A Duel Accepted, A Worthy Opponent Lacking
“Whatever their reasons might be, soldiers are always looking to test their strength. As the warrior who brought down a dragon king, I would deeply appreciate it if you could cooperate and help to train the next generation of warriors, but what say you?”
‘What a waste of time…’ Was the thought that immediately ran through Shirley’s mind.
She understood what he was trying to say, but right now she was acting in the capacity of an escort for one of the guests to the royal castle, based on the contract of a request to the Adventurer’s Guild.
More importantly, Sophie and Tio had accompanied Hilda here due to an earnest desire that Shirley couldn’t deny, so an already unusual request had become an even more delicate affair that demanded the utmost care. She had absolutely no intention to waste her energy on such a fruitless distraction.
So, in her mind, she begged those daughters of hers to stop staring at her with such expectant eyes.
(As much as I want to look good in front of them, this is neither the time nor the place…!)
They were proud of their mother’s strength and were always delighted to see a demonstration of her power in person. With that in mind, Shirley kept facing Glorious whilst pretending not to notice Sophie and Tio’s sparkling eyes staring a hole in the back of her head.
The rookie adventurers had a strong premonition that Shirley’s iron will was about to be broken for the third time in less than a week.
(…That being said, maybe it wouldn’t be all bad to accept.)
Shirley eyed Glorious with a suspicious gaze, as his face still wore that impassive smile.
“It’s all well and good to say you would like me to help train the next generation… But in reality, what you are actually asking me to do is silence an unruly element amongst your men, isn’t that right?”
“What does that mean?”
Leia looked confused as she tilted her head. Kyle and Cudd seemed to have the same question as they looked at Shirley, blinking in confusion.
“From the point of view of the soldiers and the regular royal guards, to have an adventurer come into the castle and essentially do their job, it must feel like their marked territory is being intruded on.”
The adventurers from the guild and the soldiers of the royal army. Both are professions that protect the people of the Kingdom from threats, but they both go about it in very different ways.
Adventurers fought against monsters, rogue mages and bandits with bounties on their heads, whilst soldiers maintained the borders against enemy nations and dealt with crime in the towns and cities. And just like how exploring new frontiers is an adventurer’s job, guarding the places where people already lived was a soldier’s duty.
What’s more, the guild and the government were never on the best of terms. Whilst the soldiers of the royal army do provide invaluable service in protecting the country and maintaining law and order, their duties often feel taken for granted by the general populace, so naturally, they took a dim view of things when the citizenry instead see the monster slaying adventurers as the true heroes of the people.
When it was explained to them like that, not just Cudd and Leia, but also Kyle, seemed to be downcast.
“No way… It’s because of the risks we take every day that people see it like that…”
“This is an emergency situation, isn’t it? How can they act like that towards the people they’re supposed to be working with?”
“Quite right. However, I’m not a God, but a mere Marshal. I cannot simply snap my fingers and make my soldiers feel however I demand.”
Glorious didn’t deny Shirley’s words, but he didn’t fully confirm them either.
Soldiers are still human, after all. They can’t help their prejudices or their feelings of being evaluated unfairly.
Unlike adventurers, they can’t live leisurely, merely working when they please. For the sake of defending the multitudes of the people, they train rigorously every single day.
According to them, the free-lancing adventurers can’t measure up someone who has survived the same hellish training that they have. To go even further, there’s not much difference to them between adventurers and the riff-raff on the streets they lock up on a daily basis.
“For adventurers to enter the royal castle as they please and even be tasked with the incredibly important task of protecting a royal envoy… What’s more, they especially don’t like that the party’s leader is a woman.”
Amongst the adventurers, the name of the Demonic White Sword had spread like wildfire, but she wasn’t yet a household name amongst everyone else. The main reason for that is because very few people have actually seen Shirley in action.
There was still a deep-rooted sense of prejudice around the idea that fighting is a man’s job. An ingrained sense that no man who had worked on honing his body for combat from his childhood could lose against a slender and delicate woman who looked like she couldn’t pick up anything heavier than a pen.
“A dragon is something that is difficult to take down even for the army. It’s hard for a lot of them to believe that such a fragile looking woman could defeat such an apex predator. In fact, there is a rumour going around that the Guild simply made up your dragon king slaying achievement for publicity.”
“Wh-What the hell!?”
“That’s sexist! I’ll take them to court!”
“What a surprise. I did not think that the Kingdom’s army was so narrow-minded as to discriminate on the basis of sex.”
There are no women amongst the royal army and its knights… Is not something that can be said. Although they are a definite minority, there are female soldiers who are recognized as comrades by the others.
However, just like Shirley thought, seeing truly is believing. Those female soldiers had earned their male compatriots’ respect by overcoming the same arduous training regimens side by side with them and showing their prowess in battle.
(If things are this bad, it may be difficult to cooperate with the royal army in the case of an emergency.)
When it comes to work, many people would set aside their differences and work towards a common goal. However, that can’t be said for everyone.
Their opponent is the semi-immortal Phantom Thief; Crowley. Since she has no idea what kind of tricks he has up his sleeve, she had to be as prudent as possible.
Shirley wanted to make sure there was absolutely no cause for concern or last-second doubts, especially because her two daughters had accompanied her this time.
“I won’t deny what it is that you’ve said. However, at least until the Summer Solstice ends and we drive off or capture this ‘Phantom Thief’, is it not a good idea to participate in some sparring to deepen the bonds between allies?”
As if he read Shirley’s mind, Glorious once again flashed that gentle yet wholly impassive smile.
Shirley turned on her heels for just a moment, taking in the sight of her two beloved daughters who were still staring at her with glittering eyes, full of anticipation.
―――― I want to see mother’s cool side!
‘Why does this keep happening lately?’ Shirley thought that as she stared into their eyes that were full of untainted belief. And as she lamented just how soft she had gotten these days, Shirley’s iron will once again bent into whatever shape her daughters’ earnest wishes took.
In the courtyard of the royal castle, there was a ring where the soldiers sparred and drilled. Finding the idea of it all quite amusing, Alicia set up a simple high tea table on the lawn underneath a gazebo, alongside Hilda, Sophie and Tio.
In the first mock battle, Kyle, Cudd and Leia were matched up against three soldiers from the royal garrison. To keep with the spirit of the match, magic spells that could seriously injure such as Fireball were prohibited, and killing blows were to be judged, not struck.
As the soldier who had taken the vanguard shot that magic at him, Kyle managed to block it on his shield.
Both sides had set up their team to have one heavy fighter take the vanguard, one lighter melee fighter hold the middle ground and one ranged fighter to provide support from the rear.
The magic that shot bursts of compressed air called Air Shot were ineffective against his opponent’s sturdy shield, and Leia counterattacked with five shots from her crossbow, using bolts with rounded heads.
She shot them all in quick succession at the heads of their three opponents, and it would have been a sure-fire knock out if it connected, but ――――
“《Air Pressure Bullet!》”
The soldier acting in support cast a spell called Area Wall, that created a whirlwind like a shield that protected himself and his fellows.
Whilst the battle unfolded, to any observer it looked like the soldiers who had survived through that harsh training dealt with the rookie adventurers’ attacks with ease. So, in an effort to finish the battle, they aimed a magical counterattack at Kyle’s party, but it seemed they had gotten too impatient.
With a calm and composed voice, Kyle belted out that four-part spell and a tornado tore towards the soldiers from the tip of his outstretched mace. That tornado that turned and twisted like a snake instantly swallowed up the two attacks heading his way.
“Isn’t that the middle-class magic Tornado!?”
“Shit…!? He didn’t let on that he could do that at all during the battle…! But…!”
A magical wall formed from the spell Force Screen deflected the tornado to another direction, preventing it from tearing through the soldiers’ ranks. But, overwhelmed by the sound of the roaring wind, they fatally missed what their opponents put into action.
Cudd’s earth magic spell lifted the ground beneath the soldiers high into the air, as if they were on a platform.
“I-Impossible!? On this scale…!?”
Once again, the soldiers were stunned by the sudden use of an intermediate level magic spell, so convinced they were by their opponent’s novice status due to their spell usage earlier in the battle.
Only the size of a human… For soldiers who usually aim not to kill but instead entrap or impede criminals, large-scale earth elemental magic wasn’t necessary. However, for the rookie adventurers who are always constantly fighting against monsters much bigger than human beings, large-scales spells like this were very often required.
There was no simple technique to escape from a platform raised up ten meters above the ground, but likewise, it wasn’t easy to assail them from down below.
――――Well, that’s what they thought.
“《Orbit・One Hundred and Eighty》!”
Kyle’s Tornado wasn’t through with them yet. The maelstrom of wind magic that they thought had long gone by this point suddenly changed its direction yet again and swallowed the soldiers on the platform whole, approaching from behind them.
The three people were blown off the top of it as if they were specks of dust taken by the wind. The magic was a spell intended to knock an enemy off their feet with strong gusts of wind made even more powerful by swirling around at high speeds, so although the soldiers that fell off only landed on the soft grass and didn’t suffer any injuries, they couldn’t complain about being judged as ‘dead’.
“The match is over!”
“…Haaa …Haaa …Pheeww… Somehow, we managed it.”
“Yeah. Just as expected, taking on trained soldiers is way different to regular practice.”
Despite their differences in spell casting strength that eventually decided the outcome, the soldiers had kept them on their toes throughout the battle with their keen judgment calls and impeccable teamwork.
“Besides, these guys were just recruits as well. We can’t get cocky, y’know?”
Rookies against Recruits. For Kyle and the others who had somehow managed to fairly win that well-balanced match, they endured the hard to discern feelings in the stares of the soldiers they had beaten as they walked back to were Hilda was sitting.
“Good work out there~”
As they approached, they gratefully took the towels that Sophie and Tio offered them to wipe off the dirt and sweat from their fight. But, things had already been cleared up on the training ground, so they turned their attention back to the ring.
The true main attraction, Shirley’s duel, was about to begin. With a naked blade, the wind whipped through her white hair as stood staunchly still, holding that blunt training sword by her side as straight as an arrow whilst looking at the huge man who looked like he’d fought a thousand battles.
“Uwaaa… H-He looks strong.”
“Ah, is your mother going to be quite alright?”
Against the giant warrior who swung around his mighty halberd as if it were a stick, Shirley’s figure looked like little more than a sapling that could be blown away by merely a single breath of his. At first glance, it didn’t seem like Shirley stood a chance against him. That was what the soldiers thought as well.
“Both combatants, stand ready!”
Shirley didn’t move an inch. The man pointed the tip of his halberd at her.
As the air between them was dominated by a tense silence, the referee’s hand that would signal the beginning of their match was brought down.
As soon as the battle began, the man kicked off from the ground to bridge the gap between himself and Shirley as soon as possible… But, in an instant, all he could see was the grass rushing up to meet him as his vision faded.
Just who was it that muttered in abject shock like that?
As the massive warrior fell to the ground with a loud thud, the white-haired swordswoman somehow standing passively behind him where she hadn’t been a split second ago, everyone except for those who knew Shirley well stood completely agape.
“Eh? Wha? Eh? D-Did he actually just get done in already?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, right? That guy is one of the best duellists in the royal army…”
“From this far away, I couldn’t even tell what happened.”
The soldiers began to murmur to each other. As they did, Shirley provoked them even further as she spoke without any particularly harmful intentions.
“Is that it?”
‘Is that all you’ve got?’, was the only thing the soldiers heard. In fact, many soldiers tried to cross into the ring and have a go at Shirley themselves.
“No, no, no, not at all. This time, please do me the honour of a duel.”
However, the one that reached Shirley first was a young man who gave her the impression of a dandy.
“Ooh, Corps Leader!”
“That guy, is he…?”
Corps Leader… As suggested by that shout, his military insignia proved his rank. He must be a man assigned to lead one of the eight corps that make up the core of the Kingdom’s military.
“He he hee. Looking closely, you truly are a beautiful young lady. If I win this match, what’s say you and I share some time together tonight?”
Sophie and Tio were outraged by that brazen attempt at seduction. Although Kyle didn’t utter a single sound, the thunderous look he had on his face said it all.
“Oi oi, are you alright with this? You should be like him and take the bull by the horns as well, you know?”
“If you don’t, maybe she’ll get married off to some other guy, huh?”
“W-What the hell are you talking about!?”
Shirley didn’t hear their exchange as she stared at the Corps Leader with those glimmering red and blue eyes. As if to respond to her gaze, the Corps Leader flashed a playful smile as he took up a boxing stance, caestus on each hand.
“Let the match… Commence!”
But, although it seemed like he was the type to move straight into a close quarters match, the Corps Leader immediately cast magic without a word of spellcasting. Using the intermediate magic Rock Fortress, he shielded himself behind a citadel of earth and stone.
The hardness of the material fused together with magic far exceeded the density of regularly packed earth, and at a thickness of two meters, it truly was a formidable fortress.
“These earth walls of mine will always regenerate themselves to a certain level of thickness. No matter how much of an amazing swordswoman you may be, there’s no way you can break through with a blunt sword. It would be a marvel if you could even make a crack in it. What’s more, should you try it, I can attack you with impunity by using earth magic. Simply put, you don’t stand a chance of winning… Now, I won’t gloat, so long as you give up nice and qui-”
The very next moment, the fortress of earth that protected the Corps Leader was diced up and blown away. Before he even had time to comprehend that, the Corps Leader felt a strong strike at the back of his neck and he faded into unconsciousness.
In the center of that training ring, surrounded by soldiers whose mouths hung open speechlessly, Shirley muttered as she looked down at the man beside her feet.
“Since when were you under the impression that earth and steel couldn’t be cut away by an edgeless blade?”