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Chapter 4 – War Maiden
May 28, 1023, imperial year, two days after the nameless battle in the wilderness. Hiro’s group was running eight cells (twenty-four kilometers) away from the frontier city of Lynx.
At the beginning of the journey, three hundred soldiers had accompanied them, but after repeated encounters with monsters and battles with the Principality of Lichtine, their numbers had dwindled to less than ten now.
Even so, Liz’s waist continued to move forward, and Hiro had his arms around them.
“When we get to Berg Fortress, I have to train Hiro to ride horses.”
“No… I can’t ride them.”
Even a thousand years ago, the first emperor Altius used to be a teacher and trained him day and night, but even though he could straddle them, he couldn’t even make them walk, and so he didn’t make any further progress.
Since he always used a carriage on the battlefield, he never felt inconvenienced, but he might have to look forward to it.
There were two reasons why he came to that idea. One was that Tris’s face was terrifying. The other was that the soft breasts would occasionally hit him. The latter was a particularly troubling matter for Hiro.
A thousand years ago, he used to ride along behind the first emperor, but since the other party was a man, it didn’t cause him any strange feelings. But now the one in front of him was a woman. Although it seems that her breasts are not full enough, in the future, she will be known to the world as an immensely beautiful woman.
(Why are they so soft… Is it because she’s an imperial princess?)
As he was thinking a silly thought, Tris, the watcher, pulled his horse over to him. Of course, he doesn’t forget to glare at Hiro. It’s called a commitment.
“Princess. Let’s take a quick break once we’ve gone ahead for a while.”
“Yes. I’d like to know Lynx’s situation, and Cerberus seems to be having a hard time, and I’d like to give my horse a break.”
Cerberus, who is running alongside them, is galloping along with his tongue, slackly lowered.
“I’ll send a couple of men to check out the city. It’s not too late to go into the city when we hear the reports.”
Originally, they should have been at Fortress Berg by now. But the unexpected events happened in quick succession, so it wouldn’t hurt to be overly cautious.
“Let’s take a break in about two more cells. Is that okay with you, Hiro?”
“I think we deserve a break right now.”
It’s not because he’s tired or anything; it’s simply because his butt is sore. Compared to Hiro, Liz doesn’t seem to be suffering, and she looks cooler. Even though her bottom looks soft… he was almost checking to see if it was hard, when he caught sight out of the corner of his eye and shouted.
They reacted immediately, and the horses came to a sudden stop. Tris and the soldiers trailing behind them were slow to notice and passed them before they stopped.
“What’s wrong? Did you bite your tongue?”
“It’s not that! There’s a kid being attacked over there!”
He sounded impatient.
“That’s not good! Where is it? Who’s attacking?”
Liz’s head snapped around the area in a panic.
Seeing the tip of Hiro’s index finger-pointing, the tension drained from Liz’s body at once.
“That wasn’t a child.”
“Eh? It looks like a human, but…”
Was I mistaken? He repeatedly rubbed his eyelids at the thought, but out of the corner of his eye, something that looked like a child was being attacked by a bird species that was twice as big as a vulture.
“Tris! I know it’s a little early, but let’s take a break.”
Liz dismounted from her horse first and extended her hand towards Hiro.
“You know, the one that looks like a bird is called a Geldem, and the one that looks like a child is a Goblin.”
As he descended with Liz’s help, Hiro tilted his head to look at the Goblin. There were monsters a thousand years ago, but there must not have been any monsters that small.
A small horn was growing on its head, skin-colored, round eyes, and a childlike face that gave it a charming look. It wore a green outfit with an upper garment and skirt in one piece, and in its hand, it held a twig and waved it at Geldem.
“Shouldn’t we help it? I feel really, really bad about this.”
Even from a distance, he could see that it was desperate. When it’s that small, it can’t even reach, and it won’t be able to repel enemies attacking it from the sky. Hiro, who looks on anxiously, is about to make up his mind to go to help, but Liz grabs him by the shoulder.
“If you get too close, you’ll get caught up in it, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
“Well, I guess I’ll have to get involved.”
“No, no. You’ll know it when you see it a little.”
Liz then sat down with her knees folded together on the ground. Tris instructed the soldiers, saying, “Go check on the city.”
The two horses rode through the dusty, sparse grass wilderness. Hiro looked at the harassed Goblins, but as soon as he saw it clearly, his face turned pale.
Goblins were coming out of the ground in rapid succession. One Goblin climbed onto the back of its companion, and then another Goblin jumped on top of it. That’s how a single pillar was formed and knocked off the Geldem with a twig.
“What was that…”
“Goblins were originally earth spirits. The spirit king apparently got mad at them for causing too much mischief and made them earth sprites on Aletia. They get along well with dwarves. I often saw them help out with blacksmithing.”
The sight of them standing up to an opponent who is two times larger than their own body is impressive, and they are toying with their opponents with quick movements that leave no room for a counterattack. But because a twig was just tapping it, it was likely annoying at best. Actually, the Geldem did just look annoyed and didn’t seem to be in pain.
At any rate―the Goblins are cute, Hiro thinks.
“If you did jump in to help them, you probably would’ve been struck along with the Geldem.”
“…Good thing I didn’t go. That looks like an annoying attack.”
“Fufufu, yes. But the Goblins are scary when they stop using twigs.”
“What do you say that?”
“Hmm. Tris was almost dead because of it. Some people even call the Goblin’s attack the “Death Meteor”. It’s just as expected from a former spirit.”
A blow that would be enough to take Tris’ life, that’s scary. When he felt a chill run down his spine, the Goblin threw down a twig and began to attack.
But the sight of Geldem enduring it feels even more frightening. Eventually, the fight ended when Geldem couldn’t withstand the Goblin’s attack anymore and flew away into the sky.
“By the way, the goblins are only female.”
He heard a word that caught his attention, but the soldiers who had gone to check on the city returned just in time. They were accompanied by a small, neatly dressed, mature man.
The man quickly dismounted from his horse and put his hands on his chest and got down on one knee, not caring if he got dirty.
“Your Highness Celia Estreya, it is a pleasure to meet you for the first time. My name is Kurt von Termier. I am currently in charge of Margrave Grinda’s deputy in his absence.”
Liz stands up and puts a hand to her chest in return.
“My name is Celia Estreya Elizabeth von Grantz. The Emperor has bestowed upon me the rank of Major General.”
Since she is the Sixth Princess, her graceful and interesting face is admirable.
“Acting Lord Termier, where has my uncle gone?”
“Margrave Grinda is in the Fort Berg. Four days ago, the Principality of Lichtine attacked us from across the border. According to the report, there are twelve thousand of them. And yet, thanks to the War Maiden, the situation remains as a stalemate between us.”
Termier held out a single envelope to her.
“He said, if his niece ever stops by the Lynx, give her this.”
Liz took it and tore the sealing wax and looked through the sheet of paper. She nodded as she was biting her lips several times and looked at Tris.
The six heavily armed infantrymen, including Tris, fell to their knees on the spot.
“We’ll head to Fort Berg. But first, let’s go to the Lynx for some rest.”
After a few battles, they rode their horses to this point without sleeping. No matter how well-trained a soldier is―although there is no sign of that from Tris and the others’ faces, fatigue must have definitely set in.
“Do you want to read it, too, Hiro?”
“Is it okay to let me read it so easily like that?”
He looks at Liz with a bit of a surprise. Although there are differences in content, this kind of personal letter is something that should not be shown to anyone.
At least that’s what Hiro is aware of.
But, nodding lightly, Liz handed the letter to Hiro. The contents of the letter are――.
My beloved Elizabeth.
I’m glad you made it to the Lynx safely.
But we shall exchange a hundred words when we meet again.
I’ll be waiting for you at the Berg Fortress.
“Acting Lord Termier. What is the strength of the troops in the Berg Fortress?”
“…The entire Third Imperial Army brought by the “War Maiden” is about 3,000 men.”
“That’s a huge gap again.”
It was a large army of twelve thousand against three thousand, so it was no wonder Liz had a sinking look on her face. Hiro almost sighed as he pondered what to do. Thinking about it, Hiro had no status in this world. If he were to say, he would be less than a commoner. If he hadn’t met Liz, he would have been lost on the streets. If such a person drew up a plan of action, there is no way it would be adopted.
Besides, he’s a hero from a thousand years ago. And even if he said that, no one would trust him.
(Liz might trust me, but…)
Anyway, he planned to hold off until he could figure out the situation. When the time comes, he will think about it; it’s not too late to decide what’s best for the situation.
When Hiro looked up above him, the azure sky was as clear as day, unaware of the human presence.
Lynx’s frontier city, a strange city where desert and grassland coexist, is divided into the northern and southern districts. The South District, the entrance to the city, is located in the desert, and normally the streets would be crowded with street vendors, but due to the signs of war, no one has opened a shop. Even the lower class citizens who live here have shut themselves away at home. There are only a few people here and there in the inns and bars.
In the northern part of the city, there used to be a stagecoach for the nobility. Now it is crowded with aristocrats who have packed up their belongings to avoid getting caught up in the war, creating a bleak atmosphere.
From there, the road will lead you to the Margrave Grinda’s mansion. On the first floor of the mansion, near the passageway that leads to the baths, there is a room filled with the city’s history and the history of the empire.
The square-shaped room is filled with bookshelves on all four sides, containing both old and new books. Books that didn’t fit in there were placed on the floor. In the center of the place, also called the library, a long desk, rugged and unadorned, stood like the master of the room.
Underneath it was Cerberus’s figure, now hiding, not a majestic white wolf, but shaking his body like a puppy drenched in rainwater. A pile of books occupied the desk, and by the desk, one man was reading with his hips down to the floor. It was a black-haired, black-eyed boy with a face that could be described as both pathetic and meek―Hiro.
“Huh… this is embarrassing.”
Hiro put the book he was reading on the desk and then pinched it between his fingers to loosen his brows. It felt as if he was being shown a black history written in the eighth grade.
Every book mentioned the first emperor, and of course, with him also in it, with his name that was called Schwartz. For Hiro, it was three years ago; for this world, it was a thousand years ago. They even made himself a deity, and just thinking about it makes his head hurt.
“But, it’s weird…”
Three years ago, at the age of thirteen, he should have returned to his homeworld, Earth, from Aletia. However, all of the lore says that Hiro is living out his natural life as the Second Emperor.
(Who in the world is this Schwartz?)
Hiro’s thoughts came to a possibility, but he immediately shook his head to weigh himself.
――That was a thousand years ago. No matter what he said now, it wouldn’t change.
In an attempt to change his mood, he throws a glance out the window. The sunset clouds spreading out from the western sky were playing tricks on the sun that was floating in the background.
With the light coming in through that window, he pulls out a card from the inside pocket of his uniform. It was given to him by the first Emperor Altius before he returned to his original world.
“Well, it looks a lot like a spirit card, but…”
The book has a list of pictures of similar cards, but they are not plain and not thick. He doesn’t know what on earth this is or how to use it.
“It doesn’t look like the “Heavenly Emperor”…”
The Spirit King’s blessing is an “Outer” power that exists outside the bounds of human wisdom. When Hiro looked at the empty space, a cracking sound was heard, and a crack appeared.
A white hilt jumps out from there as if crawling out slowly.
Looking down at the waist, the “Heavenly Emperor” handle disappeared as if it had been cleanly cut off. When he grabbed the handle that floated in space and pulled it out, the “Heavenly Emperor ” disappeared from his waist and appeared in Hiro’s hand.
――You’ve won the favor of the Heavenly Emperor.
And then he remembered what Altius had said when he showed it to him.
(…The spirit sword has a mind of its own.)
With a wish, the “Heavenly Emperor” materializes through the gate between Aletia and the spirit world. As soon as he released it, it disappeared into the air just before it fell to the ground. As silence falls in the room, a stillness spreads like a ripple.
Darkness quietly crept out of the room. The sounds of footsteps approach with a thud and a flashy sound. A little later, the door is opened roughly, and a red-haired girl enters, looking angry.
“Cerberus! I know you’re here!”
Turning towards her, Hiro was startled to the point of spiteful astonishment. Cerberus hid behind Hiro’s back with his pointed ears snapping up.
“Hey! Come here. Or at least wash your feet.”
Liz approached and reached out to Cerberus, but the wolf only snarled menacingly. Looking into his eyes, they burned as if he had met his nemesis. He was firm in his will not to move an inch.
“Geez! Why do you hate the baths so much!”
“Uh… sorry, Liz, I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you have a minute?”
“Well, uh, why aren’t you wearing your clothes?”
“To get Cerberus in the tub. I’d get wet if I kept my clothes on. That’s why I’m taking it off. And I’m properly covered up with a towel, so it doesn’t matter.”
“No, you know what… that’s not good.”
It was true that the towel hid only the most important part. It was extremely difficult to judge, but Hiro turned half-eyed to avoid looking as much as possible and only focused his gaze on her face.
That was a pity for his eyes, but for once, he had no choice.
“Cerberus-san, can you go to the bath for me?”
He had to do something before Tris arrived. As expected, there’s no excuse for this situation.
Forcing his arm around the wolf’s body, which refused by shaking his head dexterously, Hiro handed him to Liz.
“Hey! Don’t go crazy!”
Her towel danced down due to the wayward Cerberus. She didn’t seem to notice and turned her back just like that.
Hiro couldn’t say anything, his narrowed eyes widened. A rush of power, which he had never felt even with the Spirit Sword, was gathering in his lower body. At the same time, he forgot to breathe in, and his face turned red in a flash.
It’s the most important thing for people. It could be said to be essential to life.
Hiro was finally able to come to his senses by remembering how to breathe. And from the open doorway, there was a presence watching Hiro.
――It was Tris.
What floats on his face isn’t anger or sadness; it’s something very strange. As Tris slowly approached, Hiro got down on his knees with an immediate decision.
“Please. I only ask you to save my life.”
“Kid, I need to ask you something.”
“I’ll do anything I can to help you… so please spare my life.”
“Life? What is that… what have you been saying for a while now?”
“Are you listening to me?”
Hiro’s face turned down. He realized that the conversation wasn’t engaging. Apparently, Tris’s appearance wasn’t about Liz being naked. He was glad he realized it on the way. If he had continued the conversation as it was, he would have confessed on his own.
Hiro looked up with a mended smile on his face.
“W-what can I do for you?”
Tris looked dubiously at Hiro’s strange behavior, but he immediately fumbled with his mouth in a way that made it hard to say.
“Well …Nah. There was a lot going on the other day, so it was a bit of a blur.”
As he expected, it wasn’t about Liz. Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief and listened to Tris’ words.
“Let me ask you a simple question. Kid――what exactly is your true identity?”
“What do you mean…”
The faint sunlight reflects and glistens, and a cold blade snaps against his neck.
“Depending on your response, you could lose your head.”
He can see in Tris’s eyes that he’s serious.
“I have trust in you, kid. I’m indebted to you for saving us from the stench of death. But I couldn’t turn a blind eye to such a demonstration of power.”
“Well, you’re right.”
“I’d lay my hand on my benefactor if it would be harmful to the princess. So think it over.”
Hiro gulped down his spit and cleared his throat.
I’m the second emperor. If he said that, his head would probably roll on the floor. But that doesn’t mean he can tell he’s from Earth, too. His head would still fall off if he said that.
As Hiro was pondering how to respond, Cerberus came running into the room with astonishing speed. His appearance is the same as when he was taken out by Liz―in short; he must have escaped.
“It’s okay. I’ve changed my clothes so I won’t let you in anymore!”
Liz came into the room too, grumbling and complaining, and――.
“Tris! What are you doing!”
She noticed Tris pointing his blade at Hiro and ran over to him. Just like that, she hugged Hiro’s neck and pushed him down, then looked up and glared at Tris.
“I don’t know what happened, but that’s indeed too much!”
“Silence. And put your sword away.”
In a noncommittal tone, Tris dropped to one knee with his sword sheathed. Liz’s body leaves with a faint sweet scent.
“Tris. Explain to me exactly what happened.”
“Liz. Just in time for you to hear something.”
Hiro also sat up and stood between them.
“――About who I am. I’m sure you’ve wondered about that.”
“If you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay. I don’t care if you don’t want to.”
Seeing her eyes swim, Hiro hesitated a bit before patting her head. Hiro chuckled at Liz, who looked heartbroken, like a child who had been separated from her parents.
“It’s fine. It’s just that I felt like saying it.”
“…Okay, fine. I’ll listen to what Hiro has to say.”
“It’s not as complicated as it sounds――.”
After a beat, Hiro muttered.
“I’m a descendant of the second Emperor.”
If he were to be honest about everything, he would have to tell a story from a thousand years ago. But, they had to leave tomorrow, and there was no way he could explain it in half a day or so. So he decided to lie simply.
“If you ask me for proof, I’d say it’s the color of my hair and my eyes. It’s just a genetic inheritance.”
Hiro continued, wondering at their silent reaction.
“By the way, I think I was allowed into the Anfang Forest because of the bloodline of the second Emperor.”
“…Hiro. Do you know what that means?”
Hiro tilted his head at Liz, who asked with a serious look on her face.
“Eh, what do you mean?”
“If that were true, then Hiro would be the heir to the throne.”
“Not true. I’m just a descendant.”
“You mean, the War Hero?”
“…Yeah. I guess, but…”
“Then you’ll be the last of the Imperial Family. Maybe.”
“Because the first emperor left the last request.”
“The last request?”
“Yeah. What a weird request, huh?”
Liz looked at Tris, who was silent.
“If anyone claims to be a descendant of Schwartz, make sure it’s at the Spirit King’s Temple. If he is, give him the status he deserves. The Spirit King will curse those who violate this last request. And―.”
――Altius… What were you doing?
He’s a smart man. He may have had an inkling of what was going on. Maybe he made sure that no inconvenience would arise whenever Hiro returned to the era. However, he was a terrifying man to have predicted that he would call himself a descendant.
“So, you could be a member of the Imperial Family. Are you happy?”
A smile appeared on Liz’s mouth as she wrapped her arms around him. If Hiro hadn’t been so insensitive, he might have sensed that she was in love with him. He might have realized that it wasn’t love that arose from different social standings.
But Hiro made a drawn-out smile at the unexpected turn of events and asked Cerberus for help, asking for any advice he could give him.
As if he was rooted in what happened earlier, he was ignored as Cerberus pouted and turned away.
“…Fumu, I guess that’s all right for now.”
With an unconvinced expression on his face, Tris stands up with a feeling of disapproval. It’s no surprise that answering his origins doesn’t explain the mystery of his power, but with Liz in front of him, he has no choice but to put up with it.
“But then again, I didn’t know Hiro was a descendant of the second emperor. Well, I guess it’s a bit of a shame you weren’t a spirit.”
He wanted to tweak it, wondering if he was still going to pull that stuff out, but there were more important things to do.
“Um, could you please not tell anyone that I’m a descendant of the second emperor?”
“I know, I know. We’re not in that situation right now, and some things are bothering me, too…”
Though he brought this on himself, his lie had made things even more complicated. This may be what they mean by a crafty schemer drowning in their own scheme. He sighs at the fact that nothing goes his way with his life in this alternate world. Hiro’s mind raced desperately with thoughts of the future.