111. Undecided (9)
One of the Demon Lord’s apostles, the Harpy Skani, flapped her wings in the sky and looked at the City of Twilight, which was shrinking in the distance. A flag bearing a sword and armor had been raised on top of the rampart. Behind it, within the fortress proper, Skani could see fires blazing.
‘The City of Twilight fell…!? In a few hours…! Oh my…! How is this possible? They’re on a whole different level from the Hero’s Allied Forces.’
The Demon Kingdom’s military power had undoubtedly improved. However, the opponent this time was far more powerful than the Hero’s Allied Forces.
‘It’s all because of that monster-like human! I-I need to inform them that there’s someone more horrifying than Heroes!’
Skani and the other Harpies flew quickly. Soon, they could see the marching Demon Lord’s army on the ground below; they were barely five to six hours away from the City of Twilight, and the city might not have fallen if only they had arrived before the attack.
Skani gritted her teeth and dove down.
“Hey! You idiots-!”
Then she swung her bird claws at the Orcs’ leader, Karakul, who was at the front. Just as the sharp claws were about to stab his head, Karakul caught her legs and pulled her down to the ground.
Skani was rewarded with a mouthful of dirt and grass. The other Orcs, who were startled by the sudden attack, hurriedly took out their weapons and aimed them at Skani.
“It, it hurts… hngh…!” Skani groaned while opening her tightly shut eyes. However, she was scared witless upon seeing sharp weapons aimed at her and shouted, “W-wait! I’m not an enemy! I said I’m not an enemy…! On top of that, you guys have the guts, huh! As mere Orcs, how dare you aim your weapons at this Apostle, Skani? Do you all want to die!?”
The Orcs sheathed their weapons at Karakul’s words.
Glaring at Karakul, Skani shrugged the dust off her feathers and hollered, “It’s too late! You idiot-!”
“…Skani. You’re supposed to be in the City of Twilight, but you’re here… What’s going on? Do you have something urgent to report?”
“Something to report? Of course I do! The City of Twilight…!”
“Has it fallen?”
Skani and Karakul shifted their gaze to the new voice, Tom, who came to the front on his Silver Wolf.
“Am I right? Or not?”
“…A human who got all puffed up just because he became an Apostle.” Skani glared at Tom, as if she wasn’t pleased with him, before nodding. “Right, it fell a little while ago!”
Karakul’s eyes widened. Clearly, he was shocked.
‘It fell to them…? Did the Lome Kingdom’s army arrive early?’
“When did the Lome Kingdom’s army arrive? Has it been a week?”
“A week? What nonsense is that? It’s still the same day! They declared war as soon as they arrived and broke through the gate all in the same day!”
“…You are going too far with the joke.”
“I’m not in the mood to joke around! What do you think I came here for!?”
Karakul went speechless.
He had been to the City of Twilight before. After the Dwarfs moved there months ago, they had constructed the massive rampart and impenetrable gate. On top of that, they had sent the biggest and strongest demons to aid in the construction. Hence, it wouldn’t be strange to call it the sturdiest fortress on the continent.
‘Yet it fell in only a day—no, even less than half of a day?’
“…Is it really true?”
“You’re so doubtful, Mr. Orc-whose-brain-is-only-filled-with-muscles!”
Skani hit Karakul’s head with her wings.
“They had a strange monster of a human. He attacked the castle gate alone and broke it open. The human knights then rushed in! There were too few defenders to stop that horde of humans!”
“Are you saying they attacked as soon as they arrived?” Tom butted in.
“What? You don’t believe it too? Human?”
“No. Not really but…”
Tom also didn’t expect that they would get into action right away. Didn’t people usually buy time for siege while watching the opponent’s movements? Besides, it was natural to have at least a day of rest considering the soldiers’ exhaustion. That was ‘common sense’.
‘…Is there someone who lacks common sense?’
In that case, there would be two types.
One, an incompetent human who was blinded by glory. He would attack as soon as he arrived, not caring about the soldiers’ fighting spirit or exhaustion.. He was the type that would lose most of his soldiers to succeed, or completely destroy himself in the process.
The other one, a gifted, competent human. If he crossed the border and reached the front line, he knew the enemy troops would be replenished there. He would overpower his opponent and turn that base into his own. However, he had to move with a certain estimation of success and have all kinds of backup strategies prepared. Also, his movements were hard to predict. In short, he was a pain in the neck.
‘But even if he is competent…it shouldn’t be easy to muster enough courage after seeing the City of Twilight.’
Furthermore, the fact that a single human had destroyed that gate meant that Oskal had participated in the battle, as expected.
“…So, they’re depending on Oskal’s ability?”
As Skani tilted her head in confusion, Karakul explained it to her.
“He’s a party member of the previous Hero.”
“A party member of the previous Hero? No, wait! Just a party member? Yet, he’s that powerful…?”
“The standards in the past were different than the current ones. I don’t know the exact details, but the Heroes now are merely puppets. The humans have been rushing to produce as many as possible, so, of course, the quality would be low.”
Karakul looked at Tom.
“What do we do? Do you want to go to the City of Twilight and win it back?”
“…No, let’s retreat.”
“Retreat? Does that even make sense? They took many demons captive! We have to rescue them!”
“Oskal’s there. It won’t do us good to be careless.” Skani shut her mouth at Tom’s words. “Plus, it would take more than five hours at the latest for our army to get there. The Lome Kingdom army would have finished regrouping by then. We have only 300 soldiers at the moment. It would be hard to go against 30,000 troops, especially if they have siege weapons.”
“L-last time, you won against 50,000 of the Holy Kingdom’s soldiers!”
“Although there were 50,000, they were exhausted from the long war, and most of them had actually lost their power. It was a totally different situation.”
“First, we’re stopping the march and regrouping here. Also, we have to replenish the troops. We’ll need at least around 2000 more soldiers. And…we surely need a way to win.”
Tom looked around. A vast meadow, with overgrown, waist-high weeds, was all that filled his view. For Lome Kingdom’s knights, it was a great place to fight without any obstacles. But the same was true for the Demon Lord’s army.
“First, let’s set up an outpost here and come up with our future plans.”
The soldiers cut the weeds and set up a tent. Gnolls and Harpies kept a lookout in case of an ambush.
The Moon Rabbit Lulu didn’t have any skill when it came to combat. He couldn’t handle weapons properly, nor did he have the agility to instantly move under orders. But, as a servant, he was confident he was better than anyone else at serving. He believed that he was working hard at doing his part by serving the three Apostles tea. He thought that Tom must’ve brought him here to do that…
“Have some tea.”
Lulu took the tea from the tray and put it on the table. The Orc leader Karakul, the Harpy leader Skani, and the Apostle Tom, who were sitting on their chairs, looked at the map of the Demon Kingdom.
“Honestly, I didn’t know the City of Twilight would fall this easily. I tried buying magical weapons from the Aylans Kingdom and deploying them, but, as expected, it was too late. Our troops still haven’t trained with them enough. On top of that, the fact that we didn’t deploy other clans also played a big part.”
Karakul thought all they needed in siege warfare was the Orcs, who were specialized in infantry battles, since Gnolls or Centaurs didn’t have the body structure for siege warfare. But it was too bad that there were no Treos for stone-throwing, Goblins who would calculate the distance for them, or Minotaurs who would have been best for defending the breach in the gate.
Skani crossed her wings.
“…I think the City of Twilight would have fallen no matter who we put there. That human, he’s immortal. Bolts and arrows were all bouncing off him, and he didn’t die even under the Ogre’s ballistae. We poured oil on him and lit him on fire, but he ignored the flames while pushing and opening the castle gate.”
“…Skani, it’s not that I don’t believe you, but you’re exaggerating too much.”
“It’s real! This freaking Orc bastard!” Skani hit Karakul’s head with her wings.
“What Skani said must be true. If it’s Oskal, he would have that much power. More than anything, since he’s not one to laze around, despite growing older, he’s likely grown even stronger than I imagined.”
Karakul looked at Tom. He knew a thing or two about Tom’s past. He had done all the research regarding who Oskal was, but as expected, nobody knew Oskal better than Tom.
Skani shuddered while recalling Oskal. She couldn’t help but feel horror at his strength.
“This war, can we win? Against this monster?”
“Yes, we can. While the City of Twilight falling is a big deal…it doesn’t change the outcome of this war.”
“Where did you get your confidence from?”
Skani had never seen Tom’s power for herself, so he looked arrogant to her. She had heard that Tom had struck down a Hero with a single blow, but even if it was true, she doubted the Hero was more powerful than the human called Oskal.
“I’m not saying that out of pride. It’s by calculation.”
Tom narrowed his eyes while looking at the map. The opponent must be conscious about ‘the Devil of Lania’ since the news of him killing Archbishop Holfmann had spread widely in the continent.
‘And the only person who can rival the Devil of Lania is Oskal…that must be what they are thinking.’
But they wouldn’t strain themselves and start fights where they could lose Oskal just because of that. They wouldn’t move an army to rival the Devil of Lania, either. However, if the Demon Kingdom pressured them, they would have to mobilize their army.
Tom could only think of one thing: this was an act of provoking the Demon Kingdom. They would hole up in the City of Twilight and send out their troops little by little to cause havoc.
‘There’s a chance that they would buy time to sign an armistice between our two kingdoms, then later cease-fire, and nonaggression next.’
In the silent tent, Skani soon lost her patience.
“You said we can win? Then when will we rescue the captives?”
“They will avoid a long-term or ruinous war with us since they had no choice but to participate in this war. So…they will put up appearances and use this war as a means to avoid future wars by saying something like ‘an armistice was signed because we suffered great damage…’; it’s what I would do in their position.”
“Oh? So they’re using us,” Karakul said.
The Lome Kingdom believed it was the best way to avoid having trouble with the Holy Kingdom.
‘In that respect, we can also use them. In the future, there will be no wars with the Lome Kingdom.’
‘Also, a victory would raise the reputation of the Demon Kingdom, and it could also serve as a warning for other kingdoms: The Demon Lord’s army defeated the Country of Knights!’
‘While everyone would be careful not to upset the Holy Kingdom, nobody would start a fight against the Demon Kingdom either, who had won against the powerful Lome Kingdom and formed an alliance with the Kingdom of Magic.’
‘As expected, winning is the best. The winning side has a lot of benefits.’
Amid his thoughts, Tom looked at the caged crow in the command tent.
‘To do that, Ellin and Halsem have to do a good job, though.’
— Ω —