About what happened after pursuing Luciel and arriving at the Rodelia’s facility.
About how the facility was in ruins, and how they couldn’t find Luciel’s body there.
About how with Rona, both looked for Luciel’s whereabouts.
About how they infiltrated a certain fortress half a year ago.
About how they found Luciel’s pitiful appearance.
About how not being able to rescue her, the choice they took to take her life there.
About the results from interrogating the enemies, and how they found out that Rodelia’s woman general, Jelia, was the perpetrator that trampled upon Luciel’s life.
Then finally, about how they spent half a year after that to take revenge for Luciel.
By the time Ardis finished talking, Greyth was wrapped in anger as he muttered.
「That fucking woman……. How much does she want us to……! 」
「And also Marty too huh……」
Albeit his polite wording, Elion’s mutter was cold and filled with rage in his expression.
「……If I knew this would happen, I should have sent all of them to the grave at that time. 」
Besides Ardis, both Reina and Kyo had swollen red eyes while calling Luciel’s name.
Perhaps it was too early for them both to listen.
Pushing the regrets deep into himself, Ardis put his mind somewhere else.
The remaining targets are only three people.
However, to reach the three targets, Ardis didn’t yet have the fangs to do so.
「Three people left. That crazy woman, Marty, and one of his friends. But only these three are not easy to reach. 」
Jelia, one of the central axes for Rodelia’s army is of course difficult to reach, but Marty and his friend who are now her direct subordinates, are also now located in a well-protected castle.
Since the opponents had probably caught onto their intentions, even when Marty and his friend go out of the castle, they always avoid acting on their own.
「Then you come back to us. 」
Greyth with his short words conveyed to Ardis.
「I don’t have any plans to involve everyone from the band with my revenge. 」
「That’s not it. Either way, that woman is the enemy we cannot forgive no matter what. It’s not like we’ve been sitting idle all this time too, you know. 」
「It’s as Captain said. 」
「We’ve also been monitoring what that woman general has been doing all this time. After all, she’s not an opponent that we can take on directly. 」
It’s not like Wisteria had lived a peaceful life after Ardis left.
Naturally, being a mercenary band meant that their daily lives were spent on battlefields, having to recover their rock bottom combat power.
On top of that, they still had to continue looking for methods for revenge against the woman general, Jelia.
「We finally managed to reach a realistic strategy after taking root in other mercenary bands and countries that go against Rodelia. The showdown will be in two months. I don’t want to think that we’ve met again because of just a coincidence. 」
「……Tell me more about it. 」
It’s only natural why Ardis gave such a reply.
Regrouping with Rona who was waiting outside the inn, they exited the town, and headed to where Wisteria was camping.
「Oooh, isn’t it Ardis! Rona too! 」
「Yo, Darwat. 」
「Ardis, you said!? ……It’s really Ardis! Hahah, you have quite the tempered face now! 」
「But you haven’t changed one bit, Joan. 」
「Welcome…… welcome back, kid……」
「Isn’t it time that you stopped calling him kid, Lexy? He’s not at that age already, you know. 」
Familiar mercenaries were greeting Ardis one after another as he entered the camp behind Greyth.
「For the time being, come to my place after you finish giving your greetings. Elion, be his guide for a while. 」
「Yeah, I will go do that. 」
The period of almost five years is not short at all.
While replying to the comrades that had gotten much more dignified since the last time he saw them, Ardis simply felt he was wrapped in a warm feeling of 『Returned』.
While reaffirming that this place is truly the only home for him, at the same time, he felt pain in his chest when he realized the lack of familiar faces he saw.
Ardis who was finally released from the old comrades that were rejoicing at the reunion, headed towards Greyth’s personal tent guided by Elion.
「Well, if just counting numbers, we have as much as we used to have now. 」
As Ardis entered the tent and found a seat, Greyth started explaining the current situation.
「The members of when Ardis was still in the band was now, half…… no, about one third of the members now. Not to mention recruits, there were quite a few central members that he didn’t know. 」
「Well……that’s natural when five years had passed. 」
Ardis smiled bitterly.
「So, what kind of strategy you were talking about? 」
「There’s no need to be so impatient. Victor will soon――」
Just as Greyth was about to answer the impatient Ardis, the entrance of the tent opened.
「Am I perhaps late? 」
It was a man with wheat colored hair that appeared.
The strangely elegant face that did not resemble the chaotic life of a mercenary loosened when looking at Ardis,
「Long time no see, Ardis. Rona too. 」
As Victor sat at an empty space, the substitute, Elion went outside instead.
「Well then, since Victor is here already, let’s start explaining. 」
「What about the others? 」
「The older folks already knew about it. There’s no need to reexplain at this point. 」
After answering Rona’s question, Greyth immediately started talking about the current situation.
「Ardis knows about the castle where that woman general normally holes up in, right? 」
「Of course. Certainly, there’s a thousand soldiers stationed there, right? 」
「Unn, that’s what we heard. 」
Ardis’s question that wasn’t directed particularly to anyone was answered by Rona.
「So you’ve known that much as expected. Then there’s no need to explain much, but you do understand that just one mercenary band can’t do anything against a thousand soldiers in the castle, right? 」
Ardis agreed with Greyth’s question, as Greyth from the sidelines continued with the explanation.
「Then on the battlefield―― is what we want to say, but by every year, that general has gotten a higher position within the country. She no longer appears in small-scale battles in the frontlines. If it’s just a battle with a few thousand soldiers, she doesn’t even show her face there. Though, with a large-scale battle, it’s difficult to pull off a surprise attack on their headquarters as we did once before. 」
「That’s why until now we haven’t made a move. But regrettably, as time goes on, that woman becomes further out of reach. 」
Ardis without interrupting only nodded to show understanding.
「As for the strategy this time, just making the shell of it took a lot of troubles. 」
「Well, the ones that were troubled were mainly me and Elion though. 」
Victor’s merciless words silenced Greyth instantly, then after a cough, he continued as if nothing happened.
「There will be a large-scale battle two months later. The four-country coalition is going to gather forces and hit Rodelia. 」
Previously, there were five countries that went against Rodelia, but one of the founding countries had a succession problem, and then a civil war, so now the number of participating countries has dropped to four.
In these five years, only battles amounted to small scuffles broke out between the four-country coalition and Rodelia.
But now, the four-country coalition had drawn up a large-scale plan to sortie, it seems.
「So we’re participating in that battle? 」
「No, we won’t, but we will make use of it. 」
「If all four countries were to invest their forces, the total soldiers they have should be more than ten thousand. When that happens, naturally, the general will have to lead an army on her own. After all, there’s no one else in Rodelia that can lead an army in the scale of ten thousand currently. 」
Saying so, Victor unrolled the simplified map and pointed at Rodelia’s capital.
「With that scale of an army, normally, they will be organized at the capital first, and follow the general’s orders when on the way to the frontlines――is what we think would happen. On paper, they will be organizing the army at the general’s castle but it’s not possible if it’s not in the capital where all the bureaucrats and military officers are at. 」
「Isn’t it possible for that woman herself to return to the capital once and start leading the army from there? 」
「Well, if she would move with a small party of escort, it’s more than what we can ask for. Rather, that would be easiest for us. 」
「It’s what Captain said. If that happens, we can just take down the general traveling with only a few escorts. However, the chances for that are low. After all, it’s unimaginable the kingdom will summon that general with few escorts accompanying. Her position and standing are different from before. But still, in a time of war, there is too much waste if they bring along many soldiers from the castle that’s nearer to the frontline back to the capital. In the first place, it’s expected that their opponents wouldn’t miss such an opportunity if that happens. 」
「So, what are our plans? 」
「On the day when the main unit arrives at the general’s castle, we will use a decoy strategy about half a day’s distance from that castle. 」
Saying so, Victor pointed at a place on the map.
「Then, a portion of Wisteria along with the private army of the feudal lord there will raise the flag of rebellion against Rodelia. 」
「So you’re saying that a feudal lord of Rodelia will lend us a hand? I don’t think there’s such a convenient story. 」
「Nope, that’s not the case, Ardis. They are not helping us. It’s us that will help them raise troops. At the very least, that’s their perception. 」
「……I see. 」
「See what? 」
As Rona tilted his head sideways, Ardis spoke of his own guess.
「They probably fanned the people that are against Rodelia and made them their own will to do that. Wisteria will lend a hand to their lacking forces to go against the suppressing forces from the main country――but in fact, we will be using them for our own good. 」
「That’s almost correct. Looks like Ardis has learned to use his head a bit. Of course, the troops raising have the four-countries coalition pulling strings behind, so it’s like we are making use of that fact. That feudal lord seems like he wants to start raising troops when the frontlines start fighting, but sorry for him, we’re going to start a few days earlier for our own plans. Or shall I say, we will make it a situation where he has no other choice but to start early. 」
「Uwaa, so bad taste. 」
「When we’re talking about plotting, that’s a great compliment. 」
Victor rebutted casually at Rona who spoke as if teasing.
「We’re ignoring their own intentions and planning to start the troops raising under the daylight, and naturally, Rodelia will have to send soldiers to deal with them. There’s no way they will leave an uncertain element right before the start of a large-scale battle. Thinking about the stationing of the nearby forces, a subjugation team from the general’s castle is most likely to be sortied. To not let the four-countries coalition know that there’s a crack in their country, they won’t send soldiers from other places. 」
「So the plan is we charge into the castle itself when that woman’s subordinates go out. 」
Greyth added on lastly.
However, Ardis’s expression was still cloudy.
「I don’t think it can go that smoothly though……」
「So the plan is to attack them before their main unit arrive at the castle? But from their perspective, isn’t it bad to thin their defenses, and won’t they just delay the suppression until the main unit arrives? 」
「They can’t exactly do that. For Rodelia’s army, just when they are about to engage in battle with the four-countries army, they will want to avoid fighting while carrying seeds of rebellion. If their countermeasures are late, the suppression will also be late. If they take too much time, the enemies will gain more ground too, and worst case, they will have to suppress the rebels at the same time when the battle unfolds. Rodelia on the receiving end is already one step behind. On top of that, if they took time to suppress the rebels, their situation will worsen. From the Rodelia’s army perspective, they will have to suppress the rebels as soon as possible, but for that, the force they can move at that time is only――it is such dilemma they will be forced upon. And timing is extremely crucial for that to happen. 」
「Yes. Think about what if the news of rebellion happening arrived at the same day that the main unit is supposed to arrive? 」
「……Since the main unit will be arriving soon, they will split the castle forces and leave a vulnerable state to a bare minimum」
「It will take at least half a day of preparation for them to sortie a suppression team. Depending on the situation, it’s not strange to think that the main unit will arrive before that. Humans are creatures that tend to stick to the initial plan when they start to move after all. We will make them think to make the gap of minimal defense as short as possible, drawing out the castle’s soldiers, and at the same time, with another team, we will delay the main unit’s advance by a little……」
「And then the vulnerable period when we can attack will appear. 」
Ardis wrapped his finger around his chin.
「I understand the logic but, Rodelia’s main unit―― do we have a force that is capable of stopping an army with a scale of ten thousand? 」
「There’s no need to fight especially. For some reason, the highway had rubble all around, or for some reason, the road was wet despite not raining, or for some reason, travelers in help appeared multiple times, or beasts that never appeared normally attacking them……. If we layer such simple troubles on their road, even if individually they are insignificant, with that many, their effects become more pronounced. That’s especially in a big army, as commanding the entire army to move or stop is a huge trouble every time after all. 」
As Victor described possible scenarios while smiling, Rona made a different metaphor.
「So you mean we’re not fighting but playing harassment to make their march stop? 」
「That’s right. 」
「Although we don’t think it will definitely succeed, the chances are not bad, right? For me, I can see about a sixty percent of success rate with this plan. 」
Ardis too thought the success rate was certainly not low.
As Victor said, the key point of this strategy was to get the correct timing for the message regarding rebels to arrive at the castle.
「What if Rodelia delayed the suppression for later? Even if they know it may be disadvantageous while fighting the four-countries coalition, they decide to wait until the main unit arrives. 」
「At that time, there’s no other choice but to give up and wait for another chance. The best hand to play at that time is to secretly communicate with the team helping out the feudal lord for a quiet retreat. 」
「There’s still one more thing I’m concerned about. 」
「What is it? 」
「……Is it possible that it’s the same case as before? That…… like when we went to take over the facility. 」
That time, the commission they received to take over a research facility from the five countries coalition.
But in fact, that was a trap to ensnare Wisteria, a bitter past that everyone here didn’t forget about.
Not able to see through her plot, Ardis and the others that fell into the woman general Jelia’s trap, lost more than half of their members and suffered the greatest blow ever.
It was also at that time that Wisteria transformed into a group that seeks revenge against Jelia.
If just like that time, Rodelia was fully in the knows about this plan……
It’s natural why he would think so.
「No need to worry. At that time, the coalition itself were taken for a dance, but this time, it’s Wisteria’s own plan and action, so there shouldn’t be any information leaking from other places. Certainly, the plan itself may ride on the four-countries coalition’s plan. But we aren’t directly contacting with them to form a joint front. Even our information gathering is done via many layers of proxy to not let the opponents realize that it is us. 」
Looks like countermeasures against that possibility were already taken.
「I see. That makes me a bit more confident. 」
Since his biggest worry was wiped off, it would be the greatest chance for Ardis to catch that woman general Jelia in range.
「So, how is it? I won’t ask forcefully, but won’t you tag along to beat some sense into that woman? 」
Without Greyth asking, Ardis’s conclusion was already set in stone.
「Yeah, of course. Rather, I will join no matter what, even if you don’t allow it. 」