The first half of the year 1499 in the Empire's calendar had passed.
Next year is year 1500. The once-in-hundred years era festival. Apparently the preparations are already under way in the Imperial City. Half a year was still remaining, but everyone was already a in restless mood.
But, in a remote village there wasn't much talk related to that.
The only things known from the imperial capital were rumours from the coming pedlars, adults didn't talk about these positively. The children wanted to go to the imperial capital to see the festival and made a commotion, so adults were troubled——after all, this place was near the border with territory of the elves. It takes a month of travelling in a horse-drawn carriage to reach the imperial capital, one couldn't just go there so casually.
Of course, even in the village they celebrated the era festival. But, it was mostly just splurging and arranging feasts, playing musical instruments around the bonfire and modest dancing over the night, there was absolutely no need to prepare a large-scaled event six months before it begins.
The villagers lived their lives like they always did.
That's why, he——Imina Haimatie too, like usual, did his best with his everyday sword practice.
One boy was short, reminiscent of an agile beast.
The other boy was tall, like a beautiful statue.
The wooden sword the short boy held was short and wide, it mimicked a falchion for duelling.
What the tall boy held was a thin and flexible wooden sabre that mimicked one with a long handle.
The wooden sword was wildly driven forward, swung backwards and then slashed upwards. The wooden sabre that had stood against it had parried the attacks with splendid swing, thrust in counter-attack and cleaved sharply.
This contest——or rather, this match, had continued for about ten minutes.
A few tens of metres away sheep and cows were peacefully feasting on grass on the a small hill's pasture.
Sitting down on the side was a girl, acting as the referee. While she seemed to be diligently watching the outcome of the battle, the fingertips of her left hand out of boredom stroked the stems of milk-vetch that grew there. I don't know what's so interesting in that, boys are strange... she must have been thinking.
Not taking notice of the girl's feelings, blood rushed to the two enthusiastic boys' heads. Squeezing their lips tightly from nervousness, they seemed to be happily smiling.
However, the match was nearing its end.
The petite boy's attack with his wooden sword from above, using all the strength he had, was critical. It was brilliantly parried, because of the missed attack using the entire body weight, the petite boy lost his sense of balance. However, he held out and rebuilt his posture, when he raised his head the opponent was not in front of him. Feeling a presence behind him he hurriedly mowed with the wooden sword behind him, but the sloppy attack had no way of hitting. The blade cut the air, his upper body twisted too much and had turned stiff. His opponent was calm. The wooden sabre had casually, with minimum amount of movement pointed the point of the sword at the short boy's throat.
The passage of arms had ended with this.
"All right, that's enough!"
Loudly, the girl instructed the end of it.
"Match concluded, that's enough right?"
Her gaze was slightly mean and teasing, that's why the petite boy——Imina, only just glanced at her.
Breathing roughly, he declared.
"...it's my loss."
Not towards the girl, towards the enemy that has defeated him.
The point of the wooden sabre had quietly retracted.
Taking step back gracefully——in a charming follow-through——lowering his waist, the opponent who fought with Imina had smiled lightly.
"It wasn't too bad."
"What was! I felt like I was at your mercy."
With a contrasting rudeness, Imina squat down and pierced the meadow with his wooden sword. Giving in to frustration, he crumpled and disturbed his dark red hair to look like a bird's nest.
"There was sharpness to your sword. If you hit faster, even I would have it hard to dispose of it."
The words returned were humble and at the same time cold. They hit the enemy's appearance.
He was a handsome and beautiful boy.
Long and narrow eyes, orderly eyelashes, slim nasal bridge, thin lips, narrow chin and wide shoulders. Silver hair like moonlight reflected on the lake, with exception of his above average height, he was beautiful enough to be mistaken for a woman.
From the features itself he seemed the same age as thirteen year old Imina.
But, that's only when compared to a human.
Unlike the human Imina, he was from a fairy tribe. In other words, an elf.
The ears peeking out from his loose hair were longer than those of human beings, their tips were sharp like needles. His hair colour was silver, a common hair colour among elves. Also, the appearance of elves was younger than their actual age.
He——Shirjis Endveil was three years older than Imina, sixteen year's old.
"Ah damn it, I lost again!"
Stretching his both legs, Imina shouted towards the clear blue sky.
And he looked up at the elf boy who stood quietly.
"I just continue losing, to you."
"My body too, is still immature, I can't let myself be overtaken. ...but honestly, as compared to the past your swordsmanship is much more splendid. I can't let my guard down."
Shirjis advanced a step forward with a smile and sat down next to Imina.
The girl who acted as the referee, as if to follow him, had joined them.
"Really? Shirjis, you don't have to be considerate with him."
Imina made a deep scowl.
"Oh shut up, sister."
The girl's name was Uruha Haimatie, Imina's older sister.
This year she'll be sixteen years old, same age as Shirjis. She had a neat atmosphere around her, bright red hair and shapely lips, narrow eyes and sleek limbs. Despite the mature and beautiful enough appearance for everyone in the village to lavish her with praise, her mean personality ruined it all——at the very least Imina had evaluated her so.
"I'm not being considerate. In today's match too there were many times I was in danger."
"As for me, I don't want you to lose."
Flirting with him, Uruha sat down beside Shirjis.
And, across him, towards the younger brother——she had sent a teasing glance towards Imina.
"In the first place, no matter how much a human struggles they can't win against an elf. You have organic necromancy. If Shirjis was to use evocation, you'd become muuch more stronger than now right? Even if Imina had a magic sword that could be used as an object of necromancy, there's no way he could keep up with your basic movements."
"That's not the problem."
Imina without a thought let out a rough voice.
"This is a match between two men, evocation doesn't matter! As if a woman would understand."
He didn't like water being poured on the match between him and Shirjis.
With that said though, Uruha's words were correct.
The organic necromancy only elves can handle, use the power of the earth and all creation that flows in the spirit veins——incorporate the spirit into their bodies and strengthen their own flesh with it. Humans who have much lower spirit resistance than elves are unable of performing this technique. Their muscle strength, eyesight and reflexes seem to be improved by several times.
If his basic physical abilities are strengthened even more, the difference between them will grow more and more. Imina and Shirjis can compete like this during practice because Shirjis doesn't use the elves' organic necromancy.
Of course, it wasn't his compassion.
There was no meaning in using evocation. When competing, one has to put in effort. The training of the body and skill themselves. It's pure strength as compared to cheating.
It's been many years since he started practising with Shirjis. Ever since they were small enough that their hold on the wooden swords were unsteady, they practised against each other.
The winning percentage was about forty to sixty percent. Recently, Imina was in a losing streak and that had resonated within him.
"Certainly, evocation doesn't matter, that's correct."
As Imina started sulking, Shirjis smiled and nodded.
"Organic necromancy in the end, only increases the bodily abilities. No matter how much the body movement speed and reflexes increase, it's meaningless if the basic skills are uncertain. And when it comes to swordsmanship itself, between fairy tribe and human tribe... there's no inborn difference between me and Imina."
Uruha still seemed dissatisfied.
With that said, there was no way she would oppose Shirjis.
"In that case, the reason Imina always loses is purely because his skill with the sword is below yours."
...instead, she has started glaring his way, in a teasing, mean manner.
What she pointed out was the truth. And, that was why it was frustrating.
"Really, Sister's so noisy."
Imina ostentatiously sighed and looked away. Feeling as if the pointed wooden sabre earlier had stung his throat, he stroked it in secret.
He looked at the sky. Cloudless, fading blue. The pasture's scent and the sunshine were pleasant, the slight moisture was reminiscent of the early summer.
He wanted to polish his skills until the Autumn and at the very least returned the winning percentage to how it used to be.
When he squinted at the sun's glare, a voice sounded from the bottom of the hill.
"Imina! Uruha, Nii-samaa!"
Ahead of where he turned to, happily rushing over and calling the three's names there was a figure.
An elf girl.
Her pointed ears,were very small and cute, reminiscent of water droplets rather than needles. Her hair was slightly bluish silver, when reflecting the sunlight it displayed complex shades like a cyan gem.
Round eyes, crystal clear lips and lovely features. But, at the same time she felt naive, holding the power to unconsciously put others at ease.
She appeared twelve by human standards. Her actual age was roughly the same as Imina's, fourteen.
Ellis ran quickly holding a big basket against her chest.
Her appearance, even more so than making Imina and others smile, had made them wary. That's because at times like these, ever since the old days——.
"Ah, she'll fall over."
The three spoke their prediction together.
"You see, I baked some bread with Aunti... kyahh!"
A stunning, *paaam*.
She fell forward, the girl's little body sprawled out on the ground.
Either she stumbled on a stone or grass, or her feet just tangled. Probably the latter. She sometimes stumbles with nothing there. It's her bad habit from the past. However, it seemed like she has accustomed herself after repeating it for years and is unlikely to be injured.
This time too it was like that. She unconsciously rotated her body passively receiving the fall, she should have fallen forward and yet she ended up on her butt.
The basket she was holding against her chest was also safe.
Rather, he got impressed. It could be said she's dexterous instead.
"Geez... again, huh."
Imina stood up and walked to where Ellis was. He reached out to her as she rubbed her butt and pulled her up.
"You, you're always falling over so at least don't run."
What she held tightly with the hand that wasn't held by Imina, was a wooden basket whose contents were perfectly safe despite the flashy fall. A good scent of walnuts and wheat had come from within.
Surely, it must have been baked well.
And, she must have wanted to deliver the freshly-baked bread as soon as possible.
"Got it. Were you injured?"
"No, I'm sorry. Imina."
"You don't have to apologize."
Seeing Ellis' apologetic expression, Imina made a wry smile.
"That's right, there's no need to apologize."
Uruha interjected with a teasing tone of voice.
"In fact, Imina should have realized it beforehand and after rushing to you, he should catch you in embrace. That's why, it's Imina's fault for not being able to do that."
Imina frowned upon hearing his sister's words.
"Don't talk absurd."
"Oh my, it's obviously your duty. I mean, you, are the knight protecting the elf princess."
Imina was fed up with that and at wits' end.
Uruha said such things since long past.
In Imina's and Ellis' case she said "the knight protecting the princess", and on top of that, about herself and Shirjis she said "a village girl who fell for the prince", talking in such dreamy metaphors. Imina didn't like these hobbies of his sister. After all, isn't it embarrassing.
While opening the lid of the basket she received from Ellis, Uruha continued her nonsense.
"I'm not wrong. I mean, Ellis actually is a princess."
The one who shook his head towards Uruha, was Ellis' brother, Shirjis.
"It's nothing as exaggerated as a princess. Both my little sister and me."
He responded so, with a wry smile.
But Uruha still hasn't budged one bit.
"It's the same thing. In human society you two would be a prince and princess."
In fact, Uruha was the one correct.
Shirjis and Ellis——in other words, the Endveil house the siblings were born into, in the country of elves was undeniably one of the royal families.
To be precise, a "Khan Household".
The country of elves is formed by sixteen clans. The individual clans are governed by head families called "Chieftain Households", on top of that, for generations the king ruling the country is chosen through a practice of election, from among the sixteen Khan Households. The current king is, the family head of the Endveil clan. In other words, Shirjis' and Ellis' father.
"The kingship isn't hereditary. When the king passes away, the elders consisting of the council and priestesses choose the next king from among the sixteen clans. The father who's from the same clan has become a king, doesn't mean that next king will be chosen from the same clan. It's very rare to choose a king from the same clan and two generations in a row."
In the mid of talking Shirjis snorted self-mockingly.
Even though he was from the royal family, it wasn't good to apply the rules of human society to it.
Before, he told them before like he did now.
Even as the child of elective king, they themselves weren't subject to any special treatment. Although they had a moderate responsibility as they were born from the Khan house, their position-wise, they could be carefree, he said. In fact, being able to play around freely would be impossible in a human country.
Against that, they themselves——each of the human siblings embraced a different impression.
The elder sister, Uruha was envious. Being of royalty was wonderful in itself, but to be able to act care freely despite that, isn't that the best, she said.
On the other hand, Imina felt sympathy. Even though you can come to play in human country, but the furthest you can go is the rural village near the border, right? That must feel really cramped, he said.
Though, they were unable to truly understand their feelings. Everything in the elven kingdom was different, also, Imina and Uruha were children from a rural village and actually hardly even knew of the lifestyle of human royalty either.
"Still, I really admire thatt."
Uruha stared intently at Shirjis. The elven prince, troubled, had returned it with a bitter smile. Meanwhile, his little sister, Ellis had stared at Imina.
"Hey, try eating the bread. How is it? I made that."
To be precise, at Imina and the bread Imina held in his hand.
It seemed like the elven princess was more concerned by the bread she baked than her social position.
"You did? Not Mom?"
"Auntie helped me out, but the one who kneaded the flour into a form and seasoned it was me, I was the one to put it into the furnace as well."
Since when was it, that Ellis had gotten interested in cooking——to be precise, human cuisine.
Elven cuisine seems to be extremely primitive as compared to that of humans. Although it can be said that they are using as unspoiled as possible materials that aren't processed, their staple food is nuts, meat grilled with salt and such. Of course the taste, as well as the effort is beyond comparison, but Ellis had devoted herself to human food from an early age. Whether it comes to eating or making it.
Taking in a mouthful of bread, he bit it.
The surface was fragrant, inside was moist and soft, the texture of the walnuts kneaded in was also pleasant.
Above all, it had the usual taste. In other words,
"The taste is practically no different from the bread Mom bakes."
Even when compared to Imina's mother, it wasn't inferior in any way.
Ellis bent forward angrily.
"Umm, I was the one who kneaded the flour, prepared the form and seasoned it!"
"No, I've heard that earlier."
"Is it really same? The same as Auntie's bread?"
"Well, it's not perfectly the same but... there's not much difference."
"How many times are you going to ask "really" before you're satisfied! It really, really is!"
Talking on and on to the faltering Imina, she was in high spirits with a big smile on her face.
"Hey, you two try tasting it too! Hurry!"
Merrily, Ellis had held out the basket with bread towards Shirjis and Uruha.
As she did, her brother smiled wryly at her.
"Good grief, you finally turned towards us, the leftovers."
Joining Shirjis, Uruha teased her as well.
"True. For you Imina is always the number one."
Ellis' cheeks were dyed in colours as vivid as the milk vetch flowers growing under her feet.
"T-that's not really true."
"Calm down a little. At this rate you'll immediately make some blunder."
"Oh, this is delicious. It's no inferior to Mom's, really. With this you'll be able to hold my foolish little brother's inside in reigns without a hitch. Also, Imina's favourite food is a potato soup."
"Uuu... both Nii-sama and Uruha are mean."
"Eh, ah... yes, I'm sorry."
Whether for better or worse for Ellis, the person in question, Imina was almost indifferent to her maidenly embarrassment. Maybe he hasn't matured enough yet to see her as someone of opposite sex, or possibly, wasn't aware of the of the courtesy directed towards him——but the person himself wasn't aware. However, Uruha's words "To Ellis, Imina is always number one" made him feel slightly irritated, he couldn't understand it, but he felt uncomfortable.
"S-speaking of which."
As if to gloss over the atmosphere around them, Ellis changed the topic.
"Auntie said to come back home. There's lunch."
"So it's that time already, huh."
When he looked up, the sun had already reached the zenith.
The bread she had brought was small enough to be finished with two or three bites, so rather than satisfying their appetite, it had reminded them of hunger. Surely, this size was prepared according to Imina's Mother's——Lilu's instructions. She knew well her children's minds and stomachs.
"Ah... while at it, she asked to pick some peppermint before coming. She'll use it for salad."
"Really shrewd isn't she, that Mom of ours."
Uruha smiled wryly and looked towards the back of the hill, towards the bush that was the boundary with the forest.
In that place, the peppermint had grown naturally. Since it was fertile enough and could be picked without even having to plant it in a field, the villagers didn't bother raising it and picked it from there.
"Well then, let's finish it quickly. You two boys just wait here."
Pulling Ellis' hand, Uruha headed towards the bushes.
Normally she's slightly twisted and mean, but somehow she's good at caring for others——as much as Imina didn't want to admit that.
"Ellis, want me to hold the basket? If you fall like earlier, this time you might flatten it with your butt. Both for basket and for you, it'll be terrible."
"No, it's all okay. After all, I'm holding hands with Uruha."
Getting along like sisters, they headed off.
In a distance, away from them,
"Is it fine to call us today as well?"
Shirjis asked Imina reservedly.
Among them, he was the most mature one and had always concerned himself with these things.
Feeling irritation at this politeness, with also other emotions mixed into it like envy for the politeness, Imina has frowned——this too, was the usual thing.
"What are you saying. You two are like family to us, you don't have to be reserved with your family."
The elven prince acted bashful with his beautiful features, looking as if he had come from a story.
"Also, in the first place, our Mom can use Ellis to help her out."
The beautiful silver hair scattering on the wind, pointed ears peeking out from the sides of his head, his beautiful features, white skin, slender and long limbs, being born as a noble as a bonus——everything about him was different from Imina. Without looking at him twice, he knew that well.
"We're receiving lots of help from you and it's fun too. We, Mom... and everyone at the village."
Still, Imina didn't feel any wall between him and Shirjis.
He recalled when those two siblings first came to the village.
Although they were in the village at the border, different races were still different races. There was no socializing with each other. Until then, elves were like distant neighbours, but then some elves had come out of the forest, it was two children to top it off. While the adults only looked at them from afar, the only ones who could speak to them without fear was him and Uruha.
Imina, from simple curiosity. Uruha, because of her longing for elves.
When they asked, apparently they have come to play, interested in human society. Then the siblings volunteered to take the role of guides. Homes, fields, waterwheel, the village outskirts, the small cave siblings sneaked into that was their secret base——until then there was almost no children of similar age in the village. Until then, they have mixed with groups of children five or six years older, so Imina and Uruha both were happy to play with children of similar stature. As they wandered around the village innocently, before the day was over they were intimate with each other.
Because Imina and Uruha were like that, the villagers soon welcomed the elven visitors. Even now, everyone was familiar with them.
"It's same for us."
Shirjis quietly cast down his eyes, then turned towards Imina.
"The country of elves is boring. Boring and cramped. We're the children of Khan household, making it even more so. We're bound firmly by the traditions of the forest. ...we've come to this village seeking escape. But now, I sincerely feel glad we came here. We learned that the outside of the forest is bright, and that humans over here aren't some barbarians."
He paused there and once again looked away.
"No, I'm not happy about getting along well with humans. It's you two. It's meeting you two that is our greatest happiness, our pride."
Without shame, he said something embarrassing.
Just, there was dignity in Shirjis' beautiful features and movements, there was no restlessness in them. He thought that the difference in race is unfair at times like these. It's no wonder his little sister goes crazy about it. It goes so far even Imina feels it.
Realizing he was embarrassed, Shirjis raised his eyebrows.
"Well, I'm thankful for you saying we're family, but let us act refrained a little. I'm not Ellis but... the food humans make is delicious. Lilu's is particularly exceptional. If we eat too much, your share will be gone."
"You can talk, despite eating less than I do."
At the joke, Imina responded with laughter and poked Shirjis' side.
"If there's not enough, Mom will happily make more. If there's not enough ingredients, villagers will share theirs and if not, we can just hunt some. Also, Ellis recently..."
"Imina, Nii-sama! We finished picking!"
And, as if to interrupt him, the person mentioned had called out from the top of the hill.
Waving her hand happily,
"Let's hurry back! You see, I helped not only with bread, but with everything!"
"...so she says."
Coincidentally, she said the same thing Imina wanted to.
Therefore, he continued.
"Also, Ellis recently seems to be helping out with about the half of it. A guest of honour."
"Then I won't refrain."
With a gentle expression Shirjis shrugged.
"Sorry for the wait."
Two girls in trot returned back to where the two boys were.
Uruha was pulling Ellis' hand. It was a habit from old days. Concerned for Ellis as not to let her fall over——with things like this she acted properly as "an elder sister".
"Hey, what were you talking about?"
"That we're a family, and such."
But that's all Imina admired in her.
Hearing Shirjis' response, Uruha sent him a seductive glance.
"Family, huh. ...hey, Shirjis, do you prefer women who can cook as well?"
Yet again, she started saying something strange. Meanwhile, she casually pushed Ellis towards me and entwined her arm with Shirjis, acting shrewdly.
"Are that kind of women preferred in human society?"
Shirjis had a astounded expression. He didn't know well himself. Elves don't devote their effort and ingenuity into cooking, so their concept of a good wife and mother differs from that of humans.
"I haven't seen Sister help Mom out yet."
While speaking ironically of his sister, he kept an eye on Shirjis.
He put the sword in the girdle left under their feet.
"Let's have a match again after lunch. Next time I won't lose."
"Sure, got it. But it's the same for me, too."
"Oh, c'mon you're so cold. You only talk about that!"
While appeasing Uruha who puffed up her cheeks, Shirjis——the elf who was Imina's best friend——had made a smile of a young boy.
The Salaido village Imina and Uruha lived in was located at the eastern end of the Midgalz Empire.
The eastern end of the Empire——in other words, it also means that it's the eastern end of the area on the continent that's dominated by the humans.
East of Salaido spreads a forest, humans are unable to live in there.
Fairy country. The elven kingdom.
Between humans, it's referred to as Elfheim. It's size is unknown. The number of its residents is also unknown. Even though there's a non-aggression treaty between the countries, there's no real diplomatic relations between them.
Fairy country exists deep in the forest, it's covered in much thicker spirit energy than the land of the humans. Although spirit energy is the source of life force that inhibits this world's universe, unlike elves with high spirit resistance, excessive amounts of it becomes poison to human bodies. Therefore, it's impossible for humans to go to the other side. Even if some curious elves occasionally come over to play, but that's the extent of exchanges with them.
Salaido is a small village.
Very, very distant from the Imperial City, there's hardly any trade or industry in it.
The life in it was monotony itself. Growing vegetables and wheat in the fields, in the forest——of course, rather than fairy forest, meaning here the human forest——they hunt beasts, cut down trees, catch fish in the river, they live their days just repeating that.
Its population was less than three hundred people, the number of households didn't exceed fifty. All the villagers were acquainted with each other, there wasn't any conspicuous conflicts and not even travellers had come to visit because it was a remote region. Even the number of children was limited.
Such a small village was truly cramped for a vigorous boy like Imina.
——But, even though it was cramped, whether he liked it or not was a different thing.
Salaido, while it was a cramped miniature garden, it was land dear to them.
The villagers returning home from the pastures led this unchanging life ever since before Imina and Uruha were born , thus they were at peace and kind.
"Hey, Lilu's two. Also, the elven two. You look energetic today as well."
On the way from the pastures to the houses, there's the village's only inn. It's master Dolmoa was a stout, good middle-aged man. Dominated by his wife, Nana, today too he was drying laundry in the garden like a housewife.
"Sword practice again? Aw, that's how the boys must be."
He pointed at the wooden sword brought to Imina's waist and grinned.
"Oh no, uncle, it's not very convincing if you stretch yourself to the laundry pole as you say that."
"Haha, Uruha-chan's really harsh. Well, it's just as you say."
Despite mixing the irony in, Uruha's demeanour was quite gentle.
"What's auntie Nana doing?"
"She's cooking a meal. The stew smells good doesn't it?"
"Ah. This scent, is it a deer?"
Ellis, whose eye colour changed when it comes to cooking, had asked.
"That's right. Yesterday we caught a fine one."
Uruha teased him, but Dolmoa was an excellent hunter. Although he was like this, in the mountains he was able to catch a big boar or a deer with a single arrow——since it was rare for customers to come to the inn, he normally lives from farming and hunting.
"I'm grateful to the blessings of the fairies."
Dolmoa had winked to Shirjis and Ellis.
Possibly because this village was close to the country of elves, the things obtained in the mountains and fields were referred to as "Blessing of Fairies", a custom to thank the elves. It wasn't that they were stepping into the elves' territory. However, it was a concern to the neighbours across the border, respect for the forest dwellers.
Shirjis shook his head.
"Not at all. It's the prey Dolmoa had felled by himself."
"Nah, as compared to the magical beasts that are in the elven woods, this is nothing."
"It's all the same, whether beasts or magical beasts."
And then, from inside the house came a roar with a woman's voice.
"Lunch will be ready soon, hurry up and finish drying them!"
"Yeah, I'm almost done. ...that's how it is, sorry 'bout that. Hurry home to eat Lilu's cuisine. Well, she loses to my wife though."
"Yes yes, have a nice meal."
Uruha made fun of Dolmoa who shrewdly praised his wife, then the party had resumed walking.
With that said though, this repeated every time they met up with people.
On the footpath of the field, a woman doing farming work stopped her hand with hoe and said "getting along as usual, aren't you".
The poster girl and salesperson of the general store, who just two years earlier was playing around with Imina and others said "it's so easy to be a kid" trying to act mature, poking fun at them.
A man with a white beard who lightly held a big boar on his shoulder had said "I'll have some nice meat in the evening" as he passed by them, and laughed. He was really energetic despite reaching seventy.
A child who was playing between the fields had seen Ellis and happily ran over to her while saying "Elf nee-tan". Ellis squat down and pat his head, but as the child mercilessly pulled on her pointy ears she made a troubled expression. The mother that was working in the field stood up and screamed "hey!".
"What are you doing! Oh... I'm sorry, that was a terrible inconvenience."
"Ahaha, it's all right."
"Hey, you can't do such rude things. This onee-chan here, is an elven princess."
Dragged back by mother, the child still seemed like wanting to touch Ellis' ears. Surely, must have been curious about them as they were in a completely different shape from normal.
Any conversation they had with villagers was peaceful and brought smile to their faces. They were comforting exchanges. Still, despite that Imina certainly felt boredom while doing that.
But, there was a single exception.
When he met him, who lived near Imina's house——when meeting Lakshus, Imina's heart started beat faster.
"Hi, you look energetic today as well."
After recognizing Imina and others, he calmly raised his hand.
He just passed thirty years of age. His limbs covered with tough leather armour. Standing out on his gentle and narrow face, was a scar going down from the forehead to the corner of the left eye. The injury from the battle had implied of his bravery as a warrior hidden behind his meek features.
Lakshus was dispatched from the capital city to act as a border guard. His work consisted mainly of subjugating monsters that had come from the fairy country.
Under the influence of thick spirit energy the fairy country had a different ecosystem from the human country. Magical beasts and demons——dangerous creatures like Cerberi and salamanders, ogres and goblins from time to time have occasionally wandered over to this side.
However, since Shirjis' father, the head of Endveil family had managed the area firmly such a thing happened very rarely. Therefore, while guarding the village, he's every day sent to help other houses with hunting and field work.
Still, Imina's eyes sparkled.
The leather armour Lakshus was wearing, his carefully trained body and above all——the shaking sword brought to his waist had attracted Imina's heart.
It was different from a bow used for hunting, hatchet and axes or the spears people had in their houses for self-defence.
It was a weapon for the sake of using evocation.
In other words, a magical sword.
Humans, unlike elves couldn't strengthen their bodies by pouring spirit energy into them. With low spirit resistance it had instead turned into a poison, with excessive nutrition their bodies would have become impaired.
Therefore, they have devised methodology of evocation using inorganic material in place of their bodies. They use items like magical swords and staffs to receive it and act as a medium to invoke mystics. This was called inorganic necromancy. Unlike elves who have poured life force into organic matter, it's characteristic was that it granted forces of nature like fire and ice to inorganic substances.
"Haha, you're the same as always, I don't know whether you're greeting me or this guy here."
Lakshus smiled wryly and poked the thing he had brought to his waist.
Just from the shape of the sheath one could tell it was clearly made for battle. A curved scimitar. Although he unsheathed it several times to show, but the blade made of dragon silver core and covered in blazing iron was mesmerizingly beautiful. What set the boy's mind on fire above all, was the engine prepared around the handle——the spirit charging tube and the inscribed operative unit, as well as a trigger. He also knew that inside the leather bag hanging from Lakshus' belt was packed with spirit energy tubes.
It's name was "Liminalie's Smile".
It was a magical sword he loved.
Now it was sitting in the sheath, but at time of emergency he would unsheathe it. At the same time Lakshus would take out a spirit energy tube from the leather bag, the cylindrical tubes were containing injected highly concentrated spirit energy. After entering the tube into the engine, the trigger is pulled. Then, after applying pressure to the tube the spirit energy would be poured into operative unit. The engravings dwelling inside would operate the evocation and transmit it to the blade, triggering the mystic on the sword's surface. In other words, flames, ice, acid, vibrations, sometimes even harbouring the power of destruction itself. Destroying the enemy with a single flash——
Just dreaming of it, the longing inside Imina had stirred.
"Were you practising with sword today as well?"
"I'm impressed. Your skill seems like it improved as well. I can tell just by looking at you."
Happy, Lakshus smiled broadly.
"Well, don't rush it. Progress step by step. You'll become a fine swordsman. I guarantee you that."
Unable to bear it, Imina asked.
The words he returned were negative, but at the same time, he said something Imina didn't expect.
"Much, much better than I am... like your father, that is."
Unconsciously, he felt goose bumps on his back.
Every time he saw Lakshus' magical sword, he saw a scene like a dream.
Inside his head a gallant and courageous man wielded a sword. It was Lakshus, mature Imina himself and at the same time——the one whom he never met or saw, Imina's father.
His father was a soldier belonging to the royal troops.
But, he was no longer in this world.
Before Imina has become aware of the surroundings, his father died in a honourable death during the war with the southern barbarians.
Lakshus was his father's junior, it seems like he was in good care of his father, who was in charge of a troop of hundred. After Imina's father died, Lakshus wished to be assigned to this village, which was Imina's father's birthplace so that he can repay the debt.
That's why, ever since young Imina asked Lakshus about it very often.
He said, your father was a brave man. Brave and an admirable man who loved his family and the country. I don't know how many times he saved my life. I've heard very much about Lilu and you two siblings, so I don't think of you as of strangers. That's why, since that person is dead, it's my duty to protect this village in his stead.
He was proud. Proud of his father, proud of Lakshus as well.
That's why, he wanted to be the same as them.
Imina's dream. Polish his swordsmanship, go to the capital and become a splendid swordsman, a soldier of the imperial city.
As he received Lakshus' stare feverishly, unexpectedly, from behind Ellis had grasped his sleeve tightly and pulled. She was anxious, wanting to hurry.
"Auntie is waiting. We'll be late for lunch. So, let's go already?"
While puzzled by Ellis' attitude, Imina nodded.
"That's right. Hurry back."
Lakshus folded his arms and laughed. It seems like he received Ellis' words just as they were.
"We can't have Lilu's cooking go cold. It would be a waste."
"Yeah. Now then, Lakshus, see you."
"Yeah, see you later."
They lowered their heads and waved hands. Lakshus walked to the other side of the road. Surely, he was going back home for lunch.
Soon enough, Imina could see his house. The house the three of them lived in was slightly larger than average. It had the same scent as the bread Imina was chewing, as well as the scent of fried fish.
They arrived at home. Uruha opened the entrance door. While pulled by her by arm, Shirjis entered and said "sorry to bother". And when Imina was about to enter as well——Ellis who was the last,
Just like earlier, pulling his sleeve again she had Imina stop in tracks.
"Mm, what is it?"
He turned around.
With an even more anxious facial expression than earlier, her round eyes stared at him.
And with her voice trembling, she asked.
"Does Imina want to become a soldier, like Lakshus? To become a soldier, you need to go to a place called drill school, right? Far away from here."
"To become a soldier, I heard you need to be fourteen. Imina has birthday by the end of the year."
"No, that's.... right, though."
"When you're fourteen, will you go to school? And then, ever..."
A sad tone with anxiety mixed in.
And as if against it, she held his sleeve strongly.
No, he wanted to say.
Certainly, Imina wanted to become a soldier. It was his dream, his goal. For that sake, every day he worked hard at swordsmanship practice. It was true that to become a soldier he needs to leave the village and enter the drill school, he thought of doing so when he becomes fourteen.
However, Imina's dream wasn't just becoming a soldier.
He wanted to become a soldier and return as a border guard.
Together with Lakshus he would follow in footsteps of his father's dying wish and protect with his own hands. The village, his mother, his sister while at it, as well as the elven siblings who come to play in this village——
Because of embarrassment he couldn't say that.
That's why he shook his head, shook off Ellis hand and looked aside.
"I don't know, what's still ahead of me."
Instead, he grasped her hand and pulled.
As if dragged behind him, the elf girl dove into the entrance. The boy had loudly shouted "I'm back!" to cover up his embarrassment.
Of course, because it was his future, he had to clear it out soon.
But now, the feelings of wanting his usual life were strong.
And then——the seasons changed, from early summer they proceeded to summer, and the mid-autumn had come.
Three more months were remaining until the Era festival of the Imperial Calendar year 1500 begins.
The daily lives in Salaido village passed calmly.
However, Imina spent every day in here while restless.
There were two reasons for that.
One, was his own future.
Imina's fourteen birthday would happen two months later, the timing of making the decision was around the corner. In other words, he had to solidify his will firmly within these two months. Whether to remain longer in the village and continue sword practice, or leave the village and volunteer to be a soldier, take the drill in the city.
And the other reason, was Shirjis and Ellis.
Those elven siblings haven't come to the village for a while already.
This kind of thing was rare. They always visited once a week, now they haven't come for two months already. Moreover, at such important time Imina's birthday was.
He wanted to do sword practice with Shirjis. He wanted to talk with Ellis. Even more so if he's going to leave the village——no, in order to decide whether he's leaving the village or not, he had to do so.
He had to win a match with Shirjis, to know whether he's strong enough to show himself in the city. He had to talk seriously about his dream with Ellis, without embarrassment and acting ambiguously. He had to settle both these matters.
Imina was impatient. While it was impossible they wouldn't come until his birthday, but if they don't come over the next two months, it won't be strange if he has to extend it for another two.
His older sister, Uruha was also dissatisfied. However, it wasn't for such a serious reason as Imina's, she simply wanted to see the face of Shirjis, whom she loved.
"Reaaally, I wonder what has transpired."
With her face on the table in living room, Uruha let out a grand sigh.
Afternoon——a suitable time for moving away from the village to do sword practice and gathering wild plants in the hills. For many years, it was common for them to spend their days together. So these days without Shirjis and Ellis coming, they were bored.
"Within two months, a maiden's hairstyle changes. For Shirjis not to come to take a look, he's the worst."
"I couldn't care less about that."
Sitting on the edge of the window with bad manners, Imina glared at his older sister.
He looked away from her and to his own palm. He recalled the feeling of Shirjis' wooden sword hitting his. Recalled Ellis weight as he pulled her up after she stumbled and fell. It's been long since he felt both of these.
Imina continued sword practice even without Shirjis. From time to time he asked Lakshus for a spar. But it was no good if it wasn't Shirjis. Even if he did practice swings alone, he lacked a rival. Against Lakshus there was too big difference in skill and he couldn't feel the tension. If it's not him——if it's not the childhood friend with whom they continuously faced each other from early age, he didn't feel himself being trained.
"You two, how long are going to rot day after day."
Their mother who had finished drying the laundry outside——Lilu had come back to the living room.
"Don't just hole yourself up in your room and go outside. Go gather some wild plants, how about you put some effort into improving today's dinner?"
"Don't wanna. If it's with Shirjis then maybe I'd feel more motivated."
"Stop using them as an excuse for lazing around."
Mother shrugged appalled.
"Then do as you please. By the way, I'm going to brew some tea with plenty of sugar now, I guess the two children who refuse to help don't want any?'
"Horrible! Also, don't try to make us help out making it!"
Uruha pursed her lips and made an exaggerated moan. Lilu glanced at her meanwhile, then snorted and disappeared in the kitchen. Both mother and daughter have really mean disposition, thought Imina. But didn't say it.
"Hey Imina, you're disappointed as well by not being able to meet Ellis, right?"
With their mother gone, the brunt of his sister's attack was aimed at Imina.
"......, I want to have sword practice with Shirjis."
"Oh, so you don't want to meet Ellis?"
I didn't say that, he wanted to object, but if he did she would probably respond with "so you want to meet her after all".
That's why he changed the topic.
"I wonder why aren't they coming."
However, he just shifted it from branches to the core.
In return, Uruha also furrowed her eyebrows anxiously.
Unable to meet with the one they love, they want to see their face but they won't appear——it was different from such selfish feelings of a maiden, it was purely worry about the other party.
Neither Imina nor Uruha have worried only about their own convenience.
There must be a reason because of which Shirjis and Ellis aren't coming to Salaido village. What is it.
Aren't they burdened with something troublesome.
Maybe they caught some kind of illness.
Maybe something happened to the two——.
They couldn't go to the country of elves to ask about them. There was no means of contacting them. There was no one who could deliver a letter either, just like humans, carrier pigeon were unable to bear the dense spirit energy.
That's why Imina and Uruha could only wait.
"Geez. If there are some circumstances, they should just say so."
Uruha muttered with a sullen expression. As if to blame Shirjis who wasn't here.
Imina was in tune with her.
"If they just said something, we would be able to spent time without worrying."
"Since he's a prince, he might not have anyone who could relay it for him."
With elbows on the table, he gave a half-hearted reply.
In the scenery he stared at, he ended up slightly expecting Shirjis and Ellis. But rather than that, the only thing that moved plants and laundry swaying on the wind.
"Oh my... this might be severe."
As the two looked melancholic, their mother had come back with tea, sighed and smiled bitterly.
But neither Imina nor Uruha felt like responding to that. More than the sweet scent of sugar and mint, the two friends who weren't here dominated their minds.
If at least these feelings reached them. Worried about the two friends, I should just pass the border where spirit energy is unstable——while thinking such helpless things, he sighed.
They didn't know if the two's feelings had reached as far as the fairy country.
But, that's something that happened five weeks later.
When Imina's birthday was imminent, to come in half a month, finally Shirjis appeared in the village.
It was a chilly night where he could feel the signs of winter.
The time was past midnight. His mother and sister were already asleep, the inside of the house was silent. Unable to even hear the howl of the wolves outside, he only heard the sound of his own breathing.
Recently, he thought about many things like his own future or about Shirjis and Ellis. Even more so before going to sleep, so he ended up going to sleep latest in the family.
With that said, the body temperature being transferred to the blanket was stronger than usual, comfort invited slumber. His body was relaxed and he could feel his thinking sink into darkness——yeah, like this I can sleep today without thinking needless things, just when he felt that kind of relief in the corner of his head,
The sound of something hard hitting the window had pulled back Imina's consciousness.
He wasn't deeply in sleep, just half-asleep. What is it, he opened his eyes.
*pam*, *pam*. The sound repeated again for the second and third time.
It wasn't nuts falling down. He half-raised his body. His eyes accustomed to darkness, he turned his gaze to the shadow and vaguely saw silver hair floating in the darkness, as well as skin like ceramics.
Even in the night, there's no way he could mistake him.
Despite all, it's been three months.
The one who was there, was the one Imina wanted to meet the entire time, his close friend.
He got up from the bed in surprise. Then rushed up to the window and forcibly opened the window.
"What happened, you! Coming at night like this, no, until now..."
His loud outburst was immediately suppressed when he saw Shirjis' expression.
Shirjis was——his face whom Imina didn't see for a while, was worn out badly, very tired,
"Sorry. Got a moment?"
His voice was so tormented, Imina hesitated to let out his emotions.
Unconsciously, his body cooled down. His heart bounced lightly.
A number of questions appeared in his head. Just what was Shirjis doing until now. Why didn't he show himself for the last three and a half months. Why did he suddenly come in the middle of night. But Imina had swallowed all of them——because Shirjis looked unusual.
He had such a desperate look, gave off such tense atmosphere.
About ten seconds of eye contact.
Finally Imina was able to nod. Nodding, was the only thing he could do.
"Wait a moment."
Imina turned on his heel, wore a cape that was worn on the wall and left the house while making as few sounds as possible.
As not to wake his sister and mother up, they can't learn of this. Surely, Shirjis doesn't wish for that. He had come to meet him——to meet Imina alone.
After recognizing Imina, Shirjis started to walk towards the back in silence. Come with me, he meant. That's why Imina followed him. He had suppressed the feelings and desire to ask questions about this and that.
It was almost perfect full moon. Even the middle of the night was slightly bright, when he looked below his feet he could see their shadows. As he walked quickly after the boy who led him, he wasn't delayed because of the darkness.
After leaving the house, they went down the road and after about ten minutes, they eventually arrived at the small pasture on the hill.
It was the place the two usually did their sword practice.
Shirjis stopped and turned around, then finally looked at Imina's face. Remaining silent, it felt like he prompted him. Inquire what you want to, it meant.
For just an instant, Imina squinted.
"Did something happen?"
A deep sigh——it was the first time he saw Shirjis heave such a heavy sigh——and after that, dazedly, he answered of about his own circumstances.
Hearing these words, Imina froze.
Shirjis and Ellis' father. The family head of Endveil house, the Khan of Endveil and the king of all sixteen elven clans altogether.
——The elven king died?
Imina had no idea what kind of mechanisms are moving in the society on the other side. He was only taught about the fragments of it. But, he could tell it was something very difficult.
Above all, to Shirjis and Ellis, he was a father before a king.
He had no idea what to say. Whether to comfort him, encourage him, or mourn. Imina had no idea what was Shirjis thinking. Rather than being heartbroken, Shirjis looked like he was distressing about something.
"That'...s... um... is everything all right. You know."
What he could only think of, was a vague and half-hearted question.
Shirjis closed his eyes, and,
"It was three months ago."
And slowly——as if squeezing it out, he started to talk.
"Father was the Khan of our Endveil clan, as well as the King of the Fairy Country. He was a great elf. With me as I am now, no matter how much I stretch myself I cannot even touch his back."
Surely, he was organizing his feelings. Making pauses, he slowly continued.
"But I have to inherit the post after him. I must support the clan in place of my great father. To shoulder the future of the clan... that is, the duty of the eldest son of the Endveil's khan household. No matter how immature I am, no matter how harsh the situation is, time won't wait for me. I can no longer turn back."
His fist peeking out from under the mantle was clenched tightly. It trembled strongly.
Lips were pale, yet red.
The pupils staring at Imina were rigid.
Involuntarily Imina swallowed his saliva.
What was he trying to convey. Or rather, what was he trying to spit out.
"With the king of the county's death, my home is trying to change. No, it's not trying to change... it has already changed. In the middle of it, I need to fulfil my duty and serve as the new Khan."
"...you, can it be you're becoming the new King?"
Shirjis shook his head.
"No. The new king was selected from the Lilithgrave clan. I'm merely just a Khan. However, the position and responsibilities of a Khan are... heavy. Too heavy."
So he won't be able to afford acting like he did so far. Whether coming to the village, meeting with them, he won't be free to do so any more.
As Imina thought of that, Shirjis looked at him for just a moment with a lonely gaze.
And a moment after, he forced the edges of his lips to smile.
He stuck his hand into his mantle and took out that, from his side.
And threw it towards Imina.
It rotated in the air round and round as it drew a parabola, a long rod-shaped object. When Imina reflexively received it with his hands, he realized it was a wooden sword. With a wide scraped blade, imitating one-handed sword used for duels——it was something Imina had used for daily practice.
If he wasn't wrong, it should have been leaning against the backyard like usual. Shirjis must have recovered it when he was hitting the window.
Shirjis cast a sideways glance at it and unsheathed another weapon from his waist.
Drawing a gentle curve, a single-edged wooden sword. His favourite weapon.
The elf boy had took off his cloak while holding the wooden sabre, then discarded it by his feet.
His slender limbs were revealed.
Even with the sleeves and cloth on him Imina could tell, while slender he was well-trained, he had beautiful muscles like a statue.
"You, wanted to become a soldier, haven't you."
And towards his friend——a human boy, he quietly said.
"A position serving human country, defending it. Same as mine. And yet, inverse. It's ironic... your birthday, my father's death. With the two aligned, the grace time for decision is gone."
While holding the wooden sabre up,
"Hey, what are you..."
Letting out signs of preparedness for coming tragedy,
"I must choose. That's why, let me decide it with this."
His tone of voice somewhat sounded as if he was seeking help, however,
"Let's have a serious match, Imina."
A compelling——tone of voice.
"I shall entrust my entire future to this match. That's why, I"ll fight wholeheartedly. I won't tell you to do the same. It's up to you how much are you going to keep up with me. But, remember. If you can't beat someone like me... you can't protect this village, this country."
At these words, Imina's heart throbbed strongly.
It was an appeal that took form of provocation. In other words, he wanted to have a serious match.
His back tensed up.
It was more than clear enough it wasn't a trivial matter. He couldn't refuse this.
And as a bonus,
"I know, I'm having you go along with my selfishness. I'm sorry for that. But... there's no one but you, Imina. It can only be you."
If he says something like that, there's no way Imina wouldn't cheer up.
"Don't apologize, Shirjis."
Imina poised his sword and lowered his body.
He didn't know the detailed circumstances. What was this match——he said it's his future, but specifically what was it——that he entrusted to it. But if he didn't responds seriously, surely Imina Haimatie will no longer be Shirjis Endveil's "best friend".
He'll lose the qualification to be one.
"I get it, I'll be go serious. What ever happens, I'll win."
"...yeah, me too."
Tense on the verge of bursting, it was a line drawn hundreds of times during their practice, they tensed up as if they were betting their lives on it. No——in their hearts, they did bet their lives. Even if their weapons were from iron, they wouldn't stop their swords in the verge.
The one who jumped first, was Imina.
He lowered his body, bouncing diagonally from below he raised his sword. It was an attack that would crush a thigh if it hit, but Shirjis dodged it with minimal amount of movements, taking half a step backwards.
Of course, it was already predicted he would avoid it——including the movement used for that sake.
Retaining the momentum after swinging the sword he turned around and released a roundhouse kick. Unable to avoid the pursuit, Shirjis received the kick with his arm.
Landing on one leg, with an unreasonable posture, this time Imina slashed from the opposite side.
The opponent defended himself with his wooden sabre.
As wood collided with wood, the five fingers on the handle bit in and vibrated slightly. It was a rare reception for Shirjis, it was Imina's response. Handling the coming attacks by parrying and dodging was Shirjis' swordsmanship. The fact that he had to stop it from the front, was the proof he couldn't do that.
Therefore, the attack continued.
Putting strength into the blade, Imina created a clash of strength——pretending that, he suddenly pulled the strength back. The opponent's posture broke. Not missing that, Imina's fist shoot out towards his left cheek.
But, that's far as Imina's dominance went.
Shirjis didn't try to forcibly rebuild his posture. Leaving his body to the flow he bent his knee, relaxing himself he lowered his sword and leaped sideways.
The fist cut through the air and he landed slightly further away.
Starting from there, it was Shirjis' turn.
Along with the signs of counter-attack, Imina felt thirst for blood sharpen like a blade.
Stepping in boldly, he thrust with a great speed.
Even as Imina avoided the first attack by moving back, subsequently the second and third came. Solar plexus, heart, shoulder, his vital points were aimed at. Even with a wooden sword, that attack wasn't something he would come out unscathed from.
The fourth one aimed at the throat. It grazed his neck, Imina endured and brushed it away
Still, the attacks didn't loosen.
The hit down blade had returned with tsubami gaeshi counter from below. Before Imina's gaze could keep up with it, this time it had slashed diagonally from the opposite side. Not his head, but his pure instinct wanted him to step back, but Shirjis moved forward to match it. Imina couldn't escape to make a distance.
From above, from the middle, from over the shoulder diagonally. Mixing thrusts in, the sharp continuous attacks came.
He avoided them in desperation, dodged and judged to receive them. When was the last time he had seen Shirjis slash so intensely. As if——his blade wore his emotions.
While numerous, each blow was heavy.
Physically, he was stronger than usual, but more than that, his spirit was conveyed through it.
It was also different from leaving the struggle to the instinct and swinging. The slashes were cold and calm, compact and brilliant, it was undeniably Shirjis' sword.
But at the core of it, was something clearly different from the practice.
Serious match, he said before they started. Exactly that. He put everything he had into every blow, attacking with his precious feelings. Surely, it was something that couldn't be communicated with words, but only with the sword.
He was the opponent receiving was it. Not Uruha nor Ellis, it was Imina.
The slashes were like a prayer.
Looking for some kind of answer——in order to come to some kind of conclusion.
That's why Imina squinted and grit his teeth.
Finding an opportunity between Shirjis' attacks, he received it and started a counter-attack.
The sound of clashes wasn't that of attack and defence, but attack and attack.
The avoidance had turned into counter-attack, his gaze had discerned opportunities through observation of the slashes and thrusts.
Shirjis roared. He looked desperately, cold sweat was sticking to his forehead.
That's why Imina cried out as well. Also desperate, he sprinkled sweat around him.
And under the moonlight, the clashing swords have started letting out yet unheard sounds.
Again and again they have stopped. Again and again they took distance. Again and again they jumped in chase after each other. Again and again they rushed at each other. Although their blades didn't have edges, they seriously cut through the air with all their speed and strength, cutting flowers, gouging the ground, tearing each other's clothes, grazing each other's skin. Their rough breath turned creaky, their shoulders raised up and down violently, their thin shadows didn't hold one shape, the tense atmosphere continuously bent.
Before long, Imina realized his cheeks were loose.
Regardless of the fact he clenched his teeth, a smile had spilled. It was fun. It was so fun he couldn't bear it. In the middle of the atmosphere clearly different from usual practice, while he couldn't even blink in this serious match, it's seriousness was fun. Even with a wooden sword a bone would be broken, internal organs could be damaged and at worst, one could lose a life. Still, he didn't mind. No, that's why it was fun.
It was uplifting because he was crossing swords with his best friend seriously, or maybe it was the struggle itself. He didn't know. He didn't know, but——as long as he surrenders to this impulse, he could hone his mind and body endlessly. He felt like he was going somewhere he never was in.
On the contrary, Shirjis' face had become more and more steep.
The match wasn't disadvantageous to him. It wasn't strange if either of them end up falling down during the competition. And yet, no——that's why, why was it. His lips were squeezed tightly.
He glared so much it looked like he had flames in his eyes, his gaze was sharp as ice. Even when dominant his movements were like that of a wounded, hostile beast. At unfavourable moments he let out thirst of blood looking like a hunter tracking his prey. His both hands held the handle of the wooden sabre with great force, with great mettle he took firm steps with both his legs on the pasture. He didn't have fun at all. If anything, he looked as if he was in pain. As if his prayer and hand reaching for enlightenment didn't reach and was on a brink of being unable to breathe, like a mountaineering ascetic.
Imina didn't notice the agony in Shirjis' expression.
Shirjis surely, didn't notice Imina made an expression of joy.
Imina wished for this fight to continue endlessly.
Shirjis probably, thought of ending it as soon as possible.
Still, the two, put everything from their toes to the ends of their hair, all their soul into this match.
How long has this fight continued. Half an hour, one hour, or maybe more.
The end would come soon.
Contrary to the difference in the expressions of the two, the match continued pure and fairly.
In other words, by their abilities.
The strength of feelings and physical ability, after they put all of it into fight for more than twelve minutes, finally a slight opening appeared——the excitement, fatigue and concentrations were at the end, and a single blow has appeared.
The appearance of the two under the moonlight was horribly contrasting.
Imina sat down on the pasture and held his powerfully hit right arm. On the other hand Shirjis looked down at him from the front, thrusting the point of his sword at Imina's throat.
Imina's wooden sword lied about two metres away, he could no longer pick it up.
The winner was standing, the loser was sitting down. The winner was holding the sword, the loser was deprived of his.
Only both of theirs breathing was rough, that was the only thing common between them.
"It's... my win."
Shirjis spoke, hoarse and feebly.
It was the first time he had declared his own victory. Normally, whether he won or lost, it was Imina who declared that. Yet today, it came from him. As if he asserted himself. To someone who isn't here——so that something, heard it.
On the other hand, Imina was unable to declare his defeat.
He bit his lips, faced down and grasped the grass on the ground disregarding his badly aching arm.
Tears gathered in his eyes. It was frustrating. Losing——that such a fun fight was over, he was frustrated that his abilities weren't sufficient.
The words Shirjis spoke before the fight had begun struck his chest right now.
——If you can't beat someone like me, you can't protect this village, this country.
He felt as if he was told he isn't strong enough to become a soldier. You are still immature, a child, that dream is disproportionate for your body.
"Thank you, Imina."
Shirjis retracted the point of his sword. Imina couldn't raise his face. It was miserable to receive thanks. He thought it would be better to be thrust at and killed off, although he knew it was just the loser acting spoiled.
Still, the elven boy spoke words of appreciation.
"I'm glad you fought against me seriously."
"With this I have made my decision. I'm going to tread my own path."
There were signs of the sabre being brought to his waist. The sound of the cloak fallen to the ground being picked up. Imina still didn't move, looking downwards. Imperceptibly he started crying. From frustration, sadness, from a strange sense of loss, tears didn't stop.
"Let me say again. I'm really grateful——Imina."
The voice calling his name was more gentle than ever.
For some reason, he felt like they won't meet again.
With Shirjis——his one and only, best friend.
That's why he had to raise his head. Raise his head and look at him as he leaves. He had a heap of things to ask. Just why has he challenged him to a match tonight, what was the result decided with this match. And, what is Ellis doing at the moment.
But, whether it's stopping his tears or asking, he couldn't even look at Shirjis.
The sound of footsteps has gone away.
Even though they mixed together with the sound of his sobbing, they sounded clearly.