…… I don't know about this Unknown Genius thing, but Lord Joe won't be done in by some young greenhorn."
Then, a voiceless phrase quietly escaped their lips as they looked to the steadfast figure of Joe Lamberck, the source of their faith and confidence.
It'll be okay, we won't ever lose!
Their confidence hadn't wavered in the slightest even after learning of how great their enemy was.
Joe, who had been silently waiting for the time to pass, moved a little upon feeling his liege's presence.
Folnier covered herself in elegant silver armor —not unlike Joe's— and turned to him with her eyes brimming with vigor.
"Joe, it's finally time."
"That it is. So, have you made your decision?"
"——Yeah. For the most part. Though, according to the scouts' reports, Princess Shelfa is evidently accompanying her army. I do feel like I want to talk to her, just a little."
"Is that so?"
Joe purposefully refrained from inquiring too deeply.
In any case, they would be here shortly.
Fate would be decided soon.
Time eventually passed——
Joe, who had closed his eyes like a wordless statue, opened his eyes at once.
He had felt a large, familiar power pringling on his skin that he could never forget.
The outrageous sense that his entire being was being put under immense pressure……not from the cold bloodlust given off by assassins, but a pure wave of power specific to those who single-mindedly strove to reach the peak. He felt an invisible pressure akin to the water pressure of a cataract because his opponent wasn't doing anything in particular to suppress it.
Even within their ranks, many strong warriors, including Zartz, were looking around with strange looks on their faces.
It needn't even be said that they, too, had more or less felt that power.
Thud, thud…… Even Folnier had looked up and said, "They're here!" by the time the familiar sound of a well-organized army marching reached his ears.
They began to appear into his field of vision in droves.
He saw that neither the knights nor the foot soldiers betrayed any hint of hesitation or cowardice in their footsteps. He felt from them the powerful will of those who held no doubt in their victory and wholehearted faith in their commander.
They were of such an obviously different quality from the likes of Safir's army that anyone could tell.
One section of the mixed army was Ralphus' unit, who held up an insignia of a pure white lion against a black background. Rain's unit held up a flag with the emblem of a white phoenix spreading out its wings with a magic sword in its mouth against a similarly pitch-black background.
They had expected to see those flags, but in addition, there was a flag that was a little larger than the rest carrying an emblem that included five swords entwinned intricately together in its design flying next to Rain's.
This was nothing other than the emblem of the Sunkwoll royal family —proof that Princess Shelfa had accompanied them here.
And, naturally, he was there as well.
Or rather, Joe would have seen him even if he hadn't wanted to.
After all, despite his position as a high general, he stood out conspicuously at the very forefront of the army riding a white stallion.
While both enemy and ally alike were uniform in properly wearing either metal or leather armor, he alone was boldly clad in his usual black clothing.
He was wearing no sort of defensive armament, much less armor.
His attitude, which seemed to assert, "There isn't even a chance that I'll get hurt," not only to the upcoming battle but to the world itself, was more than enough to make everyone in the Chandrys army groan.
Amused, Folnier asked Joe, "Joe, can you magnify him with magic for me?"
Joe obliged with a wry smile.
He chanted a rune quietly, as there were people around, and brought up an image of Rain before them both.
Like Joe, Rain was looking nonchalantly over at them while holding a pike that was longer and thicker than usual. They could see no sign of anxiety or excitement coming from him.
He bounced the pike in his hand against his shoulder and nonchalantly fixed his eyes on Joe and Folnier.
Indeed, he was clearly observing them.
"His mouth is moving…… Is he mumbling something to himself?"
Joe let out a smile.
"He's singing. I can hear it. But still——"
"……I don't know if it's appropriate of me to say this, but he's quite bad at it."
"I see, so Rain is tone deaf! I guess no one human can truly be omnipotent, hahaha!"
Folnier smiled a little, likely because she found Rain's inability to sing well extremely amusing. She, too, was not tense. Joe looked at his liege out of the corner of his eye and nodded once.
It looked like everything would be settled nicely——
Joe looked up again when someone called for him.
Zartz was charging directly at the enemy lines with his pike in hand.
"——! Zartz, no!"
Folnier stopped Joe before he could run off. She continued,
"I think Zartz went to challenge Rain to single combat. He probably wants to settle things in his own way. If your conjectures about Rain are correct——well, not that I have any doubts regarding them at this point——anyway, in that case, then there won't be any serious repercussions even if we let him be, yeah?"
"……You make a good point."
"Then, why don't we let Zartz do as he wants? I'm sure he's built up a lot of frustration as of late."
"……I will do as you say, Lady Fol."
Ultimately, Joe relented.
It was true that there were things that couldn't be resolved only with words. Zartz was not the kind of man to hold grudges, so it was possible that letting him be was for the best.
Even still, Joe did not neglect to shout out an order to his allies, "Hold! We mustn't provoke the enemy!"
Zartz was surprised at himself for moving before Joe gave the order when he dashed forth on his favorited horse, but there was also a part of him that felt that this was for the best. Neither Lord Joe nor Lady Folnier ordered him to halt, perhaps because they understood.
Rain, who had defeated Shing, Sayle, and Junna (though it was hard to believe!) was waiting at the end of his gaze.
Rain was simply looking back at him silently while seated on his well-bred white horse. He raised his pike to his side and ordered his army to "Leave this to me!" before advancing forward.
The look on his face was as brazen as ever, but it didn't feel like Rain was looking down at him either.
I don't mind if you come, but I'll be here to meet you, you know? Zartz felt that Rain was conveying this.
Zartz called out first when he came close enough to converse.
"My name is Zartz! I want a duel, Rain! I'll defeat you and take back Junna and the others!"
Rain flashed a grin.
One corner of his mouth curled up in a smile so brazen that it was almost surreal.
"Come whenever you like. I make it a rule not to turn down a fight!"
"That works for mee!"
Only a few more meters.
Zartz galloped as fast as he could. He single-mindedly rushed his horse toward Rain with his pike at the ready.
But——is this the difference in our heights? Was he always this tall?
'Cause if not, then why……why does he look so large? He's just waiting, sitting on his horse, but he looks like a giant tall enough to pierce through the clouds!
It needn't be said that Zartz already knew why.
The quivering tip of his pike and the stiffness of his body told him the answer even if he didn't want to know.
I know. I'm shriveling up before how immense his power is. I'm scared shitless. Somewhere in my heart I already know——the annoying fact that there's no way I can win.
And we haven't even exchanged blows yet!
Zartz grinded his teeth together as Rain's figure drew rapidly closer.
The first blow. I'll bet everything on that!
There was no way he could win if Rain had easily defeated the other three. Still, if Zartz put his life on the line to take Rain down with him, then maybe…!
The trembling of Zartz's body stopped once his heart settled down.
Rain, who had his pike dropping languidly by his side, awaited Zartz with a fearless smile. His figure grew rapidly closer. Yet, Rain hardly moved at all.
Zartz, however, no longer cared about anything else. He had stopped feeling both the fear and the pressure once he had accepted his coming demise.
He rammed himself at Rain.
Zartz put everything into this one blow with the intent of clashing his own life against his opponent, with the intent to die alongside him, and did not worry himself with the trifling thoughts that Rain might evade or maneuver skillfully around his blow. He thrust forth his pike. He could proudly call this blow, which added the force of his favorited horse's speed on top of his own talents, his best.
The tip of his pike sank into the chest of Rain's black attire.
I won! he thought.
His opponent hadn't even raised his weapon yet. He would not make it in time to defend himself.
Did you see that?!
This is the end of someone who's been too proud of their own strength!
But, Zartz's thought scattered as did Rain's afterimage. His enemy's figure, whom he should have pierced through the chest, blurred and quickly vanished.
Rain handled his body with unbelievable speed the very moment he was about to be pierced through and had evaded Zartz' blow magnificently. Then, he swiftly brought up his left hand and hit Zartz's pike, which was swimming fruitlessly through the air after having lost its target, away with the back of his hand.
To his disbelief, a portion of Zartz's pike broke off and flew off somewhere.
How did he break my pike's handle just like that——
Then, a heavy shock ran up Zartz's arm. His opponent's ridiculous strength had caused it to go numb.
Rain raised his pike for the first time as Zartz lost his balance. With the butt end (the opposite of the point) pointed at him. Zartz, who had lost his balance, had no way to dodge Rain's next attack.
No, it's not possible for me to dodge something so fast that his pike is just a blur in the first place——
Zartz was hit on the chest through his armor the moment that the masochistic thought entered his head and was blown away backward. ——His consciousness collapsed.
The Sunkwoll army broke out into a cheer upon seeing Zartz being blasted away off his horse. A few squires from the enemy lines came running to carry him away in a hurry, but their allies continued their festive merriment even as it happened.
Selphie, who was normally on the quieter side, cheered particularly wildly and cried,
"nice! Lord Rain, you're so strong! You're so cool, so, so, cooooooool!!"
Her cheeks turned apple red in her burst of enthusiasm.
Exasperated, Yuri failed to reign in her sarcasm as she looked to her friend.
"Look here, you aren't some naïve little girl who loses her head after falling in love with a guy at first sight——oh wait, Selphie, that's you."
She eventually gave up.
Selphie completely disregarded Yuri's candid advice anyhow. There were stars sparkling her eyes, so it was quite bad.
"But, will we be able to settle this peacefully now that he's beaten up one of their generals?"
Yuri secluded herself from the cheering around her and gazed reproachfully at Rain on her own.
Still, Rain, the man in question, was combing back his hair for no reason and didn't look worried in the least. He was probably saying something like, "Pft. He was so weak that it's wasn't even worth mentioning."
Yeah, yeah, I can tell that much even without being near him.
"So, he looks like he's moving according to precise calculations, but I guess he's more audacious than that, or maybe I should say that he doesn't seem to think about the consequences at all——"
Unfortunately, Yuri's candid opinions were drowned out by the cheering around her and thus did not make their way to Rain's ears.
Of course, it was only natural that a gloom had settled over the Chandrys army.
Folnier was dumbfounded, despite the fact that she herself had spurred on the fight, and blurted out, "I didn't think that Zartz of all people would be defeated so easily."
Lady Fol might still be underestimating Rain. Joe could not help but think that she was. It was only natural that Zartz had been so easily defeated.
However, it wouldn't be good if the enemy was allowed to think that there were no talented people in the Chandrys army. Indeed, it wouldn't bode well for the future.
In addition, Joe couldn't deny the fact that his blood had begun to boil a little.
"Then, shall I be his next opponent?"
"——! You, Joe?!"
Joe simply nodded with a smile at Folnier's apprehensions.
"Rest assured. I won't lose to a youngster who's still in his twenties."
Folnier called out after him, but changed her mind and decided to encourage him instead, as if she too had resolved herself, after seeing him lead his horse forward without looking back.
"I'm counting on you, Joe! Show me a spectacular victory like you always do!"
Joe's smile deepened as he simply raised a hand in the air.
Then, he left their formation with an air of composure and trotted up to the center point between the two armies.
He looked back at Rain, who was staring deeply at him, and raised his voice.
"I speak to Sir Rain. I, Joe Lamberck, request a duel!!"
His reply came a beat later.
Rain came galloping at full speed on his white horse. There was no hesitation in his eyes as he held onto the reins and sped over while looking at Joe with a gaze that seemed to shoot through him.
Still, what's with that horse's speed? It's running over so lightly, as if it was a single ray of light cutting through the plains. Even Joe had never before seen a horse so fine or fast.
Besides, the sight of Rain galloping forth across the earth as one with his horse with pike in hand was beautiful enough to draw sighs from those who saw him……
Rain pressed in close during the brief moment of Joe's admiration.
He lifted up his large pike and quickly took an offensive stance.
"——! You're here!"
"Did you really think that I'd ignore your challenge and run away?!"
Rain thrust forth his pike with a violent rebuke.
He attempted to skewer his opponent's torso with such speed that even Joe couldn't see him clearly with his dynamic vision.
Does this man truly wish for peace?!
Did I read him wrong——? Rain's attack had been so merciless that Joe could not help but think so.
If anyone other than Joe had been his opponent, they would have failed to either catch or dodge his attack and would have undoubtedly perished on the spot.
Still, Joe, like Rain, was no ordinary warrior.
Even now, Joe followed his instincts and not his eyes.
Joe dodged instantaneously by turning his upper body and simultaneously thrust out his own pike.
Two streaks of blood danced under the clear blue sky. Rain's attack had grazed the side of Joe's neck, while Joe's pike had grazed Rain's arms.
Then, before their blood could hit the ground, their horses clashed with brute vigor.
Joe's favorited horse failed to withstand the collision and collapsed on its side.
Joe let go of his pike and leapt before his horse fell and twisted his body mid-air to land.
He promptly drew his katana and braced himself for his opponent's attack.
However, Rain did not insist on keeping either his advantage on horseback or with his pike. He returned his pike to his saddle and climbed jumped down to the ground of his own accord without any hint of lingering attachment.
He swiftly drew his magic sword.
The infamous "Siren's Blade", which radiated with an ominous blue light.
"It's only fitting that a fight between us is settled with our swords, yeah?"
"To think that you'd abandon your advantage of your own accord. Will you insist over your obsession on having a fair match to the very end, Rain? Just what on earth drives you to fight so much?"
"Useless meddling will only shorten your lifespan!"
His words, advance, and attack were executed concurrently with no delay in between them.
He stirred up a wind and brought his magic sword down into a diagonal blow in less than a moment.
Joe deftly maneuvered his body and whipped his katana at his opponent's torso. His blade, covered in a pure white aura, chased after Rain while leaving behind a trail of light.
The thought of going easy never crossed his mind. If he did, then he would likely be the one to suffer an attack.
As he'd planned, Joe's katana zeroed in on Rain's moving torso.
However, Rain maneuvered his body while allowing the attack to graze him and moved into an unpredictable attack. He changed his posture and, after bending his upper body halfway into a somersault, released a roundhouse kick in the blink of an eye.
He had changed his posture from his insane position as lithely and as magnificently as an acrobat.
Joe, however, dodged the attack by immediately jumping over it. Then, without a moment's rest, he quickly stepped back in and rotated his body, causing his silver hair to flutter behind him.
He beat down a silver streak of light at Rain's neck.
Crackle crackle crackle!
Joe's katana and Rain's magic sword clashed violently and crackled audibly. They visibly scattered grandiose sparks into the surrounding area even under broad daylight.
Then, Rain raised his knee with terrifying speed and aimed it at Joe's solar plexus.
Joe quickly brought up his own knee to parry his opponent's attack. They both jumped back after their knees hit each other's.
"……Our sword skills are about on par, I think?"
Joe stopped moving for a moment and whispered, prompting Rain to answer in a tone filled with his steadfast self-confidence.
"You're too easy on yourself, Joe. There isn't anyone in this world who's stronger than me, you hear? Your defeat was already decided the moment we first locked swords in this duel!"
He dashed forward fiercely as he spoke his arrogant words.
He raised his magic sword above Joe's head with extreme speed.
His movements did not decline in the slightest. Not only that, but his speed had increased since the start of their duel and he was overflowing with power.
Joe just barely met the attack with his katana, but he staggered when the overbearingly heavy attack sent a shock up his arms. The numbness remained in both of his arms, even if only for a second.
(Even if he's a Dragon Slayer——. He surpasses me in physical strength?!)
"What's the matter, Joe?! Your movements are getting dull!"
Rain raised his repelled sword once more and dished out an attack that looked like a shower of bluish-white light.
The trails left behind by his sword blurred, and even a man on Joe's caliber could not keep up with the speed of Rain's attack, which created countless afterimages in its wake.
Joe had been pressed into a purely defensive battle, even if only temporarily.
Rain refused to relent and pushed forward while concentrating only on his offense.
It was his distinctive strategy —piling on attack upon attack to the point that it was Spartan— that no proper swordsman would ever think to use.
It almost looked like he had abandoned his defenses from the get go. This wasn't true, of course, but it was certain that he would step in as long as he would only suffer minor scratches and single-mindedly go deeper into the offense.
And with abnormal speed to boot.
Joe's defenses, prided as an impenetrable fortress, finally crumbled as a warped sound rang out. He had failed to properly parry Rain's magic sword as it drew an arc diagonally upwards from below and his katana had been forcefully repelled. Joe's body tilted unsteadily as a result.
It was only a tiny opening——perhaps only a hundredth of a second long.
Rain, however, did not let this opening escape him. He swiftly lowered his body and leapt for Joe's bosom like a magnet being pulled toward another. His outstretched magic sword —its blade of bluish-white light— was thrust straight toward Joe's chest.
Joe immediately thrust out his hand and released his magic on full throttle.
Even Rain had not predicted this turn of events.
He was hit with a magical attack from point blank and was blasted away far into the yonder.
Joe heard girls screaming from afar.
Joe had no way of knowing this, but those ear-splitting screams had belonged to Selphie and Senoa, the aide.
Senoa had brought up her hands to her mouth like an ordinary young girl for once, whereas Selphie had, characteristically, grabbed Yuri, who was standing next to her, by the shoulders and was shaking her furiously.
"L, Lord Rain is…! Lord Raaaaaaain!"
"Daaah! He's fine, so let go of me! Did you forget, Selphie? The Geeneral has that thing——"
Shelfa alone was quietly watching over the fight with her hands clasped in front of her chest.
Joe, naturally, could not maintain his calm either.
"——! What have I done?!"
He immediately regretted his actions for a moment.
He had not meant to use magic. But, his instincts as a warrior had sensed danger for the first time in a truly long while because his opponent was so strong. And then, he had unwittingly ended up using magic——
Joe was about to run up to confirm his opponent's safety.
Unfortunately, however, he had been too quick to worry about his enemy. Rain sprang right back up as hale and hearty as ever.
There was a faint trace of a rainbow-colored light around his body.
"Is that the anti-magic field that dragons are said to possess?!"
Joe murmured with his eyes open wide.
He had known that the ability existed, but this was the first time that he had seen it with his own eyes. Evidently, his worry had been nothing more than unnecessary meddling.
"Is that all you've got?! That was weak, Joe!"
Joe had no way of knowing how Rain was actually faring, but the latter didn't seem to have taken any particular damage on the outside. Rain continued,
"if you wanna defeat me, then you'll at least have to bring out something like this!"
Multiple fist-sized balls of orange light appeared around Rain as he spoke. They revolved around him, increasing in number as they did, and flickered repeatedly.
Then, once the countless beams of light intersected and gathered above his head, Rain swiftly raised a hand and pointed at Joe.
All of the balls of light immediately rushed at Joe. Each and every ball of light was as a wave of energy created by a colossal amount of magic with trails of light following behind them.
Joe spread out his hands and promptly put up a shield around himself.
The balls of light crashed against it one after another and created a thunderous chain of large explosions.
The overwhelming blasts of light, bright enough to out-shine the sun, burst against the surface of the shield. The violently exploding bursts of magical light blinded him and the aftershocks of their clashes against his shield shook even the earth itself.
The attack seemed to go on forever with no end in sight. The entirety of Joe's translucent shield blurred and was on the brink of shattering from the impact of exceeding its limits.
"——Kugh! This magic, and it's power! I can't defend against it even with a magic shield? In that case…!"
Joe gathered his willpower and grit his teeth.
A gigantic vortex of flames immediately stirred up with Joe at its center.
Joe suppressed Rain's magical attack for a brief moment by bringing forth his own blaze. Taking advantage of that opening, he jumped back to avoid the rest of Rain's attack.
Their magic converged where Joe had been standing just moments before and bore deeply into the earth.
Then, they brandished their swords once more and were on the verge of charging toward each other again.
——But just then.
"Hold! Both of you, hoooooooooold!!"
With a loud cry, Folnier had personally jumped in between them on her horse to restrain them.
She had wedged herself in between them just as they were about to clash just as she had done previously.
Joe immediately sheathed his sword and bowed.
He had cooled down completly upon seeing her.
To think that I would lose my head over Rain——over how strong he is.
We were in danger of making peace impossible if one of us died.
No——it's possible that the one knocking on death's door was…… Joe shook his head lightly and greeted Folnier, who was climbing down from her horse.
Rain shrugged and re-sheathed his own sword after seeing Joe put away his.
Joe was strong even according to Rain's standards, and Rain thought that things could have gotten dangerous if they had continued.
Only, by 'dangerous,' he meant that he 'could have accidentally defeated Joe.' Rain intended to stop himself at the very last moment, but he might not have been able to go through with that because his opponent was strong.
Or, in the worst-case scenario, they could have both ended up dead.
Neither swordsman had noticed, but both armies had been watching over them in complete silence. And, both armies had expressed an air of relief when Folnier interrupted their fight.
Not to mention that the Little one——Princess Shelfa, Rain's liege, had somehow persuaded her horse to bring her to the very front of the vanguard of her allies despite the fact that she had been at the rear up until then and was staring at them.
Shelfa hadn't looked particularly concerned because she had known about Rain's defensive field. She was simply looking at Rain in earnest. Like she always did.
Rather, now that her gaze had met Rain's, she was waving at him with great delight. She was waving furiously, as if she was stretching atop her horse.
Shelfa had apparently been blessed with good vision, much like Rain.
The Little Lady is being unreasonable, even if Leni and Gazaram are with her, Rain thought.
What's she planning to do if the enemy shoots at her or something now that she's all the way out in the front?
Shelfa kept her cheer as Rain looked on at her in exasperation and continued to wave at him tirelessly without end. Then, her smile suddenly turned into an expression of sorrow. Rain tilted his head to the side.
Oh, she thinks I'm ignoring her.
Finally realizing her plight, Rain languidly waved back as his lips twisted into a wry smile. He gave her an extra freebie and waved back at her twice.
In return, she immediately returned to looking delighted again.
It was ridiculous……but it wasn't a bad feeling.
Folnier called out to him out of the blue.
It seemed that she was done talking to Joe.
"It was worth seeing an impressive fight between two excellent swordsmen. But——. Why don't we end it here?"
Her eyes looked like they were searching for something.
But, unfortunately for her, Rain's expressions didn't change in the slightest. If she thought that he would come to her with his tail wagging, that it was just too bad for her.
"I never cared either way to begin with,"
Rain said while maintaining his cool. He leaned back against Kris, who was looking bored, and looked at both Joe and Folnier equally with narrowed eyes. He continued,
"I'm okay with fighting you guys, and I'm okay with not fighting too. But I'd rather you don't forget. Other than the Princess, the rest of us are here because we had to be. If anyone's gonna make a decision, it should be you guys."
Folnier wasn't very deeply impressed by his words.
Her expression turned grim again and she began to whisper something to Joe.
Rain, however, had no intent on conceding anything at this point. He absolutely refused to concede, even if it meant that he was being pointlessly obstinate.
He would have Chandrys, the invaders, be the first ones to bring peace to the table. He couldn't have Sunkwoll be taken lightly if he was to take their future perspective alliance into consideration. He would take the opportunity to force Folnier to give up the attitude that stemmed from the fact that Chandrys was a large and mighty nation.
There was no point in forging an alliance if the two countries weren't on equal terms.
——And, with that as his underlying motive, Rain looked up to the blue sky and purposefully whispered, "Man~, the weather's great today," with an air of nonchalance.
Meanwhile, Ralphus and Shelfa, along with Leni and the others, had left their formation to come up to him, perhaps out of worry.
Joe and Folnier had finished their discussion by the time that Rain had finished explaining the details to them.
Folnier then turned to Joe and said,
"have all armies observe the progress of our negotiations through Magic Vision."
Such were her orders.
"……Are you certain you wish to do this?"
"Yeah. I'm sure they'll all want to know."
Ultimately, a large screen of Magic Vision was cast before both armies to broadcast their negotiations with Rain's party without the latter's consent.
Then, Folnier turned back to Rain.
"……You're quite the impudent man as well. I was willing to fold with just one word from you. Have you no intent on saying it?"
Rain stared deeply into Folnier's eyes.
"I guess there's some truth in saying we should put aside our silly pride to prepare for the great wars to come. But I still think that everyone should take at least the bare minimum of responsibility for what they've done. You were the ones who started this meaningless war to begin with. You should be the ones to put an end to it too. Sunkwoll might be nothing but a weak little bug in terms of national might……but they say that even the weakest of bugs can kill the soul, y'know?"1
"I have never heard anyone say that before, ever."
Folnier looked up at Rain in a provoking manner.
Then, she cast a side-eye at Shelfa and continued,
"……now that I think about it, isn't it strange that I'm negotiating things with you? After all, Princess Shelfa is here with us as well."
"Unfortunately, it's Ralphus' and my job to deal with anything concerning war and negotiations at the moment. The Princess' role as our liege is to make the final call. After that, we'll be negotiating with you in accordance to her decisions. ……It's not all that strange, is it?"
Rain replied readily and continued,
"and let me answer your next question too while I'm at it. Right now, the Princess has only just stepped out into the large world known as the public. She has obviously great aptitude as a ruler, but it's only natural that it'll take some time before she grows into the role. There's no shame in receiving aid from her retainers when she needs it until her natural talents fully blossom."
"……You say that Princess Shelfa has great aptitude as a ruler. What is your basis for this?"
"Do I need to spell it out? Her aptitude is obvious from the fact that Ralphus and I have offered her our vassalage from the bottom of our hearts."
And my vassalage, in particular, Rain added as he calmly pointed at himself.
He boldly thrust out his chest and boasted,
"a ruler's capacity can be measured by the quality of their retainers. Ralphus' popularity and capability, and my genius (he was extremely serious as he said this). The Princess doesn't envy either of our abilities and has always entrusted us with her wholehearted faith. Do you think that'd be possible from anyone with lesser aptitude? Or, are you trying to say that Ralphus and I are blind?"
Princess Shelfa, whom Rain had been boasting about, opened her eyes wide, flustered, at Rain and Folnier's war of words.
Rain's declaration just now had been composed of his true opinions, but, unfortunately, Shelfa didn't currently look the part enough to make his words sound very persuasive. And Shelfa knew this.
Sure enough, Folnier looked truly dubious as she examined Shelfa carefully from head to toe.
Ultimately, she said,
"……I don't believe you. I don't believe that she has any noteworthy abilities to her name other than her beauty. In the end, she's simply relying on you for everything, is she not?"
"Hey, wait a sec!"
"Please hold a moment!"
Rain and Ralphus spat out oddly similar words and had stepped forward at the same time.
They exchanged glances and Rain conceded. He and Ralphus wanted to say the same thing anyhow.
Ralphus placed a hand on his magic sword, Justice, and said,
"to disgrace our liege is to disgrace us, her retainers, as well. I cannot overlook what you've just said!"
He was glaring sharply at Folnier.
He glared at her with his rumored stern eyes that could make his opponent straighten their posture with just his gaze.
"I ask this of you, Lady Folnier Lucida Chandrys! Are you so capable that your talents surpass even that of Sir Joe Lamberck standing over there? Can you assert that your leadership is always correct, that you have never once been saved by his counsel? Answer carefully. If there are any falsehoods in your reply, I'll have your head here and now!"
Joe had tried to step in front of Folnier just then, prompting Rain to shout,
"don't move, Joe! I'm within drawing distance from Folnier right now. I can kill her with my sword faster than you can move! Don't you dare think I'm not being serious!"
Joe stopped in his tracks.
Instead, he placed a hand on his own sword and kept his posture so that he could leap out at a moment's notice. And yet, there was no bloodlust in his eyes as he looked at Ralphus, but rather only a gentle light.
However, Ralphus, the man in question, never spared Joe a second glance and solemnly gazed only at Folnier.
The man named Ralphus Juliard Sunkwoll was always serious at times like these. He was a man unknown to inappropriate jokes or gambling. He would cut Folnier down without fail, depending on her answer, now that he said he would, no matter how disadvantageous his actions would prove to be in the future.
Folnier had undoubtedly provoked his imperial wrath. Rain felt the same way as Ralphus, of course. As a tactician, he knew that he should stop and reprimand his friend, but at the moment, Rain wanted to exercise his obstinacy alongside him. In the end, he felt that he was surely more of a reckless warrior than a tactician at heart——and he was right.
The soldiers of both armies, who had their eyes glued on the Magic Vision screens, began to stir. Would there be war……? They had reached a critical point in the negotiations.
A mere few seconds stretched on horribly for Rain and the others.
The scales of history were tilting at this very moment.
Folnier braced herself and looked away a short moment later. She looked considerably vexed, but she admitted to her mistake all the same.
"It's true that Joe's helped me out multiple times in the past and that I seek out his advice. I am in the same shoes as Lady Shelfa in this regard. ……I take back what I said earlier. As such, I am sorry."
She bowed her head a little to Shelfa.
Ralphus returned his gaze to Folnier after he confirmed that Shelfa had shaken her head vigorously to indicate that she didn't mind in the slightest. He took his hand off his sword and returned to where he had been standing previously.
"I, too, must apologize for my insolence."
Ralphus bowed deeply as he spoke in a tone that retained none of his previously explosive emotions. He returned to his usual quiet demeanor and urged Rain to continue with his eyes.
It was basically 'that'.
It was his way of notifying Rain to continue with the negotiations now that things had been settled.
——What, is it my job to do all the boring stuff now?
Rain shelved the fact that he had drawn a ton of attention to himself just moments ago and scowled.
Even still, he turned to confront Folnier again.
"And so, that brings us back to square one."
He summarized everything readily because it was too much of a hassle to do otherwise. Then, he continued,
"and it's not like we can stick it out here until the sun goes down. Why don't you tell us what you want to do?"
Folnier sullenly kept her silence.
She was angry at what Ralphus had said, but she was also reluctantly impressed with him at the same time. The way she looked at Ralphus had visibly changed.
However, she still wasn't up to honestly bring peace to the table——or something like that.
She's such a handful.
Then, Shelfa, who had been docile until now, timidly cut in.
Everyone immediately turned to Shelfa as one.
Unwillingly showered by the brunt of their gazes, Shelfa sounded flustered as she said, "Um, can't we stop the fighting? I don't think that there's any reason for us to fight. ……I think there is something wrong about starting a war and causing many people to die because of it."
She stuttered a little, but she was doing her very best.
And lo and behold——. Both enemies and allies alike were stunned into silence.
From Rain's point of view, Shelfa's words had not been born of any stubborn adherence to the boring calculation of interests and had won her the support of the common soldiers. It was obvious that the once bloodthirsty mood in the air had changed completely as well.
But, Rain, who had been fighting a tough war of words until then, had no choice but to smile wryly. Diplomatically speaking, he felt that her words had been far too honest.
There were times, of course, when an honest attitude bore more fruit. For example, it would have been the correct way of dealing with a king with Ralphus' personality (if such a king even existed).
But as for Folnier——
Rain's apprehensions were on the mark.
Folnier's smartly beautiful face crumpled into a frown as if to say, "How naïve of you," with her eyes.
Unfortunately, Shelfa's gracious proposal had failed to leave a deep impression on her.
She opened her mouth to say something, but then closed her mouth again upon changing her mind.
A mischievous smile graced her visage when she opened her captivating lips again.
"——I see, there is some merit to your words. Then why don't we do this? I don't necessarily want for war either. And so, I want you to show me your aptitude as a ruler that Sir Rain vouches so strongly for, and I will choose for peace if I am satisfied by what I see. No——rather, I wish to join an alliance with you as heartened friends, as was our original intent."
Shelfa clasped her slender hands in front of her chest in excitement where she stood.
She had naturally not forgotten how Rain had told her that their policy was to "achieve peace with the ultimate goal of forging an alliance on top of that" when he asked her to approve of it.
She was probably thinking about how things would splendidly go just as Rain wanted them to.
Her expression brightened.
"I, too, think that will be for the best!"
She said with a cheerful grin.
Then, she tilted her head a little to the side and asked,
"but, um……how do I show you my aptitude?"
This is bad!
thought Rain, who was not as honest as his liege.
There was no way that the obstinate Folnier would fold so easily. In other words, she had to have an ulterior motive.
Folnier looked at Rain in his worry with irony in her eyes and said,
"what, it's no big deal. It's actually rather simple. That being said——"
As Rain had predicted, the selfish empress proposed something truly preposterous with her hand placed proudly at her waist.
Rain was the only one to disapprove of Folnier's proposal for some reason.
What she proposed was dangerous no matter how he looked at it, but everybody, including Shelfa herself, and even Ralphus, whom Rain had thought would be the first to oppose, readily agreed to it.
Rain asked Ralphus about it after everyone except Joe, Folnier, and Shelfa had backed away. It was only natural that he did.
"Hey. What's the meaning of this? Why didn't you stop them?"
"Where was the need to? This is easy enough, if it means that we can achieve both peace and an alliance with this."
Damnit, did he eat a rotten egg as a snack and let it affect his head or something?
Rain seriously thought this for a moment as he stared at his friend so hard that he could have bored holes into the latter's face.
Ralphus broke into a smile as if he was having fun.
"What's with that look on your face, this isn't like you at all. I guess there are some things you just can't understand no matter how wise you are."
"Well, it's just as Lord Ralphus says. It'll be fine since you yourself vouched for it, General."
Leni, who had a look that said, "Ahh, there'll be war if things go poorly! I……I'm terrified!" on his face just moments earlier spurted some nonsense. Not only that, but Gazaram and Senoa were also nodding at his side.
To think that they'd also join in on this bet, putting Gwen and Nigel aside because they were Ralphus' followers.
"……Were you guys not listening to anything I said? It's true that I haven't seen him cast it yet, but I know about the spell itself. It's a fairly complete spell, meaning that you can't take it lightly. It wouldn't work on me, of course, but it's an easy one-way ticket to Hades for the likes of you."
"But, if the spell works like how you said it will, General, I don't think it'll affect the Princess either,"
said Gazaram with an annoying boost of confidence.
"Shall we begin?"
Everyone other than Rain nodded with Joe called out.
Rather, she had been the first to reply, "Yes." ——And with a smile to boot.
Unable to hold it in any longer, Rain walked up to Shelfa in long strides and whispered in her ear.
"Hey, Little one, you sure you aren't overdoing it? We can still stop. I can refuse for you, if you'd like."
Shelfa looked deeply into Rain's eyes.
"I have faith in you, Rain…… I'll be all right since you vouched for me."
"I'll vouch for you as many times as you want me to. ——But still…"
"Then everything will be fine, truly……. Oh, but…"
Shelfa looked to Rain after having thought up of something good. She continued,
"if you're still worried for me, then would you……ki, kiss me please? I'm sure it'll cheer me right up!"
What, just what are you saying!?
Rain looked at Shelfa in exasperation.
To begin with——
How cheerful one was or wasn't had no bearing on this test. Regardless if she was healthy, sickly, half-asleep, or even hale and hearty, Shelfa would die if her confidence was misplaced.
Shelfa, however, was looking up at Rain with her face brimming with expectation. Her cheeks were flushed red as she awaited his response with her hands clasped against her chest.
Rain bent over and lowered his voice.
"Everyone'll be watching if we kiss. That okay with you?"
Shelfa looked……as if he'd just reminded her of this fact.
Still, all she did was blink her sapphire eyes a few times before replying without any sign of agitation.
"……I'll be a little embarrassed, but I'm all right with that. Um, is that bad?"
Yes, it is, more so than you can ever imagine!
Rain swallowed down his words before they made it out of his mouth. She would gradually gain a sense of "a ruler's consideration for her place" one day (he hoped).
"……Well, how about this? I'll give you a proper kiss another day, and I'll kiss you so much that your lips will get swollen."
——So bear with it for now.
Rain spoke, recalling way too late that it was a terrible idea to run jokes of this nature by her, causing Shelfa to suddenly stop whispering and raise her voice as loud as it would go.
"Truly?! You'll really do this for me?!"
——Do this for her?
——Just what are you gonna do for her?!
Rain felt like jealous gazes were flooding him from all directions.
"Well, let's talk about this some other time. Are you sure you understand that your life is on the line right now?"
"Like I've said, I will be just fine. I'd actually rather be talking about this instead. And you still haven't fulfilled your promise about kissing me all over the place in the baths yet……"
Shelfa pouted a little with upturned eyes.
Rain thought that she had great memory of all the things she didn't need to remember. He would endeavor not to say anything unnecessary to her from now on. He'd promised himself something similar a number of times before, but history always had a way of repeating itself for some reason.
He let out a small sigh and knelt before Shelfa on one knee.
Then, he took the petite white hand before his eyes.
"Make do with this for now, alright?"
He planted a kiss on the back of his sulking princess' hand. He'd never thought that he'd ever give a lady such a proper, knightly kiss in his life, but-—
Life apparently had other plans for him.
Shelfa's cheeks lit up bright red again. Her mood appeared to have recovered, at the very least.
"That spell is designed to directly attack its opponent's ——that's you in this case—— heart. It's actually a fake attack, but your heart will make it real. That's why the spell will lose effect as long as you don't believe in it. Do you understand?"
"I'll be all right since you vouched for me, Rain."
Shelfa patiently repeated herself like a mother explaining things to a dull-witted young child.
To begin with, she was more concerned with the fact that Rain had been so quick to let go of her hand and raised her hand to him once again in her reluctance to part with him.
Rain saw her do it, but intentionally stood up and turned resolutely to Folnier and Joe.
"Wait here for a bit. There's something I wanna say to them."
Their conversation finally concluded as Folnier waited patiently and Rain began to walk toward them——alone, for some reason.
"She's ready……I think. You can start."
He nodded arrogantly, as was characteristic of him.
In the lieu of a reply, Joe began to concentrate as he prepared the spell.
Rain, who had begun walking away, turn around once again and looked not to Joe but to Folnier.
Then, he began to whisper in a low voice that the onlooking princess could not hear.
"……This was all a result of my failures. I don't have any other choice but to place my bets now. But if this test ends in my failure as well——. Then I'll have you prepare yourself for what comes next."
He wore not his usual brazen smile brimming with self-confidence, but a composed expression that was as calm as stilled waters. Folnier felt that there was an endless abyss of sorrow in his black eyes.
Perhaps this is the man's true nature.
Folnier, at least, thought it was thus.
And this sense of intimidation……I feel this bottomless fear just because he's looking at me. An instinctual fear that seemed to lower her body temperature by several degrees at once began at the soles of her feet and ran up her spine. She had come to understand the greatness of Rain's fighting spirit only now that it was pointed directly at her.
Still, Folnier mustered up her spirit and replied,
"Are——you trying to threaten me?"
"A threat, you say?"
Rain replied, still as quietly as ever. He continued,
"threats are usually made when you don't actually have the intent to see them through. But unfortunately for you, I'm dead serious. I'll pray, for your sake as well. I don't believe in any gods, but just in case."
He swiftly lowered his hand and rested it on the hilt of his sword.
"The "Siren's Blade" is infamous to the whole world. Once long ago, it was said to have sacrificed a thousand lives when it massacred the people of Celestia……. I don't know how much of a warrior the crazed man who wielded it was, but what do you think will happen……if I decide to bring out its full potential?"
Folnier was unable to reply this time around. She had thought that the man before her was fundamentally a tactician at heart, but she now knew that she had been naïve in her readings of him.
It was possible that he would move without taking any calculation of interest into account if it came to the eleventh hour. To be frank, she no longer knew if this test was the right thing to do or not. Then, as if to make his point doubly sure, Rain declared,
"mark my words……if anything happens, I'll drown the entire Chandrys army into a sea of blood."
A chill ran up her back.
His declaration had been so threatening that even Folnier, as unyielding as she was, took a step back. She had not intended to, but she ended up convinced……that the man before her would really do as he promised.
Then, Rain's fighting spirit suddenly abated.
He promptly wiped away the shadowed expression off his face when Princess Shelfa, who had grown tired of waiting, tottered over to where they were (in other words, when she had come close enough to hear their conversation).
He smiled a refreshing smile that seemed to forcefully assert, "I can't kill even one little bug!" and said, "Well, that's how it is. G'day to you."
He made to walk away after one-sidedly cutting off their conversation.
Joe called to his retreating figure.
"I believe that your princess holds a lot of faith in you. Why don't you open up your heart to her a little——"
"Yeah~, I don't need your nagging."
Rain scowled and waved his hand. He continued,
"is this the power of lineage too? You're way too similar to Ralphus."
Rain's words made even Joe's heart skip a beat. Evidentially, he had already seen through the relation.
"Besides, I don't have the right to earn someone else's faith or be liked by——"
Rain saw Shelfa's face mid-sentence and cleared his throat.
"Anyway, just start already."
This time, he finally returned to where his troubled comrades were waiting for good.
Folnier exchanged looks with Joe and let out a soft sigh.
"……A dangerous man, that one."
"Indeed. I'd hate to make him my enemy."
Then, someone cut in,
"Rain is a very kind person!"
Both Folnier and Joe blinked.
When Folnier turned to see who it was, she found that the Princess was looking up at them from nearby. She had been around too, now that Folnier thought about it.
The Princess' eyes glistened like that of a fanatic believer of "the Church of Rain" as she repeated,
"Rain is easy to misunderstand in many ways. But actually, he is a very, very kind person."
She was truly evangelizing with all her might.
Folnier understood from the girl's passionate and dreamy tone that she had absolute confidence in her convictions.
The girl before her probably wouldn't change her mind even if Folnier told her, "This supposedly kind man just told me, "Hey, you better prepare yourself in anything happens, you know?"" Instead, she'd likely reply, "Rain did that for me……?" with deep emotion.
And, while this was also just an assumption——
Folnier felt like even she, as skeptical as she was, would end up saying, "I'll follow Lord Rain forever!" if she were ever locked up in a room with Shelfa for an entire day and made to listen to the latter sing Rain's praises with the same zeal that she held now.
The Princess' words were simply that persuasive.
Folnier looked down at the Princess for a brief moment before rubbing her temple (her head had started to hurt) and waving to Joe.
"——Let's begin already."
Joe closed his eyes and began to concentrate while Rain looked on at him from where Ralphus and the others were.
Rain was fretfully anxious underneath his calm visage, and it didn't help that the enemy brought forth something ridiculous either.
Something huge abruptly materialized after the atmospher shimmered…… Coarse body hair peeked through the gaps in the crude hemp cloth it donned for clothes.
But its head was bald and shiny despite that, and it carried a spiked log club. The club itself was about the size of a fully-grown adult human.
Its entire figure was nearly ten meters tall——
It was a member of a species that had gone extinct ages ago——a giant.
They were said to be much closer to humans than the monsters that lived deep in the woods, but most people were still repulsed by them. In fact, while Rain didn't really think much about it, Leni, Senoa, and the others had subconsciously taken a step back away from it.
Rain found it strange that they all had their hands over their noses and mouths and asked,
"what is it?"
"You can't tell?"
Leni looked incredulous as he asked. He continued,
"the stench is horrible! It's like you took the body odor of a middle-aged man who hadn't bathed in about a year and concentrated it even further. The smell's just so bad——"
"Yep, that sounds horrible."
Rain said as he looked over cynically at Leni and the others. He continued,
"congrats. All of you are already half-trapped in Joe's spell. Aren't you glad you aren't the person being tested?"
This is why I was so against this.
After Rain finished grumbling, Ralphus asked,
"that's an illusion?"
"It is. I won't be tricked by it. It's just an illusion no matter how well it's been recreated. The smell too, of course. If you guys can smell body odor that shouldn't be there, then that means that you already believe that it really exists. That thing's attacks will start taking effect next once the spell moves on to the next stage. I told you before. It's no one else but your own heart that'll make the fake attacks real."
"That's quite something,"
Ralphus whispered before nodding deeply. He continued,
"——hmm. Most of the stench disappeared after hearing your explanation."
Rain looked dubiously to his friend before he knew it. It was certainly true that the magic would lose its effects the moment you believed that it was just an illusion. But all things regardless, was it really possible to simply believe it just like that? Senoa and the others were still frowning with their hands over their noses even now. No, wait, Senoa just removed her hand.
Whatever, these guys aren't that important right now.
Rain faced forward again and purposefully allowed the spell to work on him.
The giant's sweaty skin glistened as it stared down at Shelfa with clouded yellow eyes. A low growl that sounded exactly like distant thunder leaked out from its enormous cracked lips.
He even heard a small noise as the giant readjusted its grip on its club. Joe's spell was truly a detailed work of art.
Shelfa turned around at the end of Rain's gaze. She was looking deeply at him. She wasn't holding her nose.
She cupped her hands in front of her mouth and yelled.
"Mr. Giant here is an illusion, yes? It's not actually there?"
Rain immediately yelled back.
He adjusted his tone so that he would sound composed and confident. It was quite difficult, considering the circumstances.
"Even if you hear its footsteps, even if you hear it growl, or even if it smells——. All of it is a deception made from magic. As long as you understand that it's an illusion, you absolutely won't be affected by it any more than that. I'm well-versed in magic—please trust me on this, even if only for now!"
His last few words sounded like a plea. There was nothing close to confidence in them
Shelfa smiled back at Rain with a complicated smile on her face—one that was a little lonely and yet ever so slightly pouty.
she said before looking to Ralphus and the rest behind Rain.
She stopped speaking normally and continued the rest in a sigh of a whisper that no one else could hear.
However, Rain, who had superhuman hearing, could hear every word she said.
"Someday——. May these feelings of mine reach you, Rain……"
She turned back around once the whisper had left her lips.
The giant let out an outraged howl as if it had been waiting for her and raised its foot. It meant to stomp down on Shelfa. ——Rain's comrades stirred.
Gwen let out a grim, "Y, Your Highness!" from somewhere in the back.
Naturally, a silent scream arose from both armies as well.
Rain clenched his teeth and subconsciously put a hand on the hilt of his magic sword. Then, the area around Shelfa suddenly went dark. The stupidly large foot had blocked out the sun. Shelfa, however, simply raised her arms a little and made no motion to evade it. From behind, he could see that she was looking up at the giant's oncoming foot, but it was impossible to know what expression she was making on her face as she did.
But Rain thought that the Little one had probably kept her smile. No, he was sure of this.
The foot came crashing down with a tremendous noise as Shelfa disappeared from view.
↑ Rain misspeaks an idiom here. The original idiom, "五分試し (gobu dameshi)," means "killing by inches/progressively torturing to death." What Rain actually says, however, is "五分の魂 (gobu no tamashii)," which translates literally to "a soul of five parts/one-half." It is in character for Rain to misspeak some idioms, as he's done it before and other characters (namely Yuri in vol. 1) have pointed out that he occasionally says things that sound strange. It is my personal interpretation that Rain's slip of tongue here is supposed to belie his composure in this scene.