dIn the weather cold like it would tear one's skin off marched Alexander leading the Imperial Army, aiming for the Second Fort along the northern coastline.
Faint white snow began piling up on the road, and the soldiers marched, huddling together to avoid their body heat being sapped away.
En route, a raid party of cavalry of the Kingdom's Army appeared, and postured to attack their supply wagons. It came to Alexander's mind to test out Schera here. He sent out a messenger, summoned Schera's unit, and gave his instructions.
"Lieutenant Colonel. I want to see how you fulfill your duties with my eyes. Will you lightly kick around those guys for me? If you hit them once, they should immediately run away. A deep pursuit is unnecessary.
"This is your first battle for the Empire. I wish you good luck."
Alexander mischievously smiled, and Schera trivially nodded.
"One hundred riders follow me-! We'll give the enemy cavalry a beating-!"
"—-Schera's Cavalry, charge-!"
"FOLLOW THE LIEUTENANT COLONEL-! DON'T FALL BEHIND!"
Aiming for the enemy cavalry, she kicked her horse and began briskly galloping. After her followed 100 of Schera's Cavalry with black flags raised. All the members of her cavalry were wearing armor of the Empire, but the flag of their unit hadn't changed.
"Commanding Officer, what shall we do?"
"It seems the enemy is of the same number. They're expecting us to run away immediately. Hmph, if that's the case, how about we try them out for size? There's no one who can match us Madrosians in handling horses."
"Sir-! We will show them our pride."
The cavalry of the Kingdom's Army temporarily postured to escape, but seeing the small numbers of Schera's unit, they decided to exchange blows. They raised their spears, reorganized the ranks, and resolutely began the charge. Their main duty was to hinder the supply line via a raid on the supply wagons, but the actual call for offense and defense was entrusted to the commander at the location itself.
After all, it was out of the question for a superior officer to give directions to all the commando units separately. Kerry had stationed these kinds of independent units in various places.
Cavalry of the Kingdom and Empire crossed. Schera's scythe drew first blood, sending the heads of the first two riders flying. Both cavalries crashed, and several people fell off their horses. While grappling with each other, many hand-to-hand battles unfolded. Spears were thrusted from atop horseback, but aiming for that opening, other riders skewered their bodies.
"Black flag with a white crow coat of arms, aren't you Death God Schera!? Why are you with the Imperial Army!? Have you betrayed the Kingdom!?"
Indignantly shouted the Commanding Officer of the Kingdom's Army while swinging his spear. Schera replied in an disinterested tone of voice.
"I wonder why? How truly strange."
"You shameless-! Become rust on my spear!"
After spinning his spear above his head several times, he forcefully swung it down, aiming for Schera. She slightly flicked away the blow with his body weight behind it, and then sweeped his body with the handle, knocking him off his horse. Having his body potently struck, the commander swooned. With no hesitation, she penetrated his skull over the helmet. After she twisted her scythe once, she pulled out, and fresh blood scattered over the area.
"C, Commanding Officer was done in! R, retreat-! Retreat-!"
"We cannot be annihilated! We will pay back this debt-!"
Having their commanding officer killed in battle, the raiding cavalry immediately decided to withdraw. As Schera had been ordered that pursuit was unnecessary, she returned to beside Alexander. Because both cavalries had only exchanged one bout, casualties were few. This would probably be considered Schera's victory since looking at the results, the enemy had been repelled and their commander killed.
Alexander had watched the spectacle with a spyglass for validation, and he nodded in satisfaction. Then, when he was informed that Schera had returned, he openly praised her.
"The Madros family's boasted cavalry were like babies! Your prowess, was honestly splendid."
"I am honored, by your praise."
"From what I've heard, you've been given the alias Death God because you use that scythe. At first, I suspected it was some fool, but now I've seen it in practice with these eyes, I can agree."
"For me, this is the easiest to handle. It fits my hands very well."
Schera lightly shook her large scythe, and dark red clots of blood dripped down. In that instant, the bodies of the officers and men around her stiffened involuntarily. For some reason, they perceived an illusion like that blade was being swung towards them. It wasn't the cold air; a different chill ran throughout their bodies.
Alexander's countenance changed for just a second, but he immediately pulled himself together.
"Lieutenant Colonel, I have great expectations for your activity in this expedition. Depending on your achievements, I plan to place you under my direct supervision. I have great need of those with talents."
When Alexander said direct supervision, he meant officially ushering her into the First Corps. Currently, Schera was only temporarily affiliated. If Alexander felt like it, there was also the possibility of further promotion. The field officers around them showed expressions of jealousy. Alexander was the future Emperor, and even just having one's name remembered would prove useful hereafter. They couldn't accept this turncoat newcomer capturing his interest.
Warned Gustav, but Alexander was not paying attention. He had confidence that someone of his caliber could handle her.
"I am a human who properly values talent. I won't let my personal feelings interfere. Consequently, I highly value your gifts. Lieutenant Colonel Schera, I want you to freely wield your power for the Empire."
"Sir-, I, Schera, will serve with whole-hearted devotion."
Schera said appropriate words and deeply lowered her head.
She didn't particularly have anything against the killed cavalry of the Kingdom. So that Yalder also wouldn't appear suspicious, she had been authorized to not hold back and fight with her full power.
Incidentally, the heads that had been brought during that time when she surrendered to the Imperial Army were of soldiers that had been killed in battle. There had been people opposed to it, saying it was blasphemy against the deceased, but Kerry had faced them down. Those living were more essential, he declared. Then, he offered up his own son, Darus, as a sacrifice.
Darus knew nothing about this matter. He probably thought Schera had truly turned traitor. Also, during his execution earlier, if she hadn't been stopped, she would've certainly killed Darus. She had been strongly ordered by Kerry to kill him without hesitation when the time came.
"Your Highness, do you really intend on appointing Lieutenant Colonel Schera to an important post?"
"What, Gustav, are you dissatisfied? I'm extremely interested in that thing. Isn't that thing a truly fine weapon of destruction? We should utilize it until it breaks. That physical strength despite having the body of a woman; what a fair sight for the eyes."
"Of course, I don't intent on taking her as a concubine. There are places that I'd like more meat on if possible. Though Sir Death's face isn't too bad."
Alexander laughed in a good humor, and Gustav knitted his brows.
"Your Highness, please refrain from such rash remarks. This is the most critical time."
"I know. Just a joke. I don't have the freedom to choose my partner anyway."
Alexander reverted to his serious expression, and sent the signal to begin the march. If Yalder opened the gates when they arrived at the Second Fort, then Alexander's First Corps would head to capture Madros, and Gustav's Seventh Corps would conduct a raid on the food storehouse. In other words, Gustav would only be beside Alexander for a little longer. His misgivings about Schera still not dispelled, Gustav prompted vigilance, but Alexander again had no ears for him.
Gustav had known Alexander for a lengthy amount of time, and he had admonished him many times up until now. Alexander was someone who had the capacity to take that harsh criticism, but on the other hand, he had too much conceit about his own competency.
That being said, Gustav couldn't state definitely that Schera's actions were suspicious. She had executed the prisoners without hesitation, and was going to kill the hostage Darus. Even in their fight with compatriate cavalry just now, there was no hint of her going easy on them, and she had killed the commander. She certainly was fighting as a member of the Imperial Army.
Nevertheless, why Gustav couldn't trust Schera was because of a vagueness, intuition from his long years of service. Vague it may be, but it was strongly warning him, telling him to be careful around that woman, telling him that if he was negligent, she would kill them in their sleep. That thing wasn't something that could be tamed.
"......This may incur His Highness's displeasure, and nothing against the bodyguards, but it would probably be best to attach more guards. His Highness is still too young. He has too much faith in his own judgement. There is no shortage of people in this world that cannot be understood."
Gustav called together the staff officers for a confidential meeting, and directed them to increase the guards around Alexander. The staff officers also weren't listening at first, but when Gustav strongly declared he would take full responsibility, they hesitatingly agreed to the conditions.
—-Three days later.
Alexander's Imperial Army with not a bit of resistance entered the Second Fort. The defense commander Yalder had opened that gates as promised. Alexander called Yalder to headquarters to immediately meet him. But, instead came a staff officer, a man who named himself Sidamo.
"We have received your order to convene at this occasion, but our commander Yalder says that he cannot show his unsightly appearance to His Highness. Just this one time, he begs for your pardon."
"What's there to be ashamed of after all you've done? Don't worry and call him. If this expedition ends in success, Yalder's merit will be greater than anyone's. ......This is an order. Tell him to unreservedly show himself to me."
Alexander declared, and Sidamo lowered his head deeply and departed.
Several minutes later, Yalder supported by Sidamo appeared before Alexander. In his right hand was a cane, and he appeared to be unable to decently walk by himself. His face swelled hideously, horribly enough that he couldn't open his eyes. His brow was wrapped in bandages, and he bore wounds serious enough that walking every step was difficult.
"Sir Yalder. What's with that appearance!?"
Alexander stood up from his seat and asked about the situation. Yalder's voice shook as he replied.
"As a military man, this is my end. Please, laugh at me. This is the fate of the man once known as the Commander of Steel."
"And, that poor treatment?"
"I was dismissed, and in the end, demoted to Lieutenant General. Further, I was sentenced for violating military regulations and immediately punished by cane. To think that this is their treatment of a man who has devoted himself to the Kingdom for many years, it is truly, truly vexing."
Yalder cut his words off there. He was lost for words, and a groan leaked out of his lips. The conversation continued again at Sidamo's urging.
"We were ordered to be a sacrificial piece here. This is the only role left for a defeated Army Corps, they said. The executives of the Kingdom plan to put preparations in order during that time and launch a counter-offensive. ......Not just us, to force even those under our wing to die a dog's death is intolerable, and so we made the decision to surrender to the Empire."
"......I see now. My sympathy to your suffering."
Alexander said with a compassionate expression, and Yalder kneeled, begging,
"Your Highness. Please add us to the vanguard unit. I want to show those fellows who slighted us the spirit of a soldier. I beg you. I beg you."
"......No, not with that body of yours. It's probably tough to use a spear. You should devote yourself to healing right now. Stimulation will reopen your wounds. Sir Sidamo, take Sir Yalder to his room."
"......Until they actually opened the gates, I had my suspicions, but it seems Yalder's surrender is genuine. What do you all think?"
Alexander asked Gustav, and even the strongly suspicious Gustav nodded in agreement.
"Yalder is famous for being a man with high pride. He is hot-blooded, and he is not a man who can come up with strategy. Anyone would feel disgusted risking his life and being rewarded like that."
"Either way, we were able to occupy the Second Fort. This is favorable for the operation I'd say."
Said Alexander, and the staff officers nodded. Then, they turned to deciding who to entrust the defense of this fort to.
"Until those trailing behind us arrive, let's put Yalder on defense. His division is a little less than 7,000. Just the right size I'd say."
"However, thinking about the worst case scenario, how about entrusting command of defense to someone else?"
Gustav offered a prudent policy to his superior, but Alexander laughed it off.
"While he has those kinds of injuries, he can't do something like decently command soldiers. If we bring defeated troops, I don't believe they'll be useful. They will only increase the food consumed. In that case, I believe it would be the best course of action to have them watch this place."
Said Alexander, and the staff officers showed agreement.
"I agree with you I believe, Your Highness. If we leave some people to observe them, we won't have to worry. Above all else, those guys don't have a shred of loyalty left towards the Kingdom."
"Not only that, speed from here out is more important than anything. We must immediately begin the march, capture the storehouse before the enemy prepares their defenses, and surround Madros."
One staff officer laid out a plan while indicating on the map. Alexander encouragingly nodded, and gave his orders.
"30,000 of the First Corps will begin to march to Madros. Gustav, 20,000 of your Seventh Corps will continue to head east and destroy the storehouse. Afterwards, supplement the Madros encirclement. I intend to have it fall before then though."
"By your will. Your Highness, please take earnest caution."
"Looks like your worried disposition isn't any better, Gustav. I'm no longer a child. Your excessive concern is unnecessary."
"I beg your pardon for that. I, Gustav, have misjudged His Highness."
Jested Gustav, and Alexander made a wry smile. Gustav inwardly gave priority to Wealth territory over the Empire, and Alexander only thought and labored to acquire the throne. These two people were on different sides, and they kept up a strange, mutual give-and-take relationship.
"......This fight will be a bridge to our glory. Gentlemen, I expect much more labor from you all."
Alexander expressed his determination, looking over the generals arranged around him, and all of them hardened their wills and nodded.
—-50,000 of the Imperial Army began marching from the Second Fort. Their targets: The food storehouse and also Madros Castle. The 7,000 of Yalder's surrendered Legion were on defense of the Second Fort.
Assigned as a commando unit of the First Corps, Schera's unit of 500 were the 'tail' part of the Imperial Army's column formation. They had orders from their superior officer to defend against raiding cavalry of the Kingdom's Army on their supply wagons. The rest of Schera's unit, 1,500, were scatteredly arranged, and they were given the same duty of defending the convoys.
In simpler terms, Schera had gotten the short end of the stick. Of course she would defend it to the end, but if by chance the convoys took damage, her head would likely be sent flying.
Alexander stressed marching speed generally: the front of his army were light cavalry, the middle was the main body of the army, and to the rear were the convoys and siege weapons. They continued the forced march even during the night, relying on light from torches, and approached Madros castle with astounding speed.
A road which should have taken a week normally was travelled momentously in merely three days.
They hadn't been discovered by the enemy, and 30,000 of the First Corps had been able to continue to promisingly march.
Then, when they were a day away from enemy headquarters, Alexander had the entire army take a rest.
"Rest a lot tonight. Tomorrow we will finally attack Madros. Everyone maintain your spirits."
Concealing themselves in the convenient woodlands, the Imperial soldiers relaxed their weary bodies while stifling their breathing. Fires to warm themselves were prohibited. There would be no point in coming so far if the enemy discovered them. For provisions, pre-prepared cold meat and bread... and potato were distributed.
Even so, the soldiers put up with their discomfort. If they won this battle, they were promised enormous reward. Also, they were almost there. If the city fell, they would probably get the chance to plunder. On that occasion, they planned on letting out all of their boiling desires.
Confirming that the vicinity had fallen silent, Schera came out from her shabby tent. Soldiers of her cavalry under compulsion to camp, wrapped in scraps of cloth, slowly raised their heads. Their eyes were keen with no sense of fatigue.
Katarina sent the signal with her gaze, and Schera laughed, showing her white teeth. The cavalry members also were about to smile when,
—-Karl, tasked with observing Schera and group, appeared accompanied by one infantryman.
"Just what to you intent to do so late at night, Lieutenant Colonel Schera. Leading your cavalry members, maybe you are heading out somewhere?"
"It's too cold, so I thought I'd go move my body. Karl, how about you come too I wonder?"
Carrying her scythe, Schera replied undisturbed. The cavalrymen were silent, watching.
"No, I am fine. Apart from that, I have been put on strict surveillance. I have been given instructions to cut down anyone unnecessarily noisy and anyone moving without authority. Lieutenant Colonel, please go back. Otherwise—-"
Karl raised his hand, and the infantryman unsheathed his sword with slow movements.
"Otherwise, what, I wonder. Hey, Katarina. I'm curious."
"Indeed, Lieutenant Colonel. Just what does Second Lieutenant Karl plan to do? Perhaps he is threatening us."
Katarina responded to Schera's question with scorn. Behind her clouded glasses were concealed eyes brimming with madness.
To make them understand that it wasn't just a threat, Karl ordered for Katarina, who had taken a defiant attitude, to be punished.
Of course, they couldn't cause an uproar, so they couldn't do anything showy. He was going to gag her and then cane her. Thought it was 'cane,' the strikes would be with a sheathe, and it was quite capable of causing death if done improperly.
"I have received special orders from Lieutenant General Gustav. If Lieutenant Colonel Schera has suspicious activities, punish her. Second Lieutenant Katarina, I will drive into your body for you, that I am being serious. I do not discriminate against the female gender. I treat everyone equally, so be at ease."
When Karl waved his hand down, the accompanying infantryman grabbed the arms, forced the person to kneel, and put the gag in to prevent any sound.
Seeing the person writhing, wondering what was going on, Schera made a grand smile.
"Karl, because I am indebted to you for giving me food, I will kill you painlessly. You are a... really lucky man. Really, I intended on your screams substituting for the signal."
Katarina snapped her fingers, and the accompanying infantryman corpse placed his sword on the nape of Karl's neck. This had been Katarina's measure to keep watch over Karl.
"With that, shall we do it, Lieutenant Colonel?"
"No, I've thought of something good. I've... never seen fireworks before. In the clear winter sky, they appear very pretty, I've heard. So, let's make Karl a firework in the night sky."
"Great thinking. It will also be a signal easy for our other comrades to understand."
"Second Lieutenant Karl, this is farewell. Good-bye. The Wealth potato, was truly delectable."
After Schera gently stroked his face, she impaled his skull with her scythe, and gave him an instant death. He had probably died without feeling any pain.
She pulled out, and grabbed him by the collar with both hands. She took a stance, and checked for confirmation with Katarina, and then the cavalrymen.
Everyone silently nodded and took up their weapons, their eyes fierily gleaming, saturated with bloodlust.
"Well then, shall we begin? It's cold, so let's do this magnificently."
Ready. Set. Schera hurled Karl's corpse up into the sky as hard as she could. A dark object climbed high in the air while spraying blood into the fluttering powder snow of the sky. Once it reached its apex, Katarina snapped her fingers, and the dark object was engulfed in dark red flames, and then exploded with a boom.
Schera merrily watched, and then licked the snow dotted with red that had accumulated on her hands.
—-The fun festival had begun.
After the roar of the explosion, flames rose forth throughout the area, and shouts, screams, and shrieks covered the Empire's campgrounds. Schera's Cavalry, wearing armor of the Imperial Army on their bodies, shouted false information while slaughtering and setting fire. The exhausted Imperial soldiers were crushed without time to decipher anything.
"Major General Gale's division has betrayed! Take up your swords and fight back!"
"Surprise attack from the Kingdom's Army! We're being ambushed-!"
"The supply convoys have been destroyed! All the provisions have been burned-!"
"It'll be a massacre at this rate-! Kill them back-!"
Reports contradicted each other, and the soldiers swung their swords and spears without knowing who the enemy was. In the darkness, terror and madness infected them.
"You idiots-! Can't you shut up!? The one's randomly making noise are the betr—-"
Rebuked a composed officer, and a lance went through his throat from behind. The soldier pulled out his lance that had a black flag attached to it, and silently went to set fire to another place.
Commanders who had jumped to their feet tried to calm down the chaos. But, Schera's cavalrymen that had been dispersed all over tried to kill those generals with maximum priority. Then, they would shout that the commanding officer had been killed and further expand the scope of casualties. Like termites devouring a tree, the casualties were spreading at frightening speed.
There began to be vast amounts of victims killed by friendly fire in the First Corps of the Imperial Army that had fallen into havoc. A staff officer that had received a report from a messenger entered Alexander's tent.
"Your Highness, Alexander, Your Highness-! Bad news! Enemy operatives have slipped into our army and are conducting arsony!"
Forcibly woken from his shallow sleep, Alexander unhappily scowled at the panicked staff officer, and give him instructions with an indifferent tone.
"Then immediately capture the operatives. What's there to be confused about? Calmly deal with it."
"We are no longer in such a situation! Our army has fallen into chaos, and soldiers are beginning to kill their comrades! Your Highness has to take command as soon as possible and personally control this situation!"
Getting the feeling that the state of affairs were more serious than imagined, Alexander commanded his retainers and had them hurriedly put armor on his body. He gave out instructions to the head of his bodyguards, and the soldiers tightly arranged themselves around Alexander.
Exiting the tent, Alexander was spontaneously lost for words. Flames rose from nearly the entire woodlands which were the Empire's campgrounds. Fire spread to the surrounding trees, dying the night sky with fluttering snow red.
"W, what is this. We're only a bit further from Madros-! What are Gale, Rap, Dors, and the others doing!? Send out messengers to get them to immediately assemble-!"
Alexander was enraged, and he angrily shouted the names of the division commanders of the First Corps. They were generals who Alexander had saw potential in and gave them their ranks. They were people who might even be called his proteges.
"T, that is, Major General Gale has turned traitor the soldiers say."
One messenger pronounced, and Alexander rejected it.
"Foolish-! Isn't that obviously the enemy's misinformation!? Like there'd be anyone who'd turn traitor in this situation! Victory is right before our eyes!"
Alexander seized the messenger by the lapels. Something rolled at his feet; it rolled unevenly, and losing momentum before long, it came to a perfect stop at a place slightly away from Alexander.
It was a human head. It had a dreadful look on it, and he remembered seeing it somewhere. It was an exceptional, veteran commander that Alexander had taken up.
It was that of Gale, who led one of the divisions.
"G, Gale? Gale!? Why are you—-"
"He had been a very excellent commander. Your Highness has a discerning eye it seems. That person... tried to preserve command of the soldiers until the very end."
From the dark, resonated a voice that he was familiar with. Then, the atmosphere suddenly tensed. There was something abominable lurking. It was something sinister that made one feel dread. Something that couldn't be expressed with words.
Snap, and something exploded nearby. Flames flared up, illuminating that thing.
"......Lieutenant Colonel, S-schera?"
Alexander and his surrounding guards doubted their eyes. A little girl covered in blood from head to toe was trudging closer. In that thing's hands were held two more heads.
"I'll give these to you too. There were so many outstanding men in the Imperial Army. They were also quite loyal, and they worried about His Highness until their end. Your Highness is truly a fortunate man."
Schera threw the heads. Those were of Rap and Dors. Their eyes were wide open, and had an expression stuck on them that made one think they had a heroic end.
That moment, the bodyguards that had fallen into distress unsheathed their swords and pointed them at Schera from every direction.
"D, die, you monster!!"
"Schera!! You traitor!"
"It's the deceived's fault for being deceived. Staff Officer Sidamo told me."
After cleaving the foremost person vertically in half, the scythe turned, drawing an arc, and cut up the two to the left and right in turn. She dodged the spear coming at her from behind, and mid-turn the tip of that tempered blade split his face from the side.
The bodyguards used their bodies as shields, obstructing Schera's path and not letting her approach Alexander. Some risked their lives to launch an attack, but their swords did not reach, and with one blow they were turned into pieces of meat. Even so, they continued to attack; everyone understood that it was their mission as bodyguards. No matter the situation, they had to protect the life of Alexander to the last man-they were bodyguards.
In the span of not even a minute, tragic corpses were strewn about the area. Small sickles crookedly protruded from the brows of soldiers who tried to snipe her from the shadows. They had tried to stab her with spears all at the same time, but not one attack reached her. Every time, a strong counter from Schera had reaped their lives.
Behind her, Schera's Cavalry was drawing closer. White, ominous crows rushed through the blazing trees. They hastened to join their Lord.
"So, Your Highness, it is dangerous here. Luckily under Sir Gustav's instructions the guards here have been augmented. Leave stopping the monster in its tracks to them. Let us temporarily retreat and rally this situation. Once the night brightens, the chaos will settle down naturally."
A staff officer proposed, carrying out his own duty despite his face pale from the tragedy before his eyes.
"Are you telling me to run away? You're saying that the First Prince Alexander is frightened of merely a few hundred traitors and must withdraw-!? I command a force of 30,000!! Why must I retreat!?"
"Your Highness, in the worst case scenario, our first First Corps will be routed. Consequently, it is the commander's obligation to survive until the end. If you understand, then hurry and go!"
Shouted the aged Staff Officer, and Alexander was temporarily speechless. The Staff Officer ordered two bodyguards standing by to take Alexander to a safe place and take refuge. Protect him no matter the cost, he ordered.
"Take His Highness to a place where his allies are gathered. The whole army could not have fallen into chaos. There are likely to be units waiting for instructions. Evacuate until there and then take command of the whole army. You two must protect His Highness no matter what-."
"Are you listening-!? You guys are the glorious Bodyguards-! What're you frightened of!? Why aren't you answering-!"
Thundered the Staff Officer, and the bodyguards plainly responded.
".......Leave it to uS."
The two large bodyguards firmly grabbed both of Alexander's arms and pulled him away. After seeing them off, the Staff Officer unsheathed his sword and joined the bodyguards stopping the monster.
Reinforcements had joined Death swinging its cursed scythe. They had set fire to the area as ordered, and they returned to beside their commander right after. There were 500 for the time being. The remaining soldiers were running full speed to come home next to Schera while fanning the chaos.
"Seems His Excellency Gustav's intuition was correct. Still, to have caused this many casualties. For our magnificent Imperial Army to have become like this due to just one lousy bug."
Muttered the old Staff Officer. He reflected.
Schera's betrayal was clear. Which meant that Yalder's surrender was also a fake. In that case, their entire invasion plan this time was read by their enemy. The Imperial Army had thoroughly fallen into their trick and revealed this sorry state. As a staff officer, this was a disgrace that he couldn't apologize for even if he gave his own life.
"If it were me, I would wipe out the Second Fort, take advantage of this turmoil and launch a surprise attack. Then, I would launch a pincer attack coordinated with Madros Castle. ......However, for us to have been so profoundly disorganized... could only have been done by the monster before our eyes. Is that thing human? Isn't it actually Death?"
The 7,000 of Yalder's Legion were racing towards the Imperial Army that had frighteningly quickly marched here. Likely at dawn, or maybe even before then, they would sink their fangs into the First Corps. Having adequately rested, it was obvious that Yalder's Legion would be faster than the Imperial Army.
"Any any rate, kukuh-, what is this. The stalwart imperial guards are being slaughtered by just a single little girl aren't they? No, hold on. This is surely a dream. Yeah, definitely. There's no way something like this would happen otherwise. Hundreds of elites being killed by just one person, there's no way that could happen. This is a dream. This is a dream. This is a dream. This is a dream."
The bodyguards were easily suppressed, and Death that had eaten all of them, leaving not one remaining, approached the Staff Officer continuing to mumble with a blank look. With an expression full of pity, it brushed his cheek and gently whispered.
"—-sweet dreams. good night."
Alexander had been brought to a small, deserted hill by the two bodyguards. There were no signs of any allies. Thinking this strange, Alexander questioned them, but the soldiers said not a word. Even when he struggled against the hold on both his arms, he couldn't escape from the inhuman strength binding them.
(These guys, aren't breathing at all. They aren't even sweating. Their bodies are too cold. It's almost like......"
Putting his disordered breathing in order, Alexander studied the soldiers' faces. There was no light in their eyes. Their faces were too pale.
"H, hey. You guys......."
When Alexander asked for the umpteenth time, there was the sound of fingers snapping, and both his arms were freed from their restraints with no prior warning.
He fell forward, and someone hugged his body. When his brain registered whose face entered his field of vision, his body stiffened in overwhelming terror.
"Ah, ah, ahhh—-"
"Good evening, Your Highness Alexander. You don't have to be so scared. There's no one here besides us."
Cackling laughed the bloodsmeared Schera in ridicule. Katarina and the cavalrymen surrounded them in a ring.
"W, what are, you going to do to me."
"I'm thinking about that right now actually. Katarina, which do you think is better, killing His Highness or capturing him alive? I don't really care so."
Schera asked Katarina while wiping blood and sweat from her brow.
Katarina closed her eyes and thought for a short while. In her palm were gripped the two walnuts that had been given as a present from her superior officer. She rhythmically rolled them as they clattered, collected her thoughts, and reported to her superior.
"I believe it will be more profitable to take him back alive. We can kill him whenever after all. We can likely use him as a bargaining chip for negotiations. That would be much more convenient for the Kingdom I believe."
"So that's how it is."
"If, if I had to go along with your whims, I'd rather—-"
The instant Alexander shouted, Schera's hands tightly grasped both sides of Alexander's head, immobilizing him. Alexander's eyes were forced to look at the monster before his eyes. He was made to stare closely at her bared, white teeth and eyes filled with a deep, unfathomable darkness.
"If you want to die, then please go ahead and tell me. But, I won't kill you so easily. I won't kill you even if you beg me to kill you. Until your voice dies out, until your consciousness shrivels, you will continue to live. When your very being collapses, then, I will kill you underfoot like a bug. If you have that resolution, please say it Your Highness."
Her bloodstained hands affectionately rubbed Alexander's cheeks. The sensation of the lukewarm slime was strongly burned into Alexander's brain. After stroking his cheek several times, Schera happily smiled.
"—-Ah, ahh-, ahh."
"Lieutenant Colonel, you'll cripple him if you overdo it. That thing's value will drop if it breaks"
"Apologies. Certainly, it's not good to overdo it. His Highness did also give me food and money. If I'm going to kill him, I guess I have to do it more pleasantly. ......Also, we've been finally freed from that stuffy mission."
She let go of the reactionless Alexander and lightly stretched, going "Ahh~". Laughter came from the cavalry watching her. It was an action that didn't suit their superior officer who was called Death.
"What shall we do from here on? His Excellency Yalder's Legion will soon arrive, and it appears a pincer unit from Madros will arrive too. If we want to join the attack, we need to link up with them I believe."
Yalder's Legion and 10,000 sortied from Madros planned to launch a united attack soon on the First Corps of the Imperial Army that had lost its convoys, fallen into chaos, and couldn't take action. They had further lost their main commanders, and the First Prince of the Empire was captured. They would be routed with just one blow, no doubt about it.
"There remains one more person, who we have to greet. I've waited quite a while, so let's go see him. If we drive the cavalry, we'll probably meet him in time."
"Politely carry His Highness to Madros. Please and thank you."
Schera ordered the two cavalrymen who had recently joined, the two former mercenaries. Both of them straightened their backs and respectfully bowed.
"Sir-, we will make sure to bring this man to Madros! Leave it to us!"
"Very well. ......We will march north from here, and strike the back of the Empire's Seventh Corps! Schera's Cavalry, begin the advance-!"
—-To raid the food storehouse, Gustav leading the Seventh Corps were heading east from the Second Fort.
At the same time as the sky brightened, a messenger conveyed an urgent report.
"Your Excellency Gustav! Bad news-!"
"What! Calm down and report."
"The First Corps was hit by an enemy's night attack and annihilated! Our allies are routed, and His Highness Alexander whereabouts are unknown!"
With a grave expression, Gustav asked for confirmation from the messenger.
"Sir-, this information is for certain!"
"......What is this."
The creases of Gustav's brow bunched together, and he crossed his arms while groaning.
"Yalder in the Second Fort has betrayed, and he plans to pincer with a unit that has launched themselves from Madros Castle. There are reports that traitors also appeared within the army, but the details are ambiguous."
Read aloud a staff officer, skimming the report from the messenger. He was disturbed internally, but he made an effort not to let that show on his expression.
"It's hard to believe that His Highness's First Corps would be decimated that easily though..."
"However, it's hard to consider this misinformation. We ought to think that the First Army has taken to their heels."
"I fear Lieutenant Colonel Schera may have induced havoc from the inside. No matter how elite the soldiers, an army is frail when the line of command breaks. ......So Yalder and Schera's surrender was indeed fake. We've been duped."
The staff officers could only keep silent at Gustav's words. There were two roads the Seventh Corps could choose from.
They could continue east as they were and conduct a raid as planned from the beginning. However, that necessitated the resolve to be annihilated.
The other was to retake the abandoned Second Fort and withdraw to Wealth. That would also be quite challenging, but there was a good possibility that the trailing units had drawn close enough to the Second Fort.
"......We Wealthians, would never be beaten by Madrosians correct?"
"Sir-, there is no need to show our backs. Please give your order to immediately charge forward. If we burn the storehouse, we can also make the enemy taste hell!"
"Very well. Then, we shall advance forward. We can't show our faces to Wealth if we can't even destroy a storehouse!"
"Understood! We'll show them; we'll absolutely obliterate the storehouse!!"
Gustav decided to advance forward. If they burned the storehouse, he would be able to once again induce a stalemate. Also, assuming Alexander had been taken prisoner, he was considering the possibility of being able to carry out negotiations favorably. And thus, with a certain static interfering with his composed thinking, he chose to take a path he would've never taken normally.
When they finally arrived at a place where they could see the disguised and fenced storehouse, the Seventh Corps increased their speed of advance, whether they liked it or not. They leaped. Onto their deathbeds, hidden by high thickets.
"W, what's this-!? Th, this is—-"
"It's a bottomless swamp-! Stop, Stop you all-!!"
"All members halt, Halt-!! If you don't want to die, Halt!!"
Upon the vanguard group entering the marshlands, the soldiers met with disaster. Bodies sank into the mud, and they couldn't move. Not only that, they began to be swallowed up to their torsos, and before long, they were completely swallowed.
Not everywhere was bottomless of course, but their feet had been resoundly stopped. Horses struggled and fell, and soldiers with the weight of their armor had poor footing and couldn't stand up.
Gustav orders the entire army to stop and sent the order to slowly back up. But, it was already too late.
The entirety of Kerry's Fifth Army had been deployed here in ambush, and had held their breaths, waiting for the Imperial Army to jump to their deaths.
"You shitface Gustav, how rare of you plunge so deep in. You saved us a lot of trouble. Surround the enemy!! Push them into the marshlands and shoot them with arrows!! Massacre the Wealthians-!!
"Push them in-!!"
"Rain down the arrows!"
War drums beat, horns pealed, and the entire army began the assault. The men with their feet seized in the marshlands were doused with arrows like rain, and they helplessly collapsed. Awaiting those who tried to escape for dear life was a volley from mounted archers, the Fifth Army's pride.
Kerry had also taken up a bow, and with steady aim, was accurately shooting down soldiers. While nocking the next arrow, he thought,
(Gustav, it seems you've inhaled Sir Death's miasma, and never doubted us for a second.)
Why would they expressly build a storehouse here, straight ahead from the Second Fort whose defense was unreliable. There was no reason, except that this entire region was completely safeguarded by marshlands. Otherwise, there would never be a storehouse build on difficult-to-defend flat land. Kerry was more familiar than anyone with the Madros terrain.
If it were the normal Gustav, he would've certainly conducted reconnaissance, cautiously marched, and seen through them probably.
What made him not was that his eyes had been clouded by the oppressive presence known as Death.
"Retreat-, Retreat! Break through the encirclement and return to Wealth even if you have to do it alone!! For I of all people to have artfully been ensnared in a trap-!"
Yelled Gustav, encouraging the soldiers. He felt ashamed of himself for losing his composure this late in the game. He had been thoroughly duped by Schera who he had doubted in the first place, and then bit at the bait dangled right before his eyes. How foolish he had been.
He marshaled his soldiers while his face was flushing with anger and remorse. There was no time to regret.
"Your Excellency, Your Excellency cannot die here. Go back and live for us Wealthians. That is the duty of a man of the Wealth family. Please take care of our families."
"I cannot! I will with you gentlemen—-"
"You mustn't-! We'll launch an attack and open a way out without fail. Strike there and break through no matter what!"
"Your Excellency Gustav, please stay safe-!"
Shaking off Gustav's voice telling them to stop, the elite unit to his side began the assault, fervently thrashing the enemy infantry. They were impaled by pikes, dragged down from horses, and many people were killed. But, their intense onslaught was able to create an opening in the Kingdom's Army for just a second.
"Arrghh, don't let their sacrifices be in vain! Everyone follow me-! We'll break through this encirclement for sure!!"
"Follow His Excellency!! Long Live Wealth!!"
"Glory to Wealth!!"
"Kill even one more Madrosian-!"
Gustav had broken through the encirclement, and took flight with all his energy, aiming for the Second Fort. Trying to prevent him, Kerry's pursuit unit relentlessly attacked them. There were no Wealthian prisoners. Everyone fought until they died, and thus the killing continued.
As losses began increasing beyond expectations, Kerry reluctantly ordered the pursuit to stop. There was nothing more dangerous than soldiers who were prepared to die, soldiers that had given themselves up to Death. Gustav's soldiers had fought with that degree of determination.
Gustav's Seventh Corps that had been 20,000 was now reduced to 5,000. The survivors scattered loosely in all directions, and through their own respective judgements, tried to retreat to Wealth.
Those accompanying Gustav around him were merely 500. There was no command, and they did nothing but continue to steadily retreat.
In the violent snowstorm, in front of them appeared an army of cavalry. Their flag was black, and it had a white crow coat of arms on it. It was the emblem of Schera, the character ought to be called the leading actor behind their defeat.
"......So here is Death's curtain up huh? Perfect timing to give them a parting gift. We'll make them accept their punishment!"
Gustav unsheathed his sword with a vehement look and gave the order to attack.
Schera's Cavalry similarly began the charge, and it became a battle royale with horses of both sides mutually stopped. Both sides had accumulated fatigue, and the only ones moving around robustly was Schera and a few others. Lively swinging her scythe, she reaped anyone she could get her hands on.
"Schera-!! You bastard, how dare you appear!! If you have any pride as a warrior, kill yourself immediately-!"
"Ahaha-! Lieutenant General Gustav, I've been waiting for you! I knew if I did that I'd splendidly run into you like this. The more heads of generals the better. Sorry, but please become my meal-!"
"Silence-! By the pride of Wealth, I will kill you-!"
Schera's scythe swooped down at Gustav, but he parried her furious attacks, deftly manipulating his sword. His intuition from his many years warned him that he couldn't take the blows with his sword. Gustav continued to flourish his sword, warding off her power.
His horse wildly neighed, and Gustav's motivating shouts echoed around the vicinity.
"—-there. Flowingly. Like this-!"
Deflecting the force, he handled Schera's blows by a paper thin margin. In this predicament, Gustav displayed his proficiency in swordsmanship.
"Naive, little girl-!!"
Schera got unintentionally caught in Gustav's feint. He had feigned his posture broken, and the scythe was swung downwards, but Gustav avoided it by centimeters.
"I've got you-!!"
Schera had overextended. Gustav aimed for her chest, sending forth a sharp thrust with all his might behind it. It was an extremely fast thrust, the fastest in Gustav's lifetime.
"......How regrettable. Just a fingertip away. Lieutenant General Gustav, you really aren't lucky."
Gustav's thrusted sword has stopped only a small distance away from Schera's heart. He had gotten her armor, but unfortunately, was unable to leave a wound.
Schera's up-swinged scythe sublimely stabbed into Gustav's jaw. It's tip could be seen penetrating through the front of Gustav's face. Gustav couldn't let out any screams at what intense pain must be running through his body. From his twitching mouth spilled volumes of blood.
Schera violently extracted her scythe, and Gustav's head was cut off with a sideways flash. Then, she sucked in a deep breath, and shorted in a large voice.
"I, Schera, have killed the enemy general Gustav!! The enemy's routed-, kill everyone you can reach-!!"
A unit that had lost its commander was extremely brittle. On the other hand, soldiers in victory gathered strength. Gustav's soldiers that had lost their fighting spirit were all crushed, and their corpses littered the ground. Even so, it ought to be praised that they fought to the end.
In the end, no more than 3,000 of the Seventh Corps made it back to Wealth safely. The remaining soldiers had all died in battle.
The 30,000 First Corps was completely routed, more than half of them surrendered, and the rest died in battle or escaped.
The operation to invade Madros completely failed, and it ended with the Imperial Army suffering enormous injury.
Also, the commander of the First Corps Alexander had become a prisoner of the Kingdom's Army, and the commander of the Seventh Corps Gustav had died in battle. The Empire had lost all its war potential in the East, and the higher-ups were in great commotion.
The Kingdom began negotiations with the Empire using Alexander as leverage. First, they wanted the Empire to withdraw their troops from captured Kingdom territory, and also wanted them to pay indemnities. Furthermore, in exchange for the delivery of Alexander, they wanted the Empire to hand over the Second Prince Alan. They sought to drive a wedge between the Empire and the Liberation Army.
The Empire agreed to withdraw their troops, but would not pay indemnities. Also, they completely refused to hand over Alan. First time negotiations ended in failure to reach agreement.
For the time being, temporarily established by continuing negotiations, a transient peace reached the Wealth and Madros Areas.
In the defensive battle for Madros this time, Schera's participation had been tremendous. She had made incredible achievements, taking three heads of division commander rank generals, taking the head of the Seventh Corps commander Gustav, and further capturing the First Prince of the Empire alive. She was enthusiastically praised by Kerry and Yalder, and she began being treated as a hero even in the Royal Capital. A letter of commendation from Prime Minister Farzam also arrived, and it was decided a medal would be conferred.
With such meritorious service, she was immediately approved for promotion to Colonel, and her adjutant Katarina was also cleared to be promoted to First Lieutenant.
As for Schera, rather than some promotion to Colonel, she was much for interested in the seed of the Wealth Potato she had obtained during the raid on the supply convoys.
She toyed with the seed potato, humming, trying to think of a suitable place to cultivate it.
"Lieutenant Colonel, congratulations on your promotion to Colonel. You are also famed in the Royal Capital as a Hero, the savior of the country. Is it okay to relinquish your name of Death God?"
For a Hero to have the nickname Death God was inauspicious and would become a topic of discussion, said Katarina as she wryly smiled. Schera laughed, not worrying at all.
"The name finally stuck, and wouldn't that be a waste. Isn't it suitable enough?"
"No problem then. Please call boldly call yourself Death God from here on as well."
"I shall. Good for you too getting promoted to First Lieutenant, Katarina."
Due to their successive losses, Katarina had said goodbye to promotion. Now she had finally been able to rise to First Lieutenant. Even after promotion, her duties wouldn't particularly change though.
She intended to work all the harder as Schera's adjutant.
"Sir, thank you very much! Also, Lieutenant General Yalder's reinstatement to General has been approved due to his achievements this time. He's in an extremely good humor, and he admires you, Lieutenant Colonel. Enough that he wants you as his daughter, he says."
That wasn't a joke, he truly considered taking her in as an adopted child, but he was stopped by Sidamo.
Saying he didn't want anymore chores pushed on him, he persuaded Yalder desperately it seemed.
Kerry also informed her that he wanted to accept her as a bride for Darus, who had safely survived, but Darus himself was begging in tears. It seemed he had some psychological trauma from almost being killed.
When Schera smiled, his face paled and he escaped, almost flying away.
"They also said that we'll get a bunch of medals. When I said please give me something delicious instead of those, I was laughed at."
Schera tossed the seed potato into the air like a beanbag, again and again. Katarina was having fun watching her.
"In this battle, many of my soldiers died too sadly. Very unfortunate."
"Sir, among 2,000 men, 600 have died in battle or are missing. However, everyone fought with bravery until the end."
"......It's really lonely; the people that eat meals together with me have decreased."
"We, will be serve you until our ends."
"Yeah. Mm, I'm okay. After all, I haven't killed enough at all. I want to eat a lot more. I want to kill a lot more. I can still fight. I will leave not one of the rebel army scum alive. That's what I've decided."
After smiling cheerfully, Schera preciously put the seed potato in her bag. She took Katarina back to the cavalry, where everyone was making a stew. It was a rich stew with many Wealth potatoes and fish they had gotten from Madros in it. It was really delicious.
In the spur of the moment, Yalder and Kerry, and also Darus with his face spasming, participated, and it ended up turning into a grand banquet involving the entire Madros castle,
Schera ate various delicacies, drank wine, and greatly enjoyed the feast with all of her comrades.
—-A room in Madros Castle.
After the feast was over, Yalder and Kerry were silently drinking together.
It wasn't high-grade liquor for victories, but it was good liquor that Kerry prided himself on and had prepared to thank Yalder for his efforts.
"Yalder. Sorry for pushing this inferior role on you this time. It was thanks to you that we were able to kill Gustav and protect Madros. I'm truly grateful."
Kerry poured drink into his cup. Yalder with his face full of bruises grimaced, and drank it all in one gulp.
"—-Hmph. Lieutenant Colonel Schera was the key figure for victory. I was nothing more than acting a buffoon. It would've been difficult to rout the Imperial Army without her. Schera splendidly lived up to expectations."
".....Where did you find that thing, Yalder. I've never seen a such a monster-like woman before."
"She was originally nothing more than a private soldier stationed at Antigua. She distinguished herself all of a sudden, and now she's joined the ranks of heroes. At this rate, the future of the Kingdom is bright perhaps."
Muttered Yalder while recalling Schera's figure. Her brilliant success story was at the same time Yalder's story of suffering. She had talent that made him as a warrior jealous. But, it was a pleasure to have been able to fight together with her.
Him saying he wanted her as an adopted child was by no means a joke. If he could wed her to one of his sons and have her succeed his lineage, there would be no better happiness.
"......Yalder. There's one thing I want to ask. How can you have so much faith in Schera? Didn't you ever doubt if she would really betray the Empire? I only let you put on the act because I knew you would never turn traitor."
Kerry considered Yalder the foolhardy type of commander. At the same time, he knew Yalder also had a side as a firm warrior who would never harbor treachery. He had a dark countenance like that of a bandit, and he was an easily misunderstood human being.
He didn't know if that was good or bad for the person himself though.
Which is exactly why Kerry had Yalder act out the fake surrender and had him strike the Empire from behind.
Yalder had indignantly hit him because his pride couldn't bear the humiliating duty.
"Do you want to know, Kerry."
Yalder haughtily tilted his cup.
"I really want to know. Let me use it as reference later."
"—-Simply intuition. I had a feeling that she wouldn't turn traitor. And I fantastically won the gamble. Truly an auspicious matter."
"......I'm so surprised I can't say anything. I knew you were stupid."
That wasn't an answer, Kerry's expression said, and he poured himself more drink and gulped it down. With a triumphant expression, Yalder chewed on smoked meat that accompanied alcohol.
Yalder had sent Schera into the main body of the Imperial Army because he thought just himself wouldn't be enough.
A powerful poison was needed to break the Empire's large army. Just Yalder himself was severely insufficient. And, there was only one person under Yalder's command who could shoulder that important duty.
The female commissioned officer taking the alias of Death God. That cavalry carrying a black flag with a white crow coat of arms.
If he left it to her group, they would overrun the Imperial Army and cause ensuing pandemonium, he felt.
That's all there was to it.
—-Message from the Royal Capital to Canaan.
There has been a staged attempt at a coup d'etat in the Royal Capital Blanca.
The ringleader was the eldest son of the Bazarov family, Colonel Gulf Bazarov and his faction.
He planned to assassinate the King and Prime Minister and schemed to seize power.
He was successfully prevented through the workings of Prime Minister Farzam's agents.
The regiment in Canaan is to immediately restrain Sharov Bazarov and send him to the Royal Capital.
If he resists, take him dead or alive.
Barbora is hereby appointed as commander of Canaan as substitute.