Rudel wore his white armor over his body, Aleist was clad in his black.
The white and black knights stood side by side in the Celestia Castle courtyard.
Fires were rising across the castle town and the townsfolk had begun their evacuation.
Izumi darted out for more freedom in combat and looked around.
“And now I’m surrounded.”
The mechanized unit of the Gaia Empire.
An elite unit thrown into dark, backroom missions, it was made up of those whose bodies were mainly mechanical.
The three red eyed man who commanded that elite force held a barbed sword in each hand.
A tail protruded from his robe. Freely moving it around, he looked amused as he looked their way.
Across his visor, Rudel spoke to Izumi.
“Aleist and I will handle this. Izumi, Millia, go protect the princess. You too, Na… masked woman I do not know.”
Both Rudel and Aleist lowered their hips and readied their weapons.
Those around kept wary of their every move.
As Izumi remained wary of Emilio, Nate in her mask explained.
“It’s alright. Please think of him as an ally. As long as it comes to protecting Cleo-san, he is our comrade in arms.”
Aleist also spoke to Rudel.
“That’s how it is, so while I’m sure you’ve got a lot going on, for now we have to work together… there are too many enemies.”
Around then, the enemy mechanized unit continued to shuffle and gather.
Why were so many able to slip in?
As he thought that, Rudel—
“How long has it been since we fought together?”
“Not since we met Sakuya? I get the feeling it’s been a real long time… I only really remember getting into slugfests with you.”
As the two of them started an out-of-place conversation, a number of the mechanized unit came at them.
The one who called them to a stop was the three-eyed man.
Rudel had smacked one to the side with his shield, while Aleist had used the long-hilted swords he held in both hands to stop the attack of another.
And once the enemy Aleist pinned down was cut down by Rudel, Aleist’s hands were free, and his unoccupied left-hand sword pierced into another foe.
A reddish black oil spouted as the two enemy soldiers were flung away.
The enemy soldier Rudel had bashed didn’t move after he collided with a wall.
“Head to where Sakuya is. If she moves, the castle will crumble.”
The reason Sakuya hadn’t come to their aid was because the castle interior was still a jumble of enemy and ally. If she made any wrong moves, she would end up injuring allies.
But if they could make it to Sakuya, they’d be safe.
“Her clumsiness is inconvenient at times like this.”
“But that’s what makes her so cute”
The three-eyed man issued orders to his men.
“Cut at them with the resolve to become sacrifices for the cause. The white and black knight… take their heads, and glory shall follow for eternity! It will be a severe loss to Courtois!”
As the surrounding soldiers made for Rudel, Izumi took Cleo’s hand and ran off.
“You two better survive!”
As the two of them raced off towards the enemy, whether Izumi’s voice even reached or not…
Millia ran watching their back, while Nate and Emilio took the vanguard.
Under his helmet, Rudel moved his eyes.
As he fell back to avoid the spear thrust from his right of a mechanized soldier, he turned and beat them down with his left-hand shield.
For the enemies that tried cutting at his now-empty back, a number of black stakes protruded from his shadow to skewer them.
Aleist was using both his hands to parry foes, and a number of enemies rushed at his back as well.
Concentrating to produce shields, the leaping soldiers collided with them and fell to the ground.
Rudel turned to the enemies coming at them one after the next, muttering under his helmet.
“This is a pain.”
Using his sword to sweep back surrounding foe, he moved to stand back to back with Aleist.
Because of the enemies scattering reddish-black liquid around, the smell of oil was much harsher than that of blood.
Aleist, his breath a little disturbed,
“There are too many of them. Rather…”
The oil spreading across the ground restrained their use of magic.
Looking around, the three-eyed man was nowhere to be found.
“Give it some time, and this place will blow sky high.”
“I don’t think it’s something to laugh at, but that’s something I’d rather avoid.”
Would the oil on the ground ignite?
That was their worry.
This was especially troublesome with Rudel’s high magic output. If the blaze spread, they would instantly find themselves fighting through a sea of flames.
“This is getting harsh, but… three-eyes is gone.”
As Aleist cut down the foe coming at him, he spoke to Rudel.
“Who’s going to go?”
Hearing Aleist’s serious voice, Rudel thought just a bit.
(They’re no weaklings, but if Aleist is wary of the man… will it be difficult for Izumi and the others?)
Rudel highly evaluated Izumi’s abilities.
But he couldn’t ignore Aleist’s decision.
“Got it. I’ll handle this place. I’m good at drawing attention.”
In his white armor, Rudel was extremely conspicuous at night.
“But it’ll be troublesome to break out of this encirclement. That Celestian King definitely had a hand in this. To the very end, he’s the worst.”
A large number of enemy soldiers still remained around.
(Good grief, where are they coming from? That aside, it sounds like Aleist knows something, but for now…)
In order to let Aleist slip out, Rudel performed a grand cut at the enemy.
“Once you reach Sakuya, flee into the sky. They won’t be able to follow you there… go!”
The two who ran off in different directions.
Rudel accelerated, cutting down one enemy soldier after the next. Perhaps they didn’t feel pain, as the enemy came at them without fear.
(They really are troublesome foes!)
As he accelerated with wind magic, the oil scattered and stuck to everything around.
Nearby, as if to observe him, Rudel spotted a single soldier on the wall.
(Is it about time they used it?)
As he thought that, the soldier took out something like a pipe and made a motion of igniting it. Once the pipe-like item breathed fire, he tossed it straight at Rudel.
While Izumi’s group ran down the palace corridor, they found the three-eyed man waiting for them.
Running to the front, Emilio glared at the man.
“That was the shortest possible route. Why are you here!”
The laughing three-eyed man opened his robe a bit to show off his legs. There were small wheels attached, alongside ominous spikes.
“Even if I take a detour, as long as I’m faster, it is possible to catch up. What’s more, your side is moving while guarding our precious test subject.”
Emilio took a stance with his saber, Nate readied her knife.
Millia fired an arrow into the three-eyed man’s shoulder.
She reeled back.
The man let out a mechanical laugh, pulling out the arrow and crushing it in his hand as he spoke.
“I’m sure it will be meaningless before the white and black knights, but a majority of this body is a mass of iron. An arrow with just a bit of magic put in is pointless. Now won’t you hand over our test subject?”
Cleo was necessary to manipulate the ancient weapon, the three-eyed man recognized that.
Izumi called out to the two up front, letting go of Cleo’s hand to grip her hilt and take an iai stance.
“Dodge to the side!”
Nate swiftly reacted, Emilio opened the passage a little late. And as Izumi drew her katana, a shockwave broke out, and the three-eyed man—
Izumi’s eyes instantly turned to the ceiling.
Like a reptile, the man stuck both arms and legs to the ceiling surface, immediately extending his tail to attack her.
While Izumi hit the attack aside with her scabbard, the tail went right on to wrap around Cleo.
As it lifted up a screaming Cleo, the tail was cut through by Emilio’s saber.
Millia embraced the falling girl, while Izumi hammered another slash into the three-eyed man.
When he landed right in the center of the group, Nate took a swipe at him, but he locked her down with a sword.
“You Courtois dogs… would do best just to cower in the shadows of your dragons!”
The man discarded his tail, only for another tail to shoot out of his robe.
Not to capture Cleo, this was a blow filled with killing intent.
“If the subject is to be taken by Courtois, then I’d rather!”
The three-eyed man said with a laugh, and Cleo was unable to move from surprise. Millia tried to yank her aside.
Izumi tried to cut at the tail, but…
(I won’t make it in time!)
There, Emilio leapt out in front of the tail and cut it down with his saber. The sword broke in two, and the tail’s pointed end stabbed deeply into his body.
Cleo was still immobile; the three-eyed man tried to retreat back.
But Nate tripped him up, and as he collapsed onto the ground, she immediately thrust her knife right into the vicinity of his neck.
That attack she had carefully aimed at the armoring’s joint stuck deeply into his throat.
Showered in a reddish black oil, Nate spoke.
“… This really is the worst.”
After delivering the finishing blow, she stood and raced over to Emilio.
Izumi was taken aback, but she immediately poised herself to guard them.
The collapsed Emilio gripped Cleo’s hand. And then and there, Emilio decided he would convey his message to Cleo.
“Emilio… I am set to die shortly. Why would you…”
Perhaps with too much to say, Cleo’s words couldn’t come out. Spitting blood from his mouth, Emilio smiled a bit.
And he opened his mouth.
Millia stopped him.
“Don’t speak! We have to start your treatment at…”
There, Nate held Millia back and shook her head.
“This is the end of the line. Please give them some time to speak.”
Emilio offered Nate his gratitude.
“T-thank you. Cleo…”
“I’m… I’m your real brother. Mother took me when she left the castle.”
Perhaps listening with conflicting emotions, Cleo’s gaze shifted. But Emilio continued on.
“Life was filled with troubles. But I had mother with me and it was fun. I heard I had a little sister…”
Emilio took a silver, egg-shaped necklace from his clothe pocked and entrusted it to Cleo. On it, the insignia of the royal house was engraved.
“You have a gold pendant, don’t you? That one belonged to our aunt… can you hand this one to Aleist… the black knight as his payment? You don’t need two exchange stones, do you?”
Exchange stone… a force that moved the ancient weapon, and by paying a price, a stone that could grant a proportional reward.
Of course, Emilio didn’t seem to understand what basis it worked on.
After spitting up blood, Emilio’s breathing grew rough as he spoke.
“There are loads I wanted to tell you. But there’s no time. Our mother loved you, and aunty did too. That man… when father told mother she was going to die, he was considerably troubled. We wanted to take you when we ran, but… hac!”
Before Emilio’s bloodened mouth, Cleo shed tears.
“Emilio… my brother.”
Called brother, Emilio made a delighted face.
“Thanks for that. Now I can make a proper report to mother. No, I guess I’m off to hell, so that’s not happening.”
Smiling, Emilio placed a hand on Cleo’s face.
“Cleo… mother and me, we both love you. When you were announced as the next sacrifice, mother was crying. She could no longer move her disease-weakened body, but she said time and again she wanted to meet you… she wanted to apologize. So I’ll say it. I’m sorry. Please forgive her.”
Without letting out a voice, Cleo nodded. She nodded and nodded, and Emilio spoke up.
“… Thank god. Leave the rest to Aleist…”
Emilio’s body ceased with those words, Cleo hung over him and shed tears.
Izumi readied her katana.
“Who is it!?”
The one who ran over was Aleist in his black knight armor.
He looked at the collapsed Emilio. He took off his helmet and raced over to the body.
“W-why! What happened!?”
The one who spoke coldly to a fidgety Aleist was Nate.
“We don’t have any time. Senpai, where’s Rudel-senpai?”
“He’s buying time! We have to get that man to a doctor!”
“It’s too late for that. It’s already over… now, let’s go. There’s no telling when an enemy will come.”
Nate took Cleo’s hand.
“Why… if I just died, it would all have worked out.”
When she said that, Aleist struck her with his left hand. Collapsing onto the floor, Cleo gazed up at Aleist in wonder.
“That man! Emilio wanted to save you! He continued to fight all on his own! And over his corpse, over all his effort… don’t say you want to die.”
To a teary Aleist, Nate spoke.
“Senpai. If you don’t want to waste Emilio-san’s will, for now,”
Aleist wiped his tears as he walked off, Cleo gazed at his back.
Izumi extended a hand to Cleo. Millia as well.
“… I don’t know what I should say at a time like this. But if we keep dawdling here, it surely won’t make Emilio-dono happy.”
“Now let’s go.”
Taking both their hands to stand, Cleo walked, turning back a few times to look at Emilio’s smile.