Even after Alissanda and the rest of the ministers made up their mind on resisting the Tide of Death till they met their ends, the undead didn't stop to rest for a single moment. Hocke was slowly being beaten back and cries of casualties rang out across the battlefield daily. Countless drops of blood were shed and lives were lost in the silent battles. All of them, fathers past fifty trying to defend their families, hot-blooded youths who wanted to fight for their nation, and even the lowest of thugs in the lower throngs of society, faced the same end and died a heroic death resisting the undead.
The countless death notices fell like snow further north. The imperial citizens shed tears at the loss of their relatives. Some of them criticized the empire for not fighting hard enough and cursed the warriors for hiding fearfully. But even more of them were motivated by the sacrifice of their loved ones to give their own lives for the cause. They didn't even collect the death pensions the empire paid out, knowing that they had already done their best.
In a letter a warrior wrote for his family, he brought up how the field marshal, Alissanda, had not slept a wink in a week to stop the encroaching tide. He even led many of the charges himself at the frontlines. Some soldiers personally witnessed him save smaller squads of ten that were surrounded by the corpses and slaughtered a path for them to leave with his Host of Radiance.
'His Highness Alissanda only managed to bring me, Kerr and Duran out of there. For the three of us lowlives, His Highness suffered more than 20 cuts. Praise the Sacred Light… If His Highness didn't have the blessing he got from Host of Radiance, he would've been swallowed up by the corpses. We were shocked by the time we made it back to camp. Kerr was the one who snapped out of it half an hour later. He wanted to get us to thank His Highness personally, but after we left the infirmary, we heard that His Highness had gone back into the fray without taking any breather.
'Nobody knows how His Highness manages to hold on.
'Father, Mother, His Highness is the best general I've met. I am willing to give my life for him. If I ever die one day from resisting the Tide of Death, please don't accept the pension from the empire or blame them. Never curse His Highness for this. All you have to do is tell the others how great a man His Highness is and how proud you are of your son!
'Back then, I was far too unruly. When I was chased out of the house to join the army, I even cursed you. But now, I thank you for giving me a chance. I never thought I would be someone the empire could rely on. The 24 years I spent in the army are the proudest thing I've ever done!
'For the empire and our home!'
Signed, the unfilial son Kris Sadey.
This was a letter written by a normal imperial soldier to his family. There was a blackened bloodstain in the corner of the letter. After the soldier's parents read the letter, their tears once more stained it. The letter came with a notice of their son's death.
The one who sent the letter was a huge man a few years their son's senior, Kerr.
"This is the pension from the empire, a hundred gold coins in full. Please accept it." Kerr offered a sack of money with his head lowered, as if he couldn't bear to face the parents of his fallen comrade.
However, the two didn't move an inch. Kris's father, the mayor of a small town, rubbed his tears off and sighed. "My son said that he doesn't want us to accept the pension. It's his will. Please keep it. You've been fighting hard these years, so consider it your payment."
"I can never accept this money!" Kerr said, looking up as if he had been insulted. But when he saw the gaze in the mayor's eyes, he shirked back.
"Relax, young man. I'm not trying to insult you. If you don't want it, hand it back to the empire. They need the money more than we do." He patted the man on the shoulder. Being in the force for so many years, Kerr was always covered in a stench of blood that can't be washed off. However, the old mayor didn't seem to care for that. "My son… Did he fight bravely?"
"Yes, he did! He was really brave! If not for him… I… I would've…" He seemed to be in a hurry to prove something, but he began to bawl. "I would've died… He… died from protecting me…"
"After so many years of beating and scolding him, I didn't think he'd change how I saw him at the very end." The mayor smiled proudly and took a deep breath. "Alright. You have a lot of other things to do, don't you? Don't waste your time with two old folks like us. Go on!"
Kerr hummed a response, but he didn't move.
The mayor looked at him oddly. "What is it?"
"S-sir…" He seemed to have something to say, but he looked really regretful.
"Please tell us anything else you have to say."
"I… I have something else… to say… I… I have come to… draft soldiers… from your town… I need your permission…"
"What?!" The mayor was shocked.
Kerr prostrated himself to the two. His hands that had taken countless lives and cut through many humans like they were no different from vegetables on the chopping board. Yet, he was sobbing through it as he said, "Yes, it's a draft! 1st Hockian Legion 4th Division 2nd Regiment 2nd Company 1st Squad's leader, 10th-stratum warrior, Tyon, vice leader 9th-stratum ranger, Eyke, intermediate-ranked medic, Eilina, 7th-stratum warrior, Din, 6th-stratum warrior, Kris…"
He went on announcing the names without pausing. He remembered the names, jobs and levels of everyone as if they had been engraved on his very heart. He knew that his memories of them could quite possibly be the proof they had ever existed.
He took a deep breath and continued. "All of them… died honorably in battle! I'm the only one alive from 1st Squad! I have come on the orders of the 4th Division's commander to draft soldiers. We hope that the men of our hometown can take up arms to defend our homes! The brothers on the frontlines… They can't hold on any longer!"
"Bastard!" The mayor gave Kerr a kick and rebuked, "How could a soldier like you sob like that?! Mind your station!"
"Sir… They're all dead! All dead! Kris was fighting beside me moments before… and became a moving corpse right after! I only survived because I ran! I'm a coward!"
"Then go out there to reclaim the dignity and glory you lost." He pulled Kerr up by the collar. "Your comrades died bravely, but they didn't do it so you can show your pathetic side like this! Tell me! Are you a warrior?"
"Yes! I am a warrior of the empire! I fight for our nation and home!"
"Good! Now wipe your tears and come with me! Our town still has many men and they are no wusses!" The mayor pushed Kerr away.
"Dear…" Kris's mother finally spoke.
"If my son lost his life protecting his home, how could I remain here as his father? I fought in the founding war with the first emperor. Twenty years later, I can also protect the empire with His Highness Alissanda. Let me go take back the remains of our son!" The mayor didn't turn back. He spoke with full determination.
"I know. I only wanted to ask you to be careful on the battlefield," she said as she wiped her tears.
"Don't worry. I'll bring our Kris back." He left without turning back, not wanting to let her see him tearing up.
She watched him leave with a surprising epiphany. Twenty years ago, he had left her so resolutely and joined the army. Now, he left her just as resolutely, and she was confident he would return safely like he promised, just like before. He hadn't changed in the slightest from back then. He was a man who would protect his home and town from whatever dangers.Previous Chapter Next Chapter