——-This place that was once a sacred praying location, now has weapons of mercenaries lined up.
It was once austere, yet now it is only a silent and lonely space.
No holy words said, just the sounds of the metallic boots of the mercenaries as they work.
Swords, spears, and arrows; there was a whetstone left there to sharpen them.
——There’s no books telling divine stories, what’s there are documents for strategies.
An opened map, a bundle of letters from Camilla, and the latest scouting information.
It is now time for the strategy meeting while munching on bread and dried meat.
Solje asked the adjutant as he tore off the meat.
I understand what the orders Camilla had were. There’s two. Check Graces’s underground tunnels, and confirm whether the Empire has the intention of taking it over.
It is quite the difficult amount of work, but it is something Camilla can pull off alone. I understand Gandalla’s thoughts too. Why? …Because she is capable.
Even though she has had the lowest amount of training time within the Banjar Mercenaries, how to say it, her talent…her ability for fighting and exploration are top notch. If it is just in plain battle power, she would surpass Riel.
Especially if it is in a dark place, Riel would never be able to win against her. Camilla is loved by ‘darkness’ after all. Really deeply… Even if it wasn’t an ability she herself wished for, she is top class in the whole world.
Her talent is stronger than her experience; a serious genius.
That must be why Gandalla entrusted her this problematic mission…
I ask Gandalla after swallowing the bread.
“…So, when was the last time we had contact with Camilla? When and from where?” (Solje)
Basics of searching for lost people. Retrace their path.
“The last time we got an owl correspondence from her was 4 days ago.” (Gandalla)
“I see. And, where was she?” (Solje)
“She is a skillful person…she can even enter freely from the cracks of the ground. She could be anywhere.” (Gandalla)
“Right. Her predecessor was a monster that, let alone cracks, she could even crawl out from openings.” (Solje)
“That’s what I have heard. She was the best person I could think of for the job. She understood this. That’s why she was surprisingly pretty determined.” (Gandalla)
“She is a hard worker after all.” (Solje)
Her abilities were high, but she was mostly treated as a newcomer. And yet, she got important missions, and only her? …As a serious and hard worker person, she must have been happy at the order of Gandalla.
She must have wanted to be of use to the Banjar Mercenaries…and this opportunity made her happy. She lost her homeland, so right now she has become quite the special existence.
Her only home now is with the Banjar Mercenaries.
“Since the time she came to this land, she has been continuously sending me detailed information at frightening speed.” (Gandalla)
“Sounds like Camilla, yeah.” (Solje)
“Yeah, but it was an abnormal amount. Even if we take into account her high ability.” (Gandalla)
“…What do you mean by that? …Don’t tell me…” (Solje)
“Overworking. She purposely broke my order and…used all of her ability to explore and scout…she tried to do both at once. I told her to do only one of those every day, but I should have enforced it harder.” (Gandalla)
“…Camilla, you really are reckless. You have only one life and body…” (Solje)
“…Captain Solje, please don’t condemn her. She must have wanted to be of use to you.” (Riel)
“…To me?” (Solje)
What does she mean by that?
“I don’t wish for her to overexert herself though.” (Solje)
“Idiot, it is exactly because of that.” (Riel)
“…Because I treated her like a child?” (Solje)
“It is in part, but…aah, don’t mind it! You guys are getting way too nervous here.” (Riel)
Yeah, I am probably not controlling my own emotions well. Losing a comrade, a family member…to think it would scare me this much.
…It isn’t good to get caught in emotional thinking. Let’s rely on the calm guy. I am counting on you, First Adjutant.
“Gandalla, continue.” (Solje)
“Yes. She tried to do both jobs at once, and sent massive amounts of information daily, but…her last contact 4 days ago was…the day when she sent the information regarding the time for the outbreak of war.” (Gandalla)
“…Was it correct?” (Solje)
“Yeah, it was exactly right. She must have even infiltrated the enemy base. I cannot think of any other place for her information source.” (Gandalla)
“That’s our Camilla.” (Solje)
“But the details of that report were pretty rough for a methodical person like her. There were even spelling errors… She was in a different state of mind than the usual. She must have wanted to grasp an even bigger piece of information.” (Gandalla)
“But with the war approaching, the security would have been a lot tighter. Making it harder to get this ‘important information’.” (Solje)
“Yes, that must be one of the reasons why she was so agitated in the report. She must have been impatient.” (Gandalla)
…Impatience. A truly terrible emotion.
It just pointlessly increases the chances of failing.
“…She must have tried to get into the place that has the strongest security, their stronghold.” (Solje)
“Yes, most likely. Their stronghold is the old fortress that the Empire occupied at around the national borders… The underground tunnels reach there, too.” (Gandalla)
“I see, you can do both the exploration of the underground tunnels and the scouting of the enemy movements. But the security must have been on a constant rise…and she got too greedy. She failed in some way.” (Solje)
“There’s no information of her being captured by the enemy. But she is not a dwarf after all.” (Gandalla)
“Yeah, regardless of the truth, even if stripped naked, she would still only look like a human.” (Solje)
“That’s right. So if she were to have been captured…they would have thought of Camilla as a spy of Ludo.” (Gandalla)
“The Empire is not stupid. They must understand there’s no way Ludo won’t do anything when there’s the underground tunnels involved.” (Solje)
If she really has been caught as a Ludo spy, the enemy wouldn’t publicize it.
“Capturing Camilla, a Ludo spy, and hiding that fact…” (Solje)
“They understand that would be the most problematic thing to do against us.” (Gandalla)
Yeah, if we know they already killed her, we would just have to give up.
It is cruel, but it is the efficient thought.
But if they create a situation where we don’t know whether she is dead, captured, or has fallen into some accident…we would consider the third option, and would have no choice but to move. It would be the best annoyance.
“…Hmm, and so, why is it that Otto is not here right now?” (Solje)
“I am having him explore the underground tunnels. There’s the possibility she has gotten stranded due to a cave-in. He is checking the continuations of the maps Camilla sent, and is in the middle of mapping.” (Gandalla)
“If that’s really what happened, I feel Otto will be able to find her.” (Solje)
“There’s no doubt he is leaving no stone unturned. We do have a map Camilla gave us even if incomplete… No matter what kind of state she is in, if she is underground…he will surely find her.” (Gandalla)
“When will he come back here?” (Solje)
“30 minutes from now. Otto promised that he would return here no matter how deep the underground tunnel is. We won’t have any updates regarding that until then.” (Gandalla)
That’s Gandalla, he is properly doing what he has to do.
I can’t think of anyone more fitting than Otto for this. Even a troublesome place like the underground tunnels of the dwarves, with his power of observation, his experience, and technique…there should be no problems. I will leave the underground to you.
The rest is our job.
“…Gandalla, we will be in charge of the worst case scenario.” (Solje)
“Yeah, of course. We are here for that after all.” (Gandalla)
“And so, where is this fortress?” (Solje)
“Take a look at this map.” (Gandalla)
Gandalla takes out a new-looking map that doesn’t fit an old place like this from the inner pocket of his big sleeve. It must have been made recently, most likely by the scouts of Ludo.
He opens that map on the table with his big hands.
Riel, Mia, and I lean on the table and look at the map.
What came to my eye first was the red x.
It was drawn in a wide open space. There’s no doubt about it, that place is where we witnessed the slaughter.
“This is where the battle took place, and…this is the camping spot of the enemy…and around 20 kilometers back…” (Solje)
“Yes, an old fortress that even its name has been forgotten. A fortress that protected the northwest area of Graces. It is connected to a mountain ridge making it a natural fortress.” (Gandalla)
“…I see. It is difficult to attack it, but it is even more difficult to maintain it. They are occupying a place like this?” (Solje)
“It may be old, but it is indeed a fortress made by dwarves. It is incredibly sturdy, and it is big enough to have several tens of thousands in it.” (Gandalla)
“Several tens of thousands? I see…they gouged out the inside of the mountain and turned it into a fortress?” (Solje)
“Yeah, that understanding works.” (Gandalla)
Riel lets out a voice of wonder at our conversation.
“No way, opening the inside of a mountain and creating a space that can have more than tens of thousands?” (Riel)
“Is it that surprising? They are the type of people that dug tunnels in most of their country, you know?” (Solje)
That’s right, the underground tunnels, which they put their spirit and dedication, are covering almost all the map here.
Even to the Ludo Kingdom…no, it might have even extended to other countries by now.
Riel must have now understood how massive it is, she gulps.
There really are those times when you understand just how little you know and how small you thought the world was.
Like…the fact that the big political world power of the Empire is overpowered by the vastness of the economy spread in the world. There’s people that, when they learn just how deep the ocean is and just how many mysteries there are in it, have ended up fearing it.
Congratulations, secluded forest elf beauty, your world understanding has widened again.
“Just what are the dwarves thinking?!” (Riel)
The beautiful and clear voice of Riel echoes in what was once the sacred place of the dwarves and attacks our ears.
Even if you ask me or even Gandalla, we wouldn’t know. Because of how isolated Graces is, almost no foreigners were allowed to enter after all.
Maybe some merchants and people that are escaping from neighboring countries. Only the dwarves themselves understand their own culture.
Bothering about that won’t get us anywhere.
“…Anyways, as you see, compared to their digging all over their country, hollowing out a mountain should be easy.” (Solje)
“When you put it that way, I can only agree… Not like I get it.” (Riel)
Not like I do either.
They might or might not have a reason. That’s just how people are.
“…There’s a lot of mysteries in their culture, but this is not the time for that.” (Solje)
“Yeah!! Who cares about learning. This is about Camilla-chan!” (Mia)
That’s my little sister, saying the world’s rightest words.
I glare at the clock made by Gindou.
“…Now then, Zephyr has been sleeping for 40 minutes. We have now eaten and our freezing body temperature has recovered.” (Solje)
“Now then, let’s infiltrate this fortress with us four and Zephyr.” (Solje)
…The imperial army probably can’t take one step away from the red marked place in the map. Show their backs to the dwarf warriors? They wouldn’t be able to do something so suicidal.
They may be on the verge of being wiped out, but there’s still 13,000 injured dwarves. The imperial army can’t move even if they wanted to… What am I trying to say?
This so-called fortress is low in manpower, and it is convenient for us.
“We are searching every nook and cranny of this dwarf-made fortress.” (Solje)
Would I wish to find her there?
…I wonder. If she is, she has been tortured senseless…at worst, she is a corpse now.
Even I don’t know. She is a woman that has had a lot taken away from her. Losing her homeland, warping her life to the point that it couldn’t be repaired, there was no way for her to live a normal life. I don’t want to see her in despair anymore.
But there’s also a part of me that wants to know the reality quick. I want to see you, Camilla.
I have two desires only.
I want to see Camilla; I don’t want her to be dead. That’s all.
- Chapter 139
“Is the stamina of Zephyr okay? …He flew two countries in one night.” (Riel)
That’s Maje, she is worrying about Zephyr. But don’t worry, Riel.
“He managed to sleep for 40 minutes. He has recovered a fitting amount with that. Also, he is in a place where the sun hits well. His freezing body must have gotten its temperature back.” (Solje)
The recovery ability of a dragon is something else. I can tell since our souls are connected.
“Don’t worry, it is not like he is injured. He can still fly.” (Solje)
“…Right, he was sleeping seriously just like Mia after all.” (Riel)
“Yeah, Zephyr can even sleep while flying.” (Solje)
“Eh? He can do something like that?” (Riel)
“You have seen many soldiers who sleep while marching, right?” (Solje)
“Now that you mention it, yeah, but…can you treat flying and walking as the same?” (Riel)
“I think dragons would find walking while sleeping more mystifying.” (Solje)
“I see, so flying is as natural to them as walking is for us.” (Riel)
Riel seems to be happy about obtaining one new piece of knowledge. This is a good sign. With this, it will be easier to leave her on a ‘boring job’ like lookout duty.
Leaving aside the obvious strategic points of a lookout, just having Zephyr fulfilling this role helps out quite a lot already, but…Zephyr cannot pull out a silent kill.
That’s why Riel, who excels in her detection senses from a high altitude and is able to snipe without a sound, is the best lookout you can ask for. Her combination with Zephyr is the best too.
Now it comes to when I should tell her…
Of course, Riel-chan is the kind that would always obey the Captain’s orders, but I want to think about her own feelings. Riel is 17 and Camilla 19. They are close in age. If she really has been roughened up in captivity, rather than us men like Gandalla and I, she would be better at consoling her…
But…in a strategic standpoint, the decision has been practically made.
Even when it is settled, it can still be a worrying point. It is a mysterious thing, but most worries already have an answer. Just that it is hard to speak them out and you just don’t like it, which makes you hesitate on it.
It was at the time when I was worrying about this while we were walking up the stairs to get to where Zephyr is…
Riel’s fingers knock my armor. A light *knock knock* sound made me turn back to her. Riel looks up at me and smiles.
“Solje, you plan on leaving me behind again, right?” (Riel)
“I am a mercenary. I can at least understand your strategies.” (Riel)
“Because you always think about me?” (Solje)
I said this teasingly, but the tsundere elf nods with a serious expression.
“Yeah, I am always watching you, and I am always trying to learn about your heart.” (Riel)
I was the one that was unexpectedly made to blush.
“D-Don’t stay silent! If you don’t react, it feels embarrassing…” (Riel)
“Right… Riel, thanks.” (Solje)
I brush the silver hair of the elf that looks golden in the morning sun. I don’t know if this is the correct decision, but Riel accepts my hand. Sorry about my rough warrior hand.
Riel puffs her cheeks dissatisfied, and she complains with the red going all the way to her ears.
“…D-Don’t treat me like a child… I-It feels like the first time I met you…” (Riel)
“The you 2 years ago was more tsuntsun than now, so I feel like you wouldn’t have taken this attitude out of pride…” (Solje)
“T-That’s…! …U-Uhm…you are wrong.” (Riel)
“Hehehe, what’s with you, Riel-chan? Did this remind you of your first love?” (Solje)
“Well, wouldn’t you have a handsome guy in your neighborhood or something? I was wondering if this reminded you of a time when he patted your head?” (Solje)
Hm? Was that funny? Onii-san doesn’t understand the heart of a maiden.
“Got a good laugh?” (Solje)
“Yeah, you said something real funny there.” (Riel)
“Really? Not that I am aware of though.” (Solje)
“It is because you are not aware of it that it is funny.” (Riel)
“I see, looks like the path of a comedian is more difficult than that of the sword.” (Solje)
“You will be able to master it no doubt.” (Riel)
Eh? What’s that supposed to mean? Making fun of me? …But I don’t feel animosity from Riel-chan. Maybe she looks forward to my comedian path?
I am fine with that, but you will be marrying that clown, you know?
If your pride can take it, we can become a comedy couple.
“…Then, I am counting on your backup.” (Solje)
“Yeah, it is Captain’s orders. I will obey.” (Riel)
“What a great subordinate I have been blessed with.” (Solje)
“Late in realizing that. I am a great and capable woman.” (Riel)
“Ah, are you trying to pat my head again? N-Not that I dislike it but…” (Riel)
No, I want to do something more adult.
My arms wrap around her waist.
“Eh? W-Wait!” (Riel)
I carried the flustered Riel on my shoulders and quickly turned my body and went even further up the stairs, leaving Riel at a higher area of the stairs than me.
Riel reacted obediently to it. She bent her knees so that her legs wouldn’t hit the stairs.
“W-What is it you want to do?!” (Riel)
“You should be able to get an idea in this position.” (Solje)
She is in a position that is easy to kiss.
I try getting close to her.
You love this kind of stuff right, upright princess—hm? Forest elf…princess?
“W-What’s the matter?” (Riel)
“…I kind of remembered something.” (Solje)
“W-What ‘something’?!” (Riel)
If I knew I wouldn’t be thinking.
“Sadly to say, I can’t remember well… I feel like there was an elf princess of some forest…” (Solje)
“E-Elf p-princesses are mostly in forests, you know?!” (Riel)
But that’s not it, it wasn’t the usual. One day I…
“S-Solje Strauss!” (Riel)
“W-What is it, shouting all of a sudden.” (Solje)
“Y-You are thinking about some other princess when you are in front of your first wife?!” (Riel)
“R-Right. I was rude—?!” (Solje)
With a speed like that of a beast, Riel-chan used her long limbs to hug me as if she were using a joint lock.
And while she did, for some reason, she stole my lips with teary eyes.
I felt like an animal jumped on me and kissed me…but I like that kind of wild play too, Riel.
I wanted to enjoy the kiss for a while more, but it seems like this position must have been embarrassing for her as a girl, she slowly released me from her hold.
“…T-This is…uhm…not what you think! This isn’t how I normally am!” (Riel)
“That was passionate. You wanted me that much?” (Solje)
“D-Don’t say stuff like p-passionate and wanted!!” (Riel)
Riel lightly drums my chest.
If it were in the usual situation, I would have gone along with this comedy routine, but…
“D-Don’t avoid it! This is your punishment for being perverted!” (Riel)
“You are the perverted one though.” (Solje)
“N-No! That was, uhm…I wanted to close your lips or like…I wanted to seal your memories…” (Riel)
I don’t really understand. But that’s not important right now.
It looks like I have cornered her in some way without knowing.
I raise her beautiful chin with my hand.
“Close your eyes. I will kiss you properly.” (Solje)
“…Got it…You should have done that from the beginning and it wouldn’t have turned into such a disaster.” (Riel)
“It was unexpected. As if my brain can predict that.” (Solje)
“Don’t talk and just—!!” (Riel)
I have done exactly as you ordered.
After kissing for a while, it finished, and Riel’s breathing calmed down.
“…Feeling more energetic now?” (Solje)
“…Y-Yeah, ashamedly so. My heart has calmed down.” (Riel)
“That’s a relief.” (Solje)
“…My, it has been a while since I have seen the couple’s comedy routine.” (Gandalla)
“Geez, even though we are about to start a mission, Onii-chan and Riel were kissing.” (Mia)
Mia and Gandalla seem to have been spectating part of it. Riel turns red, and then, with blinding speed, she punches my face.
I couldn’t avoid it, but it didn’t hurt that much. It prioritized speed too much. Hm, like those gag punches kinda thing?
“A-And in this way, you land a hit if you are faced with an assault. G-Got that, cadet Mia?!” (Riel)
That’s quite the special way to hide your embarrassment.
“Yes, ma’am!!” (Mia)
Mia saluted totally into the role.
“R-Remember that well! L-Lesson over! Let’s get on Zephyr!!” (Riel)
“Okay! I will write it in my diary so I remember it.” (Mia)
Writing more of those scenes into your diary? Is that diary even okay? Would I regret it if it ever goes public?
“I will write that Onii-chan and Riel were doing it on the stairs!” (Mia)
“W-Wording, Mia!” (Riel)
Riel got flustered. I was just watching. Watching is fun.
“Then what should I write?” (Mia)
Maybe don’t write anything?
I thought that, but Riel-chan was seriously thinking about how to deal with the child’s question.
“R-Right…if you write, ‘they were loving each other on the stairs’ it would sound more beautiful!” (Riel)
“Got it. I will write that Onii-chan and Riel were loving each other on the stairs!” (Mia)
…I don’t think it changed anything though.
Oh well, that’s fine.
But…now the tense atmosphere is gone. Gandalla gives me a thumbs up.
‘Nice job, do this in a relaxed manner. No matter the job, nothing good comes from being too tense’, I feel like I heard those words from Garf Cortez.
The 13th member that you and I found…Camilla Breeze, is a tough woman. There’s no doubt she has survived no matter what happened. We just have to find her!
“Now then, mercenaries!! Play time’s over, let’s go!” (Solje)