Sword and Shield

Civil War 3

"FEH!"

With a strange sound, Rishia reared back her fist and punched. Her knuckles didn't make contact with the bark of the tree in front of her, stopping just inches in front of it. However, in spite of that, the bark of the tree exploded off of the trunk regardless, leaving a circular strip of trunk sans bark.

"Still not good enough," she grumbled, sweat dripping from her brow. She still could not direct Life Force with confidence nor in quantity.

"There's no reason to complain, lass!"

Rishia let out another weird sound when Elrasla wacked her on the back of the head.

"I told you, didn't I? You are a natural," her teacher give her a wide grin. "You only started training in the art of Hengen Musou a couple days ago. The fact that you can already feel your Life Force speaks volumes about your talent. At the rate you're going, you'll be able to use Defence ignoring attacks in no time!"

Normally, Rishia would have blushed at such frank praise. However, ever since she'd been tortured, her reactions were much more subdued. Instead, she gave a small smile, and said, "Thank you for the time and attention, teacher."

"My pleasure," Elrasla struck a pose, a hand on her hip and a thumbs up.

Shaking her head, Rishia was about to continue her training. But she unexpectedly paused, turning back to Elrasla with a question in her eyes.

"Hey, teacher. Can I ask you something?"

"Hmm? Sure. Ask away," Elrasla nodded at her.

"Back in the territory of governor Von Reichnott, you said that all of us, except for yourself, are 'wet behind the ears' when it comes to matters of war," Rishia stated. "I take it then, that you have fought in a war before, right?"

Normally, Rishia would have hesitated asking such a loaded question with no forewarning whatsoever. But, as she was asking Elrasla this, the most extroverted and perpetually cheerful person she knew, Rishia didn't think that she would take the question poorly.

"I have fought in multiple wars," Elrasla answered with a hum. "I have lived a long life, and the world, in the sense of politics and grudges, is not the most stable of places."

Rishia nodded. As a noble's daughter, no matter how impoverished, she had read up on history as a part of her studies. No matter what history book you cracked open, wars were never few and far between in the pages.

"The last war I participated in, though…I was in my late sixties then," Elrasla reminisced.

"Late sixties?" Rishia murmured. "Then, you fought in the war with Siltvelt?"

"Yes. I wasn't part of Melromarc's main forces, but I was well known as a powerful adventurer back in the day and a citizen of this nation to boot," Elrasla began. "They were happy to have me. I fought on the frontlines more times then I care to remember," she sighed. "If I recall correctly, it was in that war that I reached Level ninety."

Rishia winced a little at that tidbit of info. "Sounds harsh."

"Harsh is putting it lightly. War is hell," in spite of her words, Elrasla looked up with a glint in her eyes. "Though, I have to admit, trading blows with Tyran Ga Fayon was a rare solitary pleasure I got to indulge in during the last war."

Rishia choked on air. "You fought the former ruler of Siltvelt, the strongest Hakuko of this era!?"

"Multiple times," Elrasla confirmed, a deadly grin ripping her face open. "I've fought many people in my days, lass, and even more monsters, but none of them could ever give me a fight quite like Tyran could. Though the man was always calm and unflappable, his strength was beyond measure, and beast-like in the extreme. Only Heroes, Holy or Seven Star, could match that man. He was without a doubt a freak of nature."

"He had maxed out his Level at 120," Rishia shook her head. "Not to mention that he had long since mastered his Beast Transformation. And you fought him and lived!?"

Hakuko have a higher max Level than most others. Moreover, very few people ever reached the max of Level 100. By that virtue alone, Tyran had been a menacing fighter with few equals and even lesser superiors. Throw in the Beast Transformation on top of that – a unique ability that very few demi-humans developed – that gives a sizable all around Stats up when triggered, and you truly got a force of nature on your hands. Or, like Elrasla had put it, a freak of nature.

"Multiple times," Elrasla repeated with pride. "Powerful though he was, I was one of the only three people in the war who could fight him for any length of time and not be squashed like a bug. Because of that I was sent out to counter him many times, but," here she deflated a bit, "I must admit that defeating that man was beyond me. I could pin him down for a while, sure, but me actually striking him down simply wasn't in the cards. Tyran was that freakshow strong."

"I'm kind of surprised that you could trade blows with him to begin with," Rishia admitted. Tyran was long dead, killed in the war, but tales of his overwhelming might were still being told to this day. If the Shield Hero didn't exist, Tyran would have without a doubt been the boogeyman for Melromarc's children.

Elrasla shrugged. "He had me beat in nearly all categories, I admit. The only edge that I had was raw experience. That, and Hengen Musou. Without decades worth of combat escapades and the ability to turn his high Stats against him, I wouldn't have lasted long."

Both Elrasla and Rishia fell silent, briefly ruminating over what they had just discussed.

"If it wasn't for him," Elrasla said quietly. "If the Wisest King of Wisdom hadn't been leading the charge against Siltvelt. If the King hadn't killed Tyran on the field of battle, I'm sure that victory would never have been ours."

"The Wisest King of Wisdom," Rishia slowly frowned. "He truly was legendary, and still has many admirers around the world, but the things I have heard about him lately…"

"…Are rather hard to swallow, especially in light of his reputation," Elrasla finished, frowning as well and shaking her head. "If the words hadn't come from the Holy Saint himself, I never would have believed any of it. Say what you will about the Holy Saint, but he is not one to lie without due cause."

"Could it be political ploy of some kind?" Rishia suggested. "Maybe a diversion?"

"I can believe that, yes," Elrasla said. "…I fought under him, you know? I didn't get to speak with him much and I'm sure he barely remembers me, if that, but he was the one who led the coalition forces into battle against Siltvelt. If he himself or that other guy were not available, he would command me to stall Tyran."

Elrasla sighed, lost in memories again.

"No matter how outnumbered we were or how disadvantageous our position, he always found a way to turn things around," Elrasla murmured. "No matter how small the possibility or how difficult it was to see it, he would find and exploit whatever strategy would save our collective asses. Hell, his quick wit saved my ass once or twice in that war. His strategic acumen was truly without compare."

"…True, his reputation does paint him as a master strategist, but," Rishia hesitated. "If this is all some ploy of some kind, it's beyond my ability to grasp. Melromarc is in a civil war. All the Holy Heroes have been summoned to this country in clear violation of international law. Throw in the backdrop of the Waves of Calamity…I can only imagine that many people are wondering if he has lost his marbles."

"You are not wrong, and that worries me," Elrasla admitted.

Rishia blinked at that.

"The reputation of the Wisest King of Wisdom is, or was, massive," Elrasla explained. "After the war, said reputation on its own was enough to dissuade anyone from trying to invade Melromarc or starting anything else untoward in the region. Now that people might think that he has lost the plot, not to mention the fact that we are in a civil war, I wouldn't be surprised if one of Melromarc's enemies tried to take advantage of the situation."

Rishia grimaced. Elrasla didn't have to explain any further, and she knew which country might very well try something: Siltvelt. Though defeated in the war, it was still a mighty nation that naturally had an axe to grind with Melromarc.

Not only because of the lingering grudges after the war, but also because of ideological and religious differences. Siltvelt is demi-human supremacist nation that practices slavery of humans. Melromarc is human supremacist nation that practices slavery of demi-humans. Siltvelt's state religion is the Church of the Shield. Melromarc's state religion is the Church of the Three Heroes. To put it bluntly, the two countries couldn't be more opposed to each other if they tried.

The fact that Melromarc had summoned the Shield Hero, the Holy Hero that was supposed to be summoned by Siltvelt and who was their religion's apostle to boot, had gotten the entire nation up in arms. To the point that Rishia was honestly surprised that the Queen's political acumen had been enough to avoid war.

However, now that the reputation of the Wisest King of Wisdom was faltering…

"Bah!" Elrasla suddenly scoffed, getting a start out of Rishia. "These heavy thoughts aren't good for both of us, lass. All we can do is hope that such a dire circumstance doesn't come to pass. Now, stop lollygagging and get back to training! That tree isn't going to fell itself!"

"Yes, teacher!"

With that Rishia returned to her training, actively driving her worries from her mind through exertion and exhaustion.


Ren had a hard time believing what he was seeing.

Just two days ago, the Sword Hero had put down followers of the Church of the Three Heroes that had troubled, to put it mildly, a friendly village. The moment he did that, he had outed himself as an enemy to the church, and by default openly aligned himself with the pro-demi-human faction.

News had spread quickly, helped along by the Shadows and intelligence network of the Queen. Overnight, the situation in the Khoth Region had fundamentally changed.

As a mostly rural region, the pro-demi-human faction had, comparatively speaking, a lot of influence in these lands. But the rising star of the Sword Hero had raised the name of the Church of the Three Heroes in tandem. As the Sword Hero was assumed to side with the church that worshipped him, a good portion of the peasantry had been tempted to side with the anti-demi-human faction.

Consequently, the pro-demi-human faction had been in a bad position in the Khoth Region, with the anti-demi-human faction slowly but surely gaining ground. That paradigm had been thrown on its head the moment that the Sword Hero had openly aligned himself with the church's enemies.

Ren had been informed of all this by the Queen's Shadows. They were stretched thin, but as a Holy Hero on their side, the Shadows ensured that a least a few Shadows were there to aid and/or inform him at any given moment.

It was the Shadows that had guided him and his party to this place, Cobbleston, one of the many tiny villages on the region. It was an fairly ordinary village, if one ignored the fact that the village in question was built on a steep hill, in which many well-tread stone stairs led up to closely grouped and cozy looking houses. Picturesque. It was an apt term to describe the place.

But said picture was not what had the Sword Hero's attention at the moment. No, the scene happening in front of him had all his focus.

"Sword Hero-sama, my name is Olberic Eisenberg. Though I'm but a retired knight of Melromarc, in light of the existential threats besetting my home, I once again see cause to pick up my sword. I and my men wish to pledge our blades to your cause."

In front of Ren kneeled a rugged looking and older, but a truly massive and well-built man in a stark blue combat uniform. Behind him, a 100 men in plate armor followed in his example, kneeling and lowering their heads in deference to the Holy Hero of the Sword.

"And I'll g-gladly accept your aid," Ren said, hoping that no one heard the quiver in his voice. He was uncomfortable and trying not to show it. "Get your men ready to set out within the hour, Sir Olberic. Unfortunately, we have p-precious little time to waste."

"Yes, Sword Hero-sama!" Olberic bowed his head and turned around to do as ordered. As he did so, he displayed the broadsword on his back. It was huge, as large as an full grown man, but compared to the size of the man on who's back it rested, one could mistake it for an average sized sword.

Ren let out a breath he didn't know that he had been holding as the massive knight and his troops left to prepare.

"Are you alright, Ren-sama?" Mia asked, looking concerned.

"It is nothing, really. I am just not comfortable with so many people placing their faith in me," Ren let out a grumble. There were reasons why he went solo whenever he could, and that was one of them.

Unfortunately, going it solo wasn't an option anymore. That held true both for Melromarc's civil war and the Waves of Calamity.

"…Though you might be a Holy Hero, you're just your regular loner at heart, eh?" Garett snorted, an amused tilt to his lips.

"Garett, rude," Ivan sighed and poked the largest member of their party in the side.

Garett simply snorted again, not looking bothered.

"For my part," Isaac cut in. "I can't believe that the Unbending Blade has joined our cause."

Though he hid it well, there was no mistaking the almost child-like glitter of excitement in Isaac's eyes.

"The Unbending Blade?" Ren mouthed the title. "You mean Sir Olberic, right?"

"Yes," Isaac confirmed. "You probably don't know this, Ren-sama, but Sir Olberic, back when he was still in active duty, was considered the strongest knight in Melromarc by far."

Ren's focus had entirely shifted to Isaac. His head was tilted forwards in interest.

"Olberic Eisenberg, the Unbending Blade and the former right hand knight of the Queen," Isaac said and shook his head. "He is a legend, a man that never lost a fight and was as unbending as the blade he wielded. In the last war, he fought on the frontlines, leading men into battle and confronting Tyran Ga Fayon, the former ruler of Siltvelt many times. Olberic, though he hadn't managed to strike down Tyran, he had still gone undefeated throughout that entire war. And before it, too."

"…You might have noticed, Ren-sama," Garett said drily. "But Isaac is a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Olberic."

"No, I'm not," Isaac replied testily.

"Yes, you are," Garett, Ivan and Mia chorused back at him.

Ren snorted, loudly. Isaac huffed and turned away, amused in spite of himself.

"That being said, Isaac's praise of Olberic is not wrong," Ivan said after a moment. "I've seen him fight once at Melromarc's National Fencing Tournament. He smoked the competition. Hell, everyone in attendance agreed that there was no real competition that year. From the first fight on all the way to the finals, Olberic dominated every battle and ended the fight within a minute."

Garett nodded along with Ivan's words. "What makes it even more impressive is the setup of the National Fencing Tournament. The magics used on the arena equalizes the fighter's Stats, lowering or raising them until they are the exact same."

Ren didn't need any more explanation after that. With perfectly equal Stats, the winner of the National Fencing Tournament would be decided entirely on skill. It was a truly equal competition that came down to the swordsmanship of the participants.

"As swordsmen, how do you two measure up to Sir Olberic?" Ren asked Isaac and Garett, the other two sword users in his party.

"If his edge hasn't dulled since his retirement? He'd crush me," Garett said bluntly.

"Same here," Isaac admitted without any shame.

Ren nodded. His lips pursed in thought as an idea slowly but surely came into being in his mind.

Half an hour later, Olberic returned sans his troops. Like previously mentioned, the man was massive, two heads taller than Ren. Even as the Unbending Blade inclined his head Ren had to look up to meet the man's eyes.

"The troops are ready to set out whenever you give the order, Sword Hero-sama," Olberic said.

"Good. Then we will leave shortly, but," Ren straightened up. "I first want to discuss something with you, Sir Olberic."

"What is it?" Olberic gave an inquisitive smile.

"Could I ask you to train me in swordsmanship?" Ren came straight out with it.

Olberic blinked. Whatever he had been expecting, a request for training was not it.

"My party members have informed me that you are probably the greatest swordsman in this nation. I'd like to experience those skills first hand," Ren continued.

"…But, you're the Sword Hero. I don't think I'd have much to teach you."

"Sir Olberic," Ren sighed. He'd had this conversation before with his party members, so he knew what he had to say, but that didn't mean he liked to repeat the experience. "Before coming to this world, I've had precious little experience with a sword," Kendo mostly, and that didn't translate one-to-one to real life sword fighting. "While I would like to think that I have some natural talent, I have had very little training so far, mostly with the help of my party members. But since they just told me that you are a far better swordsman…"

To be perfectly honest, Ren would have liked to spar with Olberic first in order to get a measure of the man and his skills. But there was one problem with that: Stats. Ever since gaining access to more Strengthening Methods thanks to his cooperation with Naofumi, his Stats had broken through the roof, far beyond what any ordinary human could hope to achieve naturally.

If they fought now, no matter how much more skilled Olberic was, chances were that Ren would overpower him with nothing more than the raw numbers of his Stats. It was not like they had ready access to the magics of the National Fencing Tournament, now did they? Thankfully, he trusted his party members words, so it wasn't really necessary.

"…If Sword Hero-sama desires my teachings, then I see no reason to refuse," Olberic said, a glimmer of approval in his eyes.

"Can I join in?" Isaac suddenly cut, failing to hide his eagerness.

"I'd like to do the same," Garett added.

"No problem," Olberic let out a deep chuckle.

Mia snorted and shared an amused look with Ivan.


There was a situation playing out death center of a large courtyard, the backdrop of stately mansion looming over the scene. Men in plate armor were duking it out in close quarters combat in all corners of the courtyard. Swords and spears clashed again and again, arrows were flying overhead, and spells of every type were being lobed in every direction.

At a quick glance, it would be difficult to tell the two sides apart from each other, decked out in the same style of plate armor as they were, but the more observant would notice one distinct difference between the opposing sides. One side had an intricate, stylized shield colored in with gold, dark red, beige and white emblazoned onto their chest plates.

"Hengen Musou, Hidden Technique: Tiger Bite!"

One knight sans the stylized shield symbol, decked out in a far more ornate set of armor of a darker color then most, had been like a specter in the shadows of the conflict. The knight in question, a commander, had been diligently giving out orders and directing his side of the fight. At the same time, the air of competence and menace about him had deterred any of the opposing knights from confronting him.

However, that air of competence and menace disappeared as quickly as the morning dew before the sun when a petite, white and black haired little girl rapidly closed the distance and unexpectedly attacked the ornately armored knight.

"GOAU!"

Small as she was, and with a sudden burst of unexpected speed, Atla struck the Knight Commander in the stomach with a fist cloaked in Life Force. The energy of life had taken on the distinct shape of a tiger's head, and just seconds before impact the tiger had opened its maw wide and gave a soundless roar as it struck home.

The commander of the enemy knights, who'd been in the process of bringing down his broadsword full force on Atla, let his weapon fall from his suddenly jelly like fingers. The Life Force surged through the man, completely ignoring his armor and Defence Stat, and blew the plate armor completely off his back as the energy finished it's journey through the man's body.

Atla's lips quirked. She twisted her fist and followed up with a lightning fast one-two punch.

The Knight Commander went flying with awesome force. Back first, he struck the wall of the mansion and punched cleanly through it. The man disappeared underneath the wreckage of the rapidly crumbling wall, buried in stone. The resultant rubble continued to rumble and groan, and the Knight Commander failed to reappear again.

Suffice it to say, that the commander of the enemy knights had been taken out of the fight.

There was an immediate shift in the flow of the battle as soon as this happened. The battlelines that the Knight Commander had been directing buckled, the sudden decapitation of their commanding officer causing a chain reaction. Neat defensive lines were suddenly wrenched upon and exploited to the hilt.

"Get that brat!"

Unwisely, a dozen knights broke away from their fights, shoving back their opponents and rushing towards Atla with murder in their eyes.

Not looking fazed, Atla rushed to meet them.

Moments before she got into the range with the nearest knight, who was in the process of rearing back his sword, Atla flicked her finger. The nigh invisible, tiny ripple of Life Force she'd launched with that minimal movement rocketed through the eye slit of the helmet of the knight, striking his right eye.

"ACK!"

The man cried out, stumbled, nearly fell and dropped his sword. Dark fluid dripped down the eye slit of the knight's helmet.

"Hengen Musou, Hidden Technique: Skull Cruncher!"

Atla jumped, flipped in mid air and brought down her Life Force packed and sandal clad heel full force on the helmet of the stricken knight. The helmet crunched inward with a dull, metallic sound, the area within it abruptly becoming only half the size it should have been. Blood erupted.

Using the collapsing knight like a springboard, Atla jumped back and made distance again.

The incensed enemy knights, sans bow and arrow and without the ability to use magic, chased after her with bated breath and cold steel. A few more were spaced out in every direction, ready to cut of her escape should Atla try and disengage.

One knight got close and without a second thought took a swing.

Atla evaded it with room to spare.

Several knights surrounded her, diving in and slashing in a constant wave of attacks wherein the knights followed each other up in rapid succession, but Atla evaded all of them. Her small stature and the unique way in which she perceived the world made hitting her very difficult and blindsiding her impossible.

"She's so slippery! I can't get a hit in!"

"Keep trying! She has to run out of steam at some point!"

"Here I go! Wha-

One knight took another swing Atla, but had made the fatal mistake of overextending.

"Hengen Musou, Hidden Technique: Tiger Bite!"

Atla ducked underneath the man's arm and gave a vicious, tiger headed straight punch to the man's chest area. The metal of his plate armor did little to slow the blow down, and the man's lungs collapsed like a punctured balloon. He fell to ground, spluttering and choking on his own blood.

"Hengen Musou, Hidden technique: Bullet!"

Now having a bit more room to attack, Atla unleashed three 'bullets' in rapid succession. They soundlessly passed through the armor and bodies of an equal number of knights, completely ignoring their Defence Stats and doing terrible damage to their insides.

Two of them were hit center mass and collapsed gurgling. The last one had his left knee joint utterly wrecked and fell with a bellow of pain.

"Got you!" another knight came in swinging from Atla's perceived blind spot.

Perceived, because Atla flat out didn't have a blind spot.

Without moving her head, Atla shifted to the side and dodged the swing. As the knight passed her by, she flicked one of her fingers upwards. The tiny ripple of Life Force she launched with that hard to see motion struck the knight underneath the chin. With a crunch, the man's jaw broke.

The man stumbled and nearly fell. Before the cry of pain could leave his lips, however, Atla jumped onto his back and knocked him flat on the ground.

"Don't-" one of the man's comrades started to shout.

Atla raised her leg and brought her sandal clad foot down full force on the fallen knight's upper back. The armor shattered with a crunch, and the man arched his back in an eyewatering display. He then fell limp, silent and unmoving.

Atla's face had remained utterly impassive throughout the entire fight so far.

"You monst-ACK!"

Before the expletive could be uttered in full, a white and black blur smashed into the back of the knight in question.

"Don't you dare call Atla that!"

A flying kick sent the knight flying forward with a choked cry, smashing into and disappearing behind the same wall the Knight Commander had been swallowed up by.

Fohl, his leg still extended, snarled at the knights locked into combat with Atla.

The few remaining knights, realizing that the odds had shifted even farther away from them, quickly sought to retreat, but…

"You're not getting away! Hengen Musou, Hidden Technique: Flying Tiger Kick!"

Fohl brough his leg back down, setting his stance firmly, only to raise his leg yet again in an blisteringly fast diagonal kick. A crescent of cutting Life Force leaped from Fohl's leg, surging forwards like an out of control dump truck.

Not having the time to react, nor being fast enough, two knights took the attack straight to the chest. Metal was sliced and blood gushed out, ending the lives of both men.

Now, only three knights remained, who were frozen in indecision. Fight or flight. Both options looked equally bad and inadvisable right now.

Unfortunately, they would not get to make that choice.

FWOOSH!

A large fireball came down on the knights from an unexpected direction, consuming them wholly in flames. Their screams of pain were smothered in the flames, and they briefly shambled around in an macabre display before expiring.

Atla and Fohl didn't turn to look where the attack had come from. They already knew it was a spell launched by an allied magic caster somewhere in the distance. Around them, the battle was starting to wind down, with their side the clear victor.

Fohl looked around, checking if there were no further threats or enemies. Seeing no such thing, he turned towards Atla.

"What were you thinking!?" Fohl damn near shouted. "Rushing off on your own like that!?"

Atla shrugged without concern. "I saw the main threat and took care of it. Isn't it safer to take out the enemy leadership and end the battle as soon as possible? There's less chance of me or anyone else getting hurt if the fight ends quickly, right?"

"It isn't if doing so leaves you on your own facing several enemies at once," Fohl ground out.

At that, Atla smiled. "I'm not a weak little girl anymore, Onii-sama. Have a little trust in me, would you?"

Fohl continued to grumble for a little while, and both siblings took the time to briefly make sure that the battle in the courtyard of this stately mansion was indeed over. Having done so, and after informing their allies of their intentions, they made to leave. However, Atla quickly performed one more technique.

"Hengen Musou, Hidden Technique: Life Return."

Beneath her skin and totally invisible to the naked eye, Atla's Life Force surged and burned away at a steady clip. This was a Hengen Musou technique straightforward in principle but difficult in execution that used up Life Force to restore one's energy and stamina. Even Elrasla had been surprised at how quickly Atla had picked up the technique.

Though she had grown much stronger, Atla's stamina, while building rapidly, was not anything exceptional yet. As such, Life Return was a godsend to her, and she didn't hesitate to use it when she deemed it necessary.

Sighing in relief, Atla muttered underneath her breath, "Maybe Shirou-sama will pat me on the head or scratch me behind the ears for a job well done?"

Beside her, Fohl's eyebrow twitched violently at those words.

Just as they were about to leave, they flipped up the baggy hoods that Rishia had sewn into their standard clothes just the day before. As they rapidly relocated, it would keep their relatively long hair from flapping and getting into their eyes.

Moreover, the insides were lined with feathery wool, making the hoods quite comfortable to wear. That, and the holes that were a picture perfect fit for their feline ears to fit through was a nice touch that they both could appreciate.

With their high Stats and Life Force strengthening them, the siblings jumped onto the nearby roof of a house. Using the highway of the rooftops, the siblings took a straight line towards their destination: the city square.

That was the place they had been instructed to return to after accomplishing their objective.

Right now, they were beseeching the city of yet another anti-demi-human noble. The party of the Shield Hero had split up, acting in their designated role as shook troopers, aiding the weaker but far more numerous knights on their side to take out strategically important locations.

Atla and Fohl had grown strong enough to act in this role as well, though they had been instructed to always remain together and to disengage if they so much as suspected that they were outmatched in any given situation.

The siblings had struck at a mansion the enemy opposition had been using as one of its headquarters to coordinate their defence. It had been strategically placed with a lot of fortifications en route they had to bust through in order to get there in the first place. It was a long fight, but they managed, and that's what counted.

Hop. Hop. Hop. As they jumped from rooftop to rooftop, their eyes swiveled around and their cat-like ears twitched as the sights and sounds of battle all over the city reached them. The city was in an uproar, to put it mildly, with smoke rising over the city in multiple places with the sound of battle coming from everywhere. Thankfully, the anti-demi-human noble had at very least the good sense to evacuate the regular citizenry before they had struck the city.

Their top down view of the city disappeared as they reached the city square. Without ceremony, they dropped down into the stone-lined square. Knights with shields emblazoned onto their chest plates turned to look at them, alarmed by the sudden intrusion, but quickly relaxed when they realized who had returned.

The buildings ringing the center of the city were large and built right up against each other. That left only a few small alleys and two main roads the led into the large square as openings. The two main roads on either side of the square had been barricaded, stone barriers magicked into existence. Dozens upon dozens of knights manned these fortifications, while the small and cramped side alleys had been filled in and otherwise wrecked, making them impassible.

The square was a hive of activity, with knights moving busily around in every direction. Some of them were either going to battle or returning from it, while a precious few were doing vital logistics work.

Several tents were erected smack-dap of all of the activity. Atla and Fohl marched up to the largest of them all, exchanging brief words with the knights on the way.

Just as they entered the tent…

"Yes, ma'am Eclair! Understood!"

A squad of knights briskly left, after receiving their orders and saluting their commanding officer. The men gave the siblings a nod as they passed them by, which they returned.

Eclair, sans her helmet for once, briefly locked eyes with Atla and Fohl. She then turned her eyes to the next squad of knights in the queue in front of her. Beside her was a wooden table filled up to the brim with reports, with just enough space for a rough sketch of the city's layout to be laid out on the corner. Behind her was a small battalion of several dozen men, reading and sorting through said reports and information before they would hand it over to Eclair to decide what, if anything, to do with that information.

Several knight squads were given orders in rapid succession, after which they would leave with all due haste, before Atla and Fohl's turns was up.

"Miss Atla. Sir Fohl. Did you achieve your objective?" Eclair said.

"We did, ma'am Eclair. The southern enemy stronghold has been subjugated," Fohl reported.

"Excellent. With that, most of the enemy garrisons have been taken," Eclair praised, idly instructing one of the men behind her to note down that tidbit of information.

"What should we hit next, ma'am Eclair?" Atla asked.

"Actually, I'll be keeping the both of you close by, for now," Eclair nodded to herself.

At that, the Hakuko siblings blinked.

"There are a few enemy garrisons remaining, scattered out over the city, but I have already sent out the others of your party to deal with those locations," Eclair explained. "At this rate, we'll take the city in an hour or two. Seeing that, I'd rather you two remain here so that I can use you two as a rapid response unit if it becomes necessary."

"I see. That's fair," Fohl nodded.

"Can't you send me to wherever Shirou-sama is and let Onii-sama remain here for that purpose?"

Fohl's brow twitched yet again at Atla's words, while Eclair's lips quirked.

"No," Eclair responded, amused. "I'm well aware of the setup. You two are to remain together during combat for the foreseeable future."

Atla pouted. Fohl sighed in relief. And Eclair had to hold back a snort.


It happened about an hour later.

Atla and Fohl had taken the opportunity to rest, sitting on the ground close by Eclair. It was noisy, with a constant stream of knights, squads or otherwise, streaming into and leaving the tent as they'd come to report and receive information. The scene of Eclair self-assuredly receiving information, interpreting that information and using that information to direct her men, drove home just how talented the woman was at the art of war.

"..!"

That scene was interrupted when an haggard looking knight explosively burst into the tent, gasping for breath. The man's eyes darted in his sockets until they settled on Eclair. Without thinking about it the man cut ahead of the line in front of him to get to Eclair.

Both Atla and Fohl frowned, standing up from the ground. This probably wouldn't be good.

"What is it?" Eclair asked without preamble. She recognized trouble when she saw it.

"Ma'am Eclair, enemy reinforcements have arrived from the north!"

The noise in tent decreased drastically as the knight in question reported that. Eclair's lip pursed in displeasure at that news.

"How many, and what's the situation now?"

"Several hundred men, ma'am Éclair. At least 500 I'd reckon," the haggard knight stated, looking pale. "Like ordered, my squad among others were patrolling the city wall, but somehow the enemy forces managed to get into striking distance of the gate before any of us noticed their approach. We tried to stop them, but they busted through the gate and have entered the city proper."

"And then?" Eclair continued questioning, eyes sharp.

"Our squad leader recognized that we didn't have enough men to stop the enemy advance, so he decided on a fighting retreat."

That made sense. A fighting retreat would slow down the enemy and would – hopefully – not place their outnumbered fighting forces on the scene at too much risk.

"I was sent to report the situation and get reinforcements."

Without a further word, Eclair gave a loud snap of her fingers. The noise echoed in the tent, and from off to the side, half a dozen men approached. These men lacked the plate armor of their fellows, and were instead decked out in high quality leather armor.

"What are your orders, ma'am Eclair!" the men chorused and saluted.

They were runners, men that were specialized and equipped for speed. Their duty was to receive and supply critical information around an active battlefield.

"You lot! Go to these locations!" Eclair ordered, pointing towards half a dozen spots on the rough sketch of the city's layout that was placed on the table beside her. Incidentally, these were the spots where the Shield Hero and his companions had been scattered to in order to suppress and subjugate concentrations of enemy forces. "Find the Shield Hero and his companions and direct them north!"

"Understood, ma'am Eclair!" the runners once again saluted. They ran off, and like their job implied, they were incredibly swift. In one breath to the next, they were gone.

With another few swift commands, more runners were summoned. They were ordered to scatter in every direction, inform their currently unengaged forces of the situation and direct them to the invasion in progress from the north. Like the first group, they'd departed as swift as the wind. In but a blink, they were gone.

With that done, Eclair turned towards Atla and Fohl.

"We will head there and immediately and help blunt the invasion," Atla said before Eclair could open her mouth, correctly guessing what the commanding officer had in mind.

"Atla, I'm sure I can handle this on my own. Why not sit this one out?" Fohl suggested.

"Not happening, Onii-sama," Atla responded flatly.

Suppressing a smile at the sibling's interaction, Eclair retained her serious demeanor and nodded at the two Hakuko. "God speed you two. But remember, your duty isn't to stop the enemy advance, but to stall it long enough so that our full forces can be brought to bear. If the enemy are too numerous or powerful, maintain a fighting retreat. And if it ever appears like you're going to be overwhelmed, disengage immediately. We can't afford to lose fighters of your caliber. Do you two understand what I am saying?"

"Understood, ma'am Éclair!" in spite of themselves, Atla and Fohl reflexively snapped a salute at the Eclair's authoritative tone of voice.

Honestly, having two kids, no matter how powerful they were, do that just looked kind of silly, but it was endearing all the same. Eclair had to suppress another smile.

"Come back alive you two. That's the most important thing. Now go!" she ordered.

With another adorable salute, the two siblings dashed out of the tent. Eclair watched them leave, as she kept a feeling of frustration well hidden. Letting those two kids go off on their own didn't sit well with her, but she was needed here to direct the ongoing battle for the city. Sometimes, it didn't pay to not be in the thick of the action.

"You two better come back alive," Eclair repeated underneath her breath.


In northern section of the city, the situation was escalating quickly and going to hell in a handbasket.

The enemy reinforcements had blown through the gate and were now aggressively advancing through the city. Pockets of anti-demi-human forces, that had been isolated and had previously been taken out piecemeal, were encountered while doing so and absorbed into the invading forces. This, in turn swelled the forces of the invaders, allowing them to press on with more vigor and focus as the battle surged throughout the countless streets.

Every inch of ground was being contested by the pro-demi-human faction forces. However, they were heavily outnumbered, and as of the moment, they did not have the benefit of the Shield Hero's Enhancement magic. Out of necessity, the pro-demi-human faction started to fall back, but as they did so, they struck back, laying traps, ambushing around corners, using every dirty trick in the book of urban warfare to make every inch taken as slow and painful as possible.

But…

FWOOM!

SCREEEEEECH!

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Much like the Shield Hero and his companions, the enemy possessed powerful figures of their own to rally behind, with high Stats and powerful magic. With the backup of several dozen magic casters, under the direct command of an expert magician, these figures were leading the charge into the city, volleys of magic wrenching open a path forward.

Fire, water, wind, earth, and many other elements were being lobbed in every direction in a constant ripple fire. Instead of in a straight line, these magics were being employed like artillery, using exclusively long range spells that could be fired in an arc like how a shell would be launched out of an cannon. Honestly, it was quite the sight.

"Crap. This looks bad."

Atla and Fohl, perched atop a house several rows behind the frontlines, looked over the scenes of combat. Atla focused and extended the range of her aura sensing to the maximum. She immediately became grim faced.

"I would reckon we have about…700 hundred opponents down there, though they are scattered over a wide area," Atla began to report. "Among them are several stronger than the norm."

"…How many? And how powerful are we talking here?" Fohl ventured.

"There are five 'powerful' opponents," Atla said.

Fohl raised an eyebrow. He could practically hear the quotation marks in his sister's words.

"They are stronger then the norm, but," Atla repeated, and then added. "They aren't anywhere near as strong as Naofumi-sama, Shirou-sama and most others in our party. Three of them are only above average, I'd reckon weaker than us two, while the other two are definitely stronger than us."

Compared to the rest, those two figures were like a powerful bonfire to her senses. One of them was fighting on the frontlines, leading the charge, while the second was in the rear, amongst the throng of magic casters, directing the flow of their magical assault.

Like Atla, Fohl became grim faced. "We're most definitely outnumbered and probably outmatched…"

"We don't need to beat the enemy here, only stall them," Atla reminded him.

"And how are we going to do that?" Fohl grumbled the question.

At that, Atla briefly fell silent. When that moment passed, however, a hard look passed over her face and she opened her mouth, "We're at a disadvantage, but we have to try."

Fohl scowled. He just knew he wasn't going to like this.


The expression of the Magician leading the squad of magic casters was…hard. Hard, angry and utterly focused. It was an expression he hadn't worn in a very long time.

It had been equally long time since he'd last been on the battlefield. He had fought his war, won said war, gone home, married the love of his life and started a family. Though the last few months, ever since the onset of the Waves of Calamity, had been trying in their own way, he could always fall back on the fact that Melromarc, his country, was secure and prosperous thanks, in part, to his efforts.

Now, even that peace of mind had been stolen from him, as was his home and the faint hope that his family would be safe. Fate had come calling in the form of a sudden and unprecedented attack, and it had once again called him to the field of battle.

Suffice it to say, the Magician was angry, and it showed in both his expression and the severity of his commands.

"Fire magic! The Grand Fireball spell! Follow the flow of my magic!"

Rows upon rows of mages launched roiling fireballs the size of artillery shells high into the air, tracing the path and following in the wake of the spell of the Magician who had launched his magic first. The fireballs came back down like meteors, smashing into the streets and the rooftops of buildings with a sound reminiscent of rocks exploding, in a location where a concentration of enemy forces were likely to gather in response to the current frontlines.

It was a difficult skill to cultivate, to make logical inferences based on very little information, but it was one he had mastered after many years of war. Even if his educated guesses weren't always right, the Magician would bet his life that he was correct more often then not.

He was about to give the command to launch the next volley when it happened.

"..!"

A figure came bounding over the rooftops. Its swiftness was such that, combined with its small frame and litheness of its movements, the figure had long since bypassed the frontlines and rapidly closed in on the rear formation of mages. By the time the Magician noticed, the figure would be on them in but a few short seconds.

Nonetheless, the Magician acted with startling acuity.

"Enemy! Use barriers and counter attack!"

His cadre of mages did as ordered, readying their magic for both offensive and defensive purposes.

Nonetheless, before they could launch any retaliatory attacks, the figure acted first. With its fist aglow with energy, trailing behind it and clenched tight, it came to a screeching stop. As it did so, the figure punched with all their might and fired a large oscillating sphere of energy straight at them.

It was an attack that the Magician recognized, like déjà vu on a hot summer's day, but he couldn't quite recall. All he knew was that there was some property to this attack that made it bad news, but there was very little time to think about it. The attack was right in their face now.

Though the figure had launched his attack with blistering speed, barriers were nonetheless deployed quickly enough to intercept the sudden assault. Two barriers, one a narrow wall of hardened light and the other a convex glass-like substance, snapped into existence in the path of the attack, forming a double layer of protection.

However, the sight of those barriers did not assuage the Magician's worries.

His inkling proved correct a moment later when the Large Caliber Piercing Bullet, Defence rating attack that it was, punched cleanly through both barriers as if they weren't even there, shattering the glass and ripping through the light.

Many of the mages let out shocked exclamations and faltered at the unexpected sight.

The Magician was not one of them.

"Dritte Air Slash!"

Without a chant or even a moment of setup, the Magician unleashed a third tier spell, slashing the air with his right hand, palm held to the side and his fingers extended. In the path that his hand had cut through the empty air, faint green energy, harnessed wind, gathered and then surged forwards. The bottom half of the spell cut through the cobblestone of the street like a hot knife through butter.

The same ended up happening to the Large Caliber Piercing Bullet, bisected in half like it was just some harmless fluff. The Life Force that had made up the attack dissipated, not having reached the target it had been intended for.

In the meantime, the Air Slash continued on ahead. The small figure was forced to quickly abandon his position, lest he suffer the same fate as the Large Caliber Piercing Bullet just had, leaping to the side in yet another display of blistering speed.

Spells nipped at the heels of their attacker, who jumped and dodged with movements reminiscent of a cat's dexterity, the path in his wake being wrecked by magical explosions. The Magician's keen eyes were focused on the figure, idly noting that he couldn't see the figure's face, hidden as it was by the hood it had lowered over its face.

No matter. One didn't need to see an opponent's face in order to kill them.

What their opponent did next, however, surprised them.

The figure grabbed something from the bag strapped to his side. As he somersaulted to dodge a glob of supersonic water, he threw that something straight at them mid leap.

It was an expert throw, as the object found one of the small gaps between the massed spell fire. The Magician was just about to order the deployment of more barriers, until he suddenly recognized just what had been thrown at them.

An Incendiary Bomb.

Without wasting a second, the Magician jabbed a finger at the incoming explosive.

"Zweite Thunderbolt! Deploy barriers!"

As a lance of coruscating energy surged forwards, a barrier of hardened light manifested in front of them. And when the thunderbolt met the Incendiary Bomb-

BOOM!

The resulting explosion was huge, and far brighter and louder then expected. Unknown to them, the figure had packed the Incendiary Bomb with a little something to give it a little extra oomph, to the point that it almost worked as a flashbang on top of just a regular bomb.

Nonetheless, the explosion shattered the barrier, and the one hastily cast behind it, but the one after that managed to halt the explosion.

It took a long moment for their sight to clear, however, and when it did…

The Magician looked around. He clicked his tongue in annoyance.

The figure had disappeared. More importantly, around the mages now laid shards of shattered glass, from which brightly colored dust of every hue on the rainbow was slowly but surely drifting outwards in every direction, inching towards them. It was all around them. Only the sky above was clear.

Concoctions, the Magician concluded grimly. Hazardous substances that caused Status Conditions on contact or inhalation. A weapon that could be as dangerous to the enemy as its user.

But, he did admit that it was the right play. Outnumber as he was, his goal clearly was not to kill the mages outright, but to distract them and prevent them from participating in the battle at large, therefore stalling the advance of their forces in the process.

Boxing them in with hazardous material all around them accomplished just that. The fact that all the dust in the air occluded their sight and would hide the movements of their opponent was an added bonus.

The Magician's eyes darted around again, taking the scene in an instant. One thing became instantly clear to him. That figure by his lonesome couldn't have spread all these concoctions around on his own in the small window of opportunity the explosion had given him. Someone, perhaps multiple someone's, had to be lying in wait…

Chemical warfare doubled up with hit-and-run tactics in order to stall them. The moment that they would try and disperse the concoctions, splitting their focus to do so, their opponents would strike in an attempt to cull their numbers. It was as straightforward as it was effective.

"Those who know wind spells, use them to disperse the concoctions!" the Magician began. Even though he knew this is what the opposition wanted, they nonetheless had to get rid of the hazardous material around them first. "Everyone else, focus on defense!"

Doing as ordered, various mages started to rapidly prepare wind based spells. Those that didn't readied their magic to either intercept attacks or cast barriers. Though he knew wind magic himself, the Magician instead raised his right hand towards the sky, palm held flat and upwards.

"Dritte Hard Light Barrier!"

Far above the palm of the Magician, energy surged, then fell outwards in every direction. It formed a dome around the Magician and his mages, then solidified and took on the apparent look and feel of glass. In one second to the next, a powerful barrier had ensconced the entire formation.

"Zweite Wind Ball!"

"Zweite Updraft!"

"Zweite Great Breakthro-!"

Just as the mages acted to get rid of the concoctions, a large oscillating sphere of energy broke through the dust obscuring their vision. The situation gave them very little time to react, but several mages still managed to do so.

Several spells were fired to meet the Large Caliber Piercing Bullet, while an extra barrier manifested in the path of the Hengen Musou Technique. However…

"..!"

The Large Caliber Piercing Bullet had been launched with an odd curve, barely even noticeable, but enough to throw off the aim of the mages and slip through the shower of spells. It struck the hastily erected extra barrier, easily breaking through it, before making contact with the third tier barrier spell that the Magician had conjured.

SCREEECH!

The sound that the two opposing forces made set the teeth of the Magician on edge. On top of that, he once again had an inkling how this was going to go.

"Crap!"

A moment later, he was proven right yet again when the Large Caliber Piercing Bullet broke through his barrier. Another mage, acting quickly, struck the Defence rating attack with a large ball of fire.

BOOM!

The resulting detonation threw many of the mages to the ground. In the wake of the attack, a rapid fire shower of smaller 'bullets' followed, launched from one of the many hidden shadows created by all the dust in the air.

Many of these 'bullets' struck the barrier of the Magician, as even though a hole had been punched through it, the rest of the dome remained standing. Those other mages that had been thrown to the ground scrambled to get back up, using first and second tier spells to counter the 'bullets'.

There was a staccato of noise as the two waves of attacks met and annihilated each other. Given a brief moment of reprieve, the Magician twisted his right hand and poured more magical energy into his Hard Light Barrier. Though the smaller 'bullets' didn't outright rip through his barrier like the larger one had done, they still damaged it. Pouring magical energy into the Hard Light Barrier would fix the damage, and would close the hole that had been punched through it.

As he did that, those few mages that weren't busy repelling the enemy attack used wind magic spells to slowly but surely get rid of the concoctions. Soon, they'll have gotten rid of the hazardous materials and clear their line of sight. The moment they did that they would pile in on the enemy and continue where they left off-

BOOM!

From the other side from which the shower of 'bullets' was coming from, an explosion resounded. In a brief moment of distraction, an accomplice of the figure that was attacking them had struck from a direction that had gone ever so briefly unobserved.

"..!"

A choked sound of surprise escaped the Magician's lips. Another hole had been blown into his Hard Light Barrier. Moreover, this had not been a long ranged attack, as yet another enemy had closed the distance and had wrecked a section of his barrier with a single strike.

This was beyond his expectations. Getting in close like this, with concoctions filling the air and making approach itself hazardous, someone doing so regardless…it either spoke to their recklessness or the sheer confidence that they had in their battlefield awareness.

The Magician didn't get long to ponder it. The enemy figure, even more petite then the first and with their face similarly hidden by a lowered hood, dove into the cadre of mages.

"Yah!"

A battle cry, incredibly young and female, was released as a fist coated in energy in the shape of roaring tiger struck one of his men in the stomach. The eyes of the man in question bugged out as he gasped and spat blood. The stricken mage collapsed without further sound.

The Magician raised his hand, readying a spell to blast the impudent enemy in the face, but before he could do so, said enemy dove into the very midst of their formation. With her small size and speed, she had disappeared from his sight in one blink to the next, becoming lost among all his men. With a curse, the Magician aborted his spell, and looked on with slowly dawning horror.

Cries and gasps of pain were released in quick succession. Men were thrown around like ragdolls, as their assailant used her speed and small stature to her advantage to rapidly dart and flit around inside of their tightly packed formation. Attacking them from the inside like this made using magic in close quarters impossible, as they were sure to hit an ally, even if they struck the enemy as well.

It was a crazy tactic, by all accounts, but it worked nonetheless

This is bad. This is really bad! the Magician thought. Everyone here, himself included, were men that were specialized in magic, that knew and had precious little experience with close quarters combat. By getting up close and personal, their opponent had seized a decisive advantage.

Then, all of a sudden, he caught sight of the opponent in their midst. She became briefly visible as she darted out between two men, lashing out with two clean strikes that knocked said men to their knees.

She was heading straight for him.

Given the situation, there was no way that he could use magic. Even though it wasn't his forte, he clenched the fingers of his free hand and made a fist. But just as he was readying to bring that fist down, their opponent suddenly changed direction on a dime. She stomped on the ground, twisted her ankle and charged in the opposite direction, disappearing in their ranks again. It was almost as if…as if…

She's avoiding me!

That was the only logical conclusion. And he knew why their opponent did just that.

The mages under his command weren't all the strong. Level wise, that is. They were capable magic casters, but their Stats weren't all that high, with Levels no higher than the low thirties. The Magician was different, though. He had seen much combat and had, in his younger years, done everything he could to get as strong as possible.

He had long since maxed out his Level.

Even if he wasn't a close quarters fighter, a single direct hit from him could be deadly.

Their opponent had to know who he was. Or maybe had access to some other method with which to judge how strong someone was. Either way, she would not get close to him. And with her effectively using his own forces as a living shield against his magic…

No other choice!

He unclenched the fingers he had previously tightened into a fist, raising said free hand with his palm raised to the sky. As he did this, the Hard Light Barrier slowly started to lose cohesion and disappear. The Hard Light Barrier was a powerful defensive spell, with the added benefit of allowing people to attack through it from within, but it's one great drawback was that the one who cast it could not cast any other spell while they maintained the barrier.

The Magician had prioritized keeping his men safe, but now that the enemy had managed to get up close and personal, he made a split second decision. First, he needed to get rid of the concoctions as quickly as possible. Then, they'd need to regroup.

As soon as the spell dropped, however, they naturally no longer had a bulwark against the continues shower of 'bullets' raining down on them. With their ranks in chaos, return fire was minimal at best, and in that brief moment before the Magician cast his next spell, quite a few of those 'bullets' found their marks among their ranks.

The Magician wasn't spared either. While both his hands were raised to the sky and he was readying his magic, a single 'bullet' found his shoulder with an odd hollow sound.

"..!"

Gritting his teeth and refusing to let his concentration be broken, even as pain blossomed and he had to take a step back, the Magician completed his spell.

"Dritte Great Gale!"

Above, a great ball of wind swirled into existence, tinted with faint green energy. As the ball of fierce wind picked up speed and grew in size, like the name of the spell implied, a harsh gale was blown downwards and outwards. The hazardous dust of the concoctions was displaced, pushed outward and away.

As soon as that was done, the Magician without missing a beat casted another third their spell, using the structure and magic flow of the previous spell to his advantage.

"Dritte Vacuum Bullet Hell!"

The sphere of swirling wind overhead contracted all of a sudden, becoming a mere third of the size it had been previously. The energy contained within skyrocketed, becoming unstable. It was, by all accounts, a balloon about to burst.

"Get down everyone!"

With the sound of roaring and screeching air that made one's teeth stand on edge, the sphere of wind exploded violently, unfurling and launching dozens upon dozens of small faint green crescents of cutting air in nearly every direction indiscriminately. A fairly large area underneath the spell was safe, but if one were to take but a single step out of this area, they were bound to be sliced to pieces.

But that wasn't why he hadn't told his men to hit the deck. The fact that the crescents of cutting air would intercept the 'bullets', maybe even hit the one launching them, was but a paltry bonus to the Magician.

No, the reason was this: when his men hit the ground as ordered the lone enemy figure amongst their ranks became visible to his eyes again. More importantly, his men were for the briefest of moments no longer in the path of the magic he was about to cast.

"Dritte Great Breakthrough!"

Again, faintly green tinted wind roared and screeched as harsh gale was once more kicked up with magical energy and a few paltry words. Instead of in all directions, this gale that roared forwards in a direct line was focused on but a single person.

The figure, her hood still covering her face, didn't have enough time to dodge.

It was in that moment that the Magician noted some features he had missed in the rigors of combat: the cat-like ears poking out of the hood and the tail swishing behind her. He grinned. He would feel no guilt about killing a filthy demi-human!

Dodging at this range was impossible, and even if she threw herself to the ground like his men had done, as the direct target of his spell, it would not safe her. The spell was too wide and powerful for that.

What the figure did instead, however, surprised him.

The figure leaped forwards, right into the howling gale his magic had conjured.

The Magician found his eyes widening at that. The spell he had used was of the third tier. As such, it summoned appropriately powerful hurricane force winds. Even if the one struck wouldn't be sliced to pieces like with other wind spells, the sheer force that they would be struck with would either wreck their body as they were dragged across the ground like a ragdoll, or would pancake said body against whatever object they'd be slammed into at the end of their involuntary flight.

But, in spite of that, the figure once again found a way to surprise him.

The Magician had no clue how she did it, but…the figure was somehow riding the fierce gale as it carried her away. Her leap had been high enough that she didn't get dragged across the ground, and somehow, though he had no idea how, she managed to keep herself upright as she was blasted back. She remained high up in the air, facing him, as she got ever more distant.

If it wasn't for the fact that the figure's clothes were flapping wildly in the wind, he would have thought she had somehow canceled out his spell and was using some other means to make space in between them.

The balance and control of one's body to achieve the feat that he was seeing was insane. Hell, she'd somehow managed to keep her hood lowered over her face the entire time! Honestly, that extra bit of ridiculousness just annoyed him.

All of a sudden, the figure twisted, throwing her left shoulder backwards while kicking out with her right leg. These movement changed the figure's trajectory, blasting her upwards and to the left. She left the straight path of his Great Breakthrough, launching herself high up into the air.

"Zweite Fire Missiles!"

The Magician casted the spell with a snap of his fingers. Above him, a dozen fireballs the size of large whetstones flared into existence. With surprising speed, these fireballs spiraled upwards high into the air, before curving towards the midair figure in the distance. The fireballs arced towards her in an attack clearly meant to strike her down.

However, the figure had been carried away quite far. Though Fire Missiles spell main draw was the speed at with the conjured fire flew forwards and the ability to home in on a designated target, the sheer distance to target in this case still meant that it took a couple of seconds to close the distance.

By the time the fire missiles got close, the figure was already approaching the ground.

TAP!

In spite of the speed she approached the ground, the sound the figure's feet made on contact with the broken cobblestone of the street was surprisingly light. The moment she did, the figure started backflipping rapidly, bleeding off momentum as she did so.

But as she lost said momentum, the dozen or so missiles of fire started catching up rapidly. The one missile in the lead almost seemed to lunge for her as it got close, plunging down on top of the backflipping figure.

By all rights, that should have been al she wrote, but…

FWOOOSH-BOOM!

The fire missile struck the cobblestone and exploded, tearing through the ground, but missing its target who launched herself away mid handstand. She'd pushed off with such force with her hands that she entered a second flight, as she was still bleeding off quite a bit of momentum.

The Magician gritted his teeth at the display. Such skill…

And the figure was not done surprising him yet. Twisting around in midair, she punched the air in rapid succession. Those barely perceivable 'bullets' left her fists as she did so, intercepting several of his fire missiles and detonating them in the sky.

BOOM!-BOOM!-BOOM!

Just like that, only a handful of the fiery homing missiles remained.

"Zweite Fire Missiles! Zweite Fire Missiles!"

Pilling on without mercy, just like one is supposed to do in a real battle, the Magician launched another two waves of homing fireballs.

By the time this second wave had crossed half the distance, the dregs of the first wave had already been eradicated by another midair counter offensive. With a crunch, the figure came to a halt on her feet after the latest backflip and skid backwards, her momentum finally gone.

The moment that she did, the figure slid into a ready stance.

CRUNCH!

Far heavier than the small figures light touch, the other figure that they had been trading blows with, just a bit taller than the other, came down beside her. The cobblestone cracked underneath the force of his landing. The Magician got the distinct impression that he was furious.

The two figures mirrored each other's stances. With their hoods still lowered over their faces, several lightning fast blows were chained together.

BO!-BO!-BO!-BOOM!-BO!-BO!-BO!-BOOM!-BO!-BO!-BO!-BOOOOOM!

With a staccato of rapid explosion over two dozen fire missiles were intercepted by ripples of difficult to see Life Force. Smoke and errant embers were scattered, creating a thick cloud that obscured sight between the two sides of the conflict.

"Tch!" the Magician stamped down on his annoyance and repressed the urge to continuing to attack. Their opponents were far too slippery for potshots to strike true. Without a direct line of sight on their opponents, launching spells through the dust cloud would just be throwing away perfectly good Magical Energy uselessly into the ether.

Nonetheless, the Magician's Magic Circuits spun up once more, though not for offensive purposes.

"All Dritte Heal!"

The green magical energy radiated out from him and fell over the his men, who had already been in the process of picking themselves up. Some that had remained laying on the cobblestone of the road moved to stand as their wounds healed, but some others…did not.

Lips curling down, even as his own wound healed, the Magician glared heatedly into the smoke.

"Papa!"

From behind him, beyond his men and from deeper in the city, a rapid series of running footsteps approached. The Magician didn't turn around. He knew who was coming by voice alone, and only two people called him by that name.

"Don't come any closer! The enemies here are exceptionally dangerous!"

The rapid footsteps rapidly diminished. Only the sound of one set of feet approaching remained. The rest of the group that had come running joined up with the rest of his men that had pulled themselves back together.

"It seems you have run into a spot of trouble, father-in-law," a voice said as someone came to a halt besides the Magician. In the corner of his eyes, a spear was held out and at the ready, and aimed towards the slowly growing fainter smoke cloud.

The Magician scoffed. "The enemy decided to focus on us, the artillery, to slow us down as much as possible. And don't call me that. I'm not you father-in-law."

"Yet," the man beside him grinned a roguish grin.

The Magician rolled his eyes, but he didn't object any further.

"Still, these enemies have to be quite something to hold your attention for so long," the spearman grew more serious. "You are the greatest magic caster I've come across in this world by far. You can't imagine how surprised I was when I realized your support had just suddenly stopped."

"And that's why you came to check what was going on, right?"

"Leaving the frontlines is reckless, I'll admit, but progress is starting to slow down without your help," the spearman said.

"Reckless, yes, without a doubt, but sometimes, risks need to be taken to achieve a goal."

"My, what kingly words," the spearman chuckled.

Slowly, the smoke ebbed away. Both opposing sides could now see each other clearly once again.

On one end stood Atla and Fohl, side by side. They were at the ready in combat stances that mirrored each other. Their hoods were still lowered over their faces.

On the other stood the Spear Hero, Motoyasu. Beside him was the King of Melromarc, the Magician, the husband of Mirellia and the one the Hero of the Shield referred to as Trash. Behind them were several dozen mages, now further supplemented by a troop of knights. The King's first daughter, Malty, or Myne as she usually went by, was with them, as were the other women of the Spear Hero's party.

Fohl's eyes darted towards the jewel set in Motoyasu's spear. Atla's feline ears twitched as she felt an ever so familiar aura from the weapon in the Spear Hero's hands.

"…Huh, I didn't expect we would be fighting a Hero this soon," Fohl spat, incensed at this turn of luck.

"You know what they say, Onii-sama," Atla chided. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the same holds true for one's expectations."


Next chapter. Nuff said.

And hey, I managed to update within a month, for once. If you guys would reward me with a review and your thoughts, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Anyway, stay tuned for the next chapter.