Chapter 178: A Witch’s Forest (3)

If you played by the book, you would try to avoid places like forests and gorges when moving your army since the enemy might ambush you. However, in Marquis Maroon’s case, they had already been delayed a lot, and time was running short.

‘A bit of risk is manageable.’

If she was being honest, Marquis Maroon would much rather have the enemy appear. They hadn’t even had a proper battle, yet were continuing to lose time. She really didn’t like it.

***

“Is everything prepared?”

“Yes, everything’s been done as you ordered, Ma’am.”

Eliza checked the situation with subordinates that Siegfried had given her. The ones receiving and moving according to her instructions was Ghost Group 7. Among the Ghost members, Group 7 specialized in assassinations and frequently received secret missions rather than ones having to do with individual strength. If those given to Jake were soldiers who prioritized strength, then those given to Eliza focused on secrecy. By sending with her those who could move secretly and stealthily, Siegfried had made them into her hands and feet.

From the moment Eliza had accepted the assignment, there had been something she had instructed Ghost Group 7. However, that instruction wasn’t something that could be carried out in a short period of time, so it was taking some time. That’s why she had used her magic to buy some time. Bringing actual fog over or widening the river was something that was impossible to do with her magic but, with her Fantasy Magic, one of her specialties, she could create a similar effect and ‘implant’ it into humans.

‘Fantasy Magic’s always been the one magic that I’m better at than Bianca.’

Thanks to that, she was able to buy some time, and thanks to that extra time, the preparations were over. The only thing left for her to do now was to thoroughly harass and invade the enemy.

“Hohohoho… good. It’ll be an amazing time.”

Eliza’s face was full of anticipation. 

***

Marquis Maroon boldly entered the forest with her troops. Of course, she had sent in a reconnaissance team first, but that team’s focus hadn’t been to avoid the army, but to locate them. Regardless of whether there were enemies or not, as long as they located the enemies, she was planning to push through them with brute strength.

‘Whatever tricks the enemy tries to use, it’s useless. I’ll just bust through it with force.’

She was only able to think this because she had confidence in her skills but at the same time, it was rather unlike her to think like that. That’s how short on time she was. Unintentionally, her impatience was passed onto the soldiers and it caused them to become anxious. The problem was, she didn’t realize it.

It was the first day Marquis Maroon led her army and entered the forest. Since the forest was quite large, it would take at least two days for all 20,000 troops to pass through. Running short on time, she wanted to pass through the forest in just one day, but that was impossible. Eventually, her army had to prepare to spend the night in the forest. Marquis Maroon sent out many reconnaissance units to prepare for enemy attacks before setting up camp.

‘But… how strange, there are no enemies. If the enemy was planning to ambush us, the forest would be the best place to do so. Maybe…’

A thought crossed her mind. 

‘Maybe the enemy isn’t planning to fight us? Maybe they’re planning to avoid fighting and just continue to drag things out?’

When she thought about it, it seemed plausible. Disregarding the fast flowing river, she couldn’t help but think that perhaps the enemy hadn’t planned on using the fog to fight deceptively, but used it to buy some time. If they planned to use the fog to fight, they wouldn’t have set up scarecrows everywhere and ended it there. If it had been her, she would have set up scarecrows in the front as bait and attacked the enemy from the sides or the rear to inflict as much damage as possible to them. But the enemy hadn’t done that. Why hadn’t they?

‘What if it’s not that they didn’t, but that they couldn’t? That would make sense then.’

The enemy, Siegfried, was said to be an unparalleled genius strategist. If such a strategist’s goal was to drag things out as much as possible, then everything would fit and make sense.

“Too much prudence…that’s what the enemy might be aiming for.”

Marquis Maroon thought as she laid down on the bed that had been prepared for her in the camp. She planned to have her army move much quicker starting from the next day.

***

That night, Marquis Maroon had a dream. Having reached a high level in her abilities, she rarely dreamt because she was able to control her mind and body. However… That night, she strangely dreamed. 

In her dream, she had returned to a time when she was a little girl. There, she was fighting against a muscular adult male with a wooden sword. Using all her strength, she was fighting with a wooden sword that was much bigger than she was, but the opponent in front of her was too big and too strong, but more than that, that opponent had no mercy even though she was just a little girl.

“Ow!”

The young Marquis Maroon dropped her sword as she fell down after the man’s wooden sword struck her shoulder. The man looked down at her as he spoke.

“You stupid brat! You can’t even block this simple attack? And to think that you’re my child?!”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Father.”

The man yelling at the young Hailey Maroon was Marquis Calvin Maroon. He was the previous Marquis Maroon and the father of Marquis Hailey Maroon. The father spoke severely to the little girl.

“Get up immediately! Do you think the enemy would wait for you if you fell on the battlefield?!”

“Yes, Father…”

Staggering, she barely stood up. 

This had been her daily routine as a child. Her father was by no means a loving person. To others, he was a stoic and blunt person, but to her, he was the scariest person in the world. She had never felt love or affection from him. The reason for that was because she was a girl. Her father had wanted a son. 

For generations, the Maroon Family had always been a military family in the Empire, that’s why the heir of Marquis Maroon had to be a strong and sturdy son. However, his wife gave birth to a daughter, and to make things worse, in the process of giving birth to a girl, she had died. He was a man more obsessed with the honor of his family than a man who was affectionate towards his family. He felt betrayed by his wife for dying without giving birth to a son and disappointed by his daughter.

He couldn’t even think about marrying a new wife and having another child. His deceased wife had come from a family that was just as prestigious as the Maroon Family. If he were to bring in a new wife and trouble his daughter, it would obviously cause problems between the Maroon Family and his deceased wife’s family.

Eventually, since he didn’t have a son, he decided to train his daughter to become a strong knight. He didn’t consider her as a girl and only saw her as his heir as he rigorously trained her. The intensity of that training was so severe that even adult knights wouldn’t find it easy. Unexpectedly, he realized that his daughter was extraordinarily talented. As an Expert at the highest level, Marquis Calvin Maroon instantly saw that his daughter was a genius. And so, he trained his daughter even more harshly with methods that even adult knights would have difficulties with. In fact, rather than training, it was more like child abuse. If Marquis Hailey Maroon wasn’t a genius, she would never have been able to handle the training and instead be broken by it. Her childhood had always been marked by the harsh training and sparring with her father. While she progressively got stronger with her father’s training, the irreparable gap between her and her father became bigger and bigger. 

As time passed, the girl became a woman. And the woman became one of the best knights in the Empire and strong enough to join the Empire’s Royal Knights. Once she joined, countless men tried to restrain and keep her in check, but each time, she threw down her gauntlets and formally challenged them to a duel, thoroughly embarrassing them every time. By this time, even if they were men, her swordsmanship was so impressive that she rarely suffered defeat. But she wasn’t satisfied with that and continued to hone her skills. Although her father wasn’t pressing and demanding her to do so, she continued to push herself and devoted time to training. As a result…

“Oooh..”

“Congratulations, Little Princess.”

“It’ll be written in the history of the Empire, Little Princess.”

In front of all the knights of her family, she had created a sharp Aura Blade. With her female body, she had reached the level of a Master. 

The Empire recognized her status and offered to give her a new family and title. However, she had rejected the offer and declared that she would take over the title of Marquis of the Maroon Family. While it was uncommon for women to take over a title, it wasn’t impossible. Moreover, she was a Master and of blood relation so there couldn’t be any objections. As if it was a matter of course, she became the new Marquis and the first thing did was to confine her own father.

“You bitch! How could there be a daughter as disrespectful and insolent as you?! How can you do this?”

No longer the Marquis, Calvin Maroon raged at his daughter. However, the person in front of him wasn’t a young girl who trembled at his shouting but an imposing swordswoman and a Master of the Empire. She just stood as her own father spouted vitriol at her. Then, without blinking an eye, she responded.  

“I’ve merely given you what you wanted. A strong successor to make the Family even stronger. Isn’t this more than what you ever wanted?”

“You dare…”

Watching her father tremble in anger, she spoke. 

“Your days are over. I recommend that you spend the rest of your life meaninglessly in the remote countryside. 

She confined her own father in a country estate and after a while, the news was delivered to her. The previous Marquis Maroon, Calvin Maroon, had committed suicide. For him, having lived his entire life with his hand gripped tightly around power and authority, life without said authority wasn’t worth living. Having to give up that power to his own daughter had caused him to make such an extreme decision. His will was filled with hatred and resentment towards his daughter.

When she heard that her father had died, Marquis Maroon did not shed a single tear. His funeral was as simple as possible and she did not attend. The people accused her of being cold-hearted but she didn’t care. No, she pretended not to care.

She had always been stoic, but, from that point on, she became even more apathetic than before. Whether she liked or disliked her father, he was still someone who had always influenced her. The fact that such a person had died, to have committed suicide, wasn’t a minor thing.

She stopped remembering the past, but then, the previous Marquis Maroon suddenly appeared in front of her.

“You vile creature. You are a sin against heaven. How dare you kill your own father!”

Seeing her father shouting at her in a loud voice like he had always done during her childhood, she instantly felt herself curling inwards reflexively. But she was not the same person she was during her childhood.

“Don’t be ridiculous! Think about what you did to me! Not only have you never acted like a father to me… you’ve never given me an ounce of love! But you want to demand your rights as a father?!”

“So what? The authority and ability that you so love. I gave you all that. I gave it to you after grinding and polishing it.”

“Shut up! Shut up! I succeeded with my skills. I don’t need or care about you!”

Marquis Maroon shouted out in anger while swinging her sword at the same time.

AHH!!

“Huff… huff…”

Breathing heavily, Marquis Maroon got up. Waking up from her dream, she felt sweat running down her back. 

“What was that?”

She felt strange.

‘I had a nightmare? Me?’

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