The room is as large as a gymnasium, but it’s nowhere near as dreary. It’s covered in magnificent decorations, as if the best of this world’s luxuries and craftsmanship has been concentrated in one place.
If I look to my right, there is a row of statues portraying gallant warriors that I can only imagine must have been modelled after ancient heroes. If I look to my left, there are sculptures depicting goddesses of war that possess both beauty and strength. These works of art aren’t stone statues, but crystal sculptures. Among them is a statue of a greatsword-wielding warrior wearing a cape, and a female knight with full-body armor and a spear – ah, that’s right, those two are the same people positioned at the Royal Spada Academy’s main gate. I’m sure they’re particularly famous heroes in Spada. I don’t know who they are or what they did, though.
In addition to these crystal statues that make a pile of 10,000,000 Klans seem worthless in comparison, the surface of the enormous walls are embellished with cloths of a vivid crimson color. Two crossed swords and a crown have been embroidered onto the cloths using shining, golden thread – Spada’s coat of arms. While its design is simple, Spada’s national flag has a majestic feel to it when held aloft.
Incidentally, the carpet beneath my feet is made of the same pure-red cloth as the national flags. The long, narrow carpet continues forward like a road, and at the end of it, there’s an enormous seat decorated with gold and crimson ornaments.
In other words, that’s the royal throne.
That’s right, the place that I’m in right now is the throne room in Spada’s royal castle.
「Adventurer Kurono, step forward.」
That was close, my voice almost came out high-pitched because I’m so nervous. My heart is pounding and cold sweat is dripping down the back of my neck. Even so, I somehow manage to maintain a poker face.
Well, that could be because my face has stiffened up and is unable to display any facial expression right now. It was like this during the parade, too.
And so, after being called by some kind of Spadan minister, I continue my steps forward – in other words, towards the king who resides on the throne in front of me.
I’m so nervous that I feel the urge to look back at Lily and Fiona who are behind me, but I resist. I also feel the urge to glance at the knights, civil officials and the other important-looking people who are standing in lines, but I resist that as well.
Calm down. In a situation like this, I just need to look straight ahead and maintain my body’s current dead-serious behavior.
To think that my practice with Mia-chan would show its results in a situation like this.
Ah, of course, I’m not just talking about the place that I’m in. I’m talking about the ceremony that’s happening in this throne room.
Well, there’s only one thing that this ceremony could be for.
「Adventurer Kurono, your actions in Iskia were –」
This minister makes a drawn-out, roundabout congratulatory speech that still somehow manages to skip over most of the details. As he says, I’m being praised for my deeds at Iskia Fortress.
I do feel that I played a big role that I can feel proud for once, but I’d never expected that I’d be summoned to the royal castle for such a large ceremony.
Today is the 6th of the Month of Blue Moon (Sougetsu). The day after I spent the whole day resting after returning to Spada, it was decided that there would be a ceremony to award a decoration to those who performed great deeds in the Battle of Iskia.
Incidentally, I heard about this ceremony from Will, who had visited the dormitory yesterday evening with his usual loud laughter.
I thought it was way too sudden, but it’s not like my opinion would change anything, and it’s not such a trivial event that I could choose not to attend because it’s a bother.
Actually, I don’t have a formal suit. I’m attending this ceremony in my academy uniform. Well, it’s true that I’m a student, so nobody will think I’m stingy.
「Fu, be happy, Kurono. Spada has finally recognized – no, realized the ability of the Nightmare Berserker! Causing black shivers that freeze the spines of the people, a new hero of darkness is born – Kurono, the leading part in tomorrow’s act is you.」
Stop it, Will; that puts a lot of pressure on me. I don’t really understand what he’s saying, but I can understand that there are huge expectations of me and I’m going to get a lot of attention.
Though this may be obvious, I don’t have a single shred of experience in being celebrated in a public place like this.
This isn’t on the level of appearing at the Koushien stadium* and being cheered for and congratulated by my whole school.
TLN*: The stadium where the Japan National High School Baseball Tournament is held
Being awarded a decoration by the king of Spada means that the country has formally acknowledged my achievements. Will saying that it’s the birth of a hero might not necessarily be an exaggeration.
I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. Why me, I mean, is it alright for it to be me? With only these confused thoughts constantly running through my head, I wasn’t able to sleep much last night.
Oops, I can’t be yawning at a time like this. I have to stiffen up and concentrate.
「– and so, his majesty King Leonhart praises your service in battle and awards you this decoration.」
Oh, it’s finally time! This thought runs through my mind not because of the minister’s solemn words, but because I’ve finally arrived in front of the king.
The king who rules Spada, Leonhart Tristan Spada.
His pure-red hair and golden eyes are indeed just like Will’s. But they look nothing alike.
His physique is similar to mine or even larger. Even though he’s covered in an extravagant red cape suitable for a king, I can tell that he’s trained his body to the limits. I can see his bulging shoulder muscles and the thick wrists emerging from his sleeves.
It’s not just his appearance; his stance doesn’t leave any vulnerable openings.
Even if I were to perform a surprise attack on King Leonhart with my hatchet right now, he would be able to deal with it. Actually, I wonder if I could win if I fought him fair and square... While thinking the thoughts of a battle-crazed lunatic, I stand before him and salute as I was instructed to do beforehand.
I curl my right hand loosely into a fist and press it against the left side of my chest. This is the Spada-style salute. After that is, err, oh yeah, get down on one knee, right?
Even if that wasn’t right, I feel like I would kneel naturally. That’s how overwhelming King Leonhart’s presence is. Hmm, I guess I might not be able to win against him in my current state.
「Hmm, Adventurer Kurono, raise your eyes.」
As King Leonhart stands up from his throne and opens his mouth, my nervousness peaks –
Leonhart is interested in the man named Kurono. He has held this interest since before the events in Iskia.
The first time he saw that name was in a report submitted by the Adventurers’ Guild. Its contents were regarding an emergency quest issued in Daidalos.
Emergency Quest – Escort the refugees
Time period: Undecided
Contractor: Adventurers’ Guild of Daidalos
Contents of request: It has been decided to evacuate all villagers to Spada. The vigilante corps of each village are in charge of escorting them. You adventurers are wanted in position behind the villagers to suppress the enemy as much as possible and buy enough time for the villagers to evacuate. No information is known about the enemy other than that they are a human army. This is a quest of unprecedented danger, but the lives of all the villagers are in your hands. We request that you brave adventurers participate in the evacuation effort.
And then it was recorded that this quest had ended in『failure.』
After the Crusader army assaulted Daidalos’s capital district, they began an inhumane occupation regime in the region’s villages. Thus, the intelligence department was able to confirm that this emergency quest had been issued.
According to the document, the number of refugees fleeing to Spada from all of the villages in Daidalos’s western region was about ten thousand. Three hundred adventurers accepted the emergency quest.
From those, fifteen refugees and four adventurers made it to Spada alive. It was such a great loss that calling it a failure was an understatement.
But if all of the testimonies of the adventurers written in that report were to be believed, Kurono had led a mere 103 adventurers and held out for one week despite being outnumbered ten to one – an impressive feat, even if they were annihilated in the end.
And this wasn’t achieved at a fortress with sturdy defenses such as the Galahad Stronghold, but in an ordinary countryside village called Alzas.
Could such a thing be possible?
No, thought Leonhart. He doubted that he himself could do what Kurono, a mere Rank 1 adventurer at the time, had supposedly done.
Perhaps Leonhart was overthinking things. But because he was such a battle-loving man himself, he thought it was more accurate to say that this overthinking was a result of his imagination running wild. He decided not to give it any more thought, and he should have forgotten Kurono’s name after that.
However, Leonhart heard the name Kurono once more.
He heard it from Wilhart, who was one of his beloved sons despite his dishonorable nickname of The Delusional Prince that was spreading among the people.
He had heard that Wilhart was, unlike his older brother Aisenhart or his younger sister Charlotte, extremely unpopular at the academy. But one day, Leonhart received a letter telling of Wilhart’s new friend who had saved his life, and the imminent threat of the Crusaders.
Wilhart has no abilities to speak of when it comes to fighting, but Leonhart knows that he is more sharp-minded than anyone else in the family, including Leonhart himself. In fact, it is difficult to believe that Leonhart, who knew nothing but combat, is the father of such an intelligent son. Even Wilhart’s mother was, well, not much different from Leonhart, though he wouldn’t tell her that.
In any case, it was quite a surprise to hear that Wilhart had made a friend that he could confide in.
Soon after that letter had arrived, the Crusader army’s presence was detected around the Galahad Stronghold when it was investigated and Leonhart became certain that Kurono’s achievements were true, surprising him even further.
The depths of Kurono’s ability was unfathomable. Leonhart knew that the Wrath-Pun, the Rank 5 monster that Kurono had rescued Wilhart from, was at least as strong as Leonhart himself was twenty years ago.
The ones who actually slayed the beast were those of『Wing Road』, but because Leonhart had fought a Wrath-Pun before in the past, he understood.
It was not an opponent that was naïve enough to let its prey make a convenient escape. Unless one demonstrated power that exceeded the Wrath-Pun’s, it would give endless chase, never allowing escape.
Kurono had succeeded in driving the Wrath-Pun away because he possessed enough strength to remind the Wrath-Pun of its own mortality. Leonhart was sure of this because he had heard that the Wrath-Pun’s greatest weapon, its right arm, had been cut off. Of course, there was no evidence other than Kurono’s own testimony that he was the one who had cut it off, but Leonhart had already decided that there was no more room for doubt.
And for Kurono, who had already surprised Leonhart twice, to do it a third time – no, Leonhart expected that this would happen.
He couldn’t imagine that a man with such hidden power would be content with forever being a Rank 3 adventurer, a mere academy student at that. He anticipated – no, knew for certain that Kurono and the adventurer party that he belonged to would make their name known throughout Spada before long.
The only surprise is that he did it so quickly.
Thus, Kurono has finally appeared before Leonhart, the king of Spada.
「Hmm, Adventurer Kurono, raise your eyes.」
A fine facial expression. That is Leonhart’s first impression of him.
Despite standing before the king of a nation, that expression shows no sign of tension or unrest.
That black hair and single red eye make Leonhart question whether he could be an illegitimate son of his friend, the king of Avalon. If that is the case and he was secretly given high-quality education, that would explain how he is maintaining this calm, self-possessed composure.
Leonhart cannot imagine the king of Avalon going behind his wives’ backs and having an affair with another woman, however.
「Your actions in Iskia were truly admirable.」
Kurono’s red and black eyes that look straight ahead of him are reflected in Leonhart’s own. Leonhart cannot read any emotion from that sharp glint in his eyes. It is impossible that he is feeling happy or in high spirits.
Does he feel that this is only natural, given his ability? This is not an arrogant thought; he simply acknowledges reality.
In that case, this ceremony must be terribly tedious for him. At the very least, it is for Leonhart. No, rather than being tedious, he feels as if he is being forced to hold himself back.
With such a man before him, Leonhart cannot help but feel an urge to challenge him to a duel on the spot. Kurono’s presence is similar to the white one that he felt at the Galahad Stronghold.
Nobody else in this place can see it, but Leonhart’s eyes – yes, the golden pupils that harbor one of his divine protections,『Rival Search』– can clearly see the black aura that resembles pure darkness surrounding Kurono’s body.
Just what kind of power is Kurono hiding? He rides a Nightmare, manipulates cursed weapons and wields black magic. Battle abilities that Leonhart has never seen or heard of. And the aura of darkness wrapped around him, is this the divine protection of a god...? Leonhart truly wants to challenge him to a contest.
Suppressing that desire completely, Leonhart solemnly says some generic words to finish this tedious ceremony.
「I praise your deeds and award you this decoration with my authority as the 52nd king of Spada, Leonhart Tristan Spada –」