Chapter 217 - All-out War (1)
While the expedition was stowing away at Piris, there was a banquet in the mansion of Duke Cornwall, who was the head of the nobles faction.
Anyone else would shake their heads at this.
This was a time when a battle over the throne of Soldun was going to break out, yet he was holding a banquet? No matter how superior his side was, victory and defeat couldn't be known until the end. Duke Cornwall was smart enough to know that much.
However, the biggest issue was that it was the guest who had wanted the banquet. The crusader who came from Lairon had said his name was 'Ruben.' Then this paladin had gone on to demand luxurious treatment without regards for virtue. He directly demanded young noble beauties and the best wine from the warehouses. People naturally scattered in every direction to avoid the paladin.
Regardless of whether Ruben knew it, his excesses didn't stop.
"All this abundance is due to Lairon's blessing, and this fact shouldn't be forgotten! Hahaha!"
Ruben had baron's daughters in both of his arms, and he crossed his legs casually with a smirk. Who would think that a paladin could be so rude?
If it wasn't for his shining sword and armor, he would've been a bandit in the mountains. The daughters, who had been brought to this spot without knowing anything, couldn't budge when he touched their bodies. Meanwhile, the paladin's loud and vulgar laughter echoed throughout Cornwall's banquet hall.
In the midst of this, there was one person who felt the most uncomfortable.
"I'm glad you are liking the banquet, Crusader Ruben."
It was the number two of the Soldun Kingdom. The ambitious Duke Cornwall was the one who wielded the most power after the king, and he coveted the throne. Yet such a person was being humiliated like this? Even the current king of Soldun, Elmore IV, couldn't disparage Cornwall's name in public. There were fewer than five people who dared to not bow stiffly to him. Regrettably, one of those people was the crusader in front of him.
"Oh, Duke! I didn't know you would show such great hospitality to this Ruben!"
"...Thank you for saying that." Duke Cornwall didn't know where to look as he gritted his teeth and gripped the sides of his seat.
He was the one who would lose if he chased Ruben away. The duke had to be patient, just a little more patient. He would act after obtaining the Soldun crown. In the meantime, he had to put up with it, at least until he took care of Prince Elsid.
Still, Duke Cornwall had some pride left, so he couldn't help muttering with some dissatisfaction, "I don't doubt Sir Ruben's dignity, but it is okay to be drinking? You need to use that blade to cut the neck of the Eastern person."
"Cough." Ruben dropped his cup onto the table like he felt upset and then turned to Duke Cornwall. "Do you think that I can be defeated by those who come from the land of barbarians?"
"That is impossible. Crusader Ruben, Lairon's sword, will surely win. I just want the process to be smooth."
"Hrmm... Then I will forgive you. Duke, you have no idea."
What didn't he know? Duke Cornwall felt uncomfortable and looked at Ruben. However, Ruben just picked up his alcohol glass and didn't explain any further. Alas, the atmosphere was colder than it had been before.
The nobles' daughters almost screamed as Ruben's hands squeezed, then the pressure of a master class pressed down on the minds and bodies of the people in the hall. Duke Cornwall's eyes widened as he felt his breathing clog up.
'This is crazy...?'
He had deluded himself with his authority. This pressure was ridiculous for Duke Cornwall, who had never learned magic or swordsmanship.
This year, the duke was 60 years old. Placing such pressure on an elderly body could be life-threatening. If it lasted for one minute-no, 30 seconds, he would be killed by a heart attack before he could even wear a crown. Duke Cornwall would've died if a third party hadn't intervened.
The momentum of two masters resonated temporarily, causing the pressure to disappear. Ruben's eyes narrowed when he saw the phenomenon. Crusaders were masters, so the only one who could offset his pressure was another master.
Everyone's gazes turned to one place. A knight in full plate mail was leaning against the wall of the banquet hall. The knight's face was covered with a thick cloth, and he hadn't said anything from start to finish. He had stopped Ruben's actions, but the knight had no intention of coming forward.
"... What is this, imperial dog?"
The unidentified knight replied to Ruben, "Better than being a dog of the church. Did you grow up like a horny bastard?"
"Ha, ha, ha."
The momentum of the crusader and sword master tangled together in the air, producing a gust of wind. Duke Cornwall couldn't even think of mediating between them, while the two beauties on both sides of Ruben turned pale.
If two masters collided in such a narrow place, there would naturally be casualties among them. Suddenly, the air of battle in Duke Cornwall's room stopped.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the two masters lowered their momentum at the same time. It would be different if they could overwhelm each other, but their skills were about even. They realized that if they sincerely fought, one of them would surely die.
"You are lucky, imperial dog."
Unlike the angry Ruben, the imperial knight was calm, and he turned away without answering. He completely ignored Ruben.
Duke Cornwall felt a strange pleasure at seeing Ruben being treated like this, but on the other hand, this situation was very unpleasant. It was the duke who had laid out this whole situation, yet he could control neither the crusader nor the swordsman.
'No, this humiliation won't last long.'
Elmore IV was lying in bed, and he would die soon. Duke Cornwall had the support of the Lairon Kingdom and the Andras Empire, so the prince who had accepted the Eastern family would just become a stepping stone.
His ancestors had kneeled down to the royal family, and now Duke Cornwall was one step away from his wish. He would restructure the royal family in the name of Cornwall.
"It is starting now."
Darkness filled Duke Cornwall's eyes.
"It won't be long until the crown enters my hands..." Duke Cornwall murmured in a quiet voice which no one else in the banquet hall could understand.
* * *
Exactly four days afterward...
Coincidentally, it was exactly three years after Elmore IV collapsed from a serious illness. So, this was truly perfect. It hadn't been because of a poison, nor had there been assassins involved. In addition, it hadn't been because of a magic spell.
Then Elmore IV died on the dawn of the third year. The crowd rushed over, and the doctor shook his head with a deep sigh. A black flag was flown from the top of the palace in honor of the king's death. Then everyone, from the nobles to the poor, began to panic.
The royal family and the noble faction... The small nobles who didn't belong to either faction noticed that a spark was being lit between them. Then the two forces moved at the same time.
"His Majesty has died! My contact in the royal palace has confirmed that he has died from his illness!"
"Earl Halsun and 12 other nobles have reportedly returned to their estates!"
"Duke Cornwall had left the castle!"
The dozens of spies in each estate and the cities took action.
Elmore IV had died.
So, the forces belonging to the nobles faction moved, while the prince's side joined Baek Jongmyung. Information shouldn't be exchanged, but it poured out like a flood. Toward which direction should they prepare and respond to?
In that part, the royal faction was one step ahead of the nobles. The royal faction, led by Marquis Piris, moved quickly according to the plan they'd devised at the strategy meeting a few days ago.
It was because Meltor's commanders had a lot of practical experience. Among them, one combat troop arrived at the border between the two forces at the fastest speed.
* * *
[Vince Haidel's unit, 332 troops. We have arrived at the border of Earl Halsun's estate.]
[Bors Carter's unit, 332 troops. We have arrived at the border of Viscount Kerun's estate.]
Orta, with 200 magic soldiers behind him, nodded at the reports of the two commanders which came in through the communication magic ball.
"Okay. Magic soldiers, charge your magic power," Orta said as he gazed at the horizon with cool eyes.
Earl Halsun was in the west.
Marquis Reista was in the middle.
Viscount Kerun was in the east.
Those areas were inevitably the fiercest battlegrounds where the royal and noble factions would face each other. Everyone would think so and tighten up their positions thoroughly. They had to build up their defense firmly before attacking the opponent. This was a law that was the essence of the Central Continent, which focused on retaining what they had rather than using a momentary explosive force.
'It has long been considered antiquated in the North.'
This was shown in the difference in the composition of troops. Unlike the Central area where general soldiers made up the majority, the North had a number of elite troops such as magicians and magic soldiers. Their explosive power couldn't be blocked by high walls or thick gates. So, the Northern tactic was that it was better to attack than defend.
It couldn't be blamed on the incompetence of the nobles. Unlike the Andras Empire which had experienced this crazy mobility, the Soldun nobles were accustomed to the pace of normal armies. They couldn't imagine that infantry would move faster than cavalry, or that a hundred troops could take down a castle.
The nobles tried their best, but the incomplete defensive line proved to be a gap.
"...The rest is finished." Orta looked at the magic soldiers and raised his hand. "Follow behind me and use the circle formation. The top priority is killing the knights and commanders."
Despite his low voice, there was no one who couldn't hear the instructions. They pounded on their chest loudly before rotating their circles. They were one to three magic circle users. It was awkward to call them magicians since they had only learned a few secondary magic and attack magic spells, and were primarily warriors.
However, the momentary burst of magic power caused the earth to shake.
Dust, smoke, and fires rose from the forts. Their approach had been noticed, but at this point, it was already too late. With the desire for victory and the determination to not allow defeat... Meltor's elites weren't weak enough to be defeated by soldiers who had been drafted without any pride.
"Go," the magician in the white robe said shortly before he flew.
His goal was Marquis Reista's estate. The sight of a lone magician heading toward a fort seemed reckless, but the soldiers following him knew it wasn't.
Supreme Orta of the white tower, before he became the tower master.
His career had already been legendary even before the reign of Kurt III. Orta had killed one of the empire's Seven Swords, and he was a secret agent and assassin who never failed in his operations. It wasn't uncommon for him to break a siege by himself.
A huge amount of magic power boiled over, and a few black spheres appeared around Orta's body. The spheres were so ominous that anyone in the area could sense it, as they seemed to suck away at all light.
There were some magic soldiers who looked confused at what the spheres would do. However, the veterans who had participated in the last war were different.
"No doubt! It is the Destruction Bead!"
Destruction Bead...? While the rest of the soldiers were confused, Orta fired the black spheres at the estate. Was it an explosive type magic? Or was it an attack magic that could penetrate steel?
Hundreds of eyes filled with anticipation as a total of eight spheres struck the estate's defenses. Then there was silence.
"What? Is it over?"
"Did he make a mistake?"
"No, you idiots! This...!"
Then at that moment...
"Spread." Orta looked at the spheres evenly spaced around the gate and then moved his fingers. It was a simple squeezing gesture.
The gate disappeared.
No, to be precise, a certain range of the gates centered around the spheres had been 'deleted.' The estate's gates which were made of high quality cast iron and steel, and the walls which were made of solid rock, as well as the soldiers who were pulling bowstrings, had all vanished without a trace. A part of Reista Estate had been cut away unnaturally.
This was the power of the 7th Circle magic, 'Clear Space.'
"W-What is this?"
"D-Demon! This is clearly a demon's work!"
It wasn't unreasonable to think like this after witnessing such a sight. The commander and soldiers jumped from the walls or killed their allies in an attempt to escape. Orta's magic was unrealistic and gave rise to fear which went beyond common sense.
This was literally hell.
Orta looked down at the frantic soldiers of Marquis Reista and declared, "Strike."