About a day’s walk from the capital Nice to the northwest, a gently-sloping hill spread out and hung over the entire region. It was filled with sparsely populated forests and a thin river that flowed in between the hills. It was a place where different villages could be reached with 3 Verst (about 3 km) of walking.
Early in the afternoon as the sun passed its zenith, a little less than 10,000 men formed a long line and were walking on the long and narrow highway through that area.
Their outfits were uneven, and while there were those armed with spears and armor, there were also those wearing furs and twisting chains around their bodies. There were also people who wore leather armor and hung large hatchets at their waists as well.
If there was one thing that they all had in common, it’d be the dark and wild atmosphere they were giving off. They felt like people who would not hesitate to steal from or torment others.
Their supreme commander was on board of one of two carriages slowly advancing at the very rear of the group. He was a man with gray hair, well-ordered features and a body wrapped in luxurious silk clothes and he was lying down while being half buried among many cushions. It was Charon Anquetil Greast.
He commanded this group, which was composed of soldiers, who served Earl Cotillard, former knights, bandits and the like, to do two things.
One was the release of greed. Before fighting with the Moonlight Knight army, Greast mercilessly attacked and burnt some villages and towns located in Earl Cotillard’s territory and abducted several people. He did not do so to obtain food supplies and materials, but instead did it to raise the soldiers’ fighting spirit and mentally corner Cotillard’s soldiers so they could not remain uninvolved.
If they followed him, meals would be guaranteed and they could also plunder. Greast constantly reminded the soldiers of this.
The other method used to make the soldiers obey him was fear.
One time, six soldiers, who were standing guard, sneaked away from the army and attacked a nearby village. They set fire to houses, killed several villagers and stole food and alcohol.
What awaited them, when they returned, was Greast’s severe execution.
He put an iron collar on the necks of those to be executed and made them wear a whole head iron mask. The iron mask only had a hole in one place. Water was poured into the hole then it was sealed up.
Those who received the sentence, unable to breathe, not being able to see anything and being unable to utter a sound, writhed in agony as if dancing and died by drowning. It was an execution method that Greast named “Dance of the Mask”.
The soldiers who saw this execution all had pale faces and were unable to utter a single word. Men, who enjoyed plunder and killing and could even swing down their blades on women and children without hesitation, shrank.
When the iron mask was taken off to confirm that they were dead, there were people who threw up after seeing the deceased’s sublime faces. At this moment, they submitted to Greast.
“I’m slightly dissatisfied, but well I can’t help it……”
Greast listlessly rummaged through his gray hair as he looked up at the ceiling of the carriage while being buried amongst the cushions. These 10,000 soldiers led by him were going north.
He moved after being ordered by Ganelon to “bring chaos to Brune as much as possible”. He had cooperated with Melisande and stolen the Kingdom’s sacred sword Durandal for that purpose. The only thing that he had done to satisfy his own greed would be the capture of Elen.
According to Greast’s schedule, he should have provoked Regin by attacking villages and towns around the capital Nice and plundering for a few days. Afterwards, he would occupy Lutetia and seize the northern part of Brune.
What made him change his schedule was the report of the Muozinel army’s invasion brought about by a scouting party. Greast had organized several scouting parties and diligently kept gathering information.
In order to check whether or not it was the truth, Greast had the Cotillard’s soldiers head to the nearby fort and the local feudal lord. Brune’s southern part was too far to have it confirm directly. It would require nearly ten days to just go and come back.
“Princess Regin should have given the land of Agnes in the southeast to Zhcted. If they invaded by breaking through Agnes, the Muozinel army would without doubt have a great number of soldiers.”
The Cotillard’s soldiers, who received Greast’s orders pretended to be Princess Regin’s subordinates and succeeded in getting a story from them.
The Muozinel army having invaded was a fact and it numbered from 100,000 to 150,000. It was said that they marched along the southern coast and captured port cities one after another.
“This is quite bad.”
Greast immediately saw through the fact that the Muozinel army secured the sea route by seizing the southern port cities group, and on top of that, intended to aim at the capital Nice.
He had no room to stick to the capital and plunder. It was necessary to seize Brune’s northern part as early as possible and strengthen the defense.
That was the reason why the Greast army immediately went away from the capital Nice and headed to the north.
The Greast army was not heading straight to Lutetia; they avoided the main highway and were aiming for the land of Montour located in the southwest of Lutetia.
Montour was a small territory which only had several villages and towns. Its current lord was Viscount Vernon Laspede, but this man was indebted to Greast.
Two years ago. It was the time when the Brune army lost to the Zhcted army in the land of Dinant and Princess Regin, who called herself Prince Regnas at the time, went missing. Being told “cooperate with this youngster” by Ganelon, Greast met with Vernon.
Vernon was the Laspede House’s eldest son and should have someday inherited the House, peerage and territory. But, the one that his father designated as the successor was the second son Denis.
Vernon had a rustic character and when something did not go his way, he would vent his anger on the fief’s population. He was generous, his ability as a warrior was also reliable and he greatly played an active part on the battlefield, but he was disliked and feared by the fief’s population.
“I watched over you hoping that you would someday correct this behavior, but it seems like I can only give up. I do not intend to let you inherit anything.”
Vernon’s father, Viscount Laspede said so. Vernon who was angry at his father’s attitude and was greatly perplexed implored Ganelon.
Greast, who heard the circumstances, arrested Viscount Laspede for the charge of plotting a rebellion against the royal family. After he went through torture and was killed by the execution method called “Armor of Flames”, then it was announced that the Viscount was innocent and that the second son Denis wanted to inherit the Viscount House so much that he tried to pin the crime on his father and his elder brother.
Greast ordered Vernon to arrest Denis, but Denis fled from the territory and was able to conceal himself. Thus, Vernon inherited the Viscount House.
The report, which was delivered to the royal palace, was something written by Greast’s hand; it was only written that Viscount Laspede died, the eldest son Vernon succeeded him and the second son Denis absconded. It did not even have the description that Laspede plotted a rebellion.
When Regin became Brune’s ruler, Vernon pledged allegiance to her, and confined himself in his territory so as to avoid standing out. In addition, he learnt some self-restraint and did not exert violence that much to the fief’s population.
Even so if peace continued in Brune, either Regin or Badouin would probably realize a suspicious point regarding the Laspede House’s peerage and territory’s succession. But, their busy daily prolonged Vernon’s life as feudal lord.
For Greast, the likes of Vernon were only mere accessories. But, Montour’s land was an ideal position as base in order to seize Lutetia.
“I guess I’ll borrow Vernon’s mansion when I arrive at Montour. I shall deepen my relationship with Eleonora-dono one step further inside a bed.”
Elen was put in the other carriage. The one, who might approach that carriage, was only a girl who was appointed by Greast to take care of her. It was a girl that he abducted from a certain village.
Three days have passed since Greast captured Elen. The gray-haired Marquis repeated the same act he did the first day on Elen every night. He felt her body over her clothes, licked her fingers and shoulders and pressed his tongue on her forehead and cheeks.
At times, no matter what, his blood boiled and he felt so excited that he almost stepped beyond that point, but Greast restrained himself. He did not want to welcome the moment of supreme bliss in a slightly dirty camp or a narrow carriage.
“However, to think that Tigrevurmud Vorn went missing…… Judging from the number of the Moonlight Knight army which returned to the capital, there’s no sign that he’s leading a detached force. I don’t think that he dies a dog’s death, but where is he and what is he doing……?”
Greast had not noticed. That there was one youth on a hillside about 500 Arshins (approximately 500 meters) away from the army of 10,000 that he led. And that that youth slipped through the eyes of the scouting party that Greast frequently sent and, while hiding behind trees and rocks, continued pursuing the Greast army while keeping a constant distance.
That youth’s name was Tigrevurmud Vorn.
It was early afternoon two days ago that Tigre discovered the Greast army.
From that time until now, Tigre had been continually surveying them. The only times when he took his eyes off from them were when he stopped by a village or a town away from the highway to buy food, and when he slept.
If someone who knew Tigre well were to see his current state, they would not be able to conceal their surprise. The youth’s darkish red hair was disheveled like a shabby nest of birds, his face stained black with soil and dirt, there were dark circles under his eyes and a stubbly beard stood out on his chin. Only his eyes shone fierily, glowing similarly to that of a starving beast.
The hempen clothes he wore turned black by soil and dirt and became loose here and there. The beast’s fur he coiled around his waist brought about an almost bandit-like atmosphere.
Since he parted from Mashas and company and acted alone, Tigre had hardly slept well. He even ignored the need to wipe his body clean, as he thought that rescuing Elen took precedent over it.
As a matter of fact, when he found the Greast army, Tigre was about to nock an arrow on his black bow. The figures of soldiers suffering from poison and his allies escaping and collapsing within the confusion of the defeat flashed across the youth’s mind.
If he were to use the black bow’s power while being stimulated by a dark anger as is, he would probably be able to blow off many enemies and give them a severe blow and confusion. But at the same time, he would definitely invite the counterattack of the enemies who survived, made them cautious and thus be unable to achieve his original goal.
Tigre narrowly remembered his goal.
The reason why he was here all alone was in order to rescue Elen. As he remembered the smile of Elen that he met in the end on the battlefield and the depressed face of Lim, who has lowered her head saying “please” while trying to desperately maintain her calmness, Tigre barely removed his fingers from the bowstring.
Incidentally, Tigre was not currently on horse. He was riding one when he left the Moonlight Knight army, but after he discovered the Greast army, he thought that a horse might stand out, thus exchanged it with provisions in a settlement he stopped by.
Because the Greast army had many infantrymen, it was not difficult for Tigre to follow them.
“It’s really a medley, a mixed organization, huh……”
As he scowled at the Greast army 500 Arshins ahead while hiding in a clump of bushes, Tigre took a small breath. Why did they lose to such guys? He was thinking very much about that recently.
As he was not chasing them directly, but instead sneaking around their flank while hiding in thickets under the cover of dusk, Tigre had observed the Greast army from various angles and distances. Due to this, he had not yet been found out by the frequent scouting parties.
He had been thinking about it since the time that they had fought, but their equipment was not uniform. If there were people who had outfitted themselves with a full set of armor, there were also those who had outfits like what he had on currently. In addition, whenever they made camp or took time resting, there were frequent quarrels and scuffles, as well as people who were drunk.
The commander Greast seemed to let them do as they liked for some reason. He probably thought that it would be fine as long as they obeyed orders at crucial times.
Anyway, Tigre was thankful for that. This was because it meant that there was an opening he could take advantage of.
There was no soldier who would remember all the faces of 10,000 comrades. If he were to cover just his face, it looked like he could creep in under cover of the dark night and pretend to be one of theirs.
—And then first, I’ll find out where Elen is.
As he decided so, Tigre decided to wait for the day to go down while making sure to not be too far from them.
A little before the day set, the Greast army stopped their march and set up camp.
Greast ordered soldiers and had them dig trenches in two-fold. Both trenches were shallow, but at the bottom of the trenches, there were swords and spears buried with their points facing upwards. Furthermore, Greast had them set several barracks between the two trenches, thus making it hard to see from outside of the camp.
“An enemy will not emerge from the capital at this point in time, but it’s better to take some measures after all.”
Even if there was an enemy, who set a night attack, if he could gain time by holding them back using the trenches, he would be able to deal with them in anyway by his command. Great had that much confidence.
Here and there in the camp, soldiers put stones together to make cooking hearths and light fires.
The meal was only bread and soup. The soup’s flavor was strong, containing meat, vegetables and cooked beans. The types of meat in the soup were varied, such as pig, rabbit and sheep, but it was enough to please the soldiers. The bread was flat and hard, but when it was dipped into the soup and eaten, it filled their stomachs.
By the time they started their meal, the day had passed and night had arrived.
While occasionally looking left and right as if he were looking for a vacant space, a youth walked between the soldiers who had surrounded the fires and were enjoying themselves with meals and conversation.
The youth’s identity was Tigre. Under cover of the night darkness, he had sneaked into the Greast army’s camp with a nonchalant look.
Currently, Tigre had covered his head with the fur that he had wound around his waist, covering nearly half his face. His face was also rather dirty as he’d rubbed soil onto it. With his stubbly beard, the impression he gave off was completely different. Even those who knew his face would not be able to recognize him unless they could examine him in a well-lit place. Even his outfit of leather armor on dirty clothes fit in with the camp perfectly.
As Tigre occasionally stopped here and there, he eavesdropped on those around him. There were all kinds of people here, from bandits to knights and soldiers who previously served nobles. There were also mercenaries who had been hired.
—As I thought, these guys are just a gathering of various kinds of people.
And the majority of people seemed to have no hesitation towards carrying out inhuman acts.
Whenever he heard their stories, it was always about attacks they had carried out on the villages and towns in Earl Cotillard’s territory, where they violated the residents, killed them and stole their food. They talked about how it was unfortunate that they could not do the same in capital territory. Tigre constantly had to restrain himself from taking action.
As he thought that he could possibly learn something about Elen by listening to his surroundings, he heard a certain person speak.
“Speaking of which, what happened to that silver-haired woman? Because of her alone, more than half of my subordinates died.”
As if he were recalling an event, one of the soldiers that were having a meal asked his comrade. He was clad in leather armor reinforced with iron scraps and was exuding a mercenary-like atmosphere.
The one who answered his question was a man sitting on the side with the hearth in between them. This one wrapped his body in dark gray armor. He seemed to be a soldier who served a noble.
“Stop it. That woman is the supreme commander’s favorite. He tied her with chains, locked her inside one of the barracks and played with her every night.”
Tigre almost unintentionally called out to that man, but he promptly held his mouth and swallowed the words that were about to come out of his throat.
With the terms of silver-haired girl and having killed many enemies all by herself, it could only be her.
—I thought that it could’ve been misinformation that Elen had been caught, but……
The Greast army did not declare that they captured Elen. There was the possibility that in the end, Tigre and company did not find Elen, who was wounded and fell on the battlefield or also that she lost her life in some sort of way.
But, Tigre could not shake the thought that the enemy had captured Elen.
One reason was the testimony of some soldiers who said to have seen Elen being engulfed by the enemy army.
The other was because Tigre remembered Greast’s attitude towards Elen two years ago.
As expected, Elen has been captured by the Greast army and was somewhere in this camp.
Another man, who surrounded the bonfire, cut into the two men’s conversation.
“There was a guy that was executed by the supreme commander this morning, right? It seemed that he was executed because he tried to see that woman’s mug and got near the barracks where she was. Even though he was subdued and wasn’t even able to go inside in the end.”
“The last time, the one of pouring water inside the iron mask was quite extreme, but this time was also quite awful. He cut off their ears and toes, and put them together with soil in their mouths……”
As they recalled that scene, a heavy atmosphere drifted among them.
“……Was it Montour? I hope we’d arrive there quickly.”
The leather-armored man shrugged his shoulders and changed the topic. Tigre quietly left that place.
His heartbeat sped up due to relief, strain, anxiety and impatience. That he knew that Elen was there was something to be happy about. However, any other information aside from that strongly tightened Tigre’s chest to the extent that his breathing became painful. Greast’s crookedness has far exceeded Tigre’s imagination.
—With a camp of such a configuration, the supreme commander’s barrack should be at the center. In that case, the barrack where Elen is locked in would be next to it……
What was Greast doing to Elen? Just imagining it, Tigre almost let himself be overwhelmed with anger. He wanted to give himself to fury, run around while crying aloud, unleash his black bow’s power to his heart’s content and erase just about everything by shooting arrows around randomly.
Tigre barely held back those ferocious emotions with the feeble chain called ‘reason’. His sole purpose here was to rescue Elen.
—In the worst case, Elen may not be able to walk by herself.
In other words, Tigre would have to carry her on his back and break through the encirclement of 10,000 soldiers. Moreover, according to the soldiers, it seemed that one would be executed by just going near the barrack Elen was locked in.
—What do I do……?
Probably because he was walking while thinking like that, the black bow that Tigre held hit the head of a man, who was sitting on the ground and having his meal.
The fact that he was going to walk away without noticing it was a blunder.
An anger-filled throaty voice was struck on the youth’s back.
Tigre stopped. He intended to ignore it and leave, but it would be bad if it became an uproar and attracted attention. Besides, people, who found this kind of quarrel amusing and fan it, could be found anywhere.
As he reluctantly turned around, one man was walking his way. He had a stout body build and was one head taller than Tigre. The upper half of his body was naked and he wore a fur of an animal directly (on his bust). He wound a straw rope around his waist and inserted a dagger and a hatchet there.
The man revealed a ferocious smile and looked down at Tigre while unnaturally shaking his shoulders.
“That dirty bow of yours hit my head.”
Tigre silently looked up at the man. He could see that the surrounding gazes gathered on the man and himself. However, Tigre had no intention at all to answer to their expectations.
“I’m sorry for that.”
Tigre slightly bowed his head. He turned on his heel and was about to leave this time for sure, but saying “oi”, the man once again called him to halt with an overbearing voice.
“Do you take me for a fool? Do you think it’ll just end with that?”
Tigre chewed his back teeth and restrained his irritation. He thought that it would be quick to knock him down, but because he saw multiple figures of persons appearing to be the man’s comrades behind him, he changed this thought.
“What do you want me to do then?”
“Apologize. While placing both your knees and hands on the ground, that is.”
At these words, the man’s comrades laughed all at once. The soldiers around them rustled. The man was asking him to go down on his hands and knees.
Tigre silently stood stock still on the spot. If he were to get on the other party’s provocation here, it would not end with a one-on-one fight and would become a brawl.
If Tigre’s bare face were exposed and someone were to notice him, even if he could escape from this place, everything would be over. Greast would become cautious of Tigre and increase the number of lookouts. Or, he might move Elen to a place that only he knew.
Tigre got down on his knees there. He put his bow aside, and stuck both his hands and head on the ground.
Sighs of disappointment and disdain leaked out from the surroundings. Abuses such as “don’t kid with us” and “show your guts” were showered on Tigre from all sides. He even had empty plates and bottles thrown at him.
The man also seemed to be disappointed at Tigre’s attitude. He spat saliva on Tigre’s back of head and stepped on the black bow placed to the side.
Tigre’s right hand clawed at the ground and tightly grasped a small handful of earth. Just a little more and the youth was about to take his bow from under the man’s step and beat him without arguing. He shouted Elen’s name many times in his heart, pictured her face in his mind and barely held onto his reason.
Could one call it fortunate? The man did not notice it.
“You dampen my mood. Cowards like you should just hurry up and disappear. Even if you go out in the battlefield, you won’t be of any use at all.”
The man’s foot separated from the bow. Tigre did not immediately extend his hand to the bow, and waited for the man to leave. Meanwhile, sneers and boos poured on the youth.
As the man and his comrades left, Tigre took his black bow and stood up unsteadily. He curved his back and looked downward so that his face was not seen and began to walk. He pretended to avoid the public eye and jumped behind a barrack.
He moved from shadow to shadow and exited the camp so that he was not found by the soldiers on lookout. He walked for a while and looked back towards the camp; as he confirmed that he was probably about 300 Arshins away from the bonfire’s size, he heaved a sigh of relief.
While carefully cleaning off dirt on the black bow, the youth apologized. This time was entirely Tigre’s carelessness; if he was even a little careful, the bow would not have been stepped on. The fact, that the black bow was a special existence, so there would be no problem even if it was stepped on, was a different story.
Tigre slowly wiped the black bow covered with dirt with the fur that he put on his head. When he finished, he spread the fur on the ground and lay down on top of it.
He was thankful to the current season that was changing from spring to summer. This was because even if he slept like this, he would not catch a cold.
Anyway, it’d be better not to move today. He decided to rest and closed his eyes.
—The problem is what will I do from tomorrow on? As far as I see from their march, I can’t make a move in the daytime. In that case, it’ll be at night, but……
Being unable to figure out a course of action, drowsiness encroached upon Tigre’s consciousness. It seemed that the infiltration and escape exhausted Tigre’s mind more than he thought.
Before he knew it, Tigre began to inhale and exhale slower and slower. The moon, which shone white with the darkness as background, silently overlooked the youth.
At the time when Tigre was sleeping lying down on the ground, Limalisha was in her room located in Brune’s royal palace. It was a guest room that Augre has prepared for her.
Light was illuminating the room from the lit lamp hanging from the ceiling. The interior design had a green color scheme to project a calm tone and it was tended scrupulously.
Just before she had entered the room, Lim had been inundated with tasks. She had to organize the soldiers from LeitMeritz and deal with other things. It had gotten to the point where even the time taken to have a meal had to be cut.
Mashas, who was considerate with her emotions and fatigue, told her to rest, but Lim declined it with a polite attitude and tidied up all the works she could do. It was as if she were seeking a minimal salvation in the exhausting work.
At present, the LeitMeritz soldiers’ number was about 1600. The majority of them had rented out all the space in several inns to rest.
The arrangement of the inns and leading the troops to them had been undertaken by Augre and his son Gerard, so that was taken care of, but the management of the soldiers had to be done by Lim. She strictly ordered them not to cause any trouble in the capital and that they had to be ready to move out at any time.
As a result of losing the fight and Elen having gone missing, the soldiers were irritated. Still, only a portion of them knew that their lord, the silver-haired Vanadis, had been captured by the enemy. However, there were also a few soldiers who had guessed this was the case. If this situation were to drag on, she would have to inform them sooner or later.
In the time where they had yet to arrive at the capital, Rurick and Aram had visited Lim multiple times and requested permission to go and search for Elen.
“It’s not like we don’t believe in Lord Tigrevurmud, but as LeitMeritz’s soldiers following Vanadis-sama, I can’t just sit and not do anything to help. Please give us permission to leave the army temporarily and chase after her.
The bald-headed knight with excellent archery’s skills said so with a serious face.
“Thinking about Vanadis-sama’s position, the enemy will probably treat her politely. But, aren’t we worthless if we just stand and watch while biting our finger as our Vanadis-sama become a prisoner. Even if it doesn’t compare with Tigre-san, we should do what we can.”
The scout soldier with a round face that could be described as beaver’s also appealed as such.
Among the LeitMeritz soldiers, these two were the ones Tigre had a particularly close relation with. As for Rurick, he has never hidden his adoration towards Tigre.
Even these two were like that. So if it was other soldiers, they would think not to leave it to the foreigner Tigre and would definitely act at their own convenience.
While Lim inwardly sympathized with both of them, she soothed them, persuaded them and sent them back to the inn.
When she made time to be alone like this, she would unintentionally spill out grumbles.
Lim removed the sword to her waist along with its scabbard and leaned it against the wall, but because changing her clothes was annoying, she still wore her military clothes as is. As she was sitting on a chair, a deep sigh leaked out from her mouth.
In her heart, she muttered Elen’s nickname. Although she feigned composure in front her soldiers, Lim could not stop thinking about Elen while she was working. No, it was the whole time since when she heard that Elen has been caught by the enemy.
She has been careless. With the wrong impression that if it was Elen, even if she cut through into the enemy camp, she would definitely come back. In fact, the silver-haired Vanadis had always accomplished it until now. Therefore, Lim has unconsciously allowed it. Even though originally, she should have stopped Elen even by force.
She was envious of Tigre who was acting alone in order to rescue Elen, and thought: “If only I also had the strength that allowed me to run around in the hills and fields.
“Really, I’m hopeless.”
As she shook her head and drove away her miscellaneous thoughts, Lim stood up. There were many things that she had to think about, and her time was limited. For now, she had to hope that Elen was safe and believe that Tigre would be able to rescue her while she did what she had to.
She spread a copy of the map on the table. It was something she borrowed from Mashas.
At this point in time, Greast’s troops were probably going towards the north travelling along the capital Nice’s flank.
—Isn’t there anything I can do?
In order to rescue Elen as quickly as possible.
For example, could she lead the LeitMeritz soldiers that could move and launch a night attack on the enemy? This was Brune. The enemy would be well-versed in the topography.
Or maybe she could send a truce bearer and negotiate with the enemy on her own. But, if they stated that they knew nothing about Elen, she would not have any reason to continue. They had already touched on this subject in the meeting at midday.
No matter how enthusiastically she scowled at the map, she was unable to come up with any ideas as to how she could break the current deadlock. Because she was aware that she was agitated, she constantly told herself to calm down, but in the end it was a futile gesture.
After a long period of time had passed while she stared at the map, there was a knock on the door.
Lim raised her head and confusedly glanced at the door. Who could it be at this time where even the palace servants had already finished their dinner?
“Is it Rurick? Or maybe Lord Mashas……?”
She could not think of any other person who would visit her room when Tigre and Elen were absent. She stood up and walked to open the door.
The one standing there was a young girl with chestnut-haired in ponytail. She wore a white apron on a black long-sleeved tunic and a skirt reaching to her feet. It was Titta.
“Titta. What’s the matter?”
Revealing slight surprise in her blue pupils, Lim looked down at Titta. Between the tall girl and the petite Titta, there was nearly a head’s difference in height.
Titta looked up at Lim with a pondering expression, but then she oozed determination in her hazel-colored pupils and held out the thing she had in her hands.
“Um, I wanted to give this to Limalisha-san……”
Lim stared at the thing in Titta’s hands with a perplexed face.
It was stuffed bear. Stuffed with remaining fur and sewed in, its size was about a little bigger when putting it on one’s hand.
“You wanted to give me this?”
Titta nodded as Lim asked. Clenching her small hands and straightening her back, Titta eagerly spun her words. As if breathing out all the air in her lungs.
“Limalisha-san. Eleonora-sama is definitely safe. Tigre-sama will definitely rescue her. So……”
As she cut her words there, Titta silently looked up at Lim. She was one of the few persons who knew that Elen’s whereabouts were unknown and that Tigre was acting independently. The shine in her hazel-colored pupils made Lim remember the event a few months ago.
From the end of autumn last year to winter was the period when Tigre had gone missing. It took about two months until his whereabouts were known.
During those months, Titta commuted everyday to the temple and kept praying to the gods for Tigre’s safety. Of course, she did not fail to do her work as a maid, too. Even though she was tormented with anxiety, she had been squashed by despair. When she knew of Tigre’s whereabouts, she did not fear to go out on trip in spite of being winter.
Because it was Titta, she could probably imagine Lim’s mental state now. That’s why she came to visit her like this.
“Thank you, Titta. I will treasure it.”
Lim accepted the stuffed bear with careful hands. She looked at it with an affection-filled gaze and gently wrapped it in her hands. The soft sensation of the fur was transmitted in the palms of her hands.
“I can’t only do this much. But, if Limalisha-san is happy with it, then that’s good.”
“No, it’s the best present for me. And also…… I also believe that Eleonora-sama is safe. Of course, in Lord Tigrevurmud, too.”
Lim was able to speak these words not as a bluff, but as a firm thought inside her heart. Of course, she knew that the situation was more severe than she imagined. The possibility of Elen being safe was exceedingly small.
Even so, she did not want to give up hope.
It was not that she averted her eyes from the reality. She was just doing her best looking ahead while harboring resolution.
“Titta. I don’t have time now, but someday I’ll certainly repay your gratitude.”
“Yes. I’ll look forward to it.”
As she judged that Lim was already all right, Titta did not continue the talk any further. Even she knew that now, time was extremely precious.
Lim asked Titta about only one thing she was concerned with.
“How does Princess Regin feel?”
Today, Titta was requested by Regin and served as her maid. Regin dealt with everyone with a courteous attitude, but even so in Brune’s royal palace, Titta was probably the only maid personally requested by the princess.
“Today, Regin-sama was busier than usual, so we could hardly talk……”
After answering as such, Titta’s expression clouded as she blamed herself.
“Besides, when I think that Regin-sama can’t afford to know about Tigre-sama, I reflexively put myself on guard…… I might have taken an attitude of not wanting her to talk to me too without knowing. Regin-sama looks like she’s considerate towards me.”
—Well, it’s no wonder.
Lim inwardly consented. Tigre was expected to have gone missing. It was natural for Titta to feel down, and Regin, whom she was intimate with, would naturally be considerate.
—Maybe she might have been seen through.
Titta was not good at hiding things. She was, of course, also worried about Elen and it was certain that her expression did not have its usual cheerfulness.
But, Titta harbored an absolute trust towards Tigre. Even the words, when she cheered up Lim earlier, were ones she said because she believed so.
—If her Highness Regin notices that…… No, I shall leave this to Lord Mashas.
“It’s all right, Titta. When the royal palace is this busy, there are also awkward things even though it’s nothing. Also, Lord Mashas is surely doing well. So, you should approach her Highness Regin like usual.”
With a smile, Lim lightly stroked Titta’s head. She was four years older after all. She did not want to be cheered up, but relieve her anxiety even a little.
“Thank you, Limalisha-san.”
As she said so and bowed, Titta walked to the corridor. She turned her head towards Lim’s way only once and slightly waved her hand when she saw Lim still standing at the doorway. Lim also waved back to her while still holding the stuffed bear as is. While seeing off the young girl’s back figure, she closed the door.
—I feel like it’s been a long time since I touched a stuffed bear.
In fact, in the war against Sachstein, Lim secretly brought a stuffed bear. It was about the size of the one she just received from Titta, and she judged that it would not be a hindrance even if she carried it as a private property.
However, due to the pressure of work, she stored it inside her transport bag as is and stopped touching it before she knew. Ever since Elen had been captured by the Greast army, she had even forgotten about it.
“I shall slowly think about a name for you, too.”
While enjoying the stuffed toy’s sensation, Lim happily muttered. She stood before the table and dropped her gaze once again at the map.
Although one might say that she renewed her feelings, it was not like a good idea would immediately come to mind. But, Lim was able to look at the map with more composure than earlier.
—Eleonora-sama. Please, be safe.
When she said so in her heart, the anxiety she had lessened to some extent.
Regin Ester Loire Bastien do Charles was sitting on the chair at her office absentmindedly.
She too was, like other people in the royal palace, a busy person. After she finished hearing Mashas’ report, she was processing the state affairs in her office as usual, but then the report of the Muozinel army invasion was brought there.
—Even though we just settled both Melisande’s revolt and the Sachstein army’s invasion……
This time, the Greast army and the Muozinel army was trying to devour Brune’s territory. It was a situation where even adults, who accumulated experiences, would want to throw away everything and run away.
But, Regin, who was the ruler, could not afford to do that.
She sent out an order to gather the main bureaucrats and immediately held a meeting. She issued instructions to investigate quickly and as accurate as possible the Muozinel army’s scale, march speed and invasion situation, chose a messenger to send to the Muozinel army and also sent a notification to the cities and towns of Brune’s southern part.
There were many frightening parts about the Muozinel army, but the most troublesome one was the point where they took away inhabitants of cities and towns as slaves. As for small towns, there were stories that, after having been thoroughly dispossessed and destroyed, only children and old people, who were deemed useless as slaves, would be left.
Therefore, there was the necessity for the cities and towns in the south to accept capitulation and escape to some extent.
From a strategic issue, there were also cities that she would have to order to resist to the bitter end, but she would have to send soldiers and materials to such places.
“Materials aside, what will we do about soldiers……?”
What became the focus even in today’s meeting was the ‘soldiers’. Even though they have not yet fully recovered from the scars of the civil war two years ago, a revolt and an invasion happened in succession and many officers and men lost their lives. One or two years were not enough to nurture one person adequately.
It was said that the Muozinel army numbered from 100,000 to 150,000. Though they wanted to estimate it low, such a naïve thought would not work. Even though it was impossible for their side to gather even 10,000 soldiers.
The Moonlight Knight army lost to the Greast army and saw its number decrease to 21,000. At the time when the battle with the Sachstein army was over, there were 34,000 soldiers including the injured ones; so it was a loss large enough to make one feel nauseous.
Because there was the Zhcted army amongst the 21,000 soldiers, if you were to count again and only count the soldiers from Brune, it would further decrease that number. Moreover, they would have to fight against the Greast army again, and even if they assumed they would achieve a complete victory, it would be senseless to expect that there would be no casualties.
Other than the Moonlight Knight army, there were roughly 15,000 soldiers stationed in the capital. Nearly half of them were those who acted as the royal palace’s security and also protected the public order by patrolling the capital. The time that they were mobilized would become the time when the capital would be attacked.
The idea of hiring mercenaries was also brought up, but knowing that they would fight with the Muozinel army, how many they would gather was the question. Besides, although the country’s fate was at stake, Regin did not want to harbor the thought that “it’s fine as long as we gather the number anyway”.
This was because mercenaries with bad disposition could even plunder villages and towns of the Kingdom without hesitation. Looking back to the history of the continent, there were many countries, whose territories were thoroughly devastated by the mercenaries that should have been hired in order to drive away a foreign enemy.
Besides that, the preliminary estimation that they would assemble roughly 40,000 if they recruited the militia was also brought up. Just looking at the number, it seemed to be quite something; but they could not expect much from their skills at all. There was even the possibility that they would suddenly chicken out when standing before the enemy. This too could only be relied upon when the capital was attacked.
—Even if we’re able to gather soldiers, whom will we leave the command to……?
As a matter of fact, she was unable to process everything today and matters of low priority were postponed to tomorrow. This situation would probably continue for a while. When tomorrow came, it was likely that a new matter that had to be dealt with immediately would come up.
The time she spent absentmindedly sitting in her office was a brief respite.
Regin muttered the name of the youth she held dear.
“To leave me alone like this, aren’t you awful?”
Her tone, rather than sounding like she was suffering from heartache, sounded like she was grumbling about something. When she had heard Mashas’ report, she was not able to think about anything due to the surprise of it, but she still believed in Tigre’s survival.
And, when she processed a huge amount of state affairs calmly and alone like this, there were parts where she held some doubt.
Regin knew well Tigre and Elen’s way of fighting on the battlefield. This was because in the civil war two years ago, Regin, as a supreme commander, had seen them fighting. Although called supreme commander, she was of course just a decoration and the substantial command was left to Mashas.
It was not like she did not understand the part where Elen disappeared within the enemy army. She was a girl who wielded her long sword and assertively cut through the enemy line. Mashas also talked in detail about it in the explanation of before and after.
On the other hand, how about Tigre? In the battle with the Greast army, Tigre was the supreme commander and should not be someone like, for example, Elen, who stood at the vanguard of soldiers and boldly charged. There was no such part even in Mashas’ report.
In what kind of situation would a supreme commander, who was at the center or in the rear of the army, go missing? Were Tigre and Mashas read to the point of being assaulted to that degree?
Even if Greast’s mercenaries were skilled and were really able to break through until where the supreme commander was, she felt like the explanation on that area was ambiguous. Just because it was a lost battle, Mashas should not be the kind of man that would make an excuse without admitting his blunder.
Moreover, what strengthened Regin’s doubt was the attitude of Titta, the maid serving Tigre. Because she went until the battlefield following Tigre, Regin could think that she somewhat recovered from depression during the time until she returned to the capital, but
—But, something doesn’t feel right.
It was then that the door was knocked from outside. The escort Selena, who served as guard outside the office, informed of Badouin’s visit across the door.
When Regin consented, the cat-faced old Prime Minister entered the office.
Badouin’s business was about the black-haired Vanadis Valentina. Hearing that she said she wanted to leave the capital and return to Zhcted with her soldiers, as expected even Regin was surprised, but she regained her calm before long.
—What she says isn’t wrong, but……
Although Elen assertively jumped through the enemy camp, if Valentina were to return to Zhcted like this, would she not be blamed for having abandoned her comrade-in-arms, the Wind Princess of the Silverflash?
Except Mashas’ report, something might have happened on the battlefield. Including the doubt about Tigre she felt earlier, she should probably try asking about the story once again.
Thinking so, Regin asked Badouin.
“Prime Minister. Putting aside Valentina-dono’s matter for the time being, I would like to consult you about something. It is about Lord Tigrevurmud.”
At this time, Badouin asked back as followed.
“Have you already heard the story from Earl Rodant?”
Regin returned a question again with a puzzled face.
“What are you talking about?”
Badouin made a face showing that he made a blunder. For the old Prime Minister cautious in everything, it was a rare verbal slip.
Though, it might be a little cruel to blame him. Until just a while ago, he was also moving around regarding how to deal with the Muozinel army. During the interval between meetings, he was busy to the point that he also had to issue instructions one after another to the civil officials while walking through the corridor. In addition, there was also the sense of relief of having left this matter to Mashas.
Without concealing anything, Badouin explained that Tigre was safe and that he was acting alone in order to rescue Elen. After Regin listened until the end with an impressed face, she asked shortly.
“Who is the mastermind?”
“It is Earl Rodant.”
“I see. I shall hear about the circumstances in detail from the Earl tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.”
To Regin, who revealed a bright smile, the cat-faced old Prime Minister deeply bowed his head. As for Mashas, if not for the Muozinel army’s invasion, he would have reported the circumstances of things to Regin before the day set. Though Badouin thought so, he did not plead for his friend.
“But thanks to that, I think that I understand. About what Valentina-dono is thinking about.”
Regin said with a relieved expression. Badouin revealed an honest surprise on his face.
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s probably for insurance. Valentina-dono does not yet trust Lord Tigrevurmud, right?”
For example, the LeitMeritz army led by Lim showed a stance of cooperation even now because they believed that Tigre would rescue Elen. If they did not trust Tigre, they would have act independently in order to rescue Elen.
“Isn’t Valentina-dono’s thinking of wanting to go ahead to Lutetia in preparation of the case that Lord Tigrevurmud failed in rescuing Eleonora-dono?”
“It might be as your Highness says, but…… there is also the possibility that Valentina-dono would join hands with Greast in this opportunity.”
Badouin tightened his expression and advised Regin. Regin’s thinking felt like she trusted Valentina too much.
If Valentina showed that she wanted to cooperate with Greast and headed to him to Lutetia, Brune would have an extremely powerful enemy to the north. Moreover, depending on Valentina’s actions, Greast might also obtain the backing of the Zhcted Kingdom.
However, Regin shook her head and clearly denied it.
“Valentina-dono will definitely not ally herself with the Greast army. If she felt like it, she should have taken contact with Greast and acted earlier.”
For example, when the Moonlight Knight army was defeated. If Valentina and the Osterode army shouted that they would cooperate with Greast and attacked the Moonlight Knight army, the Moonlight Knight army would have suffered a devastating loss.
In addition, when the Greast army pretended to be the Moonlight Knight army and approached the capital. If they were accompanied by Valentina, Augre and company would have opened the castle gate.
“……That’s certainly true.”
Badouin took a small breath. After she missed the two opportunities that Regin explained, it was inconceivable to say that Valentina she would go to Lutetia to ally with the Greast army.
Would Regin or Badouin not bring up the talk 『in order to fight Muozinel, should we not temporarily join hands with the Greast army』? Valentina would have wondered about that.
In doing so, she could dignifiedly ask the Greast army as a messenger acting as mediator of both parties. After all, she probably noticed vaguely that Brune did not have enough soldiers.
The reason why Badouin did not think of these points until now was because his wariness, about the fact that Valentina and Ganelon had interactions and also about knowing that Ganelon was a demon, was too strong. Regin’s words and attitude made him regain his usual calm.
“Besides, Prime Minister. I believe in Lord Tigrevurmud.”
As Tigre’s name suddenly came up, Badouin’s eyes flickered. Regin revealed a gentle smile on her lips.
“That he will surely succeed in rescuing Eleonora-dono and defeat the Greast army. Even if Valentina-dono were to plot something, as long as Lord Tigrevurmud is there, I do not think that it will affect his action.”
To Regin straightforward words, Badouin gazed at the princess while deeply moved. In her expression and tone, there was just a dazzling trust.
“You are right. If it is Earl Vorn, then……”
Though not to the same degree as Regin, Badouin also agreed. It was not an empty expectation. Tigre did not only have achievements, but also something which made people believe in him. Otherwise, Badouin would not go as far as to consider Tigre for the throne.
And then, Valentina should not think of Tigre as just a young aristocrat.
“Well then, I shall issue a pass to Valentina-dono. We shall wait until tomorrow for that which is extending to the north’s highway to open the castle gate as well.”
After Badouin answered so, one thought surfaced in Regin’s mind. Calling the Prime Minister, who was about to leave, to halt, the princess opened her mouth while drifting slight tension and resolution in her blue pupils.
“I thought of something regarding the battle with Muozinel.”
Badouin, who was told Regin’s thought, was first at a loss for words. Then, he felt his body shivering.
It was an extremely dangerous move. One mistake and Brune would be destroyed this time. There was no doubt that the territory would be trampled down to the enemy’s heart content and destroyed, and it would never again recover. Regin, who would be the cause of that would be criticized as an incompetent and foolish ruler.
He would really like to take time and carefully think about it, but if they were to execute, they must decide as soon as possible. And, thinking about Brune’s present condition, there was no other means.
When Badouin deeply inhaled and then exhaled, he gazed at the princess with a look of admiration.
It was a move he would not have come up with. If it was the late King Faron, then how would it have been? Even if he thought of it, he might have come to a decision to not use it.
“……Your Highness. Could I inquire about only one thing?”
Regaining his nervousness, Badouin asked with a serious expression he had never shown.
“I think that it’s an extremely bold plan. And the fact that you spoke about it means that you have already made up your mind. Your Highness, what…… what pushed you to make such a decision?
With a smile, Regin answered the only one feeling that made her decide.
“I believe in Tigre…… in Earl Vorn.”
Badouin held his breath and stood frozen in place. The old Prime Minister accurately understood the meaning and the weight of Regin’s words. And that it was a determination that he did not have after all.
After a short pause, as Badouin regained his calm, he respectfully bowed.
“Understood. I shall arrange it at once.”
When the day dawned, the sky, which Tigre looked up at, was covered with gray thick clouds. The clouds seeming like it would be no strange even it was to rain anytime hung low over, and the air was also chillier than yesterday.
—Even though it was sunny until yesterday……
While lightly rubbing his eyelids with his fingers, he got up. Since he began acting alone, Tigre had not slept satisfactorily even once; and today was also the same.
For one thing, this was because his sleep was light as he was cautious of stray dogs and wolfs.
He was also in a similar situation at times when he entered the mountains and hunted for several days, but in that case, he could choose a place to rest his body. He could borrow the mountain hut that the hunters of his home town used, or he could use a natural cave in place of the hut.
He could not do so this time. He had to constantly watch for scouts while following the Greast army so he could stay concealed. Since he did not have the time to choose a place to rest, he also could not afford to light a fire.
While avoiding a large group of beasts, Tigre would aim for a prey moving alone. There was no leisure to rest.
And perhaps because his sleep was light, he had worthless dreams. There was a dream where he drunk poisoned water, there was one where he lost a battle and there was also one where Elen was kidnapped by someone. When he made noise during these dreams and suddenly jumped up, his whole body was covered with sweat and feeling of fatigue weighed on him.
Even so, Tigre stirred his body with willpower. Slipping once again into the Greast army’s camp and rescuing Elen. That was the only thought left in his mind.
500 Arshins ahead, the Greast army stopped and started to cook their meals. Several lines of smoke rose because of the lit fires that were used to cook soup. Irritated, Tigre also took his meal. It was a simple meal comprised of dried meat, dried vegetables, bread and water.
The dried meat was something he made from thinly cut deer meat, smoked and salted with plenty of salt. It smelled slightly, but there was a feeling of satisfaction that came from eating something chewy with a salty taste.
Because the bread was insipid, he inserted dried vegetables within and ate it. It slightly elevated the texture of the food, while he ended up drinking the water by itself at the end.
The Greast army was still taking their meal. The number of rising smoke spirals decreased, but they had yet to all disappear. Thanks to his survey these several days, Tigre knew that they would take more than a half koku until departing after finishing their meal, cleaning up and gathering their luggage.
As Tigre checked his luggage and confirmed that it was in a situation when he could move any time, he sprawled on the ground. A drop of water fell on his cheek and streamed down.
It was rain. Tigre hurriedly got up, put the fur on his head. He covered his quiver with a hood. He also wanted to wrap his bow with something, but there was nothing suitable.
“I hope it’ll stop immediately though……”
Holding the bow in his hand, Tigre looked up at the sky. However, the rain ruthlessly increased in intensity. The ground became muddy, the air became cold and his field of vision also got worse.
“This isn’t good.”
Although cursing, Tigre quickly took out a leather bag for water from his luggage. While refilling water, he approached the Greast army little by little.
As he resolutely shortened the distance until 200 Arshins, the Greast army’s camp could be seen. Except the ones on lookout, the soldiers seemed to have gone in the barracks. They probably intended to observe the situation for a while.
—I should also take shelter somewhere.
Although he put on the fur and wore an overcoat, staying at the grasslands and being struck by the rain would exhaust his stamina because of the coldness. The rain, which penetrated from the gaps of the fur and the overcoat, would soak his clothes along with sweat and steal heat from his body. So, it was necessary for him to take shelter under a shade of tree.
—Judging from that current situation of theirs, it’d be fine even if I distance myself one, no, two koku from them.
The rain would dull their march. Not only that, even if the Greast army were to change their course, Tigre would be able to chase them by following their footprints that would remain on the ground.
Tigre parted from the place and ran up to a nearby hill. Overlooking the surroundings from the summit, he found a group of trees that was too small to be called a forest.
“This place will do.”
Running down the slope while panting, Tigre jumped inside the trees. As the abundantly spread branches and leaves blocked the rain, he took the chance to catch his breath. He took out a cloth from his bag and wiped the bow.
—They’re on the other side of the hill. There’ll be no problem even if I light fire, I guess?
He could not let his eyes affected while holding down his stomach in this cold. Up to this point, due to the risk of being caught, Tigre had made sure to limit the amount of fires he had lit. However, he thought that it’d be fine to make one here.
Suddenly, a chill run down Tigre’s spine. The youth let his bag slip from his shoulder, pulled out his black bow and gazed towards the inner part of the trees. He extended his right hand to the quiver and was on the verge of taking out an arrow.
There was something terrifying there. It was slowly approaching Tigre.
—This sensation…… it’s not the kind of a beast.
He had the choice to either run or hide. While he wanted to pick, he decided not to move. One wrong move and he would be exposing an opening to the other party. Besides, Tigre was tired after all he had done. Between thinking about it and deciding on a course of action, there was a slight delay between the two.
About dozens of steps away from the shade of a tree, a young man showed up. He was of medium build, sketchily twined a green cloth around his short black hair and wore thick clothes with fur to the collar and sleeves. One strange thing was that both his hair and clothes were not wet with rain.
A mutter tinged with a shudder leaked out from Tigre’s mouth. It was the name of monster frog coming out of folklore. The man revealed a joyful smile.
“So, you remembered my name. It’s been a while, boy. No, I should already call you young man, I guess. Humans really grow fast.”
Tigre did not return words and nocked an arrow to the black bow while fixing his eyes upon Vodyanoy. He looked like a cheerful youth, but this man was not human. He was a demon.
This was the third time that Tigre had confronted this demon.
The first time was two years ago. He appeared before Tigre immediately after the youth had repelled the Muozinel army, and had attacked him as he tried to take the youth away somewhere. That time, Tigre was able to repel him with the cooperation of the Zhcted’s Vanadis Ludmila Lourie, but he would have probably been beaten without knowing what to do were he alone.
The second time was a few months ago. He suddenly appeared in the middle of the fight against Baba Yaga. Though at that time, it was not Tigre who fought this demon, but Elen.
For Tigre and the Vanadises, Vodyanoy was an existence that should be called an enemy of fate.
“So, you don’t ask me what my business is. Is it perhaps because you know?”
While talking happily, Vodyanoy slowly walked Tigre’s way. Tigre gritted his teeth enduring the tension and fixed his breathing.
There was enough distance between both parties, and there was nothing like a weapon in Vodyanoy’s hand.
Even so, Tigre could not relax his attention. Considering Vodyanoy’s physical ability, he could probably shorten this much distance in an instant. In addition, his body was so sturdy that it could clash with a Dragonic Tool and his tongue extended bizarrely long. He should also spit up something like acid from his mouth.
Unless Tigre relied on the black bow’s “power”, he would be unable to make even a scratch on Vodyanoy.
His skin grasped the slight change of flow of air. Tigre kicked the ground and jumped sideways. At the same time, a sound of something snapping echoed close to his ears.
The atmosphere was stirred up, rain scattering. Vodyanoy’s figure was in the air as he tore towards where Tigre had been, swinging at him with his right arm. If Tigre had remained where he was, there was no doubt that his left arm would’ve been torn from his shoulder.
Although he had fallen to the ground, Tigre immediately got back up. He then ran from left to right while taking cover behind trees. In any case, it was necessary to lengthen his distance from Vodyanoy.
Tigre’s left hand tightly gripped the black bow, his right hand on the bowstring with an arrow between his fingers. Something like black fog coiled around the arrowhead. This was the ‘power’ of the black bow, a power that allowed him to wound demons.
—No yet…… It’s still weak.
It was like that the time when he fought against Ganelon in the royal palace the other day, but it took time to amass enough “power” in the arrowhead. There was also no meaning to inflict a little of amount of damage to the enemy with a half-charged blow. He would have to annihilate it with one arrow.
—Still, why did he appear at such a time?
Even though he had to rescue Elen from Greast.
Something approached from behind him. Tigre promptly leaned behind a tree towering nearby.
Immediately after, a loud crushing sound was heard, and the tree trunk suffered an impact as a hole was opened. Small wood chips fell on Tigre’s head as he looked above him. However, the monster’s figure was not there.
—It’s the right side!
Tigre turned to the right and immediately pulled the black bow to full draw. After half an instant of hesitation, Vodyanoy jumped out from the shadow of a tree. As expected, even the demon opened his eyes wide in surprise at the fact that the arrowhead tinged with the ‘power’ was pointed before his eyes. He kicked the ground and leapt up.
Tigre did not shoot the arrow, but instead turned around and began to run again. There was not yet enough power to instantly defeat Vodyanoy, but there was enough so that he would be hesitant to take the hit.
“Even I was surprised just now.”
A carefree, yet slightly irritated voice came from above. Tigre lowered his body and jumped inside a thicket nearby.
He lost his balance. It could not be seen from before he had entered the thicket, but the ground had become steeply slanted. Normally, Tigre would have noticed this, but he missed it due to the situation in front of him.
Tigre rolled on the steep slope as he slipped on the mud, collapsed on the ground and was smeared with mud. He crashed against a tree base and finally stopped.
While enduring the pain on his body and emitting a wordless sound, he got up. Seeming to have cut the inside of his mouth, blood and mud were mixed with the saliva he spat out.
Vodyanoy sprung once again. There was no room to set up the black bow. Against the approaching hand blade strike  Tigre eagerly bent his body. The monster’s fingertip grazed his left shoulder. The leather armor’s shoulder pad was cut off and Tigre was blown off and rolled on the ground again. He fell down on his back.
—It’s no good…… Anyway, I must shoot.
As he was struck by the rain and was breathing roughly, Tigre reconsidered his options. It was naïve to think that he could defeat him in a single blow. He should not have hesitated out because it would have exhausted his stamina.
But, it looked like it was already too late. Even when he tried to get up, he could not fill his body with strength. Like this, he would not even be able to fully draw the bowstring. Vodyanoy was approaching.
What am I doing lying down in such a place? Didn’t I say that I would rescue Elen? He told himself so. Even so, with his body covered with mud and rain, his fatigue felt strangely heavy.
Vodyanoy stood next to Tigre and looked down at the youth.
“How disappointing. That said, you surprised me. Just in case, I’ll break off an arm.”
Tigre’s face grew pale. The fear, not to have his arm broken, but to being taken away from here wrapped the youth. Tigre felt an illusion as if his body was wrapped in a chill.
It was not an illusion though. Vodyanoy suddenly stopped his movement and turned his gaze. Tigre was not able to look over there, but a shadow like a traveler riding on a horse stood ahead of the demon’s gaze.
Because the shadow wore an overcoat that covered them from the rain and had a hood over their eyes, their face couldn’t be seen. Its owner had a small body and held a short spear adorned with a beautiful ornament in their hand. A gaze filled with hostility swept over Vodyanoy from within the hood.
“──I didn’t think that I’d come you in such a place.”
A young girl’s voice leaked from inside the hood.
At this, Vodyanoy’s attention immediately shifted from Tigre. He had recognized this strange girl to be an enemy.
Kicking up mud, Vodyanoy stomped on the ground and dived at the girl on horseback. The girl blocked the hand blade strike with the short spear she was holding.
A clashing sound, as if slashing at a block of ice with a sword, echoed in the rain. The aftermath of the shock caused a faint wind, folding over the hood the girl wore.
Blue hair arranged around the shoulders and a white ribbon fluttering to the wind. Blue ice-colored pupils.
Because of too much surprise, Tigre raised a soundless mutter.
The girl on horseback was the Vanadis Ludmila Lourie with the nicknames of “Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave” and “Danseuse of the Spear”.
Ludmila Lourie was 18. She was the same age as Tigre and Elen and governed the Olmutz dukedom in the southwest of the Zhcted Kingdom. She was called by her nickname Mila by people close to her such as Tigre and Sofya Obertas alias Sofy.
On the other hand, she had a relationship similar to oil and water with Elen and when the two girls met, they would definitely mix abuse and sarcasm in their greetings. And each time, Tigre or Sofy would then cut in as mediator with amazed faces.
Until a few weeks ago, Mila had been in Olmutz. Olmutz shared border with the Muozinel Kingdom to the south, but because Muozinel gathered soldiers near the border and showed signs of wanting to invade, she likewise gathered soldiers and was on alert.
If the Muozinel army were to step across the border, the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave would have been the first defensive wall blocking their march.
However, it did not happen. This was because after the Muozinel army pretended to invade Zhcted, they hurriedly changed the direction they were headed and invaded Brune by breaking through the land of Agnes that became a territory of Zhcted. Mila was used as a diversion in order to invade Brune.
Though Mila could not suppress her unpleasant feelings towards the Muozinel army, it was not why she came to Brune. The reason why she was here lay in the short spear grasped in her hand.
The Frozen Wave Lavias. This Dragonic Tool with the power of ice appealed for the existence of a demon and led Mila from the distant Olmutz until here.
Though for her, it was a trip longer than what she expected.
This was because she had to be careful so as not to be found by the Muozinel army, and seeing Mila travelling alone as a suitable prey, swarms of beasts and groups of bandits attacked her regardless of day and night. Of course, there was neither beast nor bandit able to wound her.
In doing so, as she went through many villages and towns and galloped towards the plain while seeing the capital Nice far away, Mila had reached the place she aimed for.
“That’s a familiar face, eh.”
Glaring at Vodyanoy, who stopped his movement in the air, Mila changed her expression to a steep one. She naturally remembered that she fought this monster two years ago.
“It’s been a while, Master of the Frozen Wave.”
Vodyanoy called Mila as such. For demons, not the Vanadis, but the Dragonic Tool was the main constituent. Mila only narrowed her eyes slightly and sharply mowed down her spear to the side. So as to match it, Vodyanoy leaped back and landed on the ground.
Mila also went down from her horse while being cautious of the demon. She threw off her overcoat against rain. She wore a silver breastplate over a blue outfit and covered around her hips and her legs with simple armor.
She knitted her brows because the rain soaked her hair and face. Though her Dragonic Tool protected her from the coldness of the air, it was helpless against rain. However, Mila knew all too well that it was not an opponent that she could fight while wearing her overcoat as is.
“It’s just the right time. There’re a lot of things I want to ask you.”
“And do you think I’ll answer?”
“It’s fine if you don’t answer. ──In that case, just die right now.”
Mila’s reply was clear and cold-headed towards Vodyanoy’s provocation. To protect the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave, a white cold wave poured out from the spear she held. At the same time, the spear handle nearly doubled in length. This Dragonic Tool was able to extend its handle as much as it liked depending on Mila’s will.
Vodyanoy showed no signs of flinching before neither the Dragonic Tool nor the cold wave surrounding Mila. Far from it, he challenged Mila as he ran while intentionally kicking up mud.
The demon’s fist and the Vanadis’ spear once again clashed against each other. Neither of them backing off, white sparks were emitted and metallic sounds were heard as a series of offense and defensive strikes landed on each other.
Vodyanoy would thrust his fingers straight together, or strike with a fist, or sometimes swing out the back of his hand from the left to the right. When one thought that he deflected the spearhead with his feet and stepped on it, he swiped it upwards instead.
In contrast, Mila handled the Frozen Wave and endured altogether Vodyanoy’s attacks. She repelled the thrust by scooping up the spear from the bottom and warded off the fists by sweeping aside with the long handle. She exchanged a stab toward his arm or shoulder as he launched a backhand, and warded off his kick with the spear handle.
The sharpness of each thrust and the speed of the spear pulling back after thrusting, as well as the speed of thrusting it again was not ordinary. Above all, inside this rain, her aim was unshakable even when the water got in her eyes, as well as the hand that never slipped spoke of her astounding level of skill.
The sludge of their steps greatly changed the form with every single blow, and mud was kicked around and dirtied the two people’s feet. Vodyanoy’s body aside, his clothes seemed to be of a decent structure, and the fibers that were torn off by the Frozen Wave sank in the mud.
Vodyanoy’s hands and feet, let alone injuring Mila, could not even touch her body. But, the blue-haired Vanadis did not relax her attention in the slightest.
If fists that could evenly strike against a Dragonic Tool reached Mila’s body, she would not escape from a fatal wound. A Vanadis’ body was not any different than an ordinary human’s.
After more than 30 clashes, Vodyanoy leaped back, taking distance from Mila.
Mila threw an annoyed gaze at the demon. Sweat floated from her forehead and she began to breathe heavily. On the other hand, Vodyanoy, not sweating even one bit, revealed a frivolous smile. He then unnaturally waved both his hands.
“My, both my hands and feet are completely cold. You’ve become much stronger than the last time we fought. I thought that at least two or three blows would get through you though.”
Though Vodyanoy said with an impressed voice, his face was turned not towards Mila, but his feet. His shoes were now reduced to merely little fabric only coiled around his ankles like old rags.
“I can’t fall so much behind against an opponent I fought once, right?”
Mila replied in a cold tone while fixing her breathing. At that time, her eyes parted from the demon just for a moment and were turned towards Tigre lying down on the ground.
It was at that moment that Vodyanoy raised his face, opened his mouth widely and projected his tongue. The monster’s tongue went through the empty space with extraordinary length and speed and swooped down on Mila.
A dull sound resounded. Mila let her spear flashed and cut off the approaching long tongue. The tongue cut from the middle dance in the air as if being repelled and fell on the ground.
“I told you, right? That there’s no way I’d fall behind against an opponent I fought once.”
Mila’s blue ice-colored pupils, which harked back to a frozen lake surface, increased in sharpness, piercing Vodyanoy. She has read the fact that he probably intended to take her by surprise with something other than his hands and feet as he intentionally challenged her, who held a spear, in a close-range combat.
“Uh, oh yes…… That just now was splendid.”
While holding his mouth, Vodyanoy laughed. His muffled voice seemed to be in order for him to adjust his tongue’s length. He showed his tongue, seeming to be displaying that the part that she had cut had already regenerated.
—He’s getting more and more irritating.
Mila inwardly cursed. She felt irritated. Despite attacking this much, Vodyanoy did not yet suffer any serious wound. It was a situation hardly different from the time when she fought him two years ago.
In addition to governing Olmutz and accomplishing her duty as a Vanadis, Mila has eagerly polished her skill with the spear. She had the self-confidence that the current her became much stronger compared to two years ago. She felt like her pride has been hurt.
—As expected, won’t it be a decisive blow unless I use a Dragonic Skill or a blow equivalent to it?
“What’s the matter, Master of the Frozen Wave? Are you already exhausted?”
Extending his tongue languidly to the extent it reached the ground, Vodyanoy beckoned Mila. Quiet anger flickered in the blue-haired Vanadis’ eyes.
“──O’ the world that’s turning silent”
Mila held her spear in an underhand grip and stuck it on the ground at her feet. From the beautiful spearhead that look like polished block of ice or crystal, a vast cold wave quietly surged out.
The cold wave rapidly spread out around her as if crawling on the ground. Mud was frozen while keeping an irregular shape as is.
Muttering to psych herself up, Mila stepped forward. Sliding on the frozen ground, she charged at Vodyanoy at a tremendous speed. The monster opened his eyes wide at that speed.
As she instantly shortened the distance to Vodyanoy in that way, Mila lunged with her spear along with war cry. She thrust towards his head, struck his arm very hard and swept at his legs.
The demon, unable to take distance, was driven into one-sided defensive fight. He would barely either block the spear that attacked incessantly, or repel it; but he did not seem to have any room to counterattack.
With the nth attack, the Frozen Wave’s spearhead was caught in the sleeves of Vodyanoy’s clothes. Mila pulled her spear without a moment’s delay, beginning to break the demon’s posture.
However, the Vanadis’ movement stopped there. Something, which crept at Mila’s feet, climbed on her while twining around her leg and coiled around her chest from over her waist and the breastplate. It furthermore extended to her right arm and completely sealed the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave’s movements.
That was Vodyanoy’s tongue ── its remains that she cut some time ago. It crawled on the frozen ground and attacked Mila from behind. The monster’s tongue has extended its length to more than double of when it was cut off and mercilessly tightened the blue-haired Vanadis’ body.
“You were impatient at the time when you froze the ground. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”
Vodyanoy glared at Mila with a faint smile. Mila did not reply. Her neck was being strangled and her voice did not come out as she wanted. But, she glared at the demon with eyes retaining fighting spirit.
“Don’t make such a scary face──”
As Vodyanoy was going to tease Mila further, he swallowed his words. He looked back with a quizzical face. Mila also looked ahead of the demon’s gaze while distorting her face painfully.
Tigre stood there. The mud, which dirtied his darkish red hair and his face, ran down little by little as he was struck by the rain. With an arrow nocked to the black bow, he stared at the demon’s direction. The tip of the arrow was already tinged with strong “power” and looked as if only it was enveloped by black mist.
“Did you finally get up?”
Vodyanoy revealed a smile filled with composure and stood before Mila.
“I wonder if you can shoot even like this. It’ll hit her if I dodge. Have you ever shot that arrow to a human until now?”
As Tigre did not reply to Vodyanoy and spat out the mud inside his mouth, he raised his voice.
“──Mila! Believe in me!”
As she tried to return the youth’s words, Mila eagerly twisted her body. However, the pressure by the tongue strengthened all the more and she leaked out an anguished groan. The spearhead of the Frozen Wave that she tightly grasped in her right hand released a cold wave along with blue radiance, but it could not even attract Vodyanoy’s interest.
Tigre strongly drew the bowstring to the limit and shot the arrow. The arrow clad in “power”, far from having its momentum weakened by the down pouring rain, cut the wind and plunged forward while blowing off the rain.
Vodyanoy revealed disappointment and dejection respectively in both his eyes and moved only one step to the right. The arrow directly hit Mila, who was behind the demon.
The jet black flash danced boisterously, and the atmosphere which was torn off as it expanded screamed. The raging storm scooped out the ground and black smoke was scattered in all directions.
Slightly inclining his head, Vodyanoy looked at the black smoke with a bored-looking expression. His expression changed to that of shock when he saw a spearhead approaching as it pierced the black smoke.
The demon tried to escape by leaping back, but he was slightly late. His forehead was sliced and black blood began to flow from there.
“──Hmm. So, you can be properly injured. I’m a little relieved.”
Mila showed up from within the black smoke still hanging over. She revealed a sneer on her lips
While holding his forehead, Vodyanoy glared at Mila while revealing hostility for the first time.
“……So that’s it. So, he was aiming at you from the beginning.”
The arrow that Tigre shot was not aimed at Vodyanoy, but at the demon’s tongue that restrained Mila. Mila, who guessed so from Tigre’s appeal, released cold wave from the Frozen Wave, stretched an invisible defensive barrier of many layers and suppressed the impact to herself.
At this opening when Vodyanoy greatly separated from Mila, the two people gradually shortened distance and succeeded in joining. They stood back to back so as not to make any blind spot and stared at Vodyanoy together.
“Can you fight?”
“Thanks to you”
Tigre replied shortly to Mila’s short question. Feeling a clear fighting spirit and the gratitude to her in his voice, the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave secretly heaved a breath of relief.
She wondered what would have happened when she saw him lying down covered in mud, but in addition to having saved her just now, with this current attitude of his, it looked like she did not need to worry.
“From here, we might as well…… no, but with this little……”
Vodyanoy was looking down, seeming to be pondering about something, but then he suddenly raised his face and looked at Mila and Tigre with a refreshed expression.
“I decided. I’ll go at it just a little seriously.”
“Heeh…… are you saying that you weren’t serious so far?”
Though Mila scornfully laughed, it slightly lacked her usual coldness. Though vaguely, the blue-haired Vanadis understood what it meant for a demon fighting seriously.
She has heard about it in the meeting where Tigre and the Vanadises gathered at the night of the Sun Festival. That a demon had a human form and also a non-human form.
As Vodyanoy revealed a distorted smile, he lowered his waist and curled up his back. A poisonous-looking purple mist-like thing gushed out from his body. The purple mist ominously flickered while swallowing the rain and wrapped the demon’s body in a flash.
The spearhead of the Frozen Wave in Mila’s hand flashed bluish-white radiance as if issuing a warning. Tigre and she stared at the purple mist while holding their breaths. Both of them felt it with their skins. A dreadful maliciousness overflowing from inside the purple mist, that is.
As if to say that she could not keep being overwhelmed, Mila rotated the Frozen Wave and stuck its spearhead on the ground.
“──Pierce and freeze the sky!”
A white frost-like light was emitted around the Dragonic Tool’s tip and depicted a hexagonal crystallization on the earth. She intended to immediately killed Vodyanoy without letting him do anything.
So as to protect Mila and Tigre next to her, a huge cold wave blew up from the crystallization depicted on the ground. The ground surface was covered by thick ice and countless pillars of ice with sharp point were projected from there.
The group of pillars of ice attacked Vodyanoy from all directions. As he was unable to avoid them, the demon was thought to have been skewered along with the purple mist.
However the next instant, the pillars of ice thrust inside the mist were smashed up altogether. Mila opened her eyes wide at that scene. Her Dragonic Skill did not work.
“How boorish. Wouldn’t one normally wait at such times?”
Inside the flickering mist, a black shadow taller than Tigre peeped out. The round eyes in the shadow emitted an ominous light and a laughter similar to a frog’s croak resounded. Both Mila and Tigre were dumbfounded and speechless.
Being pressed from the inside, the mist was scattered. The two people felt shivers at Vodyanoy’s figure that appeared before them.
His stature was about two heads higher than Tigre. His skin was made of the poisonous-looking purple plastered mist, his shoulders became wider and his body was muscular and burly.
His face was molded as half-human and half-frog and there was no hair remaining on both his hair and his body. His eyeballs were golden and his mouth was greatly split. There was webbing between his fingers and his feet.
He wore a piece of white cloth adorned with golden embroidery on his body and fastened it with a golden obi wound around his waist.
“Is that your true form……?”
Tigre asked with a gasping voice. Vodyanoy, not replying, revealed a sneer.
The demon kicked the ground. A powerful sound as if swinging down a big hammer on the ground resounded. When Mila, startled, set up the Frozen Wave, Vodyanoy’s figure was already before her eyes.
Mila tried to ward off the fist with the Frozen Wave, but the shock of the impact that was transmitted through the Dragonic Tool far exceeded the blue-haired Vanadis’ expectation. Mila was thrown backwards from the strike.
Tigre shouted and nocked an arrow to the black bow. As the demon squinted and smiled, he spat out a purple fluid from his mouth. Tigre reflexively shot the arrow. The purple fluid and the arrow collided in the air. Emitting a sound similar to that of meat being crushed, the arrow that bathed in the fluid melted and crumbled in the rain.
—Come to think of it, this guy had such a weapon, too.
Mila, who somehow rebuilt her posture thanks to Tigre, bitterly glared at the demon. The fluid just now was probably something like acid. She did not know what kind of other toxic it had. She did not intend to be touched by it even a little.
As she fixed her breathing, Mila closed in upon the demon with the momentum of colliding with him and thrust with her spear. She shouted to Tigre without looking back.
“Tigre! I’ll leave it to you!”
If it was him, he should guess with this much.
As the Dragonic Skill did not work, Mila’s thought became rather clear. She would exert herself in gaining time and make an opportunity for him. Afterwards, Tigre should just shoot an arrow. When she decided this, the feeling in her heart lightened up considerably.
The demon’s fist and the Frozen Wave’s spearhead clashed with each other. But, the fist was two times bigger.
Mila’s small body was blown away along with her spear as she was sent tumbling through the air. However, the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave extended the handle of the spear, stuck the spearhead into the ground, stabilized herself and landed on her feet. Her shoe soles slipped on the mud as it splashed around, dirtying her cheeks. As there was no time to wipe it away, it was washed off by the rain.
The tongue which extended from Vodyanoy’s mouth attacked Mila. This time, it did not try to restrain her but instead looked like it was trying to knock her down. Mila rolled on the ground, dodging the tongue that approached while waving irregularly like a whip.
As Vodyanoy’s tongue was flung against the ground, the grass was scooped along with the soil and were scattered. If she received it directly, her body along with her spine would have been smashed from over the armor.
While getting up, Mila held her spear to the side and slashed downwards. A white cold wave was released from the spearhead as it radiated in all directions and attacked Vodyanoy that was coming her way while trampling the ground flat. Seeming to have a certain effect, the demon covered his face and stopped.
Mila shouted as she spitted out all the air that accumulated in her lungs and lunged her spear in rapid succession. The only response she received from her thrusts was as if she had been attacking an unwavering rock, but for Mila, but it was enough as she was able to stop his movements.
Vodyanoy’s way of fighting was almost the same as when he had a human form. His way of fighting was centered on a hand-to-hand fighting making use of his hands and legs, and he occasionally uses his tongue and acid, too. However, the power was incomparable to that until a while ago.
Whenever a fist or a kick passed near Mila, it generated a terrifying wind pressure which almost carried her body away. If Mila’s Dragonic Tool was not a spear, and moreover, if she could not freely adjusted the handle’s length, some of the demon’s attacks would have gone into her range and she might have received a fatal blow.
When she blocked it, she was forced to retreat by the powerful shock; and even when she warded it off, her stamina was shaved off. Mila waited for an opportunity to counterattack, but that moment did not readily come.
To change from defending or evading to launching a counterattack, one would need to change their stance before doing so. However, before she had this chance, Vodyanoy’s next attack was already on its way.
—I might have given up if Tigre wasn’t there……
Mila inwardly muttered as she repelled the fists and dodged the kicks. ‘If it’s Tigre’s arrow ── no, if it’s Tigre, then he’ll surely manage it’, was what the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave thought.
Mila knew of the figure of the youth when he challenged a desperate fight with an unyielding will. She has also fought shoulder-to-shoulder together with him. She knew after hearing from other people that it was not only once that he had thrown himself in such a fight.
While blocking Mila’s spear with both hands, Vodyanoy spat the purple acid. It passed through the Frozen Wave’s side and hit Mila’s shoulder. Seeing the Vanadis’ shoulder blowing up gray smoke, the demon revealed a smile of victory; but that smile immediately froze.
From the place where the acid hit, a thin film-like thing was peeled off soundlessly and fell. At Vodyanoy’s reaction, this time was Mila’s turn to reveal a sarcastic smile.
She had stretched a defensive film of cold wave like a while ago with the Frozen Wave’s power. What blew up gray smoke was the defensive film that turned into thin ice and protected Mila’s shoulder.
She had a feeling of having heard the youth’s voice from long distance away. In fact, he might be far. While pulling through the demon’s fierce attacks, she felt like she had considerably distanced herself from him.
But, Tigre knew that the fact that he could carefully accumulate the “power” was thanks to the white cold wave generated from the Frozen Wave’s tip, though little by little, flowing to his rear.
Vodyanoy, who was attacking Mila as he swung his fists left and right, made a face as he noticed something and leaped back. Ahead of the gaze of Mila, who squared off, wondering what he intended to do, the demon knocked both his fists together and muttered shortly.
Suddenly, the sky above Mila darkened. While maintaining her vigilance against Vodyanoy, she glanced upwards. Mila’s lips stiffened due to shock at the sight she saw.
A frighteningly giant frog, which could easily cover the whole area where they were, stretched its four limbs straight and floated with its white belly to the earth. Leaving its outrageous size aside, the frog’s figure which seemed to have a somewhat friendly feeling, was funny, yet also terrifying.
—That’s the kind of cheat or magic tricks……
Mila was flabbergasted, but the maliciousness emitted from the huge frog was something similar to Vodyanoy’s.
The frog was descending with its limbs stretched out. It was not clear if it was an illusion or if it was substantial, but at this rate, there was no doubt that they’d be defenseless against it. Vodyanoy’s aim was probably to force Tigre to shot towards the sky.
Mila calmly let her spear make a half-turn and stuck the ground.
“Pierce and freeze the sky.”
A hexagonal white crystallization was carved once again at the Vanadis’ feet. The frigid air turned into whirlwind and swirled in the atmosphere. The group of ice pillars generated however showed a movement different from that of a while ago.
Several ice pillars gathered together and extended straight as if piercing the sky with height and sharpness harking back to a tower. They pierced the frog coming down in the belly and limbs regardless.
Along with a roar similar to thunder, the huge frog quickly vanished. Confirming it, Mila swiftly brandished the Frozen Wave. The group of ice pillars, which defeated the huge frog a moment ago, was smashed all at once, became hails and poured down to the ground.
“It’s your turn now!”
Mila called out to the rear. Reliable words were returned immediately.
That instant, an arrow was shot from behind Mila. The arrow, clad in both white frost and black darkness, pierced the demon giant’s chest the instant it was released from the bowstring. It traveled through the air at a speed not at all inferior to the speed of sound, and a trail was left in the rain in its wake.
Vodyanoy, expressionless, looked down at the arrow that pierced his chest. The arrowhead soundlessly exploded and the released cold wave covered the demon’s big frame. It tore the purple skin that even the Dragonic Tool had trouble injuring, and froze the wound even before the black blood flowed out.
While turning into an ice sculpture, Vodyanoy’s body crumbled away little by little. His fingers fell, his arm fell, were stuck onto the mud, smashed to pieces and scattered. The rain dissolved the wreckage of ice, which was then buried it in mud.
His head fell and with it, the rest of his large build crumpled and fell on its back and shattered into small fragments with a sound similar to that of shattering glass.
For a while, Mila and Tigre silently looked down at the thing that was Vodyanoy. The rain began to weaken and the sound of it striking the ground gradually lowered.
Before long, Mila looked back to Tigre with a serious expression.
“Do you think he died……?”
The youth’s reply was short. The blue-haired Vanadis also agreed. The two of them knew about the last moments of the demon called Torbalan, who seemed to be a comrade of Vodyanoy, after hearing it from the Vanadis Elizavetta Fomina. According to her, Torbalan became a lump of earth after he died.
Of course, it was not necessary true that Vodyanoy was of the same nature as Torbalan. Though Tigre had fought Torbalan two times, it was demon completely different from Vodyanoy. Even so, both of them did not think that Vodyanoy perished.
“──Well, it’s fine.”
Mila muttered in a light tone and took her eyes off the wreckage of ice. Even if Vodyanoy was a powerful demon, she did not think that he would come out unscathed after receiving that arrow. There were some things that she was not satisfied with, but it would be fine to think that they succeeded in repelling him for the time being.
Mila turned again towards Tigre. The Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave thought about what she should say first, but these thoughts vanished as she openly frowned.
“You’ve quite an awful appearance. Smell, too.”
After Tigre cocked his head in puzzlement with a wondering face, he looked down at his own body and said “yeah” with a convinced voice.
Because he had rolled in the mud multiple times over the duration of the fight, the youth was covered in mud from head to toe. Although the rain had washed the majority of it away, some of it had persisted and left an irregular pattern on his face and clothes.
“Isn’t there a river nearby? Even a lake or a small pond is fine.”
When Mila asked, Tigre searched for his memory as he put a hand on his forehand. He answered that when he exchanged food in a settlement he stopped by, he was told the place of a river flowing in the vicinity.
“Let’s go there for the time being. We’ll wash our bodies and clothes.”
“Wait. There’s no time to do such a thing. I──”
“I’ll listen to you afterwards. So, just lead the way.”
As Mila pressed and cut him off in a tone that did not ask for consent or refusal, Tigre nodded with a reluctant expression.
The blue-haired Vanadis was concerned after seeing Tigre’s face. Although she had no time to check it earlier, after taking a closer look, there were dark circles under his eyes and he grew a stubbly beard His complexion looking like this probably was not due to the fatigue that had come from the fight earlier.
“Do you know the direction?”
Tigre asked. Mila looked around and then rushed up as she found her horse standing still in a remote place. Though it was not her favorite one, it was an excellent warhorse, which was used to long trip and battle. Fortunately, it seems to be safe.
Noticing Mila approaching, the horse also walked to her. As the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave lightly stroked the horse’s face, she took out a suitable cloth from the bag that she tied to the saddle and lightly wiped it (horse’s face). Then, she prepared the map that was inside the back.
“I see, that’s right…… there’s no way that a decent traveler wouldn’t have a map, huh.”
Seeing the map in Mila’s hand, Tigre sighed emphatically. Though she found the youth’s reaction suspicious, Mila showed him the map. It was something in which only big cities, main highways, rivers and forests were drawn, but even so they should still be able to grasp the rough position.
“──I’ll guide you. This way.”
Waiting for Mila to gather her baggage and get on her horse, Tigre began to walk.
One man was lying down on his back on the grassy plain where the rain weakened.
He was the owner of a big frame and had a purple skin which looked even eerie when looking from far. The clothes he wore were torn and his face and body were covered with bruises.
It was Vodyanoy. As Tigre and Mila had anticipated, this demon did not perish. But, he did not seem to be able to stand up immediately.
With a dissatisfied expression, Vodyanoy was looking up at the gray sky while be struck by the rain, but then he felt the presence of someone and looked towards a distant place.
A man, whom no one knew when he appeared, was standing there.
It was a very short man. He wore silk clothes adorned with small embroidery and put on a fine overcoat. One would understand that he was a wealthy noble with just his attire.
However, there was no doubt that the first thing that one would feel after meeting the man would be that of confusion, tension and fear as if peering at an unfathomable darkness. That was the type of atmosphere being exuded by the man.
Even when seeing the demon’s figure, the man showed no signs of being shaken at all. Rather, he approached Vodyanoy with the expression of a cold-blooded hunter who found his prey.
“When I wondered who it was, so it’s you”
Vodyanoy hatefully glared at the man and talked in a sarcastic tone.
“What do you want, Koschei? Or shall I call you Ganelon just as you wish?”
The man, who was called Koschei and then Ganelon, suddenly stopped.
The man’s name was Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon. No matter how other people called him, the person himself thought that that was his name.
At this time, Ganelon stood in a place about seven steps to Vodyanoy. From what Ganelon saw, the large-build demon had wounds all over his body, and aside of his eyes and mouth, he did not seem to be able to move even one finger. Vodyanoy still called out to Ganelon in a scornful tone.
“What’s the matter, Koschei? Didn’t you come to devour me?”
Anger oozed in Ganelon’s eyes which one did not know whether they were opened or closed. He casually took a step forward.
At that moment, something attacked right above Ganelon with frightening speed. It was the tongue that extended from Vodyanoy’s mouth. Ganelon seized it, which approached while making the wind growl, with his hand without even looking. And he crushed it as is.
Vodyanoy, without any signs of pain, rewound his tongue, whose tip was crushed, inside his mouth. Ganelon looked at his own hand, then moved his gaze at his clothes and made a sullen face. He intended to wipe his hand, but seemed to have reconsidered. With an indignant face, he glared at the monster lying down as is.
“I have heard that there were beasts which pretended to be dead to lure their prey, but I didn’t know that there was such a trait with the frogs.”
“Are you a poor loser? You having appeared before me is the fact that you’ve been lured out, right?”
While regenerating his tongue and then taking it in and out, Vodyanoy languidly stood up and smiled at Ganelon. It was a dangerous smile, the exact opposite of a friendly one.
Ganelon too let a cold smile appear on his lips.
“You should clap that foul mouth of yours while you still can. You won’t be able to do it ever again after being devoured by me after all.”
Ganelon had the ability of stealing a demon’s life force and ability. He expressed it with the word “devour”. This was because a demon devoured by him would turn to ashes and vanish.
The two of them faced each other as they were separated with a short distance. Their gazes tinged with killing intent intersected and a tense atmosphere filled the grassy plain.
It was a third party’s voice that broke the short silence. Ganelon turned his gaze over there while being cautious of Vodyanoy.
A small-sized old man, who wrapped his body in a black robe, stood there. Although saying small-sized, he was taller than Ganelon and his face could not be seen as he put on a hood over his eyes.
Ganelon muttered the old man’s name as if spitting out. Drekavac was also a demon, and Vodyanoy’s comrade. For Ganelon, it was a prey that he planned to devour someday.
Ganelon suddenly frowned. In contrast with Vodyanoy emitting killing intent from his whole body, he could not feel even hostility, let alone killing intent, from Drekavac. Thinking about it, why did he stopVodyanoy?
“……Do you have any business with me?”
Ganelon’s voice showed his wariness as Drekavac spoke in a serene tone similar to that of one advancing a business venture.
“I have a proposal. Don’t you want to join hands with us, Koschei?”
“With you bastards……?”
Ganelon unintentionally asked back. It was an instant, but the anger at being called Koschei vanished. The demon’s words were that shocking for Ganelon.
Drekavac answered with a composed attitude as if speaking of a matter of fact.
“Making Tir Na Fal descend to the Earth. Until then, our goals match, right?”
Ganelon knitted his brows, but he silently urged for the rest of the story. As such a thing was obvious far back in the past, it could not be a reason to join hands at this late hour. Drekavac continued.
“I thought that the time when we should perform the Goddess advent ceremony was just slightly earlier. But, it seems to move ahead faster than expected.”
“……By your guess, about when will it be?”
At Drekavac’s reply, as expected, even Ganelon was surprised as he showed it on his face, and held his breath.
Currently, while spring was over in Brune, the wind of early summer was blowing slightly early in the south. If Drekavac’s guess was right, the time that they were waiting eagerly for would come in half a year later.
“The current Bow shows a stance where five Vanadises cooperate with him. This is many in comparison with the Bows until now. It’s not like we can’t match him, but it’s troublesome.”
“And so, you thought that the more help, the better and you called out to me, huh.”
A sneer appeared on Ganelon’s lips. He finally understood. Drekavac thought of using Ganelon to at least restrain the Vanadises. In addition, there might also be the intention of monitoring him so that he did not hinder the advent ceremony.
“I want to ask you one thing. Why did the time move ahead?”
Ganelon threw his question without being beating around the bush. If things did not turn like this, there was no way that Drekavac would have called out to him.
Drekavac’s reply was only that, but Ganelon immediately understood the meaning.
“Fine then. I shall lend you my help.”
Ganelon said with an eerily smiling face, and Vodyanoy, who was watching the two’s exchanges silently until then, was surprised. But, the frog demon, seeming to leave everything to Drekavac, did not interject even though he turned a suspicious look to Ganelon.
“Then, I’m looking to working with you.”
Even if he got consent from Ganelon, as expected Drekavac did not change his attitude. He returned words in a tone devoid of feelings. The hem of his robe slightly rolled up and one black lizard jumped out of it. Except its long tail, it was of a size as to fit into an adult’s palm.
The lizard crawled as if gliding on the ground and came over to Ganelon’s feet.
“It will convey you our words. Similarly, your words can be conveyed to us through it.”
As Ganelon stooped down there and pinched the lizard’s tail, he lifted it. The lizard, which hung upside down, struggled as it flappingly moved its four limbs.
“Are you telling me to take care of this?”
“It’s a part of me. It won’t die even you leave it alone.”
At Drekavac’s words, Ganelon openly revealed an unpleasant face and looked at the lizard.
But, he did not throw it away and instead put it on his shoulder. The lizard obediently clung to Ganelon’s shoulder.
“Are we done now?”
Ganelon asked. Drekavac said nothing, but it meant an affirmation.
“Demons. I’ll remember that you called me with that foolish name.”
Koschei was the name of the first demon that Ganelon devoured. He harbored a strong disgust in being called so. Even while knowing that, Drekavac still called him Koschei. Separately from the negotiations, there was no way that he could forget it.
Ganelon turned on his heel and turned his back on the demons. He quietly walked inside the rain which became light.
Though Vodyanoy glared at the retreating figure of Ganelon, who became small, he switched his mood and moved his gaze to Drekavac.
He attacked Tigre because he was requested by Drekavac to do so. Moreover, in order to indeed pretend of having been repelled at the end of the fight, he began to take action after waiting for the Vanadis── Mila to come near. All of this was to lure out Ganelon and negotiate with him.
It was Drekavac who showed off his existence towards Mila’s Frozen Wave and lured her from Olmutz until here. So as to avoid Valentina, who was in contact with Ganelon before, and Elen, who was acting together with her, the Vanadis at the nearest position was Mila.
Something appeared in Drekavac’s hand. It was a leather bag of the size of a clenched fist, and it was big so as to let one feel enough weight. The black-robed old man tossed that leather bag to the demon giant. Vodyanoy, who received the leather bag, peered into its interior without delay.
Gold coins, which emitted dazzling brilliance, were fully packed into the bag.
However, Vodyanoy raised his face and revealed a displeased expression.
“Only this much?”
“No. I’ve prepared 10 times that amount.!
Vodyanoy raised a voice of delight at Drekavac’s words. He raised the leather bag overhead and turned it upside down after greatly opening his mouth. He swallowed the spilling gold coins at a stretch. To Vodyanoy, who revealed a satisfied smile, Drekavac talked with an emotionless voice.
“How were the Bow and the Spear?”
“Strong. They became much stronger than last time.”
Vodyanoy honestly admitted Tigre’s and Mila’s strength. Though, the conceit of him being still above them was included into the root of his words.
“Though it’s foolish to ask it after the talk was settled, aren’t only you and I enough?”
“There’s nothing better than having more pawns.”
“Koschei has probably guessed that. Will he really become a pawn just as we want? It looks to me like he’ll just let us and the Vanadises engage each other though.”
“He has a weakness.”
Drekavac shook his head towards Vodyanoy, who expressed his concern.
“If he has accepted that he was Koschei…… I would definitely have to destroy him. But, he kept thinking that he was only Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon. He isn’t worth fearing in the meantime.”
“Hmm. Well, it’s fine if you say so.”
As Vodyanoy gave an indifferent answer, Drekavac slightly stirred. Behind the hood covering his eyes, his eyes shone white. He seemed to be amazed. But, Drekavac did not offer a candid advice and asked the thing he has been bothered about.
“Did you smell Durandal from Koschei?”
“Just a little. He hides it quite well. He showed up probably because he also calculated that he’d be able to pull through even if it turned into a fight of two vs. one.”
Vodyanoy answered with a wry face. The two demons began to walk along the grassy plain, where the rain stopped, to somewhere unknown. This time, Vodyanoy asked.
“Muozinel, was it? Is it that big an army as you said?”
“150,000. I should have also observed other countries aside of Brune and Zhcted. When the war with Sachstein is over, I thought that there would not be any opportunity of a big war for a while though.”
After Drekavac admitted that he made a mistake in his judgment, he muttered in a low tone as if reciting an incantation.
“A battlefield, where an awakened Bow is, is namely a place of ritual to give an offering. The lying corpses and spilled bloods all become the food of the sleeping Goddess, and the sound of the bowstring of the black bow, which is the equipment for the ritual, is the call which shakes the Goddess awake.”
“But, will that young man challenge the Muozinel army? Five Vanadises will probably tag along. At least one of them will notice and stop it.”
Vodyanoy emitted a skeptical voice. The young man in this case was Tigre.
“They don’t appear to have noticed at the moment, but even if they have, there’s nothing they can do. The current Bow is a hero in the present age. The war needs a hero. Nobody can fit as a substitute.”
“And we’re only you and I. In the end, we must even use Koschei. So, we’re lacking manpower everywhere, huh.”
Vodyanoy shrugged his shoulders.
The figures of the demons walking on the grassy plain disappeared as they melted into the atmosphere.