「Behind us are non-combatants that have fled the capital. They have no intentions to resist, nor do they have the means to fight. If you―― 」
Something entered Minerva’s vision who was speaking to the Imperial soldiers. Hidden behind the Imperial soldiers, a shimmering haze like on a hot day’s road appeared.
Judging from experience what it would do, Minerva immediately warned her allies.
「Something is coming! 」
As expected of Moore who reacted to Minerva’s words immediately. Of course, Minerva herself can’t stay there as well.
As she controlled the horse with the reigns, a fireball appeared above the Imperial soldiers and flew towards her.
The fireball that came at high speed shattered the ground. The heat radiated in the air reached Minerva, and the shockwave shook her.
「There’re more coming! 」
Moore’s voice told them to pay attention, and now, volleys of arrow came from the Imperial soldiers.
Minerva immediately controlled the horse to run, avoiding the area that was aimed. Moore arrived beside her.
「So they didn’t have the intention of capture from the start huh? 」
It was as Moore said. Leaving aside negotiation, the Imperial soldiers didn’t even have the intention of listening what they are saying.
On top of that, they responded with magic and arrows, it was obvious that they are not going to capture Minerva, but to kill her.
「They even have a magician there! Those Empire bastards, they don’t spare any energy huh! 」
While blocking the incoming arrows with his sword, Moore grumbled. Certainly, the presence of a magician here is unexpected.
The same for the Kingdom, even in the Empire, magicians are important assets in the army. And to use them just for the sake of pursuing refugees, even Moore didn’t expect they would do that.
「Though, if they were aiming for Ojou-sama from the start, then it makes more sense! 」
The arrows that came from the Imperial soldiers weren’t that much. And archers that can accurately snipe someone riding on a horse is even lesser.
However, the problem was the offensive magic by the magician. As long as they are within sight of the magician, the magic attack is more accurate than any arrow.
「Ojou-sama, it’s looking quite bad. 」
「Yes, it seems so. I didn’t think they would have a magician too. 」
「Let’s retreat immediately. 」
Moore made changes to the plan ad lib, and just as Minerva was showing a difficult face, she was taken by surprise as a part of the ground collapsed. It was the magic of the enemy magician.
Unlike Moore who immediately pulled his horse and avoided it, Minerva ran straight into it.
Hearing Moore’s voice, Minerva’s vision flipped. The next moment, a strong hit to her shoulder. With impacts towards her back, waist and then her legs, she couldn’t even breathe for a second.
「Ka, hak! 」
As her realization of falling off her horse finally caught up, she also realized that it’s the worst scenario. She tried to raise her painful body up but, her limbs didn’t listen to her command.
Without wasting time, the Imperial soldiers immediately closed the distance. And then, the sound of gallops.
「Hold on, Ojou-sama! 」
Moore reached out his hands after arriving beside Minerva. However, her breath had only just caught up, and her body rebelled against her own will, and she couldn’t take his hand.
「Captain, what about Ojou-sama !? 」
The other three cavalry who were dealing with the approaching Imperial soldiers came running.
「Pulling the reigns is probably impossible. Riding on someone’s horse and breaking through―― is not possible too, huh. 」
Moore looked around the Imperial soldiers annoyed. There were already five Imperial soldiers surrounding Minerva and the others.
「Tch, we’re surrounded. 」
Moore clicked his tongue as he got down his horse. In a situation where they are forced to stop, there’s no longer any meaning to continue riding a horse.
Centering Minerva, with their back faced towards each other, Moore and the other three glared at the surrounding Imperial soldiers.
「Alright, deal with their horses and magician if there’s a chance. 」
Moore muttered in a soft voice only audible to the other three.
「Got it. 」
「Isn’t the magician impossible? 」
「I mean, if he comes out in front. 」
Hearing the three different kinds of response, Moore asked Minerva.
「Ojou-sama, can you run? 」
「……My legs, it’s not as painful. Probably, I think. 」
Eventually, Minerva who regained her freedom of movement said so without confidence. Although the pain is still terrible in her shoulders, other than that, she was getting better.
It was fortunate that her legs was not in pain.
「Let’s head north if we can break through. Rest yourself until then. 」
「No……, I will fight too. 」
「Please stay still for the time being. If Ojou-sama’s legs stopped in the middle of it, it will be the end, woah there. It’s not like the numbness is gone yet right. 」
Although there’s a need for Minerva and the others to talk in order to convey their intentions, the Imperial soldiers didn’t. The five were totally surrounded by Imperial soldiers, and were attacked by the infantries one after another.
Moore and the other three were fending off with a sword. The difference in number is five against a hundred.
However, even if they are surrounded, it’s not like all hundred of them can come at them at once. Moore and the other three at most only face two or three opponents at a time.
Naturally, fighting several opponents at once requires considerable skills but, Moore and the other three of the guards of the Duke’s residency are elites.
If there’s no need to worry about their back, there’s no way they would get taken out by a common soldier.
「Endory, how many!? 」
One of the three guards smashed an Imperial soldier’s spear down to the ground while asking his colleague.
「The second now! 」
The man named Endory was pressing on his sword, forcing through the shield of the Imperial soldier. Stabbing through the neck of the soldier that fell backwards, the second victim fell.
「Just two!? 」
「Shut up! 」
「You lots are really energetic! 」
While commenting on his subordinates enjoyably, Moore avoided the spear that came his way.
「Then what about Captain!? 」
His sword closed in within an instant, and Moore’s sword cut off the arm of a soldier.
「Is my fifth! 」
It was not a long time that Minerva and the others started exchanging sword blows after getting surrounded.
They still hadn’t had any serious injuries, while the number of victims from the Imperial soldiers crossed over two digits.
However, it still doesn’t change the fact that they are severely lacking in numbers compared to the opponents, moreover, their fatigue is piling up.
With the fatigue piling up and slowing down their judgement, a moment’s mistake would suffice to kill.
One of the escorts failed to parry an attack, and showed an enormous opening. Aiming that, another Imperial soldier came slashing.
「Look out! 」
It was Minerva who reached out from behind and saved him. The short sword carrying mana deflected the Imperial soldier’s sword.
「Thanks for the save! 」
Cutting down the Imperial soldier after escaping from the danger, the escort thanked Minerva.
「Let me support too! 」
As the pain from falling off her horse subsided, other than the pain residing in her shoulder, there’re not many problems.
It’s not Minerva’s intentions to be protected like this forever. Minerva at the center focused on all directions, and wielded her sword to support the escorts who were getting pushed back.
Matching the movements of the escorts, she would occasionally leave the center, dealing one blow and immediately getting back to the center.
Although not having trained as a team in the first place, their actions were linked together strangely well, thanks to that, no ally had retired yet.
However, no matter how Moore and the other escorts are individually stronger than the Imperial soldiers, it’s obvious to anyone’s eyes that the current situation is not good to persist.
「Captain, it’s about time! 」
「Yeah, I know! 」
From the beginning, it’s impossible to win against that many enemies. What they could do is deal as much damage as they can, break through a gap in their encirclement, and escape like that.
There’s a need to reserve their power for a timing like that to appear. Now that they have abandoned their horses, they have to deal with the pursuing horses as well somehow, if not, they could never outrun the enemies.
「Cain and Endory, open a path! 」
At Moore’s order, the two escorts made a joint aggressive offense. The two’s roles are to push through forcefully.
Not able to respond to the two that were attacking defensively till now, two Imperial soldiers were down in a moment.
However, Minerva who was about to follow after the two saw another haze at the edge of her vision.
「Incoming magic! 」
A short warning. The next moment, Minerva witnessed a fireball flying towards Cain who started running.
The fireball impacted right in front of Minerva, consuming Cain and another Imperial soldier.
「They’re even hitting their own people! 」
Moore yelled out complaining. Minerva lost her voice at the unimaginable scene.
With this close quarter combat, it was unthinkable for the enemy to unleash offensive magic. It would’ve been different if it was after they escaped the encirclement.
It’s natural to be on guard against offensive magic or arrows that may come after escaping the encirclement. However, Minerva didn’t ever expect they would ever hurl an offensive magic that might involve one of their own men.
Minerva ran to Cain.
「Ojou-sama, don’t stop! Run! 」
Moore’s voice reached Minerva as well. However, her legs stopped nonetheless.
「Uuu……. Run, Ojou-sama……」
Cain’s painful and weak voice conveyed. It seems like he was still conscious. However, his back was burnt, and it was obvious that his life is already fleeting.
He was not in a state capable of running. Even more so that he cannot fight with a sword.
Minerva who stopped running just for a moment was surrounded by Imperial soldiers again.
「Aaah~, welp, this is now awful. 」
Moore’s tone was still light despite in a grave situation. It’s unknown whether it is the leisure that he gained from escaping so many near-death situation, a bluff, or resignation.
Breaking through is now impossible. Arriving there, Minerva finally realized that she had made an irrecoverable mistake.
It’s natural for her to be concerned over an injured ally, and look after them. However, it was not a situation that something natural like that should happen.
Although cold-hearted, they should’ve abandoned Cain who was injured and break through the encirclement.
In as little time as a blink, she had to make the correct decision when Moore shouted. However, it’s already meaningless to mull over it now.
It was a mistake in Minerva’s judgement. No, even if she understood that abandoning Cain there was the right choice, she hesitated when executing, and the lag in her judgement costed her greatly.
「It was……my mistake……」
Minerva regretted over her choice as she squeezed out the few words. The situation had worsened several leagues than before.
It had already been decided during the moment of her mistake in judgement, or even earlier when she hesitated.
In an instant on the battlefield, one must be able to make a cold-hearted decision. Although Minerva learnt the lesson now, it would only prove useful if she can actually survive.
「Nn――, well, Ojou-sama is still sixteen, and it’s the first battlefield after all. I guess I was way worse when I was that age. 」
Moore’s consoling words weren’t capable of soothing Minerva. Because of Minerva’s mistake, everyone’s death is drawing close.
And of course, there is no chance to fix it now. In the end, she had only dragged everyone around under the pretense of her noble pride.
Just as Moore said, selfish behavior will only drive the escorts to death. Those thoughts became her words.
「……I’m, sorry. 」
Moore didn’t hide his surprise and returned his advice.
「Oi oi, a noble lady of the Duke can’t be apologizing now. 」
「At this point, being a noble or not doesn’t matter. 」
Despite it being a death threatening situation, Minerva showed a bitter smile.
「It was myself that involved everyone. If I were to escape the capital from the start, then something like this would’ve never happened. That’s why, not as a noble lady, I wish to apologize as a person and………… thank you for not abandoning me, despite my selfishness. Captain Greystar, and everyone else too. 」
It was already the end of the road. If so, the face of a noble or prestige does not matter.
Following her true self within, at least that should be forgivable now.
「I take the appreciation but, spare me from the apologies. It’s not like we followed Ojou-sama unwillingly―― woah there. 」
With one of the soldier stabbing with his spear as the trigger, several other soldiers rushed at once. While avoiding one of them, Moore continued.
「Although I’ve made a lot of complaints from my standpoint, I don’t think Ojou-sama was wrong. 」
「It’s as Captain said, Ojou-sama. A noble protecting the citizens from the invaders, it’s like the hero of a story, isn’t it cool to be one. 」
While fending off the Imperial soldiers behind, the escorts agreed with Moore.
「Actually, it felt like I became a knight I longed for, it was quite fun. Isn’t it an exciting situation to be swinging a sword alongside my master. Even more so if she’s a noble lady. 」
The escort on the right side was cutting down Imperial soldiers with a fearless smile.
「And you heard it, Ojou-sama. You can stick your chest out in pride. 」
Finally, with Moore’s words, Minerva’s chest burned. The inexplicable feeling flooded her entire body, as she held herself back from yelling out impulsively with reasoning.
「……Once again, thank you. 」
Dismissing her thoughts of self-deprecation, Minerva took up her sword while suppressing the pain in her shoulder.
「It is my utmost pride to have been with everyone. Although I have no means to return the favor, I will at least prove myself worthy to be protected. That’s why―― 」
Dodging the sword that came from the front, she cut down the arm that swung it.
「To not shame the name of Nyrestia, let’s fight till the bitter end. 」
With resolution, her sword drew the 『一』 character.
「Now that’s a pretty expression. 」
Moore said with a grin, in a feeling that was closer than ever before. Not as a servant, without the relationship of the protector and the protected, Minerva who felt like she was acknowledged as a battle comrade for the first time felt light in her heart, disregarding the situation.
With their backs against each other, the four sword were cutting away at the Imperial soldiers. Even with light injuries on them, they slowly but surely shaved away at the enemies.
However, the advantage wouldn’t last forever. Minerva’s both arms felt dull, and the hands that held the familiar sword felt like logs.
As if waiting for them to exhaust themselves, the Imperial soldiers were pushing against them without pause. Unlike the enemies that has substitutes, Minerva and the others had to fight without taking a sliver of rest.
The limit is unavoidable.
「Tch, this sword! 」
Beside Minerva, one of the escorts threw away the sword that snapped in half, and switched to a spare dagger.
The escort at her back took an attack to his side abdomen from a spear blade, and staggered. However, Minerva didn’t have the room to follow up with them now.
She herself was stuck in a sword lock with another Imperial soldier after all. Even if practiced in swordsmanship, Minerva is still only a sixteen years old girl.
In a sword lock, she of course has the disadvantage in brute strength. Even more so now that her shoulders are still injured.
「Little miss. Don’t glare at me like that, blame your birth country. ――Now, do it! 」
The soldier in front of her signaled the others, and the two soldiers beside him faced Minerva.
Minerva felt hair standing all over herself. If she took an attack from both sides now, there’s no doubt that she would turn into a skewer.
As she resolved that it is the end, Minerva felt intense pressure above her head that she never experienced.
It was only herself that noticed the change in the atmosphere. Minerva unintentionally looked upwards to the sky.
The iris-colored eyes widened. What filled the entire sky was thick layer of haze.
And then, the countless swords that rained down on the ground.