Five, Twenty-three, and Twenty-five Years Ronald’s Collection Chapter 5.4: Protecting the Duke from Bandits – Awe

WHOOSH CRACKLE CRACKLE

“Eek!” Layla, the greater spirit candidate his daughter, Irene, named shrieked, burying her head into her namer’s chest.

“By the greater spirits…!” Irene shared a similar sentiment, covering her mouth with her hands as she looked at the source of Layla’s fright.

Allister can see it too. While putting the unconscious Neptune, the intermediate spirit he named’s head on his lap – the poor spirit always had a weak heart -, he looked out at the window to his right to see the eyepatched brigand who vulgarly shouted at his comrades suddenly turned ablaze, and screamed in flaming agony.

“My word…” Allister could only mutter lowly at the sight.

While his knights remained mostly stoic, focusing on keeping the carriage safe, the attacking bandits were not so when the bandit trying to inspire them burst into flames instead. Suffice to say, they were quite spooked, forming a circle around the burning eyepatched bandit so as to not get caught in the flames.

In doing so, the bandits merely watched in horror as the fire disappearing into flickers of red in no more than a minute, leaving behind their burnt comrade.

CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~ CREME~

Then, Allister heard countless shimmers from his left. Turning his head there, he shared the same reaction as his knights guarding that side of the carriage judging by their ever-so-slightly slackened arms he was able to observe – their horses weren’t in the way -, not that he could blame them.

“Whoa…” One of the knights, Clint, even gasped in awe at the sight of it.

The sight of ice.

Ice invading this circling hellfire, trapping all of the bandits on that side of the carriage in it. Nevermind how it does not seem to melt, the ice meticulously covered each part of their bodies, following its shape as it does so, forming some sort of armor of ice that immobilized them instead, even the weapons they’re holding were frozen. Only their heads and necks were spared.

“It is like all but their heads were frozen in time!” Was Irene’s gasp when she first saw it.

Just before, when Joshua landed to that side of the carriage, it, the ‘art,’ had happened to three bandits who took the first charge at him. Allister did not see this directly, but he saw the results.

Leaning their bodies forward, right foot in the front and left foot in the back, and blades pointing at Joshua, the ice had effectively made them stuck in that position. It even captured one of them leaping and the ice doesn’t seem to be affected by the world as that bandit’s literally frozen in the air right now! He’s floating in the air!

SHATTER SHATTER SHATTER

THUD

And just as Allister thought of that, those three frozen bandits were unfrozen. The thick ice breaking into light-blue motes, releasing the bandits to fall to the grass, especially the one stuck mid-air.

However, they were of no concern anymore, for they were already dead.

And the rest of the still-frozen bandits were about the share the same fate as Joshua, under the brown robe and mask, silently approached them, the gleaming ice-blue dagger in his hand still dripping blood of the previous victims.

The first bandit Joshua looked down upon contorted his face in fear, or at least that’s what Allister could make out from the distance. “Wait! No-”

SLASH

Without mercy, Joshua cut him off, literally, as he swiftly slashed the bandit’s neck, left to right, with his dagger, spilling blood from the gash on the icy binds as the bandit slumped his head down.

SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH

Filtering out the cries of pleading, curses, and bargaining, Joshua sliced the rest of the frozen bandits one by one without hesitation. No free bandits will rescue them as they were occupied with the knights guarding the front and back of the carriage and thus, they can only watch as the cold grim reaper inch closer and closer to claim their souls.

“Goodness! F-Father, is this what they can do!?” Irene cried, still clasping her mouth.


“Everyone! These men are here to help us!” Allister shouted out to the window. “Let them assist!”

“Huh? You know these people, father?” Irene asked in confusion.

“Yes,” Allister nodded. “Judging by the unique daggers they carry, which seems to be bound to them with how they were summoned to their hands, I suspect they are Ronald Bell and Joshua Ruze.” 

“What? Mister Bell and mister Ruze?” Irene widened her eyes. “And what are those robes they are wearing?”

“I think those robes are their battle garb,” Allister deduced, looking right and left to examine the two young men’s brown clothing. “Though I have a feeling that Ruze was… forced into it.”


“…” Allister however, didn’t answer immediately.

“…he was holding back and is much stronger…”

But recalling his discussion with Oswald, Allister answered resolutely, “No, I believe they can be much stronger.”

“Obviously!” Layla turned back to the duke and spat. “We won’t so scared of them if they can only do party tricks!”

“I see….” Irene uttered softly.

WHOOSH CRA-CR-CRAC-CRACK-CKLE-ACKLE-KLE-LE CRACK-CRAC-CRACKL-CR-LE-KLE-E-ACKLE

Then, Allister heard it again. Looking to the right window once again, he now saw multiple bandits being burned alive by Ronald’s ‘arts’.

“Oh my!” Irene gasped at the sight.

“See!” Layla shrieked. “I told you they’re bad news!”

Allister, however, chose to silently observe what he saw. Although Ronald didn’t get all the bandits on his side unlike Joshua who seemed to be the senior by Allister’s observation, the rest of the bandits were still frightened by the same great art that Ronald used to kill his first two bandits…

“…how they fight looked deceptively and underwhelmingly powerful…”

Wait, Allister halted his mind as he recalled the first thing his head knight. This is unlike what Oswald told me!

Observing the burning bandits again, where most of them were falling to the ground, Allister when deep into thought.

“…lord Bell had mostly used small fireball arts…”

The first was obvious. From what was known, Ronald mostly performed ‘measly’ fireball arts against the bandits in Willow’s village, aside from the Cursed Dragon’s breath.

“…I soon realize that his arts were more with efficiency in mind…”

While it seemed weak, that was because it doesn’t need to be any stronger. From the discussion with Oswald, Allister learned that the Court Wizards (which he noted to have used the phrase for the first time in a while) tend to be unwasteful of their arts, seeking efficiency in their arts and only use it if they’re sure they can hit their foe.

CRACKLE CRACKLE CRACKLE

“Save… me…!”

While Allister believed his head knight wouldn’t have any reason to lie nor having the wrong judgment, the art Ronald performed right now was anything but uncostly, even if it did hit the target. While Allister was not an expert in actual fire spirit arts, he can imagine weaker arts that could get the job done than setting the bandits ablaze from head to toe instead.

SLASH SLASH SLASH SLASH

On the other side, Allister may not know much about Joshua’s prowess aside from the incident in his office, but freezing the bandits from the neck down and then slicing their throats one by one with a dagger was definitely inefficient even though there were traces of the opposite in how Joshua’s ice followed their body shapes instead of summoning a huge block of it.

It is paradoxical, Allister thought. Their arts were too powerful than necessary unlike before. It is as if they were trying to… Ah!

Immediately, Allister looked to the side he hasn’t seen: behind.

It is as I expected! Ignoring his frightened coachman, Liam (may the greater spirits be gentle with this old soul), Allister observed the bandits fighting his knights at the front side of the carriage. There, he saw the bandits and knights, with Oswald among them, clash, the latter taking minimal casualties as his eyes spied the uneasiness in the former’s nerves.

He then turned to his front, ignoring his daughter still comforting the spirit she named, and looked out to the back window of the carriage to see the same manner of the bandits at the posterior side of the carriage.

And all of this confirmed his hypothesis.

“…whilst their… lack of intent unnerved me…

For showing no fear, or any emotions in battle, they sure strike most of it to their enemies, Allister mused.

After all, the horrific sight of bandits bursting into flames by Ronald and the cold execution of Joshua whilst being trapped in ice, unable to do anything but accept their fate, was best viewed from the front and back of the carriage.

Most likely, Ronald may not even need to point his hand. Joshua certainly did not, Allister continued his train of thoughts. Even spirit arts don’t need hand gestures to direct it, as long as you relay a clear image to the spirits, direction pointings are unnecessary.

Yes, it made sense. While they will try to defeat the enemy as fast as possible, no matter how strong or how many they could topple in a single art, Ronald and Joshua were still just two people. Therefore, they used fear through powerful ‘arts’ as a form of crowd control to manage large scores of adversaries, and it certainly lifted a burden off the knights’ backs.

They certainly know how to make the best out of their small numbers, Allister thought, silently praising Ronald and Joshua’s horrid yet effective tactic. And yet…


“But, there’s one thing I noticed about lord Bell,” Oswald said.

“Hm? What is it?” Allister asked.

“He has not taken a life before, I’ve seen it in his colorless eyes. As further proof, never once did he killed any of the brigands,” Oswald explained. “And you said that lord Bell and his entourage were akin to shadows of worlds, correct? Then I would assume they do not mind their hands sullied in blood.”

“…Now that I think about it,” Allister rubbed his chin, “you have a point there.”

“Yes,” Oswald nodded. “And yet I noticed that the near-perfect control lord Bell has over his ‘arts’ was meant to avoid that, even his beginner dagger skills did not draw blood – even lord Ruze was the same with the brigands he’s subdued.

“I had assumed their lack of feelings would prevent such pacifistic tendencies, but it seems to suppress the feeling of the ‘rush of battle’ so as to not accidentally kill instead.”


…there is still much to learn about them. The duke thought as such, glancing at both sides once again, seeing Ronald Bell and Joshua Ruze seemingly wrapping up their sides of the battle. Their seemingly never-ending stream of contradictions.


CRACKLE CRACKLE CRACKLE PSHH

34 bandits killed, ??? remain.

With that, it was the last bandits Ronald had burned to death. Overlooking all the charred corpses littering the green plains inside this circle of fire, he saw no more bandits jumping into it and internally declared to himself that this area has been secured as…

Emotion suppression off.

“Heh,” Ronald scoffed out loud. To test the already proven reason his Maneg Soul lifted the veil over his emotions, he turned left and glared at one of the bandits fighting the knights at the backside of the carriage.

“..!” Even with this distance and noise of steel, Ronald could hear the flinch the bandit had crossing eyes with him which cost the bandit dearly as a knight took advantage of the moment of hesitation and struck him. No banishment of his emotions there, Ronald was completely safe in where he stood.

35 bandits killed, ??? remain.

But regardless, Ronald wasn’t in a happy mood. And then, he felt foreign maneg probing into his brain.

Headcount: twenty-nine from me including the knights’. (Joshua)

Putting two fingers behind his ear, Ronald glossed over the scene of carnage to make sure he didn’t miscount. The movies were inaccurate with the real thing.

Twenty-four, plus one other guy in the backside I distracted and got cut down by the knights.

54 bandits killed, ??? remain.

Then that’s fifty-four. Right then, is yours off too? (Joshua)

Knowing what Joshua’s referring to, having just thought about it, Ronald gave his answer.

Yes, our Maneg Souls can sure crack a joke.

It was sarcastic and Ronald was sure that tone was conveyed into Joshua’s mind.

You got that right. Anyway, how do you feel? (Joshua)

Glancing around him again, Ronald simply gave his reply.

As always, absolutely horrible.

Yeah, me too. (Joshua)

… (Joshua)

And in the prevalent silence, Ronald sent his sigh.

Hah… We thought that with all that training over the past few months, we’d be ready to share her burden.


“Which makes both of us,” Joshua smirked, “alongside her as well…” before saying in downcast.

“…Yeah, and not to mention the irony of what we’re trying to achieve here,” Ronald said in melancholy. “To inherit Emilia’s job of killing.”


Turns out, we will never be ready for it the moment we took out the first bandit camp.

Yeah. Emilia sure made it easy, killing people without feeling bad for it. Granted she’s from an assassin clan and we’re just city folks. (Joshua)

But regardless, we have agreed to shoulder that weight, Emilia’s weight, since the start of this operation, so we have to keep moving forward.

Then we better get going, our suppressions ain’t coming back on until we do and the knights behind us are definitely scratching their heads with our hold-up right now. You take forward and I’ll take back, see you on the other side. (Joshua)

Right.

Turning his body to the right, Ronald moved forward, with [Emilia’s Right Dagger] in his hand and the bandits fighting the head of the duke’s knights and company in his sights. As his emotion suppressor’s returning to him, Ronald sent one last message to his partner.

Hey Joshua, if we have kids who become Court Wizards, us parents should at least prohibit them from killing. They don’t need to feel the same way as we do.

Agreed. (Joshua)

Emotion suppression reactivated.


Azhure: I decided to take the whole day to figure out the last part and this was what I could think of.


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