Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 8 - Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: The Battle of the Ushas Basin 

Over a month had passed since Ryoma Mikoshiba had met with Queen Grindiana Helnecharles in the border city of Memphis. 

A large flat land spread out, surrounded by precipitous mountains. Within Xarooda’s territory, dotted with mountains and forests, the Ushas Basin was relatively blessed with abundant access to water, making it a grain-producing region. While most of Xarooda’s crops were imported from its neighbors, it relied on several grain-producing regions to grow wheat, which was the country’s primary food source. 

As unfit as their land was for agriculture, food was the country’s lifeline. Relying on other countries for it could not be tolerated. 

They could, perhaps, afford it financially. The countries’ mines allowed for the mining of not just iron, but even precious materials like gold and gemstones. And with the many skilled smiths in the country, the equipment produced by Xaroodian blacksmiths was acknowledged for its quality among the other countries on the continent. 

From an economic standpoint, Xarooda was wealthy enough. And yet, no king in Xarooda’s history ever considered discarding agriculture. Quite the opposite, in fact — past kings had set aside national expenditures for the sake of cutting down forest and flattening mountains in the name of securing more farmland. 

This was because they understood full well how dangerous it was to rely on another country for something as essential as food. One could discard many luxuries, but relying entirely on another country for agricultural produce meant you were creating a major weakness for your country. 

Assuming the exporting country remained indefinitely friendly toward you, there would be no problems. But true friendship didn’t exist between countries. Even if a country entered a cooperative relationship with another, no man alive could guarantee that relationship would last forever. 

Were the relationship to sour, leading to the importing country deciding to cut its exports, Xarooda would be helpless. And even if relations didn’t worsen, there could be many other scenarios that would put it at a disadvantage. Maybe bad weather meant the crops were smaller than expected, and the other country would have to export less. 

While there were many nobles who did not see commoners as human beings, even they knew better than to starve their own people intentionally. That was why no country would run the risk of relying entirely on importing food from a neighbor. 

If such a situation were to take place, Xarooda’s ability to be at least somewhat self-sufficient would leave it slightly better off. True, the crops it could produce were relatively small in number, but even that paltry amount of wheat could decide the country’s fate. 

So with all that in mind, one could truly say the Ushas Basin was Xarooda’s beating heart. And the land was important from a defensive standpoint as well. The Ushas Basin was a hundred kilometers southwest of Xarooda’s capital of Peripheria. If one were to head to the southern regions of Xarooda from Peripheria, the Ushas Basin served as a key checkpoint that one would absolutely have to cross. 

In addition, the terrain of the arable land was mostly flat, making it hard to employ surprise tactics. Any battle taking place here would be one done with conventional tactics. It was a region that didn’t easily allow for unpredictable developments. 

On the east side of this basin was a sturdy fortress. It was built in a valley between the mountains forming the basin, making it Xarooda’s greatest barrier for stopping O’ltormea’s invasion. 

For many years, the Xaroodian royal house had expanded this fortress. It formed a network of citadels, along with other fortresses built along the mountain range. Thanks to that and the existing locational advantage afforded to it by the terrain, it was very much an impregnable fortress. 

It was for this reason that O’ltormea’s invasion army of sixty-five thousand men had struggled to topple this stronghold for the better part of a month. And today, once again, O’ltormean soldiers marched on the fortress, the sunlight reflecting off the tips of their spears. All in the name of victory... 

“Everyone! This is the critical moment. With the combined power of the three kingdoms of the east, even O’ltormea cannot hope to take this stronghold! The enemy’s supply line is disrupted, and the morale of their men is dwindling! Let us join forces, and bring the pommel of justice to bear on these invaders!” 

“““May we know glory! Death to the invaders!””” 

The beautiful general of the Kingdom of Myest, Ecclesia Marinelle, spoke. Her voice reverberated within the ramparts, drumming up cheers that seemed to shake heaven and earth. Countless fists thrust up toward the sky. As their commander beamed valiantly at them, her black hair flapping in the wind, the soldiers were filled with unwavering, absolute trust. The fact that Ecclesia was another country’s commander mattered little. 

Thanks to reinforcements from the other citadels positioned along the mountains and the forces arriving from the capital, coupled with Ecclesia’s command, the forces stationed in the Ushas Basin fortress were able to hold back the large O’ltormean offensive. 

“Nock your bows! First row, stand at the ready! Second and third rows, remain on standby! There should be siege weapons approaching. Shoot them as soon as they enter your range. Those in the rear, keep preparing those fire arrows! The oil is ready, right? Now, listen! Don’t let a single soldier leave this place alive! If you want to survive, kill as many of them as you can!” 

The commanding officers’ shouts echoed from the walls. Arrows with oil-soaked cloths at their tips were prepared. Large pots filled with oil boiled to several hundred degrees were placed atop the walls. 

If these were to be poured down on the O’ltormean soldiers raging beneath the walls, it would surely burn the skin off of them in a most grisly fashion. Even if they were healed, it would take time for those soldiers to return to active duty. In fact, most of them would likely suffocate to death. What would then follow was a baptism by fire arrows. 

No one could survive this continuous attack unscathed. War, after all, is an overwhelmingly gruesome affair. To O’ltormea’s soldiers, the Ushas Basin was the very gates of hell, but the same could be said for the soldiers defending the fortress. 

“Do not falter, Rhoadserian knights! Now is the time to show your strength!” 

As she drew the string of the specially crafted, tightly-drawn bow to shoot down the O’ltormean soldiers trying to cross the moat, Helena shouted rousing words at the knights around her. She knew that if she didn’t do so, their hearts would snap before the sight of the limitless ranks of the enemies pouring down towards them. 

Even with the terrain on their side, this was not an easy battle. O’ltormea held control of the continent’s center, and poured every bit of their national power into this war. The number of men they had under their service was truly staggering. Their army was like a tidal wave of malice, and the pressure they induced was out of the ordinary. 

Even with them being protected by tall walls, what decided battle was the human spirit. And so, in the face of a constant barrage of arrows and thaumaturgy from the O’ltormean side, Helena wholeheartedly focused on encouraging her soldiers. 

A key aspect of siege battles is to maintain the soldiers’ morale. The battle ends once your side cracks under the pressure imposed on it by the enemy. And there’s only one method of preventing that: keep racking up the enemy’s body count. 

“They’re bringing in a battering ram!” A warning rang out from a watchtower built along the wall. 

It was a simple weapon, built from lumber taken from the nearby forest, its tip reinforced by iron. But martial thaumaturgy could grant soldiers the stamina needed to use it as many times as is necessary to bash through their defenses. Even the thick iron gates of this fortress would not be able to withstand such an assault. 

“Fire arrows! Shoot your fire arrows at it!” 

The captains quickly gave their orders, and a shower of fire arrows and jars of oil rained down on the battering ram. The hammer was completely covered in wet clothes as a precaution against fire tactics, but such a cheap countermeasure was of little help. Attacking the Ushas citadel with such impromptu weapons would be difficult. 

Their army might be large, but the breadth of their strategy is narrow. And this is the result... All that remains is to hope he manages to pull off his plan, and to keep the soldiers’ morale up until he does... 

As she gazed down on yet another repeated assault from O’ltormea, the setting sun painted Helena’s skin red as her lips curled up in a vicious smile. 

“It seems today’s attacks are almost over.” A voice reminiscent of the chiming of a bell spoke from behind Helena’s back, as she kept the soldiers’ morale up. 

“Yes... The sun is setting, and the enemy needs to regain their bearings. Incidentally, is there a reason the supreme commander is here on the frontlines?” Helena asked, her tone the same as ever. 

Ecclesia simply gave a forced smile at Helena’s attitude and shook her head in denial. 

“No reason in particular. It seems Sir Grahalt has successfully intercepted the enemy force marching through the mountains as well,” Ecclesia said, turning her gaze to the mountains towering in the distance. 

“That stands to reason,” Helena nodded, as if she’d been told something quite obvious. “He is, after all, a skilled enough commander. Joshua is with him as well. I believe we can rest easy, knowing they’re handling the matter.” 

Grahalt Henshel, the commander of the Xaroodian royal guard, was a leading warrior in a country known for its militaristic attitude. Despite their rather short acquaintance, Ryoma’s opinion of him wasn’t very favorable due to the man’s quick temper. However, Ryoma only thought so because he hadn’t seen him on the battlefield. 

True, Grahalt didn’t have the wide outlook or wisdom to command the entirety of a battlefield that General Belares or Helena did. And he was short-tempered and easy to anger, to a fault. But as a commander on the battlefield, he had definite talent and vast experience. Were a rebellion to break out in Xarooda, the ones sent to quell it would surely be him and his royal guard. 

Grahalt wouldn’t lose a battle on the peaks of his homeland to O’ltormea’s soldiers. And even if he did see the soldiers of the other two countries as comrades in the fight against the empire, he wouldn’t entrust the last line of defense before the capital to them. Normally, he would see commanding one of the surrounding forts during such a critical time as unacceptable. 

Even so, Ecclesia and Helena insisted that he handle defending the mountains. After a tumultuous strategy meeting, Julianus I gave him a direct order to do as they said. Helena and Ecclesia only insisted so much that he do it because he was exceedingly familiar with Xarooda’s topography. 

This citadel may have been strong, with a great locational advantage, but if the enemy were to circumvent it, the gates may just as well stay open. And if the fort were struck from behind, the soldiers inside would lose heart. That had to be prevented at all costs, and Grahalt was the right man for the job. 

On top of that, Joshua, who had withdrawn his men from the mountain district along the border, served as his lieutenant. So unless something completely unexpected happened, the two of them should have been fine. 

“For now, the day seems to be over...” Ecclesia said, watching the O’ltormean soldiers retreat little by little. “With this, we’ve bought ourselves a month, but how much longer must we wait...?” 

Contrary to her words, there was an amused smile on her lips. It was proof that she didn’t think in the slightest they could lose this battle. And there wasn’t a trace of carelessness or conceit to her demeanor. Helena could only see cold judgment and a lust for victory. 

There was the chance of a night raid, of course, but they were long since prepared for the possibility. Any O’ltormean soldier that might attempt an attack on them would be felled ruthlessly. 

“Yes, all that’s left is to pray his plan goes well,” Helena said, turning her gaze north. 

As if waiting for the one play that would overturn this war... 


“Our forces can’t even topple this fortress under your command, Saitou?!” Shardina’s annoyed shout echoed through the tent. 

This was unlike her usual behavior. Her demeanor was quite poor. The mental strain from the prolonged fighting took away the jewel-like glow Shardina usually had. Her hair, which normally looked like molten gold, had lost its luster, and the sacks under her eyes spoke of her current state of mind. 

“My apologies, Your Highness,” Saitou bowed his head meekly. “Their valley fortress is proving harder to capture than I expected. Breaking through the main gate will take some time.” 

This wasn’t Saitou’s individual responsibility, however. The responsibility for this army fell entirely on Shardina, and this meant the responsibility for how each individual battle played out was also hers. On top of that, Saitou was only the commander of a single unit. 

The ones held accountable for this unfavorable situation were Shardina, and, ostensibly speaking, Celia, who served as her newly appointed lieutenant. Saitou wasn’t a child, however, and knew that pointing this out now to Shardina’s face would only earn him her ire. 

As a soldier of O’ltormea, the most important thing was to win this battle. Saitou realized this, and so avoided saying anything that might make Shardina’s state of mind any worse. But as if to mock Saitou’s consideration, a certain nuisance of a man had to part his lips. 

“No, no, that’s not all. They’ve split up their raiding parties and sent them through the mountains to interrupt us while we’re focused on attacking the fort. Once we counterattack, they run back into the mountains. There’s no end to this... If they were to attack us head-on, no matter how many men they had, they wouldn’t win, but nonetheless...” 

“Mr. Sudou, that will be quite enough!” Saitou shouted. 

His report was accurate, but Sudou had such an obnoxious attitude about it that Saitou couldn’t help but lose his temper. Saitou never liked the man much to begin with. No, truth be told, he rather hated having to deal with him at all. Despite both of them having been summoned from Rearth and having some things in common, their personalities were basically like oil and water. 

Saitou was something of a warrior type of person, while Sudou was more of a schemer. Saitou acknowledged his skills were necessary, and knew he was quite adept, but the two of them weren’t made to cooperate. 

That held true, even though Sudou helped save him from the edge of despair. 

He’s not a bad man, but... Something about him is definitely broken. Not like I can fault him for that... 

Saitou didn’t like plotting or scheming, that much was true. But he couldn’t deny their usefulness. The late Gaius Valkland had worked together with Shardina to instigate the turmoil in Rhoadseria, after all, and Saitou wasn’t disgusted by them. 

I hear Sudou wasn’t summoned to this world by O’ltormea... But did something happen back then to make him like this? 

As both another member of the organization, and a fellow Japanese countryman, Saitou harbored a certain kind of bond towards Sudou, more so than other members of the organization. And so, he felt that if something could be done about that darkness in Sudou’s heart, he wanted to see it happen. But Sudou was still his superior, and sticking his nose into the man’s private matters would only serve to open up old wounds. 

Even so, Saitou was anxious about Sudou, so much so that Saitou dreaded letting him have his way here. Sudou had a certain liking for bloodshed. Saitou got the impression that something about his human nature was fundamentally broken. 

I’ll have to disregard that for now, though... 

The problem was their situation at present. Saitou was concerned that Sudou’s provocative way of speaking would disturb Shardina’s heart. Surprisingly, though, Shardina regarded him composedly. 

“No, go on, Sudou. If you have something to say, say it,” Shardina said, cutting into Saitou’s words with an air of resignation. 

In no way did she actually want to hear what Sudou had to say, but even Shardina admitted that the man’s skill and knowledge when it came to tactics and strategy was first-rate. That was why she summoned him here despite his operations in Rhoadseria, even if affairs there had subsided somewhat by now. His personality was flawed, that much was for certain, but Shardina knew better than to ignore him when it came to matters of strategy. 

At Shardina’s permission to speak, Sudou directed a victorious glance at Saitou and spoke with a smile. 

“The Ushas fortress is even more impregnable than the rumors say. Especially since we’re ill-equipped in terms of siege weapons, too... The fact that you stressed mobility in hopes of finishing the war quickly is backfiring on you.” 

Even thaumaturgy attacks had little meaning, since the endowed thaumaturgy applied to the fortress walls rendered them useless. With that, Shardina was left with no choice but to resort to a basic siege battle. 

However, siege engines were, for the most part, quite heavy and difficult to transport. And Shardina placed emphasis on speed during this campaign, which meant she didn’t account for siege weapons. Still, she did prepare some siege engines — but very few. And the majority of them were reduced to ash when Joshua Belares ambushed that supply convoy. 

That man ruins everything for me. Even this... 

Of all the siege engines she’d been able to prepare, only one in ten actually arrived in the Ushas Basin, and most of those had been destroyed over the month of fighting. As substitutes, Shardina had ordered that lumber be acquired from the nearby woods to build impromptu siege weapons, but they were far inferior to the siege engines built by the imperial capital’s craftsmen, especially when it came to defense and durability. 

Covering their siege weapons with wet clothes did little to block the fire arrows and boiling oil raining down the walls. 

“You claim to have Xarooda’s nobles under your thumb, but their actions and movements are far too slow. They’ve likely realized we’re struggling to win, and adopted a wait-and-see approach.” 

The most surefire way of winning a siege battle is by having an insider help you. In other words, by using a traitor to help topple the fortress from within. But the rats in Shardina’s employ were proving problematic. Despite being their last hope, the nobles were moving far too slowly to be effective. They were within the Ushas fortress as part of Xarooda’s army, too. They’d made up all sorts of excuses so far to avoid Julianus I’s appeals, but suddenly changed their mind. 

“Are you saying they’re trying to side with both us and Xarooda?” Shardina asked. 

“That’s what I would do if I were them,” Sudou said, an obscene smile on his lips. “They have neither loyalty nor faith. All they have is greed, like pigs. That said, it’s that nature of theirs that made them take our offer to begin with, and that’s what drove General Belares to his death.” 

Their cooperative attitude from a year ago felt like a lie now. But such was the danger of a traitor. Only a fool would expect loyalty out of people who would betray their own country. 

They likely started doubting the empire’s strength upon seeing that the war is dragging on... Dammit, that’s why I tried to end this war quickly... Shardina bit her thumbnail in annoyance despite herself. 

“I see... So what are you saying I should do now, Sudou?” 

“The best course of action is to retain the territories we’ve managed to snatch away, and have our soldiers fall back to our country. We don’t know what the north is up to, and our line of supply is at its limit.” 

Sudou then spread out a map on the table. 

“Thanks to General Belares’s son and his ransacking of our supply lines, we’re failing to bring sufficient supplies to this battleground. And since Xarooda burned down their fields as they retreated, we’re failing to procure what we need locally as well. That’s not to say our rations are depleted, of course, but at this rate, it’s only a matter of time...” 

“So that’s why they brought the frontlines east of the Ushas Basin...” Shardina muttered. 

“It’s safe to assume, yes. They won’t shy away from any method if it means pushing us out.” Sudou shrugged. 

Scorched earth tactics. A strategy used throughout history. By destroying the land’s fields before they fell into enemy hands, it would become extremely hard for the enemy army to procure supplies locally, thus making it exceedingly difficult to maintain their ranks. 

One famous example of this tactic was from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula; the Joseon Dynasty applied scorched earth tactics to weaken the Japanese army’s ability to gain supplies. It also saw use when the German army invaded the Soviet Union during World War II, and when the Achaemenid Empire in Persia invaded the Scythians. 

It was an exceedingly effective tactic that had proven successful time and time again, especially in situations where a large army launched an invasion into a mountainous or snowy region, where securing a supply line was difficult already. 

But with its effectiveness came its share of downsides. The most glaring one being that, once the war ended, restoring the ruined areas proved considerably harder. Originally, scorched earth tactics didn’t destroy only military facilities. Villages and farmland were put to the torch, water sources would be poisoned, forests would be burned. Extensive damage would be inflicted on the area’s infrastructure and environment. 

In other words, Xarooda had cut into its own living flesh with this move. And the best ways of defeating this tactic was by ending the war so swiftly that supply lines were no longer an issue, or by carrying a large amount of supplies from the homeland to begin with. 

But now, since neither of those options worked, they would need to withdraw their soldiers and regroup. That was established logic in a war. Shardina, however, shook her head in denial. 

“No... Sudou, do you seriously think we can pull back, this late into the war?” 

Rationally speaking, she knew Sudou was right. But she couldn’t withdraw her army now, and Sudou knew that as well as she did. 

“Yes, honestly speaking, it is a difficult decision to make. If nothing else, it’s bound to make your standing that much worse, Your Highness. And our positions would not be much better...” 

The war expenditures Shardina had sunk into this campaign amounted to more than a third of O’ltormea’s military budget — the budget of a large military power that ruled over the center of the western continent. It was a larger sum than some small countries’ entire national budget. And even a large country like O’ltormea couldn’t raise that much money easily. 

But money wasn’t the problem here per se. Given O’ltormea’s national power, they could cover that sum within two to three years. The problem was whether they’d be able to regain that lost sum. 

Wars break out, in nearly all cases, for financial reasons. Many times, matters of justice or other greater causes are held up as the banner, such as national defense, or in the name of freeing the commoners from oppression. Sometimes, even God is named as a justification for going to war. But the real cause for wars is almost always economics. 

Poverty and hunger spur people to steal from others; doing so is natural instinct. Even animals fight over territory, after all. And occupying territory meant acquiring the resources and tax that another’s land offers. Put another way, no one would be foolish enough to steal a wasteland that produced nothing. 

In that regard, if Shardina were to pull her men out of Xarooda now, all the efforts and sacrifices she’d made so far would be in vain. The money spent wasn’t the real issue, but the fact that it earned her nothing in return to justify its spending was. Shardina’s reputation and standing would be thoroughly tainted. 

“I think Sudou is right. We must pull back our men and negotiate with Xarooda... However...” Saitou said and then trailed off. 

If things turned favorable for O’ltormea, perhaps negotiating with Xarooda wouldn’t be a bad choice. Destroying the country altogether would be ideal, but Emperor Lionel told them that making them a dependent vassal state was an acceptable alternative as well. 

However, given the situation, neither of those was an option. 

“If nothing else, if we don’t take the Ushas Basin, we will completely fail to recoup the funds we’ve spent on this war... But the way things are going, that’ll be impossible.” 

“I know that... That’s why taking the fortress is our current priority, right?” 

Silence settled over the tent. Shardina eyed Sudou and Saitou intently as they held their tongues. Starting negotiations with Xarooda before the Ushas fort fell would earn them nothing. Xarooda would not easily relinquish the land that was very much their source of food. But O’ltormea wasn’t interested in any of their other lands, either. In other words, if they didn’t have the basin, it wouldn’t be enough to balance out the money they sank into this campaign. 

“Then the conclusion is clear, I think. We’ll have to keep pressing the offensive,” Sudou concluded. 

“Mr. Sudou!” Saitou exclaimed. 

What he was suggesting was reckless. As far as Saitou knew, moving their army for a political reason wouldn’t end well. And Sudou understood this perfectly. But he accepted Saitou’s criticism without batting an eyelash. 

“If we cannot retreat, our only choice is to keep moving forward... After all, we do have the crown prince’s faction to consider, Mr. Saitou.” 

At those words, Saitou fell silent again. Shardina was greatly trusted by the Emperor, but there were those who begrudged her for it. Her two brothers were striking examples of this. They believed that while they were off fighting wildly on the frontiers, Shardina was trying to curry favor with their father, the emperor. 

They were especially indignant now, when Emperor Lionel had pulled elite troops from across the Empire out of annoyance at the invasion of Xarooda going slowly. Several units were taken from the northern and western borders, where her brothers were stationed. 

They understood, of course, that this was necessary. But human emotion didn’t always conform to logic. It is said that the nail that sticks out is the first to be hammered down. If this expedition were to end with unfavorable results, Shardina would be easy prey for the monsters plotting in the emperor’s court. Her status as a royal would do little to stop it. She would not be executed, but she would still pay dearly for her failures. 

“We’ll go on a decisive charge tomorrow... We’ll use the plan you came up with earlier, Sudou. Tell Sir Rolfe to leave Fort Noltia and come here.” 

The glint had returned to Shardina’s eyes. By reconfirming her current position, she had steeled her resolve for what was to come. 

“A wave attack using all our forces... If that fails, we are very much finished.” Sudou gave an amused smirk at Shardina’s words. 

The moment she recalled Rolfe from his duty of protecting Fort Noltia, Shardina admitted her situation was desperate. In the unlikely event of a defeat, the bridgehead they painstakingly formed with Fort Noltia would be snatched away from their grasp. 

The Revolving Wheel Formation. Sudou mentioned it before... With that, it could be possible. And we haven’t many other options left... But why is he so fixated on continuing the war...? 

To members of the Organization like Sudou and Saitou, Shardina was nothing more than a temporary mistress. Saitou’s own oath of loyalty to her was just one way the organization was trying to leech off the lion that was the O’ltormea Empire like a parasite. 

From that perspective, Shardina’s influence diminishing was by no means a favorable development for the Organization. But if the war were to linger much longer, they stood to lose absolutely everything. Sudou would not have wanted to see Shardina — whose temperament he knew all too well — completely lose all her power, either. 

Did the Organization order him to do something? But... 

The animal instincts that he’d polished ever since reaching this world were raising alarm bells in Saitou’s mind. But the truth remained that, at this point in time, they had no better alternative. 

“Saitou, I’ll have you take to the front tomorrow,” Shardina said, directing a sharp gaze at her silent subordinate. 

“Yes, Your Highness...” 

Saitou could only nod, overwhelmed by the intensity in her eyes, even as a creeping sense of unease and dread at Sudou’s mysterious attitude weighed down his heart... 


The next morning, just as a tinge of orange was beginning to overtake the early morning sky, Helena stood atop a turret set along the walls. She looked ahead at the O’ltormean encampment in the distance, the cold air blowing in from the mountains and toying with her white hair. 

The movements in their camp are more vigorous than usual... They probably want to finish it today or tomorrow. They must be running out of patience. 

As the instincts she’d gained as a seasoned commander on the battlefield keenly picked up on the change in the atmosphere, Helena allowed the chakras in her body to accelerate. 

I see... They want to charge us. 

By augmenting her body with martial thaumaturgy, she increased her eyesight beyond its normal limits, allowing her to keenly see the enemy encampment several kilometers away. 

So they’re finally going to throw caution to the winds and charge us, Helena whispered, glaring at the white smoke wafting up into the air. 

There were only a few reasons why smoke would rise from a battlefield. Judging by the time, they were likely preparing food. 

“Good morning, Lady Helena. It seems the enemy is finally prepared to throw everything they have at us.” A fair, chime-like voice spoke from behind Helena. 

Ecclesia appeared on the turret, accompanied by a host of knights. Her sleek, black hair was combed thoroughly despite the early hour, dancing in the wind as she stood there. Helena also felt a faint aroma tickle her nostrils — perhaps Ecclesia had used some kind of scented oil? 

Looking at her refined demeanor and appearance, one wouldn’t doubt she was the daughter of a renowned noble. However, her body wasn’t cloaked in a dress of silk, but rather heavy iron armor etched with countless scratches and marks. It stood as silent proof of the many battles she’d fought over her lifetime. This was undeniable proof that Ecclesia was by no means a beautified doll of a woman. 

“Good morning, Ecclesia. Yes, so it seems,” Helena said, gazing at the rising smoke without turning to look at the other woman. 

“Everything seems to be transpiring as Lord Mikoshiba had predicted,” Ecclesia said, standing at Helena’s side and shielding her eyes with a raised hand as she looked forward. 

Normally, the Ushas Basin was an ideal place for O’ltormea to wage a protracted war on them, but O’ltormea lacked the arms and supplies necessary to pursue that strategy. A month of fighting had taught them all too well just how sturdy this fortress was. But despite that, Shardina decided not to have her army retreat, and that meant there was only one answer to the question of what she was planning. 

“They’re making a big breakfast to ensure their soldiers are well-fed... They probably won’t have a chance to pull back, even after sunset.” 

O’ltormea’s side didn’t have the defensive facilities Helena’s side had, and once the fighting began, the besieging forces wouldn’t be able to pull the soldiers back and give them time to eat and rest. Of course, they likely had some portable rations that could be eaten without being cooked, but that was just simple things like nuts, dried fruits, and salted jerky. 

Still, it was greatly preferable to fighting without eating anything all day long. But it wouldn’t do much to drum up the vigor to do battle. And given the climate of the Ushas Basin, the air became quite cold as the sun set. 

And so, they needed to make sure they filled their stomachs now, before the fighting began in earnest. Their commander’s intention was evident from the amount of smoke rising from their encampment. 

“I see... They’re willing to fight into the night if need be.” Ecclesia’s well-formed lips curled up into a smile. 

Fighting at night required a great deal of preparation. Any commander would naturally hope to make as many preparations as possible ahead of time. But any amount of preparation would be rendered useless if the enemy caught wind of it, as they could prepare any number of countermeasures if they knew what the other side was planning. 

“To be exact, they want to keep attacking us through the night,” Helena said. “Given the size of their army, they’ll likely split their forces into three or four units and attack us in waves.” 

“Yes, I agree with that estimate. They’ll want to take advantage of their superior numbers and attack nonstop, so as to deplete our soldiers’ morale.” Ecclesia pressed a finger against her chin and nodded. 

Seeing the cooking smoke let them surmise a great deal. The enemy army’s state of provisions, their morale, the enemy commander’s plans... Of course, not many could gleam that much from just a bit of rising smoke. The ability to gather that kind of information from the environment was what set a general apart from a mere soldier. 

And the two women standing there were, without room for doubt, generals. 

“How do we deal with this, then?” Ecclesia asked. 

It was phrased as a question, but there was a great deal of confidence to her words. There were limited ways out in this situation, and having read the situation as deeply as they did, Ecclesia’s side had only one path left to take. 

“Well, don’t you think we’re all quite bored of being holed up in this fortress?” Helena said with a forced smile, seeing Ecclesia’s eyes light up like diamonds. 

She was like a child, waiting for her mother to grant her permission to pounce on the candy before her eyes. 

“Yes! Truth be told, I hate being on the defensive, both when it comes to romance and war.” 

There could be no doubt that Ecclesia was a general skilled in both defense and offense, but like all people, she had her preferences. And much like her title ‘The Whirlwind’ might have implied, she was most in her element with tactics that involved trampling and crushing the enemy. Ecclesia Marinelle’s greatest weapon was her tendency to employ overwhelming speed to strike decisively. 

“Then this is a perfect chance... The other formation has the gift he brought us, right?” Helena said, her tone heavy with implication. 

This was a conversation between two generals, and Ecclesia quickly picked up on what Helena was hinting at. Part of the reinforcements Ecclesia led included a unit under her direct command. Since they’d been holed up in the fortress so far, the unit hadn’t been granted a chance to show its true value. But going on the offensive would give them an outlet for the frustration they’d built up, by letting them bare their fearsome fangs against O’ltormea’s soldiers. 

“Yes, indeed... Then I’ll take you up on that offer, Lady Helena. It’s time we finally get a chance to run wild. It seems that no matter what, I’m simply no good with defensive tactics...” 

Ecclesia admitted she wasn’t fond of passively defending. Helena, however, shook her head. Over the last few months they’d spent together, she had learned to acknowledge Ecclesia’s eye for tactics and strategy. The same could be said of Ecclesia’s appreciation for Helena as well. 

“Oh... And I’ll get in contact with Grahalt...” Helena said to Ecclesia as the latter headed down the staircase with skip-like steps. 

“I don’t mind that, but... Will the message even reach him in time, all things considered?” Ecclesia tilted her neck. 

“It’ll be fine,” Helena told her with a wry smile. “He’s one of the most prominent men in this country. I think he’ll keep up with you just fine.” 

It was perhaps hard to praise him as much, since he always had to measure up to General Belares’s achievements, but Helena held Grahalt’s abilities and loyalty toward Xarooda in high regard. Some people were capable but disloyal, while others were faithful but incompetent. Compared to them, Grahalt was a talented man who maintained a high standard, even if he had his own faults. 

That much was clear from the fact that Grahalt was put in charge of commanding the fortresses in the mountains. 

“Very well. I’ll let you handle this, Lady Helena... Now, if you’ll excuse me.” 

Realizing Helena’s feelings on the matter, Ecclesia bowed elegantly before her and turned her back to leave. A valiant, savage smile spread over her lips, like that of a female wolf who had her eyes fixed on helpless prey, licking her lips expectantly... 


“Hey, hurry it up! The captain’s gonna end up shouting at us!” 

“Tell me about it. And that’s after we got kicked out of bed this morning... I can’t keep this up for much longer...” 

The soldiers lined up in front of the large pots grumbled in displeasure. Mealtimes were no different from when they were fighting, and despite the large amount of soup bubbling in the pots before them, it was only just barely enough to fill everyone’s stomachs. If they didn’t hurry to get their serving, they’d only have the residue at the bottom of the pot left. 

The quality and amount of food soldiers got translated directly to their chances of survival on the battlefield, even for the lowliest rank-and-file soldiers who fought on the frontlines. On top of that, the top brass ordered everyone to wake up earlier than normal that morning. 

They were in the middle of a war, of course, so only a few fools muttered complaints about waking up early or that they were still sleepy, but everyone was quite annoyed by it nonetheless. 

The feelings of disgruntlement were growing especially severe as of late. A year had passed since they left their country for this campaign, and the soldiers were growing homesick. Worse yet, the war with Xarooda had been in a stalemate for a long while. Normally the soldiers would be able to bear this, but they were gradually running out of patience. 

“Stop yapping already. If you’ve got complaints, take them up with your commanders!” a burly, middle-aged cook called out angrily, glaring at the soldiers as he beat on his pot with a ladle. 

He wore a white apron and shirt, the common uniform for cooks in this army. His wide chest and thick arms set him apart from the rest, however. He had a bald head, and overall he looked quite scary. One look made it clear he actually did hold a weapon and fight on the battlefield once upon a time. 

His anger completely silenced the soldiers’ grumbling. 

“I swear, it’s not like they’re not giving us absurd orders without considering what we can do, either...” The cook muttered to himself so as to not be heard by the soldiers, and then glared at a soldier who seemed to be begging with his eyes for a bigger serving. “Go on, next! Hurry up and eat or we’ll kick you in the ass!” 

Rationing food was a reason for great concern on the battlefield. If soldiers get the slightest suspicion that other soldiers might be getting more than them, they’d grow angry at the cook in a second. Any sign of weakness would be met with threats and demands for preferential treatment. And any cook who yields to that pressure isn’t worthy of his job. Being feared by the soldiers was a fine alternative to that. 

“Good grief... Every single soldier has to moan and groan... That’s why they never get promoted...” the cook spat out, furrowing his brows dubiously as he looked at the line of soldiers. 

He suddenly felt the ground rumbling ever so slightly beneath his heels. At first it was a slight, barely noticeable tremor, but the vibrations seemed to be growing stronger. 

An earthquake...? 

The nearby soldiers seemed to have noticed as well, as they all stopped eating and were looking around. 

“Is that an earthquake? No... That sounds like galloping!” 

At that moment, the men immediately realized what was happening. 

“Enemy attack! The enemy’s coming!” 

“What are the scouts doing?!” 

“What are you lagging behind for?! Now’s no time for breakfast!” 

The shouts of a few perceptive soldiers echoed through the formation. The next moment, a shower of arrows rained down from the sky. 


Ecclesia bolted out of Fort Ushas like an arrow cutting through the wind, spurring her horse — which was strengthened by endowed thaumaturgy — forward. It was a speed that did justice to her moniker as ‘The Tempest.’ 

Five thousand cavaliers led by Ecclesia sped across the earth with the force of a gale. Before long, the tents of the O’ltormean camp were in their line of sight, some three to four hundred meters away. Normally, this would place the cavaliers well within the effective range of enemy archers, but Ecclesia unflinchingly gave her orders. 

“Prepare the second volley! No need to conserve arrows — we have plenty! Teach these O’ltormean dogs what ‘death from above’ really means!” Ecclesia called out. 

At her vigorous encouragement, the cavaliers drew their bows a second time. 

“Fiiiire!” Ecclesia swung her sword down in the direction of the O’ltormean encampment. 

Countless arrows whistled as they flew across the still-unlit sky of the Ushas Basin. The cavaliers were armed with unique curved small bows, similar in design to Turkish bows or the short bows used by some nomadic tribes. This was a rather unusual choice, since longbows were typically employed in this world. Or, at the very least, on the western continent. 

And while these shortbows were convenient for use on horseback, they of course had their share of flaws. They enabled a high rate of fire and were easy to use while riding, but in exchange, the distance their arrows could travel and the piercing power they packed was significantly inferior to that of a longbow. 

But to begin with, bows were seldom used for a reason that’s quite specific to this world. The greatest weapon employed in war on this Earth is the human body, reinforced by martial thaumaturgy. That was the established logic of combat here. On top of that, absorbing the opponent’s prana was exceedingly inefficient when they’re slain from a distance. As such, bows and other long-distance weapons were shunned as methods of offense, and they were only used when besieging a castle or a fortress. 

This type of bow was developed by Myest over many months. A great amount of funding was poured into repeatedly reworking it, making it ever lighter and more efficient. It was a cutting-edge weapon by this world’s standards. Exploiting its connections formed through intercontinental trade, Myest adapted techniques used on the central continent to independently develop what was very much a merger of technologies. 

Unlike a standard bow, which used general wood for its ingredients, these were composite bows that used thin metal plates as a base, reinforced with the bones and fur of different animals. Their strings boasted such tensile strength that a normal person wouldn’t be able to draw back this bow. 

It matched a crossbow in terms of string tension. A normal person would need to hold this bow against their legs and use their entire body’s muscles to draw it, or, alternatively, use a pulley. If nothing else, it wouldn’t be easy to use such a bow with the same ease one handled a standard bow, especially not when shooting on horseback. 

But knights with their physical prowess augmented by martial thaumaturgy could operate these bows without any strain. Of course, firing from the back of a galloping horse wouldn’t allow for the same accuracy one would have when standing on flat ground. But this situation didn’t require that they shoot accurately. Their arrows just needed to reach the vast O’ltormean camp. That alone would be enough to rattle the enemy soldiers. 

“Looks like the enemy’s panicking...” Ecclesia’s lieutenant muttered. 

“Of course they are,” Ecclesia replied with a smirk. “They never imagined we’d strike the first blow here. I suppose in that regard, staying cooped up in those walls for as long as we did paid off.” 

It was like the smile of a beast cornering its prey. While her usual demeanor was that of an astute noblewoman, Ecclesia’s true nature was that of a savage predator — not unlike Ryoma. And if she didn’t have such a nature, she wouldn’t have climbed up to the rank of general. 

“True enough...” 

If one were to compare this to boxing, it would be like a competitor sticking to defense for the entirety of the match, only to deliver a crippling counter once their opponent loses patience and tries to go for a powerful, finishing blow. 

“I’m sure you know, but we don’t have to force ourselves to go too far. The next step is already prepared,” Ecclesia said, directing a meaningful gaze to her lieutenant, who nodded deeply. 

This lieutenant was a seasoned knight who had served Ecclesia since her first battle. He didn’t need any instructions to know what to do next. 

“Have no fear, Lady Ecclesia. We’ll know when to retreat.” 

This surprise attack was only meant to hemorrhage the enemy’s army somewhat. It was but one of several layers of a trap that had been laid out to ensnare the O’ltormeans and snuff out their invasion in one crippling blow. And this attack was simply meant to stall the invaders until the trap was ready to be sprung... 

“You’re half-hearted and inexperienced, imperial princess...” Ecclesia whispered as she gazed at her aide’s back. “Build up your army as large as you want. It still won’t help you beat me or Lady Helena... Or that man.” 

Shardina Eisenheit was a skilled commander, for certain. One could count the number of commanders who stood in the same league as her on one hand. But she had two major flaws. 

The first was that she lacked experience in leading large armies. Fundamentally speaking, her strategy of winning with overwhelming numbers was by no means a mistaken one. But that idea wasn’t always the optimal play. The bigger the army, the slower it was to mobilize, and the amount of supplies it consumed grew exponentially larger. 

Mobilizing such a large army effectively requires a great deal of either experience or talent. And sadly, Shardina did not seem to appreciate this enough. 

Her second flaw was her lack of experience battling generals of a similar caliber to hers. Consequently, Shardina always made the most valid, orthodox choices in terms of tactics and strategy. And on face value, her decisions were by no means mistaken. She had never been defeated in battle, after all. 

But that was just because so far, she had only fought foes that were inferior to her. And for that reason, Ecclesia didn’t fear Shardina’s O’ltormean army. Setting up a trap for an opponent that would always pick the most surefire, viable way to win was exceedingly easy. 

“The curtain rises on our counterattack... Behold the might of the Myestian army, and burn it into your very eyes!” 

The idea of an alliance between the three kingdoms of the east and the Kingdom of Helnesgoula to form the Four Kingdom Union certainly sounded good on paper. But when all was said and done, it was an alliance brokered during a time of war. Should a country show weakness or an opportunity present itself... Any of these countries could stab the others in the back. 

From that perspective, this war with O’ltormea was an important chance for each country to show off its strength to the other three and make it clear that they were not to be trifled with. And realizing the war was approaching its endgame, Ecclesia played the ace she’d prepared, in order to make a show of Myest’s strength... 

“Once the enemy falls for it... We retreat!” 

Seeing the interior of the enemy formation writhe, Ecclesia Marinelle’s shapely features twisted into a smile. 


“I come bearing a message!” a wounded runner burst into Shardina’s tent and called out. “The enemy dispatched a force of roughly five thousand to attack us! It seems we’ve taken several hundreds of losses from their volley!” 

The moment that message reached Shardina’s ears, her bowl of soup slipped from her fingers and clattered to the floor. It was so unexpected that her thoughts blanked out for a long moment. Saitou and Celia, who were eating at the same table as her, also reacted with stunned silence. But Shardina soon grasped the situation and raised her voice. 

“A surprise attack? What are the scouts doing?!” She glared at the runner with an enraged expression. “I gave clear orders to keep careful watch on any movements from the enemy fortress!” 

“M-My apologies, Your Highness!” the runner stammered, quickly giving his report. “The enemy moved far too quickly, and the scouts’ report simply wasn’t relayed in time!” 

The runner had done the best he could given the situation. Ecclesia’s knights simply moved too quickly. Still, the fact remained he failed in his task. He bowed before Shardina, gasping out in pain and revealing an arrow lodged in his shoulder. Shardina clicked her tongue upon seeing this. 

“Enough. Send a message to the other units and tell them to prepare for a counterattack at once!” 

Despite having ordered caution ahead of time, they were still subject to a surprise attack, and what they needed to do now was prepare for a swift counterattack. 

How could this happen...? Just as we’re about to go in for the kill, they do this and take the wind out of our sails... 

Shardina was wary of a counterattack from the Xaroodian side, of course, but some part of her was confident that the initiative was entirely in her hands. And Ecclesia took advantage of that weakness in Shardina’s heart. 

This is bad... At this rate, the flow of the battle will turn in their favor in one swoop... 

Battles had a flow to them, and it was the scramble over who had control over it that decided who wins and who loses. 

“Your Highness, wait! We should proceed carefully...” Saitou cut into Shardina’s words, just as she was about to order the counterattack. 

“Saitou, you think we have the leisure for that right now?” Shardina said, rising from her chair as if to say there’s no room for argument. “We have superior numbers, and they left their fortress. If now’s not the time to go for the offensive, when is the right time?!” 

“But Your Highness, the Xaroodian army has stayed on the defensive for so long. They might be planning something if they decided to go on the offensive now...” Celia tried to stop her. 

“That’s right, we should regain our bearings for now!” Saitou said, backing up Celia’s warning. 

True, a raid by a mere two knight orders is unlikely to do any major damage. Even if their initial strike was strong, they wouldn’t be able to follow up on it. Their inferior numbers would eventually lead to them being driven to a corner. 

If that was the case, what was Xarooda’s angle in this? Realizing this discrepancy, Shardina took a deep breath. 

Relax... Good, stay calm... Now, what could they be trying to achieve with this? 

A shower of arrows drawing an arc from above and raining down on them. While it did shave off some of O’ltormea’s numbers, it was by no means a decisive blow. For a preemptive strike, their fusillade did cause Shardina’s side to take surprisingly great losses, but once things shift to a full-blown battle, those numbers will be effectively insignificant. Especially since the knights, who were the central force in the battle, wore heavy iron armor. Arrows would at best inflict light injuries on them. 

So they’re just trying to annoy us...? No, that can’t be it... 

True, the attackers spoiled the beginning of the battle for O’ltormea, but the confusion would eventually wear off and their chain of command would regain its bearings. And once that happened, these five thousand knights would be far too few to win in a direct clash. 

“Maybe this is some kind of decoy?” Saitou asked. 

“Are you saying they’re drawing our attention from the front so they can strike from the side?” Shardina furrowed her well-shaped brows. 

She then fell silent, and snuck a glance in Celia’s direction. 

“No, I don’t believe so. The ground around our camp is mostly flat, and our visibility is too good.” 

“Right... I can’t imagine they’ll switch to such an impatient method...” 

“Of course, that’s not to say that it’s impossible, but...” 

Xarooda’s policy in the early stages of the siege was consistent. They holed up in their fortress to minimize their losses, and linked up with the forts located across the surrounding mountains to exploit their locational advantage and hold their defensive position. The chances of them suddenly changing their strategy were unlikely. 

So why are they doing this now, after all this...? 

Any action had to have meaning behind it, and what decides battles is how fast one can read their opponent’s intentions. As Shardina placed a finger on her fair chin and pondered, the voice of a messenger outside the tent answered her doubts. 

“I bring a report! Part of our army has broken from the formation. They’ve gone in pursuit of the Xaroodian cavaliers and are approaching Fort Ushas!” 

The moment Shardina heard that report, everything clicked into place in her mind. The image that appeared in her mind’s eye made a shiver creep down her spine. 

It can’t be... Why did they sortie? They were... lured in...? No, is that what they’re after?! 

That fear turned into conviction when the man standing at the entrance to the tent spoke sarcastically. Standing there with a cloak and hood so as to hide his identity, Sudou spoke with his usual ill-natured smile. 

“This is something of a bad development for us, and it could be a fatal one depending on how things develop... Mr. Saitou, you should gather the knights. I’ve already asked Sir Rolfe to do so, but head over and help him to be on the safe side. That should put Her Highness at ease. We don’t want the soldiers to run wild any longer, after all.” 

“Mr. Sudou, what are you saying...?” Saitou, who hadn’t gotten a grasp on the situation yet, tried to walk up to Sudou. 

However, Shardina held up a hand to stop him from doing so. 

“Saitou, I’m sorry, but go at once. Just follow Rolfe’s orders,” she said, and then fell silent. 

She then took a breath and ordered him with all the force she could muster. 

“Understood? Don’t let any more of our soldiers sortie!” 

Time was of the essence. Shardina trusted in Rolfe’s capabilities as a commander, but she needed to be sure. Like Sudou said, if any more of their soldiers were to break formation, the invasion army could take a crippling blow. 

Spurred by the strong light in Shardina’s eyes, Saitou stopped his questioning and ran out of the tent. 

“It seems the enemy’s beginning to move in earnest... Helena Steiner and Ecclesia Marinelle, I believe. They seem to have a good grasp on our status. Their reputation as seasoned generals is well-earned, it seems. Depending on how our army moves, things could develop quite badly...” 

Sudou spoke with an amused smile on his lips. To him, this was all just a game, and the more difficult it becomes the more satisfying it is. 

“Shut your insolent mouth already, Sudou!” Shardina flared up in anger at his sarcastic smile. 

Sudou simply shrugged. Shardina glared at him and then sat down on a chair. 

“Aaah, God of light, Meneos... Give your protection to Saitou and Rolfe... They must make it in time...” Shardina muttered a prayer, which was something she hardly ever did. 

Celia, who stood beside her, still didn’t seem to understand the situation. 

“Your Highness... What’s going on...?” she asked. 

Shardina opened her fists, which she’d clenched while praying, and buried her face in her palms. Celia couldn’t help but mouth those words in surprise. 

All things in creation are linked together by causality. That held true for both Ryoma’s world, governed as it was by science, and this world, which was ruled over by mystical powers. Cause always preceded effect. 

There’s some kind of problem... A major issue that’ll influence our army’s movements going forward... But what is it...? 

There must have been some kind of meaning to Shardina’s and Sudou’s concerned attitudes. As she watched Shardina’s back, still sitting with her face covered, Celia racked her brains for the answer. 

I’m here as a military commander. I have to think. What do we know right now...? Think back to what happened since that runner came in with his report. 

The conversations that filled this tent since the report of Xarooda’s surprise attack was delivered crossed Celia’s mind one more time. It was then that Celia finally realized something. 

Wait... What did that runner say? Part of our army sortied...? 

And then, what Sudou said came to mind. 

Sudou said something. Letting our soldiers run wild any longer could be fatal... Run wild? So they’re deploying differently from what Her Highness has planned. They’ve been lured out of their formation... So the enemy unit that launched that surprise attack was just a decoy... So the unit that sortied is... 

Having thought this far, all the pieces fell into place in Celia’s mind. 

Sudou said that depending on how many units move out, it could influence how things develop... And they sent Saitou and Sir Rolfe to gather the knights and keep them in check. 

It all led up to a conclusion that was far too terrifying to put into words. 

“This attack was a decoy...” Celia muttered. “And what awaits the units that fell for the bait and went after the enemy unit is...” 

Shardina glared at Celia for speaking those words. Her eyes were full of rage and sorrow — proof that Celia had just come to the ruthlessly correct answer. 

Shardina and Celia gazed at each other in silence, and at their side, Sudou remained with his constant, indomitable smile. But as they did this, the silence was broken by a knight that hurried into the tent. He must have run in quite the hurry, since he fell to one knee before Shardina before he could even catch his breath. 

“I come bearing a message! Sir Saitou and Sir Rolfe have successfully gathered their respective units!” 

The report made Celia sigh with relief. Rolfe was originally placed in charge of defending their fortress in the rear, but the fact that he was now here in the Ushas Basin was a small mercy for them now. Shardina’s decision to pluck manpower from their defensive positions to secure their victory in this all-out offensive had benefited them in an unexpected way. 

Only a dignified, accomplished man like Rolfe could curb the soldiers’ panic. Saitou was by no means a bad commander either, but this situation was likely too complicated for him. Celia smiled in relief. Shardina, however, remained as grave as she was before. 

“How many troops broke formation without permission?” 

“Yes, Your Highness!” the runner said. “As far as we’ve confirmed, roughly eight thousand men centered around three knight orders — the third, fifth, and eighth orders from the eastern front.” 

Shardina clicked her tongue in frustration. If this attack was meant to lure O’ltormea’s soldiers into a trap, their chances of returning alive were slim. 

Eight thousand... That’s more than I expected. They aimed for the reinforcements we collected from the eastern front... They know my command over them is weak... 

Most of the units that charged forward without Shardina’s permission were ones called in as emergency reinforcements. The O’ltormea Empire had vast territories, but it was having an adverse effect on this war. While all the units gathered in this camp were part of the O’ltormean military, these units were different from those that had operated under her command for years, and admittedly, Shardina hadn’t put them to good use. 

“Sir Rolfe is requesting permission to deploy in order to assist them, Your Highness,” the runner said. 

Shardina fell silent. If she chose to do nothing, the eight thousand soldiers that were lured away would likely die. But is marching into what might very well be a trap truly wise...? 

“I do believe the correct decision is to cut our losses,” Sudou said as Shardina remained speechless. 

Even in the face of this crisis, Sudou remained as relaxed and cheery as ever. 

“Cut our losses?” Celia cocked her head, not quite understanding what Sudou meant. 

The turn of expression struck her as unfamiliar. If nothing else, she had never heard it before. 

“Yes, cut our losses. Trying to save them now would just be widening the wound, and only serve to push us into a situation we truly cannot recover from. Put more simply, by tolerating certain losses to a certain degree, we prevent the damage from spreading further.” 

‘Cut your losses’ was a term from the world of stock trading, which simply meant defining one’s losses. For example, suppose a rising stock starts losing value soon after one buys it. Of course, stock prices fluctuate daily, so one could choose to hold on to such a stock if one believes its value will increase. 

But the stock could just as easily keep falling. A one hundred yen stock could cost ninety yen on the following day. In which case, one loses ten yen in the process. Should said person believe that the value would go back to one hundred yen in a few days, they might elect not to sell the stock. But if they sense the stock would only continue to drop in value, they can define their loss as just ten yen and discard the stock. 

That was cutting one’s losses. Doing this minimizes losses. So when Sudou said they should cut their losses, he effectively meant... 

“Are you saying we shouldn’t send out forces to save them?” Shardina glared at Sudou hatefully, and Celia swallowed nervously. 

This was, in a way, a betrayal of the soldiers’ trust. 

“Of course, should you insist on it, Your Highness, I will send out a rescue force to assist them...” Sudou said, a detestable smile on his lips. “But at the risk of coming across as rude, I should note that if we do send out a rescue force, we should prepare ourselves for the situation to worsen. Sending out reinforcements now would simply result in them being wiped out one by one.” 

Sudou’s expression seemed to spell out a single message: ‘The decision is yours. Now decide.’ 

“And you give me this advice knowing full well what will happen if I do take it?” Shardina asked, directing a hateful gaze at the man. 

This was an emotion she had never before directed at Sudou. 

Akitake Sudou... Confidant of the now deceased Gaius Valkland... 

As utterly irritating as Sudou was, she had to acknowledge his strength as a warrior and ingenuity when it came to tactics. Indeed, he simply said what needed to be said at this given moment, and Shardina understood this. 

But it is said that good advice is the kind that hurts the most to hear. 

“Of course. Not sending out a rescue force and leaving them to die will greatly diminish our army’s morale. But the problem is that whichever choice we make, we will take some losses. In which case, we ought to pick the path where we lose the least... If we cannot pick the best possible scenario, we must pick the second best one.” 

Sudou’s analysis was correct. Leaving their troops to die after recognizing they were marching into a trap would certainly damage their troops’ morale. 

“So you’re telling me to choose between my soldiers’ morale and maintaining our numbers...” Shardina once again bit into her thumb’s nail unintentionally. 

If I don’t send out the rescue force, the soldiers will become disgruntled with my command... At worst, they might even rebel against me... But sending out a rescue force when there’s a high chance of a trap will just make us take more damage from this situation... And if that happens, the soldiers will start having doubts about my command anyway... 

Either choice would cost the O’ltormea Empire greatly, and would go on to stall the invasion of Xarooda still more. Shardina couldn’t tell which choice she should make, and in all likelihood, there wasn’t a correct answer in this situation. 

This was what was called a catch-22 in Ryoma’s world. However, Shardina couldn’t afford not to make a choice in this situation. And true to Sudou’s words, everything was riding on Shardina’s shoulders. Such was the responsibility of one leading an army. 

“Fine...” She eventually made her choice bitterly. 

After a long silence, Shardina eventually parted her lips. But the words she intended to say next would never reach the ears of the people in this tent. 

“I come bearing terrible news! I must have an audience with Princess Shardina at once!” 

Because a new runner burst through the entrance, drowning them out forever... 


The sun sets, and a curtain of darkness settles over the area. Helena is seated in the room allotted to her in Fort Ushas, sipping from the goblet in her hands as she gazes out into the darkness outside her window. The strong liquor slithers down her throat and makes a feeling of warmth blossom through her insides. 

Helena wasn’t usually one for alcohol, but at times, being on the battlefield gave her the urge to drink in excess. Especially after battles... Normally, she would think back to her now deceased comrades in times of old. 

But right now, a single woman was occupying Helena’s mind. A young maiden, clad in brilliant armor. Her face was whited out, as if a fog was hanging over it, obscuring it from sight. The sworn confidante of Lionel Eisenheit, O’ltormea’s emperor: his beloved daughter. 

“I’ll admit I was surprised... I was sure she would send out a rescue force. She’s colder than I thought. Perhaps I took her lightly...?” 

Heaving a small sigh, Helena turned her gaze to Ecclesia, who was sitting opposite her. Helena tipped the bottle into Ecclesia’s goblet. 

“Personally, I think her judgment was stellar,” Ecclesia said with a composed smile. “She was able to realize we’d sprung a trap. Well, I suppose that level of judgment is what I’d expect out of an army’s commander...” 

In practice, Shardina’s decision not to rescue the lured forces was a correct one. However, all it meant was that she avoided the worst scenario possible. 

“I suppose,” Helena regarded Ecclesia’s words with a small nod and took another sip. 

“But this raises the question of how she will regain her men’s trust,” Ecclesia said. 

“Who knows? People’s hearts can be quite complicated... And so, it depends on how well she can understand that.” 

Helena admitted that, had she been in Shardina’s position, she wouldn’t be able to come up with a perfect solution either. 

The soldiers will likely feel that they’re being treated as disposable pawns... 

Helena thought back to a book from Rearth she’d once read. It was an old book detailing the warring states period of a certain country, and contained within it was a certain proverb. 

Make a costly sacrifice in the course of justice. 

China’s Annals of the Three Kingdoms told of Ma Su, a wise strategist from the country of Shu Han. He was a promising youth who’d been acknowledged by the genius general Zhuge Liang. But one time, Ma Su ignored Zhuge Liang’s orders and suffered a grave defeat in battle. 

True to military discipline, Zhuge Liang mercilessly sentenced Ma Su to death. The other generals, knowing full well of how much Zhuge Liang cherished Ma Su, unanimously asked that Ma Su be pardoned for his failure, but Zhuge Liang did not budge from his decision, and abided by the laws of the military. And so, with tears streaming down his cheeks, Zhuge Liang severed Ma Su’s head. 

This story’s lesson is that no matter how close or talented a person might be, one must never bend the law when it comes to punishing them. But this was, of course, the reasoning of a general. Upon hearing this story, Helena also gleaned a different lesson from it. 

What matters is performance... The way others see you. 

Soldiers cherished their own lives. Even a commander’s finest troops might not be ideal. In the context of that story, whether Zhuge Liang cries or laughs, it doesn’t matter to Ma Su, whose head is to be severed. 

The tears Zhuge Liang shed weren’t for Ma Su, to begin with. The point was to make the other generals see that he had shed tears, and in so doing, retain their trust and faith. Zhuge Liang understood that no matter how strict military regulations may be, severing Ma Su’s head without a hint of emotion would tarnish his popularity. 

This case was similar to Zhuge Liang’s. The Igasaki clan’s spies who were mingled among the O’ltormean army had told them that Shardina had realized the trap Helena and Ecclesia had set up and ordered her army not to deploy. And as a general in charge of a whole army, Shardina’s choice was correct. 

But doing so meant abandoning the eight thousand O’ltormean troops lured out by seeing Ecclesia’s cavalry retreat to Fort Ushas. Grahalt’s troops then descended on the O’ltormeans from the mountains, striking at their defenseless flanks. This resulted in massive losses among the lured troops. While the numbers were not yet fully accounted for, an estimated nine-tenths of the lured troops were wiped out. 

This left Shardina with a very critical problem — the hearts of the several hundred soldiers that survived the trap. Shardina must have regretted the fact that any of them survived at all, since the survivors likely resented the fact Shardina didn’t dispatch any reinforcements to help them. Even if she were to hide behind the excuse of them breaking orders, the overall trust in her command would be greatly diminished. 

And that disgruntlement was bound to spread to the other units waiting under her command. The anxiety that they were but disposable pawns to their commander would weigh down on all her soldiers... 

Stating her reasoning wouldn’t be enough to prevent this, but the real question was whether Shardina Eisenheit was aware of this. 

“I’d assume a youngling like her wouldn’t know that much,” Helena concluded. “She may be experienced with wars, but she’d only ever won with the might of O’ltormea’s national power behind her. She doesn’t have the experience to tip the scales back in O’ltormea’s favor once it has lost the advantage.” 

“I agree. She might be fearsome in the future, but right now she’s an infant.” Ecclesia nodded with a smile on her lips like that of the strong watching the weak flounder at their feet. 

As talented and intelligent as she was, from Helena’s and Ecclesia’s perspective, Shardina was still a baby bird. Even if she might be a phoenix chick who will one day grow mighty and powerful, she was still only a chick for now. 

Her lack of experience on the field was overwhelming, especially when it came to fighting from a position of inferiority and walking away from it alive. Talented though she might be, that lack of experience in cheating death while in the throes of bloody combat meant her ability to function as a general was lacking. 

To Helena and Ecclesia, all Shardina was capable of doing was simply smashing armies together, like a child might bash toys against each other. They could see right through her all too easily. Of course, the fact that she could claim the life of Xarooda’s Guardian Deity despite that inexperience was proof of her outstanding leadership skills. 

“Still, we can’t be confident we’ve won yet,” Ecclesia said. “They have that man, Rolfe, on their side, and Celia Valkland, the newly appointed court thaumaturgist. And the vice captain of the Succubus Knights and Shardina’s lieutenant, Hideaki Saitou. They’re all quite capable...” 

“The Shield of the Emperor...” Helena nodded gravely. 

Rolfe Estherkent has been the Emperor Lionel Eisenheit’s closest aide ever since O’ltormea was but a small kingdom in the heart of the western continent. His skill far exceeded that of an ordinary commander. 

In a battle that took place on the Notis Plains 30 years ago, Helena and the deceased General Belares pushed back O’ltormea’s invasion and became national heroes. But when O’ltormea’s military started retreating and was subject to a valiant pursuit by Helena’s and General Belares’s army, one commander escaped their clutches. 

Since O’ltormea was forced to retreat, this wasn’t well-known among the people. But Helena, who had directly fought against the man, would never forget Rolfe Estherkent. His tremendous skill with defensive battles and retreats made him indeed worthy of the title Shield of the Emperor. 

The Igasaki spies reported that his skill in calming down and suppressing the soldiers’ desire to pursue their raiders was indeed masterful. Had it not been for him, Ecclesia would have likely lured thousands more from O’ltormea’s ranks into the trap. And Saitou also helped quell the soldiers’ rampage. Neither of them was to be looked down upon. 

“The rest depends on her aides’ skill, I suppose...” Ecclesia said pensively. 

“Yes,” Helena nodded. “And then there’s the matter of that hooded man helping Shardina. We don’t know who he is, either... We can’t afford to be careless now.” 

They had a good grasp of Shardina’s abilities, but the rest hinged on how much her aides could achieve. This defeat could actually serve to make Shardina grow, helping her develop into a truly monstrous commander. 

But either way, this war wasn’t over yet. 

“Well, racking our brains over this now won’t yield us any results. For now, let us rejoice over our victory today,” Helena said, lifting up her goblet. 

“Yes, Grahalt did better than I expected. I think we’ve cut down six to seven thousand of the enemy today...” Ecclesia lifted her own goblet up to match Helena. 

But contrary to her words, her expression was dissatisfied. Her surprise attack struck at O’ltormea’s camp and lured out the soldiers, after which Grahalt then proceeded to launch a second surprise attack from the flank and decimate their forces. The core of the tactic was the double-layered surprise attacks. 

And while the ploy had been a success, Ecclesia still felt like it hadn’t done enough. 

“For how much time and effort we put into this plan, I can’t help but feel like we’ve achieved too little. Nothing to be done about it now, however. We should be satisfied with this... For now, at least.” 

Helena regarded her words with a strained smile. They did spend a great deal of time and sacrifices to pull off this trap. The reason Ecclesia and Helena remained holed up in the fortress after the reinforcements arrived was for this day — this moment. 

So the question remained. Did six to seven thousand troops truly measure up to all the preparation and effort they’d put into this trap? Helena was hard pressed to decide, one way or another. 

“We’ve done more than well enough at stalling them, and we never planned to decide the war here, anyway. We should probably be satisfied with this,” Helena eventually concluded with a shrug of her shoulders. 

“So you say, but with this we have no more cards up our sleeve...” Ecclesia shook her head. “We’ve used up our cavalry archers, after all. The only thing we can do now is hide in this fortress and focus on defense.” 

Even so, there wasn’t even the shadow of anxiety on her expression. Because she believed in a single man, who was now gouged deep into O’ltormean territory like a wedge. 

A vigorous knock came from the door to Helena’s room, as if the goddess of fate herself had been calling for them... 

“I come bearing ill tidings, Lady Helena!” a knight called out from behind the door. “The O’ltormean army is moving about in a flurry!” 

Helena and Ecclesia nodded at one another. 

“I believe it is beginning, Lady Ecclesia.” 

“Yes, so it seems...” 

Ecclesia didn’t need to ask what Helena had meant. That day’s battle had struck a painful blow not only to O’ltormea’s numbers, but also their soldiers’ morale. It was unimaginable they would mount a night assault under those conditions. In which case, this could only mean one thing. 

They had believed in him. If they hadn’t, Helena wouldn’t have simply remained on the defensive in Fort Ushas. But even still, she hadn’t been able to help but harbor a hint of anxiety in the depths of her heart. 

“You really did it, Ryoma...” Helena muttered his name with an exclamation of surprise and admiration. 

The war between Xarooda and O’ltormea, which had begun over a year ago with the battle for the Notis Plains, was finally approaching its conclusion. Thanks to the power of that one man... 

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