Chapter 16

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Chapter 16: Morning Sun (VI)

“Think I’m gonna turn my back on my country if you spare me?!”

Ivan heard these words while pressing his knee onto Icarus’ shoulder, worsening the wound.

“Hah! Planning to torture me? Bring it on! I’m Icarus, ex-commander of the 6th Imperial Guards!”

This was the sound made when Ivan ripped around the wound, exposing the torn chest.

As he began to tip the healing potion, Icarus’ confident voice started wavering.

“Hydrochloric acid…! This is terrible… ugh…!! You darned… human…!”

Nah, it’s a potion. But Ivan didn’t correct the misunderstanding; secretly, he admired him. It was a wound that completely tore one lung. Just the thought of pouring the healing potion over it made Ivan feel a sinking heaviness in his heart.

Luckily, Ivan couldn’t recall ever being doused in a healing potion for such a severe injury.

He’d blacked out when he’d been gravely injured before, and from what he’d heard, he’d nearly been soaked in the potion. But even if he hadn’t passed out, he’d probably have lost consciousness at that point.

“Ugh… Ugh… It’s… no use…”

At this point, Ivan was astounded. It was incredible that he endured the situation where the torn lung was healing and the remnants of the healing potion were gathering inside.

But soon, he winced.

“I won’t forget this… I’ll hold onto this grudge. Even in the afterlife!”

-Gaaahh!

With a fierce glare, he bit his tongue. A dreadful squelching sound followed. Ivan then grabbed the potion and let out a sigh.

“For someone who fought on the battlefield, it’s surprising you still believe in such superstitions.”

“Eh…?”

“Biting your tongue won’t kill you. Humans aren’t that fragile. The only way a person who can’t move their body could end their life on their own is through cardiac arrest.”

Somehow, the superstition that biting one’s tongue could instantly kill had spread widely worldwide.

It was astonishing. Could someone accidentally commit suicide while eating?

Operatives like Ivan always harbored such doubts.

The ‘brave’ warriors, knights, and generals wreaking havoc on the battlefield seemed more inclined to such superstitions. Perhaps because they deemed self-control and heroism as ‘romantic.’

Staring down at Icarus with a pitying look for a moment, Ivan took a deep breath and checked the remaining traces of the healing potion.

This was the last vial, and only 1/3 was left now.

“This will only prolong the suffering. I don’t want to torture you, Commander. This is a treatment, and this potion is a healing potion.”

“Eh… Ugh…!”

“Stop talking. The wound will get worse.”

He poured the remaining healing potion into Icarus’ mouth and sealed it shut. It seemed like he wanted to spit it out somehow, but soon, his eyes softened.

The partially severed tongue bathed in the healing potion, gurgling down the throat and spreading throughout the body.

Healing potions only treat physical trauma. Drinking it wouldn’t offer any particular benefit unless there’s a perforation in the stomach or esophagus.

Of course, if someone had esophagitis, it might heal, albeit with the sensation of the entire esophagus burning, but let’s put that aside.

“Ugh…”

“Can you speak now?”

“Ivan Petrovich…”

“Hmm…?”

The dazed Icarus started murmuring.

He looked at Ivan’s thick beard covering his upper lip and then examined his eyebrows and forehead.

“I heard… you were dead… this method… Ugh… Ugh… Cleanse… Unit… so… that’s what it was….”

He likely had an active role on the battlefield during the war.

Ivan narrowed his eyes.

“Why did you step forward yourself? The Demon county situation shouldn’t be bad enough to toss someone of your caliber as expendable.”

Being called a commander among the ranks made him nothing more than the lowest-ranking officer.

In other words, he was just another common resource. Naturally, he wasn’t an important figure.

But that was the case during the war when the demons’ power was at its peak; things were different.

Now, the Demon King and the Seven Dragon Lords have been defeated, and the remaining remnants have been scattered, driven out of the world.

Several years had passed since then, and they all nursed ambitions, engaging in a power struggle based on the logic of strength.

At that time, being called a commander was a precious title—a verified active officer with military force and command ability.

“Now… *cough*! Not anymore.”

“What?”

“Did you think we’d stick to a doomed plan? The Union… their negligence… *gurgle*… it sickens me….”

When they attacked Ecdysis, the demons hired mercenaries while concealing their identities, perhaps with help from their remaining followers within the Union. The whole operation turned out to be a massive failure.

Afterward, they realized the mission had collapsed before it even began. They were already compromised before executing it.

– We can’t trust our followers. There are spies among them.

(TN: I think Union refers to the United Kingdom. So there are traitors/demon followers within the United Kingdom. Among the demon followers, there were also spies from the Kingdom.)

Now, having lost the information war, they had to send someone they could trust for success.

Not just anyone but this particular individual. The Hero’s daughter had to be eliminated.

However, they had to anticipate failure too. If they sent someone crucial and failed, the damage would be irreversible.

So, Icarus was just a pawn.

‘Some missions should succeed, and if they fail, the damage won’t be great. A commander of just the right level.’

Ivan cast a bitter look down at Icarus. This guy knew his evaluation very clearly but still craved it.

Even if the operation succeeded, he shouldn’t return alive to cover their tracks in an era of peace long after the war.

Engaging in terrorism near Frechenkaya without leaving traces was impossible.

Ivan felt a deep sympathy for the man who entered the mission knowing it meant certain death from the start.

He let out a deep sigh.

“Now, there won’t be another terrorist act. You failed.”

“…”

“It’s just me talking to myself. No need for you to respond.”

Ivan sat beside him, gazing at the sky. Icarus’s labored breathing could be heard.

“When you fail and get abandoned, they’ll say it was just a ‘few radicals’ causing the terror. Even your superiors will explain it that way to the United Kingdom.”

“…”

“Your mere existence has surely raised the United Kingdom’s vigilance. Obviously, they won’t engage in another foolish plot for the next terror.”

“…”

“Is there anything you wish for?”

“What… will you do to me…?”

“You have three options left.”

“One is to be detained and taken back to Frechenkaya.”

“Then, you’ll get a warm welcome at the Krasilov Command Headquarters. You’ll be held responsible for the attempted assassination of a national figure. Later, the Command Headquarters will spin your superior as the ‘Crown Prince’ and initiate a political offensive.”

(TN: I’m uncertain which Crown Prince is being referred to, neither from the demon side nor the human side, as even the Crown Prince from the United Kingdom appears cautious around the Hero’s Children)

“Of course, severe torture and magical sanctions will be applied.”

“Or, the second option is to be set free and head back home.”

“The Krasilov Command Headquarters will tail you. Even if you manage to escape quickly, there’s no safe return to your base near Frechenkaya.”

“Therefore, even if you return alive, this suspicion will shadow you within the demon side.”

[A traitor who sided with the enemy to survive.]

“It was clear you’d either be seen as a traitor among the demons or face interrogation and execution by them.”

“So…”

“Do you grasp your situation?”

“Kill me.”

“You’ve been forsaken by your own. There’s no going back, no moving forward for you. The only destination left is the afterlife.”

Ivan gripped the axe, slowly raising it and firmly seizing the guy’s horn.

Icarus tightly closed his eyes and whispered softly.

“Though you may wander in the valley of death, fear not, for I will shelter you.”

It’s the Demon King’s prayer. Heard countless times.

During the Demon King’s era, the last words of most demons were mostly the same.

They died devoted to the Demon King. Fanatically.

Hence, Ivan also knew the following verse.

“I am the cross in the darkest night.
I am the lighthouse in the stormy sea.
I am your cradle and your fortress.”

“Fear not, for I will shelter you.”

Ivan murmured while holding Icarus’s horn.

“Are your parents still alive?”

“…What?”

“If not, I run an orphanage.”

“What are you saying right now?”

“I take care of war orphans with nowhere else to go, regardless of nationality or race.”

Four years ago, when the Demon King died and Ivan decided to retire, the order given by the higher-ups was as follows:

– Kill the Seven Dragon Lords.

It meant to go and die. It was an order issued to the entire Cleansup Unit.

The Cleansup Unit, consisting of a total of eight strike units, only one strike unit survived after that order.

After his successful return, Elizaveta tearfully stamped his retirement application. Live quietly, as if dead. Apologies for not stopping the command. Thankful that he returned alive.

Even when the names of all those who had left had been forgotten, the honor of all who had departed would remain eternal.

So.

“If you truly want to survive, you can forsake yourself and live as if you’re forgotten, as if you were dead.”

Ivan stood still, contemplating the turn of events and the choices ahead.

“I’m not worthy of that.”

“Everyone is worthy. Loyalty and faith don’t define your life.”

“If you wish, I can shatter your horn. It will be the last chain binding your body.”

“But if you want, I’ll take the axe down a little further.”

“That’s the last choice to live like a human, or to leave like a human.”

Icarus closed his eyes at Ivan’s words.

He took a deep breath, and then another short one.

“I… want to live.”

“Good choice.”

-Thunk!

Another name was added to the register of the St. Basilica Orphanage.

Orphan, 50 years old, a demon.

After the failed assassination of Ecdysis, the threat from the demons escalated significantly.

The reason Isabelle’s tutorial was designed to be so difficult was, in other words, due to Ivan’s own behavior.

And that meant soon:

‘The tutorials do not occur simultaneously.’

It meant that it wasn’t a game where each character experienced events at the same time as character creation, but rather, there was a time difference for each character’s events.

Ivan pondered, stroking his chin.

The demons weren’t just moving like programmed AIs.

Like everyone else in this world, no one was just an NPC.

Even the events based on clichés could eventually lead to a flexible outcome based on variables.

So, what could be expected? What should be done?

Ivan turned his gaze towards Isabelle.

She was looking at the survivors with sad eyes.

‘Save these kids to graduate.’

Since this world is an academy setting. That’s how it should be. Even if there were no players, characters, or NPCs. At least that one thing shouldn’t change.

There’s still time for overthinking that afterward.

“Sir.”

“Hmm.”

“If I hadn’t boarded this train today, the families of those people… and the people on this train… they would have lived, right?”

Since the deceased were not just sacrificial NPCs in a cutscene.

Probably, that would have been the case.

Ivan answered, gazing at the dawning night sky.

“Do you know how many people a hero kills in a year?”

“…What?”

“It’s estimated to be at least around thirty thousand, including indirect casualties. The number of people who died being pushed into the battlefield, almost destined to lose in order to support the hero’s operations and draw the Demon King’s attention.”

The hero party is fundamentally an assassination group, to kill the Seven Dragon Lords and the Demon King.

Therefore, to lull them into a false sense of security, it was essential to provide them with some sort of success in another area.

In the basic strategy of the Art of War, there were times when defeat was enforced in other fronts to support the infiltration of the hero party.

“Everyone present at that time knew that fact. The hero, even the soldiers at the frontline including me.”

“…”

“But even in that moment, the hero smiled.”

If not, if they were to imagine their failure, lament their own inadequacy, or succumb to the burden of their responsibilities.

The lives lost for one’s sake end up being in vain.

Hence, the hero chose to smile. Even during the times when hope was scarce enough that one had to search for new stars in the sky.

Because they themselves had to be a beacon of hope for everyone else.

When he crumbled, it was the end for the Allied Kingdom.

“Look.”

Ivan raised his hand and pointed towards the sky.

In the east, the sun was rising, painting the sky in a deep blue hue.

In the west, the moon was already setting, but at its edge, even far away.

The brightest stars were still shining.

“That’s the star your father carried in those days, and now it’s the star you’ve taken over. A hero doesn’t signify the strongest individual.”

“The most… courageous individual…”

“Yes, one who never bows to any burden and never loses their smile in any moment. We called those individuals heroes. Now, you must become their hero.”

Looking at the survivors gathered in sorrow, Ivan pressed her head gently.

“Maximilian’s daughter, Isabelle. Raise your head and stand tall. Those who are sad receive sympathy, but those who always smile are revered. Rise with hope and remember gratitude before guilt for someone’s sacrifice. Live to prove that their sacrifice was not in vain for everyone.”

Like a new star. Even next to the biggest and brightest moon, without losing its radiance.

Amidst the rising sun, shining brightly and unequivocally.

As a symbol of hope, in that way.

Isabelle stared blankly at Ivan for a moment, then suddenly regained composure.

“By any chance, are you not thinking of shaving that beard?”

“No.”

Ivan responded with disgust.

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