Chapter 1. Retirement
Editor: adkji, emptycube, Obelisk
A worn-out armor hung on the hanger. It showed dents and signs of polish that were sure signs of long-time use.
“I’ve gone through hell and back with this armor.”
A young man seemingly in his early twenties with a fair face smiled bitterly as he looked away from the armor. The armor had protected him for five years, but he no longer needed it.
“I should donate it to the fort, following the tradition.”
Luke, a young man with sandy brown hair and eyes, silently recalled the events that had occurred five years ago.
When Luke had been stationed in Fort Potellan on the Eastern borders of Hansel Kingdom, he was a 17-year-old greenhorn. The armor on the hanger had also been brand-new from a smithy, gleaming in the light.
Five years later, present day, the situation had been turned around entirely. He was a veteran officer of the battlefield, and his worn out armor could only be used in the training field.
“I guess I can finally say goodbye to the battlefield. I will no longer be a soldier after the retirement ceremony tomorrow.”
Luke once again recalled his memories, this time, of the enemies he had fought for the past five years.
Orcs, a long-time enemy of the human race. They were the opponents the garrison of Fort Potellan had been fighting and defending the kingdom from.
Large scale tribes of Orcs had once roamed the Hansel Kingdom of old, but the King and Noble Lords had fought long and hard to drive them out of the kingdom.
The surviving Orcs were forced to retreat into the unforgiving mountain ranges of the East. However, the survivors were the elites amongst elites. The remaining Orcs used advanced guerilla tactics to dance around the army and pillage territories.
The Hansel Kingdom had blocked off any escape routes for the Orcs by overwhelming them with soldiers. The Orcs hiding out in the mountain range numbered five hundred, whereas the troops that were placed strategically in a defensive manner around Potellan numbered three thousand.
A scowl appeared on Luke’s face as he pictured the Orcs.
“Cursed Orcs, seems like only the strongest and the most tenacious ones survived.”
The defending troops of Potellan had paid an enormous price to keep the Orcs trapped, and a supply unit or a small scouting unit getting wiped out was commonplace. It was not uncommon for the Orcs to be seen right below the fort wall either, keeping the soldiers on their toes.
“At least I won’t have to look at their ugly faces anymore.”
Luke stood up silently. He had received the paperwork for retirement and only needed to turn them into the Fort to return to being a normal citizen.
“It’s a shame I’ll be leaving behind this armor…”
Luke reluctantly placed his hand on the armor before leaving the room and heading for the Logistics Department.
Retiring veterans left the Potellan fort for a rear fort on a supply carriage, but outside of the Logistics Department, Luke only saw a single supply carriage and scowled.
“Only a single carriage?”
Only about four escorting soldiers guarded the carriage. An extremely weak force considering they were crossing roads that were haunted by Orcs. Luke calmed himself by recalling the fact that three thousand troops had entered the fort just yesterday, hopefully restricting the Orcs movements.
However, when he opened the door of the carriage, Luke couldn’t stop from showing his disappointment. There was only a single soldier in the carriage.
The soldier had broad shoulders, a ruddy face, and gave off a vulgar impression.
‘Only one other retiree? Why am I so unlucky?’
Luke had no other choice but to step quietly into the carriage. Tomorrow afternoon was the day that three thousand troops, in addition to the defensive troops, would carry out a massive, final push to exterminate the last of the orcs. It was better to leave before things became messy.
After the four guards and the coachman arrived, it was finally time to say goodbye to Fort Potellan.
The soldier, who was already in the carriage, was eyeing Luke. Because Luke wasn’t wearing his uniform, the soldier seemed to mistake him for an ordinary soldier.
“Seems like we’re retiring together, it’s nice to meet you. Let me introduce myself. I’m Hal from the Wolf Fang squadron. I hail from Habest City.”
Luke scowled at the name Wolf Fang squadron. This was because Wolf Fang squadron was made up of prisoners and criminals who had been drafted into the war.
The squadron had high death rates as they had a tendency to be sent to the most dangerous battlefields but also had a matching high battle prowess due to their makeup of rough prisoners and criminals.
Hal began to glare when Luke did not reply.
‘This bastard is ignoring me? He looks young and unscarred, he’s probably just an administrative worker!’
Hal tensed up and began to crack his neck side to side.
“Ahh! Why is it so hot? Is it the lingering heat of the battlefield?”
Hal’s loosened shirt moved to expose his chest, full of crisscrossing scars. Hal felt Luke’s gaze and smiled.
“This is the result of slaughtering the damn Orcs on the battlefield. Most of the Wolf Fang squadron has these scars, and we carry them like medallions!”
Luke smiled coldly.
“I wonder how bored you must have been to have done nothing.”
“Seems like you sewed up small scratches made by a small knife… Why didn’t you take it easy?”
“What? You Bastard!”
Hal screamed as he jumped up from his seat.
“These scars are my medallions from battling the Orcs valiantly…..”
“Are you trying to joke with me? Do you know what kind of scars an Orc gives you?”
Luke silently pulled up his sleeve. On his arm was a single, massive scar, that looked like the trail of a large worm. It was completely different from the crisscross of much smaller scars on Hal’s chest.
Hal immediately stepped backwards, cowed.
“Scars from Orcs are usually like this. You know why?”
“The weapons of Orc are crusted with old, rotting blood. There’s no way that those simple morons take care of their weapons.”
Hal nodded unconsciously.
“If you’re injured by an Orc’s weapon, you have to cauterize it with red hot iron. To avoid infection.”
Luke shoved the scar into Hal’s face.
The scar itself was not deep, but the aura it gave off was unmistakable, ugly and painful.
Hal couldn’t say anything and avoided eye contact with Luke, who covered up his arm once again.
“I am Centurion Luke. Retiring after five years on the field.”
Hal stiffened up immediately as he saluted Luke. Centurions were officers who commanded a hundred soldiers.
“Ap- Apologies! I did not recognize you, Officer!”
“I am not wearing my uniform. It is understandable. How long have you been in service?”
“A- A year and six months, sir.”
Hal became a dog with his tail tucked between his legs the second he found out Luke was a veteran officer of five years. Although Luke had a fair and young face, he was not someone Hal could treat lightly at all.
‘Damn, of course, he doesn’t have any scars on his face. He’s wearing a full helmet every time he’s on the battlefield.”
An awkward silence reigned the carriage.
Thankfully, the coachman and four guards arrived soon after the confrontation.
“Sorry for the wait.”
A guard looked over Hal and Luke’s paperwork, then sent the carriage off.
The castle door opened, and the carriage began to speed off into the dark. The carriage was pulled by four horses and was able to proceed at a decent speed.
The guards and coachman sat outside of the carriage, leaving Luke and Hal in awkward silence inside the carriage. Hal picked his nose absentmindedly and asked.
“Are you returning to your House?”
“My apologies, but could I ask of which House you hail from?
Luke had nothing to hide and so responded honestly.
“I am of Count Esteban’s House, from the center of the Kingdom.”
“Wahh, even a country hick like myself has heard of the famous House. No wonder your words and posture are so elegant… I suppose people from a prestigious House are definitely different.”
Luke frowned slightly at Hal’s continuous compliments.
From the sly look Hal had on his face, Luke suspected Hal was after something.
“I have heard Esteban Earldom is a wonderful place to live! I have always wanted to visit it.”
Luke gave a cold snort after realizing what Hal was after.
“Seems like you are reluctant to return home because of your crimes? Sorry to say but people of the Esteban Earldom do not like outsiders. It’s a characteristic of Earldoms with long histories.”
Hal couldn’t help but sweat at Luke’s sharp words.
“What crime did you commit anyway, to be drafted into the Wolf Fang squadron?”
Hal hesitated for a while, before replying.
“I-I beat a person in a drunken stupor”
“You wouldn’t get drafted for something like that?”
“The person died while I was beating him…”
“A murderer. Sorry, but the people of Esteban Earldom would not welcome a murderer. Even one whose crimes have been pardoned by military service.”
Hal’s face stiffened up at Luke’s clear rejection.
A cold mood took over the carriage once again.
Luke had met many different types of people on the frontlines and did not look kindly upon people like Hal.
‘People like him are the type to always nag for favors. To take him back to the Earldom would do no good at all.’
This was the reason Luke had been so cold to Hal.
Luke and Hal remained silent, listening to the rythmic sounds of the carriage.
Luke was thinking of his fiancée, whom he had not met for five years.
‘Wait for me, Isabelle. I could only talk to you through letters for the past five years, but I am finally on my way to see you.’
It was common for Noble Houses to set up arranged marriages between couples who had never seen each other’s faces before.
But Luke was different. He had met Isabelle at the Noble Academy and had given her his love. He had successfully proposed to her. He went through many difficulties and obstacles before receiving approval from Isabelle’s House and holding an engagement ceremony.
After returning to his House, they would have a marriage ceremony and become husband and wife.
However, his sweet dreams were broken by a shout from the coachman above.
“The road is blocked!”
Luke’s complexion changed immediately. Blocking roads by felling logs and other obstacles to stop carriages or patrols and then ambushing them, was one of the most common tactics used by the Orcs.
“It’s the Orcs! An ambush! Keuk-!”
A pained scream came from the coachman, and both Luke and Hal scowled. An ambush on the day they retired.
“I should have worn my armor…”
Luke grit his teeth and unsheathed his sword by his pack. Hal also armed himself hastily.
Hal seemed too nervous and jumpy for a soldier who had been in the army for a year and a half. Luke kicked opened the carriage door and ran outside, carefully scanning his surroundings.
As he counted the shadows he could make out in the dark, his complexion darkened even further. At least twenty Orcs.
Luke gripped his sword tightly, despair on his face.
‘I’m sorry my love. I don’t think I will be keeping my promise.’
Luke pictured Isabelle’s face one last time before howling out a battle cry and launching himself towards the Orcs.