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Chapter 2, Episode 14: The Battle begins
There stand ruins of a fort 21 sels (63 km) away from the location of Liz’s battle with the rebel army’s advance unit.
It was an imposing fort until just the other day, but now lies destroyed by the Fourth Imperial Army’s attack.
There, was Hiro. He walks inside the fort while having the 「shiryu」wait at the entrance.
「Your Highness. I have been waiting for you.」
A soldier appeared before him, struck his chest, then knelt.
He is one of Margrave Grinda’s private soldiers.
Hiro had Margrave Grinda send out a letter to have a unit of soldiers arrive here ahead of him. This was the leader of that unit.
「Is everything set?」
「Yes. Everything has been prepared as you ordered. This way please.」
Hiro walks after the soldier who began to walk ahead of him. Hiro spoke to the man’s back.
「What about the other soldiers?」
「They are lying hidden in this fort.」
The soldier stopped at the waiting area and opened a door.
After a low bow, he pointed his hand inward to urge Hiro in.
In the waiting area were five soldiers in armor.
All together, they rose from their seats and saluted.
After pointing his hand to them telling them to be, 「at ease,」 he walked toward the center of the long table.
After looking down at a spread out map, he asked a question.
「Whereabouts of the Fourth Imperial Army now?」
「I can’t accurately say until the scout returns, but they’re probably around this area. It’s about a day’s distance from here.」
「And the rebel army?」
「According to intel from four days ago, they are here.」
One of the soldiers placed a piece on top of the map of the Lichtein Dukedom.
It is a location 32 sels (96 km) away from the current fort.
「What about the Lichtein Dukedom’s activities?」
「They haven’t moved from their capital. I’m not sure if they’re planning to focus on defense, but they’ve summoned soldiers from different areas, and the number of nobles’ flags on the castle walls increase with each passing day.」
「Flags on the castle wall, is it…」
「Is there something bothering you?」
「Yes, just a little.」
Hiro grabs a piece from the table and places it on the map.
That location steals the gaze of the soldiers, and the unit leader muttered…
「Did you investigate this place?」
「Not in detail…」
「Do you know how many soldiers are stationed here?」
「I believe around 2,000. It seems they did not reduce the number of soldiers here because it is a vital strategic point which has influence in all directions.」
Hiro silently glares at the map.
He puts himself in the shoes of Lichtein’s officers and soldiers and hammers out strategy after strategy in his head.
(Draw them into an inescapable situation and cut off their supply lines for water and food provisions. You don’t know what the enemy army might do in such a situation. In which case, either corner them into an appropriate fort and force them to starve to death with a protracted battle, or force them to disperse and crush them individually. But the Lichtein Dukedom doesn’t have the time to take things slowly.)
And so their options are limited.
(Without time, you can’t have enough soldiers. The activities of other countries is a concern, too. Considering what may lie in the future, a short decisive battle would be desirable. If they’re able to force the Grantz Grand Empire to withdraw, other countries would hesitate to attack. In which case, for that to be possible with limited forces, throw the Fourth Imperial Army at the rebel army and crush them while their formation is in disarray. That sounds about right.)
If it came to that, where would the battles begin, and how will the terrain look?
(Only Fort Azba’s has the optimal location to monitor both armies while being close enough to the capital to race there in case anything happens. The flags on the castle walls of the capital are probably fake.)
Hiro lifted his face.
「Do you know who the prominent leaders of the Lichtein Dukedom are?」
「Most of them died in the battle against the rebel army.」
「So are you saying there aren’t any noteworthy leaders left?」
「No, there is just one. There is one called Ranquil Caligula Jilberist.」
「And his combat history?」
「His name became known about two years ago. During that time, the Republic of Schteizen invaded the Lichtein Dukedom with an army of 30,000, but he managed to drive them away with less than 3,000 soldiers. He came to be called the 「Wild Eagle of Change」 for overturning that disadvantageous situation and achieving victory.」
「So they shunned that talent of his and demoted him…」
「It is as you say. It seems they placed blame on him for various things. As a result, he apparently became the commanding officer of the national border regiment at the Republic of Schteizen’s border. But having said that, it is an important location, so you can also say he was suitable for the position.」
(Although he’s popular with the people and soldiers, he’s hated by the nobles.)
There might be a way to take advantage of that. It may be possible to make the Lichtein Dukedom fall.
Hiro pounded all the information currently available into his head and looked at the unit leader.
「Do you have parchment and a pen?」
「Here, please use these.」
Ink, pen, and a bundle of parchment are placed in front of Hiro.
Hiro dips the pen in the ink and moves it across the parchment.
「Here are instructions moving forward.」
The unit leader confirmed the contents of the two pieces of parchments, wrapped it up, then handed them to a subordinate.
「Will your Highness be joining with the Fourth Imperial Army now?」
Hiro strokes his eyepatch and thinks.
If he rode the 「shiryu」 and headed in their direction now, he could probably reach Liz by tomorrow afternoon.
The strategy moving forward is written on the parchments. It won’t be a problem if he’s not here.
「Yes, I’ll be departing immediately. Can I leave the rest to you?」
「Please rest assured. I will execute your orders without fail.」
「Then I’ll trust the rest to you.」
「Yes. Please give my regards to her Highness Celia Estreya.」
The soldiers see Hiro off as he goes outside.
Hiro squinted at the dazzling sunlight and walked towards the 「shiryu」.
＊＊＊＊＊ ＊＊＊＊＊ ＊＊＊＊＊ ＊＊＊＊＊ ＊＊＊＊＊
Imperial year 1023, August 4.
Under a blazing sun, a slave liberation army of 6,000 faces off against the Fourth Imperial Army.
The slave liberation army is in a spear formation.
The vanguard is composed of slave infantrymen, while the second battalion, headquarters, and rear guard are composed of camel cavalrymen— mercenaries. It is a formation resembling the tip of a spear.
The army’s second-in-command, Gahda Obunano, was in the second battalion.
Gahda turned around and stared at headquarters.
He, a man who fears not even death, had a weakness, and it was there.
A young girl who had become their leader was in headquarters.
「What’s wrong, boss?」
「… I wasn’t able to persuade Milieu.」
「Don’t worry. If push comes to shove, I gave out orders for the men to escape with the miss, even if they have to carry her.」
「If possible, I wanted her to return to her hometown.」
「The miss is strong willed. There’s no way she would just nod her head yes if we told her to escape.」
「… If it looks like we’re about to be surrounded, take Milieu and escape immediately.」
「Huh? Boss, I’m gonna stay with you until—」
「You can’t. You go back to headquarters and protect Milieu. If the situation gets dangerous, take Milieu and break away from the battlefield. After you do, take her back to her home for me.」
It’s not that he’s planning to lose, but you never know what might happen on a battlefield.
He can’t bring himself to allow such a young life to disappear here.
To maintain a sense of mystique, her face is kept hidden, and only those who are close to her know who she is.
So even if she were returned to her home, no one would be able to pursue her.
「Understand? Do me this favor.」
Gahda tightly grips his subordinate’s shoulders and looks at him sternly.
「All right… May fortune be with you.」
The subordinate returned to headquarters, and Gahda looked out ahead.
The Fourth Imperial Army has taken a dragon wings formation, and he can see that both flanks come back around like bows.
He would like to crush the tips of the flanks, but all he has are untrained slaves.
But even if they are amateurs, he has no complaints, so he decided to break through the center.
They’ll take the commander’s head, disturb the chain of command, and annihilate them.
「… Even if we kill him, the Sixth Imperial Princess is a problem.」
He didn’t see any shortcomings in her as a leader based on their fight yesterday.
If she’s able to fight to that point against Gahda, she’s likely competent as a military leader as well.
Even if they’re able to defeat the commanding officer, he’s not sure what would happen if she were to take command…
After shaking his head to dispel his anxiety, he let out a voice loud enough for the entire army to hear.
「Now, let the drums roar out! Let the enemy hear your war cry and shake in fear! Advance forward! It is time for the weak to devour the strong!」
He raises 「Beben Slave」 with one hand. A battle cry rises up from the mercenaries and slaves.
Although they were not all in step, the entire army commenced their assault on the center of the Fourth Imperial Army.
Ready to meet them was the Fourth Imperial Army with their dragon wings formation.
Behind the vanguard unit of 500, are 2,000 units on the right flank, and 2,000 on the left flank. They have the crucial role of surrounding their enemy.
In the center was headquarters with 1,000 units, and in front of them was the second battalion with 2,000 units. To the sides of headquarters were the third and fourth battalions, each with 500 units. The remaining 1,500 are reserves.
In headquarters, General Kielo sneered.
「… So they can’t think of anything except plunging forward, can they? Well, that is a formation befitting a rebel army.」
「I’m sure the enemy will continue as they are and head for our center. Would you like us to move forward with the strategy of surrounding and annihilating them as planned?」
One of the staff officers asked, to which General Kielo nodded satisfied.
「There will be no changes. Just surround the enemy slowly and annihilate them.」
General Kielo, who was watching the approaching cloud of dust, raised his hand.
「Give the starving slaves some arrows to eat.」
The staff officer waved his arm and signaled to the standard bearer.
A large flag rises up from headquarters. At the same time, the sound of drums ring out.
At these signals, the archery unit of the second battalion let loose their arrows, which rained down on the enemies.
The enemy soldiers begin to fall, but their momentum does not stop.
Arrows come flying back in response.
Shots while in motion lack force, so the soldiers defended against the insignificant attack with their shields.
「Ohh… they counterattacked. It seems even slaves have what they called mettle.」
「Our right flank has raised their flag. It seems the left flank also raised their flag simultaneously and have begun to move.」
「… But I haven’t given out any instructions.」
「The rebel army is faster than expected. Her Highness likely decided that it was better to act before it was too late. That’s impressive coordi—」
The staff officer was about to praise her, but he shut his mouth because of the rage emanating from General Kielo.
「For her to disregard the commanding officer and make a decision of her own accord… I would have had her head were she not of the Imperial family.」
The right and left flanks began to open their wings. If things continue to go smoothly, they’ll like succeed in surrounding the enemy.
General Kielo glared at Liz’s coat of arms unamused.
Completely unaware of General Kielo’s discomfort, Liz was currently near headquarters with Tris.
There were a number of reasons for this.
First of all, although she reported to General Kielo about the zorosta, she was brushed aside and told that it wasn’t a problem.
Knowing well the strength of the zorosta, Liz was waiting on the right end so she could race to the second battalion in case the enemy broke through.
「With 「Laevateinn」 in my possession, I’m the only one who can face that man.」
「But, if something were to happen to you, Princess…」
Riding alongside her, Tris tried to give his honest opinion, but Liz shook her head.
「But I have to do it. If General Kielo happens to be defeated, the rebel army will gain momentum.」
「That is true, but—」
Before Tris is able to finish his sentence, the rebel army’s vanguard collided with the second battalion.
Angry voices shake their eardrums, and the wind carries the sound of clashing weapons.
With just a single clash, somewhere between dozens and hundreds of men left this world.
Stepping over their corpses, the slave infantrymen come swinging towards the heavy infantrymen.
From where Liz and Tris are, they can only see a large cloud of dust rising up.
「It’s begun. Tris!」
「We’ll drive into their flank and separate them! Make everyone pick up the pace!」
Right when Liz tried to drive into the flank, a new development began to unfold in the center.
The slave infantrymen are no match for the Fourth Imperial Army with their shabby equipment.
They’re slaughtered one after another by the swords of the far better trained soldiers. But still, they were obstinate.
They don’t want to go back to being slaves. Their drive allows them to push through and open up the center of the second battalion.
At this rate, the camel cavalry will likely come rushing in.
「Don’t let these lowly slaves get the better of you!」
The man who shouted out was the commander of the second battalion of the Fourth Imperial Army.
He is General Kielo’s aide, and his name is Kigui Merkel von Schlarke.
His face was pale as he watched the center get pried open.
「Stop them at any cost!」
But Kigui’s voice didn’t reach the front row of soldiers.
This was because there were so many camel cavalrymen rushing in.
The brawny heavy infantrymen are slowly crushed by the camel cavalrymen, and the war cries of the slaves get closer and closer.
Kigui took out a bundle of spirit charms from his uniform pocket and kicked the sides of his horse.
「If it’s come to this, I’ll stop them myself!」
One camel cavalryman comes rushing towards him as he swings his sword up above his head.
Straddled atop the camel is a large man with slightly purple skin— It’s the zorosta.
「So you’re the zorosta her Highness spoke of!」
The fact that he was holding spirit charms made him have a lapse in judgement.
He should have run away immediately. He should have withdrawn.
But he stood up against him. He threw out a red spirit charm, causing a mass of fire appear.
「Hah, what is that?」
The large man— Gahda laughed and crushed it with his hand.
Despite being stunned, Kigui continues to throw out spirit charms.
A mass of water rushes out, wind rises up, and lightning falls down from the sky.
After defending against it all with 「Beben Slave」, Gahda spoke.
「Is that all?」
「What? Absurd… Are you a monster?!」
Gahda closed the distance between them and swung his greatsword to the side.
「I’m a zorosta.」
Those became the last words which Kigui heard.
Kigui’s head flies high into the sky. Perhaps Gahda was uninterested, as he didn’t even look.
The now headless body slipped down from the horse’s back.
「We’ll continue to break through the center and take the commander’s head!」
As he was about to ride off on his camel, a large number of Grantz cavalrymen blocked his way.
They all wore angry expressions as they attacked from every direction.
He swung 「Beben Slave」 as easily and lightly as if he were simply breathing.
He swings right, thrusts forward, swings back to the left, then slashes vertically.
Five cavalrymen lost their lives in the blink of an eye.
Though the Grantz cavalrymen were unable to hide their trembling, they still did not withdraw.
This was due to their arrogance as the elite of the Grantz Grand Empire.
A number of camel cavalrymen rush the Grantz cavalry to cover Gahda.
「… Now, let’s go grab hold of victory! Follow me!」
Right as Gahda shouted, a woman with crimson hair flapping in the wind came racing in from his right.
Her blade, a deeper crimson than blood, spews out flames and scatters the rebel army.
No one’s able to stop the girl who seems to be rushing in like a bullet wrapped in flames.
「… Little girl. I can’t hold back like I did yesterday.」
「Right back at you.」
「How courageous. I have no interest in killing children. I can still let you go if you—」
Before Gahda is able to finish speaking, Liz disappeared from her horse and floated up into the air while drawing a spiral.
As she flies above head, she unleashes a slash attack, which Gahda repels with his greatsword.
Fireworks scatter between the two then disappear. Gahda turned his body around and kicked the back of his camel.
He leapt right before Liz the moment she hit the ground and swept his greatsword to the side.
Liz barely managed to stop it, but she was blown away and a gap was created between them.
「… You’re stronger than you were yesterday.」
「I told you, I was holding back.」
「So does that mean this you being serious?」
「If I were serious, your head would’ve been gone by now.」
Gahda shrugs his shoulders and speaks quickly.
「You still have time. If you want to run, then run. I won’t chase after you. It’s not your wish to die in a place like this, is it?」
「You’re right. That’s why I don’t plan on dying.」
Gahda stood there with his eyes on Liz while she smiled in a way that almost seemed haughty.
That which was being conveyed from her was neither fear nor contempt.
It was simply an expression of a determination which was akin to a sense of duty.
「… There’s no way you’re unable to assume the difference in strength between us. I believe you to be a clever child, little girl… Was I mistaken?」
「It’s not so bad being praised, but if I ran away, there’d be no one to stop you.」
Liz brushed the crimson hair on her shoulder behind her back and readied 「Laevateinn」 once more.
「If I run away here, I’ll become someone who runs every time I come upon a big wall. That’s why I won’t run. I’ll fight until the end, find an opening, and grab hold of victory.」
「Is that so? I see… I feel like I understand why you were chosen by a spirit sword at your age.」
She is noble and possesses a beautifully pure heart. Even when colliding against a difficult situation, she does not consider running as an option.
Which is exactly why it’s such a waste. Hers is not a life that should disappear in a place like this.
But Gahda had his reason for not being able to withdraw as well.
「Then let us settle this.」
「I won’t hold back!」
The crimson blade attacks Gahda, but he deflects it with his greatsword, scattering fireworks.
Liz digs her toes into the sand and swings her leg up, causing a cloud of sand to fly in the air and cover Gahda’s face.
Sand got in Gahda’s eyes, forcing him to back away and groan.
「Trying to blind me are you?」
「I’ve got you!」
Not about to let this chance slip by, Liz aimed for his neck and swung her sword.
「I won’t call you a coward. But little girls who have bad habits with their legs deserve a fitting punishment!」
Said Gahda, before dropping his head and evading the blade.
Liz was shocked at the way he evaded her attack. It was almost as if he could see.
While she stood there in shock, Gahda placed his hands on the ground and released his magic.
Sand coiled around Liz’s legs. This threw her off balance and she fell face forward.
Liz tried to get up, but because her legs were buried in sand, she was unable to move freely.
A large shadow looms down from above Liz’s head.
As she looked up, Gahda with his eyes now open, had his greatsword up in the air.
「This is the end.」
The Grantz cavalrymen try to race to the Imperial princess to save her from peril, but the camel cavalrymen block their way.
A scream that doesn’t quiet come out rises up from the soldiers in the area. They try to race over to help her, but slave infantrymen and camel cavalrymen get in their way and prevent them from doing so.
Without asking for any help, Liz stares at the greatsword with the light of resolution in her eyes.
But it’s not from resignation. They are the eyes of one who is watching for a chance to counterattack.
The greatsword comes swinging down. Everyone has a look of despair on their face.
As Liz tightly grips 「Laevateinn’s」 handle—
— A darkness appeared in their world.
A shining silver sword stopped the blade of the greatsword.
Its owner wore black clothes which fluttered in the air, and an eye patch which covered half his face.
Liz saw the back of this figure and was speechless. Gahda was also wide eyed with surprise.
「… I’m glad I made it.」
The young boy— Hiro muttered, then kicked Gahda in the stomach to open up some distance.
「Ugh?! Wh-Who are you…?」
「Wow~ you’re sturdy.」
The hem of his black clothes, which seem to embody darkness itself, dances in the air as he rushes to attack Gahda while his stance is still broken.
The silver blade relentlessly splits open Gahda’s skin and causes blood to flow out.
Gahda was unable to defend against the fearsome speed.
「I’m asking who you are!」
Gahda counterattacks. Hiro turned his body to the side.
The greatsword came swinging down vertically and simply passed by his nose.
Hiro twisted half his body and got ready to strike with 「Excalibur’s」 blade using all his might.
He moves slower than before. Gahda had plenty of time to stop it.
Once, twice, thrice they cross blades. Each time, a show of red fireworks is scattered about.
Gahda gradually becomes unable to keep up with Hiro’s speed.
He could tell he was being toyed with by Hiro’s quick paced attacked.
Gahda desperately chased after Hiro, but Hiro let loose a kick and struck Gahda in the face.
Gahda goes rolling off along the desert floor which is exposed to the blazing sun. Hiro watches him with an icy stare.
A number of screams could be heard ringing out around the area.
Jeers, cries of death, and the roaring of hooves mix together with various emotions, then disappear.
The countless number of corpses glare bitterly at the living.
Their cloudy eyes are like grim reapers inviting you to the other world.
After crashing into a pile of corpses, Gahda stood up.
「So an interloper would appear at this stage… I really don’t have any luck, do I?」
After laughing at himself, he pulled back his bangs which were annoyingly stuck to him with his sweat.
His previously hidden forehead becomes visible, and a small, purple crystal embedded there is exposed.
Seeing this, Hiro muttered.
「I knew it. A magic stone possessor.」
Hiro released the tension in his body and stood in a natural, daunting pose.
He stands in a way to suggest he’s let his guard down and is full of openings.
「That sword, and the way you speak of magic stones as if you’re familiar with them… You’re no ordinary person, are you, boy?」
Gahda sensed it. He sensed the mighty fighting spirit in which Hiro was clad.
It is a dominant spirit which one can only obtain through years of fighting and tireless effort.
And for this young lad to emit that, it certainly is awe inspiring.
The reality of such a fierce warrior being so much younger than him ends up making him laugh.
「Hehe, hahahaha… Is this what they call natural talent?!」
He placed the greatsword, which was almost as tall as him, on his shoulder and kicked the ground beneath him.
「It seems I can fight you seriously!」
Gahda instantly closed the distance between them coming right in front of Hiro and swung 「Beben Slave」, causing the air to howl.
Hiro simple lifted his silver sword and responded with a small movement.
As blade met blade and fireworks went flying, the greatsword slid up over the white blade.
「Ohh— You’re good!」
Using the momentum of his greatsword, he unleashed a palm strike to Hiro’s eyepatch.
That should have been a blind spot for Hiro, but…
「That’s not a blind spot. I can see.」
He said, bending his body backwards and successfully avoiding the attack.
But this large movement created at opening.
If it were an average person, they may have jumped in at this chance.
But it seems Gahda realized this was an invitation.
He sunk his toes into the sand and swung his leg up throwing sand at Hiro.
A large cloud of sand flew up in front of Hiro’s eyes.
Gahda leapt behind him and closed the gap. But he felt something off about his right arm and looked down.
There’s blood dripping down from a gaping wound.
「I guess it was good that I didn’t take your invitation…」
As he looks back at Hiro, the cloud of sand which was covering his field of view was shaken off with a single flash.
Gahda lifted his shoulder to wipe off the sweat which fell from his forehead and slid down his cheek. Then, the corners of his mouth lifted up.
「Even though you’re my enemy, I applaud you. How can one reach such extreme limits in the art of war at such a young age I wonder. But I can’t just stand here being impressed. I have to change the flow of this battle.」
Their gazes intersect.
They read one, two moves ahead. The one who successfully reads the other’s move will become the victor, so they can not do anything carelessly. A bundle of nerves, Gahda focuses solely on taking the initiative.
Excitement of the battle— His body ends up shaking with joy. Pure joy is welling up from deep in his heart.
This battle of life and death is so fun he can’t contain himself.
「Let us fight to the bitter end, until one of us is dead— How about it 「one-eyed dragon」?! The one still standing in the end is the victor! Nice and simple, right?」
Gahda’s dry lips are cracked open in a crescent shape. He twists his body, readies his greatsword, and digs the tip into the sand.
「That’s fine with me.」
Again, Hiro raised his right arm in front of his chest holding his silver sword perfectly level and pointed at Gahda.