“The Two People That Don’t Mesh”
After the meeting with Prince Alexander of Orcus concluded, Rion sat still in silence for some time. There were various things to think through, many of them concerning, mentioned during that discussion.
But the starkest of those concerns was the fact that the demons appeared on the Gran Flamm soil only. If this were to be confirmed as true, the consequences would be many and wide-ranging.
「Have you happened to come across any information regarding the demon presence in other kingdoms?」
Lacking sufficient information to develop his train of thought further, Rion decided to question Sol for now.
「I know nothing on the subject.」
「…Useless. You lack even such crucial intelligence.」
「This concerns other countries, hence it is not something a guardsman needs to know.」
「Even if it heralds a possible war?」
「It does what?」
Sol scowled slightly, but not from surprise. He was frustrated by not being able to arrive at the same conclusion as Rion after witnessing the same discussion.
「Demons appear in this country only. A not insignificant part of the army is now completely tied up by the demon subjugation, to the point that certain areas are now undermanned… Do you believe all of the Kingdom’s neighbors friendly? Will they let such an opportunity slip by? 」
「…No …Not at all.」
Far from being surrounded by friends, the Kingdom had borders with a potential enemy in Merika and two rather unwilling puppet states in Hashu and Orcus. Other neighbors were not much better. They feared Gran Flamm’s strength, but they also envied its prosperity. If any of them had designs on some of that wealth, now was their perfect chance to act.
「But then, if war is truly coming, that woman should know.」
A foreign invasion while the country was busy subjugating the devils. If such a thing was to occur, Maria should know about it more than anyone. After all, saving the country from perils was her role.
「But I guess just because she knows doesn’t mean she’d say anything, eh?」
「What are you trying to say?」
Rion was just talking to himself at this point but Sol, as expected, couldn’t let the conversation die at this point. For him, the possible outbreak of a war was too important a topic.
「….Do you know who am I referring to?」
「Maria Theodore, of course. Who else do you refer to in that kind of manner?」
「Yes, her. Hmm, looks like despite knowing that much, you still don’t know what I’m talking about, huh?」
「…And it is very frustrating.」
This was frustrating to Sol, just as he had said. Still, he had no choice but to accept that he could not comprehend a single thing about it at all.
「Well, that’s normal, isn’t it? I would have to start suspecting your character if you said you understood this.」
Sol’s honest confession met an unexpected reaction and the number of things the guardsman didn’t understand grew by one.
「Can you please explain properly.」
「That woman knows the future of the demon subjugation. You know this, right?」
「Then, why does she not try to change it?」
「…Why should she?」
That future led to the Devil’s defeat, Sol saw no reason to meddle with it.
「That depends on how much she knows. Let’s take the currently unknown place where the demons appear from, their base. Don’t you think she could be able to unravel that mystery?」
「…Ah, so that is what you are talking about.」
The devil base location was still unknown. But possibly not to Maria. After all, if she knew where the final battle was supposed to happen, that meant she knew where they came from too. The same way she directed the war effort by knowing where they would strike next.
「That woman says she fears subtle changes bringing about an unfavorable result. This is a reasonable worry and no one can blame her for this. But is that really all there is to her inaction?」
「…I think not.」
Rion had been removed from the war effort to prevent him from making more of a name for himself by continuous accumulation of battlefield merit.
When one looked for instigators, Maria’s name came up as a likely suspect. After all, she should have been the person to play the leading part. Sol didn’t think she was able to achieve that deed on her own, but he thought her very likely to be involved in the matter.
And that made it clear her primary goal was not minimizing the number of casualties, it was obtaining personal achievements.
「I can offer no proof, but believe me when I say that woman will not shy away from sacrificing others and she will not rest until the role of the protagonist is hers. If she only knew that getting all the battle merit is not the same as having the main role…」
Nobody could possibly know that Rion was right now hinting at the truth behind this world. The people living here were unaware of the existence of the game, hints like mentioning a “protagonist” wouldn’t be enough to change that.
「Oddly, the little lady’s knowledge seems to have gaps. Do you also find this troubling?」
As far as Maria was concerned, the past two battles had been full of miscalculations, a fact Sol did not miss. He was content to allow her to prioritize her own success, but not necessarily so if it would bring harm to the Kingdom as a result.
「Oh that… That’s quite troubling indeed.」
Rion was worried about that fact, although for a different reason than Sol. Having the strongest demon types right from the start ran counter to the common knowledge that the strength of the game enemies would match the growth of the protagonist.
「Do you have an idea why that may be?」
「None at all… I do wonder though.」
The truth was, one possibility did come to Rion’s mind. It was possible that the strength of the enemy was determined by the overall and not personal strength of the protagonist. Maria had gotten the recognition and blessing of the Kingdom from the very beginning and, accordingly, the army she had taken to past battles was of considerable size. Even without Rion and his strength, the Kingdom should be able to win, albeit with significant losses. Thinking of those two engagements in the game terms, they would make for challenging encounters between two sides of similar power.
However, it would be impossible to explain that idea to Sol.
「Is that so. That makes me worried about their next battle.」
「Yeah. That woman seems to be making them do unnecessary things too.」
「Simultaneous battles with troops split into numerous units.」
It was the same way of fighting that Rion had employed in the previous campaign. A style Sol had decreed feasible only for a genius commander.
「And even though there seems to be no need to go through such troublesome things in the present campaign. Oh well, if that woman put that much thought into it, I guess things should be fine.」
「Absolutely not! There is now way she is up to the task, is she?」
「Why is that?」
「That strategy is something only a genius can execute.」
「It went fine when I did it, though?」
「Well… You are a genius.」
Sol felt somewhat unwilling to complement Rion directly in this manner.
「Flattery won’t get you anywhere.」
「And that kind of humility is disgusting. I, at the very least, am not capable of it.」
「…Even though all you need is some calculations?」
Sol thought that this kind of approach required a genius-like ability to visualize a detailed map and troop movements inside one’s head. In his opinion, less talented people would be able to imitate that to a certain extent on a limited battlefield, as could he in some capacity. But what Rion had done took that concept to a completely different level.
「You know that having two sides of a triangle lets you calculate the third, right?」
Sol did not, still, Rion continued speaking undeterred.
「For example, let’s call the line connecting units A and B side X. If you know that unit A is heading towards destination C, unit B can just send a messenger to Destination C. The distance between the starting point of A and destination C makes side Y then the travel distance the messenger has to cover to get there is side Z But that’s just one of the possible situations, there are others too…」
「Wait a minute! I understand nothing of this!」
Of course, he wouldn’t. Trigonometry was not something necessary for a guardsman and besides, even if Sol studied it, it would be very hard for him to understand Rion’s explanations.
「…Have you really never learned about things like that? Regardless, that woman’s knowledge in this area is wider than mine. She should be more than capable of necessary calculations.」
「How can you know that?」
「I remember her grades from the Royal Academy. To my knowledge, she always got the top marks.」
This was a lie. Rion’s conviction came from the fact that Maria was also an otherworlder.
But by assuming this would be enough, he was actually greatly mistaken. It was not possible to repeat what he had done simply by knowing some advanced math. Attempting such a thing would stumble due to the fact initial values were not accurate, mistimings and miscalculations were inevitable.
Rion succeeded only because he could intuitively compensate for those inaccuracies on the fly. In the end, it was just as Sol had said, he had talent surpassing normal people.
「…Even if that is the case, you also think it is impossible for her in this situation, right?」
Sol instinctively picked up on Rion’s misconception. However, he knew that the young lord would not understand the problem at all, so he decided to leave the subject be.
「I bet. It worked for us because the detached forces’ numbers were limited. In the first place, it’s not a strategy someone with sufficient amount of force should be pursuing. If she is aiming to get the demons before they concentrate their forces, she should just deploy troops in places where they are expected to appear.」
「…What if more than expected show up?」
「You withdraw. The difference in numbers ceases to be a factor and, as your dispersed units gather, disappears altogether. If that’s not enough and you’re still at a disadvantage, you use other means to even up the odds. A defensive battle within a castle, for example.」
「…So, by the book?」
This kind of strategy was no means revolutionary. It was the most sensible way to proceed for a commander that wanted to lower the casualties on his side.
「Our opponent is demons, there’s no need for fancy solutions to deal with them. We already have found a strategy that promises victory, it’s best to focus on it and just try not to screw up.」
「That is true.」
Just when Sol started to think Rion was the man that prized ingenuity, the young man voiced this kind of an opinion. The longer Sol spent at his side, the less he understood Rion’s true nature.
「But I guess if that woman were to do that, the victory would belong to the army, not to her. And if I know her, she loathes that idea completely.」
「Really… I have to say, though, your knowledge of the current military situation is impressive. Did you leave some of those messengers behind, perhaps?」
「I did. But this information comes from His Highness and Lady Lanchester.」
「For some reason, they sent me a letter with the particulars of the situation. They’re even asking for my opinion, even though it took a month for the message to arrive here and it’ll take as much for any reply to reach them. The battle will be well over by that time, so it’s kind of meaningless, don’t you agree?」
「Maybe they want to use that as a reference for the next battle?」
Charlotte aside, Sol understood the intentions of the Crown Prince. Arnold had the same objective as him, to learn Rion’s way of fighting.
「…That does not make any sense. If he has time for that, he should spend it on more productive pursuits.」
「The demon invasion is the most pressing issue of the day, no?」
「For the next king? Is this kingdom so short of hands that the heir to the crown himself must head to the battlefield?」
「That… Is probably not the case, I think.」
「Well, I guess everything should be fine since His Majesty, the King, is still present. The biggest problem for me is how to avoid getting entangled in troublesome things.」
「Are you playing the fool? Or just entirely oblivious?」
「…The latter, I guess.」
Sol honestly didn’t know what Rion was talking about this time. Not because he was slow witted, but because the image of Rion he had constructed in his mind didn’t exactly match the reality.
「Are you kidding? Why do you think the Prince of the Orcus Kingdom came here?」
「Ah, that, even I would know that. To recruit.」
Sol’s answer was not only well different to what Rion was thinking of but also completely outside Rion’s expectations.
「They’re trying to recruit you for their court. Wasn’t that the reason for their probing? That Prince truly was looking for friendship. With you only, that is.」
「…Wasn’t that reconnaissance?」
「Oh, that too. Knowing the current situation of Bandeaux gives them better idea of your actual worth」
「Like I’d go to the Orcus Kingdom.」
「How could they know that? Your circumstances and attitude to the Crown Prince are not exactly secret. It is reasonable to expect you can be convinced to defect.」
「…Why would they even try?」
Rion’s low self-esteem had actually blinded him to the fact he might have been scouted for recruitment.
「Look who is playing the fool now. To enrich their kingdom and to strengthen their army among other things, I find it hard to believe you wouldn’t know what their end goal is.」
「Countries and territories are two different things. And even if they somehow managed to succeed, how long would it take? The right moment to attack the Kingdom of Gran Flamm is now. It may be impossible on their own, but if they get help from Merica and others, their chances improve dramatically.」
「The Kingdom is not that soft of a target.」
「Oh, I wonder? If the attackers planned well, taking the capital is the very least they could achieve. The demons are on a rampage in the outlying regions causing the central parts of the Kingdom to be considerably short of troops. Furthermore, the regions bordering Merica directly, , the South in particular, afraid of repeat of the scenes before Harcourt, concentrated their garrisons in strategic locations. An enemy that splits his army to bypass those strongpoints can go straight for the throat and take the Capital City.」
Sol was completely amazed. Just from hearing not that long ago that other countries are not plagued by the demons, Rion was able to come up with a bunch of not even surprising, but straight outrageous, plans. And on top of that, he was fully aware of the situation in the south for some reason.
This was so much that he was starting to believe his earlier suspicions that he had been sent here to keep the boy under observation.
「What are you talking about?」
「Schemes to capture the capital. You have alternative plans, right?」
「I don’t. With that one being viable, there’s no need for others, is there?」
「In that case, prepare a written report about the details of this one and send it to the capital.」
「Why would I?」
「So that countermeasures are prepared, of course! Do you want to just watch the capital fall?!」
Rion left that without a reply, sulking in silence just like a child. He wasn’t unhappy at Sol, but at himself for blundering and saying too much.
「Are you displeased?」
「…Not at all.」
This question made Rion turn his head away in an exaggerated manner. A very childish behavior, but this was also part of him. Thinking just about his age, he was unmistakably still only a kid.
But this exact kid just invented an outrageous scheme to topple the nation’s capital giving Sol a good idea of just how dangerous Rion could be.
Being pressured by Sol to make a report to the Kingdom had put Rion into a bad mood and he had set aside the remaining government affairs of the day. There was only one person able to accompany him when he felt like this – Ariel.
「That bastard. Forcing me to write those things.」
「Still sulking? It is Rion’s fault for having that slip of the tongue.」
「I know that. What I actually hate is the fact he had me write something that just came to my mind. Even though there’s still so much time to consider it further before it was plausible.」
Mulling over things like that was a source of enjoyment for Rion. Being forced to pen them down in an incomplete state was very unsatisfying.
「What does Rion think would happen if he sent a polished version to the capital later on?」
There was no chance he’d be praised for a good work. On the contrary, people would be more wary of him for coming up with those kinds of ideas.
「…Oh, you’re right.」
「And besides, if Merica were to conquer the capital, we would have our chance stolen from under our nose.」
「That’s not true. Even if the capital were to be captured, there would probably just be a reversal event of some sort.」
「I guess. But, before that happens, numerous lives would be lost. The slums are in the capital, remember?」
「…Ah, that’s true.」
The dwellers of the slum were people Rion felt he had to protect. They were certainly not disposable for the sake of his revenge.
「How nice. Rion has to thank Sol.」
「Why would I thank that bastard?」
「If the capital figures out a countermeasure, the slums will be protected. All thanks to Sol who made Rion write that report.」
「…That may be the case. But…」
Even that argument was not enough for Rion to get over his disquiet. This piqued Ariel’s interest, the animosity those two men had between each other was strange.
「What does Rion think of that man?」
「In what way?」
「Let us take his abilities. For example, what does Rion think of him as a subordinate?」
「….He is extremely proficient. But just that. You cannot feel any sort of passion coming from him. With that attitude, he won’t be of any use at all.」
「That is probably due to him losing the one he should serve. Aside from that person, for Sol, there must be nothing else worth pouring passion into.」
「That’s ancient history, he shouldn’t keep dragging that baggage with him.」
As she expected, Rion’s assessment of Sol was really strict, but she couldn’t think of a reason for that.
「That just shows how strong Sol’s sense of loyalty is. Is Rion not going to put any stock in that?」
It was the same kind of loyalty Rion still had for Vincent. From Ariel’s perspective, the two of them weren’t that dissimilar.
「To someone he never met? I cannot comprehend that kind of loyalty at all.」
「Sol may not have met the person who he should be serving, but that relationship was something decided before that person’s birth.」
「….What do you mean?」
「It seems that he was a frequent visitor while Her Majesty was pregnant, saying that he must be there every day before she gives birth.」
「Sol is earnest. Even though he himself was still a child as well, he held a strong sense of duty. Looking forward to the day her highness gives birth, he kept going to the Queen’s side. And yet, he somehow missed the day when Her Majesty had given birth.」
「The birth was quite the difficult one and took a lot of time. He kept awake all night, waiting, but when the morning came he ended up falling asleep. The child was kidnapped during the time he was being carried to his room. He felt really responsible for that.」
The only people that had remained in the Queen’s chambers once Sol had been carried away had been the Queen herself and the midwife. Once the mother had learned that she had given birth to a child with heterochromia, she had entrusted it to the midwife to spirit away. Fortunately for them, most of the castle residents had been asleep at the time. Of course, Sol knew nothing of what had happened that morning.
Sol, as a child, had thought this would not have happened had he kept awake and had ended up feeling responsible. He might even have been under that impression exactly because he had been a child.
「Then he should just continue searching for that princess. Lamenting his loss without doing anything won’t lead to any sort of progress.」
「…Saying that so lightly is pitiful of him.」
「You are soft on him, Ari. I’m aware that it’s difficult to find her. However, you won’t be able to accomplish anything if you do nothing.」
「That may be right, but….」
「And if she really is someone worth serving, then he will meet her naturally one way or another. Just like how I met Lord Vincent.」
「If you say so…」
Ariel was not certain whether the meeting between Sol and Rion was a natural occurrence. She did, however, think that they might need one like that to make both of them think that way.
A destined meeting, just like how Vincent and Rion had met at the slums of all places. Sadly, it was too late to hope for something like that. A first encounter could be had only once.