Supported by a royal knight, Lloyd stepped into the town of Birdland, where he was greeted by a knight who had come ahead of him to inspect the town.
“I have summoned the mayor.”
Following the knight’s voice, an old man with a beard appeared. He was dressed in a red cloak, clearly of the highest class but not necessarily uncouth. He approached them with a leisurely gait.
“I am Garvey, and I run an old trading company. I am a humble merchant who, in his old age, has been entrusted with the responsibility of being one of the mayors of the town of Birdland.”
“Hmm? One of the mayors?”
Lloyd questioned before replying to the introduction.
“Here in Birdland, powerful merchants are in charge of running the city. A mayor rules each section of the town, and there used to be eight mayors.”
“So that’s how it worked. My name is Lloyd. I am the Marshal of Ishtalika. But what do you mean by ‘used’ to be eight mayors?”
Lloyd asked what Garvey meant by the past tense.
“Two of them were decapitated by Heim soldiers, and the others have already fled and are unaccounted for.”
“It was about the time that the adventurers we had hired were broken down when they ran away. Both of them disappeared from Birdland to escape… and the remaining adventurers were taken away by Heim soldiers and are unknown.”
Therefore, this was probably why there were fewer people here.
The country of Birdland was said to be the wealthiest city on this continent.
But now, not only were there few people on the streets but even some of the town’s most prestigious buildings have been destroyed.
“The only people left here are the weak-minded and those who have chosen allegiance.”
“I understand the situation. But we at Ishtalika have no intention of taking control of the Birdland, nor do we demand anything from it. Instead, we would like to garrison it as a base for a few days.”
“There is no way we can ask those who drove away Heim’s army to leave. It is no longer a town, but please rest your body first. Of course, we will not charge you anything.”
“We can’t do that. If we don’t pay, we will be breaking the neutrality of Birdland. We have no intention of refraining from paying you.”
Lloyd reached into his pocket.
He pulled out a small jewel, an expensive message bird that could be used to quickly contact distant locations.
“It is Commander Lloyd calling from──”
He put the matter of the recent battle into words as time permitted.
There was a limit to the amount of magic power he could put into it, and there was still more information he wanted to convey, but there was nothing he could do about this. The message bird could not be used like hot water and wasting it was outrageous.
When he had finished summarizing the necessary information, the message bird shone brightly, emitting a glow high into the sky.
“I apologize for interrupting our conversation.”
“Don’t worry about it. Please allow us to entertain you to the best of our ability.”
The accommodation was better than expected, and after enjoying the meal prepared for them, all of them allowed their bodies to rest for a moment.
──Taking turns in between and keeping an eye out for Heim to reappear.
◇ ◇ ◇
Two days passed since they entered Birdland. It was time to find out what was happening in Heim’s home country.
Lloyd had made up his mind and was anxiously awaiting the return of the messenger he had sent to Rockdam when Heim’s army finally returned to the scene.
“The crossbows are ready! The high ground for the archers is also completed!”
“We must engage them head-on! Do not allow them to enter!”
The question was raised as they defended the walls and prepared for a siege.
“But how could they do that in two whole days?”
Lloyd, sweat beading on his forehead, was concerned about the condition of Heim’s soldiers.
He wondered what kind of modifications or tricks had been done to the soldiers. If they had returned to Heim and flown back to Birdland in two full days, there would be no time to rest.
It must have been hard just to walk…
“And with that guy coming in, it’s tricky. What should I do?”
Edward was strong.
Frankly speaking, Logas was not much of an obstacle, but that man was the only one who was difficult to deal with.
While the knights were scurrying about, Lloyd was thinking about these matters as he made his way to the hastily constructed high ground.
The platform was built of stone at the base and wood from a collapsed inn at the top.
“What kind of force do you think the enemy has?”
He asked the knights as they climbed the steep steps and reached the high ground.
Then, the reply that would normally reach his ears immediately was not heard from anyone’s mouth. There were about five knights on the hill.
He asked what kind of force Heim had.
He spoke a little more strongly and put his hand on the shoulder of the knight nearest to him.
“Good grief, why don’t you people ever answer me?”
He looked at the knight’s face in dismay, but the knight had a very pale complexion.
What happened? Lloyd looks flustered and tries to open his mouth…
“…Look at the army of Heim.”
Another knight spoke to Lloyd. Lloyd turned his eyes as he was told and understood.
He was forced to understand.
“For a moment, I thought a black cloud had arrived. I’m surprised that all of them are enemy forces.”
Something black spread across the horizon.
When he looked carefully, he saw that it was all a group of writhing half-monsters. A group of Heim soldiers could also be seen at a distance, but the number of half-monsters was beyond comparison. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, anyway, the number was impossible to grasp, but there were more than enough of these creatures to engulf an entire town.
In addition, there was a horse-drawn carriage in the center, which Layfon may be riding in, releasing a miasma.
“Shouldn’t we retreat to Rockdam?”
“Those creatures outnumber us more than we can expect. …There are more of them than we thought. They acted too quickly. Shouldn’t we retreat to Rockdam, regroup, and then march on?”
The walls of Birdland were now unreliable.
Although the walls had been repaired, they might have collapsed in places, and with a half-monster body, they could climb the walls and even enter the town. Therefore, the knights said they should retreat, avoiding a siege here.
“No. If we go outside, we are playing right into their hands.”
Lloyd had no intention of retreating.
He considered his other options, but he believed that staying here in Birdland was the best thing for them. The reason for this was simple.
“The situation of the Heim soldiers suggests that the half-monsters will run faster through the wilderness. Perhaps even faster than our retreat.”
“How about firing the crossbow while retreating?”
“Not a bad idea, but they will catch up to us sooner or later.”
Then it was better to fight with the walls from the beginning.
“And this is our line of defense for Ishtalika. Do you know what that means?”
“…I see, if that army aims at Ishtalika…”
“Yes, that’s right. I don’t know if half-monsters can cross the ocean, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they could. With that much physical strength, I’m sure they wouldn’t be afraid of rough seas.”
“The battleship’s main weapons cannot slaughter them all at once. It is difficult to find this kind of terrain, and even if we retreat to Rockdam, the result will be the same.”
Still, there was hope.
“Don’t worry. I sent a message before we reached Birdland, and I’ve already shared the information with the home country by message bird. You can count on our equipment and reinforcements.”
The knights on the high ground were surprised and pleased.
Lloyd was also in a state of intense tension, but he had no choice but to believe them and wait.
“…What concerns me, though, is that I haven’t received any response.”
However, message birds are expensive. The greater the distance between the two parties, the more expensive the materials required, and the greater the cost of a single contact.
Therefore, it was always a good idea to avoid unnecessary use…
In a war such as this, it would have been nice to hear at least one word of reply.
“Our reinforcements should have arrived by today! We will meet their attack head on! We must endure them at all costs!”
Hearing his proclamation, everyone around him raised their arms high to the sky in unison.
──The situation on the battlefield was extremely intense.
After only a few minutes or a dozen minutes, it was no longer a different space.
Lloyd, among others, was frustrated by the enemy’s movements.
“They are disgusting. How dare they continue to lure these beasts and watch them instead of using soldiers?”
Heim was not advancing their soldiers but was only attacking with half-monsters.
The silver glint of a burst crossbow occasionally illuminated the battlefield, but the army of half-monsters was inexhaustible.
The miasma that leaked from the carriage remained unchanged and continued to give power to the half-monsters. As long as that carriage existed, it was inevitable that the half-monsters would remain strengthened.
Then, the sound of a horn echoed through the battlefield.
“You have come, red fox!”
At last, Heim’s soldiers advanced forward, and in the forefront was Edward on his horse. The luxurious carriage that continued to leak the miasma also responded, moving slowly, slowly forward from far behind.
“He’s the only one… who’s difficult to deal with, I suppose. I will deal with him myself! The other soldiers and those beasts will be dealt with as before!”
Lloyd mounted his horse.
He rode over the half-collapsed wall to close the distance with Edward, who was also running.
“Hahaha! It’s been a few days, hasn’t it…!”
“It’s not the same as the other day! I’ll have your head today──”
He took out his large sword and pointed it at Edward.
But Edward, on the other hand, kept smiling.
“That’s not what I want today. My lord told me to get it over with quickly.”
Suddenly, Lloyd’s horse’s legs were engaged by something.
The horse arched its body with a neigh, and Lloyd’s position on the horse was also disrupted.
…It was the half-monster rat that had sprung up from the ground.
“Oh… no way…”
When an absolute gap was created, Edward unexpectedly stopped moving.
He turned around and raised his eyebrows at the great black army spreading out beyond.
Eventually, Lloyd regained his stance and swung his sword at Edward, who clicked his tongue and turned away from him.
“I told you we’d finish early today.”
But Edward kept his back turned and thrust his spear at him with blinding speed. It was a straight line right between Lloyd’s eyes.
Lloyd’s spur-of-the-moment move allows him to avoid the fatal blow, though.
His left eye was gouged out by the tip of the spear, but he was able to avoid being pushed back into it.
“How did you manage to avoid it? I brought the spear down with the intention of stabbing you in the head, but… well, that’s okay. Let’s try again.”
──It’s not good. Lloyd’s left eye was badly damaged, and the vision in his right eye was cloudy as well.
Lloyd stood up with a lot of pain, but he didn’t seem to be able to deal with Edward.
They exchanged a few blows, but Lloyd was beaten to a pulp, and he was approaching a decisive death.
It was all over. He decided to just swing his great sword with all his might… and that was exactly when that happened.
“W-what is this… What is this tree root?”
Edward’s body was tied to a tree root that suddenly appeared.
The tree’s roots then surrounded the area as if to protect Lloyd. But this was not the end of the story. A black fog began to drift over the area as if to catch up with the panicked Edward.
“Black Huorn fog, huh…?”
Lloyd recognized this fog.
The black fog was the skill of the Black Huorn, a monster that preyed on people by tricking them. What was strange was how it could have occurred in such a place.
The battlefield stopped moving for a moment and was enveloped in a moment of silence.
But even in the midst of this, Edward was aware of the presence of a strong man behind him. An overwhelming presence of a strong man approaching, tracing his old memories.
“What is happening? This development is beautiful as a story… but! My lord doesn’t want this to happen!”
Lloyd and Edward both thought to themselves.
Coincidentally, they thought the same thing at the same time.
This situation was as if a demon king had arrived…