Tenkyou no Alderamin:Volume 3 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Wall of Fire
Thunderflare. Even in the annals of the Imperial Army, there was no comparable fireline on the same scale of the operation that bore this name.
By the time Yatori’s Incendiary Corps arrived at the Gagarukasakan Forest that was on the northern front of the Grand Arfatra Mountains, the time until the enemy was upon them was just under 3 days and 11 hours. This was all the time that remained to them to construct an obstacle capable of halting 12000 men.
“From here on out, carry out your orders and proceed to your assigned stations in squads to began arson activities! There is no need to inquire for further instructions at every step, but send a messenger to report any complications that arise!”
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Excellent reply. Now that you understand your orders, dismissed!”
The fiery-haired commander had given the word, so the soldiers immediately scattered to the east and west. Inwardly, Yatori also wished to charge with them, but this time she was ordered ahead of time to remain in the camp currently being constructed that was to be their headquarters. The reason lay in that she was the most experienced incendiary expert here.
After sending off her subordinates, Yatori turned to run her eyes over the status of their base of operations. This location had also turned into a scorching battlefield. The majority of the soldiers were similarly opening the large rapeseed bags supplied from the rear and feeding the contents to hundreds of fire spirits -- all so that the spirits could spit the oil back into the bags. Once this was done, the oil was ready to be the catalyst in their fire operations, so the full bags were immediately carried to the front lines.
Both the work pace and distribution of tasks devised by Yatori were highly simplistic. She divided the southern edge of the Gagarukasakan Forest into 86 zones and ordered the squads responsible for fire to head each zone while the headquarters in the rear produced and resupplied fuel. While directing the supply and production of oil, Yatori also remained at the base to handle any and all other circumstances that could arise. If a situation arose that necessitated her presence elsewhere, Captain Sazaruf would assume command at headquarters.
The ratio of fire spirits remaining at headquarters versus being dispatched to the fire zones was approximately 9:1. As this number signified, the majority of the fire spirits were irreplaceable assets in obtaining oil from the rapeseeds. The ones who were actually active on the frontlines were the wind spirits guiding the flames each time one was ignited.
“OK, start fanning the flames!”
Obeying Matthew’s orders, the wind spirits of his subordinates began sending out fresh air from the wind tunnel in their bodies. The oil liberally applied beforehand also did its work, allowing the flames supplied by oxygen to burst into a merry blaze. In a flash, tongues of fire tore into the Gagarukasakan Forest that was more dry forest than lush foliage.
“It’s just as Ik-kun said, the wind is blowing towards the northeast...... No, it’s still a little weak.”
Working in another zone than Matthew, Torway couldn’t help but pray that they received a little divine providence when remembering how wide the flames must spread. As long as the appropriate wind was on their side, the flames would progress even without further input; however, should favorable winds not appear, then extra legwork would be involved to make things happen. Setting aside the consequences if their task ends in failure, considering what was looming on the horizon, it was best to conserve whatever energy they could for their troops already exhausted by lengthy conflict.
In another zone, Ikta himself could be seen mixed among his subordinates while swinging an ax. The hour for taking it easy as a commander had long since passed. Now was an emergency situation where he had to throw himself into physical labor as well.
“Whew...... Whew...... Hurk! That hurts......!”
The wrenching pain that tore through his left hand like fire almost caused Ikta to drop the ax. There was no need to verify the reason, as the bandage covering his little finger was stained completely red.
While Haro had already closed the wound with stitches, simply that alone was naturally unable to completely repair that sort of injury. Waiting a few seconds for the pain to fade, Ikta was about to immediately throw himself back into the fray when, unable to stand it any longer, Sergeant Suuya tried to convince him otherwise.
“Commander! You’ve done enough......! Please leave the rest to us and take a break!”
“Your sentiment thrills me to no end, Suuya...... But this is a situation that would get us all killed if I take the lazy way out.”
Ikta shook his head with a wry smile on his face while swinging the ax stained with his own blood back at the tree in front of him...... Of course, he was well aware that invalids forcing themselves to work will not provide any benefit to the task at hand and were likely to impede progress as well.
Nonetheless, his attitude was being witnessed by the soldiers around them. The sight of their usually lackadaisical commander hard at work while bleeding hammered home the idea of “how desperate their situation really was” in the post literal way possible. Faced with this scene, not a man among them was going to take it easy. Besides for the obvious fact that no subordinate could be lazing about while their commander was working, the more important reason was because Ikta’s example clearly conveyed the truth that “laziness was the same as death now”.
Of course, such an example does carry the risk of undesired after effects. Some soldiers may despair after realizing “Is our current predicament that terrible?” after desert their posts. “In order to prevent soldiers from faltering, the commanding officer must always adopt a leisurely pose” was one of the first fundamentals for officers when it came to leading men.
On the other hand, Ikta had a history of surviving previous engagements with the least amount of casualties. From his subordinates’ perspective, he was undoubtedly a reliable commanding officer. Rather than causing his troops to waver, the sight of Ikta silently swinging his ax despite his injury only galvanized his men that “this was the time to put our backs into it”.
The decisive blow on the trunk caused the tree to collapse with a crash after being unable to sustain its own weight. One tree fell across the path at practically a perpendicular angle. This was a calculated outcome, as the surrounding soldiers had also hewed the trees across the path.
Ikta turned his head around to find his soldiers had already chopped down enough tree to cover nearly 100 yards down the path. After letting out a breath, he mopped away the sweat beading on his forehead.
“......Alright, this is enough to extend the conflagration. We don’t need to bring down any trees in the next area. All we need to do is cut a deep enough groove so that the trees will fall down in this direction once aflame. The fire will clean up everything else for us.”
Hearing Ikta’s instructions, the soldiers bedeviled by ruptured blisters all wore relaxed expressions. However, seeing as the young man’s left hand was in far worse condition, no one uttered a word of complaint.
There were five paths wide enough for an army to march through the Gagarukasakan Forest. Ikta’s group was currently positioned near the one closest to the center, a path that averaged 40 yards wide, far wider than another of the others. Aiming to move a large amount of troops through the forest at all possible speed, there was a high chance the Holy Aldera Army would come through here. Precisely why this location was seen as a vital point of operations.
Furthermore, even if they successfully induced a wildfire, any gap where the trees were hewn down may leave a gap in the flames. Hence why they needed to use this method of cutting down trees along the path to cover the openings left by the flames.
“......Once the arson preparations have finished, we must immediately erect a barricade here.”
Ikta muttered to himself, causing Sergeant Suuya to raise her head while replacing the bandage around his left hand.
“So it was impossible to stop the enemy with fire alone after all......?”
“No, we should be able to make this terrain impassable...... Yet, our mission is not to prevent the enemy from passing the forest, but to cause to be unable to proceed further from here. In order to achieve this objective, we may have to open the lid here depending on how the situation unfolds.”
Hearing her commander several years her junior deliver such a profound statement, Suuya continued dressing his injury while sneaking a peek at Ikta. She was unable to fathom exactly what sort of future was being envisioned by those black eyes.
In another theater, the 200 reinforcements from the Shinaak Tribe led by Nanak Dar were currently headed for the forest path that was slightly in the east.
Taking into account of the lingering friction, any plan that envisioned them working side by side with Imperial soldiers was nothing more than a pipe dream and swiftly discarded. Their current designation was “an independent unit led by Nanak who had accepted Ikta’s request”, so right now their only point of contact was handing off the oil resupply.
“Step lively and hurry up! If we don’t get this started quickly, those Alderamin bastards will go right through the forest!”
Nanak led the Shinaak Tribesmen into the task at hand, but her countrymen were looking at her askance. This was only to be expected. After all, just when they had just been defeated in that quagmire of a war, here comes the Holy Aldera Army attacking from the north and all of a sudden their chieftain who was the first to rise against the Empire was now exhorting her fellows to cooperate with the Empire. Things were proceeding at such a rapid pace that exceeded their ability to comprehend.
However, this confusion was not enough to shatter their unity. Although Nanak was currently the leader of a defeated host, she still possessed leadership over the tribe. Not a single person accused her of being a “traitor” after ordering the tribe into battle against the Empire. Even now, the Shinaak people continued to obey the orders issued by their young chief.
Nor were there many among them who held it against Nanak for losing to the Empire. It was the unanimous decision of the entire Shinaak Tribe to declare war against the Empire, she just happened to be standing at the forefront of that movement.
Everyone understood that the responsibility for the defeat fell onto each of their shoulders. If anyone was to be an exception, then that person would be Nanak herself. She was deeply ashamed that she was unable to led her people to victory and resolved that her final duty was to ensure as many of her people survived through this as possible.
“Begin felling the trees from areas that have finished preparations! We’re already a step behind the others, so there’s no time to rest!”
Nanak gave her orders in a grave tone while throwing herself into work. Using her every inch of her petite body to swing the ax, a sudden thought ran across her mind -- a hand missing the little fingers must find it incredibly difficult to hold an ax.
Ikta and company worked for 3 days and 14 hours. Validating Torway’s assessment, 12000 men of the Ra Sai Alderamin Holy Army arrived at the northern fringes of the Gagarukasakan Forest at the peak of their readiness.
The fervor of holy war burned within the breast of each “crusader” wearing the dark blue uniform. Standing shoulder to shoulder, their combined presence seemed to fill the earth as they sang their praises to the high god as one. The chorus of 12000 men reverberated through the Grand Arfatra Mountains, seeking to cover the Shinaak lands with the divine authority.
Amidst this dominant formation, a sturdy man carried himself with the charisma befitting the warleader of 10000 men. His stature was both towering and broad, his head cleanly shaven to even reflect the sun overhead, all along with a tight mouth.
Though he was somewhat lacking for a soldier of a thousand battles, he did carry the appropriate air of a devout priest. This general who bore this duality was the general leading the Holy Aldera Army, Akugarpa Sa Domeisha.
“Kah -- It’s absolutely suffocating! Gives one the impression of being a smoked ham hanging in a smokehouse! Hahaha!”
Yet, the moment he opened his mouth, fully half of that initial impression -- being the devout priest aspect -- was immediately overturned. His adjutant heaved a sigh beside him -- as one in service of god, this general’s words were far too coarse.
Regardless, General Akugarpa had hit the nail on the head with his feelings. The dense smoke flowing through the forest covered the surrounding scenery in a murky gray. A single breath of this into the lungs brought about stabbing pain and sent the soldiers hacking and coughing.
While the general and his men fully revelled in their shared complaints of “how suffocating it was”, the forward scouts with their reconnaissance report. Among the forward troops that had dispatched to the east and west to observe the situation, an officer whose face had been blackened by the smoke made the report on behalf of the group.
“Reporting in, General! We have verified that the five paths leading through the Gagarukasakan Forest have all been blocked by fallen trees and wildfire! Currently, we are unable to proceed!”
“I thought as much! ......Speaking of which, to think the enemy could set the entire forest ablaze! What madness! Surely an act that befits men who are utterly pressed into a corner! Gahahaha!”
General Akurga burst into laughter while his adjutant, Colonel Michelin, diplomatically chimed in from the side.
“Any delay here would impact our moves to pursue the enemy’s main force. What are your orders?”
“This hardly bears saying. Go put out that damn fire immediately.”
“Since you have given the order...... But realistically speaking, how are we going to go about that?”
“Hm, I’m assuming everyone going over and pissing on the fire would be insufficient?”
“That is indeed a novel concept, but I fear we will be unsuccessful.”
The adjutant sternly vetoed that proposal. General Akurga folded his arms over his chest and began contemplating the situation.
“......Then perhaps I should join in.”
“General, I warrant that if your entire lower body was a bladder, you would do nothing more than douse the ground beneath your feet.”
“Gah -- how aggravating! Leaving the fire alone is out of the question! Hey, Michelin, call that scruffy lad over here!”
Colonel Michel didn’t immediately act on the order and adopted a grimace.
“......We haven’t even officially struck a blow in this campaign yet. Do we have to rely on that person already?”
“What’s got you in a twist? All I want is to have that freeloader do a little bit of work. Regardless of whether he is a visiting officer, once that guy is part of the chain of command then he’s nothing more than my subordinate. What’s wrong with using this situation to order him about?”
That statement left Colonel Michelin without any rebuttal, so all he could do was order a cavalry trooper to hunt down their problem child. Before the two of them could even change the subject, a young man with white hair could be seen spurring his horse to meet them. The uniform about his shoulders was not dark blue, but an entirely different deep green.
“Yah, General, you have summoned me? It is an honor to be called upon!”
Colonel Michelin sourly glared at the officer speaking from atop the horse with a lively cadence.
“Major, first you need to dismount. In this army, that is the minimal respect demanded towards superiors.”
“Pardon my manners! According to my predictions, I will need to be leaving shortly on horseback, so I accidentally took the lazy route.”
Without a hint of a regret, the man leapt off the horse and turned himself to face the two superior officers. General Akurga couldn’t help but snort at this fearless attitude.
“You got here within two minutes? You seem to be highly energetic today as well, lad.”
“Syah, that is my only advantage -- I’m sure you would like me to come up with some sort of countermeasure to this situation?”
“If you can’t think of anything, then you will be joining in the pissing brigade.”
“Hah...... What an original idea, though alas I have no urge to urinate right now......”
“Is that so? So long as it’s a fluid, there’s no need to fixate on urine......”
General Akurga took the wind musket from his adjutant and made a show of examining the bayonet attached to the musket while glancing at the other man’s neck. With a clap, the young man with white hair seemed to have come up with an idea.
“Even if you chop my head off and wrung my entire body like a rag, I fear you wouldn’t get much liquid out of the hassle. Let’s consider this from another angle. Water is not necessarily what you need when fighting a fire.”
“Hm? Then what are you going to use against the conflagration in front of us?”
“Mum, well, as the good saying goes -- a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye. Let’s light a fire of our own.”
Hearing the other man’s nonchalant words, General Akurga’s eyes widened.
At the same time on the other side of the fire, a young man with black hair was currently observing the sight of the forest crumbling before the roaring flames.
“Whew...... Looks like we made it in time...... Although we were the instigators, but we did merrily set it alight, Kusu.”
“That’s not that important. Ikta, the wound on your left hand has opened again.”
While the spirit companion riding in the bag around his waist expressed genuine concern, Ikta wore a revolted expression.
“Nope, not looking at it...... It hurts enough that I want to cry, so looking at it would make it even worse......”
“But, it’ll grow worse if you leave it alone.”
Without any recourse, Ikta could only hunt through his pockets for a replacement bandage, but his fingers closed in on nothing. Now that he thought about it, the large pile of bandages he had stuffed in there earlier had already been dipped into four or five times.
“--Ah, as expected. I was thinking you were probably all out by now.”
Materializing like a miracle was Haro with a medkit tucked under her arm. Without a word, she came to a stop next to the young man and unwrapped the dirty bandage to gaze at the wound. Then, she used her companion, the water spirit Miru, to conjure clean water to wash away the grime on the wound’s surface.
“The wound broke open again...... Didn’t I tell you to keep movement to a minimum?”
“Sorry, sorry. Although if you’re only talking about the injury, then I can slightly let it rest from now on. After all, my inept mission of imitating a lumberjack has already come to an end...... Ouch!”
Exposed to the air, the wound sent out a particularly strong lance of pain, forcing a cry from Ikta’s mouth. Hearing the shriek, Haro raised her eyes to look upon his face.
“......Please do not force yourself. The finger is one of the parts on the human with most nerves, and now Mr. Ikta has sliced off the entire finger from the root......”
“......Urk! I, it’s OK, I feel a lot better compared to the first night it was cut off.”
Even now, Ikta could feel a chill down his spine whenever he recalled that sleepless night in the tent where he could only roll around in agony. Likewise, Haro seemed to share in his pain as she imagined his suffering while handing a palm-sized bag from her medkit to Ikta.
“......If the pain becomes overwhelming, please chew on this for a bit. It should help alleviate the pain.”
After receiving the bag and loosening the drawstring, Ikta found dark herbs stuffed to capacity within. An instant after seeing this, a smile of salvation spread across the young man’s face.
“These are cocoa leaves, right? Thanks a bunch. Can you really give such a large ration to me alone?”
“Don’t worry about that, but please restrain your intake each time. Using too much at a time can be dangerous.”
Ikta lightly nodded at the kind warning before using his fingertips to pop a few leaves into his mouth. After a few chews, the contents began mixing into his saliva and the portions that came into contact with his mouth before feeling slightly numb.
“How nostalgic...... There was a time when I had studied with Old Man Anarai on what was the best way to utilize these things. Although we initially were seriously considering medical applications, my half-hearted joke at boiling these in sugar water created an deviously delicious juice. Since the possibility of overdosing was simply too high, the recipe was immediately sealed. Should that taste ever be released, I’m sure it would immediately take the world by storm, but now I wonder when it will see the light of day......”
Ikta closed his eyes reminiscing while the pain receded. Here, Haro piped up:
“Mr. Ikta. When you’re feeling really down, please do find a person to talk to. And I don’t mind just about your injury......”
“Ha, my thanks Haro, but you’re reading too much into it. Do I look like the type to knuckle down and bear with the pain?”
“......I heard from Ms. Yatori earlier that you were once on excellent terms with the chieftain of the Shinaak Tribe.”
Haro was not fooled by Ikta’s cheery attitude and dove straight into the subject. For a moment, Ikta was robbed of any words.
“From the start of the war until now, Mr. Ikta, you haven’t had any time that you could completely unburden yourself, correct?”
“......That’s a bit of a stretch. Once the war began stagnating, everyone has been bearing with it too, right?”
“That may be true. However, Mr. Ikta has been asked to take on much more than anyone else.”
After providing a clean bandage, Haro once again turned a pained look at the young man’s left hand that was missing a finger that should be there. Unable to withstand her eyes, Ikta hid the left hand behind his back.
“My apologies for interrupting your conversation, but a report just came in. The enemy is on the move.”
This sudden yet austere voice that interrupted their dialogue came from Yatori and Captain Sazaruf as they came from their position closer to the mountains. After saluting the captain, Ikta and Haro turned to face the two of them.
“Good work, both of you. How is Lieutenant Ikta’s left hand doing?”
“A new little finger has not yet made itself known, though I put that down to a lack of good food recently?”
Since their fireline operation capable of stopping the enemy advance had been completed, they were able to recover a little leisurely time to engage in chit chat. The captain was highly reassured by Ikta’s loose cannon of a mouth and turned his gaze towards the mountain.
“Still, what a wondrous feeling -- to think we would be relying on our allies to the rear for intel on the enemy’s movements. Although it does make sense that our higher vantage point gives us a clear view of the enemy’s position on the other side of the mountain……”
“Please chalk this up to our terrain advantage. Since our forces are desperately outnumbered, even splitting off troops for reconnaissance would be difficult.”
“Even if we did send out scouts, there’s still a wall of fire of our creation in front of us -- let’s get to the heart of the matter.”
Yatori ended the small talk and brought up the real subject.
“This is the report that came from the rear, the enemy seems to have set a fire of their own in the forest.”
Haro was the only one who adopted a shocked expression at this news, whereas Ikta’s expression hardened even though he too heard of this for the first time.
“......A controlled burn, eh? So the other side has also taken decisive action.”
A wary glint edged its way into those dark pupils. Controlled burn was a method that could be employed when normal tactics like spraying water or swatting could not adequately fight a fire that was spreading rapidly. It’s literal application was to heads towards where the fire was predicted to advance and lit a flame under carefully controlled circumstances, causing everything that could serve as fuel to burn itself out before putting out the flames. A burnt out zone like this would in and of itself prevent the fire from carrying into other areas. From a results perspective, the maximum extent of the fire could be limited just as the time it took to bring the fire under control could be decreased, but……
“A single mistake could cause the fire to spread even further, so this tactic is not lightly employed…… Is there an officer who has experience with forest fires in the Holy Aldera Army?”
“And the decision was made at an abnormally swift speed. It’s barely been two days since the enemy arrived, but they have already enacted countermeasures already.”
“Exactly. “Discovering the entire forest is on fire during their march” should come as a rude shock to them, so I had honestly expected them to mill about in confusion for a bit. Our mission to buy time should have been easier while the enemy commanders debated over a possible solution……”
Finding his earlier projections thrown out the window so soon caused Ikta to mutter and scratch at his scalp. Yatori also pressed a hand to her chin as she pondered this.
“......I also find this peculiar. This is not because we’re underestimating the enemy, but basically speaking the Holy Aldera Army comes from Ra Sai Alderamin, a country that has remained neutral from any major conflicts for more than 100 years, correct? Would an army from such a country be able to react to unforeseen circumstances with such alacrity?”
“What about this? Perhaps the one who came up with the controlled burn was not a soldier from that country?”
Captain Sazaruf suddenly interjected into the conversation, causing Ikta and Yatori to raise their heads at the same time.
“......Captain, what do you mean?”
“All of you must have ran across this in class, right? In order to maintain the military standards of a country like Ra Sai Alderamin that had nothing to do with war for so long, both the Empire and Republic sent military instructors. From a political perspective, a neutral country that was too weak was not a desirable outcome for either country.”
“That must be what they call a visiting officer...... So that’s the background behind it.”
“Under the current situation, the personnel dispatched from the Empire must be on pins and needles, right? Then again, what about the ones sent from the Republic? If we treat the Kioka Republic as the one who instigated the entire sequence of events by inciting the Shinaak Tribe to rebel, then......”
Captain Sazaruf did not finish the words with ulterior interpretations. Yatori placed a hand over her forehead as if trying to search her memories.
“......While we were in Central, I had heard someone mention this. Two years ago, the officer dispatched from the Kioka Republic to Ra Sai Alderamin was incredibly young by conventional standards, and he had a head full of white hair to boot. Irrespective of night or day, he worked harder than anyone else to the point that no one ever saw him retire to rest.”
“Incredible, it’s practically as if god created someone else to balance the scales against me.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought when I first heard this. This officer bears a nickname, which should be --”
“OK! Light it!”
Upon hearing the sergeant give the order, a certain Incendiary trooper within the Holy Aldera Army clumsily tossed the firebrand into the grass before him. His comrades were carrying out similar tasks all around him as fire broke out to the left and right, but perhaps something had gone wrong as the area he was responsible for remained free of smoke.
“You there! How come it isn’t burning!? What are you doing?”
After being scolded by his superior, the soldier brought a skin filled with oil and frantically scrambled into the bushes.
“Damn it, have I poured enough yet......?”
The man muttered as he liberally applied the oil on the surrounding undergrowth. At this time, he was suddenly aware of a rather warm air caressing him around his feet, where he had rather lost track of while immersed in this task.
Shocked, the soldier direct his gaze downward to find laughing flames mocking him from beneath the knees of his uniform. The firebrand he had thrown in earlier had somehow managed to get onto him.
Although the soldier tried to put out the flames in a haphazard manner, his efforts at brushing them away yielded no results. The tongues of fire that gradually traveled upward caused the soldier to even ignore his spirit’s cries as he delved into utter panic.
“H, help me! I’m on fire......!”
Even his comrades were terrified out of their wits when he stormed out of the underbrush with his lower body aflame. There was no large source of water nearby to put the fire out. Wary of also sharing his fate, everyone the soldier sought for help kept him at arm’s length.
“S, someone think of something! Help!”
Denied any aid, the soldier’s panic mounted. However, before his cries became tragic, the sound of hoof beats rang out behind him. In the next instant, someone pulled the soldier up by the collar and lifted his entire body into the air.
“Wah......!” “Yah, do not worry! Stop struggling now!”
The rider continued to gallop forward with his right hand lifting the soldier along. Taking full advantage that the soldier had gone docile from behind lifted by the neck, he rapidly passed through the stunned crowd.
Along the way, the rider suddenly released the right hand wrapped around the soldier’s collar. Gravity pulled the soldier’s body downward into a hole that was dug into the ground ahead of time. The soldiers holding spades around the hole while waiting for further orders could only stare in shock.
“Alright, you men, quickly cover him in dirt! Wepssy! Quickly, quickly!”
Halting a few steps in front of them, the rider immediately roused the men to action as they carried out his orders. Their spades dug into the dirt mound and sought to bury the lower half of their comrade that was currently aflame. Though the man in question shrieked in pain, no one paid him the slightest attention.
“Good! The fire is out……!”
The soldier was buried into the dirt from the neck down as the spades finally came to a halt. Just as the soldier felt like a corpse being covered in dirt, the man responsible for bringing him over here gave him a once over from atop the horse with those white eyes of his.
“Hah, thank goodness we made it in time. Medics! Please take care of his burns.”
Hearing this, the soldier finally realized he had been saved. Deprived of oxygen by the large amount of wet dirt, the flames that should have consumed him were extinguished. Without a large body of water nearby, this was the ideal way of putting out fires.
“T…… Thank you very --”
Without bothering to hear the words of gratitude, the man who saved him was already spurring his horse elsewhere. The soldier could only watch the man depart at incredible speed while one his comrades holding a spade nearby said to him:
“He actually saved you twice. The first time was of course when he brought you over here. There is also the time that Kiokan predicted that guys like you would make silly mistakes and ordered a hole to be dug.”
It was only now that the soldier realized that man was not wearing uniform of the Holy Aldera Army. As he looked around in confusion, one of his comrades chuckled wryly.
“What, is this the first time you saw him with your own eyes? Even so, surely you have heard the rumors? Rumors regarding the one that gallops around by day and drafts reports by night, the man who came from distant Kioka without bothering to setup a sleeping pallet in his own room --”
Overwhelmed by their efforts to deal with the fire, the Holy Aldera Army welcomed their second night beneath the Grand Arfatra Mountains.
“--I’m coming in, Jean. I’ve brought tea.”
The sight that greeted the female adjutant who first called out a greeting before stepping inside was a desk covered in research materials illuminated by light spirits along with her commanding officer scrawling reports.
“Syool! Thank you, Miara. Is this red tea full of sugar? Or that slightly bitter green tea?”
The man named Jean kept his eyes glued to the table, but responded in a casual tone. The young female officer named Miara watched the back of that snow white head before sighing lightly.
“Seeing as these are military rations, it is unfortunately the barley tea you have grown heartily sick of in Alderamin.”
“Hah, just so. Although I do not loath it, I must admit this something altogether different than tea.”
Miara deposited the tea cup in the hands of the man who replied back to her with a rueful grin. At this time, she noticed among the myriad documents sprawled over the table, several leaflets carried lines written with a firm hand.
“You seem to be generously wasting resources. Was there something that caught your attention?”
“I am organizing the tactics we will be using into several categories, as our opponent looks to be quite a handful.”
“Quite a handful……? We haven’t even come to blows yet, right?”
“If would be much simpler if our opponent was someone whom we could readily engage in combat, but that is not the case. Our enemy quickly abandoned any hope of facing us directly and devoted all of their energy into buying time even at the cost of burning down the entire forest.”
“That’s true. This is the first time I’ve run into this kind of situation.”
Here, Jean exchanged the pen in his right hand for the teacup as he turned his entire chair to face his adjutant. He possessed a slim yet sturdy physique, a head full of white hair without the use of any hair dye, along with youthful features that stood in stark contrast to his hair. These were accompanied by his white eyes, eyes that gave men the mistaken impression that they glimmered with ethereal light.
“Mum…… Not only is this strategy daring, but their execution is superb. Even if they picked men from their exhausted forces, carrying out all this with the Shinaak Tribe threatening them from behind their back compounds the difficulty. Thus, our opponent must have planned for that…… I suspect they must have come to terms with the tribal leaders in the form of a ceasefire or by uniting against the common enemy that our forces represent.”
“Uniting against? I find it difficult to imagine working alongside enemies trying to kill each other the day before. Could their self esteem survive that?”
“Yah, what you say is true……. However, no matter how favorable the calculation is, the Imperial Army could not possibly have detected our presence more than 6 days in advance. We just arrived here yesterday, so their original buffer was only around 5 days. During this time, they had to end the civil war, successfully persuade the Shinaak Tribe to lend their assistance, then dispatch the necessary personnel to begin operations…… Given the results, they completed the defenses needed to halt our invasion.”
Jean’s smile deepened as a fey sense of expectation slowly crept in.
“At this desperate hour, who is this man that could accomplish all this with the Imperial Army in tatters?”
“Inciting the Shinaak Tribe and assassinating Yuskushiram Taekk...... These elements were critical in launching this insurrection. However, the fundamental basis of all this was built on the ineptitude of the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Garrison, Lieutenant General Tamshiikushik Safida. If he possessed the ability and self-control as befitting a man of his station, we would never have had the opening in the first place.”
“The tragedy of fools in high positions is a rather commonplace event.”
“Syah, as you say. However, careful study of history also contain examples of the opposite. Examples of brilliant men denied their full potential by woeful superiors but repeatedly demonstrating their outstanding talent on the battlefield.”
Jean said this as his eyes drifted over to the map on the table. His heated gaze was directed to the tags showing the other side of the Gagarukasakan Forest, where a worthy foe awaited him.
“This person does not possess high rank. If this was the case, the situation would have improved much sooner. Must be a case of a lower officer receiving a battlefield promotion along with broad range of authority. Is he or she a colonel like me? Maybe a captain…… Even if a staff officer, perhaps on the lower end of the totem pole. Regardless, this person is on the other side of the wall of fire.”
“In other words, this enemy will be quite the handful. Excited, Jean?”
“I want to behold someone I’ve never seen before, surely everyone would think the same?”
Miara could sigh in response to Jean’s obliviousness to any oddity in himself and retreated one step. After reestablishing the space between leader and subordinate with this action, she reported in a solemn tone.
“......Thus far, our allied forces encamped in the mountains have not reported in. We surmise that this is because they are cut off from our forces and that long periods of activity behind enemy lines have exhausted their supply of carrier pigeons.”
“Even your older brother would have some difficulty traversing that fire…… The controlled burns will need some time before they achieve any effects, so perhaps we should consider options to reestablish communications?”
“I estimate that more carrier pigeons will be released at dawn, so for now that is sufficient…… Even if we left them alone, they will act accordingly to disrupt the enemy camp. After all, this is the Phantoms’ duty.”
Seeing Miara put forth such a strong guarantee as if it was her own task in question, Jean nodded in satisfaction.
“--Understood. Given the current stage, there are few options for reestablishing communications anyways. We will focus on our own objectives and leave your brother’s unit to their own devices. Is that alright, Lieutenant Miara Gin.”
“I have no objections. It is an honor to have your trust, Colonel Jean Arkinex.”
Jean chuckled wryly at his adjutant saluting smartly before changing the subject.
“The hour is late, Miara. Take a break.”
“As you command. So Jean, how do you plan on passing the long night?”
“Mum, based on today’s observations, I must account for the errors on our maps and terrain as well as calculate the additional supplies needed due to the delay of our invasion. Then, I will assess the proper allocation of soldiers along the five paths through the forest. After that, I let my imagination take me to morning. Imaging what sort of worthy foe awaits me on the other side of that fire.”
This speech, so similar to a young girl in love, struck Miara in the wrong way, causing her to sigh and try to dampen his ardor.
“That is all well and good, but please don’t get your hopes up. In order to imagine someone strong enough to threaten you, it would be far easier to visualize what god looks like -- at least, that’s how I would feel.”
Miara left these words behind and ducked out of the tent. However, she ran into a familiar face at the doorway.
“Ho, Miara, you were here as I expected.”
Here was a swarthy man wearing the same Kioka uniform who towered over others. He was approximately in his 30s, rippled with muscles, and had a captain’s pins on his chest.
“Captain Harrah, you are also up at such hours.”
Like Jean, the man named Harrah had an easy-going personality and treated others with kindness that surpassed the basic relationship between leader and subordinates. After checking that there was no one else, Miara also relaxed a little.
“Jean is inside. Is something the matter?’
“There is something, but talking to you would be faster. Have we got in touch with the infiltrating unit?”
“Not yet. I just gave the report to Jean and the conclusion is to continue as we are. Besides from sending the carrier pigeons, our forces do not need to take further actions to reestablish communications.”
“If that is Jean’s decision, I have no objection…… But, aren’t you worried about your brother, Miara?”
“Not really. My brother’s unit usually operates behind enemy lines, though with our advance blocked by the fire, we should be thankful that we have allies on the other side.”
Miara replied back to her superior officer’s concern with her typical aloofness. After making sure she was not putting up a tough front, Harrah turned his eyes from her to focused on the man hard at work in the tent.
“--Is Jean up to his usual tricks tonight?”
“Not only that, his eyes are particularly bright. Said something about a worthy foe in the enemy camp.”
“I can definitely echo that feeling. In all honesty, I was shocked at the deftness at which they carried out this defensive plan using a wall of fire. While I do not know what will happen next, depending on the situation, the Holy Aldera Army may lack the experience to react properly.”
With that, Harrah gazed at the mountains with a grim expression. Looking upon the fire that was especially conspicuous at night, Miara smiled as if unconcerned.
“Even if that’s the case, then all I feel is pity towards the heroes waiting for us on the other side. Regardless what kind of talent or ability they possess, to stand on this stage and age was their mistake.”
“Hm, I can agree to that as well. If there was only the Holy Aldera Army here, then perhaps the enemy could find a way to handle them, but --”
The half finished sentence cued the two of them to turn their eyes back to the tent together. Between the tent flaps, their commander’s ramrod straight back could be seen. Even though his figure was just sitting there, his boundless energy was readily apparent, along with the effortless dance of his pen that knew not what exhaustion meant.
“How dependable -- our “Shining Sleepless General” once again is undisturbed by dreams.”
“Those white eyes burn with fire, all to guarantee the path to victory.”
An unyielding trust that bordered on faith rested in the hearts of both Miara and Harrah as they seemed to play a game of words back and forth. The man in question was wholly oblivious to the conversation behind him as handled the tasks with unrelenting motions while contemplating about his unseen enemy in a corner of his mind.
--Colonel Jean Arkinex of the Kioka Republican Army. Known as the “Shining Sleepless General” among men.
A legendary figure who was lauded in the same manner as the “Wise General of Indolent Victory” by future chronicles of the age.
|Back to Prologue||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 2|