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――Zikr Osman, General Second-Class of the Vollachian Empire, was known as The Womanizer.
There were many words to describe him, like sex-obsessed, lecherous, and lustful.
For an Imperial Soldier who had to set an example of true strength and gain the respect of his fellow officers, it was a rather disgraceful set of terms.
However, Zikr Osman himself liked being known as The Womanizer.
――No, it would not be an exaggeration to say he took pride in it.
The reason why?
It was because Zikr hated the nickname he had been given before being dubbed The Womanizer.
For a soldier, to be called by such a nickname, was an unbearable humiliation. Thus, he proudly paraded the title of Womanizer, which made his fellow soldiers forget that other nickname.
Anyway, although called such, the meaning of Zikr being labelled The Womanizer differed from that of so-called Casanovas or from the vices of the sort of men who looked down on women.
The Osman household had produced a lineage of soldiers for generations, but in Zikr’s generation the blood had been unbalanced, and, for some reason, the family had only sired females. Born and raised in an environment with four elder sisters and six younger ones, Zikr spent his childhood without even one brother.
Growing up surrounded by sisters on all sides, like most people, Zikr was instilled with various preconceived notions relating to women.
But what made him different from most people whose illusions about women were lost due to the existence of female family members, he instead sought fantasies and idealized outside women.
And then, he parted from his sisters, saddened to let go of their adorable and kind brother, and he started his career as an Imperial Soldier at a young age, making contact with outside women for the first time, and he cracked.
Ever since then, women had been like an ephemeral dream for Zikr Osman, an existence between ideal and reality, a forbidden fruit mixed with love and hate.
Having been raised being knocked about by a great number of women in his family, Zikr held a strong desire to treat women kindly, while also being treated kindly by them. Therefore, he considered it a supreme pleasure to serve women and to be served by them, which he put into practice.
This attitude differed from most of the dominant men of the Empire, which combined with jealousy and contempt for his precise tactics and safe victories, led to the name “Womanizer”.
But, as said at the beginning, Zikr Osman enjoyed that sobriquet.
“The Womanizer”, was it not rather splendid? After all, there were more men who liked women than disliked them, which brought opportunities to speak with many officers.
Zikr’s stance was clear and left no doubt, and his subordinates, knowing their superior officer’s taste, naturally looked up to him as the Womanizer, and respected him.
――”The Womanizer”, was it not rather splendid?
Zikr Osman was the man who had risen to the rank of an Imperial General Second-Class, despite being called such.
With the Emperor ousted from his throne, to squeeze the life out of him, his political opponents had chosen the very best within the limits of their dominion, which was none other than he.
It was surely the threatening General called The Womanizer, Zikr Osman.
From the beginning, Zikr had a hunch that something about the expedition smelled fishy.
Military exercises were held in the area around the Buddheim Jungle in the eastern part of the Empire every year, but this year they had been held earlier, and, including Zikr, only a portion of the commissioned officers had been notified of the expedition’s purpose―― Negotiations with the People of Shudraq.
Zikr: [The People of Shudraq hiding in Buddheim…]
An indigenous people that lived in the Buddheim Jungle, the tribe was known for having a long history.
They were also famous for not emerging out of the considerably-dense jungle, and Zikr had never encountered them first-hand. But, he had heard that they were a matriarchal tribe, and he wished to meet them just once.
Living deep in the jungle, their approach of capturing outside men for use as tools to produce children was also fascinating. Likely, they were all strong, indomitable women, he thought.
Women were good. Strong or weak, gentle or harsh, all flavors.
After all, they could not all be lumped together. Older sisters, and younger sisters too, had times when they were gentle and times when they were harsh, times when they were sweet and times when they were bitter.
If a single woman displayed such kaleidoscopic splendor, how could one think of lumping multiple women together?
Zikr: [To make them swear fealty, or be destroyed… What is the Imperial Capital thinking?]
That was the secret order given behind closed doors to Zikr, before he departed for the expedition.
Word from the Imperial Capital Lupugana affirmed that this expedition’s true purpose was to either win over the People of Shudraq, or annihilate them. He attempted to ascertain that there was no mistake, but the reply from the Imperial Capital remained immutable, and Zikr had no choice but to comply.
However, he had heard about some kind of trouble brewing within the Imperial Capital, so he could imagine that had something to do with the purpose of the expedition on this occasion.
That much was clear from the fact that the common soldiers had been ordered to execute this plan while the purpose of the expedition was hidden from them. ――What His Excellency, the Emperor was thinking, Zikr had no idea.
Zikr: [But then, no one can read that gentleman’s deeper intentions, can they?]
――The Seventy-Seventh Emperor of the Sacred Vollachian Empire, Vincent Vollachia.
That was the name of the one who ruled over this Empire, the wisest man of this age, who never allowed others to read the depths of his thoughts.
In the Crystal Palace of the Imperial Capital of Rupgana, His Excellency the Emperor was considered to have a clear view of the entire vast Empire. Even though Zikr was a General Second-Class, his post was far removed from the Imperial Capital, and he had little opportunity to see his countenance. Yet, his ingenuity and renown crossed the distance to reach Zikr’s ears.
Within an imperial society in which the strong consumed the weak, greedily climbing was seen as an inevitability.
In a world in which various clans and locales revolted, and the live coals of insurrection would flare up every day, Vincent crushed every problem before it could become a raging inferno.
In the eight years since the inception of his reign, the Vollachian Empire had become astonishingly peaceful.
Blood was spilled, flames were fanned, and lives were lost.
And still, these were the most tranquil days since the founding of the Vollachian Empire.
Therefore, this completely thorough approach towards the People of Shudraq caused Zikr to furrow his brow.
Though he was a perfect son of battle, His Excellency the Emperor avoided battle in some respects. It was not that he loathed war, but that he had deemed it foolishness, and that was the reason for his decisions. That was the supposition Zikr embraced of his own accord.
Perhaps this feeling was because of a sense that he had been betrayed?
???: [No, it’s not like that, General Second-Class Zikr. I understand your thinking, sir. I’m just a common soldier myself, but I also have to consider all sorts of things.]
Said one of the common soldiers, listening to him with a charming smile.
They were having a moment in a tavern while they were stationed in the Fortress City of Guaral, where the expedition was based. On the nights that Zikr did not spend with women, he enjoyed drinking with his subordinates in such a manner. And in addition, rather than a retinue of high-ranked officers or Generals of the Third-Class, he would drink with lower-ranked ordinary soldiers.
Of course, most soldiers did not particularly want to drink alcohol with their superiors.
Even so, Zikr liked such rituals whenever he went on expeditions, as it helped him understand the thoughts and preferences of the subordinates he traveled with. ――But on this night, he may have said a bit too much.
The soldier he was drinking with that day was an awfully talkative, chatty sort.
As they drank, he was always looking around, brimming with curiosity. When asked what he was thinking about, he joked that he was hypothesizing what would happen if the tavern turned into a battlefield.
An attitude of constant combat readiness, and a lack of timidness towards his superior officer’s company. Such an Imperial mindset combined with his personal affection towards humanity led to him speaking of things he ought not to.
It was not like he had declared the contents of the secret order regarding the People of Shudraq, and though he did not state it explicitly, he got the feeling it was clear from how he had been listened to.
Had he been a spy from another country, Zikr would be executed for such a blunder.
Soldier: [You don’t have to worry, I’ll even be on the frontlines tomorrow by your order, sir… Really, I’m sure the higher-ups have all sorts of motives, but it’s nothing to do with me.]
As his drunkenness faded and Zikr came to his senses, the soldier spoke as if to reassure him.
And then just as he had stated, he had departed for the encampment of the expedition at the frontlines, the camp site adjacent to the Buddheim Jungle.
This was confirmed, and as he remained in the city Zikr was once again faced with a lump of unease in his chest.
In spite of the Imperial Capital’s order for a completely thorough approach to the Shudraqians, urging either subjugation or death, if at all possible, Zikr intended to stick to a persuasive approach.
That was what Zikr put his faith in, and what he thought was closest to His Excellency the Emperor’s conviction.
Zikr: [――The camp was burned down in a Shudraqian attack?]
Receiving the unexpected report at the requisitioned city hall, Zikr was aghast.
Until last night, up till that very moment, he had intended to do as much as possible to accommodate the Shudraqians, and win over their tribe without a fight.
The camp had been set up in order to wall in the western side of the Buddheim Jungle, and when several of those from the People of Shudraq had charged, the Imperial Soldiers were routed without so much as a counterattack.
Those who fled were struck in the back, furthering the extent of the damage, leading to over a hundred casualties.
Whether he was grumbling about his own decisions, the actions of the Shudraqians, or just the reality of it, even Zikr himself did not know.
Nevertheless, the amicable plan he had constructed in his head had collapsed, and the only thing that was certain was that the People of Shudraq had become enemies of his own Imperial Soldiers―― No, of His Excellency the Emperor.
Zikr: [It is a shameful circumstance, but we will wait for reinforcements from the Imperial Capital, and defeat the Buddheim Jungle insurgents.]
Once they had received the soldiers who had narrowly escaped the Shudraqians’ raid into the city, and the appearance of an expeditionary force was arranged, Zikr came to that decision.
There was also the alternative of invading the jungle and fighting the Shudraqians with their present military strength. But the dense forest was those women’s domain, and they were quite capable of neutralizing a superficial advantage in numbers.
To secure a certain victory, rather than a superficial advantage, an overwhelming advantage was required.
And in addition to that, they would abandon lenient approaches like seeking negotiations, with elite soldiers for the purpose of annihilation.
Zikr: [Foolishly, they have swatted away the hand extended to them in peace. That being the case, we must act out of loyalty to His Excellency the Emperor, and bring down deadly retribution upon the insurgents without exception.]
And like that, once he had disciplined himself, the warmth of even The Womanizer, of Zikr’s Osman’s heart, was extinguished.
Even if his opponent was the matriarchal tribe of the People of Shudraq, every fragment of that bloodline must be destroyed, so they would not become a concern in the future.
For that reason――,
Zikr: [Do not be caught off-guard preparing to close the main gate. I hear the People of Shudraq’s specialty is their bows, but they cannot pass through the walls of the Fortress City. Avoid leaving room for them to break through.]
He got information from the returned soldiers on the particulars of how the front lines of the camp had been razed by fire, and bearing in mind that the fires had been set by a select few, he shifted to a total defense plan.
Based on what was known of the Shudraqians’ lifestyle, it was difficult to imagine that the tribe’s entirety was numerous, and it did not seem likely that all members of the tribe could fight, children and elderly included.
If he supposed that their fighting strength was approximately a hundred people at most, in order to compete with the Imperial Soldiers, they could only take advantage of the dark of night for things like surprise attacks.
But even so, a method of preemptive strike would only bear on an opponent whose guard was lowered from a lack of attacks.
Zikr: [See to it that every hole is filled! Even the walls of the Fortress City are not solid. With its long history, I can imagine there being plenty of ways to pass through to the outside without using the gates. Do not overlook any sort of secret passage!]
???: [On that point, a report for you, sir. Some of the soldiers who returned from the burned camp are already preparing for an outside attack by going around and blocking off secret passages.]
Zikr: [Is that right? It is heartening that there are soldiers besides Generals who have the guile to anticipate. Once this matter is put to rest, we must start giving promotions again. But for now…]
???: [――Sigh. Until reinforcements arrive, our stance will be total defense, right.]
Hearing Zikr’s instructions, his subordinate, a General Third-Class, bowed deeply at the waist.
Were these the words of an ordinary General, they would be ridiculed for such a passive approach. In fact, Zikr had formerly been the target of that kind of scornful laughter.
But, Zikr had already borne a severe blow from the opposing People of Shudraq, and if he were to return to the Capital he would not be in a position to escape some form of punishment.
With his back already to the wall, there was no reason not to take the very best measures in this situation.
His subordinates knew this as well, so they did not sneer at Zikr’s stance.
Zikr: […Excuse me?]
Confined within the Fortress City of Guaral. Zikr, resuming said operation, raised his eyebrow in irritation at his subordinate’s report.
In the days spent waiting for reinforcements from the Imperial Capital to arrive and maintaining the gradually rising tension, the report brought out deep emotions that were exceedingly out-of-place in Zikr.
For as to why that was――,
Subordinate: [Yes. It seems, in these past few days in the city, a troupe of travelling entertainers have become the topic of conversation.]
Zikr: [Travelling entertainers…]
The report received from the subordinate was quite the carefree and leisurely kind.
It was an ill-suited report, considering the tense time of war they were in. However, there was no reason to reprimand the subordinate who had relayed it.
In the first place, it was Zikr himself who disliked intentionally forcing onto citizens a lifestyle in which they must acknowledge they were under wartime.
Even under normal conditions, discontent would easily build up in cities where troops were stationed. And, depending on the situation, being unable to manage public sentiments would lead to annihilation. That was how far the situation could progress.
Under that line of thinking, Zikr purposely did not carry out any action that would strongly restrict the opinions people held.
Staying vigilant against the threats outside of the city; preventing any infiltration from the People of Shudraq by authorizing his troops to perform thorough searches without exception. By doing this, he allowed the citizens to continue with their everyday lives.
He understood it to be contradictory, but that was the compromise between Zikr’s commonsense and his military instincts.
In any case, because he had taken a position to do things this way, the day-to-day entering and exiting of the city―― the security check placed at the front gate and the handling of merchants and peddlers, would remain unchanged.
For that reason, it was probably fine to let something like a band of travelling entertainers into the city, but――,
Zikr: […What do you propose with that information? If you are asking to keep them under strict control, I would very much prefer not doing so. Look around us. I can understand why the townsfolk would celebrate that troupe.]
It was a situation where a non-negligible amount of Imperial Soldiers, together with the guards there stationed, were maintaining patrol around the city.
Having escaped the raid, many of the soldiers who entered the city had heightened their hostility and alertness towards the People of Shudraq, and, despite orders to be mindful, disputes with the citizens were constant.
It was not hard to imagine that a party of travelling entertainers appearing in the city during all this would bring a modest amount of peace for the citizenry. Therefore, if they were to take that away――,
Zikr: [The citizens’ antagonism will erupt. You understand, do you not?]
Subordinate: [Of course, your words exactly, sir. That is why, I am not suggesting that we place them under strict control. Just…]
Zikr: [Just what? You are making this seem more important than what it truly is.]
Raising an eyebrow, Zikr impatiently urged the hesitant subordinate to continue his sentence.
Then, after a minute of silence, the subordinate lowered his head as if in resignation. Displaying his respect and non-hostility towards his superior officer by putting a fist on his palm, the subordinate controlled his breathing with a “Hah”, and,
Subordinate: [Actually that troupe… Those dancers are quite impressive but, your thoughts, sir? What do you make of seeing them once too?]
Zikr: [Me? It is not that dancers are not tempting for me too, but…]
Hearing his subordinate’s unexpected proposal, Zikr widened his eyes in surprise.
His history with this subordinate was long, and they had walked on many worthy battlefields together. It was unthinkable that he would bring up this proposal without any thought to it.
However, Zikr could not infer the real reason as to why his subordinate wanted to show the dancers to Zikr.
Subordinate: [Sir, I cannot be saying this out too loud but discontent within the troops is also increasing.]
The subordinate straightened himself and disclosed that to the puzzled Zikr.
The grave observation told to Zikr naturally made his eyes narrow. When he wordlessly encouraged his subordinate to keep talking, the subordinate slightly lowered his voice and,
Subordinate: [They have certain thoughts about the reinforcements from the ungenerous Imperial Capital, but they seem to have doubts about you too, sir, who decided to coop up in the city and take a defensive stance. There is also the case with the burnt encampment.]
Zikr: [――. I see. No, that is a natural reaction.]
Receiving his subordinate’s unreserved explanation, Zikr felt something heavy settling at the back of his chest.
It was inevitable that the Soldiers’ discontent and distrust towards Zikr would accumulate and fester. Allowing the People of Shudraq to execute their preemptive strike, and in turn causing the death of numerous soldiers, had been Zikr’s fault.
After that event, the troops they reunited with were not given a chance to recover. So it was no surprise that they aimed their displeasure towards Zikr.
Subordinate: [Among the more critical gossipers, they call you sir a――]
Zikr: [――Not another word.]
Subordinate: [――Hk, excuse my impudence.]
Interrupting his subordinate’s ongoing sentence, Zikr placed a hand on his forehead.
If a superior officer were to be passive towards their subordinates’ attitudes and discontent towards their superior, Zikr could imagine the curses those subordinates would spit out. He could think of those unbearable and straightforward slurs.
Even after receiving the position of General Second-Class, he could not come to accept those kinds of insults.
And, only when his thinking led him to this point, did he figure out what the intention behind his subordinate’s proposal had been.
Zikr: [I see now. Essentially, prepare a space where the troops’ grievances can be erased, is what you are saying.]
Subordinate: [Correct. Can we not utilise the dancers for this task? Once they see that splendid song and dance, many of the men will…]
Zikr: [Hohoh, I see. You speak as if you have seen them before.]
Zikr narrowed his eyes and pursued his suspicions, but the subordinate cleared his throat and avoided a straight answer. However, his reaction was more than enough evidence that Zikr’s hunch was correct.
In any case, he was stuck in a position between that of a General and that of a Soldier, and so, his place was a difficult one.
As he was trying to obtain the method to heal the relationship between the two, to press him further was to quite literally embody the word “petty”.
Additionally, this subordinate had seen these dancers of sorts with his own eyes, and had strongly proposed to use them to great extent.
Zikr: [I believe those dancers are extremely beautiful?]
Subordinate: [Of course! Ah, ahem, no doubt they will suit your eyes, Sir. Their dancing, the musician’s song and performance are splendid too…]
Zikr: [Hmhm, that does raise my expectations quite a bit.]
Even when responding in kind, Zikr thought their descriptions to be slightly exaggerated.
Thinking that however, it was indeed joyful that his subordinate had taken into consideration his own standing and the times ahead to provide this proposal. So there was no reason to be stubborn and decline it.
Zikr himself, having been hard-pressed and anxiety-ridden, had not invited and played with any ladies over at his bedchamber recently.
He could not put the same inconvenience on his troops as well.
Zikr: [Alright, understood. I will allow myself to be smooth-talked by you here. Invite that troupe of travelling entertainers and prepare a space to show appreciation for the soldiers.]
Zikr: [――Make sure they do not bring in any weapons. Do not forget to search them.]
Once approval from Zikr was received, the troops mobilised quickly.
Almost as if they had been suffering from severe dehydration and starvation, they immediately prepared a space for a banquet on the first floor of the City Hall, readied alcohol and food, and gathered women to serve as waitresses.
Then, contacting the band of travelling entertainers in question, the troupe was invited to the top-floor of the City Hall.
???: [――Who you are about to lay your eyes on, is the beautiful danseuse from beyond the Great Waterfall. Her silky black hair that drinks up the sun’s light, along with her heavenly fair skin that has received the blessing of the spirits, her utmost beauty is comparable to the divine beings, and tonight, she will lavishly perform for you all.]
After the musician’s dramatic introductory speech was delivered, the veil was pulled back slowly with showmanship.
A female-only band of travelling entertainers, what the musicians revealed hidden under the drop veil was the dancer that was the hot topic of the city―― The appearance of said dancer being revealed, Zikr widened his eyes in surprise.
Exposing her milky skin, the beauty who loosely let her hair flow down her back, her appearance betrayed what had been conveyed by the musician’s introductory speech. ――Indeed, such comments were far from sufficient for describing the belle here.
Her bewitching black hair, her cream skin wrapped in a light garment. Certainly, there was a magical power to them, one that would mesmerise many of those who would come to gaze at her. However, those factors were merely one portion of the real reason for her beauty.
Including people other than dancers or musicians, if charisma was what charmed most humans, and if one were to equate charisma with talent, this dancer’s aura and appearance was frighteningly overflowing with it.
Most of all, what led Zikr to feel such powerful sentiments, was none other than the dancer’s eyes.
To say that those almond shaped eyes with long lashes were the core of her favourable features, was unsuited. It was no exaggeration to think that, on the golden ratio, they were positioned in the most perfect place.
The reason his throat unconsciously parched up was because Zikr instinctively felt a craving.
Whether that was because he was attracted to the dancer’s physicalities, or because he was pulled to the charisma the dancer was entwined with, was a phenomenon that was completely unknown to even Zikr himself.
This dancer had already incited such deep emotion with nary a single movement. The size of the impact that would be brought about once she started to actually dance with song and music, would be of unimaginable proportions.
And, Zikr craved to be overwhelmed by an impact of proportions he could not dream of.
Black-haired Musician: [――Please, allow us the chance to display our danseuse’s act.]
In place of the silent dancer――No, danseuse, a musician with matching black hair bowed her head down.
The two musicians and the black-haired and blond-haired ladies were likewise beautiful; however, to Zikr, who was enraptured by the danseuse’s appearance, they could only be considered an accompaniment. Normally, any thoughts of dismissing women were to be met with self-examination and reflection, but he was burning with fervour, to the point where such thoughts did not even cross his mind.
Never, until now, had he so strongly become self-aware of his nickname, Womanizer.
In reality, Zikr probably was a Womanizer. ――Because, in front of beauty of this scale, staying at a peace of mind was, without a doubt, impossible.
And so, with his heart still burning with ardour, the banquet commenced.
Of course, seeing as Zikr was the commander, his seat in the banquet was at the very back. The gathered Generals――as the rank-and-file Soldiers had been excluded, the people of higher rank gathered and started to enjoy their alcohol and food.
The number one sight was however, as expected, the showcase from the band of travelling entertainers.
Originally, the objective was to show appreciation for the troops and let them release their dissatisfactions, but Zikr had forgotten the original aim and held his breath for the danseuse’s turn on stage.
Bringing booze to his mouth to quench his thirst, he moistened his tongue, lips and throat. He brought his breathing back to normal that way.
Zikr’s heart was spell-bound to that extent.
Black-haired Musician: [――Tonight, what you will witness is a dance from the hometown of our danseuse, a dance from beyond the Great Waterfall. Please, satisfy to your heart’s content, the dance from the ends of the end.]
The voice of a singing musician started and the plucking of strings led to the sounds of gentle music.
As an unfamiliar tune started to play, the Generals who were conversing noisily bated their breaths with faces of vermilion. They too, were unwilling to take their eyes off the performance that was about to start.
Then, the danseuse who slowly came into sight, started her breathtaking “dance”.
Making full use of her long limbs, everybody lost their words at the figure with swaying black hair as she danced.
Forgetting to breathe, they stared. ――This was the very definition of “enchanted”. Anyone who witnessed a dance like this and maintained a clear-headed mind had something wrong with them.
Someone like that did not understand the value of dance, and possessed the sensibilities of an animal.
The Imperial Soldiers were a pack of wolves, but they were not beasts who did not possess the power of intelligence and speech.
Subsequently, the Generals also held their breath, forgetting how to breathe, and were bewitched by the stunning danseuse’s act.
Each person lost their voice and were captivated by the danseuse’s performance.
Pitch-black hair, smooth, white skin with nought a blemish. An alluring face that would make artists want to cut off their dominant hand for its deep knowledge. They were charmed by that.
However, what continued to attract, boundlessly so, Zikr’s eyes, mind and heart, were none of those features.
――It was the eyes.
Just as he thought, he could not shift his gaze from the danseuse’s eyes.
Her long-slitted eyes lorded over the stage in which she was dancing on, and were boring right into the very back of the room, at Zikr.
Her eyes, which did not leave their target for a single second, directly took hold of Zikr’s brain and did not release their grasp.
Eventually, the danseuse crossed the hall, advancing right in front of Zikr.
Then, softly kneeling in place, raised her two hands and requested Zikr’s sword.
Naturally, Zikr understood her action, that it signified the wish for a sword.
With the world in her grasp, the danseuse’s dance raised the tension and made it obvious that she would rise to the next level. On top of transitioning to a dance utilising a sword; to a blade ballet, the danseuse wished for a blade.
Zikr did not have the option to refuse and not pass the blade over.
No one could stop it. The subordinates and Generals; no one could deliberately obstruct this act.
This was something that was to happen no matter what. That was how natural this course of action was.
That was why――,
Danseuse: [――It is your loss, Zikr Osman.]
Having his unsheathed sword pointed at his throat, hearing that ruthless declaration, Zikr Osman did not process that he had been defeated by virtue of being the Womanizer.
Even at this very moment, he could not avert his gaze from the eyes of the danseuse who had declared such words.
That cold charisma which attracted many―― It was as if he had seen it before. That feeling of déjà vu was endlessly branded by flame into the mind of the defeated General Zikr.