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???: [If you’re alive, you’ll get a chance to clean off your disgrace. But if you die, that’s the end. So, I’m going. I won’t get into a fight I don’t think I can win.]
There was no lie in those words.
Throwing oneself into a fight with little chance of winning was a folly only an unbelievable fool would commit to.
He did not believe himself wise, not in the slightest, but for that reason he knew he should approach his decisions carefully. While a wise person might reach a conclusion in an instant, a fool would take an eternity to reach it.
Todd knew that this was how those who were untalented waged battle.
He did not get into fights he could not win.
However, paradoxically speaking――,
Todd: [――There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting into a fight you have a chance of winning.]
He brought his clenched fist in front of his right eye, and looked longingly into the distance through the small pinhole he had created.
A primitive means of seeing farther, achieved by narrowing one’s field of vision. If he squinted, Todd’s eyes would be able to see quite far, but he would not be able to make out what was going on inside the chaotic City Hall, let alone past the burning flags.
And that applied even if the situation had the winds in his favour.
Jamal: [Oy, the roof of the City Hall’s gone! What’s going on?]
Right next to him, Todd’s ferocious companion was overwhelmed by his own growing sense of urgency, creating a ruckus.
His concentration was disturbed by the noise, so he flicked his hand towards the man to instruct him to shut up. As for what was going on, he was earnestly evaluating the situation.
Todd: [Pretty sure one of the Nine Divine Generals has joined.]
If not, there was no point in staying in the Fortress City which had fallen into enemy hands.
As mentioned before, Todd had considered abandoning the city and fleeing once the City Hall had fallen due to the enemy’s plan. He had no intention of politely complying with any disarmament order and surrendering.
In the first place, as long as the shots were being called by the poster child of war―― the man who called himself Natsumi Schwartz, dangerous people like Todd and Jamal would be the first to be dealt with.
Even in Vollachia, executions of surrendered prisoners of war were frowned upon, but that man would certainly make up a good reason to excuse such travesties.
At least, that was what Todd would do. It was a natural consideration for survival.
Hence why he had chosen to abandon the city without hesitation. In spite of this, his curiosity got the better of him, so he hid just close enough to confirm the existence of reinforcements heading for the city.
Jamal: [There ain’t any doubt about it. That’s the woman I saw two years ago, when I served during the defeat of the barbarians. ――General First-Class Arakiya, ranked Second.]
As he peered at the scantily-clad woman who had leisurely entered the city by jumping over the closed main gate, Jamal declared those words with a hint of excitement in his snorts.
He was the kind of man who walked around with his wild instincts on his sleeve. Both in terms of his strength as a living creature, and in his male disposition to be able to gauge females, he wasn’t the sort who would forget anyone who tugged at his heartstrings.
In other words, one of the strongest among the Empire’s Nine Divine Generals had made their appearance to suppress the rebellion. ――So this must be the “chance” that Todd had previously judged to be missing.
Todd: [To act or not to act, it’s more than worth the trouble.]
Although Natsumi’s tricky tactics were brilliant, he had no direct combat power, at least, not within a third of a soldiers’ own power. The People of Shudraq who followed him were known for their toughness, but that was only relative to ordinary people.
Those who were truly strong, such as the Nine Divine Generals, were not constrained to such criteria.
Even Jamal, whose only claim to fame was his tremendous swordsmanship and fighting prowess, was only about as good as a dozen regular Imperial soldiers. That was the measure of how well one could gauge an ordinary person. Members of the Nine Divine Generals were prime examples of ones who would “take care” of Jamal. ――The City Hall that had fallen into enemy hands would be reclaimed.
Todd: [Then it’s wise to back the winning ground dragon.]
There was no need to work with a member of the Nine Divine Generals.
All they had to do, was to be more useful to the General than the Soldiers who had been captured and rendered unable to do their job. If they could detain the enemy, interrogate them, and deliver some proper payback, then the General First-Class would remember their actions well.
If they did that, they would be promoted to a higher position, and may be able to find their way back to the Imperial Capital sooner rather than later.
Todd: [Alright, we’re heading back, Jamal. We’re going to help her retake the City Hall.]
Jamal: [Oh? Oh, yeah! Haha, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that! I’ve been itching all over for a while, since running away ain’t my style. I ain’t gonna let the General First-Class hog all the credit!]
Todd: [Don’t be silly. We’re going to gain the favor of the General.]
Todd sighed at Jamal, whose fists hardened in anticipation for a return to battle in response to the change of plans. Setting out for the City Hall, they located a position with an optimal view for monitoring the situation, instead of directly entering the building.
Following his own beliefs to the last, he was careful and cautious, and――,
Todd: [――Kill him, Arakiya.]
The top floor of the City Hall was blown away by gale-force wind, the barely-visible General First-Class on a rampage.
From a distance, the Second Ranked silver-haired, brown-skinned woman wielded a tree branch that looked like an improvised weapon, and rampaged about as if she were the highest law of the world.
Between all the bodies indiscriminately strewn around the hall, there was no distinction between Shudraq and Imperial Soldiers.
Under these circumstances, the one who stood in front of Arakiya with a blue-haired girl behind his back was none other than Natsumi Schwartz.
As soon as he saw him, the thoughts that came to Todd’s mind were not dismissive like, “How could he be stupid enough to stand in front of a General First-Class?” or “How is he still alive?”.
Rather, with utmost vigilance, Todd shouted out loud in his heart.
――Kill that man here, for sure, Arakiya!
Above all else, for better or worse, he did not care what he got credit for. He did not care if the time he spent thinking about his decision to stick around ended up being meaningless.
He did not care about anything else, as long as he could make sure that the life of Natsumi Schwartz, the poster child of war, had been terminated.
It would be――,
Todd: […Oi oi, you’ve got to be kidding me.]
In the instant Arakiya was going to kill Natsumi, Todd’s sincere hope was shattered just as something flashed above his tunneled vision, while he was focusing on letting that decisive moment go unmissed.
A flash of red light separated Natsumi and Arakiya.
It both majestically challenged Arakiya and sheltered Natsumi behind her back, as though it seemed to be the absolute strongest thing in the world. The moment he saw this, the balance in Todd’s mind tipped significantly.
Jamal: [What was that thing that just fell from the sky!? A flying dragon!? Where’s the flying dragon!?]
Jamal: [Are you listening to me, Todd! What about us? Shouldn’t we be backing General First-Class Arakiya! Hey! Listen to me…]
Todd: [――Shut up, Jamal.]
Jamal, whose voice roughened at the change in the situation, gasped at Todd’s words.
Without acknowledging Jamal any further, Todd kept his gaze on the scene in the City Hall. The woman in the crimson dress who had suddenly appeared was facing Arakiya head-on.
He knew at a glance. ――That woman also belonged to the side of the “haves”, far removed from normal people.
Natsumi, having managed to survive what seemed to be a desperate situation, made Todd keenly aware of the fact that he also had something to offer. Something he “had”, that was different from combat power or luck.
Before the red woman intervened, Arakiya alone would have been enough to make up the difference.
However, the situation had changed, and no resolution was in sight. Would the weight of Todd and Jamal be enough to tip the scales back in their direction?
Todd: [Don’t move, Jamal. ――There’s nothing you can do right now.]
The odds were against them, and the longer Todd watched, the worse it got.
Todd knew Jamal’s anger was getting the better of him, but it would be a waste of time to act now.
Todd: [Because, General First-Class Arakiya’s been defeated just now.]
The red woman’s blade had struck her in the back, and Arakiya had fallen helplessly to the ground.
The balance was broken, and it would never tilt the other way again.
Arakiya collapsed, and the situation in the City Hall came to its terminus.
This time, the Fortress City of Guaral had completely fallen into the hands of the enemy. There was no way to recover from this.
The Second Ranked of the Nine Divine Generals had just been defeated, and there was no way that other reinforcements would come rushing in.
The Nine Divine Generals were mighty warriors, the pinnacle of the Vollachian Empire’s military might.
The strength of each of the Nine Divine Generals was equivalent to a sizable army. There was no chance that the Empire would dispatch two or three actual large armies to deal with a single situation. This was the end.
The balance had been tipped. The only thing left to do was to find a way to deal with the withdrawal that would come next.
Todd: [What to do next?]
In the shadows of the building from which he had watched the developments at the City Hall, Todd pondered quietly.
In all honesty, he was seething with a mixture of anger and frustration, but letting it out would not solve anything.
Now that the reason for his return was gone, the smart thing to do would be to get the hell out of there.
Jamal: [Oi, Todd… you bastard, you’re not planning to run away, are you?]
The search for any words with which Jamal would be persuaded had been fruitless, the latter with a blue vein popping from his forehead.
Initially, convincing Jamal had been painstaking, even right after the fall, as of the moment the flag of the City Hall had been burned.
And yet, back then, it had been easy to guide Jamal’s emotions still.. Reluctant as he was, Todd had still managed to make him obey, and he had reluctantly put away his half-drawn swords.
However, this was not the case this time, where things had repeated themselves, where now he’d let Jamal draw his sheathed blades once again. Even if Todd told him to put away his blades and turn around quietly again, he would not listen.
In fact, depending on what was said next, he might turn the point of the blade he pulled out against Todd.
If that happened, there would be no reason to not kill Jamal. ――His future brother-in-law. Killing him would be the least favored path.
If he were not brought back safely as well, keeping the promise that had been made would not be possible.
Todd: [Let’s go with that.]
Todd: […I understand how you feel. But you need to calm down. Now that General First-Class Arakiya’s been defeated, there’s no chance for us to win even if we go in. Do you want to make your sister sad by dying in vain?]
An attempt to persuade him using the love of family as a shield.
As soon as he stared at his opponent, hoping that this would work, an arm quietly stretched out and grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt. Then, with a grunt, the one-eyed Jamal bared his fangs as he drew Todd toward his face.
Jamal: [Hey, if you think I’m gonna back off anytime you mention Katya, you’re definitely wrong.]
Todd: [I see… Too bad.]
Shaking his head loosely, Todd announced his disappointment rather sincerely.
If it made Jamal feel any better to get a couple of hits in on him, Todd would allow it, but it seemed Jamal possessed no intention of doing that, as he instead clicked his tongue and pushed Todd away.
There didn’t seem to be any need for him to be so direct with things, but there was no way to stop him.
As it was, Todd turned to face Jamal, and thought about climbing over the wall of the citadel on his own.
Fortunately, he had already grasped the geography of the city back when they were trying to find any secret paths. Though Arakiya had not achieved her goal, she too had managed to create some confusion. In fact, it would be easier to escape than before Arakiya’s arrival.
Apparently, Jamal would be making one more rampage to get himself noticed.
Todd: [Jamal, I’m sorry, but I’m leaving. I’ll say it again, but you probably won’t listen: you’ll die a dog’s death. Even if you go in there, you won’t be able to kill them all…]
Jamal: [You dumbass! I’m not gonna do something so worthless! I’m going to rescue General First-Class Arakiya.]
He had expected meaningless sentimentality, however, the other had blurted out some unexpected words instead.
Todd stopped in his tracks and stared at Jamal’s face, from whom slurred out a “What?”,
Jamal: [Did you really think I was gonna charge in with the resolve to die?]
Todd: [Yes, I did. I thought you wanted to die like a dog.]
Jamal: [Cut the crap! I’m taking advantage of your clever thinking, but I’ve got a brain to think for myself too! I can tell the difference between what I can and can’t do.]
Jamal seriously surprised Todd with his unexpected statement.
There were some accomplishments to be seen in his wartime experience, but other than that, he was so direct and unsophisticated that Todd thought him to be a man unknowing of what thinking was supposed to be.
Jamal: [It can’t be helped if you’re a coward, I guess Katya wasn’t a good judge of character. I’m gonna rescue the General First-Class. She’s got a nice ass.]
Todd: [――Wait, I’m coming with you.]
Jamal: [Oh!? Don’t tell me, you’re not satisfied with Katya’s ass…?]
Todd: [I had no intention of going along with your suicidal mission, but if it isn’t one, then it becomes a different story.]
Not dealing with the disgraceful allegations, Todd sealed Jamal’s mouth with his palm. Forcing him to shut up, Todd assembled a schedule of actions that followed the change of plans in his mind.
It was not in Todd’s nature to do things in the spur of the moment in the first place. Sadly, however, the more time he spent with Jamal, the more experience he gained in the field of improvisation.
If Jamal was going to die an honourable death on his own to retake the City Hall, he would have left him alone. But if his goal was to retake Arakiya, that was a different story.
The situation in City Hall was slowly clearing up.
The only things to watch out for were Natsumi and the red woman. It would be suicide to take action in their presence. However, it did not mean that their enemy had been able to resolve the situation unscathed either.
If they forgot to maintain vigilance, there would be an opportunity to take advantage of.
Jamal: [I’m gonna go in and make a scene. If we take advantage of that opportunity and rescue the General First-Class…]
Todd: [I was impressed earlier, but that’s all gone now… There are two people we need to be wary of. You must avoid doing anything around them. What, there’s no need to worry.]
Todd’s lips loosened as he looked at Jamal from the gap between his fingers, as he chided him for this barbaric distraction. He poked his white canine tooth with the tip of his tongue and smirked.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arakiya being taken, even though she was dying.
If she was not dead, there was a way to get her out.
――It was easy to sneak into the City Hall.
After all, it was where they had been headquartered, even if it had been for a short time.
Todd usually had a habit of grasping the geography and layout of any place he stopped by even once. He did not feel safe unless he had an idea of where to run or hide.
That was why, after the camp in the Buddheim Jungle had been burnt down and he entered Guaral, he visited every part of the city, including City Hall, and constructed a mental map.
He knew where to kill unnoticed, and where to hide to avoid detection.
No matter where and what kind of threats they would encounter, he always had a way to murder, and a way to escape.
As he snuck inside the City Hall, he crushed a few watchmen here and there.
Standing guard were not the Imperial Soldiers nor the People of Shudraq, rather, that task went to guards of the local government that had been conducting the security of the city. They had been called in as soldiers by the disturbing elements who had caused the city to fall―― Though no longer could the fence-sitters they’d used be called a fine “Rebel Army”.
Jamal: [I ain’t gonna show you any mercy at all.]
Jamal spat in annoyance as he snapped a sentinel’s neck backward in a two-handed grip.
Jamal was prouder of being an Imperial Soldier than of being Imperial Nobility. His anger towards the guards cooperating with the rebels that were fighting against the Empire was immeasurable.
They had been cooperating with the Imperial Soldiers before the fall of the city, so it was understandable that he would be angry at how quickly they had changed their tune.
Todd: [Well, that’s not a way of thinking I have.]
He only killed them because he had to, and if it were not required, he would not have done so.
They could not be blamed for switching sides so quickly if they were just following the stronger side to survive. Of course, they had to pay for their wrong decision with their life.
So, the pair made up of Jamal and himself proceeded to their destination while eliminating the guards in their path.
There was a prison in the basement of the City Hall, and it was customary for criminals awaiting trial by the City Mayor to be placed there. It was highly likely that Arakiya, having been taken prisoner, would likewise be held captive there.
Naturally, an iron cell was no better than a cage made of sugar against someone from the Nine Divine Generals, but even so, they could not just be giving all the hospitality of a guest room.
Todd might have done the same as well――,
Jamal: [――There she is, the General First-Class.]
In the underground space downstairs, several cells were placed on both sides of the hall. The lesser criminals were placed in order from the front, while the most dangerous ones were securely at the far end.
Naturally, the cell at the far end, where Arakiya was kept, was heavily guarded.
Unlike before, the person standing in front of it was not a guard, but a Shudraqian woman. She was a large woman with yellow-dyed hair, and he could tell with just a glance that she was very skilled.
In addition, due to the layout, it was impossible to reach Arakiya’s cell without being detected by the woman.
In other words――,
Jamal: [I guess that’s the end of our little sneaking around.]
Todd: […You, why do you look so happy?]
It was hard to understand Jamal’s happy attitude when an inevitable battle was imminent.
Todd’s desire was to avoid killing, and he did not want to fight if he could help it. If both were inevitable, he would choose the easier and less dangerous way.
Yet Jamal looked as if he enjoyed jumping into danger.
He was probably thinking that the more dangerous it was, the more blood he would shed, and the more loyalty he would show to the Empire.
Jamal: [It’s obvious, ain’t it? Fight like an Imperial Soldier and win the war! Only then can I be proud to say that I’m an Imperial Soldier.]
Jamal: [Oi, what are you surprised about?]
Todd: [No, it was almost exactly what I thought it’d be.]
It was rare to find a person whose words and deeds were so consistent.
Jamal looked uncomfortable at Todd’s answer, but quickly shook his head. Then he traced his fingers through his stubble and snorted.
Jamal: [Ah. Well then, you’re the one who’s having second thoughts, ain’t you?]
Todd: [I can’t go along with a suicide mission. If it’s not that, I’ll think about it. So I’m not having second thoughts.]
Jamal: [You were trying to escape, but you didn’t.]
Todd: [I decided to bring back a souvenir while on the run. The plan hasn’t changed.]
Jamal: [You say this, and you say that… Hk.]
Jamal gritted his teeth angrily, his eye bloodshot.
With that look on his face, Todd detached his attention from him and focused on the target at hand.
The woman standing guard was thick, and her limbs were protected by a reasonable amount of flesh. Given a Shudraqian’s athletic ability, even Todd’s axe might not be able to dice even one of her limbs.
Inevitably, then, the sweet spot would be from the neck up.
There were options of smashing her head, decapitating her, or splitting her face, but――,
Jamal: [――This is where I come in, ain’t it?]
With that, Jamal foolishly stepped forward.
Todd wondered for a moment if he should call him off, but in the end he said nothing. In fact, the best move would be to push Jamal into action, get her attention, and then proceed from there.
It would save a lot of time and trouble, and if he was willing to do it, there was no need to discourage him.
Holly: [Mmmm, who are you~!?]
Jamal: [Do I gotta answer that? You people have defiled the Sword Wolf of the Vollachian Empire. Don’t you dare think you’ve won in a battlefield I wasn’t in!]
Holly: [A strange guy’s here~!]
Looking at Jamal, who had advanced into the hall, the Shudraqian woman held a large spear at her side. On the other hand, Jamal, who was facing her, drew his twin swords and danced with a maniacal smile on his face.
Jamal’d had his fair share of problems, but his abilities were renowned. At the very least, as long as his opponent was a single member of the Shudraq, he would not fall short.
Jamal: [Take this! And this! And this!]
Holly: […Hk! You’re a strong guy~!]
The raging twin swords slashed toward the Shudraqian woman countless times while Jamal barked in a loud voice. The woman sidestepped them with her spear-handling, but she was on the defensive.
She must be someone with a certain level of skill, to keep an eye on Arakiya. However, it seemed she had not expected anyone to show up to retake their prisoner as soon as she was placed in confinement.
Additionally, the lack of reliable troops was also a critical flaw for the rebels.
Todd: [Nevertheless, they’re not useful assets at the moment.]
Moistening his lips with his tongue, Todd leapt out from behind Jamal and jumped straight toward the cell, passing by the two of them as they fiercely clashed weapons, sparks flying.
Holly: [Ah! His comrade… Kya!]
Jamal: [Do you have time to look around? Ah!]
With the assistance of an unusually witty Jamal, Todd slammed his axe into the lock of the cell with all his might.
There was no time to look for the key. He could not destroy the cell, but he could at least break the lock.
There was a dull sound and a stiff response, as the tip of the axe cracked loudly. But instead, the lock of the cell broke with a flourish, and Todd jumped in past the creaking door.
Todd: [General First-Class Arakiya!]
Inside the cell, a girl lay face down upon a simple bed.
Even if they belonged to the same Imperial Army, a mere Soldier would not have many opportunities to meet a General. Even a General Third-Class was a commander of an army. A General Second-Class, let alone a General First-Class, would be something from above the clouds.
Therefore, this was the first time that Todd had seen one of the Generals First-Class, one of the Nine Divine Generals, up close.
The reason why the unconscious Arakiya was lying on her face, was because of the slash she had sustained on her back, covered with a painful scar which had been scorched shut on top of that.
The wound had been cauterized at the same time it had been received, becoming a horrible scar. ――If she had not been injured by a scorching blade, she would not have gotten this kind of wound.
Todd: [That red woman, what’d she…?]
That woman was no ordinary person, and the power of that ornate sword she held was also extraordinary.
There were no further details, and Arakiya did not answer when called. So Todd had no choice but to pick up Arakiya’s body, then running straight out of the cell.
Todd: [I got her! Jamal, let’s go!]
Holly: [I’m not going to let you… Ouch!]
Jamal: [That’s why! Looking away again! Don’t you dare! Neeeee―― Hk!]
The Shudraqian woman’s mind was momentarily distracted as Arakiya was taken away.
In a moment, Jamal jumped at the woman like a flash with his twin swords. She immediately held her large spear vertically to prevent it, but the impact ripped the spear from the woman’s grasp, and Jamal’s backward kick pierced her unguarded torso as he sprung up.
The woman let out a small scream as her body slammed into the wall of the prison; her head hit the ground with force, and she fell motionlessly limp.
Looking over at her, Todd was about to order Jamal to finish her, but――,
Todd: [――Hey, there’s a commotion upstairs. Did they find the body of the guard?]
Jamal: [Tch, we can’t stay around. The General First-Class is…]
Todd: [She’s unconscious, but not dead. That should be enough.]
Answering Jamal’s question in a straightforward manner, Todd ran out of the dungeon. Jamal, who was ahead of him, was in charge of clearing the way for Todd, who easily overtook him.
???: [Who in the world… Guah!]
Jamal: [Outta the way, you dimwitted bastards!]
The guard who looked into the basement was blown away by a slash, and Todd ran through the City Hall behind Jamal as they became increasingly alert.
Unfortunately, he did not have the leisure of caring for Arakiya’s body as he carried her. If she was one of the Nine Divine Generals, her body would probably be strong enough. He just had to trust his endurance and run.
Jamal: [We’re outside! Where are we going?]
Todd: [Main gate’s closed. ――Follow me.]
Stitching their way through the dark and tumultuous night of the city, Todd jumped into the back alleys with Jamal. He made full use of the narrow streets and side roads to mislead the enemies tracking their whereabouts.
The battle had just ended, the chaos was still raging, and there were at least three-hundred identically-dressed Imperial Soldiers in the city. It would be difficult to tell them apart.
All that was left was――,
The moment he heard the sound of wind, a blade swung right behind Todd.
He turned around, and there stuck just right below his feet was a single, thick, large arrow. Someone had cut it down. It had been aimed at Todd, carrying insane momentum, and Jamal had been the one to swiftly deal with it.
That had been a precise shot, aimed at the two who were running and hiding in the city.
It was, beyond the shadow of doubt, the same archer who had shot Todd in the torso a few days prior.
――They were being observed.
If that were the case, they could not move carelessly.
If they left the alley, that would make them an easy target, and Todd, with Arakiya in tow, would have difficulty moving with agility. Even if they tried to kill the archer, the enemy was located at the City Hall―― and there would be no option but to return there for the third time.
So, should they abandon Arakiya and flee? That would be the way most likely to save themselves, but if that was the case, they would not know what they were risking their lives for to begin with.
In light of the current situation, he searched for an optimal way to take action, and the one that would yield the most results was――,
Todd: [――Jamal, you know we’re being targeted.]
Jamal: [Yeah, they’re a pain in the ass. They’re too far away for me to kill them, but if we don’t, they’ll just shoot at us one way or another. What should we do?]
Todd: […Then, there’s only one way.]
Jamal narrowed his single eye at Todd’s words.
To Jamal’s gaze that sought a solution, Todd exhaled deeply and closed one eye,
Todd: [As soon as we jump out, the enemy’s going to shoot at us. I’ll have you get ahead of me and cut off their arrows just like before. Not just one shot, but two or three will follow. I’ll run as fast as I can so I don’t shake the General First-Class off.]
Jamal: [Huh, that doesn’t sound like you. That’s really your move? Smells of desperation, no?]
Todd: [Ultimately, that’s what happens when you run out of cards. But I’m still lucky, aren’t I?]
Jamal: [Huh? What do you mean?]
Todd: [You got a pretty strong hand left, you know.]
The strategy he presented was almost entirely based on Jamal’s swordsmanship.
If Jamal were incapable of cutting off the flying arrows, they would both perish. It was insane, given Todd’s beliefs, to risk his life in such a reckless manner.
However, that was his suggestion. With Jamal’s swordsmanship, the odds were not null.
Jamal: […I knew Katya wasn’t a good judge of character. I thought you were smarter than that.]
Todd: [Don’t talk bad about my fiancée, onii-sama.]
Todd replied to Jamal scratching his head, his cheeks twisted. Hearing this, Jamal let out a short “Haa”, and then gripped the hilts of his twin swords once again.
Then, turning his imposing back to Todd.
Jamal: [Aight, I’m in. Sometimes a stupid bet ain’t so bad.]
Todd: [If I wasn’t here, you’d probably be making all those types of bets.]
Jamal: [Shut the hell up. ――Shut up and stay behind my back.]
Jamal’s spirits quietly rose as they exchanged hateful words.
Watching his back, Todd tightened his hold on Arakiya’s body.
Todd: [Jamal, when you get out of the alley, run straight. After that, when you get to the end, take the right road. That should give you enough time to catch your breath.]
Hearing these instructions, Jamal pondered on them in his head, slowly closed his eye, then re-opened it as he stepped forward.
As soon as he stepped out of the alley, a single arrows, clad in a gale, pierced toward Jamal.
Jamal responded to it with amazing reflexes, and cut it off with a clash of his twin swords. The impact bounced onto Jamal’s wrist, and his clenched teeth chattered as he laughed like a rabid dog.
The sensation of blood burning, heart leaping, and life boiling, overtook Jamal.
His extreme concentration made the world retard, and he felt as if he could feel every drop of sweat that ran down his skin, every grain of sand that flew around, and even the existence of air that should have been invisible.
One after another, a storm of arrows poured down like a deluge.
Stepping on the ground, swinging his sword as if dancing, slicing the arrows and striking them down.
What ensued was a sword dance, the sword dance of Jamal Aurélie.
If things had gone well, they would have been able to enjoy the dance of the dancer who had been invited to the City Hall, the following day.
Jamal laughed at the thought that it had been ruined, and that he was the one dancing instead. But it was a dance with all his heart, a dance with all his body, a sword fight with all his energy.
Todd likewise marveled at Jamal’s efforts as he furiously handled the attack.
Todd followed without raising his voice, as a storm of lethal arrows rained down on him. This was a sign that he knew that if Jamal were distracted, it would directly lead to his death.
So Todd pushed Jamal away from his consciousness and focused all his energy on avoiding the impending “death”.
Straight ahead, evade, strike off, step in, jump, dispel, and cut open.
Jamal: [End of the corr―― Hk.]
Miraculously, they had finished the straight path of death and hit the end of the indicated path.
The passage of time was vague, and the sword dance must have only lasted several seconds, even if it felt like it had persisted for hours. However, they had only broken through the first barrier. Refusing to relax, Jamal did as he was told and turned right at the end of the road, where――,
――At the end of the broken path, there stood a group of Shudraqians, their spears trained on them.
It would be difficult to handle that many Shudraqians with that archer aiming at them. One could say it was impossible.
He was prepared to fight hard until he ran out of steam, but even if he did, he could not set any of it in reserve. He had no idea that he would be so perfectly anticipated, and it seemed that luck had completely abandoned him.
Jamal: [Even if you strut around being all sorts of a smartass, in the end, luck’ll run out on you, huh… Heh, it’s in vain. But, it wasn’t all that bad.]
Checking the feel of the twin swords in his bloodied hands, Jamal spilled this out to Todd behind him.
It wasn’t bad at all, he had said, and he meant it.
In many ways, Todd’s thoughts and actions had been overwhelming and frustrating.
In the end, however, he chose to exert himself like an Imperial Soldier.
Jamal: [I’m sorry about Katya, but it can’t be helped. She’s part of Imperial Nobility as well. I’m sure she was prepared for this to happen to you and me.]
Thinking of the sister he had left behind in the Imperial Capital, Jamal felt a faint tingle in his chest. However, it was soon drowned out by the will to fight the enemy in front of him, and the smell of blood that coated everything.
He was relieved for that. ――He was, to the bone, a Sword Wolf of the Vollachian Empire.
Jamal: [Let’s do this, Todd. Let’s at least show them what we’re made of, for one last time.]
Leaning forward, Jamal licked the blood flowing from his eyepatch-covered right eye.
Then, fiercely, he jumped headlong into the enemy, as to display his final prestige as an Imperial Soldier.
Deadly attacks rained down on him like a storm, but he no longer held any regrets.
The fact that he had been able to be himself till the very end, had been the greatest prize for Jamal.
???: […You were an idiot until the very end, weren’t you?]
Hearing Jamal’s fierce roar in the distance, Todd muttered so as he dove through the wall.
The hole he had passed through was collapsed immediately afterwards, and he carefully erased all traces of his presence, so that he could not be pursued. They in the city would probably be occupied with Jamal for a while, so there should be time to escape.
It was just like Jamal had stated.
Todd would never entrust his life to a desperate plan, even if he were dead. ――No, he would never do such a thing, precisely to avoid dying.
Todd: [If I let them chase you out of the alley, they’ll be distracted. Well, I feel sorry for Katya…]
The promise to bring back his brother-in-law would go unfulfilled, and his fiancée would be terribly heartbroken.
In order to comfort her, he wished to return to the Imperial Capital as soon as possible.
Fortunately, in return for losing Jamal, he had been able to find another way to return to the Imperial Capital.
It was a wildcard that could lead to a much bigger foothold than Jamal’s current one, which was that he had been on the verge of promotion to General Third-Class.
Todd: [Oh dear, you look so innocent. Even so, if you’re one of the Nine Divine Generals, then the number of people you’ve killed would be more than a hundred or two.]
In Todd’s arms, Arakiya’s tears flowed from her closed eye. As he watched the tears roll down her cheeks, the vague thought that his current companion was wearing an eye patch, just like his previous one, passed Todd’s mind.
After thinking about it, Todd suddenly inclined his head.
Todd: [On which side did Jamal have that eyepatch…?]