Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
After abandoning the Imperial Capital, Zorzal moved the Regency to the second largest Imperial city, Telta. With that as his base of operations, he devoted his energy to the administration of the Empire. Or at least… he did his best.
“My father, Emperor Molt, is currently recovering under my care. Do not believe the rumors which state that he has fled to Italica. All of these are lies spread by Piña and the pro-peace faction of the former Senate. Naturally, the rumors that I have been removed from the succession and Piña Co Lada has been designated Crown Princess are utterly baseless and without foundation. I am certain your lordships are aware of this, but I must impress that fact upon you once more. I am the Crown Prince and the true heir to His Majesty, and it is my hand which will rule the Empire. I pray you distinguished gentlemen will not forget that fact.”
Tyuule transcribed Zorzal’s words.
The quill pen danced gracefully over the surface of the parchment. The document she produced was like unto a work of art.
However, the artistic value of the piece was ruined instantly when Zorzal put his ugly signature upon it.
After reading it again and ensuring the ink was dry, he rolled up the parchment.
He tied it up with a ribbon, and put a blob of flame-softened wax upon it before stamping it with his seal.
“Alright! Send this to King Duran of the Elbe Kingdom immediately.”
Zorzal personally handed the letter to a waiting soldier as he gave that order.
The messenger responded with a rousing affirmative, then placed his fist over his heart in salute before rushing out of Zorzal‘s office.
“However, King Duran wants to continue keeping the Empire at arm’s length. Will he really obey us?”
This worry came from Upson, the Chief Law Officer. He was a man who could be considered Zorzal’s confidante in political matters.
“No, but it will be fine if he does not join us, as long as he does not join the pro-peace faction. Once things settle down, we will let him know that we do things differently from Emperor Molt. After some persuasion, he will return to the fold.”
After saying that, Zorzal commenced his next round of dictation. Tyuule prepared a fresh sheet of parchment to copy it down.
“The next one goes to Provincial Governor Carpo… Hm… I am very pleased with your loyalty to the Empire. However, the trust engendered by that loyalty has been greatly shaken of late. It disturbs me to have to suspect a vassal’s loyalty, but you have not gathered the required troops and beasts to date, nor have you given a reason for this shortfall. If you have the required troops but have delayed in dispatching them, I hope you will send them out with all due haste. If the delay comes from the gathering of monsters, there is no need to fear rebuke. Send whatever you have to me as soon as possible.”
“Writing something like that will let them know we are in dire straits,” Upson mentioned in response to Zorzal’s dictation.
“It’s hardly a big deal. The fact is, we are in dire straits. The Empire is at war. Perhaps they aren’t sending their men over because they think we still have manpower.”
“However, if it is too obvious that we are having difficulty, it may disgrace us and run the risk of our provinces seceding. Thus, I urge you to hint that disobedience will be punished with death as treachery deserves, or something similar.”
“Is that so. Well, yes, that’s right… how would you say it?”
“Are my subordinates… the newly-assigned Oprichniki giving their all? Do you think asking them in this manner would be good enough?”
“Alright, we’ll go with that.”
Zorzal observed Tyuule work from nearby, and indicated where she should insert those words from just now. Then, he covered his face and sighed theatrically, like an actor in a tragedy.
“Ahhhh! To think I would have to make enemies of Arnus and Italica at the same time…”
Ever since the self-proclaimed official administration and pro-peace faction had taken root in Italica, the guerilla campaign against the JSDF could not develop as he had hoped.
Of course, this was not because General Helm was a poor commander.
His tactic of burdening the Japanese troops with refugees which needed food and shelter, and then attacking them when they had trouble maneuvering had been very effective.
Seeding Imperial troops disguised as refugees behind enemy lines to cause havoc and destruction had worked many times.
However, once the pro-peace faction got to work, they had largely abandoned these operations.
This was because the pro-peace faction did not care how many villages were burned and how many refugees appeared.
The troops of the pro-peace faction ignored the refugees created by the scorched-earth tactics, intent as they were on taking the Imperial Capital. Zorzal might have announced that he was abandoning it, but the Imperial Capital was still the Imperial Capital. If he sat idly by and let them take it, the power and influence of the pro-peace faction would only grow. In order to prevent this, he had to build a fortress between Italica and the pro-peace faction, which would require the allocation of manpower over a long duration.
And of course, troops which had to build a base and defend it were hardly guerillas.
Once their base of operations were known, one could predict their lines of advance and staging areas. They would lose the advantages of stealth and formlessness.
Thus, they could do little but inconvenience the JSDF of late. Assaulting them with hordes of monsters was not very effective due to the losses such efforts had incurred. In addition, their guerillas’ bases had been exposed and were gradually being wiped out. Of course, they were establishing new bases at the same time, but the rate of construction was roughly equal to the rate of destruction, so they were at a stalemate.
“Could there be an intelligence leak somewhere?”
Zorzal could not help but look around. Nei, the head manservant, shook his head to indicate that it was not himself.
However, the present situation implied that an enemy spy had made their way into this place. Otherwise, why had all his efforts ended in failure or without meaningful results?
At the very least, he had to learn about the enemy’s situation.
With that thread of hope, Zorzal asked Tyuule: “How are the spies we have sent to Italica? If we can throw them into chaos even once, we can dissuade others from joining them.”
However, Tyuule’s head and bunny ears drooped powerlessly, as though apologizing.
“My deepest apologies. We keep losing our men to no effect. The reason is unclear, but they are exposed the instant they enter Chateau Formal. In addition, our staging areas within Italica have been attacked by the enemy and are being whittled away.”
Zorzal grabbed his head and combed his fingers through his hair.
“It’s the same there too, huh… If even that doesn’t work, then it’s clear. The enemy’s methods far surpass mine.”
“That is quite a shame. However, I have been discussing the matter of delivering a stroke of vengeance with Upson-sama.”
As she said that, a knock rang out from the door of his office. Zorzal indicated that Tyuule should hold her tongue, and looked to the door.
Furuta entered the office. As usual, he was holding his lunch basket.
“Ohh, is it mealtime again? Don’t worry, come quickly…”
As usual, Furuta laid the lunch basket and a pot on Zorzal’s table. Zorzal continued the conversation with Tyuule that he had interrupted.
“Is it the matter of using the Nihon prisoner as bait? How are the preparations for that?”
Upson the Chief Law Officer replied, “Yes. We have stationed troops at Tanska.”
“So we’re starting there? Alright, I’ll look forward to the results. Have some good news for me next time.”
“You seem quite tired.”
Furuta opened the lunch basket and set out a bowl in front of Zorzal.
“So you could tell. The fact is, I haven’t been able to sleep well at night.”
“Your appetite seems to have decreased as well.”
“You… seems like you know me better than my doctors.”
Judging by the black rings around his eyes, it was plain to anyone that he was not in the best shape. However, Zorzal described it like a special skill of Furuta’s. It would seem that no one had told Zorzal about how his face looked.
“I do look forward to opening that pot. What will it hold today?”
Zorzal took off the lid and peered inside.
“Cheh, what the hell is this? Food for invalids?”
Inside the pot was a porridge made from vegetables and wheat boiled in animal milk. There were chunks of meat inside, but Zorzal looked quite disappointed.
“Do you feel like it’s food for sick people?”
“You mean it isn’t?”
“Please, try some.”
Zorzal took a spoonful of the porridge that Furuta was scooping into a bowl. He liked the taste and smacked his lips before sighing, ”What is this taste… I’ve never had porridge like this before.”
“I spent two days cooking animal bones for their marrow, and then I boiled it down into a stock. I simmered it in milk without boiling it, and then used it to cook grain before adding it to a soup. After that, I added rock salt to taste. It looks like hospital food, but I feel that it qualifies as high-class cuisine.”
“Ah, this is delicious.”
Zorzal polished off the bowl’s contents in an instant. He then stuck his spoon into the pot, as though to demand more.
“Ah... Tyuule-san’s share is in there.”
“Crap, I did it without thinking. Well, that’s your fault too, Furuta, for making such good food. How shall I punish you for that? I know, off with his head!”
The air froze.
Nobody had expected Zorzal to consider delicious food a bad thing. Everyone turned pale and went silent, not knowing what to do.
“I was just kidding. Wasn’t it funny?” Zorzal said as he looked around.
The people around him laughed sheepishly. Forced laughter rang through the Prince Regent’s office.
“You, you scared me.”
Furuta patted his chest, with a panicked look on his face.
“Looks like I can’t even crack jokes nowadays.”
“Your Highness wields power, after all. All we can do is read your mood and obey. Has nobody talked to you about your condition?”
“Was it that obvious?” Zorzal muttered as he touched his face. “No, nobody’s brought it up at all. Ah, you’re frank enough, but that’s only when it comes to food. Nobody around me talks about policy or the like.”
“Ah, well, that’s because I am careful and do not compromise when it comes to food.”
“Good. You do that. Keep it up.”
“Yes, understood. Ah, yes, Tyuule-san’s portion is in the kitchen. I shall fetch it immediately.”
“Ahhh, go then. I’ll help myself to this. Can’t let people say I don’t have an appetite any more.”
Saying this, Zorzal munched on a chunk of meat floating in the porridge.”
“Umu, this is offal. I really like this squishy texture.”
Zorzal emptied the bowl as he expounded his opinion on its contents.
After leaving the Crown Prince’s office, Furuta sensed someone following him and halted in his tracks.
The corridor to the kitchen was empty. Thus, he could hear someone behind him even as he strode rapidly along it.
Looking back, he saw Miss Tyuule jogging up.
“What is it?” Furuta asked the panting Warrior Bunny.
“His Highness commanded me to bring another portion. He said that pot was not enough for him. What a startling appetite.”
“Is that so? I think he’s pushing himself… but if he likes it, that’s hardly a bad thing.”
After saying that, Furuta planned to head for the kitchen. However, Tyuule — who should have been done after delivering her message — did not seem to have any intention of leaving. This made him wonder if something had happened.
“His Highness would be offended if the contents of the cookpot were spilled and there wasn’t enough left over. Therefore, I’ll go with you.”
With that, Tyuule advanced to Furuta’s side.
There was no need to worry about the pot being spilled or whatever, but Furuta decided not to refuse her.
The two of them walked shoulder to shoulder in silence for a time.
Suddenly, Furuta felt eyes on him and looked over to Tyuule. However, she averted her gaze, as though panicked, and faced forward. Then, in a cold tone, she said to Furuta, “What…”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“Quit staring at me, you lecher.”
Saying so, Tyuule hurriedly rearranged her clothes, as though to cover up her chest.
While his intentions were not the slightest bit lewd, the way in which she covered herself up had the opposite effect of drawing Furuta’s attention to how revealing her bunnygirl outfit appeared.
“I wasn’t looking.”
“Liar. You were staring.”
“No — wait, weren’t you the one staring at me, Tyuule-san?”
“Don’t be foolish! Why do I have to look at you, anyway?”
...But you were staring all this while?! Furuta originally intended to shoot that back at her, but he decided to let things go and give in to Tyuule.
“Is that so. I must have made a mistake. I’m sorry.”
“That’s right, you should be.”
“I feel bad about it. Please forgive me.”
Furuta lowered his head to her, hoping to settle the matter. However, Tyuule did not intend to drop it just like that.
“No. I can’t let you off the hook.”
“Then… what can I do for you to forgive me? Shall I listen to you speak like before?”
A look of panic came over Tyuule and she pointed at Furuta.
“Did-didn’t I tell you to forget about that?!”
“Yes, yes you did. I’ll forget it. In fact, I’ve already forgotten!”
The fact was, Tyuule had once complained to Furuta.
It had happened after abandoning the Imperial Capital, on the road to Telta. There had been nothing to do besides travel, so they had talked the entire day.
Perhaps it was because Tyuule had never bared her soul to someone else, but she had a lot pent up inside her. And then, because Furuta — who did not say anything, but listened while grunting — was there, her words spilled out like a fish finding water, and she told him everything.
Why was she here? She had come to save her home and her people. However, her people had turned around and looked at her as a traitor. It was unreasonable. It was cruel. Far too cruel. She had been through so much misery up till now. Why was it that only other people had been saved? Why had nobody reached a helping hand out to her? She was angry. She was frustrated… and so on.
Unable to stop herself, she let everything out. While she managed to refrain from mentioning things which might get her in trouble, apart from that… no, it was because she had to hide those things that she spoke of everything else, including those things which made her blush.
The next day, she grabbed her head and agonized about why she had said all that to him? The feeling that she could not let him live clashed with the knowledge that she could not lose someone who was willing to quietly listen to her. It was a complex mixture of love and hate.
Ever since then, Tyuule had taken to hanging around Furuta every chance she got.
Part of that was because she was alert against the possibility of Furuta talking about what she had shared. Another part was because she wanted to see how Furuta would react upon learning about her. Her self-doubt made her wonder if he would think of her as a fool, and of course, she wanted to continue venting her heart to him. All these emotions blended together and had expressed themselves in this course of action.
“Tell me about yourself this time. I can listen to you.”
“Why must I talk about that?”
“...This, uh, that, it’s, because of his Highness! That’s right, his Highness is interested in the shop you plan to open. He wants to know about it.”
What is she panicking about? Furuta smiled as he thought that.
“It can’t be helped, then. Where shall I begin?”
“In the past, you told me about how you quarrelled with your employer and wound up getting fired from your shop. And then, there’s your dream, the part about setting up a shop and opening it somewhere. However, can you tell me in more detail? I need something concrete.”
“Like say, what kind of workers you’re going to employ and so on!”
Furuta tilted his head. What exactly was so critical that he had to try so hard?
In any event, they could not talk while standing in the corridor. He returned to the kitchen, and then put the pot containing Tyuule’s lunch and the share Zorzal had requested on the boil.
Tyuule remained one step behind Furuta and continued speaking to him.
“What sort of girls will you employ?”
“The criteria are the same as what I told you earlier.”
“I want to know in more detail. There are girls like Melda or Nidi here, right? Do you like any of them?”
The names Tyuule mentioned belonged to the human female slaves who worked in and around the kitchen.
“Let me think… hm~”
“Hurry, hurry up!”
“I guess in the end, I’d still want someone like you, Tyuule-san.”
“Yes. While I’ve trained in other restaurants before, I seem to have a pretty good affinity with the food of this region. Thus, it would make sense to use the local food as a selling point, no? If that were the case, then being able to have someone like yourself to build atmosphere would be ideal, Tyuule-san.”
If one served Chinese food, one would hire Chinese staff, much as one would employ Indians when serving Indian food, or French service personnel when producing French cuisine. It played to the customers’ expectations. Thus, Furuta felt that if he used the Special Region’s ingredients to prepare food, it would only be fitting to employ demihumans. However, Tyuule seemed to have interpreted Furuta’s words differently.
She twisted back and forth, hugging herself in embarrassment. “Awawawa… Is, is that really okay?! No, I’m his Highness’ plaything and slave. How could I do that?”
She waved her hands frantically as she said this.
“Still, I think someone like yourself would be ideal, Tyuule-san. You’re capable and efficient, and there’s no faulting the way you receive guests. That being said, someone of your caliber would be like a rare flower growing on a cliffside. Where could I find someone like that…”
The fact was that someone like Tyuule would thrive in the corporate or government sector. People with her abilities would not be content to languish in a small shop as a waitress. Muttering this, Furuta wondered if it was hopeless.
“It’s not like that!”
However, for some reason, Tyuule suddenly pouted in displeasure. Startled by her sudden change in mood, Furuta took half a step back.
“W-what is it?”
“If you want a woman, you can’t just declare that you can’t do it. You need to keep asking and trying! Maybe if you bow and scrape and beg enough, she might say ‘Ah, what shall I do with you, I should probably consider it since you’ve gone this far’ and then reluctantly agree!”
“You say that, but I also need to see if it’ll inconvenience her.”
“That, that, that, that’s just being weak. If you want her, you need the guts to just go up and carry her off on your shoulder!”
“Isn’t that like kidnapping a bride?! I’m just hiring an employee — why do I have to go that far?”
“Do you even have to ask? Your shop is your kingdom! So the person running your shop will be your queen! What’s there to be said if you don’t even have the courage to marry her? Women! Women judge a man’s sincerity by how far they’ll go and when they’ll abandon their pride for the things they want!”
Somehow, the conversation had gone from hiring a hostess to the matter of a shopkeeper.
That said, at the scale Furuta envisioned, it was perfectly appropriate to have the shopkeeper double as a hostess. Thus, he did not quibble about the details. What Furuta had in mind was a small eating place, which could survive perfectly fine with just a single chef and a single hostess.
“But, ah, a lot of these small restaurants are run by a husband and wife couple.”
“Hus...husband and wife?!”
Furuta went about his own things as Tyuule flushed bright red for some reason. Then, with a “Here we go”, he handed a basket with a warm pot in it to Tyuule.
“What, what’s this?”
“Want to help me with it?”
Furuta handed Tyuule a basket with meat in it. Said meat would be going into the porridge.
“All, alright. I’ll give you a hand,” Tyuule replied as she nervously picked up the basket.
“But, I hope you’ll keep all this a secret from his Highness.”
“...Yes. I can’t report these mundane things to him. And it’s unrealistic. It’s a dream, nothing more.”
“Mun-mundane, you say…”
So becoming a shopkeeper is mundane, and top of that, it’s just a dream… Furuta felt slightly hurt by that.
The two of them returned to the Crown Prince’s office along the corridor. They did not restart their interrupted conversation. Perhaps they had grown tired of tangling over it from just now, so they did not bring up anything else, but walked in mutual silence.
Neither of them looked at the other. Then, in the moment before turning the corner to Zorzal’s office, the two of them unconsciously halted.
Tyuule seemed to hesitate for a moment, but in the end she decided to speak.
“Well… do you have any weaknesses?”
“Ah?! What do you mean? In what sense?”
“I can’t calm down. You know about me, but I don’t understand you. It makes me feel restless and uneasy. I want to believe that you’re not that sort of person, but I don’t know you well enough to trust you to that extent. So I’m worried about whether or not you’ll blab about what I told you. Therefore, I want to learn something about you that will convince me that you will keep my secret safe. Is there anything like that?”
“Is that the reason why you’ve been bugging me all this time?”
“Yes. I may have been beating about the bush, but I do want to learn about that sort of thing.”
“Is it really okay for you to ask me directly?”
“You said that if I needed any help, I could come to you, right? You said you’d help me, right? So help me! Help me think of a way to deal with my unease!”
As she said that, Tyuule punched Furuta’s chest.
That blow did not hurt, but its impact could not be measured in pain. It was not that Tyuule was displeased with him, and after seeing her pleading face, Furuta could not help but think, “What will I do with her”.
“That’s true. Hm~”
Furuta thought, and then he brought his mouth near Tyuule’s face… well, her bunny ears.
“If I said I were a kancho… no, in the words of this place, that would be a spy, what would you do?”
Tyuule’s brown eyes went wide in shock, and she stumbled back.
“No, no way…”
Furuta took the basket Tyuule was holding and said, “Then, I’ll be heading off first.”
He left for Zorzal’s office, leaving Tyuule leaning against a wall, touching her lips in contemplation.
A voice came from somewhere. It belonged to Bouro.
“What a surprise. He was the last person I would expect to be a spy.”
Tyuule and Bouro suspected the people around them, much like Zorzal did.
Furuta was naturally one of those people. But his daily actions and speech meant that he was one of the first to be stricken off the list of possible suspects.
Most spies minded their language and activities in order not to draw attention or be kicked out of the organizations they had infiltrated. In contrast, Furuta had stood up to Zorzal. His attitude was such that he would probably have been fired if not for Zorzal’s sudden surges of generosity. No soy would do that, and nobody would actually come out and say that they were a spy.
“What is it?”
“We have moved Matsui Fuyuki. What shall we do next?”
“Has the information been leaked?”
“If that man is a spy as he claims, then the enemy will know as well.”
“Good… Then, carry on as planned.”
“If Furuta is an enemy spy, then the enemy will not come. Nobody would walk into clear and present danger. Is that what you mean?”
“Which is why we cannot have any leaks, even if it means not clearing this up.”
“Understood. I shall engrave it into my heart. If the enemy comes, we shall defeat and capture them… However…”
“What is it?”
“Would it not be better for you if that Furuta was an enemy spy, Tyuule-sama? It would seem more interesting.”
“Indeed. The fact that someone with Zorzal’s favor is an enemy agent would be deliciously ironic. But this operation has to succeed. After all, repeated failures will only anger his Highness. In addition, we need information on the enemy, so we will need a prisoner or two.”
“Understood. Then, please pray that Furuta was lying, and await my report.”
With that, Bouro’s presence vanished.
“An interesting name came up.”
As he stood in front of Zorzal’s office, Furuta had one finger on his bone conduction earpiece and another on his throat mike.
“I guessed as much but Tyuule-san…”
“Bouro, that’s the name of the enemy spies’ ringleader. Just telling us that he’s involved with Zorzal’s woman is a big accomplishment.”
Furuta furrowed his brows in annoyance. He did not like how Yanagida referred to Tyuule as “Zorzal’s woman”. Perhaps he was unconsciously feeling protective towards her.
“Given the conversation just now, Tyuule-san isn’t serving Zorzal of her own will.”
“Maybe, but what she’s doing now is of her own will. In other words, she has no choice but to ambush us.”
“That may be so.”
Thanks to the microphone he had planted on Tyuule while he had declared himself to be a spy, Furuta had picked up everything that had passed between Tyuule and Bouro. That transmission had passed through repeater stations situated all over and ultimately reached the Special Region Expedition Force Italica Operations Center, located under Chateau Formal.
There, they gathered information and coordinated counter-intelligence and espionage operations.
“Umu,” nodded Yanagida, the commanding officer there.
“Then, the question now is what should we do.”
Rescuing the kidnapped victims was the utmost priority for the JSDF — for Japan. Even if it was a trap, they still had to walk into it.
“That said, even so, still… having to fight an entire legion is quite troublesome.”
As Yanagida pressed on his earpiece, he withdrew a bundle of maps from a pile of documents on his desk. Several other maps rustled as they fell to the ground, but he eventually found the topographical map of the area called Tanska, which Furuta had mentioned.
“So, are we terminating the operation?’
If they did that, it would confirm that Furuta was a spy in Tyuule’s eyes. This would put him in danger, so he would have to terminate the operation and flee back to Arnus.
In all honesty, that might be better for Furuta. The fact was that his dangerous confession just now was made with the thought that, “if my mission ends like this, great”. However, this had instead brought Tyuule and Bouro’s collaboration and their treachery towards Zorzal to the surface. Yanagida would never let that chance go.
“No, this is an opportunity of sorts. You’ll have to stay there for a while and keep an eye on that Tyuule woman. We’ll think of something.”
“So you’re going to stick your hand into the woodchipper, then?”
“Ah, yes. Whether it’s a sneak attack or a full-on offensive, it’ll be much harder if the defenders see us coming and set an ambush. It's not like how it is in Hollywood movies. Still, as long as we have a way out, it won’t be so bad. Forget it, we can’t discuss this here anyway. Let me know if anything else comes up.”
The most important element in unconventional warfare was surprise, which would throw the enemy’s command structure, intelligence apparatus and operations into chaos. A successful operation revolved around exploiting the element of surprise while accomplishing all their objectives and then retreating.
However, an enemy which was expecting an attack would quickly recover from confusion.
They had to assume their routes of access and egress would be patrolled and trapped. They could break through by force, but that would lead to greater losses and waste precious time.
After re-establishing their chain of command, the enemy would soon overwhelm the friendly forces with sheer weight of numbers. Because of that, operations like these emphasized operational security and accurate intelligence within the area of operations. The execution demanded swiftness and a secure axis of retreat.
Japan was overwhelmingly superior to the Special Region in terms of weaponry, communications, mobility, and so on. However, relying solely on these factors was little more than assuming that everything would go one’s way. If that were the case, they would be little different from the Imperial Japanese Army of the past, whose staff officers were “incompetent zealots”. Their coordination would be poor, their battlefield judgement would be poor, their advantage in weaponry would swiftly be overcome through the enemy’s effective usage of their troops, and they would proceed on the road toward the worst case of defeat.
In addition, the unspoken rule of dealing with surprise attacks was swift recovery from chaos, which necessitated swift orders given with split-second timing. Rather than saying “I need to make sure, hang on,” what was needed was more along the lines of “Do this now!”
After ending his conversation with Furuta, Yanagida leaned back in his wheelchair, going “hmm” as he pondered how to successfully rescue the kidnapped victim.
Initially, they had planned to exfiltrate by land.
However, if the enemy had set an ambush for them, he had to assume that the way out was sealed off. Knowing that, he would have to turn the ambush against them. He had to do something they did not expect.
That being the case, they would need to evacuate by air, but that was not workable for the time being for various reasons.
The wheels of his chair clattered as Yanagida rolled himself backwards. He reached for a drawer in the corner of the room.
What he took out was a schedule of Chinook flights.
Their limited number of helicopters were being used around the clock in operations to clean up Zorzal’s guerillas. The pilots were being overworked, so even if he suddenly requisitioned them, they would not be at their best condition.
Rescuing the kidnapped victim was a very high priority, but supporting the teams in combat with the Imperial guerillas was also a high priority. Thus, the initial plan had been to retreat by land.
“...Going there is easy, but returning is hard, huh?”
(TL Note: Yanagida quotes a nursery rhyme, “行きはよいよい 帰りは怖い”, which basically means “no problems going there but coming back is scary”)
Humming the tune to himself, he reached out to the phone.
“Is this AS? This is Yanagida from GS. Thank you for your helping us all this while. Look, I’ve got a request for you. Something urgent’s come up and I need you to send in a Phantom for aerial recon. The details are a little complicated, so I’d like you to keep this quiet… ah, leave that to me. Drinks will be on me next time. Ah, my health? I’m fine, my condition has improved a lot recently. Thanks.”
(TL Note: AS = JASDF, GS = JGSDF)
Yanagida hung up, and then dialled another number.
“Yanagida here. Can you think of a way to get me a Chinook? If I’m not wrong, there’s one about to go in for maintenance, right? Could you push it back a little… eh? They’ve already taken out the engine? Well, that’s a pain. Are there any idle Chinooks? How could that be…”
Yanagida hung up and then pressed at his furrowed brow with his fingertips.
“...Don’t tell me we’ll have to insert and then think of something?”
He traced the schedule with his fingertips once more, and then he discovered a Chinook slot with a blank space on it.
“What’s this… it’s idling there and will return to base once the mission’s complete. That means it’s not active at the moment. Who’s being so wasteful… and where the hell is Kunapnui?”
Yanagida looked around for a map. Then, he realised that the map he was looking for had fallen under the table, so he reached down for it. However, even with all his effort, it was difficult to pick up something from the ground while sitting on a wheelchair. When he reached out for it again, a pale and heavily-scarred hand extended over his shoulder and picked up the map.
“Is this alright, Master Yanagida?”
“...Ah, Delilah, it’s you.”
She had approached him silently from behind.
Her arms encircled Yanagida’s neck gently from behind.
“You should have just told me. Please use me as you desire.”
“Hmph. I don’t intend to have the person who made me like this look after me.”
“Ah! I’m sorry, forgive me, please!”
Delilah plastered herself to Yanagida’s face. He went “Ahhhh, stop hugging me whenever you feel like it, it’s too hot” and tried to work a hand between them to push her away.
A vaguely resentful expression appeared on Delilah’s face, but she obediently complied with Yanagida’s order.
“Well, if you put it that way, then the bed would be even hotter,” Delilah said as she chewed on her thumbnail.
Yanagida bellowed, “Didn’t I tell you before that there’s a time and place for all this?!” before laying the map onto the table.
“Ah, they’re in the same area, right? So if we can have them detour a little on the way back, we can have them pick up the operations team… alright, I’ve got some confidence now.”
“This operation is targeted at the people I found in the enemy’s hideout, right?”
“You should praise me, then. I fought hard with that Nora girl, but she got away in the end.”
“No. I’m sorry, but I can’t praise you.”
“Why?!” Was it false information?’
“No, worse than that. It’s an enemy trap.”
“But, but how?! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”
Delilah put her hands together and lowered her head.
“Still, the bait they’re using is genuine. Therefore, our plan is to go in, knowing that it’s a trap.”
Delilah’s eyes seemed to glow as she heard Yanagida.
“Let me go too, then. I’ll fix the enemy up real good.”
“Of course. The situation may have gotten a bit worse, but I have to let you handle this, no matter what.”
With that, Yanagida picked up the phone and dialled a number.
“Is that General Hazama? This is Yanagida.”
The investigation was scheduled for three days. When it was over, Itami and the others broke camp and left Kunapnui.
The sky was clear, unlike how it had been when they arrived.
Perhaps it was because they were leaving the gloomy atmosphere and black mist of that place behind, but their hearts seemed to rise with the helicopter.
“...That’s why we need to detour a little on the way back.”
At that moment, Itami was briefing his men and the civilians about the change of plans.
“I take it that this is a matter of supreme exigency, since a detour is required while we gentlemen are onboard?”
Professor Youmei was the first to speak.
“Yes, pretty much.”
“Then, where will we be going, el-tee?”
In response to Kuwahara’s question, Itami replied, “Tanska. They say they need us to extract an ops team.”
He sounded like it had nothing to do with him at all.
“You mean, there might be combat?”
Kuwahara and Kurata leaned forward, as though to say, “Are you kidding me?”
“They’re mounting a rescue operation for one of the kidnap victims from the Imperial invasion. This Chinook will take her and the operations team back to Arnus.”
At this, Kuribayashi Nanami’s and her cameraman’s eyes lit up.
“So this rescue operation could be big news, then?! Director’s Prize-level big?!”
“That would be nice,” Kurokawa said as she began hanging up intravenous infusion bags inside the Chinook’s cabin.
“Your Highness, Hamilton-sama, can I count on your help for this?”
“So the enemy will be Zorzal-niisan’s men? I understand. You have our blades.”
Itami decided to summarize things.
“Therefore, despite the great inconvenience this will cause, I hope you will forgive this detour of ours.
Youmei folded his arms and replied, “Ohhh~ Well, if this is a rescue operation, then it cannot be helped. Allow us to be of assistance.”
“No, no, it’s not important enough to trouble you gents with.”
“What are you saying? How can we, as fellow Japanese, sit by and watch? We shall show you the meaning of intelligent battle.”
“No, like I was saying, there’s no need for you to fight.”
Ignoring Itami and Youmei’s debate, Tuka drew her composite bow and began her preparations. Similarly, Yao took out her bowstave and began to string it. Lelei pulled a bundle of brass funnels from her bag.
“That… Lelei-chan. What are those for? Are these weapons, perhaps?”
With no idea what those funnels were for, Kurata could not help but ask.
“They’re used like this.”
Lelei quietly incanted a monophonic verse, and dozens of funnels rose into the air around her.
“Could, could it be, those are fa—”
“Wait wait wait, Kurata! Funnels. They’re funnels! Don’t use the English name!” Itami shouted, trying to drown out Kurata’s voice.
<TL Note: Funnels, as in the drone weapons from Gundam. This joke loses a lot in translation.>
“Ohh, it surprises me every time I see it. Indeed, this is magic.”
Youmei and Urushibata gasped in awe at the phenomenon Lelei had invoked.
For some reason, Rory had a bullying expression on her face as she spoke to the Apostle of Hardy sitting opposite her and said:
“There’ll be fighting. Jealous? Want to take part?”
Rory was overjoyed. One would expect nothing less of the Apostle of a god of war. She was fidgety and excited, as though a long-awaited party was about to begin. Then again, if Giselle answered “I want to fight”, Rory would glare at her with a look that said, “So you’re trying to steal my fun, huh?!”
“Ah, no. I won’t be taking part. I’ll just watch…”
Perhaps that was why Giselle swiftly lowered her head after answering.
A large river flowed into Lake Ses, and the name of the region at the river’s mouth was Tanska.
The upstream region of the river was called Messe, and the area further up was called Guera. There were four deltas near the river’s mouth called Emera, Muse, Tuin and Nekki, all linked by suspension bridges. Round logs had been hammered into the riverbed to form a wooden fence of sorts, becoming a dam-fortress which prevented access by land or water.
Still, despite being called a fortress, it was not a work of masonry like the Empire commonly built. While its key structural components were shored up with blocks of stone, its walls were made of wood, a substandard building material. The Empire did not count it as a fortress, because to them, a fortress had to be a permanent structure built entirely out of stone.
Wood was used for temporary fortifications in the field. These circumstantial structures were not called fortresses, but castra.
That said, Tanska was an exception to the rule, and was designated as a fortress.
The reason for that was because it had originally been designed as a sturdy fort of stone. Large quantities of stones and masons to work them had been brought in to begin construction.
And then, one day, it all sank into the ground. This was not an exaggeration or a figure of speech; the earth literally swallowed up the construction site.
From the start, the Empire knew that sandbars were loosely packed. Thus, they had used the finest woodworking technology to lay the highest-quality foundations possible as a prelude to construction. Well, at least, it should have been.
However, the fortress under construction had sunk like a boat. In a matter of days, what should have been a two-storey building became a one-storey building.
The storey that remained above the ground was in danger of sinking as well.
The panicked masons and Imperial troops hurriedly tore down the walls and stairs to reduce the weight of the structure. By the time the sinking had stopped, only the roofs and pillars were left.
Naturally, this could not even be used as a field camp, much less a fortress.
Thus, they had erected wooden palisades between the pillars, using slapdash methods normally reserved for temporary field camps.
This implied that Tanska was greatly flawed as a defensive measure. Naturally, one’s mind would immediately turn to blaming the people responsible. However, the nobles responsible began spreading the message that, “This fortress is expected to manage the crossing of traffic across the River Ses. Thus, there is little need for walls and no need to view this deficiency as a problem”.
There was also a subtext to the effect of “after investing large amounts of money into the project, simply abandoning it would be a terrible waste”. However, everyone agreed that the important thing was to avoid blame for this debacle. This sort of thing was not uncommon in the Empire, and those nobles insisted that “Despite all of this, Tanska is still fully functional”. The excuse passed, and the administration began calling it as a fortress.
“Godasen-kakka, the Prince Regent has orders for you.”
Godasen — who was responsible for managing the region around Lake Ses from his seat in Tanska — opened the letter he had just received from Telta and swiftly scanned through it.
“And you are?”
“Sir, this one is Dulles. I am an Oprichnik.”
Dulles had two men with him, wearing kobold masks which were identical to his. The two of them placed their fists over their hearts in salute to Godasen.
“So according to this letter, I am to take further instructions from you?”
Dulles removed his kobold mask and explained the details of the operation to Godasen.
Their objective was to use the Nihon prisoner as bait to capture a Japanese covert ops commander and/or destroy their troops, thus reducing their combat ability. In addition, they were to learn more about the enemy’s organization.
“I’ve heard that before, but I opposed it.”
“This one understands, but this is a direct order.”
“I know that. I also know that his Highness has entrusted a valuable legion to my command. But why must we put ourselves at risk?”
“Please understand, we need to learn more about the enemy’s covert ops planning and command structure.”
“Covert operations, huh… I don’t like it.”
“Well, there’s no liking or disliking this, is there? One has to fight hard behind the scenes to ensure victory in an official engagement. This is business as usual.”
“I know that as well, of course. But please allow me to share my opinions.”
As Godasen and Oprichnik Dulles left the office, the former complained, “You’re underestimating the enemy.”
“Is that your opinion?”
Dulles was warning Godasen that his words might be taken as denouncing the Crown Prince, and if he went on, he might be subject to a purge.
“Of course. What else can you take away from it?”
Once they left the building, they could see the cage with the Japanese person in it. Godasen looked inside and snorted in disgust.
“...You’ve brought a plague on my house. If the Japanese know you’ve got this man here, the Japanese will burn with furious anger and kill their way here.”
“This one expects them to do so. We’re looking forward to it.”
“I don’t know how that’ll turn out.”
After that, Godasen ordered the Japanese prisoner to be taken to a basement in Muse. Soldiers carried the wooden cage away.
“Your Excellency. This one opposes the storage of the bait underground. The enemy might not come if they do not know where he is hidden.”
“Then why not put him in the middle of the central plaza and show him to one and all?”
“An excellent idea. The guard on him will be doubled, of course.”
“It shall be so.”
A singularly disinterested Godasen altered his orders, indicating that the bait should be displayed in Muse’s central plaza.
“Well ,as long as it works.”
“Speaking of which — have you fought the Japanese before, your Excellency?”
“Ahh, yes. There was nothing we could do. It was a miserable defeat.”
“However, we will not continue to lose. With General Helm’s tactics, the tide is slowly turning. In addition, I hear that a new kind of magic has been discovered. It seems to be a revolutionary form of magic; with it, we will be able to fight them.”
“The explosion magic, I believe? I remember they reported it in Londel, and it’s under heavy scrutiny. Given that it was used to fell the Flame Dragon, its power is beyond reproach. However, it is a technique that is very difficult to control. While magicians everywhere are studying it, few have been able to master it.”
“You have attempted it, then?”
“Ah, yes. But no matter what I do, I can’t create more than two light rings. One needs at least five to be of any use.”
“If you can create five rings, I pray you will return to the legion.”
“Forget it. The days of magicians making war are long over. If we throw explosion magic back and forth, wars will become even more scary than before.”
“All wars are frightening.”
Godasen thought back on the battle he had most recently participated in, and nodded.
“Alright, all troops to alert status now! We don’t know when the enemy will attack us.”
After receiving Godasen’s orders, the relays set off at once. The clatter of metal rang through the fortress as men ran back and forth to their assigned locations.
“Have the launches patrol the river to solidify our defense. The enemy might come from the sky as well. Be watchful in all directions.”
After that, a man saluted him and said, “Commander! Shall we keep an eye on the ground as well?”
Godasen grimaced, as though he had been punched in the ribs. Before long, he nodded heavily.
“It’s quite likely. Be careful!”
Following that, the men glanced down, and backed off as one.
“Air, underground, water… pay attention to all of these places! Don’t slack off if you don’t want to die!”
And so, with sentries everywhere and the river festooned with triplines connected to alarms, the troops took turns placing their ears to the ground, listening carefully for anything strange. This was their alert posture.
“You said you disliked this, but you’re oddly enthusiastic now,” Dulles noted with approval.
“My opinion is my opinion. The mission is the mission. That said, I must do what I have to do.”
“Well said. His Highness will appreciate that.”
“That is conditional on the success of this operation. At the very least, I don’t want a failure here to be blamed on me slacking off.”
“I do not think the operation will fail, given the fighting strength here. Do you feel otherwise?”
“Who knows? All plans start with the assumption of victory. But during the execution phase, the possibility of defeat arises. Oprichnik Dulles, why do you think this is the case?”
“A lack of valor and fighting spirit. Without the will to attain victory, defeat is certain.”
“That I haven’t heard before. Defeat is due to a lack of will?”
“What other reason could there be? Then, what do you think the reason is?”
“Who knows? Battles sometimes turn on luck and opportunities, no? Sometimes the plan itself is flawed, for all we know.”
“Is that not the second time you have said this?”
“Did I? Or did you misunderstand me?”
“That may be so. I must have been mistaken. However, I feel that such comments about the Crown Prince, who sanctioned this operation, cannot be permitted.”
“I see. In other words, the burden of failure must fall on the man at the scene?”
“Yes. That is so. That is why we Oprichniki are here.”
Dulles nodded, his belief shining in his eyes as he said so.
Volume 7 End
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