There a separate detachment of the Gaia Empire—their supposed main body was locked in a staring contest with the Dragoon Brigade.
The first to arrive at the battlefield, Oldart’s dragoons flew to intimidate the unmoving enemy near the border.
If that had them step down, it would be the end, but the enemy was evidently acting strange.
Skirmishes had broken out between the two powers many a time, and they were sure to know just how powerful their dragons were. Yet the army didn’t seem the least bit disconcerted.
“They’re waiting for something.”
As Oldart looked at the enemy camp and muttered, one of his subordinates approached.
“Captain, they show no signs of moving. They’re considerably calm.”
The Gaia Empire had invaded on two fronts.
There could be no doubt their main force was the army led by the crown prince before their eyes, but Oldart couldn’t help but be curious about the movements of the other prince’s army.
“Including Rudel, they have three riders. I think they can hold out…”
Even an army of ten thousand, to a dragoon, was no great threat.
A war could end simply through breath attacks from the sky. At times dragon slayers, and people outside the norm could appear to take them down. But with multiple riders, the possibility of them being taken out drastically fell.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Perhaps I was right to send reinforcements.”
Oldart touched his prided well-kept beard as he muttered; his subordinate’s expression turned grim.
“Captain, wouldn’t we be better off crossing the border first to meet them? There is no need for us to keep such a number stationed here—”
His subordinate prompting him to send half, even a third of his forces, Oldart lightly raised a hand to stop him from saying any further.
The reason was the dragon descending from the sky.
A gray dragon—not under the dragoons’ jurisdiction, the dragon of the royal guard.
“Now that wouldn’t do. Their other force is few in numbers. The enemy’s main body is here. It wouldn’t do for you to take arbitrary action.”
The gray dragon landed before Oldart’s subordinate. Fritz dismounted from its back and came out before Oldart.
“Why if it isn’t the supreme commander. Well, just try and understand the thoughts of someone who cares for his comrade in arms. So anyway, why have you ridden to the battlefield alone?”
What about the army? When Oldart asked, Fritz shrugged his shoulders.
Atop the back of a dragon, my speed far outweighs their march. I wanted to get a prior view of the battlefield.
Oldart was beset by a tiredness. No, rather than tired, a part of him understood how he felt.
(When you’re riding a dragon, a normal march feels like a snail’s pace… but the supreme commander leaving his army is a big no-no.)
Perhaps his subordinate felt the same, he made a conflicted expression as he looked at Fritz.
(It’s the same whether he’s there or not? Well, he’s the princess’ favorite, after all.)
He surely didn’t have a place even among his own troops.
As Oldart thought, he looked at the immobile imperials right across the border.
The army led by Askewell had suffered large losses from but a single man.
Even if that had been taken into account, the figures were too large to have come from opposing one unit.
“Have the monsters stand down. Surround him with elites.”
By Askewell’s orders, knights in uniform full-body armor came out front.
Their footing nimble despite the solid armor over their bodies, they were undoubtedly elites.
Askewell led them to surround Rudel in order to prepare a stage for one-on-one combat.
“White Dragoon, was it. You are strong. Far too strong. That is why… I must personally take you on.”
After picking up his spear and dismounting his horse, he walked over to Rudel.
While Rudel was covered in mud, dead-exhausted, even so, his fighting spirit didn’t wither before Askewell.
A sword in his right hand.
A shield in his left.
The knight in white armor fought Askewell’s army on his lonesome self.
It was not his intent to show his respect.
(I’ll beat you down here. For the morale of the entire army.)
After tiring him out so, Askewell would defeat his tattered opponent in one-on-one combat. He knew they couldn’t be called a virtue of the battlefield, but such notions were irrelevant to him.
If he didn’t win this battle, the empire had no future.
What’s more, he couldn’t let Rudel continue to put out casualties. If it came out that one man had taken down several thousands, it would influence morale. Crushing him with numbers would do little to remedy the situation, but if Askewell were to go out and defeat this dragoon, he would be able to completely turn the situation around.
(It would normally be a poor move, but…)
Rudel had stuck fast far harder than anticipated, forcing Askewell to change his objectives a number of times.
When Askewell readied his spear, Rudel’s mouth curled into a grin.
(So he laughs in this situation.)
There were at times, those who sought beauty on the battlefield. One on one combat and personal sacrifice—Askewell was unable to understand them.
At his core, he was someone who set out to be a research, not of a nature to look up to war heroes.
(Is he the sort that seeks his place to be on the battlefield?)
Seeing Askewell’s stance, Rudel opened his mouth.
“You… are strong. However!”
Rudel instantly closed the distance with a cut; Askewell turned aside his strike with his spear.
Receiving, parrying, he warded off Rudel’s attacks.
He had to be worn out, seeing the crudeness sticking out in Rudel’s attacks, Askewell was convinced.
(He’s close to his limit.)
A large step in, Askwell thrust his spear, and Rudel stopped the attack with his left-hand shield. He tried to divert the face, but it seemed he was unable.
“I’ll show you my respect for remaining to fight on your own. I will parade your corpse, but I will erect a monument.”
Rudel didn’t seem particularly interested.
“Don’t go erecting monuments in someone else’s country. Do you think you’ve won?”
— The match was practically decided already.
As he was about to say that, Rudel slammed Askewell’s spear hard into the ground.
The impact lifted the dirt, and as it flew through the air, Rudel took distance—
“You’re not getting away!”
When Askewell tried to give chase, Rudel fired off water magic towards the ground. With the moistened earth making it easier to slip, Askewell stopped moving for only a brief moment.
Confirming that, Rudel disappeared from before his eyes.
No, it was as if a gale had broken out with Rudel at the center, he began moving at a tremendous speed.
Looking around, Askewell opened his eyes wide.
There a scene of the elites surrounding them being cut down in a moment of distraction unfolded before his eyes.
Askewell regained a strong grip of his spear, turned to Rudel and yelled.
“Your opponent is over here!”
Rudel glanced at him and spoke.
“Wrong. Each and every one of you is my opponent.”
Rudel held up his sword as he looked at Askewell.
(But this guy is strong. Each individual blow is strangely heavy.)
The man coming at him, in comparison, didn’t fall short of Rudel in either power or speed. A blessed constitution.
Askewell’s talent and mana capacity might even exceed his own.
“You fight way too cleanly.”
Lifting dirt with his foot, he kicked it straight at Askewell’s face. While he immediately reacted and avoided it, his movements were unaccustomed.
He had rarely fought against an equal. Or perhaps too many of his fights had been against monsters, and in battles against humans, his blessed talent would end the match far too soon.
To an extent, he looked inexperienced when it came to fighting foes of close strength.
(But perhaps that just means that’s simply how talented he was.)
Askewell swiped his spear to the side.
That attack wrapped in the mud on the ground to assail Rudel. What was just a physical attack became a shockwave to come at him.
Springing over it to avoid, Rudel cut down at him from above. Askewell held his spear horizontally to catch the blow.
That powerful strike sunk the third prince’s boots into the ground.
(I can’t just push through as I am now.)
As he thought that, Rudel’s body let off a faint light. Symbols surfaced over his form, covering his entire body to protect him.
Unleashing the power of the white knight, Rudel took a look around.
(Looks like cutting down the elites has set the others in motion.)
Panicking at Rudel’s change, the surroundings moved to protect Askewell. Those surroundings were blown back by a bolt of light from Rudel.
While Askewell glared at Rudel, from Rudel’s point of view, he had no recollection of accepting a one-on-one duel. More so, whilst surrounded by enemies, there was no dishonor to be had in launching an attack.
To add to that, Rudel had noticed Askewell’s ulterior motive.
(I see, so his aim is to defeat me and raise morale. That’s surprisingly earnest. Is that how far they’ve been cornered?)
If they kept pushing him back with numbers, Rudel thought he could cut them down, and inflict enough damage that the enemy would retreat when reinforcements came.
“What’s wrong? If you don’t stop me, your men will die.”
When he provoked with a smile, Askewell forcefully swung his spear to knock Rudel back. Purposely flying back, Rudel opened more distance and attacked his surroundings once more.
The imperial army launched magic and arrows at him; but as Askewell was right by him, those attacks were few and far between.
(Should I use him as a shield to lower their numbers?)
As he considered it, Askewell fired off his strongest thrust at him. That blow like an arrow shot from afar looked to be difficult to fend off.
Due to his sheer force, the foothold Askewell kicked sent dirt several meters into the air.
Holding out his left hand, Rudel stationed several dozens of shields of light in the path of his advance. With enough force to pierce through all of them, Askewell’s momentum was only decreased by the slightest amount.
But that slight was enough. For at the end of his charge through dozens of shield—Rudel was long gone.
As Askewell hurriedly stopped in his tracks, Rudel circled around to his left—and bashed Askewell with his shield.
“Dammit! If I could circle right…”
That would have settled the match, but enemy soldiers had gathered there, and there was a chance his timing would be off.
He regretted not swinging his sword from an impossible angle.
(I need some more training. It’s a severe blow that I didn’t take him out with that attack.)
He tried to pursue Askewell, blown back, rolling along the ground, but enemies gathered around him.
They were surely trying to protect him.
While he did have some thoughts on their devotion—
“This is the war you started—”
Rudel cut down any soldier that would stand between himself and Askewell.
Askewell’s head was hazy.
When he raised his head, the backs of his men were directed at him, and beyond them a fountain of blood. His head was heavy.
Rudel had smacked him in the head, and the sounds of the battlefield sounded somewhat distant.
“W-what are you doing. Stop. You have to pull back!”
His subordinates died before his eyes. That was something Askewell couldn’t bear.
While he would kill his foes, he was too soft on his allies.
As he tried to stand to his feet, he thought he heard a single clear voice.
‘… When I’ve put so much in your favor, you can’t even properly fulfill your role?’
Hearing that disappointed voice, Askewell looked around. Time seemed to flow by ever so slowly.
Upon that irritated voice, he saw the ground at his feet suddenly overflowing with a pitch-black mud.
(What? This is…)
He tried to run, but his body wouldn’t move.
Yet as the black mud swallowed him down, a sense of delight—he could tell his strength was coming back to him.
Enveloped in a relief that made him want to entrust it his body, he could sense the wariness he had held towards Rudel a moment before was relaxing.
(Aah, this is…)
Askewell was swallowed by the mud, and when it came unstuck, there he was, his entire body covered in a dark ominous armor stuck-fast to his being.
No, rather than armor, perhaps it was closer to skin.
When his form had practically become that of the devil, Askewell looked at Rudel. Within that slowly moving time, Rudel’s eyes were trailed on him.
(… So he noticed. But it’s too late.)
The surrounding time returned to normal, and when the sounds came back vividly, Askewell swiftly approached Rudel and kicked him.
Blown away, Rudel collided where his army of allies was stationed, dragging in the surroundings as he rose a cloud of dust.
His subordinates took in Askewell’s form in bewilderment.
“That form is…”
“What could have?”
Seeing his perplexed subordinates, Askewell didn’t think anything in particular. Walking straight and tall, he held up his right hand a bit.
A black something escaped from his hand, that something was a spear.
Pulling that uncanny black spear from his body, Askewell walked towards Rudel, slowly breaking into a dash.
It was as if he was verifying the movements of his body, and without seeing his men before him as a hindrance, he simply blew them away in his wake.
From the person he had been a moment ago, something fundamental had changed.
“Now, here is your real battle.”
Askewell closed in on Rudel An unsightly smile spread across his face.