Aria-Claire d’Or was fuming.
“You still haven’t found the Vice-Captain?”
Aria sat on a wooden stump and stretched her legs whilst calling out to one of her subordinates.
“N-no, ma’am! She still hasn’t been located!”
Aria heaved an angry sigh as she heard the report.
Leena disappeared. She had only just been informed.
They don’t know exactly how long she’s been absent without leave. But, it must have been sometime after they entered the forest. Aria only realized that she was missing when she took muster. Just when did she separate from the group?
Aria Squad… No, not just Aria Squad, every knight squad in the kingdom constantly changes their riding formation depending on the conditions and environment. In order to cope with any number of situations, they train ahead of time. That way if they have to traverse forests, cross mountains, ford rivers or advance through sleet and heavy rains, there’s always a formation to adhere to. The training is so extensive and broad that it’s the hardest thing for a trainee knight to learn… When they entered the forest this time as well they swapped into one of those formations.
Therefore, it should have been impossible for someone to simply go missing. And for someone to leave the formation without anyone noticing?
It has to have been planned.
She intentionally left the squad and forged ahead on her own without permission.
Completely disregarding orders and advancing under her own authority. That’s something she could never condone for someone under her command. Especially if that someone is supposed to be setting an example for the lower ranks.
(Damn it… No matter how capable you might be, this level of insubordination is ridiculous.)
Aria thinks to herself in disbelief and stands up.
Her pink ponytail is caught in the wind and flows over her brown cheeks.
If they spent time looking for the missing Vice-Captain now, they would fall behind schedule.
There’s only one priority.
Confirm that the Dragon was indeed in the vicinity of Takrath, and collect information as to its fate. That is all.
After that’s complete, then they can worry about finding the errant Vice-Captain.
Aria commanded her subordinates to cease the search.
“Ah, Captain. Is it really fine not to look for the Vice-Captain?”
One of her men spoke up.
“The Vice-Captain is still just a child, after all. And they’re all alone in these woods…”
“Child or not, she’s my second in command. She needs to take responsibility for herself.”
Aria’s voice is cold.
“But, what if something happened to her?”
“Without us noticing at all?”
He has no response.
It would have been impossible.
Her squad is filled with knights of the highest calibre, sworn to defend the kingdom. Naturally, they can all use magic, and they have ability higher than most of the regular nobility. Moreover, Aria is a knight on the level of captain.
If something had happened to her squad, everyone would have noticed. The only natural conclusion is that she left the squad of her own volition.
“Prepare to set out. We don’t have any more time to spare.”
The Aria Squad resumes their ride. But, before long…
She felt it.
At first, she didn’t understand what she felt.
Something dark and deep, like a rolling sea in the dead of night.
But gradually, she began to recognize the feeling.
It was magic.
Someone was using magical energy somewhere in this forest.
Usually, nobody would know such a thing. But, this woman was different.
Aria had the ability to sense magical powers as colours.
That is Aria’s “Singular Sorcery”.
A magic that only one living person is capable of at a time, similar to the Dragon’s breath.
Aria’s eyebrows knot as she thinks.
It is a magic that she has never come across. A deep black mixed with streaks of blue.
After confirming the magic, she signals instructions to the rearmost rider with her hands. At once, the troops share her sense of trepidation.
Once the entire squad understood her intentions and were ready to follow, she wheeled away in the direction of the magical presence, until she came across what looked like a part of the forest where trees were being cleared away by various groups of workers.
Are they hunters? At any rate, it doesn’t look like there’s a mage amongst them.
Aria hid in the shadows of the trees as she followed the magical energy she sensed until she came across the sight of one lone girl.
“…It can’t be. You hid in such a place?”
She had never felt that magical power before, but she could never forget that beautiful face.
There was no doubt.
“Lady Veena Lilyfall…”
The eldest daughter of the House of Lilyfall, and the former fiancée of the Second Prince Arnight.” And the criminal who abducted the Princess. It was that Veena Lilyfall.
Aria gripped the sword on her waist.
(If she’s here, then Princess Yua must be nearby as well.)
She unsheathed the blade slowly.
(First of all, I have to capture her and get her to divulge Yua’s whereabouts.)
She smiled and sprinted out of cover.
Out of the cover of trees, she slid down the rocky slope and charged at the girl.
She ran like the wind, faster than any normal person could dream of.
The only person who could react to that speed was Veena, who had sensed the magic the knight had activated immediately, but not even she could track her movement accurately.
An attack will come. Meet it with a barrier, then counter.
Even if she can’t fully comprehend something with her physical senses, Veena can rely on her gut feelings and intuitions. Even if she can’t see it coming, her intuition dictates that she make a barrier to defend herself all the same.
She had honed that intuition in the fight against the dragon. Even if she poured magical energy into her eyes and raised them to the limits of human perception, she would not be able to completely track that movement, so she has to rely on her feelings. That’s the basis for her magic. Even though she only has the barest amount of knowledge about the situation, her senses take over and she starts to prepare a spell. She had the utmost confidence in those gut feelings of hers.
It was that intuition that made her develop the magical barrier that saved her in the split second between Aria’s ambush and her sword colliding with her magic.
Aria’s eyes widen in shock.
Even if she was the eldest daughter of the most powerful and renowned Lilyfall family of magicians, she didn’t expect her surprise attack to be so perfectly countered.
The sword rattles violently as it vibrates against the magical barrier and Veena glares.
“Knight of the Kingdom… Why have you come here?”
She didn’t respond with words, only with another slash of her sword.
She had no intention of chatting.
Veena maintained the barrier and asked again.
“I said, why are you here?”
“If you really want to talk, fine” Aria spat out. She didn’t relent in the pressure she was keeping on the barrier. Cracks began to form. Veena restored them with her magic immediately, but they came back as soon as they were fixed. Still pressing her blade into the barrier, Aria spoke.
“Why are YOU here? What have you done with Princess Yua?”
Both want to be the one asking the questions. The hunters nearby haven’t even had time to comprehend the sudden situation.
Of course. Although the Kingdom’s knights are the worst nightmare for any fugitive criminals, to the regular citizens they are a source of admiration and pride. It’s a universal truth that no good citizen has any reason to bear ill-will towards the Knight’s Order. Indeed, the one under suspicion should be Veena who is currently being attacked by a knight.
But, for the hunters of Takrath, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
There’s no way they could turn their hostilities on Veena, the saviour of their city.
That’s why they didn’t know what to do.
What could they do? What should they do? They couldn’t come to a conclusion, so they were rooted to the spot.
But, for Veena, this was fine.
A knight would never turn their blade towards a normal citizen. So, it’s better for them to just marvel at the sight and see how it plays out.
Veena wanted them to keep their blades sheathed, and to stay out of it. That way, when the dust settled, they could simply be seen as innocent bystanders.
Veena expanded the barrier and pushed the knight back, expanding the distance between the two of them.
Veena was relieved.
She had been deeply worried when she was attacked.
Not for fear of her own safety, but because she thought that Yua must have been found. That was her grave concern, but judging by the knight’s words, they don’t know where she is.
Even if she was relieved for now though, she knew it was only a matter of time before they found her.
They had found Veena here, along with all of Takrath’s hunters. It would be easy to guess that Yua was back in the city.
“Answer me. Where is Princess Yua?”
Aria hadn’t arrived at that conclusion and demanded the answer again.
Was she just too stupid to figure it out? But, with the information available, even an idiot would be able to put two and two together.
But, the truth is entirely different.
‘After being abandoned by the Second Prince Arnight, Veena had kidnapped Yua and escaped’ was all the information this woman had.
In other words, that Yua had been taken against her will.
There was no reason to think that Yua was simply living normally in the city.
(…What does she mean? She hasn’t figured it out yet? Or, is she trying to lure me into a false sense of security by feeding me a lie?)
No, no, that can’t be it.
Veena immediately dismisses the idea.
If they already knew where Yua was, using the question “Where is Yua?” to lower her guard doesn’t make much sense.
At least, for someone who was one of the Kingdom’s knights, it was too poor of a trap. Then that means…
(This isn’t a trap, they really don’t know where she is. That has to be it.)
Veena pours more magical energy into the barrier and makes it even tougher.
(They must have been fed false information. If they had been sent by someone who knew Yua well, they probably would have already found her. But…)
They were acting on valueless information, full of prejudice and personal hatred. Perhaps it was Arnight who had sent them.
At the very least, it likely wasn’t the King who knows Yua well or Euberto who has no time for worthless information. It could only have been that incompetent.
As Veena looked relieved, Aria seemed to be provoked. She struck with the blade once more. But this time, her sword is slow enough that Veena can track its movement using magic enhanced vision.
Much slower than the swipe of a Dragon’s tail. Speaking of which, although Sylph had been concerned when the fight had begun, they soon grew bored and went back to sleep.