“Now then, I believe there’s still some bad news in store?”
“Yes! My Prince! Is it really advisable to let these gentlemen return?”
“That will depend on your report.”
Caspond had once told his subordinates that they could only speak of news that was common knowledge in the presence of outsiders. That was why this man was the last to remain in the tent.
“...Your Highness, the demihumans are advancing on us from the east. At this rate, they’ll reach us in one hour.”
Caspond struggled to keep himself from raising his voice. It would be bad if someone outside the tent heard this.
“Kalinsha is to the east. Why hasn’t the city contacted us yet? Even if they did make a big detour to circle around us, how did they avoid our patrols’ eyes? ...Or are they few in number?”
“No, they’re estimated to be over 10’000 strong… what should we do, sire?”
The Holy Kingdom still had the numerical advantage even if one added 10’000 men to the demihumans forces. However, the fact that they were coming from the east was disastrous. When a smaller force attempted a pincer attack, normally one would simply defeat each arm of the pincer individually. However, this time, they were facing Jaldabaoth.
In other words, their escape route had been cut off.
“...Alright, listen closely. You must not tell this news to anyone, got it?” Caspond coldly told the surprised scout
“This news is very dangerous. If the army learns of it, they’ll lose their will to fight and we’ll lose a battle that we could have won. Also, a lot of people might end up dying. We must not tell anyone about this for the sake of unity.”
“...Don’t worry. All will be well if we can win within an hour. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Also, don’t let the scouts stray to the west. If things go badly, they might let the news slip, and then we’ll splinter and end up defeated in detail. You must keep this secret until the last moment, understand?”
While he did not seem quite comfortable with it, the messenger probably felt that Caspond’s logic was sound as he left the room. Alone inside the tent, Caspond palmed his face.
The palisade they had built was very simple. The west and north sides were complete, but the south-side was only half-finished. Meanwhile, there was nothing on the east side. It would be better to take formation on open ground rather than try to fight in such a cramped place, so they abandoned their camp and spread out over the plains.
They had chosen to form a long line.
Any unit that made contact with Jaldabaoth would be lost. Therefore, the other units would abandon it and attack the demihumans. They had taken this formation because they were prepared to make that sacrifice. Remedios would lead the paladins on hit and run attacks, so she had no fixed position. This was so that she could head towards any location where Jaldabaoth appeared.
Neia and her unit were also free-roaming. She understood the two implications of that assignment. The first was that it would be easy for CZ -- as a subordinate of the Sorcerer King -- to escape. The second was that if CZ wanted to fight Jaldabaoth, putting her in an immobile unit would result on a hole being torn in the line of battle.
Neia’s unit had already discussed what they would do if Jaldabaoth showed up.
Would they hunt down the demihumans, flee to a safe place -- or perhaps, would they fight Jaldabaoth?
Their answer was unanimous.
They would defeat the demihumans.
All of them deeply hated Jaldabaoth, the source of all evil. However, they knew their place -- what good could they do, if even the mighty Sorcerer King was no match for him? In that case, it would be better to focus on slaying the demihumans, in order to bring them just a little closer to victory. Of course, part of that was also because they did not want to let CZ die, being that she was a subordinate of their great benefactor, the Sorcerer King.
Neia mounted up on her horse, and studied the enemy.
The demihuman formation had been full of openings in their previous battle, but now it was immaculate. What had once been a motley grouping of demihumans by racial types was now a neat line of battle that looked like a veteran army.
Had the demihumans projected such an image of strength and power in the previous battle? Their rows of shields looked sturdy and indomitable, while their bristling spear points gleamed with blinding brilliance. Jaldabaoth’s incredible command ability notwithstanding, this unit’s cohesion was self-evident.
This is only to be expected. Everyone would obey once they saw his overwhelming power.
Many demihumans placed a great emphasis on personal power. In that respect, they would probably be glad to follow Jaldabaoth.
The battle was about to begin.
Neia and her people loosed arrows from the rear.
A rain of arrows launched by 3’000 people fell upon the enemy.
During this battle, the humans had adopted a wide formation in order to end the battle quickly -- by wiping out the demihumans.
They launched a heavy cavalry charge, leaving nothing in reserve. The humans were committed to an uphill slog, and they attacked ferociously. In contrast to them, the demihumans solidified their defense.
Perhaps it was because they understood that this all-out attack was nothing more than casting kindling onto a blaze. The charred remains of the kindling would scatter all over the ground in short order.
Given that humans were weak individuals, it would be very difficult for them to bring down the demihumans’ reinforced defense. Or rather, the humans might have actually had a chance against the demihumans if Jaldabaoth were not around. However, the demihumans’ unit composition was one which allowed the many races making it up to make full use of their respective abilities, compensating for their weaknesses and further emphasizing their strengths.
The demihumans’ defense made the advantage the humans had enjoyed several hours ago seem like a pleasant dream. No matter how many times they charged, how many times they thrust their lances, or how many arrows they loosed, nothing they did could shake the demihumans’ formation. Instead, the attackers from the Holy Kingdom took heavier losses than them.
Time was passing, and they could not let the battle last until nightfall. However, the humans’ morale and stamina would probably give out before that and they would be crushed in turn.
“Jaldabaoth’s appeared in sector 2A! Second Infantry has been completely wiped out!”
“Fourth Infantry has taken more than half casualties!”
“Sixth Lancers has taken over half casualties!”
--The messengers loudly announced the situation on the battlefield.
“Where is he this time!?”
Caspond had suggested they divide the battlefield into several sectors.
They were numbered, to make moving the men as easy as possible. It was a very crude system, but it was easy to understand.
The forces there must have been trying to flee Jaldabaoth. Even from here, it was plain to see that they were in complete disarray. The demihumans in that region began their attack, and troop organization there disintegrated like it had melted.
That was it.
Just by appearing once and using just that little bit of power, he had destroyed a battalion of 500 men, and there were nearly 1000 casualties in total. The demihumans who charged the gap he created caused even more deaths in turn.
It would be one thing if the demihumans had gotten cocky and pressed the attack, but they immediately retreated after pursuing for a short distance, like a turtle shrinking into its shell. This turned the battle into a melee, and the tactics designed to make it difficult for Jaldabaoth to use his powers could not be applied.
That masterful strategy was probably the result of Jaldabaoth’s command ability as well.
Remedios led her paladins to sector 2A as quickly as she could. However, by the time she arrived, Jaldabaoth was no longer there. He had moved to another region via teleportation, as if to mock them.
This series of events had repeated itself over and over again since just now.
The word “bad” was not nearly enough to describe this.
Still, it was a fact that nobody here, Neia included, could think of any good solutions. All Neia and her people could do was keep raining arrows on the demihuman troops.
CZ simply watched the battle from beside Neia. Her weapon was not capable of arcing fire like bows were, so she had no chance to demonstrate her incredible skills.
Eventually, her fingers began to hurt from drawing back her bowstring, and everyone’s quivers -- including Neia’s -- began to run dry.
“Baraja-sama! We’re almost out of arrows!”
They did not have unlimited arrows.
“...Fall back for now and replenish supplies!”
The unit obeyed Neia’s instructions and returned to the rear to stock up on arrows.
She would have liked to give them some rest time, but unfortunately they did not have the luxury of that.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes, Baraja-sama. We can move out any time!”
“In that case--”
Just as she was about to shout for them to move out, Neia saw several mounted scouts from the east.
The lead scout met Neia’s eyes for a moment, and then he shouted:
“Demihumans from the east! Look out!”
Surprised, Neia looked into the distance and squinted. She could make out some rising dust and the shapes of what looked like people. While she would need to check their movement speeds to be sure, given their distance, they would be here soon.
What a mistake this had been.
They had been so focused on the demihumans before their eyes that they had neglected to watch their backs.
She wanted to believe this was fake. She wanted to believe that Kalinsha had sent reinforcements to help them.
However, that was not the case. If it were, then they would have sent a swift horse ahead to inform them.
Neia’s legs felt like they might collapse.
This news was far too grim.
Jaldabaoth’s plan was to trap them with a pincer attack from the enemy reinforcements.
He did not fight, but let the demihumans fight instead. This way the humans would choose not to flee, but to fight in order to satisfy their victory conditions. Jaldabaoth’s aim had been to bait all the humans onto the battlefield and keep them from escaping.
In other words, Jaldabaoth had already surmised that the humans would say that he would flee once the demihumans were wiped out.
“Haha, but of course!”
Beldran laughed with genuine mirth.
Just as everyone was looking at him with panicked eyes, Beldran regained his calm and addressed Neia.
“Caspond-denka made a fatal mistake in his thinking. More importantly, why did he not notice it?”
“What is it!?”
“...Baraja-sama. It is a perfectly natural thing. As long as he controls the hills, he can send reinforcements here. Just destroying the demihumans in this place does not mean Jaldabaoth will retreat.”
After hearing the explanation, Neia was not the only one who understood. The same noises could be heard from around Beldran.”
“After driving away the demihumans here, we will still have to counter-invade the hills. Caspond-denka’s idea can only be proven correct after we exterminate all the demihumans there as well.”
Indeed. Beldran also supplied an answer for why they had not thought of thus.
“...Caspond-denka and ourselves thought of the same thing, and we were blinded by the possibility of salvation and did not consider the matter in greater depth.”
But launching a counter-invasion of the hills was practically impossible. In other words--
“...There’s no way to save the Holy Kingdom?”
Silence filled the air. The clamor of the battlefield seemed very far away.
“No…” Beldran forced himself to speak. “There is a way.”
“...Jaldabaoth. We have to defeat the Demon Emperor Jaldabaoth.”
It was a perfect answer, but there was no rejoicing. It was the most insoluble problem in the world, and they had adopted Caspond’s plan precisely because they could not do it.
“...As I thought, we should have gone to look for His Majesty above everything else. We were the ones who chose poorly.”
If she had not gone to retake Kalinsha, but went to the hills with CZ in tow, they might have avoided this.
Still, it would have been very difficult. Neia had made the best choice she could based on what she could do. She had tried to avoid foolhardiness and pick the most successful path.
However, should they have tried it after all?
Countless “what ifs” flew through Neia’s mind. Every time she thought about “what if I had done this or that” she was swamped in guilt and regret.
Her will to fight was at rock bottom. Neia was not the only one. Her entire unit which felt this way.
The victor was clear.