September 21st, 1026th year of the imperial calendar.
The Felzen region―near the former royal capital of Scheue, where small villages were scattered throughout the region.
Agriculture had been prosperous before it was destroyed, and what looked like fields were spread all over the area.
“Hmm… I’ve seen this many times, but as I said, the end of a defeated nation is a tragic one.”
An elderly man astride a sturdy warhorse stroked his beard on his chin and wrinkled the corners of his eyes. He looked young for his age, his two log-like arms extending through the gaps in his armor. The tip of the huge spear on his back gleamed in the sunlight.
“But the victorious nation is also a miserable one. Winning does not always guarantee prosperity. If you fight a war repeatedly, you will not remain unscathed, and if you are weak, you will be eaten up by the strong.”
General Cain, commander of the First Army of the Great Grantz Empire, looked up above his head as if to ask someone a question. He knew he would not get an answer, but he continued to open his mouth.
“Loing… you died at a good time. The five great generals of the Grantz army, feared by all the surrounding countries, are now reduced to three, having lost two of their own.”
With the emperor on his sickbed, no new Five Generals will be elected.
One died at the hands of the invaders, and one died in disgrace, in rebellion, etc. “…Foolish, foolish, what are the Five Great Generals for? Aren’t they there to protect the prosperity of the nation, the foundation for the next stage of its development?”
Cain, gripping the reins in frustration, gritted his teeth.
The surrounding guards retreated at the force of it, and the second-in-command smiled wryly and pulled his horse closer to Cain.
“Putting aside General Loing, who had rebelled, General Bakish could be said to have endured rather well, couldn’t he? I heard that the enemy was in possession of the world’s five greatest treasure swords. It must have been regrettable in the end…”
General Bakish lost his life three years ago in a battle against the Six Kingdoms. He was also exposed outside the city with his limbs torn off.
“It is not admirable to endure. Sometimes it is necessary to flee. Bakish should have retreated. He should have retreated, gathered his forces, and stood in front of the Six Kingdoms again.”
Cain clenched his fists as he regretfully expressed his feelings.
“Bakish was young, but he had more than enough talent to make up for it. It was in recognition of this that the emperor bestowed upon him the rank of general.”
He could still vividly recall the time when Bakish chopped off the heads of two thousand banner generals and had a brilliant first battle. Although he was less flashy in appearance and more suited to the pen than to the sword, he was still a mighty warrior on the battlefield, and everyone was like a baby in front of him.
Above all, he was a hard worker. He never missed a day of training and continued to study hard, making him the youngest general in history to become one of the Five Great Generals.
“He was to be the leader of the next five generals. It didn’t matter if he was a fool or a miserable man. He should have lived his life, even if it meant slurping up muddy water.”
Looking up at the sky, Cain shed tears of regret.
“If he died, there would be no point. All that is left is the five old generals.”
Then, as Cain once again gazed down below, the air exploded. Screams flew in the air, and the sounds of sword fights erupted.
A cloud of blood erupts into the sky. A great number of arrows cross each other, and a great number of corpses are created.
In the blink of an eye, the ground was stained black, and the smell of iron rust permeated the air.
Between life and death, the battlefield is the gateway to hell. Everyone dreams of tomorrow, but no one despairs of tomorrow.
They keep moving forward, thinking only of survival.
If your sword breaks, you take it from the enemy; if your shield cracks, you protect the vital point with one arm. Even when your armor caves in and your internal organs are compressed and ruptured, you do not stop moving forward. The Grantz were foolishly continuing to fight for victory.
“It is not that the strong survive. It is not that the weak always die. Only the lucky ones survive, and only those who do not give up will survive.”
The battle between the 30,000 soldiers of the First Army of Grantz and the 20,000 mixed troops of Tigris and Scorpius intensified. Cain kept blasting but suddenly caught his aide’s head tilting to the side.
“It seems that the enemy has suddenly become more motivated.”
“It is often the time when they are plotting something. Be on the lookout for anything.”
“Felzen is a good vantage point. I doubt there will be any ambush.”
The suburbs of Scheue, the former royal capital, were a plain area. Looking in all directions, there was no place to hide an ambush. But Cain growled with a dour look on his face as if he couldn’t accept it.”
“Nevertheless, we can’t afford to be careless. This could be the cause of us being caught flat-footed. The fact that the enemy, who had been running away from us until now, challenged us to a fight is probably because they thought they could win this battle.”
It was the human that recklessly took on unwinnable battles. Yet, they believed in miracles and moved forward.
However, the long-eared people were different.
Their cold eyes looked at reality, and if they could not win, they retreat; if they can win, they push. It was a very rational way of thinking.
“They are going to try something. Send a message to the reserve units to be ready to move at any time.”
As the aide bowed his head, a loud horn blew.
It was a beautiful sound. Unlike the Grantz, it was high-pitched, graceful, and refined.
Cain could not help but listen to the sound, which was pleasant even on the battlefield, but he was brought back to himself by a shout from his aide.
“There is movement on the front lines. The enemy forces are pushing through our center!”
Even without being told, he understands because he is looking at the same place.
But Cain was silent as he listened to his aide’s report.
His hand gripped the hilt of the spirit weapon he carried on his back. This was the result of his accumulated experience. His instincts as a military commander told him that he would fight.
“They are coming.”
He saw a large number of arrows raining down on the front line. Despite the chaos, the Grantz were being shot out with precision.
“The long-eared people have a good eye, as always. Their bow techniques are also individually refined.”
Watching the crumbling front line, Cain calmly gave an order.
“Advance the second line. Let the reserve forces blend in with the dust and divert them to the enemy’s main line.”
If they did not set up, the enemy would take over the flow of the battle. You could not win a war if you did not always read the enemy’s position, anticipate their moves, and take action.
“But reading too much into things is also dangerous.”
While Cain was thinking, his orders were being faithfully carried out.
Flags were hoisted by banner bearers in various places, and messengers frantically rushed around the battlefield.
All that remained was to decide whether to be the first or the last.
“Well, they are doing it. Our side is in the rear.”
Cain covered his chin with his thick palm and showed an air of admiration.
Their first line collapsed faster than expected, and the enemy’s first line began to charge forward with great vigor. Cain turned his hand to his aide to send instructions, but his eyes caught the battlefield.
“The enemy’s first line is disintegrating faster than you can imagine. The second line should fortify its defenses. The reserve units will go to the right to stop the enemy forces that are bypassing the area.”
Cain’s eyes narrowed happily.
The feeling of wandering between life and death―this was what kept him standing on the battlefield because he could never forget it.
“The main force will now bypass the battlefield from the left and go to the enemy’s main camp to drop the enemy!”
Cain, holding the spirit weapon in his hand, swung forward with a mighty swing and kicked the horse in the stomach.
“Ride! Let’s go and see the surprise on the faces of the long-eared people!”
As Cain rushed forward, his aide looked on in dismay.
“General Cain, good luck! Rampage to your heart’s content!”
This was the place where everyone aspires to be at least once. They dreamt of strolling majestically across the battlefield, vanquishing the numerous enemies, and returning in triumph with the general’s head held high.
When becoming a soldier of the Great Grantz Empire, everyone at one time or another aspired to be one of the Five Great Generals.
The pinnacle―only the noblest could reach.
In the Great Grantz Empire, which was called the supreme power of the central continent, there were only five generals.
They longed for it but gave up when they realized that they could never reach it themselves.
Therefore, they place their hopes on the backs of the five great generals. They entrust their dreams to him, the dreams they could not reach themselves.
“Leave the rest to me! I will show the “half-breeds” who are living “halfway” how to live as the Five Great Generals!”
Cain’s presence was an inspiration. The shouts roared from the surroundings, and morale rose.
The main force of the First Army, led by Cain, rushes across the battlefield, raising a huge cloud of dust.
Cain, leading the 5,000 troops of the main army, made a detour around the battlefield. What caught his eye was a force of 2,000 long-eared people led by a white-haired man.
“You think that’s all it takes to stop us!”
Cain’s muscles swelled to the limit, tightening his grip on the hilt.
“Get out of the way!”
Cain swung his spirit weapon at the white-haired man with all his might.
Everyone would have imagined that the white-haired man would be blown away―not just the Grantz soldiers.
However, the reality was beyond the imagination of the Grantz.
Sparks flew, and Cain’s spirit weapon, which was as tall as he was, was stopped.
Gritting his teeth and making a furious display of fury, Cain unleashed a second blow.
“Is that all you got?”
The white-haired man muttered in a low voice.
It was quickly lost as the blades overlapped each other, but it was firmly in Cain’s ears. The third blow with the spirit of the ripple―it was easily repelled, and Cain’s expression was tinged with astonishment. Cain, who had lost his stance, fell from his horse but stood up as if bouncing from the ground.
The moment he looked forward―a huge shadow enveloped the main force from overhead, let alone Cain.
The archers of the long-eared people, who were standing behind the white-haired man, fired an arrow.
Cain swung his spear to flick the arrow, and behind him, the soldiers were thrown off their horses by the arrows that fanned out. Then more pursuing arrows rained down on the soldiers who were crouching on the ground.
Hearing his men dying, Cain looks only forward. He knows that if he looks away from the white-haired man, he will be lured into a sleep from which he will never awaken.
“Draw your sword.”
It was strangely quiet.
A strange silence enveloped the battlefield, so much so that he could hear his opponent’s command.
The figure of the long-eared people who drew their blades without a stitch of disruption was not an enemy to be despised.
Like an assassin creeping up on you, they quietly began their advance, and Cain’s hair was bristling.
“Let the human die a quiet death.”
“Get up! Don’t let the atmosphere get the better of you! Fight with your voice! Or you will die!”
Cain wielded his spirit weapon, and although his white hair bounced back, he forcefully pulled it back and unleashed a second blow. The soldiers, seeing him, stand up with their own gains in their hands, with countless arrows piercing their bodies.
“Glory to the Grantz!”
Silence and commotion mingled. The two armies clashed, and a great deal of dust was raised.
Cain smiled and wiped the sweat from his chin.
The morale of the soldiers had been restored. The battle could have been brought back to five minutes.
“…You’re strong, huh?”
He took one look at his numb hands and then looked at the white-haired man again.
Even though he attacked with all his might, the blade did not reach the white-haired man.
On the contrary, Cain could not even catch the shock that he himself had brought upon himself, and his hand went numb.
“General Cain… you are weak.”
“You say that!”
Cain sharply gushed out his spear, which was imbued with rage.
“Yes, that’s good. Amuse me more.”
The man let go of his sword and lunged at Cain with a look of madness on his face.
Cain did not find the action suspicious. He knew that hesitation would bring death to him. Hence―he thrust out his spear with all his might.
It easily succeeded in piercing through the belly of the white-haired man who was charging at him.
Feeling the response, Cain pulls out his spear and launches another attack.
He slashed the arm, gouged out the leg, ripped open the belly, and finally pierced the white-haired man’s neck.
Cain finally stopped his attack. He was convinced that he had brought death to his opponent.
“Is that all?”
The white-haired man stood before Cain, unharmed. Cain couldn’t even speak out in a situation he didn’t understand. Above all, perhaps it was the familiarity of the face he saw at close range.
“I guess it’s my turn next.”
A huge axe suddenly appeared in the white-haired man’s right hand. It swung down with amazing physical strength. Realizing that he could not avoid it, Cain raised his spear above his head and caught the huge blade.
Immediately afterward, an electric shock pierced his body.
With an inaudible scream, General Cain’s huge body was blown away, the spirit weapon arcing in the air as it danced. Cain’s body bounced on the ground as if tossed by the rough waves.
It was not surprising that he lost consciousness. However, the fact that he had never missed a training session made it possible for him to endure the intense pain. Cain quickly stood up, his consciousness fading as he was covered in dust.
“Gah, kuh, this… is…”
His body remembered. What kind of actions should be taken in a cornered situation? Because he had spent so much time on the battlefield, his body had become able to move unconsciously.
And he also remembered the strength of his opponent at the same time.
The opponent must have the same amount of experience.
He would chase after him without a moment’s respite. There was no time to think about it.
He picked up a fallen sword and blocked the attack, but it was easily broken from the base.
Once again, an electric shock gushed into the air.
At that moment, General Cain finally tapped into a memory that had been in the corner of his mind.
“…The Thunder Emperor!”
Immediately afterward, Cain’s huge body was enveloped by an electric shock, and the stench spread throughout the area.
Flesh was scorched, sweat evaporated, and blood was sprinkled.
Still, he did not collapse, perhaps because of his esteem as one of the five great generals.
“How could you… in a place like this?”
Even though he was covered in white smoke and his body was covered in blood, Cain was still staring at a single point.
His consciousness was dazed, and he stabilized his wobbling body with a strong will.
In his mind’s eye, he recalled his youth with a bitter smile on his face.
Those were good times.
There were many good opponents, and it was a time when he could feel himself getting stronger and stronger.
Walking around the battlefields together with Loing, they recognized each other as their enemies even if they did not exchange words. On that occasion, he could still vividly recall the tears of joy he shed while hugging each other’s shoulders.
Although they became distant from each other due to their extremely busy schedules, they still believed that their hearts would always be with each other. He dreamed of one day resigning his position as one of the five generals and sharing a drink and reminiscing about the old days.
“And yet… to go the wrong way at the last minute…?”
He knew what Loing was looking for. Now that he was old, he could understand how he felt. However, he must say that Loing made a mistake at the last minute.
He made a mistake in who he should look up to as his lord and master. There was no room for sympathy for Loing, who passed away without correcting his wrong path. The least that could be said for him was that he was killed at the hands of the imperial family.
“It would not be good if you had survived…”
Wounded all over, he still put all his strength into his limbs and let out a voice from the bottom of his stomach in anger.
The white-haired man did not answer. He approached Cain with a cruel smile.
Cain picked up his spear, which fell to the ground.
“There are no shortage of opponents! I’ll take your head!”
He threw the spear with tremendous force. Next, Cain picked up a sword and kicked the ground with tremendous force.
“Please give my regards to Loing. Tell him that I have become strong.”
Stobel held up his hand, and an electric current split the air with a loud crack.
The winds were blowing. It created a tornado with lightning, sucking in everything that had fallen to the ground and launching it into the sky. Cain pointed his sword at the tornado, which engulfed both friend and foe and laid waste to the ground, and ran―but his target was focused on a single point, Stobel.
“…I must fight.”
Stobel waved his hand lightly. With that single motion, a number of tyrannical tornadoes appeared on the ground. All gathered in one place to envelop General Cain. Still, he did not stop.
“The five great generals of the Grantz are the ones who must always set an example!”
Therefore, he could not allow those who betrayed his country to go unchecked. He could not retreat backward.
He must show the will of the Five Great Generals, not to the enemy but to his allies. He must not destroy their dreams, and he must keep them yearning for him.
“Retreat! Leave the battlefield alive!”
“General Cain! What on earth are you doing?”
“Forgive me; I can’t even buy you time. Forgive this old man!”
Cain picked up his spear and ran as fast as he could toward the raging tornado.
The wind became a sharp blade, trying to cut through his steel body. Even though fresh blood was spurting out from everywhere, Cain kept moving forward without stopping. Even if death awaited him, he must avenge the death of the other five generals who had preceded him.
“Stobel! Prepare yourselves, treacherous prince!”
As soon as he penetrated the storm, Cain focused all his attention on the spear and threw it carelessly.
At the same time, a bolt of lightning from the sky pierced Cain through the ground.
The lightning bolt cut through a cloud of dust and white smoke.
General Cain heard the last.
“The weak bark the loudest.”
It was the last word delivered at the moment his heart was ripped out of his chest.
The sun has set beyond the horizon, and what had emerged to replace it was the moon and its dependents, the stars. The stars, shining as if adorning the moon, were a comfort to those who live their lives on the ground, warmly watching over them even in the darkness of loneliness.
However, there was another place on the ground that was as bright as the stars.
A strong wind blew through the gaps between the tents built in the encampment, shaking violently the flames of the torches set up at equal intervals. Cowering in the cold night, soldiers patrolled the area.
This is the encampment of the Third Army of Grantz, which was marching south of Felzen.
In the middle of the camp were the tents of the elite “Raven Army” of Baum, and in the center was the tent of the “Black Dragon King,” which was the largest of them all.
“The Grantz seem to be in a hurry.”
Hiro, while tending to the dishes served, asked a question to Skaaha, who was sitting in front of him.
“Yeah… it’s already the fourth day. Considering the fact that they are going to meet up with Liz-dono and the others, the Grantz would probably want to start making their move soon.”
It could be said that things had been going well until four days ago. The Third Army of Grantz, which had been invading smoothly despite some resistance from the Six Kingdoms, was blocked by an unexpected enemy.
It was the people of Felzen who had accepted the rule of the Anguis Army.
Not only did they insist that they would not accept the Grantz Empire, but they also blocked its path.
“If we try to bypass them, it won’t do us any good if they get around us first. That would be a waste of time.”
It was no wonder that the Grantz soldiers, who were about to reach their limits due to being stranded, went berserk when it came to wasting their time.
The commanders of the Third Army of Grantz must be scratching their heads.
“For if we forcibly remove the people who blocked the roads, we would give the cause to the Six Kingdoms.”
Skaaha let out a troubled exhale.
Hiro nodded his head in agreement.
“While we were stranded here, Anguis began to gather soldiers from all over Felzen to form a defense.”
After finishing his meal, Hiro folded his hands behind his head and lay down on the floor.
“This is a situation that gives the other side a lot of options.”
Staring at the Western-style lamps hanging from the ceiling, Hiro pulled out a sheet of letterhead.
Skaaha looked at it with interest, but before she could ask, Hiro spoke up.
“Speaking of which, how are you doing?”
“…I’ve been doing just fine.”
Hiro silently looked at Skaaha, who was smiling a deceptive smile.
At the accusing glare, Skaaha scratched the back of her head as if troubled.
“There is still time. Thanks to you and… the Ice Emperor.”
The pledge he made with Skaaha―he knows because he’s connected with her. An anomaly in Skaaha’s body. The condition was getting worse compared to that day. However, she had never expressed any weakness and had been able to keep it a secret from everyone until today.
She was here to achieve her goal, and she was here with nothing but her will to achieve it.
“It’s better not to overdo it―or is that too much to ask…?”
“No, not really. That kindness helps.”
Skaaha was staring at her hands with a thoughtful expression as she repeatedly opened and closed her fists as if examining some sensation.
Perhaps noticing Hiro’s worried gaze, Skaaha forces herself to smile again.
“I heard that Liz-dono said that there was something wrong with her ‘eye.'”
It was an effective topic to divert the conversation. Hiro was also concerned about Liz’s “eye,” but he could not overlook Skaaha’s “alteration” as well.
But the fact that she brought up the subject of Liz was probably a warning from Skaaha not to mention it any further. There was no choice, so Hiro sighed, got up, and decided to join in on Skaaha’s topic.
“Do you remember how she said she felt uncomfortable?”
“She said she could “see” everything better now. It was vague as if distant objects were near and nearby objects were far away, but Liz-dono didn’t seem to know how to explain it.”
“I see… as expected…”
Hiro put his hand on his chin.
“Did she say anything else?”
“She said she had been dreaming a lot since she started feeling discomfort in her eyes. I think that the “Flame Emperor” is showing her the memories of the previous owners.”
Hiro silently waited for Skaaha’s words. If Skaaha had been watching carefully, she would have noticed that Hiro had choked up.
“――It seems to be a woman’s dream.”
Hiro muttered just that one word and looked up at the ceiling.
Skaaha tilted her head dubiously but continued.
“The only previous holder of the “Flame Emperor” was the first emperor. So no women ever appeared in the “realm.” Even if it was part of the previous holder’s memory, there is always the person in question somewhere.”
After Skaaha said this, she noticed that Hiro’s appearance had changed.
Hiro had his hand on his chin and his face downcast. Not wanting to disturb Hiro, who had begun to dive into a sea of thoughts, Skaaha took her gaze away and suddenly looked at the corner of the tent.
There was an object wrapped in a blanket, writhing like a turtle.
Watching the object with a twitch at the edge of her mouth, a face emerged.
The eyes were gloomy and dark, and the light in the eyes that were staring into the void was gone.
The lips trembled slightly, and if one listened carefully, one could hear the words…
“Eagle, Eagle, Eagle, Eagle, Eagle, Eagle, Eagle.”
“…Hiro-dono―no, Black Dragon King-dono.”
After apologizing for interrupting his contemplation, Skaaha once again pointed her finger at the corner of the room.
“Who is that?”
“A woman named Luca.”
“She’s mumbling something about a person’s name… As I recall, Hugin-dono was one of your close associates, wasn’t she?”
“I had her infiltrated into Anguis, but I couldn’t get in touch with her… Luca seemed to have been very fond of Hugin, so after we lost contact with her, she became like that.”
These days she doesn’t even eat properly. Perhaps when the fighting starts, she won’t be able to do anything about it. She would be so preoccupied with Hugin that she would be a liability.
In addition, she may have remembered about Eagle and is no longer aiming for Hiro’s life, so she was in serious condition. It would be better not to count Luca as a force to be reckoned with.
“If I may put my personal feelings aside, I don’t like the current stalemate. Even if I want to investigate Hugin, I can’t do anything unless I go there.”
“That’s worrisome. I hope we can somehow break the current situation… But even so, Hiro-dono is surprisingly calm.”
“Do I look that way to you?”
“…I’ve done everything I can to get rid of this situation. All I need now is a start.”
Skaaha tilted her head, not understanding the meaning of Hiro’s words.
“Time will eventually resolve this event, but I have decided to speed it up a little with my own hands.”
Hiro speaks without hesitation.
“I may look like this, but I’m in a hurry.”
Quietly, darkness begins to encroach.