Chapter 13: Morning Sun (III)
Sir Diane August was like a total champ, dealing with the crazy pain from spilling all his dirty secrets, showing his willpower made of steel.
Isabelle decided to stick that memory in her head. What really mattered wasn’t how Sir August screamed her name or how he went all berserk, grabbing this guy named Ivan and trying to spill all the Knights’ accounting records.
Seeing that scene was tough for Isabelle, so she didn’t hold back and slapped Sir Diane August’s face right away.
It wasn’t until Ivan schooled her on the dangers of smacking a guy in the head while he’s coughing blood that Sir August managed to talk like a normal human being.
After checking out the well-stitched wound, Ivan gave a straight-up diagnosis.
“Shock made him regress. Isabelle, you messed up by hitting him. Think about it.”
“Sir Diane August wouldn’t blame me, right? Can he get back to normal?”
“Don’t stress. It’s a common thing; he’ll snap out of it as time goes by.”
Ivan looked outside for a sec before dropping this bomb.
“But yelling too much probably attracted attention. It’s time for those lurking on the mountain to come down. We gotta get ready.”
“What about Sir Diane August?”
“We gotta carry him.”
Ivan silently peeped at Isabelle. Isabelle did the same.
After a moment of silence, feeling puzzled by Ivan’s face, Isabelle asked, looking confused.
“What about you?”
“I gotta fight.”
“I can fight too!”
Ivan glanced down at Isabelle, shaking his head. Sure, she might have been standout among her buddies, but her vibe wasn’t all that convincing.
Just witnessing that scene made her go pale, and her hand holding the knife kept on shaking.
“I reckon your words and your moves ain’t quite adding up, huh?”
Ivan gave a wry smile and turned around. Isabelle, left on her own, sighed heavily and hoisted Diane onto her back.
Man, that’s heavy.
It’s not like she’s so feeble she can’t handle a full-grown guy’s weight; the weights she trained with were heavier than Diane.
But the heaviness of this injured and weakened man was seriously weighing her down.
As she adjusted Diane and walked out, Ivan, standing under the moon, suddenly looked her way.
“Not bad for a girl.”
“Kinda rude, sir. Hey, have we met before? Why are you talking like you know me?”
“Seems like you take after your mom in temperament.”
“Wow, you’re really pushing me to draw a sword. So, which side are you like, the mom’s or the dad’s?!”
“Well, I can’t even remember their faces now.”
“Is that…! Is that so…? Um…”
Despite his odd, young-looking eyes and skin, she squinted at the thick beard covering Ivan’s whole jawline.
It’s only been four years since the war ended.
And that war lasted nearly twenty years.
Naturally, for folks in that age group, losing parents during the war was pretty common….
She felt kind of wronged. Isn’t it rude to bring up parents? Is this how folks greet in Krasilov? (This parental thing is part of a polite greeting in Drovian, not Krasilov).
After grumbling for a bit, she finally got what Ivan was getting at and was surprised.
“Do you know my father?”
Seeing the sudden change in the girl’s expression, Ivan had a little chuckle inside.
Who doesn’t know Maximilian, really?
He shrugged and said, “Round up the survivors. Let’s light a fire and tear up train seats for blankets. Nights here get colder than you’d imagine.”
“Wouldn’t lighting a fire attract attacks?”
“That’s not your concern.”
“Are you heading out alone, not even knowing who the enemy is?”
“That’s not your concern either.”
Meeting Maximilian’s daughter for the first time, Ivan felt a somewhat unexpected emotion.
While she had inherited her father’s looks and skills, her personality was totally different.
Maximilian used to boast about his ‘sweetheart from back home’ at night, saying she was kind and considerate. She seems to take after her mother.
Love is so tricky. It blinds people to flaws and weaknesses. Ivan chuckled and left.
In the tactical doctrines Ivan studied, there’s a saying:
“Expect the worst and act for the best.”
It seemed like a silly statement to Ivan back then. It only made sense when he rethought it through real experiences.
The core truth was this.
“Expect the worst. That means, the enemy always tries the hardest way to hit you.”
“Act for the best. If your enemy is the worst for you, become the worst for them.”
So, mirror the enemy’s moves. Your worst hit would be the best offense against them.
Therefore, Ivan’s task was clear.
First, think of the worst case.
“Getting ambushed during an escape after surviving would be the worst. It would be worse in a drawn-out battle.”
Attacks in the dark night wear you out. Ivan might handle it, but for the injured and the girl, it’d be deadly.
So, expect the worst. The enemy must expect an escape attempt and act accordingly.
Logically, in case of a train derailment from an attack, one should leave and find support.
Now, for the response.
“Appear like you’re stalling, keeping the enemy’s aim clearly visible. Look weak.”
This would make the unknown enemy pull back their tracking forces and switch from chasing to surrounding.
This world isn’t a strategy game, it’s the real deal.
Orders don’t mean immediate actions.
This means there’s a delay between spotting the pursuer and gaining a tactical edge.
From an attacker’s view, siege includes mental games. They’d see themselves as a cat eyeing its prey, picking the perfect moment to strike.
To ensure the target can’t escape, planning to deliver a crushing blow at the right moment.
That’s the deal. That’s the “worst attack” your enemy can think of.
So, mimic. Turn their best into their worst. Prepare a surprise, refine the offense carefully, and set the trap.
In the deep, dark shadows of the forest, gripping a cold gun.
Ivan took a quiet breath, then let it out slowly.
Hunkered down under a tree, he held his breath, slowly raising his hand. Carefully aligning the shoulder and fingertips, trying to steady his hand tremors caused by his body’s rhythm.
With the momentum of three breaths, he squeezed the trigger from his index finger trapped in the guard.
It was pistol marksmanship, a technique for long-range shots, perfect for the Cleansup Unit to strike while hiding their rifles in enemy territory.
In the moonlight, a tiny silhouette crumpled.
No rush to reload. The first shot hit, and soon the forest felt uneasy. The enemy was alerted.
The ambush had started.
And they would soon realize.
The Cleansup Unit’s attack had kicked off.
In the dark night and deep forest, familiar ground and the right weapon in hand.
In a Cleansup Unit ambush, an individual could surround a group.
When the gunfire echoed in the distance, Isabelle hid her trembling hands and geared up for the enemy’s attack.
It was the clear signal for the fight to begin. Birds scattered in a panic.
Those around her, shivering by the campfire, stared, fear written all over their faces.
“Are we all gonna die now?”
“So scary… I’m scared… Mom… Mommy…”
The sounds of survivors, each with minor injuries at least, surrounded her.
Amid confusion, burden, and guilt, Isabelle strained to lower her head. They were victims because of her. The weight of just ten surviving from the huge train was heavy on her shoulders.
Then, a faint voice came from behind her.
“The reason we call someone a hero isn’t because they’re the strongest, but because they’re the bravest.”
“Augustus? Are you back to your senses?”
Augustus, supporting her from behind, spoke with a slightly blurry voice.
“So, we mustn’t become heroes. We shouldn’t even try. We must acknowledge our own weakness.”
“We need to stand in the shoes of the weak, seeing others like us. We don’t wield the sword because we’re brave, strong, or better than others.”
Augustus’s voice was still unclear.
But strangely, each word felt precise and etched in her heart.
“We wield the sword because it’s right. Just. For the justice we must uphold. So, it’s not about being a hero, it’s just.”
“So, wield the sword. Don’t try to be a hero. Knight of Tylesse. Stand here with humility, not valor.”
Now she understood Diane’s message.
This is an ancient, traditional chivalry lesson.
Not knighthood as a ‘title’ from a king to his vassal.
It’s the final lesson given by knights, like a group of travelers, to their squire.
Diane Augustus came from a traditional order of knights, and even now, those words remained vivid in his mind.
“For justice, wield the sword. Doing good is always small and just. Wield the sword for your justice, not your strength. Now, you’re a knight.”
Diane didn’t say more after those words. Just weakened breaths.
Isabelle knew about Diane’s history, his service as a seasoned knight in the war against the Demon Army.
Now she understood why those terse, precise words remained so clear. She felt this moment would stick with her forever.
She got up and finally raised her head to look around.
Many people looked at her, suffering in the cold, fear, pain, and hunger.
Guilt was still there, but she was determined nonetheless.
Carefully placing down Diane, Isabelle stood tall before them.
The sword in her hand felt heavier, but the once-shaking hand now held it steady.
Her eyes blazed with determination.