“The enemy will probably attack us.”
Draco said to Elena while riding beside her.
The two rode quietly along the road leading to Alunaha.
“Really? We can’t do anything to them if they hole up in the castle.”
“They have that option, but they will come here. I’ve made sure they will.”
He was talking about the ‘pillaging’.
While making Taibanka and his troops act like bandits again, Draco spread a certain rumour through their victims.
“The rumour, ‘Draco is coming to Alunaha to recruit troops for his comeback’?”
“Yes. I had high expectations when Benan was still our ally.”
Attack not the enemy themselves, but their minds.
It would be great if the enemy becomes restless, but it would be even better if they decide to attack.
“It will take some time, but it’d be nice if the enemy just descended into chaos.”
“It’s like flushing out a rabbit that has escaped into its burrow.”
“Half threatening and half inviting. We have to lure them out of the city.”
He had a chance to win if they fought on the field. This had been proven by the battles that he had fought thus far. Draco’s leadership had not waned.
“But when will the Evil God return? I can win this battle on my own, but it would be reassuring to have him around.”
“About that, Aniue.”
Draco turned to the side at the sound of Elena’s worried voice. It was rare for her to sound like that.
“Evil God-sama is actually suffering.”
“Suffering? Since when?”
“Since the other day when you won your battle.”
That reminds me, Draco thought. The Evil God definitely looked spiritless when the fresh blood tree turned red.
Though, Draco was under the impression that he was drunk on blood.
“I believe he was distressed.”
“Distressed? About what? The loss of our allies?”
“No, distressed about the people who died.”
“That’s not possible. He’s an Evil God. He’s my Evil God. So, he’s the God of War. The God of War has no reason to pity the dead.”
“But… Aniue, you said that ‘Evil God-sama is kind’.”
“I did. I certainly did say that. But this and that are different. He may be a novice, but he’s still an Evil God. What Evil God doesn’t get drunk off blood?”
Elena remained silent. Draco looked forward again. Everything was being carried out. His ‘plan’ to take Alunaha was going to be a success. He didn’t want to be burdened with unnecessary worries at a time like this.
The forest breeze caressed his cheeks. Alunaha was already in sight.
An arrow grazed his cheek.
There was a stinging pain, but Taibanka couldn’t check his wound.
He firmly opened his eyes and looked outside the earthen walls.
The Red Forest was on fire.
The attacker was Ri Gudang. He had as many as 800 men with him. There were way too many men to just deal with bandits. He even had a commander’s flag and a war drum with him as if he was a regular reserve army going on a campaign.
Ri Gudang was burning down the forest.
It was no ordinary feat to set fire to the Red Forest, which not only held Alunaha, but also the southwestern section of the Demon Realm in its centre. It was a deplorable act that could bring about divine punishment from the Forest God who had been wronged.
This might indeed be the best way to take advantage of their numbers.
They would be left with a scorched field which was suitable for marching once they burnt down the dense trees that restricted the demon’s movements. The growth of the fresh blood trees was tremendous and if left alone, the forest will be restored to its original state in about a year.
It was a simple ploy that couldn’t even be called a plan, but it was an outlandish scheme since no one would try it.
Taibanka wanted to cuss.
This was ridiculous.
They had dispatched four times as many troops to defeat a mere 200 weakened soldiers and set fire to a forest in this fief. Was it cowardice or stupidity that made them do this? It annoyed him even more that this happened all thanks to the prestige of his <Dethroned Crown Prince>.
“Hey Taibanka, what a mess.”
“Don’t raise your head too high, Lukshuna or you’ll get an arrow to your head.”
“They’re mercenaries. They ain’t skilled enough.”
Taibanka was only a commanding officer of a 20-squad unit under Draco, but he was now guarding the earthen walls with 190 soldiers. His second-in-command was Lukshuna, a large, red-faced demon, who was also the commanding officer of his own 20-squad unit.
The earthen wall where the soldiers were holed up was built on top of a small hill.
It was poorly constructed and was just an abatis made up of piles of dirt and wood.
But it should have been enough.
The path up the hill was narrow and no more than three men could walk side-by-side up the hill at a time. They could defend themselves adequately by firing arrows from the frontline. This was the strategy that Draco had given Taibanka.
That premise under which the strategy was devised was falling apart.
The forest in front of the earthen wall had been burnt. The enemy couldn’t rush at them, but they had secured a huge advantage.
“But even Draco-sama can make mistakes.”
“He’s a demon, not a God. He’s bound to make mistakes.”
As he answered, Taibanka forced down the question that he was always thinking about.
“Is the <Dethroned Crown Prince> really a tactical genius?”
He had no time to worry about that now.
“Lukshuna, I have a favour to ask.”
“What is it, buddy?”
“Draco-sama ordered us to ‘buy time’, right?”
“Yup, we have to do whatever it takes to ‘buy time’.”
Lukshuna laughed since he realised what Taibanka was implying.
“Lukshuna, please die.”
They were more persistent than he had expected.
“JUST WHAT YOU’D EXPECT FROM THE <DETHRONED CROWN PRINCE’S ARMY,” Ri Gudang roared from his horse.
They had built a simple fort on top of a hill and were defending it quite skilfully, but that was all. Even Draco couldn’t have figured out his secret plan to set fire to the <Red Forest of Jonan>.
They couldn’t take advantage of the forest to defend themselves anymore. The only option they had left was a slow siege.
He had only burnt the forest in front of the fort, but it will soon spread to the back. They will be surrounded by a sea of fire once that happened. No matter how great of a strategist the <Dethroned Crown Prince> Draco was, it would be hard to break through this siege.
“Did you protect the provisions well?”
“Yes, as you instructed.”
Ri Gudang nodded in satisfaction.
Draco’s plan probably went like this:
Draw their attention to the fort and send a small force to burn their provisions while they were distracted. That must have been his plan since Ri Gudang would have to withdraw his troops if their provisions were gone.
Or perhaps he was just really desperate. Either way, Ri Gudang’s victory was assured once the majority of the enemy had stopped moving around cleverly and held themselves up in the fort. He set fire to the forest so that this would happen.
He was commanding mercenaries, but it was hard to fight an army that had four times more troops.
It was his victory.
The name of the Demon King Benan will reverberate throughout the Demon Realm, and they could finally show their face to the <Northern Overlord>. In the coming era, the goblin shaman clan can serve under the Crown Prince Renis, who would have ascended to the throne as the Great Demon King.
At that moment, Ri Gudang saw a messenger riding up to him. He was accompanied by an enemy soldier.
“Surrender, you say?”
“Yeah, we value our lives.”
Ri Gudang politely greeted the enemy soldier who had introduced himself as Lukshuna. He was a large, red-faced demon.
He ordered the attack on the fort to be suspended. This was not the method to deal with bandits. He had to treat him as a former member of the Great Demon King’s family’s army now that the messenger had revealed his identity.
“Our army also wants this. Quickly make your arrangements.”
“Of course, we won’t be surrendering for free. We have conditions.”
“Conditions, is it? Interesting. Let’s hear them.”
“We may have lost Draco, but we’re still powerful. We won’t surrender until we’ve been treated well.”
Lost Draco? What did this man just say?
“Oh, he was hit by a stray arrow in the battle the other day. He’s been bedridden from this injury, but he passed away this mornin’. Any further conflict would be futile.”
Lukshuna was right. There was no point in fighting if Draco was dead.
It was pointless to fight, but Ri Gudang knew that this could be a scheme. They were probably trying to buy time.
But Ri Gudang was feeling lenient.
The enemy forces were all here and they were almost isolated. It was alright for him to play along with this scheme. He could even pretend to negotiate with them if that was what they wanted.
“So, we’re wondering if you could let us join Benan-dono’s standing army.”
Incorporating Draco’s strong troops into the standing army. It wasn’t a bad idea.
And he saw through his motive. He was buying time by stating a condition that Ri Gudang couldn’t respond to.
Were they waiting for a detached force?
It would make sense if they had a detached force out there looking for food and supplies and that the army here was waiting for the fruits of their labour.
“Alright. This Ri Gudang will surely persuade Benan-sama to let you all join.”
“We can’t trust you with just that. We need a letter from Benan-dono.”
Ri Gudang chuckled in his mind.
They were scheming. He would return to the fort after one more push. That was his plan. It was a cunning way to buy time.
“Then, negotiations have broken down. We can crush you at any time. I can’t give you what you want.”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t need to think about this anymore. We’re done.”
“You mean you don’t want the <Dethroned Crown Prince>’s head?”
“What’d you say!?”
The <Dethroned Crown Prince>’s head. Ri Gudang would become a hero if he brought that back with him.
The <Northern Overlord> would remember him better. He definitely wanted it. He wanted it, but this was just a way for the enemy to buy time. He didn’t need to think about this.
“I’ll search for it after I’ve slaughtered you all.”
“That’s too bad.”
Lakshuna laughed. It was a gruesome laugh that only those who were prepared to die can give.
The word ‘assassination’ crossed Ri Gudang’s mind. It was impossible.
He was about to back away since he believed that Lakshuna was going to assassinate him when a messenger rushed towards him. The messenger looked awfully flustered.
“I wish to inform you that Alunaha, Alunaha is under attack! The enemy general is the <Dethroned Crown Prince> Draco!”
Soldiers were gushing out from under the earth.
That was all Benan could see.
Alunaha was surrounded. The enemy numbered about 1,300 and they were waving the <Dethroned Crown Prince>’s general flag.
Benan grinded his teeth as he looked down at the enemy from on top of the castle wall. He saw Draco out of the corner of his eye.
Everything had been manipulated.
The <Dethroned Crown Prince> had never died.
He had sent a messenger to Ri Gudang, but how much time would it take for 800 men to make it back here? Still, he won’t be outnumbered if he combined the 800 mercenaries led by Ri Gudang with the 600 soldiers in the castle. They weren’t outnumbered, but…
“Benan-sama, the people in the city are in turmoil. They want to know if we are defying the Great Demon King’s family.”
Benan groaned at the report made by his close aide.
Even this was probably part of his calculations. No, Draco was aiming for this.
The cost of not formally announcing that the <Dethroned Crown Prince> Draco was the enemy has now become a heavy burden. No, it might not have been a problem that could have been solved if he had told them earlier.
People had more faith in the Great Demon King’s family the further they were away from the capital. Probably because they have never seen the Great Demon King’s family in person. Coupled together with their admiration for the dazzling capital city, the <Dethroned Crown Prince> was extremely popular in Alunaha.
“Don’t listen to the ravings of the people. We will catch the mastermind when this is all over.”
“No, but the chaos has also spread to the mercenaries and the reverse army…”
What were they getting agitated about? It doesn’t matter if the enemy is the former Crown Prince.
It was war time.
Benan looked at Draco once more. There, he discovered the trick to this siege.
“Well done, Lu Gun.”
“I am flattered by your compliment.”
The <Half-Faced> Lu Gun stood by Draco’s side.
He was the person responsible for this siege.
In this short period of time, Lu Gun, and the 300 soldiers Draco had under his command had gone village to village to recruit men.
“But well, I’m surprised that you were able to gather this many men in such a short amount of time.”
“It was easy since they had heard rumours of you recruiting.”
“It’s still an amazing feat even with that rumour.”
In Benan’s fief, there was a group of about 200 people who served in the military for a quarter of the year. Right now, Benan had 1,000 men at his disposal. Lu Gun recruited the other 1,000.
He had assembled them, but they had to get their own weapons.
Some were armed with rusty swords and vintage spears while others were armed with hoes and ploughs.
Even so, 1,3000 was a large number.
Some of the men were probably close relatives of the defenders. Hesitation to turn on one’s own people was also one of his aims.
“Some of them even abandoned their farm work and gathered here because you ordered it.”
“I thought that might be the case, if it wasn’t then you wouldn’t have been able to gather these many men.”
“Please be lenient on them if you win the war.”
“Yeah, I know. I won’t overlook the injustice of those who are suffering from taxes.”
Draco thought as he answered.
The <Dethroned Crown Prince> must continue to fight as long as there are people who will gather like this. I can’t let that fake <Crown Prince> be enthroned as the Great Demon King.
The Great Demon King’s lineage has continued for 5,000 years.
The Demon Realm had been chaotic until then and was unified in an imperfect way. Since then, the lineage of the Great Demon King has been passed down and revered, although many wars had occurred.
Draco himself didn’t find any meaning in this, but if he was the only demon who could protect this, then he must do so.
For Draco, a member of the royal bloodline, meeting the expectations of his people was not a duty, but a purpose.
His own will did not exist in this.
Draco, the <Dethroned Crown Prince> who excelled in strategy and tactics, must continue to live up to the expectations of his people.
Draco looked up at the sky.
(But it would be reassuring to have you by my side at a time like this, Evil God-sama.)
Flames rose from the castle city, not from the outside but from the inside. Benan wasn’t a great lord who could maintain control while being attacked by his own people.
It was that evening when the head of Benan, the goblin shaman Demon King, was delivered to Draco.