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A slash slides through, giant scales are torn off, pitch black blood splatters out.
While bathing in the blood from head-to-toe, while baring his teeth, that man―――Jamal, laughed.
Laughing, his demeanor while he slips past the gigantic snake Witch Beast’s repeated attacks, is certainly what distinguishes him from the strength of a run-of-the-mill soldier.
That he still remains in the position of first class private, despite the ability he presented, was a vivid clue as to the number of attitude problems he has during his daily duties.
「The hell are ya doing! I ain’t got cover, cover!」
「Alright, I get it, I get it」
While parring the Witch Beast’s fangs with twin blades, Jamal, in a solo battle against their enemy, yells out. The recipient, Todd who stood at his rear, was coordinating his comrades, and encircling the Witch Beast.
Signaled by Todd’s order, attacks start flying from all sides. Arrows and throwing knives, so-called plinking-type attacks, because of the situation. Without any consideration for Jamal’s presence, all come pouring down like rain.
Of course, as the target is the Witch Beast, and nobody is trying to hit Jamal――――、
「We’re not going to go out of our way to avoid you. Dodge them yourself」
The uncountable number of attacks flying in, Jamal deals with the Witch Beast with his left sword, while easily parrying them with his free sword to protect himself.
Meanwhile, the Witch Beast screeches while being showered in attacks, bending back. It was done for.
「A snake that’s all about size, don’t think that you can win against imperial soldiers!」
The leaping Jamal’s twin swords swing from left and right, and bisect the snake’s thick neck.
With a hefty sound, the head falls down to the ground, and as it spurts fountains of blood, the Witch Beast’s giant body slowly topples, the quake causing the trees of the jungle to shake.
The fight ended safely.
「How many casualties?」
「No casualties. Thanks to you working so hard on your own, my man」
「That’s good and all……but, why was I alone? Ain’t it weird?」
Wiping the blood from his twin blades, Jamal sheaths them back in their scabbard and cracks his neck. But, there really is not anything particularly weird about it. It’s not so much that the other soldiers are lacking in strength, but rather that Jamal’s strength is outstanding.
Matching his pace would be impossible for those around him, and him matching his pace with those around him would be even more of a no-go. Thus, Todd had not set out with him from the start.
In actuality, everything had gone well, so there shouldn’t be any problem…
「Oi, why is it? Don’t shut up and answer me」
「Aah, that’s it. Everyone here hadn’t come across a Witch Beast before, so they hesitated on how to handle it. On that front, you didn’t hesitate at all my guy, as expected」
「Tch, each and every one of you……. What would you do if I wasn’t here?」
Jamal clicks his tongue, but even should he not be around, they would make do without him. It was just that in such circumstances, there’s no proof that they would’ve been able to keep the sacrifices down to zero.
In any case――――、
「That brat escaped?」
Thus, as Jamal mutters so in annoyance, Todd presents no reply.
He simply shrugs in place, as a wordless affirmation.
Todd Fang, an Imperial Soldier of Vollachia, holds his head, with a 「They got us」
Currently, Todd, as well as his comrades, are in the heart of the Budheim Jungle, in the eastern side of the Empire. They had been attacked by a Witch Beast some distance away from the place of their encampment, and there was where they had fought.
In all honesty, their encounter with the Witch Beast had been a complete surprise attack.
From the beginning, the number of Witch Beasts inhabiting the Empire of Vollachia is low, to the point the number of Imperial Citizens who would go their entire lives without seeing one was not small.
In Todd’s case, the number of Witch Beast encounters are such that he can count them with the fingers of only one hand, so that his colleagues had gotten cold feet at the appearance of a Witch Beast was no surprise.
However, if said appearance of a Witch Beast had been somebody’s intention, then things are different.
「―――Who’d think, that he would sic that Witch Beast on us.」
Pulling out an axe stuck in a tree, Todd reminisces about the prey that he had failed to put down.
A boy with a nasty glare and black hair―――He had been one of the prisoners Jamal had collected at the riverside, but he had revealed himself to be a part of the 『People of Shudraq』 living within the jungle, and invited Todd’s group into the woods.
Of course, it’s not like everything he had done and stated had been believed, nor had caution been absent in the case he showed any suspicious behavior. However, even that had not been enough.
By some means, the boy had beckoned a Witch Beast, in an attempt to have it attack Todd’s group while he escaped. And just like that, he had gotten away, abandoning Todd and the others in the jungle.
「Fucking shit……Anyway, I’m gonna go look for that brat who got away. That’ll take me to the 『People of Shudraq 』, and I’ll exterminate all of them」
「Hey hey, don’t lose sight of the objective. ‘Course, I’m also livid at that guy. But, if you give chase right now, you’ll just look pitiful when you get caught in a trap again.」
「You what now??」
Turning around with an angry expression, Jamal draws closer to Todd. Reining back Jamal’s momentum with a hand, Todd tells him 「Now, calm down」
「For now, you better do something about your appearance my guy. Smells like there’s water over there, so go wash that blood off.」
「What’s the big deal about some splatter? We’re Imperial Soldiers………」
「It’s some unknown Witch Beast’s blood, yeah? We don’t know what kind of effects it could have. Not being afraid of poison isn’t bravery, it’s just foolishness」
In the first place, Todd himself had thought it stupid upon seeing that Jamal had covered himself from head-to-toe in Witch Beast blood.
Seemingly not having realized that risk previously, a sense of crisis now starts showing up on Jamal’s face once Todd pointed it out.
「…….…Where’d you say the water was?」
「Over there. It’s probably not that far off. Hurry and wash that blood off, then come back. We’ll decide our course of action in the meantime」
Waving his hand nonchalantly, Todd drives Jamal off towards the water. While reluctant, it seemed that Jamal would also hate to fall to poison, and so he promptly disappears into the bushes.
Seeing off his back, Todd crouches down beside the fallen Witch Beast, and by touching its fangs, horn and even scales, he confirms its state.
「Todd! It’s not time to fiddle with that Witch Beast’s corpse! What’ll we do next?」
「I understand your panic, but there’s some meaning in investigating them. Think about it. If, by chance, that guy from before is able to call over more Witch Beasts, what would we do? If it’s Jamal, sure he can just go and take them down, but we need to know if even we are able to easily kill them.」
「………That he was controlling the Witch Beast, do you seriously believe that?」
「So, the moment a Witch Beast just happened to attack us, the boy that was with us just happened to take off and run away like he was waiting for it to happen. Do you seriously believe that??」
With Todd posing that question, the soldiers accompanying him hold their tongue and sink into silence.
That many coincidences, they shouldn’t add up together like that. Disregarding whether the Witch Beast was being controlled, they should think that the boy had concocted a plan to escape, factoring in the assumption that the Witch Beast would appear.
「It’s highly likely that if we brazenly go chasing after that kid, we could get the tables flipped on us. It’s not just one Witch Beast in this jungle. There could be a pack of them.」
「Ugh…… Then, do we just return to camp empty-handed?」
「Doesn’t have to be empty-handed. At the very least, we’ve learned that the kid and the 『People of Shudraq』are hostile to us. In that case, we have many things in our hands」
Hitting the shoulders of the soldier who seemed frustrated, Todd clarified another point of view.
It’s true that, just looking at the situation, that boy had bested them through-and-through. However, in both fighting and strategic power, the side that had more options at hand was clearly this one.
To regard the defeat of the first battle, as the defeat of all consequent battles, is too wild a conclusion.
In the first place――――、
「None of us got killed. If we win in the end, it’s our victory.」
Saying that, Todd gives a dry laugh at the soldier whose expression, while reluctant, calms down.
After that, those who had put away their weapons, begin to wrack their brains on how to proceed from now. Because they had heard Todd’s opinion, they are discussing whether to retreat or give chase.
Naturally, Todd’s opinion being that giving chase is absurd, the other soldiers’ opinion too, seems to be solidifying in a direction similar to Todd’s.
「For now, let’s go back to the camp and make a report. 」
「After that, hunt the mountains with the camp’s forces? Not very appealing when you consider the size of the forest…… 」
「It’d be better to consult with Second Commander Zikr at Guaral. But don’t think that you’ll get that 『Womanizer』 out of the town」
At the words of that last Soldier, the other soldiers laughed with a 「Not wrong」
While hearing his fellows’ conversations, Todd instructs everyone to drink water in preparation for their departure, as he passes around a leather bag filled with water, then once again returns to face the Witch Beast’s remains.
「By the way, it seems like you can use a Witch Beasts’ horns and bones for medicine and weapons and the like. They’re rumored to go for pretty high prices, anyone interested?」
「You talking about money? Well, it’s not like I’m not interested, but right now’s not the time for that. We gotta hurry back, and report to our all- ies………s」
The soldier, while answering back to Todd’s remark as the latter looks down to the Witch Beast’s corpse, has his voice suddenly start shaking midway. Then, becoming numb, he was made unable to continue.
The soldier, bewildered as to what was happening, falls to his knees right where he stood. And he is not the only one to do so. All other soldiers as well, one after another, became unable to stand.
「wh- at is…….…」
「It’s the water, the water. You didn’t think it tasted kind of bitter?」
In front of the astonished soldier, picking up the water’s leather bag, Todd shrugs his shoulders. Cutting up the bag with a knife he took out, Todd shows him something tinted red; the water that drips out.
「The snake’s venom. Generally speaking, it seems like the pouch structure that holds a snake’s venom at the root of the fangs is unchanged. Good thing I found it right away.」
「wh- wh- wh-…..…」
Why, did you do that, the numb soldier, unable to move, desperately asks.
Apparently, it seems the Witch Beast’s toxicity had lost some strength, and so, they would not die just from that. While it would take a little more elbow grease, it is something that can’t be avoided.
「Well, I’m sure you have tons of questions. But, I’m not going to go out of my way to answer them, it’s going to be a problem once Jamal comes back. Which is why,」
Saying that, Todd places his axe on his shoulder, and goes to his paralyzed comrade’s side. Then, at arm’s length of one of them, he apathetically raises the axe,
「―――Feel free to check your answers」
Finding a small waterfall after emerging from the bushes, Todd takes a small breath.
This is because he had caught sight of Jamal, at the bottom of a small waterfall, in a small puddle-like water source, desperately attempting to wash the blood off.
「My guy, you seem to be having quite a bit of trouble」
「Ah! You dick, where’s the water. This is some puddle, you little…… Because of that, no matter how long I take, the blood won’t wash off, will it now!?」
His eyes bulging at the sight of the returned Todd, Jamal directs his anger at him.
Picking at his ears at that attitude, Todd responds 「My bad, my bad」to that,
「For the time being you’re fine like that, so listen. We’ll get out of this jungle, and go back to Guaral. Then, we’ll report the operation failed」
「―――Huuh!? Why would we do that!? After this, we’re going to go after that kid, find those Shudraq and」
「Massacre them? Your enthusiasm’s admirable, but think for a second」
Jamal bites back at the future plans presented. Raising his finger in front of him, Todd begins his explanation to his partner, someone whose head was lacking in use, with 「You listening?」.
「That kid used the Witch Beast to escape from us. It’s very likely that he could set another one on us, if we give chase」
「In that case, we just gotta kill’em all」
「If all our soldiers were you, my guy, then sure, but that’s not the case here. And, there’s another problem………There might be, a surprise attack from the Shudraq on the camp」
「It’s obvious, isn’t it? I mean, that kid will let his allies know that we’re enemies. Then in that case, for the Shudraq to get the early worm, it’d be convenient for them to launch a surprise attack on the camp to secure victory. And, the group at the encampment doesn’t expect that. Their surprise attack would more-or-less succeed 」
And with that, they would annihilate them without giving them the opportunity to regroup after having broken up their formation.
It would be a losing battle. You could say it was an unavoidable conclusion, from the moment that Todd’s group was baited out.
「In that case, we just gotta hurry back and tell ‘em」
「How would we? That kid had us walk quite a bit, and he kept us quite far away from the camp while we were fighting the Witch Beast. At this point, we won’t make it in time even if we go back」
「………So, that’s why you’re shamelessly packing your bags and leaving?」
「That’s right. We’ll reorganize, and squash those cunning bastards. It’s our best shot」
With a vein popping on his forehead, Jamal stands in place grinding his molars.
Befitting an Imperial Soldier, “Never retreat, Never cower, Never Concede” is Jamal’s motto. To him, Todd’s plan was nothing more than humiliating.
「―――I’m right. You understand that too, don’t you? Your right eye should’ve been the cost of that lesson.」
「……..…Fucking dammit! Alright, I’ll hear you out. In these times, your thought process hasn’t been wrong…….What about the others?」
「No, well, you get it, right? Unlike you, my guy, they’re not as flexible. I told them the same, but not a single one of them lent me an ear.」
While scratching his head, Todd points towards the bushes and drops the tone of his voice. Hearing that, Jamal’s mood improved and with a snort,「Hah」,
「So that’s it. So then, they gave up on you? That’s a bummer」
「Don’t say that. I’m the one saying this, but I’d like to say I was the one who gave up on them.―――I thought it’d be pointless even if I talked to them, so I cut it short early」
Perhaps believing Todd’s words to be those of a sore loser, Jamal’s sneer showed no trace of disappearing.
He thought that was more convenient, so he doesn’t think there’s any particular reason to make excuses. It’d become a back-and-forth between them anyway, they’d dispute over him being a coward and whatever else as much as possible.
He just quickly dealt with the problems he had a grasp on.―――In the end, it would be the same.
「Right then, let’s get out of the forest before we’re found by the Shudraq. If we can’t make it back to Guaral, that’d also disgrace the Imperial Soldiers」
「Let’s go with that, then! If you can’t keep up then I’ll leave you behind, Todd」
With rough breaths, Jamal started leading the way out of the forest. He followed behind, seemingly annoyed.
Plainly put, Jamal was determined not to lose next time, but Todd felt the same on that front.
―――Because he believes that the run-away black-haired boy, is a troublesome enemy that he definitely ought to kill.