“It’s no use anymore! We have to run away. Let’s escape!”
The one who raised that pathetic scream was the Campaign Priest Mildas.
Until the start of the battle, Mildas lied on his back with his legs outstretched on top of a palanquin, which lined up with Darius’ chariot and was shouldered by muscular human slaves, while pushing out his belly that surpassed corpulence. He thought that he could treat himself to the spectacle of the rebels being annihilated if he stayed together with the general leading the entire army.
However, once the battle began, he thoroughly suffered. Not only was he forced to move around all over, he even got into a panic after having stones thrown at him by the filthy birds.
And not just that, next he heard that those zoan are going to charge at full force. In Mildas eyes something like attacking while simply aiming at the head of the enemy’s leader, even though defeat had been set in stone, couldn’t be considered as anything but the act of sheer madness.
“Since it’s a fact that we lost, let’s get away quickly!”
However, there’s not a single person responding to Mildas.
For Mildas, who was under the impression that anyone will listen to and obey his words, the words of a priest of the great Holy Faith, it was a bizarre spectacle going beyond his understanding. Moreover, being hit by the bloodthirst seeping out of the soldiers’ bodies, who are eagerly and impatiently waiting for Darius’ order to make a suicide attack, he feels sick. Mildas voiced out his regret while having greasy sweat trickle down all over his face.
“After all it was a mistake. If I only hadn’t gotten involved with that guy…!”
However, that was a verbal slip.
Naturally Darius raged after hearing that.
“You bastard! Do you know the one leading these rebels!?”
It was just the moment when Darius was about to give the order to charge, but as one might expect, there was no way for him to ignore that remark.
Mildas’ way of speaking made it apparent that he knows the person leading the rebels. There’s the possibility that it wouldn’t have resulted in such unsightly defeat if they had known the details in advance. Welling up with anger close to hatred towards Mildas, who concealed that information until now, was only reasonable.
Even though it was after the fact, Mildas restrains his mouth in panic after realizing his own slip of tongue, but words once spoke can’t be taken back anymore.
“Spit it out! What do you son of a bitch know!?”
Affected by Darius’ wrath, the soldiers around Mildas become instantly murderous. They thrust their spears at Mildas and glared at him with eyes full of killing intent.
Being surrounded by bloodthirst that felt as if his whole body would be skewered if he said something unwise, Mildas’ face changes into an expression of being on the verge of bursting into tears. He surveys his vicinity looking for someone that might be willing to help him, but of course there was not a single person that seemed to have pity with Mildas to be found in this location.
Guessing that he had no way of escape anymore, Mildas resigned himself and whispered,
“T-…That guy is, a Divine Son…s—”
“I can’t hear! Speak loud and clear!”
Alongside Darius’ angry roar, the thrust spearheads of the soldiers close the distance without hesitation. Mildas, who quietly screamed with a “Hiii” due to that, raised his voice into a loud one after becoming desperate.
“That guy is a Divine Son!”
The soldiers stir due to the unexpected words from Mildas.
“Divine Son!? Are you saying that a Divine Son of the Human God is cooperating with other races!?”
It’s natural for Darius to think that it’s someone granted the Human God’s blessing if he’s told about a human Divine Son. Mildas denies that misunderstanding in a fluster.
“No, that’s not it!”
If a Divine Son of the Human God liberated sub-human slaves and caused a rebellion, it might very well shake the foundation of the Holy Faith’s doctrine that advocates the superiority of the human race. If that happened, let alone his authority as priest of that Holy Faith, even his life would be in danger.
“That guy is Aura’s Divine Son!!”
Darius manner of speech became even rougher due to the name Aura which he doesn’t remember having ever heard before.
“Aura!? What’s that, this Aura!?”
Without thinking of the consequences, as he tries too hard to dissolve the misunderstand of the raging Darius, Mildas ends up revealing the existence of a goddess that was hidden by the Holy Faith.
“Aura is the goddess who killed the Creator and gave birth to the The Seven! She’s a Greater Goddess older than The Seven! She’s a great goddess governing over death and destruction!”
Those words turn into an invisible shock, bursting in the hearts of Darius and the others.
Not only the soldiers present, but even Darius becomes speechless out of overwhelming surprise due to the existence of a dreadful goddess they hear about for the first time.
In a mere moment an eerie silence descends, unfitting of a battlefield.
After a short time, whispers leaked out between the soldiers. Frail murmurs, as if scrutinizing the contents of Mildas’ speech within their mouths.
“Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction…?”
Like a ripple, those murmurs spread among the soldiers.
“The Divine Son of Aura!”
“The Divine Son of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction!”
The ripples overlap with each other and turn into a single wave.
“The Divine Son of the Goddess of Death and Destruction!”
“The Divine Son of Death and Destruction!”
And, what had become a wave, surged on even further, smashing the hearts of the soldiers.
“”Divine Son of Destruction!!””
Those were screams.
The soldiers’ eyes, which were filled with fighting spirit until then, were obviously dyed with the color of trepidation.
Darius deeply regretted pressing Mildas for answers.
All those present in this place are veteran soldiers who got through many battlefields together with Darius. Even if the enemy army had a million troops, they wouldn’t feel any fear as long as they were together with Darius. Of course that’s because those trusting Darius have been taught that they would gain eternal life after being called to the Human God’s side once they heroically died in battle as soldiers.
That’s why they don’t fear to die while fighting.
But, that completely changes if they kill a divine child.
If they kill a divine child, they might incur the wrath of a god.
That possibility encompassed a dread that was yet different from death.
In the past era of legends, there was a human called Genobanda. One day the foolish, arrogant Genobanda incurred the anger of The Seven. After having his appearance transformed into that of an ugly monster, he was knocked down into the bog of excreta located at the bottom of the planet. And it’s said that even now Genobanda is begging the gods for compassion while rummaging through the excreta in the depths of the planet where no light ever shines down to.
This is a famous legend commonly-shared by all seven races of the Seldeas Continent. If it’s a person living on that continent, regardless of their race, everyone will be raised by their parents while being warned “A bad child that doesn’t listen will turn into Genobanda” during their childhood. Calling someone else “Genobanda” has also become the worst-possible insult.
And, the soldiers feared themselves becoming a second Genobanda by killing a divine child.
However, that’s a needless anxiety.
It might have been possible during the era of legends, but no matter how many divine children that were granted blessing had been killed, the gods never did something like interfering with the world of people. There are also divine children that got assassinated or killed in battle in the past, but the gods never punished the person who caused the divine child’s death with that as a reason. This is also obvious from the fact that Innocent, the founder of the Holy Faith, was executed by the hands of humans like him.
But, the soldiers, who fight on battlefields while risking their lives, are prone to being superstitious. For such superstitious soldiers the act of killing a divine child, which might incur the wrath of a god, was the height of horror.
Moreover, in addition, the soldiers’ imaginary delusions spur on their fears as they wonder whether Darius, who was their trusted general, didn’t lose to an enemy with inferior military forces because the Divine Son of Destruction used some kind of terrible sorcery or such.
Due to the soldiers being scared and horrified, Darius grit his teeth as bitterness spilled through the gaps in-between.
By now the last chance of winning was lost.
Death soldiers that became fearful stop being death soldiers. Their fear towards the Divine Son summons fear towards fighting, and the fear towards fighting summons fear towards death. Once that happens, they are nothing more but simple soldiers. The have turned into simple soldiers terrorized by fear.
Fear might make the feet of soldiers grow dull.
Fear might bind the soldiers’ hands that swing their weapons.
There’s absolutely no way for the sword of a soldier that had become like that to be able to reach the location of that Divine Son.
However, if we let this opportunity go, the rebels will amass power and turn into a huge calamity for Holmea. Precisely because he knew that, Darius hesitated whether he should withdraw despite that or not.
The one who made the decision for Darius was Marius.
“Turn around His Excellency’s chariot! It’s a retreat! We are going to retreat!”
Marius looks towards the zoan pursuit unit heading their way. The zoan had already gotten very close. Even if we change towards retreat at this point, our rear will be bitten away. Seeing that, Marius calls out furthermore,
“Only those not holding their lives dear are to stay behind! In order to allow His Excellency to escape safely, hold back the enemy here together with me!”
“Ma-Marius!” Darius became panicked. “Absolutely not! You must not sacrifice your young live for the sake of letting an old, senile fool like me live! I will serve as rear guard!”
“No, Your Excellency!”
Marius rebuked Darius. Darius is dumbfounded as he certainly didn’t expect to be reprimanded by a young man he considered to be his son and pupil.
Marius laughed cheerfully due to Darius’ reaction.
“As I’m a novice, I don’t know what you are fearing so much, Your Excellency. The only one capable of correctly telling His Majesty the King about the things Your Excellency is afraid of is no one else but you, Your Excellency.”
For Darius that meant that he had to return to the king alive and report his own defeat.
“Are you telling me to expose myself to living in shame!?”
“The real worth of a general is called in question at the time of defeat. Correctly conveying the cause of defeat to those who are going to proceed towards the next battle, so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes, is the duty of a defeated general. Isn’t that your own teaching?”
Being confronted with the words taught by him in the past, even Darius couldn’t find any rebuttal.
At the time when the chariot, which slowly changed its direction even while he was searching for words, finally finished turning about, Darius says while hanging his head dejectedly,
“… Sorry, Marius.”
His voice trembled slightly as it was tinged with him being tear-choked.
And then he suddenly lifts his face and says as if entreating Marius,
“But, don’t hurry to your death! Survive by all means!”
Unable to voice out any words as something hot clogged his chest due to Darius’ sorrowful expression, he observes for the first time, Marius bows his head deeply atop his horse.
And then, after the chariot started to run while kicking up a cloud of dust, Marius finally raised his head and silently muttered towards Darius, who’s looking back while bending himself forward from the chariot,
“It’s our farewell in this life, Your Excellency. Please return safely to the royal capital without fail.”
Next to Marius, who turned the neck of his horse towards the approaching zoan, lined up a middle-aged man with shortly-cut salt and pepper hair and an unshaven face.
Due to that Marius widens his eyes slightly. He remembered that man. It’s a commoner-born soldier who was intimately addressed by Darius several times.
“If I remember correctly…you were called Bogus or such?”
“Aye. I’m an insolent fellow that has risen from being a commoner, but I will have you allow me to accompany you.”
It was an attitude that might be taken as rude towards a noble like Marius, but Marius laughs.
“I often heard about you from His Excellency. — He was dissatisfied with the work as company commander given to you. He said that, if it wasn’t for the annoying lot calling you commoner and such, he wanted to work you hard as his own right-hand-man.”
Bogus, who certainly didn’t expect to be praised in this situation, scratched the tip of his nose while blushing.
Marius, who subdued his laughter, changes his expression and ask that Bogus,
“But, Bogus. Even the noble commissioned officers ran away. There’s no reason for you, a commoner, to stay behind either.”
“That is certainly true, but I had the privilege to experience various good memories with His Excellency the General. If I escaped here despite that, I would be no man, right?”
“That’s for sure!”
Once Marius, who agreed jokingly with Bogus while smiling, turns to the back, there were around 200 soldiers left with them. Most of them are commoner-born soldiers, who have been following Darius for many years like Bogus.
“My goodness, there are so many fools wanting to die!”
Marius said while revealing a bottomless, bright smile.
Bogus replies to that by laughing.
“Well that means they are hundred times more eager to hold back the zoan for the sake of helping the general than taking the head of the guy called Divine Son of Destruction.”
Once stopping his laughter, Bogus continues with a serious expression,
“Well then, boss. Please give us our orders at once.”
Gnawing on those words for a short while, Marius nods once, as if having come to term with it for some reason.
“That’s not bad at all. I dreamed of leading an army as general one day, but that won’t come true.”
Marius unties the cord of his mantle that was fastened at his chest. Thereupon the pure-white mantle, which slipped off his back, drops to the ground, becoming stained with mud.
The pure-white mantle, that’s used for the sake of being discerned at a glance by his allies, even on a chaotic battlefield, is a prided proof of him being a messenger. Something like letting it fall to the ground and dirtying it with mud is something that’s not tolerated by all means. Depending on the circumstances, he will receive a severe punishment such as being removed from his role as messenger.
However, Marius did that on purpose.
In other words, he showed to everyone that he has no intention to return alive.
“Form up the ranks! Front row, prepare the shields! Those possessing spears, line up behind the shield bearers!”
The look in the eyes of the soldiers suddenly change due to Marius’ orders.
As if it had been carefully prepared in advance, the soldiers set into their own roles and created impeccable ranks.
“Now then, right now is the best chance for you to show your spirit as Holmean soldiers! Knock your weapons! Raise your voices!”
Once Marius, who made sure of the execution of his orders, lifts up a spear, he was given by a lower soldier, high into the sky, the soldiers knock the shields and weapons in their hands, stamp with their feet and shout,
“”Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!””
The voices of the merely 200 remaining Holmean soldiers roared across the battlefield.