They were the events of the second term’s end, where the school entered an extended break. While Rudel would usually return home, he followed Basyle’s orders, informing his house, and remaining at the academy. Though a letter of complaint did come in from his younger sister Lena…
“And so? What are we supposed to do?”
Izumi- who didn’t return home every year- told Basyle she would take part, forming up a party of three. In the academy cafeteria, Basyle replied to her question as if it was natural.
“I’ll have you pick up real combat experience. Not in the sort of forest the academy would have an outing to, we’re going to a place of higher danger.”
Saying that, she spread a map across the cafeteria table. Marked on it was a place not too close or too far from their present location. Named Mt. Aberless, the mountain wasn’t particularly tall.
“On this mountain, monsters appear every year and inflict casualties on the villages in the area. This year, the casualties were especially great, and it seems they’re quite troubled.”
“Wait, so you mean… you’re putting me and Rudel to work? What part of that is training!?”
Izumi interrogated Basyle. Basyle had in fact taken up a job, and planned to earn money from it. But without letting those emotions show on her face,
“True combat experience outweighs all else. And as snow piles in the area, the footing is bad. Battle will be dangerous… but will that stop you, Rudel-sama?”
To Basyle’s question,
“No, that’s just what I want. If I don’t go that far, I’ll even feel uneasy going up against Aleist, Luecke, and Eunius.”
“The training period is two weeks. During that period, you’ll fight the monsters attacking a village, and protect it from damages.”
Hearing that explanation, Rudel and Izumi… Izumi felt it was almost as if they were accepting a job, feeling somewhat angry over its contnts, but she decided that as long as Rudel agreed, then there was no helping it.
“… And lastly”
“Could you call out to one more person? That’ll increase the efficiency.”
Izumi was more than convinced this was a job under the pretense of training. And at Basyle’s convenience, one of the academy’s remaining students was to become a sacrifice… Vargas.
As he wasn’t returning to his hometown this year, and he was planning out how to spend his time at the academy, Vargas was apprehended by Rudel. At first he was reluctant, but once he learned Basyle was coming along, he suddenly became eager. Already a fourth year student, there were no objections to Vargas’ basic fighting capabilities. And with his participation, Basyle was delighted as well.
“Oy! Oy, Rudel!”
Entering a village almost buried in the snow, the four carried out lookout and subjugation. But it’s not as if they were always fighting monsters. So when they had time, they shoveled the snow so they wouldn’t be buried in it.
“What is it, Vargas?”
Wearing a thick coat over his equipment, Rudel’s snow-shoveling hands stopped as he turned to face Vargas.
“Isn’t this strange? It’s strange, right! We’re supposed to be guarding this village, and yet we’re out here guarding the folks who go into the mountain to shovel snow… that’s definitely strange!”
Vargas shook, his hands stopped as he spoke to Rudel. From Rudel’s point of view, this wasn’t a job. But this was a bonafide request Basyle had taken up, and while doing odd jobs in the village connected to the mountain, they were doing honest-to-goodness work.
“You think? It lets you train up your legs, and the story the elders tell are interesting. Then there’s moving without a presence, and living alongside the mountain…”
“What are you enjoying yourself for!? Not that, I’m asking whether doing something like this will make you stronger or not! I’m fine, but you can’t lose, right!?”
On Vargas’ words, Rudel burst into laughter.
“W-what are you laughing for?”
“Sorry, sorry… I was just so happy, I couldn’t help it. And I think I’m on the verge of grasping something, so I’m fine.”
So with a smile, Rudel resumed shoveling snow. Rudel thought there was a deep meaning in why Basyle had chosen this place. It’s true Basyle intended for him to experience real combat… but that was about it.
Rudel simply sought out meaning in it. Just as those who sought to learn could learn from anything, Rudel learned much from the people living alongside the mountain. And even from his enemy monsters… he learned the fact they were alive.
“Don’t go against a large force, you have to use its flow against it. Gather your power on one point. Your body’s center should always be…”
As Rudel started muttering to himself, Vargas tried asking.
“The people of the village were talking about it. I’m sure it’s the fundamentals of something.”
To be blunt, it wasn’t a fundamental of anything. Within the villagers’ daily lives, the words came out when they spoke of how to move a heavy object, and Rudel just read too deeply into it. From there, Rudel dragged out the knowledge contained within himself and thought. He thought and thought… and finally realized.
It was the final day of that two-week period. A number of large monkey-shaped monsters appeared on the outskirts of town. Wrapped in white fur, they were ferocious carnivores that could move swiftly across the snow. Their size was around that of a human, but on snowy terrain, no human legs could catch up… it was the moment such monsters appeared.
Rudel went out alone. As if he didn’t even hear Basyle and Izumi’s calls to stop him, and when Vargas hurriedly rushed out to bring him back in… one of the monkeys came at Rudel.
Vargas cursed his ill fortune that Izumi and Basyle weren’t nearby.
But Rudel lightly swung the sword he had in one hand… splitting the monster in two.
Upon witnessing the scene, Vargas couldn’t keep silent. Just two weeks! Could someone really become so strong just from protecting a village? No! They couldn’t!!! But even so, Rudel produced results.
Surprised by his strength, the other monsters attacked to avenge their comrade. While two came at him simultaneously, Rudel didn’t move from the spot, fire magic on his left hand and the sword in his right… As the two of them launched his attack, he sent a small ball of fire magic at one.
From its miniscule size, the monster charged without fear, but once it collided with the ball, it raised an explosion. Blown back, it became a black lump of charcoal alight… around that time, the remaining monster was cut down the moment it entered the range of Rudel’s sword.
It was an abnormal scene. So abnormal Vargas didn’t know what to say. The small fireball was actually a magic compressed to its very limit, and by channeling magic into his sword, he had created a shockwave. To be blunt, it was crazy.
“Still too many unnecessary movements. I have to somehow approach Aleist’s level before the tournament, no I have to surpass him…”
As Rudel put his sword away… Vargas thought. He looked at Rudel, who failed to give off the air of someone who had fought a dangerous monster, standing neatly over the snow.
“You’ve already surpassed him!”
Vargas unintentionally shouted out. His strength would pass as an upperclassman, and Vargas thought he may even eat into their upper ranks. Rudel had likely become even stronger than him… but Rudel,
“No, I still have a ways to go. I still want to become strong. Not just in power and technique, I want to become strong of heart.”
“You’re plenty strong already! As you are, you can become a dragoon, I tell you!”
Shying away bashfully at Vargas’s words, Rudel answered.
“I’m sure if I’m satisfied, then that will be the end… continuing to look higher is just right for me. And this world is vast, with plenty of people stronger than me. If I don’t keep setting my sights, I’ll be left behind in no time.”
Vargas suddenly felt as if those words were directed at him. As if they were addressing his thoughts just now, that he would be no match for Rudel.
“I’m no match for you… always looking forwards, never giving up. I’m envious.”
As he said such a thing, Vargas made a sorrowful face.
“Vargas, do you have a dream? An objective?”
“M-my dream? … Well, I want to ease the load on my place back home, and become a big brother my little brothers and sisters can be proud of… but I don’t have a splendid dream like you.”
Approaching Vargas, Rudel grasped his shoulders with both hands.
“That’s a splendid dream! A while back, I made fun of my brother’s dream. I regretted it throughout my hospitalization, and I was thinking to apologize. It’s never a mistake to work hard towards your dream. And… if they saw you now, I’m sure your little siblings will see a brother to be proud of!”
Rudel knew Vargas was working hard. Waking up early every morning to train. They saw each other every day. As Rudel said such a thing with a serious face, it was Vargas’ turn to be bashful. He was happy, but from the village, the villagers were looking over them with warm smiles.
“T-thanks. This is kinda embarrassing… more importantly, we should clean up.”
Saying that, Vargas pointed at the monster corpses. Ending the conversation, they went into the cleanup, but Vargas remained bashful, and a little glad.
From the village, Basyle looked over that heartwarming duo, Rudel and Vargas.
“You’re not going to help out?”
On Izumi’s question, Basyle shrugged her shoulders. Her usual light wear would be too cold here, so now she wore a thick coat, but her body’s lines were still vaguely evident.
“I’d feel sorry for them if I went out now. Let’s show some tact.”
“When you just want to slack off… even so, when did Rudel learn that technique?”
The swordplay and magic Rudel displayed… just knowing they were on a different level than before cost the two a bit of mulling. But Basyle,
“Well, with this it looks like I won’t have to change my employer, so I have no complaints. I never even imagined he would grow this strong, after all.”
Basyle smiled as she looked over Rudel and Vargas. Izumi had lost her understanding of Basyle. Why had she done such a thing? In the first place, when Rudel couldn’t become an archduke anymore, from her point of view, he should have lost his value. While Izumi’s thoughts started showing on her face, Basyle,
“Rudel-sama sure is interesting… I’m sure I won’t tire of him anytime soon.”
Gave a vague answer as she returned to the village inn… so she ran after all. Izumi concluded.