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E/N: Don’t hate on Amid’s inconsistent Shakespearean English, Amid doesn’t care and neither do I~~~~~
Pariel sat on the driver’s bench of the wagon in her adventurer’s outfit; light armor, gauntlets, breastplate, and thick travel clothes.
“You’re pretty used to handling horses, aren’t you?” (Riezel)
The owner of the wagon, Riezel, smiled as he sat down next to her. Neither a Brave or a companion, Pariel knew that she’d been included in the group due to his kindness.
Once they realised that the destination was Lazurka, the more hotheaded Braves immediately saddled up and left the city. Even Pariel quickly urged the horses down the main street towards the south.
“Yes, I was taught the basics of a knight. I’m completely useless with magic though.” (Pariel)
“Haha, no need to worry about that. I mean, Pariel, your swordsmanship skill is quite considerable.” (Riezel)
Receiving praise from such an amazing person made her genuinely happy.
“E-Ehehe, really? But I’ve still got so much to learn. It doesn’t even begin to compare with your skill, Prince Riezel…” (Pariel)
“…Pariel, should we switch?” (Shina)
Shina says, cutting in from behind them.
“Eh? Don’t worry. I’m still not tired at all.” (Pariel)
“J-u-s-t gi-ve t-h-em to me!” (Shina)
“Wha-, just a moment, geez, Shina! A-Aaargh!?” (Pariel)
She was suplexed by Shina, landing in the wagon bed with a thump. Shina had taken her spot, and looked back.
“… Humph!” (Shina)
“I-I wonder w-what it is…I sense an intense hostility…”
Ah, I see. I’m the guard of that Mahiro. I guess she really hates everything about him. On top of being insulted with the suggestion of becoming Mahiro’s wife or concubine, the letter today morning…it might be a natural reaction. She didn’t look particularly happy when I volunteered to go with them.
While Pariel curls up in the back, the wagon left the castle town and reached the highway. A rather unique pair caught her eye. One is a one-armed, silver-haired man. The other is a pigtailed sister holding a rod with a size as tall as her body with a cross at the top.
She heard shrill complaints as they got closer. .
“Wai!? Art thou serious? Lazurka is three nations to the south from here!? Thou might have no qualms, but this fair maiden does! I haaate walking!!” (Amid)
“Then don’t tag along. We’re goin’ to the same place anyway. Why don’t ya just hitch a ride and do ya own thing? ” (Jace)
“Waaah, must thou be so cold of heart…” (Amid)
“…Why’re you still followin’ me around anyway? Ain’t there a bunch a respectable Braves out here?” (Jace)
“I care not! T’is divine revelation. And…well, after all this time I’ve also gotten to like thy indecent parts…” (Amid)
It was with such timing that Pariel’s wagon pulled up alongside them.
“W-Wait, Riezel. Why’d you stop…?” (Shina)
“No, I mean they look troubled, so…” (Riezel)
Riezel called out the the two pedestrians over Shina’s discontent.
“Hey, Jace. What are you doing?”
“Are ya an idiot? Obviously we’re gonna wal-nguh.” (Jace)
The sister, who covered Jace’s mouth, drew close with a glint in her eye.
“Riiight? What are we doing? As expected of an SS. Dear god, dear divine child of light, thou has chosen a most opportune moment to grace us with thine presence!! Mine Brave is suggesting that we reach Lazurka on foot, won’t you take pity on us?!!” (Amid)
Riezel, taken aback by her intensity, nods timidly.
“Y-Yeah…I don’t particularly mind.” (Riezel)
“Aww man, Riezel…” (Shina)
She’s probably taking advantage of his overly charitable personality. Amid quickly went around the back, ignoring Shina, who slumped down her shoulders, and hopped on.
“Oh my, thou art the prince’s bodyguard, are you not?” (Amid)
“Ah, yes, Pariel is my name.” (Pariel)
“I’m Amid. Let’s get along, okay?” (Amid)
She was a sociable sister with a charming smile.
“What’s wrong, Jace? Our destination is the same, right?” (Riezel)
“…You fine with it?” (Jace)
“Bah, listen up! If this was my wagon, I would have turned you down in a heartbeat. Humph.” (Shina)
Riezel smiles wryly at Shina who turned away.
“But, this is a Highland wagon I’m using. It’s alright, don’t worry about it. We are fellow travelers on this journey.” (Riezel)
“Right. Sorry.” (Jace)
After confirming that he had sat down, Riezel urged the horses forward once again. Pariel asked to no one in particular,
“Are you…all acquainted with each other?” (Pariel)
Shina turns around.
“Yes. The three Braves here are classmates who received the oracle at the great temple at the same age. But then again, I don’t know that delinquent sister over there. And I definitely don’t know how the gloomy one over there could possibly have been chosen as Brave or whatever.” (Shina)
Gloomy…, turning back to the person in question, Pariel’s eyes naturally met with Jace’s. The scar on his right eye is certainly rather gruesome, but his left eye also has a piercing gaze.
“B-…Best regards. I, Pariel…” (Pariel)
That’s all. Feeling a little cowed, Pariel looks in Amid’s direction.
“Don’t mind, don’t mind. Mine Brave is just a tiny bit unsociable.” (Amid)
“Haa. Just a tiny bit, you say?” (Pariel)
You could say that it fits his image, but even his personal weapon looks really plain once you get a good look at it.
“Say, Mr. Jace, your weapon, that dagger…or rather…knife? Is it just that?” (Pariel)
“…There ain’t no need for Mr. or anything like that. Don’t use any honorifics with me.” (Jace)
“Eh? Does it really matter?” (Pariel)
“Are ya an idiot?” (Jace)
“I-…Idiot, what’s with that? To call me idiot; that pisses me off. Now I will definitely use Mr. on you!” (Pariel)
Grimacing as though he’d acquired yet another burden, Jace kept silent. Shina looks coldly at her.
“What a childish squabble. I guess, as expected of that prince’s guard.” (Shina)
“Wha-…even you, Shina!” (Pariel)
“I don’t know whether you’re a Royal Guard or whatever, but in our eyes you’re nothing more than an ordinary person. At least make sure not to get in our way, okay Pariel? The same applies to the two over there.” (Shina)
This Shina seems to have a very picky personality. Riezel, the very symbol of a just and fair Brave, and Jace, who’s gloomy according to Shina. We did well to have gathered such an individual lineup.
A two-horse wagon pulled by quick-footed thoroughbred horses. They don’t seem to have slowed down at all, even with five people on board. We will likely be able to arrive in Lazurka by tomorrow… As Pariel was pondering the journey’s progress, Jace said,
“You really okay with this, Riezel?” (Jace)
“…You’re a tenacious fellow, aren’t you? You already got on, so don’t worry about it.” (Riezel)
“That’s not it. Those meetings at the castle or whatever…though I don’t really understand it.” (Jace)
For an instant a shadow flickered over Riezel’s face. I guess he’s worried about those meetings after all. Even I got sick of all the things the Kaien and the others told me about them…he was struggling there in person.
“…Yeah, it’s alright. I properly informed Mismarca’s king in advance.” (Riezel)
“Did something happen?” (Jace)
“…? Why?” (Riezel)
“Ain’t never seen your face do that before.” (Jace)
Shina also says,
“It might be my first time seeing anything resembling Riezel’s depressed face too.” (Shina)
“Hey, hey, if thou senses such feeling, sympathy should be offered.” (Amid)
Shina looks at Amid who smiles wryly and flaps her hands at her.
“We’re here if you have worries. That’s what friends are for, right?.” (Shina)
“Ah, how nice to be so young~,” Amid quietly muttered, smirking on the side.
“…It’s no big deal. However, it went fairly badly at those meetings, I guess. I was wondering whether it was really fine for me to be absent…so there’s that as well.” (Riezel)
“It can’t be helped. In order to revive the Holy Devil Cup, you’re doing the right thing as Brave, Riezel. No matter how much you might be needed there, you only have one body, so…” (Shina)
Shina does her best to cheer him up, but it barely dents Riezel’s self derision.
“It’s the reverse. I wasn’t needed at those meetings in the slightest…” (Riezel)
“W-…Why? There’s no way that’s true. I mean, Riezel, you are the strongest Brave, aren’t you!? You’re are our symbol of hope, you know!? To call you unnecessary…!” (Shina)
The only amused face in this grave scene, Amid sidles up to Riezel.
“By any chance, Brave Riezel, is the alliance not running smoothly?” (Amid)
“N-…No, that’s not it.” (Riezel)
“Come on, you can tell me, can’t you? If thou hast been treated unfairly, one letter to the sanctum, and the Inquisition and the Holy Knights will be promptly dispatched, okay? If you like I can tattle on them for you.” (Amid)
“Haha, you’re a funny sister, aren’t you…? But, it’s really nothing that exaggerated. I intended to state my own opinion, but…according to Mahiro, who attended the meetings with me, no matter how hard I try, I seem to be unsuited for such conferences. In that case it would have been better to sleep through them…is what he said.” (Riezel)
It’s the conversation from that time, Pariel realizes. Anger welled up on Shina’s face.
“That stupid prince again…? Then, what about him? I bet he just did whatever he wanted and spouted arrogant stuff just because he’s the alliance leader’s son, didn’t he?” (Shina)
“No. That is, he really slept through the meetings.” (Riezel)
Being told that by such a person…that certainly lacks persuasiveness, Shina clenches her fist around the reins.
“…Good gracious, I wonder what I should do to him once we catch him!” (Shina)
“Umm, I’m sorry. Next time I will tell him properly and have him listen carefully; with my fists.” (Pariel)
Riezel burst into laughter at Pariel’s odd apology.
“Hahaha, ah well, that’s all there is to it. As a Brave, and as Highland’s representative…well, that role’s just a little harder for me. From now on I must train not just with the sword, but things like this as well.” (Riezel)
“Stop it.” (Jace)
Everybody turned around upon Jace’s cutting voice.
“You the strongest, aren’t ya? Then words are unnecessary.” (Jace)
Shina says with a doubtful voice,
“You know, even though Riezel is seriously troubled, such half-assed bullshit…” (Shina)
“Sorry if it sounded like that to you, okay? But, I’m serious.” (Jace)
Shina kept her mouth shut upon Jace’s look. That’s why Riezel can’t help but ask,
“…What do you mean by that, Jace?” (Riezel)
“There ain’t nobody who can keep chattering during a sword fight. Ain’t nobody whipping out a sword in the middle of a talk either. You either do one or the other, right? In that case your sword will just get rusty while you’re off talkin’.” (Jace)
Blindsided, Riezel mutters,
“My…sword will…” (Riezel)
“There’s a bunch a dudes who sit around and talk, but only one who gets ta be the strongest. Ain’t that a gift from God? Don’t let the blade of your Cross Sword rust.” (Jace)
Riezel is silent. He gazes off into the distance, as if seriously considering his words…but never gives an answer in the end. . Shina’s surprised face makes it obvious that she was impressed. Amid seems to be in great mood.
“Said something cool there, mine Brave.” (Amid)
“It’s a hand-me-down from my teacher.” (Jace)
Looking surprised, the sister asks,
“You had a teacher? Magic? Swordsmanship?” (Amid)
“Swordsmanship. I have only one arm. That’s why I was often told to make up my mind and either attack or defend. That’s all.” (Jace)
I guess it’s a rather extreme version of “Stop being so half-assed.” Certainly, normally one wears shield and sword, which naturally divides the roles.
“Humph, so there are people out there with such strange tastes. To take in someone like you as a pupil. How ever did you manage it dressed like that?” (Shina)
“Well, I don’ really get it either. He made me his pupil on his own.” (Jace)
Shina throws her arms up, as if giving up on many things.
“…Wasn’t that him just conning you? It often happens. Discovering such weak-looking people like you, they just snatch the tuition fee without ever teaching anything properly; those swordsman drop-out swindlers.” (Shina)
“Ah, I also arrested one of those in the castle town once.” (Pariel)
Pariel nodded reflexively.
“Not just money, but he even went as far as getting you injured. Men like that are really bad characters, aren’t they? You have to be more careful.”
“No, he didn’t take any money, though.” (Jace)
Shina squares her shoulders and turns back to the front.
“It’s all the same. The more I hear, the more I realize that this world’s full of disgusting humans. A stupid prince that slights the strongest Brave, and swordsmen that pretend to be teachers to fool Braves, despite being weak themselves.” (Shina)
Apparently lulled by the wagon’s swaying, Amid yawns.
“Tell me, Brave Shina. Doesn’t it wear you out, being so stiff all the time?” (Amid)
“Indeed, thanks to you. Unlike a delinquent sister like you, my discipline is strict.” (Shina)
“That’s great for you. So, mine Brave, art thou weak?” (Amid)
“You will know when you see, right? At the very least I’m not the strongest.” (Jace)
Despite the urgency of the situation, horses are still living creatures and therefore, unlike an automobile, require rest. The party decided to lodge at an inn in a small post town near midnight. As it was already late, even though there were a few guests in the bar on the ground floor, they still stood out. It was a matter of course for Shiina and Riezel, but with Jace in the mix, they were particularly conspicuous.
“Looks like you were the only one that wasn’t asked for an autograph huh?”
“Aww, what, it wasn’t requested from me either. Nothin’ to worry about, my Brave!” Amid cackles, “This chilled beer is awesomeー♪”
The sister drains the beer she had ordered before even sitting down down in one go.
“Hey, Mr. Jace, what are you going to eat?” (Pariel)
“Anything’s fine.” (Jace)
…This gloomy bore. I guess he doesn’t know the meaning of being a good conversation partner. I mean, even if I told him, he will just answer “Don’ care” anyway, I’m sure. Pariel’s mood soured a little.
“Humph, so anything is okay for you. That also applies to this 『Piquant, Szechuan-styled Stonefly Larva Tartar』 then, right?” (Pariel)
Shina, who had taken a sip of her drink just now, did a spit-take. She dabs daintily at her mouth with her handkerchief.
“Wai-…Pariel, listen, even if you are joking, hold back a little bit.” (Shina)
“Sure. As long as it’s edible, I’ll be grateful.” (Jace)
“”…”” (Shina & Pariel)
Bored of his answer, Pariel orders normal roasted chicken, bread and soup for everyone, including Jace.
“”Oi, why do you look a little disappointed!?”” (Shina & Pariel)
Pariel and Shina protested in unison.
“It ain’t so gross. Also, its nutritional value is high.” (Jace)
“Yeah, it’s just as Jace says. Even in Highland it’s often eaten as preserved food. How nostalgic. It’s been a long time, so I also…” (Riezel)
“”NO!!”” (Shina & Pariel)
Ordering quickly, Shina and Pariel chased the waitress away. It might be delicious, but for these teenage girls its outward appearance is just too much of a shock.
“Which reminds me, Jace, where were you before you came to Mismarca?” (Riezel)
“Ah, that’s right. Now that I think about it, I didn’t hear even the slightest rumor about you all this time.” (Shina)
Amid spurred on the conversation as well.
“My Brave, even though you’re so distinctive with your white hair, one eye, and one arm; the only real news about you was that of when you received the oracle’s prophecy, wasn’t it?” (Amid)
“Indeed. You didn’t even check in with any churches or temples to report, right? That’s why I was sure…” (Riezel)
“I hoped that you might have already been eaten by some monster a good while ago, though.” (Shina)
At Shina’s offensive words, Riezel sighs wearily.
“Back then, we went our separate ways after you said that you were going to the western region, but…don’t tell me that you actually went there!?” (Riezel)
“Sure did.” (Jace)
The western region…a den of monsters. It is truly a wasteland, where monster sightings can be up to several hundred or thousand times greater than any other area. It’s said that even majin cannot survive there.
That’s why Pariel absolutely couldn’t believe it either. It was so natural that even the haughty Shina narrowed her eyes.
“…You, Braves aren’t allowed to lie, you know?” (Shina)
“Yeah. And I figured even if I said anythin’ no one would believe me anyway. So I didn’t bother.” (Jace)
Precisely because the story was what it was, it didn’t sound like a bluff.
“Hee, you’re claiming something pretty interesting there, aren’t you? Then tell us how far you went.” (Shina)
“To Plateau 473.” (Jace)
“If you just keep goin’ south in the western region, ya’ll end up in a place like that. Bah, only the lot from that trashy country called it that anyway. I don’t know its true name.” (Jace)
Everyone looked blankly at Jace.
“Mr. Jace, are you saying that people live in the western region? Nooo waaay…” (Pariel)
“It ain’t no real country, but there are people there. Criminals, wanted, and runaways…people like that built camps and scrape together a living. Bounty hunters after them folks, and monster hunters wantin’ a quick buck camp out there too.” (Jace)
Riezel’s eyes sparkled in admiration.
“I heard about it in rumors, but…they really exist, don’t they?” (Riezel)
“Yeah. But, there ain’t a single decent soul out there. S’only folks who all got their own demons. I dunno if they don’t come back or can’t come back or both, but…that’s probably the reason why there ain’t any stories.” (Jace)
A refuge for drifters no longer capable of living normally on this side. That’s why there are no travelers, no trade, and not even stories are passed between the two. Even if stories were told, nobody would be interested in listening. So they aren’t told.
“It was a good place for me.” (Jace)
That last comment was the most authentic part of this tale. That yearning….no, it’s as if he was saying that he belongs with those people.
“However…you are a Brave after all.”
“No one regards me as such.” (Jace)
Without any sense of shame or inferiority, Jace lifts his armless right shoulder. Once he does…
“Indeed. That’s why I’ve been telling you to pay attention to your attire, you know?” (Shina)
“No, let me say it, Riezel. Do you hear me, Jace? That’s not because of the narrow-mindedness of people. In your case, you reap what you sow. At the very least you should hide that wound and stop wearing bandit-like clothes. Even if someone had the mind to help you, the way you are right now would scare them off. ” (Shina)
Jace shook his head.
“If I did something like that, some poor soul would end up thinkin’ I was a decent guy.” (Jace)
“Why do you keep speaking as if decency is a fundamental quality of a person!?” (Shina)
It was a serious reprimand.
“You know, I really don’t like that part of you. All people are equal and just under the Lord who granted them life. Certainly, the handicap given to you is a tough ordeal. But, to believe yourself unworthy simply because of that…!” (Shina)
“That ain’t it, Shina.” (Jace)
“What then!?” (Shina)
Jace’s expression changed.
“The demon king won’t be defeated by a decent guy.” (Jace)
“Again with the demon king…!? Enough.” (Shina)
“In our generation, you guys are surely the strongest. But, did either of you ever step foot even once into the western region?” (Jace)
“gh…That, is…but…” (Shina)
Biting her lip, Shina casts her eyes down.
At the same time, seemingly coming to his senses after seeing that…Jace returns to his usual sour look again.
“Ah, of course I’m not saying that you guys are in the wrong. There are probably plenty of people that need your power here. But, no matter what, that’s impossible for me. With one arm, I’m already at my limit just protecting myself. Therefore I will at least use my life, which I can protect by myself, to kill the demon king.” (Jace)
Upon Riezel’s voice, Jace laughed for the first time. However, it carries a distinct edge of self-deprecation.
“Right now, if there isn’t really a demon king, then i”m probably just broken. But if I became decent and stopped believing in the uncertain existence of the demon king, then I wouldn’t know what to make of myself. You can take it as a consolation for my insecurity. Anyway, stop pestering me ‘bout how I look. ‘Sides, it’s pretty comfy. ” (Jace)
Shina looked down, apparently feeling ashamed.
“…I’m sorry, Jace. I misjudged you a bit…” (Shina)
“Don’ mind. We haven’t had many opportunities to talk either, but…s’probably my fault cuz I’m bad at talkin’.” (Jace)
(How would you put it…?) (Pariel)
He’s decent, this Brave. Probably too decent, to the point of being too sentimental.
However, I misjudged him as well, Pariel thought. Shina too. There were times when I thought she was too arrogant…but she apologized sincerely when she realized she was wrong…she’s really an exceptional Brave.
“But…in the end it’s rather sad, isn’t it? Living for the sake of revenge. Right, Jace, what about your country? Can’t you go back to your birthplace? What about your family?”
“My country was destroyed. Together with my family. The same time my hair, eye and arm…” (Jace)
Shina seems to have drawn herself into a smaller ball with each sentence. Pariel takes pity on her, nudged by her own instincts as well, and asks,
“Destroyed…you say?” (Pariel)
“Yeah. A place called Elkrazel, to the northwest of the Empire.” (Jace)
“Isn’t that the sister country of Highland!? You were a survivor of that country!?” (Riezel)
“What an exaggerated wording. It ain’t like the whole nation was slaughtered. But, you’re right…” (Jace)
This time he smiled for real, and not in self-mockery.
“Besides dealin’ with the demon king, I want to try rebuilding that country.” (Jace)
“Eh!? My Brave, are you actually a prince!?” (Amid)
“Are ya an idiot? Which part exactly makes ya think I’m a prince?” (Jace)
“Makes sense,” says Amid.
“However, I happened to hear rumors that the missing princess might still be alive. If that story is true, I’m going to help her with the rebuilding…that’s all I’m saying.” (Jace)
Having completely lost her previous hostility, Shina nodded with a smile.
“That’s a great idea, Jace! For that reason as well, we have to defeat the Empire! You should free your country from the Empire and search for that princess rather than something like the demon king!” (Shina)
“Don’t joke with me. The only clue is the crest of the royal family engraved on her back. It’s impossible to search for something like that. The prospects are even bleaker than searching for the demon king.” (Jace)
Hearing that, Shina and Riezel become awkward.
“Y-Yeah…that’s certainly difficult, I suppose…” (Riezel)
“T-That’s right…there’s definitely no way that you can just ask women to take off their clothes…” (Shina)
“But, if I can defeat the demon king…if I can search for her in the open after having proven my strength, wouldn’t she be more likely to come forward? S’the idea, I guess. Just a hunch though. ” (Jace)
“…Mmh? What’s up with everyone?” (Amid)
“You, how many cups does that make?” (Jace)
“I’ve only had five small cups♪” (Amid)
“You know, sister. I won’t tell you to not drink, but…don’t you think it’s about time to call it quits soon? We will get up early in the morning, too.” (Riezel)
“What naive stuff are you spouting, Riezel!? No matter how you look at her, this woman is no decent sister! Women like her, pretending to be sisters, have been arrested as swindlers that sponge off adventurers and Braves right before me!” (Shina)
“Haa? Swindler? This me? Doest thou not know the words, thou must not doubt others?” (Amid)
“Wouldn’t the words, thou must not drink, come before that!?” (Shina)
“Thou must not be swallowed up even if thou drink, you heretic!” (Amid)
“H-Heresy…!? That’s not a nice thing to say. Are you saying that a Brave like me is a heretic!? Come outside!” (Shina)
“Oh~, aren’t ya all eager to have a go!? Don’t get full of yourself just because you’re a Brave! You guys were just chosen in the oracle’s lottery, but we are the family of the Lord…!” (Amid)
*fume* *fume* *sparkles between them*
Due to the unusual sight of a fight between a sister and a Brave, the few guests in the vicinity start cheering them on.
“H-Hey, Jace!? Where are you going!?” (Riezel)
“Sleep, you say. Help me stop them! Hey! Jace!!” (Riezel)
“Are ya an idiot? Leave me alone. Not like anybody likes me anyway.” (Jace)
Just as he’s about to leave the table, Jace suddenly notices…
“Hey, Pariel.” (Jace)
“Eh? Ah, what…? Mr. Jace…” (Pariel)
“Do you feel bad?” (Jace)
“…No. Not particularly. It’s nothing…” (Pariel)
“Then it’s fine.” (Jace)
Just as abruptly, Jace quickly goes up to the inn’s second floor, and only Riezel is left suffering scratches and blows as he tries to move between them.
The night wears on.
The second day after the Braves departed from the castle. Or, the third day after Mahiro disappeared. The figures of two people can no longer be found in the assembly hall.
“It appears that we will be without Prince Mahiro and Prince Riezel today as well…I say, Mismarca, what on earth happened?” (Zemun)
The one who put it into words was Zemun’s king. The attendants from other countries immediately piped up after him as well.
“The other day I heard a rather ridiculous rumor that the prince was seen fleeing the castle dripping wet. Did your honorable son catch a cold by chance?” (Kaien)
Standing next to the Mismarcan king, Kaien speculated. Those with sharp minds concluded that the Mismarcan king had made his move based on just these words. ‘It’s fine to take no account of those folks that don’t see anything beyond gossip.
Now then, how’s our king going to respond?
“Mismarca. At the end of the day, we are gathered around the same table as comrades. There should be no secrets between us.” (Zemun)
“…I suppose you’re right. I thought it would cause you gentlemen unnecessary anxiety, but it looks like you have all already begun to come to your own conclusions. Then I shan’t keep it a secret.”
Did the unshakable king finally cave in? With that thought, those present couldn’t help but show some of their elation…but there were also many who felt a sense of discomfort over his way of broaching the topic.
“Causing us anxiety, what do you mean by that?” (Zemun)
“My child Mahiro has apparently been kidnapped by someone.” (Mismarca)
At once a stir swept across the whole venue. Even the Republic’s marshal, who is always laughing sarcastically, cannot hide his surprise.
“Is that true?”
“Indeed. I beseeched the Braves in confidence, and our other absentee, Prince Riezel, departed with the other Braves who had gathered to return him to his rightful place.” (Mismarca)
“You’re saying that it wasn’t a test for the selection…!?”
“Precisely because the situation is what it is, it’s been publicly announced to be so.” (Mismarca)
King Zemun, who has paled considerably, stands up, his chair skittering a short distance away.
“Mismarca! Why did you hide this until now!? Who’s the other party that kidnapped him then!?” (Zemun)
“That is, no demands have been sent my way yet. However, a strict guard protocol had been established, not only within the castle, but also in the castletown. To slip through that, it’s certainly not a deed that can be accomplished by any average retainer.” (Mismarca)
“The Empire! It must be the Empire!”
“What a cowardly act…!”
The one who had regained his composure first and spoke up was the marshal.
“As King Mismarca says, this castle is currently in a state that may as well be called martial law. It’s not a situation where an outsider can secretly enter this place, much less forcibly remove a specific person. In that case…”
Suddenly, the more quick-minded of the room were immediately caught in a panic. There was no mistaking what the marshal was implying, despite his roundabout wording.
“You don’t mean to say…within the alliance…?”
In the blink of an eye the assembly hall turns into a place where everyone suspects everyone, allies now regarding each other as enemies.
“…Hey, marshal. Can you vouch for the innocence of your own country?” (Zemun)
“I cannot, King Zemun. My country is vast and also a republic, thus there are many factions. It is quite possible that there might be folks with bad intentions.”
This man is of quite the high caliber after all, Kaien admired. At first I was suspicious why the Republic sent the likes of a soldier, and not a politician, to this meeting, but…I agree, he’s conducting himself much better than any unskilled minister.
Exactly because it’s unknown which country might be the offender, it has caused quite a stir at present. Is it for the sake of drawing out something further by exacerbating the worries of King Mismarca? Or is it a show of force demonstrating how far the Republic will go if push comes to shove? Anyway, his approach of first turning the situation to his favor, even at the expense of good relations, deserves admiration.
(But then again…) (Kaien)
Too bad our side knows the truth and his efforts are wasted.
“Or maybe that might be the actual aim of our enemy.” (Mismarca)
Upon King Mismarca’s words, everyone, who had lost their presence of mind, turned around.
“Deliberately not divulging their whereabouts and not sending a claim of responsibility might be for the sake of shaking our unity and inciting our suspicions like this.” (Mismarca)
The place, which had been wrapped up by insecurity, is suddenly within control again.
“…Certainly, precisely because it’s a time where the Empire is preparing for the decisive battle, their real intention would be to cause chaos from within, huh?”
“However, King Mismarca, you are sure fairly calm about all of this…what do you intend to do if demands do appear?” (Zemun)
“Nothing in particular.” (Mismarca)
King Zemun snorted in an exaggerated manner.
“You don’t have to bluff. Certainly he’s a good-for-nothing boy, but he’s your son, isn’t he…? It’s still fine if he just dies. But, do you plan to stay neutral even if he’s sent back with his limbs cut off?” (Zemun)
“I will raise a toast as I watch on.” (Mismarca)
At King Mismarca’s perfectly emotionless words, those present, most of whom were at the age where they had their own children and grandchildren, were shocked speechless. Even Kaien, who was aware of the truth, could not remain calm.
Granted that it’s not like he was actually kidnapped, but it’s still a situation where he might fall into someone’s hands.
“Are you insane!? You’re someone’s child and someone’s parent as well, aren’t you…!?” (Zemun)
“Indeed, I’m his parent, but I also hold the position of being this alliance’s leader. There’s no way that I will allow this unity to fall apart for a mere child.” (Mismarca)
Just as when he dodged the question about the Holy Devil Cup, even King Zemun, who was known for his cunningness, couldn’t help but sharply take a breath at the calm visage of King Mismarca.
“In the first place, as all of you gentlemen know, he is a fool beyond saving. No matter how often I scolded him, he continued to play around in the castletown. In that case, it’s due to his own indiscretion first and foremost. If I consider that he has been useful in unifying our hearts by making you worry like this, I will rather gratefully accept it with pride.” (Mismarca)
A short pause.
“Therefore it’s moot to worry any further. I, as leader, won’t yield to any kind of threat. I’d like you gentlemen to freely discuss just as you did before.” (Mismarca)
“You…idiot…! Surely you are simply tired…!” (Zemun)
“Discuss what?!’ was clearly written all over King Zemun’s face as he sighs deeply.
“The outline has already been decided. The last few days have simply been empty discourse. Everybody, let’s pause the meeting for two or three days until there are new movements by the Empire.” (Zemun)
There was not a single person who raised an objection. The elderly king declared with his eyes wide with anger,
“Mismarca…what you said just now is nothing a decent parent would say, you know!? Take a little break. Got it? Hey, prime minister! Inform us right away if something happens, understand!?” (Zemun)
“Yes, I shall do so.” (Kaien)
And thus the day’s meeting was, abnormally, adjourned within less than an hour. After everyone left the assembly hall, only the king and Kaien were left.
“How did it look to you, Kaien?” (Mismarca)
“I can’t say anything other than that you have truly done well. Simultaneously unifying the hearts of the nations’ representatives while discouraging them from making a move on the prince in future…” (Kaien)
“…I feel like you went a bit too far, though.” (Kaien)
“I see. They were all my true feelings, however.” (Mismarca)
Revealing a smile and loosening his stiff expression for a change, the king gets up from his seat at the head of the table.
“Your Majesty…?” (Kaien)
“Well, I’m worried as well. Therefore I’m also putting my faith in the Braves. But, in the worst case scenario…that’s the kind of talk it might be.” (Mismarca)
If Mahiro is a snake, then he is the snake king. Concealing his personal anxieties so flawlessly…it truly is the mask of a king.
(…A bloodline of snakes…eh?) (Kaien)
“Ah, if it’s those two, I think I saw them yesterday…they got on the regular carriage headed south to the battlefield carrying some pretty big bags. Although everyone knows that you should evacuate to the north. Even the peddlers said so, ya know?”
“Mmh? Ah, yeah, I saw them. Working away from home as peddlers at such a young age, how admirable. Let’s see, they’re probably doing business with the soldiers about now?”
“You’re looking for peddlers? Then, if you follow this street for a bit, you will find a reception issuing permits. Go and have a look. They should have gone to that place if they want to open a business here.”
“Are you guys also looking for 15 years old peddlers by chance?”
“Us too, that means…?”
Riezel exchanges looks with Shina.
“Since this morning, many Braves have come asking the same thing. But I’m sorry, we tried to look into it in various ways as well, but they haven’t been recorded over here.”
“I see…thank you very much.”
The two left the reception after giving their thanks.
“How did it go?” (Pariel)
“Nothing…it seems no one has seen them.” (Shina)
Shina responded to Pariel and shook her head.
Just one kilometer from here is the alliance’s encampment. Built to accommodate the 100,000 soldiers of the army stationed here, it is a sprawling compound. The various colors of each nation’s troops mingle as flags, warhorses, carriages and soldiers go about their business.
In front of where the party is standing, there’s a market area freed up by Lazurka for the private merchants. There are various street stalls from all over assembled here. Because the market is so wide and varied that some say there is nothing that can’t be obtained here, it’s not just the off-duty soldiers, but even the citizens who enjoy making their rounds of the stalls.
It’s certainly not the atmosphere of a war-zone.
“How troublesome. It’s definitely an area that they would come to, but…”
The Braves, who departed from Mismarca with them and likely arrived here in the same way, discover Riezel and Shina, and gather around them. Unfortunately, the discussion around them is simply everybody trying to gauge what information everybody else has, meaning that they are all empty-handed.
Maybe someone already found them… Pariel hoped faintly. She was sent to capture Mahiro and all that, but his safety was still the most important. As long as I can be assured that he’s fine, it will be enough, she believed.
As they continue blindly speculating…
“Oh! Is that you, Pariel?”
A familiar husky voice. When she turns around,
He wore the usual eye-patch and cane carved out of the core of an old evergreen oak, but now he’s also gallantly dressed with his combat robe and the gown. The old sorcerer general stood there with an imposing air.
“Wow! You look so cool. I almost didn’t recognize you!” (Pariel)
“Ho, ho, ho, I see, I see. Well, unlike a swordswoman like you, sorcery is my main duty now that I’m old. I still have a long way to go before I start losing against you youngsters, though.” (Shrayban)
It’s really wonderful that he’s in good health.
“By the way, what are you doing in a place like this? I haven’t received any information about reinforcements.” (Shrayban)
“Ah…umm, about that…” (Pariel)
Even if I tell him, I might only make him worry unnecessarily. However, he’s also one of the main authorities of Mismarca, next to Kaien and Edelweiss.
The Braves, finished with their discussion, once again scatter to continue searching. Riezel and the others return to Pariel.
“Ooh, isn’t the one coming over there Highland’s Prince Riezel?” (Shrayban)
“General Shrayban! It’s been a while. You look great!” (Riezel)
“Ho, ho, ho. My, my, I see you got stronger again. I know it’s unbecoming of my age, but each time this old man hears about your exploits, I am proud to have taught you magic.” (Shrayban)
However, that carefree laughter only lasted a moment.
“But…now that I look around me, it seems like many famous Braves have gathered here. Pariel, is it a secret decree?” (Shrayban)
“Yes, Shrayban-sama. About that…” (Pariel)
She briefly updates him with the sequence of events. About the Brave selection associated with the Holy Devil Cup, and their subsequent search for Mahiro.
“Hoh…he finally slipped out of not just the castle but the country? Ho, ho, he’s certainly worked hard this time around.” (Shrayban)
“I-It’s not a laughing matter, Shrayban-sama!” (Pariel)
“Well, sorry, sorry. You’re right there.” (Shrayban)
As the elderly general continues to laugh loudly regardless, Riezel asks
“General, have you seen him? For example, if he’s not going around not as a merchant, but has slipped in among the troops…” (Riezel)
“Well, I haven’t seen him…the ones gathered here are only the best and strongest elites of each country. There are no child soldiers. If there was someone around the prince’s age around here, they would stand out quite a bit…” (Shrayban)
So this is as far as we get. Next to the silent Jace, Amid piped up,
“But…I wonder, why was the prince so eager to come to this country?” (Amid)
Pariel still hadn’t told them the truth about the conclusion they reached at the office.
“Isn’t Lazurka a place where a decisive battle could occur at any time? Once that happens, the option of running away will disappear…”
Shina placed her hand on her chin and thought it over.
“…I hadn’t thought about it until now, but couldn’t it be that we’re being deceived?” (Shina)
“But…the information about him heading to this country came from Prime Minister Kaien. Besides…”
Catching Riezel’s look, Pariel nods.
“Even the king agreed…”
“No, even if the prime minister was telling the truth, what about the soldier who came to inform him? What about the hunter said to have told the soldier? In the first place, tell me where exactly in this country is a place where he definitely won’t be caught?” (Shina)
I see, Pariel thinks. As long as he spreads such false information, he will just need a double or whatever to head this way. After all, all the Braves will be lured here on the vague eyewitness reports.
“Well…if we’re talking about Prince Mahiro, it might be unexpectedly possible.” (Shrayban)
“…What do you mean?”
Shrayban answers Shina’s question.
“One month ago, during the incident that led to the formation of this alliance army, the Imperial army’s advance unit led by Princess Lunas surrendered to His Majesty’s scheme and took flight.” (Shrayban)
“If it’s about that, I have heard of it in Highland too, but…did Prince Mahiro do anything then?” (Riezel)
“It was that Prince Mahiro who faced Princess Lunas, who had made it to the throne room, all by himself.” (Shrayban)
Shina frowns, obviously doubtful.
“With the Sword of Gleaming Light as an opponent…? It would be impossible for him to win.” (Shina)
“True. You would probably be right if it had been a direct fight.” (Shrayban)
“If it wasn’t a fight…what did Mahiro use then?” (Shina)
One could catch a glimpse of pride on Shrayban’s expression as he spoke. That’s why Pariel backs him up.
“It’s the truth. I know because I was there. The prince refused to use any kind of violence. It’s a weird story, but if it’s for the sake of avoiding casualties, he won’t hesitate to sacrifice anything…he’s a person with that kind of mindset.” (Pariel)
His hatred of violence. Even for them, the contents of that letter should have made it plain as day. In the very first place he said that he didn’t need any guards and that he would rather escape than fight. And the words at the very end of the letter: Words are what’s known as truth of man’s world.
“No way…are you saying that he slipped out of the country in order to stop this war!?”
“Yeah…if he plans to do that, I believe that Lazurka would be the correct choice.” (Shrayban)
Riezel asks next,
“General Shrayban, where can we find the Supreme Commander of the alliance’s army?” (Riezel)
“As for that, the frontline headquarters have been set up inside Lazurka’s palace. No matter how smart the prince might be, it’s not a place he can trespass readily, I think.” (Shrayban)
It’s a major militaristic country. Moreover, a frontline base that’s prepared for war would have a security system at the same or even higher level than Mismarca, where the heads of the state meet. Even if that’s the case, the palace is a central part of the urban area. There would be no need to come out here. Impersonating a merchant would also be unnecessary.
Frankly speaking, it doesn’t really fit the condition of “definitely won’t be caught”…
“…So he’s that sort of guy, eh? Then it’s decided.” (Jace)
“Jace? Did you think of something?”
Shina looks joyful. The others are surprised, however.
“It’s probably a location that guy would naively believe he would never be caught in. And, it’s the worst situation in order to test our skills and his own skill at running away. To stop the war, there’s a place where he must go in any case…”
An insight that seems to match Mahiro’s thinking.
“Ain’t it just a stone’s throw away?” (Jace)
Jace is looking in the direction of the alliance’s defensive line. However, his gaze is pointed further than that. The instant Pariel realized, she felt all blood drain from her entire body.
“Y-…You d-…don’t mean…! The Imperial army’s encampment….!?” (Pariel)
“Hey, Prince.” (Emilio)
“Emilio. I told you many times over that I’m currently Mahimahi, a wealthy merchant of the southern seas…” (Mahiro)
“You are an idiot, aren’t you?” (Emilio)
Emilio said to the bearded man with glasses walking with him.
“What idiot, how rude. Isn’t this a perfect disguise?” (Mahiro)
“No, that disguise…” (Emilio)
Pausing, Emilio shades his eyes and stares into the distance. The huge plains are dyed gold in the evening sun sinking below the horizon.
The Great Line Plains, currently known as the buffer zone, stretch before them. To the north, the territory of the Lazurka Kingdom. In the south, small mountains stretch into the distance, marking the beginning of the imperial territory. The two of them proceeded to the top of a gentle hill that was covered in trees.
“…Have we already crossed the border?” (Mahiro)
“Oh, no. Come to think of it, we’ve come a long way.” (Emilio)
Hands on his hips, Mahiro watches the sunset as emotions flood through him. Of course, the alliance maintains strict surveillance of the traffic between the north and the south from the defense line, but that’s all.
As expected of the capable sorcerer of Grindelwald with his innocent face. Once Emilio skillfully made use of magic and items, fooling a couple of bored soldiers on guard duty was no trouble.
“You know, if you want to go back now’s the time…” (Emilio)
“Don’t be stupid. The old geezer is hanging around on the alliance’s side.” (Mahiro)
“Shrayban the Gale, huh? …Certainly, if we end up there, simple magic like the one we used before will be likely seen through.” (Emilio)
The evening sun has set. The land is turning dark. Only the remaining red glow of the sunset lingers in the sky.
“Let’s camp here for the day?” (Emilio)
Emilio shrugs off his rucksack and rolls his stiff shoulders. Then he takes out a pen and a notebook, scribbles something down, and pastes the notes to several tree trunks around them.
He’s deploying a barrier.
“In such a place? If we make a fire, the smoke will give us away…” (Mahiro)
“Prince, drop your rucksack as well. There’s a camping stove in there.” (Emilio)
Once Mahiro does as told, Emilio retrieved something resembling a tripod with a rack.
“I see. I guess with this there won’t be any smoke.” (Mahiro)
“The high price of acquiring a compressed gas cylinder is its weakness though. Hence there won’t be any cooking. I will only boil some water. Dinner is…” (Emilio)
Further rummaging sounds.
“Ooh! Aren’t those cup noodles…!?” (Mahiro)
“Prince, you like those, huh? Can’t you get better food in the castle?” (Emilio)
“Kitakata1 flavor! Do you have my favorite, Kitakata flavor!?” (Mahiro)
“Yeah, yeah…I have it. No need to get so excited.” (Emilio)
It’s just boiling water in a kettle and filling the cup. The minimum amount of food to sustain oneself.
Having finished eating, Emilio wrapped himself up in a blanket and sat, leaning against a tree trunk.
“Good night then.” (Emilio)
“Eeh~? You’re going to sleep already~?” (Mahiro)
“…We will get up early tomorrow. I will leave you behind if you don’t get up.” (Emilio)
Yes. The reason why Mahiro is with him in the first place, is because he’s heading to the empire’s encampment with Emilio as a guide. Some shady merchants like Emilio will calmly cross borders without regard for the country they are trespassing into, for the sake of money.
Mahiro targeted that. In exchange for having Emilio bring him along, he works as his porter.
“What about the pillow fight? Sevens? Mahjong?” (Mahiro)
“Do you think this is some kind of sleepover? …the pillows, cards and mahjong tiles are merchandise, therefore you are not allowed to play around with them.” (Emilio)
Mahiro obediently gets into his sleeping bag. Since he isn’t as accustomed to traveling as Emilio, he has minimal bedding rather than just a blanket.
“Emilio, what did you write in your barrier notebook?” (Mahiro)
“Punish the fool that violates the commandments. Punish. Punish. Death. Death. Cover with the curtain of darkness. Grant a peaceful place of rest to me. Grant an eternal rest to a fool. Roso Noare.” (Emilio)
“I-…Isn’t that a dreadful chant…?” (Mahiro)
“You must not leave on your own accord. You’ll be cast into darkness if you try coming back without any prep.” (Emilio)
Even though the sun had just sunk, it was a quiet evening. No chirping bugs. Only the stars twinkled annoyingly across the sky, shining through the gaps in the trees.
“By the way, Prince.” (Emilio)
“What is it?” (Mahiro)
“Why do you want to go to the Empire’s encampment?” (Emilio)
“There’s something I want to confirm…” (Mahiro)
Hoo, hoo. An owl’s call could be heard in the night.
“Say Emilio, why do you think wars happen?” (Mahiro)
That’s a question that has been debated for centuries, since the times of the ancient civilization. It’s a problem with no answer. You know, like the madman’s paradox?” (Emilio)
The madman lies, said another madman. Now then, is he right or wrong?
“There’s no answer, that’s the idea here. It’s something that people with too much time on their hands come up with.” (Emilio)
“Well…I suppose I will change the question then…if it was you, for what reason would you want to go to war?” (Mahiro)
“Money, I suppose.” (Emilio)
“…I was an idiot for asking.” (Mahiro)
“Don’t say that, stupid prince. War is the ideal business. It would be a waste if I didn’t properly take advantage of it after everything that had to happen for it to begin. Moreover, it endlessly creates nothing but demand. It’s an economic bubble that never bursts.” (Emilio)
“…I see. Well that’s true as well, I guess.” (Mahiro)
Take armor: when a person dies, even if his armor was new, that’s it. Who would want to wear bloodstained, second-hand armor? It’s the same for a sword. If the owner dies, both are treated as if they had protected their owner to the bitter end. Even though, if you looked at it objectively, these swords and armor could still last for years to come.
A bunker, constructed with large amounts of concrete and reinforced with iron, will be turned into dust by a single magic attack. Wood that has been alive for generations will be destroyed as watchtowers fall.
And that’s not all that’s being transported to the front lines. Indeed, everything moves. Big moves too. If people move, money moves as well.
“Well, for me war is a welcome opportunity. I will be troubled if it evolves into such chaos that I can’t set up a shop, but the wars in distant places are very welcome. Even if I have to move away from home to work, I almost never exceed my budget.” (Emilio)
And then takes a breath.
“…It’s impossible, Prince.” (Emilio)
“What is?” (Mahiro)
“Once it starts, it’s something impossible to control or stop.” (Emilio)
There was absolutely no emotion in Emilio’s eyes as Mahiro turned over in his sleeping bag.
“No, this war still hasn’t started yet. It’s impossible to make it end. No human would be capable of that feat.” (Emilio)
“This is the beginning of the quagmire. One that will swallow up everything. The expendable materials, money, and people. It won’t stop until everything has been exhausted. That’s the game called war after all.” (Emilio)
“That’s right.” (Mahiro)
Emilio’s previously expressionless face suddenly completely changes – into a smile.
“So, why are you going there?” (Emilio)
“Didn’t I tell you already? For confirmation.” (Mahiro)
“Hmm… The Brave you mentioned, what was he called again…?” (Emilio)
“You mean Prince Riezel? Or Shina-san?” (Mahiro)
“No. The other one. The one you called crazy.” (Emilio)
“Jace…yeah, I feel like I heard about him from someone, but…I wonder what it was about…” (Emilio)
“Really? If such weird Brave achieved some accomplishment, the rumors of that would likely have reached even my ears, though.” (Mahiro)
“That can’t be helped. Information leaving the buffer zone has been restricted quite tightly. If it’s about a major general like General Reiner, it’ll probably reach via Veronica…but as for a Brave…” (Emilio)
Emilio shrugs his shoulders apathetically.
In reality, the level of Braves in this day and age is really only this much. There are Braves who only protect the village where they were born; there are also Braves who butter up countries and nobles just for the sake of building a fortune for their retirement. Others are Heroes of Justice that will save the people from monsters and villains.
That’s why even the Braves themselves don’t really believe that they will defeat the demon king. In the first place, people don’t expect Braves to do anything like that either, since the people have had plenty of protected land to live on for a while now. That’s why there are even some people who call Braves a tool of the church. They say, the demon king and their army are nothing more than imaginary enemies invented by the church to protect their dignity.
Someone like Riezel, who is famous and has crossed through many countries from the Republic to the Strife Zone at his age, is a rare exception. It is exactly because such a person appears only once in several years or even decades, that it’s said that Braves only care about their titles and crests.
It’s possible to win fame without defeating the demon king. However, they won’t be able to become legends whose stories are passed down to future generations, despite being heroes.
“Emilio, do you think the demon king exists?” (Mahiro)
“Sure, he does. Why?” (Emilio)
Emilio readily replies to such a question.
“…What about God?” (Mahiro)
“He exists too, no? I never met him, though.” (Emilio)
Emilio pulls his head under the blanket.
“You know what, Prince. Stop it already and go to sleep… Though I will keep you company if you’re going to talk about money.” (Emilio)
“No, it’s fine. I will sleep now. I’m tired too…” (Mahiro)
“Well, good night then.” (Emilio)
“Good night.” (Mahiro)
If one asks about the origin of violence, it’s the will of those wielding it. I said as much back then. If you reverse that, wielding violence is not possible for people who don’t have the will. In that case…as long as there’s no will to defeat the demon king, no one will be able to do so.
He said that he will kill the demon king.
Mahiro recalled his appearance without thinking.
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