Tsurugi no Joou to Rakuin no Ko:Volume 1 Chapter 8
Chapter 8 – Distorted Blade of Poison
The sword Minerva was using was so heavy that it would need two men to barely raise it. It was three times wider than ordinary swords, more than two times thicker as well. To the unskilled, it might be even heavier than the armor.
“Carla told me that this sword is necessary for my style of fighting, and made me hold it ever since I was taught how to fight.” Minerva told Chris while sitting on her horse.
If Minerva’s sword was hung at a side of the saddle, the horse would be unable to move due to the inability to balance itself. Because of that, she would always carry the sword on her back, in the dead center.
“What kind of teacher is this…… Actually making a little girl hold a sword like this.”
Chris was taken aback at her words. However, whenever the name Carla came up in their conversation, the swordsmen riding in the same row as them would cringe. It seemed like this Master Carla was indeed a rather famous person. Just knowing that this person was Gilberto and Minerva’s teacher in swordsmanship was scary enough; it was just plain stunning that this person’s way of teaching was so unequaled as well.
“Is there anything of the matter?” Minerva puffed out her cheeks and said in displeasure: “Carla once said that the weight one person is able to bear is limited. To be able to deal with every attack of the enemy, instead of dividing the weight to armor, it would be better to focus on a mobile part to raise the reaction speed and efficiency. Apart from that, attack power will increase as well.”
Regarding Minerva’s statement, Chris thought that such verbal theories were rather ridiculous. However, from his personal experience, Minerva’s power of foresight and her arm strength did indeed prove such a theory.
“However, even Carla was shocked when I could really wave this sword……” Minerva said.
— Then wasn’t that just baseless conjecture?
Such a thought couldn’t help but surface in Chris’s mind when he heard Minerva’s statement.
“In any case, that is the only way of battling that I am familiar with, and the only way I know how to fight.”
While saying that, Minerva turned around to look at the long line of soldiers behind her. That moment, the Zaccarieco streets and castle that they left behind were already hidden behind a cliff, and couldn’t be seen anymore.
“It’s better to be attacked on a battlefield than in the city, since people will definitely be involved in that case.” Minerva said.
Chris understood that it was the reason she requested the troops to set out immediately, and nodded in agreement. But when he recalled that it was a future that she had seen, he couldn’t help but feel downcast.
Some time before, Chris heard Minerva’s proclamation that a unit skilled in the use of hidden weapons would attack, and thus suggested to increase the protection of the city, facing the enemies’ units at the same time. Hearing that, Minerva stared at Francesca without even turning around, seemingly agreeing with his opinions completely. On the other hand, Francesca could only shrug while giving the order to send the troops. However, Chris thought, Minerva had no other choice but to escape from the pursuit of death on battlefields filled with death, such a life was just too miserable.
“What kind of look is that? Are you unhappy with the advanced schedule of going out for battle?”
“Eh? Ah, no, you’ve misunderstood.”
Minerva’s question when she noticed Chris looking at her from a side made him hurriedly turn his gaze to the sword on his belt.
“Meena, though that kiddo came back to the crowded streets with us after so much, he never went out to have fun at all. I think he might even be happy that we’re going out for battle early!”
The surrounding knights heard Minerva’s question and gradually interrupted one after another.
“I’ll say that he reaaaaaally likes fighting, doesn’t he? This guy’s personality is seriously shocking, just like you, Meena!”
“That’s right, we went through so much tricking him to a whorehouse, and he actually ran away just like that!”
“What, y- you went to a place like that!” As Minerva cried out, she suddenly kicked Chris’s stirrup.
“I only went as far as the door, and I wasn’t late to the practice after that either!” Chris explained hurriedly.
“It’s not the problem of being late or not!” Minerva retorted.
“Eh? Then…… What problem would that be?”
“That—” Minerva froze all of a sudden when Chris asked her with his eyes wide, and hurriedly looked away while pursing her lips. The surrounding men smiled wryly at the same time.
“You are my, my tool. How can you loiter around as you wish without my permission……”
Without turning back, Minerva spoke of the heart of the problem she mentioned in a soft voice.
“Ah…… S- Sorry.”
Chris clenched his fists and placed it on his knees— T- That’s right. I am Minerva’s umbrella, and I exist to shield her from the hurricane of her death omens.
“I’m sorry. I won’t go half a step away from your side anymore.”
“I- I said— that’s not the problem!”
“Eh…… That’s not the problem either?”
“Ah, well…… A- Actually it’s not wrong…… But……”
Minerva still didn’t turn back, speaking in garbled, stumbling sentences. From the start, her feet on the stirrup kept fidgeting, causing even the horses to keep looking back at her with puzzled gazes. There were even some knights who were not able to hold in their mirth anymore.
That moment, Chris urged his horse closer and spoke in a low voice by Minerva’s ear:
“Say, did you manage to identify what kind of people were in the assassination unit?”
Minerva shook her head and said quietly: “…… No. I did not even hear sounds of friction of the armor on them. I know that their movements do not emit any noise, but I am still unable to grasp their traits. Excluding the images that surface in my mind in battles, I usually see only blurry images, and am unable to see them clearly.”
— So that’s why Minerva has higher chances of surviving only in battlefields. Chris bit his lip.
Just at that moment, the leader of the main force raised a small flag and waved it slightly. It was the signal of the investigation unit’s return.
In the evening, the Order of the Silver Egg arrived at a position close to a military unit of the Celestial Kingdom that was about to move north. Francesca ordered the troops to hide in the forest and await further orders, bringing a small unit including Chris to a place where they could have unobscured vision.
“What is the matter with those people’s strongholds? We’ve never seen such a model before, have we?” One of the officers asked Francesca, who was at his side, when he saw a crude fort towering over the place on a cliff some distance away from a patch of barren ground.
“That seems to be a military fortress remodeled from an old monastery. However, this fortress is truly positioned at a troublesome geographical location.”
Francesca spread a map and muttered as the map fluttered continually in the wind.
Chris knew that quite a few forts of the Principality army were remodeled in this way. As the residents living at the edge of the Queen’s land were suppressed due to their belief in the Palkai gods, many of the churches and monasteries fell into disuse when the believers and clergymen moved away.
“I think they’re probably staying there to wait for the other units originally stationed in the south.”
An old knight expressed his views in a low voice. Francesca nodded as well.
“I’d say that this unit has about two thousand men. But how do we stop them from joining the other units, thus expanding their power?” Another asked.
“Let’s burn their rations.” The young commander voiced out her view after she heard the problem: “We’ll feint a direct attack, dispatching another unit to attack from below the cliff.”
“From below the cliff? How do we do that? Isn’t that impossible?”
“A monastery like this should have an opening for them to throw out the trash on the side of the wall facing the cliff— Chris, you probably came across quite a lot of similar forts on the battlefields before this, didn’t you? Have you seen such a design?”
Francesca suddenly turned her attention to Chris, causing him to be startled, but he still managed to nod.
“But the opening probably isn’t being used anymore— Over there, can you see it? There are a few piles of white things at the bottom of the cliff.”
Chris heard Francesca’s explanation, narrowing his eyes to look at the direction of her pointing finger at the same time— Indeed, there were a few piles of white objects accumulated at a patch of ground where it was less steep. And those were……
When Francesca finished her words, the surrounding soldiers’ eyes widened in shock. The reason they had such a reaction was not because they found out that those were human bones. Soldiers risking their lives on the battlefields would not feel surprised at such a small matter. The thing that stood out to them was the fact that the bones still had human shape.
“This seems to be a punishment commonly used by the early Palkai church. They would spread a special type of oil on the bodies of sinners, allow the oil to solidify on their bodies, and then let them bake to death on execution sites as tributes to their gods. The soldiers of the Celestials find these things revolting, so they don’t usually approach this opening.”
“We don’t feel like approaching either……”
“Feels like we’ll be cursed by the heavens if we touch these corpses……”
After the valiant soldiers heard Francesca’s explanation, each of their faces clouded over. In fact, the awe for the Palkai gods was still deeply rooted in the hearts of the people of the Seven Countries of the East. After seeing that, Francesca shrugged and smiled disdainfully, “I have no other choice but to choose impious men to join this assault unit then.”
When night fell, the Order of the Silver Egg split into two units. The unit in charge of the feint walked out of the forest under Francesca’s instructions while holding torches, and would definitely be quickly noticed by the troops stationed in the fort.
“…… S- So after a while, w- we’ll be heading out!”
In the darkness, Paola turned around and said to the other unit. The assault unit that she was leading consisted of around two hundred men. Chris was in the unit as well. He turned around to look at the soldiers behind him. They were all younger people. Apart from Chris, he could see Minerva with her red hair as well, and even Gilberto was in the assault unit. Looking from this perspective, the personal guard formed by Francesca was just mere formality. She was just keeping people she liked at her side. When there was truly a need for it, all of these people could be relinquished of their duty to protect their mistress, joining the frontline for battle.
“During reconnaissance, Gilberto made some markings at the base of the cliff. So…… So…… Although we might not be able to see these markings at night, we can follow Gilberto up the cliff. Five men will go up first and let the rope down. At most, two people can be on the rope together at one time, and if you’re noticed by the enemy in the process…… Um…… Even if you’re halfway up, you must still come down and disperse, leaving the people who succeeded to battle alone. But it’s fine even if the enemy provisions aren’t completely burnt down. Do remember not to go in too deep.”
Paola stumbled over the battle plan in one go, and then heaved a deep sigh after pressing her hand on her forehead. However, when she gave the order in the end, she still forcibly straightened her body, crying out with high morale: “May fortune of war smile upon us! Everyone, let us depart!”
They passed through the darkness and the wilderness as the night wind blew. That moment, Chris suddenly remembered something and asked Minerva in a low voice, “…… Say, was it during night-time that you saw yourself attacked?”
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t know already!” Minerva answered with a look of displeasure: “You are extremely annoying! My power of foresight do not allow me to see each and every future.”
Chris answered in a voice so weak that it was almost swallowed by the roaring wind.
“But speaking of which, Minerva, from the scene that you saw, shouldn’t you have stayed in Zaccariesco instead? Then wouldn’t the future of you being ambushed have changed?”
“I do not know that either.” Minerva narrowed her eyes in the chilly wind, “After that night, I did not see any images of a new future anymore, but actually, the movements of fate will not be easily changed, that is my conclusion formed from my past experiences. I can only dodge blades and arrows that are supposed to end my life by a fraction. Excluding these methods, fate is generally set in stone. And if there are truly other ways to change destiny, one day……”
One day…… Minerva’s unspoken words were buried in the sounds of military boots trudging forwards in the wilderness. And then……
“— T- That is why!” Minerva suddenly raised her voice and spoke to Chris: “That is why you must always be at my side! Because you exist only for this, do you hear me!”
“Ah, y- yes, I know.”
“You are only a shield protecting me from arrows. That is all. Do you really understand?”
“I understand. But isn’t that a given?”
“W- what do you mean that’s a given? So y- you said all those perplexing things while knowing your own part?!”
“Why are you suddenly getting all worked up again……”
“Hey, Meena, be quiet!” “We’re in a battle right now!” “You lovebirds can have your fight when we get back!”
The others voiced out reproof, and Gilberto even bumped Minerva with the hilt of his sword, making Minerva stay silent with her mouth pursed.
— Can I really protect her?
Chris gripped the hilt of the longsword on his waist, sinking into deep thought.
— The beast is currently sleeping, and if Minerva’s death omens appear at this moment……
— Am I truly able to stop fate of death from descending on her?
As their feet continued to move, they gradually got closer to the cliff. In the darkness, the monastery was a pitch-black shadow, blocking the brilliance of the starry skies. Chris attempted to hide the unease in his heart.
The bones covered in solidified oil under the cliff seemed to have turned weathered. For some reason, the oil that had undergone changes was still able to reflect the starlight, presenting a translucent appearance, shocking everyone who approached into silence.
Shouts came from the fort as faint maroon of fire tinged the dark night skies. It seemed like the feint unit led by Francesca had already started their attack.
Paola gave the order to start the battle, only touching her comrades’ shoulders instead of using words. Gilberto took the lead in climbing the cliff, his armor of black fading slowly and soundlessly on the rocks in the pitch-black darkness. His movements were so quick that he did not even seem like he was climbing with his hands at all. Four men, including Chris, hurried to catch up as well. Similar to Gilberto, they were carrying heavy rope ladders on their back as well. Everyone was shocked when they saw the shadow trailing down from above and his silent rock-climbing movements and speed.
When they saw the opening after they climbed up the cliff, they couldn’t help but feel that instead of saying that it was a part of the monastery, it was actually more like an ordinary cave, where nothing could be seen inside due to the darkness. However, the cave was extremely large, and had a considerable amount of dust and dirt accumulated in it.
Driving the piles to let down the rope ladder was the job that required the most concentration in this battle, as they would be easily discovered by the enemy if they made any sound by driving the piles too forcefully. After the first group of soldiers mounted the cliff and let down the rope ladder, the second group led by Minerva carried the oil up. When the unit of ten holding torches climbed up, a disturbance of friction between large rocks rang at their surroundings. Gilberto and Chris noticed the abnormal situation immediately, and quickly dashed towards the light source shining on them from behind, their blades viciously stabbing into the bodies of their enemies with the momentum of their sprint at the very instant they unsheathed their swords. Two young soldiers of the Celestial Kingdom who were holding torches at a window near the trash disposal opening fell while spitting out blood. Then, Gilberto jumped into the monastery from the window, silencing the other soldier who was about to sound a warning with just one attack.
— Can the battle at this stage continue? Or should we stop the soldiers below the cliff from climbing up? In the darkness, Chris and Gilberto exchanged opinions with their gazes in an instant. However, they heard footsteps approaching from the steep, meandering pathway.
“Hey! There’s someone there!” “And someone already fell!” “Hurry up and tell the Captain!” “Ahhhhhhhhh!”
Gilberto hurriedly returned to the trash disposal opening and made a gesture downwards.
“Stop, stop! Those on the rope ladder, get down immediately!”
Paola’s calls rang from below the cliff.
Light from a few torches appeared in the tunnel, illuminating the silhouettes of the Order’s assault unit. Less than fifty men managed to climb up. They walked behind Gilberto, the luminescence of their torches lighting up the whole tunnel as they continued to move.
“What, this side as well?!”
They cut the throat of a soldier whose face was full of fear and continued moving, leaving behind the corpse on the ground. The run-down monastery gave people the feeling that it was swaying slightly. They even felt that the aged rock building might collapse at any time.
“Ignore the small fries. We’re heading directly to the basement!”
In the lead, Gilberto called while suppressing his voice. After all, if an enemy soldier appeared at the side of the cramped pathway, their group would be cut off from the middle. That was definitely a bad thing. Chris suddenly saw a suit of armor of the Celestial Kingdom flit past his eyes as he passed a branching pathway, and instinctively cut down the soldier’s arm in an instant. The spear was thrown backwards along with the severed limb and collided with the wall, creating small sparks.
The basement where Gilberto made the markings when he went inside for scouting was indeed the place where the military provisions were stored. The five sentinels stationed there were instantly silenced by the members of the Order. They hurriedly poured oil on the hill of wooden crates and sacks, setting fire on them after that. A thick, charred smell and soot permeated the high-ceilinged vault as the blazing flames lit up the large stone pillars supporting the ceiling and the alcoves on the wall.
Chris looked around, thinking that the place might not be a storeroom, but an underground cemetery. And since the place was so extensive, even the large-scale fire was unable to illuminate the end of space.
“Gilberto, enemies are approaching!”
“Hey, this place should be a dead end, so are we going back to the corridor to meet them head-on?”
Hearing the cries of his subordinates at the entrance, Gilberto immediately answered: “You guys move the hoard of provisions to the entrance and burn them. Get some time for us— Minerva! Head inside. The wall there looks unstable. Break it down and we can get out from there.”
“What sort of digging tool are you treating my sword as!”
Minerva grumbled instantly, but still ran towards the end of the room supported by stone pillars with her large sword on her back. However, she stopped halfway along the way. Chris saw the silhouettes behind a pillar, lit up by the fire. Minerva was planning to bring down the person along with the pillar when a cry suddenly rang at that moment:
“— Wait a minute, please wait!”
After that, a silhouette ran out from behind the pillar. The radiance of the torches shone on a young female garbed in gray. Bands were bound on her head and her waist, showing her identity of a nun who devoted herself to the Palkai gods. Behind her, quite a few women wearing similar clothing and also three bald men wearing black priest robes walked out together.
Minerva raised the sword in her hands and interrogated the people who suddenly appeared. Chris quickly ran to Minerva’s side as well. The other members of the Order followed behind them, making the nuns hide behind the pillar in fear once again. One of the men wearing a priest’s robe hurriedly waved his hands as he explained: “O- Our identity is as you can see…… We were chased out from Santuario, and were planning to seek refuge with the churches in Zaccaria. We arrived at this monastery halfway through your journey, but met the troops of the Celestial Kingdom here. In the end, we were locked in this place!”
Chris glanced at Gilberto, who had just arrived.
“Have the women remove the veils on their faces first.”
Gilberto said coolly. Chris perceived the suspicion of these people’s identity from his words. The nuns exchanged gazes and timidly removed the veils covering their faces after a few quiet words with the priests.
The priests’ heads were extremely smooth as medication was used so their hair dropped off since youth. That was proof that they had dedicated themselves to the gods.
“Fine. I believe you.”
Gilberto said as though he was sighing. Minerva and the other knights lowered their swords gradually as well.
“You can escape with us, but if you encounter any trouble, we definitely won’t help out. We cannot guarantee the safety of your lives as well. It is best for you to resign yourself to the danger of getting dragged into death at any time when you are near us.”
Hearing Gilberto’s proclamation, the priests nodded one by one. That moment, Chris suddenly felt a sense of dissonance from them. From the time these people arrived at the end of the spacious basement along with Minerva until he saw her break down the wall before their eyes, that feeling did not disappear.
— These people feel strange.
Chris did not doubt their identity as clergymen, but he felt that the presence given off by them was somewhat ominous.
— Yes, it’s the eyes…… Chris noticed that their gazes were not focused on Gilberto when he questioned them, but instead, they flitted between the other people, lingering especially on Minerva. They kept looking at Minerva, as though they were scheming something.
— Am I just thinking too much?
All of a sudden, the flames behind them swayed tremendously, causing the shadows on the stone pillars to shake vigorously as well— the flow of air had changed due to the large hole that was drilled open on the wall.
“You can leave first. I shall stay to bring up the rear.”
After Minerva said that, the other members ran outside together. Various sounds caused by the blazing fire resounded behind them: sounds of wooden crates collapsing, windows cracking and roars of pursuing soldiers. There was a space outside the hole opened by Minerva, its low ceiling giving people a sense of heavy oppression. Numerous neatly arranged depressions could be seen on both sides of the walls.
— A bone storage room?
It was the moment when everyone ran into the bone storage room with only Chris and Minerva staying to bring up the rear that Chris’ suspicion towards the clergymen solidified into a concrete sense of danger. After the priests and nuns watched Minerva break down the wall from afar, they stealthily approached while suppressing their footsteps. After that, murderous aura made Chris swing the longsword in his hands subconsciously.
Shrill noise of metallic collision rang, a noise that would even make people feel that their skulls were resonating with the sound waves. One of the nuns had taken out a dagger as fine as a needle from her robe. Her dagger met Chris’ longsword at a position that almost pressed onto Minerva’s side abdomen. The two forces clashed and trembled as they frantically tried to overcome each other.
Minerva reacted like a lightning bolt. Lashing out with her large sword while jumping backwards, she managed to sever the left arm of a priest who was attacking with a dagger.
“Meena! What’s wrong!” “What happened?”
“Never mind this! Go!”
Minerva shouted while swinging her sword, cutting apart the abdomens of two nuns at one go. Countless thin daggers fell to the ground from the bloodstained clothes. Chris was surrounded by three nuns. He evaded the first attack that flashed past his neck and severed his opponent’s arm, then quickly ran to Minerva’s side after ramming the nun with the other two.
That moment, those people had already let go of their masks of priests and nuns, surrounding Chris and Minerva while holding their blades.
— Why are these people doing this? Haven’t they already devoted themselves to the gods?
Their gazes were chilling. No matter how many wounds their comrades suffered, pure killing intent still burned in the eyes of those who remained.
“They’re from the Tuekay shrines.”
Minerva sighed in a low voice. Chris noticed as well that although those people were clergymen, they did not serve the Palkai gods.
“From the Celestial Kingdom……?”
While muttering to himself, Chris looked around at the assassins. That moment, one of them smirked and spoke.
“How fortuitous that we are able to meet Lady Minerva here. Now we do not need to go as far as Zaccaria. This is truly thanks to the Tuekay Goddess.”
— Is it them? Were they the ones who brought the signs of death on Minerva?
— Assassins from the Celestial Kingdom?
The priest did not continue his words. Chris sensed that if they turned around to reaffirm their escape route, they would definitely be killed on that instant. In addition, if Minerva’s prediction was accurate, their blades were all poisoned.
— Besides that, not one of these people are afraid of death as well.
Must be finished in an instant. Chris passed the thought to Minerva through contact with her shoulders.
The two of them emanated a presence so imposing that even the faraway fire shook from its mighty force. On the instant their shoulders parted, a battle of blades immediately started. A priest took a blow from Minerva’s sword, causing his body to collide with a stone pillar and debris to be showered from the ceiling as well.
As the poisoned blade flitted past the tip of Chris’ hair, he dashed between two nuns, lacerating one of the nuns’ shoulders. She fell even before she was able to cry out. Through the blood and froth that was spat out, Chris saw the other nun rushing at him with a swing of her dagger while stepping on her comrade’s corpse. The blade slashed past the side of his ear and hit his shoulder armor. The blow made him stumble and fall, his back colliding vigorously with the ground. He raised his longsword with his back on the ground, and pierced through his opponent’s throat the moment before she was able to cut him. Her crazed eyes nearly pressed onto Chris’s two eyes.
As the call resounded, Chris’ view was obstructed by a thick blade. Minerva’s large sword was thrust into the abdomen of the nun on Chris. The nun with the cut abdomen rose. And even though she was already unable to hold her dagger properly, she still staggered towards Minerva.
That moment, the presence of another person suddenly appeared behind the nun. Chris swallowed and hurriedly stood up from the ground. A large amount of blood suddenly spurted from the nun’s throat once again. Without warning, a sword pierced through her coat. It belonged to the last priest standing behind her. He pierced through the nun’s body with his sword.
— This guy actually used his comrade’s blood as smokescreen!
Minerva frowned as she tried to push the nun’s corpse away. However, the blade piercing through the corpse, stained in blood and poison, was already thrust in her direction.
Chris subconsciously caught hold of the sword’s tip. He was not in a position to feel the pain of his palm being pierced through, but instead, he frantically pushed the sword back with his arm and fingers. However, even if his reflexes were one step faster, he was still unable to block the force of his opponent’s force, causing the tip of the blade to slide on Minerva’s upper arm, carving out a trail of blood. When Chris saw the blood that trickled from the wound, his consciousness was almost sucked into the purplish-black blood in his despair.
— I…… got Minerva hurt.
— The poison……
All of a sudden, the cold, hard object was pulled away from his palm, and at the same time, pain as though his arm was viciously twisted a few rounds sank into his body. He bit his lip, and frantically held onto the pain in his body and the flickering red flames at the edge of his vision to maintain his fading consciousness.
He forced his eyes open, and saw that the heads of the priest and nun had already fallen, and were rolling on the ground.
— Minerva? Where is Minerva?
Just the action of turning his head made him feel as though the blood in his body was frothing, causing his consciousness to spin in a daze. With her sword, Minerva leant against the wall with the hole she created. The wound on her arm looked swollen with its purple color. Other members of the Order were already standing at her side.
“Hey, Chris! You—“
Chris pushed away his comrades who ran towards him, and forcedly stood up, walking towards Minerva.
“…… Idiot…… D- Don’t keep moving…… Compared to mine, the poison in your body is……”
With his eyes half-closed, he ignored Minerva’s urges, and pulled out the dagger on his chest, slitting open Minerva’s swollen wound.
“Chris! You—“ “This isn’t the time to do something like this, the enemy is almost upon us!”
The surrounding soldiers gave wail-like calls, but Chris was already unable to hear them anymore. He gouged out the flesh around Minerva’s wound and pressed his lips on Minerva’s wound. As he sucked and spat out blood, only the image of thousands of purple entangling snakes writhing around could be seen in his eyes. After that, his limbs gradually lost all feeling due to numbness as well.
Chris and Minerva finally collapsed at the same time. Across Minerva’s pale face, Chris saw the scene of military provisions being engulfed in fire. The blazing fire looked extremely like flames licking the darkness.
— Once again, everything…… is burnt down……
— Blood flowing like a river……
— Even though I vowed to protect Minerva……
— Why can’t my hand move?
— I’ve already done my best to kill so many……
— But she still has to die in the end?
— Just like mother…… She still has to die huh……
— Just like mother……
— Like mother……
Chris felt pain as though his whole body was burnt by fire. The dark ceiling seemed to swirl continuously in his eyes.
For a number of times, he felt someone force-feed hay and bitter liquid into his mouth. A sense of nausea churned his stomach, making him feel like throwing up, but he was unable to turn around.
“Will he live through this?” “I don’t know.” “Any other person would have died long ago.”
“He’s my cute personal guard, of course I won’t let him die!”
“Chris, you idiot, if you die just like this, I definitely won’t forgive you!”
Sounds rang by his ears. To Chris it was as if they were churning his hearing, making him feel pain. His body continued to emit heat, causing his consciousness to blur, and he was unable to distinguish who said what. His half-closed eyelids obstructed his vision. That moment, what he could see was like a sleek, long crescent moon. However, in this sleek, long moon that was like a crescent moon, he could clearly see a girl. The girl had long hair that was a red as vivid as flames. With black eyes moist with tears, she kept calling his name.
Chris caught hold of the warmth on his palm and pleaded.
— Mother, forgive me……
— Forgive me for being unable to save you……
Chris felt like he was thrown into a hole leading to the center of the earth, or even a place deeper and darker than that, submerged in endless pain. He tried to catch hold of the rocky walls around him, but his fingers caught fire when they came in contact with the rocks, burning it all up until even the bones were burnt down.
Chris returned to that night— The storeroom continued to burn in the crackling flames, with the bare roofs almost collapsing. The back of his mother caught fire, but her body had already lost the warmth that should be owned by a person, turning into a chilly corpse.
He tightly held the other hand in his hand, and continued to call his mother. Hot tears burnt his cheeks, and at the same time, tortured his heart.
When he regained consciousness, the whole world was swaying slightly. The tremors continued to shake his foggy consciousness. After a while, he dimly realized that he was lying down somewhere.
When his vision recovered slightly, two faces came into his view. As his gaze was still unable to focus, he only knew that one of them was a bespectacled man, while the other was a woman with light brown hair.
“…… Chris? Can you hear me? Can you see?”
Paola raised her hand and waved it in front of Chris, and tried to prise Chris’ eyelid open. Chris pushed her hand away, trying to nod, but his neck was unable to move as though it was fixed with glue. He tried to speak, but then noticed a strange feeling stuck in his throat.
“Ahhh, wait a minute! Don’t breathe in, the medicine will jam in your throat if you do so!”
Nicolo extended his fingers into Chris’ throat, taking out a piece of wet, green object in the shape of a ball, probably herbal medicine, and then Paola disappeared from his view in a flash.
“Lady Fran! Chris woke up, Chris woke up!”
The words drifted away, leaving behind silence that gradually spread, and also sounds of clanking metallic collisions. He finally realized that he was lying in a horse cart carrying weapons. The reason he felt the whole world swaying was because the horse cart he was on was moving.
“If I grind your flesh and bone, selling them as medicine, it will surely net me a ton of cash.” Nicolo lazily straightened his feet and said as he smiled wryly: “What kind of body do you have there? I never saw many people who could still live after taking in so much poison.”
Chris sprang up abruptly. Numbness and pain spread throughout his whole body. He twisted his body, struggling to rid himself of the troublesome pain.
“Oh? Well aren’t you energetic. Can you walk already?” Nicolo asked.
The raucous call cut through his parched throat, making him feel a pain as though his throat was being torn apart.
“…… Where’s Minerva? How is she? She hasn’t……”
Chris’ first reaction after he regained consciousness shocked Nicolo. After heaving a sigh, Nicolo pointed in the direction of bamboo baskets containing bows and arrows. Cloths were messily spread on the wooden floorboards of the horse cart, and a person with messy, red hair strewn on the cloth was lying there. Chris pushed away the surrounding weapons and crawled towards Minerva. There was barely any color of blood on Minerva’s face, but he could clearly see her chest rising slightly as she breathed.
“The two of you slept for two whole days. But actually, your condition should be far more serious than hers.”
Nicolo was still sitting at his original position as his voice spread into Chris’ ears from behind.
— Two whole days? I slept for this long?
“We’ve already passed by a hill. Since we can’t go back to Zaccariesco right now, we’re hurrying along at breakneck speed.”
After saying that, Nicolo told Chris that he would get water for him, and then clambered out from the horse cart. After a while, Minerva finally opened her eyes.
After their gazes met, Minerva turned away to look outside the horse cart. The low sun shone on the floorboards in the horse cart, dying the floorboards bright crimson— Is the sun setting? Or is it rising? No matter which it was, Chris felt that it was rather dazzling.
As he moved his eyes, thinking of looking at the wound on Minerva’s arm, pain blossomed in his eyes as though thorns were growing in his eye sockets, but he could still barely see that the position near her elbow was wrapped with bandages. He couldn’t help but tightly clench his knees, “I’m sorry……”
“…… What are you sorry for?”
“I…… I nearly made you die……”
After hearing that, Minerva abruptly raised her body, but then fell onto Chris’ chest due to a sudden sense of dizziness. However, she still stretched out her hands and clenched Chris’ neck, “You!” The hands on his neck trembled continually, “Who told you to use such a reckless way— There isn’t any poison in my body anymore!”
Chris pushed Minerva away from him and took two steps backwards, raising his right hand at the same time. He removed the bandages wrapped on his right palm with his mouth.
“What are you doing!”
Minerva cried out as she stretched out a hand to stop him, but was pushed away by Chris. The strangely itchy wound was slowly closing. He even felt clotting blood beneath the wound trying to move.
“What are you doing! Hurry up and stop, idiot— Don’t move anymore!”
Minerva roughly wrapped the bandage back on Chris’ hand. After that, she grasped Chris’ hand.
“…… What I saw was an image of my hand being pierced through…..”
She turned her face away, so Chris could only feel the tremors in her voice and chin.
“I…… I never told you to change my fate with such a twisted way!”
— But…… Was there any other way?
“Why…… Why are you doing all this for me till this extent!”
— Why? What do you mean why? It’s because you……
— Because you are my……
“— Your mother is already dead!”
Minerva’s shouts caused the thing that was hidden in an old bone in Chris’ heart to shatter. His lips trembled slightly, and he gazed at Minerva’s face with a blank expression.
— Mother? Why mention mother all of a sudden?
“You kept calling for your mother!”
Chris swallowed in a daze— That’s right, he remembered. He did indeed have a memory of calling his mother continually. He caught hold of someone’s— probably Minerva’s— hand, gripping it tightly as he called his mother.
“No matter how much you call out for her, she won’t come back to life anymore, because you’ve already eaten her up!”
— Yes. I was unable to save my mother…… But if it was Minerva—
“It was the same for me, I could not save my mother as well!”
Minerva suddenly screamed in agitation. That caused Chris to swallow in his ignorance.
— Minerva’s……. Mother?
That moment, Minerva suddenly realized that she had let slip something that should not have been said, and hurriedly covered her mouth.
“This is of no concern to you. You had best pretend you never heard anything.” She said.
“Never mind this! From now on, just continue to stay by my side…… But you…… You, you were actually so reckless……”
Minerva entangled her five fingers between Chris’ fingers on his hurt palm, and gripped his hand forcefully.
“Idiot…… What can you get even if you did so…… Treating me as a substitute since you were unable to protect your mother……”
Her words viciously tore open Chris’ wounds. He was unable to answer. He could not do anything except for holding Minerva’s hand tightly.
The speed of the horse cart had slowed slightly. A silhouette climbed in from the back of the cart. Minerva pounded on a wooden crate by Chris and curled up at a corner of the cart.
Through the tidily arranged spears, Chris saw Francesca’s golden hair. She silently walked towards Chris, squatted by his side, stretched out a hand and extended it towards his bare chest after flipping open his shirt.
“Ack, no, Fran, my wound isn’t there!”
Flustered, Chris tried to escape, but the pain from the wound on his hand caused him to be able to crawl away, and was thus unable to run away.
“Fran! Y- You’re at it again!” With her face flushed, Minerva quickly separated the two.
“It’s your fault, as you made me think Chris can’t be saved anymore with the dark expressions on your faces.” Francesca said.
“I’m still alive, isn’t it clear from a look!”
Chris pushed away Francesca’s hand and rearranged his collar.
“I already heard it from Gil.” With a serene expression, Francesca sat down on a bamboo basket, “He said that you were attacked by a group of priests and nuns, is that right?”
Minerva glanced at Chris and nodded. Francesca pressed her hand on her forehead and sighed deeply, “I was too careless. I had thought that the future you foresaw would not be realized. I never thought that you would actually be hurt with a poisoned blade by a group of people from god knows where……”
“I never thought you would actually underestimate my oracular powers.”
“It’s because you’re still seeing futures of Chris killing you. Isn’t that right?”
Francesca said, making Minerva and Chris to hold their breath.
— That’s right, Minerva predicted a future of me killing her with this longsword as well, and these two futures……
The death omens that appeared on Minerva were contradictory.
“If so, compared with being killed by those people of unknown origins, it’s more possible for me to be killed in Chris’ hands huh……” Minerva’s voice contained visibly strong anger. However, Francesca unexpectedly nodded in affirmative without hesitation.
Ignoring Minerva’s questions, Francesca’s gaze locked on to Chris.
I wouldn’t kill her no matter what! Chris was angry at himself for being unable to say those words.
— She must know something! This person— Francesca definitely knows a lot of key answers. Chris sensed this from her usual attitude, while Francesca finally turned away at this moment and shook her head as she said: “Because I can’t think of anyone who would want to take Minerva’s life. After all, if these people were from the Celestial Kingdom, Meena would have long foreseen their identity. However, I do not think that the Consort Prospects would wish to dispose of Minerva.”
“…… Those people…… were shrine maidens and priests serving the Tuekay Goddess.”
Minerva’s answer shocked Francesca into silence. After that she nodded weakly:
“So, the powers among the Celestials are divided into separate struggles, huh……”
— Is Minerva anyhow related to the Celestials? Chris was about to ask the question when he was instantly intimidated by Francesca’s powerful glare, making him swallow his question.
From the gaze, Chris perceived that Francesca meant that he should ask when Minerva was willing to tell. When Francesca reaffirmed that Chris did not have any intention of speaking, she continued to speak her heartfelt words:
“…… I’ll say, actually I really want to bring you two back to Zaccariesco and lock you in my room, putting on so many elegant silk robes that you won’t be able to move, so that my two cute personal guards won’t be hurt on the battlefield anymore. I really don’t want to see you like this.”
Minerva couldn’t help but sigh while puffing out her cheeks.
“I joined the Order for war. As long as I am still able to hold the sword, I will stay on the battlefield forever.”
“That’s true. When your injuries heal, I’ll have to count on you to fight in the next battle as well.” Francesca said with a sigh. Although he was unsure how much was in jest, and how much was serious, Chris still caught hold of the longsword lent to him by Gilberto and nodded in agreement at his liege lord.
“Say, where are we headed to right now? And what happened to the fort?”
Minerva pressed her head with her hands, trying to clear the sense of dizziness that did not stop from the moment she awoke, saying to Francesca at the same time.
“Our attack successfully delayed their meeting with their units. And yesterday, we finally grasped battle plans of the Celestial Army as well. They are dispatching troops in four different directions, and are slowly moving in the direction of Medoccia.”
Medoccia. It was the Eastern country nearest to Santuario, and the shelter of the Archbishop who escaped from a siege on the main Church.
“How many men do they have?” Minerva asked.
“About thirty thousand.”
Francesca’s answer made Chris shudder. After all, even the battle with Princinopolis used only twenty thousand men, but the numbers of men this time far outnumbered that number.
“If we don’t make it, Medoccia will probably fall in three days.”
Francesca’s tone was calm and tranquil, like that of a person in charge of stamping documents.
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