122. Winners and Losers (9)
The intensity of the battle had reached its crescendo. The screams of Humans and roars of Demons mixed together, producing a cacophony of noise that made one feel deaf. Weapons clashed, blood splattered, and limbs flew through the air, all of which created a grotesque scene. Sheets of rain fell from the sky as the defending soldiers of Lome started to get pushed back. Pygni, who was watching the situation, quietly muttered,
“…Pull the men back. This isn’t something we can fight head-on.”
The knights who had heard his order hollered at the top of their lungs.
“Gather around His Highness!”
In the end, they desperately formed a barrier, with Pygni at its center. The knights raised their spears while the archers in the back aimed their bows.
“Don’t try to break through!”
“Change of plans!”
The Demons that had found their footing inside the gate assembled their own formation on the other side, with Tom in the center. The excitement made their eyes turn red as they stomped their feet, almost prepared to leap at the soldiers of Lome.
The Goblins and Gnolls on top of the wall aimed their muskets and crossbows, while the Orcs clenched their weapons. The two forces held their ground, not attacking each other. They just continued glaring at one another, so much so that it felt like sparks were flying in the air. The tension was palpable, to say the least. With a single order from their respective leaders, they were ready to immediately attack.
“…Hah, my goodness. I’m the king of the renowned Kingdom of Lome, yet I have ended up in such a pitiful state.”
Pygni glanced at the captured wall and gate in disbelief, then he turned his gaze to look at the cold corpses of the Demons and knights which littered the ground. It all happened in the blink of an eye. The supporting bar of the gate broke, then it was pushed open before the wall was overtaken, allowing the enemy to swarm in and fill half of the fortress.
The enemy forces numbered around 4000, and a few hundred of them had turned into corpses on the ground. Meanwhile, his troops still numbered a little over 20,000. From the starting battle in which they had taken over this fortress, the battle on the fields, and now with this ongoing assault, thousands of men were either dead or gravely wounded. Just looking at the numbers…it was an unbelievable loss for the Kingdom of Lome. And that loss…
‘Is it because of that bastard in front of me?’
Pygni glared at the Devil of Lania, who was still wearing the uniform of a Lome soldier. Staring at him directly, he felt an incredible rage erupting from deep inside his chest. He was the one that had brought him such insult and humiliation! It was also he who had blemished the Kingdom of Lome’s record of never having been defeated.
Pygni’s eyes were clouded with resentment and rage, but it didn’t take long before it transformed into something else entirely. His sharp eyes relaxed and softened, then his body began to shake with laughter.
“Hah… Haha… Hahaha! What’s this? This…is amazing! Truly amazing!”
It was as though he had been liberated of all his built-up frustration. Pygni’s carefree laughter broke the calm silence, making Oskal and the knights of Lome turn to look at him, bewildered. On the other side, the Demon Lord’s soldiers frowned. His laughter irked them.
“You’re the Devil of Lania, right?”
Pygni stopped laughing and looked at Tom with a calm expression. Tom narrowed his eyes, his face still hidden by the helmet he wore. Pygni’s reaction was strange. Just looking at the size of each army, the Kingdom of Lome was at an overwhelming advantage. However, the Demon Lord’s army had the upper hand in terms of quality and equipment.
If they fought, the casualties on both sides would be significant. Looking at the situation, Lome’s army would have to pull back, and this war would be a loss. So, why was he laughing so leisurely in this situation?
‘He has something up his sleeves.’
Karakul carefully approached Tom and said,
“…He’s Pygni, the king of the enemy. At this distance, we could capture or kill him. Just give us the order, and with our full force—”
“No… Oskal is there as well. It’ll be difficult to capture the king.”
Tom glanced at Oskal, who was beside Pygni. He had a healthy physique, large muscles still protruding under his leather clothes. However, his face seemed to reflect his advancing age. There were many wrinkles stretched across it.
‘Aah, you’ve gotten much older, Oskal.’
Tom couldn’t help but laugh bitterly, thinking about his final moments with Oskal. He had heard stories regarding Oskal: that he owed a debt to Pope Salem for having released Thoma all those years ago. Furthermore, this war might have been an order from Salem to repay that debt. Tom felt gratitude toward Oskal in that way…but he also had a mission. For that, he would show no mercy, even to his old friend.
Pygni broke Tom’s musings.
“Devil of Lania, will…you come to our side, and join the Kingdom of Lome?”
The excited Demons suddenly froze.
“I’ll grant you everything you desire. Authority? Money? Reputation? Or…” Pygni smiled as he continued, “…Revenge? If there’s anything you want, I’ll do everything in my power to grant it. As long as iit doesn’t endanger the kingdom and its people, that is!”
Tom frowned. The other party spoke as if he understood everything about him.
‘…Did he guess all this with what little information they could gather on me?’
Pygni made it seem like he was able to see through him, even though there was no way he knew more than whatever stories were told about the few times he had shown himself. And, in spite of his offer, Pygni truly disliked the Devil of Lania. He hated him, in fact.
After all, Tom had massacred the knights who believed in and followed him. However, a smart and wise ruler could not be swept up in personal emotions. For his nation and its people, he had to acquire every single advantage. Even if it meant befriending the fiend who had killed all of his precious soldiers…!
“Yes. I at least know that you hold animosity toward the Holy Kingdom—no, toward Pope Salem.”
The one who reacted to those words was Oskal, not Tom. He looked back and forth between the helmeted Devil of Lania and Pygni. It was surprising for the Devil of Lania to have a grudge against Salem, yet Pygni trying to recruit the Devil was even more astonishing. This was akin to saying that once the Devil of Lania was recruited, he would gather whatever troops he had to go against the Holy Kingdom. Pygni was essentially declaring a war against an allied nation.
“I’ll fulfill your desire. At the very least, it’ll be smarter to choose us than the stupid and savage Demons.”
Pygni scanned the Demons. They were definitely a whole level stronger than humans, but to call them a civilization was inappropriate. The Devil of Lania must have gone through significant trouble to raise this number of troops and to establish the Demon Kingdom as a nation, and it would definitely be challenging to maintain whatever progress he had managed to make.
No one within the Demon Kingdom had the required knowledge or wisdom, and it would be difficult to properly lead such riff-raff. More than anything, Pygni believed that they lacked the funds to enter the diplomatic stage alongside the other nations on equal footing.
“Currently, the Holy Kingdom is falling apart. It is slowly crumbling, according to what I assume must be your plans. However, don’t you want to take your vengeance a bit faster? With me, you, and Oskal, our strength is more than enough. We could lead our army and launch a swift attack to chase out those filthy priests. We shall bring Salem to the guillotine. No, if you desire, it’ll be fine to take care of him however you see fit. How about it? My offer is quite—”
Pygni narrowed his eyes, as he didn’t imagine that he’d be rejected. The Devil of Lania wanted to have his revenge against Pope Salem, and he believed that there had to be some pre-conditions in order to achieve that vengeance. He assumed that he was using the Demons for this purpose. But, to refuse…?
‘…What is it? Could it be that he doesn’t mind his grudge? Or is it another purpose…?’
If it wasn’t for vengeance, he couldn’t fathom another reason for the Devil to remain in the Demon Kingdom. Even if he used the Demons’ army, allied with the Kingdom of Aylans, forced the other nations of the continent to join forces with them, he couldn’t eliminate the disdain that humans held for Demons. Rather than having to deal with such a deep-rooted problem, it would be much wiser to stand with Pygni, someone already on the human side. The Kingdom of Lome was a strong nation—they weren’t referred to as the Kingdom of Wisdom for nothing. But, even then, he refused?
‘He must have another reason.’
“…Is that so? How regrettable. I’d have liked someone like you by my side.”
“As an Apostle of the Demon Lord’s Army, I wish to declare this to the army of Lome, in the stead of the Demon Lord, Lily Golt.” Tom aimed his Holy Sword toward Pygni. “Admit your defeat and leave our territory. If you do not…we shall slaughter you all.”
“…Slaughter… You use such scary language.”
Pygni shook his head tiredly. Even still, he knew that he had a chance. The other party had granted him permission. By his words, if he retreated immediately, he would be able to leave without any casualties, but what if the Hero’s party managed to capture the Demon Lord?
They would die in the Demon Kingdom without being able to escape, and the Kingdom of Lome would still suffer a defeat. As a bonus, the Holy Kingdom might use the death of the Hero’s Party to forcibly request more soldiers.
‘Mm…that’s difficult. I don’t want to be led around by that awful Pope. It’s one thing to fight a war with that bastard, but I can’t just let my people die.’
But if he fought now…? He predicted that the Hero’s Party must have infiltrated the Demon Lord’s castle, and if they managed to succeed in capturing the Demon Lord, then all of the casualties that had suffered so far would still be worth it for the sake of victory.
‘…It isn’t that good of an idea, either.’
Both options would lead to significant losses, but weighing the cost and benefits…the latter option was better.
‘The problem is if the Hero’s party fails…’
That would be the worst-case scenario. The Hero’s party would be dead, his men slaughtered, and Pygni would be captured to be used as a bargaining chip against the Kingdom of Lome. Even still, the Holy Kingdom would use the death of the Hero’s Party and the fact that Lome would have to negotiate with demons as blackmail.
The worst. Absolutely the worst. There was nothing that could be worse!
“…It’s a gamble.” Pygni frowned and looked at Oskal. “Oskal, what do you think? Do you think it’s smart to fight? Or is it wiser to retreat instead?”
“If the Devil of Lania displays his strength, it’ll be wiser to retreat.”
Pygni grew silent as Oskal answered without hesitation.
“But…isn’t the outcome of war something that can’t be predicted?”
“…That is also true. Then let me ask this, Oskal Penrose, do you wish to fight? Or do you wish to run?”
“Isn’t that obvious?”
Oskal drew his short sword from its scabbard. As he swung it in the air, the soldiers of Lome lowered their bodies and raised their weapons forward.
“I desire to fight! There is no retreat for prideful knights!”
“I see. Then…is it decided?” Pygni drew in his breath and released it in a shout. “Knights of Lome-! Listen close!” Pygni’s chubby chin trembled, but the soldiers focused, sensing the authority in his voice. “I, Pygni, the current ruler of the Kingdom of Lome, speaks-!” Pygni glared at Tom and the Demons. “Kill those monsters that trampled on our pride and show them our courage! And…show the Devil of Lania before us the power of our might-!”
Oskal ran out in front while the knights loosened their shield formation and followed behind him with their sword and spears raised.
Tom witnessed the whole scene and sighed. This…wouldn’t be resolved so easily.
Karakul, noticing Tom’s reaction, also yelled,
“Demons-! Punish those that dare intrude in our home and ridicule us! For Her Highness, the Demon Lord, hunt those beasts-!”
Following that, Karakul raised his battle-ax and rode ahead on his Silver Wolf. The Demons followed behind him. Crimson and silver collided like waves in a storming sea.
The bodies of the Demons and knights met, and, at the same time, screams rang out from both sides. The explosion of blunt force, the clashing of steel, the screeching of metal on metal, and all manner of sounds mixed into a bloody symphony.
In an instant, chaos had taken hold of the battlefield as a thick cloud of dust rose. It was a disorganized and indiscriminate battle. Amid the mayhem, Tom and Pygni stood tall in the center, staring at each other.
‘The battle will be over if we capture the Devil of Lania.’
‘The battle will be over if we capture King Pygni.’
As both glared at each other with these thoughts, there was someone racing toward Tom.
“The Devil of Lania-!”
Oskal threw his body forward while clenching his short sword.
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