The 7th ‘Lykaian’ Garrison was located in the southeastern hinterlands of Cantare, one of the three major regions within the Alzano Empire. Given its proximity to the Kingdom of Rezalia, the garrison had to remain vigilant for roaming demon beasts that wander across the border. As such, the garrison was known to boast the elites of Alzano Imperial Court Mage Corps among its ranks. The official designation of this elite garrison was the ‘7th Border Regiment’, under the nominal command of the Imperial Eastern Cantare Army’s 3rd Division.
The 7th Border Regiment of approximately five hundred veteran mages was led by Knight Commander Mihail ‘Demon Lord’ Judeau. Day and night, they fought against the demon beast incursions and endured rigorous training. Consequently, the 7th Border Guards numbered among one of the few elite regiments within the relatively peaceful Alzano Empire. However, there should be an emphasis on ‘were‘, as the regiment in question had effectively ceased to exist one fateful night.
With a fatal wound, Mihail laid flat on the ground as he looked at the scene before him with abject horror.
“One more here~♪ and one more there~♪, and up goes one of their homes~♪, this is fun!”
“Really? I rather think of all this as boring. I’ve heard this is one of the few elite regiments within the Empire… to think they were so fragile. Perhaps they are lacking calcium in their diets?”
Dead bodies to the left, right, front, and back, piled up into towering mountains of flesh. It was a surrealistic scene of hell built by the corpses of the Empire’s most elite soldiers, and at its center stood a young lass and a muscular man. It was truly an absurd sight.
“Darn it… to think something like this could happen! Wiped out…! In less than ten minutes, my 7th Border Regiment was… completely… wiped out… It must be a nightmare…!” Mihail lamented at the unbelievable sight.
“Ah~ Sowwy… I feel like we did a terrible thing.”
A well-dressed youth in a tuxedo suddenly appeared behind Mihail with an apologetic face.
“Let’s be clear, I did try my best to stop them~ After all, I told them that there was no reason for us to attack this garrison when we could’ve just as easily circled around… Over and over again!”
“Huh? Y-you are…?”
“Ah, to tell you the truth, we have some business in Fajite and were only passing through here. It was clear that taking the mountain path east of here would be shorter. However, due to their willfulness, we were delayed for almost half a day with this senseless slaughter. Haa… How could I possibly explain all this to Zaeed? How bothersome…”
The youth’s odd monologue left Mihail completely lost for words.
Without a thought for Mihail, the youth continued his speech.
“Seriously, Glacia, that lass, rambled about ‘mountain paths are hurting my foot’ and skipped out… and Zet, that hulky man, muttered something along the line of ‘I want to find strong opponents’ and came here to test himself. Babysitting those pair of kids is quite stressful… I am sure you understand, given that you are the commander here…”
Are these people for real…?
Do they mean to say that they merely came here… on a stroll?
All this slaughter was just a byproduct of their stroll?
For a silly reason like this… They wiped out the elite Imperial 7th Border Regiment?!
“Then again, on closer thought… I doubt we had to take such a roundabout way…”
At that moment, the atmosphere around the youth changed. The previous visage of a cheerful gentleman made way for a cruel and venomous expression.
Mihail had finally noticed.
Unwittingly, a giant monster had appeared next to the youth, towering above any mere human.
“Come, eat up, my servant.”
With a snap of the youth’s finger, the monster extended a pair of massive wings, revealing the twisted faces of boys and girls as it drew the soldiers’ souls toward their open mouths.
“Wh-…? Ah… Aaah!!”
The monster ate the souls voraciously.
It was a terrible scene that could make anyone nauseous on sight. Immobile on the floor, Mihail looked upon with fear and despair, with tears streaking down his face as he shivered uncontrollably.
“…The quality of the soul is not bad. Thanks to your generosity, my servant will grow even stronger. As expected of elite imperial mages, you must’ve trained them wonderfully. Simply splendid! I bet you would’ve done excellently as a farmer, or any position that requires perseverance.”
The youth lightly patted Mihail’s shivering back.
“Still… I was hoping to indulge my servant a bit before we head to Fajite…”
“Uuu… N-no… P-please…”
The gigantic monster raised Mihail into the air with its muscular arms.
Then, accompanied by a final howl of despair, the 7th Lykaian Garrison was erased from existence.
◇ ◇ ◇
The day after he had begrudgingly decided to obey Eve’s instructions, Glenn led Rumia to the academy courtyard.
“Come, Rumia, let us practice our dance together.”
“Sorry, I might be sounding a bit too forceful. Still, since we are going to dance anyways, we might as well see that you end up wearing the ‘Gown of Fairies’… Is that too much to ask?”
“O-of course not… B-but…”
Rumia’s face was dyed beet red as her eyes stared nervously at Glenn’s hand that gripped hers. Ever since the previous day, Rumia has had difficulty dealing with Glenn’s overwhelming attitude.
Within the courtyard, there were many others busying themselves with practice. Among which included pitiful boys who wanted to participate but have yet to find a willing partner. Incidentally, they were planning to score their partner within the courtyard.
“H-hey… Look… I-isn’t that…?”
“Y-yeah… The rumors about Rumia participating in the dance contest… were real?!”
“Our beautiful angel… Uwaa~ What an envious sight!”
“Say, how did she end up with that idiotic teacher?”
“Teacher must die! No mercy!”
All the gazes were focused on the pair that had walked into the courtyard with their hands interlocked. For many, the news of the beauty who had been rejecting everyone suddenly accepting a suitor was a terrible shock.
Under the envious gazes and the heat transmitted through Glenn’s palm, Rumia could only gaze down embarrassingly at the ground as she walked.
On the other hand, Glenn seemed to revel in the attention.
This is good… With the rumor of Rumia gaining a dance partner firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness, interlopers would stay clear from asking Rumia for a dance, and her security would be easier to manage. Sadly, this will result in some unpleasant rumors… But I guess it can’t be helped.
On that note, more than worrying about Rumia’s security on the day of the dance, Glenn currently had a different headache to deal with in the form of a young lass.
“Hey, why are you following us…?”
“Why do you care? I am only here to give you a bit of an instruction.”
Glenn gave a glance at Sistine, who was trailing behind him.
Her irritation at the development was reflected clearly in her crossed arms and stinging glare.
Next to Sistine stood the sheepish Re=L, who had her head cocked to one side in curiosity at the exchange. She simply tagged along like a little duckling following the mother duck.
“Huh? Instruct… for what?”
“Surely Teach knows little about the proper etiquette of ballroom dancing, right? At this rate, I fear that you would end up embarrassing Rumia. In other words, I am willing to spend my precious time teaching you the basic footwork, be grateful!”
“T-then why are you acting so reluctant? Almost as if you are scrutinizing my actions…?”
“Hmph!” Sistine scoffed as she turned her face away with her arms still crossed.
“Haa… Ah, that’s right! White Cat, I’ve heard Professor Fosil recently published a new thesis on archaeothaumatology!”
Glenn tried to forcibly change the subject to clear the air with Sistine.
“T-that was quite a groundbreaking thesis! No need to worry about us when you have such a masterpiece waiting for you in the library! I think it was an analysis for a wall art of some sort, where they demonstrated the markings as ones used by the ancients for different intonations of speech. If their hypothesis was correct, then the wall art was definitely…”
The method of using a recent paper on archaeothaumatology to redirect the attention of the archaeothaumatology otaku was somewhat of a thoughtless ploy, if not altogether underestimating the individual in question.
“I’ve already read it.”
“The thesis you mentioned, I was one of the first to lend it from the library and had finished reading it ages ago!”
“Ah, is that so…”
Glenn could only let out a pained sigh at the inevitable failure of his ploy.
“Umm… Sorry about everything, Sisti… It’s all my… fault… To think this would happen right before Sistine asked…”
“Y-you aren’t at any fault! I-if anything, the fault lies with the lowlife teacher planning to use Rumia to make money!”
Sistine quickly responded to Rumia’s sincere apology.
“E-either way, Teach! I will ignore your sinister intentions for now! However, I will not forgive you if you embarrass Rumia in front of everyone! Got it?!”
Ah… I guess her anger is understandable… After all, I’m seen as using her best friend for making money… Still, why must I always act the bad guy?
Glenn sighed as he glanced at the obviously irritated Sistine.
“Listen carefully, Teach. For the Academy Prom this year, you will be performing the Sylph Waltz, set to the first through seventh movements of the Sinfonia di Sylphide. Due to certain reasons, the especially problematic eighth movement will not be within the itinerary, so we can breathe a sigh of relief. From my knowledge, this piece originated from the traditional war dance of a certain nomadic tribe…” Sistine lectured with her right index finger raised and her left hand on her waist.
Glenn listened halfheartedly as he reminisced about a distant time.
Sylph Waltz… How nostalgic…
◇ ◇ ◇
“Hey, Glenn-kun, music and dance contain an incredible power within them…”
Such was a phrase that reverberated within Glenn’s mind.
It was a memory of the late silver-haired girl, an operative of the Imperial Court Mage Corps with the code number of three, ‘The Empress’ Sara Silvers.
“Music and dance have the power to touch people’s soul, the essence of the body. They could easily infiltrate deep into the very core of one’s being. As such, with music and dance, one can even command another’s body and soul, do you not think that is incredible?”
Perhaps due to her upbringing as a member of the southern nomadic tribes, Sara especially enjoyed singing and dancing – and certainly talking about music.
“There are even specialized magic that tap into this power, many of which have a rich and colorful history that could be traced all the way to the Ancients. In other words, they were the same magic used by our ancestors… Pretty amazing, right?! So…”
With the countless times Sara had repeated this topic, Glenn simply sat nearby with an irritated expression.
“…Can’t you be a bit more serious, Glenn-kun?”
At the sight of an annoyed Glenn, Sara puffed her cheeks up in anger and began to lecture.
“Wasn’t the mission this time to infiltrate a dance where we act the role of newlywed aristocrats?! They will easily find out if you cannot dance!”
“Haa… How troublesome…”
Glenn glanced annoyingly at the angry Sara.
“Say, aren’t you only excited because you’ve heard the dance will be conducted to the Sinfonia di Sylphide?”
Although it was just a wild guess, Glenn’s words ended up hitting right on the mark. At the sudden revelation, Sara’s strong enthusiasm was slightly blunted, and she shirked back.
“Ah… I guess I’ve been found out?”
“After all, the Sylph Waltz originated from the traditional war dance of your tribe, right?”
“Ahaha… Yeah, so it is hard to contain my enthusiasm…”
Sara was the daughter of the chief of the esteemed Silvers tribe, whose tribe was evicted from the neighboring Kingdom of Rezalia due to religious persecution. In other words, she was the princess of a powerful tribe and was of an incredibly high social standing.
Many of the Silvers tribe were massacred by the Rezalian Templars during the eviction, and those few who survived the genocide were scattered to the wind. Consequently, Sara fights for the dream of rebuilding her tribe and returning to her homeland.
“Although the song has seen a great deal of rearrangement to suit the needs of a courtly setting, I am still excited for the opportunity to dance to the Sinfonia di Sylphide… No, the ‘Baile del Viento’.”
“Hmph… Aren’t you making too much of a fuss for a mere dance?”
“Uuu… Glenn-kun, clearly you do not know the significance. The ‘Baile del Viento’ is a divine dance used to enter communion with the King of the Sylphides… Even for a battle priestess like me, it is not a dance to be performed at will.”
“Really? Well, I wouldn’t know either way…”
“Precisely! The ‘Baile del Viento’ have eight forms in total. The first form ‘El Primero’ to the seventh form ‘El Séptimo’ of the dance are a demonic dance that imbue the warriors with the blessing of the Sylphides, riling them into a frenzy and providing them with the courage to endure the upcoming battles. After the battle, the eighth form ‘El Octavo’ of the dance is a holy dance that removes the blessing of the Sylphides, allowing the warriors to safeguard their souls from the madness of battle. Without the eighth form, the warriors would slowly lose their sense of self, and eventually, devolve into crazed beasts.”
“Yeah, yeah… Thank you for all that pointless trivia. Seriously, all these southern nomadic legends are quite annoying…”
“Ah, that’s right! Since we are practicing our dance anyways, why don’t I take the opportunity to teach Glenn-kun the proper ‘Baile del Viento’? All eight forms of it!”
“Huh?! H-how did we come to this?!”
“Hehehe… After all, the ‘Baile del Viento’ needs a proper partner to perform. Since at its essence, the dance requires the dancers to entrust their souls to their partners, so a dependable partner is a must!”
“That sounds utterly suspicious! Forget it, I don’t have the interest to learn some…”
“Come and stand up Glenn-kun! Hehehe… Firstly, place your hand in mine, and set your right foot there… Yep! Now, we turn like this…”
“Hiyaa?! D-don’t turn meee! M-my head is getting d-dizzy! H-hey, tooo faaast! It is tooo faaast! S-slow dooown!!”
◇ ◇ ◇
“Are you listening?!”
Glenn was suddenly snapped back into reality by the piercing voice of Sistine.
“…Ah, right. What were you saying again?”
“I was just explaining the difficulty of the Sylph Waltz! As for the steps, just follow what I said earlier…”
“Ah… Yeah, yeah… You are talking about this step, right?”
Glenn’s unenthusiastic attitude only served to further enraged Sistine.
“Uuu… Do you really understand?! This is the Sylph Waltz! It is an even harder dance than the infamous Noble Waltz’s First Step!!”
“Yeah, yeah… I got it already.”
“For Rumia, I have taken time out of my busy schedule to teach you how to dance, so can you at least act seriously for once? Huh? W-what’s so funny?”
Sistine inquisitively gazed at Glenn, who revealed a suspicious smirk.
“Nothing at all… I am just thinking how I will finally be able to knock you down a peg or two~”
Glenn’s words completely went over Sistine.
“I am telling you that I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. The contest will be determined by the Sylph Waltz, right? Although I cannot promise victory if it were some classy dance competition, as far as the student dance contest goes, I will certainly not lose.”
Glenn’s inexplicable self-confidence continued to irritate Sistine.
“That’s quite the confidence! In that case, let me see how well you can dance!” Sistine declared as she reached out her hand toward Glenn.
In terms of etiquette, such was the action of offering an invitation to another for a dance.
“So, may I have this dance?”
“Tsk… How bothersome…”
With the gauntlet thrown, Glenn could only begrudgingly accept Sistine’s invitation. In a way, this would prove to be an excellent opportunity for him to demonstrate his skill.
“Sisti, Teach, are you both ready? We shall begin~”
Rumia skillfully operated the record player in the corner of the courtyard, placing a large circular record before adroitly setting the needle on top.
Soon, the record player began to play the first movement of the ‘Sinfonia di Syphilde’ through its large speaker. It was a grand and elegant piece, with a hint of its nomadic origins between its majestic tunes.
Certainly, the first form of the Sylph Waltz was the easiest of the eight. It was one where even a mere amateur could master with the slightest training.
Sistine glared intently at Glenn, who stood listless opposite of her, occasionally yawning out of apparent boredom.
Hmph… Let’s see how you’ll survive all the turns! Pray that you won’t break a bone after I am done with you!
Sistine revealed a devious smile. Certainly, Sistine had the utmost confidence in her own dancing, which she had continuously practiced since very young to prepare her for her eventual debut.
Although I was always toyed by Teach… I am certain to win this time around!
Sistine had long lost track of her original thoughts as she prepared to savor her revenge.
Initially, Sistine had tried to encourage Rumia to participate in the dance with Glenn. However, with Rumia’s surprisingly effective persuasion, Sistine herself was goaded into inviting Glenn and failed. At that moment, Sistine convinced herself that her partner need not be Glenn.
Yet, when she saw Glenn and Rumia affectionate practice, followed by what would certainly be an affectionate performance during the prom, Sistine subconsciously felt the need to intervene.
Her conflicted thoughts aside, Sistine also felt the need to knock Glenn down a notch or two for all the trouble that he caused her and saw the challenge as the perfect opportunity to do so.
Come, let me see how terrible of a dancer you are, Teach~ ♪
With the prelude coming to a close, Sistine gave an elegant bow, to which Glenn replied with a sloppy bow. The two then stepped toward each other, before connecting their hands.
With their posture set, the dance finally commenced.
At that moment, Glenn suddenly jerked Sistine close to his body, with the earlier lethargy nowhere to be seen.
Glenn began his steps, forcibly sweeping along the unprepared Sistine in an altogether energetic glide.
Sistine was completely taken by Glenn’s initiative and felt as her body was caught in an inescapable maelstrom. The abnormally brisk rhythm and steps, the aggressive leaps, the intense twists and turns, and the exaggerated leans made the world spin around Sistine. Soon, Sistine was overwhelmed with adrenaline as her heartbeat resonated with the rhythm of the music.
“H-hey… Teach… Wait-…”
Sistine found herself out of breath, trying her hardest to escape from Glenn’s clutch. However, with Glenn’s tight embrace, she was unable to budge and could only haplessly follow Glenn’s lead.
Before long, a wave of white washed over her eyes, as her feet became tangled in the endless twirls. However, Glenn immediately came to the rescue, embracing Sistine’s body with an incredible force and continued the dance enthusiastically toward the very end.
“Hey, look… there…”
“Wow…! What moves…”
Glenn’s incredible dance moves left not only Rumia speechless, but also has slowly brought countless onlookers to attention.
“Is that really the Sylph Waltz?!”
“At a glance, the form seemed to resemble the Sylph Waltz… But it feels ‘rough’…”
“A-although it isn’t elegant… it is filled with passion…!”
“W-why… Why can’t I seem to turn away…?”
Although Glenn’s wild steps lacked the same elegance of a veteran dancer, it contained a raw energy only found in rustic lands.
W-what is this…? I have never seen such a Sylph Waltz…
Sistine was already reaching her limits.
T-too intense! I can’t breathe! The dizziness… the blood… my whole body feels hot… my heart seemed to quiver…! What is this feeling of exhilaration?!
Sistine wanted Glenn to stop this abnormal dance, yet at the same time, she could not force herself to act. Slowly, Sistine felt a growing impulse to entrust everything to Glenn.
W-what is with this dance…? J-just what is this…?
Glenn’s aggressive style eroded Sistine’s thoughts as her consciousness slowly became murky. On her forehead, droplets of sweat gathered one after another.
Before the stunned onlookers, Glenn made a cool finale as the piece came to its end.
“Haa… Haa… Haa…”
With racing hearts and scorched skin, Sistine was overwhelmed by adrenaline and satisfaction as she laid demurely in Glenn’s arms.
Clap! Clap! Clap!
Loud applause soon erupted from the surrounding.
“Hahaha… How about it? Aren’t I great at dancing?”
Glenn only had to whisper those short words into Sistine’s ear before Sistine recovered from her trance and immediately leapt away from Glenn.
Her whole body felt incredibly hot. Only at that moment did Sistine realize the sheer reluctance at parting, and the overwhelming sensation made her turn beet red.
“I had a colleague from a while back who was especially enthusiastic about dances. As such, we had much practice together, so I am quite confident in my skills. So? What do you think?” Glenn gloated with a confident smile.
On the other hand, Sistine was left completely speechless.
“Perchance, does this colleague of yours hail from the southern grasslands?” Rumia asked.
“Oh? I’m surprised you noticed, Rumia.”
“Yes, rather than calling your dance an elegant interpretation, it would be more accurate to call it the original – the traditional dance of the southern nomads, right?”
“Yes. What I performed was the spirit dance of a certain tribe called the ‘Baile del Viento’, the original piece on which the current Sylph Waltz was based. From my personal experience with the ‘Baile del Viento’, the Sylph Waltz was undeniably easy, so much so that I could barely contain my yawns.”
Sistine clenched her fists in frustration.
Watching Sistine and Glenn’s exchange from nearby, Re=L suddenly moved before Glenn.
“Ah, Glenn is… too soft. Let me be your opponent.”
“Oh? What brave words, Re=L. I am surprised that you know how to dance… Very well, I guess this master dancer will entertain you… Ahhh~?!”
However, Re=L wrongly assumed that Glenn and Sistine were wrestling, and simply threw Glenn into the air with a single swing.
“Kyaa! T-teach! R-Re=L, don’t toss our teacher!”
With that, Glenn and the rest returned to their usual bickering.
“Uwa… A strong competitor has appeared…”
“Hmph… We won’t lose! Let us practice!”
Nearby, Glenn’s incredible performance had ignited the competitive spirit within the winners in life who were fortunate enough to land a partner.
“””Teach. Must. Die! No mercy!!”””
In contrast, those unfortunate losers without a dance partner silently cursed at Glenn.
“Ouch… Seriously, that Re=L… Forget that, shall we go practice, Rumia?”
“Ah, sure! However… If Teach will end up dancing seriously, I am not confident enough in my own ability to keep up, so please be gentle…”
“No problem. I also think my earlier performance was a tad excessive.”
With that, Glenn took Rumia’s hand and began their practice.
Glenn’s steps contained the same passion as before, but seemed to give off a significantly more tamed air.
While Rumia did have some initial difficulty keeping up with Glenn, she was soon able to match Glenn’s pace and slowly resonated with his steps.
All around them, gasps of amazement saturated the air.
As expected of a former royalty, Rumia’s performance was on an altogether wholly different level.
Despite Glenn’s overwhelming energy, Rumia was able to maintain a grip on the pace, while at the same time, using masterful steps to fully accentuate his performance. It was a splendid combination of Glenn’s raw passion and Rumia’s elegant air, like two birds of a feather – one that could only be described as a ‘match made by heavens’.
“Dancing looks… fun? They seemed to be enjoying themselves, although I do not understand it well.” Re=L muttered.
Nearby, Sistine watched over Glenn and Rumia’s performance with conflicted emotions, from which a single thought arose.
Perhaps, Teach and Rumia… could actually win.
Certainly, no other competing pair could match such incredible partnership.
Consequently, Glenn and Rumia would certainly win the dance contest, and Rumia would don the ‘Gown of Fairies’. It was the thought of her best friend dancing happily and fondly with Glenn.
It matters little to me… After all, Rumia had always looked up to Teach… and even I wanted her to invite Teach to the dance… If so, why? Why do I feel so terrible inside…?
Just as Sistine was bombarded by these unfamiliar feelings, Re=L looked over to Sistine.
“Sistine, you look down… Is something wrong?”
Sistine suddenly thought of something.
“That’s right, Re=L, hear me out… Do you want to give Rumia and Teach a pleasant surprise?”
◇ ◇ ◇
During the evening, Glenn stealthily arrived at the warehouse district in southern Fajite.
Although the person in question didn’t want to come, there was simply no alternative.
I think… the arranged meeting spot was… here?
Glenn silently arrived at the front of a large wooden warehouse.
On the massive wooden door, Glenn briskly wrote three runes with his own blood that unlocked the seal. The door slowly creaked as its internal mechanism began to churn. As the door opened to its mechanism, Glenn squeezed through the small opening it offered.
Without caring about the automatic door that closed behind him, Glenn ventured into the dark chamber covered by wooden crates of all size and shape.
Plop. Plop. Plop.
The crisp sound of footsteps echoed in the deserted chamber.
From the depth of the chamber, there was a small clearing surrounded by crates, where several early arrivals waited. The gentle glow of candles illuminated their faces.
Among the early guests, a sturdy elder man that exuded the air of a youth waved to Glenn with a smile. His face reflected the air of a weathered veteran, but his smile revealed a seemingly childish side.
“Long time no see, you brat! Still alive and well?”
“Boss… ‘The Hermit’ Bernard… Seriously, you never change.” Glenn stiffly responded to the elder man.
The elder man in the uniform of the Imperial Court Mage Corps was ‘The Hermit’ Bernard Jester, with the code number of nine. He was one of the most experienced operatives within the Imperial Court Mage Corps Special Operations Annex, having survived countless ordeals, and was known for his peculiarities. He also happened to be Glenn’s combat instructor during Glenn’s time in Special Operations.
“I am glad to see you are healthy and well, Glenn-senpai.”
Nearby, a youth revealed a gentle smile while sitting atop a tall wooden crate. He had the appearance of a cute boy accompanied by an air of logic and wisdom. Although his subdued behavior made him seemed mature, he was only a few years older than Glenn’s students.
“Christoph, have you come as well?”
He was ‘The Hierophant’ Christoph Flowel, a colleague of Bernard within Special Operations and holder of the code number of five. Although young, Christoph was a master of field magic, with few within the whole Imperial Court Mage Corps his equal.
Further inside, there was ‘The Chariot’ Re=L in her Imperial Court Mage Corps uniform, sitting with her hands clasped around her legs on the warehouse floor.
Finally, leaning on the right wall was ‘The Star’ Albert, seemingly in deep contemplation with his arms crossed.
They were all colleagues of Glenn during his time in Special Operations as code number zero, ‘The Fool’, and his frequent companions on missions.
Faced with the gathering of his former companions, Glenn was at a complete loss for words.
“…Senpai, I am deeply sorry for our actions.”
Christoph was the first to apologize.
“Yeah. Sorry about this, Glenn-kun. Even we were surprised by such a haphazardly planned operation. Seriously, what were the top brass thinking?!”
The other members all knit their brows in frustration.
“Not to mention, they even forcibly conscripted Senpai… I am certain Senpai have your own misgivings. However, as all the other operatives of Special Operations are all preoccupied with their own missions, we somewhat lacked the hands to complete this mission on our own.”
“So just count this as doing us a favor! Please?!”
Christoph and Bernard’s words made Glenn open his eyes wide with surprise.
“Boss… and others… Are you all not mad about my desertion from the military?”
Bernard and Christoph contemplated for a moment at Glenn’s words.
“Ah… As for that, Al-kun seemingly had already given you quite the scolding in our place, right?” Bernard chuckled with his fist resting on his chin, “If you must know… Certainly, we understand that the situation had brought you much grief, perhaps even overwhelming for one so young. However, I would have really liked if you had reached out to us, even if just to let out all your steam.”
“There are still many within the Special Operations that are critical of Senpai’s actions. To be honest, even I have certain reservations myself.” Christoph added, with an almost eerie calm to his expression, “However, despite all that you’ve done… you are still one of our brothers-in-arms. I have always believed in the Senpai that would go out of his way to protect others.”
“I-is that so… Then, how to say this, I’m sorry for my actions…”
Seeing his former comrades to not hold a grudge for his desertion, Glenn felt a wave of remorse wash over him.
“Now… I think that is enough for nostalgia. Let us return to the operation at hand.”
Sitting atop a table in the back, ‘The Magician’ Eve clapped her hands at the scene before her.
“What operation, Eve?” Re=L asked, apparently never told of the operation.
“Hehehe… Nothing, Re=L. Don’t bother with the details, since you probably won’t be able to understand anyway. Just follow my instructions and you’ll be fine, alright?”
“…Yes, got it. Listen to Eve.”
Nearby, Glenn seemingly wanted to speak, but Eve simply brushed him aside and started the strategy meeting, specifically on Rumia’s protection detail during the Academy Prom.
“First, I wish to confirm the objective of this operation. During the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy’s annual Prom, we are to both prevent the princess’s assassination and capture the assailants alive.”
Although Glenn was familiar with the ineptitude of the top brass at strategic planning, the sheer optimism was on a whole different level for this mission.
“Of course! What would we do if they are launching a suicidal frontal assault, and bystanders get caught up in the crossfire? It will nearly be impossible to prevent casualties in that case. Therefore, I am still for informing the school and closing down the Academy Prom.” Glenn immediately answered with a poignant demand.
“…As for that, not necessary.” Eve calmly rejected.
“The enemy have reasons to keep this from escalating beyond an ‘assassination’. After all, this is a unilateral action taken by the ‘Progressive’ faction within their organization… If they launch a frontal attack, they will openly signal their break from the organization and set themselves up as targets to be purged, making their accomplishments moot. As such, it is a certainty that they must keep this operation covert, without leaving any implicating evidence.”
“…And so, an ‘assassination’?”
“As long as the mastermind behind this operation remains their Second Order ‘Adeptus’, we can expect no harm to come to bystanders. Therefore, we will take full advantage of their limitations and strike them at their weakest, using the Academy Prom as bait. Are you finally satisfied, Glenn?”
Eve’s sharp words had made Glenn’s temporal vein bulge in rage. The air between Eve and Glenn immediately turned tense.
“From our intelligence, one from Second Order ‘Adeptus’ and three from one from First Order ‘Portals’. We will be fighting six on four, so it should be easily manageable.”
“…Are you sure there are no faults in the intelligence?”
“Huh? When have the intelligence I’ve obtained ever been wrong?”
With that, Glenn was forced into silence.
“Looks like you are finally out of excuses. I should also mention, of the enemies we will face, the greatest attention should be given to the one from Second Order ‘Adeptus’, the mastermind behind this operation. We have already confirmed his identity, and it is a name with which I imagine everyone is familiar – ‘Demon Hand’ Zaeed.”
Upon hearing the name, Glenn’s eyes completely shot open. Even Albert’s expression turned stiff.
“Really… To think our opponent will be lead by that ‘Demon Hand’… What a sticky situation.” Bernard exclaimed.
“‘Demon Hand’ Zaeed… Certainly an infamous one, known for his ability to assassinate his target without drawing any attention, be it during travels, speeches, or social events. Even his methods are exceedingly diverse, with records of using knife, garotte, blunt weapon, and martial art. To date, several high-ranking Imperial officials had died by his hands, despite the extensive security in many cases.”
“While his main Modus Operandi remains elusive, we should be fine. Since… I am here.” Eve declared as she raised her left hand in front of the group.
At that moment, a small ember appeared in midair.
“Bloodline Magic [Ira’s Flame] is a floating ember that could detect negative feelings within a certain radius and locate the individual in question. No one in this world could take another life without displaying some negative feeling. No matter how practiced and suppressed is the killing intent, the killer would certainly reveal themselves at the moment of strike, and my ember will latch onto them. After all, humans are still creatures, and therefore cannot eliminate their biological reactions. Of course, this will all be done within my field.”
“I will prepare Bloodline Magic [Seventh Garden] in advance. With that, as long as anyone wishes to kill the princess, my flames will immediately eliminate the individual… Of course, leaving the assailant with just his life.”
“Tsk… Could this really be done?”
Glenn may have some reservations, but he already knew the answer to his question. If there was anyone who could do it, Eve Ignite certainly could.
Incidentally, during Glenn’s time in the military, the Researchers of Divine Wisdom had on more than one occasion attempted to eliminate high-ranking officials within the imperial government, and they had all been foiled splendidly by Eve. After all, Eve was, for all intents and purposes, invincible within her field.
Eve gloated as she basked in Glenn’s begrudging acceptance.
“My [Ira’s Flame] and [Seventh Garden] will ensure the safety of the entire Academy Prom.”
“In other words, as long as it is within the venue, Rumia will be perfectly safe?”
“Yes. However, I am certain the enemy are not fools. They should have already deduced my presence at the Academy Prom and planned accordingly. If ‘the Princess is impossible to assassinate within my field’, they will certainly try to create a scenario where the princess would be forced to depart from the venue. For that…”
Afterward, Eve happily shared her elaborate battle plans.
Atop the rickety table, Eve laid out a detailed map of the surroundings, with predicted paths for the enemies’ advance and the corresponding ambushes, along with numerous contingency plans. After walking everyone through the plans, Eve issued her orders.
In summary, the plan was to keep Rumia within the protection of Eve’s field, with Glenn and Re=L guarding inside the venue. Any external attack would be intercepted by Albert, Bernard, and Christoph stationed outside the venue.
“Wow, I have to say this is quite the splendid plan, Eve-chan.”
“Yes, with this plan, we will ensure both the princess’s safety and swiftly neutralize any threat.”
After Eve’s explanation, both Bernard and Christoph gave their approval.
“…So how about it Glenn? Weren’t you the one who incessantly nagged me about ‘getting bystanders caught up in the attack, so it is best to cancel the Academy Prom’? With this, don’t you think your fears were completely unfounded? As long as we know they are limited to ‘assassination’, we can easily formulate the perfect trap.”
Glenn was left completely speechless.
“There was an ancient proverb… You must enter the tiger’s den to catch its cubs. Remember, we are already forced into a corner on this matter.”
Glenn had nothing to refute Eve’s sound logic.
With Eve, Albert, Bernard, Christoph, Re=L, and even Glenn on patrol, it would be nearly impossible for the enemy to infiltrate and assassinate Rumia, especially when they number no more than four.
Glenn’s reason screamed that failure was impossible.
If such was the plan presented before the military high command, they would certainly approve it unanimously, especially considering their pressing need for intelligence on the enemy. Even the Queen herself could find no reason to veto this operation. After all, the monarch must not show weakness.
However, what is with this terrible feeling of uncertainty? Have we overlooked something critical…?
Despite Eve’s flawless plan, Glenn still held some reservations.
Glenn propped his palms on the wooden table and stared intently at the plan, the formation, and the predicted approach.
No matter how ‘Demon Hand’ Zaeed perform his assassinations, Eve’s perfect defense was impossible to break. If the intelligence held, Glenn and the others vastly outnumbered the assailants. Therefore, unless Glenn could point out a flaw with the plan, the operation was a certainty.
Unable to find any flaw, Glenn bit down on his teeth in frustration.
“…I understand your worry.” Albert uttered while still leaning on the wall with arms crossed, breaking his silence that had lasted for the whole meeting, “However, the die was cast. No matter how reluctant you are, there is no longer any chance of backing out. Just do everything in your power to achieve the best possible outcome. Then again, we can promise you that we will never underestimate the threat, and we will do our utmost to ensure the safety of those you want to protect… even at the cost of sacrificing our own lives.”
Hearing his usually stoic friend’s elaborate words, Glenn was momentarily at a loss for how to respond.
“Hmph… Do you think you have any right to say that now? Huh?”
“If you understand that much, then just spare me the theatrics… Just remember, if anything happens to Rumia and the others of the academy, I will finish off Eve first and then come after you. Got it?”
“Fine, I will leave myself to your judgment when that time comes.”
The two almost seemed to come to a head with their back to each other, as if irreconcilable enemies.
Nearby, Bernard and Christoph simply revealed a complicated smile as they shrugged their shoulders at the scene. Incidentally, Re=L was already deep in sleep.
After all, the night was young.
◇ ◇ ◇
Elsewhere, the four members of the Researchers of Divine Wisdom gathered in the depth of the Fajitean catacombs, where they detailed their plan at the Academy Prom in two days’ time.
“Hey… Are you sure this plan would work, Zaeed?”
“Yes… As long as you follow my instructions.”
“Hmph… What an interesting magic, even now I am unable to figure it out.”
“If you didn’t♪ see for yourself♪, you would certainly♪ think so♪. Zaeed’s assassination was always like this~♪ It is very very special~♪.”
“Seriously, could you even call this an assassination?”
The four secretly plotted the assassination of Rumia.
“Speaking of which, ‘The Magician’ Eve… Her Bloodline Magic has proved quite problematic in the past… as if specially made to counter ‘assassins’. Are you sure this will break through her defenses?”
“Certainly, I have my own ways of defeating ‘The Magician’ Eve. After all, we still have another…”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…’Demon Hand’ Zaeed will definitely be brought down by my plans.” Eve confidently muttered as she strolled down the empty street after the meeting, “They thought their camouflage was flawless… Hehehe~ But I have seen through it all.”
In actuality, Eve had withheld a critical piece of intelligence from Albert and the others.
“I had always known that behind ‘Demon Hand’ Zaeed, there was another…”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…Although that may be the case, given ‘The Magician’ Eve’s capabilities, she is very likely to have sensed the true mastermind behind me, ‘Demon Hand’ Zaeed…”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…Because I know all about their plans, they will not escape me.”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…Because she sensed it, she will certainly be helpless to our plans.”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…The participation of Albert and the others are not necessary. I will certainly unveil the mastermind behind all their plans. I will do this for the glory of House Ignite, with all the resources and power provided to my house.”
◇ ◇ ◇
“…No matter how strong House Ignite may be, no matter how flawless ‘The Magician’ Eve may be, they will never unveil the mastermind behind our plans.”
◇ ◇ ◇
The two, albeit distant from one another, held similar yet contrasting convictions…
“For this battle… the final victory belongs only to us, the Imperial Court Mage Corps.”
“For this battle… the final victory belongs only to us, the Researchers of Divine Wisdom.”