I can’t exactly say that I’m ready, but I’m not going to get any more time no matter how frustrated I am. In the end, I wasn’t able to think of any contingency plans and had to request Tasuku’s cooperation.
Even if I claimed that this expedition was a trap, I wouldn’t be able to fully convince him unless I was able to present firm evidence. If there’s anything else that I should do in preparation, then I should probably warn Cody to be cautious.
There’s not really any point in doing so, though.
We were proceeding at the rate of horses that had their reins tugged while they were pulling a carriage full of rocks over a rocky area. I could swear that this craggy path was making my feet heavier somehow.
“Use the muscles in your shoulders more, Harold. I know you can do it because the muscles you use to keep your face stiff all the time must be at least five times stronger!”
Maybe I looked more stressed out than I thought, because Sid, who was walking beside me, decided it would be fun to tease me a bit.
Everyday since the first day of the expedition, without fail, Cody’s unit had continued to say things of a similar sense to me time and time again. Perhaps they thought I was nervous, with this being my first assignment and all, and they were just trying to help me relax.
Though there was no doubt that I was nervous in a different sense.
Unfortunately, my various remarks such as “Be careful, don’t grow negligent” or “Watch your surroundings” were all overlooked by the lack of tension. The majority of the veterans such as Robinson saw the expedition as a low-risk campaign that we shouldn’t worry about.
Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve been more thorough with my preparations, but I still have plenty of time left. In a bad way, there wasn’t any tension in the air at all.
“You bastards are taking this too lightly. If a battle starts, you’ll be the ones to die first.”
“Who would we be fighting?”
“From the patrol guard on the border, they’ve reported sightings of men who might be spies from the Empire.
“Well I guess that’s something to be wary of, but if they’re a reconnaissance team, they’d only thirty people at most. While we’re numbering a little over two-hundred, even if a battle were to start, we’d be able to resolve it easily enough.”
I’m not sure what answer I should give Sid, because I know this isn’t going to be some small skirmish.
It’s only natural that a thirty-person unit specialized in reconnaissance would die in vain against a fully supplied and equipped opponent in enemy territory. So there’s no way any veteran from the Order would conclude such a battle happening.
But that’s only the case if the prior information was true. There’s a high chance that things will take a turn for the worse from that premise.
Originally it’s supposed to be a battle where many casualties are supposed to appear, it’s more than likely that there’s going to be ambushes and other surprises waiting for us in the forest.
I wonder how Sid could be so calm and composed yet still meet his demise at the hands of Larry Cloud.
While thinking about such dark things, I swore that I’d stab a metal nail through him before that happens.
If possible, I’ll crush any chance of that meeting happening so that Sid can return home.
“If you don’t want to die, then you should prepare yourself to be battle-ready at any moment. Well, a bastard like you already knows that, no?”
It seems like Sid, who had gotten used to my crude remarks, kept pushing for goodwill.
I want to warn them of the future that awaits them, but there’s just not enough evidence, instead of getting them to believe me, I’m only cultivating unnecessary distrust and suspicion.
At the very least, I tried to plant a sense of crisis in their hearts to no avail, and before I knew it, we had arrived at a town nearby the Blitz Forest. While staying there we were assigned to patrol the forest.
(Ah… what am I supposed to do?)
Having arrived in the evening, and that the preparations for the next day were already completed, I decided it would be nice to try exploring the city dyed in the setting sun.
Considering the time, there wasn’t very many people in the streets. Well, I guess it wasn’t a very big town in the first place.
Even if you walk absentmindedly while brooding over a problem, you won’t bother anyone on these deserted streets. Unbeknownst to myself, I had walked into a back alley by accident, most probably because I had directed most of my resources towards thinking.
Then my feet stopped.
When my thoughts had returned to me, I came to realize how lost I was. I had no idea where I had walked from.
‘Just what am I doing?’ I thought to myself, amazed. In such a dark alley, I caught myself from voicing those thoughts aloud.
“…that’s far enough. Just how long do you plan to keep tailing me?”
I put a lot of pressure into my voice, even though it looked liked I was speaking to myself.
However, at that moment multiple personages appeared from the space that previously housed noone. Their figures were covered completely in black, as if to melt into the dusk, reminiscent of ninjas.
To be surrounded by such an eerie group, my alertness level had risen to its maximum in an instant, even though I wasn’t sure if they were the enemy or not.
But contrary to my expectations, the ten black figures didn’t move. Then, one of them stepped forward and removed the cloth that had previously hidden everything except for their eyes.
“It has been quite some time~ Harold-sama~”
That drawling voice of hers didn’t fit the tension. Although her wardrobe had changed considerably from the cook’s apron she was wearing before. The person before me was definitely Yuno, Erika’s attendant.
A strong sense of relief swept through my body now that I knew that they were allies instead of enemies, releasing the tension.
“A message from Tasuku?”
After fierce negotiations I was somehow able to gain Tasuku’s assistance. I’m really grateful to know that he dispatched human resources for me as promised.
But why send me Yuno? This is clearly a heavy burden for Yuno, who doubles as a maid.
Or maybe the reason why she serves as Erika’s escort is because she’s that skilled, a brilliant way to keep a skillful personnel hidden.
“Well, I guess I’ll forgive you bastards for that greeting earlier.”
“Yes~ By the way~ Erika-sama told me to ‘Do as you will’~”
What Yuno just told me didn’t register. You would think that someone who was in a master-servant relationship with Tasuku and Erika wouldn’t talk about themselves that lightly.
Those words were akin to her saying ‘I’m here because I wanted to come here’.
I had just learned something astonishing, but I couldn’t afford to think about such things right now.
“Hmm, well, it’s fine. Have you bastards heard anything new?”
“Somewhat~” Yuno slurred ambiguously.
Although this place was uninhabited, it probably wasn’t the best place to disclose this information.
You never know where ears are lurking.
“If that’s so, let’s move to a secure location, and disclose the details there.”
“Over here~ We’ve prepared a private room that’s out-of-sight~~”
As expected, Tasuku did his job thoroughly.
In response to Yuno’s words, the other black figures melted into the shadows, once again disappearing into the darkness. Does that mean that Yuno will be my guide?
When I turned to Yuno and saw her face, I couldn’t help but feel soothed by her smile.
Towards her, I silently prayed that she’d help support me when I needed it.
◇ ◇ ◇
It’s already been three days since we arrived at the Blitz forest. While performing our duties as a support force, I may have kept up my usual attitude on the surface, but the truth was that my heart felt like it was in the middle of a storm.
The reason for this discord was the boy, Harold, who had just recently joined my unit.
I’m monitoring Harold due to the request of Vincent, the Knight’s Second-in-Command, who also happens to be my old friend, but it’s not a pleasant thing to doubt your own men.
If Harold had only one mysterious point to be doubted, then this wouldn’t be so awkward.
Originally, what caught my eye was his overwhelming fighting ability, but my doubts became clear with our run-in with that mysterious red-black mist that we encountered during the exam.
An unidentified monster. Harold’s response was one that could have only been made if he knew something about that foggy monster.
He insisted it was just intuition and acted as if it was the first time he ever saw it, but that was obviously proven a lie judging by how he fought that thing.
If Vincent hadn’t asked me to do this, and I didn’t have these doubts of mine, then maybe I could’ve overlooked this mystery.
There might not be any detrimental effects to The Order by doing this, but why go about it in such a roundabout way?
(The “Crimson-black fog” I really hope that you don’t know anything about it, Harold.)
I can’t fathom his reasons why.
I don’t even know what that reddish fog is in the first place, but if I can clarify the identity of that mist, there’s a chance I’ll be able to see the true meaning to Harold’s actions.
But I can’t say something with leisure now, whether or not he fights on the side of the Knight Order or the mysterious monsters, Harold knows fully well that he’s been telling information that’s impossible for ordinary people to know.
When he was informed about his participation in the expedition, he was clearly displeased.
And from the moment that the expedition started, whenever he opened his mouth he’d let out repeated remarks akin to “Prepare for battle.”
As if ‘he knew’ that there was a need to do so.
Besides, I can’t help but feel anxious whenever I can’t see his figure when I return to town.
I can’t wipe away that bad feeling of mine. Sure, members tend to grow nervous when being sent out on their first mission, but I know that Harold isn’t just some little boy.
I’ll never be able to calm my heart if I can’t even calm my mind.
As I’ve understood it, I’m worried about Harold’s persistent remarks.
Should I purposely spread what I know? I don’t think Harold will come clean, but if this is a crisis that involves lives, this may be the choice I have to make to protect my subordinates.
(But… Harold is an important subordinate of mine too, right?)
This was my unwavering conviction, but at the same time it was the idealism that troubled me.
I know that Harold isn’t as bad a kid as he appears to be, now that I’ve been in close contact with him for several months. He seems to be keeping some secret, but he hasn’t done anything detrimental to the Order so far.
I want to believe in Harold, it’s only natural to feel that way as his supervisor.
I’m believing in him because I want to believe in him, but I can’t talk about it. This unconditional trust of mine is equivalent to blind fool’s.
I exhaled a long, long sigh.
Just thinking about it makes it more complicated.
Having said so, maybe I should just walk up to Harold one day and say “Hey there, morning Harold-kun, is there anything you’re hiding from me you want to talk about?”
There’s always the chance that he’ll spill everything due to being seen through.
I immediately purged the thought, there’s no way that would work!
However, it might not be a bad idea to talk to him sometime. We might not have another chance if something happens during the patrol mission.
And when I tried heading out to meet with Harold, a messenger burst in with the momentum to break down the door.
“There’s a report that a patrol duty unit is being attacked by someone! There are numerous reports of injuries! They are requesting immediate assistance!”
Each commander started moving with the message, but I was the one to move the fastest.
As I opened the door to the room housing my Unit, there should be twenty people including Harold.
“It’s time for work! Tell everyone to gather outside, and Robin-kun-”
“He was here just a little while ago…”
I’m too late, he’s probably already heading over to the scene.
My intuition told me so.
“From here on out the Cody-unit will follow the instructions of the Maric-unit! I’ll be looking for Harold-kun, so I’m counting on you!”
I ran out without listening to Robin’s voice, and went to check the stables first. I didn’t hear of anybody borrowing a horse, and their numbers didn’t seem to decrease.
Harold may have thought that a rookie member didn’t have the authority to borrow an emergency horse.
In other words, Harold decided to run to the Blitz forest on his two feet, I should be able to catch him if I use a horse.
I, who had just borrowed a horse made a beeline straight to the forest. Within five minutes, I was able catch sight of Harold’s back.
Even so, what amazing leg strength. It took more time than expected to catch up.
Slowing down the horse, I jumped off and stood in front of Harold.
“Where are you going in such a hurry, Harold-kun?”
“…bastard, what are you doing?”
“You mean with Robin and the others? I left their command to the other teams.”
“Go back. You may be a bastard, but you’re their captain.”
“If that’s what you want, then why don’t we return together?”
Rejecting my offer to return, Harold decided to work alone.
He has no idea the consequences this could bring, ignoring the command of a superior officer and acting selfishly to his own plan.
Moreover, if he intervenes with the battlefield, he won’t be able to avoid punishment. It’ll be beyond the range that I can protect him from. At worst, he’ll be discharged and imprisoned.
But I guess that means the reason why he has to go is that important to him.
The boy named Harold will never bend his own beliefs. He has the strength to make anything he intends reality.
I can’t persuade him with just words.
‘Why do I have to have such a stubborn subordinate?’ I thought with a bitter smile.
“Do you really expect me to return by myself?”
“I don’t care, just go already!”
“And here I’m telling you I can’t do that! Do you really want to be convicted as a criminal that badly?!”
And that’s only the case if he survives.
Just by looking at Harold eyes, you could tell how displeased he was. They were the eyes of someone resolved to dive into the jaws of death.
I’ve seen so many people that have had those eyes to the point that it’s unreasonable, and more than a few of them are dead.
“Are you sure? Do you really want me to say this?”
There’s no way I can send someone with such eyes to the battlefield.
Although Vincent may be suspicious of Harold, I’m different. When I first saw Harold, I could see it.
The figure of Harold standing as a great knight that leads others.
Some might say this is my selfishness speaking, and they’re right. This is me working for my ideals.
I know that Harold has the potential to reach heights that neither I nor Vincent will ever be able to achieve.
Still, I don’t want to die.
I took in a deep breath, I can’t afford to hold back in this fight, no matter what.
Unsheathing my sword, I realized I was doing something that I might not be able to handle myself.
Letting out my usual laugh with vigor, I declared,
“If you really want to get past here that badly, you’ll have to go through me first! …got it?”
Translated by KuroInfinity. Written by Izumi (泉).