Reid, the man leaning against Faltown’s inner wall, was panicking quite badly.
Ryan had sustained heavy injuries, and Mana, his little sister, had cuts all over her body.
The Fal Braves, which had been established sometime before Asley had left, albeit consisting almost entirely of children at the time, were also out of commission for the time being, with many being injured.
[Damn it, if we still had Tifa here, we’d…! – Nah, probably will still be bad…]
The town had been hit with a sudden, large-scaled monster invasion. Their individual ranks were low, but they had come in absurd numbers.
It was now almost three years since Asley had left. Ryan and the Fal Braves had been successful in wiping out the monsters at the west and north gates.
During that, Reid had gotten to witness the extent of Ryan’s strength.
He had already seen him in action on various occasions, of course, but this was the true extent of strength that he hadn’t quite felt before.
Ryan’s figure as he led everyone into the fight looked as if he was a Holy Warrior in Reid’s childhood stories.
At some point, Reid had found himself assisting Ryan with various things, eventually learning the sword from him.
So as to not fall behind his other sister, who was now doing her best to improve her craft in a distant land, he had trained himself up with all his might, attaining a great deal of strength and physical form.
Yet, against the despairing amount of incoming monsters, he no longer felt any of that strength he had.
The north gate, which they had just secured, had been taken away again, and the west gate was now up in flames.
Right about now, Ryan was being nursed by Reyna at the east gate – the same gate from which Lina and Asley had been sent off.
Mana and Reid had separated themselves from Ryan, heading to the north gate to struggle for its maintained integrity. Ryan’s group also had to partition their numbers to secure all parts of the east gate.
“Darn it… ah… Brother… why, why, why… why is this happening…?”
Mana’s exhausted voice came from behind Reid, eventually reaching his ears.
“B-but at least it’s good we sent Tifa off before this… She’s gotten quite aggressive over these two years, but… she’ll be fine, right…?”
Reid’s shoulders quivered, what with him knowing full well how faint-hearted Mana truly was.
If their willpower were to die out now, what little hope they had of overcoming this threat would be no more.
“Don’t give up hope, Mana! I’ll protect you! Every one of you! You’re not kids now – you’re warriors! Warriors don’t die with their faces on the ground! The monsters can claw us, bite us, but we sure as hell won’t die without a fight!”
His voice echoed through the vast emptiness. However, there were indeed those who heard it.
Not the monsters in front, which Reid was keeping at bay. Not the utterly exhausted Mana behind him, either. The ones Reid’s voice had inspired were none other than the members of his Fal Braves.
The voice gave them strength. Or so the Fal Braves felt as the ones collapsed on the ground around the leading man clumsily rose to their feet.
“That’s right… I’m a warrior!”
“So am I!”
Each of them lightened their grips on their swords. Each of their faces brightened up with a faint light of passion. The enemies were Zombie Lords and Marine Lizards, with silhouettes of Goblins in the distance behind them. If one were to see the countless monsters collapsed around the vicinity, they would know just how gruesome this drawn-out battle had been. Behind Reid, behind the Fal Braves, was the inner gate that led to the town’s central plaza, the place where non-combatant women, children, and the elderly had retreated to, and were now praying for everyone’s safety.
“Adolf, get Mana out of here!”
The one Reid had referred to Adolf, the one with blue-hair, was a fearless young man aged closer to adulthood than the average of the Fal Braves. In accordance with Reid’s command, he lifted Mana up without warning, then ran over all the way to the front of the inner gate.
“Hey! Adolf, what’re you doing?! Hey?!”
“I’m sorry, Mana.”
On the other side of the gate, two warriors at the gate’s sides removed the bolt and pushed the gate open. Adolf rushed in straight to the plaza and put Mana down, getting her seated. Whether it was because of her fatigue or wounds or both, Mana immediately collapsed, but Adolf turned and ran back the way he came without looking back.
The warriors were getting ready to bolt the gate again. If the front-liners were to be defeated now, surely the monsters’ clutches would then reach Mana and the others here. In getting Mana out of harm’s way, at least for the time being, Reid had successfully inspired the warriors around him as well.
It made everyone realize that the people behind them were weaker than they were.
“Darn it, I gotta go! Move, me, move! Wait for me, Adolf! My brother’s…! My brother still-!”
“Pick up your swords!”
Everyone answered to Reid’s rallying shout. Mana’s voice also reached Reid, but neither Reid nor anyone else responded to her. And so the gate was shut tight.
“Darn it… darn it…”
Her utmost worry for her brother showed in her tears as drop after drop trickled onto the ground. However, no matter how many drops the dry earth absorbed, it stayed as dry as it had always been.
She could hear the voices of Reid and the others from the other side of the gate. Everyone’s voices grew hoarse as they had rose from their mouths, yet they faced forward, shouting all the more intensely.
In order to keep hope alive in both themselves and the others.
“Rise, A-rise, Cure!”
Reyna made use of any means available to treat Ryan’s wounds. In particular, the large cut on his left flank. Reyna was using a small stick to cast recovery magic, but most of her MP was eventually consumed, attributing to the wound being far too major.
Almost at the extremes of her patience, Reyna only kept her watch on Ryan, unable to even bring herself to look away for a moment and call out to the others around her.
If she were to shake Ryan to keep him awake, his wounds would also open up wider. And with that out of the question, she could only watch over him while her mind was being tormented with thoughts of fear and regret.
A few days ago, Ryan and Reyna had gone for a walk near the east gate.
The routine doubled as a way to observe the rebuilding progress and affirming the town outskirts’ safety.
That was when the vast army of monsters suddenly appeared and captured the east gate in what seemed like an instant. They had taken out the guards on the wall, climbed their way in, and then busted the gate open from inside. A normal town would not have been broken in so easily, but Faltown had issues – particularly the lack of skilled personnel.
As soon as Ryan had detected the approaching monster army, he had pointed it out to Reyna. The invading monsters had proceeded to kill one townsperson after another, so Ryan had led the charge against them despite his doubts in his decisions.
First, he had called an urgent assembly of the Fal Braves, forming several parties with what little manpower they had. Ryan, Reyna, and the more competent parties had engaged in close-quarters combat against the approaching force. One of the leftover parties had been assigned to take care of the few monsters that had gotten in.
It had been one tough, drawn-out fight after another. Ryan had stayed all the way through the conflict, issuing his commands and fighting personally. Having seen a gap in the invading force, Ryan had pushed himself to unleash the full extent of his power, managing to force all of the monsters back away from the gate, but also sustaining heavy injuries in the process.
One of the parties that had camped up near the east gate had also sustained injuries. Reyna, who was now tending to Ryan, also had countless injuries on her body, albeit none on a life-threatening extent.
“Guh… Rey… na – situation?”
Ryan, with vision still blurry, upon being woken up by the noises of the monsters from the other side of the wall, asked Reyna for an update of the situation at hand.
“Ah – yes, sir. The west gate has been completely overrun by monsters, and while the monsters’ attack on the east gate has died down, there’s no telling when they’ll tear through the gate again. Reid and Mana’s groups are doing their best to defend the north gate, but… I’m afraid they are already at their limits.”
“…I see. And the townspeople?”
“According to the few who have escaped to here from the west gate, everyone else is now at the plaza. Still, the west gate has seemingly sustained heavier damages than here… I’m afraid the plaza itself is only a matter of time.”
It hurt Reyna to even give a report of such a bleak situation.
Still, she kept it from showing on her face as she explained everything to Ryan.
“All right, now I have the big picture. Reyna, you gather those who can still fight and head to the north gate.”
“No buts. I can handle things here by myself. Just go!”
Ryan, usually a gentle man, now harshened his tone, causing Reyna to reluctantly do as she had been told.
Ryan looked on as Reyna assembled a group of lightly-wounded warriors and led them toward the northern district’s gate. Then he looked cast his eyes over the area, and saw many young warriors collapsed on the ground from their wounds. He took a look around, and saw injured townspeople tending to the wounds of other injured townspeople. Despair. Such a word was a fitting description of the situation at hand. However, no one – not a single one – had an expression of resignation on their faces.
Perhaps it was thanks to Ryan’s charisma, or perhaps the people’s immense trust in the Fal Braves.
Ryan smiled with the edges of his mouth, for he already knew that answer for himself.
[Sir Asley, I do hope you remember… That one thing I have told you some time ago…]
[It is natural for humans to gather where the foundations are most stable, but the world is far too large for one to simply seek comfort in a single place. That is what I wanted the people of this town to keep in mind – to become strong and never lose sight of what makes them human. Of course, that applies to you as well, Sir Asley… ]
[It is without a doubt that everyone has grown physically over the years. However, what has pushed them so far must be… a pillar of emotional support.]
The shouts of Reid and the Fal Braves could be heard in the distance, in the direction of the north gate.
Ryan felt as if that had been a blaze of glory – the last ounce of strength they had mustered from their souls.
It seemed that, on the other side of the wall, the monsters were finally tearing down the east gate. Judging that there would not be any monsters trying to climb their way over, Ryan steeled himself as he stood himself in front of the east gate and unleashed a thunderous roar.
With his favorite, now badly-damaged sword in hand, he prepared for the monsters’ attack.
[Everyone… please, don’t die…]
He induced one last ounce of fighting spirit in his heart, one last push of willpower onto his dying body, and then-
The mysterious voice that suddenly surfaced in his head, for whatever reason, seemed to be that of a sneeze.