Savior of the Nation
The liberation of Kalinsha had been surprisingly easy.
The combination of the Zerns rising up in revolt, the sheer lack of demihuman manpower compared to the size of the city they had to defend, and the absence of the henchman demon to command them meant that it was a foregone conclusion. Of course, there were many casualties on both sides, but the losses of the Holy Kingdom Liberation Army were surprisingly light considering they had managed to retake such a large city.
One of the main reasons for that was Neia, who carried the Ultimate Shootingstar Super on her back.
Of course, Shizu had assisted from the shadows, but Neia and her spectacular bow had been a majestic sight that greatly inspired the people.
And so, Neia stood atop a platform and passionately addressed the audience gathered in the plaza.
She told them: there was no greater king in this world than the Sorcerer King.
The first thing Neia did after liberating Kalinsha was to canvass support in order to go searching for the Sorcerer King.
The Zern did their part and questioned the demihuman captives about the Abelion Hills, but she was still lacking in many things, like material resources, information, experience, and so on.
It would be one thing if they could try as often as they wanted, but it was difficult to repeatedly send out search parties and rescue teams into enemy territory. In other words, they had to get it right the first time. That being the case, they could not prepare themselves enough. That was why she had decided to capitalize on the fact that many people had been freed through the liberation of Kalinsha and seek their aid in various areas.
That said, the people did not volunteer their help immediately after it was requested. Even after taking back Kalinsha, there were still many other cities that had been captured by the demihumans, as well as many people who had been imprisoned or who had lost track of their relatives. Neia was trying to sell them on the benefits of aiding the Sorcerer King in order to move their hearts.
However, as the number of helpers increased, the contents of her speeches gradually began to change.
The people who had come to hear Neia speak about the Sorcerer King were all people that the Sorcerer King had once rescued. They were people who had suffered greatly and who now wanted to cling to a powerful being in order to heal the lingering emotional trauma in their souls.
Those who knew of the Sorcerer King’s greatness could be considered her comrades.
It was second nature for Neia to joyously tell them about the Sorcerer King’s magnificence.
Gradually, people had not met the Sorcerer King began to take part as well. They were friends of those who had been rescued by the Sorcerer King. As word of mouth spread, more and more unrelated people came to listen to Neia’s words.
With her visor on, Neia gushed to these people about the excellence of the Sorcerer King during the liberation of the city and the battle with Jaldabaoth.
She would not have been able to speak so unreservedly several weeks ago. She would have tensed up under the eyes of the audience and she would have been at a loss for words as her mind blanked out. But after addressing crowds over and over again, she finally came to realize that she did not need to express her own thoughts, only paint a picture of the Sorcerer King in her heart with her words. Neia had become an eloquent speaker.
Yes, they now spoke of her as the Faceless Evangelist.
“Thus, His Majesty is truly beyond compare! How could there be another king who cares so much for the people! Yes, I know what you want to say. After all, Her Majesty Calca Bessarez is also an excellent queen. However — has anyone here heard of a king who would go this far for the people of another nation! You!”
Neia pointed at one of the members of the audience in front of her.
“Have you ever heard of a king who went out by himself to save another nation’s people from torment?”
“Eh, ah, no, that, I’ve never heard… anything like that… before…”
As everyone’s eyes focused on him, the voice of the man who had been called out gradually trailed off.
“Excellent answer! That’s exactly it!”
As Neia praised him, the rows of like-minded people beside Neia on the stage joined the people in the audience who shared Neia’s views to applaud the man.
As Neia praised him, the rows of like-minded people beside Neia on the stage joined the people in the audience who shared Neia’s views to applaud the man.
The man blushed and looked a little shy.
“In truth, we checked to see if any other king had done that much, but no! There was nobody else! We could not find any king like the Sorcerer King!”
There had been kings who had led armies to rescue neighboring countries, but it was a fact that there had been no kings who had gone alone.
“Think of it, a king going to aid the people of another country regardless of the risk to himself! It’s never been heard of before! Only the Sorcerer King!” Neia paused, then continued. “Only His Majesty! Only a king like that truly deserves to be called a righteous king!”
“But can we trust him!? He’s undead isn’t he!?”
Neia responded to the question from the audience with a gentle smile. Neia had once thought the same thing herself. In other words, he was like her past self. He simply did not know; he did not understand.
She would make him see — no, she would open his eyes, just like she had opened her own eyes, and those of everyone else’s. With that feeling in her heart, Neia addressed the crowd.
“Yes! His Majesty is undead! It is only normal that you should all feel uneasy! It is a fact that the undead are frightening monsters. I have no intention of saying that all undead are good. Many undead are evil, and there is no doubt that they hate the living!”
Now that everyone was listening to her in earnest, Neia seized on the mood in the air and forcefully declared her summation.
“However! There are exceptions to all things! Just as there might be a warm day in winter, just as a bud might bloom from a withered branch, just as a brilliant shooting star can streak across the darkest night. So too is His Majesty — he is an undead being who aids the living. You must have heard the stories from the people he rescued. It is also possible that some of you were rescued by him. Then based on what you know to be true, you have the proof that I am not lying!”
After verifying that there were no objections from the crowd, Neia spoke in leaden, grim tones.
“...This time round, that sturdy fortress line was broken, and the demihumans rushed in like an avalanche. Will such a tragedy only happen once? Does anyone believe it will not happen a second time?”
The silence of the audience spoke for them.
Of course they hoped that it would not happen again, but nobody could honestly believe that.
“I fully understand how uneasy you are. Perhaps our generation and that of everyone’s children might be able to rest at ease. After all, the tragedy that just occurred will spur us on to unceasing vigilance… However!”
Neia’s tone grew forceful.
“Can anyone guarantee that such a tragedy will not repeat itself in the generation of our grandchildren, or our grandchildren’s grandchildren? Does anyone dare say it will never happen again since it happened before!? That is why we must prepare, so the fortress will line never be breached again!”
Voices saying “Yes,” and “That’s right,” began to float up from the crowd.
“—It seems everyone agrees too, but in the far-off future, in the age of our children’s children and our grandchildren’s grandchildren, in an age when this tragedy is but a distant memory, can the people then still remain vigilant? Do you think we can station twice or three times as many people as we do now on the fortress line?”
The military expenses would drain the national reserves, and they would deploy an intimidating amount of fighting strength but have no obvious results to show for it.
“I trust there are people who served in the fortresses during your conscription. Then I ask you to search your memories. If the daily expenses and stores consumed back then were tripled, do you not think it would greatly strain the nation? At that time, do you think a country that only knows of that tragedy from memory will remain vigilant?”
As understanding dawned on the faces of her audience, Neia delivered her conclusion.
“—That is why we need the protection of His Majesty!”
“Why!? Why must we seek the help of the undead!?”
The same voice from before rang out.
It was the man who had questioned her earlier. People like him put Neia at ease. Her toughest crowds were the ones where nobody reacted at all. When that happened, she felt uneasy about whether her words had reached them at all.
Neia’s supporters had suggested planting a few naysayers like that in the audience beforehand, but Neia refused. Similarly, she had rejected the idea of planting shills in the audience.
“I am saying this precisely because he is undead. His Majesty is powerful, but more importantly, he is undead, and so in that far distant future, he will still be alive — still exist.”
“But, but I heard that the Sorcerer King fell in battle and died.”
“That rumor is both true and false at the same time. Sadly, the first part is true. His Majesty expended a great deal of mana and cast many spells in order to save we who were powerless, and in the end he was defeated by Jaldabaoth. But the second part is false. His Majesty is not dead! The existence of Shizu will prove that to everyone.”
This was the cue for Shizu — one of the key figures in the liberation of Kalinsha — to enter from the side.
The audience gasped in awe, and worshipful murmurs of “Shizu-sama” could be heard.
Shizu held her head high and puffed her chest out.
“Once, she was one of the maid demons in Jaldabaoth’s service, yet she fought alongside us in the Battle of Kalinsha. That is because His Majesty wrested command over her from Jaldabaoth’s hands.”
Many people had seen Shizu slay demihumans one after the other during the battle. The people who addressed her with -sama had probably been directly aided by her.
Shizu was very popular. While she had once been a maid demon of Jaldabaoth, she was still very pretty, and more importantly, she felt youthful. One could say it was difficult to bear hostility against her.
Had the Sorcerer King considered this when he bound you to his service? Neia had once asked Shizu. Shizu had replied, “Maybe.”
“Shizu was bound by the magic of His Majesty, and that remains in effect as long as the Sorcerer King still lives. In other words, she is the proof that His Majesty still lives.”
As the air turned electric, Neia raised her arms to indicate that everyone should be quiet, because she was not done speaking.
“I am sure you are all wondering why His Majesty has not yet shown himself. In truth I do not know either. However, I cannot imagine that such a compassionate lord would abandon us! There must be some reason why he cannot return here immediately. I do not know if that is because of His Majesty’s considerations, or if some danger has arisen. And that is why—!”
Neia’s voice reverberated through the silent plaza.
“That is why I beseech all of you for your strength! Please lend me the strength to find His Majesty. Even if we bet our lives to walk the length and breadth of the Abelion Hills where the demihumans live before finding His Majesty, the Holy Kingdom still cannot fully repay the debt we owe Him. And I have said this before, but His Majesty came only to fight Jaldabaoth, yet he ended up fighting the demihumans on behalf of our weak selves, thus wearing down his strength and leading to his defeat!”
Neia raised her voice even louder as she shouted.
“Nevertheless — everyone! That is why we ought to repay the debt we owe to the person who came to save us! That great man came by himself to save us! Even if he is one of the undead, I do not intend to be an ingrate! —And so, I call upon the people who seek to repay the debt to His Majesty in some small way.”
Neia stopped for a while to let the anticipation build before shouting again.
“I am looking for people to help me find His Majesty! But you do not need to go in person! Your skills, your knowledge, anything you can contribute will be useful. Please lend me your strength! Please help us!”
Neia bowed her head, and beside her, so did Shizu.
Ohhhh, the crowd roared.
After raising her head, Neia finished thusly:
“...I am certain there are some of you out there who cannot believe based on my words alone. However, how about asking the people from the Liberation Army before Kalinsha was taken back? That way, I am certain you will believe that my words are not lies.”
After returning to her room, Neia sank limply into her chair.
“Thank you for your hard work, Baraja-sama.”
The person thanking her was a quiet-looking — though somewhat gloomy — woman.
She seemed to be in her twenties, and her distinguishing features were a pair of ample breasts that drew men’s eyes and a head of short hair. Apparently, it had once been long, but it had been cut short in a prison camp.
She was part of the support team which Neia had established. Neia’s supporters wanted to name themselves, and so they called themselves the Sorcerer King Rescue Corps.
Her job was to help manage Neia’s increasingly busy daily life.
While it had only been half a month since they had first met, this woman had become irreplaceable to Neia. That was because she had completed her assigned tasks — cleaning, laundry, cooking, and various other tasks — with consummate perfection.
“Ahh, thank you.”
Neia wiped her face with the cloth the woman had offered her, and the cool sensation felt very comfortable on her burning face.
She then went Whew in a way that seemed very reminiscent of a middle-aged man before laying the towel on the table and turning to the woman who immediately reclaimed it.
“Ah, while I’ve been saying it all this time, please don’t call me -sama. After all, I’m hardly an amazing figure.”
“What are you saying? You are His Majesty’s spokesperson in this country and act on his behalf. Not addressing you as -sama would be rude.”
The fact that a woman older than herself was saying this slightly bothered Neia.
This was a problem only experienced by those who were not used to a superior position.
Speaking of which, Neia was not a spokesperson or anything. Rather, she was wondering how she had ended up in that position.
Neia felt that Shizu — who was staring aimlessly while lying down casually on a couch — fit the description better.
In the first place, the Sorcerer King’s greatness should have been obvious to everyone from an objective point of view. She was simply stating the obvious, not arguing on his behalf, and she had not intended to begin preaching any form of organized belief or opinion.
While Neia had started out doing that of her own accord, she had never expected things to turn out like this.
“I’ll take my leave, then. Also, Beldran Moro-shi wishes to meet you.”
“I understand. Can you help me call him in? Thank you for your hard work today.”
The housekeeper bowed to her, and then left the room. A man entered, as though to swap places with her. The woman was averse to men and feared them, and she felt uncomfortable when she was in the same location as men. Therefore, she had chosen to excuse herself.
“Baraja-sama, I apologize for disturbing you while you are resting. May I ask for some of your time?”
He had the stout body of a man in his forties, but the part about him that stood out most was the thinning hair on the top of his head.
The Moro family had a tradition of buttling for notable noble houses, and in the past he too had worked as a butler. That was why he served as a secretary in the rescue corps, in order to make full use of his skills.
Neia had been very lucky to meet someone like him when she had first founded the group. If she had not met him, her hair would have gone white at an early age.
“No, it’s fine. What is it?”
“Thank you. I shall be brief. I wish to say that the membership of our organization is now in excess of 30,000.”
“Ah, that’s wonderful! To think we’d gain so many people who understand His Majesty’s greatness! No, that’s only to be expected. His Majesty truly is an amazing person, after all!”
Shizu nodded and went “Mhm.”
The organization now had more members than the population of a small city. Of the 3.5 million-odd residents of the Northern Holy KIngdom, around 1% of them now belonged to the group.
“Our supporters have expressed a desire for a symbol of some sort to show their membership in the group.”
“I see… indeed… That… makes sense.”
“Indeed. Some wearable item to indicate their membership is essential in order to foster a sense of reassurance and belonging.”
Mhm, Neia nodded. They would be very happy to have some symbol of solidarity — something related to the Sorcerer King. Neia wanted one too.
“Please use the best possible means at your disposal. However, I do not wish us to give preferential treatment based on cash donations and the like.”
Neia picked up something that even her acute hearing could not fully make out.
“Shizu-sempai, what did you say?” Neia asked.
“...Really? Still, if I make a mistake when speaking about His Majesty, you must tell me.”
Neia turned her gaze back to Beldran. Recently, there were more and more people who remained unshaken even when she looked at them, and it made Neia very happy.
“Let the craftsmen take care of that, then. Now… can you tell me about the rest of my schedule?”
“Yes, Baraja-sama. In about two hours, the supporters will be organizing a “‘Thanksgiving to the Sorcerer King.’” I believe you are scheduled to take part and speak of His Majesty’s great deeds.”
Neia felt quite excited. Having discovered that the Sorcerer King was justice, she felt a sense of camaraderie and closeness to the supporters who could understand how she felt, and she enjoyed talking to people who shared her views.
“Also, there are people who would like you to witness the fruits of their training. Given that you are very busy now, should I reject them?”
Neia had recently founded an honor guard unit of her supporters and was currently putting them through intense training. Both Neia and Shizu had taken part in that training.
To Neia, who felt that weakness would only be a burden to the Sorcerer King, working hard to become strong was second nature. If Neia’s participation could liven up the mood and motivate them, then she had to join them.
“No, I’d like to be there with them.”
“I am certain they will be delighted… and while that summary of events was quite basic, that is all I have to report to you. As for how long it will take to gather the supporters — after considering the time needed to prepare, I believe you will have an hour to slowly rest and relax.”
Beldran bowed his head and left the room. After watching him leave, Neia got up from her chair and walked over to the couch where Shizu was. Then she lay down beside Shizu and tightly embraced her, like she was trying to squish her with her body.
Shizu was shorter than herself, but she patted Neia’s back in a soothing manner, like a mother would for her child.
“When will we be able to go look for His Majesty… it’s been a month already…”
The people searching the eastern region of the Holy Kingdom had not found the Sorcerer King, and while they could not rule out the possibility that they might have missed him, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he had fallen into the land of the demihumans, the Abelion Hills. Therefore, they had to make ample preparations, but doing so was simply taking too long.
Of the 3,000 Zern who had betrayed Jaldabaoth, 2,800 of them had gone with their prince to the Sorcerous Kingdom, while the remaining 200 or so had gone to the hills to collect information, but they had not found anything so far.
“...You must not fail.”
“I know! But, but…”
Neia hugged Shizu tighter. She took a deep breath of the scent — like that of black tea — which came from her.
Shizu’s mere presence was enough to keep Neia’s uneasiness at bay.
Shizu’s mere presence was enough to keep Neia’s uneasiness at bay.
That was because her existence was the proof that the Sorcerer King was alive.
“...It’ll be fine. Ainz-sama is generous.”
“Ah, that’s right, Shizu-sempai.”
“...Therefore, you should get more supporters and work out a search plan that cannot fail.”
“Ah, that’s right, Shizu-sempai.”
“...That way, Ainz-sama will be happy.”
“Ah, that’s right, Shizu-sempai.”
“...Neia. I’m quite interested in you. Now that I’ve gotten used to it, your face is quite cute.”
“...Quite cute… Speaking of which, you must be really bored because you can’t go outside, Shizu-sempai. Shall the two of us go somewhere together next time?”
Shizu’s extraordinary beauty — it was practically sculpted — attracted a lot of attention. However, the looks directed at her would become ones of fear and caution if people knew her true identity as a maid demon. Many of them would have exaggerated delusions like “She’s going to steal my soul!” which stemmed from the stories where demons transformed into beautiful women to claim souls as part of a deal. However, Neia felt that demons had a right to choose their partners.
For starters, being that she was a subordinate of the most merciful Sorcerer King, this difficulty 150 maid demon would not possibly desire the souls of the people around her, let alone want to charm theirs away..
Even so, there had been troublesome things which they could not avoid, and Neia — as a squire of the Sorcerer King — would not be able to face him if she ended up causing trouble for Shizu, his subordinate. Of course, Neia also understood that Shizu was so powerful that she would not be harmed.
For that reason she spent much of her time here, but now that there were more people in their organization, it ought to be all right to bring her where the supporters gathered.
“...Not a bad idea. We’ll go together as practice.”
“All right, let’s get ready, then. Although, those maid clothes are a little eye-catching… could you change into something more ordinary?”
“...The doctor… ahem. No problem. Lend me clothes. I’ll leave the coordination to you.”
“...I’m sorry, but I didn’t have anyone I could go out with and I had no interest in clothes at all, so I’m not confident in being able to pick out clothes for you.”
Shizu gently patted Neia’s shoulders. While she looked emotionless at a glance, Neia could understand her maternal warmth. After that, Shizu pointed her thumb at herself.
“...Leave it to me.”
The discovery that Shizu’s tastes were unexpectedly good would be a matter for later.
Caspond’s workload had increased dramatically after the recapture of Kalinsha. He had to work on organizing the people who had been rescued, the resulting amount of information which needed to be processed had increased greatly, and both the verification and assignment work was very time-consuming.
During this busy period, only one paladin was stationed by Caspond’s side for his safety.
This represented a lack of security, but one could not use a skilled paladin — they could read, write, do accounts, conduct religious rites, and keep the peace — as a mere bodyguard. In that respect, it would have been most efficient to assign Remedios to him, but after considering her mental state, he decided to have her train with other paladins.
When Neia and Shizu had returned with Kelart Custodio’s head, her resulting frenzy caused such a disturbance that it was a wonder nobody died as a result. While she did calm down eventually, they still had to handle her with care.
In truth, nobody could do anything by themselves. He had to be grateful to his maker for blessing him with wisdom. As he deepened his devotion to said maker, Caspond threw himself into his work, his pen flashing over the pages.
While it was practice for the future, this work was still very annoying. His paladin aide either could not read the mood or he was indeed very bothered, but he spoke to Caspond, who was trying to bury his grumbling in the depths of his heart.
“—My Prince, is it really okay to let the Neia Baraja situation continue as it is?”
Caspond understood the meaning of that question, and he smiled tiredly without taking his eyes off his documents.
“It can’t be helped, can it? Just leave it as it is. Also, Prince will do.”
“Thank you very much. However, what do you mean by it can’t be helped?”
The paladin could not seem to accept that, so Caspond lifted his head from his documents and looked him in the eye.
“What do you think would happen if we did anything to her, like say, pressuring her to stop?”
“I don’t think anything would happen, my Prince. All she is doing is causing unrest in the nation.”
“I see. So, her speeches — while I’m not sure if asking is appropriate — have you heard her speak? ...Judging by the look of things, I guess not, but you’ve probably read a summary of what she’s talking about... Now, my first question… has she lied?”
Caspond watched the paladin search his memory before answering:
“She has not… well, it would be better if she was lying. Next, anyone with a modicum of intellect can check what she has said and find that almost all of it is justified. The Sorcerer King did free them, and he is a hero who single-handedly recaptured a city too.”
He took a drink of water from the glass on the table to wet his throat before continuing.
“And then, Neia Baraja is a hero who helped liberate Kalinsha. We declared that ourselves. As for the maid demon — we introduced her as a minion of the Sorcerer King. That led to a sky-high opinion of the Sorcerer King, and so we had to go a little overboard in praising her. Also, her equipment befits a hero.”
The sight of Neia carrying the marvellous bow which the Sorcerer King had loaned her and wearing the Grand King Buser’s armor was nothing less than heroic.
“Now, let’s go back to the original question. If we try to silence her, how will the world view us? Do you not think they would see us as trying to shut a hero up because she’s saying something inconvenient for the royal family?”
The paladin tried to stammer out a denial, but his face already said that he understood better than his words could. He knew what would happen.
“On one hand, you have a hero whose stardom is rising, and on the other you have the royal family which is on the decline. Who do you think the people will believe?”
“—My Prince! Please don’t say that!”
“I apologize… but more to the point, what do you think the Sorcerer King’s maid demon will do if we try to interfere with Neia Baraja?”
The paladin’s face went stiff, and a ghastly look came to Caspond’s face.
“Heheh. The fact that she’s protected by that maid demon means she commands the most power in this city, you know? Trying to directly silence her with force is extremely dangerous, so we’ll have to leave things as they are. I understand your concerns, but every move available to us is a bad one.”
There was a knocking on the door, and one of the soldiers from the outside entered.
“My Prince, the Vice Captain-sama wishes to speak with you.”
“Send him in right away.”
Perhaps he had heard Caspond’s voice, but Gustav rushed in from where he had been waiting outside. The slight panting in his breath showed that he had come here in a hurry.
“Forgive me, Your Highness Prince Caspond!”
Gustav’s work took him further afield than Caspond, and made him more busy, so he very rarely came here. That was why Caspond knew that this was a sticky situation. If he had come here in person, he had brought with him a difficult problem that he could not handle on his own.
“I tell you every time, don’t worry about it. Also, you don’t need to bow if we’re the only ones around. Since you’re in such a rush, it must be quite urgent, right?”
“Yes, sir! Our scouts report a 50,000-strong army flying the flag of the Southern Nobles heading for this city!”
“I see… don’t tell me the South has already overcome Jaldabaoth’s forces? In any event, prepare for battle, because we do not know whether the Southern armies are being controlled by Jaldabaoth. Be careful. I’ll leave it to you.”
“You are not to attack under any circumstances until the enemy makes a move. If they want to talk, bring them here. After that—” Caspond turned to the paladin. “You will be in charge of welcoming our guests. If they’re what I think they are, there ought to be several high ranking nobles present. Prepare food and wine that would please them.”
Both men replied, “Yes sir!” and then left the room. As Caspond watched them leave, he muttered to himself.
“Now then… I wonder if this is a good time?”
“I am truly glad you came, Marquis Bodipo, Count Cohen, Count Domingues, Count Granero, Count Randalse, and Viscount Santz.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, I’m glad to see you’re well, My Prince.”
“Indeed! Indeed! We were so worried about you, Your Highness!”
After a toast, Caspond and the Southern nobles were all smiles, drank to their respective safety, and exchanged greetings again.
The nobles described the situation and spoke of their travails. Caspond listened attentively, because doing so was playing to their vanity about how hard they had worked — how much they had given up for the sake of their loyalty to the Holy Kingdom.
Count Cohen, who had been speaking for a very long time, suddenly seemed to have noticed something and asked a question.
“—Oya, Prince-denka. Is it me, or do you seem slightly different now?”
“Ahh, but of course. I trust you know how Jaldabaoth invaded the North? It greatly changed me inside. In addition, I think the parts you cannot see have changed even more… do you not think I have become thinner?”
Caspond indicated his belly. “Well, that does seem to be the case,” everyone cheerfully replied. At the same time, there was a keen glint in the nobles’ eyes.
Caspond did not miss that. He instantly realized that they were evaluating the worth of Caspond in the past to the present Caspond.
While they had carefully concealed that fact, he understood that the appraisal was still in progress.
Now he hoped that they would think that nothing had changed, in the hopes that they would not interfere with the royal family after the war.
“...Still, I, Caspond, am deeply grateful that you have led your houses here to save the Holy Kingdom.”
“What are you saying? Your Highness, as noblemen, it is only natural that we should marshal our forces and set out for the sake of the royal family. Or no, anyone who is physically able and does not join a battle concerning the survival of the Holy Kingdom cannot even be considered a nobleman!”
The nobles each nodded and made noises of acknowledgement. In other words, the noblemen who had not come here were the political enemies of the ones who were present.
Unfortunately, Caspond did not know which noble houses were not getting on with each other. That probably meant he was not sufficiently informed.
While he wanted to avoid committing himself to unfavorable promises here, he would need to give the people here preferential treatment or face rather dire consequences. Everyone hated a bat who flitted around trying to get in everyone’s good graces.
“Gentlemen, your loyalty to the royal family needs to be trumpeted far and wide. I feel it needs to be a matter of historical record.”
While it was only for a moment, the one who seemed the happiest about that was Marquis Bodipo, the oldest person present, whose blonde hair was flecked with white.
Now that he had power and position, he probably wanted prestige on top of that. The others would probably prefer to be rewarded instead. Of course, it was only natural for them to expect a certain return on their investment now that they had mobilized their forces.
The Marquis muttered some polite words of refusal -- more of a courtesy than anything -- even as he adopted a smarmy tone. During this time, Viscount Santz -- who looked quite ill at ease -- seized on the right moment to interrupt the conversation and hesitantly asked a question.
“My prince, I have a question I would like to ask you. What is the present condition of Her Majesty? I hear she has passed away…”
“That is a fact.”
Startled by Caspond’s frank and direct answer, Viscount Santz asked another question.
“Then, then where does Her Majesty’s body lie?”
“...It was in a hideous state, so we had to cremate it. Originally, we were planning to use a 「Preservation」 spell on it and give her a state funeral after driving off Jaldabaoth…”
Caspond shook his head with a pained look on his face, as though he could not bear to continue. “At the same time, we confirmed the death of the high priestess, Kelart Custodio.”
“Is that so…”
During this silence, Caspond used the time to take a drink.
Calca’s substitute was right before their eyes. However, the high priestess Kelart Custodio -- who stood at the apex of all divine magic casters -- could not be so easily replaced. Therefore, they were carefully considering how best to use Kelart’s death.
After seeing they had not reacted even after he had taken two drinks of wine, Caspond gave them another tidbit of information.
“Her remains were also in terrible condition, so they were cremated as well.”
The nobles frowned. Had they felt something from the deaths of two of the Holy Kingdom’s top individuals? Perhaps they had finally realised that this was a battle where their lives were on the line and losing meant death. They were probably frightened by the realisation that they would not be ransomed even if they were taken prisoner.
“How about the captain of the paladins, Custodio-dono?”
“Do you wish to speak to her? Can it wait?”
“Oya, so she’s still alive? Meanwhile, Her Majesty and the high priestess-dono are both dead...”
Count Randalse had a magnificent beard. When he delivered those words in a contemptuous tone of voice, the others smiled mockingly, as if to follow suit. Caspond opened the door and ordered the paladin outside to summon Remedios.
Just as the wine in the glasses was about to run dry, Remedios entered the room.
Before Count Randalse could speak, he took a look at Remedios and his eyes went wide.
“What!? Are you Captain Remedios, leader of the paladin corps!?”
The mockery in his tone had been replaced by shock. Every noble in the Holy Kingdom knew what Remedios looked like. Count Randalse was no exception either, hence his surprise. She looked tremendously different from how he remembered her.
Right now, Remedios Custodio looked like a ghost.
Her eyes were deeply sunken and her cheeks were haggard. However, a brilliant light shone in her pupils.
“You called me here right? Who else would I be?”
“What! The… the nerve…”
Count Randalse’s voice trailed off, and he stared intently at Remedios.
Right now, Remedios looked very frightening. The fact that nobody knew what she was thinking or what she would do made others uneasy. That was why Caspond did not keep Remedios by his side. It was also why he took care not to let Remedios know anything about Neia.
“What do you want?”
Everyone in this country knew that Remedios Custodio was the best paladin in the country. When it came to sheer brute force, she was the foremost being in this nation.
What use was authority against violence that was on the verge of running wild? The most solid armor of the aristocracy was like paper to her. In the past, there were people close to her who held her reins, so she was in a state of mind where she could endure being badmouthed. However, it was a different matter now.
The nobles all understood this, so they said nothing. Remedios snorted as she saw them, and then shrugged.
“...May I leave now, Your Highness? It seems there was no reason to call for me.”
“Ahh. Thank you for coming.”
After Remedios left, the nobles finally allowed themselves to look unhappy.
“How dare she show such disrespect to His Highness?”
“Even if she is the captain of the paladin corps, that attitude is intolerable. Can we allow someone without any loyalty to the royal family to remain as captain?”
Caspond raised a hand to quell the venting of their spleens.
“We are at war now. Her talents are still useful. Let us leave her disposition to the future Holy King.”
Quite a few people were upset by Remedios’ attitude. Some of them were hiding their fear of her with anger, but others had ulterior motives. Caspond knew this, and he smiled coldly in his heart.
Remedios had once been the mailed fist of the previous Holy King and a powerful weapon. Surely someone out there would not want to leave that weapon to the next Holy King. No, all of them might be thinking that for all he knew.
“Ohhh! Your Highness is correct! This is wartime! However, we won’t keep fighting the demihumans forever!”
“The Count is right! I believe our envoy already mentioned that we managed to come here because we defeated the demihuman forces. Your Highness! We ought to press our advantage and mount a pursuit!”
“Exactly! We ought to destroy the demihumans in one fell swoop, so Your Highness’ achievements may reach more ears.”
“I see, I see. Then -- how’s Old Purple?”
The nobles looked at each other, and then Marquis Bodipo spoke on their behalf.
“The old man seems unwell, so he did not come here with us.”
The Marquis was the most senior person here, and so the person that he called an “old man” was an 80 year old individual who had been appointed one of the Nine Colors. As a great noble of the South with the rank of Marquis, he had been granted that color in recognition of his loyalty to the royal family and his achievements.
Not all the Nine Colors had earned their position because of their fighting strength. Much like Purple, some of them had gained their title because of some great contribution. For instance, there was a Duchess who had been appointed Blue due to her fame as a composite artist.
As Caspond pondered Marquis Bodipo’s reply, he sensed for a moment that the other man was not hiding anything, and Caspond smiled coldly in his heart again. While he already knew this, he was simply confirming that reaction with his own eyes.
“...I see. It would seem that your opinions coincide with mine.” Caspond outlined his plan to ruin Jaldabaoth’s scheme by slaughtering the demihumans. “However, what will we do if Jaldabaoth shows up?”
“Is Jaldabaoth such a mighty demon? I hear even the Captain-dono could not protect Her Majesty.”
Count Granero had never faced Jaldabaoth before, which was why he was asking such an innocent question. Caspond responded in a somber tone.
“He is extremely powerful. We asked the Sorcerer King to face him, and his battle with Jaldabaoth was truly intense.”
“The Sorcerer King? Do you mean that undead king?”
It was only to be expected that they would exclaim in surprise.
“Oya? Did you not hear about that? I see…”
“So you called upon the help of another country’s army, my Prince? That is very bad!”
“Not an army. Just the Sorcerer King.”
The nobles froze with an ”Eh?” on their lips. It took some time before they stirred again.
“The Sorcerer King? By himself? The one and only king, the one who stands at the pinnacle of his nation, came over by himself?”
Caspond nodded in response to Count Randalse’s question.
“How could that be, that’s impossible, right? There’s no way such a king would exist! Did he not have his armies on hand?”
It makes no sense at all, the gathered people muttered. Some wondered if this was some kind of scheme. However, Caspond denied them with the finality of an executioner’s axe.
“Though you might say so, it is the truth. All we can do is accept it. In addition, if the Sorcerer King had brought his armies with him, then they would have moved out the moment he lost his duel against Jaldabaoth.”
“He lost?... I don’t get it. They say he’s one of the undead, so could it be that even his brains rotted away? However… is this not very bad?”
“It is. However, one of the envoys who requested the Sorcerer King to come was Remedios. I believe handing her over to gain the forgiveness of the other party will be a necessity, as are other diplomatic measures.”
“Will that settle matters? …Now that you mention it, the Sorcerous Kingdom is a nation within the borders of the Kingdom. In that case, they will not be able to cross the Kingdom’s borders to reach us… does that mean we must be on alert once the Kingdom is destroyed?”
They could not understand what was going on, and the nobles all clutched their heads. It was as though they were thinking about what to do if the sun rose in the west. Therefore, they decided to shelve the matter for the time being.
“Well, let’s put that aside for now. What are your future plans, Your Highness?”
“I -- I would like to retake the capital. And I would like to do this as soon as possible.”
“In that case, we will surely aid you!”
“Your Highness will become the hero who saved this nation from Jaldabaoth!”
“The demihuman army which invaded our nation was 100’000 strong. They’ve been culled to around 30’000 strong now, If we rally the people of this city and the soldiers we brought, we’ll be able to beat them easily!”
“Your Highness! The day will soon come when they call you Your Majesty!”
Caspond faced the flattering nobles and put an expression of his face that said they had hit the nail on the head.
“Umu. I will not forget to be grateful for the help all of you have given me.”
“What are you saying? We are only doing our duty to the Holy Kingdom and the royal family!”
In his heart, Caspond smiled in a completely different way.
“Very well. Then, gentlemen, let us make ready to take back the capital!”
A week after they had joined up with the armies of the Southern nobles, they finished their preparations and began a new advance.
Their next target was the city of Prart, to the west of Kalinsha.
Neia could not hide her unease as she wobbled on the back of a horse.
While it made perfect sense to seize this chance to exterminate the demihumans while Jaldabaoth’s wounds had not yet healed, it did not sit well with her feelings. She wanted to increase the number of supporters and put her efforts into finalizing the preparations for the rescue effort that would be sent out in search of the Sorcerer King.
That said, Neia knew from first-hand experience with Remedios that a commander’s irritation was closely linked to morale. She could not take her frustrations out on her subordinates.
Neia took several deep breaths to calm herself, and her lungs filled with cool air. While spring was close, one could still feel winter in the air.
After regaining her composure, Neia surveyed the army which was going forth.
There were about 95’000 people here, in a column that seemed to stretch on forever. Their forces were composed of roughly 30’000 men from the Southern nobles and 65’000 men from the Liberation Army. Incidentally, of the remaining 20’000 men from the South, 10’000 were assigned to secure their axis of retreat and the other 10’000 were resting in Kalinsha.
Among them were 2’000 archers led by Neia, all of whom belonged to the Rescue Corps.
Facing them were the remnants of the demihuman army, which were estimated at around 30’000 strong, so there was an overwhelming disparity in numbers.
However, each individual demihuman was stronger than a human being, and more importantly, they had to be on guard against Jaldabaoth, so they could not be careless even with their numerical advantage.
They had embarked on this operation under the assumption that Jaldabaoth was still wounded and unable to take action. If Jaldabaoth had fully recovered, then they would be marching to their deaths.
Her heart beat like an alarm clock.
Should I have prioritized the Sorcerer King’s rescue over everything else, Neia wondered. Her thoughts began to go around in circles.
“--Baraja-sama. Do you require information from the corps members in other units?”
Beldran had walked his horse beside her before asking his question, and Neia blinked in response. She had no idea what he was talking about.
After some thought, Neia finally got it, and she hurriedly waved the hand which was not holding the reins of her horse.
“No, no, we don’t need to do spy-like stuff like that. After all, we’re comrades marching towards the same goal.”
“Ohhh! I expected nothing less of you, Baraja-sama. As the spokesperson for His Majesty, your words are most kind.”
“...Although her face is scary.”
After Beldran praised her, Shizu spoke up from behind Neia. Since Shizu could not ride, the two of them shared a saddle.
Even if Shizu was her senior, and one who was worthy of her respect, it was still a little annoying to hear her keep harping on that over and over again.
Should I just have her walk...
Shizu’s stride and stamina exceeded those of a regular human being. She was riding only because it would be rude to let one of the Sorcerer King’s subordinates walk.
Beldran heard this, but he did not help her at all. He neither supported nor rejected that statement. He probably could not deny those words because they had been spoken by a subordinate of the Sorcerer King and more importantly, because they were obviously true.
Well, I guess he can’t just say no… after all, I wouldn’t have to wear the visor if I weren’t like that...
That said, Neia was a girl. Even if it was true, and even if people had said it enough that she had become used to it, having people say her face was scary still hurt.
“Now then, Baraja-sama. A messenger came from headquarters. Our pioneers have sighted the demihuman army. Their numbers are estimated at 30’000. Therefore, we will be taking formation here. The messenger returned to headquarters after relaying that message. What do you make of this?”
“That’s fine. If you feel it needs to be done, then it should be alright.”
Beldran was doing very well as her executive officer.
“Still, do the demihumans really want to fight a field battle…”
The demihumans had a mere third of the Holy Kingdom’s numbers. While each of them was a superior individual combatant, surely they would have no chance if they fought on an open field. If they defended a city instead, they would be able to make full use of the city’s defenses and make up for the shortfall in fighting strength.
In any event, it would be extremely difficult to win once Jaldabaoth recovered. The demihumans’ best strategy ought to be buying time.
Either that, or setting up areas inaccessible to cavalry and limiting the scope of the fighting.
“So we’re set to fight in an open field, then?”
“Yes. Just so. There are no woods nearby where the enemy could hide ambushers. Rather, there aren’t even any hills, so surely they would be squabbling over where to form up.”
“...Why in a place like that?”
Beldran prefaced his response to Shizu’s question with “It’s most likely that...”
“They’re preparing to run away, I think?”
“That’s right, Baraja-sama. Just like how the Zerns betrayed him, not all the demihumans are devoted to Jaldabaoth. If they want to flee even if it means betraying Jaldabaoth, then the people who want to live would not hole up inside a city but choose to fight on open ground. That’s because disengaging will be difficult if they’re defending a city.”
Beldran’s eyes trembled as they went dark, and it made Neia shiver.
Just as Neia wondered if she ought to use the ability she had recently developed, the darkness gradually ebbed away, and his eyes regained their usual shine. Since the fighting was about to start, maybe it might be good to quell the hatred inside him.
Shizu nodded in approval, and Beldran simply replied, “That is probably the case.”
Beldran’s words made a lot of sense.
Not even Jaldabaoth could know for sure if they were planning to die in a field battle or run away. If that was the case, it might be better to wait until nightfall, which would afford the demihumans a chance to flee, and thus reduce the amount of people who would die for nothing.
Neia knew this, but she did not say it.
The demihumans had caused too much woe to the people of this nation.
While the demihumans under His Majesty could probably be forgiven, they’re going to kill all the other demihumans besides them...
There had even been rumors that people who advocated coexistence with demihumans or spoken up for them had been secretly killed or openly lynched.
In truth, when the Sorcerer King had brought her along to liberate prison camps, where she had witnessed several human corpses which looked like they had been lynched. They had apparently been people who had tried to suck up to the demihumans.
“Baraja-sama. While I do not know how headquarters intends to deploy us, shall we gather all the unit commanders first?”
“No, I just need a rough idea of where they’ve been allocated. No matter where they’ve been assigned, I believe everyone will know what to do.”
The position of Neia and the others would be determined by how the Holy Kingdom’s leadership wanted to deploy Shizu, who was hugging Neia around the waist.
If there were strong foes among the demihumans, then Shizu would be sent to the frontlines in order to make use of her. If she was to be used as a normal archer, then she would be positioned in the middle of the formation, or perhaps she would be stationed with the other archers. If they did not want to let Shizu -- a subordinate of the Sorcerer King -- achieve too much, then they would place her all the way in the rear.
Neia predicted that they would remain into the rear until they had made contact
Three hours later, she realised that this was the right answer.
In contrast to the demihumans’ fish-scale formation, the humans had chosen to divide into two columns. The left flank was composed of 30’000 men from the South and 10’000 men from the Liberation Army, for a total of 40’000. The remaining 55’000 members of the Liberation Army made up the right flank, and together they formed something like a crane-wing formation.
Since the humans wanted to exterminate the demihumans in this battle, they had chosen to encircle the enemy and slowly draw the noose closed.
The demihumans, on the other hand, had chosen a formation that emphasized penetrating power, though whether it was in order to break out of the encirclement or to slaughter as many humans as possible in a melee remained to be seen.
Finally, Neia and the others were placed in charge of protecting the engineers who were setting up camp for them, in a detached unit that was some distance away from the battlefield
This was less an order from Caspond than a request, which meant that they had practically been allowed the run of the place. They could even neglect their duty to protect the engineers with no consequences, which meant that the leadership of the Holy Kingdom had essentially relinquished all command authority over them.
Surely enough, the reason for that was because of Shizu’s presence.
While Neia was nominally in command, the fact that she travelled with Shizu -- who was practically a citizen of the Sorcerous Kingdom -- meant they could not order her around as they wished. A member of the Holy Kingdom’s royalty issuing a command to a minion of the Sorcerer King might end up becoming a casus belli.
Neia very much wanted to ask why they were doing things differently after Shizu had done so much during the attack on Kalinsha. However, the arrival of the Southern nobles had changed the reception she had gotten. This was because they could not simply consider the present, but future events in mind as well.
As Neia and the others formed up, they watched the distant battlefield.
That said, they were far enough away that they did not feel the tension of being on the battlefield, because the bloodlust from there could not reach this place. The sound of the engineers pounding stakes with their mauls sounded very tranquil.
“...Are they still looking at each other? When will it start?”
“The situation grows worse for us as time passes. While I feel we ought to make the first move…”
Beldran had answered Shizu’s question.
The darkness of night was the demihumans’ ally. While one could see clearly on a plain as long as there was moonlight, the sky was clouded over. There was no doubt that the demihumans would be a very tricky opponent if they attacked under these circumstances. That was because the camp they were building now was not very sturdy.
Therefore, the humans should have made their move before nightfall.
Besides, they had a massive advantage in numbers, so if they could achieve a complete victory here, they might be able to ruin Jaldabaoth’s scheme. In other words, the Holy Kingdom would be freed from this long torment. There was no reason not to advance.
Neia also hoped that the fighting would end here. That way, nothing else would bind Neia. She could throw her full strength into searching for the Sorcerer King.
Neia looked up.
Her keen hearing had picked up a mighty shout and the thunder of many people running. Beldran seemed to have heard it a moment later, because he quietly said, “It’s begun.”
Nobody knew how these two armies -- which numbered over 100’000 strong when totalled together -- would move, or how the would clash..
The plains where the demihumans waited was flat, with no high ground from which they could overlook the battlefield.
This should have been their cue to set up a watchtower, but they did not have such a structure in their camp.
“Our mission is to stay here and protect them. Let’s focus on completing it.”
It was practically impossible for the tremendously outnumbered demihuman army to break through the human forces and reach this place. Keeping Shizu -- their strongest fighting force -- here was a good political move, but it was a poor military move.
If they placed her on the frontlines, it would greatly diminish the losses to the Holy Kingdom’s forces.
Everyone understood that, but nobody could actually do it. That was because they wanted to avoid building Shizu’s reputation even further.
What a senseless waste of lives, Neia thought, but wild horses could not have torn the words from her.
30 minutes later, there were cheers from the right flank. It was not just Neia and her keen ears which picked it up -- the cries of joy were loud enough that they reached the ears of everybody in Neia’s squad. They must have scored quite the victory if they could be heard over such a great distance.
10 minutes after that, a messenger from the battlefield loudly announced what had happened.
"Captain Remedios Custodios of the Paladin Corps reports that she has just defeated the enemy commander, one of Jaldabaoth’s henchman demons, the Scale Demon!”
The messenger left after relaying that message.
Neia began to wonder if it was actually true.
No, it was probably true that Remedios had defeated a demon. But was that demon really one of Jaldabaoth’s henchmen?
Neia knew very well the power of the demon she and Shizu had fought in Kalinsha.
She did not think that Remedios could have beaten it.
Is the Captain strong enough to beat something like that? Or… could it be some kind of double? If I don’t ask Sempai...
“Shizu-sempai, I have a question. How strong is that Scale Demon?”
“...Enough that the Captain could beat it.”“But the Circlet was stronger, right?”
“...The existence of strong demons implies that there are weak demons. The Scale Demon is one of the weaker ones.”
Neia was relieved. Two of the henchman demons which had entered this country had already been defeated. While that left the great demon in the hills, there was no point thinking about that one.
“The country’s saved now… Since the enemy commander’s dead, the demihuman army ought to break up. According to the Prince’s plan, everything should be over.”
There was a wistful look on Beldran’s face, because he had lost the chance to avenge himself with his own hands.
“...Still need to hunt down the stragglers.”
“That’s right! I expected nothing less of you, Shizu-sama!
As Beldran answered, his joyful expression suddenly froze.
The left wing -- right in the middle of the noble forces, in fact -- suddenly sprouted a pillar of flame. The roaring inferno was high enough that they could see it clearly even from this distance, and it looked like it would scorch the sky.
Everyone looked worriedly to Shizu.
They could think of only one being which could do such a thing. Right after that, Shizu confirmed their what they were imagining.
“...Oh no… it’s Jaldabaoth.”
“Captain Remedios Custodios of the Paladin Corps reports that she has just defeated the enemy commander, one of Jaldabaoth’s henchman demons, the Scale Demon!”
The right wing exploded into cheers as they heard what Caspond’s messenger had told them. Marquis Bodipo’s face lit up with a smile.
“Fuhahaha! She did it! She took down the enemy general! Whatever that woman’s brains might be like, her swordsmanship is first rate. That ought to weaken the enemy’s momentum. I order everyone to force them back and kill every last one of those demihumans! Let none survive!”
The soldiers spread out immediately upon receiving the Marquis’ orders.
“Truly splendid, Marquis-sama. We are truly fortunate that the commander of the unit facing us in this battle -- in the same battle as us -- has been eliminated.
Count Cohen, a man who was held in quite high regard in his faction, was all smiles as he said so.
“Indeed it is, Count. Now we’re a step ahead of them.”
Eliminating the commander of the unit that had skirmished repeatedly with the forces of the Southern Noble Alliance during their long confrontation was a massive coup. It was undoubtedly a significant card they could play when negotiating with the other Southern nobles.
Compared to Remedios Custodio, her sister Kelart Custodio had left far more bitter memories in their minds. However, this was an achievement that could wipe that hatred away.
In addition, this was also a feather in the cap for Caspond. Simply put, if he managed to survive until the end, the position of the next Holy King was practically his. Even the remaining Southern nobles with any power would not be able to complain about it, and with the Marquis’ own complete support, there would be no problems at all.
If there were any uncertain elements in this scenario, that would be the other members of the royal family. There would be no problems if all of them were dead. However, he was not yet prepared to stain his hands, so all he could do was pray.
The Marquis joyously imagined the future balance of power in noble society.
If he wanted his family to become the most influential one in the Holy Kingdom, he could not afford any mistakes in the clean-up operation that would follow this. Everything until now had been perfect. All they had to do was keep on going like this.
“Count. Do you think we can drive the demihumans to the south?”
“Marquis-sama, why would you do that?”
The Count looked surprised, and he sounded confused as he asked his question. The Marquis laughed at him in his heart.
There was no way the Count could not understand what he was up to. The Marquis would not have favored anyone who was that incompetent. The Count was pretending surprise even though he knew what the Marquis had in mind.
He must have been trying to give the impression that he could not fathom what the great and mighty Marquis-dono was planning. It was truly a dull attempt at sucking up to him.
The Marquis decided to go with the flow. If he made the Count believe he could be that easily manipulated, it would be easier to use him.
“Are you listening? The demihumans are an excellent tool to weaken the nobles who aren’t of our faction.”
He raised a finger, adopting the air of an old man who could not resist the urge to explain himself.
“Now that the Northern nobles have been weakened, the balance of power between the North and South has been shattered. Things being what they are now, it is unavoidable that the Southern nobles will end up having a greater say in matters... However, that would be problematic for the royal family. In other words, this is what the royal family we are helping will face.”
“I expected nothing less of you, Marquis-sama. To think your considerations stretched that far!”
The flattery was blatant at this point, but the Count still delivered it with a joyful tone and a loud voice.
“Indeed. Nothing would be better than if they would ravage the lands of the nobles who did us no good.”
As he watched the Count look around worriedly, the Marquis stroked his beard and thought, this man really is a good actor.
“Relax, Count. We are surrounded by trustworthy people. Word will not get out. Besides, who would believe it?”
“Is, is that so? But, there are too many uncertain elements if we simply let the demihumans flee to the South. In that case, why not press them to their wits’ end, and then forge a secret pact with the demihumans…?”
“Employing demihumans, then? Not a bad idea.”
Although the Count sounded like he was disgusted by the idea of using demihumans, that was probably acting too. He was the sort of man who would use everything he could until there was nothing left.
Getting such an excellent man in his own faction was also to keep an eye on him.
In truth, he had already embedded several people in the Count’s family. He had also used people from other factions so he would not be found out even if one used charm spells.
“Count, would you go as well if there was a chance to make a deal with the demihumans?”
The Marquis was keenly aware that the Count was plotting all sorts of things behind those eyes of his.
“I, I don’t really want to go, but if you intend to go, then I would certainly accompany you, Marquis-sama.”
He was probably doing this so he could say “the Marquis said so-and-so” and thus obtain a trump card to use against the Marquis. However, just going there with him would tar him with the same brush. It was too feeble to be used as a trump card.
“...Is that so? Then should we not tell His Highness to stop attacking the demihumans? There’s no need to sacrifice more people in fighting. After this, we shall achieve victory at the negotiation table.”
“It is as you say, Marquis-sama. However, the other Counts seem to be mounting an all-out attack, so we ought to stop them as soon as possible for a better effect.”
While stopping them as they were trying to make a name for themselves would be doing them a disservice, it would be better to keep things as they were when one considered the future. The Marquis was delighted that he would soon be able to influence the future of the Holy Kingdom. Of course, he would never let that show on his face.
“Contact the Counts--”
The pillar of fire that erupted cut the Marquis off halfway.
The Marquis was not completely clueless about magic. He might not be able to use it himself, but knowledge about divine magic was commonplace among the Holy Kingdom’s nobility. However, he only knew about spells of up to the second tier, and his knowledge did not extend to spells from other traditions.
Even so, he understood that the pillar of flame before his eyes was incredibly powerful magic.
“What, could that be magic of the so-called fourth tier? The kind that Kelart Custodio and Her Majesty could use?”
“I, I don’t know. What, what should we do, Marquis-sama?”
“Er, hm. I’m not too sure, but let’s just back up a little and move to a safer place.”
Trooper Robi was a young man who was 24 years of age. While he had not received a complete education, he understood that there were many things in this world which he did not know.
“Humans. I have returned. --Truly you have indulged yourselves while I was healing the wounds which the Sorcerer King left on me.”
--As the angry roar reverberated through the core of his body, Robi pissed himself.
He could no longer feel his soaked pants sticking to his skin.
After realizing the power of the monster before him, he had a premonition that he was about to die, and so his survival instincts went into overdrive. They abandoned his useless senses and swiftly searched for a way to survive.
However, before they could find anything, Jaldabaoth unleashed his power.
“Die. Burn to ash in the flames of Wrath.”
Fire roared up, and a wave of heat struck Robi in the face. The incredible heat dried his eyes out and filled him with incredible pain. The hot air entering his lungs felt like it was about to set his entire body on fire from the inside. In fact, that was exactly what had happened.
Flames scorched his skin and its water content evaporated. His dermis burned, and then the fat beneath, followed by his muscles and then his nerves. Where the subdermal layers of fat were thin, such as on the arms, the flames immediately reached the muscles and nerves. This should have caused the muscles to contract and make him take up a bizarre pose. However, the high temperatures seared his skin to his armor, which prevented that.
His clothes, skin, muscles and the fat of his belly all caught fire, and his innards poured out intact.
Human bodies contained a lot of water. That was why it took time for their insides to burn, If this were an ordinary fire, the flames would have continued burning inside the body for some time, but since Jaldabaoth’s fiery aura was magically generated heat, it vanished as he moved away.
Therefore, Robi’s scattered guts were not discolored by the heat and remained a pretty pink color. The sight of piles of scorched bodies and the fresh offal peeking out through oceans of blood were enough to make onlookers want to throw up. It looked like hell on earth.
Jaldabaoth left Robi -- who had sprouted a garland of fresh innards -- and over 50 other scorched corpses around him as he walked forward.
Jaldabaoth -- the newly-summoned Evil Lord of Wrath was walking. Even that was enough to kill the people around him who were caught up in his fiery aura.
“Get lost! Out of my way!”
While several such shouts could be heard, the first to scream was Militiaman Francesk.
He thought, why am I so unlucky every day. Thanks to the Holy Kingdom’s system of conscription, everyone had to do their national service and join the army.
Indeed, even the son of a great merchant like himself -- a man with a bright future promised to him -- was no exception. Granted, his father had paid the appropriate bribes to have him assigned to a slack unit, but the life of a soldier was still miserable.
And just as that misery was about to end, this war had broken out.
Not a day went by when he did not complain about his unhappiness and the unfairness of it all. Still, it would all be over soon, and he could go back to being the heir of a big merchant family and indulge in the money-making activities he so enjoyed..
Things were just a little bit away from turning out like that.
It had been just a little bit.
However, he was now fleeing desperately from the monster in front of him.
If it caught him, he would certainly die.
He desperately moved his legs, which refused to listen to him owing to his fear.
He was surrounded by other people who were also fleeing like himself. Thus he made little progress despite his panic.
In particular, the fat man in front of Francesk was an eyesore.
Therefore, Francesk shoved the man away.
He did it to get just a single step further away from that monster. He did it for the sake of his joyous future.
However, as he shoved the other man away, Francesk saw that the people in front of him also had the same idea.
If the man who had been shoved away collided with the people in front of him, it was very likely that they would collapse en masse like dominoes. In fact, that was exactly what had happened to the people in front of Francesk.
Perhaps if it was just one or two people, he could have avoided them. Perhaps he could have jumped over them.
However, Francesk was not athletic enough to avoid a huge mass of falling people at once.
He collapsed onto the mass of people.
He thrashed around to get up -- but he was not given the time for that.
The aura of fire centered on Jaldabaoth had caught up to him.
Francesk had no time to scream. Why me, he thought, and then said thought was instantly swallowed up by sheerest agony and all he could feel was pain.
Francesk had been lucky. That was because he had died immediately.
Jaldabaoth did not stop moving, He trampled blackened human corpses underfoot as he walked on, like he was in an empty wasteland.
“Run away! Run awaaaay!”
One man shouted the obvious. His name was Trooper Golka. He was a man who had faith in his sword skills.
That was why he had the courage to shout those words in front of Jaldabaoth.
Still, that was just foolhardiness, because Jaldabaoth changed course towards Golka. There was no telling if he had piqued Jaldabaoth’s interest or because it had been mere coincidence.
While that was a godsend to the ones Jaldabaoth had been chasing, it was the foulest luck imaginable to the ones on Jaldabaoth’s new course.
Golka saw that it would be very difficult to flee the monster amidst the chaos, and so he drew his sword.
The monster’s eyes shifted, and less than a second later, he walked past Golka.
That was what the monster thought of Golka.
He was only worth a single glance.
Golka bellowed and ran in the opposite direction of the flow of humanity.
The sight of charred people collapsing nearby was very scary, but perhaps there might be some hope for him. Perhaps he might hope to be able to reach that monster.
Golka learned the answer with his body.
Pain filled him.
He could not possibly close in on that monster.
Golka burned with the other troopers who were weaker than him.
Golka realised something.
To that monster, Golka was no different from the civilians around him.
If only I had run, he lamented, before that thought was drowned out by the agony of being burned alive. Golka collapsed with a silent scream, contorting on the ground like all the corpses around him.
Jaldabaoth had no aim in mind as he walked. However, if humans tried to run, he pursued them.
Viviana, who had joined the campaign as a divine magic caster, was running for her life.
Her long blonde hair swayed wildly as she fled with all her might.
She had no time to wipe away her snot or her tears.
Nobody could beat a monster like that.
Somebody was saying something.
She had no time to care about that.
All she could think of was I just want to get away from that monster.
She could not shove away the people running in front of her. All she could do was squeeze past them and keep running.
Out of my way.
Out of my way.
Out of my way.
Why were there so many people in her way?
I don’t care if everyone else dies, but I don’t want to die.
Viviana ran with that thought in her heart.
While she was ostensibly running, she was surrounded by people fleeing in all directions. Even Viviana, who was faster than the average person, was as slow as a turtle. She could not get away from the demon.
Sizzling heat caressed the tips of Viviana’s hair.
She thought of the horrible way people looked when they died.
“I don’t want to die!!!”
It was a perfectly natural thing to scream.
Anyone would have thought the same thing.
It was very difficult to accept one’s death calmly when it loomed before you. This was more true the more suddenly death appeared in front of you.
The incredible heat meant she could not feel anything other than pain. Her brain was assaulted by unbearable agony. She realised that she would soon be dead.
No, I don’t want to die, Viviana thought as she burned to death.
Jaldabaoth continued forward in silence as he began to feel bored.
“Don’t run! Fight!” a brave man shouted from horseback.
Leonzio was the second son of a retainer in service to the Marquis. He had joined the battle in the hopes of being recognized for his swordsmanship. Around him were the men his father had placed under his command, all of whom were people who knew his abilities.
The demon walked in a leisurely manner, and it left countless corpses in its wake, each of them twisted in agony. He wanted to run away, but if he did, his future would be grim and dark. All he could do was take a bet for a shining future.
Having made that decision, he shouted “Don’t run!” over and over again.
However, his horse was a different matter. Its instincts screamed that the approaching demon was a terrifying monster, and so it wanted to flee.
What would happen if a horse broke into a gallop among all these people?
The answer was simple.
The horse got tangled up in the crowd and fell. The people which the horse landed on screamed. No, some of them had died.
Leonzio was flung from his saddle and thrown to the ground.
Fortunately, he had landed on top of people and had been spared the fate of being trampled by the fleeing mob.
However, intense pain filled his arm as he tried to stand. He had sprained it when he had been thrown from his horse.
He had no idea where his sword had gone. It must have been flung away by the shock of being thrown off his horse.
He made to look for it -- and in that moment, he was engulfed by a wave of mind-blanking pain. This was the first time Leonzio had experienced such anguish in his life.
The agony stopped him from thinking.
In the tatters of his pain-riven mind, the only coherent thought he could form was why me.
Someone stood atop a pile of burnt human corpses. The Evil Lord that had been given the duty of acting as Jaldabaoth surveyed the fleeing crowds.
It was a little boring.
The fiery aura was not an amazing ability. All it did was inflict fire damage on the surroundings. One could greatly reduce that damage with fire resistance spells. Of course, he had been granted the knowledge that the average soldier in this country did not possess such abilities.
As a demon, he did not enjoy simply tormenting the weak. Rather, he enjoyed toying with the weaklings who thought they were very strong. That was why he hoped that such an arrogant fool would show themselves, but unfortunately there did not seem to be anyone like that.
The Evil Lord of Wrath stomped on a burnt corpse.
The innards squeezed out of it by the impact were charred in an instant.
The odor of offal filled the air.
The Evil Lord of Wrath turned away.
If it were to get serious and take to the skies, there would be many more casualties. Had these humans realised that yet? The Evil Lord of Wrath held that question in his heart as he walked.
Everyone watched in silence as the demon walked proudly and regally back to the demihuman encampment.
Nobody thought, what was that monster. There was no need to ask either. Even the stupidest of fools knew the answer.
He was the Demon Emperor Jaldabaoth.
The being who had trampled the Holy Kingdom underfoot and made the people cry rivers of tears.
The demon that had caused havoc in two nations demonstrated a power which mankind could never overcome. He had returned to bring despair to people who were once filled with hope for victory.
Neia had heard of silence, but this was something else. She had been summoned to this tent, and she was surprised at how depressed the mood inside was.
The table had been specially moved here, and the Southern nobles seated around it were pale. No, the Liberation Army commanders were also in the same state.
It was a natural reaction.
Nobody could have witnessed Jaldabaoth’s overwhelming power and not been shocked -- no, back then, Neia had not been that shocked. However, that was because the shock of losing the great entity known as the Sorcerer King had been even worse. That, in addition to everything she had witnessed up to this point, might have numbed her heart.
However, the Southern nobles had not experienced harsh fighting until now, so perhaps their alarm was only to be expected. They had not experienced a foe who could kill men one after the other just by walking, leaving nothing behind but hideous corpses.,
In addition, their army of nearly 100’000 had been panicked by a single demon and dissolved into a rout.
“--What’s this? What the hell is this! What do you call that, that monster!”
Count Domingues’ voice rose steadily.
In contrast, Caspond -- who knew of Jaldabaoth’s overwhelming power -- shrugged nonchalantly.
“That is Jaldabaoth… the real thing. I’ve told you about him before, Count Domingues.”
“I’ve never heard of the ability to kill people just by walking!”
Is that the problem, Neia jeered in her heart.
“Indeed, that is how it is. His battle with the Sorcerer King -- His Majesty -- was in a city, so we could not see the full extent of his might. But I’ve already told you how powerful it is. So surely an ability like that should not come as a surprise, no?”
“Even, even so!”
“--Count. I know what you want to say. Seeing is believing, is it not?”
It was the Marquis who spoke. All that could be said was that one had to hand it to him for not being as nervous as the others.
“...Still, saying that won’t help us make any progress. Should we not discuss what we need to do from now on?”
“That makes perfect sense, Marquis-sama. What should we do?” Viscount Santz asked in a rapid-fire burst of words. His attitude was understandable, given that he did not know if his present location was safe.
The Southern nobles had intended to crush a few stragglers with overwhelming force in order to become the heroes who had saved the nation. It should have been that simple. However, that was not to be. Now the hunters had become the hunted.
The Marquis had his arms folded and remained silent. Caspond replied in his place.
“We have an overwhelming advantage in fighting strength. The problem is that Jaldabaoth can overturn that advantage by himself. I would like to ask everyone present a question in my capacity as the Prince. What do you think we should do to achieve victory under these circumstances?”
After a brief silence, the Marquis replied, “there’s only one thing we can do” in a supremely confident tone.
“Prince Caspond. As you have said before, Jaldabaoth will probably retreat once we wipe out those demihumans, right? Then we have no other option but to do so.”
“Marquis-sama! Are you still going to fight!?”
“Exactly, Count Randalse. Do you think we can flee now?”
“...Marquis-sama, it would be very difficult for us all to flee, but could a small group not manage to run?”
Remedios snorted at Count Cohen’s suggestion.
“That’s a fitting answer for an incompetent who can’t even understand Calca-sama’s ideals.”
“What will you do after running away and escaping? Cower under a hay bale in a barn? Aren’t you a noble? Shouldn’t you say that you’ll sacrifice yourself for the people or something?”
“And you, Captain Custodio? You’re a paladin with a holy sword, but you can’t even beat a single demon!” Count Randalse bellowed.
Remedios looked like a ghost now, and her eyes seemed to glow from within as she turned to face him.
“Indeed. I can’t beat him. The only one who can fight him is that undead creature. But if it would buy some time -- even if it was only to let the people live a second longer -- then I would fight to the death against him! And you, what would you do?”
When a warrior who was prepared to meet death locked eyes with a noble who wanted to flee from death, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Count Randalse looked away, and Remedios snorted mockingly at him.
“My Prince. While I would very much like to order the paladins to die, do you still have anything to say?”
“While making up your mind is very important… well, could you go? You don’t mind leaving Vice-Captain Montagnes behind, do you?”
“I see. In that case, I’ll leave the rest to you, Montagnes.”
With that, Remedios slowly walked out of the tent. The last thing she did was glance at Shizu, who was seated beside Neia.
“Everyone, I apologize on behalf of our Captain,” Gustav said as he eyed the nobles -- who were going “Honestly” -- before continuing, ”Still, that opinion is shared by all of us. We paladins are all ready to die as shields for the people. We hope you gentlemen, being of noble birth, are similarly determined. After all, we can’t fight if there are no commanders.”
Before Neia could tell who had exclaimed in surprise, Marquis Bodipo spoke up.
“That’s about enough… We aren’t planning how to die gloriously, we’re planning how to win. Am I correct, my Prince?”
“Just so, Marquis-dono. There’s not much time before Jaldabaoth takes complete control. We need to find a way to win before that.”
“--There’s no way to win, is there!? Didn’t you see that demon’s power!?” Count Granero shouted as he rose to his feet. “If he used magic or attacked or something, we might still be able to come up with some way to stop him! But all he’s doing is walking! He can turn the area around him into a hellish inferno just by walking!”
“Come to think of it… Count Granero, you know a bit about magic, right? Do you have…”
“Nothing I learned covered powers like that…”
“Is that so… then, assume there were still 10’000 demihuman enemies remaining. Could we flee from Jaldabaoth while wiping them out at the same time?”
The Marquis seemed to approve of Caspond’s proposal.
“It seems there’s no other way… While it’ll be difficult, I think it would be harder to try and defeat Jaldabaoth with our strength.”
“A moment please,” Count Cohen interrupted with a raise of his hand. “I object. Jaldabaoth might not leave even after we kill the demihumans. However, he might kill all of us as a souvenir first before he goes.”
He was right. Therefore, Caspond followed up with a perfectly reasonable question.
“So what should we do?”
“We ought to negotiate.”
Few people managed to resist the urge to laugh at Count Cohen as he delivered that suggestion with a perfectly straight face.
Count Cohen’s face turned red as the others laughed at him. Before he could continue, Caspond asked:
“Count, what kind of deal do you intend to make with that devil?”
“Ah, ah yes. For instance, maybe we could trade him something in exchange for letting us leave safely…”
“What will we give him? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just kill us and take it off our bodies? Or do you mean we should trade him something that isn’t here? What would that be?”
“A moment please, Your Highness! All I’m saying is that fighting isn’t our only option! I just meant to say that there’s a possibility we might be able to negotiate with him, that’s all!”
“Count, your way of thinking is a little, yes, a little too optimistic. For starters, who will we send to negotiate with that monster… Come to think of it, I heard that His Majesty put one of his maid demons under his control, and she turned out quite useful in retaking Kalinsha. Surely that maid demon could do something, right?”
Count Granero turned to look at Shizu.
“...I can’t beat Jaldabaoth… Buying time would be hard too.”
“Still, if you fought alongside Captain Custodio, you might be able to buy some time.”
His suggestion made a lot of sense. They would need someone to hold Jaldabaoth in place while they carried out Caspond’s plan, in any event.
However, that would essentially be sending them to their deaths.
“...Hmm~” Shizu tilted her head to look at the ceiling. “...This is a problem...”
“How about it? That way, we can deepen the relationship between the Sorcerous Kingdom and the Holy Kingdom.”
“Is that a yes?”
Should I interrupt now? Neia thought as Shizu answered.
“May, may I know the reason why?”
“There’s no reason?”
Shizu nodded to Count Domingues, who was frozen in place.
“Is Jaldabaoth really that scary!?”
“...Hm?...That’s the reason then. He’s scary and I don’t want to do it.”
“Guh.” Count Domingues was at a loss for words. Now that she had said as much, he had no response for her. If Shizu said, “If you’re not afraid, then you go buy time” he would be finished. If she had rejected the proposal based on some kind of argument, then all he would need to do was pick that argument apart, but since she had refused based on her feelings, getting past that would be very difficult.
As silence returned to the tent, one of the Liberation Army’s top brass, a person who commanded thousands of soldiers and militiamen slowly said:
“Why don’t we run before Jaldabaoth fully takes command? I don’t think we can beat a monster like that. We used to have the Sorcerer King in the past, but he’s not here any more… does anyone know of anybody who can defeat Jaldabaoth? No, right? If we fled to the South…”
Beside him another commander quietly said,
“...There’s no guarantee that Jaldabaoth won’t chase us to the South, right?”
With a loud thump of the table, the previous speaker bellowed:
“In that case, all we can do is follow the Prince’s suggestion and kill the demihumans! If we can’t run, then we must fight! It’s just that simple!”
“That’s right. That’s the only way we can go on living. I don’t want to bow down and go through that hell again. Let’s start by putting a formation together--”
The tent flap was forcefully pulled open, and a soldier who reported directly to Caspond rushed in.
“Your Highness! The demihumans are moving! They’re reforming their lines!”
They did not have a proper formation in the previous battle. Did they have one now because of Jaldabaoth’s command?
“Is that so… Gentleman, the enemy will be attacking soon. We need to prepare for battle as soon as possible!”
After Caspond finished, all the people who had been called here stood up as one. Neia and Shizu did as well.
The others rushed out of the tent first, eager to save time.
The final ones remaining in the tent were Neia and Shizu. Neia’s unit was already together, so there was no need to go gather them.
Neia suddenly felt that something was amiss about the grim expression on the face of the messenger who had barged into the tent, but there was nothing she could do about it, and so she and Shizu returned to their unit.
“Now then, I believe there’s still some bad news in store?”
“Yes! My Prince! Is it really advisable to let these gentlemen return?”
“That will depend on your report.”
Caspond had once told his subordinates that they must never speak of information which was not common knowledge in the presence of third parties. That was why this man was the last to remain in the tent.
“...Your Highness, the demihumans are advancing on us from the east. At this rate, they’ll reach us in one hour.”
Caspond struggled to keep himself from raising his voice. It would be bad if someone outside the tent heard this.
Caspond struggled to keep himself from raising his voice. It would be bad if someone outside the tent heard this.
“Kalinsha is to the east. Why hasn’t the city contacted us yet? Even if they did make a big detour to circle around us, how did they avoid our patrols’ eyes? ...Or are they few in number?”
“No, they’re estimated to be over 10’000 strong… what should we do, sire?”
The Holy Kingdom still had the numerical advantage even if one added 10’000 men to the demihumans forces. However, the fact that they were coming from the east was disastrous. When a smaller force attempted a pincer attack, normally one would simply defeat each arm of the pincer individually. However, this time, they were facing Jaldabaoth.
In other words, their escape route had been cut off.
“...Alright, listen closely. You must not tell this news to anyone, got it?” Caspond coldly told the surprised scout . “This news is very dangerous. If the army learns of it, they’ll sap their will to fight and we’ll lose a battle that we could have won. Also, a lot of people might end up dying. We must not tell anyone about this for the sake of unity.”
“...Don’t worry. All will be well if we can win within an hour. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Also, do your best to keep the scouts from investigating the east. If things go badly, they might let the news slip, and then we’ll splinter and end up defeated in detail. You must keep this secret until the last moment, understand?”
While he did not seem quite comfortable with it, the man probably felt that Caspond’s logic was sound as he left the room. Alone inside the tent, Caspond palmed his face.
The palisade they had built was very simple. The west and north sides were complete, but the south-side was only half-finished. Meanwhile, there was nothing on the east side. It would be better to take formation on open ground rather than try to fight in such a cramped place, so they abandoned their camp and spread out over the plains.
They had chosen to form a long line.
Any unit that made contact with Jaldabaoth would be lost. Therefore, the other units would abandon it and attack the demihumans. They had taken this formation because they were prepared to make that sacrifice. Amidst all this, Remedios would lead the paladins on hit and run attacks, so she had no fixed position. This was so that she could head towards any location where Jaldabaoth appeared.
Neia and her unit were also free-roaming. She understood the two implications of that assignment. The first was that it would be easy for Shizu -- as a subordinate of the Sorcerer King -- to escape. The second was that if Shizu wanted to fight Jaldabaoth, putting her in an immobile unit would result on a hole being torn in the line of battle.
Neia’s unit had already discussed what they would do if Jaldabaoth showed up.
Would they hunt down the demihumans, flee to a safe place -- or perhaps, would they fight Jaldabaoth?
Their answer was unanimous.
They would defeat the demihumans.
All of them deeply hated Jaldabaoth, the source of all evil. However, they knew their place -- what good could they do, if even the mighty Sorcerer King was no match for him? In that case, it would be better to focus on slaying the demihumans, in order to bring them just a little closer to victory. Of course, part of that was also because they did not want to let Shizu die, being that she was a subordinate of their great benefactor, the Sorcerer King.
Neia mounted up on her horse, and studied the enemy.
The demihuman formation had been full of openings in their previous battle, but now it was immaculate. What had once been a motley grouping of demihumans by racial types was now a neat line of battle that looked like a veteran army.
Had the demihumans projected such an image of strength and power in the previous battle? Their rows of shields looked sturdy and indomitable, while their bristling spear points gleamed with blinding brilliance. Jaldabaoth’s incredible command ability notwithstanding, this unit’s cohesion was self-evident.
This is only to be expected. Everyone would obey once they saw his overwhelming power.
Many demihumans placed a great emphasis on personal power. In that respect, they would probably be glad to follow Jaldabaoth.
The battle was about to begin.
Neia and her people loosed arrows from the rear.
A rain of arrows launched by 3’000 people fell upon the enemy.
During this battle, the humans had adopted a wide formation in order to end the battle quickly -- by wiping out the demihumans.
They launched a heavy cavalry charge, leaving nothing in reserve. The humans were committed to an uphill slog, and they attacked ferociously. In contrast to them, the demihumans solidified their defense.
Perhaps it was because they understood that this all-out attack was nothing more than casting kindling onto a blaze. The charred remains of the kindling would scatter all over the ground in short order.
Given that humans were weak individuals, it would be very difficult for them to bring down the demihumans’ reinforced defense. Or rather, the humans might have actually had a chance against the demihumans if Jaldabaoth were not around. However, the demihumans’ unit composition was one which allowed the many races making it up to make full use of their respective abilities, compensating for their weaknesses and further emphasizing their strengths.
The demihumans’ defense made the advantage the humans had enjoyed several hours ago seem like a pleasant dream. No matter how many times they charged, how many times they thrust their lances, or how many arrows they loosed, nothing they did could shake the demihumans’ formation. Instead, the attackers from the Holy Kingdom took heavier losses than them.
Time was passing, and they could not let the battle last until nightfall. However, the humans’ morale and stamina would probably give out before that and they would be crushed in turn.
“Jaldabaoth’s appeared in sector 2A! Second Infantry has been completely wiped out!”
“Fourth Infantry has taken more than half casualties!”
“Sixth Lancers has taken over half casualties!”
--The messengers loudly announced the situation on the battlefield.
“Where is he this time!?”
Caspond had suggested they divide the battlefield into several sectors.
They were numbered, to make moving the men as easy as possible. It was a very crude system, but it was easy to understand.
The forces there must have been trying to flee Jaldabaoth. Even from here, it was plain to see that they were in complete disarray. The demihumans in that region began their attack, and troop organization there disintegrated like it had melted.
That was it.
Just by appearing once and using just that little bit of power, he had destroyed a battalion of 500 men, and there were nearly 1000 casualties in total. The demihumans who charged the gap he created caused even more deaths in turn.
It would be one thing if the demihumans had gotten cocky and pressed the attack, but they immediately retreated after pursuing for a short distance, like a turtle shrinking into its shell. This turned the battle into a melee, and the tactics designed to make it difficult for Jaldabaoth to use his powers could not be applied.
That masterful strategy was probably the result of Jaldabaoth’s command ability as well.
Remedios led her paladins to sector 2A as quickly as she could. However, by the time she arrived, Jaldabaoth was no longer there. He had moved to another region via teleportation, as if to mock them.
This series of events had repeated itself over and over again since just now.
The word “bad” was not nearly enough to describe this.
Still, it was a fact that nobody here, Neia included, could think of any good solutions. All Neia and her people could do was keep raining arrows on the demihuman troops.
Shizu simply watched the battle from beside Neia. Her weapon was not capable of arcing fire like bows were, so she had no chance to demonstrate her incredible skills.
Eventually, Neia’s fingers began to hurt from drawing back her bowstring, and everyone’s quivers -- including her own -- began to run dry.
“Baraja-sama! We’re almost out of arrows!”
They did not have unlimited arrows.
“...Fall back for now and replenish supplies!”
The unit obeyed Neia’s instructions and returned to the rear to stock up on arrows.
She would have liked to give them some rest time, but unfortunately they did not have the luxury of that.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes, Baraja-sama. We can move out any time!”
“In that case--”
Just as she was about to shout for them to move out, Neia saw several mounted scouts from the east.
The lead scout met Neia’s eyes for a moment, and then he shouted:
“Demihumans from the east! Look out!”
Surprised, Neia looked into the distance and squinted. She could make out some rising dust and the shapes of what looked like people. While she would need to check their movement speeds to be sure, given their distance, they would be here soon.
What a mistake this had been.
They had been so focused on the demihumans before their eyes that they had neglected to watch their backs.
She wanted to believe this was fake. She wanted to believe that Kalinsha had sent reinforcements to help them.
However, that was not the case. If it were, then they would have sent a swift horse ahead to inform them.
Neia’s legs felt like they might collapse.
This news was far too grim.
Jaldabaoth’s plan was to trap them with a pincer attack from the enemy reinforcements.
He did not fight, but let the demihumans fight instead. This way the humans would choose not to flee, but to fight in order to satisfy their victory conditions. Jaldabaoth’s aim had been to bait all the humans onto the battlefield and keep them from escaping.
In other words, Jaldabaoth had already surmised that the humans would say that he would flee once the demihumans were wiped out.
“Haha, but of course!”
Beldran laughed with genuine mirth.
Just as everyone was looking at him with panicked eyes, Beldran regained his calm and addressed Neia.
“Prince Caspond made a fatal mistake in his thinking. More importantly, why did he not notice it?”
“What do you mean!?”
“...Baraja-sama. It is a perfectly natural thing. As long as Jaldabaoth controls the hills, he can send reinforcements here. Just destroying the demihumans in this place does not mean Jaldabaoth will retreat.”
After hearing the explanation, Neia was not the only one who understood. The same noises could be heard from around Beldran.”
“After driving away the demihumans here, we will still have to counter-invade the hills. Prince Caspond’s idea can only be proven correct after we exterminate all the demihumans there as well.”
Indeed. Beldran also supplied an answer for why they had not thought of thus.
“...Prince Caspond and ourselves thought of the same thing, and we were blinded by the possibility of salvation and did not consider the matter in greater depth.”
But launching a counter-invasion of the hills was practically impossible. In other words--
“...There’s no way to save the Holy Kingdom?”
Silence filled the air. The clamor of the battlefield seemed very far away.
“No…” Beldran forced himself to speak. “There is a way.”
“...Jaldabaoth. We have to defeat the Demon Emperor Jaldabaoth.”
It was a perfect answer, but there was no rejoicing. It was the most insoluble problem in the world, and they had adopted Caspond’s plan precisely because they could not do it.
“...As I thought, we should have gone to look for His Majesty above everything else. We were the ones who chose poorly.”
If she had not gone to retake Kalinsha, but went to the hills with Shizu in tow, they might have avoided this.
Still, it would have been very difficult. Neia had made the best choice she could based on what she could do. She had tried to avoid foolhardiness and pick the most successful path.
However, should they have tried it after all?
Countless “what ifs” flew through Neia’s mind. Every time she thought about “what if I had done this or that” she was swamped in guilt and regret.
Her will to fight was at rock bottom. Neia was not the only one. Her entire unit which felt this way.
The victor was clear.
When one got down to it, the premise of their victory was flawed from the start. Or rather, the battle itself had been a waste of time.
All they could do now was think about how to end this with as few casualties as possible and flee to a safe place. However, that was not the right thing to do.
Weakness was a sin.
It was a sin to be so weak that they could not rescue anyone. That was why they had trained hard to this day.
It was a sin to be so weak that they could not rescue anyone. That was why they had trained hard to this day.
She could not allow this to end with herself as a sinner.
If that happened, she would not be able to face that figure of absolute justice, His Majesty Ainz Ooal Gown.
Neia had prepared her soul for what was to come, and she unconsciously mentioned what was in her heart.
“It’s over, huh.”
She was louder than she thought she would be. There was no telling if the people around Neia had been affected by her mood, or if they had been thinking the same thing as Neia from the start, but whatever the reason, they all bowed their heads.
This was the end.
The dream of liberating the Holy Kingdom and helping the people had come to an end here.
Come to think of it, they had dared to entertain that dream because of the Sorcerer King’s power. But this was how they had ended up like this when they were by themselves.
Neia knew that now was not the time to laugh, but she did. Then her face turned serious, and she looked toward Shizu.
“...Can you get away?”
“...How about you, Neia?”
Neia held her chest high.
“I can’t run! I’m a person who saw His Majesty work for others, and who benefited from it. I can’t let this end with me as a weakling -- as a sinner.”
Neia saw the people around her raise their heads.
“We won’t run from that bastard!”
They looked like proper warriors again.
Those were the faces of men who were prepared to die. How she wanted to show them off before the Sorcerer King.
“But… sem… no, you’re not the same… Which is why we want to place our wishes in you. I know it must seem strange for us to entrust our thanks to you, since you’re a subordinate of the Sorcerer King, but… Please do it for us. Please find His Majesty, Shizu. You can command those of us who are still in Kalinsha as you see fit. Therefore…”
Neia breathed a sigh of relief after she heard Shizu agree.
However, that expression immediately became one of surprise.
“...There’s no need for me to go.”
“What, what does that mean?”
Shizu pointed at the approaching objects -- the demihuman reinforcements coming from the direction of Kalinsha. They were made up of many different races, even Orcs and Zerns. Neia stared at the flags which the demihuman reinforcements were holding up in neat rows. It was--
Neia was so shocked that she exclaimed despite herself.
She doubted what her eyes had seen and looked again several more times, but what she saw remained the same.
“...See? There’s no need.”
Neia knew that flag very well.
It was the flag of the Sorcerous Kingdom.
The shocked cries from her comrades proved that what Neia had seen was no illusion.
“Isn’t that the flag of the Sorcerous Kingdom? You told us about it before, didn’t you, Baraja-sama?”
“Are those reinforcements from the Sorcerous Kingdom? Baraja-sama did say something about demihumans in the Sorcerous Kingdom.”
They were in the middle of a war right now. At this very moment, countless people were killing each other, and Jaldabaoth was killing people too.
However, Neia forgot all that as she tried desperately to grasp what was going on.
What happened next fired everyone up.
The demihuman army neatly split into two, like they had drilled the maneuver countless times. They made way in the center for a single undead being to step forward.
He was a magic caster in a black robe, mounted on a skeletal warhorse.
That was the form of the hero Neia adored, who she saw even in her dreams.
“It, it’s His Majesty… no way…”
Neia had no confidence in whether she was watching a dream or witnessing reality.
However, the being she saw was immovable, and he could not be a dream.
Her emotions exploded inside her, to the point she could not even describe how she felt.
Her hot tears blurred her field of vision. She could not even think to wipe them away.
Shizu waved to the Sorcerer King. He seemed to have noticed this, and urged his horse over to her.
The Sorcerer King approached.
What should she say to him? Should she apologize for not searching for him? Would she be forgiven if she did that? While Neia was looking for the right words to say, the Sorcerer King had already reached her and nimbly dismounted from his steed.
“...Umu. What a coincidence that we should meet here. Miss Baraja. Did you think I was dead?”
“Your, Your Majesty!”
Neia could not stem the flow of her tears.
“I believed in all this time, because Shizu-sempai told me. I thought you would be fine, but… it was true!”
“Ah… um. Ah… hm. Mm. I see. That pleases me. Uh… sempai?”
It would seem the Sorcerer King was also delighted at this reunion, because he seemed to be at a loss for words.
Shizu pressed her handkerchief to Neia’s face and rubbed it forcefully.
“...There’s snot on it again. Really shocking.”
“Oh… it seems you’re getting along quite well with Shizu, Miss Baraja. This pleases me.”
“It’s all thanks to Your Majesty! I don’t know what I’d do without Shizu-sempai! Thank you very much!”
Neia’s emotions had been such a mess that she did not know what she had been saying just now.
“I see… That is quite a surprise for me… Shizu, how was it?”
“...I like Neia. Her face is kind of charming.”
“Please don’t say that,” Neia said as she rubbed her eyes, having stopped crying already. Soon, she had cleared away the last of her tears. “Your Majesty, I have many things I would like to ask You, but the most important thing is… are You displeased at the speed of our rescue? If you are, then I take full responsibility--”
“--Miss Baraja,” the Sorcerer King raised his hand to keep her from going on. “Why are you saying this? None of you have displeased me in any way.”
Neia’s eyes filled with tears again. Nor was she alone -- everyone around her who had heard the Sorcerer King’s kind words wept as well. There were people who had been holding their tears in who finally broke down sobbing.
The Sorcerer King’s shoulders shifted slightly.
“...Ah, everyone, do not cry. More importantly, you ought to have other things you wish to ask, no? Many more things? Why not ask?”
After Shizu wiped her tears again -- she had apparently put the snot-stained handkerchief away -- Neia asked the Sorcerer King a question.
“Are, are those demihumans soldiers of the Sorcerous Kingdom?”
While she had not seen any undead among them, these demihumans might merely be the vanguard.
“No… no, you could say that, I believe? When I fell to the Abelion Hills, I took the land there for the Sorcerous Kingdom. Therefore, you could call them forces of the Sorcerous Kingdom, no?”
Neia was speechless.
He was amazing.
How could that be anything other than “amazing”?
The hills were filled with demihumans, and they were supposedly ruled by a henchman of Jaldabaoth. Yet he had dealt with him with just his strength alone and subjugated the hills. Who else could do this besides the Sorcerer King?
Neia trembled in excitement.
“And so, well, it took me a bit of time to gather the demihumans suffering under Jaldabaoth and lead them here as an army. All this was in order to settle things with Jaldabaoth -- it seems we had good timing.”
There were no facial expressions on the Sorcerer King’s bony visage, but Neia could sense him smiling majestically.
“I! I expected nothing less of Your Majesty!”
Beldran ran over to the Sorcerer King, his face stained by tears.
“Oh! It is He!”
Suddenly, Beldran fell to his knees. No, he was not alone. Everyone around Neia -- everyone who belonged to her flock -- gathered around and prostrated themselves before him.
“That’s His Majesty for you!”
“Simply magnificent, Your Majesty!”
Even the Sorcerer King was startled by the chorus of praise.
“Oh, ahh… hm… speaking of which, I have a question for you as well, Miss Baraja… who are they?”
“They are people who are grateful for Your Majesty’s kindness and who wish to repay it to You!”
“Exactly! We were rescued by Your Majesty!”
“Yes! We are the people who wished to repay the debt we owe Your Majesty in some way. Thus, when Baraja-sama called, we answered!”
As though to back them up, Neia proudly stated:
“We’re not the only ones! There are many more people who want to repay the kindness Your Majesty showed us!”
“Oh… this makes me very happy… although, does everyone feel this way?”
“Yes! Precisely! Everyone is grateful to you!”
“I… I see… Thank you, everyone.”
The Sorcerer King’s thanks made everyone feel like they had chosen the right way to express their gratitude, and so they wept with lumps in their throats.
“...Are these tears of gratitude for me?”
“And you gathered them all, Miss Baraja… it seems you’ve grown up while I wasn’t around to see.”
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty!”
Neia was all smiles after being praised by the Sorcerer King.
“Ah, now then… Miss Baraja, please have them rise. I came here to make up for my previous defeat… what happened to Jaldabaoth?”
“Ah! Yes! Jaldabaoth--”
Flames erupted, as though they had been waiting for that moment. Neia shuddered as she thought of how many of the Holy Kingdom’s soldiers must have perished in that blaze.
“..I see. Then there is no need to ask. It seems the time to fight him again has come. Shizu!”
“I will handle the rest. You will protect the people here. Don’t forget to have them prepare an appropriate welcome for my victorious return, alright?”
Cheers of “Uohhhhh!” rose up from the crowd.
“Hear me! I miscalculated in the previous battle. I was outnumbered and low on mana. However, the situation now is different. Jaldabaoth cannot summon that many demons again in a short time. In addition, I am fully recovered now. There is no more reason for me to lose! All you need to do is wait here for me to return in triumph!”
The people cheered as the Sorcerer King announced his absolute victory.
He flourished his cape and advanced regally. Everyone stepped aside, clearing a straight path for him, as though shaken by his overpowering aura of dominion.
The Sorcerer King turned to look at Neia.
The Sorcerer advanced once more. Though his form seemed to be shrinking, she did not feel alone or afraid. It was the reassurance of a child being held by her parents. Neia was not the only one. There were others who felt the same way.
From beside Neia, Shizu announced the Sorcerer King’s victory with certainty in her voice. Neia agreed with her as well.
Soon -- a plume of flame rose. It was followed by the darkness flying after it.
Just as before, fire and shadow clashed with each other.
By this time, the cries of the battlefield had gone silent.
Both sides lowered their blades and looked to the battle in the sky.
Everyone knew it in their hearts.
The victor of this battle would have the right to end it all.
They were no longer in a realm where mortal men could intervene. This was a battle of the gods.
All manner of incomprehensible phenomena
—Collided with incredible force.
That was because Neia’s keen eyes had seen the fire die, and the darkness slowly descend.
This battle had been surprisingly swift compared to the previous one. It was as though to prove that with his mana restored and without the maid demons to get in his way, the Sorcerer King could triumph that easily.
“...It’s like I told you, kouhai.”
Shizu looked like this was perfectly natural, and Neia grabbed her hand and shook it vigorously. However, that was not enough to calm her heart. Neia tightly embraced Shizu’s little body and the hands behind her back kept patting and patting.
As everyone witnessed his victory, they erupted into thunderous cheers.
The Sorcerer King slowly descended and landed upon the earth.
After that, the Sorcerer King raised both his arms, and brought forth even greater cheers than before.