Before the Decisive Battle
The Kingdom of Windhill was no more. Gran Flamm, having swallowed it whole, began preparations to recover the former capital, unaware this was exactly what the Great Alexandros Empire was hoping they would do. Even had they known, though, the loyalists would not have changed their plans, as they hardly had any other path forward, to begin with. As long as the central territories of the former kingdom were controlled by the enemy, an attack in any other direction would, by necessity, extend existing defensive lines. And the military struggled to protect them and the present length already. Trying to force the issue any further would lead nowhere.
Furthermore, as long as the Empire held the central areas, it had the freedom to choose where it wanted to strike and could poke at the weakest points of the Gran Flamm’s defense at will. This was an overwhelmingly disadvantageous situation for an army to be in, any attempt to simply defend was untenable. This was why an offensive to recover that land as soon as possible was an inevitability, whether the Empire wanted it to happen or not.
“Any word from the Fatillas Kingdom?”
The loyalists didn’t intend to simply march against the enemy with no preparation. The Empire had adapted the old capital into its own seat of power, it was bound to be heavily fortified. No detailed investigation was required to predict that much. Gran Flamm wanted to give itself all the advantages possible, that included an alliance with the House Fatillas. Getting that deal done was proving harder than expected.
“They have, Majesty. However, they demand that we first assist them in sweeping the Empire’s troops from their territories before they march with us on the capital,” answered the Prime Minister.
“Very self-serving of them.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty. What they really look for, however, is not the elimination of the Alexandros’ army but rather purging of domestic hostile factions from their own land.”
“…What do you mean?”
The few vague words of the Prime Minister were not enough for King Edward to get a clear picture of the situation, but they were enough to figure out something fishy was going on. The King suddenly had a bad feeling that he was going to learn something pretty dreadful.
“To put it simply, Your Majesty, there was an uprising. And, it seems that the Empire was fanning the flames in secret, turning it into a full-blown peasant war.”
“The Empire has incited common people?”
“How on earth did they manage that? Was House Fatillas mismanaging things that badly?”
After all, the Fatillas Kingdom’s territory consisted only of the House’s own lands and those of its vassals. It would be a stretch to expect the local population to be unflinchingly loyal to their lords, but a stranger like Lancelot should not be able to convince them to take arms in absence of other major factors.
“Not that we know of, Majesty. The aim of the rebels seems to be to ‘topple the ruling class’ and ‘gain freedom and equality’.”
“Desire to topple the privileged class, understandable. But, freedom? Equality? Do they have any concrete demands?”
In this world, vague words like ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’ were not enough to convey demands. This reality, where hereditary monarchies led by aristocracy were the only existing systems of government, took inequality and restricted rights as the natural way of things. Hardly anyone would be insane enough to question it.
“By equality, they mean fair assessment of one’s abilities without regard to his or her lineage, as well as proper treatment and recognition of such individuals.”
“…Mhm. Great vision. But difficult to put into reality.”
The emphasis on birth or lineage was not only due to discrimination but was also related to upbringing. Someone born from the lineage of knights would be taught about knighthood from a very young age. Same with aristocrats, all of whom were being taught how to govern. It would be hard for a commoner that started to study those matters later in life, no matter how intelligent, to challenge such a gap in education. Those without proper upbringing wouldn’t be able to gain proper schooling, and without it, they had no chance to display their abilities.
“The freedom they speak of refers, among other things, primarily to being able to work any job one pleases and wed whoever one wishes to.”
“That… sounds impossible. An otherworldly style of governance, perhaps?”
“That is certain, Your Majesty. None of this world’s governors or officials would come to hold such grievances. And even if some men did, they would likely think themselves incapable of replacing us.”
Just having an idea for a change wasn’t enough to make such change happen. A marriage of a noble lady from an aristocratic house with a commoner would not last, the reverse also held true. The minimum requirement for all that social revolution was a kingdom-wide system of education for the masses, something that would require enormous expenses to implement.
“How could a fiefdom rebel over such foolishness?”
“People make a fief, Majesty. How can serfs comprehend the impossibility of their goals? Feed them enough lies and idealistic babble, and they will rise up to net the sun.”
“Still, to think that they would rebel against their lords, the country itself…”
For a king, any king, this was a matter of life and death. Edward could hardly understand how the serfs could ever become unsettled enough to commit to something as grave as rebellion.
“A work of an excellent agitator, no doubt. This is a motive I have started to investigate only recently, but I have come to understand that all the Empire’s actions thus far were made with popular appeal in mind.”
“Popularity amongst the masses…?”
He finally managed to get a clear idea of how bad the situation was. After all, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that the decline of the Gran Flamm Kingdom had begun when its citizens turned away from the royal family. It wasn’t hard to recall, again, just what had set these events in motion.
“I believe that when they instigated Windhill’s attack on the capital, this was the primary concern on Empire’s mind.”
“The prevailing narrative is as follows. The Royal House of Gran Flamm, with its actions, forced the once loyal House Windhill into rebellion and demonstrated a lack of capability to govern its own people. Hence, the Great Alexandros empire has stepped in to take the helm. And the fact they had quelled the turbulent times in a mere ten days is clear proof that it was the destiny of the Hero from the Otherworld and the rightful ruler that she had chosen.”
“…Such a shameless narrative.”
The root cause of these turbulent times was nobody else but Lancelot and his rebellion. And here they were, effortlessly brushing that aside and justifying their actions.
“The people care not for the details, Majesty. They are likely to take the rumors being spread as the truth, even if said rumors are spread on purpose. A common man lacks the capacity to verify such information.”
“Your words ring true. But this method is…”
Familiar. Information manipulation and dissemination was something that Gran Flamm had fallen victim to many times.
“This was done on Lancelot’s orders but, to my knowledge, House Aquasmea never had the capability for such operations. I fear that they are not just copying someone else’s methods.”
“…So his organization was taken over then? But how?”
The strange power in Rion’s shadow, one that Gran Flamm had tried so many times to make their own, had made its mark again.
“I wish I had considered that problem from a more direct angle in the past. Now it is all too late.”
“Are you saying that you now know where Rion’s strength came from?”
“The slums, Majesty. The very same he grew up in.”
Looking back, it made sense now, If Rion were to have gained cooperation from any kind of group, that group must have been based in the slums. That place and House Windhill were only connections of note Rion ever seemed to have. However, it had never occurred to Gran Flamm’s investigators that the slums themselves might have given birth to an influential organization.
“How did people, who have their hands full just surviving, obtain such power?”
This was the main reason for that organization to be overlooked. It had been assumed that if people of the slums obtained this much power, the slums would have already ceased to be the slums. The government officials, unfortunately for themselves, just could not shake off their prejudices. It didn’t help that the moment they began investigations into the slums, the core of Rion’s organization hid even deeper, sometimes even leaving the area.
“A man capable of transforming a slum into an intelligence organization, one built from nothing. Sounds like something he would be capable of, does it not?”
“But the slums…”
“It is all merely a conjecture, Majesty. Whatever the truth, I fear that it is already too late.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
The strength that Gran Flamm had once sought, now lay in the hands of the Great Alexandros Empire. As a result, the organization had, most likely, already ceased to be the way it had been before. All further discussion was moot.
“Coming back to the Fatillas revolt, though, there is more than idealism that drives the mob. There is also greed.”
“Those who distinguish themselves in the struggle have been promised first-class citizenship in the Empire.”
“What on Earth is that ‘first-class citizenship’?”
“The empire has separated its population into separate categories. Those citizens who live in Lancelot’s own lands, Notre and its capital Caenthau, are designated first-class, and they enjoy lifestyles of a minor landed gentry. The former citizens of Aquasmea domain and vassals of the extinct House are designated second-class. That is the majority of the population, a new commoner class. Lastly,”
“There is more?”
There was actually a category of citizens below a commoner. This astonished the King.
“Yes, Majesty. Third-class citizens, people very much like slaves, made to do forced labor.”
Cid might have said they were ‘very much like slaves’ but, in reality, there was no distinction. They were simply called differently to spare Maria’s sensibilities.
“Slaves? What about ‘freedom and equality’? Is that not the exact opposite?”
“As you say, Majesty. The rebels are rising to overthrow the privileged class, only to create a new one consisting of themselves. All the while making others into the exploited class. It is clear that their credo is but an empty slogan for people to rally behind.”
“Could we somehow incite those third-class citizens into rebellion instead?”
“It would be difficult at this point in time. Even if we were to try, it would take time to reach those willing to rebel. And we are lacking a figurehead, someone that they would find worthy of placing their life on the line for.”
“…Hard to fault your judgment. What should we do in that case?”
King Edward started to feel that the conversation had just been going in circles and it was about time to get it back on track.
“Majesty, we need more time to consider the dispatch of troops to the southern districts. Our enemy there would be the general populace. Managing things poorly would lead to strange rumors spreading within our own domain, and in worst case scenario more rebellion at home.”
Cid also thought that the discussion was going nowhere, so he attempted to close this subject decisively. There were many other important things on the agenda.
“Very well. Continue the working on the subject, we cannot afford negligence.”
“As you wish, Majesty.”
“In the meantime, We guess we cannot count on the aid of House Fatillas in recovering the capital.”
“Indeed, Majesty. We will have to manage on our own.”
“Our own? What about Orcus and Hashu?”
This operation was important enough that it would decide the fate of all of Gran Flamm. With that in mind, and having seen the great exploits of Orcus and Hashu in the campaign against Erwin, the King hoped to see more of the same.
“Both countries have refused our appeal for aid, Majesty.”
“What!? But why?”
Edward saw no logic in this. Why help when Gran Flamm was in decline but refuse to do so when the tides of the war changed?
“Both seem to have valid reasons, Majesty.”
“What kind of reasons could there possibly be?”
Cid’s reply didn’t suggest the two kingdoms turned unfriendly, so the King calmed down.
“A very clear, and unprecedented developments in Merica.”
“Merica? Is Merica going to invade these two?”
Having to deal with Merica as well in this situation would force the King to abandon any and all attempt at recovering the capital. His visage clouded with worry.
“Merica did invade, but in another direction. The target was the Eastern States Alliance.”
“That smattering of kingdoms to the east of Orcus and Hashu?”
As far as the King knew, the alliance was composed of a myriad of small countries sandwiched between his two former tributaries and Merica. But that was the extent of his knowledge, they had never been big enough or important enough to draw his attention in the past, so he had no idea what could be going on in there. It was a typical arrogance of a major power.
“Yes. Mericans must have thought to subjugate the east before their final battle with us. Exactly as we had predicted them to.”
“There is no threat of invasion against Orcus and Hashu though? Or is that an imminent possibility?”
And the very same arrogance prevented Edward from even considering the possibility that Merica would suffer defeat at the hands of the Alliance.
“No, Your Majesty. Merica is not in a position to attack anyone right now. Their invasion of the Alliance ended in utter failure and they now find themselves on a receiving end of a different invasion in turn. Orcus and Hashu want to keep their armies at home because they do not know what the Alliance is going to do next.”
“Unbelievable. We may not know much about the Alliance, but We do know for certain that they should be no match for the strength of the Kingdom of Merica.”
“The news we received suggests that the upset was achieved largely thanks to the astonishing strength of a mercenary group that the Alliance hired.”
“A what group?”
The king had never heard the term before. That was hardly surprising, however, as their existence was basically unknown in the wider world. Even the Prime Minister had only learned of the concept due to these events.
“Sellswords, Majesty, an army that fights only gold. They call themselves soldiers of fortune.”
“Was that sort of thing common in the east?”
“It seems that these groups had their origin in men confident in their fighting skills, and landless knights who lost their fiefs. Landed nobles hired those bands to fend off demons at first. The gold made the groups grow larger and they became known as mercenaries.”
“I see. So those ‘mercenaries’ decided to join the war?”
“The more demons get subjugated, the fewer jobs are there for them to do. Desperation seems to have caused them to look for anything that pays.”
“Still, We just cannot believe that the backing of such people is enough to win against Merica…”
“Your skepticism is understandable, Your Majesty, but such is the truth. Of course, they were not the only reason for Merica’s desperate situation. It was a combination of the reversals Merica suffered against Alliance and a simultaneous attack by Merica’s southern neighbors.”
The Crown spies had not discovered that the southern attacks were also instigated by the same mercenary group.
“…So the south is in chaos as well.”
The flames of war were burning not only within Gran Flamm but had apparently spread throughout the whole continent. The King was once more reminded that these were turbulent times and that knowledge felt bitter.
“This prevents the intervention of Merica, Majesty, a thing to be grateful for. Hashu and Orcus sent envoys to the Alliance to establish their intentions. If the Alliance turns west in search of a new conquest, there’s a possibility that they will become a threat to our country as well.”
“…What can we do if that happens?”
“We cannot do a thing. We can only pray that Orcus and Hashu hold, while we recover our capital as quickly as possible. This is currently the best option for our country.”
They had obtained information, but the Kingdom was powerless to act on it. Their choice remained the same. In the end, Gran Flamm carried on with the plans to retake the capital. On their own.
At the westernmost point of the former Gran Flamm Kingdom, currently within the borders of the Great Alexandros Empire, lay a territory under the direct governance of Emperor Lancelot, Notre. All the governmental functions had already transferred from its main city of Caenthau to Coteau and Toque, so the territory had returned to its original function of a march. Even so, its great metalworks, the source of Empire’s strength, continued to operate at full steam. That much was immediately obvious after entering the territory.
“…That’s pretty dire,” muttered Rion at the sight that welcomed his eyes.
The mountain range rising before him, previously densely covered by trees, had been mercilessly stripped down to bare, reddish-brown rock. It was clearly a result of excessive lumbering. One could also see black smoke rising from many separate areas within the territory, the fumes from the smokestacks of the coal plants and steel mills. The sight alone made Rion feel suffocated.
“Let’s proceed,” he said, urging Alice on.
However, there was no response from behind him. The woman just watched the panorama with a stern expression on her face. Still, Rion urged her to follow, so she did just so. They descended to the foot of the mountain at the border of the territory. The situation worsened with every step. The place seemed… dusty, strangely so, it would be hard to breathe if they hadn’t been wearing masks made out of used cloth.
“…To think I would be able to personally witness pollution in this world,” said Rion softly looking down at the stream flowing along the road. The once clear, briskly flowing water had turned dull, and there was oily substance floating on its surface. Rion couldn’t tell if it was harmful or not, nonetheless, it was the first time he had seen something of the kind in this world. This was so out of place and against the very logic of this world. The spirits were the source of this world’s strength, and the vibrant nature itself was what fuelled the spirits’ power.
“…So that sham of a request that you took in the Gran Flamm Kingdom was to show me this?”
After what felt like forever, Alice spoke at last.
“Yes. I’ve heard about the extent of the destruction. I thought it would matter to you, being former World and all.”
“And you had no expectations at all that I would permit you to come back to this land when I see it?”
She turned towards Rion, her expression a terse mask.
“…Well,” he replied with a bitter smile, “I wouldn’t completely deny that. Truth be told, I never really expected things to be this extreme.”
“This is the influence of that failure of a Demon God, isn’t it?”
Iron, Poison, Darkness, and Gold were the fundamental elements of the Demon God, and while you could see all four at work here…
“No, this comes from the Otherworld. Civilization, science, progress… It carries many a name but always ends up destroying nature. There are strands of it that profess to protect nature, but that never made sense to me. I’ve always thought that if it wasn’t for people, nature would be perfectly fine on its own.”
“That sounds like… Ryou?”
“Must be, it’s about to the Otherworld, after all.”
“Seriously? So, even with such a difference in personality, both Frey and Ryou dislike humans in the end?”
“…Looks like it.”
As soon as he said that, it occurred to him that it might also be due to an innate dual nature of the personality known as Rion, instead of something inherited from both its predecessors.
“…Now that the people of this world had become aware of it, there’s no way to make them forget,” he added.
“But we can eradicate the proponents. If things go well, we can prevent this from spreading further. Even if for a while.”
The proponent obviously would be the person with the otherworldly knowledge: Maria. The woman that just happened to be a target of Rion’s revenge, and the most important one at that.
“…And there we have it. It’s all just to get what you always wanted.”
“So what? Is it not what you want as well?”
“…To my immense annoyance. So? What’s the plan?”
Even if she ceased to be the World, she still couldn’t allow anything to undermine the fundamentals of this reality. After all, she had originated from the four elements, nature itself.
“We’ll return to the east.”
“I won’t, can’t fail again. I need to visit a few places first.”
“…Alright. Let’s return.”
Rion and Alice returned to the Eastern States Alliance and the battle with Merica. All for the sake of his inevitable return to the Gran Flamm Kingdom.
revised on 19th January 2018
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei