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A loud bam reverberated through the mansion of Darius in Holmea’s capital Holmenia.
“He stole a march on us…!?”
Darius had slammed his fist on the table with verve and was now audibly grinding his teeth in rage. Lying on the table was a letter informing about the attack of the revolting slaves at the Conte river. It had been secretly delivered by one of Darius’s former men.
Darius had already anticipated that the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 would start another invasion in a while after having previously pulled back his soldiers. He knew that soldiers would inevitably lose their fighting spirits if they were allowed to put down their weapons once, and thus he’d guessed that it’d take quite a bit of time to rally the soldiers’ morale once more.
But, the speed of the current re-invasion went far and beyond his wildest expectations. Darius wondered just what kind of magic the Divine Son of Destruction had used. As far as he could tell from the letter, the morale of the zoan, who had attacked the bridge point, seemed to be remarkably high.
And even more than that question, he deeply regretted that Holmea lost the initiative.
When you oppose a large army with a small force, you always have to take the initiative. Otherwise, if you take a defensive stance, your smaller force will simply get crushed by sheer numbers.
It’s quite vexing, but the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 is well aware of such basic facts.
At the same time of thinking that it was only natural for an enemy, who had defeated him, to understand as much, Darius felt irritated.
“Anyway, I must get as much information about the current situation as possible.”
Darius quickly sent letters to his acquaintances in the royal army and on court, asking them to tell him about the current state of affairs in secret. And just as Darius was almost desperately gathering information about 「Divine Son of Destruction」, the former prime minister Ponpius visited his abode.
“…What!? Our country soldiers were repelled by a fake fort!?” Darius slightly widened his eyes upon this news which Ponpius had brought.
His friend lightly nodded his confirmation, “Indeed, Darius. His Majesty has become extremely angry at this. He decreed that the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 was to be caught alive so that he could skin him alive with his own hands.”
Recalling the pitiable, disgraceful fuming of the king back then, Ponpius’s expression scrunched up into a sour frown. Darius could roughly guess what had happened from Ponpius’s face, but rather than worrying about that, he judged the countermeasures against the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 to be more important.
“But, it is regretful. If only we had hurried the army along…”
The part repeatedly stabbing Darius’s heart was the loss of the Conte bridge point. That bridge point was a crucial bottleneck if you were planning to capture Bolnis. As long as they held that place, it would have been possible to launch attacks on the city of Bolnis as the city’s defenses couldn’t keep up with the rapid, ever-expanding growth of the city.
If they had hurried His Highness Alexius and the 「Black Wall」 westwards without allowing them to spend days partying in the capital in the name of holding festivities to pray for victory on the battlefield, they might have possibly been in time to defend the bridge point. As such, Darius couldn’t help but feel mortified.
But, right now he didn’t even have the time to dwell on regrets about this.
“Sorry, Ponpius. I’d like you to write up several letters for me.”
“That’s fine with me, but what should I write?”
After pondering for a while, Darius answered the following:
“The revolting slaves might cross the river and enter your fief. You should be careful of becoming another Marven.”
“Is that much going to be enough?”
“Yes, I think so.”
While Ponpius prepared the letters, Darius lowered his eyes on the map which had remained spread out on the table for many days now. His eyes were naturally drawn to the bridge point, said to be now occupied by the 「Divine Son of Destruction」.
“…Nothing. No forest, mountain, valley, or even basin. Just plain flatland.”
Nothing but flatland was sprawling ahead of the bridge point.
“Don’t tell me, that blasted, little… No, there’s no way he’d…”
“People looking like soldiers of Holmea’s lords have appeared along the Conte?”
Souma furrowed his eyebrows at the report of a zoan warrior they had sent out to scout.
“Yes, at most it is some people straddling kiryu, but we have confirmed them checking the river on several occasions. Still, they always run away as soon as they notice us.”
After listening to the zoan, Souma called out to Dvalin, “Dvalin, have you heard anything about the rafts transporting the materials getting attacked?”
“No such stories have reached my ears, despite them being as big as they are,” Dvalin immediately denied.
But that caused Souma’s expression to become even gloomier. Just when he had thought that they might be trying to attack the rafts, that didn’t seem to be the case. Having said that, the sightings of soldiers along the river had been occurring over too wide a range along the river for it to be reconnaissance.
In that case, all he could think of was the possibility of the soldiers investigating the river itself.
“Are they possibly looking for a good spot to cross the river?” But, his own conjecture made Souma grimace, “How annoying…”
The objective of attacking the bridge point was naturally to occupy the sole bridge allowing a big army to cross the Conte, but it also intended to draw Holmea’s attention to that place. What Souma feared the most at the moment was revenge for their own attack on Marven.
If they allowed Holmea to imitate their raid of Marven by dispatching a smaller force across the river to directly attack Bolnis, their headquarters, it’d deliver a painful blow to Souma and his people. After all, there was nothing hindering an enemy to invade Bolnis, once they managed to cross the Conte. Moreover, because Souma had amassed most of his forces at the bridge point in preparation for the battle against the 「Black Wall」, even a small enemy unit would be quite capable of causing devastating damage to the city.
Furthermore, just the existence of an enemy unit in their rear, even if they didn’t launch an attack on the city, would be a clear threat. With him lacking people, he could only dispatch a minimum of warriors to defend the supply lines. As such, a small, mobile enemy force would be easily able to tear apart their fragile supply lines.
Also for the sake of avoiding this, Souma had intentionally spread the rumor that their fort had been a dummy so as to pin Holmea’s attention to this place.
Zurgua spoke up to Souma as he was brooding, “What are we going to do, Sir Soma? Should I take my warriors and give the Holmean nobles in the area a good thrashing?”
When it came to this region which didn’t account for more than some remote border land for Holmea, the fiefs were held by weak and puny lords who could already boast if they had one or two knights under them. If the fierce zoan general Zurgu took a hundred of his warriors, it’d be a trivial task to suppress these lords.
“No, let’s not.”
But, Souma opted to not follow that suggestion.
Maybe Holmea is planning to have us split our forces in order to eradicate the detached forces one by one. Or it’s also possible that they intend to attack this place after making us split our forces in order to gain full control of the area. I cannot move our combat forces carelessly. Rather than that, it’s more important to not allow the enemy to approach this place. After all, the work we’re doing here right now is going to decide the tide of the upcoming battle. Even if we drive away the enemy after they raid us, all would come to waste, in case our preparations over here were to be stalled.
“For the time being, we’ll increase the zoan and harpyian patrols along the river. Moreover, please inform Mr. Solon to increase the watch over the city’s circumference and reinforce the security measures inside the city.”
I think it’ll be alright as long as I get the quick-footed zoan and airborne harpyians to watch for any suspicious movements.
However, Souma’s face didn’t brighten up, despite him having made his decision.
“『If you wish to weaken your enemy, force him do something he hates first』, huh…?”
Souma had recited a line from 「Darius’s Teaching Guide」. He had no proof, but somehow that man’s name simply didn’t want to disappear from his mind.
“Why isn’t he moving…?”
After having reports delivered to him by fast runners, Darius knitted his eyebrows in front of the map depicting Holmea’s western domain. Asking the remote lords to deploy their knights and soldiers around the Conte for the rebelling slaves to see was a measure to slow down the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 while suspecting that the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 would invade deeper into Holmea.
And although the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 hadn’t moved from the Conte bridge point as intended, that in itself irked Darius.
“Darius, why are you so upset over your own plan having succeeded?” Ponpius asked in a soothing way, seeing how Darius was exposing an irritation similar to a lion pacing around while growling inside its narrow cage.
“I wouldn’t have had any problem with that guy, if this much had been enough to pin him down!”
Darius unintentionally flared up, shouting in rage, but coming to his senses from his own voice, he quietly apologized.
Ponpius shook his head, indicating that Darius didn’t need to mind it, and then asked, “To me it looks like they’re simply trying to concentrate their efforts into constructing a fortress, but is that not the case here?”
The area in front of the bridge point was ideal ground to deploy a large army because of its few undulations. It’d be the height of folly to meet an enemy, who had more than twice your own numbers, in a place like that. As such, the idea of building a sturdy fortress to defend against a large enemy army seemed to be a decent plan.
However, Darius decisively rejected Ponpius’ suggestion.
I’ve heard that they’re strengthening their fortress by using the river to transport lumber, which they felled in the mountains upstream. But, no matter how much they reinforce the fort’s defenses, it’d still remain no more than an impromptu fortress. There’s no way it’d be able to hold off the royal army with its more than 15,000 soldiers. And I can’t imagine that the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 isn’t aware of that either.
Darius believed that the fort over there was no more than a bridgehead to bolster a further invasion into Holmea, and that the slaves would be using it as base of operations to cause chaos within Holmea’s realm.
Yet, Ponpius voiced a doubt about that estimation, “But, no matter how much momentum they might have, I heard that the revolting slaves fielded less than 8,000 men. Isn’t it hard to believe that they’d intentionally invade deep into our country with our army incoming?”
If the slaves were to invade into Holmea, they’d be surrounded by Holmean lords. It was inconceivable that weak, tiny lords in the borderlands, who had already their hands full with protecting their own fiefs, would independently raise armies to attack the invaders, but even so, for someone leading an army, the state of being constantly surrounded by enemies was a nightmare.
With the looming attack of the subjugation force, which excelled the slaves’ army in numbers, Ponpius believed that course of action to be silly at best.
Darius answered him with a leaden voice, “What has been worrying me the most――”
His finger pointed at a single point on the map. However, the indicated place wasn’t located in Holmea’s west, but its east.
“――is them penetrating all the way to the Labian’s ferry point to take a stab at the back of the defenses over there.”
Ponpius was knocked out of his wits. After all, this suggested that the slaves would attack a fortress on the opposite side of Holmea while disregarding the larger enemy in front of their nose. If anyone other than Darius had proposed this idea, even Ponpius would have laughed it off. And yet, his face still made it clear that he doubted the possibility.
Thus, Darius further stated, “If it’s that guy, around that much should be expected. Also, it’s not impossible either.”
In the first place, the zoan were a race that lived on huge plains that didn’t have much, if anything, that could serve as landmarks. Because of that, their members were endowed with a superior sense of direction that would prevent them from getting lost even in unknown territory. Dividing those zoan and having them invade Holmea would allow the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 to attack Fort Loylops and Barrier Fortress Maslakar which were both understaffed right now.
If Romania were to act in concert, the forts would fall and it might allow Romania to make landfall on Holmean soil, Darius explained. And if Romania’s army were to succeed in landing in Holmea, Holmea would lose its chance to take on the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 once more as the 「Black Wall」 would be forced to move eastward to intercept Romania’s army.
In such a case, the whole situation would revert to the time before Holmea repelled Romania. Holmea and Romania would fall into a deadlock of squaring off against each other, allowing the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 to carefreely sharpen his fangs while preparing for the next invasion in Bolnis.
“But, that would require Romania’s cooperation. How would they coordinate their attack?”
Darius immediately replied, “Did you forget? Harpyians are serving under the 「Divine Son of Destruction」. For them it’d be no trouble to cross our country and the Labian to get in contact with Romania.”
Certainly, if you have harpyians as messengers, the prediction made by Darius gains in realism. It’s a plan you could truly call absurd. But, now that he’s mentioned it, you can’t say that it’s absolutely impossible, Ponpius assessed. At the same time of feeling deep admiration towards the ingenuity of Holmea’s strongest general to think of something like that, it only deepened Ponpius’s fear of the 「Divine Son of Destruction」, seeing how Darius had described even such an outlandish strategy as 「around that much should be expected」 of him.
Without noticing his friend’s anxiety, Darius mumbled under his breath as if talking to himself, “But apart from that, I think there are even more effective moves he could make, and yet he doesn’t move. Why? Why is he just waiting!?”
He doesn’t just have zoan and harpyians at his disposal. Elves who excel at archery, dwarves who are outstanding engineers, and even dinosaurians with their peerless brutality are with him as well. If he turns the bridge point into a base of operations, he can make all kind of movements. And despite that, the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 doesn’t move from the river as if obsessed with his little fortress.
“What is that guy scheming? What is he trying to achieve!?”
At that point, Darius had already sent out letters asking the lords along his predicted route to the Labian’s ferry point to prepare their fiefs and inform him as soon as they witnessed zoan. However, not a single report of a zoan sighting had reached him so far.
Crossing the whole country from west to east would take a considerable amount of time. And considering that the zoan would be forced to come back before the battle against the approaching 「Black Wall」, they should have departed long ago by now. And yet, nothing indicated that the zoan were on the move.
“The subjugation force has already left Luoma and is currently advancing on Fort Garaff. At this point, even the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 cannot avoid a direct clash with the royal army…”
Suddenly, Darius realized the error in his own thinking.
“Wait, he has no intention to avoid it…?”
His analysis of the 「Divine Son of Destruction」, whom he assessed to fear battle to the extent of cowardice, had turned into a bias at some point. He had been under the impression that the 「Divine Son of Destruction」 would definitely shirk a direct confrontation with the subjugation force as it was superior in combat force and proficiency. But, focusing on just the state of affairs, it naturally led to only one solution for all the contradictions.
“No way, that cursed, little…”
Having thought up to that point, everything clicked in place. Repelling the enemy soldiers with a dummy fortress, and not moving from the spot while just building a fortress, despite having trespassed into enemy territory; all of it was a plan to lure Holmea’s royal army to himself.
“Shit! That piece of shit! That bloody 「Divine Son of Destruction」!!!”
When Darius made his conjecture based on all these facts, he immediately arrived at the aim of the 「Divine Son of Destruction」.
“Here!? In this place!?!?!” Darius stabbed his finger on the map’s drawing of flatland in front of Conte’s bridge point, “Are you telling me you’re going to crush the subjugation force straight from the front in this place!?!?!”
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