The speed of the wagon had dropped as it lumbered up the slope, but it has begun to increase again. It seems like we’ve crossed a pass.
To the north of the Kingdom of Nayvel, there was a belt of craggy mountains, a natural border with four kingdoms crowding around it.
The shortest escape route from our kingdom to Sckellz requires crossing a mountain, he’d said.
Compared the highways on the open plain, there was also less danger of getting spotted. However, because there were no means of escape, the likelihood that he’ll use an unknown route wasn’t out of the question.
That is where I make my appearance, my master piped in.
If we were on a mountain road, do it after we had started climbing for an hour. If we were on the highway, then when we passed through a town. The view is more likely to obstructed, so we’d have to rely on the surrounding sounds and the surface of the land to make our judgments.
To make our enemies drop their guard, we were taught how to use visible weapons, so that when it came time to act we absolutely did not use magic.
For that reason, Lutz was entrusted with the magic stones with an attribute he had absolutely no affinity for. I was warned not to join in by way of precaution.
Even when we were restricted inside the castle, the reason we didn’t put up a big fight was for the sake of deceiving our colleagues into believing that as long as we were collared our powers would be suppressed.
The fruit of our efforts? They gave up on taking the princess along with us. If there were two of us, they believed it would be easy to mutually have one to control the other.
With His Royal Highness sticking to the princess, it wouldn’t have been possible for them to get to her in the first place. There was no safer place in the entire kingdom than the princess’s room right now.
His Royal Highness had promised he would never let anything happen to her.
That’s why we’ll do everything that we can on our end. We’ll struggle. We’ll fight.
We will return. To where she waits for us.
Something cold touched my wrist.
From behind, Lutz had created a small blade from ice and slipped it between my hand and the ropes. I kept the blade in my palm the way it was and slipped it up and down. I pretended to change the direction my body was facing and cut the ropes at my foot, then gathered heat in my hand and vaporized the ice.
All that was left to do was wait.
If we had traveled by highway, the horses would have been changed for fresh ones in towns along the way. By choosing to go the shortest route, they’d been forced to use the same ones.
The horses were already at their limits, but were not even allowed a moment’s respite. I assumed we were meeting others soon.
If the men waiting near the national border between the Kingdoms of Sckellz and Vint were hired hands, then we might need to march as far as the castle.
I wanted to avoid that. The closer we got to the capitol, the lower our chances of escaping became.
But nothing was for sure yet. The king had gone to great pains in order to obtain his toys, us. Would he really leave them in the hands of guys whose loyalties can’t even be assured? On top of that, after passing through two kingdoms, he might have predicted it wouldn’t be an easy task to make progress with so many bringing up the rear, so he’d probably send men he could trust…for example, a force under his direct control. Were my thoughts too simple?
“Shan’t be long now,” Niklas whispered.
Lifting up the cover, he squinted at the passing scenery.
“Finally, what I’ve been waiting for will start. I can say farewell to the life of being shamed behind my back for my poverty, of my family holding the title of earl in name only.”
I saw evidence of neither guilt nor regret in the feverish light emanating from his eyes. Befitting the scene of a young man embracing the hope of a completely new life in his bright eyes; it was rather strange to behold.
“Fiend,” Lutz muttered in a cold voice.
Unfortunately, Niklas heard him. But even with the man glaring at him, Lutz did not flinch, and he looked back at the man with eyes cold enough to match his voice.
“Hah. What are you trying to say? The fiend here would be you, wouldn’t it? Lutz Eilenberg.”
“And you as well. You’re betraying everyone and throwing away everything you’ve had. Your homeland, your king, your family and friends. Without a shred of remorse, and no conscience to speak of. Such a person can no longer be called ‘human,’ can he?”
Silently, Niklas kicked Lutz in the shoulder.
Lutz groaned in pain.
Emotionlessly, Niklas stepped on Lutz’s head.
“How ridiculous. You think they qualify to be called family and friends? They’re only the trash holding me back, the refuse who will not recognize my superiority. But…”
He ground the sole of his foot down with even more strength as he erupted in complaints. In the hollowed space of his eyes, his expression became increasingly erratic.
“…what were you saying? The one you should preach to about having nowhere he belongs is yourself, is he not?”
Pathetic, he said with a smile. Does it hurt? You deserve praise for not backing down, but who was it that infuriated me?
His hand came to rest on the sword hanging from his waist.
Niklas wouldn’t kill us, but this looked really bad. What do I do? How can I stop him?
I couldn’t afford to use magic. If I rammed my body into him, would that divert his attention to me?
I desperately tried to get up, and that’s when…
The wagon shook violently, coming to a stop.
It seems like we’ve arrived at the delivery point.
“You’ve had a narrow escape,” Niklas said in annoyance, releasing his hand from his sword. Lifting the cover, he got out.
At the sight of his retreating back, my strength drained, and I let out a long sigh.
“Lutz. You need to cool down.”
“The ass was pissing me off…”
“How old are you?”
Lutz turned away, no intention of reflecting on his action. Stupid brat.
Right after our conversation ended, fellows dressed completely in black climbed aboard and cursed at us, seemingly ready to drag us from the wagon.
After I confirmed our surrounding, the fellows pushed us out from behind.
“So you’re here. My king has been expecting you.”
A powerful man was waiting.
He was a knight on a splendid warhorse, clad entirely in armor. There must have been ten of them.
Fitting of a kingdom better known for its thirst for war, everyone gathered looked very strong. However, their excellence doesn’t seem to have extended to their brains. They looked the type to mow down the opposition with force.
Well, if their heads worked correctly, they wouldn’t have sworn loyalty to that nut of a king, right? The nation and those who made their livelihoods within it never looked back on their actions, only choosing to focus on expanding their territory when they should have immediately replaced such a foolish king.
With fellows standing on both sides, they grabbed me by the arms.
Lutz was similarly restrained.
In that second.
A stern voice echoed through the area.
At the sound of that voice, those who had been hidden simultaneously came into view.
Soldiers with ready swords and bows surrounded the entire area. Since when?! and unsettlement spread throughout the soldiers of Sckellz.
“This is the dominion of our kingdom. You will not be forgiven for trespassing.”
“Absurd!! Why is the Kingdom of Vint…!!” Niklas sputtered in surprise, all color draining from his face.
Indeed, the banner raised by the surrounding soldiers did not belong to the Kingdom of Nayvel but its neighbor, the Kingdom of Vint.
Furthermore, these armored men were not frontier guards, but knights from the royal city’s own Order.
The man who was likely their commanding officer turned his sharp gaze on us, but spoke to the boy under his guard who was standing behind him.
“Your Highness, I deeply apologize for having involved you in this.”
“No. The one who unreasonably had you march out was me.”
The divine looks of the boy referred to as Highness looked like a painted angel come to life from a religious painting. With golden hair that looked like it had been spun out of sunlight, and blue eyes, from his looks alone, this boy and the princess were like two peas in a pod. The airs they gave off were completely different, however.
The blue of his eyes resembled the deep sea, and something terrible and unknown lurked at the bottom.
“You cannot overlook the actions of these insolent men who would dare trample on the dominion of other kingdoms. Mind me not, and please carry out your duties. It seems like the two boys are bound. Please take care of them.”
This young boy speaking with such unbelievable composure had left to study in the neighboring kingdom, the Second Prince of the Kingdom of Nayvel—Johan von Werfald.
“It can’t, this is…ridiculous,” Niklas said in dismay at the presence of a personage who should never have been in a place like this.
Eyes wide open in shock, a streak of sweat slid down the side of his face. The hand holding the hilt of his sword shook uncontrollably.
Niklas retreated with unsteady footsteps, and tripped over the root of a tree.
And then, after blinking his eyes several times, he said, Ahh.
“Your Highness, do you know him…?”
“Niklas von Buelow. A Royal Knight from my kingdom… Niklas, why are you here?”
With those blue eyes that looked like they could see through everything zeroed in on him, Niklas gulped.
He was desperately searching for an excuse, but I wonder if he’d noticed yet?
That no matter what he did, he was already in checkmate.
How was a military exercise being conducted with such perfect timing, and to double the miracle, the Second Prince of Nayvel was even in the same camp?
All according to plan.
Niklas had unknowingly played according to the script, manipulated by both the prince guarding his little sister inside the castle, and the prince who stood before him now.
“The coloring of those boys… They resemble the wizard children my brother wrote of in his letter.”
“Why have you bound them? Why are you with our enemies? Answer me, Niklas von Buelow!”
Driven even more into a corner by His Highness’s words, Niklas’s shoulders shook with surprise.
Eyes burning with despair, he cast them down. Trembling like a child getting a scolding, he bit on his lower lip.
“So you’ve been reduced to turning traitor on your kingdom? You, the heir to an earl’s family with proud heritage!” the prince said scornfully.
“Shut up!” Niklas yelled. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!!”
He shook his head once, as if to rid himsef of the Devil, and grabbed Lutz who stood beside him.
His sword came free with a wild swing, and he pressed the blade against Lutz’s neck.
“Don’t move! Unless you’re fine with what may happen to this brat?” Niklas barked, his breathing rough.
Growling like a menacing dog, he glared at his surroundings.
“You come along as well!”
Imitating Niklas, the soldier from Sckellz roughly made a grab for my arm. He also pressed his sword against my neck, then pushed me in front of His Highness and the others.
“If you don’t want to regret what happens to these guys, don’t get any closer!”
What a typical villain’s line.
I was so disgusted I couldn’t help sighing, but I knew how serious the situation was so I kept my face blank. On the other hand, my pal couldn’t sense the mood at all.
“You’re so loud! You don’t need to shout in my ears,” he nonchalantly said as he covered his ears, face twisted in displeasure.
I couldn’t supress a wry smile with Lutz so smoothly showing off his untied hands.
“Aren’t you kind of stupid? We’re obviously no longer cut out to be made hostages.”
Ay me! he sighed, theatrically shrugging his shoulders in an exaggeration of disappointment, and looking down at the ground.
He gave me one slow wink. Once his eye was open again, it had changed from its usual indigo to a silvery grey.
A hollow sound pierced the air as the sword was sent flying from Niklas.
The moment Lutz powerfully stomped on the ground, something resembling a thick mist spread from under him, freezing the feet of Niklas and his group in an instant.
“How can you use…?! Wasn’t it suppressed?!”
“Oh, this?” Lutz asked, pointing at the thing fitted around his neck. Using a finger to release the clasp, it very easily came undone and fell to the ground. “As you can see, it’s a fake.”
He smiled innocently, but with the swipe of his hand countless ice shards materialized, swooping down on the fellows.
Lutz looked like he was acting in a fit of violence to vent his anger. I gave him a single look, and sighed at length.
“Don’t wreak havoc first without me.”
With all my strength, I yanked the ropes apart, burning its remains with the flames I’d gathered in the palm of my hands.
The man holding me thrust me away from him in order to create some distance between us.
Refining the surrounding air, I let the flame I’d kindled spread. Looking at the blue flames flaring in my hands, the fellows screamed.
Reacting to the words of the ashen and trembling men, Lutz and I looked at each other at the same time.
Gazes cooling, we spat our responses at them.
“Monsters? Too late to realize that now.”
“These monsters were coveted, weren’t they? By your Master.”