Chapter 341 – In the Depths of the Empire(1)
“Enemy forces are gathering at Transylvania.”
“Commander, there have been sightings of the royal guards.”
“We do not have an accurate number, but we believe they have at least 17,000 troops.”
Four Demon Lords and about fifteen demon officers were standing around a table. The individual with the highest position among them muttered to himself.
“Knights on both sides……. Is it the disciples of red and white?”
Demon Lord Marbas’ prudent and old gaze slowly scanned over a map. A Neutral Faction Demon Lord standing next to him shrugged their shoulders.
“They are known as one of the strongest knight orders on the continent. Now that Brittany’s Rose has fallen, they can definitely be referred to as the greatest now.”
His light grey eyes didn’t display any emotions, but they were constantly staring at something. The Neutral Faction Demon Lords would feel as if they entered a tranquil forest whenever they made eye contact with Marbas.
Not emotional, but still clear. Tranquility can occasionally be more intense than passion. These Demon Lords became aware of this fact many times thanks to Marbas.
It was probably because of this that Demon Lords gathered to the Neutral Faction. It wasn’t only because they agreed with the Neutral Faction’s cause. They were also moved by Marbas’ character which had gone through several eras and remained unwavering…….
Before he knew it, the Demon Lord noticed that Marbas was staring right at him.
“Purson, is there something you wish to ask me?”
Darn it, the Neutral Faction Demon Lord scolded himself in his mind. He accidentally stared at Marbas’ face too much. Purson quickly tried to think of an excuse, but soon decided to just answer honestly.
“I could not help but feel admiration because of how calm you appeared, Commander.”
“As you mentioned earlier, have we not already broken the stem of Brittany’s Rose?”
“That was when the entire Demon Lord Army was moving together. Compared to that, we are currently out on the frontline on our own.”
The Habsburg Empire was currently having a border dispute with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The reason was the 8th Crescent Alliance. Even after having captured the Habsburg Empire, the Neutral Faction turned their path and invaded the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Their invasion wasn’t incredibly fruitful, but they managed to capture five palatinates.
Marbas invaded the Commonwealth for an entirely political reason.
For starters, he couldn’t let the Plains Faction have all the ‘outstanding roles’.
It wouldn’t be exactly wrong to say that the 8th Crescent Alliance was the Plains Faction’s solo stage. To be more precise, it was a stage play directed, cast, and performed by Dantalian. There was a risk that this might cause the Plains Faction to gain too much popularity within the demon world.
There was a good chance that the people of the demon world would criticize the other groups. What were the other factions doing when the Plains Faction was working hard and shedding tears and blood on their own? They may be called the Neutral Faction, but they must actually be a group of opportunists that only care about their own personal gains and safety.
Marbas invaded the Commonwealth to avoid these accusations.
In the end, Marbas made the right choice.
The Plains Faction was defeated after they forcefully tried to carry out a pursuit and ended up getting ambushed by Consul Elizabeth. On the other hand, the Neutral Faction was able to acquire some small gains from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The demons who got excited over justifications and fighting for a cause praised the Plains Faction, but those with a more realistic point of view praised Marbas’ prudence.
– The Plains Faction’s ideal is right and demons should naturally support them.
– However, when discussing the general ideal of the people, we must first have our feet planted firmly on the earth. The Neutral Faction has shown us a model example of what it means to blend reality with ideals.
This was the general opinion of the intellectuals in the demon world. There were even those among them who criticized the Plains Faction, saying that they could have accomplished much more if they had helped the Neutral Faction invade the Commonwealth.
Although they ended up having a border dispute with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this was a satisfying result from the Neutral Faction’s perspective. The members gave their leader the utmost trust and support.
Marbas stroked his shortly-trimmed beard.
“I personally think that it would be fine for us to lose here if necessary.”
The Demon Lord unintentionally raised his voice in surprise. That wasn’t all. The remaining Neutral Faction Demon Lords who were listening to the conversation also opened their eyes wide.
“What are you saying, Commander? Are you saying we should give up on the land we were finally able to obtain after several years?”
“I fully understand your reluctance. However, have you already forgotten?”
Marbas glanced around at the others.
“Acquiring a cause was our only objective in this war. It has by no means ever been this small portion of land. We have already achieved our original goal.”
“But……cause also originates from an outcome. Would the denizens of the demon world not criticize us if we lose this land now?”
The other Demon Lords nodded in agreement. However, Marbas slowly shook his head.
“It is the opposite. The people of the demon world will criticize the Plains Faction and the Mountain Faction.”
The Demon Lord felt speechless, but he couldn’t help but ask back again.
“Why is that? I wish to hear your farsighted view, Commander.”
“Did you not point it out earlier? The past and present situations are different.”
Marbas removed his monocle and wiped it with a handkerchief. He continued speaking matter-of-factly as he cleaned his monocle.
“We were an independent legion in the past. Therefore, our achievement of securing this land belongs solely to the Neutral Faction and not the Crescent Alliance as a whole. Yet, how is the situation now? We have now become members of the great Habsburg Empire.”
The Demon Lords promptly figured out what Marbas was trying to say.
“I see. So, even if we lose this land, it would not be our fault! Rather, it would be the responsibility of the central forces of the Habsburg Empire that sat idly by without sending any reinforcements!”
“To be precise, it will be the responsibility of the Plains Faction and the Mountain Faction.”
Marbas put his monocle back on.
“Not only were they jealous of the Neutral Faction’s difficult accomplishment, but they did not send any reinforcement whatsoever. Their factional disputes must have blinded them to their original cause. This is what the public will assume.”
“I see…… Victory in defeat, is it……?”
The Demon Lords didn’t hold back their admiration. After listening to Marbas’ explanation, they started to see the map spread out on the table in front of them differently.
Until now, they had been staring at the map and trying to think of a way to stop the Commonwealth from rallying too much.
Now their train of thought was different. What could they do to make it appear like they fought well, but ultimately failed due to a lack of manpower? Their goal had changed completely.
“……Instead of going for an overall siege, we should dispatch small units and harass the Commonwealth’s army insistently.”
“Hm. We should also evacuate the demons who are currently residing here.”
“Indeed, indeed……. Doing so will leave a strong impression that we did our best to fight for the people.”
A peculiar mood began to spread through the Demon Lords.
Their thought process went from trying to endure a war that they had little chance of winning, to deliberately losing the war to obtain a strategic victory. Moreover, compared to their former goal, they had an almost definite chance of achieving their latter goal.
“This land is not very fertile anyway. It pales in comparison to the political gains we can potentially gain.”
“I am surprised, Commander. Why did you wait until now to tell us this?”
The Demon Lords turned to look at Marbas with slightly sad eyes.
“We would have made all sorts of preparations by now if you told us beforehand.”
Marbas would occasionally keep his thoughts to himself at times. It was in these moments that the Demon Lords who held Marbas in high regard couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
Marbas smiled for the first time since the meeting had started.
“That is because this plan will fail.”
Marbas let out a low chuckle. Everyone was perplexed because it sounded like Marbas genuinely found this to be amusing. Declaring that a plan will fail and then laughing afterward would confuse anyone.
“If this plan succeeds, then our Neutral Faction would gain an opportunity to win over the public opinion of the demon world. This will lower the popularity of the Plains Faction and the Mountain Faction. It would be a chance for us to decide the direction of the Empire.”
“Yes, that would indeed happen…….”
“But that is only if no one on their side is able to see through our plan.”
Marbas gave a light wink. This sort of playful display surprisingly suited Marbas’ serious face.
“Our Empire has an individual who has quite the splendid sense of smell. It would be impossible for this individual to not pick up this ‘scent’. They will scheme and do whatever they can to make sure we win.”
The Demon Lord sounded almost baffled as he spoke back.
“Even we were unable to figure out your intent despite being on the frontline with you. Rather, we have not actually done anything yet because you did not reveal anything to us, Commander. Who could possibly see through a plan that was never thought out or executed?”
“There will be people in the world who have an almost instinctual sense of smell, Purson.”
Marbas still seemed pleased.
“They do not look at war from an angle of winning or losing, but they instead look at it from a purely political perspective. Whether it was deliberate or not, there are people who are only capable of seeing from this perspective. Am I not also a prime example of this?”
It was at that moment that a messenger entered the barracks. The Demon Lords all turned to look at the messenger. The messenger received the gazes which they were still uncomfortable with as they got down on their knee.
“Your Excellency, I have a report.”
“An envoy has been sent from the capital. They are currently waiting to have an audience with Your Excellency.”
“Tell them to enter.”
The messenger hesitated for a moment before responding. Normally, people would inquire about who had sent the envoy and for what purpose they were here. The messenger had practiced answering these questions dozens of times because of this. However, the envoy was allowed in so easily that they could only be surprised.
Marbas let out a chuckle once the messenger left.
“Speak of the devil.”
“Did the capital send an envoy because they figured out the Commander’s plan?”
Marbas didn’t answer. It was a silent affirmation.
The other Demon Lords were still half in doubt. Regardless of what the people around him thought, Marbas waited casually for his guest to arrive. Shortly after, an individual pushed aside the entrance curtain and entered the barracks.
The man with a slightly bent back glanced around the room before turning to face Marbas.
Grasping the situation before anything else had probably become instinctual for him. Be it now or before, he was always the same. Marbas smiled as he saw the man’s unchanging habit before proceeding to give him a warm welcome.
“What brings you to this remote frontier, Attorney General?”
“Frontier? Don’t be absurd.”
The dark man, Dantalian, smiled brightly as he approached.
“I am currently visiting the center of the Empire.”