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  Two Wars  

Le Luk.

That was the name of the mountain range that cut between the Findolph and Buchwald domains and boasted an elevation of sixteen thousand feet above sea level.

Between its precipitous high-altitude terrain, the wind and water spirit leylines crisscrossing the area, and the constant blizzards that buffeted the region throughout the winter, it was one of the most perilous places in all the northern lands.

In fact, up until about a hundred years ago, when the then-current emperor ordered that a road be built through it as part of his plan to develop the north, Le Luk was so secluded that the people of Buchwald used it to store and preserve their food.

Even now, with the mountain pass established, hardly anybody dared traverse the range during winter.

As a blizzard swept over the frigid mountains, a black serpent slithered along its route.

This winding asp was not one creature but rather was made up of many marching people. It was a long line of men and horses. Clad in furs, hyuma and byuma alike huddled together as they made their way up the mountain road.

They were the joint punitive force that two of the four northern domains, Buchwald and Archride, had formed to put down the rebellious Order of the Seven Luminaries that had taken over Findolph.

All told, the coalition’s forces numbered three thousand strong.

However, the group traveling up the peak was only a third of that total sum.

It took infantry a day and a half to traverse Le Luk in the winter.

In other words, they needed somewhere to stay the night in order to make the trip.

That was where the Le Luk checkpoint came in, but even packed to the gills, it could only house a thousand men at a time.

If they tried sending all three thousand soldiers through Le Luk at once, two thousand of them would’ve ended up having to make camp outside. Sleeping outside during the colder Le Luk months was a death sentence.

Their commander, Marquis Archride, had chosen to split the army into three groups just small enough for the checkpoint to support, then led the first one toward the rebel-occupied Findolph domain.

However, having a road to support their march did little to change the windy, snowy mountain’s brutal terrain.


Sudden screams erupted from a section of their procession.

An avalanche had started.

Untimely gusts of wind had brought a cascade of snow thundering down from atop a cliff.

Some soldiers hadn’t reacted quickly enough, their frightful cries echoing as their last words before being fatally crushed. Others twisted their ankles as those who fled shoved them over in their haste to escape the avalanche. Some of the shrieks came from that group. Different pained exclamations came from those who suffered cracked or broken bones when the soldiers with twisted ankles crashed into them.

While there were a few unfortunates who perished under the wave of heavy snow, far more had been wounded by the domino effect it had caused.

That was hardly surprising, however. The cavalcade was moving so slowly that even avoidable avalanches had become lethal threats.

Merely trying to pass through Le Luk during the winter was a suicide mission. Everyone knew that, yet these poor folks were still being made to march.

The fault for that lay exclusively in the hands of the idiot who refused to wait for the snow to thaw and instead obstinately forced the army to move out while it was still winter—the Fastidious Duke, Oslo el Gustav.

After the fifth avalanche, the soldiers finally started to let slip their frustrations.

“Fuckin’ Gustav, sitting pretty in the capital, not knowing a thing about winter in the mountains…”

“Why do we gotta put up with this shit?”

“It’s cold…and scary… I can’t take this anymore…”

Eventually, the murmurs reached Marquis Archride, who rode at the rear of the vanguard.

“…Shall I shut them up?” offered Kreitzo, the fox-eared and fox-tailed Gold Knight riding beside him.

Archride shook his head.

“Let them yammer. I feel the same way they do.”

Archride turned and looked at the faces of the soldiers huddled behind him. All of them were freezing, and they were clearly exhausted after having been forced to march through the ice and snow. Even the sheer absurdity of traveling through Le Luk during the most dangerous time of year seemed to have sapped many warriors of their vigor. Most of all, however, everyone looked fearful that they would be the next ones to fall prey to a large icicle or avalanche.

The fighting hadn’t even begun yet, and their morale was already at rock bottom. Archride sensed the same things in himself but was cautious not to let it show. He was cursing Oslo el Gustav just as hard as his charges were.

None doubted Gustav’s strength. No other man in the empire held the ranks of both Platinum Knight, the highest knighthood title, and Prime Mage, the highest imperial magecraft title. Archride was also familiar with the tale of how Gustav’s Heavenly Fire had burned down an entire Yamato stronghold in a single night. It was only proper that such a man be venerated.

Individual strength and leadership ability were two wholly separate skills, though. Gustav had ordered the army to cross Le Luk no matter the cost and had set a domestic policy that prioritized gold statues and picturesque views so highly it drove his people to starvation. It would’ve been disingenuous to describe Gustav’s statesmanship as anything but utterly incompetent.

Knowing that, Archride had exaggerated his reports to avoid giving Gustav any cause to micromanage the subjugating army, telling him that through wartime conscription, he and Buchwald would raise an army a hundred thousand strong. Unfortunately, the situation had taken the worst turn imaginable. Archride had underestimated exactly how impatient the Fastidious Duke was.

His Grace chose a poor man to grant authority to.

Beneath his thick white beard, Archride bit his lip. The time to complain would end before long, however.

Once they made it through the mountains, they’d be in rebel-controlled territory—the battlefield.


Archride’s thoughts turned toward the enemy awaiting them.

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of them…but I know they’re not to be taken lightly.

A distant relative of Archride’s in the Findolph domain had informed him that Marquis Findolph had been captured and that the Dormundt metropolis had fallen completely under the control of a religious group called the Seven Luminaries, which preached a message of universal equality.

The empire didn’t devote many resources to protecting it, but Findolph was still an imperial domain. Seizing it had been a substantial military feat. It was nothing to casually dismiss. What’s more, there was word that the individual claiming to be the Seven Luminaries’ God had performed feats the likes of which not even magic had yet achieved. People spoke of things like a mountain vanishing, only to reappear a moment later. The deity’s angel attendants were also rumored to possess the power to create metal that was lighter than wood and to cure any wound or ailment known to man.

It was with such impossible powers that the Seven Luminaries had won over the public’s hearts and minds. Archride had received notice that the enemy had even gotten some nobles to join their cause and that peace and order in Findolph were far greater than they’d been under the previous lord’s rule.

This isn’t just a ragtag band fed up with the system…

Archride had no intention of believing in deities. He could not deny, however, that the opposition employed strange abilities, utilized the power of religion to unify the masses, and had such a strong political vision that even those of the former ruling class were acquiescing. They were well on their way to shaping themselves into an actual nation.

Furthermore, according to the guide who’d helped Silver Knight Inzaghi, the captain of Findolph’s knight order, flee through Le Luk, one of the Seven Luminaries wielded a katana—the signature weapon of the Yamato Empire.

Archride had no idea what to make of any of it.

Damn it all… If we could’ve just waited for spring…

The “hundred thousand” number Archride had reported to Gustav may have been an exaggeration, but if they’d gone by his original plan and waited for the thaw, he and Buchwald could’ve certainly had fifty thousand soldiers mobilized and ready to stream ceaselessly into the Findolph domain.

Not knowing the scope of the opposing forces meant it was crucial to hit them with the greatest force they could muster. Thanks to Gustav, however, they had to bring their troops through midwinter Le Luk, where they could only deploy a thousand men a day.

Archride’s plan to overwhelm the enemy with numbers was in shambles. Now they had no choice but to act with the utmost caution. Their opponent was an organization large enough to govern an entire domain, after all.

It would’ve been one thing if they’d had a proper army, but there was no sense in asking a scant three thousand exhausted men who’d just been forced to trudge through the snow to do the impossible.

In other words, the best course of action was to retake a village near the border. That way, Archride’s forces would have a strategic location from which they could send out scouting parties and gather intel. During that time, Archride was going to have to get his hands on as much booze, meat, and pleasurable company as he could to boost the soldiers’ morale.

Gustav was sure to be livid if he found out they were taking such tepid-sounding measures, but trying to assault an unknown enemy encamped in a walled city of a hundred thousand with only three thousand men was suicide.

It wouldn’t even be a fight.

If they wanted to wage an actual war, they needed to at least wait for Gustav’s troops to join up with them. The Gustav domain’s standing reserves came to roughly ten thousand. Given the Fastidious Duke’s temperament, odds were that he’d bring all of them. Setting the insanity of doing so aside, wartime conscription was likely to bolster that number up to a hundred thousand. With those figures, Archride was confident the empire stood a chance against this upstart group of powerful rebels.

Until we convene with Gustav’s army, we should focus on gathering as much information as possible. It’s all that we should do and all that we can do. The situation was both unreasonable and unclear, so Archride knew that he needed to identify what was and wasn’t within his power and order his men accordingly. Archride was a shrewd man when it came to war tactics, so much so that he was hailed as the greatest general in the northern domains.

This time, though, he was outmatched.

What he and his troops faced was already far worse than he could’ve ever anticipated. Archride himself realized as much when he reached the Le Luk checkpoint.

As his men braced themselves against the blizzard and trembled in fear of sudden avalanches, they finally arrived at what would’ve normally been a place of rest. By all accounts, the checkpoint should’ve provided the weary soldiers with places to put up their feet by the hearths and warm their numbed bodies with meat and drink.

When they reached the checkpoint’s thirty-foot-tall gate, however, what greeted them was neither the heat of a fireplace nor the aroma of steaming food.

“Open fire!!”

Instead, they were met with two rows of gun muzzles spanning the entire width of the gate.

A maelstrom of light, sound, and metal surged forth.


As the noise echoed in their ears, the leading soldiers took the steel blizzard head-on. Blood sprayed through the air as they collapsed into the snow.

The bullet storm was only just getting started. A line of riflemen all pulled the bolt handles of their rifles back, ejecting the spent shells. With a push, they reloaded. After pulling the handles down to close their guns’ chambers, they resumed firing.

Bolt-action rifles. To a world that knew only matchlock guns, their rate of discharge was unbelievable. The riflemen tore through the invading army’s front line with ease. Archride’s forces weren’t just taking fire from the gate, either.

Projectiles sped from the watchtower, the windows in the walls, and even the ramparts. Barrels poked from every nook in the structure, each hurling death upon one soldier after the next.

About a week had passed since Gustav’s Rage Soleil had destroyed part of Dormundt. Since then, the arms factory in Dormundt had been running day in and day out. Over three hundred members of the Order of the Seven Luminaries were now equipped with modernized gear.

Their rifles held five bullets apiece. While an imperial rifleman had to reload his barrel with gunpowder and a bullet after each shot, the Order of the Seven Luminaries soldiers could fire five times in rapid succession. In terms of raw numbers, each of them could do the shooting of a quintet of imperials. Simply put, it was like they had the bullets of fifteen hundred men bearing down on Archride’s vanguard.

With the overwhelming firepower, the imperials crumpled one after another like puppets with their strings cut.

None of them screamed, for they couldn’t. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. As far as any of Archride’s men had known, there should’ve been peace and relaxation waiting for them beyond the gate.

Thoughts of safety, spirits, and sustenance had been the only thing keeping those soldiers alive during their perilous journey. Their last hopes dashed, the subjugation forces found themselves unable to process the reality unfolding before them. Their brains simply couldn’t parse it, and because of that, they felt no pain.

Powerless to comprehend, those shot merely keeled over and collapsed. Their commander, Marquis Archride, was just as confused.

What’s…going…on? Is that gunfire?

Archride recognized the telltale light of firearms as soldiers continued to fall one after another. They were being shot at, but why? Le Luk soldiers shouldn’t have been attacking them. Archride also had to wonder what sort of armaments they were using. He’d seen a single muzzle loose multiple bullets. Nobody was reloading, nor could Archride see them adding gunpower, yet the rounds were coming ad infinitum. He’d never seen or even heard of guns like that.

Was it their enemy, then? Had the empire’s mysterious foe taken over Le Luk with equally unusual weapons?

No. Impossible. Marquis Archride dismissed the thought.

Le Luk was on high alert. If there had been an emergency, they would have sent messengers to Buchwald immediately. The area’s geography made pincer attacks impossible, so there was no way an enemy could’ve stopped the messengers.

Had there been a crisis, Archride was certain he would’ve heard about it.

What the hell is going—?

The colossal amount of information entering Archride’s sight at once shorted out his mind. It was all too incredible to consider, and Archride stood frozen as the steel blizzard descended upon him.


“Ah…! Kreitzo?!”

The marquis was not pierced through, however.

A Gold Knight atop a similarly armored horse beside Archride moved to cover him with his greatshield. Hearing his subordinate’s passionate cry snapped Archride back to his senses.

As the marquis gathered himself, time seemed to resume for the rest of his army, too.


“Wh-what’s going on?! Why’re the Le Luk guys shooting at us?!”


The pained and confounded screams of wounded soldiers sounded from all around. Such intense cries seemed to shake the mountain itself. There was no sign of the wretched shrieks letting up, either. If anything, they only intensified with each passing second.

Formations had been broken, and the snow was stained dark with blood. Between the unexpected location of attack and its startling intensity, the vanguard had been all but annihilated.

“Milord, Le Luk must have fallen into enemy hands! Give the order to charge! They can’t have more than fifty stationed at the gate! If we’re prepared to make sacrifices, we can force our way through!” Kreitzo called to Marquis Archride as he held his greatshield aloft and rode.

Archride, however…

“…It’s no use!”

…shouted the Gold Knight down.

Kreitzo was right—charging the gate was sure to pile on the casualties, but they could probably make it. The more significant issue was what would come afterward.

Even at a glance, Archride could see that the enemy had troops stationed over the portcullis and across the ramparts. If he and his men made it through the entrance and into the central courtyard, they’d end up taking fire from all sides. Such a short-lived victory wouldn’t be worth it even if Archride’s forces somehow managed not to get pinned down in the courtyard.

Le Luk had fallen into the enemy’s hands.

He didn’t know how they’d managed to keep messengers from reaching Buchwald, but Archride knew now that his march had been doomed since the moment the checkpoint had fallen. He had never counted on such a development. The operation’s very foundations had crumbled, and building a plan atop a ruined foundation was a recipe for disaster.

Given the situation, only one option was available to the imperial forces: beating a hasty retreat.

“Kreitzo, cover me!”

“Of course!”

After giving the order to Kreitzo, Archride took a bugle off his back and blew into it with all his might.


A deep sound echoed across the range.

It was just a steady stream of noise; there was nothing musical about it, but it was the known signal of retreat.

Upon hearing the horn, vanguard group members scrambled over one another as each hurried to flee faster than the other. The groups behind them, who’d more or less figured out what was going on from the screams and sounds of gunfire, turned back as well.

They were retiring without so much as trying to fight back.

“They wised up quick. That’s Marquis Archride, shrewd general of the north, for you.” Zest Bernard, a well-built byuma, leader of the Le Luk troops, and commander of the Order of the Seven Luminaries, spoke words of praise for the enemy general.

His aide-de-camp felt differently, however.

“Are you sure he isn’t just a coward?”

Zest shook his head and refuted the proposition. “He’s here on orders from the Fastidious Duke himself. If that guy finds out Archride gave the order to turn tail and run, he’ll execute him in a heartbeat. But instead of covering his own ass, Archride made the call to keep casualties to a minimum. For him, running was a far braver choice than staying and fighting. Archride’s a man who knows all too well the folly of throwing good money after bad. Honestly, I’m impressed. But even so…”

Zest paused for a moment and cast his gaze out over the scattered, fleeing imperials.

“…the reason composure’s so valuable is ’cause it’s so rare. There’s no way any of his men keep their heads nearly so cool.”

As Zest had suggested, receiving the evacuation order threw the opposing soldiers into disarray. There was a stark gap in desperation between those who’d been at the vanguard, still being shot at as they fled, and the groups behind them, whose knowledge of the situation was limited to them hearing the signal for retreat. Such a difference in circumstance created a rather disjointed rate of escape.

Frightened as they were, the vanguard group crashed into the rear guard and shoved them aside. Unfortunately, this sent the pushed people tumbling to the ground, twisting their ankles and breaking their bones. Some of the more hotheaded members of the rear guard even drew their swords and turned them on their allies.

Far more of Archride’s company fell victim to disorganization and infighting than the projectiles of their actual foes. Gradually, their numbers dwindled.

If the Order of the Seven Luminaries seized upon that chaos and pressed after the escaping army, they no doubt would’ve crushed the imperials.

…So far, everything’s going according to Mr. Tsukasa’s plan.

With things proceeding as Tsukasa had described, the next course of action for the checkpoint’s occupying forces was already set.

The Order of the Seven Luminaries had three hundred troops on-site. In contrast, the empire’s procession alone outnumbered them more than three-to-one. With the troops waiting in Buchwald included, it was more than ten-to-one. The enemy had an overwhelming numerical advantage.

If the Seven Luminaries soldiers had a chance to reduce that wide gap in manpower, they needed to take it while they could. At the moment, the opposition was rattled and imploding from infighting. It was a perfect opportunity.

Can’t say that shooting a man in the back sits great with me, but you all came storming up the mountain to try and kill us, too. Sorry, but you ain’t gettin’ any mercy from me.

Zest slammed a fresh clip into his rifle’s depleted magazine, loading five bullets into it in a single motion.

Then he called out to those in his command.

“We’re going after them. The first squadron and I will follow the enemy from behind, pursuing them down the mountain and seizing advantage of their confusion. We need to take as many of them out as we can without giving them time to regroup. Squadrons two through six on the ramparts, bring supply teams after us as quickly as possible.

If you run across any foes who’ve lost the will to fight, there’s no need to finish them off. Just toss their weapons down the ravine and leave them for the medics. Once we all group back up, we’re invading Buchwald with all we’ve got!

Ready? Now…move out!!”


Thus began the first significant engagement between the Order of the Seven Luminaries and the Freyjagard Empire.

Having not expected Le Luk’s capture, the imperial army immediately suffered catastrophic losses and was forced to flee.

As Zest had said, Archride’s decision to sound the retreat was a stellar example of Archride’s wisdom and composure. However, having a thousand-man procession escape down a narrow mountain pass was easier said than done.

Their slow progress only gave rise to greater fear and confusion among the men. To make matters worse, the Order of the Seven Luminaries was bearing down on them hard and fast.

While the imperial forces tried to fight back, the raging blizzard made using their matchlock guns nigh impossible. The few shots they managed to get off didn’t come anywhere close to hitting their pursuers.

Not only were the harsh winds throwing off the trajectories of their bullets, but their enemies remained beyond firing range. Archride’s riflemen had an effective scope of about one hundred fifty feet. However, the two armies were over three hundred feet apart. Firearms were useless at that range, or rather, they should’ve been.

“How are they hitting us when we can’t hit th—ARGH?!”

Deathly cries rose from the throats of those unfortunates caught at the end of the march as bullets pierced them through.

Such a development was only natural, however.

The Seven Luminaries’ weapons made use of technology that the world wouldn’t have otherwise seen for centuries. For one, all of their guns had rifling—spiral grooves engraved on the inside of their barrels. It gave their bullets a gyroscopic spin, decreasing their air resistance to a bare minimum. That, in turn, increased the projectiles’ ballistic stability and helped prevent them from stalling. The bullets themselves were also of a wholly different shape.

The empire’s soldiers’ munitions were round, but the Seven Luminaries’ boasted a cone shape that came to a point, like spears. It was that structure that dramatically improved their flight and precision, vastly increasing their effective range.

Zest and his people could reliably hit a target at up to a thousand feet. That was over six times what the imperial marksmen were capable of. To say that Archride’s forces were outclassed was obvious. Fighting back against firepower like that was impossible, and Archride himself was well aware of how grim his situation was.

“Milord, the enemy attacks are unrelenting, and we have no way of meeting their strength! We’re taking heavy losses from behind! At this rate…”

Although the panicked messenger trailed off, the implication was clear; the tail end of his company was going to be wiped out.

“…So they do mean to pursue us,” Archride mumbled to himself.

Atop his horse, his face was the image of composure. He’d already gotten over the shock at having been caught up in a surprise attack. Without so much as hesitating, he issued his new orders to the runner.

“Tell those bringing up the rear that Archride has suffered a sneak attack and died from his wounds.”

“Wh—?!” The courier stiffened, unable to comprehend his instructions.

“That’s an order. Now, go!” Archride barked at him.

“Y-yes, sir!”

Urged on, the messenger took off for the rear guard.

Gold Knight Kreitzo, visibly alarmed, rode up and took the runner’s place at Marquis Archride’s side.

“Milord, I must protest! If you tell them that, the chain of command will descend into chaos!” Kreitzo couldn’t conceive of a reason to feed false information and sow such disorder among their own ranks. He had no idea what Archride was thinking.

The Gold Knight trusted that Archride wasn’t the type of commanding officer to sacrifice his troops idly, which only deepened his confusion.

“Good,” Archride replied.


“With any luck, they’ll throw down their arms and run for it. And that will serve to encourage our pursuers.”

“What do you mean?”

“We want the enemy to get overconfident, Kreitzo. They’ll see our formations breaking and try to hunt down as many of us as they can. Superb as their guns are, they number only a few hundred at most. Charging after us will sacrifice the positional advantage Le Luk offers them. That’s why we need to keep giving them a reason to give chase. Once they’ve abandoned that high ground, we’ll have a chance for a counterattack.”

Having now sufficiently explained himself, Archride issued another command.

“Kreitzo, I need you to go on ahead and rendezvous with our troops in the foothills. Tell them to prepare a charge with our armored cavalry at its head. We’ll whip up something too enticing for the opposition to refuse and lure them into the open plains. From there, we’ll launch our charge and grind them into dust. Can I count on you?”

By feeding bad info to his troops and intentionally sending the rear guard into disarray, Archride hoped his foes would get greedy and overextend themselves. If he succeeded in drawing them into a more open area, his troops would have the advantage and could launch a counterattack that utilized the marquis’s prized cavalry.

The truly wise were well aware of the fact that others were unable to keep up with their wits. Archride knew that next to none of his men would stay calm in the present situation. In a display of real prowess, he had built a plan around that fact. Archride had taken the panic of his soldiers and turned it into a key component of his strategy.

Kreitzo trembled at his own good fortune, being able to serve a man so levelheaded and sagacious.

“Of course, milord! Leave it to me!” With a confident response, Kreitzo rode off alone.

What followed played out exactly the way Archride had expected. Thanks to his misinformation, the chain of command at the rear guard collapsed.

Some of his people threw down their weapons and fled. Others surrendered to the Order of the Seven Luminaries. More still gave in to despair and mounted a futile charge. Everyone was acting independently, turning an imperial army into an unruly mob. Such a frantic crowd was no match for the forces of the Seven Luminaries.

Skirmishes broke out all over the mountain pass. In each one, the Order of the Seven Luminaries emerged victorious without a single casualty.

Dazzled by their overwhelming results, Zest and his soldiers found themselves in the foothill plains before they knew it.

That’s when—

“All cavalry, chaaaaaaaaaaaaarge!!!!”


The mounted brigade that Gold Knight Kreitzo had assembled surged across the snowy grassland like a tidal wave. Altogether, there were three hundred riders. If the Order of the Seven Luminaries took such an attack head-on, they were sure to meet their end.

They had no intention of letting that happen, of course, and all fired their advanced rifles. With such mighty weapons in hand, the advancing riders must have looked like sitting ducks.

Just like how riflemen had rendered horseback riders obsolete back on Earth, the mounts collapsed helplessly under the waves of bullets, quickly becoming roadblocks for their own allies. Row after row of horses toppled over one another. In mere moments, the imperial charge had fallen to pieces.

That’s how things should’ve played out, anyway. Reality unfolded somewhat differently. Those leading the attack were not ordinary men. They were what was referred to as armored cavalry. Both rider and steed sported heavy metal armor. The plating on a single horse alone weighed over eleven hundred pounds.

Given that they were also carrying a rider equipped with hundred-pound armor and a greatshield, the horse’s total load clocked in at nearly fifteen hundred pounds.

No average animal could’ve ever run while bearing such a great weight, but the empire had selectively bred unicorns so that men could ride them. Ultimately, this created a variety of magical warhorses called monoceros that were stronger than elephants and could run as fast as normal steeds even while sporting such weighty pieces of plate.

Such incredible creatures were not without drawback, however. They were incredibly expensive to maintain, to the point where only the Archride and Gustav families kept any at all. Archride only had twenty to his name. The unparalleled power they provided made such a paltry number sufficient, though.

Once the armored cavalry began their charge, nothing short of cannons or magic could stop them.

The Order of the Seven Luminaries may have sported powerful weapons, but they were still just small arms at the end of the day. Their bullets bounced off the heavy plates, leaving little more than dents and scratches.

The armored cavalry was unstoppable.

Archride was now certain of his victory, and the Order of the Seven Luminaries soldiers went pale. It wasn’t because they were afraid of the overwhelming force hurtling toward them, however.

What they were afraid of—

“H-how? How is he making them dance in the palm of his hand like that?”

—was the white-haired angel boy who, three days before the battle, predicted the conflict’s progression down to the letter.

Tsukasa Mikogami was the one who frightened them. Zest and his people all thought back to the briefing they’d attended a few days before.

“Listen up. When we take the enemy by surprise in Le Luk, they’ll immediately flee, right? But they won’t just be making a run for it. From what I hear, the guy calling their shots is pretty crafty. Instead, they’re going to try and lure us into the plains in the foothills. Then they’ll use their armored cavalry to lead a big charge against us.”

“Ah, so we need to make sure we don’t chase them too far?”

“To the contrary. We’re going to follow them there on purpose.”


“That armored cavalry is the only thing that poses any real danger. Foot soldiers won’t be a challenge, and even mages will fall to our rifles. Those shielded mounts won’t, though, making them an important source of emotional support for the enemy forces. If we leave them alive, it could cause us problems in future battles. That’s why we’re going to wait until the enemy is sure they’ve won, then crush their trump card as ostentatiously as possible. And to do that, we’re going to use these.”

Just as Tsukasa had instructed them, the Order of the Seven Luminaries soldiers pulled the pins of their secret weapons and tossed them at the oncoming stampede.

“Our enemy doesn’t know about these yet. They’ll laugh at us, thinking that we’ve grown desperate enough to resort to throwing stones at them.”

“Ha-ha! Your bullets didn’t do shit; what makes you think pebbles’ll work? Dumbasses!”

“You rebels’ve had your fun, but it’s too late to beg for your lives now!”

“Crush ’em all! Don’t leave a single one alive!”

Such jeers erupted from the confident armored cavalry, yet only a moment later…

“Thus, our victory will be assured.”

A burst of light blew the fortified horses and their riders to smithereens.

The light was followed by the noise and flame of a series of explosions. So great were the blasts that they caught unarmored members of the cavalry as well.

It hadn’t been rocks that the Order of the Seven Luminaries had tossed. They’d been throwing hand grenades.

Without magic, infantry of that era wasn’t supposed to be able to command such earth-shattering destruction.

The explosions eviscerated the imperial front line, and the noise sent the second line’s horses into a panic, completely ruining the charge. As they were no longer in a defensive formation and weren’t advancing, riders quickly became easy targets.

Waves of bullets crashed through them, shredding the mounted troops in the blink of an eye.


Partaking of the gruesome sight, Archride finally realized something; he couldn’t win. He didn’t know how the enemy’s weapons worked. As best he could tell, the enemy infantry was equipped with firepower on par with mages or cannons.

Three thousand soldiers were nothing in the face of such might.

“…Fall back. Retreat to Dulleskoff…”

His only option was to flee once more.

Short on both men and horses, the waning subjugating army stumbled its way back to Buchwald’s capital, Fortress City Dulleskoff, as fast as it could go. Numerous stragglers were abandoned along the way. Once they got to the garrison, they enacted wartime conscription, raised ten thousand new troops, and prepared to fight back a siege.

Not only did they fill every conceivable opening in the walls with sandbags, they even placed pots of water every fifty feet so they could check the ground’s vibrations and make sure the enemy wasn’t tunneling underneath them. The new plan was to wait inside the impregnable fortress for a few days until Gustav’s army arrived.

Even with bizarre armaments, the rebels still only numbered three hundred. Storming a walled settlement was impossible with so few.

Winning may not have been an option for Archride, but he figured they’d at least be able to keep themselves alive.

Such a desperate cling to hope was quickly shattered by one of Bearabbit’s cruise missiles.

The rocket soared far above Dulleskoff’s walls, crashing into its tallest building, the bell tower, and blasting it to smithereens. The destruction was the Seven Luminaries’ message to Archride. Dulleskoff’s walls meant nothing to them.

Shortly after the explosion came an announcement via a megaphone. The Order of the Seven Luminaries demanded disarmament and unconditional surrender.

Beaten and weary, there was not a single person among the imperial force that opposed the terms.

With that, the Seven Luminaries took Dulleskoff and captured Marquises Buchwald and Archride. In practice, that meant that two more northern domains were under their control, and it had only been a single short week since the opening of hostilities in the Le Luk mountains.

While the subjugating army had been reduced to less than five hundred men, the Order of the Seven Luminaries suffered a mere four injuries. One man tripped and fractured a bone while descending the mountains. The other three were those he fell into as he stumbled.

Meanwhile, in Gustav, the domain’s full army was still in Millevana, the domain’s capital and the city that housed the Office of the Warden of the North. It was supposed to have been heading to rendezvous with Archride’s forces yet remained curiously stationary.

One had to wonder why, and the answer to that question could be found in the smoke billowing up from Millevana. At the center of the city, the Office of the Warden of the North was burning.

As the subjugating army and the Order of the Seven Luminaries clashed, another war was beginning over in the Gustav domain.

All over the city, Gustav’s army was fighting against a force that called themselves the Blue Brigade.

Gustav’s mad glorification of the emperor had destroyed the domain’s economy all to construct a few gold statues and beautify his lands. Out of concern for the affected peasants, a group of Gustav domain nobles had banded together and risen up against him.

“Weed out those traitors infesting the Findolph domain.”

After gathering in Millevana in accordance with Gustav’s order, they rose the banner of revolt and turned against their lord.

Rage Soleil, Gustav’s trump card, had been the Blue Brigade’s biggest obstacle. After he’d expended it on the Seven Luminaries, the Blue Brigade had quickly found themselves with an excuse to assemble their full forces at Gustav’s front gate.

It was the best opportunity they could’ve asked for.

Of the ten thousand troops Gustav amassed in Millevana, all seven thousand soldiers not under his direct command turned on him. With such overwhelming numbers and surprise on their side, the Blue Brigade surrounded the warden’s office in no time.

Gustav’s army responded by moving their defensive line back into the warden’s office and holing up there. The structure doubled as a fortress and was fully equipped with pitfall traps, secret passages, and clockwise spiral staircases designed to hinder the sword arms of any climbing up. Such an advantageous position should’ve allowed Gustav’s people to repel the intruders. Much to their surprise, things did not go well for them, however.

The Blue Brigade had an ace up their sleeve—prodigy journalist Shinobu Sarutobi. Before the battle, she’d pilfered the structure’s architectural plan and told the Blue Brigade where all the traps and secret passages were.

In the end, every trip wire and pitfall was rendered worthless, and the hidden corridors only served to offer the Blue Brigade more avenues of ingress.

Unable to hold their position, the defenders’ line steadily crumbled, and Gustav’s army was routed.

Meanwhile, Shinobu Sarutobi and the Blue Brigade redheaded knight Jeanne du Leblanc took advantage of the chaos to press deep into the fortress and corner Gustav in one of its towers. It was only when the two women reached the top of the tower that they finally met the Fastidious Duke face-to-face.

When Gustav saw that one of them was an Imperial Silver Knight, his black eyes flared up with fury.

“As one of His Grace’s knights, you would bare your fangs against the empire?!”

Jeanne responded by leveling her blood-soaked sword at him.

“A nation’s foundation is its people. Without them, it’s nothing. Any noble who dares tyrannize them is the true traitor. As I understand, Duke Gustav, you yourself once said those very words.”


“If you have even a shred of sense left in you, surrender now and retain your dignity as a loyal retainer!”

“I see. So Blumheart’s the mastermind. That man refuses to wake from his idealistic dreams, and now he’s gone and dragged other aristocrats into his foolery, too!” As he spat those words, fire erupted from the stumps where Gustav’s arms had once been.

They burned hot enough to melt Gustav’s tunic, writhing like they had minds of their own and molding themselves into the shape of arms. The molded flames grabbed a sword hanging from the wall and held it at the ready.

“I, Gustav, will sear away that moronic illusion, along with your lives!”

“If you won’t surrender, you leave us no choice! Let’s go, Shinobu!” Jeanne declared.

“You got it!” Shinobu replied.

The pair split up, each running toward one of Gustav’s flanks. In response, the duke materialized six burning spheres around himself.


Gustav sent three of the flaming balls at each of his opponents. While the conjured missiles were fast, they could still be followed by the eye. With their superb reflexes, both Jeanne and Shinobu deftly avoided the oncoming magical attacks.

Instead of stopping, the molten spheres just crashed into the spire’s walls and exploded. They blasted all the way through the stone, exposing the interior of the tower to the open air.

It was like they were being bombarded by cannon fire; Jeanne and Shinobu were done for.

While his opponents were preoccupied with avoiding his first move, Gustav summoned up another set of fireballs.

This mage nonsense is getting real old real fast…! Shinobu thought.

It was like fighting against an enemy with a rapid-fire grenade launcher. Such strength made it no surprise to learn that mages were extremely well regarded in a world where traditional firepower topped out at crossbows and matchlock guns.

With things proceeding as they were, Shinobu knew that she and Jeanne wouldn’t be able to get in close. On the other hand, continuing to dodge was problematic in and of itself.

If Gustav kept lashing out with such devastating magic, the tower was liable to collapse. Jeanne and Shinobu had gone in knowing that their foe was a powerful mage, however. They most assuredly hadn’t barged in without a plan.

Shinobu pulled a yellow, ping-pong-ball-sized sphere from her pocket. “Jeanne, cover your eyes!” After shouting out the prearranged warning, Shinobu threw the little object at her feet.

A surge of white light flooded the room to the point where nothing else was visible. It was one of Shinobu’s ninja tools—a flash grenade. Gustav, who hadn’t shielded himself, was immediately overwhelmed.


The temporary blindness threw him off guard, and the fireballs floating around him vanished. Jeanne took advantage of that opening to close the gap, bringing her sword down toward the duke’s neck.

“Traitorous Gustav, your head will roll!”



Right when it seemed the finishing blow had been struck, something unbelievable happened.

Gustav, who should’ve been blinded, blocked Jeanne’s attack. In fact, he did more than just that.

“A lowly Silver like you can never measure up to a Platinum Knight!!!!”

He even managed a counterattack with a swing of his sword and blazing arms—a powerful, practiced, two-hit combo. The first strike came from above, forcing Jeanne to stiffen her guard. The second came from below, knocking her sword upward.


Finally, Gustav sank a kick into Jeanne’s exposed abdomen and sent her flying several feet backward.

Having dealt with Jeanne, Gustav turned his still-sightless eyes toward Shinobu. The ninja clutched a kunai in each hand and was trying to charge at the man from behind.


The duke curled a free flame-hand into a fist and swung it straight at her. As the burning limb hurled itself forward, it expanded to a massive size and took on the shape of a gaping dragon’s maw.

Yikes! Shinobu threw herself to the side, too desperate to figure out how she was going to land. She managed to barely avoid the scorching dragon head but could smell the tips of her hair cooking.

Gustav’s attacks had been right on the money, and they forced the ninja-journalist to wonder if perhaps her flash grenade hadn’t worked. The duke clearly didn’t move like a blind man. If he really could see, that meant big trouble for Shinobu and Jeanne.

Shinobu’s narrow dodge had completely thrown off her balance, and she was tumbling toward the ground in a very bad position. Unless she did something, she was going to land directly on her right shoulder. If Gustav launched another attack while she was in such a position, that’d be the end of the line.

Faced with a difficult choice, Shinobu made a split-second decision. As she crashed onto the ground, she hurled the kunai in her left hand. The idea was to create a diversion. With any luck, Gustav would try to defend himself, which would slow down his follow-up strike just long enough for Shinobu to get back on her feet.

Much to the Prodigy’s surprise, however…


The kunai sped through the air undetected and dug into the Fastidious Duke’s thigh.


As Shinobu lay on the ground, a wave of confusion washed over her.

That was too easy, she thought.

Gustav hadn’t even tried to dodge or guard himself. Then Shinobu was struck by the notion that perhaps he hadn’t ignored her kunai, but rather, he hadn’t seen it.

Wait, is he sensing our positions with heat or something?! Betting on her hunch, Shinobu made her move. The moment she got up, she threw her other kunai. Her target wasn’t Gustav himself this time; it was what was hanging over his head.

A chandelier hung suspended in the room by a chain.


The kunai did its job, severing the chain and dropping the chandelier directly onto Gustav.

The Blue Brigade’s sudden attack had left the duke without enough time to light the swinging candelabra’s candles, and just as Shinobu had thought, he was using heat to supplement his lost vision. Unaware of what had been cut free above him, Gustav was promptly crushed by the chandelier as it crashed to the floor.

Ornate glass and metal stylings became as knives that stabbed into Gustav’s body. A pool of blood began to spread beneath his crumpled form.

“You killed him?!” Jeanne exclaimed.

“Don’t jinx it…,” Shinobu replied. Indeed, the duke still drew breath, bashed and bloodied though he was.

“Damn youuuuu…! You worms who would defy His Grace are crafty, I’ll give you that! But don’t go thinking you’ve defeated the mighty Gustav so easily!”

A furious bellow echoed out from beneath the ruined fixture. As Gustav’s rage reached its climax, patterns of light began flowing out from below the chandelier and filling the room. With a flash, they shifted from red to white, swelling in heat and intensity—

Hoo boy, that looks like bad news. Shinobu’s kunoichi sixth sense was tingling.



Choosing to trust her intuition, Shinobu dashed toward Jeanne at full speed.

After ramming straight into the other woman, Shinobu kept running. Her legs carried both of them outside through one of the holes Gustav had blown in the walls. Then she adeptly wrapped her scarf around her hands and feet, unfurling it into a parachute.

“Grab on!” Shinobu shouted to Jeanne, whom she’d essentially just thrown off a tower.

Unsurprisingly startled, Jeanne still reacted swiftly enough all the same.

“Got it!” Jeanne drew the whip hanging from her waist, then hurled the length of it into the air and wrapped it around Shinobu’s torso.

No sooner had she done so than—

—the tower Gustav was in exploded. Its masonry was devoured by a scorching white light.

The explosion wasn’t sated with just the spire, either. A chain of secondary bursts went off as well, eventually demolishing the entire Office of the Warden of the North.

As the shock wave sent Shinobu spinning about in the air, the scene below them took Jeanne’s breath away.

“Wh-what is this…?”

“Looks like he prolly planted bombs throughout the building in case anything ever happened. Could just be magic, though.”

“Y-you have my thanks, Shinobu. If not for you, I’d have been caught up in the blast. And good work, sensing that danger…!”

“Hee-hee. Danger-sensing’s a must-have skill for any good risk-takin’ journalist!”

It had all started the day Shinobu began elementary school. A bow trap aimed right at her temple had greeted her when she came home and opened the door, marking the first in a long line of brutal training techniques. “Domestic violence” didn’t even begin to describe it. If she’d let up her guard for even a moment, day or night, she would’ve died. Spending a decade in an environment like that would’ve taught anyone a thing or two about perceiving threats.

Eventually, as the shock waves died down and the two of them began gently descending, three ally dragoons—knights mounted on small flying dragons—flew over to them. It was the survivors from the Blue Brigade’s small air force, and they were quite clearly overjoyed that Jeanne and Shinobu were safe.

“Hey, Jeanne, you’re all right!” one fighter exclaimed.

“Yes, but only thanks to Shinobu!” she replied.

“Y’know, that’s some impressive stuff! I’ve been doing this soldier thing for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone fly like a dragoon without needing a dragon!”

“Hee-hee, go on, praise me more!” Shinobu said gleefully.

“So, Jeanne, what happened to old Gustav?” inquired a dragoon.

“He was at the center of the explosion. I can’t imagine he survived.”

“Well now, that’s some good news if ever I heard any! I’m going to head back and report to Count Blumheart at once!”

“I’ll leave that to you, then. The two of us will float down and join up with you later,” Jeanne decided.

“Got it! See you then!”

After exchanging pleasantries, the dragoons headed back to the main Blue Brigade camp.

Jeanne watched them go, then returned her gaze to the burning structure below. “…Still, what kind of man blows himself up along with his castle?” she muttered.

“That old guy didn’t give a crap about anyone’s life, not even his own. He was probably happy getting a chance to sacrifice himself for the empire,” Shinobu reasoned.

“A nation owes everything to the value its people create. Survival of the fittest might be the national policy, but any country that abandons its people has no future. With this, the Gustav domain is saved. All that’s left is to take the gold Gustav gathered and use it to improve the lives of the citizens as quickly as possible.”

Easier said than done, if y’ask meee… Although she didn’t voice them, Shinobu had her doubts.

Jeanne’s chivalrous desire to protect the weak was genuine. After spending the past few days with her, Shinobu was sure enough of that. Count Blumheart, the leader of the Blue Brigade that Jeanne herself held in high esteem, may very well have been cut from the same cloth.

From what Shinobu had heard, he’d expressed misgivings about Gustav’s statesmanship from an early stage. Even after Gustav outranked him, Blumheart still used their shared childhood at the imperial military academy as means for an audience in order to warn the Fastidious Duke not to ignore his subjects’ well-being. Annoyed, Gustav had banished him to the domain’s outskirts for his troubles.

From there, Blumheart had gathered Jeanne and other such good-hearted individuals together and formed the beginnings of what would become the Blue Brigade.

However, what had their organization become?

As Gustav’s leadership worsened, the Blue Brigade had grown larger and larger. Unfortunately, many of the group’s nobles had only joined after the negative effects from Gustav’s policies started impacting them personally.

Shinobu believed it unlikely that such people would be eager to help those in need. More concerning, however, was Shinobu’s hunch that Gustav wasn’t actually dead yet. She thought back to what the madman said right before he’d done himself in.

The duke hadn’t spoken with the tone of a man prepared to accept his fate, and that fact weighed heavily on Shinobu’s mind. Her suspicions only deepened when no corpse was found in the wreckage.

Gustav’s explosion had succeeded in taking out fifteen hundred soldiers in an instant, though—enemies and allies alike. Deciding that it didn’t make sense for the man at the epicenter of such a blast to come out in one piece, the nobles soon made the decision to call off the search.

Word began to travel that Oslo el Gustav had blown himself to smithereens, and the Blue Brigade was declared victorious.

In place of Count Blumheart, who had tragically died during the final battle, Marquis Conrad took over as temporary lord of the domain, drawing a final curtain on the war.

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