155. Chapter 155 – Return
The road continued through the gaps in the forest and past the foothills of the mountains. On the ground, which had been trampled by the coming and going of men, horses, and carts, there were deep traces of wheels and footprints. This was evidence of frequent traffic.
When Walm walked through such a road, he often crossed the path of passersby. And that was a good thing. After all, an active road, on which people and things kept flowing day by day, was the artery, the lifeline of a country, so to speak.
Pushing the gentle slope with his sole and converting it into propulsion, Walm continued his journey. His body, once drowned in alcohol and dulled, had regained its finesse through the battles and training in the Archipelago, and his strong foot, which had traversed various terrains as a foot soldier, was demonstrating its capabilities in full again
Soon enough, Walm caught up with one of the carts ahead of him.
Carts loaded with livestock feed and hemp sacks of unknown use rattled and swayed, their axles and wheels rubbing against each other. A cart was pulled by two men.
Among the young people, there were two who still bore the vestiges of a boy and had a similar facial structure and physique, probably they were relatives or brothers.
Despite the hard work of transporting the cargo, the two conversed without complaining. Walm, who had completely overtaken them and turned his gaze from the side to the front, opened his mouth.
“Normal life, huh?”
At first glance, it looked like an ordinary road. But to Walm, who knew what had happened a year and a half ago, it was a different sight.
Back then, this road was lined on both sides with ruined corpses and exhausted stragglers waiting for their fate. The road was narrowed and chaotic because personal belongings and supplies had been abandoned as people fled. The blood and viscera overflowing from the corpses formed a muddy sludge on the ground. Just one step and a constant discomfort clung to the shoes that trod on the reddish-black clod of dirt.
After a year and a half, even though the road was well maintained, the soles of the half-boots brought back that sticky, hideous feeling.
Logically, no way the dirt of the past was left on the ground. Birds and insects must have feasted on the flesh and blood, rotting the remains and flattening the ground once again. Still, the bloody spectacle smoldered in Walm’s mind, and a non-existent odor of rotten smell filled his nostrils.
Right, it wasn’t real. It was a hallucination and a recollection of past events. Walm carefully clenched his molars so that the bystanders wouldn’t notice he was acting slightly strange.
“……This area, has also finally regained life. It took a lot of people and supplies, to take control of the area that was turned into a Demon Territory, and make it usable again.”
Walm braced himself for his companion’s words, thinking what he should say if he were to be asked if something was on his mind, but fortunately, it wasn’t what he expected.
Accompanying Walm on his return to his homeland, was Company Commander Friug, who had been under his command when he was a Wartime Battalion Commander at Dandurg.
The words of the soldier, who continued to fight to defend Dandurg until the end, were truly weighty.
“Under that situation, and, you still managed to get this far.”
Walm sincerely and honestly admired those who had stayed. While he himself had fled to another country and spent his days escaping reality, those who stayed behind kept moving forward. Even though they might have had to endure indescribable suffering and pain.
A slight smile appeared on Friug’s face, which had increased wrinkles.
“Thank you very much for the words. That being said, even if people have regained their lives along the main road, if you look at it from the outside, it’s not that different from the weathered bones. Monsters appear sporadically in places that are supposed to be under control, and there are many uninhabited villages and houses. Even if we recaptured our home village over the course of a year and a half, there are still more houses than surviving residents.”
Walm saw many abandoned villages as he advanced inland through territory controlled by the former Southern Army of the Highserk Empire. Reconstruction was underway, but with the exception of a few key areas, the ruins were still visible.
Friug continued his words to Walm, who was looking around along the way.
“Even so, humans are tenacious beings. Surprisingly, there were survivors among the villages we had recaptured from the Demon Territory over the year. They were skinny, dirty, and exhausted, but still, no doubt that they were humans.”
Walm almost said, “Impossible,” to deny what he had just heard. For he didn’t believe that a village with a decent fighting force and no defenses would be able to survive while the forts and checkpoints with multiple lines of defense were swallowed up by the onslaught of monsters.
But given what he saw and heard, Walm tried to consider the possibility.
“Regardless of how it happened, the monsters’ rampage was a disaster… an army kind of force?”
Tactics utilizing the natural environments had been used many times before, such as cutting river and sea weirs or collapsing mountainsides and cliffs. The Imperial Army of Highserk also used it frequently, one of them as a delaying tactic from pursuers coming from Refn Mine.
The Great Outbreak would be similar to them. However, its controllability and reproducibility were poor, and most importantly, its magnitude was incomparable. Perhaps some sort of man-made natural disaster was the right word.
Naturally, the great waves of rampaging monsters were devastating, but they had no strict order and their targets of attack weren’t clearly defined. Behind their actions, there was a kind of fighting method and fighting technique, but no real strategy. It wasn’t strange that some errors occurred.
“No, more like some kind of muddy current or tidal wave. Most of them were attracted to densely populated areas. That means, a direct hit could be avoided.”
While Dandurg and many cities were inundated by the monsters, remote areas and villages that had strayed from the invasion path were spared annihilation. Of course, there weren’t many places that were so lucky.
“Yes, the survivors said the same thing. It wasn’t that they defeated all the attacking monsters, just that, they were lucky enough to be overlooked.”
“Still. The surrounding area had been turned into a Demon Territory. For staying alive in such isolated areas, they sure did endure well.”
Maintaining control in a situation where contact with the outside world was cut off was really difficult. Unlike an offensive that would come to an end, such as if it becomes a deadly defense of a base called a village, no one could see into the future.
Friug lowered his tone and began to talk about his past experiences.
“Honestly, we couldn’t hide our confusion. After all, in a Demon Territory where people shouldn’t be ―― as we stepped into the village, their faces, I just can’t forget them. “Thank you for coming. Really. I thought the world had come to an end.” was what they said as they welcomed us with tears and laughter. It was hard to believe, as a year had passed.”
For those who didn’t even have any information, it was like the end of the world to see monsters rampaging without having time to prepare. Even more so when communication with the surrounding area was cut off for a year.
In fact, Ferrius perished and produced many refugees, and both Highserk and Myard were paralyzed. Really. It wouldn’t be surprising if the three countries were completely destroyed and the number of dead shot up by one or two zeros.
“Fortunately, it seems that veterans and soldiers who had dropped out of their unit had become the main force of the vigilante units. Their work in withstanding a year of siege was simply admirable.”
Abandoning the unit they were assigned, the destination was their hometown. Walm could understand their state of mind. After all, he himself had once been through the same journey.
After the death of his comrades and the break in the chain of command, Walm had few options and chose the same one as them. However, there was a chasm that separated him and them. Unlike Walm, who didn’t make it in time, they rushed over and managed to help.
“They, managed to protect their hometown.”
“…….Yes, they sure did protect their hometown.”
Walm simply nodded back at the survival of a stranger compatriot. Contrary to what he said, emotions of relief, regret, and envy swirled up within him, one after another. It had to be because his hometown was now physically and psychologically closer.
Maybe Walm was too pessimistic or too much in trying to escape reality, but he just couldn’t forget the past. In any case, he had no intention of forgetting it completely, but at least he could stop the stagnation. Even if he only moved at a snail’s pace, he was determined to keep moving forward.
The present Highserk was filling its thirst by sucking up all sorts of people and things, just as dry soil sucking up the water when available. Walm himself was one of them.
The place Walm was headed for was about a day away. Actually, he had never set foot there. It was only a place he ever looked down on from afar, from the hill the deceased War God loved. Yet, strangely, he felt a bit nostalgic when he looked at it.
The destination was the cornerstone of the Highserk Empire in the past as well as the present. The Imperial Capital, Varigend, which had once fallen due to the Flame Emperor Dragon and the Great Outbreak.
TN: Join my discord channel if you want.