Tsurugi no Joou to Rakuin no Ko:Volume 1 Chapter 4
Chapter 4 – Flag of the Silver Hen
In the freezing weather before dawn, Chris and Minerva arrived before a conifer forest. As there were soldiers giving them a chase, they could not be distracted by searches for horses or camping tools. Even when it was further from dawn, they could still hear dense clatter of hooves and sounds of conversation of the enemy soldiers from below the cliff they were walking on across the river.
"Oi, but aren't we chasing the Soul Reaper? Didn't people say that she wiped out a squad of almost a hundred person singlehandedly?"
"It seems like she is using a huge sword that's like a steel plate. It's unmistakable now, she's probably the Salt Sprayer......"
"Hah! That's just a rumor! Stop scaring yourself!"
"Is that so? I saw her with a kid she found god knows where, but escaped with him without killing him. Would she do something like that if she were really some kind of Salt-Spraying Soul Reaper? Speaking of which, they weren't on horses, so they couldn't have ran away too far......"
Minerva was lying down behind a rock, and couldn't help but sigh when she heard the conversation.
"Hey, was the one you saw really a woman? You didn't make a mistake, did you?"
"Why should I lie? She wore clothes like that of a dancer's, and was a young, pretty little missy as well. Hehe, if she really was a Soul Reaper, I won't mind dying if I could have a round with her before I die!"
"But say, if we really catch that Salt Sprayer, I wonder how much money we can get."
The two soldiers exchanged gazes after saying that.
Minerva and Chris pressed close to the back of the rock on the cliff, silently waiting for the sounds of conversation and illumination of torches to distance themselves. The rope that was tied to Chris's neck was held in Minerva's hands. As he was already Minerva's captive, his hands were tied up with a rope as well. Being forced to navigate the pitch-black edge of a cliff in such a situation definitely wasn't easy. Because of that, with soldiers in pursuit, Chris could only obediently follow what Minerva decided on. After all, they had to conceal themselves in a place they could hide in before the sun rose.
Chris and Minerva still couldn't rest properly even when they trekked all the way into a forest. Silhouettes of soldiers holding torches on horses that raised clumps of soil when they flew past could still be seen outside the forest time after time. It seemed like the enemy army had sent quite a number of search parties in pursuit of them.
—Is it because she is with me......
Such a question couldn't help but surface in Chris's mind. He thought, if it was just Minerva alone, she should be able to escape safely.
"Stop thinking nonsense over there!"
Minerva called and pulled on the rope on Chris's neck, pushing him into a hollow formed by thick roots under a large tree. The space in the hollow was rather wide, and was enough to contain the both of them.
Morning was arriving. The morning light that passed through the gaps between the leaves illuminated the whirling mist. Twitters resounded in the forest. Although the both of them were hiding in a dense forest full of trees, if they walked wherever they wished before darkness fell, the enemy would definitely see them in an instant. Thus, they planned to hide in the hollow until night before continuing to move.
"We can probably escape if we cross the country borderline......" Minerva said.
"Where can you return? Aren't you the only one left as the whole Royal army was annihilated? In the siege, the Celestial army had troops more than ten times you had—"
"So what if they had ten times the troops? We can definitely break through with that amount of people."
—She's saying that her team is still able to escape even with the blockade of the layers of overlapping nets that are like overlaying silk cloths? Could such a strong unit exist in the Principality Union army formed by such a motley crowd? Minerva's statement couldn't help but surprise Chris.
"They're the Order of the Silver Egg, after all."
Minerva answered in a mutter. Chris was unable to suppress a gasp at the name that she mentioned. It was a name that he was extremely familiar with.
Order of the Silver Egg— it was an extremely peculiar group of knights under the flag of Zackaria. The said order used the emblem of a silver hen on their flag, and was at first a well-known joke in the Celestial army. They heard that the order comprised of mostly women and children, as though it was a group of sightseers who went on tours everywhere. They thought that it might be because of the fact that the order consisted of mostly people like this, they naively used emblem of a silver hen on their military flags, and was actually a crowd of innocent fools.
However, when the Seven Countries of the East united at Princinopolis, blowing the horn of revolt against the Celestial Kingdom, the Order of the Silver Egg was enlisted into the Principality Union army as well, and turned from a hilarious joke to a synonym of terror.
The Order of the Silver Egg was shrouded in mystery. Nobody knew how many troops the unit actually had. They accomplished many unbelievable feats. For instance, the Celestial army was unexpectedly ambushed from behind when they launched an assault on them. A force of about seven times their manpower was sent to attack them, but fell into the situation where the whole army lost completely. All of them were rumors with seemingly exaggerated contents. However, they did indeed experience many important battles of varying importance and contributed quite a lot. That was unmistakable.
Because of that, both the Salt Spraying Soul Reaper and the flag of the Silver Hen were terrifying existences to the soldiers of the Celestial army. Chris never thought that there would actually be such a close connection between the two.
"They can definitely break the siege of the enemy forces......" Minerva approached Chris's side, repeating the same words once again while she bent down to sit, as though saying it for herself.
"So...... You're planning to bring me back to the Order of the Silver Egg?" Chris asked.
Minerva's answer caused Chris to bite his lip and lower his head. He was still hesitating.
Chris did not want to expand his social connections at all, and people definitely won't welcome him when they see him as well. If he stayed in the same crew for an extended period of time, things like the Beast Insignias on him and the source of its power would definitely be exposed under the sunlight one day. After that, he would be damned, have rocks thrown at him, and cursed in a malicious manner, just like the night when the villagers realized his existence......
He was unable to take such results. Hence, Chris would never allow himself to stay in the same team for a long time, and always navigated between various battlefields alone. Chris was troubled when he found out that Minerva was not working alone.
"......Why did you leave the Order you belong to yesterday night? Why did you break into the large formation of the Celestial army by yourself?" Chris asked.
"Because I was supposed to die alone in a sea of blood!"
After hearing that, Minerva grabbed the rope on Chris's neck and roared:
"If I don't leave the Order I belong to when I have such a fate, what would that result in? They will be dragged in, dying by my side!"
—That means, she feels that since she would die anyway, it was better to rush into enemy territory all alone without the company of her comrades, huh...... Chris brooded over her words.
However, after that, Minerva met Chris, and the fate that should have been inescapable was torn to pieces by the insignias on Chris, and was swallowed up. That was another unbelievable result.
—I thought that the beast in me would only devour the surrounding people's good luck, forcing the fate of death on them? Then why did it only eat Minerva's fate of dying, allowing her to survive?
—Is it because Minerva is a special existence?
Chris knew that the topic had already ended, but felt rather conflicted as he was about to continue the topic. However, he still chose to finish his words:
"But I was at the battlefield that time. If you kept staying in your Order, you wouldn't have met me, and wouldn't have encountered your destined fate, would you?"
—If so, I wouldn't have to feel so confused like I am right now.....
—If so, I only had to stand alone in the forsaken night all alone, and wouldn't have to face a situation like this......
"Those are words from someone who cannot foresee the future."
Minerva spat out those words indifferently, pushing Chris deeper into the hollow at the same time.
"If I continue to stay in the Order of the Silver Egg, you will encounter the Order because of my existence. That is how destiny works. This is a law of nature."
Chris swallowed after hearing that, his frozen gaze fixated on Minerva's face that was turned away.
—This is a law of nature.
—The change of all things in this world had been set from the start.
Such a statement was already common in the world. The same words were often used as lies or excuses of self-consolation by fat priests in churches or farmers whose properties were burnt down or taken away because of the war. However, the words spoken by the red-haired girl was heavy because of the exposed truth.
"......You, can really see things what will happen in the future?"
"Well, not everything."
Minerva erected her knees, nodded to Chris in affirmation.
"I can only see the future when it is related to pain." She said.
"......Related to pain?"
"That is correct. It includes situations when I might be hurt, when I might die, or when my body is about to feel pain."
Chris relaxed his breathing, trying to understand the significance of the words spoken by Minerva.
"And I cannot see it any time I wish to. For instance, when I am sleeping, my eyes closed, the predictions will be presented to my senses in the form of pain, and then the scene of myself dying will appear."
—So that's why. So that's why she used the word 'see' when she said that she would be killed by me......
"Apart from that, I can also see for an instant, under what circumstances would I encounter death at places like in battlefields."
Minerva murmured about the powers of her foresight, and hugged her large sword that was as tall as her in her arms.
Chris's heart was chilled, and couldn't help but shudder. He never thought that the Soul Reaper who sprayed salt on the battlefield would be such a terrifying person who could avoid harm due to the ability to predict the trails of javelins and arrows. And he did indeed witness the ability during their battle.
"So I cannot see the fate of everything. In fact, I don't want this kind of power at all."
The heat she breathed out when she spoke condensed to mist on the blade in her lap.
—Predicting a future related to pain......
—If her power of foresight included the pain of death that she might encounter each time, such a power is just too cruel......
"But I cannot see now." Minerva said: "All of the scenes that would appear before crisis struck have all disappeared. So, if we are noticed by the enemy now, even I cannot guarantee that we can escape in safety......"
"You don't need to risk yourself running away with me."
"Shut up. I'm definitely bringing you back. How can I easily give away my own life in such a meaningless arrangement of fate? I am bringing you away just because of this!"
As she spoke, Minerva's finger circled past the huge sword and pointed at Chris unceremoniously.
—She...... Was she in a pinch because of the pursuit of something......
Even though she wanted to cast of her fate of dying and survive, for some reason, the pale face reminded Chris of his face reflected in the pool of blood.
—So we are the same.....
—She and I are connected by an inseparable destiny. Only by eating each other's set fates can we start our new way of living, living on in a way that we wish......
—That is indeed so......
Chris still had his head lowered. He raised his gaze slightly to an angle so that he could see Minerva from, responding to the red-haired girl who seemed to be muttering to the large sword in her hands:
"Just bring me along— Let me stay by your side forevermore."
—I won't let you die......
That moment, the resolve in Chris's heart allowed him to shoulder any discrimination that the members of the Order of the Silver Egg might do to him— It'll be fine as long as I restrain myself. Just let me stay by Minerva's side as her slave, having only her in my eyes, forever listening to her words, forever answering only to her words......
"I would like to ask you not to tell anyone of the fact that I have the brandings on me." Chris said.
"Of course I won't! But if you ate up any of the lives in the Order of the Silver Egg, I will definitely chop off your head there and then!"
—Great, that's great!
—Before that day arrives, just let me devour the death shrouded on Minerva— Let me protect her in this way, and live on!
"Then please untie the ropes on my neck and hands." Chris said.
"Why? What a joke! You're a prisoner, you know!"
"I won't run away. Besides, it's hard to move while being tied up like this, and it'll be troublesome if we're unable to fight if we meet any enemies along the way."
"Shut up. Who would dare to trust that you wouldn't run away? Besides, even if we had to fight the enemy, there aren't any weapons on you as well."
"I can snatch—"
"Stop whining and close your eyes!" Minerva shouted before Chris managed to finish his words, stabbing her large sword at the entrance of the hollow at the same time, "We'll continue moving after night falls!"
After saying that, Minerva stayed silent. However, Chris realized in an instant that she did not plan to sleep at all, because her jet black eyes were still fixated on the sky that gradually turned white between the leaves.
".......Aren't you sleepy? We've already journeyed throughout the night." Chris asked.
"How can I sleep with you beside me!"
"I won't do anything bad."
"I hate sleeping! I'd always see signs of my death as soon as I close my eyes....."
Hearing Minerva's answer, Chris could only stay mute while biting his lips as well.
—In her lifetime...... How many times did she see the omens for her death? How many times did she see herself being killed by me......
However, even though Minerva's manner was tough, she started to doze off as her consciousness blurred as well. Although she tried to hang on by supporting herself with her sword, after awhile, her upper torso fell to the side.
Flustered, Chris could only catch Minerva with his chest as his hands were tied up by rope. The warmth of Minerva's body radiated on his chest. She gave a slight snore due to the uncomfortable sleeping position. Chris looked at her face and relaxed for some reason.
—If things are really as she said, why did she come to the battlefield with her sword......
—If she left the battlefield, she should be able to avoid her own death, right......?
On the battlefield, the signs of Minerva's death were unavoidable. If she avoided it once, there would be a second and third future of death assaulting her...... If so, why did she stand on the battlefields filled with death again and again?
—That's right. I remember that she once said that she wanted to eliminate the houses of the Celestial Kings...... Maybe she has some sort of irreconcilable enmity?
In truth, there was another thing about Minerva that Chris felt curious of ever since meeting her. The manner of Minerva's speech was similar to that of a lady borne of nobility— Chris had once served some local nobility for some time as well, and had once learnt reading, writing and some etiquette between nobility due to their affection for him at the said mansion. Because of that, he could see that Minerva's every action was different from ordinary girls.
—Is she a girl from high class nobility? No......
Chris looked at Minerva's eyes closed in deep sleep and suddenly noticed that one by one, unusual coincidences were all focused on this girl.
Being able to see death......
Predicting the future......
The Oracle Decree of the Celestial......
She wanted to destroy the Celestial......
—You've got to be kidding me.
Chris shook his head furiously. He couldn't believe it.
All along, Chris believed that the Oracle Decree of the Celestial was just a swindle, and many people had the same thought as him as well.
In fact, many people thought that the declaration that the Celestial could predict the future because of divine revelation was a total joke, a symbol of power created by the Celestial Kingdom to make the nobility bow down under it. Not only Chris, everyone thought so.
However, his encounter with Minerva allowed Chris to understand that her power to see death was real. It was something that he understood after seeing it with his very eyes, and after his battle with her. He finally realized that there really were such powers of foresight in the world.
—But, how can this be possible......
—Something like this can't happen, can it?
Chris prayed unknowingly. He did not wish for the slender girl leaning on his chest at that moment to shoulder such a heavy burden.
Sounds of footsteps stepping on withered leaves rang in the woods, waking Chris from his dreams.
In the pitch-black forest, sounds of rustling due to the interlacing branches swaying continually could be heard. Moisture drifted in the air. It was raining.
That moment, Minerva was still leaning on his chest, shaking slightly in her sleep. Chris originally thought of waking her secretly, but footfalls rang by his ears again. This time, there was the voice of a man as well......
"......That branch just now had bloodstains as well."
"How nice if there's a wolfhound here......"
"On a rainy day, won't the scent be flushed away even if they left one?"
That moment, Minerva suddenly raised her head with her long hair that got messy in her sleep, waking up with a jolt on Chris, her gaze turning bright in an instant. Perhaps because she realized that her head was leaning on Chris, she frowned with her face flushed. Just when she was about to speak, Chris signalled her to remain silent with his fingers.
Minerva looked towards the entrance of the hollow, and subconsciously retreated deeper into the hollow— retreating to Chris's side.
"Since there's so much blood, won't that guy have died already? If so, we can easily claim our reward."
"Yes, Lord Cornelius said that he doesn't care if they're dead or alive."
"But I heard that we can get twenty pieces of pure gold Brigaeden coins if we catch this Salt Sprayer person alive! Why don't we get our reward there? After all, we won't be able to get much if we hand her to the General."
"Right now, everyone is putting the celebration party aside, searching for the people without an aim like headless flies."
"So it's because of that that the reinforcements still aren't here?"
"Isn't that nice? If so, we can just divide the twenty gold coins between us. Anyway, just don't let anyone else get it. Let's hurry up and search!"
Minerva couldn't help but breath in sharply when she heard their conversation. Even Chris heard it. Her slender fingers were tightly clenched on Chris's chest. Until the sounds of the soldiers' conversation and footfalls faded, and was hidden in the fall of rain, Minerva finally pushed Chris away and stood up from the ground.
"W-What did you do to me when I was sleeping!"
"......I didn't do anything at all. You were the one who fell asleep."
"Rubbish! How could I have—"
Minerva grabbed the rope on Chris's neck, and questioned him bluntly. However, it seemed like she knew that she was the one who fell asleep on top of him as well, and thus released the rope without finishing her words,
"......Blast it, how could I have fallen asleep in front of a person like you......."
She couldn't forgive herself for showing her embarrassing side, and gnashed her teeth while scratching her blade with her fingernails in annoyance.
"I didn't wake you up since I saw that you were sleeping soundly."
"What did you say!"
—Is she angry? What is there to be angry about...... Chris distanced himself from Minerva in surprise, shrinking into the hollow.
"......Y-You really didn't do anything to me, right...... S-Say, touch my hair and the likes......"
"I said that I didn't. Can't you see that my hands are all tied up......"
"Ah, hmm......" Minerva looked rather embarrassed, with her feet fidgeting restlessly on the ground making pitter patter noises.
"Did you have any dreams......"
She pursed her lips, hugging her large sword and her knees in her arms.
"I did not dream of my death...... That was first...... Blast it, why— You, what is—" Minerva said.
"Isn't...... Isn't that great?"
"N-Not at all— " She furiously raised her head, her gaze meeting that of Chris's in coincidence. Her cheeks reddened in an instant, and she lowered her head quickly,
"W-What, that is none of your concern!"
"Actually, it's the same for me." Chris stared at the side of Minerva's face, "Even though there's an outsider present, I couldn't imagine that I could actually fall asleep as well."
—And having such an intimate distance between the two of us as well, being so close that we could feel each other's warmth......
"I just feel that there is this feeling that makes me feel safe with you...... It's really mysterious......" He said.
—Maybe because Minerva is stronger that me......
—Or maybe because the beast in me wouldn't gobble up her life......
Chris did not voice out his last two thoughts. However, Minerva seemed to have misunderstood something from Chris's first few sentences. She abruptly pressed a fist on Chris's hurt abdomen and twisted furiously.
"—W-What are you doing, it hurts!"
"Shut up, just shut up!"
That moment, they inadvertently looked at the scenery outside the hollow. Perhaps because of the rainy day where clouds covered the sky, they were unable to distinguish whether the sun had already set or not. However, it was so dark that it was already unclear three steps away from the hollow. Minerva spoke in a stiff tone:
"It's about time for us to set off— It looks like the rain will only get heavier, and not lighter."
"Say, from the fact that there were soldiers in pursuit just now, is the opening of the valley sealed?"
"If it's really sealed—" Minerva gripped her sword forcefully, "Then we'll break through by force!"
Looking at the sky through the densely interweaving shadows of trees, it could be felt that a huge shadow shrouded both the left and the right side, giving people a strangely heavy sense of oppression. It was the dark shadow of the cliffs at the two sides of the river valley.
Although it was unknown if the Celestial army had already spread out a binding net, at least this area would have formations of the enemy. Besides, there would be more than a thousand people in a team, so Chris really didn't think that he had a chance to break through in such circumstances......
—But if Minerva is here, perhaps......
—No, right now, she is unable to see images of the future......
In the pitch-black forest, Chris could only rely on Minerva's vivid red hair as a guide as she walked three steps in front of him. He focused his energy on his hands bound before him— actually, it was impossible for Chris to break free through brute force with Minerva's way of tying the rope. But in his calculations, if they really encountered any danger, he at least had to prepare to use deliberate dislocation of the joints of his arms to free his hands from the rope.
Other noises started to appear in the pouring rain. Minerva and Chris stopped at the same time, looking around the pitch-black forest for each and every movement— *crackle crackle*...... The radiance of torches appeared in their gazes. Minerva immediately took off the leather scabbard holding her large sword and formed a stance......
Footsteps made foreign noises as they moved the soil on the ground, metallic noises of swords and armor rang, torches made crackling noises...... The sounds formed a wall, surrounding Chris and Minerva from all directions. Among the fire, the outlines of a few sets of armor were slowly surfacing in the darkness of the woods......
Chris subconsciously started to estimate the number of enemy troops in the forest— About a hundred, perhaps...... There are just cliffs on both sides, so we can only break out if we want to escape.....
"Oi, look at that sword!" "Ah, it's that sword......" "I wonder how many men died below her sword......"
Among the enemy forces, sounds of gulping could be heard time after time. Even the faces illuminated by the torches stiffly showed indescribable fear.
"Nobody dares to be the rear huh......" "Damn, everyone'd better just be scared......" "She's a Soul Reaper...... Didn't the people who saw her say so......"
All of a sudden, a person threw the torch in his hands towards Chris and Minerva. The flames flickered in the mud, illuminating their appearance.
"......She's really a girl." "How young......" "Look! What kind of Soul Reaper is she! She's afraid!"
"Hehe...... This lass actually looks quite good. Would it be too shameless of us if we attack at the same time?"
"If so, the people in the search party would be too pitiful. Not only braving the rain, but having to return empty-handed as well."
"Hah, and if we wait for those people who ran away by themselves, I fear that they won't be able to enjoy it anymore......"
"T-These shameless scums......" Minerva gripped the hilt of her sword, her shoulders and neck trembling continually, exposing the fear in her heart without a doubt.
Chris was already used to the attitude of mercenaries who would get excited when they saw women. In addition, Minerva had such beauty as well. Chris was instead surprised of her reaction. It seemed like she never saw how mercenaries looked like when they saw women. If so, if they were really caught by these mercenaries, Minerva would have to experience shame more painful than death......
All of a sudden—
"You beasts, stop daydreaming! Don't you know how many of us she killed!"
Suddenly, a knight in full armor appeared in the forest before them. He pushed the mask on his helmet away, showing a scrubby face full of whiskers while shouting at Chris and Minerva:
"You're the remains of the Principality army, aren't you! It's better if you surrender obediently. If not, we won't let you go easily even if you're a woman. We'll kill you without an exception!"
"Commander, I heard that we'll get paid more if we catch her alive!" "Twenty gold coins!" "And isn't it a pity to kill such a great woman?"
"Shut up. Have you forgotten about Lord Cornelius's order— Archers, fire!"
On his orders, the soldiers holding bows brushed aside the weeds by their feet and stood at the front lines. That moment, the flames of red interweaved with white before Chris's eyes started to flicker once again. Without any need of communication, it was as though a pact was already formed between the two. He and Minerva dashed forwards in an instant, rushing towards the horizontal row on the slope before them. At the same time, the soldiers surrounding them started to roar, but it was unknown whether it was in anger or joy.
Excitement froze in an instant— Minerva's giant sword swept past, cutting the three armored soldiers into half from the abdomen. Large amounts of blood scattered in the rain.
"—Release the arrows, release the arrows— N-No, wait, we'll shoot our own men—"
The rider's roars of exhaustion were drowned in the confused wails of the soldiers and the sounds of metallic collision between armor and weapons. Arrows scattered in the air. A few of them were cut down by the large sword in Minerva's hands, but one of them grazed past her arm, forming a trail of blood— She could not predict the future anymore...... Chris realized the fact in an instant, and immediately rushed to Minerva's side.
"You go first, I'll block them."
Minerva shouted, dashing towards the archers lined up at the slope. The wind created by the sword whistled among the wails, while bent bows, broken arrows and chopped off arms danced in the air.
"Don't panic, everyone attack, surround her, corner her with javelins!"
The rider ordered while straining his throat. White flames continued to dance in the forest, the blade of the large sword shimmered, causing blood and pieces of flesh to scatter each moment the blade flashed.
"Force her to the edge of the cliff— Archers, scatter to the side!"
Chris saw the remaining archers scattering towards two different direction and immediately rushed forward.
On the same time that Chris shouted, numerous sounds of bowstrings being released rang all around them. Minerva finally realized the enemies' attack, and hurriedly raised the large sword in her hands. However, the clusters of arrows had long poured down from all directions.
Chris couldn't hold back a wail of pain, almost falling on Minerva's back.
Turning around, Minerva's face was pale. She saw Chris block numerous bolts for her, and they were all stabbed bloodily in his side abdomen.
"Didn't I tell you to go first!"
"Didn't you tell me not to run away as well......"
"Idiot! That's because—"
Before finishing her words, Minerva pressed Chris's head down onto the mud. At the same time, she swept the large sword in her hands past Chris's head, chopping down numerous arms of spearmen and normal soldiers.
"I don't have any reason for you to help me!"
While blocking the spears and arrows, she started to walk backwards. However, she reached the side of the cliff in no time. It was pitch-black below the cliff, and nothing could be seen.
They were truly forced into desperation. That moment, the rider that seemed to be their commander already arrived at the bottom of the cliff, and was furiously waiving the longsword in his hands while ordering:
"Surround them! Surround them and use this chance to kill them in one go!"
Almost the whole row of spears that were thrust forward due to the order was blocked by Minerva's sword. However, two of them cut the skin on her thigh and side abdomen.
Her clothes soaked by rain started to turn heavy, the blood seeping out from her wound dying her white clothes black. That moment, even Minerva's action of waving her sword turned slow. She finally realized that her hands weren't functioning properly due to the pain on her. However, Chris was rolling in the mud to avoid the enemies' swords as well, and did not have spare time to help Minerva out. The arrow wounds on the side of Chris's side abdomen were already spreading, and he could feel his blood and warmth seeping out little by little from his wounds. He lied down in the mud, and acknowledged in a trance that his consciousness was fading. Only his eyes continued to follow the silhouette with long, crimson hair in the rain......
—I will not let you die. I definitely won't let you be killed!
—If you disappear, the support that I rely on to survive will cease to exist......
—I cannot allow something like this to happen......
Chris heard his own roar and felt the rope tying his wrists gradually burst apart. After that, raging sword wind that cut through the air pulled him back to reality from his trance.
His right arm was raised almost completely due to the urges of his reflexes, and he did not feel any pain when he accepted the blow of the blade that slashed downwards as well. The soldier waving the sword shrieked in fear before his eyes.
Chris grabbed the longsword he was holding, squatted down and pierced into the gap between his opponent's armor. The soldier whose weapon was stolen had his blood scattering all around in his wails, and he rolled downwards after falling on the slope.
With the corner of his eyes, Chris found the red hair dancing in the wind. He took a step backwards, and felt a cold, helpless body leaning against his body. Holding swords, Chris and Minerva faced the hundreds of soldiers who were gradually tightening their net of enclosure with their back to each other. That moment, the two of them were so close they felt that they could even hear each other's breathings and heartbeats.
"Why didn't you escape!" Minerva bellowed with her back on Chris, "These people have me as their target. You could have just stayed aloof without pulling out your sword!"
Chris flung away the blood staining the longsword, answering Minerva, who was leaning on his back, at the same time:
"Weren't you the one who asked me to stay by your side forever!"
"What, y-you— Why do you always speak words that are unfitting of the situation!"
"I'm your slave! I belong to you! I will neither run away nor hide! Not now, not in the future—"
Chris could taste blood mixed in the words that he spoke.
"I will devour all signs of death that descend on you!"
Minerva did not speak. Chris could only hear the breath choked in her chest, the surrounding rainfall and footfalls that continued to head towards them.
"Attack in one go and don't think of catching them alive!"
The leading knight commanded loudly in a high-pitched voice. After that, the soldiers holding spears and longswords sprinted towards Minerva and Chris while stepping on the mud on the ground. The two of them had their backs leant against each other and pressed their blades in their hands lower.
Chris looked at the soldiers who had ferocious beast-like gazes and subconsciously moved his hands. He broke the handle of the spear along with his opponent's arm with his sword, and continued with another attack that directly embedded the sword into his opponent's neck. When his adversary's body collapsed while spurting blood, Chris pulled the sword out of his flesh, swinging it at another soldier slashing at him from the side along the way and cut off his throat. The blades of the enemy flashed past Chris's body for a few times. However, the adversaries had Chris's blade swept across them on the next instant, their hands going missing as well.
Chris did not know how many people already died under his feet. In the bad condition of interweaving blood and rain, the chilly temperature and fatigue caused his arms to turn as heavy as lead, and almost couldn't lift them anymore. That moment, Minerva's ragged breathing could be heard from behind. His gaze was so blurry that he almost couldn't see how many enemies were left before him, while the loud cries of the enemy commander and the pouring rain seemed to gradually overlap, and was almost indistinguishable......
"Do we...... have a chance...... to break the siege......"
In such a bad condition, only Minerva's ragged breathing and incongruent words entered Chris's ears without exception. He looked the surroundings, thinking whether they had already disposed of more than half of the enemy forces, pondering at the same time of the possibility of escaping along the cliffs at the edge of the river valley. However, the shouts that rang behind him and the fire that surfaced in the darkness pushed him into the abyss of despair.
"Commander, the ones who went to search for them came back!"
"What were those people dilly-dallying for! They gave us a whole lot of trouble since they were absent!"
The soldiers who ran out of the camp to capture the Salt Spraying Soul Reaper alive returned in large numbers. Upon seeing that, Chris immediately pulled Minerva towards the opening of the river valley— Among the hundred over people before, half of them were left to block their road, rushing towards them.
"These two idiots, looks like we've cornered them. Everyone, charge!"
Ignoring their clamor, Chris gave a beast-like roar, dashing towards the centre of the formation of spears.
—Even if Minerva is the only one who can escape, I must still......
Chris steeled his resolve and swung his sword with all his might, ignoring the spears piercing his abdomen and wrist, while the commanding rider of the enemy frantically stopped the soldiers under him from running way under Chris's attack to avoid his formation from dissolving.
Minerva's shout was almost a howl. Now, they could only survive by direct assault. Chris raised his weary arms and continued to lift the longsword in his hands. Because of blood, fat and shredded flesh, the blade finally bent after blocking numerous thrusts of spears. He grabbed another weapon from a corpse lying on the ground, rolling in the mud to avoid the enemies' spears and tripped his adversaries.
That moment, Chris's left arm gradually lost all feeling in the chilliness and sank into numbness. The slash on his abdomen caused him to finally be unable to support himself. His knees bent, and he sank into the mud. He heard Minerva calling his name in sorrow. The enemy commander laughed maniacally, pointed his sword at Chris and approached along with the blade-wielding soldiers.
—Just at that moment, the whistling of numerous sharp objects cutting through the air in high speed rang by Chris's ears. The whites of the enemy rider suddenly showed, and he fell forward into the mud with his eyes wide in shock.
"Commander?" "—AHHHHHHHH!" "U-Ugh!"
Wails arose while soldiers dropped down before Chris one after another. He stood up. Though his gaze blurred due to muddy water and blood, he saw arrows cutting the darkness from the other side of the river valley.
"What's wrong!" "Oi, OI! Where are these arrows coming from!" "The commander is DEAD!"
Cries rang behind Chris. The voices contained endless terror. It was because the soldiers saw numerous torches lit up in the woods behind their riding commander and comrades.
The firelight illuminated the emblem on the flag—
"T-That's—" "T-This can't be! Why......" "H-How can this be...... Why did they appear in this kind of place!"
The emblem of the flag was—
A hen with spread out wings protecting a silver egg.
"—Annihilate the enemy forces!"
An imposing female voice rang in the space sealed by darkness and torches. After that, Chris heard footsteps approaching, stepping on the water. Rows of soldiers wielding longbows came into his view. When he turned around, he could see the mercenaries hired by the Celestial army turning tail to escape. However, what pursued them was a rain of arrows heavier than the torrent of rain, causing the running soldiers to fall down one after another.
That moment, Chris was still lying on the ground weakly, blankly staring at the tragic battlefield of slaughter before his eyes, while Minerva leant against a withered branch of a nearby tree, panting with her face white.
Awhile after that— Stop!— The rain of arrows finally stopped after the command. The one who gave the order was the imperious female voice from before. After that, footfalls approached. Chris was already unable to counterattack, and could only turn around weakly while holding his sword.
He saw a crowd of people walking towards his and Minerva's direction while holding torches. Some riders who were at the center of the people holding torches clustered around a young female who was walking towards him. Her honey blonde hair shone. Her whole body emitting an elegant, haughty aura, and it was as though her high spirits caused the surrounding rain to be fear falling on her.
—Is she the owner of the voice who gave the command just now? If so, then she's just too young. And she's actually a female as well......
—She's the commander of the widely known Order of the Silver Egg, huh......
Chris could not believe it, but the truth was before his very own eyes, and so he could not doubt it anymore. The female with blonde hair wore a purely decorative extravagant shoulder armor and breastplate on her coat. Apart from that, a cape was shrouded over her as well, with the emblem signifying the Zackaria king embroidered on the right shoulder.
She walked past Chris along with her Guards and servants. Chris noticed that the blonde female was evaluating him with a gaze of curiosity. As for the other knights surrounding their liege lord, they did not even glance at him, and directly walked towards Minerva who was leaning against a branch, scrambling to show her concern:
"Meena, are you alright!" "Why did you act so recklessly by yourself!"
The blonde female at the center of the crowd pushed away the knights and servants, approaching Minerva's side before the others, "Sorry, Meena. If only we had come earlier! If so, your beautiful skin wouldn't have needed to be tormented by these flesh wounds......"
She combed Minerva's bloodstained red hair and said laughingly:
"It seems like I am the winner of the bet. Didn't I once tell you? The beautiful never dies."
Minerva pushed the blonde female's hand away in annoyance, "Shut up! I was supposed to die! So—"
"Oh, I know. You want to say, the reason you left the team by yourself was because you were worried we would be involved. But I won't accept the excuse of a sore loser like this."
"I'm not a sore loser!"
Minerva cried out in anger, but since she strained the wounds on her, she couldn't help but squat down in pain while pressing her side abdomen.
"Oh well, let's go back to the camp first before we start arguing happily. Those escaped soldiers will definitely come back again during recruitment." The blonde female turned to say to her subordinates:
"You, carry Meena to the horse cart."
"I can walk by myself!" Minerva said.
"Nooooope. Your precious skin and elegant limbs are my private property, so of course I won't let you do as you like— Speaking of which, Meena......" The blonde female suddenly turned around when she said that, her clear light blue eyes meeting that of Chris's, "Who is that cute boy?"
Chris raised his gaze to meet the gaze of the blue eyes, noticing at the same time that Minerva was looking in his direction as well. When Chris shifted his gaze to her, he saw Minerva abruptly averting her gaze. Until then, Chris finally felt relieved. Knowing that he survived, his muscles that got chilly and rigid because of the rain gradually relaxed as well. And the reason he had such a response might be because he saw Minerva's shy face as well.
"—He's my slave."
He heard Minerva's voice, feeling at the same time a warm, lazy presence drowning his whole body, soaking through each of his nerves, taking away his final breath. After that, Chris lost consciousness, as though sinking into a quagmire.
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