Saturday, April 27, 2019

Alderamin on the Sky Volume 6 (1 of 5)

TL note: Volume 5 is 343 pages, Volume 6 is 268 pages, while Volume 7 is 381 pages.
To make translation manageable, V5 was 6 posts, V6 will be 5 posts, and V7 will be 7 posts.


Translator: Skythewood
Editor: Hiiro

Prologue


What to discard, and what to choose. The young man always knew that he was bad at making such decisions.


He wasn’t afraid of the responsibility that comes from making his choice. He would gladly accept any sin or punishment if that could settle the matter. If he was the one on either side of the weighing scale, he would think of it as a salvation since it simplifies matters.


But if that wasn’t so─ for example, if what he had to weigh on both sides were the lives of his subordinates…


His mind would stall for a moment. He couldn’t abandon one side or save the other. It was so easy for him to imagine himself standing stiff from indecision that it was pitiful.


As the commander of a large number of subordinates, this hesitation could prove fatal. But if that was so, how did this young man overcome all these battles and survived for so long?


Thinking back, he realized ─ that’s because he passed the decision on to others.


All the harsh decisions were made by the dark haired youth and vermillion haired girl.


It was the same this time, the one who made the decision wasn’t him, but his two beloved comrades.


With the resolve to give up on many things, the vermillion haired girl left before his eyes. By giving him the third option which allowed him to hold on to many things, the dark haired youth saved him from the dead end of indecision.


… However, the youth realized that wasn’t true.


In order to make that decision, the dark haired youth gave up more than anyone else. With deep resolve, that youth gave up the way he had lived all this while── the way Ikuta Solork lived his life.


And he was just following that youth once again. Just like a moth drawn to the fire, he followed him unsteadily from behind.


Stalling on making a decision, and letting others make the decision for him. He pretended to not know as he let his comrade shoulder the pain.


… He remained like this.


Can he really call himself their comrade if he remained like this?


Can Torway Remeon claim to be a part of the 「Knight Order」?


── If you can’t pull the trigger at the crucial moment, you won’t be able to protect anything.


The admonishment from his older brother echoed in his ear. He remembered his brother’s cold gaze that was a mixture of mockery and disappointment.


In order to refute this criticism, the youth went through much hardships. He practiced shooting, learned tactics, and pushed the establishment of a new type of military combat to the next level.


He became a skilled sniper, and could deliver death to his enemy from great distance.


On the battlefield he saw through his scope, his precious comrades would always be covered in wounds as they engaged the enemy from up close.


His heart was with them, and had braced himself for any injury on the battlefield. Because he believed this wholeheartedly, he could treat them as equals.


However── if that was true, then why were they always the ones covered in wounds?


If his heart was with them, then why couldn’t he say anything as he watched the back of the vermillion haired girl? Why had he not shared the dark haired youth’s pain?


The jade eyed youth wondered about his obligation as a descendent of the Remeon house. His raison d'etre as a member of the Knight Order, a comrade of Ikuta Solork, and an ally of Yatorishino Igsem. The reason he had been fighting all this while.


What am I protecting? Who am I fighting? He had to be clear about the answers to these questions.


Chapter 1: Eruption


This day started no different from any other. That was true for most people living in the Imperial capital.


The intense sunlight showed no signs of waning, and the pedestrians on the streets were full of life. There were people bustling around the streets everywhere.


People taking a stroll and shopping, customers haggling the price at the stalls── the largest city in Katjvarna was the same as usual.


「Hey, make way~ wagon coming through!」


The wagon laden with goods split the crowd as it drove through the streets. The travelling merchant Horuhido didn’t care about the eyes of the crowd and burped drunkenly.


「Gahh, I drank too much last night… I was planning to set off in the morning, but dragged onto noon. I’m suppose to send the goods to the next province by today too.」


「Drink more water, Horuhido. You look pale.」


His water sprite partner said out of concern, and Horuhido held a cup near the sprite’s 「water spout」 on it’s torso. Plain water filled the cup, and he drank the entire glass. The refreshing feeling flowing down his throat spread to his brain:


「Haaah! I’m awake now, thanks Nim.」


His mind that was groggy from a hangover became clear, and Horuhido tightened the grip on the reins… However, he couldn’t make the horse go faster on the crowded road, and it trotted on at walking pace. At this moment, a merchant he was acquainted with called out to him:


「Yo~Horuhido, I never thought we will meet again so soon. Aren’t you supposed to set off in the morning?」


「Shut up, Kinjasha. It’s all because you dragged me off drinking last night. How are you going to compensate me if I missed this business opportunity?」


「Hehe, you are the one who agreed to go drinking… By the way, what cargo are you sending this time?」


「Like I said last night, it’s mainly cloth dyed in Kaminu. It is growing out of fashion in the capital, but there is still a market for it in the other provinces. I also have a whole wagon of spices from the south.」


「Hey, be careful there. You messed up really badly the last time you loaded spices together with cloth. You were not adequately prepared for rain, and the smell and colour of the spice ran onto the cloth…」


「Stop bringing up the mistakes I made during my rookie years! Look carefully, I wrapped all my goods in leather!」


Horuhido shouted while pointing at his cargo. His old acquaintance laughed at that:


「I see, that’s a relief… Sigh, let’s make as much money as we can for now. The war never ends, and the government only cares about collecting taxes. If you don’t put your back into it, you might not be able to earn a living.」


「You don’t have to remind me. After selling the cloth, I will be going to the east and making some money off the soldiers. The harder the war, the better tea leaves and medical supplies will sell.」


「If you aren’t careful, your entire wagon might get confiscated. You have to cash out while you are ahead!」


「Stop being so nosy, just how long are you going to nag about this?」


Horuhido retorted harshly and grunted. Their conversation was over, but Kinjasha seemed set on sending his junior off, and continued walking alongside the wagon. Moments later, they saw the city’s exit, but──


「… Huh? H-Hey, what’s going on?」


A group of men in military attire had set up a roadblock ahead. The two merchants looked at each other, and before they could even ask anything, the soldiers already warned them harshly:


「You two over there, halt! Citizens are prohibited from leaving the capital without authorization. Turn back to the city right now.」


「Huh?」


Horuhido was shocked. He thought they were just checking for contrabands, but the soldiers denied him exit without even looking at the cargo. Unable to accept this, he shot back:


「W-What’s going on here!? I’m just a traveling merchant, and won’t mind you inspecting my goods. I don’t have any prohibited items on my wagon, there’s no reason to stop me…」


「No matter what, you shall not pass. Turn back to the city, this is an order from the military.」


「T-Then, how long will this take? I can’t let my clients wait too long…」


「We will inform you when the blockade will end at a later time.」


The soldier gave a non-answer. Talking to them from so far away made him anxious, and Horuhido pulled the reins to get closer. Kinjasha beside him shouted in a panic:


「Wait, Horuhido! Don’t go any closer!」


Horuhido stopped when he heard this warning, and the soldiers before him all raised their wind guns at the same time. The two merchants turned pale as they stared down those barrels.


「This is my final warning. Turn back to the city── There won’t be any more warning.」


The soldier declared sternly with no room for any negotiations. Horuhido realized a moment later than his senior── that he couldn’t bargain with them.

At the same time── in the central military headquarters, a little to the south of the capital Banhataal. Because it was a place like this, a tense situation was taking place.


「… Please surrender, Sir Field Marshal.」


A military officer was cautiously holding up the newest model of Air Rifle that had been loaded up, and ready to fire at the pull of a trigger. He and 40 of his subordinates with the same equipment were all aiming their muzzle at one man.


「Let me ask you this instead. What authority do you have to give this order, Colonel Kualun?」


The question was asked in a very calm tone. In the middle of the corridor inside this military facility, the highest ranking officer in the military was surrounded by a large number of his subordinates armed with guns pointed at him. Even under such a situation, Field Marshal Solvenares Igsem didn’t show any signs of wavering at all.


「The only ones who may issue orders to me, a Field Marshal, is His Majesty or the Chancellor acting in his stead. As far as I can tell, your orders have no legal standings.」


「It is as you suspected, I’m not acting under their authority. Regrettably, we are just threatening by force, Field Marshal Sir.」


The middle aged officer facing the Field Marshal boldly admitted that he was violating the laws. He endured the silent intimidation from the person before him and continued:


「But even so, we still have an hierarchy. We are following the orders of General Terushinha Remeon, and rebelling against you. Our fellow patriots worried about the future of the Empire are working with us too.」


「So you can’t explain yourself?」


Field Marshal Igsem tossed the documents in his hands onto the floor, and reached for the dual blades at his waist. When he saw that action, Colonel Kualun yelled:


「Please stop! It’s impossible for someone like you to not understand the situation!」


「What situation?」


「Even with your amazing swordsmanship, you can’t cut a path out of this encirclement! We have sent an entire platoon to deal with you directly, with more than one company of soldiers to support this mission!」


Colonel Kualun gestured at his men with his eyes, and continue to shout:


「Both ends of this corridor are barricaded with two rows of riflemen! Even if you break through me and the first rank of men, you will just be shot by the second row! The results will be the same if you try to escape by any other way! Do you think you can survive being hit by tens of lead bullets?」


Colonel Kualun shouted at the top of his lungs. Even with this overwhelming advantage, he didn’t look as if he was at ease. Because he knew── that his opponent was the strongest living thing on earth.


「This is my final warning, Field Marshal Sir. Please lay down your weapons and surrender! Or we will fire!」




Field Marshal Igsem fell silent with his hands slightly above his hilts. Silence overwhelmed this scene. The soldiers tightened their grip on their rifles── and for a brief instance, the cries of their comrades and the stamping of hooves reached their ears.


「……!」


Colonel Kualun’s face turned tense. His unit that had surrounded the building was being attacked── he thought of that and didn’t waver. This was the corridor on the second floor, even if the enemy forces break through and rushed to the Field Marshal── he would still have some buffer time in this worst scenario. He just had to subdue the target within this time.


「… I will give you five seconds, please lay down your arms, Field Marshal Sir! Five, four──」


Colonel Kualun started counting down, but before he could finish, the sound of hooves grew louder from behind him. It was too close to be from outside. A soldier in the back row looked back, and saw something incredible before him.


「──Oh! His here ahhh!」


Cavalry units were charging over from inside the building. An old soldier was leading the way with a fearsome smile, his red hair tied up in a ponytail flailing behind him. Most prominent of all, he was missing a left arm from the shoulder.


「Back row, engage!」


Colonel Kualun didn’t make the foolish mistake of turning to his back and gave the order immediately, a praiseworthy split decision. However── while Kualan was speaking for less than two seconds, Field Marshal Igsem drew his blades at this moment that couldn’t even be called an opening.


「Shoot!」


Before the gunners could pull their triggers, he took a quick step forth that was even faster than the wind. In that instant, Colonel Kualun lost both arms below the elbow.


「─ Ah──」


He gave the order without delay, and his subordinates weren’t slow to react. No one was to blame as Colonel Kualun and his men did their best.


But unluckily for them, their opponent was an Igsem── that was all.


Death came violently, heads, limbs and the barrels of rifles flew into the air. Seeing the flash of the dual blades meant death was imminent. There was no chance of resistance or flight as the bodies started piling up. The slashing saber cut off heads and the short sword stabbed into hearts── with the fiery haired Field Marshal as the epicenter, death spread outwards like a endless wave.


「Charge on out this way, Solvenares!」


The old soldier leapt over the hellish swordsman with his horse, leading his subordinates behind him down the other end of the corridor── where a row of enemy gunners were deployed and lie in wait.


「They are charging us…?」「Tch! Don’t look down on us!」


Unlike the surprise attack earlier, this was obviously a reckless charge. The gunners were ready to engage and aimed at the enemy coming straight at them foolishly.


「Fire!」


The explosion of compressed air reverberated in the corridor, and the horse of the old soldier leading the charge became their prime target. The horse was hit by the lead bullets and keeled over weakly.


「Hyaa!」


At that moment, the fiery haired old timer jumped off his saddle, and his body flew through the air in an arc. The gunners watched this scene dumbfoundedly as the old man landed nimbly with barely any sound── and drew his saber swiftly with his lone arm.


「We want to kill us with these toys? Don’t make me laugh, brats!」


With this feral smile as a signal, the second gruesome scene began. While the gunners were compressing the air in their rifles in preparation for the next volley, the old soldier took five lives with his blade.


With each flash of steel, a part of a soldier who got cut splattered bloodily. Not permitting any enemy within the reach of his blade to survive── even though he wield only one sword, there was no doubt that his blade was that of an Igsem.


「Hiee… Ahh...!」「Ugh… Wahhh!」


Only now did Colonel Kualun’s men started to scream. This terrible scene in the corridor was beyond their imagination and filled them with despair. They realized the battle couldn’t be salvage── and none of them would survive.


Their ominous feeling was right on the mark. The calvary behind the old man charged into the crumbling defensive formation and ravaged them completely. With the momentum on their side, it didn’t take long for the cavalry to wipe out all resistance.


「Hmmp, what a let down!」


After the killing stops, the one armed old man stood tall in the floor that had been stained red. Field Marshal Igsem sheathed his blades and saluted quietly:


「Thank you for your timely assistance, Honorary General Yorunzaf Igsem.」


「Don’t address your elder with a rank lower than yours…! Now isn’t the time to pick on this, what’s going on here! You haven’t visited for a long time, and when I came over, this nostalgic base is in a mess!」


After being asked crudely by the old man, Field Marshal Igsem looked at the body of the officer by his feet:


「Judging by what Colonel Kualun said and the situation here, this is probably a coup initiated by General Remeon.」


「That brat Terushinha? Hey, when did things got so bad between you two? I thought you two from the third generation are really close?」


The one armed old man── Honorary General Yorunzaf Igsem grumbled with a frown. As he was talking to the Field Marshal, he deftly mustered his men. The unit quickly formed up in the cramped corridor.


「Never mind, we have to act now. Since Remeon is going all out with this coup, it will just be a matter of time before they seize this base. We have to take as many men as we can with us and flee, and strike back at another time.」


「I feel the same. Right now, the forces under the Honorary General…」


「You should know that a retired officer will have just one company of cavalry at the most. And hey, it’s about time you address me as uncle.」


「Understood. We will use our mobility and try to link up with our allies that are resisting the coup.」


Field Marshal Igsem turned and left after saying that. He was cold and distance as usual── the one armed old man grumbled as he followed after him.

In the palace erected in the middle of the capital Banhataal. A jade eyed general leading a large group of soldiers walked down the stone paved path leading into the restricted area.


「Halt, halt!」「How dare you barge in here without any prior arrangement!!」「You sully His Majesty’s restricted courtyard with your soldiers feet, know your place…!」


General Terushinha Remeon pushed aside the servants stopping him and hastened his pace. His eyes were set on the highest floor of the restricted building── the Emperor’s chambers.


「Ara, what’s the matter, General Remeon? Why the glum face?」


An extremely fat man in loose robes butted in with a friendliness that didn’t fit the situation── he was one of the Empire’s grand nobles, Count Hanbai Sanzari, serving as chief chamberlain under the Chancellor Trisnai, and frequently visit the restricted building.


「Don’t be so hasty, if you have something to report to His Majesty, you can go through me as usual. Haven’t we known each other for so many years, fuhuhu…」


General Remeon looked coldly at the Count who was leaning in with a disgusting smile:


「Count Sanzari…」


It was as he said, the two of them had been acquainted for a long time. That was why he knew that this person wouldn’t even relay a message without taking any bribes. How long has he greased his hands with money── as he thought bitterly about all the time he wasted on him, the jade eyed general said:


「… I have always wanted to tell you one thing.」


「Oh, and what might that be?」


「The content of the report won’t be twisted, no additional money is needed and won’t mind the distance it travels── based on the above, a message pigeon is far better than you.」


The harsh criticism made the Count cramp his face. But before he could complain, the gunners around him raised their wind guns one by one.


「Huh… Ah…?」


Instead of being surprised, he was standing still in confusion. He was so unsightly that it made General Remeon dumbstruck── in his eyes, soldiers were just wallets and trash bins. He probably didn’t feel any remorse as he exploited the soldiers as he wished as easily as he breaths. So the Count probably didn’t even realized that others held a grudge against him. Up until his very last moments.


「No, stop jok──」「Fire.」


There was nothing more to say. With that curt order, the sound of air exploding echoed out. The lead bullet from four barrels hit his head and two spots on his chest, killing the count instantly.


The obses body collapsed, and the blood gushing out of the corpse stained the white and carpet-like stone pavement that symbolized the sacredness of this place── at this moment, the servants who finally understood the situation sang a chorus of screams.


「Let’s go.」


Without even the sentiments of squashing an ant, the jade eyes general ordered his men to march forth. His eyes glared at the servants scrambling away as he muttered determinedly:


「For the future of the Empire, we can’t leave any scums alive── Kill them all.」

「Y-You insolent fools, where do you think──」「Wait, what do you want? If it’s money──」「Stop, don’t shoot, don’t shoot ahh!」


Screams came from everywhere in the palace, most of them begging for their lives, death throes, or both.


Soldiers from the Remeon faction that infiltrated the palace moved efficiently. As if they were squashing bugs in a farm, they barely spoke as they massacred all the nobles within their field of vision.


「Please spare me, spare me…!」


「Ah, I’m out of bullets.」「Pay more attention. Here, take this.」


A soldier nonchalantly loaded his gun in front of a noble prostrating and begging for mercy. He then points the muzzle to the back of the noble’s head and squeezed the trigger.


Another soldier felt it was a waste of munition just before he fired, and kicked his target out of the fourth floor window instead.


They didn’t lose their head from all the killings, and were extremely calm. Reaping the lives of the aristocrats didn’t bring any guilt or excitement to them, which was a first for the soldiers. Instead, they felt a sense of disgust and obligation. All of them just wanted 「this laughable spring cleaning will end quickly」.


On the fourth floor, northern wing of the restricted building. After briskly climbing up three flights of stairs that were all placed in different parts of the floor, General Remeon finally reached the door leading into the Emperor’s chambers. He took several deep breaths and said:


「… Your Majesty, pardon my intrusion.」


He pushed the door with one hand, but felt the resistance of a secured lock. The general gestured to his men with his eyes, and they raised their guns and fired at the hinge on the door. After the sharp cling of metal on metal, the hinge was shattered, rendering the lock useless.


On the other side of the fallen door was an incredibly luxurious bedroom. Although the room was adorned with many lush furniture, their master was missing. The vacant bed of the Emperor stared back at them. When he saw the emptiness of this place, General Remeon’s face turned agitated.


「… Search quickly! He must be hiding somewhere!」


He ordered in frustration, and wasn’t referring to the Emperor who couldn’t even muster the strength to get out of his own bed. For General Remeon, the Emperor was someone he had to rescue from the corrupted nobles. This bloody cleansing was for the sake of removing the target he had prioritized.


「Come out here, Trisnai Izanma! Resistance is futile! There is no place in this country for you to take refuge…!」


The General roared with all his bloodlust. The name of his sworn enemy echoed in the vast chambers──

At the foot of the Hiored Ore Mines shrouded in darkness, the imperial forces that had encircled the enemy forces holing up at the top of the mountain had the overwhelming advantage over their foes. And now, they were preparing throughout the night to retreat.


「Form up into groups! We don’t have the luxury of sleeping tonight, time is of the essence!」


Major General Kubalha Saba instructed in an energetic tone completely that was different from yesterday. The bustling soldiers were very eager and passionate, making the warm night of the former eastern territories even hotter than usual.


This time, the forces mobilized to seize the ore mines were more than 10,000 strong. However, following the coup staged by the Remeon faction, 2,000 soldiers from the Igsem faction had been recalled back to the Empire.


And now, the remaining 8,000 troops would follow. This was a third faction not affiliated to either the Igsem or the Remeon. Heeding the call of Ikuta Sankrei, they revived the legends of all, and became members of the 「Rising Sun Regiment」.

「… So you want me to follow you?」


But even so, not everyone was on the same page. After all, most of the troops only knew about the truth after the dust had settled. Sergeant Major Suya Mittokarifu was one of them. Right now, she was staring coldly at her superior who was younger than her:


「Yes, I hope you can join us.」


Because of the practical reasons, the officers were given priority, and the explanation to them were given later. He felt guilty about this, but Ikuta still seeked the help of his deputy who had accompanied him since his commission. Not as her superior, but as a personal request.


「The Fourth Illumination company is my irreplaceable treasure. A unit that understands the way I think and can execute my intents smoothly can’t be nurtured in a short period of time.」


「……」


「And as my deputy, Suya, you are even more special. You are already capable of taking over command in my stead in the forefront without letting the troops fall into confusion. You can run the company I rely on the most without any drop in its combat potential──」


「Too sloppy. It sounds like you have just been thinking of yourself.」


Suya retorted coldly, and Ikuta fell silent with an awkward smile. His dry expression irked her even more, and she raised her voice emotionally:


「What’s the use of staying quiet now!? If you want to drag us in, then convince us with proper logic! Like saying our country is facing a serious crisis, or this is the obligation of a soldier…!」


In response to the pointed argument from Suya, Ikuta shook his head with the awkward smile still on his face:


「It’s true that this is a national crisis, but it will be fine if we leave it like this. Because things didn’t start going downhill now. From a long time ago, the Empire had been in a steady decline.」


「……!」


「As for the obligation of a soldier, that is a difficult question. Protecting the lives and properties of the citizens and uphold the peace── Field Marshal Igsem and General Remeon are both agreeable to this. Their loyalty to the Empire runs so deep, that it will be foolish to compare myself to them. But a coup was still staged, which is a pain.」


The youth said with a sigh, and shrugged in self mockery:


「For the clash between those two, I don’t have the guts to throw my name into the ring as a patriot, that’s too out of place for me. Leaving the national issue aside, I have a more personal reason to interfere with this coup.」


「… And that is?」


「I don’t want to lose Yatori.」


Ikuta answered without any pause. When she heard him say that name without any hesitation, Suya felt a flash of pain deep in her chest.


「In this war, she will be asked to play the role of an Igsem more strictly than before. If she crosses the line, she won’t be able to revert to her old lifestyle, no matter what the result of the coup might be── do you understand?」


Suya was dumbstruck when she was asked that. She had witnessed it herself during the unrest in the northern territories. The fiery weight on her shoulders that had accumulated over the years. It was a heavy load that the descendent of an Igsem had to bear──


「That’s why I want to end the fight before things got that far. So she can kill less of our comrades, and we can squabble and laugh like old times when we meet again… I need your help to do this. Please help me, Suya.」


After saying that, Ikuta stopped trying to convince her. He didn’t mince his words or use grand ideology as excuses, and just shared what he really thinks. He left it up to the other party to decide if they want to spit or trample over it. This was the dark haired youth’s way of showing his sincerity.


A silence as vicious as molten lead fell on them. Suya glared at the youth with furious eyes, and made her decision── if he averts his gaze, she would chew on his throat.


The murderous rage in her chest was stronger than that time when she learned about Ikuta’s relationship with her mother. It was his fault for going overboard and shamelessly bringing up Yatorishino Igsem’s name, and use that as the reason for the woman before her── Suya Mittokarifu to put her life on the line. If that boy didn’t realized the crime he just committed, and only cowered in fear of retribution then he should just burn in hell.


But the infuriating thing was, the youth didn’t avert his eyes. He didn’t evade the admonishment directed at him, and endured that torture── so he knew it very clearly, and still decided to stand before her. The tense silence meant he had the will to not use sophistry to push the responsibility away.
Suya understood that he was waiting for judgement to be passed on him for saying all this.


「…… Sigh~」


She relaxed her tightly pursed lips, and the emotions that were about to burst out were ejected out with a sigh of resignation── this was probably the deepest sigh of her life.


「… You only care about your own convenience. What happened to the national crisis?」


「If I didn’t pay attention, I might forget about that.」


「Yes, yes, I knew it. Ah~ really now! I really~ really~ can’t leave you alone! That means I have to remember in your stead!」


Suya groaned and stamp her feet.


「Don’t misunderstand! I’m just worried about leaving this to you, and reluctantly helping you! I also hope First Lieutenant Yatorishino will come back to us too!」


She was desperately putting up a front. The dark haired youth nodded and smiled:


「Thank you, Suya. I’m really glad that you are my deputy.」


「Thank me after the entire thing is settled! There is no time, so what should I do?」


After receiving her orders, Suya turned to hide her tearing eyes and ran away from her superior officer. Ikuta watched her go, and walked to Princess Chamille who was watching from some distance away.


「… You will get stabbed one day.」


「What are you saying all of a sudden?」


The Princess didn’t speak any further and just stayed by the youth’s side. Ikuta turned towards the entrance of the large tent to avoid the implication behind her silence:


「I hope things are going smoothly for everyone. Depending on the personalities of the officers and the sergeants under their charge, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we have a large number of detractors. It will be too naive to think everyone will be as supportive as Suya.」


「… That’s right, but I’m not too worried. The number is small for the past unit too. The trust you have built with them through live battle is very significant to them too.」


「I hope so too. After losing the backing of an official order from the top, we only have the trust of the soldiers left. If that trust isn’t strong enough, we can’t complain if they shoot us in the back──」


He was the one who said that, but still Ikuta felt a chill behind him── at this moment, a middle aged officer walked over in large strides, as if he was breaking up the heavy atmosphere between the two of them.


「Regiment Commander, I have several matters to consult with you!」


Major General Saba stopped his supervision of the troops for a moment and shouted at Ikuta. His loud and lively voice was completely different from how he was earlier.


「Please tell me.」 The youth answered with a nod, and the Major General spoke again:


「First is the Third Princess’ escort team. They are clamoring for the Princess, what should we do?」


「I can empathize with them, but we can’t accede to their demand. As royal escorts, they are all from the Igsem faction, and will never agree with our actions. Continue to keep them away from the Princess.」


「That’s a bit too lenient.」


「I’m doing this with the future in mind. If we kill them in the heat of the moment, that means we have forsaken the possibility of negotiating with the Igsem faction. Treating them respectfully is the best way.」


「Even if we do, I don’t think Field Marshal Igsem will be more accepting of our actions. Let me confirm again, is this really fine? Keeping them safe might give an edge to the enemy forces instead──」


The Major General’s words were cut short. Ikuta’s palm was raised to the nose of the Major General who was a full head taller than him.


「……Major General, mind your words. Aside from the Kioka army in the ore mines, we don’t have any other 『enemies』 at this point. Our goal is to mediate the end of the coup peacefully, not overthrow the establishment or usurp control of the military. We don’t have enemies we have to defeat in the Empire.」


The youth said in a firm tone. When he heard that, Major General Saba nodded in agreement:


「Pardon me, Regiment Commander. I will be careful next time.」


Ikuta shrugged at this interaction that had deep significance… he couldn't complain about being tested, given the position he was in.


The reality was, with the military might of the 「Rising Sun Regiment」 and the authority of the Third Princess, he had a good chance of usurping the country. They only had a verbal guarantee that Ikuta would not act on such short sighted ambitions. And even if that was true now, no one could be certain whether that would change in the future.


Where would Ikuta Sankrei's ambition take him? Major General Saba had the obligation to see this to the end── and the dark haired youth had the responsibility to answer this expectation. That was the weight of the position he had obtained through the fame of Bada Sankrei.


「Right now, we have to assign some of our men to be the Princess’ escorts.」


「Understood, that will be safer. As for the next issue──」


「First Lieutenant Solork! Is First Lieutenant Solork here~~!?」


Just as Major General Saba was about to change topics, someone shouted outside the tent. What was going on? The officers around them furrowed their brows as the sound of an argument came from the outside:


「What are you doing!? I already told you, only First Lieutenants and above may enter!」


「Please make an exception for me to go in!」


「Ridiculous… Get out of here! You want us to lock you up!?」


that won't do! If I'm imprisoned, I won't be able to protect the Princess!」


The familiar female voice made Ikuta and Princess Chamille looked at each other baffledly. After leaving the Princess to the guards inside, the youth stopped the conversation and headed outside, and saw the parties arguing there.


「…Warrant Officer Lucanti?」


When he saw the woman in light armour, Ikuta called out puzzledly. She was on the verge of trading blows with an old officer there, but her face lit up at the sight of the youth.


「Ohh, it's First Lieutenant Solork! That's great, I wanted to see you!」
「No, rather than that, why are you still here? Didn't you go back to the Empire with Yatori?」


The confused youth tilted his head. Just as his actions suggested, the Hargunska house was a traditional family that emphasized the chivalry of knights. Lucanti also admired Yatori, so Ikuta thought she would follow Yatori and join the Igsem faction for this coup.


「Yes! I was planning to do so, but First Lieutenant Yatorishino gave me a suggestion. After considering it, I decided to stay here.」


「Yatori? What did she tell you?」


「『Rather than following me, can you protect the Third Princess in my stead?』. Since that was the request of First Lieutenant Yatorishino, I couldn't turn this down. Protecting the royal family who are the base rock of the empire is the utmost honour for a knight!」


Warrant Officer Lucanti puffed out her chest proudly. As if she just remembered something, she handed a document clamped under her arm to him.


「This is the letter of recommendation! For your perusal.」


Ikuta used Kusu's Lantern light to scan the paper. It was Yatori's handwriting, and the content outlined the reason she recommended Warrant Officer Lucanti to be the Princess’ escort. She left the decision and specifics to Ikuta.


After reading the content, the youth returned his gaze back to her, enlightened.


「I understand. You wish to stay here and protect the Princess, correct?」


「That's right! I wish to devote myself to the safety of Her Highness!」


「Yes, thank you… anyway, can you get your men ready first? We are reorganizing the regiment for withdrawal right now, and will let you know your platoon's assigned post when we are ready.」


「Yes Sir! I will leave the details to you!」


After saluting energetically, Warrant Officer Lucanti turned and left immediately. Ikuta watched her go with a awkward smile, then returned to the tent. Major General Saba and Princess Chamille were waiting for him with a surprised faces.


「Hmm~ I'm not good with dealing with that girl… she and her brother are too endearing for me.」


「What's going on, Solork? Is Warrant Officer Lucanti going to serve me?」


「That's right, consider it a parting gift from Yatori. She even wrote a recommendation letter.」


As she read the document Ikuta handed her, the Princess’ hands trembled.


「This means… she wants to fill the vacancy after her departure…?」


「That's part of the reason, but she was probably just worried about Warrant Officer Lucanti. If she participates as a member of the Igsem faction against this coup, she would have to fight her comrades. Her former allies would become her enemies. The Warrant Officer is as emotional as her brother, and won't be able to take it── putting it more harshly, she will be useless.」


「……」


「To prevent her junior from being forced into a corner, Yatori intentionally left her behind. She judged that 『protecting the Princess 』 was the best position for Warrant Officer Lucanti, and our camp can do that for her.」


Princess Chamille stared at the recommendation letter and bit her lips quietly. Ikuta noted her reaction and then turned to Major General Saba:


「Sorry about the interruption. What's the second point?」


「──Yes, its regarding the Kioka army before us. Are we giving up on retaking the ore mines?」


「That's correct. We can't afford to fight on two fronts. Let's not dwell on this and withdraw the whole regiment.」


「Our entire force, huh… if we withdraw despite our overwhelming advantage, they will suspect that the Empire has an internal issue. When we give up on the siege, they will despatch a messenger immediately back to inform their headquarters. Will that be fine?」


「I will prefer to stop them if we could, but that will mean leaving a few thousand troops behind. However, I won't agree to splitting our forces here. After all, we will be interjecting ourselves between the Igsem and Remeon as a third faction.」


Furthermore── the corners of Ikuta's lips stiffened as he continued:


「Even if we leave a detachment behind, I don't see that white pretty boy giving up on contacting the Kioka headquarters. He will find a way to break through the encirclement and send the Intel. I can’t even be sure if we can buy any more time with that.」


「… Ugh.」


「It's better to assume from the get go that this will be a race against time. The white pretty boy will inform Kioka that the Imperial Army had withdrew, and they will confirm that a coup had happened. Their National Assembly will declare war, and mobilize an emergency punitive force to attack us── the white pretty boy might receive Intel from a spy within the Empire via other means too. Considering all that, and with a more conservative calculation, let's say we have two months.」


His head hurts after hearing this number, but Ikuta continued determinedly:


「So we have resolve this coup and get the military to unite within two months. It's a tall order, but not impossible. If Kioka attacks us while our military is fragmented, the Empire will fall── both Field Marshal Igsem and General Remeon should understand that is the worst outcome.」


Ikuta said all that in a hurry, as if he was trying to convince himself── the youth felt a voice mocking himself from his heart. As he took deep breaths to shake away these thoughts, Major General Saba's right hand smacked his back hard.


「Uwah──?」


「Don't push yourself, boy! You won't be fighting alone, we will all face this together!」


The Major General had a firm smile on his face, which mesmerized the coughing Ikuta── that bright and trustworthy smile made him realized the strength of the man who used to serve under his father with the nickname of 「Twin Jewels of the Sun」.


「Cough cough…! Yes, that will be a big help. But be more gentle with your patting next time.」


The youth groaned with tears in his eyes. Major General Saba laughed at his reaction for a moment, then returned to the topic:


「So for the third issue── the navy in Port Nibong. What should be do about them?」


「I just sent a messenger to report what has transpired to the navy, so we can leave them alone for now. At this time, it's difficult to draw them to our cause, since they are very adamant on staying politically neutral. Unlike you and the others, Major General, they don't have close ties with the 『Rising Sun Regiment』. If we want to convince the lady boss of that pirate navy── correction, Admiral Erynphin Jurgus, will require extensive preparation.」


「Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. Even after receiving our report, they will choose to stay neutral for the coup. Field Marshal Igsem probably won't insist on recalling them. If we withdraw the navy, we will lose our check against Kioka. Even if they cooperate, the navy is still useless on land.」


「That's right. I feel bad about going back right after reaching here, let's leave the navy here as a blockade. If Kioka tried to use this chance to invade us, their first objective would be retaking Port Nibong. The navy understands that too, and will definitely perform their duty.」


「Understood. The fourth issue is the retreat route. We will want to take the shortest route here.」


「Correct. I hope to return by the way we came here.」


「That will be the best way. But given the situation, it will be too naive to hope that the Remeon faction won't hinder our retreat path. We have captured several strongholds during our march here, especially this place──」


Major General Saba laid out a map and pointed at one spot.


「── this fort on Kudra mountain pass, which is difficult to bypass on our way back. If we want to avoid this place, then we will have to take a three day detour along the coast. This mountain pass is the perfect terrain to stop an army, and the Remeon faction will likely fortify this place.」


「Hmm.」


「It might be possible for us force our way through, but it will deplete our forces and waste a lot of time. In my personal opinion, taking the detour is the better option── what do you think, Regiment Commander?」


When Major General asked that, Ikuta groaned with a「Hmm~」. He stared at the map with a hand on his chin:


「I remember this place, hmm… hmm~ugh~ it's at the tip of my tongue...」


He nursed his temples with the fingers on both hands, and looked at the girl beside him for some reason:


「… Princess, what do you know about Kudra mountain pass?」


「Huh… me?」


The Princess was a little flustered as she didn't expect to be pulled into the conversation. But she searched through her memories and found the relevant information with her outstanding talent:


「… It’s official name is Alisshi 61 mountain fort. That used to be an empire fortress, and was built in the early years of the 8th Imperial century, as part of the strategy to strengthen the defence of the eastern territories. The military structure architect Alisshi Hanzen was commissioned to construct this fort and many others. But the fort didn’t have the chance to be put to use, and there had not been any records of direct battles involving it──」


Before the Princess could finish, the youth stroked her blonde hair gently with both hands.


「Yes, that's the one. Your Highness sure is amazing.」


「W-What…」


Leaving her standing stiffly behind, Ikuta turned to Major General Saba with a fearless expression:


「I just want to confirm, has there been any intense fighting at that fort during this campaign? Was it badly damaged?」


「No. We took the long way along the coast, that's where most of the fighting took place. After we bypass the fort, it lost its value as a defensive fortification for Kioka. It was deserted by them, and we retook it undamaged.」


The Major General was implying that the fort’s defences wasn't compromised. However, his reaction ran contrary to his expectations.


「Splendid── the plan is set then. We won't take a detour, and will go by the quickest route.」


「What──? You want to take the fort and deplete our forces?」


「That's not necessary either.」


Ikuta shook his head quietly, then declared to the puzzled Major General Saba and Princess Chamille:


「Yatori will take the fort in less than half a day.」






「──Fire!」


Twelve wind cannons shot out of the stone fort erected on the mountain pass. A barrage of iron balls rolled down the slope.


The soldiers that were approaching the enemy cautiously were forced to retreat.


「Good, chase them away. Gunners, keep your guards up!」


Above the cannons protruding out of the fort, there were countless barrels pointing out of arrow slits and the battlements, making the entire structure look like a giant porcupine. You shall not pass, no matter how many people you have── As if their strong will had taken physical form.


「… I don’t know who their commander is, but the Igsem faction is taking this too lightly. It’s foolish to force their way pass this fort with just 2,000 men.」


The 600 strong battalion was led by the Remeon faction officer, Captain Corsa Gazuriku, a veteran soldier who rose through the ranks and known for his tactical acumen in base defences. The high command thought highly of his quarter century of experience, and assigned him to keep the Igsem faction in check for this coup.


「Just stay there and don’t move. Their tactical mistake is to our advantage… however, even though we are now on different sides, firing on our colleagues isn’t a pleasant experience.」


The Captain scrowled his lips from the bitter taste in his mouth. He looked around him, and saw many of his comrades showing the same face.


「… As expected of a fort built by the Empire, it’s impregnable.」


As she observed the enemy through her telescope, Igsem faction officer Major Nudakka Megu cracked a joke that she herself felt wasn’t funny. She growled as she watched the troops running back from the cannon barrage:


「It is delusional to think we can take this fort quickly with our numbers and equipment. They have plenty of cannons and guns, and the stone fort is impervious to fire, there are no weak points. If we really want to take that fort, then we will have to borrow Blast cannons from Kioka.」


The Major grumbled in resignation. From the bird’s eye view, the fort was concaved in the center. First was the wall blocking the road, and at the ends of this wall, another wall juts out perpendicularly, forming two more walls to the front, and two more to the back.


Each wall was fully garrisoned with soldiers, and any careless approach would face attacks from three sides. The bombardment earlier was just a preview. The casualties would only start piling up when the pitiful soldiers march into the concave area of the fort.


「However, we have a way of taking this fort by today── isn’t that right, First Lieutenant Yatorishino?」


「That’s true.」


The vermillion haired girl answered as her superior fell into deep thoughts. After thinking over it for a long time, the Major turned suddenly to her with pursed lips:
「… Alright, give it a try. When the Field Marshal told me about that, to be honest, I still have my doubts… But after weighing the losses and chances of victory, it’s difficult for us to forgo this possibility. We must hurry back to the Empire as soon as possible.」


After giving a well practiced salute, Yatori prepared to return to her subordinates. Realizing what her action meant, Major Megu called out to her frantically.


「Wait, First Lieutenant Yatorishino! Are you planning to be the frontline commander?」


「Yes, I am.」


「That’s too reckless! You are second only to the Field Marshal in terms of being the symbol of the Igsem faction. In such a situation, you should exercise caution and stay in the backline! Don’t worry, we will execute your proposal as planned──」


「Pardon my impudence, but it is during situation like this when a Igsem should lead from the front. Major, you must have noticed that the soldiers are wavering.」


Ughh, Major Megu was speechless. Yatori was right. Ever since they learned that the Remeon faction had staged a coup, the troops were very shaken. They were hesitant to fight their comrades, and afraid they might be on the side of the losers── the soldiers were confused and on edge.


「We have let them know now that they should follow the Igsem. In that case, the only way is for me to step up and show them personally.」


「… B-But your dual blades and vermillion hair are too prominent! You will be a prime target in this terrain…」


Major Megu alternate her gaze between the fort and Yatori as she voiced her worries. Yatori bundled up her long hair with a smile:


「I don’t plan on committing suicide, Major. I will hide my hair with a cap, and let my comrades safekeep my blades. I will arm myself with a crossbow and short spear. From far, I would look no different from the other soldiers── However, the men will be able to identify me from behind.」


As she was answering, Yatori had quickly stuffed her red hair into a cap. With no reasons to stop her, Major Megu lowered her head solemnly.


「Well then, I’m going off.」


The vermillion haired girl took that silence as consent, and started moving again.

「Ugh…?」


Captain Gazuriku who was carefully observing the battle noticed the enemy’s movement with his keen senses. A large group of soldiers had spread out in front of the fort, and that recklessness made the Captain frown:


「They didn’t learn their lesson…? All cannons, fire!」


On that command, the twelve cannons protruding out of the fort shot out iron balls. The soldiers from the Igsem faction weren’t fazed by the large number of iron balls rolling down the slope. They stood in the gaps between the lines of fire, and returned fire with their wind guns.


「Futile…! Gunners, return fire! Cannons, adjust your angle horizontally and continue to fire!」


The Captain retaliated with a strong attack. They were trading shots at a distance of 500m, but neither side were too concerned with accuracy. Most of the shots fell short as the gunners kept pulling their trigger.


「They want to make this a battle of attrition? Naive!」


He was certain of that. As the Kudra mountain pass was one of the intermediate base for supplies, they had plenty of ammunition and other resources. In a shootout, the Igsem faction’s supply would run dry first. Confident of victory, Captain Gazuriku continued directing his men── however…


「…? That’s…!」


Moments later, it was clear that the enemy wasn’t going for a battle of attrition. Behind the soldiers that were spread out in front of the fort, a large group was charging in behind many wagons.


「「「Woahh!」」」


Leaving the safety of distance behind, the troops advanced on the fort.


The roar of the soldier sounded more like their resistance to fear instead of a display of their fighting spirit. The cannonballs rolling on the ground and countless bullets raining from the sky── either of these two could end their lives with a bad roll of the dice.


「Don’t panic! Keep your head down and advance behind the wagon in three columns!」


In the group that was herding the eight wagons forward, Yatori was in the unit on the extreme right. The cargo ladened wagons performed their duties as shields against the bullets, providing safety for the soldiers── but that was just for bullets.


「Incoming! Brace yourself!」


There was a loud explosion of air. The cannon fire from the fort hit three of the eight wagons, sending splinters flying. A hole was torn through a wagon, and a large piece of cargo rolled out. Another got its wheel blown off and toppled over. The leg of the horse pushing the third wagon got fractured, and the soldiers started pushing the wagon instead.


「Don’t falter! It doesn’t matter how many wagons they destroy, we just need one to reach the fort…!」


The soldiers behind the wagons were all pushing hard right from the start, but the bullet proof material in the wagon slowed their advance, and they got hit by a second cannon volley. Another three wagons got hit, with two of them falling over── with 200m left to the fort, the numbers of wagons had been reduced by half.


「Neighh──!」「Damn it, the horse…!」


With the wall right in front of them, Yatori’s wagon ran into a problem. The horse had gone berserk after it got hit in the neck by shrapnels. The driver tried to calm it down, but the wounded beast was out of control.


「Sergeant, get off the wagon!」


Judging that this was the limits, Yatori dashed to the driver’s seat, and cut the ropes tying the horse to the wagon with her spear. The freed horse fled ran away, and the wagon leaned back onto the soldiers. They groaned in pain as their boots sinked into the ground.


「Just a bit more! Everyone, push with everything you got!」


Yatori shouted, as she and the Sergeant who was driving joined in. The entire unit pushed the wagon with all their might. As they drew near the fort, the rain of bullet grew in intensity.


「「「「Woooahhh!」」」」


The explosion of the wind cannon rang out from the fort right before them. The soldiers who heard that felt that death was breathing right down their necks── only when the impact of the wagon hitting the wall made them realized that the cannon fire missed them by inches earlier.


「We have reached! Quickly, hide on the right of the wagon!」


The soldiers snapped back when they heard the orders, quickly secured the wheels and charged into the safe zone they just created. They were at the tip of the right wall that was jutting out perpendicularly.


「Huff, huff…!」「W-We are here…!」


Everyone let out a sigh of relief. The top of the wall was jutting out to prevent the enemy from scaling it, and in this case, it became a shield to protect Yatori’s group. The wagon they pushed all the way covered their left, stopping all attacks from the fort. The cannons couldn’t hit them either, as the angle was too steep.


「Reaching here means we have won── Everyone take three deep breaths, remember to hold it in.」


Yatori inhaled and exhaled together with her subordinates, and after everyone regained their composure, she issued her next orders:


「We will carry out the plan here. Take out the hammer!」


Three soldiers took out the hammers strapped to their backs, and faced the fort’s wall:


「Divide this area into three, then knock on every spot of the wall. Now!」


On her instructions, the three hammers started knocking on the solid walls. But the wall remained unmoved despite the soldier’s mighty swing. Their hands were starting to ache from the recoil instead. But they didn’t complain and kept swinging their tools in silence.


「… If the fort sent out their infantry, we will be taken out easily.」


The sergeant watching them work muttered quietly. Yatori shook her head when she heard that:


「They would need to open the gate to send their troops out. They want to stall us here, but I don’t think they will take such a big risk at this point in time. If something really happens Major Megu will send reinforcements immediately.」


「I see── No, pardon my impudence. I’m not afraid, and thinks this is a pretty good place to die. I have decided to fight under you to my last breath.」


The soldiers around them concurred with the sergeant with a faint smile. Everyone here has made their resolve── Yatori received this strong message from them and smiled gratefully.


「… Thank you. Alright then, I will order everyone here again── You must survive!」


「「「「Mdm, yes Mdm!」」」」


The group answered in unison. At that moment one of the soldier felt something strange when his hammer hit the wall. Could it be… he looked closely at the spot he hit── and saw the rectangular bricks had sunk into the wall.


「First Lieutenant, bingo! We found it!」


The soldier shouted with joy. With the second and third strike, the bricks sunk in even more. Soon, the bricks were knocked into the cavity inside. The other side of the wall was hollow, and really dark.


「Well done! The nine men responsible for the work inside, take your partner out!」


The nine soldiers who were watching from behind swapped places with the hammer team. All of them were carefully holding the partner Sprite they had taken out from their pouch.


「I’m counting on you, Hymn……」「Lou, it’s in your hands now.」「Maka, I believe in you, do your best.」


After sharing a quiet word, the soldiers sent their partners through the wall into the darkness. The tiny bodies of the Sprite with leather bags on their backs marched fearlessly into the darkness.

At the same time, Captain Gazuriku who was on top of the defensive wall couldn’t understand what his opponent’s intentions were.


They stopped most of the wagons charge with cannon fire, and only one wagon reached the wall. That was a great result, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was wrong── Why did they send out those wagons?


「What are they trying to do by sending those wagons to the fort…? They’re too short as siege ladders. No, if they want to attack, they should send a siege tower instead. Something so simple should be clear with a glance…」


The Captain looked down at the only wagon team that made it pass the bombardment and frowned── this was too sloppy for a suicide squad. What kind of damage could merely twenty men inflict? The best they could manage were to stick to the wall and suffocate themselves.


「Has their commander lost his marbles──」

At the same time, the Sprites that had infiltrated the wall were marching through a dark tunnel under the feet of the baffled Captain. The Luminous Sprite Hymn led the way with its Lantern light, with his other companions following behind. The tunnel sloped downwards gently, and went right under the fort.


After walking for about ten minutes, the range of the Lantern light unveiled a large space. They exited the cramped tunnel and went into this vast area. Hymn switched its Lantern light to a Search light, and scanned the place. It found a beam that spreads horizontally in all directions.


Once they knew they were at the right place, the nine Sprites split into three groups, each consisting of a Luminous, Fire and Wind Sprite. They found the base of the beam, then took out the rags soaked in oil from their backpack, and wrapped it loosely around the bases. The Fire Sprite then set it aflame with their Fire hole, and the Wind Sprite blew in air from their Wind Tunnel to make the fire stronger. The intense flame then spread to the beam and engulfed it──

Almost one hour after Yatori’s team started their work, a soldier in the fort noticed that something was amiss. When he went to the lower levels to replenish ammo, he could see smoke and a strong burning smell from the room.


「F-Fire! The room below is on fire──!」


This report also reached Captain Gazuriku who was directing the defences on the wall. His face turned stiff when he heard the news, but he still sent soldiers to put out the fire. However, there were more surprises to come.


「Hey, where’s the fire? How did it start!?」


As there had not been any reports on the progress on the fire, the Captain asked one of his men who had returned from the lower levels.


「W-We can’t find it…! The smoke is the thickest in the ammo cache, but there isn’t any fire there…!」


The Captain’s face turned pale from confusion when he heard that:


「Stop kidding me, the ammo cache is in the lowest level of the fort! If the fire didn’t start from there, then where did the smoke come from!? Comb the area again──」


Before he could order another thorough search, the Captain lost his balance. He managed to steady himself, but an icy chill ran down his spine.


「… Hey, what was that…?」


Captain Gazuriku asked bewilderedly. His subordinate answered with a twitching face:


「C-Captain… the floor over there…!」


The soldier pointed at the Captain’s feet with a trembling finger, where the stone floor was sinking through the gaps. It wasn’t just that spot, the floor around the Captain were tilting as the battlement fell apart──


「W-What’s going on… Uwahh?」


That was all the time he had to ask his question. A noise ten times louder than the growling from before rang out, and after a violent quaking, the floor started collapsing. The Captain and the others started to fall from a lethal height, as if they were swallowed by the ground.

「… It’s here! Push the wagon and retreat!」


Yatori sensed the tremor from her back that was leaning against the wall, and ordered her team to withdraw. The group and the Sprites that had returned after finishing their tasks quickly pulled away from the fort.


Immediately after that, the sabotage of the fort reached its climax. The result was spectacular. The fort on the Kudra mountain pass known for its sturdiness started breaking apart before them.


The screams of the Remeon faction soldiers were accentuated by the fort collapsing like toy blocks. To them, this was an unexpected and senseless destruction.


「A-Amazing…」「What the hell──」「That fort fell so easily…」


Leaving her stunned subordinates behind, Yatori looked at the opposite direction of the fort── and her allies who were marching forth on Major Megu’s orders. There was no stopping them now. The intense cannon and gun fire were silence with the collapse of the fort.


「The plan worked, let’s wait for our allies to come and link up with them.」


「… Yes Mdm! If we are going in, should I get the men ready for melee combat?」


「No, wait for Major Megu’s orders── it probably won’t be necessary. Since the fort is destroyed, it’s impossible for the fight to continue.」


Yatori answered calmly. But the melancholy in her voice wasn’t just her subordinates’ imagination.

「… Ugh…」


Captain Gazuriku woke up with dull pain all over his body.


「Corsa! Wake up, Corsa!」


His partner cried from his pouch. He heard the cries, but it still felt like he was dreaming. He touched his forehead that was burning up, and found his palm slicked with fresh blood. The stabbing pain and the reality of the situation then hit him.


「……!」


The Captain snapped back to reality, and when he couldn’t see anything aside from debris, he understood the gravity of the situation── he couldn’t believe it, but the fort had collapsed. He didn’t allow a single enemy to step inside, but the fort was broken so easily in the end.


「… I-Is… there anyone…!」


The Captain seemed to have bruised his ribs when he fell, and just raising his voice filled him with pain. But now wasn’t the time to care about his wounds. Since the fort had collapsed, the enemy will attack. He need to muster the troops──


At this moment, the Captain heard the sound of boots stepping on debris. One of his unharmed comrades was nearby── with that thought in mind, the Captain shouted:「Here! I’m over here!」 The footsteps grew closer.


But when he shouted for the third time, a strong sense of wrongness crawled up his back── since they could hear him, why weren’t they responding?


「……!」


He groped instinctively with his hand, and his right fingers grabbed the stock of a wind gun that probably fell together with him. The Captain was grateful for this small blessing, and quickly installed his partner onto the gun.


「Who is it!」


He pointed his muzzle at the direction of the incoming presence, and shouted harshly. A moment later, a calm voice came from the other side of what used to be a solid wall:


「I’m Imperial Army First Lieutenant Yatorishino Igsem. Is that the commander of the fort’s defences, Captain Corsa?」


The Captain twitched his lips. As if she had seen through him, Yatori continued:


「Please stop resisting, you are in no state to continue fighting. Our suppression of the fort is mostly complete, most of the soldiers have surrender. We have already moved on to clearing the debris and rescuing the wounded.」


「……」


「I repeat, your forces can’t fight any longer. To avoid unnecessary loss of lives, please use your authority as the commander and make clear your unit’s intent to surrender. We have already made the arrangements.」


The other party advised him to surrender with a formal tone, and Captain Gazuriku could feel that she was telling the truth. He could hear several sets of approaching footsteps, and they would attack if he didn’t surrender.


The Captain ground his teeth in despair── this was checkmate.


He wallowed in his own incompetence, but had to suppressed that feeling with the enemy right before him. He asked with his heart burning in shame:


「… Can you explain something before that? I have no idea what happened. Why did the fort collapse? Why did we lose?」


His voice was strained because of his broken ribs as Captain Gazuriku asked to start off the procedure of surrendering. The person on the other side noted his intent and said:


「──Captain, do you know the official name of this fort?」


「Official name…? No, I have always called this the Kudra mountain pass. I don’t recall anyone referring to this place by any other name.」


「That is understandable. This fort had traded hands without any battle between Kioka and the Empire, and the origins of this fort had been forgotten by the people. To be frank, given how this fort was built, this isn’t an ordinary fort.」


Her subordinates were standing by, ready to charge in. Yatori continued explaining through the wall.


「The official name is Alisshi 61 mountain fort. A fort built by the renown architect Alisshi Hanzen. He was famous for his part in the erection of over a hundred military structures, including this fort. During its construction, the Imperial army gave him a difficult condition.」


「Condition…?」


「『Impregnable in defence, and easy to subjugate when attacked』. This contradictory condition was made under the pretext that the fort might fall into the hands of the Kioka. A sturdy fort would be a great threat when the enemy seizes it── and the land around here traded hands between the Kioka and the Empire frequently back then. This new fort had to be built with the ease of retaking it from the enemy in mind. If the fort was too strong, it will be easy to defend, but hard to take back. However, the enemy can easily destroy it if the defences are compromised. Strong defences and ease of attack── even with this contradictory conditions, Hanzen still researched and made use of his vast talents to seek an extraordinary solution. And for this fort, he used 『planned flawed construction』.」


「… Planned, flawed…」


「As the name implies, a flaw that can destroy the fort easily was intentionally built in. And of course, the fort was constructed sturdily, and people who didn’t know about this flaw would just see it as another fort. Only a select few in high command knew about this flaw, so it could be utilized in the future── the Alisshi 61 mountain fort was erected with this flawed design.」


「… Where exactly is the weak point of this fort…?」


「First is the secret entrance at the edge of the wall. A cramp passage that Sprites could barely squeeze through leads to the base of the structure── a place propped up with wooden beams, the only part of this stone fort that was made with wood. Ventilation hole was intentionally built in, so you can imagine what will happen if that place is set on fire.」


The Captain groaned after learning the truth── no wonder they couldn’t find the source of the fire, it originated from deeper underground, and the foundation of the building was the thing that was burning. That also meant that he had already lost at that moment.


「… Who form the Igsem faction proposed this plan?」


「Of the soldiers present, only Major Nudakka Megu and I knew about this plan. As for who uncovered this information… it’s me and another man who isn’t here right now.」


Yatori answered immediately. When he heard that, the Captain frowned and glared at his opponent behind the wall:


「… It’s hard for me to believe that. From what I know, there shouldn’t be any officer who knew about the flawed construction.」


「This must be a top secret that very few officers knew, without any written records to avoid the information from being spread. It was forgotten with the passage of time, and almost no one in high command knew about it.」


「I thought as much… Then how did you and that man learned this?」


「… It was by accident. I read several of Alisshi Hanzen works back in the Imperial High School, such as the critically acclaimed 《Battlefield Construction Theory》, 《Terrain and Stronghold》. However, the 《Foundation of Forts》 he penned in his later years, which is often overlooked, had an alarming secret. The entire book was a code. If the wordings are rearranged in a specific pattern, then the plans and weakness of several forts that Hanzen designed in the past will be unveiled.」


「What──」


「That would be going too far as a joke. If this was discovered while he was still alive, he will be executed for leaking military secrets. We can only guess his motivation behind this… Hanzen was a man who actively seeks fame and status, and was said to be jealous of his students who outshined him in his later years. He was lauded as a genius in the past, but he was slowly fading into obscurity── he probably did something so reckless because he couldn’t accept this reality. He wants to leave his mark in history, no matter what it took.」


Bitter emotions spread in Yatori’s chest── he never thought she would fulfill the late architect’s last wishes. It might be fine if that was done against the enemy nation, but this was a fight with fellow imperial soldiers, so it made its mark in the worst way possible.


「… That was how this entire matter came about, can you accept this?」


She asked after finishing her explanation. Several seconds later, Captain Gazuriku smiled wryly:


「… Simply put, I was caught up in the last hoorah of that senile architect a few centuries after his death? What a joke… That’s too much for me to accept.」


「……」


「Even if I forced myself to accept that… the fact that this flaw was uncovered in a library is infuriating. I didn’t have that privilege when I was your age, and the only education I got was the harsh training of an infantryman. But even so, not starving was a blessing for a son of an impoverished farmer like me…」


「… I know. You accomplished outstanding performance in live battle, and was promoted from the ranks to a company grade officer.」


「Yes, you are right. During all that time, the knowledge I learned in books didn’t prove useful at all. I always learn from the field with my own eyes, hands and feet── that was my only treasure.」


With the pride of a soldier who earned his commission on the field, the Captain gripped the wind gun tightly with his right hand:


「Most of the elite officers who passed the entrance test of the Military Academy seemed to find me annoying. My opinions differ too much from their views, and in most situation, I had to be the one to give in. I will be lying if I say that it wasn’t vexing. But General Remeon is different. He will actively adopt my proposal despite my roots as a sergeant. Instead of appearances, practicality was more important to him. He values competency over tradition. I was glad── when he praises me, I would feel a refreshing wind blowing in my chest… So I have decided to follow that great man until the very end.」


Captain Gazuriku said as he reached for his waist with his left hand. Yatori called out with her stiff voice:


「──Captain. Please…」


「Please show leniency to my men. They are just following my orders.」


The Captain cut off her plea, and placed a bayonet onto his throat with his left hand. When it noticed this movement, his Sprite called out to its master:


「Corsa, don’t!」


「Saro, thank you for all your help.」


After bidding his partner farewell, Captain Gazuriku pushed the bayonet with his hand. Yatori rushed over from the other side of the wall and saw the final moments of a soldier keeling over in a pool of blood.


「… So that’s how it ends.」


Major Megu sighed deeply as she looked at the dead body of her colleague lying on top of the debris.


「My apologies, I should captured him alive.」


The vermillion haired girl stood a short distance behind her with a pained expression. The Major shook her head quietly.


「No, don’t let it bother you. The results will be the same no matter who negotiated with him… Amongst the officers in the Remeon faction, Captain Gazuriku is exceptionally loyal. He would rather die than be taken prisoner and get relegated into a bargaining chip── He probably fought with such a resolve from the very start.」


「……」


「It had been more than five years, but I shared a drink with him before. Back then, everyone got dead drunk── but me and him were unlucky and didn’t get drunk, and had to take care of everyone else… That feels like a lifetime ago.」


Major Megu narrowed her eyes nostalgically, then turned around abruptly:


「… I’m being too sentimental. Go on ahead, First Lieutenant Yatori. It’s a painful decision, but we can’t waste more time to rescue the injured. We will set off once we are ready.」


As the Major gave her instructions, Yatori looked at Captain Gazuriku and gave a final salute.


She turned and walked away, leading her subordinates with her── she then started mumbling:


「… I don’t think of this as a matter that doesn’t concern me……」


「Huh?」


Her deputy behind grunted quizzedly. Yatori didn’t slow her pace as she continued to speak:


「Of all the forts Alisshi Hanzen built with a planned weakness, this is the only one still in operation today. The others had served their purposes, and got demolished or destroyed.」


「I-Is that so?」


「There are still normal forts without any gimmicks built by Hanzen… However, with the new Blast Cannons developed by Kioka, their value as a stronghold has been diminished. The times of forts being the center of defensive battles is coming to an end.」


As she walked over the debris, the vermillion haired girl thought about this matter. The lingering hopes of a person who died would not be passed on to a further future. In that case, the ruins of this fort was like the corpse left behind by the stubborn old architect.


「No matter how great his accomplishment might be, memories of him will grow faint with the passage of time. No matter how exemplary his skills, theory and ideology might be, it will become outdated one day. Nothing last forever.」


「……」


「And in this ever changing world, Captain Gazuriku died in his pursuit of a different future. His eyes were set on the future until his very last moments.」


Yatori almost said something too sentimental and arrogant for the party that destroyed the Captain’s hopes and dreams, and showed restraint by ending the topic:


「… Enough idle chat, let’s hurry on.」


She quickened her pace and urged her subordinates on, then looked up. Before her was an endless blue sky that was covered by the ancient fort not too long ago── as she looked at this boundless sky, she felt for a short moment that it was futile to go against her destiny as a descendent of the Igsem.


Just how did it feel to hope for a future one couldn’t even imagine──


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