Part 1 is ripped from helidwarf.com, which is dead now.
Will remove this part if that site is revived.
Will remove this part if that site is revived.
“Platoon Yatori, begin scorch attack.”
The sound of air flowing started after the unemotional voice ended. The houses were using wood and mud-bricks as building material with plenty of dry straw used in roofing, there was also storages full of dried corns–these symbols of human settlement were one after another pierced by countless incandescent burning arrows.
“Platoon Torway, Platoon Matthew, blow wind to help with the combustion, make the fire propagate to the west.”
Air gunner troops’ wind spirit begun sending fresh air toward the burning houses. The fueled flames immediately invigorated burning in the direction led by the wind. The first building collapsed followed by a second one, soon after most of building in sight range were burned down.
A village became scorched earth. The reason being the fire arrows fired by Yatori’s incineration unit; the wind supplied by Torway and Matthew’s air gunner units; and the orders Ikta gave that made them do all this.
“Not being satisfied with looting and murdering and finally resorted to burn everything down… You truly are devils!”
The village was gradually burned down, cursing words continuously came from the mouths of women who, despite being terrified, stood out, and children hiding behind the back of the village chief…. their assessment truly is regrettable, Ikta thought. Murder, plunder, arson, these clearly are not devil’s but human specialties.
“Ah〜please just wait a little bit longer. Once we extinguish the fire we will escort everyone to the western settlement.”
Hearing the voice of Ikta who used a tone like doing some boring chores made insults come one after another from the mouths of villagers who lost their home to the flames. Ikta decided to ignore them, as long as he is not totally looked down upon, then let the villagers say whatever they want. After all, this was a good way to vent anger, furthermore, as the insults from the villagers became worse and worse, the soldiers’ guilt also decreased.
However, the one thing he didn’t know how to deal with was infant cries. This stimulus, obstinately poking at the soldiers’ conscience, together with the curses was incessant from beginning till now.
“Ah〜so noisy…. there shouldn’t be any ear plugs in Anarai’s box that only block infants’ cries right? If classified as military technology wouldn’t its use, be simply ‘Defense equipment for conscience’?”
Ikta half-jokingly, half in earnest, said so. Conscience– speaking of which, this is something that is most difficult to keep on the battlefield.
“–Warrant Officer Ikta!? Also the Igsem’s Jou-chan and Remeon’s handsome…. wait, why are you guys here?”
After joining forces with Haro’s unit, while repeating the altitude adaptation and reaching an elevation of 3800 meters, an unexpected fateful reunion was waiting for them. The Lieutenant Senpa Sazaruf who was their instructor when they just came to the northern region, apparently had first reached the frontline.
They were lead into the tent that functioned as headquarters, here everybody sat on normal chairs they haven’t seen for a while. On the chin of Lieutenant Sazaruf who greeted them, was an unkempt beard that had reached a length it could no longer be distinguished from stubbles.
“There’s no specific reason. Each time we finished the delivery mission we were pushed forward and forward, without noticing it, we got here.”
“No no no…. what forward are ya talking, we are almost at the forefront. And your units were designated to be reserves at the beginning of the war no? I had news about you guys doing some support missions from the rear, but……”
What went wrong in the middle that got you here? The Lieutenant’s eyes asked this. Of course nobody could answer that, even more, they themselves wanted to know the answer.
“It’s because, huh…. at first there were also other cadets, but in the middle of it they gave up one after another….”
“No one received mountain warfare training, that result was also granted. Even we don’t know what ending we would have reached if we didn’t get Ikkun’s instructions……”
Matthew and Torway were whispering such conversation. Lieutenant Sazaruf was at first surprised for quite a long while, then regaining his composure, faced at these unexpected reinforcements with a face showing ‘how should I deal with this?’ expression.
“…. How damaged are the troops? The total number of personnel and soldiers capable of fighting are?”
“We have sent to the rear twenty-four injured from the five Platoons. While it will not affect combat operations, but Warrant Officer Matthew’s air gunner unit is missing nine men, it has the biggest vacancies. So if possible we would like to replenish the manpower before the next operation.”
“You only received this degree of damage…Also it seems that before getting here you swapped multiple instructors? Each time you had the handover it should have been chaotic, at those time who was responsible of reorganize the group?”
“It was me, right now I am also speaking as the temporary commander of all troops.”
Ikta answered clearly. In doing so he didn’t try to muddle, nor was he humble, it was because of the necessity first identifying who would be responsible of all their actions to date.
Lieutenant Sazaruf did not just take everything as told, instead he, as if nothing happened, carefully observed the expression of everyone present. However, hearing Ikta state his status as commander did not cause disapproval or antipathy like connotations from the others. It seems it was appropriate to consider his words not lies or exaggerations.
“….Warrant Officer Yatorishino. I ask you, why did you leave the command right in the hands of Warrant Officer Ikta?”
“Yes sir. It was because at that stage, I believed it was the most efficient way of mobilizing manpower.”
“Even more effective than having you commanding?”
“My unit is the only cavalry unit. The responsibility of directing everything would limit my actions, making it impossible to fully utilize the original cavalry power. Based on that, I think the decision of handing the commanding right to Warrant Officer Ikta was correct.”
When explaining, Yatori didn’t mention the merit of them both having command right, she just pointed out the result of using the right man for the right job. Ikta’s expression also hinted that’s how things were, thus Lieutenant Sazaruf nodded his head. There, Haro tried to change the topic.
“–About that, Lieutenant.”
“Eh? I haven’t told you yet? Actually I am now a Captain, Warrant Officer Haroma. The reason being the previous commander perished for a stab wound. However, this is not an official promotion but a temporary appointment.”
“Ah, is that so. Then Captain… If it is convenient, can you tell us the current situation of the war?”
“Ohho, normally of course I wouldn’t divulge that. Well, you guys come here.”
Captain Sazaruf who was promoted from Lieutenant, straightforwardly accepted the request, got up and turned to the table situated directly behind him. The five also followed his actions.
“Although it was much more slower than expected, however the war has finally reached its final stage. The three Shinaak tribe punitive brigades, using different paths to infiltrate deep into the mountain has successfully rendezvoused at the plateau ahead of here. However, because each army had, during the long journey, many stragglers, the military strength after joining forces probably does not reach ten thousands.”
Exactly as the Captain has said, drew on the rectangular map of Grand Arfatra Mountain range, cutting in from the southern foothills, were three march routes. In order to prevent information leakage to the enemy, this was intelligence only told to military officers of the frontlines and central headquarters at the base. This was also the first time the five saw something like this…
“…Ehm Captain Sazaruf. May I ask some questions…?”
“If your questions are criticism to the foundation of this operation, then spare me from it, Warrant Officer Torway. Because there is no point in talking about that now.”
Although Captain Sazaruf tried to stop Torway’s questioning before it even started, but his face clearly shows how he has given up on that matter. No matter how dissatisfied they were about the content, they who are on the frontline are not in the position to change the strategy itself. Go do this, go do that– they could only within the range of their orders do their best, thus this result was already their best efforts.
“Since you especially came here, then there will be a lot of work you guys will be responsible for. But rest assured, I won’t require you to fight on the frontline with us, your work will have safety as condition.”
If it truly was like that, then it deserves my thanks–Ikta frankly thought so. It was so long since he last met a instructor willing to consider the training troops commanded by a greenhorn Warrant Officer would be immature…Although right now he wasn’t really sure how reliable would this instructor be.
“However, because of that condition, it will be unpleasant jobs. About this you can only think about it as gaining experience and obediently give up…Yeah, although the scale is pretty small, but it’s perfect, I will combine your five Platoons and regard it as a company. If you all still do not mind Ikta being the commander then congratulations, from this moment you became a company commander.”
Tl note: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_commander
“…Oh, I understand. Then, specifically speaking, what should we do?”
Ikta asked while stretching his body, Captain Sazaruf after very deliberately revealing a smile, answered:
“First you simply have to lit a campfire, then you’ll have to lead groups of guests. Please don’t lose the the guests’ complaints.”
“It seems that I can’t help but admit my evaluation of Captain Sazaruf was too low, especially his superb sense of humor to call burning down villages a campfire.”
Ikta set up a configuration with soldiers in front and behind where the residents of the burned village is encircled and lead on the road to other villages. After reaching this elevation, the tall trees appeared less and less, the surrounding scenery, especially the mountain road can be said to look more like rugged rocky ground.
“However, this kind of order is still fairly good… if we were to compare it with one that required us to kill the villagers.”
Suuya, visualizing herself executing that kind of order, shook her shoulders, the others’ feeling were also the same.
To be honest, Ikta’s statement that his evaluation of Captain Sazaruf had gone up was sincere. The reason was because he heard it was Captain Sazaruf who proposed the ‘after burning down the Shinaak tribe’s village, move the residents to other villages’–which replaced the original plan of ‘kill villagers’.
“That’s right, I too support this more appropriate approach compared to the original. Even if the added time and effort is inevitable, however while maintaining the purpose of cutting the enemy’s supplies, I predict that in the future we might receive some complimentary gift.”
Not considering the repugnance caused by the thought of ‘Killing all non-combatant too’ Ikta, on the strategic point of view, still had praises for the plan prosed by Captain Sazaruf. As the war has already entered its final stage, the large amount of prisoners obtained could become material to use in the final negotiation requesting for Shinaak tribe’s surrender.
“However, are we choosing an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth… Lieutenant General Safida from the beginning of the rebellion till now still hasn’t proposed a proactive strategy, now we are really reaching the limits of that.”
What ideas the Lieutenant General had when he ordered the burning of the villages was clear as day to Ikta. He probably thought since the enemy’s strategy to cut off our supply chain was so beneficial to them, then we should have done just the same to our foes. Well you can’t say he was wrong, it’s just not really smart.
“Since the imperial army is the one invading, the Shinaak tribe are using the main stage that is the Grand Arfatra Mountain range to play guerrilla warfare. Because they made use of the geographical familiarity and, throughout the whole mountain set up supply points with resources and personnel, something like a ‘stronghold that would deal them a huge blow if taken’ does not exist. The same dispersion issue the northern garrison was having a headache about, they instead used it as a weapon.”
Ikta bluntly gave his positive judgement that it was a very brilliant plan… However, compared with the Shinaak tribe, Lieutenant General Safida’s approach was extremely rough.
“Just as Torway wanted to point it out before, I too was dumbfounded at the sight of that map. Three brigades marched into the mountain on three routes but the distance separating each of them was more than 100Km, I heard it was because they wanted to have rendezvous at the midpoint of the mountain. In other words, before reaching the rendezvous point the three brigades totally won’t be able to give mutual assistance.”
In this war, the biggest reason for the imperial army’s bitter struggles was this. The Shinaak tribe just had to attack on all points of the isolated marching routes, if there was any point that were to collapse, it would have meant the supply chain to the frontline would be cut. And soldiers without supplies are unable to fight off enemies.
“To avoid that situation he should have set the marching routes to be close and parallel to each other. Also the supply chain shouldn’t have been a sole line, instead it should be evolved it to an interconnected pluriplanar reticular system…. This clearly was the iron rule, no matter if you were to fight on mountains or plains, Lieutenant General Safida instead didn’t pay attention to it.”
Tl note: the big words means a web like structure where it is also expanded longitudinally and not only vertically
If you were to look for them, one would find many more mistakes. For instance, there was another issue that after setting field bases on the marching route, they only ordered the soldiers to completely devote themselves to holding their post and never had the troops pay attention to means of retreat. Winning or losing a stronghold was commonplace in war, in disadvantageous situation you just had to temporally retreat and re-establish the ranks, then go recapture the stronghold.
“He did not have to be a famous general, however Lieutenant General Safida let many soldiers lose their lives in unnecessary deaths under the lead of normal generals. To make things worse, not only had the imperial army pay the price for those mistakes, this even spread to Shinaak tribe villagers who originally needn’t to be killed.”
Even now in some place at lower altitude than here, there should be villages burning. Ikta thought. Different from the plan proposed by Captain Sazaruf, over there it is complete massacre. Buildings, farmlands, livestock, and villagers– everything will be taken by the burning villages, how many of them will remain till the end?
“No matter from where I look at it, it’s unscientific, the costs and results are disproportional. This truly is a mess of a war.”
Ikta disdainfully concluded. That person, the more he was angry the more he loved to talk and argue〜Suuya who was listening and experiencing this herself noticed housing appearing on the track the troops were advancing.
“Company commander, we have arrived, It’s that village.”
“It seems so. Time is precious, quickly lead in our group of guest from the rear.”
After signaling to the soldiers responsible for surveillance, Ikta, with Platoon as base unit, separated the troops and had them take care of the refugees, they then led and entered the village. After that, the villagers noticing the sound, stuck their heads out from everywhere, with fear and fright in their eyes looked at the soldiers.
This village originally accommodated 200 people. After the Imperial army took control of the area, they rapidly increased the numbers of temporary buildings and tents to create a refugee camp, and decided to accept into this place the villagers who lost their homes to the burning, which outnumbered the original population over five times.
Of course a building or tent will be shoehorned with more than ten refugees. However, in order to avoid creating the flame of dispute, they arranged as much as possible to have people with close relationship live togheter.
“Good, first of all, eight people in this house. The Sotoi family of five all inside, followed by Yam couple and the little sister Kotai.”
Ikta called out names indicating refugees and cleanly assigned them to the empty premise. For this purpose, he, before departing, had already grasped the names, appearance and relationship of the people living in villages he torched.
“You all gone inside? Good. Then next is…. Ouch!”
A stone thrown by someone hit Ikta’s thigh. Although it didn’t possess much strength, but the alert soldiers near him immediately raised their crossbows against the refugees.
“Get lost! Empire’s dogs! Hurry up and scat!”
However, the offender who cried out with a high pitched voice while picking up a second stone was a boy yet to reach 10 years old. There was no need for soldiers’ action, the nearby mother already embraced the boy stopping him.
“……….Uh…. Then next, it’s that house facing east….”
Ikta thought of considering as nothing happened and continued the job. But this made the boy even more furious, taking advantage of the moment his mother loosened her arms, he broke free and ran directly to the hated enemy of the village. This time the soldiers stepped forward to stop him, but he, using his petite figure, slipped through under their legs.
“Get lost! Go back to the plains! Give back! Give back our village!”
The boy with unfluent pronunciation desperately vented his anger and with his fists continuously hit Ikta’s thing and waist. Although a soldier got there and grabbed him, but as he tried to pull the boy away, he firmly bit his teeth to Ikta’s military pants, making the man hesitate on how he should proceed. If he forcefully pulled the boy away, he might break his frontal teeth from the root.
Tl note: the soldier is genderless
“….Ah〜Young’un, I truly understand your reasoning. After this job is done I will immediately disappear, I promise I will disappear without a single trace so for now can you let go of me?”
Even Ikta lacked resolution when facing this situation. Although he tried to solve in a peaceful manner, however the angry child could not be persuaded. Left with no other choices, Ikta could only take compromises.
The boy’s nose was hit by a sharp impact which made him unintentionally loosen his bite. The soldier immediately separated the two…this was the ultimate weapon against children, the power of a finger flick attack. The trick to add in more impact was an upward flick to the opponent’s nose from below.
The soldier brought back the boy to his parents. However, he then stretched his hand to the nose as he felt something was coming out—next, a red liquid started dripping onto the boy’s palm.
Screams came from the parents, Ikta too who was watching from the sidelines was stunned.
Seeing himself bleeding acted as breaking point making the boy start crying loudly. The refugees who did not know what was happening just had to turn this way, to see the figure of the loudly weeping boy with blood on his face. Between them, the worst scenario immediately ran amok–they though that young soldier would go as far brutally beat to bleeding such a small child.
Feeling he did something troublesome, the whole face of Ikta stiffened, to him, crying children are the most difficult thing to handle.
“Whaaaaaaat are you doooooing you dishonorable chap!!!!”
However, the voices blaming him did not come from the refugees with eyes full of hatred, instead they came from a completely unexpected direction. The site resounded with footsteps running at full speed. Just as Ikta was turning toward the direction the sound was coming from, the next second his cheek was hit by a gigantic fist.
Before he even had time to scream, his body violently flew away and hit the ground, he then no longer moved. Completely ignoring Ikta, the man who rushed to the source of crying sound– Warrant Officer Deinkun Hargunska walked toward the boy who’s having a nosebleed.
“Brave youth, are you alright! My companion truly acted excessively!”
In front of the refugees who were stunned because of what had happened, Warrant Officer Deinkun took out a handkerchief from the pocket of his military uniform, after wetting it with clean water created by the water spirit, rubbed the boy’s face.
“Hm, it’s a nosebleed huh! It is evidence of resisting violence, in other words it’s an honorable wound! You deserve praises!”
“No, no, even if you don’t say anything I understand! Although I have already sanctioned the guy who acted roughly toward the courageous you, but with only that it is unreasonable to ask you to calm down…Ugh!”
Bang! The sound of beating rang. Turns out Warrant Officer Deinkun threw a directly frontal blow to his nose. After a moment of silence, an unknown amount of blood many times over that of the boy’s flooded out.
“Huahahaha, now it’s fair! Please take this as apology and forgive that guy’s roughness, oh little brave!”
Warrant Officer Deinkun whose blood was coming out of his nose like a waterfall, hearty laughed and patted the boy on the shoulder. The refugees on the sideline looking at this series of events were completely overwhelmed by his momentum and has temporally forgotten their hatred.
“Are…Are you alright Company commander…..!”
On the other hand, Suuya frantically rushed to the side of the commander who has flown for almost three meters. Perhaps from the beginning he didn’t faint? Ikta gently pushed up his body. The left cheek that received Warrant Officer Deinkun’s fist has swollen twice the size of the other side.
“…I apologize, Suuya. Can I bother you to call over Warrant Officer Deinkun?”
Suuya nodded and immediately begun to move. She went around to the back of the big military officer who was still talking with the boy and whispered in his ear with stinging voice the report. The resentment of having the superior beaten was fully displayed on her face.
Shortly after Warrant Officer Deinkun turned and strode toward the subject he had just hit. He then with a tone like challenging an opponent spoke to Ikta who already got up and was dusting the dirt off his pants.
“To think you would raise your hand against a child, I’m really looking down upon you, Ikta Sorlok! Your identity is still tentatively an imperial Knight nominated by His Majesty, however in such situation you got wrong the great ambition of the soldier, what are you planning to do about it!
Seeing Warrant Officer Deinkun not only hit the other but also started giving a lesson made Suuya reach the limit of her tolerance.
“We just decided to calmly listen but from the start you were blabbing out self-centered statements…! Before using force why didn’t you ask what was the situation! Warrant Officer Ikta did not make the child cry on purpose–”
“You shut up! When knights are having a conversation, those not involved shall not interrupt!”
“Ugh! You clearly are just a ‘self-named’ Knight….! This really ires me, please immediately apologize to Warrant Officer Ikta about all your disrespectful action to date! Our side was even injured! If we go on like this there’s no way to settle–”
Ikta gently raised his hand to stop Suuya who wanted to push harder. Warrant Officer Deinkun ignored her who was feeling confused, and with an unhappy face looked at Ikta.
“You seems to be a hopeless person, since the beginning I wanted to preach this to you. However, because of the presence of the princess, I could only endure it till now. Meeting with me today is your doom, if there’s something you want to complain about the straightforwardly–”
“No, there aren’t. Thank you, Warrant Officer Deinkun. You truly saved me there.”
Since Warrant Officer Deinkun has completely entered in his battle stance, this reply was far beyond his expectations. There would be no one who would think someone you hit and insulted would give his thanks. While he was stunned because of the shock, Ikta continued to calmly speak.
“Saying since we are at it might sound rude, but I bother you with continuing the job of assigning residences to them? You shouldn’t be hated by the refugees, and since the situation has developed to this point, it may be best for me to leave as soon as possible.”
“……….Of course there are no problems……”
“Thank you, I’m truly sorry that I have to push the responsibilities of this job onto you, in the future I definitely find opportunities to pay you back.”
After Ikta lowered his head and finished talking, he called over his troops and moved toward the village’s exit. Suuya who has yet to calm down followed beside him and continued to ask the superior:
“Why….Why are we stepping back? We should have explained the actual facts and refuted him!”
“Why should we? I clearly have reasons to thank Warrant Officer Deinkun and miss any for resenting him– look behind you.”
Following Ikta, Suuya too turned her head and looked in the same direction, what entered her vision was the sight of Warrant Officer Deinkun busy directing the refugees after having taken over Ikta. The Shinaak villagers all obediently listened to his instructions, after the earlier event, no one harbored hatred in their eyes toward the soldiers anymore.
“Making the kid bleed was my mistake. To settle up that situation would require tremendous efforts, and even after that I believe it would leave grudges. Deinkun helped us arbitrate that matter, so we have to give our thanks to him.”
“Why like this….! I don’t think he had thought of that. I believe that person just wanted to show Knight like behavior in front of a bunch of people!”
“It doesn’t matter. He actions were based on his personal chivalry code, the situation got fully resolved too, because his behavior was effective in these circumstances it certainly deserves direct praises.”
“I cannot accept it! Because when we are battling with the Shinaak tribe, our job is… it’s to kill all of them…! Then in that case isn’t Warrant Officer Deinkun the same as us? Instead just him was commended because he treated well an enemy kid… this is too weird, it’s just hypocritical!”
Suuya as if she could no longer keep her feelings in check, yelled. Ikta gently raised his hand and pat her head.
“….I say Suuya. If you believe that no matter what kind situation kindness is done in good faith, and whatever kindness that doesn’t fit that condition is hypocrisy, then it would be best to change your way of thinking. The reason is, humans are only able to archive something that is within the extent permitted by the circumstances.”
“Warrant Officer Deinkun is the same. From his personality’s standpoint, the current fratricidal war making fellow citizen kill each other should be cause of deep pain, right? Facing someone taking the initiative to attack you leaves no choices but to fight back, however when the other side is not doing that, you’d want to treat them as kindly as possible. The causes of these thoughts are very natural and there’s no need to be ashamed of them. When you knew that after torching the village you didn’t have to kill the inhabitants, didn’t you also sigh in relief? These two things work on the same principle.”
For Suuya, this was the first time she was gently admonished by the superior. Perhaps it was because of that? Tears poured out for no reason at all, she could only raise her head and desperately try to hold them back.
“….Wuu… If that guy’s feelings is the same as ours, then why is our position so different? Warrant Officer Ikta was hit by the stone thrown by the child, the face too beaten to be so swollen. Only that Deinkun was able to show his righteous actions, what is the cause of all these differences…!”
Irrepressible tears fell along Suuya’s cheek leaving a watery trace, her superior, using his finger, rubbed it away.
“I apologize, Suuya. It’s just this matter puts emphasis on the aptness…. you too understand, unlike me who just holds to an empty title, Warrant Officer Deinkun is a downright Knight. The role of a hated character does not suit that kind of person right?”
After saying so, Ikta scantly tried to make a smile with his swollen face. That expression, from another point of view, appeared as if he was crying, making Suuya uncomfortable in looing back directly.
After successfully joining forces at the 4200 meters high plateau, the soldiers were embracing each other, rejoicing for meeting again and among them some were even crying. Because whatever your unit’s affiliation was with any of the three brigades, for this journey, there wasn’t one soldier who didn’t psychologically prepare for the ‘possibility oneself wouldn’t be able to reach the rendezvous point alive’.
“You gentlemen did really well to overcome the agonious journey and gather here, I feel proud of you.”
Since the situation had developed this far, the supreme commander of the northern region also came to the frontline. Facing the 8900 soldiers who were exhausted from the long march and continuous battles, Lieutenant General Safida rewarded their hard work with his extremely touched manners.
However, seeing those bloodshot eyes and the messy beard, one at this point would doubt if he had enough margin to feel honored. Even if one were to put all the lives lost in this war under the category of ‘Unavoidable sacrifices for the completion of the missions’, the numbers were a bit too high, and after this is over it will all fall under the responsibility of Lieutenant General Safida and be investigated right? Because he was in such a situation, he now must be busy thinking what excuse he could use to deal with Central.
“Although we were ridiculed by the despicable tactics of those barbarians and costed us more effort than what we had estimated, but this war is coming close to an end. The residual Shinaak rebels’ groups defeated by all of you present has gradually gathered at a large-scale settlement two days by foot down from this plateau, the presence of the matriarch Nanak Dar was also confirmed, I’m afraid that will be the last battle closing the curtains to this punitive operation. I hope you gentlemen will display your true battle prowess and make the fresh blood of the Shinaak tribe as offering, dedicated to all our comrades fallen on the Grand Arfatra Mountain!”
He really dared to say… Ikta pulled a long face. If you make use of the enemy’s blood to comfort the dead, the first blood that should be offered wouldn’t have to be from the one who was just now advocating with a loud voice a revenge to relieve the spirits? He was the one who decided to go to war, it was also him who drew the flawed invasion plans. Most of the fallen officers were also victims of his inability– this point of view was also the reality.
“Currently the three brigades grouped here have been completely rearranged, however the departure time is set to tomorrow morning, today will be used for preparations. Everyone should eat well and sleep well, making use of today to recharge your energies in order to face the final battle… this is what I wanted to pass to you!”
Maybe he was taking into account the soldiers’ exhaustion, or perhaps he didn’t have the strength speak a wordy statement, the Lieutenant General’s speech was unexpectedly brief. The soldiers who got a day off under the commands of their superiors, returned to the campground.
The vast plateau was packed full with the 9000 soldiers, of course the headquarters tent set up at the center also gathered many officers. However, compared to the early stage of the war, the average age of the group went down more than ten years. The reason for this was because many high-ranking military officers have withdrawn either because of wounds or death, and their vacant positions filled with urgently appointed lower ranked officers.
Of course Ikta and others were also included and belonged to youngest group. In the big warm tent, the order of knights that still remained even after experiencing the brutal battlefield stayed at the table and had a normal meal they didn’t get since long ago.
“Oh〜we really updated the generation to a considerable extent. Looking at this situation, the northern garrison will more or less run into problems when resuming normal activity after the war.”
Ikta said so while sipping the smoking hot tea. He who was a Warrant Officer of a reserve force in the rear is now a Company commanded tasked with a job that is in reality that of a Lieutenant’s. If one were interested in succeeding, this couldn’t but be considered a golden opportunity, however, for the one person we are talking about, compared to this he desired more returning to a normal life and drink alcohol.
“It has long been the case hasn’t it? After all the pillars came down with Major Taekk’s death.”
“Too many officers have fallen…. The original 18000 forming the three brigades, after joining on this side has become 8900 strong. Who would have thought only half would be left. Wouldn’t this kind of situation be normally considered complete annihilation?”
“It’s because the numbers of soldiers withdrawing because there were no definite countermeasures for altitude sickness have long exceeded the deaths and wounded….and this also doesn’t include those who fell in battle because of the altitude sickness.”
“This truly is a tragic war, no matter from what point of view you are looking at it from…. I think this will be passed down as such even after this is over.”
Silence fell. Because of the impact of fatigue accumulated until now, it no matter what made people unable to say their usual spiel. Yatori felt spending the vacation they have finally gotten in there was not good and after finishing the meal she got up.
“Haro, do you want to come rub our sweat off? I overheard it earlier, it seems today we might use a bit of warm water. Maybe it’s just to a comfortable level, but at least we can change clothes.”
“Ah… great idea… I really wanted to freshen up, I will come with you〜”
Haro very straightforwardly agreed and together with Yatori left the tent. As result an indescribable atmosphere was created between the boys left behind.
“…. Women, no matter what kind of situation they are in, they are still women.”
“Hahahaha….wanting to keep a neat outward appearance at all times has already become their natural instinct.”
“What does it matter, it’s thanks to that our troops can remain a gorgeous atmosphere. Speaking of the only unconditioned merit the imperial army has, it’s the equal male female ratio. I don’t aknowledge any objection.”
Ikta unhesitatingly asserted. As if hearing this ticked something amazing in Matthew’s head, he with a serious expression leaned forward on the table followed by a whisper:
“…….Uhm, I always wanted to ask you guys this question….”
“Wha-what’s the matter, Makkun? You’re suddenly being so serious…”
Matthew looked up closely at Ikta and Torway’s faces, and after hesitating five seconds he blurted it out.
“…How do you cope with that in time of war? That…ugh… I mean, you know, how to handle those kind of desires…”
Silence followed. After some time has elapsed, Torway who was slow in understand the meanings, was totally flushed with a red face, Ikta near them instead crossed his arms as if deep in thought. Since no response came even after he had waited for a while, Matthew asked the same question again.
“…. Matthew, my friend. To simply answer that kind of question, we need to separate us into two kind of people. The hero in pursuit of close friendship and the aloof warrior.”
“What hero in pursuit of friendship…. you are talking in exaggerated analogy again. Whatever, you are correct that the end result would be something like that.”
“Thus the hero and the warrior are incompatible with each other. Based on your expectations for mine and Torway’s answer this might end up very well with a war. Are you mentally prepared?”
Ikta seriously made such assessment. In front of Matthew who was being overwhelmed by his spirit, Torway hesitatingly murmured:
“I….I normally don’t go thinking about that kind of stuff….”
“You can’t possibly never have those thoughts, you are a man after all, what do you deal with it when you can’t control it anymore?”
“Matthew, let him off. That Ikemen is not the ‘hero trying to mimic the warrior, but in reality still remains a hero’ type and have complex feelings inside kind of person, but instead a warrior that does not understand how to be flexible. Even if it is now just an unrequited love, he is still very single minded toward his love interest.”
Hearing Ikta’s conjecture made Torway’s blush propagate to his ears and him lowering his head. Seeing this spectacle made Matthew accept Ikta’s theory and made his target move onto the next prey.
“Well, honestly speaking I also thought Torway to be like that… however the issue is you, Ikta.”
“In war times, both homosexual and heterosexual activities are strictly forbidden by the imperial military regulations.”
“What’s your point in bringing up the military regulations… basically, even those who actually do the deed are aware of these rules. Isn’t it because of this that since the past up to right now there are only increasingly more soldiers withdrawing because of pregnancy?”
“Yeah, you’re right. Even if we were to limit it with regulations, there is no way to stop people in love. About this I am also saying now that I completely share’s your thoughts.”
“Since you put it that way, you truly have done it? …If it were so then where did you find the so important partner? Talking about places closest to you… is she from your own Platoon?”
“OiOi Matthew, doing that kind of thing if caught would affect your subordinates’ trust, even I am not an exception.”
“How would that be. Even that Sergeant Mittokalif was the same, she clearly harbored such deep hatred toward you at the beginning, but aren’t you completely close to each other right now?”
“About Suuya, our relationship just zeroed from being in the negative…. furthermore, losing your subordinates’ trust will drop the troops’ total strengths, in other word it would result in an increase of risks in battle operations. In war times when me and my friends’ lives are on the line, do you think I would do such unscientific practices?”
Since he himself was able to survive so far only thanks to listening Ikta’s instructions, Matthew could not help but accept this basis. However, there were many more points he could pressure and Matthew came with another question:
“Then, have you put your hands on female from other units? …No, it’s more realistic for you to look for partners who are also officers. After all, in that case even if your relationship cover was to be blown, it wouldn’t affect your subordinates’ trust.”
“That was a spectacular inference, Matthew. But did you think this out thoroughly– according to your theory, if we are talking about the potential partner I would most likely choose, wouldn’t some familiar names stand out?”
As Ikta had just finished saying this, Torway who originally still kept his head low, very quickly raised his face, Matthew too with enough strength to move the table, pushed forward his body.
“Don’t tell me you made your move on either Yatori or Haro! Where! …No, wait a second, I don’t want to hear it, I would like to know it but at the same time don’t want to know it! If I were to know, I wouldn’t know how to face that person from tomorrow onward…!”
Matthew agonized over it while holding his head. On the other side, Torway with a focused stare that would pierce a hole into a person looked at Ikta.
What’s wrong Ikemen, you are staring at me. Oh, were you interested? Interested in whether I am your love rival.
“N-No… it’s not like that…”
Hearing Ikta maliciously leading the topic, Torway was momentarily left with a loss of words….however, in his position, deep inside he thought to make use of this opportunity to clear things out.
“….But to be honest, since the moment I met you I had this feeling. I felt that between Ikkun and Yatori-san there’s something that doesn’t allows meddling from others. If my intuition was not wrong…”
I hope you can clearly say it here and now–Torway bearing this in mind stared at Ikta, Matthew too was holding his breath while looking from the side.
A dozens of seconds then passed. After letting a set of completely grueling moments to pass, Ikta finally with exaggerating actions, shrugged his shoulders.
“….Sorry, sorry. I apologize for pouring cold water on this heated discussion, but think about it for a second, can you guys imagine the scenario where that Yatori, the Igsem successor known by everyone would violate military regulations for this reason?”
“Now that you mention it…”
“See? As result of eliminating her, only Haro remains. No matter how weak that girl looks like, her defense in critical areas are really solid. In conclusion, to leave some hopes, let’s say I’m trying to break through. If there is some progress, I will immediately inform you.”
As Ikta was peacefully bringing the discussion to the conclusion, Captain Sazaruf who had dinner a little distance away walked toward them. He stopped in front of the three who timely did the salute and revealed a wry smile on his face.
“You people, it’s great to be in good spirit but when discussing about a vulgar topic, you should use a lower volume. I am letting you go free because of the current situation we are in, normally I would have you run in circle around the fort as punishment for breaking discipline.”
“W-We’re awfully sorry….”
“It was so shameful, Makkun….”
“Oh I’m sorry. Speaking of which, Captain Sazaruf what type are you?”
Ikta dropped the two who were reflecting with a blush on their face, with a full face smile expanded the discussion to include the new member. Seeing this bold act, Captain Sazaruf did not get angry, instead decided to play along and answer his question.
“Although I can’t say this publicly, but in the past I could be considered a hero… well, even in this war I did not have any margin to play around with nearby women.”
“As expected of our senior, the number of battles he has experienced matches his age. When we return to the base please allow me to hear of those heroic tales.”
“Ha, I don’t know if the contents will fill your expectations but it’s for another time– then I need to go now, you guys go to sleep early today.”
After casually raising his hand to send his regards, Captain Sazaruf left the place. After watching his back leave, this time it was Matthew’s turn to get up. Since the meal and discussion had long come to an end, this was the natural thing to do.
However, as Matthew was about to nonchalantly leave his seat, he was stopped by Ikta.
“Wait a moment Matthew, my friend. You pressed your question onto us and now you are trying to escape before answering anything, isn’t this a tad bit too unfair?”
“Well you too tell us. It’s nothing difficult, you just have to choose from the two answers– are you a hero? Or a warrior? Do you want to rely on friendship? Or prefer a solitary life?”
Ikta with a very entangling voiced tried to force an answer out of Matthew, a very, very heavy silence was maintained between them for more than twenty seconds. However, after that– Matthew with a resolute face turned around and started shouting. With an upright position as if he didn’t have anything to be hidden from the world, as if he wanted to reveal the soul itself.
“…Pay tribute to the Warrior!”
Facing this amazing charisma, Ikta and Torway stood up at the same moment and responded with a salute pose.
The following morning came, under the orders of Lieutenant General Safida, the three brigades with already depleted personnel departed after full preparation. Having rested for a whole day and maybe perhaps the understanding that the next battle may be last, permitted the soldiers to maintain the morale.
“Oh… my apologies…”
“Be more careful you retard! You have a death wish?!”
It’s only, even at this very moment, it can’t be said there’s no uneasiness in Ikta’s eyes. The first point was the murderous intent some soldiers from the other brigades were emitting. They would start cursing and threatening others just because they bumped into their shoulder, in worse cases they would make the first move and start fights.
“I can’t help but think that the brutish members have increased. It’s not like we are mercenaries led by warlords, even if the imperial army had made mistakes, it’s not like we are some unorganized brutish group.”
“It’s in helpless situation that they become like that. After seeing so many deaths from both sides, compared to maintaining control, letting it all go is way easier… it’s only I really hope my subordinates becomes like that.”
After he finished speaking, Ikta peeked toward the back. A company formed by knight’s training corps and tasked to protect the headquarters followed behind him. Ikta and other officers were now in the same area as Lieutenant General Safida which is why the control of the Platoon was now left in the hands of the standing noncommissioned officers. In addition, in order to facilitate the officers’ ability to survey the surrounding, they were now all mounted on horse.
Tl note: i.e. Suuya, Sargent is a NCO
“Even for me, I had them kill so many people. If we can use pumpkin cutting kitchen knife techniques to kill people, we can only say it’s the result of proper training… however, are there no issues? Can those soldiers still distinguish the differences between humans and pumpkins?”
To this contradictory problem, no one could propose a satisfactory answer. However, the war will not wait and the ranks continued forward carrying with it the youths with complex feelings.
“…This terrain formation does not look good”
Captain Sazaruf whispered after seeing the landscape emerging in the frontal direction. It was a massive gorge, the two walls on face each other from a distance of 200 meters, their troops have to continue marching following one side of the valley.
Just a single misstep would cause people to fall hundreds on meters into the abyss was also a matter of course, however in this case, what worried more was the cliff on the other side. There not only were several irregular formations that could become foothold, the distance of 200 meters is also at a distance that could not be taken lightly. Perceiving the Captain’s thoughts, Torway in a reserved manner said:
“About that, Captain Sazaruf…. if I am wrong please do forgive me, but are you perhaps worried of the wind mortal shelling that could come from the opposite cliff?”
“…. To think you would have guessed that. That’s right, it’s exactly so. If we were to be subject to a unilateral attack, we would have no means to fend for ourselves. Even if we were to consider firing back with the wind mortals, but compared to us who are marching and thus scattered, the enemy would also have their cannons distributed throughout the cliff.”
In this very rare occasion Torway, after hearing the Captain’s words, clearly stated his own opinion.
“While those were very legitimate concerns, but I think the possibility for that are not high.”
“Ou? Why would that be, Warrant Officer Torway?”
“First, as I am an air gunner, I have certain degree of experience with the usage of wind mortals. If I were to give my opinion on the current situation, no matter where you would deploy artillery on that cliff it would be am extremely difficult feat. Since the footholds over there are all isolated, in order to transport the cannons, it would require extraordinary efforts. Even if they were to overcome that issue, the next thing that come is the foothold being too small, just the body of the wind mortal alone is enough to fill all the space, there’s no place left to store the shells that would demand almost the same amount of space.”
“Even supposing the enemy was able to find solution to these two difficulties, I think we would be able to notice the enemy’s presence from this side, and even after scanning with binoculars we didn’t find any movements. Based on the above reasons, I determined that the possibility of an enemy surprise attack is not high.”
Hearing this introverted youth who opposite to his usual clearly explained his thoughts not only Captain Sazaruf but every army companion listening around felt surprised. Furthermore, his opinion was logical and relevant, Captain Sazaruf whose uneasiness was dissipated nodded with satisfaction, as he was planning to face the front once again, at that moment….
“No, it’s better if we make preparations. Captain Sazaruf, can we have shields on the side of this officers’ area?”
Ikta categorically spoke words that the overthrown the previous consensus, both Torway and Captain Sazaruf stared at him in surprise.
“…I agree with what Warrant Officer Torway had just explained, based on what are you trying to overthrow that? Warrant Officer Ikta.”
“I too agree with what he has said. Furthermore, I’m not trying to overturn his ideas, it’s just I think it’s better if we take preventive measures.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful… But against the shelling we predicted, a defense of shield bearing soldiers cannot be called a good countermeasure you know? ”
“Even that would be better than nothing… and you also have to consider the object flying over might not only be mortal shells.”
As he mentioned this, Ikta looked at the other side with a stiff expression. Seeing the seriousness in his eyes, Torway too abandoned his theory of ‘there will be no surprise attack from the other side of the cliff’– since Ikta was in alert, then of course there was that possibility.
“…. Captain Sazaruf, I apologize, I would like to retract what I had said. As Warrant Officer has proposed, can you order the shield bearers to protect the officers group?”
“Hey hey, are you serious? If we make a shield wall on the side facing the cliff that would mean we too, in order to be protected by the shields, get off the horses. This would also include Lieutenant General Safida over th…”
“There would be no point in doing so otherwise! Field-grade officers have all gone to command the front ranks, not including Lieutenant General himself, the highest ranked officer among us is you Captain. Please go try propose this, show your courage!”
Captain Sazaruf, who was completely being pushed around, said ‘whoa’ and corrected facial expression at the same time pulled on the reins and got closer to the Lieutenant General Safida advancing on horse and who had the same red eyes he had yesterday.
Tl note: whoa is a vocal command telling the horse to slow down https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/whoa
Facing his regional supreme commander stare at him with suspecting eyes, having a cold sweat Captain Sazaruf made the proposal.
“Err… That… I mean… after surveying the surrounding terrain, my subordinates have suggested the need to be on guard for nearby enemies, I too agreed so there was a proposal for having the shield bearers to protect all officers present…”
“If you have judged that then just take the initiative.”
“Yes, I’m very sorry. However, because of that, there is another request…. considering the height of the shields the infantry carry, there is no way they would completely protect people on horse from shells…. so I truly apologize for this but…”
Even before the fiercely cold sweating Captain who was dragging out the conversation finished, the Lieutenant General already understood.
“–You mean I need to get off the horse?”
“Ah… ehm… that’s the end result… yes… to think we would trouble you Lieutenant General with that, I’m deeply terrified…”
Captain Sazaruf threw away his reputation and self-esteem and is now just pleading with a lowered head. Even with that the Lieutenant General still felt reluctant, but facing the persistence of the humble Captain, he could not bear with it much longer.
“…I just need to come down right? Then I will get off the horse.”
Lieutenant General Safida as if he was left with no other choices came down the horse and started walking while pulling the reins. Captain Sazaruf following the superior’s lead also got off the horse and looking like he had exhausted all his stamina, he walked back toward Ikta.
“….I got the permission, with this it’s all good right? Good, then you all come down quickly too…”
Captain Sazaruf thought of his earlier appearance and ordered languidly. He then cursed:”Ahh goddamit! That was an earful!” and forcefully scratched his head. At this moment Ikta opened his mouth and said:
“…Captain Senpa Sazaruf, may I express my thoughts?”
“OiOi, do you plan to keep abusing this uncle… yes yes yes, I know what you want to say, I know earlier I was good for nothing–”
“You are the best superior, I want say this coming deep from my heart.”
First were Ikta and Torway, then following their action everyone from the order of knights with the same movement raised their hands in salute. Facing them who were truly emitting an aura of respect and gratefulness, Captain Sazaruf, unaccustomed to this kind of treatment, was left unknowing of how to respond to that, for now he could only stand there in place for many seconds.
“…Haha why are you suddenly doing this, you shouldn’t tease adults.”
Then Captain Sazaruf as if escaping the subordinates’ gaze turned away toward the front and scratched his cheek seemingly very embarrassed. The same thoughts occurred to the five members of the order of knights looking at this scene– after getting involved with this war, it’s the first time they met a superior worthy of their respect.
Tens of meters below the cliff along which the imperial soldiers were walking there was a ditch. In this naturally formed cave by the long erosion carried out by the wind and rain were gathered more than forty silhouettes.
“…According to the light signals sent by the unit we stationed on the other side of the cliff, the attack is about to begin, captain”
Tl note: Captain here is not the rank (thus not with uppercase C), but the general notion of a leader.
The shadow closest to the exist after observing the other side of the cliff reported toward the depth, to the silhouette whose eyes were exuding a particularly dangerous luster. Then, even if no sound was heard, somebody stood up.
“We will wait for a bit and then participate. Everyone prepare to climb; air shooters equip the short gun.”
Hearing the orders, the shadows started to mount the partners on the air gun which had it barrel shortened to the minimum lenght possible and fed into their mouth the loaded magazines held in the leather bag. This way they could skip the step of loading the bullets and the air gun could also be used with only one hand. This was a weapon used if it was predicted to enter a close quarters combat.
“We must finish this mission taking advantage of the Shinaak tribe’s attack. Our target is the supreme commander of the northern region, Tamshiikushik Safida alone, don’t bother with the others. Only if there are obstacles coming in between, we will quickly dispose them.”
“At mission accomplished, or retreat if it were to end a failure, you have to use the seventeen ropes set beforehand to reach the bottom of the cliff. Moreover, death is not allowed this time. If you find yourselves cornered, you must jump down the cliff. This way there is the possibility of retrieval, your death is absolutely not permitted under their eyes.”
The uniform replies continued. There are no more deficiencies– the leader of the shadows determined so and declared:
“Begin operation– , move out to battle.”
In one breath they emerged from the darkness, just like an ants’ army crawling out of the nest.
Editor: Ruzenor, Tear, Skythewood
The signal for the start of the battle did not come from the cliff on the other side, where Ikuta was focusing his attention, nor from below the cliff where the Phantom group had been working secretly, but on top of the Imperial Army that was stretched out along the path.
“The mountains are our world! Prepare to open your eyes wide and be surprised, you devils from the plains!”
A barrage of fire arrows rained on the soldiers’ heads with a girl’s announcement. Everyone was bewildered by an attack from an unexpected angle, and the wagons and clothings hit by the arrows started to burn.
U-Up above?! What’s this! There shouldn’t be a place big enough for an army up there.
Matthew, who had taken after Ikuta to prepare for the worst and memorized the marching path along with the surrounding terrains, could not hide his surprise. Just as his assumptions were flipped upside down and his head turned into a cacophony, Ikuta spoke stoically.
“Calm down Matthew. There’s no place to put soldiers above the cliff. Speaking normally, anyways. This is simply a desperate push by a trapped enemy.”
“Yeah, I think so too. It would be an impossible ambush except for the nimble Shinaak tribesmen, but considering the damage from the fire arrows, there are not that many of them. The shock will only last for a moment. If we can take care of the confusion now—”
While Torway was speaking, a scream erupted out as to mock his assumption. Captain Sazaruf’s troops, who had been walking in front of Ikuta’s group, were groaning while bleeding from the shoulders or their sides.
“What, gunfire…?! Is this from the above as well?!”
Captain Sazaruf shouted while taking cover, but the reality was different. Confirming that the damage from gunfire were concentrated to soldiers who were walking at the edge of the cliff, Ikuta bit his tongue after fully understanding the situation.
“No, they’re shooting from the cliff from the other side… Damn it, they were there as I thought.”
“What? From the cliff on the other side..?! Don’t be foolish. It’s at least 200m away to the other side! Even if they shoot from there, there’s no way it could reach all the way here—”
Torway, who had the related knowledge grasped the situation immediately without waiting for Captain Sazaruf to come to his own understanding. His expression soon froze into a tremble.
“Ik-kun, this means… they have the same as us…!”
“Yeah, you’re right… They’re snipers armed with air rifles!”
Just as Ikuta came to the conclusion, several allied soldiers at the edge of his vision fell. If they did not know where the shots were coming from, they could not do anything—. The moment he realized that, the boy stopped watching from the side idly.
“Torway, how long as you going to just sit there? Run over to your squad and return fire! The only squad that can do anything about this is your squad that is armed with air rifles!”
“Ug, got it…! We’ll suppress them soon enough.”
Torway quickly sprinted away after having realized his role. Even Ikuta could not formulate a response for the current situation. It was a wise precaution to have officers protected with shields, but…
“... Since we can’t avoid casualties from the snipers, only way is to speed up the march and get out of this valley as soon as possible. We just need to get out of the range of the air rifles.”
However, a messenger who waded in through the crowd of people shattered Ikuta’s optimistic outlook.
“Lieutenant General Safida! The entire front column is being attacked and further advance is not possible! I request that the rear column to wait—”
“Impossible! Do you not see this situation? This place is under attack as well, and you still ask to slow down the advance….!”
Lieutenant General Safida’s face grew bluer by the moment. But Ikuta felt the same way inside. They could not fight the enemy, and escaping via advancing was also not an option. The only way left was—.
“...Captain Sazaruf! What do you think about ordering retreat for all the squad to the rear of here?”
“I agree— but at this point, a retreat is beyond my authority!”
Then you need to convince the Lieutenant General— As Ikuta was about to say that, a warning from Yatori came from behind.
“Everyone, above you! They’re coming!”
Everyone snapped to look to the sky in surprise and several shadows jumped on in succession. The Shinaak tribesmen who had set up camp above cliff had slid down holding rope in one hand. The soldiers’ thinking process stopped at the inconceivable ways the enemy suicide squads were appearing.
“Matthew, Haro, fix bayonet! They’re coming from this side, too!”
Ikuta shouted as he fixed his bayonet to his bowgun. It was a laughable situation. The group of officers being protected front and rear by hundreds of men and surrounded with shields were being targeted by the enemy.
“Agh, arrgh… What is this. It’s not going in…!”
Haro, who was some distance away from the other knights, was struggling to insert the bayonet onto her bowgun. She could just use it without fixing it on there, but she could not think that fast amidst the chaos. She was not used to battles as there was a lot of work that needed to be done in the field hospital at the rear.
“Haro, calm down! I’m going over right now!”
Ikuta ran. Yatori was guarding Lieutenant General Safida, Torway had gone off to return fire, and Matthew was barely managing to defend himself. By the process of elimination, the only thing to do was to go save Haro.
The soldiers’ confusion piled on. The fearless Shinaak warriors had landed amidst them and started to attack. The majority of the soldiers had not fixed bayonet and could not adequately respond to sudden close-quarter combat that landed amidst them from the sky.
“Haro, watch out! Above!”
They probably thought that a girl who was struggling to fix bayonet was a ripe target. An enemy who had slid down half way from the cliff kicked against the stone wall and jumped. And landed— right beside Haro.
He’ll get there a step too late at this rate. Ikuta decided that in a flash, abandoned his bowgun and flung himself at Haro, who was standing upright. He fell while grabbing just below her waist. At that moment, the enemy’s kukri just grazed the back of his head.
“Ha…. you bastard…!”
There was no time to relax even though he had dodged the attack. Instead of his abandoned weapon, he borrowed the bowgun from Haro’s hand and stood up. The enemy who couldn’t finish off his prey was coming for them again.
He barely received the kukri’s heavy blow with the shaft of the bowgun. It became a battle of strength with a blade against a shaft, but Ikuta’s chance of victory at this point had disappeared. He fell on the ground from the force pushing in from the blade and became defenseless as if asking to be finished.
“I’ll join innnnnnnnn!”
Then with a voice loud enough to tear his eardrum, someone unexpected came to the rescue. Warrant Officer Deinkun’s gigantic sword slashed and blew away the enemy who had rushed in to finish Ikuta.
The kukri fell on the ground split in two, and the enemy’s body, which even had its spine smashed, rolled down the cliff. Even Ikuta could not keep his mouth closed at this turn of events.
“Stand up quickly, Ikuta Solork! Even this one will not be able to save you twice!”
As Ikuta tried to get up, he finally saw Warrant Officer Deinkun’s gear. The armour was centered around the chest, thick plates covered various parts of the body and he wielded a claymore for mounted combat. That unfaltering medieval appearance was that of the Northern Defense Command’s final defense troop, a Cuirassier platoon leader’s formal wear.
“Thank you, Warrant Officer Deinkun. You said you can’t save me twice, but considering the last time, it has already been twice.”
“You do not need to count the last time. This one was in a hurry back then as well.”
Warrant Officer Deinkun picked up the bowgun dropped a bit away and responded cooly while giving it back. The boy extended a hand to Haro to help her up in one while glancing at the face of the giant who was a full head and a half taller than him.
“There is one question. When this one had hit you and you collapsed… you did not become angry, but thanked me instead.”
“Mmm, ah… Thanks to that, we could avoid the villagers’ resentment.”
“But you would have lost face. Were you not apprehensive about something like that would shame you?”
It was a direct and in your face kind of a question. So Ikuta replied back without hesitation.
“— No. It was a bit embarrassing, but didn’t change the fact your powerful strike fixed the situation. Well, just for reference… I never had a face that would be slighted after getting beat up in the first place.”
“... Is that so. Then, conversely, what kind of situation would you lose face in?”
“Ah. Hmm, that would be—”
While talking to Warrant Officer Deinkun, Ikuta handed over a bowgun with a bayonet strapped tightly on it over to Haro. The boy spoke with a serious expression on his face while brushing off the dirt on her face with his fingers.
“— Not being able to say everything when I have wanted to, not being able to protect things when I have wanted to, those kind of situations.”
On his words, Ikuta remember the face of a woman he met twice, but could not meet for the third time. But he sealed it up immediately. He closed the lid on his memories and chased away the reminiscence of the past.
That was a face he had already lost. What he needed to focus on now was the ones who were not dead.
“... I don’t understand, but I do know one thing. We do not go well together.”
Warrant Officer Deinkun spoke very clear-cut while holding on to the claymore on top of a horse. Ikuta understand immediately. There was no room for misunderstanding. He even thought that it would be hard to find two people who were so different from another. Even still.
“But… that’s the kind of a knight you are.”
The moment he heard those words, there was a self-mocking smile on the boy’s face. — He misunderstands many things. If he concluded things on such friendly level, then the words they had exchanged so far would be meaningless.
Amidst the noise generated by allies and enemies mixing together, Yatori Igsem was staring at the sky while holding her trademark twin sword in her hands.
Standing directly in front of Lieutenant General Safida, she was practically the centre point for the guards. She was confident she could defeat any enemy, no matter which direction they came from.
The tip of her twin swords shuddered like an antenna that had picked up on something. It was because of a small body that was not just content on sliding down the cliff, but was running with a rope in one hand came into sight.
Yatori felt an untimely awe. Even amongst Shinaak tribe who were famed for being nimble, there were not many who would act so recklessly.
“Lieutenant General Safida, do not move from that spot!”
Half way down the cliff, the shadow kicked off the wall. It was a superhuman jump taking advantage of nimble movements, but did not immediately aim for Lieutenant General Safida. Because she had also instinctively sensed the existence of an obstacle she needed to overcome.
A downward strike using gravity and a precise counter which aimed for vital point thrust out from above and below. The moment their blow met each other, steel collided and sparks flew.
After the first blow was intercepted mid-air, her small, cat-like body landed nimbly.
“... We meet again, red one.”
A pair of kukri in her two hands were too brutish compared to the owner’s small body. But looking at her carefully— beneath that big cape covering her, peeks of a frail yet muscular body that showed off functionality brought awe. Her large eyes, burning with a cause made everyone who looked into them hold their breath. Her black hair faded under sunlight was braided into two strands, left and right. From a glance, her partner sprite didn’t seem to be nearby.
“Yes, we meet again.”
She was cute, but not frail. She had an aura of an experienced warrior about her. It was the kind of a strength that couldn’t be conveyed from a distance when they first met.
Yatori recognized the opponent’s strength, took a stance with her twin swords without showing an opening and revealed her name as per the knight’s code.
“Imperial Army Skirmisher 1st Training Platoon leader cum Light Cavalry 1st Training Platoon leader, Warrant Officer Yatori Igsem. My partner is the fire sprite, Shia. I’m glad to meet you again, young chieftain of the Shinaak tribe.”
“Shinaak Chieftain, Nanak Dar. Hahashik is Hisha of the wind. I responded to your introductions, but don’t get cocky. I won’t remember any of your long and boring titles!”
Nanak Dar made herself clear and aimed the point of her two knives. Yatori took her simple and direct animosity with pleasure.
“It doesn’t matter… Experience the sensation of these blades and die!”
Nanak ran forward like a loosened arrow. She did not care for the sabre being thrust forward to counter and struck heavily with a kukri as if intending to break the blade. Countering this, Yatori turned her blade to deflect the strike and immediately thrust at the opening. But—
At that moment, Nanak Dar used the blade stuck onto ground as a centrifuge to rotate her body and swung for the second attack. It was a series of attack that could not exist in a conventional swordfight. Yatori managed to stand her ground by retreating a little, but the girl’s truly ferocious strikes were just beginning.
The blade on the right was plucked out from the earth and attacked Yatori as it rose instead of going back to the owner. She tried to defend with the handguard of the sabre and go on the offensive, but the blade on the left dived in aiming for her left thigh. Yatori admired her moves. Each attack was unreasonably wide, but there was no opening to drive into.
“What’s up, red one! Can’t move around?”
Nanak Dar’s assault continued. All the officers who wanted to help Yatori by jumping in hesitated and stopped. That bladework was like a windmill with blades attached to it. If they approached carelessly, that would be the end.
On the other hand, Yatori was carefully observing from the middle of the windmill’s attacks. Shifting her centre of gravity with the shaft of the blade, unending rotation, stance to maximize the small stature— receiving the heated blades with a cool demeanor, she analyzed that those would be the key in breaking through Nanak Dar’s swordplay.
Including Igsem’s twin sword style, the majority of sword stances emphasized centre of gravity in the lower body, in other words, the hip. It was because it allowed for the most stabilized offense and defense. It is considered to have an opening when one couldn’t maintain that. Even styles that had various stances, it was considered physiologically impossible to not have the centre in the lower body.
But Nanak had a different method. Amidst her attacks, her centre of gravity was obviously not in the lower body. That small body being swung around by overly heavy and large kukris maintained form without defying the laws of physics and continually moved while using a sword as the centre of gravity.
— The result was this rotating sword dance.
A blade that slid deep inside sliced a few strands of red hair. To relentlessly attack using the heavy and large pair of kukris, Nanak Dar rarely took the motion of retracting her blade. She continuously kept on the ferocious attacks by finishing a swing to link into a next attack, or stuck the blade into the ground to use as a centrifuge. Those motions gave birth to a unique motion of never-ending rotation of sword.
“You may only be an adept, but I can’t help but admit that it’s excellent.”
Compliments came out from Yatori’s mouth. Along with Shinaak tribe’s hardiness and toned muscles, Nanak Dar’s small stature has created a whole new style of sword fight. Still, no matter how much of an acrobatic stance she maintained, there was no way someone who was limited to circular movement would not reveal an opening to someone who moved in a straight line like Yatori.
The only thing that made her style possible was the lowered stance because of her small size. Compared to Yatori who could only attack downward against a smaller opponent, Nanak could retain her low stance and slash away at the opponent’s lower body. The time for the attack to reach the other would be in Nanak Dar’s favour. That advantage was supplementing the natural delays in the circular motion.
“... Kuuh. Stop it, now!”
Yatori took a blow with the guard on her main gauche and over-extended a little to drive into the circular sword style. If the sword style was focused around rotating, then she only needed to stop the rotation. However—
“No, not going to stop!”
With the kukri stuck in the guard as the centre, Nanak Dar’s body floated up in mid air. The rotation did not die out, but only had its centre axis tilted to a side. Yatori opened her eyes wide at this.
“Is that— you changed to a vertical rotation?”
A final blow utilizing gravity came from above her head. Yatori received the attack by crossing her two swords and reduced the impact on her blades by jumping back a little.
She took a defensive stance thinking the gap between them would be closed instantly, but Nanak Dar unexpectedly stopped moving and simply watched Yatori.
“You’re lasting longer than I expected. I’ve hit you that much, but your blade isn’t broken either…”
“I’m barely holding my ground. It’s amazing. I’m being outclassed by a technique I’ve never seen before.”
“No. You had enough room to watch my skills and be amazed about it.”
Nanak Dar’s expression hardened against an opponent she could not fully measure up. Yatori also felt a likeableness to the opponent who did not underestimate an opponent despite the superiority.
“Seems I can’t help it since I got found out. But what I have now is enough. Preliminary exchange for measuring up is over.”
Yatori readied her twin swords again after speaking without any frill or deception. The atmosphere changed. From a stance focused on defense, she switched to an offensive stance to finish the fight. It was also conveyed to the opponent facing off against her.
“... Are you saying you saw through my techniques. From that short skirmish just now? Load of rubbish!”
“You don’t need to believe everything I say. If you’re a warrior, trust in your abilities and attack.”
A sound of laughter came out from the girl’s mouth. There were no truer words.
— It did not matter even if a swordmaster was here. At this moment she still believed the girl who claimed to have seen through it all would not win against her.
“... That arrogance. I’ll make you regret it in hell, red one!”
Nanak Dar rushed forward with certain victory in heart. Compared to that, Yatori waited for the enemy without any movement. The point seemed to be to wait for the opponent to make the first strike and aim for a counter. It was a completely countering stance just like the proclamation that preliminary exchanges were over.
Nanak Dar swung the first strike. It was a powerful strike with all her might to break the blade. But Yatori stepped back to dodge, and the Kukri missed the mark and struck the earth. Using the stuck blade as an axis, Nanak Dar’s body circle around. That scene was the same as just before. It was the same horizontal slash from an impossible position that surprised Yatori when she first saw it.
But— the same trick did not work twice.
The blade passed by in front of the thigh. Right after missing an attack, a gap that wasn’t exploited for the first time appeared. Nanak Dar’s body was still rotating in a circular motion. That small back was open for attack until the rotation finished and the next motion started.
Yatori’s knees recoiled and sprung out like a spring. With a rapid step, she thrust the main gauche in her left hand. A killing blow that did not miss an opportunity— it was a true strike that would end the opponent.
“Ha—! Got you, fool—!”
Nanak Dar was aiming for that moment. While showing her back defenselessly, Shinaak tribe’s young chieftain was laughing heartily. From her cape covered back, a trap let out its first cry.
A dry sound of air igniting sharply rang out, cutting across the sound of battle.
A vertical strike from the claymore smashed the head of a Shinaak warrior. They were not even a proper match because their kukri could not handle the massive weight of the sword.
“Wow, amazing… I know it’s sudden, but I’ll have to reclassify you from a mere sandbag.”
“.... What did you say?”
Said Warrant Officer Deinkun as he glanced over. Ikuta tried to gloss things over by simply shaking his head. Truthfully, thanks to Deinkun’s efforts, the damage from Shinaak tribe suicide squad had decreased.
“It seems Torway is managing his job of returning fire properly since the shots from the other side of the cliff lightened up. If we keep this up, we can get through this. Just hold on a bit longer Haro and Matthew.”
“I’m so sorry for burdening you!”
From in between Warrant Officer Deinkun and Ikuta, Matthew and Haro replied back.
Ikuta looked around. The battle was continuing, but he felt that the real hump was over. It was something that was exceedingly obvious. If they could withstand the initial shock of the ambush, the scattered enemy coming downhill could be taken out piecemeal.
“To attack with such reckless strategy must mean that Shinaaks are cornered as well… It’s difficult to counter an opponent when you don’t know what they are going to do.”
“Hmph, you sound like a coward. No matter what they do, you can simply wipe out them out as they come.”
Ikuta shrugged his shoulder at Warrant Officer Deinkun’s rather simple answer to the situation. That was when a soldier’s scream resounded.
“W, what?! It was close by!”
Matthew looked around hurriedly. Their gaze, which had been facing upwards to spot any incoming enemies going down the cliff, was finally back to horizontal view of the surface thanks to that.
Matthew looked around hurriedly. Their gaze, which had been facing upwards to spot any incoming enemies going down the cliff, was finally back to horizontal view of the surface thanks to that.
They quickly spotted where the scream came from. The soldiers who were standing by the edge positioned behind the officer group, which including Ikuta, were collapsing on the ground bleeding from the right side. At first Ikuta thought it was another round of shots from the other side of the cliff and clicked his tongue, but what followed was astonishing..
The marksmen who wounded them were not on the other side of the cliff, but were here.
“... Reinforcements from below the cliff?! Damn, the troops are preoccupied with what’s above..”
Ikuta stood still as he spoke. The soldiers climbing up from below the cliff did not dress much differently from the Shinaak warriors. But their quality was different. From the way they moved as a group to their proficiency on how they handled their carbines, it was obvious that they were highly trained soldiers.
“Sly as always. I will face you head on!”
“...Ugh, don’t be too rash, Warrant Officer Deinkun! They’re completely different!”
Warrant Officer Deinkun ran forward past Ikuta’s warnings and faced the enemy head on.
--There was nothing to fear. Holding the claymore in hand and protected with armour, he was certain that only person who could beat him in close quarter combat was that red haired girl.
One of the enemy who noticed his approach, turned around and stared at him. The man simply pointed the tip of the wind carbine at the giant approaching with a roar.
“Fu, do you think that pea shooter will work on me!”
Warrant Officer Deinkun saw the enemy’s action and covered his face with the sword. Using the large blade as a shield, he protected the head which the enemy would obviously aim for. All vital areas outside the head were well armoured in the first place.
But it was a move that limited his own line of sight as well.
In front of the vision blocked by the sword, the man drew a knife from his waist. It was not a kukri they saw so many times until now. It was a dagger with ominous glint that was thinner and smaller. The man kicked off the ground while holding the dagger in opposite hand from his carbine, the right hand. He made no noise, like a phantom.
Deinkun swung down his claymore at where the man used to be with all his might. But there was no expected resistance or any blood spurt. The mighty strike finished with simply cutting across the air.
“Hmm…? You, where did you go--.”
The moment Warrant Officer Deinkun tilted his head curiously, a burning sensation cut across his throat without any warning. And a second later, blood gushed out.
The time between those two were stopped at a critical moment. .
Shinaak tribal chief, Nanak Dar squeezed out her hoarse voice while looking at the main gauche blade stabbing her in the back with an expression of disbelief.
“How did you…”
“You want to ask how I knew about that trap?”
Maintaining the stance with main gauche in her left hand thrusted out, Yatori lightly slashed with the sabre in her right hand.
The cape that was covering the girl’s back slashed in half and what was hidden inside revealed itself. It was a wind sprite fixed with a belt and a mechanism with a very short wind gun barrel. From the pierced area, air was pulsating out.
“I felt some things were amiss. First, you looked like you didn’t have a sprite with you. But you properly introduced your partner’s name as well during our exchange.”
“What…. W, with just that?”
“No, those two occasion were not everything. The moment I started suspecting something is after watching how you fight.”
While looking at the pair of kukri in the girl’s hands,Yatori continued quietly.
“...Courageous, yet bold style of dual wielding. I was truly amazed by that rotating style of fighting. But as we fought, that boldness felt unnatural. Because while we were fighting, you never bothered guarding your back. Especially in a middle of this melee where you could get stabbed in the back at any time.--”
“-- Of course, you might have been thinking about it a little bit, but you were never on guard enough to block an attack coming from behind. Since I was on guard the whole time, something felt even more wrong.”
“Not only the Igsem dual wielding style, but the fundamentals of any dual wielder against multiple opponents is that being on guard from an attack from any direction is always a given. When you were being lazy with that, I knew for certain that you weren’t someone who only use two swords like me. That you had something hidden behind so you didn’t need to worry about your back.”
Yatori looked at that hidden card-- the sight of a wind sprite pierced along with the barrel of the wind gun.
It did not look to be in pain even after being pierced, but its eyes clearly conveyed the tension. It was not afraid of its own end. That sprite had thrown its body to stop the main gauche. Its partner’s death was only a sheet’s distance away.
“The duel’s over. Gather your tribe and surrender, Nanak Dar.”
Yatori urged her to surrender with a quiet voice. But she did not anticipate for two things here. First, that a girl named Nanak Dar would not accept defeat. Second, how the partner who knew only too well about her, Hisha, would act.
Because of the cracks in its body, even the voice calling for its partner was not very clear. But it did not hesitate even with a body centimeters away from being broken. It was always with its partner and to help and protect life-- a duty as a sprite-- it barely clung onto life wanting to carry it out to the end.
“....?! Wait, what are you..!”
It was that kind of a situation.
“Hisha was it… If you move, your partner will die. Of course, you know that.”
Through the main gauche, Yatori could feel a violent vibration carry through to her arm. Right now, Hisha was using a wind sprite’s ability to compress air. Even though it knew that its body would not be able to handle it, to make sure its partner will live on to the future. Using the power that Shinaak tribe called it “divine” for. With its final wish--.
With its final word, wind sprite Hisha exploded itself from internal pressure.
Yatori instinctively took a step back to protect herself from the shrapnel mixed into the wind. Escaping from a dire spot because of her partner’s sacrifice, Nanak Dar stood up from her posture that seemed like she was about to fall forward from the explosion, and looked at her shattered partner with a devastated expression.
It was a voice that was dumbstruck. The sight in front of her eyes and the missing weight from her back played havoc in the girl’s mind.
While feeling sympathetic, Yatori’s will to capture the girl did not waver. She removed the shrapnel from her arm and walked towards Nanak Dar once again.
“-- Don’t be too rash, Warrant Officer Deinkun!”
Her ears picked up a familiar boy’s shout nearby. When she instinctively looked around, Yatori witnessed the sight near 30 meters away.
The scene of a giant collapsing on his knees spurting blood from the neck while standing straight proudly.
Shadows were passing by as if ignoring that body.
Those coordinated movements showed they were no ordinary people even at a glance. Especially after looking at the man standing in front of the group, an indescribable chilling sensation ran down Yatori’s back.
Those shadows cut through all interfering imperial soldiers and advanced without hesitation. They were headed straight towards Yatori, who had Lieutenant General Safida at her back.
The sight of Warrant Officer Deinkun as he collapsed and the critical amount of blood he was losing registered in Yatori’s mind. Her gaze was constantly going back and forth between him and the enemy. And roughly 4 seconds later--
-- Swing your swords
An instinctive feeling from her gut commanded her so.
Glint of the sword rose like a dragon formed a heated wave to deliver death. The leader of the shadows, who was the first to feel the fiery gale, had to concentrate with all his might to dodge it.
First exchange: deflected the first sabre strike with a dagger - lost sensation in the fingers.
Second exchange: blocked the follow up main gauche attack with the barrel of the carbine - cannot fire anymore due to the hole in the barrel.
Third exchange: parried the third strike which twisted into different direction with the armour on the arms - forearm guards were cracked.
Fourth exchange: shielded against the kick aimed at the lower stomach with two hands - the fourth and fifth digit on right hand have dislocated.
“...Ugh… kuh… ugh!”
The shadow responded without a mistake in the tug of war, which would’ve lead to death if one had made a single wrong move. He barely kept his life, widened their distance and stopped. Below that turban, the face made a surprised expression for the first time.
There was no way that Yatori, who made him make that expression, knew what a rare sight that was.
“... Phuuuu! ”
Two shadows that tried to slip by her side to get to Lieutenant General realized it was a reckless plan and backed off. They could not pass. Yatori’s chilling amount of killing intent drew an invisible line of life and death.
“Matthew’s Squad, surround them!”
An order came from behind in an announcing voice. Ikuta had ordered Matthew’s squad, which was relatively close to the officer group to move.
Between the riflemen who were rushing over people, and the red haired warrior, the leader of the shadows realized it was time to back off. They rushed towards the edge and before any soldier could stop them, every single one of them went down the steep cliff slope without hesitation.
“They j-jumped..?! Ah, damn, they have ropes over here as well!”
Matthew swung his gun down the cliff in anger, but the ropes seemed to be installed some distance away from the edge of the cliff, so he could not reach it. Yatori was also looking down the cliff like him, but looked back after remembering that she had left Nanak Dar unattended.
“... Got away…”
She grinded her teeth. As expected, the disheartened girl who had lost her partner was gone. Did she escape down the cliff along with the shadows or climb up with the help of her comrades.
She thought of possibility of pursuit for a moment before giving up, took in a breath and turned around. She ran towards that spot. Ikuta and Haro were also there. They surrounded Warrant Officer Deinkun, who was keeping a shallow breathing while still being upright.
“--- Haro, how is it?”
Haro opened her mouth while standing by the head and trying to stop the bleeding.
“His artery is cut. I’m trying to stop the bleeding, but he already lost too much blood…”
That there was little chance to save him was not in the mood and voice alone, but was also evident around the ground. Around the wound in the neck, there was a puddle of blood about the size of a carpet. It was more amazing that he was still breathing after losing that much blood.
“Dein… Dein… don’t die. No…”
On the other side from Haro, Warrant Officer Deinkun’s partner, water sprite Niki was trying to desperately talk with its partner. He seemed to have heard that voice and tried to move his arm, but didn’t have enough strength to lift it. Yatori moved his hand instead over to the sprite.
“... Yatori. Can you listen to his final words while he’s still conscious.”
“Alright. I’ll do that…”
Yatori took Haro’s place by Deinkun’s head. She whispered to him that she would take his final words and took her ear near his mouth.
Deinkun moved his blue lips to squeeze out words. After hearing those words, Yatori brought her mouth close to his ears and replied. Warrant Officer Deinkun’s head looked like it nodded slightly -- and with that, even his shallow breathing stopped. His death and silence ruled that place and even overwhelmed the noise of war.
“... Yatori. Can I ask what his last words were?”
Ikuta asked hesitantly. Yatori replied back in surprisingly light tone.
“There were four in total. “I leave my comrades in the Empire to you”, “I want my partner Niki to go to my sister”, “next time, duel with me properly with those two swords” and the last one was closer to thinking out loud than a will.”
“Thinking out loud?”
“Yeah. He wondered if he kept his face as a knight.”
Yatori looked up into the sky as to hold back something from coming out of her eyes.
“He’s a modest man. He died an honourable death. There was nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yeah, he did… What did you say to him?”
Yatori coughed once and replied, speaking with her usual brave but slightly hoarse voice.
“A knight who loved his country and comrade more than anyone, you fought braver than anyone. Deinkun Harguska, may there be blessing and glory upon your soul.”
A fitting eulogy. Ikuta thought that in his head. He could never find good enough words for situations like this.
“Thanks for not saying anything about it. I thought it when I came up with it too, but it seems old fashioned now that I say it again. It looks like fitting words don’t really come out when you need them.”
Ikuta swayed his head at Yatori while smiling bitterly. She was being modest. When asking a knight to deliver a eulogy for a knight, there was no one more fitting than Yatori to deliver those words.
Following her, Torway, Matthew and Captain Sazaruf approached and offered their words one by one before Warrant Officer Deinkun’s body.
The march resumed an hour later and the casualties from the ambush were moved to the rear, with destination for the dead and the living diverging completely.
“My suspicion about this was already very high, and I got a clear answer from the battle earlier ─ The Kioka Republic manipulated this civil war.”
When they were almost at their destination. Using the chance when the soldiers all sat down to take a breather during a long break, Ikuta Solork said confidently.
“I haven’t awakened to the joy in spreading conspiracy theory. But since an enemy unit with Air Rifles appeared, then this is the only possibility left. Because in the Empire, only Torway’s unit possessed 40 of such experimental weapons.”
“If any other Air Rifles appeared, it must belonged to Professor Anarai who escaped to the Kioka Republic… Is that what you mean, Ik-kun?”
Torway concluded through logical thinking, but Torway wasn’t entirely convinced and asked:
“Are you suggesting that Kioka is helping the Shinaaks rebel…? Is such a thing possible?”
“Of course. Judging from the attitude that country treats military matters, this is the most proper of their orthodox methods. If we are to discuss the history of the Kioka Republic, when they face an opponent like the Katjvarna Empire which they have no chance of defeating in a straight fight, they would rely on other factors both inside and outside their enemy to gain an advantage. That’s how they survived for so long.”
Yatori who was wiping and maintaining her swords interjected:
“‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ ─ This doesn’t apply only to their military, this is basically Kioka’s diplomatic policy.”
“That’s right. In response to the arrogance of the powerful Empire, they would act in a meek manner, that is the Kioka way of doing things. To avoid fighting amongst themselves, and to incite other factions to do so. They made use of the Shinaaks this time.”
“I… I see. After all, the Shinaaks are potential rebels within the Empire in the first place…”
“In other words… Not only are they supporting the Shinaaks, the entire war was planned by Kioka from the very beginning?”
Haroma and Matthew both looked uneasy, while Ikuta nodded without holding back.
“If not, how did things dragged on for so long… Be it the death of Major Taekk who was the pillar of the Northern command, or the guerilla battle in the mountains after that, all their actions are crisp and sharp without unnecessary movements. It is clear that they had been trained carefully in combat by someone.”
“By the way, their supply of Wind Cannons are too plentiful and could rival an army matches this speculation. Anyone who fought here can feel the existence of an organization that is supporting the rebellion of the Shinaaks… I just didn’t expect them to interfere so directly.”
Yatori who remembered something from the earlier battles said with a hint of fear. Ikuta agreed without a word, and a short later, said an inauspicious name suddenly.
“... They are probably the ‘Phantom Unit’.”
“Phantom Unit…? That… That’s a pretty frightening name.”
“It’s just a name they are known by, because never leave behind corpses on the battlefield. Their real identity is a secret unit used by the Kioka army to carry out covert missions… There is no doubt such a unit exist, but from the rumours heard about their exploits, they sound like legends of the battlefield.”
Assassinating key personnels, obtaining top secrets, inciting revolts, training local guerrilla units and others… They handle secret task that could not be disclosed to the public. It was said that this unit completed all their mission in accordance to the needs of the government and military.
As the actual situation of their activities were shrouded in darkness, they were recurring characters in the speculations of conspiracy theorists. For example, ‘So and so was actually assassinated by the Phantom Unit, so this is the scheme of Kioka!’ had become dank memes.
“Inciting and increasing the hatred that the Shinaack held towards the Empire, and providing military training that focus on uprising. That should be the mission of the Phantom Unit. And in this process, even the brilliant execution of a jihad was worked into this.”
“In that case, I think they were ones who came up with the plan to ‘lure the Imperial army into the Grand Arfatra Mountains to conduct guerilla warfare’. That is because the Shinaak seldom use the tactic of making good preparations before waiting in the mountains in ambush.”
“Which means the proposing and planning of the war was done by the Phantom Unit, belonging to the Kioka Republic, and the ones carrying it out are the Shinaaks… Kioka might look like they are an accomplice, but they are actually the mastermind.”
Everyone nodded in agreement to the simple summary by Yatori.
“There was a group that looked suspiciously like the Phantom Unit in the previous battle, with one group shooting from the other side of the cliff, and another group charging into the Imperial forces. The melee group was about platoon size, and from the scale of the shooting, the ranged unit should have about similar numbers… But I don’t think that’s their full forces.”
“They taught the Shinaaks how to fight guerilla battles, so they should have quite a number of personnel… However, this is a separate issue from how many people they left here right?”
“It is as you say, but as this is very plausible, we should assume they are one company strong. I think this should be the upper limits for the number of people that could infiltrate and hide in secret operations.”
“I feel the same as Yatori. And the problem is, after all the battles so far, those guys probably didn’t lose any men. In other words, there is an entire unharmed company lying in ambush, and they are elites where a part of the soldiers are equipped with the newest Air Rifles.”
A heavy silence shrouded the group. Feeling that he might had made everyone too cautious, Ikuta tried to lighten the mood.
“What we did just now was discussing the possibilities, and even if these are all true, what those guys would do next is another problem. Maybe their mission is complete once they’ve incited a civil war that will hurt the Imperial Army seriously. As for their assassination attempt on Lieutenant General Safida, maybe they are hoping for a bonus if it happens to work.”
As Ikuta spoke, he felt his optimistic view sounded really hollow… So far, the situation had been going from bad to worse. Nobody even considered that it might turn for the better out of nowhere… And they couldn’t afford to.
“Everyone get up! Form your ranks! We are moving out!”
The loud voice echoed out. The soldiers who thought they could enjoy a longer period of rest got up grumbling. The other knights followed suit, and asked as soon as they saw their superior officer:
“What’s the matter, Captain Sazaruf. It has just been 30 minutes, isn’t this a long rest?”
When he heard Matthew who sounded more uneasy than upset, Captain Sazaruf answered with a stiff expression:
“I feel bad for the soldiers, but the schedule had been pushed forward. The unit ahead of us seemed to have run into some problematic situation, if we don’t get there early, it might be difficult to resolve.”
“Problematic situation… is… is it an enemy attack?”
Haroma asked timidly, but the Captain shook his head with an expression that says that might be better.
“This is a war that never bores its participants… Our allied forces had gone out of control.”
The girl dragged her heavy feet and kept running as she endured the scorching pain on her back.
“Huff… Huff… Ughh… Huff… Puff…!”
Groans of pain broke her ragged breathing every few moments. She used her torn cape as a bandage to stop her bleeding, but her wounds seemed to be protesting the shoddy treatment and felt more painful as time went by.
“Huff… Puff…! … Hurry… I have to hurry back─”
Although Nanak Dar tumbled down the cliff after grabbing a rope she just happened to find, she merely escaped from the fate of becoming a captive of the Imperial soldiers, but she paid a heavy price.
Be it the wounds of battle or the injury from the fall, neither of it was an issue. However ─ she couldn’t feel the weight behind her that made her feel at ease. This small void was equivalent to despair for the girl.
“... Ughh… Shia… I’m sorry… Shia…”
In her hasty escape, she couldn’t even pick up the soul stone that dropped amidst the debris. If she was lucky, the enemy would pick it, if not, it would fall into the cliff… There was a good chance that she would lose Shia forever. As her knees would grow weak when she thought about that, the girl tried her best to think of other things.
“Unforgivable… Unforgivable…! Those demons… Those damn soldiers…!”
The only thing that was supporting Nanak Dar was this hatred and fury. Even after losing her partner which was half of herself, there was still things she needed to protect. Many of her Shinaaks who lost their homes to fire and the warriors who were still fighting were gathered in the village ahead.
“... Everyone… Wait for me… Grandpa… Grandma… Nana is coming back…”
Nanak Dar climbed over boulders and parted the grass as she moved forth as fast as she could. However ─ When she was about to lose her sense of time, a pungent smell stimulated her nostrils. It was the same similar to what she smelled in a burned village ─ spurred by an ominous feeling, Nanak Dar sped up with a stumble.
“─ No… Stop… Stop…!”
With an expression on the verge of tears, she made a beeline through the dense vegetation. But after she crossed the grass field ─ she understood that her wish didn’t reach the heavens.
When her field of vision widen, she could see the building burning red. Under the glow of the flames, there was a massacre happening in the village. The ground was filled with corpses, and those still alive were fleeing for their lives. There were men and women; the elderly and children. Soldiers were chasing and slaughtering them with bloodshot eyes.
Yahhhh! A woman whose chest was pierced by a blade screamed. The soldier kicked the woman down, and then twisted the bayonet that was embedded. Her screams turned into howls, and the smile on the soldier’s face deepened.
For him, the pain felt by the other party was the best form of joy, and there was no limits in their greedy pursuit of this happiness. He pulled out the bayonet, and stabbed it into the mouth of the woman.
Her voice was trembling, her teeth clattering with each other. The girl who was living normally in this village, but it was now hellish. Nanak Dar witness the Imperial soldiers she and her tribesmen had been calling demons becoming a literal evil existence. She never knew that real demons would kill and torment others with such a gleeful smile.
Nanak Dar gripped her Gauches tightly and pushed the pain on her back to the back of her mind and dashed right into hell. She killed the demons she saw one by one as she advanced… But the more she moved, the heavier her body got. After rushing here with her wounds, she lost a lot of blood.
More importantly, her back felt cold. There wasn’t anything protecting her back─
“... Grandpa… Grandma…”
After Nanak Dar found the large house where the elders of the tribes should have gathered, she didn’t hesitate on kicking open the door and barging in. The hell inside was more restrained than outside. Because it was already over, aside from a few demons ransacking through the house in search of valuables, there were only the corpses of the elderly.
For the Shinaaks where life expectancy averaged around 30, the elderly were a rare existence. Without regards to blood relations, all the young ones would address the elders who accumulated wisdom from their long life as ‘grandpa’ or ‘grandma’, and the elderly would treat the young ones like their own grandchildren.
In the heart of the tribal chief Nanak Dar, the 17 elderly who died were such an existence to her. They were all grandfathers and grandmothers she was closer to than blood, and she shared memories with every single one of them.
And now ─ Some of these elderly had become corpses who would never speak again.
If her partner Shia was one half of her, Nanak felt that the remaining half was being torn off of her. Her restraint of rationality broke down, and her killing intent spurred Nanak Dar’s entire body. Before the other party was ready, she sliced off one of the demon’s head ─ But that was a fatal mistake.
She felt the feedback of hitting something hard, and the gauche in her right hand wouldn’t move. Because she used too much strength in cutting off the head, and she cut right into a pillar in the room.
… For the dancing sword style that require a vast amount of space, its weak point was in fighting indoors. The girl lost herself in her rage, and didn’t even notice that.
“Damn it, this girl…!” “What the hell! Restraint her!”
The soldiers around rushed Nanak Dar who was defenceless. She attempted to swing the gauche in her left hand, but her entire arm was caught; another soldier grabbed her hair. The girl who was thrown hard onto the ground looked up at the troopers above her, and felt a chill.
“This girl cut off Sinha’s head!”
“Damn hillbilly…! I will let you suffer the same fate!”
The enraged soldier raised the gauche he seized from Nanak Dar and aimed for her neck. Feeling her imminent death, she closed her eyes. But as she imagined the cold blade touching her on reflex, another soldier said with a calm voice:
“Hey wait─ That is a woman.”
When they heard that, the other soldiers all stopped instantly. A different type of silence spread in the room. Several frenzied gazes fell onto the body of the girl with a different sort of emotion unlike bloodlust.
When all these action ended, that soldier continued saying with a simple and forthright smile:
“We can kill her after we used her.”
“... What the heck are they doing…”
Captain Sazaruf, Ikuta and the others who rushed on scene after getting the report of their allies going out of control, saw soldiers who lost all semblance of order and discipline, and had completely turned into rioters.
“What is their commander doing? Hey! We are friendly forces! Get the person in charge over here!”
After Captain Sazaruf shouted several times, a middle aged officer who was smiling wryly appeared from the shade of the trees some distance away and walked towards Sazaruf. He was a Captain too, but he was much older than Sazaruf.
“Ara, sorry you have to make a trip. I couldn’t do anything, and it turned out like this.”
“What do you mean turned out like this!? Why didn’t you stop them? Aren’t they your subordinates!?”
Captain Sazaruf said agitatedly, and the middle aged officer rebuked him with an unhappy face:
“Don’t exaggerate it so much, they are just letting their rage get into their head. They probably accumulated a lot of anger over the long campaign. It happens all the time in long expeditions, they will cool down after venting it out, I know this very well.”
“How many violations are you going to tolerate before that happens? Even on enemy grounds, pillaging for purposes other resupply are against military law! It’s the same for violence against non-combatants! Don’t you know that you will be court martialed for turning a blind eye to this!?”
Tch! The middle aged officer clicked his tongue, as if he was facing someone who couldn’t understand his language.
“Don’t use military law to pressure me. The officer on the ground has to react to the situation. You are probably battlefield promoted so you don’t know. Forget it, it’s only natural you don’t understand the situation─”
“There’s no end to this. If that’s all you have to say, I will start cleaning up.”
Captain Sazaruf ignored the unhappy middle aged officer and walked past him. Ikuta and the others followed without any protest. That officer continued complaining behind them, but no one was willing to listen.
The Captain was thinking about how to suppress the terrible scene before him when Ikuta said hurriedly:
“Captain, please let Yatori and my platoon go in.”
“Not yet, there are too many rioting soldiers, we need to consider what can be done…”
“Please listen Captain. We will protect the survivors that are important in this tactical situation, it will be too late if we don’t act now!”
Captain Sazaruf opened his eyes wide, and the rare sight of this youth being flustered also left a deep impression on the other members of the Knight Order.
At this moment, his old friend supported Ikuta’s sudden request.
“Captain, I wish to ask for this too. I can’t stand aside idly as a soldier when there are civilians being hurt.”
“... I understand. But you all have to move in large groups, and don’t agitate those guys too much.”
Ikuta and Yatori thanked their commander for his understanding, and started moving with their units. To increase efficiency, they split up and search in squad level. This might go against the advice of the Captain to move as a large group, but Ikuta was willing to go that far.
“That house is the biggest building, Yatori, come with me!”
“Understood. I am charging, don’t fall behind!”
Yatori sprinted with a speed that could rival felines, and Ikuta followed behind. Even so, she still arrived several seconds earlier, but didn’t break open the door and barge in right away. Doing that might spook her allies inside, and they might get attacked.
“We are friendlies! We are coming in now, don’t shoot!”
Yatori announced with a volume that echoed to the surroundings before opening the door. At this moment, Ikuta arrived too.
The two of them entered at the same time, and what they saw were the crazy scene of soldiers beating each other up.
“As the superior officer, I should go first!”
“Shut up! A woman tainted by your dirty hands can’t be used anymore!”
“If you can’t get in line, then get out! Use the branching spot of twigs to get yourself off!”
At the feet of the soldiers cursing and beating each other up, was a girl who was tied crudely with her body curled into a pile. Yatori who fought her before recognized her instantly. She was the tribal leader of the Shinaaks, Nanak Dar.
“Hey ─ You lot better watch it.”
Ikuta’s voice was low and deep. Yatori knew he was like this when he was angry for real.
As someone was talking to them within the same room, the subjects finally realized that there was an intruder. Four of the five soldiers froze after seeing Ikuta and Yatori’s rank, but there was an exception. On the left chest of that man was a rank that had one more star than Ikuta.
“... You are putting on a big front huh. But these guys are all my subordinate, and the ranking officer here is me, why should I listen to the orders of a mere Warrant Officer? Huh? Tell me a reason that I can accept!”
Seeing that forceful and unreasonable attitude, something snapped in Ikuta’s heart ─ Captain Sazaruf’s order and the strategical importance of Nanak Dar… Listing out the reasons to refute his adversary was his usual method. In fact, the contents were already appearing in his mind. However, despite that…
“... Saying everything I want to say when I want to say it is my principle. However─”
Ikuta muttered and walked towards the other party in large strides─ Reasons, logic, persuasion, coercion. The Ikuta at this moment wasn’t the usual him, so he sealed away all these familiar methods…
“─ Don’t assume that I will prepare a speech that you will understand and accept!”
He changed his approach to the primitive way of ‘swinging his fist with all his might into the other party’s face. In other words, it was a method that was surprisingly unlike his style.
As Ikuta didn’t show any signs that he would resort to violence, the Second Lieutenant took the punch solidly. He knocked aside the furniture, and hit the ground behind him hard.
“Yatori, protect Nana. It would be better for a woman like you to go.”
After witnessing the series of events, even Yatori couldn’t hide her surprise. But she acted immediately after hearing Ikuta said that. She lowered her body and approached Nanak Dar, and used verbal and body gesture to indicate that she meant no harm. At the same time, she checked Nanak’s messy attire casually. After judging that it wasn’t serious, Yatori sighed in relief.
“Looks like we made it in time, Ikuta.”
The moment Yatori told him that, Ikuta felt his strength waned. As he endured the urge to sat down right away in relief, he muttered:
“... Is that so. So we made it in time for one person this time?”
In fact, it was probably preposterous to even say that they made it in time. In the bloody flames of war, this was merely a whim of the gods. The small fortune that was like wood shavings wasn’t even worth mentioning for many people.
… However, Ikuta was saved by this luck right now. And only within the confines of this result, he didn’t have to feel disappointed by himself; because of his minor actions, a small part escaped destruction and managed to survive.
On the other hand, the Second Lieutenant who was bleeding from the nose was crawling, attempting to reach his bow gun that was leaning on the wall. However, Yatori’s sword stabbed his fingers before that.
When he saw the man pull back his hand with a shriek, Ikuta said in his usual sarcastic tone:
“Men can be heroes or warriors… but not animals, Second Lieutenant.”
After apprehending Nanak Dar and handing her over to Haroma’s unit, Ikuta and the rest started suppressing their rioting allies again.
It wasn’t easy, but by making use of the habits of soldiers such as the sounding of gongs as a signal to gather was very effective. The troops remember that this wasn’t the time to do such things, and regained their composure; with commanders like Ikuta warning them personally, the unit was finally restored to order.
“... Really, have they finally calmed down? Even so, they have done considerable damage…”
Captain Sazaruf looked at the bodies of the Shinaaks everywhere and sighed heavily. But when he noticed that none of his subordinates could say anything, the Captain decided to change the topic.
“... This might be the worst way to end it, but this war has finally concluded. We have apprehended Nanak Dar, and it would be hard for the Shinaaks to mount any further organized resistance.”
Captain finished his speech with complicated emotions, and there were some who started to sob when they remembered their fallen brethren… All of them thought they had lost too much in this war. Only the slow witted and those who didn’t know the situation at the frontlines would think of this pyrrhic result as a victory.
“Ara, well done gentlemen! We have taught those barbaric Shinaaks a thorough lesson!”
It was the perfect timing to show how obnoxious Safida was. The words of Lieutenant General Safida who came all the way to the front lines was the perfect example. All the members of the Knight Order felt the same thing, that there was compliments they were better off not hearing.
However, before the eyes of the group annoyed by the hollow speech of the Lieutenant General, something strange happened. A never seen before unit came from the other end of the village. About a platoon in size, their uniform was obviously different from the Imperial forces, and a priest like man was at the head of the group.
Lieutenant General Safida only noticed the arrival of the other party when they were within earshot of each other. He finally halted them with a warning, stopping them from advancing further.
The mysterious group stopped, and the man who appeared to be a priest stepped forth.
“We are the Situational Inspection Team from the Church of Alderamin, is the person in charge present!?”
When the party state their identity, the expression of the Lieutenant General stiffened visibly. He hesitated for a moment before reluctantly introducing himself.
“... I am the commander of the Northern Stronghold, Lieutenant General Tamshiikushik Safida. This is an Imperial warzone, what is the Situational Inspection Team doing here?”
“We received a report, claiming that the northern region of the Empire commit heresies going against the teaching of Alderamin on a daily basis. The suspect is the Northern Stronghold, and content of the suspected crime is cruelty towards Sprites.”
Lieutenant General Safida’s mouth twisted with an ‘ughh’, he knew this very well.
“We are here to confirm the actual situation. However…”
The priest stopped here, and surveyed the surroundings carefully. Ikuta frowned when he saw that, and felt that this would be bad.
To think that the first thing they would see were the bodies of the Shinaaks be it elderly or the young─ but that didn’t matter right now, and the Alderamin Inspection Team wasn’t interested in that. Their point wasn’t the murders that would definitely occur during a war, but whether the non-human existence that accompanied them was treated with cruelty.
“... There is no need for a formal investigation. Just from what I can see here, there are obvious signs of attack against Sprites that exceeded that of self defence, and there are innumerable amounts of them.”
That was right, this was their main focus. The Imperial soldiers who lost control not only targeted the humans that couldn’t mount any resistance, they didn’t let the partner Sprite go either. There were decapitated Sprites, Sprites with missing limbs and Sprites they literally shredded─ Such horrible sights could be found everywhere in any number.
“According to our inspection, there is no doubt that the northern base is guilty of cruelty towards sprites. Our mission is to report this back to headquarters. Farewell then.”
“Wait… Please wait!”
Lieutenant General Safida stopped the inspection team that declared they had completed their tasks one sidedly. His face was a shade of green others had never seen before.
“Please wait, we have our reasons, allow me to explain─”
“I refuse. My mission is to report the truth that I see directly. If you wish to appeal, you have to do so after headquarters officially raise their protest.”
“What an accommodative way of doing things! No matter what, I won’t let you leave just like this!”
“Are you planning to arrest us? Don’t forget the priests of Alderamin have diplomatic immunity. If our freedom are taken against our will, that action alone would be a heavy crime diplomatically.”
Lieutenant General Safida was at a loss for words in no time. Even though he was the commander of the Northern Stronghold, he couldn’t ignore the authority of the Alderamin church that was revered as the national religion. The diplomatic immunity of the priests were the highest form of authority, so the Lieutenant General didn’t have any proper reason to detain them.
After noting that the Lieutenant General was completely silent, the priest led his inspection team away without a word. Everyone present thought that Lieutenant General Safida’s military career was over with that.
Even if the Lieutenant General talked his way out of the huge number of unnecessary losses during the civil unrest of the northern region, the big diplomatic issue of mistreating sprites was still waiting for him. If Ikuta was in his shoes, he couldn’t think of any perfect way to avoid taking responsibility and keep the position of Stronghold Commander.
─ He is getting his just desserts. His retribution was too lenient, but it was still an adequate result.
Ikuta wanted to dispel his dissatisfaction and frustration with such thoughts. However, the subject himself still haven’t given up.
“I… I want to catch up with them! You lot follow me!”
When they heard their commander who had fallen into a desperate situation issue such an order, the soldiers all had the expression that seemed to say ‘enough already’.
“... Even if you say that, what can we do when we catch up?”
“Follow alongside and persuade them of course! Captain Sazaruf! Pick a company that is still energetic from your battalion! They will escort me!”
Captain Sazaruf pressed his forehead as if he was nursing a headache, then look at his subordinates… Energetic unit, he felt like telling the Lieutenant General the truth that there were no such units. But he chose to be mature and endure it.
“... Company Commander Ikuta, my apologies, but can you and your unit go?”
If there was a relatively lively unit, this would be the right choice. Ikuta hated war that was always accompanied by annoying complements, and forced himself to nod.
“... Then the 200 men of Ikuta Solork will accompany Lieutenant General Safida.
If he wasn’t indebted to Captain Sazaruf, Ikuta would claim to have a stomache.
The pace of the Inspection team was faster than they imagined, and Ikuta’s group couldn’t catch up after moving off for quite a while. In the end, they weren’t sure which splinter path they took, and the soldiers subtly give out the message that they should ‘give up and go back’. But it was impossible for Lieutenant General Safida to understand this.
“Climb higher! To the place where the field of vision is wider!”
Lieutenant General Safida seemed to be planning to look down from a high vantage point to search for the Inspection Team’s position. Would he give up if he couldn’t find them? Ikuta’s company climbed up the hill with such expectations in their heart.
After scaling to the top of an exceptionally tall ridge, they could see the entire north from the Grand Arfatra Mountains. If they were here on a leisure trip, this would be the best spot to enjoy the scenery, but everyone was already seek of high places.
The group searched with their eyes open. They would scan the area with their eyes, and zoom in with binoculars if they spot plausible targets. However, they couldn’t find the Inspection Team after a long search. Ikuta told the Lieutenant General that they might be walking along the blindspot of the mountain path, but he got an angry response, asking him to find them once the Inspection Team exit that blindspot.
At this moment, Torway spotted ‘that’ with his great eyesight.
“... Ah… Erm… Ik-kun… That…”
“What is it? Found them? Even if you did, it will be better to pretend you didn’t.”
“Not that… Ik… Ik-kun, look… at… that…”
Torway handed him the binoculars with trembling hands, making Ikuta feel uneasy, but he still took it. He adjusted the focus as directed by Torway, and found the target a few seconds later.
His breathing stopped for a moment ─ there was a group of people over there, but that definitely wasn’t the inspection team.
It was an army that numbered over 10,000 men.
“─ What is that…!”
At the head of the long formation, a flag was flown. A pure white star on a dark green background─ That was the crest that represented the star of the Alderamin church. There was only one army that uses this crest as a banner.
“Ra-Saia-Alderamin… The army of the Aldera church…!”
Ikuta hoped that this was an illusion because of altitude sickness as he stated the identity of the other party.
Ra-Saia-Alderamin─ This was a religious country to the north of the Grand Arfatra Mountains. Other than being the headquarters of the Aldera Church, it also functions like an autonomous nation. It borders the Katjvarna Empire and Kioka Republic, and maintains a neutral position throughout history without siding either country. This nation being located to the north of the Grand Arfatra Mountains played a huge part in maintaining the myth that no enemy could pass through the ‘stairway of god’.
“... That nation would only display the one star banner when they are on a Jihad right?”
“They are heading our way, towards the south… Which means…”
“─ They want to punish us in the name of the god… Is that it?”
Yatori who came to his side without him realizing was looking through her own binoculars as she finished his sentence. The others who noticed the sudden change also gathered around them.
“How could this be… Those priests aren’t an inspection team, but an army’s vanguard that is doubling as an inspection team. They are already certain of the northern stronghold’s guilt, and what happened earlier was just the ultimatum before the war─”
Ikuta who was observing the army through the lenses recalled the itch in his heart all this time.
“... Is that so… Those robes…!”
The logic of all these clicked in his mind ─ The day Major Taekk was murdered, there were many robes left in the room. Ikuta had been wondering what this could mean.
The most plausible hypothesis was Shinaak thieves getting into the house by impersonating as Alderamin devotees. In that case, the clean way they killed all the humans in the house without letting anyone outside notice could be explained. First of all, they were invited into the house as real guests, and only showed their true nature when the people inside let down their guard. The robe that covered the entire head would conceal the features of the Shinaaks as well.
However, one more actor would be needed to enact this plan, which was an Alderamin priest leading the pilgrimage. If the priest wasn’t there, they would be unconvincing. In other words, if this theory was correct, then there must be a priest─ or someone pretending to be a priest— present back then.
Ikuta deduced this much, and admit that this was a well executed plan. However, he didn’t expect such a development. The Kioka Republic actually allied with the priests of Alderamin, and persuaded the Ra-Saia-Alderamin to invade the Empire out of their ‘holy duties’, using the misdeeds of Lieutenant General Safida as the excuse─ On top of that, they also incited the civil unrest of the Shinaaks too. For the speculation of one man, the scale of this conspiracy was too big.
“... Torway… Try your best to gauge how far Ra-Saia-Alderamin… the Holy Aldera Army and their headquarters behind are…”
“And from that estimate, calculate how long they would take to reach here. We need to know how much time we have left. How long they would catch up to us, and the time needed to withdraw our all our forces…”
As Ikuta said that, he predicted in his heart that the plan this time would yield some very harsh numbers ─ They would be fine if the army simply pulls back from the battlefront. If they could abandon their heavy and bulky resources, they just need order the units who were ready to fall back.
But if they did that, what would happen once they leave the mountains? It would be safe to assume that the goal of the Holy Aldera Army was to destroy the Northern Stronghold that violated their religious law, and suppress the northern region.The Northern Stronghold that was exhausted from the long campaign against the Shinaaks would need to face the prospect of a Northern invasion they had never imagined before. Not only was this a new threat, it was an unexpected one. If they couldn’t mount a well equipped defensive position, could they stand against their adversary?
The answer was no.
In conclusion— no matter what, the Northern Stronghold needs time. They need time to retrieve the minimum amount of equipment and resources they committed into battlefront, pull back their entire forces, and mount a proper defence after returning to the plains. If possible, having the time for central to dispatch reinforcements after learning about the emergency would be ideal…
“What a messy war… To think the complimentary bonus would be larger than the war itself─”
The heavy workload was becoming overwhelming. In order to resist the temptation of abandoning everything, he uttered these words with a trembling voice, and his tone sounded really like a prayer.
Volume 2 End