Phantoms and Hunters
Editors: Rockgollem, Tear, Ruzenor, Cwilliams
“Just deliver it like this!”
A soldier who seemed deeply troubled was being admonished by a little girl looking up at him. The soldier glanced at the envelope in his hands as he hesitated with carrying out his orders. Princess Chamille spoke once more:
“Be it an emergency or any other case, a mere soldier’s judgement can’t stop a letter bearing the Imperial seal from being delivered. Just obey my orders and send this letter to central with haste!”
The two of them were debating the issue about whether they could send the letter from the southern base of the northern stronghold to Central Headquarters — Lieutenant General Safida who was afraid of being taken to task had implemented information control, so the rebellion in the north and the mire-like battle situations had not been relayed to central. This caused the situation to further deteriorate.
Even Princess Chamille didn’t have a clear idea of how the situation at the front line was. Although she sent her personal guards to travel between this base and the forward base to gather intelligence, it was news outdated by several days. The only things that was confirmed was that with the situation worsening, Ikuta and the other training unit serving as reserves had been committed to the front lines. Even though units with the same circumstances had been withdrawn, the five Knights continued fighting in the front lines.
She didn’t have the luxury of choosing her means. The Princess suppressed her disgust, and decided to use her authority.
“... Deliver this letter to central. I am ordering you for the last time, I will bear all responsibility for this.”
“But, according to the commander-in-chief’s instructions…”
“If you dare argue anymore, I will treat this as an insult to the Imperial family!”
The man who was a mere messenger soldier was terrified when he heard that. He placed the envelope into his bag with trembling hands, then rode off on his horse with an expression as if he was about to cry.
As she had to force the other party to accept a command that contradict standing orders, Princess Chamille apologized sincerely in her heart to the figure disappearing in the distance. She then shifted her gaze up slightly, looking at the northern mountains that was now a battlefield.
“... I do want Solork and the others to have the chance to shine… but the current situation isn’t clear at all…!”
She was worried about the safety of the Knight Order members, and couldn’t sleep these few nights. She could only fall asleep when she was completely exhausted, as if she had fainted, and these were often accompanied by nightmares. More than several times, she dreamt about the Knight Order falling into danger.
At least, I want to understand the situation better — As the Princess was praying, the figure of another messenger charging into the base from outside appeared before her eyes.
“Report! Report! An army from Aldera is invading from the north—!”
When she heard the content yelled by the soldier, the Princess’ heart froze in an instant… This meant her sleepless night will continue. That was the only truth she was certain of.
The morning after the battle in the forest at the foot of the hills. The imperial soldiers deployed on the mountain observed through the morning fog that there wasn’t much changes in the situation down below and sighed in relief.
“I thought the enemy would attack in one force at dawn…”
Using the chance where no one was around, he stated what he was really thinking… That might be so, but even if others heard what he said, they probably wouldn’t scold this soldier. For him, those who didn’t have a single nightmare about being overrun by the enemy for one night was the minority.
“With the fire burning like this, the animals must think we are crazy for not running. It has been several days since I last saw a bird… Only the unlucky humans are left here.”
He sighed and look to the sky and three birds crossed his field of vision right then. They were flying low, and he could see the bird’s feathers were grey.
“Oh, so there are still animals — Hey! Not that way! Flee to the south!”
The birds didn’t hear his warning, and maintained their altitude as they flew to the western sky. The soldier watched the figures of the three birds flew off in a daze, as he thought there are other silly creatures other than humans.
“— Is it here?”
After seeing the figure of the pigeons circulating in the air, the shadow blew the bird whistle in his hand once more.
The pigeon who discovered the position of its target landed. The shadow that was hiding in the dark side of the boulder allowed the pigeons to land on his arms in the order they arrived, as he retrieved the paper tied to the legs of the pigeon.
The shadow spent a few seconds to browse each piece of paper, reading the report written in small fonts that covered the entire surface. After burning its content into his head, he crumpled the papers into a ball, threw it into his mouth and swallowed it.
“... Our allies seems to be blocked at the foot of the hill.”
The shadow said as he took out paper and pen from his clothes, and started writing a reply. When they heard what he said, there were slight movement behind the boulders nearby.
“The defences at the main entrance are tough, so we are instructed to open a path from the back door.”
He wrote his message on the paper and tied it to the pigeon’s leg securely before letting the pigeon spread its wings and take to the sky. After confirming that the pigeon was gliding in a straight line towards the northern mountains, he continued:
“Fortunately, even a specific plan has been laid out — Let’s hurry.”
He didn’t receive any verbal response, only the movement of numerous people nodding their head could be felt. The shadow disappeared behind the boulder, and the phantoms continued their travel.
“Looks like everyone had as much sleep as I did. Alright, we will be having a happy war conference today too.”
Captain Sazaruf who was seated in the innermost position said as he massaged the dark circles under his eyes. As they ‘lacked chess pieces’, this was a Sazaruf style sarcasm as he didn’t sleep at all last night.
“I have a suggestion, how about getting the entire unit to nap for today…?”
Ikuta who was laying on the table proposed, and the Captain nodded in an exaggerated way.
“Lieutenant Ikuta, that is a splendid idea, I am all for it. Is there any objections?”
“Regrettably, I have to refute that. Because if we did that, there is a high chance we won’t be able to wake up from our slumber again.”
Yatori concluded the suggestion speedily. Of all the members present, she was the only one who kept her back a perfect 90 degrees to her chair. But even so, there were signs of her fatigue such as her bloodshot eyes.
“If you want to sleep, you can sleep all you want after you die, right? ... Anyway, just get it started.”
Everyone was surprised when they heard Matthew speaking in a way that felt completely different from before. Captain snuck a peek at Matthew, but didn’t say anything as he coughed and started the conference.
“First, I will announce the result of the battle. After 1900 hours last night, we started a defensive battle at the barricade constructed in the middle of the forest path. After 40 minutes, we stopped the engagement and retreated. The forest path was sealed with the abandonment of the barricade as signal, and the plan was a success. The gaps in our defence line were filled and stopped the enemy’s invasion.”
Everyone thought back on the intense battle that seem too fresh on their mind, even though it had already passed.
“That was the summary, next would be the casualty report. In total, there are 85 killed in action and 63 seriously injured. All in all, we lost 148 combatants. Taking that out from our 720 strong unit, including light casualties, we have 572 men left.”
Torway listened to these numbers with a bitter face, then asked:
“... Can I have the detailed breakdown of our losses for each unit?”
“Firstly, the Shinaak suffered the heaviest casualty with 61. Next would be my men at the barricade, 24. Lieutenant Ikuta’s unit loss 19 people, Lieutenant Yatori loss 17 people. Next, Lieutenant Matthew’s unit suffered 14 casualties, Lieutenant Torway suffered 13 casualties. The above include both deaths and heavily injured.”
He was concerned about Nanak who was present, but Torway still analyzed the situation based on the content:
“Hmm~... except for the Shinaaks who lost half their numbers, the losses is not so extensive that it would affect the other unit’s operations...”
“If we only look at the numbers — By the way, what’s the losses to the air rifle units, Torway?”
When he heard Ikuta’s question, Torway’s expression turned gloomy.
“Two died from the enemy’s counter attack… However, we retrieved their air rifles.”
“That’s good. Pick two good shooters from the other men, hand the air rifle to them and assign them into the sniper team. We have enough ammunition, so find some time to let the new guys practice.”
Torway nodded, and Ikuta moved on to the next topic.
“Let’s discuss something deeper. If 100 points is full marks for yesterday’s battle, I will grade us 71 points. By the way, the passing grade is 70.”
“Eh… That means we barely scraped by?”
“If we appraise it directly, that’s correct. We accomplished the minimum criteria, which is to pull the enemy’s attention away from the detour route, and diminish the enemy’s numbers. To be frank, I was hoping for ‘+α’ results. The best results would be us holding on to the barricade without retreating.”
If the battle could continue for 30 more minutes, not only would the enemy suffer heavier losses, the Holy Aldera Army might have to retreat momentarily after failing to gain any advantages. That way, they would be able to gain the time before they renew their offensive.
“Never mind, the enemy probably would choose to attack in the day if they retreat temporary, and we would have retreated immediately after the battle starts. But even so, we can gain half a day to a full day from that right?”
“... I remember that we need to stall them another 7 days at least, would losing one day be a catastrophic failure?”
Matthew frowned as he asked, but Ikuta shook his head as if it didn’t matter.
“Not at all. According to my calculations right now, we can hold the line without any issues for the next seven days… However, if we see this as part of the retrograde support plan, there is no harm in gaining more time.”
That might be so, but they couldn’t change the past. Ikuta shook his head to change his mood.
“... What happen next would depends on the opponent’s attitude. After we engaged once, how would the Holy Aldera Army act? Let’s see what cards they will play.”
“—Ryttsah*! Yes! What a beautiful morning.”
Major Jean Arkinex squinted his eyes at the rising sun as he stretched his back. He had a relaxed and cheerful expression. Because for an insomniac, the arrival of the morning meant the long night was finally over.
“Good morning, Jean.”
When he went before his tent with a toothbrush and salt to brush his teeth, his aide Miara Gin also came. From the look of her eyes hidden behind her black framed spectacles, she wasn’t sleepy at all.
“Yah*, morning Miara… Hmm? This is?”
When Jean turned his head, the thing that caught his attention was a pigeon in Miara’s hand.
“Our allies in the mountains sent a message.”
When he heard the report he had been waiting for, the white haired officer’s lips rose. He didn’t even want to waste time brushing his teeth as he rushed to his aide, and took the paper that had been folded into a long thin strip, sent by the phantoms.
“... Syool*, as expected of your big brother, he picked only the intelligence I wanted at this time.”
“According to reports, it is confirmed that the stalling defensive unit have only a little more than a battalion. The news that the enemy didn’t send troops to the detour path is also important.”
“There are also some interesting intelligence. First, it is certain that the imperials have a unit armed with air rifles. From what they could tell, their scale is about a platoon. They might be the ones that participated in the skirmish last night.”
Jean said as he crushed the note and toss it into his mouth. Miara frowned.
“I have told you to please not do that right? It isn’t good for digestion and is unhygienic. Just give it to me, I will ensure it gets burned…”
“—Mum*, my bad. Because your brother looks really cool when he did that, so I accidentally…”
As he made excuses, Jean reviewed the content of the message that had been turned into his memory.
“There is another interesting report. It seemed that the imperials had a member of the ‘Igsem Blades’ amongst them. After learning this information, the first thing that surprises me is that I didn’t expect such elites to be at the Northern Stronghold.”
“... Yes. However, my brother actually commented that her ‘sword skills are exemplary’...”
“Hah, it must be very exemplary… I heard that his rank is warrant officer. Your brother didn’t mention his age, but it is impossible for an Igsem to climb his way up from private to warrant officer. If he is an officer cadet in training, he would be a precious talent. Judging from the situation back then, it is very unnatural for such a person to stay in the front lines.”
The two who completely assumed that the subject was a man would never have thought their imagination was off, but not just the age, the message didn’t include the gender either. As there was limited space on the paper sent by the pigeon, unnecessary information would naturally be omitted… But the failure to convey that the ‘enemy with exemplary sword skills is a woman’ was probably influenced by something else on the author’s mind.
“... No, I think that’s to be expected instead. If the subject is a valuable talent, he wouldn’t run away from an unfavourable battle shamelessly.”
Her words show how much attention she was paying to an enemy she had never seen before. Jean had a wry smile when he observed how she subconsciously touches the hilt of her short sword.
“If we are blockaded here because of a situation caused by that fellow, that would be rather dramatic.”
“I think that no matter what, a mere warrant officer won’t…”
“Nyatt*! It would be normal for him to received a battlefield promotion. Think about it, wouldn’t it fit if that flame haired Igsem planned this unprecedented wall of fire defence?”
Miara sighed as she turned her gaze towards her senior officer whose head was filled with romantic imagination. After Jean composed himself, he coughed intentionally to hide his embarrassment.
“Mum*, a...anyway, we have finally restored contact with our allies. Fortunately, they didn’t suffer any serious losses, so let’s execute a bold cooperative plan. I have decided the strategy.”
“Understood, should we report this to General Akugarpa?”
Jean nodded as he walked forward, finally noticed the toothbrush in his right hand and stuck it into his mouth again.
“Yah*, wait a minute, I will be done soon.”
Two hours later, Ikuta and company ended their meeting, it is 8 something in the morning. Suya opened her eyes, and found out she overslept from the bright sunlight shining through the tent.
“... Wah… Oh no…”
Suya got up in a panic and groomed herself. Basically, the deputy has to get up earlier than the commander. Even if she ignored that, according to regulations, soldiers must get up before 7am in the morning. No matter how tired she was, she would be able to get up by the appointed time. But after what happened last night, she couldn’t do this much.
“Yoki, why didn’t you wake me! ...Hmm?”
When Suya complained to her light spirit partner and look around her, the anxious atmosphere she expected wasn’t there. Most of the female soldiers she shared the large tent with were still sleeping, and the few who woke up were writing letters to their family. This was a typical scene during break time.
Suya felt confused. One of the female soldier who noticed her reaction stopped writing and said to her:
“Good morning, Sergeant Major Mittokarifu. There’re orders from the top to rest until 9am, do you want to sleep a while more?”
“Huh…? When was there such an order…?”
“Lieutenant Ikuta came by when you were still sleeping, Sergeant Major, and passed the orders to me who happened to be awake. There’s a board with the same orders at the tent’s entrance.”
When she heard that, Suya turned her gaze towards the entrance… And sure enough, there’s a board that wrote ‘By orders of First Lieutenant Ikuta: Everyone are to rest until 9am in the morning’. She didn’t need to hurry in grooming herself, but she didn’t felt like sleeping again either, so she just stood there in a daze.
“... Can’t sleep? Sergeant Major, you want to write letters too? There is no telling when we'll have another chance.”
The female soldier suggested, as she herself was writing her letter on top of a crate that served as a table. Suya watched this scene blankly.
“... A letter home huh… Sergeant Yanashia, what did you write?”
“Erm, about that, the contents tend to read like a last will under such circumstances. I have been troubled, trying to find a happier topic.”
She might sound like she was kidding, but there was no doubt she said that because of her comrades who died in battle yesterday before they could write the letter. If I want to write a last will, now would be my last chance — such a thought came to her mind, but she shook her head to shake it off.
“... I will pass. This might sound unfilial, but writing something under the pretext that I would die sounds scary, I couldn’t do it.”
“That’s a choice too. And I feel that those who had the guts to say ‘I don’t need any last letters as I will definitely survive’, will really live on.”
Sergeant Yanashia said something unexpectedly liberal. On the other hand, Suya who wasn’t sleeping or writing felt out of place inside the tent.
“... I’m going out for a bit, and offer some flowers to our fallen comrades.”
“Can you do that? We have orders to rest until 9am.”
“It’s not an order for us to sleep, just treat this as my way of resting and give me some leeway.”
Suya felt it was a terrible excuse, but Sergeant Yanashia simply smiled wryly and didn’t say anything more. Suya expressed her thanks with her gaze, and left the tent quietly, careful not to wake the others.
“... Ah, speaking of which, even if I want to offer flowers…”
Suya took a step forward when she realized what was wrong with her thinking. In order to offer flowers, there need to be flowers in the surroundings. She surveyed the area, and there didn’t seem to be any flowers growing near the base. There might be a chance to find them in the forest, but it is too reckless to search for flowers in that smog.
Suya wandered around aimlessly to look for signs of flowers, and gave up shortly after. She wanted to at least clean the faces of her fallen comrades and headed to the tents where the bodies were placed after preparing wet towels.
When she was about to enter the tent, she happened to run into Nanak Dar who was coming out. After freezing for a few seconds, a difficult to describe silence fell between them.
“... What… What are you doing here? This should be the place for the bodies of the imperial soldiers.”
The one who mustered her courage to speak first was Suya, the surging dark emotions in her chest spilled out from her throat.
“Even if you hate the imperials, I won’t allow you to desecrate the dead…!”
When she sense the hostility in her words, the Shinaak Tribal Chief trembled slightly, then slump her shoulders and lowered her head.
“... I didn’t do such things.”
“Just what are you doing here—”
At this point of the conversation, Suya finally noticed. In the hands of the girl before her were something she couldn’t find no matter how much she searched.
She felt it was impossible, but she still walk pass Nanak, slipping into the tent. The truth was right before her.
On the chest of the fallen were small white flowers. There were more than 30 bodies, but it was the same for each one of them. On top of the discoloured skin, covered in dark blood soaked brown uniform was a small white flower, which was so brilliant that it looks like a form of salvation that came from the heavens.
“... You… came to offer flowers…?”
Suya watched the unexpected scene before her in a daze. After a while, she said to Nanak who was standing quietly behind her.
“... Where did these flowers came from?”
“... I went to the mountains to get them. According to Shinaak customs, white flowers are offered to the fallen as a sign of respect.”
Nanak looked at the flowers left in her hand as she answered. She used a few seconds to swallow her hesitation, then lowered her head to Suya.
“... I am sorry. It’s all because I charged too far ahead in the battle last night, that’s why you all suffered unnecessary casualties while rescuing us. All of them died because of this.”
“...Please say no more.”
Suya rejected Nanak’s apology immediately. She felt that something would fail to stand if she listened on.
“There’s nothing to apologize for, we are enemies at each other’s throat just a few days ago. It’s the same this time too, your enemies are just being stupid and marching to their own deaths — You just need to think like that and mock us!”
Suya turned back and roared at Nanak. Nanak who was gazing downwards shook her head.
“The fact that I hate the imperials haven’t changed. I am still filled with grudge against you who robbed us of our way of life… However, that has nothing to do with the mistakes I made. The Shinaaks know shame, and understand how big a favour we owe for letting you risk your lives to save us.”
“That’s why you are willing to apologize to the enemy!? Such a thing… Acting in such a way is…!”
“Your senior officer also did the same thing to me. He apologize for not acting in the right way as a soldier, and cut off his little finger as evidence… I believe in his attitude in living his life. So just like Ikuta, I want to ask if you are willing to believe me.”
Nanak’s eyes were filled with determination as she reached out both hands towards Suya.
“Even if I cut off all the fingers in my hands, it would not be enough to pay for the number of comrades you lost — so, after this war is over, you all can take both my hands.”
“However, I hope you can wait until the war ends. Just for the duration of this war, I hope you can allow me to take responsibility as a Shinaak warrior, and allow me to keep my hands to wield my weapons.”
Under the stare of Nanak’s pleading eyes, Suya back away unsteadily. The emotions in her heart was no longer hatred and rage, but the feeling of fear that was far more absolute and pure.
“... Don’t… Please don’t say anymore…”
She groaned. Suya asked her senior officer in the past — Isn’t killing a large number of enemy their job? At the same time, thinking this way was just a mean of guarding and keeping oneself sane in the abnormal battlefield environment. It was fine to kill the enemy, there was no need to apologize to the enemy for anything — If she had absolute faith in this, Suya would be able to acknowledge herself who was killing others.
“This is not right… Because… That way… What should I do to forgive myself…!”
That preconception collapsed, crumbled because the enemy was apologizing. Suya fell to the ground on her knees.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone… I didn’t want to burn the village…! I didn’t want to fight with people from the same nation as me…!”
Her tears dripped onto the dry ground. Before Suya who had collapsed in tears, Nanak knelt so their eyes were at the same level.
“You are saying… You have been ordered to fight in this war you want no part of?”
“I know saying this is selfish! I don’t need anyone to remind me, I know very well I can just quit the army! But no one told me that war is such an incorrigible thing! That being a soldier would mean fighting in a war that is completely unjust…!”
Once her self restraint was broken, Suya couldn’t hold back the thoughts surging out from her mind. Nanak who didn’t know what to say stayed quiet before the sobbing Suya. At this moment, a figure suddenly appeared along with the light shining through the entrance of the tent.
“Don’t take away your superior’s job, Sergeant Major Mittokarifu. These are the responsibilities of the one who gave the orders.”
That surprised the two of them who turned and looked, and found Captain Sazaruf who was biting onto a cigarette at the entrance. He had an awkward look on his face, probably feeling bad about eavesdropping on the conversation between girls.
“Hey, this might be my own opinion… But I think all the enlisted soldiers and non commissioned officers who fought dutifully will go to heaven when they die. Because under the lead of the incompetent officers, they complete the tasks that is detested by all in a wonderful manner , and is worthy of praise.”
“However—” Captain Sazaruf’s tone changed and showed a practiced expression of self mocking.
“Those high ranking officers, including me, will all fall into hell. The reason is the opposite, because they let their dutiful subordinates fight in a worthless war, killing dozens and hundreds… No matter how exemplary one is, there are no officers who can avoid losing men. The only difference is how many they lose.”
After saying that, the Captain squatted down before Suya. The moment their eyes met, a smile appeared on his face where the stubbles had become a beard.
“However, even we are working hard to go to a less terrible hell. In order to do that, we have to finish the jobs that corresponds to our position. So Sergeant Major Mittokarifu… if you are suffering from the burden of guilt you shouldn’t be bearing, that would be troubling for us. After all, that would mean I am slacking off.”
“Alright, listen carefully. The people you think you killed are all killed by me; All the villages you think you burnt are burnt by me. If you are questioned by the gods in the other world, you just need to answer that with your chest held high. You completely your mission excellently so there is no reason you should be blamed.”
His gentle words slowly healed her heart, and Suya wiped away her tears and look up at the Captain.
“... Captain, but wouldn’t you be punished severely by the gods?”
“Don’t worry, I have superior officers too. For the times I couldn’t rely on them in life, I will get them to pay back in full after death.”
After hearing this strange idea, Suya couldn’t help laughing. Captain Sazaruf sighed in relief, then stood up straight and scratched his head.
“I will end the old man lecture here. Let’s change the topic… Have you two seen Lieutenant Ikuta? I’m looking for him, but couldn’t find him.”
Suya and Nanak looked at each other. It was clear from their reaction that the two of them didn’t know either, and the Captain who didn’t know what to do now seemed troubled. At this moment, a Shinaak man spoke politely from behind him:
“Chief Nanak, are you in there…? Something troubling has happened, I wish to discuss it with you.”
Nanak who heard the call left the tent immediately, and the Shinaak man started explaining with a troubled attitude. The two of them ran off after ending their conversation, Suya and Captain Sazaruf who heard the contents hd no choice but to follow.
They headed to one of the large tents where the Shinaaks slept in, and a troubling situation which needed Nanak’s attention was in there.
“— What is this fellow doing?”
Captain Sazaruf squeezed out a line which could be in either resignation or exasperation. Even though they didn’t say it, Suya and Nanak felt the same way. The Shinaak men around them with baffled faces were probably thinking the same thing.
In the middle of the tent, Ikuta Solork was sleeping soundly with his limbs spread out. His entire body was buried in straws, and he seemed to be absolutely comfortable.
“He came about an hour ago, and asked for an empty spot to sleep… And of course, we ask him to sleep in his own tent, but he insist that he have to sleep in a bed of straws today no matter what. He wouldn’t give in, and just slept like this…”
After hearing what happened, even Captain Sazaruf who didn’t know him well could imagine what happened. He sighed, but Suya watched the youth sleeping soundly with a lamentation.
“... An existence that was saved by their sacrifices huh…”
Suya muttered, then looked at all the Shinacks within the tent in turn. The action of sleeping in this space was undoubtedly a way of showing ‘I trust you all’ with his body. To be honest, Suya still couldn’t understand the mentally Ikuta had before the opponents he was fighting to the death with, but…
“... So you are not making excuses and just saying something superficial…”
Suya recalled Yatori’s words that the Shinacks were allies, and the youth before her who was guaranteeing these words with his actions — she couldn’t accept it in the beginning, but could face it calmly now.
After experiencing the state of mind she never had before, he looked at Nanak nonchalantly, and found her pouting as she looked at the sleeping face of the youth as she said softly:
“— Ikuta you dense boy. If you want to sleep, just come to my bed.”
Suya turned stiff, but Captain Sazaruf pretended he never heard anything.”
“E… Erm, Nanak Dar, what did you say…?”
“Hmm? What is it?”
In response to this attitude which wasn’t clear if she was pretending to be retarded or just dense, Suya was hesitant about pursuing the matter — At this moment, an anxious shout of a messenger came from outside.
“Captain Sazaruf! Lieutenant Ikuta! Where are you! Emergency report! The enemy is moving!”
At this moment, the rhythmic breathing of the slumbering youth stopped, and he opened his eyes a little.
“— It’s finally here.”
“For the troops to be despatched on the western detour route, how about sending 500 cavalry that could seat two, and 300 infantry? To reduce weight, only bring the necessity, and let the supply unit trail behind them on foot.”
In response to Jean who came to propose his plan as usual, General Akugarpa crossed his arms with a face in deep thought.
“... If I only send cavalry, they might not be of use because of the terrain; if I send only infantry, it would take too much time to reach. To make up for these flaws, the idea of seating two isn’t bad…”
“However, our cavalry lack training in moving under such conditions. If the horses have to seat two, it won’t be able to gallop, just walking fast would be its limit.”
In retaliation of the Kioka soldier who was treating himself like a staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Michelin refuted the idea. However, Jean was waiting for that.
“Mum*. How about letting my cavalry take on this mission. I am confident they are skilled enough to accomplish this mission.”
This bold proposal made General Akugarpa looked at Jean with suspicious eyes.
“... Do you mean, you want to lead a battalion down the detour path personally?”
“Hah*, that is a good idea, but I have my reasons for staying here. I will hand half of my unit, 300 cavalry to my staff officer Captain Harrah, who will lead them there. I feel bad about this, but I hope you could provide a similar number of infantry to ride with them, as well as the 200 cavalry who will ride alone.”
General Akugarpa’s eyes sharpened further,as if he was trying to read the white haired officer’s true intention.
“... Assuming we adopt this plan, will 800 men be enough? If you run into a fortress along the mountain path, it will be difficult to break through with these numbers.”
“That is true. However, mobilizing more riders would be unrealistic too. Including my unit, we only have 2000 cavalry. Considering the need to pursue the enemy after breaking through here, I want to avoid spreading our forces out as much as possible.”
“... I have a gist of what you are scheming. Simply put, it is fine even if the detour path doesn’t work right?”
The General made a sharp accusation, and Jean applauded without hesitation for this speculation.
“Yah, such great insights, General. We didn’t treat the detour to the west as a route for our forces advance anyway, so casting our fate on it would be the same as a gamble. However, I would like to minimize the number of times we throw dices on the battlefield, that is my principle.”
“You are dispatching troops despite that. In short, your intention is to spread the enemy’s forces.”
Jean nodded with a bold smile, and cast his sights to the forest.
“According to the skirmish we fought, the unit defending against us here is just a battalion +α. Considering the casualties they suffered, they have a bit more than 500 men right now. We can see that the enemy don’t have any troops to spare— and if we send a group down the detour route, the enemy would be forced to send out a detachment to defend.”
“And that would lead to the defences here weakening.”
“Yah*... It has been two days since the wall of fire had been built, it is about time for the burning rate around the forest to show gaps. This will then become a hole in the wall of flames for us to pass through. If the enemy send 200 men to the west to defend against our detached forces, They would need to handle this situation with less than 400 men.”
“They wouldn’t be able to last long if they push themself that hard… Alright, even though your scheming face is more of an eyesore than usual, I will go with your plan once more— Hey! Michelin!”
The deputy who was named stood up straight and faced his superior.
“Pick 200 men from our cavalry, 300 from our infantry, and place them under Captain Taznyado Harrah’s command. As for the supply team following them, picked suitable candidates from those energetic ones.”
“If the enemy take no actions after we send out this detachment, it means they have already deployed troops on the detour route. If that happens, we would need to commit a few hundred more cavalry to force them to divide their forces… No, wait! In such a situation, wouldn’t it be bad if the enemy doesn’t move!?”
Because of the screen formed by the trees of the Gagarukasakan forest, the Holy Aldera Army couldn’t grasp the movement of the enemy from the other side of the woods. In that case, they wouldn’t be able to make the judgement on whether to send reinforcement.
As General Akugarpa was scratching his head, Jean put his hand on his chin in deep thought, his expression looking suspiciously like an act.
“You are right, it is hard to come up with a plan without knowing the enemy’s movements, to think I overlooked something so important —Mum?... Wyt… Ety… Mum?... Yah… Syool*! Good news, General! I just happen to think of a brilliant plan!”
Jean announced, with ‘that’ Kioka smile on his face. General Akugarpa who already agreed to go along with his plans had an ominous feeling, but had to ask about the content of the ‘brilliant plan’.
“... Let’s hear it, what do you have in mind?”
“This is a very simple and effective way of resolving this. Actually, I raised the same suggestion before, but in order to execute it, I need the gods to turn a blind eye a little—”
“M… Message from the rear! An enemy detachment had set off towards the west!”
Under the sky shrouded by the smog from the forest, the messenger used an off key voice to report to the officers standing in a row.
“They composed of 500 cavalry, more of half of them carrying two person. It seemed that infantry soldiers are riding behind the cavalry.”
When she heard the content of the report, Yatori who was commanding a cavalry unit reacted first:
“What skilled actions… Their speed?”
“They are traveling at the pace of a slow jog. Even taking in the fact that they need to walk after entering the mountain paths, they should reach the fortress on the detour route if they keep to this pace.”
These words made Yatori show an impressed expression, Ikuta besides her nodded with determination.
“We should send out an intercepting force fast, Captain Sazaruf. It is obvious that the enemy’s aim is to divide our forces, but we can only take up the challenge despite that.”
“Indeed… In that case, we need to discuss who should head to the fort.”
Captain Sazaruf looked at his subordinates one at a time. Although everyone here, be it Matthew, Torway or even the medical corps Haroma wouldn’t show fear if they receive the orders to move out, Ikuta and Yatori raised their hands to not waste time.
“If the Captain can loan me 80 men, I will think of something together with Torway.”
“The same for me.”
Torway who was named by Ikuta probably expected this to happen, and looked as if he had already resolved himself. But for some reason, Captain Sazaruf who heard their request to move out sighed lightly.
“... I was troubling over it just now, but… Yup, I will go this time.”
Nobody couldn’t hide their surprise when they heard this proposal. Haroma was the first to ask:
“Erm… Captain, you are the overall commander here right? Wouldn’t it be inappropriate for you to leave…?”
“That would be true normally. But Lieutenant Haroma, hear my gutless opinion — To be honest, this war has surpassed my capability for a long while now. Even though I am in charge on the grounds, I don’t have the confidence to handle any sudden changes adequately. I am really spineless…”
When they heard the honest confession of their superior, everybody was dumbstruck. The Captain continued speaking in the silence:
“We only made it so far because of the help from your group of excellent subordinates. If I disregard my shame and state it clearer, it’s because Lieutenant Ikuta and Lieutenant Yatori could see the future development of the war much better than I could… That’s why I feel it would be bad if the two of you left. As though if one of you is gone, it will led to a gap that will destroy us all.”
The Captain’s tone was serious. Ikuta and Yatori remained quiet with a complicated expression.
“In comparison, if it is just an orthodox stalling battle fought by defending a fort, even I would be able to manage. I know I wouldn’t qualify as a superior if I did that, but I hope to follow the logic of sending the right man to do the right job, so I should go. But it would be unsettling with just the light infantry I have, so I will borrow some wind gunners from Lieutenant Matthew and Lieutenant Torway. All in all, I just need 200 men.”
No one raise any objections next, so Captain Sazaruf knew his proposal had been accepted. When Ikuta saw the Captain was about to muster his men immediately, he said to the Captain:
“... I understand. Leave this place to us, please head to the detour route to intercept them, Captain. Our Shinack allies should have prepared the wind cannons, please make use of them to enhance the defences. It won’t be easy battle for the next seven days. I wish you good luck.”
They snap their right hand to their forehead in salute. This action served as the proof of the duties being entrusted and accepted.
“But Captain, aside from the manpower you estimated, please take Torway’s entire unit with you.”
“... Is that fine? If the air rifle unit is here, the defences would be easier.”
“I named Torway just now for a certain reason. I don’t have the time to explain, but instead of here, it is more likely for the air rifles to be needed at the detour route.”
Ikuta said with an intense tone. As there was no reason to refuse, Captain Sazaruf looked at Torway himself to confirm.
“... That seems to be the case, are you willing to join me, Lieutenant Torway?”
“Ah… Yes Sir!”
Even though Torway wanted to move forth right after responding, Ikuta grabbed him by the back collar suddenly.
“— Captain, before setting off, I need to borrow Torway for about 20 minutes. Please gather your men in the meantime, it’s fine to set off first, I will let him catch up soon.”
Ikuta walked away while dragging the collar with him. Captain could only watch them go dumbfoundedly, even Torway himself was looking at Ikuta bafflingly.
“I said I named you for a certain reason right? Anyway, just accompany back to the headquarters tent, I have something to tell you. You already have experience, so you can understand with just 20 minutes.”
“Something to tell me…? Ik-kun, you mean…”
Ikuta made a bee line for the tent 10m ahead as he revealed the answer softly:
“Only one plan is needed right? That is the way to fend off the phantoms.”
The two of them exited the tent some time later, the ones waiting for them were Matthew and Haroma.
“I don’t know what you two are busy with, but it took a lot of time. The Captain have already set off.”
“It will be fine if you meet up with him before reaching the fort — Alright, I’m going off then.”
Ikuta bidded off casually, then ran off somewhere. Matthew was taken aback by his attitude.
“He is not sending Torway off? I don’t see Yatori either, the two of them sure are cold. Depending on the circumstances, this might be the last farewell…”
Matthew realized his words were unlucky mid way and shut his mouth. Torway didn’t seem to mind, and smiled at his slightly plump friend.
“I think Ik-kun doesn’t think that. In our earlier discussion, he told me: ‘This is a winnable battle, so fight normally and return after scoring a victory’.”
“A winnable battle… huh? Even though that is a defensive battle in a fort, that is a strange way of putting it…”
Haroma raised a simple query. Torway answered with a meaningful silence, then turned.
“Then, I should go now… You will face many trying situation, but it will be fine if you follow Ik-kun and Yatori-san. Please don’t fall behind too, Matthew and Haroma-san. This is a ‘winnable battle’, I’m certain of it.”
The two comrades stood in place as they watch Torway with his air rifle on his back walking into the distance. After seeing him left the site with his subordinates who were waiting, Matthew finally sighed softly.
“... How should I put this, that guy changed. Did he matured? Became more forceful? When we first met, he gave the impression of being unreliable.”
“I feel the same. Maybe he gained confidence after being given more chances to perform.”
Haroma nodded in agreement. After knowing Ikuta and receiving the new weapon, air rifles, Torway’s performance became more brilliant as the days pass by. Just like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon.
“... Completely different from me.”
“Since the battle yesterday, I had been imagining the moment I get killed. Maybe I’m trying to get use to death by doing that? I know this is stupid, but I couldn’t stop myself…”
Seeing Matthew grabbing and lowering his head, Haroma who was worried about him tried to find the right words to say, but couldn’t offer the adequate encouragement. She looked into the air helplessly, as if she was looking for salvation...
“... Uwah! M… Matthew-san! Look at that…!”
She happened to discover a threat she saw in the past floating in the air.
“G… General! What is going on here!”
It wasn’t just the imperials who was shaken by that shadow floating in the sky. At the same time, while General Akugarpa was drinking tea, a subordinate with an enraged expression, charged into his tent.
“T… To use that taboo thing that offends the one star flag we are raising for the jihad! No matter what reason it is, I will not accept it!”
“Calm down, Colonel Gisspa. I don’t understand what you are saying, what exactly is that taboo thing?”
The General of the Holy Aldera Army calmed his subordinate with a low voice as he placed the tea he was drinking halfway back onto the table. The middle aged officer Gisspa continued speaking agitatedly.
“Do you not know, General…? Then that Kioka brat was the one who decided to use that thing on his own… Ahh, it will take too much time to explain! Pardon me General, please follow me outside immediately! Please hurry!”
In response to the strong urging of his subordinate, the General left the tent together with his adjutant Lieutenant Colonel Michelin. They looked up in the air outside, and found the ‘thing’ causing the problem, which made General Akugarpa open his eyes wide.
“— What is this!? I didn’t permit that thing!”
“As expected! That damn brat… A filthy Kiokian dare insult the jihad in such a way! In that case, General!”
Colonel Gisspa looked at his senior officer with the pure eyes of a religious devotee. Even though that gaze was pricking at the conscience of General Akugarpa, he maintained his dignity and nodded.
“Bring that audacious fellow here right now! … No, wait! Going by the personality of that brat, he might be up there right now. If that is so, once that that thing lands, grab him and bring him here!”
“Yes Sir! I will send my men…”
“Hold it! You seem to have lost your composure over this, so I will remind you first. Don’t use violence on those people, and do not break that thing. I understand how you feel, but that sort of impulsive behaviour will affect relations between Kioka and our home nation.”
“Ugh…? But General, if we don’t use this chance to teach him a good lesson, that brat will become more arrogant…”
“Don’t worry, I will reprimand him so badly that he will go insane, and let that brat experience your wrath in full. I will make him weak in the knees… No, I will make him pee his pants.”
When he heard that, Colonel Gisspa showed a devious smile, and left with the words “I understand, I will be counting on you.” General Akugarpa watch him go into the distance before returning to his tent and sit down again. He then pick up the tea that had turned cold and finished it in one go.
“... Phew, doing such things don’t fit my character. Did I bluff my way through just now, Michelin?”
“I don’t see anything unnatural. Colonel Gisspa should be convinced that Major Arkinex made the decision to deploy that thing himself.”
His adjutant answered seriously. But the General didn’t miss the scowl on his face.
“... You might be saying that, but your expression is the same as the Colonel. Never mind, this is to be expected.”
“Going so far as to break the taboo in order to win… That is the Kioka way of thinking. General, as the commander of the Ra-Saia-Alderamin Holy Army, it is not appropriate for you to lean towards these means.”
“It is as you say, I think we have fallen completely into their trap this time… That might be so, but fighting in a way that is acceptable to god would not bring us victory, so I can only bear with it this round.”
This order lack the impact from the ones he usually gave. When he saw Lieutenant Colonel Michelin nodded slightly, the Holy Army General hesitated and then said:
“... Hey Michelin. Assuming, just assuming… if one day, your senior officer had fallen so much that he isn’t qualified to be a servant of god, and becomes a real fool…”
“Such a situation won’t happen, I won’t let it. Please don’t look down on me.”
Using the chance when he was stuttering, Lieutenant Colonel Michelin finished those words. The strict concern that suited his adjutant’s personality made the General smile awkwardly, and he didn’t say anything more.
“—Yah*! The sky is clear with gentle breeze, a most suitable day to fly in the sky. Don’t you think so, Miara!?”
“No! This is a disastrous day! Being in a middle of a storm on the ground would put me more at ease!”
Two voices that came from a man and a woman, with completely opposite temperature echoed through the vast open sky. The thing floating in the air was a large container that was filled with enough gas to make it bloat, and had a basket attached underneath it to ferry people.
This was the invention that gave Kioka the idea for an ‘air force’ — the balloon.
“If you have the time for idle chat, please finish your job faster! How is the movement of the enemy leaving their base!?”
Compared to Jean who was surveying the ground cheerfully with a telescope in hand, Miara was shivering in a heap at the bottom of the basker. As expected of her, she didn’t let go of her pen and paper for recording purposes. But the scene of her like this reminds others of small animals that couldn’t get down after climbing to the top of trees.
“Syah*... A unit about a hundred or so men is setting off to the west, a smaller unit is following right behind. In total, the two units have about 200 soldiers. There didn’t seem to be any cavalry. I can’t tell the finer details on their make up from here.”
“Two hundred in total… Alright, I recorded it down! Since we confirm these intelligence, that mean the mission is complete! Then let’s head back to the ground right now, even if it is a second sooner!”
“... Hah*, Miara, if you are that afraid, why did you push yourself to follow me?”
“It is true that I very much want to do that, but if I didn’t tag along, you would have set off by yourself! Even though you completed air trooper training, I won’t let you do something so dangerous!”
Even though they ascended some distance from the forest, but depending on the wind, there was a non zero chance of the balloon being blown towards enemy territory. If that happens, having multiple passengers would make landing much quicker. It was understandable why Miara made the decision to follow him.
“I am happy about your concern… But this is a rare chance, you want to try getting use to the sky? After all, there might be a chance to ride a balloon in the future.”
“I full heartedly refuse. I might not be a believer of Aldera, but I share their opinion on this taboo form of transportation.”
“Mum*, don’t say that. Want to try it standing up first?
“What nonsense are you saying… Hmm… Wait… What are you doing? D-Don’t do that, really, no… Even if it is you, I will get angry — Hyahhhh!”
The screams didn’t reach the ground, and the imperial army didn’t suffer meaningless influence from that.
“... To think they set off a balloon under the one star flag war, just how did they receive permission from their commanders?”
Amidst the rowdy noises of the soldiers, Ikuta showed an expression that was half surprise and half impressed. Besides him, Yatori was also staring at the sky with a similar face.
“Maybe, aside from that exchange officer, the commander of the Holy Aldera Army himself is rather flexible in his thinking. Or maybe he has been reduced to a puppet…”
Ikuta nodded in response to Yatori’s opinion, then clap his hands hard to attract the attention of people around him.
“Alright, listen up! That is a balloon used purely for scouting, don’t be fooled by it and keep looking up at the sky. Compared to that thing, we should look at reality and our future!”
When Ikuta saw his subordinates composed themselves, turn and look at him, he nodded satisfactorily and proceed to the main topic.
“Alright, let’s talk about what happen next. As everyone knows, we still need to buy 7 more days of time. Even though we foresee that the enemy would use the detour as a countermeasure, the main battlefield is still here, we will still need to continue blocking the Holy Aldera Army for a while more.”
Ikuta pointed to the forest, and everyone followed with their gaze. Everyone then noticed that compared to the beginning, the pressure from the heat and smog had shifted quite a distance northwards.
“As you can all see, the fire in the forest had moved quite a bit. With this, there would be difference in the burning rate at each of the zone, and the fire line will be crooked. From now on, the enemy will attack these gaps, and what we need to do is clear.”
“First, repair the fire wall; Second, chase out the enemy who tries to break through.”
Nanak was the first to answer. Hearing this adequate reply, Ikuta was pleased and nodded.
“That’s right. We need our allies situated on the mountains behind us to provide support in identifying the gaps, and send people to the places where the fire has died or is dying, and rekindle the flames. Just think of it as using clothes to mend the holes in our pants.”
“And of course, the enemy would attack the same spots, so accordingly to the situation, there would be encounter battles on these places. Having lesser battles would be great, but repelling the enemy is still our duty.”
Yatori added quickly. At this moment, Sergeant Major Mittokarifu raised her hand uneasily.
“Erm… considering our difference in numbers, the enemy would send more people than us. Can we really defend until the very end…?”
“It is natural for you to ask this, but there is no problem. As for our fire defence line, we have a few advantages since we are the one who set it up.”
“First would be our allies on the mountains behind us. Thanks to their high vantage point, we can keep watch over every corner of the forest. In other words, it would be easier for us to find the places where the firewall might be broken, and can deploy efficiently in most instances.”
“The enemy also have a balloon, so being about to see from a high vantage point is the same for both sides right?”
“Since they are not familiar with the winds in this region, and considering the danger of being blown into our territory, the enemy won’t be able to fly too high. And because of that, the range they could observe would be limited. On top of that, balloons aren’t thing that could remain airborne for long periods of time as it couldn’t maneuver against the wind. It would be a concern if they could deploy four of five of them. But right now, that is very unlikely. As the enemy is a holy army campaigning under an one star flag, they have to show consideration with regards to that.”
Also, the balloon would need time to ascend or descend. Unless they had enough crews and balloon, it would be impossible to use them efficiently. Just imagining how reckless it was to use balloons in a mountainous terrain without knowing the wind direction well, made it hard to believe that the enemy had prepared an adequate number of air trooper.
“Next would be terrain advantage. When we find a place where the fire is about to die out, we just need to rush to the scene. But the enemy would need to bash through the forest to get there. As they would be forcing their way through without proper roads, they will need to travel a longer distance, and even lose their way. That means if both side move towards the same target at the same time, we will definitely reach earlier.”
Maybe she felt it was doable as she listened to the explanation, the gloom on Suya’s face lightened. In order to boost her confidence, Ikuta explained another favourable condition.
“The final advantage, is that we have the Shinaaks as the local guides, so we won’t go the long way or get lost when we move. I don’t need to tell you that this is our biggest advantage.”
When they heard Ikuta say that, the Imperial soldiers shift their attention to the Shinaaks who were congregating behind. Except for the 59 men under Nanak Dar’s command, the other 600 were non combatants. But in order to maintain the fire wall, working together with them was inevitable. Ikuta speech was based on this assumption.
“I will explain it in another way, the tactics from now on would be unorthodox mobile defense. We need to respond to the gaps in the fire wall and the enemy’s movement, sending only the necessary people to the necessary place. We just need to repeat these actions for seven days, nothing special to note. To accomplish this, the only thing I need from you all is a scientific mindset.”
When they heard Ikuta said this term after such a long time, his subordinates emotions heightened for unknown reasons.
“In the next seven days, all of you need to be lazy in the correct way. Work at the right time, eat at the right time, rest at the right time. Because if you don’t do that, you won’t be able to maintain your work efficiency. In other words, if we can maintain our efficiency, before the deadline is up, there won’t be any gaps for the enemy breakthrough — I have no doubt about this future.”
When they saw Ikuta guarantee the mission will be a success with a firm attitude, the soldiers looked at him with eyes close to worship. The youth accepted their trust solemly, and after signalling Yatori besides him with a look, he said loudly:
“— The mobile defense battle plan begins now! I will now announce the area each platoon will be responsible, and will move to!”
At the same time, Captain Sazaruf’s intercepting unit headed to the west on the shortest path under the lead of the Shinaaks. They linked up with Torway’s unit on the way there, and reached the Fort a day and a half after setting off.
“Oh~ this place is sturdier than I imagined.”
That was the first thing the Captain said. The Fort was built on a mountain path 1000m above sea level, completely blocking the way through. The route was really narrow too — less than 15m wide, making it easy to defend.
“Let me confirm first, are there any gaps that could even bypass this detour path?”
“No way. This is one of the fort built to defend any invasion from Aldera. If they want to bypass this route, they would need to scale the cliffs that even the mountain goats wouldn’t climb.”
When he heard the Shinaak man responsible for repairing the fort giving his words as he introduce the facilities, Captain Sazaruf could finally feel at ease. The thoughts that this might just work came into his mind.
“I understand. Then, erm… You are Merai right? How goes the Fort repairs?”
“Before you arrive, we already mended the places that we could, but the structure of the fort is already quite old, and we couldn’t do anything about that. If it comes under intense cannon bombardment or a battering ram attack, it wouldn’t last.”
“As expected… Never mind, thankfully, the enemy that are coming on horseback didn’t bring wind cannons.”
“Don’t let your guard down, the enemy might forage for logs that could serve as a battering ram.”
“Even if that happens, we won’t let the enemy do as they wish — What about our wind cannons?”
“The cannons that were here had already deteriorated with age, so we transported 5 cannons here from the mountains. Please overlook the fact that their sizes aren’t uniform.”
After Merai finished, he leaned out from the fort and pointed to the middle of the fortress wall, where the enemy are expected to come from. There were 6 cannons placed there. The Captain wished there could be more cannons, but the fact it was situated on high grounds beyond the reach of the enemy was great.
“... Good, first would be the deployment of the soldiers, and since we have the manpower, we will reinforce the fortress before the enemy reaches. Are there anymore wood left?”
After grasping the condition of the fort, the Captain decided to discuss with Merai on how to go about their work. However, Lieutenant Torway who was waiting behind him all this while spoke suddenly:
“Erm, Captain. I am sorry about doing this when you wish to have more manpower on hand… But in the next 3 hours, can you allow my unit to act independently?”
Captain looked back with eyes wide open, he never expected such a request from this subordinate of his.
“... Reinforcing the fort would directly affect the long term defence of this place. What is your reason?”
It was only natural to ask, but Torway averted his eyes awkwardly.
“Well… It’s… hard to say this… I have been asked strictly to not tell the Captain as it would have a negative effect.”
Captain wanted to query who exactly asked that of him, but realized the answer before speaking. Out of all the subordinates he had, there was only one guy who would do something as reckless as hiding their actions from their superiors.
“... Is it the instruction of Lieutenant Ikuta?”
“It is as you guessed…”
“... Forget it, I understand alright. It’s a bit aggravating, but i am the one who said he is the best at reading the flow of the war, so let him do what he need. Be it 3 or 4 hours, do as you please.”
“My deepest apologies… I will get it done as quickly as possible.”
“Damn it, you already said all that, so do it thoroughly until you are satisfied! We will think of something without you. But once the enemy approaches, get into position immediately to engage.”
Torway received an energetically response and permission from his reasonable superior, and jog down the fort in quick steps. He met up with his unit and headed in the direction that was opposite from where the enemy was coming. Merai tilted his head bafflingly when he saw that.
“... What are they thinking? That path will just lead into the middle of the mountains.”
“I don’t know either, he won’t tell me when I asked.”
Captain Sazaruf said in a manner as if he was throwing a tantrum, then turned to Merai with his feelings composed.
“We need to put the right man to the right job, so let’s do whatever we can, Merai.”
The Holy Aldera Army 800 men detachment force arrived in the evening, about half a day later than the imperials. The force commander Captain Taznyado Harrah didn’t waste the time before the sun sets completely, and use it to scout.
“Hey hey, this is a sturdy fortress. I was hoping it would be a run down place that is just a fortress in name. Is this my retribution for my usual lack of religious conviction?”
Captain Harrah joked as he held a telescope with one hand. He wanted to lean his body out from the cliff wall to take a peek, but his deputy, a petite girl jumped and push his head down.
“Idiot! They will see you if you lift your head! Make yourself smaller!”
“... I can understand if you ask me to squat or prone, but making myself smaller is an impossible request. After I hit my growth spurt when I was 9, it was already too late, and I was about my current height by the time I was 13. When I was growing up, the adults kept saying I am the descendents of ancient giants, and teased me by saying my head will break through the clouds one day. I knew they were kidding, but I really felt uneasy back then.”
“I heard that hundreds of time! Enough for my ears to get callouses!”
"Don’t be so mad, Sergeant Major Mita. What I mean is that I am envious of your convenient to carry size.."
Captain Harrah patted the brown hair of his deputy as he looked at the fort with sharp eyes in the sunset — A terrain that is suitable for defense, and a fort garrisoned by 200 soldiers. It would clearly be unwise to launch a frontal attack.
“... Hmm~ I get the gist. Let’s back off for now, and sleep til morning.”
“Oh God, this huge log don’t have any drive at all.”
“It doesn’t look like a standard that could be taken down with a surprise attack or night assault. If we do fight, we should do it in the day so the air rifles could be used effectively. And we just ended our force march, the troops must be tired.”
Contrary to his straight and to the point talking, Captain Harrah had a good grasp of the situation. After finishing his reconnaissance, he retreated to a position where the enemy wouldn’t be able to see him, and then stood up to his full six and a half foot frame, and put his convenient to carry deputy onto his shoulder.
“How infuriating! How many times do I need to tell this guy who is more useless than he looks to not carry other people so casually!”
“There’s no reason behind the urge to grab a small animal when I see it, sorry.”
The bulky officer easily carried the struggling girl on his shoulder as he walked back to their comrades.
Admist the heat and smoke, inside the forest that didn’t have any traces of wild life. Second Lieutenant Matthew and the two platoon working under him welcomed the third morning after the mobile defense battle plan began.
“Have we pile on enough lumber? — Good! Splash the oil!”
After receiving their orders, the soldiers spill entire sacks of oil onto the piles of fuel stacked between the trees. This was the work to repair part of the fire wall that had extinguished. Matthew’s unit alone had completed the same task five times, and they were starting to get the hang of it.
“Don’t dally, hurry! Don’t forget that the enemy is rushing to attack here because of this gap!”
Matthew who was busy transporting the oil used this chance to yell at the soldiers who was slowing down due to fatigue and lack of sleep… However, in terms of fatigue, he was no different from other soldiers. Ever since the sudden breakout of the civil unrest in the north, not only did they fought for several months on the Grand Arfatra Mountains, they were assigned to the retrograde support unit right after that. They had reached the limit of their fatigue so many times that there was no point in counting them.
But the fact that their group could still keep up despite this situation made Matthew very impressed with Ikuta’s capability. He did his best to avoid letting the soldiers move unnecessarily, changing shifts frequently, and would insist that the troops rest when it was their turn. Their unit could only have fought so long because Ikuta stuck to this principle. If it was a mediocre officer, they would have given up from fatigue before they lose the battle.
As they hurry about their work, the splashing of the oil had already 80% completed. They could finish and retreat their work in another 5 minutes — The moment Matthew made this prediction, he noticed some unnatural shaking on the other side of the woods.
“... Ugh! Everyone fix bayonets! Stop what you are doing and watch your front!”
The soldiers heard the orders and quickly switch the bags in their hands for air shooter or bowgun, and fixing bayonets onto them. Their movement could be seen from the other side, and the soldiers from the Holy Aldera Army standing by in the trees revealed themselves.
“Enemy attack! Open fire—!"
The barrels of tens of air shooters made the air explode. With the bullets ricocheting multiple times after hitting the trees, the two sides shot at each other from a distance close enough for melee combat. However, Matthew’s unit had the upper hand in terms of the number of shots.
“Have we broken their morale…? Fire troops! Set fire from the places that are done! Hurry!”
Torches were tossed into the lumber soaked in oil, and a wall of fire erupted before their eyes. The enemy who was intimidated attempted to bypass from the places that wasn’t ready for burning, but Matthew already expected such a development.
“Aim that way! Fire!”
He guided his men according to the enemy’s movement, and fired a volley where the enemy was gathering in a constraint area. The dozen or so Holy Aldera Army were hit and fell into the fire.
“Alright! The enemy is retreating! Use this chance to finish the work! Quick!”
After receiving orders, the soldiers splashed oil on the 20% of the area that remains. Once that was done, the fire trooper toss in torches immediately. The flame that filled in the gap in the fire wall started burning.
“Continue firing! Don’t let the enemy come near before the flames are big enough! Fire!”
Countless bullets mercilessly forced back the enemy soldiers who were hesitating because of the intense fire. As time passes, a large number of enemy gathered on the other side of the fire wall, but the flames were too intense for them to pass through, and they couldn’t do anything to douse the fire.
“We made it… huh?”
Matthew muttered to himself in a trembling voice, wiping the cold sweat on his forehead. Three days after the plan started, the Imperial ran into their first encounter battle. They stopped the enemy invasion without serious casualties, giving him a sense of making it through right at the nick of time.
“Hah… Hahaha! How’s that! I can do something this simple too… Wahh!”
The enemy opened fire from frustration, one of the bullets whizzed past Matthew’s ears. Even though he threw himself onto the dirt and made it out safe, he could feel someone saying to him: “Steady, cool your head down”.
And so, he immediately gave up on enjoying his sense of accomplishment here.
“Pull… Pull back! This place is secured, return to stations and wait for your next orders!”
Second Lieutenant Matthew’s unit encountered the enemy when they were repairing the fire wall, and fended off the enemy after a short engagement. First Lieutenant Ikuta who took on the role of overall base commander in place of Captain Sazaruf, stuffed his breakfast of thin toast into his mouth as he received the report.
“First encounter battle after three days… Right within expectations.”
He didn’t chew probably before washing the bread down with water, then toss some cocoa leaves that serve as pain suppressants and keep his mind refreshed. Relying on these to relieve the pain from his missing finger, Ikuta he placed a piece of paper onto the board in his arm and started writing.
“Matthew’s unit are to rest for 4 hours, Yatori is to take over their mission. Repeat the order.”
“Yes Sir— Orders for Lieutenant Matthew’s unit to rest for 4 hours! Also, Lieutenant Yatori’s unit is to take over his mission!”
Ikuta confirmed the content, and send the messenger off with his written orders. At this moment, another soldier brought him another report.
"Lieutenant, this is the report that came from the rear. The enemy is raising balloons on the furthest east side of the forest path, and gathered roughly 300 cavalry there.”
“Balloon again? And the east of the forest… I can’t tell what the enemy’s intention are. Since they sent cavalry, does that mean they want to find another detour route?”
It was hard to believe such a route existed, but ignoring this information would be too unnerving. Ikuta thought about it for a while, then ordered a soldier to summon Nanak who was standing by in the vicinity. In less than 10 minutes, her petite figure dashed into the tent.
"What is it, Ikuta! Something happened!?”
“Yes, something is bothering me. The enemy is gathering at the eastern most forest path, and even launched a balloon. What do you think they are up to?”
When she heard this news, Nanak was surprised, then pondered with her brows furrowed.
“The enemy went to the east side of the forest…? … Hmmm… Ughh… Ehhh… I don’t know what that means. The forest path is already blocked by the fire wall. Ah, but the enemy did set fire to counter that fire, so they might be waiting for the fire to burn out?”
“If that is the case, the number of soldiers isn’t enough. That’s why I was thinking if they wanted to find a detour route from the east. Even though I heard you say that it was impossible earlier…”
“Yes, I guarantee there isn’t any detour route that way, it will be a waste of time even if they search for a hundred miles.”
Nanak was absolutely sure. Even if they observed from the balloon, the chances of them finding a route even the locals didn’t know about was probably close to zero. Ikuta thought so too, and decided to not be troubled by it anymore.
“... Hmm, thank you. Thanks to your opinion, I get to dispel my unease. Sorry you have to make a trip here, you can return to your post.”
When she heard Ikuta’s thanking her and sending her off, the Shinaak chief looked at him unhappily.
“... That’s all? I already came, erm… we should do more…”
Nanak fidgeted with her fingers rubbing against each other. Unfortunately, another messenger came. She couldn’t get in the way of the report, so she had to return to her post regrettably.
Ikuta watched as Nanak’s back disappears into the distance, then he glance at the sky to the east. He could see the balloon from this position, and the subtle feeling of unease lingered in his chest.
At the fortress on the detour route, the two forces had a few skirmishes. The unit led by Captain Sazaruf defended stubbornly like a tortoise, not letting any enemy draw near. They were now in a stalemate.
“Fighting a drawn out battle suit us just fine, but why is the opponent so passive?”
The Captain peeked at the situation of the enemy through the slit in the wall as he muttered his thoughts.
The Holy Aldera Army detachment unit attempting the detour had appeared for two days, but had not launched a proper attack even once. They would occasionally fire with their Air Rifles from long distance to disrupt the defenders, but the bullet couldn’t hit the soldiers hiding inside the fort. They would retreat immediately when the imperials counter attacked with their cannons.
Judging from the results, both sides suffered practically zero casualties. That was a good thing for Captain Sazaruf, but it was strange because of all his advantages. Things were going too well.
“... Even though the detour isn’t the main attack route, they still brought 800 men here. It only make sense to try mounting a full scale assault even if their chance of winning is below 50%...”
It would be great if they succeed, and failure would just lead to a stalemate. Unlike the defenders who would be done for if they lose, the attackers had room to venture some risk. Captain Sazaruf couldn’t tell why the enemy wasn’t using this advantage.
“Wait wait, think carefully… Thinking from another angle, not attacking means they would attack sooner or later. In other words, they are waiting for the right time and preserving their strength. The problem is that so called right time… With both forces at a stalemate, just what is the enemy waiting for? Will the situation change if they continue to wait?”
A new element that could break this stalemate might be committed here — The Captain tried to imagine what that answer could be. The first he thought of was enemy reinforcement, but his allies surveilling from the mountains would notice. Since they didn’t receive emergency light signal communications, that wasn’t the answer.
“Another thing could be… finding it too hard to attack a fact from the front, so the enemy is trying out other means of attack… Is that it?”
If that was the answer, the enemy would just be wasting their time, so Captain Sazaruf really hope that was the case — However, he suddenly realized ‘reinforcement and an attack coming from another angle’... Was the enemy waiting for the arrival of an existence that fulfilled both these criteria?
At this moment, a voice came from behind Captain Sazaruf, as if it had calculated the best moment to speak. Sazaruf turned back and saw Second Lieutenant Torway standing before him with a determined expression.
"I want to deploy my unit at the back, will you grant us permission?"
Captain Sazaruf didn’t answer immediately, not because of hesitation, but from frustration… When the intercepting unit set off, did that guy predicted the current situation? Just thinking of that stirred a feeling of fear from within him.
"... Will we be able to make it through by just doing that?"
“Yes, Ik-kun already told me what to do.”
The confident answer from the introverted youth surprised Captain Sazaruf. Right now, instead of confidence, Torway’s green eyes expressed pride. His determination was clear — Since this mission had been handed to him, the situation didn’t give Torway the luxury from answering anything else other than ‘yes I can’.
“... Got it — Is there anything I can help you with?"
“Please place object that could provide covers at the back of the fort. But this must be done casually, don’t let the enemy know that we are keeping our guards up. Also use the chance to remind the troops to watch our backs, so they won’t be confused.”
“I will make sure of that. But it would still be dangerous if we get hit by a sneak attack.”
“I don’t plan on letting the enemy form up for the attack. Even if they did form up, it would only for a short time. The enemy would launch their attack in concert with them, so please focus on them, Captain. We will deal with the rest.”
Captain Sazaruf nodded heavily, took a deep breath and placed a hand on his subordinate’s shoulder.
"— This is the crucial moment. Do your best, Torway Remeon."
Torway looked straight into Sazaruf’s eyes and responded to his encouragement with a salute.
Passing through the fort and heading along the eastern path, one would reach a path formed by the ridge. It was 1,500m above sea level, not very high. Because it was this low, vegetation could grow here and it escape the fate of becoming a bald mountain like the Grand Arfatra Mountains where the chilly wind blows.
These conditions were just right for the phantoms who wanted to avoid drawing attention as they head towards their destination. They shy away from the muddy grounds with good footing, and bashed through the vegetation, only reaching the edge of the ridge after some time. They could see the scenery right under them from here.
The fort on a mountainous terrain, where the peaks were 200m aparts, and one could see everything clearly if they look down at the fort. The lack of defence made the shadows laugh gleefully. They spent four days maneuvering cautiously, and could finally deal a painful blow to the back of the imperial defenders on this detour route.
“This is the best position to fire from, should we begin the attack immediately, Commander?”
“I concur. Lead the melee units down the mountain path and standby there. The moment the enemy falls into confusion when we open fire, launch the attack.”
“Understood… Commander, are you going to direct the shooting unit here personally?”
“Because of the importance of this mission, I will be staying here. Give me your long range gun barrel.”
The deputy took out air rifle from his back and handed it to the commander. The head of the shadows switched his short barrel with the long barrel handed to him, then attached his partner wind sprite onto the long barrel. His deputy besides him did the same thing after receiving the short barrel.
“... Then, I shall lead the 40 men melee team down the mountain path.”
After his deputy reported that, he moved back along the grass patch they traversed earlier. The rest of the 80 shadows formed ranks along the mountain path under the command of their head, everyone observing the situation inside the fort below them with their air rifle in hand.
The imperials were focusing their attention on the enemy in front of them, who were led by Captain Harrah, and didn’t guard their backs, against the assault that would come from high grounds. But even if they noticed, they couldn’t do anything about them.
When faced with an opponent on the ridge of a hill 200m away, it would be impossible to counter attack from the fort. Even if it devolves into a shootout between Air Rifles, the shadows who have wider vision from above would have the overwhelming advantage.
Also, even if they send troops here, the distance to the ridge of the hill would make the enemy soldier great targets. Not just the fort, even the road behind the fort was within the range of the shadows. How many soldiers would survive the rain of bullets and make it to the hill ridge?
The head of the shadows used the short gap before the melee team finish their movement to confirm, and couldn’t find anything to worry about. No, the moment he receive news of this plan from the pigeon, he had not felt uneasy about it. Because the name of the proposer, Major Jean Arkinex was someone he pledges unwavering trust and loyalty to.
With nothing else to consider, his thoughts turned to his memory of red — that engagement that lasted only four rounds, and lasted less than ten seconds. But even til now, he could still remember that chill which made his hair stood on ends clearly.
“... Vermillion hair… The daughter of House Igsem…”
The phantom who should understand that silence was a virtue said unconsciously. And so, he had no choice but to admit that encounter with the vermillion haired girl had captured his heart and body.
“... Dual blades… Swords…”
The head of the phantoms muttered to himself, then looked at the air rifle in his hands. Even though he understand it held the power to revolutionize the battlefield, and he could wield it better than anyone else — Deep in his heart, he was still looking down at this thing, treating it as a toy that couldn’t be used on the big stage.
—Not just that.
He suppressed his urge to say it out loud, but couldn’t stop the scream in his heart.
The weapon I am proficient in, the proud weapon the Yaponicks should use isn’t something like this—
“Commander, the melee unit have reached the mountain path.”
He was pulled back from his obsessive thoughts by the voice of his subordinates. Shaking his head to chase away the distractions in his mind, he regain his self as the leader of the Phantom Unit, confirm that everything was set and ordered:
“Prepare to attack, fire on my mark.”
Heeding his command, the 80 men lay lay prone in an entire row, and place their fingers onto the trigger. The moment they squeeze the triggers, the imperial soldiers who exposed their unguarded backs would fall into hell.
"Ready your guns, aim—"
The moment he was about to countdown, a ‘splat’ rang out — He heard the sound of a hard object shattering. It was followed by the noise of a heavy object falling. The head of the shadows who didn’t understand what was happening turned his eyes towards the source.
One of his comrade drooped his head. The soldier who he just spoke with maintained his prone position with a gun in his hands, but he didn’t say anything as he kept his face down. What is this moron doing — He didn’t need to admonish him, because blood was starting to pool around the spot where his head was touching the ground.
The sound of a hard object shattering was that of a bullet piercing a skull. The moment he realized this, several similar sound rang out around him. Many of his comrades didn’t change their position much, just that their live had faded away.
“Huh… What…? What is happening… Ugghhh!”
"Hey! Why are you lowering your head all of a sudden… Don’t joke with me…!"
“That’s a shot! We are being shot at! From where…!”
With unease spreading, the head of the shadows swept his eyes over every corner of the scenery he could see… From the accuracy of the sniping, it couldn’t have came from the fort. This attack came from somewhere with a wider field of vision, on a higher ground…”
"… What is that—"
That speculation wasn’t overturned, he found the answer shortly later.
"… There are enemy soldiers ambushing on the opposite ridge…!"
“Continue firing! Pick your own targets, snipe the enemy you can see!”
On the opposite side of the valley where the fort was, Torway and his 40 men were shooting at the hills before them. Even though they were a bit more than 200m from the enemy, it was within range of their Air Rifles. And they held the initiative from the surprise attack, and had been attacking one sidedly all this while.
And of course, the enemy wouldn’t take the hits quietly, and had fired at the people on the ridge opposite them. However, the retaliation attack won’t have much effects. The reason was clear, because Torway’s group were spread out all over the place.
“They adopted a tight formation as expected…! We can win!”
Torway who was sure his side had the advantage squeezed the trigger. Through his sights, he could see another enemy falling off the ridge after being shot in the head.
Historically, the formation for wind gunners were always tight. As they lacked the accuracy of Air Rifles, they had to increase the compactness of their bullets to make up for that flaw.
But with the debut of the new weapon, the Air Rifle, there was no need to insist on using a tight formation. As their accuracy were guaranteed either way, while spreading out would deter the enemy from concentrating their fire, it would be better to disperse one’s unit to a certain extent before attacking. By executing this idea, Torway’s unit held the upper hand despite facing an enemy twice their numbers.
“... The enemy is retreating! Don’t let them escape! We have to whittle down their combat potential as much as possible here!”
The phantoms judged the situation to be against their favour, so they stopped their attack and begin to run. This was the best chance Torway’s men had been waiting for. The enemy was lying prone on the ground in order to take aim, but they had to stand up in order to retreat. Which means their target would increase in size for an instant.
“Haha, this is like shooting ducks…! The legendary Phantom Unit is nothing special!"
“Those guys are falling one by one! Serve you right! Become real phantoms!”
His subordinates were making such statements, but Torway had no intention of taking his opponents lightly… the difference in formation was just a superficial reason. He knew very well that his side was at a disadvantage, it just happen that a person behind him devised such a high quality plan.
"— Listen up Torway. On the third day after your unit reaches the fort, or at dawn of the fourth day, that Phantom Unit will attack from behind. This prediction is almost 100% accurate.”
Ikuta said with certainty to the person he practically dragged into the base tent. When he heard that, Torway was dumbfounded.
“... Why… Why are you so certain? After we were attacked some time again, we have yet to come into contact with the Phantom Unit again, is there any sightings from our allies to the rear?”
“If you think about it logically, you will arrive at this conclusion. There isn’t time to explain too much, so just keep up — What do you think the objectives of the Phantom Unit is?”
“Erm… Support the Holy Aldera Army’s invasion of the Grand Arfatra Mountains?"
“To provide support, what should they do?”
“Disrupt our defensive strategies, I think there are many ways to do that…”
“That’s right. But in actual fact, those guys didn’t obstruct our plans even once. Why is that?”
Torway hesitated, wondering how to answer, but Ikuta told him the answer immediately.
“It’s not anything difficult, it’s simply because the terrain here isn’t easy to attack.”
“Their combat strength is a company of 200 men at most. Even if they tried a frontal assault, they will be counter attacked by us. In that case, they need to adopt a ‘launching a sneak attack when the opportunity shows itself, then retreat immediately’, that sort of hit and run tactic. But the precondition for this to work is that they can’t be detected by the enemy before the surprise attack. For this terrain, that precondition is impossible to realize.”
“Indeed, the field of vision here is too good. They need to trek back a long distance to get to a terrain suitable for taking cover, and we have allies surveilling the area from the mountains behind. It would take a lot of effort just to find a place that could see this place and has cover to hide. If their soldiers gather at the same spot, we would notice immediately.”
“That is so. In such an environment, even those guys couldn’t get close to Air Rifles range, at most they could stay in a place where they could barely see the area. They should be spreading their members out and hiding at the back. On a map, that should be this area.”
After Ikuta finished, he drew a small circle on the map of the mountain range. Anymore forward, they wouldn’t be able to hide their tracks, any further back and they won’t be able to keep watch over the defender’s movement. The area within the circle balanced these conditions with it’s excellent terrain.
“The fact that this area is hard to attack would never change, but just for today, one condition is different.”
Torway lifted his head suddenly, feeling that he is starting to understand what Ikuta was implying.
"…Captain Sazaruf and I would be leading our troops to the detour route…”
“That’s right, for the enemy, this is the chance they have been waiting for. Even though there was no chance for them to act in this base, there are less soldiers at the fort, and our allies aren’t watching the area. Those guys will definitely switch their target to you all.”
“Is that so… However, what is the reason for them to attack on the third or fourth day?”
“To evade our surveilance, they would head to the west and take a longer route than you. I already marked their predicted route on this map, no matter which route they choose, they would be much slower by the time you reach the fort. As for why the attack would be in the day, it’s because the Air Rifle’s range would be most effective during day time.”
Starting from the deduced position of the Phantom Unit, he used his fingers to trace their route until the fort… The time taken would be either the 3rd day or the morning of the 4th day. Ikuta limited the possible position of the enemy within the specified time frame.
It was the same back then… Torway thought. As the simulation battle with Captain Sarihasrag draws to an end, Ikuta made an amazing prediction of the situation in order to rescue the kidnapped princess. As if he was playing chess blindfolded, he had the unbelievable skill to grasp the movement of the enemy and allies. And compared to last time, the scale of the time and place had been increased significantly.
A chill went down Torway’s spine. If… If this prediction was accurate—
“Hey, don’t daze off. Any questions?”
This voice pulled Torway back to reality. He organized his thoughts so far hurriedly.
“... What about the possibility of the enemy attacking without relying on long range shooting? Last time, a unit charged right into the center of our formation…”
“If we base solely on the intelligence from Nana, there isn’t any terrain where such an acrobatic attack could be launched. The fort was constructed on a valley between two ridges, there are cliffs on either side of it, and behind it is a one long path that lead into the mountain. I don’t see any route for them to sneak in close. Even if there is, we just need to watch that route closely.”
“I see… Then, I want to get back to the main topic. With an enemy attacking the back of the fort from long range, how should our unit engage them?”
At this point of the discussion, Torway could tell that his mission was to intercept them. Before answering this question, Ikuta peeked at the entrance of the tent. He was probably concerned about the time? It felt as if ten minutes or so had passed since they started their discussion.
“First, we need to turn the chessboard. If you are the commander of the Phantom Unit, how would you attack this fort?"
“... Taking long range shooting into consideration. The crucial factor for the entire question would be where to deploy the gunners. I will survey the surrounding terrain, pick a spot about 150m away from the fort, where there is a clear line of fire. Whether there is cover in that place would be important too.”
The youngest son of House Remeon answered fluently, his model student performance put his teacher at ease.
“Since you understand this much, I just need to repeat your previous question — when facing an enemy that is attacking in such a way, how would your unit engage them?”
"— Just like this, Ik-kun…!"
And so the situation developed to this very moment, the bullets fired from 40 Air Rifles flew over the valley and brought death to their enemy. Basing his plan on the youth’s prediction that the phantom would attack, Torway took charge of the battle that ensured.
He quickly deduced that the enemy the venue the enemy would deploy. Working backwards from the issue of bullet trajectory and positioning from the mountain path, there was no other answer aside from the ridge to south of the fort. And so, he found the place he should take to engage the enemy. He need to find a spot within the range of the air rifle that was on higher ground than the enemy, with vegetation for his soldiers to spread out and hide themselves.
The place that fit these condition was a slope to the north of the enemy, slightly to the west. The hardest part was letting soldiers scale the place. Unlike the southern ridge, there wasn’t any mountain path that leads to the northern ridge. Even though they had to scale cliffs to reach that position, they overcome it with the assistance of the Shinaaks.
Until the very end, the Phantom Unit didn’t notice the troops ambushing on the hill opposite them. It was true that they were more proficient than anyone else in using Air Rifles, but they never expected a situation where both sides were using the same weapons. They became arrogant because of the advantage of their new weapon which only their own army had, and unconsciously stopped their thinking.
Ikuta claimed — Because of its long range, the new era of shooting battles would evolved into a competition in predicting the enemy’s deployed position. The attackers would naturally choose a spot that was suitable for bringing all their shooters to bear, and the defenders would need to deduce where the enemy would shoot from and engage them.
Counter sniping. The descendent of ‘Remeon of the Guns’ understood this concept completely.
"Lieutenant, the enemy is fleeing…!"
He could see the remnants of the enemy who suffered heavy losses were retreating along the ridge to the east. However, Torway did not plan for ‘forcing the enemy to retreat without suffering any casualties’ to be a victory.
He lift his air rifle with both knees on the ground and stop his breathing. The distance with the enemy had already exceeded the specification of the scope. The only thing he could count on was his own skill. The pride as a ‘Remeon of the guns’ that had been branded deeply into his very bones.
In the silence that follows after concentrating to the limit, Torway squeezed the trigger. Taking the wind into consideration, he had aimed slightly to the right, the bullet flew at a trajectory that achieved a balanced with the gravity pulling it down.
He couldn’t confirm if the bullet hit. However, the instant the hunter fired, he was certain that the shot would be embedded into the side abdomen of the phantom.
“... I won’t let any of you go.”
He didn’t say that in the spur of the moment. The platoon of 40 gunners ambushing on this ridge were armed with Air Rifles, while the wind gunners that stayed behind in the fort was a platoon of 33 men armed with Air Shooters. Torway’s unit consist of 107 wind gunners. Where was the other 34 gunners?
"— Ugh — Ah…!"
During the retreat, the leader of the phantom unit felt searing heat on his side abdomen. His knees felt weak, but he couldn’t stop and kept running… The act of abandoning the remains of his comrades was an absolute disgrace for the phantoms.
“How many did we lose…?”
“There are more than 40 dead or heavily injured…! Half the unit is down!”
When he heard the number that far exceeds his expectation, the head of the shadows groaned. After the enemy attacked preemptively, the time was wasted trying to grasp the situation, the time wasted on attempting a counterattack, the time wasted on getting up from a prone position to retreat… This number mercilessly reflected the time they wasted, which was severe enough to consider his unit destroyed.
“... Tch! We will lie low again, and wait for the next chance. We are not allowed such an unsightly…”
The head of the shadows said as he continued running ahead. He didn’t realized that he had lost his cool from the impact of the defeat and the pain in the side of his abdomen. It was too early to consider his next course of action. That’s because they had yet to escape their hellish situation.
His retribution for his lack of wariness took shape in the form of the imperial soldier ranks blocking the path on the ridge, and appearing before their eyes.
The phantoms stopped in their tracks. On the ridge with nowhere to run, 34 muzzles were pointed at them. All of them understood that the situation was hopeless… They should have noticed sooner that the instant they escaped from that hell-like prologue, they had become the hunted.
With the order, bullets fired after the compressed air exploded. The phantoms had no other choice other than taking the direct hit.
"— Hey hey, are you kidding me?"
Captain Harrah saw the entire battle that took place within this short amount of time through his telescope. Even the retreat of his allies and how they were mercilessly shot down from the direction they were running.
"That phantom Unit is actually being attacked before they could strike…!"
He gritted his teeth and lowered his telescope. Despite facing an unbelievable reality, he didn’t have time to daze around. Even though the sure win tactic didn’t work, he still had his responsibility as a commander.
"… No other way, let’s attack, Sergeant Major Mita. They deployed some of their men to ambush, so their forces are scattered right now.”
“Huhhh!? The ambushing unit will rush back soon right?”
“That’s why we have to take down the fort immediately! Alright, let’s go!”
Captain Harrah carried his deputy on his shoulder without warning, and ran back to his unit. With a bitter heart, he ordered a general attack, knowing it would probably fail. He had no other option to choose from.
The fourth night after the commencement of the mobile defence plan. Ikuta who was in command of the main base received good news from the west.
"… Is that so, Torway accomplished his mission.”
After hearing the report from the messenger, Ikuta felt the weight on his shoulder lightening a little. According to his plan, the duel with the Phantom Unit was the climax of this campaign.
“Sorry, but I need you to make a trip back, can you send my reply with light signals? Tell them — 'Well done, start pulling back after defending the fort for three more days'."
The messenger left quickly after receiving the message. When the back of the other party disappeared into the darkness, another person was illuminated by Kus’ Lantern light.
"Platoon Yatori completed the burning works for the second zone in the west. There was an encounter battle during the mission, and the Shinaaks helping with our work suffered three casualties, but I have sent all casualties directly to the field hospital.”
“Thank you for your hard work, but the enemy’s blood that was spilled on you is already hardening.”
“It feels uncomfortable, but it’s the same for everyone else — By the way, about that report earlier…”
Yatori was about to ask when Ikuta’s stomach suddenly rumbled loudly. It was so loud that even the subject himself opened his eyes wide.
“... Oh no, I can’t remember when was the last time I ate.”
“You haven’t eaten? Dinner time for the troops should have been long over.”
“I remember ordering the men to eat… But thinking about it now, maybe the only thing I stuffed into my mouth since morning are cocoa leaves.”
As if it was trying to emphasize this fact, the youth’s stomach groaned again. Yatori turned with a face of resignation.
“Wait here, I will get something from the food provisions tent.”
“My thanks. If possible, can you let me see the menu?”
“Unfortunately, the shop only sells toast, dried fruits and meat jerky.”
Yatori answered jokingly and ran off. In less than a minute, she returned with a bundle. Ikuta who had been sitting in a chair inside the base tent without moving stood up.
“It’s boring to eat alone, can you join me? Since you only reported your work being finished now, you probably haven’t eaten a proper dinner yet, right?”
“I plan to eat too and got enough for two. It’s a pity that Matthew and Haroma aren’t here.."
After finishing their conversation, Ikuta sat onto the floor, then Yatori sat as she leaned against his back. This back to back position might seem strange to others, but for the two of them, it was a position they had been used to since their schooling days.
Unable to see each other’s faces, the two of them felt the body warm from their back started eating.
“Is the report from the messenger earlier related to Torway and the fort?”
“Yes, seems like he dealt a heavy blow to the phantoms. Compliment him a little the next time you see him.”
“? Why should I compliment him? You are the one who taught him that tactic.”
“I can’t do it, praising that pretty boy is beyond the limits of my mental capacity.”
Yatori who didn’t seem to care after hearing the reason bit the dried almond in her hand.
“... Did he take out the enemy commander?”
“No idea. According to the report, the enemy attempted an assault with over a hundred men, more of half of them were killed. The guys attempting to shoot from long distance with Air Rifles were almost wiped out, I heard the melee unit who came out in the end to help them also took heavy casualties before escaping. There were many bodies left on the field, but as those people claim to be phantoms, it is uncertain whether the commander wore anything to differentiate himself.”
Ikuta bit off some meat jerky as he answered. Yatori swallowed the dried fruit in her mouth and then said:
"… Did he stole the prize?"
"Maybe. You wanted to avenge Warrant Officer Deinkun?"
When she heard Ikuta say that without holding back, Yatori sighed with a wry smile.
“Yes, that’s one of the reason. It’s all because I didn’t defeat that man earlier. If that is the case until the very end, I won’t be able to lift my head and move forward as a knight when I pay my respects at Warrant Officer Deinkun’s grave some day."
“Torway will cover for you for this mission too, he is also an exemplary imperial knight.”
“That is true… It is Torway’s win this time.”
Yatori said as she caress the sheath of the dual sword she unfastened and placed onto the ground when she sat down.
“... Looking at it from a wider viewpoint, maybe the time to ascertain who won and who lost have passed. Just like your announcement that it would revolutionize the battlefield, the Air Rifles possess overwhelming power. Once that thing gets mass produced and adopted by others, the way war is fought would be completely different.”
“That isn’t something that only happened now. The Air Shooter was evaluated the same way in the past; if we go further back, even the invention of the bowgun brought a big impact to the soldiers then. I think your House also left some record logs about that period.”
“You mean the piece about ‘knocking bolts away with a sword’... But that piece didn’t do anything aside from preserving the dignity of the Igsem. This is a skill worthy of praise, but most of the soldiers couldn’t reproduce it. Since that is the case, it can’t be consider an improvement in military terms.”
“Indeed, both the bowgun and air shooter are not reliant on the skill of the user. For an army that wants to standardize the abilities of its soldiers, it would be better if the weapon is easy to use.”
“That’s right, easy to use should be the minimum criteria… However, aside from its similarities to bowgun and Air Shooter, the Air Rifle also have another decisive improvement.”
Yatori opened her palms and held them wide apart to express the improvement she meant.
“That is the distance. The capability to target an opponent more than 100m away, that would change the sense of distance between the enemy and us on the battlefield in the future.”
Ikuta shut his mouth on reflex. Because only Yatori herself had the rights to discuss what would happen next.
“On the battlefield that is mainly fought through the exchange of fire from a distance, the chance of a melee battle would decrease a lot.”
The descendant of ‘Igsem of the Sword’ said the conclusion broad mindedly:
“The age of the sword is coming to an end — isn’t it too late to say this? Before the debut of Air Rifles, Pikes, Bows and Bowguns all shook the status of the sword. If the age of the sword had already ended, maybe all this while, it can be described as a gradual decline towards its end.”
Ikuta who didn’t move as he listened to the confession coming from behind him chose his words carefully before speaking calmly:
"… ‘Remeon of the Guns’ will replace ‘Igsem of the Swords’ as the star of the battlefield . It is true that the debut of the Air Rifles would be the critical factor. However… I don’t want to make excuses as the one who contributed on the technological aspect, but I don’t think this is a bad thing for you.”
“Ara? Why? Even though I don’t think of it as bad news…”
“Because you are carrying an overly heavy burden, so reducing that burden would be good news to me.”
When she heard this answer, Yatori smiled and lean back gently to knock the back of the youth’s head.
“Did you forget my burden that gets lightened would fall onto Torway?”
“It’s fine to transfer it all to him. If it’s your burden, that happy would be happy to accept it. From the looks of things, his tolerance to take on these responsibility is growing too.”
“The one who is nurturing him shouldn’t be saying that… Could the reason why you lend a helping hand to Torway in all sorts of way since your enlistment for laying the foundation for promoting the use of Air Rifles?”
“Well… I did have similar ideas, but my motivation is weak, so it felt like necessity led to this result. The outbreak of the northern uprising and my position as a ‘disciple of Aranai’ entrusted with the information resulted in the Air Rifles being brought in at this point in time. I think this is just the end result of a combination of these factors.”
“That’s true, you merely hastened the pace of the hands on the clock…”
Yatori sighed. The youth hesitated a moment before continuing:
“Then… Assuming — If everything that happened is because I wanted to lessen your burden, will you get angry?”
“I didn’t ask that of you, but I won’t get mad. Because I have a feeling myself… that one day, the times will leave the Igsem behind.”
The fiery haired girl lamented as she cast her gaze into the distance, looking up at the twinkling stars in the night sky.
"— You heard stories about dogs that continue to guard the house even after its master had passed away right?”
“However, what is the truth behind these stories? Maybe the dog simply didn’t know its master is dead. Or maybe, it believe that if it continues to guard the place, the corpse would rise again one day even though it is rotting and infested with maggots.”
It would be silly to ask what the metaphor was about. Ikuta bit his lips when he thought about how she felt.
"Even though they are known as the ‘Three Loyal Houses’, The Igsem is conservative, Remeon is innovative and the Eurugous is moderate. As the Igsem’s principle is that ‘soldiers won’t meddle with politics’, so it isn’t accurate to critique them as conservative… However, the existence of the Igsem have turned into the watchdog of the Empire’s current government, which is the fact.”
“... Igsem and Remeon maintained different positions and attitude. Historically, they had opposed each other plenty of times because of this.”
“Yes. But despite that, they had your House had held on for this long. Because of the great performance that couldn’t be emulated by others on the battlefield, and their support of the emperor in the past to unite the land, the common consensus recognize Igsem as the head of the ‘Three Loyal Houses’... However, as their performance on the battlefield gradually fall behind Remeon, they would not be able to keep their status as the leader of the old military families with their historical authority alone.”
At the same time, the balance of the imperial powers would change. Igsem losing power will lead to the conservatives having less influence, and the rise of the Remeon will invigorate the innovatives — before the discussion about the merits of innovation can start, the biggest problem would be the opposition period before that. For Kioka, that would be the best chance to invade, which they have been waiting for.
The Emperor will pass away soon — Ikuta remembered the news he got from Princess Charmille. He had been told that at that time, the corrupt nobles would take sides against each other. The opposition between the Igsem and Remeon would probably overlap at the same time. The political and military affairs of the Empire would fall apart at the same time.
“Am I really protecting the Empire right now? Can I continue to protect it in the future — Even a watchdog can’t help thinking about these things.”
Yatori kept looking at the night sky as she spoke — She didn’t know that the Emperor don’t have much time left. But with the north and east of the Empire exposed to the threat of other nations, just the matter of the military splitting up was enough to make her worry.
There wasn’t much time to hesitate. What should she fight, and what should she protect? When that time comes, she would be forced to make a choice.
"Father said that the reason for Igsem’s existence is to ‘remain unchanged even when the era does’. If that is so, there is nothing to worry about. Maybe Torway who is sharpening his claws right now will become the weapon to take me down in the future.”
“I won’t let that ending become reality, so you can spend a lot of time to brood over it.”
Ikuta answered determinely. The strong and firm voice made Yatori really happy, and she shut her eyes as if she was in a dream.
"If never changing is Igsem’s reason of being, then ever changing would be Yatorishino’s reason of being. I know you won’t escape from any of this. No matter what your conclusion is, I know it would be the an honourable one. So —"
Ikuta forcefully suppressed the urge to charge ahead with his rational mind, and explained what he thought:
"— So I will help you reach a conclusion that would lead to a better future. I will stay by your side, until the day you can live on with your head held high.”
Ikuta who was gazing at the stars during the middle of the war made one of the biggest promise of his life. But Yatori didn’t say anything… She simply pushed a little bit more of her weight onto the youth.
The next day, with the successful implementation of the mobile defence plan, time passes by slowly. Even though the number of gaps within the fire wall showed a trend of increasing, but considering the fact that there were just two days left, it wasn’t serious enough enough for them to hold on to the end.
In this four days, Ikuta did well as a commander. Without any manpower to spare, the way he maintain the work progress and avoid overworking the troop was really skillful. As for the commander himself who didn’t have anyone to cover his duty, he had no other choice but to stave off his fatigue by catching a wink between his work and stuffing cocoa leaves into his mouth.
“Damn it, just imagining how I should slack off in the future to make up for this fills me with expectations…”
Pus was forming on his little finger’s wound, and he could feel stinging pain intermittently. In order to not let the pain show on his face, he had to put in exceptional effort.
“— Eh? Sorry, did you say something to me?
“Sorry, I’m just muttering to myself — Hmm~ Your unit need to transport 10 sack of oil and as much straw as you can from here to the second zone in the east. After doing that, chop the woods there to top up the supply of lumber. After that… Cough cough, wait a minute, my throat is dry.”
With the sun showing no signs of waning, it was now 2pm in the afternoon. As Ikuta was drinking water to hydrate his patched throat, a messenger charged in while panting hard.
"Lieutenant Ikuta — reporting! Enemy reinforcement on the other side of the forest has arrived!”
When he heard that, the youth spit out the water in his mouth. Sergeant Major Suya who was unluckily sitting before him screamed, but Ikuta didn’t have time to care and questioned the messenger.
"Wait, I understand if they approach gradually, but how did they get there suddenly?”
“It seems that they made a huge detour from the east, so our allies from the mountains couldn’t track their movement until they have almost reached.”
“That means they intentionally took a detour? What’s the scale of the reinforcement?”
“About 100 men… but they had six wagons with them.”
Ikuta started thinking about these two unexpected information — 100 men won’t change the situation much, and that was why he couldn’t read the enemy’s intention. Since the reinforcement reached at such a time, that mean this was a detachment force ordered to take the long way around when they set off. What does this mean?
“... Did that reinforcement unit link up with the enemy main forces immediately after arrival?”
“No, the place they reach is the east of the forest… Around the area where that balloon is.”
“Near the east most forest path… Even though there is only one balloon going up and down, there are cavalry wandering around there. What about the cavalry?”
“They are doing the same thing, running back and forth meaninglessly.”
The knot he felt in his mind yesterday surfaced again, and the feeling that something was wrong grew more intense. Ikuta folded his arms in deep thought.
"Yah*, thanks for your hard work. Well done in making it here before sunset, gentlemen.”
At the same time, to the east of the Gagarukasakan forest. Jean gave compliments without any reservations to the reinforcements who push themselves hard to reach this place with six wagons in tow.
“I would very much want like you to rest, but we have pressing matters, please indulge me for a while more — Air trooper Sergeant Hasantha, are you here?”
The Kiokian soldier Jean named ran before him immediately. After facing the soldier, the white haired officer cast his gaze to the right side of his back apologetically. In that place was a balloon filled with gas and secured to the ground with heavy objects.
“I am sorry to ask this of you when you are so tired, but I want your team to take that balloon and direct the artillery. As you can see, the enemy is on the other side of the forest, we can’t see where the rounds land from the ground.”
“Yes Sir!... This means we will be using the cargo immediately?”
"Syah*! That’s right, we will use all six. The observation would take quite a bit of effort, please send us the message via light signals, we will adjust the troops on the ground accordingly.”
After receiving his orders, the soldier ran off to gather his comrades. Lieutenant Miara who just arrived saw the soldier leave, and she stopped before her superior officer before dismounting.
“Reporting, the cavalry is ready, Major Arkinex.”
“Nice work. Has everyone memorize that route with their body?”
“I think they are good enough to maneuver through it blindfolded… Jean, are you really joining in?”
"Hah*, of course. I don’t want to stay here by myself and get lectured by General Akugarpa."
“... Compared to us, the amount of time you spent practising is less than half of ours. If you take the field like this, if anything happens…”
"Nyatt*! Have you forgotten who your horsemanship instructor is? And I recall overcoming obstacles more difficult than this numerous times during exhibitions.”
Before her superior who had a face full of confidence, Miara sighed and gave up on convincing him.
“In that case, I won’t stop you. Please don’t fall off along the way. It would be a lot of hassle to rescue in the sea of fire, even for me.”
While they were talking, the soldiers around them finished unloading the cargo from the wagons. Each of the six wagons carried one piece of cargo, steel cannons that could only be described as massive. It resembles the largest calibre of wind cannons, but it was larger than wind cannons and the barrel was much thicker. On top of that, there were several metallic accessories, cleaning equipment and a gun mount with wheels.
“It had been a while since we used it, so maybe we should be the one who should feel uneasy — Mum*, the sun is setting, hurry it up! Push the cannons that are set up into the forest path!”
“It will be done in no time at this pace, I will get the cavalry ready.”
Miara mounted her horse after saying that, and return to the cavalry stationed behind. The artillery soldiers were working smoothly, and after mounting the main body of the cannon onto the gun mount, they pulled it with horses and head straight to the forest path.
It was thanks to the Holy Aldera Army adopting the tactic of fighting fire with fire. The fire wall blocking the forest path to the eastern edge of the Gagarukasakan forest had become very thin. But even so, there was more than a hundred meters of road on fire. Infantry won’t be able to breakthrough, but it was close enough for cannons to hit the other side.
"—Yah*, the six cannons are arranged neatly in a line."
Inside the forest path, some distance from the flames and smog, six giant cannons were placed in a line. Normally, they would take up more space than the forest path, but the grounds had been widened and flattened before hand.
“This was brought to Aldera in order to showcase its effectiveness, but the six cannons received unexpected resistance from them, and was thrown into the warehouse to accumulate dust… Even though It didn’t have the chance to be used in public today, but its chance to shine have finally come.”
With the 300 cavalry following behind in a single row, Jean who was mounted on a horse besides Miara said with a frank attitude. The artillery soldiers before him had already prepared their wind and fire sprites, and was awaiting their orders.
With that command, the soldiers finally started preparing to shoot the cannon. They first inserted the brush into the muzzle to clean the interior, then loaded in an oval shell so big, that it required both arms to lift, into the barrel.
“Inject Dynamic Air!”
<TL: The raw 揚気 is probably the air version of 揚水>
The artillery soldiers with fire sprites fed their partner water, then placed their hand onto the ‘fire hole’ on the hands of their sprite. They gave the impossible order to ‘light fire’, and the fire sprites that couldn’t harm their master or ignore the order made a strange compromise. This produce ‘dynamic air’ which were based on their ability to create ‘spark’. The soldiers immediately slot the sprite’s hands into the nozzle, using tube made from resin to direct the dynamic air. The dynamic air would flow along the tube to the hole on the wind sprite’s back used for air intake and exhaust. The wind sprite would use it’s ‘wind tunnel’ to suck the air into the cannon, compressing it under high pressure.
The soldiers look through the aim sights marked with crosshairs, and adjusted the attack direction of the cannons. As they don’t have a direct sight on the target, they will be adjust their aim by using the first shot as reference, and targeted the far end of the forest path.
A heavy partition inside the cannons dropped. This break the contact with the wind sprite, and the friction would create spark with the same principle as striking flints. This provide the decisive stimulation to the flammable gas that had been filled to its limit.
The sky was clear, but most of the imperial soldiers mistook the sound for thunder.
Ikuta realized the disturbing truth and his face turned green. A situation that shouldn’t happen happened. There was no need to turn the reason into words, the facts were clear to see.
“... The rear should be able to see the situation in the east side! Any communication from them!?”
Ikuta swivelled his sights to his back, searching for the figure of the messenger, and found a soldier charging towards him at full speed to report. When he reached the commanding officer, the soldier didn’t waste time catching his breath and said:
“Re… Report…! There is an artillery bombardment shot over the fire wall at the easternmost forest path…!”
That sound came from the east again, as if it was attempting to cover the voice of the messenger. The troops were starting to waver too.
“How many cannons? Are the soldiers in the trenches alright? We knew from the beginning that the forest path there is very direct, so we should have done anti-artillery preparations!”
“The… The number of cannons and casualties are unknown. But according to the report, the trenches…”
Ikuta repeated the messenger’s words as a question. The soldier seemed to bracing himself to say out a taboo phrase, then answered fearfully:
“They say that the trenches built to withstand artillery were destroyed with just one hit…!”
On the other hand, in the Holy Aldera Army headquarters, General Akugarpa who was shocked by the thundering sound dashed out of his tent.
“What is that sound… Is that brat behind this?”
Unlike the incident with the balloon, Jean didn’t inform Akugarpa beforehand… His actions in raising the balloon earned the ire of many officers, and the white-haired officer had been bestowed an empty supervising mission, and isolated in the east of the forest. However, that was the explanation on the surface. The truth was, General Akugarpa kept him away from the main forces in order to make it convenient for Jean who didn’t want to be hindered by religious taboos to act.
“The interval between each boom is too orderly for it to be thunder… General, I don’t think this is possible, but is this…”
Lieutenant Colonel Michelin’s gut feeling made him frown, and his superior also thought about that ‘unlikely possibility’.
"… It is obviously too large to be transported with the other cargo, just how did they brought it here? And that thing should be dumped into the warehouse inside the base, when was it taken out?”
“Instead of racking our brains here, we should ask the man himself. Shall we go, General?"
The adjutant said as he pointed to the entrance of the tent, but General Akugarpa shook his head after thinking it over, showing a sour expression on his face.
“... It’s too late to stop him now, it wouldn’t do us any good even if we admonish that brat. And this is probably the ace up that brat’s sleeve. Since we can’t breakthrough here or in the western detour route, letting him do as he wish would be for the best.”
“Will the officers accept this? Maybe someone will rush to them and complain, just like that time with the balloon.”
“Don’t worry, there isn’t anyone in our army who could say for certain what that sound is. Even we only did so after seeing the actual thing and imagining it from our memories, most of the soldiers won’t even understand what had happen.”
“Even so, if someone deduced that Major Arkinex is behind this, they might confront him directly. For example, Colonel Gisspa might do that.”
“There is no way I can account for everything! … And the other problems aside, since they made such large noises so brazantly, they are probably beyond the point of caring about others nagging at him. That brat isn’t someone who would make such a mistake.”
General Akugarpa decided to ignore this, and bend his waist to sit firmly into his chair. Lieutenant Colonel Michelin sighed as he took the empty glass from his superior’s hand, then prepared the next cup of tea without a single word.
There shouldn’t be any thunderclouds in the sky. That’s what the soldiers hiding in the crumbling trenches thought.
The powerful unknown impact fell from the sky repeatedly, destroying the trenches used to defend against cannon shots like paper mache, even the soldiers inside them were hit. How long would such a tragedy continue? The soldiers didn’t know either.
“... Has it stopped… yet…?
However, that phenomenon seemed to have come to an end. With the pressure on top of their base lightened, the soldiers got up timidly and looked around them.
It was terrible. Three of the four trenches had collapsed, and they could hear the soldiers buried alive with the corpses groaning inside. Other places were heavily damaged too, and there were three fellow soldiers who lost the bottom half of their bodies from something like a ‘lightning’ like attack.
“... What happened… Are those… cannon shots…?”
That ‘something’ not only murdered his comrades horribly, it left deep craters on the ground. The soldier drew near and peeked into the holes. It was half buried in the earth, but the quality of the steel couldn’t be anything else but cannon rounds.
However, he couldn’t believe that this terrible situation was wrecked by cannon fire. In the soldier’s mind, wind cannons weren’t weapons that could unleashed such destruction like the wrath of the gods, they were not weapons that could destroy the sturdy trenches along with the soldiers.
“I… I have to save them…”
The moans of casualties came from everywhere and the scenery was horrifying. The people who survived with all limbs intact like him gathered slowly. One of them suggest — They didn’t know what happened, but they should first tend to the injured, then report their losses and situation to headquarters.
No one raise any objections. With the plan set, strange noises stimulated their war drums again. However, it wasn’t loud noises that might be mistakened as thunder, but something everyone heard before.
"… These are… hooves…? And a great number…?”
The soldier looked to the west, hoping for allies who learned about this terrible situation to show up. However, their allies didn’t appear on horseback, and they realized the sound didn’t come from the west.
“Hmm…? But… That direction…”
Drawn by the noise, he cast his gaze to the north. He then realized that the barricade meant to be the final line of defence and blockade the forest path had been smashed, just like the three trenches that fell.
Some distance from the debris, he could see the forest path that was still covered in flames. It was the direction the sound of the hooves were coming from — when he noticed that, ‘those things’ emerged out of the fire wall and charged towards him.
Those things were cavalry. Both men and horse were covered in thick clothes soaked in water, a unit dressed exotically. They were using the thick clothes as a screen to protect themselves from the heat, and using their speed as a weapon to pierce through the fire wall. They even leapt over the burning logs in their way as if they were participating in a horse riding competition.
“E… Everyone… run—!”
This was his last words. The cavalry took off and discard the thick clothes that had served its purpose, maintaining speed as they drew their saber on horseback, charging into the grounds that was spewed with casualties.
This couldn’t be called a ‘battle’. For them, the battle ended when they traverse the fiery forest path with their horsemanship, the job that follows were just complementary. After a one sided massacre, none of the imperial soldiers present survived.
“No signs of the enemy, we seemed to have gotten them all, Major.”
Miara flicked the blood off her saber on the back of her horse. After hearing her report, Jean pull backed the hood that covered the top half of his face in response.
“Yah*, excluding the Shinaak collaborators, there are about 20 soldiers there. We destroyed their barricade with our bombardment too, we didn’t encounter any resistance worth mentioning.”
“Aside from four men whose feet got slightly burn, we have no other casualties. We can begin the next course of action immediately. What are your orders?”
When he heard this question, the white-haired officer look to the west without hesitation.
“Full speed westward. Break through any enemy we encounter, and head for the enemy base.”
“Will that be fine? We can stay here to extinguish the fire, then call for our allies.”
“Putting out the fire would take a lot of time, it would take time for the officers to understand the situation, and more time for the main force to move in through this forest path. No matter what, I don’t want to lose time on any of them — Most importantly, we have more than enough combat prowess to accomplish our goal. Don’t you agree?”
After saying that confidently, Jean looked at his men behind him. They were the 300 cavalry thoroughly trained in Kioka. As indicated by their ability in breaking through the flaming forest, every one of them was an elite. On top of that, they were outfitted with the state of the art Air Rifles, so their combat potential could rival one battalion.
“Exkyaazy*— Yes, let’s go. It’s time the imperial army suffer the retribution for blocking my path for so long!”
On the orders of the ‘the General of Insomniatic Brilliance’, they spur their horses forward, their eyes burning with fighting spirit.
When the sound of cannon fire from the west subsided, all the officers in the imperial base had been summoned by Ikuta’s orders. Aside from Torway who had gone to the west to intercept the western detour route detachment, Yatori, Matthew, Haroma and Nanak all stood with a stiff face before the youth who was the overall commander.
“... The rear just sent us word. Enemy cavalry had broken through the eastern forest path in one go. They number 300, and is approaching this base fast.”
Ikuta announced without a shred of warmth. Matthew who couldn’t accept this yelled shrilly:
“How could that be!? What happened!? Both that thunder like bombardment and the enemy who broke through the firewall! How did they accomplish such a thing!?”
“... That should be blast cannons.”
Yatori said out of nowhere. Ikuta nodded quietly when he heard that term.
“That’s right, it’s blast cannons. Compressing dynamic air created by fire sprites into the cannons, and using the explosive impact of the dynamic air to shoot out rounds, a new Kioka weapon… But according to the taboos of Aldera, this is something even less tolerable than balloons.”
“For trenches to be completely ineffective… Are blast cannons such a powerful weapon?”
Haroma asked in a trembling voice, and Ikuta nodded without hesitation.
“Regrettably, that is correct. Just think of them as the Air Rifles of cannons. As a weapon, it is far beyond the capability of wind cannons of the past. Right now, all the forts and stronghold in the Empire would fall like paper mache if they are bombarded heavily by it.”
“Using blast cannons to deal heavy damages to us from across the fire wall, and destroy the barricade. That was all just preparation, the final step was to charge through the burning forest path with cavalry and reach the other side.”
“Can they achieve something so reckless by taking the field so suddenly…? One misstep and they will burn to death along the way.”
“... True, since they are unlikely to do that right away theoretically, the enemy must have practise.”
When they heard this answer, Matthew and Nanak’s faces grew tense. Ikuta also slapped his forehead hard.
“... I have been had. The balloon flying in the same spot multiple times, and the cavalry that kept running around beneath it. So this the reason behind these two phenomenons?”
The youth who realized he noticed too late grit his teeth vexingly — the enemy was building a practice course. Using the balloon to watch the forest path from above, they note down the condition of the road in detail. They then chose the edge of the forest which was a blindspot for the Imperial soldiers on the mountain, and recreated an obstacle course based on the actual one for the cavalry to practice. To let the horses get used to it, they might have set fire to the obstacles in their replica… The pre condition for this was that men and horses have to be exceptionally skilled.
“I don’t think the Holy Aldera cavalry could perform such movements that borders on being a circus act, and that would go against their religious teaching against using explosive cannons… This is definitely the detachment unit sent by the Kiokians.”
The General of Insomniatic Brilliance whom Ikuta had never met was eroding his mental toughness. Surrounded by his allies who were showing faces of despair, Ikuta looked to the sky like a fish that was suffocating.
— Alright, what should I do?
He took a deep breath. Using this action to calm his anxious heart, the youth organized his thoughts… First, he need to understand how much of a pinch his army was being pushed to.
300 enemy cavalry approaching from the east. There wasn’t any terrain that would hinder their movement, and would reach the base in four hours at the soonest. Their equipment was unknown, but since it was a Kioka unit, it was very possible that they were equipped with Air Rifles. That shot up their battle capability significantly.
In contrast, the imperial had 322 combatants, including the lightly wounded. The exact composition would be 61 luminous soldiers, 63 fire soldiers (38 of them doubling as cavalry), 140 wind gunners, 40 medical corps, 54 Shinaaks. However, they would need at least 160 men to carry out the mobile defense plan, and the 40 men deployed to the east would not be able to get here before the battle starts. From the above, their number of combatants would be reduced to 122 men.
300 elite cavalry armed with Air Rifles, against a mixed unit of 122 people exhausted from a long campaign… He could see the result, but he still need to compare their combat prowess — Taking all factors that could affect the battle, along with external conditions, their strength was five to one.
He reached a conclusion. The enemy 5 times as powerful would appear 4 hours later.
“... I see, I see. Ah~ by the way, what caused us to be in such a pinch?”
The commander tried to grasp the reason for the failure — His rationale side answered immediately, leaving Ikuta no room to refute.
"Ohh I understand — To sum it up, I have the obligation to think of a way to settle this."
The youth gave a long sighed, and after spitting out all the air in his lungs, he made up his mind.
“... Phew! Yes, I understand the situation — So Yatori, let’s go have some fun.”
That’s the first thing he said, and the fiery haired girl understood his intention quickly and nodded. Her unhesitatant reaction made Ikuta smile wryly, and then shift his gaze to the next person.
"Lieutenant Matthew, starting right now, I will be handing the command of this base to you.”
"Yatori and I will lead the troops to engage the enemy cavalry. You need to stay here and help me direct the defensive battle, please help me.”
Before the stun Matthew could speak, Ikuta looked to Haroma besides him.
“Lieutenant Haroma, you and Lieutenant Matthew are now the last officers in this place. I’m sorry, but I need you to hand your field hospital management duties to your deputy, and lead troops in action too.”
“Ah… Yes… Not, Ikuta-san…!”
Ikuta didn’t plan to and didn’t have time for the other party to protest. He shouted in a volume that can be heard throughout the entire base:
“Third Training Luminous Platoon, reserves unit, First Training Light Cavalry, and I need 23 people from the Shinaaks! Fall in at the east side of the base!”
When they heard this order, the soldiers who were holding their breath as they watched the officers hold their meeting started moving. Ikuta look at the formation being mustered from the corner of his eye, and continued speaking to his comrade that was still here:
“I will take 122 soldiers with me, so the base will have 160 combatants and 500 odd non combatants. There would be even less people, but the repairs of the fire wall for the two forest path to the east would be handled by us, so it won’t be an issue. You all just need to handle the work here and to the west.”
“E… Even if you ask me so suddenly… No, the problem isn’t with repairs! You say you will use 122 men, a mixed unit without any wind gunners to engage enemy cavalry? That is suicide! If you are going to do that, then I might as well —”
Lead my troops to engage them. Matthew wanted to say that, but the words got stuck in his throat… His survival instinct was screaming at him: Even if Matthew commit all the wind gunners available, he won’t be able to fight this enemy.
“It’s fine, Matthew. If we are going to engage air rifles with air shooters, we will lose once it turns into a shoot out. That’s why we would be at a disadvantage even if we bring wind gunners with us.”
“Like I said, this is no different from suicide! Do you have a concrete plan to overturn this unfavourable situation!?”
“I think there should be, I will think about it later.”
Matthew’s jaws almost dropped. After forcing the issue so far, Ikuta shift his eyes to the last person that needed to stay here. But the other party already came to him, and grabbed Ikuta’s shirt at the waist.
“I don’t want to stay behind, Ikuta. Take me with you.”
“... I am happy that you feel that way, But Nana, it would be better if you stay here and direct the repairs of the fire wall…”
“What nonsense are you saying!? No matter how many people survive, if you die, everything will be over! If you die, who will uphold the promise for the Empire to find a place for the Shinaaks to settle!?”
Her argument hit Ikuta right where it hurts. Since he was the only one who could mediate the negotiation, Ikuta’s life was equivalent to the tribe’s life, and he must not be despatched on such a risky mission so easily.
Also, this wasn’t the only reason why Nanak insisted. She held the hands of the youth, and glared at the only person who wants to accompany the youth willingly and said:
“Don’t just rely on that red one… Ikuta, I will protect you!”
Her determination was absolutely immovable. After learning this, Ikuta could only nod with a bitter expression.
“... I understand, you can come with me. But you must absolutely follow my orders, can you do that?”
The request for her absolute obedience probably reminded her of something. Nanak’s face turned a little red. Ikuta turned his eyes away from her, and walked towards the soldiers gathering to the east of the base. Yatori and Nanak followed behind him too.
“W… Wait… You guys…!”
Matthew felt fearful as they went further away and gave chase. Ikuta kept his back to him and stopped Matthew with a raised hand.
“The place you are responsible for is here, Matthew. Defend this place for two more days then retreat immediately, and head for the rear base that have finished their preparation for war. We will go by another route, and meet you at the mountains three days later.”
“I can’t do any of that! You think we can hold this place for two more days with me in charge!?”
“Oh, to be frank, it’s a little risky.”
The merciless answer pierced Matthew. Before he could recover from the shock, Ikuta continued:
“The best result would be defending until the very end… But no matter what the situation, I won’t give the order to ‘hold til your last’. To hold the place even if it would take your lives, and to do so until you die — I will not ask my subordinates to do something I couldn’t do myself, something so unscientific. If you feel that you have reached the limit, don’t hesitate to retreat. If you don’t even have time to retreat, just raise the white flag and surrender.”
“Ugh… Even if you say that, if we don’t hold this place, in the end…”
“This is a good chance, so I will tell you the order of things clearly. The best outcome is defending this place to the end. Second best would be you all making it out safe but we lose this place. The other two results are equally bad. You understand? If you two aren’t safe, it would be equally bad no matter if you hold this place or not.”
And so… Ikuta continued speaking in a strong tone, giving the best encouragement he could to his friend.
“I will only give one order — survive, Matthew. We will meet again in 3 days.”
Ikuta bid farewell with this words and walked forth. When he saw the back that seemed to be rejecting being sent off, Matthew who didn’t want to appear even more disgraceful grit his teeth and turned.
“... Damn it! I get it, I just need to do it right! I will just do it!”
“Huh! Please wait, Matthew-san! I want to go too…!”
Haroma met up with Matthew who ran ahead. The reality they would have to face with their backs straight was right in front of them.