117. Winners and Losers (4)
“…What are you saying?”
Oskal shouted in response to Pygni’s words, almost refusing his king’s commands. To call a retreat..!? The Kingdom of Lome hadn’t even done anything yet! To top it off, they hadn’t managed to inflict even the smallest damage to the enemy!
“Our soldiers have been cruelly slaughtered… And you’re saying we should just stomach it and fall back!?”
“The current morale of our army can’t even be mentioned. If we fight in this state, the terror will just spread that much faster… Eventually, all of them will flee without fighting back.”
“I don’t believe that those prideful Knights will turn tail…”
“Pride? Reputation? Will those things preserve your life on the battlefield?”
Pygni glared at Oskal.
“Think about how to preserve most of our men’s lives, Oskal! Regardless of how strong you are, you will lose against the Devil of Lania. Even if you were as strong as him and managed to stall for time, more than half of our army will be needlessly massacred by those monsters.”
Oskal gritted his teeth as the drum, signaling their retreat, bellowed out. Every beat of the drum felt as if it was pounding on his heart.
The flag-bearing Knights quickly shouted toward their troops, “Retreat-! Retreat-!”
The soldiers of Lome fell back like a receding tide. While retreating, they dropped a portion of their equipment and their siege equipment behind. Pygni ground his teeth in anger and humiliation as he stared at the Demons chasing them through the field and the Devil of Lania just standing there in the center on his horse.
Oskal followed Pygni as he retreated on his horse. The 20,000 men also moved swiftly, leaving the corpses of their brethren across the field. The Demons stopped chasing the fleeing Lomian soldiers and let out a roar. They raised their weapons, beat their chests, or pounded their shields on the ground while hollering at the top of their lungs. The whole battlefield trembled due to their cheers.
Karakul glanced at the field littered with corpses and turned to the Devil of Lania standing tall at its center. He then extended his hand to touch the devil, but the mighty figure became incorporeal, allowing his hand to pass through. As if he was reaching into the air, his hand simply moved past.
“Incredible. It’s like the real thing.”
Karakul turned to Lulu, who was trembling and drenched in cold sweat behind it, after testing the figure with his hands.
“Brilliant, Lulu. It’s okay to stop.”
Lulu let out a sigh of relief. Obviously, he was exhausted and weary as he wiped his cold sweat… And when he did so, the Devil of Lania that had been standing on the field disappeared like smoke.
Phantasm magic. Even though Tom had become the advent of Arrtark, Lulu was able to use his image to recreate Tom. After calming down, he turned to look at the corpses around him and turned pale once again. He then looked around, searching for somebody.
When Karakul glanced at Lulu, he tilted his head in confusion and asked, “Where did Sir Tom go?”
“Tom? If it’s him…” Karakul turned to the already departed soldiers of Lome and spoke, “…He probably went to the enemy.”
The casualties of Lome were unheard of. 3000 soldiers were slaughtered in the blink of an eye and, when the main detachment tried to retreat, they were hunted down and 1000 more were either wounded or killed. Also, they fled so frantically and haphazardly, the casualties added up to about 4500, counting those that couldn’t catch up to the main group and were captured. As for the losses of the Demon Lord’s army…?
‘How many did we lose? How many of those Demons did I kill?’
Pygni reached for his brow while calculating the damage between the enemy and his men. The Demon army’s loss was negligible, no matter how he broke it down. Based on hard numbers, it was almost hard to believe.
‘…Difficult. It’ll be difficult at this rate!’
Pygni scanned his soldiers, clearly noting the fear that was deeply embedded into their eyes. It was long since they had lost the will to fight. If they went to the captured fortress in this condition, it would be obvious that they would lose all morale.
‘More than anything, they’ll try to pin all the blame on me if this reaches the kingdom.’
Pygni turned to the one shouting profanities next to him. Oskal was gripping the reins of his horse while gritting his teeth to the core.
“…I’m sorry, Oskal. I judged incorrectly.”
“I am not blaming Your Highness but my own incompetence.”
“Don’t be so down on yourself. Once we recover, we’ll re-equip ourselves. It’ll be dangerous to just leave the fortress without cause. It might be more advantageous to just buckle down until the Demon Lord is captured and then negotiate.”
Now that they had drawn the attention of Hell with this incident, all they could do was hope for the Hero’s party to capture the Demon Lord. More than anything, now that they had confirmed that the Devil of Lania was here, the Hero party’s job should be much easier.
The soldiers of Lome moved their tired, dispirited bodies. One among them turned to his companion beside him and his eyes grew wide.
“What? I-isn’t your injury severe!?”
He saw a soldier whose armor was drenched in blood approaching him. The other party brought his helmet even lower before smiling and replied,
“No, this isn’t my blood.”
“I-is that so…? Then I’m relieved, but…”
“Where are we headed now?”
“Well… of course, we’ll be going to the captured fortress.”
“Ah, you’re referring to the City of Twilight?” the soldier asked the bloodied companion in confusion.
“The City of Twilight? Is that the name of the fortress? First I’ve heard of it.”
“Yes, that’s what the monsters said. It’s called ‘the City of Twilight’.”
In response to the soldier’s reply, Tom, the other party in the conversation in the Lomian soldier’s uniform, smiled.
The palace, which was located at the capital of the Kingdom of Lome, radiated awe in the hearts of the onlookers. The tall castle walls and the imposing sentries made it difficult to sneak past them, no matter how skillful an assassin might be at infiltration.
Before the palace, the Knights standing guard looked at the approaching party. A middle-aged man with a bushy beard was nearing, flanked by Knights and a woman. As if trying to express his inner thoughts, the man reached for his brow seeing that uncanny face.
“Aah, that bastard is here again.”
“That noble, why hasn’t he been relegated to some countryside?”
The Knights all knew he was referring to Count Cyria. Despite him being a noble that resided in the palace, he had no reputation of note and was known to be a bad person that often abused his position. He frequently sexually abused the maids in the palace, but he was also a coward that shriveled before the words of Oskal and the other nobles.
There was none who hadn’t heard the rumor that he was beaten like a carpet being dusted by his father for causing an incident daily. Despite such troubles, his villainy didn’t end. He was bringing in women from the outside now that he couldn’t touch the ones in the palace.
“…Count Cyria, please stop for a moment.”
The Knights stopped Count Cyria, who stood still in surprise. The stiffly frozen ‘Doppelganger’ slowly turned toward the woman, Ellin. His expression was saying, ‘What should I do?’ However, Ellin also had a similar troubled expression. Her eyes turned to one of the knights wearing a helmet, Halsem.
“…Mmm. Do you know who this is!?”
At Halsem’s outburst, one of the Knights standing guard frowned under his helmet. He simply thought that the Knight was as rude as the noble he was protecting.
“I know very well. Aren’t you Count Cyria? So?”
Halsem twitched under the Knight’s words. Normally, the door would be opened without a word upon sight of a noble, but to reply with ‘So?’…?
“W-what do you mean, so? Count Cyria is walking through…!”
“Count Cyria’s entry into the palace will obviously be allowed, but…” The Knights turned to the Doppelganger, Halsem, and Ellin before continuing, “The others will obviously have to provide identification.”
“…Identification? Ah, t-then.”
The Doppelgangers all took out their identification cards. They had taken all of the Knights’ possessions before transforming just in case.
“…These are our proof. They are genuine.”
‘…Is the Kingdom of Lome different as expected? They even check the companions he is with.’
After passing the inspection, he didn’t expect any more suspicion.
“You have been confirmed. Then…” The Knights turned to Ellin. “Sister, please present one as well.”
“I mean a proof of residency as a citizen of the Kingdom of Lome. If you don’t have one… you’ll have to bring one.”
“T-that is… w-where did I leave it…?”
Ellin was surprised and panicked, her actions sparking suspicion from the guards. Halsem judged that drawing any more time would be dangerous, so he covered for Ellin and intervened. “T-this woman is… a maid!”
“…Wouldn’t a maid have an identification document as well?”
“…Y-you dare try to inspect a maid serving a count!?”
“We are inspecting her because she’s a maid.”
In response to the stubborn Knight’s reply, Halsem shut his mouth. A moment later, he thought of something and held his forehead.
‘…Shit, we should have just kidnapped one of the knights on the street and changed Ellin into him.’
It would have been much more simple in that case… Now, due to the lack of preparations, they looked pitiful and suspicious. At the very least, he believed that they would be able to enter if someone like a Count was bringing a woman with him…!
‘Fine, even if it takes time, we have to step back for now…’
Just when Halsem was preparing to pull back, the Knight finally opened his mouth.
“Count Cyria, even if she is the servant of the Count, she’s not someone that we could just let in…”
“I-if she was my wife… will she be allowed to enter?”
The eyes of the Knights grew wide. Even Halsem reached for his brow at the Doppelganger’s sudden outburst. He was spouting nonsense in a fit of panic.
‘Ah, why are there only idiots in Hell!? These Doppelgangers have been living amongst humans since the past like this!’
“A… wife? No, isn’t Count Cyria…”
The Doppelganger of Count Cyria immediately regretted his outburst, recalled his bear of a wife, and prayed for her forgiveness.
‘Dear, it’s all for our country!’
He pulled out the single ring upon his finger, got on his knee, and lowered his head before grabbing Ellin’s hand. He then slipped the ring onto her ring finger.
The Knights watched them speechlessly, including Ellin. The Doppelganger looked back at the Knights with an expression that said, ‘Is this enough?’
This kind of blatant action… appeared to work negatively toward the knights.
‘Something… is suspicious.’
‘Is something going on!?’
The Knights quickly reached for their sword handles.
“…Count Cyria, I know this is rude, but it looks like you’ll have to come to the interrogation room separately…”
It was at that moment.
“You fucking bastard…!”
Someone dashed over to them. Halsem and Ellin quickly turned around in surprise. A white-haired man in his 70s, with an overgrown beard and a fearsome face, approached them and smacked Count Cyria on the back of his head.
Accompanying a clear, resounding smack, the Doppelganger felt pain from the back of his head. He frowned and looked at the old man with confusion.
“Why’re you looking at me so innocently!?”
The rough speech, like that of a street urchin, intimidated the Doppelganger. He immediately lowered his gaze.
“Cyria! Did you just say w-wife…?! And this lowly bitch…!?” The old man’s finger pointed toward Ellin. “Regardless of how pretty she is, you dare take some bitch rolling around the streets as your wife! Cyria, did I raise you like this?!”
Halsem could not understand the series of events that were unfolding before him. Who was this crude old man that had suddenly appeared and was acting violently!?
‘What is this? What is happening? What’s going on!’
“While I, your father, was matchmaking you with some noblewomen, you dare…!”
…It was his father?
Halsem watched Benom, Cyria’s father, feeling dumbfounded and at a loss. Benom grabbed the Doppelganger’s collar and senselessly slapped him on his cheeks.
“You bastard! You bastard! You bastard-!”
Thankfully, the episode had drawn the attention of others. The residents on the streets saw both Count Cyria and his father, Benom, and whispered amongst each other. The crowd forced the Knights to calm them down hurriedly. Scenes like this brought shame to the national pride, after all.
“P-please calm yourself! Lord Benom!”
“It’s troubling if you do something like this in front of the palace! The citizens are staring at us!”
Benom looked surprised and glanced at his surroundings. The residents and the Knights stationed on the palace walls were clearly amused, as if watching a show. His face grew red like a peach.
“Shit! You’re making a bigger fool of our family name, Cyria! In any case, get yourself in here!”
Benom grabbed Count Cyria by his ear and dragged him in. Then he glared at Ellin before shouting at her as well, “Lowly bitch, you come as well! I have to hear what happened from you too!”
“Yes…? Ah, yes…”
Ellin shriveled before Benom, who was shouting profanities. The Knights hurried to stop him, though.
“W-wait, Lord Benom, that sister needs to be inspected…!”
A mighty aura, unlike an old man’s, radiated from Benom as he glared at the knights. Was it because Benom was already well known to have a bad temper? The Knight fixed his helmet as he stumbled through his words.
“Can’t this wait? I’ll just send her down separately later! Don’t I have to know what my bastard of a son did right now? How long they’ve met, where they went, and with what purpose she’s meeting my son for…!”
“What do you think is going to happen by letting some lowly bitch into the palace?! If something happens, I’ll take full responsibility! Move aside! You’re getting on my nerves!”
Benom forcibly moved on. Ellin and the Doppelganger, whose ear was grabbed, were dragged away, unsure of why they were being insulted or being pummeled as they left.
Halsem, and the other Doppelgangers in the form of Knights, didn’t miss this opportunity and infiltrated the palace.
— Ω —