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Chapter 6 - Showdown at the Tomino Basin  

As soon as dawn broke, Neuro learned of the group that left the Byakkokan Checkpoint under the cover of night. He knew it totaled around a thousand and that Tsukasa Mikogami, Ringo Oohoshi, Aoi Ichijou, Keine Kanzaki, Prince Akatsuki, and Lyrule—his target—were among those who fled.

How had Neuro learned so many details so quickly? It was all thanks to the Dragon Knights he’d sent to patrol the skies. By using the sight-copying spell he’d once cast on Nio and the other exchange students, he was able to project what the Dragon Knights saw directly onto his crystal ball and maintain a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield from countless different perspectives. He quite literally had eyes in the sky. He saw everything through them. No surprise attack was safe from his all-penetrating surveillance, and it allowed Neuro to devise swift, effective countermeasures to every enemy maneuver. It was much the same as how Tsukasa and the Prodigies had fought using their military satellite. However, they’d recently lost that particular asset, and Neuro was using the same tactic against them.

After utilizing his aerial viewpoint to spot the Prodigies, Neuro took the ten thousand soldiers he’d assigned as a reserve corps and pursued his quarry down the Byakkokan Checkpoint detour. Light cavalry riders were the second-fastest type of imperial troops after Dragon Knights. Neuro selected five hundred of them to strip all nonessential equipment—and chase the detached Yamato force with no regard to rank or formation. Once their initial attacks slowed the enemy, the plan was to swoop in with the other two thousand cavalry members and 7,500 infantry troops and crush them.

Neuro’s actions were as swift as possible, a testament to his fear of losing Lyrule.

“You’re not going anywhere…”

Neuro’s words had none of their usual easygoing lilt. His voice positively brimmed with purpose. He urged his horse onward through the night.

The plan to kill Lyrule, the person who’d inherited Yggdra’s seal, and revive his creator, Father, using Emperor Lindworm’s body wasn’t something that Neuro had devised on his own. It was a collaborative plot with the other Four Imperial Grandmaster homunculi, who were presently hunting elves in the New World. If Neuro had wished to make certain of his success, he would have waited for them to return before resuming the fight with the Prodigies.

However, that wasn’t what Neuro did. Everything from Neuro offering to send the Prodigies home to the current war had been his decision. He hadn’t sent a single report to the others—and for good reason. Neuro wished to produce better results than the others so Father would praise him.

Neuro had been born a little after the others, and he was always the one who got the short end of the stick. Being abandoned in the empire was the latest evidence of that. His siblings constantly stuck him with the boring jobs and took the responsibilities that would earn Father’s praise for themselves.

It really pissed him off.

However, Neuro had discovered that the information about the elves fleeing to the New World was just a distraction they’d cooked up with Yggdra. Neuro, the one left behind in Freyjagard, was the closest to the elf protecting the seal.

Neuro had no intention of letting that stroke of good fortune pass him by.

For all the opportunity, there were risks, too. If Lyrule managed to elude him, he’d have to shoulder the entirety of the blame. That would incur Father’s displeasure. Neuro might even lose his chance to get Father to return him to his original body.


The thought was so terrifying that it made him tremble.

It reminded Neuro of when they’d attacked Yamato in the hope of tracking down leads on the seal. When Neuro and the other grandmasters finally located the elf village, they also found the body of their old compatriot, Yggdra. They tried to destroy the traitor’s corpse but couldn’t get the job done. Yggdra had evolved into an all-but-perfect life-form, and though she was dead, mortal human bodies couldn’t so much as damage her.

Neuro had never cursed his new form more than at that moment.

If, by some improbable stroke of misfortune, he failed to kill Lyrule, and Father blamed him and forced him to remain in that inferior ape form…

Neuro couldn’t bear the thought of such a wretched existence. He would rather die.

If it ends up coming to that…

Neuro cast a furtive glance down at his pocket…

However, he quickly clicked his tongue and tore his gaze away.

“There’s a one in a million chance that ends up being necessary. No, one in a billion.”

…and shook his head to drive off that horrible notion.

The otherworldly Prodigies guarding Lyrule were a nuisance, to be sure, but they were still only human. They weren’t angels, just apes who died when you stabbed them. Neuro only required his overwhelming magic and military assets to crush them. Even without his original body, his magical knowledge was years more advanced than anything this world possessed. There was no way he could lose.

He decided to stop worrying about unlikely possibilities. Instead, he focused himself and glared into the distance toward his target.

Neuro knew full well that his enemies’ movements were a trap designed to lure him out. Yamato couldn’t win this war traditionally, so it made sense that they’d aim to launch a pinpoint strike on him, the one person responsible for the conflict. Neuro had to give his opponents credit; it was a clever move. When faced with the possibility of Lyrule getting away, Neuro had no choice but to pursue. The High School Prodigies likely intended to launch their nuclear missiles and defeat him with extreme firepower.

“I have to say, you’re really not giving me much credit.”

Neuro was a little offended. How could they ever hope to kill him with a weapon that had failed to finish off the likes of Gustav? Neuro’s only concern was the possibility his foes had increased their strength via unexpected backup. However, he’d already taken measures against the aid from Elm. Masato Sanada’s hatred for Tsukasa Mikogami was the genuine article. There were no signs that he was lying, so Neuro was willing to put a fair bit of trust in him. He felt confident that Masato would stop the Elm reinforcements.

That meant all he need worry about were the thousand troops accompanying Lyrule, and they were no match for him.

“I’m going to make you regret refusing my offer to send you home.”

Neuro chased after Lyrule and the rest of the group that had fled from the main battle. The relentless nature of his pursuit meant that his foot soldiers were left behind, but he’d never counted on their strength. He was only up against an infantry of a thousand. Even taking the Yamato soldiers’ raw combat prowess into account, Neuro had 2,500 cavalry members, counting the five hundred that rode off ahead. That was more than sufficient.

After all, Neuro’s mounted troops were no ordinary riders.

Neuro’s aggressively swift response, facilitated by his reserve force that answered only to him, paid off.

Roughly forty hours after Neuro began his pursuit, right as the sun crested the mountains, Neuro’s light cavalry advance troops finally slowed the Prodigies and their thousand Yamato soldiers enough for him to catch sight of them in the Tomino Basin.


The Tomino Basin was located on the northern side of Yamato, and when the Yamato detached force arrived there from the Byakkokan Checkpoint, it stopped its march and set to erecting defensive fortifications on a hill situated right on the edge of the basin and the forest.

This position was necessary to fend off the impending five-hundred-person cavalry charge. Lightly equipped or not, cavalry was still cavalry. The Yamato detached force was primarily composed of infantry, and it wasn’t hard to see just how poorly things would go if they engaged the Freyjagard force without a solid defensive position.

Like it or not, retreat was no longer an option. Granted, the Prodigies’ goal had never been to help Lyrule escape, but to use her as bait to draw out Neuro, so they hadn’t been fleeing in earnest anyway. Still, there was no reason to let their enemies know that.

The Prodigies stopped in their tracks, pretending that the oncoming cavalry had left them with no choice as they set up their position atop a hill in the Tomino Basin, the location that they’d been planning to make their stand at from the very onset. They placed their main forces at the hill’s apex, then surrounded it on all sides with a defensive line about halfway up the hill in preparation for the light cavalry’s attack.

Because the Prodigies had gotten a head start, they knew their foes would need to use cavalry to catch up. In anticipation of that, they assembled their force with over four times as many soldiers with pikes and great shield carriers as usual and arranged them in a square formation. Repelling the light cavalry would be child’s play.

The imperials lost over half their troops and gained nothing in return after the first charge. Then they forfeited another half of the remainder during the second, and suffered more casualties during the Yamato counterattack before they could mount a third assault.

However, due in no small part to the fact that the Yamato side fought defensively because it couldn’t afford to waste any soldiers, the conflict took a long while.

As a result, by the time the light cavalry was dispatched, Neuro’s other two thousand mounted warriors had arrived.


“They showed up quite quickly, that they did.”

Aoi glared at Neuro’s troops from atop a small hill as they surged from the mountain path. The Tomino Basin had few trees, making it easy to spot foes from as far as three miles.

“By my count…there’s close to two thousand of them.”

“When he found out there were only a thousand of us, Neuro must have decided that he didn’t need an infantry and sent the faster members of his force’s army ahead.”

Tsukasa turned his attention to the clear white winter sky. Three dark shadows circled overhead—Dragon Knights. They must have employed some method to transmit the Prodigies’ whereabouts and the size of their force to Neuro. Tsukasa was sure of it. It was precisely what he’d wanted the Dragon Knights to do—and the reason why he’d left them in the air unbothered.


“That’s quite a lot more cavalry than we expected,” Keine remarked.

“Indeed,” Tsukasa said, grimacing. He’d known that Neuro would take his cavalry and ride on ahead. As a matter of fact, Tsukasa had acted specifically to get Neuro to do that. However, that was a hell of a lot of cavalry. He’d expected to face less than half that total. “Neuro’s army hasn’t fought on the front lines a single time during this war. It’s been kept in reserve throughout the entire conflict. The fact that the grandmaster was able to hold that cavalry back… Suppressing that Blueblood uprising must have made him even more influential than before.”

The enemy cavalry outnumbered the Yamato forces defending the hill by a factor of about two to one. What’s more, the light cavalry battle earlier had prevented the Prodigies and their troops from fortifying the hill as planned. Splitting up your forces and having them fight independently was normally a go-to example of poor military strategy, but Neuro’s decision had denied Tsukasa and the others the time to enact their tactic properly. Now the Prodigies had to fight off the tidal wave of imperial cavalry with nothing guarding their position on the gentle slope but a handful of loosely scattered trees and boulders.

All that said, though…

That Neuro devoted so much to launch such a blistering pursuit just goes to show how terrified he is of the prospect of Lyrule escaping.

Despite the complications, the situation proceeded exactly as expected.

“We’re sticking to the original plan. Our job is to draw our foes in and hold this hill until Akatsuki has time to finish setting up the plan,” Tsukasa declared.

One of the Yamato generals hurried over to deliver a report. “Mr. Angel, the hostiles are on the move!”

A second look at the enemy forces in the distance revealed they were charging straight toward the hill.

As the brains of the detached force, Tsukasa reacted in turn. “Ringo, do you have a lock on Neuro’s position?”

Ringo had been using her goggles’ binocular function to search for Neuro. “I—I do! He’s with the central company, near the back!” she replied.

“Good. Then let’s pay our opponent back for the other day before he has a chance to close in. On my mark.”

“Got it…!”

Ringo and Tsukasa nodded, then held their bright-red flare guns aloft.

They pulled the triggers.

“Thor’s Hammer, numbers eight and eleven, fire!”


The two red signal flares rising into the air were a sign to the watchtower on the Elm border to launch a pair of nuclear missiles. Upon spotting them, the Bearabbit AI in the watchtower promptly relayed the order to the missile site in Elm proper.

Without a moment’s delay, a pair of missiles went speeding for the Tomino Basin.

Neuro had eradicated the Prodigies’ military satellite, so the Bearabbit AI loaded onto the missiles themselves had to handle the post-launch aiming. The Prodigies had used the network to inform the Bearabbit AI that Neuro was a full-fledged enemy back when the satellite was still up and running, so Ringo’s brilliant creation wouldn’t mistake his target.

The missiles sped in from the distance straight for Neuro’s army. All they had to do was hit, and the Prodigies would win. It was a shame that so many soldiers would die in the process, but ending the war now would keep the deaths to a minimum.



Ringo found herself at a loss for what to say.

Just before the missiles connected with the imperials, a series of lights that resembled laser beams shot from Neuro’s army, cleaving the rockets in two. Ringo used implosion-type nuclear missiles, so as soon as they were cut through from warheads to vents, the damage made them incapable of triggering nuclear explosions.

After rupturing half-heartedly in midair because of their propellants and ignition powder, the missiles tumbled to the ground as impotent hunks of scrap metal.

“They both…got shot down…”

“Were those lasers?”

“Presumably, it was a tactical magic version of the war magic he used the last time. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Grandmaster Neuro is keeping such a close watch on the sky.”

This development earned a slight shrug from Tsukasa. There wasn’t any serious disappointment in the gesture or in the expressions of the other Prodigies. They’d seen this coming, after all. Neuro knew about nuclear missiles. He wouldn’t have come out of hiding without countermeasures ready. This wasn’t the result the Prodigies had wanted, but it was the one they’d expected.

“I hoped to get a little payback for the war magic he used the other day before he was too close to fire nuclear arms, but I guess he’s intent on doing this the hard way. Apparently, there’s no other choice, then. All units, prepare to intercept!”

Tsukasa adapted swiftly and issued orders.

“We’re up against cavalry. They’ll want to take advantage of their momentum, so we don’t have to worry about them going past the tree line and slipping behind our hill. Instead, they’re going to charge and meet us on the slope. We’ll need to intercept them from three sides, the right flank, the left flank, and head-on.

“The front group will defend against the brunt of the hostiles, while the groups on the sides will be positioned for when the enemy tries to close around us. Listen, our opponents aren’t going throw all their strength at us from the onset. There isn’t much point in attacking in tall vertical formations with cavalry. Instead, I expect them to divide into a forward and rear group and attack us in waves. Our defensive formations need to remain intact at all times.”

The instant Tsukasa finished his explanation, the oncoming cavalry did exactly what he predicted and split into a vanguard and a rearguard. The rearguard decelerated to a stop at the base of the hill, while the vanguard continued up alone.

The first clash would begin in less than a minute.

Knowing that, the Yamato general raised his voice and issued one final directive to his troops. “They outnumber us two to one! And what’s more, they’re almost all mounted! Yet we have nothing to fear! We are soldiers of Yamato, and our strength is known the continent over! Let’s show these sons of bitches who reigns supreme here on our home turf!!!!”


The soldiers on the hill answered their general’s fervor with a war cry as they formed a defensive wall halfway down the hill with their shields, pikes, and bodies. The warrior’s gritted teeth were proof of their determination not to cede a single inch to the overwhelming force barreling forward.



…a full section of the Yamato central defensive line got blasted away, determination and all. Their bodies were shredded into flying chunks.

The two armies had yet to collide. What had happened?

Soldiers hurriedly scanned their surroundings, and when they did—they saw them.

They saw the balls of fire the enemy army was firing off as they charged.

“They’ve got cannons—no, magic!”

“Tch! Stay frosty! That’s no ordinary cavalry! It’s a mage cavalry!”


“Ha-ha-ha! Weaklings, weaklings, weakliiiings!”

“Did those numbskulls seriously think we were just cavalry?”

“As if a few hunks of wood were ever going to stop our mage cavalry, the strongest military division on the continent!”

The charging vanguard mockery rang out loud and clear as a handful of them shot fireballs and lightning from their swords. It was tactical magic. The vanguard forerunners were anything but your run-of-the-mill mounted soldiers. They were members of a mage cavalry, a unit made up of Imperial Mages. Their spells gave them firepower on par with mortar gunners’.

Fire and lightning rained from the sky, causing explosions that tore huge chunks out of the Yamato soldiers’ formation.

“W-we’re getting slammed here! Archers, aim for the spellcasters!”

While the Yamato soldiers watched their comrades fall in droves, they fought back by having each of their archers fire off a volley. For all their accuracy, the arrows flew wide like leaves scattered by the wind.

“It’s no use! Every arrow is missing! They’re still coming!”

“They’re using wind spirits to cast protection spells!”

“Grab every shield you can off the ground! I don’t care if you have to gnaw their horses’ legs off; just don’t let them break our line!”

Moments later, the two armies finally made contact.

The hill’s slope dulled the cavalry’s charge a little, but they were still a serious threat to any unmounted infantry. Many of the Yamato soldiers got injured when the incoming steeds slammed them into the soldiers behind them, and some of the unlucky ones got crushed to death.

However, the Yamato soldiers were strong and proud, and they refused to go down easily. Their general had given them an order right before they clashed with the enemy, and they were determined to obey. Wherever the frontline soldiers had dropped their shields upon getting blown apart by magic, the soldiers in the back ranks scooped them up and plugged the gaps in the formation. All the soldiers who had been selected to leave the Byakkokan Checkpoint were veterans. There wasn’t a single rookie conscript among their ranks. Field battles demanded more experience than simply defending a fortified position, and Kaguya had made the appropriate arrangements knowing that.

Now that decision was paying off.

Thanks to their experience, the Yamato soldiers were able to quickly reassemble the defensive line and just barely keep the charging cavalry in check by skewering the oncoming foes with their long line of pikes. Then, anyone not equipped with a pike went in and stabbed at the immobilized horses with their katanas. When the animals bucked wildly from the pain, they sent their riders flying to be trampled by their own mount and those around them.

Despite the efficacy of the Yamato force’s techniques, it wasn’t enough to keep Freyjagard’s soldiers down.

The reason for that was simple: The imperials were mounted. People often misunderstood why cavalry units were so powerful, but it wasn’t just the speed and force of a mounted charge. Even in stationary melees, cavalry soldiers were leagues more powerful than infantry warriors. Being on horseback gave them the high ground, but the mightiest weapon of all was the steed itself. Even the lightest warhorse was six or seven hundred pounds, and while the damage they could do with a full charge went without saying, they could easily lay someone out just by casually gamboling around. A kick with a horse’s weight behind it was more than enough to crush a person’s lungs. That made warhorses plenty scary.

All this meant that cavalry soldiers were a problem, but that was only half the issue. Neuro’s army had mages mixed among the ranks. While the two armies butchered their way through each other on the front lines, the mage cavalry enjoyed the run of the battle. Wind spirits were gathered around their swords in the shape of blades. With each swing, they sliced through five or six Yamato soldiers, shields and all. Against strength on that scale, even the mighty Yamato samurai were powerless to stop them. There weren’t that many mages, so they weren’t able to completely obliterate the Yamato defensive line, but they did manage to chew through the wall of bodies here and there.

Neuro laughed in delight as he watched it all play out from the rearguard. “Heh-heh-heh. Those apes should have fled into the mountains like good little monkeys. Did our scant numbers fool you into believing you could hold us off? Well, you’re dead wrong.”

Most of the Imperial Mages were off on the New World campaign, but Neuro’s personal army boasted a considerable number of those who’d remained.

All those mages under the nobles’ command were technically just on loan from the imperial household, so they only had a few at their disposal. The same wasn’t true of Neuro, however. He and the other grandmasters weren’t nobles, instead fighting for the emperor directly. Lindworm trusted them deeply—and thus allotted them far more spellcasters than usual. That meant Neuro’s army was more powerful than anything the Prodigies had fought to date. It almost defied comparison.

“This is probably your first time going up against an army with magic-users. After all, most of the nobility’s mages are over in the New World. This must be your lucky day. You finally get to taste their terrifying might for yourselves.”

Neuro raised his hand and gave the signal, and fifty or so foot soldiers who’d been waiting with the rearguard at the base of the hill stepped forward.

The group had ridden to the battlefield by wagon, and it was comprised of boys and girls with faces that had yet to shed their youthful innocence. They were Imperial Second-Class Mages—students still attending the magic school owned and controlled by the imperial family. Individually, their spells were weak, and more importantly, they required time to cast, so they couldn’t wade into the fray like the mage cavalry. However, they could still be an effective asset when gathered in one place to act as a fixed battery.

“Assume the artillery formation.”

“““Yes, sir!!!!”””

The youths gave Neuro’s command a rousing reply as they formed a line. Each drew a wooden wand off their hip and gathered fire spirits to its tip. The light at the ends of their wands gradually intensified, becoming flames. Then…

“On my mark, Firebolts!”

…by Neuro’s command, the students launched their flames in unison at the hill where the Yamato formation made its stand. They aimed for the center of the battle, paying no mind to the presence of allies. Neuro’s army suffered major casualties, of course, but the Yamato side lost even more. The bombardment left the Yamato defensive line so tattered it barely even functioned anymore.

Neuro wasn’t going to let that opportunity go to waste.

He gave the order to the rearguard cavalry that had remained at the base of the hill when he split his forces front to back. “All rearguard units, advance! Break through the enemy’s line while it’s reeling and trample it into the ground!”


When Neuro gave the order for the rearguard to charge, the vanguard cavalry soldiers battling the Yamato defensive line heard the bugle call. They followed the plan and pulled back at the sound. After making their way back down the gentle slope and putting some distance between themselves and their foes, they took a breather and prepared for the next push.

However, the Yamato soldiers were afforded no such luxury.

As the Freyjagard vanguard disengaged, the rearguard stormed up to take its place. And that wasn’t all. Just as the vanguard had been full of mounted mages, the rearguard sported plenty of special units, too. A magical monoceros carried several times the strength of a regular warhorse. An armored one with a rider created a squad capable of the deadliest charge in the entire imperial army.

The magical bombardment had destroyed the Yamato side’s formation, and the armored cavalry’s assault gouged nearly halfway through their defensive line in one fell swoop.

“We’ve got armored cavalry soldiers attacking from the center! We’re suffering enormous losses!”

“The mage bombardment sent our left flank into disarray, and the hostiles are breaking through our line! It’s chaos out there!”

“O-our right flank’s getting pounded from overhead! The Dragon Knights are going on the offensive! We’re taking heavy hits!”

“W-we can’t hold out any longer, Mr. Angel! The enemy’s bombing us from the sky with their magic, and we can’t maintain our formation!”

Tsukasa’s expression turned grimmer with each report about the fight. The Yamato forces were falling quicker than anticipated. He’d assumed that an army made of powerful Yamato soldiers fighting with the high-ground advantage would hold out a bit longer.

That mage cavalry’s a problem.

The armored cavalry was threatening, too, but ultimately, it was formed of stronger horse riders. Its strength was the force of its charges, but the terrain did a fair bit to blunt that. However, it did nothing to slow the mage cavalry. It had the mobility of a mounted company paired with the close-quarters capabilities of infantry and the long-range destructive power of artillery, allowing them to single-handedly embody the principle of combined arms. With how limited the Prodigies’ resources were, the mage cavalry was a nasty foe to contend with. It had fallen back for the time being while the imperial rearguard took center stage, but as soon as the rearguard faltered, the mages would swoop in for the imperials’ third assault.

If they get another chance to attack us…

As things stood, that would be more than the Yamato defensive line could withstand, and Tsukasa wasn’t the only one who knew it.

“Mr. Angel, shouldn’t we be pulling back our forces and retreating into the trees?!” one of the Yamato generals asked.


“We can’t. Not yet.”

…Tsukasa shut him down.

“B-but why?!”

“Because we can’t afford a protracted battle. Retreating into the forest will allow us to survive the present situation, but it will extend the fight and give the enemy’s infantry time to get here. If that happens, we’re done for. If we want to win, we have to maintain this position and hold the enemy in the Tomino Basin kill zone so we can gamble on the plan I gave Akatsuki.”

Tsukasa made his call.

“Aoi and Keine, we’re going to go assist on the front lines.”

“You’re moving out, too?” Keine asked.

“Things are worse than I anticipated, especially over on our right flank. We’ve probably lost our general over there to one of the bombing runs. I’m going to bring some soldiers from up here with me and rendezvous with the right flank so I can get it back in fighting form. Ringo?”


“This will leave the headquarters underdefended for a bit. Neuro’s strategy is based on giving his cavalry room to build up speed, so I doubt he’ll try using the tree line to circle behind the hill. Still, stranger things have happened. Make sure you stay vigilant.”

“Y-you…got it!”

“Keine, I want you on the left flank. Aoi, you’re in charge of the center. Your jobs are to help our fighters maintain the front while we pull our defensive line eight-tenths of the way up the hill. Our Yamato veterans withstood the first and second charges by the skin of their teeth, but the third charge will be the death of us. By falling back a bit, we can reduce the amount of ground our line needs to cover and bolster our density.”

“If we pull back that far, our line will be right up against the headquarters and Lyrule,” Keine said. “Are you comfortable with that?”

“It’s fine. Better that than holding our current position and having the hostiles break right through.”

“Very well, then.”

“It shall be done!”

Tsukasa nodded at their responses.

Akatsuki hadn’t said a word the whole time, and Tsukasa shot a glance over at him…or rather, at the ninja disguised as him…

“Akatsuki says he’ll be finished in thirty minutes, and I’m confident he’ll come through. This is do-or-die for us. We need to put everything we have into holding the line here, no matter what it takes.”

…then offered some words of encouragement, as much for himself as anything, and drew the rifle off his shoulder as he made to descend the hill.

Aoi and Keine followed.

Before they got very far, someone called after them.

“Hold on a moment!”

It was Lyrule. Tsukasa, Aoi, and Keine turned to face her, confused.

When they did, she spoke in a voice with an uncommon degree of conviction.

“I want to fight, too!”


Meanwhile, over on the front lines, Neuro’s rearguard gnashed at the Yamato soldiers fighting desperately to hold them off.

The Yamato side was taking full advantage of its uphill position and its anti-cavalry pikes and bows to stop the imperials just short of breaking through the line. Such a feat would have been impossible if not for the Yamato troops’ morale.

However, any front held together by morale alone eventually reached its breaking point.

The Yamato soldiers boasted incredible strength, but this was still a battle of cavalry against infantry, and the enemy had mounted mages and armored warhorses. It went without saying which side was stronger, and the majority of the corpses tumbling down the bloodstained slope belonged to those fighting for Yamato.

In the short time since the battle to defend the hill began, the Yamato army had already lost more than half its ranks. It had managed to hold against the second charge and bring things to a melee, but the soldiers all felt it. They wouldn’t survive a third.

“Shit! That magic is a problem, but the armored cavalry’s no joke, either!”

“I know how to slice through iron when it’s just sitting there, but doing it against a moving horse is a different story!”

“If only Master Shishi were with us!”

“Yeah, well, he isn’t!”

Two of the samurai fighting on the front lines exchanged complaints like they were trying to spit out the nasty feeling of despair rising in their chests. However…

“Ha! These poor bastards put up a good fight, but they don’t know when to give up! There’s no way a group of foot soldiers could ever beat our monoceros warhorses!”

“Eat this, you rebel dogs!”

…no matter how hopeless the situation nor how much their bodies ached, they never felt the urge to flee.

“Enemy reinforcements are coming in. Thirty on horseback, all of ’em armored. You want to make a break for it?”

“You’re kidding, right? Like hell I’m gonna let those imperials walk all over us.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself. If I go down here, I’m dragging every one of those bastards to hell with me!”

The samurai kept their battered bodies upright with little more than sheer willpower as they glared at the armored cavalry racing up the hill. They were determined to stop the warhorses, even if it meant biting through the horses’ legs.

Then it happened.

“That’s the spirit, that it is!”

The Yamato headquarters enacted the plan to change the tide of the battle.

A girl leaped over the two samurai battling the cavalry and landed in front of them. There, with both her indigo-blue kimono and black hair so glossy it nearly looked wet fluttering in the breeze, stood prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou.

“M-Ms. Angel?!”

“It’s admirable that you haven’t let your spirits waver in such a dire situation! There is still time yet to be bought, though. It is too early for you to be burning yourselves out, that it is!” After telling off the samurai, she gestured at the charging cavalry with her lapis lazuli blade. “I shall stop the enemy’s charge. Follow along after me!”

“Wh-what do you mean, ‘stop the—’?”

How did she plan on halting the enemy’s advance?

The Yamato soldiers never got a chance to ask.

Aoi took action faster than they could voice their doubts. She stood in front of the cavalry alone, inhaled deeply…


…and shouted.

The sound was more than just vocal cord vibration. It was a bellow squeezed from every inch of her body. It wasn’t the sort meant to encourage herself or her allies.


“Gah! Ah?!”

Aoi’s cry carried her bloodlust, pure and unvarnished. It far outstripped that of either army.

The samurai near Aoi weren’t her targets, yet they shivered so intensely that they struggled to stand up straight. The imperials had it even worse.


“Wh-what’s going on?! Shit! My horse is freaking out!”

“The hell’s wrong with you? Why’d you stop?!”

The riders themselves didn’t react too strongly, but the warhorses were cowardly herbivores by nature, and the intense fury in that cry threw them into a panic. They stopped in their tracks, turned to run, and wound up crashing into each other.

Aoi seized upon that dysfunction immediately.

“Forgive me—Iron-Cleaving Flash.”

She raced forward, practically gliding over the ground as she charged into the steeds while her body spun like a top. Aoi’s slash was low and even, and with a single blow, she sliced through a good ten horses’ legs, armor and all.

“You…you demon!”

The riders thrown to the ground went pale at the incomprehensible development, but they drew their swords all the same.

However, cavalrymen without their mounts were hardly anything to fear.


The Yamato soldiers who’d followed Aoi as per her orders slew the imperials without giving them time to stand.

“I guess that’s the power of an angel for you! I can’t believe she stopped the armored cavalry in its tracks with just her voice!”

“Now that the horses are standing still, we can handle them, too! Everyone, aim for the monoceros’ hind legs! The plates back there can’t possibly be too thick! We should be able to cleave through their armor!”


These veterans hadn’t survived Yamato’s many battles on luck alone. Now that they’d been afforded an opportunity to get off the ropes, their actions were as swift as they were precise. The two samurai and their troops descended upon the remaining horses, targeting their hind legs. The monoceros’ armor hadn’t been designed to withstand rear attacks, and the Yamato soldiers swiftly rendered the beasts powerless.

The cavalry attacking the center of the Yamato formation suffered critical damage from the sudden organized counterattack. Eventually, the Freyjagard troops abandoned the fight altogether. They turned around and descended the hill so they could rebuild their momentum.

While this was happening, something similar was transpiring on the left flank.

“Let me go, dammit! I can still fight!”

“Not with half your guts spilling out, you can’t! I need bandages! Someone get some bandages over here, now!”

“Owww! It huuuuurts!”

“Quit your whining! It’s just a broken leg!”

The situation here wasn’t much better than the one at the center. Soon after the magical bombardment had thrown things into chaos, the cavalry charge had inflicted grievous casualties.

A short distance from the front lines, halfway up the hill, soldiers incapable of fighting were receiving emergency first aid. However, there was only so much the combat medics could do so close to an active battle. Most of the wounded had bled out, and even those the medics narrowly managed to stabilize were racked with too much pain to be useful. If Neuro’s forces got through, the wounded would be massacred.

One of the medics grimaced at the sorry state of affairs. “Man, this magic stuff is killer… It’s just like three years ago, when we couldn’t do a thing against Gustav’s Rage Soleil…”

The byuma samurai receiving treatment grew furious at the medic’s complaints. “That’s loser talk! Master Kira and the others back at the checkpoint are fighting an army many times the size of this one! Once you’re done patching us up, we’re heading right back to the front lines! Those with broken legs can drag themselves into the fray! Even from the ground, we can still stab an imperial in the balls!”

“I told you to quit shouting! I just got your guts back in, and now they’re falling out again!”

“Oh, shaddup!”

The samurai was so intoxicated with passion that he couldn’t feel pain. Ignoring the hole in his abdomen left by a spear, he tried to stand and return to the battle.

That’s when she arrived.

“Well, what a lively bunch of patients we have here.”

“A-Angel Keine?! Wh-what’re you doing on the front lines?!” the soldiers exclaimed. She was supposed to be up at the headquarters.

Keine didn’t answer the question. Rather than wasting time indulging their confusion…

“…Lacerations on the left torso, fracture in the right ocular fundus, partial break on the right upper arm, multiple sternum fractures, right leg completely missing, multiple open abdomen wounds, open fractures and stab injuries in the femoral area, one punctured lung, dislocated left shoulder, partial breaks on the right-hand ring and pinkie fingers…and minor burns and subcutaneous bleeding from blunt trauma across the board.”

…She cast her gaze over the wounded and promptly diagnosed the level of every injury.

Her white gown billowed as she hurled several rolls of bandages over the injured soldiers’ heads.

“Now, this will only take a moment.”

“““Huh? Whaaaat?!”””

With only the slightest of warnings, Keine charged into the injured soldiers’ ranks. The troops braced themselves, unsure of what she intended to do, but their caution was unfounded.

Keine wasn’t the sort to hurt people. She was a doctor.

She ran like the wind, weaving her way past the wounded, then whirled around once she got to the end, caught the bandages in both hands, and stowed them in her gown. “I have stanched the major wounds and provided stopgap treatment for all the fractures. I’ve also dulled the pain, so it should be easier for you to get around.”

“Huh? Whoa! My wounds! They’re all closed up!”

“What? C’mon, man, don’t be ridicu—wait, what?!”

On hearing Keine’s announcement, the soldiers looked down at their bodies and cried out in disbelief. All their wounds, even the serious ones, had been wholly mended.

“She did all that running past us?! Angelic power is incredible!” the byuma samurai who’d been trying to return to the battle despite having his guts hanging out exclaimed. He squeezed at his sutured wound to test it, and though he felt a dull, painful tightness, not a single drop of blood escaped. With a suture like that, he could get wild without fretting over it coming undone.

“M-much appreciated. Now we can get back to the fight! To arms, everyone!”

“Way ahead of you! I can move again! This is no time to be lazing about!”

“Thank you, Ms. Angel!”

The Yamato soldiers had their fire back.

As Keine watched them, her shoulders sank. “It brings me no joy as a physician to help people overexert themselves. But I do recognize that this is a situation where you have little choice but to keep fighting despite your wounds. I intend to assist in whatever meager way I can to help you do the most with what you have.”

Keine’s support ended up playing a huge role in keeping the left flank together. Some of the soldiers’ wounds were beyond treatment, but Keine was able to get anyone with superficial punctures and lacerations right back to the front lines. Clashing against a defensive line that remained unbroken no matter how much they carved away at it started taking its toll on Neuro’s forces, and eventually, they had to retreat from the front lines.

And the right flank, the one closest to collapse from the Dragon Knight’s bombs, was no different.

“Th-they’re nose-diving again! Those Dragon Knights are coming in for another bombing run!”

“Spread out, spread out! If we clump up, they’ll just blow us all away!”

“Archers, FIIIIIRE!”

“It’s no good! They keep dodging!”

“Dammit, what the hell are we supposed to do?!”


The shout cleaved through the disarray like a knife.

The Yamato soldiers turned to the source and saw that Tsukasa had come down from HQ with more soldiers in tow.

With all eyes upon them, he said, “Collect yourselves. It’s true that enemy air forces are powerful, but you’re devoting too much attention to them. Can’t you hear the sound of hooves?”


“Oh, shit! The cavalry’s coming!”

“A Dragon Knight can’t carry very many bombs at once. They’ve already used up their supply. That last nosedive they did was a diversion to thin our formation.”


Realization dawned on the soldiers upon having Tsukasa point it out. Now that they thought about it, the Dragon Knights hadn’t actually bombed them on any of their last few nosedives. Merely losing their general had sent the troops into such a panic that they were falling for the most rudimentary of bluffs.

Embarrassment was plain on their faces. And if they were embarrassed, then they were paying attention again. When Tsukasa saw their expressions, he felt confident the soldiers could still fight. “We’re never going to survive a cavalry charge this spread out. I brought reinforcements from HQ, so let’s tighten up that defensive line! Form up!”

“““Y-yes, sir!”””

On Tsukasa’s orders, the newly composed Yamato soldiers quickly reassembled their formation. With shield carriers in front and pike soldiers in the back, they engaged their foes as a wall of murder. The Dragon Knights up in the sky swooped down to scare them off again, but this time…

…Tsukasa’s rifle had something to say about that.

He quickly shot each Dragon Knight down as they dived…

“Hold the liiiiiine!!”

…and under his command, the right flank rallied and successfully drove the cavalry off.


“Our second wave of armored cavalry failed to break through the enemy’s center!”

“Something weird is going on over on the left flank! The enemy ranks just aren’t dwindling! We’re getting pushed back!”

“We’re charging straight into their right flank, but the enemies are so skilled that we keep losing ground!”

“The enemy vanguard troops are pulling themselves together, Your Excellency!”

Neuro clicked his tongue at the reports from the hill. “Tch. What the hell are you people dawdling around for?”

He’d assumed that the second charge would be more than enough to demolish a tiny group of infantry, but the pests were proving more tenacious than he’d expected.

“It would appear our enemies anticipated we would come at them with cavalry. They’re defending themselves well, and none of our forces except the armored cavalry and mage cavalry have been able to make any headway.”

“Your Excellency, we have news from the left flank! Apparently, the angels have come to the front lines and are commanding the Yamato soldiers in person!”


Upon hearing that, Neuro’s look of displeasure transformed into a malicious grin.

“Ohhh? So they’ve joined directly. They must really be at their wits’ end. Enemy ringleaders brazenly exposing themselves presents us with a perfect opportunity. Focus the Second-Class Mages’ Firebolts on the enemy’s right flank. We’ll blow their heads clean off. Then, as the Firebolts land, our vanguard forces will go back in for their next attack and send them straight to the afterlife.”

“At once!”

When Neuro gave the order, the Second-Class Mages at the foot of the hill acted. Again, they lined up horizontally, summoned up their fire spirits, and launched their spells.

“Aim all Firebolts at the enemy’s right flank! FIRE!”

The Second-Class Mages were far from experienced, but Neuro was taking full advantage of their numbers to launch a powerful suppressive bombardment. A wave of burning spheres erupted from the mages’ ranks. It arced through the blue sky and rained down on the Yamato army’s right flank.

Countless fiery blasts bloomed simultaneously, engulfing the hillside in the blink of an eye and the right flank along with it. No amount of armor was enough to survive concentrated power on that level. The Yamato soldiers and the hill itself had undoubtedly been blasted away. Anything less was inconceivable. And that was precisely why…

“What the…?”

…Neuro couldn’t help but gasp.

The fire had obscured his view, and once the wind blew it away, he saw that the hill yet stood, despite being buried by explosions. It wasn’t even smoldering.

It was almost as if…

…an invisible wall had stopped the volley short of striking the hill.

“It can’t be…”

Neuro hit upon a hunch of how this had happened.

And that idea…was right on the money.

Beyond both armies’ battle lines, standing in Yamato’s headquarters…

“I did it!”

…the young elf Lyrule clenched her fist.


“I want to fight, too! If we’re putting everything we have into this, then I want to help out!”

Lyrule volunteered herself back when the imperials’ second big charge crashed into Yamato’s defensive line, shortly after Tsukasa made the call to deploy the headquarter forces on the front lines.

At first, Tsukasa was reluctant. “But, Lyrule, you can’t use offensive magic.”

Tsukasa didn’t understand magic, and he couldn’t use it himself. However, Lyrule had explained to him what magic was to her. Apparently, it involved her talking to creatures called spirits that were as innocent as children and asking them to manifest the phenomena that she desired. Those spirits were gentle beings who disliked hurting people.

Lyrule heard the spirits’ voices because of her elven heritage. She knew how much they sobbed when normal mages who couldn’t hear them unknowingly forced them to commit acts of cruelty.

“As far as I’m concerned, asking you to do that isn’t an option. In fact, I wouldn’t ask anyone to,” Tsukasa had replied.

He didn’t know if Lyrule’s interpretation of magic was a universal truth, but in her eyes, using offensive magic was like handing a knife to a crying child and forcing them to murder someone. There was no way he could ask that of her. Moral reasons aside, he had practical concerns about putting their lives in Lyrule’s hands when he had no way of knowing when her conscience might get the better of her.

However, Lyrule’s suggestion was different than what Tsukasa imagined. “Oh, that was never my intention. Rather, I want to protect everyone!”


“I got the idea back when I used that bell in Yamato. I knew I couldn’t ask the little ones to hurt people, but I realized I could request that they protect people. It’s what the spirits wanted to do in the first place.”

Lyrule had been talking about defensive magic. She’d already used magic to support Keine, and back in the Gustav domain, she’d used it to help manufacture sulfa drugs for sepsis victims. An ex-Imperial First-Class Mage had even given her skills his stamp of approval. When it came to anything besides offensive magic, Lyrule’s skills were the real deal. However…

“I’m no expert when it comes to magic, but once you agree to do this, we’ll be operating under the assumption you can pull this off. Once you commit, it’ll be too late to say, ‘Oops, I guess I can’t do it after all.’ If people die, it’ll be entirely your fault.”

…Tsukasa had pressed her with a harsh reply.

Still, Lyrule had been undaunted. She’d given her response without falter. “Yesterday, you asked for my help. And when you did, I said I would fight by your side!”

When Tsukasa had seen the determination in her eyes, he steeled his own resolve. “All right, then. I’ll incorporate your abilities into our strategy. Honestly, you warding off the magical attacks is the best thing we could have asked for. We’ll be counting on you.”

“I won’t let you down!”

The results spoke for themselves.

“Wh-what?! I’m…alive?”

“I thought I was a goner for sure…”

“Hey, look! Some sort of invisible wall blocked the flames!”

“Could this be one of God Akatsuki’s miracles?!”

She did it!

Of all the deadly spells that rained down upon Tsukasa’s forces at the right flank, not one reached the ground. They all simply crashed into the wind spirit wall and scattered into nothing.

Neuro’s army’s attack on the Yamato troops came to a complete pause. The second wave of cavalry was retreating, the magical bombardment had fizzled, and Neuro was too flabbergasted to order his soldiers to resume their assault. Things on the battlefield had been so chaotic that the Yamato army had lacked a moment of reprieve, yet now everything was calm.

That’s when Tsukasa pounced.

“All forces, pull back to eight-tenths of the way up the hill!”

The Yamato army retreated from halfway up the hill to near the top. By moving their defensive line closer to their headquarters, they were able to reduce the length of their perimeter, building a tighter formation.


Thanks to Lyrule’s defensive magic, the Second-Class Mages’ bombardment ended in failure. The Yamato army was able to use that window to pull its battle line back and reconvene.

Neuro’s army didn’t just sit around befuddled forever, though. Before long, the grandmaster ordered his vanguard to take over for the rearguard and begin another charge. The mage cavalry had completely trounced the Yamato line at the top of the battle, and most of them were assigned to the vanguard.

However, the third charge didn’t produce the results that Neuro hoped for. It took place eight-tenths of the way up the hill, and this time, Neuro’s side suffered heavy casualties despite the advantages it held over the Yamato infantry.

It seemed unthinkable, but there was a good reason why Tsukasa had pulled his defensive line back. Under normal circumstances, the cavalry would have easily climbed a slope that gentle. Its momentum should have allowed it to smash through any obstacle. Whether eight-tenths of the way up or standing on the peak shouldn’t have made a difference.

However, that logic was true only in sterile conditions.

Presently, there was a mountain of human and horse carcasses halfway up the hill, and in aggregate, they formed barricades that slowed the cavalry charge. Neuro’s army was also suffering from internal and external factors. The mounted troops had galloped to the Tomino Basin, leaving the Freyjagard infantry behind. Fatigue was weakening the horses and their riders.

The steeds lost their momentum and collapsed, foaming at the mouth from exhaustion. Meanwhile, the Yamato army had just fortified its defensive line by condensing its length. The imperials could barely stand; there was no way they’d break the Yamato formation.

Down at the base of the hill, Neuro’s staff officers groaned at the unfavorable turn.

“The Yamato troops have completely recovered… They were so thrown off when our mage cavalry launched its first attack, but now…”

“Yeah. Now even the mage cavalry is struggling. It all started when the angels joined the battle. Even with our spellcasters, we’re no match for that weirdly powerful gun and that chick dressed like a samurai.”

“Plus, it’s a pain how quickly they recover from their wounds. How are we supposed to break their line when all their wounds close up so fast? It must be one of Akatsuki’s miracles at work.”

“If only our last bombardment had succeeded.”

“Who could have foreseen the enemy having access to a mage with such incredible defensive magic?”

“Is this really divine providence?”

Staff members muttered helplessly to each other. Their leader, Neuro, however, paid their unhelpful exchanges no mind. Instead, he stared at the battle on the hill.


“Your Excellency, um, if I might be so bold? Given that we can’t maintain our momentum, it’s my humble opinion that we ought to consider using the trees for cover and circle behind our foes,” an officer suggested timidly. He probably took Neuro’s silence for anger. In truth, though, Neuro wasn’t upset about the current state of affairs at all. If anything…

…This turn of events is pretty favorable.

Neuro hadn’t expected the magical bombardment to be blocked, but it was proof that Lyrule was here, fighting. The same went for the Prodigies placing themselves in the fray. This was far preferable to them scurrying away into the forest.

However, that advantage…

Is it just me, or does something seem off?

…was exactly what troubled Neuro.

He knew that the Prodigies had used this detached force as bait to lure him out, but he’d assumed they made a stand in the Tomino Basin because they had no choice after he shot down their nuclear missiles.

He was less certain of it now. If they’d really been forced into an open siege, why did they deploy Lyrule instead of securing her escape? In a short while, the battle would end in Freyjagard’s victory. It was inevitable. Neuro’s 7,500-strong infantry was due to arrive before long. The Yamatoans would be helpless. Neuro’s enemies should have been able to estimate Neuro’s full ranks based on the size of his cavalry. Yet they weren’t fleeing into the woods with Lyrule. Why?

It feels like they chose this fight for a reason.

Could it be? Did they have some kind of weapon besides the nuclear missiles at their disposal? Had they devised a plan that might actually kill him? It certainly didn’t look that way. Neuro’s Dragon Knights maintained a watchful eye on the entire region from the air, and there were no signs of reinforcements, no troops waiting in ambush, and no Elm backup on its way. The only forces near the Tomino Basin were Neuro’s and the Prodigies’. Technically, one other army approached, but it was on Neuro’s side. The enemy was limited to its soldiers on the hill. But if that was the case, then how did the Prodigies intend to kill him?

“Oh, forget it. This is a waste of time.”

Neuro threw all his pondering out the window. Sparing so much worry on a bunch of apes felt absurd.

“Listen up.”

“Yes, Your Excellency! What is it?”

“I’m going to go handle this personally. You there, chief of staff. You’re in charge of managing the troops.”


With that, Neuro alighted from his steed and brandished his staff. The spell he cast…


…allowed him to float. By Imperial Mage standards, it was an incredibly difficult feat of magic that only Prime Mages could manage. With its power, Neuro flew like the wind over to the eight-tenths mark where the armies were fighting.

“Wh-what’s that guy’s deal?!”

“He’s flying! Is that Levitation?!”

“Only Prime Mages can use that spell… Wait, does that mean that’s the Blue Grandmaster up there?!”

The Yamato soldiers gawked at the sight of their sworn foe. And while they did, Neuro made his move.

“Blue Splash.”

The gem on the end of his staff shone blue, and an array of beams shot from it. The surging light coursed down toward the Yamato soldiers below Neuro at the eight-tenths mark, cutting through them.

As it turned out, the light was actually formed from pressurized water—the same trick Neuro had used to shoot down the missiles. The innumerable watery blades traced their way across the ground, tearing it to shreds along with the soldiers standing atop it. No shield or armor could save the troops from being sliced apart. Thirty soldiers perished, then fifty. Wherever the blue beams went, they slaughtered the huddled Yamato soldiers, leaving them minced and unrecognizable.


Up at the hill’s summit, Lyrule’s expression contorted with grief as she beheld the scene. She’d tried to protect the soldiers from Neuro’s attack just as she had with the earlier bombardment, but Neuro’s magic tore right through the defensive wall the wind spirits built for her.

“My magic is far beyond the pale imitation these apes can manage. I’d appreciate it if you gave me a little credit.”

After a snide laugh, Neuro gazed at the massacre he’d committed…

“Still, I guess it’ll take more than that to take you down.”

…and muttered a remark colored by some small respect.

His comment was directed at the girl who’d evaded every last one of the pressurized water beams, who stood amid the mountain of shredded corpses atop the mangled hill’s slope.

“Aoi, was it? It’s been a while. A shame our reunion isn’t under better circumstances.”


“Blue Splash!”


The pressurized jets of water sped for Aoi. She narrowly managed to dodge them with feints and tight footwork, but that was all she could manage. Neuro was over 150 feet off the ground. No katana could reach that far.

Having forced Aoi into a purely defensive battle, Neuro laughed at her from the sky. “Ha-ha-ha. What’s the matter? Running around will only get all your allies killed. Aren’t you supposed to be an angel? A beacon for the people? Come on, fight me! If you don’t…”

“Ms. Angel!”

“We’re coming to help!”


Male voices caught Aoi’s ear, and when she whirled around, she saw fifty-odd armored soldiers rushing over to her with their shields held high.

She went pale and screamed…


…but the words came too slow.

The blue blades changed their target from Aoi to the soldiers and cleaved right through them, shields and all. Their wooden protection was useless against water pressure intense enough to cleave through the earth.


The sight of the soldiers’ brutal deaths lit a fire in Aoi’s heart. She poured her rage into Mikazuki, the precious sword that Kaguya had given her.

For prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou, 150 feet was well within range. She possessed a technique to generate a funnel vacuum to cut down her foes—Dew-Blade Breeze.

She took aim at her aerial foe and tried to loose the same attack she’d used to slice off Gustav’s arms…

“My whirling secret technique… Wh—?!”

…but when she did, Mikazuki let out a scream.

A shallow fissure ran down its lapis lazuli blade with a cracking sound. Aoi had no choice but to call off her attack.

As I feared, this blade will not hold!

Aoi’s prodigy swordmaster techniques put a considerable strain on the blade she wielded. Only cursed or bewitched blades with powerful emotions forged into their steel, senses of purposes so strong one might call them souls, could withstand that kind of force.

Mikazuki was an excellent sword, the product of a skilled smith, but it fell just short of the mark. Still, Aoi had already managed three Iron-Cleaving Flashes during the fight. Mikazuki had done an excellent job holding out, but it was starting to falter. Aoi’s rage had driven her to use a technique she was unable to follow through on, a big mistake. Being forced to stop herself mid-swing left her terribly vulnerable.

Now that she wasn’t devoting all her efforts to dodging, her feet lingered in place, and Neuro pounced upon it immediately. He took the opportunity to renew his assault, and the high-pressure jets bore down on Aoi. She quickly took evasive action, but her reaction was delayed, earning her a light gash on her left thigh.


Her speed dropped precipitously. The blue razors came for her again, and her dodges became more desperate.

Tsukasa and the others on the right flank saw what was happening because of the consolidated battle line.

“Mr. Tsukasa, Ms. Aoi won’t last like this!”

“Do you have some sort of plan?!”

Neuro’s arrival left the soldiers panicked and desperate for a solution.

“I didn’t expect Neuro to take to the front lines at this point. I never even considered it. It’s caught me completely off guard,” Tsukasa answered candidly.


The soldiers stared at Tsukasa in shock. They’d all fought by his side since the battle against Mayoi. They’d borne witness to him reading every engagement like a book and used that information to turn the tides. How had he been caught off guard? Terror built in the pits of their stomachs.

However, they’d jumped to the wrong conclusion.

The thing was…

“This is the kind of unanticipated development that seems almost too good to be true.”


“Evidently, he’s considerably more immature than I took him for.”

Tsukasa glanced down at the silver watch wrapped around his arm.

He took a deep breath, steeled his resolve, and ran down the hill toward Aoi. Once he was near enough, he raised his rifle, swapped out the empty magazine, and opened fire at the airborne Neuro.


Neuro hovered higher than the top of the hill, so unsurprisingly, he saw Tsukasa coming. By the time the prodigy politician started shooting, Neuro had already finished erecting a wind spirit bulwark. Before Tsukasa’s bullets reached the grandmaster, they veered in the wrong direction and flew into the distance.

However, Tsukasa had never expected his shots to serve as anything more than a distraction. While his bullets drew Neuro’s attention, he shouted orders to everyone atop the hill, Aoi included.

“Fall back to the forest like we planned! Hurry!”

The Yamato army was staging a full retreat. It had held Neuro’s forces at the eight-tenths mark with the fortitude of a boulder, but now its defensive line unraveled all at once. Soldiers abandoned their position and fled into the woods.

Neuro cocked an eyebrow at this development…

“Tsukaaaasa! Whatever are you plottingggggg? Even I can tell that you’re up to something, you know!”

…and turned his water pressure jets on Tsukasa.

However, they never reached him.

After catching her breath, Aoi promptly raced over to Tsukasa, grabbed him, and kept running. She dodged the deadly blades chasing her with a precision that might convince onlookers she had eyes in the back of her head and disappeared between the trees.

By that point, most of the Yamato forces from the eight-tenths mark had successfully escaped. The path to the forest was piled high with Yamato corpses. Midway through the retreat, the cavalry caught up with some Yamato soldiers, but none of them slowed. The Yamato army’s sheer determination as it fled made it obvious this was a maneuver with some sort of objective in mind. However…

“Heh-heh-heh, it doesn’t matter. Spin up all the little schemes you want. That’s what prey does. It racks its brain to escape predators… If you think running into the forest means you’ve given me the slip, then you’re selling Neuro ul Levias a little too short.”

…in Neuro’s opinion, Tsukasa’s tactic didn’t matter. Ultimately, the grandmaster’s enemies were just apes, and fretting over their every action was meaningless.

No matter what they had up their sleeves, he needed only to crush it.

Crush it with an unbeatable display of force.


A cruel smile spread across Neuro’s face as he raised his hand.

And with that, the tragedy began.

Below him, the mage cavalry units that were part of the vanguard in the midst of the third charge exploded from within.

When the shocked light cavalry members looked to see what was happening, they saw black crystals emerging from the mages’ flesh. The crystals cracked, shattered, and flew into the air, glowing with a sinister red light as they congregated atop Neuro’s raised palm.

Once he’d assembled the crystals from nearly a hundred mages, flames gushed forth from Neuro’s hand. They billowed and raged as Neuro molded them into the shape of a spear.

The Yamato soldiers gasped when they saw the fire.

“Th-that… That light…!”

“A-AHHHH! I’d recognize those flames anywhere!”

“That’s Gustav’s Rage Soleil!”

“Ha-ha-ha! Looks like some of you apes actually have some idea what you’re talking about! You know what this spell is, don’t you?! The trees are shedding leaves this close to winter, but rooting a single one of you hiding among them is a hassle. But all I need do is burn down the entire forest! You assumed the forest would make it harder for the cavalry to chase you, but you didn’t think this through. Wood burns well this time of year! These woods shall be your grave!”

Neuro raised his dread weapon from his position high in the air.

Tsukasa, who’d joined back up with the Yamato leaders, frowned as he beheld the spell. “Isn’t Rage Soleil supposed to take years just to prepare?”

“That…man used Philosopher’s Stones on his own soldiers and took their magic to bend the spirits to his will…!” Lyrule said, her face pale. She probably heard the spirits’ screams.

The Philosopher’s Stones she mentioned were coagulated chunks of blood and flesh from Neuro’s master, the evil dragon. According to Yggdra—another homunculus—the evil dragon had forced his body to evolve repeatedly in the pursuit of revenge against his home world, which exiled him. Thus, the cells of his body tissue possessed incredible power. When introduced to another organism’s system, the evil dragon’s cells overwrote the host’s, forcing the organism to evolve into something stronger. The involuntary evolution massively bolstered the host’s physical and magical capabilities, but human bodies weren’t built to withstand that sort of transformation and ended up breaking down. That’s why Yggdra had suggested that Neuro would be unwilling to use them on himself.

“He wants to spare his body, but he’s fine transforming others, huh? When I think about how we nearly trusted that vulgar man with sending us home, I feel like we dodged a bullet,” Tsukasa remarked.

“This is bad, that it is,” Aoi replied. “If that is the same magic as Gustav’s, then those flames will pursue us. If he launches such an attack into the forest…we will all surely perish!”

“Tsukasa, do you have some sort of countermeasure?” Keine asked.

The others all turned to Tsukasa for guidance in the face of the impending crisis.

For all their worries, though…

“We won’t need one.”

…Tsukasa’s answer was succinct and confident.

“The key to our victory lies in capable hands. Don’t worry. As a prodigy magician, he’s a professional among professionals. He wouldn’t accept a job he couldn’t see through to completion. He agreed, and I have the utmost confidence he’ll pull it off!”

Tsukasa checked his wristwatch. It was just past the appointed hour…


…and on cue, a familiar laugh boomed from the other side of the hill the Yamato forces had just crossed.


Back at the briefing before the Prodigies left the Byakkokan Checkpoint, Tsukasa Mikogami entrusted Prince Akatsuki with a role that would turn the impending battle their way.

“Akatsuki, I want you to set out tomorrow morning before sunrise and take half of our two thousand soldiers with you.”

“Wh-whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on a second! I can’t lead a thousand people! I—I don’t know the first thing about fighting, s-so even with that many, I’d still be useless!”

“I’m not asking you to command them in the battle itself,” Tsukasa had replied to reassure Akatsuki, who was flabbergasted at the sudden assignment. “I have a different task in mind for you, and it’s one that only you can pull off.”


“I want you to take those one thousand troops to this exact spot on the south side of the Tomino Basin, and I want you to do so completely undetected.”


“’Tis to be an ambush, then?” Kaguya had said. “But…are you not asking the impossible? By your own admission, the enemy’s Dragon Knights have reign of the sky. They shall spot our scheme the moment dawn breaks.”

“Lady Kaguya is absolutely right,” Kira had agreed. “With how many eyes the enemy has in the air, there’s no way we can move a thousand people undetected.”

Neither of them were sold on Tsukasa’s plan. Given the situation as it stood, their odds of success were nonexistent.

“I’m of the same opinion,” Tsukasa had replied confidently.


“And that’s because I’m just a common man. As an ordinary person, I have no idea where the limits of specialists hailed and feared as superhuman lie. So tell me, Akatsuki. As a prodigy magician who stands at the very forefront of illusionists who deal in misdirection—can you pull it off?”

All worry had faded from Akatsuki’s expression at the inquiry. After closing his eyes and considering things for a bit, he’d replied, “To answer your question with a question… This plan is going to help all seven of us get back to Earth together, right?”

He’d opened his eyes and fixed them on Tsukasa. There’d been a statement—a threat, really—present in that gaze: “Don’t you dare lie to me.”

Tsukasa hadn’t hesitated. “Of course,” he’d said, as though the question didn’t bear asking.

At that, Akatsuki had breathed a sigh of relief…

“Okay. Then I’ll do it.”

…and promised to fulfill Tsukasa’s request.

“And you’re certain you’re up to the task?”

“The surveillance is basically just a couple dozen drones hovering around, right? Compared to my performances, this is going to be a walk in the park. You’re talking to the magician who made the Statue of Liberty vanish from right under the US military’s nose, remember?”

“How are you going to do it?”

Tsukasa had known just how outrageous his request was, and he needed to be sure. However, Akatsuki had let out an exasperated snicker and told Tsukasa the same thing he had once before.

“C’mon, Tsukasa, you know better than that. A magician never reveals his secrets.”

And now, back to the present.

“Ch-chief of staff! We’ve got enemies behind us on top of the hill to our south!”

“What?! Th-that’s the Seven Luminaries’ deity, God Akatsuki! I’m sure of it!”

“B-but that’s impossible! He just fled into the forest with the others!”

Akatsuki had done it.

He was a consummate professional when it came to misdirection, and he’d fulfilled Tsukasa’s request to perfection. Using all his prodigy magician skills, he’d successfully concealed a thousand-soldier march.


“Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Where do you think you’re looking, you imperial dullards?! Thanks to my miracle, all the people you were fighting have been transported to me! Behold!”

…an explosion of stage smoke erupted from the southern hill, and right on cue, Akatsuki’s thousand Yamato soldiers came charging from the colorful fumes.

“Come, my divine vanguard! Our foes have been foolish enough to show us their backsides, so go forth and shred them to pieces!”


When Akatsuki gave the order over the megaphone Ringo had made for him, his troops surged down the hill like an avalanche. The imperial rearguard cavalry was exhausted from the bitter counterattack it had suffered during the second charge, and this surprise ambush sent the Freyjagard leaders into a panic.

“An enemy battalion’s stampeding from the south hill! It looks like there are roughly a thousand of them!”

“I-it can’t be! Did he really move an entire army in the blink of an eye?! Nobody can do that!”

“But if they were waiting in ambush, our Dragon Knights would have spotted them!”

“I’ve heard that the Seven Luminaries’ god can move mountains with his miracles! I think they actually teleported!”

This unforeseen turn of events sent a wave of terror through Neuro’s staff officers. The Freyjagard HQ was in chaos, and with Neuro absent, there was no way to reorder things.

Amid the madness…

“Reverse course! All rearguard units, turn around! And make it fast!”

…the chief of staff invoked his authority upon realizing that they were on track to get annihilated.

“Ch-Chief?! D-do you really have the right to just move the army like that?!”

“Of course not, but what choice do we have?! The enemy is on our doorstep! If we don’t pull ourselves together, we’ll be slaughtered! All forces, charge at the hostiles coming from the south! If it’s a messy fight they want, we’ll meet them and strike hard! I’ll take full responsibility for this!”

After hearing that the chief of staff would take the heat for this, the rearguard cavalry troops at the base of the hill managed to regain some sense of order. So long as they had someone in charge, they were the best cavalry in the empire. They swiftly turned around and reversed course.

“Our foes are many, but they’re only infantry! Plus, they’re coming off their hill down into the basin! This is where mounted warriors shine! Make them regret underestimating us!”

The enemy ambush forces were about a third of a mile away, which was plenty of space for the cavalry to build up momentum.

Up in the sky…

“Wh-what the hell do those apes think they’re doing?!”

…a furious Neuro paled at his forces’ decision.

His staff officers had made the worst decision possible for their situation. Half of the Freyjagard troops were engaged with Yamato’s, yet the forces that were supposed to back them up abandoned their post. They were dividing themselves like idiots. The imperial rearguard could no longer fulfill its appointed duty. Neuro’s soldiers and officers should have held their ground and intercepted the surprise charge from their original position. People couldn’t just vanish like smoke and teleport away, after all.

However, Neuro only knew that because he understood that Akatsuki’s miracles were magic tricks. The same couldn’t be said of his officers. What’s more, they couldn’t see Tsukasa or the original Yamato army. Tsukasa had pulled his forces back from the eight-tenths mark to the forest behind the hill ahead of time. The rearguard troops waiting at the base of the hill had no eyes on the woods behind it. A man revered across the continent as a god using a miracle to teleport the Yamato soldiers south seemed entirely possible.

The trick had been based around visual angles, Akatsuki’s talents, and the public perception of the prodigy magician. Together, those factors caused the rearguard to make a fatal error. Now the vanguard was left alone. And Neuro had a riven army.

When the Blue Grandmaster realized this…

Oh no!

…a wave of alarm raced through him. He turned his attention back to the forest the Prodigies fled into.

And that’s when a young woman came speeding from the trees like an arrow.

It was prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou.

Is she using Levitation?! Shi—



Aoi flew through by way of Lyrule’s magic, closed in on Neuro in the blink of an eye, and brought a full-force attack down on his head. Neuro narrowly managed to block the slash with his flaming Rage Soleil spear, but not even that was enough to dull the raw force of the attack. He was smacked from the air to crash near the top of the hill by his vanguard.


“““Grandmaster Neuro!”””

Neuro writhed in agony after being dashed against the ground, and his soldiers panicked at this sudden development.

It was a golden opportunity for Tsukasa, and he took advantage just as Neuro had anticipated.

“Our enemies have no backup, and their wave tactics have stalled! This is our chance to strike!

“Our target is the enemy commander, Neuro ul Levias!

“All units, CHAAAAARGE!!”

When they heard Tsukasa’s order, the soldiers who’d fled into the trees ran forward with all their strength.

“He did it, Mr. Angel!” said the ninja disguised as Akatsuki running alongside Tsukasa.

“That he did,” Tsukasa replied. His voice rang with respect for Akatsuki, who was more than worthy of being called a Prodigy.

The Prodigies had been unable to go on the offensive because the empire always had a group in reserve, ready for anything. But now that Akatsuki’s units had lured that backup away, the Yamato army could go in without fear of a counterattack. What’s more, Neuro had conveniently defied Tsukasa’s expectations and taken to the battlefield in person. There was no better time to go for Neuro’s throat!

“With this one attack, we can put this entire pointless war to rest!” Tsukasa cried as he helped clear the cavalry away with his rifle while racing forward with the Yamato soldiers.

The scattered Yamato infantry charged without formation, but given the situation, that was for the best. By climbing the hill, the imperial vanguard cavalry had taken the high ground. If the Yamato troops had tried to group up for an attack, the enemy cavalry would have taken them all out at once. Attacking as scattered units was the right call, especially when those units were skilled Yamato warriors.

One of the Yamato army’s core merits was the raw prowess of its warriors, and now they were able to put that strength to full use. Neuro’s cavalry was unable to fully withstand the all-out offensive, and the Yamato troops tore through its ranks with ease.

The Yamato soldiers were closing in on Neuro by the second.

“Agh! Shit!” he shouted, cursing the circumstances. He would have loved to run.


“Rrrrgh!” The problem was, Aoi wouldn’t let up, pursuing him down the hill. Neuro met her attacks with his fiery spear, locking blades. “Don’t you dare look down on me, you wretched APE!!!!”

“Protect the grandmasterrrr!!!!”

“You are in my way, that you are!!!!”

Neuro was up against the prodigy swordmaster.

The nearby Freyjagard soldiers tried to step in to help, but they couldn’t stop Aoi’s ferocious assault. That said, their relinquished lives managed to slow her down a bit, offering Neuro a chance to collect himself.

First, he dispelled his Rage Soleil. Large-scale war magic would hit him, too, in close quarters. He didn’t give a damn how many Yamatoans or imperials he incinerated, but he wouldn’t risk catching himself in the blast radius. Neuro released the fire spirits he’d pressed into the shape of a spear, then took the magic binding them and spun it into a different spell.


Neuro slammed the butt of his staff on the ground—against his own shadow. Its shape flickered, then rapidly expanded and surged for Aoi and the oncoming Yamato soldiers.

The moment it made contact with their shadows, a horde of black dogs came leaping out.


“What are the—? Arrrrgh!”

The dogs sank their fangs into the shocked Yamato soldiers’ throats, wrestled them to the ground, and dragged them down into the shadows. The Yamato soldiers were so fired up when Tsukasa gave the order to attack, but between the unexpected surprise attack and the bizarre sight of people being devoured by shadows, their morale plummeted. Screams and terror spread through the troops, and the Yamato charge slowed to a crawl.

Aoi was the only one who fully evaded the dark hounds emerging from all directions and the imperial cavalry…


…but even so, she had no choice but to delay the attack.

That was precisely what Neuro hoped for. There was no better chance to escape this absolute mess of a battle. It was now or never. He shot a glance toward the base of the hill below, but what he saw there left him speechless.


“W-we’ve got trouble! They’ve broken past our rearguard!”

“I see Neuro! He’s over there!”

“Don’t waste any time helping our captured troops! Chaaaaarge!! Kill him, and victory is ours!”

Akatsuki’s army of a thousand had shrunk considerably, the price of crashing into the rearguard cavalry, but it had never stalled. Its soldiers stormed up the hill. Their cries emboldened the soldiers fighting off the dogs behind the hill. The Yamato soldiers who’d charged from the forest gritted their teeth and resumed their advance.

Shit! They’re in front of me; they’re behind me… At this rate…!

A pincer maneuver was closing in around Neuro, and he was the sole target. There was nowhere for him to flee on the hill. Even if he tried escaping to the air, they’d just follow after him with Levitation, so it wouldn’t do him any good. And with how close the enemies were, war magic was too dangerous to rely on.

I’m out of options.

The moment that despair-inducing thought crept through his head, Neuro felt a heavy weight in his pocket.

He did have a card he could play.

There was a syringe in his pocket full of refined Philosopher’s Stone that he could inject into his veins. Doing so would trigger a gentler evolution than the violent transformation caused by forcibly implanting it in its stone form. If he used the Philosopher’s Stone, he would be unstoppable. Once the evolution gave him his former power back, he could…

Should I do it?! But…if I do…!

Neuro took the syringe and made to plunge its tip into one of his veins. However, the chill of the needle against his skin sent shivers down his entire body. It was true that evolution via refined Philosopher’s Stones was comparatively gentle, but that didn’t change the fact that he would be forcibly overwriting the composition of his body. Would frail human flesh really be able to withstand that change? There was an infinitesimal chance it would backfire.

Actually, no. Based on the data from their original experiments, the odds of a bad outcome were actually higher than that. The probability of a human body transforming successfully was about 90 percent. In other words, there was a 10 percent failure rate.

Neuro thought back to his past life, to the countless experiments they ran on this world’s natives. He remembered how people contorted in pain when injected with factors that forced them to evolve. He remembered the horrible ways they perished as their innards tore themselves apart. Neuro found the way they writhed on the ground like worms hilarious at the time, but the thought of the same thing happening to him…

…is no laughing matter!

“Why should someone like me have to take such an inane risk?!”

However, the fact of the matter was that Aoi was almost upon him. Neuro only had moments left before she broke past his knights. On seeing that, Neuro bit his lip, groaned, took his syringe…

“What the hell does that lout think he’s doing?!”

…and cursed someone.

Before the battle, his Dragon Knights had told him about the other army approaching the Tomino Basin. Not his delayed infantry—a different allied force.

And that was when it happened.

A veritable squall of gunshots roared across the whole of the battlefield.

“Wh-what’s that noise?!”

“Gunshots?! Wait, who’re they?!”

Yamato and imperial soldiers alike froze in shock at the unexpected sound. The entire situation turned on its head before their very eyes.

An army equipped with bolt-action rifles came pouring out from behind every tree and shrub in the forest around the Tomino Basin. From the look of it, it was a massive force made up of well over two thousand fighters. They’d even been lurking in the very same section of woods behind the hill Tsukasa’s forces had emerged from. The large army was made up of both hyuma and byuma… It was the Qinglong Gang.

And it was being led…

“Cool your jets, Aoi.”

…by prodigy businessman Masato Sanada.

“M-Masato, m’lord…?!”

“Both armies are gonna have a temporary cease-fire. As of now, I’m in charge.”

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