Translated by Tianic, edited by Grammarly
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“[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollow me, and your apprentices. Bring your drums along!” Cohen took hold of the old man, “Perhaps your ten chapters could make tomorrow’s battle a bit more spectacular.”
“But, My Lord…” The old man said, “What could we do?”
“I want you to sound your drums and make some noise while my boys are messing with the enemies.”
“My Lord,” The old man’s head wagged, “that’s not what the ten chapters are for…”
“You’ve lived your way for nearly a hundred years, how did that come out?” Cohen turned to him and said, “Now, I’m asking you to live my way just once!”
Although the old man cannot stress enough about his faith and traditions, Cohen acted deaf. He dragged the old man and nearly forced him into the tent. Fortunately, Cohen’s action was between rudeness and violence. Thus the refugees on the spot did not prevent him.
“Sit!” By a small table, Cohen pushed the old man down on a chair in front of him. He then told his guards, “Hand me a map.”
“Yes, sir!” The guard unscrolled a map of the clay city as well as the peripheral landforms.
“In order to make your rhythm spread across the entire battlefield, how many instruments should I go for?” Cohen drew a circle with his finger on the map, then he continued strongly, “Don’t mention about traditions again. I’ll be very upset!”
Cohen puckered his mouth, his face was as cold as ice, “If you say no, I will make you strike the damn drums by putting a blade on your throat if I have to. I swear!”
“Well, okay!” The old man pondered at the map, “I’ll need 100 drums for an area this large.”
“I meant the complete 10 chapters!”
“In that case, I need 200 more horns.”
“I see…” Cohen called Carlos over, “Go collect these stuff immediately.”
“My Lord, what is it that you want?” The old man asked, “You have to tell me at least what’s on your mind?”
“Do you have any ideas how many enemies are out there?” Cohen did not give his answer. Instead, he spawned a question. The enemy number was utterly classified in the army, how could the old man know exactly. Thus he shook his head anxiously.
“Let me tell you. There’re 300, 000 AUF troops outside that wall. They’re waiting to fight for the win tomorrow. I don’t have to tell you the result for the losing party.” Cohen said, “As for my army, the ones that are still able to fight are totaled less than 40, 000. If my army loses, how will you end up? I guess none of you will survive!”
“But… it has nothing to do with the 10 chapters!”
“Honestly speaking, I personally consider tomorrow’s fight will be the last fight.” Cohen stood up and started pacing in the tent, “Under such a circumstance, no commander will do a better job than me. No army will do better than my soldiers. It’s unexpected that my men have lived up to the situation today. But tomorrow, I cannot expect a miracle to occur.”
“In this world, a man can die in many ways. Some die soundlessly; others die earth-shakingly.” Cohen said slowly with his back facing the old man, “If there’s a choice for me, I’d rather die the latter way. Even if I can’t escape the fate of death, I will make them pay before I die!”
“In this case, what do you want from me?”
“As you’ve said, most of my soldiers are your clansmen. I’m considering to let you play the 10 chapters tomorrow on the battlefield for us.” Cohen said while a sense of wisdom revealed in his eyes, “I want you, by sounding the drums, to awaken the fighting will hidden in their blood and souls! I will lead these raging lions to fight. They will buy time for other essential personnel to escape…”
When Cohen said his last sentence, his sound could barely be heard, though the old man caught each word loud and clear.
The two gazed each other for a moment, then the old man fetched a scroll and left it on the table.
“Gardena, is my name.” The old man said solemnly, “I’m here to obey your orders, but I wish to see more names on your essential list. They’re the future of my people.”
“For the record, I cannot guarantee 100% that they can escape.” Cohen nodded and said, “I will give them the opportunity: the same opportunity as my men.”
“Good! Now, let’s talk about business.” As soon as they came to the agreement, Gardena hinted the scroll on the table and said, “This is the master score of the 10 chapters, but most of them are not suited for boosting morale…”
“Why not?” Cohen sat down again in front of Gardena, “Be specific.”
“To explain the origin of the 10 chapters, I’ll have to start by telling the birth of us 36 tribes. As you can see, My Lord, the entire 36 tribes is a very peculiar group. Anyone of them consists of a complex of orcs, humans, barbarians, wingmen, etc. All of them live in the same village together and harmoniously.”
“How could that happen? The story derived from the Protoss/Asmodian Line. According to the clan lores, when the Protoss race and the Asmodian race disassociated, in order to make room for buffering, they drew the hundreds of miles Line between the two alliances.” Gardena fondled the score paper while telling the story shared by everyone in his clan to the soldier in front of his eyes, “But think, this is the center of the entire continent. It has the most fertile land and the most beautiful scenery. Naturally, when they drew the Line, here lived the most outstanding people among the entire land.”
“Our ancestors were social, but how could they compete with the power of the Protoss and the Asmodians? Thus they had no choice but to separate. Each tribe started migrating. Displaced and homeless people were everywhere. Cryings of loved ones soared. There were over 10 million inhabitants on the Line, but the much-worshipped Protoss and Asmodians, they only gave us 10 days!” Gardena stopped, he slammed harshly on the table, “TEN DAYS! How could we settle 10 million people within such a short period? Let alone the habitable land has already been taken by the empires. The result, 10 days had passed, they’ve only able to settle a few million.”
“What happened then?” Gardena’s telling drew cohen’s curiosity, he asked.
“The Protoss and the Asmodians ignored our ancestors’ plea for more time. They sealed the Line on the 11th day. My ancestors thought they were only sealing the Line without doing anything else.” Gardena raised his eyes and gazed Cohen, “Then 10 years later, the first P/A War broke out.”
“Indeed, that war was not any smaller than this one.” Gardena’s look started to turn grave, “My Lord, please imagine, what will happen for irrelevant people who stayed on the battlefield?”
Cohen nodded, “You don’t have to tell me.”
“We were killed, pillaged, enslaved. We didn’t do anything wrong, though we can’t but suffer. The ancestors hoped that they would stop killing and robbing when they’ve done enough. After finally, the war was over, 20 years later, when the new generation became adults, the 2nd War came!” Gardena’s voice turned low-spirited, “It went on and on until now.”
“Why didn’t they ran away from here?” Cohen asked.
“We’ve been running. But where could we go? Like during this war, we tried to spread out and run. But still, AUF troops drove us here to block your way.” Gardena shook his head, “Our misery is not limited to the War, even between Wars or during the smaller wars or even during the peaceful years, they will come to loot us. We’re like a giant warehouse for the two alliances. Whenever they need something, they will come and take what they need, open and aboveboard.”
“Endless harm, continuous run, countless stray… No tribes, however large they were, were able to hold up.” Narrated in a grim voice, Gardena involuntarily clenched his fists, “Hence the tribes started to fall, one after another. Not one of them escaped the fate of downfall.”
“But here you are.” Cohen said.
“Us? We’re the 36 tribes. We’re the people who lived off the aftermath. We’ve lost everything once we had. We even lost our own culture, our own tradition, and our faith.” Gardena said with his eyes red-rimmed, “After the end of yet another cruel P/A War, there wasn’t a single complete, ordered village, family. At this very moment, our first chief leader made an arduous journey and years of time to gather what were left of us.”
“The very first chief leader,” Cohen asked, “then why are you called the 36 tribes instead of 72 tribes?”
“Why are we? You know, My Lord, it’s because those who lived were only enough to make 36 villages!” Gardena’s face paled, “Imagine, My Lord, from a population of over 10 million to several thousand people who could only make 36 tribes, we’ve suffered enormously!”
Cohen was a tough man with a strong heart given his two lives experience. Still, he was stunned at Gardena’s story.
“There was no need to distinguish races with only 36 tribes worth of people.” Gardena said bitterly, “The humans, orcs, barbarians, elves, sandmen built the villages together. The people approached one another carefully, living their lives with fear. We’ve finally accepted each other under the threat of living.”
“Drop it!” Cohen spat on the ground, “Your story is most disturbing. Let’s talk about the 10 chapters!”
“The birth of the 10 chapters was not a coincidence. My Lord, please let me finish. At the start, due to the language barrier, custom and tradition difference, management work for the chief was a big problem.” Gardena fetched the score paper once again, “Thus after gaining consent from all other tribe leaders, the chief composed the 10 chapters. Since then, all of the clansmen of the 36 tribes abandoned their old traditions. They have gradually accepted the way of live and work based on the 10 chapters accordingly.”
Cohen touch his forehead, “They’ve abandoned the old traditions?”
“Positive, or rather, the 10 chapters comprise all the traditions of the tribe people.” Gardena explained, “After generations of development and improvement, the 10 chapters have included all the solutions for every possible situation that the 36 tribes could encounter.”
“So, for you,” Cohen scratched his head, “How important is this music?”
“My Lord, let me put it this way, due to the harm the Protoss and the Asmodians have brought us, we do not worship them. Even, we hate them; they’re all evil!” Gardena said firmly.
“You’ve got to at least believe in something.”
“Yes, the thing we believe is the score music in my hand.” Gardena said, “We worship the 10 chapters so we can live on the Line.”
“The almighty 10 chapters?” Cohen blinked.
“I see.” Cohen touched his jaw, “Did the chapters say what to do when you run into me?”
Gardena sighed in his heart. He decided not to pour forth any longer, so he focused on the chapter functions.
“Within each chapter, the melody varies widely. Each of them is able to function under relative environment. The outcome is counterproductive under wrong circumstances.”
“The melody is not of my concern. What matters on the battlefield is the rhythm.” Cohen said naturally without even thinking, “I want you to make proper adjustment of the each chapter, then play them promptly according to battlefield situation!”
“Adjust them?” Gardena’s mouth was wide open; it couldn’t shut for a good while. For a man who’s been playing the 10 chapter his entire life, changing the music equaled treason.
“You heard me right. I’ve listened to all of the 10 chapters. It’ll be fine!”
“It will not!” Gardena came to himself, “If I change the rhythm… it’s changed…”
“Gardena, I don’t want to deject you.” Cohen made a slight smile, “Actually, the most soul-touching chapter has no fixed rhythm. There are no two exact person, neither for the souls. Do you still think your so-called 10 chapters is the cure for everything?”
Gardena went speechless. An aged man like him has been playing the chapters for his life. The ancient thing was deep in his soul already. Though he did not approve Cohen’s idea, what other options did he have? There’s no guarantee for the refugees’ lives during a war. For the sake of the 1, 000 clansmen he traded, Gardena decided to gamble.
“Good,” After a moment of silence, Gardena said exhaustedly, “It doesn’t matter anymore. What rhythm do you need?”
Cohen said nothing. Instead, he put Gardena’s hand on his left chest.
Carlos was getting him busy in the refugee crowd. If he was not accompanied by Gardena’s clansmen, he might need to kill all the refugees to get the saint drums and horns he needed. Even so, some of them were still being verbose when they handed over the instruments.
“We need the instruments, not your lives!” Carlos complaint to a small clan leader, “Big deal!”
“This drum is a hundred years old! If it were not for Gardena’s decision, we wouldn’t give you that even if you kill us!” The clan leader yelled. God knew how he made that clamorous voice, “WATCH IT, CAREFUL! DON’T MOVE IT LIKE THAT!”
Hearing that, Carlos felt angry and funny. If he didn’t know that Carlos was not going to be rude on him, he dared not have said ‘kill me before you take it’.
Collecting the instrument and finding the players took Carlos nearly 2 hours. By the time he reported to Cohen on the completion of the job, he saw a weird scene where a closed-eye Cohen and Gardena were sitting face to face. On the table between them lied a unfolded scroll.
A moment later, Gardena opened his eyes and raised his right hand. Carlos saw a thin wooden stick in his palm.
“Pom-pom pom, pom-pom pom.” Gardena stroke the table with the stick on the table then asked Cohen, “Like this?”
His voice was gentle, Gardena was like an obedient student.
Cohen opened his eyes. He first shook his head then stroke the table a few times, “Like this.”
Gardena kept knocking the table until Cohen nodded. Carlos gazed at the scene confusedly; he thought his brain is less than enough to comprehend what he was seeing.
“Mark that down.” Gardena told his apprentice behind him then turned to Cohen, “Now, next chapter.”
“Carlos,” Cohen turned to his Staff Officer, “Do I have everything I need?”
Carlos stood at attention, “Yes, sir. Everything’s ready, sir.”
“I have a map here. Place the instrument on the locations marked.” Cohen handed over a paper, “Then come back immediately. I have things to talk to you.”
Carlos exited the tent. He started to put his hands on the placement of the instrument.
“Sir,” A lieutenant asked Carlos confusedly, “Why does Commander Cohen do this?”
“I… I guess Commander Cohen has come up with a way to win tomorrow.” Carlos replied with a smile, “It’s an effective method. Just do it.”
“Yes, sir!” The lieutenant left joyfully, he said while leaving, “Commander Cohen is awesome.”
A hint of a bitter smile made by Carlos at the lieutenant’s comment.
“Is it really inevitable?” Looking at the night sky, Carlos’ stomach churned. An insuppressible sensation of both sorrow and pity surfaced, “Even Commander Cohen who’s always been trying to avoid failure was preparing for breaking through for the essential people.”
Anyone else but Carlos would probably cling that Cohen was able to turn the table. However, Carlos was Cohen’s Chief Staff Officer, he knew exactly everything about the situation of both the enemies and their army.
Although AUF have lost a considerable amount of soldiers during the city siege battle days ago, their reinforcements have been accumulating.
Earlier tonight, one more enemy legion arrived. This troop did not even set up their camps. Several dozens of thousands of soldiers just sat on the ground. It looked like the enemies were preparing to wage a life-and-death war with them tomorrow. The current peace was only to let the soldiers stock up energy for the battles the next day. During the combat this afternoon, Carlos knew that the enemy’s large-scale siege structure weapons have taken into shape.
As for the 9th Legion, soldiers were exhausted, supplies were depleted. Even the life-barrier city wall was on the edge of collapsing. The enemy will be mobilizing over 300, 000 troopers on their side. The 9th Legion only had 40, 000 combat-effective soldiers at most. Commander Cohen had nothing to do except for letting a few breakthrough.
Breaking through under such a circumstance was difficult. Perhaps that was why Cohen intended to take advantage of the instruments.
“However,” Carlos told himself while looking at the busy soldiers at a distance, “such an arrangement was a little nonsense. I hope the enemy commander stays idiotic tomorrow.”
When Carlos returned Cohen’s tent, the two lunatics have finished messing with the sticks. Undoubtedly, Carlos had decided to call them that when the first time he laid eyes on the two. Although it would mean disrespectful to Cohen, chances to call him a lunatic was scarce given the low rate of surviving after tomorrow’s battle, let alone it was always Carlos’ special way to relieve pressure.
During the later war council, Carlos called Cohen a ‘lunatic’ even louder (silently) because Cohen announced to everybody the tactics he will use tomorrow.
“Abandon the wall!” Cohen put on his trademark smile, “I’ve made my decision.”
Actually, all other senior officers have known the news. Carlos, on the other hand, who didn’t catch it because the mission Cohen gave him, nearly fainted. Other officers had various reactions.
The tent quieted down after a good while.
“Sir…” Since no one intended to talk, Carlos, who had the seniority, had to carry his duty. He asked Cohen, “Will it favor our side?”
“Sure will.” Cohen nodded lightly at Carlos’ reaction, “According to the recons, the enemies have completed constructing their siege weapons tonight. Their catapults are ready and finished debugging this afternoon. If we obstinately cling to the wall, their long-range catapults will bring us even more meaningless casualties.”
“So, sir, what’s your complete plan?”
“We will abandon the wall and enter the city ground built based on the streets.” Cohen hinted the map, “As for the enemies, what will their commanders do tomorrow?”
“A, they won’t know that we’ve abandoned the wall. Thus they will stick to their old plan to attack. Such many troops will mean difficulty to reformat. That is to say, even they find their old formation is wrong, they wouldn’t be able to make a timely adjustment. And when the enemies are bewildered on the wall, we can kill them quickly.”
“B, since we’ve abandoned the wall, their catapults and siege weapons will lose their effectiveness. And our main force will pin down the enemies at this point.” Cohen slammed hard on the map, “Afterwards, I’ve prepared 2 countercharge forces. They will initiate a strike back when their morale is lowered.”
“During the operation tomorrow, timing is crucial! All of you must act promptly at my signal! Anyone disobeying my direct orders will be punished without mercy. Cohen’s vision turned grim and swept through a few of his most close people. Not one of them didn’t lower their heads at Cohen’s look. Carlos saw it and he knew these people already knew they will be among the ‘countercharge forces’.
Tactics deployment was not a big part of the latter half of Cohen’s speech. The rest was mostly religious brainwashing. Although it was something Cohen always detested, he said it provocatively and naturally.
While listening to the man being verbose, Carlos knew that Cohen would not be leading the countercharge forces. If he intended to boost his troops according to his method, he would have to be there to command the army personally. Because once the commander’s gone, his army will screw.
How could Cohen not know that? 300, 000 against 40. 000, however the result, most of the men here will be dead by then. Cohen would let these men die with hope rather than die hopelessly. Their pain will be much less this way.
“Now, have I made myself clear?” Cohen finally ended the brainwashing session for the others and himself, “Go get prepared.”
As the officers were leaving the tent, Cohen caught Carlos asking him to take a walk.
“What’s wrong, Carlos? You’re feeling low, I can tell.”
“Nothing, sir. I’m just a little tired.” Carlos washed off his thoughts because he didn’t expect that he was also on the withdrawal list. The disconsolate feeling went away. The ones who were included in the countercharge forces.
“This is not you.” Cohen walking while saying, “Do you have a different opinion about my deployment tomorrow?”
“I don’t, sir.”
“Good, stay in the counter forces!” Cohen said, “I’ve enough people for myself.”
“Sir, I’m your Staff Officer.” Carlos paused then said firmly, “It’s my duty to stay with you at all times even though I can’t do anything.”
“Why go so far? You know there’s a position for you in the counter forces.”
“Sir, I have to reject your deployment.” Carlos said in an unshakable voice, “”As an assistant help sent by the royal emperor, I have the right to stay away from the counter forces.”
“FUCK!” Cohen cursed, “YOU’RE ALL LIKE THIS!”
“Sir,” Carlos revealed a victorious smile, “honestly, I’m slightly different from the others. I will stay with you closely from now on.”
“Your choice!” Cohen was frustrated then glanced Carlos. He immediately scolded, “Don’t fucking smile at me, this is not something to be happy about!”
A sound of uproar came from a distance. It was the sound of Gardena training his players. This old man was also doing his best for the battle tomorrow.
“Carlos…” Cohen pondered for a moment then asked him in a lowered voice, “I’ve been wondering, isn’t it my fault not retreating after the first sight of danger on the battlefield?”
“Sir, you can’t blame yourself. You’ve done enough.” Carlos replied carefully. Before the big war, he tried not to stimulate his commander. Thought it was indeed Cohen’s fault.
“You’re wrong.” Cohen shook his head, “My speculation on the war situation has been staying on the tactical level. I didn’t do enough on the strategical level. I had focused too much on fighting Guildford. I only thought about earning my honor back from him. Actually, I should have withdrawn right after Guildford showed.
“Sir, you didn’t have a choice. The HQ would never allow us to retreat. Besides, AUF are well-prepared. We’re tensely surrounded. No matter where we go, they’ll have a way to encircle us again.” Carlos lowered his voice, “As for the mistake you mention, do you want to hear a story of a minor officer?”
“There was once a little boy of a low family background who was stunned by a team of imperial guard riders that passed in front of his home. The guards all mounted on fine horses, wore shiny armor. Their helmets were decorated with upstanding white feathers. How glorious! Since then, this little boy had been dreaming about becoming a glorious officer.” Carlos said slowly, his eyes misted, “He knew the difficult path to become a military officer. Thus he walked on it and started learning. He learned everything needed. Finally, as he wished, he graduated from the DC Royal Academy and became a second lieutenant.”
“What then?” Cohen asked with curiosity.
“Later on, the lieutenant exterminated a hundred local bandits with 2 teams of soldiers. One after another, he made countless plans. He had considered every aspect then left with 200 soldiers.” As this point, Carlos dimmed his face, “At the place, the bandits didn’t show up as they expected. He and his soldiers undertook one after other unforeseeable accidents. The battle situation varied. Finally, he went panic. Two hundred soldiers came from the same place as him. They were all young men with dreams. The boy took these soldiers as his brothers, but…”
“I understand,” Cohen tapped Carlos’ shoulder, “nevertheless, it’s my fault and my responsibility.”
“Stop messing with your head. You’ve outperformed everyone’s expectations.” Carlos came clear the real reason Cohen chose to stay, he persuaded, “You’re a commander at your 20s. You commanding ability has stunned everybody. During the days of the war, how many casualties have you averted? It’s my honor to be your Staff Officer.”
“So what?” Cohen laughed bitterly, “If I’ve left an army of soldiers here in the canyon. Even a few men, we couldn’t be ending up like this today.”
“Sir, I disagree. Since AUF have made such an effort to carry out such a plan, they wouldn’t let us escape easily.” Carlos lowered his voice, “Even if we arrived his before the refugee block, what about the other side of the canyon? What bizarre things will be waiting for us? We might be executed for no reason. They didn’t attack at first because they feared that we might flee. Since the beginning, their purpose was to wipe us out instead of driving us here.”
“It makes no difference saying this now.”
“No, sir, it does.” Carlos looked at Cohen, “Sir, you know, tomorrow’s battle won’t see any prisoners. You should let me command. I really want to try your Protoss Knight armor.”
“In your pinky little dream.”
“Sir, remind you not,” Carlos touched his nose and said, “since the 2nd Lord of Death, each of them was a supreme grade war captive. I heard, those captives had to kneel under the Asmodian elder princess’ feet and be demonized. After the ceremony, his first move was to kiss that bitch’s toes with great devotion…”
“What will you do if you were captured?” Cohen asked expressionlessly, “Tell me the truth.”
“Me?” Carlos pondered, “I might kill myself.”
“I would rather not!” Cohen said with a hint of a devilish smile, “I will steal her first kiss, touch her ass. I will imprint her with unforgettable memories.”
Carlos’ mouth remained open like an idiot, then he came clear. The two gazed at each other for a second then burst into laughter.
“Okay, let’s drop it.” After the laugh, Cohen told Carlos quietly, “Actually, I want to stay with my brothers here. What’s your purpose?”
“Staying alive is satisfying for the others, I’m a soldier without a choice.” Carlos wiped the tears from the laugh earlier then replied with the same lowered town, “One one hand, I’m your assistant helper, abandoning you means I will be hanged by His Majesty. On the other hand, I’d love to die like this. At least, I will die with a nice reputation. Then finally, I love staying with you.”
“So then, you don’t have anything to say about tomorrow’s operation?”
“I do! I’d revoke a few’s position. Then put them into the countercharge forces. In this way, they will not act recklessly. This purpose does not work on me.”
“Audacity man. Carlos, you’ve become a qualified rascal already.”
“Easy, I’m no better than you.”
“Hehhe, how about a drink? I have a bottle of fine wine. It’ll be a waste if we forget it tonight.”
“Sure, and what are we cheering?”
“How about a rascal meets another rascal.”
“Anything you say.”
This chapter was originally published on Wuxianation, any despicable reposts or copies without proper citings are strictly prohibited.