Dungeon Defense - Chapter 22
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 2, Day 25
The Black Mountains, White Fortress vicinity
“Your highness, do you truly plan to enter into a ceasefire?”
With our horses’ heads aligned next to one another, Lapis and I moved forward. Seeing our return, the soldiers in our camp started to lower the prisoners. I responded.
“Of course not. Even the margrave will be unable to hold out for more than a couple of days and will soon leap out. Since that man’s sense of justice is strong, he will most likely be unable to withstand a hoodlum such as myself.”
“But then why……”
“I can assure you that the margrave will raid us within 10 days. Is Farnese not already waiting in ambush within the pine forest? All we have to do is pretend to retreat and then proceed to completely envelop the margrave.”
“This one understands your highness’ plan.”
We picked up the speed on our horses. Dust of snow arose from the horses’ hooves. The frigid winter wind swallowed me whole. I enjoyed the sensation that felt as if my body was becoming partially frozen. The winter wind informed me that my body was still alive. I burst out into loud laughter.
“Lapis. The margrave is a righteous individual. That sense of justice turns him into a profound character. However, that profoundness of his is thus his limitation. On the other hand, an unethical person is shallow to no end, and due to that boundless hollowness, they have no limitations. It is quite joyous that I am shallow! Can the margrave manage my happiness? Can any of the righteous fellows in the world handle me? It must be unfortunate for the people who are unable to cope with my joy.”
“It must be nice to be cheerful, your highness.”
Lapis kept our horses close. She then spoke.
“Is your highness certain that the margrave will come out within 10 days?”
“Of course. I believe in that righteousness of his.”
“If that is so, then 20 prisoners will be sufficient.”
“We do not have a reason to go out of our way to increase the number of prisoners and waste provisions.”
With the reins in my hand, I stared straight at Lapis. Lapis did not blink her eyes even with the winter wind pushing against her.
“Yes, your highness?”
“If you die, then you will certainly go to Hell.”
“I see. That is why this one will not die.”
Lapis met my gaze.
“According to a certain someone, they claimed that this one’s life is more precious than your highness’. Since it is such a valuable life, this one must take good care of it.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Do you not feel pity for the lowly prisoners?”
“This one will not commit the mistake of taking the prisoners lightly by pitying them. They are a group that can, at any time, attack this one or your highness. Since this one understands and acknowledges their strength, this one shall kill them.”
Lapis spoke flatly.
“In truth, is it not this one that is sincerely respecting the prisoners?”
Was there a way for me to not laugh in this situation?
While raising a blizzard behind us, we returned to our camp.
As soon as we returned to the unit, we beheaded 77 prisoners.
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 2, Day 29
Northern Region of the Habsburg Empire
— 2nd month, 25th day. Enemy forces have captured the Black Fortress. Military strength approximately 3,000. The commander is Demon Lord Dantalian. Our forces are stationed in the White Fortress and are perfectly secured. We are abundant in provisions and have a sufficient number of arms. The fog is severe. The mountains are safe.
For a long period of time, I gazed at the report that the margrave had sent. Since I had examined it for a long time, I understood its inner contents.
……So the margrave is afraid of me. Because he fears me, he is trying to not reveal anything, and since he is trying to not reveal anything, he had written information that is of no importance. Does the margrave not know that by trying to not disclose anything, he is actually revealing everything in detail? Is he trying to evade the immediate threat by feigning ignorance? What was his true intention behind leaving the report to a courier and not a mage, and having the message arrive today when it was originally sent on the 25th……?
I tore the report apart.
These were not words. These were the grumbles of an old man. Words should have been written on this paper, but since there were no words and only repetition, the piece of parchment became junk. It has been my long time habit to turn junk into trash.
A cold sweat ran down the nobles’ necks as they watched me shred the margrave’s report. I spoke.
“Listen to this. The margrave claims that the mountains are safe. I have given my faith to the margrave. What do you all think about this matter?”
The nobles spoke together.
— Do as your highness desires.
They were words that held as much meaning as having said nothing at all.
A chuckle flowed from my lips. The nobles flinched the moment I laughed. I was unsure of the reason, but the people around me would always be terrified whenever I laughed. It was a bizarre occurrence.
“I see that you all are unbecoming. Each and every one of you has a head and mouth, and yet, how are your words one? Would it be appropriate to call it the great joy of the Empire since the nobles harmonize together as one? Would it be appropriate to spare a single person, while taking the lives of the rest, since you all repeat the same words anyway? It is a rather good idea since we will be able to save on provisions as well.”
The nobles prostrated on the floor.
— Please be discerning!
These fellows lacked even a grain of sense.
The three phrases that I despised the most in the world were ‘Your words are immeasurable’, ‘I am much obliged’, and ‘Please be discerning’. These were not words but hallucinations. No matter what I said, they were immeasurable, obliging, and discerning, making it almost difficult to tell what was which now. Therefore, whenever I heard those three phrases, I interpreted it as a single line.
‘Please be quiet.’
If they are telling me to shut up then I shall do so. What else can I do?
I closed my mouth and walked out of the tent. The nobles quickly stood up and chased after me. Since the nobles followed after me, their attendants, knights, and knight subordinates all hastily accompanied us as well, until finally, 200 people were following a single person. Even though I did not utter a single word.
It was a comedic scene. Despite it being a humorous sight, no one was laughing. Since everyone would be afraid if I were to laugh, I refrained from doing so. I wanted to turn around and shout at the 200 people behind me. ……Laugh a little in your life. Laugh. Laugh I tell you.
There was a time in the past where I had actually spoken these words.
In that moment, hundreds of low government officials forcefully moved the muscles on their faces and started to laugh. Ha, haha, ha, hahaha, ha, haha, ha, ha, all at once they uttered.
It was horrible.
Occasionally, that would appear in my nightmares.
After that day, I never gave the order to laugh ever again. It was regretful. How could I have possibly hoped that people who could not speak properly could laugh decently?
They were not humans but ghosts. They were individuals that lived as phantoms and were going to meet their ends as phantoms. It was the way of the world for them to live their lives as ghosts. Because I believed it as so, I had no other choice but to leave them to their own devices. To humans, words should exist as a method to release their inner minds, and yet, humans used them to cover their minds and contort it, causing their words to not retain a single portion of their true meaning or contain the smallest amount of their emotions.
A plain was stretched out in front of the group of 200 people. There were wooden columns planted into the earth here and there. Orcs, goblins, minotaurs, and other similar demons were bound to the pillars, one demon per column. They were the prisoners that our forces had captured.
There was even a Demon Lord among them.
Rank 68th, Demon Lord Belial.
A detached unit, while doing reconnaissance, had encountered the Demon Lord by chance and captured him alive. Bound to the wooden pillar, Belial glared at me. I did not use ropes to tie the Demon Lord to the column, instead, I had nailed him to it. I had politely pinned his palms, wrists, and ankles to the wood. Belial groaned in the demon language while bleeding.
“……Curse you. Curse you all. You plague of the continent, the Goddesses will never forgive all of you. Judgment shall fall on your race which has trampled and burned our homes……”
The nobles muttered among one another behind me. They could not understand the demon language. Well, they also did not know the Imperial language properly, so there was no chance that they would know another race’s language.
I took out a knife. It was a type of blade that was used when butchering animals. After seeing the blade, Belial opened his eyes wide. The Demon Lord muttered more desperately.
“Oh Gods, oh Goddesses, please, I beg of you to punish the ones before me. Punish injustice with righteousness and return blood with blood. As your weak servant, I humbly pray. Oh Goddesses, please……”
“That is useless.”
The Demon Lord turned to look at me.
“I said that is all pointless, oh weak Demon Lord.”
“You, what are you…… no. How do you know our language……?”
“There is no yours or mine in speech. As a flower is still a flower if it were to bloom in my garden, then even if a flower were to blossom in yours, it is still a simple flower. I normally take joy in viewing the flowers within my possession, so I do not dislike learning new languages.”
Belial glared at me.
“What do you plan to do with me, human?
“I will take your life.”
I took out a whetstone and sharpened the knife. The vibrations that came off the iron, while being sharpened by the stone, were transferred to my palm. Belial watched the sight of me grinding my blade in mute bewilderment.
“Do you see the banners that are waving on the other side of the plains? That is the army led by Demon Lord Marbas. Trenches are dug deeply in their front lines and wooden fences are set up, so their defenses are not ordinary. Rushing in there and crushing them would not be the most profitable tactic for us. That is why I plan to lure the enemy here.”
“Hah. Sir Marbas leads the greatest cavalry corps in the demon world. He is not someone who would lose to the likes of you.”
“Pardon me, Demon Lord. Do you know who I am?”
“It seems you do not. I assumed that you did since you had said ‘the likes of you’.”
“……And who exactly are you to be saying that?”
The blade was sharpened well.
I momentarily put the iron of the blade in a fire and heated it.
“My name is Elizabeth von Habsburg. There are a couple of more names in between, but I will omit those. Demon Lord Belial, albeit a short time, I will be in your care. Over all else, I will be the last person you will see in the final moments of your life, after all.”
Marbas will most certainly be unable to hold still if his military personnel were to witness a Demon Lord being skinned alive before their very eyes. The demons will rage, and unable to restrain that wrath, they will charge. They will kick aside their sturdy walls and safe trenches to assault us.
It seems Belial understood what my intentions were as he had started to struggle desperately. Of course, Belial, whose body was nailed down, could not escape.
“No! Sir Marbas, do not come! Please leave me to my demise!”
“Give up. No matter how much you cry out, they are unable to hear you.”
“No! Aaack! You mustn’t, you bastard! You must not!”
A type of person who did not know when things were futile.
I pressed my knife against the other party’s skin. The blade sliced into the Demon Lord’s flesh smoothly as if it was butter. A cry erupted. Aiming for the moment his tongue stuck out of his mouth, I severed the end of his tongue. Another scream burst out. Belial’s cries had now lost its form and had become merely wailings of pain.
I glanced at a mage. The mage nodded his head and furtively activated a sound enhancement spell. From that moment on, Belial’s screams were enhanced and thus resonated loudly throughout the entire plains. Every time Belial’s finger or toe was cut off, our soldiers cheered.
It was around the time I had started to peel Belial’s cheek, the nobles shouted.
— Your Highness, the enemy forces are moving. It’s Marbas’ flag!
— The enemy troops are carrying out a full charge!
The nobles blatantly pointed towards the front.
They were indeed right. The demon flags were fluttering violently. The sound of horns completely filled that side of the plains. They were preparing to charge soon. I cleaned the knife with a washcloth.
“Listen carefully. The enemy forces will be agitated so they will assault us with reckless abandon. Do not pit yourselves against them there. Drag them deep into our territory and envelop them. Constantly beat the drums and blow the horns powerfully. Move quiescently while making the enemy troops unable to regain their composure by causing a commotion with the noise. Do you understand?”
The nobles pounded their chest with their right arm.
— Yes, your highness!
The battle continued till the evening.
The enemy forces clashed against our defense line with their bare bodies. The cavalry corps led by Marbas was powerful. However, their cavalries were exhausted from having ascended the hill, had their pace decreased by getting stuck on the wooden fences, were obstructed by the spearmen, and were shot to death by the crossbowmen. The demons attempted to charge 4, 5, and 6 times and fell to their deaths repeatedly.
Finally, the enemy troops retreated. It was after they had failed to break through our defenses for the 7th time. They were not as fast as they were when they had first charged at us. I did not miss that opportunity.
“Pursue them and tear them to pieces.”
Our knight corps rushed forward. Since they had sufficient rest, the knights were full of vigor. The backs of the enemy were cut by the blades swung by our knights. The enemy soldiers fell on their faces at the descending portion of the hill. Half-corpses fell and tumbled down the hill, and by the time they had reached the base of the hill, they were already complete corpses. One after the other, half-dead bodies rolled down the hill. The enemy’s retreat had changed into defeat. Belial, who was hanging from the wooden pillar, had not died yet. He was watching the battle that had turned into a slaughter with wakeful eyes. With blood clogged in his throat, he wailed.
— Aack. Uuuuaaaa……uuaaaah! Uuuuaaaack!
Later into the evening, sleet started to fall from the sky. There were many enemy soldiers who had died on the hill while staring up at the sky. They had died with their eyes and mouths wide open. Snow and wind entered those opened gaps. Since the corpses had turned cold, the snow did not melt and firmly rested on top of their bodies. Snow piled up in the mouths of the corpses.
I slashed Belial’s neck and tossed his head into the snow. There were so many heads buried in the snow that it was difficult to differentiate the other heads from Belial’s. Although goblins, centaurs, and humans all had different appearances, the form they all had after death were nearly the same. So that was life. Lives were not the same because they all lived, they were a single life because they all died the same…… Although lives were supposed to be able to understand each other due to their fear and sympathy for death, since they were unable to experience death in their lifetime, the demons and humans were, in truth, separated and will most likely fight for eternity…… After gazing at the decapitated heads buried in the snow for a period of time, I turned away.
On my way back to my tent, nobles and soldiers were lined up on both sides. They were all covered in blood. While I walked down the path, they knelt down one at a time.
— Your Highness.
— You are the victor.
At the end of the pathway, my brother was standing at the entrance to my tent. There was no blood on his armor.
Once I approached, my brother’s knights took a step back. I dusted the shoulder of my brother.
“It is a relief that you are unscathed, Your Highness the Crown Prince.”
My brother trembled.
“You…… you, are the Devil.”
“I know. Is there a problem with that?”
“I asked if there is a problem.”
My brother lowered his head. He had muttered something in a low voice, but I could not hear him.
Feeling pity for that petty pride and rebellious spirit, I disregarded my brother and entered my tent. He was a man who could not properly gaze at a person unless he had bedded them, anyway.
The maids approached to unclothe and clean my body.
While wiping my lower abdomen, the chief maid whispered.
“Your highness, a message has arrived from Demon Lord Paimon.”
“Put it away. I will listen to it later.”
The chief maid bowed her head.
With my now clean body, I sat down on a bookstand.
The winter wind seeped into my now cooled body. Since the tent was unable to block the wind, winter was able to come inside in its entirety. My head was clear. I thought about the report that the margrave had sent and arrived at dawn.
…… The margrave was afraid of me. It would only be appropriate to respect that fear. It was obvious for the weak to be terrified of those they recognized as stronger than themselves. But for what reason did he fear me, and yet, choose to not obey my command? Was it pride? What meaning could come from an unhealthy pride? I could not understand. Was it stupidity? Did I have to berate the stupidity of an old man? I was not sure. Was it my own arrogance for having considered the other party as a senile old man on my own volition? That was most likely it……
I picked up a quill and started to write. It was a single word.
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 1
The Black Mountains, White Fortress
I became dumbstruck as if I had been hit on the head.
The message of triumph that the Imperial Princess had sent had only the single word ‘victory’ written on it. Unable to figure out what the Imperial Princess was trying to say, I pondered.
……Was she telling me that she had won, or was she telling me to win? Was she instructing me to submit since she had obtained victory? Did it mean for me to distinguish who the victor was on my own? Was the Imperial Princess the victor while I was the loser?
This single word contained all these meanings. The Imperial Princess did not boast or brag about her accomplishment. She used her victory to threaten and intimidate me. By establishing her victory as an example, she was urging me to succeed as well. If it seemed like victory was out of my reach, then she was advising me to submit to her. The pressure to win pushed my body from behind towards the front where the enemy forces resided, and the advice to submit pulled my body back towards the place where our forces were holding out. The enemy and ally were clearly different, and yet, I could not see the difference between being pushed and being pulled.
The rightful ruler of the Empire was His Majesty the Emperor and the rightful heir to the throne was the Crown Prince, and yet, the Imperial Princess stepped on the Emperor’s dignity and laughed at the Crown Prince’s authority. That precession of stepping and laughing was exceedingly imposing. ……Was she telling me to join that procession? Was that what victory(勝) meant? Was an old man struggling to succeed in his late years what triumph means? Gazing up at the sky, I earnestly hoped that my aged body would at least not be sullied.
I called the captains to my room and gave them an order.
“The army led by the Imperial Princess has won a huge victory in their battle. Since the news of victory has arrived for us, the enemy residing in the Black Fortress should soon receive a report of defeat. Organize the troops in case the enemy attempts to withdraw.”
The captains lowered their heads.
“Do you plan to pursue the enemy now, general?”
“No. It is still deep in the night. Consider the possibility of being ambushed if we were to chase after them in a hurry. Once dawn arrives and the first rooster cries, spread out the scouts and then advance.”
“As you command.”
After sending the captains out, I got changed. A young lad assisted me in putting my armor on. This lad’s father had always helped me put on my clothes throughout his entire life, but last autumn, he had died during the battle against Dantalian. The son inherited his father’s job as if it was natural.
Different from his father, the son’s fingers were clumsy and awkward whileassisting me in putting on my gear. I could not blame him for that. Although this lad considered it embarrassing to not be blamed, I considered him being embarrassed to be boundlessly more humiliating.
“This is fine. I shall do the rest myself.”
“I apologize, your honor.”
“What is there to apologize for……? You can leave now.”
I firmly equipped the rest of my equipment and sat at the desk.
Since the Imperial Princess had generously written and sent the news of victory, as a vassal of the Imperial family, I had to send a letter of congratulations. Previously, I was barely able to write a couple of lines, but this time, absolutely nothing came to mind.
……Your Highness the Imperial Princess, please do not kill your father and brother, and do not insult them either. I request of you to not throw away your filial piety.
When I was about to write down those lines, I clenched my fist strongly. As soon as I thought about the Imperial Princess’ face, Demon Lord Dantalian’s grin was situated there as well. My chest pounded. The feebleness of my words smoldered into my bones.
How difficult this was.
Because of my old age, it seems I did not have the margin of power left in me to handle a single sentence.
I closed my eyes. With my eyes closed, I thought about the form of myself giving a great appeal to the people of the northern region.
I attempted to picture myself approaching His Majesty the Emperor after having repulsed the Demon Lord’s army and the Imperial Princess’ cabal, however, the only image that came to mind was solely that of the Imperial Princess’ hands skinning the leather of the alligator. Just the fingers covered in blood. At the edge of her hands, the leather was skinned as if it was fated to be separated from the body since the beginning of time. My body trembled because of that fluid hand movement……
Where was that alligator captured from?
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 1
The Black Mountains, White Fortress vicinity
An urgent message had arrived last night.
There was a code on the message that was difficult to decipher. Looking into their crystal balls, the witches took out strokes from the words.
I watched as the witches deciphered the report. As the strokes gathered together and started to form coherent words, the witches’ gazes shook. Humbaba read the lines out loud.
“……2nd month, 29th day. Complete defeat. Marbas’ 2nd army has been crushed.”
The complexion on Humbaba’s face as she turned to look at me was pale. I nodded.
“Do not stop. Continue reading.”
“……From the 15,000 chosen elite troops, around 9,000 remain. The opposition is the alliance between the Habsburg Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. Approximate enemy military strength is 40,000. This is the Neris Plains. The enemy is infiltrating further in. Ah! Marbas is a horse-headed bastard. I’ll get to the point. I will hold out for 13 days. Dantalian, you pierce through……”
“That is all, master.”
I brushed my chin.
Complete defeat and crushed. These were heavy terms. Although Barbatos was a girl who disorderly copulated with me and laughed vulgarly, when the issue at hand was related to war, she became a completely different person. Barbatos would never exaggerate words when it involved war. Complete defeat and crushed. A bitter taste filled my mouth.
“13 days, is it? Did Barbatos say that she will hold out for 13 days?”
I felt like I could see Barbatos’ narrowed gaze from the fact that she had informed me of the exact date. If it was 13 days, then that was nearly a week, so it would have been fine to write a week.
Regardless, Barbatos stated 13 days. She had calculated the days she could endure and the days she could not, and concluded it as 13 days. However, it was no more or no less than that and was exactly 13.
True to their name, Barbatos’ first army and Marbas’ second army were the main attack force of the Demon Lord Allied Forces. If they were to collapse then this war would be completely over.
Barbatos instructing me to ‘pierce through’ meant that she was requesting for me to attack the enemy allied forces from the rear, after having penetrated through the White Fortress. We not only had to capture the White Fortress, but we had to march all the way to the rear of the enemy forces, so the 13 days deadline was barely 13 days. While estimating the chances of succeeding in my head, I asked.
“Humbaba. How many days will it take for us to go north from the mountains and reach the Neris Plains?”
“Uh, well. If we move as fast as possible, then four to five days……? That will be a really tough march. If we advance while crushing, burning, and getting rid of the insufferable things in our path, then around 10 days?”
“Since a day has passed, then by adding a day to that 10, that will make it 11 days. If we include the days needed to march, then we must immediately capture the White Fortress within 3, but if possible, 2 days.”
“Hii–, two days. Isn’t that really rough–……?”
The witches muttered in despair. Originally, our forces were planning to conquer the White Fortress over the course of a week. Even a week was a short amount of time to capture that stronghold. Since it had become shorter than that, the witches were at a loss for words. Two days from now was the day after tomorrow. It was obvious that the witches would be troubled.
Despite that, I smiled.
The corners of my lips twisted on their own.
“—I see the heavens are helping us.”
“Around this time, Rosenberg should be preparing for a running fight. Since we have now received the report that the Demon Lord Allied Forces were completely defeated, then the margrave should have received it sooner. The margrave should already be awfully aggravated because of what I had done, and since this favorable situation has piled on top as well, the margrave’s bottom should itch so much that he will be unable to stay still.”
I stood from my seat. After standing up, it felt as if it wasn’t the margrave whose bottom was trembling, but myself. Well, what was so bad about that? There was no one who would blame me if my sexy derriere were to tremble a bit.
“Humbaba, go find and bring back Farnese from the pine forest. We shall have a war council immediately…… no, never mind! I will personally go to the forest. That will be faster. Will you give me a lift on your broom?”
“Yes. This one’s broom will always have a vacant spot for you, master.”
The witches flew into the night sky while giving me a lift.
It was a beautiful night with sleet fluttering around. Every time the moonlight collided against the small sheets of ice, the rays scattered. A countless number of narrowly split moonlight fell down upon the hundreds of thousands of pieces of snow. Although it was a dark night, the darkness only loomed over the ground.
The witches set me down beside the pine trees. The entire surroundings were still. Moonlight could not settle down in this pine grove. Since 4 days ago, Farnese had led the cavalry here to lie and wait in ambush.
Humbaba let out a long whistle.
The sound was soon consumed into the blizzard and disappeared into the other side of the forest. Shortly after, while leaving a trail of snow dust, a group of centaurs quickly approached us. The centaurs were not wearing anything on top so their chests were bare. They recognized who I was and lowered their front legs to give their greeting.
“Where is the acting general?”
There was no response.
I furrowed my brows.
An unpleasant chill sank into my spine.
“My general? Where is Farnese?”
There was an icehouse at the location where the centaurs had led me.
Once I entered the igloo, I saw Farnese huddled in a corner. Even in this forest, where the winter was fierce, Farnese did not wear a fur overcoat. She only wore the military uniform made from cloth.
Whenever the soldiers saw Farnese like this, they would say that it was because her father and mother had conceived her in the snow. The soldiers believed that the cold must have seeped into the mother’s womb and into the child’s bones, so Farnese did not feel cold even during the winter. To the soldiers, the general was a girl born in the winter. While shutting herself in the icehouse, Farnese mumbled in a voice that could barely be heard.
Feeling that something was peculiar, I placed my hand on her shoulder, and at that moment, a scream burst out. Farnese clutched her head and lowered her entire body to the floor. Surprised by the sudden reaction, I took a step back.
“I’m sorry…… I’m sorry, Father…… I’m sorry……”
I held my breath.
My head became cold.
My spine felt numb as if a current was flowing through it.
Farnese, unaware of the fact that I had arrived, continued to mutter.
“I’m sorry, Father. I won’t do it again……I’m sorry……”
These damned Gods.
Unable to listen any longer, I ran out of the igloo. If I were to hastily approach a person in that sort of mental condition, then that would only make the situation worse. The fact that I understood that knowledge through experience, was the only reason I had to be thankful to the Gods.
Outside the icehouse, hundreds of centaurs were lowering their front hooves. The leader of the centaurs was kneeling at the front. Pointing towards the igloo, I asked.
My voice shook with rage.
“Since when has the general become like that?”
“Ever since we had set up an ambush camp in the pine forest……”
“What is the reason?”
“T-This commander does not know that well. The general is fine during the noon, but strangely, she ends up like that during the night. It seemed as if the Miss has an unnatural fear of the pine trees so we had built that igloo. That’s why the situation had gotten a slight bit better, but……”
“The situation got slightly better?”
I looked back and forth between the icehouse and the centaur.
“Are you telling me that the situation got better? That is better?”
“Tell me now. Are you kneeling down in order to beg for forgiveness, or are you, by kneeling before me, requesting for me to cut your head off?”
The centaur’s shoulders trembled.
“Y-Your highness. Please at least spare this one’s life……!”
“Why did you not tell me sooner?”
“The general entreated for us to never inform your highness, so……”
I unsheathed the long sword from my waist and severed the centaurs’ neck. Blood spurted out from his neck. Crimson blood sprayed onto the pure white snow.
I looked around and spoke.
“I am your lord. Do not forget this.”
The centaur cavalry bowed their heads further. Leaving them aside, I entered the igloo once more. Farnese was still muttering in a voice mixed with weeping.
I approached Farnese and grabbed her head. I was barely able to establish eye contact with her.
“Farnese. It is me. Dantalian.”
“I’m sorry…… I’m sorry, I made a mistake……”
“I am not your father. Look carefully, Farnese. Look at me. I am not your father. I will not hit you or violate you. I will not confine you within a library and give you food through a hole in the door.”
I whispered desperately.
“I will not starve you just because you were disobedient. I will not burn or tear apart the books which you cherish. Farnese, I am not your father. I am Dantalian. Dantalian.”
“You are no longer an illegitimate child bound by your family. No one can confine you. You are here. You are my vassal. I am your lord. Behold. As long as you do not betray me first, I will never abandon you.”
The focus in Farnese’s pupils slowly returned.
“T-The pine trees……”
It appeared as if she had forgotten how to shed tears, so she could only cry with her voice.
“So many cicadas were attached to the pine trees…… they kept crying…… my father to this young lady…… this young lady, repeatedly……”
Was that it.
The tree that Farnese had seen through the window when she was young, was the same type of pine tree as the ones here.
I stared deeply into Farnese’s eyes.
“It is not the sound of cicadas. There are no cicadas here.”
“But, they keep…… the sound of cicadas, profusely……”
“That is not the sound of cicadas. It is the sound of snow. Farnese, you are currently confusing the sound of snow as the cries of cicadas. Due to your memories bound to the pine trees, those memories are causing this mistake.”
“No, lord…… that’s not it…… that can’t be……”
“I will prove it to you.”
I grabbed Farnese’ wrist and dragged her. Although Farnese struggled to not leave the igloo, I forcefully pulled her out. Farnese was aware of who I was. That meant that there was not a complete problem in her cognitive function. The moment her usual awareness and her confusing memories ground against each other, that was the optimum opportunity. It was during this moment I had to use her current perception to crush her past memories.
The blizzard wailed as it blew through the pine trees. Farnese kept her head down and tried to not look anywhere. I grabbed Farnese’s chin and forced her to face her surroundings.
“Look before you. It is winter right now!”
“There are no cicadas. Those were all hallucinations that you had created on your own. Do the sound of snow and the cries of cicadas sound the same to you? Look carefully, Farnese. Open your eyes and behold your surroundings clearly. You are 16-years-old. If you are 16, then you are already a damn adult. How long will you moan because you are bound by your mongrel-like father!?”
I met Farnese’s gaze once more. Farnese’s pupils were trembling. However, they were not the shaking of eyes that were unable to see, but the trembling of eyes that had yet to find their center.
“You are no longer the victim. You are the assailant. You are no longer a part of the weak who are offended, but a part of the strong who offend. If someone tries to take your life, then kill them before they can get to you first. It is simple. If that someone is your father, then kill your father, and if that someone is God, then kill God as well.”
“All you have to do is take all their lives.”
“But, if your lordship throws away this young lady…… then this young lady will again.”
“Do not behave like a spoiled child.”
“I do not have the hobby of raising a broken doll.”
A little bit at a time, Farnese’s trembling settled down.
I could not tell if 30 minutes or an hour had passed. Except, thanks to the witches having cast a barrier around us, we did not freeze. Farnese opened her mouth.
“Lord…… it is cold……”
“Have you gained your senses a bit?”
“This young lady is unsure……”
“Is the sound of cicadas still resonating in your ears?”
“A little…… but, it is much better than earlier.”
“Consider it a fortune that I had discovered you before Lapis did. If it were Lapis, then she would have grabbed your head and buried it in the snow.”
“Ah, aah. If it were Miss Lapis, then that is certainly possible—”
I pushed the back of Farnese’s head and instantly forced her face into the snow. Farnese did her utmost to wave her arms.
After 4, 5 seconds, I lifted Farnese’s head back up. With a ‘Puah’, Farnese let out a breath. From her eyebrows to her nose, her entire face was covered in snow. I smirked at her.
“And the thought that Lapis would question you further in a situation like this seems to come to mind. I shall ask again. Have you recovered your senses? Or do I have to shove more opium into your mouth for your head to become clear?”
“……I see your highness’ personality is like that of a dog.”
“Oh? You have finally uttered a profanity. I give you my sincere congratulations. I was quite curious on when you would finally learn how to swear.”
Once I let go of her head, Farnese wiped her face with the edge of her clothes. She picked up the hat that had fallen on the ground and dusted it.
“……What kind of profanities must one say in order to let out their feelings sufficiently in a situation like this? Your lordship is a man who claims to know everything, so you should know this well.”
“Of course. If you mutter the word ‘fuck’, then everything will be a bliss.”
“That’s right. This feels like fuck.”
Farnese let out a sigh.
It was finally time to get into the main topic.
“For what reason did your lordship come all the way here to find this young lady?”
“The second army led by Marbas has been completely defeated.”
Farnese gazed towards my direction.
A cold glow had returned to her eyes.
“……Then the margrave should be preparing for a running battle.”
“That is what I think as well. How to lure him out. In order to discuss this topic, I have come here to bullshit with you during the middle of the night.”
“Mm. The margrave is a veteran with a lot of caution. Even if we were to feign a retreat, there is no possibility that he would simply chase after us. A certain assurance, we have to plant a type of conviction which will assure him that it would be okay to pursue our forces……”
Farnese spat on the ground. It seems she was getting rid of the snow that was shoved into her face a second ago. I explained the rest of the situation.
“Due to Marbas’ defeat, Barbatos has ended up being isolated. After capturing the White Fortress within two days, our forces must travel northwards without delay. Is this possible?”
Farnese narrowed her eyes.
“It is not two days, lord. Tonight is the time limit.”
“Aah, there are two situations that the margrave fears the most. The first is us hastily running away the moment we receive the urgent message and being able to escape safe and sound. The second is the margrave pursuing us while we withdraw leisurely, and meeting his defeat by being caught in an ambush. These two are the worst turnouts for the margrave. The former is allowing the enemy, that is running away right before their eyes, to escape, so it would show disloyalty, and the latter is being defeated by the enemy and falling down, so it would mean the end of life.”
“The urgent message came today. It had arrived just now, lord. The margrave most likely has yet to decide on whether he fears disloyalty or death more. Once tonight passes and dawn arrives, the margrave’s judgment will slowly become more clear. This confusing night, where the margrave is still uncertain of his fears, this is the most optimum opportunity for our forces. If we were to miss our chance today, then luring out the margrave in the future will become nearly impossible.”
Farnese brushed the snow off of her and stood up.
Farnese gazed at the witches who were surrounding us in a circle. She muttered.
“Lord. Let us throw a bait.”
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 1
The Black Mountains, White Fortress
Late in the night.
A captain rushed to me and reported.
“General, we are being attacked! Witches are bombarding the walls!”
An enemy attack.
Due to that one phrase, I picked up my sheath and blade and immediately headed to the top of the rampart.
“What is happening?”
The soldiers were unable to give a proper response and pointed towards the sky. As soon as I looked upwards, I saw witches soaring through the night sky. The moonlight was being covered by clouds and sleet, making it difficult to see their figures properly. Despite that, I could tell that the number of witches was around 20. The witches dropped stubby objects onto the rampart.
They were heads. The same type of heads that were catapulted last time were now descending like hail by the hands of the witches. The heads of humans, that were blackened by flames, covered the rampart.
— Hii, hiiiiiik!
The soldiers lowered their backs and trembled. They believed that the witches had placed a curse on the heads. Hearing the screams coming from the privates, I narrowed my eyes.
After having pierced through the frigid winter air, why did they come here this late into the night just to drop the heads of corpses?
Although it may be a rather efficient method in lowering the morale on our side, the timing was peculiar. Of all occasions, it was during this belated night. What meaning was there to this if they were not going to initiate a siege?
While furrowing my brows, I gave an order.
“Send all the mages up.”
Our Aerial Mage Force stepped onto the rampart and flew up into the night sky.
The one thing aerial mages feared the most was fighting in the darkness of the night. However, it was fine for this occasion. The number of witches on their side was 20 and the mages on our side were nearly 30. We can overwhelm them.
A heated battle filled the sky. Witches were shot down by crossbows and screamed as they fell. The witches, who lost hold of their brooms, fell to the ground and had their heads crushed from the impact.
The sound of heads cracking echoed from below the rampart. Like pheasants would fall when killed by hunters, the witches descended one by one. Since there was no light source in the bottom where the witches fell, it appeared as dark as a pit to Hell. Corpses could not be seen and only the sound of heads breaking resonated one after the other. Despite being overwhelmed by military strength, the witches did not flee.
At that moment, a realization like an electric current passed through my body.
Was that it.
They were setting up preparations to allow the main force to pull out right away.
In order for the enemy troops to withdraw, for the sole reason to gain more time to retreat, they had dispatched these witches. By throwing the deceased heads, they threatened us. While we were mingling with the witches and shrinking back by the threat, the enemy forces were most likely retreating on the other side of the night horizon .
A captain shouted.
Two witches were rushing towards me.
Surprised by their sudden drop, the crossbowmen desperately fired the bolts that they had loaded previously. One of the witches’ heads was pierced by a bolt and met her end. However, the other witch was still alive and came towards me while pulling out a sword.
Metal sharply collided against one another. I had raised my longsword and received the witch’s slash.
Although the witch’s physique was much smaller than me, so her strength was not that impressive, that single blow, which also contained the force accumulated from flying with her broom, was powerful.
Shifting the strength of the blow to my side, I rolled back. The witch immediately flung herself at me. Since the witch stuck close to me, while we exchanged blows with our blades, the soldiers around us could not approach.
“Ahahah! Aha, ahah hahahaha—!”
The witch let out an insane laughter.
Her appearance looked as if she was barely over 10-years-old.
There was an arrow already impaled into the chest of this girl with platinum blonde hair. Every time she swung her blade, blood flowed from her wound. That should be painful enough to drive one mad, and yet, the witch simply laughed. In order to not give the witch the opportunity to intonate a spell, I cornered her with my sword. And then, at the moment a gap was made, I struck the witch’s stomach with my left fist.
Unable to withstand my strike, the witch was blown away.
The witch’s body went over the rampart and fell to the bottom of the wall.
The crossbowmen stuck to the edge of the rampart and started to fire downwards. The air was silent in the areas where the bolts passed through. The witch did not rise up once more. Since the sound of a head cracking was not heard, I conjectured that she was able to avoid death.
“General, are you alright!?”
“Can you not tell by looking at me? I have not aged to the point where I would get done in by a young girl.”
I sheathed my sword.
In the distant night sky, the witches that had survived were fleeing. It seemed six or seven of the 20 witches had died. Seeing that the escaping shadows were small in number, it was pitiable.
“All forces, open the fortress gates and sortie! The enemy troops are planning to escape while using the witches as a scapegoat in order to distract us. Blow the horns!”
After repelling the witches, the soldiers cried out. The mages shot fireballs into the night sky to celebrate our victory.
In this cloudy night, the explosion of the fireballs could be seen vividly. Influenced by that vivid light, our soldiers forgot about the cold, forgot about death, and went through the gates. The company commanders and adjutants ran around the dim grounds to organize the ranks. I mounted a white horse and went to the front.
There was no doubt.
After hearing that their main attack force was defeated, the Demon Lord was planning to evacuate back to the demon territory.
Since he had no confidence in facing us and also had no determination to hold out, by blaming it on the defeat of the other unit, he most likely intended to draw back entirely.
There was no time to lose.
If Dantalian is able to retreat safely, then that would not be my victory. The triumph will go solely to the Imperial Princess.
Because the Imperial Princess had won, the enemy troops had retreated. If I were to spectate here then I would descend into being a mere fool who had lost the Black Fortress and was only able to take it back thanks to the Imperial Princess. If that were to happen, then this war would be completely decorated as the Imperial Princess’ victory. That must not happen!
Someone must block the Imperial Princess’ lead. If it is not obstructed, then no one could know when that lead would turn into a flood. When the Imperial Princess dethrones her own father for the name of glory, and when she purges her own brother with the justification of victory, in these situations, who could possibly condemn her? If no one is able to do this, then there is no other choice but for me to step forward.
Since that is the duty of a noble.
Since that is my mission as a Rosenberg.
For the peace of the Empire, and for my vengeance, Demon Lord Dantalian, you shall fall in these Black Mountains tonight.
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 1
The Black Mountains, mountain pass
20 witches had gone out and 12 had returned. All 12 witches had their chests penetrated and were bleeding.
I could not see Humbaba among them.
Feeling wretched, I could not ask where Humbaba was. I could only ask if they could continue fighting. If the witches were to say that it would be difficult, then I planned to exclude them from the battle.
“Can you fly again?”
“We shall repay our master’s kindness with our lives.”
The witches knelt down in the snow with their bloody bodies. In the places where their blood dripped, holes were made in the snow. Glancing down at those red holes, I vowed. At any cost, I shall obtain victory in this battle.
Although our forces were in the possession of 50 witches, I had purposely sent only 20 in order to lure out the enemy. The 20 witches had accepted that irrational command without a word. And without a word, 9 of them had fallen to their demise. What the 9 had thought as they felt the cold winter air for the final time, and how solitary they must have felt as they descended to the boundlessly dark abyss by their lonesome, I could not dare measure that emotion. They had died for me.
I quietly commanded the captains.
“Rely on the wooden fences. The enemy will situate their cavalry at the front and charge at our forces. It will be over if you yield from those fences. The spearmen shall protect the crossbowmen, and the crossbowmen shall depend on the spearmen. Rely on one another and hold out together.”
The captains repeated the orders and ran out to the front lines.
From a distance, the sound of hooves reverberated and shook the earth. As the hooves raised clouds of snow from the ground, the enemy cavalry drew near. In this dark night, their figures could not be seen in detail but instead appeared as one huge mass, like a single giant shadow. Between the shadows, the sharp sound of horns was mixed. Hooves, snow dust, and horns were chaotically fused together, making it appear as if it was not a thousand, but ten thousand that were approaching us.
“Blow the horns.”
Our buglers blew their breaths into their horns. In the night sky, the respiration of the enemy soldiers and the breaths of our forces intermingled, and the witches flew up into that sky once more.
In the sky resonating the sound of horns, the witches and mages crossed paths. And on the ground trembling by the hooves, infantry and cavalry clashed. Blood that burst forth from the sky scattered downwards and the blood surging from the ground shot upwards. The world was soaked in blood.
A captain’s adjutant shouted.
— Your highness, it’s the enemy infantry!
The moonlight faintly displayed the enemy soldiers on the other side of the mountain pass. Although their faces could not be seen, the spears which they were holding shined brightly in the dim light. My center army consisted of 2,500 soldiers, but it appeared that the enemy soldiers reached around 5,000 if they added the cavalry together with the infantry.
Though the wooden fences, which our troops were relying on, were sturdy, the amount we had was low. There were large gaps placed between each fence. The enemy cavalry continuously pressed their horses towards those spots. Our spearmen were slowly being pushed back. A spear thrust out by an enemy cavalry pierced the head of one of our infantrymen. The spearhead went through their eye and came out from the back of their head.
After mounting a horse and staring out onto the battlefield, I spoke calmly.
“Endure. We will survive if you endure. If you yield, then we will all perish.”
I felt bitter about my helplessness. In this grim night, the soldiers were all respectively alone. On their own, our soldiers managed the shadows of the enemy which approached them like a flood. As battles were carried out by the soldiers and not myself, I could not die in their steads, and that task of dying was solely taken by the soldiers.
Our troops fell head first into the snow and died. As long as they were not allies, the enemy forces stepped on the corpses and buried them further into the snow. The hair of the half-buried corpses shook due to the wind. Since their corpses were firm, no type of flowery words could remain. Death was something that denied words.
I gazed at the pine forest to the left of the battlefield. Farnese was most likely hiding there while holding her breath. It felt like I could feel her breathing as she stared like a wolf at the battlefield with her green eyes.
Whether I fell first, whether the enemy soldiers could break through our defenses first, or whether Farnese enveloping the enemy soldiers from behind would come first, I could not grasp how the sequence was going to end up. Everyone was alone in this night battle. I repeated the same words I had said a moment ago.
“Endure. We will survive if you endure.”
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 1
The Black Mountains, mountain pass
“Attack! Do not rest and continue to rage!”
Our infantry rushed forward one after the other. There was no time for rest. Until the night was over, there was going to be no breaks. Before we have destroyed the wooden pickets, massacred the enemy soldiers, and have achieved victory by taking the head of the Demon Lord, there will be no pause until then. Kill them, tear them, and rip them to pieces…… Commands that were not words, but were instead, nothing more than an explosion of sounds, came pouring out.
A blind arrow flew towards me and grazed my shoulder. Blood flowed and my body felt warm. The captains were unaware of my injury. Good. It was better off like this. It was much better that they did not know of my scratch. Is this not what night battles were? I shouted out the burning energy that was boiling inside me.
Words disappeared from the battlefield and only noise echoed throughout. Spear! Spear……! A knight who had dropped his weapon mid-charge started to call out. He grabbed a spear, unaware of who had given it to him, and resumed his assault. They were covered in the blizzard raised by the hooves of the horses, so the knights were not clearly visible. Once again, someone shouted, Spear……! Spear……! and was consumed by the snow. I could see something vividly on the backs of the mounted troops who were charging in to be consumed by the blizzard. Although I was unsure of what it was, I was certain that it was something that surpassed words. That was, perhaps, a part which was in the blind spot of life. The blindness of life.
The captains spoke.
“There are fewer enemy soldiers than predicted, general.”
“And we can’t see the enemy’s cavalry as well.”
I nodded my head.
“It appears to be less than 3,000. The Demon Lord must have run away with his Royal Guards beforehand. Those men are resisting in order to give the Demon Lord time to escape.”
My prediction was on the mark.
Dantalian responded quickly to the news of Marbas’ defeat. While sending out the witches to employ a smokescreen tactic, Dantalian retreated with his main force. If I had waited until dawn, then the Demon Lord’s main force would have gotten all the way back to the Black Fortress without receiving any harm.
Oh, how unfortunate, Dantalian.
Your anxiety has ruined you. Rather, if it were not for you having sent out your witches, then I would have most likely waited until dawn. This was most likely what it meant for the biter to be bitten.
Even if Dantalian were able to get away with his guards, it was fine. Although it was regretful that we were going to be unable to fulfill the quota for Demon Lords, just annihilating this main force of his would be quite the large exploit.
My biggest goal was to prevent the Imperial Princess from holding a monopoly on the laurels of victory. I was satisfied with achieving this.
“We have breached the wooden fences!”
“General, our infantry have broken through!”
The captains got excited.
Primarily, our forces overwhelmed the enemy with numbers. Like how a person would latch onto a log if they had fallen into a river, the enemy soldiers were relying on that feeble fence and holding out.
Since the enemy troops were in the middle of withdrawing, they were unable to properly set up their fences, and now, the already few amount of pickets they were able to put up had collapsed. What could the enemy rely on now? Be swept up in the flood of our soldiers and drown!
“Please give us the order to carry out an all-out attack, general!”
“Allow us to take part in the glory of a great victory!”
I nodded my head in approval.
Letting out a roar, the captains waved their flags. Finally, our reserve troops advanced to the front line as well. The sound of horns resonated.
Each company’s horn had a different tone, but the battlefield was too disorderly to distinguish the tones. This chaos will soon end once the battl
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