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.