Chapter 221 - All-out War (5)
The empire's Seven Swords were the only sword masters who would emerge at this stage.
The swords which represented the empire, Andras' Seven Swords... Hyde and Lloyd had died, so two seats were empty. However, considering the size of the empire, they could easily fill those seats. Additionally, there were five sword masters remaining, so it wouldn't be difficult for them to infiltrate the troops.
Theodore was taut with tension as he thought about it. 'Let's say the person is one of the empire's Seven Swords. Then... which one is he?'
It might seem like a trivial question, but it was the most serious problem. According to magicians, the Seven Swords possessed a power equivalent to their number. The 7th Sword Lloyd and the 6th Sword Hyde were considered the weakest among them if there were no errors in the order.
Theodore decided to start a process of elimination.
'It isn't the 4th place.'
Pan Helliones was so impressive that Theodore couldn't forget it. However, even compared to Pan Helliones, the 1st and 2nd Swords were much greater. In that case, this sword master could be everyone except for number 4, 6, and 7.
Theodore recalled Veronica's words about them, -Ah, Kid. It doesn't matter if it is No. 1 or No.2. The two of them might be the strongest in Andras, but they shouldn't affect you.
Theodore had questioned her, 'Why?'
-Both of them don't move outside Belfort, the capital of Andras. Even in the last war, they never crossed the borders unless the emperor ordered them.
'If it happened in the past, they could act now...'
-No way. Well, if it does happen, you will be in big trouble. You won't be able to survive an encounter with them.
Veronica's advice was ruthless and decisive.
'It was cold, but she makes a lot of sense.'
He would definitely die against an opponent who was on her or Blundell's level. Theodore had only just awakened his Sorcery, so he wasn't on a level to face them. They were monsters when it came to fighting. As such, the peak swordsmen of Andras were too powerful for the present Theodore to face.
Then this meant the only ones remaining were No. 3 and No. 5.
Either way, Theodore's artificially raised senses could catch even a grain of dust. He would attack if the sword master took one step further. A strong power rattled around the body of the determined Theodore.
As his string of tension was pulled tightly, the unidentified sword master made an unexpected action.
The sword master placed his hands at the swords hanging from his waist.
Then he didn't hesitate to release the swords. The two swords fell to the ground, producing a heavy metal sound. His intent was unknown, but he had disarmed himself.
Even if he was a sword master, picking up dropped swords involved unnecessary movements. A magician with exceptional mobility like Theodore would be able to attack the sword master a few times before the swords would be picked up.
Theodore's expression became one of dumbfoundedness. 'Is this a trick?'
His opponent's strange actions didn't end here. The knight in black armor raised a hand to the faceguard wrapped around his face. Theodore didn't feel any hostility, so he watched while maintaining a certain distance.
Finally, the faceguard was peeled away.
"Ah!" Theodore let out a cry of amazement when he saw the face of the sword master. The sword master had a patchy beard but his face was familiar.
"It has been a while, Young Master." Randolph shrugged with a familiar smile. "There are many things I want to share, but I can't afford to. Still, there is some time to explain. How about it?"
"...Please be as detailed as possible." Theodore didn't doubt Randolph and lessened his magic power. His extremely sensitive senses were telling him that Randolph was innocent. They had traveled together for a long time, so he could tell when Randolph was lying.
"Okay, where should I start...?" Randolph sat down at a nearby tree and frowned while picking up his words. Then he sighed and started talking, "I will start from when I separated from you in the wilderness."
Shortly after separating from Theodore in the Sipoto wilderness, Randolph had crossed Andras' border. The level of the empire's guards wasn't low, but mere soldiers couldn't detect a sword master's stealth.
As such, he had successfully passed into Andras and arrived at the capital, Belfort, where he had encountered an obstacle-the empire's 4th Sword, Pan Helliones.
"I was supposed to secretly sneak my sister out... but he is extremely sensitive. As his disciple, she was always near him, and it seemed impossible to bring her out without a fight."
Randolph had been forced to choose. Should he cause friction and try to pull his sister out, or wait for a chance to appear in the long-term? He had secretly hidden on the roof of the knights' area and found a reason to make his decision.
"I saw the empire's 2nd Sword, Zest Speitem." Randolph's voice trembled involuntarily. He had only seen Zest from a distance. However, before Randolph had even been able to blink, Zest's sword had already arrived at his throat.
If Rebecca hadn't been there to prove his identity, Randolph would've died right there. There was a huge difference between their skills. They were in a metropolitan area, but he would've died no matter what he did.
"So, I decided to wait. I became Andras' knight and waited for an opportunity to escape with Rebecca. That was the only option I could make in that situation."
"...You have gone through a lot of trouble."
"Well, I didn't know that chance would come so soon!"
Hearing the depressed voice suddenly become cheerful, Theodore was confused. "Huh? Opportunity?"
"I met Young Master again! I wanted to, but I really didn't know we could meet," Randolph said. Then before Theodore could reply, Randolph continued speaking, "Listen to me, I'm not the only one sent here from Andras. I am accompanied by Pan Helliones, who is trying to test my loyalty, and Rebecca is accompanying him."
"Are you serious? Is it because she is his disciple?"
"I guess so. I can't do this alone. But the story is different if both of us work together."
The command from the Andras Empire was simple: intervene in the Soldun civil war to prevent Meltor from taking advantage, and don't allow them to take any further action. Randolph's persistently passive attitude was also due to this order.
However, what if there was a variable which could force Pan Helliones to move? A crusader and Randolph should be sufficient, but what if the situation turned disadvantageous?
'Pan will have to get off that heavy butt of his.'
The emperor's orders were the highest priority, so Pan Helliones would place intervening in Soldun's civil war above watching Rebecca. Meanwhile, Randolph could use that chance to free his sister from the empire.
Theodore looked at the premise of the operation and nodded. "It is possible. Do you have any means of communication?"
"Take it." Theodore threw over to Randolph an earring which was attached with communication magic. "You can just hold it in your palm without wearing it."
"Oh, is that so? I will use it well."
"Let's talk longer next time."
Randolph said goodbye before putting on his faceguard again. He picked up his swords and looked exactly like a knight once more. Then Randolph ran in the opposite direction. The black armor receded in an instant, and Theodore sighed.
The serious situation had happened so fast that his breath was taken away.
"Ah, my body is very exhausted."
However, this wasn't the end. Theodore now had to enter Atron estate and convey word to the prince. He sighed heavily and flew toward the estate. It was a complex and tiring day.
* * *
"Ohh, Sir Ted! No, now it is Sir Theodore!"
"Are those trees from you? Thank you in the name of the king."
Theodore arrived at Atron Manor and received great hospitality from Baek Jongmyung and Prince Elsid. It wasn't surprising since they had been contacted by Marquis Piris in advance. It seemed like they had more questions about the suddenly rising trees, rather than Theodore's appearance.
In particular, Prince Elsid's attitude was very different from before. Was it because Theodore's identity was clear? Theodore was now approached with a friendly attitude, different from when he had been an uninvited guest.
"Sir Theodore, I would like to say one thing if it isn't impolite."
"There are a lot of strategies that can be developed when looking at the forest that you created. What is the limit of that power?"
"It is difficult to say in detail but..." Theodore said and then worried for a second before replying with a half-truth, "Except for the trees that fit the ecosystem of the land, everything else will soon wither away. My elemental has also consumed too much power today, so I can't use the same method for a while."
It wasn't a lie. Mitra had a limit in controlling the power of life, no matter her divinity. The forest, which was growing at present, was just a temporary measure and probably wouldn't last for more than a few days. Additionally, Mitra had fallen asleep, and Theodore's magic power was quite exhausted. It was too risky to use it again when he had to engage with the empire's Seven Swords.
Elsid made a regretful expression when he heard the decisive answer. "Umm, it is too bad."
"I'm sorry that I can't meet your expectations, Your Majesty. Then what about your wound, Marquis Baek?"
Baek Jongmyung looked at his bandaged left arm with a grim expression and sighed. "It... Isn't it obvious without needing to speak?"
"I understand." Theodore understood the meaning from Baek Jongmyung's heavy tone and entered the manor. It was difficult to speak about it in front of the troops. A sword master was a force which could control the morale of the entire army. If such a person were known to be seriously injured, morale would fall instantly.
Unsurprisingly, the wound underneath Baek Jongmyung's bandage was terrible.
"...This is serious."
The left arm had broken bones as well as torn ligaments and muscles, while the nervous system was just on the verge of necrosis. It was a wound which seemed to have been caused by the hammer of an ogre, rather than a human swordsman. Proper treatment from a magician would take more than a month, and there would still be aftereffects.
He wasn't in a state where he couldn't fight, but he wouldn't be able to last 10 minutes against Ruben with this body. Theodore's expression hardened at the sight. Meanwhile, Baek Jongmyung sighed. "This is my fault, Your Highness. I knew my opponent was an expert in the sword but..."
"Don't blame yourself, Marquis. It was my decision that sent you there, so I must bear the burden."
The two people were being melodramatic, but Theodore didn't like this atmosphere and looked at the palm of his left hand. He saw that the two people weren't paying attention to him, so he took something out.
[+16 New Advanced Recovery Potion (Medicine)]
[-This is a new potion made by the hands of the alchemist, Paracelsus. It is possible to rejoin cut areas or revive a nervous system which experienced necrosis. It will restore all injuries, except for brain damage and central nervous system defects. Currently, there is no way to produce it.
* The rating of this potion is 'Treasure'.
* When consumed, the body will greatly recover from any damage.
* When applied, the damage at that site will heal rapidly.
* In order to create this potion, the 'Alchemy (Best)' skill and 'Paracelsus' Research Laboratory' is needed.]
This was a potion Paracelsus had made. It had been common in the Age of Mythology, but it was impossible to determine its value in this age. The potion was rated Treasure and could be compared to an elixir.
Nevertheless, Theodore handed the potion to Baek Jongmyung without any hesitation and said, "Drink half and sprinkle the other half on your wounds. It will be effective in a minute."
"...This is clearly not an ordinary potion!" As a sword master, Baek Jongmyung could tell the value of the liquid that Theodore handed him and wondered if he could drink this. However, Theodore had more in his inventory, so he just waved his hands like it was nothing.
Right now, a sword master was more important than a potion.
"You can pay me back later. Right now, Lord Baek's power is needed."
"Well, it will be awkward to keep refusing. I will receive Sir Theodore's grace."
Baek Jongmyung bowed his head and healed his left arm, while Prince Elsid and Theodore continued talking about the battlefield. Before leaving Piris, Theodore had heard about how Orta would move in the future. Theodore's purpose was to pass this information to the Atron Estate and protect Prince Elsid.
Theodore delivered Orta's words, "The White Tower Master is planning to start at the three captured estates and will move to deal massive damage to Duke Cornwall's forces. Atron simply needs to hold out until then."
"Will the duke's forces before us really retreat?" Elsid was skeptical. He knew his value. As the King in a chess game, the civil war would be over if the prince was caught. So, the duke would try to catch him here, even if his forces took a lot of damage. Otherwise, there was no reason for him to have dragged a large army to Atron in the first place.
Theodore would've made the same judgment, but this time was different.
"The troops will definitely retreat."
"I'm curious. How are you so sure?"
"Wait a few more days. In any case, the duke's troops won't be able to approach until the trees disappear."
Theodore could understand Elsid's doubts, but he could answer with conviction because he realized something. After awakening his 'Sorcery,' Theodore realized that less than half of the competency of White Tower Master Orta, the leader of the white tower, had been revealed.
* * *
Theodore's prediction came true after seven days. Duke Cornwall's forces were able to approach the estate when the forest disappeared. However, they retreated suddenly. Atron sighed with relief, but it was a huge loss for Duke Cornwall. The loss of troops was small, but there was an enormous cost associated with moving such a big army.
This battle shifted from checkmate to an ordinary check.
It took exactly six days. In that time, eleven estates, which were around the three estates on the border area, fell. Orta and the magic troops dug precisely at the estates' vulnerabilities and killed the knights at each estate.
Using his excellent mobility, Orta attacked the next goal before they could receive news of the attack. Then he left troops at the rear to build up defenses and kept advancing while repeating this.
It was Orta's unique military style.
In the end, the duke was furious and forced to retreat to Marquis Fergan's estate. From the position of the nobles, there were two mice, and one of them was stealing from their rice bowl.
Following this, both camps were quiet. The first full-scale battle of Soldun's civil war entered a short lull after a few surprises from the royal faction.