Reiji rides his horse north. He hurries straight through the grove of trees instead of detouring around the mountain. Ominous gray clouds loom overhead. Even though he’s surrounded and hidden by trees, the path forward fills him with both anxiety and a sense of danger. All he sees are shadows against an ash-gray background. With caution overtaking his recklessness, he slows down.
Aster soldiers appear out of nowhere and block his path. The commanding officer says, “Halt!”

Reiji pulls his horse’s reins to avoid crashing into the soldier. Many horses can be heard neighing as they’re forced to stop.

The man directs a harsh tone towards Reiji and his party. “Who are you? Answer me!”

“We’re….”

The senior knight, Gregory, steps forward as Reiji gives a meek reply and places himself between the two. “Insolent fool! Who do you think you are? You dare obstruct Princess Titania and Yuusha Reiji?”

“What!?”

Gregory’s strict expression and thunderous voice shocks the soldiers. The faltering soldiers take nervous glances at the two Gregory mentioned and realize their mistake. All of them drop down and kneel towards Titania and Reiji. “Fo- Forgive me! Please, accept my apology!”

“Do not worry. Judging from your appearance, you’re soldiers stationed at Klant, correct?”

“Yes, we serve Duke Hadrias.” The soldier is grateful to Titania’s leniency.

The atmosphere within Reiji’s party grows heavy at the soldier’s response. Only Titania, thanks to years of practicing self-control, doesn’t break her form. “Duke Hadrias is here as well, correct?”

“He is ahead with the main camp.”

“Take us to him.”

The soldiers acknowledge the command with another, “Yes.” Despite their nervousness, they encircle the party within a protective formation and lead them forward. Fresh leaves recently fallen crunch underneath the soldier’s boots as they march forward.

Titania has her horse move with the formation. While Reiji does the same, Luka rides up to him. Mizuki, who sits behind Luka, leans towards Reiji for a private conversation. “Reiji-kun, about Duke Hadrias.”

“Yeah, he’s the guy who used Suimei as a decoy. I never thought he’d be here.”

“Ar-are we really going to see him?”

“…Looks like it.” They’re off to meet their enemy. Reiji, upon narrowing his eyes, notices Mizuki turn stiff. Even though they’re about to meet the person who tricked their friend, he cannot let his anxiety overwhelm him.

Mizuki appeals to him with a face full of worry. “Reiji-kun, don’t rush. Even with Tia, there’s no telling what will happen if we involve ourselves with the aristocracy.”

“Yeah… I understand. Thank you for worrying, Mizuki.” Is she worried that I’ll lose myself in anger and attack him? However, that won’t happen. It won’t. Gregory is who they should worry about. His concern as to whether or not he should say something is cut short.

A clearing within the oak trees reveals an organization of knights, soldiers, and mages. Even though yesterday’s rain muddied the ground and makes footing difficult, their resolution stands firm. Their sense of duty keeps them organized, a testament to their years of discipline.

In the middle of the gathered soldiers, wrapped within the tension, stands an impressive figure in jet black armor. He’s in his forties like Gregory, possibly younger. A large scar runs down the side of his face. Underneath it is a well-kept beard. His body, at about six feet of height, is wrapped with toned muscles. Despite his relaxed state, he exudes a natural aura of authority that makes those around him stand at attention. He feels like a general.

The commander is notified of Reiji’s party’s arrival. After two or three words, the gathered knights and soldiers part to allow him a path towards them. Once he’s before Titania, despite his impressive military power, he kneels without hesitation.

Titania says, “Please stand, Duke Hadrias.”

The commander, Duke Hadrias, rises at her words. “Princess Titania, quite some time has passed since we last met at that evening party several months ago.”

“It has been a while, Duke Hadrias. You look well despite everything that’s happening.”

“Your highness, this is nothing more than a cool spring breeze. I am Lukas D. Hadrias. While many consider this an unpleasant rain, to me it is but a cool spring breeze…”

“This a cool spring breeze? That would make my concern needless.”

“……”

Everyone becomes speechless at the exchange between Titania and Hadrias. It’s both amazing and painful to watch. The words Titania spoke after the greeting were like a slap to the face. Admitting she’s acting like this because of friendship is difficult. Despite those feelings, Reiji’s expression from atop of his horse is full of contempt.

The silence filling the encampment creates a different type of tension. Even though her words are not spoken to offend, Hadrias neither receives them as jest or with a smile. He returns them in a quiet voice, “As always, the words of your Highness are quite sever. –Is that man over there our summoned Yuusha, Shana Reiji-dono?”

“Yes.”

Hadrias turns towards Reiji with a composed expression. From within his eyes, however, he exerts an overwhelming sense of pride. This must be what Titania warned him about. With that thought in mind, he musters up his spirit and returns the stare. This guy…

That guy is the one responsible for setting up Suimei and the merchant caravan. He doesn’t hold a shred of doubt over what he did. Instead, he stands there with his pride on full display for everyone to see. That inhuman plan infuriates Reiji. For now, he suppresses his anger and adopts a tranquil attitude.

Hadrias closes his eyes and says, “Excuse my late greeting, Yuusha-dono. I am the one entrusted with his Majesty’s western province, Lukas D. Hadrias. I caught wind that the mazoku plan to invade our nation and came here to repel them.”

Out of arrogance, he both introduced himself and explained his reason for being there. Next he says, “Princess Titania, our summoned Yuusha-dono, why have you come here today?”

Reiji prepared a response to that question earlier. “…The mazoku are more active here. The situation in Aster worried me so I hurried here from the Nelfila Empire.”

“I see. You were forced to come all this way, my apologies.”

“No, as the Yuusha, this is my duty.”

Reiji uses a business like tone and in no time joins Titania in questioning Hadrias.

“Duke Hadrias, are the mazoku further ahead?”

“Taking our situation into account, I believe so.”

“Then, once you finish here, do you plan on launching an attack?”

“That depends on what my scouts report upon returning.”

Scouts, in other words, reconnaissance soldiers. Right now, judging by the number and formation of his soldiers, he looks ready to march an assault. However, there is a baffling disconnect between Hadrias’s words and the image presented. It makes the conversation between Titania and Hadrias difficult to follow. “To challenge the mazoku…isn’t this force too small?”

That’s right, the military force spread out before them is strangely small. There’s only one to two hundred soldiers. At least 1,000 soldiers should be required for this sort of operation.

“Yuusha-dono, have peace of mind. This isn’t the full force of my military. I have more forces in the north and south for a multipronged attack. Furthermore, I have set others aside for ambushes.”

“I see. I suppose that was needless worry on my part.”

“In truth, I plan to march my troops alongside those from Metal. Even though we’ve combined our forces, the best plan was to divide ourselves. The situation around you has been carefully crafted. I’ve even taken the weather into consideration. That’s why this is our current situation. Therefore, please forgive me for that.”

Reiji, upon hearing Hadrias explanation, tells him of his own plans. “Once the scouts return, we’ll head out as well.”

“How inspiring. Yuusha-dono, if you wouldn’t mind, I would prefer if you just watch the battle’s progress.”

Hadrias is sneering. Reiji is certain he sees the edge of Hadrias’s lips curl upward.

“—It’s fine. Maybe it’s alright for you to watch, but I am the Yuusha. I have a duty to uphold.”

“Fu, very well. I do not know what your purpose is, but if you’re going to proceed into the middle of the mazoku’s forces, I’ll accompany you partway.”

“……”

For the first time, Hadrias’s expression crumbles and gives way to a daring smile. Reiji feels his body tighten like a string upon hearing those words. Their real reason for being there would be exposed if that guy is with them. He feels a strong urge to turn towards Gregory, but succeeds in keeping his eyes on Hadrias.

Hadrias then says, “For now, wait for the scouts to return,” and returns to the center of his troops. Neither the princess nor Yuusha are spared his rude treatment. As the situation is now, there’s nothing they can do.

Titania narrows her eyes and says, “That person hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

Both Reiji and the princess think the same thing as they glare at his back. “How strange to hear you to speak like that. Do you hate him?”

“It’s just as you saw. Although I am unable to deliver false praise, I can present good will. That person, however, fuels antagonism through his condescending attitude and intimidating aura.”

The manner in which she gives her low evaluation is quite surprising. “…Tia, are you someone who hates losing?”

“Huh!? No…. well…. Reiji-sama, now that you’ve met Duke Hadrias, what is your impression of him?”

“Yeah, it was pretty surprising. He’s some guy, huh?” Reiji reveals his honest impression about Lukas D. Hadrias. Since that guy uses underhanded methods to manipulate others and is incredibly arrogant, he was expecting an aristocrat similar to a greasy tanuki. The reality is much worse.

“You’d think he’s a sleaze bag you won’t be able to stand the sight off, but in truth, he’s a never ending cycle of viciousness.”

“Hold on, Tia. I’m not going that far…. You really hate him, don’t you?”

“Reiji-sama, was that enough for you? Today is the first time I’ve ever heard the term, “guy,” come from your mouth.”

“Ahh….” What Titania points out is true. He spoke in such crude way without any forethought. He had intended to be careful with his speech around her, but his anger got the best of him.

Confusion fill Mizuki’s face. “I- is that guy going to fight too? Isn’t he a noble?”

“Duke Hadrias comes from Aster’s most prominent military family. Likewise, Duke Hadrias is distinguished arms master.”

Reiji isn’t surprise. Upon considering the extraordinary sense of intimidation that he’s naturally emitting, his willingness to come out onto the front line, and his well-sculpted figure, denying that he comes from a military background becomes impossible.

Mizuki, however, makes a grim face as she misunderstands. “He did have a deep scar across his face.”

“Yes, that scar is an injury he earned in battle long ago. I’ve never seen him fight directly, but I hear his skills are very formidable.” Titania speaks while skillfully manipulating her horse into turning around so she can face everyone. Then, while paying attention to anyone who might be eavesdropping, “I’m sure you can see for yourselves that Hadrias-kyo isn’t negligent. Reiji-sama, Mizuki, that person absolutely will never allow you to reach your own goals. That’s why, Luka, Loffrey, I ask the two of you for help.”

The two knights’, “Yes!” come out like heartbeats.

“As for you, Gregory, please continue as you have been doing.”

“But, princess-hime…”

“Do not worry. Hadrias-kyo may have enacted plans against you. I need you with me for my peace of mind.

“….Princess-hime… my apologies.”

Gregory bows his head to Titania’s reliable words. Loffrey is so overcome with emotion that he turns around to hide his tears while Luka gazes at Titania with reverence.

“Tia, you’re really cool today.”

“Yeah, you really are.”

“Even if you say such things, it won’t do you any good?”

“Huh? Um?”

Mizuki and Reiji are perplexed as Titania turns away with a puff at their compliments. Luka, who has been entrusting her back to Mizuki, has an expression similar to Reiji’s.

Several soldiers atop of horses gallop out from the forest. It’s the scouting group that went to check on the situation. They make a straight line towards Hadrias in the center of camp with Reiji and his party close behind.

Hadrias makes inquiries with his soldiers as they hurry to reach him, “What’s the situation of the mazoku?”

“Ha, ha, I’ll tell you! The mazoku army—” Sweat drips from the soldier’s face as a gasp cuts between his words. Everyone except Hadrias pauses for a breath before listening to the soldier. They all wonder at how far the mazoku have progressed. The soldier tells them, “Co- completely annihilated…”

The truth shocks everyone.

“—!?”

“Total destruction!?”

“…Ridiculous, the report stated there was over 1,000 mazoku! Where they eliminated before clashing with the army?”

Reiji’s cries of joy and Hadrias’s shock resound throughout the encampment. Reiji’s astonishment can be seen even if his face is look at from the side. No one, not even Hadrias could have predicted such a report. Commotion stirs even among the surrounding soldiers as they too doubt the report.

That’s when Titania says, “Are you certain?”

“Huh, well…?” The soldier gets confused at her presence. With Hadrias pressing him for a reply, he says, “Th- There’s no mistake. The corpses of mazoku littered the plain.”

“How…”

A heavy silence fills the encampment as Titania’s voice drifts off. The information isn’t bad, but their circumstances were one where they doubted victory. No one can understand the development.

Hadrias figures out what happened and turns towards Titania. “Your Highness?”

“….No, we came here from the Nelfila Empire. That’s the opposite direction from which the mazoku were spotted. Furthermore, what purpose would a small play like this even serve?”

“….That was a foolish question.” Hadrias denies his own question as idiotic. He thought Reiji and his party annihilated the mazoku. As a human from this world, he believes in the existence of the Yuusha, humanity’s hope. If it’s about the Yuusha, then nothing is impossible. That’s something he must not allow himself to believe.

While Hadrias is lost in thought, Titania says, “Hadrias-kyo, we must investigate.”

“…You’re right, let’s go.”

 

 T/N: Finally, although I was expecting bit more to their reactions. O-well. In other news, this chapter was such a pain to translate. It started off simple, but then threw curve ball after curve ball. Still, I reckon I did a decent job. There’s only one or two places in which I’m hesitant about the accuracy, but the gist of it is there.

Till next time,

-Gandire

<< 37. Determination                                                                                                                 39. Traces, Exhausted and Written in Brush >> 
 

 

 

 

Advertisements