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On the other side were the Alacryans.
Many of them were already bloody and sweaty from the wave before.
It was odd seeing some soldiers clustered together while others were off by themselves.


There were no front lines, no division of forces to utilize their specialized magic like I had expected.


Casting aside my worries and doubts, I continued leading the charge with fervor, reinforcing confidence and morale into my comrades by cladding myself in lightning and fire.


The charge forward may have been an awe-inspiring sight, but the the clash was dreadful.
I felt it just as much as I heard it.


Metal shrieked and rang while men screamed in pain.
The faint hum of magic was always present as both sides took damage from one another.


The carefully formulated line consisting of augmenters quickly digressed into chaos amidst the snowy field.
My first opponent fell instantaneously as he had approached, with a single slash from my sword.


The following enemy soldiers fell just as quickly under my attacks, but it wasn’t just me.
The division of mages that had charged alongside me swiftly mowed down the average soldiers, a few only getting injured by the occasional lone mage that struck them by surprise.


I felt uneasy once more, but I pushed the feelings aside.
Hesitation was useless in a battle like this.
With Dawn’s Ballad in one hand and a spell always ready in the other, I left a trail of Alacryan corpses with every unabated step.


The first enemy mage that I found was by himself, surrounded by Dicathen soldiers on the ground.
His shoulders were hunched forward and his entire body was terribly thin with a sickly pale tone.
His hands were clad in tendrils of lightning.


Our eyes locked, and he peered into me like a starving wolf—desperate and deranged.


I abandoned my curiousness and rushed forward.
He was an enemy I needed to kill.
The more of them I killed, the more allies I saved.


I swung my free hand, conjuring a blade of ice clad in lightning.
With the addition of wind manipulation, the crescent cut through the enemy mage’s torso before he even had a chance to strike me with his lightning whips.


Without batting an eye, I moved on to my next enemy.
I tried to focus amidst the chaos of battle, tuning out the cries for help from allies and the high-pitched ring of metal on metal as weapons clashed.
It was hard to ignore as enemy weapons cut through the flesh of our soldiers.
Stains of pink from snow-mixed blood could be seen more often than white itself, and in some desperate places, the ground had turned into dark crimson.


Severed arms still clutching onto weapons, chopped off legs, and split-open heads littered the battlefield as I ran around, targeting the flashes of magic that appeared in the distance.


Had it not been for my previous life experiences, and the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I would’ve knelt down and retched on more than one occasion.


About an hour had passed, Sylvie and I regrouped and headed back to the camps where Varay waited.


I could feel the grief and horror emanating from my bond, and my state of mind wasn’t any better.
The two of us were welcomed into the camps by soldiers applauding and cheering, but it only made it worse.
Most of the same soldiers were injured, many unconscious.


I couldn’t help but think that, out of these dozens of soldiers, how many of their missing limbs had I run across out in this battlefield?


Medics ran around carrying supplies while the few emitters available in this particular camp were on the verge of backlash from overusing their mana.
But despite all of the activity and noise around us, I felt like I was watching everything through a thick foggy lens.


“Good work,” Varay said, patting me on the back.


I mustered a nod before taking a seat below a tree on the far edge of the camp.
Sylvie sat beside me and the two of us silently gathered ourselves.


I wasn’t tired.
My mana reserves weren’t drained despite the near fifty mages I had killed in that hour.
But my body still felt heavy.
It wasn’t like fighting against the beast horde.
These soldiers that I had killed were people—people that had families.


Despite my brain screaming at me to not think about this, it was hard not to.
The only small consolation I had was that I was just following my orders.
It was that small difference that differentiated a soldier from a killer.


I was just following orders.


The day stretched on with the end of the battle nowhere in sight.
During this time, more and more of our troops had arrived as support.


Large formations of soldiers stood ready to charge at a notice down below near the shore.
The campsites had become more and more packed with injured soldiers who were being patched up and carried away in carriages back to Etistin.


During this time, Sylvie and I had gone down to the battlefield four times and we were getting ready for our fifth run.


“Are you okay, Arthur?” my bond asked, gripping my arm gently.


“I’m hungry but feel nauseous just thinking about food,” I replied quietly.
“Let’s get this over with.”


Sylvie nodded.
“We’re doing a good thing though.
We’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands of allies by taking down those mages.”


“I know, but it’s just… nothing,” I sighed.


Reading my thoughts, she said aloud, “Are you still thinking something is off about them?”


“I do.
I tried not to think about it because we’re winning, but it’s still on my mind.
I haven’t studied the Alacryans indepthly or anything like that… but this—them,” I said, gesturing out to the field.
“They’re not the organized troops that Agrona had created.
Not in a way that I had imagined them, at least.”


“Maybe the troops that we’ve fought against before were elites,” Sylvie replied.


“Maybe you’re right,” I sighed.


Maybe I really had overestimated Agrona and the Alacryans.
Despite all of the planning that they’d done over the years, the enemies were still trying to invade an entire continent.
It’s only normal for us to have this much of an advantage.


That was when I overheard one of the injured soldiers talking.


I whipped around and ran to the legless soldier lying on a table with a medic wrapping new gauze around his injuries.


“What did you say?” I asked, terrifying the man.


“G-G-General! My apologies.
I shouldn’t have said something so outrageous like that!” he exclaimed, eyes wide with fear.


I just want to know what you said just now.
Something about ‘freed’?”


“I-I just said that I felt a little… bad for them,” he answered, his voice dropping to a whisper.
“One of the Alacryans, just before I killed him, begged me not to kill him.
He said something about being granted freedom if he lives.”


“They would be granted freedom?” Sylvie echoed, turning to me with an expression of concern.
“Do they enslave their soldiers?”


Thoughts accelerated in my head as I processed and connected everything: how untrained the soldiers seemed, how spread apart their specialized mages were, the disunity amongst their troops that made them seem more like they were fighting a free-for-all, and even the lack of uniform and armor that helped them tell each other apart from their enemies.


“They’re not soldiers,” I muttered, looking at Sylvie.
“Those are just their prisoners.”


Sylvie’s eyes widened in realization before asking the question that really mattered.
“So then, where are their actual soldiers?”

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