Chapter 14:

Before the Battle

Painted Tale


That day, a royal decree rang throughout The Renoa Kingdom:

All able men are to participate in the upcoming war.

Everyone was summoned. No exceptions were made.

The Kingdom's most dire times have come.

This will decide its fate.


William Arklight.

"...Do you really need to go?" my question resounds through the room.

We're in Elisabeth's office, discussing the upcoming war.

"...Yes, that's my duty as the bearer of The Blessing. I will use The Holy Spirit's powers to support our army."

"Please, don't go." I as her as I begin my attempts to convince her.

Quite frankly, our army's chances are not looking good... Too many trained soldiers died in the previous war. Right now, the core of our forces will predominantly consist of unprepared militia—"

"I know. However, the next battle might be the only chance we have to win. It's my duty as a royal to stay with my country until the very end. I will either lead my nation to victory or... die in the process."

I bite my lips in frustration. After a few moments of silence, I speak up.

"...I'll go with you."

"...Yes. I'm sorry, but you will have to accompany me as my attenda—"

"Not that. I will participate in this war as one of the knights."

She doesn't seem to be surprised at my answer, as if she already expected it.

"You don't have to do that, you know? Nothing is binding you and this country. You can take your family and simply run away."

"I doubt my father will listen to me. Also, I can't bring you with me, so there's no point." I say that, but my voice sounds bitter. As if a part of me regrets getting so attached to her.

She doesn't reply and just looks at me in silence.

With that, our conversation comes to a close.


It was decided that The Kingdom will bet everything on Fort Draun. It is easily the most prominent defensive structure between the capital and the western border. If we don't stop The Horde there — then we have no chance of winning.

Hell, we basically have no chances anyway.

Our pathetic army of 4000 against over 10000 monsters...

More people can fight theoretically, but we don't have enough weapons for all of them. Even in our current army, many of the militia are provided with only makeshift weapons.

It would be one thing if our opponents were other humans with the same limits that we have. However, that is not how it is. Unlike humans, many of the monsters can fly. Also, some of them can easily climb the walls or have enough brute force to break through them. The only good thing is that the existence of bulky sluggish monsters significantly slows down the horde.

In other words, we're screwed.

I'm sitting in my room in front of the canvas.

This is going to be my last painting before the war.

My hand starts moving the brush.

Dark blue.

...A man in attendant uniform, sitting in front of a canvas...


...The brush in his right hand is broken, and the painting isn't finished...

Dark purple.

...A girl runs forward, her right hand interlocked with his left...

Dark red.

...A bloody field surrounds them...


...And at their destination—

There is an army of hideous monsters.

The girl on the painting keeps pulling the man's hand as they run towards certain doom...

Is this what I truly feel?

Do I regret falling in love with her?




I don't know. I really don't.

I no longer understand even my own feelings.



Our army is preparing to set off.

The majority of forces from the eastern parts of The Kingdom have already arrived. While our army travels through the western lands, the soldiers and militia stationed there will join us one after another in small groups.

"William," I hear Elisabeth's voice calling me.

"Would you please ride in the same carriage as me?"


"Those could be our last moments together. I want to savor them."

If that's the case, then just run away with me. I want to say but refrain.

"...If that's what you want."

I agreed, but I felt a sharp pain stabbing my chest.

The longer we stay together... The more painful our parting will be.


The carriage is silent.

Both of us haven't said a single word since we set off.

I stare in the window at the passing scenery and keep asking myself the same questions over and over again.

What is the meaning of my dreams?

Can we win the upcoming war?

How do I truly feel?

And yet, no matter how much I think, the answers don't come.

Finally, Elisabeth breaks the silence.

"Why are you so quiet? I want to hear you spouting those sarcastic remarks once again." She asks, despite knowing the answer, as a sad smile settles on her face.

"I don't speak because it's already painful. I don't want it to hurt even more."

She seems hurt by my words as she searches for a reply.

"...Parting is painful. However, being left alone in the darkness is even more so."

"Maybe... However, there is no way to avoid getting hurt. That's why I just choose the route that will bring me less agony."

"Are you sure you chose the right one?"

"...Not really. Still, I can't muster any willpower to crack jokes at this point."

"It's fine... I just have a single request."

She looks at me, her eyes glistening, seemingly ready to cry.

"Can you... can you please hold my hand?"

I wordlessly take her hand with mine.

I savor her warmth, knowing that it will soon come to an end.



Finally, we arrive at Fort Draun.

It's a massive stone fort located at the foot of The Ardwin Mountain, a part of The Freiden Mountains. It is a great mountain range that surrounds the republic it's named after.

While to the north of the fort is The Ardwin, to the south — is The Great Reina river.

There's some space between it and the fortress, but we don't have to worry about that. After all, The Horde won't leave this place until all sources of hostility are gone. That's how they work. First, they eliminate everyone, then they move on.

I was officially nominated as a knight, at least for the duration of this war. The Kingdom doesn't have enough strong warriors, so they welcomed me with open arms.

Right now, we're holding a strategy meeting with all of the knights. We were gathered in a spacious room with a long table on the second floor of the fortress. His Excellency is obviously the one leading the meeting.

"There are three main things we need to watch out for. The main gate, the skies, and the mountain."

I can understand the first two but certainly not the last one.

"The mountain? Why?"

"Because many monsters will scale it to attack us. While we're not used to the concept, flanking us by climbing a bit is not a big deal for the monsters. There are plenty that can climb or even travel through earth and stone, so we need to watch out."

He pauses there and looks around the room, making sure that everyone understands.

"As for the skies... I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how dangerous can flying monsters be. According to our scouts, the upcoming horde even has several griffons."

Griffons. Obviously, those aren't the same strength as the one Edward killed. Even among the same species, the power differs significantly from one monster to another. If they were as strong as the one from six years ago, they would already lead their own hordes.

While I'm busy thinking, His Excellency continues his explanation.

"There aren't many strategies we can come up with. Bluffs won't work, and our common sense doesn't apply to them. The scariest thing about a horde is that they will keep swarming you until either you or they will end up dead. We haven't identified the Horde Leader yet. He seems pretty intelligent and keeps himself in the back so that we don't focus him down. However, as soon as we learn who he is, we will concentrate all our efforts on killing him."

Finally, he gets to the most crucial part. Our most realistic way of winning.

"The Horde outnumbers us more than two times. Most of our army are untrained militia, and there isn't even enough proper equipment for everyone. I'm saying this to you because you're loyal knights of The Kingdom. Regardless of the circumstances, you won't run if not ordered to. Listen up! Our only chance at victory is to kill the Horde Leader! That won't make the monsters disappear, but they will stop advancing, so we can just retreat after that. Understood?"

""Yes, Sir!""

Elisabeth Renoa

The battle is approaching.

In a couple of days, The Horde will arrive. Many lives will be lost.

I don't even want to consider that possibility, but he might also die.

When I close my eyes, it almost feels like I can still feel his warmth.

I told him to escape, secretly afraid of being left alone once again. He said he isn't going to since I won't be with him.

That made me feel so happy.

How twisted. This Kingdom might be meeting its end soon. Many people won't come back from this war...

And yet.

And yet, I felt so much relief, knowing that I won't be alone. Knowing that I don't have to face my nation's ruin by myself.

I want him to survive.

But I don't want him to leave my side.

I can only pray. Pray that the upcoming battle will result in our victory.

And if my prayers aren't destined to come true...

Then I will make sure that William will leave me.

William Arklight

A lecture was organized in the inner courtyard of the fortress. It was carried out by the monstrologists sent from the capital.

Obviously, they told us more about the monsters we're going to be facing.

Malfs, Griffons, Kiptors, Chinks — you name them.

Since we don't have an advantage in numbers, nor do we have an advantage in strength, we need to compensate that with knowledge.

As the lecture is already over, people begin to leave the courtyard. I stay and gaze at the evening sky.

Every time I close my eyes, I can feel the warmth of her hand.

Do I really regret having those feelings?

Does it even matter? I can't see a future where we win. The battle is approaching, and we don't even know who the Horde Leader is. Holding out until we kill all 10000 monsters is impossible. There is no hope.


While I'm busy wallowing in despair, I feel an impact on my shoulder.

I turn around and see a handsome blond knight with shoulder-length hair.


"I smack you, and that's your reaction? You don't need to be a genius to know that something is wrong."

"Sorry, I'm not in the mood to crack jokes."

"You're even apologizing? I don't think I've ever heard you apologize in the last three months... Anyway, what are you even depressed about?"

"When did we become bosom buddies that share problems with each other?"

"Sadly, you have no friends, so I'm forced to take up that role."

"No one forces you, pretty boy."

"I'm older than you..."

"I'm leading in the score."

"What does that even have to do with anything?"

"As you wish, I'll stop calling you that and will instead call you Loser."

"Where did "Mr" go?"

"I've decided you don't deserve it."

"Based on what?"

"On my mood."

"You are unbearable."


"I'm not even going to comment on that..."

He sighs, and his tone becomes serious as if he decided to stop with our silly banter.

"...Well, feel a bit better?"

"Stop making it sound like you're the one who helped me out," I say that and make a pause. "But, thanks. I appreciate it."

We sit in silence for a couple of minutes, gazing at the sky. Then, Kyle speaks up.

"...We need to win the upcoming battle."

I stay silent.

"Not just because the fate of The Kingdom hangs on it, but also..."


He hesitates for a few seconds.

"...No, never mind. It's nothing. I just want to say that people's homes are behind the fortress. We can't let them lose the places they hold dear."

I was a bit puzzled at his actions but decided to let that go.

"...Yeah, we will protect them."

I recall the field of sunflowers that I've visited with Elisabeth.

As I sink into my memories, Kyle suddenly speaks up as if he realized something.

"Ah, by the way."


"Our chances are probably better than you think they are."


"Because we have the blessing of The Holy Spirit on our side. You've never seen it in action, but it's incredibly potent. More so than you think. After all, it is considered grand-level magic."

"Grand-level? Is it really that impressive?"

"You bet. That's the reason why Lady Elisabeth is accompanying us. You shouldn't underestimate her."

He says that and stands up, preparing to leave.

"Well, I'm going to sleep. I don't know what's bothering you so much, but hope is still alive. Our chances aren't high by any means, but if we manage to kill The Horde Leader, then it's our victory. You might be the one to decide the outcome of the battle, you know?"

"And that will further reinforce your standing as Mr. Loser."

"Still as obnoxious as ever? At least I got "Mr" back... Goodnight, William."

"Goodnight... Kyle."


I come back to my room and start thinking.

No matter how impressive Elisabeth's magic is, it won't overcome a one-to-two numerical disadvantage.

Still, maybe Kyle is right. I need to have hope. Tomorrow's battle is winnable. The blissful days I spent with Elisabeth will come back.

I try to believe all that. And yet—

— I find myself unable to.

Images flash through my mind.

The pain I experienced in the duel and in the battle with malfs.

The memories of Edward.

The happiness my dream self felt.

The painting of an artist sitting in front of an unfinished canvas.


I can't. I can't feel hope.

This bitterness in my chest refuses to go away.

What do I want? What does my heart desire?

I don't know. My emotions are a mess.

I start praying. Praying that the upcoming battle will end in our victory. Praying that I can protect Elisabeth and that beautiful field of sunflowers.

Kyle Rembrandt

I part with William and head to my room.

As soon as I arrive there, I lie down on my bed.

I'm sorry, William. I'm sorry for lying to you.

I pray with all my heart that we will win tomorrow's battle.

I pray that it won't get to that.

But. Just in case it will. I'm sorry, my friend William.

Because I will have to betray you.


And so the three of them pray.

Will their prayers reach the blue skies?

Or will they be swallowed up by the darkness of the night?

Either way, they will have to face many difficulties along the way.

The night goes on as the howls of monsters resound in the distance.