Everyone in the group who saw Rio fall off the cliff was dumbfounded.
「Now’s our chance to exterminate them! Alphonse! Come back to your senses! We can use our magic together to defeat the goblins! Hurry!」
Roana was the first to regain her senses and shouted at Alphonse, the group’s leader.
「Pr— Protect them! All men, form a wall around Christina-sama and Flora-sama! Those in the rear barrage them using attack magic. Reform the ranks! Try to avoid using fire magic, use ice if possible. Use wind or water instead if you can’t use ice. Attack on my signal! Those who can use『Heal』please attend to the injured!」
Awakened by Roana’s words, the students calmed down as Alphonse was finally able to issue somewhat coherent orders.
Alphonse waited for the appropriate timing and gave the order to attack.
On his signal, the students aimed at the approaching horde of goblins and unleased scores of offensive magic simultaneously.
The combined magic released by the students gave off an deafening roar as it collided with the trees and goblin vanguards while also kicking up a cloud of dust.
「We did it!」
「Ha! They’re only monsters after all!」
「Goblins are merely fodder before humanity’s magic!」
Looking at the scene before them, the students raised shouts of joy convinced they were victorious.
However, a dull voice was suddenly heard from within their group.
From inside the cloud of dust, several wooden spears thrown by the ogres came flying towards them.
「It— It can’t be…」
The students underestimated the ogres’ accuracy because of the cloud of dust and were struck one by one.
Nearly ten students had already fallen victim to the spears.
It would not be surprising if somebody was killed.
Fortunately, thanks to the presence of multiple healers in their group, nobody received a fatal hit and were able to prevent any deaths.
「Don’t panic! Those who can use healing magic continue treating the injured. It was only a single attack after all! Once more, attack!」
With a competant leader, the students could efficiently work together as a robust group.
Those who could wield magic stood at the pinnacle of humanity’s might, and all the students in the group were able to use magic to some extent.
Within a span of ten or so seconds, a torrent of dozens of magic attacks rained down on the goblins.
The vanguard reinforced their bodies using magic and cut down the goblins who were running towards them.
The remaining goblins and ogres were helpless under the constant barrage of magic.
Continuing for several more minutes, the students one-sidedly attacked the goblins using long ranged magic and thus finally eradicated them all.
「Nine are injured. Fortunately, nobody died. The severely wounded have also been healed by Christina-sama and Flora-sama. But, we’re missing one.」
Roana confirmed the group’s condition and reported to Alphonse with a sullen expression.
There was not a person among the students who did not know about the missing person. Awkwardness slowly spread throughout the group.
「Fo— For now, let’s hear everyone’s reports! Is there anyone who’s able to share with us what happened? How did Flora fall in the first place?」
Alphonse spoke in a hurry.
Blood rushed to his head as he tried to resolve the scandal that occured under his leadership.
Alphonse looked at Flora for an explanation.
「Uh— Uhm, somebody bumped into me from behind… the one who bumped into me was…」
Flora spoke in bewilderment.
Because Stead bumped into her from behind, Flora only knew she was knocked away but not who the culprit was.
Suddenly, a student timidly raised his hand and spoke hesitantly.
「Uhm, Her Highness the Princess fell because Stead bumped into her…」
Many students immediately turned and looked at speaker.
He just spoke the unspeakable.
However, whether or not he was afraid of Stead, the student spoke in a firm voice.
Stead glared at the student with the face of a demon.
「Are you saying it’s my fault!? I was also pushed! I’m also a victim here!」
Being the target of skepticism, Stead tried to defend himself.
「N— No. I’m not saying it’s Stead’s fault.」
The student shirked under Stead’s glare.
「Then who said it’s my fault!?」
「N— No. There… was someone who bumped into Stead right?」
「That’s right! I was pushed! It’s their fault! A lot of people pushed me!」
「Everyone was in a panic at the time so bumping into one another was unavoidable. We were all focused on the monsters. Given the situation, it can’t be helped that we became unaware of our surroundings. Now how will you go about finding who’s at fault?」
Having become fed up with the lack of progress, Roana took charge of the discussion.
Stead glanced at Roana in annoyance.
「Then what should we do?」
Alphonse asked for clarification.
「Should we help him or should we leave this forest? Or neither?」
As if the answer was already obvious, Roana spoke with a displeased expression.
「Th— That is for me to decide…」
Roana was taken aback at Alphonse’s response, unsuitable for a leader.
「What the heck are you saying at such a time Commander…」
「Th— Then I’d also like to hear everyone’s opinions. What does everyone think?」
Alphonse sought opinions from the group.
「In the first place, is he even still alive?」
「Can anyone even be saved from this height?」
「We should get out of here quickly. Monsters might appear again.」
「Well, Flora-sama’s life was saved in exchange for only the life of a commoner.」
「That’s right. It’s an honour for him to give his life for her.」
The group only expressed reluctance in rescuing Rio.
「Alright, we’ll claim he’s the one who pushed me and I was the only witness.」
Stead spoke in a low voice only audible to Alphonse.
「That peasant Rio is the culprit. During the battle, the coward became frightened and ran into me who was struck by a spear. As a result, I was unable to avoid Flora-sama and collided with her. The coward, afraid of being charged with murdering royalty, in desperation tried to rescue Flora-sama. He subsequently fell off the cliff by accident. Isn’t that the case?」
Most of the students nodded in agreement.
「Su— Such a thing!」
Flora cried out in confusion.
「Are you speaking the truth?」
Christina who had kept silent thus far asked Stead in a low but authoritative voice.
Stead unconsciously took a step back under her piercing gaze.
「Ye— Yes. There’s no mistake about it.」
「Is that so… I understand.」
Christina continued to stare at Stead for a while before removing her gaze.
「Unless there are other testimonies that contradict his testimony, we cannot overturn his testimony. I’m sorry but let it go.」
Christina muttered only loud enough for Flora to hear.
Christina did not see who bumped into Stead either so she could not protect Rio from his false testimony.
Furthermore, even if there was a witness, Christina already knew that they would not dare to testify against Stead.
There were no students whose families were influential enough to go against him, some even belonged to his house’s faction.
It was unwise to create hostilities between the noble factions. Even the Institute took careful note of that during class distribution.
Hearing Christina’s words, Flora raised a condemning voice.
「Flora-sama, I understand that you nearly lost your life and are grateful to him. However, it was his own fault. You do not need to worry yourself over such a trivial existence.」
Not understanding Flora’s internal turmoil, Alphonse spoke to her.
His words indicated that he was in the same opinion as Stead.
It was as if he wanted to steer the conversation away from the subject.
Flora was at a loss on how to rebut his words.
Alphonse moved his sights over to Christina.
「In any case, we need to escape from this forest. Is it fine for me to lead the way? Staying here any longer will put Your Highness the Princess as well as our group in unnecessary danger. It’s unfortunate that we can no longer achieve first place but we must report the situation as soon as possible.」
「You’re right… Well I’ll leave it to your discretion since you’re the commander.」
No longer caring, Christina replied in an apathetic voice.
「Please wait a minute! Are we just going to abandon him!?」
Flora stubbornly revived the issue as Alphonse tried to close the discussion.
「I cannot expose Your Highness the Princess and our group to any further danger for the sake of that worthless peasant.」
Alphonse reiterated Rio’s abandonment in a firm voice.
「I— If that’s the case, then I will go rescue him!」
Many students were bewildered upon hearing Flora’s words.
None of them could believe what she said.
「You must not! Our dignity is in serving you, Flora-sama. Why must Flora-sama concern herself with that commoner?」
Alphonse’s expression was one of pure disbelief.
What was she saying?
Did she seriously mean what she said?
Alphonse knew Flora was kind and caring but he could not help but become angered at her words.
「What the heck are you saying!? We wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place if you led us properly!」
「Tha— That is… I’m not saying that I bear no responsibility in this matter. I will bear the responsibility of leading the group into danger. However I will not allow your life to be put at risk.」
Alphonse sent a quick glance at Stead.
Stead nodded and spoke to Flora.
「Flora-hime, Alphonse-senpai feels deep responsibility for the current situation. He cannot risk any further casualties. I beg of you to please understand his predicament.」
Flora wanted to argue back but noticing the eyes of the surrounding students, she was unble to form any words.
She understood that nobody amongst the group would support her.
Although they all respected her, none shared her opinion.
Just a glance at their faces told her that.
「Bu— But he saved me?」
Flora was barely able to squeeze out her words.
She thought of Rio.
Raven black hair foreign to the Kingdom, a handsome face, one year her senior, the outcast considered to be the problem child of the Institute.
That was what Flora knew about him.
He was the one who saved her and her older sister from the kidnappers over five years ago.
She had harboured a sense of guilt towards him ever since then.
She thought surely, he must hate her.
Ever since that day, Flora wanted to sincerely thank him.
As a result of helping her, he became involved in various troubles.
He was arrested and pitted against an Imperial Guard Knight.
Flora recalled the time when he fought against the Imperial Guard Knight.
She was also present among the spectators.
The boy who had rescued her was in even worse condition than before for some reason.
Blood stains were visible on his face and his mouth was swollen.
Perhaps he received those wounds during imprisonment.
Flora did not know what happened afterwards but before she knew it, her saviour was to enter the Royal Institute.
During his audience with the King, she was surprised at his appearance; she was captivated. She thought she would finally be able to convey her gratitude.
However, when she enrolled in the Royal Institute a year later, she learned that Rio was ostracized.
Furthermore, contrary to her expectations, he had also become the object of ridicule.
Flora had indirectly inquired her sister about Rio but was told to forget about him.
She did not understand why but it appeared that Christina found Rio rather unfavourable.
That was what Flora understood about Rio.
Eventually, she no longer knew how to approach him.
Despite being royalty, she did not possess any real power.
On the contrary, even if she wanted to do something for an individual, her status as royalty prevented her from doing so.
She could only rely on others.
It always ended up with somebody else taking care of issues for her.
It would be difficult for him to lead a favourable life if he was associated with her.
He was always expressionless.
Yet she could sense a hint of sorrow on his face.
Could it possibly be her fault?
Whenever Flora caught a glimpse of him in the Institute, she could not help but harbor such thoughts.
Somehow, her life was saved by him again.
Furthermore, he risked his own life.
For those reasons, she refused to abandon him.
However, taking advantage of her momentary silence, the students had begun leaving the forest.
Flora could only remain rooted on the spot in disbelief.
「Flora, I won’t force you to agree with them, but we must leave immediately before the situation gets any worse. As it stands, we’ll only be severely reprimanded.」
Christina calling to Flora who was left behind.
「With one dead, we’ll only get scolded…?」
Flora’s voice was barely audible.
「Not all lives are weighed equally. It’s absurd to compare our lives to that guy’s. Face it, we’re royalty, he’s nobody. We can’t let the others bear responsibility of disregarding our safety here right?」
「What are you saying? We chose to participate of our own volition. We understood the risks.」
Flora disagreed in a sulky tone.
「The risks we understood cannot compare to the current risks. The most we were to expect from the field exercise were injuries, not death. If not for that, wouldn’t it be impossible for us to participate?」
Christina explained their circumstances to Flora with a bitter expression.
「Normally we wouldn’t even be allowed to participate but Father allowed us to because he dotes us. I don’t want to needlessly worry Father any more.」
Having brought up her beloved father, Flora could not say anything back.
「…I …understand. 」
Flora’s answer was lost amongst the rustling leaves of the forest. She absentmindedly began preparations to leave.
* * *
Going back 15 minutes before the group’s departure, Rio was falling into a clearing in the forest below the cliff.
As expected, falling from a height of 30 meters was absolutely terrifying.
The closest comparison he could think of was being ejected from a moving roller coaster.
(Ah, shit. To think that I’d be testing the effectiveness of my body strengthening in this kind of situation…)
Watching the ground quickly approach, a trivial thought entered his mind.
With his reinforced body, there was a chance that he would live while only having to endure some pain.
Body reinforcement at full strength would allow him to pulverize a rock with his fist.
Still, it was terrifying.
Even knowing that he probably would not die, it was only natural to feel so when falling from such heights without so much as a rope.
In an attempt to soften the landing, Rio released magical body from within his body and manipulated it.
It was similar to casting magic yet he utilized completely different principles. The magic interfered with the laws of nature and a gust of wind was released before him.
The magic he just used was a knock off formed through copying the flow of magic from the Contract Ceremony. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it Spirit Arts.
Spirit Arts were a form of magic practiced by elves, dwarves, and beastmen.
Rio was unable to use contract magic yet was able to use Spirit Arts, a form of magic unusable by the majority of the human race.
While human Spirit Arts users did exist, they were extremely rare and as such, very little information relating to Spirit Arts existed.
The only reason he knew about its existence was because he happened upon an old book which contained a brief summary about it. However, the information was insufficient so he could not learn much.
What he did understand was that he did not require a contract or incantation to invoke magic. Of course, that was all speculation.
By producing a gust of wind right under him, Rio was able to reduce the speed of his descent.
He began to slow down.
However, the force of gravity was still greater than his magic making him unable to completely negate his fall.
Fortunately, his current speed was enough for a safe landing.
Rio adjusted his landing position by manipulating the wind and aimed at the trees.
Catching a reasonably thick tree branch, he was able to kill his momentum.
He ignored the considerable strain he felt from his gloved hands.
The result was an injury free landing.
He mended his hands with recovery Spirit Arts so there were not any problems.
Glancing at the cliff overhead, Rio could not help wonder what happened up there.
It would not be difficult for him to return to the top and rejoin the group.
The cliff could be said to be quite tall but he could easily climb the 30 meters back.
On the other hand, it would be suspicious for Rio, who could not use magic, to be able to instantly climb back up from a 30 meter drop uninjured.
He could only sigh at the troublesome situation.
Rio decided it was best to hide himself for a while and monitor the situation.
He strengthened his body and stealthily ascended the cliff like an acrobat.
In a matter of seconds, he reached the top and hid behind a tree upon hearing the voices of the other students.
(Well, I thought it’d turn out like this.)
He sighed in his mind while eavesdropping on the students.
He was not expecting anything favourable from the beginning.
Only Flora seemed to worry about him but eventually, she too was convinced to leave by the surrounding students.
Even if he claimed that he miraculously survived, it would be awkward to rejoin them immediately.
It would be better to lay low for a few days.
(Tch, it’s troublesome as expected.)
Watching the group disappear into the forest, Rio thought of the hardships ahead of him.