The academy students of Spada are using the command room located at the center of the Iskia Fortress for its originally intended purpose.
Currently, there is a map of the Iskia Hills spread out on the large desk. The room is filled with chairs as well as the personal data of all three hundred students participating in the open-field exercise, squad compositions and other information.
Unlike battles where there is a clear opposing army to fight, it is just an exercise where there should be no shortage of monsters to fight – or at least, it was supposed to be.
「Just what the hell is happening in the Iskia Hills...」
Wilhart is sitting on the general’s chair at the head of the table, and seems extremely exhausted as he mutters those words.
However, not a single person is able to criticize the pathetic-looking Second Prince. Not because of the difference in their social status, but because everyone is feeling the same way.
There is a heavy atmosphere in the command room right now.
It is a result of the mixture of various emotions such as unease, agitation and fear, yet the biggest factor is definitely fatigue.
「For now the monsters have fallen back, so we have room to breathe.」
The one speaking is Nero, and his tone is even more listless than usual. He is almost certainly being tormented by his considerable exhaustion.
No matter how much he is praised as a genius, he is still only one man. If he continues to fight, the fatigue to his body and mind accumulate, and eventually he reaches the limit of his magical energy.
Battle – Yes, the battle with the monster army that appeared suddenly in the Iskia Hills has been continuing until just a short while ago.
In the beginning, it was the battle to retreat.
Wing Road lived up to their Rank 5 title, forcefully creating an opening to retreat through, and though the teachers valiantly fulfilled their role as the rear guard, they were almost completely wiped out. Thanks to them, not a single life was lost out of the two hundred and fifty students, and they made it to the fortress safely.
However, that was not the end of the battle.
After midday, the fight turned towards defending the fortress from the army of monsters that had persistently chased them.
They would normally rely on the teachers in such a situation, but as over half of them perished in the earlier skirmish, the students themselves had to engage in this full-scale battle.
In the end, their defense succeeded.
Their losses were insignificant. In addition, the outside of the fortress is now littered with the corpses of the monsters they faced.
However, it was just one battle, so it was far from saying that they exterminated this monster army that contains every single monster in this dungeon.
In other words, the true battle has only just begun.
「So, what are we going to do now, general?」
Nero asks this question with his elbows on the desk, resting his face in his hands. This is indeed an important question.
On paper, Wilhart is officially the general. The few dozen management cadets gathered in the command room are awaiting his response.
「Hmm, no, give me a moment, I’m still think –」
Wilhart gives quite a pathetic answer as he sits in a troubled pose, repeatedly tapping his right fist against his forehead.
「Ah, jeez. Onii-chan, you’re really stupid!」
Like the roaring of thunder, this high-pitched abuse echoes throughout the command room.
If one were to search the entire world, they would only find a single person who calls Wilhart their older brother – none other than his younger sister, Charlotte Tristan Spada.
Charlotte, who has risen from her seat in anger, starts announcing their strategy in Wilhart’s place.
「What we’re going to do is obvious, isn’t it? We’re going to defeat those monsters!」
In that moment, a collective sigh of「haah」filled the command room.
But the one who looks like he wants go let out the greatest sigh of them all, Nero, makes eye contact with Charlotte, telling her,「keep talking.」
Charlotte clears her throat in a self-important manner, as if to say,「leave it to me!」and then begins her explanation.
「Everyone remembers it right, the huge monster that appeared at the start. Its name is Greed...ago?」
Nero with the perfect assist – As expected of the teamwork of a Rank 5 party.
But Charlotte’s cheeks turn as red as her hair; she seems slightly embarrassed.
「Yes, this Greed-Gore guy is the general of those monsters! If we just defeat it, we’ll wipe out the whole monster army!」
Her over-confident words cause a stir in the command room.
As if representing the surprised leadership cadets, Wilhart asks.
「How can you be sure?」
Charlotte answers coldly, as if it is Wilhart’s fault for asking her the question.
It seems she really hates her older brother. Even though he is looking at her seriously in this situation where they have to work together, she is looking the other way.
Quickly realizing that they are making no progress, Wilhart subtly appoints the prince who is his childhood friend to be a mediator between him and Charlotte.
「That’s what Safi’s analysis came up with.」
The room stirs again at the news of the reliable source of this information, but the person they want an explanation from, Safiel Maya Hydra, is not here.
There are only two members of Wing Road sitting here in this command room, Nero and Charlotte. Kai and Safiel are on guard duty.
Their enemies are not humans, but monsters, and there are many nocturnal species among them.
Though the monsters probably do not have the intelligence to perform surprise attacks at night or in the early morning, it is still possible that they might commence a large-scale assault during the night.
Either way, Wing Road forms the core of their combat potential, so at least one member is on the lookout at all times.
「Would you please explain in more detail?」
Setting that aside, the important thing is Safiel’s analysis regarding the Greed-Gore.
Without hesitation, Nero fluently begins his explanation.
「Those monsters are under the effects of a parasite.」
「A parasite, you say?!」
As expected, the first to voice is surprise is Wilhart.
But, upon consideration, it is an explanation that makes sense.
Parasites are a magical Status Effect, though it falls under a rather special category.
The effects are self-explanatory; they infest the host and causes abnormalities.
A typical example of a parasite would be the Draining Seeds, used by many plant-type monsters.
If one is infested by those seeds, the body’s nutrients and mana is drained away.
Other parasites that cause other Status Effects in the host such as Confusion, Sleep or Paralysis also exist.
It would not be unusual for a parasite that controls the minds of its host to exist.
「It’s been confirmed that it’s of the lightning-type.」
「Confirmed, you say?」
「Using Wrath-Pun’s arm, the Centaurs’ skulls were –」
「No, that is not what I meant. What I’m trying to ask is, how did you confirm the parasite and its type? I didn’t want to hear the gruesome details of your method!」
Wilhart seems to have returned mostly to normal, and adds a retort that is rare to hear from him.
It is not clear whether Nero was playing dumb or is just not thinking clearly, but he continues his explanation.
「There were lightning-type snakes in their heads.」
「They’re probably the body segments originating from the main body of a magical creature.」
The leadership cadets with good academic grades, including Wilhart, show their understanding of this explanation.
「If the host body is damaged enough that it is killed, they seem to also disappear. When we split a head open, I saw it as well, but the snake was only there for a moment before it disappeared.」
Everyone nods, thinking, “It’s a good thing that they’re weak.”
Of course, it is easy to imagine the dangerous scenario where the parasite lives after being seemingly defeated, only to come after them and take them as a host next.
If that were to happen, it would be more accurate to call it a curse rather than a parasite.
「If Nell was here, we’d be able to take care of them easily... What rotten luck.」
Will hears Nero’s muttering with his sharp ears, but he can understand how he feels.
「If it is parasites we’re dealing with, we can use Dispels on the Status Effects to attack. Let us make sure our Priests know this.」
If Status Effects exist, of course, there is magic to counter them.
The magic that removes various abnormalities and curses, returning the target to a normal condition is called Dispel, and the ones who specialize in using such magic are Priests, who take on the role of Healers.
Of course, even Wilhart, who is not a member of Wing Road, is well aware of the talent and ability of Nell Julius Elroad.
In other words, it would be more effective for her to perform incantations for Dispels to silence the army of infested monsters rather than wide-ranged area attack magic.
However, it is meaningless to discuss a person who is not here, and the important thing is to discuss measures that can be taken realistically, as Wilhart is doing.
「I understand that the monsters are being controlled by a lightning-type parasite. But how can you say for sure that the Greed-Gore is the main body? Is it not possible that the main body could be disguised as an inconspicuous monster?」
The huge dragon that leads the monsters has overwhelming power, so it has no reason to run or hide.
A monster that has an underhanded ability like parasites could be considered weaker than those with pure battle strength.
Therefore, it would be expected for a monster with such an ability to avoid direct combat. Wilhart’s line of thinking is reasonable, and nobody can ridicule him for over-thinking things.
「She figured it out through reverse detection.」
「To go that far, even in the middle of combat...」
Unlike Wilhart, who clearly shows his surprise, Nero continues explaining in a plain, matter-of-fact tone.
「The segmented bodies are connected to the main body by『electromagnetic waves』characteristic of the lightning-type. Safi’s servant confirmed with its search that the Greed-Gore is at the center of the network before being swallowed up by the swarm of bird monsters.」
The Characteristic Ability possessed by lightning-type monsters is『electromagnetic waves』which allow them to communicate with distant allies without the use of Telepathy. This fact is not particularly well-known, but should be common knowledge for those who are diligent in their studies.
Summoners who use lightning-type monsters and Mages who are skilled with lightning magic can also use electromagnetic waves as a means of communication.
However, it is not a major technique, and it is doubtful that there is even a single person who can use it among the three hundred students here.
「I see... But the Greed-Gore is supposed to be only of the earth-type in the first place. It is hard to imagine that it would use a lightning-type Characteristic Ability. It could be that it is also simply being infested.」
「Safi also said there was something strange about that. Its color seems different, so it’s possible that it has a mutation granting it this other ability.」
Mutations in monsters are not a particularly rare phenomenon.
A simple change in its body color, its body size, physical abilities, changes to its element type, additional Characteristic Abilities, etcetera. There is a huge variety of possible changes.
That is the reason that a mutation can cause even a small, comical Punpun to undergo a terrifying transformation into a Rank 5 monster.
One cannot rule out any possible variations in a monster.
「In any case, there’s no mistaking that the Greed-Gore is at the center of it.」
「Hmm, you are right.」
For now, the enemy general's identity alone is valuable information.
「With that, I would like that you continue your explanation on the communication ability of the electromagnetic waves.」
Wilhart has returned to a state where words can clearly reach him, and Nero answers.
「Unlike Telepathy, electromagnetic waves are blocked by terrain and can only travel in straight lines. Normally, the communication to and from the Greed-Gore should have been impossible in this field of hills, but that problem is cleared by one of the monsters in the sky, which it’s using as a relay.」
「I see, that is the reason the flying monsters did not participate in the attack!」
This is the real disguise.
The best place to hide a tree is a forest – To conceal which monster is the one with the ability to relay the electromagnetic waves, the swarm of bird monsters stayed in the air.
「I guess the Salamander is there as a guard, just in case.」
If a monster as powerful as the Salamander was the one with the relaying ability, there would be no need to disguise itself among the other monsters.
「Conversely, if it is going so far as to disguise the relay monster, it’s likely that the monsters would be unable to act if we could interrupt the communications with the main body. Or at least, the majority of the monster army’s combat ability would be lost. Am I wrong?」
「You’re sharp, Will, but it’s smart enough to go through all that trouble. You think it’ll just let us interrupt it that easily?」
It is also not guaranteed that there is only one monster with the relaying ability.
「And if the Greed-Gore gets in range for the electromagnetic waves to just travel directly, it’s over.」
「Hmm, indeed... No, in the first place, why did the Greed-Gore not participate in the battle itself?」
Thinking back, the Greed-Gore appeared with an intense demonstration of its own power, but it left the attack to the monsters under its control while disappearing somewhere else.
No, they were the ones who retreated and lost sight of the Greed-Gore as they ran down the hill.
The only thing that they are certain of is that it did not take part in the battle. However, its presence was not lurking nearby.
「It took its monster army and went somewhere – wait, could it be?!」
「You’ve finally realized? They’re probably marching down the highway right now.」
Nero spits out his words with a serious tone.
Marching down the highway, in other words, they are heading for places where humans live, the various villages in Spada. More specifically –
「If they’re quick, won’t they make it there by tomorrow morning?」
「Is this the time to be saying that so carelessly! If we do not let them know quickly, it will to be a huge problem!」
Wilhart inadvertently rises from the chair as he shouts.
A huge army including a Rank 5 monster are about to attack a village where people live.
It would be much worse than some poorly-executed invasion. If they do not evacuate in time, the whole village could be annihilated.
「Calm down, Will, have you forgotten our situation here? We’re the ones who need help right now.」
The impending crisis of his own country’s people being massacred causes great impatience in Wilhart, but he desperately forces himself to face reality as he accepts Nero’s words.
For now, he sits down once more.
「Like I said, if we just defeat the Greed-Gore, everything is solved!」
Charlotte’s voice rings out in the command room again.
This time, her opinion is more persuasive and seems to be accepted; most of the leadership cadets seem to be in agreement.
Indeed, if they could just defeat the Greed-Gore in control of the monster army, that would be a way out of this critical situation. However.
「How on earth are we going to defeat the Greed-Gore?」
The method, on which everything is hinged, is asked.
How could they defeat the Greed-Gore that leads this huge monster army? The Greed-Gore itself is a Rank 5 monster that possesses the highest grade of combat strength.
Without even thinking, one would know that it is impossible – Or that should be the case, but Charlotte’s golden eyes are blazing and shining as she speaks.
「Of course, we of Wing Road will go to defeat it!」
With a completely exasperated look on his face, Will sighs.
If he says this, he would definitely face his little sister’s lightning* – no, perhaps literally, her lightning-type magical attack would explode over his head.
Even so, he has to say it. Even if it’s just a formality, Wilhart is the general responsible for the lives of these three hundred students.
「... I cannot permit the use of this strategy.」
Wilhart explains, stopping Charlotte’s storm of abusive words for now.
「Charlotte, I do not take Wing Road’s abilities lightly.」
「If Wing Road left the fortress, who would defend it?」
The Iskia Fortress is indeed a strong fortress, its ancient defensive capabilities intact. However, the ones defending it now would not be veteran knights of Spada, but a mere three hundred students who are still apprentices.
Their enemy is an army of monsters, with the parasites granting them a leadership even stronger than that of the Knights’ Order.
They can fight without feeling fear, simply continuing to fight as ordered; they could even be called the ideal soldiers.
Would the students alone be able to continue holding the fortress against such a fearsome army of monsters?
「I have no reason to doubt the Wing Road’s ability as a Rank 5 party. I saw enough from your actions until now and from the battle during the day. If you were not there, we would have likely perished on the hill.
That is the reason Wing Road is the core of our army. Because you are here, the students still have hope and are able to fight. Hope that things will work out because Wing Road is here, we will not be defeated by these monsters – However, even if you were to leave only temporarily, if the monsters went on the offensive after you left, what would happen... Surely you know the answer to that?」
「But, just because of that, at this rate –」
「We will call for reinforcements!」
Will’s brain finally comes up with a plan to overcome this critical situation.
Based on the information about the Greed-Gore and its monster army that Nero has provided, he is sure that there is no other option.
「Whether it is the Knights’ Order of Spada or a rescue team of adventurers, it does not matter. We will seek reinforcements and continue to defend the fortress until they arrive.」
Wilhart’s suggested strategy follows the textbook down to the letter, but that is also why it is the most solid, realistic plan.
Even the leadership cadets who normally ridicule him as the「deluded prince」show their understanding as they express their opinions.
In the end, opinions are split roughly evenly between which of the two plans is better – to exterminate the Greed-Gore, or to continue defending the fortress.
To gather more approval for his own plan, Wilhart continues speaking.
「Fortunately, we have enough provisions and weapons to last us the planned duration of the open-field exercise. Even if we waited for reinforcements from the heavily-armored infantry of the『Braveheart』from Spada, we would not run out of supplies before they arrive.」
They originally planned to be here for a considerable amount of time, engaging in battle with an unknown number of enemies. There was no oversight in the preparations of adequate supplies.
Therefore, one of the conditions for carrying out a defense where resupplying is impossible has already been met.
「Hold on a minute, if we go to defeat the Greed-Gore right now, that –」
Realizing that more people are agreeing with the fortress defense plan, Charlotte panics as she tries to offer a rebuttal, but Nero raises a hand to stop her.
「I think you know this already, Will, but if we’re to defeat the Greed-Gore, now is the best time for it.」
「I am aware of that; if we defend the fortress you will be exhausted, especially since Princess Nell is not present.」
「Even so, you want to defend the fortress?」
「Of course. This is the best strategy to ensure everyone’s survival. Let me ask you in return; if Wing Road were to face the Greed-Gore, could you win?」
「Of course we could!」
「Well, we could if we were to face it now.」
「In that case, what if the Greed-Gore were to open a hole in the earth and escape?」
「Well, we wouldn’t be able to do anything about that.」
Charlotte stiffens in frustration, while Nero speaks as if he already knew that this would be the answer from the beginning.
It is definitely feasible for Wing Road to defeat the Greed-Gore. But that would only happen if the Greed-Gore keeps fighting until the end.
They have no way to prevent it from escaping, and if their foe was cunning, it could even use its army as a distraction while it does so. In fact, this is the most likely scenario.
Exterminating the Greed-Gore could succeed. However,「could」means that it is not certain.
「Now then, I do not think it needs to be asked, but anyone who is against defending the iron wall of the Iskia Fortress should raise their hands now.」
Thus, the plan of defending the fortress becomes the strategy that will determine the fates of the three hundred students.