The area around the royal city of Heim was not a wilderness-like land.
The ground was lush and green, with trees growing in places, and ancient traditions co-exist with the beauty of nature. However, it was now covered in mud from the soldiers’ march, and as could be seen earlier, even the royal castle, which looked good on a beautiful blue-sky day, wore an air of dark rain clouds, which was disconcerting.
“Dill. I’ll be fine around here.”
“No, it won’t be. I will be your shield in case of an emergency.”
Heim’s army was right under their noses, and Dill was worried about Ain.
The soldiers of Heim still look as if they had lost their minds, but the way they were still following the orders of General Logas made it seem as if they had no willpower, as if they were puppets.
“Don’t worry. I’ll retreat as soon as I’m in danger, and since it’s at this distance, even if the attack reaches me──I can still avoid it.”
“I was hoping you would say that you lied there and said it couldn’t reach you.”
“Don’t look at me with a dumbfounded look on your face. It’s just a little joke.”
“Hah… I don’t think it’s a place for jokes, is it?”
“Well, it’s not good to be at a loss for words here.”
Despite his dazed expression, Dill was also reassured by the usual Ain. As the tension in his own body eased, he was able to relax his grip on the reins.
“The pre-war speech is like arguing, isn’t it?”
“It’s too large-scale to be called arguing, but that’s about right.”
“Have you ever had the experience before?”
“….I wonder. I don’t think I remember either. However, I thought that in the past, I had argued with Warren-sama and His Majesty.”
“That was different, wasn’t it? It wasn’t arguing; it was more like a clash of opinions.”
Ain recalled the punishment for the sea dragon disturbance and the discussion to make Chris his exclusive escort.
But he didn’t feel that either of those was considered arguing at all.
“Either way, what we’re going to do won’t change. Okay, I’ll do my best in the war of words. I’ll be back once I’m done, so wait for me around here.
“You seemed very lighthearted until the end, but… I understand. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Despite his lighthearted nitpicking, Dill truly believed in Ain.
Now, this time.
Ain left Dill’s side and trotted his horse forward.
He had been trying not to look until he got here, but already in front of Heim’s army was their great general, Logas. Riding a magnificent horse that unabashedly displayed his huge physique and boasting a physique as big as the horse’s, Heim’s best fighting force was waiting patiently for Ain to come closer.
“I never thought we would be having this conversation.”
As Ain approached, the horses that the Heim soldiers were riding let out a whinnying sound. They feared the approaching strongman’s presence, following their animal instincts.
Even Viscount Sage’s wyverns were frightened. There was no way a mere warhorse could withstand that.
Ain rode his horse alone for several tens of seconds.
When he approached a point in the middle where neither side’s forces were present, Ain turned his attention to his opponent, who was advancing at a leisurely pace.
He was the man who taught Ain how to use a sword when he was a child.
Although he had suffered a painful defeat against Lloyd the other day, there was strength in his eyes.
“We have come this far at last.”
He stopped his horse and turned it sideways to look at Ain.
He seemed somewhat bewildered, though he was also filled with the will to fight, and he seemed tormented by a multitude of emotions. He almost opened his mouth but only blinked his eyes repeatedly and exchanged silence with Ain.
After a few dozen seconds of silence, it was Logas who opened his mouth first.
“You royalty of Ishtalika, who have forgotten your great ancestor’s words and turned into barbarians! What brings you here?”
That is a ridiculous thing to say. Inwardly, Ain was so disgusted that he wanted to let out a laugh, but he almost managed to hold it in.
Meanwhile, behind Logas, Heim’s army shouted in high spirits.
“You, who worship our sworn enemy and have fallen to the same beast! Your barbarism and your ferocity are beyond dispute. We will not forgive the barbarity with which you have attacked the lands of our friends.”
Ain repeated the words barbarity and barbarism over and over again to the words of Logas.
Hearing this, Logas responded.
“You have taken away our royalty, and yet you call even our faith foolishness! A crown prince who does not even know the subtleties of human nature is a disgrace to his country──! You have reduced yourselves to pathetic invaders!”
Before Ain could open his mouth, Logas spoke up in rapid succession.
“Your historic united nation appears to be dead! Standing before us in Heim is none other than the ghost of the dead!”
The morale of Heim’s army soared, and they shouted Heim’s name to intimidate the Ishtalikans.
Which one of us is the ghost? Ain mutters in a whisper at the sight of his father, who was beginning to look pathetic.
He then smiled wryly and glared at Heim’s army. The army of Ishtalika waited with bated breath to see what Ain would say next.
“All who live are destined to die in time. So, naturally, this will happen to us too. But not now. And we will not become ghosts.”
The eyes that turned on him made Logas unconsciously feel pressured.
It was quite different from the surprise he had felt at the sight of his son’s changed appearance, which he had also witnessed during the meeting. What surged through his body at this very moment was a powerful, cutting, powerful energy.
Logas involuntarily swallowed hard, sweat trickling down his forehead and wetting the ground.
“We will avenge those who harm us, for they will become our heroic spirits in time.”
At the front line of Ishtalika’s army, those with spears pounded the ground with their stone pikes.
The dull sounds overlap to praise the crown prince Ain, and the army seems to have turned into one living creature.
──The morale of the knights tilted toward overwhelming superiority.
The knights heard Ain’s words and were in the highest spirits since they had crossed the sea.
They were so proud of their victory that they closed their mouths involuntarily in the face of Ain’s supremacy.
The voice calling out Ain’s name echoed throughout the area, and even the Heim soldiers, who looked like puppets, were shaken.
“Don’t make me laugh!”
But the cheers stopped when Logas opened his mouth again.
“How can a man who betrayed his country be a hero? There is no justice for a knight to be led by such a man.”
“…..What are you trying to say?”
“It is obvious. You are the one who betrayed our Heim. …And as for your assistant! She’s also the one who abandoned her homeland, just like you!”
Ain was puzzled by the abrupt words, but he realized that he was humiliating Krone with him and lowered his eyes.
What Logas mentioned was information he had learned on the day of the meeting. The story was that Krone had gone to Ishtalika of her own volition.
“It shows your capacity, Ishtalikan!”
Seeing Ain’s silence, Heim’s army regained its breath.
But he was not just silent. He was disappointed. Although the stage──was never a good place to be, he wondered if this was the right place for him to speak.
Perhaps watered down would be more appropriate.
It was too late to be disappointed in Logas, but his behavior as a general had the same effect on him.
“It’s a bit of a letdown, isn’t it?”
It was shallow, even depressing.
“That’s why you Ishtalikans are──”
“Shut up, already, Logas.”
“Wha… You bastard!?”
It was no longer a pre-war speech between the crown prince Ain and General Logas.
The conversation was brief, but something unceasing flowed through Ain’s mind.
(Father. Would you have disgraced Krone and me, as you are doing now even without the influence of the red fox?)
He glared at Logas, trying to control his wavering mind and avoid becoming emotionally involved.
“After betraying your homeland, it seems you have mastered the art of intimidating your opponents, huh?”
──Betrayed his homeland?
Ain was at a loss for words.
In the first place, he said that he had betrayed his homeland, but was his homeland really Heim…?
But the answer was clear in Ain’s mind.
(It’s obvious. I don’t even need to think about it.)
He was simply born in the land of Heim.
With these thoughts filling his mind, he felt a sense of clarity in his heart.
…..It is not necessary to think about it.
His homeland was already Ishtalika.
Clearly remembering this feeling, a core goes through his heart.
Ain looked up to the sky and pointed his hand at Logas, and after a carefree smile, he opened his mouth with such force that Logas backed away.
“No need to bluff anymore.”
Though not very loud, Ain’s voice carried to the distant Lloyd.
Was it carried on the wind, or was it some other element?
What happened at this moment remained a mystery, but people all around heard Ain’s voice without exception.
“I hear that a beast cannot stop threatening in the face of a strong foe. So I’m not going to tell you to stop it.”
The other man, Logas, was momentarily stunned and speechless by Ain’s piercing gaze as he uttered the most incendiary words of the day.
“You even declared our capacity earlier, but I’ll tell you.”
Ain put his royal high spirits into Logas’ words.
“Our capacity is the very grandeur of the continent of Ishtar.”
Logas tried to argue with him but was silenced before the mysterious pressure Ain displayed.
“The blood, sweat, and marrow of our bones all prove that we are the sons of Ishtalika. Without exception, we are all brave men born under the white silver that His Majesty the First loved so much.”
“…..Let us see your barbarian capacity.”
“Oh, I’ll show you as many as you want. ──And then.”
At that moment.
The air cracked, and a feeling of being sucked toward Ain hit Logas. But it wasn’t a misunderstanding; it was an actual phenomenon that had been triggered.
The ground shook and the clouds drifting overhead dissipated.
The space itself was shaken by a rush of power that drifted from Ain’s back, a force he had never felt before.
“No wonder you don’t understand her. Her capacity is not something that can be measured by a beast.”
It was all about the matter of calling Ain and Krone a traitor.
…Ain turned his smile for the first time toward Logas who realized this and moved his lips to look at the distant sky in the direction of Ishtalika.
──Krone’s capacity rivals her own beauty.
He announced this in a voice only Logas could hear.
Ain then turned on his heel and walked back to his own camp with a radiant expression on his face.