At sundown, as the red sky began to turn purple...
A woman wearing a pink mask looked down at Asterium from atop its outer wall. She said, "It’s unlike you to hide. You should just show yourself."
A man wearing a brown mask appeared and replied, "It’s been a while, Virgo."
She looked at him as if she were performing an inspection. "You're still clumsy at hiding, Taurus.”
"Well, what about you? To be called Virgo at your age is...!” Taurus remarked. Virgo drew her sword and aimed for Taurus’s neck, but Taurus narrowly escaped, complaining, "Jeez, can't you take a joke?"
Virgo snorted at Taurus’s whining. "I’m touched that you've grown to the point of being able to make jokes about me. Now, will you show me just how courageous you’ve become?" Virgo slashed directly at his abdomen.
Taurus took a couple of steps back and raised both hands in surrender. "Ahaha, I was wrong." He smiled playfully.
Virgo sheathed her sword and said, "I’m not called Virgo because I want others to call me that."
"I know. It's just a name from the constellation," Taurus replied.
The title had been decided solely by the head of the group called the 12 Zodiacs. Whether they wanted to or not, they had no choice but to use it once it was decided. The head had implied that he would become hostile to anyone who rejected the names he gave.
"But where’s Aquarius? Aren’t you guys usually together?” Taurus asked.
"Aquarius said he has business to attend to, and that he’ll be acting on his own,” Virgo answered.
Taurus nodded. "Really? By the way, who caused this incident?” He was referring to the flood of demons in the demon territory.
Virgo crossed her arms and answered, "I don't really know either, but since Libra and Scorpio’s bases are in the demon territory, it’s surely the work of those two."
Taurus looked towards the demon territory seriously. "If even those two, who don't have a good relationship, cooperated… Does that mean that the leader is moving personally?" He was surprised. It would be the first time the leader had acted personally since he first joined the 12 Zodiacs.
Virgo uncrossed her arms and answered while standing on the wall’s railing. "I said I didn't know either. But it's true that I'm suspicious.”
"This time, if you're going to be active in the demon territory-!" Taurus began in a low voice.
Virgo cut him off. "Be careful. Great madosas aren’t easy to handle. Don't be reckless and throw away your useless life."
Taurus smiled bitterly at her warning. "I know that. I'll keep myself alive, so you don’t have to worry."
"As long as you know it.” Virgo finished speaking and jumped down from the fortress wall.
Because Asterium was a city close to the demon territory, the fortress walls were quite high, but Taurus didn’t worry about Virgo’s landing. He looked into the distance, sighed, and left.
* * *
"Hahm~!" I got up from my seat, yawning. After arriving at Asterium last night, I watched Rosellis train Lisbon for a bit, then went up to my room to sleep.
Fortunately, because we’d come straight from a business trip, they didn’t make us work immediately and let us rest instead. Thanks to that, I felt relieved from most of my fatigue.
"Are you up? You should hurry and wash up before breakfast," Flam said while drying his hair with a towel.
I stretched and nodded. "What's the menu for this morning?” I asked.
"As far as I know, it’s corn soup and rye bread."
"Is that it?"
My goodness, even for military rations... It was only corn soup and rye bread? I hadn’t been expecting steak for breakfast, but rye bread was a bit much.
If only it were soft wheat bread, I would eat it without complaints, but rye bread? This had to be the inn restaurant’s plot to get people to buy food there. Or, they must have had some kind of strange connection with the upper levels of the adventurer’s guild.
Oh, was this what they called a win-win situation for the region?
Of course, the poor distribution was largely due to food storage. Regardless of the fact that it was winter now, if one wanted to store a large amount of food for a long time, it had to be food that would keep well.
"Oh, I never thought I'd miss the fridge in the boarding house,” I lamented.
Another method was refrigeration, but the maintenance cost was ridiculously high, so it wasn’t a method the military would use, as they preferred small profits and quick returns.
I’d tried complaining, but nothing changed in the military.
"I'll head down first." Flam hung the used towel by the window and went ahead. I quickly washed up in the cramped bathroom and went down.
As I went down to the first floor of the inn, I saw the restaurant was full of adventurers. One of the most notable people there was Demuir, who was despairing at the chocolate on his plate.
"Heuk! I want some rye bread! Or at least let me use the restaurant!” Demuir clung to Organ.
Organ shook his head with a sigh. "Wasn’t it an order from the Guild Director? Just eat it."
"Keuk! This is absurd! You tasteless military chocolate!"
Certainly, military chocolate wasn’t sweet and soft like the chocolate sold in the capital. Instead, it had the texture of crayons and was terribly bitter. It wasn't bad enough to be inedible as a snack, but it wasn’t something anyone would seek out.
Even though Demuir had done something wrong, I felt a little sorry for him, since he was being punished for doing a good deed. However, it was a little difficult for me to help, because Guild Director Glont had said he had good intentions and dropped the normal heavy punishments expected under military law.
In truth, it served as a warning to people before they played around or caused accidents with military supplies. No one who saw Demuir’s suffering dared to meddle with the supplies. He was being punished despite his good intentions, so others were afraid to think of what kind of punishment they might receive if they touched the military supplies with bad intentions.
Punishing one to warn the others was definitely effective.
I ordered grilled chicken at the inn restaurant and participated in the food distribution outside. After receiving the food, Flam and I went to Demuir and Organ’s table and sat down.
The smell of the fragrant chicken legs made Demuir weep blood. "Just one bite! Please!" he cried.
At Demuir's desperate plea, I gave him the military chocolate that had been distributed last night. "Enjoy your meal."
Organ had been watching from the side, and he looked at me as if I were the devil.
I bit into my chicken leg casually. It was juicy and quite delicious.
Demuir chewed on the chocolate I gave him without saying a word.
* * *
After breakfast, Demuir and I went to the temporary warehouse where the supplies were stored, and checked the totals. Taking inventory was the most basic of basic tasks.
"Keuhmm!" Demuir coughed dryly and looked at me quietly.
I grinned and took out the cookies and jerky I’d stored in the pocket space, handing them to Demuir.
Demuir carefully accepted the cookies and jerky with trembling hands, exclaiming, "Ohhh! You’re my savior!" Then he slowly started to eat little by little, savoring the taste.
"Don’t overreact. But I see you managed to see the small message engraved into the chocolate."
Personally, I’d thought he might not recognize it and overlook it because of my dexterity.
"I wasn't sure either. But I thought there was no way a junior that I respect would play such a bad joke!"
If he hadn’t noticed, then I’d have just moved on. Unfortunately, those exact bad jokes Demuir mentioned were to my taste.
"So, do we just have to stay here and take care of the supplies?” I asked.
It was heavy labor to take care of the supplies that were meant for a large army of more than 10,000 people. However, heavy labor in a safe city was much better than going into the field where one might encounter demons.
To my question, Demuir replied as he wrote down quantities in a document, "Probably? Even if we have to move, it’ll probably just be at the level of going back and forth from here to Warrant."
I wondered if Warrant would be safe with a flood of demons approaching. I didn't know how many troops were stationed in the demon territory, so it was difficult to deduce the answer, but Warrant was the absolute front of the front lines.
I smiled without showing my inner thoughts and chatted casually. "Really? I thought I was being helplessly dragged into the midst of the front lines again."
It wasn’t a war between countries, but a fight against demons, so there wouldn’t be any sudden hails of artillery fire from the sky. In that sense, being in the supply unit probably wouldn't be that dangerous.
"But we don't know if we’ll have to follow the Guild Director if he goes directly into the demon territory,” Demuir said half-jokingly.
I thought his joke was too likely to actually happen, though. "Then aren't we almost certainly going to be dragged in?" I asked.
Civil servants from headquarters, including myself, were under the direct control of Guild Director Glont, so we were basically considered one unit.
Demuir smiled and shook his head. "Eh, no way. Would he take noncombatants like us to such a dangerous place?"
Looking at Guild Director Glont's past actions, it seemed fairly plausible. For some reason, I felt as if everything I’d thought “no way” about had ended up happening. It made me uneasy, so I decided it was better to be prepared for now.
* * *
10,000 demons flocked to Warrant, a core strategic point at the front line and the shield that protected the empire from the demon territory.
"Magic division! Mana consumption is too high! Save your mana!" William's command came down from atop the fortress.
The soldiers moved in unison. Those who could handle mana grabbed bows and fired arrows imbued with mana, while those who couldn’t loaded muskets and fired lead bullets.
"How many times has it been?" Bloody asked as he imbued an arrow with sword aura and fired it. His arrow penetrated through the forehead of one demon and felled the demon behind it.
"It's the third wave today, and the 22nd wave of the week," William replied.
Bloody frowned at William's answer. "All those stationed in the demon territory must have retreated.”
"Of course, there's a big difference between having city walls and not having them," William remarked.
Of course, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any troops stationed outside Warrant. Rather, they were frantically roaming around the demon territory, subjugating demons to thin the hordes before they reached Warrant. Those they couldn’t defeat, they lured toward Warrant instead.
"Mac! Lancelot! What’s the condition of your bodies?" Bloody asked.
Mac fired hundreds of arrows per minute as he shouted excitedly, "I’m fine! I’d even say I’m in top shape!”
Lancelot also replied as he kept supplying Mac with arrows, "I'm fine, too!"
When the two answered him, Bloody grinned and pulled out a sword. Then he stood at the edge of the city wall and shouted, "Those of the Black Water Buffalo Knights who are confident in surviving in that horde, follow me! You two are coming with me!"
When Bloody jumped down from the wall, Lancelot and Mac stopped what they were doing and followed him..
Upon seeing the sight, William muttered, "This is why Crows are no good," shaking his head.Previous Chapter Next Chapter