158. Chapter 158
Friug was busy negotiating with the assigned unit for the transportation of supplies and personnel to the territory of Celta in the principality of Myard. After all, the amount to be transported was enormous. Together with the transport corps, the light infantry platoon, and the non-combatants, 400 people would move at once.
Checking the list, procuring food, handling various procedures and adjustments… Friug was overwhelmed by the complexity of the process. Long ago, it was civil officials who did this troublesome work and preparations, but now in front of any task to be done, the higher-ups would only shout, “Use whoever, whatever, even the monsters and the dead!”, much like the words he had heard in the past.
“I always thought the empire had no room for leisure, but… Now, I feel nostalgia and even envy of those old days.”
Friug uttered an unproductive grumble. Large trading groups were inefficient to begin with. Originally, it would be better to have a small number of people constantly come and go, which would reduce the burden on various things and improve the efficiency of transportation. The time-consuming formation of the force was due to the imperfect control of the traffic route known as the Flame Emperor Dragon Corridor. Demonic Territories were spreading out on both sides of the corridor. Precisely, Myard and Highserk were connected only by a thin line. If this were to be broken anywhere, it would be tantamount to severing the connection between the two lands.
Fortunately, the Platoon Commander of the transport unit this time had plenty of experience in the field. Friug had heard that he had survived several transport raids and had even managed to haul the material entrusted to him through during the Great Outbreak instead of abandoning it. Friug, inexperienced in internal affairs, was even aided in negotiations by his accumulation of expertise and techniques.
“What was the Platoon Commander’s name again? Hody? As expected of someone from the former Western Army, he sure also has a lot of actual field experience.”
Considering the severe shortage of human resources, this upcoming transport clearly received preferential treatment. This showed how eager the military higher-ups were for the return of this particular soldier. In fact, there was great turmoil between Regiment Commander Hadro of the Southern Army, Brigade Commander Seelev of the Eastern Army, and Brigade Commander Justus of the Myard Expeditionary Force over the affiliation of this soldier, Escort Commander Walm. Furthermore, the Lords of the Archipelago, Viscount Edgar and Marquis Trio, even tried to contact him to include him in their ranks. One could say that it was a stroke of luck that Walm hadn’t yet been plundered by them and could thus return to the Imperial Capital.
After such brief, mixed thoughts, Friug steered his thoughts back to the goods.
The Principality of Myard had taken control of the Refn Mine of the fallen Ferrius Kingdom, and had begun to employ and use those who came there as refugees to operate the Mine. Payment for the equipment and food that flowed in from Highserk were things made with smelted iron and marine products. Myard had also lost much, but had been active in regaining power. Although the Grand Duchess of Myard steered her ship in the wrong direction once, more and more people hopped on her ship, and thus at this point, she held the Celta territory as the reigning monarch. At least, that was how Friug assessed the situation.
Friug, who was working diligently to confirm the written information, looked up at the approaching footsteps. It was easy to understand that someone would make steps when coming to visit his room. Bracing himself, he reacted immediately.
“Company Commander, you have a visitor. It seems Walm, the Escort Commander, has something to say.”
“Get him in right away.”
Without waiting for Walm to enter the room, Friug rose from his chair, ready to give a welcome.
Although Walm held the honorary rank of “Knight” of the old military, he was one of the few living gentlemen in active service in the present empire. At Dandurg, he led a battalion of mixed personnel to great success in a fierce battle, although he held only the temporary rank of Wartime Battalion Commander. Without Walm, the Escort Commander, Dandurg Castle would have fallen without significant resistance. Friug personally would never allow himself to meet such a person while sitting in a chair.
“I know you’re busy, but sorry for the intrusion…”
“No, I was just thinking of taking a breather from a dead end, good timing―― So, what happened?”
After exchanging words, Friug sensed the impatience in Walm’s gestures and facial expressions.
The Escort Commander rarely showed his emotions openly. At least, that was how Friug thought of Walm.
Prompted by Friug, Walm then began to explain the circumstances.
“――I never thought your brother would still be alive.”
Friug, who had grasped the situation, uttered an anxious voice. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, Highserk’s citizens had lost something in one way or another. It wasn’t uncommon for people to lose their entire small but precious community. Friug, too, had lost many connections. In such circumstances, “siblings”, those who shared the same blood, were valuable beings. It was also clear from the story that Walm’s remaining family members, as well as the inhabitants of his hometown, had all gone over to the underworld.
Given the seriousness of the situation, Friug acted quickly. He shunned the tools that lay on his desk and pulled a military map from a locked drawer. It was less accurate than the map distributed to Battalion and Regiment Commanders, but it was still packed with information unlike the crude maps on the market. After all, the map was constantly updated, in fact, this one was just modified today.
“What about the village’s location?”
Friug, looking at the place pointed out by Walm, dropped words as if wondering.
“Although it’s within our effective area of control―― it’s close to the temporary border.”
Friug didn’t like the location of the village. Although it was a controlled area, it was close to the Demon Territory and Liberitoa Territory.
“We have deployed a suitable force to reclaim our former territory, and also monitor the temporary border. Ambush is hard to imagine, but…”
The Liberitoa Trade Federation prioritized seizing the coast of Lake Celta and the rivers, even among the former Highserk territory that was swallowed up by the monsters. An immediate large-scale attack wasn’t within the anticipation yet. Based on the recent military meeting, a large-scale military intervention was foreseen in the next few years, but so far there had been no border crossings, and the two countries had openly maintained a calm appearance. Nevertheless, there was still a danger of strong overlooked monsters.
Friug looked up and saw Walm staring at the map sharply, as if he wanted to make a hole with just his gaze. If this opportunity was missed and his family really went to another country, the search would be extremely troublesome. In the worst case, there would be no reunion in this lifetime.
Thinking back on what had happened, Walm indeed played a major role in the survival of the empire. Granting him a modest wish of reunion with the family should be a given. At least, that was how Friug believed what to be done.
“(Escort) Commander Walm, if you can come back in four days, you will be allowed to return home.”
“Sorry for troubling you, but please let me go.”
“Of course, that’s my intention. In fact, I would like to accompany you but――”
“I know how busy you are. Prioritize your military duties. Also, if I bring another soldier for just going home, my brother will laugh at you for being overprotective.”
Such was a justifiable excuse. In fact, there were very few soldiers under Friug’s command, who were free. Should some escorts be extracted from such a busy unit, even forcefully? Friug was conflicted with the answer.
Then the past came to Friug’s mind, when Walm was counterattacking the monsters while commanding the frontline.
In Dandurg, Walm survived a Great Outbreak, and in the Labyrinth City, he survived the battle with the Undead Dragon with all limbs intact.
Friug just couldn’t imagine a scene where Walm would die in a battle. Perhaps, his mind just sprung up too much of a futile concern.
“Escorts are too stiff, huh. I see… Then, please be careful on the road.”
As a Highserk soldier, Friug kept an objective perspective in mind, but as a soldier who had fought his way through Dandurg under Walm’s command, Walm was like the absolute commander. One could say that his belief in Walm gave birth to blindness, for better or worse.
That being said, no matter how much power Walm might have, he was no more than a human being. In the bloody history of the northern countries, many heroes, villains, and even war gods had exposed their corpses on the battlefield, let alone a “Knight”, no one would be exempted from the eventual death.
Until now, Walm had basically moved alone from place to place on the various frontlines, and after the collapse of his homeland, he wandered around the Archipelago. In short, he didn’t need much preparation to set out, and with the permission of Friug, the man in charge of the trading unit he would join to go to Myard, he ran straight to his destination.
Of course, it wasn’t that Walm didn’t think about returning to his hometown on the return to his homeland at all. In fact, nostalgia swirled around in his mind, surfacing little by little. Just that, a kind of fear blocked its manifestation. Revisiting the village he had burned down with his own hands meant that, he had to accept that fact even if he didn’t like it. A bad daydream was what he felt about this event, even now. How happy his heart and mind would be if the people of his hometown lived on and his relatives were waiting to welcome him? There was no way to measure that.
“……It’s a delusion that won’t ever come to pass. The clock hands will not spin in reverse.”
The time of a year and a half that had passed him by, the experiences he had gained in the Archipelago, and now the survival of his brother, Walm accepted these facts correctly. Considering his journey so far, his trip home was short.
Walm ran, panting, down the path that was still vivid in his memory. A path he had walked before, which was now no longer in human hands, seemed to be full of blockage, as if it were being encroached on by the forest.
The more Walm moved forward in both reality and mind, the more memories of his childhood that he had once locked away surfaced. The forest where he played with the naughty neighbor brats and his brothers until the sun went down, the well-trodden country road, the rocks and trees he used as markers… also the sweet and sour raspberries he ate with his brother, flashed to his mind.
With a swing of the halberd instead of the machete, the perennial blockages of his path protested wildly and fell to the ground. The sap that clung to the tip of the blade stimulated Walm’s nasal cavity, but compared to the stench of humans’ and monsters’ leftovers, the irritating stench was less, it was even pleasant.
Walm was concerned about sudden monsters’ attacks, but he hadn’t yet encountered any. The unit keeping the border must be that enthusiastic about the task and excellent at doing their job.
After a while, a fence with entwined vines appeared in Walm’s field of vision. The fence hadn’t been repaired since he left the village for military service, but now only a vague trace of the original remained. Faced with this sight, his heart began to pound involuntarily.
The demon mask trembled as if it wanted to urge its owner to stop freezing like a statue.
“I know. Don’t rush me.”
Breathing in breathing out, Walm was on the fence. Once he calmed down, he took a step forward as he breathed out his worries.
The village, which was swallowed by blue flames and part of it got turned to ashes, was surrounded by greenery. The encroach by the forest was slow compared to the unpaved roads he passed on the way here. As much as he could remember, he searched for the bodies of the villagers who had crossed over to the Netherworld, but they weren’t there.
Looking for clues, Walm crouched down and stared at the ground.
Lines and footprints were everywhere indicating that something had been dragged.
Following as if being guided, those multiple traces reached all the way to the village square. Unlike the outskirts of the village, it had been artificially cleared of vegetation and cleared of debris. In the center, was a grave marker made from the foundation material of the house. Probably, all the bones were buried under it. The offerings, in this case, flowers and alcohol, were lined up.
As if carried away by the heat, caused by looking at a man standing in front of the tombstone, Walm stepped forward.
Walm was silent, as if mud had stuck in his throat, but for lack of caution, the half-boots that stepped on the pebbles took his place to assert his existence.
Hearing the sound, the man who turned around opened his eyes in surprise, as well as Walm.
“Walm… is that you? …It’s been, a very long time.”
The older brother mentioned the younger brother’s name. Right, Walm’s name was mentioned.
Nevertheless, Walm was worried. The more he killed to survive on the battlefield, the more his nature as a person changed. He couldn’t be sure if it was his morals, his conscience, or something else. What was certain, however, was that the more he dragged his mental, his heart, around, the more his appearance, his eyes, changed.
Could his family, his older brother, now look him in the face and realize that he was really Walm, the youngest brother?
Mercifully, that was just an unnecessary fear.
Not trying to keep cool, nor trying to sound tough either, just a simple honest answer.
In a way, it was a poor reply. Still, the eldest brother welcomed the youngest brother without making fun of it.
“Glad that, you’re back… Welcome home.”
After a long time, finally Walm received a response, something he didn’t receive on his previous homecoming no matter how much he wished for it.
Alas, it was just one person, but still, this person’s response alone, was enough to make Walm tremble.
TN : Hody (the man appeared in ch 7)
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