The Kingdom Third Army Corps was being persistently pursued, and with their eyes on Branch Castle Antigua, they continued to desperately retreat. Everyone bore some form of wound, their equipment was dented, and they were totally exhausted. The soldiers that had been left behind by the main body were crushed, each and every one, or they threw down their swords and surrendered.
"Haah-, Haah-, to shamelessly, return like, like this huh. If I had to receive such disgrace, I would rather die in battle! Reform the battle formation, and throw down the gauntlet for a second decisive battle-!!"
Fumed Yalder with his breathing haggard and face flushed.
For him who had continued to walk to road to success, and soon to be 50 years old, this was the first time he had tasted failure.
The figures of both Major Generals, Kyros and Dhanush, who were leading the Heavy Infantry and Cavalry divisions, were nowhere to be seen. In the earlier engagement at the Alucia Plains, they were caught in the confusion during the explosions and died in battle.
The Liberation Army set up Princess Alucia as the vanguard to act as bait, and not only were they successful in luring in the Heavy Divisions, but also the entire army of the Kingdom to their deaths.
Sidamo had fathomed that it was a trap, but he did not possess the means to stop the enthusiastic military officers. And then, when they were just near enough that they could see the enemy's faces, the ground exploded together with the roar of the detonation. Like a chain reaction, it grew and swallowed the soldiers of the Kingdom, and many lives were atomized.
Yalder's prided heavy infantry and cavalry were simply destroyed without ever crossing swords. While raising battlecries, the Liberation Army, in the formation of an arrow, then started the charge against the Kingdom's Army that had fallen into pandemonium.
Yalder, the commander, shouted in a thundering voice and tried to rally everyone's condition, but the next move completely decided the outcome of the battle.
From a slightly elevated hill, many flags of the Empire were raised, and war drums boomed with enough force to break the sky like it would burst. Completely unexpected, the Empire's army earnestly joined the war.
The moment the cavalry unit wearing the armor of the Empire started the charge, what little fighting spirit left in the soldiers of the Kingdom was blown away. After all, the Kingdom's army was mostly a gathering of a mob of people. The soldiers who would throw away their lives and fight amounted to less than 10% probably. They were not a match for the Liberation Army who had high morale. While their numbers were overwhelmingly greater, the Kingdom Army played the disgraceful role of being routed.
The soldiers who decided to listen to Yalder's orders were no longer existing at the time. Kyros and Dhanush who were isolated had eaten a fierce attack from an elite unit carrying The Flag of the Lion, and their heads had been tragically taken.
They had only found out later, but the soldiers of the Empire that had appeared at that time were fakes-the Keyland Empire had not fully committed to the war. The people who stood carrying the Empire's Flag were ordinary civilians, and the cavalry wearing the Empire's armor were mercenaries. Just utilizing civilians was a mundane deception tactic, but in the state of confusion from the landmines, the army of the Kingdom was thoroughly deceived. When people lose their composure, their judgement is hampered.
"Your Excellency. Let us reorganize our position at Antigua and wait for a chance to clear up this dishonor. If we were to attempt another decisive battle in our state, the outcome is clear. It is regrettable, but we have no strength to fight remaining."
At Sidamo's remonstration, Yalder looked over the soldiers around him.
"This, this, this is our glorious Third Army? So far we have fallen. Why-! I don't get it! In the first place, I haven't heard anything like the Empire would participate in the war-! What are those guys in my own country doing-!!?"
"Your Excellency, about that—-"
Two horsemen came galloping to further report bad news in the ears of the commander who clenched his fists in disgrace.
"Your Excellency General Yalder-!!"
"What is it this time!!? Have other countries taken the opportunity to make an alliance and join the war!? Those ungrateful trashes-!"
The one controlling the northern part of the Mundo Novo continent was the Yuze Kingdom. The one expanding their sphere of control from the west was the Keyland Empire.
Also, the one that united the southeast was the Dolebacks Union. The continent's southeast was originally controlled by the Kingdom, but taking advantage of the mayhem once demons appeared, every feudal lord declared independence. They would join in alliance and would form a nation, was their ploy. They held fertile land and also had access to the ocean; they had large quantities of ore resources sleeping underground, and they held great economic power. In recent years, they had been rapidly expanding their influence, leading to great wealth and military strength.
The greatest cause for the Kingdom's decline was the loss of this plentiful territory. Of course, they were desperate to take it back, and they sent out expeditions many times over.
But, the Union offered their funds and resources to the Empire and entered into a military alliance. They cooperated and opposed the Kingdom from two fronts.
Before long, the battles lengthened, and the Union which had sustained the Kingdom's continued assaults gave in, paid an indemnity of not a small sum of money, and entered into a ceasefire. Between each country, a non-aggression pact in name only was signed.
These were the series of events that led to the outbreak of the Mundo Novo Great War 200 years ago.
"Y, your Excellency, we have a Non-aggression pact with the Union—-"
At one of the civil official's utterance, Yalder shouted.
"Silence! Taking advantage of the rebels and imposing an embargo all the while, what pact-!!? No mistake, they're snickering at our impoverishment-!"
"I, I beg your pardon."
"—-Messenger, continue the report!"
They could not believe their ears at the information that departed from the messenger's mouth at Sidamo's urging.
"Sir-! I have confirmed at the enemy's flag is waving from Antigua Branch Castle! The Rebel Army's flag is being flown! Antigua has fallen!!"
For a moment, time stopped.
"W, what did you say-!? Like something that stupid could happen!! There were 10,000 soldier left behind over there!! It's impossible that it would fall so readily-!!""
Indignant, Yalder seized the lapels of the messenger. Sidamo could also could not hide his unease at this intelligence outside his expectations.
Another messenger further continued the report.
"According to soldiers who escaped from the castle, many betrayers were incited to open the gates for the enemies who rushed in. Major General Rustam in command of defense was killed after a hard fight with the Rebel Army. Antigua has completely fallen into the hands of the enemy!"
Aiming for the gap after the enemy's main force was drawn out to the plains, a detached force attacked Antigua. The castle was opened by colluders informed beforehand. The Third Army was thoroughly pulled in by the enemy's plan, and an important base was stolen from them.
Branch Castle Antigua, a vital point of defense, from hereon would not only be the Royal Capital Liberation Army's, but would probably also become a beachhead for Empire's reinforcement units.
"......Your Excellency. As it is, we can no longer head towards Antigua. Right away, let us withdraw from here to the Eastern Belta. We have a store of provisions over there. If we do not hurry, it will be seized by the Rebel Army."
The Belta Area was to the East of Antigua. The guards there were few due to the concentration of forces at Antigua. If they did not hurry, they would also completely lose that area around the border.
"......Nay. I, I will take back Antigua. I absolutely have to take it back. His Majesty has personally ordered me with its defense right? Besides, though our Third Army was defeated, don't we still have 30,000 in good health? If we continue our aggression day and night—-"
"We cannot, Your Excellency! Don't forget we have the Rebel Army behind us; we would be pincered with Antigua in front of us! We have to change our route immediately! We do not have the luxury to launch an offense of Antigua!! I beg of you, I beg of you, direct us to proceed east-."
Dryly croaked Sidamo with a soulless expression. He strongly shook General Yalder's body. A siege would be outrageous. They would be certainly annihilated. Chief Staff Officer Sidamo had to stop it at any cost. Even though he might lose Yalder's faith, he had to at the very least change his mind.
"......I understand. I will go along with your words. The Third Army will change course and depart to defend Belta. We will reorganize, and then have a decisive battle again. Is this, is this okay?"
"—-Sir-, we understand. Our course has changed! Head to Belta! All troops, change course-!!"
—-Afterwards, the obstinate Liberation Army for some reason stopped pursuing. With 30,000 soldiers preserved, the Third Army succeeded in withdrawing to Belta.
Of course, the Liberation Army gained total control of the area around the border, but deciding that the defense of Belta was tougher than they hypothesized, they planned to reinforce their army at the occupied Antigua.
There was one reason why the Liberation Army could not pursue further and gain total control of Belta: Their food storehouse had been set on fire. Without food, the soldiers could not fight.
The engagement was their victory. That being said, due to unforeseen circumstances, it was a huge blow to lose 3,000 mercenaries. The Liberation Army also needed time to put their preparations in order.
The 2,500 cavalry unit spearheaded by Schera brazenly traversed around the outskirts of the enemy stronghold, Salvador Fortress. In order to escape to the Eastern Belta area, they had decided to cross Alucia River.
Just how did they succeed in passing through enemy controlled territory? The reason could be known by looking at the figures of the cavalry unit. The flag hoisted by her was the Royal Capital Liberation Army's, and they were also disguised, wearing the equipment of Liberation Army soldiers. These items had been stored in the provisions storehouse.
"I, I did not think it would go this well."
"It's a rebel army. They have deserters, Empire soldiers, and also a large group of mercenaries right? There is no way they could remember each and everyone's faces, I thought. Rather than stealthily creeping around, it would be less suspicious to be in the open."
"Vice Commander Schera is too courageous. Never could we imitate you. I can not believe you would that calmy argue with enemy soldiers. I felt the chills thinking about when you would be cut down."
"It does help that the enemy commanders were unexpectedly stupid. Well, it is not like I cannot understand their feelings of confusion. After all, I do get irritated when hungry."
"Vice commander, if it pleases you take this."
One horseman riding next to her took out a green fruit from his luggage bag and passed it to Schera. It had been slightly eaten by insects, but it wasn't rotten.
"Oh, what's this?"
"I found it at the storehouse. It is a green apple. They are rare around these parts, so I helped myself to a couple of them. They are delicious when ripe."
"Perfect timing. I was just feeling parched. Thank you. But to think there would be green apples."
"They are certainly rare in the Kingdom. When one thinks of apple trees, they always have red ones."
"I suddenly feel a craving for red ones."
Fruit juices trickled from Schera's mouth when she bit into it. The horseman looked delighted as he gazed at Schera engrossed in chewing, crunch, crunch.
The cavalry members had already accepted Schera, who had only temporarily taken command, as their superior officer. In the fights up until now, they felt the genuineness of her might and daring manner. 'Isn't she stronger than any commissioned officer of the Kingdom?' They even had such delusions when they looked at their female commander easily swinging her large scythe.
Follow the strong, and one could live. The soldiers knew that all too well. It might even be fine to say that their hearts were entranced by that earlier incident especially.
A commissioned officer had exultantly come in pursuit from the Liberation Army stronghold, and when she had started dealing with him by feigning ignorance, all the group members present had felt a chill in their innards. She had handed over the head of the former Cavalry Commanding Officer who had died in battle. They had killed the commander, but the remnants had escaped into the woodlands, she had calmly explained. Mercenaries' equipment were different from regular soldiers'. They were from the start more tattered, so their disguise was simple. If they took new articles from the stockpile, and suitably wore things striped from the corpses, they were the perfect mercenaries.
At first, the enemy officer had thought they were someone suspicious, but in the middle of hearing the story, 'If we don't hurry, they'll get away,' he had said, impatient for merit, and had lead his troops into the forest.
This may be obvious, but there was nothing ahead of them. All that was beyond them was Antigua Branch Castle, which had already fallen into Liberation Army hands.
"Vice Commander Schera. Bad news. Enemy soldiers are prowling around the river area. It seems that we have been spotted."
"Oh. Well that is annoying."
"What shall we do? With their numbers, we could run them over."
Said a group member, drawing his face close and speaking into Schera's ears. She turned her gaze over yonder, trying not to act suspicious, and a force of one hundred was heading her way, possibly to check on the cavalry unit's situation.
"No other way. Let's greet them for now. If I give a signal, kill them. Skillfully avoiding conflict would be best however. It would be problematic to attract attention for no reason in this kind of place."
Schera and company changed the direction of their horses and approached the platoon.
A man with a scar on his cheek, who was the only one riding a horse and seemed to be the commander, was fiercely glaring at Schera.
The platoon members turned their spears towards them and took combat positions.
They were vigilant, Schera perceived. Or probably, they had been exposed. Schera spoke up, making the first move.
"Well done fulfilling your duty-! We are the Royal Capital Liberation Army's Cavalry! We are in the middle of a march to clean up the remnants of the defeated army of the Kingdom!"
"I would like to hear your full name and exact affiliation-! This is our duty, so please forgive us!"
He spoke up in a loud voice that would not lose compared to Schera's. He would not easily be dealt with, Schera felt. He was somewhat different from the idiots up until now it seemed.
"Royal Capital Liberation Army, affiliated with the First Division, I am Second Lieutenant Schera leading the Thirteenth Cavalry Unit. I would like to ask for the same!"
"......Understood. We are the Royal Capital Liberation Army's reservists, affiliated with the First Division. I am Second Lieutenant Callus. I command a temporarily organized force."
"Understood. Well then, we are in a hurry to proceed forward, may we leave soon? The enemy will safely get away like this."
"......I have not received a message saying that a cavalry unit was in pursuit however."
"Probably a miscommunication. This happens often on a battlefield."
"Earlier, we were in charge of defense of the food storehouse. Our duty now is to search for the 'Cavalry Unit' that had raided the storehouse. It seems that they are lurking around this area."
Callus gripped the handle of his sword.
Schera was watching the situation calmly. Her scythe was carried on her back.
"I see. So, what of it? Perhaps, do you think us, that Cavalry Unit?"
The corners of Schera's mouth raised. She poised to grab her large scythe.
"......I will ask for just one more verification. I would like you to show me your identification papers. All Liberation Army officers and men, even to the freshest of recruits, have been given them, as you should be aware. I would like you to immediately show me those. —-Immediately-!"
When Callus gave a signal with his hand, all platoon members took a stance with their spears and pointed the tips at the cavalry members.
"......Ah, that thing. Wait a moment will you? I'm sure it's in this bag—-"
While reaching out her hand, gesturing for the bag fastened to her horse, she took hold of the large scythe on her back and slashed at Callus.
Callus had been alert and dodged by a paper thin margin.
"I knew you guys were the cavalry unit that started the fire!! Disguising yourselves as our Liberation Army, what a dirty pretense-!!"
"Your intuition is quite good. However, are you a fool I wonder. To think that you could stop us with just those numbers. Do you have a death wish?"
"Silence-! Dismount immediately, throw away your swords, and surrender! Reinforcements will soon be coming! You guys are like a rat in a trap-!"
"We refuse. After all, You're a dead man."
Schera once again slashed with her scythe.
Callus stopped the blow with his long sword shaped like a crescent moon, but the weight of the blow made him unable to counterattack. He did not completely kill the momentum, though normally, he would have deflected the blow.
"Watch out. If you don't carefully parry, that head will be taken from you!!"
"Th-this guy. She's strong-!"
Callus frantically swung his sword, but his strike was handled trivially. And yet, Schera's blows were strong enough to make both his hands numb. Little by little, the speed of his arm movements and the strength to react to the blows fell. His physical strength and willpower were being whittled down.
Schera did not overlook that.
After mixing in several feints, her cherished blade approached his neck, and the scythe cut in from the side.
After being completely toyed with, Callus took a direct hit and fell from his horse.
—-It was instant death.
"Cavalry, kill everyone!! Absolutely do not let them escape!"
"Kill the rebels-!!"
The cavalry unit surpassed them in numbers in the first place. Within not even a few minutes, they succeeded in killing everyone.
Above all else, Schera had taken the initiative, swinging her large scythe and freely slaughtering the pawns of the Liberation Army. There had been several casualties among the cavalry unit. They had also not been seen by the approaching reinforcement forces.
If they were going to cross, now was the time.
"—-Alright, start the river crossing. Afterward, we run with everything we've got. Sound good?"
"Sir-! We will accompany Vice Commander Schera until the end!"
"When we get back, let us eat together. It will be my treat. In exchange, teach me more about delicious foods."
"Sir-! Leave it to me!!"
"We've already been discovered, so there's no need for the act. This is filthy with blood anyway."
After wiping the sweat from her brow, she pointed out the armor that had been smeared with the blood of their victims.
"Yes. To think that the Liberation Army pretense would have lasted up until now."
"Will we return to being glorious soldiers of the Kingdom?"
"Alright, raise the Kingdom's flag! Break and throw away the Rebel Army Flag!! It's an eyesore, so make sure to trample it!"
"—-Schera's Cavalry Unit, will now make their return!"
After crossing Alucia River, Schera's cavalry unit had been attacked several times. It seemed as if they were discovered by scouts from the engagement earlier. The cavalry acting as the main shaft of the pursuit force had appeared.
However, everyone had been crushingly defeated by Schera as the vanguard, and she succeeded in taking the decapitated head of a commander.
The routed Liberation Army pursuit force numbered 4,000. 1,000 of them died in action, which was a tremendous military gain, unthinkable for a unit in the middle of a retreat.
When Schera's Cavalry finally reached Berta Castle, their numbers had decreased to 2,000. However, the soldiers' faces were overflowing with fighting spirit, and they did not seem like they had just retreated. Naturally at first, since they were wearing the armor of the Liberation Army, they were being watched over.
But, because they were triumphantly hoisting the flag of the Kingdom, they did not seem to be here for a raid. When they were ushered in the opened gates, they were wholeheartedly welcomed by the guards. Morale which had fallen in Belta Castle quickly flared up, and the will to fight was more or less recovered successfully
The one most delighted at the repatriation of the cavalry unit that was thought to have been annihilated was probably General Yalder. Upon hearing the news, Yalder had let out a strange voice, had stood up from his chair, and his body had been trembling in delight. He immediately headed to where the cavalry unit was, and with tears running down his flushed face, he took the hands of everyone there.
Yalder was quick to anger, but deeply emotional, and his heart had been struck by the figure of young Schera not giving up and repatriating.
When he treated Schera as the hero of the Third Army, he was rejected in a flat voice, saying that it was too great of a reward.
—-The Kingdom's Third Army had changed course for Belta Castle and worked to maintain their sphere of influence around the border.
They numbered 40,000 including the guards and repatriated cavalry.
General Yalder, feeling responsible for their defeat, had decided to commit suicide, but he was hindered by the hands of his attendants. From the Royal Capital came a reprimanding edict, saying to wipe out their shame next time, and it was decided that Yalder would continue to lead the Third Army. There was also the consideration that even if he was dismissed, there was no one capable to succeed his duty.
Second Lieutenant Schera. She had taken over command from her superior officer who had died in battle and succeeded in setting fire to the enemy food storehouse. This was a big hindrance stopping the growing Liberation Army. Furthermore, she had broken through the enemy's encirclement and fought bravely, killing many enemy officers and men. In the end, she had allowed 2,000 cavalry to safely return to Belta Castle. This was an achievement that could not be belittled. With this meritorious deed, and the killing of Voleur earlier, and further adding on General Yalder's backing, Schera was promoted at an unprecedented speed.
Three months after being promoted to Captain, she was further given the rank of Major. At the same time, she was formally entrusted with directing the cavalry unit whose commander had died in battle.
—-A promotion to a field officer at the age of 18 was an event not seen even in the history of the Kingdom.
Schera herself feasted to her heart's content, and she seemed happy. The only unfortunate thing was that she could not savor the feeling of a full stomach for some reason.