Under the gray sky, snow began to flicker. The sun which has passed its zenith was hidden by the clouds.
“Lord Massas. Let’s rest a little in there.”
Lim who was riding a horse pointed to a building, which seemed to be a temple in a place a little away from the highway with a finger. While advancing a horse next to her, Massas nodded.
“You’re right. We should arrive at the Imperial Palace by tomorrow. We shouldn’t overdo it.”
The old Earl turned an anxious look towards Teita riding on the horse with him.
“Teita, can you bear with it a little more?”
“I am all right. Massas-sama. Limlisha-san.”
Teita raised her face and showed a carefree smile. There was tension in her voice and her hazel pupils were also tinged with vitality, but rotundity was lost from her puffy cheeks. As expected, she could not hide her fatigue due to the long journey. Even so, she had not complained even once so far.
Several days had passed since Lim and company entered Lebus. The journey so far went fairly well. They had been blessed with the weather, but the fact that they had helpers was also big.
At the time when they left LeitMeritz and entered Legnica, the trio stopped by the Imperial Palace of Legnica and the port town of Lippner. There they received warm hospitality from Lippner’s mayor Dmitry, the sailor Matvey and the Imperial Palace’s civil officials.
Especially Matvey, who gripped Teita’s shoulders and deeply bowed. When Tigre went to Asvarre, he tagged along as a supporter, and they were also riding the same ship for the return. Rather, Lim and company had to console him by turns.
“Teita-dono. Limlisha-dono. And Earl Rodant. I probably have no right to say something like that, but I wish and pray to the gods that your journey goes smoothly. I would also like to tag along with you, but I can’t do so.”
The scary-looking former sailor said so and saw the trio off. As they received their help, Lim and company were able to pass through Legnica without any problem in particular.
There was no helper in Lebus, but they estimated that they would arrive at the Imperial Palace by tomorrow. Without encountering bandits or wild beasts, the trio was advancing their horses as planned.
The building was a temple as expected. It seemed to be quite old, and cracks ran through and rotted away the roof and walls. Just in case, Massas made Lim and Teita wait outside, drew his sword and went inside. This was because there were many such buildings which were the lair of bandits.
When he confirmed that the inside of the temple was uninhabited, the trio pulled their horses and entered.
“Was it left alone with neither a user nor person managing it?”
As he sat down after properly clearing away the dust piled up on the floor, Massas muttered.
“I heard that there are a few abandoned temples like this in the northern part of Zchted. They say that they were those who enshrined gods of old times or fairies…”
Lim answered while affixing a torch lit with fire to the floor. Massas said while looking at the ceiling.
“Hmm. Well, if we can endure snow and wind for the time being even in a run-down shabby house, I guess there is no problem.”
At that time, Teita who put her baggage away and took off her hat stood up. Her twin tails shook.
“Is it all right if I pray?”
Massas found that there was an old altar in the depths of the shrine.
Born as the daughter of a shrine maiden, Teita regularly visited a temple and kept praying even since she served Tigre as a maid. As they worshipped the same gods as Zchted, she did not intend to miss a prayer even in a rotted temple. In addition, it was natural for her to want to pray for Tigre’s safety.
“It’s dark, so be careful and not fall over.”
Both Massas and Lim understood the girl’s feeling. She nodded without worrying in particular.
Teita quickly bowed her head and ran to the altar.
The altar was certainly old, but the edges were not damaged and cracks were not running on it. On the right and left sides of the altar, lined up were windows with their top parts having the shape of an arch, and a feeble light were shining through them.
When she confirmed that there were carved sculptures of ten bodies of gods at the back of the altar, Teita went down on her knees. She took off her gloves, joined both her hands together and closed her yes.
“––Oh gods of heaven!”
Performing the right worship procedure which she learned as a shrine maiden, Teita prayed to the carvings of the gods.
“Please, help Tigre-sama. And please. Please… let us meet him.”
She offered prayers for a long time. When she suddenly felt a chill, Teita opened her eyes.
She gasped. Darkness was lurking around her.
Totally different from the darkness in the temple, it was completely jet black.
As she was surprised to the extent that she could not utter her voice, darkness slipped through Teita’s overcoat and corroded her. At the same time as the chill pierced through her back, a woman’s voice resounded in Teita’s consciousness.
『Lend me your help for a little bit.』
She could not speak. She could not stand, either. Teita tried neither to run away nor to call Massas and Lim for help, and gathered power in both her hands. She decided to focus her consciousness on her prayer.
However, even that did not continue for long. She greatly staggered and fell down.
『You’re a life-saver. It’s a body which I went in before.』
That voice could reach only her.
Until Massas and Lim became suspicious of the time; for the prayer was taking too long and came, Teita did not wake up.
We are going back two koku before Teita fell down.
Elizavetta went out for a stroll accompanied only by Urz. Though the sky was gray, it had not snowed yet. The red-haired Vanadis was clad in her purple dress, she had roundly bundled the Thunder Swirl hanging it to her waist, and was riding a horse. Urz also rode on horse with a bow on his shoulder. He did not wear leather armor.
The two people deviated from the highway and rode in the meadow. It could by no means be said that the weather was good, but it was not unusual in this season. They were thankful that there was no wind.
Urz thought at first that Elizavetta was willfully advancing her horse, but seemingly it was somehow wrong. It looked like she had a clear destination.
Before long, Elizavetta stopped her horse near a certain rotted temple.
It was a small temple without a roof. Though made of stones, be it the walls or the floor they were completely worn down at the end of long years.
Elizavetta turned her back to Urz and set foot into the rotted temple. She advanced into the inside without showing any signs of being cautious. Urz also followed after her.
In the interior, placed standing alone was a statue, its height reached up to Urz’s waist.
—It’s a statue which gives an unpleasant feeling.
Looking down at the statue, Urz knitted his brows. It was not that it was ugly or that it felt irritating. When looking at it, he felt an indescribable uneasiness.
The Vanadis of Rainbow Eyes said to Urz while staring at the stone statue with a gloomy face.
“This statue, you see, is called Yaga-sama around here.”
“I think that the proper name is Baba Yaga. She comes out of a fairy tale. You might not know… or rather not remember, eh.”
According to Elizavetta’s explanation, Baba Yaga had the appearance of an old woman who had a broom, wrapped her body in a robe and who gave power to those who continued to pray on a moonless evening.
The red-haired Vanadis continued with a voice which lacked vigor.
“The other day, I had a nightmare, right? That was because I dreamt of Yaga-sama.”
—So that’s why she came as she was worried about this…
Urz alternately looked at Elizavetta’s profile and Baba Yaga’s statue. She, at the time when she had the nightmare, was not normal (her usual self). Besides according to Naum’s story, it should have not been only that night.
“Did you have that dream for many days?”
“––It must be my imagination after all.”
Not answering Urz’s question, Elizavetta abruptly said. In a tone as if persuading herself. She turned a smile to Urz.
“I’m sorry to have talked about something boring. Let’s go back already.”
Seeing her attitude, Urz noticed his own carelessness. What worried him was that he might rather have made Elizavetta feel anxious about it.
“Please wait, master.”
Urz tried to stop her, but when Elizavetta turned her back to the stone statue, she left the temple walking in long strides. But, she stopped there. She suddenly looked at a distant place.
More than ten shadows of knights were heading towards this place.
“What on earth happened?”
Elizavetta looked puzzled. They were knights of Lebus. And they were people working for the Imperial Palace at that. She had no memory of having given an order to dispatch about several horsemen.
—Did some events happen while I was away for a stroll and Naum sent them?
Thinking so seemed to be the most appropriate, but strangely, they were aiming straight for this place. Even though she told no one where she went for today’s stroll.
Urz who came out of the temple also noticed the knights’ shadows and frowned. Elizavetta did not move from her spot and observed the knights’ state.
The distance with the horsemen shrank and Elizavetta knitted her brows. If they have already come so far, they should have seen the figure of their master, and yet their faces did not show respect towards her.
When the knights came until in front of Elizavetta, they surrounded the two people without going down from their horses. They were fifteen of them. Moreover, they did not simply surround them, they also unsheathed their swords.
“You people. What does this mean?”
No longer hiding her anger, Elizavetta demanded an explanation. The knights answered in a voice tinged with heat as they were somewhat drunk.
“Vanadis-sama. We would like you to hand over that man.”
On horseback, the knights threw a violent voice at Elizavetta. Their gazes were sent towards Urz who was behind Elizavetta.
“Just because Vanadis-sama took a liking to a youngster like you with an unknown identity; who doesn’t even know his name, don’t get carried away. Whether or not you are suitable to be Vanadis-sama’s close aide, we shall ascertain it now here.”
“Till when do you intend to hide behind a girl like that? You coward.”
They unanimously showered jeers onto Urz. Urz, who felt a sense of danger, rather than being angry, was going to part from Elizavetta’s side while tightly grasping the bow which he carried on his shoulder.
But, Elizavetta held out her hand before Urz and stopped his movement.
“You stay there.”
Fighting spirit was already shining in her eyes of different colors. She was not only worried about Urz. As a master, she also had to correct her retainers’ folly.
In addition, Elizavetta had also noticed that they were strange. Scowling at the knights, the Vanadis of Rainbow Eyes declared.
“If you can’t consent, it’s also fine. However, get down from your horses first and shouldn’t you plead to me? Without even doing so, you crowd together and appeal to power? You should be ashamed as knights of Lebus!”
The knights did not return words. They raised their swords and approached Elizavetta with enough momentum to cut her. Elizavetta grasped the Thunder Swirl.
The black whip which was mowed down from left and right screamed in the atmosphere and knocked down the knights from horseback. She held back, but even so it was a dreadful power.
In addition, when Elizavetta swung her Dragonic Tool twice, thrice, there was only one knight remaining on horseback. The red-haired Vanadis let anger flicker in her eyes of different colors and stared at that knight.
“You are the mastermind, eh.”
The man did not answer; he set up his sword and charged while raising a war cry. Elizavetta wielded her whip.
The sword and the whip clashed and scattered a shrill metallic sound in the atmosphere. The man’s sword broke and he fell down from horseback. He was flatly thrown against the ground and his neck was twisted in an unnatural direction.
At the same time, Elizavetta had also bent down due to shock. Urz who was behind watching the situation promptly supported her.
“Are you all right, master…?”
The end of Urz’s words got hoarse. Elizavetta also gasped. The two people’s gazes were not turned towards each other, but towards the knight who just fell from horse. To their surprise, that knight stood up while staggering. With his neck twisted as it is.
“…What is the meaning of this?”
Towards the unspeakable scene that could only be called bizarre, the two people faltered. Moreover, the other knights also stood up one after another. Although she held back, they had received a blow from the Thunder Swirl.
“––You did something cruel, eh young girl.”
Suddenly, a hoarse voice of an old woman could be heard. In the depths of the rotted temple, from within the darkness. Although it was feeble enough that it seemed to melt and disappear into the wind, for some reason it was clearly whispered close to her ears.
“These persons are those who desire power like you before. To deal with them violently is quite pitiable.”
Elizavetta’s movements stopped. Urz who had already nocked an arrow on his bow shot the arrow to the knight who headed towards him. There was no longer room to hold back, and the arrow pierced the forehead of one knight. But, that knight, not even falling down, kept advancing towards him while shedding blood from his forehead.
“Master. Their target should be me. Please escape!”
To Urz’s desperate appeal, Elizavetta finally pulled herself together. But, she stout heartedly shook her head.
“Don’t say such a stupid thing. Do you ask me, a Vanadis, to abandon a subordinate and run away?”
“This is not the time to say such a thing––”
Before Urz’s words ended, Elizavetta mowed down the Thunder Swirl. The knights who were approaching were blown away. Then, she led Urz by the hand and went back into the temple.
There was no tree outside the temple. So, in order for a minority (i.e. Urz and her) to take on a majority (i.e., the knights), she could not help but escape indoors. In addition, Elizavetta also needed to find out the identity of the owner of the voice of a little while ago.
When they jumped into the temple, a chilly and somewhat strange atmosphere wrapped the two people.
Urz hardened his body due to the tension. There was not such an atmosphere when they entered this temple a little while ago. Elizavetta, no showing signs of being afraid, walked to the interior.
The black stone statue, in a form not different from a while ago, was enshrined there.
Elizavetta stood before the stone statue, raised the Thunder Swirl and swung it downward.
It looked like she smashed the stone statue into pieces with one blow, but at the moment of the hit, the stone statue rolled aside by itself and avoided the black whip. The Thunder Swirl shattered the stone floor and remained in the hole it made.
“You did something violent, eh.”
The voice was uttered from the stone statue. From the shade of the stone statue which shook, a broom jumped out little by little. And the hem of a robe extended on the floor. Elizavetta, no longer wielding the Thunder Swirl, poured a cautious gaze onto the stone statue. While Urz also nocked an arrow to his bow, he did not shoot.
The stone statue did not conceal the inauspiciousness which it was containing, but rather showed it off to the two people. There was only the awareness of witnessing something fearful in Urz’s and Elizavetta’s minds.
Before long, the stone statue took the appearance of a small-sized old woman who wrapped her body in a robe. Since she wore an all encompassing hood on her head, only her hand holding a broom was exposed. That hand was nothing but skin and bones, and it was strangely white.
“It’s been a while, young girl. Two years, is it? How do you find the power which I granted you?”
The old woman sneered. Elizavetta was not even able to utter her voice.
— This is Baba Yaga…!
It was the appearance as told in fairy tales, but the strange atmosphere which was released from that small-sized body ringed a bell to Elizavetta. It was similar to that of the demon Torbalan whom she had fought on the ship.
“Unfortunately, it’s far from my wish. I want to give it back though.”
“Hahaha. That can’t be.”
In the back of the hood, the old woman laughed. It was a sticky laughter.
“Two years ago, you stop by here all alone and certainly wish it. That you want power.”
“Yeah. I certainly wish it. At that time, I was weak and powerless.”
At that time, the knights finally caught up. They attacked even Elizavetta without hesitation.
When the red-haired Vanadis ran her gaze at the knights, she wielded her black whip without holding back at all this time. The knights fell down one after another while spouting dark red blood and having the contents of their helmet and armor smashed.
Elizavetta gritted her teeth and strongly stamped the floor. If she went easy on them, they might have got up and come again. Therefore, she thought that it was necessary to strike them with a blow to the extent that it would become impossible for them to move.
But, they were her subordinates.
“You have really done a number on my knights.”
“You’re wrong, young girl. I simply granted the wish of these people. Like I did to you once. It’s a fact that they hate that youth and were jealous of him. Like it’s a fact that you desired power.”
As she flew into rage, Elizavetta raised the Thunder Swirl. Yaga, even though seeing that, did not flinch, and she poked the floor with the handle of the broom she was holding.
At that moment, the floor covered with stones was divided in two. Elizavetta and Urz lost their footing and fell; only Baba Yaga was floating in the air.
The two screamed and were swallowed in the darkness with the falling stones.
It was two years ago that Elizavetta prayed to “Yaga”.
She, at that age, was busy and full of troubles. This was because she had to deal with both a plague which had occurred in a village in a territory under the direct control of the royal family, and the crime which her father had committed.
Elizavetta did not like her father. There was no way she would come to like a father who picked her up on a one-sided convenience despite having abandoned her once.
But, when she heard that Ellen killed her father, she decided to challenge the silver-haired Vanadis in a duel.
She did not think something like “even if he was such a father, he was my father”.
Perhaps, she had wanted her father to acknowledge her one day. Therefore, she could do nothing but vent her anger to Ellen who deprived her of that chance forever.
However, when she challenged Ellen, she was utterly defeated and came to learn her powerlessness.
It was then that she prayed to “Yaga”.
She lost and returned to her territory, and as the days, in which she took a walk during pauses of her work with the state affairs, continued, she found a rotted temple. It was only one year since she became Vanadis, but she had never heard that there was such a thing here. Keeping those who accompanied her waiting outside the temple, Elizavetta went in.
Even if it was the nest of bandits, she had a Dragonic Tool. Unless it was a powerful enemy like Ellen, she should be able to drive them away with one slash of the Thunder Swirl.
As expected, there was nobody inside. The temple itself was small and there were no traces that it was used in a long time.
In the inner part of the temple, there was a black stone statue.
『Do you want power?』
The voice was uttered from the stone statue, and it was directly addressed to Elizavetta’s consciousness. To the surprised Elizavetta, the stone statue continued to send what should be called thoughts.
The stone statue introduced itself as “Yaga”.
『I appear only before those who seek power. –– Do you want power?』
『The power to hold down your enemy.』
In her consciousness which had become hazy, Elizavetta nodded.
She wanted to win against Ellen.
She wanted to prove that she was not weak.
According to her attendants, about a quarter koku had passed when Elizavetta came out from the temple.
“What were you doing in such a small temple?”
“I was praying.”
To her worried subordinates, Elizavetta replied with only that.
Elizavetta who returned to the Imperial Palace after her walk ordered an attendant so that a suit of armor was carried into her room. Then, after being left alone, she tested it (power) at once.
With only the power of her right hand, Elizavetta was able to lift the heavy armor. A lump of iron which was probably the weight of an adult. Moreover, she grasped it by the gauntlet in her right hand. The gauntlet made of iron was easily crushed in her hand.
There was no change whatsoever on Elizavetta’s right arm. Her muscles did not swell, and there was no strange pattern carved on it. Although the fingers were a little gnarled from having kept grasping a sword or whip, even so they were thin, the skin was white and they were delicate.
It was not one act of a fairy tale where one got power from a fairy. It was a cruel reality. If one were to learn of this unique power, with what kind of eyes would people look at her?
Unconsciously, her hands were tracing both her eyelids. What had continued to exist from when she was born, the thing that continued to display her peculiarity was there.
Elizavetta decided that she would tell nobody about this power. Fortunately, she was a Vanadis. She should be able to deceive her surroundings with that.
She also decided to use this power only when it would be necessary no matter what.
Then, she came to have nightmares occasionally. That stone statue that was in the depths of the temple tried to urge her to use that power more. To murmur to her to demand more power.
Elizavetta was not able to tell anyone about this. It was because this was what she had learnt from the time when she began to be discrete due to the dreadfulness of having her peculiarity (being her right eye) exposed.
I am the Vanadis Elizavetta Fomina. While persuading herself so, she continued her existence as Vanadis.
When he came to his senses, Urz was lying down in the darkness. Something was bending over on top of him. Something heavy which was soft and warm as such.
—What, is this?
Anyway, Urz moved his hand trying to brush it aside. Then, he touched something softer. Something that carried roundness and was massive, to the extent of being a little excessive in his hand.
When he moved his fingers they were jostled by a mysterious elasticity. At the same time, a faint breath tickled the youth’s ears. When he moved his face, a smooth sensation touched his cheek.
His consciousness gradually became clear and his body also conveyed the sensation to his brain. There was a sensation of cold stones which his back conveyed over his clothes. Then, what on earth was on top of him?
As Urz tried to raise his body, it slipped down while leaning on the youth. Urz was now in a position where he supported it with his right hand.
A dim light entered his field of vision, and Urz finally realized the true identity of what was on top of him.
It was Elizavetta.
Also because he was surprised, Urz’s voice got hoarse. He put his hand around the back of Elizavetta who seemed to have lost consciousness, and supported it as he held her. He brought his ear close to her face, checked her breathing and carefully observed her face and body with eyes which grew accustomed to light, but it seemed that she was not injured.
“What a relief…”
Heaving a sigh of relief, Urz absentmindedly shifted his attention to the light which was illuminating them. It was the Thunder Swirl which Elizavetta grasped. It was tinged with a white light from the middle to the tip of the black whip.
“I see. We have––”
Urz finally remembered. The floor of the temple which was in ruins crumbled and fell.
Even when looking up, darkness lurked on the ceiling, so even the height was not known. The light of the Thunder Swirl did not seem to reach up to there, either.
—What was that?
As the figure of the old woman who called herself Yaga floated in his mind, Urz unintentionally shivered. His instinct was telling him that that was not human. Then, what kind of being was that?
—It didn’t look at all like a fairy. Maybe a monster or a ghost…
Someone went by precisely such a name long ago.
Urz shook his head and erased the old woman’s appearance from within his head. He did not know who she was, but he did not want to meet her ever again. They had to run away from here as quickly as possible.
As he pulled himself together, he patted the floor where he was sitting down with his left hand. There was the sensation of flat stones. There were edges, but they were connected tightly together so that there was no gap. Several large and small stones which rolled over were probably debris from the temple’s floor which collapsed.
— Is there a passage in the basement of the temple?
At that time, a low groan leaked from Elizavetta’s mouth. Urz was surprised and called.
As if responding to his voice, the red-haired Vanadis opened her eyes. Her vacant expression recognized Urz’s face and turned into that of perplexity.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere?”
Elizavetta did not answer immediately. It seemed that she was trying to say something, but words did not come out of her half-open mouth and her face was dyed red. She seemed to have noticed that she was held in Urz’s arms.
“U-Urz. I can properly stand, so let me.”
She was able to spin words somehow, but her voice was unnaturally high. While wondering whether it was all right, Urz softly removed his arm which was put around her back.
As she placed her hand on the floor, Elizavetta raised her body. She did so while staggering, but she stood up. Urz also stood up while being careful about her movements.
When looking at the floor which was illuminated by the Thunder Swirl’s light, debris rolled over here and there on a long and narrow passage.
There was also Urz’s bow which was mixed among them, but it was broken in two. While being secretly discouraged, Urz did not show it on his face and smiled at Elizavetta.
“Anyway, it’s good that above all else that you’re not injured.”
After saying so, Urz unintentionally looked at his left hand. He realized in what kind of posture Elizavetta had fell on top of him, and noticed at this late hour the real nature of that strange sensation.
“You, too, are you all right? Aren’t you injured?”
Not noticing Urz’s dismay, Elizavetta looked at the youth with a worried face.
“T-Thank you for your concern. I’m not seriously injured, so.”
As he rapidly answered, Urz looked up at the ceiling so as to deceive her. Was it possible for them to be safe after falling from that height?
At that time, Elizavetta noticed that her black whip was tinged with light which was different from usual.
“––Right. You protected us, didn’t you, Valitsaif?”
As she smile and thanked her Dragonic Tool, Elizavetta pulled herself together, hung the Thunder Swirl and began to walk.
“Let’s go, Urz.”
“––I didn’t know that there was such a passage in the underground of this temple.”
Changing the Thunder Swirl into a cylinder form, Elizavetta said, illuminating ahead with its light while walking.
She did not know the height of the ceiling, but the walls pile up stones without a gap. As for the width of the passage, it was wide enough to the extent that at least three adults could walk side by side. The air was cold and dry.
“The fact itself that there is an underground passage in a temple is not rare, but it certainly is not normal.”
Urz answered back. After regaining his composure, the youth was walking beside Elizavetta. He also manifested the intention of protecting her if something was to appear, but more than Urz who only had a piece of rubble the size of a fist, Elizavetta’s was probably far stronger.
“Is that right?”
“It’s like a warehouse for storing savings or a place to bury something important…”
To Elizavetta which made a surprised face, Urz explained so. However, he thought that this passage, which they were walking down, belong to neither of these purposes.
—That Yaga person is probably inviting us in.
Or all of this might have been planned from since Elizavetta had nightmares. After all, one should not forget that this place is enemy territory.
—But, nothing happened since then. Is it over after having dropped us?
He did not know Baba Yaga’s purpose. If she intended to kill them, she should have been able to do so while they had lost consciousness.
The passage bent to the right several times and then turned to the left, but it did not divide and the straight path continued. He was thankful for only that point.
Thinking of having a positive talk, Urz said in a casual tone.
“I want to quickly get out of such a place.”
Urz who was about to continue by saying “if we come out” swallowed his words.
Assuming that they were to get out of here, Elizavetta and Urz would have to bury corpses. The corpses of those who aimed at their lives.
There was no doubt that it would become an uproar.
The problem was that they were the only ones who knew why the knights attacked them. Even if they were to tell the truth, how many people would believe it? They would wonder whether Elizavetta did not think to kill those who were jealous of Urz.
Elizavetta had also probably thought of it. But, she did not fret about it like Urz and proudly stuck out her chest.
“Urz. You don’t have to worry about anything. They tried to kill us. We naturally defended ourselves. That’s all there is to it.”
Her voice was dignified and one could feel an aspiration which did not yield to anyone. Then, she softened her tone to some extent.
“But, I apologize for having involved you. I’m sorry really.”
“You need not. I’m your adviser after all.”
Urz also pulled himself together and bowed with a smile. It wasn’t as if he didn’t think about whether it was good to have such an attitude in enemy territory, it was the opposite.
Precisely because it was such a situation, it was necessary to have confidence, composure and determination.
While walking down the passage, Urz asked what he had been worried about.
“What is that Yaga person?”
“A Demon, a monster. Something like that, I guess.”
“Why is she after us?”
“I don’t know. But, she doesn’t seem to want to kill us immediately.”
When she talked about Baba Yaga, Elizavetta’s voice was tinged with tension. There was not only the guilty feeling, but also the uneasiness of not knowing if she could win if they fought.
But, not showing her innermost thoughts on her expression, she sweetly smiled at Urz.
“Urz. I will protect you.”
That was her true feelings without any falsehood. And, Elizavetta felt a sense of fulfillment about protecting someone.
The two people wondered how much they would have to walk. They suddenly stopped.
“There is something.”
Elizavetta’s gold eye and blue eye were turned to ahead of the passage towards the depths of the darkness where the Thunder Swirl’s light did not reach.
Beyond this, there was something. Something wearing a dangerous presence as to give one a shiver.
Urz looked at the Thunder Swirl in Elizavetta’s hand with a sidelong glance. With this light, the other party would have probably noticed them.
—It has been a straight path so far…
The youth’s face stiffened with tension. He wanted a weapon.
Not a small piece of rubble which he was grasping now, but a bow and arrow which he was used to.
“Rest at ease, Urz.”
Elizavetta said with a smile.
“I’m there and there is this Valitsaif. There is nothing to fear.”
As if responding to her words, a white spark scattered from the light which the black whip wore.
The red-haired Vanadis set up her Dragonic Tool and walked straight. From within the darkness, a ferocious blood thirst sprayed along with a hazy air. Something like a groan could be heard.
“It won’t be strange even if there is something. You must absolutely not get far away from me.”
As they carefully advanced, the walls of both sides were interrupted and the two people went out to a vast space.
“Urz! Close your eyes!”
Elizavetta raised her Dragonic Tool while shouting. The white light which the black whip was wearing conspicuously increased its shine. The sound of the air being burnt also reached the ears of Urz who was behind her.
“Cut and clear away the dark night, Fang of the moment (Nott Rubeed)”
The red-haired Vanadis swung her Thunder Swirl downwards. From the tip, a strong flash so as to burn the eyes was released along with a roaring sound which shook the atmosphere. While dazzlingly illuminating the space, the flash tore up the darkness exactly like lighting and went forward. It shot something huge which was in the inner part.
The voice of Elizavetta who muttered could not conceal her shudder. The trait of the Dragonic Skill shot now was something which could aim at an opponent in a distant place and which also steal their sight with a tremendous flash; but it had not that much destructive power. It was far inferior compared to Burn and Split Heaven and Earth (Gron Lazriga) which was another Dragonic skill. Even so, if the opponent was human, it had the power to mow down at least several people in one go.
Elizavetta was astonished because she learnt the true identity of what was lurking by the instantaneous flash, and because she confirmed the fact that the Dragonic Skill had been almost ineffective against it.
It slowly raised its body and glared at Elizavetta and Urz who was behind her with its four eyes. It released a breath tinged with heat.
Urz muttered as he was amazed. It was indeed that.
Its constitution surely looked like that of a lizard, but its size was in a different league. Its big frame like a small mountain was covered with scales having the color of iron. Its four legs, though short, were fat like a medium pillar of a castle or palace, and one could feel their strengths which supported its large build. The claws which were in the end (of the feet) were sharp.
On his long neck that was divided in two, and there were two heads. In contrast to it, its tail was short.
“A Double Headed Dragon…”
Though the air was cold, sweat blurred on Elizavetta’s forehead. The Double Headed Dragon was a brutal dragon assumed to be a deformed kind even among the dragons. There was no room to think about why it was in such a place.
The large animal roared. The atmosphere of the open space screamed, and Urz’s and Elizavetta’s skins shivered.
Stamping its feet on the floor covered with stones without any gaps, the Double Headed Dragon charged.
“Urz, step back!”
Tightly grasping the Thunder Swirl, Elizavetta shouted. With the Dragonic Skill from a little while ago, if this space was a small village it would be fully settled, she broadly understood up to that point. If she were to attract the attention of the Double Headed Dragon, Urz would not get involved in the fight.
Urz looked up at the Double Headed Dragon, looked at Elizavetta’s back, and then looked down at the rubble (pebble) which he was grasping. Realizing that he would only become a hindrance no matter what the circumstances, the youth parted away from the dragon and the Vanadis with a bitter face. In front of such a big beast, he could not even become a shield.
The Double Headed Dragon let its eyes fierily shine and headed towards Elizavetta. It was difficult for her that the illumination was only the light that the Thunder Swirl wore. It was difficult to grasp the sense of distance to the opponent. Unless she solved this problem, she could not yet afford to fight.
—A little more…
The Thunder Swirl was a weapon with a considerably long range, but it was also the same for the Double Headed Dragon. In order to give an effective blow, she also needed to strengthen her resolution to receive an attack.
The Double Headed Dragon let out its sharps fangs, and moved his two heads at the same time. The Vanadis of Rainbow Eyes avoided these (heads) which made the atmosphere groan and attacked her from left and right by rolling over the floor.
As she got up, Elizavetta swung the Thunder Swirl. She was aiming at the left head, but the Double Headed Dragon twisted its body and stopped it with the scales of its head. It emitted an unpleasant sound like that of scratching a lump of iron, and a blue spark scattered on the surface of the scales.
The Double Headed Dragon raised a scream of pain, but Elizavetta knew well that the wound was superficial (shallow). As evidence, even though the dragon’s scale was wounded, he was not blown off.
—If I use Burn and Split Heaven and Earth (Gron Lazriga), then…
Among the Dragonic Skills which Elizavetta uses, it was the one possessing the most destructive power. In that case, even if it was a Double Headed Dragon, it would probably kill it.
But, it would take time, though little, to use that Dragonic Skill. About two or three breaths’ time. During that time, the Double Headed Dragon would easily bite off Elizavetta.
— If I cause him to become cautious here though, making him flinch by inflicting an injury on him…
The Double Headed Dragon which turned towards her once again approached. Elizavetta set up her Dragonic Tool and glared at the dragon.
“––Thunder Blade (Melnit)!”
The black whip changed into a huge single-edged sword with innumerable, sharp protrusions. The blade which harked back to a somewhat large hatchet was jet black, but each protrusion was coated with lightning which scattered sparks one by one. It was heavier than the Iron Whip and was also lacking in durability, but it had enough destructive power.
The Double Headed Dragon raised its two heads, and quickly moved the right one. Elizavetta, not even trying to avoid, scooped up her Dragonic Tool from below to above.
An impact as to make one’s weapon fall was transmitted to Elizavetta’s arm through the Dragonic Tool. That was also the proof that she smashed the dragon’s jaw. The Double Headed Dragon’s right head screamed and bent backward. The tip of nose to the jaw was blown off, and pieces of meat and dark red blood were scattered.
However, Elizavetta could not get any closer to the big beast. This was because the dragon which writhed in agony vigorously thrust out its left foot.
The thick claws which would probably blow away half of one’s body, even if it only grazed mowed down the atmosphere. While dodging by promptly bending her body, Elizavetta struck her Iron Whip at these claws.
There was a response; one of the claws was blown off. However, it did not seem to be that much painful for the Double Headed Dragon, not showing signs of faltering, the beast swung its foreleg. Elizavetta rolled again on the ground.
Offense and defense continued.
While carefully measuring the timing, Elizavetta swung the Thunder Swirl sometimes in the Iron Whip’s form, and sometimes she turned it back into the form of a simple whip. She could not expect it to be that much effective, but she immediately drove in the Dragonic Skill which she could release. However, it was, as expected, difficult to deal a fatal blow while avoiding the Double Headed Dragon’s fangs and claws.
The Double Headed Dragon attacked Elizavetta with its remaining head and its two forefeet. As it was in a fit of anger that one of it heads was crushed, it did not pay heed to the fact that its fangs, claws or scales were wounded, and its movements showed no signs of growing dull.
Elizavetta had reached the point where she began to breathe heavily. Depending on the fact that she kept taking a precise timing within the darkness, the mental exhaustion would become intense. This was because if she mistaken the timing even once, she was almost sure to die.
Several red hairs clung on her forehead and several lines of sweat streamed down from her face. Even so, so as to seize a chance of victory for an instant, Elizavetta was staring at the Double Headed Dragon.
The Double Headed Dragon’s left head attacked her for the tenth time. Elizavetta raised the Thunder Swirl and met the enemy.
For a moment, the Double Headed Dragon quickly drew back its head. Not stopping only with that, it greatly twisted its big frame covered with scales.
While realizing that she was lured, Elizavetta struck the Thunder Swirl to the wall of scales which approached at a tremendous speed.
An intense shock attacked Elizavetta’s whole body, and the Double Headed Dragon’s scream and the young girl’s shout echoed at the ceiling. The Vanadis’ body danced in the air and she was flung against the floor from the back. It seemed that she was cut in her mouth and felt the taste of blood at the tip of her tongue.
Feigning an attack with its head, the Double Headed Dragon set a body blow to the flank. Elizavetta who realized that she could not dodge it could only reduce the power of the body blow by launching a strong blow from the Thunder Swirl. Barely, she resulted in only being blown off.
Elizavetta eagerly raised her body. Her breath was rough. She felt pain and numbness on her whole body, but thankfully, she was still clearly conscious. Ahead of her gaze, the Double Headed Dragon was twisting its body. The mouth of its left head had been greatly splitted vertically.
—I must somehow approach and use a Dragonic Skill…
She stood up. As the chest of her dress was greatly torn, Elizavetta noticed then. That blood also streamed from her right arm. She tried to walk, and staggered.
She understood that Urz was rushing over.
I told you to step back, didn’t I?
As she tried to say that, Elizavetta did not speak.
The Double Headed Dragon was approaching from the side. Urz did not even try to look there. He was only staring at the red-haired Vanadis, at his important master.
With a force as to bump into each other’s body, he tightly held Elizavetta who stood stock still. They rolled over the floor too. Immediately after, the Double Headed Dragon’s jaw blew the space where she was standing.
Urz cursed and threw the rubble which he grasping at it. It struck the Double Headed Dragon’s foreleg and fell on the floor; in the next instant, it was stepped on and broken by that leg.
As Urz gritted his teeth, he separated from Elizavetta. He stood in the way so as to protect her from the big beast.
“What do you intend to do…!? Step aside, Urz!”
Elizavetta shouted in a sorrowful voice. However, Urz did not step aside.
“Please adjust your breath, Master!”
With his back still turned on his master, Urz shouted while glaring at the Double Headed Dragon which looked his way. Sweat floated on his whole body. His knees trembled to the extent that it looked like he would fall. But, he did not intend to run away.
“I can gain the time of at least one or two breaths.”
“Do you ask me to sacrifice you?”
Behind Urz, Elizavetta tried to stand up, but she had no strength on her feet. As he tightly grasped his fists, Urz returned the shout.
“I have no weapon. But, Master has. How to defeat that thing and what should be done. Please understand!”
As if it was cautious of Urz who suddenly jumped in, the Double Headed Dragon was heading towards him with slow steps.
“I want a weapon”, Urz thought. In order to gain time even a little for Elizavetta. There was no lie in these feelings. But, if he had a weapon, if he had power, he could have played a better hand.
The Double Headed Dragon took a powerful step forward. The vibrations were also transmitted to Urz and Elizavetta through the floor. To that menace, Urz tried to endure.
—A bow is… no. What is necessary is power.
『––Do you want power?』
That voice resounded in his head quite abruptly. As if responding to the scream of his heart.
As he was surprised at the sudden thing and was dumbfounded, he heard that voice once more.
『––Do you want it?』
It seemed to be the voice of a young girl. It was not that of Elizavetta. It was a mysterious voice which contained a vicious fascination.
The Double Headed Dragon was approaching. Urz closed his eyes and answered that voice.
—I want it.
He was conscious that he was doing something laughable. This was because the Double Headed Dragon was approaching just before his eyes. Since there were only Elizavetta, this big beast and him in this place, it could be said to be an auditory hallucination.
However, Urz sincerely responded. To him who did not have anything, there was no other hand. He did not intend to move from here, either. So, he kept that mysterious voice company.
A chuckle tickled Urz’s consciousness. Similarly with the mysterious voice, he did not hear it with his ears. It seemed to either whisper in the youth’s head or talk directly to his soul.
『––I made it in time, eh.』
In his left hand which he was grasping, Urz felt a strong heat.
He opened his eyes in surprise and lifted his left hand.
Something which could be described as a lump of darkness was wrapping his left hand. While burning Urz’s left hand, it wriggled as if it was alive, extending into something long and narrow, taking on a certain form.
『You should thank that child.』
The owner of the voice which suddenly sprang in his head disappeared to these last words. However, Urz was not concerned that much by that. The darkness on his left hand had molded a bow up to even its bowstring before the youth’s eyes. A bow with a long and narrow curve.
At this unbelievable occurrence, Urz stared at the jet black bow. Be it the strange voice or this bow, what he could not understand was what had happened to his own body. It was to extent that he thought that the Double Headed Dragon which was approaching was much more realistic.
However, Urz had accepted without trying to reject it. As if he knew about it for a long time. Even when looking at the black bow, he did not feel an ounce of fear.
Urz knew how to use it. Or did he recall it?
“Master. I will borrow it for only a little while.”
Urz stood in a way where half of his body turned towards the Double Headed Dragon. He strongly and firmly planted both his feet on the floor of stones. While sticking out his left hand which held the bow straight and taking aim at the dragon, Urz pulled the jet black bowstring with his right hand.
The Thunder Swirl of Elizavetta who was looking at Urz in blank amazement emitted a pale light. While flicking many white sparks in the atmosphere, countless particles of light rose soundlessly. The light drew a curve which harked back to lighting, and was poured into Urz’s right hand.
The light which gathered in the youth’s right hand shaped an arrow. An arrow made of lightning from the head to the shaft feather.
The bowstring trembled. The moment when the arrow was fired, the space was wrapped in a dazzling flash. A thunder as to mistaken that the floor was crushed roared, and the arrow of light approached the dragon with a movement and speed harking back to lightning while extending countless branches.
The dragon might have possibly sensed danger. But even if that was the case, it was too late.
In the next instant the dragon’s jaw flew, everything above from its head was blown off to pieces. Not even able to raise its voice, the Double Headed Dragon died instantly. The arrow of lightning blew off the Double Headed Dragon’s big frame too, and disappeared there as if having used up all its strength.
After a short pause, the darkness returned. The bow of darkness which arose in Urz’s left hand soundlessly disappeared, too. On his left hand’s palm and his right hand’s fingers, only traces of burns remained. Urz was staring at his own hands with an absentminded face.
In Urz’s mind, the face of a chestnut-haired girl flashed. And then, that of man with the same hair color as him, a firm body and a calm appearance. An old man with a gray beard standing next to him. And a small-sized old man which was always at his side.
They were standing on a ground where greenery extended. There was a mountain in a distant place, there was a forest, and there were also a river and lake.
Next was a silver-haired girl. A girl who tied her golden hair to the left side of her head. A baldhead knight with graceful features. Many other faces floated in Urz’s mind, and then disappeared.
—That’s right. I’m not Urz. Urz is my father’s name and…
Elizavetta who noticed the youth’s unusual phenomenon called out to him with an anxious face. She did not understand at all what happened, too. However, she understood only the fact that this youth had saved her. And for now, as long as she understood that, that was enough.
However, Urz did not answer Elizavetta’s voice. The things which were floating in his head a little while ago made the youth confuse.
Elizavetta who stood up promptly supported Urz who staggered.
“Urz. Hang in there––”
The red-haired Vanadis interrupted her words there. She lighted fighting spirit in her eyes of different colors, gathered power in her hand and grasped again her Thunder Swirl. This was because she felt a strange presence in the air.
“––Good grief. I lose a precious Double Headed Dragon. I will have to apologize to Drekavac.”
At one corner in the darkness, an old woman wearing a robe and holding a broom appeared. It was Baba Yaga. In the interior of the hood, put over her eyes, her eyes which shone white were turned towards Urz.
“But, it’s a harvest. Hey “Bow”. I will have you come with me.”
As she rotated the broom, Baba Yaga pointed its tip at Urz. At the same time, Elizavetta raised the Thunder Swirl. The black whip which tore up the air divided into nine parts from the tip of the handle. Each part was wrapped in a white lightning.
Even though surprised at Urz’s unusual phenomenon, she adjusted her breathing and gathered power.
Baba Yaga’s goggling eyes moved and turned towards Elizavetta. A scornful laughter floated on her wrinkled face.
Elizavetta’s beautiful face warped. An acute pain as if being stabbed with countless needles ran through her right arm. The Vanadis’ movement stopped and an anguished breathing was spitted from her mouth.
“It’s the price for the power.”
As she said over her shoulders, the old woman demon not further concerned about Elizavetta and looked at Urz who stood up absentmindedly.
The space around the youth swerved. Like when Baba Yaga suddenly appeared.
It was when the demon tried to tell a parting remark. Elizavetta moved. Her whole face covered with sweat, she raised her right hand which was in pain, and couldn’t move even a finger.
“––Burn and Split Heaven and Earth (Gron Lazriga)!”
Nine bolts of lightning raised a groan and attacked Baba Yaga one by one with the intent of destroying her. The old woman who had let her guard down was completely caught off guard.
An impact and a roaring sound pressed the space and light which crushed everything dyed the surroundings in white. The old woman’s jet black robe was torn off and a scream similar to that of chicken gushed out from the demon’s mouth.
The next moment, Baba Yaga and Urz’s figures disappeared from that place.
Inside where the afterglow melted, only Elizavetta was left in that place.
Running her eyes of different colors left and right, Elizavetta called Urz’s name.
However, nobody answered.
Elizavetta lost her composure and called Urz’s name many times in the darkness. Like a very young lost child who strayed from his parents.
It was a half koku after losing sight of Urz that Elizavetta came out to the surface.
She found the exit at once. The thin passage expanded in the inner part of the space, and ahead there were long flight of stairs which continued to the surface. The time it actually took was a little less than a quarter koku.
The remaining time of about a quarter koku, she had been sitting down in blank amazement. Tightly grasping the Thunder Swirl, she was assailed by a shock to the extent that she was not worried about the pain running throughout her body. It didn’t matter if she was a Vanadis, if something like this happened successively, she would as expected get confused and become unable to move.
It was because she remembered the back figure of Urz who tried to protect her that she stood up.
“What to do and what should be done, huh…”
While muttering these words, Elizavetta finished going up the stairs.
The exit was nearly one Belsta (about 1 Km) away from that temple. Except the fact that the forest spread out nearby, there was a meadow which did not stand out. That temple could be seen standing alone from far away.
Even though it should have not yet been noon when they arrived at the temple, the sky had darkened.
The figure of Elizavetta who silently walked towards the shrine looked just like that of a ghost coming out of a fairy tale. Her red hair was disheveled, her skin got slightly dirty and was wounded and her dress was also torn in several places. Only her two eyes of different color were tinged with passion and were shining.
While walking, plans in the future were set up in Elizavetta’s head.
Not only had she to bury those knights, but she also had to search for Urz.
Before returning to the Imperial Palace, she would head for the nearby village. She wondered whether her horse was safe. In case it was not, she would have to borrow a horse.
—Please be safe, Urz. I will save you this time.
Putting strength into her feet which seemed to lose strength, Elizavetta was walking as she strengthened her footsteps by treading step by step.
It was when the day had grown dark that Teita regained her consciousness.
After discovering the figure of the chestnut-haired maid who had collapsed in front of the altar, Lim and Massas put an overcoat and a blanket on the floor, laid Teita on top of it, and they watched over her by turns.
Also due to the fact that her breathing was not rough, she was not moved from the temple; but Massas thought that it seemed to have been a good idea.
“Um, I caused you trouble, Massas-sama, Limlisha-san.”
Teita who woke up raised her body and quickly bowed her head to the two people. Massas with a smile all over his face and Lim who also smiled respectively shook their heads.
“Please don’t worry. Is your body already all right?”
“Yes. I’m already fine.”
With a smile, Teita tried to stand up, but since she staggered, the two people hurriedly supported her.
“We decided to pass the night in this temple today, so rest slowly. We will arrive in the Imperial Palace tomorrow. Then, we will a room in a hotel at the castle town and we will be able to sleep on beds.”
While laying Teita down, Massas shook his gray beard and cheered her up.
“It was a long journey, but hold just a little more.”
Lim said so, too. Both of them were thinking that Teita collapsed because of the fatigue of the long journey. Since she didn’t have a fever in particular and there was not anything abnormal with her body, they could not think otherwise.
In a lying position, Teita looked up respectively at Lim and Massas who were sitting left and right.
She clearly remembered that darkness which surrounded her body in the midst of her prayer. Moreover, she had an idea of what it was.
— Tir Na Fa…
The Goddess of night, darkness and death which was one pillar of the ten gods. She was a mysterious god who was at the same time the wife, the elder sister and the younger sister of Perkūnas, King of gods.
About one year ago, Teita had apparently encountered the existence called Tir Na Fa. When Tigre threw himself in Brune’s civil war, Teita desperately followed him, too.
A certain time, Tigre rode a horse fast along the meadow as if being led by something, and the youth also let Teita, who was worried about him, ride his horse.
And, Tir Na Fa’s temple suddenly appeared behind the two people.
In the temple, Teita was possessed by something.
Teita held the same sensation like that time when she was surrounded by darkness in front of the altar. The strange sensation that something entered her.
But, Teita decided to keep silent about it to both Massas and Lim. Teita herself did not understand well. Even if she talked about it, she would only make the two people worry excessively.
Therefore, she decided to speak about a bright topic. Teita said to the two people with a smile.
“Speaking of which, I had a dream. A dream about Tigre-sama.”
“Ohou”, Massas rode on the talk.
“What kind of dream was that?”
“Tigre-sama was confronting a dragon which had two heads with a jet black bow. He was protecting a woman behind him. It was a little scary, but as expected it was the usual Tigre-sama… he was cool and happy…”
Teita thought that that was not a dream. Anything and everything was too fresh for a dream.
“A dragon, huh. Well, there was also something like that in the last civil war after all.”
Massas laughed while gently patting Teita’s head. Lim was watching them with a smile.
Outside of the temple, the sky gradually darkened.
To the cold sensation of the ground, Urz woke up.
He quickly jumped out to his feet and held out his arms. But, there was no bow to grasp and his hand only grasped the empty space in vain.
“This place is…?”
He raised his face and looked around. What were noticeable were only lonely trees which let leaves fall, and a gray sky could be seen from the gap of branches extending as if stretching around. The sun had considerably slanted.
—Inside a forest somewhere…? No, more importantly.
Noticing that Elizavetta was not there, Urz’s face turned pale.
“Master! Where did you go?”
Heading among the trees, he called out in a loud voice. But, his voice only resounded fruitlessly and there was no response. As he got tired and stopped shouting, silence fell over the land.
“What the hell is going on…?”
Urz sighed. He could not believe what had happened to his body.
He was attacked by knights who should have been his comrades, and he was made to drop in the underground of a temple by the power of a suspicious old woman. As he encountered a dragon and defeated it with a strange power that even he did not understand well, this time he found himself in a strange forest. It was like a nightmare and there was no sense of reality at all.
As he looked at his left hand, there were some scars similar to burns.
The woman’s voice who resounded in his head. And, a bow built up by condensing darkness.
An arrow which was made by pulling out power from that whip of Elizavetta.
He used it as if it was a matter of course. He knew how to use it.
He felt a dull pain inside his head, and a certain scene floated in his mind at the same time.
He, who set up a black bow, was in there. Standing beside him was the silver-haired Vanadis holding a long sword.
He unintentionally spoke of her nickname. Urz frowned after muttering.
It was Eleanora, so the nickname was Ellen. I see. Why did he know it? Why was he able to speak it easily as if he was used to calling her by that nickname?
—It’s obvious. There is no way I would forget.
Thinking so, Urz blinked several times. Why was there no way that he would forget?
With a headache, a voice resounded in the corner of his consciousness. Something which was sleeping was starting to wake up.
Teita. His late father Urz. Batran. Lord Massas. He had heard about it.
Where did he hear it? It was obvious. It was the place where he should return.
“A place to return…?”
As he violently shook his head as to shake off the headache, Urz turned towards the trees with hollow eyes.
“That’s right. I have to return to the Imperial Palace… Master should have also surely returned to the Imperial Palace.”
The cold wind of winter got through between the trees and blew against Urz. While curling his body, the youth began to walk while tottering. His body was heavy as if he caught a cold and he had a headache. A dull pain ran in his head whenever the scene of something flashed, he was reminded of a name which he had heard somewhere.
He tripped and fell over the root of a tree. When he raised his body while groaning in pain, Urz, startled, raised his face. Several footsteps and voices could be heard from the other side of the trees
He thought to hide behind a tree, but his body did not move like he wanted. He was apparently found while doing it slowly. Footsteps and voices were heading his way.
There were four men. Three of them wore leather armor which was slightly dirty and they hung a sword on their waists; only one wore a chain mail, a hand axe was hung to his waist and he was holding a wide sword in his hand. The four men were indeed dressed like bandits. From how they looked at Urz, they did not seem to be travelers.
Urz looked up at the men with an absentminded face. The men looked at each other.
“A dying person by the roadside, huh. What do we do? Should we drag him to the town and sell him out?”
“Does this look like we can sell it out? Let’s kill him and deprive him of all his possessions.”
“If we kill him, should we begin by cutting his head? After all, I didn’t do such a thing recently.”
One looked down at Tigre with a sad expression, and revealed a sadistic smile. However, the man who wore the chain mail rebuked them with an amazed face.
“What will you do if a beast comes near due to the smell of blood?”
As he advanced ahead, the man pointed the point of his wide sword at Urz.
“Do you have money?”
Urz did not answer. He could not answer. The man looked down at the youth with indifferent eyes and continued.
“All right, die. I will take even your clothes and shoes.”
At that moment, Urz promptly threw down his body horizontally and rolled over the floor. The sword that the man thrust out straight pierced the empty space.
For Urz, it was a desperate action, but it had only irritated the men. Faster than the youth could raise his body, the man kicked Urz flying. To the youth who unintentionally crouched, the man raised his sword as he wanted to kill him this time for sure.
It was at that time that an arrow cut the wind and came flying. Letting a muffled sound echo, a dark red arrow head pierced from the back of the man’s head to his forehead. Not really understanding what happened to him , the man fell on his back in the posture where he had his sword still raised.
“W-Who is it? What did you do?”
The remaining three men looked back at the direction where the arrow came flying with faces wrapped in surprise. Not even showing a behavior to hide, footsteps were approaching.
It was a one young man who showed his figure. His age was about the same as Urz’s. He was an impressive man whom one could understand at first glance that he was a Muozinel person from his dark brown skin. He wore a thick overcoat and he wrapped an orange cloth around his head. He hung a curved sword on his waist and he had tied many small bags to his belt. He was holding a bow in his left hand.
“––You guys, are thieves or bandits, right?”
The gaze of the Muozinel young man surveyed the men and he said in a tone as if assuming it. He spoke the Zchted language with a really bad accent.
The bandits did not answer; they warped their faces in anger and respectively unsheathed their swords. They attacked the young man from three sides so as to surround him.
The young man did not move from his spot. He calmly measured the distance to the enemies who approached; he vigorously thrust out the bow held in his left hand and with its point, gouged one eye of the man who was approaching from the left side. At the same time, he pulled out the sword from his waist and brandished it. The head of the bandit who attacked from the front flew leaving a trail of blood.
The bandit who lost one eye held his face and crouched on the spot; and the other lost his head and fell while dyeing the ground dark red.
The remaining one, because of too much shock, kept standing on the spot. And, it only gave time to the Muozinel young man to regain his stance.
His throat cut down, the third man also fell while spouting blood. The young man, not even turning his eyes there, looked down at the bandit who was crouched with cold eyes and thrust his sword without hesitation.
While raising his body, Urz was staring at the one who killed bandits in utter amazement. Those were movements without any opening and without mercy.
The Muozinel person looked his way. Wrapped in a bloody atmosphere, the two people looked at each other.
“Are you one of their comrades?”
Thrusting his sword covered with blood before him, the Muozinel person asked. Urz stared wide-eyed and fervently shook his head. The Muozinel person observed Urz with his sword still thrust before, but he lowered the sword before long.
“Well, it’s obvious. You don’t have any weapon and don’t wear armor, either.”
As he said so, he crouched down on the spot, cut the clothes of the corpses and began to wipe the blood on his sword with them. He looked at Urz, who did not move as he was still perplexed, and said.
“Don’t just stand there, you scavenge too.”
“Even if I feed the corpses to the wolves and crows, money will be useless for them.”
Urz stared at the young man with an amazed face. He finally understood. This young man did not save him; he only attacked the bandits whom he was unlikely to have problem with even if he stole their money. At any rate, be it the bow or the sword, he possessed a splendid ability.
Urz was absentmindedly staring at the corpses of the bandits, but when he breathed out one sigh, he endured the headache and the cold which still continued and approached the corpses.
—Whatever, he saved me after all.
Besides, Urz himself needed tools in order to make food and light a fire. This was because he did not know where this place was and he had no weapon, either. It was not an act with that much pleasant a feeling, but he searched on the chest of the corpse.
To the sky at which he suddenly looked up, the signs of night had crept in.
When they held tools necessary for travel starting with dried meat, bread, a flask, several pieces of copper and silver coins and then a tinderbox which they wrapped in a cloth, Urz and the young man left that place.
They left the bandits’ corpses as it is. So that the smell of blood might lure out the beasts, there was no composure to bury them.
“Are you a person in a nearby village?”
Being asked by the Muozinel person, Urz cocked his head in puzzlement.
“I don’t really know. When I had come to it, I was lying here.”
He answered honestly, but the young man frowned and struck Urz with an impudent gaze.
“What’s that? Did you meet a kidnapper or something?”
“Something like that, I guess…”
Urz answered while tilting his head to the side. If he were to say that he happened to meet a demon and a dragon, would this young man believe him? Then, Urz noticed that he did not even know his name.
“Speaking of which, I haven’t thanked you yet. I’m Urz. Thank you for having saved me.”
“It’s a bit early to say that I saved you. I’m Damad.”
Saying so, the young man who called himself Damad revealed a sarcastic smile.
The bonfire was burning. What was grilled in the flames was the rabbit that Damad killed.
The day had already grown dark and the forest was wrapped in the night darkness. The air was cold, but there was at least one comfort, the trees were blocking the wind.
“You’re unexpectedly dexterous.”
Fixedly staring at his bow, Damad said as he felt admiration while pulling the bowstring. Urz had offered that he wanted to maintain it and tried to fix the bowstring.
“I’m a little confident when it comes to the bow.”
Urz answered with a smile. The headache and chill continued, but they had softened to the extent that it was bearable.
While striving so as not to show the pain on his face, Urz said with a serious face.
“I’m working for the Imperial Palace of Lebus. I wanted to return, but do you know the place?”
To Urz’s words, Damad turned a suspicious look.
“By Imperial Palace, you mean the place where a Vanadis is, right? Can someone as stupid as you work (there)?”
Though he thought that it was a cruel remark, Urz did not feel that much discomfort. It was because he thought that this young man’s attitude was probably frank.
“Just for note, I’m serving as a servant of Vanadis-sama.”
Because that seemed to rather deepen Damad’s doubt, he kept silent about apprentice knight and adviser. As Damad snorted, he nodded with a tiresome expression.
“How much do you pay?”
“How about 50 pieces of silver coins?”
Composed, Damad suggested the double amount. Urz nodded while wryly smiling.
“Understood. I will prepare it when we arrive safely.”
“If you lie, don’t think you’ll get away with this. The Imperial Palace should be at least ten days March from here. Assuming we will depart when the day dawned, we will arrive in the evening.”
Urz stared wide-eyed in surprise. He did not know where he would be taken, but it seemed to be in a place a little far away from that temple.
Damad cut the roasted meat of rabbit into a proper size with a dagger. He thrust it into a tree branch and gave it to Urz. While thanking him and receiving it, Urz asked something he was worried about.
“By the way, who are you?”
“I’m a merchant of Muozinel. More precisely an apprentice merchant. I came to this country for training.”
“ Training in a foreign country?”
“It’s something common in my home country. If you say that you work for the Imperial Palace, then haven’t you happened to meet Muozinel merchants in the castle town?”
“Indeed”, Urz consented. So, he had visited the far-off edge.
It was a lie. Damad had never intended to become a merchant in his whole life.
He was the subordinate of the Muozinel King’s younger brother, Kreshu Shaheen Baramir. He was not in a position which could be called a close aide, but his face and name were known by Kreshu who was setting eyes on him. Though young, he was genuine warrior, and a general of one army.
There was a reason why such a person was in Lebus. He was ordered by his master Kreshu to confirm Tigrevurmud Vorn’s death.
Kreshu was secretly planning to invade Brune. At that time, the situation would greatly change with the fact of whether or not Tigre was alive. Tigre’s death was one of the important factors that Kreshu wanted be certain of before beginning the war.
Damad who received that order crept in Zchted pretending to be a merchant. He first headed to Legnica, and investigated in detail about the story that Tigre had fallen into the sea. Afterwards, he wanted information from a different angle and visited Lebus.
It was half on a whim that he saved Urz; as for the other half, it was to kill time. In Lebus, as he did not obtain at all information about Tigre and didn’t even hear about another story which could attract his interest, Damad was fed up.
Besides, it was a walking distance of ten days until the Imperial Palace, so it did not seem to take time even if he helped him. In that case, he wondered whether it was a show of hand to win his favor.
“However, you have a poor language. I wonder from which countryside you come.”
As Damad said without reservation while biting the rabbit’s meat, Urz answered back, too.
“About the language, isn’t it the same for you?”
“I’m a Muozinel person, so it’s fine if I’m somewhat sucked at the Zchted language.”
“If you say that, it seems that I’m also a Brune person after all.”
“What is that? ‘It seems?’ You said”
To Damad’s face which seemed to be suspicious, Urz spoke about the fact that he had a memory loss. The Muozinel young man became more and more suspicious and made a steep look.
“Haven’t you been saying random things for a while now?”
“If I were saying nonsense, I wouldn’t have said that I’m working under Master… Vanadis-sama. I was living in the castle town of Lebus, that’s probably more believable right?”
“Well, I also intended to go to the Imperial Palace after all. Damn, I should have asked for 150 pieces of silver coins.”
Damad, who cursed, looked at Urz with a face as he thought of something.
“That’s right. If you’re from Brune, do you know someone called Tigrevurmud Vorn? Even if you don’t have memory, don’t you know anything?”
“Tigrevurmud Vorn… you said?”
Because of too much surprise, Urz bent himself forward.
“Maybe, no, surely, it’s me.”
After of a silence of nearly ten seconds, Damad stared wide-eyed and stared at Urz. Urz braced up and desperately span his words.
“I said it, right? That I have a memory loss. There is a possibility that I, before losing my memory, was that Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
When he himself said it, it could be thought that there was no doubt. The land named Alsace. The maid named Teita. Batran who protected him and lost his life. And Massas who looked after him.
Urz should be his father’s name.
The moment he used that jet black bow, a lot of information had overflowed in Urz’s head as if breaking a dam and gushing forth. All of this was appealing to the fact that he was Tigrevurmud Vorn. There was still some ambiguous place like it could be another person’s memories though.
“If it’s fine with you, won’t you tell me? About the Tigrevurmud that you know––”
Urz’s lines were interrupted there. A silver blade glittered in the edge of his field of vision. Damad suddenly unsheathed his sword and pointed it at Urz. On the Muozinel person’s eyes, doubt and murderous intent surfaced, and Urz was dumbfounded at the sudden situation and could not move.
Only the sound of bonfire quietly resounded.