Grimgal Of Ashes And Illusion / Grimgal of Ashes and Illusion Vol 3 Chapter 13

LEVEL 3: Even the Best Laid Plans go Awry, but Such is This World

Chapter 13: Our Mistake

PART 1 of 2

Things got one-sided after that.

The orcs from the northern wall were caught between the Green Storm Regiment and the Wild Eagle Regiment and their numbers steadily declined. How long did it take for the reservists to completely wipe out the orcs? Haruhiro didn’t know, but it wasn’t long. One or two minutes at most. The twenty plus orcs probably didn’t even know what hit them before they died. They were the enemy, so Haruhiro didn’t feel too sorry for them, but still… it was a horrendous massacre. He thought he’d gotten used to the stench of blood and corpses, but nothing had prepared him for the overwhelming reek of the scene before him now.

Kajiko and her Wild Angels rushed past Haruhiro’s party. The white feathers decorating their scarves, helms, hats, and bandanas were splattered with bloodstains.

“Damn, they look HOT!” Ranta exclaimed.

“Brittany!” Kajiko’s angry shout rose above the clamor of battle. “What’s going on at the main gate!?”

Commander Bri, who was still standing atop the ramparts of the eastern wall, shook his head. “They haven’t broken through yet! I can’t see them from here, but it seems like they’re having a tough time!”

“Then we’ll bring down this fortress ourselves!” Kajiko raised both arms to rally the reservists. “Listen up, everyone! The army’s got a bounty of a hundred gold on the head of the Guardian, Zorun Zesshu! And fifty gold for the head of the orc shaman Avaael, who’s killed several regular army troops and Crimson Moon reservists!”

“What? A hundred!?” someone shouted.

“Ten thousand silvers!?” another cried, incredulous.

“No way! A hundred gold!?” cried another.

Yet another, “FIFTY gold!?”

“A hundred and fifty GOLD!? Seriously!?” shouted someone else.

When they heard the incredible bounty sums, most of the reservists in both regiments froze in their tracks, as if cold water had been poured on them. And right when everyone was distracted, fresh arrows from the watchtowers assaulted them once more. Several reservists were hit and went down. The oafish warrior in Choco’s party was among them, taking an arrow in the shoulder. Their Priest began to heal him immediately.

“S-Shields!” Haruhiro hurriedly scooped an orc shield off the ground.

However, the other reservists didn’t care about orc arrows anymore. Their focus was on something completely different now. Reach the outer stair. Get into the keep. Kill the Guardian. Kill the shaman. Fifty gold. One hundred gold. One hundred and fifty gold. Everyone’s thoughts were on nothing but that now. Even Haruhiro found himself lured in by the promise of such a huge bounty. He couldn’t even fathom such a large sum.

An ear-splitting battle cry in a voice Haruhiro had heard before rose above the noise of battle. It belonged to Ron. “We’re gonna break into the keep first! No one can beat us!”

There had been a deadlock in the battle at the stairway by the eastern wall for a while now, but suddenly the enemy’s hard defensive line collapsed and the reservists broke through. There was no telling the difference between Green Storm and Wild Eagle members; everyone was rushing towards the outer stairs in one large mob. Arrows flew in streams from the slotted watchtower windows, but it wasn’t enough to stop the reservist tide. Individual reservists disappeared in the torrent, and no one could remain stationary.

Haruhiro was also picked up and swept along with the flood. He knew nothing except that his companions were still with him.

“I’m going to the main gate to see what’s going on!” Bri shouted. “Kajiko, you’re in command here!”

“The battle will be over by the time you get back!” Kajiko shouted back.

“Don’t get carried away!” Bri warned. “You’re all big kids now so act like it!”

“Tell that to the useless regular army!” said Kajiko. “I’m gonna claim the bounty for myself!”

“Whatever!” Bri said with exasperation. “Just try not to bite off more than you can chew!”

Bri disappeared. Haruhiro had no idea where he went-probably towards the main gate. It didn’t matter. He didn’t care. Bri could go where ever he wanted, Haruhiro was going to the outer stair. Actually, he was already there, but the entire area around the entrance was so jam packed with people he didn’t think there was any way he’d get through.

Yet he was still moving forward as the people in front steadily ascended the stairway. In fact, they were clambering up the stairs quite swiftly. Before he knew it, Haruhiro was almost on the roof of the keep, too. Whoa! What the hell!? The arrows. There were three watchtowers at the corners of the keep and arrows were being shot at them from all three. It was a cascade of orc arrows. A torrential downpour of the damned things.

Haruhiro barely managed to get his shield up in time. Several arrows lodged in his shield before he managed to cross the distance to the entrance of the keep. He ditched the shield just as he was shoved inside by the stream of reservists behind him. What about the others? Mogzo? Check. Ranta? Still here. Yume, Shihoru, Mary; check, check, check. He even thought he spotted Choco somewhere.

The passageway inside the keep was so packed that he had no idea what was going on. Rather than attempt to fight it, he let himself get pushed along with the flow. Quickly through the corridor, down a flight of stairs, from the third floor to the second to the first. The ceiling of the keep towered high above and the floor was spacious. It was like one open room with no walls.

Stairways were built into the four corners and Haruhiro guessed that the one he was descending now was the one in the southeast. He recalled that the stairways on the first floor were the only way to enter the watchtowers. So he assumed that it was also possible to access the watchtowers from the northwest, southwest, and northeast stairs. There were also four doors on each of the watchtowers’ inner walls, and all of them had been breached.

Which meant that the inside of the watchtowers had already been searched? On his way through the corridor and down the stairs, Haruhiro recalled stepping on and over several orc corpses. The situation on the ground floor of the keep was completely different, however. It seemed as though there had been some tough fighting going on before Haruhiro arrived. Scattered around were the bodies of more than ten orcs, with a number of reservists mixed in.

Some reservists were sitting off to the side, getting healed by their companions while others were… not getting healed. Dead, in other words.

“Ah… now we find out which one holds the jackpot,” said Kajiko.

It seemed that the Wild Angels had taken the northwest watchtower while Team Renji had claimed the southwest one. The other reservists had realized this and were going for the remaining northeast tower.

“Which one are we going for!?” Ranta asked, lifting his helm’s visor and looking at each of the three watchtowers in turn. “My vote’s for the northeast one! We ain’t gonna win against Kajiko and Renji!”

“No,” Haruhiro said.

He had to make a decision. So he decided before hesitation could set in and he started considering options too deeply; it was more instinct than cognition.

“We’ll follow Renji,” Haruhiro announced.

“Are you retarded!?” Ranta snapped. “We don’t have any chance of claiming the bounty if we follow them!”

“Does that matter? We never had a chance to begin with!” Yume retorted.

“Idiot girl!” Ranta shot back. “Where’s your self-confidence!?”

Shihoru smiled sardonically. “The person who claims that we don’t have a chance if we follow Renji has no right to talk about self-confidence.”

“Yeah, well,” Ranta said. “I guess. Whatever! Let’s go steal his kill then!”

Mogzo forced a laugh while Mary glared at Ranta coldly. “Coward.”

Ranta grinned smugly. “Awesome! For a Dread Knight like me, that’s the highest compliment I can get! Wahahaha! O Darkness, O Lord of Corruption… [DARK INVITATION]!”

A blackish, purplish cloud rose from just above the back of Ranta’s head. The cloud began to spin itself into a cyclone and form itself into some kind of shape. It resembled a headless human torso with two holes at the center of the chest area for eyes and a wide slit below for a mouth. A demon summoned through Dread Knight magic.

{“Keeehehehehe! Heeehehehe! Kehekehe! RANTA WILL DIE!}

“Oh it’s not ‘DIE RANTA’ for a change? You’re predicting that I’m gonna die now, Zodiak!?”

{Eeeehehe… KILL RANTA…}

“Now you’re saying I’m gonna be murdered!?”

“Zodiak, shake!” Yume stuck her hand out to the demon as if it was a dog.

{DIE HUMAN PIG} Zodiak said even as he obediently reached out to touch Yume’s offered hand.

“Wow! Good boy, Zodiak! Good boy!” Yume said. “It ain’t nice to call Yume a pig though…”

{Kehehe… SORRY…}

“Zodiak, what the fuck!?” Ranta said. “You’re seriously apologizing?”

Zodiak’s response was to gaze blankly at Ranta. Wow. One-upped by his own minion, thought Haruhiro as he debated what to do about Choco’s party.

Finally, he settled with telling them, “I know it’s none of my business, but you guys should try not to overdo it!”

He didn’t know whether they would take his advice or not, but it seemed that they weren’t planning to go beyond the first floor for now. Several other parties had stopped here as well. The floor had already been cleared out, so it was safer. Yes, it was better if Choco stayed here.

In fact, maybe it was better if Haruhiro’s party stayed as well. So why weren’t they? Maybe because they’d already killed an orc. They were no longer virgins and maybe that made everyone feel more confident than usual. Morale was high and everyone wanted to keep a good thing going. Or maybe that wasn’t it at all. At least Haruhiro didn’t think so. But the usual Haruhiro would have at least stopped to consider sitting out the rest of the battle here. So why had his decision come so quickly this time?

Perhaps he thought that as long as they stayed close to Renji, it wouldn’t be as dangerous? Yes, that was probably part of the reason. Team Renji was strong. As long as they stayed in Renji’s proverbial shadow, there was no danger of getting themselves killed… most likely. But it wasn’t as if Haruhiro intended to cower behind Renji the entire time. They would lend a hand in the fighting if they got a chance. By this point, there ought to be something they could do, however menial.

Maybe it was strange for Haruhiro to think so, but part of him wanted to help Renji. Even if they couldn’t play a decisive role, it wasn’t like they would be completely useless to have around. At the very least, Haruhiro wanted to be more useful to Renji than any of the other parties around, even if there was a risk of getting in the way and becoming a nuisance.

If it was only Haruhiro by himself, then he would have been called an idiot and become a laughing stock for having such thoughts. But he wasn’t alone. His companions were with him. Mogzo alone was an incredibly strong Warrior. Ranta pissed him off in every conceivable fashion, but his unique way of using his skills made him a formidable fighter. So what if Yume tended to be airheaded? That’s what let her approach things with such optimism. Shihoru’s personality was unremarkable in every way, but she was far-sighted and cared deeply about her companions. And Mary was always there for them when they needed it.

Manato… we’re a good team. I’m sorry you aren’t here to see how far we’ve come.

With this team, together with his companions, Haruhiro wanted to aim higher. There was no need to rush or be impatient, but Haruhiro knew that they had it in them to rise above where they were.

“Let’s gooooooooo!” Ranta charged at the head of their party as they chased after Team Renji.

Unwilling to compete with Renji, few of the other reservists were going for the southwest watchtower. They ascended the spiral stairs at a run.

“Yume’s gettin’ kinda dizzy!” Yume giggled.

Haruhiro could hear an incredibly loud clamor coming from above them; the sounds of battle.

“Jackpot!?” Haruhiro wondered.

Just as they were reaching the top of the stairs, they ran into a group of five reservists huddled together.

“What’re you guys doing!?” Ranta demanded angrily.

“We couldn’t go further even if we wanted to,” someone equipped like a Warrior gazed up at them. “It’s too dangerous!”

“Fucking idiots! You go in and fight because it’s dangerous!” Ranta gave his demon a hard shove forward. “Zodiak! Get in there and tell us what’s going on!”

{I don’t wanna! Don’t wanna, don’t wanna, don’t wanna!! Keeeshishishishiii!}

“What the hell, Zodaik!? Why!?” Ranta yelled.

Haruhiro clicked his tongue at Ranta. “Forget it, I’ll go take a look! You don’t have to sacrifice poor Zodiak…”

“Shut up, Haruhiro! He’s my demon and I’ll do whatever I want with him!”

{W-w-w-who’s yours? Nuh-uh, stupidhead! DIE! Eeehehehe…}

“If I die, then you’ll disappear too! Is that what you want!? HUH!?”

{Eeeehehehe! DIE RANTA DIE! Me wants! Wants, wants, wants! Heheheheeee!}


Haruhiro shoved Ranta aside before he could say more. The other Crimson Moon party got out of his way and he poked his head out from the stairwell to take a look.

“Whoa…” he whispered in disbelief. ‘Dangerous’ didn’t even begin to describe the situation.

The circular room at the top of the tower had a fairly high ceiling and was more spacious than Haruhiro expected. He counted ten orcs as his eyes swept across the room and at the center of a flurry of activity saw Renji and Ron. It looked like the fight was going in their favor, but the opposite was true for Chibi, Sassa, and Adachi. They were steadily being pushed back against the walls.

Chibi was spinning her staff around and around furiously, apparently in an attempt to protect Sassa and Adachi. Renji’s party were the only humans in the room, and they had only managed to take one orc down so far. Haruhiro withdrew back into the stairwell.

“The situation’s not good,” he reported. “Renji and Ron are fine but at this rate, Chibi and the others…”

They had to get in there and help, but was it feasible? Haruhiro’s team bailing Team Renji out of a situation even Renji couldn’t handle? That had to be some kind of joke. But Renji was in a really bad situation. Five versus ten. Team Renji might have been super human, but even they couldn’t handle those odds. Not against enemies as strong as orcs.

If Haruhiro’s party went in, they could at least even things out numerically. They would have to help Chibi’s group first. Renji and Ron could hold their own for now. And if Haruhiro’s team could free up Renji’s other party members, then the fighting would become easier for Renji and Ron, too.

“Mogzo, head up and to the right!” Haruhiro ordered. “Protect Chibi’s group! Me and Ranta will be right behind you! Yume, Shihoru, Mary, do what you think is best depending on the situation!”

PART 2 of 2

Mogzo rushed in with a battle cry.

“Goddamn it! It’s like babysitting kids!” Ranta said as he followed.

“Why don’t you try saying that to Renji’s face?” Haruhiro shot back.

“No way! Are you retarded!?”

“Look who’s talking! Let’s go!” Haruhiro ordered.

Mogzo, Ranta, and Haruhiro ascended the stairs to the top. Suddenly, the hazy, indistinct line appeared. Haruhiro was already moving by the time his brain registered its appearance. His body followed along the line’s path in something between a walk and a run, as if he was gliding across the surface of the floor.

Everything went absolutely silent. Time didn’t stop, but everything seemed to move much slower than normal. He was right behind the orc now. [BACKSTAB]. Even though the orc was armored in thick plate mail, Haruhiro’s dagger slipped smoothly through it. He could feel it hit something beneath. A vital point. When Haruhiro pulled the dagger back out, the orc fell over without a sound, dead.

“What was that…?” Sassa whispered, expression disbelieving.

Haruhiro shook his head; he couldn’t explain it properly even if he tried.

“THANK YOU!” Mogzo sent one of the orcs who were attacking Chibi flying with [RAGE CLEAVE].

“Oy! Zodiak! Get your ass back here and help me!” Ranta demanded.

{Feehehehehe… Eeeehehehehe… I don’t wanna! Wimp imp! Wimp imp! DIE RANTA…}

“Damn it! There’s not enough space here!” Ranta complained.

Ranta’s fighting style was based on avoiding direct clashes; he ran around until he saw a chance to strike. Oftentimes, it worked out quite nicely because it kept the attention of one enemy entirely on him.

Yume, Shihoru, and Mary were up the stairs now.

“Renji!” Haruhiro shouted as he used [SWAT] to deflect the blows of another orc, leaving Sassa with the opportunity to go on the offensive.

He noticed that Team Renji’s Thief was very good with the [SWAT] skill. Haruhiro was above her in terms of raw strength, but Sassa was spry and agile. She moved rhythmically.

“Chibi and the others are fine!” he shouted towards Renji.

Renji’s gaze shifted towards Haruhiro for a brief moment. He flashed Haruhiro a slight smile. Whoa. Renji’s so cool… He was swinging Ishh Dogrann’s sword with all his might, but with the grace of a ballroom dancer. What kind of Warrior technique was that? Was it a technique at all? He slashed at two orcs and brought both down, one immediately after the other. Ron also took one down using brute force, but Renji was already on his third. He lopped the next one’s head clean off its shoulders.

“Jeeru mea gram fel kanon!” Adachi cast the [BLOOD FREEZE] spell and froze the legs of an approaching orc, but the orc kept coming in spite of it. So he cast another without hesitation, “Jeeru mea gram tera kanon!”

The [ICE COMET] spell. The ice elemental froze the moisture in the air instantly as it sped towards the orc, creating a ball of solid ice that smacked the orc right in the face. It must have been as painful as it looked, because the orc went down to one knee. Sassa was already moving. Just as she passed by the orc, she slammed her dagger down into its neck. Haruhiro didn’t even realize [BACKSTAB] could be used like that. It was a gorgeous Mage-Thief combination. Team Haruhiro, however, had no intention of being outstripped.

“Oom rel eckt nem das!” Shihoru chanted.

[SHADOW BIND] locked the orc in place. Mary held nothing back as she smashed her staff into it, and Yume followed up with a vicious slash while it was still dazed, sending it reeling backwards. Mogzo’s turn now. Instead of [RAGE CLEAVE], he darted forward, sword extended, and rammed it through the orc’s throat. It was the one-armed attack, [SPEEDING THRUST]. Of course the orc went down and didn’t get back up after that.

Haruhiro glanced around. The orcs? None. They were all dead.

“Damn it,” Ron waved a bloody sword at Haruhiro and the others. “We didn’t need your help!”

“You ungrateful—” Ranta began, but one icy look from Ron and he immediately backed down. “S-sorry… never mind.”

“Wimp…” Mary whispered.

{Wimp wimp wimp! Keehehehehe… wimp imp! Eeehehe… imp imp imp!}

“Imps are preferable,” Shihoru said.

Ouch. Not that Haruhiro disagreed.

“Thanks,” came a low, slightly husky voice.

Damn, even Renji’s voice was cool. Despite that though, a feeling of melancholy hung in the air. Haruhiro never expected to hear the word “thanks” from such an awesome voice and to be honest, it touched him deeply. Hiding his inner turmoil under a cloak of calm, Haruhiro shrugged his shoulders.

“I owed you one,” Haruhiro said.

“Now we’re even,” Renji replied.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Renji then turned to Mogzo and said, “You’re pretty useful.”

“Huh?” Mogzo glanced this way and that as if to confirm that Renji was talking to him, before finally pointing to himself. “Me!? N-n-no way… I-I mean, I’m not…”

Haruhiro was bothered by Renji’s choice of the word “useful” and he wondered if it was really a compliment. However, both Renji and Mogzo were Warriors. A Warrior knew a fellow Warrior best, or so the saying went… or so Haruhiro thought he had heard somewhere before. There was no doubt though, that one Warrior was in the position to best judge another.

Besides, it was no exaggeration to say that Renji was one of the most reputable members of Crimson Moon at the moment. Of course being acknowledged by Renji in any way whatsoever was a compliment. And Mogzo deserved it. He was the best of Team Haruhiro.

“Anyways,” Adachi pushed his glasses back up his nose. Now that he was calm again, there was a streak of sarcasm in his tone. “Looks like we chose the wrong tower. Mind if we sit out the rest of the battle here, Renji?”

Renji didn’t respond. Instead, he merely turned and headed down the stairway again. A shout suddenly echoed through the tower.

“What the—!? Ground level!”

Haruhiro didn’t know whose voice it was, but it was nobody from their parties.

Haruhiro tilted his head to the side. “Ground level?”

Renji took off at a run.

“Haruhiro!” Ranta slapped Haruhiro on the back. “We’re going too!”

What was going on? Haruhiro felt his heartbeat suddenly quicken. Strange. It was beating fast and hard. Ground level… What about it? He and the others flew down the spiral stairs. Down and down and down. His ears felt stuffy, all sound was muted. Weird. What was going on? Why did his senses feel so dull all of a sudden? He didn’t know. Reason? Cause? The more he didn’t understand the more it confused him.

He felt shaky on his feet. Down they kept going, one floor after another. Finally, he reached the ground floor.

They were dead. The reservists. So many dead bodies. Crimson Moon bodies. The floor was littered with corpses. Orcs were present too. But why? The area was cleared earlier so where had the orcs come from? And not just one or two, but a large group. Among them was one bigger than the rest. It was armored in bright, flashy scarlet plate mail from head to toe. Hair dyed black and yellow spilled from underneath its helm. It had one sword in each hand.

It looked strong. Dangerously and deathly strong. Strong enough to dual-wield swords like they were made of tinfoil. Zoran Zesshu. There was no doubt about it. The orc matched Bri’s description perfectly. Zoran, the chief of the Zesshu Clan, whose head was worth a hundred gold. The Guardian of the fortress.

Zoran swung his swords with monstrous strength at the leader of Choco’s party. It seemed like he was attempting to block Zoran’s attack with his own sword, but he couldn’t even get his weapon up in time. Haruhiro thought that he heard the guy gasp in surprise just as Zoran brought both blades down on him. The next moment, his head was separated from his shoulders.

It was an effortless final blow. What the hell… What about the others in the party? The other Warrior, the Priest, the short-haired Mage? They were nowhere to be found. Then, Haruhiro spotted them. They were all on the ground in a bloody heap, dead. Their third Warrior, the oafish looking one, was still on his feet, fighting a different orc who had him almost backed against the wall. Next to him was Choco. The Warrior was trying to protect her.

From the looks of it though, he was going to be overwhelmed. Choco was going to be left wide open in a few more seconds. The orc was strong. Stronger than any of the ones they had fought so far. Even their weapons and armor were different. The difference was so vast, it made the equipment the other orcs used look like toys. They must have been the Guardian’s personal entourage. There were also a few orcs with Zoran who weren’t wearing any armor. At their belts hung large, flask-like objects. They must have been the mages—shamans.

Team Renji was already charging in. The orcs, however, numbered more than ten; there were probably closer to twenty. The ground level was also large and spacious. Illogically spacious.

What was happening with the oafish Warrior and Choco? The Warrior had locked blades with his orc opponent, but the next moment, he was down on ground after the orc kneed him hard in the stomach. Shit. This was bad. Really bad. Shit, shit, shit. Choco grasped her dagger in both hands and raised it in a guard position, tip pointed at the orc. Her hands trembled and her body was teetering backwards. At this rate, she would be finished.

“CHOCO!” Haruhiro yelled, rushing towards her.

Haruhiro thought that she turned to look at him in that moment. Or started to, at least. But the orc brought his sword hard and fast down into Choco’s shoulder, burying the blade deep. He then drew it back out, kicked her off it and turned towards Haruhiro.


Once, twice, three times the orc’s sword came slashing at him. All he could think about was Choco. No way. Choco… Why? Why did this happen? No… Haruhiro held his head in his hands. He could hear himself saying something, but he didn’t know what it was. He didn’t know what anything was anymore.

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