We were teleported on our way in, but we had to ride horses on the way back.
The demons might have changed course if they couldn’t see Claire-sama, so we matched their pace.
Even Claire-sama, despite being used to riding a horse, seemed to have slightly sore buttocks.
Perhaps it was because she had nothing to do with horses after she’d become a common.
Don’t even ask.
When we returned to the fifth fortress while I applied healing magic to Claire-sama and myself, General Zasha welcomed us.
“I’ve heard about it. The operation seems to have been a big success.”
General Zasha didn’t show much emotion on his typically of a military man, but he still slightly narrowed his eyes as he praised us for our success.
“It’s thanks to the troops you lent us. They protected us all the way back.”
“It’s only natural. Her Majesty Dorothea… No, that’s wrong now. Her Majesty Philine has entrusted you to us. We couldn’t let anything happen to you.”
General Zasha continued.
“The demon army seems to have taken the path to this fortress without any issues. We will be initiating a withdrawal now.”
“Claire-san, Rei-san, please return to the imperial capital first. We’ll have somebody who can use teleportation come with you.”
“Thank you for you hard work,” added General Zasha, but,
“… General. May we trouble your troops some more?”
Claire-sama said such a thing.
General Zasha looked puzzled.
“I don’t mind, but… why?”
“I have an unpleasant premonition. However, it’s just a feeling, so I can’t explain it well.”
General Zasha stroked his chin and pondered over Claire-sama’s words.
“Well, that kind of sixth sense is also important in war. And above all, I couldn’t be more grateful than to have the revolutionary maiden join our withdrawal.”
“Yes, I wish you’d stay with us for a while longer.”
Claire-sama and General Zasha shook hands with each other.
“I apologize for making the decision on my own, Rei.”
“I don’t really mind, but… what is that unpleasant premonition?”
“You see, not only Arist wasn’t there, the demons fell for the provocation too easily too. Something is wrong.”
Claire-sama felt that things were going too well.
“Aren’t you overthinking it?”
“I hope I am. However, I want to be prepared just in case.”
Claire-sama faintly smiled as she said that.
Like this, I and Claire-sama joined in the fifth fortress’s withdrawal, but there was little that we could actually do.
Both Claire-sama and I were excellent magicians, but we were unrelated to things like group fighting or military arts.
Even though it was called a withdrawal operation, we didn’t know what we should do.
On General Zasha’s directions, we stood by and would participate in battle as necessary.
Because the withdrawal preparations had been made in advance, it didn’t take long to actually abandon the fortress.
Claire-sama and I were with General Zasha on the way back to the imperial capital in the middle of the withdrawing army.
“It looks like the demon army has entered the fifth fortress.”
A soldier who looked into distance with magic gave us his report.
It’s finally time.
“Okay, when all the demons are in range, activate the Inferno!”
While continuing advancing, General Zasha ordered his subordinate to keep monitoring the situation.
Time passed slowly.
And a few minutes later.
“The rear of the demon army is within the effective range!”
The soldier in charge of monitoring them shouted.
“Okay! Start the Inferno!”
General Zasha put magical power into a palm-sized magical tool.
It seemed to be some kind of authentication device with an activation key to prevent the Inferno from being activated without the authority to.
The magical tool gave off red light.
A few minutes passed.
However, nothing happened.
“W-What’s going on!?”
We’d received an explanation about the Inferno from Philine beforehand.
It was a magical tool that activated the fire and earth elements in the earth’s veins, causing a pseudo-eruption.
If it had been successfully activated, we should have been able to feel a more dramatic change.
“T-The Inferno… won’t activate!!”
A soldier on the monitoring duty let out a distressed cry.
General Zasha input the magical power into the magical tool again.
The activation key appeared to be working fine.
However, the Inferno didn’t activate.
“Hum… This never gets old. The sight of human beings in despair, that is.”
The voice came from above us.
“Good day, Claire François. How does it feel to have your last ditch effort fail?”
The demon with bat-like wings and a frock coat said cheerfully.
“You are saying that it’s your doing…?”
As he said that, Arist threw something big.
I braced myself for an attack, but it wasn’t that.
“Your… Your Highness!!”
It was the body of a human being.
It had a single stab wound in the chest.
From what General Zasha said, it seemed to be the Crown Prince, who should have been overseas.
“Humans are ugly… Truly ugly…”
“You bastard! What did you do to His Highness!?”
General Zasha drew his sword and slashed at Arist in the sky above.
He had terrifying jumping power.
Arist fought back with his extended claws.
“What, I haven’t done much. I only had him tell me the activation key of that Inferno magical tool.”
“Stop joking around! His Highness would never be cajoled!”
As he slashed twice, thrice in the air, General Zasha denied Arist’s words.
“Of course not, under normal circumstances. But we have people who are very good at getting into the crevices of the human mind.”
“–! It’s Salas, isn’t it!”
“Good guess, Claire François.”
Arist affirmed Claire-sama’s words.
“Our spies have had information about the empire’s secret weapon for quite some time now, and I’ve often come to this area to search for it. But I couldn’t find it. So we decided to approach people who might know about it.”
So the crown prince is that person.
“He was quite stubborn and wouldn’t talk. He didn’t fall for Salas Lilium’s suggestion easily. But just the other day, something happened that disappointed him.”
“What are you trying to say!?”
General Zasha attacked fiercely, but Arist continued undisturbed.
“It was the cession of the imperial throne.”
I see, so that’s why.
“He didn’t expect Dorothea Naa to abdicate it so easily, and was blindsided by Philine Naa taking it over. My heart goes out to him for his disappointment.”
“No, no, it’s true. In his heartbreak, he finally succumbed to Salas’s suggestion. That’s why we were able to change the activation key of the Inferno.”
Kukuku, Arist chuckled in a low voice.
This all happened because Dorothea didn’t lay the groundwork for abdication.
Dorothea may be superior as an individual, but she’s extremely clueless about subtleties of people.
She is probably too strong to understand the weaknesses of the human heart.
“But well, I don’t understand humans well. I got him to spit out the activation code, but I couldn’t extract any more information from him as he stabbed himself in the chest with my claw. It seemed like he wasn’t fully under mind manipulation.”
Arist wouldn’t understand.
It’s just a possibility, but the crown prince might have refused to be a puppet of the demons at the very end.
His heart showed weakness, but also strength to overcome it.
Aristo, who didn’t seem to have the slightest interest in such matters, slowly landed on the ground and announced to us.
“And so, I’ve had your precious magical weapon disabled. It’s time you all get trampled down.”