Flags of the Kingdom's Army were raised all over to obstruct Canaan's main road. On the high ground to the left and right were built instant encampments, and if the Liberation Army were to attack them like this, they would suffer a great deal of damage.
While viewing their encampment through a spyglass, Ghamzeh in the field headquarters nodded-everything was going according to plan. Arranged into three divisions, the Liberation Army had chosen to line pikemen in the front, then archers, and behind all of them were cavalry . The role of cavalry would be to wrap around and attack from the side, but in this current operation, they were not planned to be used. To their utmost, their main purpose was to attract the enemy's main force.
"I knew it; Canaan is going to be rough. That's almost like a natural fortress. It would probably take a large quantity of soldiers all in one surge to take it down."
The general currently taking command said to Ghamzeh. He was a man of the Belta faction and was an old friend of Ghamzeh's. He was popular and excelled in leadership. What he lacked when he was with the Kingdom was luck and connection to nobility. Just because of that, his road to promotion was closed, and he was sent to a do-nothing job.
"That is correct. But in that state, the enemy's supply train will also have a hard time. In other words, as long as we pressure the main road, they are like rats in a bag. Before long, they will suffocate and die in anguish. It is near impossible for them to procure supply locally after all."
If the unit lead by Colonel Hastie took down Cyrus, they could expect to get their hands on the bag known as Canaan. They were somewhat taking a risk, but even so, it was an operation worth trying. It was for that reason why Diener didn't strongly oppose either.
"If the surprise attack this time goes smoothly, the road to the Royal Capital will instantly be opened. If that happens, Sir Ghamzeh's position in the Liberation Army will also become unshakeable. You will be able to work for Sir Altura more and more."
"Haha, no-no, that doesn't matter to me. I fight only for the Liberation Army's victory."
Said Ghamzeh modestly, making an insincere smile. Presently, the mutual factions were locked sword to sword. To win Altura's trust, he wanted to succeed no matter the cost.
"However, if we just exchange glances like this, they might suspect we are conniving something. I think it is about time we send in the cavalry and provoke them."
The general advised to send in the cavalry. It wasn't a bad idea to test the waters and rain a blow on them.
"You're forbidden to chase too far, and if an attack comes, you are to strictly order an immediate withdrawal. If we're temporarily able to get the enemy to bite, that'll be a good deal. Let's hit them hard."
"Alright, send a messenger to the cavalry unit!"
When Ghamzeh agreed, the general hurled instructions for the cavalry to launch a diversion attack. The messenger nodded, and departed from headquarters. Almost like they were exchanging places, another messenger reported.
"Sir Ghamzeh. Contact from an operative concealed in enemy camp. General Yalder has been accused of violating military regulations, demoted, and sent back to the Royal Capital. He leads the defeated soldiers from Antigua and Belta."
"So General Yalder's also has it hard huh. His establish fame is crumbling isn't it? It's like a lie that he was once known for his Steel Division. I hope I don't end up like him."
"In that respect, it was quite helpful for us. Thanks to his carelessness, we were able to take Antigua."
A general muttered like he was sympathizing, and another general cracked a joke.
After reading the report, Ghamzeh crossed his arms. The one currently carrying out defense of Canaan was Field Marshal Sharov. He was acknowledged and established for his profound prudence and steady leadership. Would such a man really decide to split valuable forces before a defensive battle? A bad premonition ran through his head. Should he continue the operation? But, there were too few reasons to stop. He judged that he was too timid.
"What is the matter, Staff Officer Ghamzeh?"
"......No, nothing. I was just thinking a little bit."
"Hahaha, even if you worry, since it's Colonel Hastie, he'll absolutely accomplish his mission. When it comes to fights on hills and fields, he's the greatest in the Liberation Army. Even Colonel Fynn can't outdo him."
"That is true. No matter what it takes, he has to take down Cyrus Fortress. For the Liberation Army's victory. And also for the sake of the oppressed citizens."
Ghamzeh strongly nodded, like shaking off the doubts running through his head. He could order the operation to be discontinued here. But, the time, people, and money invested here would all go down the drain. They would also have to meaninglessly withdraw the large force spread out in front of them. If by chance this was just groundless fear, he would let victory go right under his nose. Stopping an operation once it was put in motion was more difficult than starting it.
(It'll be fine. It'll surely go well. I can't consider stopping after all this. Wouldn't that for sure go along with Diener's expectations? I'll show him; I'll absolutely succeed."
First Army's Mountain Camp Headquarters.
While looking down at the enemy soldiers, Sharov was stroking his white facial hair. He was convinced that his own judgement wasn't mistaken. He couldn't sense from the enemy the spirit that they were going to assault this fortification. From his long years of experience, he would smell out the various moods of the battlefield. He couldn't explain it with words, but he could understand more or less from the smell. It was an absolutely illogical sensation. But, Sharov had confidence in his own judgement-that their adversaries were waiting for something. Likely, somewhere not here where they were confronting each other. Somewhere where if overlooked would probably be fatal for this Canaan Area.
"Your Excellency. A company of the enemy is coming to attack. Will we intercept them?"
"Ignore them until they enter bow range. If they get even closer, chase them away with spears. Pursuit is unnecessary. There's no need to get caught in a blatant diversion."
"Your Excellency! Just staring at them and defending will affect the morale of the soldiers. Please, give my unit the order to attack. Allow me to display that I will absolutely crush them."
Barbora strongly proposed to Sharov.
His proposal wasn't too off the mark. If they simply let by the enemy's provocation, the soldiers would begin to think that the commander had lost his nerve. Before long, this would be tied to a feeling of war weariness and might also become a cause for collapse. Sometimes, the boldness to launch an attack was necessary to maintain morale.
"......Barbora. Your chance will come shortly. Be patient until then."
"Nevertheless, Your Excellency. Already among the soldiers, a rumor is spreading that we cannot ignore! We ought to make an assertive offensive here!"
Recently, a rumor had begun to spread widely among the soldiers.
Why was Field Marshal Sharov not actively fighting the Liberation Army? Was there some deeper reasoning? Or was there a different reason? They had heard that Sharov was a long-time acquaintance of the rebel army commander Behrouz. They had also heard that he had been invited to rebel in many occasions by the enemy Supreme Commander Altura. Inside the Field Marshal's heart, maybe he was considering it. Etc.
"Ridiculous. Ignore the idiotic rumors. If we go ahead and launch an attack trying to dispel the rumor, that'll be to the enemy's satisfaction. If we leave it alone, it'll eventually smother out."
Sharov rebutted and once again looked towards the enemy encampment.
After having sent the dismissed Yalder instructions to stand by, he had sent in another order: 'In the event of an emergency, move according to your own judgement; no need to wait for orders.'
Barbora glared loathsomely into the back of Sharov, not at all perturbed. He couldn't earn great achievements by just defending. Also, he didn't know if that rumor was authentic or not. Sharov and Behrouz having a relationship close enough to be called best friends was a famous story. In the succession struggle, Sharov had maintained neutrality, and Behrouz had been on the losing side.
Behrouz had contended that the eldest son ought to succeed the throne, but after the current Kristoff won, Behrouz had been exiled. Sharov also privately agreed about the eldest son, but he didn't want to get involved in the succession, so he had stayed neutral. Hence, he arrived at his current position. If the winners had been reversed, Behrouz should have been the one to sit in the seat of Field Marshal.
With an expression that didn't conceal his ambition, Barbora clenched his closed fist.
(Whether the rumor is true or not doesn't concern me. Someday, I will seize you by the tail and pull you down from that seat.)
—-Golbahar Ridge halfway.
While hidden in the dense trees, 3,000 light infantry were silently marching. The fog began to set in, and their field of vision was narrowing. There were people who got lost from the main group.
There were poor footholds, and there was no shortage of unlucky people who slipped. Even though they had been trained, it was meaningless if they couldn't see. While carefully treading on the ground, they kept walking, forward, and forward.
Standing at the head of the unit, Colonel Hastie had a strange premonition. They weren't on the wrong road. Their hired guide was also nodding that they were moving as planned. Timing was also part of the plan, so they weren't very behind schedule. After they descended the ridge, they would run full speed towards Cyrus; that was it.
(What, is this unpleasant ambience. It's very unlikely due to the fog. It's almost like—-)
Like criminals heading to the gallows. That kind of ludicrous vision floated in his mind. This should be a road to glory; absolutely not a road to ruin. That's what he had been told. He was silently, intently pushing forward on the dark, mountain road. He became intimidated.
(I'm thinking too much. I'm a commander; I can't be daunted.)
He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and forced himself to believe that. He looked back at his subordinates following after him. Everyone's faces were drooping, and they were marching while silencing their breathing. They were elite soldiers, people chosen who could function even in the mountains, yet despite that, their faces were somewhat gloomy. They didn't look at all like a unit who would conduct a surprise attack hereafter. They were like defeated soldiers. It wasn't just him; they too were feeling this repulsive air. They advanced forwards, like trying to shake off the feeling. If they stopped, they wouldn't ever be able to move again.
The male guide spoke up in a small voice.
"......It's quite rare...for this ridge...to be this silent."
"What do you mean?"
"Huh. Usually, birds will be chirping, and there'll also be things like deer, boars, and other small animals. Yet today I haven't even seen a single one. On the contrary, I haven't even heard the sounds of bugs. ......They may have been crushed, by this... strange chill."
The voices of birds, the voices of bugs, and the voices of animals-not one could be heard. All that could be heard was the occasional passing wind, and their own footsteps only.
"There'll be days like that right? Don't say something so ominous."
"......It's... it's kinda eerie, and it doesn't feel like the same mountain."
The guide with a humble appearance began rubbing both his arms like he was cold. This man had been hired with not a small sum of money. He wasn't particularly connected to the Kingdom or the Liberation Army. If there were greater benefits, any side was fine. Not only that, there was money right in front of his eyes. Hence, he had accepted to be their guide. But, he was regretting it today. If he had to suffer this uncanny atmosphere, he ought to have quietly stayed at home. He wiped the nape of his neck with a towel. Cold sweat honestly felt disgusting.
"......Colonel. Will this... go well for us?"
Seeing the guide scared of something, a soldier softly came to ask. For this man, who had served long enough in the unit to be considered a veteran, to leak a misgiving was rare.
Hastie spontaneously wanted to speak of his uneasiness, but he resisted and answered,
"That will depend on our labor. We'll absolutely pull it off-that kind of enthusiasm is necessary."
"Y, you're right. Please forgive me."
"I understand your tension before a surprise attack. But, you are a veteran. You cannot show your anxiety. Fear is contagious."
Encouraged Hastie, slapping the Veteran's back. If he didn't let out this bravado, he felt like he too would've fretted. He grasped his sword tightly. Stressing agility, the soldiers were armed with swords or javelins. Longer spears weren't carried, as they would hinder the march. Those equipped with bows used shortbows. The rearguard accompanied by the supply train would have their usual weapons, and they would hand them over as soon as they arrived. Due to their load, their marching speed was slow, and Hastie's group acting as the vanguard had to fell Cyrus.
".....The night will begin to brighten soon. Guide, are we almost there?"
"Y, yeh. Just a little longer. It'll be easier than before hereon. The ground getting more level is proof."
"Good, please continue your good work until we finish descending the mountain. Everyone, persevere a bit more."
Hastie inhaled, and started walking again.
Around when the sky began to grow light, the 3,000 light infantry had finally finished descending the ridge. The fog had already set in, masking the plains near their feet. Before it cleared up, they would march as much as they could, and they had to get close to Cyrus Fortress.
Hastie signaled with his hand, giving the order to advance. Loud voices could not be used. In case there were patrols, there was the danger of being noticed by the enemy.
They had marched for maybe an hour. A silhouette appeared in the fog. A human silhouette riding on a horse. A black flag was fluttering. It seemed to be slowly heading towards them.
Before suspecting it of being an enemy, he considered the possibility of it being an ally. They had imparted to Baron Evjen, who managed the area around Cyrus, their path of march and when they would arrive. Perhaps he had come as reinforcement. Though it would be out of place with their light infantry, it would be heartening if they could use cavalry. They would've already been attacked at this distance if it was an enemy. But just in case, he had his subordinates make preparations for battle.
"Wait to attack until I instruct you to. However, stay prepared."
The infantry unsheathed their swords and took battle positions.
"We are The Fox That Crosses The Ridge. Are you The Fox That Lies In Wait?"
They wouldn't name themselves as the Liberation Army. Several passwords had been established with Evjen beforehand. It was also to prevent friendly fire after taking control of Cyrus. No reply came from the team of horses in front of him. They further approached them. His spoken words should have reached them. If his words were ignored, the possibility they were of the Kingdom's Army was high. Tension ran through the soldiers. To a range inside the fog where they could see, they drew closer and closer.
When he decided to ask one more time, from behind blasted a scream.
"If you do not respond, we will attack! Are you The—-"
"E, enemy attack!! The back of our unit is being attacked by enemy cavalry!!"
"W, what!? T, then these guys are-!!"
When Hastie faced front again, the figure of a female officer on a horse entered his vision. A female wearing black armor that did not suit her body, wielding a large scythe. From her gushed out the accursed feeling that he had felt earlier. It wasn't bloodthirst nor was it anger. It was a darkish presence hard to describe. While naturally clad in that grim aura, she came before Hastie's very eyes.
He strengthened his grip on his sword. Cold sweat streamed down his back
(Ahh. That bad sensation I felt, was because of this monster—-)
That female smiled ferociously, and at the same time Hastie swung out his sword, his skull was gouged out by that crooked, evil blade. Fresh blood sprayed into the fog, and a very fantastical spectacle was born.
The female that had killed Hastie, Schera, began silently swinging her scythe. With every swing, the souls of Liberation Army soldiers were reaped.
The scene of red fountains gushing up one after another inside the fog was strongly burned into the minds of the Liberation Army soldiers. The humans of Hastie's unit who were witnessing that would continue to be tormented by this terror in the future. There would be people who would have mental disorders, and even those who would go insane.
A certain soldier, deciding to leave a record of this beautiful tragedy, madly continued to paint a painting in only red and white. He was confronted by no one; he simply painted endlessly. Before long, he finished one painting, and that soldier slit his throat. In his final moments, after he had signed it with his own blood, he died while laughing loudly.
In the magical fog was a young girl gently picking flowers with slender hands. Her countenance was like a deathly white. From the ground welled up red fountains, drenching the little girl's feet. In red puddles were drawn many red flowers and white skulls, making observers feel a degenerative fear. In future years, it would be put on display by someone who thought it regrettable to dispose of it, and it would become highly evaluated by nobility.
—-This painting that modeled and was modeled by Schera of the Kingdom's Army was named: Schera Zade's Flower Burial.
—-Inside the fog, the one sided slaughter continued.
Inside, where vision was altogether useless, Schera's Cavalry plagued the light infantry. Before their swords could reach the bodies of the riders, they were skewered by lances, and one, and then another, collapsed. Even so, they desperately resisted, and there was even a brave soldier who pulled a rider down to the ground. But, his resistance was in vain, and many lances opened holes in the Veteran's body. The surprise attack unit that had lost its commander, now leaderless, decided to turn back to the ridge while inducing panic.
The fog gradually cleared up. An ambush from the Kingdom's Army was waiting.
"HAHAHA! ALL MY RESENTMENT, WILL BE CLEARED UP HERE-! KILL THE REBEL ARMY!"
"ALL FORCES CHARGE! NOW'S THE TIME TO DISPEL OUR GRUDGE FROM BELTA!"
From the base of the ridge rose Yalder's angry words as they commenced the attack, leaping at those going first. Generals of the former Fourth Army also raised their swords, their voices trembling. War drums violently boomed from around the area just to add to their voices.
Having foreseen the rebel army's path of advance, Yalder sent in Schera's Cavalry to the front and stationed his United Legion to the side as an ambush. Schera's Cavalry would halt their advance, and at the same time the fog cleared, he would pincer them. Hastie's group had marched to their own deaths.
Hastie's unit collapsed under severe attack from four sides. Of their 3,000, 2,000 were killed, and the survivors scattered, routed, in all four directions.
Furthermore, Yalder, of his own judgement, decided to advance and cross the ridge. His Staff Officer Sidamo also counselled that they ought to take advantage of this opportunity. He sent a messenger to Sharov. Schera's Cavalry was entrusted with defense of Cyrus, and the United Legion began climbing the ridge at full speed.
"WE'LL GIVE THEM A TASTE OF A DOWNHILL CHARGE; SHOW THEM OUR UNITED LEGION'S ABILITY! ALL THE DEBTS WE OWE, WILL BE CLEARED UP HERE-!"
"LONG LIVE YALDER'S UNITED LEGION! LONG LIVE THE YUZE KINGDOM!"
"ALL UNITS CHARGE! ACHIEVEMENT IS YOURS FOR THE TAKING-! FORWARDD-!"
The 5,000 rearguard of the Liberation Army having been surprise attacked from high ground was thrown into violent disarray. They had no composure to get into rank. Their weapons were adequate, but the movement of the supply unit accompanying them was slow. Riding the momentum of victory, Yalder could not be stopped. Provisions and arms were thrown away, and everyone began retreating for their lives.
Yalder's unit doused the retreating soldiers with an intense rain of arrows and a hail of rocks, and they were successful in inflicting a great deal of casualties.
The brave general did not stop. Yalder's United Legion descended the ridge while resting, and invaded the Canaan Area from the opposite side. The confrontation in front of Canaan's main road continued. Yalder showed signs of attacking the Liberation Army's main force of 30,000 from the side.
Having received the report from the messenger, Sharov also decided to attack.
"We'll take advantage of this and launch a general offensive. Chase out the rebel army."
They resolutely sallied out from their secluded mountain camp, and in a fish-scale formation, they faced the Liberation Army. The two sides clashed on the plains.
At first, the battle seemed to unfold favorably for the Liberation Army with superior morale, but the situation reversed when Yalder's Legion struck them from the side. Cleaving a gap into their formation, the First Army's vanguard, Barbora's Division, crushed the enemy infantry units. Taking along his elite guards, he too was swinging his spear, inspiring the soldiers. The Liberation Army's infantry were killed one after the other.
"MASSACRE THE TRASH OF THE REBEL ARMY-! DON'T LET A SINGLE ONE RETURN ALIVE-!! THEY'RE A MIX OF SMALL FRY AFTER ALL, THERE'S NOTHING TO FEAR-!!"
Ghamzeh of the Liberation Army, deeming anymore was dangerous, decided to loosely retreat. One general spoke up in protest, saying it was still early to give up. The situation was disadvantageous, but they still hadn't been defeated. They had suffered a fierce attack, but their formation of three ranks was still intact. Since the enemy soldiers had come out from their mountain encampment, there was also the choice of toughing it out and waiting for reinforcements.
Since soldiers lead by Altura were on standby at Belta, retreating here would have the same meaning as defeat for the Liberation Army. Their morale was high from successive victories, and they had schemed with the feudal lords. This would have inevitable consequences for their future strategies too. But, Ghamzeh calmly judged the progress of the battle, silenced the general's objection, and ordered a retreat.
"Any more fighting is meaningless. Now that our mainstay, the ridge crossing, has been impeded, it would be best here to retreat. I have all the responsibility. I would like you to follow my instructions."
Strictly ordered Ghamzeh, curbing his boiling anger. Having 30,000 annihilated here would affect their control of Belta. They only had to prevent the very worst situation. That was the duty of Staff Officer who decided the strategies. Making their rearguard cavalry lurk as an ambush, they gradually began to retreat.
Sharov judged that any more pursuit would increase the number of casualties instead. Despite being routed, they were withdrawing while maintaining discipline. If they were tempted and sent out a unit, there was the concern of being surrounded back. Rejecting Barbora's opinion for a full-on pursuit, he ordered to pull back to the mountain encampment.
"Why are we discontinuing the attack here!? If we inflict catastrophic damage here, Belta's recapture would be easy-! Damn it Sharov, forget your concerns! There is a once in a lifetime opportunity right before your eyes, and you want to let it go!!?"
"However, a report from scouts say there are troops in ambush—-"
"You fool-! We'll just give the defeated ambushers the boot! The ones with the more superior power is us! In one more step, can't we drive the enemy's main force to annihilation!?"
Barbora snapped the staff of command he had in his hand. Despite pressured by that threatening attitude, his adjutant reported,
"Sir Barbora. Our allies are pulling back! If we don't also move, that might be seen as a breach of military regulations!"
"Much to my chagrin, I've no choice-! We're withdrawing! ......Sharov you coward-!"
Not agreeing, Barbora hesitated to withdraw till the last, but he finally returned to the camp. Cursing his superior officer all the while.
If Sharov had complied with Barbora's advice here and launched an assault with the entire army, certainly, there was the possibility of the Kingdom's Army achieving victory and gaining a foothold in Belta.
Of course, their forces would be reduced by counterattacks, sufficient enough to cause anxiety that Canaan's defense would be in jeopardy.
Preferring slow and steady, Sharov chose to defend, and was successful in protecting Canaan. But, the Kingdom's Army still continued to have the numerical inferiority, since they weren't able to drive the Liberation Army main force into destruction.
Which choice would've been correct was not known. But just looking at the result, it was victory for the Kingdom's Army, which had crushed the enemy surprise attack.
Having finished fighting, Schera's Cavalry entered Cyrus Fortress as per orders. She let their warhorses rest and everyone recover stamina.
While nibbling bread, Schera headed to the medical clinic. Established inside the fortress, it was a sick clinic for treating disease and the wounded. The cavalrymen wounded in the battle earlier greeted and saluted their superior officer. Among them too were people on beds scattering blood while receiving treatment. It they were generals or nobles, they might be able to receive magical treatment. But for them, normal soldiers, prescribed painkillers were all they would get. A man who bore serious wounds, inside his hazy consciousnesses, was dying. He drifted on the threshold of life and death.
Schera approached a medical soldier wearing a white coat. When his eyes met hers, he regretfully shook his head, and headed towards a bed where another was waiting. When Schera lowered her eyes, a young man with a pallid face was whispering something while his body was twitching.
"You did well earlier. Thanks to everyone's efforts, we were able to gain a splendid victory. Hereafter too, fight together with me to kill the rebel army. There's still much fighting after this."
When she caressed his cheek, he turned a reliant gaze towards Schera. But, his gaze was unfocused, and seemed to be looking up somewhere in space. Schera's figure probably no longer entered his vision.
"Lie... Lt. Col... S...Schera. ...I... I... I"
He violently vomited blood from his mouth. On the white sheets was spreading a red stain. He had a fatal wound on one of his organs. He did well just being able to make it back here. Through sheer tenacity that he would act alongside his commander until the end, he had made it back here. But, nothing could be done for him in a place like this. No, it would probably be impossible no matter how excellent the doctor. The medical soldier had given him a large quantity of painkiller; there was no other means to take away suffering.
There was only one thing Schera could do. There was only one thing Death could do. While holding that in her left hand, she had a candy in her right.
"Hey, you hungry? I have a sweet and yummy candy you know. It's one that Second Lieutenant Katarina always shares with me though. I took one of those. I'll share one with you too. How very fortunate of you."
In the mouth of the young man calling out Schera's name with blank eyes, Schera tossed in the white candy. Then, gently holding his red-stained mouth, she performed the final treatment with her other hand.
"That red candy... looks really good. But that's something I've given to you, so I'll control myself."
Schera closed the eyes of the soldier no longer moving, and she lightly smiled. Leaving the red candy that had spilled out of his mouth and fell next to his face, she tucked that in her left hand into her waist. Schera waved to the wounded performing a salute around her, and she left the medical clinic.
Schera grandly stretched and annoyingly scowled at the blazing sun. When she looked up above the main tower, next to the Kingdom's flag was triumphantly fluttering a black flag in the wind. Someone from the cavalry had arbitrarily mounted it probably. Tearing the completely stale bread into fine pieces, she threw them into her mouth.
A black crow from somewhere came along to her feet. When she threw just a bit of bread crumbs at the ground, it began hopping, pecking at the ground. It looked up at Schera and cawed, as if wanting something.
"I don't have anymore food to give you crow. Don't be lazy and go get your own. After all, you can fly freely in the sky."
With nothing left to do, Schera turned and left, having eaten everything remaining.
The crow watched her leave with eyes not feeling like it. Losing interest before long, the crow flew away, heading towards a place of rest.
—-Afterwards, until Katarina came to call her, Schera passed the time and took a refined nap atop the watchtower. There were a mountain of things to do, like sending a report to Sidamo, but deciding not to care, Schera left them to her excellent adjutant.
Next to her stubbornly loitered the crow that had failed at procuring food earlier.