* * *
Due to the supporting troops from the ducal family, the atmosphere of Tochern Castle was filled with hope for a change.
After the hubbub that lasted for quite a while passed, everyone soon fell asleep.
A small shadow cut through the castle soundlessly.
It was Dooha.
She seemed to be familiar with the darkness, and arrived in front of a certain warehouse without a sound of footsteps.
‘I don’t think any of the soldiers are suspicious. Then that just leaves Count Jive.’
If she knew that there would be so many rooms in the castle, she would have Daniel where Count Jive was staying.
Just as Dooha was regretting belatedly.
She heard a familiar voice from behind her.
“What are you doing here at this hour?”
The Duke of Esbaden, it was none other than him.
“I should be the one asking, what’s the Lord doing here at this hour, instead of getting some rest?”
“…I was thinking about how to move the troops tomorrow.”
“You haven’t slept properly for more than a week. When it’s quiet like right now, you should have gotten some sleep first.”
Fortunately, it didn’t seem like the duke had noticed Dooha’s existence.
In fact, even if he ran into her now, the chances of him recognizing her was low.
Both her voice and appearance have changed.
But why was it so? She didn’t want to run into him right now.
Dooha concealed the signs of her existence and in the deep shade that was deeper than darkness, like she was a sinner.
When she held her breath and turned her head, she spotted the duke a few steps away.
Dishevelled hair, deep circles under his eyes, a haggard face, and a worn-out cape along with a heavily scratched armour.
At the sight of the old and dirty cloak the duke was wearing, Dooha frowned.
It wasn’t the cloak that she had given him as a gift.
‘…Didn’t you say that you’d make good use of it?’
It was a cape that she had given him after much difficulty, but she didn’t feel quite good when she saw that he was wearing something else.
“Didn’t you also come out because you couldn’t sleep? Enough with the nagging.”
“My sincerest apologies if it sounded like nagging.”
“Why are you apologising again?”
Meanwhile, Leonhart looked at his lieutenant, who was always serious, and smiled lightly.
“How nice it would’ve been if half of you and Claude are mixed together.”
“Please don’t speak about something that terrible.”
“It’s a joke.”
The two seemed closer than she’d thought.
As expected, if a long time is spent together on the battlefield, even if it’s the duke, who doesn’t really open his heart to others, something like comradeship would accumulate.
“To think that the Lord made such a joke, my life until now wasn’t in vain.”
A faint smile appeared on Baron’s reliable face, which seemed to be carved out of a rock.
“You’ve quite changed a lot. You look much better than before.”
“Then did I not look good before?”
“You didn’t seem as relaxed as you do now.”
So he didn’t seem like he had free time.
After pondering for a moment, Leonhart shook his head immediately.
“I haven’t changed.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Isn’t that obvious? Nothing around me has changed, so how could I have changed?”
Before he turned twenty, Leonhart succeeded the duchy and had to fight every single day.
Fighting against his uncle, fighting against the vassals, fighting against monsters, fighting amongst territories.
The amount of effort he had exerted so that he wouldn’t be defeated in all those battles.
If he had to say that there’s something that wouldn’t change in this world, it would be the fact that the duke had to repeat those battles till his death.
“Speaking of change, there was one thing, wasn’t there?”
Baron looked at his Lord.
“Don’t you have a wife now?”
“I didn’t know that you also had a knack for making jokes.”
“I was just speaking of the truth.”
Leonhart looked at him for a long while, before turning his head away.
As the duke’s back was facing the moon, his face wasn’t visible.
After remaining silent for a long while, Leonhart spoke in a low voice.
“Won’t change merely because of that.”
Meanwhile, Dooha, who was hiding in the shadows and eavesdropping on their conversation, slowly placed a hand on one side of her chest.
She was well aware that Leonhart originally wasn’t a man that gentle in speech.
As such, she’d thought that she wouldn’t be hurt by the words he said.
Dooha held her breath silently.
At best, such words stung, making her feel as though she was stabbed somewhere deep in her chest by a needle.
“Enough with the idle chatter.”
Leonhart changed the topic like he didn’t want to talk about the Duchess anymore.
“As soon as dawn breaks tomorrow, I, along with Count Jive and Daniel, will lead five knights and a hundred soldiers into the forest.”
“Have you come up with a strategy?”
Leonhart contorted a corner of his lip and gave a crooked smile.
“Do you really think strategy has any significance in the current situation?”
His blue eyes, which were burning coldly with anger, turned towards Baron.
“You’ll only be killed if you can’t kill the monsters. As such, if they don’t want to die, let them spare no effort.”
Determination was written all over the face of the young head of a great family that has based their business on subjugating monsters.
“Prepare enough oil and flint, and let the soldiers carry spears or bows instead of swords. Since when in a close quarters fight with monsters, they wouldn’t even be an opponent anyways.”
“Then around a third of the soldiers should be arranged to take the lead…”
“I’ll clear the road. All they have to do is just continue being on the offensive without pause.”
Leonhart passed his lieutenant, who was on a knee and with a bowed head, immediately.
“See you tomorrow, then.”
Both of them headed towards their respective destinations.
Only the Duchess, Dooha, remained in the shadows.
She leant against the wall and remained still there for a long time.
When the moonlight, which was hidden amongst the clouds, finally shone on the wall, no one was present there.
* * *
Ding, ding, ding—!
Early in the morning, before the stars of the night had yet to disappear behind the mountain ridge.
A sharp warning bell went off in Tochern Castle.
At the sound of an invasion by the enemy, not only the knights, but also the duchy’s soldiers began to arm themselves hurriedly.
“What is this….”
Meanwhile, Leonhart, who was the first to rush out and understand the situation, grabbed a soldier that was running over from the main gate.
From the clothes he was wearing, he seemed to be a soldier of Tochern Castle’s.
“What’s the matter!”
The terrified soldier’s teeth clattered as he looked up at the Duke.
“The monsters have surrounded the castle. T—they are about to climb up the rampart!”
He screamed with a terror-stricken voice.
“We’re, we’re all gonna die!”
“If you have the time to blab nonsense, bring me a weapon!”
Leonhart had already thrown the soldier, who had already lost his reason, on the floor and looked up at the castle.
That place was already in chaos.
Just then, black figures could be seen wandering amongst the soldiers, one that inspired fear with their shadows.
One, two, three, four…
Leonhart uttered a curse while counting the number of monsters.
Although the duchy’s knights and the castle’s soldiers were defending the rampart with all their might, it was as though it’s only a matter of time before the line of defence collapsed.
Teeth like the razor-edge of spears, claws that tore through the flesh like a sickle, swift movements that are hard to track with the eye, and physical strength that’s even capable of breaking rock walls.
Their existence truly was too much for an ordinary human being to deal with.
Just then, a werewolf that was obviously several times larger than the others, succeeded in climbing up the rampart.
It looked at the soldier shaking with a spear in hand, and licked its lips.
Although he had an old weapon, he gave off the scent of a young human being.
The young soldier, who seemed to be around fifteen at the most, stepped back as he saw the monster approaching him.
However, he was so terrified that his legs didn’t move according to his will.
Eventually, the soldier’s knees buckled and closed his eyes tightly in the face of the werewolf that was pouncing at him.
If it weren’t for a blunt sound, as though rock was splitting apart, he would have thought that he died helplessly.
“Flee to the castle.”
The young soldier slowly opened his eyes at the gentle yet harsh voice in his ear.
Before his feet stood a person pulling an arrow that was stuck in the eye of the monster’s carcass, with a headscarf covered face.
It was Dooha, with her identity and appearance concealed by the headscarf.
She pulled an arrow out of the monster’s eyes and replaced it into the quiver on her back.
‘As expected, are their weak points their necks and eyes? They’re no different from wild animals in that aspect.’
As soon as the bell rang, Dooha climbed up the rampart and was faced with quite a number of monsters shortly after.
They were much stronger and agile than those that attacked the supporting troops in the day yesterday, so she was quite bewildered at the beginning, but she got used to it over time.
‘It’s still alright if it’s at this level.’
Dooha clasped her bow tightly and her eyes shone.
Meanwhile, the young soldier couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the gracefulness she displayed throughout the series of gestures from her.
Dooha grabbed that soldier’s arm and helped him up.
“What are you doing? This isn’t a place for a kid like you. Get out of here.”
“I won’t stop you if you want to die.”
At that moment, a monster that succeeded in climbing up the rampart rushed towards Dooha.
Before the young soldier could get anything out.
Dooha managed to nock arrows on her bow and turned her back in the blink of an eye.
Her arrow accurately pierced the monster’s eyes.
The sharp arrow penetrated the monster’s entire head with the blessing of the wind that she was saturated with.
The young soldier felt an unexpected thrill at the sight of a monster falling at the hands of a human that’s much smaller than it.
“I’m leaving. Once again, if you want to live, run to the castle.”
Dooha turned her gaze to the watchtower, where the monster’s attack was especially concentrated.
When she stepped forward unhesitatingly.
“E—excuse me, thank you for saving me!”
It was the second time she’d heard words of gratitude since coming to the Empire.
Dooha paused for a moment, before rushing forward with all her might.
And there was someone watching her running on the rampart.
It was Leonhart, a duke who was climbing the stairs under the rampart.
His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Dooha, who’d managed to kill the monster in an instant with a few arrows.
‘Was there such a talented person in this castle?’
Even amidst the chaos, his gaze could be removed from the mysterious figure that was covered in a hood.
* * *
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