Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi Wo Shite:
“The Conclusion Of The Royal Academy Arc.”
Finally, it was the time for Rion and Ariel to depart from the capital. But even with that being said, it was not as though it was some sort of special event for the wider world. Usually, there would be hardly anyone interested in a baron traveling to his territory with his wife.
It was early in the morning, just after sunrise. Rion was riding a horse down one of the nearly deserted streets of the city with Ariel sitting in front of him in his embrace.
She would leave the capital today, the place where she was born and raised. They picked this route and traveled at a leisurely pace so she could soak in the memories before leaving. After a while, the eastern gate in the outer walls entered their line of sight.
Roughly at that time groups of people began to appear on both sides of the road. The most noticeable of them were women clad in colorful and very revealing clothes – the courtesans working in Rion’s brothels.
But they were not alone. Rion’s subordinates and denizens of the slums appeared as well. The presence of so many people instantly made the spectacle lively.
「Really guys? Weren’t you the ones to say that this should be kept low-key?」
Despite him saying these things, the people in the crowd knew that he was just trying to hide his embarrassment. So they ignored his words completely and showered the young couple with flower petals and congratulations.
It was their way of showing consideration and not letting this day be dominated by feelings of departure.
Their intentions reached Ariel and she gave everyone her most radiant smile through tears of gratitude.
And Rion too was touched by their consideration. When he met them for the first time all those years ago, he had been looking for revenge. Even though that initial encounter was of the worst possible kind, they were now giving him and his beloved as much goodwill as they could give.
With this, the number of important people in Rion’s heart increased once again. Furthermore, it increased by orders of magnitude. Now, instead of having just Ariel and Vincent as the only people he cared about, he found all the people here precious too. There was probably nobody in the whole kingdom who cared about so many people as he did now.
This was not the end of the surprises, though. Rion’s subordinates prepared something even greater for them. A man and a woman emerged from the crowd separately and walked towards the horse. As soon as that happened, the crowds started to gather all around Rion and that couple. He was initially confused but soon realized that all that was happening here was to prepare for this meeting.
Ariel reacted first. She slipped out of Rion’s arms immediately, dismounted the horse and hurriedly came before the two. Rion now realized who they were as well. He descended from the saddle in a hurry following his wife.
「…Mother, father. …May I call you that still?」
「Do not ask such petty questions. You are our daughter, no matter what.」
Ariel’s parents were wearing clothes so shabby that no one would think they belonged to the circle of highest nobles in the land. All this was because she was expelled from the House and she was thus not allowed to meet them under normal circumstances.
So they dressed in poor-looking clothes and mixed with the crowd of courtesans to be able to have this conversation in secret. Furthermore, Rion now ordered his subordinates to establish a perimeter in the nearby buildings.
After issuing those orders Rion too approached the marquess couple standing in front of them.
However, despite clearly being in their field of vision, Rion was studiously ignored by Lord Marquess.
「Please stop the act. Rion is my husband now, you know.」
Unable to just continue watching Ariel had introduced Rion.
「…I refuse to recognize this.」
「It is done already, whether you give your blessing or not.」
「Marriage is a serious matter that should be approved by parents.」
「We are not father and child anymore. I do not need your permission.」
「…For my lovely Ari to say these things. How cruel. …This is all your fault!」
「Eh? My fault?」
「Who else do I blame? If only… If only…! Vincent and you never met!」
These words hurt Rion more than anything. If only he hadn’t met Vincent, the young lord wouldn’t have to die. That was something he thought too.
「I didn’t mind him remaining the fool he was… Not becoming the ideal aristocrat…. As long as he was alive…」
「…My sincere apologies, sir.」
「Bastards like you…!」
Lord Marquess drew his sword raising it high into the air. Seeing that the women around them started to flee screaming and Rion’s subordinates scrambled to restrain him only to be signaled to stay back.
There was no need to do anything. Ariel was in front of Rion protecting him, Lord Marquess would never dare to use the blade.
Furthermore, his wife slowly moved between them.
「Hush, dear. Vincent found his happiness in the end.」
「…But. …To die at such a young age…」
「Even so, he was happy. We did both hear his last words, didn’t we.」
Vincent’s parents were present at the execution. They wanted to witness their son in his last moments, no matter how hard and painful it would be for them.
「Are you really going to hurt our son’s dearest friend? Slay the person he entrusted Ariel to?」
「…No, I am not.」
Under his wife’s persuasion Lord Marquess lowered the sword. Marchioness looked into her husband’s eyes for a while and then turned to Rion. Her gaze was both gentle and stern.
「You need to know that I am very grateful to you. You also need to know I resent you as deeply as I am thankful.」
Although this sounded like a contradiction, those were the honest feelings of the Marchioness. Feelings her husband shared. Grateful to him for saving Ariel, loathing him for causing Vincent to die, brought to tears seeing him try to save their son – all that was true at the same time.
「…I understand, madame.」
「I do not think we will get to see each other ever again, but I have something to tell you before we part ways. Do heed my words.」
「What would that be?」
「My daughter was entrusted to you, so I will never forgive you if you let Ari die. I will never let you off if you die before her either. For letting my son be taken from us, you have the responsibility to ensure at least this much.」
「…Here and now, I solemnly vow this.」
The responsibility that Marchioness put on him was a tremendously heavy one. It was more than just protecting her with his life on the line. But Rion could only make an oath in affirmation.
Ain’s voice could be heard and Rion knew why did he sound the warning. Many women could be heard screaming, the city watch was bound to investigate.
「I am sorry, but it seems the guards are on the way.」
「Then it is time for us. Ariel. Be well my daughter.」
「Yes. Mother. You and Father as well.」
Lord Marquess was completely dejected. Perhaps he was hiding his tears by bowing his head down, but as one would expect he raised his face.
「Ari. May you find happiness.」
「I already have, Father.」
「I see… And for you, bastard…」
「I will have you hold onto this.」
There was a sword in Lord Windhill’s extended hand, the same one he drew earlier on, now sheathed in its scabbard. Rion knew this blade very well.
「This is… Lord Vincent’s sword…」
「This is not for you, bastard. You will keep it safe for my daughter’s child.」
The aristocrat was too stubborn to give him the blade directly or admit the child would be his as well.
「I understand, sir.」
Although Rion accepted it gratefully, if someone were to observe his thoughts, they would notice great hesitation.
【Sword of the Windwall】. A blade passed down from one head of the House Windhill to the next. Having it was understood to be a proof one was the leader of the family.
It was unclear what Lord Marquess was thinking by lending it to Rion while indicating it belonged to his future grandson.
Ariel’s parents left immediately after that. Before the guards arrived all the courtesans gathered again so proper excuses could be offered for disturbing the peace.
They ended up being scolded for fooling around in the morning. In the meantime, Rion and Ariel left the capital being seen off by the dwellers of the slums.
Many people came to see off Ariel and Rion that day but not all of them did so with good intentions.
With just this, the two of them were of one mind. Without a single word, just by hearing strangers make a ruckus around them they figured out that something unusual was afoot. Rion’s voice was just a signal.
Suddenly, they were under assault from water blades flying in from all directions. But all of those were deflected by a tornado that formed around the couple.
Of course, the assailants wouldn’t give up with just that. If long-range attacks wouldn’t work, it was natural to reveal themselves and close the distance.
However, as soon as they did that, they found themselves under attack from a dragon.
「Defensive formations! Cast “Water Wall”!」
Because the opponents were clearly experienced in battle, they organized quickly and formed a wall of water in front of them. It was a product of a coordinated effort of many spellcasters and as such its strength was considerable making it hard to break. Nevertheless, the fire dragon, as if to mock that effort, simply evaded the obstacle and attacked the people behind it.
It was natural for them to be surprised. A spell, once deployed, was impossible to control. The effects of combat magic should follow a predictable trajectory. This was common sense.
However, the magic that Rion deployed, simply avoided the obstacle before it as if it had a will of its own.
This exposed the biggest flaw of this world’s magic system. Everyone practicing it assumed they were borrowing strength from the roots of the world, they never expected or noticed that this source had its own will.
Despite being surprised they still managed to erect other barriers while the dragon devoured one of their number. After all, they were the special forces of the Aqusmea House, a magic squad that was placed among the elite of the country. They had enough skill to deal with surprise attacks of this level.
However, even if the formation they belonged to was elite, it wasn’t as if all of them were first-class too. The mages fighting here were clearly young and none of them could be called the best.
The truth is, this was as much resistance as they could offer.
「He’s coming! Draw your swords!」
Rion plunged into the group of assailants with an astonishing speed. Trying to intercept him they started to draw their weapons.
However, they were not able to fight on their own terms. If they tried to close into melee outside of the protection of their overlapping barriers, they would be attacked with magic. To make him fight them hand-to-hand, they would have to spread themselves, and their shields, apart.
「Scatter! We are at disadvantage bunched up!」
But a number of them fell by the time they realized that and they failed to notice they were no longer capable of such a maneuver.
As they tried to scatter, some of them were devoured by the dragon, others pierced by lances of water and the rest met Rion’s blade.
Their numbers kept dwindling. Complete annihilation was now just a matter of time.
One of those still alive, seeing his comrades being cut down like grass, was on the verge of tears.
「Is that even a human? He’s capable of deploying two different attributes!? And how can he do all this while fighting with his sword?」
「Should I tell you, I wonder?」
The dazed attacker was surprised by the sudden voice from behind. When he looked back he saw a person, that shouldn’t be there, looking at him.
「Oh, so you knew well who you were targeting, just as I thought. From your spells, you should be a minion of Aquasmeas and given your age… It’s Lancelot’s doing, eh?」
Giving a response without even trying to deny, this showed just how green those mages were.
「Your seniors are elites under direct command of your Lord, an unquestionable future of the country. You, on the other hand, are clearly inexperienced, apprentices at most, the marquess would never send someone like you to do his dirty work.」
「Is that so…」
「But this also makes you a minion of my brother’s enemy, correct?」
Ariel’s words, filled with bloodlust, made the man tremble.
「So even if just a little, I’ll have you feel the pain my brother did.」
Suddenly, the wind around the man materialized into a swarm of very sharp objects and started to gradually contract, cutting the body into ribbons. His agonized death cry was carried into the sky.
By the time Ariel left, the corpse was no longer recognizable as human, all that remained was just a lump of meat. And even that was soon fated to end up in a scavenger’s stomach.
The attackers killed by Rion were bound to suffer the same fate. Their remains were left lying scorched on the ground.
The assailants were wiped out to a man and not even a corpse would remain to tell of their fate.
After all, neither Rion nor Ariel stopped hating them. Especially Ariel, for her they were the people responsible for Vincent’s death.
One month had passed since Rion’s departure. Maria’s circle, as usual, kept meeting in the Lounge. Those days people attending these gatherings were habitually called her followers.
And today they met again as usual, although an uneasy atmosphere permeated the room.
Normally, this sort of mood would be dispelled by Lancelot but even he was making a difficult face right now.
And it wasn’t the first time, he was like this for a few days now.
Lancelot was losing his nerve. The assassination squad that he sent after Rion had neither came back nor contacted him since then. As one would expect, he understood by this point that they had failed but he could not comprehend why none of them made it back. With him behaving like this all day, the details of this matter became known in his surroundings. Members of his House were able to figure out that something was up and before long it became clear for them he failed at assassination.
With this, Lancelot had failed twice already.
Although his talent was worthy of an heir, it was not as if his position was rock solid. There are many cases in the past when those who excelled at magic became simple tools of war in the hands of someone more skilled at governance.
He had long known the best method to protect his position, though. The Crown Prince was the key. He looked at Arnold that seemed to enjoy a conversation with Maria.
Frankly, this kind of development was getting on his nerves. But even so, he couldn’t afford to destroy his relationship with Arnold. After all, he was still bound to become the next king.
Erwin, like Lancelot, also had a frown on his face. Recently, he overheard some rumors circulating among the maids in the mansion.
Those not only suggested his mother had a longstanding affair with Viscount Austin but also said he was the fruit of that relationship.
He knew that was unfounded nonsense, of course. Still, the rumor’s mere existence gave him unpleasant feelings.
During the 『Trial Ceremony』, he had shown an ability worthy of being the next head of the House. There was no reason to suspect he was an illegitimate child of a vassal. And yet he could not calm the disquiet in his heart.
During the execution he was told his abilities paled compared with Ariel’s and were even weaker than Vincent’s. He knew that could only be nonsense, a crude provocation. However, his magic was completely ineffective against that man’s magic, he couldn’t do anything against someone from the slums.
So, was his aptitude really exceptional? He couldn’t stop himself from thinking all these unnecessary thoughts. He didn’t also know it caused darkness to creep into his heart, like a drop of ink falling into a clear water .
Why was Viscount Austin visiting his mother so often? Although he knew it could not be possible, he couldn’t shake off that question.
The position of the heir was finally his. He had not even the slightest intention of letting it slip from his hands. No, that was wrong. He had the blood of Windhills flowing in his veins and he had displayed an ability worthy of being the next lord.
His thoughts might be in disarray but he was sure he would never give up his position.
Charlotte, the final aristocrat in the group, was sitting at a separate table looking displeased. Not because something bad happened to her. Rather, if one was to ask, something good happened.
Recently she was summoned by Rion who was supposed to be in the royal prison. Feeling anxious about what he might have her do this time, she nevertheless went to the meeting place. It was the same restaurant in the back alley where she had met him before so many times.
But this time there was a stranger awaiting her with a pile of papers. Rion called her here while entrusting the documents to that man. Unsure why, she took first few pages to read.
She almost fainted on the spot. The pages contained very detailed information about the chastisements of Maria she initiated. The reports were true to the fact as if Rion was actually present on the spot.
Charlotte immediately understood that he must indeed have watched the whole thing and that her actions were exposed to Rion long ago. Just thinking of what would happen if these papers were to end up in the hands of the wrong person brought chills to her spine.
With this Rion had handed Charlotte all the evidence that would’ve been fatal to her. That made her doubt his real intentions, so she asked the stranger only to be told that it looked like those were not necessary anymore.
Vincent had died. Ariel had become a slave. She understood that there were no more reasons for Rion to threaten her any longer. Nevertheless, she felt admiration towards Rion for honestly handing them over to her.
She was now certain that if they met under different circumstances she might be friends not only with him but also with Ariel and Vincent. That realization brought pain to her heart.
She no longer had that choice. And even if they met under different circumstances, she would probably still choose Arnold over them.
Although currently, even though she was close by his side, all she felt was irritation. Still, she was resolved to stay here, otherwise what justification could she have for bringing ruin to the Windhill siblings.
Although their intentions were different, they were still moving in the same direction.
With this. the Royal Academy story arc ended but the story was still only half complete. The strategy arc was yet to be completed. The world had no intentions of letting the crucial characters deviate from its plan.