After entrusting the defenders with a message to Luecke and Eunius, Aleist had come to the gate to slip out of the palace.
Concealing himself in the pillar of a shadow near the gate, he kept a close watch from within its shadow.
(I doubt I’ll be able to break through the walls or gate.)
They were bestowed with a special make, an especially high resistance to magic in order to protect the palace.
There were armed soldiers stationed around and an order had been issued for Aleist to be captured on sight.
While he had been able to evade all attempts, the Black Knight’s power didn’t allow him to teleport. At most, he could sink into and move across shadows.
The sun was high in the sky, leaving little room for him to hide, let alone move. When he hid, only a single stretch formed a conspicuously darker shadow, which might give him off all too easily.
(Drat! I spent so long moving around, that time is… it looks like my parents and the others got away, but…)
Izumi had made for Luecke and Eunius alongside the defenders. It was a stroke of luck that within the uproar of war preparations, it seemed they weren’t keeping a proper count of those in the cells.
But Aleist alone was different.
His renown had him on the run from those in the palace affiliated with, or whose superiors were affiliated with Aileen’s faction.
(They’ve sealed the back door and escape ways, so I thought I’d try the gate)
As Aleist considered forcing his way through, the soldiers in front of the gate beckoned to him. He hid himself in surprise, but when one of them removed their helmet, Aleist instantly recognized him as a dear friend from his school days.
It did seem he had known he was hiding in the shadows. The other soldiers couldn’t notice, but his friends ended up picking him out.
“Captain, can I go take a piss…” one of them said, separating from his units and racing over towards Aleist.
Circling around the round pillar, Aleist stuck his upper body out from the shadow.
“It’s been a while, Aleist.”
“Y-yeah, it really has… no, I know now’s not the right time to catch up.”
It wasn’t like Rudel group were Aleist’s only associates. While it may be strange to spell it out so plainly, Aleist had a few friends.
Keeping wary of his surroundings,
“Why did you run away? Supreme commander’s got to be a huge promotion. Your parents and girlfriends got through… but the palace is going to send someone after them in no time.”
Aleist gave a general explanation. That this world was strange, and on top of Aileen running wild he explained in as shortest terms as possible that Rudel was in danger.
His emotions getting the better of him, he didn’t know if he was properly getting his thoughts across.
While still confused,
“… Got it. Luckily, the three of us are in the same unit. Makes things convenient.”
“We’ll open the front gate just a bit. Use that opening to break through.”
To his friend’s proposal, Aleist shook his head to the side.
“No way. You’ll get yourself killed.”
His friend smiled a bit.
“Play it off well, and it’ll end at the dungeons. And you know,”
As Aleist worried, his friend smiled.
“This is the most we can do. Don’t be such a stranger…”
His friend pulled his helmet back down, and running off from behind the pillar, he immediately informed his captain he had returned. After explaining the situation to the other two, the three immediately sprung to motion.
It was necessary to move a mechanism to open the gate; two of them faced the soldiers protecting the lever, while one of them distracted the captain.
“Bastards! What are you doing!?”
By the time the captain noticed, the gate was already half opened. While Aleist hesitated a bit, he soon leapt out from the shadow and made a dash for the gate. To hurriedly close it, the knights and soldiers had flocked around the lever, letting him run through with ease.
A look back, and his friends were being smacked. But in the moment before it slammed down.
They cried. The troops raised a great ruckus, they’d begun to gather. Aleist made a clenched fist, he grit his teeth as he dived into the shadows beyond the gate and sped away.
While the knights tried chasing Aleist shadow, upon shifting to the shadows cast by the town scape, he easily shook them off.
(I’m sorry. I’ll definitely be back to save you!)
Aleist prayed for the safety of his friends.
Into the basement dungeon, three battered knights were shoved in.
Sophina watched from a cell on the opposite side.
“… What did these three do?”
She confirmed it with the soldiers who took them in; the lead soldiers looked down over the three.
“They helped the black knight escape. Good grief, I can’t comprehend why someone would aid a coward fleeing from war. If they really are friends, they should’ve stopped him.”
With work to do, the soldiers soon left the cell.
“Are you friends of the Black Knight?”
The battered three looked to have been beaten quite brutally. While their bones were probably intact, their faces and bodies were ridden with bruises.
One of them muttered.
“Ha, hahaha, that’s right.”
On that answer, Sophina reached her arm through the iron bars. Her left hand let off a faint light as the three writhed in pain, their injured parts acting up.
“Stay put. It’ll be over soon.”
The dungeon’s watchman raced over.
“What are you doing!? Don’t make any funny moves.”
He held up a spear to intimidate her, so after a scoff,
“It’s already done. Don’t tell me you have a problem with treating their injuries? And it’s not like I’m being kept here for committing a crime.”
As the watchman went off with complaints on his breath, Sophina looked at the three raising their bodies. And—
“Now then, you’ve taken some drastic measures, I see. If luck’s against you, your punishments might reach all the way to your families.”
The three gave thanks for the healing magic.
“The magic was a lifesaver. But to think that guy’d look so serious… and when we heard Princess Aileen was involved, our generation can’t help but be suspicious.”
Rudel and Aleist’s generation was one especially exposed to Aileen’s preferential treatment of Fritz. They had witnessed and formed a doubt.
Sophina had spent a few years at the academy as Fina’s guard. Through that relationship, she was relatively knowledgeable on the academy’s circumstances.
“I see… your year was one with a strong doubt towards Princess Aileen. In that case,”
As Sophina considered adding these three to her war potential, the footsteps of an armed group resounded through the basement dungeon. The shrill sound of scraping metal, and the screams of watchmen.
“W-what are you—!”
The watch instantly fell silent, as a tall gathering peered into to confirm the contents of the cell.
One of the three,
“Tiger tribe? Why are they in a place like…”
A tall, armed tiger tribe young man spotted Sophina. Taking along the two, he walked hunched-up through the narrow-looking passage.
“I take it you are Sophina-san. The princess orders you to get ready.”
Hearing that, Sophina.
“So it’s come. You’re here anyway, so get my subordinates and those three too. It’s best to have as much manpower as possible.”
Once the tiger tribe men opened the lock, Sophina met up with her subordinates in the other cells.
(Now then, the fact that we’re moving means…)
Rolling on the bed, Fina was getting her fill of vacation in a room far too luxurious for a prison.
“The seedy cheap fluff of this pillow is irresistible. If it was just a bit fluffier, it would be perfect.”
She was shoved in a cell right after pulling an all-nighter: after eating, she crashed, woke up, took a bath, then fell asleep all over again. Leading such a no-good lifestyle, Fina found there were no lifeforms to her tastes or demi-humans around, so she embraced her pillow and rolled across the bed.
“Hah, and now I’m bored. It really doesn’t hold up to real fluff. Rather, I’ll make do with a sewer rat, someone, anyone come out. I just want to give you food and rear you to liven the place up a bit.”
Speaking as if she was scolding who she was up to a moment before to learn some self-reflection, even placed in this situation, Fina was expressionless and calm.
Getting somewhat a feel of the ruckus in the palace, she sensed the main players were moving, so she had gone into preparations.
Moving her expressionless body, Fina went into some warm-up stretches as she spoke.
“My word, when you already know it’s going to happen, it sure is quick to prepare for. Though thanks to that, we can move just as fast.”
Breaking into a peculiar dance, Fina loosened up her body before sitting on the bed. She corrected her posture, keeping as motionless as a doll.
It was at that moment she heard a boisterous voice from the door.
‘Call for backu—!’
She remained stationary throughout the ruckus. When the door opened, a full-armed Mii popped in her head. She could see other demi-human soldiers and knights through the gap in the door.
“P-princess, we’ve come to save you.”
Fina gave a small, expressionless nod. It wasn’t just to Mii, she had to show her surrounding allies the sort of character she was.
“I’m glad you could make it, Mii. I’m sure you’ve all had a hard time. But here is where the true battle begins.”
The knight and soldier demi-humans directed salutes at Fina. An armored group—before the members of the defenders, Fina laughed within.
(The fluff brigade! The fluffy legion based around the cat tribe… aah, what happiness. If only master were here, it’d be perfect.)
Somehow containing her own writhing, Fina walked d own the corridor.
“We will immediately begin suppressing sectors individually. How many troops remain?”
As Fina confirmed it, Mii walking beside her looked over her memo.
“Two thousand have been left at the palace. The royal guard is to remain, and it seems the nobles in Princess Aileen’s faction are at the palace as well.”
At Mii reporting in a fluster, Fina endured her urge to drool.
“And our numbers?”
“A-around eight hundred. She took action earlier than planned, so we couldn’t gather too great of a number. There are units of ours that were absorbed into the expedition.”
Hearing the personnel she prepared had been added into Fritz army, Fina wanted to click her tongue.
(I thought I could get two thousand with room to spare… well, we’re in a race against time. We’ve got to do a clean sweep of sister’s faction and their collaborators. Best done while it still all counts as my own achievement.)
With dark thoughts on his mind, Fina shifted towards enacting a plan she’d been furthering for a long while. It was a means for when her sister took strong measures, and a means Fina didn’t want to have to use.
(Now how about we start building my country?)
… If she could make an expression, Fina would surely have a muddy-black smile slathered over her face.
Surrounded by defenders, Izumi managed to come into contact with Luecke and Eunius.
After explaining the situation, the two of them—
“… They’re demanding reinforcements from us too. That will put us under Fritz’ command.”
As Luecke said that with a sour face, Eunius discontentedly plucked his hair.
“Rudel was sent off alone, and Aleist chased after… those two idiots aren’t thinking a thing.”
Eunius labeled Rudel and Aleist as fools, and sure enough, Izumi also thought there might have been a better way they could’ve gone about it.
But saying that now wouldn’t get them anywhere.
“I want to somehow help out those two. Would you be able to lend your strength?”
At Izumi’s plea, Luecke reached a prompt verdict.
“There are too many strange points. I’ll return to my territory at once, and send troops your way. But the problem is how I’m supposed to persuade father.”
To his quandary, Eunius,
“Just give him a good smack-around. That always seems to work at my place; though admittedly, I’ve never won against him before.”
In the time Izumi wondered if that was alright, Luecke had already shifted to action.
“I’m heading off. Izumi, what are you going to do?”
She touched a hand to her chest.
“I will make for Rudel as a reinforcement. He should be wanting as much war potential as he can get.”
Luecke was about to open his mouth, but seeing Izumi’s serious eyes shut him up.
Eunius spoke in his place.
“You’ve got your own stubborn streak. Throwing units at the enemy one at a time isn’t the efficient way to do war. What’s more, adding a single member to the battlefield accomplishes nothing. Restrain yourself and either come with me or Luecke.”
Izumi shook her head. Her black ponytail swayed.
“If that doesn’t make it in time, I get the feeling I won’t forgive myself for the rest of my life. So even if it’s just the slightest bit faster…”
Before he could finish those words, a single knight entered the room. Dragging along Vargas, who’d been keeping watch outside, the individual who entered with a smile was Oldart.
“Oh, now look who it is. Izumi-chan, the special inspector shouldn’t be abandoning her job. What are you going to do if Rudel goes off the rocker when you’re not watching?”
“Captain Oldart? Umm, I’m—”
Oldart let two knights into the room. One of them was a silver-haired female knight, her ears perked straight up.
The other was a handsome, slender male knight.
Bennet and Keith.
“Keith, Deliver the archdukes’ eldest sons to their territories. And don’t lay a hand on them. Listen, I’m serious!”
On Oldart’s serious expression, Luecke and Eunius retreated a step to look at Keith.
The one in question,
“To save a precious subordinate, and to save a dear friend, I gladly take up this mission to deliver these men home. Ah, what a wonderful day it is. For such beauty is the friendship between men.”
Oldart ignored Keith.
“There are some problems with his personality, but he’s got the top aerial capabilities in the dragoon brigade. Now onto the dragoon brigade’s idol… Bennet-chan, take Izumi-chan with you, and join Rudel in the fray. Ah, if you spot the black knight along the way, pick him up.”
“Understood, captain. He’s a precious subordinate to myself as well, I will certainly make it in time. But whether I find the black knight or not is up to question.”
Oldart scratched his head.
“That one’s a miscalculation on my part. Well, right now, it’s more important t o hurry up. There’s no time. We’ll send around our support as quickly as possible… you just have to hold out until then. Don’t push yourself.”
Bennet and Keith answered their usually carefree captain’s serious expression with earnest salutes.
Izumi thought to herself.
(I can only hope this is enough… Rudel.)
An army of monster that continued to no end.
As if they didn’t know the notion of pause, they continued invading the fort, wave after wave. There was no plan, and the empire had gathered numbers great enough that one wasn’t needed.
In the fort, Rudel sheathed his sword, sleeping as if to embrace it.
He sat on a wooden crate, around him, the bonfires were kept alit as the continuing enemy offense was dealt with. In the narrow fort, Sakuya would take the blows of enemies that managed to make it in.
Before hundreds of thousands of monsters, the reason a small fort could hold out was due to the grace of a gaia dragon subspecies, thanks to the defense of Sakuya’s tough skin.
Her large arms brushed away the monsters clinging to its walls, but even so before the violence of hundreds of thousands, they were pressed into a hard battle.
A dragon like Sakuya could continue fighting for a few days, but the human Rudel was easily beset by his limits. Even so, he managed to fight on two nights and two days, so he was plenty inhuman himself.
Chlust had stationed trustworthy knights around Rudel.
Around, the civilians from around the fort who’d lost their place to flee raised a ruckus in their terror.
“Why aren’t you fighting!? If you’re a knight, then fight!”
“Let me out! I’ll get away from the fort, just let me out!”
“I never heard it would be like this! You can’t pin any of this on me!”
Blindly faithful to the dragoons, and feeling betrayed, the anger of the people was directed unto a resting Rudel. Even if he had fought to the edge of his limit, in this state of panic, no matter how they explained, they couldn’t expect understanding.
(That’s why I told them to run. And even if they run now,)
It was too late to run. Far too late. They were surrounded by the empire’s army of monsters, and anyone who stepped out would be no more than monster feed.
The fort’s defense had become a little more reliable with Sakuya’s arrival, but a situation where they had to keep wary of both inside and out still persisted.
A few hours after he began resting, Rudel slowly rose up.
“Brother! You can sleep some more! In that state—”
Seeing Rudel’s stamina and mana expended, Chlust wanted to use every means at his disposal to get his brother just a little more rest. But as Rudel lifted his face.
“The night will soon open up. When that happens, the enemy movements will be even more active than before. Could I have a bit of food?”
Rudel wouldn’t show a pained expression; Chlust ordered one of his men to prepare a meal.
The army led by the first prince of the empire… the crown prince measured out the right timing to advance near the border.
Under a large pavilion, the crown prince was surrounded by his generals.
“The wyvern unit is ready.”
“Crown prince, the time has finally come for us to launch a counteroffensive on Courtois!”
“There are a hundred to two hundred dragoons at most, but the empire’s wyvern unit surpasses five hundred. Even numerically, we hold the advantage.”
Hearing out those statements,
“On this occasion, we are mere decoys. Rather than victory, our priority shall be to shave away their foot soldiers. Hold the dragoons in place with the wyvern unit, and use that space and our numbers to put a dent in their army.”
At the crown princes declaration, the surroundings generals quietly nodded. When it came to the battlefield, Courtois places heavy stress on their dragoons. For that sake, their foot soldiers were in short supply.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the empire had more foot soldiers than they knew what to do with. With Askewell leading his monster army, a majority of the human soldiers came under the crown prince’s command. Put up against Courtois’ soldiers in both quality and quantity, they would win.
And there was meaning in prioritizing chipping down their foot soldiers.
One of the generals,
“If they lose their foot soldiers, it will be impossible for them to occupy their land. No matter how powerful the dragoons may be, foot soldiers are still a necessity.”
The crown prince looked at the table laid out for him and the generals. A map had been spread over it, with the formation of the imperial army waiting intently for Courtois’ main force to come lain out in wooden pieces.
“… There is no need to win. Defeat as many soldiers and commanding officers within our capabilities. In an aerial battle, our wyvern unit will never win against Courtois’ dragoons in technical skills. Then we must knock Courtois down so hard it will take them ten, twenty years to recover. In that time, the empire’s crops will rise from the rich soil we have taken. For that is true victory for the empire!”
When the crown prince stood, the generals stood with him. Their expressions were all the epitome of severity. They could finally get one back at Courtois, who had tormented them for many a long year. The generals also understood this was a single important battle for the empire to make a comeback.
While Courtois had been protected by the dragoons, the empire was placed into the harshest of times. And those times had bred a powerful land force.
Imperial soldiers… their quality was higher than Courtois’ average fighter. Their fighting spirit was higher than it ever could be.
The crown prince gave a slight smile, he gripped his right hand into a fist and held it up high.
“In this battle, the empire’s future hangs on everyone’s performance. And I am certain we will reign victorious… victory to the empire!”
“To the empire!”
The highest ranking of his generals following on from the crown prince’s cry, the generals raised their voices in succession. Far more unified than Courtois, they were a foe one couldn’t drop their guard around.
— Delivered home via Keith, Luecke met with his father, the head of his house at the Halbades House castle.
Vast, apart from the window, every surface off the office his father processed paperwork in was covered with bookshelves reaching up to the ceiling. Well-set hair and beard, his clothing was also prim and proper, a man who looked visibly high-strung.
He wouldn’t even look at his son Luecke who’d come home.
“… So, you’re telling me to dispatch Halbades House troops because you want to save a friend? Going as far as to oppose the kingdom? I had my hopes on you, but now I wonder what I was looking at.”
At the words of his father, Luecke clenched his fist and grit his teeth. He expected it would come to this, and negotiating with that predetermined result in mind, Luecke had merely reaffirmed it.
He desperately moved his mouth, speaking of profits to the Halbades House.
“There is a high probability Princess Aileen is moving of her own accord, and more unnatural than anything is that—”
“Probability? Unnatural? The moment you move on wishful thinking is the moment you fail. You’re not at an age where you can’t understand that, are you?”
His paperwork finished, Luecke’s father returned his quill to its pen stand and capped off his ink vial. He reviewed the documents as he waited for the ink to dry.
Sitting deep into his chair, he closed his mouth and shut his eyes. Luecke’s voice grew rough.
“Then I’ll head out alone if I have to.”
“I know you hold affection for the daughter born to an Arses House concubine. Are you throwing away your life for her? Be good, and I wouldn’t mind you taking her as a concubine of your own. Give it another thought.”
Luecke scoffed at his father’s cold words.
“Hah, I’d rather you not belittle me. I’ll seduce the woman I love on my own terms. But a friend… Rudel is a dear friend to me. If I let him die, I won’t be able to forgive myself.”
Resting an elbow on his desk, Luecke’s father spoke.
“I see. Then I’ll send reinforcements, though I don’t know if you’ll make it in time. I’m busy over here. The matter’s in your hands.”
Luecke had turned his back to his father, the head, and was about to leave the room. Seeing that back, the head gave a tired mutter.
“… Good grief, you weren’t that sort of kid.”
Luecke stopped in his track.
“… Certainly, perhaps I’ve changed. But I personally take it for the better.”
Beaten down by his persistence, the head called out to Vargas, who was stationed outside the room.
“… Vargas, are you there?”
Rudel’s upperclassman, Vargas was also Luecke’s guard. He was, at present, a knight of the Halbades House leading his own unit. He had been quite worried about Rudel, and perhaps he intended to sortie with Luecke as he was already wearing his armor.
“I shall be heading to the palace on a separate matter. Know you will only have five thousand troops to move. I will require one thousand of my own.”
As Luecke turned, the head smiled a bit.
“You’re still a child, Luecke… did you think I didn’t know a thing? I’d long since grasped Princess Aileen’s suspicious movements. I’m sure that Diade will also be moving. And listen well… if you’re a man of an Archduke House, show enough ardor to make your side the one that wins. You go to your friend. I’ll do something about the palace. It seems Princess Fina’s already moving, after all.”
Liecke was a little dumbfounded by his father’s words, but he soon nodded and called to Vargas.
“Let’s go, Vargas!”
“Leave it to me, young master!”
“Don’t call me young master! Dammit, I’m going to reeducate you one of these days!”
Luecke had moved in order to save Rudel.
In the courtyard of the Diade House castle, Eunius was being knocked off his feet by his father.
His strong-muscled father wasn’t as tall as him. But his arms were much thicker, and his body was ridden with large scars.
They were scars of the battlefield. His short hair standing on end, his stiff beard made him more of a brave warrior than a nobleman.
“… Concede the battlefield to you? When did you become more important than me, son?”
When Eunius wiped his mouth with a sleeve, it turned red, but paying no mind, he glared at his father.
“I’m going to save a pal! Why do I have to deal with that pissy Princess Aileen at the palace!? You go take the palace, old man!”
His thick eyebrows twitch, Eunius’s father punched Eunius again to blow him away. But this time, Eunius endured and returned the punch.
Smacked by his son, his father spaced out just a bit, but bursting into laughter, this time he smacked Eunius without holding anything back.
Blown all the way into the wall, Eunius fell to the ground.
“Nice fist. Very well, I’ll respect that punch and your tongue with the plains of war. But I won’t accept anything apart from victory. If you skulk back without any distinguished service, I’m rebuilding you from the ground up.”
Eunius stood and brushed off the dirt clinging to his clothing.
“You old fogey… too strong for your own good.”
Looking at his son Eunius with a smile, Eunius’ father barked orders to his subordinates around.
“I’m heading to the palace. You all follow Eunius. If that idiot tries running, give him a kick in the ass towards the battlefield.”
Eunius spat his saliva at that unthinkable line from an archduke. A majority-red spit stuck to the grass, but paying it no mind, Eunius looked at the lines of soldiers.
Stationed close to the border, the elite gathering of Diade House vassals.
Strapping on their armor, they turned to Eunius and stood in file.
“… Run? If I ran and abandoned a friend, I’ll regret it for life. This alone is where I won’t run.”
And as he walked off towards his vassals, Eunius declared.
“Aight, I’m off to carve the Diade House name into those foolish imperials. You lot, try ‘n keep up!”
Eunius’ words were followed by a loud response. While the Diade House was rough, that was simply the gathering of warriors they were.
Eunius looked at his men hurriedly moving around.
(Don’t know if we’ll make it in time. Rudel, don’t overdo it.)
And as Eunius looked to the sky, the sun was blocked out by a flying something, making a shadow.
Near the Hardie House estate in the royal capital, Aleist ran into Nate.
“Senpai, the Hardie House manor has already been occupied.”
“Nate? What about my parents!”
To a panicking Aleist, Nate closed one eye in a wink.
“They already got out of the city. Said something about returning to the territory and preparing for war. Your house sure is radical, senpai. I’m worried whether or not I can keep up.”
Aleist half-smiled seeing Nate as her usual self. She wore a robe around her body, and nearby a hippogryph was stationed taking on horse form. It was Nate’s partner.
To its side, with long black hair, a monster with red lines running down its horn… the Nightmare Heath stood as well.
Approaching its master Aleist, it touched its horn to him.
“Heath, you waited for me.”
Aleist’s armor and baggage were loaded on its back. He had come to collect them, but it did seem Nate was being considerate.
“Nate, you stayed too? What about that nameless knight brigade, or would you prefer shadow brigade?”
As Aleist tilted his head, Nate touched a hand to her brow.
“They’re doing their work. I, well see… I’m your fiancé, so I came to support you. I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
Seeing Nate at her usual tempo, Aleist gave a bitter smile. A voice called from behind him as well.
“Nate, you… are you trying to promote yourself?”
“Dirty. Nate, you’re playing dirty.”
There, Seli and Juju met up with them, wearing their equipment.
To Aleist’s snowballing confusion, the female camp gathered one after another. A woman who was the daughter of a merchant came over to Aleist.
“Aleist-sama, I shall be the one to safely deliver you out of the capital.”
“Oy, that’s the only part you’ll be of any use at all!”
“Rather, isn’t this quite a number?”
“Huh? Didn’t know you were joining in.”
Aleist looked at the gathered members. And despite his confusion.
“Err… I’m putting up a bit of resistance to the kingdom, and no matter how you cut it, I’ll be in a terrible position after this. So anyway, if possible, I’d quite like if you forgot about me and moved on.”
To that, Aleist’s academy junior Seli spoke.
“What are you talking about!? If you folded to such an order and became supreme commander, I’d have cut off our engagement then and there. To save a friend, Aleist-sama who stood in the trust sense against the kingdom’s crisis is the only one worthy of being my husband.”
Juju’s face likewise flushed red.
“Aleist, you really are cool.”
(… Huh? Why is everyone following me? Didn’t mom say something about knowing where you stand… rather, why every one of them? I see some people here I’m not even engaged to…)
The females that came there were too numerous to count on two hands.