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There was a soft breeze blowing. Grass and flowers peeked out from the snow and swayed pleasantly. The chirping of birds touched the ears, and the breezy air erased any sense of tension.
Feeling comfortable in such a cheerful atmosphere, Hiro and the others made their way toward their destination. However, when they stepped into the southern region ― the world changed completely.
Everyone gasped at the strange sight. All of their eyes were fixed on an object. On both sides of a well-developed road, X-shaped boards were lined up like tombstones. There, women, old men, and children ― the people of the south ― were crucified.
They stretch for miles along the road as if they were part of the landscape. The dead bodies were not saying anything, but it was easy to guess how they had been killed.
Hiro and the others were at a loss for words in front of the cruel scene. They stopped in their tracks as if they were rooted to the earth. If only time would pass and their minds could comprehend the situation.
“This is what they do to their own people!”
Hugin said, not hiding her anger.
“This is terrible! They even put their hands on children and women…”
Munin covered his eyes with his hands at the tragic scene while Claudia bent her knees in prayer.
Hiro watched the brutal scene with his own eyes――.
“Yes. What is it?”
“We’re leaving. The refugees told me that the rebel army has set up camp nearby.”
After Hiro’s words, Munin and the others began to walk.
It’s a shame to leave the body unattended, but there’s no time left for the burial. Above all, the four of them would not be able to handle such a large number of bodies.
“There are still many people in the Levering Kingdom who hold to the supremacy of the demon race. There are also a lot of humans living in Haniel’s territory, and they probably don’t think of them as their own people.”
That’s why they can commit such atrocities. Claudia said.
“My brother also holds the supremacy of the demon race. He has been criticized many times by my father for his dangerous ideas.”
If you’re not a demon, you’re not a person ― that’s demon supremacy. This is a word left behind by arrogant and abominable people that cannot be forgotten even if desired.
Many people were sacrificed, a lot of blood was spilled on the ground, and a lot of resentment ruled the heavens. If it still remains even now, a thousand years later, then it is already a kind of curse.
“However, I don’t think that’s the only reason why they would go to such an extreme, isn’t there another reason?”
When Hiro asked, Claudia hesitated and then opened her mouth.
“Actually… on the day of the tragedy, my father was supposed to declare that he would abdicate the throne to me.”
“So the Crown Prince Fraus knew about it?”
“Yes. Somewhere along the line, my brother must have found out. It is possible that his anger was not satisfied with the murder of father and that he has turned it against the people of the south.”
Claudia’s eyelashes quivered sadly, and she let out a white breath as she lowered her eyes.
“I am truly sorry for bringing Hiro-sama and the others into this situation.”
“You don’t have to mind it. It’s because of my convenience that I’m trying to get involved.”
Claudia, who was walking next to me, looked at Hiro with a curious expression.
“Why are you so nice to me?”
Hiro smiled silently at Claudia. He decided that he shouldn’t say anything.
Why does he help out…? He wanted to save the country that his former subordinate had founded, and there was no way he could abandon it. Besides, there is also a calculating feeling that the Levering Kingdom is indispensable for his future plans.
“Wise brother! That seems to be the encampment of the southern army.”
Hugin happily ran up to Hiro. When Hiro turned his eyes in the direction she was pointing, he saw a row of white tents. They were probably preparing a meal, and a lot of smoke was rising from there, swirling in the wind.
“Then let’s go meet Haniel-san.”
Hiro and the others approached a soldier standing guard near the entrance of the encampment. When they were about to reveal their identities, the soldier recognized Claudia first and stiffened his body.
“Isn’t that Princess Claudia, thank goodness, you’re safe!”
“Thank you for your hard work. I would like to see Haniel. Do you know where he is?”
The soldier was stunned by Claudia’s question.
“Can you please come this way first?”
The soldier turned around and told a nearby soldier to take his place. The soldier then began to walk silently. Hiro, who was following behind him, noticed the heavy atmosphere around him.
Soldiers with dark, stagnant expressions were hurriedly moving around, loading supplies onto wagons. The air was heavy with dust as if they were preparing to retreat.
Soon, they reached a tent, and Hiro narrowed his eyes.
(Not a curtain for the commander, but… for medical use?)
He felt a stirring ― a sticky, eerie sense of danger pressing down on his heart. Inside the medical tent, there was a single simple bed. The clean, wax-white sheets were unnaturally puffy, forming bloody patterns in places. The smell of chemicals in the air was mixed with a faint odor of decay.
A middle-aged man who had been lying face down near the bed stood up when he noticed the presence of Hiro and the others. He bent his knees as he wobbled closer and began to cry out loudly.
“Thank goodness you’re all right!”
“Lift your head. Where is Haniel?”
Claudia put her hand on the man’s shoulder and urged him to stand up. But he put his face close to the ground and pressed his forehead against it.
“Forgive us for our unworthiness! Haniel-sama has been killed in the battle!”
“He had been tricked by the enemy! It was a trap, and Haniel-sama was ambushed; he fought hard but was outmatched ― I am sorry!”
“So Haniel is the one in there?”
Claudia turned her eyes painfully to the bed. When the man gave a small nod and started sobbing again. Hiro sighed at the sight of them both.
(So they start preparing to retreat…)
It was hard to believe that Haniel was the only one who had gone to negotiate. There are many others in the entourage who would have followed him. If there are no more people to give orders to, even a large army will become a ragtag bunch.
“Excuse me, how many soldiers are left?”
“…About five thousand. That includes the wounded.”
The man frowned at Hiro’s abrupt approach but replied politely.
“The enemy has launched an all-out attack on us as we are reeling from the loss of Haniel-sama and the others.”
However, without their commander, they were unable to establish a chain of command. Not only did they lose more than 5,000 soldiers, but they were also defeated without being able to strike back.
“Princess Claudia, there is something that Haniel-sama told me to give you before he passed away.”
The man went to a corner of the curtain and came back with something wrapped in cloth in his hand.
“It’s the magic sword Auto Claire. Please accept it.”
The cloth was untied, revealing the magic sword. Claudia held her mouth, and tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.
“Please guide us on behalf of Haniel-sama…”
As silence gave way to stillness, the curtain was filled with heavy air. Claudia silently picked up the magic sword and went straight to Haniel’s side.
“I don’t know if I can handle such a large task, but it is my duty as a member of the royal family to put an end to this chaos… and I will do my best.”
Claudia stabbed the sword into the ground, pressed her forehead against the hilt, and turned her face down. Hiro sees her expression and closes his eyes. He suppressed the anger that was boiling up from the depths of his heart.
“Hiro-sama, could you please lend me your help?”
Hiro opened his eyelids quietly as Claudia called out to him.
“If it’s something I can help with, then yes. Princess Claudia, what is it that you want?”
“To avenge my brother, the usurper. I will not tolerate any more violence.”
“…I understand. I will do everything to help you.”
However, the situation was terrible. Even if they were to take it seriously, they would not stand a chance. The other side has a very clever man. They use sweet bait to catch the enemy, and when the enemy is stuck, they use it against him. He has a cunning and brutal mind.
(Besides, most of our moves have been crushed.)
The corpses that had been exposed on the way here ― they were not meant to provoke anger, but to be shown to the defeated soldiers, and if they were shown such atrocities, they would be dominated by anger on the surface, but deep down, they would be instilled with fear.
Morale is at an all-time low, the soldiers have no energy, and they are outnumbered…
“The first step is to reorganize the troops. I want you to gather the unit commanders to the command center.”
“Can you gather the surviving commanders now?”
When Claudia instructed the man, he immediately ran outside.
“So, Hiro-sama, do you have a plan?”
Hiro smiled confidently at Claudia as he turned to her.
“It’s not difficult ― but first, let’s talk to the unit commanders. “