Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
The rippling green fields of wheat extended toward the horizon, and the expanse of virgin land looked as beautiful as a painting.
That said, this lovely scenery was scarred by black lines, as though the artist’s hand had slipped or his passions had raged out of control.
Villages burned, and the smoke rose.
Staff Sergeant Tomita of 3rd Recon watched the roiling black smoke in the distance. It made him think of a mighty dragon soaring toward the clouds. However, it had been created from the sacrifice of the lives, homes and harvest of the peaceful villages. With this in mind, if one were to give this view a name, perhaps “Rise of the Evil Wyrm” would be appropriate.
The large transport helicopter —— a CH-47 Chinook —— and its escorts practically scraped the roofs of the houses as it passed over the smoke-shrouded villages.
He watched the blaze beneath him devour houses and their furnishings with fangs of searing flame. It was accompanied by a loud crackling as the fires chewed them all to pieces.
The vegetation burned loudly, licked by serpentine tongues of fire.
However, this sound was mercilessly stamped out by the roaring of the Chinook’s 4336hp turboshaft engines.
The forward and rear rotor blades tore the thick clouds of smoke apart, churning the air below them into a downwash and extinguishing the flames directly underneath.
The members of the JSDF Special Region Expeditionary Force’s 403rd Squadron —— who were not so much travelling with Tomita and the others as they were giving them a lift —— looked silently upon the tragic sight below them.
The only people who continued speaking were the television news reporters.
They had not asked for anyone’s permission before gravitating to the places with the best view, whereupon they trained their camera lenses on the village below them. The man with the microphone —— Komurasaki —— narrated the scene as if talking about secrets only he knew. He went on and on about plainly obvious facts like “there was a village here”, “the fire rises”, and “there are victims everywhere” as the smoke climbed lazily into the air.
As she watched this, Tomita whispered into the ear of Staff Sergeant Kuribayashi.
“When they said we would be protecting a member of the TV news staff, I thought it would be your little sister.”
“Hell if I know. We keep getting missions like these, does it even count as recon work any more?”
Their conversation was vaguely inappropriate for this scene. In truth, they were simply blowing off steam, so they did not exchange many words. Instead, they locked eyes, and shrugged helplessly.
“Lads, as you can see, this is a terrible sight. Our mission is to hunt down Zorzal’s lackeys. We will find the main body of their forces and crush them without mercy. Got that?!”
The team members nodded in unison as they heard their sergeant major’s bellowing. “We get you!”
“Good answer. Now load up!”
The members of 1st Team tapped their magazines against their helmets.
This was to ensure that the magazines —— which contained 20 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition —— were properly loaded. It was a small thing, but a rifle stoppage during combat could be a fatal matter. They were that careful because they were headed toward the battlefield, where the line between life and death was very fine indeed.
They loaded their Type 64 rifles with practiced movements. Sliding in the magazines, slapping them home, setting them to safe… the rifles they were holding transformed into savage instruments of murder in that instant.
“Rounds loaded! Weapon safe!”
That said, the rifles did not sport any threat displays, nor did they crouch with their hackles up or growl in readiness to pounce, like hounds. The ice-cold blue-black steel did not look any different, whether or not it was filled with bullets. That said, if their index fingers applied more than 2.7 to 4.3 kilograms of pressure to the triggers, it would exceed the break pressure and cause the firing pin to strike the primer charge of a loaded round. The weapon would then obediently spit a chunk of murderous lead in the direction its user desired.
In that sense, the team members were much the same as those rifles.
Under normal circumstances, they were friends, husbands and sons. They were not martial artists like one might see on a television sports program. At a glance, little about them stood out to an observer. There was no way of telling who they were once they were no longer wearing their uniforms.
That said, once they held loaded weapons with the safeties off, they became famished wolves, seeking their prey. They advanced fearlessly to exterminate their foes, impelled by the trigger-pull of their orders.
The team members applied black vinyl tape to secure small, loose parts and reduce the noise they made before they slung their rifles onto their backs. Some of them also had civilian-made dart sights attached onto their weapons via jury-rigged mounts. They peered through them in the darkness of the Chinook, verifying their sight pictures before stowing their rifles.
One of the men standing by the side asked:
“Are these sights really useful?”
“Well, it’s like having a sighting post and a reticle, though they’re on the verge of being written off… I think.”
Now that the fighting had begun in earnest, the JGSDF higher-ups had permitted their servicemen to modify their weapons. Targeting optics were one of them, as were barrel-mounted laser sights and foregrips.
The shadow of the second Chinook came to rest above the village square.
In the distance, one could see a Cobra attack helicopter hovering in mid-air, ready to support the JSDF servicemen on the ground.
Ropes unfurled to the ground, each of them as thick as those used in tug-of-war contests at school sports festivals, and the team leader lowered his upraised hands.
After that, the members of 1st Team fast-roped down, touching down one after the other.
The cameraman recorded their descent.
Beside him, Tomita and the others took aim at the ground, on guard against enemies who might attack the descending servicemen.
After the members of 1st Team had fast-roped down, the Chinook hurriedly reeled its lines back in and ascended once more.
In the quiet interior of the helicopter, Komurasaki turned toward the helmeted helicopter pilot.
“Oi, find a place to land. We can’t get down like this!”
The airman in the cabin looked troubled, but all he could do was smile and reply:
“Understood. However, we need to verify that the ground conditions are safe before landing.”
“That means we’ll miss out on the exciting parts, no?! Put us down right now!”
“Sure, we could do that… but do you know how to use this?”
The airman pointed to a descending line.
The most dangerous time for helicopters on the battlefield was the moment they landed or took off. Angled descent and fast-roping was used to minimize that particular risk. Naturally, this was not something that one could explain to an amateur who was demanding, “do this now”, so the reason they did not descend was to protect the craft and to ensure the safety of the media crew. In the face of that, all Komurasaki could was mutter “it can’t be helped” between curses.
As Komurasaki and his cameraman looked longingly toward the ground, the Chinook slowly gained altitude. Once the pilot was sure that they were safely away from the ground, the helicopter hovered in the sky above the burning village.
The team members immediately fanned out in all directions the instant they touched down.
It looked as though they were in some kind of race, given the way they held their weapons while sprinting. They surveyed their surroundings, vigilant eyes aiming down the sights of their weapons.
Their crosshairs swept over doors, trees, anywhere that people might be hiding. However, they did not discover anyone living. All they saw were people collapsed everywhere; men and women of all species who might have been alive until recently. Their bodies were covered in slashes and stabs made by swords, or torn by wild beasts.
“Use the infrared scanner!”
Obeying the team leader’s orders, one of the team members took out a device that resembled a raygun from a science-fiction movie, and pointed it at the nearby trees and dark places.
This device could pick up the infrared radiation emitted by warm-blooded creatures, and thus discover anyone who was hiding.
Its primary purpose was a tool to find prey while hunting. It could pick up large beasts within 900 meters and bird-sized creatures within 20 meters. In addition, one could also use it to find casualties buried under rubble. However, this device was not standard issue —— in other words, issued by the JSDF —— but the personal property of the team members. Regretfully, in the tight-budgeted JSDF, one had to make up a shortfall of personal equipment from one’s own funds.
“Picking up thermals from everywhere, it’s useless.”
It was a good piece of machinery, but the huge heat sources nearby had a large impact on its performance. The raging fires near the houses were the main contributor to that, and then one had to consider that the corpses scattered around were still warm.
If their technology was not effective, then they had to use their own eyes and ears to verify the truth.
In the end, the ability to observe their surroundings and notice the unusual was a core skill for these team members. This had been the case from antiquity. They had to hone these skills because no matter how far technology progressed, there were countless circumstances where said technology could not be used, or where both sides’ equipment impeded or cancelled each other out.
The soldiers looked for survivors among the fallen even as they looked for traces of hiding attackers. However, the crackling of burning wood made it difficult for the men to hear cries for help. Even the crunching of their boots across the ground hampered their ability to sense the presence of the enemy, and it put them all on edge.
Still, the members of the team calmly controlled their breathing, and they followed up on even the slightest of changes as they steadily advanced. Their eyes moved with unhurried speed; they scanned, inspected and searched everywhere around them.
The sudden sound of gunfire rang through the village.
“What’s going on?!”
A tense voice demanded a report over the radio.
The team members —— so on-edge that they were practically bleeding —— reacted swiftly.
They lowered their stances, and while some people looked in the direction of the gunshot, others turned to other directions to prevent anyone from slipping past their eyes.
“Over there… they’re fleeing toward the south of the village!”
The warning was accompanied by the sound of scattered gunfire.
The radio reported the numbers and heading of the enemy. After receiving the team leader’s orders, the squad leaders brought their people to the south, where the enemy planned to flee.
Heeding the hand signals of their leaders, the squads dispersed to await the coming of the enemy.
The enemies that had attacked the surrounding region recently did not look like Imperial troops. Since they conducted their attacks in clothes similar to those of the local farmers, there was no way to tell if they were Imperial soldiers or fearful peasants who had taken up their farming implements as weapons in fear of those soldiers. Thus, the members of 1st Team had no choice but to treat anyone pointing weapons at them as a potential enemy. No —— even if they were unarmed, they still had to be considered as potential enemies.
“Anyone who runs is an enemy! Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined enemy!” That line had been used in a war movie to mock the impossibility of reason on the battlefield, but the truth was, being able to retain one’s senses in the madness of the battlefield was abnormal. When one really thought about it, how could anyone rationalize the murder of a human being? Anybody who could calmly and logically take a life was probably more frightening than a madman. Thus, it was only natural to be driven by insanity on the battlefield, and it was those people who could not switch back from madness to normality who were considered mentally ill.
In addition, it had been a tradition that those people who did not identify themselves as friend or foe —— as well as those who did not dress themselves as combatants —— would not be accorded the rights of an armed combatant. Such behavior was deeply despicable, and hardly anyone would raise an eyebrow at their summary execution if they were to be captured. Even the Geneva Conventions —— to say nothing of the Hague Conventions —— mandated that “open carrying of weapons” was the minimum requirement for such status.
Still, there were the bleeding hearts who took the side of those who violated those rules of warfare, and sympathized with those people who used the common man as shields, the weak who blended into the populace and fought the strong with underhanded means. People who used civilians for protection would normally be condemned and destroyed, but said bleeding hearts instead pointed their fingers at the soldiers who hunted them, calling them “murderers” and “cold-blooded animals”.
(TL Note: the JP term is 病的な潔癖症, lit. "cleanliness obsession", or cleanliness-oriented OCD. Probably refers to the moral guardians that want to keep their hands spotless and clean.)
Indeed, they were not here to call out the insurgents or flush them out, but to utterly annihilate them. Anyone who used innocent people as their armor deserved nothing but extermination, as though they were vermin like cockroaches or rats. Terrorists spread hatred and suffering, threatening order and reason with madness. They blurred the line between peacetime and wartime, which was a supremely despicable act. Normally speaking, one would blame those who hid behind civilians for involving them in the fighting.
That said, uniformed soldiers were compelled to play their part as flawlessly as possible.
The battlefield was a place where momentary misunderstandings and failures in judgement compounded with each other. To protect one’s comrades and survive, there was one ironclad rule —— “If it looks like an enemy, open fire”. However, soldiers were required to have perfect discrimination of their targets, as though they were killing machines. If they could not do that, they were criticized as being “flawed”.
In this way, soldiers were shot in the back by the ones who they were protecting. Their hearts filled with guilt, they were mentally defeated even before facing the bullets and bombs of the foe.
The members of 1st Team saw what appeared to be merchants on a trading wagon, and trained their weapons on them. There were eight people in total, human beings of the Special Region.
As they began to pull back their triggers, the men hesitated.
There was the urge to turn these people —— who might harm them and their comrades —— into corpses, which could do them no harm. However, they were not that fatigued yet. With sheer force of will, they fought off that impulse, waiting for orders despite the dangerous circumstances around them.
The members of 1st Team called out to the wagons with their broken command of the Special Region’s language that they had learned in Arnus, while covering the traders with their weapons.
Perhaps they did not hear it, or perhaps there was another reason, but the traders ignored the team members and attempted to break through. The squad leader let off a warning shot near a horse’s leg to frighten them into submission. A shell casing tinkled onto the ground, and the startled horse reared up on its hind legs.
The panicked driver pulled tightly on the reins to calm his horse down. After a great struggle to get the beast under control, he obediently put his hands up.
The goods wagon slowly ground to a halt.
The soldiers backed off to form a semicircle around the wagon. This was so that they would not get in the way of their comrades’ line of fire. Then, with the greatest of care, they trained their weapons on those people and ordered them off the wagon.
“May I know what you gentlemen want? We are travelling merchants; do you require anything?”
This humble and polite voice came from the man with the messy moustache on the driver’s seat.
The members of 1st Team took aim at his crotch.
Imperial soldiers were adept at the use of the sword and spear, and their defensive techniques were comparable to that of a skilled boxer. Thus, they were trained to respond quickly to attacks aimed at their heads and chests. However, the abdomen and groin could not move without the help of the legs. Thus, they had lower mobility, and were easier targets even in the heat of battle.
“Why were you fleeing?”
The squad leader began his interrogation while maintaining a separation of several paces.
The messy-moustached man seemed to be the representative of his group. He shrugged and replied:
“Is that not obvious?! We were passing by this village, and then we found smoke rising from it. We wanted to see what was going on, but then we discovered that the village was in this state. Nothing good will come of being involved with this sort of thing, so running away would make sense, right...?”
In short, the man was mumbling about how the village had already been like this when they had gotten there.
It was a plausible enough reason. But if they let them go just like that, there would be no point in stopping them. The squad leader reported to the team leader, and then he asked: “May we inspect your cargo?”
“Ah… ah… well, about that…”
“Or is there something you’d rather not let us see?”
The traders looked to each other, and reluctantly pulled the canvas off the cargo bed of their wagon.
There was a veritable mountain of furniture, supplies and other valuables in there. It was hard to tell if they were new or second-hand. The squad leader gave the pile an once-over before saying:
“Looks like they were taken from the nearby homes.”
The large container at the base of the cargo bed piqued the squad leader’s attention. It seemed to be moving, even though nobody was touching it. He was just about to order them to “open that box up”, but before that the mustachioed man tried to splutter out some kind of protest.
“Come on, give us a break, it’s all good merchandise.”
The man sighed, long and deep.
“Well, yes, some of it is slightly used (stolen goods). But we can’t do business if everyone keeps asking about it.”
“Where were you planning to take these?”
“Anywhere. In times of war, you can sell anything anywhere.”
“By which you mean?”
“Anything? You can sell anything. Food, furniture, daily necessities, alcohol too. Slaves as well, by the way. Ah yes, female slaves. Do you want a woman? We have all sorts here. There’s sure to be one that suits your tastes in there. We can provide anything —— or anybody —— you want.”
The moustached man smiled lewdly as he said that.
“If you’re a local trader, you ought to have an Imperial trading permit or a pass issued by House Formal. Could I take a look at it?”
In response to the squad leader’s question, the trader replied, “Ah, yes, of course I do.” Then he opened the bag at the driver’s seat.
“Now where did it go? It’s very important, I should have put it in a safe place. Don’t tell me it vanished all of a sudden. Everyone, please be patient, if you think this is taking too long, maybe you should go do something else in the meantime…”
The squad leader said: “It’s fine. There’s no rush. Take your time.”
The moustached man seemed very nervous, and muttered, “You are most kind.” His colleagues seemed to be holding their breath as they watched this.
“Ah, yes, I’ve got it. This is it…”
“You, the representative in front. Bring it here. I permit you to approach me.”
In accordance with the squad leader’s directions, the representative produced a piece of folded paper. The squad leader looked at it and noticed reddish-black stains on the edges.
“This has been stained by blood.”
“No, no, I cut my hand recently, and then I touched it…”
The moustached man waved his hands as he said this.
“Gregor Benton, I presume?”
“Gregory Ha Bayton. That is my name.”
The moustached man had a look on his face which said “I won’t fall for that”.
“That should be it, right? It’s the real thing, right?”
Indeed, this was a genuine pass issued by House Formal. That said, the pass only recorded the name of the trader in the language of the Special Region and Japanese, as well as the goods he traded, and the names of the nobles who were sponsoring him.
What the squad leader was concerned about was the reports filed with them when a pass was issued. The people of the Special Region did not understand the meaning of the barcode at the base of the document.
“This document is genuine.”
With that, the members of 1st Team visibly relaxed. This was because it meant that the chances of them being enemies had gone down, while the probability of them being safe had gone up.
After the squad leader verified the pass’ date of issue, he pointed the device he was holding at the barcode at the base of the document. A picture of Gregory Ha Bayton appeared on the device’s LCD screen.
The man beside the squad leader glanced at the image, and then told him in Japanese: “These people are fakes.” The picture displayed was of an old man that looked completely unlike the moustached man before him.
The moustached man seemed to have sensed the change in the air, and began asking if the documentation was incomplete or if it was because there was blood on it. However, the people behind him could no longer take the tension in the air. As one, they drew their concealed weapons and prepared to engage the JSDF servicemen in a life or death melee.
However, they had anticipated this development. The team members had already backed off, and they had no difficulty dealing with this situation.
They shot the armed men in the gut. Said men bent double like they had been folded in half. Others simply keeled over, and the moustached man was arrested at gunpoint before he could draw his sword.
“They must be the ones who attacked the village!” one of the team members shouted at the dead men while pointing at the weapons they carried.
The swords they held were still stained with blood; blood which probably belonged to the villagers. The hilt of the sword bore the crest of the Imperial Army.
“Oi! Hold on, you lot! What are you doing? Massacring civilians!?”
Komurasaki and his cameraman had just rushed over.
“No. These are Imperial guerillas.”
“Really now? Are you trying to keep us from uncovering the truth about how you were murdering civilians in cold blood?”
Komurasaki called out to the cameraman, who was filming the deceased.
“Oi, I want you to get a good shot of the corpses. Make sure you get the faces. And make sure you don’t put the JSDF insignia or whatever into it!”
In accordance with Komurasaki’s directions, the cameraman began recording the Imperial soldiers masquerading as traders.
The squad leader sensed that this might end up making the nightly news, so he explained the meaning of the bloodstained sword and the crest of the Imperial Army, and then ordered the captive moustached man to open the containers and luggage on the wagon.
They opened all the boxes and found bottles of all kinds. After that, the team members steadily discovered articles of what looked like camouflage uniform —— speckled green and dark green —— among the stolen property.
“Cheh… these Imperial soldiers did their plundering in these clothes, huh.”
The team members insisted that Komurasaki record that as well.
It did not look like JSDF camouflage battle dress at all, but these things would be enough for their victims to spread fearful rumors about “the Men in Green”.
Even Komurasaki could not refute that ironclad evidence.
“You’ve got proof, good for you, then!” Komurasaki said resentfully as he turned to the cameraman, saying:
“It would seem soldiers of the Imperial Army have disguised themselves and attacked the village. But was there a need to kill them? The servicemen of the JSDF did not concern themselves at all with capturing them to be dealt with by due process, and so I must question their actions,” and so on.
“We’re not cops,” the members of the squad grumbled. Everyone in the group seemed to share that opinion.
The squad leader ordered the moustached man to open the box which had gotten his attention in the first place.
There was a girl in there, curled up and covered in mud and blood. She trembled in fear. She seemed to be of a feline species, with a pair of cat eyes and pointy ears. Her fur was brown and her hands and feet were tipped in sharp claws, while she had a bamboo flute on her neck.
The squad leader patted her head to comfort her, and asked:
“What’s your name?”
The squad leader turned back to the moustached man, whose arms were raised high, and loudly demanded:
“Well then, where’s your hideout? Where’s your area of operation? Your main force? Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you spit it all out for us!”
It should be emphasised that people who used civilians as cover while they bombed, shot, and stabbed others had and deserved no rights. However, the bleeding hearts would probably insist that even people like these had to be treated like proper prisoners of war.
They would hand the moustached man to House Formal, per their agreement.
That said, outsiders would not know if being interrogated by them was a good thing or a bad thing.
The frightened, twitching expression of the moustached man was dutifully captured on film.
“What? Say again? ...You’ve spotted a pack of Black Dogs near the village?”
The soldiers went tense as they heard the squad leader’s words.
(TL Note: The JP is 黑妖犬, which Komurasaki pronounces as こくようけん to show that he has no idea what it means)
Tomita —— who was escorting Komurasaki and the cameraman from behind —— explained for him.
“They are Special Region Type B Dangerous Beasts, also known as “Black Dogs”. They look like dogs, but they’re the size of a tiger. They hunt in packs and they’re coming for us. Recently, Zorzal’s troops have been using creatures like that as weapons.”
(TL Note: Black Dogs probably refers to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_dog_(ghost))
Tomita and Kuribayashi formed up on both sides on Komurasaki and watched their surroundings. Under Nishina’s orders, Tozu and Azuma formed up to protect the cameraman and the sound technician with his enormous boom mike.
“This area is very dangerous, let’s go. I’m calling the Chinook to get us.”
“Don’t be foolish! If there’s such a dangerous creature around, what would we be if we didn’t film it?”
Komurasaki said that and pointed to the soldiers, who were facing the west. “Aren’t you all coming with us? We’ll be safe for sure, right?”
However, that was not the case. The commander of the 403rd Squadron had decided to defeat the monsters that showed themselves.
The Dangerous Beasts of the Special Region were a threat, but they were not creatures which could be controlled from a distance. Thus, if they were nearby, it implied that forces of the enemy must be present as well. Granted, it was very risky, but one had to reach into the fire to take the chestnuts cooking within. Defeating these creatures would allow them to exterminate Zorzal’s guerillas.
The leader of 1st Team bundled up the girl and turned her and the prisoner over to Kuribayashi, saying “Look after them for me” before rushing off to the west.
“Oi, what do you want me to do with them?”
“Give her milk, duh. Judging by your size, you’ve got a lot in there, right?”
“Are you kidding me? I can’t produce milk if I haven’t had a baby!”
Kuribayashi was left dumbfounded, embracing the girl.
On the other hand, Tomita advanced in front of Komurasaki —— who was intending to move to the frontline —— and spread his arms to block him.
“Wait, please wait! I told you, we can’t do this!”
Komurasaki jabbed his finger into Tomita’s chest and yelled at him for getting in the way.
“Your duty as servicemen is to provide the maximum cooperation with members of the press!”
However, Komurasaki’s shout was drowned out by a thunderous roar that ripped through the air. A series of explosions went off from the west side of the village.
The fire support had begun
The Cobra attack helicopters were ripple-firing their rockets, while the infantry on the ground opened fire as well. Explosions went off everywhere, and Tomita and Komurasaki reflexively shrank against them.
The crawling beasts were torn apart and their blood spurted through the air. However, the four-legged beasts did not know how to retreat, and they continued their foolhardy charge by sheer weight of numbers.
“You can still shoot a powerful scene from the air!”
“You can’t compare filming on the ground to filming safely in the air! Our enemies are just a few dogs; what’s there to be afraid of?”
“There’s a lot to be afraid of! They’re fast, they move low to the ground and they’re very dangerous. And they hunt in packs!”
As a combat specialist, Tomita swiftly narrated the fearsome nature of military dogs, which he had picked up in his daily life. He went on to inform Komurasaki of exactly how much more dangerous these Black Dogs were.
A moment’s carelessness might cost them their lives. The enemy was going to come at them from all sides. There was no safe zone like the “rear echelon” for them, so finding a place where they would not be attacked was very difficult.
“And how about that girl? We have to follow you because we’re your escorts, but if this keeps up, you’ll involve that girl in the fighting too!”
As Tomita asked Komurasaki what they should do about the girl called Kucy, hesitation crossed Komurasaki’s face for the first time.
The intense downwash churned up the soil.
The Chinook Tomita had called touched down. The rear door opened, as though welcoming Tomita.
“This is bad! They’re coming, I can see them!” the cameraman shouted as he studied his viewfinder.
He had been surveying the world through his high definition camera, and so he swiftly learned of the enemy’s status.
“Oh, they’re Giant Ogres, and there’s what look like Mammoths among them. There’s a Special Region monster gallery out there and they’re coming right for us!”
The forms of heavily-armored Giant Ogres loomed among the bodies of the countless Black Dogs.
They held clubs that were the size of telephone poles. Anyone foolish enough to close in with them would be crushed by their tremendous might.
Lined up into a solid wall, they advanced through the storm of bullets and shells like heavy infantry. Their presence seemed more oppressive than that of a tank.
Since they did not have a solid defensive line, the JSDF commander decided not to take them head on. Instead, he elected to flank the enemy from both sides and crush them. The soldiers went into action upon receiving their orders.
“Hurry! Hurry! We need to be airborne before the next bombardment starts!”
The airman waved his gun and gestured for them to get on after taking the captives aboard.
“Just hand the girl to the helicopter. We’ll continue filming on the ground.”
As he heard Komurasaki’s words, the cameraman looked uneasily at him. Could he keep up through the repetitious fighting and moving while carrying his heavy camera? The doubts boiled up in his heart.
“Komurasaki-san, this isn’t good. It’s very dangerous,” the cameraman ventured, hoping to change the man’s mind.
“You stupid bastard! You’ll never amount to anything because you half-ass everything!”
Komurasaki cursed and grabbed the cameraman by the collar and dragged him out in front. They started out toward the frontline, where the men of the JSDF were engaging the enemy.
Tomita looked back to Kuribayashi and had her board the Chinook with the girl.
“What are you going to do?”
“We’ll bring these people back. Please have the helicopter hold station and support us, if possible!”
“Can’t we just leave these imbeciles behind?” Kuribayashi bellowed.
“Of course we can’t. Lieutenant Itami said so, didn’t he? We’re the JSDF, loved by the people.”
Tomita smiled and winked, then caressed the head of the girl clinging to Kuribayashi.
As the large helicopter with Kuribayashi on it lifted off, Tomita smiled comfortingly as he watched them leave.
“Ahhh, this is bad. I think I felt something,” Kuribayashi muttered.
She blushed as she watched Tomita hurry toward the frontlines.
“This is a good place. There’re gaps all over the wall, just what we need. We’ll be able to see what’s outside even if we close the door.”
Komurasaki opened the door of the little cottage at the village’s edge and peered around the inside.
This dwelling place looked crude, as though construction had been rushed, but it was built to last, and so there were many pillars within.
A winged female lay on the ground where she had been raped. She appeared to be a resident here. The fact that such a beautiful woman lived out in the boondocks was quite surprising, but then again, that might have been what inflamed her attackers’ bestial lusts.
Beside her was the body of a young man, a sword protruding from his belly. He appeared to have been trying to protect her.
However, Komurasaki paid the life and origins of these people no heed. He turned to the cameraman and said:
“Here, Fukushima. Start from here!”
“Ah, we can’t. It’s too dangerous here, Komurasaki-san. Wild beasts are sensitive to the scent of corpses and they’ll find us.”
“It’ll be fine. There’re corpses everywhere. Once we blend in with the stink, they won’t find us!”
Komurasaki seemed abnormally excited. As they saw the brilliance of madness in his eyes, the cameraman and the sound technician could not help but back away from him. However, they could not flee now, not even if they wanted. As though to tell them that their time was up, the Chinook flew over their heads.
In addition, the legion of monsters —— composed largely of Black Dogs —— was closing in. Like Komurasaki said, all they could do was hide in this little hovel and pray the enemies passed them over.
The cameraman and the others —— including Nishina and the other JSDF servicemen —— rushed into the house and closed the door behind them.
Shortly after that, there was a tremendous crash as a gigantic canine creature crashed against the door. The savage breathing of the wild beast and the way it tore at the door filled them with terror, and they were keenly aware of the dire situation they were in.
“What are you lot doing? Go block the door up!”
They did as Komurasaki indicated and began piling obstacles on the door.
“Use the bigger pieces of furniture as barricades and put them on the bottom. Flip the bed over so there’s more surface area in contact with the ground! Use the logs as wedges to jam it in!”
“Ko-Komurasaki-san, you sound pretty experienced with this sort of thing,” Matsuzaki of the press team said as he put his mike aside and piled the obstacles on.
“Don’t look down on us; we were veterans of the anti-war protests... I’ve got live combat experience of climbing over chain link fences and fighting with metal pipes! Bring that wood over and shove it in there!”
(TL Note: This part probably refers to the anti-Vietnam War protests in Japan which sparked a lot of student violence in universities. The JP uses the word 全共闘内ゲバ世代)
Everyone piled the furniture up, blocking up the doorway and obstructing it.
The Chinook hovering overhead launched a fierce attack. Even if it only made a small difference, Kuribayashi was doing her best to wipe the monsters out.
However, it was not effective against the heavily armored Giant Ogres. The bullets simply bounced off them, and their wildly-flailing clubs smashed through the unoccupied houses nearby and demolished them.
Some of the Ogres even tried throwing their clubs, in the hope of bringing down the Chinook.
They missed, but there was a feeling that if they connected, they could cut the helicopter out of the sky in a single hit. Just watching the scene made the onlookers break out in a cold sweat.
Komurasaki and the cameraman Fukushima were beside themselves in ecstasy as they filmed the scene.
“Wonderful, wonderful! How moving! How powerful! We’ve got the Pulitzer Prize in the bag now!”
“These, these guys are weirdos,” Tomita muttered as he sat down and watched Komurasaki.
Granted, he had run into the battlefield of his own accord, so he was hardly normal himself. However, Tomita had discovered that the creatures called newsmen took that to the next level. They could have taken a helicopter and gone as they pleased, but instead they recorded scenes of people about to be killed or swallowed up by disaster. They did not warn them or aid them, but instead calmly watched from the side, preserving it for posterity. One could not make a living this way without being exceptionally cold-hearted.
Newsmen were the people who ordered their pilots to lower altitude so they could film trucks and the like being devoured by natural disasters, but they would never do anything like warn the truck that it was speeding into danger.
Suddenly, Nishina and the others poked his shoulder with a “Oi, oi, Tomita.”
What was the matter? Tomita turned, and Master Sergeant Nishina pointed to the Winged Woman on the ground.
“Look at her.”
“This… this… isn’t this Tuwal-san?”
The name from Leading Private Azuma’s lips sounded familiar.
“Eh?” Tomita went as he got closer and looked at the woman’s face.
She was Tuwal, the Harpy from Akusho who had foretold the earthquake. She had left the Imperial Capital with her lover to live her life correctly in a frontier village.
Tomita gently prodded her still-warm cheek.
Was she alive, or was she dead?
Though it was weak, there was a reaction from Tuwal.
“She, she’s still alive!”
“Ohh, she’s still alive?!”
Nishina and the others cheered up immediately, now that they knew that she could be saved. However, the weak flame of her life was on the verge of guttering out. They had to get her to medical treatment as soon as possible.
“If this keeps up, she’ll die!”
“Nishina-san, there’s no time.”
Nishina nodded in response to Tozu and Azuma’s words.
“All right! Tomita, get the Chinook. We’re getting out of here!”
However, Komurasaki protested Master Sergeant Nishina’s decision.
“Are you retarded? You’re telling me we’re going out now?”
There was no doubt that the monsters roaming outside would spot them if they left.
Even an amateur like him knew that the four JSDF servicemen here could not stand against that alarming horde outside.
“So you want us to abandon this girl?! You lot go on and on about how we take life and death into our own hands, but aren’t you just as ruthless yourselves?”
However, Komurasaki tried to deflect the matter away from himself.
“Why don’t you consider your priorities? Saving a dying girl of the Special Region is very important, but are you telling me that you want to endanger Japanese citizens like ourselves to save her? Really, you lot care more about them than your own people.”
Nishina and Komurasaki glared at each other.
However, Tomita separated the two of them.
“It’s fine. We can get her to the chopper without going outside.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“We punch a hole in the ceiling. Then we put her on a rope.”
Tomita pointed to the ceiling, and then turned a disdainful eye to Komurasaki.
“We’re not the IJA of the past. I will show you what it means to be a modern man of the JGSDF.”
Putting a hole in the half-wrecked ceiling was not very difficult. First, they opened fire on the ceiling struts to cut them, then climbed up the pillars to prise open the roof timbers.
However, as they hacked away at the support frame of the crudely-built cottage, the walls that had felt sturdy until just now began to waver. It would seem this house was supported by that frame. Without it, the hovel began to shake like a two-bit stage prop.
In addition, the Chinook conducting the helicopter casualty evacuation seemed to have gotten the monsters’ attention. Monsters flooded toward the house from all sides, and a rain of 120mm mortars pelted down on their heads.
Dust flew everywhere, and these fiends of the Special Region were blown to smithereens and buried under the dirt.
The airborne Cobras fired their rockets, raking them over the armored Ogres.
In the face of the spine-chilling explosions and the no-longer reliable wall, Komurasaki covered his ears and shouted, “Son of a bitch, it won’t hold!”
The snouts of the Black Dogs began poking in through the gaps in the walls. The startled cameraman scrambled back in fear and fell flat on his butt.
“Fire! Fire! Fire!”
Tomita raised his rifle —— with bayonet affixed —— and fired it as soon as the blade bit into the beast’s flesh. The recoil helped him wrench his bayonet loose, and it had certainly dealt his foe a wound.
Tomita and the others opened fire through the walls —— at the beasts poking their noses through it —— to keep them away.
“You’re up next.”
Komurasaki raised his head as he heard Nishina’s voice. He saw Tozu, carrying Tuwal from behind, being winched into the Chinook.
Komurasaki pointed out Matsuzaki the sound technician as the next evacuee. Nishina passed the rope under Matsuzaki’s armpits and secured it.
“Fukushima, your turn.”
“Ko-Komurasaki-san, what about you?””
“I’ll be the last of the civilians to go. Say what you will, I’m one of the people in charge here. Make sure you get a good shot of me coming up.”
Before he finished, there was a sound like a dump truck smashing into the shaking house.
Dust and wood chips rained down from above. The walls creaked and split, and a gigantic monster which looked like a rhino was visible through the gaps in the wall. It was trying to break through the walls with its thick and sharp horn.
Tomita deftly changed out his magazine and fired on it.
The rhino-like monster was riddled with bullets and fell back as a corpse. However, the hole in the wall it had made became an entry point, and the monsters swarmed in. Among them were the forms of the rare Trolls and Kobolds.
Private Azuma pulled his trigger and ran dry of rounds in no time.
Panicked, he worked to change his empty magazine, but as he did, an axe-wielding Goblin closed in on him.
Tomita drew his sidearm and fired at the Goblin’s belly over Azuma’s shoulder. Once it was on the ground, he kicked and kicked at it, then raised his pistol at the Troll crawling over the corpse into the breach.
Azuma had finished reloading in this time, and renewed his shooting. He and Tomita covered each other while they were reloading, in a spectacular display of effective support fire.
Fortunately, their enemies were not that smart.
Now that there was a gap, they single-mindedly tried to break through it. Thus, all they had to do was hold the line there and they could keep them at bay.
“All right, we’re next.”
He glanced behind him, seeing Komurasaki’s legs vanish through the hole in the ceiling.
“Rope extraction! The two of you are going up together!”
With that, Nishina tied the ropes to Azuma and Tomita, who were too busy shooting to do it themselves.
“All right! Do it!”
In response to Nishina’s roar over the radio, the Chinook suddenly ascended at a speed of 600 meters per minute.
The three of them soared into the air above the little house at an alarming rate.
They pointed their muzzles down, expending all their remaining ammunition in their former perimeter. Then, as a farewell gift, they dropped all their grenades below them.
Below their eyes, the little cottage collapsed under the explosions, burying many monsters underneath.
An F-4 Phantom passed Tomita and the others as they rose. It dropped napalm bombs, instantly turning the battlefield into an inferno.
The stench of monsters burning and their cries of pain echoed through the land.
If one looked into the distance, one could see 403rd Squadron heading toward the place where the monsters had come from. From the air, there was a formation of Imperial troops with their banners waving.
The Imperial troops knew that the operation was a failure, and decided to flee.
Their plan was to attack the frontier village, then attack the Japanese troops that showed up while posing as traders and villagers, and then bring in their monster army during the confusion.
However, the technique had only worked the first few times they tried it. The enemy had instantly improved their response rate, and even their main force had been discovered. Now, they were the ones being hounded instead.
Helm, the guerilla leader, had no choice but to find another way. He spurred his horse on as he agonized over the problem.
“Flee into the forest! You’ll be found more easily if you scatter!”
That said, the soldiers naturally wanted to run in all directions. They felt that since the enemy was hunting down their formation, then leaving the group might give them a better chance of survival. However, once they dispersed, they would not be able to participate in future battles.
He felt that the monsters running beside his horse were an eyesore, but at the moment they were necessary for Zorzal’s forces.
“Eh, it can’t be helped.’
Helm stopped his horse and produced a flute from an inner pocket.
“General, do you plan to use the trump card you have in store?”
One of his adjutants asked him that as he bellowed at his men not to scatter.
As Helm played an inaudible note, he paused briefly to respond, “This is to save our lives too. It might not do much, but I want to give the enemy some trouble.”
After saying that, Helm continued playing the silent flute.
After being taken into the Chinook, Tomita was so tired that he was laid out and panting on the floor of the cabin, but he managed to proudly ask Komurasaki: “Heh… how about that? ...Did you see that!?”
A visibly displeased Komurasaki replied, “Aye, I did. I saw it all. The soldiers don’t protect the people. That’s what I believe, and I won’t back down on it. But you guys aren’t regular soldiers. To be precise, you’re men of the JSDF… oi, what are you filming? Don’t film me!”
Komurasaki glared at Fukushima the cameraman, who was grinning while training the lens on him.
He was probably upset by someone recording himself agreeing with Tomita, and gently pushed the camera away.
However, the cameraman instead continued filming the floor of the Chinook.
“Oi! What’s going on?!”
Fukushima stared at his camera. His entire body was stiff, fresh blood leaked from his mouth, and he collapsed onto the ground.
As Komurasaki looked at the spreading patch of reddish black, he screamed,
“What the hell is going on?!”
At some point, a large monster had appeared behind Fukushima the cameraman.
The monster had plunged its thick claws into Fukushima’s back. It was croaking and screeching even as it grew larger.
Its limbs were sheathed in rippling muscle, and its claws were growing ever longer and sharper. It was clearly bad news.
Its fur was brown and tan. Its face was savage, a carnivore that was neither feline nor canine. However, its chest was a clear sign that it was female. That strangely human-like feature made them think it might have human blood in its veins.
Kucy had been a little girl until recently, but her head now touched the ceiling of the Chinook, forcing it to hunch over as it grew to a great size.
The Chinook’s ceiling had never been high to begin with, and this forced the large monster to curl up into a ball. There was no trace of reason in its eyes, only base savagery.
Nishina and the other servicemen could only stare dumbfoundedly, unable to move as the girl turned into a monstrous beast.
They could not open fire from this position.
The creature was coming from the front of the aircraft, where the cockpit was. If they missed, they might end up shooting into the cockpit, where they would most likely hit the pilot or an important flight system.
The monstrous Kucy swiped with her powerful limbs at anything she saw.
Matsuzaki was still cradling his boom mike when he was knocked back by the fearsome power of that hand, and he flew out the rear door of the cabin, which had not yet been fully closed.
Scared senseless by this scene, Komurasaki collapsed just as he was about to rise.
Fortunately for him, it meant that the monster’s arm swiped a head’s distance above him. It would seem the creature prioritized nearby targets over distant ones, and Komurasaki was next.
The monster raised an arm, and it whistled through the air to carve a chunk out of Komurasaki’s flesh...
Just as that was about to happen, the sound of a heavy metallic impact rang out, and Komurasaki’s body slid toward the back of the cabin.
Kuribayashi warded off the monster’s claw with a reverse-gripped knife.
“Ku-Kuribayashi!” Tomita shouted.
“Protect Tuwal and Komurasaki-san!” she shouted back.
Tomita picked up his rifle and grabbed Tuwal, while Nishina dragged Komurasaki by the lapels toward the rear of the craft. Still, they could only bring them to the rear hatch; any further and they would be outside, which meant an assuredly fatal fall.
Kuribayashi cast aside her gouged helmet and faced the beast head on. The helmet could not stop the creature’s claws, and blood dripped from her forehead, down her cheek, and stained the tip of her combat boots.
Kuribayashi wiped the blood from her forehead with her sleeve, standing with her knife ready as she carefully studied Kucy for weaknesses.
“You looked like such a cute kid… to think your true form was a monster like this. You really pulled a fast one on us, huh?”
Confused, the monster looked at the tiny female human fighting back against it.
The difference between their physical statures was readily apparent. The conclusion was clear to all, even if they did not fight. Still, that little body did not flee, but strode forward in challenge. The creature could not understand that.
With a great cry, Kuribayashi brandished her knife and lunged in for an attack.
A high-pitched sound rang out as the knife hit the beast’s claw.
Kuribayashi worked her knife again. That shrill sound echoed through the cabin once more, and sparks flew as steel met claw.
The monster bared its fangs to frighten its foe, swinging its arms with brute force.
Kuribayashi dropped to the ground, rolling to avoid the steadily advancing swipes of its claws. She slipped past the thrust of the attack and worked her way into her opponent’s reach before initiating melee combat, slashing and stabbing at her foe with her knife.
Every time they clashed, new wounds appeared on both sides, and their blood flowed freely.
Kuribayashi’s arms and legs were covered in injuries.
Similarly, the monster’s hide sprouted cuts and stabs, its purplish-black blood staining its fur.
Kuribayashi stripped off her heavy body armor, as though finding it bothersome. She toyed with the beast with nimble movements, feinting several times and taking advantage of her foe’s momentary openings to close the distance and go for the kill.
However, the monster swung its mighty arm, and tossed Kuribayashi into the wall of the cabin like it was brushing the dust away.
Unable to defend herself, Kuribayashi slowly slumped to the ground after hitting the wall.
The monster’s left armpit seemed to have been cut up, and unable to bear the pain, it went to one knee while moaning.
Then, it pounced on Kuribayashi, as though saying, “You put up one hell of a fight!”
However, Azuma, Tozu, Tomita and the others raised their bayonets and counter-charged it.
Their lunge did not harm the monster, but it protected Kuribayashi.
Angered by the interference of the three males, Kucy released a deafening ululation, flailing its arms wildly. Those sharp claws broke the Chinook’s windows and slashed through the interior of the cabin.
After shaking her head dizzily, Kuribayashi swiftly inverted her hands like a gymnast performing her floor exercises and shoved up from under the monster’s jaw. The beast’s head collided with the low ceiling, while its chin was wounded from being attacked from below.
Kuribayashi then continued her combination attack. Unable to bear it, the creature drew its arms back to defend itself. It was then that Kuribayashi drove her knife’s blade into the tip of its elbow.
“The ulnar nerve, or the funny bone… Well, if you cut that on a human, their arm becomes useless. What about a monster like you?”
Even when a person fully relaxed their arm, there was still a bit of tension in their muscles. This was called muscle tone.
An arm could move freely because of the balance between contracting and relaxing muscles. If one severed the relaxing muscle fibers, then all the contractile muscle could do was kink up, unable to perform any movements. The reason why people with neuromuscular paralysis had their strange, hook-handed posture was because of this reason.
The monster, whose arm was curled up into what looked like an eagle’s claw, swung at Kuribayashi with its left arm. However, with only one usable arm, more openings appeared in its stance.
Kuribayashi leapt back to avoid the beast’s claw, and then shouted: “Pilot-san! When I give the signal, reverse the chopper!”
“...What do you plan to do?!”
“Shut up! Just back it up! I’m going to toss this bastard out!”
As Nishina heard this, he clutched Tuwal tightly, and indicated that Tomita, Komurasaki and the others should hold on tight so as not to be thrown out.
Kuribayashi stood on her palms like a gymnast, and her swinging legs swept at Kucy’s left arm, which was braced against the ground.
With all her weight on that arm, Kucy found itself striking the ground. It hurt so much that it grit its teeth in pain. However, it immediately rose to its feet while extending that arm; it planned to seize Kuribayashi with that arm.
That was the moment Kuribayashi was aiming for. She charged into the creature’s unprotected bosom.
With that, she executed a shoulder throw toward the rear of the Chinook.
However, Kucy pressed her weight on Kuribayashi’s body, squashing her from above.
Kuribayashi could not finish the throw, and ended up being pressed from above by the monster’s massive body.
As the ground suddenly pitched under its feet, Kucy scrabbled at the craft’s interior to avoid being tossed out. Then, it bared its fangs at Kuribayashi and drew close, intending to chew on her head.
“However strong you are, I’m still not lez!”
Kuribayashi desperately pushed Kucy’s face away.
“Gaaahhhh, if you want a kiss so bad, go find a man to give you one!”
However, Kuribayashi could not defeat that preternatural strength. She twisted her head aside to avoid that drooling tongue and that lower jaw covered in sharp teeth, screaming “Noooo!”
Now that the helicopter was canted back at an angle, it was all Tomita and the others could do to keep Komurasaki and Tuwal from falling. They could only watch all of this impotently.
Just as those teeth were about to touch Kuribayashi’s face, she delivered a mighty head butt to the universal weakness of all monsters —— their snouts.
“Ahhhhh, what a pain!”
Agony coursed through Kucy’s nose, and it could not help but twist its head aside. In the moment that it jerked its body away, Kuribayashi scrabbled free of its vast body, then twined her legs around its neck and executed a choke from behind its back.
“Fall, damn you!”
In the face of this sudden reversal, Kucy tried to shake Kuribayashi off. It suddenly rose up and bashed its head against the ceiling.
Kucy’s head and Kuribayashi’s body collided with the ceiling. As that frightening sound rang through the cabin, Kucy’s massive body slid toward the open rear hatch.
The unconscious Kuribayashi fell toward the outside as well.
Tomita desperately lunged at Kuribayashi. Azuma and Tozu reached out to grab Tomita’s legs. By the narrowest of scrapes, Tomita’s fingertips touched Kuribayashi’s bandolier and tightened around it.
Perhaps it was because of the shock of the impact, but the pilot quickly levelled out the Chinook.
The monster was still gripping at the cabin, hanging from the edge of the hatch. It looked like it was trying to climb aboard with just its left arm.
Tozu and the others saw this and tried to kick it off, lashing out repeatedly with their combat boots. The monster struggled desperately to resist in its desire to not be thrown off, but then Tomita aimed his 9mm pistol at it.
The series of bullets turned Kucy’s face into a pomegranate. Even so, it emitted a mighty bestial howl, its limbs flailing as it fell.
As Kuribayashi came to, she was congratulated by everyone in awestruck tones: “You really are one hell of a woman.”
“Where is this?”
It would seem she had bumped her head, so her memories were unclear. Her vision was blurred and her head was spinning.
“Are you all right? Do you remember us? Who am I? Don’t be like that!”
Tomita and the others showered Kuribayashi with thumps on the shoulder, until she winced in pain. However, that brought her memories back to her in short order, and she remembered where she was.
“Ouch! I hurt everywhere, don’t be so rough with me!”
“Sorry, sorry. But really, you were amazing out there.”
Kuribayashi smiled as she heard Tomita’s words.
“So you’ve fallen for me? Why don’t we go out?”
Kuribayashi said this in a joking tone, because she knew Tomita was already attached. This was not just because it was alright to be rejected, but because she wanted to gamble on a million to one chance that he would be up for it. However, the answer was evident enough; yet Tomita responded in a way which Kuribayashi had not expected at all.
“Ah, I can’t. You see, I’m going to get married after this war is over.”
The cabin fell into silence.
Nishina and the others went pale. Kuribayashi shivered as she realised the dire situation her careless words had wrought.
“That… that’s a…”
Indeed. It was an ironclad rule that anyone who said “I’m getting married after this war is over”, “We’re having kids after this” and the like would undoubtedly meet a tragic fate. Then there were things like, “I’ll hold them off, you guys go ahead first”, a line which was widely known to spell certain doom for the speaker.
Itami had forbidden these words; he had banned them with all the censor-happy fervor of the People’s Republic of China. It was on the level of receiving a “this search result has been removed due to relevant legislation” when Googling it. Yet, Tomita had uttered that line in the end.
Kuribayashi realised that she was responsible for that, and naturally, she cowered in fear.
“What, what should we do?!”
She was more panicked than she had been while fighting the monster. As he saw her like that, Tomita replied:
“Ah, don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. It’s just a superstition, nothing more.”
“That’s no good. We have to get back to the el-tee.”
“Him? You mean Itami? Wha? Why?”
“Itami will surely know a way around this!” Kuribayashi declared. A man who lived a hacked life like his would surely be able to snap a death flag like that in half while chuckling.
The more she thought about that, the more Kuribayashi obsessed about the death flag she had raised with Tomita.
Chateau Formal had never been this busy before.
“Zorzal imprisoned the Emperor and Princess. They were rescued with the aid of the JSDF, and now Italica is officially the new Imperial Capital.” Because of that pronouncement, the chateau was now a temporary royal palace, which meant that the senators and their families flocked to the new capital in great numbers.
The first thing that the legitimate government of the Empire would do was build an army to retake the Imperial Capital.
However, the pro-peace faction and all their banner lords could not scrape up enough troops to resist Zorzal. Thus, they had sent envoys to all manner of nations and former vassals, and even to the demihumans that they had formerly scorned. The government promised to elevate their status in exchange for military aid.
Now that Italica was a temporary royal palace and also a military headquarters, a massive tent garrison had sprung up outside the city. The canteens and taverns lining the streets were filled with soldiers of every race and species. While they could be more relaxed with the enlisted ranks, commanders and other high-ranking senior officers had to be treated politely, so the maids of House Formal were kept busy round the clock, with hardly any time to catch their breath.
The few human maids of House Formal were hard-pressed to handle the tasks of proper service by themselves. So the demihuman maids —— not very presentable in Imperial high society —— were mobilized to help them. The cat-eyed and bespectacled Persia, the Warrior Bunny Mamina, Aurea the Medusa and so on had to receive guests of all sorts and complete various tasks.
Aurea the Medusa’s crimson hair snakes twisted back and forth like tentacles as she rushed into the kitchen and shouted, “Head maid, it’s terrible! It’s horrible!”
The head maid was commanding from the kitchen, alternating between castigating the chefs for insufficient skill and scolding the maids receiving guests for being improperly dressed.
“Head Maid, His Majesty is looking for you!”
It would seem the “terrible” thing had nothing to do with the withered man enfolded by those crimson hair snakes.
Was he young, or was he old? He was mummified now, so that could not be seen. However, his sex could at least be told from his clothing. A careful look at his face would tell that there was no misery or fear on his face; he had gone to the gods with a look of supreme bliss on his face.
The Head Maid wrinkled her brows.
“Aurea, have the mice been getting in again?”
Catching the mice was all well and good, but that meant the kitchen would get dirty. How could she bring a corpse here? The Head Maid delivered all this and more in a quiet voice.
However, Aurea did not seem to mind and delightedly replied:
“I found a mouse and caught him and drained him dry. I’m so happy I got to eat my fill!”
How much life-force had she absorbed? Aurea’s skin was shiny and radiant. Her crimson pupils were narrowed and she was all smiles.
“Please do so in moderation. Once you’re used to gourmet meals, it will be hard to bear when you can no longer indulge yourself.”
“I understand. I’ll try to hold myself back.”
Aurea’s hair drooped, as though displaying her depressed mood. She dumped the mummified man to the ground, where the maids would dispose of it as a piece of litter.
“Then, who sent this one?”
Aurea looked like she could not harm a fly, but in truth, she was a vampire —— or rather, she was a thief of “essence”.
She did not feed using brute force and sharp teeth to tear her prey to shreds. Instead, she used her doll-like beauty and cuteness to lure her prey, before binding them with her serpentine hair tentacles and sucking them dry, much like an insectivorous plant.
Without sharp claws or fangs, she instead used pleasure to keep her prey from fleeing.
Once those tentacles touched her victims, they would drown in that hellish pleasure and lose the ability to fight back. By the time they realised the fact, their souls would have been squeezed dry and they would shortly become residents of the netherworld. In addition, Aurea could look through the memories of her victims. There was no way to hide anything contained within the mind from her. That said, Aurea could not memorize every single detail, so she only remembered the information she was concerned about.
“This man was the minion of someone called Bouro. He was planning to poison the food.”
The Head Maid sighed as she heard Aurea’s report. “As I thought…”
“It seems we can’t do anything before catching this Bouro person.”
Aurea nodded in agreement.
The Head Maid sighed again, and then she pulled herself together.
“Anyway, you came here because His Majesty was looking for me. I shall go at once. Mome, Aurea, you two will follow me as well. Hurry!”
As the aged Head Maid said that, she forcefully gathered up her skirts.
Then, she sprinted through the hallways with a vigor that did not match her age, as though something terrible had happened. She was trailed by her trusted Mome and Aurea.
Mamina the Warrior Bunny hurriedly ducked out of her way along the corridor.
Persia the bespectacled Catgirl maid was sending dirty dishes back to the kitchen. She swiftly stepped around them with a spectacular pivoting turn, maintaining her balance on the stacked dishes as her skirts fluttered up around her. Her comrades applauded this feat, which would not have been out of place in a talent show or a circus act.
Like a rising tide, the Head Maid ran to the door of the suite on the top floor, and then took deep breaths to calm her panting. She swiftly wiped her sweat and inspected her bearing to ensure she was presentable.
Mome and Aurea also helped adjust each other’s clothing.
Pina’s female knights stood guard on either side of the door, without moving a single muscle.
Though they looked at her with sympathy, the Head Maid swiftly regained her serious demeanour. Perhaps it was a natural born ability or some sort of special skill, but her sweat immediately stopped flowing, as though a tap had been turned off.
She opened the door, first announcing, “Your servant presents herself in response to Your Majesty’s summons” before entering.
Emperor Molt lay on the large bed. Count Marx, his regent and the Japanese ambassador Sugawara stood by his side.
“Your servant presents herself in response to Your Majesty’s summons.”
The Emperor looked to the Head Maid who served him, and then introduced Sugawara to her.
“This is Sugawara-dono, the ambassador from Japan. He will be staying here for some time, so I hope you will arrange quarters for him. I understand that this is an imposition, but I hope you will find a way to accommodate him.”
Those were the Emperor’s words, but still, the Head Maid’s expression quivered.
Chateau Formal was already home to far more guests than it had been designed for. They had run out of space to accommodate the Imperial senators and various nobles, so the government had begun requisitioning the homes of wealthy farmers and nobles in the city, as well as those civilian homes which looked presentable.
Even the tent city outside the walls of Italica was emblazoned with the banners of the various nobles in residence.
Though Sugawara was only one person, arranging a room for him under the present circumstances was still very difficult.
Therefore, when Sugawara said, “There is no need to worry, Your Majesty. I have already found a room of my own in the city”, even the Head Maid sighed audibly, a clear breach of etiquette.
“Oh? May I know where you are taking residence?”
Still, nobody noticed the head maid’s gaffe. This was because Count Marx’s question drew everyone’s attention. The way he asked his question seemed to be a clear attempt to ask if an outsider like Sugawara could find a place to stay in Italica. It was highly discomforting.
“Well, we are quite hampered ourselves. If there is a large place like that around, I was wondering if you could share the details with us.”
“The truth is, I reached out to a merchant I knew and borrowed the corner of a warehouse from them. Under these circumstances, being able to sleep without fear of wind or rain is the most important thing; all other considerations are secondary. Granted, it is somewhat cramped, but it is still better than my dormitory as a student.
The Emperor nodded in relief.
“Wonderful. I feared that slighting the emissary of Nihon would result in our reputation being dragged through the gutter, so I made an unreasonable request of yourself, Head Maid. Now, there is nothing to worry about, so I rescind that order of mine.”
With that, the Emperor permitted the head maid to leave.
“Still, you must not act incautiously around the Nihonjin. They have secretly forged relationships with the merchants of our Empire. We must be on our guard.”
“Ah, Count Marx. That’s enough of that sort of thing.”
“But we’ve been surrounded by the pro-Nihon faction before we knew.”
“What are you saying at this point in time? Ever since we asked the Nihonjin for help in fleeing the Imperial Capital, have we not already been in their midst? Am I wrong, Head Maid?”
“Of course not, Your Majesty. That is exactly the case.”
The Head Maid turned back to confirm that just as she was about to leave the room.
“Look now, Italica is now heavily influenced by Nihon.”
The Head Maid explained herself as she saw the upset and angry look on Count Marx’s face.
“The blame for that can be laid on the ones who snuck their filthy rats into House Formal, pardon me for being blunt, in the hopes of doing ill to Your Majesty. If I may dare to say so, perhaps the good Count might do well to work with Nihon to fight against these petty villains.”
Delilah’s attempted murder of a Japanese citizen had put House Formal in a dilemma. The only way for them to clear their names was to root out the underground organization responsible, which meant working with the Japanese. As a result, the House had built a close relationship with the Japanese, to the point where they could be considered representatives of the Japanese government.
Count Marx was clearly displeased by this, but in the end, he could only say “Forget it” and show how he was swallowing that bitter pill.
The fact was that the Imperial administration had found its footing due to the cooperation of House Formal and the Japanese government.
“Then, how goes the war? Can we retake the Capital?” the Emperor asked.
Marx reported that the loyalists were mounting an attack to retake the Imperial Capital. The 5000 prisoners of war released by the Japanese government formed the core of a semblance of an army.
However, Zorzal’s troops were regulars, boasting superior fighting ability. They could not make any progress even if the path to attack the enemy was clear.
“We are reconstituting the 2nd Army. Once we can get our reinforcements to the frontlines, we should be able to bring our elites near the Capital.”
The Emperor chuckled at Marx’s overly optimistic statement, even though he knew that there were things that Marx could not mention.
“And what of the battle in the shadows?”
The Head Maid reported that over 50 people had tried to infiltrate the Chateau or incite an uprising in Italica ever since Emperor Molt had made his base in Italica.
“We’ve already discovered several rats trying to infiltrate the feast. Just now, we caught someone trying to poison the food in the stores. However, Aurea was waiting there and eliminated him.”
Aurea nodded in silence. She looked like nothing more than an adorable blossom of a girl, so long as she held her peace and kept to herself. The Emperor was captivated by her charms, but his knowledge of the Venus’ flytrap nature of Medusas put a complex expression on his face.
After that, he considered why the previous Lord Formal had taken this Medusa into his household. If… perhaps… yes, that must have been it. If one could arrange for her to siphon essence under the conditions of “don’t kill your partner” or “don’t harm them”, surely one would be able to enjoy the most exquisite ecstasy. It would certainly be worth it.
The hellish pleasure of legend. It held a demonic charm; the temptation of experiencing sex which would drain one’s strength dry, to the point of death.
“Aurea, is it? Could you tell me about the relationship between yourself and your previous master?”
The Emperor was unsure of how to bring the subject up.
Depending on her answer, he might consider keeping her around to serve him.
“We are currently keeping an eye on spies in the chateau. We shall exterminate them when the time is right.”
However, the Head Maid seemed to have sensed the Emperor’s intentions, and interrupted his train of thought.
If she were a human noblewoman; no, even if she were a demihuman maid, she would have sent them over to serve the Emperor in his bed if they caught his interest. However, Aurea was the only person that she could not permit to go.
“Are these people Zorzal’s men?” the Emperor murmured.
Count Marx nodded.
“They might be agents of other countries, but in all likelihood, it is as Your Majesty says.”
Italica —— the temporary Imperial Capital —— was the target of a clandestine campaign by Zorzal. There was an offensive underway, and the fighting was intense. Thus, Aurea was a valuable combat unit; she could not be removed from the frontline.
“Your Majesty. There were those with incurable illnesses, or wounds which would not heal, who feared death, or who were in pain… the old Master gave me the task of laying them to rest with the tenderest of mercies.”
Aurea sensed the look in the Emperor’s eyes as he looked at her.
Sadly, many people looked at her the same way. More accurately, it had been like this before she came here. This was the reason why Medusas were treated as an unclean race; why they were ostracized and disdained.
“Is that so. Sooner or later, the day will come when I will fear for my own end. When that time comes, I hope you will aid me as well.”
The Emperor sighed deeply, and said, “Go then. Do battle with the enemy.”
“There’s someone who’s not on the guest list. He’s currently in the western corner of the great hall.”
The Warrior Bunny Mamina heard the voice in her earpiece, and led her subordinate battle maids to quietly encircle the rats who had snuck into the feast.
With cultured, practiced grace, Mamina shrouded the murderous intent in her heart with a tender smile. Balancing a drinking-laden tray in one hand, she approached her target and asked, “Would you care for some refreshment?”
Panic flashed momentarily across the man’s face, but Mamina’s warm smile seemed to put him at ease.
“Thank you,” he said as he helped himself to a wineglass of amber-colored liquid.
“It’s quite rare to see a Warrior Bunny as a maid.”
“About four-fifths of House Formal’s maids are demihumans. If I may be so rude, may I ask whose household you hail from?”
“I am Nikas. I am a butler of Baron Monterey.”
The man glibly answered Mamina’s question —— it would seem he had prepared for this.
Baron Monterey was one of the few members of the neutral faction, but he had declared his loyalty for the Emperor. He and his personal troops had arrived at Italica recently. Since he was new here, nobody recognized him. Thus, most people would let him off after light questioning because of that.
“He’s lying. Baron Monterey has a man called Nikas on his staff, but his face is completely different from this guy.”
A man’s voice pointed out the lie through the background radio chatter.
Looking up, one could see countless cameras installed in the chateau’s ceiling, observing every corner of the building. The computer located in a different room compared the guests to their mugshots, picking out anyone suspicious.
To the enemies who did not know of such technology, Italica and Chateau Formal were nothing less than the gates of hell. Spies checked in —— they did not check out.
Mamina smiled. “Nikas-sama, you’re quite a handsome fellow. Would you mind sharing a word with me in private?”
She closed the distance between the two of them, until their chests were almost touching, and whispered sweetly into his ear, as though her voice was going to melt into it.
“Indeed. Do you know of a custom of the Warrior Bunnies? When we see a handsome man, we won’t let them go. What do you think of… tender love in a private corner?”
Mamina turned pleading eyes on the man, who was immobile on account of being charmed by her.
The pain in his belly told him to keep still and remain silent, and that he had better be careful even of his breathing.
The man’s eyes slowly left Mamina’s and wandered downwards.
Past those ample peaks, he finally saw the tips of a pair of daggers pressed against him.
The man was encircled from the front and rear by maids, as though he was their plaything. One might envy his position, but the truth was, he had blades resting on him from three different directions. His situation was dire indeed.
“Then, please come this way.”
“...Is, is there some kind of mistake? I’m not into this sort of play…”
“There’s no point acting dumb. I hope you’ll tell us your name and who sent you. Let me get this out of the way first; our house counts a Medusa as one of its vassals, so resistance is futile.”
And so, yet another spy was brought out of the great hall with a stiff smile on his face.
If he were a rookie spy who yielded quickly to torture, he would probably be sentenced to forced labor in the quarries or in some mine. If he was a hardened agent who refused to talk, he would be fed to Aurea, where he would be squeezed dry even as he rolled around in pleasure.
The man began trying to explain himself once they reached the empty corridor.
“Wait, wait a minute. I am a spy, but not from the Crown Prince. I’ve always wanted to pledge my loyalty to His Majesty. It’s true. I can hail the Emperor if you want, or curse Zorzal’s name for as long as you like.”
“So stop wasting time and give us your name and allegiance.”
“I can’t do that. My job is to sweep the interior for traitors. It’s true. Your sentries do good work; they found me out right away. Well done. It was a flawless display, I’d give you full marks for it.”
“Thank you for your praise. However, if you don’t tell us who you work for, we can’t trust you. Do you think we’re stupid enough to be content with that?”
“Is that so? Yes… all right, I got it, I got it. My name and allegiance, is that it?”
Mamina stopped, and waited for the man to speak.
“My name is Nora. In truth, I am one of Count Marx’s men.”
Count Marx? If that were the case, then he was an ally. But why did this man’s voice suddenly sound like a woman’s?
As they paused to think for a moment, an opening appeared.
The man took advantage of that opening and slipped the cordon of Mamina and her people. No, the man’s body and clothes tore apart, and a woman emerged from within. Mamina and her fellow maids were a second late in reacting to this unexpected development.
Mamina and the others hurriedly gave chase.
“As if any spy would actually stop when told to!”
(TL note: the original text used ジヴォージョニー and I have no idea what that means)
That woman was a demihuman.
Her bestial athletic ability allowed her to rival Mamina’s feline jumping power. Everyone was cowed into submission by the frightening experience that her battle-hardened and scarred body gave off.
Mamina tossed a series of dirks at her. Many of them were deflected with the sound of high-pitched metal, but several of them struck home in the flesh of the woman called Nora.
The woman pulled out a knife and grabbed at her wound.
“You’ll pay for this!” she cursed, before leaping out of a window in the corridor.
“Cheh! Dammit, she got away. After her!”
“No, it’s fine. The transmitter’s already planted on her. Let us handle the tracking.”
Just as Mamina and the others were about to give chase, the voice that blended into the background chatter halted them in their tracks.
“Did you use the throwing knives I gave you? They’re the sort which leave their tips in the body even when you pull them out. Unless she cuts herself open and digs them out, the transmitter will tell us where she is, no matter where she flees.”
“Which means it’s gone well, then?”
“Indeed. It doesn’t matter if she has to lick her wounds or report her failure, she still has to return to her hideout or base to do so. We can follow her trail from there to her nest. That’s our plan.”
“Then, can we leave the rest to you, Yanagida?”
“Ah, yes. Leave it to me… I’ll make sure they suffer.”
At the same time, there was the sound of a long-range remote-controlled drone taking off from somewhere within the courtyard of Chateau Formal.
“Do you understand, Delilah?”
A voice came from the speaker.
“Leave it to me, Master Yanagida. I will do anything you ask of me.”
As this shadow war unfolded, the pro-peace senators continued discussing the future of the Empire. To them, their tongues were weapons, while the great hall was the battlefield where they fought their war of words. Although it was not a matter of life and death, they were all struggling in their own way.
Cicero was feeling conflicted as he took a mouthful of wine as the bespectacled Catgirl maid Persia served him. His friend who was seated beside him chided:
“The taste doesn’t change even if a demihuman serves it, no?”
Indeed, this was terribly uncouth behavior for a guest. His friend saw this, and decided to warn him against it.
Cicero seemed to be trying to exonerate himself as he replied, “No, no, it’s not like that. I’m just wondering why the previous Count Formal would go against our tradition and hire demihuman girls. I used to think demihumans and the like were savages… forgive me. I had no intention of denigrating you.”
After Cicero said that to Persia —— who was still serving him —— he continued, “I used to think that hiring demihumans signified a lack of taste. But after coming here and observing them, I feel it would be better for me to change that line of thought.”
“Indeed. They are the equal of any human maid, be it in terms of etiquette or personality. In some ways, they are superior to human maids.”
“That’s right,” Cicero nodded as he observed the demihuman maids working in the great hall.
The truth was, the maids of House Formal were not only capable, but beautiful. In addition, their ears were very keen, and they hardly missed anyone calling for them. In that respect, they were fundamentally different from human maids, who were very noisy and would not pay attention to people unless one shouted at them.
“Still, I can’t get used to it. It just feels wrong to me.”
Cicero shrugged as he revealed what was in his heart.
“Well, if it’s a matter of getting used to it, then it’s just takes time. Our armies would not even exist without demihumans. I heard that Zorzal’s even been enlisting Giant Ogres into his battle lines.”
“Ah, I know about that. Well, since I’ll become accustomed to it sooner or later, I should probably bear with it. Still, can the maids here bear with me while I adjust?”
“It’ll be fine, they’re all very well-mannered. They will wait for you to become used to them. More importantly, we should listen to Sherry-san’s report. She’s returned after so long —— shouldn’t we hear what she has to say?”
Cicero nodded, and then he asked the scion of House Tuery before him:
“Forgive the delay. I hope you will tell us about what you saw in Nihon. Why don’t you start from the impending change in regime?”
Sherry did not blanch, even while under the eyes of the senators.
She spoke directly and openly to the senators surrounding her.
“Firstly, I would like everyone to understand that the Prime Minister of Nihon is chosen by the senate. After that, the Prime Minister chooses his cabinet.”
“In other words, the Prime Minister represents the nation, and he is the man who is in charge of policy?”
“Yes. Japan’s current Senate is about to reach the end of its terms, and so they are preparing to select new councillors.”
The senators had bitter expressions on their faces. After all, they were in a similar situation.
“In other words, if the selected councillors change, then the nation’s policies might change as well?”
“Yes. In Japan, the senators are chosen by the people. Thus, it is possible for the makeup of the senators to suddenly change.”
Sherry had a bitter smile on her face as well, revealing her complex emotions. She knew that her fate depended heavily on the results of the change in Japan’s regime. Sherry had returned with Sugawara to impress this fact upon the senators.
“What an outdated institution. There were times when our Empire was a republic, but every time the office-holders changed, our diplomatic stance changed as well. This might be a big problem. This is why we’re pursuing the maintenance of the status quo.”
Perhaps it was because Sherry was still a child that Cicero’s explanation ended up sounding like that of a teacher. And perhaps it was because of that explanation that Sherry’s answer sounded like that of a model student answering her teacher.
“Indeed, the first citizen should hold the highest office.”
“Hm, it seems you’ve learned quite a lot. Then, can you summarize the Empire’s leadership for us?”
“Yes,” Sherry nodded. Then, she began narrating, as though from a textbook.
“The Emperor is responsible for the overall policy of the nation and its diplomacy. Domestic affairs are managed locally, by governors selected by the Emperor to administer domains on his behalf. In addition, the Empire has permitted certain cities with long and distinguished histories to rule themselves. Certain places which are not suitable for a limited-term regional governor, but which require long periods of acclimation —— such as House Formal’s domain, which counts many races and tribes among its denizens —— have been ceded to individuals who possess the requisite adaptability. This is the reason for the Empire’s centralization and compartmentalization of power.”
“Marvellous. If I were your tutor, I would praise you. Why did the Emperor of the time choose compartmentalization? What was the name of that Emperor?”
“Unfortunately, governors serving a limited term must sometimes leave their domain, and this leads to poverty and starvation more often than it does to prosperity. Thus, insurgency and insurrection breaks out. However, if that domain were to be part of one’s fortunes, one would have a vested interest in administering it carefully. This was the conclusion of Emperor Kaulas.”
“That is correct. Full marks.”
“I am very grateful.”
Sherry had a bashful smile on her face, like a student who had passed an interview.
“I did not expect a young girl like yourself to know that much. Governance is much like that; the key is to maintain coherence and continuity. Of course, there are many ways to do that, but to people who must live on someone else’s domain in difficulty, this is the most ideal method. Thus, a government whose national policies change with the wind is quite flawed. In particular, fickle diplomatic stances are quite disagreeable.”
The hitherto silent Marquis Casel raised his hand.
“That’s not right. One cannot say that democratically elected representatives are backward. After all, sometimes the Imperial succession comes into question.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” the surrounding senators nodded in agreement.
“You have it at that,” Cicero nodded. Then, he countered:
“Well, a man ruling other men is bound to be flawed. Perhaps the pursuit of that nonexistent perfection is the very proof of our immaturity, as human beings.”
Case’s own rebuttal addressed the same topic Cicero had brought up.
“In any case, whether we are an Empire or a Republic, we must accept the flaws of both approaches as unavoidable. Since we value the continuity and instant deliberation of imperial rule, we have chosen to be an Empire. One could say that compensating for the flaws of such an institution is our duty as those who support it.”
“I’d like to ask the two of you something. Do you consider the inability to prevent the rise of someone like Zorzal to be a flaw of the system?”
Cicero sternly answered the question from the floor:
“Do not try to foist off your flaws as the vulnerabilities of the regime. These matters have to be considered separately. Evaluating the Emperor’s successor is our duty, after all. We ended up getting stuck in a vicious cycle of avoiding trouble and did not try hard enough to keep that man from the seat of power, instead taking him lightly.”
“And we have paid for that in blood and suffering. The best proof of that is how we are looking dumbly at each other here.”
However, Cicero shook his head and said, “No, not yet.”
“We have not paid it off yet. We are not even close. We must take the Empire back and return it to normal. Only after we do so can we say that we have paid the price for our failure.”
The senators immediately launched into a flurry of conversation.
“But how can we take the Empire back? Zorzal says he has abandoned the Capital, but he still controls the administration and the armies. His Majesty has declared that Zorzal be removed from the succession, but the men and generals of the armies still obey him.”
“He’s merely coercing them into servitude through force! All we need to do is inform the loyalist generals of His Majesty’s will and they will surely recant their ways.”
“No, don’t try to force the issue. Zorzal’s installed his ‘cleaners’ throughout the armed forces. They say that even the rank and file are under close scrutiny, to say nothing of the generals. Pointless rebellion against them will only result in the separation of head from body. It nearly happened to us too.”
The “cleaners” were the ones who denounced those who spoke out against Zorzal’s policies, analogous to political commissars. They were officially known as the Oprichniki, and they belonged to the Oprichnina. The pro-peace senators here had nearly been captured and purged by them.
“Then all we need to do is defeat them, right? Let’s all take the field and settle it once and for all!”
“But we are too few. The lines of battle are holding for now, but don’t forget that this is because Nihon is keeping Zorzal at bay.”
The resentment here fed off itself, and just as it looked like it was coming to a boil, Sherry asked, almost as though she were grumbling:
“Are the other countries and the vassals willing to help us?”
The girl’s voice was vastly different from the adults, so everyone here clearly heard her words.
Ordinarily speaking, they would tell her to shut up while adults were talking. However, she felt like a student to them, so Cicero could not help but answer, though he felt it was a rude question.
“Naturally, we have sent envoys out. But all the other countries remain noncommittal. They appear to be content watching us beat each other up.”
In this way, the girl Sherry received the freedom to speak her mind in this place where she should have been forbidden to interrupt. In order to make sure of things, she purposely asked a question whose answer was obvious:
“His Majesty has taken a side, but the other countries have not done so. Why is that?”
“That is simple enough. If they stand by us and Zorzal wins, anyone who supported us will be destroyed. It is plainly obvious. This is a decision made with the fate of a nation at stake. It is only natural for them to be cautious about this.”
“In other words, we must show that we are able to win in order to obtain allies, then?”
“Correct. However, it is said that His Majesty’s health is failing, and we do not know when he will collapse again. In addition, Zorzal commands the armies.”
A noble by the side took a swig of wine and added:
“The regional governors are also following him.”
“How unfair,” Sherry pouted childishly.
“Zorzal holds the advantage, no matter how you slice it.”
“That much is true. However, the reason why the other nations have not joined Zorzal is because of the element of Nihon. Making an enemy of Nihon would be inadvisable, to say the least. However, Zorzal is obsessed with defeating Nihon. Thus, anyone joining Zorzal will end up at odds with Nihon. Every nation dreads that prospect.”
“Which is why they are not siding with him,” Cicero shrugged as he ended his lecture.
“Thus, Nihon’s importance is rising rapidly, no?” Sherry continued on the topic of Japan.
“Correct. We know that Nihon has no intention of dominating the Empire. Fundamentally, they wish for us to rule the Empire, and maintain peaceful relationships with the other nations. I understand that this is not purely from the goodness of their hearts. After all, ruling a foreign people is a tiresome and expensive process. However, they are currently in the process of changing their Prime Minister. If that is the case, the attitude of that Prime Minister toward us is a matter of great interest. Sherry-kun, tell us honestly; what does Nihon think? Is there anything you have seen or heard that could shed more light on the matter?”
“Hmm~” Sherry hummed as she poked her face with her index finger.
“The people of Nihon are very angry with what Zorzal-sama has done. After all, the news of Zorzal-sama’s men attacking villages all over and trampling the innocent is common knowledge.”
And then, someone from the floor raised a question:
“However, I seem to recall Zorzal turning around and censuring Nihon, saying that the Imperial massacre of villagers was a fabrication and they were all done by the Jayesdeef.”
In truth, the news of soldiers in speckled green uniforms attacking villages had been spreading, and several nobles nodded as they heard this.
“They say that, but at the very least, the people of Arnus do not believe them. This is because there are many witnesses and pieces of evidence stating that Zorzal-sama was using bandits and demihumans to do his dirty work.”
“But the people of Arnus are all closely linked to Nihon. Can the words of these people be trusted?”
Nobody here was willing to believe that a fellow Imperial citizen like Zorzal would shamelessly accuse others of his own sins. Scorched-earth tactics were vicious, but they were also necessary. If they had to be done, then they had to be openly conducted. Nobody here wanted to believe that Zorzal had fallen so low that he would try to push the blame for that upon others.
However, Cicero raised a hand to quiet everyone.
“No. Piña-dono received a warning that Zorzal’s men intended to commit such deeds. Thus, though I find it hard to swallow, it was most likely his doing… I see. So he really does intend to defeat Nihon.”
Morality aside, sowing chaos with his attacks against the invaders was the correct answer.
When there was an overwhelming difference in combat ability, there was no other choice. His willingness to do anything for victory spoke of his determination to win.
However, this method would destroy everything.
This was because this strategy of deceiving people by pushing the blame to others would shatter the faith of the people and they would never again have faith in the nation.
Even if they had to resort to cruel methods, the Empire had always adopted the attitude of “Yes, I did this. Do you have a problem with that?” Although this might make people hate the Empire, it would also make them fear it, and thus they would submit.
But what if they used deception?
The contradiction in what they had experienced and what the Empire said would make them doubt everything. Indeed, they would not be afraid, but apprehensive. Once that happened, ruling the country would be very difficult, even if they won.
If one wanted to rule a country by force, then a nation would need to adopt a policy of sealing the mouths of the people. It would need to trample on the hearts of others in order to keep the doubts in the people’s hearts from turning into hatred and resentment. Thus, the nation had to make the people blindly believe that everything was the fault of external enemies.
The government would have to prevent the people from spreading hearsay, restrict idle conversation, tear out any insurgency by the roots and thoroughly dominate the people.
But such a nation would certainly have no freedom. Even drawing a breath would be difficult.
A lie had to be repeated often enough to be taken as the truth. The government would be forced to use all its strength to have a falsehood be taken as reality.
The government would then have to unceasingly attack anyone who spread the truth, and continuously spread its lies to the people.
Censorship of speech was the proof that lies were in circulation.
“What a frightening prospect.”
Cicero sighed as he despaired for the future of the Empire. Even if they could weather the storm that was Zorzal, he could not help but worry about how to rebuild the desolated Empire.
“If that is the case, we should hand the weighty duty of resisting Zorzal-sama to her Imperial Highness. May I know what Piña-sama is doing now, then?”
Sherry sought out Pina’s form among the people around her. However, depressed looks bloomed on the faces of the senators, and their representative Cicero.
“Her Highness has lost faith in the matter of politics. ‘Do you intend to have me commit fratricide?’ she said before leaving Italica.”
A shocked expression came over Sherry’s face. “So the great Imperial Princess was such a person?”
She knit her brows in displeasure.
“This is nothing short of desertion,” she continued. However, nobody heard that, because she spoke too softly. Then, she nonchalantly put on a cheerful smile.
“Where is Her Highness now, then? Has anyone gone to fetch her?”
Fortunately, everyone who saw Sherry thought that her change of expression was the result of their failing vision.
Cicero seemed to be one of them. He wiped his eyes, and answered:
“No, His Majesty ordered us not to bother with her for the time being. Her Highness should be travelling with the Men In Green now.”
“The Men In Green, huh…” Sherry mused as she tilted her head.