The Sloth VS The Insomniac
Editor: Rockgollem, Ruzenor, Rain Storms
“It’s about time, let’s engage the enemy.”
Ikuta said in the headquarters tent, making most of the members seated at the table with him wonder if there was something wrong with their hearing.
“You want to have a battle with them… What nonsense is that? Haven’t our efforts to burn the entire forest down because of the wide gap in our numbers made it impossible for us to fight a normal stalling battle?”
Matthew asked with a shocked expression, and Ikuta acknowledged this natural reaction with a nod.
“It is as you said, Matthew. Burning the forest had the same result as we predicted, the Holy Aldera Army are stalled at the other side of the forest, and the fire line of defence is going smoothly.”
“Then there isn’t anything to worry about right? We just need to keep up our surveillances, and keep the fire going…”
“You need to think through it carefully, Matthew. Under such circumstances, the enemy would make a detour.”
Yatori who was seated opposite Ikuta, with Captain Sazaruf between the two of them interjected. When he heard that, Matthew turned stiff, then leaned towards the rectangular table the group was seated at.
“... Wait! Is a detour possible?!”
“Judging purely from the terrain—— Nana, can you explain the details?”
The Shinaak Tribal Chief who was sitting docilely to the right of Ikuta nodded frankly after hearing this request, and pulled the map on the center of the table towards her.
“The Arfatra Mountains are our turf. Compared to the south, there aren’t many tribesmen living in the north, but thankfully, our ancestors had paved a road in order access more territory. The Gagarukasakan forest road which the Aldera Army bastards originally wanted to take was also paved by us in our pursuit for more land to the north.”
Half way through Nanak’s speech, Captain Sazaruf pounded his fist onto his palm as if he understood.
“Now that she mentioned it, I remember a commotion that happened in the past. When I was still a Second Lieutenant, so about 7 or 8 years ago… Aldera sent us a complaint, protesting that the Shinaak was ignoring the national boundaries, and was moving freely on the north side of the Arfatra Mountains. The Northern Stronghold was forced to take action, and I remembered bracing myself for it to devolve into a riot. I felt relieved when it ended with just a warning.”
“Hmmp, that’s a boundary you decided on your own, there isn’t anything written on the land that states who owns it in the first place.”
Nanak expressed her dissatisfaction. Before the topic becomes unnecessary complicated, Ikuta smoothly stepped in to ease the mood.
“Anyway, because of this, the Shinaak are familiar with the terrain to the north of the mountains. Nana, did you raise the possibility of a detour based on your knowledge?”
“That’s right. From the western edge of the Gagarukasakan forest and moving further out, you can get into the mountain trail used by my tribesmen in the past to access water at the foot of the mountain. It is too small for a large number to pass through, but if they choose their path carefully, it is possible to move behind us. I walked along these paths personally when I was preparing for war, so this information is absolutely guaranteed.”
“Ik-kun, if that is the case, the enemy would have no reason to stay here and fight us…”
In response to Torway’s disheartening words, Ikuta shook his head.
“It’s not that simple either. Torway, let me ask you this: Do you think the Holy Aldera Army predicted that they would need to go around Gagarukasakan forest when they planned their campaign?”
“... That is unlikely. There are five possible paths in the forest, if it was up to me, I would judge that there were more than enough options available on the ground. Even though there might be ambushes along the way, it would still be easier than fighting after scaling the mountain.”
“That is an adequate judgement. Unless they predicted that a huge fire defense line would make the route impassable, they wouldn’t have considered the necessity of securing an alternate way. Of course, I couldn’t be sure that the enemy didn’t think this far—”
“— But if they did, it would be strange as they didn’t change their direction of advance earlier. They didn’t send a detachment to take the detour path either… No matter what, the enemy didn’t make any moves that to suggest they thought that far.”
Yatori helped to shore up the explanation. At this moment, Haroma who was sitting diagonally across her raised her hand a little.
“But what do you think about them attacking fire with fire? Since our opponent implemented such a plan smoothly, that is evidence that they had expected this much…”
“I was surprised about this too, but I think that was a tactic someone came up with after observing the situation. And that person might have the knowledge on how to counter fire, but not to the extent of predicting that they would be blocked by a wall of flames. In this case, we should take this as a sign that the one who proposed it had enough influence to start the countermeasures smoothly.”
This wasn’t for certain, but there were too many unknowns, so Ikuta didn’t brood over it too much. He continued onto the next topic:
“As for the tactic of fighting fire with fire, there is no way it will put out the flames dramatically faster. Considering the fact that the widest path in the middle of the forest isn’t being burnt, we can assume that the enemy is only treating this as a backup plan. They won’t wait docilely for the fire to burn out, it’s about time they make a move.”
“So you are expecting the enemy to scout for an alternate route? In order to stop them, we need to draw their attention here, so it is necessary to fight a battle with them at this time.”
Captain Sazaruf concluded, and Ikuta was thankful for his summary.
“Before the civil war, the elite ‘phantom unit’ from Kioka already infiltrated the Arfatra Mountains. They had probably obtained knowledge on the surrounding lands, and relayed the geographical details to their home nation… Therefore, it would be too optimistic to assume that the Holy Aldera Army who were goaded into invading us didn’t know about the alternate path Nana mentioned just now.”
“In other words, the Holy Aldera Army is hesitating between these two options? One is to break through the walls of fire and continue their march, the other way is to give up and send their troops down the alternate path.”
“Making the detour would be a bitter choice for the enemy. If they take the long way around, it will definitely mess up their timing to attack the retreating Imperial forces… However, stalling them for that long wouldn’t be enough for our goal. The best estimate for our allies to finish their retreat would be 14 days. Sooner or later, the unit behind us would need to take over the mission in a field battle, but we are still the biggest obstacle in the way of the Holy Aldera Army. So for the next eight days, I want to stall the enemy right here.”
As Ikuta stated a clear number of days, everyone present turned tense...However, Torway who felt uneasy, suddenly said:
“What should we do if the enemy tried breaking through from the front while simultaneously taking a detour? For example, leaving half their forces here, and the other half making a detour…”
Matthew and Haroma both let out an ‘ah’, but Ikuta shook his head.
“This might be possible if the enemy numbered above 20,000. But they only have 12,000. Even though the main Imperial forces suffered losses during the long civil war, we still have 6,000 men aside from us. From the perspective of the invader fighting on away grounds, no matter how you dice it, any analysis would show that it is unwise to divide their forces here.”
“It might be difficult for them to split their forces in half, but the enemy might be planning for their forces to link up after they breakthrough into the mountains, and send a part of their men to make the detour, that’s possible right? For example, dispatching a thousand or two soldiers…”
“That might be possible, but it would be a problem for later. The number of ratio of cavalry in the Holy Aldera Army isn’t too high. If they send more than a thousand man to detour, they would mainly be infantry, and they would need to move at their pace no matter how fast they march. In other words, even if they move out right now, they would only reach three days later. For our part, we need to observe how the enemy moves, and depending on the situation, send half of our forces to intercept. However——”
“—— For the detour path, there is a narrow stretch right before the path forks that is advantageous for the defenders, and there is a fort there too. It hasn’t been maintained for a long time, but I already contacted our comrades at our back, and it can be fixed up in just two days. Even if the enemy outnumber us by five folds, there wouldn’t be a problem holding our ground for 4 to 5 days.”
After Nanak finished, Captain Sazaruf raised his hand suddenly.
“... Can I mention something? When we start fighting off the enemy, what if those guys… The phantom unit approaches from the rear?”
“I don’t plan to let them come so close. Our allies are keeping an eye on the main mountain routes, and we have a wide vantage of view in this place. Unless they are real phantoms, it would be impossible for them to stab our backs unnoticed.”
“... I hope so…”
Captain Sazaruf looked a bit anxious, but didn’t say anything. The black haired youth took note that they would need to talk later, and turned his gaze onto Torway.
Due to the plan formulated by Ikuta and its feasibility guaranteed by the Shinaak natives, most of their worries were dispelled—— But despite that, Torway had no choice but to raise his final concern.
“... What if enemy reinforcements appears in the next few days?”
At this point of the discussion, Ikuta failed to reply immediately for the first time. He spent some time to choose his words slowly, then answered:
“If that happens, I will send more troops to the fort at the detour path and try holding the front line. This would mean less people being here, but it should be manageable to a certain extent… But on the off chance that the enemy reinforcement is larger than what we can handle — Although that chance is really low, considering the military forces Aldera possesses — Then it’s checkmate, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Ikuta frankly announced the worst that could happen, and the air turned heavy.
There wasn’t any way around it no matter what they did… Such a situation might arise. The young soldiers used their imaginations to visualize what would happen to them should they suffer the worst luck.
“But don’t worry, I have already thought of an argument to handle that situation.”
The young man said with a sarcastic smile and Yatori asked immediately: “What would you say?”
Actually, the two of them had been acquainted for a long time, so she could more or less tell what would happen.
“『— Please spare me, I never dreamed that my actions would be punished by God.』”
“『Why? Tell me your reason.』”
Acting in concert with Ikuta who started talking in a sad tone, Yatori started responding with a stern voice akin to a priest.
“『I heard the voice of God in the past, and that was the reason behind everything.』”
“『Back then, God said ——「Actually, I don’t exist.」』”
A moment later, air was expelled from several mouths. Matthew and Haroma laughed directly, while Torway averted his face with a hand on his mouth. Captain Sazaruf seemed really amused by it, and was laughing with his head down and hands on his stomach.
“... And from that, everyone should understand how thorough my preparation is — Alright, anyone have any questions about the discussion so far? If not, we will move on to the next topic.”
Except for Yatori, everyone nodded while trying to stifle their laughter. After confirming the mood had turned serious again, Ikuta got to the point.
“I said we should fight a battle with the enemy, but we can’t do that with even odds. Let’s talk about the details of our battle plan — And of course, I want to make the fight as easy as possible.”
During the entire time from daybreak until a little after noon, General Akugarpa kept making weird sounds intermittently. Lieutenant Colonel Michelin tried talking to the General in the beginning, but decided to ignore him and adopt the attitude to not look for trouble.
“Shhhyyyyaaaa! You are too slow you imbecile!”
The General suddenly roared even though no one was in front of him. The soldiers in the vicinity all turned and looked at him, Lieutenant Colonel Michelin also looked at his superior in surprise.
“... General, who were you reprimanding just now?”
“Hmmp, don’t worry. I am not lashing out at you or blaming the scout who went to recce the front. I just feel that if I keep suppressing the frustration inside my stomach, I would yell at the soldiers reporting to me meaninglessly. That’s why I am venting it out first, Fuhaha!”
Perhaps his shouting made him feel better? General Akugarpa smiled in a much better mood. Lieutenant Colonel Michelin sighed — His supervising officer wasn’t a bad person, but his tongue is nasty and, worst of all, this wasn’t good for the heart.
“G… General Sir! Reporting in! I am terribly sorry for being late!”
Shortly later, a messenger appeared on horseback, quickly dismounted before the General and saluted. This soldier seemed to have heard that roar earlier by coincidence, and seemed to be fearing admonishment.
“Relax, you aren’t that late — How is it?”
“My apologies for failing to meet your expectations… But after searching, I couldn’t find a gap in the wall of fire that the army could advance through.”
“... Not a single spot? Not even a tiny gap?”
“It’s regrettable, but the fire wall in the forest is thicker than I imagined. As the fire was just set by the enemy there aren’t any obvious gaps in the burning rate of each zone. There probably would be gaps appearing because of the different rate of burning in another two to three days, but…”
The messenger braced himself to be yelled at and shut his eyes tightly. But contrary to his expectations, General Akugarpa answered in a calm tone:
“Alright, I understand. It must be hard on you and your men to have searched the entire time since midnight. Before any new orders come, take your men back to the unit and rest.”
After hearing these unexpected words of appreciation, the messenger was shocked, but returned to his senses and ran off after saluting. Lieutenant Colonel Michelin muttered:
“... It’s still no good huh?”
“I already expected this… But we have to give proper consideration on making a detour.”
That was what he said, but in reality Akugarpa already gave instructions in the morning to form a 1800 men detachment unit to take the detour route. Even without Jean’s advice, he wasn’t an indecisive General who would stay in place when faced with an impassable obstacle.
“Shhyyyaahh— That’s annoying! It’s a route we didn’t expect to take, and it would take a lot of time to change our direction of advance. Who knows what we might encounter on the path there!”
“I understand how you feel, but adapting to the situation is something normal on the battlefield.”
“Don’t give such textbook speech, it reminds me of the dogmatists in our country and makes me mad… Forget it, now is the time to make a decision. Since there is no other way, send the detachment to the detour route immediately—”
“— It’s still too early for that, how about waiting ten more minutes?”
A steadfast and kind voice filled with confidence came from behind. General Akugarpa and Lieutenant Colonel Michelin turned back, and saw a white haired youth standing behind them with one male and one female aide.
“So it’s the brat, I didn’t ask for you today.”
“Syah, that’s too naive. When you reach my standard, appearing without being summoned is possible too.”
“In the army, that’s disobeying orders and arbitrary behavior. Lieutenant Miara Gin and Captain Taznyado Harrah are here too? All the Exchange Officers are here, just what are you guys trying to do?”
“I will report to you after the situation changes, but let’s chat before that.”
General Akugarpa frowned because of Jean’s cryptic behavior. At this moment, he heard someone calling for him from behind. He turned back in astonishment, and found the messenger who left charging in at full speed.
“R… Reporting! The flames in the forest path right in front of us are weakening!”
“What did you say!?”
The General opened his eyes wide in surprise, but decided to confirm for himself. After seeing the commander and his deputy charge ahead, Jean’s group followed them closely.
As they gradually approach the forest, the scorching heat and smog blew right in their faces. Without anything flammable in the area, the wide road served as a barrier against fire. That was why they could breath here without getting choked by the smoke.
However, a short distance up the gradual slope of the hill, they would reach a place where the twists and turns result in a drastic drop in the width of the path. From that spot onwards the ground was filled with easily flammable logs, and the burnt trees on the side of the road were also hot obstacles that stubbornly deny humans from invading — That’s how it should be.
“... What is going on? The fire and smoke is subsiding, I can see the road on the other side.”
General Akugarpa said, his expectations being off the mark. Just like what he said, compared to yesterday, the flames had been drastically weakened. The only place that were still burning brightly was a short stretch ten to twenty meters ahead of them. Further up, there were only ashes continuing to spew smoke vexingly. Everyone could see this scene clearly from across the fire.
“If it is just this much, I think we can extinguish it in a few hours if we send some men here…”
The messenger said with a doubtful face. Even though he agreed with this assessment, General Akugarpa still couldn’t understand the situation before his eyes. The General frowned, turned and looked at Jean’s group that was behind him.
“What is happening? The fire on the widest path is going to burn out, why is the enemy ignoring this?”
The white-haired officer answered with an angelic smile:
“Yah*, he obviously want us to pass through here.”
“Hey bray, I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
Thinking that Jean wasn’t giving a straight answer, the General glared at him. However, Jean just shook his head slowly.
“Hah*, I am not speaking in jest, but let’s make it easier to understand — the enemy don’t want us to make the detour.”
At this moment, General Akugarpa finally understood something in his head. He turned once again and stared at the forest path before him.
“Is this a trap?”
“It’s too obvious for the enemy to call it a trap. Calling it a lure… would be more adequate.”
“I don’t care what it’s called! Anyway, what you are saying is that the enemy intentionally left a gap in their firewalls to make us stay here and dissuade us from detouring, correct?”
After Jean nodded silently, the General of the Holy Army threw his head back suddenly and laughed.
“Shaahahaha! Just let us make the detour to stall for a few more days would be enough, but the Imperial forces are really greedy! —Hey! Michelin!”
“Dismiss the detachment that is supposed to head down the detour path, and post them back to their original units. Also, send pioneers to extinguish the fire here. They can cover it with dirt or douse them with pee, I don’t care what they do as long as the fire is put out as quickly as possible.”
“— Yes Sir, I will make get it done.”
Lieutenant Colonel Michelin turned and dash back to headquarters after getting his orders. Jean watched him go with the corner of his eyes, then said suddenly with a serious expression:
“— General, I need to tell you something. If you start putting out the fire now, it would be night by the time you finish.”
When he heard the reminder from Jean, General Akugarpa looked up at the sky with a stern face.
“... Probably. The sun is rather far towards the west now.”
“Syah*, it will turn into a night assault against enemy grounds. Please understand the disadvantage of this situation.”
The accusation was spot on. The General crossed his arms in thought.
“... We could push the time back too. Instead of attacking immediately after dousing the fire, how about doing so at dawn tomorrow?”
“As expected of you to be calm enough to consider this point. However, you probably need to attack despite knowing that launching a night assault is disadvantageous.”
“Because the enemy will seal the route with fire if we don’t attack before dawn. I don’t think the Imperial army would accept a disadvantageous battle while being outnumbered with their primary mission being to stall for time.”
“... You mean we will lose the chance to attack if we are afraid?”
“There are probably no other choice but to take the bait and fight them. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the situation is in our favour. They will be done for if they lose once, but even if we don’t win, we just need to think about our next course of action.”
General Akugarpa accepted this and nodded. At this moment, Jean suddenly drew close and whispered:
“I have a suggestion, instead of probing about as we attack…”
Jean whispered quietly, and the knot on the brows of the General deepened as he listened.
“No, I can’t approve that.”
“Hah*… I understand the heavy implications behind the religious taboos, but please…”
“The fact that you are saying that means you don’t understand the value behind what is forbidden. Think about it carefully, aside from you people being the exceptions, the ten thousand soldiers in my army are all Aldera believers. And their faith is so strong that they are willing to devote their lives to a jihad.”
“Syool*! I understand this completely from the high morale of the troops.”
“That’s right. However, looking from the opposite perspective, this mean that the army is reliant on this. The only thing I can count on for our army that have not experience live battles for a long time would be our morale. Our training lacks far behind the Imperials. That is why the morale of the troops must absolutely not drop— Hence, I cannot permit any actions that would shake the foundation of our morale.”
General Akugarpa said firmly with a serious expression, and Jean seemed impressed as he answered with an “Oh.”
“... Mum*, I am completely convinced with no grounds to protest — This might sound rude, but compared to two years ago, you have changed quite a bit, General. You are actually looking objectively at faith as an element to shore up combat potential… That honestly surprises me.”
“You don’t have the right to say that. This is the result of your education, Mr Military Consultant. Introducing the Kioka way of thinking and letting it seep into Aldera— That should be one of your missions.”
General Akugarpa stared at the three of them as if he was watching a comedy. Jean nodded without any hint of guilt.
“To think that you can understand without needing us to bring it up, this is a huge step in improving the relations of both countries.”
“Is that what you really think? As long as you all don’t stop your schemes, getting along would just be a nonsensical dream… I am not sure if you are aware, but sometimes, the smiles of the Kiokas look as thin as paper.”
After saying his piece, General Akugarpa turned and left too. Jean’s group kept some distance as they followed, and spoke softly to each other.
“It has always been like this, but negotiating with religious people is such a pain.”
“Nyatt*! That’s not true, Miara. General Akugarpa is very smart, and his thinking is flexible despite his age. And compared to the priests in the church, he has the vision to see the true nature of things. For me, this is just preparation before I request him to accept something else. That way, he will find it hard to reject me when I ask again in the future.”
“Jean, you are the one who nurture his comprehensive capability. It is good for him to be comfortable with the Kioka way of thinking, but if he is good enough to read us, wouldn’t that be bad in a lot of ways?”
Captain Harrah shared his justified concern. For an instance, the ‘paper thin smile’ vanished completely from Jean’s face.
“... Reading our hidden intent, seeing through our thoughts and deducing further things from that… These are the basics of negotiations. If a country couldn’t do this much, then their diplomatic abilities would take the childish stance of calling for the destruction of the old theologist.”
His words started getting emotional, and a drop of fresh blood dripped from his clenched fist.
“Even though it has political value, I don’t want to acknowledge the existence of such a nation. Stubbornly announcing their extremist views and persistent in war after war. In the end, there wouldn’t be victors or losers left on the chessboard, only mountain of corpses would remain— Having such a tragedy happening once is more than enough. You understand? It’s already too many, Harrah.”
“... I understand Jean. I spoke too lightly.”
Noticing that he stepped on a landmine, Captain Harrah took back his words. This was probably enough to satisfy him as Jean’s face reverted to his usual kind smile.
“— Yah*, then let’s make preparation for the night. It would be best if we can settle this without taking the field, but I don’t think such a good thing would happen. That’s what my instinct tells me— Or rather, that’s what I would want.”
“Well then, I will place my bets on us not needing to take the field. After all, it has been a long time since I last saw disappointment on Jean’s face.”
Miara replied mischievously, and Harrah smiled too. The white-haired officer pouted as he looked at his two subordinates unhappily.
The sun set beyond the horizon and night fell. The remnant night light gradually faded from the western sky, making it a beautiful yet anxious moment. However, many imperial soldiers ushered in this moment in the forest filled with smoke and heated air.
So hot. I’m the one who set the fire, but this is like a boiling pot in hell.
Ikuta was annoyed by the sweat that kept coming out from his neck no matter how many times he wiped it, as he muttered the things everyone else was thinking in his heart.
It is hard to breathe. This might be better than breathing in smoke, but my brain feels dull because of the lack of oxygen.
All the soldiers had put on makeshift masks made from cloth of delicate quality, or rather, the lower half of their faces was covered in a protective mask. Just doing this would make people wonder how effective it was against poisonous fume released from half burned materials. But the fact it could suppress the sound of coughing from numerous soldiers was enough to justify its value.
Behind him was complete darkness, and in comparison, the field of vision before them was much better. After all, the moonlight illuminated the area and they are positioned in the forest, looking onto the road. The opposite was true for the enemy, it was advantageous for the imperials hiding in the dark.
It had been quite a while since the noise of the workers putting out the fire stopped. The enemy would appear any time now.
He unconsciously exerted strength onto the weapon in his hand, and he felt a sharp pain near the wound on his missing finger. He bit his lips to endure the pain, the luminous sprite attached to his bowgun sensed the tension from its master, and looked at Ikuta with concern. Ikuta responded with his gaze “I’m fine”.
You are really an optimist, you think you can win?
Ikuta felt the illusion of someone whispering beside him, but he was wrong. The voice came from himself.
——How foolish. Since the fire line of defense is working, shouldn’t you be satisfied with just that? Why stop the enemy if they want to detour, just watching them go in relief would be fine right? It would be a bargain to stop them for four to five days. Even if you didn’t stop the detour, you already did all you could in stalling 12,000 men with 600 troops. That’s all you need to excuse yourself.
That seemed to be the core of his persona speaking, and the content was really harsh. Ikuta felt stupid for doing so, but he still refuted himself.
If the main forces behind us fail to retreat, the entire north would fall into the hands of Aldera. What do you think will happen to the Empire then? On top of the Eastern region taken by Kioka, the Empire would be pressured by two nations to the north and the east! If it comes to this, it would be gg in strategic terms.
——This situation didn’t start now right? Aren’t you the one who assessed the current situation of the Empire to be ‘on the last stage of a downhill decline’? You were planning to watch idly by in a safe place while the Empire head towards destruction, but when you’ve come to your senses, you are standing at the forefront and preventing this situation from happening. What kind of joke is this?
The youth gritted his teeth. In order to silence the voice in his heart, he churned his rational mind for a counter argument.
That is an unfortunate development, everything here is. After I did my best to protect my comrades and subordinates, I am already at the front line when I realized it. It’s the same now, I am doing this to allow everyone to return alive.
—— So this is the result? A battalion of 600 men and 120 Shinaak combatants against the 12,000 strong Holy Aldera Army? Ara, what a great plan.
I don’t think the chances of winning is low. We will be attacking the very moment the enemy enter this narrow path, and it is a night ambush. More than enough to make up for the disadvantage in numbers.
—— Is that what the textbooks say? A newly minted Warrant Officer brat, having the confidence that doesn’t match your station. I don’t think that is so, but do you think you are a once in a thousand years genius because you survived all this while due to luck?
From the simulation battle with Captain Sarihasrag to the battles I have fought so far, I have always achieved passing grades. This isn’t overconfidence, it is proof that my skill in using troops can be used practically.
—— Oh, that poor first born son of House Remeon! If you think defeating that man is proof of your abilities, that mean you have regressed. Think about it calmly. Are you hoping that the officers of the Holy Aldera Army you will be facing will just be a little more capable than that guy? ——There’s a limit to how optimistic you can be, don’t forget what Yatori told you.
His breathing turned ragged as his heart raced. Before he even faced the enemy, the youth already forced himself into a corner.
—— The 21 years old Major sent as an exchange officer by Kioka to the Holy Aldera Army as a military consultant. Maybe that man is the true genius of this era. If the princess knew him, maybe she wouldn’t need to convince you. If that is so, it is finally time for your layer of gold to peel off ——
“Shut up, stop nagging about something that is just a mere possibility.”
Ikuta used a soft but firm voice to forcibly suppress the words in his heart. Most of the soldiers didn’t hear it, only Suya besides him shot him a strange look.
Sorry, it’s nothing.
Ikuta used his eyes to send this message, even though Suya still look doubtful, she didn’t pursue the matter. Ikuta sighed out in relief, then took a few deep breathes nonchalantly.
His hastened breathing and heartbeat slowly turned normal — and when he almost completed this movement, the sound of countless foot steps from nearby stirred the youth’s ear drums.
They are here.
This was the other side of the forest where Ikuta, Matthew and Nanak were standing by with 300 odd troops. The enemy was just about to turn in the meandering forest path. Yatori and Torway, along with 200 soldiers hid their presence in a position where they could launch a pincer attack.
Numerous dark shadows entered her sights. With just the moonlight illuminating the night, it was impossible to see the numbers and equipment. But from the sound of the dense footsteps and the formation along the breadths of the road, there were clearly more than three battalions or 1,800 men. The scale was too large for a scouting unit.
This is a reconnaissance in force… No, judging from the the terrain constraint, this is all they could send in. Without clear knowledge of our numbers, this is a bold move…
That might be so, but even if the enemy sent a smaller scouting unit, Yatori and the others would exterminate them before they could send the intelligence back. If they did that, they wouldn’t be able to complete their reconnaissance anyway, so the decision of the enemy general was praiseworthy.
Before fighting a large group of enemy, I wanted to engage a smaller number to prepare the troops’ mentally. But things won’t go as I wished in a real battle huh?
Yatori lamented the fact that things didn’t go her way as she signalled the soldiers to raise their weapon.
Inside the barricades blocking the road were 22 wind cannons and artillery soldiers operating them, and guards made up of luminous infantry hiding behind cover. The commander, Captain Senpa Sazaruf was about 200m away and could make out the silhouette of the enemy.
We are within cannon range of each other, but the enemies aren’t making any signs of firing at us. After all, a cannon battle would favour the side which is deployed on a higher ground. The enemies are probably not attacking since they’re sure they would be counter attacked.
Even though he understood the theory, Captain Sazaruf still think that this is a bold and decisive way of thinking. Before sending in infantry, it was the basics to use cannon fire to open up a path. After disrupting the enemy formation as much as possible and grinding down their numbers, the real assault would then begin. That was the usual practice.
Forget it, we won’t let them prepare their cannon in peace anyway.
Captain Sazaruf stopped observing the enemy from the gap of the barricades, then headed to the position where he could see the entire structure. As the overall commander, he was planning to order the attack — But he suddenly felt a chill and turned to his back.
Damn it, I can’t help being bothered by this. Will those Phantom guys really not attack?
For Captain Sazaruf, the phantom unit that was still hiding in the mountains was a potential threat he had to watch out for at all times. If they interfere in the important battle that will decide the war, it might be the key leading to the Imperial’s defeat.
The fact that he might be attacked from the rear bothered him a lot, making him lose focus, he even complain why there weren’t eyes on the back of his head. However, Ikuta gave an advice to his superior——
“‘The fear that they might be there’ — That’s the essence of the phantom unit, Captain.”
Ikuta said to his superior officer who was accumulating mental stress from over vigilance.
“To keep us from making bold moves because of the fear of a sneak attack — Please treat this as part of the phantom unit’s offensive… But don’t worry, there is an effective medicine for this symptom.”
After Ikuta finished, he took out his hands from his pockets and extended them towards the Captain. However, both of his palms were clenched.
“Please guess which side is holding a walnut.”
Ikuta didn’t give any further hints after saying that, so Captain Sazaruf had no choice but to brood with his arms crossed. After waiting for about 20 seconds, Ikuta opened his fingers gently.
His right hand was empty. There wasn’t anything in his left either. Neither hands had a walnut.
“Do you get it now? Captain, the 20 seconds you wasted just now is the same thing as the 20 seconds you wasted on worrying about the phantom. Since there isn’t any hints or information, there is nothing to be gained from worrying about something we can’t see. This is not scientific at all.”
Captain Sazaruf stared at the empty hands and groaned as Ikuta continued with a fearless smile:
“Even though their name is the phantom unit, their real identity is just a group of humans with legs and bodies. In that case, it would be impossible for them to hide from the surveillance of our allies positioned all over the mountain and attack us. They will show themselves before they could reach us, we just need to wait for that chance and—”
<TL: common jap belief is not ghost has no legs>
When he recalled those words, the chill on Captain Sazaruf’s back seem to weaken and he looked to the front once again.
I’m not going to think about it! It will be a shame at my age to be afraid of ghost!
Captain Sazaruf smiled wryly as he focused his attention on the situation before him with renewed vigor. In the dark forest path, the enemy was close enough that he couldn’t ignore them anymore.
How can we let the chance for a preemptive attack slip?
After steeling himself, Captain Sazaruf breathed hard to fill his lungs with air, and gave the orders to the luminous infantry under his command.
“— Beams on! Begin the battle!”
The blinding light swept the darkness from two different angles. One came from the barricades right in front of the enemy, the other came from Ikuta’s unit hiding in the forest. The enemy who were just shadows turned into clear silhouettes, and the fearful figures of the army were illuminated clearly.
The commanders gave the orders, and countless bolts and bullets rained onto the group, along with 22 cannon rounds. The light and sound that destroyed the enemy sight and hearing poured in like a torrent, and the battle began.
“Damn it! Such an astonishing number right from the start…! I did expect this but…!”
The noise threatening to burst their ear drums contrasted deeply with the silence a few seconds ago. Matthew and his soldiers raised their air shooters and shot at the enemy before them.
The sound of the compressed air exploding overlapped with each other, and the enemy whose flanks were hit by lead bullets fell one after the other. The gun unit led by Torway was on the other side of the road, forming a pincer attack on the enemy.
“Tsuu! Be careful not to choke!”
Matthew took a bullet from the pouch on his waist and stuff it into the mouth of his sprite. As his partner was loading and compressing air, Matthew used the time to aim. After completing the actions, he squeezed the trigger of the air shooter, then repeated the entire process.
He didn’t even have the time to rest for a second. If Torway and his gun unit don’t keep cutting down the enemy numbers, the barricades that were right before the enemy would be overwhelmed.
Torway felt the same pressure. On top of that, they had the new weapons, air rifles, so he felt a strong obligation to contribute the result to match.
“I have to defeat more… more enemies! While Ikuta is helping to attract the enemy’s attention!”
The distance could no longer be called sniping, and Torway’s reluctance to shoot ‘living beings’ raised its ugly head again. But he suppressed his emotions and the bullets he fired hit the temple of the enemy soldier right on target. He had fired twelve consecutive shots, and had not missed a single time.
In the corner of Torway’s eyes, he could see numerous lights sparkling as it moved— Right now, Matthew and his air shooter unit were firing continuously with almost no retaliatory fire. That was because the luminous infantry led by Ikuta was drawing the enemy’s attention.
In order to aim at the enemy, a light source was needed. Shining a light at such a situation was the same as telling the enemy your position, and draw retaliatory fire. If they were counterattacked when they fire, run and shake off the enemy before firing again… Right now, they couldn’t afford the leisure of doing so. In such a battle, the gun unit should ideally stay in the same spot and fire continuously.
That was why they needed a unit to ‘shine a light’ and ‘feint’. In this battle, Ikuta’s 80 men unit fulfilled this role. They hid in the forest and ran around on the path, shining their lights from a position far away from other units, illuminating the enemy while drawing their attention. When they were fired upon, they would hide in cover, and continue shining when the shooting subsides. Repeating these actions helped to shift the attack focus of the enemy away from their allies.
“Everyone listen up, the highest priority is to snipe the enemy who noticed us, second would be anyone attacking the feinting unit! If we lose them, we will lose our chance to shoot undisturbed! Don’t forget that!”
Torway didn’t stop his hands as he issued this order to his subordinates and kept shooting. The exploding sound of compressed air erupted rhythmically like a precise machine, echoing continuously on the battlefield.
“Wow, the counter attack is really intense!”
The General of the Holy Aldera Army, Akugarpa Sa Domeisha stood in the forest about 300m from the barricades with his numerous guards.
“I can’t see clearly from here… Shyaa—! This is tormenting me! Hey Michelin! Can’t we go nearer!”
“This is already the limit, didn’t you saw cannon rounds falling just 10m from here?”
His deputy advised calmly. As they were positioned at a turn right before the approach to the barricades, they didn’t need to worry about stray bullets. But on the other hand, they couldn’t observe the battle from this place. It was only natural for the General commanding the army to be positioned here, but Akugarpa kept complaining.
“I understand how you feel, General. But the era where the general of an army would lead the charge is long gone.”
Jean who came over with Miara joined the faction that was persuading their commanding officer. The General glared at Jean’s friendly smile for a moment, then spat on the ground in obvious displeasure.
“Forget it! Wait for the signal for the second wave! Is the siege ladder ready!?”
“Ready to go!”
General Akugarpa nodded satisfyingly after hearing his subordinate’s answer.
“... After erecting 60 pillars, charge in. This is fine right, brat?”
“Yes. It doesn’t look like an obstacle that couldn’t be overcome with brute force, please proceed as plan.”
The white-haired officer answered unwavering, with a faint arrogant smile on his face.
“A volley is coming! Take cover!”
When they heard Ikuta who gave the command as he hid behind a tree, his subordinates all complied immediately. The rain of lead showered onto them from the side just a moment later, one of the wood fragments bounced off Ikuta’s forehead.
“Suya! Check for casualties! Get it done in 20 seconds!”
“Ah… Yes Sir!”
As his deputy consolidate the reports from the squad leaders, Ikuta slowly poked his head out from behind the tree he was using as a shield to carefully observe the battlefield.
“... Against the enemy’s attack, we are holding our own quite well. The fire rate of the cannons is good, Matthew and Torway are performing well too. As for anything strange— …Hmm?”
Among the enemy casualties were a few strange objects. The few soldiers who could survive their charge and made it near the barricade were ramming wooden logs into the ground. And these logs were about as big as a woman’s waist.
“Are those shields against bullets? I see, the goal of the first wave is to put up those logs… The opponent is going with a more orthodox route than expected. We better throw out the prejudice that they are an army that lacked battle experience.”
As Ikuta were furrowing his brows in awe of the enemy, Suya completed her check and reported:
“Lieutenant, reporting! There are 3 casualties, I sent them to the rear! Our unit have 73 men left!”
“Yes, got it — This position is at its limit, we have to move. We need to focus our lights on those guys pinning the logs onto the ground, remember that.”
Encouraged by the crisp reply, Ikuta once again ran in the forest. He was exhausted, but he couldn’t use that as an excuse to slow down. The scales of the battle wasn’t leaning towards either side yet.
After Ikuta noticed the logs, about ten minutes or so, the number of logs entrenched were enough for Captain Sazaruf to see its effects visibly.
“Those logs are in the way… They are blocking the trajectory of the cannon rounds.”
Captain Sazaruf who was watching the situation from the barricade clicked his tongue. If the deeply entrenched logs that was in the way of the cannon rounds were spread out, it wouldn’t affect the bombardment much. However, the enemy was planting them in a tight formation, so they were supporting each other, and it was growing into a screen that couldn’t be ignored. As the logs were reinforced with ropes tied to sand bags, the rounds that hit there would ricochet off. As a result, there would be occasional rounds that were fired, but fail to deal any damage.
“4th cannon and 17th cannon, shift your angle 2 degrees to the left! Avoid firing at the logs!”
He gave the order to deal with the problem at hand, but the Captain knew very well, that this wouldn’t solve the root of the problem. The issue right now was that the enemy were forming safe zones along their route of advance by entrenching these logs.
“Just these number of logs is enough to form a shield, if they continue planning more logs… Is the enemy planning to use them as cover, so they could increase the number of soldiers that could charge the barricade?”
I can’t let the enemy get their way… Captain Sazaruf muttered. But he didn’t have any concrete counter measures. In order to pull out the entrenched logs, they would need to send pioneers in… But was that possible in such an intense battle?
“Captain! I have something to report!”
Yatori ran to Captain Sazaruf with an urgent air about her, the Shinaak tribal chief Nanak Dar was also beside her. At this moment, the Captain could already guess what she wanted.
“Hey! Let us engage them in close quarter combat! And use the chance to pull out the annoying logs!”
“As expected… To be honest, I am hesitant about it. It’s too early, we should delay the dangerous melee charges as far back as possible.”
“If we make the decision too late, it would result in a danger to our lives. These logs are probably a setup for the second wave of attack. Please look at the logic behind their positioning. Instead of providing cover for the infantry, don’t you think they want to avoid our fire and bring something big in?”
This speculation sent a chill down Captain Sazaruf’s back— Just from the limit of his knowledge, he could think of several candidates for the large object that the enemy might bring in such a situation.
“But if you go in for close quarter combat, we need to stop the cannons…”
“No, don’t need for that. But in place of that, please fire the cannon at a higher angle. That way, the rounds will fly over our heads, and there wouldn’t be any problem pulling out the logs down below.”
If it could reduce the pressure from the enemy, and done in a way that the artillery soldier won’t misaim, this was a good plan indeed. After brooding it for a while, the Captain gave in under the intense gaze of the two women.
“... I understand, go on then. However, don’t push yourself. That includes you too, Nanak Dar.”
Nanak averted her face with an expression that says ‘mind your own business’. Captain Sazaruf expected such a reaction and shrugged, and then turned towards the barricade.
“After we pull the angle of the cannon high enough, I will get a luminous trooper to send a signal. The pulling of the logs should start from the front left. I will raise the angle on three cannons at the same time, so coordinate your movements accordingly.”
“However, you two absolutely can’t go beyond 100m in front of the cannons. It is too close to the enemy, and you might get hit by friendly fire. Ignore the logs in that area — that’s an order, now go!”
The two acknowledged their orders and ran to their waiting subordinates without turning back. Captain Sazaruf watched their backs as they left, and muttered a prayer: “Don’t die on me.”
When Ikuta saw Yatori and Nanak’s unit appeared in the middle of the intense battle zone, he slapped his forehead with a wry smile.
“I knew you two would do that… There are really a lot of brave warrior women among my close friends.”
He mumbled as he loaded a bolt into his nooked bowgun. His subordinates, with Suya as taking the lead, also did the same. At this moment, Ikuta suddenly spoke to his deputy:
“That includes you too, Suya.”
“Please… don’t say it like you just remembered, and added me in after the fact. And I didn’t ask anyway…”
“Ahaha, you are right… The top priority would be supporting Yatori’s unit and the Shinaaks. In order to lower the danger they face, we have to do everything we can.”
After hearing Ikuta’s instruction, his subordinates all nodded. The group avoided the bullets coming at them from the sides, and started moving in the forest at the same time.
Fresh blood spurted from the slit necks of the enemy. After changing her weapon from a bowgun with an attached bayonet to her favourite dual blades, Yatori and her subordinates engaged the enemy assaulting them, displaying their prowess and bravery.
“Keep your guard up! Once they see that the firing angle of the cannons had been adjusted, they will charge us!”
In the face of the enemy’s attack, Yatori and those holding on to their weapon protected the pioneers who were digging desperately with spades to unearth the logs. They were performing construction work in the middle of the battlefield.
And of course, it wasn’t an easy task. Pulling out the deeply entrenched logs not only require intensive labour, but would also be targeted by the enemy trying to stop them.
“How shameless of you! You dare step into our holy mountains with your stinking feet!?”
With a Kukri in each hand, Nanak fended off the enemy together with the Shinaak warriors. They didn’t know formations and military matters well, but in a chaotic melee, the Shinaak’s performance wasn’t inferior to the regular Imperial soldiers.
“Nanak Dar! You are too deep! It is hard to support you, don’t charge in on your own!”
“Who cares, red one! I never counted on your help anyway!”
But the problem was, the two units lacked teamwork. Nanak commanded her unit solely by her judgement, and ignored Yatori’s warning. In the end, the pace of the field work was uneven, and only the Shinaaks stuck out towards the enemy.
“Commander, this is a good chance! The enemy is withdrawing from their attack!”
One of her soldier yelled. Yatori turned her gaze to confirm, and found the number of soldiers charging the barricade had dropped drastically. This was undoubtedly a good chance to carry out field work, but she couldn’t feel happy about it.
“How strange, why are they retreating at such a time… Aren’t the enemy adamant about about their attack?”
Yatori felt ominous and stopped the soldiers who wanted to charge forth, and observe the situation carefully. However, Nanak seemed to have appraised this opportunity at face value, and led her troops towards the logs in the distance.
“Stop right there! Nanak Dar! The enemy is acting strange! Don’t go too far!”
“Hmmp! Getting cold feet at the critical moment!? Red one, you can just wait there then!”
Nanak wasn’t concerned, and the distance between the two units grew further. Yatori was hesitating about giving chase despite the danger, but she suddenly saw what was happening some distance behind the retreating enemy.
About 200m away, a group of wind gun soldiers formed a horizontal rank. The front row knelt and the second row stood. Of course the enemy was retreating. This wasn’t a formation for a charge, but for staying in place and firing their weapons.
“What are they scheming? Even if they fire from that distance, it won’t have much effect with the range of a wind gun—”
Midway through her thoughts, Yatori suddenly realized something. The uniform of the enemy forming the ranks — It was hard to see clearly without much light, but the uniform was obviously different from the soldiers they fought so far. When that shade of green matches the one in her memory, Yatori shouted at Nanak who was before her:
“— No! Fall back, Nanak Dar! That position has been targeted!”
The warning was in vain as the ten odd Shinaak warriors at the very front fell.
“Don’t stop! Continue firing!”
On Captain Taznyado Harrah’s command, the Kioka soldiers squeezed their trigger in unison.
The sound of multiple compressed air explosion erupted. The new weapon in their hands — The Air Rifles fired mercilessly as the powerful rounds pelted the Shinaak warriors 200m away.
“Yah*, that timing is splendid.”
Jean and Miara watched the scene from slightly behind them. Relative to the safe zone where General Akugarpa was waiting in, they were 30m further to the front.
“Jean, duck! The counter attack is coming!”
The moment after Jean squatted down, the sound something ripping through the air passed above his head. This was the retaliatory attack of the Imperial gun unit. On a closer look, several men from Captain Harrah’s gun group were shot.
Jean kept one knee onto the ground and mummered:
“... Mum*, that is a solid counter. We have to assume that the enemy are armed with air rifles too. They should be positioned slightly to the right of the center, on higher grounds… Near those woods? Look, right there—”
Seeing that her superior didn’t learn his lesson and was attempting to stand, Miara grabbed Jean’s head and push him down.
“You just need to speak with your mouth, don’t be careless and raise your head— There shouldn’t be the technology to craft air rifles on the Imperial side correct?”
“Professor Anarai who created this technology was originally a researcher from the Empire. He probably have students there too, so it wouldn’t be strange if the Empire is also developed the air rifle.”
As Jean were making his deduction, he could see over the shoulders of the soldiers that the gun unit had broken up their formation and was coming back. The 200 men returned to their columns and hid on either side of the road. The tall figure of Captain Harrah left the unit and ran straight to the white-haired officer.
“— I completed the assigned task, the enemy is busy ferrying their casualties.”
“Yah!* Before they could transport all their wounded to the rear, the enemy would not be able to revert the firing angle of their cannons— Thank you, Captain Harrah. Now things can finally move forward.”
After Jean said that with a wide grin, he stood up cooly and turned to his back. To save the time needed to send a messenger over a mere 30m, he shouted directly at General Akugarpa behind him:
“This is a great chance! General, please send in the siege ladder!”
A large number of enemy troops pushed a hybrid between a wagon and a ladder up the slope. Ikuta and his subordinates watched this scene as they hid in the forest.
“They are sending out siege ladders here…!”
Siege ladders were siege weapons that allow soldiers to scale and overcome forts and castles. A folding ladder were built onto a wagon, which would be deployed when they reached the obstacle. It had the function of avoiding the strong points of the fort and let the infantry break into enemy grounds.
“... This is terrible timing. There are casualties in the line of fire, so the effects of the cannons are still at half strength.”
Other than the few cannons with its angle tilted up, another half of the cannons couldn’t fire because the Shinaaks were spread out chaotically from the unexpected rifle attack. The enemy was trying to use this chance to push their siege ladders all the way to the barricade.
— What should I do?
This wasn’t a situation that could be influenced by shining lights and feinting attacks. From the number of enemy escorting the siege ladders, providing supporting fire from forest cover would have little effect… In the case, going back to the barricade and taking part in the defensive battle would be the right choice.
— But if I do that, what would happen to our Shinaak allies… to Nana?
He felt a stab of pain from his missing pinkie finger. That was the problem. Yatori’s unit was positioned closer to the barricade, and should be able to flee behind the barrier before the enemy attack. However, that wasn’t so for Nanak’s group. They would receive a second wave of attack in the middle of the intense battle zone with large numbers of casualties in tow.
— What should I do to avoid that?
The only thing Ikuta could do was commit his own forces into melee battle. He could only lead his luminous unit that was originally 80 strong, and had dwindled down to less than 70, into the fray to help their comrade that was in danger.
In other words, this was a typical two choose one. Should he aid them despite the risk? Or adopt the safer strategy and abandon them? Ikuta couldn’t help recalling the choice he had to make in the past.
— During that time with Kanna, I chose to abandon her.
He only knew the people he abandoned included Kanna after the fact, but that didn’t matter. She died in the end, in a terrible manner of being turned into a pincushion. For Ikuta, that was the truth being it all.
— Don’t be perplexed, there are only two factors to consider. The strategically sound option of helping them? Or the tactically correct choice to save myself?
Ikuta shook off the memories of those who had passed, pushing his emotions aside to make his judgement… Strategically speaking, he should help the Shinaaks as much as possible. Led by their tribal chief Nanak Dar, the defence line was only possible because of their existence. Their assistance would be indispensable from now on too.
Tactically speaking, what were the chances of saving them — very slim. Even if things went well, Ikuta could predict that there would be heavy losses. And that was assuming that he would be working in concert with Yatori—
“... Ah, what am I doing. It is that Yatori, it’s meaningless to brood over this right?”
Ikuta noticed something simple, and left all the thinking he had done behind. He felt that his roundabout way of thinking was wasteful as he turned to his men and ordered:
“This might be sudden, but hide and seek is over — every one fix bayonets!”
When Nanak realized her mistake, a horde of enemy was already right before her. She wielded her sword like a windmill to intimidate the enemy as she fended them off to protect her comrades.
“C… Chief…! Leave us and run! You will die too…!”
A Shinaak man who was shot in the leg by the earlier volley yelled. However, the young chieftain turned and cut down the soldier who was charging in to deal the final blow.
“If you have the time to bring up this nonsense, then crawl your way out — I will not leave here before that!”
Nanak who was covered in the blood of her enemy declared stubbornly… Amongst the 120 Shinaak warrior she led, more than 30 of her tribesmen were either dead or incapacitated by the volley just now. As the enemy was attacking en masse while they were transporting their wounded, they were forced to fight such a defensive battle.
“Ugghh! There is no end to this…! ...Ugh! What… What is that?”
Wagons loaded with ladders were moving amongst the infantry, heading one after another towards the barricade. As Nanak’s group was a blindspot for the cannons, the enemy was pushing siege ladder up this route too. A huge number of enemy ran around them, and the soldiers around the wagon all attacked at once.
“Ugh! You lot…!”
As the Shinaak warriors fell one by one before the tide of enemy soldiers, Nanak’s struggle was also reaching her limits. She had been identified as the commander, and the enemy sent 8 men to surround her, aiming at her with their bowgun.
I can’t parry all the attacks — Nanak shrink away, imagining her entire body being hit by arrows. But at that moment, reinforcement intercepted with a strong beam of light. The light that came from the side blinded the enemies, and they fell from the bolts that followed.
“Nana, are you alright!?”
She turned towards the familiar voice and saw Ikuta Solork holding a bowgun with a bayonet attached, leading a unit over. Nanak was about to show an expression of relief, but stopped and shouted urgently instead:
“Watch out Ikuta! There are enemies behind…!”
Maybe they were too focused on helping their allies, none of them watched their backs. A group targeted their defenceless rear and charged in, Nanak’s warning was drowned by the noise too. In the end, Ikuta’s and the others was about to receive an attack on their backs without being able to respond to it—
— In the nick of time, the soldiers led by the flame haired girl arrived and drove the enemy away in his stead.
What happened next was beyond Nanak’s understanding — in the battle where the bullets were flying about, Ikuta and Yatori’s led their unit to engage the enemy before them. As for the threat from behind, they left it to each other as if they had planned it beforehand.
“Form ranks! Protect the right flank of the casualties!”
“Form ranks! Defend the left side of our allies!”
The two commands were given almost simultaneously, and both of them made up for the inadequacies of each other. They splitted their task perfectly to expel the enemy around them, reorganized their formation on the fly to adapt to the situation, and the combat prowess of the two units gradually merged.
Instead of a human organization, they looked closer to two gigantic organism working with great synchronization — No, even such an impression got overturned and renewed. Not two organisms, it was more adequate to describe them as ‘the right and left hand of one entity’.
At the end of their cooperation that was as good as a magic performance, the black and red officers stood with their back to each other in the middle of the battlefield. Up until now, they didn’t looked at each other, much less converse.
“We will retreat after 30 seconds.”
“Pull back as many casualties within this time.”
They only said this much before separating and going to work. Ikuta ran to Nanak who was standing in a daze, helped the injured Shinaak beside her to stand and said to her:
“Nana, you help too! Bringing even one more injured would help!”
Nanak forcibly changed her mindset, even though her thoughts couldn’t keep up with what she was seeing, and lent her shoulder hurriedly to an injured. They finished pulling back anyone who was still breathing in the next 30 seconds, and retreated immediately in unison.
At this moment, 3 of the siege ladders had been mounted onto the barricade, and the defending soldiers were fighting a deadly battle with the invading enemies.
“Damn it! Don’t come up! Don’t come up! Don’t come up here!”
“Do not let them get in! If we don’t stop them here, our entire army will collapse!”
“E… Even so! There’s too many of them…!”
Although the soldiers defending the barricade used bolts and bullets against the enemy climbing the ladders, and thrust their bayonets at those who scaled to the top, they were still pushed to a dire state. After sending out the siege ladders, their foes showed no signs of waning, and the number of enemies scaling the ladders were increasing.
“Tch! This is the limit…!”
Captain Sazaruf finally squeezed these words out… This was a hastily built barricade after all, its height and toughness was far from the passing standards. He knew from the very beginning that this place would fall into danger the moment the enemy began their assault.
“So the lack of teamwork with the Shinaaks is the weak point… Damn it, even though I expected that before hand.”
Captain Sazaruf reflected on his responsibility as a commander deeply, and was forced to make the decision to push the planned schedule ahead.
“Brats, come back quick! Judging from the situation, it would be difficult to wait for even 3 minutes…!”
The Captain groaned as he bit his thumbnail. When he thought about how heavy his decision to ‘abandon’ would be if the time ever comes, he couldn’t help praying to the regional god Alderamin for just this one time.
But thankfully, the time he waited as if his stomach was grinding swords bore fruit. After receiving the signal from outside, the troops on the inside shifted the logs blocking the left corner of the barricade. The soldiers who survived the intense battle poured in from there.
“Captain, we are back! Is the battle line at its limits?”
Ikuta who charged back shouted. After seeing that Yatori and Nanak behind him were unharmed, Captain Sazaruf sighed in relief, he responded in a loud volume:
“That’s right, we are waiting for you all to return! Hurry and retreat!”
“Understood! What about Matthew and Torway’s wind gun unit?”
“They already fell back! You lot are the last!”
A unit of 40 odd soldiers passed by Ikuta’s group, carrying a pail full of liquid in pairs as they approached the barricade. When they were close enough, the soldiers splashed the barricade made of wood with the slightly viscous contents of the pails. Afterwards, they quickly rushed back to get another pail, and they repeated the same process.
“Alright, fire all the cannons at the same time! The defending soldiers will use this signal to retreat! — open fire!”
In response to the command, the 22 wind cannons fired simultaneously, intimidating the enemy that were assaulting the barricade en masse momentarily. The Captain didn’t let the chance slip and ordered:
“Now is the time — light it up!”
The fire soldiers who prepared ahead of time threw their torches at the same time, the barricade that was soaked in rapeseed oil bursts into flame in an instant.
“Begin the retreat! Lieutenant Yatorishino’s fire troops will be the rear guard! Burn the flammable contraptions as you withdraw! The medical troops in the rear should have started the burning process, but they have left the space for us to pass through! Listen up, do not take the wrong path!”
“—Hah*, it’s too late. We failed to capture it.”
The moment the barricade caught fire when the siege ladder finally got onto it, Jean Arkinex immediately realized… that the chance of his side breaking through the forest had been crushed.
“Hey brat, what did you say? What’s too late?”
General Akugarpa whose patience was at his limits came personally to the front lines where the bullets wasn’t flying since a few minutes ago. When he heard the question, Jean didn’t try to play it off this time and replied frankly:
“Before our soldiers broke through, the enemy had already set fire inside the barricade and started retreating.”
“I can see that, we just need to push our troops forward after the barricade is burned right? We have already won, isn’t it?”
“Nyatt*... We won’t be able to pursue in time. Right now, in front of us, the enemy is probably using fire to seal the forest path and then retreat. When the barricade finished burning, a fire wall would probably appear just like the one we saw yesterday.”
As if it was providing the evidence of his deduction, General Akugarpa noticed fire sprouting out from the other side of the barricade. After staring at the fire for quite a while, he gradually understood the situation, and the General’s shoulders started trembling.
“What—! What nonsense is this!? We worked so hard and finally got the upper hand!”
“Because we couldn’t extend our advantage. As the enemy had the option of burning the forest path to seal the road at any moment, they would do so when lose the advantage… However, that is easier said than done. For our opponent, the timing and calculation of doing that is very harsh. If it is too early, their allies scattered on the battlefield won’t be able to retreat; if they are too late, we will be able to break through. That’s what we are charging in one go with the siege ladders in order to disrupt that timing…”
“From the results, we are just one step away from breaking through. If five instead of three siege ladders made it to the barricades, we should be able to stop them from setting fire.”
Miara also gave her opinion calmly. General Akugarpa stomp his feet vexingly.
“Now what? That’s it for tonight? We suffered so many losses, but it will end without changing the situation…?”
Nyatt*! That’s not true! We didn’t achieve the best results, but we did make some progress.”
When he heard Jean’s words that felt completely insincere, the General of the Holy army responded with suspicious eyes. However, Jean explained fearlessly:
“The biggest result we got tonight is intelligence — The enemy might be commanded by an exemplary officer, but they number less than two battalions. Gauging from the losses we suffered, I am certain of that. There is no reason the enemy would hesitate in sending out their forces.”
“In fact, they are probably just a battalion +α, it can be deduced that the +α part is the Shinaak warriors, so the Imperial regular army has only one battalion.”
The white-haired officer explained fluently, even the disappointed general started listening to him.
“The losses on our side isn’t trivial, even if we add the heavily injured and the dead, our losses would be less than a thousand. In contrast, what about the enemy? Despite their brave efforts, they have loss about a hundred combatants. Do you understand? As the enemy numbered around 800, in terms of the overall ratio, the enemy suffered a heavier blow than us. There is a saying that ‘the few winning against the many is just a fantasy’ — We can tell from this famous saying that we won this skirmish.”
Seeing Jean going on and on elatedly, Lieutenant Colonel Michelin rebuked him dismissively:
“... Major Arkinex, that’s just sophistry. Even if we defeat the garrison unit here, our battle won’t end here. We still need to cross the mountain and attack the Northern Stronghold.
“Mum*, that’s true. But the main point is, we have not lost in anyway. It is true that the assault this time is a failure, but we didn’t lose anything. In other words, we can still keep up our aggressive attitude.”
‘The Bright Insomniac General’ said with an arrogant smile. Miara maintained her restrained attitude as Jean planned to display his gift of the gab further, and she thought — Jean’s word are imbued with magic.
He might not be telling the truth. A lot of the things he said would raise doubts, and he mixed in exaggeration and misinterpretation naturally. That was why he would sometimes give the impression of insincerity.
However, when they think about it after the fact, everyone would notice — Jean Arkinex wasn’t expressing the facts, but announcing what he would turn into facts.
Even the medical troops like Haroma who didn’t take part directly could tell how intense the battle was from the number of casualties that was sent to the field hospital.
As there was a tent to place the corpse, depending on how serious their condition was, some of the casualty might be sent there without going through the field hospital. Whenever a comrade just one step away from death got sent in, Haroma would be caught in fear, worrying if it was someone from the Order of Knights.
In such an environment, she didn’t feel she had done all she could for all the injured that was sent in. There were some heavily injured that was beyond help, but there were more who were on the verge of death. Haroma tended to nine of them. Four of them survived and five of them passed away. If she really did her best, the numbers might be reversed — Even though she knew it has already passed, she couldn’t help thinking that.
“... He just took his last breath.”
And now, Haroma announced the 6th deceased. The luminous infantryman who was hit in the chest by a bullet was conscious and could hold a conversation when he arrived. But in the end, Haroma could only watch as he slowly fell into the darkness of death.
When she announced his death, Suya Mittokarifu who was on the other side of the body sobbed. This pained Haroma too. The soldier who just passed was a member of her unit. — from the 3rd training luminous platoon.
“How could this be… After Private First Class Azula and Sergeant Sicindy, even Corporal Ninika…”
They weren’t the only ones, all units suffered casualties. For the 80 to 120 men units that acted individually, each of them had more than 10 death on average. The number jumped steeply for the Shinaak tribe which suffered 28 deaths and 33 heavily injured. It was fortunate that the Tribal chief Nanak Dar was unharmed, but their losses were really terrible.
“... I will report this to First Lieutenant Ikuta.”
With her last comrade on the verge of death having passed on, Suya lost the person she had to encourage or bid farewell to. After seeing her salute and leave the tent that was almost overflowing with casualties, Haroma checked and saw there wasn’t any casualties who needed emergency treatment before calling out to her.
“Please… Please wait, Sergeant Major Mittokarifu! Erm… I am planning to visit the headquarters tent later, if it is not too much trouble, want to go together?”
“... Yes, I understand, Lieutenant Becker.”
Suya seemed to have taken Haroma’s words as a command, and answered meekly with a salute. Even Haroma knew that this young female deputy of Ikuta was twice as emotional as others. Haroma could felt tense emotions from Suya’s back as she was leaving with the obituaries, and couldn’t leave her alone.
After the two of them left the tent together, they found the entire base camp filled with fatigue. The soldiers who had no assigned task to do sat weakly on the ground, not conversing with their comrades and keeping quiet. The scene of a large number of people gathering around the bonfire in silence, staring at the flames felt strange.
“It seemed that nobody could sleep… I think they are still too excited, I should brew some tea for everyone later.”
“During a time like this, it would be a relief if we have sugar. Because taking in something warm and sweet would be most effective when you are tired, I really wish the noble houses would spare us a sack of sugar.”
“... Is that so…”
Suya replied absentmindedly, but Haroma didn’t express unhappiness about it. It was fine even if she couldn’t start a conversation as Haroma understood that there was no poison more terrible than silence for Suya right now.
Haroma talked one sidedly for quite some time and the two of them finally reached the headquarters tent in the middle of the base. After going in from the entrance, they found three person inside. Matthew and Torway sat opposite each other, performing maintenance on their rifles, while Captain Sazaruf was smoking a cigarette with his feet on the table at the innermost edge of the table.
“Sorry for intruding — Hmm! Everyone here look tired too.”
Haroma intentionally spoke in a casual tone. Actually, she had always acted considerately, but did anyone in the army noticed?
“You might be saying that, but aren’t you tired, Lieutenant Beckel? Don’t hold back, sleeping on the grounds around here must feel comfortable too.”
“Uughh… I hope there is at least a mattress… Speaking of which, I haven’t seen Ikuta-san or Yatori-san. Ah, Nanak-san isn’t here too.”
“The three of them went to inspect the forest path. It would be bad if you miss each other. If you have some business with them, it would be better to wait here for a while.”
Torway who noticed Ikuta’s deputy was here gave his kind suggestion. Seeing Suya sat down in the chair he offered her, Haroma also picked an adequate and sat.
“Matthew-san, is your shoulder wound okay?”
Firstly, she spoke to the young man who didn’t say anything yet. Matthew quietly took off his shirt that was draped over him like a cape, and gently placed his hand near his bandaged left shoulder.
“... How incredible, I didn’t notice during the battle at all, and is just starting to feel the pain.”
“Please refrain from touching your wound. That was a graze by a bullet, which left quite a deep wound.”
“Just 5cm or so to the right, and it would have hit my face. Just thinking about that is enough to make me feel that it is a miracle I am still alive.”
Matthew said as he push a stick with a cloth wrapped around it into the barrel of his air shooter, moving it to clean the dirt. It seemed that this practiced movements had become a safe haven for his soul.
“... This battle is different from the past.”
He said in a low tone he had never used in the past:
“It is easy to differentiate. The battles in the past are ones we could win — and with an easy victory at that. We just need to follow Ikuta’s instructions, and we could suppress the enemy, surprisingly easy. As this had happened several times, to be honest, I think I underestimated war. It felt like, war isn’t that bad after all.”
After cleaning the inside of the barrel, he placed his partner onto it and let him send gentle wind through it. He used this action to clear any dust that might be inside the barrel.
“However, reality is different. I finally realized after suffering 11 deaths in my unit… This situation of kill or be kill is a real battle. And of course, in such a space, the possibility of me being killed exist too.”
After ending his speech with these words, Matthew picked up his stick and repeated the first step of his gun maintenance. His face was emotionless, as if he had given up on expressing them. He felt like a completely different person.
When Haroma was about to say something, Suya who was sitting besides her suddenly stood up.
“... I will take a look at the forest path.”
“Ah… But, if you don’t find them…”
Suya ignored Torway’s attempt to stop her, and left the tent in a half jog. Haroma was hesitating about getting up when Torway gave her a push.
“It’s fine here, so go, Ms Haroma. She seemed to be acting weird.”
I will take care of Matthew — After realizing what Torway was implying, Haroma left the tent with gratitude… However, Suya seemed to have been running seriously right after coming outside, the figure of her back was getting smaller. Haroma chased her in a panic.
They didn’t need to run too far.
Compared to before the battle, the raging flames on the forest path had been pushed back greatly, and is now less than a 100m from their base. As they approach gradually, they were greeted by the huge fiery light and intense heat.
“— Suya and Haroma? What do you need?”
Illuminated by the flames, the figure they were searching for appeared immediately. Ikuta immediately stopped his surveillance of the burning field, turned and walked towards them. For unknown reasons, Nanak was following behind him.
“Ah… I just wanted to check on everyone…”
“Sergeant Sicindy and Corporal Ninika is dead, Lieutenant Ikuta.”
Suya cut off Haroma, and threw the hard truths at her superior officer directly.
“In all, the unit commanded by the Lieutenant have 11 deaths, 6 of them were originally from the third training luminous platoon.”
“... Is that so.”
Ikuta only gaze downwards momentarily, but he didn’t waver any further and look back to his deputy.
“Thank you for your report. I will make the adjustment for our losses, have a good rest.”
“Is that all?”
Ikuta attempted to end the topic without any emotions, but Suya pressed on agitatedly, not allowing him to do so. Haroma who was besides her gasped. From the looks of things, the youth finally realized this woman was here to blame him.
“... I have acknowledged the report regarding the deaths, is there anything else, Suya?”
“I should be asking you, Lieutenant. Don’t you have anything to say to the subordinates who died because of your orders?”
Suya said with her fist clenched. Ikuta noticed what she was implying glanced at Nanak behind him with concern first, then turned back with a face of resignation.
“... You are referring to my decision to help the Shinaaks?”
Nanak’s shoulders twitched. It wasn’t clear if Suya noticed that as she pressed on:
“If we didn’t save them back then, we would suffer fewer casualties.”
“Yes, the price would be the annihilation of the Shinaaks.”
“Then let them! The root cause is that woman’s reckless charge anyway.”
She finally changed her target to Nanak, and the subject herself didn’t defend herself. Because it was an undeniable fact that she made an error in judgement, and Ikuta’s unit had to clean up after her.
“Sergeant Sicindy respects you greatly, Lieutenant. You know that?”
“Is that true? Ever since you defeated Captain Sarihasrag in that simulation battle, he has always been your supporter. We have an amazing commander, he will definitely become a big shot — when he gets drunk, he will always talk about that. Even though he is 9 years older than you, he will never skip the honorifics when addressing you. Do you know all that?”
“Corporal Ninika was my first subordinate when I became a Private First Class. As she was the only fellow woman in the platoon, I would take extra care of her. From using the bowgun, the key points during cleaning inspection, and how to sneak away when her period clashes with training… I taught her all that.”
Suya who was speaking non stop like water gushing out of a broken dam was tearing up, even she herself couldn’t stop the words from coming out from her mouth.
“Are you going to say that these comrades are the same as the Shinaaks whom we were fighting to the death with just yesterday? So it’s only natural to risk our lives to save them, and accept it even if some of us dies? — Don’t be ridiculous, how can I accept that!?”
Suya spilled out all her thoughts, and glared at Nanak as if she was her mortal enemy. However, when Ikuta was about to respond, a resolute voice interrupted:
“You are blaming the wrong person, Sergeant Major Mittokarifu.”
Yatori who stopped her burning works swayed her vermillion hair that was clearly visible despite it merging with the background, and joined the argument. She accepted Suya’s emotion that was bursting forth from her eyes and said:
“First, I have to clear your misunderstanding. The one who made the decision to save the Shinaak wasn’t Ikuta.”
“... You are lying. There was no way to communicate back then, our unit and Lieutenant Yatorishino’s unit started moving in at almost the same time, we didn’t move after seeing you move first. Back then, Lieutenant Ikuta made the call himself.”
“That is true. But his decision was based on my action.”
“... I don’t understand what you mean, what is going on here?”
“When the Shinaaks fell into danger, Ikuta was certain that I would mount a rescue. As the rescue operation would require two units working in cooperation no matter what, my side took action on the basis that Ikuta would provide support. If our forces couldn’t converge there, my unit would be dragged in and decimated. That was why Ikuta had no choice but to act.”
As Suya listened to the explanation, her expression showed her failure to understand. Haroma was the same… What is ‘the certainty that the other party would help the Shinaak, so he headed in to provide support’? And ‘took action on the basis that he would provide support’? — Did this mean that the way they think was in sync?
“And so, this has nothing to do with the order events happened, I am the main person who decided the rescue, and Ikuta merely follow through on that decision. That is why, I should be the one who should be responsible for the losses for this action.”
After Yatori directed all the accusations toward herself, she looked at Suya straight in the face. She had an air about her that demanded respected, no matter how agitated the person before her was.
“I want to make this clear with this premise in mind — In accordance to the decision made in the war council earlier, the Shinaaks are formally viewed as our allies. I don’t think those are superficial words or excuses. Therefore, I do not regret my decision to aid them when they fell into danger.”
“This rationale…! We have to protect the enemy we had to kill yesterday as if they are our comrades — You think our feelings can keep up with such chaotic orders!?”
“I know how you feel. But in the military, orders requires those who execute it to seal off their own emotions. As a soldier, everyone would be forced to carry out orders that goes against their own values to a certain extent. We have to treat them as rules and accept it.”
“Ughh…! If you receive the order to kill Lieutenant Ikuta, will you comply!?”
Her counter attack at the spur of the moment was simple and violent, almost perfect. Even the smooth gabbed Ikuta probably couldn’t give an effective answer to such a worst case scenario — However, the exceptional person was right here.
“This question is 300 years late. Because House Igsem had been obeying such orders all this while.”
Igsem answered without missing a beat… The flame coloured karma that had been burning the entire time over their long history. In the face of such a heavy pressure, Suya had no other options than being dumbfounded — Before she collapse from the fatally heavy pressure, the youth interfered.
“Enough, let’s end it here, Yatori… Your righteous words would leave no avenue for escape.”
He restrained her with a tired voice, then turned towards Suya whose knees were trembling from shock.
“Despite what Yatori said, I am still the commander in charge, so all of you have the rights to hate me… No, using the general term of ‘rights’ is already a display of arrogance huh? Because no matter how strictly the army restricts it, aside from god, no one can prohibit you from having emotions.”
Ikuta sighed self mockingly and took a step back, placing his hand on the shoulder of Nanak who was lowering her head the entire time.
“... But Suya, in order to protect them, I already made Sergeant Sicindy, Corporal Ninika and Private First Class Azula give their lives… The people who were saved by their sacrificed, those who I ordered you all to bet your lives to rescue, how could I look at them in contempt…?”
After Ikuta said that, he started brushing Nanak’s hair gently as if he was touching a beloved treasure. Nanak was surprised, but didn’t resist, closing her eyes and accepting the touch of the youth’s fingers.
“... This rationale… is too despicable…!”
Suya only squeezed these out of her mouth and didn’t attempt to say anything more. However, when Ikuta approached her, she turned and ran, as if she was rejecting everything. The figure of her back passed through the light and into the dark, vanishing without a trace in no time.
“... Hey, Yatori.”
Ikuta continued staring into the darkness that engulfed Suya’s back as he asked the flame haired girl standing beside him.
“If you receive the orders to kill me and absolutely can’t refuse them, how would you do it?”
This was an utmost cruel question without any path for redemption. However, Yatori even prepared an answer for such a question.
“When that time comes, I will first put all my effort into killing Yatorishino. In order to stop her from ever reviving no matter what happens, I will grind her soul into dust, gather them up and burn them in a fire.”
Yatori spoke with a stiff face, even Haroma who was listening besides her gasped.
“When that is finished, the Igsem that is left would be responsible for killing you.”
The youth nodded quietly. He kept nodding in agreement, as if he was savouring something precious.
“... Well then, until the moment my neck is severed by your dual blades — I will think about the you who have passed.”
He finally answered as if they were rehearsing lines. This was also the answer Ikuta prepared ahead of time.
The two of them didn’t say anything more, standing there in silence. Haroma and Nanak who was left out felt that that place looked like a sanctuary. Even though they didn’t know the details, and couldn’t fully understand the their friendship, but for some reason, tears welled up naturally — That’s how that scene was.