Barbarian Quest-Chapter 176

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Chapter 176

Three days had passed. As they camped out, Urich dried his shoes and toes by the fire. If your feet weren’t dried in time, frostbite awaited.

With the onset of the proper rainy season, the perennial snow line on the mountains had descended significantly. Even in forests where snow usually wouldn't have accumulated, the snow was thick underfoot.

Crackle, crackle.

The warriors huddled around the fire, making sure it wasn't extinguished by the wind.

"It's cold."

Their lips trembled and teeth clacked together.

"I wonder if they're fighting down there by now?"

"If things are going according to the schedule, they should be clashing by now."

The warriors looked toward the western plains.

The alliance army was supposed to engage in their first battle with the imperial army by name. It wasn't a fight for victory. The purpose was to buy time for Urich and his warriors to reach the Arten outpost and to distract the imperial forces so they couldn't focus on their rear.

“Cough.”

Coughs echoed from the warriors. Many warriors couldn't adapt to the cold. Barbarians from the west were weak to the cold.

Thud.

A warrior collapsed to the ground after coughing for a while. Others shook their heads in resignation and buried their dead comrade.

"Keep yourselves warm."

Urich said it like it was a reflex. Obviously, no warrior was deliberately trying to stay cold. Everyone did their best to keep what little warmth they had and took measures against the cold. Yet, day by day, warriors died away.

"How high are we climbing, Urich?"

The warriors desperately awaited the moment they would descend toward the gorge.

"Not yet."

"We've climbed high enough. Enough that those bastards from beyond the mountains wouldn’t catch us!"

One warrior argued back.

"If you knew all that so well, you wouldn’t have followed me. Am I wrong?"

Urich grinned with his frozen lips. The complaining warrior just grimaced and returned to his spot.

Urich looked at the warriors. He couldn't even keep track of how many had died. The dead warriors were buried, and the survivors simply marched on.

"If we start climbing down now, we’re only going to run into the rocky parts. But if we climb just a little bit higher, we can go down a gentler slope."

Urich recalled an old memory. He was retracing his steps up the mountain, the same path he had taken down after killing Regal Arten.

‘I'm taking us on a path I'm sure of.’

The warriors nodded at Urich's words.

The next morning, many of the warriors who had nodded off could not wake up. The dead sat frozen in place with their heads lowered. This time, there wasn't even the luxury to bury them properly.

Urich and the warriors moved out of the forest and reached the endless snowfields. The fallen were swallowed by the snowstorm, covered in white.

"We’re going down!"

Urich shouted and gestured.

The warriors' eyes widened. Life returned to their weary legs.

Crunch!

The snow-covered terrain was also extremely dangerous. No one knew what was under their steps. One wrong step could get their legs stuck in between obstructions and snapped, or worse, they could fall into a crevice.

"Dammit, don't run!"

Urich yelled, stopping the warriors. Those who recklessly descended the seemingly gentle slope fell and tumbled down toward a cliff.

“Aaaaaah!”

Screams echoed below.

Urich clicked his tongue and pulled out a stick.

"I’m going first. It might take some time but try to follow my footsteps."

Urich led from the front and meticulously carved a path through the snowfield, taking on the danger. He focused all his senses at the tip of his toes as he inched down the slope. He used the stick to poke at the suspicious spots to ensure safety.

‘He doesn’t shy from taking on the most dangerous tasks. That’s the Son of the Earth for you.’

The Blue Mist warriors walked along the path cleared by Urich. They wanted to rush down to get away from the snowstorm that was still pestering them, but they patiently followed behind Urich.

Urich refused to delegate dangerous tasks to his men. These most dangerous tasks were often also the most important. He always led his men by example. It was an exemplary and heroic trait, but it was also deemed rather unfitting for a leader at times.

‘He is someone who does not fear risk and always takes the lead, yet he always survives to tell the tale. That shows how greatly skilled he is, or he is blessed by the spirits of our ancestors...’

Most of the shamans praised Urich. The title "Son of the Earth" denoted immense honor.

In the civilized world, Urich was seen as a man blessed by the gods. The various dangers of the world couldn’t lay a finger on him. His survival wasn't merely attributed to being exceptional; it was almost beyond explanation.

"We will be the first in the alliance to step on the land beyond the mountains. This will be a great story to tell."

Urich encouraged his warriors, catching his breath as white puffs of air escaped his lips.

"Who would refuse the honor of accompanying Urich, the man who crossed the mountains?"

With their last ounce of strength, the warriors pushed on.

The towering peaks of the mountain watched over them. The image of the warriors descending without climbing over the peaks became smaller and smaller.

* * *

"Gruuugh."

Georg dragged his wounded body along as he labored away. Georg, among other slaves, was moving supplies into the outpost.

"Hey, don't slack off, Georg."

A soldier kicked Georg's leg as he spoke. Georg staggered and glared.

"...I get it."

Glaring was all he could do. Georg lowered his head and moved toward the wagons entering the outpost.

Georg unloaded cargo from the wagons and stacked them inside the warehouse. Despite being severely bruised all over his body, he worked without proper rest. Being a slave of a scribe, he was barely accustomed to physical labor.

‘I definitely got myself on their bad side.’

While other slaves occasionally managed to sneak a break from labor, Georg seemed to be getting called upon endlessly.

‘Dammit, I was crazy. I should have just eaten that meat and nodded quietly back then...’

It was a regret that came too late. Being the representative of the slaves, he thought he’d be able to do something.

‘At the end of the day, I'm just a slave.’

Georg finally had a chance to straighten his back. He caught his breath.

"Hey! Don't just stand there; move!"

A soldier shouted at Georg, who inwardly cursed and picked up another load.

‘Sons of bitches.’

Georg wasn't the only one upset. The eyes of the slaves were swirling with venom. The imperial army had broken their promise, and the slaves were doing the laborious work in their place.

"Why do we have to help with this war? We didn't even get the freedom we were promised."

"Shh, keep it down, or you'll end up like Georg."

"Mark my words. I bet even after the war ends, we'll still be slaves. You think these bastards would ever set us free?"

The slaves murmured among themselves. Sensing their discontent, an imperial soldier brandished his whip between them.

Crack!

The whip struck the ground, and that was enough of a threat. The murmuring slaves scattered.

‘The slaves are growing more and more upset. We can't feed them properly because of the lack of supplies. If we don't control them properly, it's going to be dangerous.’

The imperial soldiers were just as anxious. Managing slaves who might revolt at any moment had them on edge all day. This led to them often treating the slaves harshly over trivial matters.

The distance between the emperor’s direct territory, where the imperial power was focused in, and the Arten outpost was vast. This meant that the supply line was just as long. Since it was not feasible to establish a supply line to the outpost directly from the emperor’s direct territory, the emperor sent letters to neighboring kingdoms and lords to fulfill the supply demands.

‘I can already see what the quality of supplies from vassal states is going to be like.’

Soldiers frowned as they opened the supply boxes. The iron ingots, visibly of poor quality, were rusted, and when assessing the grain sacks, they found sand mixed in, which made every meal gritty.

The difficulty in acquiring supplies meant the portion going to the slaves did not increase.

"Dammit, those Langkegart bastards!"

Duke Langster, the commander of the outpost, cursed as he threw the documents.

"They didn't even send half of what's on the paper. Useless bastards!"

Duke Langster took charge of the legion’s logistics. Although a logistics officer's role was crucial, it was quite far from glamour or recognition. Bragging about the position in social circles hardly earned any respect.

"Even if I address this with them later, they'll just make excuses and say there was a loss during transport or an administrative error!"

Duke Langster cursed the Langkegart Kingdom several times, then took a deep breath and drank some water.

"... I guess the Langkegart Kingdom couldn't possibly produce such a large volume of supplies overnight. It makes sense."

Duke Langster breathed a deep sigh.

‘This continual requisitioning from vassal states isn't good. The demands being made are already excessive. Doesn't His Majesty have any competent advisors around him... If only the Sword Demon Ferzen were by His Majesty's side..."

Emperor Yanchinus was a man from the generation that came after the empire was stabilized. The young emperor was born in an era where it was natural for the empire to have seven vassal kingdoms, thinking it impossible for them to defy the empire.

‘The kingdoms are like wolves waiting to take the leader's place the moment the empire shows weakness. They’re not some obedient hunting dogs.’

No ruler, no matter how excellent, was perfect in all aspects. Those who had lived their entire lives in the capital of the empire were ignorant of the conditions in the vassal states and regions. That was precisely why the role of advisors has always been crucial to a ruler, but few dared to offer frank advice to the emperor who had absolute power.

‘Emperor Yanchinus is too obsessed with his achievements. General Ferzen was the only person who could bend his stubbornness.’

Ferzen was a knight among knights who had participated in all the empire's wars. Had Ferzen been by the emperor's side, he would have efficiently managed the supply lines and negotiated with private merchants to secure supplies, rather than requisitioning.

‘Negotiating with private merchants to secure supplies would have actually stimulated the economy of the neighboring vassal states, and it would have received a positive response since it would have involved transactions with money, not requisitioning. The empire has enough resources for something like that.’

The empire had enjoyed a long period of stable prosperity. Over time, the storerooms filled, and gold coins flowed like water in the treasury. With the south and north plundered, there was more than enough economic leeway; there was no need to save money.

‘Probably those useless logistics staff in the capital argued that it's possible to supply the Western Legion without spending any of the empire’s money. His Majesty must have chosen to requisition since not spending appears more profitable on the surface. The dissatisfaction of vassal states and local lords won’t really reach the central government until their rebellion breaks out, and even then, it won’t even show up as direct numbers anyway. Dammit.’

Duke Langster was a man of extensive experience. He had already served excellently as the viceroy of the north. Even though he saw numerous better methods to handle the current situation, he was tied to the Arten outpost for the time being.

Squeak, squeak.

Langster wrote a petition to the emperor. It covered the securing of a stable logistics route, management of vassal states in anticipation of a prolonged conquest war and also questioned whether the Western Conquest would actually bring benefit to the empire.

"Phew."

Langster rubbed his eyes under the lamp and kept writing without stopping.

Night fell on the Arten outpost. The light in Duke Langster's tent didn’t seem like it was going to go out anytime soon.

The shivering slaves outside saw the lit tent and cursed, saying that the higher-ups had too much oil to burn.

The slaves huddled together in the small tent for warmth. If anyone wanted to get up to leave the tent, they had to step on many other slaves' feet.

"Dammit! Where are you going, Georg?"

Georg stepped on the slaves as he headed outside the tent.

"The cold is seeping into my bones so much I can't sleep. I’m just gonna go take a leak."

As soon as Georg left, a soldier on guard frowned.

"Where are you going in the middle of the night? Get your ass back inside."

The soldier pushed Georg back with the butt of his spear. Georg grabbed the spear and snapped back.

"Goddammit! I'm a person too! I can’t even piss in peace?"

"You have a piss pot inside your tent."

"Piss pot? You mean the piss pot that’s so full it's overflowing? You know what, if you want to hit me, do it! I’m gonna pee outside even if you beat me to death! I don’t care if I wet myself right here getting beat up!"

Georg yelled furiously. Intimidated by the unexpected retaliation, the soldier backed off.

"Woah, relax! What are you coming at me for? You think I won’t even let you go to the bathroom? Go pee, jeez. "

The soldier pointed to a corner of the outpost. Georg briskly made his way through the tents to find a discolored wooden fence. It was the spot where everyone had been relieving themselves as if they had agreed upon it.

Trickle, trickle.

Georg slightly lowered his pants and relaxed with a content expression.

"Hah, look at this thing. Pretty solid if I do say so myself. This thing is more than decent. I’m set."

It was the thing Georg had protected even while being beaten. It was his pride.

Woosh.

As Georg was fixing his trousers, he noticed something floating over the fence. It was a large shadow.

"Eep!"

Before Georg could scream, the shadow pounced on him.

‘Stench.’

A putrid stench, not of civilization but of wilderness, filled the air. A burly man with yellow eyes overpowered and subdued Georg.

‘It's the barbarians. The western barbarians are attacking!’

Terror filled Georg's face as he trembled. Fortunately, having just peed, his groin remained dry.

‘I'm going to die here.’

What came after being captured by a barbarian was obvious. A dear face flashed across Georg's mind.

‘May you at least...’

Resigned to his fate, Georg closed his eyes.

"Which way is the gate? If you try to scream, I'll rip your throat out before you can make a sound. If you’re feeling brave, give it a try. If you got it, nod."

What came out of the barbarian’s mouth was fluent Hamelian. Georg's eyes widened in shock as he nodded gently.

Urich the barbarian slowly removed his hand from Georg's mouth.

Updat𝒆d fr𝒐m freew𝒆bnov𝒆l.c(o)m

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