I resigned myself to death when the sword flashed. No doubt that Ariante would be astonished, since she’d be able to bring down the Demon King’s enemy in just one blow.
However, Ariante’s large sword stopped right before beheading me. The one who blocked the sword was naturally Rēko, who was asleep until a moment ago.
“… My apologies. I’ve been sleeping soundly while the enemy was right in front of me. I will atone for this disgraceful behaviour with the opponent’s neck.”
“Well, if you were in a perfect condition that would be very likely.”
Ariante took one big step and both of them locked blades. Yet Rēko soon lost her balance and stumbled.
“Your power and speed are both higher than mine. However, you wasted these advantages on those small fries before. At that on opponents who needed not more than 10% of your power, it’s as if you don’t know what moderation is. If your strength falls to the same level as mine, then it’s a contest of skills.”
She wasn’t just swinging her sword with one’s all strength. Her attacks were ever-changing, assailing from various directions, as if she was eroding Rēko’s defences. On the other hand when Rēko counterattacked, she parried her dagger’s blade upwards and broke her stance.
Ariante struck her large sword into the defencelessly exposed Rēko’s flank.
Rēko’s small figure was effortlessly sent flying, plunging into stone blocks of the castle wall and raising a huge cloud of dust. She wasn’t moving even slightly in front of the wall, which cracked from the impact.
“R-Rēko?! Hey, you—— Wait a minute, let’s talk!”
Ariante’s sword glowed palely. It was the light of a dense magic power. I was good as dead if that thing touched me.
I really wanted to turn tail and run, but unfortunately, my legs completely refused to move. Ariante leapt and swung her sword aiming directly at the top of my head.
After a brisk thump sound I howled in pain. I thought I was going to die instantly, but what assaulted me was a resounding in my head raw, dull pain.
“I guess a being of your level won’t be able to feel much pain. However, no matter what kind of being it is, this sword will definitely deal some damage. If you continue to underestimate me and stay defenceless like before, you’ll experience a world of hurt.”
In other words, I won’t be able to die easily. Even torture should have limits.
“H-hey, listen. Could you try changing to a normal sword? I think this one is fairly inhumane.”
“With you as the opponent there’s no point in using an average sword.”
“But it’s actually the opposite…. Because of this bothersome sword it’ll just drag on strangely—“
Thinking it might be possible, I looked at Rēko. Despite having her side cut there was no blood flowing and her chest was clearly rising and falling. It seemed there was some damage but she was still alive.
I’m gla—— just when I thought that, I was hit really hard in the face. Due to this weapon’s nature, rather than slashing like a sword it seemed to give an impact like a blunt weapon.
“Hey, time out.”
“I won’t listen!”
“I’ll die, really.”
“Certainly if you go on like this! It’s time to get serious!”
And then, I could say I was briefly in hell.
When at last, my (half) dead body, which wasn’t even able to twitch, was perfected. I certainly had to be at death’s door. It was almost like a state where I’d die just by being poked with a finger.
Ariante seeing that also furrowed her brows.
“… No way, you really are weak?”
“If I was strong I’d have escaped a long time ago.”
She started processing it while holding her chin.
“Okay, I got it. I’ll finish you off with the next blow.”
“You’re also a simple-minded person, aren’t you?”
As soon as I said it, I was sent flying by a swing of that terrifying large sword. I was plunged right next to Rēko, destroying a few stone blocks. However, I was alive. My whole body hurt and I couldn’t move, but I was conscious and breathing.
When I looked closer, it felt like Rēko rather than being unconscious was just sleeping peacefully. Ariante put her large sword inside a scabbard on her back and walked over. And then, she deeply lowered her head.
“Sorry for being so rough. I had to make sure whether you really were weak. If you let a human toy with you that far, even though it’s hard to believe, it has to be the truth.”
“Was it necessary to go this far?”
“It was a story defying common sense. Your eyes didn’t look like those of a liar, but unfortunately I couldn’t just accept it without any proof.”
“You already half-believed me, right? Then couldn’t you hold back a little? This will definitely leave me crippled.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. To tell the truth, the only thing this sword deals is pain. It doesn’t leave any injuries on the body. Tomorrow, you’ll probably be able to stand on your own.”
“It hurt like hell though, so no doubt it’ll scar my mind.”
“That I can’t help you with.”
After taking a breath of relief, I suddenly remembered.
“C-come to think of it, the story that you’re a member of the Demon King’s army——”
“That was obviously a lie. If you really were a powerful evil dragon and I challenged you as this town’s adventurer, the compensation for that offense would also befall the city.”
Ariante shook her head.
“But if I earned your resentment as a member of the Demon King’s army, should time and circumstances permit, your rage would be faced towards the Demon King, which would also be useful to humanity.”
“Oh, is that right. I’m sorry for being useless.”
“Well, I had a hunch.”
“Isn’t that too harsh?”
Ariante once again lowered her head and picked up the soundly asleep Rēko.
“For now, since you really are weak, the problem is this girl. Listen, no matter what don’t let her realize that. In front of this girl, behave like a proper Evil Dragon Lord to avoid having her go berserk.”
“I don’t really have the confidence. Maybe we should just seclude ourselves in the mountains. In that case there wouldn’t be any problem, right?”
“That’s not possible; the fact that you declared war on the Demon King is already well-known throughout the town. Unless you can stop people’s tongues, eventually it’ll reach the Demon King’s ears. No matter where you hide, they will inevitably come looking for you. What’s more, it’s going to be a demon possessing enough power to match your reputation.”
“So it’s hopeless. What am I supposed to do?”
When I was sighing, Ariante awkwardly averted her eyes a bit. Not good. That attitude meant she had no idea.
“Well, that… Do your best. It’s fine if you get stronger step by step from now on.”
“Even if you say that, I can’t show her my incompetent training, can I? Ah, right. If you could take care of this child, I’d do my best in the meantime. I don’t think I’m able to become strong though.”
“No way. There’s no one in this town who’d get involved with this child.”
“Yep, that’s what I thought.”
“But —— yeah, it’s doable. As long as it’s not this town.”
Ariante pointed at the far end of the night sky.
“From here about three days on horse is a city with the Royal Teachings Institution. You should conceal your identity and make her learn how to handle magic power as a sorceress apprentice. I’ve a way to hide your body and I’ll also write a letter of recommendation.”
“I’m sorry but it’s impossible. I came to this town thinking the same, but I found out Rēko is just hopeless at acting. It’ll probably get discovered on the first day.”
She was at a loss. I felt guilty.
“Ah, but I’d still like you to teach me the way to hide my body. At the very least it’ll earn some time from getting caught.”
“… Wait a minute.”
Ariante turned on her heel towards the town.
“If that girl wakes up, tell her that the battle just now was only a dream. It’s an option with the least future problems.”
“Even if it’s this child, will she believe it?”
“She’ll believe anything, as long as you’re the one saying it.”
Just like that, she jumped down from the castle wall. It was a height which ordinary people couldn’t manage, but since it was her she should be fine. And then, when I waited for a while, she returned carrying a barrel fitting under her arm.
“I made you wait.”
“What’s that, alcohol?”
“Why would I serve as your drinking buddy? It’s the elixir of youthful rejuvenation, which can only be made by high ranking alchemists. Usually just a drop is enough, but taking into account your longevity there’s no telling how much is needed. Just in case, I’ve brought a whole barrel. If it works, your frame should shrink a bit. Now, open your mouth.”
I’ve had some reluctance in drinking a liquid of unknown origins, but if I didn’t, waiting for me was only a future of being hunted for gold. Without any choice, I opened my mouth.
When a drop of the liquid placed on the medicine spoon fell on my tongue, with a pop sound my body got enveloped in a purple cloud. In the next moment, my body size was no different from a standing nearby small horse.
“I see. It seems you’ve absolutely no resistance to medicines. You ought to watch out for poison.”
“Eh, I was just glad it worked, but there’s also that way of looking at it. I think I’ll have trust issues.”
“Well, anyway. It works for a day, so be sure to drink a drop daily. Since only a drop works, that barrel should last you a while. It’s really valuable, so don’t go losing it.”
“Sorry, using something so valuable.”
“It’s a gift for saving the town, and an apology for earlier. Instead, I feel it’s not enough.”
“By the way, how were you able to prepare such a precious thing that fast?”
“… Preparedness is the first step to success.”
“Ah, I thought it’s because you have the role of a commanding officer, but is it possible that, despite looking like this, you’re in fact quite old——”
With a swish, a sword appeared right before my eyes.
“There’s no loss in keeping my physical faculties youthful for the sake of fighting. That is it. As a warrior, it’s a matter of course.”
“Yes, I also think so.”
I’d be killed if her mood worsened. Since I whole heartedly believed that, I received the medicine prostrating myself.
“Tonight is already late, you can sleep with that girl in the guard’s cabin. I’ll prepare arrangements for leaving the town.”
While still feeling the atmosphere of getting rid of a nuisance, I just nodded.
Incidentally, the next morning when I’ve fallen fast asleep at the guard’s cabin,
“E-E-E-Evil Dragon Lord, w-why on earth do you have this… form? Dream? Was it a dream?”
Soon after making an excuse concerning the yesterday’s fight, Rēko started persistently asking for a reason why I’ve had become so small.