Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi wo Shite :
“Event : The Devil Stirs (First Half)”
「How did it come to this?」
It was too late for these words already. The events developed at a breakneck pace and Rion was currently escorting Ariel to an abandoned castle not far from the capital.
They were in the company of the Crown Prince Arnold, Lancelot, Charlotte and Maria. Each of them, including Ariel, had knights escorting them.
It was a lineup that Rion wouldn’t ever want to travel with. The truth is, he initially came to Vincent in order to recommend refusing the invitation.
The rumor said that the abandoned fortification was occupied by inhuman beings. The protagonist’s group came to investigate the actual place in order to find out the truth. This was the opening act for the impending attack of the Devil. A first game event from that chain.
Rion didn’t have sufficient knowledge of the setting to know that. However, since the Crown Prince, three members of marquess houses and the protagonist Maria were all participating, he knew this could be no ordinary matter. Furthermore, the whole thing was too unnatural.
There was no reason in existence that could excuse allowing this group to go to a possibly very dangerous place regardless of the number of knights escorting them.
This far too convenient situation was without a doubt, one of the events.
Rion failed to realize that with this being the case, having Vincent refuse will cause the plot to involve Ariel instead. Furthermore, the world’s intervention took the form of a direct invitation from the Crown Prince himself.
When Rion came to Ariel to talk about it, it was already too late. She would never refuse a personal invitation from Arnold. No matter how she felt about the idea, she would follow the will of her fiancé. That was Ariel’s way of doing things.
When he heard about the immediate reply, Rion fell onto his knees in despair. Ariel looked unmoved by that reaction and simply told him the schedule of their departure.
It was obvious that Rion would go too, there was no way he would let her travel to such a dangerous place on her own.
And that was what led to the current situation.
Two knights were leading the group with lit torches, both of them belonged to the royal guard. Behind them, the marching order was Arnold and Ariel followed by Lancelot and Maria and finally Charlotte. Other knights in the marquess’ employ were guarding the flanks.
Rion and other servants were furthest in the back following the nobles. From his position, it did indeed seem that the group was taking every precaution.
His feelings were rather complex. This was an event involving the protagonist. So even though it might be really dangerous, it should not be life-threatening for the crucial characters. Which, of course, included Ariel.
This conclusion cheered him up. But if that was the case, then it meant that the game’s plot was progressing unimpeded. Which meant his efforts had no impact so far. And that made him feel down. Rion, with his limited knowledge of the game setting, couldn’t know that this was not true at all.
To be honest, he was busying himself with profound thoughts in order to not have to look at people in front of him.
The Crown Prince chose to travel with Ariel beside him. Hearing that, everyone, including Rion, was surprised. They even seemed unaware of the fact that she joined the group at Arnold’s personal invitation. Rion couldn’t guess the goal behind the actions of the prince.
Although that put him on guard and he was constantly watching for anything untoward, currently there were no signs of ill intent. On the contrary, although his efforts were a bit awkward, Arnold was one way or another trying to have a conversation with Ariel.
That was making Rion suspicious but happy at the same time. And somehow, a little bit sad.
He hurriedly shook off the strange feelings in his heart.
「Hmm? What are you doing?」
The one who asked was Charlotte walking not far in front of him.
「Your arms started to shake all of a sudden. Is there anything wrong?」
It seems he didn’t just shake away the thoughts inside his head but also unconsciously moved his hands as well.
「Ehm… A web. There was a spider web, milady.」
「A spider web?」
「Yes. It appeared suddenly in front of me so I got surprised and brushed it off awkwardly.」
「There’s no reason to worry milady. Please do not mind me and go ahead.」
「…Ah, but you see, there is a problem.」
「I ended up with no conversation partner and have nothing else to do right now.」
「…Oh, I see. My sympathies milady, that is unfortunate indeed.」
Although Arnold with Ariel and Lancelot with Maria were holding a conversation as they walked, Charlotte had no one beside her.
「But, thankfully, I seem to have stumbled on a solution to my predicament.」
「…Ah? And what would that be if milady doesn’t mind me asking?」
「Yes, you. Walk with me please.」
「Goodness! Stop being so wary! Am I this off-putting!?」
The angry voice of Charlotte resounded within the abandoned castle. People in front of her, surprised by that, all turned their heads to look at the source of the commotion. And all those stares ended up questioning Rion.
「…My deepest apologies to all the lords and ladies. Everything is fine, please do carry on with the investigation.」
The last bit was aimed at Ariel who was looking at him suspiciously from the midst of the group. Although she was seemingly about to say something, Arnold urged her to keep on moving forward.
「…I seem to have caused a commotion. Do accept my apologies.」
「How can I, milady, when this is entirely my fault for thoughtlessly making you angry? I should have made it clear from the start that it was awareness of my own inadequacies making me hesitate to join Charlotte-sama in conversation, not something Charlotte-sama did.」
「You should stop overthinking things. We have never engaged in dialogue before and I chose you exactly because I hoped conversation with you to be uniquely different.」
「Is that so… I’m unsure whether I can live up to such high expectations, but when milady frames it this way, I can refuse no longer.」
「Excellent. Join me at my side then. Even if you were to be utterly dull, it’s even more boorish to just walk alone in silence.」
「As you wish, Lady Charlotte.」
Just like that, Rion had started a conversation with Charlotte but recently he was somewhat not his usual self.
When Ariel was chatting with the commoners in the cafeteria, her conversation partner changed many times. Whenever that happened, it was Rion’s job to put those students, nervously stiff in front of Ariel, back at ease.
Due to that, during those numerous conversations, there were times where he had to improvise funny anecdotes to lighten the mood. Those were mostly based on stories about Vincent when he was still a child.
Thanks to that, he was able to raise Vincent’s reputation and change his goal to increase other students’ familiarity of his lord.
He was now retelling those stories to Charlotte. Incidentally, he thought she was, in a way, strikingly similar to Vincent.
「W-Wait a b-bit… My… Stomach…… I heard the rumors, but …Isn’t this too much?」
Hearing those anecdotes made Charlotte hold her stomach to try to suppress her laughter.
「Err… I admit this reaction is more than I expected… Did I perhaps do something improper right now?」
Rion asked with a dead serious face.
「A-After all that… You.. ..Goodness, this is too funny, I can barely hold myself..」
Seeing that reaction of Rion, Charlotte burst out with laughter. With no care about what others might think, she nearly bent in half laughing while supported by Rion’s shoulder.
「S-Sorry… W-Wait a b-bit… I’ll get myself together soon…」
It seemed that Charlotte’s wish for an interesting company was fulfilled by him more than enough. Although he was satisfied with that, he could feel the piercing glares of Ariel stabbing him every time more laughter was heard.
「 For heaven’s sake! Would you two stop that already! Just where do you think we are!?」
Putting on hold the conversation he was having with Maria, Lancelot complained loudly. The actual reason he did so was because his conversation with Maria was getting interrupted with the girl increasingly curious about the obviously funny stories Rion was telling to Charlotte.
「You are absolutely correct lord Lancelot and I beg your forgiveness. Lady Charlotte, isn’t it time…」
「Another moment, please. Let me calm myself down a little bit more.」
「I’m afraid that our time is running out rapidly. The situation doesn’t seem to have any more room for left for levity.」
Immediately realizing the meaning behind Rion’s words, Charlotte clamped down on her mirth. Her expression changed and she started trying to probe for unseen presences in her surroundings. Charlotte wasn’t the only one who did so. Even Lancelot, who was complaining just now, began to pay attention.
「They are close, are they not? I wonder why can’t we see them.」
Charlotte muttered talking to herself.
「I fear that they are most likely under our feet」
Rion answered her nonetheless.
The surprised voice of Charlotte was drowned out by a loud crashing sound. They were engulfed by a quickly thickening cloud of dust. With their vision obstructed, they could just guess what was happening.
「This way please!」
Having her hand strongly pulled as she heard the shout, Charlotte followed obediently knowing that it was Rion. She had gotten familiar with that voice by now.
「What is happening!? Where are the enemies!?」
Lancelot was also confused by the situation. It was clear they were under attack and everyone, like Charlotte, could sense the presence of the enemy. Since the foe still couldn’t be seen, but clearly closed the distance they had to be directly below their feet.
「Are they below the ground?!」
「It is likely! They collapsed the exit, attack should come from the rear.」
Rion’s voice was heard by everyone and they all shared his thoughts. From somewhere close Arnold could be heard shouting orders.
「Enemy is below and behind us! Form up!」
As the cloud of dust started to clear the knights could be seen following Arnold’s instructions. As Charlotte was confirming the situation, she suddenly felt the sensation of Rion’s hands holding her vanish.
As soon as some visibility returned he let go of her and immediately moved to Ariel’s side.
「Milady, are you alright?」
「I am fine. You seem to be unhurt too.」
「Somehow. I’m afraid though that other servants walking behind me…」
All the non-combatants walking behind Charlotte and Rion were most likely buried by the debris from the collapse. And even if someone survived that, they would be faced with…
「What on earth… Are those… ? 」
Lancelot asked with a shaking voice. He couldn’t be really helped, the clearing cloud of dust revealed a grotesque looking crowd. Those beings were neither human nor like a demonic beast, it was a kind of foe that the people of this age had never seen before.
「So the rumors were technically true, huh? These things really are human no longer.」
In clear contrast to shaken Lancelot, Arnold looked and sounded completely calm.
「Your highness, please withdraw.」
Said one of the royal guards in front of the Crown Prince Arnold, without turning his eyes away from the enemy.
「I will fight.」
「Highness, this enemy is unknown. Fighting here and now is reckless. Something only a fool would attempt.」
The reason behind the royal guard’s sharp words was clear, he wanted Arnold to lose his will to fight. If something happened to the Crown Prince, the guards would be punished heavily even posthumously if they did not survive. Their top priority was the safety of Arnold. Their own lives ranked far behind.
All the other knights attached to the group were in the same position. If they failed to protect their charges, death and infamy awaited them. That’s why all of them moved in front of the young nobles in order to shield them from harm.
「Arnold-sama, let us retreat.」
The first person to agree with the words of those knights was Maria.
「There is no need to spend our strength fighting here, we should withdraw and regroup.」
「Assume I agree, where do we go? The exit is blocked.」
「All castles have more than one gate, there must be another way out.」
「Let’s hurry then. The longer we hesitate, the bigger the burden on the knights.」
Maria’s words betrayed her assumption that their escorts are going to be left behind. Arnold, noticing that immediately, looked at Maria as if he couldn’t believe that she said that.
His surprise was natural. Right now Maria was trying to do the same thing she was so harshly rebuking Vincent for during the excursion.
「We need to go now.」
She grabbed the hand of hesitating Arnold and tried to lead him away but he shook her off immediately.
She wasn’t wrong. He knew he should treasure his life more than anything. If this was a war, it would be lost the moment he fell. However, even if his reason was telling him to go, his heart wouldn’t let him leave.
Arnold was paralyzed with indecision.
「Please be careful milady.」
「…I shall, but you take care too.」
A little bit away from the hesitating Arnold, Rion was talking with Ariel. Everyone would immediately understand the meaning behind their words just by listening.
「Is this really the time…」
Although the walking pace of those hostile beings was slow, they were about to close in on them. Nevertheless, Rion knelt as he was told and was looking at Ariel expectantly.
Ariel put his face between her hands and got closer as if trying to look into the deepest parts of Rion’s eyes.
「…You are forbidden to die. Do you understand?」
「Your wish is my command, Lady Windhill. I shall not die.」
「No matter what happens, you are to come back to me.」
「I hear and I shall comply. Expect me back at your side.」
「Rion… I… Will put my faith in you.」
She forcibly altered the last words. The things she really wanted to say couldn’t be said in this situation.
「Those words will be my strength. My lady, it is time.」
Rion slowly stood up and turning his back on Ariel drew his sword. Vincent lent him that sword, one with the crest of the House Windhill, exactly for moments like this.
「I’ll be heading off!」
Right after saying that, Rion charged forward. Without a shred of hesitation, he plunged himself into the crowd of enemies. Ariel followed his charge with a spell.
Arnold who saw that inadvertently let out a cry of surprise. At first, it looked to him as if Ariel was trying to attack Rion. However, her magic flowed around him and assaulted the enemy in front. Simultaneously, Rion also cut down another target with a single stroke.
Rion’s movement never stopped. He struck at the swarming hostiles around him one after another and whenever he swung his big sword Ariel’s magic immediately followed to support him.
He unconsciously voiced his admiration. It was aimed neither at Rion’s swordsmanship nor Ariel’s spells. What impressed him was their cooperation, so splendid, that one would struggle to imitate it.
「Your highness! Arnold! We should withdraw at once!」
The one who said these words was Ariel.
The Crown Prince couldn’t understand it at all. Just how was she able to abandon Rion in such a place. Just looking at their relationship before… It was obvious that it had already transcended that of a master and servant.
「Hurry, please! Don’t let Rion’s effort go to waste!」
「Your highness, please go! Hurry!」
The knights, who were astonished by Rion and Ariel’s way of fighting, were brought back to reality by her voice. So was Maria.
「Arnold-sama, we really need to go now.」
This time she was tightly gripping Arnold’s hands and she pulled him along. Lancelot and Charlotte followed suit. With Rion and the knights left behind, the nobles escaped from the scene.
「None of them seem to be particularly strong, but the sheer number of them… That might be tricky. 」
Rion, having confirmed that Ariel and the others were gone, immediately re-engaged the crowd. The knights were lined up beside him blocking the pathway.
「If it’s just numbers, we’ll manage.」
The knights managed to get a good grasp of the enemy strength by now. Actually, none of them were even wounded yet.
「I suppose, if things stay as they are.」
「…You expect more of them to come?」
「The things in front of you are called undead. They are corpses forced back into a twisted mockery of life by foul magic. According to my knowledge, they should be controlled by someone or something.」
「And if there is someone like that here…」
「Then, I’m afraid, they will rise again. They were, after all, dead from the start.」
As if just waiting for Rion’s explanation to finish, the defeated undead all around the passageway stood up one after another. Unfortunately, his prediction was splendidly on the mark.
「You’ve got to be kidding me….」
「There’s no time to be surprised. Second round starts now, let’s give it our all.」
Although Rion said this was the start of the second round, it was clear now that things wouldn’t end with just that. The knights, not knowing how many more times could the undead come back, resumed their hopeless battle.