The Amid Empire’s army that was occupying the Sauron region was troubled by the fact that the process of normalizing the new government system was not proceeding at all.
“What shall we do, Duke Marme? At this rate, our position in our homeland…” said a military civil official, inside the conference room of one of Duke Sauron’s army’s forts that had been seized by the Amid Empire’s army.
A vein surfaced on the forehead of a middle-aged man whose hairline had receded to the top of his head. “Damn it, I don’t need you telling me to know that!” he shouted hysterically, pounding his fist against the thick, round table.
He was Duke Marme… the cousin of the Amid Empire’s current emperor, Marshukzarl.
Duke Marme had assumed the position of supreme commander of the Amid Empire forces occupying the Sauron Duchy in the spring of this year.
The political measures for occupation hadn’t progressed for multiple years after the Sauron Duchy was occupied, and Duke Marme, the head of the Marme family of dukes that possessed a sacred bloodline, being connected to the imperial family of the champion Bellwood, took this position in high spirits, thinking that he would make the political measures progress rapidly.
However, he had come to the end of his rope soon after taking up this new post.
All of the “improvements” and “political measures” that Duke Marme and his retainers could come up with had already been tried by his predecessors. And this had led to the current situation.
Even when they were exempted from paying taxes in full for a period of time, or the infrastructure to maintain the highways were put in place, the people of the Sauron region would not yield to the Amid Empire. No matter how much time passed, they referred to the Amid Empire’s army as the ‘occupying army,’ supported the resistance behind the scenes despite not showing any signs of rebellion on the surface, and they were waiting for the return of Duke Sauron’s children, who had fled to the Orbaume Kingdom.
The political measure of discriminating against Vida’s races like Beast-people and Titans, which were completely normal in the Empire, would not be applied for a long time due to the orders of Emperor Marshukzarl, and this had not caused any problems, at least on the surface. However, other political measures had caused problems to surface.
Trying to do something about it, the army that Duke Marme had brought with him were throwing themselves into things and running about, but the situation had only worsened.
“The people have a deep-rooted resistance to the construction of a Church of Alda and religious conversion, so we cannot gather workers. In fact, there have been conflicts between the people and the soldiers trying to recruit workers, devolving into bloodshed…”
The national religion of the Amid Empire, the faith that placed Alda, the god of law and fate, at the highest position – commonly known as the Alda religion. The political measure of converting the people of the Vida religion, which had flourished in the Sauron region, had not progressed at all.
“Again… It may be overbearing, but if you gather a dozen more armed soldiers, the commoners won’t riot so easily. You should have received permission from His Excellency the duke, and you should have enough soldiers gathered. So why are you not doing this?” asked the grand chamberlain of the Marme family of dukes.
“No, that is… the first ones to act violently were the soldiers, the ones that belong to Duke Marme’s army…” the civil official said.
“What?! Are you saying that those who belong to the duke’s army conducted such behavior?!” the grand chamberlain shouted, seemingly having understood the situation now.
The pale-faced civil official continued his report. “Something about a Beast-person child falling into a puddle of water, sending mud flying onto one of the soldiers’ shoes. When he tried to discipline the child, the child’s parents apparently interfered, and… the blood rose to the soldier’s head and he drew his sword. He punished the father on the spot before the other soldiers could stop him.”
“So that was the cause of the rebellion. Has the grand chamberlain not taught the soldiers that they do not have the right to punish civilians?” asked a man who seemed to be the civil official’s superior, covering for the civil official.
“Silence! It has not been long since those soldiers were recruited, and it is you civil officials who simply look at the numbers, say that there are not enough soldiers and then ask us to send more!” the grand chamberlain shouted.
“We did indeed request for more soldiers, but it is supposed to be the work of you military officers to decide who to actually dispatch!” the civil official’s superior shouted back.
“SILENCE!” Duke Marme bellowed. “Are there any other reports?!”
“Y-yes! The reconstruction of the fort in the Scylla territory has been delayed. According to preliminary estimates, if we can have five earth-attribute mages and a team of military engineers dispatched, the delay could be reduced to the end of autumn, but…” another civil official reported.
“You bastard, didn’t you say at the start of summer that ‘the delay could be reduced to the end of summer?!’ We’ve dispatched the valuable, skilled individuals among our mages, so what is the meaning of this?!” the grand chamberlain demanded.
“I-I’m terribly sorry! The gathering of materials and workers is not going well, so the construction work is not progressing.”
“Damn, are there any other reports?!” the duke shouted, saliva flying from his mouth.
The pale-faced civil officials delivered their reports one by one. Complaints from the Adventurers’ Guild, as well as petitions from every Guild – the mercenaries, merchants and mages – had stacked up like a mountain.
On top of that, the military officers reported things such as a lack of progress in the reformation of the resistance extermination squads that had been annihilated in spring, as well as increasing numbers of soldiers in the occupying army becoming unable to move due to illness, though they were not seriously ill.
As only half a year had passed since Duke Marme took up this post, these problems were not entirely the responsibility of him and his retainers.
All of these are due to the resistance’s achievements… no, interference, thought Baron Cuoco Ragdew as he moistened his throat with black tea at a seat at the end of the conference hall, watching the duke’s face growing darker and darker as if it was completely unrelated to him.
The Amid Empire’s misgovernment of the Sauron Duchy had begun when they allowed two influential resistance organizations to form. The Sauron Liberation Front that was led by the Liberating Princess Knight and the Reborn Sauron Duchy Army that was led by Duke Sauron’s son, Raymond Paris.
The two resistance organizations had become a source of hope to the local populace that the Amid Empire’s army had tried to force to become accustomed to everyday life under occupation. This had maintained their desire to rebel against the empire.
Due to this, the Amid Empire’s army had become unable to hire the local populace as workers to become new guards or build new forts and other military installations.
They had hired commoners after applying numerous checks, but members of the Reborn Sauron Duchy Army had a high rate of success in infiltrating the workforce and had continued to cause incidents to occur.
One might think that these problems could be solved if workers and necessary military personnel were brought from the Mirg shield-nation, whose national borders were close to the Amid Empire mainland, but this was no simple matter.
Rebels existed in both the Amid Empire’s vassal nations, including the Mirg shield-nation, and the Amid Empire mainland itself. If they were to group up with the resistance, even the mainland’s public order could become unstable.
Even if this weren’t the case, the Mirg shield-nation still hadn’t reorganized its army after it had lost much of its military strength in the expedition to the Boundary Mountain Range three years ago.
As for workers, bringing them from the Empire or its vassal nations would be a poor move as well.
First of all, this would plainly come with high labor costs. Alda, the god of the empire’s national religion, taught that “those who work should be given appropriate rewards.” Workers’ wages could not be unjustly lowered.
And the workers of the occupied nation would think that their work had been stolen from them, causing an accumulation of discontent among the Sauron Duchy’s commoners and the Workers’ Guild. In the worst-case scenario, the new workers could clash with the commoners, leading to a riot.
Even if things did not progress that far, doing this would create more openings for the resistance to take advantage of.
Due to these various reasons, the national border on the Mirg shield-nation’s side had been blockaded with travel back and forth across the border being heavily regulated, but this had caused delays in the transportation of goods.
The duchies of the Orbaume Kingdom had originally been independent before the founding of the kingdom, so they had become able to function independently to some extent.
But not everything was available in abundant amounts. Discontent was growing among the traders of the Commerce Guild that had been trading and making a profit because of this.
It wasn’t only those who were involved in trading; because people could no longer travel back and forth to other places, the mercenaries of the Mercenaries’ Guild, who normally traveled between battlefields like migratory birds, had become unable to earn a living.
The mages of the Mages’ Guild now had difficulties obtaining materials needed for their research. The higher-ranking mages that the occupying army had deemed to be dangerous were already under surveillance, and research considered taboo by the Alda religion had been forbidden as well, so this was just adding oil to the flames.
The Adventurers’ Guild didn’t have as many complaints, but adventurers were also unable to leave the Sauron region. And adventurers of D-class or lower were more often employed by commoners and merchants than by noblemen. If they acted friendly towards the occupying army and became hated, their incomes would drop sharply.
And the occupying army did not have an unlimited number of personnel.
Duke Marme’s personal army was quite large in size compared to other armies owned by noblemen. However, it wasn’t as if he had brought his entire army to the Sauron region. He had needed to leave some of the army behind to maintain public order in his own lands. And if he had brought too many, he would have faced problems with upkeep costs and finding places for them to stay. That was why only a third of his army had joined the Amid Empire’s occupying army.
However, the soldiers of the duke’s army were falling sick in quick succession. They were staying in a place with a different climate for an extended period of time, so it was only natural that some of them would become sick, but… it seemed that it was the duke’s fault for bringing an army that was normally maintaining the public order of a duchy on an expedition that they weren’t accustomed to.
It wasn’t as if there were no methods available to improve these problems. The resistance simply needed to be exterminated.
To say that things would go well if the resistance were to disappear would seem to be an excuse, but the resistance’s interference was preventing the occupying army from freely gathering personnel and materials in the Sauron region, and as long as they existed, the commoners would never yield to the occupying army.
It wasn’t as if things would go smoothly the day after the resistance was defeated, but the situation would certainly improve.
A good opportunity for that had come when Raymond Paris and his younger brother Rick Paris of the Reborn Sauron Duchy Army had been killed together.
If the Sauron Liberation Front had been destroyed as well, the Amid Empire’s political measures would have progressed several steps forward by now. Duke Marme wouldn’t have needed to take up this position, either.
However, the Liberating Princess Knight had gathered the scattered remnants of the Reborn Sauron Duchy Army into the Sauron Liberation Front, forming a single, very stable organization.
And the elite resistance extermination squad that had been assembled during the spring of this year had been annihilated by the elite squads led by the Liberating Princess Knight, so the chances of the occupying army being able to exterminate the resistance were slim now.
Especially with Duke Marme standing at the top, Cuoco lamented to himself as he listened to Duke Marme’s shouting once more.
“Curse those lowborn fools! If they want requests, I have given them work as guards! If they don’t like it, they can go and hunt on their own in the Devil’s Nests!”
“Your Excellency, what will you do if you do not take the Adventurers’ Guild’s concerns into account and they join forces with the resistance?” a civil official asked.
“Then send the requests to build the Church to the Adventurers’ Guild as well! Even those savages should be able to transport stone!”
“Th-that would encroach on the domain of the Workers’ Guild…”
“What domain have those who do not cooperate with us to spread the traditional holy teachings of Alda! Those heretics who worship a lewd, wicked woman!”
It’s started again.
Cuoco was a traitor who sold information to the resistance organization, the Sauron Liberation Front, tempted by the delicious food ingredients they offered. However, he had another motive for betraying his country other than the delicious food.
Duke Marme becoming the supreme commander had been decided in the winter of last year, and after hearing this, Cuoco had guessed that the duke, as well as the other noblemen who had been dispatched at the time including Cuoco himself, had been chosen by the emperor as sacrificial lambs.
Duke Marme is too devout a follower of Alda, and he possesses strong connections to the Church of Alda in the empire. But he is ostracizing Vida so aggressively that even those in the empire think that he is too radical.
Even though worshipping Vida was forbidden in the Amid Empire, showing contempt for Vida herself was not encouraged. Vida had made the mistake of distorting the world’s order by using monsters to give birth to grotesque races, but even so, she was a goddess who had created the world with Alda and the others, and she had fought against the Demon King.
In other words, for many Alda believers, Vida was a prisoner that deserved to be punished for her mistakes, and once she had atoned, she would one day return to her place as the goddess who ruled over the life attribute.
Despite that, Duke Marme denounced Vida as a lewd and wicked woman. There was a famous story among noblemen where he had encouraged the people of his land to leak information so that he could hunt down adherents of Vida, only to have the Pope reprimand him, asking, “What do you take the law to be?!”
That wasn’t all. Duke Marme treated adventurers as lowborn individuals.
There were problems in his sense of values even outside of his religion.
The Amid Empire and its vassal states had a tendency to not use adventurers in its military activities. That was because there was a historical event in the past, before the foundation of the empire, where a nation hired large numbers of adventurers as mercenaries to fight a war against another nation, leading to a shortage of strength to exterminate monsters within the nation. Though they did not lose the war, damage caused by monsters increased in every region, causing the nation to fall apart.
That didn’t mean that adventurers weren’t trusted, but Duke Marme didn’t care about these details; he discriminated against adventurers unjustly other than extraordinary exceptions such as the Thunderclap Schneider.
Still, if the region would stay quiet, then it would be fine. It is a family of dukes with a long history; the vassals are exceptional, but… the military officers, including the grand chamberlain… At the very least, the emperor should know that dispatching them here to the Sauron Duchy now would make things worse, and that things will not get better.
As Cuoco spent his time for the rest of the unproductive meeting immersing himself in his thoughts, Duke Marme’s irritation reached a peak.
“Curse you, Marshukzarl! You set a trap for me, a duke, sent me to a troublesome occupied region, forced the Marme family of dukes to bear the failure of the political measures. A trick to solidify your own strength as the emperor!”
“M-Master, please stop referring to His Excellency the emperor without any honorifics!”
Surprisingly, it seemed that Duke Marme was thinking the same thing as Cuoco.
He couldn’t destroy a family of dukes, so he’s forced the current Duke Marme to retire. But he could easily destroy a family of barons that is swimming in debt. Well, if that’s all, I don’t really mind, but…
He would simply sell his mansion and household belongings, then repay his debt by working as an adventurer. He had always accommodated the Adventurers’ Guild up until now, and he was quite confident in his own fighting strength.
His family had been on the verge of destruction to begin with, so he had resigned himself to this fate as well.
But if I make a bad move, I might be forced to live a life of faith as a priest, or they might announce that I have ‘committed suicide as a way of taking responsibility.’ I don’t want that.
Eating delicious food was life. A modest life as a priest would be unbearable. Cuoco didn’t want to die, either.
“Silence! All of this is because you cannot handle the resistance, is it not! Everything would go well if it were not for them!” Duke Marme shouted.
Personally, I would like if Iris-dono and the others could coordinate with the Orbaume Kingdom and take the Sauron region back while I am wasting my time here. I may fall from being a baron to a knight or even a mere honorary nobleman, but I would no longer need to repay my debt.
“Now that things have come to this… I have no choice but to summon the Fifteen Evil-Breaking Swords!” Duke Marme said at last.
With these words, the calmness in Cuoco’s mind disappeared.
“The Fifteen Evil-Breaking Swords?! The secret force of fifteen knights under the emperor’s direct control, said to have saved the First Emperor Balschmidt. Said to each possess strength not inferior, or even superior to A-class adventurers… they really exist?”
Cuoco was surprised, but it seemed that Duke Marme’s decision was a surprise to his vassals as well.
“It’s true that the Fifteen Evil-Breaking Swords would be able to exterminate the resistance, but they move only at the command of His Excellency the emperor. No matter how much of a right you have to the throne, I do not believe you can command them,” one of the vassals said.
“I will lower my head to Marshukzarl! At this rate, I will lose my status as duke either way. With that being the case, relying on Marshukzarl will be better and result in shallower wounds to my family than being made to bear responsibility for defeat!” Duke Marme said.
This could be considered a pathetic judgement, one that involved discarding his pride. At the very least, it was likely a far better decision than trying to somehow solve things on their own.
But for Cuoco, this was a poor situation.
Iris-dono’s skill is likely at the level of a C-class or B-class adventurer. Considering her age, her ability is astounding, but… she will not be able to overcome the Fifteen Evil-Breaking Swords. There is no way that the resistance organization has any members equivalent to an A-class adventurer… at this rate, I will be unable to acquire that Ent syrup again! Cuoco shrieked to himself internally.
Meanwhile, Vandalieu and the others were on the move, heading for the Arachne settlement.
Gizania’s settlement was apparently three days’ walk from the marshlands. One might think that this wasn’t such a great distance, but it was three day’s walk at an Arachne’s pace.
With a body height of three meters, her stride was far longer than a human’s, resulting in her walking fast enough for Borkus to stop her.
“Gizania-jouchan, you walk too fast,” Borkus said.
“My apologies, I’m feeling impatient… so I keep ending up walking too quickly,” Gizania said as she stopped.
Her pace was not simply ‘quick,’ it was on the same level as a short-distance athlete sprinting at full speed.
One might have expected her movements to be dull due to her large size, but she manipulated her eight legs with skill, her claws kicking against the ground to propel her forward. And this caused almost no movement for her upper body.
“I understand how you feel, and it’s not like we can’t keep up, but… are all Arachne this fast?” Basdia asked.
“Yes,” Gizania said, nodding. “As you can see, us Arachne have many legs, and everyone moves quickly. Large-builds such as myself struggle to make tight turns, but we are adept at running in a straight line to make up for that.”
One might think it strange that the Arachne had never interacted with the Lizardmen when there were only three days’ walking distance separating them, but it seemed that the distance was more like ten days’ worth for a human or Lizardman.
It was impressive that the Noble Orc and his subordinates had chased after Gizania. In fact, considering their appearance, Orcs were relatively energetic monsters with exceptional charging ability, so perhaps they had been unexpectedly swift.
Of course, there were reasons the Arachne hadn’t made contact with the Lizardmen other than distance. They simply had no need to advance into the marshlands.
The southern region of the continent, which was surrounded by the Boundary Mountain Range to the east and west, was shaped roughly like a long diamond. Talosheim was at the northern tip, and the marshlands were immediately south of it. The Arachne nation and the Noble Orc kingdom were where the continent was widest in the east-west direction.
Thus, the Arachne had more than enough land, not needing to advance into the marshlands that didn’t suit their way of living. And since they were surrounded by nothing but Devil’s Nests, there were no problems in obtaining food as long as they were strong enough.
Of course, it wasn’t as if each race didn’t have individuals with hearts desiring adventure. However, most such individuals had tried to cross the Boundary Mountain Range to the east and west rather than crossing the marshlands to the north.
There had likely been some who had set foot into the marshlands, but… at least in Talosheim’s history, there were no records of members of other races coming from the south.
“So even Princess Kurnelia walks quickly?” Eleanora asked.
“Of course. The princess is a medium-build, so she is far faster than I am,” Gizania declared with pride.
It seemed that the Arachne, like the Scylla, took pride in their lower bodies that might look grotesque to other races.
“How fast, the princess…”
It seemed that what surprised Eleanora was not the Arachne race’s sense of values, but the Arachne princess that moved extremely quickly.
“The fact that Arachne move quickly, is it surprising?” Gizania asked.
“I apologize if I offended you. It is very different from the image of Arachne that I had from things I heard on the outside,” Eleanora said.
“By ‘outside,’ I suppose you mean the outside of the Boundary Mountain Range. The region ruled by the tyrannical god Alda… do they say that we are evil?”
“Yes, especially in the Amid Empire side to the west, where I was before,” Eleanora said. “I heard things such as that Arachne create webs with their powerful threads and eat humans starting with their heads when they are caught, and that they pretend to be humans and seduce men to kidnap them. Arachne are generally thought to have bewitching appearances and behaviors.”
The image of Arachne that Eleanora described was the kind that would be heard in the Amid Empire, where the Alda religion had a strong influence.
Gizania had a dejected expression on her face; it seemed that this had been worse than she had imagined. “That means… we are no more than monsters that disguise ourselves as women. How terrible; we are not known for what we really are, a race of brave soldiers and skillful masters of manipulating threads,” she said in a disappointed tone.
“That’s true, I didn’t think that the Arachne was a race of brave soldiers,” said Eleanora.
“To be honest, it’s a surprise to me as well,” said Vandalieu.
Indeed, it seemed that the normal image of Arachne was not one of warriors and soldiers.
This was true, even when Princess Levia was asked.
“The myths say that the Arachne are a race that fought alongside Vida and Talos, the one who founded our race, but… I remember that they used their threads skillfully to entangle the warriors who served Alda,” she said.
“What! I see… It could be that a hundred thousand years ago, there were few large-builds like myself. However, it is likely that even Vampires and Ghouls are treated as monsters and persecuted on the outside,” Gizania said.
“That’s right… though in the case of Vampires, it’s not so far from the truth,” Eleanora said.
“… Yes, that is the case. It is half-true,” said Zadiris.
The two of them had complicated expressions on their faces.
The Vampires of the Bahn Gaia continent were evil hounds serving the Pure-breed Vampires who served evil gods, while Ghouls ate the humans they defeated and kidnapped women, turning them into members of their own race and using them as tools to birth children. It seemed that neither of them could strongly deny Gizania’s words.
“More importantly, I am interested in the Job called ‘Samurai,’” said Basdia, changing the topic smoothly just before an awkward atmosphere settled in.
“‘Samurai’ is the recreation of the ‘Bushi’ Job left behind in historical records by the champion Hillwillow. In the world where Hillwillow and the other champions came from, there were many ancient soldiers known as ‘Bushi’ who excelled in the use of a hundred combat-related skills, especially proficient with the use of a single-edged sword known as a tachi,” Gizania explained.
“A hundred skills?! As to be expected of the world the champions came from… so does that apply for you as well, Gizania?” Basdia asked.
“No, ‘Samurai’ is not a Job that reaches such heights. None have recreated a tachi, either. If I was a true Bushi, I would have been able to cut down my pursuers without requiring Vandalieu-dono’s help. It is said that a true Bushi would be able to split an enemy cavalryman in half, along with the beast he used for his mount, with a single swing of his tachi.”
“Split a cavalryman in half along with his mount… As I am now, I think I would be able to do that against an ordinary knight and his horse, but… what a terrifying world it must have been, having such warriors in large numbers.”
As female warriors, it seemed that Gizania and Basdia were on the same wavelength.
… One is called a bushi when he excels in the use of every martial art, but I don’t think that means one isn’t a bushi because they do not excel in the use of every martial art. Also, I would think that cutting an enemy in two along with his horse is done with a zanbato*, not a tachi, Vandalieu thought to himself.
And so, the party exchanged information as they proceeded for five days through the terrain where thickets, forests and grassy plains lay side-by-side in a checker-like pattern, defeating the monsters that sometimes attacked them.
And then the party arrived at the nation in which the Arachne race lived.
This is thought to be a race that a Skogsrå can attain while having been tamed. Though the details are unclear, it seems that the Ent syrup purified from this monster’s sap has a rich taste that ordinary Ent syrup cannot compare to.