119. Winners and Losers (6)
Rather than an office, it was more accurate to call this place a library. The room was littered with scrolls and, not only that, but books were also strewn across the floor. A Moonrabbit girl, Luri, was struggling to lift them up and put them in their spots.
Lily, who had been quietly reading a book, let out a sigh. Her unfocused eyes were watching something above the office books, beside a candle.
Tom’s crow was sleeping there. He had asked her to message him through it in case something happened. It was made up of magic power, it was not something that was actually alive. Yet, the sheen on its feathers and the way it was realistically dozing off made it seem as though it was actually alive.
“…It looks like he’s busy today?”
Seeing the silent crow, Lily couldn’t help but be disappointed. She stretched her tired body after heaving a sigh. The massive tree beside her, Nordin Wood, moved his tough bark to smile as he spoke, “…It is late into the night, Your Highness. There are many things to do tomorrow, so please take some rest.”
“Even if I wanted to, aren’t we in the middle of a war? I should be doing all I can. I should be studying just a bit more to lay the foundations of a better country…”
“That is all good and well, but without applying it, such accumulated knowledge can’t be actualized. Besides, our enemy, the Holy Empire, used these policies, so we still have a long way to go to make them better suit our needs.”
Nordin Wood spoke while shaking the books they had brought from the Holy Empire’s former capital, Lania. From his perspective, many policies didn’t make any sense, so they were only using ones that did. Only, there were more than 90% tyrannical or historical policies. Thus, it wasn’t easy to sift out the useful ones.
Lily smiled bitterly in reply. “But…”
Lily’s eyes turned to the office door. As Luri was sensitive to loud noises, she reacted to something by perking up her bestial ears.
-Protect Her Highness!
-Don’t let the bastards reach this place!
The sound of rough Orc soldiers could be heard inside the room. Soon, the door burst open.
The Chief of the Ogres and an Apostle of the Demon Lord’s army, Kuma, lowered his head as he barely managed to worm his way through the tiny office entrance.
“The outside is quite noisy? Did something happen?”
Kuma, wearing full armor and gripping his mace tightly in his hand, looked at Lily and said in his slow speech, “…An intruder, it is.”
“The Hero’s companions, it appears.”
Lily’s eyes grew wide at his reply.
“What… are you saying?”
Pygni sat on a chair in the commander’s tent. At the moment, his eye was twitching as he asked for the soldier in the front to reconfirm his witness statement.
“C-can you repeat what you just said to me?”
Kneeling on one knee, the soldier lowered his head, as if ashamed. His voice was filled with anxiety.
“T-that is… the wall that suddenly appeared in front of us was an illusion.”
“…Illusion? So you’re saying… it was magic?”
“…That seems to be the case, Your Highness.”
“Truly? No lie…?”
Pygni rubbed his forehead. He started to suspect that something was amiss. If the charging vanguard force was stopped by an illusory wall, then what about the Devil of Lania who suddenly appeared…? Could that also be…
Realizing the truth now, anger shot up to the top of Pygni’s head. It was an insult! He had lost soldiers and had the morale of his entire army crushed by a mere trick…!? If someone else had been in charge, it was enough to have that man take all the responsibility and face execution. However, it was Pygni who had committed such a mistake.
‘Am I dumb? How could I not realize such a simple thing!’
He was impatient—No, more than just impatient! To gain the initiative in future negotiations and draw the attention away from the Hero’s party, he was blinded by his own eagerness. The enemy had taken a page from his own book to think outside the box.
Could it be that the Demons also had a magician…!?
‘I’m getting too excited! I should have just stuck to my original plan!’
He was originally planning on overtaking the enemy formation and laying low while allowing the Hero to infiltrate the Demon Lord’s place. And if the Devil of Lania appeared at the fortress, he would retreat without regret.
If that really happened, he would have tied up the Devil of Lania and captured the Demon Lord. However, he had gotten too full of himself because the City of Twilight had been taken over all too easily. Victory after victory was the cause of his overconfidence.
‘I knew that pride and arrogance are the two greatest follies, but I still made this mistake…! Ngh!’
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
When Pygni began to shout profanities, the soldier lowered his head even more, almost touching the floor.
‘Still, a magician? Could it be a magician dispatched by the Kingdom of Aylans? No, they can’t intervene due to diplomatic problems. Regardless of their alliance, it’ll be too much for them to lend a hand before Hell personally asks them for help. Even then, they would have to declare it publicly! So, it couldn’t be Aylans!’
There was only one answer: Hell had an outstanding magician of their own! Not only that, but it was also an extraordinary talent who was able to use illusory magic that was as vivid as the real deal.
“…It’s nothing strange, though. Even the Devil of Lania is a necromancer. Instead, it might be weird for Hell not to have a magician or two that uses illusory magic.”
Pygni continued to grit his teeth. He had been stuck in the humans’ narrow-minded idea that they were all merely Demons. Therefore, he couldn’t imagine today’s events.
‘Then the Devil of Lania wasn’t on the battlefield?’
What if he had allowed Oskal to rampage at that moment…? Their imminent loss would have instantly turned into victory. However, due to the Devil of Lania’s reputation, he had moved impulsively.
“…I really did something stupid. If I could go back to the past, I want to stab myself for calling for that retreat.”
Pygni felt his head starting to ache.
Pygni turned to the knight who had barged in. He was already feeling a headache from all the stress, so he glared at the shouting knight with a hateful gaze.
‘What is it this time?’ was his silent message.
The knight must have rushed over in a hurry, as he was panting while relaying the message.
“It’s the enemy! Enemies are approaching our fortress!”
Pygni took a deep breath. This was within his expectations. The enemy must have sent their trackers, but as they were within the fortress, they wouldn’t move rashly anymore.
“Trackers? How many? 100? 200?”
Pygni’s eyes grew wide.
“All the Demons that participated in yesterday’s battle have gathered outside the fortress and are setting up their formation!”
Pygni left the tent with giant steps. He headed toward the top of the wall and turned to speak to Oskal, who had already arrived.
“What is it? Enemies…? Just what…”
Pygni stiffly scanned the field ahead. In the distant forest and overgrown grass, the Demons were setting up their formations. As the knight had reported earlier, they numbered around 3000. Some of them were fitting large scale Magic Cannons, the Treos were gathering boulders, and the Orcs were installing barricades.
Seeing this, Pygni couldn’t stop himself from laughing.
“Hah… haha! My, my… just because they won a battle, they are riding on the momentum and are attempting to take back their fortress? These damned Demons! How much are they going to look down on us!? They’re trying to attack more than 20,000 men with a mere 3000…!? Not to mention, we have Oskal…!”
Pygni abruptly stopped talking and shut his mouth.
…And if they came knowing about Oskal? Did that mean… the Devil of Lania was here as well? He could discern that the Demons he had fought yesterday weren’t savages, but rather intelligent. He could not look down on Hell any longer.
‘No, no. The enemy wants to use illusions to trick me one more time! They must have caught my apprehension about the Devil of Lania from our previous battle!’
They must be trying to use the same trick once more to take over the fortress without any losses!
‘But what if I’m wrong…?’
What would happen if the Devil of Lania stepped up himself in this fortress siege…? What if he single-handedly broke through the fortress and cleared the way for the soldiers as Oskal had done? It would be significantly more dangerous.
Normally, he would strike first in order to gain the initiative on the battlefield, but they were overflowing with the wounded due to yesterday’s battle. Also, the 20,000 men were traumatized with fear. If a monster that exceeded Oskal broke down the gate in this situation, the battle would already be decided.
‘Let’s say the Devil of Lania is here; what should I do if he came in attacking like Oskal? It’s already too late to retreat. Should I accept our loss and negotiate on the spot so that I can pull back my men? While we’re on the backfoot…?’
The defeat of the Kingdom of Lome, a colossal disaster caused by an incompetent king, who was unable to even inflict any damage on Hell—That would be how history would be recorded.
‘That kind of thing… do you think I’ll allow it!?’
Pygni continued his contemplation.
“…The Devil of Lania, are you here or not? Shit, I don’t know!”
Thinking, thinking, and then more thinking. While racking his mind, he discovered something strange. Pygni looked over the Demon Lord army’s formation and tilted this head.
“…They are not attacking.”
The enemy was simply setting up their formation. The weird part, though, was that they appeared to be making defensive formations rather than offensive ones, as if they were waiting for something. They seemed to be looking out for an ambush, but also preparing for something to come.
‘…What are they doing? What could it be? Are they perhaps waiting for the Devil of Lania? Then is the Devil of Lania not here? Or is this another trick?’
His contemplation regarding whether the Devil was here or not continued. However, as he continued to focus on that point, he discovered something regarding the Devil of Lania.
“What do you mean?”
Pygni rubbed his chin in response to Oskal’s question.
“The Devil of Lania is the strongest, yet… despite him being so powerful, he doesn’t use his power, even in the previous battle and in this situation as well. That is strange.”
If a fortress was taken, then all he had to do was come and snatch it back. There was no reason for him to mobilize an army and take cumbersome losses. Since he understood this, Pygni’s original plan was to retreat. However, the Devil of Lania did not come to reclaim the fortress.
‘…If so, is there a reason that he had to move an army…?’
“…I see. The Devil of Lania is nearby.”
Oskal looked at Pygni with surprise.
“However, he can’t move as he wishes.”
Pygni tried to think of the reason. He was a threat, as he had the absolute might to turn a small nation into ash by himself. However, there were many strange points in how he appeared and exercised that strength. It was the same at the Golden Territory, during the incident with Hero Ludin, and then with Holffmann as well. He always appeared late. If he gathered all the commonalities together…
“There is a condition for the Devil of Lania to use his power.”
Pygni reached a conclusion, his smile widening.
“Yes! Why didn’t I realize something so simple? He needs a condition! To use that kind of massive power, he has to squeeze his brain to draw out time, so he used illusions to trick us! That is the only conclusion!”
Pygni deduced the most definitive result he could draw from his experience and knowledge. As the Devil of Lania had absolute power close to that of a god, it was an obvious conclusion that he had some conditions to follow. If he discovered those conditions, there would be no reason to fear the Devil of Lania in this battle.
“I… must figure it out!”
Pygni walked back toward the tent.
“I brought all the documents related to the Devil of Lania. I’ll figure something out if I look them over again. The common aspects of all those incidents! I can uncover his weakness from them…!”
‘I should be able to discover it in a short time! No, I must figure it out! I don’t know when he’ll move, after all!’
Also, 10 days had passed since he sent a message to his home country. In that time, the Lome Kingdom must have prepared the army of 20,000 men and was ready to dispatch them. If he could avoid losing this fortress, he might be able to take the advantage, even if the hero’s companions failed to capture the Demon Lord.
“This battle, I thought there would be no hope of victory at first… but there’s a chance! Hah! Devil of Lania, you dare provoke me? I’ll make you regret it!”
Pygni shouted confidently as he headed toward the tent. A nearby soldier watching him pressed down on his helmet. Tom, who was disguised as a soldier of Lome, stared at Pygni’s retreating back from underneath his helmet.
Tom played with the Holy Sword in his hand, covered in cloth, as he looked at the healthy old man near him, Oskal, with a bitter smile.
‘I thought I would take the king to call a checkmate, but it’ll be hard because of Oskal. In any case, that guy’s gotten a lot older.’
Tom’s eyes grew sharper after reflecting on old memories. He had deemed Pygni, whom Oskal followed, significantly dangerous.
‘…His head is quite sharp.’
Tom couldn’t imagine that he would know so much about him. He had managed to gather and decipher so many materials despite it not being so long since he had become the incarnation of Arrtark.
Pygni seemed to realize that the incarnation of Arrtark might meet its ‘death’ if Tom made a mistake, and the entire continent might also know this through him. That would make things difficult.
‘…Yes, difficult indeed.’
Tom looked at the castle gate blocking the City of Twilight with cold eyes.
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