Nicole told her everything. From where I came from, to how I ended up here. She even told her how much I was crushed by my parents’ death, and how I had cried to her about the matter. Does she really have to say that? I could feel my face reddening just by hearing her recite it to her. She probably thought it could gain me sympathy points with the brat, which, at this point, I guess was some sort of noble or something, just from the way she ordered around both Nicole and the lady who was still pressing her knife onto my neck.
“Hoo, so you say he actually managed to fight The Ice Snake Witch and won? And you actually believed him?”
“I didn’t see any lies on his face,” she replied, firm in her conviction that I was speaking the truth. “And besides, he didn’t do it on his own. He had his father and mother with him, and they perished in the fight.”
The noble girl then turned towards me, her hands still folded under her chest. “Boy, are you really telling the truth?”
“Of course I do! Even though I don’t look like it, I’m a Master-level mage, you know!” I replied. I know perfectly well how bizarre it was for a 10-year old boy to be a mage of that caliber.
“Hmph, Master-level. That’s not Grandmaster-level, which is the class of mage Vera Marjoram should belong in. Do you know just how much of a difference between a Master-level mage and a Grandmaster-level one is, boy?”
“Of course I know! I saw it first hand! She was taking it easy on us throughout the fight! And when she got serious, my father and mother died! I only won because I took her off-guard!” I shouted.
She then walked up to me and held up my chin once again.
“Boy, are you crying?” she said with the most insulting smirk you could imagine.
“I’m not crying!” I stuttered.
“Then why are your eyes watering?”
“They’re not!” I stuttered again.
Oh, they totally are, aren’t they? They always did everytime I replayed that scene in my mind. God, would you stop embarrassing yourself, Hugo Greenwood?
“Hmph.” She released my chin before turning her back to me, walking away. “To think a crybaby like you could kill a top class mage such as her, it’s truly inconceivable. Helen, have you heard any news of Vera’s death?” she asked her maid.
“Nothing of the sort, Your Royal Highness,” she answered with a slight nod. “This boy is clearly lying.”
“Or perhaps they’re hiding her death from the public. I can easily imagine them doing that, at least for a while. They wouldn’t want to cause panic and unrest amongst their citizens, or to invite foreign powers to attack them.”
“You mean the Holy Empire?” I blurted out.
“Ha, we’re not invading anything soon. Not in the state we’re currently in. However, the Holy Land could start thinking about sending in spies to prod weaknesses, just in case they decide to declare another crusade against the Magocracy. Really, boy, if you truly took out Vera, you just disturbed the order of the world. But don’t blame yourself if another war were to happen. Wars, rebellions, and conflicts in general happen all the time, especially up north with those Feuding States.”
“Alright.” She turned again, facing me once more. “Let’s say you really killed Vera. If so, then perhaps you can be of use. Boy, what do you think about becoming my personal bodyguard and trainer?”
“Milady, you can’t be—”
“Silence, Helen.” She interrupted the lady in a flash. “You just stand there like a good maid and keep that knife tight on his neck.”
In one swift move, she drew her sword from the sheath. It glinted beautifully under the moonlight, as if it was made out of pure silver. The way she unsheathed it, and then held it afterwards, I could tell that she was a skilled swordswoman. Or rather, swordgirl, I suppose, considering her age.
There was one major difference between her and Sherry however. If I had to say, it was elegance. She was far more elegant in her stance than Sherry. Sherry never had any elegance whatsoever. She just swung her sword really fast and hard and that’s it, same as Father. So her stance was basic and unrefined. She, however, really gave the aura that of a skilled swordswoman, to the point that I nearly forgot she was just a few years older than me at most, and not a full-grown adult woman.
“It’s not polite to stare, boy,” she said with a haughty smile.
“I’m not staring!” I stuttered. I totally did.
Speaking of haughtiness, this girl was definitely full of it, to the point that I could honestly compare her to Vera. Both women were brimming with confidence, and they weren’t afraid to display or even flaunt it in the slightest.
“Boy!” The tip of her sword was suddenly right at my face. “You would protect me with your life from now on. You would also spar with me everyday, to train me in the way of the sword. As payment, I shall grace you with a thousand gold coins once we reach our destination. And of course, the pleasure of serving a person of my stature.”
Oh wow, this girl really is acting like the stereotypical noble brat, isn’t she?
“Hey, shouldn’t you say ‘please’ with that? Don’t your parents ever tell you some manners?” I said with a mock lecturing tone. I couldn’t help myself. These kinds of characters need to be put down, or else their ego would just balloon even more.
“How dare you speak to—”
“It’s fine, Helen.” She withdrew her sword. “Boy.” She then looked at me with a smile. “You have no idea who you are speaking with, do you?”
“Milady, you can’t tell—”
“I said silence, Helen. Do you need me to cut off one of your ears in order for you to understand?”
And not only is she a brat, she’s a psycho as well.
“Boy. Rejoice. For you are in the presence of Fiora Guinevere Pendragon, the Second Imperial Princess of the Holy Milicis Empire.”
“What? You don’t believe me? Can’t you see the imperial visage bursting forth from my personage?”
“You don’t really look like an imperial princess though. Or a princess at all, for that matter. You just look like a noble brat, that’s all.”
The lady behind me trembled in anger, making her tighten her grip on me. It really was a contradictory feeling, with both the sharpness of her knife and the softness of her boobs pressing on me from both directions. She probably would’ve spoken out, if not for the brat ordering her to stay silent.
To my surprise however, instead of getting upset and demanding me to recognize her as an Imperial Princess, if she really was one, she instead started to laugh.
“Boy! You really are a piece of work, aren’t you? Helen. Release him at once.”
“But Your Royal Highness—”
At a speed that my eyes couldn’t follow, she swung her sword. A tuft of black hair fell off to the ground.
“…Very well. I apologize for my insolence.”
At last, the lady released me from her grip. I turned around immediately, finally getting a good look on her.
What? She’s a maid?
Indeed she was. She was a woman in her late twenties, possibly even early thirties. She had short black hair and green eyes, adorned by a pair of glasses. She wore a pitch black long-sleeved maid dress that went down to her ankles. On top of that, she wore a long white apron.
After her face, my eyes immediately looked down to her breasts. And, just like I had expected, they were really sizable indeed, threatening to burst out of both the dress itself and the apron above them.
Could it be? Have I found someone that actually rivals Mother in the bust department?
“Helen. Why don’t you explain to him why we’re on this journey.”
The maid hesitated, giving a piercing glance right towards me.
“If that is your wish, Your Royal Highness…” She bowed, making her breasts bounce a little. “Simply put, we are on the run from assassins right now. They are after Your Highness’ life, as she was one of the three possible candidates for the throne.”
I’m sorry but what?
“Nicole. Tell this boy that I am not lying.” The brat sighed, clearly annoyed that I was still in disbelief of her words.
“It’s true, Hugo.” The cleric finally spoke, after remaining silent for so long. “Fiora is really the Second Imperial Princess, the third and youngest daughter of Emperor Sigmund Freya Pendragon, the current ruler of the Holy Milicis Empire.”
“Seriously?” I turned to face her in pure disbelief. “This brat is really the royal princess?”
“You’re quite the brave one, aren’t you, boy? Calling the Imperial Princess herself a brat? I can get you decapitated for that, you know,” the brat spoke with a smirk as she sheathed back her sword. “But that is fine. That just means I’m well-suited to blend in with the crowd. Especially after all my servants had died except for Helen here.”
“This is why I didn’t want to involve you, Hugo.” Nicole continued with a regretful look. “It’s too dangerous. The assassins they sent at us, they were really strong. Like Fiora said, all of her servants fell in an attack when we were heading there. We beat them, but just barely. And we didn’t know if and when the next group of assassins would appear.”
“If you take my offer, boy, you will face the strongest mercenaries and warriors my elder sister and brother could afford to send my way.” The brat interrupted. “But then again, you’re someone who actually managed to kill a Grandmaster-level mage. You’ll probably be just fine facing against them. Though doing so would mean you would make an enemy out of the other imperial prince and princess, and both of them were far closer to the throne than me. My elder brother had the backings of the highest and most influential nobles, while my elder sister had her powerful company and all the resources and influence it had. Surely you have heard of the Rinea Corporation?” I nodded. “That’s her. Rinea is her given name.”
Wait, did she just say that the ones sending the assassins are her own brother and sister? What kind of a messed up family she’s in?!
Then again, a lot of royal families are like that huh, full of betrayals and backstabbings and what not? I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Just a little though.
I gulped, giving a nervous glance towards Nicole. So this is the kind of mess she has gotten herself into, huh? Oh yeah, this is bad. Really bad. If she’s just involved in some noble’s business then I can understand. But how in the hell did she end up being a bodyguard of a princess of the most powerful country in the Holy Continent? And one that’s being gunned for assassinations no less!
“Before you say anything, Hugo, I’ll just say it upfront. I won’t abandon Fiora,” she said with a firm look.
“What? Why not? You’re not even from here! You’re from Marchen! You have no business staking your life in some noble’s power struggle like this!”
“Fiora is not just some noble. She’s my friend. And I don’t abandon my friends.”
“Friend? How can you be friends with someone—”
“And I also want her to be the ruler of this country in the future, over the other candidates.”
There was no doubt in her eyes. She looked straight at me as she parried my objections. Just what in the world happened here, from when she was sent away from her orphanage to now with her being a devout follower of the little brat?
“I don’t ask for you to be my retainer, boy,” The brat interrupted my thoughts. “All I ask is for you to be my bodyguard and my sparring partner. I don’t care if you dislike me, as long as you do your job properly.”
That dismissive, mocking look she always has… it’s seriously starting to piss me off.
“You’re going to the Demon Continent, right? Then you can just leave once we reach the northeastern region of the continent. We’ll make a stop there. So really, there’s barely anything negative about my arrangement.”
“Yeah, if you don’t count the ‘fighting assassins’ part, that is,” I snarked back.
“Oh please, don’t you want to protect Nicole? You don’t want your beau’s best friend to die, right?” She smirked.
“Wow, you really are a shameless brat.”
“If being a ‘brat’ is what I have to do to survive, then I’ll happily be one.”
I looked away from her with a huff. She’s totally just using me, isn’t she? And I’m not into smug, haughty tsunderes either. I’m not a masochistic sub, thank you very much.
“Oh, how about this? I’ll throw you a sweetener to our deal. That sword… you’re a swordsman, too? I thought you’re supposed to be a mage.”
“I’m mainly a mage.” I turned back and answered her. “I just had a little training on the sword but I’m never really any good at it, unlike Sherry.”
“Then, if you want, I can train you at it.”
“Huh? You? Can you even—”
My heart skipped a beat. The sound of something sharp had just sailed right in front of my face. Then, I saw it—a couple of my hair falling down softly through the air.
“You can’t see it, can you? Can your father or your little demon beau swing their sword that fast? In just that millisecond, I unsheath my sword, cut your hair, and then sheath it back.”
She was right. Her movement… that was much faster than Sherry’s or even Father’s swings.
This girl… she was a legit swordswoman, alright. She could kill me at any time before I could cast a single spell all this time.
No wonder she told her maid to release me so nonchalantly. I was never a threat. Not when I stood so close to her where her sword could reach me.
“Nicole said you felt really sad that you weren’t strong enough to protect your father and mother against the ice witch, to the point that you were crying about it. I suggest that you put all that melodrama into a drive to grow stronger instead.”
“Fiora! You can’t say that! He’s still grieving, you know!” Nicole protested.
“Oh please, you can’t spoil a little crybaby brat like him. He’ll never grow up as a decent person when he’s older. He’ll always be a coward, haunted by his own failure until the day he dies.”
“It’s alright, Nicole.”
I finally decided to speak up.
Putting on a dry smile, I replied, “She’s right. I am a crybaby and a coward. These past three months… I’ve completely ignored my training. I no longer strived for anything. I simply moved along, thinking that Sherry would just accept me as I am right now. I did say I wanted to be a better person before I returned to Marina and Erika, but in the end, I didn’t really do anything to reach that goal. I let myself get drunk on my ego by going along with those three adventurers, and I thought of leaving everything to Sherry to transform me into a better version of myself. I no longer put any serious effort into anything.”
“Oh, the boy knows,” Fiora replied with a smirk, putting one hand on her waist. “So, what are you going to do about it, boy?”
“I don’t know, really.” I sighed. “I guess I could learn more magic on my own. I doubt I could ever reach the level Vera was in. It took me what, a year and a half, just to learn one Master-level spell? I might be talented, but I’m not talented enough to—”
“What an unsightly display. You really are a failure, boy.” Before I even noticed her movement, her palm already landed right onto my right cheek. The force was so powerful it actually staggered me. “Nicole. I suggest you convince your friend not to marry this guy. He’s a loser, through and through.”
And once again, just like with Sophie back then, I went into a childish rage. I ran right after her with my fist, fully intending to punch her in the face.
Only for her to dodge it by simply moving her head to the side like it was nothing.
Before countering with a kick right between my legs.
I whimpered in the most pathetic way, falling down backwards as unimaginable pain assaulted my brain. My hands immediately went down there, trying to salvage whatever’s left from her assault.
“That’s… that’s cheating…” I grunted, coughing in the process.
“Cheating? Ha! There’s no such thing in real combat! We’re not in the middle of some gentlemanly duel here. And besides, you tried to punch me from behind. That was truly pathetic.” She walked over towards me. “And look at that. You’re crying again.” She stood over me with the most punchable face imaginable.
I heard a series of steps, followed by a familiar face looking at me with worry. It was Nicole.
“Oh, don’t give me that look.” She turned to face her. “Heal him. Make sure he’s ready for our journey tomorrow.”
“Wait…” I croaked. “I haven’t… agreed yet, you know…”
“Oh, but you do. After you calm down and realize just how worthless you are right now, then you’ll see that accepting a lesson in the art of the sword isn’t so bad after all. After all, it’s a well-known fact that a swordsman is generally stronger than mage. Just have to close that distance, then it’s all over. Especially with the style I’ve learned. I can deflect even magic with ease. Who knows? Perhaps if you were as well-trained as me in using that thing on your hip, you might be able to deflect the spell that killed your father and mother.”
And with that, she left me and Nicole alone in the alleyway, returning back to the inn with Helen in tow.
Nicole quickly healed me. I just hoped she didn’t break something down there. That was a serious kick she just did.
Once I sat up, I looked at her and said, “How can you like someone like her? She’s so arrogant and proud and just an unpleasant person in general that I can’t imagine someone as gentle as you to ever grow liking her.”
“I am not that gentle, Hugo,” she replied with a small blush. “I still get angry at some things. I am not as patient as I might look.”
“As for your question, because I know, deep inside, she has a gentle heart,” she replied with a smile as she stood up, dusting her skirt. “I think she wants to help you, Hugo, in her own way. She wants to get you out of your rut. And she believes some harsh love is what it would take.”
Harsh love? Sure, the harsh was there but where’s the love?
“She doesn’t tolerate weakness in others. Because she doesn’t tolerate it in herself. To be born in her position… I don’t envy her in the slightest.”
Once again, she spoke with that same melancholic look—the same expression she displayed when she was at the church with me.
“Now come.” She offered her hand. “I’ll get you a room at the inn for the night.”
“Ah, I see you haven’t had dinner either.” She giggled, hearing the protest coming from my stomach. “Don’t fret. I’ll get you some food as well.”
In the end, I relented. I followed her back into the inn.
What am I getting myself into?