It’s Ko-Fi’s Supporters’ chapter (90/113), enjoy~
It was after dark when Claudia returned.
She brought the masks with dinner. She apologized and said that she had urgent business to attend to.
Hiro was aware of this, so he looked out the window as he ate his dinner.
“It looks like we’re surrounded by enemies.”
“Yes, were you aware of that…?”
“I’ve been hearing a lot of commotion for a while now.”
Hiro said, sipping his soup in a calm, chitchat-like manner.
“I thought it was only a matter of time, but… it seems that they found us earlier than expected.”
“Speaking of which, where are we?”
Hiro asked with a cloudy face, forgetting to ask the location.
Claudia pulled out a nearby spare desk, took out a map, and unfolded it.
“We are in the middle of the western part of Grantz. Here is a fort called Tullus.”
“Is it well fortified?”
“No, it would fall easily against a large army.”
“Well, let’s check it out first.”
Hiro stood up, forcing the food Claudia had brought down his throat.
“Here, there will be no point if you forget this.”
Claudia offered Hiro the mask.
Hiro put on the mask with ease, as if he were putting on an eye patch, and opened the door to the room.
“This fortress is called Fort Tullus, huh? I don’t know much about it, so can you show me the breastworks?”
“It’s not a big enough fort to show you, though.”
Claudia shrugged her shoulders and began to walk in front of Hiro.
It didn’t take long to reach the exit of the building, and when they stepped outside, they were greeted by moonlight.
Hiro was in a wooden mansion, which seemed to be the largest building in the fort.
Around the mansion, there were row houses that were probably the soldiers’ sleeping quarters, and he recognized the soldiers of the Levering Kingdom busily running around with torches in their hands.
According to what Claudia had told him earlier, 2,000 of the 3,000 were waiting in the rear, and the remaining 1,000 were following them to Fort Tullus.
It was probably because of the small size of the fort that it felt cramped despite the small number.
Even from the range of the bonfire, the walls were so low that they could be reached by a ladder and would be easily crushed by siege weapons.
At best, Fort Tullus is easily defended by a small number of people; at worst, it is so vulnerable that it can be easily shattered.
Clearly unsuitable for a siege, Hiro and Claudia walked past the patrolling soldiers and climbed the stairs to the breastworks. A strong wind swirled around them, caressing Claudia’s hair wildly.
“Oh, by the way, they approached me to surrender, but I refused after only provoking them.”
There was no need to provoke the enemy at all, but considering Claudia’s character, it was to be expected, so there was no surprise. In fact, it might be a good thing that she is not so passive that she chooses to surrender.
“Well, that’s just like you…”
Hiro replied without expression and then looked around to check the situation below him.
It’s not just the lights floating in the darkness but the bonfires that light up the sky and spread across the land.
The fort was completely surrounded.
And with a large army, Hiro naturally felt a shiver of excitement.
“This is also … how do we get out of this?”
Claudia tilted her head, putting her hand on her cheek as if in trouble.
It felt so bland because there was an air of enjoyment on her face.
(Is she enjoying the war… or does she not think this situation is a crisis?)
There was no need to ask why. She must have come up with her own plan to get out of this critical situation.
If that’s the case, then why isn’t she moving, which means she’s trying to test me.
“I’m really in trouble. What would you do in a situation like this, Hiro-sama?”
“You should have known that by now.”
“Fufu, that doesn’t make sense. I do not forget the time you saved the Levering Kingdom, but things are different now than they were then. I would like to know the capabilities of those who will be working with me in the future.”
It seemed that she wanted to see Hiro’s military strategy up close and to reconfirm whether his abilities had declined or not. Another reason may be that her subordinates are looking at her suspiciously.
A mysterious person was suddenly sitting next to the queen. She asked them to get along with him, which would not be easily accepted. In other words, he had to show his ability not only to Claudia but also to the Levering soldiers and make them believe that it would be beneficial to cooperate with Hiro.
(Well, considering what’s to come, it’s only natural that they would want to test me…)
They are trying to determine Hiro’s true value here. Hiro could sense it intensely from the glint in her eye that she gave off. If so, he’s going to meet those expectations.
“Do you know the enemy’s strength?”
“Yes, I know.”
Claudia’s mouth curved up in a smile with a suspicious glint in her eyes.
“We have one thousand, and the Six Kingdoms have a huge army of twenty thousand.”
It would be nice to know what kind of person the commander is, but it is certainly not a situation where they can be extravagant. So, what to do? Hiro put his hand on his chin and thought silently. Claudia took one look at his profile and looked in all directions.
“As far as I can see from here, their security is tight. It seems that there is no opportunity to launch a night attack. In addition, there are a lot more bonfires than you might think… and they are not going to let us sleep.”
What Claudia is trying to say is that the enemy is preparing for a night battle.
If it is determined that they are not vigilant enough, a large-scale offensive will begin. On the other hand, if it is determined that they are on high alert, the enemy will choose a method that does not allow them to rest.
(If that’s the case, I’ll need a flashy and bold plan. I’d like to show the enemy army what I can do.)
It is necessary to remind them of the difference in strength. This is necessary for the future.
In a world where those without power are weeded out, there are barriers that cannot be overcome.
The strong will win, and the weak will lose.
It is a simple and clear natural order that will not change in a hundred years or even a thousand.
In a world of life and death, only victory or defeat can be overturned, no matter what.
“Let’s shake things up a bit.”
As Hiro thought of his many plans, Claudia looked at him sideways.
“…Shake them up?”
“First of all, I want to find out what kind of person the enemy commander is. I want to find out if he’s a belligerent or a passive one, and then I’ll narrow down my strategy.”
“So you’ve come up with… a way to defeat a 20,000-strong army?”
Claudia’s expression seemed to indicate that Hiro has several ways to go about it.
Her beauty was tinted with astonishment, and her eyes were wide with disbelief.
“Of course, I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t. As long as you have the right steps in mind, there is only one word waiting for you: victory.”
It’s easier said than done ― even if there is a good plan in mind, it is extremely difficult to make it work.
It is always the case in war that a winning battle can turn into a losing battle when various factors come together.
However, Hiro said with confidence.
“There is such a thing as emotion in human beings. Everyone has them. No matter how high up in the clouds you are, no matter how large an army you lead, you are still human. There are many kinds, but there will always be gaps.”
This is why war can be manipulated as desired if you don’t misjudge it.
It is important to know the enemy’s emotions so that you can read their thoughts and how to succeed in your plan. If you can move your opponent as you wish, you will never lose.
“Although it’s just an empty theory that I’m explaining right now… so let’s give it a try.”
Rather than explaining with words, he must first put things into action and let them witness the miracle.
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s not difficult. First, I need you to extinguish all the bonfires on the city walls.”
“…Are you insane?”
Claudia looked at Hiro with an incredulous look in her eyes.
“It is said that if you do not enter the tiger’s den, you will not obtain the tiger’s cub. The bolder the plan, the more carefully the opponent will try to assess it. Regardless of whether they are capable or incompetent, it is instinctive to be wary when someone suddenly offers you food. But it’s in our nature as creatures to check for poison.”
Hiro opened his mouth with a sigh and continued to speak.
“We should also reduce the number of soldiers on guard. Today we will rest as many soldiers as possible.”
“What will you do if the enemy attacks?”
“In that case, I will have the remaining soldiers on the breastworks shoot arrows at them, and the resting soldiers will be given stones of various sizes――”
At this point, Hiro paused in his speech and looked down at his feet, showing signs of thinking.
“…Yeah, I’ll have you collect at least ten or so; they’ll be relatively easy to find in the courtyard.”
Hiro smiled at Claudia, who had fallen silent.
“It will be fine. Just trust me.”
Claudia looked skeptical, her mouth moving uncomfortably as if she was choosing her words.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Oh, I’m glad you don’t have any doubts, and trust me.”
“…I understand. Let’s do that.”
Claudia slumped her shoulders in resignation and called one of her aides over to give Hiro’s exact instructions. A few moments later, the orders that had been sent out were faithfully carried out.
One by one, the bonfires on the breastworks were extinguished.
The flames that had illuminated the ground beneath their feet were now extinguished, and thick darkness had settled over the entire area.
“…I think this was when the enemy noticed. What will happen from here?”
Claudia muttered in the darkness.
Hiro replied while staring at the flames floating in the darkness ― the enemy encampment.
“First, the command center will be confused. The next step is to formulate countermeasures, but opinions will be split in two. Some will argue that they should attack because they are ready for a night battle, while others will say that it is a trap for the enemy. That’s all it takes for a military discussion to get heated and time to pass in vain.”
As if to say that it was natural, Hiro continued his explanation without hesitation.
“They can’t conclude, so they send out a few spies. If we don’t know what they’re thinking, the only way to find out is to investigate.”
It’s the kind of situation that would make anyone think of a possible trap. It’s a situation that’s sure to deflate the enemy commander.
If they were to suffer damage while attacking with an army of 20,000 troops in a fort where only 1,000 were holed up, they would be cursed beyond excuse. The things that they had spent their lives building up would all come crashing down. When Claudia heard Hiro’s explanation up to this point, she snorted uncomfortably.
“If the enemy’s commander is incompetent, what will you do if they come at you with bloodthirsty enthusiasm for an opportunity?”
“Attack or not, it’s the same either way.”
Hiro said, then held out his hand to the empty sky.
Darkness is terrifying for everyone. You can’t see what’s ahead, and you don’t know what’s waiting for you.
That is why people keep wandering in search of light.
They keep looking into the abyss as far and as deep as their hearts can take them.
“No matter how hard they try, they will break. One cannot endure fear in a world without light.”
The night air dominated the ground, causing the wind to roar and the cold air to roll in.
The light from the torches wavered violently, sparks flying up like stars in the night sky.
The main camp of the Six Kingdoms Urpeth Detachment ― the command center was located in the center of the camp.
In front of the entrance, General McRill confirmed that Fort Tullus had disappeared into the darkness.
“It’s been about an hour since the bonfires went out…”
General McRill frowned as if he couldn’t figure it out.
One of the staff members let out a cold breath as he spoke of a report from a spy.
“There seems to be no sign of the enemy on the breastworks. I think now is the time to attack with all our forces.”
But General McRill responded to his advice with a stern look.
“It is not too late to decide after the reconnaissance unit returns. If the enemy is hiding and waiting for us, what will you do?”
“We have 20,000 troops here. There will be no problem with the resistance of such a fragile fort. I believe it will be settled soon.”
“It’s too early to be optimistic. Certainly, they will be outnumbered. Our morale is impeccably high. Well, if you think about it simply, it might be easy to settle this.”
“If that’s the case, let’s give the order right――”
General McRill stopped the staff member who was about to say this with one hand and said in a calm voice.
“But if we can’t bring it down, won’t we be in a very dangerous situation? We have already received reports that the Grantz Empire has finished preparing its forces.”
If they can’t capture Fort Tullus by the time the Grantz Empire rushes in to reinforce, the army’s morale will be visibly lowered.
“It’s fine if that’s all, but if we lose the war, we’ll have no excuse.”
“But if we surround our prey and miss them, we’ll be the laughing stock of the surrounding nations.”
The staff officer who persisted seemed to be concerned about public opinion, and General McRill sighed deeply as if to deny it.
“If they want to laugh, let them laugh. There can be no greater shame than to lose.”
The winner of this battle would be determined by whether or not they could capture Fort Tullus.
If they challenge it and fail, or if they do not challenge it and fail, their reputation will be completely different. How to finish the battle without leaving any impact on future battles is the most important priority.
If a fort of 1,000 men could not be defeated by 20,000, the impact would be immeasurable. It would not be a problem if it only lowered the morale of the detachment, but if it affected the main army, it would not be able to withstand the counterattack of the Grantz Empire.
“Our cause is being lost. While we claimed to be liberating Felzen, the reality is that we’re just repeatedly looting the west of Grantz. There is no doubt that we will soon be criticized by neighboring countries.”
For these and other reasons, General McRill expects the fighting to continue to be tough.
What has been a victory may turn out to be a defeat.
“Our morale is good because of our many victories, and we have plenty of men left despite our many casualties. We have plundered enough food and supplies. If we ignore the shortage of commanders, we can say that it is almost ideal. But therein lies the pitfall.”
Pride ― the fact that they kept winning against the Grantz Empire has caused them to overestimate their own strength. They think they can beat any opponent that comes along. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing. It is just that they are getting carried away with their current situation that is the problem.
Moreover, they lost many of their commanders in the battle against the Fourth Prince Hiro. And because of this, there are not enough superiors to chastise the soldiers, and it has been difficult to remove their hubris.
“Well, the unit commanders of each country are also eager to make a mark in this war. It may be impossible to remain calm in such a situation. They are all scheming how to kick down their allies so that they don’t lose their achievements.”
That’s why he doesn’t want to suffer any damage in a small battle. That was General McRill’s true intention.
“So, do you think we should do things carefully?”
“Yes, it would be unbearable to have to endure the bait being hung in front of us, but we can’t expect any results if we push too hard here. The decision to attack or not will depend on the reconnaissance unit’s report.”
General McRill let out a white breath and looked up at the night sky.
The sky, which had been clear enough for the stars to shine nearby, was now covered with thick clouds.
“…We’ll be hiding in the cold until the moon. I wonder which side it is on tonight.”
It’s the perfect time for a night attack. The darkness can deceive the eyes of the opponent. Under normal circumstances, General McRill would have given the order to attack. However, in the corner of his mind, hesitation arose. The enemy has gone even deeper into the darkness and is watching the situation.
“I’m feeling out of sorts…”
General McRill muttered bitterly, and a staff member picked up his words with a keen ear.
“Out of sorts?”
“Umu, maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but my intuition seems to be getting dull lately…”
General McRill halted his speech as the sound of heavy footsteps cut through the night air.
He put his hand on the hilt of the sword at his waist and looked into the darkness ― it all happened so fast.
The staff smiled at his fluid movements.
“Your instincts have not dulled, have they?”
General McRill shrugged his shoulders, took his hand off the hilt, and crossed his arms.
He tried to put on a frown as if ashamed that he had overreacted to the noise.
Eventually, within the range of the bonfire’s light, the visitor’s figure appeared out of the darkness.
The reconnaissance unit that had been sent to check on Fort Tullus had returned.
However, they are less energetic than when they left and are as weak as dust.
Some were holding back bleeding from their stomachs, some were bleeding from their heads, and some were limping with empty eyes.
Most of all, they all had arrows lodged deep in their bodies.
“As I thought, it was an invitation.”
Looking at their wounded figures, General McRill declares.
“I-I also apologize…”
The leader of the reconnaissance unit hung his head at General McRill’s feet.
“In order to know the movements of the opponent… we poked the nest, and as a result, we have caused unexpected damage.”
This was the result of ignoring General McRill’s orders.
There was no order to attack Fort Tullus. However, the reconnaissance unit was only there to see how the fort looked and if there was a way in.
Perhaps the reconnaissance unit wanted to get credit too.
But he didn’t mean to blame them. It would only make them feel miserable if he scolded those pathetic soldiers with several arrows in their backs and blue bruises on their faces.
“Was it a trap?”
“Yes. It seemed that they were waiting for us to attack, and a large number of arrows were fired from the darkness.”
There is nothing more frightening than the sound of arrows in the dark.
Even if you raise your shield above your head, the sound of the wind slicing through your eardrums will only add to your fear. This makes it easy to get defensive and fall prey.
All they had to do was to shoot arrows at random in the direction of the moaning voice. There was nothing left for them to do but drown in the darkness, pawing and scratching their way to their deaths.
General McRill thanked the wounded soldiers for coming back and then sent instructions to his staff.
“It seems that the enemy is still waiting for us on the breastworks, breathing down our necks. From now on, we will switch to a method that does not allow the enemy to rest.”
Until tomorrow morning, they will be drumming and shouting ceaselessly to keep the enemy on alert, and they will not let them rest even for a moment.
“Very well, sir. I’ll send instructions to the unit captains.”
The staff officer who had given the salute turned away and ran off.
Even so, General McRill judged that it would be ineffective. It may work on less-skilled soldiers, but the ones holed up in there won’t care about the sound.
“I think we should attack in the morning. Either full force or…”
General McRill told his staff to assemble in the command center, and after a quick glance at Fort Tullus, he disappeared into the tent.