Chapter 103 – Diversionary Tactics
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“Y’know, I thought you were going to propose we fight on horseback.”

The tip of Michael’s sword fell to the ground. His breath came short and ragged as he staggered back, attempting to recuperate the stamina he’d lost as a result of his own foolishness. 

Mere moments ago, he had attacked relentlessly upon seeing his opponent fail to reply with a counterattack of any kind, committing all his strength and energy into breaking his opponent’s seemingly impregnable defense.

He drew breath heavily now, his arms nearly numb from the sheer force of his opponent’s effortless parries. Despite his completely exposed condition, his opponent merely stood there looking at him as if he were some sort of exotic animal. It infuriated him to no end, especially when the one who stood across from him had been nothing more than a brat, or so he thought.

“It’s not too late to change your decision, you know?” Medrauta raised an eyebrow as she planted her sword firmly into the soft dirt beneath her feet, leaning on the pommel of her weapon. She eyed Michael with a cool and relaxed gaze.

Though the silver-haired knight’s eyes held no traces of arrogance, her calm demeanor and verbal provocations only served to infuriate Michael further. With a roar, he charged toward Medrauta with his sword resting on his shoulder, ready to be swung in a vicious downward slash.

Damn it...! She must be tired from defending... That’s the only reason why she didn’t attack me! Michael hadn’t fully recovered his stamina yet, but he was sure that it was the same for Medrauta. After all, he’d unleashed a string of powerful attacks with speed that bewildered belief. 

In fact, the soldiers in his unit had formed a circle around the two knights as they dueled, and though they could barely follow the knights’ movements, they were certain that Michael was winning just from witnessing the sheer speed and force behind his strikes.

Meanwhile, Medrauta hadn’t done anything but defend. Even now as Michael advanced to her position, she wasn’t doing anything aside from readying herself to defend against the inevitable attacks that would be sent her way.

“Take this!” Michael shouted as he brought his blade down on Medrauta with all his might, the air before him exploding with a sound much like thunder as it was compressed by the sheer force of his attack.

Medrauta flicked her sword upward, an ear-splitting screech puncturing the air as Michael’s sword slid off her own. Despite the sheer power that her opponent’s strike possessed, the angle of Medrauta’s blade and structure of her parry had allowed her to simply redirect her opponent’s momentum downward and away from herself.

Though the maneuver left Michael wide open, Medrauta didn’t take the clear path to victory. Instead, she simply thrust her foot forward in a vicious kick, shoving the man backward several paces.

“Sir Michael, it seems you haven’t fully recovered from your last attack. Please make sure to rest adequately this time,” Medrauta said. Despite her words fanning the already blazing flames of anger in Michael’s chest, they were not meant to be hostile nor an insult to the senior knight’s skill.

“Damn you...” Michael hissed through gritted teeth.

Rather, she was simply speaking plainly and honestly. The sole reason why Medrauta hadn’t spared Michael the shame and finished him off quickly was due to the fact that more and more soldiers were beginning to cluster around, watching their duel with great interest.

While Michael certainly wasn’t skilled enough to defeat her in single combat, he was still a senior knight with plentiful combat experience, meaning that Medrauta couldn’t afford to take her eyes off him. Because of that, she had no way of knowing whether the carriage had continued to make its escape other than listening to the sound of passing hoofbeats.

Not only that, but she had no way of aiding their escape either. At least, not until she noticed that the mounted soldiers who had previously been in fervent pursuit of the carriage began stopping to watch her duel against Michael. Due to his popularity with the men, she gathered that he was probably the main commander of this cavalry force.

It was only then that she realized she could aid her lady and friends by prolonging the duel as much as possible, allowing her to remove the commander from the fight and reduce unit cohesion while also drawing away soldiers from the pursuing force. In essence, the duel had become far more of an advantage to Medrauta than she’d even thought possible and she could only thank Aluvsha for the opportunity.

“I was serious, Sir Michael.” Medrauta said. “You’re a cavalry commander, aren’t you? Why did you not fight me on horseback instead? Were you looking down on me?”

“The audacity...! How dare you accuse me of doing such a thing when you are the one who is humiliating me at this very moment!?”

To that, Medrauta had no response. If she truly cared about Michael’s honor, she would have finished him off much earlier. However, Viviane’s safety was paramount and Medrauta was more than willing to sacrifice another knight’s dignity in order to safeguard her lady. All she could do was fix Michael with an apologetic gaze.

“...I didn’t want to give you a chance.”

Medrauta frowned in confusion. “What do you mean? Are you more skilled on foot?”

Michael shook his head, holding his side with a hand. Though the pain from Medrauta’s kick had mostly dulled, it still smarted when he made any rapid movements. “I didn’t want to give you a chance to run away. You looked so young, so I didn’t think you were actually a senior knight...”

Medrauta blinked, smiling sheepishly. “Well, I’m not. Not a senior knight, I mean.”

Michael’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “...What? No, that can’t be... How are you... How can you be so skilled!?”

“I trained under Commander Padraig while I was a squire in the Imperial Order. Well, former commander, that is. He was demoted a little while afterwards, but I don’t think that’s relevant. Anyway, I—”

“Commander Padraig!?” Michael exclaimed. “The Commander Padraig!? Ahh, that makes so much more sense!”

At once, the animosity drained from Michael, his frown replaced by what could almost be considered a friendly grin. After learning of Medrauta’s impressive lineage, there was no need to be ashamed of his grueling defeat. While the Imperial Order’s reputation had declined over the past few years ever since Padraig was removed from his position as its commander, no senior knight had forgotten how powerful he was and the glory days that he brought with that strength.

“That’s right,” Medrauta nodded. “Though, I suppose he’s forgotten all about me now. I haven’t seen a letter from that dickhead in months... Probably hasn’t come back from the front lines in ages.”

“Did you just call the legendary commander a di—” Michael paused mid-sentence. Although he was intending to berate Medrauta’s coarse address of her mentor, he suddenly realized that there was something even more important. “Hold on. If you were Commander Padraig’s squire, then why the hell are you harboring fugitives accused of poisoning the duke!?”

“Because they didn’t poison the duke,” Medrauta replied. “They were framed.”

“By who?”

“The current acting duke. Bastiche is working together with the witch who attacked the academy, Amelia.”

Michael shook his head. “Sorry, but I’m afraid that’s impossible. He was sighted with Dame Ritya just days ago fighting the witch. In fact, he said that the witch was the one who sent those foreigners to poison the duke.”

Medrauta didn’t even know how to respond. The soldiers around them were getting impatient as they watched the conversation, catching only snippets due to distance. “I... You and I both know that’s bullshit, Sir Michael.”

“It’s not. I was a witness to his fight against the witch.”

“A diversionary tactic to deceive you all. There’s absolutely no proof that the foreigners poisoned the duke.” Medrauta crossed her arms. Though she was slowly becoming frustrated, it wasn’t as if she didn’t understand where Michael was coming from. Had she not known Sakura and Riku nor read Dame Marilyn’s letter, that particular piece of misinformation might’ve even swayed her.

“And there’s no proof that those foreigners are innocent. Plus, if they are innocent as you claim, then should you not surrender them to the garrison so they can stand a proper trial?”

“We’re at war, Sir Michael. There won’t be a trial.”

“...I see we won’t be able to reach a compromise.” Michael sighed as he hefted his blade.

“Unfortunately not.” Medrauta replied as she did the same. “We can only let Aluvsha guide the righteous to victory.”

Michael nodded and then burst forward, his gaze locked onto Medrauta. He knew that the younger knight was undoubtedly more skilled than he, but he also knew that she was refraining from seizing victory for reasons unknown. He would take advantage of that, throwing caution to the wind and eschewing defense in favor of an overwhelming attack that would crush his opponent.

Regardless of Medrauta’s technique, the difference in weight between their weapons would decide the match. He simply had to choose an angle where the silver-haired knight wouldn’t be able to expertly deflect the force of his blow as she’d previously done.

I’ll strike from the side, and after I’ve smashed through her sword, I’ll—

An impossibly powerful force slammed into Michael’s exposed shoulder as he charged forward. The blade penetrating straight through his pauldron and flesh had been thrust with such authority and power behind it, he could hardly believe it belonged to a knight who had not yet graduated. In fact, if he did not know that Medrauta was once Padraig’s squire, he wouldn’t have been able to even comprehend his loss.

Ah... How foolish of me... Michael thought as his vision faded precipitously, his body going into a state of shock. The choice to seize victory was in her hands the whole time...

Blood spurted out from his wound as Medrauta retrieved her blade, dislodging the pauldron in the wake of her motion. Michael staggered slightly, still attempting to raise his sword. Though Medrauta applauded the knight’s struggle despite being sent into shock, she felt that she had stalled enough.

With one powerful swing, she slammed the flat of her sword into the side of Michael’s head, causing his eyes to glaze over as he collapsed on the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. Though the man had suffered a deep wound, it was by no means fatal, and with the soldiers already rushing in to retrieve their commander, he should recover within a few days.

Medrauta sighed and turned to the grassy knoll where her horse awaited her return. While a few angry soldiers were rushing toward her, they didn’t concern her at all. The only thing on her mind was seeing Viviane’s smile as soon as possible.

“Well then... It’s time to catch up.”