In the Bertram Kingdom’s Royal Institute, participating in the annual inter-class field exercise competition was the primary goal for all final year elementary students.
Although it was called field exercise, the participants primarily consisted of noble children.
Routes from the start to finish were prepared beforehand so the students only needed to select and follow one of the prearranged routes to arrive at their destination. There were no penalties for slower groups.
Participation was mandatory for the boys, though optional for the girls.
It should be noted that while only the sixth year elementary students were required to participate in the event, fifth year students were allowed tag along as support, as well as having it serve as a practice run for the following year.
「Now then, we’ll be holding a meeting to discuss our plan for the exercise. I believe that we must achieve first place.」
It was Alphonse, the second son of Marquis Rodan, who was elected as class leader.
His goal was to proceed to the intermediate curriculum of the Royal Institute and later enlist with the Imperial Guard Knights.
Although, he was greatly surpassed by Christina and Roana in terms of social standing as well as academic performance, the class leader had always traditionally been a male student.
Though slightly pretentious, he possessed good manners that balanced well with his handsome looks.
「In our class are Her Royal Highness, Princess Christina and the mage of Duke Fontine’s household, Roana-sama. Both are known prodigies in the usage of magic. Furthermore, from the fifth year students, we will also be receiving assistance from the renowned divine healer, Flora-sama. In all of the Institute’s long proud history, never has a student been blessed with such exceptional members.」
The majority of the class was passionately listening to Alphonse’s speech.
「We will likely encounter low level monsters like goblins, but they’ll be no match against our combined power. Everything will proceed smoothly if you follow my orders.」
Even though the exercise was arranged by the Institute, it did not mean it was completely free of danger.
They were to progress along the edge of the neighbouring forest where a variety of monsters made their nests.
If they were to happen upon low level monsters, as long as the students could use magic, it was unlikely for them to fall behind. That said, it was certainly not an exercise that should be taken lightly.
One of the aims of the outdoor field exercise was to develop a tolerance towards murder by having the students kill humanoid monsters such as goblins.
「Also, we need to be careful when selecting what to bring for our luggage, bring only what’s necessary. A detailed list of essential and nonessential items can be found on the blackboard. Everyone, please have a look at it!」
Everyone in the class noted down what was written on the blackboard onto a piece of parchment.
Looking at the scene with a pleased expression, Alphonse then glared at Rio.
「Oi, peasant… Rio, you bastard! Listen carefully. By no means are you to bring shame to Her Highness the Princess. I won’t be accepting anything but first place.」
Alphonse gave him a stern warning.
「Since you can’t use magic, you’ll undoubtedly be holding everyone back, but take heart. You only need to follow my orders. You can be useful by carrying everybody’s luggage.」
「Understood. I will abide to your command.」
It was a miserable way of speaking but he only needed to endure a little longer until graduation.
Since he had no reasons to object, Rio obediently accepted Alphonse’s order.
Thus, the day of the outdoor field exercise arrived.
Over two hundred students gathered at the starting point.
Each class consisted of seventy students.
All the students were equipped with training uniforms, colour coded according to their class, and light leather armour. Rio’s class uniform was white.
In addition to the students’ personal luggage, there was also the class luggage to carry during the march.
Rio was the appointed class baggage carrier.
He was given the most inconsequential role.
「A— Ano, are you okay? If you’re carrying so much luggage, it’d be heavy…」
While the whole class consented to have Rio carry nearly 30 kilograms worth of luggage, only a single person worriedly called out to Rio.
It was Flora.
It was the first time since the kidnapping incident that the two spoke to one another.
Ever since he enrolled in the Institute, he never talked with Flora.
He was caught off guard from unexpectedly being talked to.
「That, should I help carry a portion?」
While Rio was troubled on how to respond, Flora offered her help.
「No, I’m alright. Thank you, I appreciate your concern.」
There was no way he could accept Flora’s offer.
By doing so, he would draw sharp criticism from those around him.
Her selfless nature made it difficult for him to believe she belonged to a privileged class.
He was happy enough with her concern.
However, she was slightly ignorant to how her actions could affect the surrounding people.
Therefore Rio could only decline her offer and express his gratitude.
「Flora-sama, it is not worth your time to associate yourself with this peon. It is best to leave petty jobs to petty people. 」
Alphonse, with Stead tagging along, interrupted Rio and Flora from a distance.
「Hoo~, such great strength, as expected of an uncivilized brute.」
Seeing Rio carry his personal luggage as well as an additional 30 kilograms of class luggage for the march, Stead spat a sarcastic line.
Having grown accustomed to such insults, Rio ignored him and waited for departure.
Immediately after that, the students began to march.
After walking for approximately an hour from the starting point, they arrived at the first checkpoint situated just outside the forest.
「Gentlemen, I bring good news. With the cooperation from the fifth grade student Stead, of the Duke Euguno household, we have discovered a shortcut. It is located just a little further ahead.」
As they were detouring around the forest after arriving at the first checkpoint, Alphonse announced the existence of a shortcut.
The students began to excitedly talk amongst themselves.
「Silence please. If we use this route, we will undoubtedly be able to obtain first place. According to the map, we would need to walk around the forest to arrive at the finish line. However, with the shortcut, we can cut right through the forest instead.」
Hearing his words, Rio checked his map to confirm their current location.
Prior to the field exercise, the area around the arranged paths were already carefully inspected by the Knights.
Therefore, there were hardly any dangers as long as they followed the prearranged route.
「I am opposed to this idea. We will unable to take responsibility for Her Royal Highness Princess Christina and Her Royal Highness Princess Flora should, in the unlikely event, a dangerous situation arise outside of the predetermined routes.」
Roana voiced her objection at Alphonse’s suggestion.
「What does Her Royal Highness Princess Christina think?」
Unable to disregard Roana’s objection, Alphonse sought Christina’s opinion.
「I too, do not think that we’re prepared enough to take the shortcut. I think we should try to avoid any unnecessary dangers. Still, it’s not my decision to make since you’re our leader. But know that if anything were to befall Flora or myself, you will be held responsible and it will be impossible for me to protect you.」
Christina objected from a different angle.
Hearing her warning, Alphonse imagined the consequences if such a situation were to occur and immediately got cold feet.
「Alphonse-senpai and I have already thoroughly investigated the shortcut. Although quite obscure, there is a proper road that goes through the forest. It seems that it used to be a highway. There is nothing to worry about if we stay on the road.」
Stead, who was standing beside the pale-looking Alphonse, spoke in a confident tone.
「Alphonse-senpai. With this, we’ll be able to earn Her Highness the Princess’ favour.」
Stead whispered in a nearly inaudible voice so that only Alphonse could hear.
Alphonse regained his confidence and ambition returned to his face.
「Alright, as promised, we will set the record for the fastest clear of all time. This will be our graduation gift to Her Royal Highness Princess Christina. Got it, everyone!?」
Thus, the class, along with their fifth year support students, cheered in approval.
Looking at the surrounding area on the map, Rio noted that the shortcut proposed by Alphonse was not detailed on the map.
Certainly, if they were to proceed along the predetermined route, they would be required to detour along the outer perimeter of the forest.
By cutting through the forest instead, they could shorten the distance by nearly a half.
However, Stead said that the shortcut was once a highway.
It was not unusual for a highway to be established through a forest.
In a kingdom that was mostly covered in forests, there was no choice but to establish routes through the forest.
Nevertheless, some old roads were no longer in use nowadays.
A variety of reasons why a highway would be abandoned existed including convenience, traffic, and changes in topography.
Furthermore, in the forest where human hands did not reach, the risk of encountering monsters and other vicious creatures was considerably higher than normal.
With the exception of Rio, all the students in the group were capable of using magic. So even if they were attacked by a group of low level monsters, they could deal with them without too much trouble.
They may even be able to defeat an intermediate level monster.
However, this assumption would only hold true if the students could flawlessly work together as a cohesive unit.
For an unorganised group that could hardly even march properly, it was nigh impossible for them to operate at their peak potential.
And yet, they still possessed baseless self-confidence.
They were all raised as nobles so they never thought there were any obstacles they could not overcome.
One could say that because the nobles claimed they were the elites of the Bertram Kingdom, they tended to be overconfident in regards to their abilities.
And that tendency led them to make foolish decisions.
Still, the group was only adversely affected because their leader did not allow any alternatives.
He wanted to impress the Royal Family by showing off his dedication.
However, Alphonse was a typical example of a military man, inflexible and only capable of faithfully carrying out orders. He was more suitable as a soldier than as a commander.
That was Rio’s assessment of Alphonse.
He did not possess the qualities of a leader.
In fact, he was easily persuaded by anyone of higher rank.
Unfortunately, he was chosen by the consensus of the class so Rio was unable to intervene in his decisions.
He doubted he would be overlooked if he did anyway.
「Her Royal Highness Princess Christina and Roana-sama, I understand you are worried, but I will dispel them once we are on our way. Please, this way.」
Stead, together with Alphonse, took the initiative and began to lead the way.
As soon as they entered the forest, the road came into view.
The road was certainly wide enough for a few people to walk side-by-side, but lush vegetation grew all along the sides limiting their vision.
Unless one knew about the shortcut beforehand, it was doubtful that anyone would enter the forest.
It was a very desolate road.
「…What do you think? The Kingdom once attempted to establish a road through the forest. The project seems to have been abandoned but adventurers still regularly use this road.」
His voice was a bit stiff.
Having seen the state of the road, Alphonse and Stead lost a bit of their confidence.
However, they could no longer change their minds as it was already too late to turn back.
Seeing the state they were in, Rio guessed that they only got their information from rumours and did not do any proper investigation prior to the exercise.
They had already declared that the path was safe so they could go back on their words and lose face.
Maintaining their reputation was really difficult for nobles.
For those who were obsessed with their reputation, to display a blunder would bring unbearable shame. As such, they prioritised their reputation over all else.
Perhaps it was already a part of their nature.
Sighing deeply in his mind, Rio could only watch in awe as they struggled to maintain their reputation.
Judging from the expressions of Christina and Roana, the two girls seemed to share a similar opinion as Rio.
It was rare for their opinions to match.
Adjusting the weight on his back, Rio could not help but feel anxious and prayed that no trouble would arise.
The load somehow felt heavier.
Eventually, the group made their way into the depths of the forest.
As they advanced, the male students competed against one another to kill the occasional low level monsters that appeared.
「With this, I’ve graduated to become a full-fledged killer.」
The boys were ecstatic about their first kill.
Rio thought they were acting too carefree in such a situation.
While he had yet to truly feel the urge to kill a human or animal, he had already experienced fighting for his life when he rescued Christina and Flora.
At the time, Rio was only able to freely move his body thanks to mastering martial arts in his past life. Yet, he was still far from ideal.
The mental strain caused by coordinating his movements was clearly evident.
After the fight, his body became sluggish and he could not control his frantic breathing.
One must experience a battle with their life on the line to adequately perform on the battlefield.
Slaughtering weak monsters using overwhelming numbers would not grant them any valuable combat experience.
Judging from the one-sided slaughter, he could say with confidence that none of them had ever experienced a life or death situation before. They could only uselessly cower in fear on a real battlefield.
As long as they were nobles, the chances that they would be given command of military unit were quite high.
In a place where the lives of men could be stolen in an instant, the day when they pay for their mistakes would undoubtedly come.
Nevertheless, whether they lived or died on that day had nothing to do with Rio.
Even though he was shouldering an absurd amount of luggage and entertaining random thoughts, he did not neglect to remain vigilant of his surroundings.
He had long ago become aware of the sporadic approach of a group of goblins.
And, even though they had been walking for quite some time, the endless sea of trees would not end.
Fatigue began to accumulate in the overly energetic students as they continued along the sloping path.
Talking became sparse since they no longer had enough energy to speak.
Silently carrying the heaviest load amongst the students, the dire situation became increasingly apparent to Rio who was observing them from the side.
However, thanks to secretly casting physical strengthening and body reinforcement on himself, Rio was the most composed member of the group.
「At this rate, can we really reach the finish line first?」
No matter how far they progressed, the forest refused to end. One of the students finally voiced his doubts.
「As it stands, won’t we be last?」
「Shouldn’t we return to the normal route now?」
The first complaint opened the floodgates for numerous other complaints from all over the group.
With everybody voicing their discontent as they pleased, the noise they generated attracted additional monsters.
「Hasn’t there been an increase in goblins since a while ago?」
As a result of their ample population, the goblin was the epitome of low level monsters.
Their high fertility rate was characterised by the popular saying, “If you find one, you’re guaranteed to find another thirty.”
To alleviate the group’s growing anxiety, Alphonse and Stead enthusiastically went ahead to slay the goblins.
「Si— Silence! E— Everyone calm down! Like I said, we’ll be fine! Everything is going according to plan. Right, Stead?」
「Ri— Right. Everything’s going exactly as planned. Alphonse-senpai is our leader so be quiet and follow his orders. Besides, the only monsters that appear are goblins after all. They’re no match for our magic. Not only that, but we can also collect the goblins’ magic stones to earn some pocket change right?」
Finishing off the goblins, Alphonse and Stead noticed the panicked state the class was in and desperately tried to come up with excuses to alleviate everyone’s fears.
The students immediately calmed down after hearing their words.
Alphonse’s household was quite influential, but Stead of the Duke Euguno household held even greater influence.
There did not exist a single person amongst the group who dared to openly defy them.
However, the morale of the group remained low.
The number of goblins they encountered gradually increased as the ventured further along the path.
At last, the time came when they could no longer proceed any further.
The endless sea of trees suddenly ceased.
What appeared before them was a wide open space.
Regrettably, it was not the opening they had hoped for.
「Oi… this isn’t the exit.」
「Re— Really? Look, the goal’s over there!」
「You can’t be serious! How the heck are we going to get over there!?」
The group was currently standing at the edge of a cliff.
The area around them had become a slightly elevated hill, 30 meters in height.
Lacking any proper preparations, it would be a near suicidal act to attempt to descend the cliff.
It was the reason why the Kingdom had to abandon the construction of the highway.
The existence of the cliff was only discovered after they had cleared out a portion of the forest for the highway.
They would only be able to descend the cliff if they possessed the courage and necessary skill.
Unfortunately, the majority of the group were lacking in both departments.
Even if one or two of them were able to descend, it would be meaningless if the rest could not.
All at once, the bottled up frustration exploded.
They did not dare voice their discontent at Stead, who was the son of a highly influential noble, so many of them directed their anger at Alphonse instead.
In the situation that was quickly spiralling out of control, one student who had kept her silence until then finally raised her voice.
The owner of that voice was Christina.
Her voice was soft but carried a regal power nobody could ignore.
「Up until now, I’ve refrained myself from questioning your orders since you are the leader of this group, but how did we end up in this situation? I’ve obediently obeyed your orders, even if the one issuing them was a fool. Our group is now on the verge of collapsing under your leadership.」
「Tha— That is…」
「Honestly, now that it has reached this point, even if nothing else happens, it is already impossible for me to come up with any excuses to protect you. I thought I already gave you quite a severe warning about this.」
Receiving her icy stare, Alphonse could not come up with a viable excuse no matter how hard he tried.
「And Stead, don’t you have anything to say? You have been considerably meddlesome despite only participating as support for our class. I wonder why that is?」
Christina shifted her gaze over to Stead and questioned his conduct.
「I— I am…」
Under her unmoving gaze, Stead’s face became ghastly pale.
「The orders of a commander are absolute for his soldiers. This may be a field exercise but right we’re no different from a military unit. We have no choice but to heed your words because you are the commander.」
Having lost her interest in Stead, Christina returned to reprimanding Alphonse.
「I understand that you highly value your reputation as nobles. However, understand that with great power comes great responsibility, Commander-dono.」
Everybody fell silent and at once and accusing stares gathered on Alphonse.
Alphonse was at a loss for words and was on the verge of crumbling under the pressure. At that moment, numerous spears came flying out from the brush and pierced several students.
Unable to understand what just happened, the students who were struck could only let out perplexed voices.
「Lo— Look, over there! A swarm of goblins!」
One of the students noticed the predicament and pointed towards the woods.
Although the forest interior was dark, the bits of sunlight that were able to penetrate through the trees allowed them to clearly see ahead.
Therefore, the students were able to perceive what lay before them.
The forest was filled with goblins, surrounding the students who were backed up against the cliff.
「O— Oi… are those all goblins…?」
「O— Ogres too!」
Generally, goblins only grew as tall as a human child. Their individual strength was very weak and most would lose in a fight against a human adult.
While they were difficult to deal with in numbers, as long as a human adult was armed, not even an amateur would lose in a one on one.
However, ogres were much more dangerous than goblins.
Standing over 2 meters tall, and with physical far surpassing that of a human adult, ogres acted as leaders for packs of goblins.
Currently, in front of the students stood a mixed group of goblins and ogres.
Before the students process the fact that they were being ambushed, several more spears came flying at them from the forest.
It was the ogres who were throwing the spears.
「Those ogres over there! They’re the ones throwing the spears at us!」
「Understood! Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any orcs present! Alphonse, quickly, your orders! Kuu!」
Christina was quickly analyzed the situation while Roana relayed the information to the rest of the students.
However, the students struck by spears could not contain their panic and began to behave violently.
Stead was among the ones struck.
Although one could potentially die if a vital was hit, currently they only suffered minor injuries.
Yet, most of the students present had never experience pain or injury before.
Therefore they had no reason to panic even when struck by spears.
「Pull it out! PULL IT OOOUUUUTTTTT!!!」
Stead howled madly disregarding all shame and dignity.
「Uwaa! Stop it!」
「O— Oi, stay back!」
He tried to draw near the other students to have them pull the spear out but only succeeded in plunging the rest of the students into panic.
With his shoulder pierced by a spear, Stead thrashed around violently, colliding against the surrounding students. He finally crashed into Flora blowing her away.
Flora, who was standing near the ledge, was knocked down onto the edge of the cliff.
Seeing Flora on the verge of falling off the cliff, Christina cried out loudly.
The sound of shifting dirt could be heard followed by the ground beneath Flora giving away.
Experience a weightless sensation, Flora’s face was dyed in despair.
Watching the disastrous scene unfold before his eyes, Rio’s body moved on its own.
Before he knew it, he had thrown away the luggage on his back and dashed forward, casting physical strengthening and body reinforcement.
At that moment, she reached her hand towards the sky and Rio grabbed it.
Had he been even one second too late, Rio would have missed her hand.
Their eyes met.
He could tell from her expression that she was astonished.
He had rushed out to save her without considering the consequences. A moment later, he came to regret his rash decision.
Nothing good would come by acting heroically.
He had already experienced it from the events that transpired five years ago.
Despite that, he somehow managed to repeat the same mistake.
Did he not once again give in to foolish hypocrisy?
Or did he act impulsively?
If he did not consider saving her, he wondered why his body moved on its own.
Whatever the reason may have been, he had already committed himself and could only follow through with his actions.
Grabbing Flora’s hand, Rio spun his body around pulling her up.
Using his strengthened body’s momentum, he threw Flora back on top of the ridge.
Thud, Flora fell onto the opposing ridge.
Confirming her safety, Rio a trivial thought entered his mind.
He wondered if she would forgive him for making her suffer a few scratches from the rough landing.
And now, he was to pay the price for saving her.
Rio’s body plummeted towards the bottom of the cliff.