Chapter 176: A Witch’s Forest (1)

“Ohh… So you’re gonna come from the front, huh?”

Marquis Burkel gave a cruel smile as he realized what Jake was planning to do. That smile held amazement at the enemy and anger as he felt he was being belittled.

“So you’re gonna try, huh? How impertinent…”

“Marquis, what should we do?”

“What do you mean what should we do? Of course we’ll meet them head-on. All the Knights will gather behind me. I will stand at the forefront.”

Disregarding the left and right sides, Marquis Burkel focused all his forces in the center. If Jake’s formation was a standard center breakthrough, then Marquis Burkel’s formation was an extreme one-point breakthrough. 

Generally, people would place strong soldiers on the left and right sides when breaking through the center as insurance in case the breakthrough fails. This was because if the enemy’s defense line was solid and the breakthrough failed, the enemy could wrap around their soldiers and encircle them from all sides, almost like the enemy had spread their wings and trapped them within. 

Jake had placed elite Ghost soldiers on the left and the right as was standard. But Marquis Burkel had placed all his Knights in the center; he believed that his breakthrough would not fail.

“We will trample all over you.”

As Marquis Burkel bared his teeth, he seemed like a beast who had his pride wounded. 

***

Before long, the two armies were battle ready and the same order was issued simultaneously.

“Attack!!”

“Charge!!!”

The moment the order was issued, the ground shook as the soldiers of either side rushed forward. 

30,000 Imperial troops led by Marquis Burkel. 

The Republic Army led by Jake also had 30,000 troops. 

If there was no difference in the number of troops, then the difference would be in the quality of the soldiers. The first to show the difference in the quality of the men was the left and right flanks. 

“Die!”

“Go die!”

At Jake’s direction, two Ghost units had been placed on the left and right sides — Group 2 and Group 3. Although there was a slight difference based on the characteristics of the men, generally, the higher the level of the Ghost Groups, the lower the number and stronger the unit. In other words, Group 2 and Group 3 were the second and third strongest units of the Ghost Groups. Although this was only the case when they took the elixir, the abilities of the Group 2 and Group 3 leaders were between that of an Expert and a Master. Once the two of them took the lead and struck the enemy’s flank, the Imperial Army’s wings were broken immediately.

“Marquis, the damages to the left and the right are serious.”

“It does not matter. Focus on the front!”

Marquis Burkel had gotten a report of the situation as he was on the move, but he paid no attention to it. He didn’t care about the dangers of a potential encirclement, after all, he had been the one to organize his troops this way. Although the two sides had collapsed faster than he had expected, the end results were still within his expectations. 

‘The important thing is to break through the center.’

That was enough. Marquis Burkel had given up on both the left and right flanks and concentrated his forces in the center. He picked up his black sword, the Bastard Sword. A sharp Aura Blade emitted from the sword as he aggressively charged forward at the front.  

“I am Marquis Burkel, you XX bastards!!”

Considering he was a high ranking member of the Empire’s nobility, it wasn’t particularly dignified, but that didn’t matter. Instead, the enemy probably felt this alarming momentum to be even more daunting. However…

“How noisy.”

The man who had come forward from the enemy’s side wore a black cloak and didn’t seem to feel any pressure. And from the abnormally large two-handed sword he brought out…

“Guh?”

“No way?”

A sharp Aura Blade emitted.

Amongst the astonished people, Marquis Burkel gritted his teeth.

“Those goddamned…”

He had finally realized that he had miscalculated.

CLAAANG!!

The moment the two of them clashed, a tremendous sound rang out. And…

“Neighh…”

“Neighhh…”

The legs’ of the horses both of them had been riding on broke. They could not withstand the shock that came when the two Masters had exchanged direct blows. 

“Hup!”

“Hmph!”

The two of them quickly jumped off their horses before they collapsed. As soon as they got down from the horses, the first thing either of them did was…

“Beat them!”

“Wipe them out!”

They had given the order to push forward to their subordinates while attacking each other at the same time.

CLANG!

Once again, they clashed against each other. Though a step behind their leaders, both armies also collided against each other.

“Die!”

“I’ll get rid of you!”

Blood splattered from all directions and it was difficult for either side. Neither side hadn’t sent conscripts to be riddled with arrows as cannon fodder, instead, the elite forces of both sides had clashed from the very beginning. In fact, it was a head-on collision without any strategies, something that was very rare.

The first ones to fight their way through the melee were the knights that Marquis Burkel had personally trained. The Knights were originally mercenaries that had caught his eye with their remarkable talent and abilities, so it was only natural that they were powerful. Most importantly, they didn’t fight obstinately clinging to tradition and honor like ordinary knights, instead, they used whatever means necessary to fight on the battlefield. If there was a strong opponent in front of them, they didn’t hesitate to sneak away and they were used to using the enemy’s blindspots to deal them blows. On top of that, they were dealing with Ghost Group 4 and Group 5. 

While Groups 4 and 5 weren’t bad in terms of skill, they were still somewhat inferior to Group 2 and 3 that were fighting the left and right flanks. Although it was small, there was definitely a difference in skill. However, that was only if they fought in a normal state. When he realized that the enemy was strong, the leader of Ghost Group 4 immediately gave an order.

“Do whatever you must to defeat the enemy! Do not retreat even one step!”

When they heard it, Marquis Burkel’s Knights mocked the Ghost leader’s orders. Do whatever you must? Isn’t that obvious? Unless they had been hiding their strength and fighting until now? The Burkel Knights ridiculed such an order. However, their ridicule soon turned into astonishment.

“Huh…”

“Hup…”

The Ghost members took out a small vial of elixir from their breastplates and drank it. Immediately afterwards, Auras seemed to be bursting from all over the place and their swords were emitting an Aura, the symbol of an Expert. 

“How could… this…”

“Impossible…”

For the Burkel Knights, this was a disaster beyond all disasters. They felt like the enemies had been pushing them enough, but suddenly, the enemies got even stronger. Some perceptive people thought that the elixir that the Ghosts had drunk was suspicious, but they could not think beyond that.

“Wipe them out!”

“Yes, sir!”

As soon as the leader of the Group 4 gave the order, the Ghost members immediately fought back the Burkel Knights. The frontline, which had been firmly maintained, quickly turned into a scene where black waves unilaterally devoured the enemy.

“Guh… there is no retreating. Hold on until the Marquis wins!”

The deputy commander of the Burkel Knights loudly encouraged his men, who were being pushed back by the Ghosts, to try and turn the battle around. Truthfully, no matter how much the Knights were pushed back, as long as Marquis Burkel won in the end, the situation would be reversed. Of course, that was based on the assumption that Marquis Burkel would unconditionally win against the enemy. 

***

It was the first time his body was soaked with sweat. It was difficult to calm his breathing. Large wounds were scattered all over his body and the consumption of the Aura was too great. No matter who it was, they all realized that Marquis Matthias Burkel, the Mercenary King, was losing. He looked at Jake with a venomous gaze and spoke.

“…Damn it, are you a monster?”

Jake looked relatively fine in comparison, only the hem of his cloak was slightly torn. When 30 blows had been exchanged, they seemed equal. However, after 50 blows, the difference between the two sides gradually began to emerge and after the 70th blow, Jake launched a one-sided attack and Marquis Burkel was barely able to fend him off. 

Marquis Burkel didn’t have the strength to worry about what was going on around him, he was just narrowly managing to survive. And now, the two of them had come to realize the distinct difference in their skills. Jake casually handled his massive two-handed sword as he looked down at Marquis Burkel.

He thought to himself.

‘That’s all he’s got?’

Right now, all Jake could feel was disappointment. Marquis Burkel was a swordsman that everyone in the world knew about. Although he had started out as a mercenary, Burkel had become a member of the Empire’s high ranking aristocracy with just his swordsmanship and so, Jake had had a lot of expectations towards it. But… his expectations weren’t met. Although the level of Aura and his swordsmanship didn’t embarrass the rank of a Master, but… That was all. Marquis Burkel was top-notch, but he didn’t have that plus-alpha, that something extra.

‘He has talent, but that’s all. How boring.’

Jake gave a small sigh. He couldn’t hide his disappointment when Marquis Burkel’s swordsmanship didn’t meet his expectations at all. Standing in front of Jake, Marquis Burkel could feel his opponent’s disappointment in him. 

“You… you… you XX bastard!”

Feeling insulted and full of anger, Marquis Burkel roared like a beast as he rushed towards Jake. His sword was moving so quickly it was like a beam of light and it flew through the air towards Jake’s neck. However…

CLANG!

Jake’s arm moved before the sword even reached his neck. Jake’s large two-handed sword was at least twice the size of Marquis Burkel’s Bastard Sword, no, three times as big, but it was still much faster than Burkel’s sword. 

“Sloppy.”

It wasn’t just speed. Jake took a step forward and gripped his sword with both hands. Then, he spoke calmly.

“Defend.”

“Guh…”

Jake’s giant sword fell so fast from the sky to the ground, it left an afterimage of a line. The trajectory of the sword was so sharp and precise that it was difficult to believe that a sword so large it was almost crude could have been that precise. Marquis Burkel fearfully blocked such a sword. But…

CLAANG!

“Ughhh…”

Burkel stopped the attack with both hands, but it felt like the bones in his body seemed to have shattered. In terms of speed, there wasn’t much of a difference. However, there was a huge difference in terms of destructive power. In the beginning, Marquis Burkel had been able to fight against him to some extent, but as time went on, the difference in strength became more evident. Now, just blocking the enemy’s attack became unendurable.  

‘How is this possible? The weapon? No, that’s impossible for a Master.’

Jake’s grotesquely large two-handed sword was originally a weapon that was designed to emphasize destructive power. Weight leads to destructive power. Therefore, many mercenaries also favored the heaviest weapons that they could use with their strength.

However, that was the logic of ordinary mercenaries and knights, the two of them were Masters. A Master’s destructive power comes from the Aura Blade. Condensed to the limit, the Aura Blade, had a destructive power that could cause a regular table knife usually used to cut meat to be able to slice through steel. So, the weight of a weapon was meaningless. No, that was how it normally should be. But… Jake was showing a destructive power that was completely against common sense. 

Weight + speed + aura = ?

“I’m attacking again.”

The answer was an abnormal destructive power.

CLAANG!

“Guh…”

Jake lightly swung his sword horizontally. Despite the fact he had blocked the attack, Marquis Burkel flew like an autumn leaf in the wind.

“Damn… it…”

A couple of his bones were broken. His organs were damaged and he could taste the iron as blood dripped from his mouth. The Aura that had been surrounding his sword was gone and he didn’t have the strength to fight against Jake.

Jake approached Marquis Burkel as he spoke.

“The outcome’s been determined. For everything.”

When he heard that, Marquis Burkel looked at his surroundings. The ‘everything’ that Jake was talking about wasn’t just the outcome of their fight. The outcome of the battle had been decided. 

With the advantage they had gotten in the beginning, the Republican Army was completely devouring the elite troops that Marquis Burkel had led. In addition, as the Republican forces had dominated the fight in the center and now, there were no friendly faces to be seen. As Jake had said, the outcome was determined. The result was the complete defeat of Marquis Burkel.

“G… guh…”

Hopelessly, Marquis Burkel collapsed onto the ground and burst out into uncontrollable laughter. 

“I’m gonna go crazy. It’s not like we lost to tricks and schemes, we were pushed back in a frontal battle…”

“……”

“Let me ask you just one thing. Did the Republican Army deploy all of its main forces here? Did you ignore the bitch attacking my other side or the geezer moving the large army in the center? Did you decide to get rid of me first?”

Jake responded calmly to his question.

“There’s no need for you to know.”

“Huh… Fine. There’s no need for someone who’s dying to know.”

Marquis Burkel sighed and spoke with a relieved face.

“Come, take my head. Since I’ve lost so completely and cleanly, I have no regrets.”

Jake frowned at those words.

“How boring.”

“What?”

“You’re really boring. Are you really Matthias Burkel? You sure a stand-in didn’t take your place?”

Seeing Jake express annoyance at him not meeting expectations, Marquis Burkel bared his teeth at him. 

“Sorry for disappointing you. But isn’t it better than being me? You might have been disappointed by my skills but I was demoralized. Seriously, where did a monster like you come from…”

He let out a sigh as he grumbled. Then, he threw down his sword. Empty-handed, he spoke to Jake in a calm voice.

“Let me rest now.”

Jake shook his head at that.

“Absolutely boring.”

He walked forward to meet Marquis Burkel’s demand.

Hearing Jake’s footsteps, Marquis Burkel closed his eyes gently and seemed to accept his death. Jake lifted his sword to cut off Burkel’s head. At that moment…

‘Now!’

Marquis Burkel displayed his tenacity and swung his left hand. He had squeezed out all his remaining strength and formed an Aura Blade around a very small knife. 

‘I caught you.’

Marquis Burkel was convinced that it was a success.

He usually carried a very small knife that could be hidden inside his sleeve. It was a skill that his teacher had taught him when he was still an unfledged mercenary. To be more precise, it was a trick that his teacher had taught him. It tricked the enemy into thinking he wasn’t armed and once they became careless, he would surprise them with the weapon he had hidden in his sleeve. When he had still been unfledged, he had used this technique a couple of times against strong enemies. After a while, he became a strong man who didn’t need such tricks and didn’t need to use such a technique any longer but…Just in case he needed to use it someday, he had always carried a small knife in his sleeve. It was a good thing he had always been prepared. He never thought a monster like this would ever appear, but he was able to live because of this technique. 

In the first place, he was a mercenary. Although he had been given a title, he knew nothing about Knighthood and nothing was more precious than his life. Honor? In his opinion, that was only a tool used to get under the skirts of the noble ladies. Thorough preparations and the tenacity to not give up -- those were his true personality.

If he could get rid of Jake with this surprise attack and somehow escape then…

‘Huh?’

At that moment, Marquis Burkel had a strange feeling. He had been on the verge of slicing Jake’s throat with his knife, so why…

‘Why am I flying through the sky? No, rather than that, what’s that?’

What he had glimpsed was the image of Jake swinging his sword and the image of a headless corpse in front of him. He realized that he was looking down at himself from above.

‘That’s my body…’

That was his last thought. At the same time, Marquis Burkel’s head fell to the ground.

“As I said.”

Jake talked as he put away his two-handed sword.

“How boring.”

A beat later, cheers erupted from all sides.

“Waahhh!!”

“Marquis Burkel’s been beheaded!!”

“Long live the Republic!”

“Long live Captain Jake!”

Mercenary King Marquis Matthias Burkel died in battle. That was the moment that Jake, a Republican soldier, became known. 

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