45. The Moon Rabbit Siblings (2)
Eventually, the gambling soon came to an end thanks to Ellin. Even if the situation was as it was, everything had its time and place, and, as such, there was no way it would be allowed. She punished the Orcs with disorderly military conduct using her authority as an Apostle.
“This was one of the games you taught us!”
“Uwaaack! So heavy!”
The Orcs ran around exhaustedly, carrying massive logs. They had to begin reconstructing walls that were destroyed by the Hero’s allied forces. Ellin, who was watching those working Orcs, turned to look behind her with her arms crossed.
Tom tilted his head and tried to suck on a cigarette that one of the Orcs had been smoking out of curiosity. When the smoke hit his throat, he began to cough while brushing off his head.
“…A lot of strange items have been developed since I was gone, it seems. It brings a strange sensation, but it also harms the body, so I don’t think it’s anything good.”
Ellin, who saw him, sighed. She thought she’d know what to say to him once they met, but now that they did, she had no idea where to start. He tossed the lit cigarette into a nearby pile of firewood for the campgrounds, then looked at Ellin with a smile.
“It’s been a while, Ellin.”
“…It has indeed been a while, but why are you greeting me so casually, old man?”
“You’re still calling me an old man, huh. My appearance shouldn’t look that wrinkled, though. Anyways, what did you need…?”
When Tom looked directly at Ellin, she moaned nervously and took a step back. In reality, she wasn’t sure why she had sought him out, so it was obvious that she hadn’t organized what questions to ask him.
‘W-what do I say? Why are you alive? Isn’t that too weird? Then…’
Ellin stiffened her nervous expression, her cold eyes glaring at him. As a vassal of the Demon Lord and an Apostle, she shot him a look suggesting that she didn’t accept him.
“… Are you really the Devil of Lania?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
He coolly admitted the fact.
“Okay, then why did you seek out our kingdom?”
“I came to meet Captain Karakul.”
The one who was shocked by his answer was Ellin. Did he come to Hell to meet Captain Karakul? Those words had several meanings, including the fact that Karakul had known about the man standing before her for some time. Also, there was a possibility that Commander Karakul might have approached this probational Holy Knight while knowing his identity as the Devil of Lania.
“…How long have you known him?
“Since a very long time ago.”
“Did he know you were the Devil of Lania?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Karakul and the Devil of Lania were acquaintances? Then why didn’t he pull the Devil to his side until now?
‘…Now that I think about it, Commander Karakul always opposed dragging the Devil of Lania into our affairs.’
When the Devil of Lania had first appeared, many from the Apostles opined to have the Devil of Lania more involved, but the only voice to openly disagree belonged to Karakul. His reasoning was that ‘We do not need him’. So, why did Commander Karakul drag him in at this point?
‘No, this person must have sought him out.’
Ellin struggled to make several more predictions, perplexed at the whole affair.
“…And what were you going to do after you met Commander Karakul?”
“Receive his help.”
“What kind of help?”
“I wished to gain some information regarding how to strike the Holy Empire.”
The fact that he was speaking so honestly totally shut her up; she was obviously weak to this kind of interrogation. More than anything, seeing the other party smile honestly with such leisure, rather than hesitating, made it harder to distinguish whether his words were true or not. She felt it especially difficult to deal with his refreshing smile.
“Why do you hate the Holy Empire?”
“Because they have destroyed everything that I am.”
While speaking, his expression changed drastically, his face growing stiff and his eyes sharp as though he found it difficult to control his emotions. His golden right eye with the scar stared directly at Ellin. His gaze was so fierce that she even felt a chill down her spine.
In that one moment, she realized that the man was an illogical monster that had toppled the capital of the Holy Empire. Although he was currently in his human form, inside, he was a true monster.
“T-then, did you perhaps see any other humans when you attacked the capital twenty years ago? A woman that looked similar to me? With silvery locks and red eyes… Yea! A human female that looks just like Miss Lily! And, did you see the monk with her…?!”
“Leave it at that.”
Ellin’s head jumped back in surprise. Karakul, who had finished his meeting with the Demon King, was watching her as he spoke.
“He is our savior. Show some respect.”
“B-but, Commander Karakul! T-this bastard might really know! He might know my savior that raised me when I was young!”
“I said drop it,” Karakul said in a hostile growl.
Ellin was shocked by his fierce reaction and grit her teeth. It was an opportunity that she had come across after so long, but as Karakul said, any more than this would be disrespectful, akin to insulting the Demon Lord. She stiffly replied with a cold expression like an ice wall.
“…Understood. Then…” She tilted her neck as a greeting then passed by Karakul. She peeked back at Tom and muttered, “We’ll talk again later.”
When Ellin left, Tom glanced at Karakul, who had his head lowered toward him.
“…I’m sorry. That child has poor manners. What she said, please don’t take it to heart.”
The history that Ellin was trying to dig up was also Tom’s past, his horrible memories that felt like a nightmare! It gave rise to darkness that made him feel utterly alone in this world, as everything precious to him, everyone he loved, and all those he trusted had left him. It was because Karakul was fully aware of this that he was now apologizing.
Tom smiled bitterly in response.
“There’s no reason to go that far. So, what’s up?”
Karakul got to the point just as Tom asked.
“…I wish to know what happened to my and Kuman’s kin, the trolls, at the capital.”
Tom and Karakul had in-depth conversations within the commander’s tent. Karakul listened intently to Tom’s recollection of what had transpired in the current capital. The Orcs were slaughtered en masse, and the trolls were tortured until they were fermented in some kind of wine. The Ogres might have been considered extremely dangerous since they were systematically eradicated.
Most managed to escape the Vampire’s rule, but those that couldn’t were turned into corpses. The roads, forests, and everywhere near the capital were decorated with thousands of their carcasses.
Karakul gritted his teeth in rage, glaring at Tom with eyes filled with resentment. When the Vampires were headed toward the capital, he should have turned his army around and chased them, and that would have been the only way to stop them. Everything turned out as it had only because he had missed that window.
Tom, who felt Karakul’s gaze, spoke, “Are you resentful?”
“…I’m sorry, but honestly, I am.”
Karakul spoke honestly. However, he opened his mouth again after a brief pause, thinking about it further.
“…No, I should be angry at my own incompetence. If it wasn’t for Master, I wouldn’t be aware of the bastards’ schemes at all. Even if I had known and pulled the army away, the entirety of the Demon Kingdom would have been in ruins by the invasion from the Hero’s allied forces. There would have been no way to stop the Hero, having divided our forces in half.”
A smile formed on Tom’s lips at his understanding of the situation.
“How about it? Why not take this opportunity to leave my side instead? You can leave quietly in the forest with your kin? If you want, I shall grant you freedom.”
“Freedom? I think you misunderstood, sir.” Karakul continued looking at Tom.
“This, currently, is freedom for me, and I wish to follow you of my own volition. I was granted freedom when you liberated me from Lania.”
He had found freedom, thanks to Tom. Also, he didn’t doubt that the person before his eyes would liberate all the Orcs captured by humans. As such, he had vowed to follow him through thick and thin.
His motto was as such: to follow him if he had nowhere else to go. Currently, the place that Karakul had to go was the path that Tom paved for him.
“Yes, let’s try to find a way to stop those guys. How is the base army currently dispatched?”
Tom listened to the characteristics of the Apostles and the species following them.
Treo; they possessed a slow body but were wiser and more powerful than any demons. They were a species that never lost their calm during dangerous situations and moved with purpose. They were fearsome as a siege unit when they wielded and threw boulders. Rather than using tools, they fired with their own arms, making them more accurate than any siege engines.
Minotaurs; they had tough hides and oppressive strength. They were vanguards with ridiculous charging power, allowing them to ignore and topple pike formations of human armies and even destroy castle walls of smaller countryside territories.
Centaurs; masters of cavalry arts with one of the fastest legs among all demons. They were capable of deftly displaying expert movements even through the densest forests. As their lower halves were horses, they were powerful cavalry units, which humans could not hope to emulate.
Gnoll; they possessed dexterous body movements, stealth techniques allowing quick concealment on any geography, along with exceptional senses that synergized well with their motor instincts. They were a reconnaissance unit that relayed information on the enemy’s movements or traps, depending on the situation.
When listening to Karakul’s assessment, Tom wrapped his head with his arms and slammed it against the table. It was truly an unimaginable ‘army’ in itself. As for veteran soldiers at their level, they were powerful enough to stand their own against the kingdoms that shaped the continent. How could it be that humans fought wars against such demons and won? It was truly miraculous!
‘… Now that I think about it, I didn’t fight properly with these monsters.’
He was different from most Heroes and didn’t receive reinforcements. So, he had hired mercenaries with gold or formed strategies to avoid large-scale battles against the demons. Even when he killed the Demon Lord, he concluded that he stood no chance in a frontal assault. Therefore, he had strategized to hide within the palace and assassinate him.
‘Still, it’s weird. How were the Demon Lords repeatedly getting killed until now without being able to stand on their own?’
Even with the support of the Holy Empire, why were the demons constantly losing? Did they have a weakness?
Tom reflected on this point, their battle with the Hero’s Allied Army, and the current predicament.
‘…solidarity, and the difference of equipment.’
The problem originated from these two points. As each of the species was different, their soldiers were segregated to respect the other races and avoided getting involved in others’ affairs. As such, every species was specialized for different roles but were also acting on their own as well.
Finally, humans had overwhelmingly better equipment. Just looking at the Orcs, they were reusing the equipment left behind by the Hero’s forces, but other than that, they only used crude weapons. As a nation, they lacked functionality, technology, and unity.
The sole reason that the Orcs held their own against the Hero’s army was that they were multi-functional infantry as far as he could see. Also, their tactics utilizing Silver Wolves and the usage of various equipment allowed them to employ strategies that suited a balanced style.
The Orcs, with their vast curiosity, showed great interest in the specialties of different demons and asked for them to share their knowledge. As such, they were able to enhance their strengths greatly. This was exemplified when the Orc who met Tom for the first time asked about his lifestyle.
“…Do you think they have a chance?”
“Honestly, I don’t. I don’t know about anyone else, but if the Apostles were forced to submit, it means that their armies fell into the hands of the vampires as well.”
‘Damn. There’s no chance of winning without using the Army of Artarrk at this point! …No, that’s not truly the case.’
Tom looked at it from a different perspective, though. His opponents were an elite force, and they were almost peerless in their specialties. However, that was only if he considered their strengths and ignored their weaknesses. It meant that if they tried to form an army in that way… each division would split and move independently. Just like they had up to this point.
“There might be some chance of victory…”
“…Is that so?”
“You shouldn’t be asking if that’s so. Just how have you been standing against the Hero’s armies until now?”
“…They shouldn’t be using a much different method than I have been.”
“…Siege units would launch their munitions, archers would attack from range, cavalry would charge, then infantry would engage, and because the defense was paramount to us, we would simply defend the camp…”
When Tom looked utterly dumbfounded, Karakul swallowed drily in a cold sweat.
“…And that was how it was done repeatedly?”
And I had trusted Lily and Ellin to this guy!? Tom’s jaws dropped without being able to say a single word. His reaction left Karakul feeling nervous, as though he had made a mistake, without being able to do anything.
“…You’ve truly achieved an amazing feat defeating the Heroes until now.”
‘Wait, then why… were the Hero’s forces unable to beat them until now?’
Tom couldn’t help but be suspicious about this point. They could have formed a strategy and charged through them any time they wanted to. They had faced countless battles, unlike the demons, and were well versed in military arts and tactics! If they had wanted to, they could have killed the Demon King several times over. But why? For what purpose? Why did they not stomp on the Orcs with overwhelming strength?
Tom stood frozen in shock. He had faced a similar situation before. At this point, something Salem had said before came to mind.
‘A Hero sent to die returned alive.’
He had believed that he knew the ongoings of the continent well, that nothing had changed: the corrupted would still be corrupt, and they would frantically try to take anything they could from the weak. However, Tom had assumed that there had to be some dignity within them to hold them back. It was the only way the world could turn back to how it was…
Yet, he had taken the world much too lightly. The ‘Hero’s allied forces’ from the continent was only an ‘excuse’ to strike the Demon Lord. As they realized that conquest against the Demon Lord was profitable, they had begun to mass-produce and dispatch Heroes once they passed the point of usefulness.
Meanwhile, they gathered funds from their subjects with the excuse of it being ‘for the sake of the world!’ and drafted soldiers en masse. They were using the soldiers’ lives as collateral! All for the sake of filling their bellies a bit more, seeking a bit more pleasure, and living a bit more luxuriously!
They, the kings and nobles, aristocrats and priests, had become leeches sucking the lives out of their subjects.
“…They’ve gone mad.”
Tom sighed and shook his head. It was not time for him to ponder about humans. Rather, he had to think from the perspective of demons.
“It might be surprisingly easy to fight them.”
“Is it… possible?”
“That’s right. For that sake, we should first…”
Tom smiled and continued.
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