Broken chariots and military equipment covered in dust or canvas littered the fields. These were debris left behind by previous incursions into the Demon Realm. The seaside was known to be safer when compared to the crimson desert, but that didn’t remove its inherent dangers.
There were monsters with bodies of half-man and half-fish along these shores of the Demon Realm that were lying in ambush by the command of the devils. They were the Merfolk with the body of fish and the limbs of man. Whenever they prepared to spring their ambush, the shores would be covered in a sickening stench.
Just like now.
The awful smell came from all sides. Aaron felt the ambush was imminent and ordered the forces to take defensive positions. Sungchul and the veterans stood at the center of the formation as they watched the shores. Between the black waves, the ominous sight of writhing scales was visible. The Merfolk must be looking for an opportunity to strike as they prepared their battle formations.
As this uneventful confrontation was unfolding itself, Arkaard held a picture before Sungchul. It was the illustration of a female dwarf that resembled him.
“How is she?”
Arkaard asked all of a sudden.
“It’s my little girl. Isn’t she beautiful?”
The aesthetic sense of dwarves differed greatly from the other races.
Sungchul didn’t say anything. Arkaard simply muttered to himself as though he had never expected a reply to begin with and gazed sentimentally over to the endlessly stretching red desert.
“I suppose this’ll be the last time I get to see this blasted desert.”
“The way I see it. You’re a good man, Number 34.”
Arkaard had suddenly begun to act like someone staring death in the face. Even Bertelgia, who had been listening to the conversation from her pocket, began to shake lightly and whispered to Sungchul.
“That Dwarf. Why’s he acting like that? He’s raising a death flag all by himself.”
“…. leave him.”
Sungchul decided to let things be.
It finally happened. Piercing shouts rang out from all directions.
“Merfolk! The Merfolk are here!”
Large fish heads began to fill the shore. The Merfolk trod onto the sandy beach on flimsy human legs each wielding primitive weapons such as metal hooks, clubs, or rusted spears. Their individual combat strength wasn’t anything impressive, but their sheer number made up for that. The shoreline was soon filled with thousands of Merfolks.
“There is nothing to fear.”
Aaron stood at the front as always. He held his hand over his scabbard waiting for the Merfolks to attack. It was to take advantage of the fact that the further they left the water the weaker they became.
On the other side, the Crusaders of Salvation were positioned in the rear of the Suicide Unit. Elijah had expressed his wish to join the fray, but Aaron reassured him that the Suicide Unit would be enough for such pathetic enemies and positioned him in the rear.
“Will it be ok? To leave them to that person?”
Sophia who stood protectively at Elijah’s side quietly questioned the decision.
“Aaron might be a corrupt commander, but he has the skills to back it up. If only he had been more reasonable with accepting bribes, he might have been able to hold a powerful position during his time in the Ancient Kingdom. But…”
A thread of suspicion lingered in Elijah’s eyes.
‘The one to nominate that Aaron Genghis as the escort was my father, Martin Breggas. I don’t know what kind of under-the-table dealings went on, but I will not lower my guard until the very end.’
Elijah relegated himself to the safety of the rear, but he still commanded his unit to be prepared to enter combat at any moment.
Even during this brief moment, the Merfolks were continuously being reinforced. The scouts that had been counting the number of Merfolks gave up and announced a rough estimate in a booming voice.
“Merfolks have exceeded 5000! I repeat, over 5000!”
The rookies of the Suicide Unit that heard the figures began to tremble. They were more than a bit outnumbered. The estimated number of the Merfolk kept climbing, nearing the 8000s.
The wide open shore became filled with Merfolk and the atrocious stench that followed them. Arkaard who hated eating fish began to dry-heave.
“Shit! Those fish heads! They gotta learn to wash themselves!”
The number of Merfolk eventually stopped at 8000. The new recruits trembled at the mere number, but Aaron began to laugh in a loud voice.
“Just enough to get warmed up!”
He positioned his unit behind the dunes protruding from the sand and protected them by building a barricade from the flotsam scattered on the shore. The unit formed a rectangular formation with the most veteran soldiers and him in the front where the attack was expected to be most concentrated, while the remaining three sides would be defended by the rookies. It was a decent strategy, or so Sungchul believed.
The Merfolk soon began their attack with a strange battlecry. Thousands of Merfolks crawled along the hot sand. The recruits were filled with terror, but the veterans like Aaron looked unfazed. It was because the Merfolk were not only weak and wielded primitive weapons, but they were also quite dumb.
They only had a single strategy in their arsenal. Continuously pummel the enemy with sheer numbers. The Merfolks were making their monstrous cries as they assaulted every side, but they didn’t even manage to make the slightest dent in the defensive formation as they fell before the shield wall.
The shield wall took the initial charge of the Merfolk after which the axes and spears tore through their flesh. The Merfolks fell down the dunes in a bloody mess, hitting their comrades in the process.
“All those who can use magic! The time is now! Hit them with all you’ve got!”
Aaron saw a crack in the enemy’s battle formation and ordered all of his forces to concentrate their attack. They bombarded the merfolk with fireballs causing them to fly off with force. The faltering assault of the Merfolk was obliterated in a single magical barrage. Everything was exemplary… up to this point. But soon problems began to arise.
“Good! Very good! Let’s make use of this momentum and drive these bastards back to the sea!”
Aaron pulled out his sword without hesitation and shouted a foolhardy command.
“All forces! Follow me! Charge!”
He unraveled his own impregnable defense and ordered all of his soldiers to take on the entire might of the Merfolk army head first of his own volition.
Aaron’s sword, steeped in Sword Aura, mowed down dozens of Merfolk with a single swing. The Merfolk were not an enemy to a powerful Sword Master like Aaron. There were fountains of blood everywhere he went as corpses of Merfolk began to pile.
“Go! Let’s sweep them up in a single blow! I’ll immediately graduate anyone from the Suicide Unit that is able stand out!”
The recruits grew excited after hearing those words and broke the defensive formation to follow behind him toward the center of the Merfolk army. The Suicide Unit with Aaron at the helm split the Merfolk army down the middle. It was a heroic charge in every sense of the word, but it was also extremely premature. The Merfolk army still had thousands strong, and they had only lost their vanguard forces.
“Why’s he acting like this again?”
Only the veterans were left guarding the dune. They felt the ominous feeling that came chronically with being under Aaron Genghis’ command.
Sungchul looked objectively at the situation, and it cemented his previous suspicions.
‘Is he doing this purposely?’
Because Aaron had always stood at the vanguard fighting bravely it wasn’t evident before, but this time Sungchul clearly saw it; the insidious malintent hidden behind his courage and valor. Sungchul wasn’t sure what his motives were, but he was sure that Aaron was leading his own troops to their demise. He had done so before, and he was doing it again.
The Merfolks that had been split in half regained their composure and surrounded the Suicide Unit that had charged deep into their forces. Aaron who had been boldly fighting like a lion became shriveled as though his previous self was but an illusion.
“Everyone organize! Organize! Maintain the ring formation and face the enemy!”
The Aaron in Sungchul’s eyes had more than enough strength to meet the enemy. If he desired, he could force his way through the enemy forces to save his own troops and break open a path. But this did not come to pass.
One by one, the members of the Suicide Unit succumbed to the unending tide of the Merfolk army. Even the veterans that had not followed the charge were met by the resumed assault of the Merfolk.
“That damned rockhead bastard!”
Arkaard swung his axe mightily lopping off three Merfolk heads as he spat out curses. Another Merfolk leapt at him in this brief interim. Arkaard instantly lost all of his strength as his eyes flew wide open. Right at the moment he was about to die, an arrow flew like lightning and struck the Merfolk in the skull. He turned toward the direction from which the arrow came. A woman wearing a white coat with an elegant motif over her breastplate was nocking another arrow. It was Sophia Breggas; the sister of the leader of the Crusaders of Salvation.
“Keep fighting, Dwarf.”
The Crusaders of Salvation that had been observing from the rear had decided to join the battle. They might be younger than the average soldier, but each one of them was a fighter trained from their childhood as they were all from respectable families. Once they joined the battle, the tide of battle shifted once again even if the battle did not immediately end.
When the Merfolks finally retreated back to the sea, leaving behind countless piles of corpses on the sandy beach, the 300 members of the Suicide Units were reduced down to less than half their original numbers. Aaron returned once again without a single injury on him. He approached Elijah with a defeated expression on his face after a brief mourning of his troops that were sent tragically to their graves early.
“I have no excuses.”
At this point, Elijah made a cold decision.
“I don’t need your help anymore. We will go our own way from this point on, so I would appreciate it if you could disappear from my sight immediately.”
Aaron had already lost more than half of his forces, and his incompetence was openly revealed. There was not a single reason for the two units to remain together. Aaron retreated without raising his head. His cheeks were burning at this public humiliation, but he didn’t immediately order his men back to base. The sun was setting, and they had to break camp for the night.
He set up camp apart from the Crusaders of Salvation, and when darkness fell, Aaron gathered his troops. It was a pitiful number that barely broke 130, so it didn’t take very long. When all of the men were gathered, Aaron finally revealed his face. It was a face filled with confidence which was in contrast to his expression during his humiliation.
Several soldiers mocked him under their breath, but Aaron didn’t mind it at all. Instead, he smirked. He smirked widely enough to show his pearly white teeth. It was then a different question arose in the soldiers’ minds.
‘Did he finally snap?’
On the contrary to the popular opinion, Aaron did not go crazy.
“You all have survived the last battle and thusly have proven yourselves as worthy warriors.”
It was an unexpected sermon. Aaron noticed several soldiers looking at him quizzically, and so he continued his speech.
“Today, I sifted out the main forces. As a result, the incompetent and stupid were filtered out. Thankfully, our shares of the rewards have also increased.”
The soldiers couldn’t grasp at what Aaron was alluding to, but as they kept listening, Aaron’s announcement made their blood freeze.
“Tonight. We shall strike the Crusaders of Salvation.”
Everyone’s mouth became shut as they stared blankly at Aaron’s face, but Aaron remained indifferent. One of the men raised a hand. It was the stocky Dwarf, Aakard.
“You’re going to strike at the son of Martin Breggas? Are you preparing to turn us all into traitors?”
All anyone could think was that Aaron was trying to exact revenge for the humiliation he endured, but the truth was far from their expectation. Aaron pulled out a single document from his possession.
“The one that made this order was Martin Breggas. The Lord Marquis himself.”
Aaron left it at that and opened the document for his subordinates to see.
[I command Aaron Genghis thusly.]
[Kill all of the Crusaders of Salvation. Leave none alive.]
[Especially, Elijah Breggas, the Follower of Calamity, must die.]
[Lord Marquis of Trowyn, Martin Breggas]
It was a formal document adorned magnificently with specks of gold that was not something that could be forged overnight on a whim. Sungchul could also see with his Eye of Truth that the magical signature on the document was authentic.
“The purpose of sacrificing half of the unit was as I stated before. It was to cull the weak and make the enemy lower their guard.”
Aaron’s tone drastically changed. In stark contrast to his nickname, he smoothly continued on like a cunning snake
“Tonight, those brats in the Crusaders of Salvation shall meet us completely unprepared.”
Aaron looked toward the camp of the Crusaders situated not so far away. There were delicious aromas and sensuous music flowing from that direction. There were a few sentries standing guard, but overall, their vigilance was more than lacking.
Aaron glared toward the camp of the Crusaders as he continued speaking.
“Kill those brats in their beds. Rape the girls if you want. All the valuables on their persons will be up for grabs. Finally, every one of you will be granted freedom upon success of this mission. By the name of the Lord Marquis.”
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