I had just received the slash that was meant for Yuno, somehow I was able to make it in time, but my relief was short-lived after the figures of the black-clothed group entered my sight, all of them were gravely injured.
The scent of blood was in the air.
It was obvious who was the cause of this disaster.
The giant with the bad taste in armour who just tried to kill Yuno, and the Sarian Empire soldiers who were his men. They should be the reinforcements the messenger had told me about.
The moment I understood the situation, I felt my heart beat with a ‘thump’. Not from fear or anxiety, it was something else…
It felt as if all the blood in my body was boiling over. An intense anger that surged up from the deepest parts of my very being.
My mouth spouted out some foul words as usual, but my mind didn’t have the intention to stop it at all.
It was impossible for me to act rationally at this point. Save Yuno. Annihilate the enemies in front of me. These thoughts bounced back and forth in my head, I couldn’t think straight.
When my anger towards Ritzert had reached its climax was the moment I felt him appear. ‘Kill him’ thoughts like that flooded into my mind like a tidal wave, and I was overcome with a sudden lust for bloodshed.
I thought that it felt abnormal, but this was just how I supposed to be… wasn’t it?
How could I not give in? It was unbearable, holding these feelings inside me, they had to get out.
I threw out another provocation, I decided it would be better to just defeat Ritzelt in a duel.
Although I wanted to beat him, wasn’t I using a bit too much strength? I could feel the blood rushing to my head.
A flurry of flames shot towards me. I jumped out of the way to avoid a direct hit, only for spears of ice to come flying towards the place I landed at.
But easily I swept them off with my sword.
His magic invocation speed was extraordinary. One after another spells were launched towards me without interval. Each spell’s accuracy and power first class.
It looks like his title of ‘The Magician’ wasn’t a lie.
Although I wasn’t sure I could cope with it with my sword skill, I was somehow able to avoid his magic with evasive manoeuvres. It was probably due to the distance, but conversely, that meant that I couldn’t narrow the gap if I wanted to.
I did have a way of stopping his ‘tricks’, but even so, it’d be useless if I couldn’t even advance a step.
I had tried jumping straight towards his chest before, but Ritzert intercepted my charge with magic. It was only natural to assume that something similar would occur if I tried again.
So what if I restricted his actions with magic?
Changing my strategy, I switched to attack magic, but it was useless. My opponent was more familiar with magic than I was.
But I had to make use of what I had.
Neither of us were able to land any fatal attacks.
We were just repeating moves over and over again. The thing was, I was specialised in close quarters combat, which meant I needed a moment to close the gap to Ritzert, who was a magician.
Moreover, I was already fatigued and injured from the previous battles, while he was in almost perfect condition.
It was obvious who was at the disadvantage here.
And that wasn’t even everything, I still had one more thing holding me back.
Ritzert unexpectedly lowered his hand, releasing the magical power he gathered there as he gazed at me in disgust.
“Did you choose to fight me despite the obvious result? You can not win against me.”
“By all means, keep sputtering fatass1, and I’ll slit that neck of yours.”
“You still don’t understand the situation you’re in? But I guess that’s what makes you brat.”
An ugly smile broke out on his face, and I felt a chill run up my spine.
Ritzert released a rain of icicles towards me, but I wasn’t his only target, they were sent flying towards Yuno as well, who was still treating her colleagues.
Cursing, I swept off the icicles while releasing the spell <<Dust Storm>>, and for those that still got through, I destroyed by swinging my sword at high speeds.
But it wasn’t enough, I couldn’t block them all.
Fresh blood splattered onto Yuno’s face.
Her expression twisted in shock as her face was dyed vermillion. After confirming that she wasn’t hurt, I pulled an icicle out of my right shoulder.
I lost a lot of blood.
Intense pain ran through my arm, I wouldn’t do this normally.
But the blazing anger I could feel burning throughout my body made it hard for me to think straight.
Ritzert. That guy, kill him.
That thought, I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Maybe this was how he would’ve answered…
(That’s right… you’ve been with me since the beginning, haven’t you, Harold?)
I had lost a lot of blood, so it was amazing that I could still think as clearly as I was.
Ever since the moment I first entered this world, all those times my body moved without thinking, all those times my mouth said things I didn’t mean to say…
(That was you, wasn’t it?)
Its no wonder my mouth was so foul. I always found it weird how I was able to reproduce the movements from the game so easily.
For better or for worse, I was being influenced by the will of the original Harold. Maybe this is why the mediocre existence known as Hirasawa Kazuki2 could adapt to this world so easily.
So what will happen to the consciousness that’s in control right now? Will I be swallowed up by the original Harold, or will my personality overwrite his? Or will a new persona be born from our two identities mixing together?
(I don’t know about such things, and I don’t care.)
I don’t have the time to think about things I don’t know about. There’s not even any proof that this hypothesis of mine is correct.
However, if Harold truly is still alive within myself-
(Harold Stokes, lend me your strength! You’re the reason why your body is hurt now, your plan didn’t go the way you wanted it to, and it’s all that guy’s fault!)
That is Harold Stokes. A selfish, arrogant, piece of trash bastard you could find anywhere.
Someone like that would never forgive someone else for saying this even if they were in the wrong. His pride was hurt, so Harold won’t give up until Ritzert is dead.
“Oh? Have you given up? It’s only natural that this result would come to be, but you’re only a brat, so how about this? If you apologize and swear allegiance to me, I might forgive you.”
Was he so convinced of victory to make such a proposal? Even if the situation wasn’t the way it was now, there’s no way in hell I’d accept that offer.
“I’d rather choose death than become your subordinate, I follow no one.”
“…so you were a foolish brat after all.”
My vision was blurry, and I couldn’t steady my breathing. I was bound to collapse if I kept pushing my body the way I was now.
I have no choice but to settle this with the next attack.
Behind me more and more people were starting to get up after having received healing magic.
“Get out of here already, you bastards, you’re nothing more than obstacles in my way.”
“I won’t repeat myself, Tasuku will be troubled if your identities were to be found out.”
Yuno was silent for some reason. Perhaps she was weighing which was more important between myself and the Sumeragi family.
Isn’t that stupid? There was absolutely no comparison between the two.
“…understood, but please, at least accept this.”
Yuno accepted with a bitter face, but before leaving, she used what was left of her magical power to cast healing magic on me. I think I heard her mutter something like “I so sorry Erika-sama, but…”
To be sorry for healing my wounds, she was probably apologising to Erika because this action was the equivalent to ‘abandoning’ me.
She must’ve really hated me for making that order.
Well, it’s fine. That’s just what it means to be Harold Stokes.
(…that’s why, I beg of you. Harold, ‘you’, please lend me your strength!)
Even with all the training that I’ve done until now, my success rate of doing this was less than twenty percent. It wasn’t something ready to be used in an actual battle.
Still, it’s the only skill I have that even has a chance of beating Ritzert.
My body felt lighter, it was if the healing magic that Yuno cast on me was pushing me on from behind.
I’d rather not die, but if I lose to Ritzert and meet my end, I’m sorry.
I started running, ignoring the blood that was violently flowing from my wound.
I didn’t know how this charge would end, but even so, I couldn’t stop now! While receiving Ritzert’s cold gaze from the front, I continued to push forward.
Magic was released to intercept me. Jump forward! Jump over! Icicles descended in the places I just was moments before.
And in the middle of the jump, icicles were shot at me for the nth time, in a position where I couldn’t dodge them.
That is, ‘if I couldn’t move in mid-air.’
I had seen it many times in the game. I had even used this technique many times with my own character.
Imagine an invisible scaffold in the middle of the sky.
My body leaned forward unnaturally in the air, in a direction that was impossible to achieve. Ritzert’s eyes weren’t seeing things. I had kicked off of nothing.
I passed through his raid of icicles, accelerated by the kick. And once I was clear, I kicked off of nothing and pushed forward yet again.
Exactly like it was named, it was a technique that allowed one to accelerate while in mid-air. It allowed you to run in the sky, and was an indispensible skill needed to connect combos.
If you made a mistake in the timing of its usage, you’d just run straight into the enemy’s attack, but if used correctly it could be used for combos as well as evasion.
And in Harold Stoke’s battle style, it was an absolutely indispensable technique.
Changing the direction I was traveling by pushing down on my foot at top speed, my bones started raising squeaking sounds in complaint, while my muscles made loud ripping sounds as if they were about to break.
I clenched my teeth, raising my voice while also trying to muffle it, enduring the load that just attacked my whole body.
An irregular multi-chained acceleration in mid-air. I don’t think that even Ritzert, who had experienced multiple battlefields in the past, had ever seen anything as spectacular as this.
Faster than it was even possible to react to.
I flew behind him before he could even blink.
Ritzert tried to turn around, but it was too late. I had my sword in mid-swing while I was accelerating.
His right arm was sent flying, leaving only a fresh feeling resounding within my hand.
By cutting through his armour, I lowered my sword, but by using my foot as a pivot, I used the leftover momentum from the dash to throw out a roundhouse kick and send him flying.
But I wasn’t done yet.
Sword raised, towards the him who was suspended in mid-air, I let out a <<Thunder Bird>> from only a few meters away. A distance which was then instantly covered with another <<Air Dash>>.
From there I slashed, I punched, and I kicked. Again, and again, until I was finished.
Ritzert’s brilliant armour was now a shadow of its former self. It was dented, covered with dirt, and stained with blood. While the person wearing it himself was in a condition worse than the armour.
Ten seconds. In that miniscule amount of time, fifty attacks were made.
Ritzert was launched to a height so high by then you could already call it the sky, and from a position higher than even that, there I was, descending faster than a large bird of prey, while I slashed down on his abdomen with all my might.
Something similar to a crumbling sound resounded out, and Ritzert fell. I, right behind it.
The moment he crashed, a dull sound rang out, while I landed next to him.
It was silent. I could only hear a harsh breath that I couldn’t recognize as my own breathing.
That’s when I saw Ritzert’s fingertip lifting up in the corner of my sight.
He was still breathing after that attack. He was tougher than I thought, it looks like those muscles of his weren’t just for show after all.
But he was still alive. I didn’t kill him, I had to finish the job.
With my consciousness in a haze, I put strength into my sword arm to strike Ritzert. All I had to do was pierce his neck.
It was a familiar voice. It was the voice of the person that I was trying to save.
Looking back, Robinson, Sid and Irene were standing there in shock. If I looked closely, Cody was there too.
Everything I did payed off. They were safe, the moment I confirmed that, my body just seemed to… give in.
But how did they know it was me? The mask that was hanging from my ear fell off as if to answer my question.
(Oh… in the midst of the fight it came loose… so that’s why…)
I wonder what they thought of this situation.
Wearing the military uniform of the Sarian Empire, wounded all over, and there’s also the fact that I acted alone in the middle of the battle between the Order and the Tribe.
What did such a figure convey to them?
“Wh-what are you doing…?”
Cody asked, uncharacteristically unsettled, but I was too tired to say anything but the truth.
“…this person is a Major General of the Sarian Empire, Ritzert… This raid is the work of the Empire… they needed to capture members of the Star Aria Tribe… and the mastermind is-”
I reached my limit. My consciousness was gone, I wasn’t able to kill Ritzert, and I crumbled on the spot like a doll with its strings cut.
◇ ◇ ◇
(3rd Person POV)
Inside a room, in a research facility room full of gowns and equipment that released heavy noises. There was a man sitting there while reading a report full of intrigue.
His long gray hair had already grown to his back without being particularly groomed, while his cheeks were so thin they gave off an unhealthy impression. His skin was so pale you’d think that he had never been outside before, and unfortunately, it didn’t look like he had received a decent amount of sleep. The bags under his eyes easily stood out among the rest of his unhealthy complexion.
Appearance wise he was a man living a very unhealthy lifestyle, but his face was distorted pleasantly.
“Hmm… so this mission was a failure? Though, I did secure enough samples, I’m more concerned about that boy…”
The possibility of failure was supposed to be almost zero, but there were uncertainties in the world.
No matter how much you increase your chances, you will never reach a hundred percent.
So the fact that it failed, wasn’t a big problem in itself.
But why did it fail?
It was because this time there was an irregular he didn’t account for. Harold Stokes, a thirteen-year-old little boy.
The youngest to ever join the Order in history. Who was desperate to break military laws on his very first mission. And when everybody thought he disappeared, there he was, dressed in the military uniform of the Sarian Empire.
It couldn’t have been betrayal or a mere espionage mission. They discovered detained Imperial soldiers when they found him, even a person of the Major class.
Harold’s aims were unclear, but it was obvious that he was aware of the attack on the knights in advance.
He thought that the possibility of being compromised was low, but Harold was still able to get this information from somewhere.
It was even fairly accurate, just what sort of information network did he have?
“…you truly are an interesting boy, Harold. I wonder, are you going to become my strength, or will you stand in my way?”
He burst into a laughter that filled the halls, a quiet but insane smile creeping up his face.
Then, as if to interrupt my laugh, the door was knocked.
“Director, its time.”
“…I’ll leave right away.”
As if a mask had just been put on, his facial expression changed to expressionless in an instant. All his liveliness from before, gone.
But who knows what was reflected in the eyes of his assistant, who was used to seeing him.
“Did something good happen? The Director of today seems to be more cheerful than usual.”
“…well, I seem to have found an interesting test subject.”
“That’s fine, but we’re almost at the end of our current research project, so make sure not to push yourself, okay Director Justus? ”
“Oh, I know.”
Justus Freund seemed to be looking at someplace far away as the lights in his eyes faded away.
Translated by KuroInfinity. Written by Izumi (泉).
- Harold actually calls him a ‘Daruma(達磨)’ here, but since I couldn’t make the sentence work too well, I changed it to how it was now.
- Hirasawa Kazuki(平沢一希), this was Harold’s name in his previous incarnation in case you’ve forgotten.