Hifumi occupied the cities and villages by the Orsongrande-Arosel border one by one.
Basically, the reason they captured Arosel the way they did was only for the soldiers to gain experience. In the other cases, he just had a small number of people infiltrating, where they either seized, or killed the representatives. The places that seemed to be able to offer some resistance were pinpointed and suppressed. The only matter where Hifumi personally moved were in regards to the guilds, where he had each of the guild masters swear allegiance to him.
After killing many of Vichy’s soldiers and adventurers, Hifumi’s side also had some casualties, but the difference in losses were overwhelming. Their raids were performed in such a way that most of the populace didn’t notice anything. But even if they did, the only thing that changed was the name of the governor.
Except the ones resisting, the rest were let live. It was also made known that the only change in the administrative body was that Hifumi was now the chief. Except that, there were no changes, so nothing really went out of hand. At the moment there simply wasn’t enough time for a complete restructure of the administrative system.
Except putting the central government’s spies and liaisons on house arrest, Hifumi didn’t really take any actions towards them. In time, they were to divulge the state of affairs within the their area of control.
In the meantime, three city states and ten of the surrounding villages were put under their control.
In each of the cities, the opposing parties were generally killed, and passage through the city gates was restricted. The soldiers left behind were the bare minimum for upholding those restrictions, so in the villages there could be as few as three of them.
“It’s about time. Pajou. According to plan, after occupying this area, we are to establish a new national border. You should send for soldiers from Orsongrande to defend it.”
Hifumi pointed his finger at the map they took from the representative of Arosel’s mansion.
The place he pointed at was just a small-scale city named Rhone, but to get to one of the major cities in Vichy, you would have to pass by here. If they could set up a blockade here, one of Vichy’s five major cities would be whittled away.
Until now, when the city they were aiming for was right in front of them, Pajou had been following Hifumi’s orders.
Looking at the size conquered territory, the military gains were unprecedented in the history of Orsongrande. Furthermore, occupying these cities and villages in a relatively unscathed condition, the tax revenue would barely need to be reduced at all.
But doing it in this manner, which was a first for the knights, Pajou didn’t think the aristocrats could possibly agree to it. If the head of the campaign wasn’t Hifumi, and rather someone else, he would’ve been replaced long ago.
“Well then, I guess I’ll go have a ‘talk’ with them in Rhone.”
Seeing Hifumi straddling the horse and riding off on the highway alone, leaving the troops behind, Pajou was thinking about the future of Orsongrande.
Imeraria probably doesn’t have the notion to invade other countries herself. If that’s the case and Vichy wants to enter negotiations with us, offering Orsongrande an apology, it should all conclude there, but…
Would Hifumi agree to stopping at this point?
Would he listen to anyone’s opinion, and change the way he’s thinking?
…… In the end, would it all be over with Vichy as the only victim?
Pajou looked at the troops participating in the campaign.
They were all showing signs of fatigue. Having no experience with these methods until now, they were performing silent invasions, and engaging in one-sided slaughter. Sure, they had signs of physical exhaustion, but what had really exhausted them was the repeated killing of enemies, including many who couldn’t even resist.
They were primarily concentrating on performing night raids and surprise attacks. Although they were operations in which the masses weren’t hurt, in the end their purpose was still having others killed.
Exposing the Orsongrande knights and soldiers to this to the extent they were, what would become of them?
If they didn’t stop soon, perhaps Orsongrande would crumble from within.
Origa couldn’t understand Hifumi’s real intentions, but didn’t voice any opinions towards him. Alyssa didn’t understand him either, but decided to keep following orders.
Perhaps if Hifumi was thinking about stopping…
Pajou was observing Kasha ordering the first unit around, preparing for the next assault. Among Hifumi’s followers participating in the campaign, Kasha was the only one having shown uneasy expressions a couple of times.
“Sorry, do you have some time?”
When Kasha seemed free for a little while, Pajou quietly asked her.
Closing in on Rhone, Hifumi frowned.
The smell of blood drifted over from the wind. The town’s entrance came into sight, but there were still no presence of people.
“What’s all this about…?”
Speeding up the horse, Hifumi tightly held onto his katana fixed on his waist. The left hand was propping up the scabbard, making him able to draw at a moment’s notice.
Steadily closing in on the city, a bizarre mud wall covering the entrance came into view.
Carefully approaching, he confirmed that a mud wall that was as hard as rock was completely covering the city entrance. Making sure that no one was around, he swung his katana, destroying the wall.
A stench of blood and decay burst forth the moment the entrance was cleared.
“So they were completely annihilated.”
Looking around within the city, decomposed bodies were scattered all over the place, no living things to be found. Not even cats or dogs. Whether it be the stores, the inns, or even the regular houses, blood and dead bodies could be found everywhere.
Hifumi had an uncomfortable feeling. He judged that they had been dead from anywhere between a few hours and a day, but several patches on the corpses were extremely decomposed.
“A disease? …No, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
There were several bodies that hadn’t decomposed yet, seemingly having died due to blood loss from the wounds on their necks and various other places. But these corpses looked suspicious as well. Their fingers and fingernails looked too clean. They should obviously have ‘been killed’, but there were no indications of resistance, and their faces were anything but warped in horror or pain. They were completely expressionless.
He didn’t understand the circumstances of the deaths of the decomposed bodies, but there were numerous cases of their throats having being clamped down upon, and clawing their own chests.
Most likely, something made them unable to breathe, and as a result, they ended up dying.
Hifumi abruptly withdrew his katana, as the stomach of one of the decomposed bodied opened. Some gas emerged, and the content gushed out with a splashing sound.
“The intestines are also extremely decomposed, but it seems that what’s inside the stomach is still fine.”
As Hifumi guessed that for some reason, they all started quickly decomposing at around the same time, he caught a quick glance of something through one of the bodies’ split clothes.
“Isn’t this the same magic tool that Gorilla-like guy was wearing?”
Wouldn’t that indicate that this incident was orchestrated on the orders of Horant?
“… For the time being, we can’t use the city unless we clean up.”
Not being able to conclude anything more than that, Hifumi let out a sigh and returned to the where the campaign’s forces were stationed.
When the soldiers first saw the city with the corpses spread all around, they were speechless. ‘You took it this far?’ their gazes seemingly tried to convey, as they concentrated on Hifumi.
“In that short amount of time, he killed this many?”, someone muttered.
In order to avoid diseases from breaking out, Hifumi had them dispose of the corpses by burning them, and then burying the bones.
“What is actually going on here?”
Having surveyed the surroundings, Origa asked Hifumi.
“No idea. The decayed guys were wearing that body strengthening magic tool we encountered before. Perhaps they were made to wear them by someone. The other ones had no facial expressions, so it appears to be the same kind of magic tool as the soldiers in Arosel were using. The low levels of resistance would indicate that this should be a strengthened version.”
Having said that, he had now seen the strengthening magic tool a few times by now, but this time he had noticed a few things he hadn’t back in Arosel.
He turned to Pajou who was situated a small bit away.
“Pajou. The soldiers from Arosel were using some kind of magic tool on the orders from their government, do you know what kind of tool it was?”
“No. I didn’t think they were having a uniform magic tool they were equipped with…”
“But when you heard about it in Arosel, didn’t you think that… Hmm?”
“Is there something wrong?”
“I feel a strange smell.”
Hifumi turned around, and walked towards one of the city’s wells. Origa and the rest followed him to take a peek into the well and sniffed to check the smell. It was an acidic smell that slightly stung the eyes.
Throwing in the bucket and withdrawing some water, there was nothing wrong with the color of it, but it was undoubtedly the source of that smell.
“…… Are there any magic tools that display an effect when you’re drinking, for example?”
“I haven’t seen one myself, but I’ve heard others talks about them existing. What about it?”
“For example, let’s assume we have a magic tool creating a substance that spreads throughout the body. If that substance could dissolve in water, what would happen when you drink water?”
“I don’t know if you could get the same result or not, but…”
“That’s why they needed to experiment with it, right?”
Both Origa and Pajou turned quiet.
Destroying a while city just for that purpose. That kind of deranged thinking made them shiver in a different way than when they were facing Hifumi.
“It’s probably the same kind of strengthening magic tool the border guards used. The ones we smashed. While they were doing experiments all over the place, it seems like they migrated somewhere else.”
Possibly because of Beirevra, Hifumi thought, but he had no positive proof that was actually the case.
“Tell everyone to not use the water from the well. Send someone from the third unit to make sure the water from the river close by is okay. Pajou, send a report back to Orsongrande. I don’t mind if you’re using one of the soldiers to do that.”
If, after the messenger delivered the report, everyone hearing became spineless, it wouldn’t be a laughing matter, Hifumi sighed.
Staying in Rhone for three days, they were steadily coming along with the preparations for fortifying the new national border.
The entrance on Vichy’s side of the city was changed slightly. Only on the inside of the gate was a guard room prepared. The guards who had previous experience in guarding a border were put in charge of the central positions.
Furthermore, the second unit made a simple moat on Vichy’s side of the city. Closing in on horse, they would have to to take a long detour.
“It’s about time. Alyssa, since we’ve now established the new national border, have the third unit convey to the troops in the occupied cities and villages that they can now release the restrictions on entering and exiting the cities.”
“Pajou, you make the preparations to receive the troops from Orsongrande that are to be stationed here. There are a lot of houses remaining, so seizing a few inns to use as well should be enough. No one should complain about that, right?”
“The second unit is to continue the investigations within the city. If there are any survivors, take them into custody.”
“What about the first unit?”
“They should get accustomed to defending the border for now.”
Having issued all the orders, Hifumi felt worn out and told the others he’d lie down for a while, after which he headed towards a suitable inn.
“With this, we’re done with the first step, aren’t we?”
Kasha muttered, stretching her back.
“Yeah. But we still haven’t achieved our own objective, have we?”
Only after dealing with Beirevra would they have taken their own revenge, Origa mentioned. It was something the two of them had talked about many times already.
Kasha put her index finger to her cheek and said in a small voice, not meeting Origa’s gaze.
“We’ve already been released as slaves, and continuing like this, I don’t know how many more people we have to kill before we reach Beirevra… I also thought it’s about time we returned to our primary professions……”
For every word Kasha said, Origa’s eyes turned more severe.
“I-I’ll return to the rest of the unit!”
Not being able to withstand the mood turning heavier, Alyssa ran away.
Pajou really wanted to do so as well, but this was the situation she was looking for. But more than just having it happen, she had to see for herself how it would unfold, so she stayed to listen to their conversation.
“Kasha, you may have some valid points in what you say, but I didn’t think you were this dishonorable.”
“Hi-Hifumi giving us our freedom back is amazing, I’m not saying it isn’t! But we’re adventurers, so originally our enemies were the monsters. Killing people is just… I just think that’s wrong.”
“If that’s the case, you can return to the capital by yourself. I’ll still be following Hifumi.”
After that, Origa turned around and walked away at a quick pace.
Kasha stretched out her right hand as if to stop her, but grabbed nothing but air.
“I’m sorry. I made you do something unpleasant.”
“It’s fine. We aren’t fit to command soldiers like this in the first place. Origa will eventually come to understand that as well. I’m thankful towards Hifumi, but that’s not reason enough to do this for an extended period of time… And honestly, for her own sake, Origa needs to realize that Hifumi isn’t a person that’s good to always stay close to.
“Yeah, I understand you as well.”
If Hifumi knew about Pajou’s goal, how would he react? He’s a person who doesn’t care about others, so perhaps he wouldn’t say anything if a comrade decides to leave. But what would happen if they do something Hifumi would regard as treachery, or hostility?
She might not be able to return to her own country, or perhaps even die. But even then, Pajou was determined to weaken Hifumi’s faction. He had become a hero, and brought both triumph and benefits to Orsongrande. But what they’ve gotten so far was enough. They didn’t need more.
This is for the selfish sake of those politicians, but if you’re going to resent someone, please just hate me
Walking back towards the assigned lodgings, Pajou had now decided on something she wouldn’t report to the princess.