Tenkyou no Alderamin:Volume 1 Chapter 4
Chapter 4 - Ikta Solork's Science of Laziness
The first day of the practice, in which the seven platoons consisting of over 270 soldiers would participate, began amidst gales of wind and torrential rain.
“What is this? It sucks. It ruins the idea of ‘a fun picnic with everyone’, doesn’t it?”
Even though not complaining was an important principle for commanders, Ikta made these idle complaints just before their departure. Even Sergeant Major Suuya, who’d promised to be wholly cooperative just this once, was about to instinctively object to it.
“I guess it’s fine- if you think about it, this is better than if it were hot. –Other platoons, are you ready yet?”
Matthew and Torway, commanding their respective platoons, and Haro as well, responded from the back. In the conclusion of these four’s prior conversation, the role of supreme commander would be entrusted to Ikta, who was at the vanguard. Since the soldiers thought no doubt that Torway was their only option, they were incredibly dissatisfied on the inside.
“Then, we’re departing. We’re going…hey, all four platoons, it’s a downpour!”
With that lazy signal, their march began. Countless military boots trampled on the muddy ground, and the soldiers burdened with heavy knapsacks endlessly traversed the plains. With things like rations, first aid kits, sleeping bags, and arms for the mock battle, each person’s baggage attained a gross weight of 30~40 kilograms, and the weight of each and every step they made wasn’t even worth comparing to when they were empty handed.
“Our destination is 30 kilometers to the southwest. Assuming we stop and set up camp once, can we estimate our arrival to be around the afternoon of the next day?”
Suuya meant to make a completely ordinary confirmation, but Ikta tilted his head with a puzzled look.
“? No, we’ll be setting up camp on-site by the time the sun sets. Plus, I want to use tomorrow morning for a rehearsal.”
Troubled for a while at his words, Suuya then huffed a magnificent sigh. –It’s no use. This man doesn’t understand the slightest thing about what a ‘march’ is.
“…Umm, you see, Warrant Officer. I don’t know where the idea that it’s okay to smile is coming from, but first things first. 30 kilometers until our destination is simply the absolute distance, you know. Of course, the path isn’t stretched in a straight line. Therefore, the distance we’re walking in actuality is much longer. Do you understand that?”
“Don’t just say, ’um, yea’. Next, the second thing- it’s very difficult to walk in unfamiliar territory with just a map. First, as strangers to the land, we’re going to get lost, and it’s not rare for the map itself to have errors. We’re going to take more and more time as we correct them.”
“No, we don’t need a ’well, yea’. Finally the third thing, in this bad weather, the march is going to be slower whether we like it or not. ‘Let’s establish a time of arrival taking into account these all these factors’, is what I was trying to say before!”
“I was also considering those things when I made my estimate though…Umm, for the time being, could I have you not yell so much? I just think that if the soldiers will get worried if they hear us arguing so soon after we departed.”
A sound argument came from him despite the fact that he seemed to be losing their quarrel, and Suuya faltered. Ikta, not saying any more in particular, began talking with the light spirit Kusu in his hip pouch possibly as a diversion from the long journey.
“Kusu, shall we play shiritori? Nitpicker~” “Ruins” “Stubborn daughter~” “Reef” “ Fixated on the past~” “Tape” “Ethically narrow-minded~” “Disc” “Could even call her my step-daughter” “Reflex” “X?  …Umm- Nope, I can’t think of anything. Ahaha, it’s my loss because of my theme restriction~”
Ikta laughed and stroked Kusu’s head. Firmly repressing her desire to retort with “What theme?!”, Suuya already resolved to not make a single suggestion. –This type of person, he’ll just get what’s coming to him.
However, unrelated to Suuya’s spiteful hopes, there was something strange going on with her superior officer from the start.
When several hours passed since they departed, all the units had deviated slightly off-course, and had entered a small road under Ikta’s command. They were on an old mountain path with barely any signs human traffic, and it was possible for them to return back to the correct path if they shifted to the side of the road, but, of course, that was still a detour.
Thinking he showed his incompetence, Suuya had been gloating on the inside until now. However, Ikta’s next command flippantly exceeded her expectations and common sense.
“Cease marching. –So, listen well, okay? Those in front of me, without breaking file, open your knapsacks while standing. Torway, Matthew, Haro, do just as we planned!”
The soldiers complied with the orders even while tilting their heads in confusion. When everyone’s knapsacks were open excluding the last column, Ikta gave the next command without a moment’s delay.
“Well then, take out whatever I say and leave it at your feet. First, one canister of paint fluid for the mock battle, six pegs for securing the tents, then—“
The things they pulled from their knapsacks continued piling up at their feet. At this point in time, Suuya was in disbelief.
“You took out everything I said, right? Good, with that, using the tent lining which you took out last, roll up the rest of the items. Also, last file, about face! Those people directly in front of them, as soon as you finish with the work you’re doing now, also do the same thing with the bags of the person in back of you.”
As the result of his commands being free of any pointless rambling, all of the work was finished before three minutes passed. Confirming that, Ikta lightly nodded his head and turned on his heel. And gave orders while facing forward.
“All troops, shift five steps to the left. –Good, resume marching.”
“Wai- Warrant Officer…!?”
While leaving behind one portion of their materials, the four platoons resumed marching. Suuya at her superior officer in a crazed rush.
“What are you thinking just randomly discarding our things?! This is clearly a violation of military command!”
“Discarding is disgraceful- this is depositing, you see. As per our plan of action, we’re taking only necessary materials along the course of our trip. We’ll retrieve it properly on the way back.”
“I can’t sit quiet with that kind of reasoning! Are you planning to speed up the march by lightening their load!? Let’s just say that works, what are you going to do if the things you discard end up being necessary?!”
“I said, not discarding but depositing…. Anyway, I actually chose things that we won’t become necessary in the future. We can use paint fluid diluted with water. For the tent, just the outer layer is enough for keeping out wind and rain. We’re also fine with just the minimum number of pegs necessary for securing them.”
While impatiently wiping a raindrop from his face, Ikta lowered his voice and continued.
“…Essentially, with the details of the practice, being overburdened with our full equipment isn’t a good thing. There’s no need for us to be pointless exhausted as a result of materials we won’t even use. You think so too, right?”
“But the leaders decided the contents of our equipment, so—“
“Yes, we’re depositing them, aren’t we? Even if we were discarding them, the management of materials falls under the on-site commander’s jurisdiction, you know. Besides, at any rate, the responsibility for this order is mine alone. I’m the one who’ll be scolded by the higher-ups and making explanations. You don’t need to worry.”
Ending the conversation one-sidedly, Ikta yawned as he continued walking. Suuya, once again prevented from making an objection, suppressed her frustration and follow after him.
About when an additional three hours passed, in the middle of a road caught between cliffs on both sides, Ikta suddenly stopped in his tracks. Ikta anxiously looked around, but the others couldn’t quite understand what he was bothered about.
“…Is something wrong? Did you lose confidence in the way we’re going?”
Next to him, Suuya asked sarcastically. But, not answering her, Ikta muttered to himself after surveying the surrounding terrain until he was satisfied.
“—This road is no good.”
“Shall we go back? Alright, all troops change course!”
Suuya couldn’t hide her confusion at her superior officer, who was starting to turn back on the road they came without the slightest regret. Even if he noticed that they were going the wrong way, even if that were the case, then it’d be normal to pull out a map to confirm their route.
However, before even five minutes had passed after he started to turn back, Suuya grasped the youth’s intention. Unexpectedly, an underground tremor came rumbling toward them. When the surprised soldiers looked behind them, they found before their eyes the sight of the road, just ahead of where they’d been walking until a short time ago, buried by an enormous amount of rock and sand.
Suuya shivered with the other soldiers. –If they had continued as before, they probably would have been caught in it!
“Alright alright, don’t stop your feet.”
Ikta clapped his hands and pushed the backs of the soldiers who stopped walking out of surprise. Hearing that, each of the platoons panicked and resumed marching, but Suuya couldn’t comprehend the youth’s composure at all.
“…Did you know?”
“Don’t play dumb. I mean, that a landslide would happen there.”
When Suuya keenly questioned him, Ikta smiled vaguely and tilted his head.
“Well, I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t gauge the timing of when it’ll happen, but I somehow get the feeling that it’s dangerous around here. You didn’t notice the condition of the cliff before?”
“The cliff…? What do you mean?”
“First, there were newly revealed rock beds in here and there. It’s proof that the earth has started to wear down from the rain. Next, there were several trees angled downward growing from the cliff wall. Usually, on however steep a slope they grow on, trees grow heading upwards, you see, so that signified that the rock bed itself was loose.”
Suuya widened her eyes. Despite seeing the same scene, she had completely failed to notice those signs.
“Based on that, the circumstances were sufficient to be on lookout for a landslide. Therefore, we be prudent and turn back. –Does this answer your question?”
It was all Suuya could do to quietly nod at Ikta’s words. It was just common sense at work- at any rate, there was no doubt that he would show his incompetence. She couldn’t go on without saying that to herself.
“Ahh, we finally arrived. Alright, everyone, we’re taking role. When that ends, we’re setting up tents and taking a meal!”
The soldiers were starting to bustle around with a sense of liberation at being able to end their march, but Suuya alone was in a daze.
If one looked through the tree branches at western sky, the clouds covering it were still brightly dyed with the orange of the sun.
The rain, after passing a moment’s peak, turned into a small drizzle, and the leaves of the various trees provided shade for them even now as they entered their wooded destination.
“…To think, we really arrived before the sun set…”
“I told you, didn’t I? I made my estimate having properly accounted for everything.”
Ikta spoke while wringing his sopping wet overcoat. Suuya glared at him with a dissatisfied expression.
“…Have you come here before?”
“Nope, it’s my first time.”
“That’s a lie. I mean, Warrant Officer, you didn’t pull out the map even once on the way. That, and you didn’t even use an actual surveying instrument. Under those conditions, it’s impossible to travel the shortest distance unless you remembered by experience.”
Suuya insisted, following her own common sense. Ikta cracked his shoulders, which were stiff from the weight of his bag.
“I don’t know whether that was the shortest distance, but I paid attention to eliminating waste. Taking out the map in the middle of that rain would be a serious hassle, so confirming the path with it would be a two-fold loss. Those points being, the map in my head wouldn’t get wet, and there’s no work involved in taking it out.”
“Are you saying that you came with the whole thing memorized? …Even if that’s true, there are discrepancies here and there between the map and the actual terrain. At those times, if you don’t have experience, you can’t correctly make the judgment to correct the route.”
“Oh, I have experience. I was taught from my teacher from when I was younger. Since, fieldwork is the foundation of science.”
Science- having never heard such a word, Suuya tilted her head. While giving that girl a sidelong glance, Ikta, wiping the moisture off his skin with a towel, raised his voice slightly and called the leaders of each of the troops.
“Matthew, Torway, Haro- first, thanks for your hard work. There’s no one missing from your troops?”
“Everyone’s where they should be. We arrived before it got dark, and not a single person got lost on the way.”
The other two seconded Matthew’s response. Ikta nodded with satisfaction.
“Everything is according to plan so far. But, the real test has yet to come. –Listen well, Matthew, Torway. Since they are coming by a different route, the arrival of Yatori’s group will take place after noon tomorrow, even if they are early. The time until then is the biggest advantage that has been given to us. Let’s make the most of it.”
“You’re fine, Haro. You sleep early with your subordinates. Since your Medics troops are in neutral standing, starting tomorrow, you’ll be moving around separate from my command. –Ah, if sleeping by yourself is lonely, then come to my tent?”
“N-no, I’d like to protect my virtue, so I’ll decline…”
“I understand. By the way, I’ll be lonely sleeping by myself, so can I go to your tent in the middle of the night?”
“Ikta… when Yatori’s not here, you really let loose, don’t you?”
Matthew took on a defeated face, and next to him, Torway unintentionally smiled. After making two~three additional confirmations, the warrant officers separated.
“Sergeant Major Suuya. You can do this once you’ve finished eating, but would you pick five~six energetic people from among the light spirit holders in our platoon?
Suuya, who had been watching their activities absentmindedly, came to her senses when she was addressed by Ikta in conversation.
“Ah- yes, I understand…. Are you going on a preliminary inspection at night?”
“Well, I did say that we’re going to make the most of it. We’re just going to take a look at the river in the south. Because tomorrow, we’re planning to set up camp on the beach opposite and wait for the enemy.”
Ikta spoke about the matter innocently, but Suuya frowned and asked a question in response.
“The beach opposite the river in the south…? J-just wait a minute, Warrant Officer. That’s not the place where we’re confronting our opponent’s army. Didn’t you see on the bulletin board that it was designated as the open area in the north?”
“I saw it, but it was just written as ‘suitable for merging forces’, you know. It was never said that we had to fight there. Upon interpretation, we should be allowed to take up camp anywhere in these Southern Urt Woodlands.”
“Yes, but by custom, that…”
“If it were a real battle, we wouldn’t be doing things based on custom, you know. Since we have the freedom of choice, we might as well pick a battleground that will work to our advantage, no? -Well then, I’ll leave the selection of soldiers to you.”
Ikta left without any time to stop him. …Suuya herself still didn’t realize that she was getting drawn into his pace more with each passing moment.
After dinner, traveling together with seven soldiers including Suuya, Ikta went to see the condition of the Kuriri River which flowed through an area about one kilometer south of the campground. This place was roughly the southern tip of the Urt Woodlands which had been designated as the location of the practice.
“Oh, the flow is wider than I thought. I didn’t think that it was much more than a small river, but the rain has proved fortunate, hasn’t it?”
Even the other soldiers including Suuya understood some of Ikta’s intention as he walked around muttering. The battle lineup with a river cutting through the space between them and the enemy army was suited for a defensive battle. That in itself might be the right choice. However…
“The water volume is increased, but even still, they could wade across this river if they submerge themselves to the bottom of one’s chest. …Checking with the map, there is a sandbar by which they could cross even more easily upstream.”
“The river’s width is one so that it’s possible they might think to attack by crossing the river, isn’t it? The flow isn’t that strong either, and it seems like by tomorrow, it will become even slower where the rain is weak.”
While illuminating it using Kusu’s Lantern, Ikta cautiously submerged himself in the river and confirmed the depth of the entire river. Its flow being no exception to that of other slow rivers, the water of the Kuriri River was quite muddy. Even considering that it was natural owing to it being nighttime now, it seemed that it would be difficult to see through the middle of the water even in broad daylight.
“Hmm, I’ve got a general idea of the middle of the river. What’s left is the surrounding terrain, but…”
Ikta, having risen from the water, this time entered the trees around the river and began glancing around the area.
“As expected, the majority of the vegetation is different from the tropics of the Eastern Province. ...Hmm? This…”
He suddenly illuminated the tree which caught his eye from top to bottom with Kusu’s High Beam. It was a tall tree with a total height of about 20 meters, but other than that, it didn’t have any special characteristics. Behind him, his subordinates quickly shifted their interest elsewhere.
“..It’s an Isu tree. Wow, so they grow around here, too!”
However, the same tree before Ikta’s eyes was also visible to the others. Letting his joy show in his voice, he lightly hit the trunk with his fist, then directed the High Beam around it as if he were looking for something.
“Alright, they’re growing en masse in this area…. Ah, how lucky.”
“Umm, Warrant Officer… What could it be that you are so overjoyed about?”
“I’ve decided on a definite battle strategy. Ahh, thank goodness- with this, it seems like I can sleep well tonight.”
Ikta headed back, almost skipping as if to say, “Well then, let’s sleep, shall we?” Turning to his flustered subordinates, he spoke in a bright voice.
“Everyone, we’re sleeping early today. Early tomorrow morning, we’re starting our carpenting work.”
Taking a different route than Ikta’s group but headed for the same location, Sariha, Sushura, and Yatori’s three platoons, just past noon on the day following Ikta’s arrival, finally reached the Southern Urt Woodlands.
“Now then, set up camp. No need to be nervous, seeing as our opponents couldn’t have arrived yet anyway.”
Captain Sariha, stationing his soldiers across the open area in the north, couldn’t have thought even in his dreams that his opponents arrived earlier than himself. And he had proper justification. When he did the same practice as a warrant officer when he was younger, he had the experience of using both routes.
“This route is a little longer, but the path is simple and one won’t get lost. In comparison, that route might be shorter, but one has to overcome complicated forks and terrain. Hehehe, if it’s his first time, he’s getting lost…it’s complicated enough that people get lost during the journey and have to double back. You think he’ll arrive here in one piece?”
Accompanied by the silent Sushuraf, Sariha was filled with self-satisfaction. It seemed as if the words pride and carelessness existed to describe his current state.
Of course the person himself didn’t realize it, but it was a different story for outsiders with an objective perspective.
“Captain Sarihasrag. Would it be alright if I sent scouts from my platoon?”
Yatori, who had quickly finished stationing her soldiers, requested that permission from the head commander. Interrupted just as he entered a good mood, looked at her with irritation.
“…Scout? What’re ya sayin’, we don’t need anything like that. They shouldn’t have arrived yet, and both armies are supposed to confront each other here anyway, aren’t they?”
“On the bulletin board, it said that it was ‘suitable for merging forces’. In my case, I wouldn’t interpret that to be a designation of our place of confrontation.”
“…That was what was there, but for a first practice, he wouldn’t be that attentive to detail, right? He would be so exhausted by the time he gets here that he’d probably have no energy left for the mock-“
“Even so, we aren’t being cautious.”
“…I understand. Do what you want.”
Becoming annoyed, Sariha gave his permission not with firm support but to drive her away. The fiery haired girl, saluting then leaving her superior’s presence, returned to her own troops and briskly gave a command.
“Scouting Unit, listen up. First, head straight down south. Look for signs of the enemy while returning north from there.”
At the command of their esteemed platoon leader, her subordinates nodded obediently. Platoon Ikta couldn’t even hold a candle to her troops when it came to their high morale.
“By my guess, our opponents’ forces have already made their arrival. Judging from Ikta’s… their supreme commander’s character, he probably wouldn’t want clash head-on, and if he avoids the open area in the north when setting up camp… then he’ll likely be here.”
Yatori’s fingertip pointed to a point on the map, the Kuriri River of the Southern Urt Woodlands. The three of her subordinates who understood her intentions saluted with vigor and promptly started sprinting south.
“Those were precise orders, Yatori. Is reading Solork’s thoughts a specialty of yours?”
Unexpectedly addressed from the background, Yatori saluted as she turned around. Protected in her vicinity by over 20 brawny bodyguards, it was the girl of the Imperial Family, Her Highness, Chamille.
“I am much obliged, Your Highness. …However, truly it must be impossible to completely read Ikta’s thoughts.”
“Even for you, who has known him for such a long time?”
“’’Even for me… Because it is I’’…no, likely it is both. He definitely thinks while reading how his opponent will predict his thoughts. If you interact him with the intention of keeping secrets, then you will find yourself in dire circumstances.”
He’s a troublesome man- the princess smiled bitterly. Yatori also smiled lightly, and suddenly changed the topic.
“By the way, thank you for today. You especially came to observe our practice.”
“Only to keep watch so that Captain Sarihasrag and Lieutenant Sushura don’t use the mock battle as an excuse to perpetrate violence. You are my Knights. As I had been protected, I will protect you.”
“I am greatly obliged to your kindness. …But, once the fighting begins, however slight the chance, again please remove yourself so you aren’t involved. Be cautious of stray arrows, and always stay behind them.”
Yatori spoke while motioning to the bodyguards with her eyes. Recruited from the soldiers who were permanently stationed at the center base, they were superior soldiers excellent in both physical appearance and physique. Each of them was equipped with an air shooter and light armor; they were fit to be called an iron fortress.
“I understand. For them to fulfill their role, I must also not carelessly expose myself, correct?”
“Then I shall also keep in mind my role of trusting that you’ll not carelessly expose yourself.”
Exchanging a friendly banter, the two of them, lord and retainer, unintentionally smiled. …However, the footsteps of the scouts who were dispatched earlier returning back at full speed destroyed the peaceful atmosphere.
When he heard the report that the enemy troops had already deployed their camp on the opposite side of the Kuriri River, Captain Sarihasrag was dumbfounded for a few seconds, and finally returned to himself after having his shoulder whacked by his younger brother, Lieutenant Sushura.
“A-all troops proceed south! Return to column formation and head to the Kuriri River!”
They also had the option of waiting as they were in the open area, but if they didn’t confront their army and thus reached a stalemate, Sariha would lose face as the commander who was scared by his trainee opponents. Since he was higher in both social class and rank, he had no choice but to defeat Ikta no matter where he was waiting.
“N-no big deal. Once the soldiers return to their columns, they won’t be scared as they head from the open area to the river. They think that the start of the fighting will come after they confront the other army. For this at least, there is no room for a weird, far-fetched interpretation-- right, Sushura!?”
The voice that sought reassurance from his younger brother was shrill and nervous. As she heard this from a removed location, Yatori felt exasperated. –The mock battle hasn’t so much as started yet- wasn’t it a bit too early for their pretense to start coming off?
As he listened to Sushuraf’s sounds of agreement Sariha slowly regained his composure. When he faced the enemy troops on the other side of the Kuriri River, he had somehow recovered a dignified expression.
“Did they really set up camp on the other side of the river…? And their troops have completely finished deploying- shit, how did they move this fast?”
Sariha bit his thumbnail with frustration. In front of his eyes, the enemy troops had already raised their battle flag. If they answered this with their own flag, then that moment would mark the start of the fight.
“Argh, they raised their flag first! That alone is enough of a disgrace- we’re also deploying immediately!”
The soldiers, pressured by their commander, panicked and rearranged from a column formation to a formation meant for battle. When that finished, Sariha immediately made them raise their battle flag. One couldn’t blame Yatori for having a headache.
“I supposed there’s no helping that he is flustered by this…. Though, he’s already fallen behind, so it’s better if he sets up camp at his leisure to make the enemy impatient. This is just what Ikta expected, you know.”
Keeping that opinion to a mutter in her mouth- though she knew her place far better than Ikta did- Yatori’s frustration grew stronger.
Utterly ignorant of his subordinate’s mental state, Sariha thought only of how to defeat the opponent in front of him.
“If our troops are equally matched than naturally, it’s the loss of the side which attacks first in a river defense encampment…. Soldiers who cross the river would be subject to a volley of shots while in a defenseless state. Neither side wants to attack, so this becomes a standoff.”
“Older brother, how about having the soldiers test the depth of the water first? The situation changes depending on the depth of the river.”
“No, there’s no need for that. I know this river well. Normally, one could cross with one’s body submerged to the waist, but it’s currently swollen with rain, so it’d be approximately just below the chest…”
Saying that, Sariha resentfully looked down on the muddy river surface. …The possibility that this river wouldn’t function in a river defense encampment was denied by his own experiences. Therefore, things immediately became troublesome.
“…If I remember correctly, there is a sandbar upstream. We take our troops around and attack the enemy from behind, an offensive matching our timing with the main force… is what first comes to mind. But seeing as we’ve set up camp here, our opponents have probably also read this much…”
No matter which move he made, there was risk involved. That kind of mindset was one of unintentionally waiting for the opponent’s move. Sariha didn’t need a long time to enter that state, and the enemy on the opposite shore read that completely and mobilized their troops.
“…Older brother. One of the enemy units has broken off of formation and seems to be headed upstream.”
“I can see that! Is that Ikta Solork’s unit!? If that’s his game, alright then…!”
With the long-awaited action of the enemy, Sariha leapt like a baited fish at the provocation.
“Warrant Officer Yatorishino! Lead your platoon to the river crossing site upstream, and ambush the enemy there!”
Thus ordered, Yatori avoided making an immediate reply, and hesitated slightly before returning her opinion.
“…I mean no disrespect, Captain. I think that it is dangerous to divide our forces here. If that is what we will do, wouldn’t you rather avoid a confrontation at the river and return to the open area in the north?”
“…Dangerous? What greater danger is there than being completely surrounded by the enemy!?”
“Platoon Ikta is an Illumination Unit. There are few powerful air gunner soldiers in its composition, and its main armaments are the bow gun and the short spear. The effect of their dazing by means of a High Beam is also reduced by half in the afternoon. When they come by circling around upstream, we can counter before we are taken by their pincer attack. …What I’m concerned about now is, whether what they are wishing for might be our response to their invitation?”
Sariha laughed at Yatori’s cautious theory.
“Hmph- Has the daughter of the Igsems lost her nerve? Take a good look, there’s a river dividing the space between us and the enemy. Even if we are charged with twice the amount of troops, it’s our victory just by ambushing their troops.”
“It seems that you have forgotten, but this river defense encampment is ‘’something that the enemy has prepared.’’ By no means is it your plan, Captain. No matter what the circumstances, isn’t thinking that it will be equally advantageous for us asking too much?”
“…! N-nonsense- don’t defy your superior’s orders! Go to intercept them immediately!”
When conversation was denied, Yatori naturally gave up on any further persuasion. She faced Sariha with a salute and accepted her order, then took her subordinates from her platoon and began the migration upstream.
“…That direction doesn’t count as either offense or defense. Our Captain, judging from his face it seems he’s already completely reached a point where he can’t think of anything but temporary solutions. --Ahh, good grief. From your perspective, he’s certainly an easy piece to push around, isn’t he, Ikta?”
Over 20 minutes after Platoon Yatori departed. Both armies continued to glare at each other across the river, but when for some reason the moment metallic sounds came ringing from upstream, Matthew was the first to change his expression.
“…That’s the sign. –All soldiers, prepare your arms.”
The soldiers simultaneously inserted a bullet into their air shooters. Of course since this was a mock battle, they were paint balls fired by increased air pressure. The same dye was applied to bow gun arrows, wooden bayonets, and short spears with their tips removed. People smeared with these colors were treated as “killed in action,” and couldn’t engage any further combat.
“Alright—are you listening? ‘’We’re coordinating with Platoon Ikta when we launch the attack.’’”
First, having earlier pretended to head upstream but turning back midway, then concealing in the forest by the riverside until now, Platoon Ikta came running out with weapons in hand. Among them was Ikta Solork himself.
The moment their vanguard lined with their own, Matthew and Torway’s platoons also fiercely faced the river once more and began attacking. Sariha’s troops on the other shore wore dumbfounded expressions. Why you ask, ‘’that’s because Ikta and the others had crossed the Kuriri River, whose depth currently rose to just below one’s chest, at most soaked no higher than their knees!’’
“Wha…!? F-fire! Attaack!”
Sariha’s order, which resembled a shriek, echoed across, but at that point the majority was decided.
The defensive river encampment being advantageous for the side meeting the enemy is due to the fact that it can attack while the soldiers coming from the center of deep water are defenseless and exposed. However, with a water depth below the knees, that effect is weak. Because Platoon Ikta, which was led into the forest, was furthermore added to the attack, of course a difference in war potential in the three platoons vs. two platoons battle also arose.
In part due to the surprise of receiving an impossible attack, Captain Sariha’s units couldn’t muster a proper retaliation. The soldiers in the front row fired paint balls and paint arrows, forming a “line of battle,” and, receiving an attack made with bayonets and short spears one after the other, they were completely driven into a corner from the stalemate.
“R-retreat! Fire while retreating!”
They were destroyed by the volume of fire once they were struck directly- that being said, even as they turned around and retreated, they were annihilated by their continued pursuit. Sariha was at wit’s end when he gave the command, but it could also serve well as humor.
“Wha… watch it, you’re in my way! If you’re ‘killed in action’ then move already!”
“Y-yes, but still…”
In the front line, which was a jumble of enemies and allies, the living and the dead jostled one another. If people were really killed in action, then one would just need to step over the dead bodies, but in this case they were only dead according to the rules. In part due to their inexperience with mock battles, they ended up as obstacles by standing upright in that area.
“N-now- shoot while the enemy is stopping!”
Taking advantage of the fact that the bullets were paint balls, Sariha, not caring whether they struck his allies, had the soldiers stage a comeback and fire their air shooters. It was a dreadfully shameful sight, but the short time they gained from it became what allowed them to survive. Even so—
“Oh, come on- I knew it would turn out like this! Platoon, attack! Please protect your fellow troops as they’re retreating!”
Slipping through the spaces between the gradually retreating soldiers, the members of Platoon Yatori, which had run into a predicament, returned fire on the enemy. Having previously anticipated a free-for-all fight, Yatori armed her soldiers’ bow guns with insertion-style short spears from the beginning. With the enemy in front of their eyes and noses, long things were stronger than both air shooters and bow guns.
“So you did come, Yatori. –Alright, everyone take it easy and rotate! End of swordplay!”
If not for her interference, their rout would’ve been the perfect chance, but Ikta wasn’t mistaken in the least in the moment he chose to pull back. Calmly distancing themselves from the short spear-wielding soldiers of Platoon Yatori, they targeted and completely surrounded their opponents, who had carelessly rushed out. Seeing this, Yatori, also sensed a favorable opportunity.
“Platoon, change course! We can’t go straight back- please escape to the forest while the enemy is still disorderly!”
Platoon Yatori’s movements were so precise and quick that one couldn’t believe that they’d only trained for one month, Just now it seemed that they had scattered and fled, but there was no doubt that they had established a meeting place.
“Ahh- we’re were shaken up more than I expected. Hey, Matthew, where are you~? Are you still alive~?”
Ikta called out in a trailing voice, and a short time later a large body appeared from the mass of people.
“I’m here… and I’m alive somehow. I tried to shoot Yatori earlier, but instead I was shut down, though…”
“Ahh well, that’s because our center was under attack. I don’t think that Yatori’s attack was directed towards foot soldiers. Well, I thought we did enough damage to their main forces. For the time being, shall we collect the survivors and reform our ranks?”
Nodding together, the two began to rebuild their own platoons. However, at that time, Sergeant Major Suuya, who survived without being “killed in action” came running, and exploded at Ikta as he was casually counting the number of soldiers.
“Warrant Officer, why didn’t we go in pursuit of them!? Warrant Officer Yatorishino’s platoon even withdrew- if we’re going to chase and beat the confused main forces of our enemy, then that was a perfect chance just now!”
“Huh? You guys are able to carry out a pursuit?”
Ikta asked back with a blank face. Losing her patience at this, Suuya unthinkingly started to raise her voice, but when she was on the verge of actually opening her mouth, she came to a sudden realization about what her superior was saying. When she calmly surveyed her surroundings, the situation was clear. The ranks of the soldiers, who were shaken in the fighting, were thrown in complete disarray, and voices calling for missing allies were echoing from here and there. In the center, there were injured persons in need of medical attention, and it would probably still take some time for each of the platoons to adequately regain order.
There was no way they could carry out an effective pursuit in these conditions. If they acted rashly, they would encounter return fire. Not getting drunk on his plan’s success, Ikta had calmly made this judgment. Even Suuya wasn’t unable to acknowledge its justification.
In the first place, the delay in recovering order was due not to Ikta’s poor commanding, but to the fundamentally low experience of the soldiers in responding to his commands. The one who hadn’t given Ikta the training necessary to raise that until the verge of the actual event, was none other than Suuya herself.
“…No, we can’t. …Please excuse me…”
Sensing that there was no room for a dissenting opinion, she lost her resolve midway and began to help with the work of sorting the survivors. While continuing that, Suuya quietly asked a question of the superior officer beside her.
“…Everything until now, Warrant Officer, was it all according to your predictions?”
“? What’s this all of a sudden? I told you everything beforehand, and you even helped with the bridge construction didn’t you?”
Ikta shrugged his shoulders. Awkwardly averting her eyes, Suuya flashed back to the events of the morning.
“…Make it, underwater? A bridge?”
When she first heard the idea, Suua had absolutely no idea what her scene partner was saying. Her superior officer, who had borrowed all of the soldiers under his command and started lumberjacking, casually explained to her while creating blisters on his hand with an axe he wasn’t accustomed to using.
“Well, not making- in this situation we’re just submerging them. The width of this river is roughly 25 meters, and the isu trees in this area are on average about 10-20 meters in total length. We’re submerging these on the river bed perpendicular to the river bed, you see. If we lay over five of them, we create a fine underwater path. For three platoons to use to attack, well, we’ll probably need to lay across 30 of them.”
“But, in essence this is a log, right? Don’t trees float in water…?”
“A tree is a tree, but this is an isu tree, meaning that it’s a hard tree. A tree’s hardness is inversely proportional to its water content by percentage, but in an isu tree that is extremely low. Essentially, that means that its interior is fully packed together.”
“Well simply speaking, this tree will sink in water. The flow of that river is rather gentle, so if we secure it a bit there’s no need to worry about it being washed away. Above all, thanks to the water being muddy, our submerged bridge will be invisible to the enemy. We, luring them here, are the only ones who know that this river can’t be used a in defensive river formation.
“That which destroys the conception of a bridge as something that we build above water, Anarai Khan‘s idea of a ‘submerged bridge.’ …However, since it doesn’t have much of a use aside from military applications, the one who thought of it wasn’t too proud, though.”
Ikta murmured nostalgically. His faraway eyes at that time left a deep impression on Suuya.
“…Let’s say, if the enemy comes probing the depth of the water, what do you plan on doing then?”
“I think the probability of that is low. The Kuriri River is also a practice ground for the defensive river encampment, and Captain Sarihasrag, hailing from the center base, knows the depth of this river from direct experience. Once he sees that its been swollen with the rain, he’ll have predicted it to be deep and won’t suspect it to be shallow. He would need to realize that we have an ‘underwater bridge’ in order to suspect it, but do you think that short tempered mind of his is capable of that kind of flexibility?”
In the time it took for Suuya to find one flaw, Ikta prepared 10 times as many words. …Thinking that they were empty, rash remarks, anyone would be able to hold him in contempt. However, that that was not the case was proved in this recent battle. His words were words with power.
If one casually looked around, Suuya was definitely no longer the only one who couldn’t ignore this young warrant officer. One offensive victory so easily caused people’s evaluation of him to change completely.
“Well, if they come probing, we’ll fire and drive them away. Since if they enter the river, they’ll be in range of an air shooter. But, if anything Sadist Ikemen’s incompetence is worse than I imagined. As a result, we took more damage than I would’ve liked. Even if they are paint balls, shooting at your allies- is that normal?”
His tone itself seemed to be joking, but Ikta was truly angry about that matter. Hearing that, Suuya was increasingly bewildered. The man in front of her whom she had come to respect now appeared about to cry.
“Mm, so the sorting of the survivors and those killed in action is done. –Haro, my angel! Please give medical treatment to the injured!”
“You noticed us!? …W-well since the fighting appears to be over, please excuse us…”
Haro’s Medics Platoon, which had been hiding in a corner of the forest the whole time, came out when they were called by Ikta and circled around giving medical care to the injured persons born from the recent fighting. Deaths also occurred at times during mock battles, but fortunately this time, it seemed that they had gotten by with only large numbers of people with slight injuries such as bruises or sprains.
“That was a skillful play, Solork. Your opponents were flustered.”
Her Highness, Chamille, protected by her body guards, showed her face from behind Platoon Haro. It appeared that the two of them had united together sometime as she was searching for a place from which she could watch over the progress of the battle without interfering with the fighting.
“Thanks. But we’re in the middle of training, you know, if you not doing anything in particular, then please stay back, princess.”
Saying that, Ikta shook his hand as if shooing her away. Her Highness, the Princess’s lips bent in a “へ” shape and the members of bodyguards glared at the insolent youth with even darker murderous expressions, but the youth paid it no mind. The princess who ruined the cheery atmosphere returned with her bodyguards to Haro’s side, in her place, Torway came running from upstream accompanied by two subordinates from the Medics.
“I’m back, Ik-kun, Maa-kun. Would this situation mean that things went well?”
“Ik-kun forbidden- but I suppose it’s a nice result. Your report, please.”
“Right, understood. As planned, I did climb trees together with my subordinates at the river crossing point upstream, but… who came up there were Yatori-san’s soldiers, though? Since only three of them went ahead, we know that they were scouts meant to confirm the presence of our forces.”
“I see. Did you bring them down?”
“We shot them all, and they’re ‘killed in action’. After that, we sounded their signal gong, but… about that, though, it’s the worst pattern among the several we hypothesized.”
“Ahh, Yatori has always operated to the upper limits of our hypotheses, hasn’t she? Without directing all of the soldiers in her platoon to the river crossing point upstream, she leaves her main force in the middle so they can support their allies at any time, and sent light-footed reconnaissance soldiers to confirm whether my platoon was actually coming.”
With that, if the enemy were there, they could counter attack, and if the enemy weren’t, they could be confident that it was a trap and return to the main force. It was a reliable and careful way of attacking very like her. Ikta thought to prevent the reconnaissance soldiers from sending the sound signal so he had sent skilled gunner soldiers, Torway included, upstream, but… at this rate, it seemed that there being no sign from her subordinates in itself confirmed the presence of a trap for Yatori.
“Well, it’s fine. In any case, we’ve shaved off a substantial part of the enemy’s battle forces. Even by just comparing the number of remaining enemies and the number of allies ‘killed in action,’ you can tell that the recent battle was a great victory for us.”
“It’d be easier if they’d just surrender, though…. In actuality, the enemy has suffered enough damage that it wouldn’t be so far-fetched, no?”
Matthew said that in a slightly tired condition, and Ikta stuck out his tongue and shook his head horizontally.
“If their supreme commander weren’t Sadist Ikemen, then we could hope for a surrender. With his nature, he is not unlikely to make his army fight until the last man so he himself isn’t ‘killed in action.’”
As he let Torway and Matthew return to their respective platoons, Ikta faced all of the soldiers and made a declaration.
“-Therefore, everyone, I’m sorry but I have another job for you. First, shall we head to the northern entrance of the Woodlands? We’ll take the detour route from the east, so all the survivors don’t be late and follow~”
He gave a command in a trailing voice that was unexpected for many of the soldiers. Sergeant Major Suuya, the head of the file that began marching despite the confusion, confirmed Ikta’s intentions.
“…Warrant Officer, are we going in pursuit? Are you confident that the escaped enemy is in the north? Even so, why the detour and not the direct route?”
“Ahaha, you’re so serious, Suuya~ Be more easygoing when you go about it.”
Not panicking, not hurrying, at a constant pace, Ikta began his explanation to a baffled Suuya.
“Hahh, hahh, Shit…! It shouldn’t- it shouldn’t have turned out like this!”
Captain Sariha, who had lost the confrontation interposing the Kuriri River, bringing along his remaining subordinates, escaped to a place that he could feel was somewhat safe. But both the soldiers and he himself resembled a dog, completely exhausted with its tail between its legs.
“Older brother, will you drink, water?”
First Lieutenant Sushuraf was also beside him, ever silent and expressionless, was supporting his brother. Taking the canteen from his younger brother, Sariha drained the contents in one gulp, but in the process, water had entered his trachea and he choked.
“Coughcough! ….Damn, what the hell is this! Why were those guys able to come at us running on water!? The water depth over there should definitely be to just under one’s chest! Is Ikta Solork a fucking magician?!”
“Older brother, calm down. That was probably because they submerged something in the water. I daresay an object like a bridge.”
“Bridge- A bridge!? A bridge is something we lay over water, and those fucking Illumination Division carpenters would take days or weeks to build it! The earliest they could have arrived here was yesterday night!”
Sariha, unable to accept the unpleasant reality, began yelling, and a while after his arrival, Yatorishino Igsem came over to him. Her platoon had also sustained quite some damage, but there was strength in her soldiers’ eyes, and the remaining forces were gathering one after the other.
“I’m surprised. Does even a person such as you, Captain, know the concept of a universal escape route?”
The first thing out of Yatori’s mouth was sarcasm, but she was quite seriously surprised.
A “universal route” was a military term, and it said, “take any path you want but gather at this location.” In this situation, it implied a meeting place for when they had been defeated and scattered, but….
“Keh…! Why you, Yatorishino…!”
Sariha couldn’t retort with anything. Whether he had thought about losing before the fighting, or whether he couldn’t think that he was sure to win- whichever was true, this matter was already nothing more than an embarrassment for him.
“I-I’m not the only one at fault here! If you had come to support me earlier…!”
“Please excuse me for that. But if there is a unit that can move faster than mine, then show it to me.”
Yatori spoke coldheartedly. Yatori had confidence regarding her tactics for this battle. She had done the best she could under the conditions set by her incompetent superior officer- if Ikta were here, he might be saying that right now.
In actuality, if not for her decision to leave the entirety of her platoon on friendly territory, Sariha’s and Sushuraf’s troops would probably have been destroyed in pursuit. Sariha was also aware of this, and he was miserable about it.
“By the way, what will you do? If we rebuild our troops and have another battle, you, the supreme commander, must give us directions. –And as you can see, my platoon is always ready to fight.”
“…, y-you don’t need to tell me that!”
Standing as if a flame were held to his behind, Sariha shouted at the weary survivors and had them reform their columns. After that, he fell deep in thought for 10 seconds, then brought to his mouth the first plan he could think of.
“We’re ambushing them. We’ll hide soldiers on both sides of the road stretching west of the open area in the north, and the moment they come by, we’ll attack from the left and right. First we attack from the outside, then we charge at them. If we do that, then we should be able to compensate for our disadvantage in numbers.”
That’s not a bad plan, Yatori thought. Only if the enemy pursues us, though.
“For that purpose, it’ll be necessary to have the light-footed soldiers go ahead and grasp the enemy’s current location, though…”
“In that case mobilize your soldiers, Yatorishino! They’re just bursting with energy, aren’t they!?”
Firmly suppressing a sigh, Yatori shook her head vertically. –Bursting with energy, was it?
It was amazing how he could say that, she thought. …They abruptly turned back from halfway up the path upstream to save their allies, and even undertook rear guard combat to prevent the enemy’s pursuit. There was no way that they were less exhausted than the group that only fled the scene.
While considering these things, before even 10 seconds passed after she received the command, Yatori chose three soldiers from her unit and deployed them as scouts. After seeing them leave, Sariha also immediately began his march.
“Let’s have some fun, Ikta Solork. I’ll give a good one to that smug face of yours…!”
“-I’d say Sadist Ikemen is getting fired up about his revenge around now. On the contrary, we weren’t pursuing them or anything in the first place~”
Saying that, Ikta tauntingly stuck his tongue out in the air. Suuya creased her eyebrows.
“I know that there is the risk of ambush during a pursuit, though…if we don’t attack for fear of that, how are we supposed to win this fight?”
“You’re pretty thickheaded, no, Suuya? But in that case, let me ask you something- if it were you, how would you deal with an enemy waiting to ambush somewhere along the route?”
“Well…normally, I would have the soldiers be completely on guard to their left, right, and rear. So that they will be able to respond immediately when they receive a surprise attack,...”
“That’s straightforward, but it a little unscientific. With your method, in contrast to the enemy which could come attacking us at any time, we have to continue being vigilant the entire time. Since the enemy can just gauge the timing to attack us after seeing our figures. We’d have a much harder time than they would. It’s not really worth it.”
“…Then, would it be better to split from the path ourselves and go looking for the enemy in the forest…?”
“That is even more unscientific. There is a high probability that we won’t find them if we search at random, and if we get lucky and do find them, then by that time our opponents will also have noticed our presence. If we walk and push through vegetation in large numbers, like it or not we’re going to make noise.”
“…So what are you saying that we do? I mean, nothing’s gonna happen if we don’t find the enemy-“
Interrupting her, Ikta thrust his index finger in front of Suuya’s eyes.
“Listen well, Suuya- first please abandon your preconceived notion that ‘we are pursuing the enemy.’ There’s no rule anywhere saying that we have to pursue and destroy an escaped enemy at all costs. If an unjustifiable pursuit will on the contrary welcome a disadvantage, then it’s better to just think of different plan, see?”
“…a different plan…?”
“Incidentally, this is what I was thinking. --If we’re the ones giving pursuit, then we’ll be exhausted- that being said, we are reluctant to be the ones pursued. But if we are making them pursue us, then that’s exciting. On that point, war and romance are completely the same.”
Sariha was impatient. Already more than one hour had passed after he finished concealing soldiers on both sides of the road which he anticipated to be the surprise attack location. In spite of that, no matter how much time passes, the main enemy forces won’t come in pursuit.
“…What the hell is up with this- did those guys have no intention to fight in the first place? …Hey, Yatorishino!”
“Yes. What is it, Captain?”
“Are the scouts still not back yet!? Can’t they perform one reconnaissance job properly?!”
His hypocritical abuse going in one ear and out the other, Yatori explained uninterestedly.
“I directed the soldiers I sent as scouts to go, in order, south, then east, then north in search of the enemy. Therefore, if they are this late in returning here, that means that the enemy forces at the Kuriri River did not head directly north- in other words, that there is a high probability that they didn’t take a straightforward route in their pursuit.”
“What the hell? In other words my orders were wrong!?”
Yatori was fed up with this superior officer who became hysteric no matter what she said, but she suddenly heard a noise and turned around. The three soldiers she sent as scouts, were standing there out of breath.
“”We make our report, Warrant Officer Yatorishino. The three enemy platoons, seem to have taken a detour route east from the Kuriri River to go north. Currently, they have already deployed their main forces in a formation to block the northern entrance of the Southern Urt Woodlands.
Sariha, hearing that report from nearby, dropped his jaw in shock, not understanding what it meant.
“…They blocked, the northern entrance of the Woodlands? What for? What’s Ikta Solork planning?”
With a backward glance at her perplexed superior officer, Yatori , who had realized Ikta’s intentions, curved her lips.
“-They got us. Our escape route has been cut off, Captain.”
“Have you forgotten where we came from to go to the Southern Urt Woodlands? It was the northern entrance. In addition, we will eventually have to pass through the northern entrance to return to the Center Base. That being said, if the return route is blocked when the mock battle ends, that would mean it was a lost battle because withdrawal was impossible.”
Sariha’s face instantly turned pale. He hadn’t considered that angle until just now.
“I-if you give it some time, then the mock battle will end, right? So what’s withdrawal being impossible or whatever-“
“Of course, they can’t actually prevent us from returning by passing through the northern entrance. However, this is a matter of interpretation, Captain. When we assume that this is a real battleground, you understand that there is no such official announcement of the ‘end of fighting’, correct? In that case, ’’what happens if the fighting continues on like this?’’ --I think that the victor of the mock battle should be decided on the basis of that realistic assumption-”
“…,, so if we can’t do anything with our escape route cut off, that equals their victory?”
“The justification of that verdict increases. Because in the current situation, we have already sustained greater damages.”
Sariha bit his nail and thought deeply. …In the first place, the first mock battle of the practice was usually a simple affair, with the first time the fighting started in the open area in the north also being the last, that ended in the destruction of one side. A judgment or a retreat- when he had been a warrant officer himself, it never turned into such a complicated matter.
“…So that guy, who dealt with this as a real battle, was better prepared than me, who took part in this thinking it was a game? Better than me, a captain on active duty? -Argh, don’t fuck with me!”
A frenzied Sariha, by forcefully kicking each of their backs, returned the soldiers hidden in the brushwood to the road. When they, including Sushuraf’s platoon which was encamped on the opposite side, reformed their files, he ordered a forward march in a furious voice.
“Head for the northern entrance! If that’s what they want, then we’ll go at them directly! We’re not letting this gap in numbers stop us- I command a battalion of 600 soldiers as a captain in actual war, got it!? If this is just a plain and simple matchup between numbers, then it’s obvious that we win when it comes to experience!”
Not lending an ear to Yatori’s voice asking him to calm down, Sariha started the march at full speed.
“Oh- We’re here, we’re here. Alright, all troops, ‘’look like you’re ready to shoot, okay’’?”
Ikta, who deployed the soldiers in a formation to block the way of the northern entrance, when he could see the enemy in his field of vision, made them take a position to intercept them. Bow gun and air shooter muzzles were lined up next to each other at equal intervals.
“However, ‘prepare yourself for a charge.’’ After the signal, which is the moment they reform their files into ranks, we will fight and pierce through it. And so, ready your arms.”
A confirmation followed. Giving detailed instructions to his subordinates, he himself had already joined the line of battle with a bow gun in hand.
“This isn’t something we need to rush. Don’t stick out, and consciously coordinate with your allies when you attack, alright? The best spearwork is the same as trash when compared to teamwork.”
The enemy halted at a distance that came barely within range of an air shooter, and they finally began changing their battle formation from the columns used for marching to the rows meant for attacking. With the instant of the deciding battle within sight, the soldiers swallowed.
“Hey, hurry up and change to your ranks! If I need to say it again I’ll kick you!”
On one hand, there was more or less a chance of victory for Sariha, who was making his allies, low in morale, take action through threats.
The enemy was deployed in a formation that blocked the northern entrance of the Southern Urt Woodlands. Conversely, no matter what happened, they couldn’t go back any further. He was able to see a way to win at this ‘cliff as per the rules.’
“’’Push them back…!’’ If they leave the designated battle area in the middle of the mock battle, that is a grand violation of orders. If even one of their soldiers passes the boundary line, they’ll be disqualified for breaking the rules!”
He didn’t consider it a disadvantageous match. Fortunately, the enemy forces were ready to meet them. When that side stopped their feet, this side would charge with all their remaining strength, so they could probably cover the difference in numbers with force. The path was narrow, so the enemy couldn’t escape to the sides.
“Listen up, even if you’re ‘killed in action,’ don’t just fall down. Pretend that you didn’t notice you got shot and push the enemy as far in as you can.”
With a sidelong glance at her superior officer who gave an order which was nothing if not a violation of the rules itself, Yatori secretly heaved a sigh. –She was tired of listening to this captain on active duty. Did he think he could command dead people on the battlefield?
With the soldiers’ disappointment imperceptibly increasing, their columns were finally arranged in a charging formation. As if sending the order to attack from the rear side, Sariha inflated his chest completely with air, but-
“...ALRIGHT, ALL UNITS CHAR- ack!?”
His order was awkwardly cut off. If one looked, pink paint was splattered on the back of Captain Sariha’s head. At the sudden, unpredicted turn of events, the soldiers next to him only widened their eyes and looked at their superior officer.
The person himself, dumbfounded, put a hand to the back of his head. The moment he saw the sticky evidence that he had been “killed in action,” he slowly began to comprehend the situation. –He had been shot. From where? Diagonally from the back. Then, by whom?
When his questions reached that point, the answer was derived almost intuitively. Sariha turned his body around and glared with a furious expression into the forest next to the road, and shrieked at the culprit hidden inside.
“…TORURU- YOU BASTAARDD!”
With that scream as the beginning, the enemy’s attack against the supreme commander’s former troops started. An air shooter volley fired at them diagonally from the back, coordinating with their allies, the soldiers in directly ahead of them also came charging in formation. The soldiers, deployed to attack and becoming attacked themselves, panicked and made a commotion, the majority being unable to adequately return fire.
“—They got us. Not bad, Torway…!”
In midst of that, Yatori still had the composure to assess the situation. –I see, at first glance, it appeared that all of the enemy’s forces were deployed directly ahead, but they disguised the number using a concave line of battle. The ones who were left out of that were concealed at the sides of the path, and they opened fire the moment our main forces passed by.
A surprise attack from the sides by the troops in ambush. What Sariha had tried to pull off earlier was just pulled off in a similar fashion by the enemy. Yatori wasn’t surprised. If it’s Ikta, then she knew he’d do at least that much.
What she ought to be praising right now, was the gunning unmatched in accuracy that took Sariha down in just one hit. First, it was undoubtedly Torway’s handiwork. When she thought of the skill that brought down the commander who was supposed to be in a safety zone with one carefully aimed shot, she once again remembered the terror of the two soldiers of the name, “Remeon of the Bullet.”
“…First Lieutenant Sushuraf, Captain was ‘killed in action!’ Take over as the supreme commander!”
While stopping the main force of the enemy charging at them from the front, Yatori yelled to her only remaining superior officer. Whether to retreat to provide resistance, she couldn’t mobilize any platoon but her own with the authority she possessed. Now, as they were being partly sieged from the front and back, an immediate decision of their objective as a whole was essential.
“…Understood. We no longer have any prospect of winning this decisive battle. We’ll break their siege and escape into the trees.”
Saying that in a low voice, Sushuraf prepared the large-caliber air shooter he carried on his back with one hand, and fired it at the wall of enemy soldiers. The paint that spattered across a wide scope saw to four soldiers being “killed in action” in one shot.
“I created an opening. Wrench open that hole, Yatorishino.”
Faced with adversity, a twisted smile rose to Yatori’s lips. It was simple and precise, but the execution was extremely difficult. This kind of order was exactly what she wanted.
Keeping control even now in this dire situation, Yatori’s platoon began moving and tore into the small seam in the siege. Repelling the enemies blocking their way, pushing their way through waves of people with abandon- in the end, though there were more injuries to their allies, she executed her order at last.
From the prepared escape route, the platoon which Sushuraf was leading began withdrawing without a moment’s delay. However, the platoon which Sariha personally commanded, unable to recover from the initial confusion, was already destroyed. Less than one-third of the remaining two platoons was still surviving. To anyone’s eyes, this was a decisive rout.
As the defeated soldiers fled into the trees, Yatori suddenly creased her eyebrows as she escaped from the free-for-all fight,
“…First Lieutenant Sushuraf. The rule is that those ‘killed in action’ would remain where they are.”
The source of her confusion was being carried on Sushuraf’s shoulder. As if it were natural, the younger brother was carrying the older brother, who in a state of peace surpassing anger that had no relation to the fact that he’d lost all power as per the rules.
“If this were an actual battle, I would never desert my older brother. Even if he were a corpse.”
“--. I see.”
After hearing Sushuraf’s short words, Yatori didn’t pursue it further. She didn’t feel like criticizing him for the breach of the rules. Just, if she were in the same position, what would she have done? -She thought a little about that inevitability.
“Mmm- aww, they didn’t let us destroy them…”
Watching the enemy disappear into the trees, Ikta lightly scratched the back of his head.
“Knowing Yatori, I did think that she might break through, you see. First Lieutenant Sushuraf’s shot which created the opening- now that was a bit unfair, no? Well, we have Torway on our side, so let’s call it even, shall we?”
Next to him, Sergeant Major Suuya nodded vaguely. Next to them, the soldiers, overjoyed at their victory, were in an uproar, and sending enthusiastic glances at their leader. But, that person ignored them and clapped his hands together.
“Alrigh~t, everyone settle settle. We let the enemy escape, but the mock battle ended with this. There’s no time left, so we won’t pursue them. –So Haro! Please give medical attention to the injured!”
“Wahh! W-we were found again!?”
Haro’s Medics platoon, timidly coming out of the trees, began looking after the injured persons that were mass produced in the recent battle. While watching that out of the corner of his eye, Ikta briefly surveyed the soldiers in front of him.
“With this, there’s no need to worry about the future. –Therefore, now is the time to scold my beloved subordinates. This is addressed to the team with no relation to whether you’re alive or dead. Well then, prepare yourselves!”
Saying that and putting his hands together, Ikta cracked his knuckles loudly. The soldiers were caught by surprise. They never would have guessed that he was the type of superior officer who engaged in corporal punishment.
“Private First Class Guemp! Private First Class Aigi! Private Vio! Corporal Dobai! Come before me!”
The four soldiers called by name nervously walked up to their superior officer. Ikta silently glared at them one by one before opening his mouth.
“The-four-of-you, even though I made such a point of it, stuck out too much when we charged. What’s the big idea? Do you want to be surrounded by the enemy? Are you masochists who love being sieged and destroyed by the enemy? Are you at the rebellious age? Basically, are you idiots? Do you want to die?”
The soldiers were dumbfounded. Usually, when one was reproved by one’s superior, there was nothing but yelling involved, and this nagging way of being scolded was rare. In addition, since there was this strange humor to be heard in it, they somehow ended up just listening to it.
“Keep doing that and you’ll die. If you jump out like that you’ll have to face three or four opponents at once with just one of you. I know of one person who call pull that kind of stunt off, but if you try copying that you’re definitely going to die.
Do you understand? I’ll say it now since I have the chance. I don’t need any brave people in Ikta-kun’s unit. I’d much rather have lazy people. Instead of secluding yourself in the mountains and undergoing ascetic training so you can win one-vs-three, constantly think of ways you can fight three-vs-one in your bed. That’s what you call a scientific way of thinking.”
At this point, the person himself already forgotten what the point of the scolding was. What he said after was close to instinct.
“But I can’t have you misunderstanding. Being lazy in the right way, is actually extremely difficult. When you’re lazy in the wrong way, you’ll accordingly end up having to work more than necessary. On the other hand, when you work the wrong way, you’ll accordingly end up not being able to relax.
Well then. When you think these things through, both being lazy in the right way and working in the right way, don’t you think that those two things end up being the same? It’s kind of contradictory, no? Well, this, you see- actually it’s not contradictory in the least, you see. ‘’Welcome to the world of science!’’”
Science? What’s that? – Commotion stirred among the soldiers. The only similar word which they knew of was “theology.” The word that had yet to be recorded in that world’s dictionary was “science.”
With a speaking style similar to that of a founder of a new religion, or rather ‘’with that very style itself’’, Ikta continued.
“Logical and utilitarian, and as a result a fantastic way of thinking that lets you be extremely lazy. That is the essence of science.
You should think it over- how did humans advance this far? -Humans planted fields. Because it was a pain to go out hunting every day for unstable game. –Humans dug wells. Because it was a pain to go one by one to draw water from the river. –Humans coined money. Because it was a pain to carry around heavy goods to exchange them.
Conclusion. The evolution of humanity, all of it was led by the impulse of, ‘I want to relax.’ …If that is the case, what about war? Of course, war is also the same. That is to say, the ‘relaxed war’ is therefore the ‘correct war!’”
Caught in a saturation attack, no one noticed that the logic in between skipped about five steps. And more frightening- Ikta himself had no definite self-awareness of his ability to incite others with rhetoric among his god-given weapons.
“So come with me! Whenever troops of Ikta Solork fight, we will be relaxed, and we will be victorious! Invincibility is standard, and laziness first-class! To those who follow me, I’ll bring relaxation unto each and every one you!”
The moment he finished speaking, Ikta realized, “Ahh- whoops, I overdid it.” But, it was already too late.
At first, all anyone did was stare dumbly in amazement, and the voice that disturbed the silence was truly a tiny one. However, that commotion slowly but surely was repeated and amplified among the soldiers. As a ripple arising from one point on water spreads across the entire surface while forcefully growing in height. The response of the soldiers who had received Ikta’s grand address soon reached a final climax with cheering mixed with applause--.
“”””””YEEAAHHH! IKTA SOLORK! IKTA SOLORK!””””””
At his own name being chanted by countless overlapping voices, Ikta was overcome with surprise. Even though he had only thought to use this opportunity to earn the soldiers’ trust, he had far surpassed that goal before he realized it.
“Hey, what is this? …The triumphant return of some great hero…?”
Filled neither with joy nor with a sense of accomplishment, genuine chills ran down Ikta’s spine. There are two types of geniuses- someone thought that once. Thus, this might have been the first incident proving that- in that sense- Ikta Solork was not the same type as Anarai Khan.
“Wow- Ik-kun, you’ve become really popular when I wasn’t looking!”
Torway, who had been commanding the detached soldiers in ambush, had returned. However, Matthew twitched his cheeks and corrected his statement.
“No, he became really popular ‘’as you were looking’’…. What the hell was that speech before? The humor was simple, but there was a weird passion running through it. I mean, don’t go winning over the soldiers in our units too.”
“…Matthew, Ikemen…. No, sorry. I cast too wide a net with my preaching.”
Slapping his cheeks with both hands and bracing himself, Ikta returned his gaze to the problem at hand.
“A~lright- Everyone settle~. For the time being let’s just maintain our line of battle until time is called~.”
When Ikta requested silence with with his prolonged expressions, even the rowdy soldiers slowly quieted down. When adequate order returned to area’s atmosphere, Torway opened his mouth.
“…That reminds me. When we were hiding in the trees earlier, we saw Her Highness, Chamille.”
“Ahh- the princess? I thought that she wasn’t close by- so she was with the other side?”
“Yea, together with her bodyguards, she was walking west looking around restlessly for something…maybe she got bored of spectating and left?”
“—No, that would be strange.”
“That princess has a strong sense of responsibility unbefitting her age. She wouldn’t do anything like leave the location when the deciding battle has yet to happen. If she were picking flowers, she’d probably swallow her pride and make do with somewhere close by. At the very least, it’s suspicious that she isn’t here right now.”
“That’s pretty exaggerated- it’s probably just a whim. Didn’t she just go to see Yatori?”
“The direction is fundamentally wrong. If that were the case, she’d be going south, not west, Matthew.”
“Then… maybe, she was looking for me?”
“I won’t say the chances are nonexistent, but they’re slim. Even if she notices the absence of Platoon Torway, then the princess would’ve realized that meant that you were lying in ambush for a surprise attack. Would she drag her bodyguards along when she goes looking there? She may be a princess, but she can read a situation.”
An uncomfortable feeling grew inside Ikta. Leaving the other two behind, he settled the question.
“…There is no reason. Yes, that is the biggest problem. At a point before the start of battle, there is no reason whatsoever for the princess to be heading west. If her objective in coming to watch the practice was simply to spectate, or to keep the Remeon brothers in check, for her to achieve that, she had to ‘be here.’ Nevertheless, she was ‘heading west’…”
Both of Ikta’s eyes opened wide. The next moment, he gave an unbelievable order.
With a cloudy consciousness, the princess felt like she was being carried on the back of a large turtle. The back she suddenly felt was nothing but hard, and massive. Though as the result of the drugs she inhaled, she didn’t retain the reasoning power to determine that it was light armor.
“I apologize for my impertinence, Your Highness, the Princess. Please wait a bit for now…”
The male bodyguard who was carrying her on his back, though not 10 minutes had passed since he swapped roles, didn’t know how many times he had already repeated the same apology.
“…Hey, sorry, I can’t do it anymore. Can you switch with me…?”
That this girl’s body, which was supposed to be as light as a feather, weighed as heavily as gold on those who carried her was not just the fault of their exhaustion from continuously walking inside the forest for a long time- not at all.
For humans born and raised in the Empire, the royal family was almost synonymous with the gods. As long as one wasn’t an extremist traitor, one couldn’t forget the respect due to those beings. …Even the ones committing these reckless actions were no exception to this spirituality as subjects of the Empire.
“…Please forgive me, Your Highness, the Princess. Please forgive me…”
When several minutes passed since he received the small body, an apology as such invariably came slipping out from the mouth of the human carrying her. Those continued to enter Her Highness’s ear, who was half asleep, and it recalled even to her dim consciousness the earlier events--.
“Where is he!? Where has Solork collapsed?!”
Not caring that her beautiful golden hair had become covered in tree leaves, Her Highness, the Princess, ran in search of the youth’s form. The impetus came about 10 minutes before, beginning with the report one bodyguard brought back. He told her, “the Medics soldier I met there was saying that Ikta Solork was bleeding and collapsed in the west.’”
From the moment she heard that, she lost her normal judgment. The belief that “Solork is at the northern entrance planning to summon and destroy the enemy forces” also vanished. Although she couldn’t confirm his figure from her location, and she had trust in her bodyguards, the major truth of it was that the human being Ikta Solork was the singular deciding factor for her. Recently when it came to matters involving him, reason was becoming slightly ineffective on Chamille. And before she knew it, she was being lured west to a place far removed from the main battle location, the northern entrance of Woodlands. However, her bodyguards also accompanied her for a while pretending to search for Ikta. Because they didn’t have confirmation that there was no other humans around.
No, on the contrary, there were a few people who were truly searching. It wasn’t that all of the 20 bodyguards were betraying her. However, the fact that they were only a fraction compared to villains was unavoidable, and what awaited them was a quite sudden tragedy.
“Wha…!? J-just what are you-“ “Y-your Highness, please esca…!“
An air shooter bullet released from behind pierced through the innocent body guards one after the other. …Even so, the ones who avoided instant death desperately tried to protect the princess. There were also those who, covered in blood, took the princess and continued to flee for several minutes.
However, their devotion made no difference. With the sound of compressed air being released, blood spilled from a fifth head, and the villains’ hands finally reached Her Highness, the Princess, with whom he had been escaping.
“Please forgive me, Your Highness, the Princess. We will be having you come with us.”
Beginning things with an apology, one of the villains declared their treachery. That man was a veteran soldier serving as the leader of the bodyguards, his name Ison Hou, who worked his way up the ranks to captain. He had strong faith in superior officers, enough to be entrusted with the protection of the princess, and he was given the stamp of approval by the upper echelon of the army in the screening process.
“…The story that Solork collapsed, was that a lie to lure me away?”
When that came out of the cornered princess’s mouth, she herself was surprised, but it was also a confirmation. Even at that time, still in a corner of her mind, the vision of Ikta lying prone and covered in blood remained.
“Yes. …Since it seemed Your Highness had taken an interest in him, we used it as a pretext.”
There was no sarcasm in Captain Ison’s phrasing, but Her Highness, the Princess’s cheeks suddenly burned red.
“It seems I confused the order of my questions. –Why are you doing this?”
“Answer me! Do you have a rendezvous to uphold?!”
“Please forgive me. We know that Your Highness, the Princess, is innocent.”
Stubbornly not answering with a reason, Captain Ison only piled on more apologies. With that as a cue, other bodyguards came from behind him and surrounded her.
“S-stop! …Mmph!? MMPHH!”
Still, the princess, with a drug-laced handkerchief put over her mouth and nose, didn’t faint within a few seconds. She flailed her arms and legs for over three minutes and when he confirmed that she finally quieted down, Captain Ison gave and order to his subordinate.
“Carry her on your back. Sincerely try not to treat her too roughly.”
With that low, composed voice as the last thing she knew, Her Highness, the Princess’s consciousness became vague, and she saw only dreams of being carried by an enormous turtle from that point forward.
However, in her dream, she felt that the turtle was shedding tears. It was just like a turtle at the time of spawning…
Using the meeting location for times when they were routed for the second time in the span of one day, Captain Sariha had gone beyond both panic and anger, and was rather in a trance-like state.
“Older brother, I’m pouring it on your head.”
Concerned for his older brother who had paint sticking all over his head, Sushuraf poured water from a canteen and washed it off. Sariha himself said nothing as it was being done. Yatori found it quite ironic that the man who only made mistakes as the supreme commander, was exhibiting exemplary behavior as someone “killed in action.”
“-First Lieutenant Sushuraf, the time limit for the mock battle will pass soon. Won’t you send the signal of surrender?”
While measuring the inclination of her eyes, Yatori made the obvious suggestion. But, the moment the three-syllable word “surrender” came from her mouth, Captain Sariha yelled out forgetting his single good decision as a dead body.
“Here, surrender!? Don’t fuck around, who’s surrendering…!”
“…Captain. There’s no need to say it, but the current supreme commander is First Lieutenant Sushuraf.”
“The hell I’m listening to what a shitty warrant officer has to say! I’m not giving in- until I beat the shit out of Toruru and Ikta Solork, I’ll never surrender…!”
At the sight of her superior officer yelling and his spit flying, Yatori persuaded him in a soft tone.
“Captain, please listen. In any case, the mock battle will be over soon. If we don’t send the signal of surrender now, it will only injure your honor, Captain, to be known as ‘the commander who doesn’t even know when he’s lost.’ At the very least, receiving that dishonor in a practice against new recruits wasn’t your true intention as a Captain was it?”
“Now, you can still end the mock battle saying, ‘I was completely cornered, but the last retreat was a success.’ By acknowledging your loss, you can show your generosity. Do you understand? ”
Sariha’s voice lost its strength, and a shadow came over his downcast face. Yatori wrapped up her argument with a single phrase.
“Please give us your wise decision as supreme commander.”
Even addressed as such, while hiding his face, Sariha’s shoulders trembled slightly and he said nothing.
….However, if you looked closely, water fell in drops onto the collar of his army uniform from his downcast face.
Yatori gave a sigh and turned her body, and sat herself down on a fallen tree nearby. I wonder what Ikta would do if he were here- suddenly, she thought about that. Would he hit his dejected conversation partnerwhere it hurt?
“You can’t do anything, can you? That guy, he’s strict on men with pretty faces, so-“
The moment she muttered that and smiled, a metallic sound reached them coming from nowhere.
Those who understood the meaning of that sound, Yatori being the first, showed their surprise one by one and stood up.
“…A signal of surrender? Why are they-no, not just that…”
Quieting the clamoring soldiers with a sharp look, Yatori focused on her hearing. It was as if several signals with different meanings were being repeated. Not just a normal sound signal, this was certainly….
“…I see. I don’t quite understand, but I’ve got it.”
Rather than thinking about it too deeply, they should act. Making that judgment according to her natural intuition and dynamism, she made the soldiers in her platoon who were confused by the sudden situation line up in front of her.
“Excluding the 28 people we lost track of, total 12 people…it’s a little flaky, but there’s nothing I can do.”
“Where are you going, Yatorishino?”
Before she requested for permission to depart, not Sariha but Sushuraf came asking instead. Though she was slightly surprised at first, Yatori, judging that he had taken supreme command given Sariha’s condition, informed him.
“Yatorishino Igsem with under 20 soldiers is now heading west.”
“The signal just now?”
“Yes. I wasn’t able to understand it completely, but in any case I fear that there is an emergency situation,”
“Understood. Take what’s left of my platoon with you. Though the majority of them are exhausted. Hey-”
When Sushuraf began talking in a low voice, the air shooter soldiers who had been sitting in protest stood up, and joined the end of Yatori’s files. At the extremely unexpected assistance, she widened her eyes and looked at the gigantic first lieutenant.
“If they get worn out during the journey, leave them.”
“Naturally, I’ll accept this privilege, but… Why are you letting me do this?”
“You saved my older brother in the first battle. I’m grateful for that.”
His words were few, but in them was a simple reason that satisfied Yatori. She stretched her spine and bowed to the first lieutenant, and giving a final glance at Sariha, starting running as soldiers’ vanguard.
“…What’s that sound, ever since earlier?”
The 15 former bodyguards advancing through the forest, had long been puzzled about the metallic sound of unknown meaning that came ringing from afar. They thought that it had some meaning, but they could distinguish it no matter how hard they concentrated.
“Ignore it. Even if they noticed Her Highness, the Princess’s disappearance, the training units have just finished their mock battle and lack a system of command. I can’t imagine how that they could carry out an effective pursuit of us.“
Now taking in one hand the princess who had circulated between his subordinates, Captain Ison stated his objective views. His voice was always low, heavy, and unwavering. The commander was constantly like this because he learned it from a revered superior officer very long ago.
“Just a little more, then we’ll come out on the main road. The arranged cavalry is waiting for us there. Then we have achieved our mission.”
“…That’s right. Just a little, just a little more...”
Ison knew that his subordinates’ hearts were wavering. They were likely thinking not that their mission would be over in just a little while, but that everything would be over. He didn’t think that was impossible.
“If it’s painful to look at the princess, then don’t look anymore. You all should have been prepared at the start.”
The captain’s strict words settled his subordinates whose hearts were wavering between loyalty and justice. That will tide them over, Ison judged. It was a prediction grounded on long years of experience. However, that was-.
At approximately the same time as his short command, air shooter bullets and bow gun arrows came flying at them from all angles. Blood and scraps of fabric fluttered down, and two of the more unlucky people lost their footing and fell forward.
But, with the divine protection of their light armor, the remaining 13 soldiers got away either unscathed or with slight injuries. While sensing that that the enemy forces were small in scale, Ison took up a bow gun arrow that had lodged at his feet and gazed at it intently.
“...I can imagine it. In the place of arrowheads, they sharpened the tip of the wooden arrows, did they?”
Ison saw through various things in a few seconds. The enemy troops had fewer numbers than a platoon, and the larger part of their composition was accounted for by divisions other than the air shooters. It was obvious from the circumstances that they were training troops with no weapons meant for actual battle, their scheme to compensate for that was the bow gun arrow with a sharpened tip. It also seemed that the air shooter soldiers were firing paint bullets having made the gas pressure of the pressurized air the same as that when using real bullets, but the penetrative power of the bullets themselves was low and insufficient in strength.
As if the Captain’s composure had been contagious, and the other bodyguards weren’t agitated even as they received the assault. Surrounding the captain and the princess in a circle, they pointed the muzzles of each of the air shooters they prepared uniformly in all directions.
“You number fewer than a platoon, and I can gather that you are not air shooter soldiers. It is also highly unlikely that you are the Medics soldiers. If you were Illumination soldiers, you would use the darkness of the woods to your advantage and resort to blinding us with High Beams. Therefore, you are a Ballistics platoon which has lost its strength. –Correct, Warrant Officer Yatorishino Igsem?”
His somewhat cold observing eye made the soldiers hiding in the darkness of the trees shiver. Unimpressed with that reaction, Ison continued further.
“Well then, carry out a second volley. Even if one or two people die-“
“This time, you’ll know our positions- correct?”
That voice reached Ison’s ears along with the sound of shoe soles and dirt chafing together. At the exact same time, the blade of a saber was held to the nape of his neck.
“But, there is also this method of learning my position. The soldier uniform suits you, but aren’t you wearing your cap too low?”
“…So you were lying in wait up a tree? To unhesitatingly fly into the middle of the enemy, you’re quite the hero, Warrant Officer Igsem.”
Ison wasn’t perturbed even in these circumstances, but as expected the same couldn’t be said for his subordinates. Startled at the girl who suddenly appeared in the middle of the circle, they panicked and moved to turn the gun muzzles around, but Yatori didn’t allow it.
“Don’t move. If even a single gun is turned toward me, your leader’s head falls.”
“Then, let my head fall as you please. I order to all troops. Turn around immediately and fire at the girl.”
Captain Ison showed absolutely no hesitation. But, again it seemed that there were no subordinates around him who could enact his order with the same resolve. It was as if a death god had completely reaped the proximity.
“…You narrowly escaped death. It seems that for as much as you think that way, they don’t think it’s right to let you die. It’s complicated, but I think that you probably ought to be happy, Captain Ison Hou.”
Captain Ison scoffed at his calculation error. Thinking a little, he settled on a simple resolution.
“We’re deadlocked. But in your case, this is a desperate play for time, isn’t it?”
“I’m not the only one being unfair. It’s the same in your case, too.”
“I’ve also wagered everything I’ve got, but you're giving a better show than I am.”
They continued their farcical exchange in this tense atmosphere as if they were crossing swords. However, one change took place at that point. The princess who had been dozing off on Ison’s back opened her eyes at Yatori’s voice, which she had been accustomed to hearing.
“…Is that, Yatori? …Where…?”
“Greetings, Your Highness, the Princess. Is there anything strange about your body?”
Rubbing her sleepy eyes, and looking around, the princess gradually remembered the circumstances she had been left in, and when she realized the current encircled fighting ground situation, she then looked at Yatori with a face seeming on the verge of tears.
“It’s alright, Your Highness, please be calm. It’s the same as when you fell from the ship. He will save you soon.”
Her secret hope chipped away at the remainder of her anxiety. Yatori smiled gently.
“Ikta will come soon. Excuse me, I was impatient. If only you had woken up a little later, he might have coordinated perfectly with Your Highness’s awakening.”
Seeing Yatori’s smile, the princess quickly regretted her childishness. Entirely surrounded by gun-wielding enemies, under circumstances in which a millimeter of negligence was intolerable, of all things she was still concerned about someone else. How much courage that took, how much of a burden that forced the fiery-haired girl to bear, Her Highness, the Princess, couldn’t even imagine it.
“…Hm. If Your Highness, the Princess, has awakened, then it’s finally a good time to talk about our motives, no?”
Ison was the one who proposed it. Not knowing his intention, Yatori made a severe expression.
“…Motive? You mean the reason you tried to kidnap royalty even as soldiers who pledged their loyalty to the Emperor?”
“Yes. The reason we completely abandoned our pride as soldiers, and took on this crime.”
There was no inflection of any sort in his tone. Even when it came time to speak his current beliefs, that remained the same.
“Then, I will tell you. We… the 15 of us including the two collapsed there, all of us were Lieutenant General Hazaaf Rikan’s disciples.”
The one who reacted most strongly to the mention of that name was the princess who stood behind the speaker.
“…What…did you say, just now…?”
“Lieutenant General Hazaaf Rikan, who suffered a death in battle at the end of hard fighting at the Eastern Stronghold about three months earlier, was our former teacher, is what I said, Your Highness, the Princess. Each of us had served many superior officers in our military careers, but there was no greater commander than he. That is something which we will always be able to declare.”
“…Don’t tell me, your motive is…”
The princess’s voice shook. Captain Ison’s left eye stared across his back at her face.
“That is right, Third Princess. One of our former teacher’s hundred million regrets, as he was made to be a human sacrifice to compensate for the mistakes of the internal government, WAS NOT BEING ABLE TO FULFILL ONE OF YOUR INSIGNIFICANT ORDERS!”
Ison shouted. He betrayed his inhuman impression in an instant, and blustered with completely unpredictable timing. The princess who felt that fierce intensity through her entire body, entered a state of panicked fear and began to struggle on Ison’s back. But, concerning the state of affairs, the fatal change was not this, but-
“’’You finally revealed a hole in your defense, Warrant Officer Yatorishino.’’”
She withstood the sudden outburst. But she had been caught up by the condition of Her Highness, the Princess, who had fallen into a panic, and this time Yatori had let her concentration, which she couldn’t lose under any circumstances, slip for only a moment…!
He buried the tip of the blade into his palm. Amazingly, Ison had willingly plunged his right hand into the blade and prevented the saber’s movement. Furthermore, before the remaining main gauche swooped in, he held down Yatori’s left arm with his remaining hand. Thus throwing his opponent’s body off-balance, he flipped his enemy onto the ground with skillful martial arts…!
As if to signal its wielder’s defeat, the main gauche which left Yatori’s hand sounded as it fell to the ground.
On top of drawing out even an instant of vulnerability, he had a heart of steel that didn’t hesitate to act when the chance arose. In the end, that was likely the reason for the failure of the “Igsem of the Blade” who prided herself in being the strongest in close quarters combat.
“See by nature I don’t like to raise my voice, but…. Even still, I do try shouting once in a while.”
“There’s no need to point your guns, you people. I can strangle her with one hand like this, so keep watch of our surroundings. Also, to her fire spirit partner, move and I kill your master.”
Shia, who had slipped out of his hip pouch, faced Ison, and prepared to release flames from his ‘fire chambers,’ stopped in his tracks. Plainly stated, this was the perfect control of the soldier who was even thoroughly aware of the spirit’s thought patterns.
“-Your Highness, the Princess, as well, don’t consider jumping off my back since I have removed my hands. Though it was disrespectful, I fastened the string of your kimono while you were sleeping. Even if you tried to escape, it would be a wasted effort.”
“S-stop! You, let Yatori…!”
Not curling up in fear and trying to rescue Yatori who was in a predicament by grabbing at the enemy, the princess’s courage was something to be commended. She moved her hands to the captain’s face from his back, and desperately dug into his skin with her nails. ..However, this attack was powerless against the man who had willingly pierced his hand with the saber, and he didn’t move a single eyebrow.
The carotid artery in her neck pressed under his finger, Yatori’s consciousness gradually became faint from oxygen deprivation. But, as if to say he wouldn’t wait for such a leisurely death, the strength in the captain’s left hand increased. Ison’s right hand, having flung the saber to the ground by force, stopped the body of the princess, who couldn’t simply watch and jumped off his back, without even relying on the kimono string.
Losing feeling in his arms and legs, Captain Ison’s body began to shake violently. Strength slipped out of his left hand, which would have broken his enemy’s cervical vertebrae with another push. –That instant, Yatori, who had been held down, opened both eyes, and sprung up with all her energy. She almost instinctively took up her saber and main gauche which were lying on the ground, and then-!
A bloody wind overtook them. Yatori, resurrected from the brink of death, regarded everyone within reach of her blades except the princess as an enemy, and, becoming a gale of blades, mowed them down.
In two seconds four people lost their heads, and in five seconds half of all of the body guards descended into a sea of blood. Her platoon would later tell the story as witnesses- that at this time, the swords which Yatorishino Igsem wielded exceeded the limits of a human being.
One beat behind her revival, the soldiers hidden in the shadows of the surrounding trees also began their charge. There was already no means of fighting against the former bodyguards who’d been ripped apart by Yatori from the inner side. Piercing eyes or gaps in their armor with bow gun arrows- when they faltered it had been carried out one by one by Yatori’s two blades.
Not two minutes after the start of their charge, they were annihilated. …After that, only the fiery-haired girl standing dazed in the sea of blood, and her Highness, the Princess, whose body she completely bathed in the blood she brought forth, surrounded by the horrified soldiers standing around them, were left remaining in the center of the battlefield.
“A-are you unharmed, Yatori-sa…!?”
“Hey, just what the hell happened—WOAH!?”
Rushing in one after the other came Torway, who rescued Yatori from her predicament earlier with a single magnificent shot from afar, and Matthew. But even they lost their words at the sight of their ally dyed completely red with blood.
“…High,ness…. …Are, you, safe?.... Thank…goodness…”
The demonic swordsman’s stiff lips spoke human words with great difficulty. With that, Yatori finally noticed that there were no longer any enemies she needed to kill surrounding her. She tried to store her two swords in their sheathes, but even they had been torn off her hip in the course of battle. She tried to at least free her hands, but, as if they had fused with the hilts, her fingers didn’t move.
“What’s this…The swords, won’t…”
Even the rescued princess was frightened of that figure. She was frightened, but she thought that there was likely nothing else so beautiful, so fleeting, or so noble. She was the pair of blades. To protect her master- she was her blades of pure steel wielded with that being her dearest wish as one titled an Imperial Knight.
“—Woah, being flashy again, are we? I won’t be able to eat tomatoes for a while, seeing this.”
However, there was the youth who nonchalantly stepping into that red domain with a complaint. His short breath and sweaty skin told that he had come running here at full strength.
When the fiery-haired girl turned her blank gaze, Ikta casually raised a hand.
“Yo, Yatori, there’s something important I need to tell you. You might already know it, though… Right now, you’re really red, you know?”
What am I going to do if this fails?- entirely not worrying about that before he spoke was one of Ikta’s amazing points. And strangely, the jokes he told in extreme situations were able to calm people’s hearts.
“…Haha… Th-the red, is fine, but… I can’t stand, reeking of metal from head to toe…”
“Reek of metal? No~, that has nothing to do with being red. That’s because you’re holding those hunks of metal in both your hands.”
Saying that as if were obvious, Ikta came in front of Yatori and gently massaged not her fingers clutching the hilts but the muscles of her forearm. After he continued that for a minute, strength left her stiffened hands and the swords that had practically integrated with them separated from her palms and fell.
“There, I got it. That’s enough for today.”
“…Thank, you…. …But, what- right….I might be, a little tired…”
Saying that with a wry smile, she fell forward, leaning her body on Ikta, and lost consciousness.
Not caring that she was covered in blood as he held and supported her, the youth murmured as if he were disgusted.
“You always work too hard, you know. I tell you to be more relaxed about things, but you really don’t listen, do you?”
Entrusting her to the soldiers, Ikta turned a second time to the center of sea of blood. The princess, hugging her knees, hoped he would talk to her, but his goal was elsewhere.
“…You’re alive, aren’t you? You there, can you still talk?”
Ikta’s words were directed at Captain Ison, who laid collapsed on his face. To tell the truth, Her Highness, the Princess, was hurt by the order of his priorities, but at any rate his concern was for the dying soldier.
“…I can’t see anymore, but yes, somehow…. Your voice, you’re Warrant Officer Solork, right…?”
“And you are the leader of the body guards, Captain Ison. May I have an explanation of this situation?”
Finding it unbearable that Ikta asked for that reason out of Captain Ison’s mouth, the princess forcibly interposed her own words.
“It seems that they were Lieutenant Hazaaf Rikan’s disciples….all of the 15 people here…”
In the end, it was painful for her to say any more than this. Hearing that, Ikta’s face distorted in rage, furthering the princess’s regret.
“…If that’s all there is, then I understand very well. I have no will to ask or criticize you for any more. I believe that I also understand you feelings. If you had been so inclined, I would’ve liked if you’d invited me as one of your allies.”
“Just- Ikta, what-!?”
Matthew, who had yelled without thinking, might have done better to praise his good sense. Ikta had just now committed two reckless actions. The reckless action of saying that in the presence of royalty, and the reckless action of saying that in the presence of Chamille.
“Even though I say that, I have regrettably delayed your plan. That a man like you would commit such extreme actions, means that you definitely have a detailed, magnificent plan together with several of your allies. Your final objective is either to threaten or to overthrow the cabinet. It’s really disappointing. I don’t know how far you could have gone, but even still if you would have pulled it off, it’d be something that I’d have wanted to see.”
Ikta continued to talk feverishly, and Ison made a puzzled face.
“…Can I, ask one thing, Warrant Officer Solork…?”
“Ask me two or three, however many you’d like. There are no strings attached to the compassion I offer you.”
“…Why were we, caught by you here…?”
Ikta bit his lip. That was a very humble question for one on the brink of death. Why wasn’t it more selfish? This man had the authority to tear down the gods.
“…If that is your wish, then I will speak. First, you tried to kidnap the princess from the vicinity of the northern entrance of the Woodlands. Torway just happened to witness that, but… the timing of the execution wasn’t bad. Since, as you had predicted, our awareness was concentrated on the mock battle.
“If you are fleeing with someone from around the northern entrance, then it’s fastest to come out onto a main road from the west of the Woodlands. The northern entrance is out of the question because Ikta’s group is hiding out there, it is difficult to cut across to the southern entrance, and going to the east, on top of it being a detour, also has the danger of running into someone.
“…Therefore, your escape is from the west. That comes with one condition, though- if you recall the topographic map of that area, then your route is restricted even further. The northwest side of the Southern Urt Woodlands faces the Tahbai Mountain Range. Of course a mountain path crosses through them, but there is no way that people who want to get out on a main road as quickly as possible would do anything like climb a mountain. They would follow the base of the mountain as closely as possible, and go from the first road they come upon to the main one, right? That is right here.”
“…I can, acknowledge that. However, how did Warrant Officer Yatorishino cut us off…?”
That was the part Ison wanted to hear more than anything else. Because, they had aimed for the height of the mock battle when they executed the kidnapping to avoid being pursued after their crime.
“When we realized the possibility that the princess was kidnapped, The four of our troops-mine, Matthew’s, Torway’s, and Haro’s- were at the northern entrance of the Woodlands. There was a high probability that we wouldn't make it in time from there. What I thought then was to send a sound signal to the other troops who were closer to you than we were and have them make haste for the west.”
“…We couldn’t make sense of it, but… that sound really was a signal…”
“Well if it were an Imperial-style signal, then it would also be transmitted to you people. That was a Kioka-style light signal translated into sound. It’s something that I used to use with Yatori since a long time ago when we made mischief during lessons, and I was confident that I could transmit something in just about secrecy with it. Though after that, it was a tossup between whether their marching speed could overcome their time loss…With that, I’ve revealed how we cut you off, but you weren’t able to move at top speed yourselves, were you?”
Ison nodded slightly. The desperate resistance from the members who had not betrayed Her Highness, the Princess, delayed the time of their transition from kidnapping to escaping. In addition to that, the feelings of guilt they had toward the act of kidnapping royalty slowed the feet of the members more than he had imagined.
“…I understand the majority of it. Then, my last question…Warrant Officer Yatorishino’s platoon position was closer to ours, did you know that when you sent the signal? Or did you leave that to luck?”
“That was completely luck-I don’t intend to disappoint you by saying that. I knew.”
“…Why? Warrant Officer Yatorishino’s platoon should have been your enemy’s ally in the mock battle…”
“When I sent that signal, we had just finished the deciding battle at the northern entrance, and the enemy troops had become scattered as they withdrew. At that time, it was a theory that they headed for the ‘universal destination’ they’d previously established among their allies and refocus their forces. …And, I had an idea where the enemy’s ‘universal destination’ would be before the mock battle started.”
In the Southern Urt Woodlands, there aren’t many places in which three platoons numbering 120 people could assemble. The open area in the north was exemplary, but as the location where the confrontation of armies was expected to occur, that would be essentially inviting the enemy to please pursue them. A place with enough space for their entire army to assemble, but hidden so that it’d be difficult for the enemy to find them… in that case, the majority of prospects were unbalanced to the ‘’west or northwest’’ of the Woodlands.
“I couldn’t pin down for sure where it was, but that just that was enough this time. Since because they were at the west or northwest of the Woodlands, Yatori’s platoon was much closer to you than we were in the north. –That is all, there are no more secrets to disclose. Though it’s not much of a souvenir for the underworld.”
Ikta finished speaking without any sense of accomplishment. Captain Ison’s lips slowly curved.
“…Warrant Officer Solork… on the map inside of you, surely, the entirety of your own troops and those of your enemy continue to move in real time based on the rules of ‘possibility,’ right…?”
“…I would like to think so.”
“…I see, is that right? If that’s the case then I accept my loss… It seems that your way of thinking in regards to your tactics, is fundamentally the same as those of Lieutenant General Rikan. …It that really a coincidence…?”
Not a coincidence- Ikta couldn’t say it. He couldn’t say that it was because Hazaaf Rikan was the great commander who had taken over Bada Sankrei’s role. That even if their times were different, they were comrades who carried in their chests an ideology from the same source- no matter what he couldn’t say it here.
The youth, who was supposed to say what he wanted to say when he wanted to say it, lost all words in the gap between what he wanted to bring to his mouth and what he wanted to keep secret.
When Ikta, searching of words and being quiet for a long time, incidentally took notice, Captain Ison was no longer breathing. The youth grit his teeth- even though he said that there were no strings attached to his compassion, ultimately he couldn’t offer any suitable words even at the very end….
“Ik-kun, it’s over. Come, everyone, let’s go back.”
Torway approached his back as he stood dead still, and lightly tapped his shoulder. By reflex, Ikta suddenly nodded. It seemed that, so much that he even wanted to return to that hateful military base, his heart had been exhausted.
“…Securing the accomplices, who are sure to be on the main road…”
“Our opponent’s precise location, there are several…if we don’t know any then it’s difficult. It’s not the work of troops in training.”
“..I guess you’re right. Let’s hurry and go back, and complain about how our food never has any variety. …Ahh, these were a tiring two days. The time when we survived in Kioka was so much better than this.”
By complaining and stretching, Ikta pulled himself together just a little. And, then finally, he looked for a certain someone’s seated blood-spattered figure. Though she had entered his line of sight before then, she hadn’t actually entered his consciousness.
“Ah- Yo, Princess. You’ve reinvented the flashy dress again. …Mm, or did you just magnificently spill tomato sauce on yourself? It’s pret~ty hard to tell, you know.”
Ikta recovered his usual groove. –However, he wasn’t aware of it. Of how much he had ignored the princess’s feelings thus far. Not hearing a single one of the words she wanted him to say to her, and being struck only with words she didn’t want him to say, one wondered just what kind of state she was in right now.
“And by the way, I won’t mention it anywhere else, but I’ll tell you privately in secret…. Princess, right now, you’re really red.”
What am I going to do if this fails?- entirely not worrying about that before he spoke was one of Ikta’s amazing points. And mysteriously, the joke he spit out in extreme situations, they had he strange effect of calming people’s hearts. Well, that being said-.
“WAAAaaAAAAAHHHHH! Solork-SOLORK YOU MEANIEEE! MEANIEE! WaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”
There were limits to this magic depending on the situation, the youth learned that here together with great consideration. Be he a genius or a hero, at the very least he was not omniscient.
Concerning the disastrous spectacle following Her Highness, the Princess explosion, it did not remain in records of the countless tragicomedies that were supposed to happen in that time. It was just a short scribble- “five hours until she cried herself out and fell asleep”- in the diary of only one person, Haroma Bekkel, but that might be an understatement of the fierceness of the final battle.
At any rate, among the endlessly tumultuous waters, the curtain closed on the first practice. After they received the report from Ikta and the others after they returned to the center base, several of the High Grade Military Officers who were involved with the body guard selection were fired. All of the perpetrators died, and even in the following investigation the full particulars of Captain Ison’s plan ultimately weren’t made clear.
Yatori Igsem, who had upgraded the number of people she killed with her hands from one digit to two in a mere day.
After sleeping for one night, she completely recovered to her former condition, and returned to the base properly commanding her troops on the road back from the practice. Treating her life and death struggle with Captain Ison as a thing of the past and not drawing it out, she even clearly divided her complicated feelings about killing her compatriots between her ethics and responsibility as a soldier without regret.
The strength of her spirit, served to strengthen even further the faith the subordinates in her platoon held in her as a commander.
However, in a part of herself that she didn’t show to her subordinates, there was an aspect of her that had changed. While wielding her two blades in an indoor training ground with no other sign of human life, Yatori was trying to recall the sensation from “that time.” …That, most likely, was because she thought that it was one “predicament.”
The memory of a sword fight carried out in a red haze. Excess thoughts vanishing from her oxygen-deprived mind, the existence called Yatori was purified into the blades she held in her hands. The blades which dashed ahead of her thoughts were shockingly efficient, and human minds might possibly think too much about things to manipulate simple tools such as swords- Yatori was in the process of reaching this unusual philosophic view.
“Myself, in essence a knight; a knight, in essence a sword; a sword, in essence myself-was it? There’s a small part I can’t understand, Father. The reason why the word, “human” isn’t included in that.”
Ending her usual introspection, Yatori sheathed her two swords in the scabbards on her hips. The fire spirit Shia, who had been let down on the floor, watched her condition staring intently from afar, but— exceedingly rare for the reticent partner, he unexpectedly started a conversation with his master himself.
“-Yatori. Do you think that Shia is a flame?”
“…Huh? What nonsense are you saying? Shia is Shia, right? My one and only partner in the world.”
Answering back without hesitation, Yatori walked toward her scene partner and picked up the small body. She made Shia’s deep red head nod slightly.
“Then Shia doesn’t think that Yatori is a sword either.”
“…Thank you. For worrying about me.”
For the partner whose forte wasn’t complex phraseology, that was the best advice he could give. Yatori was grateful from her heart, and honestly accepted his consideration.
“I’m alright, really. I honestly don’t know whether or not I’ll be in that predicament again, but… This time, there was a guy who dragged me down in a second from the heights of my sword which I had finally reached.”
Yatori faintly smiled. …After she cut down all enemies, most people hesitated to call out or get close to her. However, that was not the fear one held for a murderer; rather, was it not an expression of the awe one held for a drawn sword? That had the air of respect—only, held not for a human but for a sharp-edged sword.
Yatori didn’t loathe being seen as a sword. To the contrary, that was exactly what she wanted. Therefore, she truly didn’t harbor any ill will towards the people who couldn’t approach her at that time. That was not only based on reasoning- she completely felt that way based on her emotions as well. That was the refreshing part of the human called Yatori.
However- when she thought of her companion who had walked up to her without wavering at that time and gently disconnected the swords which had bonded to the palms of her hands, there was no small number of things to think about. Warm feelings welled up in her chest.
“As long as I am by Ikta’s side, it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to completely turn into a sword. …Well, I suppose that’s fine, too. I mean, swords don’t have working mouths, and living on without playing the straight man to his antics is simply impossible for me.”
Yatori left that place with seemingly joking but undoubtedly sincere final words.
At the same time, a youth, who not to the same degree as Yatori but nonetheless upgraded the number of people he killed with his hands by one, readied his air shooter in an indoor shooting range.
The carefully aimed shot pierced through distant, far-off targets one by one. –If he had been the Torway of old, this would have been when he would be conflicted: “Aren’t I doing it wrong? Aren’t I just afraid of the enemy getting close?” The sense of values planted in him like a curse by his older brother Sariha made him do that.
But, he used the real bullets which he habitually carried around as protection for his commander, and by shooting Captain Ison the moment he entered within range, he had saved Yatori’s life as a result- this reality was big for him. The situation which continued to worry him until now, the reality that he had taken a single person’s life, he could thrust it into a corner of his heart.
“…It’s fine this way. Yes, it’s better this way.”
While peering through the sight of his air shooter, Torway came to terms with himself. –His weakness, that “his accuracy rate drops when the target is close,” was quite visible in situations when his target was an animal, and especially when it was a human. In actuality, that was the result of his kind nature.
No matter what, he couldn’t classify a being that was close enough for him to feel its presence as a “target.” That’s why his aim wavered. It’s not as if everyone could live as refreshing a life as Yatori’s, and with the impossibility of that exchange, Torway was more Yatori’s antithesis than anything.
His kindness, which made the index finger wrapped around the trigger weaken when he was in front of an enemy, was of course undoubtedly a defect as a soldier. But, the Torway of the present had found the possibility of complementing it.
“I wonder why I hadn’t realized it. …Until now, we had only thought of distance as an obstacle to shooting. But if you really think about it, isn’t there more merit if there is a greater distance between you and your opponent?”
First, it is difficult for the enemy’s bullets to hit you. Second, it is difficult your position to be discerned by your enemy. And third, due to the first and second reasons, ‘’you can approach shooting with peace of mind’’. Torway thought that any one of them was too precious an advantage to give up. On the contrary, he even imagined that if he reached further with those as merits, ‘’might he not end up establishing a new branch of the army’’?
“…This way of thinking, it will definitely add a new page to the history of “gun warfare.” That is something I’ve always wished to do as a one of the Remeon Family. Of course, that won’t change now. But…”
When his thoughts reached that point, there was something that Torway just couldn’t help but thinking about. It was Ikta’s goal, serving as supreme commander at the time of the mock battle, when he deployed Torway at the river crossing point upstream of the Kuriri River. Officially, his orders were, “when the enemy troops come here, aim at the enemy general and fire from the treetops.” But thinking about it now, ‘’he couldn’t believe that Ikta had estimated there being a high possibility of the leader of the enemy platoon passing through there.’’
“The one which would move to intercept my unit would likely be Yatori-san’s platoon- you had read that from the beginning. In that case, hadn’t you predicted that Yatori would leave her main force at a point midway, and send only scouts upstream?”
Upstream, Torway’s detached force killing of three enemy soldiers hadn’t served to contribute that great of an influence in the grand scheme of the war. If that was that case, then he thought that remaining at the river defense encampment and leading the platoons’ charge would have been much more effective. And that there was no doubt that Ikta had also come to this realization.
“…I wonder if I’m overthinking it…. But, no matter what, I have no choice but to think that your intention in deploying me upstream was to increase my ‘experience in shooting distant enemies.’ At the river defense encampment, after the general offensive had started there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for me to shoot at the enemy while keeping my distance. If Yatori’s intervention had come later then, it wouldn’t have been farfetched for the mock battle to have been settled right there. Therefore…”
Torway, who had stopped shooting and turned his body around, gazed far away at the barracks where they were lodging. First, he murmured his appreciation, and his awe amounting to double the former.
“Hey, Ik-kun…. My weaknesses and my worries, and the things I want to do… Even though until now I haven’t told you once to your face what they were.
Ever since a long time ago, you’ve understood everything, haven’t you…?”
Also at the same time, in the lounge of the barracks, Matthew Tetdrich and Haroma Bekkel were playing shogi face to face. Their abilities were on par with each other, and currently Matthew was somehow leading with three wins and two losses. This time, they were also deadlocked in a situation which didn’t allow either one to relax his or her guard, but….
“…Here, with a reverse checkmate, 5-8 Illumination battalion! With this it’s checkmate in three moves! No doubt about it!”
“You noticed that!? Ahh, umm….th-there’s nothing, I’ve lost…”
At Haro’s resignation, the round-faced youth huffed a sigh of relief. Though they were both warrant officers, that she- part of the Medics- fell behind in shogi had something to do with the Tetdrich Family’s reputation.
“And to think that I was the best at Nursing School…. Matthew-san, you’re really good at this, you know. I haven’t properly learned how to deal with established tactics.”
“Well, this is about as good as I am…. It’s frustrating that I can’t brag about winning against you, Haro.”
“All of a sudden you’re kicking the loser while she’s down!? Umm, if you’re going to say that, then please challenge the Big Three! Ah, including Her Highness, the Princess, is it now the Big Four? Anyway, if you can win against any of them, then you can brag a whole lot!”
The term Big Three or Big Four was a ranking of shogi ability of those among the Order of Knights- or more precisely, it was a subdivision. Ikta, Yatori, Torway, Her Highness, Chamille- if those four, their winning rate aside, fought amongst each other, it would become “a true battle.” When the two, Matthew and Haro, fought seriously with them, “the battle was a farce.”
“The Big Four, huh…. Well, if even if the princess is a special case… the rest of them…”
Haro drew her eyebrows at the condition of Matthew, who was grumbling in a low voice while fiddling with a game piece in his hand.
“…Huh? It seems like, you’ve entered a relatively severe downer…?”
“…Not really, this isn’t just limited to shogi, you know. You could say it’s a more universal problem…Even you feel it, don’t you, Haro? How do I put it, with them, umm, that…”
“? Umm…Ah! A difference in status, is it!?”
“That’s right, but you should pay more attention to your slips of the tongue! Ikta, who does it consciously also come to mind, but since you’re a natural airhead saying it without any ill will, I’m stuck on who to take my anger out on!”
“Ah, I-I’m sorry! I have this bad habit that, by the time I notice, my mouth has already rushed ahead, and….”
“I know that from experience, you know…. But, how do I put it? Since we’re both already Warrant Officers in the High Grade Military Officer course and our contest to climb the ranks has started, you need to be less innocent.”
Matthew spoke half shocked and half impressed. Haro tiled her head a little, then gave a wry smile.
“That’s- If you say that kind of thing, it seems like I should be offended, but I don’t really want to climb the ranks or anything, and…. Since with our current wages, I can send an allowance home…”
“Ahh, the way you said that, if I had heard that before the Exam I would have gotten angry. I would have shouted, ‘With an incentive like that, go apply for a different job!’- probably.”
“Ahaha…. Then, Matthew-san do you want to climb the ranks even now? To a general or to General of the Army?”
Beyond doubt Haro thought that he would answer immediately, but strangely Matthew drew his eyebrows and hesitated to respond.
“…I want to, you know. I want to climb the ranks. It’s frustrating that it doesn’t feel realistic, but I do want to become a general or the General of the Army. Since that’s why I took the High Grade Military Exam.”
He was a little late, but the answer she imagined did come back and Haro was relieved. However, from that moment, Matthew was somewhat fidgety and had lost his composure, and after five minutes passed he rose from his seat.
“Huh? Where are you going, Matthew-san? There’s still time until dinner, you know.”
“…Whenever I move, it’s necessarily because of my appetite?”
“Ah, um, was I wrong!?”
“…. I’m going to the Library of Military Annals. I want to investigate a little in detail about river defense encampments.”
“Ah, studying tactics? You really are diligent, aren’t you? Please do your best!”
Turning his back to the idiotic encouragement, Matthew left the lounge alone. His gait as he walked the corridor was strong, even rough, and in his round face, his eyes were tinged with the light of determination.
“I haven’t given up yet. Be it shogi, climbing the ranks, or status. I’m too young to be thinking crap like ‘this is my limit.’ There is the saying, great talents mature late. Even if tomorrow isn’t good enough, after one year, after five years, after 10 years- how things will turn out by then, no one knows that.”
Making the soldiers he passed by move aside with his intensity, he was riled up against an opponent who wasn’t there.
“Just watch me, Ikta, Yatori, Torway. I’ll win the next one. If I don’t, then I’ll win the one after. …Count on it- one day, I’ll show you the true power of Matthew Tetdrich!”
At the same time as Matthew’s inspiration, Ikta was standing at the north-most point of the center base. Alone in the darkness of night, he was standing still with an expression that told of boredom. He might have been waiting for someone, but his scene partner immediately appeared riding in a carriage.
“Don’t make me wait. Solork, board.”
Making the coachman open the door and seated inside the carriage herself, the princess called out to him. Ikta’s face distorted into a miserable one for an instant, but he entered into the carriage obediently without cracking any jokes.
“Look at your clothing- the collar of your shirt is twisted. There’s also sand stuck to your pants. Brush it off.”
“In the first place, your face is slovenly. Even if you can’t help that your looks are mediocre, there is practically none of what you’d call youthful ambition on your face. Even if I introduce this scrawny man as an ‘Imperial Knight,’ it will only be taken as a joke. Do you plan to embarrass me? Correct yourself at once.”
“Stiffen your lips more- straighten your spine and face forward. Rather straighten your back! Wear an aura of a gifted person overflowing with wisdom at a young age, express your highly perfect character that’s overflowing with gentlemanliness and chivalry with the color of your eyes! For goodness’ sake can’t you show some spirit without having to rely on the angelic Kusu!”
“Don’t list fundamentally impossible demands! Just how much of an unrivaled, all-rounder gentleman act are you going to demand from me!? Understand that Ikta-kun, no matter how much he dresses up, is still Ikta-kun!”
Ikta lashed back after his considerably unreasonable act, but seeing the princess’s shoulder tremble, he realized his blunder.
“Y-you disobeyed me… You disobeyed my orders… You have no intention of upholding your promise, do you…?”
“No, I do I do, I do intend to! For goodness’ sake, please say whatever you want- if it’s what you want I can straighten my back, see! If you tell me to, then I’ll even fire beams from my eyes!”
“Then cough up your heart from your mouth.”
“That’s telling me to die, isn’t it!? Surely, that wording is taking advantage of my mood right now, isn’t that it is!?”
Her moody saturation attack fatigued Ikta with great vigor. Five minutes after they departed, he had already completely used up all of his willpower and laid his body horizontally on the seat.
“This is tedious, amuse me more! “
“..I can’t give you a reaction anymore… Feel free to boil or burn me…”
“Oh? You said it. Then I’ll insult you as I like. This gutless, sophist, insensible, sex-crazed. ...Umm, uhh…”
“…Your Highness, it appears that your vocabulary is quite meager…”
“A-are you making fun of me?! It’s just that there are few words that describe you well! A-and, there’s one I have in reserve. I thought that if I said it, you’d definitely become angry, so I restrained myself, but if you’re going to say that to me, then I’ll go and say it, too!”
“..Please. If it’s something to do with me, then say whatever…”
Compared to how much she hesitated, what she said was anticlimactic. Covering her ears and shrinking in on herself, the princess timidly looked toward Ikta.
“….Y-you’re not angry?”
“No, even if I get angry or whatever, that’s the plain truth so I don’t feel insulted…”
“B-but, when I talked about your mother before this…”
“? …Ahh, you mean right after the conferring of decorations? That was because you, princess, brought up my mother’s name in an unpleasant context. Therefore, please stop insulting my mother. I made a promise, so I won’t get angry, but on the other hand, that’s because I can’t say a single thing back.”
Ikta wove his hand while sleeping. The “promise” that the two of them had been mentioning since earlier, was a bargaining chip which the youth had no choice but to play to make Her Highness quiet down from her grand explosion immediately following the kidnapping. Ikta had already been bound by his promise of, “I’ll listen to whatever you say for one month starting today,” for two weeks.
“…I won’t say anything. If you can’t answer me back, then I’d be troubled.”
She might have been afraid to harm her companion’s mood, but Her Highness, the Princess, suddenly became submissive and sunk into silence. A hush overcame the inside of the carriage. She had no desire at all to do anything about Ikta’s impudence.
“…Solork, please listen. I have something serious to say.”
The quality of her voice changed. She might have attained the mental preparation to break the ice in the silence until now, but the princess’s face was unusually serious. Not having a choice, Ikta also raised his upper body from the seat.
“My inviting you today, it was an invitation to the party taking place in the capital, but this conversation is the main point.”
“Including the incident of the attempted kidnapping, I have had my life saved by you three separate times. Of course, I am grateful, but… more than that, I feel as though I have no reason to hide anything from you anymore.”
Hearing that introduction, Ikta snorted with a face that said he long been tired of waiting.
“Are you finally going to spill your tiny guts?”
“I don’t think anything good will come of keeping you in suspense. However, postponing it so I could evaluate you was necessary. I didn’t think that it would be over in just a few months, and was prepared to spend an entire year on it, but…”
Ikta stopped the princess, who was getting ready to cut directly to the crux of the matter, with one hand.
“Please wait. Before you go to the main point, there is something I want to ask first.”
“This situation, we’ve been in it before, haven’t we? After the unforgettable conferring of decorations at the Holy White Temple, we boarded a carriage together with you, and exchanged words in private.”
“…So, what about that?”
“So what about that? -don’t give me that. Something that was present then, that isn’t here with us now, right?”
Not allowing the princess to talk her way out, Ikta questioned her clearly.
Remembering the image of Yatori as she stood motionless in a sea of blood with two blades in hand, Her Highness the Princess bit her lip looking ashamed.
“…That’s right, Yatori is a loyal soldier in the true sense. I learned of that firsthand during that incident. …However, for that very reason, I can’t invite her to this place.”
“I’m unfit to be a loyal soldier or something, so you want to have me assist you? So that’s it, I’m satisfied.”
Ikta lashed out with cruel sarcasm. The princess shook her head sideways with her face on the verge of tears.
“You’re wrong, that’s not it…! That you’re a talented person turned to dirty work or anything, I haven’t thought that even once! Rather it’s the opposite- you have purity of a kind other than Yatori’s! That’s what I…!”
“Well, it’s fine. I’m a human who just says what he wants to say one after the other. But, for some reason, it seems that there’s a part of me that Your Highness has bought. Let me hear your question.”
Ikta’s black eyes glared at his companion as if gauging her. The princess gulped loudly, and opened her heavy mouth.
“…You. What do you think of the current state of the Katjvarna Empire?”
“It’s in the latter half of its decline. If I put it simply.”
“That’s quite harsh. However, I completely agree. …Compared to its golden age over 100 years ago, our industry is running down over-all, our national power is weakening, and yet, out of balance, only our military power has been on the rise. And as the Empire has become thin and weak, the neighboring Kioka Republic has emerged and prospered.”
“The Kioka Republic has been handling both its internal and diplomatic affairs quite well. At the very least, the Empire’s cabinet is currently using its damned foolishness perfectly. The one who let Kioka, a small country which had originally seceded from the Empire, which had been no more than a small, weak country neighboring a powerful one, flourish thus far is in one sense the Empire itself.”
The princess put Ikta’s reasons for only making that judgment into words.
“’The definition of the government in the Katjvarna Empire is to compensate for the failures of the Cabinet through war.’”
“That’s a nice summary. Yes, that’s exactly right. If you recall the incident at the Eastern Stronghold before this, it’s easy to understand using that as an example. The Cabinet pushed their failure, ‘failure in pioneering,’ onto Kioka through some military tricks, the ‘apparent defeat.’ …So to speak, in this country, ‘’it’s as if all of the debt ultimately circles around to the army.’’”
“Yes. You might even call that their overarching principle… That’s exactly why soldiers are valued in this country. Because they take on the responsibility of the political failures perpetrated by the Imperial Family, and bear the role of settling wars.”
“For the Imperial Family, the Imperial Army is a convenient trash can that will automatically incinerate the garbage they throw into it. With this setup, statesmen don’t have to take responsibility for the policies they enacted themselves. That’s why it’s corrupted. It’s become so that whatever they do, they think that war will resolve it for them. The Cabinet had become a den of thieves for influential aristocrats who have nothing in their head except laying down commoners’ clothing, and, making the emperor into a figurehead, growing old while not carrying out any of their responsibilities as leaders.”
The princess nodded sharply. Scorn and hatred towards her biological father surfaced in her eyes.
“The current emperor- the human known as Emperor Arshankrut Kitora Katjvanmaninik, if he should completely cast off that emperor’s crown, he would be nobody. He was just a depraved, dimwitted, and hot-tempered man. He might not have been that way at the beginning, but a life of addiction to wine and women corroded him from the marrow of his bones. Just by thinking that I’m the daughter of such a man, I start to feel sick, as if all of my blood is being corrupted…”
“That’s not scientific. If there’s just any part of a person that’s corrupted while he or she is alive, that would be not the blood, but the mind.”
Ikta finished speaking lightly, and the princess smiled at his refreshing humor.
“You haven’t even met him, yet you say the same things…. No matter I express my thanks, I can’t make you understand how much those words have lightened my heart…”
“Well, but that’s not my accomplishment, it’s that of science, see?”
“You didn’t have to reject my thanks just then…. In any case, under the assumption that the Cabinet of the Katjvarna Empire is severely rotten, I would like to request your assistance.”
At that point, Her Highness, Chamille, took a breath and started speaking after correcting her posture.
“Ikta Solork. –You, as a soldier, will ascend to the top of the Imperial Army.”
“I know that this isn’t something you want to do. However, I won’t allow you to say that you can’t. You have good instinct of military affairs- ‘’An overwhelming instinct’’ at that.”
The princess deliberately refrained from putting any more of her evaluation into words. Since the fact that she was currently alive and breathing here was due more to the extraordinary quality of Ikta’s abilities than anything.
He broke through the national border with his wits, led a captain on active duty by the nose through novel tactics, and foiled an attempted kidnapping by veteran soldiers by “reading” their higher dimensions of tactics. If a track record like this one didn’t promise future distinction, then just how should people measure someone’s ability?
“…That’s absurd. This example ignores the current state of affairs at this time, but hypothetically if I keep rising until I become General of the Army, what would I do after that? You’re not ordering me to stage a coup d'état against the Imperial Family, are you? In addition to soldier, nobleman, and hero, presenting me even with the honor of being ‘dictator,’ you’re really too generous.”
“No, we’re not staging a coup d'état. I dislike dictators, and even if that succeeded, the interior of the Empire will end up as a political grey area. There’s no way that the Kioka of present would let that prime opportunity pass.”
“In any case, it seems you are slightly aware of reality. Then, please tell me, what would you make me do once I’ve climbed the ladder?”
“’’I will have you lose a war.’’”
The princess’s immediate reply made Ikta stiffen for the first time. –This girl, what did she say just now?
“You will become a captain or General of the Army and command all of the forces of the Imperial Army, then having done that you will see to a decisive ‘’defeat’’ in the war with Kioka. Absolutely not a victory- this must be a defeat. Why, because even if you are victorious, the Empire is already so organizationally weak that it’s impossible for it to rebuild itself as a nation.”
That instant, Ikta felt as if lighting had come down into his head. Among the shocks he received since his time as an apprentice to Anarai Khan, this paradigm shift that had a considerably dynamic effect in life.
“…Your Highness. Basically, with a lost war-“
“Yes, we will save this country with a lost war. To say it more precisely, by means of the losing battle, the Kioka Republic’s culture, economics, political philosophy- we will use the external pressure of all I mentioned to purify the Empire.
You might be hearing an impossible idea. Certainly, there has yet to be a country that has done this knowingly. However, historically there have been several precedents where countries have flourished as a result of a lost war. Which is why I can say that is a plausible method.”
Ikta couldn’t do anything but stare in mute amazement. …Certainly, like that very incident with Lieutenant General Hazaaf Rikan had been, there were examples of small military defeats being used for political purposes in the Empire until now. But in the end, since those were limited to tactical and local defeats, ultimate victory was the hypothetical sacrificial pawn. In a manner of speaking, it was like abandoning your own rook in shogi and going for the enemy king.
However, Her Highness, the Princess’s idea was different. That was an attempt at abandoning a victory on the surface of the board and trying to find a chance for victory off the board. Even in a normal war, strategy is in a higher dimension than tactics, and that structure approved of local defeats, but this princess, by placing politics in a higher dimension than strategy, was allowing even an ultimate defeat. She believed that the decisive defeat, which was an ‘’enormous sacrificial pawn’’, would lead to victories in the distant future in regards to politics.
“…What do you plan to do about the Empire’s native culture and nationality?! The treatment of the losing country is one of the things prescribed to the winning country, you know! When it comes to that, the Empire itself will become infinitely weak during its restoration!”
“Certainly that is true, but that is in the situation we should completely lose in war. If we meet defeat with plenty of reserve strength remaining, it would be possible to limit intervention from Kioka in the context of our military power. And Solork- what I want to request from you is exactly that.”
“I-I can’t win the war, and I can’t lose the war without leaving enough strength for afterwards either? In other words, I-“
“’’Lose skillfully’’, Solork. For the sake of purifying the interior of the Empire, you will bring about a defeat that leaves a perfect amount of reserve strength so that the external pressure is increased moderately, and so that we can limit the interference from Kioka even after we lose.
You are the only one who can take on this role. It’s not just a question about plain military ability- Ikta Solork, your spirituality, detested by soldiers, nobles, and royalty alike, is essential. For example even if Yatori has the same ability as you do, I can’t entrust her with this role. She is a soldier by nature. Her genuine desire to shoot down the enemy and protect her country will never change. The very idea of using a lost war to benefit the country is sadly inconsistent with her way of life.”
Ikta felt goosebumps rise throughout his body. –Uncommon. In this age, in this country, Her Highness, the Princess’s idea was very uncommon. But in a way, it was adjacent to the Empire’s corruption. Because, even the princess’s plan to ”save the country with a lost war” was in essence the same thing as the Empire’s abnormal political inclination towards “actions that compensate for the failures of the Cabinet with a lost war.”
“This body is no more than a figurehead princess who owns not even a piece of this territory. I currently don’t have the official authority to interfere with politics or the army. That is something I must have you obtain. The only thing I can do is lay the groundwork. Truthfully, we have no flexibility in terms of time. –Seeing as the reigning emperor, who continues his decadent lifestyle, is getting weaker by the day, we don’t know when he will succumb to illness. It likely won’t even be 10 years. Five years or six years, it might be much shorter than that…. If it comes to that, the parasites nesting in the Cabinet will support you Knights as candidates for Emperor, and it isn’t difficult to imagine that that they will incite a violent civil war. Since even that one thing is a difficult national crisis to overcome, Kioka might also take our political chaos as a good opportunity and come at us with a full-fledged attack. We will be attacked with a threat from the outside…Before that happens, you must rush to the top of the army.”
Be it five years or be it six years, Ikta would still be in his early twenties. There was no precedent of a captain of General of the Army that young in the Imperial Army. Rather, no one would object if someone were to pronounce it impossible.
In spite of that, the princess was telling him to do it. She firmly believed that it was possible for the youth before her eyes. Ikta grit his teeth. For him, creating this one-sided faith was a mistake he could never stop regretting.
“…Your Highness…you… where did you get that idea? In the Empire, no matter how twisted your mind is, it isn’t a motif that comes up. Say that there is ground that will nourish a reversal of that sort of thinking, that’s not in the Empire but in-“
She couldn’t possibly- this epiphany came down onto Ikta. The princess affirmed it with an immediate reply. “Yes. It’s something that’s hidden from the citizens, but I’ve lived on Kioka soil for the months and years from when I was three to when I was 11 years old. To guarantee the cease-fire conditions between both countries, I was given to them as a political hostage.”
“…! …That motif, it’s an amalgamation of Imperial and Kiokan styles?!”
Her Highness, Chamille brought her face close to Ikta’s, who was staring at her dumbfounded, so that their noses were almost touching. And, she filled her next words with the all of the determination that she accumulated in her not very long lifetime.
“Crush the long-cherished desire of soldiers underfoot, throw off your allegiance to the Imperial Family, betray every last bit of the trust you’ve received as a hero with that single defeat. –What do you say? There is no greater nor more fateful casting for you- who hates everything to do with soldiers, the Imperial Family, and heroes- than the one I am offering you!”
“Be troubled no more, Ikta Solork, fight together with me until we lose! At any rate, can a twisted person like you ever go to the heaven spoken of by the Church of Alderah!? Then, let accompanying me to the depths of hell and leaving it be the same thing! I have already determined to be your partner on the road to Hades- I won’t start to complain now!”
This theatrical persuasion threw all logic to the wind, but Ikta gave no objection from his seat. The moment he couldn’t reject the princess’s plan as “worthless,” he’d probably already been caught by destiny.
Thus, the story began in the true sense of the word. “The skilled manager of the invincible status quo” Ikta Solork, and “the last princess of the Katjvarna Empire” Chamille Kitora Katjvanmaninik. These two lined up together and ran at full speed toward the next battle of their promised defeat.
Translator's Notes and References
- a Japanese word chain game, in which the last syllable of one word is used as the first syllable of the next
- Kusu’s responses, seeing as they’re not especially significant, were changed to fit the pattern for the game. Their actual exchange is as follows: うるさがた(nitpicker)＞たまご(egg)＞強情娘（ごうじょうむすめ）(Stubborn daughter)＞めだか (killifish)＞過去（かこ）にこだわる(fixated on the past)＞るり(laps lazuli)＞倫理的に狭量（りんりてきにじょうりょう）(ethically narrowminded)＞うさぎ(rabbit)＞義理の娘といえなくも（ぎりのむすめといえなくも）(could even call her my step daughter)＞もうふ(blanket)＞ふ？
- written as: おあそび(game); read as:模擬戦(mock battle)
- written as: ヤトリ(Yatori); read as: あれ(that)
- science is written as 科学 and theology is written as 神学. The author calls them similar because the second character is the same, but that similarity doesn’t translate well into English.
- written as: 認識転換 (change in awareness); read as: パラダイムシフト(paradigm shift)
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