Editor: Ruzenor, Tear, Skythewood
The signal for the start of the battle did not come from the cliff on the other side, where Ikuta was focusing his attention, nor from below the cliff where the Phantom group had been working secretly, but on top of the Imperial Army that was stretched out along the path.
“The mountains are our world! Prepare to open your eyes wide and be surprised, you devils from the plains!”
A barrage of fire arrows rained on the soldiers’ heads with a girl’s announcement. Everyone was bewildered by an attack from an unexpected angle, and the wagons and clothings hit by the arrows started to burn.
U-Up above?! What’s this! There shouldn’t be a place big enough for an army up there.
Matthew, who had taken after Ikuta to prepare for the worst and memorized the marching path along with the surrounding terrains, could not hide his surprise. Just as his assumptions were flipped upside down and his head turned into a cacophony, Ikuta spoke stoically.
“Calm down Matthew. There’s no place to put soldiers above the cliff. Speaking normally, anyways. This is simply a desperate push by a trapped enemy.”
“Yeah, I think so too. It would be an impossible ambush except for the nimble Shinaak tribesmen, but considering the damage from the fire arrows, there are not that many of them. The shock will only last for a moment. If we can take care of the confusion now—”
While Torway was speaking, a scream erupted out as to mock his assumption. Captain Sazaruf’s troops, who had been walking in front of Ikuta’s group, were groaning while bleeding from the shoulders or their sides.
“What, gunfire…?! Is this from the above as well?!”
Captain Sazaruf shouted while taking cover, but the reality was different. Confirming that the damage from gunfire were concentrated to soldiers who were walking at the edge of the cliff, Ikuta bit his tongue after fully understanding the situation.
“No, they’re shooting from the cliff from the other side… Damn it, they were there as I thought.”
“What? From the cliff on the other side..?! Don’t be foolish. It’s at least 200m away to the other side! Even if they shoot from there, there’s no way it could reach all the way here—”
Torway, who had the related knowledge grasped the situation immediately without waiting for Captain Sazaruf to come to his own understanding. His expression soon froze into a tremble.
“Ik-kun, this means… they have the same as us…!”
“Yeah, you’re right… They’re snipers armed with air rifles!”
Just as Ikuta came to the conclusion, several allied soldiers at the edge of his vision fell. If they did not know where the shots were coming from, they could not do anything—. The moment he realized that, the boy stopped watching from the side idly.
“Torway, how long as you going to just sit there? Run over to your squad and return fire! The only squad that can do anything about this is your squad that is armed with air rifles!”
“Ug, got it…! We’ll suppress them soon enough.”
Torway quickly sprinted away after having realized his role. Even Ikuta could not formulate a response for the current situation. It was a wise precaution to have officers protected with shields, but…
“... Since we can’t avoid casualties from the snipers, only way is to speed up the march and get out of this valley as soon as possible. We just need to get out of the range of the air rifles.”
However, a messenger who waded in through the crowd of people shattered Ikuta’s optimistic outlook.
“Lieutenant General Safida! The entire front column is being attacked and further advance is not possible! I request that the rear column to wait—”
“Impossible! Do you not see this situation? This place is under attack as well, and you still ask to slow down the advance….!”
Lieutenant General Safida’s face grew bluer by the moment. But Ikuta felt the same way inside. They could not fight the enemy, and escaping via advancing was also not an option. The only way left was—.
“...Captain Sazaruf! What do you think about ordering retreat for all the squad to the rear of here?”
“I agree— but at this point, a retreat is beyond my authority!”
Then you need to convince the Lieutenant General— As Ikuta was about to say that, a warning from Yatori came from behind.
“Everyone, above you! They’re coming!”
Everyone snapped to look to the sky in surprise and several shadows jumped on in succession. The Shinaak tribesmen who had set up camp above cliff had slid down holding rope in one hand. The soldiers’ thinking process stopped at the inconceivable ways the enemy suicide squads were appearing.
“Matthew, Haro, fix bayonet! They’re coming from this side, too!”
Ikuta shouted as he fixed his bayonet to his bowgun. It was a laughable situation. The group of officers being protected front and rear by hundreds of men and surrounded with shields were being targeted by the enemy.
“Agh, arrgh… What is this. It’s not going in…!”
Haro, who was some distance away from the other knights, was struggling to insert the bayonet onto her bowgun. She could just use it without fixing it on there, but she could not think that fast amidst the chaos. She was not used to battles as there was a lot of work that needed to be done in the field hospital at the rear.
“Haro, calm down! I’m going over right now!”
Ikuta ran. Yatori was guarding Lieutenant General Safida, Torway had gone off to return fire, and Matthew was barely managing to defend himself. By the process of elimination, the only thing to do was to go save Haro.
The soldiers’ confusion piled on. The fearless Shinaak warriors had landed amidst them and started to attack. The majority of the soldiers had not fixed bayonet and could not adequately respond to sudden close-quarter combat that landed amidst them from the sky.
“Haro, watch out! Above!”
They probably thought that a girl who was struggling to fix bayonet was a ripe target. An enemy who had slid down half way from the cliff kicked against the stone wall and jumped. And landed— right beside Haro.
He’ll get there a step too late at this rate. Ikuta decided that in a flash, abandoned his bowgun and flung himself at Haro, who was standing upright. He fell while grabbing just below her waist. At that moment, the enemy’s kukri just grazed the back of his head.
“Ha…. you bastard…!”
There was no time to relax even though he had dodged the attack. Instead of his abandoned weapon, he borrowed the bowgun from Haro’s hand and stood up. The enemy who couldn’t finish off his prey was coming for them again.
He barely received the kukri’s heavy blow with the shaft of the bowgun. It became a battle of strength with a blade against a shaft, but Ikuta’s chance of victory at this point had disappeared. He fell on the ground from the force pushing in from the blade and became defenseless as if asking to be finished.
“I’ll join innnnnnnnn!”
Then with a voice loud enough to tear his eardrum, someone unexpected came to the rescue. Warrant Officer Deinkun’s gigantic sword slashed and blew away the enemy who had rushed in to finish Ikuta.
The kukri fell on the ground split in two, and the enemy’s body, which even had its spine smashed, rolled down the cliff. Even Ikuta could not keep his mouth closed at this turn of events.
“Stand up quickly, Ikuta Solork! Even this one will not be able to save you twice!”
As Ikuta tried to get up, he finally saw Warrant Officer Deinkun’s gear. The armour was centered around the chest, thick plates covered various parts of the body and he wielded a claymore for mounted combat. That unfaltering medieval appearance was that of the Northern Defense Command’s final defense troop, a Cuirassier platoon leader’s formal wear.
“Thank you, Warrant Officer Deinkun. You said you can’t save me twice, but considering the last time, it has already been twice.”
“You do not need to count the last time. This one was in a hurry back then as well.”
Warrant Officer Deinkun picked up the bowgun dropped a bit away and responded cooly while giving it back. The boy extended a hand to Haro to help her up in one while glancing at the face of the giant who was a full head and a half taller than him.
“There is one question. When this one had hit you and you collapsed… you did not become angry, but thanked me instead.”
“Mmm, ah… Thanks to that, we could avoid the villagers’ resentment.”
“But you would have lost face. Were you not apprehensive about something like that would shame you?”
It was a direct and in your face kind of a question. So Ikuta replied back without hesitation.
“— No. It was a bit embarrassing, but didn’t change the fact your powerful strike fixed the situation. Well, just for reference… I never had a face that would be slighted after getting beat up in the first place.”
“... Is that so. Then, conversely, what kind of situation would you lose face in?”
“Ah. Hmm, that would be—”
While talking to Warrant Officer Deinkun, Ikuta handed over a bowgun with a bayonet strapped tightly on it over to Haro. The boy spoke with a serious expression on his face while brushing off the dirt on her face with his fingers.
“— Not being able to say everything when I have wanted to, not being able to protect things when I have wanted to, those kind of situations.”
On his words, Ikuta remember the face of a woman he met twice, but could not meet for the third time. But he sealed it up immediately. He closed the lid on his memories and chased away the reminiscence of the past.
That was a face he had already lost. What he needed to focus on now was the ones who were not dead.
“... I don’t understand, but I do know one thing. We do not go well together.”
Warrant Officer Deinkun spoke very clear-cut while holding on to the claymore on top of a horse. Ikuta understand immediately. There was no room for misunderstanding. He even thought that it would be hard to find two people who were so different from another. Even still.
“But… that’s the kind of a knight you are.”
The moment he heard those words, there was a self-mocking smile on the boy’s face. — He misunderstands many things. If he concluded things on such friendly level, then the words they had exchanged so far would be meaningless.
Amidst the noise generated by allies and enemies mixing together, Yatori Igsem was staring at the sky while holding her trademark twin sword in her hands.
Standing directly in front of Lieutenant General Safida, she was practically the centre point for the guards. She was confident she could defeat any enemy, no matter which direction they came from.
The tip of her twin swords shuddered like an antenna that had picked up on something. It was because of a small body that was not just content on sliding down the cliff, but was running with a rope in one hand came into sight.
Yatori felt an untimely awe. Even amongst Shinaak tribe who were famed for being nimble, there were not many who would act so recklessly.
“Lieutenant General Safida, do not move from that spot!”
Half way down the cliff, the shadow kicked off the wall. It was a superhuman jump taking advantage of nimble movements, but did not immediately aim for Lieutenant General Safida. Because she had also instinctively sensed the existence of an obstacle she needed to overcome.
A downward strike using gravity and a precise counter which aimed for vital point thrust out from above and below. The moment their blow met each other, steel collided and sparks flew.
After the first blow was intercepted mid-air, her small, cat-like body landed nimbly.
“... We meet again, red one.”
A pair of kukri in her two hands were too brutish compared to the owner’s small body. But looking at her carefully— beneath that big cape covering her, peeks of a frail yet muscular body that showed off functionality brought awe. Her large eyes, burning with a cause made everyone who looked into them hold their breath. Her black hair faded under sunlight was braided into two strands, left and right. From a glance, her partner sprite didn’t seem to be nearby.
“Yes, we meet again.”
She was cute, but not frail. She had an aura of an experienced warrior about her. It was the kind of a strength that couldn’t be conveyed from a distance when they first met.
Yatori recognized the opponent’s strength, took a stance with her twin swords without showing an opening and revealed her name as per the knight’s code.
“Imperial Army Skirmisher 1st Training Platoon leader cum Light Cavalry 1st Training Platoon leader, Warrant Officer Yatori Igsem. My partner is the fire sprite, Shia. I’m glad to meet you again, young chieftain of the Shinaak tribe.”
“Shinaak Chieftain, Nanak Dar. Hahashik is Hisha of the wind. I responded to your introductions, but don’t get cocky. I won’t remember any of your long and boring titles!”
Nanak Dar made herself clear and aimed the point of her two knives. Yatori took her simple and direct animosity with pleasure.
“It doesn’t matter… Experience the sensation of these blades and die!”
Nanak ran forward like a loosened arrow. She did not care for the sabre being thrust forward to counter and struck heavily with a kukri as if intending to break the blade. Countering this, Yatori turned her blade to deflect the strike and immediately thrust at the opening. But—
At that moment, Nanak Dar used the blade stuck onto ground as a centrifuge to rotate her body and swung for the second attack. It was a series of attack that could not exist in a conventional swordfight. Yatori managed to stand her ground by retreating a little, but the girl’s truly ferocious strikes were just beginning.
The blade on the right was plucked out from the earth and attacked Yatori as it rose instead of going back to the owner. She tried to defend with the handguard of the sabre and go on the offensive, but the blade on the left dived in aiming for her left thigh. Yatori admired her moves. Each attack was unreasonably wide, but there was no opening to drive into.
“What’s up, red one! Can’t move around?”
Nanak Dar’s assault continued. All the officers who wanted to help Yatori by jumping in hesitated and stopped. That bladework was like a windmill with blades attached to it. If they approached carelessly, that would be the end.
On the other hand, Yatori was carefully observing from the middle of the windmill’s attacks. Shifting her centre of gravity with the shaft of the blade, unending rotation, stance to maximize the small stature— receiving the heated blades with a cool demeanor, she analyzed that those would be the key in breaking through Nanak Dar’s swordplay.
Including Igsem’s twin sword style, the majority of sword stances emphasized centre of gravity in the lower body, in other words, the hip. It was because it allowed for the most stabilized offense and defense. It is considered to have an opening when one couldn’t maintain that. Even styles that had various stances, it was considered physiologically impossible to not have the centre in the lower body.
But Nanak had a different method. Amidst her attacks, her centre of gravity was obviously not in the lower body. That small body being swung around by overly heavy and large kukris maintained form without defying the laws of physics and continually moved while using a sword as the centre of gravity.
— The result was this rotating sword dance.
A blade that slid deep inside sliced a few strands of red hair. To relentlessly attack using the heavy and large pair of kukris, Nanak Dar rarely took the motion of retracting her blade. She continuously kept on the ferocious attacks by finishing a swing to link into a next attack, or stuck the blade into the ground to use as a centrifuge. Those motions gave birth to a unique motion of never-ending rotation of sword.
“You may only be an adept, but I can’t help but admit that it’s excellent.”
Compliments came out from Yatori’s mouth. Along with Shinaak tribe’s hardiness and toned muscles, Nanak Dar’s small stature has created a whole new style of sword fight. Still, no matter how much of an acrobatic stance she maintained, there was no way someone who was limited to circular movement would not reveal an opening to someone who moved in a straight line like Yatori.
The only thing that made her style possible was the lowered stance because of her small size. Compared to Yatori who could only attack downward against a smaller opponent, Nanak could retain her low stance and slash away at the opponent’s lower body. The time for the attack to reach the other would be in Nanak Dar’s favour. That advantage was supplementing the natural delays in the circular motion.
“... Kuuh. Stop it, now!”
Yatori took a blow with the guard on her main gauche and over-extended a little to drive into the circular sword style. If the sword style was focused around rotating, then she only needed to stop the rotation. However—
“No, not going to stop!”
With the kukri stuck in the guard as the centre, Nanak Dar’s body floated up in mid air. The rotation did not die out, but only had its centre axis tilted to a side. Yatori opened her eyes wide at this.
“Is that— you changed to a vertical rotation?”
A final blow utilizing gravity came from above her head. Yatori received the attack by crossing her two swords and reduced the impact on her blades by jumping back a little.
She took a defensive stance thinking the gap between them would be closed instantly, but Nanak Dar unexpectedly stopped moving and simply watched Yatori.
“You’re lasting longer than I expected. I’ve hit you that much, but your blade isn’t broken either…”
“I’m barely holding my ground. It’s amazing. I’m being outclassed by a technique I’ve never seen before.”
“No. You had enough room to watch my skills and be amazed about it.”
Nanak Dar’s expression hardened against an opponent she could not fully measure up. Yatori also felt a likeableness to the opponent who did not underestimate an opponent despite the superiority.
“Seems I can’t help it since I got found out. But what I have now is enough. Preliminary exchange for measuring up is over.”
Yatori readied her twin swords again after speaking without any frill or deception. The atmosphere changed. From a stance focused on defense, she switched to an offensive stance to finish the fight. It was also conveyed to the opponent facing off against her.
“... Are you saying you saw through my techniques. From that short skirmish just now? Load of rubbish!”
“You don’t need to believe everything I say. If you’re a warrior, trust in your abilities and attack.”
A sound of laughter came out from the girl’s mouth. There were no truer words.
— It did not matter even if a swordmaster was here. At this moment she still believed the girl who claimed to have seen through it all would not win against her.
“... That arrogance. I’ll make you regret it in hell, red one!”
Nanak Dar rushed forward with certain victory in heart. Compared to that, Yatori waited for the enemy without any movement. The point seemed to be to wait for the opponent to make the first strike and aim for a counter. It was a completely countering stance just like the proclamation that preliminary exchanges were over.
Nanak Dar swung the first strike. It was a powerful strike with all her might to break the blade. But Yatori stepped back to dodge, and the Kukri missed the mark and struck the earth. Using the stuck blade as an axis, Nanak Dar’s body circle around. That scene was the same as just before. It was the same horizontal slash from an impossible position that surprised Yatori when she first saw it.
But— the same trick did not work twice.
The blade passed by in front of the thigh. Right after missing an attack, a gap that wasn’t exploited for the first time appeared. Nanak Dar’s body was still rotating in a circular motion. That small back was open for attack until the rotation finished and the next motion started.
Yatori’s knees recoiled and sprung out like a spring. With a rapid step, she thrust the main gauche in her left hand. A killing blow that did not miss an opportunity— it was a true strike that would end the opponent.
“Ha—! Got you, fool—!”
Nanak Dar was aiming for that moment. While showing her back defenselessly, Shinaak tribe’s young chieftain was laughing heartily. From her cape covered back, a trap let out its first cry.
A dry sound of air igniting sharply rang out, cutting across the sound of battle.
A vertical strike from the claymore smashed the head of a Shinaak warrior. They were not even a proper match because their kukri could not handle the massive weight of the sword.
“Wow, amazing… I know it’s sudden, but I’ll have to reclassify you from a mere sandbag.”
“.... What did you say?”
Said Warrant Officer Deinkun as he glanced over. Ikuta tried to gloss things over by simply shaking his head. Truthfully, thanks to Deinkun’s efforts, the damage from Shinaak tribe suicide squad had decreased.
“It seems Torway is managing his job of returning fire properly since the shots from the other side of the cliff lightened up. If we keep this up, we can get through this. Just hold on a bit longer Haro and Matthew.”
“I’m so sorry for burdening you!”
From in between Warrant Officer Deinkun and Ikuta, Matthew and Haro replied back.
Ikuta looked around. The battle was continuing, but he felt that the real hump was over. It was something that was exceedingly obvious. If they could withstand the initial shock of the ambush, the scattered enemy coming downhill could be taken out piecemeal.
“To attack with such reckless strategy must mean that Shinaaks are cornered as well… It’s difficult to counter an opponent when you don’t know what they are going to do.”
“Hmph, you sound like a coward. No matter what they do, you can simply wipe out them out as they come.”
Ikuta shrugged his shoulder at Warrant Officer Deinkun’s rather simple answer to the situation. That was when a soldier’s scream resounded.
“W, what?! It was close by!”
Matthew looked around hurriedly. Their gaze, which had been facing upwards to spot any incoming enemies going down the cliff, was finally back to horizontal view of the surface thanks to that.
Matthew looked around hurriedly. Their gaze, which had been facing upwards to spot any incoming enemies going down the cliff, was finally back to horizontal view of the surface thanks to that.
They quickly spotted where the scream came from. The soldiers who were standing by the edge positioned behind the officer group, which including Ikuta, were collapsing on the ground bleeding from the right side. At first Ikuta thought it was another round of shots from the other side of the cliff and clicked his tongue, but what followed was astonishing..
The marksmen who wounded them were not on the other side of the cliff, but were here.
“... Reinforcements from below the cliff?! Damn, the troops are preoccupied with what’s above..”
Ikuta stood still as he spoke. The soldiers climbing up from below the cliff did not dress much differently from the Shinaak warriors. But their quality was different. From the way they moved as a group to their proficiency on how they handled their carbines, it was obvious that they were highly trained soldiers.
“Sly as always. I will face you head on!”
“...Ugh, don’t be too rash, Warrant Officer Deinkun! They’re completely different!”
Warrant Officer Deinkun ran forward past Ikuta’s warnings and faced the enemy head on.
--There was nothing to fear. Holding the claymore in hand and protected with armour, he was certain that only person who could beat him in close quarter combat was that red haired girl.
One of the enemy who noticed his approach, turned around and stared at him. The man simply pointed the tip of the wind carbine at the giant approaching with a roar.
“Fu, do you think that pea shooter will work on me!”
Warrant Officer Deinkun saw the enemy’s action and covered his face with the sword. Using the large blade as a shield, he protected the head which the enemy would obviously aim for. All vital areas outside the head were well armoured in the first place.
But it was a move that limited his own line of sight as well.
In front of the vision blocked by the sword, the man drew a knife from his waist. It was not a kukri they saw so many times until now. It was a dagger with ominous glint that was thinner and smaller. The man kicked off the ground while holding the dagger in opposite hand from his carbine, the right hand. He made no noise, like a phantom.
Deinkun swung down his claymore at where the man used to be with all his might. But there was no expected resistance or any blood spurt. The mighty strike finished with simply cutting across the air.
“Hmm…? You, where did you go--.”
The moment Warrant Officer Deinkun tilted his head curiously, a burning sensation cut across his throat without any warning. And a second later, blood gushed out.
The time between those two were stopped at a critical moment. .
Shinaak tribal chief, Nanak Dar squeezed out her hoarse voice while looking at the main gauche blade stabbing her in the back with an expression of disbelief.
“How did you…”
“You want to ask how I knew about that trap?”
Maintaining the stance with main gauche in her left hand thrusted out, Yatori lightly slashed with the sabre in her right hand.
The cape that was covering the girl’s back slashed in half and what was hidden inside revealed itself. It was a wind sprite fixed with a belt and a mechanism with a very short wind gun barrel. From the pierced area, air was pulsating out.
“I felt some things were amiss. First, you looked like you didn’t have a sprite with you. But you properly introduced your partner’s name as well during our exchange.”
“What…. W, with just that?”
“No, those two occasion were not everything. The moment I started suspecting something is after watching how you fight.”
While looking at the pair of kukri in the girl’s hands,Yatori continued quietly.
“...Courageous, yet bold style of dual wielding. I was truly amazed by that rotating style of fighting. But as we fought, that boldness felt unnatural. Because while we were fighting, you never bothered guarding your back. Especially in a middle of this melee where you could get stabbed in the back at any time.--”
“-- Of course, you might have been thinking about it a little bit, but you were never on guard enough to block an attack coming from behind. Since I was on guard the whole time, something felt even more wrong.”
“Not only the Igsem dual wielding style, but the fundamentals of any dual wielder against multiple opponents is that being on guard from an attack from any direction is always a given. When you were being lazy with that, I knew for certain that you weren’t someone who only use two swords like me. That you had something hidden behind so you didn’t need to worry about your back.”
Yatori looked at that hidden card-- the sight of a wind sprite pierced along with the barrel of the wind gun.
It did not look to be in pain even after being pierced, but its eyes clearly conveyed the tension. It was not afraid of its own end. That sprite had thrown its body to stop the main gauche. Its partner’s death was only a sheet’s distance away.
“The duel’s over. Gather your tribe and surrender, Nanak Dar.”
Yatori urged her to surrender with a quiet voice. But she did not anticipate for two things here. First, that a girl named Nanak Dar would not accept defeat. Second, how the partner who knew only too well about her, Hisha, would act.
Because of the cracks in its body, even the voice calling for its partner was not very clear. But it did not hesitate even with a body centimeters away from being broken. It was always with its partner and to help and protect life-- a duty as a sprite-- it barely clung onto life wanting to carry it out to the end.
“....?! Wait, what are you..!”
It was that kind of a situation.
“Hisha was it… If you move, your partner will die. Of course, you know that.”
Through the main gauche, Yatori could feel a violent vibration carry through to her arm. Right now, Hisha was using a wind sprite’s ability to compress air. Even though it knew that its body would not be able to handle it, to make sure its partner will live on to the future. Using the power that Shinaak tribe called it “divine” for. With its final wish--.
With its final word, wind sprite Hisha exploded itself from internal pressure.
Yatori instinctively took a step back to protect herself from the shrapnel mixed into the wind. Escaping from a dire spot because of her partner’s sacrifice, Nanak Dar stood up from her posture that seemed like she was about to fall forward from the explosion, and looked at her shattered partner with a devastated expression.
It was a voice that was dumbstruck. The sight in front of her eyes and the missing weight from her back played havoc in the girl’s mind.
While feeling sympathetic, Yatori’s will to capture the girl did not waver. She removed the shrapnel from her arm and walked towards Nanak Dar once again.
“-- Don’t be too rash, Warrant Officer Deinkun!”
Her ears picked up a familiar boy’s shout nearby. When she instinctively looked around, Yatori witnessed the sight near 30 meters away.
The scene of a giant collapsing on his knees spurting blood from the neck while standing straight proudly.
Shadows were passing by as if ignoring that body.
Those coordinated movements showed they were no ordinary people even at a glance. Especially after looking at the man standing in front of the group, an indescribable chilling sensation ran down Yatori’s back.
Those shadows cut through all interfering imperial soldiers and advanced without hesitation. They were headed straight towards Yatori, who had Lieutenant General Safida at her back.
The sight of Warrant Officer Deinkun as he collapsed and the critical amount of blood he was losing registered in Yatori’s mind. Her gaze was constantly going back and forth between him and the enemy. And roughly 4 seconds later--
-- Swing your swords
An instinctive feeling from her gut commanded her so.
Glint of the sword rose like a dragon formed a heated wave to deliver death. The leader of the shadows, who was the first to feel the fiery gale, had to concentrate with all his might to dodge it.
First exchange: deflected the first sabre strike with a dagger - lost sensation in the fingers.
Second exchange: blocked the follow up main gauche attack with the barrel of the carbine - cannot fire anymore due to the hole in the barrel.
Third exchange: parried the third strike which twisted into different direction with the armour on the arms - forearm guards were cracked.
Fourth exchange: shielded against the kick aimed at the lower stomach with two hands - the fourth and fifth digit on right hand have dislocated.
“...Ugh… kuh… ugh!”
The shadow responded without a mistake in the tug of war, which would’ve lead to death if one had made a single wrong move. He barely kept his life, widened their distance and stopped. Below that turban, the face made a surprised expression for the first time.
There was no way that Yatori, who made him make that expression, knew what a rare sight that was.
“... Phuuuu! ”
Two shadows that tried to slip by her side to get to Lieutenant General realized it was a reckless plan and backed off. They could not pass. Yatori’s chilling amount of killing intent drew an invisible line of life and death.
“Matthew’s Squad, surround them!”
An order came from behind in an announcing voice. Ikuta had ordered Matthew’s squad, which was relatively close to the officer group to move.
Between the riflemen who were rushing over people, and the red haired warrior, the leader of the shadows realized it was time to back off. They rushed towards the edge and before any soldier could stop them, every single one of them went down the steep cliff slope without hesitation.
“They j-jumped..?! Ah, damn, they have ropes over here as well!”
Matthew swung his gun down the cliff in anger, but the ropes seemed to be installed some distance away from the edge of the cliff, so he could not reach it. Yatori was also looking down the cliff like him, but looked back after remembering that she had left Nanak Dar unattended.
“... Got away…”
She grinded her teeth. As expected, the disheartened girl who had lost her partner was gone. Did she escape down the cliff along with the shadows or climb up with the help of her comrades.
She thought of possibility of pursuit for a moment before giving up, took in a breath and turned around. She ran towards that spot. Ikuta and Haro were also there. They surrounded Warrant Officer Deinkun, who was keeping a shallow breathing while still being upright.
“--- Haro, how is it?”
Haro opened her mouth while standing by the head and trying to stop the bleeding.
“His artery is cut. I’m trying to stop the bleeding, but he already lost too much blood…”
That there was little chance to save him was not in the mood and voice alone, but was also evident around the ground. Around the wound in the neck, there was a puddle of blood about the size of a carpet. It was more amazing that he was still breathing after losing that much blood.
“Dein… Dein… don’t die. No…”
On the other side from Haro, Warrant Officer Deinkun’s partner, water sprite Niki was trying to desperately talk with its partner. He seemed to have heard that voice and tried to move his arm, but didn’t have enough strength to lift it. Yatori moved his hand instead over to the sprite.
“... Yatori. Can you listen to his final words while he’s still conscious.”
“Alright. I’ll do that…”
Yatori took Haro’s place by Deinkun’s head. She whispered to him that she would take his final words and took her ear near his mouth.
Deinkun moved his blue lips to squeeze out words. After hearing those words, Yatori brought her mouth close to his ears and replied. Warrant Officer Deinkun’s head looked like it nodded slightly -- and with that, even his shallow breathing stopped. His death and silence ruled that place and even overwhelmed the noise of war.
“... Yatori. Can I ask what his last words were?”
Ikuta asked hesitantly. Yatori replied back in surprisingly light tone.
“There were four in total. “I leave my comrades in the Empire to you”, “I want my partner Niki to go to my sister”, “next time, duel with me properly with those two swords” and the last one was closer to thinking out loud than a will.”
“Thinking out loud?”
“Yeah. He wondered if he kept his face as a knight.”
Yatori looked up into the sky as to hold back something from coming out of her eyes.
“He’s a modest man. He died an honourable death. There was nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yeah, he did… What did you say to him?”
Yatori coughed once and replied, speaking with her usual brave but slightly hoarse voice.
“A knight who loved his country and comrade more than anyone, you fought braver than anyone. Deinkun Harguska, may there be blessing and glory upon your soul.”
A fitting eulogy. Ikuta thought that in his head. He could never find good enough words for situations like this.
“Thanks for not saying anything about it. I thought it when I came up with it too, but it seems old fashioned now that I say it again. It looks like fitting words don’t really come out when you need them.”
Ikuta swayed his head at Yatori while smiling bitterly. She was being modest. When asking a knight to deliver a eulogy for a knight, there was no one more fitting than Yatori to deliver those words.
Following her, Torway, Matthew and Captain Sazaruf approached and offered their words one by one before Warrant Officer Deinkun’s body.
The march resumed an hour later and the casualties from the ambush were moved to the rear, with destination for the dead and the living diverging completely.