The next morning, the students of the Royal Spada Academy leave Iskia Fortress to look for large-scale battles with monsters, which is the whole reason they came out on this open-field exercise.
There are two hundred and fifty of them. With the leadership cadets in charge and the knight cadets as the soldiers under their command, they are the young elites that bear the future of Spada’s military.
The other fifty students are studying courses such as magical engineering courses or civil official courses, and they remain garrisoned inside Iskia Fortress, on watch duty.
Normally, being stationed on watch duty is a tedious task, but the students who are currently marching across the gentle slopes are considerably envious of them at this moment.
「Tch, it’s raining.」
Sitting on his beautiful, pure-white Unicorn, Nero has a look on his face that is three times worse than his usual displeasured expression as he mutters these words.
The sky overhead is filled with ash-colored clouds, and even a small child would be able to tell that it could start pouring down at any moment.
Yesterday’s weather was perfectly clear, and they were able to enjoy the red magnificence and splendor of the evening’s sunset. But now it is as if a large army of thick rain clouds have invaded Spada overnight.
「Seriously, what rotten luck.」
So far on this open-field exercise, Nero had to deal with a group of Orcs and got into a fight with another Rank 5 adventurer, which you would normally be incredibly unlikely to encounter. He cannot help but feel that his stock of good luck has vanished.
As if the black gods themselves are trying to put the First Prince of Avalon through a trial, he has been constantly running into trouble.
With that said, this could be considered a more ordinary problem.
Considering everything else, a weather phenomenon like rain seems trivial.
「What is it, Safi?」
As Nero wears a displeasured expression at the light rain falling on his face, Safiel Maya Hydra calls out to him.
The false Sleipnir created through Necromancy is longer and taller than Nero’s Unicorn, and Safiel is sitting in a position that is elevated above him.
Nero is not petty enough to say something as meaningless as “don’t look down on me,” and Safiel seems serious, so he pays attention to her as she speaks.
「I don’t see any monsters nearby.」
The Summoner students have spread their servants around to look for an enemy, and Safiel’s crow-servant is in the sky, searching the surroundings.
「I don’t sense any presences either, it’s just too quiet.」
The students are just passing across a hill with a great view, and from here, they can see all of the forests surrounding the hills.
Exactly as Nero and Safi have said, not even a single monster’s shadow can be seen.
「It’s a bit ominous, isn’t it?」
「Yeah, there’s no presence, but I have a bad feeling–」
Nero stops talking mid-sentence, and is suddenly fully concentrated on the surroundings with all of his senses.
「Just as I say that... Looks like my instincts were spot-on.」
What he feels at first is just a small tremor.
「Wah, isn’t the ground shaking a bit?!」
「Uoh, what is it, an earthquake?!」
Sharl and Kai feel the ground’s movements, and let out shouts of surprise.
In Spada, earthquakes only happen perhaps once every ten years, and even when they do, they are considered large natural disasters. Therefore, when an earthquake does occur, most citizens of Spada would tremble in fear.
「O-oi, this an earthquake, isn’t it?!」
「Wait, are you serious?!」
「Fu, fuhahahaa~ The time of destruction has finally come! The black gods have abandoned us, and doom has come to the land of Pandoraaaaaaaaaa!」
The magnitude of the ground’s movement increases at an alarming rate, and the students nearby have started to feel it. Among the sounds of the ground shaking and panicked voices, someone shouts these bizarre words.
「Calm down, it’s not an earthquake. This is –」
The Unicorn and the man riding it remain calm despite the ground’s shaking. Nero stops Sharl and Kai, who are panicking with the other nearby students.
Realizing that Nero has some idea of what is happening, Safi points her gaze in the same direction that his deep crimson eyes are facing.
As the ground’s shaking continues to grow more violent, Nero continues his sentence.
「- a monster.」
A deafening roar that could be mistaken for an explosion echoes across the Iskia Hills.
The thunderous roar crashes upon the eardrums of the students lined up at the top of the hill, but the huge explosion right in front of their eyes – No, at the bottom of the hill they are standing on – is a bigger concern for them.
The explosion tears the thick carpet of grass out completely, and a geyser of dirt sprays out into the air.
The size of its body is such that it kicks up an incredible amount of dirt into the surroundings, but fortunately, the dirt does not reach up to the top of the hill.
Even without hearing Nero’s words, anyone can tell with a single glance that this is the cause of the earthquake.
Its name is murmured by the two people among the students who are knowledgeable about special monsters, Safi and Nero.
「Greed-Gore, you mean the Rank 5 monster that’s been said to have appeared around here recently?」
「It’s a breed of Earth Dragon that uses its Characteristic Ability* of being able to move underground. It’s my first time seeing it, but there’s no mistaking it. But –」
As Safi speaks, the rain of dirt from the sky stops, and in front of the two hundred and fifty students is the majestic sight of the Greed-Gore’s enormous body.
With a length of thirty meters from the tip of its nose the end of its tail, and a height of ten meters, its sheer size is overwhelming.
Brilliant purple eyes that resemble the Safiel Maya Hydra’s own Demon Eyes can be seen shining ferociously from its rectangular-shaped head.
The block-like carapace that covers its whole body makes it look like an Earth Dragon-type Golem, or as if a fortress has just come to life and started moving.
Even though Safi is seeing it for the first time, its appearance matches the description in her knowledge, and she is able to immediately identify it. However, she notices one definite difference.
「- it’s black.」
「Black? It’s not supposed to be that color?」
「Eh, it was a reddish-brown brick color in the pictures!」
But the Greed-Gore that has appeared before them is unmistakably black.
It was not that its body is covered in black dirt from having traveled underground. Its entire block-like carapace is looks as if it is made of pure darkness.
「Is it a subspecies?」
「I can’t be sure.」
Subspecies of monsters that are a different color are rare, but they do exist.
The rarer the subspecies, the more likely it is to have powerful abilities, but going by that rule, that would make this Greed-Gore even more powerful than a regular one.
「Whatever, in any case, we can’t fight this thing!」
It is a Rank 5 monster, which even the Knights’ Order* of the army with all of their forces gathered together would avoid a direct engagement with.
With two hundred and fifty of them, they certainly have the numbers, but to fight such a dangerous monster is too large a task for an army of apprentices and students.
「It would be impossible for even me to fight it while protecting everyone else –」
Nero can say this because he’s defeated a Rank 5 monster before. But as if to deny his confident words –
Once more, the air is filled with the Greed-Gore’s deafening roar.
Its purple eyes are unmistakably fixed on the students standing on top of the hill.
It is declaring its intention to devour this “prey”, or perhaps it sees this group of people as a threat, and is trying to intimidate them.
The students’ experience fighting monsters varies from individual to individual, but they all interpret the Greed-Gore’s roar as such. The members of the Rank 5 party Wing Road also have similar suspicions.
However, they are all proven wrong.
「What, the forest –」
As if answering the Greed-Gore’s call, the forests surrounding the hills begin to move.
It appears as if the trees of the forest have all started marching across the plains. But there is no way that could happen, even in this world of magic.
Monsters are emerging from the forest to advance onto the hill.
The monsters that are well known around the Iskia Hills, the Centaurs and their Silent Sheep with black wool, appear. Not only them, but there are also Slimes, Goblins, Orcs, Dagger Raptors, Windwolves*, Morjura – Every single monster that inhabits this area is here.
「Oi oi, is this for real...」
Even Nero has a line of cold sweat running down his cheek as he opens his eyes in shock.
Monsters of different races, unlike humans, are unable to overcome their differences to work together. They are truly wild creatures of nature.
So, what is this phenomenon occurring in front of their eyes?
The wolf-like Windwolves are being used as mounts by Goblins, whose green skin shares the same color as their fur. A land dragon, normally known for pulling dragon carriages, is carrying a number of large Orcs as it stomps its way forward with its powerful four legs.
The Silent Sheep are normally just a source of food for the Centuars, but the Centaurs are using them like hunting dogs as they advance. Running beside them are the fierce, boar-like Dortoths.
The monsters’ forward march shakes the ground, though not as the Greed-Gore did. But not all of the monsters are approaching on the ground’s surface.
The leaves in the forest sway as if in a storm as countless more shadows of all sizes appear in the trees.
Monsters ranging from the size of sparrows to medium-sized monsters like Pegasuses and Harpies fly through the rain clouds.
Above this flock of monsters is a Salamander* with both wings spread out, as if it were the ruler of the sky.
Seeing the various monsters pouring non-stop from the forest, Nero knows what the Greed-Gore’s roar was for.
It was an attack order to its own army.
「Retreat! All forces, retreat! We must fall back to the fortress!」
The order to retreat comes, and the students who are frozen in place by the sight of this overwhelming enemy army return to their senses.
「That’s Will’s voice, he’s making a good call for once!」
The Second Prince of Spada, Wilhart, who is in command of this group of three hundred students, continues his shouts of “Move back!”, ordering an immediate retreat – no, an evacuation.
In the next moment, he rings the bell that signals a retreat order, and the order reaches everyone in the group.
Nero praises Will’s judgment here, as the decision to order an immediate retreat is an excellent one for avoiding everyone’s doom.
The army of monsters overflowing from the forests has started moving to surround this hill.
If they remained unable to move out of fear any longer, they would definitely be swallowed up by this tsunami of monsters and be wiped out.
「Kai, Sharl, Safi, we’re the rear guard!」
「You got it!」
「Of course we are!」
The members of Wing Road, led by Nero, are aware that they have the strongest combat capability out of everyone. They answer immediately, and take up the role of the rear guard without hesitation.
As the wave of students retreats back down the hill, these four distinct, mounted individuals proudly turn their red capes around as they remain in place.
As they look down and ready their weapons to challenge the army of monsters that are crawling towards the bottom of the hill –
「Wait, we’ll be the rear guard!」
One large, mounted person appears in front of them, standing in their way.
Sitting on a huge Bicorn like Kai’s, it is an Orc with a single-edged greatsword on his back.
His burly head has a single horn and also a large lump, which has caused unfortunate rumors about how he took a punch from some newcomer adventurer student.
He is the Orc teacher in charge of the swordsmanship part of the adventurers’ course, participating in this open-field exercise to observe the students.
「Oi, what are you saying, it would definitely be better if we –」
「No! No matter how strong you act, you’re just students. The more dangerous roles should be taken up by us teachers.」
The current emergency situation is enough to overturn the rule that teachers are not to participate actively in the open-field exercise, and there is no time to argue.
And since they have fallen into such a critical situation, the ones who must go head first into certain death – as their guardian, as adults, and as educators – are the teachers.
「There’s no time to argue, you guys have to be the vanguard and break through the monsters’ surround!」
As the Orc orders this battle formation, his eyes are full of determination and resolution to face battle like a true warrior of Spada.
It is more than clear that there is nothing more to be said.
If Wing Road goes to the front line as the vanguard, even if the monsters block their path, they can definitely break through. No matter how strong the rear guard is, there is no point if the path ahead remains blocked.
「Tch, there’s no other choice.」
Nero pulls the reins in his hands and the Unicorn quickly turns around, and the others follow him.
As Nero’s red eyes turn to look back one last time, he sees the backs of the teachers, ready to defend the students to the death. In front of them, he can see the monsters advancing.
「A black Greed-Gore...」
The Greed-Gore simply watches calmly, leaving the attack to its army of monsters.
It is an Earth Dragon that is supposed avariciously devour its prey, but it seems to Nero that its eyes have a sadistic look as it plays around with its food.
「I don’t like that thing’s huge head. I’ll make sure to cut it off.」
Nero swears to defeat the Greed-Gore, the general of this monster army. But right now, he must go forward to cut a retreat path, so he spurs his Unicorn onward.