༺ The Task at Hand ༻
The Beast Corps Commander Leonos was a clear enemy to humanity.
The number of casualties due to the mobilization of the demon army was innumerable, and renowned knights and mercenaries, and even S-rank adventurers, had lost their lives at the hands of Leonos.
Countless people lost their hometowns and lands, and there were still many who could not return. To sympathize with him would be disrespectful to the countless people who lost their lives during the war, and even Leonos would take it as an insult to himself.
Unlike the Undead Corps, who destroyed the capital from the start of the war and turned the kingdom into a lair of the undead, and the Insect Corps who led mindless bugs and inflicted enormous damage on civilians, the Demon Army only ever fought against the military.
What Beast Corps Commander Leonos desired was a struggle with the strong. It had a major influence on the actions of the demon army.
Whether Leonos deliberately avoided harming civilians, or was simply indifferent, was unknown. However, while he may have caused looting, he did not commit excessive slaughter against civilians, and sometimes even showed mercy to his acknowledged enemies.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a promising one… It’s too soon to kill you here. Grow stronger and come back! Let’s fight again then!”
If the first Corps commander I met during the war was not Leonos, I might not be standing here now. So, I did not want to avoid a fight against him.
I had told Elizabeth to keep her secret weapon in reserve… but I couldn’t deny that my regret of not being able to conclude a fight with Leonos had some influence.
The scattered ashes disappeared into the wind without a trace.
It was now time to move.
The secret airship, already weakened by the explosion, had long surpassed its limit due to the fight with Leonos. The turbine was crushed by the shock and destroyed, so there was no way to land safely as before.
Time was pressing, and there was no time to think for long. The moment to use the method I wanted to avoid had arrived.
“We’re going to jump.”
Elizabeth’s expression froze for a moment.
“Instructor, I apologize… but if we jump from this height, I think I might die, even if you don’t.”
Not only Elizabeth, but jumping from this height with nothing but the body was also somewhat burdensome for me.
“Right. That’s why we’ll jump just before the airship hits the ground.”
“…Is that possible?”
I nodded and said,
“Trust me. I’ve done it once before.”
Elizabeth plunged into deep thought. Her white hair was violently whipped by the wind blowing over the deck, but Elizabeth looked down without thinking of tidying it up.
Her face, already pale due to the dizzying height, turned even paler, but she eventually nodded and answered.
“I would think it’s a suicide act if it was anyone else… but I trust you, Instructor.”
Now that I’ve got Elizabeth’s agreement, all that was left was to drop the airship in a safe place.
Of course, even if we just stayed still, the airship would soon crash, but we had to avoid flying in the wrong direction and falling over the city or a nearby village. And if the falling speed was too fast, Elizabeth’s body might not be able to withstand it at the moment of landing.
I tapped the end of Ajetus’ spear on the deck of the airship. Then, I spread the dark mana bubbling up inside me throughout the airship. I felt the mana that had been surrounding my body constantly ripple, spreading everywhere like waves.
The mana quickly permeated the internal structure of the airship. Like fine threads, and as if these threads intertwined to form a dense net, the entire airship was wrapped in magic.
I could feel it. Which parts of the ship were damaged and which parts were still intact. I lacked knowledge about machinery, but I intuitively knew how to maneuver the ship the way I wanted.
What I was about to do now was to break this airship as safely as possible.
“Hold onto me and never let go.”
Elizabeth clung tightly to my neck. It was possible because the sparks of mana seeping out from the gaps in my armor were no longer there. And those sparks were freely roaming inside the airship, ready to explode wherever I wanted them to.
The engine room exploded. With this, all systems that were somewhat alive in the airship stopped operating, and the airship, losing its buoyancy, began to fall towards the ground.
I felt a sense of weightlessness throughout my body, as if up and down were flipping in an instant. It was proof that gravity was pulling us down rapidly.
While the airship was in free fall, I continued to cause explosions at various locations within the airship. It might have been difficult just by generating sparks, but it was possible here where it was full of complexly intertwined mechanical parts.
Bang! Bang! Boom!!
The airship rocked violently from the recoil of the explosions and fell in the direction I wanted. The slowing of the falling speed was also as intended. However, it was still not a speed that a human body could withstand bare.
In the tremendous falling speed, it was not strange for anyone to scream, but Elizabeth gritted her teeth and endured calmly despite that. Seeing her enduring and fully trusting me, I pulled Ajetus embedded in the deck.
The ground was already close at hand. There was no point in causing more explosions now.
I tightly embraced Elizabeth’s slender waist and without hesitation and jumped off the deck.
Our target was right in front of the cliff where I was touring the city with Instructor Lirya. There was nothing but wasteland below the cliff, and the height of the cliff was appropriate for what I had to do now.
I drove Ajetus with all my strength into the cliff.
The blood-red tip of the spear split the cliff’s rock without any resistance.
The shock that spread throughout my body, and the ensuing sound of the rock splitting. The spear was burrowing into the rock, slowing the falling speed along the massive cliff.
I held Elizabeth tightly in one arm. She did the same. As the cliff deeply split, fragments of rock flew in all directions, but those fragments hit my back that was protecting Elizabeth and bounced off.
As our speed fully reduced, we landed at the bottom of the cliff.
At that very moment, the airship we had escaped from crashed into the ground behind us.
A huge column of fire burst out from the airship with a deafening explosion.
Hot air and tiny fragments rained down in all directions. But they only slightly patted my back, failing to harm Elizabeth in any way.
After watching the sight of dark smoke and flames soaring high for a moment, I gently patted Elizabeth’s back and spoke.
“Elizabeth. It’s over now.”
But there was no response.
Elizabeth was panting, her shoulders trembling slightly.
Her rough breathing, the pounding heartbeat, and the cold sweat running down her hair told of the fear and tension she had experienced. Her arm which was tightly wrapped around my neck showed no sign of letting go.
I had no choice but to stand still and wait until Elizabeth felt a little better.
As time passed, her breathing gradually became more stable.
Elizabeth slowly uttered.
“…I won’t do it a second time.”
It wasn’t something I wanted to experience twice either.
We watched the flames rising from the bottom of the cliff.
The fire from the airship was a bit too large to be a bonfire, but at least it was easily visible from a distance. With its size, the royal guards or the imperial police would likely notice and arrive soon.
Elizabeth quietly opened her mouth while looking at the flames.
“I’m sorry for the late greetings since there was no formal audience. Thank you, Instructor.”
I replied in a calm tone.
“It was my duty as an instructor.”
“That’s a big deal. To think that the instructor’s job was to prevent the assassination of the princess and to fight the head of the demonic troops. It seems like Philion Academy will soon go bankrupt due to a shortage of staff. Dean Heinkel will be disappointed.”
Seeing me at a loss for words, Elizabeth giggled and continued speaking.
“May I ask why you did so?”
“Because there was no reason not to.”
“…There are plenty of reasons. I can think of more than ten reasons that just popped into my head.”
After a moment of hesitation, I said.
“When you see someone drowning, you don’t think of reasons not to save them first. You are my student, and that was reason enough to save you.”
“…Is that all? It wasn’t because I am the princess, or because you want something from me… nothing like that?”
I simply nodded.
Elizabeth’s red eyes were filled with surprise and disbelief. Eventually, after staring at me in silence for quite a while, she shook her head with an incredulous expression.
“It doesn’t seem like… you’re lying.”
“Because there’s no reason to.”
At that moment, I felt multiple presences approaching our direction.
Master class warriors, presumably royal guards, were quickly closing in. They seemed to be in such a hurry that they were coming towards us on foot, without riding any animals.
When I relayed this to Elizabeth, she curled the corners of her red lips upward and said, amused.
“An instructor who saved the imperial princess… congratulations. You’re going to become a star in the social world overnight.”
Instead of responding, I scowled.
At my reaction, Elizabeth laughed contentedly.
“Should I hide it for you?”
“Can you do that?”
“If you wish, Instructor.”
As I nodded, Elizabeth got up and dusted off her clothes. She straightened her disheveled hair lightly and held herself upright. In no time, there was not an eighteen-year-old girl with a mischievous smile on the spot, but only the princess of the empire.
“There are so many things I want to ask and say… but I’ll have to put them off for now. I’ll arrange a good place soon, so please make some time then.”
“Hehe, you’ve promised, right?”
The royal guards were now visible to the naked eye. It was time to leave.
Elizabeth did not look back at me, and neither did I. We didn’t bother to say goodbye to each other.
Because we knew we would meet again soon.
When I returned to the Opal Black dormitory, someone from the royal palace came to find me.
A man wearing a ceremonial suit and a mask, carrying an invitation to a masquerade.
I couldn’t shake off the bad feeling.
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