Noon had already passed by the time the notice reached the port town of Beretta.
To the three dragoons on duty, a report came in that some towns and villages near the border were under attack. The ones who delivered the messages were knights mainly tasked as messengers.
Those knights who rode hippogryphs, crosses between horses and gryphons, were a shadow unit largely specialized in working with information. Unlike the dragoons, who could only take action as a public affair, they would accomplish their missions without standing out.
The hippogryphs took the forms of horses, entering the port town with innocent faces. But those knights who tamed beasts even rarer than dragons were those who served directly under the royal line. It was unnatural to find them in a place like this.
“You’re telling us to sortie?”
Wearing a hood, the knight’s face couldn’t be made out. While the inside of the hood was definitely dark, they seemed to be wearing some sort of mask.
After bringing their feet to Bennet in civilian clothing, they gathered the relevant personnel and undid their disguises in the meeting room.
Eunius and Aleist, who had been forcefully dragged along the way, showed different reactions as they stood before a knight brigade that was famous, in a sense.
While Eunius was full of interest towards that nameless brigade he was seeing for the first time, Aleist firmly tilted his head. Even when it came to hippogryphs, it seems he didn’t even know of their very existence in this world.
While gryphons were impossible to tame by human hands, if one were to sire a child with a mare, a hippogryph was the result. That being the case, gryphons would more often than not make meals of horses, and hippogryphs themselves were infertile. For that sake, their conception itself was rare.
“Yes. We do not have the ability to hold them in place. Speaking to their scale, the option of diverting them away from the towns and villages will prove difficult.”
Before the masked knight who replied to Bennet with a muffled voice, Keith was silent. While Keith was usually the sort to start a ruckus, when it came to work, his expression changed.
“The scale is far too grand. What happened?”
“We cannot offer you the specifics… but, it’s certain they’re flowing in from the empire’s side. To add to that, it is doubtful that a second wave will come.”
“Counting the small fries, it’s a scale surpassing a thousand.”
“I observed them from afar, and they seem to be searching for food. It’s a considerably dangerous situation.”
Bennet put together a plan from the information coming in. But there, Aleist stepped into the ranks. From what he had heard, it was certain these knights sat and watched while the monsters attacked a village.
“You don’t mean you overlooked them!”
As he drew close to a robed knight, Eunius grasped his shoulders. When Aleist turned, Eunius shook his head to the side.
“That’s just the sort of unit they belong to. While they may be knights, they’re the sort of folks who conceal their numbers and history to work for the crown. That they even came to notify us is a miracle.”
Eunius turned his gaze to the robed knight. The knight who couldn’t be made out as man or woman showed not the slightest quiver. As Aleist looked down, Bennet came to the conclusion they were in a situation where no ordinary means of communication was viable.
“Keith, take the lead and take down the monsters around the settlement under attack. Upon my arrival, I’ll enter ground combat. After that.–”
“I-I’ll go too!” “Oy!”
When Bennet put out orders, Aleist let out his will to tag along. Eunius thought it was a discourtesy to involve one’s self in the dealings of another brigade and tried to stop him. But Bennet gave consent.
(This might be just right.)
“Rudel, this time, you’ll be riding my Heleene. If those two over there wish to ride, they can come along as well.”
As Bennet gave the word, Keith made a stern expression. He surely wanted to criticize her for taking any unrelated people to the site, however, Bennet informed him before he could open his mouth.
“At the battle site, procedure has you come under my command. What’s more, the tagalongs have simply increased from two to four.”
Keith scratched his head, and while he didn’t fully accept it, if it was an order… or so he silently rushed out of the room. Just as he left the meeting room, his dragon started its descent outside the building, having been put on standby in the air.
Thinking he would be a reliable subordinate, this time, she turned her whole body towards her direct subordinate Rudel.
“Rudel, you will not be taking Sakuya on this mission.”
“Major, Sakuya can do it. If it’s just monsters, then–”
“It seems you are misunderstanding something. Let me spell it out clearly. What is demanded of us is the perfect execution of a mission. She did her best? That effort isn’t even worthy of evaluation. I have determined it is impossible for your dragon to execute the mission. That is why you’re not bringing her.”
On the verge of opening his mouth, Rudel looked down mortified as he put nothing more than his acceptance to mouth. While Bennet wanted to try cheering up her subordinate, they didn’t have the time. Thinking there would be some time to talk en route, she rushed into her preparations.
“We’re heading out at once. Prepare what you can, if you’re not at the plaza, you’ll be left behind.”
After calling over to Aleist and Eunius, Bennet rushed out of the meeting room herself. For her equipment, she just had to fasten her bag to her dragon.
She could settle Rudel’s worries in the sky. That’s all she had to think, and yet she ended up mulling over something unnecessary.
(Sakuya-chan’s going to be depressed.)
Following on from Keith’s lead, the party headed off for a counteroffensive, but from her dragon’s back, Bennet issued the orders for the site.
“Protection of the civilians?”
In regards to Izumi’s question, Bennet spoke.
“That’s right. Rudel and I will sweep up the monsters that infiltrated. The rest of you will be guarding the civilians who’ve evacuated. Generally speaking, you’d be in the way otherwise.”
Hearing he would be in the way, Aleist started to his feet, but Eunius stopped him. The very fact that the usual Eunius would probably rise at those words as well only made Aleist more surprised.
“We’re capable of fighting too.”
“She knows that. She took us along because we can fight. But this is Rudel’s job. We shouldn’t get in the way.”
Being talked to in a manner as if to soothe a child irritated him, but Aleist had no words to return. He understood. He never thought he’d be able to establish coordination with the others in this battle, but he did have the will to help.
Both side of the coin mingled within him, leaving him at a loss for words.
“Aleist, leave it to me and the Major.”
When Rudel said it, Aleist could only nod.
(Goddammit. Aren’t I supposed to strong? Wasn’t I supposed to have become strong?)
He was irritated at his own uselessness. If he was the protagonist of the story, then no matter the time, he should be able to make the impossible possible. So he thought, but the real him was different.
Cleaning day in and day out, he was an existence distant from anything that could be called the lead role. Even so, some day… he had held onto the belief, but he knew reality was never so sweet.
Raising his face, he looked at the town raising black smoke. If they carried out their lives, surely smoke would rise, but it was a dark smoke that failed to give off the slightest sense of liveliness. On that scene where he thought he might hear human screams at any moment, Aleist swallowed his breath.
He wasn’t afraid of battle. He was afraid of his own powerlessness. Atop the dragon’s back, Aleist strengthened his resolve. Just as he was about to tell himself he wasn’t the same useless child he once was, Bennet…
“We’re landing in the town plaza, but we don’t have the time for a descent. I’ll put her on an inverted flight, so just jump down.”
“Yes! … wait, what?”
From the large bag fastened to the dragon’s back, Bennet produced a metal boomerang that spanned her whole height.
What’s more, it wasn’t just one or two. She had stuffed what could be called several dozens of boomerangs into her bag.
“Major, should I hold that for you?”
Rudel called out in worry, but Bennet wagged her tail as she denied it.
“You fool! What good will it do in your hands? Keep a good eye on the way I fight. If Keith is doing well at the vanguard, then right around now…”
In the air above the town they approached, a water dragon was firing a stream of attacks towards the ground. Attacking the area around the ground, it eliminated the monsters flying through the sky. But as a dragon’s attacks would raze the town, its assault was limited to the town’s airspace and exterior.
Seeing the skillful manipulation of the dragon, everyone held the impression it would be impossible for Sakuya. More than that, she might even erase the town alongside the monsters.
“… Looks like he’s doing just fine. Heleene, meet up with Spinnith and strike down the monsters around.”
As Bennet called out to her own dragon, the dragon gave a single roar in the air. It was as if it was responding to say it understood. If anyone apart from a dragoon saw the scene, it would look like a one-sided conversation with a dragon.
“Then we’re off.” “Ah, wai… gyaaaah!!”
Taking a sudden nose-dive, Heleene turned and flew in a position with her stomach face up. From what had once been a stable flight, her motions changed to a trajectory that brought a roller coaster to mind. Aleist was never too good with roller coasters.
“Aleist, you’ll bite your tongue.” “My thoughts exactly.”
While Rudel worried for Aleist, Eunius was making a fed-up face. With this being their first real battle, neither Izumi nor Millia found the leisure to pay mind to Aleist’s tensions. Meanwhile, Rudel was calling out to those two.
Aleist regretted it just a bit that he had missed the perfect opportunity.
“And here we go.”
Watching Bennet’s back, Aleist was surprised. Grasping a bundle of those large boomerangs, she went straight into throwing them. The number thrown in that instant was six. From there, they flew, spinning with good momentum to find a target in the monsters on the ground.
Each time they stuck into the earth, they would sew monsters onto it. Once she had finished throwing eighteen, Bennet cried out.
“Now, jump off!”
Seeing everyone jump off, Aleist jumped down just a little late. His timing slightly off, he was the only one who fell into the fountain in the center of the plaza. After his body struck the fountain water that rose to about knee-level, he sunk from the weight of his equipment.
“What are you doing, Aleist!? You’re alright, right? Right!?”
Crawling out of the water, Aleist sent Millia a smile. But Millia immediately commenced a survey of the area.
While Millia had called out to him, Aleist was the sort who was happy even if it was a yell. Looking around, they could see Bennet and Rudel commence their action.
“I saw them evacuating to the south in droves. You lot, head straight south!”
With those words, the two started running west and soon went out of sight.
“Bennet-san has good eyes.”
Holding such an out-of-place impression, Aleist hardened his resolve as he and the other three ran off to save the townsfolk.
While they each possessed different means of high-speed movement, looking at the result, it seemed as if Rudel was just barely managing to follow.
It was a small town, where three story buildings were rare, and the highest they would go. The two of them were clearing up monsters in the area where the residential buildings were closely packed together. But in the space where Rudel defeated a single monster, Bennet was defeating them one after the next.
Defeating a monster on the move, she would instantly search out her next target.
(She really is fast.)
When it came to instantaneous acceleration, Rudel wasn’t losing. More than that, when it came to speed, Rudel surely had the upper hand.
Bennet tossed two knives at the two goblins who tried to flee into an alleyway. With their vitals accurately captured, the two died instantly.
Bennet and Rudel leapt freely across the spaces between buildings, but their movements were different. Rudel couldn’t help but decelerate right before an attack.
There, they heard a scream.
When he slowed down to check, he found a single orc about to lower an adze of stone and wood down at a family unit. IT would likely fall under the more clever variety of monster. Rudel swiftly moved to the space above the orc, accelerating towards the ground as he used his sword to bisect it.
For a while now, he had stopped counting how many monsters he had taken down.
As the orc split vertically spurted blood, Rudel was bathed in it. Seeing that form, the family who had been attacked raised a greater scream as they ran off.
The left arm he had extended in an attempt to assist them, before he noticed it, Bennet had approached and grasped it.
“What are you doing? The cleanup isn’t over yet.”
“But we have to ensure their safety.”
“In the time you spend saving a single family, many more residents will die. They fled up the path we cleaned up and came down, their probability of survival is high.”
The family that ran off without lending an ear was already out of sight.
“We can leave the monsters outside town to Keith and Heleene, but we’re the only ones who can take on the monsters who came in.”
Seeing off Bennet, who commenced movement after leaving only those words Rudel grit his teeth. He understood it in his head. But when it was actually before his eyes, he had some hesitation. Beginning his movement a little late, he caught up with Bennet, who had lowered speed.
“Get it in your head, the more you waver, the more people will die. And that is the extent of your strength. If you want to save them, you have to become stronger.”
Saying that as Rudel caught up, Bennet accelerated again. In order to follow, Rudel raised his speed. While desperately keeping on her tail, Rudel watched her back.
She had already used up all the boomerangs she shouldered, and she didn’t have my throwing knives left. But that didn’t lower the speed she took them down. It just went to show how diverse she was.
At the same time, she wasn’t using any unnecessary power. Her movement and attacks gave off the impression she was only using the minimum necessary. To Rudel, it looked like he was watching a professional work.
In contrast, Rudel’s means of attack were limited. As they were in the middle of town, he couldn’t use magic. When attacking on the move, the accuracy would fall, and if the magic of the needlessly powerful Rudel failed, it would incur damages onto the area.
If he had Sakuya, the damage would become something severe.
(Sakuya, me and you, we’ve got a long ways to go.)
Bennet kicked away an orc before his eyes, sending a number of goblins tumbling down alongside it. Perhaps she had inserted her kick into a vital, as the orc showed no signs of moving. She had run out of throwing knives, now holding a dagger in each hand, changing to a dual-wielding style.
With that, her movements only grew sharper.
Even when approaching an enemy was when one’s movements were supposed to require the greatest amount of caution.
“Just right. Rudel, I’ll show you by example. Burn it into your eyes.”
As the two of them landed on a rooftop, Bennet ordered Rudel to watch before jumping down. While there were monsters fearful of the combat prowess she had shown, perhaps seeing her form, there were some who misunderstood her as weak, as they began to flock.
Her appearance was that of a young girl, a weak one at that. Even if a few of them had comparatively good heads on their shoulders, there was a limit to that. In regards to the monsters coming at her, Bennet showed no panic.
In the next instant, after she had lightly jumped twice on the spot, to Rudel, it almost looked as if she had disappeared.
Immediately activating his magic eyes, Rudel traced her movements. It was a speed no different from his own, perhaps even slower, but rather than his emergency bursts, her movements were smaller.
For all the speed he had, Rudel couldn’t help but make his movements large, and it was here the difference was coming out. There was no waste in each step she took.
By the time he realized it, the surrounding monsters had been cleaned up.
Meanwhile, Eunius and the others who were to prioritize the protection of the townsfolk were protecting the evacuees from monsters.
The largest building in town was apparently a fort built up ages ago.
“Goddammit, there’s no end to them.”
Cutting down two monsters with his great sword, a blood-stained Eunius used a cloth to wipe off his face. That had been the last of the monsters who’d approached. But even so, given just a bit of time, the monsters would group and attack again.
Climbing onto the surrounding buildings, Millia used sound to notify them whenever monsters were approaching. She could handle a bow, and they were thankful she could take the stragglers down from that position.
“Eunius, switch out with me.”
“Are you stupid? I can’t use a lick of magic. You stay at the entrance and continue with magic support.”
Returning Aleist to his original post, Eunius observed Millia and Izumi. No problems with Aleist. In front of the building the townsfolk had evacuated into, there was a small courtyard. As they could use magic there, then it was easy to defend against monsters of this level.
“Even so, if we didn’t happen to be there, what did that cute captain plan on doing… well, she’s got her dragon, so I’m sure it’d work out.”
He shifted his eyes to Izumi. Millia was keeping wary of the surroundings. There didn’t seem to be any particular problems on her side, but Izumi’s exhaustion was severe.
Apart from battle, she was put to looking after the residents who’d evacuated. Eunius would treat them too roughly, and with Millia, there were some race-related problems.
More than anything, Aleist was unreliable in these sorts of things. As a result, the burden was placed on Izumi.
Calming the townsfolk in chaos, and be that as it may, she still dealt with the monster attacks. The enemies came in numbers too great, and even Aleist’s magic wasn’t able to completely deal with them.
“The uniform of a high knight really is effective.”
The fact Izumi was a high knight had an effect, more or less. Of course, from the townsfolk’s point of view, it wasn’t as if they understood her affiliation. They decided by appearance that some splendid knight was talking.
Aleist and Eunius were in civilian clothing, and the defenders’ uniform didn’t look much different from that of the rank and file to begin with.
But even with Izumi persuading them, the residents continued to riot, making it even worse in nature. There was a merchant-esque man who demanded they go out to save his child left behind. Because his wife died, there was a man who rushed out saying he would die as well.
Eunius felt an anger he had nowhere to place as he thought of how he would fulfill the job before his eyes.