Editor: Darkdhaos, Seir K
One would be drenched in sweat just by walking, the sun was intense, as if summer had come early.
Altina urged her horse Karakara forth, and looked back several times.
—— As expected, I should have let everybody rest?
The troops were exhausted, dragging their feet as if they were going to collapse.
But their faces were full of life.
Because they were going to reach Fort Volks soon.
The base they had left for over a month.
They can shower, sleep on a bed and eat the food they were familiar with after they return.
Despite their fatigue, the soldiers had bright expressions.
Altina was always troubled.
At this moment, if Regis was here, he would be able to adjust the plans for the troop’s movement according to the situation. Thinking back, Altina had always left these to him.
If Jerome was here, he would be able to make the right call after seeing the conditions of the soldiers.
Altina didn’t have related knowledge or experience. On the return trip after this long campaign, the season was rather hot. Even though she felt it would be better for them to rest, she didn’t want to go against the troop’s wishes to return home quickly.
She kept dragging the issue as she couldn’t decide. Following the movement plan Regis made before he left, it was time for a short break.
Even when the soldiers heard that, they would just answer ‘no problem!’. That’s how they were.
But the 7,000 soldiers had to carry their weapons and push the cannons. Some of them were collapsing from fatigue.
There were casualties from the consecutive battles too.
The soldiers who couldn’t keep up and needed to get picked up by the rescue wagons were more than usual.
Should she let everyone rest?
Or just carry on like this?
The soldiers walking in front shouted:
“I can see the fort——!!”
Wooahhh! Cheers erupted.
The joyous atmosphere was contagious, which made Altina smile.
But her frustration over her lack of experience as a commander clouded her heart.
She was only depressed for a moment.
Just treat this as an experience! Altina was someone who could think so positively.
The Beilschmidt Border Regiment left as a unit of 4,000, and returned as the Imperial Fourth Army with almost twice the numbers.
The soldiers came out from the fort.
Because a messenger alerted them that the unit out on a long campaign had returned.
The one at the very front was Evrard.
He was a tall and burly knight, the captain of the fort defences. He was over fifty years old, but still very energetic.
“It’s been a while, Evrard!”
“Wonderful! Just wonderful! It’s great that you are alright!”
Evrard galloped over, jumped off his horse and got down on one knee.
His bald head was shiny as usual, and his beard was a mix of black and white.
It had just been a month, but it probably worried him a lot.
Altina dismounted too.
“You watched over the fort well, thank you.”
“You are being too distant!”
With a tremor of footsteps, the soldiers from the fort ran over.
The joy of reuniting with their returning comrades could be heard everywhere.
The Beilschmidt Border Regiment was originally from the Empire. They had acquaintances even in the Second Army.
There were people who met again unexpectedly.
And also grieving for the comrades who couldn’t return.
Altina looked down at the soldiers around her.
“... Men, are not just numbers.”
“What’s the matter, Princess?”
“... I lost a thousand men from the Beilschmidt Border Regiment that left for the campaign. Even though they have their companions and families.”
“I heard that High Britannia was using new weapons that had never been seen before. The Second and Seventh Army were defeated, even Prince Latreille was wounded. The enemy even made it all the way before the capital. Despite the hard battles, you still brought back 3,000 soldiers safely, that is something to cheer for.”
“Yes… Even though I told Regis the same thing.”
“The sense of responsibility and mourning for the men we lost isn’t a bad thing. We are no longer on the battlefield. I may have overstepped my bounds, but I prepared a victory feast. There will be plenty of wine and meat.”
“Fufu… Thank you. Let’s go back to the fort!”
Altina mounted her horse.
Evrard rode beside her.
The bugles sounded again, and the soldiers walked shoulder to shoulder.
They began singing patriotic songs.
“By the way, where’s Eric?”
Evrard who was smiling all this while became depressed.
He was full of life just a moment ago, and now he looked like an old man.
After reaching the fort, they saw a swordsman in black clothes and a silver haired youth descending the stairs.
It was Eddie and Auguste.
“Yo, Altina! You are back!”
“... It’s great that you are alright.”
Even though he was dressed like a man before the troops, Auguste’s real identity was Felicia.
Altina raised a hand in response.
A large carriage entered the fort. Clarisse got down and bowed deeply.
Eddie tilted his head.
“Eh? Where’s Regis?”
“He went to the capital for his promotion and acceptance of his peerage.”
“I see. That will happen after all his accomplishment.”
“Really! Right when the Germanian Federation is about to attack!”
“Well, the Empire had never been peaceful.”
“That might be so…”
Some of the soldiers led the horses to rest, some carried the wounded to the infirmary, and the fort became lively.
It would be fine to leave the rest to Evrard.
Altina walked to her room. And climbed a long flight of stairs.
“Eddie, Felicia, are both of you well?”
“I didn’t even catch a cold.”
“... Sorry, I caught a cold once.”
Felicia didn’t need to act since there wasn’t any soldiers here, and showed her usual frail and demure side.
When she was acting as Auguste, one could even feel a majestic aura, such incredible acting skills.
Eddie scratched his head.
“Ah, well… it can’t be helped for Felicia. The cold weather persisted longer than usual.”
“... I-Is that so?”
“It will be great if I can protect you from catching a cold. Well, if you are feeling under the weather, don’t be too concerned about anything and just rely on me.”
“Yes… Thank you. I will count on you like usual then.”
“I will make the cold days warm too.”
“... I’m so glad.”
Felicia’s cheeks blushed.
It didn’t suit him, but Eddie smiled with a gentle gaze too.
Altina felt her mood strangely turning for the worse.
She felt that she was an eyesore?
She shifted her gaze away from them, and looked at Clarisse who was walking slightly behind her.
“... Hey Clarisse.”
“What can I do for you, Princess?”
“When will Regis be back?”
“... I asked him, he said it would take between a week to a month. After finishing his business at the capital, he would need some time to come back here. It would probably take between 6 to 30 days.”
“Hmm, it would take that much time after all… Hah… It would be great if I could go to the capital too.”
Altina slouched her shoulders.
Eddie smiled wryly.
“What are you saying? The commander can’t leave her unit behind and run off. If you do that, it wouldn’t be your unit anymore.”
“Yeah... This is unreasonable, I know at least that much. But for some reason, whenever I see you and Felicia, I will feel the urge of wanting to see Regis! I don’t understand why though.”
“Hmm? But why?”
Eddie looked baffled.
Felicia who was blushing turned a deeper shade of red, and was stammering.
“T-That is… Sister…”
Clarisse sighed deeply.
Altina parted with Eddie and Felicia in front of her room ——
She entered her room and wiped herself with hot water.
And sat inside a wooden bucket.
Clarisse soaked a silk cloth with hot water from a flask, and gently squeezed the water onto Altina’s skin.
She started warming up.
“Your skin is really beautiful, Princess.
“Is that so? But I think it’s similar to Clarisse though?”
“Fufu, thank you very much. But the Princess’ skin is like a shiny gem. And it looks so tender and delicious.”
“... Y-You can’t bite okay?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. But… Such a day will come one day. Hah… My dear Princess…”
“I will be bitten? Don’t joke with me, I won’t let my guard down no matter who my opponent is.”
“... You said guard down.”
“Fufufu… You don’t need to worry for now. Your Highness is really the Princess.”
Clarisse became strangely happy, and wiped Altina’s body as if she wanted her skin to shine.
As if her troubles and filth from the long campaign had been washed away, Altina’s mood got better.
She sat before her dressing table she had not seen for so long that she was starting to missed it. Clarisse helped to brush her hair.
“Your highness, does it tickles?”
“Not at all. It just feel so nostalgic.”
“Hey Clarisse… You will stay with me forever right?”
“Of course. But Regis will be back soon right?”
“I-I’m not talking about Regis!? Well, of course he will be back. He promised.”
Clarisse applied a thin layer of oil, and Altina’s hair was elegant just like her skin.
But it was a bit itchy and Altina kept fidgeting her body.
The victory feast began in the evening, the campaign group, garrison group and the former Second Army soldiers all drank together.
Even though training was the only way to improve the coordination between the units, this could deepen the bonds between them mentally.
Being happy about surviving, feeling sad for those who passed, the banquet lasted into the wee hours of the night.
It might carry on until dawn.
Altina visited Eric who didn’t attend the victory feast.
She found out from the lady doctor that Eric had recovered, and didn’t need to stay in the infirmary and was staying home too.
She knocked on the door.
“... Who is it?”
A response came from behind the door.
Altina took a deep breath and said:
“I’m alone, is it convenient?”
“Eh!? Your Highness!?”
A high pitched panicky voice sounded out, followed by hurried footsteps.
After the sound of the door being unlocked, the door was opened forcefully.
It was late at night, but Eric was still wearing his usual leather clothes as he stood there with his eyes wide open.
Altina smiled awkwardly.
“Sorry, it took quite a bit of effort to excuse myself from the feast. Were you sleeping?”
“Not at all!”
The candles flickered in the room.
Normally speaking, it was possible to make it through the night with just the moonlight. But Fort Volks was modified from a mine, so there wasn’t any windows for lighting.
The soldiers would use torchlight and candles to illuminate the room.
“I have something to tell you, is it convenient?”
“Y-Yes! I will change right now and visit you in the meeting room!”
“There is no need for that but… wouldn't it be better not to do it in the corridor?”
Sound would carry in the corridor.
Finally, Altina entered the room. Eric went down on one knee.
“For Your Highness to enter such a place is…”
“Well, according to the lady doctor’s report, your injuries have healed right? So I was wondering why you didn’t show up at the victory feast.”
“Ugh… M-My apologies! I should have put everything down and greeted you!”
“Alright, hearing flattery words too often gets kind of annoying. It’s not something that could be done by my own power. Instead of that, I am more worried about your condition.”
Eric lowered his gaze to the floor as he knelt.
Normally, a Non-Commissioned Officer such as a Fifth Grade Combat Officer would bunk together with others inside a large room.
However, Eric was assigned a personal room because he was Altina’s Escort Officer.
Beside the bed was a nice desk.
If Altina sat at the desk, she would be looking down at the kneeling Eric.
In the past, when she visit Regis without invitation, he would sit on the bed and offer her the chair.
On hindsight, a Fifth Grade Admin officer acting so respectfully wouldn’t be a surprise.
She turned into a strange person once again.
With no other choice, Altina pulled the chair before the bed and sat on it.
Eric, it’s hard to talk like this, so sit on the bed.”
“Eh!? H-how could I…”
“When it is just the two of us, it’s fine to not be so formal. I didn’t come here to make you kneel, but to speak with you.”
“... My apologies.”
Eric sat down cautiously and respectfully on the edge of the bed.
This was bought after they took down Fort Volks, not a straw filled mattress, but layers of cloth laid on top of a springboard. A high class item provided to Commissioned Officers.
He croaked a little.
Although Eric paid more attention to formalities than others, he wasn’t that stubborn.
He must have his reasons —— Altina guessed.
It was probably related to Evrard’s gloomy expression.
“... Well? What’s the reason?”
Altina preferred getting straight to the point instead of going round in circles.
Eric lowered his head.
“Is it something you can’t tell me?”
“Not at all!”
Tears welled in his eyes.
His shoulders trembled.
Altina waited quietly for his reply.
She was no longer a child, she will hold it back if necessary. Even more so for the sake of her subordinates.
Eric opened his lightly trembling lips.
“My left hand…”
“Yes. I heard that your wound has healed?”
Eric’s tears streamed down his cheeks.
“... I… Can’t be a knight anymore.”
He gritted his teeth.
And reached out his left hand.
His fingers were trembling.
“... I can’t… use any strength.”
His pale slender fingers were just like a girl’s.
But there weren’t any wounds.
Altina reached out with her left hand and touched his fingers.
Eric clasped his left hand with a pained expression.
It was akin to shaking hands.
He should be able to hold a mug.
But it would be impossible to lift heavy weapons.
Knights need to hold their lance in their right hand, and the reins with their left. If they couldn’t muster the strength, they wouldn’t be able to fight on horseback.
Tears fell from Eric’s eyes.
“Ughh… Uuu… That’s all I can do…”
“Is that so…”
“If… I can only use such child-like strength… I won’t be able to fight. I can’t be the Princess’ shield, and will be a burden instead…”
He held back his sobs and said between snivels.
Altina held back with the same strength as Eric.
“B-But the lady doctor said the power should recover in two months…”
Eric shook his head.
“No… That’s not it… She is referring to my shoulder… Even though it is recovering… But my fingers couldn’t use any strength.”
Altina had participated in many battles, and this wasn’t the first time she visited wounded soldiers.
She met soldiers whose shoulders and back were hurt, and knew that they lost their strength in their arms and legs.
Even though their muscles were still there, there were people who couldn’t move their fingers or even stand up.
Without understanding the reason, there was no way to cure it too.
Eric’s grip was as strong as a child.
It won’t affect his daily life, but he won’t be able to serve as an Escort Officer, or even as a soldier.
Altina’s hand that was holding him turned stiff.
She didn’t know what to say.
“Ughh… Your Highness… I am sorry… I… I am useless now…”
Eric’s shoulders trembled as he gritted his teeth loudly.
He won’t be able to take the field like this.
He won’t be able to handle the task of ferrying supplies.
Normally, he would be discharged and sent home.
But would this be fine? Regis said that if Eric hadn’t been there, he would have died.
“T-That’s right, if it was Regis…”
Eric wiped his eyes that had gotten swollen because of his tears.
Altina grabbed his left hand with both of her hands suddenly.
“I am sorry. Maybe I said something cruel. You can be angry for my irresponsibility and willfulness… but, I still think that Eric is a reliable Escort Officer.”
“During the Founding Day festival, Regis said that it was thanks to you that we noticed that Auguste was actually a girl disguised as a boy. You also prepared the horses for our escape, and protected Regis during the fight with Franziska of ‘Renard Pendu’.”
“I don’t want to lose Eric. Consult the lady doctor again. She just got back from the campaign, and has yet to diagnose your injury in detail right?”
“Y-Yes… But her diagnosis would definitely be that it is hopeless.”
“No matter how long it is, I will wait. And maybe Regis would know something.”
“Regis… must be disappointed… to see me like this right…?”
Eric looked really timid.
Altina shook her head hard.
“Not at all! Impossible! Regis won’t just sit and watch idly! Definitely! He will definitely say ‘I read about this in a book before’!”
Eric lowered his eyes.
“But… Regis he… didn’t visit the infirmary or came here. Did he already forgot about it?”
“Don’t be stupid! Regis went to the capital for his promotion and to accept his peerage!”
“Didn’t anyone tell you!? Sigh… But you didn’t ask either. I just came to find out how your health is. Oh right, I promised to write letters to him.”
“Letters? Your Highness… will be writing?”
Eric wiped his eyes and showed a shocked expression once again.
“What, I’m just writing a letter, why are you making it sound so strange?”
“I-I didn’t say that! It’s just that… I didn’t see Your Highness holding a pen much.”
“Even I can write letters. I already promised. I will write every day.”
Eric opened his eyes wide as if he had forgotten about his own matters.
Was it something that shocking?
“Every, every day. First, I will write about Eric.”
“... Y-Yes… That’s right. Every day… I am a bit surprised. Even though the absolutely critical information would be written so badly that it makes Regis sigh…”
Altina averted her eyes.
She wasn’t bad at writing, but it was a pain sitting in a chair and only getting to move your hands.
Eric bowed deeply.
“... Thank you very much… Your Highness, for your concern… Just your words are enough to make me feel that it is wonderful that I became a knight.”
“Yes! And it’s not over! I have not given up! Be it changing the Empire or your issue!”
Eric had a baffled face.
News of the Emperor’s passing probably haven’t reach the fort yet, and Eric didn’t know about Latreille’s announcement on taking the throne.
It couldn’t be helped since this was the borders.
Altina sat straight on her chair again and pondered for a moment.
“Errr… where should I start…”
At this moment, there was a knocking on the door.
Who could it be? Eric muttered and stood up.
Altina finally let go of his hand.
With his right hand on the hilt, Eric opened the door.
Standing at the corridor was Clarisse holding an entire tea set on a tray.
She was smiling.
“It seemed that the conversation would take a while. Would you like tea with sugar?”
“Eh… Ms Clarisse…”
Altina waved happily.
“Ahah, as expected of Clarisse! It’s just nice, come join us. Let’s write the letter together!”
“Ara, you seem to be having a wonderful time.”
Eric tilted his head.
“Is this okay? Didn’t Regis and ‘the Princess’ made a promise to write letters every day?”
“Ugh… I-It’s fine. Right? The most important thing is to rely on your comrades. Challenging an opponent you have no hope of winning and fighting on your own is a display of courage right?”
She raised a finger and said in Regis’ tone.
Eric and Clarisse looked at each other and laughed.
Why are they laughing——!? Altina thought as she pouted.
The Meeting of the Stars
“Bastian! I found a carriage!”
He was just thinking that Elise was uncharacteristically late in returning to the meeting point, when she appeared with surprisingly great news..
Her blond hair swayed as she ran over.
She was really excited and out of breath.
“Hah, hah… There’s a carriage who would take this route occasionally, he said he would go all the way to the capital!”
“Ohh! We finally found one!”
Bastian and Elise was in Wollallen city that was 30 Li away from the capital Versailles.
Because the High Britannia Army’s invasion route cut across the middle of the Empire from west to east before heading north, this city managed to avoid the ravages of war.
And that was why a lot of refugees who were afraid of being implicated in the war escaped here.
Because all the rooms were full, a lot of people set up camp at the edge of the city. Tentages were put up and covered with cloth.
—— Why were Bastian and Elise in this city?
The Third Prince of Belgaria, Heinrich Trois Bastian de Belgaria, kept his identity a secret and studied abroad in High Britannia.
And Elise’s real name was Elizabeth Victoria. Even though she was named the successor by the previous Queen, the new Queen Margaret Steelart was after her life, so she was being pursued by the Royal Army.
After encountering all sorts of matters, Bastian and Elise started moving together.
And then, two months ago——
The Kingdom of High Britannia declared war against the Belgaria Empire.
The citizens were basking in the consecutive victories, but after they received news that the ‘Queen’s Navy’ had been defeated, news of further losses soon followed.
The names of the Fourth Princess Marie Quatre Argentina de Belgaria and her strategist Regis d’Auric were famous in High Britannia.
Under the gloom and tense atmosphere from losing the war, public order in the cities deteriorated. The unreasonable persecution towards Belgarians had reached dangerous levels.
That reason, and also the fact that he became a wanted man made Bastian returned to the Belgaria empire.He also brought Elise with him.
Originally, he was planning to travel with a close friend —— Roland across the ocean.
However, in order to protect Bastian and Elise from a bullet fired by a ruffian, Roland’s short life ended.
“I will entrust this to you… in order… for the world to progress… into a place where everyone can pursue their… their own happiness…”
“I promise! Leave it to me!”
The only thing left In the hands of Bastian who fell into deep sadness, was Roland’s notebook.
They spent four days on the rocking sailship——
Passing through the surveillance network of the High Britannia Royal Naval, they finally made it to a harbour city to the southwest of the Belgaria Empire.
In this city, Bastian could only relay the saddening news to the envoy from House Tiraso Laverde who came to receive Roland.
Even though the envoy was saddened by the news, he still offered shelter to Bastian and Elise.
However, there was a goal in Bastian’s heart.
It was just a vague feeling without any clear direction, but he couldn’t hide in this place far away from the capital. That was what his heart was telling him.
Bastian’s philosophy was to ‘do it immediately when you think about it’.
After that, the two of them decided to head for the capital.
Elise also bore the thought that ‘instead of living helplessly in seclusion, it would be better to understand the situation in the Empire’.
To be safe, they sent a message to the merchant Marbella who was based in High Britannia through the Tiraso Laverde House.
Marbella saved the lives of Bastian and Elise, and harboured them until he recovered. She even retrieved the ‘Ring of the Royal Family’ that fell into the river.
And she thinks that Elise was the one who was worthy of the throne, and promised to help in anyway she could.
We will definitely repay her kindness one day —— The two of them thought.
But now wasn’t the time.
Bastian and Elise boarded the carriage heading for the capital from the harbour city.
The weather was great so their journey proceeded smoothly…
But when they reached Venomoth city, their journey stopped.
It was understandable.
The region around the capital had become the battlefield against the High Britannia Army. There was no telling how the battle would end, so a lot of people had escaped here.
No one wanted to head there.
They couldn’t find any carriage that was willing to go there. They searched all morning, and the sun was about to set.
Was there no other way but to go there on foot —— As Bastian was thinking about that, Elise found a carriage that was willing to head for the capital.
Bastian paid them three times the market price, and boarded the carriage heading for the capital.
This is bad. The worst. Really the worst. Where did we go wrong? When we allied with the lousy High Britannians? When we asked to be the escort of the supply team? Or when we assaulted the home base of the Fourth Army?
Things were going so well before…
My mood is so bad that even the best dishes would be thrown onto the ground by me right now.
So in the end, the reason we failed is because I didn’t kill the Belgarian Princess?
“... Damn it.”
“... Fran?... Are you alright?”
As she was looking down and muttering, a concerned voice rose beside her.
“I’m always fine alright? Be it walking or breathing. And also, being cute.”
“... Oh. If you keep talking to the ground, fairies will come out.”
“I can’t see them anyway.”
“Ara, then it’s better not to say too much, they will suck away your life force.”
“Look up when you are walking.”
The woman who was talking with a serious expression was her elder sister Jessica.
With her light coloured hair, pale skin and slender limbs, she didn’t look like a mercenary at all.
But she was a member of the ‘Renard Pendu’, known as the ‘Magician’.
The other person traveling with them was their youngest sister Martina.
She was just ten years old, and looked younger than other children of this age. Her ponytail on both sides of her head resembled Franziska.
“Sister is cute——”
“Uwah~ alright alright! Martina is really cute too~!”
Martina squinted her eyes because it felt itchy when Franziska ruffled her head.
The three of them walked along the road on the hilly region.
That night ——
Even though there wasn’t any rain, there was a huge fog, and the advantage of the new rifles was gone.
The supply team was destroyed by the enemy cavalry.
The moment the fog rose, Gilbert judged that it was impossible to guard the supply team, and led all the elites of the ‘Renard Pendu’ mercenary band to assault the enemy headquarters.
With a total of 16,000 men, even if the enemy used half of their forces to attack, there would still be 8,000 men left in the headquarters.
There were only 300 mercenaries.
It was a despairingly hopeless battle.
And of course, Franziska wanted to go too —— But Gilbert ordered:
“You will escort the two of them to the rendezvous point first.”
“Why!? I can fight too!”
“Of course I know that! That’s why I gave you this escort mission!”
He had an intimidating aura that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He was serious.
And there wasn’t time to debate.
Their mercenary comrades also showed smiles that didn’t suit them.
“We will leave our ‘Magician’ to you, Franziska.”
“Protect your little sister too.”
“We will return victorious soon, so prepare a meal and wait for us!”
Don’t call my name without honorifics, I am not your wife or your mother! Cook for you, are you kidding me!? I am only doing this because it’s my brother’s orders!
She cursed as she saw them off.
Franziska knew that she won’t see many of her comrades again.
But if it was Gilbert, he will make it work.
He will turn this despairing battle into success.
She believed in him.
But reality wasn’t like a fairy tale.
—— The plan failed, and Gilbert was taken prisoner.
‘Renard Pendu’ was wiped out.
Franziska brought the two of them and left the rendezvous point.
And kept walking along the road.
Tracking the Imperial Fourth Army that captured their brother Gilbert on foot.
Because an entire army was marching, there was countless footprints and wheel tracks on the ground. To their left was a vast forest.
“... Well, it would be better to save them soon.”
Franziska thought that if she acted alone at night, she could avoid the sentries and sneak to where Gilbert was held captive.
If she could undo Gilbert’s bonds, he would be able to rescue the other captured comrades. At the very least, they would be able to escape.
But Jessica shook her head.
“... You will just lose your life.”
She could prophesize the future by reading the stars.
She also made the ‘unfavourable’ prediction for this war.
That might be so, but the Germanian Federation didn’t have any major civil war that required the service of ‘Renard Pendu’, and the rewards offered by the High Britannia Kingdom was very enticing.
Jumping right into danger for their livelihood was normal for mercenaries. Even now, Franziska didn’t think Gilbert’s original judgement was wrong.
But ignoring Jessica’s prediction still spooked her even now.
“Ughh… But, we are just tracking them from behind. The army will reach the capital soon… Maybe big brother will…”
She heard that the Imperial Army would hang the mercenaries they capture.
Gilbert might be executed at this very instant —— Just thinking about that made Franziska lose her breath.
Martina looked worried.
Jessica looked towards the sky.
The sun was shining from the west onto their backs, casting a long shadow onto the ground.
And of course, it was impossible to see the stars at this time.
But she still muttered to herself:
“... It will be fine to follow this path.”
“What did you say!?”
“... Follow big brother… That’s what the stars are telling me.”
“The stars during the day, and they are talking to you!? Ahh, really! Divination and things like that are not to be trusted!”
“... This is astrology, a branch of study.”
“Cheer up, sister——”
“Only Martina can heal my heart.”
“... Don’t worry, the Fourth Princess won’t execute big brother.”
“Why are you so certain? Did you ask the stars again?”
“... If she wanted to, she would have killed him the day they took him prisoner… The struggle for the throne between the Fourth Princess and Second Prince is heating up, and the Princess is at a disadvantage… She would need more strength.”
Jessica wasn’t just proficient in astrology, she also had the talent of a strategist.
That’s why Franziska fought off the urge to infiltrate the Fourth Army’s camp despite her frustrations.
They could hear the sound of horse hooves in front of them.
Were it the Empire’s patrol? Franziska grew tense as she thought about that.
At the same moment, the sound of horses galloping approached from behind.
“Tch… Pincer attack!?”
Franziska loaded the crossbow on her waist and held it at the ready.
Jessica tilted her head.
Even though she could see the future, she was slow to react to the crisis before her.
Army patrols won’t do a pincer attack on the main road like this. It wasn’t a place where travelers and merchants loiter.
Franziska said with disgust.
Martina was frightened but still reached for the dagger at her waist. Despite being a child, she was still an apprentice mercenary trained by the fierce ‘Renard Pendu’. She won’t lose to normal soldiers.
But it would be another story if the enemy had numbers.
The sound of the hooves suggested just that.
“Run into the wood!”
“... There are probably people hiding there.”
When she heard that Franziska searched for signs of them. But she couldn’t find any.
“Where are they!?”
“... If Franziska couldn’t find them, it would be impossible for me right? But they really are there.”
“Wait, this isn’t the time for jokes…!!”
They saw the people who rode in on horses from both sides of the road.
As expected, they were bandits.
At this moment, Franziska understood who the people emerging from the woods were.
She cursed in her heart.
—— This is the worst!
Like Jessica said, even the bandits foresaw that their prey might run into the woods and set up an ambush there.
They didn’t have the right side.
But there was only hills as far as their eyes could see.
Even if they ran there, they would be caught by the horsemen in no time.
There were less than 30 bandits. But it was a large number to surround three women and children.
Franziska glanced at the enemy.
She didn’t have enough bolts.
—— Damn it damn it damn it, this is the worst!
The enemy was twice the number of her bolts.
If she was alone, Franziska just needed to snatch a horse, then shoot to injure the horse of any pursuers.
But Jessica couldn’t ride a horse. Martina wasn’t proficient, and was still in training.
“As expected, astrology is a sham… I will tell big brother next time.”
“... Isn’t this strange?”
“The thing that is strange is big sister’s brain!”
The horses of the bandit neighed.
A bulky man riding a huge horse looked down at them. He had a scar on his face, and looked like a veteran mercenary.
So this guy is the leader huh.
The bearded man breathed out foul air.
“Oh, so you are from ‘Renard Pendu’!”
They knew who we were!? Franziska widened her eyes.
The leader smirked.
“When I was in the Germanian Federation, I was in the same camp as you! I heard your famous band lost to the Empire, and my patriotism pushed me to hunt down you lot. I hit the jackpot!”
His minions around him laughed sinisterly.
What patriotism! They are just beasts hunting down the remnants of defeated mercenaries!
Franziska cursed at them in her heart.
But the situation was dire.
The enemy were mercenaries turned bandits, numbered more than her bolts, and showed no signs of being careless despite facing only women.
They hated the fame of ‘Renard Pendu’ that much…
Take the leader hostage?
No, they don’t seem to value the life of the leader.
What if they attack Jessica and Martina in the meantime?
Her back shivered.
An enemy readied his bow.
And the one he aimed at was Martina!?
Franziska stood before Martina to protect her.
Laughter broke out among the bandits.
The leader rubbed his belly and said:
“Is that enough? There are archers behind you too.”
A bandit behind her also nocked an arrow. He was aiming at Martina too.
There were four bowmen in front, and three behind!
She couldn’t defend!
If she was alone, Franziska was confident in dodging the attacks and retaliate with her crossbow.
But before she could kill everyone —— No matter what happens, Martina would be shot.
Her hands holding her crossbow shivered.
She didn’t make any large movement, but her breathing was hard.
“Stop… Stop… Stop it! Don’t take my family from me!”
“Are you kidding me, you mercenary! The soldiers you killed have family too. Become our lunch here then!”
“Put your weapon down! I might spare your life if you do that!”
Franziska teared up from her anger.
But she had no means of resisting.
She put her readied crossbow by her feet.
And raised both hands in surrender.
Her crying face spread to Martina.
“I’m sorry… Sorry… I… Big Brother asked me to protect you… But I couldn’t do anything.”
Jessica looked to the sky.
It was harder to tell how she felt from her expression.
Even though she was known as the ‘Magician’, she couldn’t come up with a way to turn the tide.
What would happen next? Become their minion? Or sold to the Imperial Army? The leader snorted.
“Franz, next… take off your clothes.”
“Well? You want me to kill you one by one?”
“... You bastard!”
This was the first time in Franziska’s life that she felt such incredible bloodlust. Fireworks were blowing up in her brain.
The leader narrowed his eyes.
“Hey, shoot the smallest one.”
His minion laughed happily and pulled his bow.
Martina screamed in terror.
Franziska could only roar angrily.
“You understand the position you are in, mercenary? You get it now? Ahhh?”
“Ugh… Uuu… I, I know already!”
She removed her light armour.
It fell to the ground with a clank.
She removed the strings on her forearms.
And revealed her arms.
The gawking bandits felt disgusting.
I will shoot you through the eyeballs and kill you —— Franziska swore.
She loosened the ribbons on her chest. The strings on her back loosened too, and her clothes fell onto the ground.
After seeing Franziska in her underwear, the bandits howled ferally.
Franziska felt a different sense of danger from the battlefield, as if bugs were crawling towards her.
Her shoulders trembled.
She wasn’t sure if it was because of the shame or her hate.
She could taste the blood from biting her lower lips.
Jessica said slowly.
“... I am sorry… He came later than I expected.”
Franziska couldn’t spare the effort to understand her vague words.
But even so, she regained her composure to notice someone running in the woods.
—— What is that!?
That was someone who was faster than the swiftest mercenary in ‘Renard Pendu’. It was hard to imagine that was a human.
That person didn’t fear about being surrounded by bandits, and leapt right in.
A youth with brown hair ——
His eyes were crimson.
He looked about Franziska’s age, which was about 16.
But his movement was so fast that time in the surrounding seemed to have stopped.
The bandits probably didn’t see because they were laughing despicably as they watched Franziska took her clothes off —— They finally noticed him when he stood before them.
The youth with brown hair and crimson eyes stood beside Franziska.
The leader yelled.
“Kisama, who are you!?”
“I should be the one asking, what are the lot of you doing? A group surrounding a girl and bullying her… I will listen to what you have to say before beating all of you up, so explain yourself!”
Haha, the bandits laughed.
The leader rubbed his stomach.
“The reason? Because… We are bandits! Moron! What can you do alone!? Are you here to die!?”
Franziska gritted her teeth.
She held hope for an instant when she saw his incredible movements…
But the situation was still the same.
In the end, if they were shot from the front and back, it would still end the same.
The other party knew too.
“Hey! Men are useless, kill him!”
After hearing the command of the leader, a bandit notched an arrow.
That bandit spew blood.
—— What happened!?
Most of the bandits couldn’t understand what was happening despite it occurring right before their eyes.
Franziska could barely keep up. The youth beside her seemed to have thrown something out.
In the chest of the bandit vomiting blood was a fruit knife.
Both the distance and speed was unusual.
The youth glared around him coldly.
“... I won’t hold back when protecting someone. In order to keep others safe from murderers, I have the resolve to kill.”
Instead of telling it to the bandits, he was actually telling it to himself.
The leader yelled.
“Ugh… Don’t take us for fools! I will kill you——!!”
As if they were kicked in the back by that order, the bandits readied their bows.
Knives flew towards their chests.
The bandits who guarded their chest with their arms were stabbed in the throat by a second knife.
As if he had grasped the movement of everyone on scene. Even though it was a pincer attack——
The four men in front and three behind.
Before they could pull their bows, the youth had thrown eight knives.
Even Franziska couldn’t keep up with his movement.
She wasn’t certain if her brother Gilbert or Duke Balzac she fought in Fort Volks were that fast.
Knives were the fastest weapon of all, but that was still very incredible.
Even though she was the one being saved, Franziska couldn’t stop trembling.
But Franziska wasn’t a normal girl who could only watch idly.
She kicked up the crossbow on the ground, and pulled the trigger once she grabbed it.
A needle like bolt flew out.
Towards the head of the leader.
The leader of the bandits flipped backwards off the horse. With a bolt through his eye.
Franziska fulfilled her promise to herself.
The bandits screamed and started fleeing.
—— I will kill you all!
A second bolt was loaded.
But the bandits either escaped on horseback or fled into the woods. As expected of bandits, they were fast in running away.
No one was left.
“Mister, thank you——!!”
A little girl suddenly hugged him.
It was a surprise to be hugged so suddenly, but being pounced on by such a young child was unexpected.
“Eheehee! I am Martina! What about you Mister!?”
“I am Bastian.”
“Thank you Mister Bastian!”
“Are you hurt?”
The young girl who was about Bastian’s age lowered her head a little.
“... Erm… Thank… Thank you…”
Honestly speaking, Bastian didn’t know where to look.
Judging from her skills with a crossbow, he couldn’t let his guard down. But Bastian still felt too embarrassed to look at her.
“Anyway, put on your clothes first.”
“Ughh!? D-Don’t look here! Pervert! Even though no one but big brother saw me like this before!”
“I am not thinking about that!?”
Seemed like there was no need to worry for now.
The girl picked up her clothes and tied her ribbon frantically.
She wore her light armour with deft movements.
And then, the woman who seemed the oldest with a calm aura bowed deeply.
“... My deepest thanks. I am Jessica.”
“What a crisis to be surrounded by bandits.”
“... That’s true, but thanks to that, we get to meet Sir Bastian.”
He tilted his head.
The girl who dressed herself as fast as she could interrupted.
“Bastian huh!? You are running in the forest all this while? Are you really human? That speed is too incredible right!?”
“Haha… I heard sound of horse trots when I was traveling on the road in a carriage. To be safe, I move on ahead to check the situation. I told them to catch up slowly, so they should be here now…”
He checked down the road, and saw a carriage approaching.
It was the carriage they hired at Venomoth.
Elise leaned out from the cargo section and waved.
When they reached, she didn’t wait for the carriage to stop completely before jumping off and running over.
“Hey, that’s dangerous?”
“E-Erm… Who are they…!?”
“Actually, they were surrounded by bandits——”
Bastian recounted how he met them.
Jessica and Martina introduced themselves again, Elise also introduced herself as ‘overseas student from High Britannia’.
Jessica said to the girl with crossbow.
“... Introduce yourself properly alright?”
“Ugh… I, I got it. Erm… I am Franziska!”
“I see. You are unhurt?”
“Sort off. But I was so angry that I could die.”
Jessica asked calmly:
“... Sir Bastian, where are you headed?”
“I plan to go around the battlefield and head for the capital. I don’t know how the situation ahead is though.”
“... Well, what a coincidence. We are heading for the capital too.”
Seeing Franziska so surprised, Jessica gave her a look and didn’t say anything.
Bastian tilted his head.
“What’s the matter?”
“... Nothing, Franziska is just a little spooked because we were just attacked by bandits.”
“Ahh, I understand.”
“... However, it is a little dangerous for three woman to travel on their own. It would be great if a reliable man could accompany us.”
Jessica looked up at Bastian slightly.
Martina also looked up with her big eyes as if she was expecting something.
Only Franziska was pouting, muttering ‘Ughh… He saw me.” with her cheeks red.
“Erm… What should we do?”
Bastian asked Elise.
She said matter of factly:
“It’s true that it’s dangerous for an all female group traveling by themselves. The carriage is spacious, so it’s fine for them to board!”
“Will it be a problem?”
“For the driver, the more passengers there are, the merrier it is.”
He asked to be safe and received the reply —— It’s fine as long as you pay.
Jessica took out an unfamiliar currency.
“... Thaler silver coins?”
That seemed to be Germanian currency.
The driver agreed.
And so it turned out like this —— The trio also boarded the carriage.
Bastian and Elise sat side by side at the right side of the luggage compartment, while Jessica’s group sat on the left.
With a crack, the carriage moved again.
Bastian looked down the road.
“According to the driver, we will reach the region that is probably a war zone in another day, so we will be making a detour. We should reach the capital in another three days.”
Martina seemed to be sleepy because of fatigue.
Franziska seemed to be troubled and looked sullen.
The carriage advanced slowly on the road.
The sun setted behind the hills to the west.
They started making camp before it was completely dark.
It was great that they had the idea that more would be better when they procured food.
Jessica asked Elise with her unchanging mask like expression:
“... By the way… Why did you lie about being a student studying abroad?”
End of Volume 8