Carrying out guard duty, we kept watch of our surroundings as we stopped to rest. Our movement speed was high, so we made more distance with our pursuers than I had anticipated.
But there was something I wanted to confirm, so I went and asked the former High Priest Gastone-san.
A little parted from the campfire, we conversed with warm drinks in our hands.
There was plenty I wanted to ask, but getting to know the backstory of our pursuers was the first priority. And what Gastone-san’s group had as their objective was important as well.
Gastone-san made a tired expression, as he explained the situation.
“Elites of the divine knight brigade?”
He nodded, before muttering in an annoyed fashion.
“Elite in name alone, they are an assassination corps. They’ve always been a unit that carried out some questionable work. The former Holy Maiden Thelma-sama was of the moderate faction, so she couldn’t help but build up resentment with the knights…”
From the Jewel, I heard a voice chastising Gastone-san. It was the Fifth.
『Then instead of just opposing them, why not moderately send them out to subjugate monsters and bandits, and make a show of praising them for their efforts? Opposing them to create sparks within the country, and is it already a raging fire? Just abandoning a huge problem like that is unreasonable.』
Even when he abandoned quite a few sparks with his own children, I thought to myself, but restrained from putting it to mouth. I tried softening the Fifth’s words, and transmitting them.
“Monster slaying, and bandit subjugation, wouldn’t it have been fine if you recommended they performed in that field?”
There, Gastone-san made a horridly worn-out smile.
“You think Thelma-sama hadn’t noticed? Even if I don’t look it, I’m of High Priest lineage, you know. Naturally enough, we didn’t want to maintain a knight brigade, yet hand no work to them at all.”
High priest lineage. In noble terms, perhaps count or viscount, or some position around that. There are sure to be un-noble-ish parts to their duties, but their priesthood was decided by heredity.
It’s likely just how things worked in Zayin. I don’t hear about things like that much elsewhere.
“… She would not invade foreign soil. The high priests and knights who would not let themselves pour their efforts into internal affairs colluded, and we ended up having to rely on adventurers. We put some needless funding into it and somehow got the shape of it together, but that took twenty long years to accomplish. Without being able to hand her position over the entire time, Thelma-sama went through much troubles.”
The Fifth apologized to him.
『… I’ll be frank. I’m sorry.』
The man couldn’t hear it, but I also had some feelings I couldn’t put away.
“Thelma-sama, was it? Then couldn’t she have just stayed in power, without handing the role to the next generation?”
There, Gastone-san put his hand to his forehead with a troubled expression. Quetly, he spilled his feelings.
“… Age-wise, the Holy Maiden is a strict position. They must always be pretty. She may still be beautiful, but shall I say she isn’t a match for the younger girls? The populace was also demanding a new one.”
The Sixth, fed-up.
『I’m surprised rule has been successfully handed down all the way up to now. Besides, if they’re meant to be pretty decorations, then wouldn’t just anybody do? One wrong move, and how easy would it be to instate a puppet…』
There, the Third.
『Ah, so that’s how it is. Like this, some country’s woman becomes Holy Maiden, and they use Zayin to indirectly destroy the countries opposed to them. And I thought it was stupid how they were always picking fights with those around them. No, I still think it quite stupid, mind you.』
While thinking it was messed up, in various ways, I questioned Gastone-san further.
“About the current generation Holy Maiden, umm…”
“She used to be the daughter of a noble family from the neighboring country of【Selva】. Even when we’re usually supposed to avoid girls from such origins.”
Selva… A small country, and one with a few things moving about behind the scenes. In this land jumbled up by a complex array of small nations, they were maintaining a status quo.
Unlike a certain two countries, there weren’t any signs of them going through intense battle.
(Would it be possible to get these lands together? No, in the first place, is it physically possible?)
When I became anxious, the Seventh spoke with delight.
『How nice. The previous Holy Maiden, and a High Priest of the moderate faction… you’ve got the top and her aid in your grasp.』
『This is getting close to rebellion. No, this is rebellion. The former Holy Maiden who stole back her seat, and the High Priest driven out!』
The Third continued on.
『Saddened with the state of her country, the former Holy Maiden couldn’t let herself sit still! Though it would be better if she was a tad younger!』
『Well then, how about putting the two of them on the surface to build up influence, and putting Lyle at the center. If you get Zayin in your hands, you can use rebellion as an excuse to completely overhaul the ruling methodology of the country.』
『Right. The Divine Knight Brigade? Let’s crush the elites they’ve dispatched, here and now. Thinking of the scale of the country, there shouldn’t be that many of them. I’m sure it’ll be a grave blow.』
… From what I’ve heard, she officially handed off the position of Holy Maiden. It was a bit forceful, but Gastone-san couldn’t help but acknowledge it as well. Yet the ancestors were telling me to go forth under the banner of rebellion.
When I tapped and rolled the Jewel with my fingertip, the Third tried to convince me.
『Don’t like it, Lyle? Then think about it like this! For Zayin, a country whose ruling order is full of problems, you’ll use this opportunity to reform them! What, the surrounding countries are already using it to run riot, after all. More than anything, you’re doing good! To lead this land of endless strife along the right path, why now swallow down your tears here!』
The Fifth as well.
『And wait, even if you leave it alone, it’ll eventually be crushed by Celes. While that thing still has her eyes on her own country, overbearing as it may be, you should more or less get this land together. Even that may not be enough, but you should think of the surrounding situations as well. And they’re an opponent I can’t forgive overlooking.』
The Fifth seemed brimming with motivation. Within that, the Sixth called out to me.
『Lyle, I get how you feel, but it’s true that there’s a need to break the deadlocks on this situation. You’re just a piece of that. And if you abandon it, Celes is sure to move in the foreseeable future. Look a little ahead, and make your decision.』
His was a kind voice.
After a while, I asked Gastone-san of his plans from here on.
“Once you reach Beim, what do you plan to do?”
“We can’t be working up too much a fuss. I only wish to secure safety for those that were dragged into all this. Both Thelma-sama, and the former Holy Maiden candidate Aura-sama are with us. At the very least, perhaps I can end it by having them set their mark on me alone.”
While his appearance looked villainous, he was quite a nice person. Perhaps he’d gone through a fair share of trouble. Even so, the Ancestors were…
『What? Former Holy Maiden candidate? That means the rival of the current one, right? … Oh, you’ve got even more cards to play!』
『She was good enough for candidacy. There are others giving orders within Zayin, right… this is going to be fun!』
『Then once we’ve got our ‘just cause,’ should we go sell our names in Lorphys? That one also has nothing but a princess as well, right? The king and queen died in accident?』
『It’s nothing but shady talk. And there’s an overly large amount of countries maintaining tranquility. Even when their names pop up, for a country not to show a single movement…』
『No, no, this time really was worthwhile. You get to chip down the war potential of the power you’ll end up fighting, and you’ve even got your hands on a ‘just cause’. Now you should get everything together, and make the preparations for victory』
They sounded like they were enjoying it. Enjoying the hell out of it.
(These guys are scary.)
I took a deep breath, and offered a proposal to Gastone-san.
“Something the matter?”
“It’s about the pursuers. There’s no doubt they’re still chasing us. I anticipate they will launch an attack on us shortly.”
“… I understand that. Rotten as they may be, they’re the elites of a knight brigade. If you think it impossible, I do not mind your party flee. But at that time, if you would only take Thelma-sama, and Aura-sama along. The others, if possible, please take them along. As long as they can get my head, they should be satisfied enough to…”
Before he could finish, I smiled.
“You don’t mind if we take them out first, do you?”
“… Hah? Eh!?”
Watching his surprised face, I began explaining the plan.
It was a valley along the shortest possible route to Beim.
That space surrounded by rockface was a terrain difficult to traverse through. But having decided we would proceed down the shortest route, we couldn’t help but pass through it.
If I may add on, this was a space quite suited to an ambush. With so much gravel, it was hard for carriages to press on. Even within that, Porter was moving without a problem.
(Porter… you really are a reliable one.)
His marvelous glass-ball eyes looked as if they were sparkling radiantly today as well. Our reliable comrade.
“Now then, it’s about time.”
Looking around, I confirmed the situation with Skills. I verified the surrounding terrain with the Fifth’s 【Dimension】, and used the Sixth’s 【Spec】 to get a grasp of the enemy’s states. They had pushed themselves to overtake us, and had circled around.
There was some worth to be found in purposefully planning following a route that could go no other way than this valley, and luring them out.
Clara approached me.
“Lyle-san, the preparations are complete.”
Aria was keeping lookout, and Eva the elf seemed to have noticed from the surroundings air, that enemies were around.
Rather than us, they were going for their designated target: the carriage. I sensed the tense presences around, as I issued orders to May at her position.
(May, you can hear me, right? Can you see my map?)
On the map floating up in my head, a number of red dots were shining. A little separated, was a group keeping watch over us as well. And if the main force failed, they likely planned to return, and give a report.
But we couldn’t let them get away.
(I can hear you. And wait, it’s pounding in my head. So which one am I supposed to be attacking?)
I had her undertake the attack on the party watching us from further away. With that distance between us, another risked letting them get away.
(I’ll leave the further ones to you. We’ll take down the ones launching the attack.)
(… Sure. I’ll be back soon enough, but will I make it in time?)
I achieved communication with May through the Skill 【Connection】, and told her to beat down ones keeping watch.
To a quilin such as herself, a small force of knights was easy enough. The greater problem was the main force that was going to be attacking us.
To Clara walking beside me, I called out.
“Message relayed to May. I left the ones keeping watch to her. She plans on meeting up with us once she’s done with that.”
Clara’s eyes turned to Porter. She was sweating, and rather than anxious, it looked as if she was working hard.
When the surrounding enemies took up their positions, Aria was nervous. She sensed the atmosphere, and put power into her body.
Eva had also noticed the enemy, but she was pretending she hadn’t. Just where would the aim, and where were they deployed. I could understand them like the palm of my hand. I gripped the Jewel in my left hand, and raised up my right to cast magic.
Around the line of carriages- and around Porter- floating walls of ice came into being; as if specifically aiming for those points, fire began to come down. They shot arrows as well, but the walls of ice blocked them. The horses drawing the carriages were excited, and calmed down by the coachmen pulling on their reigns.
After I warded off attack after attack, a robed group jumped down from the cliffs. Seven in number. Two held back in wait atop the crags.
As the armed men ran our way, I changed the Jewel in my hands to the Bow, and used a Skill.
With 【Select】 setting my aim, I fired off a few arrows at the sky. After the first one flew up high, it soon went out view.
I turned it back to Jewel form, hung it around my neck, and drew two sabres.
Our opponents seemed suspicious of my actions, but they sent four running after the carriages. The remaining ones came at us. I stood in front of Clara, weak in close combat, to protect her, while Aria and Eva met them head on.
“So even as we try to hold them back, you’ll go for their mark… how loyal.”
I looked at them, and opened my mouth, but it didn’t seem they intended to answer. I gave a wide grin.
“By the way, you really should pay attention to the sky.”
While he seemed a bit intrigued by my words, the robed man before me displayed no hesitation in thrusting out his spear. While the gravel made it easy to loose one’s footing, he accurately aimed for my vitals.
(Sharp movements… but softer than the Sixth’s!)
I used the sabre in my left hand to repel its point, turned my body, and used my right sabre to cut down the arrow shot from atop the cliff. Using that motion, I managed to plunge my sabre into the robed man’s body, and kick him away.
I left the sabre in him, getting hit a bit by the blood spurt, and used my free left hand to prepare magic. When I turned, I saw the enemy trying to cut at Eva in front.
I pointed my left hand at the enemy, sending a number of rocks from the ground flying into him. He swung off his robe to circumvent some damage.
And avoiding it, his gaze fell on me. Those eyes of his were filled with hatred.
“Don’t focus so much on me… I’m sure I said it already.”
The robed figures apart from the ones that came at us broke down the carriage doors, and marched in. What they were searching for was likely the former Holy Maiden and candidate, as well as the High Priest.
When the coachmen ran from the carriages, the sky began to shine. Our opponents’ attention turned there, as small arrows of light began raining down one after the next.
We stopped on the spot. They tried to flee from those small bolts, but in this enclosed valley without a place to run, they were pierced through carriages and all. Each one of them was low in output, but with so many of them piercing through, the enemies collapsed without resistance.
When I looked around, I saw Aria stained in blood, clenching her spear, as her legs gave way below her. I ran over, and looked at her foe.
(So she managed to user her Skills to defeat him.)
She was trembling, and her breathing was strange. She must have received a mental shock unlike what she felt when slaying monsters. I put a hand on her shoulder.
“Good work. Get some rest.”
Aria nodded, hung her head, and vomited. I patted her back, and looked around. Eva was sitting down. She didn’t seem to be injured.
Confirming with my Skills, there weren’t any surviving enemies.
And jumping down from the cliffs, May landed on the ground.
“As I thought, it’s already over. Just as I said.”
Seeing her stick out her chest in pride, I gave a light, ‘you’re right,’ in response, as I patted Aria’s back, and looked at Porter. The back door opened, and the former Holy Maiden and co. came out in succession.
They had been forcefully stuffed into the narrow loading tray.
Seeing the aftermath of the battle, Thelma-san spoke in surprise.
“Could it be you really defeated them? There should have been close to ten.”
Eyes of disbelief were sent our way, and after Gastone-san disembarked, he also looked between us, and the defeated elites.
From the Jewel, the Third.
『Now then, with this, Lyle has left a strong impression. While we’re at it, was it fifteen elites? You were able to beat them, but… Lyle, this is only the start.』
On his serious voice, I gripped the Jewel. But beside me, Aria was still spitting up. I patted her back, and continued calling out to her.