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――Steadily, the rebellion’s flames of war spread throughout the Vollachian Empire.
Over the past few days, the Empire had been bustling as if the tranquility of the past few years was nothing but a fabrication, stirring up the thirst for blood built up within it until it had turned to sludge.
The history of the Vollachian royal family had been a river of blood for generations, and the current Emperor was expected to put an end to this horrifying tradition.
In fact, during the reign of the Emperor, although there were some skirmishes, the situation that was considered a major upheaval was avoided.
The people were supposed to be enjoying “peace” for the first time since the founding of the country.
???: [When you look at it from the outside, the people of the Empire didn’t want a peaceful and safe life.]
On his knees sitting in his chair while looking at a map showing the state of the war, he muttered in a compassionate mood.
Vincent Vollachia, the Emperor; it wasn’t known what principles he used to run the country, but it is not like he maintained peace by chance either.
Exhausted physically and mentally on a year-by-year basis, he built an unprecedented era of peace in the Empire.
One could only imagine the disappointment in their hearts when they found out so easily that they were not wanted. ――The people were stupid, and the Emperor was pathetic.
???: [From my point of view, I don’t know why they bother to increase the possibility that they might die… I don’t know what goes through the minds of those insane people. That guy… uh, yeah, and Jamal and others.]
He remembered how he used to advocate for the pride of the imperial people in his spare time.
Todd Fang braced himself as he tried to remember the man whose face was no longer blurred. It would be troublesome if he made a careless remark and was found to have forgotten Jamal.
At the very least, Jamal still has to live within his heart and mind in front of a woman who should be treated with care and respect.
???: [――Todd, are you tired?]
Suddenly, at the edge of Todd’s vision as he unfolded the map, he saw the face of a woman leaning over.
Frankly, it was heart-wrenching. She must have been on the roof of the carriage just before. Todd’s perception could not grasp when she had arrived next to him.
However, there were countless such masters in the world. The world would be a very difficult place to live if they were frightened by the existence of opponents whom we could not beat in a fair fight.
Most people faltered because they confused not being able to win with not being able to kill.
Even if one could never win, there were some people who they could easily kill.
Todd did not consider such an opponent a threat. Hence, neither did the woman next to him―― Arakiya.
Sliding in through the open window, Arakiya sat on the carriage bench―― or, rather, squatted on the seat with her knees bent, unceremoniously.
Even though she had been living in the Imperial Capital for a long time, she had not mastered the manners of the city at all.
This was either because the person in question did not have that kind of education, or the people around her did not raise her right. It was commonplace to leave strong people like her to their own devices because they were strong.
In Vollachia, the strong took precedence over all qualifications.
Hence, a vicious cycle was established in which no one could blame the strong Arakiya for any unseemly or disrespectful behavior. Of course, if one were stronger than she was, one would be allowed to complain about her manners――,
???: [Because “The Blue Lightning” is a name worthy of an even greater weirdo than Arakiya.]
If one was in the Vollachian Empire, one would have plenty of opportunities to hear rumors about the Empire’s most powerful “one”.
For better or worse, each and every rumor about the “one” were considered bad even by the esoteric values of the Empire. Above all, they were ill-suited for someone with Arakiya’s upbringing.
As a result, this behavior of Arakiya’s had probably not been enforced.
Of course, Todd had had no reason to correct that, but he did anyways――,
Todd: [Arakiya, sit down properly. It’s unsightly.]
Arakiya: [Sit? Me? In the chair?]
Todd: [What else is there? What do you think a chair is for?]
Hearing the inquiry with a strange look on her face, Todd replied with a grimace. In response, Arakiya wondered, but obediently assumed the correct way to sit in the chair.
However, since her legs were spread, he hit her knees to make her put them together.
Todd: [People down there see how the strong behave. In the Empire, anything goes as long as you’re strong, but that’s the thing, soldiers have hearts too. Even you don’t have to think about whether it’s easier to fight a superior officer with good or ill will, do you?]
Arakiya: […Is there a point in doing that? Anyway, I’m going to fight alone.]
Todd: [After you ravage the battlefield, what about hunting down the survivors? Who’s going to clean up the corpses? Who will negotiate with those who surrendered?]
Todd: [In fact, if you want to be alone, why am I here? Your words are full of contradictions.]
After a mild argument, Arakiya, who made a difficult face, fell silent.
Fortunately, he now knew that this was not the face of the vigilant second most powerful person in the Empire with pent-up frustration, but rather a face of acceptance that he had a point.
In the beginning, he was careful about pointing things out, but now he did not hold back.
Once he got the hang of it, Arakiya was like training a sheepdog.
What makes it different from a sheepdog was that the dog itself was also a wolf with tremendous strength.
He laughed at himself for thinking like that, though.
Arakiya: [Todd, are you tired? I knew it.]
Todd: [If I’m tired, it’s because of the long journey. You are a hard worker. I can see why His Excellency the Emperor and the Prime Minister and others find you useful.]
Arakiya: […Necessary, so.]
Arakiya again expressed her concern for Todd, who had fallen silent. After Todd lashed out to dismiss her concerns, Arakiya’s eyes dropped to the floor.
Arakiya was probably aware that she was being used as a convenience.
She was not the type to indulge in life stories, and since Todd was not interested, she did not delve into the topic, but considering future treatment it might be worth asking.
If people who know Todd can feel closer to him on their own accord, it was a worthwhile deal.
Arakiya: [The map, what were you looking at?]
However, his attempt to speak was completely squashed by Arakiya, who changed the subject. “Mmm,” Todd choked on his words, and tilted the map so that Arakiya could see it.
The map showed the entirety of Vollachia, but it was a simplified version that only showed the major cities and topography, on which Todd had drawn this and that according to his own senses.
Arakiya stared at it, her well-shaped eyebrows risen a great deal,
Arakiya: […I don’t get it.]
Todd: [No doubt.]
Arakiya spoke of incomprehension, but Todd did not blame her for being ignorant of it.
In fact, it was not due to Arakiya’s learning shortcomings, but simply because the map was written in such a way that no one but Todd could decipher it.
No special words or symbols were used, but the meanings were reworded, or intentionally incorrect symbols were used so that information could not be extracted by others.
Even if the map was inadvertently dropped, Todd’s actions would not be exposed from it. Also, in the unlikely event that he was captured, he may be kept alive for the purpose of deciphering the map.
It was worthwhile since this move called the third hand avoids suffering setbacks.
Todd: [Significant notes record the location and scale of the battle. Nonsensical notes are just a distraction. I won’t tell you which is which.]
Arakiya: [I don’t know, so even if you tell me …Do you have a lot?]
Todd: [Yeah, I’ve never seen a situation this out of hand since His Excellency had acceded to the throne.]
Although a subjectless question, Arakiya’s question referred to the rebellions that had taken place throughout the Empire.
Not only was it an expression of rebellion against the Emperor, but there had been frequent clashes between actual Imperial Soldiers and rebels, and the call for rebellion was high and widespread throughout the region.
However, this was just a catalyst, what became the symbol of the righteous cause of the rebel army planning to usurp the Imperial throne was――,
Todd: [The illegitimate child of His Excellency The Emperor, the black-haired crown prince.]
Arakiya: [His Excellency’s child… for real?]
Todd: [Well. What’s important is not whether it’s true or not, but rather that such a rumor is being spread, and that the force of the flames is continuing to grow stronger without being extinguished.]
Todd: [That’s why hardworking people are being recruited all over the place. Incidentally, I was as well.]
As one of the Nine Divine Generals personally selected by the Emperor, it was natural that Arakiya was in a position allowing her to speak with Emperor Vincent Vollachia who supposedly resides on an unreachable plane of existence.
It was a mystery to what extent Arakiya’s sense of values could be trusted, but even from her perspective, it seemed the existence of the Emperor’s illegitimate child being held up by the rebel army was questionable.
However, as Todd himself had said, whether it was correct or not was not important.
Todd: [If they didn’t want people to think this rumor was important, they should have extinguished the fire while it was still small. Because this fuddled uproar is the result of having fallen behind there.]
Arakiya: [――. Is it connected? The thing with Gladiator Island.]
Todd: [That was…]
Having closed one eye, Todd was interrupted by the muttering Arakiya next to him.
She had mentioned the matter of the Gladiator Island Ginunhive, which was the first task for Todd’s group as well as a secret order by Berstetz, the Prime Minister of the Empire, and they had failed it spectacularly.
It had happened just a few days prior, but having been ordered to kill all the Gladiators on Gladiator Island, Todd and Arakiya had proudly headed there in high spirits――and retreated just before they went ashore, ending the matter without anything happening.
Naturally, Berstetz reprimanded him for failing to fulfill his duty, but Todd’s instincts for sniffing out danger led to him firmly refusing to land on that island.
He had sensed that there was a threat over there that he absolutely should not confront.
Todd, who placed absolute faith in that feeling, did not regret not landing on the island.
The fact that after that, the Gladiator Island was taken over by the Gladiators and was contributing to the spreading flames of war as a part of the rebellion happening all over, could not possibly compare to endangering his own life.
Even if Todd were to regret that decision, it would be――,
Todd: [Ridiculous. That’s not like me at all.]
Todd: [It’s nothing. You worry too much. Rebellions are happening all over the place, but none of them will last long. ――They’re just dreaming.]
Todd took the time to deny the question Arakiya had begun to ask earlier, and then shrugged.
He had not intended to mislead her or play her for a fool. Truly, the rebel army was dreaming. It was the kind of nightmare that felt good while in that dream-like state of mind, but the self-hatred when they woke up would make them want to die.
Or perhaps, it had been a nightmare unfolding to its end before they could wake up.
???: [――General First-Class Arakiya! Private First-Class Fang! We are arriving!]
It was right after Todd spat that out, that the sharp voice from the coachman’s seat of the horse carriage had reached them.
The shaking spreading from beneath their seats gradually subsided, and the speed of horse carriage heading towards their destination had decreased. Then the carriage slowly stopped, and Todd and Arakiya exited out the door.
The two had lined up on a small hill, and the weather was dark and overcast with thick clouds, which seemed to Todd as if the sky was apprehensive about the future of the Empire as it plunged into an unending civil war.
If he lowered his sight to capture this poetic impression, what could be seen was a battlefield on a sprawling wide plain with a group of familiar uniforms fiercely clashing with another unfamiliar group of uniforms..
――With the Western Plains as the battlefield, the clash between the Imperial and rebel armies had already begun.
Todd: [Who is the opponent?]
With the Imperial soldiers having already set up an encampment, one of them came over to the pair on top of the hill.
That person looked daunted, having received Todd’s question as soon as they opened their mouth. Judging from his cloak, he was probably a “General”. To his bewilderment, Todd, who was nothing more than a Private First-Class, started speaking to him quite overbearingly.
However, when upon noticing Arakiya next to Todd, they straightened up,
General: [The citizens of Kunohelemente are in high spirits after killing their consul. It seems the consul had just arrived after being appointed.]
Todd: [Seems like an ill timed move. That consul was also unlucky… So, is that pest with that group who are burning with enthusiasm?]
General: [It has not been confirmed. We believe he is not here.]
Todd: [If he was, he should have shown his face at the beginning. ――General First-Class Arakiya.]
Nodding after receiving the report from the “General”, Todd called for Arakiya. Turning around with a sigh-like reply, she was ready for this opportunity to fully demonstrate her abilities as ranked second within the Empire.
With that out of the way, all that remained was for Todd to make sure that no unnecessary obstacles were introduced.
Todd: [Give the signal and let your troops retreat. I recommend completely focusing on withdrawing. Otherwise――]
Todd: [General First-Class Arakiya’s flames do not choose who they incinerate.]
It was not a statement particularly intended to threaten, but it seemed to have had the same effect on the “General” who heard it.
They gasped slightly and glanced at Arakiya. Arakiya with her usual stoic expression noticed that gaze and looked at the “General.”
Faced with the crimson eye not covered by her eye patch, the “General’s” cheeks stiffened,
General: [Sound the drums! Pull back the troops!]
The “General” immediately switched gears and issued directions to the subordinates in the camp in a sharp voice.
Unlike the unreasonable common soldiers, a battlefield with a proper “General” thankfully meant a conclusion could be reached more quickly. However, that did not make the battlefield pleasant, so they should finish their unpleasant duties quickly.
Todd: [Arakiya, don’t hit the soldiers who withdraw after hearing the drums.]
Arakiya: [And the others?]
Todd: [Do as you please.]
Arakiya’s eye flickered with a slight bewilderment at having been told to do as she pleased.
Todd immediately reflected that the way he said it had been poor. She was a woman with the power to do unthinkable things, but Arakiya did not seem to particularly like fighting.
So it was not appropriate to tell her to do as she pleased on the battlefield――,
Todd: [――Kill anyone who opposes you.]
That was the best possible way to issue commands.
As soon as the sound of drums echoed through the air, the battlefield they could look down upon from the hill transformed.
The audible sounds of steel and steel exchanging blows in a sword fight faded away, and in its place angry roars and battlecries, the great volume of the pursuers and the pursued, began to sweep over the battlefield.
However, that would not last long either.
――The raining explosive flames turned those wannabe-hunters pursuing fleeing backs to ash.
It was when the ally in front of them, the compatriot beside them, or even one of their own limbs was engulfed in flames, that they were freed from their crazed pursuit and noticed.
That they were not the hunters, but merely the hunted.
Gripping a branch in one hand like a child playing and lighting the lower part of her legs on flames, Arakiya rose above the hill, higher and higher, high up in the sky, and then made flames rain down from the sky incessantly.
A terrifying tactical weapon that seemed to change the color of the world, that was an appropriate description for this spectacle.
Flames headed full speed at the ground, burning enemies in accordance with the commands Todd has issues. Those who stopped upon seeing their enemies being burnt, these lecherous bystanders thought twice about stopping to stare.
If they stopped, Arakiya’s flames would not be able to choose who to scorch.
General: [Sound them sound them sound them!! Sound the drums! Everyone, fall back―― hk!!]
Witnessing the war situation being rewritten, the “General” raised his voice with all his might.
Although all Imperial Soldiers face the battlefield with the readiness to die, that was not the same as not being afraid of dying in vain.
Even if they remained there, they would not obtain any more prestige than a stray dog that burned to death.
???: [――Private First-Class Fang! Stop General First-Class Arakiya!]
While he watched as the flame devil engulfed the battlefield, collapsing the battle formation of the rebels, an angry roar hit Todd’s eardrums, who felt like he had already accomplished his job.
When he turned around, a different Imperial Soldier, from the “General” who ordered the soldiers to withdraw, was shouting with his soot black stained face making a desperate expression.
As Todd frowned, wondering what the meaning of this was, the soldier’s face illuminated red from the flames,
Soldier: [The other side has come forth to surrender! The battle is over!]
Todd: [Can we allow such a convenient offer? I don’t like saying this, but unlike the situation where if we didn’t pull back we would also suffer damage, we can now unilaterally annihilate them all. It’s better to cut off any unnecessary sources of the trouble and make an example out of them.]
If Arakiya’s ability was used well, their side could secure victory without losing a single soldier.
Todd thought that it would be more appropriate to make an example of them, and make them regret their decision to join the rebellion, rather than allowing them to surrender and get the upper hand.
However, Todd’s opinion was overturned by the soldier’s appeal that followed.
Soldier: [We can’t! Those who have surrendered are accompanied by the “Crown Prince”!]
Todd: [――What did you just say?]
At the Imperial Soldier’s report, Todd reflexively grabbed him by the collar. The soldier choked out a “Guh”, but Todd did not care as he brought his face closer,
Todd: [Why has the “Crown Prince” turned up here? I thought you said he wasn’t here.]
Soldier: [Th-they hid him… and no, he’s emerged…]
Todd: [Tch, was their intention to use a trump card? Those guys don’t even know the value of their hand.]
Releasing the soldier whom he had grabbed by the collar, Todd gave a deep exhale.
He then looked up at Arakiya circling overhead and hesitated on whether to call out to her. And then, after careful consideration,
Todd: [Drag the messenger here.]
Soldier: [Huh? But…]
Todd: [Bring him here. If they don’t want to get annihilated, make him run desperately.]
The soldier began to argue with Todd’s nonchalant instructions, then quickly realized that it was pointless and turned away.
Todd also did not want to wield Arakiya’s brute power either, but he had no choice but to do so while it helped the discussions move forward quickly.
――Especially in the worst case scenario, when the other party had the “Crown Prince”.
Soldier: [Private First-Class Fang.]
Not long after, the soldier from earlier returned to Todd.
Beside him was a ragged-looking young man, and in contrast to the bravery of the armor he was wearing, his face appeared dismal and depressed as he realized his defeat.
There was no helping it. Even Todd felt the same way when he saw Arakiya’s violence against the other side.
Although he felt pity for him, there was something he needed to confirm.
Todd: [I hear you guys have the “Crown Prince.” Is that the justification for your revolt?]
Messenger: [Ye-yeah. The “Crown Prince” desires the Imperial Throne. We sympathize with that aspiration, and in order to pave the way for that ally…]
Todd: [――That’s a lie.]
Staring intently into the face of the person who was saying something significant, Todd interrupted. Hearing that, the man’s expression was one of bewilderment, and a shiver ran through him.
That reaction convinced Todd. ――They were all talk, but no show.
The next moment, Todd swung the axe at his waist and smashed the upright standing man’s head open.
The man with the axe thrust into the top of his head grunted softly and fell to the ground with his eyes rolled back in his head. In response to Todd’s immediate action of slaying the messenger, the soldier slightly widened his eyes,
Soldier: [Private First-Class! Such arbitrary actions are…]
Todd: [This guy lied. The opponent doesn’t have such a thing like the “Crown Prince” on their side. These people chose the low road when it came to surrender. ――General First-Class Arakiya will continue to do as she has been doing.]
Soldier: [Guh… If… if the “Crown Prince” is truly here then…]
Todd: [He’s not.]
At Todd’s declaration, the soldier was unable to continue with any further words, and kept silent. As Todd then gave a nod, he dragged the corpse of the fallen enemy at his feet.
Todd scraped the flesh and blood from the axe with his fingers and let out a long sigh.
Together with Arakiya, he traveled around the country crushing the seeds of rebellion, but each time he did so, the presence of the “Crown Prince” stood in his way.
The illegitimate son of Vincent Vollachia, the only possibility to give legitimacy to the rebellions that erupted across the Empire―― How many would attempt to revolt under the guise of that illegitimate child.
Even worse was Prime Minister Berstetz’s order to capture the “Crown Prince” unharmed if at all possible, and bring him back to the Imperial Capital.
Todd: [Ahh, good grief, I can’t help but say it. ――How long until we can go back to the Imperial Capital?]
Every attempt to return to the Imperial Capital was unsuccessful, somehow it became a journey that took them all over the Empire.
Todd bit his lip as he thought of his fiancée, who even now was still waiting for him to return to the Imperial Capital.
The flames engulfed everything on the battlefield, and those who chose to resist were regretfully burned to nothing.
He pitied those who had failed to see this future and ended up choosing to stand on the wrong side, but at the same time he scorned them.
The uprising was crushed. No matter how much they raised their spirits, they would never be able to gain victory over the weight of the Empire.
While he was thinking that there was absolutely no doubt about this, Todd suddenly had a thought.
The beginning of a genuine uprising, and the rebellion’s flames of war spreading in every place.
Just as if it was by somebody’s design, beyond the blaze of warfare spreading throughout, somebody was present.
Endlessly, endlessly, Todd’s survival instincts were being made to throb, by somebody.
With warfare spreading its flames, and the literal burning battlefield coming to a close before his eyes, Todd came to a standstill.
This warfare engulfing the Vollachian Empire, just who in the world desires it? Whatever the case, Todd would read through it, and obtain what he wished for no matter what.
For that purpose, he would spare no effort, no consideration, and nothing whatsoever. If there was one thing that concerned him.
Arakiya: [――. Is it connected? The thing with Gladiator Island.]
Flashing through the back of his mind was Arakiya’s question, asked just before arriving at the battlefield.
Fundamentally, Todd did not look back to the past. No matter what he did, it would be made correct by the future. Nevertheless, that incident was the only thing that continued to bring him unease.
Without stepping ashore, Todd abandoned the Gladiator Island and withdrew.
That decision was sure to have been the right one. He should hold no regrets.
However, possibly, by some chance, there was some reason to have regrets, that was――.
Todd: [――The retreat on that day, it was the only time my life had been checkmated.]