148. Allies (8)
Snow fell heavily from the skies. The white snow drifted below the clouds, and it came down unceasingly as if to dye the whole world white. However, the closer to the ground the snowflakes were, the more they turned from white to red.
“Eliminate the heretics!”
“Wash your bodies with the heretics’ blood, purify your sins, and prove your loyalty to God! The Pope shall grant you freedom!”
The Holy Knights in white and gold armor hollered. They were carrying the holy cross, but it was sprayed red by the blood they spilled. The slaves ferociously swung their weapons, as if dancing in tune to the Holy Knights’ shouts. They had emaciated bodies and exhausted faces, with only underwear to shield them from the storm of steel. As for weapons, they merely had some farm equipment or kitchen knives. Yet, this slave army kept fighting, fueling their bodies with zeal and ardor, albeit a forced one.
The slaves’ madness-laden faces scared the soldiers of Aylans.
“T-these guys aren’t in their right minds!”
“W-why are they so fast…!?”
“It’s different from what they said! Didn’t they say it’d at least take a month! But these bastards…!”
“W-wait…! We give up! We give up!”
“There’s no surrendering for heretics!”
The flames from the collapsed fortress raged everywhere, polluting the air. The victors planted crosses into the ground and then hung the corpses of the Aylansian soldiers on them. The Golden Cross Army stepped across the cold, snow-laden corpses.
After the battle finished, the slave soldiers, wavering from exhaustion, sighed. But there was no reprieve as the Holy Knights and Priests started whipping them. Their backs were mercilessly flogged, causing blood to splatter everywhere. The persecuted slaves glared at the Holy Knights, but the whipping did not stop.
“Are you refusing!?”
“N-no! J-just give us some rest…”
“We have walked for a week without any rest! We only slept merely two to three hours!”
The Holy Knights smiled before responding to the slaves’ outburst, “We’re the same!”
The same? They took rests on wagons in turn and ate their fill from pillaged villages, yet they dared say they were the same!?
The slaves glared at the Holy Knights with fierce eyes, but under the Holy Knights’ constant lashing, they were forced to lower their gazes.
“If you have time to rest, charge! Move for the Pope!”
The army continued its advance as hundreds of gold-decorated wagons rolled their wheels over the corpses. Pope Salem sat in the largest and the most lavish wagon. He stared at the Kingdom of Aylans’s border region from the window while clicking his tongue.
The fallen fortress’s burning walls and the hundreds of thousands of corpses beneath painted a gloomy scenery. A lot of corpses belonged to Aylans, but about ninety percent were the slaves drafted from the neighboring nations. Salem smiled as he turned to the Cardinals and the Archbishops accompanying him on the wagon.
“Haha! The casualties are quite large. How much did we suffer?”
“A-about 20,000 of the slave soldiers were killed. Also, 13,000 are wounded…”
“Um…even if they’re slaves, they’re still in an unreasonable march. Not only have they walked for two weeks without rest, but they have also been given only three hours to sleep and ten minutes to eat. As a result, over 2,000 of them have died from exhaustion. The slaves aren’t even eating properly…”
The reporting priests trailed off under Salem’s intense glare. A forced smile appeared on their faces as they changed their tune.
“…B-but I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Yes! The slaves are worth nothing. Aren’t the citizens of the Holy Kingdom also participating?”
“Our Golden Cross Army is invincible. With the Pope, Your Highness Salem Gattschuranche, accompanying us, we have God’s blessing on our side. The dead slaves will receive the grace of God and ascend to heaven.”
“Haha! Is that right? That must be, right?”
Salem burst into laughter at the Cardinals’ flattery. He stuck his head out the window and turned to Helpharon, who was serving him.
“Helpharon, we are winning. Haha! Even Aylans is nothing.”
“Still, can we get the Fragment of God with this? I’ve heard that the Demon Kingdom would intervene if we struck the Kingdom of Aylans, but will they be able to pose enough danger to stop the Golden Cross Army? I won’t complain if we can get our hands on Akareal and that damned King Paulie’s head… I’m just wondering if we’ll miss out on the Fragment of God.”
“…It’s Hero Thoma. Rather than fleeing, he’ll try his best to help his former companions when they are in danger.”
“…Such a party-pooper. Are you still caught in that delusion? My faith in you is starting to waver, yo know. Still talking about that dead Hero Thoma?”
Helpharon peeked over at Salem and replied, “He is still alive.”
“More nonsense! You mean when he was freed back then, he managed to obtain the Fragment of God and survived? Truly utter nonsense. So God chose him instead of me? Haha! I will admit that you’re better than anyone in disturbing my psyche. I won’t listen to your uninteresting jokes any longer.”
Salem closed his window, indicating his decision. Helpharon’s eyes turned to the territory of Aylans.
“…They fell. All too quickly as well.”
Two weeks after the 20,000-strong advance force of the Golden Cross Army invaded, the main force, expected to arrive in a month, managed to destroy the Karnival territory in a day after reaching the border in a mere two weeks. Also, as the Golden Cross Army was attacking without resupplying or re-equipping, it was able to head toward the capital without bothering with the other territories.
Going by this rate, they wouldn’t be able to resupply from other places as well. This war, if drawn out, would lead to the self-destruction of the Golden Cross Army. Thus, it was a truly reckless and foolish assault. By the time the capital of the Kingdom of Aylans was taken over, more than half of the Golden Cross Army would be lost.
‘…And he would reform the Golden Cross Army with the slaves from the citizens of the Kingdom of Aylans.’
However, even that wouldn’t last long. If he went with the same plan when attacking the Demon Kingdom and the Kingdom of Lome, this kind of reckless assault would instead fracture his army and lead to an uprising.
‘You’re walking down the path of destruction yourself, Salem…’
Helpharon quietly closed his eyes.
Tom blinked while riding on the Silver Wolf. His vision swayed with the wolf’s movements, but that wasn’t the only reason. Some unknown sound rang in his ears, leaving his mind confused. His body felt heavy and limp, and he could feel his strength leaving his body. The moment he sensed his mind turn dizzy and numb, a snapping sound was heard, and something flowed out of his nose.
“…Did I get another nose bleed…?”
Tom covered his nose with the back of his hand and cast some healing magic.
“Are you okay?”
Tom turned to the figure beside him with surprise. Wearing a fitting red armor, she was riding a horned unicorn, the Demon Lord, Lily Golt. She was leading the charge of 7,000 men of the Demon Lord’s army.
“Ah, it’s nothing. I think it’s because of fatigue.”
“For you to be exhausted… I seem to be asking too much of you. If it’s okay, this battle…”
“No, I can’t skip on this battle. I’ll take some rest next time.”
“It still looks like you’re pushing yourself…?”
Tom smiled and refused Lily’s kind intentions.
“I’ll take a long rest after this war is over.”
At this moment, a crow flew towards Tom, landing on his shoulder before melting into his body to be absorbed. Seeing the destroyed crow, Tom smiled bitterly.
‘This…is more serious than I thought.’
Normally, it would have directly delivered a report of the things it had seen from a distance, but even that wasn’t possible. Although it had managed to reach him to deliver what it had seen in memory, it didn’t have enough Magic Power to sustain its physical form and had disintegrated. Tom didn’t think he would become so weak and be unable to maintain the communication-type crow.
‘I’m losing power faster than I thought.’
It was a limitless power, and he had been using it indiscriminately, but now, it seemed his body was reaching its limits. He was unable to hold on.
‘If I can endure for a bit longer…’
Tom sighed lightly and reported what the crow had seen and heard.
“What…did you say?”
Lily’s eyes grew huge.
“The Golden Cross Army has arrived at Aylans. Also, the Karnival territory has fallen, and they aren’t attacking the other areas. Rather, they are heading directly to the capital.”
“They arrived in two weeks? With 200,000 soldiers…? That is…”
Noticing Lily’s troubled appearance, Tom, riding on a large Silver wolf, seemed to read her thoughts as he nodded and replied, “It’s not impossible. It’s possible if they continuously marched without rest.”
“Are you saying the 200,000 men marched without rest?”
“I believe that thousands of men died during the procession due to exhaustion or other causes. It just means that they charged with that cost in mind.”
To carry a forced march and ignore the casualties of his own men even before fighting?
‘What kind of logic is that…? Are you saying that he could maintain an army like that?’
Lily’s face paled. She was starting to realize what kind of existence this Pope, who she had to face, truly was.
“…He’s mad. To sacrifice his men for his own satisfaction.”
“Pope Salem is steeped in madness. He can destroy the whole world to obtain what he wants.”
“Tom, you have fought well against such a character. I only hid in the Demon Lord’s Castle… I haven’t directly worked for the sake of our kingdom, it seems.”
Lily was in awe of Tom for everything he had done so far and felt guilt for everything she had done as well. Tom had defended Hell from someone who did whatever it took for his goals regardless of the method, yet all she had done was manage the state in order to stabilize the Demon Kingdom. She thought that as the Demon Lord, she hadn’t done enough to help him.
“Please don’t say such self-deprecating words. Everyone performed their roles, and Your Highness has done brilliantly. I am rather grateful for that.”
Hearing Tom compliment her with a smile, Lily lowered her head meekly.
“I-is that so…? I-I appreciate it.” She tried to remain as calm as she could as she changed topics. “But…if the Holy Kingdom has reached Aylans…”
“The front-most region, Karnival Territory, has already fallen. Also…it looks like there are no survivors.”
‘…We have to cross that area to support the Kingdom of Aylans, so I’ll be able to see the situation in detail myself.’
“Is that so…? Then…the time for them to arrive at the capital…”
“It’s an army of 200,000. Regardless of how much they push themselves, it should take about two weeks at least.”
“Can our soldiers get there in time?”
“We should be able to arrive at the border of the kingdom in about a week from now, and if we maintain a forced march for a week, we should barely be able to see the capital.”
“In other words…”
“Even if we arrive, we won’t be able to enter the capital. Instead, we will be faced with the 200,000 men of the Holy Kingdom and the Golden Cross Army outside the capital embroiled in war.”
“…Is that so?”
“But it’s not only us.”
Lily tilted her head in confusion.
“The Holy Kingdom should meet with the Kingdom of Lome, who is also reinforcing Aylans. They should arrive at about the same timeline.”
“I see. That gives me a bit of strength. Then…let me ask. Before the war with the Kingdom of Aylans, I put in a word to the allied army, as you suggested. How are they now…?”
“As Your Highness requested…the Holy Kingdom should currently be in flames by now.”
— Ω —