Chapter 3: Day of the Debut

Part 1

Over ten days had passed since Gazaram had entered Rain’s command.

No other suspicious individuals had appeared after the attack in the baths, and a stretch of generally peaceful days continued.

And, while today was the day before the coronation ceremony, it could be said that it would be infinitely busier than the day of the actual ceremony itself.

As for the reason why——most of the people of Sunkwoll did not know Princess Shelfa’s name, much less what she looked like, so the day before the ceremony was to be “the new ruler’s debut,” as aptly named by Rain.

That being said, it wasn’t a very elaborate affair, and Shelfa would simply dress up like a princess and circle the capital city, Lydia, in a carriage……such was a summary of the event.

Rain also informally emphasized the aim of “showing off Princess Shelfa’s beauty to completely secure her popularity with the masses!”

It was an incredibly cunning and blunt objective, but, as Rain put it, “the people were more likely to support a lovely young girl rather than a moody, smelly, middle-aged man (the previous king).” Of course, it needn’t be said that it was Rain who had proposed the debut to begin with.

And thus, it was finally the morning of the debut, and Rain was seriously and dutifully——not attending to Shelfa’s security at her side, and was instead scarfing down breakfast at the plaza that was used exclusively as a place to eat.

Shelfa was currently being waited upon by a large number of ladies-in-waiting and changing into a brand-new dress, so Rain would not have been allowed at her side anyway. Well, it wasn’t as if Shelfa herself cared about Rain watching her change, but the people around her would have stirred up a fuss.

As such, Rain had filched a bottle of liqueur from the kitchens and was drinking it straight from the bottle as a means to treat himself after his meal during his short break.

Alcohol was especially good when drank in the morning.

However, Leni hurried over to him in the middle of his long-awaited drinking bout.

“Aah! You’re drinking again~?!”

“Who cares, it’s just a little! It’s not like I can get drunk no matter how much I drink anyway, so there’s nothing for you to nitpick about. ……Besides, why aren’t you out guarding the Princess, huh?!”

When Rain scolded him back, Leni responded,

“oh, that’s right! The Princess, she was calling for you, General. She wanted you come asap. She was really earnest about it too.”

“——Seriously? I was with her just thirty minutes ago.”

“We~ll……”

Leni smiled a small, wry smile and said,

“she sees you as her pillar of support. I’m sure she gets anxious when you’re not with her. Can’t blame her, since it’s not like the uproar over the assassination attempt has died down yet.”

He was right about that.

The lone prisoner that Rain had captured the other day had been found dead the very next morning. They could not figure out how or why. Guards had been patrolling the prisons, ensuring that no one had entered or left the area, but the prisoner had been dead by the time they had brought him food. It was made more unsettling by the fact that they could not figure out whether the man had committed suicide or if he had been murdered.

Worse, they had suddenly lost all contact with the agent that Rain had sent inside the assassin’s guild from which the commission was thought to have originated from. They didn’t even know if this was because the agent had been outed and silenced, which would make it all the more difficult to figure out who the client was.

Rain pushed his bottle aside and muttered to himself,

“well……it’s only natural for her to get anxious. Still, and she can take all the time she needs, but that child should start expressing interest in other people besides me, yeah.”

“Wait……caller her ‘that child’ is… She’s technically our ruler, you know? Though I get what you mean. I’d thought that she’d break out of her shell by now, but she doesn’t show any signs of doing so at all,”

Leni grumbled his misgivings and nonchalantly reached out for the bottle. However, Rain snatched it up first.

“Don’t you touch this! You’re already a lightweight as it is.”

“……That’s too bad. Well then, please do hurry. Her Highness is calling for you.”

“I get it, I’ll go. ……And here I wanted another two or~ three bottles…”

“Look here……you’re in an enviable position where the Princess is clearly friendly to you, aren’t you? I can barely get Yuri to eat lunch with me.”

“What’s this about Yuri? I don’t give a crap about your love life,”

Rain readily brushed the matter aside and stood up in good grief. He had already been thinking about returning anyhow.

He took one last rueful look at the bottle on the table and headed for the room where the Princess was waiting for him.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

“Has anything changed? ——Or so I say, but I’m sure nothing has. It hasn’t been that long since I left,”

Rain asked Gazaram, who was standing in front of the room. The latter smiled in a truly old man-ish manner and teased back,

“there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but the Princess is waiting for you, you know? She’s been peeking out of her room for a while now, checking to see if you’ve arrived yet. But man~, our Princess here’s one unbelievable beauty. If I was only thirty years younger, my heart would be all aflutter and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because of it.”

“Sir Gazaram.”

Senoa, who had been standing straight upright in attention, sharply knit her beautifully-shaped eyebrows and continued,

“there was a lot of unnecessary information in your report. You only need to answer the question that was asked of you.”

She spoke strict and stuffy words with a strict and stuffy expression. It was likely that, as Rain had expected, she did not get along too well with Gazaram. Rain thought that it was a rather troublesome issue but brushed it aside, as if it had absolutely nothing to do with him.

But then again, Gazaram did not seem to be the slightest bit perturbed by Senoa’s feelings and remained as jovial as ever.

“Now, don’t be all stiff like that, sister. How about a drink together later? And then we can all be good friends and whatnot?”

Gazaram said, suddenly on full-throttle old man mode.

Leni stared at him as if he was saying, he’s really brave…

“Sis, sister!?”

Senoa was slightly taken aback at first, and then her expression turned more severe by the moment.

“Hey, Gazaram,”

Rain butted in. He continued,

“tease her when I’m not around. Else, she’ll get all loud and fussy again.”

“General! Just what is that supposed to——”

“Well then, I’ll trust you to keep up guard duty.”

Rain opened the door without bothering to knock and took refuge inside the moment that Senoa whipped back her blonde hair and headed for him. He made sure to lock the door behind him. The voices outside became so quiet that he could barely believe it. The soundproofing of the walls of the royal palace were as amazing as he expected, unlike their cheaper and flimsier counterparts.

When he turned to face the front——

Shelfa had turned around halfway from the window with her eyes wide open, likely because she had been surprised by the sudden intrusion.

However, her openly wary expression soon gave way into a smile as she tottered over to him.

“Rain!”

She immediately reached out for him. Her palms were covered with sweat, possibly because of how nervous she had been.

“Seeing as there aren’t any ladies-in-waiting around, I’m guessing you’re done changing?”

“……Yes.”

Shelfa dropped her gaze down to the fluffy carpet and nodded.

Her silk dress had a white motif with a bold cut at the chest and an airy, princess-style skirt. Rain didn’t know who had designed the dress, but the tailor seemed to have gleaned that Shelfa looked good in white.

In fact, she would probably be rushed by a flood of stares the moment she stepped out into town……

Shelfa, however, did not look too well. Rain could tell that she was shivering through their interconnected hands.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid…… It’s……my first time going out before such a large crowd of people.”

“I see, now that you’ve mentioned it.”

“Um……would it be possible to cancel the event by any chance?”

Shelfa’s cheeks were slightly covered in sweat despite that it was winter. She was completely worked up, and was frightened on top of that. She looked like her knees would give away at any moment.

“Hey……c’mere for a second.”

He pulled Shelfa, who was standing uptight like a doll, closer by the hand, brought over a chair, and sat her down in front of the luxurious stone fireplace.

“Today’s debut is something that will definitely benefit you. I’ve explained this to you multiple times before, right?”

“That’s…… But, I’d still rather not.”

“I’ll be following along right by your side. I’ll be keeping up with your carriage on Kris, and I’ll never be too far apart from you.”

“You will, Rain?”

A little bit of vigor returned to her cheeks.

Shelfa squeezed Rain’s hand as if it was her lifeline and turned her clear blue eyes to him.

“Will you accompany me until the very end?”

“Yeah, ‘till the very end.”

“……Will you hold my hand as well?”

“No, I think that’d probably be pushing it.”

Rain smiled wryly and placed a hand upon Shelfa’s head. He continued,

“but, I’ll be right there, so you can look to me if it gets to be too much for you. Just like how you’re staring at me now. Only if it helps you calm down, of course.”

“It calms me to be by your side and look at you like this…… My heart was racing furiously until just a moment ago, but now it has slowed down considerably.”

Shelfa brought Rain’s hand, which she had been grasping tightly, up to her chest.

Whoa, it’s soft……no, wait, that’s not the point here.

“Hmm…… I guess the only difference is that I’ll be a little farther away. Oh, and while we’re at it, make sure you only do stuff like this when we’re alone.”

“Why is that?”

“For adult reasons.”

He summed up his reasoning with that one line and said,

“anyways, you’re feeling better now, right?”

“Please wait just a little longer. I feel like you’re sharing your strength with me when I look at you like this……”

Shelfa stared at Rain with her large eyes open as wide as they could go, as if she was reluctant even to blink.

Her sincerity and purity did not hold even the slightest trace of doubt, and her heart seemed to calm down just by looking as Rain, just as she had claimed.

However, Rain, too, felt “something” from Shelfa.

He felt that her monochromic blue eyes, characteristic of the nobility, were faintly emitting light. Just as she gained an unseen power from Rain, Rain, too, felt some kind of “surge of power” from the princess before him.

It was not simply his imagination, but rather as if something that had been slumbering within the deepest depths had abruptly reared its head.

If it had been some ordinary warrior who had been looking into her eyes……they would have likely felt some sort of power that caused them to inadvertently begin to tremble.

Rather than being affected by Shelfa’s mysterious power, however, Rain felt awkward and ashamed by her eyes, which were filled with her wholehearted trust for him, and purposefully looked away.

“Shall we head out on our date now?”

“……Date?”

Shelfa, who had regained much of her cheer, tilted her head to the side.

“In other words, I’m saying that you should think about the matter from a perspective that’s convenient to you, Little one. Forget about the mobs of people for now. Think of them like they’re pumpkins or something. Just think that you’re going on a date around the capital with me. You can just ignore the noise around you and pretend that we’re the only people present.”

“A date……with you, Rain?”

she said in an almost sacred tone, as if she was uttering the name of a god.

“Exactly. Just look at it that way. Or do you not want to go on a date with me?”

Shelfa shook her head so furiously no sooner than the words that left Rain’s lips that Rain almost wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to shake her head so hard.

“I……want to go on a date with you.”

“Let’s go on one someday. We can go whenever we want from now on. Press through today with that in mind.”

Shelfa looked up at Rain with upturned eyes and a suddenly flushed face.

“Somehow, I don’t feel afraid anymore.”

“I see, that’s great. ——Oh yeah, I’ll give you this too.”

Rain pulled out an aged silver coin from his pocket and pressed it into Shelfa’s hand. It had unrecognizable letters engraved close together on its surface and hole had been punched through it to allow a chain to pass through and turn it into a necklace.

“Here, this is genuinely the last one. Or rather, there was only two to begin with. You might not need it anymore, but I’ll give it to you just in case.”

“This is——”

Shelfa rose from her seat as if she was being pulled away and leapt into Rain’s chest after one look at the worn-out silver coin.

“Thank you so very much, Rain!”

“Whoa there.”

“I’m happy……so very happy…… I’d been feeling uneasy about having used it ever since I did,”

Shelfa said with her arms wrapped tightly around Rain’s back.

Naturally, Rain had his arms around Shelfa’s back as well, and he wondered how a third wheel would see them if someone walked in on them. Well, many princesses were often married off in their teens, so it was entirely possible that the public might not view them in too strange of a light.

“……Here, I’ll put it on for you. Ah, would a shabby coin not go along well with your current stunning get up?”

“No, it’s alright. Please……put it on for me.”

She lifted her head up ever so slightly and patiently waited.

As she wished, Rain took the magic coin back from her and put it on her slender neck as she watched.

“There, that’ll do it. Put it under your clothes so it can’t be seen.”

“……Okay.”

Shelfa looked spellbound. She stared at the dingy coin that was placed around her neck as if it was a treasure of priceless value (though, it certainly was expensive).

Rain began to worry that she had completely forgotten about the event that was soon to commence.

“Also, there’s actually still something else I wanted to talk about……”

Rain said, bringing up a topic that he had been putting off.

“Yes?”

“It’s about the guys who attacked you the other day —you know they haven’t given up or anything yet, right?”

“Yes.”

“……I don’t want to say anything that’ll make you too uneasy, but to be blunt, it’ll be easy to target you today…… Or rather, if I was on the assassins’ side, I’d definitely target you today.”

Shelfa blinked.

“But you’ll be with me, Rain, won’t you?”

“I will, but……. That’s not the point, I’m saying that I’m basically about to use you as bait. If I miss this chance, I won’t be able to round them up all at once.”

“But, when all things are said and done, all of this is for my sake, is it not?”

She smiled without a single complaint and continued,

“please don’t let this worry you. I entrust everything that I am, including my life, to your judgement, Rain…… So please, do as you wish.”

Hmph……Rain almost groaned out loud. There was an infinite amount of trust held within Shelfa’s earnest eyes as she looked at him, which gave credit to her words.

“……Are you sure about saying something like that me? You might find yourself in a fix and regret it later.”

Instead of replying, Shelfa silently drew nearer and held him again.

“I can see the feelings that you’re hiding away, Rain. I won’t ever regret it.”

……There was nothing else he could say.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

Preparations for the debut were already underway at the plaza just inside of the castle gates. The snow-white carriage, which was to be pulled by two white horses, was seated with a velvet sofa and lacked both a roof and windows.

It wasn’t very spacious, but that wasn’t a problem since Shelfa would be its only passenger. She would become the target of the people’s attention simply by sitting there, so a “debut” was the perfect name for the event.

Rain’s and Ralphus’ mixed unit, which was in charge of escorting her, had already begun to gather around, and the area was overflowing with noise. The soldiers were chatting about as they liked because no one of the captain rank had arrived yet, so there was no one to censure them for idle chatter.

Yuri and Selphie were no exception and were chatting with one another as a means to kill time. Actually, as squires, they should not have been able to participate in the debut, but Yuri was a squire under Leni’s, the general’s aide’s, charge and Selphie, though she had no official placement, was considered to be under Rain’s care in one way or another, so both girls had been given special permission to participate.

In any case, they had been outfitted with a white uniform with leather armor on top. The reason that they were not equipped with armor was because they were not full-fledged knights yet and thus were not allowed to wear formal armor.

Still, Selphie aside, Yuri was happy because it was “much better this way.”

To begin with, Yuri did not only see her participation in the event as a pain in the ass, but was rather indignant about it too because she felt that she had drawn “the short end of the stick.” From Yuri’s perspective, she would have much rather spent the day sleeping in her lodgings than attend the debut.

Yuri never stopped complaining between her messy bites into the bread, cheese, and wine the two of them had bought in the lieu of a proper breakfast.

Both girls were crouching in a corner and giving their undivided attention to appeasing their appetites, and they looked so unkept that their parents would have cried out loud if they had seen them. Though, this was a moot point since both girls had been orphaned long ago.

“Besides, it’s not like she’s a circus monkey or anything, so what’s all~ this about a “debut”? Honestly, all of the General’s plans are always so messed up!”

After complaining for a while about how she was called out for work so early in the morning, Yuri recapped all of her complaints and reached the above conclusion.

“Eh? I don’t think so. Isn’t Lord Rain doing his best for the Princess’ sake?”

“You think? I don’t really like publicity stunts like this. Wouldn’t it have been better to implement actual policies to rack up public support instead of holding a show like this?”

Selphie carefully chewed the food in her mouth before she refuted,

“I don’t think the publicity is all that bad. There’s a need to show the people that “things will be different from now on” before anything else. It’s only bad if you don’t change things in accordance to what you said you would. But, I think that the Princess does really intend to change things…… And so does Lord Rain.”

Yuri frowned, unable to give an immediate response, and nibbled on her bread for the time being to buy time. I tip my hat off to you, that was a pretty good point. In a small burst of frustration, she decided to go in for the kill.

“——By the way, and I’m changing up the topic here, why do you call the General “Lord Rain”? Don’t tell me that it’s for some cliched reason like you fell for him or something?”

Selphie surrendered readily, to Yuri’s surprise. Her face immediately turned bright red and she began to write on the ground with her finger.

How could this be?! Yuri found herself exasperated.

“Look here. You’re the one who’ll suffer if you fall for someone like that. He’s incredibly capricious in temperament. Besides, if you take out the fact that he’s ridiculously strong, he’s just braggart and nothing elsee.”

“That’s not true at all!”

What are you talking about?! Selphie seemed to add on as she opened her light green eyes, the same color as Yuri’s, wide and gulped down her wine like a man. She had been mild-tempered and timid up until now, but she seemed to have been provoked into action.

“*exhale* Lord Rain looks so manly, he’s very perceptive, and——”

Her words cut off there.

“……And what?”

“And, isn’t he really kind?”

Selphie began to scribble on the ground again.

Ah, she’s beyond help, this one,

Yuri thought right off the bat. Then, she asked,

“Selphie, are you the type of person who falls in love easily by any chance?”

“I’m not!”

Selphie cried out as she sharply raised her head. Then, of all the things, she confessed,

“this is my first love, okay?! ——Wait, ahh!?”

After boldly asserting herself in a loud voice, she buried her head in her hands after realizing her blunder. She continued,

“ugh…… I was planning on keeping that a secrett.”

“……That’s impossible for you, Selphie. I mean, it was written all over your face.”

Selphie blushed again after Yuri pointed this out, likely because she had already had an inkling of the issue herself, and drowned herself in wine. The event hadn’t even begun yet, and she was already completely buzzed.

And she looks like some kind of well-to-do princess on the outside, too,

Yuri thought as she looked up and braced herself.

“Selphie, watch out!”

“Huh? K, kyaa!”

Selphie yelped as a horse stuck out its long neck right beside her. She hugged her bag close and stood up in a panic.

Yuri, on the other hand, was not all that surprised because she had experienced this before. Instead, she sullenly muttered, “you again, Kris?”

“K, Kris?”

“Yep. General Rain’s horse. He lets him run free for some reason, and he has a big attitude for a horse. He comes over re~al quick whenever people are eating. It’s like he’s messing around with us.”

Selphie had stopped listening mid-way through Yuri’s explanation.

She had been captivated by how Kris was a size larger than normal horses and was such a fine white horse with an abundant mane.

“Such a beautiful horsey……”

Her voice was becoming dangerous.

“……I don’t really care, but give up on that “horsey.””

Yuri frowned.

However, Selphie took no notice of her and reached out for the horse’s mane, which looked enticing to the touch. Unfortunately, Kris shook his head and avoided her.

“Huh, what’s wrong? I want to pet you……”

“Isn’t it that? He’ll probably let you touch him if you give him something to eat. He’s probably saying, “I won’t let you pet me for free,””

Yuri explained with a hand on her hip as Selphie laughed at her antics.

“I’m sure that’s not it. But it’s too bad. Even if I wanted to give him something, I only have some bread. I don’t think horsies eat——”

Munch munch

Kris stole away the piece of bread that Selphie was waving around in her hand with astonishing speed. He raised his head (neck?) and gulped it down in just two bites. Afterwards, he listlessly waved his tail once and stared at Selphie……or at her bag of food, to be precise, from of the corner of his eye.

Yuri pointed this behavior out in a dry voice,

“he’s saying, “won’t you hurry up a give me more, huh?!””

“Eh?!”

Selphie staggered, confused. She continued,

“Y, Yuri, you can talk to horses?! And I never knew that horses ate bread……”

“Of course not! Oh, I mean that I can’t talk to horses. The General talks to Kris pretty often, but don’t lump me together with him! It’s just that it’s easy to understand what he wants, that’s all.”

“Okay, aand……what about eating bread?”

“That’s a mystery. I don’t know how, I think Kris is an omnivore. He doesn’t eat fodder, though.”

“He doesn’t eat fodder, even though he’s a horsey?”

Selphie asked while finally stroking Kris. “Apparently,” Yuri answered curtly.

“Whoaa, he’s kind of……cute!”

——Just what about this conversation made you think he’s cute, huh?!

Yuri quipped back silently. She acknowledged that Kris was large, pure white, and was of a great breeding, but she didn’t quite like the horse because he was rather cheeky. The horse eventually trotted away from Selphie’s hands as Yuri watched on, exasperated.

Selphie then looked over to her for some reason, so Yuri helplessly explained Kris’ actions.

“He’s telling you to hand over more food instead of just petting him.”

At Yuri’s words, Selphie hastily pulled out cheese and pastries from her paper bag and offered it to the horse.

Kris devoured the food like a bottomless hole and soon enough, he had finished off everything that Selphie had on hand.

Not only that, but he had also drunk Selphie’s wine.

When Selphie had poured her bottle of wine down Kris’ throat to see if he would drink it, the horse had emptied the bottle. He had even neighed a little and was obviously in a good mood.

“You’re so silly, Selphie. Why would you give him your entire breakfast?”

Yuri scolded.

Yuri herself had eaten her own breakfast at the same speed as Kris had in order to ensure that she would lose none of it to the horse. She continued,

“he’ll abandon you soon enough, now that he’s eaten his fill. That’s just the kind of ill-natured horse he is.”

Yuri huffily looked the other way while laughing scornfully. She couldn’t put up with this any longer.

——And just then.

Kris turned to Yuri and stuck out his sturdy teeth the moment that the girl had turned around whinnied as if he was making fun of her.

Selphie was surprised because the timing had been so perfect. It could not have been a mere coincidence.

When Selphie expressed her surprise by raising a hand to her lips, Kris met her gaze —and Selphie could declare with certainty that she wasn’t simply seeing things— and winked.

“Y, Yuri!”

“What is it? He’ll get mad at you if you yell.”

“That’s not it! Right now, he just w, winked at me! And he was sticking his teeth out at you too!”

“Huh?”

Selphie and Yuri, who had turned back around, stared hard at Kris and observed him.

However, unlike before, Kris was looking away with a distant look in his eyes.

It was as if he was saying, “I’m just an ordinary horse~.”

……It’s like he’s playing stupid,

Selphie thought as Yuri shrugged.

“He’s not doing anything?”

“No, but he really did earlier…”

“Argh, whatever. Isn’t it fine as long as you get along with Kris? Look, it’s the General and the Princess. It’s time.”

Just as Yuri said, the General, with his three aides in tow, was walking toward the carriage with the Princess.

They were bombarded by the stares of the knights who had gathered around, causing the Princess to falter in her steps. She stood frozen in place with her eyes cast down. Even Selphie could tell that she was nervous. She looked like she would curl up into a ball at any moment.

The aides followed after her like ladies-in-waiting and looked like they were trying to console her with words of encouragement. Nothing changed. Seeing this, General Rain himself stooped over and spoke to her. He spoke to her about two, no, three times. It appeared that his words were stupidly effective as the Princess, who looked like she was about to retreat back into the palace at once, looked up once more.

The General nodded at her with a smile, and the Princess began walking toward the carriage again. ……While looking at the General the entire time.

He probably had not said anything too out of the ordinary. General Rain had probably said some simple words of encouragement like the aides had. Only, the General’s words were probably special to the Princess…… Selphie felt the same way, so it was easy for her to understand this.

Selphie’s heart hurt.

But I won’t lose! Selphie immediately regained her cheer. I should still have a chance…… I won’t give up so easily! she thought as she caught up to Yuri, who had gone on ahead.

She locked eyes with Kris when she turned to her side.

And she could swear.

She definitely, definitely had not been seeing things.

 

Kris had winked at her again.

 

 

Shelfa was rather composed at the moment, likely due to the effect that she had secretly named, “the Rain effect.”

No matter what anyone else said, the state of her feelings changed greatly depending on whether Rain was close by or not.

A countless number of knights, who all looked the same according to Shelfa’s standards, were staring absentmindedly at her for some reason. She was even able to smile back at them.

Her heart jumped in her chest when a loud cheer arose from them. She had no idea what was going on. Had she made some kind of blunder?

Then, Rain rebuked them in a voice that carried well.

“Hey, are you guys a bunch of pubescent brats?! Quit stirring up a fuss just because the Princess smiled at you! And stop with the staring, you’re staring way to hard!”

They reluctantly looked away. Though, there were still a few knights who glanced back at her every now and then.

Rain silently cast a cursory glance over his men. Something akin to an impalpable pressure was imbued within his gaze, and the impolite gazes eventually dropped away.

After confirming that all of the looking had stopped, Rain nimbly climbed atop of Kris. His line of sight rose to approach Shelfa’s, causing the princess to look more than a little relieved.

“Hello, Kris.”

She gently stroked Kris’ neck with a gloved hand. She had been talking to Kris rather often as of late, and had become able to read the horse’s expressions to a degree…… He was in an exceptionally good mood this morning.

“Fall in line!”

Gazaram, who had recently come under Rain’s command, yelled in a raspy voice.

It hadn’t been very long since his arrival, but he already acted more like a captain than either Leni and Senoa did.

She had had the impression that he was only “a scary person……” when he was first introduced, but Shelfa’s evaluation of him had changed completely over the past several days.

One reason for this change was because Rain seemed to trust him deeply. Another was because Gazaram had surprisingly kind eyes.

This knight, who could be called elderly at this point, was similar to Rain in the sense that he was extremely friendly despite what his appearance may suggest (though perhaps this was rude of her to say).

Besides, he never stared at her like Leni did, so Shelfa’s feelings about him were on a one-way track toward favorability. She was sensitive to people’s gazes because so many people ogled at her on a constant basis. People who stared at her about as much as Leni did only bothered her a little, but most of the scrutinizers looked at her with “distasteful eyes,” further fostering her dislike of people.

Still, Gazaram didn’t look at her like that, so Shelfa was quick to classify him into her ‘good people’ category. Once, when she had told Rain about her personal classification system, Rain had told her, “you shouldn’t judge people so easily,” but she found it difficult to forsake her habit of many years.

Gunther appeared while Shelfa was watching Gazaram give orders. He was technically also a captain, and he was accompanied by his men today, which was a rare occurrence.

Several of his men were mages wearing black robes, a sight that was worthy of the attention and awe that it garnered.

Those who could learn magic had become exceedingly rare ever since the Daemon War.

Contrary to countries like Zarmine that proactively gathered rune masters, mages were extremely valuable in Sunkwoll, a kingdom that was second-rate in terms of national power.

To begin with, the fact that there were civilian rune masters in military employ was a secret in and of itself.

Ignoring the inquisitive looks he was getting, Gunther motioned for his men to wait and approached Rain on horseback.

“Lord Rain, I have a report.”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“……Pardon me.”

Gunther whispered something in Rain’s ear after casting a glance at his surroundings. Did he have a secret to share with Rain?

Shelfa immediately switched her interests over from Gazaram to Gunther and, while she knew that she was being improper, held her breath and tried to listen in. Unfortunately, she could not hear anything. Still, she could tell that other people had also taken interest in Rain and Gunther by the way that their surroundings had suddenly become quiet.

Eventually, Rain, who had been listening to Gunther’s report without a word, twitched his eyebrows. It was rare for Rain of all people, who was always calm in any situation, to express his surprise. Just what on earth could have happened?

“……Are you sure?”

Rain whispered back.

“Yes. My men have identified them. I’m having my men standing by watching them silently for now…… How should I proceed?”

“Hm~mm…… I see…… They read through us.”

Rain folded his arms while on top of Kris.

He looked over at Shelfa out of the corner of his eye while growling. He hastily looked away when she ardently looked back. ……She was finally starting to feel uneasy.

Rain remained deep in thought for several minutes even as he was bathed in the curious attention of a large crowd of people including Shelfa.

Then, he suddenly slapped his thigh.

“I’ve got it. Gunther, lend me your ear.”

This time, Rain whispered something into Gunther’s ear.

Shelfa……and everyone else, were almost writhing with curiosity about what they were talking about.

Upon hearing what Rain had to say, Gunther abruptly raised his eyebrows.

Then, in his ever-calm voice he asked,

“have you made your decision?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. But laying down some groundwork beforehand is always the smarter option, no? Or are you opposed to it?”

“No,”

Gunther replied immediately,

“I believe it is a good idea.”

“I know, right? It’ll be difficult……but you can do it, right?”

“Please leave it to me.”

He swept back his mantle and bowed elegantly from atop his saddle. Then, Rain whispered into his ear again. This time, Shelfa caught a bit of the conversation.

“And, if you’re successful, leave a scrap of paper behind. As for what to write on that piece of paper——”

Gunther nodded and listened to his orders with a heavy scowl…… Without moving a single eyebrow, he answered, “understood.”

“Alright. Then, I’ll leave the rest to you.”

With a low bow, Gunther took his mages, whom he had brought all the way here, and disappeared off to somewhere. He left not towards the castle gates, but toward the back of the castle.

“Rain……um, what were you talking about?”

“It’s better that you don’t know for now. You’ll know about it soon enough whether you want to or not.”

“Eh?!”

It had not been Shelfa who had interposed with an objection. It had been the girl named Yuri, who had appeared nearby at some point. ……Along with the girl Shelfa had seen before at the exam.

“This doesn’t even have anything to do with you! Quit trying to eavesdrop.”

“Buut…”

“Just hurry up and go back in line. Selphie, you too.”

“Ye, yessir! Lord Rain!”

Rain looked back at Selphie with ‘what?’ written cleanly across his face. However, Shelfa was even more surprised than he was. She stared at the other girl relentlessly.

Her face is kind of red…… This person……could she…?

——Selphie’s face was red because of the wine she had downed earlier, but, nonetheless, Shelfa’s instincts were not wrong. Selphie noticed the princess’ gaze and the two locked eyes.

Both girls looked at the other with extremely mixed feelings.

“……? Well, it’s always a good thing to hold me in high esteem. Keep up the good work.”

Rain, the person at the heart of the issue, seemed to think little of it as he wrapped the issue up and yelled at the somewhat unsatisfied soldiers around them,

“hey! Straighten up! We’re gonna start a little early and head out right now! Gazaram, Leni, Senoa; are the three of you good to go?”

In the blink of an eye, Shelfa became unable to worry about the secret talk. The people around her were moving about in a hurry. They were running back to their respective captains, calling roll, and lining up in front of and behind the carriage as she watched.

The woman called Selphie and Rain’s secret talk with Gunther temporarily vanished from Shelfa’s mind. She no longer had the leeway to worry about them.

“Um, Rain? Lord Ralphus and his men aren’t here yet?”

“Yes, I asked him, Gwen, and the rest to go somewhere else. I originally wanted to go myself, but it would be bad for me to leave your side, Princess.”

“That’s…… I would be very troubled if you were not here.”

She wanted to know where “somewhere else” entailed, but Rain did not explain any further.

Well, that was fine.

Except, she was troubled that she had started to grow a little nervous again.

When she immediately turned to look at Rain, he leaned his upper body closer to her. Then, he whispered so that no one else could hear,

“c’mon, let’s go on our date. ……Yeah?”

“Um, yes!”

And with that, she immediately felt better.

A small smile slipped out of her in self-exasperation.

The people around her were making up a noisy fuss again, but this time she paid them no heed.

A date, a date with Rain……

she repeated over and over in her heart like a spell.

It’s all right, I’m not scared anymore.

After all, Rain was right by her side.

Yes. And, what even is there to be afraid of? As long as Rain is with me, I am the happiest girl in the world.

“Is everyone lined up?! Alright, let’s march!”

At Rain’s command, the lines of soldiers in sparkling armor (although Rain alone was still in his usual black outfit) gracefully headed out the castle gates.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

Once they had exited the castle gates, Shelfa found that the capital, Lydia, was in a completely different state than the town of her memories.

To begin with, Shelfa had spent most of her life so far in Galfort. She was such a sheltered princess that she could count the number of times that she had ever been outside the castle.

The town that she had seen several times before had been much less crowded and much more relaxed.

But today, the town looked like a scene from another world entirely.

 

People of all ages were crowding around the main street where the procession was to pass and were eagerly keeping an eye out for it……or rather, they were desperately keeping an eye out for a single girl in the middle of it. Children, adults, and even storekeepers who were ignoring their business had come out for the event.

“Hey, stop pushing, I wanna see so stop trying to get in front of me, damnit!”

The horde of people let loose their raw curiosity and searched for the princess’ carriage the moment they caught a glimpse of the head of the procession. They were stirring up such a racket that the knights patrolling the streets were clicking their tongues at them.

But they couldn’t be blamed for being curious.

They were excited to see Princess Shelfa, who had always lived as if she had been confined inside of the deepest depths of the castle. Even most senior knights did not know what she looked like. Which was to say nothing of the general public —many of whom did not even know the princess’ name. Naturally, they had never seen her face either.

 

“Well, there’s no way that she’ll be too easy on the eyes since her father was an ugly old man, but maybe she’ll at least be a good topic for conversation……”

 

Many of them were thinking similar thoughts as they waited on the stone-paved road.

However, the forbidden gates had opened.

Those who caught a glimpse of Shelfa realized that they had been completely off the mark and exclaimed, “that’s the late king’s daughter? You must be kidding me,” with their jaws dropping in shock.

A good portion of them were immediately silenced and tried to chase after the carriage in a hurry. Naturally, this was because they wanted another look at their princess.

 

“I only got to see her profile before (because Shelfa had been looking at Rain)! I want to see her properly from the front. I want to hear her voice, too!”

 

The people caused a lot of trouble for the unit of knights following after the carriage because they had to stop a good number of the women, and not only the men, from chasing after it. Rain had cunningly announced a large-scale tax cut right before this “debut.”

He had been steadily creating the groundwork for this occasion all the way up until today, but it could be said that his policies had only truly succeeded at this very moment.

On this day, many people embraced the sentiment that “Sunkwoll might actually change this time.” Many of the people who had seen Shelfa’s beauty had returned home to share their exciting stories of her with their neighbors and acquaintances, and many of them had also included that “she seemed very kind.” Many of their claims had been based on the tax reduction because, obviously, beauty did not necessarily equate to kindness.

She was one heck of a beauty → Come to think of it, there was a large tax cut recently → I see, so Her Royal Highness the Princess is a very kind person.

——Was how their reasoning went.

While it was undeniably true that Shelfa was a kind girl, it had actually been Rain who had proposed the tax cut and deregulation policies.

His sly and cunning calculations were steadily bearing fruit.

 

 

Shelfa had long since recovered from her initial surprise.

As curious as it was, she found that she was no longer perturbed by the cheering around her or the horde of people flooding the streets now that she had hypnotized herself by repeating, “this is a date,” and was keeping pace with Rain.

Rain, who alone was wearing his usual black garb instead of armor, was humming in a low voice next to the carriage that Shelfa was daintily sitting in. His upper body was gently rocking on top of Kris, and he was in a good mood.

His humming was extremely bad even to Shelfa’s, who was most partial to Rain, ears, and anyone else would have hated to hear it. However, Shelfa liked hearing Rain’s low voice, and it relaxed her to hear him hum.

Rain had told her that this debut would be dangerous, but Rain himself was a calm as he could ever be and didn’t look like he was even trying to be wary of his surroundings.

Still, Shelfa had every confidence that, even if he’s that calm, Rain will still react faster than anyone if something happens.

She had no basis for her claim, but there was not even the slightest shade of doubt in Shelfa’s trust in him.

Rain cast a glance at her after he had finished a song. Their eyes met. Shelfa beamed, and Rain smiled back.

Then, he looked behind over his shoulder.

“People won’t take Galfort Castle’s security seriously at this rate,”

he said.

Shelfa had initially wondered if he was worried about that, but he then smiled complacently and muttered, “that’s some good timing,” contrary to her expectations. Whatever did he mean by that? Shelfa wanted to ask, but she missed her chance because there was a change in Rain’s expression.

The procession was about to exit the main street and enter a small plaza lined with rows of stores.

Anyone else would not have noticed. However, Shelfa, who was always watching Rain’s face, knew.

Rain is wary of this plaza.

There was something here that bothered Rain.

Shelfa leaned forward and observed the rather small plaza.

It was a circular plaza with nothing in particular to be suspicious of, and the town roads converged into it from all four cardinal directions. Shelfa’s procession was about to enter from one of these roads —the one from the north.

There were hardly any private houses in the plaza, and only the eaves of small stores lined its outer circumference. There were also several cart stalls that looked like wheeled wagons that were missing their horses. The carts were selling flowers or light beverages. They had likely assembled in anticipation of the spectators that would gather in the plaza.

Shelfa’s eyes did not find anything out of the ordinary. She thought that this was a scene that one could find anywhere. Although, she could not be too sure.

The knights escorting the carriage from the front also entered the plaza as if nothing was wrong. Shelfa herself was nearing it with every second.

Only, there was a bit of an unexpected event.

A child had attempted to cross the street and had fallen over right in front of Shelfa’s carriage. The procession stopped for a brief moment. The unit in front of the carriage had already passed the plaza by the time that a few knights had helped the child up and cleared the street.

The coachman hurried the horses in an attempt to catch up to them.

They entered the plaza.

 

And there, things came into motion.

 

Clatter clatter clatter!

When Shelfa turned around, surprised at a sudden noise, she found that several people had rammed the wagon-like carts into the procession’s rear. The knights who were about to be run over cursed and dodged at the last moment. Then, for whatever reason, the people completely cut through the procession, cutting off the road they had entered the plaza from, and stopped moving.

People jumped out from within the carts’ hoods…

Many, so many people donned in black robes…

Immediately afterwards, there was yet another loud crashing sound as the carts burst into flame. The flames spread quickly. They flared up in the blink of an eye and there was nothing that anyone could do about them.

Crackle! Crackle!

The noise continued.

The same thing happened to the other three roads that lead into the plaza, and not just the road that the procession had come through. The roads were blocked by furiously blazing carts. And a crowd, a horde, of people in black robes…… Instead of attacking immediately, they waited until their comrades, who had driven the carts into the roads, gathered around them. Perhaps they intended to win the battle through sheer numbers.

On the other hand, Shelfa and the unit around her had been completely cut off from their allies. No matter which direction they looked to, the flames were so unusually fierce that they would not be able to count on getting reinforcements for a while yet.

 

“Argh~, crap!”

Yuri suddenly cried out, breaking out of a daze.

“If I knew this was gonna happen, I would’ve stayed in the row I was supposed to be in!”

she wailed as she clutched her head.

Then, she met Shelfa’s gaze and brought her hands up to her mouth with a look of guilty shock.

Shelfa was not particularly offended by Yuri’s words. Thus, she smiled and quietly looked the other way.

To begin with, she had always thought that it was wrong to expect others to risk themselves just to protect her.

Just a few months ago, she had been in a position where she had essentially been abandoned by everyone. She knew that there was no way that people’s hearts would easily change just because the circumstances had.

Rain had been the only exception. Rain had said that, “you can rely on me as much as you want.” While she was ecstatic about it, Shelfa also felt that she shouldn’t simply depend on him one-sidedly. She had to do something for him in return——

She saw something by her feet.

Shelfa immediately picked it up upon realizing that it was the hilt of a rapier. She did not know who had left it there, but she decided to use it anyway.

It’s my first time using a sword, but I have to lessen the burden on everyone else at least a little!

Her surroundings were already in complete chaos.

The few dozen knights who understood the situation they were in were running this way and that in confusion. There were only a few people who had realized that Shelfa was in danger.

They probably had not thought that things would have come to this even in their wildest dreams. Even an outsider could easily tell that they could not hide their discomposure.

The blonde Senoa had drawn her sword in a hurry and it had promptly slipped out of her hands.

“M, my family’s treasured sword!”

“More importantly, dodge!”

Leni pulled Senoa out of the way in a panic as the sword came tumbling down.

The first victim (of self-destruction) had just barely managed to evade injury.

While Senoa was a rather extreme example, the rest of the knights did not fair any better. Only Rain and Gazaram had been able to maintain their calm.

Rain’s attitude was particularly impressive. He had not stopped humming and had not so much as flinched in the face of the commotion, as if it was all just a gentle breeze.

He had not even reached for his sword yet and was simply looking on at his surroundings as if nothing was happening.

He was the very picture of composure, as if he was simply lounging about his own home, and did not show even a shred of alarm.

On his mouth was the fearless smile that Shelfa had become intimately familiar with.

Shelfa felt a wave of relief hit her as she watched him.

If she had been an ordinary knight instead of a princess……she would have definitely wanted to fight under his command.

She thought this even after taking in her partiality for him out of consideration.

Surely, Rain was someone who had been born with the qualities of a general.

It was strange to put it into words, but she was proud of herself for falling in love with someone like him.

Rain, the man in question, surveyed his men and rebuked them in an echoing voice,

“this is unsightly, don’t falter!”

At his rebuke, the knights’ unrest quieted down at once. Even the enemy paused in their steps for a moment.

Rain gazed down over at his allies and continued,

“you guys are only allowed to falter if I become a corpse. So, there’s no reason for you to panic because there isn’t even a one in a hundred million chance of that happening! Form a circle around the Princess. Fight only the people who get close!”

Everyone began to move again at the sound of his voice.

The girl called Yuri complained, “one in a hundred million!? Who the heck even counts that high?” but she still obeyed in the end. Selphie, who was standing next to her, blushed again after watching Rain.

Waah!

The sound of someone crying reached Shelfa’s ears.

When she turned around to see who it was, she saw that the boy from earlier was running toward her, seeking refuge. Moved by his crying, Shelfa got down from the carriage and tried to run toward him, but——

“Please wait, Princess.”

She was stopped by Rain.

“Gazaram! Stop that brat!”

Rain ordered his aide on the other side of the carriage. Gazaram tightened his expression in response and blocked the boy’s path with a small nod.

Then, in a voice that suggested that he had just realized something, he roared,

“stop right there, son! I’ll take you down if you don’t. This isn’t an empty threat!”

Rain, too, got down off of Kris and stood next to him.

Then, he called out to the gloomy boy who was running all the faster now,

“hey, quit your ham acting. It won’t work on me. I’ll kill you without hesitation if you get any closer.”

The boy readily came to a halt with that.

He pulled out several knives from his back and dropped his center of gravity. His distraught visage, which he had worn up until now, had been wiped off clean.

“A, a boy that young?!”

The blonde Senoa wailed.

Shelfa was of the same opinion. He was only just a child!

The rest of the unit barring Rain circled around the princess. The few civilians who were in the plaza ran toward the corners, screaming. Shelfa could hear the bellows of allied units roaring from the other side of the blazing carts. However, there was nothing they else they could do.

The boy ignored all of that and focused his attention on only Rain and Shelfa. Eventually, his hate-filled gaze fixated on Rain alone.

“How……did you know? I’ve been trained to hide my bloodlust.”

“It’s impossible to hide it entirely anyway,”

Rain replied with a scornful smile. He continued,

“but it’s true that I hardly felt any from you. It’s just that I’d decided to beat up any idiot who tried to get close.”

When Shelfa looked up at him after getting off the carriage and cutting through a crowd of people, Rain was looking at the boy with an obvious touch of mockery.

“As I’d thought, you’re the biggest obstacle here……”

The boy……rather, the assassin from the guild glared at Rain with eyes filled with bloodlust. The knives that he held in both hands glistened as if they were wet. They were probably covered in some type of poison.

Rain had once told her that assassins used dirty methods like that.

She found it even more difficult to believe that this boy seemed to be used to doing this kind of “work.”

“If you’re gonna get in my way——”

the boy started with his voice dripping with resentment. He continued,

“I’ll kill you. Don’t get ahead of yourself…… No one’s survived after making an enemy out of a skilled assassin. Rumors say that you’re pretty good, but you’d be better off if you didn’t think that you’re the best.”

“That’s hilarious, you stupid brat!”

Rain smiled brazenly, showing off his sparkling white teeth. His bold expression was filled with the intent to rub people the wrong way. He had yet to draw his magic sword, and his leisurely expression had yet to waver.

“You’re clearly mistaken,”

Rain said while narrowing his eyes. He continued,

“it’ll all end the same way no matter who comes at me as long as I’m here. There’s no one in this world who’s stronger than me. I’m the strongest in the world!”

——All of Rain’s allies, not to mention the enemy boy before him, were stunned into silence at his conceited words. ……Except for Shelfa, that is.

Then, he added on for the boy who was at a loss for words,

“besides, you’ve already made a mistake. It’s over once an assassin has to resort to brute strength.”

“……It’s not like I wanted to use these stupid methods either. But there were certain circumstances this time. I don’t have the time to waste like this. Not that it matters to you.”

A hint of distress was mixed into the boy’s words.

Then, he shook his head as if he was surprised at himself for showing his grievances. In a high-pitched voice, he continued,

“I’m not going to keep up our pointless conversation. It’s no use if you were trying to buy time!”

The boy suddenly flicked his hands after he had cut off the discussion.

At the same time, Rain extended his own hand out toward Shelfa’s chest.

Shelfa opened her eyes wide in surprise.

In Rain’s hands……nested in between each of his fingers in front of her chest were the four knives. The blades glistened as if they were wet. It took her a while before she realized, “Rain caught the knives mid-air.”

Shelfa had not seen a thing.

“Heh. It’s too bad that you noticed. Well, I already know all about those circumstances of yours, so it’s not like I had more to ask anyway.”

The boy frowned heavily at Rain’s words.

Then, Rain flicked his wrist, and in the very next moment, the boy bent over backwards.

Rain had disappeared from Shelfa’s side by the time that she had looked over at the boy. Rather, he had suddenly broken into a dash. He had reach his maximum velocity in just two or three strides.

So fast!?

Rain had suddenly vanished from right before her eyes just now as she had been about to thank him for protecting her…… There was no way that Shelfa could not be surprised. She only understood that he had simply ran forward after she saw his black-clad back.

He drew his magic sword and swung it at the same time that he closed the distance between himself and the boy like the wind. From behind, Rain looked like he was about to run right off the road.

The boy evaded Rain’s lightening-blue slash by leaping back. However, he was not able to evade it completely and a spray of blood droplets gushed out. He had suffered a minor wound.

While Shelfa had not seen it, Rain had thrown the knives back at the boy before dashing toward him. The boy had somehow managed to dodge the knives, but doing so had broken his stance, forcing him to spin around.

The boy’s childish shirt was cut into pieces by the magic sword and blood visibly dribbled out of the wound. Behind him, a number of his comrades who had failed to dodge the knives fell over.

“Nngh!”

The boy’s face twisted as he desperately avoided Rain’s second blow. He was only able to escape the slash of death because of his comrades’ sacrifice.

His slender body rolled into the crowd of his comrades. Then, in a hoarse voice, he called out,

“defeat him! As long as we kill him, we win!”

The boy’s comrades finally attacked Rain all at once. Rain plowed through the flood of black robes in both directions, as if he was harvesting a rice paddy, and called out to his own allies,

“you guys stay there and defend with everything you’ve got! I’ll take care of them on my own!”

Then, he disappeared into a whirlwind of blood.

Angry roars and distraught screams rose up from the carnage.

All of which belonged to the assassins.

 

 

Shelfa took a quiet breath.

She did not even consider the possibility that Rain could lose. She knew that there was no way that Rain would ever lose to people like them.

Still, she was frustrated at her own uselessness.

“W, we should also join the fight, Sir Leni!”

Senoa said once she had finally returned to her senses.

Like Shelfa, she had also felt a sense of responsibility after seeing the sword fighting unfold before her very eyes.

“No.”

Leni and Gazaram said in unison.

They looked at each other and shared a wry smile.

Then, Gazaram added,

“there’s no need. We’d actually just get in his way. We just need to clean up the ones who manage to slip through.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Gazaram glided out of formation and swept his sword sideways at a lone assassin who had managed to slip away from the fighting. The black robed figure twitched, stiffened up, and collapsed on the spot.

They finally saw just how experienced Gazaram was by the positioning of his hips and the way he carried himself when wielding his sword.

Shelfa and the others gulped, but Gazaram simply returned as if nothing out of the extraordinary had happened.

Then, he continued where he had left off,

“still, he was something to behold back then, too……but he’s gotten even stronger now. There really aren’t any limits to a genius’ ability. He’s something else.”

Shelfa instinctively stared hard at the old man’s profile.

“What is it, Your Highness?”

“Um……Lord Gazaram, do you know about Rain’s past?”

Gazaram told her that she needn’t be so formal with a broad smile before answering,

“well……I suppose you could say that. I’ve crossed blades with him once. It was because we had both misunderstood something.”

Leni exclaimed, “huuh?!” at his calm reply.

He was looking at Gazaram as if the latter had risen from the dead.

“So that kind of thing happened…… I’m amazed that you survived after fighting the General.”

“Nah. I actually agree with you. He defeated me like it was nothing. I’m only alive because I got lucky, hahaha!”

Gazaram threw out his chest as he laughed heartily.

I must ask him to tell me about Rain’s past sometime soon…… Shelfa firmly resolved herself.

Her resolution and the fact that Gazaram had called Rain a “genius” further increased her goodwill toward the aged warrior.

“Now, Your Highness, please fall back as far behind us as possible.”

The sharpness returned to Gazaram’s face once he had stopped laughing. He continued,

“a few more small fry got through.”

When Shelfa looked over, she saw that a few more people had recklessly escaped from Rain and were heading for her again.

“Alright! Don’t let your guards down! Go and earn your wage!”

Gazaram yelled in a reliable voice.

Everyone except for Senoa, who looked indignant, obeyed his orders and readied their swords.

 

 

Gazaram would make sure to look after Shelfa…… Thanks to this reassurance, Rain was able to focus his full attention to exterminating the assassins.

To crush the enemy’s head——

Rain thought that this was the most important point of interest in a war. This was the reason why he was making a beeline for the boy, who was most likely the enemy leader…… But the enemy boy wasn’t one to taken lightly either, and just barely managed to escape to the back to the group.

He had hidden himself in the group of roughly fifty of his comrades.

However, Rain thought that it would only be a matter of time until he found the boy. No matter how many enemies there were, there was no way that he would get worn down first. It was his enemies who would become disadvantaged with the passage of time.

“Out of my way, damnit!”

Rain charged forward while brandishing his magic sword at the enemies blocking the path before him. They opened their eyes wide in surprise all at once. They had been surprised by Rain’s impossibly fast speed.

Meanwhile, Rain had jumped at one assassin’s chest and kicked the joints on his legs. Then, he pierced the man through the heart with his magic sword before he could even let out a cry of anguish.

Rain lightly threw the corpse with one hand at the other men who rushed at him. He leapt over their heads when they involuntarily caught the corpse and swung his magic sword around behind him as he landed. Ignoring the resulting spray of blood, he took on the other men who continued to come at him one after another.

There was a time when the teacher who had once taught Rain magic had commented that he “saw the world differently from ordinary people” after witnessing him fight, and Rain certainly felt that way as well.

Sometimes, he had the impression that time flowed differently from him than the enemies that he fought.

From Rain’s perspective, most of his enemies looked like they were moving slowly, as if they were swimming through the air. It was a simple matter to dodge their attacks and attack back.

It was as if time moved normally only for Rain in a world where the flow of time had slowed down.

Every time a black enemy shadow ran toward him, there was a flash of blue light as their vitals were gouged out and they erupted in blood.

“Are you guys stupid?! Can’t you even judge your enemy’s strength?! I’m telling you to get out of my way!”

Rain roared dauntingly, but the assassins did not flinch. Or perhaps they had excited their nerves with drugs.

It was as if they were jumping at him only for the sake of getting killed.

Rain clicked his tongue and deftly evaded all of their attacks. He dodged their blades with a paper-thin amount of room to spare and readily countered with a single swing of his magic sword. None of his enemies were able to evade it, and more assassins fell to the side of the road each and every time this exchange occurred.

Rain’s right hand moved like blur, drawing multiple trails of light in the magic sword’s wake. Someone collapsed without exception every time the blue afterimages disappeared.

“U, uwoahhh!”

A man who was larger than his comrades rushed in swinging a sword that was appropriate for his gigantic frame when the assassins finally faltered. His eyes shone with a frantic light. To put it bluntly, he was probably touched in the head.

“You’re in the way!”

Rain charged at the man and passed by him with ferocious speed. A faint gust of wind sliced through the air.

The man roared and turned around immediately after they passed each other. He was planning to strike again because his first attempt had missed. But, a beat later, a sharp red line appeared across his forehead and burst into a slash of blood.

He slowly tilted backward with his face still frozen in rage and landed on the ground with a thud.

He had not even realized that he had suffered a fatal wound until the very end because Rain’s attack had been too fast.

Seeing that, the other assassins cried out and broke their encirclement.

They had finally succumbed to the chills running down their spines.

At this point, they had finally begun to realize how reckless they had been to challenge Rain to a fight.

 

“Don’t be afraid! Just buy a little more time!”

 

The boy’s voice rang out from the back of the group as if he was responding to his allies’ mood.

“So you say, but how ‘bout you just come at me instead, yeah?!”

Rain vigorously roared back and he ran rampage without slowing down even the slightest bit from his initial speed.

He heard the incantation of a spell in response.

When he looked over while still swinging his sword, he saw three men chanting by the boy’s side. Evidently, they had even prepared mages.

Their hands danced through the air as they chanted. All three of them moved in perfect sync.

They were chanting the full incantation instead of shortening it. It was likely because spells were more powerful this way.

The spell was completed as the last assassin attacking Rain fell.

Still, Rain seemed unconcerned as he deliberately ran toward the boy. His tall frame was so fast that it buried the distance between them in a blink of an eye.

“Hurry!”

the boy wailed.

The mages were panicking as well. Their voices trembled in the end as they completed their trinity magic.

“Cross Fire!”

Boom!

Fire suddenly burst out and erupted like a bomb.

It was the result of the combined attack of the three mages’ spell. The writhing scarlet magical flames became as a giant whirlpool of fire that collided directly into Rain.

 

“Did you get him?!”

“Mo, most likely. It was a direct hit,”

the boy’s mage subordinate answered.

“Good job!”

the boy said in great delight while pressing down on the wound on his shoulder. He couldn’t see them, but he could hear people screaming from the other side of the explosive flames. It was likely the screams conveying the grief of the men who had lost their leader.

Serves you right.

——However.

Rain leapt out from the center of the explosion with the flames still coiling around his body.

“It’s no use!”

Rain dashed forward while swinging his sword after shouting that one line. His dark figure was covered in a rainbow-colored light. The flames coiled about him died out in front of the boy’s eyes. It was as if the source of the magic itself had been absorbed by something.

No way…… Is he really……? Wasn’t that just a rumor?

It was impossible, but the boy could think of no other explanation as for why the magic had not worked.

A sense of defeat spread across the boy’s face for the first time.

Then, one of his subordinate mages yelled,

“lies; that’s impossible! They can’t possibly exist!”

Rain hammered down a strike from above his head with extreme speed.

In no time, another horizontal blue afterglow flashed from a lower position. It was a beautiful, flowing slice without a shred of wasted movement. The last remaining mage sank into a sea of blood as his torso was lopped clean off of the rest of his body.

Rain’s black eyes captured the boy’s without a second glance at the fallen mages.

“Well, you’re the last one; what’s it gonna be?”

The boy gulped.

He had realized that all fifty of his subordinates had died and only the man who was in his way was standing before him.

The black-clad man with the ridiculous name, “Rain,” was not even a little out of breath after fighting all of those people

Rain simply held his magic sword loosely at ready with a silent expression on his face.

“Have you ever heard of this?”

He began talking all of a sudden. He continued,

“take this for example. Say there’s a wolf and a dog facing off close against each other? It’ll always be the dog that runs away. It’ll still all be the same if the dog was only barking at the wolf from a distance to begin with. The dog will always run somewhere where it’s scent can’t reach first the wolf before it barks.

This is because a normal dog will act on instinct. It instinctively understands that it can’t beat the wolf even before they start fighting. In comparison, humans are unfathomably stupid when it comes to things like that.”

The boy ground his molars together.

His wounded shoulder hurt.

Stop fucking around! he thought, but couldn’t refute. If he did, it would be the same thing as admitting that he and his comrades had raised their hands against someone they shouldn’t have ever touched.

Then, as if he was talking to himself, Rain continued,

“well, relax. Your other friends should be properly in Hades about now too.”

The boy finally found his voice.

“What……do you mean?”

“I mean that my colleague has probably destroyed your base by now. I don’t really like fighting defensive battles, you see.”

Rain lifted up his magic sword as he readily divulged this information.

He aimed its tip right at the boy’s nose and continued,

“so, what’s it gonna be? It’s a bit too late, but are you gonna surrender? Or——”

The boy suddenly broke into motion.

He ran in an unexpected direction in an attempt to escape Rain’s sword. He felt a gentle breeze whisk across his back, but somehow managed to evade Rain’s attack.

He was beyond any hope of salvation. He probably……didn’t have anywhere to return to, either. But he would at least complete the commission. It would be the last act of his pride. The boy earnestly ran forward with that one motive —one so twisted that normal people would never dream of it.

He had confidence in his speed.

He stepped over the bodies of his comrades as he headed for the group of people who had drawn their swords all at once. The princess……was behind the bearded middle-aged man! As long as he made it to her!

The boy leaped high into the air a few meters shy of the head of the group. They all looked up at him. But he was only aiming for the princess. He would go in for a mutual kill!

But then——

Somehow, he heard a voice directly behind him while he was still airborne say,

“as I’d thought, you’re even less than a dog……”

A moment later, something hit him hard across the back of his head and he plummeted down to the plaza floor, unconscious.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

“Ugh~, that was pointless exercise,”

was the first thing that Rain said when he opened his mouth after twisting his body mid-air and landing like a cat.

The robed boy had fallen at his feet. Well, he probably wasn’t dead.

Shelfa was the first one to run over to him.

“Rain!”

She called out his name and began to pat down on his clothes and face with her small hands. She didn’t care that her white gloves became dirtied by the assassin’s blood on him.

“What is it?”

“Are you unhurt?”

Rain was about to say, “pshh, ‘course not,” but remembered that Gazaram and their others were nearby and said instead,

“not at all. I’m fine, there isn’t even a scratch on me. I’ll be able to drink good liqueur today too.”

“……Thank goodness.”

Shelfa placed a hand on the faint blossom of her chest and let out a sigh. Gazaram looked over at her and broke out into a smile before turning to the fallen assassins and said,

“you were something else, as usual…… You really finished ‘em all off on your own.”

“Naturally.”

Rain closed the matter with a single word and circled around to inspect his men.

“Anyone get mixed up in the fight?”

“No sir, not at all. Everyone followed your orders to a tee and focused on defending.”

Gazaram rubbed his beard and flashed a grin.

Then, he quietly raised a fist.

Rain followed suit and lightly bumped his fist against Gazaram’s.

Then, he saw two girls at the edge of the plaza. He gently touched both of Shelfa’s arms before approaching them with long strides.

For some reason, Selphie was on all fours with her face to the ground and Yuri was rubbing her back.

“I heard that no one got hurt.”

Looking troubled, Yuri replied,

“yeahh, no one’s hurt. But Selphie here happened to cut one down……I mean, Selphie cut one down, sir. Long story short, this was her first time killing someone.”

“*sob* Lord Rainn…”

Selphie cried, abruptly raising her head.

The area surrounding her mouth was covered with vomit.

Then, she suddenly clung to him and began to sob.

“Hey!”

Rain immediately tried to pry her away……but then he sighed and let her do as she pleased. His coat was becoming covered in puke, but it couldn’t be helped.

“I, I~!”

“Um, it’s okay. This’s something that everybody goes through. Don’t worry too much about it. You’re in the right, I’ll guarantee it. Besides, the Princess could’ve been in danger if you hadn’t killed him. You were undisputedly in the right.”

He tried to pacify her somehow.

Watching Rain struggle, Gazaram commented,

“must be tough for you too.”

“Can it,”

Rain scowled.

In the next moment.

Rain felt someone’s gaze on him. It was a gaze filled to the brim with hostility……no, with bloodlust.

“Who’s there?!”

Rain pushed Selphie toward Gazaram and suddenly leapt several meters and landed on the roof of a store. He looked around at his surroundings. No one……he could not see anyone.

However, he knew that his prided senses weren’t just for show. Someone had definitely been looking at him. At him……and also at Shelfa.

“……I guess things are about to get annoyingly complicated,”

Rain spat out in irritation before jumping down to where his comrades were waiting.

Oh well.

He would simply have to turn the tables on whoever came at him.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

-On the other hand, at Galfort Castle.-

While Shelfa’s procession was under attack, a tall and lean figure wrapped in a black mantle inconspicuously walked through the depths of the castle where the security had thinned out. Following behind him were several of his subordinates, who included mages in their number.

v2_c3_1.jpg

During the few times he was asked who he was, the other party was always satisfied once the black-clothed man identified himself.

However, there were still places the man could not go to even with his clearance. Naturally, the soldiers standing guard courteously blocked his path……but they readily allowed the man to pass once his mage subordinates stealthily chanted a few spells.

The mysterious group used similar methods to pass various groups of palace guards without raising a fuss until they descended down the dim and gloomy basement deep within the heart of the palace.

There was one single room on the bottom-most floor. Despite the occasion, there were two fully armed soldiers standing guard without even the slightest bit of movement.

They drew their swords and stood on guard the moment they saw the mysterious group approach.

“Who goes there?! Who authorized you to come here?! Name yourselves!”

In response, the slender-faced man quietly answered,

“I’m High General Rain’s subordinate, Gunther Valoa.”

“The High General’s……”

The two guards relaxed.

Unlike how it used to be, Rain was now known as the most trusted ally to the Sunkwoll royal family. Word on the street had even started to call him “Shelfa’s trump card.” It was difficult for the soldiers to not let their guards down.

However, Gunther moved like the wind during their brief moment of relief. He struck one soldier on the back of the next with the side of his hand and then twisted his body around to elbow the other in the stomach. Both soldiers crumbled to the ground without a word.

His movements had been so skillful that even an accomplished warrior would have paled at the sight of them.

Both guards had likely failed to realize what had happened to them until the very end.

Despite having done something completely outrageous, Gunther showed no sign of remorse as he nodded at his men.

“I doubt that these two had the key anyway. Open the door.”

One of the mages silently stepped forward. He turned to the thick and heavy door. Then, Gunther wordlessly pointed at the two fallen guards.

Understanding his captain’s wishes, yet another mage crouched beside them.

 

There had been no interruptions as Gunther and his men silently completed their work. The two fallen guards were up and guarding the door as if nothing had happened within a few dozen minutes.

……Without ever realizing that their memories had been tampered by magic.


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