“Excellent. Now that the group has been generally outlined, we’ll go over the plan one last time.”
As Naga declared, the witches returned back to their seats. Some of them were cheerful, others, reluctant, and yet another, dropped their shoulders, clearly disappointed.
“We’ll follow Raibach’s advice and set off to the port city of Lancel at once. After we finish dressing up there as a group of itinerant entertainers, our next destination will be the Kasandora Kingdom. The reason for us passing through Lancel will be due to the city acting as a transit point for traders and itinerant entertainers who arrive from far away. That being said, even a foreigner like me won’t stand out, as it should make sense to tell them we come from far east.”
Naga cut his words at that point and faced Raibach.
“This should do, right?”
“Yes, it should be fine.”
“Thinking of our origin and route, I’ll leave that job to Lela. Are you okay with that, Lela?”
Lela replied by lightly raising up her right hand.
“They might think we’re suspicious going through the trouble of coming to the Kasandora Kingdom, despite them being in conflict with the witches right now, but, we’ll carry through by saying we come from far away and that we’re unaware of their current situation. And then,”
Naga pointed to a certain location on the map.
“We’ll return to the Schweiz River from Lancel and go north along the river toward Kasandora Kingdom’s territory. Should we also tell them we tried to do a performance at Fort Ein, but were eventually driven away by the witches?
If Kasandora’s soldiers learn of such information, we might be questioned about the situation at the fort. Reversely, we’ll be able to ask for more details on their current state of affairs. In case we are asked, I’ll be the one to answer their questions, but, I’d like to have everyone here bear in your mind our origin and route, which Lela’s going to devise. Got it?”
“Yees, we’ll do our besttt.”
Each of the witches put up their hands and nodded energetically.
“The next thing would be to re-confirm our program and the list of participants. So, those in charge of dancing and playing are Vita, Ais, Kay, Lela, Cu, Harlequin, Nonoel, Lily, and Dora. Ixine, who isn’t present here with us right now, will join as well. Linne and Linna will be gathering information as a separate group, whereas, I will be the leader of this troupe, and Raibach, our guard who will be also in charge of odd jobs. Basically, the program will be about you, girls, dancing, but, decide between each other who’s going to perform during what song.”
“Well, in the end, the program is just a formality. You should be able to attract and satisfy viewers even with your exposed limbs and your prideful, risqué garments.”
As Naga said so, Ais objected with a seemingly vexed expression.
“Umm, Naga-san, we aren’t particularly proud of our risqué clothes, you know? It’s fine to say we’re wearing those ultrathin clothes, simply because they’re convenient when using our magic. It’s not like we’re showing off to you, or want you watching us at all, you see?”
As soon as Ais cracked a smile, Naga hurriedly waved his hands in from of himself vehemently.
“Ah, I got it. Of course, I got it.”
“I really wonder about that.”
Kay looked at Naga with doubting eyes.
“Let’s put that matter aside. Still, there’s no doubt that any human male will be pleased from watching your appearances, so spectators are bound to gather. Once they gather, we’ll most likely be able to overhear various rumors. First, let’s do some rehearsal when we arrive at Lancel. If possible, I’d like to practice a method that will allow us to pick up on only valuable information. Linne, Linna, I’ll leave that in your care.”
‘We’ll do our best’ – both sisters put up their hands and replied with approbative voices.
Both Linne and Linna were most suitable for the job, since they could catch any whisper within nearly 300 meters, thanks to their magic enhancing their hearing ability.
“We also need to sell and convert jewelry and used goods into money upon entering Lancel, but, I’ll entrust Raibach with that task. That’s because there’s no one besides him who can do the negotiations.”
“Understood. I’ll negotiate the price of items and sell them as profitably as possible.”
“Still, we can’t tell for sure if the items in the warehouse can be sold for much.”
Harrigan said so while shrugging her shoulders.
“In the worst case, we’ll be only able to prepare ourselves with how much we gain from the sales.”
Replying so, Naga looked around at the witches once more.
“Up to this point, does anyone still have any questions?”
However, there was nobody throwing out a question in particular.
“Ah, I would’ve forgotten, but, during our trip to Lancel, you’ll be all wearing different clothes from your usual ones. Otherwise, it won’t do, you see.”
“Human clothes are heavy, thick, and hot inside, so, seriously, I don’t like them much.”
Harlequin twitched her hair, which looked like an animal’s ears, and complained.
“It can’t be helped. Since there’s a risk you’d be suspected as witches from the beginning, I can only have you all, girls, bear with that. Don’t you think so, Raibach?”
Looking at the witches with a sidelong glance, Raibach slightly nodded.
“Yes. What’s more, there are no girls who would usually dress like that.”
“You don’t have to wear restrictive, extra clothes, as long you cover your top. Even something similar to Elysione’s mantle will suffice. After that, perhaps I should have us dye our hair, or cover our face with pigments, so as to get mixed in among the other people.”
“Isn’t it bothersome as well?”
“More importantly, Harlequin, will you be okay with those eyes of yours? It looks like each of them is a different color, still…”
“Ah~, the colors will fade if I cancel my magic, so I should be able to manage them somehow.”
Despite being told so, Naga was still hesitating. As he bent his head, Harrigan threw him a lifeboat.
“Harlequin’s magic is peculiar, you see. She will use her magic most of the time, so as to communicate with animals. Just like me, she doesn’t need to recite any incantation. As long as we have her understand when to use her magic under normal circumstances, it should probably be easy. By the way, whenever she activates her magic, her left and right eye will become different from each other.”
“I see. Then, does it mean she can’t communicate with animals when her magic is off?”
“That’s what I mean.”
Naga pondered for a while, however, he immediately lifted his face.
“…..You won’t be able to talk with animals when dancing in front of people, so are you fine with that?”
“It will be alright, I guess.”
“Aren’t you being quite light-hearted there?”
Naga gazed at the buoyantly-looking Harlequin, but then, he quickly softened his gaze and directed his sight toward Harrigan and Vita.
“Isn’t this the type of season where the rain usually continues for many days?”
“If it’s this season, I think there’s no need to worry about rain that much, but…”
Once Harrigan replied that way, Vita, who bent her small head, threw out a question in doubt.
“Does it have something to do with our trip?”
“It does. If the path becomes slushy, our carts will be held up, making our goal far from being reached. Besides, if the rain continues to fall even after we enter the city, it will affect your performance.”
“Is that so? Then, it’s just like Harrigan says, I don’t think there will be any rainy days this season. Even if there are, it will be a drizzle at most. In addition to that, if there’s no strong wind, we should be at least able to dance. Rather, wouldn’t viewers be even happier to see our clothes become transparent from getting soaked?”
“Ohhh, for real? I see. Indeed, it may be something to look forward to!”
As soon as Naga clapped his hands together without realizing, Vita suddenly retorted at him.
“Don’t be happy!”
Shortly after, the other witches:
“””Don’t be happy!”””
“N, Not like I’m happy or anything.”
Naga made such an excuse. Staring at Naga with a dumbfounded face again, Raibach once more felt admiration toward him.
(Taking on these frightening witches as his opponents and still being able to act that naturally, that’s truly amazing. As one would expect, is it because of Naga-sama being a foreigner? Or perhaps, is it because of him being the real messenger of the Dragon King? What’s more, he’s able to consider lots of situations when devising a counterplan in advance. Should one say he’s shrewd, or maybe vigilant? Whichever it is, he isn’t any ordinary person.)
Raibach contemplated again, so as to make sure he hadn’t made a mistake when he chose to serve Naga.
“Well then, let’s quickly move forward with the preparations starting from this night. Our time of departure will also depend on how the Kasandora Kingdom will act, but, should we set off after 3 days if nothing changes?”
Following Naga’s words, their early arrangements commenced.
Since then, 2 days have passed and the witches continued to prepare in a hurry for the departure while being completely devoted to their dance practice.
Later, according to Yuuki, no signs of Kasandora troops, attempting to capture Fort Ein again, were found. There were several dozen soldiers walking nearby the fort, but, because they wouldn’t approach any closer than a fixed distance, they were simply thought to be reconnaissance groups.
Deeming there was no need to worry about their enemy striking back for now, Naga decided to form and dress up his troupe, after which, they would commence their plan of sneaking into the Kingdom of Kasandora.
First, they had to set off to Lancel, dress up there as itinerant entertainers, and do a rehearsal in front of the local people there. Afterwards, they would return to the Schweiz River and go north along it towards Kasandora Kingdom’s territory.
In order not to stand out, Naga and his party slipped out from Fort Ein, broke through the mountain, and departed toward the left bank of the Schweiz River. From there, they followed the river and headed toward Lancel.
Meanwhile, in the fortified city of Granvista.
In a certain room located inside a cathedral, Cardinal Aiba was receiving a report from one of the Old Church’s subordinates that worked as their intelligence operative.
Those who engaged themselves in intelligence activity for the Old Church were known as s ‘people overhearing the mass’s voices’ and mostly referred to as POMVs.
Aiba, who was hearing out one of those POMVs, frowned his eyebrows with a seemingly discontent expression.
“Kasandora Kingdom has suffered another defeat?”
“Yes. Their troops, which had been dispatched to retrieve Fort Ein, were splendidly repelled by the witches back to Kasandora’s royal capital.”
Aiba responded as if wanting to spit out.
“Good grief, they are all bark and no bite. To think they would lose one battle after another to a mere 30 to 40 witches.”
(As one would expect, I made a grave mistake by placing my trust in that country. I was totally right to summon the Brigade of 88 and request troops from neighboring countries.)
Aiba, who was both an archbishop and cardinal of the Old Church, was extremely keen on exterminating the witches.
One could understand well how vehement Aiba was about that, as he himself aspired to be appointed in this place. For him, the witches who nested inside the Black Forest were beings that should be driven away as fast as possible.
The witches are the enemies of humankind, the children of God. Therefore, no presence of the witches could be acknowledged in this area. No, generally, their very existence denied them any place in this world. Such was Aiba’s belief. Because of that, it was rational for him to think that those who had lost to the witches should not be in the position of receiving God’s grace.
(I can no longer expect anything from that country, however, they should make up for their losses by decreasing the strength of the witches, even if it’s just a bit. Otherwise….)
“Is there anything else you wish to know, Sir?”
The man who was reporting kneeled down with his head lowered. Aiba casted his eyes at the top of the man’s head and asked.
“What happened, to Kasandora’s troops? Could it be they were destroyed during their battle against the witches?”
“No, it appears that their troops sustained no major losses.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll have them form new troops, and, join me, once more, in a sortie against the witches.”
“Hm? Did something happen?”
“From what we could see, it looked like Kasandora Kingdom’s army, was making preparations for holing up their capital.”
A sign of doubt surfaced on Aiba’s face.
“Holing up their capital? Could it be that the witches are making an onslaught on them?”
“No, the witches won’t leave Fort Ein.”
“And despite that, they’re are trying to lock themselves in?”
“This is how things looked to us.”
(What’s the meaning of this, you bunch from Kasandora Kingdom?)
Suppressing his urge to smacking his lips, Aiba bombarded the POMV with questions.
“Are they preparing their capital against the witches? Even though they sustained no casualties? Have they become that weak?”
“Certainly, the army of Kasandora has diminished in strength, but, their attitude this time appears to be a bit different from what we can see as holing up against the witches. Also, the southern part of the capital doesn’t seem to be that reinforced.”
(……What’s the meaning of this.)
Aiba, whose face wanted to express doubt, pondered the meaning behind the subordinate’s report for a while.
(Then, against whom are they holing up against? If their enemy isn’t the witches…….Could it be?!)
Aiba was struck dumb upon realizing a certain possibility.
“Could it be, they’re holing up against the Witch Extermination Army?”
The POMV would neither deny or confirm Aiba’s words, which could be perceived as either a monologue or a question directed towards the man.
Asking beyond the man’s capability would be the same as piling up one guess after another.
“I can’t say for sure, but, it’s almost certain that Kasandora Kingdom is preparing to hold the city. We can’t tell who their perceived enemy is, however, just as we stated before, there are missing points in assuming that the witches could be their enemy.”
Stopping at where he stated the fact, the man left speculating and drawing conclusions to Aiba.
Aiba’s face changed from that of a gentle and benevolent God’s face into a fuming one expressed by warriors of God who seek the annihilation of their enemies. Judging from the POMV’s report, Aiba could think of nothing but the fact that Kasandora is attempting to hole up.
“If their enemy isn’t the witches, then, I can only imagine it’s the extermination army. Just what on earth is that king thinking about…. no.”
(That’s right. There’s been a report about Kasandora Kingdom’s king falling ill and his nephew, Guiscard, being transferred his authority. In other words, is he the one responsible for this? Still, be it the king or Guiscard, their actions are still nonsensical. Why are they holding the city, instead of fighting the witches?)
General Guiscard, who was the lawful owner of the king’s rights, has been aspiring to be installed as king. For him, the kingdom was of utmost— sometimes, even stronger than God’s will—-importance. However, for Aiba, who was an ardent believer of God, Guiscard’s practical thoughts and sense of values were outside his scope of reasoning.
Aiba regained his calm expression and called out to the POMV with a calm voice.
“Please continue your observation on Kasandora’s movements. For the sake of our Lord’s will.”
“For the sake of our Lord’s will.”
Bowing down deeply, the man stood up slowly and calmly only to bow down again, after which he would retreat.
Aiba saw off the POMV till he disappeared from the room’s entrance. Shortly after, he called out to a priest, who had been on a standby in the next room.
“What do you seek from me, Aiba-sama?”
“I’ve figured out what I want to discuss urgently. Please bring Jeweljude-dono, the leader of the Brigade of 88, to me immediately.”
Once the young priest paid his respects to Aiba, he quickly withdrew from the room.
“Was it you who called me, Aiba-dono?
The giant, who behaved as if looking up to Aiba, entered his office in a clumsy manner.
Jeweljude wasn’t wearing his helmet, but, his metal armor, gauntlets, and tough leather boots, which strengthened his body, gave him a posture to be ready for a fight at any time.
“Thank you for coming. How have the preparations for the sortie been progressing?”
The first thing Aiba did, after Jeweljude entered, was asking him such a question with a harmless and inoffensive attitude.
“I guess, not quite.”
At his response, Aiba made a grimace.
“No matter what we do, it takes time to prepare, since we are putting together troops from each country. And when it comes to applying a shared strategy, every troop is bound to undergo an appropriate amount of training. Not to mention, we still need to decide on how to dispatch messengers, how to signal our movements, and what formation we should take. We also need to learn more about the witches’ method of attack. At least, if we don’t possess a common knowledge of these, our troops will fall into disorder sooner or later during the battle.”
Cutting his words, it was rare for Jeweljude to breathe a sigh.
“Truly, this is a bothersome matter. It could’ve been many times faster and convenient to mobilize just us, the Brigade of 88, but well…”
Aiba nodded down with a composed, or rather, cool-headed expression.
“I understand. However, this will become a lesson for us for the next time. The witches are beings that oppose the will of God, and hence, they have to be eradicated without exception. We need to show that, the truth about the witches, and also how they’re being completely annihilated to society, and the world. For that, we need other neighboring countries to join us.”
“Well, I do understand your point, but, whatever. Then, the only reason you called me was to check on the preparations?”
“No, I receive a report on that each day, so I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of calling you here because of that.”
(If that’s the case, why did you call me during this goddamn busy time?)
Is what Jeweljude thought. However, he knew Aiba wouldn’t call him for no reason.
Being worked to death by the preparations, there had to be an important reason behind Jeweljude being summoned. Thinking back upon it, he awaited Aiba’s next words.
“Kasandora Kingdom has been showing a bit of a strange attitude, you see.”
“A strange attitude?”
The cardinal briefly and quickly explained the situation to Jeweljude, who twisted his neck in confusion at Aiba’s words.
Jeweljude, who had finished listening, twisted his neck again.
“So Kasandora Kingdom is holing up itself? Not to mention, it’s not against the witches? I can’t grasp their reasoning.”
“I too am unable to understand their motive.”
Replying that way, Aiba lightly shrugged his shoulders.
The cardinal directed his sight towards a map unfolded on top of his office desk and reached out his hand.
“Right now, there are only two military forces present in the area of the Kasandora Kingdom. One of them is the witches, which goes without saying, but,”
Aiba tapped the vicinity near Fort Ein with the tip of his index finger over and over again.
“Could it be?!”
Jeweljude open widely his eyes, after which he looked at Aiba’s expression.
“Yes, that’s right. The only other force besides the witches here is the extermination army.”
“I see. No…. P, Please wait a moment.”
Using his rough and thick right hand’s finger, Jeweljude rubbed his forehead.
“Do you mean to say that Kasandora Kingdom’s army is holing up against us? Why would they have to do that?”
Aiba deliberately shook his head from side to side.
“I’ve no idea. Not the slightest idea as to why they would do so.”
“…..Is there any argument supporting your guess that they aren’t guarding themselves against the witches?”
“The southern part of the kingdom, in other words, the direction from which Fort Ein is located, seems to be much less fortified than its northern part.”
“Which is directed toward north….. That report, how credible is it?”
“We used the service of a POMV that belongs to the Old Church, you see.”
(A POMV from the Old Church, is it? In that case, there’s no place for any mistake or nonsense.)
Jeweljude, who was the leader of a combat group, called a ‘brigade’, had too often resorted to the use of POMVs. He knew very well he could rely on their information.
(Does it really mean, those guys from Kasandora Kingdom are planning to defend against us? Why are they doing this?)
Guiscard’s system of values and pragmatic reasoning, which were the motives behind his actions, were things mostly prioritized in this age. However, for Jeweljude, just like for Aiba, that modus operandi lay outside their scope of thinking.
Jeweljude said as if groaning lightly.
“Whatever the reason is, if it’s true they’re guarding against us…. their actions might hinder our attempt of destroying the witches. There’s a chance that the troops sent by our allies will feel uneasy due to them being possibly backstabbed by Kasandora from behind. What’s more, there’s also the problem of army provisions. If Kasandora refuses to share their provisions with us, we’ll be forced to carry our own provisions from here. It would be a different story if it was just us, but, carrying food for an army of 3500 would require a mass of workforce. What should we do?”
Aiba looked at Jeweljude with sharp eyes.
“First, we’ll sent a messenger to Kasandora, so as to question their real motive. However….”
Jeweljude, whose eyes were filled with sarcasm, asked back.
“Will they provide us with a straight forward answer?”
(Rather, there’s no way for them to give us an honest answer.)
Jeweljude, the God’s warrior from the Old Church, had no need for things like diplomacy or bargaining, as authorities from this world had often abused their power to make use of him. Jeweljude would be deceived and manipulated by royalty and titled nobility numerous times, and even made to cover up for their own actions. Therefore, he learned through his experiences how insincere authorities were.
Nevertheless, it seemed like his sarcasm didn’t pass through Aiba. The cardinal made a difficult expression and replied in a heavy tone.
“We can’t be certain about anything, you see. Still, depending on what their answer is, we’ll probably have to use tough measures.”
Jeweljude again opened his eyes widely and shifted his sight towards the cardinal.
“Aiba-dono, you don’t mean to say?!”
“Those who express no willingness in attacking the witches, or far from that, attempt to hinder us, are also considered as allies of the witches. That’s to say, an enemy of God.”
Aiba whose eyes were filled with ominous light stared back at Jeweljude.
“Enemies of God can only be annihilated, regardless of whether they are the witches or humans. Don’t you think so, Jeweljude-dono?”
Despite Jeweljude making a vague nod, he couldn’t really hide his bewilderment.
Certainly, he has been fighting nothing but God’s enemies till now. Among his opponents there were witches as well, however, the majority of them were humans. That’s why, if Kasandora Kingdom chooses to go against the will of God, Jeweljude will not hesitate to remove them.
(Nonetheless, why now?)
This was something he couldn’t comprehend.
Kasandora Kingdom’s large-scale attack against the witches was repelled. Not to mention, they had one of their forts stolen away by the witches. And then, again they suffered another defeat when trying to retrieve said fort.
The witches were displaying an unexpected strength.
In addition to that, they also released many captives.
The witches were light hearted, tolerant, and generous in doing so, and they wouldn’t execute their prisoners as a form of warning.
The war against the witches was showing its new face and was different from what it had been till now.
Jeweljude, who could feel that change on his skin, became even more perplexed.
(So, does it mean that Kasandora Kingdom has started to hole themselves up against someone other than the witches? Why have they decided on such an insane move now, when me and the Brigade of 88 will arrive? Is this a mere coincidence? Or perhaps, it’s due to the intervention of someone transcending humankind?)
When talking about someone transcending humankind, one would think about that person as a being close to god; nevertheless, Jeweljude promptly denied such a possibility.
(It’s true that even the Lord himself will put us to the test at times, but, I don’t believe he would do things like this on a whim. If so, is this someone’s ill intention? Or perhaps, a manifestation of that person’s artifice? In that case, who’s that person? Could it be that someone provoked Kasandora and its general into doing this?)
However, Jeweljude himself denied even those doubtful feelings inside his heart.
(There isn’t supposed to be someone like that. If there was, Aiba would immediately notice. To think that even someone, like Aiba, could be bewildered by such turn of events. Even if we assume that the witches are the ones who incited Kasandora Kingdom, there should be no way for the latter to succumb. I also don’t get why the witches have become more assertive in their actions. Could it be that there’s some link between these 2 events?)
As Jeweljude was pondering, Aiba interrupted him with his words.
“Can I count on you, Jeweljude-dono?”
Jeweljude slowly lifted up his face and asked with a vigorous voice.
“Is it, okay for me to understand that…. as forcefully removing Kasandora Kingdom in case they try to hinder the advancement of our troops?”
“I do wish for you to understand my words that way. If they try to show any resistance, I won’t mind even if you take down their capital. Perhaps, those who joined us in destroying the witches would become more motivated upon hearing they would be handed out a part of Kasandora Kingdom’s territory.”
“That may be true… but,”
(As one would expect, Aiba is willing to go to such an extent?)
Such a misgiving welled up inside of Jeweljude. However, he quickly became serious by telling himself he had to hasten with the preparations.
“Whatever Kasandora Kingdom decides to do, I need to hurry up with the preparations for the sortie. Nevertheless, I would like to ask you for slightly more accurate information, not just regarding the Kingdom of Kasandora, but also regarding the witches’ attitude.
At Jeweljude’s request, Aiba nodded down gravely.
“I shall throw in all the members of intelligence whom I have at my disposal and have them investigate those things.”
“Provided that an attack on Kasandora Kingdom will be considered in our plan, we’ll need to prepare siege weapons in addition. Again, it’s going to take us more unnecessary time to—”
Jeweljude stated his opinion with a bitter face, but, Aiba didn’t seem to be that concerned.
“You don’t have to worry about time. That’s because there will be no reinforcement coming to either the witches or Kasandora Kingdom, even if some time passes, you see. The biggest problem would be to carry provisions and maintain the army, but, for the time being, I’ll have the provisions stored here in Granvista.”
(This guy is making the right decision. However, there’s a concern that some of the allies will decide to drop out from the extermination army.)
Jeweljude thought so, but nevertheless, even if he was to say it, Aiba would probably take no notice of his opinion.
(More importantly, why are the Kasandora Kingdom and the witches interfering now? Could this be the result of many coincidence? Or perhaps, inevitableness…..?)
A small doubt, which was seemingly something to be ignored, felt like an uneasiness at the same time. Despite it being just a small doubt, what annoyed Jeweljude was the excessive sense of discomfort resulting from it. The uneasiness he felt was as though someone invisible was trying to bring a new commotion. However, Jeweljude scattered that feeling against his own will.
(Even if I think about that, nothing will begin. The witches, an enemy of God, need to be exterminated. It is the duty of us, the warriors of God, to carry out this task. Be it an artifice or someone’s will, we shall only pulverize them!)
Jeweljude’s expression returned back to that of a warrior of God, and his raised rough voice could be felt reverberating inside one’s stomach.
“Well then, I shall hasten myself with the preparations.”
“Please continue your favor toward us.”
Jeweljude left Aiba’s office while making footsteps as though they were shaking the room.