Episode 92. Counterattack (3)

King Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein had devoted himself to internal affairs ever since he ascended to the throne. He worked to develop the stagnant kingdom and restore its power after its long wars. Naturally, the people of Adenburg praised their king for his efforts. However, if he had a shortcoming, it was that King Theodore was unable to hold back the Nocteins given his single-minded focus on internal growth.

The soldiers along the western border were elites trained in the crucible of many wars, but their liege was unable to use them effectively. As a result, the Western Army had been constantly forced onto the defensive, passively responding to Noctein invasions. This proved a constant complaint by those living in the western territories.

However, this restriction was now suddenly lifted. For the first time during Theodore’s reign, the king called for an invasion of the Nocteins. The Western Army marched towards the border in joy, able to seek revenge after being one-sidedly beaten back this whole time.

“What a mess. I didn’t expect them to be so sloppy.”

Commander Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk laughed at the sorry state of the Noctein border guards, as they had not noticed the two infantry regiments advancing. He pushed a dagger against the jaw of a careless guard.

“Put them down thoroughly! Don’t let those Noctein bastards ever think about crossing the border again!”

The Adenburg infantry invaded an eastern Noctein fort at a late hour, when even the sentries were dozing off. The Noctein soldiers lacked discipline, never having worried about being invaded themselves, and they quickly surrendered the gates.

The two regiments’ worth of infantry immediately seized control over the fort’s main facilities. On this cold winter night, the commander of the Noctein Eastern Army was caught sleeping off his drinks from the evening and decapitated.

“The Noctein commander has been slain!”

The Adenburg soldiers raised their voices to announce the commander’s demise. It was a shock to the Noctein soldiers preparing to counterattack.

Having lost their commander, the Nocteins lost their will to fight. Most offered to surrender, and the Adenburg Kingdom took many as prisoners.

“Hold out until the end! There aren’t that many enemies in our fort! Protect our territory with your lives!”

“You can die on your own!”

One of the high-ranking officers remaining at the fortress shouted in desperation until the end. The battle ended when he was stabbed in the back by a subordinate and thrown off the watchtower.

The war was just beginning.

“Advance! Brave soldiers of Adenburg! Don’t let the Noctein bastards ever invade our lands again!”

Commander Mangsk roared, and six heavy cavalry companies entered through the path opened up by the infantry.

“Let’s go!”

Kim Seon-Hyeok crossed into Noctein territory, leading his three companies.

***

Belated news of the Adenburg invasion turned the Noctein Kingdom upside down. By the time they received the news, the fortress of Kalstein, a strategic stronghold on their eastern border, had already fallen into the hands of the enemy.

“Commander Iron Dmitry Kalstein is dead! One regiment has been lost, and two others have been taken captive!”

The Noctein leaders recoiled as they heard of the terrifying damage inflicted upon them overnight.

“In essence, we have lost over 30 percent of our forces in the eastern part of the kingdom.”

However, there was something even more dire. It was that the command system in the east collapsed along with their commander-in-chief.

“The Adenburg infantry that captured the fortress have taken up positions there! Their cavalry has scattered in all directions!”

“Focus first on determining the size and pathing of the enemy cavalry, then gather information on the number of enemies remaining at the Kalstein fortress!”

The Nocteins tried to get a handle on the situation, but border guards were slow to move. They had lost their intensity and military discipline, not having been challenged by the Adenburg forces in a long time.

“The Adenburg forces that occupied Kalstein have been identified as two infantry regiments from Fort Mangsk. We have confirmed Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk’s flag atop the fortress!”

“That damned old man from Mangsk!”

The Noctein leaders cursed the name of their old enemy, Adenburg’s Shield, before suddenly asking about the other enemy in their borders.

“Have you confirmed the involvement of enemy knights?”

“No enemy knights! No signs of magic as well!”

Perhaps they should be relieved that this current conflict was not an all-out war? 

However, the enemy cavalry’s strength was highly unusual, and they could not relax.

“Find out the cavalry’s whereabouts and intercept them!”

“So far, we have identified six cavalry companies within our borders. Three have been confirmed heading due north. The other three…”

The messenger hesitated for a moment before shutting his eyes tightly and shouting.

“We have lost them! We can’t locate their whereabouts after the initial conflict! And…”

They frowned at the news, but until this point, the Noctein command remained relatively at ease. They trusted that wiping out the invading cavalry would prove crippling to the Adenburg Kingdom, as their cavalry forces were already lacking compared to the Nocteins’.

“The commander of the three missing cavalry companies has been confirmed to be the Drake Knight!”

They could not help but get up from their seats upon hearing that the Drake Knight was among the missing enemies.

“That Drake Knight!”

“Why him!”

The Noctein command grew pale-faced as they urgently gave their orders.

“Build a unit around those foreigners standing by with high-tier classes and dispatch them to the east!”

“The top priority is to determine the whereabouts of the missing cavalry! Once their movements are confirmed, give the order to all nearby units! No skirmishes are permitted under any circumstances! Prioritize retreating, even if there is a loss of life!”

***

However, battles could not be avoided if only one side was unilaterally against them. This was the case now.

“Ugh. It’s so damned cold.”

The Noctein soldier huddled by the bonfire to withstand the blisteringly cold winter winds. He suddenly squinted, trying to identify the dim shadow that could be seen far away.

“Huh?”

The blurry shadow quickly became clearer, and the soldier shouted upon realizing that the shadow was, in fact, hundreds of enemy soldiers.

“Enemy!”

The emergency bell rang, and the garrison grew noisy in an instant. They had already heard of the situation at the border, so the troops quickly finished their preparations for battle. Spearmen camped by the entrance while archers climbed on top of the watchtowers and barricades. They were in a perfect defensive position.

However, despite being well-prepared, the Noctein soldiers looked uneasy.

“The Drake Knight…”

They saw the huge monster that suddenly appeared at the forefront of the enemy without a noise.

The soldiers were terrified at the appearance of the Drake Knight, the enemy singlehandedly responsible for the annihilation of the Sastein cavalry and five other cavalry companies.

They had always complained that the wooden barricades along the garrison were unnecessarily high and blocked out the sun, but on this day, these defenses felt particularly low. They got the sense that the huge monster could look down upon them just by lifting its neck slightly.

“T, they’re coming!”

Their enemies did not hesitate. The Adenburg forces seemed to pause just beyond arrow range, but then, a monster and a horse split off and rushed towards the garrison.

“Fire!”

Roar!

The archer company commander ordered his soldiers to fire, but the monster’s sudden roar caused many to drop their bows. Even those managing to fire their arrows lost their focus, and the projectiles fell haphazardly on the battlefield.

“Ahhhhh!”

The soldiers trembled at the terrifying roar, and in that brief span, the monster closed in on the garrison. The drake inflated the protrusions on its neck and smashed into the wooden barricades.

Thud!

One hit. 

It took all of one attack to demolish the tightly constructed defenses.

“M, mon…. ack!”

Rip.

The archer company commander was torn to pieces by the monster’s strong jaw. The soldiers blankly standing by their leader were knocked off the ramparts, battered by its head.

“Fire! You idiots! Are you going to stand there and die?”

“Spearmen! Attack!”

Belatedly coming to their senses, the commanders shouted desperately at their soldiers to hold back the monster. The troops were shocked into action, hesitantly approaching before lunging forward with their spears. Arrows rained down.

“Ack!”

However, instead of piercing the monster’s scales, the desperately fired arrows only inflicted damage to the Noctein troops. The projectiles had been fired recklessly and without proper aim, killing the spearmen attacking the drake.

“Charge.”

At that moment, the Adenburg cavalry charged through the smashed barricades. The infantry was helpless against the cavalry in heavy armor and was swept aside.

“S, save me!”

In the end, the spearmen lined up at the garrison’s entrance flung open the gates and began to flee the camp.

***

Charged with insubordination and instigating others, Kim Woo-Young lost his arm and was forced to be subservient to Seon-Hyeok before he could even fully recover.

Until this point, Woo-Young remained confident. The reattached arm had not regained its full function, but even so, he was a high-tier magic swordsman. He was positive he would soon have the battlefield achievements to cover up his transgressions.

He was mistaken.

In this first battle, there were more than ten instances where Woo-Young nearly died. War was more terrifying than he ever imagined.

Kill or be killed.

This simple concept was difficult to understand. It was impossible to coldly cut down an enemy who lunged forward with his spear while shouting wildly. And such, he was unable to kill a single enemy in his first battle.

He felt pressured by his enemies’ killing intent, and he wildly swung his blade without ever making contact. Nonetheless, he managed to survive. It was all because his superior stayed firmly by his side.

Seon-Hyeok was the one who pushed him into this hell, and the one who saved him from it.

“T, thank you.”

By this point, Woo-Young’s earlier pride and resentment were nowhere to be seen. He had no chance but to lean on Seon-Hyeok, knowing that it was his only chance for survival.

When the battle concluded, he cried like a child. He suffered from nightmares all night. However, though Seon-Hyeok saved his life, he did not take care of him.

And then came the second battle.

Having almost died nearly a dozen times in his first battle, Woo-Young went into his second battle with newfound determination. However, this proved useless. The moment his sword penetrated his enemy’s flesh, Woo-Young’s determination and resolution were shattered. His skills and abilities deserted him, and he once again began swinging his weapon mindlessly like in the first battle.

“You killed four enemies today.”

As the battle ended, Seon-Hyeok told Woo-Young how many enemies died at his hands. It was pitiful compared to the monstrous Drake Knight, but Kim Woo-Young had finally succeeded in putting down his enemies and accomplishing something in battle.

However, he was unhappy. He belatedly realized he had taken a life, and he cried all night.

Once again, Seon-Hyeok offered no words of comfort.

Finally, in his fourth battle, Woo-Young was able to fight desperately against the incoming spearmen. The Nocteins rushed towards him, trusting that he would be an easier target than the Drake Knight atop his terrifying monster.

A magic swordsman’s skills were powerful. However, in the end, he would die like everyone else if stabbed by spears and swords. The killing intent emitted by multiple enemies kept him down and unable to freely move his hands and feet. Likewise, his left arm had not yet healed properly, and this proved to be a significant detriment.

‘You will be at the vanguard of the army with me from now on. You will be forbidden from retreating until I do, and you will be required to remain by my side until the very end.’

Seon-Hyeok kept his word. He was always the first to charge into the enemy, and he was the last to finish fighting. He was always where the battle was fiercest and toughest.

As a result, Kim Woo-Young suffered in kind. He thought that Seon-Hyeok would not mind his death; however, Woo-Young only managed to survive because the Drake Knight stepped in to help whenever he was in a desperate situation.

The little resentment he harbored disappeared. No, in fact, it was not just his resentment. Everything Woo-Young had considered important now seemed trivial. The only thing that mattered in this field of death was survival. Everything else was unimportant.

Woo-Young just hoped and hoped some more for an end to this terrible war.

“Don’t chase.”

There were no more enemies rushing towards him. However, he continued to hear screams in the distance. They were the shouts of enemies who were unable to escape.

Another victory was added to the Drake Knight’s name. However, Woo-Young was not envious of this. What he really envied was the strength of his superior – the strength to keep his composure in this terrible war. He hoped that he would one day have the same resolute mindset.

Only then would these terrible nightmares and guilt disappear.

However, even this was an illusion. One day, after a battle against a particularly persistent group of Noctein infantry, Woo-Young saw Seon-Hyeok’s face when the latter lifted his visor. It was then that he discovered the truth.

Seon-Hyeok’s sunken eyes were full of fatigue, and his tightly shut lips trembled. His face involuntarily convulsed from time to time. Only then did Woo-Young understand – his superior was not above the terrors of war.

He was simply enduring it.

The moment Woo-Young saw this exhausted face, he realized more than ever that this world was not a game, in spite of the stats, skills, and levels.

This was reality. This was a hell in which he would only survive by killing others.

***

In an effort to deal with the Drake Knight, the Noctein command gathered all the foreigners who had become high-tier classes. They wanted to avoid suffering unnecessary losses as a result of sending in inferior forces a second time.

However, the foreigners and cavalry they sent never even encountered the Drake Knight.

The Drake Knight and his cavalry were eerily elusive, and there was no means of uncovering their target. It was only after they attacked and terrorized another encampment that the Nocteins received news from the survivors.

When the situation showed no signs of improvement, the Nocteins slowly began preparations to deploy their knights and expand the scope of the war. They reasoned that relying on just the disposable foreigners would result in the complete destruction of their eastern territories.

Just then, the Adenburg cavalry ravaging their lands backed down. Their retreat was made with impeccable timing, and it prevented any possibility of an expansion of war.

The Nocteins were enraged at having their borders terrorized, and some of their hawkish nobles stepped up to suggest an all-out war. However, the Noctein Kingdom was not on good terms with the surrounding kingdoms, and this was not the time to wager the fate of their entire kingdom. The kingdoms to their north and west could invade like a pack of wolves if given casus belli, and the Noctein Kingdom could be irreparably torn apart.

The voices of the radical nobles died down, and the war ended.

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