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Chapter 4: Trouble, or Goddess of Fortune?

(TL: Oh boy, three a.m.!)

Trouble, or Goddess of Fortune?

Grasslands spread out before me.

The sky was high, and the sun hid behind the clouds to produce an unpleasant chill on my skin.

(If the sun came out, it'd definitely be warm.)

Winter was nearing its end. I held up a spear, as I remained wary of my surroundings.

I asked May to take on quilin form, and strapped a saddle on her to practice swinging a polearm on horseback. The spear was borrowed from Aria, by the way.

"Hey, don't hit my head when you swing that thing around. If you hit my horn, I will bite you."

Watching me sit on her back, and deal with monsters, she seemed more concerned that the spear would collide with her head.

Porter was parked on a well-maintained road. Aria leaned her back to the machine as she watched over us, while Eva kept lookout.

Clara was riding on Porter's roof, looking over at us.

"I'm making sure not to, but... horseback fighting sure is hard."

I was practicing it at the Sixth's suggestion, but I didn't have a horse to begin with. There was no helping it, so I had May take on quilin form instead.

Aria sighed.

"Hey, isn't this ridiculously luxurious? Not having a horse, do riding a divine beast instead?"

Eva looked around, before agreeing with her.

"Only Lyle. And wait, why horseback? It's storybook hero standard fare, so I've not any complaints, though."

Aria seemed amazed as she looked at Eva.

"That's your problem? You're just going to ignore the fact he's seriously preparing for war?"

On the way back after completing our requests, I would practice horseback spearsmanship whenever we'd found a group of monsters. On top of it being hard to balance, I got the feeling it would be easier to fight if I got off.

We found three goblins, and I urged everyone to let me fight alone.

May trampled the Goblin that stepped out in front of her with her forelegs.

"Oy!"

When her sudden movements destroyed my balance, May laughed.

"I mean, it aimed for my legs. And wait, how much time are you planning to spend on these small fries?"

Fighting on a horse was truly difficult.

From within the Jewel, I even heard some laughing voices from the ancestors. The Sixth.

[Try properly fixing the axis of your body. There're loads of people on the battlefield where it's hard to tell apart the movements of man and horse.]

I'll be troubled, even if you tell me that.

At the very least, it'll be bad if I can't get the form together, I told myself as I practiced.

After we defeated the Goblins, Clara came down from the roof to collect up the magic stones.

Aria came beside her.

"Hey, let me have a go next."

I dismounted from May, and confirmed it with her.

"May, is that fine with you?"

She didn't sound too interested.

"I don't really care."

Aria took her spear back from me, and happily jumped onto May's back. She had been a noble lady- albeit for a limited timeframe- and it seems she'd ridden horses before.

Her spear-toting figure atop a quilin was quite majestic.

"It's been quite a while, but it sure is a nice feel."

There, May.

"Ah, she feels more stable than Lyle."

I averted my eyes from the two of them.

"... It really has been a long time since I last rode."

And ended up giving an excuse. Perhaps finding that interesting, Aria sent May running with her right hand on her spear, and her left gripping the reins.

Having finished collecting the magic stones, Clara removed her gloves as she spoke.

"She's skilled. She's got it down nicely. I'd heard Aria was born into a warrior household, but... really, if she was a man, it wouldn't be strange if she became a captain or general."

I looked at Aria.

"You're right. But in the present day, there are plenty of women who play quite large parts on the battlefield. I'm not sure about queens, but there're the two maiden of the Great War, and the holy maiden. See, three of them right in the area."

Clara gave a sigh, before turning to face me. And her eyes were more focused than usual.

"And that holy maiden is the problem here."

I had transmitted the info I'd received to Clara. She'd read through the documents. So Clara knew about the current Holy Maiden as well.

Of course, the current one was terrible.

The Theocracy of Zayin was a country that pledged its faith to the last Goddess.

There wasn't any problem in that, and in general most religion in itself consisted of devoting yourself to one of the Goddesses. The problem lay in this generation's representative.

(Priests generally succeed their roles through blood, so they're not much different from nobles. Yet the country's top is decided by looks and talent?)

From among the consecrated virgins in service to their temples, irrelevant to bloodline, one that excelled in appearance and talent would be selected as the next holy maiden.

And because of that, there was a tendency for proficient ones to be selected.

At times, due to the circumstances of surrounding countries, a noble's daughter would be sent into nun hood, and make her way all the way up to holy maiden. The high priests that held the roles of ministers seemed to be the ones actually carrying out the ruling, but the holy maiden had her share of authority.

And the High Priests were no monoliths in time.

(For a theocracy to go picking fights with everyone around it... that's no good, isn't it?)

Zayin's history was also a history of war.

But perhaps because the predecessor had been of the moderate faction, the squabbles had died down for the past twenty or so years. Up to then was simply awful, and perhaps the newer generation had a grudge with Lorphys, as she had tried to get into a large-scale war with them a number of times.

(Waging war just after taking power...)

Having heard of Zayin's situation, the ancestors' reactions coincided. The Fifth and Sixth sounded particularly irritated.

In order, Third and up.

[Their reason for war is terrible. I'm getting the urge to support Lorphys unconditionally.]

[Just what could they be thinking? Should we get them back, and put a trauma so deep in their skulls they'll never wage war again?]

[... Their rationale for war is non-existent. Zayin's side is out of the question. Definitely out of the question.]

[Crushing them will feel more refreshing.]

[We won't be able to put Lyle in power, so I must refuse. Just trying to manage that country will take up all of Lyle's time.]

... And it ended up I wouldn't be fighting on Zayin's side.

The Fifth said that even in the time he was alive, they irrationally attacked the feudal lords around him a number of times, and he was an individual who'd been forced to endure it.

He couldn't forgive them on an emotional level.

When I got the urge to breath out a sigh, a response came up on the [Search] Skill. A yellow point was being chased.

I immediately called out to everyone.

"Someone's being chased. Clara, return to Porter. Aria, stay up there, and follow us! Eva!"

I called out to Eva, and had her look in the direction the chased signal was in.

Among us, she had the greatest eyesight, so after staring a bit...

"A few carriages are being pursued. They're large carriages, so it doesn't seem they'll be able to get away. But..."

With a perplexed face, she addressed me.

"It's strange, I mean the ones chasing them don't look like bandits. There're definitely some circumstances behind that one."

Hearing that from her, I began to consider it.

(So a chase with circumstance? Maybe it's best we don't get involved?)

The carriages turned right towards us.

"Lyle, what do we do?"

On Eva's question, I decided to help them. When I touched the Jewel, the Third let out a bit of a fed-up voice. But he sounded a little happy.

[Playing hero, is it? Well, there are times when the ones being chased are the ones in the wrong. And wait, the ones doing the chases do seem to be directing some hostility towards us.]

The Sixth.

[Be careful. Those movements aren't a simple bandit's.]

I issued out orders.

"Clara, move Porter to put it between the pursued and pursuers. May, turn back to human form. Everyone hop onto Porter, and keep the pursuers company."

We boarded Porter, and Clara began driving it. I moved myself to the moving Porter's roof, gripped the Jewel in my left, hand, and brought out the Bow.

Eva also came up top, and stood stanced with her own bow.

The ones chasing the carriage was a group of males on horse-top wearing full-body robes.

When they saw that we were approaching, they immediately sent three our way.

"Ten pursuers... no, they have some more behind."

Their movements were one thing, but their decision to send three our way was also a swift one. The Fifth gave me a warning.

[Lyle, don't hold back. Your enemy is coming with the intent to kill. There's the possibility the party being chased are completely in the wrong, so risking death for their sake is simply absurd.]

The Seventh.

[You'll have to consider how to seal their lips as well. How troublesome. Good grief, in such a busy time.]

I took a deep breath, and made a pose to pull the bow.

After locking onto the enemies with the [Select] Skill, I didn't hesitate to fire my arrows of light. The bolts came towards them, and the three riders immediately changed course, and took evasive action.

But the arrows followed along, and pierced through their robed figures.

One in the chest, another through the shoulder.

However, the third man in the center used his horse as a shield to escape the arrow. And after landing on the ground, he began sprinting our way.

I fired the next one, but this time, he tossed a knife to shoot it down.

"He saw through it?"

The Seventh raised his voice.

[I see. He at least has something going for him, in trying to challenge all of us alone.]

Eva shouted out.

"There!"

She fired an arrow. Perhaps she had some hesitation, and the projectile missed its mark. Our party had little experience fighting human opponents.

He quickly closed the distance, so I turned the Bow back to its Jewel form, and pulled my sabre.

(This one's fast!)

Before I could remove the Jewel's chain entwined around my arm, he jumped towards the roof of our speeding Porter.

The hand that emerged from his robe was clenched around a weapon.

I pulled my spare sabre to parry the slash from his dagger. And making a landing on Porter's roof, he locked glares with me.

While we exchanged such pleasantries in that narrow space, Eva fired an arrow from behind me.

And in that instant, I stepped in to slash at him.

The man had prioritized stopping my attack over the arrow. With the bolt now stuck in his thigh, his movements grew worse. I used a sabre to ward off a blow from the dagger in his left hand again, before using my other one to cut forward.

(Too shallow.)

It's not that I didn't move in far enough.

My opponent sacrificed an arm to avoid a fatal blow.

As his left hand flew off somewhere, the Third let his voice from the Jewel.

[Lyle, kick him away at once!]

By the Second's [All], I could sense a peculiar swelling in his body's Mana, and I could feel the impending danger.

I immediately put it to action. His eyes opened wide, and after the robed man fell from Porter's roof, he rolled along the ground a number of times, and exploded.

Eva behind me looked at the man who'd just erupted into flames.

"... He blew himself up."

Her expression indicated she couldn't believe it. When I looked in back towards the direction of the carriages, the pursuers immediately turned to retreated.

And another explosion sounded.

Turning around, I saw the place where we'd incapacitated the other two was also a torrent of flames.

The pursued carriages dropped speed, and began coming towards us.

And I noticed of the two I'd shot, it was the survivor who'd initiated the explosion.

"Just what is this?"

When I muttered that, the Fourth let out his voice.

[Once more, it looks like you've picked up quite a troublesome one.]

-

-

-

We met up with the carriages, and observed the area before disembarking.

The horses the pursuers rode were riding off into the distance, and the pursuers themselves along with them. Even when I checked it up with Skills, their responses were moving farther and farther away.

Aria looked at the burning spots.

"No sane men would blow themselves up like that."

May stepped down in human form.

"Personally, I don't think there's a sane one to find among humanity."

And the ones to step off of the carriage was but another group of robed figures. As they stood on guard, a single short old man removed his hood.

With desolate white hair adorning his head, he grew a lengthy beard. He was quite thin, and while his eyes naturally drooped, the rings under them were something horrible, making his face look villainous.

But...

"I give my deepest of gratitude for saving us. I am called [Gastone]. From the look of things, you seem to be adventurers."

I nodded, and Gastone-san deeply lowered his head.

"After you've only just saved us, I know it may be inexcusable of me to ask, but could you possibly take up a request of ours? We'll put out a reward, of course."

From the Jewel came the Sixth's voice.

[Definitely suspicious. Politely cut all ties with him here. Saving his life was already more than enough.]

Is what he said, but even if I was to refuse, I couldn't help but be curious over the contents of such a request.

"We've only just completed a requests ourselves. There's a limit to what we'll be able to do."

And Gastone spoke.

"It isn't anything difficult. I'd like you to take up guard duties. There shouldn't be a problem if we make it to Beim. If you've completed a request, would you already happen to be on the way there?"

It became quite hard to decline. There were some enervated voices from the Jewel.

But if it was only escorting them, or so I thought, as another robed figure came down from one of the carriages. From the build, probably a woman.

"Gastone, what shall we do about the ones who were attacked?"

There, Gastone-san began to panic.

"Wah! I'm sure I told you not to leave the carriage!"

Other woman were aboard it, and they all wore the same robes. When Gastone hurriedly tried to return them all inside, the first woman took off her hood.

"I give my thanks for coming to our aid. When we were first assailed, there was a carriage that fell behind. If possible, I'd like you to go to their aide. I'll pay in full for your services."

Gastone-san held his right hand to his face.

And I looked at the woman. I had seen a sketch reminiscent of her among the documents.

"... Could you be..."

Clara came up to me, and seeing the woman's face, she was also quite flustered.

"Lyle-san, this is bad. Really bad!"

Aria.

"Eh? Something up with this lady?"

May.

"Ah~ right, that sketch. This person does look like it."

While she seemed a little irritated at Aria's statement, the woman let it slide. Blond hair, and eyes a light blue.

I had heard her age was in the mid-thirties, but I felt she could pass for her late twenties.

"I have served as the previous generation's Holy Maiden of Zayin, my name is [Thelma Zayin]. And I want to officially make a request. Would you take up our escort?"

The woman who named herself as the previous Holy Maiden looked right at me.

I felt a cold sweat break out, but some cheers were risen in the Jewel.

The Third seemed to be hitting against the table.

[Lyle, you did it! Let's take up the former Holy Maiden's request here!]

[With this, Lyle can get involved in this story! What's more with a former-leader diplomacy card! How shall we use it, men!]

[Don't let her get away. Definitely don't let her get away! Secure her at once!]

[The fact she was running means there was a need to flee Zayin, or perhaps those were pursuers from Lorphys... this is getting fun!]

[Good things happen to good people. He did his good deeds by the day, and the Goddesses have blessed him with fortune for it. They can be useful now and again, I see. Very well, listen to her situation, and think up how you're going to use it.]

I thought.

(Even when a troublesome ones come along, these guys rejoice...)