Tigrevurmud Vorn found himself in a wasteland. Poisonous-looking, violet ground expanded as far as he could see. The vegetation was black, as if having been scorched, forming shapes he had never seen before. The wind was lukewarm, and the sky, covered by dark clouds, caused anxiety by just looking at it.
He didn’t know how long he had been here and how he got here, but Tigre didn’t have the slightest urge to question any of that. He simply walked forward in silence. Only the dry scratching of his footsteps could be heard.
Tigre noticed that he held his Black Bow. But, he had no arrows.
In the far distance he could see something similar to the figure of a person. That figure was heading his way at approximately the same pace. But, without stopping, Tigre continued onwards.
Before long, the true identity of the figure became apparent. It was a small, old woman wrapped in a black robe. Her height barely reached Tigre’s waist, and she was dragging a crudely-made broom after her.
The two passed each other, without exchanging any words or looks.
While not knowing how far he might have walked by now, Tigre spotted yet another figure in the distance. Just like the old woman, this figure also walked his way.
The identity of the figure was a huge monster. Its strong body possessed a height and shoulder width that might as well be twice that of Tigre. Lacking any body hair, its skin was so white that it actually looked eerie. Three curved horns grew out of its forehead. Its appearance vividly reminded one of an evil demon as they’d appear in fairy-tales.
And as might be expected, Tigre passed the evil demon without exchanging any words or looks.
Suddenly there was a break in the clouds, allowing the night sky to peek through. A moon as crimson as if having been washed in fresh blood floated up there. For some reason Tigre knew about it being a moon despite its redness.
Even afterwards, the youth continued to aimlessly walk through the wasteland. He passed countless beings such as lovely fairies with wings on their back, dwarves shouldering pickaxes, and many more. Not one of them was human. And, the landscape never changed, no matter how far he went.
The lukewarm wind carried a sound over. The sound of waves breaking on the shore and retreating. Apparently the ocean was nearby.
Suddenly his field of vision completely changed.
Tigre found himself atop a steep cliff. The sea appeared to be beneath the cliff, Tigre could hear how the waves broke after crashing against the cliff.
Once he peeked down, he found a green ocean extending as far as his eyes could see. Not the deep blue world he had seen on another day, but an eerie, surging sea as if endless supplies of murky emeralds had been melted down.
Tigre silently stared at the ocean, but once he felt a presence behind him, he looked back.
A single longsword was embedded in the ground. A big crack ran through its blade, and the blade’s edge was chipped at countless places. The guard – imitating a wing – had been miserably smashed apart. The ruby in its middle was divided right in half, and the hilt was dyed dark red.
Tigre’s eyes widened. His emotions, which hadn’t reacted to anything so far, now shook him violently. Unable to speak up because of the overwhelming shock, his body merely continued to tremble in horror.
The youth knew the name of that longsword. He also knew the user of that longsword. Tigre tried to call her name, but all that escaped his mouth was a strained breath. About to extend a hand for the sword, Tigre suddenly turned his eyes to the ground, several steps ahead of him.
A few weapons, which had decayed in the same way as the longsword, were stabbed into the ground like grave-markers, or were lying around like empty husks. As if telling about the fate of their users.
Raising a soundless scream, Tigre jumped up with vigor. His sight was engulfed by darkness, and the cold night air pricked his body.
While breathing heavily, unable to come to terms with the situation at once, Tigre jerked up on his bed with a bewildered expression. His clothes, drenched with sweat, clung to his body. His eyes, which gradually got used to the darkness, told him that he was in his own room within the lodging house where the delegation was staying.
“A dream…?” After muttering that, Tigre decided that it had to be so.
A violet ground, a red moon, and a green ocean. There’s no way for such things to exist in reality. Besides, that longsword which was so damaged that it wouldn’t be odd for it to crumble apart on the spot.
──No doubt, that was Arifar.
At that moment Tigre realized that he was grasping the Black Bow in his left hand. He had put it down in a place within the range, but apparently he had seized it during his sleep. Tigre quietly stared at the bow within the darkness. It reminded him of the story he had previously heard from Tir Na Fal.
──Changing the truth of the world itself. Same for the sun, moon, ground, and sea. Maybe the Black Bow has shown me one of the possible futures with that ominous dream just now. Or maybe it was a nightmare combining the anxieties existing deep in my mind, and the story about Ganelon I’ve heard from Valentina.
Will the Vanadis end up like that if this world changes into one for demons?
──I won’t allow that. Ever.
Tigre tightly grasped the Black Bow. For the youth it was a battle he had to definitely win for the sake of those dear to him.
After finishing the secret meeting with Valentina last night, Tigre visited Sofy’s mansion today earlier than planned. Since the five Vanadis and Lim were luckily all together just when he arrived, he told them everything that perspired during his meeting with Valentina, and additionally all that happened with Ruslan, but in response, the youth got harshly scolded.
Elen shouted at him, “Why did you follow her, you idiot!?”, and Mila spat out with a freezing look, “I really want to draw a huge X on your face for your ineptitude.” Lim acted like a very strict teacher, saying, “You trust others too easily. Even if you’re going to listen to them, you should do it in a place of your choice.” Liza cried out, “Did you want to go through the same bitter experience as me!?” with a face full of rage, and Olga lightly knuckled the youth’s head with her fist.
Sofy was, in a sense, the harshest of all. She slapped Tigre’s cheek. Elen, Mila, and Liza widened their eyes when they saw this, and swarmed towards the blond Vanadis to soothe her, resulting in the whole place calming down one way or another.
The situation was grave. Sofy immediately called a single servant, and sent him as messenger to the palace. It was for the sake of asking Eugene to make sure whether Valentina and Figneria were still under house arrest.
After she sent forth the servant, Sofy said with a gloomy expression, “I think the two slipped out from the royal palace and mansion after Valentina finished her conversation with Tigre. No, Valentina might have gotten in contact with Tigre since they had planned to sneak away anyway.”
However, Sofy’s servant couldn’t meet with Eugene on that evening. The palace was in chaos from the shock over Ruslan’s collapse. Of course Eugene tried everything possible to appease this uproar, but he had to deal with Ruslan’s share of governmental affairs on top of that, resulting in him simply running short on time. Even if someone else had taken care of the governmental affairs together with him, it likely wouldn’t have changed anything about this situation.
It was around dawn that Eugene received the report about Sofy’s servant having visited the palace.
Because of the situation being like that, Tigre’s group dissolved for the time being. Tigre returning to the lodging house was for the sake of explaining the circumstances to Gaspal and to remain close to the palace.
Greeting a new morning, Tigre, Elen, Lim, Liza, and Olga had gathered in front of the western gate leading out of the capital. The wind was chilly, but the sky was clear and azure. Liza and Olga were each mounted on horses. The two would head to Lebus – a return for Liza.
There were two reasons for this. First, she had heard that Kazakov, who was ruling over the lands of Polus, still hadn’t obeyed the summons by the crown. Polus was adjacent to Lebus. There were stories about the land having degraded remarkably compared to the previous generation’s Kazakov, but he was still an opponent worthy of caution. Second, a preparation for the case that Figneria escaped the palace. Besides, Liza thought that it’d be best for her personally to explain to her subordinates about the battle between the Vanadis.
“Are your injuries fine already?” Elen looked up to Liza with an anxious expression.
The red-haired Vanadis smiled, “I haven’t expected for you to be such a worrywart. Didn’t you ask me the same yesterday?”
Liza demonstratively rolled her left shoulder around while smiling and proudly looking down on the silver-haired Vanadis. Elen smiled wryly, but immediately returned to a serious expression.
“Take care. ──Liza.” Elen still couldn’t call Liza by her nickname unless she focused on doing so.
Liza’s mouth loosened up, and she responded with, “You too.”
Afterwards Liza held out her right hand, exchanging a handshake with Elen, Lim, and finally Tigre.
“Even if it might be Lebus, I’ll come running if you need me, okay?” Tigre looked up to Liza with a serious look while gently grasping her hand.
“Don’t say things I’d feel like immediately taking you up on.” Liza returned in the form of a joke, but seeing how she didn’t really want to let go of Tigre’s hand, around half of her probably wanted to take him with her.
Next Tigre also bid farewell to Olga. Her accompanying Liza was, probably as should be expected, a precaution against Figneria, but surprisingly it was Olga herself who had announced that she’d do this.
“Is it really okay?” Tigre knew that he shouldn’t hampen her determination, but he couldn’t help but ask anyway.
Brest, the principality ruled by Olga, was located in Zhcted’s east, and Valentina’s Osterode was situated in the northeast. If Valentina were to leave the capital and return to her own principality, it’d be quite possible for Brest to become her target.
“Believe in me, Tigre.” Olga curtly answered while pinning her eyes, reminiscent of black pearls, on Tigre.
The idea she had brought up was based on the assumption that Valentina and Figneria would try to merge their forces at an early stage, if they had really joined hands. In other words, Lebus would be much more of a likely target than Brest. Also, should Valentina attack Brest, it’d open up a distance for her to Figneria. Besides, even if she were to attack Brest, she’d need to split up her soldiers to keep Brest under control. Furthermore, depending on the situation here, Olga could borrow some troops from Liza, and invade the empty Osterode.
Considering all these points made the possibility for Valentina to attack Brest rather low.
Lastly, Olga believed that they should concentrate their powers since they had five people on their side.
Tigre, Lim, and the Vanadis, who had listened to Olga’s explanation, were speechless. They hadn’t expected the youngest of them all to propose such a bold plan. What made it even more terrifying was the fact that she showed absolutely no fear about exposing her own territory to danger.
“I have been believing in you from the moment we met for the first time.” Tigre grasped Olga’s small hand tightly.
At that moment, he realized that her hand was faintly trembling. The youth used his free left hand to wrap up Olga’s hand, and kept it like that until Olga’s trembling stopped.
“──Thanks.” Her expression eased a bit on its usual unsociability.
“Olga,” Tigre called out to her, “I’m sure it’ll go well. Just as you’ve imagined it.”
Olga bobbed her head, “I’ll show you that making a child with you will go smoothly as well, Tigre.”
Tigre couldn’t do much more than return a wry smile at that.
After seeing off the two leaving northwest along the main road until they weren’t visible anymore, Tigre, Elen, and Lim passed through the capital’s main gate.
“Do you think Ludmila and Sofy were able to meet with Lord Eugene?” Elen asked while they were walking along the street.
The two weren’t with them on this occasion because the group thought it best to explain the circumstances to Eugene by directly meeting him. For this reason Mila and Sofy had finished their farewells with Liza and Olga in front of Sofy’s mansion.
“I think it should have worked out, seeing how it’s two Vanadis requesting a meeting.” Even while answering, Lim couldn’t keep a slight pang of anxiety out of her voice.
Tigre asked, “Is it okay for you two to not return to Leitmeritz?”
“For the present, we dispatched Rurick in the morning. But…” Elen answered with a grave look, and directed her ruby eyes at her adjutant. “What do you think? How many soldiers can we prepare, Lim?”
“Incorporating the time constraints, I think 4,000 will be the limit. 3,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry.” Lim’s answer was fluent, probably because she had already crunched the numbers before.
Leitmeritz’ army had continued to fight in Brune from spring until the end of summer this year. Many soldiers hadn’t recovered from their injuries or fatigue yet. Besides, no matter the reason, forcing the soldiers to fight again would just cause dissatisfaction to accumulate, lowering the morale of the whole army.
“That’s harsh, but I guess we’ve got no choice but to plan with that…”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Elen shook her head at Tigre’s question, “I thank you for the consideration, but please stay still for the moment. After all your statements will be taken as Brune’s statements. Besides──” The sharpness in Elen’s eyes rose to a new level, making them gleam with overflowing fighting spirit. “──It’s my fate to deal with Figneria.”
The feeling that she wouldn’t forgive any further interference resonated in her voice. Tigre and Lim silently exchanged looks. Guessing the youth’s sentiments, Lim nodded lightly.
I’ll protect Elen no matter what comes, was her vow, too.
When the group around Tigre arrived at the palace, Mila and Sofy were waiting in front of the gate. The three immediately guessed that something unusual had taken place, going by Mila’s grim expression, and Sofy’s nervous look.
“What happened?” Elen asked curtly.
While turning her back on Elen, Sofy answered, “All three of you, please come with me. That will be the fastest way to explain.”
Tigre and the others walked quickly through the hallways of the palace with Sofy guiding them.
──Even though it’s the royal palace of a foreign country, I feel like I’ve become quite familiar with it over the course of this winter.
Tigre suddenly thought. The atmosphere in the palace was unusually flurried, and even the low-ranking officials and maids were moving around quickly. There were even some who tripped and fell down, or ran into others. While casting a sidelong glance at them, Tigre was guided to a conference room. Mila quietly informed him that this was the biggest conference room in this palace. Sofy pushed the door open, allowing them to enter.
The room itself was spacious, but it was hard to describe it as bright as it had no windows. A silver chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and candlestands placed on the big table in the middle were responsible for the illumination. Apparently all chief vassals of the kingdom, including Eugene, had already assembled here. As soon as Tigre and the others entered, they drew all gazes on them.
“Is it really alright for a Brunian to hear this?” A vassal cast an ill-breeding look at Tigre.
Eugene answered, “That man is His Highness Ruslan’s friend, and enjoyed the late king’s deep trust. Of course I trust him as well. By having him know about our country’s present situation, we can ask him to assist us depending on the circumstances.” The earl’s voice was calm but full of dignity.
It was enough to silence the vassal who had asked. Tigre and the others bowed, and sat down on open seats. Thereupon the door was closed.
Eugene looked at everyone present in the room, “Several notifications reached me earlier. First, a Muozinel army showed up at the southern border. The reports give a wide range on their numbers, going from 4,000 all the way up to 6,000.”
The room became noisy. The vassals looked at each other, their faces revealing frank surprise.
“Is it truly a Muozinel army that’s attacking?” As if representing the others, a single civil official asked while knitting his eyebrows.
It was only reasonable for him to doubt this piece of news. It was unthinkable for Muozinel, who were known for their strong affinity with heat and weakness towards coldness, to attack at a time where the winter would only continue to gain in harshness.
“Several reports suggest so. I don’t think that all of them are wrong. While it may be true that they’re weak against cold, we can’t underrate them and leave them to their own devices.” Eugene’s eyes moved, turning towards two Vanadis. “Lady Ludmila Lourie, Lady Sofya Obertas, we don’t know the enemy’s numbers yet, but could I ask you to take care of them?”
Both answered in one voice, “We shall accept this official appointment,” and bowed politely.
There were reasons for Eugene sending out two Vanadis at once. One was because they didn’t know the precise numbers of the enemy, just as Eugene had mentioned. Another was because he wanted the battle to be wrapped up as quickly as possible to avoid the country being filled with an atmosphere of unrest and anxiety.
As if being done with this matter with that out of the way, Eugene shifted to the next topic, “Next, Duke of Bydgauche Julian Kurtis raised an army. He’s demanding a revocation of Prince Ruslan’s right to the throne and his deportation. Furthermore, Polus’ Earl Egol Kazakov has sent a letter demanding my deportation.”
Once again the conference room went astir. Duke Bydgauche is a high-ranking noble in Zhcted’s north, and the previous lord, Ilda, held the seventh rank in the crown’s succession line. And on top of that Earl Polus. The previous lord Kazakov was an excellent warrior with the alias “Bloody Kazakov.”
After finishing speaking, Eugene’s expression became hard. Ilda and him were close friends. But now that it had come to this, he had no choice but to judge the Duke Bydgauche family. The only way for him to show some mercy was to make them surrender in a single battle, and then come up with some kind of punishment.
“Bydgauche and Polus. Both families are famous within the country, but we can’t simply listen to their demands because of that. Dear lords, I’d like you to be wary, looking out whether anyone goes along with their invitation or follows them.”
Understanding Eugene’s resolve from his expression and words, the chief vassals all straightened their backs.
──North, northwest, south, huh…?
Calling the map of Zhcted up in his mind, Tigre groaned soundlessly. If Valentina and Figneria start acting at this point, it’d add the northeast and west. The entirety of Zhcted was about to be wrapped up in the flames of war. Tigre suspected that the Muozinel army, and the actions of the two lords might be part of Valentina’s schemes.
“I decided to ask Lady Elizavetta Fomina to deal with Earl Polus. I already sent a messenger.”
Upon Eugene’s explanation, Tigre’s group exchanged looks. Liza’s departure might have been just a tiny bit too early. All Tigre could now do was to pray to the gods that she’d be able to deal with this without a hitch.
“As for Duke Bydgauche, it’s a bit risky, but I’ve sent messengers to the neighboring lords to have them take care of it.”
A vassal raised an objection, “How about relieving Lady Valentina from her house arrest and having her attack Duke Bydgauche? Her territory, Osterode, is close to Bydgauche. I think it’d be a great opportunity for her to redeem herself.”
“No, the decision by Earl Pardu is most reasonable. It’s wrong to only rely on the Vanadis.”
“But, what are we going to do if those lords end up approving of Duke Bydgauche? The ducal family has strong ties with the neighboring lords since the time of its previous family head.”
The chief vassals chaotically exchanged their opinions amongst each other. However, Eugene didn’t change his thinking.
“I can’t relieve Lady Valentina of her house arrest. She was also close to the late Lord Ilda. She might have also been in contact with Lord Julian.”
Eugene’s attitude was unshakable, reminding Tigre of a rock weathering through wind and snow. Even the other lords had no choice but to withdraw as not a single one among them managed to offer an opinion that made him agree.
At this moment, Tigre opened his mouth for the first time, “I ── no, Brune supports His Highness Ruslan, and thus will assist Lord Eugene Shevarin who has been helping His Highness. I’d like you to have those who consider turning these two into their enemies realize that they’re also turning Brune into their enemy.”
The lords raised their voices in surprise and joy. Despite being exhausted from the previous wars, Brune had repelled Sachstein and driven away Muozinel. And the youth, who had announced his support of Ruslan just now, had served as supreme commander in both wars, and was hailed as hero who had been granted the titles of “Knight of the Moonlight” in his homeland, and “Star Shooter” by foreign countries.
“You have my gratitude, Earl Vorn.” Eugene expressed his thanks shortly.
And then he lifted his face, and surveyed everyone present.
“Dear lords, I’d like to ask you to not be negligent on your preparations so that you can move out at any time. Especially Duke Bydgauche’s criticism of His Highness Ruslan is much less forgivable than Earl Polus’s accusations against me. Let me repeat it. I’d like you to properly warn those close to you so that no one approving of him shows up.”
Eugene’s look carried a gleam that overwhelmed all those who had accumulated plenty of experience on the battlefields or in the palace. Struck by his majesty, the chief vassals bowed their heads and swore to comply.
This spelled the end of the meeting.
Eugene didn’t leave his seat, and furthermore told Tigre and the Vanadis to stay behind. After the chief vassals had left and with Eugene’s attendants also waiting outside, only six people were left in the conference room. Because it was right after a heated meeting, Eugene’s cheeks were flushed, but looking closely, fatigue had deeply carved itself into his face.
The gray-haired Earl looked at Tigre and the other four, and calmly said, “It’s about Lady Valentina and Lady Figneria. Both escaped between last night and today morning. I’m sorry”
Eugene bowed his head deeply. It wasn’t all that surprising to Tigre’s group as they had anticipated as much, but instead anxiety and nervousness filled their bodies.
“Do you know where the two escapees went to?” Tigre asked.
Eugene shook his head, “For the time being I sent messengers to Osterode and Legnica. But hearing back from them will take many days. I had soldiers secretly search the city as well, but I couldn’t blow this out of proportion, and searching for just two people is far from easy.”
“I think there’s no doubt that both have headed to their respective territories. A magnification of the chaos should be their very goal.” Sofy remarked.
Eugene nodded sadly, “It won’t change anything even if I say it, but if only His Highness Ruslan had gone through the coronation ceremony…”
Vanadis couldn’t disobey the king. If the king ordered it, Vanadis had to stop fighting at once. But, Zhcted had no king right now. Ruslan was a prince, and Eugene was no more than Ruslan’s representative. It might be possible to move up the schedule and hold the coronation ceremony to turn Ruslan into the rightful king. However, if they did this, they’d earn themselves a backlash from the nobles instead. There was no doubt about Julian Kurtis and others not missing that chance to reproach Ruslan.
“How is His Highness Ruslan’s condition?” Lim asked.
Eugene shook his head.
“Since he’s taking a rest, his health is sound. However, there are some strange lapses in his memories. He forgets about the grand chamberlain who meets with him every day, and can’t recall the name of his son,” Eugene explained.
Of course he spoke about this because he had determined that none of those present would divulge this to the outside.
Tigre couldn’t help but look bitter as he reflected upon himself.
“About Lady Figneria…,” Eugene returned to the topic, “I’m going to send another messenger to Lebus. Lady Eleonora, can I leave Legnica to you?”
“Of course.” Elen answered proudly. While tightly clenching her fists, she added, “I’ll definitely catch Figneria. Lord Eugene, please be at ease and leave this to me.”
Eugene firmly shook their hands, one after the other, while telling everyone, “Please.”
Leaving the council room, Mila sighed weakly. Not because she was tired of fighting, or couldn’t come to terms with Eugene’s order.
She simply thought, So I’ve got to take on those guys again, huh?
In spring she had a glaring contest with a Muozinel army at a border fortress, and in summer she fought one in Brune. It was all too reasonable for her to be fed up fighting them even during winter.
Hearing her nickname called, Mila looked back over her shoulder, just to find Tigre staring at her with a worried face.
Tigre asked with a calm voice, “Is something worrying you?”
“It’s nothing so exag──” Breaking off at that point, Mila fully turned around, looking straight up to Tigre. “Did I have such an expression?”
“Yes, you did. It might sound a bit vague, but I felt like you weren’t acting like yourself, Mila.”
“You’re quite calm about this, aren’t you?”
Tigre laughed, and ransacked his hair, “I had the lovely chance to fully experience being busy on all fronts in Brune.”
Mila smiled at that. Thinking back on it, she remembered that she had accompanied him on various occasions back then.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Please brew me some of your tea again, once everything has been settled.”
Without answering, Mila simply gazed at Tigre, but suddenly she grabbed the youth’s hand.
“I’m going to borrow him for a moment, okay?”
Those words were more or less directed at Elen. Leaving the other three behind dumbstruck, Mila walked away through the long hall, pulling Tigre along. The passing civil officials and court ladies didn’t pay any attention to the two, likely too focused on their own work.
Spotting a deserted garden, Mila headed into it. This garden wasn’t anything you’d describe as extensive. Several potted plants were lined up, and a variety of flowers such as snowdrops, yellow pheasant’s eyes, and winter violets created a path to use for visitors. Because the ceiling had been designed as an atrium, the noon sun poured its gentle light onto the flowers.
Mila stopped walking, and turned around. The youth seemed surprised by Mila’s sudden actions, but he looked at her with an expression, making it clear that she probably had some kind of reason for it.
──Although he pulls such a face, he always puts all his power into protecting what he wants to protect, doesn’t he? It’s not because he’s strong or because he possesses many things. He’s desperate because he truly considers them as precious. He persists through willpower.
I got attracted to him because of that attitude. His willpower made my heart throb. And I learned to consider his gaze as something dear. The more I got to know myself, the more my feelings stirred, filling my chest with warmth.
At this point Mila noticed that she was still holding the youth’s right hand, but she didn’t make any attempts to let go. She knew that there existed a difference in their standings. For this reason, she believed this to be a fitting distance.
Mila pulled her eyes off the youth, looking at the flowers with a sidelong glance. Once she thought what if, she tried to lift her face while staring at the ground, but before Tigre’s face entered her visual field, she lowered her eyes to the ground again, her cheeks reddening.
While feeling nervous for no particular reason, Tigre silently waited for her next words.
Mila fixed her eyes on Tigre’s right hand, one trained through use during hunts and battle. The many white scars on its fingers told a tale how he had used them to shoot countless arrows. Mila gently wrapped up the hand of her beloved with both hers. It was bigger than hers, felt rugged and dry, and emitted a mysterious warmth.
A smile formed on Mila’s lips. Looking at him, Ludmila Lourie called his name, “──Tigre,” and then allowed her feelings to flow out of her mouth as if a dam holding back her emotions had broken, “I like you. I love you.”
At the moment she blurted this out, her cheeks flushed crimson out of nervousness and exaltation, and her eyes became slightly moist. Her small hands clenched Tigre’s hand slightly stronger than moments ago. The sense of liberation after finally having confessed, and the feeling of tension over finally having confessed alternately assailed her heart, causing her to rather tighten down on Tigre’s hand even further.
On the other hand, Tigre felt so confused that he didn’t even take any notice of the pain in his hand, standing stock still on the spot like a statue. Her confession came out of the blue for the youth. He had known that Mila thought of him well. He had also felt happy about it. But, ultimately he had expected that good will to be an emotion as Vanadis and comrade-in-arms. Or to be more precise, he had decided to think so. If he took their respective positions into account, that was a correct decision. Mila also avoided to clearly voice it out, even while acting somewhat bold at times.
However, she had overcome her inner conflicts and mental barriers, confessing her own feelings at long last.
──Seeing how Mila has been so honest with me, I must answer in kind. No matter what result it might bring about.
After resolving himself, Tigre was about to speak up, but Mila got a head start on him, sharply telling him, “──Wait.”
Having been beaten to the punch, Tigre held his tongue. At last Mila let go of his hand.
“Hearing an answer…it’s okay for that to not be now.”
Without understanding what she meant, Tigre stared at the blue-haired Vanadis.
Mila asked him with an innocent smile, reminding one of a child that had pulled off a prank, “However, just tell me this: Does it make you happy knowing that I like you?”
Although he wavered how he should react to this, Tigre still nodded. That much was doubtlessly true. Maybe he should have shaken his head when considering Elen, Titta, and Regin, but he couldn’t lie to Mila who had frankly bared her feelings in front of him.
“Thanks.” Mila said, putting all the emotions raging in her into those words.
──That was scary… But, for a confession to be this much…
At the time she confessed, a nervousness she had never experienced even on the cruelest battlefields pierced her spine. When she managed to say all she wanted to say, she got so overjoyed that she felt like shouting with exultation.
The entire confession being this much of an emotional trip was a precious experience for her. Right now she didn’t care about her and Tigre’s positions. Those were things that Sofy could ponder about afterwards.
“Well then, I’m off. ──I’m…counting on you.”
Mila walked through the palace’s corridors with Sofy while pulling a sour face. As soon as she had stepped out of the garden after having finished her confession, Elen, Lim, and Sofy awaited her. Elen had looked disappointed, Lim’s face was as unsociable as ever, and Sofy was smiling.
Leaving aside Lim, it was next to impossible that Elen and Sofy would silently accept her snatching Tigre away in front of their eyes. But then again, even Elen didn’t interrogate Mila about what they had done in the garden, and this open-mindedness of hers allowed the two to avoid conflict.
Mila and Sofy separated from Tigre, Lim, and Elen, and headed outside the palace. They had to return to their respective principalities as fast as possible to confront the Muozinel army.
“Do you believe that Kureys is going to be the enemy general?”
“That’s very unlikely.” Sofy denied Mila’s question, asked in a casual manner. “It’s unthinkable for that 『Red Beard』 to attack our country in winter while his mental wound over having been defeated by Brune hasn’t healed yet. It’s probably someone looking to obtain deeds of arms to strengthen their position in their succession struggle.”
“Makes sense.” Mila nodded.
Both of them had fought the Muozinel on many occasions ever since becoming Vanadis. It was child’s play for them to see through this much. They briefly conferred over the numbers and composition of soldiers, and what roads to use. Just around the time they exited the palace, they had mostly finished talking about practical business.
Mila only broached the topic of her confessing to Tigre – after thoroughly hesitating whether to do so – when they arrived at Sofy’s mansion. It wasn’t as though Mila had asked her to, but Sofy had yielded her turn in confessing to Tigre to her. Considering that, she couldn’t afford to not bring Sofy up to date.
After blinking in surprise and commenting, “Oh my,” Sofy honored her friend’s courage with a smile, “Congratulations, Mila.”
“It’s not…like it’s something deserving congratulations. I didn’t receive an answer either.” Mila mumbled under her breath while making sure to not look at Sofy’s face.
While watching her behavior with a gentle look, Sofy shook her head, “That’s not true. Having been able to properly tell him was important. Besides──”
Suddenly Sofy’s smile turned into an impish one. Noticing that change, Mila looked up to her with suspicion written all over her face, “Besides…what?”
“I think I can finally put into practice what I wanted to do. The five of us ─ me, you, Elen, Liza, and Olga ─ are going to bestow some kind of title and position to Tigre. It won’t hold any substantial power, but it’ll serve as something like a reason for him to come to Zhcted.”
“There’s no way that something like that will be allowed. In the first place, under what kind of pretext…” Mila rolls her eyes.
Sofy giggled, “The pretext doesn’t matter. In the instant it became us five, it’ll count as a political maneuver.”
Mila covered her mouth in reflex. Five Vanadis, all ranking next in position to the king, would bestow it to an important person of a foreign country. She had no doubt that this might be interpreted as a political maneuver
“If it was done by one or two, it might be regarded as love or affection, but with five Vanadis…”
“But, was there any need to wait for me to confess?” Mila tilted her head in confusion. Mila thought that she’d have agreed to this if Sofy had consulted with her about this before her confession. She was certain that the other three wouldn’t oppose it either.
Sofy shrugged her shoulders, “If I had done this, I’m sure you’d have used this political maneuver to hide your own feelings. It’d have been convenient to do so. That’s why it was indispensable for having you become honest about your own feelings at least once.”
Mila couldn’t reply with anything but a blush.
Six days after she had slipped out of the royal palace Figneria Alshavin returned to her governmental residence in Legnica. With many horses prepared in advance, Figneria had continued to race across the roads, switching from one horse to the next without allowing herself much of a rest. The closer she had come to Legnica, the colder had the wind become. The distant mountains were covered with a thick layer of snow, tolling the arrival of a typical, snowy winter.
Still, when she entered the residence built by piling up sand-colored stones with white marble mixed in every now and then, she didn’t seem especially tired. Figneria ordered the male servant, who welcomed her with obvious surprise on his face, to assemble the chief military officers and civil officials.
“We’re going to war.”
Since she was told that it’d take around half a koku for the chief vassals to assemble, Figneria used the time to take a bath and change her clothes. She affixed the twin swords with the golden and vermilion blades to her waist.
Once Figneria lightly tapped Bargren’s scabbard from above, the two swords replied by emanating a faint warmth. When she had tried to call these two to herself during her escape of the capital, this draconic tool had truly appeared. For Figneria, these two small swords were now precious partners.
Since she knew that fatigue was still left in her body, she only ate soup before heading to the council room. When she entered, all chief vassals of Legnica had assembled. Eyes filled with various emotions such as anxiety, tension, disbelief, suspicion, and trust were directed at the black-haired Vanadis, but Figneria calmly disregarded those, surveying everyone present.
“I mentioned it before, but we’re going to war. The opponent will be Leitmeritz.”
The vassals stirred. One of them stepped in front of Figneria with resolve dyeing his face.
“Lady Vanadis, could you tell us about the reason? During the time of your predecessor, we had a close, friendly relationship with Leitmeritz…”
“I know that.” Harshly interrupting his words, Figneria added, “You’ve heard that I challenged the Vanadis of Lebus to a fight and was placed under house arrest in the royal palace, right?”
The vassals all remained silent. Their expressions told her that they were aware of this.
“Learning through an informant that Earl Pardu is trying to take the crown while being assisted by Elenoara of Leitmeritz, Elizavetta of Lebus, and Sofya of Polesia, I challenged Elizavetta to a fight.” Figneria explained as if the information from Kazakov was plain truth.
Shock clung to her vassal’s faces. All they could do was listening carefully with sweat visible on their foreheads. After all, they also knew about the close exchanges between Eugene and Elen.
“But, the Vanadis of Lebus and the Vanadis of Leitmeritz have a terribly bad relationship…”
“You’re forgetting that they fought side-by-side against Olgert Kazakov last winter.” Figneria immediately retorted.
This was a piece of news she had heard from Valentina.
“Are we going to invade Leitmeritz then?”
Figneria shook her head at the middle-aged official’s question, “We’ll pretend to attack Lebus, luring the enemy into Legnica.”
Figneria had an official arrange a map, and spread it out atop the table.
“I know how the Vanadis of Leitmeritz ticks. If you consider her exchange with my predecessor, she likely won’t do anything like thoughtlessly devastating Zhcted either. However, that girl went against His Highness the Prince. We must defeat her. Still──”
The vassals thought that this was a fairly long speech considering it was her. They were recalling that their current lord was a woman of very few words, saying only the least necessary.
Figneria let her eyes wander across her retainers once more.
“I don’t intend to force those who do not wish to fight. Come forward since I will have you protect this governmental residence.”
After a short moment, all vassals went down on their knees, bowing their heads. During the approximately one year since she had become a Vanadis, Figneria had continued to demonstrate her excellency as warrior and capability as lord. Moreover, some recalled that Elen, who had visited this residence at the end of autumn, had a clash of spirits with Figneria.
This spelled the start of Legnica going to war against Leitmeritz. With the ambitions of Figneria, the ringleader, remaining hidden.
Around the time when Legnica’s army began its preparations for war, Elen and Lim returned to Leitmeritz’ official residence. The one welcoming his mistress and her adjutant – both smeared in dirt from the travel – with a surprised look was Rurick who had gone ahead of them by around several hours.
“You two made your way back here too…?” Those were the first words coming out of the bald knight’s mouth, accompanied by a doubtful frown.
After entrusting her horse to the soldiers and knights who had rushed over, Elen nodded at Rurick with a face keeping a fighting spirit within.
“I’ll tell you about the details soon, but to put it simply, we’re going to war. Please call everyone together.”
While Rurick and his subordinates ran around the residence, Elen and Lim got their personal appearance in order.
Receiving the report that all the major knights and generals had assembled in the council room, Lim visited Elen’s room. Elen had just finished changing her clothes, and was now holding the scabbard of Arifar in her left hand. Arifar sensed its master’s ambition, and caused a gentle breeze to blow through the room in response, making Elen’s silver hair lightly sway.
“──Eleonora-sama,” Lim called out to her mistress after pondering for a moment, “it’s a bit sudden, but what do you think of my outfit?”
Confronted with a weird question, Elen stared at her adjutant looking somewhat mystified, “It’s your usual uniform, no? Is there anything you’ve changed about your outfit?”
“No, just as you mentioned, it is my usual uniform. Since I have put this uniform on ever since becoming your adjutant, I think it has done me good service for roughly four years now.” Lim answered with a smile, but immediately put on a serious expression thereafter, “Eleonora-sama, both of us have already become used to wearing our current outfits. I will not tell you to forget or cut loose of the past. After all it is a fact that we are currently here because of the many things we obtained in the past. However, you are now a Vanadis, and I am your adjutant. And Figneria is yet another Vanadis. Please make sure to not forget that.”
After slightly lifting an eyebrow at Lim’s comment, Elen said with an unconcerned look, “Some things don’t change, be it in the past or the present. ──Like your fondness for bears, for example.”
“Eleonora-sama!” Lim’s cheeks reflexively flushed red from the teasing.
The silver-haired Vanadis gave a high, clear laugh, “Forgive me. But, I’ve understood what you want to tell me. You’re telling me to defeat Figneria as fellow Vanadis, right?”
Lim pulled herself together, giving Elen a confirmation in reply. But, the anxiety coloring her blue eyes didn’t quite wane. Elen walked up to Lim, and lightly tapped her shoulder.
“If it comes to a situation where we Vanadis clash while leading the soldiers, you’ll take down Legnica’s army while I’m suppressing that woman. We’ll send a messenger to Lebus to contact Liza and Olga. If they can attack Figneria, it’d be ideal, but it might prove to be difficult.”
“Yes, Figneria will get in the way of that, I am sure. Besides, Elizavetta-sama and Olga-sama need to be cautious of Kazakov and Valentina.”
“I guess we’ve got no choice but to content ourselves with having them prevent nuisances from entering the fray. ──Let’s go.”
The two left the room, and silently walked through the corridors, heading for the council room.
At the meeting, no one was surprised to hear about the upcoming battle against Legnica. However, the other participants also learned about the battles between the Vanadis that took place in the capital not only from Elen and Lim, but also Rurick. In addition, there was also the decree from Eugene, the current regent.
“Although we’re going to attack Legnica, we don’t intend to attack any towns or villages, nor will there be any plundering. Our sole objective is to bring down the rebel Figneria. I’d like you to follow me while being aware of those terms.”
Just as Lim had said, Elen had served as Vanadis for more than four years now. The officers and men had learned to understand the temperament and methods of their mistress, harboring a tremendous respect and faith towards her. Moreover, those serving as commanders knew about Eugene too. Likewise it was a big boon for them to have a justification through a direct order by the royal palace. The soldiers gladly declared their will to follow their Vanadis, and proudly hoisted Leitmeritz’ flag, depicting a silver sword on black ground, alongside the black dragoon flag.
On the next day, Elen left Leitmeritz, leading 4,000 soldiers.
The wind blowing across the prairie carried a chillness, making one strongly feel the presence of winter. Ten days had passed since the approximately 5,000 soldiers led by the Muozinel royal Hakim had crossed Zhcted’s border.
Over the few days after invading Zhcted, the Muozinel soldiers freely exhibited their brutality, burning down several towns and villages, enjoying rape and plundering to the fullest, and sending the people they had caught to their homeland as slaves. Their advance was held in check by the resistance of soldiers of the neighboring lords and people who got away, but the Muozinel showed no hints of withdrawing.
“This won’t become much of a deed of arms, will it?” Hakim sighed as he sat in a palanquin carried by ten soldiers at the rear of the army.
Currently he was 35 years old. His face was round, and so was his belly. His skin being darker than that of an average Muozinel, and his three-parted goatee were characteristic traits of this man. Because he wore layers of furred clothes to endure Zhcted’s coldness, his body looked even rounder than usual.
He had deliberately led his 5,000 soldiers across the border in his desire for military accomplishments. Or to be more precise, he needed deeds of arms to oppose Kureys, his biggest enemy in the fight over Muozinel’s throne. Hakim, the late king’s nephew couldn’t measure up in blood relationship with Kureys, the late king’s younger brother. But, he was the second princess’ guardian, ruled over a big territory, and had many lords on his side. If only he could earn some deeds of arms here, he’d be able to compete with Kurey on a more than equal ground, he believed.
“Ludmila Lourie, or Sofya Obertas – either is fine, so won’t they show up soon?”
Winning against a Vanadis would be plenty of military achievement. After all, even Kureys tried to avoid fighting Vanadis as much as possible. And while eliminating the sporadic resistance, Hakim extended the range of the plundering to keep up the soldiers’ morale, but on the tenth day he finally received the report he had been hoping for from his scouts.
“We discovered Zhcted forces on a hill around 15 belsta to the north. They number around 4,000.”
“What about the battle flag? You don’t know to whom they belong?”
“We spotted the black dragon flag and a battle flag with a blue spear on white ground, Your Grace.” The soldier answered Hakim’s question.
A blue spear on white ground signified Olmutz’ flag.
“Alright, we’ll move the troops up close to them. However, we won’t launch any attacks even if provoked. We’ll wait until they show us their backs.”
This land, which wasn’t far off the road connecting Zhcted with Muozinel, was known as Kišbál. Except for being dotted with hills and the river flowing from the north to the west, it was an ordinary prairie with no outstanding features.
What delighted Hakim was the fact of no snow fluttering about in this area. Coldness was the archenemy of every Muozinel. It wasn’t just the enemy’s resistance, but also his mindfulness of the coldness that caused Hakim to desist from invading too deeply into Zhcted. The Muozinel army began its march while letting its flag – a sword and golden, horned helmet on scarlet ground – fly in the wind. The flag depicted the War God Varhrān.
All of the 5,000 soldiers were infantry, wearing leather armors beneath thick clothes and fur coats. Curved swords hung at their waists, and they owned elliptical shields and either a bow or a spear. With their march lasting from morning to noon, they kept closing the distance of 15 belsta, and just after noon, Olmutz’ army came into sight.
Around this time, the sun was hidden behind clouds, not even allowing a single ray to reach the surface.
Olmutz’ army should have noticed the Muozinel, but they didn’t even try to move from atop their hill. Hilltop and prairie were separated by a distance of around two belsta, allowing the two armies to glare at each other.
Ludmila Lourie looked down at the Muozinel army from atop the small hill with a cold expression, befitting her title as Freezing Snow Princess. Behind her, the approximately 4,000 soldiers of Olmutz had built a camp. The two flags hoisted high up into the air were furiously fluttering against the gray background thanks to the cold winter gusts.
It wasn’t as if all of them were infantrymen as around 100 of them were cavalry. There was not much of a difference in armament between both. Seeing how it was a given that they’d wear fur coats, and since it was also Mila’s order, it was only natural for them to be lightly equipped. Because their Vanadis led them, the soldiers morale was high, but she didn’t fail in doing all she could to keep it that way.
“Even though we walked all the way here in this cold, we’re going to stand still again, huh?” Mila muttered with a surly look.
She had already heard reports about what the Muozinel had done to the Zhcted after crossing the border. She had no intention to let off even a single of their soldiers.
A single youth was walking next to her. He wasn’t a Zhcted, but a Muozinel. He had a tall figure, slender nose and chin, and two eyes were gleaming sharply beneath his black hair.
“All of them are infantrymen. Their equipment is reasonably good. The morale isn’t low either. Their supreme commander is a man called Hakim. He’s the nephew of the late king. As far as I can remember, he doesn’t have any battle experience to speak of.” Damad wrapped up the report to Mila with an unsociable expression and a curt tone.
He had slipped into the Muozinel army to investigate their battle formation. A stunt possible exactly because he was a Muozinel himself.
“Thank you for your efforts.” After expressing her gratitude, Mila cast a curious look at him, “All things considered, you did well to come back here.”
“I do have a sense of obligation towards my employer.” Damad replied without the slightest change of his expression.
Him being here was something Tigre had willed. When Mila and Sofy were about to leave Silesia, Tigre had taken Damad to the two, and asked them to employ him.
On top of that, the youth had said the following to Damad: “Once the battle against the Muozinel army finishes, you’re free to do whatever you like.”
Just like Gaspal and the other men had mentioned in Silesia, Damad was a free man. Tigre had furthermore passed him some travel expenses, and encouraged him, “I pray that you’ll be able to make your dreams come true.”
Tigre knew of Damad’s dreams. Even though he regarded Damad as a friend, Tigre decided to respect Damad’s own wishes. Because of those circumstances, Damad was currently present here. At present he didn’t utter a single complaint, or rather, he obeyed obediently while remaining silent for most of the time.
“Are all Muozinel filled with such a strong sense of duty like you?”
“I don’t think it’s all that different from Brunians or Zhcted.”
Mila felt delighted over his unpretentious words, causing a single matter of curiosity to well up in her, “What part of Tigre do you like?”
Damad frowned. Not because he didn’t understand Mila’s question, but because he was apparently bothered when he tried to ask himself that same question anew.
After some time, the Muozinel answered, “For some reason or another, I feel like I can entrust my back to him.”
Mila’s eyes widened slightly, just for her to nod in satisfaction.
──His back, eh?
That was something Mila also felt as a warrior. As a matter of fact, they had already fought in such a manner in the past. Entrusting one’s back to someone, who only possessed ability, was impossible, unless you trusted them.
After Damad left, one of her close aides addressed Mila, “Do you think the battle might start before the day is over?”
“The day will end with a glaring contest,” Mila shook her head. “The enemy wishes to grab an easy victory. They should be waiting for us to turn our backs on them to withdraw in a hurry.”
Going by the facts of them having attacked during this season, and the way of how they had advanced so far, Mila had mostly seen through the enemy’s objective. This changed into conviction through Damad’s report which told her that the supreme commander was a royal with little experience in battle.
Why would someone of a royal standing lead the soldiers himself instead of leaving the command to a subordinate? Obviously because he wanted to earn personal deeds of arms.
“We are being looked down on, huh?” The aide flashed a menacing smile.
Mila agreed with his view.
──Saying they want to win easily with us as opponents while not even devoting themselves to finesse like Kureys does… At this rate it looks like the civil war in Muozinel is going to be over rather soon. Kureys is probably going to destroy one opposition after the other, and might be sitting on the throne by next year. Though, for Zhcted it’d be more desirable for the civil war to drag out as long as possible.
From atop the hill, Mila could observe how the Muozinel army began to retreat. Seeing that they hadn’t charged their position, Mila guessed they planned to build a camp after taking some distance.
That day ended without the two armies clashing.
It was on the next day after the army of Olmutz confronted the Muozinel that Bulat Struve, lord of the Krnov Viscounty, sent his soldiers forth. They had been following Olmutz’ army while pretending to be friendly forces, but at this point they got tired of waiting.
“We believe Earl Pardu to be the one and only proper heir to the throne! Those sharing our thoughts should gather their soldiers and head for the capital to support His Excellency the Earl! The crown is far too heavy and the throne far too uncomfortable for the ailing prince!”
Leading 2,000 soldiers, Struve quickly took control of the road extending towards Kišbál’s north. As this road connected Zhcted’s south with Silesia, it resulted in Mila becoming unable to contact the capital. Olmutz’ army learned of their existence as the day progressed. But, this was rather owed to Struve’s flaunting his own army than thanks to the scouts Mila had dispatched in all directions. After all, it’d be troublesome for Struve, if Olmutz’ army didn’t take any notice of them.
The Snow Princess received the report in her tent as supreme commander.
“Hmph.” Ludmila Lourie snorted with a bored look, and then laughed scornfully.
She had precisely guessed Struve’s aim. In short, Struve and his supporters had joined hands with the Muozinel.
Struve had made two mistakes. First, the timing for him to send out his soldiers. As it was right after Olmutz’ army started a glaring contest with the enemy army, it was almost as if asking to be suspected. Second, his behavior after he sent his soldiers out. Gaining control of the road was strategically smart. But, it didn’t mesh with their political demands. They should have headed straight for the capital.
“Lady Vanadis, I believe we should chop up those guys and throw their remains to the dogs.”
Several of her aides were enraged over these cowardly traitors, flames of fury burning in their eyes.
However, Mila only laughed and shook her head, “We’ll let Sofy get rid of those guys. Our task is to focus on the Muozinel army.”
By now, Sofy should have arrived from Polesia and moved her soldiers long ago.
In the morning of the day after Struve took control of the road, Olmutz’ army made its move. They hurriedly vacated their camp, and descended the hill on its northern side. Since the Muozinel had taken up battle formation on the hill’s southern side, it looked as if Olmutz’ army was trying to get as much distance between them and the Muozinel as possible.
“They fell for it. She might be a Vanadis, but in the end she’s no more than a little lass.”
Receiving a report, Hakim believed that Olmutz’ army had started its retreat. Upon his order, the Muozinel army started to move. Some among Hakim’s aides felt Olmutz’s action to be suspicious, but they believed that they should secure the hill either way.
The 5,000 soldiers quickly run uphill within the cold weather. And what they saw after arriving on the top of the hill was how the ranks of Olmutz’ army were in the process of falling apart as they hurriedly tried to get away from the hill.
“Charge! Hurry! We mustn’t allow this chance to slip our hands!” Hakim ordered like a bandit with his three-parted beard swaying.
If he managed to catch up and crush Olmutz’ army at this place, he’d be able to return to Muozinel as victor. At this point in time, Hakim already began to think about what he’d do after winning.
Olmutz’ soldiers have their backs turned on us with their pace being completely messed up. Our side can also make use of the momentum when running downhill.
Raising battle cries, the Muozinel rushed downhill. They didn’t care about stuff like ranks. All they wanted to do was to catch up with the fleeing enemies as soon as possible to slay as many of them as possible.
The change took place immediately after they got off the hill. Olmutz’ army orderly turned around, facing the Muozinel, and immediately put their ranks, which were supposed to be falling apart, in order with their two types of battle flags flying in the wind as if to exhibit their fighting spirit.
At long last the Muozinel realized that the Olmutz forces had moved as they did to lead them into a trap. Now they had to rearrange their ranks in a hurry. But, faster than they could even start on that, the sound of cavalry thundered across the land tolling the arrival of a hundred riders, about to thrust into the army’s flank.
The one leading that charge was a single blue-haired girl. Wearing a silver breastplate atop her bluish silken clothes, she readied a beautiful spear in both hands as if to match the lumps of ice and crystals with the fluttering of her white ribbons. The spear’s name was Lavias, the draconic weapon of the Freezing Snow Princess.
As Mila rushed into the Muozinel army’s flank, she freely brandished Lavias, smashing the heads of the helmet-less Muozinel soldiers or piercing through their faces, and thus killing one after the other.
Following the brave Vanadis were brave soldiers. They didn’t possess as refined skills as their mistress, but while keeping their momentum, they struck with their swords, bashed with their spears, and had their horses kick with their hooves.
Underneath the cloudy sky that was still far from noon, blood was carried away by the cold winds. The dark yellow withered grasses of winter were dyed red at spots, and cold corpses kept piling up on the cold ground. Broken swords and torn skins were mercilessly strewn all over the place alongside chunks of flesh.
The infantry of Olmutz didn’t fall behind the infantry either. The almost 4,000 infantrymen raised battle cries as they charged the Muozinel army from the front. Their lord was fighting hard, so they had to fight even harder than her. Olmutz’ infantry unit focused their attack on the Muozinel army’s left wing where the cavalry unit had broken through. Without even a chance to fix their ranks, Muozinel’s army was unable to stage any effective counterattack, and merely continued to lose its soldiers.
If not for Mila, the Muozinel army might have been able to rally its battle formation after holding back the frontal charge by Olmutz’ army. But, the Vanadis didn’t allow for that to happen. Mila, who had caused the Muozinel army’s left wing to fall apart, ordered her cavalrymen to follow her, and speedily retreated.
However, she didn’t join up with Olmutz’ main army, but instead began to ride uphill. As if trying to circle into the Muozinel army’s rear. This was, of course, something the Muozinel couldn’t ignore. But, even if they were to drive them away, the opponents weren’t just some random cavalrymen. They were valorous hundred riders led by a Vanadis. It was easy to imagine that their pursuers would immediately get routed if they attempted to chase after them with half-baked numbers. Hakim believed that they ought to face that cavalry unit with at least 500 soldiers. The only problem would be whether the Muozinel army would be able to keep enduring the fierce frontal charge by Olmutz’ infantry if they were to assign that many soldiers elsewhere.
At this time the Muozinel had finally managed to fix its ranks, but they had already lost more than 10% of their soldiers. At first, when the battle began, the Muozinel had 5,000 soldiers, and Olmutz had 4,000. In short, the Muozinel had a numerical advantage, but now both armies were almost even.
However, Hakim ordered the attack against Mila’s cavalry unit. He was certain that the morale of Olmutz’ soldiers would cave in as long as they managed to kill the Vanadis. Several of his aides turned pale upon that order, trying to stop their supreme commander.
“Whatever you do, you mustn’t go ahead with this, Lord Hakim…!”
“Infantry won’t be able to catch up with cavalry!”
But, Hakim repelled their fervent advice with a bright red face, “Just have them watch that cunning enemy! Won’t that be more than enough to keep them away from our rear!? Even you people should know how dangerous it’d be to allow the enemy to take our rear!”
As a matter of fact, Hakim’s order stemmed from his own panic. He himself was ordering the army from the rear while sitting in his palanquin. Being attacked from behind was something he feared above all else. However, things didn’t proceed as he had imagined them to.
Seeing the 500 Muozinel soldiers heading their way, Mila ordered her cavalrymen to retreat. In addition, she told them to act somewhat flustered while keeping a moderate distance from the enemy. This skillful retreat caused the 500 soldiers to be dragged along, resulting in them being pulled away from their main force.
Choosing the moment when the Muozinel soldiers tried to head back after noticing that, Mila ordered her men, “Charge!”
The hooves of a hundred horses caused a part of the battlefield to tremble as they overran the Muozinel soldiers. Each time Mila’s Lavias killed yet another enemy soldier, the frosty air released from its spearhead froze the ground.
Having had 500 soldiers massacred within little to no time, the Muozinel army clearly became shaken. Mila’s cavalry unit, still going strong, was about to circle to the front or rear of the Muozinel army once more. Hakim completely panicked over this, resulting in the Muozinel army’s soldiers continuously dwindling down without him being able to give any decent orders.
Finally, one of his aides suggested, “Your Excellency, please escape.”
Hakim’s expression twisted in rage, “Escape, and do what!? Do you know why we came all the way here!?”
Hakim had invaded Zhcted in order to fight Kureys. All for the sake of coming out victorious, boosting the soldiers’ morale with that, and thus gaining more allies for his cause.
It was plain as day what would happen if he ran away after losing. Even his current allies would desert him, and Kureys or another person would likely take the throne. Without anyone to rely on, only a miserable death would await Hakim. As one of the royal family, such an end was nothing he could accept.
“If you do not flee, this foreign land will become the place of your death.”
Hakim groaned. It took him around five breaths of hesitation, then he mounted his aide’s horse, and galloped away from the main army while taking a small amount of servants with him. However, there was one person that didn’t overlook this course of events.
“The supreme commander has fled! He abandoned us after the situation took a turn for the worse, and ran away!”
Soon after Hakim had split away from the main force, such yelling in Muozinel roared across the land. This became the finishing blow from the Muozinel army that had still continued to resist. Their ranks collapsed, fell apart, and scattered. Soldiers surrendering, dying after resisting to the end, or turning around to flee appeared all over the place with the Muozinel never assuming the shape of an army again.
Like this, the battle of Kišbál ended with a victory for Olmutz.
Damad silently watched the remnants of the Muozinel army flee from atop the hill. After finishing scouting before the battle, he hadn’t participated in the fighting itself. He had been ordered by Mila to stay out of it. The Freezing Snow Princess had curtly wrapped it up by adding the reason that it’d be confusing to have him on the battlefield.
──Now then, what should I do next? If I were to join the scattered, escaping Muozinel soldiers, return to Muozinel, and report as soon as I raced over to Kureys, that General 『Red Beard』 would likely be delighted. After all it’s a definite fact that his enemy has suffered a heavy blow with this.
Thinking further, Damad shook his head. He pointed his feet north, and not south. He believed that he had to join up with Mila as soon as possible so as to not be mistaken for a renegade Muozinel soldier. It was Tigre’s existence that had caused Damad to decide like this. The black-haired youth had noticed that Tigre was trying to do something in this country. Thus he judged that it wouldn’t be too late for him to go back to his homeland after making sure of what that something was with his own two eyes.
Tigrevurmud Vorn had remained in Silesia after seeing off Elen and Lim. He himself wanted to cooperate with Elen, Mila, or Sofy by accompanying either, but he was stopped by the silver-haired Vanadis.
“Tigre, you said that you’d support His Highness and assist Lord Eugene, didn’t you? It’d be wrong for you to leave the capital. People would think that you ran away, fearing to be dragged into the chaos.”
As her arguments were reasonable, the youth accepted his lover’s advice, albeit with a bitter expression. Elen lightly kissed his forehead as if to console him.
But, several days later, Tigre regretted his words during the meeting. You could even say that there was nothing he could do. Because he was a foreigner, he wasn’t permitted to participate in important meetings. And even if he tried to meet Eugene, the Earl was now, after Ruslan had collapsed, so busy that anyone who saw him became flabbergasted, making it next to impossible for him to find any time to meet with Tigre. When Tigre thought that he could meet Ruslan instead then, he was stopped by Miron, being told that they couldn’t allow anyone to carelessly meet with the prince until they could determine for the prince’s mind to have completely healed.
Fearing to come across too headstrong, seeing as the other party was actually sick, Tigre was unable to meet the prince. Going to the palace every day, continuing to display a calm attitude to the people, and exchanging a greeting with Eugene whenever possible was the most Tigre could do.
He knew that this was important as well, but Tigre couldn’t help feeling downhearted whenever he thought that his precious friends were struggling on distant battlefields. Gaspal, Gerard, and Titta, who had likewise stayed in Silesia, tried to cheer Tigre up at every opportunity, but for Tigre those were days where he had to hide his sighs of despair, anxiety, and weariness from them.
On that day Tigre had come to the palace again. He was walking back and forth with a confident demeanor while having idle chats with several lords, and left the palace only after confirming Eugene’s busyness. Noon still hadn’t passed for long yet, the sky was gloomy, and the wind was whirling snowflakes across the streets.
While praying for some change to take place, Tigre returned to his lodging house, and entered his own room.
“What…?” Tigre quizzically stared at the table.
Something similar to a letter was lying there. He was sure that nothing like that had been present when he had left this room in the morning.
──Is it a note left behind by brother or Gerard? Today both should be walking the streets again. They might have come back for a moment to leave me a message about some kind of business they had to tell me.
While thinking that, Tigre picked up the letter and opened it. The instant he scanned its contents, Tigre knew that his own face’s color had clearly changed. This letter hadn’t been written by Gerard or Gaspal. At the end of the short message, it was signed with the name Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon. The man possessing the ability to devour demons had placed this letter here, using some kind of method. The letter was kept extremely short.
──If you don’t want Eugene Shevarin to die, come to Zagan, southeast of Lebus, by yourself.
After gazing at the letter with a tense expression, he shifted his eyes to the Black Bow leaning against the wall. He was sure that this bow had to be Ganelon’s aim, just like the demons’.
The annoying part about this was his inability to do anything but to obey. When it came to Gaspal, Gerard, and Titta, he could stay by their side all day long, allowing him to protect them with the Black Bow. But, this wouldn’t be possible with Eugene.
Who would believe in a threatening letter like this? Moreover, I can’t believe that I’d get people to believe in the abilities of Ganelon who’s left the realm of humanity. Ganelon had also managed to sneak into Brune’s palace at some point. Considering that he’s combined his powers with those of the demons, it’ll probably be no trouble for him to kill Eugene.
Tigre knew that area. During his time as Liza’s servant Urs, he had studied the geography of Lebus, albeit only roughly.
If I remember correctly, Zagan should be a place with many ancient temples. That’s nothing unusual in Lebus.
The time it took him to weigh the options and reach a conclusion was very short. Tigre tore the letter apart and threw the scraps away, as if dealing with a hated enemy, and stood up.
It’s probably necessary to explain the situation to Eugene at least. And then I must also ask Gaspal and Gerard to take care of Titta.
When he looked up to the cloudy sky, which looked as if heavy snowfall would start anytime soon, after leaving the lodging house, Tigre suddenly placed a hand on his forehead. He had recalled the face of his silver-haired lover.
He felt apologetic about betraying her words about him not leaving the capital. But, the youth’s face immediately became serious, and he started to walk towards the palace.
At dawn of the next day, Tigre departed Silesia after waiting for the city gate to open.
Eugene Shevarin spent the majority of his day cooped up in his office in the palace. He took his meals there, and whenever he took a break, he merely went to the closest garden, gazed at the winter flowers for a little while, and then returned to his office. This repeated itself everyday.
That diligence of his and the obvious throughput of governmental matters caused the people of the palace to be astonished. So far Eugene had always remained in the second row in the palace. During King Viktor’s reign, he assisted the elderly king from the shadows, and after Ruslan’s return to the palace, Eugene had worked as the prince’s advisor. All of this was very natural for Eugene.
But, now it was different. Eugene believed that he had to keep the palace running until Ruslan recovered. He didn’t think that he should get someone to change with him either. His calm determination and firm intent invigorated his mind and body.
What gave Eugene the biggest headache was the question of how to deal with the landed nobility. In a situation like now, those possessing their own military forces were the most troublesome to handle. Eugene personally wrote letters or dispatched messengers to the nobles, telling them to hold their horses, even if only for the period of winter. He also didn’t forget to add that he’d listen to their problems at any time if they had something to consult him about.
He sent firewood to a noble lord who complained that they lacked fuel to pass the winter. Of course not for free as he made him pay in hard cash. In return, he arranged for a lessening of their next year’s taxes.
Likewise he sent food to a noble lord who complained about an insufficiency. But, since that lord also said that he had no money to pay for it, Eugene ordered him to carry out several works instead.
“What a surprise. I hadn’t expected Earl Pardu to have such a discernment when it comes to governmental affairs.”
“If you think about it, he’s been assigned to inherit the crown by the late king at one point.”
Those were the words exchanged between military and civilian bureaucrats all over the palace. Of course, it didn’t mean that all of them looked favorably on Eugene, rather some of them clearly looked at Eugene with eyes full of spite.
“What’s with that guy!? As soon as His Highness collapses, he completely acts as if he owns the place.”
But, many people knew that the palace would take a drastic hit to its functionality if not for Eugene’s strenuous efforts. And because he kept things running like this, it looked as if the palace had recovered some of its stability.
But, that didn’t last for long.
The day after Tigre left the capital was for Eugene yet another of those days where he’d grapple with mountains of documents while secluding himself in his office from early in the morning. He was very busy as he had to pay attention to the south, west, and north of Zhcted.
Around the time when noon lacked all but half a koku, he heard the clattering of armors from the hallway. Furrowing his eyebrows, Eugene lifted his face from the document he had been working on.
The door was slammed open, and five soldiers in armor rushed into the office while holding short spears and thrust the spearheads at Eugene.
Eugene was surprised, but didn’t show any fear on his face. Remaining seated straight, his expression turned stern as he glared at the intruders.
“What is this supposed to mean?”
The soldiers didn’t answer.
When Eugene was about to probe further, an elderly man loosely wearing the attire of an official entered the office. It was Grand Chamberlain Miron. Miron’s face was twisted in rage, completely lacking its usual smile of a good-natured old man.
Before Eugene could even ask, Miron’s wrinkled face moved as he informed Eugene, “Earl Pardu, we have reasons for a terrible suspicion against you.”
The chamberlain walked straight up to Eugene, and slapped the letter he had been tightly grasping in his hand on Eugene’s work desk.
“This is a secret message describing your connection with the Muozinel Hakim.” Miron’s voice trembled as it was full of intensity.
His eyes as he looked down at Eugene were filled with an odd gleam, probably because of the emotions welling up within him. Eugene didn’t respond by raising his voice to explain himself. He picked up the message from his desk, and silently scanned it over.
It wrote that Hakim would attack Zhcted’s south, and that Zhcted would send forth its Vanadis to repel him. Once that happened, a noble lord close to Pardu would send his army forth, endangering the Vanadis’ rear. Hakim would return to Muozinel after defeating the Vanadis, and as the Vanadis wouldn’t be able to move right away after her defeat, the noble lord would move north to occupy the capital and obey Eugene. Eugene would lock up Ruslan in a room of the palace, and become the new king with the armed force in his back. Thereafter Zhcted’s king Eugene would tie a treaty of friendship with the Muozinel king Hakim, who had cooperated with Eugene, and as reward for Hakim’s help, Agnes would be handed over to Muozinel. It was expected that the opposition to a change in ruler might be weak in that place since the local population wasn’t overly close to Zhcted…
“Does that ring a bell, Earl Pardu?” Miron spat out with a reproachful voice after waiting for the moment when Eugene would finish reading the message. “I didn’t want to believe it, but the closer I look, the more reality seems to follow that script. You investing your effort into governmental affairs after His Highness collapsed was merely for your own sake, wasn’t it?”
At this time, the Muozinel army had already been defeated by Olmutz’ army under the command of Mila, and even the forces of Viscount Struve, who had acted in concert with Hakim, had been completely routed by Sofy’s army that had shown up from Polesia. But, the news of that hadn’t reached the capital as of yet.
Even after reading through the message, Eugene kept his calm. He looked up to Miron, and quietly asked, “Sir Miron, would you believe me if I were to deny this and tell you that it’s a conspiracy?”
“Do you have any proof?”
Eugene silently shook his head. Miron glared at the Earl, “In that case, it is impossible for me to trust your words.”
“What do you plan to do afterwards?” Eugene’s question was unexpected for Miron. Eugene explained to him, who was suspiciously knitting his eyebrows, “I don’t know whether you’re going to arrest or execute me, but someone has to run the government afterwards. And there is absolutely no way that you could have His Highness do it. There are still matters that need to be processed by today.”
“That’s none of your concern any longer!” Miron got upset and thundered at Eugene. While gasping heavily, the chamberlain continued, “We will prepare a room to put you under house arrest. His Highness will decide on your punishment as soon as he recovers.”
That statement might have been proof that Miron still had some of his reasoning left. After all, he could have dyed the office red with Eugene’s blood with a single order to the soldiers accompanying him.
──I guess he wouldn’t be able to avoid chaos to spread then.
Miron possessed a gentle personality, but he didn’t know anything about handling governmental affairs. Eugene was well aware of that. Other chief retainers exhibited excellent abilities in their own fields of expertise, but they were unable to keep an eye on the whole, and they didn’t have the capability to serve as mediators. In short, no matter who would take over the governmental affairs, the palace’s stability would end up shaken.
Even while being able to predict all that, Eugene had no hand to play.
──I’ll get another chance as long as I stay alive.
Eugene stood up, after persuading himself like that. Surrounded by soldiers, he left his office.
Neither Eugene nor Miron had the slightest idea that this secret message came from Valentina. She didn’t expect anything from Hakim or Struve as combat forces. From the very start, her aim was Eugene Shevarin. And then, after she safely returned to her own territory, several thousands troops were about to move under her command. Their aim would be to steal the leaderless capital.
The approximately 4,000 Leitmeritz soldiers led by Eleonora Viltaria invaded Legnica without running into any resistance.
Because Elen and Lim had both thought that there would be at least some kind of opposition, this response caught them off guard, causing Elen to frown in displeasure. Apparently Figneria had realized that their hands would be tied without any resistance. Still, there was no way that Leitmeritz could simply steal food and fuel in retaliation just because of that.
While paying a suitable amount of money to replenish the necessary goods, Leitmeritz’ army moved north through Legnica.
“It wouldn’t be strange for it to come down any moment now,” muttered Lim as she rode next to Elen while looking up to the gray sky.
Not rain, but snow. The winds blowing ever since they had entered Legnica were cold enough to make anyone think that.
“None of our men is freezing or anything, right?” Elen asked Lim with an anxious expression.
They should have prepared thick overcoats for all soldiers and passed them out, but she still felt uneasy.
Lim nodded with a smile, “I made them check every morning. We also got plenty of spares, so I don’t think we need to worry about this.”
“──Thanks.” Elen breathed out in relief. While looking in the far distance, she changed the topic, “So Figneria is at Boroszló, huh?”
Boroszló was a plain with endlessly continuing, gentle undulations, located in the northeast of Legnica. In the past, Elen had fought there against Lebus’ army under Liza’s command.
“She’s likely trying to draw our army deep into Legnica.” Lim’s expression and tone became stiff.
It was Boroszló’s terrain that gave her a headache. Because it was flat land, there would be no obstacles, hindering both sides from deploying several thousand soldiers, but such ground made strategic maneuvers rather difficult. Often the side with the bigger numbers and momentum would win on such a field.
“It seems like Figneria is leading 4,000 soldiers…”
They had obtained that information from the villages and towns along the road. Figneria was inviting Elen while awaiting her at Boroszló. Elen had no choice but to go along with that.
Before now, she had dispatched messengers to Figneria several times, trying to question Figneria about her escape from the capital, but in vain. At this point, she had no other option but to go for battle.
Suddenly Elen hit her right hand, which was grasping the reins, with her left palm, causing a hearty slapping sound. As Lim looked quizzically at her, implicitly asking what was going on, the silver-haired Vanadis grinned, and said, “We’ll wrap this up before Ludmila and Sofy are done on their end, and then we’ll quickly head back to the capital.”
Lim nodded, smiling back in return.
Several days later, Leitmeritz’ army arrived at Boroszló.
Gray clouds blanketed the wintry sky, but the sun bravely used any gap to cast its frail light on the surface. The layers of frost widely covering the ground reflected those rays of light, causing the surface to glitter whiteley.
The Leitmeritz army led by Elen and the Legnica army under the command of Figneria faced each other in the center of Boroszló’s plains. Forests and rivers were far, hills were nowhere to be seen, and the soil was frozen solid – in other words, a battlefield perfectly suited for the deployment of big armies.
Leitmeritz’ army had 2,000 infantrymen forming its center with 800 soldiers bolstering the wings. These 800 soldiers consisted of 500 infantrymen and 300 cavalrymen. The remaining 400 cavalrymen were on standby in the rear as reserve. The supreme commander Elen stood at the head of the central block, staring straight at the enemy army from atop her horse. She did so because Figneria was likewise standing at the head of her army.
Legnica’s army consisted of 3,500 infantrymen, and 500 cavalrymen. They excelled Leitmeritz in infantry, but lost out when it came to cavalry. Very likely because of that, the deployment of their soldiers had an inclination. The center was formed by 2,000 infantrymen, just like Leitmeritz’, but the right wing held all the cavalry while the left wing consisted of the remaining infantry.
The Black Dragon flags flew in the wind. Same applied to the flags representing the respective principality.
Both armies carefully advanced, continuously closing the distance.
While commanding the soldiers from the rear, Lim felt how her fists trembled in vexation as she wondered whether she couldn’t do anything but watch Figneria and Elen duke it out.
──Even though I made a vow in front of Lady Alexandra’s grave…
Lim understood it logically. A Vanadis could only be taken on by another Vanadis. Not to mention that Lim would likely become no more than a burden if Figneria’s abilities didn’t wane from her time as mercenary.
There was also the matter Elen had told her before they set foot into Boroszló.
“Lim, this battle depends on you.”
Lim comprehended what Elen wanted to tell her. No matter how strong Figneria might be, it’d be impossible for her to lead her army while facing Elen. She had no choice but to entrust the command over her army to someone else. If Leitmeritz’ army led by Lim were to get the upper hand on Legnica’s army, it could possibly create a gap in Figneria’s defense. That would likely become the best assistance for Elen.
“I understand. But, please be as careful as possible. ──Make sure to give Lord Tigrevurmud Vorn no reason for grief.”
She believed that it was a low move to bring up Tigre’s name here, but Lim didn’t plan on choosing her methods if it was for the sake of Elen. Elen smiled wryly, allowing her silver hair to flutter in the wind.
“I’m aware. I don’t intend to sadden you either.”
Lim erased Elen’s smile from her mind by shaking her head. If she planned to work for Elen’s sake, she truly ought to focus on the battle in front of her.
──But, just one thing…
Lim called Rurick, who was serving as her adjutant, and gave him a certain order.
Around the time when the distance between both armies had shrunken down to less than 400 alsin by rough eye measurement, the blaring of horns traveled across the battlefield. Bow strings were drawn, and spears were held up as both armies came alive.
Elen and Figneria drew their draconic tools simultaneously, clapping spurs to their horses. The two Vanadis clashed with each other in the center of the battlefield before the soldiers of both camps even reached each other. The wind was cut, or burned as both women hacked away at each other.
Arifar swept through the air, leaving a silver trail behind while Bargren swooped down on Elen while pulling two fiery tails in their wake. The clash between both draconic tools created countless sparks and fierce metallic screeching, as well as a ferocious hell fire and a raging storm. The wind blasted the hair of both women up, the flames illuminated their faces with the heat licking their skins.
Neither of them spoke a single word. The emotions burning in their eyes were more than enough to convey everything.
And even if that were to be an optical hallucination, it was plenty for either of them.
Elen only possessed one longsword, but it had a longer reach than Figneria’s weapons, and it also allowed her to handle the reins with her left hand. On the other hand, Figneria excelled against Elen in the number of moves as she used two short swords as weapons, but she had to basically leap into the bosom of her opponent, on top of having the movements of her left hand restrained as she had to hold the reins in addition to her draconic tool.
Figneria received or turned aside Elen’s slashes, which were like storms blowing away everything, with the blades of her short swords while not showing a single change of expression on her face. And without missing the tiny chances when Elen pulled her longsword back, she fiercely thrust out her short swords.
Even if the blades themselves didn’t reach, the flames unleashed by Bargren’s blades attacked Elen. But, those flames were disturbed and scattered by the squalls created by Elen’s Arifar.
Neither wind nor fire reached their respective opponents, but the tension hadn’t vanished on either faces. They knew that they’d likely get cut the instant their sight got blocked, if they lost focus.
Slash, sweep, and stab. Slamming down from above, slashing from the side, or thrusting from the front. Each time whirlwinds gouged out the ground and flames raced through the air, scattering countless sparks into the vicinity.
The soldiers of Leitmeritz and Legnica tried to reinforce their respective lords at the beginning of the battle, but at this point no one could approach the two women. If they did carelessly approach, they got blown away by winds or got roasted by flames. Even throwing stones or shooting arrows didn’t change anything.
A death zone had formed around the two Vanadis.
Figneria made her move around the time when they had violently clashed for the umpteenth time, and the atmosphere started to be tinged with a midsummer-like heat as flames and winds raged about. No sooner than letting go of the reins, Figneria fully swung the short sword with the crimson blade in her left down from above. The crimson flames surging out of the blade spread to the ground like a wave, startling the horses and causing them to rear up while neighing wildly.
Elen reflexively pulled on her reins, turning her attention towards controlling her horse. It was just for a mere moment of a breath, but Figneria used it to pull her feet out of the stirrup. The horse she was riding was naturally rearing up as well, confused by the flames, but the black-haired Vanadis didn’t care at all.
And once she crouched down atop her saddle, Figneria leaped towards Elen. Elen likewise freed herself from the stirrup, shouldered Arifar, and kicked the saddle. All three actions were performed at almost the same time. Elen, who flew up much higher into the air than Figneria thanks to the power of her draconic tool, slashed at her opponent from above while clad in wind.
“──Piercing Fire Lance Column.”
Figneria swung her two short swords without moving from the spot. 1 Many flame pillars were created around her, blowing their fires straight up into the sky so as to protect her. Now it had taken the shape of Elen flying into those pillars, but she didn’t falter. Responding to her fighting spirit, Arifar strengthened the wind layer protecting Elen.
The pillars flickered violently. Immediately following, Elen pierced through them, slashing away at Figneria. A shrill, metallic noise reverberated, and in the next moment, Elen’s body danced through the air.
It wasn’t as though Elen lost the competition and was sent flying. She skilfully altered her posture in the air, and launched a thrust from another angle. The two shadows crossed, and a metallic sound, this time heavier than before, pierced the ears of the soldiers who were watching the fight between the two Vanadis.
Elen landed behind Figneria while whirling up a cloud of dust. A bunch of silver hair strands soundlessly fluttered through the wind after getting cut off by the two short swords. And, a single slit on Figneria’s cheek had blood run from it as she turned around towards Elen.
“Did you stop being a mercenary and become an acrobat?” Figneria readied her short swords without even trying to wipe away the blood, and glared at Elen.
Elen also fixed her hold on her longsword, and glared back at Figneria.
The two Vanadis slashed at each other from the front. The battle arena had shifted from horseback to ground. The winds blasted clouds of dust, sand and dirt into the air while the flames burned the soil. When Elen aimed a low kick at Figneria while wielding Arifar, Figneria swiftly kicked up the soil at her feet, trying to blind Elen. Both of them very naturally used the dirty way of a mercenary’s fighting.
Figneria blocked Elen’s slash with the blade in her left hand while releasing flames from the blade in her right. Arifar scattered the flames with its wind, but attacking the instant Elen’s view got blocked, Figneria closed the distance and delivered a kick.
After crossing blades up to twenty times, Elen had no choice but to admit that she had miscalculated. Figneria could defend against Elen’s two-handed slashes with one hand. Elen believed that Figneria’s stance might fall apart from exhaustion if she kept attacking in succession, but Figneria’s face showed no change whatsoever. It also annoyed her that the longsword’s reach was thwarted by the flames. Even when Elen scattered them with Arifar’s wind, Figneria used it to her advantage. Elen couldn’t come up with a means to best her.
Longsword and short swords clashed. Blue sparks were born, but immediately vanished within a torrent of fire and wind. As if synchronized, both Vanadis leaped back at the same moment. Their faces were drenched in sweat, shoulders heaving.
“──Sure hasn’t changed,” Figneria suddenly muttered.
Elen grimaced, “What?”
“Your fighting style.” Figneria indifferently pointed out. “You’ve started to hop around a bit, but basically, it’s the same style as back then. A sham-imitation of Vissarion. That’s why it lacks any surprising or frightening elements. The rainbow-eyed Vanadis and that Tigrevurmud Vorn were far more terrifying than you are.”
With Vissarion’s name mentioned, Elen felt anger well up in herself, but another shock prevented her emotions from bursting out.
Figneria continued, “I don’t know whether you remember or not, but I have changed my style of fighting. After all, I believed that my previous style was no good as it was back when I competed against Vissarion. So as to definitely win the next time I would fight against that guy.”
Elen couldn’t find any words to reply with. Figneria’s comment had hit bull’s-eye. Elen didn’t change the way she fought ever since her time as mercenary. Deliberately. She couldn’t do so. For the sake of getting as close to Vissarion as possible.
However, now stood a warrior in front of her who continuously refined her martial arts in combat while repeatedly adding new tricks to her repertoire, trying to surpass Vissarion’s swordplay.
──I’ll win against her. I must win.
Persuading herself like that, Elen mustered her willpower.
At that moment, Figneria moved. From stepping in to closing the distance, she was abnormally fast. Elen swiped her longsword from the right to the left. Figneria endured by overlapping her two short swords.
Figneria’s body swayed, looking to Elen as if it split in two. The silver-haired Vanadis wavered with her decision. She wondered whether she should use the wind to take some distance, or──
The two versions of Figneria thrust out the short sword in their right hand. Elen narrowly dodged that. A light pain ran through her shoulder, but it wasn’t anything that would register as a problem.
Cladding herself in wind, Elen leaped at Figneria with a force as if trying to bump into her. She soundlessly broke through. Immediately following, Elen kicked the ground, and brandished her sword while rotating like a tornado. Even Figneria was surprised by that, and tried to protect herself with her two short swords.
A metallic sound reverberated, and the short sword with the golden blade danced through the air.
Elen believed to have found an opening. Without lowering the momentum, she slashed away. Figneria’s crimson blade blocked that.
In the next instant, a silver light gleamed in Figneria’s right hand, and a dull pain ran through Elen’s flank, causing the hand holding Arifar to faintly weaken its hold. Figneria swung the short sword in her left, aiming at that moment. Clad in crimson flames, the crimson blade assailed Elen. Elen barely repelled that blade, but unable to block the flames as well, her stance fell apart, and she fell to the ground.
Without a moment’s delay, Figneria went after her with a sharp kick.
A short scream escaped Elen’s lips. The silver-haired Vanadis swept her sword sideways. She didn’t do so to cut Figneria, but to retreat with the power of Arifar’s wind while at the same time trying to keep her opponent in check. However, the reason why Figneria didn’t attack was her picking up the golden blade from the ground.
Finally having taken some distance, Elen glared at Figneria. Her left side was dyed red from blood, and the blood oozing through her clothes ran down towards her waist.
“You don’t rely on any other weapons but your draconic tools. That’s the bad habit of you Vanadis.” Figneria said over her shoulder to Elen while sheathing the dagger in her right hand into the scabbard hanging at her waist belt.
Back when she had blocked Elen’s slash with the short sword in her left, Figneria had swiftly drawn a concealed dagger. This had taken Elen completely by surprise. After picking up the short sword with the golden blade, Figneria readied her stance. Leitmeritz’ soldiers stared at the duel with shocked expressions. Their trusted Vanadis had been cornered. They couldn’t help but feel shaken.
Figneria closed the distance step-by-step. It was at that moment that the thundering of hooves reached her ears.
Lim had shown up, pushing her way through the soldiers, while spurring on her horse. She galloped her horse in an attempt to pick up her lord.
Figneria kicked off the ground. Lim removed her feet from the stirrup, and barely wedged herself between the two Vanadis while tilting her body on the horse.
The horse cried alongside the fountain of blood spraying out of its body. Its belly, which had suffered Figneria’s slash, dyed dark red, and its entrails spilled out alongside a huge amount of blood. The horse’s legs buckled, and it died then and there. As for Lim, she had fallen off the horse the second it got slashed, and rolled across the ground while covering Elen.
“Coincidence? Or a sharp intuition?” Figneria muttered as if holding a monologue while staring at Lim.
If she hadn’t removed her legs from the stirrup, Figneria’s attack would have severed Lim’s left leg alongside the horse. But then again, Lim’s left shin protector was torn apart, dyed in blood. She couldn’t completely avoid Figneria’s slash. Fortunately, the wound was shallow, allowing her to move her leg without an issue, despite the pain.
“Eleonora-sama, are you alright?”
Elen gawped at Lim, who helped her up while readying her sword, in surprise, even forgetting about the pain at her side.
“What about the command?”
“I left it to Rurick.” Lim answered while glaring at Figneria without sparing Elen a look.
She had called over Rurick and given him that exact order right before the battle.
Even if they won the clash between the armies, Leitmeritz would lose in the end if they lost Elen here. Lim couldn’t afford to let Elen die under any circumstances.
“I will buy you some time, so please get away in the meantime.”
Lim stood up without waiting for Elen’s reply, and pointed her sword at Figneria. The black-haired Vanadis directed a bored look at Lim.
“Do you have no intent to win against me?”
“It is not my role to do that.” Lim answered while feeling admiration and fretfulness over Figneria not showing even the slightest opening. “My duty is to allow my important person to win by supporting her.”
“──You’re wrong about that, Lim.” Those words came from behind Lim. Elen stood up with a pained expression. She stout-heartedly straightened her back, and stepped up to stand next to Lim. “We walk together, and win together. Right?”
After casting a surprised look at Elen, Lim muttered, “You’re right,” so that only Elen could hear her. Elen and her best friend stared at Figneria.
“What’s going to change by you being joined by someone who’s not a Vanadis?” Figneria knitted her eyebrows.
Elen burst into laughter even while twisting her face in pain.
“We’ll show you. ──Come.” She provoked Figneria with her red eyes glowing.
Even the longsword in her hands created a wind as if to cheer on its mistress.
Figneria let her eyes wander as if pondering, but then stopped thinking while shaking her head. She readied her short swords. She didn’t plan anything like bringing both of them down in one go. Instead she planned to accurately take out one after the other.
When Figneria kicked off the ground, Elen met her square without moving from her spot. Their fellow draconic tools clashed, scattering rainbow-colored sparks into empty space once more.
Lim set up her sword without budging. As if trying to find the instant of an opening.
At that moment, something soundlessly fluttered down around those three. Snow similar to white petals, so small that it seemed as though it would immediately melt upon touch, began to obscure their field of vision. Right now, the snow hadn’t even touched the three women. The raging winds and flames didn’t allow the snow to get close.
But, sooner or later the battle would come to an end. Yet, no one could predict which of the two Vanadis would get buried by the snow at that time.
Or maybe even this kingdom would disappear within this season’s snow. Or maybe it’d get enveloped in night, darkness, and death.
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