73. Canibar Territory (3)
In response to Shabel’s question, Ellin’s expression turned troubled and she whispered to Tom.
“Isn’t our cover blown? I knew we were being too conspicuous!”
“Yes. Since we stood out so much, it was obvious that we’d catch their notice, but we needed to show off in order to gain their cooperation.”
“To meet with the royalty of Aylans, we had to form a connection with a member of the nobility.”
Ellin stopped talking, and Tom, instead of replying to Count Shabel’s question regarding their identity, threw out a different question entirely.
“Count Shabel. I wish to hear your own resolution. Are you willing to pay the price, whatever the cost, to protect Canibar?”
Count Shabel was stunned by Tom’s question.
“That is… of course. Yes, I will protect this place regardless of cost and method.”
Tom held forth his blade. It was the Holy Sword that the Hero Ludin had used. While a simple knight or someone proficient with the sword wouldn’t know who this blade had belonged to, they would undoubtedly see how remarkable this sword was.
Shabel’s eyes grew wide upon seeing the sword. Its blade was battle-ready sharp, with intricate runes engraved upon the fuller. The Count, somewhat learned in the ways of magic, slowly realized just how precious this weapon was. It was not an item that a neophyte mercenary or merchant would possess.
“What will you do if I said that I was a Hero?”
Ellin, Halsem, and The Count froze at his suggestion. The soldiers around them moved their hands toward their blades, but Count Shabel raised his hand to stop them; there was no rule, after all, that a Hero had to be on the side of the Holy Kingdom. As Tom, sitting before them, had not fought on the side of the Holy Kingdom, but the Kingdom of Aylans, it would be an overreaction to label him as an ‘enemy’.
Tom sheathed the blade and clasped his fingers, smiling at Count Shabel’s rational decision.
“Good; I worried I might be restrained.”
“If there was a Hero-grade monster here, it’d be too much for us to restrain. There would be no way for us to stop you unless we employed the whole army.”
The Count’s tone changed. He peered again at the Holy Sword.
“… That sword, how did you hide this? We didn’t find any sword of that sort in our search…?”
“Magic has many uses, and is very convenient.”
“You hid it with magic?”
“No; I contained it with magic.”
Count Shabel’s face betrayed a small surprise. If true, then this man knew ‘Null Space’ magic, a magic that distorted space to preserve objects. Only the highest-class of mages could use it.
A cold sweat began to gather on the back of Count Shabel’s neck. The one before him had to be more powerful than he could have imagined. Not only could he cleave people in half, but he also employed magic? In some ways, even talking with him personally was an extreme risk. If he was an enemy, Count Shabel would have certainly lost his life.
“… What do you want? A Hero-grade monster has come to this place? Who are you associated with? Has some nation sent you to oppose the Holy Kingdom for the sake of Aylans?”
“You ask many questions. I wish to gain your cooperation.”
Tom nodded. “Yes, we wish for an alliance with the Kingdom of Aylans.”
Count Shabel shut his mouth. An alliance out of nowhere? Just what was he talking about? Then that means…?
“Are you saying… that you’re an ambassador for a third country…?”
Ellin’s elbow jabbed Tom’s side. She mouthed, ‘Don’t decide things on your own!’ Important situations like this had to be decided by the Demon Lord, Lily. Furthermore, a mere Apostle was trying to form an alliance?
Tom brushed aside her concern.
“What will you do?” He asked.
“Your request isn’t something I can consider. It is for His Highness to decide.”
“Then I hope you will put in a word to His Highness.”
The Count frowned. His ‘guest’ was acting far too familiar; his insolence coloring their exchange more, perhaps, than he intended.
“It’ll take a significant amount of time contacting him. That request of yours isn’t possible. Furthermore, you’ve not said which kingdom you represent? I don’t understand. You are clearly an asset to any nation. If something happened to you as an ambassador, wouldn’t it be a greater blow to their strength?”
“The nation I represent is prepared for such a risk.”
“…Why Aylans Kingdom?”
“We determined that it was the most suitable nation to topple the Holy Kingdom.”
They were at an impasse, but it was more likely that Tom was speaking the truth. Count Shabel moaned.
“Even if I send out a messenger now, it’ll take more than a week, no, about a week using magical transmission.”
“Then, please form a connection for us to speak with His Highness once this battle ends.”
The other side’s objective was diplomacy, and as such, they were defending Canibar. If he refused their request…?
“… And if I refuse?”
“Then the city will likely be overrun. If you do not make a choice now, we cannot help you any longer.”
Count Shabel considered their words. Without Tom and Ellin sitting before him, the outer wall would quickly be penetrated.
“… The reinforcements from other regions will soon arrive, we’ll have the manpower to stop them even without you two.”
The count was stunned into silence. Tom spoke with a smile.
“How long did they say they’d take? 3 days? 4 days? A week?”
“Will you be able to hold until that time? Ah, of course you will be able to hold, but they’ll only arrive after the residents that haven’t been able to escape are slaughtered.”
“Even if you’re skilled in martial matters, you’re not so proficient in diplomacy. Don’t you know that you’ll have the opposite effect threatening us like this?”
Count Shabel expressed his discomfort.
“Do you have the confidence to refuse, even if you’re against it?”
Count Shabel reached for his forehead. The world was falling into chaos due to brash idiots with too much power and no tact. Pope Salem was bad, but this man named Tom was hardly any better. He was a Hero-grade warrior. The fact that he had crossed the Aylansian border without permission could be treated as an invasion. Was he being so obtuse, knowing this?
“I’m sorry, but I’ll refuse your offer.”
The door opened as soon as Count Shabel spoke. A soldier rushed in and whispered in his ear. The Holy Kingdom’s attack had begun.
The count looked at Tom. Tom had not moved, and instead reclined on the sofa, with his arms crossed and his grin smug. His silence expressed his intention to no longer participate in this war.
“… Please remain here for a bit.”
The Count rose from his seat. As he had already refused the offer, he couldn’t extend his hand at this point. He had his pride to consider.
Once Count Shabel left, Ellin let out a sigh.
“So now what? Didn’t your plan fall apart completely? Or, was this within your expectation as well?”
Cold sweat dribbled down Tom’s confident-looking face.
“… I didn’t think he’d actually refuse.”
“… To think he’d refuse a mere meeting with the king.”
“Then what do we do now?”
He scratched his cheek.
“It’s still not over. A man like him would not abandon his land. He’ll come to ask for help once he realizes that he cannot stop them.”
“How can you guarantee that? Aren’t there humans that abandon others for their own sake? Especially those nobles, I’ve heard that they’re the first to run…?”
“There are those kinds of people, but there are those who aren’t like that as well. Count Shabel is the latter. Also, didn’t he just say so? He’ll protect this land regardless of cost and method. That…” Tom spoke confidently, “was the truth. He sounded like he might sell his soul to the devil. He’ll come to ask for help before this land is overrun, for sure.”
The siege began again. There were many more troops than before, and the invading soldiers climbed the ladders with all their might in order to penetrate the outer wall. Dozens of siege towers approached the wall, and a portion of them were burned down. Thousands of arrows flew through the heavy rain.
Drafted defenders stabbed with their spears and dropped stones on top of those climbing the ladders, but they were no match.
“Stop the bastards!”
“Arrows! We’re short on arrows!”
“Uwaaaaaaack! My arm… My arm was cut off!”
The regular soldiers of the Aylansian army were exhausted, but they forced their tired bodies to move in order to stop the enemy at any cost. Residents fought as well, but once they grew exhausted, they abandoned their weapons and fled.
Arrows were running low, and ammunition for the Magic Cannons was all but used up. The outer gate started to crack and give in under the force of a battering ram.
“Defend the gate!”
“Archers! Take care of the bastards at the gate!”
The archers swiveled their arrowheads to the gate below.
Wheels turned and the ram was pulled back and slammed against the gate. With a deafening crack, the outer gate splintered and the support behind it blew apart. Soldiers held their bodies against the doors of the gate to try and keep it closed for as long as possible.
Count Shabel overlooked the battle, clenched his teeth, and groaned. The attack was more intense than any of the previous ones. The enemy recklessly rushed in, as though they no longer cared for the loss of men. At this point, the Count’s forces lacked the strength to defend against such an intense attack. This assault… how would they be able to endure it?
‘It’s fine. We should still be able to hold out for a week. Reinforcements will come.’
In reality the reinforcements should have already arrived; that there hadn’t been any aid by now could only mean that his request had been ignored by the various nobles he had appealed to. They likely wanted to defend their own lands and refused to pull any manpower from their own forces. The capital had sent some reinforcements, but considering the distance between territories, Canibar would be overrun long before they could arrive.
“Fall…? What nonsense! How will I meet my ancestors if I lose to those crazy cultists!”
Shabel turned around. An order of knights stood before him, each with a sword in one hand and a staff in the other. They were the pride and joy of the Kingdom of Aylans, the Magic Knights, the greatest of experts in both magic and sword.
“You will have to step in. This battle, you must stop it at all cost.”
“By your command!”
They climbed on top of the outer wall and attacked the soldiers of the Holy Kingdom. Their swords were bathed in flames and sundered the blades of their enemies as their staves frosted over, sending fragments of ice through even more of the invaders.
“What is it now?!”
“I thought that devilish bastard was finally gone, and now it’s Magic Knights?!”
“Gather up! There are only 20 of them!”
The soldiers of the Holy Kingdom shouted as such, but despite their words, they hesitated out of fear.
— Ω —