Editor: Deus Ex-Machina, Skythewood
There was a phrase called “a long-standing tradition”.
(TL Note: 有職故実 in JP)
It referred to how courts and religions which ran on strict ceremony ended up developing traditions of their own. Most of these practices had emerged due to situations in the past requiring specific rulings. Over the years the reasons for these practices were forgotten, and they were retained and observed without being truly understood.
Many elements of what was regarded as common sense were accumulated over long years of experience.
For instance, driving. In Japan and the UK, people drove on the left, while in the US and other countries, people drove on the right. Why was that?
Some sources said that it was because knights and warriors wore their swords on the left. When two people passed by each other in opposite directions, their swords’ sheaths would clash. Alternately, it was because swords were commonly drawn with the right hand, so they kept to the left to make it easier to face the enemy.
In any event, when proper laws had not yet been written, people followed prior examples and precedents.
The words, “They did it in the past, so we’ll do it too” had a persuasive power to them. Sometimes, that power was enough to ensnare the highest authority figures of a nation. Because of that, practices and traditions which made people wonder, “Why are we doing this?” ended up being carried on to the present day. In addition, it was commonly accepted for people to say, “You didn’t follow the exact steps of the protocol, so this treaty and agreement are null and void”.
This particular aspect applied to the Empire as well.
Signing a peace treaty was not simply a matter of placing one’s signature on a document. The minute details of protocol leading up to that moment had already been worked out far in advance. They were even more elaborate when they were the supplicatory parties, and acting according to tradition was essentially a critical element in the treaty taking effect.
To begin with, a convoy of carriages escorted by magnificently-clad knights progressed down the main street.
By the time they reached the base of Arnus Hill, it was close to evening. They were arranged to make their entrance beneath crimson skies, heading towards the sun.
The lady knight Panache rode on a white horse. She had been assigned to guard the elegantly-decorated carriage which contained the Emperor’s representative. She was a beautiful woman who was resplendent in a man’s attire, radiating both gravitas and beauty, looking for all the world like a masterfully-sculpted statue.
Even women who were not into that sort of thing could not help but feel their hearts flutter as they saw her. Such was her charm as the captain of the guard.
Panache urged her horse closer to the carriage and whispered:
“Your Highness. Arnus is in sight.”
“Umu. Who will be our herald?”
“Beefeater might be a good choice.”
“Then we’ll use her.”
Pina’s knight band had always been more of a ceremonial detachment rather than an actual combat unit.
Nobody else could compare to them when it came to displaying an air of elegance and grace. And among them, Beefeater had been selected as their herald.
The way she rode, poised elegantly atop a white horse as she held up a flag stitched with golden threads, left everyone who saw her speechless.
In her normal life, she was unrestrained and enjoyed adopting the rough mannerisms of men. She found makeup troublesome and did not usually bother applying it. It was almost unthinkable that someone like that could carry herself like this.
She took this ceremony seriously, and the people around her could see the motivation shining brightly in her eyes.
In truth, the first choice for herald duty was Nicolaschka.
She had stayed in Arnus before, and so she was familiar with the locals and could speak Japanese. Everyone was confident that she was the ideal candidate to bear this singular honor for a knight. However, Beefeater voiced an objection.
As the preparations went on, Beefeater heard that a certain man called Kengun was going to make an appearance, and she lost her cool. She looked around uneasily, muttering incomprehensible things to herself, before finally saying, “A great task like this should be given to a leader of the band.”
“I’m not saying Nicolaschka is bad, but, ah, how shall I put it, maybe in terms of worthiness, or in other areas, she’s, ah… well, she’s not a good match for Kengun…”
Her 180-degree change in attitude surprised the people around her, but they quickly divined her hidden motives. Rumors spread through the knight band of how she had fallen in love at first sight with the JSDF commander, who did not know the language but who had told her to “wait for me”.
Even Nicolaschka, whose glorious appointment had been snatched away from her, gracefully yielded her position while saying “It looks like spring has come for Beefeater.”
“So is Beefeater worried that she won’t be good enough, or something else?”
“Right, right. All she had to do was say that she wanted to do it.”
And so, after much giggling and vocal support from the others, Beefeater was selected for the honor of being the knight band’s herald.
Beefeater had detached from the main formation by herself. When she was halted and questioned by the JGSDF security lines, she deftly held her reins and stated, “I have the honor of announcing the arrival of His Majesty’s representative. Attend swiftly to us!”
She was simply parroting these Japanese lines; Beefeater had no idea what they meant.
Of course, the JSDF had also been informed of this ahead of time, and so the welcoming party that greeted Pina and the others was matchingly immaculate.
In fact, the JSDF servicemen’s questioning and her response to their interrogatives were all part of the protocol.
Their uniforms were freshly washed and ironed, and they wore red scarves to indicate that they were part of the infantry. After rigorous drilling and practice, there was no sign that they were the kind of people who usually spent their time hiding in corners. In this state, they welcomed the Imperial contingent.
Beefeater’s white horse entered Arnus Town.
Before her were the people of the settlement, lined up on both sides of the road. They put down their tools and stopped their work in order to enjoy this rare sight.
The mercenaries hired by the merchants working for the ALC tidied their armor up as best as they could before forming up into ranks, in order to welcome the Emperor’s representative.
The streets ran past the warehouses and the employee housing, before finally ascending the slope of Arnus Hill. That was where the Imperial Army and the Coalition Army had charged brashly and met their deaths one after the other.
Beefeater looked at the scars of the battle which lingered, and then advanced toward the hill’s peak, where the entirety of the JGSDF Special Region Expeditionary Force waited in formation.
“Hmph. All they’re doing is admitting they’ve lost. Why make such a big spectacle of it?”
The guests and waitresses had left to watch the spectacle of the arrival of a member of the royal family. Diabo sipped his wine and grumbled to himself in the quiet restaurant.
“Well, it’s because that they’ve lost that they’re putting on such a show. Don’t you think it’s only human nature?” Metmes, Diabo’s servant, answered Diabo’s musings.
“Umu. You have it at that.”
The only other person left in the restaurant was the head chef, who was polishing his plates on the other side of the counter.
Perhaps he was surprised by why two men were still here despite the departure of everyone else, so he shot the occasional look of doubt towards them. Soon, he was unable to contain himself and asked:
“Dear guests, aren’t you going to watch the procession?”
“It’s a waste of time. How about you? Why aren’t you watching?”
“I’m not happy about it. How could anyone be happy about it, anyway?”
“Then why are they watching?”
There was a wall of people in front of the restaurant.
The sound of carriages and hooves rang out; Pina’s carriage was just passing by.
“Everyone’s feeling uneasy. Look, they say they’re going to close the Gate, right? Everyone’s thinking that if the peace talks go through, then they’ll talk about how to deal with the Gate next.”
“Can’t the Gate be opened again? That’s what I heard.”
“Well, that’s what was heard, but how about the reality of the situation?”
“Say what? Do you suspect something?”
“Well, if they could open the Gate, why don’t they say who’s going to do it?”
“There must be some reason for that, right? If it’s something that can be used by someone who’s not a god, whoever has it will surely be targeted by all manner of assassins and plots. Don’t you think that’s what Zorzal of the Empire is doing?”
“Well, I understand the need for secrecy. But that also means that if that Zorzal has their eye on them, they won’t be able to do anything about the Gate if something goes wrong, am I correct?”
“...Really? That may be so.”
“Well, I don’t like that. I used to have my own place once, but when I was renovating my storefront, the landlord said something about how the guests would come here and other such pleasant things. As a result, I spent all my money on my shop, but in the end there were hardly any customers and hardly any business. I racked up huge debts and even my wife left me…”
“I see, that must have been a painful memory for you.”
“They’re saying that this is to keep the earthshaking and Apocryph and whatnot from spreading, but I don’t get their reasons at all. It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow, right? They ought to sort things out before closing the Gate. After all, the situation won’t develop as people expect.”
Coming from a man who had had to close a restaurant down in the past, the head chef’s words were oddly persuasive.
Diabo reflected on the road he had taken, and nodded as though he had realized something.
“You’re right. That’s exactly the case.”
“If anything happens to the person who can open the Gate, Arnus will be doomed. We won’t be able to make a living and we’ll be forced to roam the streets. Plus, that secret will surely get out. Even we can roughly guess who that person is.”
“Oh, do you know?”
“Well, there’s only four people in the ALC who are involved with the Belnago Shrine — Her Holiness, Tuka-san, Lelei-san and Yao. Her Holiness hates Hardy, while Yao has severed her own ties with Hardy. So it’s got to be one of the remaining two.”
“Umu, that’s a pretty good piece of deduction.”
“Most of the upper ranks of the ALC were originally refugees from Coda Village. If anything happens, they can still deal with it by returning to their village. The traders can go elsewhere, and as long as they aren’t too greedy, they should be able to continue making a living. However, for we who can only earn a livelihood because this is Arnus, we don’t have that option. What happens when the demihuman workers are out of a job?”
“Why not open another place in another town and rehire them?”
“Don’t be silly. Where would you find terms as good as these elsewhere? We can’t hope to trade like this in other places.”
“I see… so that’s why you’re against it.”
“Yeah, which is why we’re all very uneasy. It would be better if we knew what was going to happen, but it seems the disposal of the Gate is going to take place somewhere our hands won’t even be able to reach. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
As Diabo heard this, he reached out a hand to the head chef.
“All right, I understand. In that case, come help me.”
The head chef looked at the outstretched hand and frowned.
“Help you with what?”
“In truth, I oppose the closing of the Gate as well. Don’t worry, we won’t treat you poorly. How about that, Diabo-denka?”
Diabo looked back to his follower Metmes. Metmes, who was playing the role of Diabo, nodded severely, to convey an impression of great dignity.
“Di… Diabo-denka… as in, the Imperial Prince?”
“Correct. This is the Imperial Prince, his Highness Diabo. I am his follower Metmes. Have you heard of the disturbance in the Imperial Capital? We came here to flee that disaster. The Imperial Army doesn’t have the manpower to begin to touch this place.”
No matter how you looked at it, the so-called servant seemed haughtier than his master. However, this was how Diabo decided to introduce himself, despite their swapped circumstances.
“According to my investigations, the upper echelons of the ALC and Nihon have both been tricked. It seems linking the earthquakes and the Apocryph to the Gate was all part of Zorzal’s plan. He wants us to close the Gate ourselves, and then seize the person who holds the Gate… what was her name, Lelei?”
Metmes silently nodded.
“Zorzal plans to kidnap or kill that Lelei girl. After that, he can do as he pleases.”
“But, but… I heard that the Goddess Hardy herself explained the situation at Belnago Shrine.”
“That’s the problem. Do you think Hardy was telling the truth?”
“...So you’re saying that the gods are lying?”
“It’s not strange for a god to lie, right? Hardy opened the Gate. We don’t know why she did it. All we did was fit it with a magical device. Perhaps Hardy was angry or ashamed that something she made was tampered with by humanity, and decided to use the hands of men to close the Gate. That wouldn’t be strange, no?”
With nothing to refute that line of reasoning, the head chef nodded and replied, “Indeed.”
“Lelei-san was the one given the power to handle the Gate, am I right?”
“Correct. If you have any doubts, you should go see for yourself.”
Aren’t they trying all sorts of ways to get her to talk?
Guided by that line of reasoning, the head chef eventually nodded in agreement.
“It seems you understand that what I’m saying is correct.”
“Is that so… Well, there’s talk on the street that Lelei-san was marked by assassins… I see, so that’s what it was all about.”
“Pretty much. We’re opposed to Zorzal, so we want to deal with him. Therefore, we feel that shattering their schemes is our best course of action.”
What Diabo proposed was simple to understand, and thus the head chef could swallow it easily.
“I understand. I’ll do my best to confirm the details about Lelei-san. If it’s really the case, then please allow me to assist you.”
The head chef shook the hand which Diabo offered him.
“We’ll be counting on you when the time comes. Until then, we’ll be working on our side.”
“Still, how exactly will you stop the closing of the Gate?”
“Well, if the ALC or Japan are being deceived, then all we need to do is tell the truth to some other country and let them lend us a hand. This might lead to an internal upheaval for a while and perhaps even a confrontation, but they’ll thank us after we clear up the misunderstanding. I’d like to ask you to help with that as well. The best way to protect that Lelei girl is to hide her in a place nobody knows about. After all, you have to start by deceiving your allies before you can trick your enemies. Thus, I hope you’ll keep it a secret from the higher-ups in the ALC. It may sound brutish, but at the same time it will be very effective because it’s unexpected.”
The head chef nodded, as though convinced.
“Come to think of it, which country will be helping us?”
“One of the countries on the other side of the Gate.” Diabo looked back to Metmes. “Chynah, I believe it was called?”
“China. No, that country is called Chyna, Metmes. They speak a different language, but they have the same skin color as the people who live in Nihon.”
Metmes’ words seemed a little detached from reality, but to the head chef, that simply suited his nature as a prince.
After reaching the summit of Arnus Hill, Beefeater halted her horse before the JSDF contingent and shouted, “Announcing the arrival of the Emperor’s representative!”
Then, she fell off her horse.
Her descent was like a collapse after running with all her might. However, that too was part of the ceremony, as well as putting on a show. The movements codified over centuries of history had been flawlessly reproduced here.
Welcoming Beefeater was Colonel Kengun, commander of the Fourth Combat Group.
In accordance with how they had rehearsed it, Kengun fell to one knee before the herald, verifying that Beefeater was still alive.
Incidentally, Kengun had sighed heavily during their rehearsals earlier that day.
“Why do I have to do this?”
“It’s called artistic beauty. Now, run to her.”
As she heard Panache explaining the steps of the ceremony to him in exhaustive detail, Beefeater — who was pretending to be unconscious — whimpered, “Could, could it be that he hates embracing me?” as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Now, please genuflect upon your right knee. No, not your left, your right… “
A kneeling Kengun muttered, “It’s not like I hate you or anything… why are you crying? Does it hurt somewhere?” he asked in bafflement.
“Shut up! Stop blubbering and hold me!”
As those words — which Panache was hard-pressed to translate — escaped Beefeater, she flushed red, and hurriedly amended her statement.
“Ah, no, pick me up! Panache, I got it wrong just now, don’t translate that!”
As she saw Beefeater panicking, an evil grin spread across Panache’s face. She leaned in closer to Kengun’s ear and whispered something with an expression that was not entirely wholesome.
Kengun immediately blushed to the tips of his ears.
“That’s why I said, stop! Don’t translate it! Wait, Kengun, don’t touch me!”
“But if he doesn’t touch you, how will he carry you? This is all part of the ceremony. Bear with it.”
Beefeater’s face flushed red as she was picked up, flailing her limbs in protest. Yet, even her wild thrashing could not make Kengun’s iron grip waver.
Incidentally, tradition dictated that the person being carried was a man, and the person carrying him was also a man, being a general of the opposing force.
“All right, where do we go next?”
Panache looked back towards Kengun and said, “Oh, it’s not decided yet, so you can decide for yourself. If you’d like, you can bring her back to your bed too, Kengun-dono.”
That put Kengun on the spot.
“That’s no good, right?”
“Well, that’s true, we’ll be in quite a bind if this lust-addled woman can’t make it for the ceremony. So please wait until tonight before bedding her…”
“Like I said, that’s pretty bad, right?”
“Would it be better to say it was the rule?”
What’s the name of this 18+ adventure game? Perhaps Itami might ask that if he had overheard this. However, the deeply moral Kengun replied:
“I don’t like that rule! This sort of thing needs to be freely chosen, through love!”
“Then… then start going out with me!”
It would seem Beefeater had been caught up in the mood of things and shouted it for everyone around to hear, while clutching Kengun’s lapels.
“Should I translate that?” Panache asked Beefeater in a very deliberate tone.
She translates unnecessary things, but won’t do so without being asked for anything concerning Kengun. Panache’s cruelty had Beefeater on the verge of tears.
And so, Panache chuckled to herself as she sincere, tenderly, lovingly explained the context behind Beefeater’s exclamation.
Of course, they had not yet spoken at this point of the ceremony. The two of them seemed to be fumbling around each other on an emotional level, as though that conversation had never taken place.
Kengun picked up Beefeater, who was only pretending to have passed out, and brought her behind the ranks formed by the JSDF servicemen. Then, he laid her down.
However, for some reason Beefeater’s arms were tightly fastened around Kengun’s neck. Thus, it took Kengun some time to return to the rest of the unit.
“Tell me your answer.”
Shame and embarrassment and other interwoven emotions rose within Beefeater, but she forced them down and whispered those words into Kengun’s ear. However, those words were blocked by the language barrier.
“...What are you saying? I don’t understand you at all.”
Kengun was baffled, which made Beefeater shake her fist.
“Dammit… I can’t wait any more.”
If that was the case, all she could do was force herself on him. Yes, it was the only way.
Fortunately, everyone’s eyes were fixed forward, and nobody was looking behind them.
Just as Kengun recovered from his shock, he saw over a dozen carriages containing the diplomatic contingent headed by Pina.
The entire combat group crisply delivered a coordinated salute.
The envoys advanced through the forest of bayonet points, escorted by several knights.
Pina sniggered from inside her carriage as she saw Kengun’s face, muttering, “They’re progressing quite well,” to herself.
Kengun’s lips were dyed a bright red by someone’s lipstick. Of course, there was no such thing in the tradition of this ceremony, so clearly something had happened by accident.
That night, the news of Japan signing a peace treaty with the Empire went out to the entire world.
Prime Minister of the Interior Morita represented the Japanese, while Imperial Crown Princess Pina Co Lada was the Empire’s representative.
After they read through and verified the contents of the treaty, Morita used an inkbrush and Pina used a fountain pen to sign two copies of the document, with one for each.
If the terms of the document were approved by the Japanese Diet and the Imperial Senate, the state of war between the Empire and Japan would be formally ended. Of course, the battle with Zorzal’s forces would still continue, but the signing of the peace treaty opened a road to peace for both nations.
The following items were the highlights of the peace treaty:
The Empire admitted responsibility for the undeclared war surrounding the Ginza Incident and publicly apologized for doing so. (The Empire did not consider taking military action without a formal declaration of war to be a crime. Thus, they saw no reason to apologize for doing so. Their reasoning was that civilian casualties which resulted were the fault of the Nihonjin’s carelessness and slow reaction. However, after these peace talks, the Empire accepted the idea that one had to declare war before waging it.
Emperor Molt assumed responsibility for this incident and would abdicate his position within two Imperial years of the signing of the treaty.
The Empire would pay 152’000’000 suwanis in reparations. 22’000’000 of that amount would be paid in one lump sum, while the remainder would be paid within 20 Imperial years. In addition, payment would commence after the legitimate Imperial government retook the Imperial Capital.
The Japanese would take care not to cause economic upheavals in the Special Region after receiving payment. Since there were no common traders between both sides, the Imperial government would not attempt to lower the gold content of their currency and similar action.
The Empire would cede the 100 leagues (160km, roughly 80’000 sq km) around Arnus to the Japanese, not including the domain of House Formal and the territories of other races and lords. Both sides agreed that they would not violate the newly established borders.
The Empire would surrender the mineral and prospecting rights of all mines (with the exception of precious metal mines used for the minting of currency) within 1000 leagues of Arnus (roughly 804’000 sq km) to the Japanese. However, the Japanese would need to take the greatest care not to disrupt the environment and the working conditions of Imperial citizens as a result of their activities.
The Empire and Japan would establish a state-managed trade policy.
The Empire would permit its vassal nations, the Elbe Kingdom, its lords and other tribes diplomatic rights and acknowledge their independently established diplomatic ties with Japan.
There were other details, but on the whole, the Empire would provide privileged treatment to the other party one sidedly and forfeit custom taxation. Although they had the right to exercise judicial authority over Japanese citizens, there were limits to the punishments which could be imposed.
All this seemed quite unfair to onlookers.
However, this was also intended to address the Empire’s taxation and dictatorial rule over its vassal nations and lesser domains. At a glance, both sides acknowledged that there had to be limits, which was different from taking advantage of the other party’s ignorance of signing themselves over to an unfair treaty. Thus, the treaty’s appendix included a clause which would allow for reconsideration of these terms after the Empire’s legal system was re-established..
The journalists’ eyes were fixed on the released material, and they rushed to report in time for the news broadcasts, but many people managed to read between the lines.
From this treaty alone, it was apparent that the Japanese did not intend to sever ties with the Empire for at least 20 years. That point implied the opposite of the current administration’s stance that there might be a need to close the Gate.
Of course, the reporters flooded the Japanese with questions to that effect. They asked if there was a way to open the Gate once more, as the rumors apparently claimed, or if they were not going to close the Gate at all.
Following that, Morita replied:
“The decision to close the Gate is one of grave import, because the Gate is an important passage linking the soil of Japan and the other side. How shall we continue maintaining this link? As various reports have stated, many strange occurrences are currently taking place. However, the true headache is the fact that current scientific knowledge cannot conclusively prove that these phenomena are associated with the Gate. Thus, though we may be unsure about it, we must make a decision on how to deal with this problem. Soon, we will be forced to make a great decision. Currently, we are in the essential intelligence-gathering phase, so I hope you will all take that into consideration.”
Haven’t you decided already?
With that thought in mind, the reporters bombarded him with questions. However, the Prime Minister simply answered, “Not yet. The treaty may assume that the Gate will remain open, but it was signed with the intention of progressing the situation toward a positive resolution.”
In the end, he did not give the reporters a straight answer to their questions.
After the signing of the treaty, the delegates and contingents of both parties took a brief rest in the Hagoromo Suite before a dinner event sponsored by the Japanese government. For a moment, they relaxed in the sensation of a great weight lifted off their shoulders, chatting with teacups in hand like it was a regular party. However, the topics discussed here eventually drifted toward the matter of the Special Region and that of the Gate.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (among others) stood by the window, racking their brains about how to deal with Arnus Province, which was a newly-incorporated domain of Japan.
They had gained much through signing the peace treaty, so they could not help dwelling on those things.
“After considering factional balance, we should appoint Nomoto as the Special Region Development Minister. The question is who we’re going to send as the state administrative officer.”
The “Special Region Area Management Special Administrative Act” was passed in the Diet at the same time as the treaty was approved. That entailed the establishment of a Development Office in the Special Region, as well as a local administrative bureau and a state administrative officer. The administrative officer would hold elections for local officials and manage the Special Region’s administrative infrastructure. At a glance, his role seemed like one of a governor
The problem now was that these were positions offering great power and privilege. The main responsibility of someone in those roles would be to oversee the Special Region development projects, allocate budget, and take care of other problems which arose. The conservatives immediately began aiming for these positions, and they headhunted people for the Special Region Development Office. However, once they learned that they would actually have to reside in the Special Region to carry out their duties, their interest cooled in a hurry.
This was because they would be stranded in the Special Region if the Gate had to be closed, and if they were unlucky they would not have contact with Japan for a long time.
“We can’t close the Gate after all. Delaying it by a couple of days should be fine if nothing goes wrong, correct?”
There were people who would change their demands just to secure privileges for themselves. But the opinion of “let’s keep the Gate open” lost its persuasive power in the face of the inability to affect the economic world. After all, one needed a major investment in order to open mines and build factories to turn a huge profit. If they had to close the Gate due to the various phenomena in the world and lose access to them, it would be a crippling loss for them.
“If we want to invest in the Special Region, we need a guarantee that we can maintain lines of communication to this world.”
“In any case, we need to temporarily close the Gate and let the phenomena clear up.”
“And abandon everything in the Special Region until then?”
Nations had no consciences. Even the territory and rights ceded by the Empire could be taken by other countries if they did not continue enforcing their ownership on them.
“I’m also uneasy about having to rely on specific individuals to manage the Gate. What if that girl changes her mind about helping us for some reason?”
“Why not leave the JSDF there? Let them keep an eye on things.”
“How could we do that? Almost everyone here has a family. If things go poorly, they may not see them again for the rest of their lives. How could the servicemen and their families agree to that?”
“That’s why I’m saying, we should recruit volunteers to stay in the region. The war with the Empire is over, so we won’t need so much fighting strength.”
“Recruiting entire families for migration? Well, if the terms are good enough, it might actually work out. Let’s not limit ourselves to the JSDF, but ask for volunteers from the entire nation.”
“Still, if we do that, we’ll need to consider sending someone there to serve as a state administrative official. We can’t have military rule over there.”
“Why don’t we pick from the proportionally elected candidates? We can give them a guaranteed 3rd or 4th seat in their election register.”
“That means Matsuzaka, Emoto, Katagiri… is that it?”
“No no no, Katagiri doesn’t know anything about safety. We need someone who can handle domestic and foreign affairs.”
“How about a former Prime Minister? Tell him that this is the final sacrifice he must make for his country…”
“Still, age will be a problem. We need to consider their health and stamina.”
“Then who will PM Morita send?”
“The PM’s on thin ice, though. He appeased the masses by signing the peace treaty, but either closing or keeping the Gate open could have grave consequences for the administration.”
“The problem now is public opinion. The opposition will definitely turn the problem of the Gate into a talking point, because the media will attack by saying that there’s no need to close the Gate. Since they’ll be biased towards the opposition, they’ll be fine no matter what they say, right?”
“No matter what, I don’t want to make the Gate an election issue. I’d prefer to settle this matter before that.”
“Excuse me, may I cut in?”
Kogure and his colleagues turned around in surprise as they were addressed.
However, they did not see the owner of the voice. They looked around, but it was only after they heard her say, “I am Sherry Nol Tuery,” that they thought of looking down.
“Who… who might you be?”
“Ah, this girl is the Empire’s emissary.”
After hearing the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism speak, Kogure and the others nodded in understanding.
“So you’re the envoy from the Empire? Ah, no… did I phrase that poorly? My apologies, Countess. I have heard the rumors. They say you are very capable.”
“Please, do not worry. As you can see, I am a child, so please, address me as you would a junior.”
“Really now? The Special Region has many ladies whose appearances do not match their age.”
Kogure and the others recalled those ladies, whom they had often seen recently due to the talks.
They appeared youthful, but Rory, Tuka and Yao were older than their own mothers and hearing their tones of voice gave them pause. In addition, when confronted with Lelei, who was actually youthful, they realised that she was one to watch, given the importance of her abilities.
“I understand that this is a deeply disrespectful question to ask of a lady, but I must swallow that shame and ask; may I inquire as to your age?”
“I am 12.”
“However, an Imperial year is 389 days long, so I would be 13 Japanese years old.”
“I see. So by age, you would be in middle school… in the first or second year… even so, you do seem like quite the little adult. Has anyone else told you that before?”
“It has been pointed out quite often recently. On that topic, words like, “She’s too full of herself” have been whispered behind my back as well.
Sherry looked just like a child when she pouted to express her displeasure.
“Well, it can’t be helped. Perhaps you should let it slide. Those adults who can only take pride in their age and experience will naturally feel resentful when someone lacking in both steals their limelight. When searching for things to criticize, even youthfulness becomes a flaw to be targeted.”
“In any event, just take it as people being jealous of you, my dear.”
With that, Kogure and the others tried to comfort the bitter-faced girl.
“Speaking of which, I heard something about the election.”
“Are you interested in elections, then?”
“Yes. In the past, the Empire was democratically governed. However, it grew ineffective as our territory increased, which resulted in our present imperial government. I am quite interested in how the country and people of Nihon have applied the rule of democracy.”
“I see. So we can consider the Empire of the past to have been governed in the style of ancient Greece or Rome, then?”
“Probably. When it comes to risk management, centralized authority and dictatorial rule is more effective than democracy, hence the transition.”
“Dictatorships easily lead to self-aggrandizement, however. Safety measures against such actions are hard to implement under dictatorships.”
As Kogure muttered to himself, she chimed in with a disturbed look on her face.
“I overheard you speaking about making a decision about the Gate before the election.”
“Ahhh. Currently in Japan, we’re deciding how to deal with the strange phenomena. The media has no sense of the danger we’re facing and they’re pushing the message of ‘Don’t close the Gate’, but as people who are responsible for the nation’s safety, we can’t just accept that opinion.”
“I find your astute judgement in doing what needs to be done — even if the people do not approve of it — quite refreshing. In the past, democracy failed in the Empire because those in power merely pandered to the masses. I wish the politicians of the time could have drunk the soup from your nails.”
(TL Note: Sherry uses the phrase 爪の垢を煎じて飲む, or, to boil the dirt from under someone’s fingernails into a soup and drink it, in order to learn from them.)
“Nail soup… well, it’s an archaic turn of phrase, but it sounds quite novel when it comes from a foreigner.”
“Thank you. I did put some effort into it.”
“Still, it grates on the ear to hear that democratic rule gave way to autocracy because of pandering to the masses. Quite a few among us think only of increasing our public appeal. ‘Down with political privileges! Down with the officials who cling to their gains!’ They raise targets and fan the flames of resentment. They deceive the people by talking big and declaring that all will be well as long as certain people are torn down.”
“In the Empire, wars were a tool to gain popularity. That was also how democratic rule began to collapse, my history teacher said.”
“I suppose the citizens of any country do love victory.”
“Yes. And as long as you win, the people will choose you… from there, it is easy to see how the trend began.”
“Win and be elected, correct?”
Kogure murmured to himself as he mused over Sherry’s words. Seeing Kogure in this state, Sherry took the initiative.
“If that’s the case, I would like to swiftly ease the internal troubles of the Empire, but can we count on Nihon’s support for that?”
“Umu. If we don’t defeat Zorzal, the war won’t be considered over. And if Zorzal somehow conquers the Empire, the peace talks will be meaningless. In addition, because of somebody, the reparations will not be paid until the Imperial Capital is retaken.”
“I am deeply mortified. Please, do not bully me so.”
Sherry lowered her head in embarrassment.
“As if we would. It’s fine. In truth, your arrival helped us out a lot.”
“By that you mean…”
“In all honesty, Japan’s been too successful in our military engagements with the Special Region. Perhaps that’s why our negotiators have been too forceful and focused on what demands they can make of the Empire. There’s no give and take, and no restraint. I feel this is because they don’t want to be criticized for not obtaining what they could have gotten because they gave in. In any case, Shirayuri and the others were wound too tight.”
“...Wound too tight, you say.”
“Indeed. In other words, they were too addicted to scourging the Imperial diplomats with words, no? But then you showed up, didn’t you? Shirayuri and the others were thrown into confusion. They couldn’t go hard on you, and so they decided to pull back with grace. Thus, the matter was settled successfully.”
“These negotiations were not accomplished by my abilities alone, so I trust you are advising me not to push my luck. Thank you very much for your wise counsel.”
“No no, it wasn’t my intention to be so harsh. Although, I feel that it would be quite beneficial for you if you understood our situation here.”
“Thank you very much. I will engrave it into my heart.”
“I hope so. There will be many things my country and the Empire will have to discuss. I’ll look forward to them.”
“Ah, but, in truth, I was planning to marry into Sugawara-sama’s family, so I feel there may not be many chances for me to serve as an Imperial emissary and speak with you gentlemen.”
“Sugawara.? ...Who’s this Sugawara?” Kogure whispered to one of the diplomatic personnel.
“Ahhh, that guy. Well, that is a shame.”
The politicians repeated in unison, “What a shame.”
“In truth, being able to speak with a lovely young lady like yourself in the grim halls of power is a breath of fresh air. We would all be very lonely without someone like yourself around.”
“But, that, that…”
“It can’t be helped. Still, if you’re 13, then you should still be able to remain active in the Empire for three more years.”
“What is it?”
“Dear gentlemen of Nihon, how do you intend to deal with the Gate?”
“Hm. We feel that the Gate should be closed. That will happen after we defeat Zorzal, restore relations with the Empire, and lock down a system of governance for Arnus in the period before the Gate is closed.”
“Is that so. Then, will Sugawara-sama return to Japan?”
“He is an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so as long as he is not appointed the ambassador to the Empire, he will be recalled to Japan, I think.”
In truth, this was a problem for them. The real headache was how many and who to leave in the Special Region, which they might not ever see again.
“Is that so. I understand. I will take that into consideration for my future plans.”
“You really do like that guy, huh.”
Sherry answered so brightly and cheerfully that Kogure and the others were briefly at a loss for words.
“Speaking of which, I’d like to ask for reference, but without Zorzal, the Empire’s internal troubles would be gone, am I correct? The Imperial government began these peace talks to destroy Zorzal with the help of Japan. If we eliminated him, that would make Japan the greatest source of suffering, am I correct?”
“Indeed. The Empire may have ceded Arnus to us, but they were probably not very willing to do so. That being the case, we should probably leave more fighting strength behind before closing the Gate,” added the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. He must have been quite unguarded to speak his mind before Sherry the emissary.
“Indeed, that is true. However, I feel there is no need to be so worried.”
The men leaned forward as they heard her speak.
“Why is that?”
“It is true that your worries would be well founded if one only took into consideration Japan and the Empire. However, if one looks beyond the Empire and at the nearby factions, one will realise that the Empire needs Nihon. After defeating Zorzal-sama, the Imperial government will maintain good ties with Nihon.”
“I’ve received briefings about the various forces surrounding the Empire. Has its influence on the continent declined so greatly?”
“I hesitate to report on our shame, but many nations resent the Empire for their deplorable act of forcibly recruiting their armies for the Coalition Army. Thus, the Empire will have great difficulty in enforcing its rule like it did in the past. As a result, many people have elected not to follow Zorzal-sama or His Majesty. Even when this rebellion is dealt with, their hearts will remain the same, though the situation may appear to have changed.”
“When the Empire is united again, will it be able to regain its former zone of influence?”
“Regretfully, a factor exists which complicates the matter.”
“And that would be?”
“Prior to this, the Empire was a country that was composed of, and exist for humanity. But thanks to this internal uprising, His Majesty has reached out to the demihuman tribes for aid. As a result, I predict that the demihumans will gain in status.”
“A racial problem, then…”
“Yes. Because of that, Nihon should show its strength while subjugating Zorzal-sama. In this way, the vassal nations will bend the knee to the Empire on the surface, but they will also be mindful of the existence of the land of Nihon. At the same time, it will improve the attitude of the demihuman residents of Arnus toward Nihon. The Empire will be compared to Nihon and they will seek to improve their relationship with Nihon in order to awe the vassal nations. This will ensure the safety and sovereignty of Arnus.”
“I see… I see, I see, so that’s how it is. Then we won’t have to leave so many men behind.”
Secretary Kogure seemed to have realised something as he rubbed his palms together and nodded.
He seemed uneasy as he looked around. Soon, he said, “Excuse me” and headed toward the Prime Minister, who was talking and laughing with Pina.
“He’s got a bad habit of passing off ideas he’s heard from other people as his own.”
Sherry tilted her head, feigning a look of cluelessness, and then stuck her tongue out at him while nobody was looking.
“The time is ripe, we should launch an all-out attack!”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kogure shook his fist before the Cabinet for emphasis.
“Of course,” Kanou nodded sagely. Natsume spoke up in support as well. There was no opposition from the other Cabinet ministers, and they unanimously approved of Kogure’s suggestion. And so, the combined militaries of Japan and the Empire began working together to mount an offensive upon Zorzal’s forces.
That was only to be expected, because it was in Japan’s national interests. That said, it also furthered their personal interests in that they could regain their public approval via victory over Zorzal and by conducting peace talks with the Empire. This would in turn ensure adequate representation in the upcoming elections.
That said, the war which they were waging would not just expend money, but lives. Thus some people used the latter as an excuse to level criticism at them. However, humans were hopeless creatures that were motivated entirely by self-benefit. Activities undertaken for profit were one thing, but even altruistic endeavours, while appearing selfless and kind, were actually performed to satisfy one’s personal motives.
The difference was that instead of financial and other material rewards, they received intangible rewards instead, like a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. It was quite easy to label such activities as hypocrisy, but if endeavors motivated for personal gain did not exist, then such opinions would be entirely meaningless.
Censuring people for such things was the same as blaming people for eating plants, or criticizing them for excreting bodily wastes and making the visit to the bathroom a blamable act.
What truly needed to be addressed was the priority of personal interests over the public good.
As long as there was no conflict of interests and both could be fulfilled by heading in the same direction, then there would be no problem. Of course, people defined the meaning of “public good” in their minds, but problems only arose when one pursued their personal interests at the expense of the public good. The hypocritical act of pursuing personal gain over the benefit of society was what truly deserved censure.
For instance, by paying no heed to reality and wildly chasing after one’s ideals.
A leader whose actions were to the detriment of his country could only be considered a misfortune by its citizens.
“All things begin with good intentions”. These words were spoken by Julius Caesar, who later became a dictator, but even people like Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin did not seize power with the goal of making life miserable for other people.
However, their good intentions were too extreme. Forced to extremes by the dissonance between their ideals and reality, they ended up making their people suffer.
In that sense, Morita’s Cabinet were mundane and little men.
They had great ambitions, but did not pursue them to a great degree. Neither were they thick-skinned enough to arrogantly dress up their desire for personal gain as a public benefit.
They were simply cowards who combined their personal objectives with the public good and asked around “is this all right” and then breathed a sigh of relief when their proposals were accepted. It was because of this reason that when they set their minds to it and committed to a course, what resulted was bold and forceful action.
The Cabinet’s decision was immediately relayed to the Special Region Expeditionary Force.
The servicemen at Arnus were all fired up.
“Son of a bitch, I’ve been waiting for this!”
“Let’s wipe them out!”
The JSDF troopers at Arnus had been very unhappy with the depressing task of defending the area around Arnus.
If all they did was react to the enemy, then they would forever be on the back foot. They were miserable from not being able to prevent the deaths of the local people. But if they were mounting an offensive, then everything would be different. The JSDF would finally take control of the engagements.
The breaths they had been holding spilled out at once.
The men’s morale soared rapidly, and even their day to day tasks were filled with vigor.
The Imperial government was also in a high-energy state.
This was because letters had been sent out to various countries. They read, “The Empire and Nihon are at peace! Let us defeat Zorzal, the enemy of peace! Those who can work will be put to use. The Empire guarantees that all will be rewarded as they have performed, regardless of race, species, or past history.”
Once these letters went out, reinforcements came from all around. They did not just come from the pro-peace faction, but even some vassal nations who had hitherto begged off from involvement in the war using various excuses.
And then, even former bandits and the mercenaries who had previously walked away from their contracts had showed up in force.
Thus the army of the true Imperial administration became one which rivalled Zorzal’s own forces.
“Nobles of the Empire, do not make the mistake of assuming this strength is your own. Well, the fact is, we all know who’s really in charge of this continent now.”
King Duran of the Elbe Kingdom muttered thus to himself astride his Wyvern, even as he commanded his troops to advance.
“Please! Allow the Anti-Zorzal Army to march from Italica!”
The marshals of the true Imperial army bowed their heads to the table at which the JSDF also sat.
There was no denying that the JSDF would be the main force which would destroy Zorzal. However, they pointed out that if they did not at least give the impression that the Imperial army was doing the work and the JSDF was merely supporting operations, it would cause problems after the war.
It was a waste of effort, from a purely military point of view. But their proposal made sense when one considered what would happen after the battle, and thus it could not be casually discarded. This was because the payment of reparations and the collection and transport of resources would be affected if the Empire was plunged into needless chaos.
Therefore, the coalition army which set out from Italica was designated as the main body of the anti-Zorzal forces. In this way, the Imperial army could claim that they were the ones who had defeated Zorzal. The JSDF would serve as a supporting force, and commence operations in other areas (primarily Arnus).
“The 4th Combat Group will cover the departure from Italica.”
As Hazama had said, the JSDF unit deploying with the Imperial army would be the 4th Combat Group, led by Colonel Kengun.
“General! If we must move in tandem with the Imperial army, our forces’ mobility will be greatly hampered.”
If they had to keep pace with cavalry or infantry units, their precious aerial mobility would be put to waste. Kengun had brought that objection up at the strategic meeting. However, Hazama paid it no heed.
“The 4th Combat Group has done enough fighting in the previous engagements. This time, they shall rest and yield the stage to the other units. We will need the use of the helicopters for resupplying the coalition forces along the longest and most dangerous route of advance.”
It was not that he could not take Hazama’s rarely-given observations to heart. But it was quite unreasonable to the militant Kengun. My men were the ones running around on the frontline, but what does all our hard work count for if you take away our role at the critical moment?
That was what Kengun thought.
Thus, Kengun rounded up the generals from the Imperial Army who were under his command, and announced:
“Let’s get this out of the way first: this is a competition.”
We are the ones who will defeat Zorzal, while the JSDF supports us. The nobles, who had mustered their forces with that thought in mind, dissolved into commotion as Shandy’s translation filtered through them.
“But, but if you do that, the agreement…”
“What did the agreement say?”
“Didn’t we already settle the matter by having us be the main body of the anti-Zorzal forces?”
“Correct! Isn’t that why the 4th Combat Group led by the veteran Kengun-dono is moving with us?” the generals chattered.
“Correct. And the JSDF will assist you. However, assistance in this case can also include destroying Zorzal’s troops. If this keeps up, we’ll end up being nothing more than a parade unit walking into the Imperial Capital. That’s another way the agreement can be read.”
“Then, then what glory will there be for us?!”
“Like I was saying, this is a competition.”
Kengun looked around himself. The generals of the Imperial army were silent, as were their surroundings.
“Once the battle starts, the others won’t wait for us.”
“But, but, the agreement, our glory…”
Kengun interrupted the Imperial nobles, who were starting to repeat themselves.
“There is war because there are enemies. Allowing allies to be tied up by that will put our soldiers into danger. If we fall behind because of that, don’t you think that’s a failing of ours?”
After that, Sherry elbowed Pina who was sitting nearby, and she reluctantly stood up. Although she did not seem motivated at all, Pina was not so slothful that she was incapable of thinking, so she pointed to a map which covered the ground, declaring “Because of that, your lordships must hustle with all your might.”
Pina’s whip traced a line from Italica to the city of Telta.
Between them were the fortresses Mare, Fyue and Rekki, as well as other fortifications Zorzal had set up to hamper the Imperial Army’s advance.
“The road we must travel is long, and the foes which impede us are mighty. As Kengun-dono says, if this battle is, indeed, a competition, then we are starting from unfavorable circumstances.”
Italica was closer to the Imperial Capital compared to Arnus, but their forces would still be setting out on the same day. If they had to destroy every single fortress in their way, they would not be able to keep up with the other troops, which were mechanized and possessed of tremendous destructive power.
The generals held their breath as they considered the distance they had to travel.
One of them seemed to have his doubts about Pina’s tone, and strayed from the topic.
“It would seem your Highness’ words indicate that you do not wish to participate in this battle.”
“Am I not the Emperor’s representative? Then I shall remain in Italica, and await the good news from your lordships.”
With that, the generals bowed slightly in approval.
“That is wonderful news. I feared your Highness would consider herself the spearhead of the army and seek to charge into the fray.”
“Things being as they are, I can no longer afford to be so reckless, am I wrong?”
The generals nodded, and Sherry nodded beside her as well.
“Because of that, I hope your lordships will obey Kengun-dono’s commands. I am counting on all of you.”
“But, to think even we must dismount and fight, this…”
“Indeed. If we mix with the levies, we will not be able to relay adequate commands, nor will we be able to gain a clear picture of the situation. Tactics like these are unprecedented.”
“Any tactician who can only follow the precedents is second-rate at best. If we were fighting aboard a ship, we would all be dismounted, no? Think of it in that way. If you want to gain glory, give it a try.”
The generals grit their teeth in resentment as they heard Pina’s detached words.
Still, she did have a point, so they did not hate her for it.
In this battle, the Imperial would be counting on the JSDF for transport, logistics, communications, and many other things. If they rejected JSDF command, then they would be in the unenviable position of having to figure all that out for themselves.
Representing the legitimate Imperial Government, Pina turned and bowed to Kengun.
“Kengun-dono, I’m entrusting these men to you.”
Kengun bowed in response.
“Understood, Your Highness. Now, I shall outline the operation plan. Once I explain it to you, all your doubts should evaporate in smoke. Our combined operations will falter if there are any loopholes or uncertainties on either of our parts. Therefore, I will accept any questions from you and I will answer and explain them. Thus, I hope you gentlemen will speak freely of any doubts or opinions you have.”
Kengun looked around to all of them and said, “Then, please open the files at hand.”
And then, Shandy of the knight band began explaining.
General Hazama’s commands were carried to the various battle groups of the Special Region Expeditionary Force.
“Shiro, Kuro, Matcha, Yuzu, Mame, Ume, Momo, Sakura, Sakura!”
After receiving the coded signal to begin operations, the combat groups started moving.
Dirt and dust curled up into the air, and columns of armored vehicles blanketed the land even as helicopter squadrons blotted out the sky, each heading toward their respective objectives to conduct their assaults.
First, the JASDF’s Phantoms penetrated deep into the territory controlled by Zorzal.
Their high-explosive bombs shattered their fortress’ defenses and destroyed all bridges save the ones which would be used for the advance, while napalm bombs consumed field camps in roaring flames.
Although six Phantoms alone were not enough, they unloaded all their firepower with the benefit of intricately plotted bombing courses, severing communications and transport lines while ensuring aerial supremacy.
The troops in their barracks were still going about their daily lives. Thus, before they even knew the attack had begun, they were killed by falling rocks and logs or engulfed in fire from the sky, while the survivors were cut off from supplies and completely isolated.
The next wave of attack was heralded by the sky-shattering thunder of artillery shells.
The earth shook violently and dust flew into the air. Walls were breached and the soldiers scurried around, looking for safe places to hide.
Anyone who had witnessed this and was unlucky enough to remain alive then gazed upon the shapes of a horde of iron war elephants.
“What, what are those…”
The vanguard of the JSDF was composed of Type 74 main battle tanks. The thunderous roar of their advance pared away at the already-broken fighting spirit of the beleaguered troops before them. The words “run away” shone brightly in their minds.
“The hell are you doing! Hold the line and charge!”
However, the kobold-masked oprichniki brandished their weapons and cursed at the men who were planning to flee. The threat of losing their lives rekindled the flagging morale of the men.
They struggled to work up their dwindling courage, steeling themselves to battle the iron elephant statues with blade, spear, and even battle magic.
They loosed arrows and couched their lances as they charged.
However, their counterattack was not born of a willingness to fight or any reasoned tactic. This was essentially a frenzied suicide attack. Their enemy was like a ferocious tide and the Imperial soldiers like fragile plywood; the waters crashed against them, and they were broken.
The panicked Imperial commanders watched as the enemy advanced toward them as if they were heading into unclaimed territory. Looks of despair grew on their faces. They had no idea what to do, or how to stop that fearsome onslaught.
“Captain! Where are the friendlies who were supposed to be in front of us?”
“The enemy’s there, so they must have been defeated.”
“No way! How could that be?!”
They could not believe that their allies had been crushed without any resistance offered.
“Now’s not the time to argue. All we can do is advance and fight. Tell the people behind that the enemy has come. If we can just delay them a little, the friendlies behind us will be able to deploy better than we have. Go now!”
After the guard captain issued his orders to the runners, he rounded up his men for a charge.
Still, even though they lashed their horses and braced their lances and rushed the enemy, they were halted by a hail of lead from the vehicle-mounted machine guns. They could not even get close to them.
After many of their friends had died, those few who managed to engage the enemy in melee with their lances found their blows turned by sturdy armor, their lances shattering with heartbreaking cracks.
The shrill fractures inflicted the cavalry’s own shock right back upon them.
Riders were thrown by their horses and cast to the ground one after the other. And then, while they were still squirming and crawling around in the muck, the caterpillar treads of the iron giants ran right over them.
“Is this even a battle?!”
This could not be considered warfare at all. It was utter humiliation, an Imperial soldier shouted.
In the past, when they fought barbarians or demihumans, they had done so honorably and properly, since their aim was to exterminate them. Bodies covered in blood, they had hacked with swords, stabbed with lances, and perforated with arrows. They had raped women, burned houses and looted treasure. They looked each other in the eye, their blades gleaming and their shields clashing. Even now, they could still recall their enemies.
But these people did not engage in any of that at all. They completely ignored the Imperials, casting them aside like pebbles along the road. They burned them, crushed them, trampled them flat, like they were bulldozing a road in the desert.
They could not beat the enemy. They could not even make the enemy notice them. The men of the Imperial army gnashed their teeth and fumed impotently at this unreasoning violence. This was the taste of defeat.
Still, they had some options.
For instance, they could fall back to regroup. In addition, they could order a general retreat and regroup elsewhere. They should have been able to stubbornly hold out against the enemy advance in that way.
However, the kobold-masked fellow who had been recently attached to the commanders refused to let them do so. The oprichniki forced the Imperial troopers to challenge the enemy before them, to fight and win.
“You want us to die?”
“As if. If you win, you live. So win! Go and win!”
“Shit! Send out the armored Ogres! Wyvern archers, take aim from above!”
The Giant Ogres, sheathed in heavy armor and bearing massive shields, lumbered forward.
Every step they took radiated an ankle-swallowing weight. Their massive forms looked quite reassuring to the troopers.
As the Imperial soldiers looked at the wall-like shields carried by the Giant Ogres and saw that they could deflect the enemies’ bullets, they forgot that they had once called them animals. The soldiers hid behind the Ogres as they advanced, in contrast to how they had looked down on them before.
In addition, the effects of the distant arrow fire from the Wyvern riders was immediately obvious.
The Nihonjin soldiers fled back into their metal boxes after the rain of arrows.
“Good, that’s it! Encircle them and they’ll be rats in a trap!
“Flip them over!”
“Light the fire! Launch the stones!”
In response to the Imperial soldiers’ hopes, the armored Ogres hurled cabers and boulders.
The cabers gouged out vast pits on the ground, and the boulders which hit the tanks shattered like an explosion, sending powdery debris everywhere.
“It’s working! We might win this!”
“Good! Now, swamp the enemy! Battering ram teams, advance!”
The battering rams emerged from the rear as they were pushed forward.
They were sharpened logs mounted on wagons, designed to break city walls and chisel out holes. Their plan was to strike the tanks — which were comparable to mobile fortresses — and leave them immobile. In addition, the wagons were loaded with firewood and oil, ready to be ignited.
The soldiers gathered up and desperately pushed them forward.
“All right, charge!”
At first, they moved slowly. But the battering rams gradually picked up speed, until the soldiers propelling them could not keep up and fell on their faces. They scattered sparks in all directions and charged forth at startling speeds.
A hail of bullets swept across monsters and men, and they fell like flies.
Even so, once the momentum had started, it could not be stopped. The battering rams picked up speed as they went downhill, flying off the ground with every little bump they encountered, speeding forward as they did.
Some battering rams could not take the excessive speed and vibration. They disintegrated as their wheels fell off.
Sparks flew as the massive rams, each the size of a tree, fell to the ground. The soldiers pushing them were dragged underfoot. Some were buried beneath the rams while others became running, screaming pyres.
And then, one of the numberless battering rams finally struck the flank armor of a Type 74 tank.
The startling impact jarred the ram loose from its harness. Only the huge log remained; wood chips, oil and fire flew all around.
The tank’s body was shaken by the impact, wreathed in the flames of oil and kindling.
“We did it!”
As they saw the burning tank, the Imperial soldiers whooped in joy.
Now that they could wound their once-invincible foe, they joyfully pumped their fists into the air.
But before long, that jubilation was replaced by a despondent silence.
That was because the flame-wreathed tank continued moving, like nothing had happened.
The JSDF had studied movies beforehand, and they had accounted for this. Their vehicle’s flanks were covered by camouflaged logs, hung there ahead of time.
The sharpened points which should have stuck in their wheels and immobilized them were instead blocked by the logs. Having discarded these logs and the flames shrouding them, the tanks trampled the remains of the battering rams and continued their advance.
“Kuh! ...We’re not done yet! Armored Ogres, form vanguard!”
The Imperial troopers brought the Giant Ogres to the forefront, in preparation for an advance. If they could close the gap to the reach of sword and spear, thus bogging them down in melee combat, they had a chance of victory.
Or so they thought.
The armored Ogres clustered up to defend against the bullets raining down on them. Their shields faced forward, above and on both sides. The monster drovers and the Imperial troops hunkered down within that formation. However, that instead allowed them to see the horrible sight of hole after hole being punched in those heavy shields.
Within that darkened space, they saw light streaming in through each little hole, like the stars coming out at night.
Anyone but the Giant Ogres would have a hard time lifting those steel-plate shields. Even they could not stop the holes made by the rounds from 12.7mm heavy machine guns.
Even so, the Giant Ogres were covered in armor of comparable thickness, and their morale was still good. That was because they could still count on their armor even after their shields were breached. However, the Imperial soldiers were lightly armored in comparison, and it was much harder on them.
Bullet fragments ricocheted inside the darkened space, and the soldiers collapsed to the ground, moaning as their blood sprayed all around, covering their faces as they died in droves.
After taking roughly 50 percent casualties during their advance, they finally reached the enemy.
The whistle signalling the charge blew, and the Armored Ogres broke their testudo formation. The Imperial soldiers swarmed forth to engage the tanks in melee. The armored Ogres lifted their clubs behind them, preparing to throw them at the tanks’ armor.
Flames spat from the snouts of the iron elephant statues, all lined up in a row.
The L7A1 tank guns fired 105mm/51 armor-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot rounds.
Even the armored Ogres could not withstand a direct hit from those rounds at point blank range. The Ogres fell one after the other, with gaping holes blown in their bodies.
The thunderous impact threw the infantry back, and then followed a silence so profound it seemed unreal.
The Type 74 tanks reloaded.
It was all the Imperial soldiers could do to throw themselves on the ground to avoid being blown away by the ear-shattering noise and the ferocious impact battering their entire bodies.
The great shields that had taken direct hits from the tank cannon were blasted into the air like scattered leaves and then they fell, drawn down by gravity. The Imperial soldiers, unable to flee in time, were crushed under the metal slabs.
This was the moment when all organized resistance by the Imperial Army disintegrated.
Contorted in pain, the armored Ogres fell onto their backs, dragging down the Imperial soldiers behind them.
The Ogres’ arms and shields were blown away in one fell swoop, and they rolled around in agony. Thus, the Imperial troops did not even have time to flee; they were smashed away one after the other by their wild flailings.
To them, there was no difference between friend and foe.
The berserk Ogres regarded everything within their field of vision as enemies. They swung wildly with their clubs, sweeping away the Imperial troops under their feet.
In the air, the Wyvern riders resorted to their favored tactics of throwing down bundles of javelins. At the same time, they tried to have their Wyverns toss rocks and oil flasks from high altitudes onto the enemy.
However, that proved futile. Their accuracy was very limited, and even if they did hit, they could only inflict cosmetic damage on the tanks, to say nothing of actually stopping them.
Of course, some of them tried attacking the bonnets of the HMVs, and they even managed to disable some of them, but it did not affect the battle in any significant way.
“How, how can we beat an enemy like this?!”
Even if they had the will to fight, even if they thirsted for victory, if they had no way to fight, then all the soldiers could do was flee.
Even the terror that the oprichniki wielded could no longer stop them.
They fiercely cast aside their useless armor and shields and weapons, and ran as fast as their breathing would allow.
And so, the Imperial army scattered in all directions, having lost all semblance of being an organized force.
They collapsed like a building under its own weight. It was a complete and utter rout.
Without any unified central command and wanting only to live, the soldiers hunkered down and looked for a chance to flee.
But there was no respite for them no matter where they ran. This was because the enemy pursued the fleeing soldiers, who had already cast off their armor to lighten themselves.
The Imperial troops were surrounded from all directions, hedged in by bayonets, and forced to surrender.
Of course, not everyone could be taken captive. A few unfortunates managed to escape.
What awaited them were the hateful gazes of the surrounding civilians. General Helm and the others might have done so in the name of fighting the JSDF, but ultimately, he and all his men had essentially waged scorched earth tactics. They had attacked villages and burned the houses and raped the women and killed the men and driven them across the land. These tactics had earned the Imperial soldiery the undying hatred of the smallfolk, and now they raised their vengeful blades against these broken men.
And so, the villagers chased them down before hacking them to pieces.
Those Imperial soldiers who realized that there was nowhere to run stepped forward, hoping that the JSDF would take them captive. The final insult was the fact that time and effort spent stripping them of their arms and sending them to the rear echelons was by far the most effective tactic in delaying JSDF’s advance.
The great coalition army led by Kengun advanced swiftly down the road leading to the Imperial Capital.
Fortress Mare stood in their way. Without any hesitation, they assaulted it from the air.
After throwing the defenders into confusion with rocket attacks, the combat helicopters swooped in over their heads, bypassing the fortress walls and gates, and then they suddenly dropped soldiers onto the spires in the depths of the fortress.
From the point of view of Zorzal’s men, they had been caught in a pincer attack. Their most heavily-fortified strongholds were suddenly exposed to attack, and their chain of command was severed.
In addition, the “Iron Dragonflies” flitted around, drowning the fleeing troops of Zorzal’s forces in rains of lead, while dropping infantry from the legitimate Imperial army.
It was all they could do to fight the foe in front of them. Things like finding the gaps in the enemy formation for attack or feigned retreats to lure them into advantageous terrain were completely beyond them.
The enemies came from the front and the rear, and Zorzal’s troops were encircled in an instant, with no recourse but to flee.
Even so, there were people occupying what looked like a bunker, who planned to give further resistance.
They had a polybolos trained on a narrow passage where only one person could approach at a time, so nobody could get close. Many soldiers lurked within. The corpses of the loyalist forces choked the narrow path.
The soldiers hunkered down behind the walls and shouted:
“Surrender and come out! We’ll treat you as prisoners!”
“Shut up! You fucking traitors! This is the spirit of Imperial soldiers!”
The troopers from the legitimate Imperial army tried to evacuate their dying comrades from the passage, but they were struck by bolts from deep within and were killed.
“All right, I’ll go.”
The brave men who went forward to save their still-living comrades fell as casualties, and it looked like it would become a stalemate.
“Here. They’re in here!”
However, once the JSDF troopers showed up from the distance, surrounded by infantry, the situation changed rapidly.
The men within cursed and rejected all attempts to make them surrender. However, a certain sergeant said, “Really now. Good for you, then.”
He shrugged, and then threw in a flashbang grenade.
In such cramped quarters, the blinding flash and the tremendous shockwave stunned the defenders, knocking them out.
The soldiers of the Imperial army rushed in at once, capturing Zorzal’s men.
“Okay, that’s settled. Let’s move on.”
And so, the futile resistance of Zorzal’s men was steadily crushed.
Most sieges began by punching a hole in the walls or bypassing them, then gathering somewhere within the city. But this battle defied all conventional logic, and the battlefield encompassed the entirety of the city, with fleeing soldiers running in all directions. Thus, there were many things they had to do.
They had to sweep the battlefield of enemies, take prisoners, and if need be, conduct summary trials. They had to take control of storehouses containing rations, weapons and cash. They also needed to tend to the wounds of the injured and evacuate casualties for recovery, and then reorganize themselves into fighting order. They could not help but be occupied by these things.
“There were fewer defenders in Mare than expected,” Kengun said to Lieutenant Colonel Youga.
“Indeed. Even if they fled outside, it’s still too little.”
“Was our intelligence off, or are they all outside? This is very problematic.”
“Should we have them investigate?”
“Umu. Have them start questioning the prisoners.”
However, if they did so, they would end up on the back foot. Kengun decided to push the offensive to the next phase.
“Then, we’ll let Mymol-dono handle the cleanup work. King Duran’s second echelon, embark! We’re moving on to Fyue now!”
“Oh! Finally, it’s my time to shine.”
The soldiers of the Elbe Kingdom filed into the helicopters as their armor clanked and clattered. The helicopters had been refuelled, rearmed, and had received minor repairs.
King Duran, clad in a suit of heavy-looking full plate armor and with one artificial leg, helped the rest of his soldiers aboard the UH-1 helicopter. He sat with his ass hanging halfway off the central seat and looked around.
“Umu. It’s been a while, but it feels just like yesterday.”
“Your Majesty, have you ridden one of these before?”
A soldier handed a pear to the King, trembling as he asked the question.
Duran laughed loudly, and then took a big mouthful of the offered pear.
“Mm, it’s good,” he nodded. Then, he patted the nervous young man on the back.
“What, are you afraid?”
“Yes. This is my first time flying through the air.”
“It’s my second time. Don’t worry. Think of this as riding a boat in a rough current. There’ll be some shaking, but it’ll be fine as long as you’re prepared for it.”
Saying so, Duran patted the soldier’s shoulder once more.
“There’s no such thing as nobles or peasants on the battlefield. Leave your back to me and fight with all your heart.”
“Yes, I’ll give it my all.”
“Ohh. Put on a good show, then!”
“We’re taking off now! Hold on tight!”
The helicopter lifted as the pilot spoke. The soldiers went “Whoa, whoaaa!” as the body of the aircraft shuddered.
Watching this, King Duran laughed long and loud, like a child who had pranked someone.
And so, the helicopter squadrons set out to bring down the next fortress.