As dawn breaks, the sounds of battle between man and monster echo out amidst the rain that has begun to pour down.
The ones confined to the old fortress standing at the top of a hill are the elite youngsters that shoulder the future of Spada’s military forces, three hundred students from the Royal Spada Academy.
The mixed army of monsters simply closes in on the fortress head-on, employing no surprise attacks or clever schemes.
The students are outnumbered more than three to one as the siege begins, and their fate hangs by a thread.
With his longsword, the young knight cadet Eddy cuts down the Orc that has climbed over the fortress’s walls in an attempt to get inside.
The Orc’s chest is torn apart by Eddy’s martial arts just as its upper body protrudes above the top of the wall, and it falls back the way it came.
「Shenna! It’s too dangerous here!」
「Even if you say that, where are we supposed to run –『Air Sagita!』」
With a flick of her pale-green pigtails, the bespectacled Mage Shenna fires a magical attack at the enemies below.
She is aiming for a Goblin that is determinedly digging its sharp claws into the gaps between the stones of the wall, climbing its way up.
The blade of air cuts cleanly through its arms and it tumbles head first towards the ground, knocking down its companions on the way.
「Move! The walls will not hold any longer! We are retreating inside the fortress!」
As if answering the earlier question of where to run, the desperate shout of the supreme commander, Second Prince Wilhart Tristan Spada, echoes out.
There is nobody available to relay commands across the battlefield. The general is running around the upper surface of the fortress’s walls, delivering commands to each squad personally.
「Inside the castle... That means this is finally the end, huh.」
The only thing stopping the monsters right now is the waterless moat and the two layers of stone wall.
Around half an hour has elapsed since the battle began, and the pile of monster corpses that have filled up the dry moat threatens to match the height of the vertical stone walls.
The only safe area still left is the『Tenshu*』, the part of the fortress that one might call the actual castle.
With that said, if the walls are breached, the fortress can be said to have fallen.
Holing themselves up in the Tenshu is little more than a final act of futile resistance – however, the reality is that with the battle’s current situation, they have no other choice.
「Don’t give up, Shenna! We can still fight, I’m sure things will work out somehow!」
But it is not completely hopeless.
Wing Road could defeat the Greed-Gore at any moment, or the elite Knights’ Order of Spada could come to their rescue.
Because they believe this, the students are able to continue fighting.
Despite the fact that they have fallen into the most desperate of situations.
「Oh, if it isn’t my knight Eddy and Shenna. Could I request that you protect me for a short while?」
Wilhart lays his eyes on the pair of students that have formally created a team together and approaches them, asking a question in a way that makes it difficult to tell whether it is an order or a request.
「Affirmative, Your Excellency!」
「But what do you mean, for a short while?」
Eddy gives an immediate answer, while Shenna returns a question of her own.
「The north tower is the last place I need to relay the retreat order to. However, there are already monsters atop the walls; it is far too dangerous for me to venture forth alone.」
「Will it be alright with just the two of us?」
「I cannot afford to take any more with me. Let us hurry!」
With a swish of his red cape that has been dirtied a little by the mud and rain, Wilhart runs off ahead.
「... I can’t tell whether that person is incompetent or very brave.」
Shenna whispers these words so that Wilhart cannot hear them.
Wilhart seemed incredibly useless right before the battle began, to the point that it was unbelievable that he was a prince like Nero.
Shenna would have thought that he would be the kind who would have assigned an excessive number of people as his guards to keep himself safe. But instead, he has read the battle situation properly and is making do with the minimum required protection.
Wilhart has been unpopular ever since he began attending the academy. She can’t quite seem to figure out what kind of person he is.
Is he as much of a failed prince as rumors have it, or is he not as bad as he seems?
「I believe in him. More than that Prince Nero who just abandoned us, anyway.」
Unexpectedly, Eddy stands up for Wilhart.
But this is not a situation where she can ask why exactly he is saying this.
Several Goblins who have climbed over the wall and come down into the passages appear in front of them.
The flash of a sword, a blade of wind – and a single, flickering line of fire.
「Hmph, you were fools to stand in my way. Now regret your error in the depths of hell.」
A faint pillar of gunpowder smoke rises from the rifle barrel in Wilhart’s hands.
The bullet fired from it did indeed pierce through one of the Goblins running along the passageway, giving it a swift death.
Speaking in a loud, victorious tone, he steps over the monsters’ corpses and continues along the fortress’s wall.
His two subordinates feel a little uneasy about this. But the firepower of his weapon is undeniable, so they decide to gratefully accept his covering fire.
And so, after repelling the Goblins, Slimes and the occasional Harpy that dives down towards them, the three of them reach the north tower as planned.
Wilhart opens the door forcefully as if he means to kick it down and screams the order to retreat.
「We’re retreating inside the fortress! Abandon the walls! Hurry, Simon!」
The people packed inside this defensive tower consist of several Archers and Mages, as well as Simon Friedrich Bardiel, Prince Wilhart’s friend who has had rumors about him whispered recently.
After firing one last shot from the window, the small sniper exhales and turns around.
「Ah, good, monsters have made it to the first floor and I was wondering what we were going to do.」
Simon gives a forced smile, clutching his long sniper rifle.
Indeed, something that sounds like monsters’ snarls is coming from the floor below. There is a door that leads directly to the stairs, and it is only a matter of time before the monsters attempt to break it down.
The hard stone walls and steel door won’t be broken through so easily, but even so, now is the time to evacuate the tower.
「Hurry, or we will not make it in time.」
In response to Wilhart’s retreat orders, the other students who have been protecting this tower begin moving towards the passageway onto the fortress’s walls.
「... What a terrible injury.」
「Everyone’s used up all their potions.」
Even though they have been attacking from the tower, the monsters have been able to counter-attack as well.
The Centaurs’ arrows were incessant and from time to time a Slime that had climbed its way up the side of the fortress leapt in through a window.
The students’ armor and uniforms are stained here and there with blood.
Even though they have not taken damage, the Mages that have been firing attacks non-stop are now on the verge of being out of magical energy; they are staggering and leaning on their staves as they walk.
Whether due to good luck or exceptional skill, Simon does not appear to have any significant injuries.
Of course, the ones with the heaviest injuries are the first to leave the tower.
The students pass through the door in single file, and the last to leave is Simon.
With that said, there aren’t that many of them. It doesn’t even take thirty seconds for all of them to leave the tower – or at least, that was supposed to be the case.
The tower shudders violently, and Simon falls with a loud scream.
In the next moment, the metal door swings shut, cutting the tower off from the passageway.
「Simon! Shit, what was th– OWAH!」
Another earthquake-like movement.
As Wilhart stumbles and leans against the edge of the fortress’s wall, he realizes that the source of these vibrations is directly below.
「A Dortoth’s charge, huh... Damn you...」
There is a rampaging Dortoth intently throwing its huge body against the wall.
It is merely an ordinary part of the wall with no gate or anything of the sort, but the Dortoth charges into it repeatedly as if its parents’ sworn enemies are on the other side of it.
Wilhart reloads his rifle to its capacity of five bullets and shoots the reckless monster below.
Five rifle rounds as well as a single, high-caliber sniper rifle round – six bullets in total – pierce the Dortoth’s elephant-like skull. The tiny brain that seems capable of only giving the simple order to continue charging is destroyed.
「Hmph, we managed to bring it down...」
Letting out a few satisfied words after shooting down such a large monster for the first time in his life, Wilhart reaches for the closed metal door once more to let his friend out of the tower.
However, it does not open.
The knob is indeed making a clicking sound as it turns, but the door doesn’t budge no matter how hard he pushes or pulls.
It is not difficult to imagine the cause. The earlier vibrations must have warped the door’s frame.
「Eh, wait a minute, you’re kidding me, right...?」
Through the door comes Simon’s shaking voice.
「C-calm down! I’m going to break it down right now, Simon, so stand back! Eddy, help me out!」
From here on out, there is no choice but to rely on manual labor.
Wilhart and Eddy throw themselves into the door with all their might.
They repeat this process several times, but the steel door continues to block the entrance, fulfilling its intended role.
They cannot afford to waste any more time here. A great sense of impatience drives Wilhart on.
「You still can’t get it open?! If you don’t hurry, this place is going to be surrounded by monsters as well!」
Shenna is almost screaming.
She and the Archers and Mages that managed to get out of the tower first are busy repelling the monsters that are still climbing onto the walls.
Wilhart doesn’t need to be told that there isn’t a moment to spare.
But he also understands that with the strength of the people here, they cannot re-open this metal door.
「I-it is fine! This kind of door will certainly open soon!」
「It’s alright. Leave me behind –」
「DON’T SAY SUCH NONSEEEENSE!」
Wilhart screams as if to drown out the weak, utterly hopeless voice coming through the door.
「Don’t say such nonsense, there’s no way I could do such a thing! I, the Second Prince of glorious Spada, would never be able to flee, abandoning my friend!」
He pounds his fists singlemindedly against the metal door. But it still refuses to move even an inch.
「Thank you. But you can’t sacrifice everyone else here for my sake, can you?」
Beside Wilhart is Eddy, who is still trying to open the door as if his life depends on it.
When he turns around, he sees Shenna desperately fighting, as well as the several other wounded, anxious-looking students.
「Prince Nero doesn’t have it, but you do, Will... The resolve to leave a companion behind.」
「Because we’re friends, Will, I think I know a few things about you.」
Wilhart had thought that nobody would know the meaning behind his actions before the battle began.
However, there is one person here who understood his true intentions. One of his friends, who are few in number.
That is all the more reason Wilhart cannot turn his back on that resolve now.
He cannot expose numerous others to danger for the sake of one person.
It’s a simple matter of numbers. The easiest of calculations.
「... Forgive me.」
「Forgive me, Simon.」
「I said it’s alright. Besides, if I hold out a little longer, something might work out.」
Simon probably does not even believe in these words of hope, but he must say them nonetheless.
Wilhart can clearly picture the bitter smile that his friend is wearing on the other side of this door.
「Kuh, uu... Forgive me… Forgive me...」
「See you, Will – and tell Onii-san that I said I’m sorry.」
And so, Wilhart turns back towards the fortress’s walls, leaving the sworn friend of his soul trapped in the tower.
While fighting off the monsters that continue to appear, he runs as fast as he can to make his escape.
「Haha... It’s over... Everything... is over.」
With tears pouring down from his empty eyes, Wilhart points his rifle in the monsters’ direction and pulls the trigger.