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Chapter 2, Episode 16: Black God
Imperial year 1023, August 24th.
The Lichtein Dukedom’s army had finally arrived a stone’s throw away from where the rebel army and the Fourth Imperial Army were engaged in battle.
They were 5,000 strong. A 1,000 camel cavalrymen were positioned on each flank, a 1,000 slave infantrymen in the vanguard, and the rearguard and headquarters together were fortified by 2,000 light infantrymen.
The man leading this army is Karl Olivara* Lichtein, the second son of the duke house.
(*TL note: the author change the name.)
Supporting him as his aide is Ranquil Caligula Jilberist.
They both wore dark expressions as they rode abreast in headquarters.
「… I didn’t think the nobles would grow scared after all this.」
Said General Ranquil, displeased.
At the last minute, a report had come in the day before.
It stated that a detached force from the Fourth Imperial Army was going around burning down villages.
It’s only natural seeing as how they’ve invaded deep into their territory.
But the nobles who want to protect their land have lost their nerves.
They began to shout that they should surrender to the Grantz Grand Empire, that they should negotiate.
Because of the time these nobles took to persuade others of this, the speed of the army’s advance dropped drastically.
「Cowards… When they brought this on themselves.」
But having said that, all the nobles who decided to start a war with the Grantz Grand Empire died in the battle against the rebel army.
How fortunate for them that they would go without taking any responsibility and pushing everything onto those who remain.
It makes you want to curse that lot, being selfish until the very end.
「If they were brave, exemplary warriors, they would welcome death with open arms.」
But in reality, things don’t work out the way you want it to.
At any rate, surrender is out of the question. But if they wish to negotiate, they must crush the Fourth Imperial Army.
In order to maintain their status as a country, they must draw out the best possible conditions.
Losing without fighting. If they took this option, the other countries would mock them.
「Lord Karl. We are about to enter a critical moment.」
「Yes. I leave everything to you.」
Ranquil was about to give his frank opinion about Karl passing over his responsibilities as usual, but he noticed a scout running towards them.
「Your Excellency Ranquil! A group from the rebel army is heading this way!」
First, he thanked the scout.
「Thank you for the report. It seems the mercenaries were able to withdraw successfully.」
「Will you have them join with us?」
「No, I’ll have them move out as our vanguard.」
If they wish to regain their momentum, they can not have the mercenaries join them and slow them down.
Also, Ranquil doesn’t trust those bunch who call themselves mercenaries to begin with.
What drives them to fight isn’t country or people.
It all comes down to money. You never know when they’ll betray you or even turn tail.
Having such people join them would be nothing but a hindrance.
「I’m concerned about the situation of the battle over there as well. Summon the leader of the mercenaries.」
「As you wish!」
Shortly thereafter, a man in light armor appeared.
There is dried blood clinging to his armor, and his dirty face shows no sign of intelligence. He looks no different from a bandit or the like.
Ranquil observed the man’s appearance, then suddenly knit his brows.
Taking a closer look, the armor the mercenary was wearing turned out to be one from the Lichtein Dukedom.
Looking at the dried blood, he could tell that it had been on there for quite some time.
Considering recent events, it’s likely a spoil of war he obtained when the duke suffered his crushing defeat in the war.
Ranquil’s heart could not remain calm. It was apparent that there was rage building inside him.
「Nice to meet you, and thank you for your patronage.」
Without noticing he had offended Ranquil, the man faked a smile and scratched the back of his head as he bowed from atop his horse.
Ranquil wanted to cut down the uncouth man right there on the spot, but he decided to act prudently and took a deep breath to suppress his anger.
Next to him, Karl noticed this and replied in his stead.
「Thank you for your hard work. My name is Karl Olivara Lichtein. I am glad that you are fighting with us.」
「Hehe, I’m the one who’s glad, getting a huge pay and all. I’ll be working that money’s worth.」
The mercenary leader extended his hand, but Karl did not take it.
He hesitated partly due to the bloodlust emanating from Ranquil next to him, but also because the man before him was not of the sort he wanted to be get along with.
As one who is to take over the duke house, he needs to grow accustomed to such things, but he probably couldn’t help but let his emotions take over at this particular moment.
Without taking any offense at Karl’s negative aura, the mercenary withdraws his hand.
It’s unsure whether he’s used to being hated because of the nature of his job, or simply that he’s ignorant, but you can say there was no point in worrying about it. Once this battle was over, he would not be getting involved with this man.
「So, how is the battle progressing?」
「Well, the rebel army is being pushed back. I’d say it’s only a matter of time before they surrender.」
「That’s not good. General Ranquil, we must hurry.」
Karl turned to Ranquil. It seemed as if he was able to gather himself as he nodded and answered.
「You are correct. Hey, mercenary.」
「Lead us to the battlefield. Our scout hasn’t investigated that far out. Take us to the Fourth Imperial Army’s flank.」
Karl tilted his head at these words.
This was because he found this odd. Scout reports were being sent without pause.
They’ve also obtained intelligence on where the Fourth Imperial Army and the rebel army are fighting.
Karl racked his brain thinking it strange, but the conversation ended before he was able to come up with an answer.
「Then, if you would」
「Sure, leave it to me. Let’s go show them what for!」
Once the mercenary had gone, Karl spoke out to Ranquil.
「Why did you say that?」
「Are you referring to my lie?」
「Yes. I’m certain that mercenary was laughing on the inside. Laughing that the Lichtein Dukedom’s scouts are incompetent.」
「He wouldn’t lead us there if I hadn’t said that.」
「Even if that would bring us shame?」
「The fate of our country rests on this war which is about to begin. There is no greater shame than a nation falling to ruin. If any wish to laugh at us, let them do so. 」
「Hmm… I see. As expected of you, Sir Ranquil. You excel in controlling your emotions as well. But I don’t think I’m capable of making such clear cut decisions.」
After groaning at Karl who still looked displeased, Ranquil uttered.
「More importantly… did you notice that that mercenary was wearing armor from our country?」
「Well, of course. It was dirty… but there’s no way I would mistake it. He likely bought it from some merchant.」
「No, he probably stripped it off a corpse from the time the duke was defeated.」
「Are you sure about that?」
「It was made from a high quality metal. It likely belonged to a prominent noble. I was unable to discern the crest though because it was slightly dirty.」
「Unforgivable. They must be punished once this war is over.」
Karl snorts wildly with rage.
He gripped his reins tightly and glared at the now gone mercenary.
Seeing this, Ranquil spoke to Karl to calm him.
「That is why I had him lead us there.」
「The mercenaries will surely be the first to fight. So why not use them as shields against arrows and dispose of them? If they survive, we can simply give them formal punishment.」
「Hmm. That’s a fine idea!」
「And you are misunderstanding something, Lord Karl.」
「Indeed. Earlier, you praised me, but I am not such a noble person.」
Ranquil shrugged his shoulders and continued.
「It’s not that I am without anger. I wanted to smash his head on the spot, but considering things in a broader sense, even trash have their uses. So I thought it would be a bit entertaining if we put them on the frontline.」
Karl was taken aback at Ranquil’s evil smile.
He was surprised that even this man could succumb to violent emotions.
「But still, I would expect no less of you, the way you would cleverly use them for your strategy. I would be incapable of such things. I’m sure I would have killed that man.」
「This makes me feel uneasy. I wish you would not praise me any further. Please at least wait until we emerge from this war victorious.」
Ranquil rubbed his neck while looking uncomfortable.
His anger finally subsided and Karl nodded slightly.
「That is true. We must first win.」
With determination in his heart, Karl lifted his head and looked ahead. Ranquil nodded pleased, and they both moved their horses forward.
But that relief only lasted a brief moment. There was a change occurring in the group of mercenaries who were leading the way.
There were violents sounds of swords clashing. Screaming war cries shook the atmosphere.
When mercenaries threaten their opponents, they slam their swords on their shield and shout in a loud voice.
But the location of the battle which the Lichtein Dukedom assumed was still further ahead.
As Karl was thinking something was off, a messenger arrived from the vanguard.
「We have engaged in battle!」
Karl’s face was in disbelief.
Next to him, Ranquil’s brows formed deep creases. He stared out ahead of him, but clouds of dust were in the way and he was unable to get a grasp of the details.
「How many are there?」
「… One man.」
Without thinking, Ranquil let out a befuddled voice lacking any dignity.
Thinking he had misheard, the corners of his mouth stiffened as he asked once more.
「I’m asking how many there are.」
「There is only one. He suddenly appeared on our route and rushed the mercenary vanguard!」
「Are you saying one man is charging 1,000?」
Even if it is to buy time, it’s just idiotic. What can one single man do?
Ranquil crossed his arms.
There may be an ambush of soldiers lying in wait somewhere. It’s possible they had one man recklessly charge in to divert their attention.
After coming to this point, Ranquil smiled.
If there were any strange activities from the Fourth Imperial Army, the scouts would have sensed it.
It’s not easy to slip through the eyes of surveillance. Even more so in a desert which offers such an open view.
Though his mind was confused at the incomprehensible situation, Ranquil slapped his cheeks and regained his senses.
It may be their objective to confuse him like this.
If it’s their aim to buy time and slow the advance of the army, the opponent has quite the strategist as well, thought Ranquil as he smiled.
「Not bad. If it were anyone else, most commanders may have grown wary and stopped the army’s advance. No, maybe I should say that it’s because I’m cautious that this is concerning me…」
「Are you all right?」
Karl asks, looking concerned.
Ranquil nodded and spread out his arms in an exaggerated manner to assure him.
No matter what the opponent’s objective may be, he will see through it.
Above all else, what can a single cavalryman do?
「There is no problem. Let us continue to advance the army. There is no need to worry about an ambush, either.」
But Ranquil’s confidence was to be crushed. After a short while, the vanguard stopped moving.
Ranquil had Karl wait at headquarters as he took an escort to join with the vanguard.
「What are you doing? We have no time to rest! Continue forward!」
Ranquil shouted, but he notices the air in the vanguard is strange. Every single one of the slaves are pale in the face and look like they may collapse at any moment.
Ranquil moves his horse towards a nearby slave and asks in a loud voice.
A slave from the frontline answered in a shivering voice.
Ranquil felt his heart grow cold at the ominous word.
「Desperation」 is from a folktale which parents read to their children when they scold them for staying up late.
No one knows when this story appeared in this world. By the time people realized, it had spread everywhere, from nobles, to commoners, to even slaves.
Some say that it was spread by a nameless minstrel, while others say it derived from fairy myth from the knight kingdom of Nahra in the southwestern edge of the central continent.
「Ridiculous. What do you mean, 「Desperation」? That’s obviously nothing but a superstition.」
Ranquil laughed it off, but there was an alarm going off deep in his heart.
Although it was supposed to be hot, his sweat went cold and he felt his body temperature dropping.
After groaning, Ranquil timidly shifted his gaze to the frontline and gulped.
There is something there fluttering about in the twisted heat of the battlefield.
It looked like it was inviting you over, drawing you in—
— 「Valatil」* had its wings outstretched.
TL note: Kanji is “black raven”.
「Valatil」 is the name of a god which appears in the fairy myth. Also known as 「Zero」*, he rules over death and destruction, and is also said to be the god which guides the world to its end.
(TL note: Kanji is “black god”, same as the episode title.)
One of the mercenaries is mowed down by the raging wings, and another shoots a spray of fresh blood high into the air as he collapses, spreading buckets of his blood onto the sand.
Grief stricken cries from the mercenaries reach Ranquil’s ears.
There were likely well known ruffians among them, too. There were also highly skilled swordsmen no doubt.
However, before those black wings, simply put, they were merely helpless children.
「Am I truly awake right now…? Is this reality?」
Mercenaries swing their swords and stand up against it, but their efforts are fruitless and their lives come to an end.
It’s true he planned to use them, but seeing them being murdered so atrociously, he couldn’t help but feel for them.
But he didn’t feel the urge to help them.
After witnessing this unknown creature, his body was paralyzed in fear and unable to move.
A head flies in front of the speechless Ranquil’s feet.
It was the head of the loathsome mercenary leader whom he wished to kill.
But Ranquil’s gaze is drawn to one spot.
If he gets distracted, he will die. That nagging thought was one of the reasons for this, but… the main reason was that the young boy who cut off the mercenary leader’s head was looking in his direction.
From this distance, he’s unable to determine that he is a young boy, so he obviously can’t make out his expression, either.
Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe he had gone mad from fear.
But Ranquil definitely saw it.
— He saw that the young boy was laughing.
The mercenaries began to scurry in an attempt to escape. They run towards Ranquil seeking help.
Ranquil raised his voice.
「Fire your arrows! Don’t let those mercenaries get near us!」
He was afraid. If the mercenaries escaped, the blade of the black clothes would point his way.
Though they were sparse, the archers faithfully responded to Ranquil’s orders.
Over a 1,000 arrows tore through the air, arcing through the sky and attacking the mercenaries.
Exposed to a downpour of arrows, the mercenaries writhe in pain as they take their last breaths.
Of course, the arrows flood before the young boy in black clothes as well, but he is surprisingly unscathed.
You can’t help but think that he truly is 「Zero」 from the fairy myth.
How would you explain this otherwise? They were ready to land the final blow, but one man single handedly buried 1,000 enemies. How can you call this person human?
There were more than a few slaves who grabbed their heads and got down on their knees. Some of them were even repenting.
The vanguard began to lose their will to fight.
「… No. At this rate…」
Ranquil focused his strength into his stomach and opened his mouth wide to reinvigorate his men with a speech.
But he would soon shut it. This is because the young boy turned his black clothes over and showed his back.
He felt this was their chance. He thought with his back turned, they could land at least one arrow.
There’s no such thing as a human with eyes on their back. More importantly, with this, he should be able to get positive proof whether he is man or monster.
「Fire your arrows!」
He vigorously swung his arm down in front of him. Soon, an onslaught of arrows once again dominated the sky.
It was so dense not even a single mouse could escape, but the young boy’s black clothes repelled every single arrow.
Ranquil looked on astonished, but the sound of heavy thuds reach his ears, causing him to looking around his surroundings.
A number of slaves were on the ground face up with gaping holes in their chest. There were about thirty of them, and based on the expressions of the dead, it looked like they didn’t even know what happened.
There were various expressions— fear, despair, awe— but not a single one of them showed any sign of pain.
Thinking about it, maybe it was fortunate that they were able to go without feeling pain.
Ranquil was dumbfounded, but he pinched his cheeks and forced himself to return to reality.
He runs his hand along his cheek, and he feels something slippery.
「… Why am I bleeding?」
He looked at the blood on his fingertips, then the surprised Ranquil moved his gaze to the young boy.
But the young boy was not there. All he saw were the miserable corpses of mercenaries scattered about.
As a hot wind blew through, his body temperature began to return.
His heart is beating quickly. He pressed his fist against his chest to calm his thumping pulse.
「Kuhahaha… I see. So that’s the man in black that was in the report.」
It’s not that he didn’t know about him.
The report which informed them of the duke’s third son’s death in battle also mentioned a man in black.
A young boy single handedly killed 600-800 soldiers. He concluded that something so preposterous was simply a lie meant to avoid taking responsibility for the loss.
Though there’s no point in bringing that up now, it most definitely was not a lie, and he should keep this in the corner of his mind.
This is because it will be necessary to have a countermeasure for the man in black.
He took a few deep breaths to reorganize his thoughts, then looked around his surroundings again.
The slaves are repeating the names of gods as they shake in fear. Full grown adults are offering prayers to gods with tears in their eyes.
Seeing this, it’s clear as day that this will be a problem moving forward.
「A raid won’t do us any good with this.」
Ranquil decided to withdraw for the moment.
「First… let’s seal him. A war isn’t something you fight alone.」
The situation is futile unless he does something about the flustered slaves.
How you begin a war is crucial. If they stumble here, it will be more than just an ill omen.
No— The other side has already taken the initiative. You could say they’ve already stumbled.
But, even still—
「I will not lose.」
Ranquil instructed the entire army to retreat for the time being and returned to headquarters.